Monday, November 10, 2008

Notes from Sam -- 5 November 2008

Dear family,

Last week it was freezing cold but we’ve had a nice respite this week. Not much rain either. I am wearing my coat most days though.

Jason and Emma are better every week. Jason wasn’t feeling well on Sunday morning and was thinking of skipping church this week, but Elder Stevens gave him a ring and (as Jason puts it) talked him into going. Once he got there he was glad he had come. They gave us a lift and we were all a little late, so I was feeling a bit stressed, but once I walked into the chapel for priesthood meeting and sat down I just felt great to be in church and forgot all about being stressed. I guess I probably feel that way every week but just don’t recognize it all the time. Yesterday we taught a recent convert who hasn’t been to church for a while about keeping the Sabbath day holy and she mentioned that when she goes to church she always feels “right.” That’s a good way to describe it. I’ve come to feel that it’s a witness that the restored authority of God really is present in the Church. Anyway, Jason and Emma enjoyed church as usual and they actually stayed around for about a half-hour afterwards just chatting with a couple of members. That’s very good to see. They’re working on learning the doctrine and quitting tea and cigarettes right now.

A lot of our appointments have fallen through in the past couple of days, but that’s just given us more opportunities to go finding! We’ve had some great experiences. On Monday I got on a bus and successively invited two men sitting at the front to speak with me, but neither one was interested. The man sitting behind them seemed to be paying attention, so I went to talk to him. He turned out to be a bit drunk, but I chatted with him a bit anyway and he said we were welcome to come around and share more with him. I got his phone number and address. As I walked to the front of the bus to get off, the second man I’d talked to (one of the ones who wasn’t interested) handed me a piece of paper with his name and phone number written on it! Wow! I’m not sure what prompted him to do that, but we’re excited to follow up with him and find out.

We had a really good district meeting yesterday. In district leaders’ council on Saturday, we agreed that our zone focus should be on having a greater sense of urgency about our work. As I thought and sought revelation about the topic this week, I realized that having a sense of urgency has to do with gratitude. If we’re really grateful for everything and every opportunity that the Lord gives us (including opportunities to do sometimes unpleasant things like bus contacting, cleaning the flat, etc.), then we’ll put real effort into using and learning from those opportunities as we go. That’s really what a sense of urgency is, a concern for not wasting the opportunities that we have. I think this is quite relevant to life outside of missionary work too – it makes me think of all those articles in the Ensign about how to make the best of your life even when you’re experiencing trials. Anyway, I focused on that concept in district meeting. I ended up getting pretty excited about gratitude and urgency during the meeting and I think the district caught the vision too. I think we’ll receive a lot of blessings this transfer as we try and live it. I’ve noticed already that I’m more grateful for the opportunity to bus contact and more willing to do it. After all, who else gets to bus contact? I think most missionaries don’t even get the chance the way I do. And there’s really nothing quite like getting on a bus full of people who are just sitting there passively and preaching the gospel to them with energy!

Last preparation day I wrote a response to a letter from a friend that had a number of questions or concerns about the gospel. I’d been dreading responding a bit because I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to answer the questions satisfactorily. These days I have a lot of confidence in my ability to answer such questions verbally by the Spirit, but writing answers is a different type of thing. Anyway, I finally got around to it, just prayed that I would be able to do OK, and started writing. I ended up answering the questions by referring to scriptures from the Book of Mormon, which worked really well and strengthened my testimony as well. One of the questions was about why an organized church is necessary to help us draw closer to God when spirituality is really about the individual. I referred to the story of the people of Alma in Mosiah 18 and 23, and as I wrote about it I saw really clearly that an organized church IS necessary to help us serve others in the best possible way, and that the Church has given me amazing opportunities to serve others and hence draw closer to God (for example, my mission) that I never could have replicated as a spiritually-inclined individual, even a very charitable and selfless one. Wow! As I was writing, I realized that Elder Stevens at the other end of the table was writing a similar letter to one of his non-member friends. When we finished up our letters and went out to work that night, the Spirit was with us so strongly! I just felt great to be out preaching the gospel and felt myself being guided by the Spirit in everything I said. It just made missionary work a joy. It makes me want to be a really good member missionary when I get home – I get the feeling that there’s possibly even more joy available to members as they work with their friends than there is to us as we work with people we meet. Elder Stevens now wants to write a letter full of testimony to one of us his non-member friends every preparation day. : )

