Tuesday, August 27, 2013

August 25 Letter

Zach was baptized yesterday! Woohoo! It was great. He's such a good kid, it's incredible. We had him bear his testimony afterwards, and he just rocked it. We spent a lot of time with him this week to make sure he was ready, and it really opened our eyes to how rough of a situation he's in. It's so cool to see him really take on a leadership role in his family as a 12-year-old with no male role models to look to.

His immediate family was there, which includes his mom who hasn't been to church in about four years. She also bore her testimony, and talked a lot about how proud she was of Zach. It was probably the first nice thing I'd heard the family say to each other in the past four weeks. Even more, she said she was really going to try to make it to church more consistently. His adopted sister was there, too, which I believe was her first time ever coming to church. The ward hasreally stepped up in helping us with that family, which has been great. The Young Men have been all over getting him to mutual and making him feel comfortable at church. The deacon's quorum president gave a talk about his own baptism, and presented Zach a For the Strength of Youth and True to the Faith. Then the Relief Society was all over helping Jolene (his mom) out, and has already assigned her visiting teachers. The Young Women welcomed Kayla (his sister) right in. The Elder's Quorum is already arranging to help the whole family move next week. Really, it's been way cool to see the whole situation play out.

Well, I am going to talk about the zoo. Not because it was really that exciting, but because I took about 50 pictures that I will probably never look at again so I figured I would share a few of them here to make it seem like they had some role. (Addition from Megan... By this he means, "I'm not really going to say anything, just include pictures...")

Yesterday, we had easily one of the most interesting lessons of my mission. It was with Li, a man from China who moved here as a dependent of his son-in-law, who is studying economics at UB. Earlier in the week, we had tried to teach Li, who speaks zero English, and his daughter, Ming. Ming, though, could only translate some things, so her translation to Li just really made things jumbled up and completely unspiritual. They also, for some reason, didn't want us to use the Bible, but really wanted to know what made us different from other Christians. Oh... and they didn't know what a prophet was. Haha so we were in a tough situation. Yesterday, though, we took Guo Jian with us! He is a recent convert of about three months, and is the funniest guy. He lived in China his whole life, and is now here working on post-graduate work. We went over to Li's house (kind of unannounced), and the two of them just hit it off! For the next hour and a half, they would just babble on with each other in Mandarin, and Elder Hirschi and I would sit awkwardly. Only about five or six times during the whole thing did Guo Jian ever ask us for help in explaining something. But from that alone, we know he taught about the entire Apostasy and Restoration, the Book of Mormon, eternal families, premortal life, and prayer! After about an hour, Guo Jian turned to us and said, "He wants us to come back to teach him how to be sanctified." Hahaha, so whatever they said, apparently it worked! For all I know, Guo Jian might have taught that God has purple skin, lives in the sun, and is a big fan of Pink Floyd... But I have to admit, the Spirit was really strong! At one point (don't ask me which point of the lesson...) Guo Jian even started crying. The whole way home, Guo Jian was like, "Thank you for letting me come. No. Thank God for letting me come. Now I am a missionary, right?"
I also learned something interesting about Chinese culture. Halfway through our lessons with Li, he offered us a drink of water. We accepted, and he went to the kitchen. A few minutes later, he comes and pours us each a cup of water.... steaming water. Evidently in China, it is utmost hospitality to serve hot water to guests. Haha I mean I guess if that's the worst thing I have to eat or drink, I'll be all right.... but it was definitely weird.

Hmm... other good stories to share.... 

We were on the bus the other day, and a man came up to us and said, "I didn't call the elders back about six months ago, and it's been bothering me ever since." After a little while, we found out Jim met the missionaries about two years ago, but that he doesn't believe in God at all. Still, he thinks that missionaries are among the most devoted people to anything that he knows, so he really likes us. As we talked on the bus for a while, he was stunned to find out Elder Walker, who I was on an exchange with, hadn't had a fish fry, or real Buffalo chicken wings, so instead of trying to find a less active like we planned, he took us out to dinner! The conversation we had only got us so far, but we are going to start meeting with him, again. It was just really cool to have someone come up to us feeling so guilty for not calling back.

We have met numerous other potentials on the bus, as well. One of them particularly gets us excited. His dad and sister are members of the Church in Mesa, and he has met with the missionaries before. We're planning on swinging over to his place this week.

