Monday, December 28, 2015

Goodbye 2015

Hey folks!

I hope you all had a great Christmas! I know I did. We had our Christmas zone conference and played dodgeball and watched Big Hero 6. We also got to Skype our families, which was my favorite part of Christmas. We also ate a lot of food.

Had a lesson this week with an older lady named Anna. She's been meeting with missionaries for about 3 years. She's really sweet but also very stubborn. She has been taught basically everything, and she reads the Book of Mormon but she doesn't want to pray about it, I think because she knows what the answer will be and she's not ready to change yet. She's been going to the same church for like 50 years so it's hard for her. But I'm convinced deep down she believes it's true, and that the best way for us to help her will be to keep from making her feel pushed and help her come to the point where she desires for herself to change. Tricky task though. Prayers would be appreciated. She's our main investigator, even the mission president knows her and asks about her a lot. She's so close...

Also met with a less-active old guy named Ricky. He joined the Church about 10 years ago and doesn't remember much of anything about what he was taught. I had a cool experience in our first lesson with him (we saw him twice), I was having a really hard time focusing and listening to him because the TV was on right next to him (this was before we asked him to turn it off), and so I really wasn't into it, and I think Elder Hoff was struggling too, but there was a point for me where the Spirit just sort of took over. I don't even remember what I said but the Spirit must have spoken through me because whatever it was it got him talking about how he doesn't believe that there are prophets today, but he would like to and it would mean a lot to him if he did know. Long story short we taught him part of the Restoration and helped him understand that if he comes to know through prayer that the Book of Mormon is true, he will also know that there are prophets living today. His eyesight is really really bad, so we're coming over now once or twice a week to read the Book of Mormon to him. The first time was this week, and it was neat. We talked about how to recognize the Spirit, and after we read 1 Ne 1 he told us it "rang true" to him. He prayed about it at the end. I'm pretty excited about him. :)

Message for the week:

I had a moment last night when I was flipping through old journal entries from the beginning of my mission, and something I wrote stood out to me. I'd written that I felt like I was struggling with really listening to and loving the people I was teaching. Just a few hours before that, I'd read a note from one of my last companions, who told me that two things he admired in me were my ability to listen to and to love the people we taught. It was a testimony to me of how much the Lord has helped me to grow.

I know I probably share this verse a lot, but in Ether 12 Moroni teaches us a powerful lesson about weakness and faith. Moroni writes first that "faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith." Moroni then goes on to relate an exchange he had with the Lord where he disputes the Lord's promise to bring forth the record Moroni was abridging to the remnant of his people in the last days through the Gentiles, believing that the Gentiles would mock their writings because of their weakness in writing. The Lord responds, "...if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."

Comforted, Moroni chose to exercise faith to trust in the Lord's promises and rely on His grace. Knowing his weaknesses, he humbly trusted the Lord's ability to "make weak things become strong" and acted, believing in the Lord's promises, though they were "things hoped for and not seen." And now today, because of the humble faith of many weak people in the Lord's promises and grace, including Moroni and also Joseph Smith, we have the Book of Mormon, a powerful witness of Jesus Christ and a powerful force for change in each of our lives.

And for me, as I have humbly trusted in the Lord and tried my best to do HIs work, He has made my weaknesses into strengths. :)

I invite all of you to consider your own weaknesses, and also the things the Lord would have you do. I invite all of you to turn to Him, take His arm, trust Him, and face the future with faith and hope. He knows what He's doing and He will lead you to greater and higher places than you ever dreamed you'd achieve. I promise. :) In the name of Jesus Christ, amen!


I love you all. Happy New Year. :)

Elder Swindler
 
Pictures:

So much about the South can be summed up by this picture:
 
 
 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas!!

Hey folks!

Crazy week this week. Like I mentioned, I got transferred on Wednesday. Monday and Tuesday were spent saying goodbyes to people in Knoxville and packing and cleaning. Wednesday was transfer meeting. We had a crazy mess in the morning when the member who was supposed to pick us up and take us to transfers completely forgot and we had to scramble at the last minute to find a ride. But it all worked out! One awesome member happened to be home and available and he came and got us with some of our stuff, and we had the zone leaders come and pick up the rest before he got there.

