Thursday, October 4, 2012

Update on Josh and letter from October 1, 2012

As many of you know, Josh had surgery last week in Slidell and was cleared today to go to his new area.  So many people took great care of Josh as he recovered; the people in Louisiana and Mississippi are incredible and we, as a family, are very grateful.  Here are a couple of notes from Josh.

Well, cabin fever doesn't even begin to cover it. I am just reading and writing non-stop every day. By the end of today, I will have finished the entire gospel of Matthew in two days, which doesn't begin to cover all of the other reading (Jesus the Christ and Increase in Learning by Elder Bednar) I've been doing.

So surgery. What an experience that was. Surprisingly, it was actually spiritual. As I sat all alone in pre-op waiting for the nurse to come put my IV in, I just sat and listened to all of the conversations going on around me - nurses, loved ones, doctors - and I kept getting this overwhelming feeling of love for everyone there. Strange, but true. Normal people trying to do their best in life who are very willing to talk to you because you aren't wearing a white shirt and tie. I genuinely felt like the gospel could bless each of their lives so much if they would only open up and provide an opportunity for the gospel to be shared with them.

When I woke up, I was experiencing a whole new level of pain.  Crazy. But the cool thing was this - whenever I would start to shake from the pain, I would say a prayer asking for it to stop, and the second I would say amen, everything, pain included, was gone. It was mind-blowing. Our God is a God of miracles who answers prayers, that is for sure.

Yes, I had a couple of missionary experiences with my nurse after the surgery. As I was in all of that pain, I felt really strongly that the Savior loved her, and so I told her "Jesus Christ loves you and appreciates what you do to help people." She stopped and looked at me and replied, "thank you for saying that," but I can only imagine what was going through her head as a drugged up and groggy 19 year old kid tells her that Jesus loves her. Looking back on it I couldn't help but laugh at the way I must have looked. It was funny because about 6 minutes later I said "I'm a missionary for my church" (as part of our conversation) and she said, "I could tell." Haha it was good. But then I asked her if she would say a prayer with me and grabbed a hold of my arm and I prayed and mentioned her in the prayer and she was so appreciative.

As of now, the pain is fine, but I'm still not 100% back. Hopefully I'll be there soon. I'm just excited to get up to Coushatta and get to work.

Here's a thought from "Increase in Learning" before I close:

"Spiritual knowledge cannot be given by or borrowed from another person. Shortcuts to the desired destination do no exist. Cramming for the ultimate final examination on the day of judgement is not an option. In this eternally important endeavor, the Lord's pattern is 'line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more' (2 Nephi 28:30) . . . With multitudes of secular influences trying to counteract the truth about and from God, no one can thrive by attempting to borrow light from the spiritual lamps of other people." (p. 16,70)

And,

"Praying, studying, gathering, worshipping, serving, and obeying are not isolated and independent items on a lengthy gospel checklist of things to do. Rather, each of these righteous practices is an important element in an overarching spiritual quest to fulfill the mandate to receive the Holy Ghost. The commandments from God we obey and the inspired counsel from Church leaders we follow principally focus upon obtaining the companionship of the Spirit. Fundamentally, all gospel teachings and activities are centered on coming unto Christ by receiving the Holy Ghost in our lives" (From "Receive the Holy Ghost" Oct. 2010)

Amen.

Letter from September 24, 2012


Well, this is the end of my proselyting in Slidell, and it is such a bittersweet moment. I genuinely feel as if I am leaving my family behind all over again. The people here are so loving and caring, and they have truly been a great strength for me as I would go out to work each morning - they deserve my best. But, I'm excited to move out to Coushatta and begin a whole different adventure. It is crazy to believe that as of tomorrow I have been gone for 5 months. Time is moving way too fast.
 
As I have reflected on the plethora of experiences that these past five months have held for me, I have been searching for a measurable degree of growth within myself. The Lord provides us with trials and adversity through our experiences for our growth, and I have been pondering in what way that has been realized. What has become clear to me is this - faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a power so great that, when exercised to its fullest, can bring about miracles. This has been my crutch throughout the varying circumstances I have found myself in, and truly, I have come to understand what faith can do. Proverbial mountains have been moved, difficulties overcome, and strength found in times of weakness, and from those experiences unique lessons have been learned, lessons that could not be learned in any other situation or circumstance. This is why I believe very strongly in the fact that, as Elder Holland has taught, "God never leaves us alone, never leaves us unaided in the challenges that we face." Speaking on the ministry of angels, he continued, "Usually such beings are not seen. Sometimes they are. But seen or unseen they are always near. Sometimes their assignments are very grand and have significance for the whole world. Sometimes the messages are more private... But most often it is to comfort, to provide some form of merciful attention, guidance in difficult times." ("The Ministry of Angels", Elder Jeffery R. Holland)
 
The Prophet Mormon echoed this in a statement to his son Moroni:
“Has the day of miracles ceased?
“Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
“Behold I say unto you, Nay; for … it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men." (Moroni 9: 35-37)
 
Whenever one lives worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost and honors the covenants they have made, angels will attend them in their time of need. Often times, those angels are the same people that we surround ourselves who, unbeknownst to them, act as emmisaries from our Father in comforting and guiding His children. Similarly, we find that when we act upon spiritual promptings, we too can become angels sent to our fellow men. The tender mercies of the Lord are everywhere in our lives - especially in the life of a missionary. Miracles abound in the work of the Lord, and those miracles come by faith. As we increase our own faith, we can find that "the very experience of enduring chastening can refine us and prepare us for greater spiritual privileges." ("As Many as I Love, I Rebuke and Chasten", Elder D. Todd Christofferson) So let us all reflect upon what we can do to grow stronger in our faith.
 
This has been evident in the past week for me. Following weeks where the work was slowed by the hurricane and other factors, we finally met success. Two young families are seriously investigating the gospel, and have committed to attend church and begin to take the steps needed to come closer to Christ. While true, I will not be present to see the progress of these families, it has been a wonderful opportunity to see success come following the "trial of [our] faith." (see Ether 12:6) In fact, one of those families is a referral that came from the relief effort corresponding with Hurricane Issac. As I have previously mentioned, service creates opportunites to share the gospel. Through our own service we have found opportunites to testify of the plan of salvation, and those opportunites have turned into people investigating the church. Like I said, miracles through faith has truly been evident this past week in Slidell. 
 
On a random tangent, we did service for a lady for 30 minutes and I got 18 mosquito bites on my legs. Boy mom, you were right all along, there's just something in our blood those stinkin bugs like. Lesson learned - always wear jeans when doing service haha.
 
But, time is running short. I love you all and hope you have an amazing week! The Chruch is true, I promise!
 
Love,
Elder Thomas

Last pictures from Slidell






Letter from September 17th, 2012


Howdeeeee!
 
Well, what a week this has been. We have finally been able to get back to full-time missionary work on a consistent basis, and it has been a strange adjustment going back to wearing a shirt and tie every day again haha. But, it has been interesting because a lot of our longtime investigators have dropped us and a lot of people who had no potential before have sparked an interest. However, we unfortunately had to drop our cajun investigator because she wasn't progressing and had flat out begun to ignore us. That is what it means to truly feel disappointed because of the actions of another - where there was once potential for her to bring happiness, joy, and salvation to her soul there is now emptiness and, seemingly, bitterness. I only pray that her heart is softened and she finds opportunity to accept the gospel again in the future.
 
And, I'm getting transferred  Well, kinda haha. Transfers for the whole mission are this week, but because I have a couple of important doctor appointments here in Slidell, I will be staying here for an extra week or so to get things sorted out, after which I should be moving to my new area, Coushatta, LA. When people talk about a rural town, this is what they are talking about - I'll be going from a city of 70,000 to a town of 3,000. Slidell will truly be missed and has had an immeasurable impact on my growth as an individual, but nonetheless, it is time for a change. My new companion will be Elder Green, an experienced missionary that likes to work hard, so hopefully we will be able to work well together.
 
