Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Notes from Sam -- 28 January 2009

Dear family,

We had three baptisms in our zone this week! Included in this total is the family that didn't pass their first interview. I was really happy when they passed the second time, as were they. They are solidly converted and have three great little kids who will now all grow up to be great members!

Besides the three this week, there are two more people who will be baptized this coming weekend. Both of them have already passed their baptismal interviews. We're pretty excited about all this, but we want to make sure we and the other missionaries in the zone are finding lots of solid new investigators to replace the ones who are getting baptized. Elder Garcia and I have a major goal this transfer to baptize at least one person in our area. Right now the most likely people are a man named James Brooks and a nine-year-old named Keshawn. James must be about 50 and is completely deaf but lip reads really well. He teaches at a local college. He's had difficulty making commitments up until now (he was found before we arrived in Newcastle) because he's been going through treatment for cancer, but on Monday we had a great lesson where he told us that the treatment will be ending on Friday and that he is feeling ready to make some changes in his life. Keshawn is the son of a less-active member named Shivonne Meade who is originally from the Caribbean and who got baptized in Stoke-on-Trent ward a couple of years ago. She has a lot on her shoulders: being a single mum to 5 kids aged 4(?) to 13 who don't always want to go to church or live the gospel, attending college, and dealing with pressure from friends tempt her to break the commandments. She wants good things for her kids but struggles to get herself and them out to church on Sunday. If she can find a way to get her family to church consistently, Keshawn (who is a really sharp kid) will be able to be baptized without any problem. Our whole district is going to be praying for James Brooks and Shivonne Meade this week. Grandma Bay should feel free to put their names on the temple prayer roll.

Speaking of baptisms, I found out at zone leaders' council yesterday that Jerry Daquil, the Filipino man that Elder Stevens and I were miraculously led to in our last couple of weeks in Blackburn, is getting baptized this weekend. I'd been quite worried because we'd originally dated him for January 10th but I hadn't seen his name in the mission newsletter (where all baptisms are announced) that week. Apparently his grueling work schedule had prevented him from attending church as often as necessary - so he quit one of his jobs to allow him to come! I'm so happy that he's sticking it out. It's always great to hear that someone I have taught in a previous area is getting baptized.

As I mentioned, we had zone leaders' council yesterday. It was a good meeting. Even more than last time, I felt the divine nature of President Bullock's calling and the love he has for us. I also enjoyed the feeling of unity I had with the other zone leaders, many of whom I know pretty well from past areas and transfers: Elder Ayers, Elder Webb, Elder Powrie, Elder Dumitrescu, Elder Tanner Davies, etc.

While I was at the mission home, President Bullock pulled out a copy of the church news and showed me Uncle Jay and Aunt Colleen's picture in it! It turns out that one of the other zone leaders, Elder Wiese, is from the Berlin Mission. He will probably meet Uncle Jay later this year.

Elder Garcia and I taught sharing time in Primary on Sunday, "The family is ordained of God and is central to his plan." It was pretty hectic! I hadn't realized how difficult it is to keep the attention of small kids. Unlike the Jacksonville 2nd Ward, the Newcastle-under-Lyme Primary has sharing time combined with junior and senior Primary, and I agree with Mom that it makes things tougher. First we had the kids close their eyes imagine that they were moving to a faraway country tomorrow and think about how they would feel ("sad"), and then imagine how much better they would feel if they could take their family with them. Then we talked about how Heavenly Father sent us down here to earth but with our families instead of by ourselves. Then I showed a picture of Nephi and his family and we talked about how they helped one another, and then the kids drew pictures of how they can help their families.

I was duly mocked by several of the older Primary kids when I used stick-figure drawings to illustrate our transition from the premortal life to Earth ("That's not Heavenly Father!") and I realized after the paper and the crayons were handed out that a substantial fraction of the kids had no idea what they were supposed to be drawing (I found one Sunbeam-age youngster who must have fixated on Nephi's family diligently drawing a boat), but otherwise I think it was fairly successful. At the end one of the Primary kids came up to me and said, "You're the bestest!" : ) Now that I've walked the road myself, I really want to get to see one of Mom's sharing times. They sound pretty fun.

On Sunday night Elder Garcia and I plus six other missionaries from the zone trained the stake youth on inviting their friends to youth activities. A different crowd from Primary, but just as great. : ) We did some role-plays with them, which ended up being a lot of fun, and at the end some of us shared testimonies and experiences, including Elder Perry, who joined the church as a young man after first attending youth activities and youth conference with some of his friends. At the end we committed all the youth to invite at least two friends to the big youth activity next month. A lot of them seemed pretty hesitant to do it, but I think some of them will really take it seriously. Hopefully we'll have some member referrals to teach down the road!

