Monday, August 2, 2010

"The true sacrifice is...coming home."

At this point, words simply fail me. Countless people, mostly members, have asked me what I think of it all and I really can't settle on just one word! I will say that this past weekend, I was certainly feeling overwhelmed with joy as well as spiritually drained. The baptism was spectacular!!!! I will never forget the look on Shawntae and her kids' faces as well as Jeff's once they came out of the water. We were all crowded around the font because we wanted to see them all get baptized, and the room where we held the service was basically standing room only. Afterwards, both Shawntae and Jeff bore their testimonies, which have come so far in the months that I have known them.

Shawntae expressed her nervousness at testifying in front of everyone, but testimony is better expressed in fewer words anyway. The main part of her testimony was this: "I am happy, as happy as I have ever been in my life." Is there really anything else that needs to be said?! Jeff talked about how, after the loss of his wife of only 4 years, he vowed he would never set foot in a church again and basically lost his faith altogether. He then said to those present, "You see now how far I've come." Sunday was a busy day, as there were 6 confirmations and a baby blessing, followed by a power-packed testimony meeting. I had the privilege of confirming 8 year-old Jaquell, who I also baptized, sharing my final testimony with the ward, and offering the closing prayer in sacrament meeting....yeah, I was busy! After I bore my testimony, I watched with awe as Shawntae went to the podium and bore her testimony yet again, and even more powerful than on Saturday!! I heard later that she did so again in Relief Society and that Jeff did likewise in priesthood. Naturally, with so many testimonies being shared over the course of 2 days, I was pretty much walking on "cloud nine" for most of the weekend!

I've come to recognize that anytime you have the Spirit and you recognize it, you are basically on "cloud nine" all of the time. Although still far from where I should be, the mission has taught me to a certain degree how to know when I have the Spirit with me and when I do not. It truly is, as the scriptures say, an "unspeakable gift." Shawntae and her family, Jeff, and the others I've taught who are now members of the Church, now enjoy that marvelous gift which can and will effect every day of their lives as they live worthy of it. The next step for all of them is, of course, to attend the temple for their own saving ordinances. I do hope to be present for as many of those as possible.

These next few days will find me doing a lot of packing, saying goodbye to people, packing, shipping things home, packing, and hopefully taking some time to ponder on these last 2 years that I have tried to consecrate to the Lord. Today we'll be having a big basketball tournament with a bunch of missionaries, and we have meal appointments with members lined up everyday through Wednesday, so that's a nice send-off. Please give my thanks to Aunt Terri and Uncle Shawn and their family for the very thoughtful package they sent. I know that Shawntae's kids will definitely enjoy the candy! Well, I can't really think of a better way to end this e-mail than closing with words that I used in my testimony in Church yesterday. They are from Alma 26:16, 28, 30, 31, 37.

16- Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yeah, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.

28- And now behold, we have come and been forth amongst them; and we have been patient in our sufferings, and we have suffered every privation; yea, we have traveled from house to house, relying upon the mercies of the world---not upon the mercies of the world alone but upon the mercies of God.

30- And we have suffered all manner of afflictions, and all this, that perhaps we might be the means of saving some soul; and we supposed that our joy would be full if perhaps we could be the means of saving some.

31- Now behold, we can look forth and see the fruits of our labors; and are they few? I say unto you, Nay, they are many; yea, and we can witness of their sincerity, because of their love towards their brethren and also towards us.

37- Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth. Now this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever. Amen.

I am very excited to see all of you this Friday, but it is going to be very difficult to leave all of this behind. As Mom told me at the beginning of this adventure, the true sacrifice is not leaving on a mission, it is coming back from one. I am a witness that this is true and that this experience has wrought a mighty change within me. I am much better because of it, and you as well as everyone else that has supported me is a big reason why I am where I am. Above all, the Lord has patiently taught and tutored me, and begun molding me into the person He needs me to be within His Church. As long as I have the Spirit, everything will work out as it's supposed to. Well, I will see you on Friday!!!!

Monday, July 26, 2010


As I read your letters this morning, I felt the power of the Atonement encompass my whole being almost as if it where a large blanket. Being in a public library, I didn't want to draw any unnecessary attention to myself, but I will admit that it was a tremendous challenge to keep my emotions in check, if only for a couple minutes. I have thought about Griff somewhat throughout these many months, with the hope that he wouldn't have to experience pain for much longer, but it still feels as though a part of me died with him. Nonetheless, as you said, the Atonement and its promised blessings of immortality and eternal life for animals is assured. Certainly there is grieving and sorrow at the death of a loved one, but at the same time there is tremendous peace and joy that results from knowing that the next life offers so much more, including a "next life" to being with! I came across a quote the other day from President Joseph Fielding Smith that illustrates the doctrine of eternal progression very well:

" Salvation does not come all at once; we are commanded to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. It will take us ages to accomplish this end, for there will be greater progress beyond the grave, and it will be there that the faithful will overcome all things, and receive all things, even the fulness of the Father's glory."

It is comforting to know that we can't achieve perfection in this life because we are mortals, but it is within our vast, divine potential. I love his use of the word "faithful" in that quote, because it is the perfect word, I think, to define what enduring to the end is. I'm sure I've shared this thought before, but I think it bears repeating: "We aren't called to be successful in all things, but to be faithful in all things." Well, lucky for Griffey, he gets a free pass into the celestial kingdom! We human beings have to do quite a bit more, but we can be where he is if we hold out until the end. Funny I'm talking about this, being so close to finishing my full-time mission! 

And don't worry, I'm doing a pretty good job of fending off "trunkiness." I can take questions from people about it without problems, and I really just have to keep it from affecting my ability to do the Lord's work. I received my flight information in the mail this past week, and as you already know, I'm headed from Columbus to Dallas to SLC. Hmmm.....I wonder if I could sneak away to see the Cowboys' new stadium while I'm down there. Probably not. 

Being on a mission has certainly helped me see the value in taking imporant life's decisions, whether they are Church-related or not, to the Lord. I have made many mistakes along the way, but I have tried my best to learn what the Lord wants me to learn, and He has been merciful to me and granted me knowledge from you, the scriptures, mission presidents, the Brethren, members, and even investigators that has stuck with me. Brigham Young said that revelation comes from many different sources, and I can testify to the truth of that principle. That was the main theme of our Leadership Meetings with Pres. Jensen this past Tuesday and Thursday. I truly believe that it came at the right time for me. 

Elder Kirk and I are very lucky to be in Cincinnati at this time, when it seems that so many people are becoming interested in the truths of the restord gospel, and that a chosen 6 are ready to make covenants this Saturday. Yes, it is still on and everything is in place! Shawntae has said several times that she is getting tired of waiting, in a totally joking manner of course. I second that!! I'm just ready for it to get here, as I know the members are as well. There hasn't been a baptism here since November, and I'm not sure when the last time was that a family joined the Church. Family is an area where the members will continue to be a strength to the growth of the Church, and I see evidence of that in the conversion of Shawntae and her kids. Along with Jeff Even, the ward is very well prepared to shepherd them along after baptism, and I know that it is their goal to make it to the temple as well. 

I am also excited to attend the temple next week, hopefully with a member or two from Wilmington. We were hoping to do it this weekend, but some things came up on both ends and we won't be able to. Darn! Well, it was worth thinking about at least!  I will certainly be making a return trip to that area as well my other ones in the near future, and hopefully you will get to come as well. The next week and a half is going to be a whirlwind of events, but I am nonetheless grateful that a baptism is included in that. I really can't think of a better way to go out!! In the past couple months, I have truly seen the fulfillment of a promise made by then-Elder Eyring in a conference talk he gave back in 2002, I believe. In essence, he said that as your alloted time of service in a calling draws to a close, you will have the marvelous gift of seeing your service magnified by the Lord. IT IS TRUE!!!! May the loving arms of the Savior be around you each day and always.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Elder Ike-by his sister

I miss Isaac!
But I am sooooooooooooooooo
that he went on a mission!
He has learned and grown and
taught and been taught
and laughed and prayed
and probably cried, too
And now we get to see
what all of those verbs
did to him!
Raise your virtual hand if you're excited!
And by that I mean

Give a shout-out to my bro,
who has served diligently.

I have an inkling, though...that he won't be done when the tag comes off.
Hallelujah. :)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Death papers have been delivered

The names of Shawntae's kids who will be getting baptized alongside her, they are:
Jameisha (12), Jameill (11), Jaquell (8), and Jaquesha (7) who will turn 8 in less than a week. 

Anyway, everything for that special event is still on schedule, I am counting down the days with eagerness! They are absolutely consistent with their prayers, studies, and Church attendance. Shawntae was unable to attend yesterday because she came down sick, but she STILL made sure to have family scripture study! My goodness, they are living the gospel and haven't even been baptized yet, and the same can be said for Jeff Even! I know it seems repetitive, but the highlights of our weeks lately have been involving them, but how could it not when someone you've taught and prayed for is ready to make covenants with the Lord?!

