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)
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)