This week was absolutely crazy. Monday we picked up the new Elders around 3 PM and spent the rest of the day with them. You'd be proud of me. I backed a giant van with a huge luggage trailer on the back of it into President's driveway in only 2 tries! It was my first time. That's pretty much a big deal! I called Elder Kartchner to brag, but then he reminded me that he did it in one try our first day in the field. Doh!
We emailed and did our paperwork at the Tophams. We watched the mission video that was prepared to entertain the missionaries last year at Christmas time. President shows it to all the new missionaries so they can get a feel for the mission. It's pretty cool. It was weird to see pictures of Elder Nilsen and other missionaries that I knew so well who have been home for so long. That's when I realized that I'm the same "age" in the mission as Elder Nilsen was when he trained me. Crazy thought. I've been out for 16 months now. Time has flown by.
Sister Martin is a new sister in the mission. She's been out on her mission for a year but has been serving in Salt Lake on temple square, so she's doing her proselyting rotation here only gonna be with us for two transfers. Anyway, what's crazy about meeting her is that she is friends with the two Sister Missionaries who taught Justin on mormon.org and through the phone! Sisters Osorio and Pen. We were texting Justin and he called to ask questions and then called Sister Osorio and Sister Pen to tell them Sister Martin said hi. What a small world. Super cool, huh?
Monday night we had Elder Henriksen, Elder DeRoest, Elder Hatch, Elder Davis, and Elder Young all stay with us. It was a lot of fun. Elder DeRoest is so funny. Definitely one of my favorite missionaries. He blew up the air mattress and slept in the kitchen next to the sink so that if he needed a drink of water in the middle of the night, he could just stand up and get one. The only down side to his plan was that when Elder Henriksen got up to get a drink of water that night, he tripped and fell on top of Elder DeRoest. Too funny!
Training meeting was great in the morning. Elder Gerratt and I had to wake up early so we could go pick up the new missionaries and take them over. We had breakfast and then helped pack everything up. Then we went and trained the trainees and the trainers for 4 hours. Elder Kartchner is training this transfer. I'm so proud of him. He's come a long way. He asked President 3 or 4 times during the day, "Are you sure this was done by revelation? Did you pray hard enough about this?" He's such a goober.
Transfer meeting was really good. We are excited because we just got two new elders in our area: Elder Jones and Elder Rivas. Elder Rivas is from El Salvador and joined the church a year and seven months ago. He's been on his mission for seven months. He had to learn English to come here. He is so funny, and he's definitely a testimony builder. He has such faith and such knowledge of the gospel already. He's living proof that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. Elder Jones is a crack up. He reminds me so much of Daniel Drake. We get along great. They took half of our area and pretty much all of our teaching pool. But we don't mind. We've been able to find some great people this week. When Elder Rivas found out that he was coming to our area, he just went, "Whhaaaaa?! Ookay." in a SUPER hispanic voice. It was really funny.
On the way to their place Justin asked us to come over. When we showed up he had a cooler full of beer and iced tea. He said, "Elders, I want you to take this and throw it away. I gotta bury my weapons of war. Plus, I can't keep looking at this stuff every time I open the fridge. It's KILLING ME!" It was really funny. Elder Jones and Elder Rivas think Justin is just the coolest. He pretty much is. So here we were, 4 missionaries, driving a van full of beer and iced tea around town. It was great.
I felt so bad for them because they kind of had a Uniontown experience with their apartment. No hot water, no lights, no food. It was even worse though, because half of their floor tiles weren't laid down and their apartment wasn't finished being renovated. The last tenant was evicted, and so it was COMPLETELY trashed. We were going through the bathroom and found an old prescription pill bottle full of white powder. We were pretty sure it wasn't sugar. We also found various other items that I don't care to document. Needless to say, we gained a greater testimony of the law of chastity. haha! Super gross. We threw everything away (including Justin's beer and iced tea) in the dumpster outside and helped them get the place cleaned up.
