We've had a busy week. We had an exchange with the assistants to the President from Wednesday evening to Thursday evening (they usually go on exchange with all the new missionaries). Elder Crapo and Elder Somerville have both been assistants for a long time, and it looks like they will both be staying in that calling until they go home in order to help the new mission president (who is arriving in less than three weeks) get settled in. The assistants used to work in our area and live in the flat that we now inhabit, so this exchange was a bit like coming home for them. Elder Somerville, who's from "down south" (near Devon, I think), went with Elder Adams and taught a couple of lessons, and I went with Elder Crapo, who is from Idaho Falls. Elder Crapo's older brother was in my ward at Stanford and his father (I believe) is a senator - he's one of the missionaries who was interviewed by the BBC in that one article about the Church in England that Dad sent me several months ago. Elder Crapo and I taught a really difficult lesson together. The group of people we ended up teaching included an active Portuguese sister from the ward, one of her friends who is a less-active member, and a second friend who is visiting from Portugal and knows nothing about the Church - three people at completely different levels. To top it off, both the active sister and the nonmember friend spoke almost no English, so the less-active member (who spoke English OK) had to translate for us. We did pretty well given the circumstances, I think - we taught some good things from the Book of Mormon, and I learned some words in Portuguese. : )
Elder Crapo also showed me a new way of bus contacting. Up until Thursday, the way I bus contacted was to try and sit next to someone when I got on a bus, strike up a conversation with him or her, and bring in the gospel. I've struggled with that a lot over the past few weeks, though, because it's easy for me to feel awkward about it. Many times I've gotten on a bus and not talked to anybody the whole time I'm on it, which felt really bad because we've recently been committed by our leaders to bus contact. Elder Crapo's way is quite different, though - when we got on a bus on Thursday and showed the driver our bus passes, he told the driver that we were Christian missionaries and that we would be sharing our message with the people on the bus and asked if that would be alright with him. The bus driver didn't really care, so we walked on to the bus and just walked down the aisle, asking each person (all of whom had heard Elder Crapo talk to the bus driver) if we could talk to them for a minute about the gospel. Most of the people said no, but Elder Crapo and I found the ones who were willing to listen right away. I found the whole thing much simpler and less awkward than my old method. Although it's quite scary to declare our purpose so boldly to the bus driver, that's the only decision we have to make, and then we're committed - everybody on the bus has heard what we're doing and knows what's coming. The other way requires me to constantly make difficult decisions right, which is a lot harder. Anyway, Elder Adams and I have put Elder Crapo's method into practice and are enjoying it a lot. I'd been feeling really terrible about not bus contacting enough before, and I when I started this new, really bold, method, it helped me feel so good about myself! Now Elder Adams and I have a goal to get contact information from someone that we meet on a bus at least once a day. A goal that will stretch us, but will be great if we can achieve it!
On Thursday we had our last interviews with President Jacobsen. I'm going to miss him. In my interview, he said that I seemed a lot more relaxed than when I first came out. It was an insightful comment - I think maybe that's the biggest change that I've undergone since I began my mission. President Jacobsen gave us each a booklet of poetry that he's written as a parting gift. As I was reading through it later, I found a poem that mentioned Francis M. Gibbons [Annette's uncle, who was secretary to the first presidency for about 30 years, ed.] and there was an explanatory note about how President Jacobsen had done so much church service alongside and under Uncle Frank and respected him so much! I didn't know there was any connection there. Too bad President Jacobsen's leaving now so I can't ask him about Uncle Frank!
Thank you as always for your diligent correspondence! I really liked the pictures from Ruth's graduation and I put them across the bottom of our bulletin board, right in front of where I sit to study every morning. When I got that letter I was on exchange with Elder Davies - he looked at the picture of all of you together and said, "That looks like a fun family." He was right! Then there were four letters for me in the mailbox on Tuesday morning. Elder Adams was sorting through them and commented that I had a lot of mail and that some of it was kind of "weird." When I saw the ladybug-man that Ruth had put on one of the envelopes, I laughed out loud, and I still can't help smiling whenever I look at it. I haven't had a chance to read all those letters yet - I'm trying to savor them individually.
I've got a lot more to say and some photos, but my time's about gone. I'll do my best to get on the Internet again later today, but no promises.
P.S. Mom, you sound like a great Gospel Principles teacher. I'm interested in the First Presidency statements on evolution that you found because I've been feeling quite confused about the Church's stance on evolution. I'd always thought that there was no specific doctrine on the truth or falsity of evolution, simply the basic truths that God created the Earth and us in his image, but since coming out here I've encountered some statements by Bruce R. McConkie that seem to suggest that evolution in almost any sense is false doctrine. So I'm curious to hear about what you found and about how the discussion in Gospel Principles went. : )
Before the assistants left on Thursday night, Elder Crapo sat down with me and reviewed our exchange (i.e. shared what we learned from the other missionary, ask for suggestions on how to improve, etc.). Usually when I’ve been on exchange with mission leaders they’ve told me that I’m doing a great job or asked me what I think I need to do to improve, but Elder Crapo identified some very specific things for me to think about and work on. I wouldn’t have recognized those things as areas where I needed improvement, but since our exchange my eyes have really been opened and I can see what’s holding me back from becoming a better missionary. I’m lucky to have good mission leaders who can help me improve.
On Thursday morning, just before we went for our interviews with the President, Elder Adams and I got to GQ in Piccadilly. Most English towns have a “town centre” or “high street” area, essentially an open square or set of pedestrian-only streets lined with shops, and when missionaries have spare time during the day, they often go to these places and GQ (stands for “golden question”), or stop people as they walk by to strike up conversations and invite them to learn about the gospel. Manchester Piccadilly is Manchester’s town centre, and it is huge and packed with people, far bigger and busier than any other town centre in the mission, I would guess. It’s also reputed to be one of the best places to GQ – with such a volume and variety of people, there’s a lot of potential to find good people to teach there. Up until a short while ago, most of the missionaries serving in the two Greater Manchester stakes would take turns travelling into Piccadilly (which is at the center of all the different wards – each ward is shaped a bit like a slice of pie, with all the slices meeting in the middle) and GQing, each area taking a different day of the week. As a result, GQing Piccadilly has become kind of a big mission tradition. So it was pretty exciting to get to go there on Thursday with Elder Adams, for the first time ever. Piccadilly really is huge, and for the first time since coming to my area I got a sense for how massive Manchester really is. It was a thrill to know I was right at the center of such a big city, preaching the gospel to all these people and bringing the Church out of obscurity.
Love you all!
Here are some photos:
1. Sale town centre, where we usually GQ. I took this last Wednesday, which was a particularly beautiful day, but we've actually had nice weather like this for most of the week.
2. Gregg's. A nice bakery (there's a branch in almost every town centre in England) which has nice pasties and meat pies. Elder Adams and I are big fans.
3. (L to R) Elder Adams, me, Elder Crapo, and Elder Somerville.