Friday, December 28, 2007
By frozen canal. Homemade nativity scene, with floating angel and star, sent from Jax.
Merry Christmas! Mine was great. We spent Christmas Eve with a member family whose father served his mission in Fresno, California and is something of an Americophile(?) – they served us Mexican food and sent us home with a box each of Kraft macaroni and cheese : ). Another member family invited us over for breakfast on Christmas morning (American-style pancakes with maple syrup), and we spent dinner (the midday meal in Britain) and the afternoon with our ward mission leader’s family. Christmas dinner in England is kind of like Thanksgiving dinner in the States – we had a huge spread with turkey, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, four kinds of vegetables, Yorkshire pudding, applesauce, cranberry sauce, and stuffing, all covered with gravy. : ) Then we went over to the bishop’s house for tea, which was (fortunately for us) buffet-style, so we only had to eat as much as we wanted to take. The bishop has a family with about five little kids, but his parents and unmarried sister are also in the ward, and while we were at the bishop’s house, they came over with some other relatives and a very elderly and much-beloved sister in the ward named Sister Ashley. The grandparents had brought huge piles of presents for their grandkids, and it was a lot of fun for me to watch the kids open them up – kind of a substitute for watching my siblings open their presents, which was probably the Christmas experience I missed the most. Elder Empey and I also got to participate in Sister Ashley’s annual Christmas quiz, which is a series of general knowledge/trivia questions that she comes up with and reads out. It’s apparently a big tradition for Sister Ashley to come and do this at the bishop’s house. Unfortunately our team got smoked by a question about British geography and came third of four.
Thank you everyone for your wonderful packages! My gifts were so abundant that I don’t have time to go through and talk about how much I enjoy them individually. I got all of them by Christmas except for the one from Gary and Ty’s family, which I collected yesterday. The members of the ward here also showered me with gifts – I must have collected about a half-dozen wrapped gifts in the week leading up to Christmas, and Elder Empey and I are now richly supplied with socks, ties, and several kilos of candy each. : )
The ward had its annual Nativity play on Sunday night. Elder Empey and I were two of the three kings. It was nice to participate in a Nativity, although I’m sure it wasn’t as good as our Christmas Eve one. : )
One of our investigators lives all by himself, has very little, and has been unable to get in contact with his family despite his efforts. The members who live across the street from him and introduced him to us have been really kind to him, bringing him food, etc. He came to the ward Nativity, and while I was standing with him and talking afterwards, a member handed me a plastic bag with a gift-wrapped present for me in it. It made me feel really guilty to be receiving another present right in front of our investigator, who probably wouldn’t be having much for Christmas. On Christmas morning, I ended up wrapping up my Nativity set and scented candle and giving them to him. It was a little painful to give them away since I’ve enjoyed them so much in the past few weeks, but it was a good thing for me to do. I remembered giving away the playdough Nativity set we made in Romania, and I felt like I was carrying on that tradition here.
We had a special zone conference yesterday – because it’s Christmas, President Jacobsen had us all travel up to Chorley and go through a temple session in the morning before meeting in the afternoon. I realized that I hadn’t been through the temple since my last day in the MTC, and I was surprised at how much my perspective has changed and how much more I got out of the session than I had before. It’s kind of exciting to look back like that and see how much I’ve learned since the MTC.
At zone conference yesterday, I picked up three letters, all from people I do not know! One was from the Primary of the Menlo Park Stake (my stake at Stanford), and contained several pictures of Christmas trees and earnest handwritten notes (along the lines of "Dear Elder, I hope you have a merry Christmas. Love, Amanda"); another one was a Christmas card from someone named Kurt Johnson who is also apparently from the Menlo Park Stake. The last one was a Christmas card from the Vorwaller family in Jacksonville, who said they were enjoying having you in their ward – they introduced themselves as "Carmen Jones’ parents." A big thank you to those who got my address out to these people! Getting mail is always a pleasure, even when I haven’t met the people who are sending it. : )
Sam's desk in Runcorn, with Lifesaver Advent Calendar showing only 5 days until Christmas; Christmas tree donated to missionaries by the Cohens
I'm feeling a little envious of the "perfect shirtsleeve weather" I hear that you're having in Jacksonville. The canal next to our house has been frozen over, at least partly, for about three days, and we've all had to layer up pretty heavily. We went to Chester on P-day last week and several other missionaries were so cold that they bought jackets or sweaters to wear. Fortunately the sky has been very clear for almost a week now, I think (part of the reason it's so cold, I'm sure), so I've stayed dry.
Not much happened in our area last week, and as I was reflecting on that on Sunday night I decided that I needed to refocus on my purpose as a missionary and seek to have a stronger desire to teach people and help them come unto Christ. It helped a lot - when we went out on Monday morning, I felt really happy about the gospel and about being a missionary. And (perhaps partly as a result) we had great experiences throughout the day! First, we met a member who we needed to talk to while street contacting people in the town center. Then, later on, we went to try some callbacks (people we met while tracting who were interested but couldn't talk then), and we got invited inside at the first door we tried! We figured out partway through our visit that the man we were teaching was related to one of our investigators and knew some members - in fact, the members he knew had been telling us about him the day before. After that lesson, we finally got to sit down and talk with another investigator whom we had been trying to catch for two weeks, and we confirmed that he wants to be baptized and agreed to meet him later in the week. In the evening, we got to teach another lesson and we got a referral from the member who came with us. Lots of blessings!
The Christmas season is in full swing! I've tried mince pies a couple of times now, I think. Last week we had the ward caroling activity at Asda, which I enjoyed a lot. It turns out that in Britain they sing some Christmas songs to different tunes! Particularly "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks at Night" (which everyone actually seems to know) and "O Little Town of Bethlehem," the British tune of which reminds of the Wilhelmus (the Dutch national anthem) but with a regular meter. Elder Empey and I just had to figure out the tunes as we sang.
There were two nights of caroling, each one to raise money for a different charitable cause. One of these was a women's shelter. The Relief Society Presidency used the caroling proceeds to buy a huge number of Christmas presents for the kids in the shelter, and we missionaries have gotten to help wrap the presents this week. It's been really fun! Even if I don't get to put the presents under the tree or watch them get opened on Christmas morning, some of that exciting feeling is there while I wrap.
The ward Christmas party was last week, too. One of the families we've been teaching came, which was a bit of a happy surprised since they'd been pretty uncertain about it earlier in the day. Their six-year-old boy had a great time - when it was time for all the little kids to go and meet Father Christmas, a lot of them were kind of nervous, but this little kid rushed up and gave him a big hug. Father Christmas was played by Brother O'Toole, who has a really thick Scouser (i.e. Liverpool) accent, which made his portrayal of Santa pretty amusing. Before Santa came out, all the little kids had to sing Christmas songs. The Relief Society president told them, "Now you'll have to sing nice and loud so Heavenly Father- I mean, Santa Claus can hear you!" : )
On Tuesday and Wednesday, I went on exchange in Runcorn with Elder Ayers (of Ontario, Canada), a brand-new missionary with only two weeks in the field and a great deal of enthusiasm and energy. It was the first time I'd ever worked with a missionary with less experience than me. We'd planned to go to our focus area and tract for an hour and a half, but we street contacted on the way over there, and Elder Ayers would start teaching all of the first lesson to everyone who would stop and listen. So we had a couple of good conversations and ended up with only fifteen minutes left to tract our area! It was an eye-opening experience for me to work with such a new missionary and to think that I must have been a lot like that when I first came out - without realizing it, I guess I've learned a lot about how to talk to people, make sure they understand what I'm saying, and try to help them feel the Spirit. But I've also lost some of the enthusiasm and excitement for missionary work that Elder Ayers has, and it was really refreshing to be around him and get "charged up" a little bit.
On Wednesday morning as I was getting ready to go outside, someone knocked on the door. When I answered, I found two Jehovah's Witnesses who told me they had a message to share with me. In response, I pinned my badge (which I'd had in my hand) onto my shirt and told them that I was here in England sharing a message too! They were pretty surprised, I think. We talked for a little bit (I asked them a lot of questions about prophets and how you can recognize if someone has authority from God) and they tried to give me some literature - I used Grandma Pimentel's strategy and told them I'd read theirs if they read some of mine, but they wouldn't. Kind of an interesting experience.