I believe that there is a couple other people right behind them, most notably being Michelle Baker. She is still having her struggles and we actually haven't had any contact with her since last Thursday, but her desire to change is so strong that you can't help but assist in anyway you can. The big step we're trying to help her make is finding another place to live, and we'll be meeting with her this evening, in company with Bro. Josh Judge, a member who lives in the area and has obtained some good info as to some possible treatment places she could go to. I say it all the time, but members truly make everything better in missionary work! 

We have been doing our best to survive the humidity here, which has made the days at least 10 degrees warmer than otherwise. Luckily, we carry some handkerchiefs around to mop off the constant flow of sweat from our faces and arms. My pants especially are feeling the effects, and I've concluded that dry-cleaning them at this point would basically be pointless, and I probably wouldn't be wearing them much at home anyway. Man, wait 'till you see them, as well as my shoes!! The shirts are okay, but not quite as white as Elder Kirk's are, but that's only because he's a lot newer in the field. 

We had my last Zone Conference this past week with Pres. and Sis. Jensen and all 3 of the Cincinnati Zones. It was really cool, and we were introduced to some new Preach My Gospel DVD's that we are supposed to use in district meetings. The food was also very good, which makes sense because it's the Relief Society!! One thing this mission does a little different than the last one is that traditionally we would have the departing missionaries share their testimonies in Zone Conference, but in the Columbus Mission we share them at transfer meeting. And that's another thing they do differently is transfers. Members take us up to Columbus, and EVERYONE meets at the chapel located next to the temple, so it turns into this big, huge meeting which is pretty Spirit-filled from what I've heard. It's also an opportunity for members to see missionaries who are going home that have served in their areas, so I'm definitely looking forward to that. 

I received a call on Saturday from Sis. Earl, the office secretary, instructing me to write out my departing testimony for inclusion in the next newsletter, as well as telling me that my departing papers will be arriving in the mail this week. As missionaries, we call them "death papers." Yeah, kind of strange but I didn't start that tradition. Elder Kirk is kind of depressed about it because once I leave, ALL 3 of his companions thus far will be home, and he was the last companion to 2 of them. The other one had one transfer left when Elder Kirk was put with me, so he's had nothing but oldies for companions. I think it's pretty funny, but he doesn't think so as much. 

Well, this week I will be in Middletown all day on Tuesday and Thursday for a special leadership training with Pres. Jensen. It is named Middletown because it is exactly halfway between Cincinnati and Dayton, so thus it is a good place for the missionary leadership in Cincinnati and Dayton to meet at. It should be pretty interesting to see what comes out of those meetings, I'm looking forward to it. Well, I think I've about covered all of the news this time around. I'm happy and relieved to know that I've been officially accepted at BYU-I, although something tells me that Kenz is a little more excited than I least right now. There are many important decisions ahead that I will need to make, but with the Lord's help I will be just fine. However, NOW is not the time or place to be making them. I think I can wait just a couple more weeks for that. I'm probably going to spend some time today going through my suitcases and getting books and other heavy, bulky things set aside to be packaged and shipped. Man, I really don't like packing anymore, but then again, I've only had to do it 4 times as a missionary. There are plenty of elders who've been in like 10 or more areas, and so they more than likely hate it much more than me. Guess that ends my complaining session about THAT topic! Hope all is well in good ol' AF and elsewhere. Thank you for your thoughtfulness on behalf of my investigators and others, I know that they definitely will appreciate it! Have another great week!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Have I done any good in the world today?

What a great week this was!! We reached almost all of our goals, and overall had 25 lessons for the week! We have been given several new standards to reach as a mission, and they include achieving at least 5 member present lessons per week, which we did and it made a HUGE difference! Shawntae Stone and her kids are on track for July 31st, and we committed Jeff Even to be baptized that same day, and he announced it to the priesthood brethren in Church yesterday! Part of me couldn't have said a week ago that they were sure bets for baptism on that day, but after the great lessons we had with members helping, I have a lot more confidence. Both of them have been unfazed by the adversary's tempations to smoke, and certainly he will keep working on them, but I think they will pass the test! That means 6 baptisms scheduled to take place on July 31st, so could you ask for a better way to close out your mission?! 

There are few things better than being able to see people progress on their own, and I know I've said that in a letter before, but it is so true! When the Spirit touches people and they recognize it, they are so motivated to make changes that you can't help but be as excited as they are!  The ward is definitely gearing up for that, and the program is starting to take shape. I was asked by Jaquell, Shawntae's 8 year old son, to perform his baptism, so that will make the experience that much sweeter. As if it couldn't get any better, I was contacted by Pres. and Sis. Kennedy from Wilmington who are trying to arrange a branch temple trip to Columbus so they can see me before I come home! There are still a few things needing to be worked out, mainly a solid date, but I'm sure I will be able to work something out with Pres. Jensen. I think he would understand, don't you? Luckily, I'll be seeing him tomorrow at Zone Conference and will be able to ask him in person. 

Well, I suppose that Shawntae and Jeff are the big highlights from the week, but really all of the lessons we had were very high quality. I've had plenty of practice with painting as well, as we have been painting Shelley Capell's home one room at a time. It's fun to see the different colors she wanted us to use and also the reaction her kids have when it's done. I think I told you about Shelley, but in case I didn't, she's a single mom of 4 who we found in Price Hill and have teaching steadily since May. Our biggest challenge is getting them to Church, if only because Shelley is already attending one. We'll see what happens, the Lord is in charge. 

Until last week, coordinating rides to Church was difficult because we always needed a big fan for Shawntae's family, and there are only two families that I know of who have them. Well, last week a new member in the ward said he can get an 18-passenger van from work that we can use each Sunday, so we're excited to start doing that. In fact, we were on our way to pick up Shawntae and Jeff yesterday in one of the bishopric's vans, and the emergency brake kept sticking so we had to turn around. Thankfully, we were able to use two cars to go get them all, and actually got them back to the Church on time! Another miracle! 

Lastly, I have funny story that happened the other day. We were visiting with a less-active family, the Higgins, and they gave us both soda pop so we wouldn't get too hot and thirsty, which is tricky not to do in this sticky weather. Well, Elder Kirk doesn't drink soda at all, so of course I got to have his. However, I only finished half of it and then discarded it in the trash. Well, as we were waiting for the bus to come, a bum comes over and starts rooting around in the garbage for something to drink. Yep, you guessed it! He finds my pop and starts guzzling on it with great relief on his face! Guess he was pretty thirsty! When I saw him drinking it, I started singing "Have I Done Any Good in the World Today"? Elder Kirk and I were both laughing pretty hard. Funny stuff happens on a mission, that's for sure! Well anyway, I best be headed off. We're helping the Norwood and University Elders move a member today, but it shouldn't take more than an hour. Thankfully, they have everything boxed up already! Then we're going to play some b-ball at the Church and just take it easy the rest of the day. Well, until 6 that is, then we're right back at the Lord's work! Hope you all have a wonderful, safe, and blessed week!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Great is the Lord, and marvelous are His ways

I don't know what's so special about the day AFTER July 4th here in Cincinnati, but we were rudely greeted yesterday by a sign at the library reading, "CLOSED MONDAY, JULY 5TH!" Oh, the nerve!! It's not the first time on my mission that the library has been closed on preparation day, but I'm pretty confident it will be the last. So anyway, I'm sitting here at a computer at the downtown library on this clear but VERY warm Tuesday morning. It's been amazing that my clothes have held up under this abuse known as humidity, but one pair of my shoes took a definite beating thanks to the roads down in Hazard. I plan on bringing them home just to show them off, then straight to the garbage. I know, I'm weird aren't I? 

Since I got on the subject of clothes, I'll make a point of mentioning that Bro. Blackwelder Sr., a member of the ward, has offered to pay for my clothes to be dry cleaned before I come home, so that takes care of that expense. He came with us yesterday to visit Jeff Even and also Shawntae, two appointments that actually weren't scheduled, but resulted from others that had fallen through. We were VERY grateful, as were Jeff and Shawntae, for his testimony and input throughout the lessons. We really didn't do a whole lot of talking, which is fine since they have heard more than enough from us. Both of them are struggling with quitting smoking, but Shawntae has a firm commitment to stop by the 9th of this month so that she can be baptized with her oldest kids on the 31st. And lately, Jeff has been reading and praying more earnestly about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, something that he really hadn't done in the past. This was only because he felt that God wouldn't answer his prayers since his wife died many years ago and he had prayed for the Lord to heal her, and his faith was pretty much destroyed. We have been making a concerted effort to help him build it back up, and he's been attending Church regularly for over a month and seems more and more willing to do his best. It's very interesting watching how the people you teach change the longer you are around them. 

