Tuesday, December 18, 2012

December 17 Letter


This week... was kind of a downer in some ways haha. We had a lot of people cancel appointments (if they were even nice enough to let us know they couldn't meet), not follow through on their commitments, and who knows what else. It was pretty frustrating, actually haha. Especially when someone ditches an appointment when it's dark outside and we can't tract. We kind of sit there and say, "Well...... now what?" It's ridiculous. Haha it also definitely changes the emphasis of weekly planning. We went through all of our investigators and essentially started from scratch on deciding who was worth special emphasis. It will make the next couple weeks especially interesting to see what comes of some of our "investigators" who for a while we would just stop in on every few weeks in hopes that something had developed.

It wasn't all bad, though! We had a really cool meeting with Krissa, where we went WAY in depth on the Restoration. We read scriptures left and right, from the apostles predicting the Apostasy to all about Joseph Smith's account. Sister Owens also came and gave her testimony of the importance of having the restored gospel in her life, even though she'd been Christian all her life. It was a way cool lesson! In my opinion, it might have been one of the best! Plus, at the end, she said that it is her personal goal that, if she is going to get baptized, she is going to do so before I was transferred!

We also had some cool luck with contacting random new people we'd been referred to. They're hard stories to explain, though.... haha I have tried phrasing them about three different times, and I think I am now just giving up on it. Haha we have three new investigators this week, though, all referred to by members or other missionaries. It's definitely a cool feeling when you knock on someone's door, and they say, "Oh, I've been waiting for you!" Hahaha that happened once this week! Haha

It has really been a weird week, though... On Thursday, Elder Jones wasn't feeling well, so we spent about half the day inside, which made it feel like we had two Tuesdays. (For those of you in the real world, a Tuesday after P-day is very comparable to a real person's Monday. It is pretty hard to feel motivated for a good chunk of the day.) Haha I feel like I'm being such a downer in this email! I am sorry, I promise! I just can't think of much that went on haha.

We did do a lot with less active members, though! That was good! The funniest was the Bradt's house. It's way out in the middle of nowhere, so we don't go there a ton, but we did on Friday. We knocked on the door, and Pinky Bradt came to the door and said, "Hmm... sorry guys, this is kind of an awkward time..." It was 2 o'clock, so I was kind of confused about what would be a better time. Then we heard her husband, John, holler, "Oh, let them come in!" As we did, we realized they were in the middle of eating. Haha not only were they eating, but we'd actually walked in on John's birthday meal, but he invited us to sit and eat meatloaf and spaghetti with them (he admitted himself that it was a very odd combination). They're a really frustrating family to have in inactivity... He has been the branch mission leader, the Young Men's president, and a handful of other things and everyone says he was just the most active person ever. When he was Young Men's president, Pinky was Young Women's president, and they would take the youth all over the state on their own expense to see all sorts of cool things, from NYC to Niagara Falls. It seems he gives a different reason for falling away from the church to everyone he talks to, though, so no one really knows the full reasoning. It's really too bad, though.

This week is going to be interesting, for sure, because we are going to be putting our new plan in action as far as who to focus on. Hopefully it goes as well as we think it could. If not... we'll have another brutal weekly planning session once again!

I'm WAY stoked for our Christmas week, though! Haha for one, we're spending half of it with my favorite family out here, Matt and Krissa. But our schedule is just going to be awesome. On Monday, we're going to a Christmas Eve breakfast that a man in Cattaraugus (the next area over) has put on for the missionaries in the district since 1982. Then we'll go over to the Owens' for pretty much the whole afternoon and a good chunk of the evening, where we will have a ginger bread house competition, caroling, and who knows what else. Then we are going over to Sister Forster's house for the rest of the evening to play some games and whatnot. Then, on Christmas, we're spending just about the whole day with Matt and Krissa. They come home at about 1, and we're going over to hang out, call home, watch movies (President Christianson allows us to watch animated Disney movies on Christmas!), and eat dinner. We were planning out dinner, and Matt said, "Look, it's Christmas. It's not supposed to be a day that everything is awesome until you eat. We're going to eat well." Haha so we're having T-bones and potatoes and whatnot. Then, we've agreed to help him the next day to replace the tiles in his ceiling; our job is to catch the debris falling down in a garbage bag haha. Then of course the next day is the TSO concert! Haha it'll be quite the week. Just hopefully the week leading up to it (this week) is more eventful and exciting than the past week has been haha. 

