Wednesday, December 25, 2013

December 23 Letter

Merry Christmas everyone!!! 

This week is going to be crazy! Tomorrow we are having a mission-wide Christmas part, the Christmas will be packed, then Saturday we have a wedding all day! I'll get back to the wedding part, but really, it's going to be a hectic week.

But, for last week first. We finally got to teach the Asians again! It was great, and now I miss them again! Haha Andrea had been in Florida for a week, and it's funny because she ended up spending her entire vacation writing one last essay, and finished the day before the end of the trip. Then Jerry finally finished finals. Now they are in California. But they are so great!! Jerry was talking to us about one of his classes, fluid mechanics. The first test they had, he got a 43% and was determined to drop the class, but couldn't because it would ruin his student visa. So, he powered through with it, all the while constantly praying for help. Well, he ended up with an A- in the class and a 97% on the final! When we congratulated him on it, he simply said, "I guess God blessed me there." Haha again, I really wish I could type in broken Asian/English so you could get the full emotion. But it was great. We then talked about Christmas and the importance of Jesus' birth and had a wonderful conversation about Him. As we left, they couldn't decide whose turn it was to say the prayer, so we just had both of them say it! Jerry was great like always, but this was by far the most intimate prayer I have ever heard from Andrea! It was soooo wonderful!!

Then Stephen is of course great! We went over and taught him once, plus we went over for his daughter's birthday party. Also, his home teachers visited for the first time! He had mentioned at the birthday party that he had had an interesting talk with his wife and felt she was steadily getting more and more open to the Church. But Sunday opened up something great! 

So really, Sunday was Mary's birthday, but as of Friday at the party, Stephen was certainly planning on having the whole family (minus the mom most likely) at church. But Sunday came and no McCloskeys! I was pretty peeved, especially when people started asking where he was in a "Ohhh here we go again! Another inactive!" kind of voice. But more and more, we kept hearing of different families whose basements flooded. We soon realized that almost all of them were in OUR area! So, after church we went home and grabbed some grubby clothes and headed over to Stephen's, in a way hoping that his basement needed cleaning. But, no one was home. So, we carried on our day, and stopped back over after dinner. His wife answered and invited us in, and Stephen came up a little while later clearly in working clothes and boots. We told him we brought clothes to help out with, and went away cleaning the basement for the next two hours! Keep in mind, flooded basements here aren't just water filling up in the window sill. It's the whole drainage/sewage runs together and when there's too much water, it causes backflow in toilets and showers and bathtubs. Sewage. Backflow. Blech.

Anyways, as we were talking to Stephen, his whole perspective on it was great. He was so optimistic and had found all these reasons why really it was a good thing that black water was all over his basement. But the really cool part is stuff we didn't even notice! When Amy had gone to tell him we were here, she angrily asked if he had invited us, assuming we were there to sit and talk for an hour or so. He told her that he had invited us and that we were here to help. "Oh... well, that is nice of them!" Amy answered, slightly taken aback. Now, when he told us this, we got confused. He hadn't invited us? Welllll apparently he had shot us a Facebook message asking for a hand. We hadn't even seen it, but were there anyways! That touched him, and he really excitedly went to tell his wife! In (very) slow and (kind of) steady steps I think we are making progress with her!

I'm teaching a man not only from India, but in India!! So I make a habit of posting links to my blog on a whole slew of groups (Mormon and Christian and random religious groups) on Facebook. It's always interesting to follow the comments and what not and every now and then someone adds me as their friend as a result of it. Well, that happened this time around. A lady named Vicky added me, and we started talking a little bit. As we got going, she asked me about a friend of hers who lives in Northern India, where the Church isn't established. He wanted to learn more about Mormonism, but wasn't sure how. I told her to suggest us as each other's friends. Well, now I have been scheduling appointments to teach him online! He is a stud, and is sooo eager to learn! This weekend, he is going to watch "Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration" online and we are going to talk about it on Thursday! I'm so excited!