Thanks to the Lord's tender mercies, I have had the privilege of observing this many times in each area I have been in, which thankfully also has been for long periods of time. It certainly takes a great deal of patience when working with these children of God, not only the investigators but members as well. However, when impatience and frustration is trying to set in, I am reminded of the words of my patriarchal blessing regarding my mission and the specific need to love the people and patient with them. What a promise, and my how the Lord has rewarded me for it! There is, of course, still room for improvement, but I've learned very quickly in the mission field that God will reward us for being FAITHFUL in all things, and not necessarily SUCCESSFUL. I love the promise in Preach My Gospel that says our success as missionaries is measured by our commitment level, and that is definitely true not just for full-time missionaries, but also member-missionaries and even investigators as well. It is an eternal truth that whatever we are commited to, we will be successful at. It may not be immediately, but it will come as we remain faithful and press forward. 

We had a wonderful meeting with Pres. and Sis. Jensen this past Wednesday, and among the many things I learned from them, perhaps the most exciting was learning that I will in fact get to spend my last day in the mission field, August 5th, at the Columbus Ohio Temple!! There will be 18 missionaries in my group going home a month from now, and it's so many that Pres. Jensen had to contact the temple president and reserve temple clothes for our particular group. After our session, we will visit with Pres. and Sis. Jensen in the matron's room, during which time we are free to discuss any gospel topics for as long as we would like!! I am incredibly excited for this opportunity, as it is something I have been missing out on for the past two years. My interview with Pres. Jensen was likewise memorable, and it was very evident that he has the gift of discernment. I think I'll wait to share with you what he told me for when I get back. It was amazing, espeically considering we had never met before! He designs ties for a living, so I'm wondering if it's a tradition to give departing missionaries a tie, 'cause that would be sweet! 

My last Zone Conference will be held a week from today, at which time I suspect I will have to share my testimony with all three Cincinnati zones. In regards to shipping things home, most likely I will be sending books since they are usually the heaviest thing we carry around. I may even send all my letters home as well in order to clear some extra space in my suitcases. And any food I have left (don't worry, it's still good) will be eaten by myself and Elder Kirk and probably Shawntae's kids since there are 7 of them! I will be giving my bike to the mission since it is almost in virtually mint condition, owing to the fact that I've been spoiled with car areas the entire time.....until now, that is; but we use the bus ALL the time, so my bike will certainly be a welcome gift to whatever missionary gets it. 

Well, other than all that, there isn't much new to report on. We are concentrating our efforts right now on having more members come teach with us as well as teaching them, and especially in getting rides to Church better coordinated on a weekly basis. Some have already responded to our requests, and things this week are already looking better than they did last week by far! Members truly make all the difference in the world, and it's one of my hopes to live up to what Pres. Robbins told me one time: "If you keep the same spirit at home that you have enjoyed here, then you will be a better member-missionary than you were a full-time missionary." That remains to be seen, but boy am I excited to see that fulfilled. 

Oh, and before I forget, there was one last thing I wanted to ask. Could you make sure and invite(if you already haven't) Pres. and Sis. Robbins to my homecoming talk, as well as Coach Meacham, Larry and Denise, and anyone else you can think of. Perhaps you've already invited them all, but I thought this would be as good a time as any to bring it up. Also if you could invite the following former companions of mine: Nathan Hall, Luke Allred, Chad Durling, Jared Lundquist, Zach Janiec, Ryan Remington, and Fred Bittner. A few of them don't live in Utah, but they could be there or at BYU-I for school. I imagine you could find all of them on Facebook, but if you would like I can get you their addresses next week. It's up to you, but if you could do that it would be really great. Well, I think that's about all I've got to say for this week! 

Sounds like you had an enjoyable Fourth of July (or 3rd), as did we. It was nice to reflect on the reasons why we celebrate this holiday, and we owe it all to the hand of the Lord. Without it, we wouldn't enjoy the fulness of the gospel, since such a land of liberty was needed for the Lord to restore His Church in its fulness. What a wonderful thing to know that the Lord sees the big picture and that we, as we seek for it righteously, can know what it is too. Have a great week!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hot, humid and happy

I had a great last interview with Pres. Robbins, who said that he was pleased with my efforts, which is something I know every missionary yearns to hear from their mission president. He also admonished me to keep the habit of daily scripture study intact, which was cool considering Dad spoke about that this weekend. He told me that even if it's only for a few minutes a day, starting the morning off with scripture study sets the tone for the remainder of the week. Boy, how true that is! I lament that I only have an hour of personal study each day, and I keep kicking myself for not being better about it when I was back home. Oh well, can't look back anymore. Just forward! 

Pres. and Sis. Robbins had wonderful departing words of counsel for us, including a particularly memorable training from President about the Book of Revelation! I'll have to share with you what he taught us once I'm home, because there probably isn't room in this e-mail for it all! It was amazing how all of his resources were from the scriptures as well as the teachings of modern prophets. Very cool overall! This Wednesday, we will be meeting with Pres. and Sis. Jensen, which I am very much looking forward to.

We received a letter from him and his wife the other day, and they did indeed mention temple attendance as something that is part of the mission. We are allowed to go once a quarter, with the only exception being that we have to go with members. We're also able to attend if anyone that we taught is going to be endowed and/or sealed. Too bad all my converts thus far are either too young or haven't reached their year mark yet. Well, I think I'd come back anyway when they do. That will definitely be a blessing if I get to go at least once before I return home. There's NOTHING on this earth to compare with the temple! 

In other news from the week, we are teaching some great new people! One is the Williams family, consisting of the mom, Denitra, and her four kids. She really enjoys having us over, mainly because she wants her kids to know the right way in life, since all of them are in their teens. We have been focusing mainly on the plan of salvation, as they have peppered us with very good, very deep questions that we are attempting to answer one at at time. They have a pretty good grip on the plan of salvation so far, and we'll probably start into the Restoration this week. Another new person we are teaching is a guy named Michael Baldrick, who is a headquarter referral that requested missionaries to come and visit. He's actually been taught before, but then the elders got double-transferred and he WAS NOT happy about it at all. Well, he got in touch with us and we had a great lesson with him the other night. He asks the right questions and is definitely searching for direction in life, so naturally he creates a very good environment for the Spirit to bear witness to him. As pertaining to our other investigators, we have been teaching a great younger lady by the name of Shelley Capell. She has four very energetic kids, including a set of twins, and we have had great lessons with her almost every time. We've been doing service for her as well by painting various rooms in her house, which is always a great way to build trust and confidence, and we even assembled a giant fish tank for her one time! Her main concern is not allowing herself to become complacent with spiritual things, and she told us in the last lesson that she would like to fast. We invited her to fast and testimony meeting next Sunday, and she accepted! 

We spent 6 HOURS on Friday helping Jeff Even and his uncle move to their new apartment, which was thankfully just around the corner from his old one. It was only us and Bro. Johnson from the ward who were able to help, but we got it taken care of despite the brutal humidity. The new apartment is much nicer and in a quieter spot, complete with a magnificent view of Downtown Cincinnati. We're working to help Jeff and his uncle, who also happens to be named Jeff, to work on quitting smoking and putting aside that money they spend on cigarettes for more important things. Neither of them work due to injuries and health problems, so naturally their financial situation is pretty tight. Well, nothing that the restored gospel can't fix! The same day we helped Jeff move, we received a call from Pres. Robbins asking us to visit Cincinnati Children's Hospital to give a blessing to a 6 year old girl who was very sick. She broke her foot earlier in the week, and it became very badly infected. The infection has been building an immunity to the antibodies they have been giving her, and so she was highly contagious and sedated when we went in. We had to put on robes, gloves, and masks to give the blessing, but the power of the priesthood enveloped the room as the Lord spoke words of comfort through me to her and her family. It was quite the experience, as has every blessing I have participated in on my mission. It was also a reminder to me to remain worthy to exercise that priesthood which I hold, for the authority of the priesthood is very different from the power of the priesthood (see D&C 121:34-37). 

We continue to work with Shawntae and her family as well as Michelle, both of whom have their struggles but they also happen to have testimonies of the gospel. The key is going to be helping ward members remain involved in their progress, and we have asked the elders quorum and Relief Society to assign fellowshippers to regularly check up on them when we aren't around, as per instructions given in Preach My Gospel. 

All in all, it was a very spiritual week despite not meeting all of our goals, which tells me that the Lord will still bless us when we are worthy and striving to be faithful, regardless of whether or not we meet all of our goals. I have definitely had weeks where we taught maybe 10 lessons but I felt like we had still accomplished alot, and in contrast I've had weeks where we taught more than 20 lessons but I still feel a definite void. All I can say is that the Lord's ways are definitely not our ways, which gives us all the more reason to trust Him, especially for that which we cannot comprehend. 

