This week was fantastic! Fortunately winter still hasn't kicked in. We've had weather in the 50's and 60's all week. We got some light rain, but other than that it felt like late summer, early fall all week. It was SUPER nice. I'm sorry that it has been so wet and rainy over there!
Monday we had P-Day. I pretty much ruined P-Day by taking forever to email. Remember how I was telling you how this has become my journal for the week? Yeah, it's mentally draining to capture every important detail that has transpired during the last week of your life in order to capture and preserve it for posterity. Sometimes I'm pretty sluggish when it comes to typing it all up. haha. To make matters worse, by the time I got done, the zone leaders still didn't have their reports in. So we had to wait for them to get all their reports submitted. We didn't really get to do anything until about 4 PM. So we just went and hung out with Justin. He's so funny. I love him.
We had to go finish the report at 6 and practice our training for Zone Conference, and that took quite a while. So by the time we were done it was 7:30 and we had to get to Justin's for a lesson at 8. So we went and had a good lesson. Justin ordered Pizza from his phone (I didn't know you could do that!). He needed a blessing at the end of the lesson, and he said, "Watch. Half way through the blessing the Pizza guy's gonna show up." Sure enough, it happened. WAY funny! We crammed some pizza and orange soda real quick and then we had to take off and get home.
Tuesday morning we had the Pittsburgh Zone Conference. Our training was on "The Rescue." It was a powerful experience being able to train on that subject for the week. It came down to us from the Prophet himself, and so I felt privileged to be a part of it. The Holy Ghost really helped us to put it together and to teach it, and the effect was spectacular. We finally have specific, inspired directions for less-active work. I always felt like our work was one sided: on one hand we have incredible resources for teaching non-members, and on the other we were flying blind. Now we know what to do! And it works!
It's funny that you sang "O Come, O Come Emmanuel...." So did I! I sang a duet with Elder Nelson, the Pittsburgh Zone Leader on Tuesday morning. Sister Topham played for us. It went great. Dr. Brower, the health specialist for the mission, came and gave a presentation on staying healthy. He passed around two bowls. One full of carrots, the other full of chocolate. We had to choose which one to take. I took the carrots. He said, "Life is a constant battle between carrots and chocolate. It's all about the choices we make!" Ironically enough, the carrots got me sick. I was the last one to take carrots from the bowl, and everyone had been sticking their hands in the bowl to eat the exposed carrots. The chocolate, on the other hand, had protective wrappers. Should've gone with the chocolate.
After Zone Conference we had a lesson with Nick and Jess about the sermon on the mount. They are doing so well! We helped them unpack some boxes. Jess commented on how they used to have a very different taste in magazines, and now the only magazines they have are Ensigns. So funny! They love the new apartment and it looks beautiful. I'm so proud of them! They like being out on their own.
We visited Tori and TJ after. They've been reading the Book of Mormon like crazy! We were able to go over Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life. I love their mom. She peeks in to the room to "check on us" (she originally wanted to stay out of the lessons so the kids wouldn't feel pressured and they could learn on their own) but then stands there and listens to the lessons. =) I think she enjoys them. =D Tori and TJ are so sharp! They explained all the symbolism in the vision without even trying. It's unusual for kids their age to think deeply about spiritual things. We had correlation meeting with Brother Hemmert, our ward mission leader after that. We've got a ton of stuff going on in our area. It's great to get together and set goals and make plans. We had to drive to Wexford after that (about a 45 minute drive) and we still hadn't packed! So we threw some stuff together in a suitcase and left our place at 9:30. We didn't get in until 10:15 PM. We stayed with Elders Curl and Moulton in their apartment - Elder Bartlett's previous area. It was weird for him.
We got up at 5:45 AM the next morning to shower and get ready. We had to drive another 45 mins to Butler for Zone Conference. We had to be there at 8:30 AM. The conference went great. I think the Pitt North training was our weakest of the week but it still went well. Curl and Moulton gave me a blessing after the conference. I was dying. My sinuses were so plugged up and my throat hurt. I barely made it through my portion of the training. They blessed me that I'd be able to make it to all my destinations safely and that I'd be able to train unimpeded by my sickness. I felt better after, though I was still sick. We had to drive back to pittsburgh for an appointment but it cancelled as soon as we got back in town. Unfortunate, but we had to finish packing anyway. So we finished packing and drove to State College, PA and stayed with Elders DeRoest and Boyd. They're so awesome. They made sure to double lock the door that night because apparently there was a murderer on the loose in state college. He broke into some dorms and knifed some kids. Sketchy. We were okay though. Only one of us didn't make it.