An interesting experience for me was yet another one tied to Hurricane Issac. Because we had spent a significant amount of hours in the past weeks contacting in affected areas searching for those who needed assistance, we amassed a work load large enough that the Church called upon members in Georgia to come and help in Slidell. They were given a few days notice, and had a full crew of a hundred people present - talk about consecration in action. A true testament of ordinary members doing all they can to live up to and fulifll their covenants. The stake called upon me to play the piano for a special sacrament meeting we were holding for them early Sunday morning. When we arrived, there were only 5 people in standard church-going attire (counting ourselves), and instead we faced a sea of yellow "Mormon Helping Hands" shirts. It was truly humbling to watch these men, dressed to go to work, unshaven, and lacking sleep, passing the sacrament to one another. The spirit was so strong in the meeting, and the Holy Ghost testified to me of the importance of the sacrament, service, and humility. It was a uniquely spiritual experience that I hope to never forget.
 
Also, you might find it funny to know how we have attempted to find people to teach this week - Mitt Romney. True, missionaries are told to avoid politics, but the opportunity that we found before us was too good to pass up; the Romney/Ryan campaign recently opened up a campaign headquarters here in Slidell, and at the same time we heard a statistic that interest in 'mormonism' was at its highest because of him. So we grabbed a stack a pass-along cards and headed in. Through talking to the lovely ladies there, we were able to leave the cards right in plain sight next to the merchandise, and they even took down our phone number and said they would put it in the county Republican newsletter, along with a link tomormon.org. Talk about a golden opportunity. Even if we don't find a hundred new investigators from it, I feel confident that at least a few people will follow the link and learn something about our faith and beliefs. If that's all that comes from it, it was a success. 
 
Lastly, I finished the Book of Mormon today!! I started two days after entering the MTC and read consistently over the past three transfers, and what an experience it has been. My testimony of Christ has been strengthened by studying the testimony given of him therein, and I have learned how Christ himself would have us live. As a result of my efforts to study it, I have become a better person and a better missionary. To quote the Prophet Joseph Smith, "the Book of Mormon [is] the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man [will] get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” This became clearly evident in my experience over the past months, and the same opportunity is present for all who are willing to do their part and prayerfully seek to know of its truthfulness. If the evidence of the Savior's divinity and existence is available for each of us to read, ponder, and pray over, why wouldn't we do so? Heavenly Father is a God of promises, and he has always and will always keep his promise to provide a witness of the authenticity and truthfulness of the book to all who diligently seek it. The promise is clear - "And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost." If it's that simple then, once again, why wouldn't we do so?
 
Elder Jeffery R. Holland has said, "one cannot come to full faith in this latter-day work—and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these, our times—until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it testifies. If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject [the Book of Mormon] . . . then such a person, elect or otherwise, has been deceived; and if he or she leaves this Church, it must be done by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit. In that sense the book is what Christ Himself was said to be: 'a stone of stumbling, … a rock of offence,' a barrier in the path of one who wishes not to believe in this work." We must gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon if we are to fully believe in this latter-day work. It is the keystone of our religion, and as such, all depends on it. Our claim to divine authority, modern day prophets, and all other beliefs, hang on the validity of one book. So to gain a testimony, we must read it, and I would encourage all of you to do so - as President Spencer W. Kimball would say, "Just do it." There is no truer saying than this - the Church is true and the book is blue!!
 
Love,
Elder Thomas
 
PS - sorry to hear about the Holy War.... but I did hear rumor that Bronco Mendenhall stood up to a Utah fan heckling him. Atta boy Bronco, atta boy. Those "classless" Utah fans ;P (Hey, Max Hall said it, not me hahaha)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Letter from September 10, 2012

Hello there!

Well, this past week has been quite a unique week in the life of a missionary, and the work has literally exhausted me every single day. I definitely didn't expect all of this when I received my call or when I was submitting my papers, but nonetheless, it has been such a learning experience which has allowed me to grow in many ways that wouldn't have been possible in other circumstances, and I am very grateful for that.

From last Monday to Saturday night, it has been work work work. Gut this house, remove this fallen tree, clear this debris made up the first couple of days, and then Friday and Saturday turned into us "tracting" in our yellow "Mormon Helping Hands" shirts and looking for people who needed help in all of the affected areas. It has been really cool to see barriers broken down as people realized that we were simply looking to help. People whose door we had knocked on months ago only to meet an abrupt rejection allowed us into their home and showed great love for the effort we were putting forth simply because we were looking to serve them. I have never felt like the work I was doing was as appreciated as I do now. It makes me wonder what I could do to help people see that our normal proselyting activities are of even greater service to them and thereby break down those barriers that unfortunately exist.

One of the great things that has come about because of our disaster relief efforts is an increased teaching pool. We have now received eight referrals to contact once they have rebuilt their homes, all from service opportunities. People naturally are curious to know what it is that motivates others to sacrifice their time to help a stranger in such a significant way, and as we have served others, that has become clear by us receiving these referrals. I am thankful to our Heavenly Father for providing us with such great opportunities to help others, and He has blessed us significantly.

We will be spending the next two days blitzing the affected areas seeking more work orders because the Church has offered a lot of member work crews from surrounding states to come and assist us this next weekend, we just need to know how much work we will have to get the right amount of crews brought in. To accomplish this, we are having our zone and the Gulfport zone come over and all 26 or so missionaries will do everything we can to get this done. What an effort. Just in the projects I've participated in thus far, we have seen over 300 man hours put into serving non-members, and that doesn't even begin to cover all of the other projects that will and have been done in Slidell alone. I can't wait to hear the final number of hours of service rendered (they are preparing a report to give to the Brethren - maybe they'll share in General Conference??).

One funny experience that we did have was while we were "tracting" in one of the hardest hit areas, Palm Lake. As we were walking, a young man approached us and inquired what we were doing. After a brief conversation, he proceeded to offer us both jobs on the spot with his demolition and renovation company. Apparently they had received contracts for over 120 homes and only had 15 employees. To give you an idea, it would take 12 hours for a crew of 6-8 people to do two homes. So we laughed and told him that we were full-time missionaries and not allowed to participate in commercial activities, and he awkwardly apologized and shuffled off. Man, maybe I should have seen how much they were paying!!! Hahaha.

So there you have it - a busy and exhausting week that will only continue. But I can testify that service is the best missionary work possible, because "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." Hearts have been softened, doors have opened that we never imagined, and lives changed as we have extended a helping hand. The beautiful thing is that it doesn't take a hurricane for this principle to become evident in each of our lives, because service opportunities are all around us, for members and non-members alike. Even with what might be considered a small act of kindness, we can brighten both our own lives and the lives of those we surround ourselves with, and opportunities to do so are everywhere we go - it is up to us to do our part and recognize them. As we do so, opportunities to bear testimony, through word or deed, will naturally come, and our own testimonies of the gospel will truly be strengthened.

 Although it is sometimes to forget, Christ's is a gospel of kindness and compassion, and it is only after we master the eternal principle of selfless service that we can progress in all aspects of the gospel. To quote President Monson, "'Love thy neighbor' is more than a divine truth. It is a pattern for perfection." He continues, "As we look heavenward, we inevitably learn of our responsibility to reach outward. To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves. No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow man. Service to others is akin to duty, the fulfillment of which brings true joy." May we always remember that we are all beggars (see Mosiah 4:19), and therefore it is our responsibility to assist others when God has provided us with the resources and ability to do so. As we do so, we can and will find true fulfillment in our lives.

Have a great week! I'm praying for you all!

Love,
Elder Joshua Thomas

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Letter from September 4th, 2012


Well hello there! 

What a week it has been for us here in Slidell. Hurricane Issac was an unpredictable storm, that's for sure. No one expected the damage that it caused. The odd thing is that some areas of town escaped unscathed and some were at flooding levels equivalent to Katrina. Crazy. 

I will start at the beginning of the story so you can get the whole picture - All the way to Tuesday the mission leadership told us that we were to stay put in our apartment for the duration of the storm, so we just went about helping people get ready for the storm. We were helping some members who own a jewelery store to clear out all of their goods in case of flooding when we got a cal telling us to get back to our apartment, pack up anything we cared about, and get to the bishops storehouse where we would be staying until further notice. So we did as told and made our way up to the storehouse with all of our valuables and clothing for a couple of days. Immediately we went to work inventorying all of the emergency supplies that the church had on hand with the Elders Quorum President, and boy, it sure was a ton. They have the supplies to clean houses, gut houses, cover holes in roofs, tents, cots, clothing, and emergency food. Hundreds and hundreds of each item. After that we were handed a cot and sent off to a room to sleep as the storm began to hit. 

