Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Email veintinueve: la semana de mis sueños

February 27, 2017 
This week was full of being tired. You'd think after 6 months I'd get used to this getting up at 6:30 thing, but it's gotten harder. When I hear the alarm, muscle memory automatically has me up on my feet the second that thing goes off, then about ten seconds later it feels like the bed suddenly turns into a giant Elder Smalley magnet. Just about every atom in my body begs to jump back in those covers. Then two words automatically go off in my mind: "exact obedience." So I run downstairs, chug some ice water, chew some gum, and start doing push-ups. Works pretty well.

This week was slow. Not slow time wise, but slow work wise. We lost our car, and Elder Giles doesn't have a bike, so we did things the old fashioned way. We would walk 45 minutes to an appointment just to have it fall through.

Tuesday we had District Meeting, and it was just our trio and the Sisters, because the other Jonesboro Elders are Zone Leaders, so they were up in Paragould Arkansas for the day. The mission organization has changed a lot, each Zone has 4 Zone Leaders instead of 2. In District Meeting we talked about finding new investigators. 

We taught a family from Mexico
with the cutest little puppy
Lately we have just been knocking on doors to find, which is good but not the most effective way to further the work. I heard a statistic that one out of every thousand doors knocked results in a baptism. So our focus going forward is to talk with everyone we see outside, and to work through the members. Talking with everyone as a concept has been difficult for me. Does everyone mean everyone? Wait...please don't tell me everyone includes this guy...yeah not feeling it today sorry... I really need to work on my courage.

The English Elders names are Elder York and Elder Stiles-Culver. They are good missionaries. Elder York is from Boulder Colorado and is way good at basketball. He's about 6'4" and Elder Stiles Culver is 6'4". So the four of us are all about 6'3"/6'4", and then there's Elder Spencer at 5'6". I find that pretty funny.

Now Brothers and Sisters, let me introduce you to Brother Freddie Green, the only black member of the Jonesboro Ward. Freddie Green is one of the greatest people I have ever met. In his words he's "just a black Mormon boy trying to do right" or "the black sheep of the Jonesboro Ward". Freddie has a stutter worse than his old clunker Buick that he calls "the hoopdee", but more importantly he has a heart of gold. He loves the missionaries. He got baptized back in the
A quote that kept me going through the week,
so I decided to make it a screen saver.
80s in Memphis. He's retired here in Jonesboro, with nothing to do but "hang with the missionaries." He saved our lives last week with rides, and he tells us all the time: "I'm only a call away, so holler at me if y'all need me." I love this man. I've started writing down Freddie Green quotes, and my favorite one so far is "No duh Sherlock Homie!"

 A cool experience this week, was when we taught a lady from Peru. She told us "I'm looking for a church that teaches the truth." What a blessing to find an elect that lives right on our street! This week was a good week to really start figuring out who I am and what I want to be. I studied President Uchtdorf's Pride and the Priesthood, and it really helped me identify a lot of pride in myself that has been there for years that I had never noticed. I really want to humble myself and learn how to change through the power of Atonement.

I'm so grateful for Jesus Christ and His sacrifice. I feel every day I learn something new and profound about His infinite love. I know He is my Savior and that He lives. The Church is true, the Book is blue, His love is infinite, even when weekly numbers are few!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Email veintiocho: Hello Jonesboro

February 20, 2017
Hey y'all :)
Week one in Jonesboro has been good. Here are some of the things I have learned about my companions:

Elder Giles, our greenie, is quite the character. Like me he is tall skinny and blonde. He reminds me a lot of Andrew McMullin, now Elder McMullin. He has a dorky sense of humor that is pretty hilarious. He loves playing with lady bugs, eating tootie fruities with chocolate milk, and yelling. I feel that sums him up pretty well. Elder Spencer is the calming force in our companionship. He is a little guy, only 5'6", a little quieter and always super calm. He hardly ever yells, and when he talks he has a soft tone to his voice. He and Elder Giles are pretty much polar opposites, but they get along super well.

the new trio
Tuesday we went to go see our top investigator X, who is 14 years old and lives with her Grandpa, Y. Y had been inactive in the Church for over 50 years until Elder Anaya and Elder Sweeten had gone and visited him two transfers ago. He now attends church every week again and brings X and her little brother Jacob. X was sick and so we didn't get to see her Tuesday, and so we visited with Y. He told us about how he has restarted reading the Old Testament from the beginning and hopes to finish it in the next year, he sure loves his scriptures! He told us about the "cotton pickin' Blackbirds" that poop all over his pickup truck. Here's a direct quote from the conversation: "once the weather gets a lil less nasty, every one of em cotton pickin' Blackbirds 'll be dead when I get out there with my b-b gun." Gotta love the South, and old people.