On Tuesday night I lost my mission debit card (the one they gave me here for mission funds, not my Stanford one)! I was standing on a moving bus, digging through my wallet to try and find my bus pass, and the card fell onto the floor and slid right out through crack under the bus door. : ( Fortunately, I'd withdrawn plenty of cash that afternoon and the day before so I'd have some emergency money and I can get a replacement card in about two weeks, so I should be fine.
Mom and Dad, I'm excited that you have been called as ward missionaries! I'm looking forward to trading ideas and experiences. I'm sending you a separate note with my thoughts about ward missionaries' role.
After tea appointments, I've been sharing a spiritual thought from Luke 2: verses 15-17, from "And when the angels were gone away from them into heaven . . . " to ". . . concerning this child." The shepherds are good examples to us - when they received this great knowledge about the birth of Christ and saw it for themselves, the first thing they did was share it with everyone around them. The Lord has made great things known unto us, too, and we can find great joy in sharing the good news of the restored gospel with people in our circle of influence. So don't be afraid to talk about the gospel and bear your testimony where you get the chance! It feels good.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Subject: Ua nej tsaug rau cov thawv!
The weather has been lovely the past few days, with temperatures climbing into the double digits (when it got to 20, I almost didn't wear a coat!), and yesterday it actually got above freezing! We were sweating quite a bit. The next few days are supposed to get colder than we've ever had so far, so we're enjoying a day of almost-freezing temperatures while it lasts. Humidity fluctuates quite a lot here. We get from 40% to 100%. Yesterday I thought it was raining, but I noticed that the tiny drops only hit me when I moved. Crazy.
The frog we ate was a big ol' bullfrog. The pictures were just of one bite on a fork, and me about to eat a leg. Elder Choua Vang ate most of the frog, but Elder Wilson and I tried some.
I got the 3rd package! Thanks loads! The Elders Vang had never before experienced such confections, and were astounded by the heavenly goodness thereof. Elder Richard Vang took two small bites of fudge and couldn't finish it. It overwhelmed him. He said it was too good--- too much flavor, too sweet. He loved it, but he said he couldn't handle the whole thing.
At the Christmas conference, we had a talent show, and I enlisted three other Elders to play "What are You Doing?" with me. None of them had ever seen it played before. It went well and got a terrific response. Those Elders are naturals. Elder Richard Vang got it on camera, but I don't know how I could send it to you so you can see it.
I will probably call in the afternoon on Christmas, but I don't know specifically when.
No more word on Meng or Mai Houa...Pa is getting a little more excited to be baptized especially when we assured her that the water won't be cold. Kong was doing well, but then his cousin started trying to convince him not to listen to us anymore. His cousin had showed him some anti-Mormon material on the internet, including something that claimed to be "10 contradictions of the Book of Mormon to the Bible". Kong was wise enough not to believe everything he hears, but he wanted us to go over those 10 things with him and give our side of the story. It was a really tough lesson, but lucky for us, our church is true, and so we were able to go through each accusation and demonstrate how the Book of Mormon does indeed teach the doctrine in the bible, just clearer. We've run into a lot of people that try to tell us that they don't need our message because they already know about Jesus and they have faith, so they're saved. We even had the son of a pastor tell us that the bible taught him that all you need in order to be saved is faith, and works are good too, but to say that they are necessary is to belittle the power of the atonement. It was VERY hard not to 'bible bash' with him, especially because it is SO clear in the bible that "Faith without works is dead" and not every man who cries 'Lord, Lord' can be saved, and if you hear the commandments but don't do them, you are like a foolish man who built his house on the sand and you won't be saved, and Jesus command us to do as we see him do, etc, etc. But I didn't contend. Luckily he asked me if 'the church of Mormon' believes that non-member won't go to heaven, and what we believe one must do to be saved. So I just told him that we must have faith in Jesus Christ in his atonement, repent of our sins and change our lives to be in line with Christ's teachings, be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. I bore my testimony and was very grateful that I hadn't contended.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
Subject: Kuv ua nej tsaug ov!
Hello everyone! Things are exciting here, what with Christmas and everything. The snow drifts a lot, so even when it doesn't snow, the people still have to shovel the drifted snow.
We had some bike trouble, but it's all good now. Elder Wilson's back tire went flat, and we were on foot the rest of that day. We spent time to go to target and get a new tube with that green goop that's supposed to make it self-seal punctures, but after riding that for a half hour, it was flat too. We looked at the tire and found a staple stuck in there *groan*.
We're valiantly battling illness here. Most of us are on the brink of actually getting sick, then we get better and then after a while we start getting sick again. Nothing has knocked us off our feet yet.
I got the two packages! One I picked up at zone conference, but the other was mailed to me. I also got one from Jay's family. Thank you so much! I haven't listened to all of the music yet, but the Julie Andrews Christmas CD is a huge hit with our apartment. Do any of the CDs have "Oh, Fortuna" or "Claire de Lune" on them? I love those songs.
A while back I went on an exchange in Minneapolis and the Woods family fed us. Brother Woods says he knows Uncle Jay.
Yesterday morning it was a whopping 1 degree without the windchill, and around -15 to -18 with it. Have you ever experienced snotcicles? You don't notice them until you go inside. My coat is still keeping my warm, but I'm getting more insulated gloves today.
Pa's baptismal date is fixed on the 29th of December, and she's getting a little more excited about it.
I don't know if I've told you about Meng, but he's an investigator with whom the missionaries have been working for many months. He has marvelous faith, and is very sincere. He's one of those people that really gets it. He hadn't been progressing at all for a very long time because he lives with his father and his father doesn't like him investigating church. Meng has been scared to go to church or be baptized because of his father. He reads and prays and has a firm testimony, but figured he'd wait until he gets a place of his own before he starts coming to church. Recently we had a very powerful lesson about the plan of salvation. He said that seeing the big picture again reminded him how important this is, and how short life is. He has decided to stop procrastinating and to take some big steps. We asked him what he can do in this life to prepare to meet God, and he thought for a few seconds and said "..Wow....I guess I'd better get baptized pretty soon!" The gospel has already changed his life drastically, and it's very exciting to see him take it to the next level and prepare truly demonstrate his faith by doing some scary things. Meng is really into faith. So much so that he tattooed the verse from Alma 32 that talks about how 'faith is believing things which are not seen, which are true' on his arm.
Mai Houa STILL hasn't been to church, but it's not her fault; she really wants to go. As soon as she does, and her husband commits to go every week, we can set a date.
We found some new investigators too. Kong and Teng are already Christian, and Kong is really into the Holy Spirit. He only believes things of which he receives a personal testimony from the Holy Spirit. He has committed to pray about the Book of Mormon, so we're excited to hear how that went.
Well, I have to go soon.
[Muaj ib hnub] Christmas [zoo siab nawj!]
-Elder Muaj Yeej
Thursday, December 13, 2007
It's starting to get cold here in Runcorn. The past few days have been very clear and very crisp, and I've been very glad to have a long overcoat with a liner. If the temperature continues to drop, though, I may need to invest in some sweaters to wear under my suit coat. February seems generally to be accepted as the coldest month. Elder Empey is hoping to get transferred to a car area at the end of this six weeks.
Member missionary work in the Runcorn ward is booming. The youth in particular are very gung-ho about sharing the gospel. Our ward mission leader's daughter likes to memorize scripture mastery scriptures and then find opportunities quote them to her friends at school. She recently memorized the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20, which takes about two minutes to recite, and apparently she recited it twice at school yesterday. Another of the young women in the ward was eating at Pizza Hut with her family and felt prompted that they should invite the family at the next table to church. Also, an elderly sister in the ward gift-wrapped ten copies of the Book of Mormon and gave them to her friends (her son, who is the Elder's Quorum President, told us that he's now afraid that he'll be getting the Book of Mormon as his Christmas gift from his mother).