The beautiful thing about staying at the bishop's storehouse is the fact that we had unlimited food, and let me tell you, the church's granola is amazing. :) And the applesauce. And the beef stew. And everything else. We sure do take care of people. Working with all of these supplies and seeing how the church was involved in coordinating supplies and making sure everything was taken care of has definitely helped me to gain a testimony of the welfare system of the church. Daily the representative of the church was on the phone with members of the seventy and area authorities to coordinate efforts and receive updates. Within 24 hours of the storm's departure, trucks arrived with more supplies. Holy cow. Without a doubt, it is an inspired program. 

But from where we were in the city, the storm was kinda a bummer. Nothing that I haven't experienced before. The problem was the fact that it slowed down significantly when it came over Slidell, allowing for water to accumulate and therefore cause flooding. However, I will say that I was sent outside to get something during the storm and the wind gusts did stop me dead in my tracks haha. 

Don't believe the news is one of the greatest things I learned from this experience. National outlets were exaggerating things beyond belief. They made it sound like Slidell was a battle zone that was completely under water. Only parts were. And no, the whole city was not ordered to evacuate. However, Old Towne was, which is where our apartment is. Bayou Bonfouca, which is right across the levee/railroad tracks from us, picked up so much water that it overflowed the levee and caused water to rush into our part of town. Our complex was flooded 9-12 inches, but since we are on the second floor, everything was fine with our apartment. The only we lost was all of our perishable food because the power was out. :/ It was crazy because we drove up to the beginning of Old Towne the day the storm passed and saw submerged cars and people canoeing across streets in areas that we tracted just weeks earlier. 

The big problem was that the Bayou is right next to the sewage plant, and so when that flooded, sewage was mixed in with all of the water that flooded us, leaving the area smelling suspiciously awful. And, there is a drinking water advisory, so we have to boil any water we use for drinking/cooking. How lovely. 

Our area had the section of town that was hit the worst - Palm Lake. The Bayou that overflowed runs straight into a little lake that is next to an area that is way below sea level, and when it rose, it caused 4 to 6 feet of flooding in all the homes. Driving our bikes down the street (which is a story in and of itself - the neighborhood is protected by police and the national guard. Thank heavens we are recognized as ministers) was such a heart-wrenching experience. Every single house had a massive pile of things out on the curb that were ruined beyond repair. Appliances  furniture, Sheetrock, flooring, clothing, and basically everything. An investigator there in the area tearfully told us that she lost everything again, and that she couldn't do it again after Katrina. Homes are completely gutted through there. Seeing that much devastation and suffering is something that will forever remain vivid in my memory - you can't fully understand it until you experience it yourself. 

But we have had a few opportunities to help others in their efforts to recover from the storm (we were only able to return to our apartment Saturday night). We have helped a couple of less active members gut houses and businesses effected by the storm. Everywhere we go we have offered service to others, and they appreciate the offer. It is difficult to try and return to normal missionary work when the people around you are suffering, and so we will continue to look for any way to help. FEMA has their command center set up right across the street from us, so maybe we can find people there that need some assistance. Church was an interesting experience because we only had sacrament meeting and then assessed the known needs of the ward and assembled a plan on how the members could help in the recovery efforts. It was an amazing thing to see - members stepping up and sacrificing of themselves to help others. 

I wish that I could have filmed the whole week that I just experienced, because there are so many little stories that I wish I could share. For example, the military patrolled our apartment complex with fully loaded assault rifles because of looting. Things like that can't fully be communicated through writing. Even the stories that I have shared have even greater depth. Issac has provided us with quite a few opportunities to realize how blessed we truly are to have the gospel and the church in our lives. Without it, we'd be lost and in great despair. I know without a doubt that despite the great suffering that many here in Slidell are experiencing, they can find greater hope for the future and joy in the present by turning to the Lord and inviting him more fully into their lives. The church is true and the book is blue!!

Love,
Elder Thomas

Monday, August 27, 2012

Letter from August 27, 2012

Howdee my friends!

This here's the wildest ride in the South!! With the approach of Hurrican Issac, the city of Slidell is going crazy. All of the Walmarts are out of stock, water is hard to find, and people are evacuating.  During Katrina, Slidell was literally destroyed, and so it makes perfectly reasonable sense that the people here are extra-cautious about hurricanes. According to all of the recent projections, it will make landfall just west of Slidell, meaning that the damage won't be severe here, but, two parishes over is currently facing a mandatory evacuation order, and ours is faced with a voluntary one.

As for now, we have been counseled to gather all of our valuables and neccesary items into one place and be ready to evacuate if needed, but in all likeliness, we will remain here in Slidell at the regional Bishop's Storehouse, which is built to withstand a Cat. 3. It's crazy to think that this is real, and that in two days I might be experiencing a hurricane.

As for success this week, yesterday was a great day. There wasn't a single moment available to tract because we had an entire list of people to go and contact, most all of whom were potentials we found through tracting. We taught 3 lessons to 3 houses in a row, and found some new investigators through those opportunities. A lot of people who we had thought simply said come back to be kind turned out to have real potential. The greatest part of the day was stopping on the side of the road to see if a guy needed help with his landscaping, which turned into him and his wife asking us all about prophets, allowing us to testify, leave a commitment, and secure a return appointment. The principle of going about doing good is what I believe to be one of the best ways to find others to teach because it is emulating the Savior's example at its fullest.

Another great experience that we had was our Zone Conference held in Gulfport, MS. No one really knew what to expect because it was President McDonough's first conference with us missionaries, but it was one of the most amazing experiences that I have had this far into my mission. He pulled out the scriptures and taught with power principles that any missionary could use and apply in their lives and companioships. The spirit was very strong and I had many promptings about how I can improve.

Following our lunch break, President taught a great lesson about the keys that a mission president holds and how they are meant to be used to lift missionaries up. He testified that he would do nothing to bring us down that would not build us up stronger in the end, exhorted us to be honest in all of our dealings with him and all others, and invited further diligence in obedience to a few simple rules that would strengthen the mission. It was a powerful address that was unscripted. We talked about "binding ourselves to act" and doing something to improve ourselves to be able to better help the people of the South. (D&C 43:9) I think that is a principle of the gospel that we often readily overlook - when the spirit testifies to us or prompts us to do certain things, when commandments are given to us, we must then promise to the Lord action, upon which many blessings are predicated. (D&C 43:10)

The zinger experience was what happened afterwards. President and I sat down together to discuss the logistics of some upcoming events, and afterwards, he began to ask about how I was doing personally. There has been a lot of stress that I have had because of multiple circumstances which he did not know about, but he discerned my needs and addressed them perfectly. Anyone who has served in a Preach My Gospel mission knows of the principle of asking inspired questions, and this was a shining example. He then asked if he could give me a priesthood blessing, to which I responded in the affirmative, and while I won't share the sacred counsel and promises made therein, let me just say, it has been a long time since I have felt the spirit so strongly. Without a doubt I know that he has been called of God and that he has power in the Priesthood. To have a man with keys given by an apostle lay his hands on your head and speak in the place of our Heavenly Father is a humbling, edifying, and inspiring experience. I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve under his direction and to serve the people of the South. May the Savior's peace and blessing be in all of your lives this upcoming week!

Love,

Elder Thomas

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Letter from August 20, 2012


Well hi'ya!

It's been a looooonnnng week here in the 'Dell. Halfway through the week things got crazy with an insane little bike wreck I had that has left it hard to work. The problem is the curbs here in the south - rather than sloping down to meet the road, they just drop off at a 90 degree angle, and so to get off the curb you have to jump off it on the bike. When you do so, you want to be standing on your pedals to cushion the landing, and when I came down my front tire landed on a rock and caused my right foot to slip into the V of the bike frame and push the bike down, trapping me underneath the dragging bike until I came to a stop. I got up afterwards and was so dazed and in pain that I just started walking and biting my tongue, and some power line worker got off of his truck and came over to help. What a nice guy. After we washed off the blood, I started talking to him (still in my dazed state mind you) and somehow ended up giving him a pass along card. Ridiculous. Final verdict, Ruined and torn bloodstained pants (my favorite pair!), and torn up elbow that doesn't quite want to bend straight too often, a sprained wrist, and a crazy knee cap. Boom.
 
So while it sounds like some crazy experience, really I just looked stupid and make my life that much harder. I can't really ride my bike too well, so we are walking everywhere and that kinda limits where we go and stuff, but alas, we're still working!! (despite the blisters haha) And look on the brightside - I was actually able to be kneeling while praying for the first time in days yesterday! We're making progress people.
 
