First things first. So if you're wanting to send me a package, could you please send me some razors? Also, I need shampoo and body wash. Whatever is cheapest, send it my way. I also don't need a lot of candy. If you'd like to send some protein bars or gushers or fruit by the foot or something that would be better. Could you also send me some gatorade powder? I know that this may be too early to say this, but for Christmas I won't be needing any more socks. haha!
Okay, so this week was even better than the last three. We've been running non stop for two weeks and it has been exhausting, exhilarating, and legendary. It's the greatest feeling in the world when you can be led by the Holy Ghost from the morning until the evening. The days fly by - they are happy, they are fluid, they don't even seem like days. The whole concept of time gets blurred and it just starts feeling like you're living one eternal, glorious day. I'm not looking forward to the time when life returns to normal and I'll have to face the often mundane but sometimes very difficult issues of a failing world. Hopefully I will remember what I've felt here and apply the same principles. When you have the spirit and power of God resting upon you, you can truly do all things.
Last Monday we spent all day planning for the transfer with president. Since this was such a big week, we definitely had opposition - lots of business to distract us, a lot of things falling through, overall discouragement - but we knew exactly where it was coming from and just chose to buckle down and work through it. It was great. We felt super tough. haha. Monday night we had a great lesson with Sue at the Whiting's home. We went over the baptismal interview and answered some questions that had come up during her studies that she had always wondered about. The Spirit bore powerful witness of the truthfulness of this work, and Brother and Sister Whiting bore testimony as well. Then Sue did! It was amazing.
After that we met with Justin. Justin had been having some serious doubts - "They're not about whether or not the church is true," he said. "I know it is beyond a shadow of a doubt. I just don't know whether or not I'm strong enough. I worry that I'll slip up and have to do serious repenting again." We had a good lesson and then made him a promise that Elder Gerratt and I would never fall away. We would stay true to what we knew was right, and we wouldn't back down. We would always be there for him. It made him feel better. Justin, Elder Gerratt, and I are going to be friends forever.
Tuesday we worked more on transfers. Then we met up with Sue and planned for her baptism. Guille had us over for a lesson after that. Elder Gerratt taught about the importance of the family and the nature of the Godhead. He answered a lot of Luis' questions. I've said it before, but I'll say it again: the gift of tongues is real. There is such a difference in Elder Gerratt's spanish in lessons vs. outside of lessons. When he starts to teach, it becomes more fluid. He loses his accent. Words come to him that he didn't know before. It has been such a blessing to serve with him and watch the Spirit magnify his talents and abilities.
After that we met with Anjie. She is SUPER cool. We honestly weren't expecting her to read the Book of Mormon or anything that we gave her, but when she came out on to the porch to talk with us she brought a composition notebook full of notes on the pamphlet and on the Book of Mormon verses referenced therein. She even did the additional study! My favorite part about her notes was a comment at the top of the page: "I feel happy when I read this," with an arrow pointing to the account of the first vision. We read the first chapter of the Book of Mormon. She's getting really engaged in it. It went really well.
The Hoskins fed us dinner that night. We had a good lesson on the importance of prayer. Then we met briefly with Justin. He wanted a blessing to help him have more confidence in himself and to resist temptation. After that, Brother Match met up with us and we went over and had a powerful first lesson with Ismael, a hispanic man from Mexico. It was really powerful. I love sitting in on Spanish lessons.
Wednesday we had zone training. Elder Nelson trained on weekly planning and elder Deaton trained on "Preaching Christ," or making Christ the center of everything we teach. After the training was over, Elder Gerratt and I went to Boston Market. We love the food there, but every time we go, the workers are really mean to us. It's hilarious. This time the lady behind the register asked me, "Would you like a cup for water?" And Elder Gerratt said, "Yeah, could we take two?" And she snapped at him and said, "I wasn't talking to you. Wait your turn." He got this look on his face like, "Oh, snap!" It was so funny.
