Monday, May 30, 2016

Which Way Do You Face?

Hey folks!

Surprise! Haha I'm short on time, again. Suffice it to say we had a really good week. Things keep getting better here in Bristol and the work is slowly but surely picking up. When I first got here we were teaching maybe 4-6 lessons per week, and now we're teaching probably 10-12 and we have some pretty awesome people. Joyce is still progressing well, she's going to be baptized a week from this Saturday! We did a bunch of finding (mostly tracting) this week too, and we found two new investigators. One of them, JoAnn, is especially cool. She invited us in and we sat on her back porch and talked for like 2 hours. I know I say this about a lot of the older ladies here but she's super spunky. Also she's had a really hard life but has become such a great and optimistic person because of it. And we saw a less active, Pat, who we've been trying to soften up for awhile. When we first went by she was really closed off but now she's slowly starting to open up and warm up to us. It's exciting. She's great and I like her a lot. :)

But yeah. I'm out of time and I've gotta run. I'm loving it here in Bristol. This is probably my last full week here in the good old birthplace of country music, and I'm sure gonna miss it when I leave. Please keep Fred, Kristen and David in your prayers, they're all really struggling to overcome addictions and they could use your prayers.

I've only got time for a quick message. In his October 2014 address, Elder Lynn G. Robbins asked the question, "Which way do you face?" Meaning, in other words, are we trying to please others before pleasing God, or are we trying to please God before pleasing others? Oftentimes fear of man holds us back from doing the right thing or causes us to make poor decisions. One observation he made that I really like: "Courage is not just one of the cardinal virtues, but as C. S. Lewis observed: 'Courage is … the form of every virtue at the testing point.'" A big part of courage is being righteous even when it is unpopular or hurts our pride or ego or even if it's just plain scary. Join me this week - let's take some time to examine ourselves and see where we are facing. In whatever ways we are facing the wrong way, let's choose to turn around and face God. We are His children, and He will support us in all things we do as we strive to serve Him and become like Him. (And for bonus points, you can even study the talk!)

Well, I've gotta run. I love you all! God lives, the Atonement heals, and the Gospel's true. :) Make yourselves a great week!

Elder Alex Swindler

Yes, I did take pictures this week:

1) Nice.

2) Sister Crawford, Elder Bateman, me, Sister Johnson, Elder Lambert, and Elder Collins sitting on/against an old jail thing in Meadowview, VA where they used to put the town drunks for a day for public humiliation. :)

3) Me and Elder Bateman at the Abingdon VA ward mission leader's farm (we spent Memorial Day there today, it was tons of fun)

4-5) View of the hills from the Abingdon WML's farm

Monday, May 23, 2016

Week 23 in the Land of Bristol

Heyy folks!

We had a pretty decent week here in Bristol. The highlight was definitely our zone conference. President Griffin gave an excellent training on the four pillars of missionary work - obedience, attitude, work, and gospel knowledge. He talked about how we can do more than we think we can do. It was great. I wish you could've been there. Although he did institute a new rule - no meal appointments with members unless there is an investigator, less active, or recent convert present. Not sure entirely how I feel about it... It will definitely decrease the number of our meal appointments. But I think it will also bring a lot of good opportunities and work. So we'll see. And after zone conference I went on an exchange with Elder Dyment, our district leader. He's awesome. Marion, VA (his area) has completely changed for the better since he's been there. And it was a good exchange too.

We saw Grover again and it was much better than last week. We just talked about our life here on earth and the purpose of our struggles. He had some good insights and seemed glad to see us. He seems like he just needs to learn everything from the beginning, he doesn't seem to remember much from when he was taught. We saw Brenda too, and talked about pretty much the same thing. We gave her a larger print Book of Mormon and she promised to start reading again.

Anna is doing well. Stubborn as ever. We talked about her identity as a daughter of God and gave her Elder Hallstrom's talk to read. We saw a crazy less active couple, Ed and Sandy, and talked with them about the importance of scripture study. We saw Joyce and Fred at a member's house again, which was wonderful! Joyce is great. She's progressing nicely towards baptism on June 11th. We taught her the word of wisdom and her only concern was coffee, but she's willing to give it up.

On Sunday, David and Kristen came to church. We finally talked them into staying for all three hours and they really enjoyed it. They're still struggling with some personal issues, they could really use your prayers (and while you're at it, Dusty and Amber could too!). And after church, we got a new investigator! His name is James. We found him tracting a couple weeks ago. We were finally able to meet with him this week, and when we taught him about the Book of Mormon, he asked us where he could buy one. Haha that was awesome, we never get that reaction. We gave him a copy and got a return appointment.

