Wednesday, December 25, 2013

December 23 Letter

Merry Christmas everyone!!! 

This week is going to be crazy! Tomorrow we are having a mission-wide Christmas part, the Christmas will be packed, then Saturday we have a wedding all day! I'll get back to the wedding part, but really, it's going to be a hectic week.

But, for last week first. We finally got to teach the Asians again! It was great, and now I miss them again! Haha Andrea had been in Florida for a week, and it's funny because she ended up spending her entire vacation writing one last essay, and finished the day before the end of the trip. Then Jerry finally finished finals. Now they are in California. But they are so great!! Jerry was talking to us about one of his classes, fluid mechanics. The first test they had, he got a 43% and was determined to drop the class, but couldn't because it would ruin his student visa. So, he powered through with it, all the while constantly praying for help. Well, he ended up with an A- in the class and a 97% on the final! When we congratulated him on it, he simply said, "I guess God blessed me there." Haha again, I really wish I could type in broken Asian/English so you could get the full emotion. But it was great. We then talked about Christmas and the importance of Jesus' birth and had a wonderful conversation about Him. As we left, they couldn't decide whose turn it was to say the prayer, so we just had both of them say it! Jerry was great like always, but this was by far the most intimate prayer I have ever heard from Andrea! It was soooo wonderful!!

Then Stephen is of course great! We went over and taught him once, plus we went over for his daughter's birthday party. Also, his home teachers visited for the first time! He had mentioned at the birthday party that he had had an interesting talk with his wife and felt she was steadily getting more and more open to the Church. But Sunday opened up something great! 

So really, Sunday was Mary's birthday, but as of Friday at the party, Stephen was certainly planning on having the whole family (minus the mom most likely) at church. But Sunday came and no McCloskeys! I was pretty peeved, especially when people started asking where he was in a "Ohhh here we go again! Another inactive!" kind of voice. But more and more, we kept hearing of different families whose basements flooded. We soon realized that almost all of them were in OUR area! So, after church we went home and grabbed some grubby clothes and headed over to Stephen's, in a way hoping that his basement needed cleaning. But, no one was home. So, we carried on our day, and stopped back over after dinner. His wife answered and invited us in, and Stephen came up a little while later clearly in working clothes and boots. We told him we brought clothes to help out with, and went away cleaning the basement for the next two hours! Keep in mind, flooded basements here aren't just water filling up in the window sill. It's the whole drainage/sewage runs together and when there's too much water, it causes backflow in toilets and showers and bathtubs. Sewage. Backflow. Blech.

Anyways, as we were talking to Stephen, his whole perspective on it was great. He was so optimistic and had found all these reasons why really it was a good thing that black water was all over his basement. But the really cool part is stuff we didn't even notice! When Amy had gone to tell him we were here, she angrily asked if he had invited us, assuming we were there to sit and talk for an hour or so. He told her that he had invited us and that we were here to help. "Oh... well, that is nice of them!" Amy answered, slightly taken aback. Now, when he told us this, we got confused. He hadn't invited us? Welllll apparently he had shot us a Facebook message asking for a hand. We hadn't even seen it, but were there anyways! That touched him, and he really excitedly went to tell his wife! In (very) slow and (kind of) steady steps I think we are making progress with her!

I'm teaching a man not only from India, but in India!! So I make a habit of posting links to my blog on a whole slew of groups (Mormon and Christian and random religious groups) on Facebook. It's always interesting to follow the comments and what not and every now and then someone adds me as their friend as a result of it. Well, that happened this time around. A lady named Vicky added me, and we started talking a little bit. As we got going, she asked me about a friend of hers who lives in Northern India, where the Church isn't established. He wanted to learn more about Mormonism, but wasn't sure how. I told her to suggest us as each other's friends. Well, now I have been scheduling appointments to teach him online! He is a stud, and is sooo eager to learn! This weekend, he is going to watch "Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration" online and we are going to talk about it on Thursday! I'm so excited!

Well, that's the bulk of the cool stuff from last week. Like I said earlier, Guo Jian is getting married on Saturday! Haha we have been wedding planners for that for the past three weeks, and he has asked me to be the announcer for the reception and Elder Christensen to be the DJ. Haha normally we don't even listen to the music he wants Elder Christensen to be in charge of... but we figured we'd budge a little haha.

Anyways, with Christmas and all, I thought I'd share one of my absolute favorite Christmas stories from the scriptures that we usually overlook as Christmas at all.

In 1 Nephi 11, Nephi is trying to understand his dad's dream about the Tree of Life and the Iron Rod and all of that. An angel comes to him and asks, "What desirest thou?" to which Nephi replies that he wants to know the interpretation of the tree specifically. Rather than just answering the question, the angel says, "Look!" It reads from there:

"And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white."

The angel asks him a number of other questions, but eventually explains:

"Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh. And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms."

The angel then poses Nephi's own question right back to him, asking if he now understands the meaning of the tree.

What did Nephi see? Essentially the Nativity scene. He sees Mary holding her Child. Keep in mind the circumstances of Jesus' birth. They were in a stable. We can make some real cute looking Nativities, but really, there is poop EVERYWHERE in stables. There are flies everywhere. It's not that great. We can learn that Mary and Joseph were quite poor, because when they do their sacrifice at Jesus' circumcision, they sacrifice two turtle doves instead of a lamb, a clear sign of their poverty. But what did Nephi get out of this scene?

Despite all of this, Nephi responded, "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." To this description, the angel added, "Yea, and the most joyous to the soul."

Something about that first Christmas displayed the love of God to Nephi greater than he had likely ever seen it before. It was the most desirable thing to him. He looked past all the clearly undesirable aspects and looked straight to the love of God. That is what Christmas is about! And, if we can focus on that, it really is the most joyous to the soul!

Merry Christmas, everyone! I love you all, but I'm so happy to be serving out here on a day that emulates God's love so much, that I really can't quite say I miss you!

