Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Feb. 25 Letter

Hello! (Hello.) Hello! (Hello.) I welcome you to read! (Hello.) Hello! (Hello.) Hello! (Hello.) I'm glad you clicked on this page! To share with me the events of the week, and see what I've done, I hope you don't find it bleak..... Hello! (Hello.) Hello! (Hello.) I'm glad you're still here to read.

This has been one of the craziest weeks of my mission without anything bad happening! Monday and Tuesday we weren't able to do much because of transfers, right? So in essentially 5 days, Elder Thueson and I ended up teaching 50 lessons. One of those days we did 15... I was pooped. It's just hard because we have such a big teaching pool, there's no way to give everyone the time they need, so we always have to debate about how much time to spend where, doing what, with whom. Then we have to decide if our best bet is to reallllly focus on a few people and get them fully going in the next five weeks, or just spread ourselves thin over all of them and keep their interest at least a little perked until they (hopefully) split the area next transfer. It's been interesting, for sure!

It's been cool to work with Elder Thueson. He's an Idaho farmboy from just outside of Rexburg. He apparently does a bunch of rodeo-ing and stuff. Not that I do, but it's a good fit for out here in the sticks. But really what's nice is that he... brace for it.... actually talks in discussions! It's been the coolest thing to teach and actually both testify! Plus, it's way cool, because he has dyslexia so he has an iPad that reads the scriptures for him. That doesn't affect me at all, obviously. But what DOES, is he got it approved to have all of the Mormon Messages on it, so we can show them during discussions. I swear any concern that gets brought up, I have some random scripture that applies, then he either has some analogy or some Mormon Message to show. It's worked out really well, actually. haha really, though, it's just the fact that he talks during discussions that still gets me! It's been a very cool week because of it!

I'm trying to even think of good stories to tell from it, though... when you teach 50 lessons, it's hard to sort out what was what....

Oh, on Saturday, we helped Kelly and Jim tap maple trees! Haha while I still don't really think it was the best use of our time, it was pretty cool to learn how to do it! Really, I think it's the least efficient thing ever haha. It takes fifty gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, that then sells for about 45 bucks. I dunno... I guess if you like doing it, though. Regardless, it was neat to do. It's surprising how quick the sap pours out, too!

We also finally made good contact with Roger again. I think I've probably only mentioned him once earlier, if even that. He is a very cool guy who has been meeting with the missionaries for some eight years or so, but just has rarely progressed. Every now and then, missionaries just stop going over there anyways, because mostly he seems to just want to hang out with us. But, we went over there this Saturday and had a really cool conversation with him, where he talked about how he wants to go to Palmyra again sometime soon, wants to make it to church again, and all sorts of stuff. He definitely opened up with us waaaay more than he did when I was with Elder Jones. I'm hoping that we can keep that going! He would be the BIGGEST strength to this branch I can imagine. 

We've also started putting a lot of emphasis on the youth. I realized that when 85% or so of the branch is converts, no one really has ever done Young Men's or Young Women's stuff. Then, when so many of the youth are converts, themselves, they really don't even know what they are supposed to be getting a testimony of. I started thinking about this earlier this month, when Mariah Owens said she had to finish the Book of Mormon in like three weeks to get her Personal Progress before her birthday. From there I would text or call her just about every day to make sure she was reading fast enough and understanding what she read. We even went over and read with her a few times. Then, she said something really interesting that got me thinking. She told her mom, "Elder Allen is the first person who has ever actually followed up with me on scripture reading and made sure I actually got what was happening." Mariah lives in a family where one way or another she'd be able to have a testimony. A bunch of the other youth in the branch? Not so much. So we've started up what we hope becomes weekly visits to the Buziaks, who are a family of converts with kids from 5 to 18, all who don't fully know what the church is really about. There's also another Young Woman who is a convert of under two years who we've started working with a bunch, too. Hopefully this will eventually provide some firm foundation for the branch in the future!