But in the work, we've been able to find a few people, but nothing is progressing too rapidly. Our Cajun investigator once again didn't keep her commitments, but we are really pushing to get her reading the Book of Mormon again, because it was when she did that she recognized a need to be baptized and come to church without us telling her. Revelation through the Book of Mormon is a real thing, that's for sure. But she has asked us a few questions that are stemming from the news media's coverage of Mitt Romney regarding temples, garments, and other fine points of doctrine, and she is really open to our explanations which is cool. She even invited us over to watch an hour long documnetary about the "mormons" which is good so we can help her avoid any anti-literature, etc. So hopefully she finally follows through this week. Hopefully.
 
For some reason, we keep finding a lot of old people, mostly single widows, and that is an interesting process for sure. Most of them would love to sit and talk about Jesus, but when it comes to doing anything about it, they fall short.
 
BUT - we had an epic day of finding on Saturday. It started off by teaching a lesson in the middle of a park, then contacting at a Farmer's Market and finding a former investigator who wants us to come back (don't worry, all of the vendors were more than happy to offer up free samples to the Jesus people), then ran into a biker gang holding an outdoor classic rock concert, then got pulled into some apartment by a guy who had met with missionaries in California and was crazy drunk, killer on the guitar, and unable to eat food without choking. It was crazy. Then that night we got home an hour early, and I was committed to doing something, anything, to help invite someone to learn more, but seeing as we were limited to our immediate area on foot, we sat there an brainstormed and came up with nothing.
 
 I knew that there was someone somewhere who the Lord would lead us to if we simply asked, so I offered a prayer asking for guidance and right away I had the thought "go to the gas station" "please, why would I go there" "go to the gas station!" So, I figured why not, and dragged my companion out the door into the rainy night. When we got there it was just us and the attendant, and I really didn't want to talk to her, but a similar conversation happened in my head so I just asked the first question that came to mind and voila! we had a good 20 minute conversation about tolerance and religion and left her with a mormon.org card. It went to show me that a) the Lord is willing to guide you to those he has prepared if you simply turn to him and ask and b) the spirit is absolutely neccesary in finding, because He truly is preparing people everywhere to hear the restored gospel and it is my responsibility to find those people through my own efforts, as directed by the spirit. It was a small but powerful experience that helped me to see the reality of our Lord and the Holy Ghost. The church is true, I promise!!
 
Love,
Elder Thomas
 

Letter from August 13, 2012


Howdy Y'all!
 
Boy, it sure feels like it has been forever since I wrote home. A lot has happened in that time period and needless to say, this past week has been a difficult one for me personally, but a great one for the work. My new companion and I have really put an emphasis on two things while finding - 1) using the Book of Mormon, because after all it contains the fulness of the gospel, and it truly is the keystone of our religion and 2) testifying to everyone. Anyone who has studied Preach My Gospel chapter 9 will know the emphasis put on this, and as we have implamented both of these ideas into our finding, as well as seeking the guidance of the spirit as we find, we have been able to touch more people, and gain a lot of potentials to try back, which is truly a blessing. As we testify, the Holy Ghost beares witness of what we say, and it gives people the opportunity to act on or reject our message, and it really has opened my eyes to the power that comes as a witness of truth is borne.
 
So we have spent a lot of time helping my new companion meet the members, our investigators, and as stated, finding. Yet once again I have found frustration with investigators not fulfilling committments. I just wish people could understand the importance of our message, because if they did every committment would be met without a doubt. That will be my focus this week as we teach - help everyone see how the restored gospel can be a blessing in their life and why accepting it as a part of their life is important.
 
I am really excited for the opportunites that we have been given this upcoming week to teach many people, and I have a firm hope that lives will be touched as we invite the Spirit into the lessons. One of the great things that I have realized is the principle stated in the beginning of Alma 32 - those who are humble, by circumstance or other means, are more willing to accept the gospel. I have seen some amazing reactions to the Book of Mormon as it has been an emphasis for us - those who are humble see how it really meets needs that they didn't even know they had. Gah, I just love the great opportunites afford me a missionary. Amazing.
 
Also, this past week has been a learning experience for me regarding the doctrine of grace. It is such a beautiful doctrine, and I feel like sometimes we are hesitant to discuss it because our beliefs regarding it are slightly different from the beliefs of others. The Bible Dictionary reads, "It is . . . through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means." As different trials have entered my life this past week, grace has been the crutch I have relied on to make it through them and to carry on the Lord's work. Grace truly is an "enabling power" that can help overcome whatever obstacles stand in our way, but it is only through faith in Christ and our sincere desires to serve Him that we are able to invite that grace into our lives. The instant I acknowledged a need for divine assistance, it was there in an instant, and it can be the same for all of God's children. Truly our Savior is waiting with open arms to help us in all things, but we must turn to him first. When we do, we will be able to "recieve strength and assistance" in all things because of His sacrifice. What a reasurring knowledge we have, which knowledge has come about because of the restored gospel. The Church is true, I promise!!
 
Much Love,
Elder Thomas
 

Letter from August 7, 2012


Alright alright!! How Y'all doin'?? (The typical response to the question "How are you?")
It's been a whirlwind week, that's for sure. This morning I said goodbye to my trainer and am getting ready for my next companion, Elder Peterson. It's just crazy to look back and realize how quickly time passes - it seems like just yesterday that I was driving into Slidell for the first time late at night, and now 3 months are over. Makes me realize that every moment matters.
 
The work has been slow this week - despite our efforts we found no success and our investigators didn't progress this week. I was especially bummed that our cajun investigator didn't come to church or keep her committment to read. Sometimes it's frustrating as a missionary to see people not use their agency, but in the end it's that agency that makes the restored gospel such a blessing, so I suppose there's no room to complain.
 
However, another longtime investigator (the first person I ever taught if I recall correctly) has begun to make small progression. She is a great example of the apostasy - she picks and chooses different doctrines from different religions. I don't think it is possible for someone to understand or embrace the plan of salvation better than she has. In our lesson this past week she said "I want to make it to that highest place (the celestial kingdom) but I don't agree with what you're saying (reffering to the neccesity of preisthood authority)." She just won't connect the dots. But she realizes that something is missing, and now it's up to Elder Peterson and I to help her realize that he gospel will fill the void.
 
Also, there have been some great adventures this week, like finding shelter from a storm at another church, eating alligator for the first time (SO GOOD!!), finding out that there was a gunfight at our apartment complex, hunting a possum, and many other great times. This mission sure is unique in its challanges, but it is such a great learning experience. A college for life if you will.
 
Well, that is really all for this week, but the next week promises to contain some great experiences as we diligently strive to find and teach.
 
The Church is true, I promise!! Love you all!
 
Elder Thomas

Monday, July 30, 2012

Letter from July 30, 2012

Hola!

Well once again it was another productive and phenomenal week here in the 'Dell. It's crazy how fast time passes - my companion goes home in 17 days and my Zone Leader leaves in 9. Needless to say, it has been hard to stay focused, but we are doing our best and seeing success as we do so. This week all of the crazy rain went away and was replaced with ridiculous heat and humidity. The weather in the South is bi-polar.

Things have continued moving along with our Cajun investigator, and we taught her the entire Plan of Salvation yesterday and she loved it. There wasn't a single doctrinal hangup, which was truly great for us. It was frustrating, however, because she missed our appointment on Saturday so she didn't come to church. She is just the funniest little lady - always making fun of us, giving us cooking tips, and marital advice. It really is so much fun teaching her, and it is a perfect example to me of what charity is, because I cannot feel anything but love for her. We have another appointment this week, and hopefully she progresses towards making covenants with our Heavenly Father.

In terrible news, the man that I have written about in the past who was struggling with cancer might be terminal with only 3 - 6 months to live. His quick slide from health to sickness has really reminded me that life is truly fragile and precious. But, as I have previously said, the Plan of Salvation is one of the greatest blessings in our lives - the ability to have a sure hope that we will be united again as families. I just hope that he can find peace, comfort, and joy in the remaining months.

 We did have an amazing experience with our recent convert, Joey, who has demonstrated remarkable change over the last two weeks. His whole demeanor has changed, and we have been able to see a deeper and clearer understanding of the principles of the gospel within him. He and his wife have found true joy together as they have committed themselves to follow the example of our Savior, and it has strengthened my testimony that the gospel truly does bless not only individuals, but families as well. Through the knowledge it brings we can find the capacity to forgive the unforgivable, apply the balm of Gilead to our wounds, and find true healing from the pains of this mortal life. Boy, I just love this gospel so much.