I hope everything at home is going well, which is what it sounds like from your letters. You're getting 95 degree weather, huh? That's like death over here, because you have the humidity factor thrown in. Luckily, I keep a pretty consistent supply of Gatorade on hand each week, so that helps get me through it. Hope you have an enjoyable 4th of July holiday, even though it's on Sunday this year! Argh, don't you hate when that happens? Oh well, just do it the day before, right?  Well, that's all I've got for this week. Take care and remember the Lord's hand in all things!  

Monday, June 21, 2010

We have a date!

We have been informed by Isaac's mission office that he will be returning home on August 6th - woohoo!

We had stake conference yesterday, and all the speakers, two of whom were Pres. and Sis. Robbins, gave excellent talks! We are trying to help Jeff Even, one of our progressing investigators who was at stake conference, to find more meaning in his reading of the Book of Mormon. He has already gone through it once, but it was mostly just say that he'd read it. This time, we're encouraging him to write down things he learns and impressions that come to him so that he won't think of it as boring. Personally, I would never pick up a book that I didn't think could teach me a thing or two. Other than that, he is actually doing pretty well. He and his uncle, who also happens to be named Jeff, are moving this Friday; we are going to be helping out, as well as the Norwood elders and some ward members. Both Jeff and his uncle have some health problems and injuries that will prevent them from being able to do much more than supervise, so they very much appreciated our willingness to volunteer. There are few things, if any, that break down barriers and open hearts to the gospel quite like selfless service to God's children, regardless of their religious background. 

In other news, we set a new baptismal date with Shawntae and her kids this past week, scheduled for July 31st. Our plan is to review all of the lessons with them so that it will be firmly planted in their minds by the time the 31st rolls around, and that way they are much more likely to be retained once they are baptized. As a whole, they have actually retained quite a bit of what missionaries have taught them, but we felt a refresher course would be appropriate. Michelle has been clean for the past several days, and we had a very spiritual lesson with her yesterday, accompanied by Bro. Eberhardt, who is originally from this area but currently lives in Utah. He is a drug rehab counselor by profession, so it was a perfect opportunity to have him come with us to meet with Michelle. He likewise accompanied us to Shawntae's and Jeff's, both of whom are struggling with smoking. It sure is nice when members can connect with investigators that way! 

We are still struggling to get the Preach My Gospel class started, mostly due to the fact that we haven't had Church the past two weeks, and therefore haven't had the opportunity to talk about it with ward leaders as much. Of course, phone calls are always a safe alternative. I'm confident that it will be successful as soon as we are able to get it going. One activity we've been participating in for the past several weeks has been playing basketball on Wednesday nights with members and non-members. You can imagine I was pretty thrilled when I found out that they were going to start doing it! We have several investigators who are teenage boys, so that will be a good opportunity to introduce them to the Church in a non-formal setting that they feel more comfortable in.  

This Wednesday will be my last interview with Pres. Robbins. Since his time going home is very close to mine, I'm going to treat it sort of like an exit interview. You know, asking for advice and stuff like that. It's going to be weird not having him around, but I already know that Pres. Jensen is the right leader for us, even though I've never met him. He has scheduled zone conferences for the three Cincinnati zones at the beginning of July, and is planning on interviewing each of the missionaries the same day. Yeah, that's a lot! Pres. Robbins said, "He's an animal!" I'm excited to meet him and get to know him for the month that I'll still be around. 

Well, things here in Cincy are still going really great, and the Lord seems to be magnifying my efforts as my service draws to a close. What a gift it has been!! I appreciate, as always, the prayers you offer in my behalf as well as the words of encouragement. Well, I am sitting at our library writing this to you while a HUGE thunderstorm is raging outside. And nope, I didn't think to bring an umbrella with me. Just goes to show you can't predict the weather here! It ought to be a fun walk back to the apartment if it doesn't let up soon. Have a great week and try to stay dry, unlike myself! :)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Apostolic Inspiration

I'm not sure if I mentioned this last week, but we had a special stake meeting yesterday at which Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Twelve presided over and spoke! Not only that, but we found out at our zone conference a few days before that he would also be holding a meeting with just the missionaries from the three stakes in Cincinnati! I always thought it would be neat to have an apostle visit the mission, but I NEVER thought that it would happen while I was still here! Shows how much I know, right? So therefore I am, predictably, still on a spiritual high from yesterday. What an incredible and rare experience it was to be taught in TWO meetings by an apostle of the Lord! Thoughts and impressions were just flowing into my mind during his messages, and so of course I wrote them all down as fast as I could. I had a feeling almost like electricity when I shook his hand, and it was also neat knowing that he is originally from the same area where we now live. Neat side note, huh? At the beginning of his meeting with us, he said that he couldn't leave Ohio without stopping to see us, and at the end he said that he didn't want to leave. The love which he and the other leaders of the Church have for us was so evident and deeply touched me. No tears though, I bet you were waiting for me to say that next! He also said that he would personally pass along our love and prayers for Pres. Monson, and jokingly remarked that he would try and send Pres. Monson next time instead. :) Just having an apostle was all right with me! I recognized in his remarks some elements from the other talks he has given since he was called to the Twelve, and the Spirit impressed upon my mind that he, along with the other Brethren, are teaching us to return to a focus on the basic principles of the gospel. Not only are they the basics, but they also are the greatest and most important. I likewise enjoyed the remarks given by Elder Cook, a member of the 6th Quorum of the Seventy; and Elder Mazzagardi, a newly called member to the 2nd Quorum. I could definitely tell that the Spirit was with them in their messages as well. What a difference the Holy Ghost makes! As I have gone throughout my mission, there have been many times where I have sensed when the Spirit was working through me and when he was not. That is definitely a gift from Heavenly Father, and one I hope to continue feeling in the remaining weeks I have as well as upon my return home.

Zone Conference was also a definite highlight, but bittersweet knowing it was the last one Pres. Robbins would preside at. However, it's good knowing that he won't be too far away back home. Well, despite losing roughly two days of proselyting because of the events I have described above, I thought our week still went reasonably well. We had a few appointments that didn't hold up, but that is to be expected. I don't really get discouraged about canceled appointments or dropped investigators anymore, because my conclusion is always the same: People have their agency, and that makes all the difference in the world. As long as we faithfully do all that we can, the Lord will consecrate our efforts for our gain....whether in the short term or long term. Lately, our investigator who has been making the most progress has been Jeff Even. Ever since missionaries started teaching him, his biggest stumbling block has been regaining his faith, which he feels was lost after his wife died from a sickness he asked God to take away. It has, naturally, been very difficult for him to cope with for all of these years; lately, however, he has been much more positive and has been asking great questions. He has also attended Church for the past two weeks, and came to the special stake meeting yesterday and seemed to enjoy it. Our next stop is helping him receive a witness of the truth, and so of course that will require him to exercise a great deal more faith than he has had previously.

Michelle has been doing well for the most part, but she continues to struggle mightily with her drug addiction, which will keep her from getting baptized probably until she gets professional help. She has agreed to meet with the bishop once we can get it set up, and I'm confident that it will help her a lot. Shawntae Stone told us a few days ago that she wants to start teaching her boyfriend, Jameill Sr. so that he can get baptized as well. It was great to hear that she still has that desire, which I think has increased since Jameill Sr. got into a halfway house. The kids and her are getting back into the habit of regular prayer and study, and we have promised them that if they do it as a family every night for a week, that we will make them a cheesecake! I don't know if it will get passed me, though!

We have several other people we are teaching who have been making good progress from time to time, but the biggest thing is going to be getting them to attend Church. It makes such a big difference and sets the tone for the rest of the week. Well, that's about the easiest way I can think of to sum up this past week. Looking forward to another joyous week in the service of the Lord! I'll be sending those forms back in a few minutes once I finish with the other e-mails. So you got my travel itinerary already!? I guess I'll be getting it one of these days, but boy is that weird to think this is my last transfer, and a longer one than usual because of the consolidation. Oh well, that just means more time to work with Elder Kirk to give our best efforts to the Lord's cause here in Cincinnati! Hope you all have another great week!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Catching up

Well, we're a little behind in these parts, so here's a two-week catch-up post. Enjoy!

