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!
Pics: Two sunsets