I have been doing a lot of studying on the concept of grace lately, and whether good works precede or follow our faith. Still haven't come to one conclusive answer because more and more, it's becoming obvious they kind of work hand-in-hand, but I am still trying to figure out a more definitive explanation of how they work together, and what should receive emphasis where. Anyways, that is useless, except that you should all go read "His Grace is Sufficient" by Brad Wilcox. If there's one good talk on grace out there, it's this one. So do it!!

Also, since I can't post these type of things on Facebook anymore... I wanted to share this picture with someone :)

(The picture obviously goes here).

Oh! And check out my blog! A few recent additions are a list of some of my favorite scriptures, as well as a whole bunch of Christmas thoughts! Check it out and have fun! Woooo blogs!

Annnnd write me! Please!

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

Monday, December 10, 2012

December 10 Letter

Well it's been a heck of a week! Haha tons of ups and downs, but luckily we ended on a high note.
I might as well just throw it out there from the start so that we can get it over with: Amanda didn't end up getting baptized on Saturday. There were a few little hangups, not the least of which was that she was busy on Saturday. Haha, I obviously can't say too much, but I will say that she has been a huge testimony builder to me by showing just how far the gospel can take someone and how important it is that we really recognize and understand that we are literally sons and daughters of a Heavenly King. The baptism is now rescheduled for December 29!
K, got that outta the way.
Honestly, I can hardly remember what happened before Thursday. Hopefully it comes to me as I write. Come to think of it, I don't really remember Friday either. So, the first paragraph was Thursday, now onto the weekend, I guess.
Saturday was one of those weird days when, as you look at your completely empty planner, you just say, "Crap...." and keep staring. Haha but by the end, it was one of the most fun days I've had in a long time! We ended up bouncing from one former investigator to another (or some current investigators who just have never made any progress), and we ended up teaching five lessons, sharing three Book of Mormons (two of which to people who seemed legitimately interested in it), picking up two new investigators, and setting four follow up appointments! It was so much fun to just go all over the place and essentially force a lesson. Investigators like those are fun because you don't really have a relationship you're worried about damaging. Sometimes with slowly progressing investigators, you're close enough friend you try not to be too bold because you're afraid of being off-putting. With people like we visited on Saturday, you can just be straight-forward and they'll either take it or leave it, and it doesn't change much for you if they decide to leave it.
Probably the coolest lesson we taught on Saturday, though, was to Gene, the son of Sue, who we have been meeting on and off with since I first got here. Sue is a very strong Baptist who we tracted into, who really has little to no interest in the church. We have talked all about the Plan of Salvation, eternal familes, the Restoration, prophets, the Book of Mormon, you name it. While she is never antagonistic or even openly doubting what we talk about, she has never even seemed remotely interested in it. She's always been very friendly to us, though, so we always make sure we stop by when we're in the area just to keep us on her mind. Well, this time, Sue was gone, but her son opened the door instead. He'd just moved home from Niagra Falls because "things didn't work out there." He was a pretty nice guy, probably in his twenties or so, and we talked for about ten minutes. Finally, I figured it wasn't like we had any appointments to hurry off to, so I started talking to him about the Church, especially about the Book of Mormon. When we explained that the Book of Mormon was about God's dealings with the ancient Americas, we asked if he would like a copy, and his exact words were, "Yeah! That actually sounds pretty cool!" Haha I am glad that our church is now becoming the "cool thing to do" without even trying! Haha it was a very fun day, though!
Then yesterday, we taught the first lesson to a kid named Kodie, who is dating one of our recent converts, Danielle. We met up at the church and talked with him and Danielle's dad, Terry. Now, the lesson went pretty good (we even set up a tentative baptismal date!), but I think the most exciting thing was to see how much Terry has changed. Terry had been there for all of our lessons with Freddy, Liz, and Kathy before, but it was one of those things where we kind of held our breath hoping he wouldn't say something.... weird. Haha he has always been very enthusiastic about the church, but he was a little more open about it sometimes than he actually knew. Haha for instance, one lesson before I got here, he spent five minutes explaining to an investigator that the church "can buy all your groceries if you want." It was so awesome on Sunday, though! Terry bore his testimony in all the right places and it was just so cool. At one point, Kodie had made some smart alec, normal 16-year-old comment, when we were talking about the point in praying about the Book of Mormon, because of how much it would prove if it were true, or how much falls apart if it isn't true. "So, you're saying there's basically a 50-50 chance of it being true?" he asked. "No," interrupted Terry, "There is a 100% chance that it is true." And he went on to explain how he learned the truthfulness of the book and what it has done for him since reading it. It was great!
Oh, I remember what happened Wednesday! Or at least part of it. We finally got back to meet with Amy, and we had one of our best lessons with her. I was a little bummed, because a couple weeks ago, she was asking questions that essentially showed she didn't remember hardly anything about the Plan of Salvation. But, she was very receptive to it this time around. (It probably helps that this wasn't my first time ever teaching it, like it was the first time we went over it with her.) Now, where normally it would be demoralizing for one of your best investigators to not understand one of the more important lessons, it actually is pretty relieving. We've been trying to figure out why she didn't feel ready for baptism yet and what we could do to help her. But, well, if she doesn't understand the doctrine, naturally she wouldn't feel ready for baptism! Haha, still, it is cool that she does have baptism as a goal. My favorite line from the whole day was when she talked to her 9-year-old son, Alex, and started a statement off saying, "Alex, when you go on your mission...."
We also had a way fun lesson with Krissa again. As always, she loved learning about the gospel. The problem is we really are running out of discussions to teach! But, we played off of the Christmas Devotional because she was so impressed with President Uchtdorf (who isn't?), and ended up watching a few of his older conference talks. Ha it's so cool to go over there because it feels almost like home teaching. We are able to just focus on whatever questions she has and aspects of her life, because we've gone over all the required teaching points. I just want her to commit to baptism, already, though! Haha if it doesn't happen before I'm transferred away from Freedom, I don't know what I'll do!
Oh, I found a way cool scripture this week! First, let me refer to another Book of Mormon scripture that is often controversial in the mainstream-Christian world. It's in 2 Nephi 25:23, and reads, "It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." People like to throw around scriptures in Ephesians and Romans, where Paul essentially says that there's nothing we can do, because grace is all up to God and our faith in Him. However, I found a remarkable scripture in Alma 24:11, that uses interestingly similar verbage. "It has been all that we could do, (as we were the most lost of all minkind) to repent of all our sins... and to get God to take them away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain." So, what is it we can do? We can repent! We are going to make mistakes, but we need to repent, which is much more than just asking for forgiveness. It's a constant process of restructuring our lives and making them more and more in line with Christ's. I think we can all,constantly be improving ourselves, don't you?
Well, hope to hear from any and all of you soon! You're all grand, and I like you a lot!
I love you, but I don't miss you,
Elder Allen