Oh man! Speaking of youth! This week, the Buffalo Stake did the COOLEST activity EVER. They called it the Journey, but essentially what they did is spend the past three months doing family history work and gathering names of their deceased ancestors. Then, over the course of three days, they went to Palmyra where they rotated between a whole bunch of different workshops and going into the temple to do baptisms and confirmations. The goal was to baptize a stake, which is generally about 2,000 people. By the end of the weekend, they did the work for 2,254 people! Look for the story in the New Era in the next couple months! They were there to write an article on it!

Bum-ba-da-dump... I don't know what else to say........

Haha, oh yeah! We went over to Jesse's house this week to talk to him a bit, and he said the funniest thing. First he said, "You know, when Elder Allen leaves, I want to stay in contact with him. I've gotten pretty close with him." Ha so I was already feeling a little big-headed. Then he kept going, "Really I would like to just have an intellectual conversation with him. I think he'd make a great teacher. I know he says he wants to go into politics, but I don't see that... He's too honest." Hahah I just really liked that last part. I'm too honest to be a politician haha. 

Geez... I hate it when I have good weeks and have no idea what the heck to say about them.... I've found that the longer I'm out here, the more pathetic my emails home are getting. Hopefully you'll forgive me for that haha.

Well, write me! I wanna hear from all of you!

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

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Feb. 18 Letter

So, transfer calls came this morning.... and I'm still in Freedom hahahaha. I am thinking that I might just see about having my call officially changed to the New York Freedom Mission. Brother Owens suggested that I just transfer my records to this branch by now.
We really didn't expect it, though. As late as last night, President Christianson was planning on splitting our area. He told us on Wednesday that if he did that, he would keep both of us there. I figured, though, that if he didn't split the area, I'd be a goner. Instead.... they didn't split the area, and Elder Jones is headed to Fairport in the morning. As far as I can tell by looking at the records, I will now be tied for staying the second longest in Freedom, but I will have had the most companions (this will be number four!).
I'm way stoked about being here, though! I've gotten so close with so many people and seen people progress so much both as individuals and as a whole branch and even aspects of the community in some ways. It's awesome! Plus, I get to keep working with all of our progressing investigators who I have been working with the whole time. I'm ecstatic! Elder Jones is a little bummed to be moving.... but what can you do?
Yesterday, we taught Debbie the Plan of Salvation in the most undoubtedly smooth-flowing Plan of Salvation lesson I've taught yet. It's kind of a hard one, because there's sooooo much information that is hardly connected until the end. It's like "We lived with God, there were a couple plans, some chose the right plan, some chose the wrong one, we came to Earth but Adam and Eve came first, they messed up but it wasn't REALLLLLLY a mess up, it needed to happen so that Satan didn't win, but Satan still wants to win and is working against us, but if we don't mess up, we can return to Heavenly Father, but even before we go to Heavenly Father, people get another chance after they die, but then we're judged after we are resurrected so we can figure out which level of heaven we go to. Oh yeah, and we'll be with our families the whole time. Get it?" But, we made it work, and it was awesome! She had a lot of questions because of a long history of family things, but the idea of the spirit world, children being alive in Christ, and the Atonement's enabling power all hit her really hard. It was just swell!
Oh, shoot. It's been a long week. I almost forgot to tell you about Wednesday! WE HAD A ZONE CONFERENCE IN THE HILL CUMORAH!!! Who does that? As President pointed out... no one but us! We learned all about the Book of Mormon and the condemnation that we are under as a result of not using the Book of Mormon to the potential it has. 3 Nephi 26:2-11 talks about how Christ told the Nephites EVERYTHING from the creation to the end of the world, and we don't even have 1% of what He said anymore. Why? Because God wants us to act in faith with what we do have. But since we don't even use what we have to its full potential, we don't get the rest. Want the real kicker? 3 Nephi 26:11 - "Behold, I was about to write them, all which were engraven upon the plates of Nephi, but the Lord forbade it, saying: I will try the faith of my people." HE WAS GOING TO TELL US EVERYTHING AND GOD SAID NO!!! Haha President Christianson openly said that was his least favorite scripture in all the scriptures.
But really, a zone conference in the Hill Cumorah? Literally in it, since we were in the basement of the visitor's center for a lot of it. How cool is that?
Oh, way cool story. On Saturday, we went out to Bliss... where there really isn't anything. Randomly as we were driving, I felt that we should go tracting. So, we got out, and in the midst of a 15 degree snow storm, we walked a mile.... and knocked on all four houses along the way! Totally ridiculous, eh? Yeah, pretty much. Elder Jones was way mad at me for it, and was trying to get us to go back. But, up ahead about 300-400 yards away was a pink house that had cars parked in front of it and there were lights on, so I convinced him to go to that one last house. We knocked on the door.... and a girl who had actually came to church with her friends three weeks earlier came to the door! We ended up kind of teaching her whole family there! It was only kind of teaching, because it was very informal, but we set up a follow up appointment, and had a really good conversation with Kristen (the girl who had come to church). It was such a cool happening!
I have spent all day today reading 3 Nephi with Mariah Owens today so that she can get her Personal Progress by March 1. I was thinking a lot about how much emphasis Jesus puts on the Gathering of Israel there, especially compared to what He teaches in Jerusalem. I've always wondered why, but I think I get it now. Can you imagine how nice it must have been as a Nephite for the Holy One of Israel to come and let them know that they haven't been forgotten? That God doesn't just see them as Israel-in-name-only, but that all of the covenants with Israel are remembered? When Christs talks about "other sheep" in John 10:16, he isn't talking about everyone, because Gentiles weren't considered His sheep. But in the Old Testament, it was promised that the Messiah would come to Israel. ALL OF ISRAEL, whether they had been scattered or not. The way I see it, it was a lot like how missionary work is today. When we can show an investigator his or her divine potential as a child of God, they progress rapidly. When they really see who they can become, it's awesome. In Mormon 5, Mormon writes as he discusses the destruction of the Nephites: "10 And now behold, this I speak unto their seed, and also to the Gentiles who have care for the house of Israel, that realize and know from whence their blessings come. 11 For I know that such will sorrow for the calamity of the house of Israel; yea, they will sorrow for the destruction of this people; they will sorrow that this people had not repented that they might have been clasped in the arms of Jesus." THAT'S US! WE CARE!!! We know all that the Nephites could accomplish if they hadn't lost sight of their potential. Haha, I know I'm probably just rambling, but it sent me on a big spiritual adrenaline rush.
Wellll, that's about all I have got for you this week. Oh, check out my new blog post about one of Joseph SMith's first accounts of the First Vision, and what it teaches us about how much God cares about our own individual worries. http://brackenallen-thinkonthesethings.blogspot.com/2013/02/no-concern-is-too-small-learning-from.html
I love you, but I don't miss you!
Elder Allen