Elder Castleberry gave his departing testimony at transfer meeting, as did Elder Livingston and the others who were going home this transfer. It's a little weird that two of my past four companions are home now. It makes a mission seem awfully short. But it was great to hear their testimonies, and I'm sure they are living it up at home right now. :) It lined up really well that they got to go home for Christmas.

Knox West became a Sisters area, like I figured. They should do great, that area is awesome right now as far as having a lot of work, and the members in Knox 1st are awesome and very missionary-minded. And I got transferred to Bristol, TN/VA! It's a small town right on the Tennessee / Virginia border (not quite as small as Rockwood though). It's a good area with good members and there's a lot of potential people for us to work with right now. We just have to find them. :) I'm glad I learned a lot from Elder Castleberry about finding during this last transfer. Prayers for help finding people who have been prepared to receive the restored gospel would be greatly appreciated!

My new companion's name is Elder Hoff. He's pretty cool and we've been getting along pretty well so far. He's a good teacher, and teaching is something I've been wanting to improve on, so this should be a good learning experience for me. Also, he plays guitar. He was pretty excited when he saw my guitar at transfers because he doesn't have one and he's been wanting to play.

Something I've been thinking about today - and throughout this week - is how much God loves each one of us. I was pondering on my mission so far, and I realized that the experiences and areas and companions I have had have been exactly what I have needed. It's been so perfectly what I've needed to grow and develop in the ways He knows I need to. And I couldn't always see that in the moment, but looking back this week, I was able to see it at least a little. It gave me hope for the future and helped me move forward into this transfer with faith and trust in God. It hasn't been easy, but it's been wonderful and totally worth it. I now know even more that God really does know each one of us intimately, and He loves us more than we can comprehend. He knows exactly what we need, and He gives us the experiences that will help us grow and progress and become everything He knows we can be. All He asks is that we move through the experiences leaning on His arm, trusting Him and going where He leads us. He loves us and He won't lead us astray.

I hope you are all excited for Christmas this week! I know I am! Christmas is an opportunity to remember, and be grateful for, and give our time to the things that matter most. Most of all it is an opportunity to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The greatest evidence of God's love for each of us and all of us is the gift of His only Begotten Son. Because Christ lived - and lives - we have a Savior. With His help we can overcome the effects of our sins and bad choices, and we can have His guidance and strength to help us climb the mountains in our lives - and become better in the process. I promise you that as you turn to Him through study and prayer, following the promptings of the Holy Ghost, making the changes you need to make, and striving to stay close to Him and follow Him throughout your life, He will lead you through experiences tailor-made for your growth and benefit to heights you never even imagined you would reach. Please take time this Christmas season to ponder the significance and meaning of the birth of the Savior in your life. Why is He important to you? If you don't know, or even if you do, please take the time to figure it out. Pray and ask Heavenly Father! He'll help you discover why. He'll help you see His hand in your life, and He'll help you to take it today, and tomorrow. The joy and peace and comfort and growth He has to offer is beyond comparison. I know this for myself now and I'm learning it more and more every day. I hope you will all take the time to find Him and come to know Him better this Christmas season. I testify that His hand is in your life and that you can come to see it and appreciate it and follow it! He loves you! I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. :)

I love you all! Make yourselves a wonderful Christmas!! And remember to share #ASaviorisBorn! Let's all share with others why His birth is important to each of us.

Love,

Elder Alex Swindler
#ASaviorisBorn


Pictures:
1) Sierra, Elder Castleberry, Destiny, and me before the baptism
 
 
2) Same group, plus Roger and Mayetta (the girls' grandparents)
 
 
3) Elder Castleberry studying Lehi's Dream
 
4-6) Goodbye to the McKellars 


 
 
7-8) Goodbye to Austin


9-10) The Websters 

 
 
11) The Smiths
 
 
The video: So there's this Thai coconut soup at Pete's restaurant in Knoxville that is AMAZING. Elder Castleberry couldn't help himself. ;)
video
 
 
12) Joe 
 
 
13) The Harris's 
 
 
14) The Reyes's 
 
 
15) Pete 
 
 
16) The waitress photobombed Elder Castleberry's picture with Pete :) 
 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Baptism!! ...and transfers??

