Hey. This week was ridiculously cold. Apparently Utah has made national news because of how bad it has been out there. People all over the place here keep talking about it. I feel so bad for Harrison and Jenni. He says they are headed to Vegas this weekend to get away from the weather. That'll be nice for them, especially with the lack of heat in their apartment. It's no good to be cold!
Last Monday we were told by every sensible person in the ward not to drive to Erie for our exchange because the weather was going to be really bad. We said a prayer and went for it. Then after the prayer we forgot the keys and locked ourselves out of our apartment. So I had to climb up our balcony and break into our apartment through the sliding glass door. Then we drove right into the worst storm I've ever seen in my life! 2 feet of snow in two days. It took us 5 hours to get to Erie. The Jamestown, NY elders met us there to pick up Elder Bartlett. They ended up having to stay the night because it was so bad and would have taken them 4 hours to get home and it was already 10 PM. So we ended up staying the night together and had a good time. I'll send you some pictures of all of us. The pictures attached show how cold I was and how bad our car was after sitting in the parking lot for one day. The Lake Effect is killer!
Luckily the Sunday before Brother Kraft gave us these things called "Snow Totes." They are these rubber stretchy things that you put over the top of your shoes so they don't get wet/cold. The cool thing is, they look just like dress shoes. They match my brand of shoe and you couldn't even tell that I was wearing anything out of the ordinary, other than that my feet looked a little bigger. They saved my butt. Brother Kraft is so awesome.
Tuesday morning it was 8 degrees, -14 with windchill. The highest it got was 14 degrees. We went out in the morning and helped members shovel their walks because they were stuck and had to go to work. We shoveled snow for 2 hours. Then we taught a lesson to a less active lady and her non member husband. The lesson went really well - he was very interested in the gospel. Elder Allred and Elder O'Laughlin are fantastic missionaries. We went in for lunch after that and made soup. It was SO COLD. Elder Allred said, "Man. It's cold. Why can't we have a burning in our bosom all the time! That would really come in handy right now." Missionary humor. Classic.
We ended up shoveling the walks of two more people. We went tracting for a bit and the wind was sharp enough to take your face off. We had to either walk backwards or hunched way over or it would sting us. My hands swelled up like sausages. It was epic. One thing that was cool was we ended up shoveling the driveway for the mom of someone that Elder Nelson and Elder Rivas are teaching in Pittsburgh. Small world, huh? Everything fell through in the evening, so we went to Pizza Hut for dinner and to warm up. Then it took us an hour to get home because of the snow. Rough day, but it was awesome.
Wednesday morning we drove to Knox, Pennsylvania. I went on another exchange. I stayed in the area with Elder Freeman, who is an elder I picked up from the airport a transfer ago. Elder Zumwalt, his trainer, went with Elder Bartlett back to Pittsburgh. Elder Freeman has so much faith! He's doing a great job. He was nervous to be with me, but he did wonderful. He had a great day planned out. We helped this lady clean like 16 rabbit cages in the morning - she breeds and sells high quality rabbits. I got to drive a four wheeler in order to haul a trailer full of equipment. It was awesome.
We had a great experience later in the afternoon. We were going to visit someone that used to meet with the missionaries a few years ago to see if she was home and if she was still interested. Her name was Erica. We knocked on the door, and a really big guy opened the door. He had a ripped lumberjack looking shirt on, a goatee, and super thick arms. He was really intimidating. Elder Freeman and I looked at each other and this went through my mind: "Well. THAT'S not Erica!" He stared at us for a moment and then said, "Hey. Get in here. It's cold." So we stepped inside. We introduced ourselves and he said his name was Denver. His girlfriend was sitting on the couch. He said her name was Alicia. They were watching The Walking Dead. Both me and Elder Freeman love that show, so we talked to them for twenty minutes about zombies. It was pretty funny. Eventually he said, "Hey guys, come downstairs. Let's talk." So we went downstairs to their kitchen and sat down around their dinner table. They fed us candy and gave us soda. They asked why we had come by. We explained that we were looking for a girl named Erica who used to live there and he said that they didn't know her, she must have moved quite a while ago. The past tenants apparently were pretty rowdy and didn't meet Erica's description - they threw ninja stars at the walls and stabbed the fridge with a katana. The apartment manager had to make a ton of repairs.