Elder Allen

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

December 16 Letter

I thought I would start this on a happy note! This is a Christmas card that I found at Wal Mart today that I thought was hilarious... but I didn't really know who to send it to. So I found a picture of it online and just sent it to all of you!

Haha, anyways, this week is quite the downer in comparison to last week... Haha Stephen is confirmed and doing well, though, so that's great! But aside from that, we really don't have a ton of work going on. Everyone here is students. So we couldn't meet last week because of finals. We couldn't meet the week before that because people were studying for finals. And now we can't meet the next three weeks because people are home for Christmas! Yayyy!!

So, the logical alternative? Tracting in a 12 degree windy snowstorm!! YES!!! You know, you would think people would be compassionate on us during such weather... Actaully, they were!!! We would knock, they'd come to the door, look stunned, and say, "What the heck are you guys doing out in weather like this!?" "Well, we're missionaries! What better time to share a message about Jesus Christ than right around Christmas, right?" "Well, I sure admire your dedication to be outside right now..." And only then would they shut the door :) Isn't that sweet of them?? Haha I have found that people are much more willing to have a casual conversation outside their door when simply opening the door doesn't instantaneously drop the temperature of the far corner of the house 50 degrees... 

I've decided there was a reason Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Yeah, there's all the City of David prophecies and the whole Israel-is-the-promised-land stuff. But even more than that, it is warm there! If Christ had had only a three year ministry in Buffalo, there wouldn't have been a lady laying in the road with an issue of blood, the Pool at Bethsaida would have been frozen over, everyone could have been walking on the water since it was solid, and he would have to amputate his frozen toes because of His sandals! Good thing Bethlehem/Nazareth/Judea/All over that way was warm!!

However, we did meet some kind of promising people when we weren't tracting. One day it started snowing at night, and probably had snowed 7 or 8 inches by morning. So, at 7 in the morning, we just went down the street perpendicular to our apartment (phew! good thing I still remember my good mathy terms!) and shoveled all the sidewalks and driveways there. We didn't really meet anyone too promising doing that, but there is a lady we have met with a few times on that street, and her boyfriend came out while we were halfway done with his driveway. He finished it up with us and we were able to have a pretty good conversation about the logistics of missionary work which I think opened him up to our coming over a lot.

The night before, we just went on a walk since it was 8:15 and we had nothing to do and tracting at 8:15 infuriates people. While we were walking, we ran into a 70-something-year-old lady out shoveling the sidewalk. We hurried over and helped her out. Really, I shoveled while Elder Christensen talked with her. In the end, we were able to set up an appointment to come watch Mr. Kruger's Christmas with her! Haha not exactly ground breaking progress, but it's something!

Hahaha oh, and I've become a wedding planner! Guo Jian is getting married on the 28th, and last week decided he should start getting things together for it. Well... apparently the missionaries are his go-to sources for help! Luckily Elder Christensen knows something about weddings. Pretty much I knew that he needed cake and should talk to the Relief Society for more help. Haha but yeah, that was two of our nights. Planning weddings haha. He asked me to be the announcer for the wedding... whatever that means. It makes me sound important, though, so I'm down.

Man... I am trying to think if we did anything more productive than freeze and plan a wedding... but not much is coming to mind! 

I guess last night was kind of cool. We just got a new warm mission leader, and so he asked me (since I'm district leader) to come over to his house and sort through some papers and ideas that he has. Well, we're getting some sweet stuff rolling! Probably the most exciting in my mind is his vision for what ward missionaries will do. Lately, their job has pretty much been to be our go-to source for members to come to lessons with us. Wellll, not anymore! Now he wants them to be going to lessons without us! He says especially with less active members and investigators who have been investigating for a long time, there is no reason we need a full time missionary there every time. So he's going to start assigning them someone to visit every couple weeks. I'm excited to see how that plays out!

It's cool to see Stephen at church. Already he's one of the most involved participants in Elders Quorum, which really doesn't surprise me since from day one he's had almost all the same beliefs as us. I'm really hoping that over Christmas break that we can start teaching his sons so he can baptize them in the next few weeks. That would be way cool!

Wellll I am sorry that this is such a lame email. But that's about all I got for you!

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

P.S..... Sorry Mom... all the rest are still wrapped, I promise... but I got excited

Thursday, December 12, 2013

December 9 Letter

Hello everyone!!

Sorry I'm a day late. About 6:18 Monday morning, my p-day really, really tanked. (Luckily it only woke me up 12 minutes early.) The whole ward has been sick... so it was only a matter of time until it got passed on to the missionaries. So I was in the bathroom all day yesterday, and now Elder Semadeni has been sick all last night! It's too bad, though! Last year I managed to avoid sickness despite teaching people with the flu, strep throat, and even TB! But alas... this year I wasn't so lucky.

Anyways, what a week it has been! I guess the easiest explanation would just be a picture!

Stephen got baptized Sunday!! Like I said last week, I expected we would be postponing it. It's been a while since he was able to make it to church, and although he had very legitimate reasons for not making it, I expected he would push it back a week or two at least. But, we went over there on Tuesday and asked him about it, and he said that he had actually been planning on it, but after praying about it, he felt that he needed to follow through with it this week. Oooookay then! Not going to argue with an answer like that! So, we went ahead with it all!

It was great, because a lot of times (pretty much every one of my baptisms, actually...) the person getting baptized really doesn't care much about who is on the program. But Stephen was quite different! He made a list of everyone who played an important role in "his journey" as he kept calling it, and then ranked them in order. He then had me rank which parts of the program were the most important, so he could match them up. Haha it ended up being a really cool program!

