Monday, July 30, 2012

July 30 Letter

Hello from the boonies! 

This place is freaking crazy! Ha, I just realized this week that Arcade, where my apartment is, is officially a village. Who doesn't want to live in a village?? Really though, this is the weirdest place of all time. The people are kind of like NYC meets the Ozark backwoods... Just try to imagine it, and you're probably just about right! But, while a lot of times they come off a little--or VERY--rough, once you break through their barrier they are some of the most loving people I have ever met. In a very blunt, sarcastic kind of way.

Cora, the grandma of a girl who was baptized just over a week ago, is, as of Thursday, planning on being baptized on the 4th of August! That is an awesome date for me, because it is exactly a month from the day I was set apart as a missionary. Yesterday, she asked me to be the one to baptize her... so I have to figure out how to go about that. But, she is incredible. We were going over the Law of Tithing and the Word of Wisdom, and when we read out the promised blessings of each one, all she said is "Well... that's a pretty good deal it sounds like." My absolute favorite of her lines was when she was describing how she reads the Book of Mormon each night, it makes her feel peaceful and like her problems don't matter quite as much. This had Sis. Neilson, one of the senior couple missionaries, crying a bit. When Cora noticed she was crying, she was like, "Wait, is that not what I'm supposed to feel?!" Haha, she's golden. Unfortunately, we're still trying to help her get over smoking. In less than a week and a half, she went from two packs a day to half a pack, and she's committed to cutting back on three a day, so that she'll be done by Wednesday. I'd be a little more worried if it was anyone else, but Cora is strong enough that I'm not too worried. We read her the "weakest of saints" line in Doctrine and Covenants 89 (where the Word of Wisdom is), and she scoffed at the idea that she should even have to consider herself among the weakest. She'll be just fine!

Then there's the Alexanders. Terry, the head of the house, was baptized a little bit ago, and later baptized his wife, Eva, and his son, Eric. Terry is hard to picture. He's about 6'3" and 300 pounds. His head is shaved and there's a ring of eagle and wolf tattoos. Super nice guy, though, no doubt. So, while we are working on new-member work with those three, his other son Freddy is working on being baptized. His major hurdle is going to be Law of Chastity, though, because he has been living with his girlfriend for some time. They have a wedding day picked out now, but even then he is 18 and she is 17. Really, though, I guess that's not unique out here. In the ward, I can think of two or three other girls who are either in high school or just out of it who are either married or engaged. Pretty much how it works for guys is they graduate, work for a year to save up some money, and get married. And I thought BYU was bad!! But, as long as everything goes as planned, we'll start going through the discussions with Freddy, Liz (his fiance), and Liz's mom on Tuesday, they'll be married in September, and then baptized within a couple weeks following that. Liz's mom we'll probably go through with earlier since she doesn't need to wait for her daughter to get married, plus she's the most enthusiastic Book of Mormon reader of the whole group.

Now, my favorite place to go to is Kelly's. She was baptized four or five months ago after spending nearly a decade with the missionaries. She lives on a little farm where she has 13 goats, three or four pigs, I think about seven dogs, three miniature horses, the meanest donkey I've ever met. She gives the missionaries eggs, fudge made from her goats' milk, and dinner quite often. Last night, we had hot dogs made out of deer meat, but the absolute best meal was pancakes where we had bacon from her own pigs. BEST BACON OF MY LIFE! Kelly really likes to take care of us, and we are doing something a little different with each part of her family. We do a lot of service out there, helping them with evening chores whenever we are there--only in Freedom do you get goat poop covering up a Dockers logo on your shoes--and on Saturday we spent the whole morning and early afternoon helping them build their barn. 

Jim, Kelly's husband, really wants nothing to do with religion and will throw you out if you bring it up. But, he has definitely loosened up since I visited them first. Apparently he really didn't like the elders who have been here in the past, until my companion showed up. If it wasn't for Elder Inkley, Jim would have stopped letting us come over a long time ago, he told us. But, he's definitely softened up with me a lot since I've gotten here, and we can carry on normal conversation about hunting or chores or whatever. He seemed really impressed and appreciative at the work Elder Inkley and I did on Saturday, even though he has the roughest way of showing it. 