Tuesday night we played soccer at the Church with Brother Gutierrez and his nonmember friends. It was 3 on 3 on the basketball court, and it was super fun. I hadn't played soccer in forever and at first I was pretty awful, but towards the end I was re living the glory days of coed rec soccer. I even scored the game winning goal for the last game against some Mexicans, so I think that's not too shabby.

Wednesday we went and saw our top Hispanic investigator Z. He loves everything about the church and the Gospel but doesn't want to come to church because he was falsely accused of a crime about a year ago and is afraid people will judge him. It was really nice to speak Spanish again, up until then we hadn't been able to talk to many Hispanics.

Wednesday night we went to the church for the Book of Mormon class. A lot of people came and it went really well. I also got to meet a lot of the youth who were there for mutual. The Jonesboro Ward is very strong, the people have a lot of faith, and love the missionaries.

Thursday we went and saw X, she was still sick, but was able to meet with us. She is very smart, and always has homework because she is taking all pre AP courses. She had a baptismal date this last Saturday but we all agreed she is not ready. We taught her about the Holy Ghost, and what the Holy Ghost does for us. We asked her if she had ever had a good feeling while meeting with us, and she wasn't sure. So we just invited her to pray, and ask Heavenly Father if he is there and pay attention to how she felt. After the lesson, Y came outside and told us about the struggles X is having with her parents.

It makes me so sad that a 14 year old girl has to go through things like that. She's only 14 and she is constantly stressed because of school, and very tired, and meanwhile not feeling very loved because
she doesn't know if God is real or if he loves her and she doesn't feel loved by her parents either. It makes me realize how good of a childhood I had. I had two loving parents who always made sure I knew I was loved.

a lesson last night wtih an awesome family
Our Ward Mission Leaders name is Hermano Montoya, who is from Mexico. The Montoya family is incredible. Their son Ben is a senior in high school, and wears a future missionary tag to church and when he comes to teach with us. I wish I was more like him when I was home. Ben came with us to teach Z Friday, and he bore an amazing testimony.

A comment on living quarters: we have a house. And it is awesome. Lots of space, lots of food, comfy couches, good stuff. I feel blessed. I'll send pics next week. I've started re reading the New Testament and the Sermon on the Mount blows me away! I love the Saviors New Testament teachings! To me it is a testimony that our Savior has high expectations for us, he doesn't want us to just live the minimum law, he wants us to magnify in all that we do!

That's all for this week, love y'all! The Church is true, the Book is blue, Jonesboro is awesome, and that's the truth!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Email veintisiete: Leaving the nest

February 13, 2017
On the mission there's a saying that the days feel like weeks and the weeks feel like days. That's a pretty accurate statement. This transfer felt more like 2 weeks instead of 6.

Saying goodbye to the Barrera family
I'll go ahead and get the spoiler out of the way: I am leaving Russellville. Elder Toomer will stay behind with his new companion Elder Clark. I will be going to Jonesboro Arkansas and will serve in another trio with Elder Spencer and Elder Giles! Elder Spencer is a former Zone Leader and Elder Giles is on his second transfer, so I'll be follow up training! I've heard there aren't many Hispanics in Jonesboro so this will be interesting... But I've also heard that Jonesboro is the most coveted area in the mission, missionaries call it the Promised Land. All I know is the Lord wants me there right now, so it should work out :) 

Anyway about the week: Monday for Pday the Danville District came over to the church and we played two hand touch football in the parking lot. It was so much fun to play football again, and I absolutely love all the Elders in our District and the Danville District. 