We also contacted a referral that will be interesting to see how it plays out. His name in Manjurath (no matter how hard you try to pronounce it, you probably won't get it right), and he just moved here from India a few months ago. Somehow or another, he knows a member of the Church who he really looks up to, so he went to Mormon.org and requested a visit from us and a Book of Mormon. When we get those referrals, we don't get much info about them, so we went to his house, and asked if he knew who we were. "Well," he said, "I guess we are all brothers, right?" He explained that he really didn't have any Christian background, and really didn't know anything about Christ as the Redeemer. He said he wanted a chance to read from the Book of Mormon before we meet too much, which is fair enough. I am just very interested to teach someone who has minimal Christian understanding, and who is really going to learn all about Jesus Christ through the Book of Mormon.

Of course, I couldn't pass up the chance to be at a political gathering, so I made sure I was on UB's campus for Obama's speech. We obviously couldn't get in, but we utilized the fact that there were so many people there to do some street contacting. We really recognized something interesting, there. Indians are the nicest people, EVER. They just love talking, and are the most respectful people of all time. Plus, the Hindu population from there recognizes that there are good things to learn from everyone, so they love talking about our faith. What I've really come to decide is that the the Restored Gospel is like a weird cross between Hinduism and Evangelicalism. Hinduism as the ends right: Perfection, slow but sure perfection. Evangelicalism has the means right: The Savior. The Church of Jesus Christ just recognizes that perfection, while the ultimate goal, is only possible through the Savior. 

But, we're headed up to Niagara Falls for Sister Tulande Vazquez' birthday!

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

August 19 Letter


Well, Zach didn't get baptized yesterday... His mom had clinicals that they didn't realize were coming up, so we postponed it until next week. He's all interviewed and ready to go, though!

On the bright side, this opened up the opportunity for me to go to Warsaw for Jimmy's baptism!! It was seriously the most spiritual baptismal service I've ever attended. His two kids were there, which he didn't think was going to be possible since his ex-wife had them. But, they came!! And his parents were there, which he didn't think would happen because they have been very distant from his involvement in the Church. Supportive, but definitely kept their distance. Then a huge chunk of the branch stayed after, so there were some 40-50 people there. And, possibly the best, his girlfriend came up to the missionaries afterwards asking if she could get baptized in a few weeks!

I spoke on baptism, then found out literally 30 seconds before the ordinance that I was also confirming him. It was interesting, because normally - even though we try not to - you can't help but think through what you might say in a blessing or in a prayer. But, when it is sprung on you, you really can't. It was quite an experience, that is for sure!

It was also great to see everyone in Warsaw again! Obviously Jimmy was the priority. But I got to see the Woodworths, Grant (my two year old friend haha), Lily (my four year old friend...), AJ (my eight year old friend.....), and even a few adults! Really though, it was wonderful!

We also had a great week in Buffalo. NINE NEW INVESTIGATORS! I am pretty sure that is a new record for me! Some of them are way legit, too.

One family, in particular, we helped move from their house to another house about a block away. They were referred to us by a member in Lockport Ward, who works with him. Demitri (the dad, who has his wife Dani and their two boys) and Xi (the referrer) both work with the Fish and Game here as wildlife biologists. They go out to Lake Ontario and catch lake sturgeon, poke around a little bit, tag them, then toss them back. In Demitri's words, they are "fishermen with PhDs." Haha but what's really cool is that he is still very involved in the Russian Orthodox church. Out here, it's hard to find highly educated people, who haven't "out-educated" God. After we moved all of his stuff, we talked a little about our beliefs and emphasis on families. We're planning on dinner at Xi's house and a discussion afterwards sooner than later!

We also met Colin, although I don't think that's his real name. He and his family moved here from Sri Lanka a few years ago. Evidently, the Buddhists there actively persecute the Hindus and Christians. Colin's family are all Catholic, so they came to the States for safety. He is now a welder building bridges here in Buffalo. We were trying to figure out how to communicate with him - although, considering he says he literally started learning English 6 years ago, he is incredibly good at it - so we pulled out a Restoration pamphlet. We showed him a picture of Jesus ordaining Peter, and talked about Christ setting up a Church on the Earth. Then we turned a few pages to the First Vision. "Whoa..." was the first thing out of his mouth. I asked him if he knew who was in the air, and he answered in an awed "Jesus." We talked about the importance of the Restoration and are going back this Saturday!

We finally had a real lesson with Isabelita, too! We went through the whole Restoration, but when we asked her to pray about Joseph Smith, she just said, "No." It kind of caught us off guard. But, we figured out she just doesn't want to pray if she doesn't know his teachings. So, we got her a Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, and she committed to reading it! Haha that might be even better, in all reality!