Just yesterday, we finally got Lindsey, Jim's 21-year-old daughter, to agree to read the Book of Mormon. She said she was nervous about burning up as soon as she opened it, but agreed to try anyways hahaha. Kelly is pushing for us to have a weekly Book of Mormon reading, which we'll probably set up soon. 

We are also trying to just be good influences on Kelly's son, Ethan. He is actually a member from a long time back, but now prefers to smoke weed. Haha, he's a great kid, though. He just really likes to bash with religion a lot. We're hoping to eventually soften him up to the point where he'll at least join in on our Book of Mormon reading, go to church with Kelly, or something.

Basically, we hit every aspect of missionary work with that family!

This Sunday, President Meiss had me give my farewell talk in Sacrament meeting. To fully understand the humor of this situation, let me explain my time in the MTC: Each Sunday, every missionary is supposed to prepare a talk about an assigned topic. Then, at the beginning of the Sacrament meeting, the branch presidency will announce two or three people who will be sharing their talk. On week two, I was the lucky soul. Out of about 50 people, I was one of two chosen. Now, this wouldn't be too terrible, but then week three came. The night before, I said to myself, "There is no way I'll be giving a talk tomorrow--I spoke last week plus we just had 23 new missionaries join the branch. I won't prepare a talk." For some reason, and no one quite understands it, I got called again, and had to scramble something together while the sister missionary gave her talk. (Even better, I was also assigned the closing prayer for that meeting AND my branch was singing a hymn since it was our last week. I was voted Sacrament MVP.) Then, I came to New York, and got a call from President Meiss on Friday. So, in three weeks, I have spoken in three Sacrament meetings.

The branch is really neat, though, no doubt. The members have done well at working with us on getting referrals, although we are trying to really revamp those efforts. We have eight progressing investigators right now, which is great, but we don't have much going as far as new investigators. We did get a text from a guy who took the discussions quite a while back, who now wants to get baptized, hopefully along with his daughter. So, we'll go back over the discussions with him, but that's only somewhat of a new investigator. Luckily, we have about five solid referrals from the church that we are going to contact, the former investigators in the area book haven't been looked at in at least a year, and we have about 200 less-active members in the ward. So, we definitely have work to do.

I had my first big tracting fail this week. We were walking through a neighborhood (one of the few real neighborhoods in the area), and just having no luck at all. Elder Inkley eventually just said right out loud, "Heavenly Father, please let just one of the next ten houses talk to us." Sure enough, on house number ten, a man came to the door. "Hello, we're missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We're just walking around sharing a message about Jesus Christ, do you have a bit that we could share it with you?" we asked. "Go for it," he said. Perfect! Inkley's prayer was answered! Then.... we realized neither of us had really thought about a brief message about Jesus Christ to share with him. Instead, we just talked about his religious background and a little about the Book of Mormon. It became an information session really quick instead of a spiritually uplifting encounter. Haha, next time we ask Heavenly Father for something so specific, we should probably have our half of the work figured out as well...

Well, that's about all I can think of that's gone on. Oh! Two quick spiritual things to think about! First, watch this video, it's incredible:

Nobody says it like President Uchtdorf!

Second, I want you to think of this scripture next time a missionary asks you for a referral:

"And there are none that doeth good except those who are ready to receive the fulness of my gospel, which I have sent forth unto this generation." - Doctrine and Covenants 35:15

So, when a missionary asks, "Is there anyone you know who you think would be interested in learning the gospel?" What they are asking you is, "Is there anyone you know who does good?" Don't you dare answer "no" to that question!!

Well, on that note, write me! I love letters! My address is in the little "write to me" tab, so get to it!!!

