Tuesday, March 26, 2013

March 25 Letter


Well, I guess I'll just start with this - I'm headed to Warsaw! Haha really, I don't know what to think of the transfer. I mean, it's rough to get transferred, period... but Warsaw is probably the area most demographically similar to Freedom. It's great in a way, because I've loved it out here. It's tough, though, because it makes it that much easier to compare everything head-to-head... and Freedom is the fastest moving area right now. I feel like if I'd gone to downtown Rochester or something, the two wouldn't even be comparable. Haha oh well... I guess I'll just have to make do and get Warsaw up to par with Freedom!

Before I forget, my new address is

Elder Bracken Allen
12-A Empire Street
Warsaw, NY 14569

The Bracken part is especially important, too, if you're going to be sending anything to the mission office (the one in Pittsford), because there's a new Elder Allen coming out tomorrow!

Now I'll give a quick rundown of the week, because we did some cool stuff.

We went to Palmyra TWICE with two different groups! On Sunday night, Patti kind of jokingly suggested she and Debbie take Friday off and we make a site trip. I didn't think they were serious until they asked us on Wednesday what time we wanted to leave on Friday. Haha but it was great! We had an especially cool tour of the Grandin Building, where the first copy of the Book of Mormon was printed and published. While there, it really hit me hard the difference between that and the Sacred Grove or the Hill Cumorah. The latter two are very spiritual in an almost mystical way. They involve visions and clearly divine guidance. The Grandin Building is particularly interesting, though, because it's so... normal. It wasn't that God said, "Let there be copies of the Book of Mormon, and there were copies." It took some legitimate work. They walk you through the whole process, and it was painstaking! I love it, because it's all so practical! The printing press had to get there, E.B. Grandin had to agree to the contract, Martin Harris had to mortgage his farm, the list goes on. Everything had to fit together. It wasn't a big, miraculous appearance, but a series of small, tender mercies. It's really cool! I think Debbie really enjoyed it too!

Patti, Debbie, and Ryan at the Grandin Building
What made me even more excited was the second trip! We went on Saturday with Krissa and Matt and Marcus!! That was phenomenal! We didn't have time for the Grandin Building that time around, but we had some very cool experiences at the Hill and Grove. What was really neat was the tour of the Cumorah Visitor's Center. We didn't really do much introduction to the sister missionary giving the tour aside from names and whatnot, but she NAILED it! She almost instantly started just talking about how important Joseph Smith's family was to him and how the family is so crucial to the gospel. I was so stoked! THEN, they have these little cards that people there can fill out so the missionaries can contact them with the person's thoughts. That was a lot of pronouns... So say I filled out a card, I could write my thoughts on it and have a missionary call my friend back home and tell my friend everything I am thinking while at the sites. Get it? Gooood. Well, Krissa actually filled one out for her mom to be contacted! In the comments, she started talking about how much the gospel has helped her faith and helped her understand the importance of families and everything. WOO HOO!!!! I was freaking stoked!!! Such a great experience! It's awesome to be able to teach the Restoration right where it happened!

Hopkins family at the Hill Cumorah
Well, that was really the bulk of the week. We obviously did other stuff, but that's what stands out the most. Now, I want to talk about some things I learned while here in Freedom from each of those who I have taught and baptized.

Cora was baptized within a week of me getting here. Unfortunately, she's fallen away since then. But, what I learned from watching her is the importance of befriending anyone at church who is new! She was a strong, active member right up until the Neilsons, the senior couple who used to be out here, moved away. Then she didn't have anyone who kept her coming. When I am home, that is going to stand out to me forever. If someone is new, BE THEIR FRIEND!

Then came Kathy. Kathy really taught me that God really rewards us for doing all that we can. She has a skeletal system that is just falling apart, so getting to and staying through church is very hard for her. But I have never met someone who reads the Book of Mormon so in depth as she does. She puts in soooo much effort in understanding the gospel, it is incredible, and she is definitely blessed for it! It's incredible to watch her!

Next was Freddie and Liz. They got married just before their baptism, and have really shown how important the gospel is in our relationships. They are pretty young to be married, and have definitely had their share of feuds, but they always been able to work through it, often by simply reading the scriptures and praying together. 

Up next was Justin. Justin took YEARS to get baptized, largely because of word of wisdom issues. But he, yet again, taught me a lot about the importance of the Book of Mormon. He was struggling quitting smoking, but then he started reading the Book of Mormon every night. The transformation was incredible! He completely changed. Really quickly he went from "I want to get baptized someday," to "I am ready to get baptized next week."

Then was Amanda. This one is similar to Kathy, only in a different way. She really showed how living the gospel blesses you, even if you don't really know why. Like I said, leading up to her baptism, I don't know if she really understood what it even meant to have a living prophet, but she definitely understood that she felt the most at peace when she read the scriptures and prayed everyday. The blessings came even if she didn't understand all the details. I struggle with that a lot of times, and really admire her faith in keeping on pressing forward. She's currently about halfway through the Book of Mormon - for her second time through.

