Monday, February 22, 2010

Good things going on

Well, the work goes on in Hazard! With the current investigators we have, I've noticed that with one exception, all of them are currently working on quitting smoking. This has, of course, given us plenty of opportunities to improve our teaching of the Word of Wisdom. In fact, we make it a point of bringing it up every lesson and likening that particular challenge to whatever it is we might be teaching. For example, we're going to talk to Dustin tonight about the need for diligence, considering he is struggling with being completely smoke-free. Hope that example makes sense. :) Anyway, all of them have made rapid strides since we first started teaching them, and I've noticed that they smoke a lot less during those weeks that they come to Church. Hmmmm.......coincidence? Of course not! If you believe in God, you don't believe in coincidence. Speaking of Dustin, he texted us last night and informed us that he finally got a new job at France's Diner in Hazard. We've eaten there a couple times and they have pretty decent food. You can imagine we'll be visiting there a little more frequently now that Dustin will be working there. He's been praying for a job and is also waiting for his tax returns, so this is to me a definite blessing from the Lord!

We had an experience just today that shows how we must be examples of God always, even when we're wearing shorts and t-shirts. This morning when we went to the Hazard Pavilion to exercise, we met a young woman named Missie Toler, who was working at the front desk as a sub for the regular attendant, who was sick. She indicated that she's seen us come in several times and asked us what it was we did. We explained that we were missionaries from the Church and had come from Utah and Arizona, respectively, to volunteer two years of our lives to helping people come unto Christ. Well, we didn't say that exact sentence, but all those elements were involved. She then mentioned that she was currently trying to quit smoking (surprise!) and had been drug-free for about 18 months. Better yet, she told us she was interested in what we shared and gave us her address and phone number. This was yet another testament to me of what we covenanted when we were baptized. Namely, to stand as witnesses of God at ALL times and in ALL things and in ALL places. That's a pretty high percentage in my book. When we do our best to honor our end of that covenant, the Lord can then bless us, but we must fulfill our pledge first. We're trying to remember that counsel wherever we might be, and we have many promising people who have potential to be new investigators.

Our recent converts are, for the most part, doing pretty well also. We've arranged with Bro. Flinchum, our new mission leader, to meet Wednesdays at 1 P.M. at his work to coordinate our efforts. Plus, he said there would be food involved. Don't think I'm gonna turn THAT opportunity down! I've said it before, but he is going to be a real help to the member work here. A few of the members are already taking their own initiative and sharing the gospel with friends. There's just a different kind of excitement when members share the gospel, and it's something I hope to emulate upon my return home. For now, I will help them kindle that flame of testimony they have to a degree that they can feel confident in sharing this glorious message with others. They can cross boundaries that we as full-time missionaries can't, and it's something we need to try and take advantage of. Lessons just go better when you have another voice alongside you, and I know our investigators notice that. Thank you for your words concerning the need to discipline myself, it sure is helpful. Satan's influences are indeed all around us, and he is desperate for us to do anything that will cause the Holy Ghost, our "sword" in this mortal battle, to be withdrawn. I've noticed that although we are marked by Satan and others as missionaries, the same standards for moral discipline, like Elder Christofferson talked about, exist both before AND after the mission.

I recently found a small wallet-sized version of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet and read through it. The counsel that is in there is applicable to all of God's children, but of course most of them choose not to live those standards. However, as Pres. Monson indicated back in the priesthood session of April '08 conference that we attended, if we stand alone in our morals and values, then so be it. I like something also that President J. Reuben Clark Jr. said many years ago, obviously before my time but no less applicable today:

" There is sometimes a cry among our young people for a loosening of our standards. They tell us that our standards are too high, and the Church must abate them. My brothers and sisters, my young people, the Church cannot change the laws of God. They stand immutable."

This statement is also a testimony to me that God will still be God even if we stop believing in Him, and that the Church will still be true even if choose to stop regularly participating in it. It is one thing to know that the Church is true, and it's another thing to be true to the Church. The stripling warriors in the book of Alma were of course a perfect example of this. They had testimonies of the gospel, but they also were, as the record says, "....true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted." (Alma 53:20) There's that phrase again: AT ALL TIMES. That's a very powerful statement to make, and I am still working on living it. Thankfully, the Christlike attributes section of Preach My Gospel has given me greater perspective on how to do that better, as well counsel I have received from you and many others that have had a positive influence on my life. My goal is to help those investigators and recent converts work on becoming like the Savior, for if we are trying to do that, all the other doctrines and principles of the gospel will fall into place. People will be motivated to continue to change because they HAVE been changed by the Savior. As Pres. Benson said, very simply, "When you choose to follow Christ, you choose to be changed." THIS is the key to successfully taking the gospel to all nations, kindreds, tongues,and people, and I hope and pray that the Lord will consecrate our efforts to become more like Him, and in the process, make us better able to tell the world about Him and His Church. I hope you all have another wonderful week!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Things are great and getting better!