Elder Garcia had a dream last night that I lost my testimony because of something I heard while we were tracting and went home from my mission! : ( Good thing it was just a dream. We are actually seeing some really good things come out of tracting this week - our ward mission leader prayed for revelation about a street for us to tract, and the street he gave us has given us three return appointments already. And my testimony is getting stronger, not weaker, because of it!

I've been enjoying your letters as always. It's exciting that Dad gets to go to Nepal! Elder Garcia's dad, who is in the military, has actually just gone to Somalia for three months. So in a couple of weeks, his dad will be in Somalia and my dad will be in Nepal. Life is strange sometimes! I also got a Christmas card from my MTC companion Elder Robbins, who is apparently doing well in the Leeds mission, and a nice note from Peter Olson in Japan. I'm wondering if he'll meet Elder Tomita over there at some point.

Missionary work is pretty wonderful. One thing I've recently noticed is that through frequent repentance I can really have the Holy Ghost to be with me all the time, and that when I have it I am really happy! I'm grateful for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

I love you all! Have a happy Groundhog Day!

Elder Pimentel

Monday, January 26, 2009

From Jon 1/24/09

Subject: Zoo siab hnub yug ib zaug dua

Nyob zoo!

Greetings, one, and everyone!

Indeed, we had transfers once more. Not only did they split our area, but they split our district as well, and put us in a different zone. There are now two Hmong districts---one in St.Paul, and one in Minneapolis, each with two teams. There are still two zebra areas in Wisconsin. Elder Fawsen is still in Lacrosse, but has a new comp because this was Elder Neibaur's last transfer. Elder Vang got sent to Eau Claire, WI. He switched places with Elder Cutshall, who had been exiled out there for 7 1/2 months. I was in a threesome with Elder Cutshall for his first week in the field back in March. He is now my companion in the small, Minneapolis bike area, in the same apartment, so I didn't move. He is also the district leader. Elder Hill is training the new elder in the new Brooklyn Park Hmong area with the car and the new apartment, and all of our investigators save one. The new Elder is also an Elder Vang, but since he is Hmoob ntsuab (green Hmong), it's "Elder Vaaj", not "Elder Vaj", so it will be easy to specify about whom you are speaking. He's pretty cool. He's from Stockton, CA. He's pro at cooking.

There is still a bit of red tape in the way of the new apartment, so the whole district was going to stay in our apartment for a few days, but some members agreed to let the other team stay with them until they get the apartment squared away. Thank heavens.

Happy belch day Dadoo! Good luck with the play, and all your other endeavors.

I got to visit John Thao, who is still in my area. It makes me happy that he is still going to church making plans for college. He will be the first in his family to go to college, and he is the third oldest.

We haven't had a chance to visit Chia, Pika, Toki, and Vincent yet, but that will be our big focus this transfer.

Lavu lavu!
-Elder Moua Ying

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Notes from Sam -- 21 January 2009

Dear family,

I'm staying in Newcastle with Elder Garcia. That's very good news! The past six weeks felt like half that time, and I feel like I have a lot still to learn from Elder Garcia. Most of the zone stayed as well - the only transfers are our district leaders, both of whom are leaving. Elder Davies is actually going to be a zone leader in Chorley zone, my old stomping grounds. I'm eager to meet the new district leaders, Elder Rose and Elder Newson.

Last week we had amazing blessings poured out upon the zone. Throughout the transfer many of the individual companionships had a good week here and there, but last week everyone had a good week at the same time. It was our district leaders who made it happen - they both had good district meetings focused on having quality gospel conversations, and that built unity in their districts and helped everyone move forward together. At the same time, Elder Garcia and I were blessed tremendously in our area. In particular, we were able to find thirteen new investigators and teach most of them with members there in the first lesson. Some of these thirteen people have great prospects to be baptized in the upcoming weeks, including Marcus (who I told you about last week - he's still seeking to feel that God is there and that the Book of Mormon is true, and he's also coming to the stake football activity on Saturday!) and a really prepared man named John. We tracted into John and his friend Denise at about 8 PM on Sunday night. John is a born-again Christian, and as we taught about the Restoration he shared some experiences through which he came to believe in and rely on Christ. Sometimes strong members of other churches including born-again Christians can be preachy or combative when they share such experiences and quench the spirit of the lesson, but John's accounts really invited the Spirit. We could tell that he was really humble and sincere about his faith and was sharing his testimony not to prove us wrong but to strengthen us. As he understood the message he asked if we were saying that his baptism (in another Christian church) was not valid in God's eyes. I expected him to resist our answer, but when I explained the importance of being baptized by authority he accepted the idea quite calmly. Later in the lesson he told us, out of the blue, "For some reason I feel like I need to go through the waters [be baptized] again," and before we left he said that if he came to feel that the Church was true he would come into it "with open arms" and accept everything. Elder Garcia promised that he would be welcomed the same way. Wow! Missionary work is amazing!