Next was Debbie. Debbie was positive she would never be baptized. What she really showed me was that we can argue every point of the gospel, and she definitely did, but what really matters is if it is true. Once she gained a testimony of the Book of Mormon, none of the small points really made much of a difference anymore. She would still argue them, sure. But she understood that if she would just pray about them, her answer was legitimate. She gained a testimony of revelation, both personal and from the mouth of a living prophet. It was awesome.

Really, I think I've learned more about the Savior and His gospel in the eight months I've spent in Freedom than I did in the 19 years leading up to it. No offense to any of my Sunday School teachers... you helped too. But it's been a heck of a run out here!

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

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

March 18 Letter

Hello everyone!

This whole week has been a blur, so hopefully I can hit some of the more important points haha...

We've been having some awesome lessons with the Regnet family over the past few weeks. I know I've probably given the whole lowdown on them already, but I can't think of what I have an haven't said, and don't feel like checking up on it... so I'll wing it. But the parents, Roger and Josette, have been talking with the missionaries for about eight years now. They have two kids, an 18-year-old daughter and a 21-year-old son, as well as two foster kids, one who's nine, the other who's 12. Also, Roger's dad has been staying with them, trying to get over some VERY strong addictions and get his life back together. What we've found is that Roger's dad is much more willing to sit and talk to us, but much less willing to act on any of his commitments to read the Book of Mormon or anything, and it's really hard to keep his focus on any one thing. But what we've noticed is it's a lot easier to talk to his son when we've been there talking to the dad for a while. So we'll talk with Roger Sr., then slowly transition over to Roger Jr. This week, though, got even more exciting! We were talking to Roger Sr., and it wasn't getting anywhere. We then started putting some insulation up in the garage with them, and he started asking us some really solid questions about the Plan of Salvation and why we're on the Earth at all. It was very exciting to be able to teach him something that he believed, but hadn't ever heard taught.

SIdenote: here's my new blog post on the Plan of Salvation! http://brackenallen-thinkonthesethings.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-logic-of-plan-of-salvation.html

Then, after that, I started playing frisbee with Jesse, the 9-year-old, and talking a little with him about his beliefs in God and whatnot. We talked about Noah, which is his favorite Bible story, then I told him about Daniel and the Lion's Den. I asked him if he ever had to spend the night with lions, which obviously he didn't, but then followed up asking him about other scary things he's had to do. He talked about some nightmares he regularly has, and asked on his own if praying would help him there. I am so excited to see what happens with that family! We're planning on bringing the branch president with us on Wednesday, and hopefully going to Palmyra with them pretty soon. I'm way stoked!

We've also had some surprising success with Jim Myers. Elder Thueson connects with him in ways that none of my companions nor I ever have been able to. We've spent a ton of time over there helping them collect and boil maple sap to make into syrup (which has been a way cool experience to help with). Whenever we're out and about gathering buckets or anything, Elder Thueson is able to strike up some conversation that is at least moderately gospel-oriented. But this week, he straight-up asked Jim if he had any questions about the church and offered to answer any of them without pushing him to go on. Jim agreed! They haven't really talked much, but now Jim's dad is about to pass away after years of fighting cancer, so surely even more questions are going to be coming up. It will be very interesting, no question.

Meanwhile, while he's been making progress with Jim, I feel like Kelly and I have had a lot of progress. Where Elder Thueson is really good at expressing feelings and connecting the aspects of the gospel to real life, I tend to look at it almost academically, which really bites me in the butt sometimes. But, with Kelly it does a lot of good, because we can have some really in-depth conversations about the scriptures, and learn tons from each other. Well, I learn tons from her, and every now and then help her learn something. The important part, though, is that she's seriously considering going to get her endowments in the next month or so! That's like 10000 times better than a baptism!!

I'm getting way nervous about Krissa. We've kind of gotten as far as missionaries can really get her without her getting baptized... but she won't. We don't want to lose our relationship with the family, but I don't know what else to do! Even worse, she hasn't been to church two weeks in a row, now.... Grr!! It's so disheartening! I can't think of what else to do!

Well, I am about 99.999999% sure I will be transferred a week from tomorrow, so IF you are thinking of mailing anything to me, make sure you send it to the mission office in Pittsford, not my apartment. President Christianson flat out told me I'm being moved... :/ It's kind of a bummer, and I don't know how to take it. I'd really rather just stay here the whole two years. I am also realizing how people get so trunky when they are about to go home. I'm just going from one area to the next and am noticing a difference in my drive to work as hard. It's really bad.... But whatever, I will just power through it for a week!