From 06.07.10

This may be a funny and strange way to start off an e-mail, but Elder Kirk had a weird dream the other night that he was emergency transferred to help Pres. Robbins pack!!! Yeah I know!! What in the world was going on in his head? Anyway, thought I'd start off with a light moment. :) Well, this week was quite a whirlwind of adventures, to say the least. This past preparation day, I was sitting in the library waiting for Elder Kirk to be done e-mailing (I had already finished) when I got a call from Sister Earl in the mission office. She said that Pres. Robbins needed a head count of the missionaries scheduled to go home in August, and which ones would like to still go home in August or wait until September, due to the fact that the transfers between the current mission and the new one don't match up. Well, as you know I had just unloaded on you all about everything that was going through my mind as I weighed the decision about college....and here was Sister Earl, calling to get my "final answer," so to speak! Well, I told her August because I've prayed and pondered about it and it still feels right. So anyway, that was only the beginning of what turned out to be a very interesting week. We went to the Cincinnati Art Museum on Tuesday, which has over 60,000 pieces of work from over 6,000 years of world history. For a historian like myself, it was definitely neat to see. Plus, it was all free! You can't beat that, especially when you're on a "missionary budget." We also had a bit of a scare this week as we temporarily lost our cell phone.....downtown, and on the bus! You put those three together into an equation, and it would seem more than likely that the cell phone would be long gone. However, I've learned that praying for specific things more often than not brings specific answers. I was pretty sure that asking the Lord to recover our cell phone fell under the category of that, "which is right," (3 Ne. 18:20) so I felt comfortable asking Him to: 1) Have an honest person find it on the bus and turn it in; 2) Deliver it into our hands; and 3) That it wouldn't be damaged in any way. Well, that is EXACTLY what happened! We went downtown on Friday morning to the lost and found, and they said the lost items wouldn't be brought in until 11:30-12, so we went to follow up with a few people. When we got back, they said the cell phone was not there. Well, we were disappointed but understood that everything would work out, whether or not we got the cell phone back. After an appointment near our apartment, we went back to see if the assistants or Elder Fox, the mission finance secretary, might've been by to help find the phone. Well, they beat us to it!! They went to the lost and found while we were following up with people and it was there!! We were very grateful and told the Lord so. Yes, even for something that seems trivial like a lost cell phone, the Lord truly does answer our prayers. Sunday was also a good day, as we were able to teach 6 lessons, and one of which is a great new investigator named Denitra whom we helped carry a heavy load to her apartment a few weeks back. We've also been able to start having regular coordination each Thursday with Bro. Martin because his job is on summer hours now, so he's free in the evenings. We talked with him about starting a Preach My Gospel class for the members, and he loved the idea. He set up a meeting with the bishop on Sunday morning, and we told him the same things we mentioned to Bro. Martin, and he gave us his full support. We also told the leadership in PEC later that morning, and then announced it again in priesthood. We intend to start this Wednesday evening, and we are very excited!! The reasons for the class are, quite simply, to build member trust and enthusiasm and to increase their confidence and skills to effectively share the gospel. Lucky for us, Preach My Gospel gives us the "how-to" of missionary work. I will keep you posted on how it goes as the weeks go along. It will be great!!!! During the third hour yesterday, we were asked to talk to the young men about Preach My Gospel and were able to teach an impromptu lesson on the Restoration. We invited them to attend our class as well whenever they feel welcome, so it would almost be like missionary prep for them!! As you know, I was blessed before my mission to have plenty of things to help me prepare to effectively serve full-time, and now I feel that I have a responsibility to do something similar for others. In other news, Shawntae and her family our doing very well lately. They have gotten back into a habit of daily, family scripture study and prayer, and we are going to start talking about baptism again soon since Jameill Sr. is now in a halfway house and can attend something like a baptism. Michelle Baker was sick with a cold all week and was unable to attend Church, but as of this writing she has been clean for 5 days now. We had a great visit with her yesterday, accompanied by Bro. and Sis. Milburn, and Michelle feels determined to be ready for baptism by the 26th. We encouraged her to simply leave her apartment and go somewhere else whenever she gets a temptation, much like Joseph in Egypt in his encounter with Potiphar's wife. She even bought ribs and a bunch of other summer picnic staples with the intent to feed us sometime this week, and I'm really looking forward to THAT! Another one of our progressing investigators is Shelley Capell, a neighbor of Steve Stanley( our less-active recent convert) in Price Hill. We've had several really good lessons with her, and we were able to help her start painting her room on Saturday, although we could've gotten a lot more done if it weren't for her crazy kids! Nonetheless, we previously had given her a reading assignment of Alma 32: 26-43 (big surprise!), and not only did she read it, but she took about a page of notes!!!! I love it when they take notes! They were really good ones to, and we invited her to "experiment" upon Moroni's promise concerning the Book of Mormon, and she accepted without hesitation. Those are just a few highlights, but all in all, we have a pretty solid teaching pool going right now. I'm pretty confident that with the addition of the Preach My Gospel class, that teaching pool is only going to get bigger as the members start to really share the gospel with friends and family. In the words of Pres. Hinckley, we have "barely scratched the surface" here in Cincinnati. I'm grateful for the privilege of being able to labor in this fruitful part of the Lord's vineyard. I pray that the Lord will make me capable of caring for it as He would. I look forward also this coming Wednesday to Zone Conference, the last one in the Ohio Cincinnati Mission! It's gonna be good!! All three Cincinnati Zones will be there, plus my next mission president, Pres. Jensen. Sounds like you all had really good time at the family reunion in Yellowstone. That is definitely a place I'm gonna have to visit sometime! You've been getting some 90 degree days, huh? Well, I think I would prefer it over Ohio because we have the ridiculous humidity thrown in!! We've had couple of good thunderstorms so far, but haven't been under any tornado warnings yet. They are sure to come sometime though, and for some reason Elder Kirk is excited about seeing one! Too bad we aren't allowed to go anywhere when we've got a tornado warning. So besides the "bi-polar weather," as I like to call it, everything else is going great! I look forward also to receving that package, hopefully this week. Thanks as always for your continued faith and prayers! God Bless! 

And from two weeks ago:
There are a lot of things going through my mind right now, and I have spent much of the past week pondering and praying about what the Lord's will is for me. Obviously, transfers brought a great deal of anticipation and anxiety (especially from Elder Kirk) but in the end we both received confirmation that Cincinnati was where we are supposed to be, and I'm thankful that the Lord let us know that. The other big thing that has occupied my mind has been what to do about school when I get back. I keep getting the feeling that I'm supposed to go to BYU-I starting in the fall, but because the transfer cycles between Cincinnati and Columbus don't match up, I wouldn't make it home in time for that semester. I know I'm not the only one praying about this, you obviously have done so a great deal as well. Perhaps even Pres. Robbins has too since I told him about all this last week. At this point, there's still a lot I don't know, and I feel that the Lord understands that I would like more than 2 weeks to spend with family and friends before I head off to school. So maybe that is one reason why I am currently serving where I am, but those are just thoughts that keep coming to me. I hope all of this makes sense so far. I'm going to keep thinking about it, and if my feelings don't change, then I may have to go home a couple weeks early to have more time to get ready for school and other things.....or maybe not, because I don't know what Pres. Jensen, the Columbus mission president, has planned for all these "old" missionaries that he will be getting next month. I'm sure Pres. Robbins will give us plenty of information about it as it gets closer, so I'm going to try and not have any major anxiety attacks! As for the work here, things have been moving very smoothly the past couple of weeks. They have been very balanced, which is something we really focused on as a district last transfer, especially after the fireside. I'm excited to continue serving in this district, they are a great group who have their hearts and minds in the right place. Yesterday, we had a very successful ward Memorial Day picnic, with many of our investigators and even some less-actives attending. All of them voiced to me that they had a very enjoyable time and were able to mingle with members and even one another. That was neat to see and brought a smile to my face! Elder Kirk and I dominated the water balloon toss, thanks to watching Mom and Dad win it every year at the Livingston family reunion. That of course was followed by a huge water fight and I was completely soaked, thanks in large part to Shawntae's many kids! It felt pretty good actually, since this last week and probably this week will be very warm. The ward wants to put a greater focus on such activities, and we are wholeheartedly in favor of that because it allows people to see a different side of us and certainly opens doors to teach the gospel. We are also going to try and start a Preach My Gospel class for members next week, and we already have come up with many ideas for helping the members catch the vision. Now we just need to get things arranged with the attendees! :) We had a major breakthrough last week with Shawntae, namely her "husband" Jameill Sr. is now in a halfway house and is allowed to attend Church services every week! The only problem is he doesn't get let out until 11, which is when sacrament meeting starts in the Cincinnati Ward! So this past Sunday, I went with our ward mission leader, Bro. Martin, and picked up all of our investigators in the bishop's 15 passenger van. It was quite an adventure driving pretty much around Cincinnati, and we made it back before sacrament meeting was over. Then we had to run everybody back when it was all over, and on the way back to the Church, we could hear something dragging under the van so we stopped to check it out. A homeless guy nearby saw us and came over to ask what the problem was. He took a bungie cord and rigged the loose part back to the bottom of the car in just a few minutes! I can assure you that Bro. Martin and I would probably still be there now if it hadn't been for his help. Too bad neither of us had any money to give him, because he pretty much saved the day. Besides, it was the end of the month so I didn't have any money to give him anyway! :) So anyway, Jameill Sr. also came to the picnic yesterday and had an enjoyable time, and right now we're just working on building up his trust. Shawntae is definitely helping him understand what we're all about, so we're hoping to have a chance to sit down and begin teaching him, and with any luck as well as the Lord's will, we'll baptize the whole family! As for Michelle Baker, she came to Church again this week and had a very spiritual experience during sacrament meeting. I truly believe that she is losing the desire to use drugs, and if she stays clean for 3 more weeks then she will get baptized as scheduled! It's a really exciting time to be here right now, and I'm thankful that I have the opportunity to continue building on the foundation we have laid thus far. I am particularly excited that we are focusing on Christlike attributes this transfer, which is my absolute favorite!!!! I know it's what we need, and I plan to involve the Lord in planning and preparing for each district meeting, since it's His work and we're trying to become like Him. He, therefore, is the best one to ask about developing His attributes! On Monday we went to the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, which was INCREDIBLE!!!! There was so much to see and do, I only lament that we ran out of time or I'd probably still be there! I took well over a hundred pictures, so it was certainly worth the 10 bucks I paid to get in. Well, this letter has been kind of scatterbrained but really informative. I look forward to another great transfer, and the exciting things that will be happening over the next several weeks. I hope you enjoy the reunion up in Yellowstone, and that everything else in life is as it should be. Speaking of Elder Christofferson, he is conducting a special stake meeting the week before stake conference, so there is the slight possibility that he could tour our mission as well. THAT would be cool!!! May the Lord continue to bless and sustain you each day as He has me! Have another great week!         

