Monday, August 29, 2016

It Was Almost a Short Email

Hey folks!

This week was crazy fast. And so was p-day, actually, I'm literally beyond out of time. So, for once in my life, this email is probably gonna be really short.

We had a cool experience while out tracting where we were totally prompted to knock on a door, and no one was home, but then we tried the neighboring door, and we found a super cool guy named Sam! He's a young guy, maybe 2-4 years older than us, and is really interested in what we have to say, he's dissatisfied with his own church and is looking for something more. Plus he plays guitar and loves bluegrass. So we are going to have to come back and jam with him because that is my thing. Haha

That same day we had a bit of a letdown appointment. We were on a teamup with our bishop and we went to see Andrea, the one who came to church last week. We asked her what she thought of church and she told us she wasn't very impressed. She pointed out that nobody seemed to be paying attention, none of the speakers even opened the scriptures, and she didn't really feel the Spirit. It was disappointing to say the least, and even more so when she didn't come again this last week - if she had given it another chance, every one of her concerns would have been answered. It was a really good meeting this week.

A lot of her concerns are just the consequence of having an unpaid ministry. Sometimes you just kind of get what you get. But at the same time it was sobering for me as a member of the church to realize that people notice everything we do.

But hey, it was a good week. I wish I had more time to tell you about it. Another highlight that came indirectly from our teamup with Bishop that night was that on Sunday Bishop told the ward council sincerely that he trusts us a lot, and that he feels they can trust the two of us with anyone that is prepared to receive the gospel. Even though we don't always have the greatest successes, it was nice to know that the ward does notice our efforts and appreciate them. It's encouraging to know that we have earned the ward's trust.

Well, it is very very late. I hate to leave you without much of a message... I'll just invite you to consider that everything you do as a member of the Church reflects on the name of the Savior and the name of His Church. Even if you aren't doing something necessarily wrong, your careless actions or negative attitudes may cause others to have a bad taste in their mouths. And vise versa as well: your positive attitude and your small yet devoted acts of commitment may cause others to change their minds about the Church and its members. One thing Andrea did say in favor of the Church was that she is very impressed with its members. She thinks it's incredible and unlike anything she's seen before, the level of sacrifice and commitment found in the members of this Church. So remember that people are watching. We are all missionaries all the time, whether we realize it or not. People notice us, and often that is what draws them to the Gospel. Jonas, one of our investigators, told us he is investigating largely because he sees something in the lives of its members that he's never seen anywhere else, and he wants it. He wants to be like us. So remember who you represent!

I love you all! Make yourselves a great week!

Elder Alex Swindler

Monday, August 22, 2016

Attitude and Excuses

Hey folks!

We had a good week once again. It started out a little slow but ended really well. Wish I had more time to tell you about it but once again P-day is basically over so I'm going to have to at least try to be brief.

We had a lesson with Michael, one of our less active members, again. He is great. We taught the plan of salvation and he took it well and learned a lot. Although we did hit a doctrinal roadblock at the degrees of glory. He's got some concerns there that are super hard to figure out and get past, and we ended up having to cut the lesson short. It's got us both thinking and studying a lot though which is good.

We also mowed and weed whacked Crystal's lawn for her. It was actually Elder Frederick's first time ever mowing a lawn - I guess they don't have lawns in Arizona? It was fun, especially when it started dumping rain out of nowhere right near the end. Tennessee rain is crazy, it can be totally dry one minute, and then literally 60 seconds later it could be absolutely pouring. I love it.

Had a really great zone training meeting. President Griffin was late (he was actually taking care of Elder Lakko's current companion Elder Smith, who got hit by a car which only nearly missed Elder Lakko, and he is in pretty bad shape...) and was super tired but still gave an epic training, as always. He talked about a story involving the prophet Samuel and King Saul. Saul was given a specific commandment by the Lord to wipe out everything living in a particular city, in consequence of that city's earlier attack on the Lord's people. Saul obeyed at first, but then decided to hold back just a little, and spare some of the animals and the King of the land as trophies. He then tried to justify his disobedience by saying the animals were for a sacrifice to the Lord. Samuel replies to his lame excuse by teaching him that "to obey is better than to sacrifice." What figurative sheep are we holding back from the Lord? What small things do we continue to hold back in disobedience, perhaps even justifying them as somehow helping us be better disciples and Christians, or as not really applying to us? It is tempting to hold back just a little, and to try to justify ourselves, but that is not God's way. Obedience is the first law of heaven. The Lord asks for all we have, not just most of it and some lame excuses.