The training in State College was AMAZING. Elders Davidson and Meier did a fantastic job with their portion of the training. I was really impressed. Elder Kofford did a musical number. It's been so cool to see him come out of his shell. I can't describe the change he's undergone.... he's just....bright. He smiles, he's happy, he's charismatic. I'm so proud of him. He did a great job. Though, true to Elder Kofford form, he wasn't without his quirks. He got to the last verse of "Angels We Have Heard on High," and the piano started in and he just said, "I don't know the words to this part. So we're done." Then he shrugged. The pianist, Elder Davis, just did a "shave and a hair cut - two bits" sort of deal and ended the song. It was hilarious. It was a hit and everyone complimented him afterwards.
After the zone conference we had to drive another 2 hours to Harrisburg. We stayed the night with Elder Ward and Elder Harper. I found a copy of "Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling" and consumed 100 pages of that book in like two hours. I was SO tired by the time 10:30 PM came around. Reading isn't the most social thing to do... everyone probably thinks I'm a nerd. But heck, the book was awesome, so I don't really care.
I whimpered when I woke up Friday morning. I was SO sick. My throat was raw, I could barely open my eyes. I felt disgusting. I wasn't sure how I was going to be able to make it. But the blessing worked! By the time I got to the chapel I was perfectly fine. I got to sit next to Elder Gerratt and Elder Harrison. They're doing so well! Elder Gerratt has less than 5 months left. How weird is that? Our training went fantastic. Friday was probably the best training of the week. President did a great job as well. It was fun being able to watch the mission video with all of my friends. Every year, around september, an elder is asked to put together a slide show for all of the missionaries and it has sort of evolved into a documentary. There are video clips, interviews, the whole shebang. Elder Anderson did a wonderful job and everyone loved it.
I spent the rest of the night on an exchange with Elder King and Elder Richards. We met with two less active families and were able to apply the training. They softened their hearts considerably and one lady, who asked for the missionaries not to contact her and her family, bore her testimony and said the closing prayer. It was very neat. We met with another man that night who was a convicted sex-offender. He was so sad. Really struggling. I marveled at my position in the world shortly after leaving his apartment. I have helped drug addicts recover, I have counseled sex offenders about redemption and forgiveness, I have visited hospitals to comfort the sick - it has been the time of my life. I realized something. So many people express the cliche'd mormon adage: "It's not the best two years OF my life. It's the best two years FOR my life." Well, I would posit that it has been the best two years of my life. The reason? Because my life has not been mine. It has been a conglomerate of the best moments of the lives of others, and I have merely been a spectator. The Spirit is the active force, and I have been an instrument. That's the best feeling in the world.
We were able to help the man. He's going to start meeting regularly with the missionaries. He has some health problems and so we helped him around the house. It was good to do service and to help someone who clearly had physical and spiritual ailments and was terribly, terribly lonely.
There was a Panda Express in the Camp Hill area and King and Richards took me there. I hadn't had panda in a year and a half! The last time I went I was with Harrison. Crazy, huh? It was delicious. I miss Panda.
Saturday morning we met back up with Elder Bartlett. He went to Lititz to work with Elders Allred and Yates. Elders King and Richards had an appointment, so they couldn't stay, but Elder Bartlett, Elder Allred, Elder Yates, and I went to Panera bread an had a nice lunch. Then Elder Bartlett and I made the 5 hour drive home to Pittsburgh. We didn't go home though - we had appointments. We saw Jamal. He met us out on his porch. He was hiding in the shadows when I walked up (It was dark and I was about to knock) and he jumped out and scared me half to death. It was so funny! We had a great lesson about the Plan of Salvation. He loved it. "I be tellin' ya'll this from the start! Iss fo' real! That's what I be sayin!" In his prayer he thanked God for sending us to him and told God that he's glad he got his answer about the Book of Mormon and knows it to be true. It was powerful.
Esthela called us after that and surprised us. She said, "My mom wants you to come over for dinner! She just finished making it for the other elders." We were just down the street. Worked out perfectly! So we walked over. There were 3 people smoking outside of their house, sitting on their porch.... I don't think they were aware. haha. We talked to them and they said, "Sorry, we were just looking for a place to sit." They were all dressed pretty ragged. It was two guys and a girl. The girl said, "I got kicked out of my house and I've been living on the streets all winter. So I guess we'll go." We said we didn't mean to kick them off. We were just going to an appointment. I asked how she was doing. She said she was hungry. I asked if I could help. She asked for money. I didn't have cash on me, so I asked if she liked hot dogs. She said no. I said whatever, it doesn't matter what you like or don't like, I'm buying you something to eat. She looked surprised. She said, "Really?" I said of course! So me and Elder Bartlett took this girl, Haylee, to the gas station. She was very nice. Definitely lost and in trouble, but she was nice. We got to know her. She was 17.