Well, that's the bulk of the cool stuff from last week. Like I said earlier, Guo Jian is getting married on Saturday! Haha we have been wedding planners for that for the past three weeks, and he has asked me to be the announcer for the reception and Elder Christensen to be the DJ. Haha normally we don't even listen to the music he wants Elder Christensen to be in charge of... but we figured we'd budge a little haha.

Anyways, with Christmas and all, I thought I'd share one of my absolute favorite Christmas stories from the scriptures that we usually overlook as Christmas at all.

In 1 Nephi 11, Nephi is trying to understand his dad's dream about the Tree of Life and the Iron Rod and all of that. An angel comes to him and asks, "What desirest thou?" to which Nephi replies that he wants to know the interpretation of the tree specifically. Rather than just answering the question, the angel says, "Look!" It reads from there:

"And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white."

The angel asks him a number of other questions, but eventually explains:

"Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh. And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms."

The angel then poses Nephi's own question right back to him, asking if he now understands the meaning of the tree.

What did Nephi see? Essentially the Nativity scene. He sees Mary holding her Child. Keep in mind the circumstances of Jesus' birth. They were in a stable. We can make some real cute looking Nativities, but really, there is poop EVERYWHERE in stables. There are flies everywhere. It's not that great. We can learn that Mary and Joseph were quite poor, because when they do their sacrifice at Jesus' circumcision, they sacrifice two turtle doves instead of a lamb, a clear sign of their poverty. But what did Nephi get out of this scene?

Despite all of this, Nephi responded, "Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things." To this description, the angel added, "Yea, and the most joyous to the soul."

Something about that first Christmas displayed the love of God to Nephi greater than he had likely ever seen it before. It was the most desirable thing to him. He looked past all the clearly undesirable aspects and looked straight to the love of God. That is what Christmas is about! And, if we can focus on that, it really is the most joyous to the soul!

Merry Christmas, everyone! I love you all, but I'm so happy to be serving out here on a day that emulates God's love so much, that I really can't quite say I miss you!

Elder Allen

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

December 16 Letter

I thought I would start this on a happy note! This is a Christmas card that I found at Wal Mart today that I thought was hilarious... but I didn't really know who to send it to. So I found a picture of it online and just sent it to all of you!

Haha, anyways, this week is quite the downer in comparison to last week... Haha Stephen is confirmed and doing well, though, so that's great! But aside from that, we really don't have a ton of work going on. Everyone here is students. So we couldn't meet last week because of finals. We couldn't meet the week before that because people were studying for finals. And now we can't meet the next three weeks because people are home for Christmas! Yayyy!!

So, the logical alternative? Tracting in a 12 degree windy snowstorm!! YES!!! You know, you would think people would be compassionate on us during such weather... Actaully, they were!!! We would knock, they'd come to the door, look stunned, and say, "What the heck are you guys doing out in weather like this!?" "Well, we're missionaries! What better time to share a message about Jesus Christ than right around Christmas, right?" "Well, I sure admire your dedication to be outside right now..." And only then would they shut the door :) Isn't that sweet of them?? Haha I have found that people are much more willing to have a casual conversation outside their door when simply opening the door doesn't instantaneously drop the temperature of the far corner of the house 50 degrees... 

I've decided there was a reason Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Yeah, there's all the City of David prophecies and the whole Israel-is-the-promised-land stuff. But even more than that, it is warm there! If Christ had had only a three year ministry in Buffalo, there wouldn't have been a lady laying in the road with an issue of blood, the Pool at Bethsaida would have been frozen over, everyone could have been walking on the water since it was solid, and he would have to amputate his frozen toes because of His sandals! Good thing Bethlehem/Nazareth/Judea/All over that way was warm!!

