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!


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 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!!
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