Such good news about Solo and Ensemble! I am so proud of everyone! I started tearing up when you told me about Cole and Marit and Jenna and Jonny and the valuable alumni list. I love that choir program so much and I was so fortunate to be a part of it. I was reading in my high school journal this morning about some experiences at All State with Spencer and it made me pretty nostalgic. I can't wait to hear those guys sing again. Make sure to get some awesome recordings of the conference this week! I want you to send me a CD! =)
I am also proud of Sammy. Isn't he the first one out of all of us to get an alternate position? I only got 3rd place with Reed for our documentary. haha. What a stud. Preaching the Gospel through a poster board and winning at the same time! Atta boy!
That's such good news about who I'm rooming with. I really miss Connor. He's been an inspiration to me throughout my mission. We were writing back and forth pretty frequently. Also, Asa and I have been talking a bit about living situations and it's good to hear that we'll be in the same ward. Words cannot describe how happy I'll be to be with my friends again! So close but so far away. haha. I'm following Asa's example by trying not to think about it much. He's such a focused, hard working missionary. I'm proud of all that he has done. I loved that picture of him and Roman together. I hope they have the time of their lives serving together. It would be really unfortunate if they had to have intense companionship inventories during weekly planning because they don't get along.... haha! That would be funny. =D
Alrighty, this week was stellar. I'm really enjoying being in Hanover. There are no Amish out here. They are all up north towards Lancaster. The area isn't nearly as big as Pittsburgh (population or otherwise) but it is still pretty populated. I'm about half an hour from Gettysburg - I've been there and gotten to check out the down town. It's neat going to a place that you've learned about your whole life but have never seen. You get a sacred feeling as you look at the battlefields. It's strange that now they are empty and quiet, but at one point they were full of smoke, flame, and the dead and dying bodies of the brave. It's a cool experience. I can't wait to take a P-Day to go out there and spend some time.
So Monday night we had dinner with the Pantalone family. They are so cool. Brother Pantalone is from southern california and he baptized his wife while they were in high school. They have such solid testimonies of the gospel. They have 4 boys and a baby girl. They are great. We had a lesson after dinner with a man named Paul. He has been meeting with the missionaries for a few months but hasn't come to church. His wife is a member but she has been inactive for quite some time now. He's more interested than she is. It was kind of a cool situation, because we felt impressed to ask Brother Pantalone to come with us last week, but he said he'd be out of town. So we asked some other Priesthood Holders to come with us, but everything kept falling through. Then, Monday night when we showed up for dinner, Brother Pantalone was there. His trip got cancelled! So he was able to go with us. And boy, was he awesome. Just the man for the job.
Paul is really cool. His house is really nice, and he has a tech job of some sort working for a computer company (I think.) He is a World War II reinactor and has his own MP40 and knows how to drive german tanks. They do mock battles for audiences and they have a lot of success. He showed us pictures of his uniforms and guns and the tanks he has ridden in. He knows a ton about history!
I really connected with him. He is a very similar thinker to me. After the prayer we started by asking him some questions. I wanted to understand where he was coming from, and so I asked him what his religious background was and what his experience with the elders has been like. He explained that he's been on a spiritual search. He is an atheist/agnostic, though since meeting with the elders he has found a faith in God. "I'm just not sure what that Higher Power expects or wants from me." He said, "I'm actually kind of backing up a bit from this Mormon thing. Not just the Mormons, but religion in general. I keep asking people about the Mormons, and they keep telling me: look out! Cult! Cult! Crazies! Though it's the only thing that has ever made sense to me, and I look at their religions and I think: that's retarded." He then went through and bashed on every religion ever for a few minutes. haha. He's really analytical and he picks things apart. Then he said, "But Mormonism... it makes sense. But it leaves me confused as to why there's such a negative attitude towards it. Plus, I have a hard time with faith in general due to a lack of physical, tangible evidence. Maybe if at the temple they gave everyone their very own set of Gold Plates I'd be content, but I know that even then I'd be skeptical."
We had a lesson planned, but we ended up scrapping it all together and moving forward by asking inspired questions. We asked him why he hadn't moved forward with things if he liked the idea of Mormonism, and he said, "I just don't know what's in it for me quite yet. I like the ideas, but I'm not sure how it will affect my life for the good."
