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!