I said, "Grab whatever you want." She suddenly got very shy. She only took a muffin and something to drink. It was only like 2 bucks. The guy behind the counter at the gas station looked at me suspiciously - I was a missionary, dressed in a suit, paying for someone else's food with a credit card. He asked, "Do you get paid to be a missionary?" I said no, me and my family workd and saved for a long time for me to leave home and come help people. He looked even more surprised. Haylee said, "Wait, you don't get paid? How old are you guys?" We said 20. She said, "So, what do Mormons do? You are Mormons, right?" We had a good conversation as we walked her back. It was cool because we passed Jamal on the street and he said, "Whatup, Elders?" And we said, "Whatup Jamal?" I love Jamal. Anyway, Haylee thanked us and went on her way.
We knocked on Guille and Esthela's door. As we were waiting Elder Bartlett and I laughed. He was like, "What're we doing? This is so awesome. We could qualify for welfare." We laughed and I said, "Yeah, and we're helping people with the nothing we have. So epic!" We had a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. We had a nice dinner with Guille and Esthela. Tatiana is going to be baptized in two or three weeks. She's coming back to Pittsburgh to do it. She has been in State College meeting with the sisters. They were so excited when they found out! Guille was asking me questions in English. She's learning so fast! She said to me, "I learning english porque Elder Gerratt leff y I, how you say, miss you!" It was adorable. I taught a short lesson to them in Spanish after dinner about "caridad, el amor perfecto de Jesucristo" - Charity, the pure (or perfect) love of Christ. It's just great being with them. I love their family so much.
So that's how we finished our night. We came home and pretty much collapsed. We were so exhausted.
Church was great the next day. It was the Christmas program. I was going to sing with Joe, but he lost his voice and couldn't sing. So I sang "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" as a solo. President Topham said that was the first time he ever saw someone sing a duet alone! He was really impressed. haha. What a goof. Anyway, everyone was very complimentary. We had a TON of non members come to church for the program. Afterwards, Sunday School was replaced by a "What Mormons Believe" program which was just the first missionary lesson with a cool power point. Brother and Sister Snow taught it. They did great. We had milk and cookies and stuff after wards and people were asking us questions. Positive experience.
Nick and Jess had us over after that. Jess had questions. She's learning so much! She takes notes when something doesn't make sense in church and then asks us so that she can participate in church. We finished our lesson on the sermon on the mount. Nick just keeps growing. He said, "I need to start loving those that are mean to me." What a huge step for him! I love Nick. He's so funny. Jess brought up how sad she gets when she hears people say that they are too unworthy or far gone to go to church. Nick said, "That's so stupid. I'm there! Have you seen me? If God can love me, he can love anybody."
Brother Hemmert fed us dinner. We made some plans for upcoming baptisms and missionary work. It was really good. Then we went and visited Dave. He reminds me of a mix between Mr. Iverson and Mr. Nelson. He's a wrestling coach at the middle school in the area. He's a retired teacher, and now he is a hospice nurse. Most tender hearted, genuine man I've ever met. We knocked on the door and he said, "Elders, come in! Sit down!" We had a wonderful time talking with him. He doesn't want to take the lessons - yet - but he loves talking with the Elders. He can't get over how cool we are and down to earth. He asked us a lot of questions about how our mission has impacted us and what the experience was like. We go and visit him periodically. He's a wonderful man and I'll probably come back to visit him after my mission.
Tori and TJ were supposed to meet with us Sunday night but their family got Strep throat! How awful! We did our weekly planning instead to gear up for 2 exchanges this week.
After that we visited Mike. He's doing very well. He is moving in the right direction. He has just had a hard life and he's lonely. He needs people to talk to. His accident really gave him a blow to his faith. He loves God, but he doesn't feel like he can go on any longer. It has destroyed his self esteem. Towards the end of the lesson he started talking about Brother Kraft and his son. They are his home teachers. It was compliment central. He loves them so much. "Even when I ignore them or don't return their phone calls, they still love me. I never want to disappoint them. His son is so bright and the dad is the best dad I've ever seen. A lot better than my dad. The church makes great families. They are wonderful people." Wow. The power of home teaching.
So, it was a great week! And thank you so much for paying for my student loans. That is SUCH A GREAT GIFT! I've been stressing out about it. Thank you thank you thank you!
Anyway, I don't really need anything else for Christmas. I would like pictures. Like maybe a photo album with pictures of you guys. I've had to have members help me get family pictures off of Facebook. haha. I'd like to have legit pictures of all of us together. I miss you.
Can't wait to skype you in a week!