Then at church yesterday, even though I wasn't there since I was at Warsaw, we had both Kevin and Zach at church, as well as a few less active members who haven't been in a LONG time! It was very exciting!

Well, I'm headed to the zoo!

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

August 12 Letter

Guten tag!
It's been another wonderful week in Buffalo! I really think they just need to take cars away from all the missionaries. We talk to way more people this way haha. I don't think there's anything more fun than sitting on the train and just talking to whoever is sitting next to you. Haha although, we did get chewed out by some crazy lady who, as she walked past us, just said, "You aren't my brothers in Christ!" Then when we made the mistake of asking why not, she went on some rant about the Trinity. When I asked if I could read a verse from the Bible that explained our view, she just yelled that we had added to the Bible and walked away. She then proceeded to "pray for us" quite loudly a few benches away. Hahaha then as we got onto the bus, she came up to us again and yelled at us for ruining her day and then complained about Mitt Romney for a while. It was slightly humorous, actually.
But really, 95% of the time, riding the bus and train is great!
I don't know how long I'll have to type... we have a zone meeting today in Amherst, so I may have to leave at any point. For that reason, I will from here on write sort of inverted pyramid style. So if you recognize the stories getting more and more useless, they probably are.
Zach is getting baptized on this Sunday!! He's a 12-year-old kid the missionaries have been teaching for a couple months now. His mom is a member, but isn't very active; his dad is completely out of the picture. It really is incredible how well put together he is when you consider his situation. He has talked to us about how his friends - already - are all doing drugs and stuff, and how much it irritates him. He's a stud, though. The ward has been very helpful with him, too. We took him to church with us yesterday, and the young men's presidency and the young men themselves really jumped right to helping him. Kombi, the Deacon's Quorum president is going to be speaking at his baptism, and they've already arranged him rides to activities and church for the next little while. Haha it was great, though! During priesthood opening exercises, Kombi mentioned mutual on Wednesday. Zach leaned over to me, asking, "Am I allowed to go to that?" If only every investigator asked those type of questions! But, yes, Sunday will be grand.
I also interviewed a guy for baptism in Buffalo Spanish's area (they cover the real inner city stuff). He is a refugee from Burma, and really can hardly speak English. Naturally, that made the interview pretty tough haha. Luckily, he talked to me about 20 minutes at the start about Burma and all that went down over there, so I could definitely tell when he was passionate and when he wasn't. He didn't recognize Joseph Smith's name, which had me worried, but yet when I showed him a First Vision picture, he could tell the story perfectly, haha. He was supposed to get baptized yesterday, but got really sick, so now it's been postponed to the week after Zach's.
We've kept meeting with Kevin a lot. He is the funniest guy. We had him read 3 Nephi 8-10, then read chapter 11 with him. His friend, John, just got out of jail and was there with us. John had to take a phone call right after the verse where Christ descends but before the verse where He announces Himself. I've never seen anyone get as antsy about wanting to keep reading as Kevin got there! He has been sharing Book of Mormons and inviting friends to church like crazy! We just how have to help him understand that we don't pray through saints or do the Rosary. But still, he's hilarious.
Yesterday, we had a really good lesson with a part-member family. Heather, the mom, is less active, but still definitely has a testimony. Ade, the dad, really probably has a testimony, too. He just won't act on it yet. The biggest problem is they aren't married, I think, so he can't get baptized and she can't take the Sacrament. They therefore don't really see the point in participating... but don't get that there's a pretty easy solution to it all.
Well.... like I said, I need to go. If I get a chance, I'll find a computer and finish telling all about my week. But, for now, so long!
I love you but I don't miss you!
Elder Allen
Ok, I am, in fact, back!
We were able to go back over to Isabelita's earlier this week. She's really frustrating, because she simply doesn't let us talk at all. At one point, she asked, "Okay, now what are you here to share?" But then changed the subject within about five seconds of asking. Oddly enough, though, she has read from the beginning of 1 Nephi all the way halfway through Mosiah. We haven't really taught her anything substantial, yet she keeps commitments. It's really quite strange, but we'll take it.
I also went on an exchange to downtown Buffalo earlier this week. It's funny to look at the people all four of the companionships in the ward are teaching, and being in downtown just emphasized it even more. Between the four of us, we are teaching two Puerto Ricans, a Czech family, two people from the Congo, one from Uganda, two families from China, a couple of Burmese familes, and who knows what else. It's a whole new world out here!