First, Guo Jian gave a talk on baptism. I don't know how much I have said about Guo Jian in the past, but he is a convert of about seven months who is here doing his post-doc work from mainland China. He is probably the best member missionary I've ever met, and is the one who introduced us to Jerry and Andrea a while back. When we called him to ask if he would give the talk, he kind of awkwardly suggested, "How about I say a prayer." Haha, but after a little talking, he agreed to giving a talk, and he rocked it! He got up and started talking about when he met missionaries the first time. He was in NYC in Chinatown, and a missionary walked up to him and said, in perfect Chinese, "Do you know Jesus Christ?" which Guo Jian said he knew a little. The missionary then asked, "Do you know the Book of Mormon?" Guo Jian said he had been going through a hard time then, being away from home and all, and having someone so happy come up to him speaking Chinese so invitingly really enticed him. He went on to explain what it was like to meet with the missionaries. We were all kind of wondering if he was going to talk about baptism at all, or just kind of ramble on for a while, but he all of the sudden pulled the smoothest transition by saying all of that only lead him up to "the divine gate which leads to the divine path." He then quoted the scripture (I don't remember which of the Gospels he used) about how only those who lose their life will find it. Essentially the point he got to was that everything leading up to his baptism was great, but it was at his baptism that everything changed and he had fully dedicated himself to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I kept glancing back, and I'm pretty sure everyone in the room was smiling from ear to ear.

Then Brother Finley gave a talk on the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which was really good. He has been really helpful in teaching Stephen, because they are very similar in their understanding of religion. But, even cooler than his talk, he is working on his masters degree in music education, and is ridiculously good on his violin. So, on Saturday he just up and compiled an awesome medley of hymns. It was very cool!

Then of course we had the baptism. Haha we found out the hard way that if you turn the hot water on all of the way, the water goes too fast for the water heater to heat it... so Stephen was baptized in 60 degree water. Ha it worked out just dandy, though. What was really funny was he was going to bear his testimony after his baptism. When we asked him to do that, we meant after we were changed and all, but I guess he didn't understand that. So he sat in the water trying to get his bearings after being dunked backwards in cold water. Finally I was able to explain that we could change first haha. 

But, his testimony was great! He talked all about us knocking on his door and how as he was explaining his beliefs, we essentially told him that he was right about all of it and that that was exactly what we teach. He went on to talk about how much he loves the Book of Mormon and how in a lot of ways he has felt a lot like Joseph Smith where he has gone from religion to religion to religion, and nothing quite seemed to line up. 

It was also great, because while we were changing, Hayden, one of his two twin boys who are eight came in, asking why he did that. "Because I'm supposed to!" said Stephen. "And you are too!" I then pointed out in a few weeks, Stephen could be the one baptizing them. Stephen then pointed out to Hayden, "And we need to get your mom here!" Hopefully we can get that all rolling here pretty soon! That would be sweet!

Well, after that... I don't know if there's much I could say that would be very interesting. Haha I guess I'll say on Sunday we went to help Andrea with her research paper. She is really good with English (she is getting her masters degree in teaching English as a second language) but really struggles taking what she has read in English, processing it in her head, putting her analysis on paper in English, AND typing it. So we had her hand write it all, then we went and typed it for her. I miss being in a school library the week before finals! It was kind of refreshing!! 

Our next few weeks are going to be really weird, though. More than half of the people we are working with, whether they are members or not, are students, and a huge chunk of them are going home for Chirstmas break. So our next little while is going to be really weird haha. 

Well, since I have my camera today, I'll send some older pictures as well. 

The first one is all of us at Palmyra. It goes: Jerry, Andrea, Sister Su, me, Elder Holmes, then Guo Jian. Hahaha Jerry and Andrea aren't nearly so stern as they look in every single picture I've taken with them haha.

The second is the Sacred Grove, Winter style.

The third is Elder Holmes and me frolicking in the Joseph Smith Farm.

The fourth is me being a griffin.

The next handful are from a pday trip to Niagara Falls about a month or so ago. I don't remember if I ever sent pictures of it, so if I have, forgive me!

Well, I love you, but I don't miss you! Elder Allen says he loves you too! (There's another Elder Allen who I am on exchanges with right now. We don't think we're really related... but it's possible.)

Elder Allen

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

December 2 Letter

Well, I have officially been out of Freedom as long as I was in Freedom! Kind of odd to think about. But, I'm here for another transfer. Elder Holmes is flying out in about two hours, and Elder Christensen is coming tomorrow morning! Should be good.
Well, it was a pretty good week! We ended up making it to Palmyra with the Asians, which was great. Haha I wish I had more to report there, but Sister Su did all of it in Chinese and never asked us questions, so I couldn't tell you what was talked about hahaha. I took some good pictures... and left my camera at home, so I'll try to remember to send those next week. Like I said, I don't know quite what all went down, but from my best judgements it wasn't quite the spiritual bang that we were hoping for, but I think it did a lot of good for them to see it in person and make what we have been talking about less abstract. Also, based on their exchange with Sister Su (again, that I have zero clue what was being said) I think they were able to get a lot of questions answered that our English wasn't quite cutting it for. So, all in all, still a great experience!