Those are just some of my thoughts from the training. It was super good.

After that, we went on exchanges with the other Elders. I went with Elder Nelson and we ended up talking a lot more than we should have, but it was still fun and we still were able to see Crystal and Camille and Cameron. Elder Frederick went with Elder Merrill, his mission "grandpa." They sounded like they had a ton of fun.

We taught Esther for one last time this week before she moved to the Nashville area. It was super powerful. We drew out a chart with her of what Nephi and Laman and Lemuel were each commanded of the Lord by the prophet Lehi to do - first to leave Jerusalem, then to obtain the plates from Laban - and how each of them responded to those commandments. Then we drew another column for Esther and what she has been commanded to do - first to be baptized, and then to tell her parents about her decision to be baptized - and how she has chosen to respond. She was able to see that she has responded like Nephi to the commandment to be baptized - she has prayed, she has studied and exercised faith, she has followed the promptings of the Spirit - but more like Laman and Lemuel to the commandment to tell her parents. It can be really hard to help Esther understand some things sometimes, but this time it seemed to really get through to her. I'm a little sad to see her go, but I'm sure she'll be in good hands with the Hermitage missionaries.

Found a couple new investigators this week as well. One is named Amy. We saw her name in our phone and didn't recognize it, so we called. She's the ex wife of an inactive member. She's going through a tough time right now and is really reaching out to God - finding her when we did was actually really well timed. We had a good visit this week and she wants us to come back.

The second is named Andrea. We were about to leave an area when we were prompted to knock on a specific door, and sure enough, she answered and was really friendly. It is crazy how it all lined up actually. She only answered because she didn't see us through the peep hole, and then she only talked to us because of my hot pink tie that gave us away as not being Jehovah's Witnesses. She is just now starting to try to get back in church for the first time in years. We came back this Saturday with a member and had a really great first lesson, and she came to church on Sunday! We are really excited about her.

We also had a second meeting with Crystal and Camille and Cameron on Sunday at the Valdez's house (awesome members here in the ward). Crystal is doing great still, she's slated to give a talk next week actually. Camille and Cameron have started reading the Book of Mormon together now, and they accepted a baptismal date of September 24th. Cameron feels ready, but Camille feels a little unsure because she is struggling to recognize answers to her prayers. But she is willing to trust the Lord and work towards a date.

Wish I had more time for a message. I'll leave you with the bits of President Griffin's thoughts I shared above, and a challenge also to examine your attitude about the Lord's commands to you. Are you choosing to be more like Nephi, with an attitude of "I will go and do," seeking for ways to do as you have been commanded and moving forward with trust and faith even when you do not know exactly how to act, or when you don't feel like it, or when it is hard? Or are you choosing to be more like Laman and Lemuel, making excuses and seeking ways to get out of doing it, or even trying a few times but giving up when success is not immediate? Is being a true disciple of the Lord a priority in your life, or an annoyance? I think we are all like Nephi sometimes and about some things, and also like Laman and Lemuel (and Saul) at other times and about other things. Let's choose to be more like Nephi. And remember, "it is our duty to be better today than we were yesterday, and better tomorrow than we are today."

I love you all! Christ lives, He loves us all, His gospel is true, and His Atonement is real! Make yourselves a great week!

Elder Alex Swindler

Pictures and Things

1) "Hey, this porch is actually pretty nic--oh gosh, is that a dead rat??"

2-3) We tracted into a master woodworker. This guy is seriously incredible. I am going to go back and take as many pictures of his work as I can. This is like the least of it, but I didn't think to take pictures until he showed us this at the end. He didn't even make it, his friend did, but the wood grain is incredible and the work is so pretty, I had to take a picture.

4) Elder Frederick examining the local wildlife

5) Goodbye to Esther

6) Hillbilly clothesline

Video) Elder Frederick fell asleep
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Monday, August 15, 2016

Promptings and Selflessness

Hey folks!

We had a pretty great week this week! It went really fast though, I can't believe it's already Monday. Let's see if I can remember any of it.

