You were right. It was memorial day so I couldn't email. So I'm sending it off today. Please tell the Litchfords to stick around until I get back! I need to say what's up to my homie, Brotha Litchford! I love that guy. I realized the other day that he taught me the gospel in some form or the other every week since I was 14. He changed my life. What a good guy. It sounds like Jonny is quite the lady killer! Make sure he stays out of trouble! He's gotta serve a mission! I'm sure he will. He's a good boy. I can't wait to meet Jordan. He sounds like such a stud. He will make a fantastic missionary.
Alrighty. What you're about to read is probably one of the best weeks of my mission. Let's go!
MONDAY: I was stoked. I finally got a haircut. I've been looking like the Shaggy Dog for 6 or 7 weeks now and I got to go to Sports Clips and get a decent haircut. We got a great deal - apparently your first time at that place they give you a shampoo, face massage, and a back massage! It was epic. The girl that cut my hair was my age, and I got to talk to her quite a bit about being a missionary. She said, "You guys are crazy! You haven't watched TV in 2 years?! That's impressive!" We had a really good conversation.
After that we got Rita's with the Sisters. Rita's is that incredible frozen custard and shaved ice place that we went to in Hanover. Elder Brady almost died. He loved it. The sisters did too. I can't believe I went a year and a half of my mission without ever tasting Rita's. I love it.
After that we went and got changed and then headed over to the Burgess family's home. They live WAY at the bottom of the county, so it took us about 45 minutes to get there. We had incredible burgers and had a really good time in their home. Their little boy is so cool. He is 6. I shared the spiritual thought after dinner and I asked a general question: what is agency? He said, "It is the power to make choices that god gave us. Sometimes Satan tells me to do bad things, but the Holy Ghost always tells me to do good things." His mom asked him if he ever listened to Satan. He said, "Well.... sometimes." His mom said, WHAT?! And he laughed and said, "Well it's true! That's why I go to my room sometimes! But then the Holy Ghost tells me to Repent and I listen to him and Jesus Helps me to be a good person." What a deep and well thought out answer from this little boy!
After dinner we got lost in the woods and so we were late getting back to Washington. We were supposed to have a lesson with Isaiah but we didn't show up and we didn't have reception to send him a text or call him to give him a heads up so he got tired of waiting and took off somewhere else. Luckily we were able to get a hold of him that night to apologize. Isaiah is so awesome. He was cool with it. He said, "It's chill ya'll. I was just worried that somethin' happened to ya."
TUESDAY: We worked at the Salvation Army in the morning. Elder Walker can do a perfect Scooby Doo impersonation. He can also do Shaggy. These two little girls were at the Salvation Army playing while their mom was in a meeting. Daisy is 4, Coral is 7. Elder Walker did the Scooby and Shaggy voices for Daisy and she went nuts! She loves Scooby Doo. We were supposed to be sweeping and vacuuming everything, but eventually it just turned into those two girls yelling, "SCOOBY DOO! WHERE ARE YOU?! SCOOBY DOOBY DOO!" And chasing us around. It was a blast.
After that I finished packing up during lunch. Then Elders Parker and McDowell showed up for our exchange. I went with Elder Parker to the Pittsburgh 6th ward. We had a good day of contacting people. One interesting thing about missionary work is we have been given a commandment, whenever a media referral is sent to us, to try the neighbors because God has prepared someone in that area, whether or not it's the person who requested the missionaries. This proves true every time. That's how Nick and Jess were found. Their neighbors requested missionaries and then changed their minds and so Elder Hatch and Elder Christensen tried next door and found Nick.
Anyway, we had a situation happen where the person who ordered us had moved out of the apartment where he was staying with friends. So we tried next door and found this incredible lady. I can't remember her name, but at first she wasn't too fond of us because she thought we were from a different church, but once she found out we were Mormons she opened up and had a lot of questions. She even invited us back! "You boys can come back and we can sit on the porch and chat. You're nice boys and I loved talking to you. It made my day!" It was a good experience.