Since they didn't have any food, they came with us to the departing missionary dinner at president's home. Sister Topham made chicken Cordon Bleu and it was fantastic. Elders Hatch, Bond, and Kovacs were going home. They are heroes in my eyes. Elder Kovacs was my zone leader for a while and Elder Hatch was assistant a few months into my mission. He's the one who taught me how to talk to everyone. He ran across the street, almost got hit by a car, and tried to give a card to a jogger who didn't want it. It left a big impact on me, and I've tried to be that bold every day of my mission. It was sad to see those guys go.
The Miracle family had us over that night at 7:30 PM for a lesson with Nick and Jess. The Miracles were super nervous, because they have 3 little kids who are all 2 years apart, plus a new born baby. Their kids are adorable, but you know how kids are. They tend to make a lot of noise. Brother Miracle is Nick and Jessica's home teacher and he wanted the lesson to go very well. So they told their kids they had to be reverent the whole time, otherwise they'd have to go upstairs and wouldn't be able to spend time with the "cool missionaries." And guess what?! THEY WERE! I've never seen such well-behaved kids. They sat there and didn't say a word. They just looked at pictures of Jesus the whole time and smiled at everyone. I was so impressed.
That definitely helped the lesson though. We were talking about the importance of repentance and baptism and how to reach the point where you know you are repentant. Jess had a lot of questions. She had been smoke free for 7 days and was just worried about falling back into her old habits. She just wanted to be the best she could be before baptism. We read a lot of good scriptures and had a great talk, and the Spirit was definitely there. I thought the coolest part, though, was when Brother Miracle shared his conversion story. He joined the church in Vegas when he was 19 and served a mission in Japan a year after he was baptized. He told Jess, "I waited for 2 years before I was baptized. I just wanted to be 100% sure I was ready. But now, looking back at all the blessings I've received, I wish I hadn't waited. But you do what is right for you. It's between you and the Lord." It was a powerful witness. Jess just had a big smile on her face. She was scheduled to be baptized on the 27th of October. She turned to us and said, "So... what are you guys doing this Saturday? Like, around 7 o'clock?" We said, "Why?" and she said, "I'm ready. I want to be baptized."
Everyone was SO HAPPY! We started making plans. We closed with a beautiful prayer from Sister Miracle and then started getting things ready. We only had 4 days to plan the baptism. The Miracles were glowing. We had a great time and definitely were uplifted. As we left their home, Elder Gerratt said, "Hey, guys, wait a second." And he went to the car and got the scriptures he bought for Nick and Jess. He gave their gifts to them and they were speechless. I just love being friends with such awesome people! It was funny because Nick called us last night to thank us and then he said, "So, how do I even use this thing!?" They're getting the hang of it.
Wednesday we did a ton of area book work in the morning, trying to get things all set for the other elders. We also met with President Topham to plan out exchanges and things for this transfer. Sister Topham said, "Elders, you need to take a P-Day! You look tired and you haven't had a break for weeks! I demand you take a P-Day tomorrow!" We agreed, since thursday was completely open all day. Then we realized we had District Meeting the next day and just forgot to write it in. So our P-Day plans failed yet again!
We met up with Elders Jones and Rivas. They looked so tired. They had been using flashlights in their apartment the whole night before and had taken cold showers. I totally knew how they were feeling. We went tracting for a while with them. Then Elder Jones and I had a great lesson with Savaun. He's such a cool kid! He said, "Ya know, I wanna do what you guys do. Lookin' all nice and helpin' people. I'ma do that one day. I'll be a missionary." It was really cool. After the lesson, as we were driving away, Elder Jones stuck his head out the window and yelled, "SAVAUN!" and Savaun just held his fist in the air and yelled, "ELDER JONES!" It was great. Those two are gonna be good friends. I think it's because they're both like, 7 feet tall.
Brother Snow had us over for dinner. He made some good baked potatoes and chicken casserole. Elder Jones tried to do the dishes after dinner and Brother Snow got mad at him and slapped his hands and said, "NO! I'm not letting the angels of the Lord do my dishes. Now go sit down and eat some brownies!" It was so funny. Such a Mormon problem to have - people being too nice to each other.