We had a lesson with Nick after that. He is really struggling. Please keep him in your prayers. He has really severe anxiety and agoraphobia, and his doctor just switched some of his medications around. It has caused him severe fatigue and he sleeps like, 16 hours a day and it has made him super depressed because he can't do anything. We mostly just went over there to provide some comfort and support.
After that we bought Melissa some flowers since she has been really sick. She was really grateful. We are going to go over there soon for another lesson. Jess really wants to come teaching with us, so we will probably introduce her to Melissa. Jess quit smoking on Wednesday and it was really tough for her, so she would text us every so often for help to keep going. My favorite one she sent this last week was: "THIS SUCKS!" It was super funny. She is such an inspiration. She just kept her self busy doing gospel things. She has replaced her smoking habit with temple indexing. She is the highest indexer in the stake, and she's not even a member yet!
Mike Datillo had us over for dinner. He made us pork chops. I sent you a picture of Mike. He's such a great guy. He had me spray for bugs in his basement after dinner. That's why I'm wearing the hospital mask and the goggles. haha!
We had Book of Mormon class after that. Deaton and Nelson taught about "Burying our Weapons of War," just like the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. Justin was really debating whether or not to come. In his head, he was fighting it. "I just had school AND work, I'm tired, I don't want to go sit around for an hour." He was also struggling because he still had a whole pack of beer in his fridge from before he started living the word of wisdom which had been tempting him. But after the lesson he said, "You guys. That was AWESOME. A total rebuke. I need to go home and get rid of that stupid beer! I can't just keep my weapon of rebellion on the shelf. I've gotta bury it in the ground." The lesson was super timely for Jess, too, who was quitting smoking. It was a tender mercy.
My favorite part of Wednesday was when Justin texted us and said, "You guys, I've gotta know that I'm forgiven. If I don't text you for a while, it's because I've started prayer-fest 2012 with the Lord." We didn't get his next text until the morning, but he pretty much had an Enos experience. It was incredible. He said, "You guys. I understand the atonement now. It feels incredible." He is such an example of faith!
Thursday morning we had to help the Pitt 2nd elders (the moving elders) move all the furniture into the Beechview apartment. Elder Jones and Elder Rivas will be living there - the new elders in our area. We are excited to have them working with us. After that, we went and helped Sister Avans and her son Mason move some things around in her house. Sister Avans broke her ankle. She fed us lunch and we had a good time. Mason is a football coach in Texas. It was cool talking to him about his experiences with the kids on his teams. He coaches at a boarding school for troubled teens.
After that we changed and went to the office to do logistics for transfers. Then Luis and Guille had us over again for a lesson. Guille is getting baptized on October 27th! And her daughter, Estella, might be joining her! It was a super big deal.
The Eves had us over for dinner that night. We had orange chicken. Their son, Landon, chased me around the house for fifteen minutes. He's a year and a half old. He would scream and laugh every time I'd turn around and start chasing him. He kept peeking his little head around the corner to see if I'd jump out at him. It was fun. We also got to meet Sister Eve's dad since he was in town. Apparently sister Eve's little sister knows Harrison. They work (or worked) at BYU-TV together.
We stopped in to see Sue just for a few minutes after that to make sure she was doing okay. Then Justin had his baptismal interview. He was really nervous going in, but by the time it was over he and Elder Shumway (our district leader) left the room laughing. He felt really good about it and was just relieved that he made it. He said, "You guys, I'm ready!" Jess met up with us after the interview. Nick was at home sleeping. Poor guy. Jess texted us and said, "You guys, I have to get some ice cream or I'm going to lose it! I just found a full pack of cigarettes in my car!" She met us at the church and then us, her, and justin went to McDonalds to get some ice cream. It was probably my most favorite memory of the mission. Jess was struggling with knowing how to repent and feel forgiven before baptism, and Justin, who had just experienced it the night before, explained it to her. She took notes and then promised to follow through. Then in the parking lot, she said, "Elders, you have to take this," and handed over her pack of cigarettes. It was so awesome. I feel like they don't even need us anymore. Nick, Jess, Justin, and Sue have been teaching each other, calling each other, and rooting for each other. It's a solid group of friends, and it's beautiful to see.