Speaking of President Christianson, he's going home in a few months (which is realllllly depressing :/ ), and we are learning a little about President-elect Francis! He is from Southern California, and - get this - has two sons on missions, two sons in high school, a son in middle school, and a son in elementary school. All four of the younger ones are coming with him. HOLY CRAP that'd be tough! It's insane!!

Wellllll.... I hope I gave you a little to feast upon!

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

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

March 11 Letter

Hello everyone!

Well, let's get the exciting news out of the way first: Debbie is baptized!! Ha it was very cool! She wanted to keep the service small without a lot of people there, but it was still one of the coolest baptismal services that I've experienced yet! I don't know if you remember, but what really got her willing to read the Book of Mormon was the stake president, President Pace, talking to her at one of President Christianson's firesides. She lost her dad when she was 8 years old, which really shook her faith that God intervenes on our behalf. President Pace had her read 1 Nephi to get a good understanding of Nephi's relationship with Lehi, and really emphasized 2 Nephi 4, when Lehi passes away, and Nephi's response to his dad's death. That's really what got everything rolling at the start. The whole purpose of me recapping this, though, is because President Pace actually gave one of the talks at the service. It was way awesome! Pretty much the rest of the program was done by the Ciszaks, who are the new member family that Debbie lives with who kept taking her to church even before we ever started teaching her. It was way cool!


Last Monday, like usual, we went to the Owens' for family home evening. What was different this time, though, was Bob was there. Bob is the husband of one of the members of the branch here, who at one point was almost baptized until he got mad at the missionaries for pushing him too hard. Since then (about 8 years ago or so), he has had nothing to with the church, and hardly anything to do with members of the church, aside from his wife and the Owens. Well, Sister Kaiser (his wife) said just recently "some things have lined up" (we don't know what) that are making her hopeful. Well, on Monday, both Brother and Sister Kaiser came to FHE. Brother Owens was giving a lesson on the Atonement that is going to take at least two or three weeks to finish, but what was WAY exciting about it was how much Bob remembered! We split into two groups, and each had to act out a scene from the Plan of Salvation. I was with Bob and a couple others, and we were acting out the War in Heaven. He remembered EVERYTHING and he PARTICIPATED fully!! It was so awesome! He's coming back tonight, so hopefully we can get something rolling here!

We've also had some exciting continued progress with the Regnets. It's funny, because we dedicate a lot more time to Roger Senior, but I feel like even that time almost benefits Roger Junior and Josette more than Senior. We always start talking to Senior, who is slowly progressing, but it ends up being the introduction for our conversation with his son and daughter-in-law. It's also good, because I think Elder Thueson have established a pretty good friendship based on missionary work. In the past, missionaries have played video games or watched movies or gone shooting or boating or who knows what else. When that wasn't happening, missionaries would be hard-nosed, talking about nothing but the church, which turned Roger off. I think we've found a pretty good balance now of being friends, but having our friendship fully based on our calling. Hopefully that goes somewhere soon. It's a little frustrating, though, because what he said is he wants to make sure he's needed in whatever church he belongs to. Normally we would promise a calling... but the branch's record of that isn't too great right now. I think only one of the converts since I've been here have a calling, and that was made in the past two weeks. Ugh... but hey, we'll see what we can do!

Krissa is really at a standstill lately, which is quite a bummer. She knows she has a testimony, and won't deny that. We flat out asked Matt for permission for her to be baptized, which he gave. As Elder Thueson told her, it's almost like she already considers herself a Mormon. She just won't get baptized, and it irritates the heck out of me! We don't even know what we can tell her now that she doesn't already know. So frustrating!

Member retention is really frustrating to me, too. People who are completely ready for baptism get brought into the church on a spiritual high, and then get all but ignored for a few months until they just don't come anymore. Maybe I shouldn't say it's always because they get ignored... But that's a part of it a lot of times! Callings and home teachers are so important but beyond our control. That's the downside of being in one area so long; I see people fall away, too.

I feel like we're almost so busy that I can never remember any good stories to tell.  Haha here's a good one from a while back, though! So Amanda's 4-year-old daughter, Kaylee, is the funniest, but most hyper child ever made. A few weeks ago, she told us that she didn't want to go to heaven. Why? "There aren't any potties there." Haha I've heard it said that the veil is still thin for most kids... so that has me worried too! Haha nah, but it was the funniest thing I've ever heard haha.

Well, that's bout all I got. You're all great, though! Keep in touch or something!

Oh, one kinda interesting fact: I'm more than a third of the way through with my mission! Crazy....

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

P.s., Elder Thueson got an email from his uncle, who's fairly high up in the church. Over half of the missionaries in the MTC now are sisters. What the... that's crazy.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

March 4 Letter

Hey everyone!

Well, this was one of the most up-and-down weeks ever. It seems I often start with the happy parts, then leave the depressing crap at the end, so I'm gonna reverse it this time.