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fireside Follow-up

Happy Monday!

There's plenty to do and see here in Cincinnati, and I actually got a call a week and a half ago from Ryan Starks (recent convert from Wilmington) who had found out that I was in Cincinnati now. He said that he and Kim, his girlfriend/fiance who is also a member now, wanted to come down on a future P-day to spend the day with me! I'm guessing that will take place next week, so I'm pretty excited to see the sights with them here as well!

One of the places we will visit is the Reds Hall of Fame (big surprise), as well as a few other attractions.

This past week was BUSY!!!! We were able to contact 10 of the 26 referrals that we received from the fireside, and as of right now NONE of them have turned down a return appointment. Several of them were very excited when we came to their door, and we are looking forward to contacting the rest of them throughout this week. They are very well spread out in our area, so we know that we can go to any suburb and have plenty of work to do. We are also focusing on having more lessons with members present and also teaching the members a lot more.

This past week was difficult because we spent a great deal of time working on the referrals, but if anything we should get the members involved in that. We can only do so much by ourselves. With all that we have to do right now, it's very important that we maintain balance or else we will have less success. The members have been very gracious to us and have definitely helped us tremendously, but there is more work to be done. Interestingly enough, most of our PEC meeting yesterday was spent listening to the various leaders talk about how they struggle to friendship people outside of Church meetings. They used to have some get-togethers apparently, but it only involved the same 10 families.

Elder Kirk and I have been talking about this very thing lately and how to use activities as a means for finding new investigators. In my experience, it works!!!! So we're pretty excited for the Memorial Day picnic because that is a PERFECT opportunity for people to see that we are actually normal, even though we missionaries continue to be the oddballs no matter what the setting. :) Regardless, this is something we are going to pursue and we know that the Lord will bless us as we strive to make it a successful missionary-minded activity. Well, this letter is shorter than most but I think I summed up everything that I wanted to.

Thank you for continually increasing my spirituality through these letters as well as from your prayers. Have a great week, and keep counting your blessings!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Very happy boy

The Gladys Knight fireside was absolutely spectacular!! I have no doubt that everyone present was able to feel the Spirit, although there were probably some who did not recognize it but who will probably ask us when we come by. Speaking of which, the zone leaders told me that there were a lot of request cards for Cincinnati, so I'm WAY excited to get out and start teaching those people. It was great to see the members bring friends as well, and it was also nice to see people I've known from other areas. We plan to be very careful about how we manage all these referrals, making sure to stay balanced and plan ahead. This is a gift from the Lord, and I am hoping that we will be able to carry it out effectively and see some people join the Church as a result.

I'm also looking forward to using the new "We Believe...." cards that Pres. Robbins has put together with the help of the Church Proselyting Department. We are the only mission in the world that is using them, so it's pretty cool. I've looked them over (Elder Kirk has a stack) and they look really good, so I hope to have some good experiences to share over the remaining months I have in the mission field. It was also a joy to speak with you!!!! It's obvious to me that you are all doing extremely well and are being prospered mightily by the Lord.

It's crazy to think I'll be SEEING you in 3 months, not just talking to you. We were able to find some great new people to teach this past week, two of which came from a member referral, and the other was someone who we talked to on the bus. Since we spend a great deal of time traveling on the bus, we've made it a goal to utilize that precious time by speaking with other passengers. We've talked to some really good people who were interested in what we had to say.

One thing I've really learned on the mission that I have tried to remember always is that there are MANY honorable means to find, not just the usual tracting or street contacting, which can get old really fast. We have a great opportunity to find through Church activities this coming Memorial Day, which is when our ward will be having their annual Memorial Day picnic. This provides us as well as the members with a perfect opportunity of inviting friends and neighbors to something that is non-threatening and gives them a chance to see us from a different angle. As Pres. Hinckley once said, "Activity is the genius of this Church." I believe that wholeheartedly! Many members have their fears when it comes to doing missionary work, but one thing I know is that they are incredible when it comes to planning and carrying out activities.

We have three weeks to prepare for it by inviting investigators to attend, and we will also focus on encouraging the members to invite people they know as well. So to sum it all up, the Lord is presenting us with great opportunities to really expand our teaching pool and therefore our effectiveness also. It's going to be great, I'm looking forward to having a lot more to do! Thank you again for sharing your experiences with me, it helps me try to be more grateful to the Lord for all that He has done. Have another great week!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Gladys Knight takes Cincinnati!

 Well, I am very excited for this coming week for two main reasons: First of course, is the Gladys Knight fireside on Thursday. We gave out about 40 or so tickets to members yesterday, and more importantly, they each have people they are bringing!! And we still have a lot of extra tickets that we are going to try and give out during this week. I am very confident that this fireside is going to bring a harvest within Cincinnati, whether in the short term or long term. We also gave a few tickets to a less active member that lives really close to us named Chris, and he is planning on bringing his non-member brother and a sister, I believe. He has transportation as well, and both Shawntae and Michelle are also planning to attend and have rides set up. So therefore, we were called by the assistants a few days ago and asked to help set up before the fireside. I understand that a ride will be arranged for us, so hopefully we'll know within the next day or two. I don't mind coming to help set up,  because I love serving!  All of the people we've invited have rides and people to sit with, so that is also really good. 

The member work here is going pretty well, we have several families in the ward who have ACTIVE (very important word) family mission plans, and we follow up with them pretty regularly. I liked know that following up needs to be a priority, and that if we don't then we're just wasting the members' time as well as the Lord's. I was disappointed when I got here to see that there were only THREE family mission plans in the area book, and they were all at least 2 years old! On top of that, the previous missionaries had actually done a few family mission plans but did not record them, so of course that doesn't help me any. To make a long story short, we're doing it the right way now! Preach My Gospel tells us to start with the bishop, and that is what we have done; and other members are noticing that the bishop and his family are bringing someone to Church and now they really want to as well. In fact, our follow up is so frequent that the members already know what we are there for and can't wait to tell us the progress they are making with their friends. 

Before I forget, we went by the Brooks family yesterday so I could thank them for their kind remarks to you, and Bro. Brooks gave me a hug that he said was from Mom, and a reminder from Dad to brush my teeth. :) Well, I'm happy to report that I am keeping that. Hopefully, Bro. Brooks will not ask me that in the future, but it would probably be just a joke if he did.  So anyway, when you factor in the effective member work with the upcoming fireside here in Cincinnnati, there is a lot to be excited about!!!! I LOVE IT!!!! 

The second big thing I'm looking forward to this week is talking with all of you, amazingly for the last time as a full-time missionary! I bore my testimony in Church yesterday and shared my witness of the power and influence of our family on me, and on the cleansing and sustaining power of temple covenants, and also on how much the Lord has blessed you because I'm out on a mission. It is very humbling to me because I really don't think I'm doing a whole lot, it is pretty much all because of the Lord and His tender mercies. Speaking of the temple, it's a blessing that I am going to take better advantage of once I am back home.....but before that, I'll need a valid temple recommend! I'll probably get a new one from Pres. Robbins the week of interviews. Anyway, at any rate I am very grateful for you in helping me become who I am now. The work is a lot more enjoyable when you are constantly reflecting on how much you and your loved ones have, and I believe that people do take notice of that and it does open doors to gospel conversations. 