 As a whole, this week has been a great learning experience for me in how to answer our accusers in the Savior's way. We had a guy yell at us about Mitt Romney at a door approach and slam the door in our faces. The next day a woman started laughing at us as we taught her the restoration. Others won't even bother to say a word to us, but rather point away and direct us to leave.To quote Elder Hales,

 "When we do not retaliate—when we turn the other cheek and resist feelings of anger—we too stand with the Savior. We show forth His love, which is the only power that can subdue the adversary and answer our accusers without accusing them in return. That is not weakness. That is Christian courage."

I have truly learned that this week. Overcoming the natural reaction of anger and demonstrating Christlike love to those who would confront us takes self-mastery, but rewards us with a feeling of peace and the knowledge that we overcame the natural man and stood shoulder to shoulder with the Savior. We demonstrated Christian courage and will be blessed accordingly. What a blessing it has been for me to learn and apply this lesson in my everyday life as a missionary! The church is true, and the gospel blesses lives if we but live it, so to pull the most cliche quote possible, just do it.

 
Love,

Elder Joshua Thomas

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

More pictures -- finally!





Letter from July 23, 2012

G'Day Mates!
 
This past week has been absolutely crazy. We had two straight days with flooding, and rain almost every other day. As I write to you now, the library is being hammered with rain, and the forecast does not look too friendly to the work in a bike area. But, it did bring about some great stories:
 
-On the first day of flooding, we were at the Zone Leader's apartment grilling some steak that an investigator gave us on our brand new grill that we were given, and the rain was so bad that there was a good 18 inches of water in their yard. So, being the adventerous souls we are, we headed out into the flood. As we made it out to the street, we saw a car down the road that had driven into the ditch on the side of the road, and the back end was sticking up in the air. Perfect chance for service. After a concerted effort, we finally got the car out, but we were all covered in mud and water from head to toe, so, since everywhere was water, we jumped on in to rinse it all off. Not only did we help out someone in need, but we had quite the experience ourselves.
 
-The next day, we were out tracting in a constant but light drizzle, when in an instant it turned into hurricane status winds and rain. It was literally falling sideways. My companion and I ran as fast as we could to the nearest tree, but it wasn't doing a thing to help. The noise was so loud that we were yelling to hear each other within a few feet of each other. After a couple of minutes we saw a porch in the distance and ran under it and knocked on the door to see if we could stand there until the storm passed. They invited us in and offered us a towel and a ride to our apartment. We started talking about who we were, and the guy, named Fred, said he knew all about us and "your angel Moroni. I've studied about it." He politely said that he wouldn't be changing his religion, but offered an invitation to attend his Church's service the following night. Cue the next story.
 
-Saturday Night Gospel Fest at Starlight Missionary Baptist Chruch. Unbelievable. I have never seen a group of old people get up, sing, and dance with their hands in the air while shouting "amen!" and "hallelujiah!" It sure put a new spin on worship. It was actually not a service, but a music program featuring a whole slew of worship bands. It was louder than some of the rock concerts I've been to in there. At one point this older guy and his 25 year old daughter were literally screaming at each other on stage - "Amen!" "Louder!" "AMEN" "LOUDER!!" "AMEN!!!!!!!!!!" and so on. Crazy. Then this group from New Orleans gets up, and let me paint this picture for you - three very large women in velvet dresses singing "Lord deliver us" every two measures or so echoing the lead singer, who was a tall, buff, and bald guy wearing a white suit with blue plaid shorts and white kicks. After singing the first half of the song in his falsetto (to the audience's delight), he started going up to random people and making them sing. Boy, I sure wish I could paint a better picture for y'all. Classic. All about the memories.
 
-We had an AMAZING experience with one of our longtime investigators on Sunday. She an old cajun woman in her early 60s, and both parties love the lessons because it feels like a group of friends talking. That's the way that I wish all investigators were. We covered Alma 36 with her, emphazing the idea of change. She read verse 3, and then stopped to say that she lost her trust in God over the last few months because of individual circumstances, but through our visits and her reading of the Book of Mormon, she has begun to rebuild that trust and feel hope again. It was amazing to hear someone open up like that. As we finished the chapter, we asked her an open ended question: "What are some things that you think you can change to come closer to Christ?" Her response was golden: "I need to start coming to church, and I want to fast for this week to understand the bible (Said while holding the BofM up) better" This was amazing because in our early lessons before she dropped us a month ago, her major concern was coming to church, and here she is asking to come to church. There was an obvious change in her heart, and the cause was easily identified - reading on her own from the Book of Mormon. She actually kept her committments to read, and as she has done so, she has become more and more receptive to the Restored Gospel. And the amazing thing about the whole situation is this - on her own the investigator started talking about being baptized, although she has made it clear to us that she does not feel ready. However, that is a huge step, because she is asking the questions herself and seeking to find what is best for her. I am just amazed by the revalatory power of the Book of Mormon.
 
This is what missionary work is all about - helping others repent, to sincerely make changes in their life to come closer to Christ - and every single experience that we have with her strengthens my testimony that the Lord prepares people to hear the message of the Restoration, and that revalation truly does come through the Book of Mormon. What a beautiful gift that we've all been given - the ability to come closer to our Savior through modern scripture, translated by the restored power of God here in the latter days. Do we use it to its full potential? Do we sincerely put forth the effort to study it and seek to find God's will for each of our lives as we do so? This experience with my investigator has recommitted me to do so in my own studies of the Book of Mormon, and already I have seen amazing results, and I know that the same can be true for each of us if we sincerely seek truth and pray with real intent - a committment to act on the guidance we recieve regardless of it's content.
 
The Church is true and the book is blue! I hope you all have an amazing week!
 
Love,
Elder Joshua Thomas

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Letter from July 16, 2012

Howdy Folks!

This has been an action packed week here in Slidell, so I will try and share the highlights:

-We caught an alligator. Well, kinda. It was already dead, but still. We even skinned it and kept the leather!! It was too good to be true. As soon as my camera works again I will send the pictures.

-I caught my first fish!!! It was a huge bass down in the upscale development in our area, Eden Isles. I kept getting a ton of bites, but the fish were so big that they kept breaking my line. But finally we caught one that was about a foot long. Hopefully we can get the pictures off of the phone so I can show y'all, but man oh man, it was a blast.

-While serving a member, we ran into a 4 foot Water Moccasin (very poisonous mom ;)) and chased it with shovels, but couldn't catch it, much to the member's dismay. But as a result, I stepped into a anthill and now my leg is swollen up from the ant bites. I guess you get what you deserve, eh?

Moving past the wildlife, there were many spiritual experiences throughout the week:

-I met President McDonough! He is such a nice and wise man, and I am looking forward to serving with him. We had interviews at our individual apartments because he was touring the mission with the AP's, and so it was a humbling experience to kneel in prayer with my president by my bed (they were held in the bedroom) and to seek the Lord's guidance. Already I know that he is called of God because of the things he has shared with me. He definitely has the spirit with him, that is for sure.

-We have an investigator with a baptismal date!! :D It came out of nowhere too, which is the cool thing. He is a referral that we recieved a month and a half ago, but who we dropped this past Friday because it always fell through. Come Sunday, his grandparents invited us to their home to teach him, and the lesson was absolutely perfect. It was one of my first real experiences teaching with a member present, and it was truly a blessing. Having his grandparents bear testimony of Joseph Smith, the Restoration, and the Book of Mormon allowed the spirit, the greatest teacher of all, to testify to this young man. I truly felt the spirit bear testimony of the Book of Mormon and the blessing that it can be in our lives. There are a lot of obstacles to overcome in this situation, but I have hope that he can exert the faith needed to overcome these obstacles and come closer to his Savior. This past week we spent a significant amount of time tracting and contacting, and it bore no fruit. But we kept working and the Lord blessed us with this unexpected experience. It has taught me that our prayers will be answered according to the Lord's will and His time schedule. As with all things, patience, faith, and diligence are needed to find those that the Lord has prepared.