. . .
Elder Empey is very much a country boy while I'm a city kid (I told him I thought San Francisco was a beautiful city, with a lot of history and great architecture, and he said "I don't really consider that beauty" : ) ) . . . . But [notwithstanding our differences] in some ways I believe I'm learning a lot more by working with him than I did in my previous two transfers. I think it will be a good six weeks.
Our district has shrunk from ten missionaries to six, as we've lost not only the other Runcorn elders but a companionship of sisters that had been splitting their time between Birkenhead and Moreton wards. So we're a pretty small group. We're also a very young group - Elder Atwood has spent about sixteen months in the field, and the rest of us have spent about that much time combined. We had our first district meeting yesterday, and it went pretty well. Our new district leader is Elder Atwood, who is a great missionary and someone I respect and like a lot. He's also training a new missionary this transfer, Elder Ayers from Ontario, Canada, who is a drama person, and hence a very dynamic and outgoing missionary. I'm going on exchange with him next week, which should be fun. I think I'm going to enjoy my district quite a bit this transfer.
Christmas is coming up! Tonight and tomorrow night we are participating in the ward's annual Christmas service project, where we stand in the lobby of Asda (the local superstore, similar to a Super Wal-mart) and sing Christmas carols to raise money for charity. It should be fun. We are also booked for tea (i.e. dinner) on Christmas Eve, breakfast on Christmas, dinner (i.e. lunch) on Christmas, and tea on Christmas. Oof. If we manage to avoid totally incapacitating ourselves with indigestion, we'll also be playing in the ward's annual Boxing Day football match on the morning of the 26th. Then on the 27th, we get to go up to Chorley to do a temple session and attend zone conference. It's going to be a pretty excellent week. I'll be sure to get you exact details for the Christmas Day phone call in my email next week. I think it will work best for you to phone me - unless you want to put money on our OneSuite card or something and have me phone you using that. I'm going to see if I can use our mobile phone to call you - otherwise, we can probably talk while I'm at the bishop's house on Christmas Day evening after 4:30 PM (UK time).
I LOVED my Sinterklaas package. The Nativity was my favorite, especially the hovering star and angel. I set it up on my windowsill - I'll try and get a picture of it and send it to you sometime. I'm also loving the advent calendar, and I need to get some matches or something so I can light the candle. Combined with the great Christmas music Dad's been sending me, our flat is feeling pretty Christmassy.
[My companion] was feeling worried that he wouldn't get any Christmas packages before Christmas (since zone conference, when we usually pick up packages, is two days after Christmas). But we met the zone leaders on Sunday night and they had two big packages for him that they'd picked up at a meeting earlier on. Later that evening he couldn't wait any longer and opened them both. : ) One was a pair of nice slippers and one was a digital picture frame that plays a slideshow of digital pictures, kind of like our laptop screensaver. Much to my surprise, the zone leaders also brought three extra packages for me on Sunday - one from Jay and Colleen's family, one from Grandma Pimentel, and one from Amazon. Do you know if the stuff inside any and all of the Christmas packages I've received is wrapped? Should I open the boxes to get the wrapped presents out, or just wait until Christmas Day?
[Ed. note: what follows below is a response to his father's concerns that the culture of "goal-setting" is not necessarily rooted in Christ's teachings and can be misused in ways inimical to more fundamental spiritual values; Dad had observed that this and other management techniques -- including pop-management fads -- often infect the missionary environment but, for all their usefulness, should not be mistaken for gospel principles.]
I also wanted to respond to what you said about the goal-setting chapter from Preach My Gospel (chapter 8, I assume) in your letter from last week. I was surprised that you found it frustrating, because I hadn't reacted that way at all when I read it - but then again, I haven't sat through as many pop-management courses as you have. : ). I was also interested in the idea that Christ didn't really use goals and spent some time thinking about that yesterday. I think goals of some kind are absolutely intrinsic to the gospel - the whole idea of delayed gratification and putting what you want most above what you want now depends on our ability to identify things we want to achieve in the future, a point you referred to by talking about our goals to become perfect, repent of our sins, etc.
In mission terms, though, goals often have to do with numbers, and I think that you're absolutely right that there's great danger when our goals start being too much about the numbers. That said, I don't think setting numerical goals is necessarily at odds with the gospel. Christ didn't set them as far as we know, but he also lived a perfect life. Maybe the numerical goals that we have in the mission field are kind of a lesser law to help us because we, unlike Christ, lack the charity and divine vision to translate bigger, more important goals into daily action. While achieving my goals is not really important at all compared to helping others come unto Christ, I think I am better able to help others come unto Christ because I set goals and work towards achieving them. Like the Law of Moses, numerical goal-setting provides a big temptation to be a Pharisee and focus on the inconsequentials at the cost of the really important things, but it's not wrong and it can still be very helpful. At least it can for me as a missionary - I'm not sure numerical goal-setting makes so much sense in other Church contexts. So maybe our differing reactions to Chapter 8 in Preach My Gospel have to do with our differing positions: maybe the specific numerical goal-setting instructions there make sense for me to be following, but apply much less to you. Interesting stuff.
Anyway, I'm glad that you are reading Preach My Gospel. I had a tough time enjoying it before my mission and didn't read it much, but now I'm learning to like it more. I hope you're having a similar experience.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
When in Frogtown, do as the Frogtownans do. The picures are of the frog that Elder Choua Vang cooked for us. Yes, I did eat some. It smells funny, and the skin is really slippery, but it tastes alright. Kind of a little bit like fish, but with the texture of chicken. Next he says he's going to make baby octapus and snails. What fun.
I haven't received the Christmas package, I think they hold those for us at the office until Christmas so we'll have something to open. I have had a hankerin' for holiday goodies such as fudge, muddy buddies, carmel corn, etc.
Glad to hear you enjoyed balmy Arizona! Up here it's been in the single digits, and we've had some days that have been -9 degrees F. Riding bikes in the snow is a hidden sport. Quite exciting. The snow here is bizaare (sp?). It's like sand. It comes down in tiny, sharp grains, and they don't really stick to each other. They pile up, and the wind blows it away. It doesn't crunch. It really feels like you're walking in sand...or mashed potatoes.
We usually spend about 2 to 3 hours tracting each day, and varying amounts of time OYMing, and a lot of time stopping by people and teaching. We don't have many appointments because Hmong people generally aren't used to the concept of scheduling time and therefor tend to run off to do things on the fly and not be home for the appointment. Stopping by seems to work better.
We are going to have to bump Pa's date back to the 23rd because we still haven't talked to her mom.
Mai Houa still needs to come to church and get legally married to Ze before she can set a date, but she's still as excited about it as ever. Many of the folks here are culturally married, but not legally wed. This can be a problem because much of the time they don't see why it's important to be legally married and don't want to spend the time, effort, and money. Fortunately, Mai Houa and Ze were already planning on getting legally married because if they don't do it soon, Mai Houa will be deported to Laos.
I'm singing a solo in zone conference this Monday, and will be performing in the branch Christmas program and the mission Christmas conference.
I have some more amusing names: Ker Lee, Mee, JuBei Lee (say it fast), Ma Lor (like m'lord, but no 'd'), Tuna, [Teeb] (like Dang), [Xaiv Dua] (like sidewalk, sans 'lk'), Tou Bi (or not to be..), [Xob Laim] (like sal'ight
Sunday, December 9, 2007
[Photo: Elders Pimentel and Tomita in Ulverston on P-day, enjoying the beautiful countryside and pointing out the town of Barrow]
It's transfer day again. The last six weeks have gone by very quickly - I don't feel like I've been out for three months.
I am staying in Runcorn with Elder Empey as my companion; we are changing from a two-companionship area to a one-companionship area. I think it will be a good experience for me to work with Elder Empey. His style of missionary work is quite different from mine, and I think I can learn a lot from it. Like Elder Anderson, he focuses heavily on working with members, which seems like a really effective approach here in Runcorn. I'm also looking forward to just being able to work full-time again, without having to take time off for Elder Anderson's sickness.
