Thursday, September 26, 2013

September 23 Letter


So, this week was an odd one. On Wednesday, one of our bikes got stolen. (Note to self: When serving in sketchy Buffalo, bike locks serve a greater purpose than they did in Freedom.) Luckily, we had a couple extra back home. Why? Not clue. But we did, so things worked out. Buuuuut, the one in the most workable condition needed a new tire. Since we don't have a car and now didn't have a bike, we had to walk to Wal-Mart to buy one. When we got home, we started putting it on.... annnnd popped the inner tube. So the next day we walked back to Wal-Mart, got a new inner tube, and walked back home. We got it put on in just enough time to bike to our next appointment. Unfortunately, we didn't tighten the wheel enough, so within a quarter mile, the tire was pressed against the bike frame and wasn't rideable. So, there was a huge chunk of three days gone either walking or trying to get bikes back in working condition. Now, good things DID happen this week, but if it doesn't seem as many as normal, cut me a little slack! Between three days of bike frustration and an all-day temple trip on Saturday, our proselyting was cut down considerably!

One of the great lessons we did have, though, was with Guy. We went over to his place with Brother Desrosiers (Deh-ROSE-ee-ay) who speaks (blast... I just tried to spell that "speeks") French so we had a bit of a translator, even though Guy wanted to do most of it in English. It was cool, because we really took the time to lay out our lesson plan with each other. We really went in depth on how prophets do and always have pointed us to Christ. We first talked about how Moses didn't split the Red Sea - God did, by the hands of Moses. That really rang true to Guy right away. We were then able to go through prophets of the Old Testament and Book of Mormon, emphasizing 2 Nephi 25:26: 

And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
Then we moved on to Joseph Smith, whose primary duty as the Prophet of the Restoration was to translate The Book of Mormon..... ANOTHER TESTIMONY OF JESUS CHRIST!  We then read Doctrine and Covenants 76:22:

And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him [Jesus Chirst], this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!

Finally, we talked about how there's been a prophet ever since Joseph Smith, and then read the last part of President Monson's concluding talk of April's General Conference, which was his testimony of the Savior and how He can bring peace in these troubled times. It all just clicked so well!

But... then we started talking about baptism, and he said, "It is impossible to be baptized twice." So, we know what we are planning for this upcoming lesson haha.

We also visited Stephen again. Even though I spent the vast majority of the time (we were there three hours because of this) talking to his neighbor who is fairly agnostic and believes the Bible to be "the greatest story book of all time." It was cool, though, to see him keep on trying to trap me, and yet the restored gospel really answered all of his questions, whether he accepted them or not. He tried to get me on a hell without end. He tried to get us on parts of the Bible being lost or hidden for political purposes. He tried to get us on people not ever hearing the gospel before they die. It was pretty cool! Of course.... it was definitely a poor decision on my part to allow us to go into a political conversation afterward. In his words: "Paul Ryan? PAUL RYAN!? I bet you $1000 to $100 [yeah... we still aren't sure what that means] that if we held an election for Janitor-in-Chief, Paul Ryan wouldn't win! JANITOR-IN-CHIEF!!" Haha, on the bright side, he said he would read the Plan of Salvation pamphlet we gave him haha. 

But Stephen. Stephen was who I was going to talk about! He has been reading a little out of the Book of Mormon, and apparently last week he actually asked his wife if they could come to church with us! He didn't, and he didn't come yesterday, either.... but still. The thought is there! We were talking about him in our ward missionary correlation meeting yesterday, and Brother Smith, our ward mission leader, said, "Wait he is married? And has kids? All with the same girl? And he is going to college?" Haha gems like this are hard to come across in Buffalo!

We were able to finally have our dinner with Zy and Demetri! Demetri was the man we helped move a month or so ago, and Zy is the member from Lockport Ward who works with him at the Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Zy is a stud of a member missionary, though. He has been talking to him tons about the church, and has already set up times for Demetri to come to church and General Conference. Meanwhile, us missionaries have built up a better and better friendship with him. Essentially, the whole situation is just ideal. They are seriously one of the greatest families I've met my entire mission. He has a very stable job, is fairly religious already, and is a big time family man. She works with teachers, helping the Buffalo schools achieve higher standards of success. They have two hilarious sons. They're just all great!

We taught a few other people... but nothing too huge to report. But, I wanted to share some random thoughts I've had over the past week or so.