I love you, but I don't miss you!
Elder Allen

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

July 25 Letter

I'm in a puny little farming community about 40 minutes southeast of Buffalo. My apartment is technically in Arcade, but it is the Freedom District and we serve in the Freedom Branch. Look us up, TINY! It's like a Thatcher, UT only with millions of trees and no mountains. Also, Freedom has a dot in one of the maps in the back of the Book of Mormon (the one showing New York), AND is the focus of D&C 106! Ha, it's a really rural area, but has had the most baptisms over the past 6 months of the entire mission, and we have a few lined up for the next few months. We'll be emphasizing inactive work, too, because there are about 250 baptized members in the branch boundaries, but only 50-60 show up on any given Sunday. We have an absolutely incredible branch president, who has already worked with us, a great branch mission leader, and a very involved missionary couple who lives just an apartment over. We'll rely mostly on member referrals, because the area is soooo spread out. Really, Google Map it, you can see! Plus, we'll do lots of service! We helped a woman named Kelly catch an abandoned dog this morning (she fed us breakfast right after), and we have agreed to help a man set up his fence around his fields in a week or so.

Honestly, I don't even remember the MTC well enough to tell any stories about it... I'm excited to be out into the real world, though. I don't really know if I'm ready to do real missionary work, but I know I'm ready to be out of the MTC haha. Also, the MTC orange juice--not that bad (anyone who has been there likely knows what I'm talking about).

We flew out on Monday morning, and showed up in Rochester just before 4:00. We were met by President Christianson and his wife and went to his house in Fairport, where we went over the basics of the mission and had our starting President's interview. Pretty cool little side-note: staying at President Christianson's house the same night was Mark Asper, a rookie for the Buffalo Bills who played at Oregon the past five years after his mission.

Tuesday morning, we went bright and early to the Church Historical Sites. We started at Alvin Smith's grave. When Alvin died, he had counseled all his siblings to make sure they took care of their parents. When he talked to Joseph, though, just two months after Moroni had visited Joseph at night, he told his younger brother, "Listen to the angel and protect the record." Later, Joseph sees Alvin in a vision about work for the dead that becomes D&C 137.

Next, we went to the Whitmer farm and a few other random places, eventually ending at the Smith farm. After walking around and listening to the history behind everything, we went up to the second floor bedroom of the Smith house, the same room where the Angel Moroni visited Joseph! It's funny, because in the paintings of this scene, Joseph always seems to be in solitude, but yet all of his brothers actually slept in that same tiny room with him. Just before we left, we had a testimony meeting with the six new elders, two new sisters, and President Christianson and his wife and grandson. How many people get to start their missions with a testimony meeting where Joseph Smith first heard of the Book of Mormon?

If that's not cool enough, the next stop was the Sacred Grove. We walked in and learned about a lot of the area. It's cool, because there is a section of the grove that went through multiple families after the Smith's sold it, but none of them ever felt comfortable altering it for farming. There are actually some trees that are 240 years old, which President Christianson calls "Witness Trees." Eventually, President Christianson had all of us split up and go to our own parts of the grove where we had 20 minutes on our own to do whatever we felt we should. What an incredible experience! Each year, we'll also have a zone conference in the grove. Who can claim that one??

President Christianson really emphasized the point that the Savior and our Heavenly Father have walked the grounds we are now serving in. From the second Joseph knelt to the ground in the Sacred Grove, Satan has been trying to stop the work here, and holy cow does he have a tight grip on this place! There is some weird stuff going on out here, but a lot of very ready people! Good thing that "They that be with us are more than they that be with them" (2 Kings 6:16)!

Well, now I'm here, in the great town of Freedom, New York! We went and bought bike helmets today, because walking this area is next to impossible, and we're already over miles for the month between the hour and a half drives to the Hill Cumorah Pageant and the transfer meeting in Fairport (where we all received our assignments). This week we have a lot of catching up, because the missionaries have been out of the area for two weeks with pageant, then next week we'll start hitting our inactive list and a list of nearly 20 referrals we just got from the mission office. At the bare minimum, we have a couple of investigators who are planning on getting baptized in September, just as soon as they are married! Hopefully we'll have more than that, though. The elder I replaced was here in Freedom for six months and the elder before him was here for nine, so Elder Inkley and I should be here for quite some time still, as he's just starting his second transfer here. He's only been out of the MTC about three months, so we're both learning a lot as we go. He is technically an American Sign Language missionary, and we certainly don't use that much out here, so there is a chance that he could be transferred into the city sometime... but we'll see. 