I love this work, and despite the constant rejection, insults, and the ever tiring bike riding, I love all that I am blessed to do as a servant of the Lord. I have been reminded throughout this past week of the blessing that the Priesthood is in my life, and the blessings that are available through it at the temple by living in a manner consistent with the covenants made therein. This gospel has changed my life and I wish that everyone would realize the blessing it could be in their life. I will forever be in debt to our Savior for his loving sacrifice, and for the blessing of living in a time where the fulness of the gospel has been restored because of the true joy that I have found along the path of discipleship. While all of us find ourselves straying from that path at some time or another for a slew of varying reasons, Christ's "hand is stretched out still," regardless of what we have done. (2 Nephi 19:21) I am so grateful for the blessing of the Atonement and for the enabling power of His grace. The Church is true, I promise!!

Love,

Elder Thomas

Monday, July 9, 2012

Letter from July 9, 2012

Howdy Y'all!!
 
Greetings from Slidell, the land of dreams. This week has been slow but full of many blessings that have been very apparent to us. The 4th of July really slowed us down because we really couldn't effectively work that day. But - we did get the chance to see the fireworks at Heritage Park (the big one in the middle of the city) that everyone goes to from the Zone Leader's apartment, and that was the extent of our celebration. Anyways, there has been a theme that has been clear to me throughout the course of the week - in the work of the Lord, miracles abound.
 
Our first miracle came about by working with members. I have written many people about the situation within our ward involving a man who has been diagnosed with cancer. Because of his medicine, he was at the point where his body was no longer functioning properly, and he was shaking and twitching constantly. Then in a sudden turn of events, he was able to walk into the specialist and was restored to a functioning level. His daughter (also a member in the ward) called to tell us the news, and my companion and I were touched by her gratitude and the impact that we had on her family. Through tears she thanked us for all the hours of service rendered, and over the course of the last few days he has stabilized in preperation for his upcoming treatment. A true miracle indeed.
 
The second came with a less active member who opened up in a way we couldn't imagine. Where months ago missionaries weren't allowed in, the dad has now openly asked for our help. Hearts have truly been softened, and hopefully we can successfully address the concerns that we have identified. Because of this, one of their children who was scheduled to be baptized before he refused missionaries will hopefully once again have the opportunity to make the decision to follow the example that our Savior set. A small change that will bring about a great result - once again a miracle.
 
Lastly, a former investigator. She dropped us the week after our baptism, saying "I'll call you." We took this in stride, and the other day we felt strongly that we should go see her again soon. When we did, she informed us that her family had faced some very unique and trying circumstances, and it was not going well for her. We shared a message of the Atonement and the peace it can bring, and she just started crying. A soft "I'm going to be fine" was all we heard in response. Her door, which was previously closed to us, was opened once again as she expressed her gratitude for our visit and invited us back for a return appointment this week. What a blessing. Once again, miracles abound.
 
The doctrine is clear - miracles will occur when faith exists. As Mormon wrote to his son Moroni,
 
"And now, my beloved brethren, if this be the case that these things are true which I have spoken unto you, and God will show unto you, with power and great glory at the last day, that they are true, and if they are true has the day of miracles ceased? . . . Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain." (Moroni 7:35,37)
 
This week has truly exemplified what Elder Holland has taught, that "God never leaves us alone, never leaves us unaided in the challenges that we face." The comfort from that promise is astounding, and it continually motivates me to continue in this work. Our Father and our Savior love us so much, and because of that love miracles can occur in each of our lives so long as we first have faith. The gospel is such a blessing in my life, and I wish that everyone could understand that joy and accept this message. I love you all and hope you have an amazing week!
 
Love,
Elder Thomas

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Letter from July 2, 2012


Well....
We have a new president here in the MJM, President McDonough. I haven't met him yet, but I'm sure he's just fantastic. Even though I only had a month with him, I love President Tucker and will miss him - he has been a great help to me. Also, I'm feeling much better, which is good in light of the crazy heat wave.
This week has been interesting, because we have been back to work trying to find more investigators. We have been working so hard for so long in so much heat that I have lost 6 pounds this week. Crazy. It has been very frustrating for us because despite our best efforts to find, we are meeting no success. We tracted an entire street and didn't teach a single lesson. But regardless, we keep trying our very best with the knowledge that the Lord will direct us where we need to go. 
One example of a strange but awesome lesson was this past week at the Library. We were there to attempt to contact a referral via email, but because it was so darn hot outside and it's a three mile bike ride to the library in the heat, we were sweating a ton and stopped in the bathroom to make ourselves presentable. While we were washing our hands, a guy came in and we started talking. When he found out we were the "mormons" we told us that he had family that were members, and that he had talked to missionaries once before. Also, he was a door-to-door salesman, so he asked us to share our "presentation" with him, so we ended up sitting down in the middle of the quiet zone and teaching the Restoration. It was the most bizarre thing ever. But, he had a lot of questions and committed to read the Book of Mormon. Then, he dropped the bomb that he actually lives in Iowa, so we have to give them the referral. Hopefully it is in my good friend Elder Timmy Bates's area. That would be too cool.
And, a funny story from yesterday. We went to contact some less actives in our apartment complex and they didn't answer, so I looked over at my companion and we decided to go talk to all of the guys that were standing outside the next unit. As we did talk to them, we found out half of them only spoke spanish, and so I started talking to them in Spanish and they were surprised. Well, one of them was on the phone and didn't know I could speak Spanish, so he started going off about how everyone was talking to "mormones" and started saying some derogatory things about us, when his friend leaned back and said in Spanish "Hey moron, this kid speaks Spanish." The guy turned bright red and walked away, and I just started laughing. We ended up teaching them the first lesson (kinda) and they just wanted to argue so we just left because it was going nowhere, but still, it was so funny. I suppose you had to have been there.
Lastly, in light of the 4th of July, a quote from the great Alexis de Tocqueville:
“I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors, in her fertile fields and boundless forests, in her rich minds and vast commerce, in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic congress and in her matchless Constitution, but not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and her power. America is great because America is good. And if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
Amen. At this great season of patriotism, may we always remember those who have selflessly sacrificed on our behalf. They deserve the utmost respect and honor for what they have done. But let us also consider within ourselves our own level of patriotism, both to our country and to the Gospel. The Book of Mormon contains many great examples of patriots to the Lord's cause. Their example gives us great opportunity to reflect upon our own lives and to ask ourselves: "What would I be willing to do for this gospel?" As we strive to become more like Nephi, Captain Moroni, King Benjamin, the prophet Alma, and the other patriots of scripture, we can become truly free from the cares of the world. That freedom, combined with that provided by this great nation, is where true joy is born, and where true happiness can be experienced! God bless America!
Y'all be safe and don't have too much fun with them fireworks.
Love,
Elder Thomas

Letter from June 26, 2012


G'Day Mates!
 
I am writing this week from Gulfport, MS because of transfers. Love it here. This past week may or may not have been terrible. It started off with the passing of my grandpa and ended with me being pretty sick with some crazy strain of Bronchitis and the work has been super slow as a result, but I am getting better and this next week looks promising!! Fun fact - they have me taking some medicine so strong that it is used to kill Anthrax. Woohoo!! Love you mom haha.
 
The only good news from this week was that when tracting we ran into a less-active part-member family who was not on the records. We have spent a lot of time with them, and we are starting to build a great relationship of trust. Just yesterday we helped tutor one of their grandkids for his test, and man, it was a blast. Who would have thunk that doing math with a kid could be so fun?? We have a dinner appointment with the whole family later this week, and that should be very telling as to the future of the relationship.
 
Also, we had Stake Conference this past week, and it was President Tucker's last Sunday in the mission. Let's just say his talk was the most powerful and moving remarks I have ever heard, hands down. Missionaries were crying because it was so good. He centered his remarks on how life isn't fair, but that through the atonement the injustices of life can be made so. He shared a story about a young family who last their father in a tragic accident and how their situation was sorted out and made "fair" as they exercised the atonement in their lives. It was a sweet reminder in light of the recent loss in my family that the atonement is very real, and can be very active in each of our lives IF we have the faith to let Christ in. The talk was the best spiritual medicine I could have asked for.
 
Well, like I said, this week really didn't have much because of illness, but that's the highlights (minus moving a mattress on top of a car without ropes, so we used our hands as restraints. Redneck moment for sure. People were actually taking pictures of us. Hopefully I can send one on with the baptisimal ones soon!) I love you all, and hope you have an amazing week!
 
Love,
Elder Thomas

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Grandpa Thomas

Josh's grandfather passed away on Tuesday and his mission president encouraged him to write something about him that could be shared with other family members.  We felt that his message was applicable for all and we hope you enjoy it.