First, I was really frustrated yesterday in church. Even though we had four investigators at Sacrament meeting which should have had me thrilled, none of them were the ones who had committed to being there. We had five or six people commit to being there and yet weren't. It had me ticked. Then, Bishop Payne got up to speak and said something along the lines of, "As we serve in any calling that the Lord has put us in, one of the main goals of our service is to learn to love a little more like He loved." Suddenly it hit me, and I honestly can't tell you a single thing Bishop said after that because I was thinking so much. There may be nothing worse on a mission than someone committing to coming to Sacrament and then not, usually without reason, apology, or notice. But it hit me: How many times have I committed - covenanted, even - that I am willing to take upon me the name of Christ, always remember Christ, and keep the commandments Christ has given me, and then not? How many times have I renewed vows made before God, angels, and witnesses... and then not thought about them for days? All the while, I am making and renewing these promises at the very meeting I get upset at others for missing. "As we serve in any calling that the Lord has put us in, one of the main goals of our service is to learn to love a little more like He loved."

Then, I was reading an article about redemption from a General Conference or two ago, and I got to thinking. Often, we look at sin as just another step in the wrong direction. In that way, repentance and forgiveness just get us right back to perfection, and we should be good to go. But I was thinking about it, and I often point out to investigators that if we left Heavenly Father's side in premortal life, then the goal has to be more than to just go back to Him. Mortality would be futile if that was our only goal. Really, we are trying to go back better. So, as I was pondering, I created a little analogy:

Imagine you are shipwrecked, and off in the far distance, you can see an island. If you swam with all your might, you could probably just barely make it to land without drowning from exhaustion. But, for some reason, every few strokes, you take a cinderblock, and you tie it to a rope that is then tied around your waste. Obviously, you simply will not be able to keep swimming to your destination with ANY hope of reaching it.

Those cinderblocks are sin. They don't put us back a few steps, they completely debilitate us from advancing forward. Eventually, they can wear us out completely. They will pull us down to our own destruction. With even one, we cannot reach the island of refuge.

Now consider the scripture: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you... for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

If we allow Him, the Redeemer will swim up behind us and carry the blocks. It's not that we are then without responsibility. We still have to swim. But it is possible. Our growth will increase exponentially. Our potential remains potential.

It would be very hard to work on your investment portfolio if you were constantly stressing about your debt.

Now I had a few other thoughts when I was in the temple.... But I have talked enough. I hope all is well with everyone back home!