200 years ago, a fourteen year old boy was confused about which church to join. Even his parents had different beliefs as far as which church was the truth. One day, while reading the Bible, he found in James a call to pray about any concern we may have. He followed up on this invitation and went into a solitary place. As he prayed, our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him, in person, and instructed him to not join any of the churches, that they were all confused, and that Joseph needed to help Jesus Christ bring back the gospel He established when He was on Earth. This gospel is based on faith, repentance, baptism by immersion, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. All of this was only possible because of Christ's Atonement. Finally, the ability for us to take full advantage of the Atonement through all the principles and ordinances of His gospel were again on Earth! Finally, we could live with our Father in Heaven, again! I can hardly imagine the joy our Savior must have felt to know that the same suffering He, himself, was nervous about undertaking (Luke 22:42) was going to be used again. His Father's "work and His glory" would again be possible. I'm so happy to play my part in letting my Father's "mission statement" (Moses 1:39) be possible.

I love you, but I don't miss you!
Elder Allen

Monday, July 23, 2012

Rochester Bound!

Elder Allen is officially a missionary in the field!

He got to talk to Mom from the Salt Lake airport early this morning, then he called me from his Detroit layover.

His connecting flight left just after noon, Utah time so off he went!

It was so good to talk to him, even for just 24 minutes (but who's counting, right?)
He was nervous and anxious, but super excited all at the same time. He said that getting out of the shuttle and walking into the airport it really hit him that this was the real deal and it was finally happening.

He won't know where his first area will be until later tonight, they'll spend today with the mission president and stay at the mission home. He's heard that the first thing they do is go to the Sacred Grove to really get things going strong.

This is the real deal, and he's ready to go! Can't wait til Christmas to talk to him again!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