However, we did meet some kind of promising people when we weren't tracting. One day it started snowing at night, and probably had snowed 7 or 8 inches by morning. So, at 7 in the morning, we just went down the street perpendicular to our apartment (phew! good thing I still remember my good mathy terms!) and shoveled all the sidewalks and driveways there. We didn't really meet anyone too promising doing that, but there is a lady we have met with a few times on that street, and her boyfriend came out while we were halfway done with his driveway. He finished it up with us and we were able to have a pretty good conversation about the logistics of missionary work which I think opened him up to our coming over a lot.

The night before, we just went on a walk since it was 8:15 and we had nothing to do and tracting at 8:15 infuriates people. While we were walking, we ran into a 70-something-year-old lady out shoveling the sidewalk. We hurried over and helped her out. Really, I shoveled while Elder Christensen talked with her. In the end, we were able to set up an appointment to come watch Mr. Kruger's Christmas with her! Haha not exactly ground breaking progress, but it's something!

Hahaha oh, and I've become a wedding planner! Guo Jian is getting married on the 28th, and last week decided he should start getting things together for it. Well... apparently the missionaries are his go-to sources for help! Luckily Elder Christensen knows something about weddings. Pretty much I knew that he needed cake and should talk to the Relief Society for more help. Haha but yeah, that was two of our nights. Planning weddings haha. He asked me to be the announcer for the wedding... whatever that means. It makes me sound important, though, so I'm down.

Man... I am trying to think if we did anything more productive than freeze and plan a wedding... but not much is coming to mind! 

I guess last night was kind of cool. We just got a new warm mission leader, and so he asked me (since I'm district leader) to come over to his house and sort through some papers and ideas that he has. Well, we're getting some sweet stuff rolling! Probably the most exciting in my mind is his vision for what ward missionaries will do. Lately, their job has pretty much been to be our go-to source for members to come to lessons with us. Wellll, not anymore! Now he wants them to be going to lessons without us! He says especially with less active members and investigators who have been investigating for a long time, there is no reason we need a full time missionary there every time. So he's going to start assigning them someone to visit every couple weeks. I'm excited to see how that plays out!

It's cool to see Stephen at church. Already he's one of the most involved participants in Elders Quorum, which really doesn't surprise me since from day one he's had almost all the same beliefs as us. I'm really hoping that over Christmas break that we can start teaching his sons so he can baptize them in the next few weeks. That would be way cool!

Wellll I am sorry that this is such a lame email. But that's about all I got for you!

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

P.S..... Sorry Mom... all the rest are still wrapped, I promise... but I got excited

Thursday, December 12, 2013

December 9 Letter

Hello everyone!!

Sorry I'm a day late. About 6:18 Monday morning, my p-day really, really tanked. (Luckily it only woke me up 12 minutes early.) The whole ward has been sick... so it was only a matter of time until it got passed on to the missionaries. So I was in the bathroom all day yesterday, and now Elder Semadeni has been sick all last night! It's too bad, though! Last year I managed to avoid sickness despite teaching people with the flu, strep throat, and even TB! But alas... this year I wasn't so lucky.

Anyways, what a week it has been! I guess the easiest explanation would just be a picture!

Stephen got baptized Sunday!! Like I said last week, I expected we would be postponing it. It's been a while since he was able to make it to church, and although he had very legitimate reasons for not making it, I expected he would push it back a week or two at least. But, we went over there on Tuesday and asked him about it, and he said that he had actually been planning on it, but after praying about it, he felt that he needed to follow through with it this week. Oooookay then! Not going to argue with an answer like that! So, we went ahead with it all!

It was great, because a lot of times (pretty much every one of my baptisms, actually...) the person getting baptized really doesn't care much about who is on the program. But Stephen was quite different! He made a list of everyone who played an important role in "his journey" as he kept calling it, and then ranked them in order. He then had me rank which parts of the program were the most important, so he could match them up. Haha it ended up being a really cool program!