Friday we worked on logistics all day. What a headache. We were super relieved when we walked into the office though. Both Sue and Justin's scriptures were there waiting for us! Right on time.
At 3:30 we went to the church to fill the font for Justin's baptism. Then Jess and Nick took us to Arby's. We had a lesson in the church lobby afterwards and Nick fell asleep on his scriptures. Jess elbowed him and said, "Nick, wake up!" Poor guy. It's super funny, but I know how much he's struggling with it, so I feel bad. After the lesson Jess took Nick home so he could go to bed, and then came back for the baptism. The Whitings, the Eves, the Hemmerts, the Matches, the Bishop, and Justin's mom and brother all came. I played Rise Up O Men of God for the opening hymn. Everything went great until after Justin was baptized... we kept waiting for Justin and Elder Gerratt to come out of the changing room. Finally brother eve got a text - they had forgotten their change of clothes in their backpacks in the chapel! So funny. So we had to run those in to them. It was great. Sue was deeply touched by the service. There was so much love in the room. We had milk and cookies and brownies and stuff after and took pictures. Justin loved his scriptures and the Preach My Gospel we got him. After he went home, he called us. "Guys, I testified to my brother. He had a lot of questions. It went so well! He might read the Book of Mormon!" He also told us how surprised his mom and brother were that the service was completely normal. "We felt really good at the service. We thought it would be creepy or that people would pressure us into being Mormon or something. But no, everyone was really normal and really nice! And we liked the things they taught!" Justin was way happy. He told us, "You guys, I was totally expecting something crazy to happen right after I came up out of the water. Like for lightning to come out of my eyes or something. But nothing happened. It wasn't until after I was sitting in the chapel that I realized how clean I felt. Totally free. It's the happiest I've ever felt."
Sue had her baptismal interview right after Justin's baptism. She did great. She cracks me up. She was so nervous about it that she went through and re-read all of the pamphlets we had given her! She was really relieved afterwards. "That wasn't as scary as I thought it would be!"
Saturday morning we worked on logistics. At 1:30 PM we went to lunch with Justin at Brother Crossley's house and had a lesson. Justin had been listening to talks in his truck. He is SO cool. Sue's baptism was at 4:00. About two hours before we got a call from Sue. She finished the Book of Mormon at 2 AM the night before! She told us all about it and how she knew without a doubt it was true. She read the whole book in 4 weeks. Incredible. Simply incredible.
Lots of people came to her baptism. I sang "When I am Baptized" and I didn't forget the words and throw a tantrum on the floor like at Harrison's baptism 16 years ago. =D Brother Betteridge baptized Sue. He was the one who introduced her to the Elders. It was really cool to see. Afterwards, when we were eating refreshments, we gave her the scriptures we got her and a Preach my Gospel. She was so happy. She cried and thanked us for everything. After we cleaned up for the next baptism (Pittsburgh 6th ward had 3 baptisms that day) we went out and talked in the parking lot. Justin and Sue were out there talking about their baptisms and how great they were. I'm so proud of them.
Justin came out teaching with us right after. We met a kid named Savaun on the street. We talked to him about eternal families and he said, "You know, I was just praying about that last night. I'm so worried about my family and what happens when we die." He gave us his phone number and asked us to get him a ride to church the next day. He is a senior in high school and plays basketball. We weren't expecting him to text us back, but he called us and was really excited to go.
Guille asked us to come over because she wanted to see us and have a lesson in English to practice. We had a great lesson with Estella in English and Justin bore his testimony about baptism. Things finally clicked with Estella and after we left, she told her mom that it was the first time she had really felt something and gotten excited about the gospel. Things clicked. Guille said, "Finally! I've been telling you all along!"
