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.
Elder Thomas


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Letter from May 21, 2012


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!!


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!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

First letter from Mississippi - 5/16/2012

Howdy ya'll!

I can't believe that I finally made it to Mississippi!! The ride to the airport was bittersweet - as we drove through Orem and Provo we passed so many places with so many memories with some of the greatest people in the world. As we left Utah County and the memories behind, we all started stressing out and sleep wouldn't come, despite the fact it was 4 am. Writing to friends on the way to Atlanta and and talking to family at the airport made me forget all about the stress, and by the time we boarded the plane to Jackson, all I could feel was excitement. Our whole district was just beaming from ear to ear - never before have I seen 12 teenagers be so happy. We met President and Sister Tucker at the airport - I absolutely love them. Sister Tucker is one of the greatest cooks ever. If all the food I eat on my mission is that good, I'm in big trouble ;)

That night we went out and tracted in Brandon, so an assistant and I went to an upscale gated community. We were met with a lot of rejection - this guy even started talking to us and asked us to walk with him, and then he proceeded to tell us he was a deacon in his local Baptist church and that we couldn't "convince him about our Book of Mormon." He frankly told us what he thought and we thanked him for his time and moved on. Two minutes later he came back to let us know that there was something on our car. Gotta love the people here. We ran into a guy on a street corner and talked to him about the church for at least 15 minutes - he knew all about our beliefs and would not deny Joseph Smith, but couldn't bring himself to say it was true. Eventually, we ended up praying with him right there on the side of the road. It was the first time in my life that someone started talking in the middle of a prayer. "Jesus amen" and "I believe." Also, once we said amen he started continuing the prayer. My companion and I started laughing as we walked away.

At that point, we thought that the night would be over, but we knocked one more house, and it was the golden door approach. They were watching a basketball game, so from moment one we started talking basketball with them (A 20 yr old guy and 18 yr old girl) and their family, and then turned to the Book of Mormon. They expressed interest, and had genuine questions that showed a great understanding of Christ and the Bible for an 18 yr old girl. We left a book with them and they said that they would "try" to read this week. We sent their info off to the Brandon missionaries, and I hope that things can go well with them because I felt really good about their level of interest. 

I am in love with the south. I can't believe that I haven't been here before, because it is something out of a dream. The food is amazing. The people are always nice, even when they try to be rude. The scenery is phenomenal. The only complaint, that everyone knew would be coming, is the humidity. At 10:30 this morning it was barely 65 degrees, but every single person at the transfer point was dripping in sweat. Grosssssss. Oh, and you might care to know that I have been assigned to serve in the Slidell West, Louisiana Area with Elder Harden as my trainer for the next 3 months. It is a suburb of New Orleans, but the Big Easy itself isn't actually in my area. Also, we are opening the area, so we will be starting from scratch as of tonight when we arrive, which will certainly be a learning experience to remember. That's all for now folks!!

Elder Thomas

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Letter from May 9, 2012

Aloha!! I blinked and we are leaving in 5 days. This is unbelievable. I love this place, but I can't wait to get out into the free world via Mississippi. I already love the people and can't wait to serve them. I have been a bit under the weather this week, so things have been a bit difficult, but I still feel like I have grown quite a bit. I have two cool stories to share. First, I talked with an apostle last night. No big deal. It was D. Todd Christofferson, because he was giving the Tuesday devotional. Throughout his talk he was asking for audience perticipation, so he asked a question, no one answered, so I raised my hand and he called on me. We were talking about the Doctrine of Christ (2 Ne. 31/ 3 Ne. 11/ 3 Ne. 27) and why it was important for Christ to be baptizied. Though he didn't say much to me in the VERY public setting, when we made eye contact I felt like he could see my soul. Scary business. He also talked about how missionaries stand side-by-side with the Apostles in bearing witness of Christ's Divinity and how we share the commission given unto the twelve by Christ as recorded in the Gospels. No pressure at all, right?

Secondly, I gained the strongest testimony ever of fasting and prayer. My whole time that I have been here I have struggled to effectively teach the Restoration, and evertime I did teach, it wasn't all too powerful. So I have spent much time on my knees pleading with God to help direct me to find out what I need to do to be a more effective tool in his hands regarding this topic. I recieved specific revelation as to what to do (Read BofM, fast, and read the testimony of Joseph Smith), and so I got to work. On Fast Sunday, we had mission conference, and one of the speakers spoke specifically about my very concerns and I got all excited and then..... I felt nothing. The only talk that I didn't feel anything spiritually in was the one I needed most. So once again, I turned to the Lord and asked againg to help me gain a stronger witness of the truth of the Prophet Joseph and his divine mission on this earth. A couple more speakers passed and then President Brown (MTC pres.) got up and asked a sister missionary to share her testimony. The first words out of her mouth were "I know the Book of Mormon is true," and the spirit washed over me in a manner that I cannot describe. Never before have I felt the Spirit so stong in my life - if it would have been any stronger angels would have been appearing. I know without a shread of doubt in my mind, heart, and soul, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and that the Prophet Joseph Smith was an instrument in the Lord's hands to bring it to pass. Jesus is the Christ, and his Atonement can heal us from the wounding influence of sin if we only pray to him in faith with a humble and sincere desire to repent. What a gift we are given, a gift that truly demonstates the love of both our Savior and our Heavenly Father.
The Church is true, I promise!!
Much Love,
Elder Thomas

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

First Letter from the MTC

Well, I have survived week one. A good friend described the MTC as a well-dressed prison, and sometimes it does feel that way. Nothing feels quite as good as going for a walk outside, because all of your time is spent sitting in a classroom learning and studying. But it has been amazing to see the changes that everyone has undergone is such a short period of time. My companion's name is Elder Bytheway, from Richfield, Utah. He's a great guy and we are both learning a lot about how to effectively teach the gospel.
As part of the training exercises, you are required to teach your MTC instructor as if they were an investegator with a profile that they created. Our first lesson was with Dan. The lesson was pretty rough (in my defense, it was our first...) but we taught with the spirit as best we could. At the end, we both felt impressed to extend him an invitation to be baptized, and he accepted, to my surprise. The power and strength that we felt when offering the challenge was amazing. It served as yet another testimony that this is the Lord's work and He will guide his missionaries if they put forth their best effort.
I have seen some really bizarre things here (senior missionaries pulling out their contact lenses and sucking on them in their mouth??) and been exposed to a variety of languages and cultures. The food is bland, with a rare exception every few days. (I had to throw that in there for Taylor's sake..) The days are long and exhausting. But there is no where else I would rather be. As I have increased my dedication to the work, the Lord has increased my strength and I have never felt the spirit so strong or been so blessed. Small miracles happen every day. At the beginning of my first day, our Coordinating Sister, Sister Evans, told us that "No matter what your question or problem, turn to the Book of Mormon and it will provide the answers." I took that to heart, went and purchased another copy of the BofM, and went to work studying with two purposes: 1) gain a stronger testimony of the Restoration and 2) learn to apply the scriptures to missionary work. It has been painstakingly long work (1 hour for two chapters), but the blessings have been amazing. For example, I finished reading the story of Nephi going back for the plates and then went to Devotional. What was the entire talk about? That same story, and the explanation given of it was one that no one in my district had ever considered. It blew my mind. Stuff like that has been happening the whole time. Pretty cool. Anyways, I am out of time and need to go, but I love you all and miss you! The Church is true, I promise!!
-Elder Thomas
Oh, and PS, I have bucked the trend of weight gain at the MTC. That's right, I've lost three pounds already ;) Amazing what running can do for you!!