Although I am staying in Runcorn, my address has changed (since we left the flat I was staying in and are keeping the one that Elder Empey and Elder Tomita had). It is now
35 Needham Close
Elder Tomita has gone to the Isle of Man, which he is excited about. Apparently that's a pretty nice place to go. Elder Anderson is going to Manchester. He's gutted (devastated, roughly) about it, since he loves Runcorn and was hoping to stay here for Christmas. A lot of the members seem pretty sad to see him go. So Elder Empey and I have big shoes to fill, especially since we're one baptism short of the ward's goal for the year, and we have less than four weeks left.
Fortunately, we've acquired a number of promising investigators in the past week. It's kind of amazing that this has happened, since Elder Anderson and I have been able to do so little work, and we found no new investigators in the five weeks before this one. One of the investigators is Rohey, the woman Elder Tomita and I talked to in Frodsham last Monday. We had a good first lesson with her on Saturday - she understands the need for one true church on the Earth, so all she needs is a witness from the Spirit. After the lesson, she served us all big plates of rice with an African peanut stew. : )
Elder Tomita and I found another pair of investigators while working with Josh Evans, a member who recently returned from his mission to Liberia and is a really good teacher and dynamic member missionary. We tried some people Elder Tomita remembered tracting into when he was in Runcorn a year ago, and they invited us in to teach Lesson 1! Josh, who apparently went out with the missionaries quite a bit before he left for Africa, later told us that this had never happened to him before in England. It was a good lesson (although I was horribly rusty, having not taught hardly any lessons for weeks); the father and daughter we taught, who had previously tried attending a Baptist church but "hadn't felt anything," were willing to try out reading the Book of Mormon and praying and said they felt good at the end of the lesson.
Anyway, through these and other sudden blessings, Elder Empey and I now have a teaching pool of probably about ten people, where last week Elder Anderson and I had only one investigator. If we work hard, cooperate with members, have good companionship unity, and exercise faith, some very exciting things could happen in Runcorn this transfer.
The English, not having Thanksgiving as a demarcation point, don't consider the Christmas season to begin until early or even mid-December, so we're just starting to see Christmas decorations go up everywhere. It's a good time of year, especially in Runcorn; the ward apparently sings carols at the local shopping center as a charity project during December and has a big football match on Boxing Day (the British Turkey Bowl, I suppose). I'm also looking forward to opening my Sinterklaas package later this afternoon!
By the way, on Thanksgiving I wrote up some entries for our Thankful Book. I'll have to send them to you sometime.
Thank you, Mom and Dad, for your letters - receiving them is always a high point of my week. I also received a wonderful report from Grandma Bay this week. Thanks for the news!
Monday, December 3, 2007
Sent: Saturday, December 01, 2007 10:06 AM
Subject: Huab cua pib ua ib yam li Christmas!
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
It's snowing right now, and a lot. Today is the first day it has stuck, and it is fitting, being officially December now. Yesterday morning it was 9 below (F) with the wind chill. I got the sheet music--thanks!
I hope the attachments on this e-mail work, one of them is an AVI file. the drawings where by Elder Choua Vang, not me. He made a series of greeting cards, and they came out great! He didn't even preplan them or use pencil first. I saw him just sit down and start drawing with a ball-point pen. Astounding.
We have a firm baptismal date for Pa! She is going to be baptized on the 16th of December. 'Tis a cause for celebration.
We are trying so set up an appointment with Tiffany through Yama, since they have two classes together and we can never get a hold of her. If we can find a reliable way to meet with her, things can really get moving.
Mai Houa is our most likely candidate for setting a baptismal date this upcoming week. She still hasn't been to church due to a series of unpredictable and unfortunate events that prevent her and Ze from coming. She has been reading from the BoM though, and really wants to come to church still. We are really praying they can make it.
We have a few other people who have potential to be baptized this transfer, but the hardest part is making sure they can keep the commitment to make church a priority and come every week. We have a couple people who are very receptive and understand everything we teach them, including the apostasy and restoration, but they still don't really understand that this means that if their church is at the same time as theirs, they need to come to our church instead of their old one.
We finished the 10 days of truth [Editor note: 10 days of truth is reading the entire Book of Mormon as a companionship out loud in 10 days]. I kind of miss it. It's something we do every transfer though, so we'll do it again in a few weeks. Oh, speaking of transfers, there are no changes in our district this transfer as far as who's where and with whom.
I've run into many amusing names so far. Here are a few: Saw Bwe (sounds like 'Subway'), [Fwm Looj] (like 'foot-long' pronounced like a Utahn) Pu, See Pu, Mi, Yer, Her, [Vaj Lis Lawj] (like "Vally low'r")and a few others I can't think of right now. Since Her is a clan, we have inadvertantly said things like "I think we should see See." "See who?" "See Her." "See's a Her?" "Yeah, she's a Her."
Love you lots and lots!
-Elder Muaj Yeej
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Elder Anderson is still sick, although we've been able to do a little more work this week. It looks like we're going to be moving to a different flat in Runcorn soon, so our landlord came by this morning and showed us a couple of other houses. I'll try to keep you updated on any change of address.
I went to an outlying town while on exchange with Elder Tomita earlier in the week. We tried to visit a couple of people but were unable to go inside and teach them. So we went back to the bus stop and talked about where else we could go and what we could do. After talking a little bit, we prayed that we would know where to go and that we would find the people who had been prepared for us (or something to that effect). At the very moment when we said, "Amen," a very friendly African woman walked into the bus stop and immediately struck up a conversation with us. We chatted for quite a while and ended up setting up an appointment to visit her and hopefully teach her about the Restoration. Experiences like this are a good reminder to me of how important it is to seek the guidance of the Spirit in missionary work. I think it's something I can be doing more actively.
We had interviews with President Jacobsen on Friday. It was really good for me to have a chance to talk to him. Before interviews I'd gone through the mission rules, identified the ones I was having trouble keeping, and thought about how I could keep them better. I asked President Jacobsen a lot of questions about the rules and why they are the way they are, and he gave me a lot of helpful answers. The president really cares about us missionaries and wants to help us be better and more successful, so if you're honestly trying to be better and more successful, I think meeting with the mission president is always a strengthening experience.
Dad, I was interested in your comments about the principle of obedience in one of the letters you sent me. I gave a short training presentation about obedience in district meeting a couple of weeks ago and dealt with some of the same issues (probably because I've heard you talk about them before). I talked about war crimes and prison camp guards who were "following orders" and drew a distinction between obeying commandments of men (which can be imperfect and even evil) and obeying commandments of God. The commandment to be obedient, as described in Church manuals and Preach My Gospel, could probably be restated more precisely as the commandment to be obedient to God. But since God calls prophets and mission presidents, their instructions are his commandments too (see D&C 1:38). I've thought a lot about this, needless to say, and I'd like to talk about it more when I have a little more time.
Transfers are next week. I think I'm staying in Runcorn, but we'll see. We had our last district meeting of the six-week transfer period yesterday - two of the missionaries in our district are going home, so it was the last one for both of them. It was a really good district meeting, too - the training presentations were well-prepared and invited the Spirit. By the end of the meeting, I felt really unified with the rest of the district.
At interviews with the President we get to pick up our mail from the mission office. I picked up three Christmas packages (or rather two Christmas packages and one Sinterklaas package), which made me very happy! Elder Tomita got a very large Christmas package, but I think he was the only other one - one of the other missionaries in the district told me something like, "Your parents love you more than our parents love us." : ) I also picked up a letter from "the other President Jacobsen," my erstwhile stake president. It was a really nice note that he'd sent to all the missionaries from the Menlo Park Stake.
[Ed.'s note: the Mission President Jacobsen is the brother of the Stake President Jacobsen who processed Sam's mission application when he was at Stanford.]