Monday, December 3, 2012

December 3 Letter


This week consisted of a ton of driving. Literally, if you could weigh driving, what I drove would weigh 2,000 pounds. Rochester and back three different times, plus Palmyra and back once. Jeez, it was absurd! But, a fantastic week nonetheless.

On Tuesday, I picked up my new companion, fresh from the MTC (my first-born child, as we call them). His name is Elder Jones, and he's from Virginia, though lived in England for 11 years and has a sick accent. Haha he's the first person I've ever met that, as we drove through Arcade, said, "Wow, this is a lot bigger than home!" Haha, he's from a small part of VA, where he raised 200 pigs on about 80 acres! They have them free-roaming, and it just sounds crazy. Sometimes, he says they'll just feed the pigs whole deer! He says they will eat the whole thing, except little bits of the spine. He says they are really tame and you can pet them and everything, but you'd just better not pass out in the fields, because they will eat you if they think you're dead. Hahaha anyways, he's a nice enough kid, and definitely is striving to be a good missionary. You can definitely tell he's not used to talking to random people, though, and he is verrry nervous. What is training for, I guess, though, eh? Haha

Well, like I said, we spent a lot of our time just driving around, so my stories won't be as numerous. Most of our time in Freedom also just went to introducing Elder Jones to all of the important people in the area. BUT! we still had some very cool experiences.

One of the funniest for him was tracting, we knocked on a guy's door and started talking to him. When the guy said he was a Seventh Day Adventist, Elder Jones started to kind of give in and close the conversation. I interjected and asked the man about what Seventh Day Adventists actually believe, even though I already knew from all the other Adventists we've met up here (it's really pretty interesting, actually). And, what do you know, he let us in the door to talk! Actually, he was looking for a church about six years ago pretty earnestly, so he already had a Book of Mormon. We ended up giving him the whole Restoration discussion, which is remarkably easy with Adventists since they already believe in an apostasy, a restoration, prophets, and the priesthood. We're planning on going back sometime this week, but I think it caught Elder Jones off guard that in our only hour of tracting this week, we got in the door!