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Feb. 11 Letter


So it was quite a week for sure. Lots of random updates about investigators to tell you!

First, we'll get the two downers out of the way:

Unfortunately, I don't think Krissa will be getting baptized this week like we hoped :/ We finally got to talk to her on Monday about things, and she says she wasn't feeling ready yet, but for a different (and maybe more reassuring) reason than before. Where a few months ago, her goal was to be baptized before I was transferred, now she's worried that that goal is making her do it for me instead of for her. It's one of those crappy situations because you can't really argue against her at all, without playing into her worry, but yet she's really been ready for baptism for about three months by now so it's not like we're rushing things at all! Grr, I'm so frustrated by it all!! I don't know what else I can say to her to help her realize her own readiness...

Then, the second irritation. Amanda was baptized last Sunday, right? So her confirmation should have happened this Sunday, right? Well.... her ride didn't freaking show up yesterday. No call warning her or anything... Sooo now it's put off another week. Personally, I don't like Sunday baptisms anyways because we have to put a confirmation off for a week; two weeks, though, is just ridiculous. I was so peeved!

Now for some happier news, haha!

We set a baptismal date for Jesse!! It's pretty tentative, because he still hasn't even made it to church once. But, he's read quite a bit of the Book of Mormon and says it seems pretty obvious that it is the word of God. Now it's just a matter of getting him to church!