Super spicy Serrano chile almost killed me
Monday night we had a lesson with S&T. We focused on S, and asked her what was preventing her from being baptized. She told us that she still had doubts about the Restoration, specifically the first vision and Joseph Smith. We invited her and T to watch Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration. That night S texted us and asked us to come again Thursday, we didn't even need to ask for a return appointment. We later asked what their thoughts on the movie, and they responded that they loved it, and had questions. So Thursday we stopped by and had the most amazing lesson, but before that, S and Thad a surprise for us. 

Thursday was Elder Toomer's birthday, and when we arrived, T told us to follow him into the kitchen. When we rounded the corner, T fired a confetti cannon at us. Scared me half to death. Then they brought out a cake that S had baked, stuffed with m&m's and very yummy. It was so thoughtful of them! They are so amazing! 

Good byes to familia Gallardo 
Then during the lesson S told us that after seeing the movie she felt the greatest sense of peace she had ever felt. We helped her identity that feeling. She naturally started talking about baptism and how that feeling made her want to be baptized. We asked when she would want to be baptized, and she said by the end of the month. We ended up deciding on March 4, and she said: "This date is my date, so if I'm ready I don't want to be immediately dirty afterwards. I'm getting baptized with or without T so if we aren't married we will need to stop living together." You should have seen the look on our faces, I didn't but I'm willing to bet they looked shell shocked. That was pretty dang awesome. Tuesday we had our last District meeting. That was sad. 

Saturday we met with S and T again, found a bunch of cool potential investigators, and got the transfer news. I have to admit I was pretty shocked. I really thought I was gonna stay in Russellville with Elder Toomer. I'm so grateful for this last transfer and everything that Elder Toomer taught me. He is such a good kid. I know this church is true, 

I'm out of time but I love y'all! The Church is true, the Book is blue, I'm excited to serve with The Jonesboro Crew!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Email veinticinco: a mighty change

February 6, 2017 
My beloved family and 5 faithful friends who read these things: thank you for what you do but mostly for who you are. You're awesome.

Last week I was not able to send off a weekly because I ran out of time. We got back late from hiking, and I had many little distractions. I also got very very sick Monday, immediately after getting back to the apartment, so we stayed in for the rest of the night. I still hadn't finished my email so I figured what the heck I'll finish writing it and send it a little bit after 6 no big deal. So it was 6:10, I was still writing and Elder Toomer asks me "Elder, what are you doing?" "Writing my family" (as I continue to type). He responded by asking if I knew the time, and I said yes but that my family had to hear from me. He then said ok and that he couldn't make me do the right thing. My initial reaction was to get angry, and I was tempted to say something unkind in response. But then I stopped, paused, and thought about the situation. Was I frustrated because I was the one wanting to do the right thing, or because I wasn't being obedient? I knew that I wasn't being obedient. So I chose to make the super hard decision of saving what I had to drafts. The letter was basically done but I knew if I hit the send button I couldn't feel good about myself and my commitment to the Lord. At 7:30 Mom sent me an email asking where her letter was, and not being able to respond broke my heart. I texted Sister Thompson to tell her I was sick and if she could contact my mom and let her know what happened. Sister Thompson is a champ.

Branch barbecue we had Saturday 

So now the explanation is out of the way, I'd like to take more time to talk about the visit from Elder Anderson two Saturdays ago. I will say this. I received direct revelation and answers to my questions and prayers. An invitation from Elder Beheshti, a member of the Seventy who also spoke during the conference, is to change the way we email our families. I know I have been way too casual in my emails, so I apologize to everyone. Serving a mission is an incredible opportunity to reach out to those you love and share your testimony and spiritual experiences. Elder Klebingat, a member of the Seventy, was also present and spoke. He spoke on total consecration. He was very intense, very serious and very bold. He spoke on secret combinations, we as missionaries cannot have secret agreements one to another to hide wickedness and disobedience from leaders. He also said that coming unto Christ is not a negotiation, it is TOTAL SURRENDER. You give everything up, lay everything on the altar of sacrifice, you hold nothing back. I have been studying becoming a Consecrated Missionary and so this really was directly applicable to my studies.