I will give you some highlights and we'll go from there. Hopefully this doesn't end up a mile long like it somehow always seems to do.

On Wednesday we had a really good lesson with a less active named Jacque (pronounced "Jake"). He has a lot of worries about what has been going on in current events and how it will affect his family. We talked about Lehi's dream and what it means to "hold fast" to the iron rod. It really struck him and was definitely inspired by the Spirit. We were also inspired to talk about weaknesses and how they actually come from God, and the reasons He doesn't just take them away when we ask. They are for our benefit and when we choose to humble ourselves and exercise faith in Him, He responds with help and strength and makes us better instead of just taking them away.

On Thursday we had a great lesson with Andrea and Justin (Justin is the one who's father just passed and they are both asking a lot of questions). It was super long but they are genuinely interested and really seemed to like a lot of what we taught.

On Friday we had several cool experiences following promptings. We resolved in studies that morning to talk to as many people as we could, and also to follow everything that felt like it might be a prompting. We ended up talking to quite a few cool people and also finding several of our hard-to-contact investigators just as they pulled in the driveway. Probably the coolest experience, though, was when we went to contact a potential investigator named Johnny. I'll give you some background first though. So back home, Elder Frederick was in the temple one day, and one of the old guys who was there that day asked where he was going on a mission. Elder F told him TN, and the guy said he had a referral for him - his member grandson named Travis who wasn't coming to church. The grandson lived in a town called Oak Ridge. Well, sure enough, Elder Frederick gets sent to Oak Ridge his very first area. So we check the ward roster and can't find Travis's info anywhere.

Well, we go to knock on Johnny's door, and he isn't home. But we both feel prompted to knock on the next door neighbor's door, even though we've tried it before. This time though, someone was home. When we introduced ourselves, she told us "Oh, we're Mormons! Well, at least my husband and kids are." We asked her husband's name, and guess who it was? Yup, the same Travis that Elder Frederick was asked to visit. Crazy right??

The last highlight from our week is also my message. On Wednesday we went to the New Missionary Orientation meeting with President Griffin and all the new missionaries and trainers. It was really great. Some of the things that stood out to me were when President Griffin talked to the Elders about how we are preparing to become fathers. God has put in me a desire to be a father, and He has done so for a great purpose. Ultimately this desire can help and enable me to become like Him. He also talked about how my life from this point on is no longer about me. As a priesthood holder, my purpose for the rest of my life is the missionary purpose (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 Gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end"). Right now, that purpose is for investigators, and it will also be for those I serve in my Church callings throughout my life. But not too long in the future, that purpose will be most of all for my family. Everything I do now and for the rest of my life is and must be for my family, both current and future. As I learn to serve God and work to improve myself now, as I get an education in the future, as I work in a job, as I serve in church callings... Everything I do is to help, and to support, and to serve, and to strengthen, and to show an example for my family. That is where true happiness is - selflessness. If we want the eternal happiness God enjoys, we must learn to live as He does, losing ourselves in the service of others. We must make our purpose His purpose. His happiness and joy is beyond our comprehension, and His whole purpose is utterly selfless: "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of [His children]."

So that's my challenge to you. Don't let the little details of life distract you from the grander purpose of our lives. Yes, we all have struggles and challenges, and we mustn't neglect to take care of ourselves. But if we want to live like God does and enjoy the happiness He enjoys, everything we do - even taking care of ourselves - must be for the higher purpose of serving and blessing others, first and foremost our families. Make the missionary purpose - His purpose - your purpose.

I love you all! Make yourselves a great week!

Love,

Elder Swindler

Picktchyers

1) Sunsets here are super pretty

2) Lots of geese!

3) Gotta protect mah wheels, bruh! (Yes, that is a jazzy chair next to the bike)

4) Another sunset

5) Post-haircut selfie

6-7) More selfies

Video) Fun with ice water
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Monday, August 8, 2016

Oops - The One Not Everyone Got to See


We were messing around one night and feeling a little slap happy, and we started talking about how there are quite a few people we meet out here who've died and been to heaven and come back to tell the tale, but for some reason, we never seem to meet anyone who's died and been to hell. So this was the result. Figured it was probably best not to include it in my mass email though - not sure if people would quite appreciate the Southern (or is it the Swindler?) in me making its appearance right at the end. :)

Elder Alex Swindler

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(Captions added later, courtesy of Sam)

Hold To the Rod

Hey folks!