When I was on exchanges, we ran into one incredible guy! He called us over asking if we'd ever been to Salt Lake City. This guy had actually worked there for about ten years and married an LDS lady, who had since passed away. He said that he then moved all over the country, but always took it on himself to watch over the missionaries whenever they were in the rougher areas of town. We talked with him a little, and he asked us to make sure we kept coming over. When we gave him our phone number, he specifically asked for the bishop's number, too. It was really something! Hopefully something can happen there. (Note: He was smoking and drinking a beer while we talked with him. So don't think he's practically baptized already.... haha, just a lot of potential!)
I'm excited about a few of the members we're starting to get close with. Like I said last week, a huge chunk of our ward are dental students from back west, the vast majority of whom are returned missionaries. Somehow, Elder Barnes didn't even realize how many of them live in our area. But we have appointments with a few of them, so hopefully we can get member work up and rolling, too.
Oh, also when I was on exchanges, the missionaries in my area went "tracting." Haha I put quotes around it... because they only had fifteen minutes and only ended up knocking one door. But the guy was really excited to see them there, and talked about how much God had helped him in the past year of his life. He then asked if he could come to church with us sometime. Unfortunately, he did not show up this week... But it is still exciting. Pretty good odds for Elder Hirschi, too. One door knocked on his mission so far, and it's that one!

You know... I came back online to finish writing all about my week.... but I can't really think of much that I didn't say the first time. It's pretty pathetic, really.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

August 5 Letter

Never fear! I survived my first week in the hood! 

Haha actually, the area is really funny. We don't have QUITE downtown, but get close enough to have some really sketchy neighborhoods. But, on the other hand, we have a town called Kenmore in our area, which a few years ago was ranked in the top 10 safest neighborhoods in the U.S. Haha it's a weird contrast when you walk from one part of the area that is all prim and proper, and all of then a few blocks later, everything changes completely.

We are car-less, which kind of stinks sometimes when we have to get somewhere quickly, but it's been really cool, be cause - go figure - there are actually people walking around with us in Buffalo. In Freedom and Warsaw, if you saw anyone walking, it would be the same five people you saw last time. But not here! We actually have taught about a dozen lessons to random people just walking by in the streets. I'll share some of those stories later haha. They're great... Haha Buffaloans are different, to say the least. But, having to do with being car-less, I get to ride a subway on a regular basis now!! Haha it's really not so great, you kind of just go into a big dark tunnel, shaking a lot.... but it's unique. Plus, then we just talk to a lot of crazy Buffaloans on the subway! Between the bus, the subway, and walking, we never really get away from talking.

Being in a trio is definitely different. It's interesting, though, because Elder Hirschi, who is our visa waiter heading out to Brazil eventually, really almost seems like the more experienced one. We'll be in a lesson, and he and I will be trading back and forth seamlessly, and Elder Barnes will just chill quietly. I don't know, it's definitely tough to work as a trio. I'll also be sad to see Elder Hirschi go whenever his visa actually gets here. 

Also in our apartment complex is Elder Danielson, my MTC companion, so that's been fun. We'll see them at least once a day. Oh, and I said we had seven missionaries in the ward last week. I lied. We have ten. They just barely split our area and put a trio of sister missionaries in the northern, richer half. Haha and apparently I'm District Leader again. (They didn't tell me that until Tuesday evening on the way home from transfer meeting.) So I learned that district meetings with a group of 10 young missionaries goes much differently than one where half of your district is senior couples. But, it's a fun district, anyways.

So, for people we met! First, I'll share about "First-name-Kai," as we've come to call him haha. We were walking home from an appointment, and there was this Chinese guy at a park. I walk up and talk to him, and we learn that his name was Kai and that he moved from China about a year and a half ago. We talked about his family, so we gave him a Family Proclamation, talked about what a prophet was, invited him to come to church, assured him that church was free, and a few other things, including learning that his name was Kai. As the conversation died down, Elder Barnes and him had the funniest exchange. In order to get the humor of it, put Kai's voice in the classic Asian accent, and assume that all three of us were confused to no end the whole time.

Elder Barnes: "My nephew's name is Kai, actually."
Kai: "No. My name Kai."
Elder Barnes: "Right, but I mean, it's my nephew's, too."
Kai: "It's my first name."
Elder Barnes: Uh... 
Kai: "Family name."
Elder Hirschi: "Ohhh, your first name is your family name?"
Kai: "No. Kai Meng." 
All of us: "Oh.... Umm... I gotcha..?"