Elder Garcia pointed out the other day that the blessings really started rolling into our area as soon as we came back from our exchange with Shrewsbury. He suggested that the Lord was pleased with our sacrifice of two days in our area to help the Shrewsbury elders. I can testify that the times on my mission when I've sacrificed greatly have often been the most rewarding and memorable times. Elder Garcia and I have been talking a lot about the meaning of the phrase "real intent" recently, and I think one possible definition (or part thereof) is "willingness to sacrifice." It makes me think of King Lamoni's father and the way he prayed when he was seeking to know if Aaron's words were true: ". . . if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee" (Alma 22:18).

Last Wednesday I had a real testing experience. I was interviewing the members of a family for baptism and one of them mentioned that they'd been drinking decaffeinated tea instead of regular tea so they could obey the Word of Wisdom. I had to explain that the Word of Wisdom doesn't really talk about caffeine and that we are commanded not to drink tea or coffee whether or not it has caffeine. The family members are really humble people who were looking forward to their baptism so much (they were sorting through white jumpsuits to find the right size when we arrived for the interview) and it was so hard when I had to explain that they'd have to delay their baptism. They started to get upset with one another and I was panicking a little bit, not knowing what to say to help them calm down. I really really wanted to pray. So I suggested that we say a prayer together. The prayer made an amazing difference, especially in how I felt about the situation and I think also in how they felt about it. When we finished the prayer, I felt united with them and able to move forward and plan for the new baptismal date. I think they were still pretty disappointed, but they're committed and nothing will stop them from getting baptized.

I ended up helping out in Primary last week, playing the piano for them. Our ward just switched from afternoon (2 to 5) to morning (10 to 1), and the Primary presidency is finding that the kids are a lot more awake and active during Sharing Time than they were in December! We've been asked to do Sharing Time next week ("The family is ordained of God and is central to his plan"), so I've been thinking about Mom (I keep on wanting to call her Mum) and her new calling a lot. It will be a good challenge to find a way to engage the kids. We're also preparing for a stake youth fireside on Sunday night that is all about missionary work - we and six other missionaries are going to train the youth on how to invite their friends to youth activities. We've had some good ideas and received some revelation, so hopefully it will be a success.

Speaking of teaching the younger generation, one of our investigators, Keshawn, is the nine-year-old son of a less-active member. We taught the Plan of Salvation last week and had him and his older brother explain it back to us. He's a really good kid, eager to participate in lessons and to answer questions. We asked him who goes to the terrestrial kingdom and he gave us an example: "If you go to church every week but you kill." : ) Unfortunately, he hasn't been to church yet since we've come - his mum has five kids to take care of all by herself, and she's struggled to get them out the door on Sunday morning. Hopefully we can help them get there and have a good experience.

I called the office the other day and Elder Davis, the financial secretary, asked me if my parents were going on a mission! I told him no, not to my knowledge. : ) Turns out he'd seen the announcement that "some Pimentels from California" would be presiding over a mission this year. : )

Elder Pimentel

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Notes from Sam -- 14 January 2009

Dear family,

It's been an eventful couple of weeks. I realized yesterday that our teaching pool has changed almost completely since we got to this area. All of the people we taught regularly in our first week or two in Newcastle have dropped us. Unfortunately this includes Chris Rainbow, who skipped his appointment and does not answer our phone calls. We're pretty sad about this, but we've really done all we can. Chris knows exactly what he needs to do to repent and be baptized, and it's entirely up to him now to change what he needs to.

Luckily, though, all these people who dropped us have been replaced with new ones! In the past two days in particular, we have been blessed with five new investigators! On Monday we taught (or tried to teach) a lesson to a Chinese family who speak almost no English. Despite the language barrier they seemed really open to our visits. They are a great family with two of the cutest kids ever (one must be about a year old and the other one about three). At our return appointment on Thursday we'll hopefully have a Chinese-speaker with us.

