Wednesday, February 26, 2014

February 24 Letter

Good day!

Hahaha so first, I want to share my most recent (as in 30 seconds ago) news! Elder Bednar is going to know my name! Michael just texted me to say that he recently wrote Elder Bednar a letter asking for advice (I don't think too many investigators do that... but what can you do! Haha) and he said I was the missionary teaching him. I'm going to be famous haha!

But, other than that, it has been quite an odd week. I really only spent half a day in my area, and it was spent entirely doing internet work. But, I still have some good things to report, no worries!

So transfer calls came last night! Elder Ryser, not surprisingly, is getting moved up to Fairport (one of the richer areas, where all they do is tract... haha) and I am getting Elder Holt. I'm trying to be open-minded, but I haven't heard the grandest of things about him. Although, the other Elder Allen likes him, so hopefully all goes well! Ha, and after a six week break, I am back to being district leader again. Assuming I stay for the last three transfers of my mission, that will mean 13 out of 17 transfers were as district leader haha. District leader for life!

But, probably the best day of the week was on Thursday. We had a meeting in Warsaw in the morning, so I decided to swing by a couple people there afterwards. Well, all of our appointments in Geneseo cancelled one by one, so we ended up staying in Warsaw for most of the day!

First, we saw Jimmy, who is doing WONDERFULLY. He is such a stud. We stopped by his work and ended up talking at least 45 minutes with him. He told us about when he baptized his girlfriend and her daughter and about how great of an experience that was, especially because then he passed the sacrament for the first time the day after! He's been the missionaries' go-to-guy for having a member accompany them to lessons. He said it perfectly, "I have found that in the Church, when people ask you to do something, you just say yes!" He's doing incredibly! Haha he says that his parents told him that they think he's going to move to Utah soon because all he does is talk about the Church. It was great to talk to him, again!

Then we swung over to Dolly's. She is as witty as ever. Awe, I meant to bring it so I could just write it all out here, but she wrote a poem about monkeys making fun of the theory of evolution because of how absurd it was to them that a species that doesn't take care of themselves or their families to have descended from them. It was hilarious! I'll have to send it some other time. But, she is doing wonderfully. Health-wise, maybe not so much... but she has read the ENTIRE Book of Mormon since I left! She is the sweetest old lady. Haha, Mom and Dad, she made me promise to introduce you to her someday hahaha.

Then we went over to Jenn (Topps Girl!). She has been struggling with life, in general. Tons of crazy stuff has gone down, and over time, she has stopped meeting with missionaries. Not officially dropped them or anything... more just dropped off the face of the world. HOWEVER! She is still awesome. She said the Book of Mormon is sitting up on her fridge and she says she feels guilty every time she walks past it because she knows she needs to start reading it again, then she said she keeps on wanting to go to church just never gets around to it. So, she promised that she would start reading again and get in touch with the missionaries. Ha, I really miss teaching her. She was so much fun with how into studying on her own she was!

Next up was Gila (one of my Jews). She had dropped the missionaries a while back because we celebrate Christmas and don't celebrate Hanukkah.... Haha she had a hard enough time that we didn't celebrate any of the Jewish feasts, but apparently Christmas on December 25was just too much for her haha. But, she still invited us right in and we had a great conversation! Haha she still doesn't want to meet with the missionaries... but what can you do haha. Elder Woodworth (the senior missionary in Warsaw when I was there) and I agree that she was mostly looking for a way out of meeting with us because what we were teaching was coming together too nicely and was too true for her, and it was getting to the point where she either commits or quits.

Then we went to the Boccicchios! I love them!! They are still as great as ever. We ended up actually having dinner with them and playing Chinese Checkers with May. Haha they are such a cool family. I just want them to join the Church so that she can be Relief Society president within a week or two of her baptism and he can be a General Authority the following year. Ha, she practically quoted Doctrine and Covenants to us! She said, "If you go your whole life and touch millions of people, and only one of them comes to the Lord, you've done exactly what you're supposed to do and you'll be plenty happy in heaven." (See Doctrine and Covenants 18:15.) Not too shabby for a Catholic, eh!?