He then proceeded to show us his ID card. Which in and of itself was a good thing, because it helped us learn a lot about him. We'd asked him earlier why he'd moved here, and he said something that to all of us sounded like "postal." So we just assumed he was a mailman or something. But no, his ID listed him as a PhD working for Roswell Cancer Institute. Haha good ol' First-name-Kai.

Then, there's Kevin. Hahaha ohhh Kevin. We were walking down the street and he asks "Hey, are you Jehovah's Witnesses?" We explained that no, we were Mormons. "Oh, I read your book when I was in jail. A lot of people persecuted me for it and told me I shouldn't entertain other gospels and should only read the Bible, but I told them 'It's not a different gospel, it's just Another Testament of Jesus Christ.'" Haha naturally, that caught our attention. We talked with him a bit more there, gave him a new copy of the Book of Mormon, and set up a time to come back. We went back, and talked with him more, and well... he is really crazy, but in a mostly good way. We think. Haha it's actually been a cause of a lot of debate. See, he is super faithful. He is a very strong Catholic, and loves sharing the gospel. Actually, he came to church with us on Sunday, and while we were waiting at the bus stop, he gave a Bible to one person and a Book of Mormon to someone else. But then.... he's out there a little. He talks a lot about the different times he's seen Jesus, which is completely possible, I suppose. But then he talked about why he doesn't think Peter ever actually died: "Well, I've seen him. He's a good guy. But he dresses like Indiana Jones, kind of."  Haha then we took him to church with us and he really enjoyed testimony meeting, but then we were pretty much baby-sitting him during Sunday School. Haha we were talking about agency, and here are some of his best lines (Note, none of these were after he raised his hand. He'd just shout them out haha) :

"What? You think we left God's presence?" - "Yes we did, but we'll talk more about that later, Kevin." - "No we didn't."
"You're from Uganda! Why'd you move here?" -"Well, mostly for the Church." -"There are churches in Uganda, I bet!"
"You think Satan knows us? No he doesn't! God knows us!"
(When reading a little bit about Elijah going up against the priests of Baal) "This is my favorite story! Elijah is like, 'Maybe he's sleeping, maybe he can't hear, maybe he is on the toilet!'" 

Haha we know that he has bipolar disorder, and really it just makes him seem like he has an extreme case of ADHD. It's just hard to balance giving him the opportunity to learn the gospel with not offending the entire ward. Haha I like the guy... but he's super goofy. Haha oh, but this is a good story about him! We gave him a pamphlet about the Plan of Salvation to answer some of his questions that came up during Sunday School. Today, over the phone, I asked him if he had read it. "No, I didn't get to. I gave it away actually. I saw a guy in a wheel chair and thought he could use it more than me." Haha he's the best missionary of all time... just as long as he doesn't offend everyone of the current members out of the church haha.

Oh man, I could talk about all sorts of people we've met. Don't worry, we've met some normal people, too. But they just aren't as cool of stories yet, since we haven't had time to help them progress too far. I'll share some normal stories one of these days, I hope. 

But the ward here is really cool. A huge chunk of the members are just young, classic Mormon families here, mostly going to UB for dental school. There's also and odd amount of foreigners. Buffalo Spanish missionaries, who do their work downtown, are teaching someone from Uganda, from Thailand, from Columbia, and a few other places. In Sacrament meeting, one guy got up and bore his testimony - in French. He is actually from the Congo, where he served as a Bishop. Luckily, there are about a dozen or so French speakers in the ward, so someone got up and translated. But regardless, it was really cool!

On Saturday, we attended a baptism that wasn't a convert baptism, but was still a cool result of missionary-work. It was the 8-year-old son of a part member family, where the member wife has cycled through levels of activity. Apparently they have worked with the family quite a bit, and we hope to keep doing so. Then this upcoming Sunday, Buffalo Spanish is having a baptism. It's pretty cool to have so many missionaries all crammed together, because there were I think 7 or 8 investigators at Sacrament meeting, and we have dates for some 6 people to be baptized. It's pretty exciting! Now just to get our area included in those that are moving along well!

Umm... I'm trying to think of good, succinct stories to tell, but I'm not coming up with much. We really spend a lot of our time walking around, now, plus this week has been full of a thousand meetings. Soooo, that's pretty much been my week! Here are some pictures of our area, though!

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

Oh yeah, and happy 13 months, today!