Elder Anderson spoke of how as missionaries, we need to have the Doctrine of Christ and the Scriptures "burn through our hearts like fire." I love that! Do our testimonies burn in our hearts like ??? This Gospel is not a side dish or an appetizer, IT SHOULD BE AT THE FRONT AND CENTER OF EVERYTHING WE DO. That's tough to do when we have so many distractions. While I'm here on the mission, I'm converting myself so that when I get home the Gospel remains my main focus. I want my dedication and love for Jesus Christ to be my everything.

Tuesday we had to stay in the apartment all day, we only left once to make it to interviews with President Wakolo. Interviews went very well. We had interviews as a companionship and Elder Toomer told President the main thing he has learned from me is how to love the people. I was surprised, because sometimes I get very frustrated with some of the people we work with haha, and I feel I definitely need to increase my love for the people.

Wednesday was rough. We were driving to go pick up the English Elders to take them to Zone Meeting in Conway. They called us and the Bluetooth is set up in the car. I looked down at the monitor just long enough to get distracted and merged into the right lane without head checking and hit another car. As we were running late. It wasn't too bad, the front of our car is pretty dinged up but it still drives. We are waiting for the insurance to repair the damages and for my fine to come through. Fun stuff. I have been studying agency lately and I chose to exercise my agency and choose to not say a few choice words, and to not scream and yell and vent verbally like my old self would. Isn't agency great?!

S & T's baptismal date fell through this Saturday, because they are still not married. T still needs to propose but he has been working like a dog lately and never has time. It really seems like the world is against them finding true happiness. S's family has started saying not nice things and really persecuting her for meeting with us. They have tried to give her and T anti church material. Salvation isn't easy, but I know S & T WILL find it. I just don't know if I'll be around to see it.

Monday while we were hiking we stopped by the river to eat lunch. I was feeling pretty sad about S & T and all the opposition they have faced and all the opposition I have faced here on the mission. Elder Larrain came over and sat by me, and started talking to me. At first I was thinking the way I usually do when I'm sulking: leave me alone and let me be depressed by myself. Then Elder Larrain quoted Elder Bednar and said something that changed my life: "Quit worrying." Two words. So simple. We worry all the time, just about anything and everything. We choose to lose our minds worrying about everything. It doesn't have to be like that. We can stop. We can trust. Quit worrying. Let it all go, do the best you can, and trust that God knows what he's doing.

I think about my time here in Russellville, almost 4 months, not a whole lot. Have these four months been for absolutely nothing? Have I simply wasted time here? I know at least one life has changed during my time here. I am a better person for being here. I love Jesus Christ more because I have been here. My life will be forever blessed because of my time here, and the lives of my future wife and children. I think about S & T, are their lives better because I met them? That's a yes. So four months have yielded at least 3 changed lives. To me that's worth it.

I know there is a God, and that he is our Heavenly Father. I know that on a very personal level. I know Jesus Christ is our Savior, that through Him we are saved, and if we follow him we will find eternal joy. I know perfectly that Joseph Smith was called of God to bring forth the Gospel in it's fullness in these Latter Days. I know The Book of Mormon is more than a book, it is the word of God, the most correct book on this earth, and abiding by its precepts has brought me closer to God and to Christ, and brought me more joy and understanding than any other book. I know the Bible is also the word of God, and that the Book of Mormon increases my appreciation for the Holy Bible and what it teaches. I will never doubt that, I will never question it.

The Church is true, the Book is blue, and I feel like I just started my mission anew.

Email veinticuatro: the week of consecration

January 30, 2017  
(This is my email from last week that I wasn't able to finish before 6 pm!)
Howdy y'all ;)  This was a very demanding, but very good week.

On Monday Elder Toomer bought a brand new mountain bike, so we decided to go test it out. We found an old ATV trail by our apartment. I was very quickly reminded of how bad I am at mountain biking. At 6 foot 3 I felt like a praying mantis trying to ride a tricycle. I made it out alive though.
Tuesday we started BIKE WEEK. The day started off well, the weather was absolutely perfect, low 70s, nice breeze, lots of people outside to talk to. A comment on Arkansas weather: many people in Utah complain that the weather is bipolar. Arkansas is sooooooo much worse. One day is in the 30s, the next in the 70s, then there's a torrential downpour the next. Stop complaining people of Utah. Anyway Tuesday we found a couple different Hispanics outside to talk to that told us to come back (just about 98% of the people we talk to tell us to come back "un otro día" which I thought meant another day in Spanish but apparently to the Hispanics here it means “never” (hope you caught the hint of sarcasm there).

