A sister in our ward just had a serious operation, and at church yesterday they asked for volunteers to go take the sacrament to her. Elder Garcia and I volunteered, so after church we went by and gave the family the sacrament, gave the sister a blessing, and visited with them a little bit. This sister had some amazing spiritual experiences as a result of her (very recent) illness and surgery, and she was just pouring out testimony about the truth and joy of the gospel. It felt good to exercise the priesthood and hear her testimony.
This family lives right around the corner from Chris Rainbow, so after the visit we decided to try by on him before returning to our plans for the rest of the day. Chris had been avoiding us, as I probably mentioned, and we hadn't spoken to him for over two months, but when we knocked by he let us in! We talked about his concerns and challenges and read from the Book of Mormon. He told us that he felt like the Spirit had left, and he agreed that he needed to feed himself spiritually again and come back to church. Right before the end of the lesson Elder Garcia asked if we could sing a hymn. Elder Garcia and I sang "Lord, I Would Follow Thee," one of Elder Garcia's favorite hymns, and it really filled the room. When we had finished, he said, "The Spirit is back." And it really was.
As we got ready to leave, Elder Garcia asked Chris for referrals and he gave us his brother's address. We went there straight from Chris' house and met Robert Rainbow and his wife/partner Diane, as well as their two kids Dominic and Tyler. They invited us in right away and we taught Robert and Diane most of the Restoration. At first the lesson was a bit difficult and got a bit distracted (Diane was baptized in another church and was sharing a lot of her experiences with us), but when we got to the First Vision Elder Garcia invited them to close their eyes and imagine what was happening as I recited Joseph Smith's words. When I'd recited it and testified of it, Elder Garcia asked Robert how he felt. As he described what he was feeling ("weird" in a good way, "speechless"), he started to get excited - he'd felt something really, really powerful and he knew it! You could see there was a difference in him from before we'd talked about the First Vision. As he elaborated, he said he felt like getting baptized, and when we agreed that it was the right thing to do and invited him to be baptized he not only said yes but reached out and shook my hand. After that we just all sat there for a moment not saying anything but smiling and laughing because we all felt so great about it. Robert and Chris should be coming to church together next week, and hopefully all of Robert's family as well. I am WAY excited about how they will progress now - I think each brother will be a big support to the other.
In our planning session on Saturday night, Elder Garcia and I hadn't planned to go anywhere near Chris Rainbow's house. We didn't really do anything in the whole afternoon out of our own power. It was just the Spirit working through us, prompting us step by step and blessing us as we followed the promptings. It was especially meaningful to me that Elder Garcia was the first to act on some of the promptings and I was the first to act on others, and that we said a prayer of thanks after each miracle. I think that afternoon taught me a lot about what it means to be an instrument in the Lord's hands. I love being a missionary!
Another piece of great news (which I actually found out about a few weeks ago but only confirmed at zone conference). Remember the story from last summer about how Elder Phillips and I were let in while tracting by a francophone African woman and taught most of the first lesson in French? That woman just got baptized! I saw her name in the mission newsletter (where all baptisms are announced) a few weeks ago, and that was the first I knew about it. She is a way solid member, too, going out teaching with the missionaries and everything. Apparently she fell through the cracks after Elder Phillips and I taught her, and the missionaries found her not through the area book but by actually tracting her out again within the past couple of months, but even if that first lesson is only peripherally related to her progression and baptism it's really cool to be a part of it. She really was prepared by the Lord, and I know the Lord led us to her. Missionary work is so great.
On Tuesday I had probably the best bus contacting day of my mission! I was on exchange with Elder Newson in Stoke, and every bus I got on I just started talking to the people around me until I'd approached all of them, then moved to a different part of the bus and started talking to the people there. All my mission I've struggled with bus contacting, really having to push myself to open my mouth or to get up and move to the next person, sometimes not succeeding in making myself do it. I've wanted for a long time to be able to just do it, like I can with street contacting and tracting. This past Tuesday I really felt that blessing happening. It was just so easy to bus contact all of a sudden that it made me wonder what my struggles had been before. I feel like my bus contacting experience has been an illustration of the reality of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. My heart really has changed, and not through my own labors but through a measure of grace that I don't fully understand, after significant labors of my own. The gospel is wonderful because it allows us to receive miracles, but first makes us work hard enough that the miracle becomes really meaningful to us. I feel a bit inarticulate about this, but the bottom line is that I feel really great about bus contacting and just pray that I don't get prideful about it so I can keep on doing it this way.
While in Stoke I taught an amazing investigator named Judy. She's an Arabic speaker(!) and was pretty excited to hear I'd lived in Sudan. I got to use some of the three or four words of Arabic I still remember - too bad Ruth wasn't there or she could have had a good long conversation and read from the Book of Mormon in Arabic with her. : ) She is from Saudi Arabia but converted to Christianity here in England and was led by the Spirit to meet the missionaries in a pretty miraculous way. She even had a dream about the Salt Lake Temple and recognized it when the missionaries showed her a DVD that included it. She hasn't been baptized yet because she's waiting for asylum papers from the government that will allow her to stay in England, but she's essentially an active member. Also, she just got a job at an Arabic Christian radio station that broadcasts Christian messages to the whole Middle East (a Voice-of-America-type operation, it seems), and she's hoping to start reading from the Book of Mormon over the air one of these days. Pretty cool stuff!
We had zone conference in Manchester on Saturday with a very funny and very spiritual Area Seventy from Sweden. It was a spiritual boost I really needed - I'd been feeling really tired in the days just before, but now I'm excited and energetic again. We drove right through Sale to get to conference, which led me to wax a bit nostalgic ("I used to ride that bus!" *Elder Garcia rolling his eyes*). At zone conference I met Elder Stevens, who is doing great. He told me that Yvonne Matapo is going on a mission! I'm way excited for her.
Well, I'm out of time again. More great stuff next week.
I love you!