Hey folks!

Crazy week this week.  Destiny and Sierra got baptized on Saturday, which was awesome. I got to baptize Destiny! And I played an arrangement of When I Am Baptized on the guitar at the baptismal service. Elder Castleberry baptized Sierra and confirmed them both.

We had a tri-zone conference on Friday with Elder Zwick of the Seventy and his wife, which was awesome. The conference was focused on simplifying and intensifying - and exemplifying - the things we teach. It was really powerful.

Saturday and Sunday we had stake conference, again with Elder Zwick. Our investigator Joe came to the Saturday night adult session, which was awesome. It was my favorite session. It seemed to be pretty focused on faith, the Atonement, and its powerful healing and enabling power that is available to us every day of our lives if we will exercise the faith to access it. Joe even gave an 'amen' in the middle of Sis Zwick's talk.

I also got to see a bunch of friends from Rockwood! The Jennings, the Woods, Austin... Bro Jennings bore his testimony in the adult session and it was incredible. He's come so far! He asked me to stay afterwards so I could stand in the circle to ordain him to the Melchizedek Priesthood!! That was really cool. :)

But then Saturday night we found out that, guess what, I'm getting transferred. :/ We didn't expect that at all. It's because they're putting sister missionaries in. And they should be good for the area, it's just a little sad to be leaving right when I was settling in and things were starting to happen. Joe is progressing super super well, and Glynn and Brissa too, and Sierra and Destiny just got baptized... But it feels right. I don't fully understand why yet but it feels right and I think I will eventually.

But. As a result of transfers... We are insanely busy today. I have zero time left. Pictures will have to wait till next week. And as for a message... Go study Mosiah 4:6-12 and liken it unto yourself!

I love you all!!

Elder Swindler

Picture from mission blog. Can you find Elder Swindler?

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Smokies! (and Weakness)

Hey folks!

We had a crazy busy week this week and I wish I had more time to tell you all about it. But I don't, because we had a pretty crazy P-day today. We went with a member in our ward up to the great smoky mountains, and it was awesome! But it also took up a lot of the day, which is why I'm short on time. I will try to send some pictures in the next few weeks. Even at this time of year when the leaves are all dead, it's a stunningly beautiful place.

We've been meeting with Sierra and Destiny, the two girls that are getting baptized this Saturday (Roger and Mayetta's grandkids), a lot this past week. The best preparation for them though seems to be coming to church and establishing relationships with the girls their age. And they feel the Spirit there. When they meet with us it's usually pretty crazy, they don't focus very well and they both have a little bit of a crush on us so teaching anything can be pretty hard. They could use your prayers, if that's okay.

We also have another investigator preparing for baptism! Glynn, Brissa's husband. Which is surprising, Brissa was the super legit investigator and he was a little shaky when we first started seeing them, but we haven't been able to see her much lately because of scheduling conflicts, and he's become pretty interested. He's scheduled for Jan 9 and he really seems to want to be baptized. He's studying the Book of Mormon a lot, which is awesome. And we're helping him learn to pray more, and more effectively, and learn to listen for answers. We taught him the Word of Wisdom on Saturday and he's willing to start trying to live it, he could use your prayers too.

Also. Mayetta has been struggling again with the Word of Wisdom. She could also use your prayers, while I'm at it.

Forgot to mention I talked in sacrament meeting last week. It went well. I talked about the Sacrament and the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

Had a cool experience tracting this week when we were waiting for an appointment. I felt like we needed to knock on a door, and nobody answered, and then I felt like we needed to try the house next door - and it wasn't a loud feeling, it was very subtle and I wasn't really sure about it but I figured, hey, why not - and we tried it, and the guy who answered was super open to talking to us. We shared a little message with him on his porch, and he told us how his faith in Christ has helped him through his father's passing away a few months ago. Our return appt with him is tomorrow, so hopefully he's there! We were pretty excited about all of that.

