Thursday, March 27, 2014

March 24 Letter

Hello :)

Haha this week I broke my record for most lessons to less actives or
recent converts: 19!! Plus we had a lesson with a less-active
part-member family. It keeps us very busy, but it's definitely not my
favorite work to do. I just feel like I'm babying them and nagging
them usually. It's like, "No, no, noooo... Don't do that..." Haha but
at least we have something, I guess.

Actually, I do have a few stories to share about some of this less
active work. One is some of the most intense less active lessons I've
ever had, and the other is about the easiest less active "lesson" I've
ever had haha.

First, the in depth one. We met with Debbie Ansuini this week again.
She was the one who got baptized years ago, but without any testimony
of the Book of Mormon or of Joseph Smith's calling. Last time we were
there, she'd read a decent chunk of 1 Nephi, but got held up on here
things: 1) The Elizabethan language by a 19th century farmboy. 2) The
references to branches, vines, and grafting, which she thought were
very New Testament style for a book written in the 600s BC. 3) She
didn't think writing on metal plates seemed very reasonable since most
writings that we've found are on papyrus and such. So, over the past
few weeks, I've been doing my research. I was able to explain the
language easily on my own, then found about 20 Old Testament
references to vines and branches, and found all sorts of sources
talking about writing on metal plates both in the Middle East and in
Mesoamerica. But then I transitioned by saying this kind of factual
stuff can only provide a foundation to build faith upon - and what
really matters, the concrete and rebar foundation, or the majestic
building on top of it? We then talked about what the Book of Mormon
really offers us if it were true. I talked about how we have two eyes
which really see completely different things. If I close one eye, the
peripherals on that side are gone, totally invisible. But, even more
important is the depth it gives to the things right in the center of
our vision - the things both eyes see. The Book of Mormon talks about
things the Bible doesn't (a family sailing to America from Jerusalem,
a visit of Christ to that same people, the histories of a son of
Zedekiah, writings of Jewish prophets like Zenos, etc), and the Bible
talks about things that the Book of Mormon doesn't (the creation
story, and Abrahamic covenant, the apostolic ministry, etc). But, in
the end, this is all peripherals. What is really important is the way
the two together give us an understanding of the depth of what is
right in front of us: Jesus and His gospel. Just like one eye ruins
your depth perception, one book can ruin your ability to tell where
certain principles are in relation to others. One eye makes a very
flat picture; one book makes a one-dimensional picture of the Christ.
Overall, it went pretty well and I think she received it pretty well,
also :)

The lazier story is with Sister Schumaker. She was marked on our ward
list as "HBH" which means home but hiding. That means exactly what it
sounds like; we can tell they are home and just clearly are avoiding
us. But, we had nothing else to do about four weeks back, so we
knocked on her door. No answer. We left our card and planned on
stopping by another week. Well, the next morning, she called us! (For
any non-missionaries or missionaries who served in South America, that
NEVER happens.) We set up an appointment for the following week. That
fell through. But then that Sunday she came up and introduced herself
to us at church! First time she'd been in years! The following week
was stake conference, which I don't think she attended,  but she was
there the following week. Then, yesterday, she AND her less-active
adult son were there! Haha we still haven't ever actually taught her a
thing... but it worked somehow!

Internet work has taken a funny new swing, too. So far, I've had more
success than most on Facebook, largely by just getting really involved
in random Facebook groups by commenting on posts, posting my blog, and
so on. It's opened a lot of cool doors. Well, a new door has been
opened! I have two members who do a lot on Facebook, one as somewhat
of an apologist and the other running a lot of the YSA stuff in
England. They now send me referrals for people online whenever they
can, so this week I received about eight referrals between the two of
them! It's been pretty cool.

Hmm... Other cool stories... I dunno. We're still struggling to get in
contact with any of our investigators. I've never had a teaching pool
with so many people with such real promise... yet I've never gone so
long without meeting with so many people. It's really aggravating.
This whole transfer, we haven't hardly seen any of our usuals.

