Monday, June 29, 2015

One Transfer Down

Hey folks!

Great week this week. And come Wednesday I will have officially been out for a whole transfer. One down, sixteen to go. :)

I just have a bunch of random stories to tell, so pardon the ramble.

Last P-day we ended up being so busy with other stuff that we didn't have time to go shopping. We talked about it and decided that we would just make do with what we had, and be obedient, and not go shopping until the next P-day (we're supposed to shopping only on P-days if we can help it). Which is kind of unusual for me, typically I'm all for making exceptions to rules, especially ones that seem dumb to me. It's sort of an "I won't get sent to hell for breaking this rule so why should I care?" attitude. But this time I decided to be obedient.

One thing I've been hearing a lot out here is that obedience shows our love for God, and it always brings blessings. And I know that sounds really cheesy and missionary-ish and abstract and whatever, because that's how I felt about it at first. But I didn't understand just how literal and true that statement is. After p-day was over people kept spontaneously giving us food and stuff and inviting us over to eat. Seriously. One of the sisters in the branch even dropped by and handed us a box full of groceries, completely unannounced. We didn't ask anyone for anything, or even tell anyone that we didn't go shopping. People just kept giving us stuff. We got more food this week than we have gotten any other week, and we didn't buy any of it. Nobody saw my little shopping list in my planner, not even my companion, but literally every item on it that we needed was given to us by somebody. Even stuff that we didn't urgently need - like more shaving cream, and a pull-up bar.

God is real. He truly takes care of His missionaries, and of all those who are in His service. And obedience, even when it seems dumb or like an exception would be kosher or whatever, truly does bring blessings.

Teaching this week has been really good. We had like 10 lessons, which is great, because we usually only get like 5-7. And 4 of them had members present, which is fantastic, we usually get 0-2.

It's cool to feel the Spirit working through us. On Saturday, during morning studies, I was looking for something totally unrelated and I ended up reading a few chapters in 2 Nephi that felt like they'd be perfect for one of our investigators named Brad. I bounced it off Elder Merrill and he felt like we should read one of them with him and leave the other two for him to (hopefully) read on his own. And it ended up being a fantastic lesson. He progressed a ton more than he ever has before. Like, a bunch of his concerns finally came up, and we helped him understand. And there were some things I said that I know was the Spirit working through me, because they just popped into my head, and they visibly changed his demeanor. Like, he just couldn't believe that there could be a prophet in today's wicked world, and I pointed out that throughout the Bible, in all the times God has destroyed a wicked people or nation, he has never once done it without first calling a prophet to call them to repentance. Why should it be any different today? And he just stopped, and sat there for a minute, and then was like "I think you're on to something..." And I think he finally grasped the significance of what we're saying - that Jesus Christ's church is on the earth again, the same as it was before, and it is led by a living prophet, today. He kept on repeating "now that just blows my mind..." Especially after we mentioned Apostles. He was like "you guys have 12 Apostles?? Like...just like Jesus had? that just blows my mind!" It was so great. We were grinning ear to ear by the time we left. And none of that was us. The Spirit led us to find the scripture we read with him, and none of that would have happened without it. And the Spirit inspired us with a lot of the things we said during the lesson that really changed things with him. We had to exercise the faith to study, and look for things, and try the ideas that we had, and open our mouths, and go with the gut feelings. But we were merely instruments in God's hands. It was so cool.

Whoo... That was a long paragraph.

We had a similar experience in our lesson with Ronnie this week. We both kept being inspired with things to say, analogies to share, things to point out. He actually agreed to pray on his own!! Hopefully he follows through. :)

I don't know if I mentioned Austin last week. He's our absurdly golden investigator. He has studied everything we've given him, he believes it's all true, he believes Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Book of Mormon is true, and he wants to be baptized. We're super excited about him. We're planning on mid July for his baptism.

Funny stuff from this week: I accidentally scared the crap out of Elder Merrill last night. I stood next to the bathroom door with my head poking out in front of it right before he came out and made a funny face, trying to make him laugh. But then he didn't see me until he turned off the light and when he did he about fell over he was scared so bad. It was so funny.