First, Guo Jian gave a talk on baptism. I don't know how much I have said about Guo Jian in the past, but he is a convert of about seven months who is here doing his post-doc work from mainland China. He is probably the best member missionary I've ever met, and is the one who introduced us to Jerry and Andrea a while back. When we called him to ask if he would give the talk, he kind of awkwardly suggested, "How about I say a prayer." Haha, but after a little talking, he agreed to giving a talk, and he rocked it! He got up and started talking about when he met missionaries the first time. He was in NYC in Chinatown, and a missionary walked up to him and said, in perfect Chinese, "Do you know Jesus Christ?" which Guo Jian said he knew a little. The missionary then asked, "Do you know the Book of Mormon?" Guo Jian said he had been going through a hard time then, being away from home and all, and having someone so happy come up to him speaking Chinese so invitingly really enticed him. He went on to explain what it was like to meet with the missionaries. We were all kind of wondering if he was going to talk about baptism at all, or just kind of ramble on for a while, but he all of the sudden pulled the smoothest transition by saying all of that only lead him up to "the divine gate which leads to the divine path." He then quoted the scripture (I don't remember which of the Gospels he used) about how only those who lose their life will find it. Essentially the point he got to was that everything leading up to his baptism was great, but it was at his baptism that everything changed and he had fully dedicated himself to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I kept glancing back, and I'm pretty sure everyone in the room was smiling from ear to ear.

Then Brother Finley gave a talk on the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which was really good. He has been really helpful in teaching Stephen, because they are very similar in their understanding of religion. But, even cooler than his talk, he is working on his masters degree in music education, and is ridiculously good on his violin. So, on Saturday he just up and compiled an awesome medley of hymns. It was very cool!

Then of course we had the baptism. Haha we found out the hard way that if you turn the hot water on all of the way, the water goes too fast for the water heater to heat it... so Stephen was baptized in 60 degree water. Ha it worked out just dandy, though. What was really funny was he was going to bear his testimony after his baptism. When we asked him to do that, we meant after we were changed and all, but I guess he didn't understand that. So he sat in the water trying to get his bearings after being dunked backwards in cold water. Finally I was able to explain that we could change first haha. 

But, his testimony was great! He talked all about us knocking on his door and how as he was explaining his beliefs, we essentially told him that he was right about all of it and that that was exactly what we teach. He went on to talk about how much he loves the Book of Mormon and how in a lot of ways he has felt a lot like Joseph Smith where he has gone from religion to religion to religion, and nothing quite seemed to line up. 

It was also great, because while we were changing, Hayden, one of his two twin boys who are eight came in, asking why he did that. "Because I'm supposed to!" said Stephen. "And you are too!" I then pointed out in a few weeks, Stephen could be the one baptizing them. Stephen then pointed out to Hayden, "And we need to get your mom here!" Hopefully we can get that all rolling here pretty soon! That would be sweet!

Well, after that... I don't know if there's much I could say that would be very interesting. Haha I guess I'll say on Sunday we went to help Andrea with her research paper. She is really good with English (she is getting her masters degree in teaching English as a second language) but really struggles taking what she has read in English, processing it in her head, putting her analysis on paper in English, AND typing it. So we had her hand write it all, then we went and typed it for her. I miss being in a school library the week before finals! It was kind of refreshing!! 

Our next few weeks are going to be really weird, though. More than half of the people we are working with, whether they are members or not, are students, and a huge chunk of them are going home for Chirstmas break. So our next little while is going to be really weird haha. 

Well, since I have my camera today, I'll send some older pictures as well. 

The first one is all of us at Palmyra. It goes: Jerry, Andrea, Sister Su, me, Elder Holmes, then Guo Jian. Hahaha Jerry and Andrea aren't nearly so stern as they look in every single picture I've taken with them haha.

The second is the Sacred Grove, Winter style.

The third is Elder Holmes and me frolicking in the Joseph Smith Farm.

The fourth is me being a griffin.

The next handful are from a pday trip to Niagara Falls about a month or so ago. I don't remember if I ever sent pictures of it, so if I have, forgive me!