Hahahaha we did see Vinnie yesterday, though! Somehow we integrated
the restoration and baptism into post-apocalyptic conspiracy theories,
and had the most spiritual lesson with him I've had yet. Haha
apparently in the six-nine months missionaries have visited him, they
never taught about Joseph Smith or taught what the Book of Mormon
actually was. We were able to do that, and now he's pumped up to read
it! He's moving in the next few months, but yesterday he casually
asked us, "Are there any missionaries down in Jersey you could get
ahold of and let know there is a guy coming down there who wants to
join the church?" Haha I would be more stoked about it if it wasn't
Vinnie and his weird way of thinking haha but it was still a HUGE

Oh, I got to share my talk at zone conference! Haha second zone
conference in a row of that happening. Haha I was talking to Amy
Vrooman from Warsaw the other day, who said when she asked the elders
there if anything exciting had been going on for them, the only thing
they could come up with was my talk hahaha. Apparently people liked
the added touch of me quoting the Apocrypha :)

And, my Huntsman Scholars application. A handful of you have asked
about that. Well, I got through the first round, based on my
application, so this past Wednesday I had a video interview that I did
at a member's house. It wasn't really skype where I was interacting
with anyone, but instead I just read off four questions that it gave
me, and it recorded me answering them. It was pretty awkward hahaha.
But, I feel I did fairly good. It asked me weird things for a
missionary, though! It asked about my biggest intellectual challenge
in the past year, it asked about what business I would start up if
funds weren't an issue, and all sorts of stuff I haven't had to deal
with for 21 months!

Well... I've probably rambled enough. Plus, I gotta go run. I am fat.

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

Thursday, March 20, 2014

March 17 Letter

Shalom, shalom! Shalom aleichem

Well... To be honest this week was rough, we have some very solid
investigators and a handful of less active members who are actually
interested in sitting down with us and learning. Buuuut, we didn't
meet with any of them this week. Debbie cancelled. We had to cancel on
Jenn because of a crazy blizzard. Randy's work is picking up and he
isn't answering his phone. Shane doesn't answer his phone. Cassandra
was sleeping all afternoon and didn't want to meet in the evening on
Sunday. Crap, it's irritating! We don't want to go finding tons of new
people to teach with all these solid people because then we are
overloaded, but when this happens we instead have nothing to do. It's

But, so that this whole letter doesn't turn into a mean-spirited rant,
let me tell you about a few cool things that did happen haha.

First, one cool story took place when we were trying to figure out
something to do in the 30-40 minutes before a dinner appointment. A
month or so ago, we'd tracted nearby where we were and left a girl a
Book of Mormon, so I figured we'd swing by there and see if she'd had
a chance to read from it. We parked and were walking that direction,
when we passed a lady shoveling her car out of the snow. (Seriously,
on Tuesday it was 55 degrees and wonderful; on Wednesday it was 10 and
we wound up with nearly a foot of snow. To make it worse, the plow had
pushed all the snow from the road against her van.) We at first asked
if she had any more shovels that we could help her with, and when she
said she didn't I told her that I guess I would just have to use hers.
After a little convincing, she finally gave in. As I shoveled, we
talked. Pretty much out of nowhere, she said, "I used to have a
'Mormon Bible.'" She went on to explain that she used to live in
Macedon (just 3-4 miles out of Palmyra) and went to the Hill Cumorah
and Pageant multiple times. She attends a baptist church somewhere
around, and has since lost the Book of Mormon, but she - again,
essentially out of nowhere - said, "I live in apartment one right
here, if you ever wanted to stop by." Haha that doesn't happen too
much to us missionaries.

We also had dinner with Dan, the pastor who is friends with our ward
mission leader. He went all out! Full on turkey dinner. Ha it was
great! Now we're going back over there tomorrow morning to clean out
his garage. We don't really know what that is going to entail... but
hopefully it turns out all right.

Speaking of meals. I have gotten fed more this transfer than my entire
mission. Here I am trying to be almost-normal-weight again before I go
home... and so everyone starts shoveling in food. A member made us
Cafe Rio burritos, we've had huge roast beef dinners, pizza beyond
belief, it's just nuts. This week for the first time of my mission
with the exception of the week surrounding Christmas, we have a meal
five days in a row, and that isn't taking into account that we had a
meal the past two days. So seven days straight, I'm going to be so fat
by the end of this.