Also, a lot of people here buy into conspiracy theory type stuff and it's super funny. I have had to physically restrain myself from laughing out loud more than once during lessons when the person starts talking about politics or the government or whatever. And we're supposed to stay out of those conversations, and we try our best, but people just start talking sometimes. I have been told (seriously) that Obama is the anti-Christ. I've also been told that the large hadron collider in Switzerland is going to destroy the universe, and the government is trying to keep it a secret, and Stephen Hawking even warned them not to turn it on, but they're gonna do it anyway... Haha that guy started talking about dark matter too and it was all I could do to keep a straight face and breathe evenly.

It's neat to see and feel that the gospel and the Church are the same and just as true out here as they are back home. You don't see that in many other churches, if any. Out here you can drive down just about any street and see at least two different churches, usually baptist, and none of them will totally agree with each other.

Out here a lot of people jump from church to church until they find one they like and they're comfortable with, and they go there for awhile, usually until the pastor says something they don't like, and then they go find another one, and the cycle repeats. Pastors are trying crazier and crazier things to try to get people to feel something and stay. A fairly recent (I think) fad that's going around right now: some churches will set poisonous snakes loose in the congregation, and supposedly if you have enough faith you won't get bit. People seriously do this, and people die all the time. It's insane. 

People do feel the Spirit testify of things that are true. We find that a lot of the things people are really sure that they believe are things that are true - that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He suffered and died for all of our sins, that He is the way to eternal life... They believe in the things the Spirit has testified to them are true. But they are missing so many simple truths that make it all make sense - like that our loving Heavenly Father doesn't send little children who aren't baptized to hell, for instance.

I'm watching Amos 8:11-12 play out before my eyes:

"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it."

I don't think they understand that we believe the same things they do, but we have the fulness of it. Brad kept saying "so you believe the same things I do... just more?"

God lives! The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is truly Christ's church restored to the earth. It is led by a living prophet of God. The members, leaders included, may not be perfect - they're human - but we try our best anyway and we succeed for the most part. And the Book of Mormon is true. All of this I know because the Book of Mormon is true.

One last spiritual message for the week: so much conflict could be avoided if we all would commit to forgive each other, no matter what. Commit now, before it's hard. Be willing to let go of old grudges, to reexamine your opinions of other people, to give people second chances, and even third and fourth chances. Christ taught that "I the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men." (D&C 64:10) So much drama and conflict, in the church, among families, in societies and workplaces and neighborhoods, and in the world at large, would be avoided if we will all commit to be forgiving, always.

I love you all! Have a great week!


Elder Swindler


Tennessee basketball hoop

Monday, June 22, 2015

Megan Fox

Hey folks!

This week was great. On Tuesday we finally got a member to come out with us on a lesson! We've been trying since I got here to do that. It was cool how much of a difference it made. President calls member-present lessons the "silver bullet," and it's true. Having a normal person bear testimony with us is so powerful. And it is so much easier for investigators to come to church when they know people and have friends there. And seeing people who live the gospel really helps them to want it. People at home: ask the missionaries how you can be involved in missionary work! It makes a huge difference to have a member present in a lesson, or to have a lesson with an investigator in a member's home, or to teach people that are already friends with a member. Anything you can do will be hugely appreciated and will bring you huge blessings. There is literally no greater work than this. :)

After the lesson we chased chicks (as in baby chickens, not girls, relax Mom). The member we went with keeps chickens and a bunch of the baby chickens escaped from their coop, so he had us help him catch them and put them back. It was one of the funnest and funniest things I've done so far out here. Chickens are really stupid and really fast. And really stupid.

Wednesday was zone conference! And we got iPads! :) I loved the conference, we talked about really good stuff, and almost none of it was about what we can do with the iPads. Our purpose and the work we do remain unchanged. We are not an "iPad mission." Our purpose is still to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. We just have a powerful new tool to help us do that.

Wednesday I also did my first companion exchange. I went with elder Larson, the district leader. It was really refreshing and I learned a lot. And elder Larson is cool and fun. :) He's my age, he's from Pleasant Grove, he likes a lot of the same music as me, and I can't shake this weird feeling that I know him from somewhere even though we haven't met.

I don't remember what days we did this other stuff so I'll just spout it in whatever order.

Last week I forgot to mention that the branch president's wife fed us banana pudding for dessert and it was amazing. So far it's the only way I actually like bananas, besides banana bread.