MTC Week 2

Hello from the MTC!
This'll be the last time you hear from me on here from Utah, but I'll get to that later.
First, I want to share a story that Elder Bednar told us in a talk. There was recently a missionary who was proselyting in a rougher area of town. As he was walking through an alley, a man shot him in the chest. Luckily, he had a Book of Mormon in his suit pocket, right where the bullet hit. The bullet stopped as soon as it got to the Isaiah chapters. HAHAHAHAHAHA! I liked that one!
But really, it's been a great week. I first want to share an experience while I know I have enough time to. My companion and I have been teaching a man named Chet for the entirety of our stay here (really it is our teacher role playing as a man he taught while he was on his own mission), and he is the most difficult man I've ever met. He would sit through the entire discussion hardly paying attention, not really responding to our questions with any sincerity, and it was the most absurdly complicated thing I've ever seen. However, when we asked him about his belief in God and in prayer, he said that he believed God was there, but that he only wanted to help us on the "really big things," and that He "doesn't want to just hold our hand our whole life." So, we had a start, but especially at first had no idea what to do.
On our third lesson with him, this Friday, we asked him if he would relate any experiences with prayer that he had had himself. He finally opened up and told us that when he was about six years old, his older brother got in a car accident and the doctors didn't expect him to survive. Chet and his grandpa went to the Catholic church and prayed for him all night, when Chet received a very clear "he'll be all right." Chet told his grandpa this, and sure enough, his brother came out okay.
This was a powerful thing to hear... but why in the world wouldn't you have complete faith in prayer after having an experience like this?? We asked him essentially just that, and wanted to know what shook his faith in prayer.
He eventually told us that a few years after that, his parents were going through a divorce. At first, Chet prayed that his parents could stay together, but when he saw that wasn't getting anywhere, he prayed simply for comfort. He told us he never got an answer to either one. This was the hardest thing Elder Danielson and I had had to talk about since we got to the MTC. What do you do when someone thinks their prayers aren't being heard? We teach so much about prayer, testifying that they will get an answer--and now someone didn't?
But, luckily, my companion and I have another, more helpful companion called the Holy Ghost!
We first read to him Moses 7, when Enoch has a vision that Satan has the Earth in chains, just laughing. Meanwhile, Heavenly Father is watching it all crying. Enoch essentially asks God "How could you cry? You have the ability to change whatever about the situation that you don't like; why cry instead of act?" Heavenly Father answers that he gave people their agency, yet "hate their own blood." We explained to Chet that while God couldn't stop his parents from getting a divorce, he was indeed weeping for him the whole time.
Then the real miracle happened. We read from Doctrine and Covenants 121, where Joseph Smith is in Liberty Jail, clearly very distraught. In verses one and two, he says, "O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?" As soon as we read this, without nudging him, Chet simply said, "Yup... that's how I felt." We continued reading verses seven and eight, which is God's answer to Joseph, "My son, peace be unto thy soul: thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shalt exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes." Then, at the last second I felt I should read the next verse: "Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands."
In a total shot in the dark, I asked "Chet, did you have any friends who welcomed you with warm hearts and friendly hands?" I had no idea what he'd answer, but the question almost slipped out of my mouth. If the answer was no, I have no idea where we would have gone. But, sure enough, an LDS family that he was friends with had invited him to live with them while his parents were splitting up. It didn't take any pushing or prodding for him to realize that God did, in fact, answer his prayers by sending him angels in his life.
We got him to pray that lesson, by telling him that he was never going to be sure of what he was learning until he test tried it himself; he's too difficult of a guy to take our words for it. I haven't heard a more heartfelt prayer in my life. We asked him if he wanted the warm feeling that he had with him whenever he wanted. Without hesitation, he said yes, so we explained to him that the only way that could happen is by receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, which had to come after baptism. We'd invited him to follow Chirst's example and be baptized four times in the past, but this time, he said yes! Haha, Elder Danielson and I were so ecstatic that we didn't really know what to do from there. Kind of a Best Two Years moment there.
What I'm working on now is trusting the Spirit to help me say the right thing all the time. I have a stupid pride issue where I trust myself more than the Lord sometimes. That sounds awful, I know, but think about your own life and I'm sure you'll find instances where you fit the same category.
My teacher told me I need to learn that silence is okay. Apparently, when nothing is put into my heart to say, I just start rambling about random stuff until something meaningful comes to mind. Raise your hand if you're surprised that I talk too much! Haha, but really, it is very hard for me to just sit quietly and let what we've talked about sink in and let the Spirit teach the majority of the lesson.
Well, as I said, I leave for New York next week. Monday at 7:05 am, I'll head to Detroit, then to Rochester. It's weird, because I have no idea what area I'll be in until at least Monday night. A week from now, I could be in Rochester, Buffalo, Niagra, Palymra, or who knows what else. What is cool, though, is that most of my district didn't get the same letter that I got about shutting down Facebooks and emails, just me and one other kid. I'm hoping that is a hint that I will be one of the missionaries using social media in New York to make contacts.
The MTC is still just the MTC... although we find ways of entertaining ourselves.We have gotten very good at cup flipping (turning cups upside down on our trays while still half-full, trapping the juice or milk or whatever underneath without spilling), sliding down our dorm's banister that includes five 180 degree turns, and all sorts of other hoodlum things. The best, hands down, was building a blanket and pillow fort in our room a few days ago. I will certainly send pictures of that home soon!
There is a group of 23 missionaries coming tomorrow headed to Singapore. I am beyond jealous. Ha, I'm just glad I wasn't called to Mongolia, though; they have been here 15 weeks now because there was a recent government change and the church has actually taken a few missionaries out of the country, while keeping these Elders in the MTC. Two and a half weeks is long enough for me!!
Please write me! You have no idea how weird MTC time is. You may think you have seen me just two weeks ago, it feels like I've been here three months! Any news is good news! Tell me about your life, tell me about the world! If you care about politics, keep me updated! (Especially about the Mongolia situation.) Remember, the only way I can be normal when I get home is if I talk to you while I'm gone! Save me from awkward-RM-syndrome!
Finally, I just want to add my own testimony of prayer to that of Chet's. Anyone who went to my farewell heard me talk about praying for help with a question, and being clearly directed to Alma 42, which answered my question perfectly, and closes with Alma instructing his son to stop worrying about it, because he had been called to preach the gospel, and that should be his focus--quite fitting for me, a month from my mission, to read. Well, I had a similar experience last week.
The MTC is hard, no doubt about it. While I didn't really doubt the truth of what I was teaching, I prayed harder than I have for a long time if I was really supposed to be here. Kind of a Martin Harris-type moment where I keep going back to make sure God meant what He'd told me before. Sure enough, as I was reading the scriptures a few minutes after, I came across this answer in Doctrine and Covenants 6:14:
"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, blessed art thou for what thou hast done; for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time."
I promise you, if you need direction, comfort, or simply a knowledge that God is looking out for you, just pray and open the scriptures. You will be guided to what you need to hear if you are willing to put in a little bit of effort. I can promise with complete assurity that there is no more comforting answer than one from my Heavenly Father letting me know he is on the other line hearing me, and that He wants what's best for me.
I love you, but I don't miss you.
Elder Allen