I felt prompted to share my conversion experience. I don't know if I've ever shared this with you, Mom, but for a while - the beginning of my Senior year to the middle of my Freshman year of college - I was struggling with faith. I remember specifically one night after scripture study (during winter break when I was home from BYU) when we were talking about the Holy Ghost. Dad said something about knowing truth by the Holy Ghost, and I said, "Well, no one can really know for sure. You can't know. You can think you know, but it's relative." You and dad looked at me with this horrified expression, like - where did this come from? Dad testified to me and said, "No. You can know. If you don't, you need to figure it out. But me and your mom know for sure." I had been looking deeply into church history, reading a lot of books for and against the church, reading the new and old testaments and comparing it with the Book of Mormon. I had also started researching different faiths and undertook an intense private study of other religions and all the sects of Christianity. I had reached the conclusion that everything about the church was having a positive impact on my life, so there was no need to discontinue practicing its precepts, but somewhere along the line I had lost my faith - not in morals, not in the commandments or the lifestyle I was raised with, but in the existence of God.
I explained to Paul that I was much like him - a student of history, very into analysis and logic and reason - and I wasn't one to take things at face value. Even though I was raised in the church, I wanted to know for myself if it was true or if it was not. I told him I was never rebellious; I was converted to the commandments, the philosophy, and the programs of the church way before I was truly converted. I knew that when I prayed, I felt better - whether that was a psychological trick, a cathardic mechanism that helped me relief stress, a sudden rush of endorphins, whatever; I knew that it worked. I knew the Word of Wisdom was true by seeing the mistakes of others. I knew the Law of Chastity was true by the same reasoning. I liked the Book of Mormon; when I read it, it made me want to be a better person. It was brilliantly written, unlike any other book I had ever read, and I enjoyed reading it, so I couldn't go somewhere without the Book of Mormon. I liked it too much. And, like Paul, I had concluded that any other Christian denomination didn't work for me - they didn't line up with New Testament Christianity - and the Mormon explanation of why that was made sense to me.
With passion I said this to Paul. "So here you are. Your delimma is that you like all of this, it helps you find peace in your heart and you recognize that it's a good thing. But you want to be sure it's true before you get baptized, just like I needed to know it was true before I served a mission. So the problem you have is not that other people say bad things about it - you have a problem with God. You need to pray and receive revelation from God. Is he there? Is he real? Will he answer? Does he know you or love you enough to do that?"
Paul leaned forward in his chair. He said, "Huh........ you know what? You're right." He turned to Elder Mouritsen and said, "Just when I thought you guys couldn't teach me anymore, you're doing it again. This is good."
That's when Brother Pantalone stepped in and launched off on a brilliant discourse about the existence of God. He talked about the stars, he talked about the earth, the wonders of the human body. He talked about science, and he referenced his career and Paul's career. He said this, "We can create some brilliant things as human beings. We can make Ipads, we can take photos, we can build cars. We can build telescopes to look into the cosmos; yet for the life of us, we can't make a star. We can build a skyscraper, but we can't make a tree. A tree! One of the simplest of all creations, and yet we have not been able to discover how to replicate it on our own. We know the laws; we know how to take a seed, how to plant, how to nourish, and how to grow. But we don't know exactly how it works, and we can't make our own acorn. We can't create a tree. Heck, we can't even create a weed, and all we do is throw those away! So there has to be something greater out there. A grand designer. Someone who made us. To say that this is all just an accident? That we came from a boiling pot of mud somewhere? That is folly in the extreme. There is a God, and you know it."
Elder Mouritsen then explained what we do as missionaries. He explained that while we don't know everything about the universe, we do know correct principles. We know how to plant the seed and grow a tree. We know how to teach principles to people, and, if the people use their faith and follow them, they can receive revelation from God. Brother Pantalone said, "If someone fails to plant a seed, it doesn't mean our claims to it growing into a tree are untrue. It just means that they didn't follow the natural order of things. If you fail to pray, to do the things that the Elders ask, you'll never be able to know for yourself."
Paul then said, "You know what? This is something that I'm always amazed with. Here we have a new Elder - different experiences, different personality, not from Utah - and the message that you all are presenting is uniform. It's exactly the same as the other 3 elders I've been through. Not the slightest variation. That is interesting to me. Everyone else in the world says, 'Well, at that church they do things this way. But here, we do it this way.' Even though it is technically the same organization. But with you... it's all the same. That is incredible to me. Truly fascinating."
I said, "Paul. That's because the message that we share is true. It is real. It was given to us by God, and by implication, the church that we belong to is the government of God upon the earth. We aren't run by a spirit essence that fills the immensity of space, that has no mass, that has no body, no parts, no passions; we aren't run by a being or an idea or a concept that if given those very attributes would add up to non-existence. We claim to be governed by our Savior, Jesus Christ, who really has a body. He really appeared to Joseph Smith. He really speaks to the living prophet. He really stands at the head of our church. And we do things His way. That's why it's uniform. We believe and know alike because he has given it to us and confirmed its truthfulness."