This opened up a very friendly conversation. Denver explained that he was really searching for truth. It was always in the back of his mind even though he wasn't completely consumed by it. He liked talking with missionaries. They always came through Wal Mart where he worked and he had missionaries knock on his door once when he was in Erie. He said every time he talked with them he came away feeling better and they were always friendly and positive. He also said his aunt and uncle joined the church in Florida twenty years ago and that one summer he stayed with them and went to Primary every week. He loved it. We asked if the missionaries had ever shared a lesson with him before and he said no. We asked if we could, and he said yes. So we did.
The Holy Ghost was definitely present, and I could feel Him helping Elder Freeman and I with our teaching abilities. We had never taught a lesson together before, but we had practiced that morning, and here we were doing it in perfect unity. Parley P. Pratt said this about the Holy Ghost:
“The gift of the Holy Ghost...quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands, and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates, and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings, and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness, and charity. It develops beauty of person, form, and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation, and social feeling. It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.”
We were strengthened by the Holy Ghost and experienced all the blessings of the Holy Spirit as we taught. Denver and Alicia felt it as well. Alicia wasn't particularly interested at first, but as Elder Freeman shared the account of the First Vision, she suddenly became very inquisitive and attentive. Denver said, "Wow. Well this explains a lot and answers a lot of questions I've always had." We finished the lesson and they committed to read the Book of Mormon and pray about it. Denver said, "So, when are you guys coming over next?" We set up another time and ended with a kneeling prayer. It was awesome.
Elder Freeman was stoked! He said, "THAT WAS AMAZING! HOLY COW!" It was great. Later, we called up Elder Jamieson because he had served in the area a year before. Elder Freeman wanted some tips and some suggestions for who he should go see. So we talked to Elder Jamieson for about 30 minutes and got tons of advice. About halfway through the conversation, Elder Freeman got really quiet. That night he told me, "Elder Collier, I never planned on serving a mission. But one night I had this dream. I was sitting with a missionary in a car, and we were talking to somebody on the phone and writing things down. In front of us was a snow bank, and I remember feeling like I was supposed to be there, and we were really getting things done. Then I woke up. I told my girlfriend, and she said that was a weird dream, but maybe I should consider serving a mission. So I started my papers and got things in order so I could go. Elder Collier, you were that missionary in my dream. You're part of the reason I'm here. Thank you." I was overwhelmed. We didn't know what to do, so we just laughed and hugged each other. It was really cool. I love Elder Freeman.
The Olsen family had us over for dinner. They have a beautiful home. Brother Olsen builds modular homes inside a giant factory. But they are high quality modular homes. I didn't even know his home was a modular home until he told me after dinner. They are really cool people. Brother Olsen used to be the Branch President in Knox but now he is the branch mission leader. After a delicious dinner (sister olsen made honey butter!) we set out to visit the widows in the branch. It was a good time. We got to visit sister Prior, who Elder Jamieson had told me so much about. Her and her husband were sealed last year, and he died about 6 months ago. She is such a wonderful lady. She kept forcing us to eat chocolate covered almonds. "Eat elders! Come on! You know you want some." So kind. It was a beautiful night. We ended it by taking a tour of Brother Olsen's factory. It was huge. It was really cool.
Thursday we met up with Elder Bartlett and Elder Zumwalt and took some pictures together and then we had to drive 3 hours home. I wasn't feeling too good. We went to a Steak and Shake (SO GOOD) and the waiter started asking us questions. He was like, "I'm baptist, but I've always been curious about what you do." We had a great conversation with him. We left him a good tip. haha! When we got up to go pay, the guy at the register said, "It's covered, Elders. I gotcha." Then he winked at us. What a great guy! He was a member and saw that we were sharing the gospel and so he paid for us. Such a blessing.
When we got home I got permission from president to rest. I wasn't feeling good, so I slept for two hours. Then the Budds had us and Justin over for dinner. We had a good time. The food was good - we had deer steak. Justin loved it. He's going to be going pheasant hunting with the Elders' quorum. After that we had to drive to Oakland, downtown, to meet up with a Stake Spanish rep to pick up some translation equipment for Guille and Luis. Elder Bartlett and I parked on top of this hill and we could see all of Pittsburgh. Elder Bartlett said, "What are we doing, Elder? This is so cool! We're all the way across the united states in freezing weather in downtown Pittsburgh, picking up expensive translation equipment so Spanish people can learn about Jesus. Our life is interesting!" It was a good night.