The people we taught yesterday are also really great. One of them is an Eritrean lady named Wabit(sp?). Elder Garcia stopped her on the street at about 4:40 PM yesterday. She told him that she'd been going through a really hard time and felt like Satan was trying to overcome her, but that she'd felt much more peace as Elder Garcia started speaking to her about Christ. She asked for him to pray for her, and he arranged for us to come and visit her at 5 PM. We had a fellowshipper coming with us at 6 PM, so we just jumped in the car and picked him up an hour early so we could teach her. We had to cut the lesson a bit short, but she said she felt peace from our message. Wabit has 4 kids (ages 10,9,7, and 3 I think), and hopefully we're going to get to teach them too!

The other person we taught yesterday, a 15-year-old named Marcus, was even more prepared. Elder Garcia stopped him on Sunday and he told Elder Garcia that while he believed in God, he was really confused about how to worship him because there were so many churches in the world. He also said he didn't think you could find the right church just by visiting them all and learning about their beliefs, because you'd just get even more confused that way. So he was quite interested in the message of the Restoration. We brought Aidan Meir, the bishop's 19-year-old son, to teach him with us and we had a perfect lesson. When we taught about apostasy and asked Marcus what he would do if he found himself in the midst of the apostasy, he said, "I guess I'd just pray to God and ask him to lead me." When we finished the lesson and asked him if he had any questions, he said, "No, I just want to go and read this book," touching his copy of the Book of Mormon. Aidan was the best fellowshipper ever, getting to know Marcus, inviting him to the youth sports day, and testifying with power. We're way excited about helping Marcus find the truth!

The rest of the zone is having amazing success, too. Last week we did the baptismal interviews for a family the Wrekin elders have been teaching, a couple with two little kids. I got to interview the husband, and he is one of the most solid people I have ever seen preparing for baptism. He explained without batting an eyebrow that in order to keep the Sabbath day holy he'd felt he couldn't employ anyone to work on Sunday and had made changes to his business that had caused him to lose 24,000 pounds a year. No doubt about his real intent! He and his family are so excited to be sealed in the temple. Tonight I'm interviewing another young couple in the Stoke area who I'm told are even more golden than Wrekin's investigators. Missionary work is so amazing!

Last week Elder Garcia and I went down to the hinterlands of the zone to go on exchange with Elders Woolsey and Wheat in Shrewsbury and Newtown (they live in Shrewsbury Ward but also cover the Newtown Branch). Shrewsbury is a really cool place, a real medieval town and apparently a significant destination. Elder Garcia and I decided that both of us would stay in the area (in part because it's so far from Newcastle), so Elder Garcia stayed right in Shrewsbury with Elder Woolsey and I went to Newtown with Elder Wheat. Newtown is the southernmost part of the mission - it is a tiny branch (about 8-10 active members) centered in a tiny town way out in rural Wales. Ironically, it is geographically one of the largest units in the mission! Quite a unique place. Elder Webb served in Shrewsbury for six months and covered Newtown as well for part of that time, and he'd told me a lot of stories about the area when we served together in Blackpool. It was exciting to get to see some of the places and meet some of the people he'd talked about! Newtown is a beautiful place and the weather there on Friday was wonderful. I especially enjoyed meeting President Briggs, Newtown's rockstar branch president. I get the sense he and his family are the only thing holding the branch together. Before we left his home, he pointed at a hill we could see from his window and said that he felt someday there would be a temple there. He's a man of faith.

Next week is transfers. It's quite likely Elder Garcia and I will stay, which I'm really happy about. This transfer has gone by too fast for me. Just in case, though, you can send post to the mission office this week.

I wish I could put my Uncle Jim memories in this message but I'm out of time again. : ( I'm worried that I'm pushing the limits of my missionary dispensation, I'll try and put it in a regular snail mail letter and send it to you today.

Love you!
Elder Pimentel

Notes from Sam -- 7 January 2009

Christmas dinner for Elder Pimentel, 2008
Loyal Stanford student pans an unwelcome Christmas gift

Dear family,

We’ve faced some opposition this week. Tracy and Ian’s family (the big family of five plus two friends who sit on lessons) dropped us, telling us they don’t need a church with apostles and prophets, and we’ve also been completely unable to contact Chris Rainbow since Saturday night, which is very unusual (we could always reach him on his mobile before). I’m not depressed about it, though - that line from “God Speed the Right” describes my feelings: “Ne’er despairing/ Though defeated . . .” We were actually fasting for Tracy’s family the evening that they dropped us, and I feel like their phone call was almost an answer to our prayers. Evidently they lacked the real intent to progress and be baptized at this moment, but they’re in our area book and in the Lord’s hands now, and when they are ready they will have another chance to come unto Christ. In the meantime, our minds and planners are now freer to find those who will progress.