Well, it is definitely starting to get warmer again, and I've been trying to prepare Elder Kirk for it because he has only experienced an Idaho summer, which is a lot like Utah. BRING ON THE 100% HUMIDITY, I'M NOT AFRAID!!! I might get thirsty, but I'm not too worried as long as I have Gatorade handy. I can't wait to hear from you all, although it's hard to believe that it's been 5 months already since I last spoke with you! Man how time just flies by! I hope that you have another great week, and you'll have to let me know if you speak with other members to have them remind me of my dental hygiene. :) I love you all, thank you for being there for me! 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Still growing and learning

I continue to be intimidated by the mantle that has been placed upon me, meaning that of a district leader. However, I'm not about to shrink from my responsibilities nor slacken my pace. As with any assignment in the Church, those whom the Lord calls are also qualified. This has given me comfort as I've reflected on it over the past week, and I recognize that such a call brings tremendous responsibility to do my absolute best so that the work in Cincinnati can reach its full potential. Not that this is the first time I've been asked to give my best effort. :) I like something that President George Albert Smith said that Pres. Monson has often quoted:

"It is your duty first of all to learn what the Lord wants and then by the power and strength of His holy Priesthood to magnify your calling in the presence of your fellows in such a way that the people will be glad to follow you."

I believe this is true not only of the missionaries in the district, but also of the Cincinnati Ward, our investigators, and really ALL the people in this area. The most powerful message we can send is the in the way we live. Our district also encompasses the elders serving in Norwood, who have been on their missions for 7 and 3 months, respectively. My companion has been out for about 4 months, so I feel like a really old man!

However, it is a great opportunity to train and motivate younger missionaries, and I kind of feel like an MTC teacher. That'd be cool if I got a chance to do that, but first I'd have to get in to BYU. That's a while off yet, but it would be a cool experience. I've had a few companions who also served as district leaders, and I've discovered in just a week that they were right about two things: You spend a lot of time on the phone, and you have more paperwork to do as well! Not a whole lot of paperwork, but more than before. Oh well, doesn't bother me too much.

We are seeing great progress particularly from Michelle Baker. She has been drug-free for a week now, came to Church yesterday (despite the adversary's attacks), and set her own baptismal date for June 26th, which is the day after her birthday. Likewise, Shawntae has been fighting the temptation to smoke as well as dealing with some health issues, but she and her family came to Church yesterday and she was glad that they did. She had to watch a few of her nieces and nephews over the weekend and was very tired when we talked to her on Saturday night. However, she was able to get up early and get everyone ready for Church on time. It's an exciting thing for me to watch people we teach make important decisions on their own, and thus discover the promised blessings. We are also pushing ahead with our transfer emphasis on finding through the members, and a few of our families are actively working to invite people to be taught.

One of them is Bishop Tensmeyer and his family. Their son, Bob has a "girlfriend" who will graduate this year and who spends a lot of time at the Tensmeyer's home. Well, last Sunday we set up an appointment with the bishop's family to talk about their family mission plan, since effective member-missionary work starts with the bishop. We went over and were introduced to Bob's friend, whose name is Mel. I hope I got the spelling right, and it could be a nickname too. Anyway, we watched as Sis. Tensmeyer perfectly invited Mel to take the lessons from us before she would leave for Penn State later that year. WE DIDN'T EVEN HAVE TO ROLE-PLAY WITH THEM, THEY JUST DID IT!!! Man, faith sure goes a long way!! So we returned the following night on FHE and taught the first lesson, and we are going back tonight for the second. Once again, it's an exciting thing as well to see the members put their trust in the Lord and invite people to hear the restored gospel.....especially when we as missionaries hadn't even talked to them about it yet! So, all in all things are going real well right now!

I was very surprised to read about your phone call from Bro. Brooks from the ward here. They are a really cool family and willing to help us with whatever it is we need. We told them likewise! He served his mission in Salt Lake City several years ago and they were allowed to get on, and he had compiled a huge list of talks that he loaned to me to look through. I came up with a list of talks that I'd like him to make copies of for me, and he was more than happy to do so. I've read like every Ensign in our apartment repeatedly, and so it was good to get something new for a change. :) We also came in contact with a less-active named Chris a few weeks ago that waved at us from his back porch while we were walking past. We went over and found out that he was a member, and he wants to come to the fireside next week and is planning on bringing his non-member brother! I can't tell you how excited I am for the fireside next week and the harvest that I am sure is going to result! Wow, I'm using a lot of exclamation points in this letter!

I'm grateful to hear of the many spiritual experiences you are having, it is a definite highlight in the week and a good way opportunity to see the Lord answering my prayers in your behalf.

I hope and pray that you may continue to see evidence of the Lord's tender mercies each and every day, and that you will be a light to those around you! Have a great week!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

New Companion, New Calling

I'm healthy, happy, and still trying to move the work forward in Cincinnati! I am now serving with Elder Kirk from Shelley, ID who has been out for 4 1/2 months now. He previously served right across the river in Northern Kentucky and is excited to be in Cincy now. I'm grateful to be serving with him, and I can tell he is a good missionary, anxious to get out there and serve the Lord's children. We are on the verge of accomplishing a lot of really good things here, but it will take faith from us, the people we teach, and also the ward members. With that last thought in mind, I was pleased to see that the focus for district meetings this transfer is on working with members to find people to teach.

I definitely feel that the member work could be improved drastically here, and we have already started coordinating to teach the Book of Mormon class together with the Norwood elders. I was extremely surprised and humbled this Sunday by the call to be a district leader. Such an assignment brings plenty of responsibility and especially accountability to the Lord, Pres. Robbins, and the zone leaders. I know the Lord will make me capable of doing His will and helping this district become one in unity and purpose, but only if I'm striving to do that for myself. Zone Conference last week was absolutely incredible, the mission leaders did a fantastic job of getting that put together. I felt the Spirit strongly during all those testimonies that were shared, and it didn't hurt that we had some good food as well.

Since the whole mission was there, we were doing a lot of group pictures of past districts and missionaries we came out with. For me, that meant like 17 other elders for a picture! A bunch of missionaries were taking lots of pictures of us, and most of them were asking if we were a zone or something. They were pretty shocked when they found we all came to the mission at the same time!! It's just crazy to think that I'll be home in 4 1/2 months, but don't worry.....I won't become "trunky," in the sense that I won't become lazy and slothful in the work. As for the part about thinking of you guys, that's an everyday thing. :) Heck, if I didn't think about you, you could call President Robbins and tell him to keep me here past my departure date!

My heart is full as I read about all the many tender mercies of the Lord towards you; it really is incredible how much the Lord cares for the families of His missionaries. Among the many lessons I've learned in the mission field, the one that has come to mind frequently during the last week is that of agency. It is a grand, eternal principle which has given me a lot of comfort, especially when people we're teaching have made a choice contrary to that of the Lord's commandments. Well, being the "quote-hunter" that I am, I came across a great one from Elder Oaks:

"Some of our most important plans cannot be brought to pass without the agency and actions of others. A missionary cannot baptize five persons this month without the agency and action of five other persons. A missionary can plan and work and do all within his or her power, but the desired result will depend upon the additional agency and action of others. Consequently, a missionary's goals ought to be based upon the missionary's personal agency and action, not upon the agency or action of others."

That statement pretty much sums up all my feelings right now, and one that helps me to press forward inspite of other people's choices, especially because my happiness does not and should not depend upon the decisions of other people. Not to say that I will become indifferent to these children of Heavenly Father, but rather that I will feel sorrow when they choose not to repent, as it states within Preach My Gospel. Some of our investigators have definite potential to be baptized within the next transfer or two, and if that is the Lord's will, I sure hope I'm around to see it happen. Also, I think that we are allowed to attend the Gladys Knight fireside next month, as long as we have investigators going. That's something I'm really looking forward to, so hopefully we are able to go. We have a few investigators who are committed to going, and we're going to try and invite anyone we can throughout this week. Onward, ever onward! Send my congrats to "Elder" Wilbur and his family on his mission call! New Jersey, huh? That'll be cool! Thank you for faith, support, and prayers for me. I feel it everyday! Have a great week!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sun-up in Cincinnati

Good morning from downtown Cincinnati! We're at the library down here today because we are going to see the sights in and around Cincinnati! I'm pretty excited, and I will take plenty of pictures too. Glad you enjoyed the ones I sent last week! We've been downtown a couple times when people were headed to a Reds game, and boy was it tempting for me to follow them and maybe try and sneak in. Thankfully I didn't, but I'm still hopeful that I can go to a game before the mission is over. There are people who stand around holding signs that say, "I need tickets," and I think it would be funny if I held one of those and took a picture with a really forlorn look on my face!