I don't know if you remember me talking about Amy... She's one of them I've been meeting with essentially since I got here. Well, the last time we really sat down with her was about a month and a half ago. During that lesson, she flat out said that she had experienced a "mighty change of heart" as described in Alma 5 and said even her mom had noticed it. It was great! We scheduled another appointment for the next week, but it fell through because of her son's scout meeting. Same with the week following. Then she wasn't responding to texts or calls, so we tried to stop by her house one day. We heard some people inside but no one came to the door, so we assumed it was her kids and Amy wasn't home. So we tried another day. We kept trying back every few days, just at different times during the day, hoping to catch her. Then we tried back this week and there was a note taped on her door reading: "Missionaries, We are no longer interested. PLEASE respect our decision. - The Schenks." I have no idea what in the world happened... She went from an investigator who had us over for Christmas and would go all out to make sure we were happy at our appointments by buying whatever drinks we like our whatever... to this. 

Then, to make it all worse, we got a text from Cora, the lady I baptized my second week out here, last night. It essentially said, "I don't want Mormons at my house anymore. I have prayed a lot about this, and have got my answer. Please respect my decision." It's all so frustrating....

Now to start switching over to some good-ish news. On Wednesday, we met with Roger's dad, Roger Sr. at Roger Jr.'s house. We'll just call them Jr. and Sr. for now. Sr. has lived a verrrry rough life, full of drugs and prison and who knows what else, and it's really messed with the family. Now, even in his 60s, he struggles with drugs and partying. But everytime he runs out of money (which is often) he goes to Jr.'s house for help and shelter. Jr. is getting pretty tired of it, but doesn't really know what to do, but he wanted us to come and talk to his dad about trying to change. Well, we did, and had a decent conversation, but Sr. wouldn't admit that he really even had a problem, which makes everything all the harder. Well, I am going out of chronological order here and will just say that he up and left Jr.'s house by Friday. But, when we were still meeting with him on Wednesday, the most important thing to talk about is the way our conversation with Sr. completely changed the way Jr. and Jr.'s wife, Josette, looked at us. 

See, Elder Thueson at one point was trying to say that it was a miracle that a boy from Idaho and another from Arizona could happen to meet some 60 year old man in New York. But then Jr. jumped in and brought up even more, pointing out that he'd actually texted us to say it wasn't a good night, but since we'd left our phone at Kelly's, we came anyway. So Jr. was the one who was saying it was a miracle that we were there!

Then, when we were trying to teach Sr. about the Book of Mormon, he really kept backing away from it, not wanting anything but the Bible. When he left eventually, Josette commented about how hard it is for her to read the Book of Mormon, being raised that there was just the Bible, and that's it. We talked a little more about it, and it all started clicking in her head. Then, she made a really interesting comment: "I would hate to get to heaven and have God say, 'I sent how many missionaries to your house, and you never accepted the truth?' I guess if this really is the real church, I'd probably be best to figure it out." 

Since then, we've met with them again and have set up an appointment for Wednesday. It's very exciting. They could be such an incredible family!!! (When I said good-ish, the ish part was cause Sr. ran away to his old ways again... I made it just sound all good though!)

Now for the most awesome news!! There's this lady, Debbie, who I've only kind of talked about in the past. She lives at a recent convert's house, and has been coming to church for months, but has always been very adament that she was not getting baptized any time soon. The stake president has taught her once and everything, but she was not budging. I think I mentioned before, though, that she would put up big fights about things until she understood what we were saying, then everything else went easy. Well last week, we challenged her to read the Book of Mormon in two weeks, which she accepted. Well, she made it to Alma 8 in one week, but naturally had TONS of questions. We went over yesterday to go over them all, which was a very good experience in and of itself. But then we got to what we always get to: the necessity of baptism and the idea of baptisms for the dead. We had a FANTASTIC talk about eternal families, though, and showed her the Mormon Message, "Families Can Be Together Forever," which had her in tears. Then, we extended an invitation to her to be sealed to her dad. She thought about it for a second, then asked the key question: What would that entail? "Well..." we said, "First, you'd have to be baptized." She was apprehensive at best at that point, but we ended up convincing her to pray about it right there with us, and wellllll, long story short, SHE'S GETTING BAPTIZED THIS SATURDAY!!! WOOOOO!!!! Haha it was super exciting!!

Well, there are other things I COULD tell you.... but I don't have time. We just realized this morning we never sent in our car report that was supposed to be mailed four days ago... so I gotta run! 

BUT! A) You should write me. PLEEEEEASE :)  B) You should check out my new blog post, all about why Jesus talks so freaking much about Israel when he visits the Nephites and how much it applies to me as a missionary! Go here and love it! http://brackenallen-thinkonthesethings.blogspot.com/2013/03/why-so-much-about-israel.html

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