This is a strange way to start a letter, but I'll just set the stage by saying that all 7 of our investigators that we are actively teaching could easily ALL be progressing! Right now, it seems they are taking it in turns. :) The most consistent one is of course Dustin Cornett, who is doing fantastic despite having trouble making it to Church every week because he is so exhausted at times. He tries hard, and that's all I could ask of him. So, combining regular teaching of our 7 recent converts as well and you have quite a lot of opportunities to teach the gospel every week! A tremendous blessing from the Lord! That's about the easiest way to sum things up in Hazard as they now stand. The scariest thing is that we could actually have even more success. 20 lessons a week has become commonplace, so I don't think 30 is a long shot. That takes a lot of work, but it can be done. Also, our efforts to coordinate successful member-missionary work received a boost yesterday as well. Bro. Dirk Flinchum--- mostly inactive for 45 years until about 2 years ago---was called to be our new branch mission leader! His wife is a recent convert from last August and they are a GREAT family, plus they make some darn good food. I can describe Bro. Flinchum with 2 D-words: Diligence and Dedication. Those are exactly the kind of things that the branch here needs, and with our help I know he will do a great job. 

Our newest investigator is 24 year old Larry Creech, the son of an inactive member that approached us a couple weeks ago when we were finishing our grocery shopping and indicated that her son wanted to meet with us. He is a very gung-ho (too much really) individual and ready to learn and come to Church. He came yesterday and went around and personally greeted everyone in attendance. You don't see that every day from an investigator, that's for sure. All I can say is that the Lord isn't just giving us people to teach, but they are also prepared which is huge. I hope to see more of that kind in the week to come! We're still struggling to get our Book of Mormon class going, but not because there aren't interested people. We just need to START! We would've started last week but we were on exchanges with Martin. This week should be interesting because the branch has an activity at the same time that we planned to have our class, but we're going to give it a go anyway. Wish us luck! 

I'm looking forward to another round of interviews with Pres. Robbins this week, they are always good. Zone Conference last Thursday was great too, and he tried to tell us everything he knew about the mission being dissolved. He said he doesn't know a whole lot at this point, but I'm sure he will as it gets closer. He said it will be published in the Church News on Feb. 13 (I think) so you can see it there. 

Hard to believe this transfer is already half over, what's going on!? There's much that has been accomplished since I arrived here, which is indeed a blessing from the Lord. Most people might be tired from being busy most of the time, and of course we're pretty drained at the end of each day....but as a missionary, being busy is great! Hopefully it continues for the rest of my mission. Sounds like all is well on the homefront and that you had an enjoyable trip up to Boise. I'm guessing there's a lot of snow there as well as in Utah. Most of the snow here has melted, but a lot of people still freak out when the temperature drops below 32 degrees. Oh well, I guess that just makes the roads a lot more clear for us. Blessing in disguise! 

Well, my study journal is stuffed full of interesting insights that I've been wanting to share more often, so I'm going to try and share at least one every week until I get home. Hopefully, I don't end up repeating myself. This week I have two, and the first one is about the need for charity, particularly in missionary work. Its influence, radiated by the missionary, helps to create within the investigator a desire to learn and softens his heart to the truth. Charity can fill the missionary with an unquenchable desire to serve his fellowmen. Without it, as difficulties arise and proselyting seems unfruitful, he may lose interest and slacken his pace. But with Christlike love for others, the missionary will persevere through adversity because he becomes a caring and dutiful messenger of Christ. A Christlike love for others can purify a missionary's motives and consecrate his labor and true desire to share the gospel. It is my hope and prayer that we will all strive for greater charity in our lives, because the scriptures call it the greatest of all. As Elder Holland once said, "Christ is the only one who has mastered it, while the rest of us are still trying." Real charity, or the pure love Christ, was manifest in His atoning sacrifice for mankind. None of us will ever do anything quite like that, but we can at least commit ourselves to the happiness and well-being of others. The other thought I have to share is below, mostly because it's much longer. It's rather amusing actually, so I hope you all enjoy it. No, I didn't come up with this in case you're wondering.

What exactly is a missionary? A missionary comes in two varieties: Elders and sisters. A missionary comes in assorted sizes, weights and colors----green being the most common among the new ones. They are found everywhere, hurrying, climbing, knocking, walking, and getting thrown out. Converts love them, young girls worship them, the law tolerates them, dogs hate them, most people ignore them, and Heaven protects them. A missionary has the appetite of a horse, the enthusiasm of a firecracker, the patience of Job, the persistence of a salesman, and the courage of a lion tamer. A missionary likes letters from home, invitations to Sunday dinner, conferences, checks, and visits from the Mission President. A missionary isn't much for tracting in blizzards (or any other weather for the matter), ladies who slam doors, hats, suits and dull ties, apartment houses, transfers to hot areas, shaking hands at arm's length with opposite gender, alarm clocks, and "Dear John" letters. A missionary can get homesick, discouraged, and temporarily lose faith in the whole human race. Yet nobody else can knock so boldly with such a shaky hand. Nobody is so early to rise or so tired at 10:30 p.m. And nobody else can get such a thrill at the end of a discouraging day from the words, "Come right in----I've been waiting for you." A missionary is truth with a pocket full of pamphlets, and faith with 69 cents in its pocket. "Hey, Dad, where is that check?" Yes, they are all this, but a strange lump will rise in its throat the day it receives its letter of release, and on arrival home it homecoming speech will probably contain the phrase it once considered trite. "The time I spent in the mission field ws the happiest time of my life."