I taught the Book of Mormon class that night about Korihor the Anti-Christ and his battle against Alma the Prophet. I made a wicked sweet handout that I'll email you tonight that dissects all of Korihor's attacks and arguments and then refutes them with either the words of Alma from the chapter, or events from Alma's life that helped him to know true principles. It was a great lesson and we had a lot of people out to the class. Justin didn't come that night because his girlfriend was trying to get the relationship back together. We talked to him on the phone that night for like an hour. He said, "AH! I totally could have used that lesson today!" It was really funny. I'm so proud of him. He said, "I didn't know it was possible for your heart to fully love two completely opposite things. But that's where I'm at, and it's hard. I've got some praying to do."
We had a great meeting with Brother Hemmert planning out Jess's baptism. She had called us that morning and already had people picked for saying prayers and hymns and everything. We didn't have to do much. Jess did it all. We let the Dormont Elders stay the night with us so that they didn't have to live in the dark and take cold showers in the morning. We had a lot of fun, but we were so tired we all fell asleep pretty much immediately after getting in bed.
Thursday morning we had district meeting. Elder Lovejoy is the new district leader and he did a fantastic job. We're really focusing on working with recent converts since our district alone has had 6 baptisms in the last 2 weeks. It's been crazy. We all went to Taco Bell afterwards. This girl named Storm who worked there kept asking us to take a phone survey and give her Taco Bell high ratings so she could keep her trophy. She had a giant trophy sitting on the counter. Apparently her Taco Bell is the best, though I couldn't tell a difference. Eventually she bribed us into it by promising us free Fruitista Freezes. I agreed and got a free mango freeze. I love those things.
Elder Gerratt and I came home after that to do some work. We had planning to do and had to write down all of our potential investigators and hand them over to the Dormont Elders. We also decided to take a 2 hour p-day and sleep. I felt so great afterwards! Justin came out with us and the Dormont Elders to teach a lesson. Elder Jones and I taught Estella while Elder Gerratt and Elder Rivas taught Luis in spanish. We had a great lesson about true conversion and what is required. Estella has changed so much. She is getting baptized with her mom in November. She's always been pretty lukewarm to the gospel, but during Justin and Sue's confirmations, apparently she felt the Spirit. She said, "I can't explain how I felt, other than really warm and really great inside. And then I knew that it was true and that I had to get the Holy Ghost for myself." Pretty miraculous. I drew her a diagram that morning and she said it really helped her understand the reason for conversion. We went over the parable of the ten virgins as well and made reference to Elder Bednar's recent conference talk. At the end she asked me to baptize her. I was honored. She said I should do it since I was the one who taught her and was patient with her. I'm really excited, since I haven't actually performed a baptism my whole mission.
We went and watched Prophet of the Restoration with Nick and Jess after that and went over the baptismal interview questions so Jess would be ready. Nick is so supportive of her. He's such a good guy and I'm so proud of him for all he's done to help her. He's coming along, too. I don't think he gives himself enough credit. He has really become one of my best friends. We had a great time.
After that, Justin took us out to dinner. He explained how he got an answer to his prayer about what he should do about his situation. He said, "I was watching TV, and a Wal-Mart commercial came on. And the Spirit hit me when I saw a mom with her two kids loading toilet paper into a shopping cart. I realized that I wanted that for MY kids. I needed someone who would be a mom, not just a girlfriend. And I didn't have that. Then I remembered all the stuff elder Collier told me the night before and it clicked. I know what I have to do." It was really cool. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is real. I can't explain it. You just constantly have epiphanies that direct your course in life on a day to day basis when you're living right. You're entitled to God's direction.