The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Grandpa Thomas is stories. Without fail, each time that we visited he always had a story for whatever topic we were discussing. Every single visit revealed another crazy childhood adventure, and who could forget the stories of my dad as a kid. Grandpa always had a way of bringing a smile through his willingness to share his life with others. I attribute this to the fact that he lived a life that saw a plethora of experiences, each contributing to the man that we all knew. We all loved him, and we will all miss him, but we must remember that love is the cause of our sorrow, because it is impossible to remove the sorrow from death without removing the love from life. The death of one we love serves as a reminder of the importance of every moment in life, for we do not know our appointed time, thereby making it neccesary to make every day count. (See Hebrews 9:27) My experience with Grandpa Thomas taught me this principle well - I will forever remember and charish all of the stops at Mama Petrillo's for some pizza and salad, going to Dodger's Baseball games, trips to the zoo, and time spent building relationships of love and trust by sharing in each other's experiences.
 
Herein lies the miracle of our Savior's sacrifice on Calvary - through his atonement, we can rest assured that this life is but a small moment in comparison to the eternities, that the seperation before us is temporary, and that the reunion on the other side is an eternal one. Elder Richard G. Scott has taught that "We can strengthen our relationship with the departed individual we love by recognizing that the separation is temporary and that covenants made in the temple are eternal." Having made the sacred covenants neccesary to see this promised reunion occur with his wife Jaydene and his family, and having done what is required of him here, we can find peace and reassurence in the fact that Grandpa Thomas is at rest in the life beyond this. 1 Corinthians 15:22 tells us that in Christ all will be made alive. Grandpa Thomas "[ran] with patience the race that [was] set before [him], looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith," (Hebrews 12:1-2) and because of that we can know that he is happy on the other side, rooting for our success.
 
Towards the end of his life Grandpa Thomas faced many health challenges, which caused him much difficulty and suffering throughout his daily life. Despite all of this, he continued pressing on. He was a shining example of one who endured to the end. The scriptures promise us that those who do so will "be lifted up at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the Lamb." (1 Nephi 13:37) What a beautiful thought! It is my testimony that this promise is true, that those who follow Christ and endure well the race of life will find peace and everlasting joy in the kingdom of our Father in Heaven. Because our Heavenly Father loves us so much, he gave us a plan whereby we can be saved, and it is only through our Savior that this plan could lovingly be brought to pass.
 
The passing of a loved one always brings sorrow, but that sorrow can be replaced with joy as we come to understand more fully Christ's Atonement and our Father's grand plan of happiness. I testify that Christ did suffer for each of us individually, and that his selfless sacrifice encompasses all of our pains and sorrows. As we turn to him who knows us best, we will find an emotional burden and weight lifted, to be replaced with faith and hope. Grandma, I know that Grandpa loved you more than he led on. He would put up with a lot from us kids, but he would never allow any disrespect for you. Ever. You were his princess, his fairy tale ending. Never forget that our Savior loves you, and that he loves all the same. I know that as we follow Christ we can find peace and joy once again, if we but have faith in him. As the hymn so beautifully states,
He lives to silence all my fears;
He lives to wipe away my tears;
He lives to calm my troubled heart;
He lives all blessings to impart.
Through Him, the pain of loss can be replaced with a fullness of joy. He lives and cares about us. We only need turn to him, for "his hand is stretched out still." (2 Nephi 19: 12,17, 21)

Letter from June 18th, 2012


Aloha!!
 
Life is good here in the 'Dell. Life is real good. We are living under constant threat of a hurricane, and have to continually review the evacuation procedure just in case. Love it! This past week was really cool - I had my first baptism!! It was the first investigator I wrote home about, Joey. Exactly one month after we started working in our brand new area we were able to bring someone to the gate leading towards eternal life. What a blessing. I had the distinct honor of being the one to actually baptize him, and according to our Bishop, he's never seen someone smile so big in the font (reffering to me haha). He was confirmed and recieved the priesthood the next day, and we are working on getting the new member lessons in the coming weeks. So cool! It was scary because at first there was a mix up with the baptisimal interview, and so we thought that it wouldn't be able to go through, but we worked it out and everything went smoothly. I was very happy, and truly saw the scripture fulfilled: "And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!" (D&C 18:15)
 
Despite such success, this week was overshadowed by a lot of unfortunate events. Every single one of our investigators dropped us. Well, I guess there is one guy, but we haven't seen him in weeks because he's traveling, but still.... but we've worked hard and have a lot of potentials that we hope to meet with this week, so we just need to work and pray even harder! We will see the fruits of our labor, or at least I hope we do. Which reminds me of my brother's last letter home from Chile - this life is all about the fruits. Great thought bro.
 
Also, we've spent a lot of time visiting a certain member of our ward who is struggling as he is facing a diagnosis of cancer. It has been absolutely heartwrenching to see the sorrow in their eyes as we visit with them. One of the days he was looking into space and saying "I've lived a good life. Death won't be too bad. It's been a great adventure" to which I had no response. He even asked for another blessing from us, and his wife mis-heard that he would live for a long time, and it broke our hearts to tell her that that was not said when she excitedly talked to us about it. I've never seen shoulders drop that low. But, it is a great reminder of our Savior's Atonement and how his suffering was for all the bad that we experience in this life, and that we must run well the race of life, "looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith." (See Hebrews 12:1-2). They are finding strength in the thought that every trial is for a reason, and that God, the master potter, is continually shaping our lives through adversity and hardship. To quote Elder Holland, "salvation is not a cheap experience," and it is through our trials that we are bettered and our imperfections are made into strengths that benefit us in the economy of the heavens. I constantly find myself praying for this poor family, and the other people who I know are suffering from similar afflictions for the strength to continue running their race despite the trials. One of the things that differentiates the restored gospel from other teachings is the doctrine of enduring to the end. Rather than a singular experience where we "find Jesus," we believe in following the Doctrine of Christ in a cyclic pattern throughout life. The beautiful thing is the promise made in 1 Nephi 13:37, that those who endure to the end will be blessed with being lifted up unto eternal life through the grace of Christ. Anyways, that is a lot of what has been on my mind as I have gone throughout the week, sorry for the crazy long tangent.
 
That's all for this week folks, and I will try and send pictures from the baptism next week (camera problems this week)!! I love you all, and hope that you have a safe and wonderful week! The church is 100% true, no bones about it, I promise!!
 
Love,
Elder Thomas
 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Pictures

I finally figured out how to convert Josh' pictures so I could post.  Enjoy!





Letter from June 11th, 2012


G'Day!
 
It's been an extremely slow week here in the 'Dell. We've been hit with three straight days of torrential rain storms, so with us being in a bike area we have been stuck in the apartment for long stretches of the day. We like to refer to it as a "God-given P-Day" haha. In the breaks between pockets of heavy rain we would throw on our coats and head out into the steady rain and try and maximize our time, and in the process we have had some great opportunities to teach and preach. Every one of the lessons we had have helped us to strengthen our relationships with some of the shaky investigators and identify their real concerns with our message. It has been cool because we have been afforded some great opportunites.
 
Our baptism with our first investigator is this weekend, and we are really excited. He has been progressing well, and we hope to have a great support network in place as we transition him to the ward. Our other investigators, the family I mentioned last week, has dropped off the face of the planet. They loved the message and then are never home and won't return calls. So we are giving them a couple of weeks and some space, keeping them in our prayers, and hoping they will allow us to continue teaching them.
 
A super cool experience this week came with a less active family. The dad has MS, and him and his son live together a mile or two away from our apartment. We stopped by and were pretty apprehensive about how the visit would go because no one was saying anything, and then boom. He started talking about the physical symptoms that he had and I completely understood everything that he was saying thanks to AP Psychology. Who knows, maybe that's why I felt strongly to take that class even though I found no use for it at the time. He really started to open up about how he was struggling, and he just started to softly cry as he expressed a feeling of helplessness. Instantly Alma 7:11-12 came to mind, and so after we let the Spirit work for what felt like a solid minute, I reached for the Book of Mormon and instantly heard a "just start talking," so I did, without that reference. I had no idea of what to say, but I know that what I did say came directly from heaven. All I remember is that we did say that we were literal representitives of the Lord Jesus Christ, sent to minister to the people of Slidell, and that his sacrifice was on behalf of everyone, and through it we could find comfort from our trials and hardships. That was concluded by the statement "He loves you so much." All that the man could say was "I know that" through his tears. My companion then bore testimony of the Atonement and our Savior's love once again, and we proceeded to give him a priesthood blessing. The spirit was crazy strong thoughout the entire experience. Like, almost palpable. It really made me think about the name tag and who I represent. I am so humbled by the opportunity to be a literal representitive of Him. The cool thing is that we weren't guided there by a strong spiritual prompting, but rather we were simply trying our best to work hard and serve to the best of our ability, and we were able to fulfil our purpose of inviting others to come closer to Christ because of this experience. There is so much to be gained from that principle - serve the Lord with all of your heart and he will provide the opportunites needed to fulfill his purpose for you. Love it.
 