In his letter, (Stake) President Jacobsen talked about how missionaries from California going to other parts of the world figuratively weave a thread from their home into the place where they serve, building a web of understanding across the world, and suggested that the missionary program may hence contain the seeds of world peace. An insightful idea, I thought. He also commented on General Conference, specifically on Elder Bednar's talk, and likened it to missionary service. I was really touched to receive the letter - I didn't interact a whole lot with stake leaders or members of other wards during my time at Stanford, and my connection to the Menlo Park Stake had felt a little tenuous. But being listed as one of "their" missionaries makes me feel like they know about and value me anyway.
Elder Anderson has a gigantic map of the United States which is hanging on the wall of the flat. I think he put it there to tease one of his past companions who was not American. Anyway, anyone who has stayed in our flat since (and is American) has signed the map and drawn an arrow pointing to his hometown. I'm going to have to sign the map at some point, but I'm having a little identity crisis about where to sign it. I've narrowed it down to Palo Alto or Jacksonville, and I think Palo Alto will probably win, since I've never actually been to Jacksonville. But I'm still wavering. : )
Thanks for your great letters! I love hearing about life in Jacksonville.
P.S. (Mission) President Jacobsen told me that Elder Anderson is the grandson of Washington journalist Jack Anderson, and that you, Mom and Dad, would know who that is. Do you? I'm interested.
[Ed.'s note: the photo is of Sam with Gavin, an investigator from Barrow]
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Saturday: Sunshine at the beach, with dogs
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Subject: Zoo siab peb caug!
Happy New Year!
We are going to the new year festival today!We have a goal of talking to at least 60 people there, and we are stocking up on pass-along cards and pamphlets. I don't have Hmong clothes yet, but I'll have some for next year. I got to shop at the flea market, and it was really fun. It's crazy buzy during New Year. There was an old man who is a blacksmith recently come over from Thailand, and he was selling all kinds of tools and weapons he had hand-made. He had sickles, kamas, daggers, many sorts and sizes of swords (yeah...kid in a candy store), Shaman tambourine things, as well as many other Shaman equipment. His prices were fair, and he wasn't willing to barter. Very nice man though.
Okay, it looks like Dad was still a little confused about my name. My first name is [Muaj Yeej], not [Yeej]. We go by our first names instead of our last names because Hmong people never call people by their last names. They never say "Brother Lee" or "Mister Vang", because so many people have the same last name. Therefor we go by our Hmong first names, and our name tags have our Hmong first names. Also, we don't choose our clan, we are adopted into the clan of whomever named us. I was named by [Nplaj Txhoov Muas], so I have been adopted into the [Muas] clan. Thus, [Muas] is my surname, but we never use it unless someone specifically asks us what our clan is. It appears some mail got held up at the office because it was addressed to my Hmong name, and the office Elders don't know our Hmong names. It would probably be best to address things to my Mika name.
I got the package! Thank you so much! Thanksgiving was great by the way. The Hmong carve birds a little differently. More or less they just hack off lots of little chunks and pieces, and you have no idea what part of the bird it is. They throw all the bird chunks (including the head) into a bowl and everyone just takes what they want.
If all goes well, Pa will be baptized on Dec 1st or 2nd. We'll have to see how that goes.
Kuv hlub nej nawj!
-Elder Muaj Yeej
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Date: Sat, 17 Nov 2007 17:07:03 +0000
[Nej puas nyob zoo thiab?]
Things are getting nippy here, and we keep getting a couple nicer days followed by a very blustery day. The average temperatures are still mostly 34 degrees (F) without wind, so it's not bad at all yet. My new coat is working out great! So far it has been completely windproof. Before I got out here I was imagining some huge, fluffy, down-filled coat would probably be what I need, but down isn't really necessary. Mine is very warm, and as I said, windproof and water resistant (which it what really counts). So far I have been toasty without even wearing thermal tops. I wear thermal bottoms, and let me tell you: I'm a believer. As the winter starts for reals I will need to start wearing two layers of thermals and thicker socks. I got new boots last week, and plan to get some windproof gloves today.
Most Hmong in America celebrate Thanksgiving Day because it's right about the time of Hmong New Year (usually the same weekend). Since Hmong New Year is a celebration of gratitude for a good harvest, the two holidays sort of mush into one. (New Year lasts about 3 or 4 days) I might go get some traditional Hmong clothes made for me. I hear there is a nice lady who will make them for only about 30 bucks!We will probably have Thanksgiving dinner at a member's house.
We still don't have a baptismal dat for Pa. Her family missed church last week. It turns out they had visiters from out of town. We are trying to set a date either today or tomorrow. If all goes well, she can be baptized within this transfer! Yay! We have about 4 other people who really want to come to church and be baptized, but they haven't been able to make it to church yet because of transportation issues, but as soon as they can get to church and find a way to go consistently we can set a date. A lot rides on getting them to church tomorrow. We have several other really great people who are excited to be baptized, but their relatives won't let them. This is a problem re run into quite a bit. In the Hmong culture, there is nothing worse than disgracing or embarrassing one's family. Many of our investigators really want to be baptized, but they are afraid their family or extended family will disown them. There is a lot of pressure because some family feel that they would be abandoning their culture if they go to church or be baptized. Even grown men who are married and independent feel they are bound by a responsibility to their kin to preserve their culture. It's hard to know what to do. How do you tell someone that they need to rebel against their family and friends?
Tiffany is impossible to get a hold of. She is in so many extra curricular groups, she's never at home. We also suspect that perhaps sometimes when she is home, her mother tells us that she is not.
Mai Houa really want to go to church and be baptized, but her husband (less-active) keeps saying he'll take her, then something always comes up. This week we are making certain she comes. We are arranging for a member to pick them up, and we are calling to make sure both the driver and the drivees remember.
Did Dad or Doug ever do something called The Ten Days of Truth? It's where you and your companion read the entire Book of Mormon together out loud in ten days. It's a terrific experience! We are a little behind though. Right now we are in Alma 18-ish.
By the way, [Muaj Yeej] is my first name, [Muas] is my clan or last name. I notice one of your letters was addressed Elder Yeej, and I just want to clear that up.
[Kuv hlub nej nawj!]
-Elder Muaj Yeej
John Ennis (our long-time teenage investigator) got baptized last Saturday. It was great, maybe even better than the one the week before. Elder Anderson baptized John (wearing my baptismal pants - he couldn't find his at the last minute, but fortunately mine fit), and Elder Tomita and Bishop Ireland were witnesses. The Young Men's president gave a fantastic talk about the Holy Ghost. Also the four of us missionaries sang "Called to Serve" as a special musical number. About two rows of the chapel were filled by John's (non-LDS) family members, which was really exciting for us. The sister missionaries in Warrington (which is where we had the baptisms, since Runcorn chapel has burned down) also attended with one of their investigators.
On Sunday John got confirmed and ordained a priest, and I got to stand in the circle both times. I forgot to mention last week that I participated in ordaining Josh Burgoyne (the 12-year-old who was baptized last Saturday) a deacon after church last Sunday. This week he passed the sacrament for the first time and was called to be the deacons' quorum president. It's wonderful to see guys this young getting baptized, because they'll be able to serve missions later on and become pillars of the church wherever they end up.
Elder Anderson is still sick and has to stay inside for a few more days, but we've been able to do a little more recently. Last week we had a great visit with a less-active family whom we've been assigned to home teach (a widespread practice in the EMM, suggested, I believe, by a General Authority a few years ago). They are going through a rough time right now because the mother has been diagnosed with a debilitating illness. It was good to see Elder Anderson in action - he's very good at relating to other people by talking to them about their lives and their interests and then doing things like asking for referrals in a non-threatening way. I can see why everybody in the ward seems to love him. I think the less-active family was strengthened by our visit. Before we left, the mother told us that earlier in the day she'd been feeling abandoned by the ward and resenting the people in it, but then right afterwards she got our phone call setting up the home teaching appointment. Plus two different members of the bishopric contacted her later in the day. Events like this show you that God is really guiding the church - when we fulfill the duties of our callings, He helps us to bless others in ways we never could have through our own knowledge.