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

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

September 16 Letter

Shalom, shalom!!
It was certainly an interesting week! We had more quality lessons than we've had for quite some time, and yet the fewest people at sacrament meeting since I've been here. It's frustrating, but I think we're looking for some big things in the upcoming weeks!
First, we started a new tracting technique that has been a lot of fun! Instead of prying for random ways of getting from a semi-awkward introduction of who we are and doing everything we can to be personal, only to transition into a full-awkward conversation about religion and invitations to believe as we believe. So, we found the perfect transition that eliminates 80% of the awkwardness! We carry around pictures - the three we've used so far are Jesus' baptism, Jesus ordaining Peter, and Jesus in Gethsemane - and we ask them if they know what the picture is. Most people have at least some idea, and it opens up such cool conversations. The baptism one is the best so far, I think, because we can go into priesthood authority, prophets, ordinances, commandments in general, living Christ-like lives, and on and on and on. For whatever reason, people really like having a picture to talk about. (As a side note to this, do you know how we could order the whole set of gospel art? We were thinking if it worked for tracting, it would probably help real lessons, too.)
In the process of tracting, we've found a number of new investigators, but Stephen is definitely the one most worth talking about so far. We first started talking about his school work and military career. At Canisius College, he has been doing a bunch of work at making a military veterans club and using it to advocate and lobby for veterans affairs. But, as we transitioned into religion, he essentially taught us the Restoration. On our follow up lesson a few days later, he taught us the Plan of Salvation. It was bizarre. So he says he is Catholic, but before we said anything, acknowledged that especially during the times of Constantine and later in the Inquisitions, the church certainly lost its way. He says he struggles, because the keys (yes he used that term) were clearly handed to Peter, but then the doctrines were clearly mutilated. He went on to point out later that in the Old Testament, any time Israel completely lost its way, God didn't just mend what was there; He called a new prophet to restore it. He used Jesus as the primary example here in not just tweaking the Mosaic Law, but instilling something totally new. Pretty much all we had to teach him is that the Church was restored and that the prophet through which Christ restored it was Joseph Smith. He has read the Bible eight times and the Qur'an three times as part of his military training, so he pretty enthusiastically accepted the Book of Mormon.
When we went back the following week, he just went right into talking about the Creation, but emphasized how God didn't really create the universe from nothing, but organized matter that was there. It was as if he was quoting from the Book of Abraham. As he kept going, though, he talked about how much he's studied religion and how most religions are quite similar. For most people, he acknowledged that shakes their faith, but he pointed out that if Adam and Eve had a religion, logically every other religion should be at least somewhat similar to what they had. He eventually pretty much nailed that our life is an opportunity to try to attain as much knowledge as we can, since God has all knowledge and we are supposed to be "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." He said that Judgment will really come down to two things: 1) How much knowledge did you attain? 2) How did you use God's grace to attain that knowledge? He even went into explaining a little about the spirit world and kingdoms of glory, although that was a little muddled. It was just crazy! He kept on saying things that we could then open up a Book of Mormon verse to show him that he was right. It was the coolest.
We also started teaching Marie and Marthe, a mother and daughter from Haiti. Marie was the one I talked about a few weeks ago who was praying for help carrying a bunch of stuff from her house to the garage. Well, she had us over for dinner, and we planned on introducing the Book of Mormon to them. We specifically discussed not going into the Apostasy and Restoration until they had a testimony of the Book of Mormon. They are strong Baptists and close friends, so we wanted to ease in with them. But, as soon as we finished describing the Book of Mormon... we started talking about the Apostasy. I don't even know how it happened, but it did. In the end, though, it was one of the most powerful lessons we've taught! It was great! The only thing I regret was we got to a spiritual high, then stayed and talked about random stuff for another half hour so the Spirit died down quite a bit. But, they are both very enthusiastic about reading the Book of Mormon, and the only reason Marie gave for not coming to church with us this week was that she didn't have a ride. It could be a lot worse than that!! So, hopefully things keep progressing there.
We had a very cool experience with Colin, the man from Sri Lanka. We found a Book of Mormon in Tamil, his language. When we brought it over and handed it to him, he was absolutely shocked, and just kept on asking how we got ahold of something like that. But, he invited us into his house for the first time to talk a little about it. He took us up to his bedroom and showed us this corner of the room with a table that only had pictures of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and his Tamil Bible. "This is a very special place in our house. We only come in here when we want to be with God." He then proceeded to put the Book of Mormon next to the Bible on the table. We then talked with him about how important God has been as he moved from Sri Lanka, got a good job that he's had for six years now, has moved his whole family over with him, has raised a daughter who wasn't supposed to even make it from the womb, and is still married to a woman who was diagnosed with cancer five years ago. Before we left, we asked if we could say a prayer with him. He had everyone in his family come upstairs to join with us. It was incredible!
We started really working with Kayla, as well. She is Zach's adopted older sister. Well, she has a lot of problems, in all honesty haha, but really has just never been presented with any reason to do good things. We read from the Book of Mormon with her about why bad things happen, and taught about how the Atonement makes up for all that is unfair. It's hard to imagine being in her situation and really not knowing anything about Jesus Christ. A lot of times we teach strong Christians who have a firm conviction of Christ as their Savior, and we're really just presenting them with the path that He wants them to follow to eternal life. For Kayla, we are presenting Jesus, Himself.
The whole family is frustrating, though. Joleen is less-active, and it's hard to get her to come to church, especially for the full three hours. Zach is more than willing to come, and we could easily arrange a ride for him, but Joleen commits to coming and bringing the whole family, then no one shows up. It's hard because we don't want to eliminate Joleen's responsibility in getting her family to church, but we also don't want Zach's growth to hinge on his mom's choices. Luckily, our Young Men's presidency is incredible out here, so they've been counseling with us a lot on what to do.
We also taught Guy again! This time we brought Brother Atkinson to translate back and forth in French. It went fantastic! We went over the whole plan of salvation, and really pieced it together in a way that made a lot of sense to Guy, especially in his situation as an African refugee. We had a very cool conversation, especially since we were both able to fully express ourselves in our own languages. Still, he's probably the only investigator who has really sat down to talk that gets caught up with whether we are teaching Joseph Smith or Jesus Christ. We keep emphasizing that Joseph Smith was just a tool in Christ's hands, but he struggles understanding that. He fully comprehends the idea of prophets in the Bible, just not the use of modern day prophets. Luckily, he is more than willing to read the Book of Mormon. We got him a French copy, and when we invited him to read and pray about it, he said, "Well, I didn't accept it to put it on the shelf..." It's also unfortunate, though, because he works from10 pm Saturday nights to 6 am Sunday morning. That makes 9:30 church pretty rough. Sadly, he wasn't there Sunday. But, we're meeting with him again tomorrow!
Well, I have some board games to play... so I better go.
I love you, but I don't miss you!
Elder Allen

Saturday, September 14, 2013

September 9 Letter

Hello everyone!