We had another lesson with Ronnie this week, and he gave me a guitar! It was super sweet of him. But it's kind of gross and it's missing a tuning peg and it smells like cigarette smoke so I might just pawn it for some money to buy a slightly nicer one. Also, logic does not work with him at all. Like, I seriously don't get how his thought process works. And he doesn't believe that smoking causes cancer... We decided to just drop that one. :P But he does believe the Book of Mormon is true! He just doesn't believe this is the only true church, he still won't pray, and he's just confusing.

We're teaching a guy named Austin, the son of two less active members in the branch. He is awesome. He's our age and super golden. He reads everything we give him, he believes the Book of Mormon is true, he wants to get baptized... We love Austin. And he's a good cook too. He's turning his life around after some bad life decisions, and he's been studying religions, and he likes the Bible and the Book of Mormon best of anything he's read. It's so great to see how much Christ can change us if we'll come to Him and let Him.

Also met a less active member named Brother Dodson. We were planning to try to catch his wife at home, but we ended up catching him instead, and we had a really great discussion. I think the Spirit meant for us to visit him. He said it made his day, and I know it made mine. He has a powerful testimony of the Atonement and of how much God cares about us and is involved in our lives. One thing he said that I really liked was when he was telling us why he hasn't been to church very much. He is an EMT and he works 24 hour long shifts, and he gets off Sunday mornings a couple hours before Church. He is usually exhausted and disgusting and doesn't have time to shower or change. I was thinking that if anyone has a good reason to not be there it's probably him. But then he said that every time he doesn't go, he knows he is making an excuse. That it's always a conscious decision to go home instead of going to Church. And afterwards elder Merrill and I were talking about the stories we hear of faithful saints in third world countries who walk for hours every week just to go to church. Rarely, if ever, is there a legitimate reason to justify inactivity in the Church. If it means a lot to you, you will find a way to go; if it doesn't, you will find an excuse not to. It's your choice.

We helped two different families move this week. One was a non member family in the area. They had a HUGE safe that we had to help move. Like 800-1200 pounds. Luckily we had a bunch of really strong people, but other than that we just had a couple of those tilty-wheely furniture moving things and some straps. It was pretty scary sometimes. The other family are members moving into the branch (yay!).

More random observations about Tennessee: there seems to be a mass tooth shortage. Although there is a little bitty town called Paint Rock that we drove through in about two seconds, that has a dentist's office. There are more dentists per capita in Paint Rock than probably anywhere else in Tennessee. It also has at least two churches and maybe a dozen houses. Which is a pretty typical ratio, to be honest.

Another fact: I learned that Megan Fox is from Rockwood! Like, there are members in the branch that know her dad. Elder Larson still won't believe it. They must have used up all the attractive when they made her, or maybe she vampire-sucked the rest of it out of the city, because there are like zero attractive people here. I will say, though, that it makes focusing on missionary work a whole lot easier.

My message this week is simple, but often hard to do. In Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-10, the Lord teaches us the following principle.

"Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.

"I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men."

I cannot state it more simply than that. No matter how hard it may be to forgive others, we have been commanded to forgive all men. Forgiveness is more than just a nice, Christlike thing to do; it is a commandment. We can lean on our Savior's atonement to help us, for He took upon Himself our infirmities as well as our sins (see Alma 7:11-13). Forgiveness is not always easy. But it is always possible if we will lean on the Lord. Let go of your old grudges, your pain and your anger. In the eternal scheme of things, it really doesn't matter. No matter what they have done, compared to Christ, you are not much different than they.
There's a Mormon message that makes this point beautifully. It's called Forgiveness: My Burden Was Made Light.

Let's all take time to think about who we need to forgive and what things we need to let go, and have the courage to do it. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen. :)


Elder Swindler

PS Sorry there's only one picture this week, I can't get my camera's pictures onto the iPad to send them. :(
Elder Galaviz and Elder Swindler after haircuts today:

Monday, June 15, 2015

Six weeks. What?