Also, we found a very cool new investigator named Stephanie. She is actually a former investigator from about a year ago who we called up last week. She gave us a call on Saturday in a complete wreck talking about how she wanted to see her kids.... uhhhh what? Haha I wasn't sure what she was talking about, but we set up an appointment with her for that afternoon to go talk to her. Apparently she was in a pretty nasty divorce a couple years back. Although things seem to have settled down quite a bit since then, she doesn't have any official visitation rights to her kids. Her ex-husband lets her see them every couple days anyways, buuuut she also suffers from manic depression, so sometimes that isn't even enough. Haha I know it seems like we always teach slightly crazy people, but she's way nice! We went in and taught her the whole first lesson, set up a follow up appointment, and even invited her to be baptized! (She said she would, but didn't want to set a date quite yet.) What's the coolest about her is, even though she's definitely not in the best living conditions right now, she definitely wants better. That is pretty rare in Western New York. It seems like most people don't want to do anything that might take work, but that isn't an issue for Stephanie, as far as we can tell. Hopefully this keeps going somewhere!

Then, the most exciting update! I don't know if I told you much about Debbie last time, but I'll fill you in! She is really good friends with a recent convert family, the Ciszak family. She has been coming to church for months now, but was always a bit antagonistic about some things. But these past few weeks have been AWESOME with her! We've taught the Restoration (about four times, in all honesty) and it's really all starting to click for her. She agreed it seems really weird that we'd have prophets throughout the history of the Earth... until about 100 AD. It was funny, though, because she ended up arguing in favor of us without even realizing it. See, yesterday, I gave a talk on the Restoration in Sacrament Meeting. I put a pretty big emphasis on past dispensations and the Apostasy. Afterwards, when we were talking to her, she said, "If there have been so many restorations throughout history, don't you think that things would get changed each time?" What a perfect introduction to why it was necessary for a restoration from God rather than a reformation from Biblical scholars! We talked about how things are definitely slightly different in each dispensation (for instance, Joseph Smith was never taught how to build an ark and Moses wasn't taught about how to avoid pornography on the internet), even while the overall message is the same: Christ is the Savior and Redeemer of the world, we are Heavenly Father's children, and through Christ's Atonement (whether in the past, present, or future, depending on the dispensation) we can return with our Father. It was a phenomenal conversation! Then, we got to break down 1 Nephi 8 with her and the whole Ciszak family. It was way cool, because we had Debbie, Patti Ciszak, Dougie Ciszak, Monica Ciszak, and Danielle Alexander (one investigator and four recent converts) all gathered together to read and discuss the meaning behind Lehi's Dream. It was awesome!

Well, by next Monday, I'll know whether I'm staying in Freedom for another transfer or not. Yesterday, Patti and Debbie actually called President Christianson and requested that we both stay out here hahahah. I don't know if that has any sway over things... but hey, one can hope! Haha I've been here forever now, though, so we'll have to see.

Oh! Funny story! We were supposed to have Zone Conference at the Hill Cumorah on Saturday. But on Friday, we got a call because the storms were so bad out that-a-way, so they postponed it to this Wednesday. Problem is that we had nothing to do on Saturday... but luckily, there was an annual deal called Winterfest going on all weekend! So, on Saturday, we entered ourselves into the 5K. How is this proselyting, you ask? Well, because we wore running shoes, shorts, and a shirt and tie! Haha we had a TON of people ask what the heck we were doing, and we even taught a lesson! When getting permission to do it, we described it as "glorified street contacting." Haha we had a lot of members of the branch ask us about it, too. It was way funny! 
I got third in my age group, even though I'm ridiculously out of shape! Mariah Owens made the sign for us. Ha she was the one Elder Inkley and I made a sign for her volleyball game.
Oh, here's a cool quote from President Miess' talk yesterday in church:

"God's revelation to Adam did not instruct Noah how to build an Ark. Noah needed his own revelation. Therefore the most important prophet so far as you and I are concerned is the one living in our day and age to whom the Lord is currently revealing His will for us. Therefore the most important reading we can do is any of the words of the prophet contained each month in our Church Magazines. Our instructions about what we should do for each six months are found in the General Conference addresses which are printed in the Church Magazine." - Ezra Taft Benson

Have you ever thought about that? Think if Joseph Smith were going to talk somewhere or if Moses were going to speak at a Stake Conference. What would you give to be there? Why not do the same with the modern prophet? 