Now I'm a little nervous, though. Next week is their finals week, and they a quite literally planning on studying 24/7 for the next two weeks. Then Andrea goes to Florida for a week. Then they both go to San Francisco for two weeks... So, I'm begging them to let us meet once or twice in the next couple weeks, but I'm nervous we may not hardly see them for over a month :/
Thanksgiving was great, though. Stephen's inlaws were really cool, and they actually rent out one of their apartments to missionaries up in Alaska! Elder Holmes and I were talking about the small implications of those type of things, and how often they happen. Where a thousand little "coincidences" compile on top of each other. I mean, do I think his father-in-law is going to join the church next week because he not only rents to missionaries, but eats Thanksgiving with them? Probably not. But it could open cool opportunities in the future. Even more, I wonder the implications with Stephen. If nothing else, his inlaws have a good relationship with the Church because they know that missionaries are good tenets. Who knows what kind of contention that might have minimized between a protestant father-in-law and a soon-to-be LDS son-in-law! Small and simple things, eh?
We also had a really cool experience that is slowly developing! A week ago, we had nothing to do, it was 8:15, really cold, really dark, no one likes being tracted into at night (at all, really.. but especially at night), so we had not clue what to do. Sooo we just wandered aimlessly. Well, there were a few people outside their houses, but they were few and far between. Eventually, though, a dog came running up to us! (Dogs are straight from heaven, I promise that much.) We started talking to the owner of said dog, who mentioned after a little while that she talked to some missionaries on the bus, once. One of them, she remembered, was on crutches. Well, that didn't take us long to realize that the missionaries she talked to were Elder Hirschi and me! We talk a little more with her and ask if we could come back sometime. She says yes, and conveniently 8:00 in the evening is the perfect time for her. (She lives half a block from our apartment... you don't get better than an 8:00appointment that close to your house.)
So, this week, we went back. Well! In between our meeting her and her dog outside and the day we go over, her boyfriend has moved out and she's really trying to find something concrete to lean on. She ends up bringing up faith and religion. We didn't have to have some weird awkward transition or anything. We ended up talking about the importance of faith, how we develop faith, what faith allows, all sorts of stuff. Then we transitioned into the Plan of Salvation and the Restoration which naturally lead to the Book of Mormon. We gave her Alma 32 to read and pray about, promising her that she could know of its truthfulness herself, to which she replied "I hope that it is true..." How cool is that?!?
Well... I don't have much more to say this time around. But hey, you should all go read my latest blog post! I like this one quite a bit!
"I feel like our lives are often like a starry night. There are so many stars, it is almost impossible to differentiate one star from the next, let alone notice any new ones. Whether those stars are random distractions, genuine good uses of time, or even full-on gospel activities, it really doesn't make a difference. Less remarkable to me than the fact that the Wise Men followed the star is that they noticed the star. Let's be real, who in their right mind wouldn't go meet the infant Savior if they knew where He lay? Even Herod sought Him out. ... The problem is that I let all my other stars occupy all of my time that I never notice the new star that is trying to point me to Christ."

Well, love you, but don't miss ya!
Elder Allen

November 25 Letter

Before I have any Spirit to ruin, I want to share a really funny story from a J. Golden Kimball talk we were listening to. He was talking about his first mission in the Southern States, where he overheard a group of men talking. "I need to move north to get away from these Mormons," one said. "I'm thinking of heading further east to get away from the Mormons," another said. Each person had somewhere they were going to flee the Mormons. Eventually, Golden couldn't keep it in anymore, and just yelled, "Why don't you go to Hell!? You won't find any Mormons there!"

Well, on that note, now Jerry has a baptismal date too!! Woo-hoo! It's not untilJanuary 12, but still. I'm stoked. We taught them the Doctrine of Christ (pretty much what is taught in 2 Nephi 31, which they read last week), and really went into faith and repentance, and how repentance is really the way we align our will with God's and slowly refine ourselves. It was, as always, a very fun conversation. Then, at the end, we just asked them when they felt they might be ready for baptism and asked them to set a goal. Jerry said he thinks he could be ready after Christmas break. Andrea was, as usual, more hesitant. But even she agreed to specifically pray about that in the Sacred Grove this weekend! Haha in fact, when we asked her to do that, she said, "I will be praying about a lot of things in the grove." Ha, that probably isn't as cool to just read... but it was really cool the way she said it. It's hard to fully show their personalities over emails.

Stephen is also doing really well. We went over and talked to him about the Word of Wisdom. It went really well, and he didn't just accept it, but really, really liked it. Haha the only issue came up because we read through Doctrine and Covenants 89 with him.... and I never realized before that it says barley is for mild drinks. We quickly realized that that was not referring to barley water. Haha he is probably the only person we could have read that with that would have picked out a phrase like that, but he sure as heck did! Haha I think we talked it over well enough with him to explain the whole "line upon line" idea... but we'll see. Unfortunately he didn't come to church yesterday because he got a sinus infection. But we're going over this evening and he invited us over for Thanksgiving! 

Haha Thanksgiving is actually becoming a bit of a drama fest. The ward mission leader made a lightly-enforced rule about a month ago that we should only go to dinner appointments in our respective areas, or at the bare minimum that we don't have all four companionships at the same dinner appointment. Well, despite that, one lady in the ward signed up for all four of us. To make it better, she is literally an hour and a half travel for us each way. So, since we have two other dinners scheduled with investigators that we are actually working with, we ended up cancelling on her... Haha that didn't go over well...... She is pretty upset, because "They aren't even members! And what if they don't even get baptized?" Haha, I don't feel bad at all about our choice, seeing that she'll still have four missionaries over there most of the day... but like I said, drama fest.

Well, this will be my last week with Elder Holmes. He has his visa, and is shipping off to Brazil next Monday! That is the transfer day, anyways, so I should have at least 6 more weeks here in Buffalo, which is great because that will have both Stephen and Jerry's baptism in it, and hopefully Andrea's! 

I feel really pathetic with this email... but this was a pretty pathetic week. Haha we seriously only taught six lessons to investigators, which I believe is my lowest of my whole mission. It is definitely harder when it is pitch-black outside by 4:30, not to mention less than 30 degrees and windy at the warmest part of the day. Haha I miss having a car.... But, all is well in Zion, I suppose! This week should be fantasitc between the appointments we have, and of course our Palmyra trip with the Asians on Saturday! I don't know if I told this already (I might have said it like thirty times by now... so forgive me) but Sister Su, a missionary here from Taiwan, is going to go to all of the sites and give the tours in Mandarin, so we're super excited for it!! It's going to be wonderful!