Thank you for your heartfelt and informative e-mails this morning!! It sounds like a lot is going on in everyone's lives, both spiritually and temporally speaking. I suppose that the same could be said for here, although there isn't much in the way of temporal things. That is crazy that Jordan gets home in 12 days and that Donovan is about to get his mission call. I'd laugh if he got called to Norway like Cameron and Jordan did. Heck, I'd probably fall over if he was sent here!!!! Not a high chance of that, but it's got as good of a chance as all the other missions.

Pres. Robbins sent us all some notes from a talk by Pres. Benson about member-missionary work, and so of course I took the time to write them down in my planner. They now join the billions of other notes I have on the subject of member-missionary work! Speaking of which, we were successful in reaching the goal I set of 3 FMP set-up/follow-ups per week. They all went extremely well, and one of the families was able to successfully follow-up on their friends' reading of the Book of Mormon, and received a positive response! I don't know what it is, but I just get really excited when I see people applying the things we teach and then seeing it work out, whether they are members or investigators. This past week was probably our most productive of the transfer so far, as we taught 23 lessons (high quality too) and found 4 new investigators. The Lord has also blessed us with several referrals to visit, so we certainly aren't lacking in things to do right now.

We set a new baptismal date with Shawntae for May 15th (significant date, isn't it?) to give her something to work towards. She had digressed a bit after her original date fell through, so we felt we needed to do that so she has extra motivation. Michelle Baker has good and bad days, meaning the days she uses crack cocaine and the days she doesn't. She really wants to overcome this and is supposed to start treatment on the 15th. We gave her a flier for the fireside in May, and she posted it on the bulletin board in her apartment complex and wrote her phone number on it in case anyone else is interested. Non-member missionary work, now THAT'S what I'm talking about!

Oh yes, I suppose I'd better expound on what I said about a fireside in May. Well, on May 6th, the Saints Unified Voices choir, under the direction of Gladys Knight, will be at our stake center to give two evening "performances" for anyone within the tri-stake area and whoever else wants to show up. It isn't a concert, but they are asking us to refer to it as a fireside instead. We will be able to go to that as long as we have investigators there, and we know of at least 5 people that have already committed to it! I'm rather excited for it! This choir has performed in other places in the States and the result has been a whole lot of referrals for the missionaries. That's what I like to hear!! Man, first the Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert last June, and now this!

All in all, things are moving along rather smoothly here in Cincinnati. We'll see how this week plays out. We're having our Zone Conference tomorrow rather than next transfer, and this time the WHOLE mission will be there! That is going to be really good, I just know it! Aren't they all? I really love this area!! I know I say it every week because it's true!!! I believe we are on the verge of seeing a lot more success, if we will only do those things we've been asked to do. I look forward to seeing what other valuable pieces of knowledge that the Lord is waiting to give to us, and I hope that He is doing likewise for each of you. Have another great week!

" If at this moment each one of you were asked to state in one sentence the most distinguishing feature of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what would be your answer? My answer would be divine authority by direct revelation."- Pres. David O. McKay

Monday, March 22, 2010

200 lbs. of happy

We had another fantastic Zone Conference this past Wednesday. The instruction we were given focused on working with members(my favorite!) and helping them invite their friends to hear about the restored gospel. Lucky for us, this is a very missionary-minded ward! In addition to the excellent trainings given, we also were informed that on the last Tuesday before transfers, we're going to have one big Zone Conference with the entire mission!! I'm really looking forward to that! It also occurred to me when I got here that I have now officially served in all 4 zones within this mission. Interesting, isn't it? And I've been in a different zone every time I've gotten transferred, which thankfully hasn't been that often. :) 

I've been studying the Old Testament lately, and I mentioned that to Pres. Robbins at Zone Conference and he sent me selected chapters to make it more interesting. It should also make my study more effective because obviously there are things in those selected chapters that need to be found and then applied. We are safe and sound in our nice, new apartment. The assistants, the office elders, and the Cincy zone leaders helped us move on Friday, and we were able to get it done much faster as a result. 

This past week was all right in terms of teaching. We only had 13 lessons, but they were good ones! However, we need to reach 20 every week because that is the mission standard and we aren't about to lower the bar here in Cincinnati. We have more than enough potentials as well as referrals that need worked on. In fact, I'm training on contacting and teaching referrals in district meeting tomorrow, and it's a very important subject. In other good news, Shawntae and her 10 year old son, Jameill will be getting baptized this coming Saturday at 5 P.M. Initially, it was also going to include her daughter Jameisha (age 12) and another son named Jaquell (age 8). However, Jameisha wants to be baptized on her own, so that should be within the next couple of weeks. As for Jaquell, Shawntae wants to give him a little more time to get a grasp on the gospel. He's close, but we'll teach him more for a few extra weeks. No big deal. Better to be ready than rushed, right? 

Along with Shawntae's family, we were able to finally get Michelle to Church yesterday! It was her first time there since she last investigated the Church over 30 years ago, and she certainly seemed to enjoy it. Currently, she's working on overcoming a drug addiction, but at our last follow-up, she'd been clean for about a week! Any progress is good progress, no matter how long it takes. Our goals for this week will be to turn our potentials and referrals into new investigators, reach 20 lessons, and work on Family Mission Plans....and of course, make final preparations for Shawntae and Jameill's baptism. It's pretty neat to come into an area and have progressing investigators! I know I haven't had much to do with it, but I know if I put my best foot forward that I can eventually make a difference to the people here. We have plenty of support from the members, and the people in general are pretty nice; AND they recognize us as Mormons rather than Jehovah's Witnesses. That's an important difference to distinguish, isn't it? 

Well, the work goes on in Cincinnati! I hope to send some pictures home next week, and don't worry I haven't gotten fat or anything. :) I did weigh myself a few weeks ago and I came in at an even 200 pounds. So I guess I've gained SOME weight since I've been out, but I'm nowhere even close to the Pillsbury Doughboy. Anyway, hope everyone is healthy and happy back home. It's now officially Spring!! That was a long, miserable winter out here. However, no matter what's it like outside, we're gonna be out in it! Hope you all have another great week!!!! 

Monday, March 15, 2010

New world, new wonderful

Wow, lots of questions for me to answer! In terms of our area, we cover all of downtown as well as the west side including Price Hill, and the suburbs as far north as Kenwood just outside of Norwood, which has missionaries there. So basically, it's a pretty good sized area to cover! And without the busses, we'd be doomed, especially considering they took our car away just before I got here because the Norwood Spanish elders needed it because one of them was injured. I don't mind the busses, though, and in fact one of our goals this week is to talk to at least one person whenever we get on the bus. That can be challenging, but it's a fun challenge. 

Things here in Cincy are moving along great! Just working on getting my feet wet, which has proved true not only in the sense of learning the area, but also literally so with all the rain the past few days. It hasn't slowed the work down though! As I said last week, we have a quadruple baptism planned for March 27th; a 31 year old black woman named Shawntae along with her 3 oldest kids. She has 7 kids in all, and none of them are older than 11! They have a lot of support from the ward members, which is great to see! I've only been here for a week, but I already like this ward a lot! I've even met a few people who are related to other members that I've known in past areas, so that's been cool talking with them. They were surprised yesterday when I told them that I have always been a diehard Reds fan, probably because I live out West! :) It would be the coolest thing if I got to go to a Reds game before I went home. Our ward mission leader, Bro. Martin, whose family lives up in Wilmington, pretty much works for the Reds, and he said he would work on getting me to a game that falls on Monday, for obvious reasons. 

This has been a fun area to learn about, the history of the Church here is very rich and the members here are proud of that fact. They do a great job of getting us involved in things, and so the least we can do is return the favor. Obviously, they are our best means for successful missionary work and we need to take advantage. By the way, it's the only ward that we cover, but it takes in the same amount of area that we work in. A lot of the members work for Proctor and Gamble or the Reds or Kroger (the local grocery place, they are everywhere) or some other company, and so of course they have lots of money but they are still very humble. Well, this ought to be an eventful week, with Zone Conference on Wednesday and moving into a new place on Friday! Sheesh, we'll have like half the mission there to help us move! Only a slight exaggeration, we'll really have 7; but hey, many hands make light work, right?

It's in a good location near several stores and what-not, plus no bus stop is more than 5 minutes away which is nice. We live in a nice place right now, but it takes 10 minutes to get to a bus stop, so this will save us time and energy. I think I answered all the questions, but I'm sure there are more to come. :) Sounds like ward conference was spiritual. Pres. Cooper and Bis. Hoopes are both great men, wish I had been there to listen to them. Well, by the next ward conference, I should be! And good luck on your upcoming talk, I'm confident you will say what the Lord wants said. Hope everyone in the family is doing well!! I'm grateful to have this privilege of serving in such a promising area (again) where the Church is doing really well! Thank you for your continued love, support, and prayers in my behalf! Have another great week!