So yeah. All in all, a pretty great week. My message this week is short. It's a quote from the late President Boyd K. Packer:

"It was meant to be that life would be a challenge. To suffer some anxiety, some depression, some disappointment, even some failure is normal. Teach our members that if they have a good, miserable day once in a while, or several in a row, to stand steady and face them. Things will straighten out.  There is great purpose in our struggle in life."

I know this principle is true. I've seen it even just these past few weeks and transfers. As I have pressed on anyway through the hard days and weeks and even months, things have always straightened out and I've always come through better for it. We can't always see the purpose of our trials when we are in the midst of them, or the hope, or the silver lining, or how this could possibly help us to grow. But we learn from Nephi that "[God] doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him." I know that, as Elder Packer said, there is great purpose in our struggles. Be diligent, move forward with faith, and I promise things will get better and you will be better for it.

I love you all!

Elder Alex Swindler

Da Pics:

1) Classy car at a classy venue (yes, the Min Dynasty Buffet is actually open for business. I was surprised)

2) Bonus pic of the baptism a couple weeks ago because I don't have any more pics to send you

Monday, May 16, 2016

And We're Back On Air, Folks

Hey folks!

This week was much better than last week. We actually got to see people! We saw David and Kristen again and taught them the 15 step stop smoking program. David agreed to do it but Kristen was hesitant and decided to wait until next week and see how well it works for David. We did find out that there may be some more issues than we knew about before she can be baptized but she is still willing. They could use your prayers.

We saw Brenda again, the less active we saw last Saturday. She is awesome. She's this cute spunky little old lady and I love her. She feels like she's not very close to God anymore and she wants to change that, so we taught her that it all starts with prayer (which she already does every day) and scripture study. We got her a large print set of scriptures which will help her a lot. She wants to start coming back to church, she's just really sick. She could use prayers too.

We saw Debbie, Jon's wife, again. They're both pretty sick too (they could sure use your prayers too, haha). But we were able to share a little message with her. And we saw Fred the investigator with a member and invited him to ARP.

We saw Anna too, and had a really good lesson. We used the parable of the ten virgins and talked about testimony (like the lamps in the parable) vs conversion (like the oil) - what we know vs how we live because of what we know. The bridegroom - Christ - is coming soon, and exactly when we don't know. If we do not choose to live true to that which He has given us now, the day will come and we will not be ready. We will not have oil in our lamps. It seemed to hit home for her. Whether she admits it or not, we think she secretly believes what we teach is true. She feels the Spirit and sees the fruits. She's just procrastinating praying about it because she's afraid to act. She almost agreed to pray about it this time but then she backed out and just said she'd think about it. So close!

And we taught member Fred and his new (investigator) wife Joyce at a member's home and it was really good! She is progressing really well towards baptism. She still keeps asking us why other people have such a problem with what we believe - it's all simple and true and not that different from what they believe, just a little more. It's awesome haha

And I went on an exchange with Elder Bateman! It was weird but fun to be back with him for a little while.

Aaand I'm out of time. But my message for the week is simple. I promise you that if you will take your questions or concerns or needs or whatever to the Lord in prayer, then study the scriptures for answers, you'll find guidance and answers unique to you.

I love you all!

Elder Alex Swindler

Photos:

So I didn't have any pictures but then we had an awesome P day in Abingdon, VA and took a bunch of pictures so now you all have to deal with them. :)

1) Featuring Elder Bateman's tongue and my butt

2) Featuring Elder Bateman and me up a tree

3) Left to right, Elder Bateman, Sister Johnson, Elder Lambert, Elder Collins, Sister Crawford, and me.

4-5) Ehh... You can figure out who is who if you really want to haha






6-7) We were hanging out at a park in Abingdon and met a cool lady named Marilyn (pardon Sister Johnson's selfie face).

8-9) And then we met the really cool and nice police chief named Tony who gave us little badges.





10) A bonus pic of a lady attempting to ride a bike in Walmart while still trying to push her cart (#classy):


11) Also a picture of a sign at the ice cream shop we went to. Ashby's Ice Cream!!

Monday, May 9, 2016

One Year Already?!

Hey folks!

I'll be blunt, this week kinda stank. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great, especially compared to how great last week was. We did manage to see a few people but pretty much everything else fell through. We saw Anna as usual. She's doing well. Stubborn as always, but I'm still convinced she knows it's true. She's just afraid. We also saw David and Kristen. Their evening was insane and they were barely able to focus, so we decided against our original plan of the stop smoking program and just taught them the word of wisdom. Kristin is still pretty on board for baptism though so that's good. We saw a less active named Grover who the ward is focusing on helping. Our member team up kind of bulldozed him though so we are gonna give him a break so he doesn't get even more overwhelmed. We saw Jon finally! We found out why we haven't seen him in so long - he's been super sick. He could use some prayers.