Also, for anyone else interested, I did the math yesterday and if you read just about 6 pages a day, starting today, you can finish all four Gospels by Christmas :)

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

November 18 Letter

Woo-hoo!! Stephen set a baptismal date!! Mark your calendars! Haha

He is the funniest guy to teach. We were planning on teaching about obedience to commandments, with a brief introduction to tithing, word of wisdom, Sabbath day observance, and so on. We figured we would start by talking about the blessings of obedience and the purpose of commandments by reading Mosiah 2:41 ("consider on the blessed and happy state of those who keep the commandments") and Alma 41:3 ("wickedness never was happiness"). Well, we went in and started with normal casual small talk, and asked him how his day at school was. He started talking about a debate he had in his philosophy class about whether it was possible to be moral and happy at the same time, and how flustered he was that people didn't seem to understand that morality was the only way to lasting happiness. Hahaha it blew our minds.

Anyways, after our lesson, we talked about how covenants a) are very important commandments and b) open up the opportunity for even more growth, both of which he knew. So, we invited him to choose a date to be working towards, and we set it for December 8th

Our only concern is that his wife has never been too involved. So far she hasn't put up any real resistance... but it's tough to say how long that will last. She works nights, so most of the time that we are there, she's just sound asleep. When she is awake, she just keeps to herself and doesn't say anything. Ideally she will get involved, but at the very least we hope she will be okay with him moving forward. The kids love church... she just won't come. I don't know. Pray for that family!

We also had a great day with the Asians. Literally, a day. Haha they'd asked us to come over earlier this time, we assumed so they could have their evening to themselves. So, instead of 6 or 7 like usual, we went over at 4. Logically, that would mean we'd be leaving at 6 or 7 instead of 8 or 9, right? Nope. Instead, it just meant two extra hours with Asians! We went over, talked, had a lesson, and were about to go when Andrea acted really upset that we weren't staying for dinner. So we sat there while she cooked dinner, actually left with Guo Jian to teach a lesson, and came back for dinner until it was time to go home. They're some of my favorite people ever!

Over there, we taught them the plan of salvation. It was pretty hard because it feels like we were just throwing new term after new term at them. Premortal life, the Fall of Adam, Agency, Spirit Prison and Paradise, Judgement, Resurrection, Celestial, Terrestrial, Telestial, and on and on and on... It was rough. But it ended up all right, mostly because we then really focused on what our obligation was on this Earth. We talked about the Doctrine of Christ, which was easy enough because they'd both read 2 Nephi 31 that week. We asked them if they felt their faith had increased over the past couple of months since we'd been meeting with them, and they both said yes! Jerry jumped right on it and explained how much and why, where Andrea was a little more hesitant. After a little talking, though, she admitted that he faith was being strengthened. She had told us a while back that she's always believed there was some higher power, and she still maintains that she doesn't know quite who or what it is, but did admit she felt closer to "it" lately, especially as she prays. Sounds about right! They both then agreed that they would get baptized when they were ready, which sounds pretty obvious, but when we floated around the idea of December or January, they both thought that sounded reasonable. Hopefully we'll set a more firm date with them this time around :)

Other than that... we really don't have much to report. Ha, we've been dropped a lot lately. It's like we have Stephen and the Asians... and everyone else investigates and progresses for somewhere between two days and two weeks, then disappears. It's frustrating. Buuut at least we have Stephen and the Asians. They're a lot of fun!

I feel like I should have more to say... but I'm really drawing a blank. We had stake conference this weekend, which was great. Our stake president is the most missionary-focused man I have ever met, and pretty much the whole conference emphasized missionary work. So hopefully that works out well! He's been having us go around to all the members' homes, reading this section from Elder Ballard's talk:

"Brothers and sisters, fear will be replaced with faith and confidence when members and the full-time missionaries kneel in prayer and ask the Lord to bless them with missionary opportunities. Then, we must demonstrate our faith and watch for opportunities to introduce the gospel of Jesus Christ to our Heavenly Father’s children, and surely those opportunities will come. These opportunities will never require a forced or a contrived response. They will flow as a natural result of our love for our brothers and sisters. Just be positive, and those whom you speak with will feel your love. They will never forget that feeling, though the timing may not be right for them to embrace the gospel. That too may change in the future when their circumstances change.
"It is impossible for us to fail when we do our best when we are on the Lord’s errand. While the outcome is a result of the exercise of one’s agency, sharing the gospel is our responsibility.
"Trust the Lord. He is the Good Shepherd. He knows His sheep, and His sheep know His voice; and today the voice of the Good Shepherd is your voice and my voice."

and then acting on it! So, we've been going around praying with members all over. It's slow work, obviously, because it's not like tracting where you can get three new investigators an hour. But, hopefully it opens things up to get really solid investigators more. Should be great, especially with this last stake conference.

Haha the stake primary president also spoke in conference. She has been working in primary for some 20 years or something by now, and is now moving to Ohio. At the end of her talk, she had all of the kids who had ever had anything to do with primary while she'd been there (so all of the current primary kids in the stake, any of them who graduated within the past four years or so, all of them in her home ward who are now 15-20 or so, and a few other random groups) stand up and sing "If the Savior Stood Beside Me." Good grief, tear jerker. I'm not much of a crier, but I wimped out there. 

Well, like I said... I don't have much else to report. So, have a great week! I love you all!