Played guitar at the ward Christmas party. And our investigator Joe came, which was great.

Message for the week!

While I was at church on Sunday, during the sacrament, I was feeling a little overwhelmed with all the responsibilities on my plate right now. And in the midst of all the craziness of the night before and that morning, I forgot it was fast Sunday. And I was feeling a little inadequate. But as I sat there I felt the Spirit comforting me. The feeling was sort of like "Your Father in Heaven knows you're not perfect, and He forgives you. It's time you forgave yourself."

Heavenly Father loves us so much. And He knows we're not perfect! That's nothing new to Him. As Elder Holland once put it, imperfect people are all He has ever had to work with. He sent and sacrificed His Son for us so that we can overcome our weakness and imperfection and sins, over process of time, and become like Him. In fact, He's the one who gave us our weaknesses. Ether 12:27 teaches us:

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

We're not meant to be perfect in this life. And that's okay! We're meant to learn, and to grow. We've got to learn to humble ourselves, and trust in God, and exercise the faith to live day by day, asking daily for His help and moving forward even if we aren't sure how it will work out. And I can testify that He does fulfill His promise to "make weak things become strong." I'm definitely a weak thing. He makes sure to remind me of that whenever I forget it. But it's really neat to be in a lesson with somebody and feel the Spirit working through us to change their life - and be changed myself in the process.

Hope that makes sense. I'm super super tired right now... I love you all! Make yourselves a great week! And remember to share A Savior is Born!!

Love,
Elder Swindler

Fotos
1) Sunset


2) Last district selfie (minus Elder Bateman)


3) Cops at a doughnut shop. The stereotype is real.


4) the greatest chocolate milk on the face of this planet. Seriously, y'all've gotta try this stuff.


5) Selfie with Ali who is leaving for the Redlands CA mission and her brother Preston




6-7) Do these guys look familiar? ;-)



Monday, November 30, 2015

Transfers? What?

Hey folks!

We've had a crazy week this week. Lots of good stuff though.

Wednesday we pranked the other Elders back. We used our copy of their key to let ourselves into their apartment while they were at a dinner appointment, and then we unscrewed all of their lightbulbs and hid them in random places around the then-super-dark apartment (like in the fridge and microwave and under the bed). It was awesome. :)

Thursday was Thanksgiving. We went and played flag football at the neighboring ward's Turkey Bowl in the morning, then stuffed ourselves full of food for the rest of the day. We had our first meal appointment with a less active family at 11, our second one at 4 with the Bishop and his family, and ended the night with amazing dessert at a cool recent convert's house. It was an awesome day.

Friday we had a great lesson with Austin, our investigator. He told us that he's noticed that when he reads the Book of Mormon and comes to our church, he feels peace and like a weight is taken off his shoulders. But when he doesn't, and when he goes to his church, he feels anxiety and like a weight is on his shoulders. We didn't suggest it to him, he just told us. It was pretty neat, and a testimony to me that the feelings of the Spirit are real, and that anybody who is a sincere seeker of truth will feel them when they read the Book of Mormon and come to church. We think Austin knows the Gospel is true, but he doesn't know he knows it yet, and he's afraid. He's facing a lot of opposition from his family, friends, and church. He could use your prayers if you're willing.

Also on Friday, we had dinner with the Bishop and his family again. Their son Sterling who is on a mission has a friend named Jeff, and they ran into him at the store and invited him to come hang out with them. They told Sterling about it, and he told them that Jeff had been on his mind all week and that they definitely needed to try to share the Gospel with him again (he took the discussions about a year ago but it didn't go anywhere). So they had us come to dinner with them to meet Jeff. And it went super well. It turned out that me and Elder Bateman had read a lot of the same books Jeff had, and we all had similar interests, and it was just a big geek-out session. It was awesome. Afterwards Elder Bateman told us in the car that he really wants to stay another transfer in this area. Things are going really well, the work is picking up, there's a lot of people here he really loves...