Pretty good, huh? Well, that's about all I've got to say this week. Hope everyone has a great week filled with memorable experiences! Love you all, and Happy Valentine's Day in case I forget to say it next week. :) 

Monday, February 1, 2010

Which mission am I in?

Dear Family,

This morning, we received a huge announcement from Pres. Robbins. I will include it below:

"Last Wednesday, 27th of January, I received a brief phone call from Elder Jay E. Jensen, of the Presidency of the Seventy informing me that…

On 1July 2010, the Ohio, Cincinnati Mission will be dissolved. The three Cincinnati Zones will be incorporated into the Ohio, Columbus Mission and the Huntington Zone will be incorporated into the West Virginia, Charleston Mission.

Please remember that you are under call to be a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You were assigned to labor in the Ohio, Cincinnati Mission.

Your calling remains the same, it is only your assignment that will change.

It is okay to tell your families. However please do not call other missionaries to discuss or to speculate. We will do our best to answer your questions at our upcoming Zone Conference. Only, we don't know very much about it at this point either.

These changes will be published in the Church News."

If you can believe it, I anticipated that the mission would soon be dissolved, but I had no idea it would happen THIS soon. Elder Kirk Reimschussel, one of my friends from Quiznos who is serving in Tampa, FL told me several months ago that the Church was cutting back on all missionaries in the Eastern U.S. by quite a bit. I, of course, noticed this within the mission as the months went along. As I said, I couldn't have anticipated it would come this quickly. Well, I'll only be here for about a month after the change happens anyway, and hopefully in Wilmington, which is about an hour from Columbus. Maybe they'll be nice and let my departing group go through the temple up there. :) Oh well, SO many things are out my control, but thankfully not the work as it now stands in Hazard.

This was another week where Church was called off because of yet another snowstorm. We were safe throughout, by the way. No power outages! We did our best to make Sunday productive, and so like the last time Church was called off, we took the sacrament to other members with the permission of the local leaders, of course. We shoveled the sidewalk at the Church and then did the same for the Flinchum's, who had us for a real good dinner last night! A less important side note to the shoveling though....:)

Another big plus was setting a baptismal date of March 6th with Wilma Bowman and her 10 year old daughter Jessica! They are diligent learners and a lot of fun to teach, which has made for some very good lessons. The next step will be getting them a ride to Church. We have enough solid potentials to basically double our teaching pool, if you can believe it with all the lessons we've been teaching lately! We have some great opportunities before us, and I just hope we are prepared and worthy of them! Only time will tell!

Sounds like all is going well back home for everybody! I did get an e-mail from Joey informing me about his blog, and I'm sure he appreciated all the posts from various family members. I wanted to thank you as well for the things you said, they brought a smile to my face. Wow, another temple in Utah to be built! And this one in Payson, which is where Elder Lundquist is from. He was my first companion in Wilmington and probably my favorite thus far on my mission. I'm sure he's more excited than I am!

Let's see, what else could I talk about? Oh yes, developing and exercising Christlike attributes. I've given a lot of thought to it over the past week concerning what I might share. In none of them am I even close to approaching where I ought to be, but the Lord has certainly made me recognize the need for them and has made me a more capable servant in His hands. I view the Christlike attributes chapter of Preach My Gospel as the one that holds the entire book together. The other things are very important, of course; but without a Christlike disposition when doing those things, it is basically meaningless. I suppose the best way I can sum up my feelings at this point is that I understand how important it is to accept the Lord's will and His timing and then do whatever He directs. In other words, see Mosiah 3:19. :) As I've worked to become a more complete disciple of the Savior, my recognicition of Him and His goodness to me and to the people I'm privileged to serve has also increased. I could probably say that this experience as a missionary has taught me the importance of maintaining a focus on the welfare and happiness of other people. I think Pres. Monson summed it up best when he said:

"To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves. No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow man. Service to others is akin to duty---the fulfillment of which brings true joy."

I know that it is in becoming someone, not simply doing somethings, that Christ will change our natures to reflect His own. I will share further insights in the weeks to come, although it seems I do that anyway. I pray that you may do all things cheerfully and with the assurance that everything will work out like it's supposed to. Have a great week, and God Bless!