But, of course I don't miss you ;) haha 
Elder Allen

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

November 11 Letter


Well, it's been quite a week. Before I get going on what happened, I think it's really interesting to look at the difference from one companion to another. With some companions, it feels like you are teaching a thousand people a day, but the lessons are only marginally effective. Others, it seems like you might teach one or two a day, but you really get somewhere with them. Elder Holmes and I definitely fit into the latter. Even with Elder Hirschi, less than a month ago, we were teaching about 20 lessons to investigators a week. Elder Holmes and I are hovering around 12-15 so far, but yet I feel the lessons are actually going somewhere. It's pretty interesting. At least to me... you probably don't care. But it will make my email home longer ;)

Anyways, Andrea and Jerry are the greatest. We went over there on Thursday, and finally taught them the Restoration. Generally, we don't wait until we've been teaching them a couple months to get to that, but when they have to gain a testimony of God, you rearrange things a little bit haha. Anyways, it went pretty well. Andrea was a little confused for a while on what happens to other Christians, but I think we explained it about as well as we could without teaching the whole Plan of Salvation along with it. It was a unique lesson, though. Normally, we kind of skim through the first half of Preach My Gospel's "Lesson One," by saying, "Time and time again, God calls prophets. People like Noah, Abraham, Moses. They speak for God, bring His gospel, and bring people together. Eventually, though, the people reject the prophets. Look at Israel! How many times have they rebelled?! So what does God do? He calls another prophet to restore everything back. Eventually Jesus came to the Earth, and brought His full gospel, but somehow people even rejected Him. But, He passed on His authority to the apostles, who tried to keep things together as well as they could, but just look at the New Testament. It is almost entirely the Apostles', especially Paul's, attempts at keeping unity and rejecting false doctrine. When they were killed, the authority to run the Church was no longer on the Earth." Now when you are teaching someone who doesn't know who Noah, Abraham, Moses, Israel, or the apostles are, and when they have a very limited understanding of who God and Jesus are... things change. It was pretty cool to teach it all from the very beginning and really explain it all out to them.

When we finished, all of the sudden Guo Jian (the member), Andrea, Jerry, and some other Chinese woman who lives in the house who doesn't speak any English started bickering back and forth in Chinese for about 30 minutes. We had zero idea what was going on. (We found out later from the other elders that apparently Guo Jian said that if they didn't start reading the Book of Mormon, he was going to stop coming over anymore hahaha.) But at the end, Andrea said something really cool! She was talking about how her friends and family really want her to get married. "I know it would make me happy," she explained, but then said that even if the perfect guy came around and wanted to marry her, she would probably get so nervous that she would avoid doing anything that would lead to their marriage. She compared this to the Church. Essentially, she is acknowledging that the gospel can and likely will make her happy and change her life, she is just scared of doing the things that she knows are going to help her accept it. While it isn't exactly the best outlook on it all, it is cool to see her recognize for herself that what we are teaching can and will change her life, entirely. 

This would all be a much bigger downer if it wasn't for the following ten minutes! After we explained... actually, I really don't remember what I explained. But I talked to her about the comfort and confidence God gives us as we move forward, step by step. At the end of it all, I asked if we could close with a prayer. Andrea looked at me terrified, assuming I was asking her to pray. I assured her I would say it this time around, and did. At the end, I stood up, only to have Andrea look up at me and say, "Can I say one, now?" Whaaat??! Normally it's taken quite a bit of reassuring and encouraging for her to pray; for her to volunteer is unheard of!

Now, to make us even happier, we are planning on going to Palmyra with Guo Jian, Jerry, and Andrea the Friday after Thanksgiving! One of the Sister Missionaries is from Taiwan, so she will be taking them on all the tours and everything. It'll be so great!

We also had a really great lesson with Stephen. We went over covenants, and yet again he pretty much just sounded LDS the entire time we talked. He talked about how covenants are something we need to make throughout our lives so that we can grow closer and closer to God. It was mindblowing. We are getting closer and closer to baptism with him!

Then we have a new investigating family! Two weeks ago, we were tracting, and a lady opened the door. There were a thousand kids inside, and we could tell we definitely were intruding on something. The lady's daughter came to the door and said that it was her daughter's birthday party. We asked if we could come back some other time, and she said yes. We asked if there was a good time, and they said pretty much any time would work. That is never a good sign. That means they are essentially saying, "Do whatever, we really don't care at all..." But, we were in the area on Tuesday, so we stopped by. When we knocked, we heard, "Who is it?" "The missionaries!" we hollered back. "Oh, one second!" was the surprisingly pleasant reply. As Destiny (the mom whose daughter was having a birthday party) answered the door, we talked to her for a few minutes at the door, then she went into another room to talk to her husband. From around the corner, we heard, "The missionaries are here." "Oh, I'll be right out!" We ended up talking to them for some thirty or forty minutes about everything from hunting to the Restoration! It was fantastic, and we are headed back on Wednesday!

Well... I'm sure there's more to be said... but I'm drawing up a blank and I've probably rambled on enough for one day!

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

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

November 4 Letter

Well, this week I might have even less to report on than last week. When you have two Halloween parties and a temple trip, your evenings are pretty well booked. Then figure in the fact that every single person went into hiding on Saturday, and the week was pretty dull. But I'll try to come up with something thrilling to report on, no need to fear.

Hmm... oh! That's a good one! I don't know about thrilling, but it was exciting, nonetheless. On Thursday (Halloween), a member invited all of the missionaries to go to her place for dinner. It probably wouldn't have been worth the travel time (about 45-60 minutes each way) otherwise, but on Halloween it was either be at an appointment or be at your apartment, and who really wants missionaries who can't listen to music, watch TV, or have fun at their house for Halloween? Well apparently Murr does. (Her real name is Mary or something... not sure why she goes by Murr.) Really, there'd be nothing to report on, except Andrea came for her first American Halloween! Haha it probably wasn't a very typical Halloween, so she probably wonders what the fuss is about, but it was cool to just spend the whole evening with her.

While there, she and Murr had a conversation that was half great, half super awkward:

Murr: So, are you a Mormon?
Andrea: No. Not yet. (That was the exciting part. I almost choked on my soup as she said "yet." Well, that's partway because the soup was really gross anyways. But it made me really excited!)
Murr: China is communist, though, right? (then, turning towards us) So what is the point of even teaching her?