Friday we were supposed to have district meeting. But it had snowed 6 inches during studies. It was a freak storm. We had to go pick up Elders Nelson and Rivas. It normally take us 30 minutes to get to their apartment and back but this time it took us two and a half hours. District meeting was almost over. It was really frustrating. We almost got in a wreck, too, but we were okay. After District Meeting we had weekly planning. Then Nick and Jess took us to Olive Garden. Our waitress had just found out she and her husband were expecting. She was really nice. We all pitched in and gave her a good tip for baby clothes.
After that we met with Nick and Jess and had a lesson. Then we visited Mason and read the talk, "Dare to Stand Alone" from President Monson. Mason is doing so well. He had a prior medical issue that possibly could have prevented his entry into the military, and his recruiters told him to lie about it, but he said that was against his religion and wasn't honest, so he didn't. Everything turned out fine and he's doing great. He is really happy with himself and we are proud of him.
Saturday we helped Sue with her house. We painted her whole upstairs. It was FREEZING in there since the heat was shut off. It was good though. Then we went and filled the font for Madalyn's baptism. Tons of members from both our ward and the 7th ward came. It was a wonderful service. She was so happy and her husband and her son are receptive to learning more about the gospel. It's exciting. After that we had a good lesson with Tori and TJ.
Sunday I had a crisis in the morning. All of my pants had GIANT holes in the pockets, so I finally decided to do something about it. I sent out a mass text to the ward relief society sisters. haha! Sister Whiting came to the rescue. Her husband called us and said, "ELDERS. COME OVER. We'll fix you right up and feed you lunch before church." I love the Whitings. So Elder Bartlett and Elder Rivas went to church for meetings and I went with Elder Nelson to the Whitings and they fixed all of my pants. Hopefully they'll last me to the end of my mission! It'd be pointless to buy new stuff now. haha.
Church was fantastic. We were all able to help confirm Madalyn. She loves the 5th Ward and fits right in. A lady named Barb came to church and was really nervous because it was her first time. None of us had met her. Apparently she was dating a member in the Freeport ward and had become interested in the church. I sat with her during sacrament. She's a professor at one of the local colleges and is a competative ballroom dancer. She's really cool. After Gospel Principles class she asked, "So, what's next?" I said relief society. She said, "After that?" I said we go home. Church is over. She said, "No, I mean, for me? What do I do?" I didn't understand her question. I said, well you can come to church next week. She said, "No, I mean, how do I become temple worthy? Are there missionaries assigned to me?" I said, "Well, Elder Rivas and Elder Nelson cover your area.... do you want them to meet with you?" She said, "YES! SEND THEM OVER! I'm in Alma and I want to join the church." It was so cool! What a miracle for Elders Nelson and Rivas. They hadn't had any success all week but were trying SO hard. And BOOM. Here comes a lady who wants to be temple worthy by joining the church. What a blessing! They are meeting with her this week.
Church was just overall fantastic. The talks were great, the Spirit was strong, everyone was nice and happy, Brother Trout came to church, it all went perfectly. It was wonderful. The Hoyts had us over for dinner and we shared the Mormon Message "Sanctify Yourselves" and taught their 8 year old son about the priesthood and always being worthy and ready. I remember how big of an influence the missionaries had on me when they taught me after dinner. They always made me want to grow up to be like them. They were heroes. So we try to do that whenever we meet with families. Brother Hoyt thanked us as we were leaving. He said it's always a joy to have us in his home. Brother Hoyt is a great guy. He thinks about us randomly throughout the week and checks to make sure we're warm and taken care of. He has such a good heart.
We had a lesson with Nick and Jess about the Godhead after that. The Sisters from Salt Lake called in the middle of the lesson to talk to Nick so he put it on speakerphone. He said, "Sisters, the Elders are over. We're learning about the Godhead!" They said THAT'S GREAT, NICK! It was really funny. Nick was totally messing with the sisters and being obnoxious and Jess just rolled her eyes. We had fun. The lesson went well.
That was our week. Mostly it was travel, sickness, cold, things falling through, terrible weather obstructions, and a few miracles and baptisms. It was good though. The mission life is an interesting one. I love the thrill of simply being alive and making good decisions. I love being part of a labor force whose sole intent is the betterment of the human family. It's definitely something the Savior would be a part of.
Have a good week!