And then on Saturday we got a call from President Griffin. He asked for Elder Bateman, and told him that there was going to be a small early transfer on Monday and he would be leaving the area, going to Cleveland, TN.

So Saturday and Sunday were spent packing and saying goodbyes. It has been rough, especially for Elder Bateman. Leaving an area is always hard. Missionaries kind of emotionally brace themselves for it whenever transfers roll around. Elder Bateman didn't really get the chance. He was pretty upset. We had the transfer today, and he's gone now. I was sad to see him go, I've really loved serving with him. Through all of this though, we've all felt the Spirit testifying that this really is the Lord's work and that this is His will. That's helped. But we could all use your prayers, especially Elder Bateman.

Message for the week:

We've just had Thanksgiving, and now we're officially in the Christmas season. I'd like to invite all of you to consider the real reason we have Christmas. Take time to be grateful that we have a Savior. There's a really good video that just got put out by the Church about what the world would be like if Christ was never born. I can't find the link. Just go to christmas.mormon.org and click on "Imagine A World Without a Savior." Also - there is another big video put out by the Church called "A Savior Is Born." It talks about why Jesus Christ's birth is so important to all of us and each of us. It's at the same link as the other video. All of you - go watch it! And then make sure to share it with people! On that website, you can print pass along cards with A Savior Is Born on them and you can share the video on social media. Let's all do our part to help everyone we can to "discover why" the Savior was born. :)

I love you all!

Elder Swindler


Fotos (lots of goodbyes):

1) Elder Bateman with Roger and Mayetta and their grandkids


2) Elder Bateman with Pete


3-4) Elder Bateman with Austin





5-6) Us with the Bishop and his family

 
7) Last companionship selfie :( 

8) President Griffin had Gossner milk in his fridge! Utah!! :)

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Book of Mormon

Hey everyone!

I'm sorry I didn't email last week, I ran out of time. We've had a great couple weeks though! We've got several pretty good investigators right now. We've been working a lot with Joe, Austin, and Brissa, and we've also started working with Roger and Mayetta's granddaughters who haven't been baptized (they are living with their grandparents). Teaching their grandkids is kind of crazy, it's really hard to get them to pay attention (they're 13, 12, and 7) but it's going better than we thought it would so that's good. We're really trying hard to help Austin gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon. He has really been struggling with understanding that the Bible and Book of Mormon go together (not for lack of trying on our part, but Austin's mildly autistic and he has a hard time understanding things sometimes), but really he's just an extreme case of what is true for everybody - that no amount of explaining can ever substitute for a witness from the Spirit that the book is true. Brissa is pretty awesome, she's very willing to read and pray and she seems to understand really well and like what we have to say. She just hasn't made it to church in the last couple weeks and we've had our last appointment or two with her cancel, so that's kind of hard. And Joe is awesome too! A month or two ago none of us would have expected this but now he's probably our top investigator. He's come to church two weeks in a row now and he seems to be really liking it. We've got to get him to read and pray about the Book of Mormon though. He's been reading a little but not very seriously yet. We'll work on helping him understand the importance of it when we see him this week.

We actually had a pretty awesome training on the Book of Mormon last week for Zone Conference. The HUGE importance of it, how to use it more effectively in teaching and finding, how to use it more effectively in our studies and personal lives, how to help members use it more effectively in their personal and family studies and share it with their friends... Stuff like that. President Griffin always gives phenomenal trainings so it was pretty great. And we were also trained on using more professional and dignified language fitting of representatives of the Lord, instead of inappropriately casual language and slang. The three of us have been trying to stop using replacement swear words (dangit, crap, fetch, etc.) and stop overusing the word "like" and it's been really hard... Haha it's actually really funny. One of us will accidentally say something we're trying not to and the others will point it out and it's just really funny.

Random story, last week we got preached at for like an hour by a crazy guy in the ghetto who had literally just smoked marijuana. We know he did because he told us. Haha it was hilarious. My companions got videos of it and I wish I could send them but the files are too big. He was going off on all sorts of stuff and I'm not sure if he ever really got to the point he was trying to get to in the first place. Something about the Israelites... It was awesome.