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Letter #1

Bracken sent an actual letter to our parents this week, here are the highlights he wanted me to make sure and share with you all :)

* I'm a solid 4 inches shorter than the next shorter Elder in the district, so that's weird, but what can you do?
* It is weird how age works here. We might all be 19, but I swear the Elders who have been here for two weeks seem a year older than us and our zone leaders seem like returned missionaries. Meanwhile, there's little Bracky trying to catch up.
* Oh and I realized I never did explain how we went from 10 to 9 in our district! Literally the morning after our first night, an Elder got in his P-Day clothes and hopped the fence! It's pretty sad though. This was his second time trying, and his twin brother is already in the field. He never really explained why he was unhappy here.
* Also, I found those scriptures I was refferring to. 1 Cor. 13:1-3 is Paul saying, 

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Accompany that with D&C 8:2: 
Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.

So, essentially, my job is to love people so that the Holy Ghost can help me out.
* Our first night here, the MTC Presidency spoke to us. I hardly remember what they said, aside from explaining how to get to the cafeteria, but I will long remember us opening with singing The Army of Helaman. As if 300 missionaries singing that song wasn't powerful on it's own, they tweaked it. We sang the chorus: "We are as the Army of Helaman; we have been taught in our youth. And we are NOW the Lord's Missionaries, to bring the world his truth."

In case you aren't familiar with this song, I've included a video of missionaries in England singing it 
- Megan