After that we had a cool experience where Elder Parker told me that we were going to visit a particular family. I did a double take and said "wait, what?!" He said their name again and explained that he had never been able to contact this family before but felt like he should try them today. I told him that I had already been there the year before with Elder Deaton. They hadn't been home, but their son, Staphen, had been. We talked to him for a good half hour. Great kid. He said, "NO WAY!" We went and visited them. Sure enough, for the first time, they were home and Elder Parker and I got to meet the whole family. Staphen remembered me and it was a good connection. The mom wasn't super interested in coming back right away but we explained our purpose and were able to soften her heart. On top of that, Staphen was just graduating from high school and was even more receptive to having us come back. He said he was interested in having more purpose in his life. He also asked if we would help him help his neighbor with her yard. Her husband had just recently died. We agreed and he gave us his phone number. It was fantastic! Walking away, Elder Parker said, "What're the odds that I felt prompted to go try them one more time and you knew them!? And had gotten in with them a year before!? Missionaries haven't seen them in months! And they were home?! Holy cow." It was amazing. It's good to know that God is mindful of me sometimes.
We had dinner with a member named Art. He is in his late 20's and served his mission in Germany. He took us to this delicious Korean place. He's a funny guy. He went to BYU but transferred out 2 years in. He said, "BYU is a great school - for some people. I'm not one of them." It was funny.
Afterwards we went and visited Russ and Lisa. I've been able to see Russ and Lisa at every step of their conversion. I went on exchange with Elder Deaton when he first started teaching Russ and he was trying to quit smoking. Then I went on exchange again when he had a date set for baptism. I came to Pittsburgh a month and a half later and was able to go to his baptism. Then I went on exchange when they were teaching his wife and she was trying to quit smoking. Then I interviewed Lisa for baptism. Then I was at her baptism. Then, a month and a half later, I was able to go visit them. I wish you could see the change in them like I've been able to see it. You feel the spirit in their home. Pictures and statues of Christ and the temple are tastefully placed. It's warm and inviting and clean. Their faces glow. They are happy and they compliment each other instead of being sarcastic. Russ knows a TON about the scriptures now. He was teaching us. He listens to several chapters of the Book of Mormon every day. Their reading skills have improved exponentially. They haven't had problems with smoking at all. They look healthier and have more energy. His health problems have gone away. There's been such a change in them. And that's saying something, since Russ used to be in a Biker Gang and has been smoking since he was a teenager and he's sixty now. You would never be able to guess his past if you were to see him at church. I love them so much. And they remembered me! They were sad when I told them this would be the last time I'd see them for a while. we got pictures. It was an amazing night. Deeply fulfilling.
I had a good talk with Elder Parker that night. He says I'm trunky. I don't think so. I think he's trunky for me.
WEDNESDAY: We drove to Washington in the morning for district meeting. I made Elder Parker stop by Chik-fil-a so I could get one of their cookies and cream milkshakes. They are THE BEST. We had a great district meeting that morning. I taught about "Seeking Learning by Faith." Our exercise was based off of a series of talks by Elder Bednar that Pres. Topham has asked us to study because Elder Bednar is visiting us on June 8th and he asked us to study them as a mission. I wanted to give us an opportunity to seek learning by faith. So I thought, "How can we all learn together? What is something that requires faith to learn and to understand? What do you REALLY need the Spirit in order to read?" BOOM. Isaiah chapters! I chose 2nd Nephi 25: 1-8 and had us analyze that so we would know how to understand Isaiah (because Nephi tells us how). Then I had every missionary look something different up in the bible dictionary or across the standard works. One looked up what a Teil Tree was. Another read about the scattering of Israel. Another read D&C 13 about the restoration of the Priesthood of Aaron. Another looked up Seraphim. Nobody knew why they were looking that up but they were asked to study it deeply, memorize it if they could, and take it to heart because they would need it. That took faith. So they were obedient and did it. Then we all read 2nd Nephi 16 together, which is just Isaiah chapter 4. Everyone read it and then slowly applied what they had studied in order to understand it. It was like puzzle pieces coming together until the big picture was revealed and BOOM! They all started saying, "OHHH! NOW I GET IT!" And they all got really excited and started high fiving because they understood Isaiah for once. Everyone came away deeply fulfilled. I committed them all to study by faith and to do so more regularly.
Afterwards the Lewis family had us over for lunch. They made us a Thanksgiving dinner - in May! Brother Lewis was a missionary here way back when. He baptized his wife. Crazy story. His wife did not like him one bit. She thought he was too pushy as a missionary. As she was getting confirmed after her baptism, she had a vision of her going through the Temple with him and being sealed. It freaked her right out and she called the mission president and asked for him to be transferred. He was. He was confused because he hadn't done anything wrong and didn't know why she freaked out at him. 9 months later they were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple and she already knew her way around the temple, even though she'd never been to Utah in her life. Crazy, huh!? It was fun.