Ha, this week, again speaking of food, we celebrated the second
birthday of the quadruplets that I've told you about. Haha Sister
Larsen decided that she wants them all to feel special, so she made
each of them their own cake. SO MUCH CAKE. Ha but it was a pretty cool
situation to be in, because they had their whole family there. That
includes a member of the stake presidency, two stake high councilors,
at least two part member families, and a whole bunch of less active
members. Unfortunately, we probably didn't capitalize on it nearly as
much as we could have/should have. Haha my companion is pretty awkward
around anyone he doesn't know, let alone 30 people he doesn't know, so
he was pretty anxious to leave the second our hour of dinner time was
over. But, oh well, family gatherings probably aren't the best
preaching opportunities anyways.

But yeah, this week will be an interesting one. We'll have to figure
out who to keep persisting with to meet and who to lay off. Shane just
texted us, "I know you have a job to do, but you're worse than the
bill collectors!!" Yeah, we called him twice yesterday, and texted him
three or four times throughout the week, but that is our only time
calling... and he never responded to us to let us even know if he'd
been getting our messages. Haha I tried to settle down that situation
a bit, but yet again he didn't respond to our actual question...
Missionary work is remarkably more frustrating when you don't even
have contact with the people you are trying to work with.

On the bright side, we are DEFINITELY doing better at getting to know
members this transfer. Between meal appointments and more stopping in
on members to say hi and leave a bit of a thought, things are going
good there. Haha I guess I imagined it would have a more positive
correlation with the direction of the work... But I guess that is not
the case Haha.

But... I probably oughtta get going.

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

P.s. Randy just called us and DIDNT chew us out for trying to get in
touch with him all week! Yayyyy!

Friday, March 14, 2014

March 10 Letter

This week has been a weird shift in focus. What I've always been best at on my mission is finding someone through tracting or just happening to be at the same house as them visiting someone else, or something. Then we teach them. Then they get baptized. Less-active work, though, has never been my thing... I think I need more patience/charity, but I get really irritated by most of their excuses for not coming to church. However, this week, we had 5 lessons with investigators and 13 with less actives or recent converts. It's been interesting.
Luckily, I feel like I'm finally building actual friendships out here! Whether with members of the Church or investigators or anything. We are finally getting to where we aren't just there to pray, teach a lesson, pray, and say goodbye. It definitely makes the day more fun!
One of them that we are getting really close to is Jenn. I think I've explained a little about her... She's the one who is living with her LDS mom as she works through a divorce. She came to church my first week here, and now for the past three weeks we've been teaching her every Wednesday. She's always really attentive, just hasn't really gotten excited about it yet. However, she has prayed everyday and promised to read at least one chapter of the Book of Mormon this week! Really, though, it's just been nice to get to know her and grow close with both her and her mom. This week, we read through 1 Nephi 8, about Lehi's Dream. We read through it, then kind of walked through the symbolism with her. After showing in the opening of John where John gives Christ the name "The Word," we talked about how the Iron Rod is Jesus, and that it is through the gospel that we reach out and grab hold of him. Faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost - that is how we take hold of Jesus and allow Him to guide us. He's always there; we just need to grab on. It went pretty well, I feel... but still no dramatic enthusiasm. Ha, she has a lot on her plate, so hopefully she'll just really enjoy the Book of Mormon this week haha.
We also had a cool lesson with Debbie. She's a less-active member who really, if the Church still used the term, would be called an inactive member. She got baptized a decade or two ago, but she admits she didn't have a testimony of the Book of Mormon or of Joseph Smith's calling. She figured that she needed to go forward with faith and God would reveal the rest to her when it was necessary. After a while, I guess she gave up trying. Still, she is extremely spiritual and actually volunteers at a different church's missionary department. She knows her Bible remarkably well. The best, though, is how much she is willing to learn. We had an awesome conversation about Ephesians 4 on Saturday. She said she'd always read the "one faith, one Lord, one baptism" part and wondered how that would even be possible, not linking it to the part a little after about apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers for the "perfecting of the saints" and the "unity of the faith." It turned into quite a conversation! But, she struggles with some odd things with the Book of Mormon. She really doesn't like that it's written in Jacobean English. She thinks that some parts that are written in an Old Testament era are too New Testament-ish. Just things like that... But, she is reading a little and quite readily said we could come back this week!
Probably one of the coolest parts of the week, though, was at the adult session of stake conference on Saturday night. Bridgette, who lives in our area and was baptized in January, gave a talk on her conversion. It was great! But the highlight for us - in our little missionary perspective - was that her mom came! Granted, she spoke first, and her mom didn't get there until almost the end (don't worry, she knew that she'd missed the talk before she even left), but she did get to hear President Francis and the stake president, President Jensen, speak. It was very exciting, because she'd always been very stand-offish with the church. Progress!
Ha, we also went tracting in student housing this week. DEFINITELY the most fun form of tracting. First, there are a few easy, obvious casual conversations. What they are studying, where they are from, how long they've been here, what their plans are, it all comes really easily. Then, they are here to learn and grow and challenge themselves anyways, so they are MUCH more open to talking. It's just a nice casual conversation where at the very worst they want to talk and be friendly, usually. Even the least interested of people were really nice! It was a lot of fun.
Finally, at stake conference, President Jensen gave a really interesting talk. He talked about how the only way to keep a boat safe on rough water near a rocky shore is a good, firm anchor. He then compared this to the Church to the boat, being tossed around with the different social norms with some dangerous rocks that we could be bashed against. But then he took an interesting turn. Instead of talking about moral relativism and the Proclamation to the Family, as is the normal route lately, he emphasized an interesting different point: How do we respond to those who view or act differently than our views? How do we avoid crashing into the rocks of bigotry and hate while still maintaining our views on the family. To help, he gave this "Anchor":
Agency - We need to allow others to have the same agency that we cherish. We also need to remember that ostracism is one of the strongest forms of compulsion.
Namaste - While a Hindu idea, it is powerful. Literally, it means, "I bow to the divine in you." We need to recognize that we are all children of God and that we each have divinity within us, no matter our choices.
Connect - We need to share our stories and invite others to share their stories with us.
Higher laws - We need to remember that some commandments are higher than others. Loving our neighbor will always trump any commandment that neighbor might be breaking.
Revelation - Combine those last two. (I guess he couldn't come up with a unique R haha.) We need to look to our leaders to understand how to live and grow and function as a Church following the revealed doctrine in a changing world, and accept that ongoing revelation can allow us to grow and function in society.
I thought it was pretty interesting advice.
Well, that is pretty much my week!
I love you but I don't miss you!
Elder Allen

