Monday, July 30, 2012

Letter from July 30, 2012


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.


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!
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!!


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!
Elder Thomas

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Letter from July 2, 2012

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.
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!
Elder Thomas