On Saturday, we took Amanda to Palmyra. She's been struggling really understanding the Restoration, so we decided to take advantage of our strategic location and teach her in context! (Oh the joys of the New York Rochester Mission!) Well, the Sister Missionaries did a very good job, and between the Grandin Building, the Hill Cumorah, the movieJoseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration, and the Sacred Grove, I think she finally gets it! As we were walking towards the Grove, we talked about the sequence of things leading up to Joseph Smith becoming a prophet, and the clear lack of coincidence. Then we compared it to the sequence of events that finally lead us to meeting with and teaching her. It's cool the things that she picks up on and finds important, especially given her incredibly rough past.

Then yesterday, we went to Krissa's house to watch the First Presidency's Christmas Devotional with her. Of course, between the First Presidency and a golden investigator, it was a great experience. But the best part of all was when it finished up! We started talking about Christmas traditions, the meaning of Christmas, and so on, when Matt came out from the other room and started talking with us! He told us all about his family's Christmas traditions, the church services he would go to with his parents or grandpa, and the reasons he stopped going home much for Christmas after a while. For someone who usually books it into a different room as soon as anything churchy gets brought up, this was awesome! Then, we invited him to the Dec. 23 Sacrament meeting, and I think he's actually considering it! Finally, we had to leave, but asked if we could have a prayer first. I really expected him to say we could, but leave the room himself. But no! Instead, he asked Marcus (Krissa's son) to come in, took off his hat, and even called on someone to say the prayer. I was ecstatic!

Now, for a cool scriptural thought that started off as the subject of a discussion with Krissa and will soon become a blog post!

So, in 3 Nephi 11, we all know the story. It's the climax of the Book of Mormon; the resurrected Christ comes to the Nephites. God didn't forget His chosen people, regardless of where they lived. Jesus can teach His gospel no matter where they are. It's a marvelous story. But, I picked up on something new this time around. 

Often times, I kind of breeze through the first few verses until I get to verse 7, where Heavenly Father announces His Son, then Jesus descends, etc. Well, I need to stop that!

K, so in verse 3, it says the Nephites were conversing with each other, when "they heard a voice as if it came out of heaven... it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear to the center." All right, what do we refer to as a "small voice," or rather a "still, small voice"? The Holy Ghost. So the Holy Ghost is saying something, but no one understands it. (Anyone who remembers my rant about Luke 24, also note that verse three says this voice "did cause their hearts to burn.") In verse five, the voice came again, but still no one understood it. Finally, in verse seven they understand the voice, saying "Behold my Beloved Son..." (The whole thing is great, but you can read it yourself.) Soon, Christ comes down, declares himself and His divinity. He also invites the Nephites to come up and touch His scars, and leads into one of the most beautiful sermons on His doctrine in the Scriptures. Then, after Christ leaves, 4 Nephi 1:15 says "Surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God."

Ok, my point is this: How often do we not understand the small voice whispering to us? How often do we not understand Heavenly Father's instructions to us? It's only when we really do understand the Spirit that we can truly see Christ, and even feel Him! When we do, we will understand His doctrine, and we can be among the happiest people every on the face of the Earth. Who wouldn't want that? No one! We just need to constantly listen and heed the whisperings of that small voice!

You know, sometimes, I question the soundness of my own testimony. Not necessarily if I have one or not, or if I believe it, but just how sturdy it is. I realized something a while ago, but really thought about it this week. Whenever I come to really love someone, I naturally want them to accept the gospel. Whether that is investigators out here or friends back home, it seems that it's the people I've come to really know and understand that I have the easiest time relating the gospel to their lives and showing why it would help them. Now, if I didn't believe what I was sharing, would I do that? Psh... that would be pretty ridiculous. But, since I know how I fit into the Plan of Salvation, I really want people I care about to know who they really are: sons and daughters of a King. Hopefully someday soon I can develop the love and charity enough to feel that way with everyone; I'm working on it. But for now, feel really lucky if I try hard to help you build and develop a testimony!

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