Well, that's all for now folks. The weather report says that the next few days will be rainy, but I sure hope that we can get a lot done and be safe in the process. As a member reminded me at church yesterday, "we don't want another hurricane." Amen. I hope this letter finds everyone well. The Church is true, and I love it!
 
Love,
Elder Thomas

Letter from June 4th, 2012


Hey there friends!
 
It's been another week of mayhem here in the 'Dell. There's nothing quite like the South with its humidity and heat. Heaven help us once August comes. This week we didn't really have anything too crazy happen, with the exception of a crazy rain/thunderstorm stranding us on an investigator's porch. Just another week of working hard and knocking doors, which has caused me to get some petty cool calusces 
 
The investigator that I talked about last week is still progressing to baptism, but we had to move the date to the 16th. We lost contact with him for an entire week, and he couldn't make it to church because of an emergency, so we will need to wait until the 16th. But I'm really excited to see how he is embracing everything we teach with open arms. Already there has been a change in his countenance, and I'm sure it has come about through the Holy Ghost's involvement in his life. 
 
We also committed a family to baptism for the same date. We found them via tracting 30 minutes after I sent my email last week, and it was a super cool experience. After she shared her thoughts and concerns about modern religion, we found that the message of the Restoration covered every single one of them. Everything seemed like a revelation to her. She even started crying as we recited the Joseph Smith story. The spirit was super stong throught the entire lesson, and my companion and I were both learning from the experience. She even told us that for the past few days she had been praying for God to reveal the truth to her, and we showed up shortly after. Hopefully they can continue progressing towards baptism, because that would be such a miracle. Following the strugle we had for the first week or so in opening the area, miracles are starting to occur. 
 
We've also had some really cool things happen in working with members. We've been given the opportunity to give multiple blessings in a day, and the words that have come out of our mouths have left me speechless.  I love the ward so much - there are some very interesting people here. One of the older couples is my favorite. We had dinner with them the other night, and my companion and I were crying because of how much they were making us laugh. He was yelling (in his Cajun accent) "Baby, stop making food, can't you see they're done!?" to which she would reply "It's not like we're going to kill them Walter!" followed by even more food hitting the table. Then she would lean over to us and whisper, "After 52 years of marriage, we talk like we're going to murder each other, but it's really not that way, don't you worry." This continued for a good 10 minutes. I guess you had to be there, but man - words can't describe how hilarious they are. Shoot son!
 
As for this week, I think that's all that I have to report. Congrats to everyone who graduated this past week - the world is yours for the taking, go have some fun! I love you all and hope you have a great week!
 
Love,
Elder Thomas
 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Letter from May 29th, 2012


Hi-de-ho everyone!
This has been a super crazy roller-coaster week here in the 'Dell. Because we were the missionaries that started this area, we came into the week with no investigators and no direction, but that has changed over the course of the past 7 days. Our big success story is that someone that we started teaching has committed to baptism!! It is the craziest story, so that is what I will share this week. 
Mid-week we recieved a media referral from Salt Lake, and when we contacted them, we found a married couple that lived RIGHT next door. Like, the next lot over. Awesome. So we started talking, and it turns out that she was once a member that fell away when she went through some life changes and got remarried. Before they moved to Slidell, they even went to our church once but didn't have a car so they hadn't been since. As we started teaching the restoration, it became clear that the Lord had prepared him. Everything we would say, he would agree with. He even interrupted us and said that he wanted to be baptized. We were in shock. He proceeded to tell us that he hates smoking, drinking, and immorality. Jaws on the floor. How often does that happen on the first visit? Never. We seriously couldn't believe it. So we got them a ride for church, met with them again, and he is progressing nicely. He is such a sincere guy, and he really wants to find "the truth." Well, good thing we have it. I truly believe that the Lord prepared him through a handful of ways, and I hope that we can continue to fulfill our purpose and invite him to come unto Christ by helping him recieve the restored gospel. It just seems crazy that 4 weeks into opening the area we could have a baptism that is 100% from our companionship. The Lord is truly involved in his work.
Other than that, we have spent a lot of time meeting members, less-actives, and doing some old-fashioned tracting. Hours of it. On a bike. In the humid heat of the "Dirty South," to quote one of my missionary friends. Seriously, the heat here is disgusting and might just be the death of us. Everyone laughs because we are the only Elders in our zone that have to ride bikes. But it did yield some fruit by establishing some very strong relationships of trust with less-actives and finding us some investigators, a few of whom are considered progressing. The work is hard, but the reward is beyond worth it. I love being a missionary. I consider it the hardest way to have the most fun you can imagine. 
The ward here is awesome. I have met some of the coolest people imaginable. Anywhere from the next Jimi-Hendrix to a literal Mormon mob boss. Getting to know them has been a blast and a half, and they have been very embracing of us as two new elders to their ward. The food here is great, but I haven't had the Creole or fried chicken I was expecting,(Although they do have a fast food resturant that serves only chicken fingers - Raising Cane's - which I fell in love with. So much so I even bought one of their shirts) just normal food. However, I did make the greatest find of my life - red beans and rice with some creole seasoning. Mmmmm. Already had it twice, and I'm pretty sure it's my favorite dish. I'll be sure to send the good stuff home in my next package so you can experience the goodness.
Anyways, that's all folks!! The church is true I promise!! I hope you all have a fantastic week.
Love,
Elder Thomas


                                     

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Letter from May 21, 2012

Howdy!!

Well this week has been one big crazy adventure! Although it is true that we have had doors slammed in our faces, curse words yelled at us, and all sorts of other rejection, I love Slidell. It is such a cool place with some very interesting people. A lot of the people we talk to have seen a lot of devistation (Slidell is basically a suburb of New Orleans, and Hurrican Katrina had a huge effect here) in their lives. We ride our bikes by places where homes used to exist, and now only a shattered foundation exists. Our area covers a huge demographic range - from ghetto (kinda where we live) to very wealthy bayouside homes. That in and of itself lends to an interesting experience. There are some gorgeous areas - as we ride out to Eden Isles, an upscale area, we pass Bayous that blow my mind with how beautiful they are. We've had to stop to take pictures a couple times because it felt like it was too good to be true. Hopefully I can send those pictures in the next couple of weeks. There is nothing quite like having Blue Jays flying around everywhere. So cool.

 The ward here is phenominal. The members are all very cool, and I love listening to them tell their life stories. Especially some of the older members. This past week we talked to a man who was born in 1919, served in the war, and builds his own boats. What a cool guy. And the old married couples that make fun of each other after 50+ years of marriage. They are all so happy, despite the huge tragadies in their lives. Because we are in a new area the work is going slow, but momentum is building, and if we keep up this work, success can and will happen. My companion is awesome - we are always finding a way to laugh throughout the day. For example, we had 45 minutes before a dinner appointment, so we decided to tract out the area around the park we were to meet at and some guy answered the door, obviously weary from the nap he had just been taking. Before I could stop myself, I found the words "Hi! Good Morning!" leaving my mouth at 6 pm. He looked me in the eye and slammed the door in our faces. We looked at each other, and just busted up. That was my first day of tracting. What a way to start off the mission, eh?

 No amazing stories yet, because the one contact we made that had good potential was actually outside of our area so we had to turn her over to the ZL's. I was not too happy, because she seriously had questions about the church, wanted to learn more, and had us over more than once. Grrr. Really that is all for this week, because a lot of our time was spent getting our bearings and becoming cofortable with the area and members. Hopefully I will have more next week. I love the people of Slidell, love my companion, love Lousiana and southern sunsets, and love this Gospel. The church is true, I promise!!

Love,

Elder Thomas

PS - I also love Waffle House. If I ever go into business, I am making sure that I bring one to Utah. Their waffles are straight from the Celestial Kingdom. Huzzah!