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

March 3 Letter

Good Monday!

It's been an eventful, crammed week!

We spent Monday packing and saying goodbye, then most of Tuesday trading Elder Ryser for Elder Holt up in the Palmyra area. So, that left us with five days to do everything else that we needed to do, which was surprisingly a lot (especially given our dismal numbers haha).

Probably the coolest appointment of the week was with a girl named Jenn. She is the daughter of a member of the ward who is going through a pretty rough divorce right now, so she and her son are temporarily living with her mom (and her grandma who is about to turn 100!!!) in our area. My first week in the area, I taughtSunday School, and Jenn was there, but we haven't seen her at church since. A week ago, when I was on exchanges, Elder Ryser and Elder Johnston caught her at home and had a decent talk with her that really turned into her asking question after question after question. Well, this week, Elder Holt and I went over and had a great chat with her, running through the Plan of Salvation. It's interesting to teach her, though, because she is 100% attentive. She'll answer questions when you ask them, she'll read when you invite her to, and she can reexplain anything you've taught or read. She pays attention, understands, and commits to doing things (reading the Book of Mormon, praying, etc). But we haven't been able to find a niche that gets her excited! Granted, we've only talked to her three times, one of which was at church in a class setting... but still. However, Joan, her mom, talked about it in Sunday School! I don't even know how it got brought up, but she mentioned that we'd been over teaching Jenn and that she has the whole extended family praying for her. Hopefully that helps us out a little!