Brother Pantalone explained the importance of the Spirit in recognizing and learning truth. He explained that the most important things in life are the things that are intangible - love for family, love for friends, our thoughts, our emotions, our morals, our motives, our memories, etc. Then he talked about the tangible things, how they break, how our eyes can be deceived, etc and how eventually the physical things pass away and become unimportant. But truth is absolute, truth is unchanging, unbending principle, and we learn that from God directly.
I said, "Paul, that's what changed me. I know that the Book of Mormon is true not because I was convinced. Not because it is pleasing or beneficial to me. Not because our churches are nice. Not because my family raised me Mormon. I know these things are true by an actual divine contact; by praying with faith that winter break, and by hearing the voice of God explain these things to me like he did to Enos. If Nephi can do it, if Peter can do it, if Noah can do it, if Moroni can do it, if I can do it, so can you."
Paul said, "Can I share something with you? So, last week when Spohn and Mouritsen were here, at the end of our lesson, they asked me to kneel down and pray and ask if the Book was True. I thought it was weird, but I decided, 'heck, why not?' and I did it anyway. I felt silly praying out loud, and it was rough at first, but as I kept praying, soon words were coming to me that almost weren't my own. It was like I was being told what to pray. I was asking sincerely. When I said Amen, I kept my head down for a moment because I was feeling something. Really feeling something. It was indescribable. The Elders told me I would, but I didn't believe them. It wasn't a superficial thing though - I was real, and it was a joy and a warmth and a love I've never felt before. Then they asked me if I was feeling that. And I knew they were too. And my thought was, 'How did they do that?!' But I know it was the Holy Ghost. And that's when I knew that God was there. I'm catching on. There's something different about this, and I need to continue studying it over. I need to keep reading and praying. But I know what you mean... it can be hard to describe, and it happened to me."
The Spirit was definitely present. He was testifying to Paul, and he moved him to speak and share that experience. He was guiding our words and our conversation. It was the most profound and powerful lesson of my entire mission. We knelt down and said a closing prayer with Paul and his son and Brother Pantalone. Then we stood up to leave. Paul said, "Tonight was good. Very good. I look forward to our next lesson." It was awesome. It was hard to sleep that night because we were on a Spiritual high. Elder Mouritsen and I had true joy. We had taught by the power of the Holy Ghost. It is always good to know that you are worthy of that.
Tuesday was cool. We had everything fall through after studies. So we had a whole day to tract and to visit some people. The coolest experience was when we were driving in the car and we saw two ladies struggling to load up a U-Haul. Elder Mouritsen said, "Hmm.... maybe we should pull over and help?" We were on our way to try someone and I said, "Nah..." Then I felt like we really needed to stop the car. So we pulled over a few blocks away and walked in the rain to help them. Elder Mouritsen walked right up to them and said, "Hello! We're the missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and we're here to help!" They turned around and one of the ladies said, "Oh my! These boys are from my church!" Elder Mouritsen and I looked at each other - shocked. We had no idea she was a member. Apparently, this sister, Sister Rhoades, had moved here from North Carolina and had been inactive for many years, and nobody had met her. Her husband had thrown out his back and was having seizures because he has epilepsy, so she and her friend were left to pack up the Uhaul on their own. They had to be out by Thursday and she had pneumonia. They were praying for help and didn't know anyone else they could ask to help. And there we were.
I've said it a million times before: Be careful what you pray for. The Mormon missionaries will show up.
We helped them move for about two hours. We agreed to be back the next morning to help. We had dinner with the Bartholomew Family and Brother Groft that evening. Brother Groft has been going through some severe family problems the last year or so. He recently lost his wife. But we had a great lesson after church and Brother Groft, who is a convert said, "If I didn't have the Holy Ghost, I really don't know where I'd be right now. Prison, the bar, whatever. I don't know. I know I'd be miserable. But the gospel has taught me that I need to be strong. God is in control. I need to be an example for other people, and one day things will fall into place. The Holy Ghost is what gives me strength when things are difficult, and if I keep doing what God has asked of me, and keep listening to the Spirit, it will lead me on okay." Wow. I respect Brother Groft so much. He's one of those guys who, when he walks in the room, you feel something. He's strong and confident. It's cool. I love Brother Groft. Sister Bartholomew is a way good cook. Her and Brother Bartholomew joined the church in DC. Brother Bartholomew was a politician of some sort. He has a cool story as well.