Hey everybody!
I dunno about you guys but this week went by really fast for me. And it's crazy that I've already been out like six weeks...
First of all, if you sent me a letter, thank you so much! It really makes my day when I come home and there's stuff in the mailbox with my name on it. :) And Mom - that popcorn is amazing.
We had a lot of appointments and things fall through this week. But we did have some great lessons too. We taught Ronnie twice, and the second time we were able to get him to agree to read the Book of Mormon every day (I told him I'd make him a bet that if he tried it he'd be blessed. He took me up on it), and maybe to try praying. Technically he isn't a "progressing investigator" because he hasn't really kept commitments, but honestly I feel like he is progressing, just very very slowly. The fact that he lets us pray, and that he opens up more about his thoughts and feelings and beliefs and his past, is huge progress.
We also taught Douglass, the guy we weren't sure about at first. That went well. And we taught Phil Warren, who's a "dry Mormon." Don't know if I mentioned him. He's possibly the most stubborn person I've ever met, and teaching him can be super frustrating. He's so close, and I'm convinced he knows it's true, but he won't admit it, and it has to be his idea to get baptized. Gaah... We're just being patient.
There's a guy in the branch named Brother Pehrson. I love him and his family. He complains about everything, but it's super funny. We call him Grumpy Cat. He's also a mechanical and aerospace engineer, and the ward financial clerk, and he wears cargo pants and polo shirts to work, and one time when he and his wife were first married he re-loaded the dishwasher because his wife loaded it wrong. He reminds me of someone but I can't think of who... I love him and his family, they're awesome. They fed us one night this week.
I've had a few cool experiences this week when we were tracting (usually because an appointment fell through, again...) and I was just feeling really done and wanted to go home and lay down under a fan, and then the last house we tried would make it all worth it. It seems to be a thing... We found one new potential investigator this week that way, and last night we caught another potential at home, this really sweet elderly lady who was so glad we stopped to talk. She was feeling really sad and wasn't really feeling up to meeting with us right then, but she really wants us to come back. It was such a sweet experience.
The people in the branch are awesome. A lot of them are converts. They're very different than people back home, they talk funny and look funny and think differently and live differently, but the Spirit and the Gospel are the same. It's so cool. I love it.
More random facts about the South: the most common car here is a Mustang. Seriously, they are everywhere. There are lots of other sports cars too. I don't know how people here can afford such expensive cars. Although that would kind of explain the condition of some of their houses... The grid system is a pipe dream out here. Finding addresses would be almost impossible without a GPS. And house numbers here are almost meaningless - people just pick any number between the numbers to the left and right of them. Which means some houses have to have 1/2 addresses. Also it's weird to be in / around the places that all the bluegrass songs are named after. Rocky Top, the Clinch mountains, and Cumberland Gap are all in the mission, and the Clinch river runs through our area. And the Smoky Mountains are nearby too.
A thought that was shared at Church yesterday: focus on changing one thing at a time in your life. There are usually a lot of things that we want or need to change about ourselves and our lives. Trying to do it all at once is overwhelming and never really works. Pick just one thing that you can do right now, and do it. Maybe it's as simple as praying by yourself every day. Think of one thing, and then do it. And then after a few weeks, when you're doing it pretty well, pick another thing and do that. As it says in Doctrine and Covenants 10:4: "Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means..."

Sorry this email is shorter than usual, I'm trying to leave more time to email back the people who've emailed me. (that might not be until later today though, the library is gonna boot us off in like ten minutes because there's a line for the computers today)
I love you all! Thank you for the love and support!
Elder Swindler
1) A half address. Seriously, it's a thing here.
2) A sampling of the churches in Rockwood.
3) Selfie from the drive back from District Meeting. Elder Nelson and Elder Galaviz fell asleep...

Monday, June 8, 2015

An' Everting

Hey all!
This week had some ups and downs and some cool spiritual experiences.

Tuesday and Wednesday were two of the best days of my mission so far. Tuesday we did service pulling weeds along a big street in Rockwood with some members. Then we went to teach a lesson with this guy named Douglas. We've been really iffy about teaching him, we were suspicious about his intentions, thought he might just be trying to mess with us. We prayed about it a bunch and both of us were still really unsure what to do but we both at least felt like we needed to meet with him one more time. So we did. And it actually went really well! I mean, the lesson itself wasn't so great, we were all over the place and didn't get much done. But this time, we just felt different when we were there. We both feel like he's sincere now, and we both like him, and we're both excited to teach him. We had been reading stories in the scriptures beforehand of prophets contending with anti-Christs and people trying to destroy the Church, trying to find answers to our prayers about what we should say to him. But I think the Spirit helped us find the real answer that we just wouldn't see at the time - that no matter how he seemed on the outside, he is a son of God, and God loves him so much, and it is our job to help him come unto Christ. Alma the younger was an anti-Christ who became one of the greatest prophets of the Book of Mormon. Zeezrom was a slimy lawyer trying to thwart Alma and Amulek in their missionary efforts, and he became an amazing missionary. No matter how people seem, we need to choose to see them as they are - as our brothers and sisters, children of our Heavenly Father who He loves just as much as He loves you and me.
Also that day, we stopped by a mobile home where a whole bunch of really promising investigators live. They seem really golden, especially the main guy, Jay West, but we haven't been able to teach them much because the opposition is almost absurd. Case in point, when we dropped by at the time we told them we would, there was a Sheriff's car parked in the driveway... So we decided to go see some other people and come back later. When we did come back, they weren't able to talk for long, but the lady there, named Debbie Turner, talked with us for a little while. They're going through some really hard stuff. We left her with a prayer, and Elder Merrill said it, and he just really simply thanked Heavenly Father for His Son Jesus Christ, and that He took upon Himself all the hard things in our lives and all the things we do wrong, and she just started crying. It was really sweet. I don't know what's going on in their lives but they are going through some really hard stuff. They could use some prayers right now. Jay West and his household.