I’ve been thinking a lot about miracles lately. Elder Garcia talks about them all the time and he says he’s experienced them more frequently in this area than he has in any other part of his mission, almost one every day. As he’s pointed this out, I’ve noticed more and more that singular and wonderful things, even just small ones, do happen to us all the time when we are working hard. It makes me think of that scripture in Moroni 7: “. . . has the day of miracles ceased? . . . Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought[.]” My faith has grown a lot as I’ve seen and expected miracles.

Elder Garcia is particularly focused on ensuring that we receive miracles while on exchange to build the faith of our missionaries. We went on exchange with the Telford elders yesterday, and in the morning before we started the exchange Elder Garcia told me to pray for a miracle. I was a little nervous about it but I prayed for one with Elder Peterson. Later that evening, Elder Peterson and I were headed to an appointment that was a bit iffy (we’d been ringing the potential investigator’s house phone and he wasn’t picking up) and I felt like we shouldn’t be going there. So I pulled over so we could seek some revelation about where to go and what to do. Right as we were about to say a prayer, I saw a man walking down the street pushing a stroller, and I felt like we should talk to him. Elder Peterson jumped out of the car and hailed him. It turned out the man was named Steve and that he and his partner had just had their first child (the baby in the stroller) five months ago. We set up an appointment with him to go and teach him! Yes! Then we got back in the car and prayed for guidance about what to do with the next half-hour. I felt like we should stay in that same area and Elder Peterson felt like we should street contact, so we left the car in the same spot and started walking up the street looking for people to talk to. There weren’t many people out, but after a couple of blocks I saw a door that I felt we should knock on. The man behind the door spoke to us for a while but wasn’t willing to set up an appointment despite our persistence. When he finally shut the door Elder Peterson suggested we knock on the next one, so we did. We discovered a really lovely family who had been prepared to receive us! We spoke to Debbie, the mum, and learned that she believes in God but that her husband (who wasn’t in) isn’t sure and had a lot of questions. She wants him to find faith, and she also feels bad that one of her children hasn’t been baptized yet and wants him to be. She was interested in the Restoration and offered to give us her phone number so we could ring and confirm a time when she and her husband would both be free so we could share more with them. Wow! We were a foot off the ground as we went back to the car to say a prayer of thanks, and when we went to coordination meeting right afterward we had to tell everyone there about our experience. It’s amazing what the Lord will give to you if you just ask for it and rely on the Spirit.

By the way, this experience says a lot about Elder Peterson. I think it’s significant that he and I received different parts of the total revelation necessary to find Debbie last night, and I’m really grateful for his sensitivity to the Spirit. He’s a very young missionary (in the field since August) from the same town in the Idaho Falls area as Elder Adams. They went to the same high school and knew each other. Elder Peterson reminds me a lot of Elder Adams, actually – pure, innocent, full of faith, very American. : ) President Jacobsen described Elder Adams once as “without guile” – that’s a good way of summarizing it. Maybe that’s a quality that they just cultivate particularly well in Idaho. : ) It makes me want to serve with some more Idahoans.

There are some great benefits to serving with Elder Garcia, though, including all the Spanish holiday traditions I get to take part in. Apparently in Spain at midnight on New Year’s Eve you have to eat 12 grapes, one for each stroke of the clock. President Bullock gave permission for missionaries to stay up until midnight, so we did and we ate the grapes! Elder Garcia took a great video. Before the end of the transfer I’m going to try and burn you a CD full of all the great videos he’s shot so far. Another Spanish tradition is opening presents not on Christmas Day but on King’s Day (January 6). Elder Garcia opened a few on Christmas but waited until King’s Day for most of them – I saved a Christmas present until King’s Day so I could join in on the fun. When I got up on the 6th and went downstairs first to exercise, I noticed that Elder Garcia had left three cookies and a mug of milk for the Regus Magus (sp?). When he came downstairs a few minutes later, he saw that sure enough, the kings had come because the milk was gone and so were two and a half of the cookies. : ) I took photos from the exercise bike while he opened his presents.

As I mentioned last week, I’m quite excited about Uncle Jay’s calling. I actually know two of the missionaries who will still be serving in his mission when he arrives: Elder Victor Zickler and Elder Felix Foerster, both of whom were in my MTC group. A couple of the other German missionaries in the MTC were from the Berlin mission, and a few of the missionaries I’ve known in this mission are from there as well. I mentioned Elder Ritter last week – he’s being trained in the zone right now and I went on exchange with him a couple of weeks ago. He told me that he will definitely meet Uncle Jay at some point when he goes home (at a stake conference at some point) and that he will be able to go up to him and say, “I served with your nephew!” : ) I love how the Church is such a small world sometimes.