Haha that was one of the more awkward things she could have said. But, we dealt with it well, avoided saying something sarcastic like, "I don't know, to allow her to know her true identity as a daughter of God, allow her to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and give her the choice of making covenants with him," and instead just focused on the part where Andrea, who has always been much more resistant than Jerry, said YET! 

While we didn't end up meeting with them this week because of how busy they are with school, I had a really cool conversation with Jerry over text. We were talking about his upcoming fluid mechanics exam and I wished him good luck, and he said, "Thanks :) I will be sure to pray for help :)" When we were talking on the phone later that day, he said he's been praying every day and has been working with Andrea to help her feel more comfortable praying, even saying nightly prayers with her! It's fantastic! We have an appointment with them this Thursday that we are planning on inviting them to set a baptismal date for the middle of December or beginning of January. It's a ways off... but when you're still trying to help them get faith that God exists, we could use a little bit of time haha.

The other cool event of the week was the temple trip! Patti, from Freedom, received her endowments on Friday! Even though I was nowhere near New York when she got baptized three years ago, we did a lot of work with her to help her get over some recurring habits haha. When they picked Elder Holmes and me up, and we got into the car, the first thing she said was, "Well Elder Allen, this is your fault." After trying to figure out what she meant by that a little more, she said it was because I was the one that encouraged her to get her patriarchal blessing, and she said one thing lead to another from there. Haha not to make her temple trip about me, but I quite liked hearing that. After hearing about one convert after another going less active down there, it is good to know that I made a lasting impact with someone!

All of the missionaries in the mission who had worked with Patti were there! We aren't all in this picture, but I think it came out to 17 or so!

The temple was cool, of course. I actually probably had one of the most revelatory experiences from the temple that I've had in quite a while. Haha obviously I can't go into it much here, but it was great! And while I was in the Celestial Room, I was reading from Doctrine and Covenants 109, and a little bit stood out to me:

"And that all people who shall enter upon the threshold of the Lord’s house may feel thy power (vs 13)... And we ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power (vs 22)... But thy word must be fulfilled. Help thy servants to say, with thy grace assisting them: Thy will be done, O Lord, and not ours (vs 44)."
Anyways... I really don't have much else to talk about. We have a pretty exciting week ahead of us, though! So hopefully it all plays out!

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

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

October 28 Letter

Well, transfer weeks are always fun. You are severely limited in time because you really don't start 'til halfway through the week, but then you visit all of the coolest people all in a row. So, while I don't have lots of stories, I do have some cool ones!

First, Stephen. We went over and had a really good lesson with him on Wednesday. We have struggled to help him see the urgency in knowing truth for himself, but then realized that we never really have taught him the Restoration from our perspective. Granted, he essentially taught it to us when we tracted into him, but it kind of became "There should be a prophet, there should be the priesthood, there should be order, etc." and us saying, "Yes! Joseph Smith!" This week, we went into, "There needs to be and is a prophet, there needs to be and is the priesthood, thereneeds to be and is order, etc." It went great! It's funny to teach him because he has such a deep background knowledge of everything religious. You almost get hesitant to say some things, knowing that he knows enough about history and religion to call you out if you are wrong. But, he didn't call us out! And he told us that he'd actually read up through 1 Nephi 17 and was loving it! And then he came to church on Sunday, despite not getting home from West Virginia until almost2:00 Sunday morning! He's doing wonderfully.

We also taught Draga, who is the mother-in-law of a less active lady up in the Sisters' area. Lori, Draga's daughter-in-law, always has us go up there for random things, Wednesday being one of those days. We were up there to mow the lawn, but it started raining instead. She wanted to feed us lunch, so we stayed another two hours for lunch to be ready and eaten haha. But, the Sisters were there and afterwards we had an incredible lesson with Draga. Lori said she thinks Draga is finally realizing that there have always been Latter-day Saints around her and that maybe it means something, plus she is going through a really hard time with a number of things right now so maybe she'd be humbled enough to give it a chance.

So, the Sisters started by having us all read Alma 34. I feel slightly bad, because I kind of took over the lesson... but it turned out pretty cool! I pointed out that Amulek is talking to a group of people who had been cast out of their synagogues. They thought it was a bad thing and were pretty depressed, not realizing that those synagogues were really participating in apostate worship, anyways. I pointed out to Draga that here were a group of people that at any other point wouldn't have accepted the gospel, but God had them in the perfect situation of humility right then. 

I then pointed out that Amulek himself at one point resisted the truth. In Alma 10:5-6, he says, "Nevertheless, after all this, I never have known much of the ways of the Lord, and his mysteries and marvelous power. I said I never had known much of these things; but behold, I mistake, for I have seen much of his mysteries and his marvelous power; yea, even in the preservation of the lives of this people. Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know." So, this whole chapter is about a teacher who was at one point very hardened to the truth, teaching an audience who at one point was very hardened to the truth.
As we read, we talked about the meaning of "faith unto repentance," and how Christ demands discipleship, not just passive belief. This idea is echoed throughout the chapter. Really, faith unto repentance is the only way of making the "great and last sacrifice" matter to us at all and allow the laws of mercy to take effect. Right after the whole series of "faith unto repentance" verses, Amulek discourses on prayer. We discussed how prayer is how we gain faith in God and also how we really gain the strength and ability to fully repent. Draga shared with all sorts of stories with us on how she knows God is there and is mindful of her. The Spirit got super strong, and it was all incredible.
Then we got to verse 30, which talks about bringing fruit meet for repentance. I cross-referenced this over to Moroni 8:25 for her, which reads: And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins."
By this point, we'd been talking forever, so we couldn't go through all of the avoiding procrastination verses and whatnot. But I jumped ahead to verse 38, which tells us to "contend no more against the Holy Ghost." I asked her if she'd ever prayed to know if Joseph Smith was a prophet. She hadn't! She's taken the discussions who knows how many times, and has never prayed to know if Joseph Smith's claims had any legitimacy or not. She definitely trusts God's answers enough, I don't know why she hasn't prayed. But, she promised that she would, and that she wouldn't contend against the Holy Ghost, and that, if God so willed it, she would bring forth fruit meet for repentance (aka baptism!)!