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

MTC Week 1

Hey guys! (It's nice to finally use the term "guys" appropriately. If there's ONE things I've learned here, it's that we can only call each other Elder and Sister.)
The MTC is the craziest place of all time. I feel like I'm hanging on the end of a helicopter propeller; even though it is the exact same rotation over and over, I never quite know where I am. Ha, I made that analogy on my own...
But really, it is the busiest I've ever been. By Day 2 we were teaching discussions to our teachers, acting as though they were real investigators. In fact, they are basing their stories and personalities on people they met on their own missions. While we are going back and forth teaching Chet and Freddy, we also are doing something with our entire zone where we create an investigator of our own, based on someone we know at home. They encouraged us to pick someone that you know very well, and it is really interesting as you really start to feel their same emotions because of how emotionally involved you get as you are being taught by other missionaries.
The whole culture of this place is hilarious, though. In the cafeteria, someone wrote on the label of Life Cereal to make it "Eternal Life." I was wearing my SigEp Epsilon pin the first day, and of course everyone was shocked that I could have been in a fraternity and still come on a mission. What was funny, though, is during the conversation, my teachers decided they wanted to make a fraternity called Alpha Omega.... Get it? Heh heh heh.... There's a whole different kind of humor here.
My zone is hilarious, though. There's my district, with six headed to Rochester and three (at one point four... but I'll explain that in a bit) to Spokane. But then there's also missionaries headed to Mongolia, Madagascar, Chile, and Indonesia--it's quite a mix. Two of the elders going to Madagascar are my roommates, and it's the funniest thing to hear them speaking Malagasi, the language there. Sometimes they'll read the Book of Mormon, and it's tough to differentiate between scripture and Afrcian war chants. They also have some of the funniest phrases: Their phrase for "Are you okay?" directly translates to "Are you dead?" And when they say "no" casually, it's just 'mmhmm," with the same sound that we say yes in, but their "yes" is a wide open mouth, slightly shaking, saying "AHHHHHH!"
The lessons are unlike anything I would have expected. I've been here five days or so, and we haven't even once gone over a Preach My Gospel lesson as a class. Instead, we're supposed to do all that in our daily study time (we're given like four hours for that... so there's time). Meanwhile, in the six hours of daily class time, mostly what we focus on is how to love. They have shown us scripture after scripture, I think Doctrine and Covenants 10:11 is one of them, but I may be totally off (I'm just doing my laundry now so I don't have my scriptures on me), that explains that we need to not seek to preach the word, but to fully understand the word. If we can do that, the teaching can become second nature. The most important thing, the teachers said, we can do right now is learn how to love others, be it investigators, less-active members, the wards we're in, our companions, anyone.
What's hard is figuring out what to say. It is so easy to see when someone gives a good lesson because it flows so smoothly and the investigator is just so intimately interested. Otherwise, it seems like you're just lecturing him. It's really difficult to make it so you're not just teaching what we believe, but touching him with the idea of the gospel and the Atonement. I think the hardest part is to get them to open up with their life story. Little excercise! This is one of the first things we did. Think about someone you really don't like at all--someone you just want to punch in the face everytime you see them. Now, how many brothers and sisters do they have? If you can answer that, you're ahead of me. But, what are their life goals? What is their family situation? What do their parents do, and have they ever struggled in their careers? We asked a few more questions, but it is interesting at how hard it is to not like someone whose story you do know. So much of what our job as missionaries is is to understand the person's life so that we can love them. If we can build that love and have a strong testimony ourselves, we can be guided by the Holy Ghost to ask inspired questions that will let the rest of the lesson be between them and Jesus Christ.
We had a really interesting fireside on Sunday with the Administrative Director of the MTC. He was talking about the power of the Holy Ghost and how the Gift of the Holy Ghost is one of the best reasons for wanting someone to be baptized. He then talked about what it means to have our prayers answered. He explained it like this: What is the answer to 2+2? 4. That is a very straightforward answer, one that we could spell out if we needed. But what do you do when you answer the phone? You just say "Hello." Usually, our prayers are more like the latter. While sometimes we can get answers that could be spelled out, more often, we just get that "Hello," the acknowledgement that someone is there listening to us. That is the power of the Holy Ghost; it is the comfort that someone passionately cares about how we are doing and what we need to know. In my four discussions so far, I have found the number one thing people need to understand is that our Heavenly Father loves them individually and wants what's best for them. It is important that we realize, as said in Isaiah 55, that our ways are not God's ways, and there will be things we don't understand. Meanwhile, 1 Nephi 11 says that while we might not understand all things, we know that God loves us, and that is enough.
This is the craziest, busiest, most stressful and difficult week I've yet had, but there's no question that what I'm doing is right. I love you all, and miss you all like none other. Write me! My address is on my blog, but Dear Elder works miracles cause then I get it that same day. DO IT! I only have 15 seconds left, so bye!
Elder Allen 
Oh Mom, you know all those things you were upset about with the MTC? "Why don't they have MTC pillows?"... they do. "Why don't they have MTC sheets?"... they do. "Why don't they have MTC hangers?"... they do. Haha, I came overprepared!

