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)


"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)


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!
Elder Thomas

Last pictures from Slidell

Letter from September 17th, 2012

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 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!!
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)