We also played street basketball with a teenage kid named Chase we saw when we were out knocking on a couple doors, and ended up talking with him and his mom about the Gospel. They were pretty open to meeting with us. That was pretty cool.

One more story and then I'll get to my message. On Friday night we were super tired and we decided to go to bed without planning for the next day, even though (we found out later) all three of us had each had an impression that we should. The next day we got a call from the Bishop asking us where we were. We had totally forgotten about a super important appointment that his wife had set up with a
less-active... Then she sent us a text that sounded super angry, and we felt terrible, and she wouldn't answer her phone... It was bad. We were all freaking out. We thought we'd ruined everything. But then later she called us back, and after we apologized profusely, she just started laughing at us. Apparently what actually happened was that the text she sent was totally sarcastic and she wasn't upset at all, she was just messing with us, and then she'd left her phone on the counter and gone and run an errand. It was hugely relieving... And a valuable lesson too. And also pretty funny.

Message for the week:

Like I was saying, the Book of Mormon is awesome. It can have a powerful effect in our lives if we will make consistent and prayerful use of it. I'd like to suggest something that President Griffin - and Nephi too - suggested to us to try as we study the Book of Mormon. In 1 Nephi 19:23, Nephi writes:

"...for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning."

Also consider the words of the prophet Joseph Smith concerning the Book of Mormon in the introduction to the book:

"I told the brethren that ... a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”

If you want to strengthen your relationship with Christ, if you want to be closer to Him and experience the changing power of the Atonement in your life, I challenge you to join me in taking Nephi's challenge to "liken" the scriptures to yourself. Get yourself a fresh copy (just talk to any missionary or a member of your bishopric), start reading (prayerfully!) from the beginning, and try to put yourself into the book. Put yourself in the place of each of the people in the book. Put your name where their name is. Find common ground with them or consider how their stories are like your own life's story. Apply the doctrines and principles learned to yourself and your own life and challenges. Put yourself in the book! I promise you that it will change your life.

Another thing I'd like to invite you to do comes again from the introduction to the book:

"We invite all men everywhere to read the Book of Mormon, to ponder in their hearts the message it contains, and then to ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if the book is true. Those who pursue this course and ask in faith will gain a testimony of its truth and divinity by the power of the Holy Ghost. (See Moroni 10:3–5.)

"Those who gain this divine witness from the Holy Spirit will also come to know by the same power that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, that Joseph Smith is His revelator and prophet in these last days, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom once again established on the earth, preparatory to the Second Coming of the Messiah."

All men. Everywhere. Does that include you and me? Yep! It doesn't matter what your circumstances are, what concerns or questions you might have, or how many times you may have done this already, this invitation and promise are extended to you. Study and ponder the Book of Mormon. Get on your knees and ask God if it's true. I promise you He will answer you. In today's crazy world we can't expect to continue onward without continually renewing and strengthening our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, His chosen prophets, His Church, and the Book of Mormon. Please try this with me. I promise you it will help you. Just try it with a sincere heart.

I love you all! Make yourselves a great week!

Elder Swindler

Pictures:

So we left the other Elders our apartment key to get something they left, and they left us a little surprise... Haha they turned everything upside down, put our mattresses in the closet and the shower, and left q tips all over the place. But what they don't know is that we made a copy of their apartment key this week... >:)














 















We were cleaning off the roof of an old couple in our ward and the leaves would not blow off the roof. It was pretty funny actually.

 Elder Milne

President and Sister Griffin. Such mustache. Much blackmail. :)



Elders Bateman, Milne, Castleberry, me, and Beard. We all wore gray suits to church (not on purpose).



Elder McRae, me, and Elder Shurtleff on p-day [Posted back in October from the mission blog]



We opened the door one morning and this random cat just walked into our apartment. And then it looked super confused, like, wait a minute, something's not right... It was so funny. We fed it milk. And then it wouldn't stop following Elder Beard. Haha!




Elder Castleberry

Me



Gotta love the South



Hmm... Seems secure.



 Selfie with Elder Beard

Video:

Elder Bateman and I getting our tracting faces on. #fierce
video