Justin then drove us over to Nick's to talk with him. We gave Nick a blessing. I feel like a home teacher right now - just visiting my friends with my friends and making sure they're okay. It's wonderful. As Justin dropped us off at our car, he said, "You guys. This is great. I feel so powerful right now. I feel like this is exactly where God wants each of us to be. The world needs this gospel. It's the only thing that will save it, and we need to testify - so hard!" He is SUCH a boss! I love Justin.
Sunday morning was beautiful. Brother Match picked up Savaun and he stayed for all three hours of church. Turns out, he knows Estella from school and she said hi to him at church! it was really cool. The confirmations of Sue and Justin were incredible.
After the confirmations, right before sacrament, Sister Helms asked President and I to step out into the hallway. A man from South Carolina was there wanting a blessing. His name was Randall. Sister Helms left and we went out into the hall. There was a really sick man standing there - he looked like a strong breeze could blow him right over. He was in his late fifties, early sixties. He had a thick New York accent. Apparently, he was a fire fighter in 9/11. He was one of the 2 in his latter house that survived the collapse of one of the towers. Because of the smoke and debris and everything, he's had recurring lung and stomach problems. He has had 12 surgeries in the last 10 years, and this time, when he visited the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the doctor gave him 3 months to live. He was staying at the Holiday Inn not far from the church, and he had googled the location of the chapel and walked there. It was hard for him to speak, but he said to us, "My parents joined your church when I was 18. They wanted me to join, but I didn't wanna. I was young and stupid. But I knew my dad. He was a firefighter too, and he was tough as nails. There was no way he'd ever follow something false." We asked him if he had a copy of the Book of Mormon and he said, "Yeah, I've got the one with the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price all in one. I read it every day. I know this is the true church, and I've come to get a blessing. I know I'm gonna die, and I'm not afraid. I just need some comfort and I need protection on my way back to South Carolina." We gave him a blessing, and afterwards he thanked us. Crying, he said, "President, will God be mad at me if I die before I get baptized into the church?" President told him no, of course not. He explained the redemption of the dead, and more about the plan of salvation. It was a really tender moment. After, President drove him back to his car and I went in to sacrament meeting.
The rest of church was fantastic. Justin and Sue were glowing. Everyone was congratulating them. There was just so much love the whole time we were there. That's what the gospel is all about. Loving and serving your friends.
We had serious opposition after church though. People straight up attacked us and cussed us out all day. But it was worth it. We know what blessings come from enduring persecution.
Brother Match had us and Justin over for dinner. We had a little lesson about the restoration and then Justin went with us to go teach Dave. Dave placed 5th in his body-building competition this week, so he was super happy. He had a big trophy. It was quite the accomplishment. We had a good discussion with him. All three of us bore powerful testimony in the lesson. It's great having Justin with us. The most powerful part was when he said, "Dave, I know it sounds cliche coming from the Elders. I thought so, too. Until it happened to me. I prayed about that book, and I had a revelation. God let me know. And know, just like them, I know it's true." At the end of the lesson, Dave told us he knew it was true, too. He just wasn't willing to live how he knew he should and he was content with that at the moment. But he said, "I'll hang on to the book guys. I'll let you know when I'm ready." It was sad, but it was good at the same time. I love Dave. He's a good guy.
Justin was a little heartbroken. That night he sent us a text that just said, "I love you guys." I'm so proud of him. It takes a lot to testify. A lot of courage, and a lot of love. We talked to him a little bit about it on the phone. "How do you guys do that every day? Just put your heart out there - everything you are and everything that's important to you - and just get rejected all the time? It's incredible."
It's hard, but it's worth it. It's always worth the salvation of your friends, the happiness of your family, and the service to mankind that you render through following Jesus Christ.
This work is truly about leaving the 99 to find the one. We worship a God who loves the one. We worship a God who is organized, who has established a real, living government for the administration of the salvation of his children. We worship a God who speaks today, just like he always has. We belong to His church and His kingdom.
Straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to eternal life, and few there be that find it.
I hope our loved ones find it. Every single one of them.
have a great week