Justin took us out to this seafood bar. There were whole fish with the bones still in them, crabs with the eyeballs still in them, frog legs, sushi, and a bunch of other weird stuff. The food was really good. Frog tastes just like chicken, only it's a little more rubbery. We all lost our appetites when I picked up my crab. At first it was funny because we were playing with its claws and making it dance and crawl around the table like an action figure or something. But then I grabbed the metal crab-cracker-thing and cracked it open, and it made the GROSSEST sound. And the eyes just looked so sad. And we all just went, "Awh, man." And set our forks down and didn't eat anymore. We felt so terrible! It was really funny. Then we got the bill for our food and all had a heart attack. It was like 25 bucks each! Justin was like, "Oh shoot. I'm sooo sorry guys. I thought this place was only 12 bucks each and I was gonna pay for you. But there's NO way I can afford this." It was really funny. As he was driving us home we just talked about life and stuff. Justin is so awesome. There's no other way to describe him. He's a legend.
Friday we had weekly planning. It was good to be able to be able to relax a bit and actually think about what we were doing and where we were going to work. We haven't been able to do that for the last two weeks or so.
Sue had us over after. It was great meeting with her. We had great weather. I'm gonna miss sitting out on her steps with her once it starts getting cold and rainy. We talked about the restoration of the Priesthood and temples. She got really excited about it and half way through the lesson she said, "Hold on a sec!" And went into her house. She came out with a folder full of family history stuff. She's been doing it on her own! She wants to meet with a family history consultant and go to the temple as soon as she can. I'm so impressed with her. What a neat lady!
We stopped by and visited Nick and Jess for a bit after that. We talked about recognizing promptings of the Spirit. They have their own copy of Preach My Gospel and have been studying it. We're so proud of them.
We had a good lesson with Luis's son Jose. Jose is so cool. He's going into the Marines soon and he's bringing a Book of Mormon in his backpack because of that general conference talk about the guy who didn't get yelled at in basic training because he had a Book of Mormon on him. Sounds like a good idea to me! haha. We taught about the law of chastity and it was awkward like usual, but Jose is a good kid so it wasn't a big deal.
President and Sister Topham let us come out to eat at the Sesame Inn (a great Chinese restaurant) with them and the office couples. We had a good time and ate a ton. President and Sister Topham remind me of you and dad. They mess with each other all the time. Sister Topham was talking about the trunk-or-treat the church was having and President made a remark dad would make. "My question is, why is a CHURCH celebrating HALLOWEEN?!" He was just playing with Sister Topham. She just went, "Well, who invented Halloween anyway?" and President said, "The DEVIL! Do you really want kids out on the street on a night like that?!" and she hit him in the arm and said, "Oh, stop it!" It was really funny.
Jess had her baptismal interview at the church after that. It went perfectly. She picked out a baptismal gown after that and took it home. She was grinning from ear to ear. "You did it!" We said. She was like, "I know. I'm so relieved!"
Saturday morning we tracted. People rejected us all day. Then we talked to this lady who tried to tell Elder Gerratt he didn't know what the gift of tongues really was and I stood up for him. We testified pretty boldly. She just kept attacking us and kept saying that our religion had changed its view of Jesus Christ - that we didn't used to believe that he was divine and that we just thought he was a man. She also said that the Book of Mormon didn't teach about Christ. We kindly read to her 2nd Nephi 25:26. "And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins." Yeah, it was more just annoying than anything else. But in the end she came around and said, "Ya know, I was mistaken about you boys. You boys know Christ and are doing a swell job. I'll take one of those Books so I can see what you believe for myself."
Sister Joseph made us lunch. She's a single sister so she just makes it for us and delivers it. She made delicious pasta for us. We went and ate it with the other elders. They had a man refer himself on Mormon.org. His name is Bill. They showed up and he asked them if he could be baptized. They invited him to Jess's baptism that night. And he came! He's a really cool guy.
President Topham went with us to teach a lesson to Melissa. It went so well. Melissa is just a tender-hearted woman and we love her. She made us cookies and poured us water. We taught the plan of salvation and she took it very seriously. She made sure to connect the dots and stopped us when she had questions. She said to President, "These two are fine young men, and I really do enjoy having them over. I look forward to it every week." We just felt great. We are seeing her this week as well.