Wednesday was similar. We did some service at a food pantry, and the people there were all awesome. We went to Spring City to see some people there. We saw a less active named George Fox, an old-ish guy who I just adore. I wish you could hear him talk, I've never heard anyone talk like him. He talks really slow, has a really cute old man southern accent, says "an everytin, an" all the time, has literally no filter, is super innocent and sweet, is tough as nails but has a huge heart... In some ways he reminds me a lot of Larry Francis, but he's also different. And his conversion story is amazing. His wife passed away unexpectedly in his arms one night.. And he told us he sometimes has dreams where she comes to him and tells him to do things or comforts him. But they seem much more real than normal dreams. And while he was taking the discussions, she came to him and told him he needed to get baptized into this Church. So he did. He's having a hard time though, he's got some weird medical problems and he's struggling with drinking again, and it's really hard for him to make it to Church. He could use some prayers too.
After him we saw our investigators with a baptismal date, Raymond and Tammy Baldwin. I love them a lot too. They are really sincere and really ready. We're gonna have to move their baptismal date though, they still haven't come to Church once. It was gonna be the 20th but we'll have to move it. They both are old and hurt a lot and have a hard time getting up early, so it's been hard for them to come to Church. We taught them the Word of Wisdom when we met with them, and I was honestly really doubting that it would go well. Both of them are heavy smokers, they usually smoke like 5 cigarettes apiece every time we meet with them (and then we stink like cigarette smoke for the rest of the day... haha). But both of them took it really well. They really want to stop smoking and they agreed to try. They are also gonna need some prayers though.

Another joke from Elder Merrill: Why did the stoplight turn red? You'd turn red too if you had to change in the middle of the street!
Random fact about the South: Carl's Jr is called Hardee's here. I don't know why. Also fireflies are beautiful, I've never seen them before. And the clouds and sunsets here are different than Utah's, and there have been some seriously amazing sunsets. It's great. (although the bugs are also bigger, which I do not like so much...)
Thursday was hard. Every single one of our appointments fell through.
Friday we had district meeting, and then did service at a less active family's house, the Williams. I mowed their lawn (ugh, I was hoping I wouldn't have to mow another lawn for two years at least). That evening we visited some former investigators, who were super close to baptism, were on date and had almost all the lessons, but then got offended when they found out they had to get married. But we thought of them when we were planning, and it must have been the Spirit, because when we visited them they seem like they may be ready to try again. Their names are Scott Dufrane and Laurie Stranger (like string, but with an a and an er). But I wonder if they might not have to get married, they do live together and it seems like it might be a romantic thing on some level but they told us they don't have sex at all. It's weird.
Saturday we helped out / talked to people at a festival in Harriman all day, called the Polk Salad festival. (I think there is a FB page, and our picture is there somewhere, we helped put up signs for it) It was really fun. It was the sort of thing I'd have loved to go to as a regular person and not a missionary. I wish we could have talked to more people though. That was a really long day, we were both super tired when we got home.
Sunday after church and branch choir we had dinner at a part-member family's house. They're an older couple, in their 60's or 70's, and they aren't married. Sister Madden is a member, and her boyfriend Phil Warren is basically a dry Mormon. He is more active than a lot of the members. He just is super stubborn. I think he knows it's true but doesn't want to see it. He was on date for baptism at one point but took offense when he found out they had to get married. Scott and Laurie have legitimate reasons to be concerned about marriage, Laurie gets disability money and he doesn't make much money and if they got married she would probably lose that income and they wouldn't be able to afford their rent (and they already live in government housing, which is super cheap). Phil and Sister Madden literally have no excuse, they've even said there's nothing holding them back. He's just stubborn. It's frustrating. But he's a real softie at heart. I like them a lot.
I love you all. I hope you're doing well. Something I'm learning: prayer and scripture study every day are a huge blessing. At times in my life when I haven't consistently done them, it was really hard to do them and I really didn't want to. But at times in my life when I have made the effort to do them consistently, like now as a missionary, I wonder how I was able to get by without it. I can feel the difference. I was missing out on blessings I didn't even realize I was missing when I wasn't doing them. My day just goes better, I feel happier, I feel the Spirit more, I feel like I have a purpose. Prayer is really becoming a sanctuary for me. I invite all of you to make the effort to pray by yourself, morning and night, vocally if you can, and to study the scriptures privately for at least a few minutes every day. And families: I encourage you to make an effort to hold family prayer once or twice a day, and to study the scriptures as a family. I promise you that you will be blessed. In time I bet you'll begin to wonder, as I do now, how you ever got by without it.