We got snow again this week! It arrived early Sunday(?) morning and is still here. This is my first time ever to drive in snow, but luckily it hasn’t been too deep or too icy. Today Elder Garcia and I are going down to Telford to hike up a mountain (the English word for large hill) called the Wrekin. Telford is just inside Shropshire, which reputedly a pretty scenic area, so I’m excited for the views that we’ll get of snow-covered landscapes. We’re going with the whole Wrekin district. I’ll probably be mentioning their names a lot for the rest of the transfer, so let me tell you a bit more about them:

Shrewsbury: Elder Woolsey from St. George and Elder Wheat from Bournemouth (south English coast). They like to joke around a lot, and we should have a good time when we go on exchange with them this week.

Wrekin: Elder Davies (Mesa, AZ) and Elder Ritter (near Leipzig in Germany). I think I’ve mentioned them both before – Elder Davies is a great district leader, one of the most charitable and down-to-earth people I know, and Elder Ritter is a great young missionary, very serious and very hard-working.

Telford: Elder Peterson (Ammon, ID) and Elder Parker (Las Vegas). Elder Peterson I’ve already mentioned. He’s training Elder Parker, who is a good young missionary. Like the Shrewsbury elders, he’s a bit of a joker.

Stafford: Sister Johnson (Utah – Tremonton, I think?) and Sister Huittinnen (Finland). They’re a really great companionship, both very quiet people but really hard-working and effective.

We’re excited to get to hang out with them today and have some fun. Hopefully I’ll have some nice pictures from the hike next week.

I love being a missionary! Just the other day I was street contacting near Newcastle Town Center and I stopped a girl who said she didn’t really believe in God because nobody had been able to prove that He existed. I explained to her how the Book of Mormon is an evidence that God exists and provides a way to gain a personal witness. When I’d finished, she acknowledged that what I said made sense and said, “I’m more convinced [that God does exist] now.” That was pretty meaningful to me – just by teaching and bearing testimony, I was able to help increase someone’s faith. That’s something of eternal significance. And it’s what I get to do full-time! How great is that?

Elder Pimentel

P.S. Thanks to everyone for the lovely Christmas presents! I'm enjoying the great MoTab music, my personal copy of the Conference Ensign, and the hot chocolate in particular this week.

P.P.S. The photo is of me and Elder Garcia with the Wrekin district, outside the lovely Wrekin chapel. L to R: Me, Elder Parker, Elder Woolsey, Elder Garcia, Elder Wheat, Sister Johnson, Sister Huittinnen, Elder Ritter, Elder Peterson, and Elder Davies.

Notes from Sam -- 31 December 2008

Dear family,

This week was interviews with the mission president, so Elder Garcia and I had to prepare a big training (1 hour and 45 minutes long) to present to the missionaries while President was interviewing them one by one. Elder Garcia is really creative and we came up with some fun things to put in our training, which was all about working well with members. One part was about having spiritual and uplifting conversations with members at dinner appointments (speaking of which, our policy has changed again so now we can have dinner appointments without investigators present, much like the policy when I came out), so we set up a little dinner table, complete with a tablecloth, salt shakers, napkins, plates and cutlery, etc. and had the missionaries do role-plays. The missionaries who played the members asked questions and said things to distract the conversation and talk about the missionaries’ lives at home, and the missionaries had to find ways to keep it on track and help the members share spiritual experiences. It was a lot of fun. We also talked about the importance of making really good Progress Records (the document we use to report our work to stake and ward leaders). Elder Garcia used a big piece of cardboard and a Sharpie to make a gigantic Progress Record that we used as a visual aid. It looked really good. I felt our training went well in general, and it was a great experience to prepare and present it. Good practice for teaching Sunday School or something in my future life.

President Bullock also gave a training at interviews. Among other things, he talked about “mission folklore” stories about dodgy missionaries from the past and all the disobedient things they’d done (there are quite a few stories like this in our mission). He pointed out that most stories like this aren’t even true and that all of them glamorize evil by memorializing disobedience. He read us a great scripture in 1 Timothy 1:4 and challenged us to be the generation to stop the culture of dodgy mission folklore. It was eye-opening to me, because I’d always kind of liked the idea of having mission folklore and repeated it, not really recognizing how the stories made disobedience glamorous. President Bullock’s training made me want not just to stop repeating the stories about disobedient missionaries but start up a new folklore about obedient and successful missionaries, one that glamorizes righteousness instead of evil! There must be just as many good stories as bad ones out there. It makes me think about Orson Scott Card’s essays about art and evil in A Storyteller in Zion – art becomes evil not just by depicting it but by promoting or glamorizing or inviting it.