President went tracting with us after and it was super funny. It was his first time. Highlights from our experience:
1) We knocked on a house with a giant Notre Dame flag out front. An angry man opened the door and said, "I'm BUSY! I don't want to talk to you." President said, "Well, are you watching the game?" And the man said, "YES! That's why I'm BUSY!" President asked, "Well, may I ask who's winning?" And he said, "BYU!" and slammed the door. Poor guy. The mormon missionaries showed up to gloat as the mormon college was beating his team. haha. Too bad BYU blew it and lost by 3.
2) President finally got the hang of talking to people and had a really good discussion with this guy who was walking his dog! We were so proud of him. President is so courageous.
3) This lady's dad died a member of the church but she never did join. She also wasn't interested. I said, "Well, do you have a copy of the Book of Mormon?" and she said no. "Would you like one?" She said no thank you. I said, "C'mon....... it's blue!" And she said, "Well, in that case, I'll take it!" And so she took a copy of the book because it was blue. haha.
We were really relieved to go to Jess's baptism. We'd been rejected and rained on all day (which tends to happen the day of baptisms) so we needed some good news. The baptism was fantastic. Justin said the opening prayer, Sue said the closing prayer. Tons of ward members came out. Bill, the Dormont elders' referral, came and loved it. It was just a beautiful service. President Topham baptized Jessica. It was the first time he had baptized someone in 31 years. He was so happy when Jess asked him to do it. It was just a great time. We had a ton of cookies after the service and a meeting with Brother Hemmert. I also practiced my song with Sister Topham once everyone had gone home.
I asked Jess how she felt after her baptism. She said, "You guys weren't kidding. This is the greatest. I feel clean." I asked Nick how he was feeling and he said, "I'm almost there. I'm really close, and I can make it." What a stud.
Sunday was fantastic. We had a ton of people at church. Jessica's confirmation was incredible. I got to confirm her. She said, "I felt full, but I felt light at the same time. Like I was filled with something. The Holy Ghost is real and it's amazing." I sang "The Gardner" in between Brother and Sister Whitings' talks. Probably the best I've ever sung it. Sister Topham played for me and she did great. We got a lot of compliments afterwards. I felt grateful.
Mrs Roper, the Whiting's neighbor, came to church today and loved it. She worked with missionaries years ago when they were volunteering at the hospital. I talked to her during gospel principles and she said, "I just love you boys!" What a sweet lady.
The Miners had us over for dinner after church. Sister Miner makes the best rolls. I was so grateful that they fed all 4 of us. We dropped Elder Jones and Elder Rivas off after that and then went to teach Kris and Eric. The lesson went great. We taught the plan of salvation and he said, "Man, I've always wanted answers to these questions. And this is all making sense. I'm going to have to take this more seriously." We love coming over to visit them. Eric is a tender hearted guy. He said, "I just want to thank you guys for taking time to come visit us. It means a lot that you would do that." There's a good feeling in their home. They're good parents, and they're living the very best they can. Eric said, "I just know there's more, and since having a child I know I need to find it and teach him a good way to live."
We met with Guille and Estella again after that. Brother Bayles came with us. They went over the baptismal interview questions in Spanish and I played with the cat.
Nick and Jess asked us to come by so they could give us something. They gave us a little box and told us to open it when we got home. We did, and inside it said, "You guys are M&M's. The Most amazing Missionaries!" with a package of M&M's. There was also a package of chocolate covered cinnamon bears that said, "Thank you 'Beary' much for being our missionaries!" As well as a card that said, "You're. Super. Awesome." from the store. They said they couldn't resist buying that card. It's kind of an inside joke between us because us missionaries always say "awesome" and "super duper." It was a great way to end the week.
It was busy. This week isn't looking quite as busy but we're going to be tracting a lot. Gotta work while we have the weather on our side! Guille and Estella will be baptized not this Saturday, but the Saturday next. Please keep them in your prayers.