The Gospel is true!
Elder Swindler

Pics: Two sunsets

Pictures Week 5

Southern spellin'

The view from Harriman Park

Monday, June 1, 2015

Tennessee, Week 2

Hey all! Sorry for the short email last week.

I love Tennessee. I'm in a little branch in a little city called Rockwood. It is super beautiful here. It's so green it's absurd... There are trees everywhere, and everything is covered in grass and plants and things. People don't even water their lawns. Stuff just grows. Humidity is a thing... It's really hot during the day. But we have a car, which is wonderful. And it's super nice in the evenings.

There's a lot of stuff to tell you and it's all just kind of jumbled up in my head so I'm just gonna sort of barf out a bunch of it. Sorry if this is kind of a ramble-y email.

All of the stereotypes you have heard about the South are true. Seriously. The AP's showed me a video my first day of some old guy dressed up in full Confederate uniform toting a ten-foot pole with a Confederate flag on top, who had apparently decided to be a crossing guard. And when he wasn't stopping traffic to let people cross, he stood on the sidewalk proudly saluting passers by. It was awesome.

Everyone here has a dog (or three). Even the mission president. I have been to only one house that didn't have a dog.

The roads are super winding and hilly and narrow. They were made for wagons but paved over for cars. Some of them are so narrow they really should be one way streets. It's pretty sketchy.

It feels like I'm in a state park back home, but all the time. It's super green. It feels like I'm in the Uintahs. Except there are houses and people live here. It's weird.

Tennessee mountains are wimpy compared to Utah's. But they're different. People don't live next to them, they live in them.

The people are all great. Everybody here, literally everybody, is religious, and every one of them except for one guy is a Christian (I met one old guy who's Jewish). There are more churches here than Provo even. Sometimes they're back to back. It's super Protestant where I am. And quite a few people don't really want to listen to us, as you'd expect. But they're all really nice. And actually there are a lot of people who do want to listen to us, which is awesome!

Everybody smokes. We smell like cigarette smoke a lot. It's just the smell of victory though, it means we got into somebody's house. :)

My companion's name is Elder Merrill. He is seriously one of the kindest people I have ever met in my life. He plays guitar and sings, and he's pretty good too. He likes stupid jokes (What did one eye say to the other eye? Just between you and me, something smells... Why was the little boy sad? Because he had a frog stapled to his face. Etc). And he's just really fun. I love him a lot. :)

The other missionaries here are great. And I love the mission president, Pres. Griffin, and his wife. They're really fun, and laid back, and kind, and personable. And they work really hard, and expect us to do the same. 

I have not eaten possum yet. Or squirrel. The food is delicious so far.

We have several investigators and I love all of them. But none of them are really keeping their commitments, which is frustrating. We have some new ones though that are really promising and I'm excited.