Probably the best part of the week was the weekend. On Friday I hit my year mark, which was super weird. I can't believe it's already been a whole year... I've loved it a lot. It's been hard but so rewarding. I burned a shirt at our service project to celebrate (it's a missionary tradition). On Saturday we got to go to two baptisms! One was a boy in our ward. My favorite part of that one was when the boy was actually baptized. There was a moment of silence afterwards while everyone was just absorbing what they just saw, and about 4 seconds passed, then his 4 year old brother yells out "MY TURN MY TURN MY TURN!!" Haha it was so funny. And the other baptism was an investigator in Marion, VA. That was a really neat experience. He's an old guy whose wife has been a member for a long time. He's super dedicated to his decision--he was studying the pamphlets like crazy the morning of his baptism and trying to memorize the Ten Commandments haha. Also that night Elder Lambert made brownies to celebrate my birthday, which was super nice of him. And then on Sunday I got to Skype call my family!! It was wonderful. Honestly it made the whole crappy week worth it. :)

My message this week is about choices. Consider the words of the Savior to his disciples in the Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 16:25-29 (it's in the appendix of the LDS publication of the bible if you want to look it up):

"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. And now for a man to take up his cross, is to deny himself all ungodliness, and every worldly lust, and keep my commandments.

"Break not my commandments for to save your lives; for whosoever will save his life in this world, shall lose it in the world to come. And whosoever will lose his life in this world, for my sake, shall find it in the world to come.
"Therefore, forsake the world, and save your souls; for what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"

I believe part of "taking up our cross" is choosing to make the right decisions and giving up our own will to do the will of our Father, as our Savior Himself did. Consider the thoughts shared by President Monson in his talk in the Sunday Morning session of Conference:
"I have been thinking recently about choices. It has been said that the door of history turns on small hinges, and so do people’s lives. The choices we make determine our destiny.

"When we left our premortal existence and entered mortality, we brought with us the gift of agency. Our goal is to obtain celestial glory, and the choices we make will, in large part, determine whether or not we reach our goal.

"...we know where we want to go, and it does matter which way we go, for the path we follow in this life leads to our destination in the next life.

"...May we maintain the courage to defy the consensus. May we ever choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.

"As we contemplate the decisions we make in our lives each day--whether to make this choice or that choice--if we choose Christ, we will have made the correct choice."

I think true discipleship is manifest in the details of our lives. I invite you to consider the choices you are making, both large and small. Are you willing to choose the harder rights instead of the easier wrongs? Are you willing to make hard choices and difficult changes to choose Christ, take up your cross, and follow Him? I promise if you will, or even if you just want to and are willing to try, He will help you. He does not ask us to be perfect before He will help us. Actually He only asks us to be willing and to try, and He promises to help us become perfect eventually through Him as we work with Him and grow line upon line, choice by choice. Finally consider the words of Jacob in 2 Nephi 9:18:
"But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever."


I love you all. Make yourselves a wonderful week! And Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms out there (especially to you, Mom)!

Elder Alex Swindler

Pictures:
1) Selfie from when we were attempting to finish our weekly planning haha

2) My district ratted me out at the Mexican restaurant and told them it was my birthday. But I got free cheesecake and a sombrero and they didn't sing to me so it was all good. :)

3)  District picture with President and Sister Griffin after the baptism in Marion

Videos:
The first video is in honor of Mother's Day. The second is me burning a shirt to celebrate my year mark.
video

video


More Pictures:
Bristol is pretty!











Monday, May 2, 2016

Three Baptismal Dates!

Hey folks!

Sorry I didn't send an email last week. I had a nice one drafted but then my iPad ate it and there wasn't time to write another one.

These past two weeks have been good. I'll share some highlights.

Last week we went on two exchanges back to back. The first was with the zone leaders, Elder Hill and Elder Farnsworth. It was basically just so that Elder Lambert and Elder Hill could be together one more time before Elder Hill got transferred, because they used to be companions and they are really good friends. So we came up with a reason (Elder Hill is good at finding and Elder Lambert wants to get better at it) and got President Griffin's approval and off we went. I stayed in Bristol with Elder Farnsworth. It was pretty good, and Elder L loved it.

