[Photo: Elder Pimentel at the Liverpool docks, where Thomas Green and so many others set sail for the "Zion"]
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.