Well, I love you, but I don't miss you! Elder Allen says he loves you too! (There's another Elder Allen who I am on exchanges with right now. We don't think we're really related... but it's possible.)

Elder Allen

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

December 2 Letter

Well, I have officially been out of Freedom as long as I was in Freedom! Kind of odd to think about. But, I'm here for another transfer. Elder Holmes is flying out in about two hours, and Elder Christensen is coming tomorrow morning! Should be good.
Well, it was a pretty good week! We ended up making it to Palmyra with the Asians, which was great. Haha I wish I had more to report there, but Sister Su did all of it in Chinese and never asked us questions, so I couldn't tell you what was talked about hahaha. I took some good pictures... and left my camera at home, so I'll try to remember to send those next week. Like I said, I don't know quite what all went down, but from my best judgements it wasn't quite the spiritual bang that we were hoping for, but I think it did a lot of good for them to see it in person and make what we have been talking about less abstract. Also, based on their exchange with Sister Su (again, that I have zero clue what was being said) I think they were able to get a lot of questions answered that our English wasn't quite cutting it for. So, all in all, still a great experience!

Now I'm a little nervous, though. Next week is their finals week, and they a quite literally planning on studying 24/7 for the next two weeks. Then Andrea goes to Florida for a week. Then they both go to San Francisco for two weeks... So, I'm begging them to let us meet once or twice in the next couple weeks, but I'm nervous we may not hardly see them for over a month :/
Thanksgiving was great, though. Stephen's inlaws were really cool, and they actually rent out one of their apartments to missionaries up in Alaska! Elder Holmes and I were talking about the small implications of those type of things, and how often they happen. Where a thousand little "coincidences" compile on top of each other. I mean, do I think his father-in-law is going to join the church next week because he not only rents to missionaries, but eats Thanksgiving with them? Probably not. But it could open cool opportunities in the future. Even more, I wonder the implications with Stephen. If nothing else, his inlaws have a good relationship with the Church because they know that missionaries are good tenets. Who knows what kind of contention that might have minimized between a protestant father-in-law and a soon-to-be LDS son-in-law! Small and simple things, eh?
We also had a really cool experience that is slowly developing! A week ago, we had nothing to do, it was 8:15, really cold, really dark, no one likes being tracted into at night (at all, really.. but especially at night), so we had not clue what to do. Sooo we just wandered aimlessly. Well, there were a few people outside their houses, but they were few and far between. Eventually, though, a dog came running up to us! (Dogs are straight from heaven, I promise that much.) We started talking to the owner of said dog, who mentioned after a little while that she talked to some missionaries on the bus, once. One of them, she remembered, was on crutches. Well, that didn't take us long to realize that the missionaries she talked to were Elder Hirschi and me! We talk a little more with her and ask if we could come back sometime. She says yes, and conveniently 8:00 in the evening is the perfect time for her. (She lives half a block from our apartment... you don't get better than an 8:00appointment that close to your house.)
So, this week, we went back. Well! In between our meeting her and her dog outside and the day we go over, her boyfriend has moved out and she's really trying to find something concrete to lean on. She ends up bringing up faith and religion. We didn't have to have some weird awkward transition or anything. We ended up talking about the importance of faith, how we develop faith, what faith allows, all sorts of stuff. Then we transitioned into the Plan of Salvation and the Restoration which naturally lead to the Book of Mormon. We gave her Alma 32 to read and pray about, promising her that she could know of its truthfulness herself, to which she replied "I hope that it is true..." How cool is that?!?
Well... I don't have much more to say this time around. But hey, you should all go read my latest blog post! I like this one quite a bit!
"I feel like our lives are often like a starry night. There are so many stars, it is almost impossible to differentiate one star from the next, let alone notice any new ones. Whether those stars are random distractions, genuine good uses of time, or even full-on gospel activities, it really doesn't make a difference. Less remarkable to me than the fact that the Wise Men followed the star is that they noticed the star. Let's be real, who in their right mind wouldn't go meet the infant Savior if they knew where He lay? Even Herod sought Him out. ... The problem is that I let all my other stars occupy all of my time that I never notice the new star that is trying to point me to Christ."