On a similar note, I was thinking the other day about how a nonmember must view our church services the first time they come. I imagined a humanities researcher attending our services and wondered how they would view the sacrament: probably as a form of art in which all the members of the congregation have a chance to make a statement in a symbolic and beautiful way. My first instinct was that such a perspective completely mislabels the sacrament. Then I realized that while viewing the sacrament as an art form does really miss the deeper spiritual point, the sacrament is beautiful and is meaningful and has all the attributes of great art because of its spiritual significance. It made me think differently about all art. Maybe every piece of great art is great because it has a spiritual significance that we just don’t always grasp. After all, the light of Christ is the source of everything that is good, and we seek after everything that is virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, not just some of the things that fit those adjectives. Hmm . . . probably not something I need to delve into in my personal study right now. : )

One thing that made interviews especially cool this time around is that two of President Bullock’s sons (here for Christmas) came along. They sat in on our training along with Sister Bullock and Jennifer and made great contributions. Jeff Bullock (who is a returned missionary) in particular knows Preach My Gospel as well as anybody I have ever met and he pretty much put us to shame (in a nice, humble way) during our training by sharing insightful and relevant Preach My Gospel quotes all the way through. After the training we got the special privilege of taking Scott Bullock (who will send in his mission papers in the spring) out to work with us. We’d been really praying for great things to happen while we were out with Scott so that he could have a really faith-building experience, and our prayers were answered! We taught an amazing, Spirit-filled lesson (some of the best teaching I’ve done on my mission, I think) to a less-active sister, and Scott did an amazing job, even reciting Joseph Smith’s own account of his First Vision from memory. Then we had about five minutes to go out and do some finding, so we prayed for guidance right there on the sidewalk and ran down to a part of the street we felt good about to knock on some doors. In about five minutes, we had two appointments set up (one with a less-active sister who happened to live in one of those houses) and two quality gospel conversations, including one that Scott had. The whole experience just made me so excited to be a missionary and do missionary work, and I think Elder Garcia and Scott felt the same way. Scott told us that President Bullock had told him we were a powerful companionship and that we were the best missionaries he’d had the chance to go out with. It turns out we were the only ones President Bullock had him work with in his whole stay in England, which is quite an honor for us. Scott is great, anyway, and he will be an outstanding missionary. Hopefully Uncle Jay gets him. : )

I had a great Christmas by the way. I loved talking to you all on the phone! It sounds like you are all doing great, which brings me a lot of peace of mind. I also had a delicious turkey dinner and a nice evening with Chris Rainbow, our star investigator, watching the Emma Smith movie. It is definitely a chick flick, but I really enjoyed nonetheless. : ) It’s a lot heavier than the Joseph Smith movie we saw in the MTC (kind of its counterpart), though. I’d probably recommend the Joseph Smith movie higher.

I’m so excited about Uncle Jay’s new calling! I feel like telling him, “Welcome to the club!” What is especially great is that he will probably get to meet with President Bullock along with the other European mission presidents about once a year. I talked to a missionary named Elder Ritter in my zone who is from Leipzig, and he was pretty excited to hear about it too.

Sorry, out of time! Love you all!

Elder Pimentel

Monday, January 19, 2009

From Jon 1/17/2009

Subject: Zoo siab hnub yug neb ob leeg!

Nyob zoo!
Happy day of belches to Kenty and Kenshin! Tell Kenshin "Welcome to the planet!" for me and also that he chose a popular month to arrive. How exciting!

Unfortunately I do not have much time to write today, but we have a lot of great investigators who are very close to coming to church. Matt and Ting are a great christian couple, and Matt knows a lot about the Bible. They are progressing well, but there is a snag with Matt's parents, in whose house he lives. They are very strong in their church, and Matt's mom used to be a pastor. She doesn't want him visiting other churches. In the Hmong culture it is very dishonorable to make a major decision without parent approval, so Matt is torn.
Another investigator, Mai Kou, is ready to quit smoking! Huzzah! She will be coming to church this week.
Pa Kou, the sister of a strong member, has been investigating for a couple of years now, but is finally starting to get more serious about it.