Another exciting thing this week - one of the people we were teaching in Barrow, a really on-the-ball young guy, moved away to Warrington while we were there. We really didn't want him to fall through the cracks, so we sent a referral to the Mission Office with his phone number (we didn't even know the address of his new house). When we talked to the Warrington sisters on Saturday (at the baptism), they told us that they received the referral, that he's being taught by the senior couple in Warrington, and that he's even been to church a couple of times! I had been worried about him, so it was good to find out he's doing so well.
I've been studying by topic sometimes rather than just reading straight through the Book of Mormon lately, and it's helped me enjoy and benefit from my study a lot more. I've started a list of interesting topics to study sometime in the back of my planner, and when I read, I look up cross-references on anything that interests me or try to find similar scriptures that I remember reading previously. Last week while reading straight though Alma, I found a scripture that talked about "the chains of hell"; I stopped to cross-reference it, and ultimately spent all my Book of Mormon study time that day and all of it the next day finding related scriptures that described exactly what the chains of hell are and directly answered my questions about them. It's a very active way to study the scriptures and get meaningful answers out of them.
Much as I enjoy reading the scriptures, I get hungry for other reading material out here, just for while I'm eating breakfast or taking a tea break or something. I didn't read for pleasure that much at Stanford because I was so busy with other things, but looking back, I did spent an awful lot of time reading this summer, and the habit has accompanied me to the mission field. Anyway, I dug a bunch of old New Era issues out of one of our closets and have been devouring them. The Church magazines are really well done - the New Era does a remarkable job of keeping pace with the times, with a section called "Instant Messages" and some recent articles about the dangers of texting too much. Also, as I read through a stack of them in quick succession, I see a much clearer vision behind them: strong and consistent emphasis on preparing for a mission and getting a personal testimony through a witness of the Spirit. Good stuff.
I'm in Chester today - there's a DVLA office here and I'm hoping to apply for my provisional driving license (excuse me - "licence"). I'm coming back from an exchange with one of our zone leaders, Elder Verman from southern England. The zone leaders' area is Wrexham, in western Wales (our stake encompasses a huge section of Northern Wales - about half the units in the stake are in Wales, although we have no Welsh-language units as far as I know). Wrexham and Runcorn are the two highest-baptizing units in the zone, I think mostly because the wards in both areas are so friendly and active. We're tied at 11 baptisms each for the year, and several members of the Runcorn ward have been encouraging us to baptize more so we can "beat Wrexham." All in a friendly spirit, though. : )
Last night in Wrexham we had a tea appointment with a member of the stake presidency, which was a good thing, because he told Elder Verman about a meeting the zone leaders were supposed to be having with the stake president that evening that Elder Verman had not known about! So he quickly canceled our plans for the evening and we drove out to the meetinghouse where the meeting was taking place. There wasn't time to go to Runcorn and get the other zone leader, so Elder Verman had to take me instead. The meeting went well, though. The stake presidency is concerned about missionary work and wants to help us out, which is great! One of the real benefits of serving in an area where the Church is so strong.
I'm enjoying the Messiah recordings I got from Dad! And I am looking forward to putting on the Christmas music. The British don't celebrate Thanksgiving, of course (Christmas decorations are already up in most of the shops), but I'm still waiting until Thursday before I play it.
The other Runcorn elders had two baptisms this week: a single mother named Nikki and her deacon(?)-aged son Josh. They used to live in Denmark and had all the missionary discussions there, but moved away before they could get baptized. Then Elder Anderson and Elder Empey met them while they were tracting and re-taught them. The ward loves them, and they will be solid members. This is the first convert baptism I've seen here in England, so it was kind of exciting. Although it must have been even more exciting for Elder Anderson and Elder Empey, who actually found Nikki and Josh and saw them go through the entire teaching process.
The other Runcorn elders have one other really promising investigator, a teenager named John who is a very good friend of Naomi Cohen, the ward mission leader's daughter. He has been taught, at the Cohens' home for over a year, and has been very receptive but hesitant to commit to baptism too quickly. On Sunday morning, the day after Nikki and Josh were baptized, the Cohens told us that John had something to tell us elders and pulled the four of us into a classroom so he could talk to us. He said, "You know how youse* have been teaching me to try and convert me to be baptized? Well, I don't want you to do that any more." Then, after a long pause, "Because I'm going to get baptized." We were all very relieved : ). His baptism is scheduled for this coming Saturday, and Elder Anderson will be performing it. I've gotten to know John a little bit and helped teach him once while on exchange, so this is especially exciting for me. I'm very blessed to be in Runcorn while all these great things are happening.
*Colloquial British for second-person plural; "y'all," roughly. It's very commonly used, both in Runcorn and Barrow.
I gave a talk on prayer last Sunday. It went OK - I was a little nervous and I ran a little long, but it turned out fine because there were only two speakers, me and the bishop's father (he's also a former member of the Stake Presidency, I believe - people refer to him as "President Ireland") plus a special recitation and two minutes' silence for Remembrance Day. Brother Ireland was very kind to me and told me after the meeting that my talk was "excellent." He also complimented me on my singing too, saying I sang with volume ("most Americans don't") and sharing D&C 25:12 with me. He told me that he'd spent most of his life in tiny branches of the Church, singing loudly to try and keep everyone united. I think he should meet Isaac. : )
I've been on exchange a couple of times this week, which has been good since Elder Anderson is still contagious, if not as badly incapacitated as before, and is still under quarantine. I went with Elder Atwood to Moreton and Elder Frogley (nephew of President Chris Frogley of the Nauvoo pageant) to Birkenhead, both cities just across the Mersey River from Liverpool. It felt really good to go back to working full-time for those couple of days - in Moreton in particular, I spent an hour street contacting and ended up talking to a guy who really needed help and seemed receptive. Hopefully the Moreton elders will get to teach him. I'm actually writing from Liverpool today (and the Liverpool library has draconian Internet time limits for guests so this letter may be a little short), because I'm on the way back from my exchange in Birkenhead. Elder Frogley (who went through the MTC with me) was on the BYU track team before he came out, and when we went running this morning I was puffing pretty hard and struggling to keep within sight of him : ).
Last preparation day we had a zone activity with at least a dozen other missionaries attending. We went ice skating at a rink over in Wales (where street signs and everything are in both Welsh and English - kind of cool). It turns out that Elder Empey is quite a talented ice skater, having figure skated for 8 years while growing up (a fact he seems to have attempted to keep hidden), and Elder Lapinsuo from Finland and Elder Egervari from Hungary were also pulling stunts on the ice. Poor Elder Anderson had never ice skated before and was stumbling around a lot, much to the delight of the elders whom he puts to shame on the football field.
I love you! I hope school isn't sapping the life and the energy out of everyone completely. Hang in there!
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Sent: Saturday, November 10, 2007 11:03 AM
Nyob zoo nej sawvdaws!
Life is great here, the weather is getting cold, but it's not too bad yet. We’ve had a few flurries, but nothing has really stuck yet. I hear a lot of times in the winter it will be about 15-25 degrees F, but with the wind chill it can reach 30 or even 40 below (F).
I got my name tags with my Hmong name on them this week! Pretty nifty.
We are really excited because tonight we are going to set a baptismal date with Pa! We showed her the Restoration movie, and pointed out the part at the end where Joseph Smith Senior gets baptized. I had a feeling that if she saw a baptism she wouldn't be as scared of it because it would no longer be "unknown". Turns out I was right, and she doesn't appear scared anymore. We asked her mom for permission and she said as long as Pa wants to, it's fine. I'll let you know if we are able to get a date. By the way, Pa is 9 years old (I realized I never told you).