My first actual day out, we tried the house of a potential investigator who wasn't home, and then tried a tiny house next door just because we could, and we met a guy named Ronnie. I don't know how to explain Ronnie... He's crazy, but not in a scary way. It's just hard to teach him sometimes. He'll go off on the weirdest tangents, about the government and how King James was actually gay and all this stuff. It's super funny. We taught the first lesson to him through his screen door. He was fairly open. But he has this thing with prayer, says it doesn't work for him. He wouldn't even let us pray at the end of the lesson. Then the second time we came... I'm not even sure what we taught. He was going off on all this weird stuff. We were just trying to explain the Book of Mormon, and see if he'd read any of it, and try to get him to read from it, and try to figure out his thing with prayer, and teach him more about the first lesson, and stuff. But it went all over and it was hard to teach him anything because he's really hard to read and he's really unpredictable. He's just crazy. I love it. He is also super stubborn. We tried to tell him that God the Father and Jesus Christ are separate beings and he was just like "No! ...nnno!" and it was super funny. But then he mentioned that he is a singer/songwriter, and we mentioned that both of us play guitar too, and he actually let us in the house! And we listened to him play some of his songs, and we played too, and it was great. He seemed much more open at the end, and friendly, and more willing to talk and listen. And he let us pray at the end!!! It was awesome.

Sorry for the super long paragraph.

This email is already super long. But I want to leave you with a testimony. Christ lives! And Joseph Smith was His true prophet. The Book of Mormon is true. If you will read it with an open mind and heart, and sincerely pray to know if it's true, you will receive a witness from the Spirit that it is true. And it will change your life.

And if you already have a testimony that the Book of Mormon is true, I challenge you to make it a bigger part of your life. Prayerfully study it daily! A testimony is useless if it isn't a way of life.

Finally, I'll leave you with a principle I found in my studies. Faith is a principle of action! James chapter 2 teaches us that "faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone."

I've been studying 1 Nephi and I see this principle exemplified by Nephi time and time again. The Lord, through Lehi, commands that Nephi and his brothers return to Jerusalem and get the records kept by Laban - not an easy task. They were days out from Jerusalem, and Laban might not take too kindly to their request. Nephi's response: "I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them."

Later, they are traveling again through the wilderness. They're hot, and tired, and hungry, and miserable. Ishmael has just died. Nobody's happy. Things are very very difficult. And then Nephi breaks his bow, leaving them with no reliable way to get food. Everybody, even Lehi himself, doubts the Lord and complains. But not Nephi. What does he do? Builds a new bow and says to his father, "Whither shall I go to obtain food?"

And when they reach the Arabian coast, and Nephi is commanded to build a ship, instead of saying "Lord, I don't know how to build a ship! I've never built a ship before! We don't even have wood! How am I supposed to do this?" or even "I don't know what to do, help me" Nephi asks only "Whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship after the manner which thou hast shown unto me?"

When things get hard, or we're asked to do things we don't really want to do or things that are hard, like go to Church every week, or study the scriptures every day, or serve a mission, or admit we're wrong, or examine ourselves and admit things we don't want to see in ourselves, or make difficult changes in our lives and ourselves, or even read this whole email, let us all be more like Nephi. Instead of complaining, or resisting, or refusing, or giving up, or hiding, or rebelling, like Laman and Lemuel and even Lehi sometimes did... Instead of giving in to our natural man... Let us all try to be a little more like Nephi, and say instead, "I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them." And then let us actually go and actually do, leaning on the Savior's infinite grace to give us the strength and ability we need to succeed. He can change our desires and hearts and even us, if we let Him. Let us take courage, and act.

Let us do as it says in D&C 33:8: "Open your mouths and they shall be filled, and you shall become even as Nephi of old, who journeyed from Jerusalem in the wilderness." Open your mouth. Or take whatever step of action you are being asked to do. Have the faith that it will work out and prove your faith by taking the step despite your doubts or how much you may not want to. Look at yourself and see the hard things. Make changes in your life. Follow that prompting. Open those scriptures. Whatever opening your mouth means in your case. Let us be more like Nephi - really, more like our Savior. He will help us if we prove our faith by taking the step. Faith is not waiting until we are told or until we know everything. Faith is obediently and humbly taking a step into the dark and trusting that the light will move out to meet us (President Packer talk, look it up).

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

(Again, sorry for the absurdly long email)

Elder Swindler

The new MTC district (5/17/2015)

The old MTC district and one of our teachers (5/16/2015)
The Tennessee bound missionaries (5/18/2015)
View of the South from the plane (5/18/2015)
Elders Galaviz, Nelson, Merrill, and Swindler (5/24/2015)
Elders Merrill and Nelson asleep in the car (5/24/2015)