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. : )