The rest of the day was really difficult. Everything fell through. It was super hot. It was one of those days where you walk miles and miles and sweat gallons largely so the Lord can test your faith. I was feeling pretty grumpy. I didn't handle it well. Luckily my companions were studs. Even Steve, the 102 year old man, fell through! We showed up to visit him and he yelled at me specifically and told me to go away because I had moved his chair the last time we were over. I wasn't aware of this. Oh well. I dunno what's up with Old People getting mad at me lately.
We were feeling pretty discouraged during dinner. Not gonna lie, we were all feeling tempted to just call it a night and go to bed early. But we didn't! We went out at 6 PM like we were supposed to. We weren't expecting much. Then on the way we passed two people that we always pass. They've always been friendly and always waved back. We waved at them and smiled. Then after we passed them, Elder Walker froze and said, "We need to go back. No, really. We need to talk to them right now." So we went in faith. He led the way. What a stud! We went and met Frank and Georgianna. We introduced ourselves and Georgianna explained that she had just gotten off the phone finding out that her mother-in-law was in the hospital dying. She had said a prayer that God would send someone to comfort her. Immediately we walked by and waved. She got her hopes up because she used to have missionaries over for lessons. Then we kept walking and we were crushed. Then we turned around and came back and Elder Walker told her that God had told us to turn around and come back and she knew her prayer had been answered. What are the odds!? We have this joke in our companionship where we say, "Good guess, Elder!" When really we know that it wasn't us guessing at all. It was a miracle. haha. Good guess Elder Walker!
We ended up talking to them for about an hour. She is interested in us coming back. Her father, Frank, told us a cool story about a time when he was in dire financial circumstances and he needed to make his house look really nice for really cheap or he'd lose it. So he prayed really hard and that night he had a vision. Jesus Christ came to him and taught him how to make artificial stone. He woke up and went to work and made it - got the plaster and put the stone pieces up over his brick, etc. He invented artificial stone through revelation. He said it was crazy because he did it before it became the thing to do - he'd never seen it before, and neither had his neighbors, and it took him a few months to accomplish. He never marketed the idea because of the special circumstances in which he learned how to do it. Then someone else discovered it independently from him and marketed it and made a killing on the technique. He said he didn't care - god answered his prayer in an incredible way and it not only saved him and his family, but he knew of a certainty that Christ was real. I had just finished reading the story of the Brother of Jared building the barges that morning, so this story was extra poignant. A living witness to events described in the Book of Mormon. pretty cool.
Afterwards we went to Isaiah's house. he let us in. His friends DJ and Emily were there. We had an incredible lesson. DJ had a lot of questions for us. Emily, apparently, was a member but hadn't been active since she was 12. She said, "I told God I was going to take a break for a while. So I decided to start breaking the commandments. Let me tell you. My life sucks and I want to change." Isaiah invited them to sit in on our lesson. They agreed. We talked about the purpose of life, the hope of Jesus Christ's atonement, and taught all of these principles using scriptures from the Book of Mormon. Isaiah testified like a boss! He's not baptized yet, but he was flipping through his bible. At one point he said, "DJ, lemme tell you something Jesus Christ said." Then he read matthew 16:24-25:"24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it."
Then he said, "DJ, I want to change my life. That's why I keep meeting with the Elders. I am not the happiest I can be, but life is getting better. It's always better when I live the commandments. I want you guys to change with me. I can promise you that it'll help." DJ said he wanted to start meeting with us. He said that he had met other Elders before and they had talked with him, but initially he was nervous to open up to us because we were different guys. He said his fear quickly vanished away when we started teaching. "I feel exactly the same. You guys have a feeling about you that is identical to the other guys. That amazes me because you don't know them and you're all different ages and from different parts of the world. There's something to this."
It was an incredible lesson. We all knelt and Isaiah said the closing prayer. He is such a good missionary!
After that we ran into the Smith family on our way home. All 9 of the kids came outside and demanded magic tricks and dance moves. Me, Elder Walker, and Elder Brady all pretended to be robots and had a robot battle. The kids and their parents were dying laughing. All the neighbors also came out and watched and laughed and their kids wanted to play with us. I love having charity in your heart for little children. It softens the hearts of others. Now I understand why Jesus Christ suffered the little children to come unto him and forbade them not. It was a great end to a rough day.
THURSDAY: Thursday was even harder than the day before. It was hotter, more people weren't home, and some people were downright nasty to us. On top of that, I was feeling miserable beforehand without any real cause. I was being a jerk to my companions and I didn't know why and I kept praying and trying to figure out how to snap out of it. We had a decent lesson with Thomasina. We talked about the Tree of Life and Lehi's vision. She loved it, but I struggled in my teaching. We planned things for Laura's baptism. After that we walked home in a thunderstorm.
