Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Notes from Sam -- 15 October 2008

Dear family,

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. I figured out a while back that in the period from October 3rd to October 17th, we have had or have scheduled four exchanges, three zone-wide activites, a district activity, my driving test, interviews with the President, General Conference, and a baptism. Whew!

Ryan’s baptism is tonight at 7:30 PM! We’re pretty excited. It was originally going to be on Friday but we moved it to tonight so his mum could attend. We only met her last Wednesday when we taught Ryan about tithing. She’s a really nice lady. I don’t think she has any interest in the church herself (yet), but she’s very supportive of Ryan. A lot of other people should also be coming to the baptism, including Ryan Mulcahy and an Iranian Christian named Makwam (sp?) whom Elder Stevens and Elder Key taught last night for the first time (I’m on exchange in Chorley). Ryan passed his baptismal interview on Sunday night, and I’m feeling really confident that he’s ready.

It’s great to see someone so young with such a great future coming into the church. When we were looking over Ryan’s baptismal recommend, I noticed that he’s younger than Ed. On a similar note, I was pretty surprised when I learned that Elder Stevens is only 18, born about a month after Ruth. He got special permission to come out on his mission early so he wouldn’t have to delay university by another year. Makes me feel pretty old.

Yvonne is still going strong. On the Sunday before conference, our Gospel Principles teacher invited her to teach two of the principles in the lesson for the week after Conference, which was about fasting. Yvonne readily accepted, and this last Sunday she did it. It was amazing! I think she probably taught better than our regular teacher or any of us could have. I don’t mean to knock Brother Hall, who is great, but Yvonne just has a great testimony and a natural talent for teaching. It was exciting to see her building our faith. There’s a calling in the pipeline for her, I believe, and I really hope that she will have a good experience with it.

At General Conference last week, we had Ryan Mulcahy, Jason, and Emma, none of whom had been to church before. This week, Ryan and Emma (Jason was sick) came to church! The ward knew them a bit already thanks to General Conference and gave them a good welcome. It made me pretty happy. Emma brought her and Jason’s 22(?)-month-old daughter Ruby, who is a real character. Our ward doesn’t have a nursery leader or class right now, but fortunately a wonderful Relief Society sister took Ruby into the nursery room during Gospel Principles and kept her occupied so that Emma could pay attention. Yay for great members!

On Saturday we had a zone blitz on Rossendale Valley. Rossendale Valley Ward is just southeast of Blackburn Ward – it’s up in the steeper hills and valleys and comprises several smaller towns (each town a bit like Accrington). It’s a great ward and there are hard-working sister missionaries there right now, but the area is having very little success. Hence the blitz, in which all the missionaries in our zone travelled to the one area and worked there all day. It was good fun. We tracted and street contacted in areas the sisters had picked out, each of us working with a couple of different missionaries from around the zone during the course of the day, and then we all came back to the chapel and ate kebabs. Good fun. I had some interesting experiences, some spiritual and some more amusing. An old lady made a vulgar hand gesture at Elder Gorts (with two dots over the “o” – he’s from Frankfurt) and I. We were both quite surprised! : ) Towards the end of the day, Elder Peterson and I stopped a man who didn’t really believe in God but was willing to talk. I testified a little bit about the plan of salvation and invited him to learn more – he thought about it and said he thought he wasn’t really interested, that he was “fairly happy” as he was. Elder Peterson responded, “You said you’re fairly happy – we can promise you even greater happiness!” Then he testified about it, and I really felt the Spirit. The man ended up giving us his contact details. So hopefully the sisters will get to teach him – yay!

On Monday Elder Stevens and I taught an English class! Preach My Gospel has a lot of suggestions for how to find new investigators (other than tracting and street contacting) and we were recently given a checklist of these ideas by our leaders and challenged to try them all by October 18th. One of the biggest tasks on there is “Teach English as a second language” – which, before we received the checklist, I’d always thought of as an activity strictly for those serving in foreign-language missions – and we (like most missionaries in the mission) have worried a good bit about how to make it happen. About two weeks ago, though, Elder Stevens bus contacted a Polish man named Gregory who told him that he could easily find us about a dozen other Polish people interested in free, basic, English classes. And he said we could just coordinate the class through him! On Monday, Gregory told us we should have about seven people coming to our class that evening at the chapel. Six of them ended up cancelling, but one woman did come, and (thanks to an investigator who came down to the chapel at the last minute to be the fellowshipper so that we could teach) the class went ahead! Elder Stevens and I were both very, very nervous about it, which is a bit unusual considering that we teach complete strangers every day, but he pointed out that we usually teach a different subject. It ended up being quite successful, though. The lady who came really has a desire to learn, and we ended up spending most of the lesson role-playing visits to the bank and to the doctor. She specifically asked us to teach about visiting the doctor because she has a doctor’s appointment on Friday that she’s quite worried about. She struggles with depression and wanted to know specifically the words and the phrases that she could use to talk about it, which made some of the role-plays pretty awkward, but it was great to know that we really were helping her learn. We have another class set up for this Saturday, hopefully with a few more students.