At the end of Tuesday we were close by our apartments
because we had a couple of appointments. Everything fell through. We tried a few other Hispanic doors close by, still nothing. 8 o'clock came and we had no clue what to do. So we prayed. We decided to try some apartments down the hill from our apartment. We knocked every door, and got rejected by everyone. It was still 8:15, so we tried a couple other houses, we could hear people inside, but no one answered. So we decided to try this Honduran lady that lives across the street from our apartment. If you want to now what this lady is like, she is a Baptist black lady who speaks Spanish. Her accent is soooooo funny. There are a lot of people with African descent from Honduras. Her 10 chihuahuas went nuts, we woke her up, and she came out looking not very happy. She told us to come back un otro día. We tried some other people, then ended up trying our next door neighbor just for kicks because we were completely out of ideas.
We were super frustrated and ended up going inside the apartment at 8:45 because we had prayed and couldn't think of anything else.

Then we had to confront my worst enemy: nightly planning I prayed for an answer to how we could
improve planning. This story has a happy ending: on Wednesday we as a zone drove down to North Little Rock. And the church leadership council changed the missionary schedule. From now on, we will be doing daily planning in the morning. I wept tears of joy. This was a momentous moment. Prayers are answered.

Saturday we had a devotional with Elder Neal L. Anderson and it changed my mission but I don't have time to write about it. Sunday I decided to fast all day, and break my fast at 9 o'clock. I have never gone that long without food before. I'm amazed that some people suffer going days without food, my heart truly goes out to the hungry and needy. When I broke my fast a ravenous hunger overtook me. I raided the pantry. I ate things I didn't know we had, or how long they had been there. Well I must have done something wrong, because I'm sick today.

Anyways I'm out of time but I love y'all.

Email veintitrés: Sweet is the work

January 23, 2017 
Howdy folks! Let's start off with weekly shout-outs! Shout out BEN VANCE (Vance refrigeration™) for getting his mission call to TAIWAN! What a champ! (Soon to be Elder Vance is the one who got me saying 'champ' all the time). Shout out to my bestie Elder Stalling for baptizing last week!  And by the way, he was best man at his investigators wedding, getting in some practice for when he's best man at MY wedding. Shout-out to my wonderful amazing beautiful mother for being awesome and toughing out a fractured spine! #mymomistougherthanme. Shout-out to my big Sister Jenn for turning 29 for the third time! What a champ! Shout-out to ABIGAIL for writing me two weeks in a row! She is the cutest! Thanks for reminding me to work out!  

Speaking of which, I forgot to mention this but we actually have weights at our apartment! We have a bench press and barbells and dumbbells and all that good stuff! I've actually put on 15 pounds of muscle since I arrived in the field! My goal is to put on 15 more in the next 6 months! I'm right around 175 right now, still super skinny, but I'm getting there, I'll have that Chris Evans body in no time! When I left on the mission I looked like Steve Rogers, I'm hoping by the time I get home I'll look more like Captain America.  

Elder Toomer by the way, is BUFF. He played football in high school, probably could've played college but he ruined his knees. He is super strong. Every morning when we lift he puts me to shame. It's funny because he always talks about how he wishes he was tall like me. This week!

Tuesday we had Zone Conference. Funny Story. I assumed it would be in Conway, just like it always has, but our District Leader Elder Janes thought it was at the mission office Stake Center in North Little Rock. Conway is about halfway between North Little Rock and Russellville. We passed Conway and I thought to myself: "...huh...guess it's not in Conway" without saying a word to anyone else. We got to the mission office...uh yup...it was in Conway. We walked into Zone Conference, our entire District, 30 minutes late, with the eyes of President and Sister Wakolo, the APs, the English Zone Leaders, the Spanish Zone Leaders, and everyone else on us. I learned I should probably speak up next time something like that happens. Oops.

