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

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