Well... have a splendid week, and write me!!!

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

Monday, February 4, 2013

Feb. 4 Letter

Dear Everyone,
It finally happened!! Amanda got baptized yesterday! Haha even that came close... She had a baptismal interview scheduled for Thursday (the Assistants came down from Rochester for it and everything), but she was a no-show. She literally wasn't anywhere to be found. I called her 14 times in the space of 80 minutes, and texted her an extra four or five times. Elder Western went to her house to pick her up.... nothing. He honked, knocked, called... nothing. We were so confused!
I finally got a hold of her later that day, though, and apparently she was sick all morning... and wanted to put of the baptism another  week. Elder Jones and I thought about it, though, and said, "NO!" haha maybe a little nicer than that, but it had that point. We told her that there wasn't any point in putting it off any longer, and that we should just go for it this Sunday like planned. And, long story short, she agreed! She requested a blessing so that she would be healthy be Sunday, so we went with it, and welllll it worked! She was baptized!
It's been a crazy road, for sure. I have never met anyone with as ridiculously rough of a life as she has had. I haven't ever taught anyone who has had so much crap come up as we were teaching her. But then, Elder Wilcox, who interviewed her, says he's never interviewed someone so prepared. Quite the day yesterday!
And I got to conduct my first meeting ever! Yay!
We also started really focusing on teaching a lady named Debbie. She's really good friends and actually lives with a recent convert from about a year ago, and has actually been coming to church just about every week for months now... we just never really thought to teach her. But then a couple weeks ago, we went home teaching over at Patti's (the recent convert), and Bro. Duncan, who we were with, slowly transitioned the conversation from Patti and her kids to Debbie. And... it ended up being a crazy arguing match that went nowhere. So we left figuring we wouldn't teach Debbie for months at best.
But then, last Sunday, she went to President Christianson's fireside! .... and we got there ten minutes before it ended and got almost nothing out of it.
Nevertheless, God wasn't dropping her! The Stake President came out of the chapel and somehow started talking to Debbie all about the fireside and the Book of Mormon and about using Christ's Atonement. See, Debbie's dad died instantly in a three-wheeler accident when she was eight years old, and her faith has been dramatically shaken ever since. But, President Pace nailed it, by having her read Jacob 2:8, and then talking about Nephi and Lehi's relationship with each other and how much Nephi looked up to and loved his dad. He then committed her to read from the start of the Book of Mormon until Nephi grieves over his dad's death. Well, she's been reading! Yesterday we went over her reading (she doesn't like that it always says, "And I spake unto him," and "And it came to pass" haha) and ended up having a really awesome conversation about what it would take for her to develop faith again. It was pretty awesome and I really think she's going to progress really quickly now that she's decided she's willing to at least try and know God again.
I'm getting nervous about Krissa, though... We are less than two weeks away from her scheduled baptismal date, and things are just adding up on top of her. We haven't met with her for eight days now, and her responses to texts and phone calls are taking longer and longer. We have an appointment with her tonight, thankfully. I think it might be the make it or break it lesson as far as next Saturday goes. Elder Jones and I were talking about it last week, and we think we realized a huge error on our parts. For a while, we have focused on clarifying little details, which has lead to us talking very logically. What's happened is we've focused on minute details of tithing, the Word of Wisdom, baptism, and other commandments, and completely abandoned the Spirit and the major focus of our purpose. Hopefully we can swing things back on track tonight.
Haha so, I got an email from Dad last week that asked if we get lake effect snow. Well, maybe these pictures answer the question:

Ha on Wednesday, we actually had a record high for the day. We hit the 60s!!! And then came Thursday.... where it snowed from 10:00 until about 1:00 on Friday without stopping. We went from having no snow on the ground to about two feet or so quite quickly. IT SNOWS FREAKING SIDEWAYS HERE!!! I can literally say that I have survived a legitimate blizzard!
Welllllll... there's a lot of missionaries anxiously wanting this computer, so I'd better take off!
I love you all, but I don't miss you!
Elder Allen