Then, of course the Asians. We went over to Jerry and Andrea at just after 6:00 on Friday. We didn't leave until really late. Actually, later than we were technically allowed to be out. Based on our conversation, though, I think/hope the Lord will forgive us! After we had dinner (I'm finally getting chop sticks down, although I feel I made a very good case for forks when I was able to pick up more beans with a fork than Andrea could with chop sticks, albeit in more time than it took her) we finally had a lesson. We started off by talking about Alma 32:26-27 and the importance of at least experimenting on the gospel. We emphasized that we really wanted them to not just learn about the gospel, but really apply it. We proceeded to really talk about the power of the Atonement and how it allows us to feel comforted, especially through prayer to the Father, by the power of the Holy Ghost. It wasn't much different than our very first lesson with them, but I think went a little deeper and was more impactful.

What was the coolest part of the lesson, though, was a statement from each of them. When we were leaving, Andrea started talking about a whole slew of exams that she had coming up this week. We encouraged her to pray for help, which she didn't think made much sense. Why would God care about her tests? We explained a bit about how much God wants us to succeed and especially not feel too overwhelmed, and eventually she conceded. "All right, I will pray. I like to experiment."
Earlier, we were talking to them about church, trying to help them understand the Holy Ghost. I then asked Jerry why he kept coming back to church, and about how he feels there. He probably gave the coolest answer I've ever heard, especially given that we would never have described it to him this way so it's not like he's just repeating how we told him the Spirit would feel. He said, "I feel like there is pure water running through my heart."

Well, hopefully that quenches your thirst for hearing my words ;) haha hope all is well back home!
I love you, but I don't miss you!
Elder Allen

Quick appendage: On Saturday, it was about 40 degrees, raining, with 50 mph wind gusts. Bike areas are not made for Buffalo winters.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

October 21 Letter

I like to pride myself in writing good, thorough emails each week. Well... It's not that Iwon't do that this week, but there's just minimal things to report.

See, last p-day, right after I sent my email, I went out into the gym where we were playing soccer. Elder Hirschi kicked the ball and instantly fell to the ground. He said his knee often pops a little, and he's able to pop it right back, but this time it wasn't repopping. He kind of hobbled out to the car, and we went home, staying there the rest of the night. It wasn't weight-bearing and it wasn't able to straighten past about 150 degrees.

Well, day by day it's gotten a little better. There was definitely some fluid buildup in it that has since mostly gone down. That's made it so he can straighten it to about 170-175 degrees and in the past few days finally put some weight on it and even walk around the apartment a little bit!

He'll be seeing a doctor this week. He's had it looked at by a missionary who did three years of athletic training in high school who says there's a decent chance of a meniscus tear, and then looked at again by a member of the church who is an academic surgeon at UB (though, admittedly not an orthopedic specialist) who was the one who emphasized the fluid buildup and said to watch that and see what happens, while not ruling out a meniscus tear. So, we've given it a week, he's still on crutches, ANNNND now he's being transferred to Rochester tomorrow! Haha transfer calls came last night, which I'll talk more about in a bit, but yeah, President figured he might as well wait until he gets to a new area before seeing a doctor. Hopefully all turns out all right!

But, as I said, our week has been slow moving. We've been busing rather than biking, and then crutching from wherever the bus drops us off at. Additionally, we got cancelled on a lot. Sooo.... not too exciting of a week haha. 

We did get to help Stephen move on Friday! That was good to show our "real" side. Unfortunately, he cancelled on our normal teaching appointment, so we didn't really teach him anything. What was cool, though, was that he brought up church. Although he said he wouldn't be able to make it since he was going down to West Virginia to pick up his brother, that was his reason for not coming - not that he had been bored last time. Hopefully he comes again either this week, or if he ends up going back to West Virginia next Saturday night, the week following!

We did have quite a bummer with Zach this week. It's frustrating beyond belief, and needs a lot of background. So, he was getting ready to get baptized, and came to church with us three weeks in a row, then was baptized on the fourth. He came again the next week to get confirmed, but had to take off with his family for something or other. He came to a couple other sacrament meetings on and off with his family. Then, it became a constant battle because he wanted to come to church, his mom promised to drive him to church, so we wouldn't arrange another ride for him, then she wouldn't come to church therefore HE wouldn't come to church. This went on for a while. Then we finally started arranging rides, and the most bizarre things kept on happening, from people putting in the wrong addresses to who knows what else. Well, over the past few weeks, things have been getting reallllllly tough out at his house. Like, real bad. We are often there for the worst of it, too. Without getting into that, though, we told him that he needed to come to church and we would find him a ride. He agreed... until about four hours later when we texted his mom saying he had a ride, she said he didn't want to go. We called him, and he gave every excuse from "I have to do laundry" to "Church is all about praying, and I feel like I pray enough at home" to "I just hate how early it is." It is so aggravating. Really, retention has been my most frustrating thing of my whole mission. A lot of baptisms in comparison to other NYRM missionaries? Sure. How many of them are still involved in the Church? Let's not even go there. It's really depressing.

Jerry and Andrea did come to church, though! Sadly, we didn't really get to teach them, either... Haha but we did have a birthday cake for Andrea! The first time I've ever eaten cake with chop sticks. To be honest, I probably never will again. It's pretty inefficient. But I love those guys! I just hate that they are so studious! They are probably the only people I have ever taught who I actually believe when they say they can't meet because they are studying too much.

Haha well, like I said, this is REALLY not a good email. Haha hopefully this week goes better. On the bright side, us and the sisters in our district are going to a pumpkin patch today! That's always a good thing!

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