Wednesday we met up in Gettysburg for an exchange. I picked up Elder Jolley and took him back to Hanover. We helped Sister Rhoades move for a few hours. She needed a lot of help. We were able to get all of the heavy cabinets and stuff for her and take them to her storage unit. She said we were a miracle and an answer to prayer. We changed after that and went to Hardees. It's just like Carl's Jr. only it has a different name out here for some reason. Same font, same logo, same burgers. Anyway, it was good. Then we went to meet with Justin and his friend, Dustin. Justin is a member of the singles branch and Dustin is his non-member friend. We had a decent lesson.
That night we went to do a baptismal interview in York. It was about a 45 minute drive. I got to interview the son in law of a couple from Punxsutawney! Small world! I was pretty close with the McCorkle family when I was there and I helped them move when they were leaving for Texas. What a miracle. So cool to be able to do that. They thought that was nuts.
Anyway, Thursday Morning Joanne needed help moving her fridge. Last item on the list. So we did that in a few minutes and then drove back to Gettysburg for district meeting. Elder Munoz taught a great lesson on working with Stake and Ward leaders. After that we went to this burger place called Lukes. I got the best burger I've ever had: it was a giant patty with this great sauce, bacon, onion, lettuce, tomato, and instead of buns it had two grilled cheese sandwiches with bread crums on the top. SO GOOD. Then we met up at the library with a member from the singles branch named John. He helped us teach Jesi a lesson. We taught about the Law of Chastity which is always fun. Jesi is getting baptized on March 9th. She's really excited!
Then we went home and packed. Then we drove to Harrisburg. We got to Harrisburg around 4 and loaded up their truck with our luggage. Then we made the 5 hour drive to Pittsburgh. We stayed the night in the AP apartment. It's always weird when your home isn't your home anymore. It was strange being in my old area but not being able to see people I love.
Friday morning we had a fantastic breakfast with the Warnocks. They fed us breakfast cassarole and cinammon rolls. Then we had Zone Leader Council. President Trained on how to answer hard to answer questions and the APs trained on incorperating the Doctrine of Christ in our missionary work. The meeting was very good. After that we went to the office to get some supplies. Then we went to Chipotle with Elders Glover, Dodge, Rassmussen, and Anderson. It was delicious. Then we drove back to Harrisburg with Rasmussen and Anderson. We got in around eleven pm. Then I drove us back to Hanover. We got to bed around 1 AM. We were SO tired.
We weekly planned Saturday morning. It was tough to stay awake. We had an incredible lesson with Michael that afternoon about the temple. He committed to come to church. He is really interested in the church since most of his family are members of the church but it's tough for him to commit. He wants to experience the temple. We saw Brother Kerns that night and watched a documentary about Joseph Smith. He's 72 years old and his wife has alzheimers. He likes it when we come visit them. He gave us some good life advice. "Experiences are more valuable than things. If you have the choice between saving money to buy a nicer car or taking a trip to Rome with your wife, take her to Rome!" It was great.
Sunday was Fast Sunday. The testimonies were fantastic. A lady came back to church today after being gone for years. She bore her testimony and said, "I'm sorry I've been gone for so long. But I'm back. And I'm not leaving again. I have a testimony of keeping the Sabbath Day Holy now, because i haven't for years. But that's why I demanded work off on Sunday. I miss the Lord. I miss the Holy Ghost. And I miss my ward family. Thank you for being my family." It was beautiful. A spanish sister bore her testimony in broken english but she said something beautiful:
"Missionaries are happy when people open their doors; then the Elders open their hearts, and the people open their arms."
I liked that. Nobody came to church today that we invited, but we didn't mind. It was a good meeting. We taught a spanish class second hour. Elder Mouritsen is great at Spanish. I'm not doing too bad myself.
We were supposed to have a lesson with Jesi after church but she had the stomach flu and wasn't able to make it. After church we went and visited a man named Jose and taught a few principles of the first lesson in Spanish. He invited us back. He lives on the second floor of a house. He has some crazy steps that lead up the side of the house and then you actually have to walk across the roof to get to his door. Yikes! We went home and took studies and then went and visited the Burton family. We had dinner with them and shared our message about receiving revelation. They are so awesome. Sister Burton asked us to come share a message in seminary this Friday morning at 5:30 AM.
After that we felt impressed to visit the Jones family. They have been taught by missionaries in the past. They let us right in and were excited to see us. They are so awesome. They have a picture of jesus right over a picture of the temple on their wall! Elder Cook visited them a few times when he was in Hanover. Sister Jones never got baptized and Brother Jones isn't active, but they love missionaries and are excited for us to meet with them again. It was a great visit. They have a Puggle - it's a Pug and a Beagle mix. Greatest. Dog. Ever.
Well, that's my week!
Hope your trip this week goes well!