But, really, I got to thinking after that. First, I was happy that they all remembered me. But, second, I realized I really don't have any good relationships built up in Geneseo. Elder Ryser, no doubt, is kind of burnt out of the area. (He has been here for five transfers now.) We really haven't visited any of the members except the three or four who have invited us over for dinner. He is convinced that none of the less actives want to talk to us. Ha to make it better, though, we spent all day Sunday with our Relief Society and Elders Quorum presidents going through the ward list and he kept talking about all these less active members that they used to visit that he hasn't seen for a couple months and all these members that were completely active up until a couple of months ago who we haven't stopped by to check up on. DAH!!! Haha but, now I have my list of people to go see these next few weeks. So it will be nice to be able to start afresh with Elder Holt. I just miss having real friendships and relationships!

Then three of the other days of the week, I was on an exchange with both companions in Nunda (the more rural part of our ward). Nothing too exciting happened there, but it will give me a good break from Geneseo to get a jump start next week.

Then the one day that I was in Geneseo, like I said, I was on the internet most of the day, writing this:

Normally I would have tried to spread writing out over a few days so I don't spend a whole day there. But, Amanda made a deal with me that if I had it written by Sunday she would do everything she could to be at church Sunday! So, since I was going to be on an exchangeSaturday, I had to dedicate a huge chunk of Friday to writing it up. Seems to have had a pretty good response, so you should give it a read!!

Well, I have been writing forever... so I think I'm done. Hard to believe that I only have three more transfers until I come home! Geez. Time to get writing me so I can still be your friend when I'm home! ;)

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

Friday, February 21, 2014

February 17 Letter

Ha, it's been an odd week...

On Tuesday, I started getting a sore throat and a headache. By that night, I was miserable. Sure enough, I had strep throat! That kept me down and inside until most of the way through Thursday. While it makes it so I had significantly fewer groceries to buy today, it also means I have significantly fewer stories to tell today. Combine that with not a lot of good things happening, and this email is probably going to be short haha.

Probably the highlight of the week, though, was Randy finally coming to church! There's really not much else to explain about it, though... but he was there! He's just a really good guy. It is kind of hard to teach him, because he has his whole plan for salvation laid out, but it is a pretty good plan so we don't really alter it much. We just go over, and he asks us questions for two hours about what he read that week (he finished Helaman this week!) and then he explains what he is going to do to live more in line with what God wants and to get his family on board. Haha it's pretty great.

Hmm, well downer of the week is from Shane. He texted us this week to say that he was going to have to postpone meeting with us until the latter half of March, so he could "get [his] life together." He says he still plans on coming to church and reading the Book of Mormon in the meantime, and still has every intention of getting baptized in the end, but he wasn't there yesterday. Over the past few months I have learned a lot about the Light of Christ. It's given to everyone, and through it, the Holy Ghost can testify of truth. But, it certainly doesn't latch onto the Holy Ghost the same way the Gift of the Holy Ghost can. When the Asians went on vacation for three weeks, they went from doing wonderfully to not wanting to meet at all. When Shane goes two weeks without church or a lesson, he goes from pure enthusiasm to wanting to put things off. We certainly weren't going to argue with Shane and run him off completely, but it is aggravating for him to be so on fire with things last week and now, while not completely disinterested, quite unenthused this week. Argh!

Michael is equally frustrating. He is so tied up in the choice being between a church that does a much better job of displaying its message (us, through Mormon Messages, full time missionaries, and General Conference) and a church that has existed for 2,000 years (the Russian Orthodox). He ignores the 8,000 miracles that God has used to answer his prayers and continues to just logic it out, ignoring the bigger picture. He asks, is amazed when he gets an answer, then still keeps thinking about whether he likes our media or Orthodox antiquity more. Again, super frustrating!!

Haha other than that, most of our week was spent going to homes of members who the ward is pretty sure have moved. Lo and behold, most of them have moved! Ha, I think we found two people who did live there. One of them clearly wanted nothing to do with us, the other one had actually moved out and was just moving back in this Saturday. But, there's absolutely no good stories to tell from most of it.