Well, another transfer has come and gone, and I will be in North Buffalo for at least another six weeks! Elder Hirschi and I will be staying together, but Elder Barnes is headed off to Brockport. It's pretty funny, actually, because I'd been telling him that is where he'd be going all week, and I really got him into denial about it. We were all laughing hysterically when the phone call for transfers was ended, because I nailed his new area and his new companion. Anyways, I'm really excited about another transfer with Elder Hirschi. I'll be honest, it was hard to serve with Elder Barnes sometimes, because he was very vocal about his priorities being 1) p-day; 2) dinner appointments; 3) our lunch break; 4) "occassional" naps; and 5) internet proselyting. Elder Hirschi, on the other hand, is probably my favorite companion I've had yet. Plus, now we will only have two missionaries in our apartment! Elder Hirschi has been sleeping on the couch for six weeks now, and since we have to be in the same room, that means the couch is crammed in between my bed (on the far side of the room) and Elder Barnes'. Waking up in the middle of the night was an event of miserable acrobatics.
But, as for actual missionary work this week, I suppose I could expound.
First, we started really working with Guy, the man from the Congo I mentioned about four weeks ago. (His name is pronounced with a "Guh" for the G, and an "ee" for the uy.) We had a fairly decent lesson with him, but there was a definite language barrier. His first language is French, and while he has learned a remarkable amount of English in his 16 months in the States... well, he still has some room to go. I think I came up with a dozen synonyms for "difficult" before he understood what I was saying. We started off with a lesson that was much too historical to be of any doctrinal value. All fact, not testimony. But eventually, we had a really cool discussion about how prophets point us to Christ, and help us understand His will. Then, even better, he showed up for church yesterday!! Church is good for everyone, but especially good for Guy, because we actually have a French-speaking Sunday School class. Since there was only a less active member and Guy in the class that day, Brother Atkinson was awesome and just retaught the Restoration to them. Now, Bro. Atkinson is planning on coming to our lesson with Guy on Tuesday! Hopefully that can keep going somewhere!
We obviously also continued working with Kevin. This time we took the Munros, a couple from the ward. It went remarkably well, actually. Brother Munro is known for really liking to talk. Kevin is known for really liking to talk. Somehow, amidst all their bickering with each other, progress was actually being made and the Spirit was somehow present! By the end of it, Kevin really understood the point of the Book of Mormon (I think), and said he knew it was true. He also talked about how he knew his infant Catholic baptism wasn't satisfactory since it wasn't by immersion and he had no real say on if it was happening. Then, at Gospel Principles on Sunday, the lesson was on prophets, and the teacher asked, "What is the role of a prophet?" Kevin answered (probably a little louder than is orthodox in an LDS Sunday School class), "To let the world know the will of the Father!" He is definitely getting a good grasp on some things. However, while he seems to have a testimony of the truthfulness of what we've taught him (from the Book of Mormon to premortal life to the Word of Wisdom), he doesn't lack a testimony of Catholicism. He doesn't really get the idea of authority, or of Paul's statement to the Corinthians, "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." .... well, that and he also believes the mental hospital in New York is a typification of Egypt and the inmates there should be liberated. He has come so far... but yet he definitely has quite a ways to go still haha.
Really, church yesterday was great. Guy and Kevin were both there, as well as Dorris, a less active lady we've been working with for quite some time. We also had a random non member man from our area come, but he was so involved in the class that no one even realized he wasn't LDS until he mentioned he'd never heard of the Restoration while we were discussing power and authority. Suddenly, all 10 of us missionaries were scrambling to figure out which companionship he was here with. Well, he wasn't with any of us, but now we are meeting with him on Tuesday! Also, the other missionaries had some investigators there who are just incredible. Mrs. Greene, from Eggert's area, came for the first time. She's an old black lady who fits every stereotype of a black Baptist. Apparently, when they first met her, she said there was no way she'd ever change, but bit by bit, she's come to love the truth. Now she desperately wants to get baptized, "But I can't join 'til I put down dees cigarettes!" She's been going to ARP and got a blessing from Elder Danielson, though, so she's on the right track!
Buffalo Spanish also had a family come who seem like they come straight from The District. They've never been very religious, but her boss of seven years is LDS. Well, he moved out to Utah a year ago, and they went out to visit him. While there, her boss took the whole family to Temple Square, where they watched the Joseph Smith movie, and then took them to church. Since then, they've came to church every week. Angel, the husband/dad, was talking about how "It doesn't seem like it could be an accident that I'm here. I've never felt this way before." Amy, the wife/mom, was in tears after Sunday School.
The speakers on Sunday were great too! Elder Gordon H. Smith, an Area Seventy/retired U.S. Senator came to visit the ward. I'm a little frustrated, because he actually had a meeting with all the missionaries in the zone before church, but President Francis asked me to represent all 10 of the Buffalo Ward missionaries at ward council. I mean, we accomplished some cool things at ward council.... buuuuut, I wouldn't have minded hearing a politician with a testimony haha. Anyways, Elder Smith spoke in sacrament, immediately following President Francis' own talk. It was great!
Oh! And I found out there is a SigEp chapter at Canisius College, a little Catholic school in my area!!! I've contacted the chapter president and am trying to figure out if I can meet up with them sometime. How sweet would that be!?!
Well, we spent a ton of our day cleaning the apartment and packing up Elder Barnes' stuff.... so I'm going to head out!