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

November 25 Letter

Before I have any Spirit to ruin, I want to share a really funny story from a J. Golden Kimball talk we were listening to. He was talking about his first mission in the Southern States, where he overheard a group of men talking. "I need to move north to get away from these Mormons," one said. "I'm thinking of heading further east to get away from the Mormons," another said. Each person had somewhere they were going to flee the Mormons. Eventually, Golden couldn't keep it in anymore, and just yelled, "Why don't you go to Hell!? You won't find any Mormons there!"

Well, on that note, now Jerry has a baptismal date too!! Woo-hoo! It's not untilJanuary 12, but still. I'm stoked. We taught them the Doctrine of Christ (pretty much what is taught in 2 Nephi 31, which they read last week), and really went into faith and repentance, and how repentance is really the way we align our will with God's and slowly refine ourselves. It was, as always, a very fun conversation. Then, at the end, we just asked them when they felt they might be ready for baptism and asked them to set a goal. Jerry said he thinks he could be ready after Christmas break. Andrea was, as usual, more hesitant. But even she agreed to specifically pray about that in the Sacred Grove this weekend! Haha in fact, when we asked her to do that, she said, "I will be praying about a lot of things in the grove." Ha, that probably isn't as cool to just read... but it was really cool the way she said it. It's hard to fully show their personalities over emails.

Stephen is also doing really well. We went over and talked to him about the Word of Wisdom. It went really well, and he didn't just accept it, but really, really liked it. Haha the only issue came up because we read through Doctrine and Covenants 89 with him.... and I never realized before that it says barley is for mild drinks. We quickly realized that that was not referring to barley water. Haha he is probably the only person we could have read that with that would have picked out a phrase like that, but he sure as heck did! Haha I think we talked it over well enough with him to explain the whole "line upon line" idea... but we'll see. Unfortunately he didn't come to church yesterday because he got a sinus infection. But we're going over this evening and he invited us over for Thanksgiving! 

Haha Thanksgiving is actually becoming a bit of a drama fest. The ward mission leader made a lightly-enforced rule about a month ago that we should only go to dinner appointments in our respective areas, or at the bare minimum that we don't have all four companionships at the same dinner appointment. Well, despite that, one lady in the ward signed up for all four of us. To make it better, she is literally an hour and a half travel for us each way. So, since we have two other dinners scheduled with investigators that we are actually working with, we ended up cancelling on her... Haha that didn't go over well...... She is pretty upset, because "They aren't even members! And what if they don't even get baptized?" Haha, I don't feel bad at all about our choice, seeing that she'll still have four missionaries over there most of the day... but like I said, drama fest.

Well, this will be my last week with Elder Holmes. He has his visa, and is shipping off to Brazil next Monday! That is the transfer day, anyways, so I should have at least 6 more weeks here in Buffalo, which is great because that will have both Stephen and Jerry's baptism in it, and hopefully Andrea's! 

I feel really pathetic with this email... but this was a pretty pathetic week. Haha we seriously only taught six lessons to investigators, which I believe is my lowest of my whole mission. It is definitely harder when it is pitch-black outside by 4:30, not to mention less than 30 degrees and windy at the warmest part of the day. Haha I miss having a car.... But, all is well in Zion, I suppose! This week should be fantasitc between the appointments we have, and of course our Palmyra trip with the Asians on Saturday! I don't know if I told this already (I might have said it like thirty times by now... so forgive me) but Sister Su, a missionary here from Taiwan, is going to go to all of the sites and give the tours in Mandarin, so we're super excited for it!! It's going to be wonderful!

Also, for anyone else interested, I did the math yesterday and if you read just about 6 pages a day, starting today, you can finish all four Gospels by Christmas :)

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