The second exchange was the next day, with the other Bristol Elders (Baird and Collins). It was mostly because Elder Baird and I wanted to go on exchanges, because we've become good friends here and he was about to go home. Plus he's really good at talking to people on their doorsteps and that's something I want to get better at. So we got permission for that too and off we went. It was super fun, and I did learn from him too, so it was good. We stayed up till like 2:30am talking haha.

Also last week, I got a call from Elder Beard in Knoxville. He told me that Joe from my last area has decided he wants to be baptized now! Elder Beard has been working with him a TON, and Joe has said before that he wants to be baptized, but never would set a date. Finally Elder Beard texted him just to tell him he'd likely be leaving the area in a couple of days and he was grateful to have gotten to know him, and Joe replied that he had decided that morning he wanted to be baptized, and that he wanted Elder Beard to do it and me to be there! Which is awesome!! Not sure if it's going to happen that way though, I'm clear up in Bristol and Elder Beard did just leave the area. Haha but as long as Joe still gets baptized, I'll be happy.

This week was awesome. We finally had a lesson with a less-active member named Melanie, who promised her dying father a couple months ago that she'd meet with us and get back into church and get her life in order, and her nonmember boyfriend Eric. It was great! They're both committed to doing what they need to to get right with God. And Eric even told us if he finds for himself that what we taught is true that he'd want to be baptized! They came to church again this week and seemed like they had a great experience.

We also had a lesson with Kristen and David again. They still haven't read from the Book of Mormon, which is dumb, but they are also still pretty on board with learning. We did set a baptismal date with Kristen though! June 4th

And we taught Joyce again (the girlfriend of Fred the less active who came back to church a couple weeks ago). She is awesome. We taught the Plan of Salvation and she absolutely loved it. She especially loved 2 Nephi 2:22-25. She told us it's like everything she had learned before had a stop to it, and this was taking it all to the next step and getting rid of the stop. It made things she'd always been taught suddenly all make sense. She and Fred are getting married on Tuesday!! And she's been enjoying church too so that's good. And she accepted a baptismal date of June 11th!! That's three baptismal dates (Jon, Kristen, and Joyce)!! The work in this area has changed and grown SO much! So many prayers have been answered. :)

Sunday was great. We had the best ward council I've ever been to, ever. We talked about specific investigators and less actives and their needs, not just calendaring and fluff. Assignments were made, people volunteered for things, ideas were offered... It was awesome. I'm excited for how much the work in this ward has changed and grown since I've been here. I've been blessed to see it and be a part of it.

Also on Sunday, we had a pretty remarkable sacrament meeting. Just before it started the Aaronic priesthood and bishopric realized there was a problem with the sacrament cups - namely that there were barely enough cups left in the building to fill a tray and a half. So they improvised with some big colorful solo cups left over from an activity. They could only fit about 8 to a tray, so the deacons kept having to coming back for more cups that the priests would fill from a pitcher on the altar, until there was only one person left who hadn't had the opportunity to partake of the water. So a little deacon made the long walk back to the front, got one last cup, and brought it back to the person. It made for a longer, very reflective, and very spiritual sacrament. I won't soon forget it.

Something I took from it was that the sacrament - and the Atonement it points our minds and hearts to - is the most important part of church. It's not something to be taken lightly. The bishopric could have easily said "oh, we'll just skip it this week" and we all could have just waited to take it until next week. But they didn't. Nor did the deacons stop going back for more cups until every last person had been given the opportunity to partake - just as the Savior didn't stop His suffering until every last person had been atoned for and given the opportunity to repent and be freed and cleansed and changed.

I know the Gospel is true. I know the Savior lives and has power to change lives - your life and my life and all of our lives - and He will, if we will just come unto Him "willing to take upon [us] the name of [Jesus Christ], and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given [us], that [we] may always have his Spirit to be with [us]." He can loose any chain, lighten any burden, lift any heart, and change any life for the better. He just asks, wherever we are, to reach out to Him and begin taking steps.

I love His words in Isaiah 1:18: "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

I know that's true and I testify of that in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

I love you all!

Elder Alex Swindler

Da Pics:

1) Fun at the park!


2) What happens when the South runs out of road names


3) Let's play Redneck I-Spy! Can you find the truck??


4) Oops.


5) I forgot to mention what happened at transfers. I'm staying in Bristol for one more transfer with Elder Lambert. Elder Nelson left Marion. Elder Baird went home. And guess who replaced Elder Baird? Elder Bateman, my old companion from Knoxville!!! Haha we spent most of Wednesday evening catching up. We were so excited to see each other again. This is gonna be an awesome transfer.