Friday, July 6, 2012


Yesterday was the day...

Bracken is officially Elder Allen, and is in the Missionary Training Center in Provo.

After a last lunch at In 'n Out, we headed to the temple to say our goodbyes in the pouring rain.

Then we crossed the street to the MTC, dropped him off and that was that.
There were lines of elders welcoming all the new kids and helping them inside with all their luggage.
With one last wave, he was on his way, ready to serve the Lord and the people of New York.

I think it's still a pretty surreal thing for all of us, but we know he's doing the right thing and that makes it easier. 

I don't know details yet on when we'll get emails, or how often, so stay tuned to hear from him! 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Pre-Mission Post

Tonight, I am going to be set apart as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the next two years, I'll be in Upstate New York spreading a gospel that has been indescribably crucial to who I am the past 19 years of my life. I've had more than one person comment on how long of a time period that is, point out the things I might miss at home while I'm gone, and even had people offer me money to stay home. I want to explain, while I can, why I am going.

I was reading the Book of Mormon this weekend, in 1 Nephi. In it, the prophet Lehi describes a vision he has had of a Tree of Life. This tree bore fruit, of which Lehi ate and yearned for his family to partake of the fruit. As he beckons them to come to him, he sees many others trying to get to the Tree of Life. However, amid a dark mist and a raging river, many people lose their way. There is, though, a rod of iron which leads straight to the fruit of the Tree of Life, which many take hold of and follow to Lehi and the Tree.

Now, this is one of the most commonly referred to parables of the Book of Mormon. What I had never paid close attention to, though, is in Chapter 11 of the same book, when Nephi asks to see this same vision. As he does so, he asks for an interpretation of each item. It is the way he is answered that really struck me.

When Nephi asks about the Tree of Life, itself, he is shown Baby Jesus, with Mary, in Bethlehem. While Nephi is seeing these things, the angel who has been guiding him asks if he understands the meaning of the tree, and Nephi replies, "Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things."

Likewise, Nephi is shown Christ's ministry and the many people following Him as an interpretation of the Iron Rod. By this vision, Nephi understood that the Iron Rod was a representation of the Word of God.

Over and over, the vision is broken down by visions of Christ's ministry. But really, how incredible is that? The only way that Nephi could truly understand the level of love our Heavenly Father has for us was to show not only the love between a mother and son, but THE son. The only way for Nephi to understand the beauty of the Word of God is by showing the love people felt for the Savior when He was on Earth. Even more, how perfect must this Christ be for Nephi to so easily understand this idea of love just by seeing Jesus' life.

Anyone who has ever been to an LDS testimony meeting surely has heard some version of the phrase, "When I focus my life around the gospel, everything else seems to fall into place and my life seems easier." It's the message of Christ's life, the message of love, which brings about this comfort.

That is why I am going on a mission: Because I know that God loves His children. In that same 1 Nephi 11, Nephi says, "I know that God loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things." I, like Nephi, can't say I know everything, or understand everything I am asked to do. However, the fact that God loves me gives me the confidence--and even more, the desire--to do as He asks.

In 1820, a young man named Joseph Smith was confused about which path he should take in his life, particularly what religion had the truth. He was guided through reading the scriptures to pray for the truth. Upon doing so, he was approached by God, the Eternal Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ. They, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, restored the full truthfulness of the gospel, brought forth the message of love shown to Nephi, and enabled millions from that point to be comforted by the knowledge of the truth.

So, why am I going to spend two years in New York? Because of God's love for me. Because of God's love for all of His children. Because of the love of Christ, which he showed unlike any person could, as explained in John 15:13, where Jesus says, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." I am not being asked to lay down my life, but giving two years of it for the man who DID lay down His life for you, me, and the entire world is the least I can do. I may not know all things, but I know that God loves us. I am serving a mission because I love this love.