That night we had a lesson with Sister Neel. She was in a TERRIBLE mood. She had truly had a horrible, no good, very bad day. As we talked to her it clicked that SHE was why I had been having this struggle to be happy all day. I needed to understand what she was going through and how she was feeling inside so I could get to her and we could help each other repent. Nothing tragic had happened in her life - she was just having a bad day and was angry. I asked my companions if I could hijack the lesson and they consented. I then talked to her about Moroni 7 and praying with all the energy of heart for charity. I also shared from 2nd nephi about how we are free to choose liberty and eternal life or choose to be miserable like Satan is miserable. I explained my rough day and my true feelings, and we really connected. Then I asked her if she would cheer up with me. We pinky promised that we'd stop being sour. Then she told my companions: "You're the witnesses! If he breaks his promise, you do me a favor and pick him up and throw him in the crick!" We all laughed. My mood changed dramatically.
After that Taylor, a pre-missionary who is leaving for Brazil this August, came out on a team up with us. We met up with him at Subway. We were supposed to have a lesson with someone but that fell through. They cancelled. Instead he helped us stop by and visit a few other people to set up appointments. Then we got to go visit John and Tiffany. If you remember, John was the guy who breeds pythons. I got to feed a dead rat to a pithon with a pair of pliers! Those things strike fast and then roll and coil right around those things in a matter of seconds. Super cool. John is really receptive to the gospel. We will see where that goes! Taylor really enjoyed coming out with us. He said it was an adventure. He can't wait to serve a mission.
Reflecting that night, I realized that we were having a baptism on Sunday. I connected the dots and realized that every other time, the week before a baptism, I've had a rough week. It was nothing new. It was just Satan pathetically trying to discourage me. Once I remembered that I vowed to have a kick-butt rest of my week.
FRIDAY: We had our weekly planning. Then we went to visit Romain. She was sick and asked us to call her later to set up a time for next week. So instead we went and saw Darrell. He let us in! He said he had time for us to teach him. So we taught him a great first lesson. he had grown up with missionaries in Pittsburgh stopping by his home to help his parents through service and to play with him and his brothers. Then he had friends in Pittsburgh who would have missionaries over all the time. He had never heard anything that we teach! But all the service of those past missionaries led to him having a soft heart and being ready for the gospel. He really liked the message of the restoration. He agreed to read and pray about the book of Mormon. Then he invited us to come back! He's a great guy. He has 4 little boys. They're awesome. They reminded me of my brothers. They were rolling around on their roller blades in the house, getting ready to go outside. I thought of me and Harrison.
We ahd a lesson with Amy that night! We talked about temples and what heaven is like. She loved it. She had a few questions and we were able to answer them. Her son, Nathan, is taking the lessons to be baptized. he met with Walker and Brady while I was on exchange. Things are going well there!
SATURDAY: David and Heather and her daughter Lauren (who is 11) picked us up at 12:00 that morning and drove us to David's place. We helped them prepare hot wings and pasta and Heather put on "The Other Side of Heaven" while we prepped. What a good movie. We technically aren't allowed to watch that, but it was just on in the background. haha! We had an amazing lesson with David. he asked us what he had to do to be baptized. he said he's been trying hard to live the word of wisdom. We haven't even taught him that yet! He said, "Seriously. If I didn't believe this stuff, I wouldn't have been to church 7 times!" We told him that he had to start meeting with us more regularly. He agreed to have us over at least once a week. We told him that he didn't have to feed us every time. He laughed and said okay. David is the man. He said the closing prayer and the Spirit was super strong. He's really making great changes in his life. He also loaded us up with TONS of food. Which was great because we're all out of money and our fridge and cupboards were empty. He sent us home with watermelons, cokes, sausages, and jello, plus the rest of the hot wings. What a man!
That night we walked all the way to the other end of our area to try some people. We had a great lesson with a Sister named Gretchen. She told us of a miraculous dream her son Jetadiah had. He is 6. She said, "Jet, tell the Elders how you stopped having nightmares?" He had been having problems sleeping. He looked at us and said, "I prayed and so Jesus came and held me in his arms." She said he hadn't had nightmares since that happened. Instead he had been having incredible dreams. Out of the mouth of babes, right?