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

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

September 2 Letter

You know you've been in the New York Rochester Mission for a long time when you start a weekly letter by writing "Well, this was a pretty bland week, in all honesty," only to then remember that you went to the Sacred Grove and Hill Cumorah as part of that bland week. Haha the things we start to take for granted...

So I guess the site trip was pretty cool, haha. We went with Josh, who is the less-active guy we street contacted a while back. He had come to church for two weeks in a row, and had pretty much decided for himself that going to Palmyra again would be a crucial step in his spiritual growth. It was actually one of my favorite site trips, because we didn't try to do everything. We just went to the Cumorah Visitors Center, watched Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration, and went to the Joseph Smith farm, where we toured the cabin, skipped the frame home, and just spent about an hour walking around in the Sacred Grove. It was pretty neat! We told Josh to look for a place he felt most comfortable within the Grove and just take some time there for himself. Well, he did it, and he said he had a very good experience. Sorry... that was an anticlimatic way of explaining that, but I don't really know how else to do it haha.

The other exciting aspect of this week was yesterday, when Zach was confirmed! But, again... there's really only so much I can say about that haha. 

So, this is turning really quickly into a really pathetic email. See, we finally had a lot of meal appointments this week, which most missionaries view as great. But here's really how meals end up going for us: They can't have dinner at5:00, so we agree on 6:00. Really, they shouldn't have agreed to 6:00, because with work they can't really get things ready until 6:30. We finish eating around 7:00-7:15, and proceed to give a thought. If it goes well, this "thought" turns into a conversation and ends at 7:45. At which point, it is time for us to go to the bus stop and make our way home. This week we had a dinner just about every night, which essentially meant that by 5:15, when we started making our way towards dinner, our night was done aside from an occasional street contact along the way. When you are doing 3 1/2 hours of study each morning, that means our work day is only from about 12:30-5:15. Haha I am definitely appreciative that members are welcoming us over now, but it just definitely makes it tough to visit or meet any investigator who needs to be visited or met after they are done working.

I guess we did have a very cool first lesson with Michael. Michael is quite a miracle find from a few weeks back, when I was out of the area on an exchange. We were all going to meet up at a dinner appointment, and the other group of missionaries decided to tract to fill up the twenty minutes they had before dinner. Well, they tracted all of one door, because Michael answered the door. He used to be a homeless alcoholic, but bit by bit started really getting his life in order, all by relying on God. He was really excited about having us come over and even about coming to church, but this is really the first time we have been able to sit down and talk with him. We talked a lot about his past. We emphasized that in his life and the lives of those around him, people knew what they should do, but found ways they thought would be more effective, and compared that to the numerous apostasies in the Bible. Then we watched the Restoration movie, which went great. Haha, his first statement after it was over was, "Hm, I like that one." He had to leave pretty soon after it was over, but we testified that it was because of that story that we were out here on missions, and we invited him to read the Book of Mormon to gain a witness for himself. He pretty enthusiastically accepted and he actually asked us if we come back to teach people a few times. So, we're looking forward to that! 

Well, we arranged with some rich guy to play at his tennis club (clay courts!) for free this afternoon... so I've gotta book it. Sorry for this being such an insanely short and boring email. I can currently think of maybe one or two stories I haven't shared.... but just be looking at my blog for one of them! 

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