Then, we taught Cassandra just yesterday. I don't even know if I mentioned Cassandra a couple weeks back, because our first lesson really wasn't all that notable. But she is the aunt of a less-active girl who used to live in her house. We were looking for Lucy (the member) but since she'd moved we ended up just talking to Cassandra. She is the big black lady from Liberia who is just the classic African lady haha. Hopefully that doesn't sound too racist, but really, just imagine the classic happy African lady in her fifties, and you have Cassandra. The first lesson, we went through the Restoration, and she pretty much decided that God did come to Joseph Smith, but it wasn't anything uniquely special. Just some Christians needed a prophet like him... some do not. Anyways, we went back yesterday, and got right to the lesson. She started talking about how she disagreed that there weren't any true churches during the time Joseph was growing up. We had a chat about the apostasy, and how all good things come from God (Moroni 7) and how it was really the authority and the revelation that was lacking, which created a world of "mostly true" religions, not a whole world of 100% falsehoods. Somehow, in the midst of this conversation that was only going all right, we transitioned to the Book of Mormon. Out of nowhere, she committed herself to reading it and asking God if it's true. "I only do what the Lord directs me to do through His Holy Spirit!" she said. We asked her how the Holy Spirit talks to her, and she goes on and pretty much quotes the fruits of the Spirit part of Galatians (exactly what we usually use) and says it mostly speaks to her heart "in a voice of gentleness." She nailed it. Then we started talking more, and somehow we showed her Mosiah 3:19. I don't think I've ever seen someone get so excited about a single scripture. She started talking about how she was going to put it in her quote book and on her wall and was going to study the verse and then the whole chapter and pretty much was going to guide her entire life around it from then on! Haha it was hilarious! Then she started talking about how much she liked that it pointed out that even when Christ has forgiven us, we still have to do what we can to keep the commandments. For a self-proclaimed "Born again believer" that is a rare thing to say! Unfortunately, she can only meet every other weekend, so that will be odd. But, I don't know if I have met anyone so energized about reading the Book of Mormon ever, so I'm excited to go back!

We also had a funny lesson with Randy. We went over and talked a little about his reading like normal. (I swear, that's all our lessons are with him. Haha but he reads so indepth, it works!) Then, when his kids came through the door home from school, he asked us if we would teach them about "the fear of God." Haha we thought he was kidding and just flustered with them briefly. But no. He had the kids come in so we could teach them the fear of God haha. We kind of twisted it a little bit and talked about loving God and wanting Him to be happy with us when we see Him instead of upset at us, and we compared their relationship with their dad to the relationship they had with God. It worked out pretty well, actually! 

Well, now let's talk about meetings. I had one great one and one frustrating one. 

First, the frustration. Since I'm a District Leader again, apparently I had a District Leader training meeting on Friday that no one told me about until Wednesday. That would be somewhat okay... but they told me about it to let me know they were changing the time to Thursday - the next day. We had a handful of appointments scheduled plus a district meeting that I had already prepared. So, I cancelled the district meeting and rearranged/cancelled our appointments. Then, that night at 10:15 they called us to tell us that the meeting was now an hour later! Haha so that morning we got to call more appointments and re-rearrange/cancel on them last minute. I was pretty peeved. They have us plan a week in advance then throw mandatory meetings at us 12 hours in advance. Then we go to a meeting where they teach us just how important district meetings are, and the whole time I am thinking about the one that they had me cancel last minute. Haha I should probably have been more forgiving, but I was so frustrated by the whole thing.

But then yesterday was AMAZING. So, in the morning, I was talking about how horrid I was at fasting and how before my mission, I had only done one or two full fasts. Even then, by the time the Sacrament was being passed, I realized I hadn't decided what I was fasting for and was just not eating anything. I hurriedly thought and said a quick prayer for help working with the ward better. Well, the first counselor got up and started the testimony meeting. Then some other member got up. Then... the bishop got up? It was odd because generally it's one member of the bishopric and that's it. He said he was really nervous, but felt the Lord had told him it was time to turn a key. He gave a quick explanation of priesthood keys, but said he saw it more as turning on an engine than just opening a door. He then said that one of the keys he holds is missionary work in the ward. He pointed out that our building was dedicated to become a stake center. "That isn't going to happen by people moving into our boundaries," he said. "That's going to be people we already know who are already living here." He told them it was time for everyone to be more open with their testimonies and more active in getting people to the church. From there, the rest of the testimony meeting was people going up, each sustaining bishop and his new goal. All the auxiliary and quorum presidents went up to say they were going to restructure their goals around missionary work. Just everyone. It was great! Haha it's going to be interesting to see the repercussions!

Well... that's pretty much my week. 

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