Afterwards Bishop Young picked us up. We went to the church and Thomasina helped Laura try on baptism dresses. Then we went into the empty font and practiced the baptism because she was nervous. We had a little lesson on the covenant of baptism. Laura actually smiled! AND SHE SAID THE CLOSING PRAYER! She never speaks! haha it was weird to actually hear her voice. She's adorable. Then we vacuumed out the baptismal font.
SUNDAY: IT WAS AMAZING! David and Heather came to church. The Sisters spoke on prayer. It was exactly what he needed to hear. Heather needed it too and she cried. The spirit was deeply felt. Isaiah, Thomasina, and Amy were all there. Laura was excited to be baptized. Sarah was there too. After church we had the baptism. It was only the 2nd time I had actually gotten to perform the ordinance on my mission and it was deeply moving for me. The whole ward came to the baptism. So did David and Heather and Lauren. Aja, one of the sisters' investigators who is getting baptized in 2 weeks, also came. So did Laura's dad Michael! He loved it! Elder Walker gave a great talk on the Holy Ghost. Elder Brady said the prayer. David and Heather bought Laura a stuffed animal as a gift for her baptism. The Primary went all out and brought cakes and cookies and stuff. And her primary teacher bought her a quad! I love this ward! Laura was beaming when she came up out of the water. She was so nervous walking into the font. She didn't want to mess up and have to get dunked again! haha! She was so happy and proud of herself. It was awesome.
I'm running out of time on the computer. Long story short: We got a new car. 2013 corolla. So we're not walking anymore! Praise the Lord! haha! I'm such a wimp. It was great to be able to fly down the road instead of walking! After church we went home to drop off our stuff. Then we got a sad call from President Topham. An elder had to go home and so Elder Brady was getting emergency transferred to Wheeling, West Virginia! He took it pretty hard. So did we. Everything was just starting to click with us. It was sad. But we decided to go out and have the best day ever, and we did! We went to a Baptist church and we sang our hearts out. No joke. We were invited by this old lady named Loretta. People loved us there but there were some obvious jabs made at us during the service. No big though. They offered us hot dogs at the end! Then we went to a bbq/party - Blair invited us. Everyone was drunk except for him. When we pulled in he said, "UH OH! MORMON DRIVIN'!" It was funny. There was a lot of loud, vulgar rap music. We were keeping the Sabbath Day Holy like bosses! haha. Nah, we felt like we suddenly understood more about the Savior. When he went to eat with Publicans and Sinners, he loved them for who they were, but didn't participate in any of their behaviors. Nor did he stay very long. When we felt constrained, we left. But it softened the hearts of Blair's parents and his neighbor. They thought it was cool that we dropped in.
Then we visited Sister Southern in the hospital. Then we had a great lesson with Isaiah and DJ on temples. Then we had a great lesson with Roy McKnight. He's been reading a ton and had a lot of deep doctrinal questions. He's sincerely searching for truth. He's just a HIGHLY intelligent man. He was a psychologist for many years. It was fun talking to him. We wanted to drop in and say goodbye because Elder Brady loved him. He was sad Elder Brady was leaving but was happy we were staying. He said, "You need to answer my questions if I am to make a mental jump between two differing paradigms of belief! I have to be converted logically and spiritually for it to work!" I love that guy.
MONDAY: We went to the Ward Picnic. Played incredible amounts of Ultimate Frisbee with the District and with Isaiah! Isaiah dove for a frisbee and skinned his elbows, hands, and knees, on an asphalt hiking trail. He was bleeding a ton and, as he was laying on the ground, he said, "DANG IT! I knew I shouldn't have played with the mormons! Ya'll play rough!" It was funny. We had a great game of softball that afternoon as well. Thomasina and Michael and Laura and Sarah came. It was just a great day. Perfect last day with Elder Brady. The Sisters took us to Ritas. At 5:30 PM Bartlett and Moulton came and picked up Elder Brady, and just as quickly as he came, he was gone. =( The rest of the night was really quiet. Elder Walker and I were sad. But we had some good experiences. One was this: as we were walking to another destination, I felt impressed to knock a door. A lady answered and told us missionaries had been there a few months before and she had accepted a Book of Mormon! She wasn't interested in actively learning but said she enjoyed the book. She was very friendly. Mrs. McCarthey was her name. She said she loved us boys. We talked to her for about 15 minutes. Great lady. As we were walking away Elder Walker said, "Good guess, Elder Collier. Good guess." haha! I love the Spirit. Works every time.
So, crazy week! Lots of ups and downs and twists and turns. I gotta go!
My flight plans came today. I'm flying down to Georgia apparently. Then flying to Portland. This whole coming home thing suddenly got real!