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!