After Zone Conference ended, we had exchanges with the Spanish Zone Leaders. Elder Toomer went with Elder Jorgensen in Little Rock, and I got Elder Sweeten! Elder Sweeten is incredible. If you've ever read be the fourth missionary, Elder Sweeten is the fourth missionary. He served in English for about a year and a half, and he switched to Spanish just a couple transfers ago, so his Spanish is pretty rough, haha. But it doesn't even matter. I watched him talk to Hispanics and say super silly stuff, that hardly made any sense, things I felt tempted to laugh at, and what he said made that person feel the Spirit. That's the difference between him and me. He is more powerful with his broken Spanish because he truly understands how the Spirit works. That's truly what the gift of tongues is. He also really helped me with planning, that was my weakness. 

Tuesday night I took Elder Sweeten to go see S&T. Such a powerful lesson! We finally figured out why they were so scared about baptism. They basically thought they had to be perfect after baptism and never make big mistakes again. So we taught what really is the purpose of baptism, and how repentance works. Elder Sweeten really knows his Book of Mormon. We committed them to be baptized February 4, which is super soon and they still need to get married. T was going to propose this last Saturday but he wanted to do it in the Church but the English Ward had an activity going on.
Pray for them.

Elder Toomer and I in total set 4 baptismal dates. The others were L and J. L&Ir are the couple we found who let us in on the spot and fed us. Ir didn't want to accept a date but she said she would be baptized. J is our age and graduated last year too. He is super open and very prepared.
Sunday S&T came to church! This week was a super good week numbers wise, we taught about 15 lessons in total and set a new record for member present lessons: 3! It's not much but we are going upward!

There have been a couple times this week where I've just smiled to myself and been grateful to been here, grateful to be experiencing all of this. I know this truly is precious time and I can feel my attitude changing little by little. I know this mission is the greatest thing that could ever happen to me.

The Church is true, Book is blue, sweet is the work, and there's a lot of it to do! 
Love y'all!

Email veintidós: dulce es la obra

January 16, 2017 
Howdy folks! I always feel like I should put an introduction sentence or two here, but lately it's been getting difficult so I'll just talk about each day.

Monday: we had a lesson with a member who has not come to church in over two months. He’s been having some doubts about the Book of Mormon so we have been trying to help him. We will teach him again tonight.

Tuesday: we had a lesson with S&T. They are back together now...living together again. S told us some stuff about her past life that we probably shouldn't know, but also helped us understand why everything has been so difficult for her. We talked to T about the ring after the lesson, and his face lit up! He said he wanted to propose to her the next day! We told him to think about it and pray about it.

Wednesday: don't remember. Thursday: don't remember. Friday: we had weekly planning.

Sunday: we went out teaching with Hermano B. We taught a couple from Guerrero Mexico, most people here are from there or El Salvador, and they speak so fast holy cow! And they yell at that same time, it was everything I could muster to follow the conversation, at times Elder Toomer and I looked at each other and laughed because we literally understood nothing. I miss Elder Sotomarino's perfect Peruvian Spanish. I think we've gotten on Hermano B's good side! We had dinner with them afterwards and it was so much fun! They told us a bunch of jokes in Spanish. Then we visited the G family, Hermano G has gone inactive because he says we weren't friendly enough to him, so we are trying to fix that. We went over and talked to him about sports. He's mad because the Cowboys lost last week or something.

Chocolate chip Oreo Nutella cookie, oh my!
SPEAKING OF SPORTS MAJOR SHOUTOUT TO CLEMSON FOR BEATING ALABAMA. HALALUJEH (how do you spell hallalujeh) OH MY GOSH LIFE IS JUST (unless Dad just told me that so I wouldn't get depressed). I am so happy. Nothing is better than an Alabama loss. Except the Gospel. And my family. 

So if this email sucks, Elder Larrain came to the chapel to hang out with us for P day day, so it was hard to focus. We finally got to meet each other, after having talked to each other a bunch of times on the phone, and he is the coolest! He is from Chile, we totally hit it off! So basically I got super distracted talking to him the whole time. Sorry everyone.

Overall: things are really well. I'm learning how to roll with the punches and enjoy the mission at this point, so that's awesome. Love it. 
Thanks for the prayers.