The only one that is a decent story is when we tried to contact one member, she had moved but her aunt lived there. She was a refugee from Liberia, and we ended up having a great lesson with her! She is super nice and loved Alma 7:11-12. She actually had a Book of Mormon on her shelf, and when we showed her that verse, she went and found it, then said she was going to read that chapter when we left! Ha, it might be hard to teach her, though, because she really likes the church she's in, and kind of has the "All churches are true!" attitude. She also thinks that there are all sorts of prophets. So, even though she readily said she believes God came to Joseph Smith, she doesn't seem to think that is too significant haha. But, she said we could come back! So, that's good!

Like I said, not much going on. So, rather than scrambling to find something and instead rambling about nothing, I shall depart! 

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

Thursday, February 13, 2014

February 10 Letter


Well, in comparison to last week's, this letter will be a little blander. Elder Ryser was sickon Thursday, so we didn't go out at all that day. Then we had a meeting on Tuesday that sucked up a ton of time... But, some cool things still happened, so I shall share them.

First and foremost, we were planning on meeting with Shane on Wednesday, but knew ahead of time that it might not go through because everyone in his house had been sick at some point that week. When we asked him Wednesday morning if we were on, here was his text back (the periods are his own, not ellipses) :

"Sorry guys we can't do it this week..let's set up a day for next week. Thanks!..oh and when is the next baptism cause I am totally in!!!"

Haha I don't think I've ever been so happy to read a text that was cancelling an important appointment :)

Unfortunately, because he had to cancel and because he had to run his daughter to the doctor on Sunday since she still wasn't better, the baptism probably won't be for another three or four weeks. But still! Only a day or so earlier he said he'd been praying but wasn't sure if he was getting an answer. (Haha he himself said that it was probably because he was so sick he couldn't think straight.) Based on his text two days later, I think he got it!!

We got iPads this week! It's pretty cool. We've used them a number of times already in lessons to show Mormon Messages. Let's be real, being told not to procrastinate by President Eyring is more powerful than the same thing coming from me haha. There are some definite kinks in the whole deal, especially with the area book and planners which they have put entirely on the iPad. It is much easier to talk to someone on the street just write down their name and number and a follow up appointment than it is to pull your iPad out of your backpack, unlock it, wait for the app to load, get to the planner part, wait for it to load, then create an event where we have to say what type of appointment, who it is with, what time, how long, on and on and on. It's irritating... but hopefully will get better as time goes on. For now, I'll just enjoy watching Joseph Smith Papers videos before bed and showing Mormon Messages during lessons!

Ha we had an interesting lesson with Sharon. We haven't seen her since my first week here, because really we intended on dropping her. She has had the habit, according to her teaching record for the past eight years, of having wonderful lessons being super enthused, then calling the missionaries within the next couple of hours saying they were rude and pushy, and that she never wanted them to come back. Then they would go back, and she would invite them right in and get gung-ho all over again. When the same thing happened my first lesson with her, we decided to just take her word for it this time. Well, last week we had a training where President really emphasized the importance of letting someone know that you are dropping them so they know they can reach out to the missionaries at any time when they are ready to make and keep commitments. Sooo, we decided we should do that for Sharon.

When we got there, she was talking about how she'd had a pretty bad week, so we both felt that we shouldn't just say, "Well Sharon, we're not coming back anymore." Instead, we really had a great lesson. We talked about "Choose you this day who you will serve" from Joshua and "How long halt ye between two opinions?" from 1 Kings. We talked about how life is all about the correct use of agency, and how our job as missionaries is to really provide people agency by offering them a correct choice to make. She admitted that she hadn't been reading the Book of Mormon at all for months, and hadn't been to church in some time (haha and by that what she means is that she's been four times in eleven years... haha). We then explained that we were there for her 100% if she wanted to move forward with this, but that if she didn't want to take the steps that we offered, we really weren't doing anyone much good. She decided it was time for her to really learn for herself. She promised that she would be at church the next day, and decided that she was going to read the Book of Mormon for at least an hour before she started watching TV again. She went as far as to say which parts she was going to read and comment on the fact that she might not be able to read quite that long if her eyes started hurting. She said that she felt good in a way that she hadn't over the past few weeks, "So you boys must be doing something right to make me feel like this, right?" It was great, and we left just about as enthused as she was!