Last week I sent a picture of our zone service project (set up by the zone leaders and the stake public affairs representative as a way of serving the community and of publicizing the missionaries and our work) at Adlington Cemetery. Adlington is a little village near Chorley. Incidentally, it’s the place where my MTC group went tracting when we were in the MTC. It was quite a trip down memory lane to see some of the places I remember from that first day of proper missionary work and think about where I’ve been and how far I’ve come since then . . . Anyway, the project went well. I painted a fence with a few other missionaries, and other people pruned some trees and cleared off the grass. Elder Powrie struck up a conversation with a lady who either worked at the cemetery or was just passing through – she turned out to be a Jehovah’s Witness, and she and Elder Powrie got into a conversation/friendly disagreement about the Bible and gospel doctrine that lasted over half an hour, maybe 45 minutes! They were standing right next to the fence we were painting, so we heard snatches of it all and winced now and then as the conversation dragged on . . . and on . . . and on. : ) Not to cast aspersions on Elder Powrie – I’ve had conversations just as fruitless and frustrating with well-meaning people who are convinced they’re right, though fortunately none of the conversations have lasted that long, I think. I’m glad we can rely on the Spirit to prove the gospel true instead of being left with just our own powers of reason.

Happy Bonfire Night (Guy Fawkes’ Day), by the way! We’re staying inside tonight to do our weekly planning, so (as Elder Stevens puts it) small children won’t set us on fire. : ) Guy Fawkes does some like a pretty benign, if pyromaniacal, family holiday, but I think President is wise to have us indoors. Fireworks have been on sale everywhere for a week or two now, and when we went and saw a recent convert yesterday she had a huge pile of discarded furniture in her yard which will go on the bonfire tonight.

Elder Stevens and I have been eating pretty well. He’s a more ambitious cook than many of my previous companions have been. We’ve done a couple of traditional English fry-ups (eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, and fry bread with baked beans) which have been very tasty if a bit greasy, and we’ve been experimenting with different milkshake recipes (we’re lucky enough to have a blender in our flat). Also we found a very simple, very tasty recipe for brownies. Jason and Emma told us that potato pie is a traditional Guy Fawkes’ dish (must be a Northern thing – Elder Stevens has never heard of it), so we’re going to try and get some of that when we go shopping today; we’re also planning to have a go at making some toffee apples (another Bonfire Night tradition) tonight.

A couple of times in recent weeks we’ve had eggs thrown at us! Once we turned down a side street and one smashed on the fence behind us, and the other day we were on a bus and one smacked right onto my (closed, fortunately) window. I don’t think the second one was aimed at us in particular, but still, I consider it a bit of a mark of honor.

Elder Stevens has a great sense of humor. As part of the programme for new missionaries in the EMM, he had to fill out a sample baptismal recommend. When I did that in Barrow, we just imagined that one of our investigators was getting baptized and filled it out that way, but Elder Stevens chose instead to fill one out for the Queen. The other day while we were walking through a rough council estate some kids were calling us names, and Elder Stevens said, “Sometimes eugenics seems like a good idea, doesn’t it?” : ) I think you all would get along with him well. He’s been very patient with everyone assuming that he’s American. So far at least. : )

Hey! I just heard this morning (from an old lady on the bus and from a member who rang us earlier) that Obama won the election. I didn’t even really know that it was going on yesterday (although at least one man mentioned it after hearing my American accent). Its funny how disconnected I am out here . . . I felt a little bad that I didn’t vote because it is kind of a historic moment, but I really don’t know much about the candidates would have been voting more for the thrill of doing it than for the good reasons of an informed citizen. Anyway I’m curious to see how things change.

Music – we’ve had a new policy change where President has to check and OK all CDs other than Mormon Tabernacle Choir and church hymns. Maybe wait to send more classical stuff until I’ve gotten what I already have checked. Please, if we have Mormon Tabernacle Christmas music, though, send that – I don’t know how soon President can check my Christmas music.

Elder Pimentel

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