Our area is being split into two areas starting next transfer, and we found a new apartment for the second team. It's a lot nicer than the one in which we currently live. We went over to look at the new place, and the rental office building was locked. As we stood shivering in the cold, I heard a strange rattling noise behind me. I turned to see an empty flagpole shivering as well! It was a bizarre sight. I'm guessing the wind was blowing at the right speed to match its frequency of natural resonance, but it looked like it was just shivering in the cold.

That's all I have time for, so love ya and toodle oo.

-Elder Moua Ying

Sunday, January 11, 2009

From Jon 1/10/09

Subject: Cov dej uas txawj kho mob

Nyob zoo!

Today is very a happy day! Tau muaj peb leej ua kev cai raus dej! (Three people were baptized---it rhymes in Hmong)

The theme for the past two days has been, "There's been a change of plans..." I don't have time to list all the different ways our plans kept getting disrupted and amended. We spent the last half of Thursday with the Zone Leaders, about which we did not know anything until they called us that morning. They said we were going to split up into two teams for that time, which meant we had to spent all companionship study re-planning from 3:00 on. (It had been switched from 7:00 previously). To make a very, very, long story short, they kept changing their minds and deciding things at the last minute and we had to adjust. One of these last-minute plot twists was that they stayed the night in our luxurious and spacious estate. They had never visited our apartment before, and we warned them what they were getting into, but I guess they didn't believe us. They sleep over at other teams' apartments all the time, and usually sleep on the couch or easy chair cushions and carpet. We don't have room for a sofa. We have no carpet. We have one easy chair cushion, and our beds fit wall-to-wall. One of them slept on our Ab-lounge until about 1:30, then retreated to the floor at the feet of our beds. The other was also on the remaining space on the floor, using my dirty laundry bag as a pillow, and the cloth Christmas tree as a sleeping pad. Next time I think they will plan ahead.

The baptism continued the theme. We spent a great deal of time planning the baptism and organizing the program, only to have everybody tell us they were just going to do it their way. It was pretty hectic and stressful, especially when nobody showed up until 10 minutes passed when it was to begin---not even the branch president. By 15 minutes past, The branch president showed up and told us that Bao's brother couldn't perform the baptisms because he hadn't been re-activated for long enough. Great. He was already in the jumpsuit and we took pictures. And now, behold, I write not a hundredth part of the many last minute snags and changes which came to pass in preparation for this event, but it sufficeth me to say it all worked out. For behold, it came to pass that by 30 minutes passed, there was a multitude gathered and the spirit of the Lord dwelled in their hearts. It was beautiful. We performed a musical number in Hmong, which went rather well. Elder Tshwj Xeeb (Hill) baptized all three of them, and they are a happy bunch. I'll send pictures next time. I remembered my camera, but I don't have time this week. I'll also include a picture of the five of us camping out in one very snug bedroom.

I labbachu! Sib ntsib dua!

-Elder Moua Ying

Sunday, January 4, 2009

From Jon 1/3/09

Subject: Zoo siab xyoo tshiab

Nyob zoo os!

Well, here we are at a year that is not the one it was. It is indeed the one numbered one higher.

We've been having a good mix of all sorts of weather, which keeps things interesting.

We've also been having a good mix of various illness bugs floating around. My LifePaks must be helping me stave off a lot of malicious maladies.

We had a terrific lesson with Bao yesterday. We took her and her mom, who is an active member, over to a member named Xa's home, and Xa did a wonderful job testifying and teaching. Xa is a returned missionary. He served in Guatemala and had some great pictures. It turns out Bao finally called her husband, and got the go-ahead to be baptized. We set her date for the 10th---the same day as Peter. We can count on Lillian wanting to be baptized that day too, since she's been ready for a long time, and was only waiting for her mom. Peter has been having some small doubts, and I suspect he may be getting flak from some friends or co-workers. We are praying that he'll have enough faith to overcome opposition.

We are working with a less active member named Chia who is very close to becoming active. She has some pretty adorable children. Two of them, Pika, and Toki, are named after Pokemon (Pikachu and Togapi). The youngest is called "Boo", and is very silly. Toki is 9 years old and wants to come to church. I'm not sure how old Pika is, but she is interested too. So those are some potential investigators. We can't understand anything Boo says because she is only about 4 years old and is half Vietnamese, so she jabbers in Viethmonglish.

Elder Erickson is looking at classes and housing at BYU. ACK! It's too early for that, right? I was thinking I could figure all that out as soon as I got back to Utah....will it be too late to get into the classes I want? Hrmm... Did I tell you that they started the Hmong class at BYU back up again? That might be helpful in retaining the language.

I love you all, and I hope you have a smurfy year!
-Elder Moua Ying