Have I told you about Tiffany? We were on our way to a stop-by visit with Yama (about 17-18 years old) and her siblings whom are all less active members except [Siab] (M, age 9), who has not yet been baptized. We found Yama sitting on her front steps with one of her friends (Tiffany). It turns out Yama had given her a BoM a while ago, but she had only read about 3 pages from it because she didn't really know what it was. Tiffany is very religious, and practices Old Culture and Buddhism. She is very interested in Christianity and has studied a lot about it on her own. She had a ton of questions about our religion particularly because she noticed that Yama was different that most of her friends, particularly with swearing and caffeine. Yama had never explained why her religion advises against coffee and vulgarity, but had simply said "That's just what we believe." Tiffany had asked Yama many questions about our church, and Yama tried to answer but Tiffany still didn't really understand. She also said that she really wanted to come to our church and check it out, but Yama would never take her because Yama always had work on Sunday and never went to church anymore. Really long story a little bit shorter, we were able to answer all the questions she could think of at the time, and commit her to read form the BoM and to come to church, even if Yama couldn't go. Tiffany is what we call a "Fireball Investigator" she is fellowshipping her less active friend and devouring any spiritual knowledge she can reach. She likes the philosophies of Buddhism and Confucius, but she doesn't actually believe in most of their doctrines. She believes in God, and everything we are teaching her. The only snag is that her mom, who used to be Christian, has been pressured by HER mother to practice Old Culture again, and Tiffany's mom doesn't really want her to go to church. We need to bring her mom back unto Christ.
Mai Houa is still doing great, and this time we're going to make sure she gets to church, whether Ze goes or not.
I love you all!
-Elder Muaj Yeej
Elder Anderson's been pretty sick this week, so he's had to stay inside and we haven't been able to do much missionary work :(. At first I thought it would be nice to get a little bit of a break, but after I spent time inside not doing much it was harder to go out and work when I did get the chance, and I had a harder time feeling good about myself as a missionary. Now I can see why hard work is so important and so good for you, and I'm grateful that Elder Tomita and I were able to work with so few interruptions in Barrow. Fortunately Elder Anderson has organized a lot of exchanges with the other Runcorn elders so we've all taken turns staying inside with him, and he seems to be on the mend now.
Runcorn seems to be one of the most fruitful areas in the mission right now, in large part because of the amazing ward and their strong commitment to missionary work. Elder Anderson was talking about some of our investigators who aren't really progressing towards baptism and telling me that it would be tough for us to stop teaching them because the ward loves them so much. I got to attend PEC, Ward Council, and a meeting of the "Proclaim the Gospel" committee this week, and I was really impressed by how well the meetings were run, how on-the-ball the members were, and how many great things are being accomplished. It was exciting to see how a really united ward can be so powerful.
Incidentally, the ward has been feeding us really well. This week each of our two companionships has tea appointments six times. I also hear that Runcorn is the place to be in the mission at Christmastime, so I should be in luck next month.
Yesterday was Zone Conference. President Jacobsen gave us some great training that inspired me to work harder. Our mission is currently not putting out very high numbers (compared to other missions in the area) and we're going to have the chance to exercise a lot of faith, set some challenging goals, and work very hard in the coming weeks.
At Zone Conference I got to meet a bunch of missionaries I hadn't known before (since last transfer I was at the other end of the mission). I talked for a while to one of the brand-new missionaries who just came out two weeks ago. He was studying chemical engineering at the U of U last year, so we talked a bit about college math classes, etc. He also told me that Elder Mistico won't be coming out as soon as I'd thought because he ended up going to the Provo MTC so he could get some deeper language instruction. So I'll have to wait a little bit longer to meet him.
Last Friday Elder Anderson and I went to a district leaders' council in another area. While he was in the meeting, I went out tracting with the other two district leaders' companions, Elder Kyambadde from Uganda and Elder Nagy (who arrived in the mission at the same time I did) from Hungary. Elder Kyambadde told us that in Uganda missionaries never tract or street contact because they spend all their time teaching member referrals. Lucky! :) I decided that I'm glad to be here, though, because tracting and street contacting are good growing experiences for me to have, even if they're not always very comfortable. The three of us did some good tracting. Poor Elder Nagy is still feeling shaky with English (although he seems a lot better at it than when I met him right after he got to England), and didn't talk at all at the first few doors we knocked on. But then, at the last door we knocked on, we met a talkative lady who mentioned that it was confusing that there are so many churches out there, and Elder Nagy jumped in and used that comment as an opportunity to teach the entire first lesson to her, right there while we were standing outside the door. He did a really great job too. It makes contacting people much easier to have a companion to back you up.
Sunday is Remembrance Day, and to commemorate it people all over the place are wearing pins in their lapels with little red paper poppies. I need to get one of them. In church on Sunday, we're having a minute of silence at 11 AM. Incidentally, I'm also giving a talk in sacrament meeting, about prayer.
This past Sunday Elder Kerr (an Area Authority Seventy) and Sister Kerr came to the Runcorn Ward. Elder Kerr was a very dynamic guy, and he not only bore his testimony in sacrament meeting but spoke to us in Priesthood and PEC. Hearing him talk about missionary work was really exciting and wonderful; I could tell that he really believed that (as President Hinckley said a few years ago) there are millions of people in the British Isles with an innate desire to worship the living God, and that through good member missionary work, we in Runcorn would be able to start finding and baptizing those people. A good boost for us full-time elders. Sister Kerr also came up to me , thanked me for my testimony (which I'd borne in sacrament meeting), and told me about how she'd first met the missionaries in a bus stop somewhere; they bore testimony to her, and even though she hadn't had any interest in the Church before and wouldn't have let missionaries into her home, she felt the Spirit and ultimately was baptized. She said that I should always bear mine when I had an opportunity.
Thanks for all your wonderful letters!
My address here is
4 Heather Close
Paddock Moor, Runcorn
Cheshire WA7 3HW
Saturday, November 3, 2007
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
[Editor's note: As Sam observed in an earlier communication, Runcorn is the town where Thomas Green's parents were married.]
My new companion, Elder Anderson, is from Bethesda Maryland! He was in the Bethesda Ward and attended Walt Whitman High School. He knows the Fullers, but none of the other people I managed to dredge up from my memory. He’s also a very talented soccer (or rather, football) player and was a member (I believe) of the US national team before his mission. He and a previous companion used to do “investigator football,” playing football with local kids as a way of finding investigators, and since I arrived a couple of strangers we’ve met in our goings-about have recognized him and complimented on his “footie” skills. We’re hoping to start investigator football up again this weekend, something I’m looking forward to.
Elder Tomita and Elder Empey are in a newly-rented apartment across town (4-missionary flats have been phased out in the EMM), but we still see them a good bit and have gone on exchanges already. Elder Empey is originally from Alberta but more recently from a small rural town in Nevada just northeast of Las Vegas. He competed in professional rodeo as a teenager, in cutting and two different roping events. He also apparently resembles Donny Osmond – someone pointed this out while I was tracting with him, and he says he gets it about once a day. Apparently the Osmonds can be an effective lead-in for us missionaries among the right demographic here in England.
Runcorn seems like a nice place. It’s a very residential, almost suburban city (I think many people commute into nearby Liverpool or Manchester), and it has a shopping mall in lieu of the traditional pedestrian-only city-center shopping district – since we’re not allowed to street-contact in the mall as we would do in a city center, we focus more on tracting. Runcorn is officially a bike area, but the current bikes are not in good repair and so we do a lot of walking. It’s a big change from a car area like Barrow, simply because we have to invest more time in travel. But it will be good for me – I’ll have a chance to get good exercise, be more effective in the time I can devote to proselytising, and talk to more people on the way to and from our destinations.
The Runcorn ward is apparently really great. This week was stake conference, so I didn’t get to meet a lot of the ward yet, but we’ve had tea with a few member families already, and they seem generally both solid in the gospel and excited about missionary work. Apparently we get 110-120 people attending every week. Unfortunately vandals burned down the Runcorn chapel a few weeks ago, so the ward has to meet in a conference center for the time being. We’ve walked by the burned-out shell of the building a few times, and the damage looks pretty extensive – apparently it may take a couple of years to rebuild. But the whole thing has caused a lot of sympathy for the Church in the local community, so hopefully good things will come out of it all.
I’m running low on time here – I’ll finish quick. At transfers, I met a Sister Wassenaar from Den Helder who remembered me and Ruth from stake activities in Holland (and sang in the stake youth choir that I played the piano for in stake conference). She asked how Ruth was doing.
