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!