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!