Thennnn, 15 minutes later, we get a call. She said she was nervous the whole time we were there, that she hadn't really had the intention of doing anything she said she was going to, and that we'd "essentially said God doesn't love [her]." What??? It was bizarre... but I guess at least she knows why we aren't coming back anymore? Ha... I dunno. Interesting mission stuff!

But, to share one more happy mission story, even though it'll be pretty short, Michael is getting even closer to baptism! He even said today that he has talked to President Francis and wants me to baptize him! Haha interestingly, he also has a baptismal date at the Russian Orthodox church that he's trying to make a decision about. We've had so many great conversations and he has told me about SO MANY miracles that he has seen pointing him to the Church... I just hope he'll see the signs and react to them!

On a completely different note, I have been pondering over something. I finished up my fifth mission journal this week. While I knew keeping a journal wasn't exactly the most common practice in the world, it is surprising to me how few missionaries really keep one. Elder Barnes writes in his when he gets transferred and at baptisms. Elder Ryser hasn't written in his since he was in Hornell over seven months ago. Anyways, I have kept mine up a little better than that, though I haven't quite kept my goal of writing daily like I'd hoped before my mission.

But, with what I have written, I have learned a ton. There is something markedly relieving about being able to take all these unlinked thoughts in my head and put them out on paper. Granted, journal will have a lot of frustrations and concerns, not to mention it will present my occasional less-than-focused times. Still, it is extremely relaxing to get my thoughts out. It is energizing to look back on daily miracles. It is very spiritual to record random revelations. And, of course, it is quite encouraging to look back and read past entries.

One might say that I have a testimony of journal-keeping.

Now, all of this leads into what I was really thinking. I had heard a lot of people encourage me to write a journal before my mission. Some were moms of missionaries; some were returned missionaries. Thankfully I listened, but I didn't really understand what they were saying until now that I have done it. Let's apply this to all sorts of other commandments. Tithing. Scripture study. Fasting. Temple attendance. Repentance. Any of these and more we hear about all the time. We hear listed off the blessings that come from them. But, we cannot really understand any of them until we have done them ourselves. Pondering over my testimony of journal-keeping has really taught me a ton about testimony in general. We can learn all we want from others, but we really don't learn much until we have put what we have heard to practice.

Haha it's also funny. At Utah State, all the Mormons thought I was in a cult for being in a fraternity. This week, I found out that 20% of the student body here is Greek! Nevertheless, the Greeks think I'm in a cult because I'm Mormon. It's an odd conundrum I find myself in haha.

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

Friday, February 7, 2014

February 3 Letter

Helllllo world!

It's been a thrilling week!

The high school journalist in my is kicking in and I'll just start with the coolest story first.

So, I think I mentioned part of this last week, but about two or three months ago, a man named Shane called Brother Lonsberry from our ward, who does a big talk radio show in Rochester where he is very open about his faith. Well, Shane asked Brother Lonsberry where and when church is, and he's been coming essentially every Sunday since with his mom, Sandy, and his 7-year-old daughter, Hannah. This week, we finally had a real, sit down lesson with him! I haven't had a more classic, "The District"-style lesson in my whole life. We went over to a member's house, ate dinner, then went out into the front room, where we said our second prayer of the night to start off the lesson. We were able to ask questions and get real, good answers. We were able to read scripture and have good, real conversation about them. It was all just so wonderful! As we were talking about the cycles of apostasy and restoration that are found throughout the scriptures, Sandy "interrupted" and said, "Well yeah! We see that same stuff going on today with all the different factions among 'Christianity'!" Haha we had to slow her down a little so we could talk about Jesus' ministry! It was also cool, because at the beginning we asked them to each think about the one thing that matters most to them. After giving them a little bit to think, we asked Brother Steele (whose house we were teaching at) what the biggest blessing of the gospel was to him. He responded that it was probably being able to be with his family forever. We then asked Shane what he was thinking, and he said Hannah. We then asked Sandy, who also said Hannah. It was a pretty cool start to the lesson! Long story short(ish... this is already a pretty long paragraph I guess), they both committed to being baptized on the 15th! Sandy didn't even want to pray about it, she was so gung-ho, be we decided she should anyways haha. Regardless, they're legit!