My study of Preach My Gospel is improving. I didn’t really appreciate it before my mission, but there’s good stuff to be found in there.
Happy Halloween and take care of yourselves!
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
It's been a good final week in Barrow. The Lukes will be teaching our investigators after our departure, so we visited most of our investigators with the Lukes along. They will do a great job. The Lukes really hit it off with one of our investigators in particular, and we realized we probably should have brought them over to visit him several visits before.
Street contacting is going better for me these days, I think in part due to the good examples of the zone leaders and assistants to the President that I saw last week. I should have plenty of opportunities to get even better at it in the coming months.
We got the full update on transfers this week. Elder Tomita and I are both headed to Runcorn, a city on the Mersey River just southeast of Liverpool. Elder Tomita actually served in Runcorn earlier in his mission and is happy to be going back - he says there's a great ward there (although we hear that their chapel burned down a couple of weeks ago) and that in particular it's a good place to be for Christmas and Thanksgiving. So I'm excited. We're leaving Barrow at 9 AM tomorrow morning, handing over our car in Manchester at 11:30 AM (Runcorn is a bus area), and traveling to Runcorn by bus in the afternoon.
Elder Tomita and I will not be companions in Runcorn, however. For the past six weeks, there's been one companionship (Elder Andersen and Elder Empey) in Runcorn. Both those elders are staying in Runcorn, but each of us will get one of them as our new companion. So I'll be working with Elder Andersen, who's apparently been in Runcorn for about seven months already and hence knows the area really well. I'm a little sad that I don't get to work directly with Elder Tomita anymore, since he's so great, but it will be a good experience to get to know somebody else.
This morning Elder Tomita and I went and got our hair cut for 2 pounds apiece at this tiny little place, open from 7:30 AM to 11:30 AM, with a sign advertising haircuts for "gents" and a clientele focused largely in the 60+ age bracket. The barber, who told me he'd been cutting hair for 50 years, was chatting with one of the clients about a mutual friend who'd passed away recently ("That's the way I want to go . . . "). I told him about my great-grandfather had been a barber, and he asked me if I planned to be one too. I'd never really thought about doing that before . . . maybe if research and programming don't work out for me when I get home. :)
We spent this afternoon with our landlord Ray, going up to the nearby town of Ulverston to climb a hill with a monument on it and later to visit a Buddhist school and temple that's been established on an erstwhile estate of one of the English gentry. Ray is a wonderful guy, with all sorts of stories to tell about this area and its history, and we had a good time with him. He brought along his video camera and shot a video of our trip, which I'm hoping to get a copy of and send to you all.
Monday, October 22, 2007
My culinary education has been flying by faster than creme anglaise curdles (fast, I learned). At the same time, we do so much every day, it seems like years ago that I made peanut butter cookies in my first kitchen class. This past weekend marked the end of my basics class, which touches on a little of everything and drills in ingredient functions, a good handful of science, and some basic kitchen habits such as knife skills, sanitation, and "mis en place" (= everything in its place, or scaling and gathering ingredients and equipment before production). I'm fascinated by the science behind it all; there are so many more variables than I had imagined, and the more I learn, the more I have to hand it to the guys who first figured this stuff out and developed the formulas we use today (You may be raising an eyebrow at my use of the word 'formula.' At school we don't use the word 'recipe'--personally, I think it's just evidence of physics-envy. Psychology suffered from this too.).
I know you're all waiting for some good kitchen disaster stories, but alas, I don't have anything terribly entertaining yet (knock on wood). I do have some battle wounds, though. Last Monday was the infamous day of the genoise, when baking and pastry students are said to reconsider their education here at SCI. Reason being: we make our genoise (sponge cake) by hand, which entails about 30 minutes of vigorously whisking whole eggs. Whisking sounds like fun work, and actually is fun work . . .for about 6 minutes. After that, the joking stops, faces begin to turn a bit red, and you begin to think that now would be a good time to learn to become ambidextrous. It felt a little like boot camp, with the chef hovering over our shoulders yelling "faster. Harder. FASTER. HARDER." I emerged with some pretty brutal blisters, but we all survived the ordeal in the end.
One thing I'm learning here is that there are no superstars and no dunces. While I may smooth a cake with experience and finesse, I can turn out a pretty pitiful looking baguette. And the boy who can't pipe a decent strassburger cookie to save his life seems to have quite the knack for cooking smooth custards. The skills are so varied here, it keeps everyone from getting too discouraged or big-headed, and we end up helping each other out a lot, which is really nice.
I'm loving my ward here. We have some great people and a plethora of fun activities. The YSA are really strong in this area, as is the institute program, so there's always something interesting going on, whether it's visiting a Muslim mosque, carving pumpkins, or going to a luau. I've been lucky to make some close friends fast here, the atmosphere is so friendly.
In short, life is good. The sky is blue, the church is true, blowing sugar can be hot, and eating cake can be fattening. True doctrine.
Elder Tomita and I are leaving Barrow! :( Last Wednesday we got a call from our landlord, Ray (who, though not a member, loves missionaries and has enjoyed participating in preparation day activities and chatting with us during the fifteen years he’s rented to us - "You are a league of gentlemen," he tells us) telling us that he’d heard from the mission office that we were leaving – later that night the mission president gave us a call and told us that no more full-time elders will be serving in Barrow for the time being. The Lukes (the senior couple here) will stay and continue working with the ward. Apparently this has been in the works for some time. It makes us (and some of our members and investigators) sad, but I’m sure it’s for the best – President Jacobsen has the right to receive inspiration about this kind of thing. And I’m excited to see and serve in a new area. I’m not yet sure where I’ll be going or whether I’ll be staying with Elder Tomita, but I should know by next Wednesday.
An important footnote to this new development is that mail should no longer be sent to the address at 2 St. Lukes Street. Instead, it should be sent (for now) to the mission office:
England Manchester Mission
Springwood, Suite G5
Booths Park, Knutsford
Last Thursday we drove down to Lancaster to be interviewed by President Jacobsen and get trained by our district leaders (something that happens every transfer). We’re lucky to have President Jacobsen; he’s a great leader with a great sense of humor. He also has a degree from Stanford (yay!) and mentioned Stanford’s amazing upset of USC in football to me at the end of my interview. :)
We also had two companion exchanges in the past week – once on Thursday with the assistants to the President and once yesterday with our zone leaders. Both were great experiences for me, especially my exchange yesterday with Elder Hvistendahl, who is the first full-time missionary from Greenland in recorded Church history. He’s an amazing missionary (at interviews in Lancaster, President Jacobsen suggested we all grow up to be like Elder Hvistendahl), and I was deeply impressed with the simple way he taught the message of the Restoration to people on the street in a minute or less and helped them feel and recognize the Spirit where only seconds before they’d been trying to get away from us. This is his last week in the mission before he goes home, so it was a privilege to spend a day working with him.
I finally had a chance to read the account of Thomas Green's life that Grandma (I believe) furnished me with before I left for England. It's a great story, and I learned all sorts of interesting things (e.g. that Thomas Green was probably baptized by Heber C. Kimball and certainly knew him reasonably well). The story mentions a number of towns that played a role in Thomas Green's life, and now that I've spent some time in the EMM (short for England Manchester Mission), these places mean something to me! Warrington, where his father was born and near where he was born, is in the Liverpool Stake, and one of the people we've been teaching here just moved down there. Runcorn, where Thomas' parents were married, is one of the areas that Elder Tomita has served in. So there's a good chance I'll be visiting or even serving in one of these areas that were significant to Thomas Green in the course of my mission. Kind of exciting!
In sad news, the investigator we committed to be baptized has stopped meeting with us. :( Hopefully he’ll eventually come back to investigating the gospel at some future time. In the meantime, we’re working hard with the other people in our teaching pool, especially in trying to get members to come to teaching appointments with us so they will better be able to work with the investigators after we leave. It makes me so happy to hear about you guys in Jacksonville working with the missionaries, inviting them over for dinner, and inviting them to teach investigators at your home. That kind of support means a lot to us.
I love you! Support your local elders for me!