Well, tomorrow hits my two month mark! If my mission were a year, I'm about to hit February! That doesn't sound so bad, does it?
This week wasn't the most exciting, but I definitely have some exciting stories to tell.
Two weeks ago, Elder Inkley and I helped the pastor of the Delevan Baptist Church pack up his moving truck. It was funny, because we were actually trying to invite his 7- and 9-year-old sons to play soccer with us in a few days, but they said they wouldn't be able to because they'd have "already" moved. (We didn't even know they were planning on moving.) They then went on to invite us to help, which we jumped on. Apparently they bragged to their parents about inviting the "guys in the white shirts and ties" to come help, because Pastor Taylor, while noticeably surprised that we actually showed up, said he heard we might be coming. It was a good time loading them up, and they even invited us for dinner that night. The coolest part of the whole story, though, is that we have had multiple people in the area ask us if we are the same two Mormon who helped Pastor Taylor out. Apparently not only did the younger boys mention we were coming, but Pastor Taylor actually told people that we came!
We had another really neat meeting with Amy on Sunday. After a very good experience in the Restoration and at President Christianson's fireside, we moved on the the Plan of Salvation with her. Again, there were about twelve people there, and so the name "discussion" became much more real. By the end, people were just bearing testimony left and right, ranging from what repentance has done for them to the importance of regular church attendance. It was really cool, because of the twelve of us there, only four had been raised in the church. Probably the most powerful testimony was from Derrick, who was just visiting from the Boston area, who had been baptized when he was 24 and went on to serve a mission at age 25, just a couple months before it would have been too late to go. His testimony of repentance was phenomenal!
When we were talking to Amy about the purpose of life and the struggles of mortality, she talked about how much she thought her life was being ruined when she broke her back. She had career goals that were crushed. Raising children was going to be a new challenge. Everything was going to be different. However, she said as time has gone on, she realized that there are certain blessings that could have never occurred without her accident. She has now been able to spend more time with her kids--a necessity now that she is a single parent. She went on to name off multiple things that she looks at as her biggest blessings that came to be only because of one of the biggest tragedies of her life. As she was talking, I was reminded of this video, that many of you might have seen, but still brings even me to tears any time I watch it
Also with Amy at the discussions is a woman named Bernie. Bernie has been attending church for about fifteen years now, but is apparently afraid of making the lifestyle changes associated with baptism. She is the first to say she knows the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has Christ's true gospel, but I was surprised when she told me on Sunday that she has never actually prayed to know if it is true. I invited her to do so, and she did, in fact, accept. I was a little confused that she could know the Church was Christ's true church, but had never prayed about it. Then, Kelly (whose house we are holding the discussions at) told me after that Bernie had taken the discussions once before, but the missionaries then hadn't ever invited her to keep any commitments. That kind of threw me off guard, because that was one of the biggest focuses of the MTC. But, hopefully if she can receive a divine witness of the Church's truth, she will be more willing to make any lifestyle changes necessary.
Liz and Freddy are still progressing nicely. Since we have to wait for their wedding at the end of the month for them to be baptized, we are now just making up lessons to teach them. What we've found, though, is they absorb stuff best when they have to analyze scriptures and other resources and then write down their own understanding of principles like repentance and conversion. So, that is what we are doing: giving them assignments to do in our absence, then spending an hour or so talking with them about their previous assignment. The changes in each of them really are incredible.
Today we met a less-active man who is quite a character. No one knows 100% how much he says is true and how much he says isn't, but according to his story, he has a PhD in nuclear physics from Cambridge and another PhD in chemical engineering from Oxford. The reason he is unemployed, though, is because apparently espionage charges scare away most employers...... Hahaha I'm not sure how much I believe either, but he is certainly an exciting man to talk to! Haha
We are getting much better at tracting. On Thursday, the zone leaders came down and we blitzed our area where all four of us are in the same area, just tracting away. In just one afternoon, we picked up FIVE new investigators! My favorite door approach of Elder Teichart's was "Hello, we are just going around reading the Bible to people today. 'In the beginning...'" but apparently that didn't work too well. The one that did somehow work was "Hi, we're going around looking for people who would like to be baptized." The guy he said that one to actually agreed to a follow up visit to learn more about it! Ha, don't ask me how that approach worked...
Today, we were reading the Bible with Dennis, a member of the branch who has some mental disabilities who we meet with about once a week. We are getting to the close of Exodus, where God is explaining how to go about the rituals in the tabernacle. Something about it really stood out to me today:
We always learn that the sacrifice of the lambs in the tabernacle represent the Atonement of Christ--Exodus even calls these sacrifices atonements. What really caught my attention today was that the Lord describes two purposes of the sacrifices. First, as a remission of sins--that one is obvious. The second, though, is to release fragrances from the entrails of the lamb that are pleasing to God. Now, I feel like God doesn't necessarily smell these fragrances, and even if he did, I don't think he really needs us to burn things for Him to have joy. However, what does give Heavenly Father joy? According to the Book of Moses, in the Pearl of Great Price, his "work and glory" is "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man"--or to see us return to Him through obedience to the laws and the ordinances of the gospel.
Now, let's think about this. The sacrifice of the lambs symbolizes Christ's Atonement. A purpose of this sacrifice is to make God happy. God is happy when we receive eternal life. We receive eternal life when we are obedient and keep His commandments. A primary purpose of the Atonement is to give us the Savior's grace--the power that enables us to continues growing and learning. As Elder Bednar put it, because of “the Atonement of Jesus Christ [we may] learn from our experience without being condemned by that experience.” We learn in Alma 7:11-12 that Christ suffered not only for our sins, but he felt all of our pains and afflictions.
I know I'm mostly rambling by now, but I hope you get my point. If we will truly rely on the Atonement of the Savior, we can grow and actually become obedient. Mosiah 3:7 tells us that it is only through the Atonement of Christ that we can put off the natural man. So, let's go out there and make Heavenly Father happy!
Well, that's all I've got for you today. Good luck everyone as school gets going! If anyone has Randy Simmons, Bill Shughart, Huiyun Feng, or Steve Sharp, be sure to tell them hi for me!
I love you all, but I don't miss you!