Last week we had a zone temple trip. It was great. It had been too long since I’d been to the temple. This week we have a district activity, a hike in our area. Elder Stevens is quite a serious hiker (he and his cousin did a three-day hike once from Sussex to Kent) and has mapped it all out. The weather looks OK as well (knock on wood), and I’m kind of excited about it.

I forgot to mention it last week, but I failed my driving test. : ( It’s a lot harder than the American test and I think most people actually fail the first time around, so it’s not quite the badge of shame you might think. I’m feeling a lot more confident now and I have another test booked for October 21st, so if all goes well I should still have my license by the end of the transfer. Wish me luck!

Today I’m just finishing my exchange with Elder Powrie, my zone leader. He’s a bit of a computer guru, and he actually just got back this past weekend from the mission office in Manchester, where President Bullock has had him writing a massive Excel database which will read in the Key Indicators from all the missionaries in the mission and compute various statistics from them. He’s been in and out of the office for about two weeks working on it and is really glad to have it done – the work in his area went a bit patchy with him going to Manchester all the time, and he had to miss out on the zone blitz in order to get it done – but he described the program to me (some of the things it has to do, data it has to generate, etc.) and it sounded like a fun problem to tackle. It’s been about a year since I thought about programming at all, so I went through a bit of déjà vu as he was telling me about it. I’ll enjoy getting back into programming when I get home.

Elder Powrie and I had an amazing experience together on exchange in Chorley last night. We’d had an early-afternoon appointment with a potential investigator named Andrew, but we buzzed his flat there was no answer. This happens a lot, and we usually leave a note in the potential’s mailbox (“Sorry we missed you – please ring us back and we’ll set up another appointment”), although they rarely if ever call us back. It ended up being really difficult to get into the block of flats, but we finally found someone who let us in the back door and we posted Andrew a note. Later in the day he actually called us back and left a voicemail with his phone number! Elder Powrie (who’s about six months older than me) said that was the first time a potential had ever rung him back. Then, later that evening, we were at an appointment with a great young man named Manuel who is 19 and working on his mission papers. As we were sitting in his living room about to start the lesson, it occurred to Elder Powrie and me at almost the same moment to ring Andrew and see if we could go teach him with Manuel instead. Sure enough, Andrew was available. So we went over and proceeded to teach one of the most amazing lessons I’ve ever experienced! Andrew told us about how he’d been struggling recently with alcohol and cigarette addictions and how he didn’t know what to do – he said he’d tried buying things to make him happy but it didn’t work. We started teaching about Jesus Christ and faith, and right away the Spirit poured into the room. Andrew told us he’d been wanting to go back to church (the Catholic church, I think) for a while, so right away Elder Powrie invited him to church on Sunday and he agreed to come. As soon as he had he remarked that he felt better. We explained that because faith is belief and works, we feel the Spirit and have our faith increase when we make and keep commitments to do good things. We knew he was feeling the Spirit at that point and so we just talked about how great it felt and taught him what he needed to do to keep it with him. He was so prepared to hear the gospel and accepted everything we taught. Manuel bore his testimony too. When the three of us walked out of the lesson, we could hardly believe how amazing it had been. We talked about just how amazing it had been all the way back to Manuel’s house and sitting in the car outside it for a while. I felt like we should say a prayer of thanks for the miracle of getting to participate in that, and as I said it I recognized that we had really been instruments in God’s hands for the evening. None of us had really made any choice to guide the lesson the way it went, but it just worked out perfectly as we followed the Spirit. Having Manuel, who was already excited for his mission before that lesson, there with us made it all so much better. Miracles do happen!

Elder Pimentel

P.S. Ruth, I love your letters. Especially the sense of contemplation in them. I got a bunch of them yesterday with one of Dad’s letters and read them during my morning exercise. Dylan’s thoughts about “growing old” actually have a lot to do with me as a missionary right now. Kind of interesting.

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