Then the other highlight of the week! About four or five months ago, the sisters in Buffalo Ward were teaching a guy named Michael. He was doing INCREDIBLE. He had downloaded every LDS app onto his iPhone before he even met the missionaries. I think he'd came to church on his own three or four times before any missionary finally met him, as well. He was set for baptism, and everything was just wonderful! Annnnd then he came across an anti-Mormon website and everything crumbled from there. The sisters had me start emailing him, because I'm the weird guy who likes to study those things just to find holes in the argument (something I've stopped doing as much... but I still have my knowledge bank pretty full). Well, eventually he stopped meeting with missionaries or emailing us altogether and decided he was going to join an Orthodox Church.

About a month ago, though, I received another email from him! He said he'd been thinking a lot about the church lately, and was wondering if I could forward him some of our old conversations. He started asking more questions. Mostly they were based on anti-Mormon garbage, but slowly they started transitioning to real questions about doctrines. Soon he was asking questions like "if I were to get baptized..." or "If I were to start only attending the Mormon church..." One time quite recently, he excitedly emailed me that he had found an answer on his own by looking at some better websites! 

Anyways, last week, I found out he went to church again! Then we had a lot of conversations that were MUCH more faith-promoting instead of simply doubt-destroying. (I love a quote that Neal A Maxwell once used by Austin Farrar: "Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows that ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.") One day, for instance, he sent me an email that first talked about how he was using Mormon Messages for his son's bedtime stories! Then, he said:

"Your faith shows me a Christ-centered,  positive, uplifting message and you got it right in less than 1/10th the existence as the orthodox. Like I told others: I heard the name Jesus Christ spoken of more times at a one hour Mormon sacrament meeting than I did at a whole month of catholic high school. Not kidding."

I figured that was a good sign. But it gets better. He started to ask A LOT of "If I were to get baptized..." questions. He went to church again yesterday. Well, now he is calling President Francis this week to see if I could attend his baptism whenever it happens! Haha it is quite the transition over the course of primarily internet-teaching! I have only met him in person once and it was mostly in passing. The sisters haven't met or heard from him in months. Internet proselyting at its best!

Well, after those two stories, anything I could add would be pretty boring. We met a lot of cool less active people this week, especially one named Debbie. She is the most Christian lady ever, I swear! She was baptized a while back, but said she never really had a testimony of the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith. Normally, I think that's a cop-out, but for her, I think I believe her. She said that she went ahead with baptism, trusting that God would reveal it to her whenever she was ready for it, but I guess she joined another church before that came. Granted, it doesn't seem like she had read much of it. Anyways, she is awesome. She knows sooo much about the Old Testament, which makes the setting for the Book of Mormon much more logical. She read the first 15 chapters of 1 Nephi over the past three weeks (In between our visits... not sure why we waited so long. This was my first time seeing her.), so hopefully she'll keep it up and keep going. She has some incredible stories, for sure!

Hahahaha oh, and saying Debbie reminded me of another Debbie! Haha she was a referral from a different less active lady who was actually Debbie's mom. Anyways, we finally went to go contact the referral, and this lady in her 40s answered, but turned around and said to someone "I'll let you handle this one." Within a few seconds, a kinda gruff looking man in his 40s came to the door, and pretty quickly explained that they were busy and weren't interested. As he was shutting the door, I asked him if that woman had been Debbie. I wanted to 1) make sure we were actually at the right place and 2) make sure he realized we weren't just tracting and actually meant to be there... normally that's a good thing. Hahaha well this time, it wasn't. His eyes got all big, and he came outside, slamming the door behind him. "EXCUSE ME?!" he said, pointing his finger in my face, "WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE ASKING ABOUT A MAN'S WIFE LIKE THAT!? GET OFF MY PORCH!" Highly confused, we got off his porch. I hurriedly tried to explain that her mom had sent us over, which at least slightly calmed him down. "You're lucky you said that, man! I don't even _________ know you guys! You don't go asking random guys about their wife! Someone less reserved than me (HAHAHAHAHA!!!) would have thrown you off their porch!" Hahahaha me and Elder Ryser were trying so hard not to laugh the entire time. Anyways... sometimes maybe referrals aren't as great as we make them out to be ;)

Well, I looove you! But I don't miss ya!
Elder Allen