We had a bit of a slower week this week. A whole bunch of our appointments fell through. But! It was still a pretty darn good week. We had some really good experiences, one in particular was pretty powerful. And Elder Frederick and I are getting along really well. We're working hard and also having a lot of fun. He's a great missionary and I'm grateful for the opportunity to be his trainer.

Esther is still doing alright. She is moving with her family in a week or two, which is a bit stressful for us because her situation is so complicated and we are really hoping the transition to the Nashville missionaries will go smoothly. She still really wants to be baptized, and also really doesn't want to tell her family. I will say though, the more I learn about her family, the more I am starting to think that she really shouldn't be so worried. I don't think they are nearly as bad as she makes them out to be.

We met with Jonas again this week - he's the boyfriend of one of the Laurels. Jonas is awesome. We talked more about why he is wanting to be baptized and he told us that it is because he sees how happy church members are - he sees something in the lives of the members that is different from anything he's seen before, and he wants that. We asked him if he feels like he has changed in the past 6 months as he has investigated and he told us he has - he is a harder worker, a better person, and happier. He feels he hasn't received an answer yet about whether the Book of Mormon is true, so we talked about the different ways we receive answers to prayer and what it can mean when we don't receive an answer right away - that quite often it is God's way of saying "You decide. I trust your ability to make decisions. Take a step or two in what you feel is the right direction and I will give you confirmation or warning as to whether the decision you are making is right." He loves us and wants us to learn and grow. Jonas related to that and felt it applied to him, and told us he wants to start making preparations for baptism. We just need to meet with his parents - they are really good people and very supportive, but understandably they have some questions about the Church before he is baptized.

My favorite experience this week, though, was meeting with Crystal, a returning inactive member, and her nonmember kids Cameron (10) and Camille (14). Crystal has been pretty far off the deep end for the last 15 years of her life, and pretty opposed to God and the gospel and the Church, but now as she has been going through one of the hardest times of her life, she has decided it is time to turn back to God. I wish you all could have been there this week. It blows my mind how far she has come. She read Lehi's dream in the Book of Mormon this week, and she bore such an incredibly powerful testimony to us, her parents, and her children of Jesus Christ and His Gospel - of how much better life is when you come back to the iron rod and press forward holding fast to it - that it even made 14-year-old stony-faced Camille cry. Man, it was incredible. The Spirit was so powerful. She told them that their lives were their own to live, but that she hoped so much that they would receive guidance from God leading them to decide to be baptized (the lesson was on the Gospel of Jesus Christ - faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end). She told them how hard her life has been without the gospel the last 15 years, and how much better it has been now in the last few weeks as she has begun to come back. She wants more than anything for them to have that in their lives, and for her family to be together forever. The church is a hospital, she told them, and we all need it. She never knew just what she was denying herself until she finally came back.

My message this week seems to be one of the major themes of my mission thus far: none of us - neither you, nor those you love, nor anyone else we share this mortal life with - is so far from the love of Jesus Christ that we can't come back to the rod of iron. Never lose hope. If someone you love has wandered away from the iron rod, be patient and never give up. Christ has not forgotten them. Crystal's parents waited and tried patiently, but without any sign of success or hope, for over 15 years - and now look where she is. And if it is you that has wandered away - come back! It is not too late. I add my testimony to Crystal's and promise you that life is so much better when we hold fast to the iron rod, which is the word of God. The reward we reap, the fruit of the tree at the end of the rod, is the love of Jesus Christ - and there is nothing else like it in this world. It will fill you with a hope and joy and purpose that nothing else can do. And the mists of darkness and the rugged fields of life are so much easier to navigate and endure when we are holding fast to the rod.

I love you all! Make yourselves a great week!

Elder Alex Swindler

Saran Wrap and the Local Wildlife

1) We finally saran wrapped the car of the member who toilet papered us, with the help of a couple of really cool other members, Haley and Hanna. And we filled it with balloons. And we wrote all over it with window chalk. >:) Haha it was awesome. And Haley is actually a really good friend of Elder Lambert's. He told me about her before I came here and it was cool to meet her.

2) Why would anyone do this to a perfectly good truck? Can it even drive if you put too much stuff in it?

3-4) A cool sunset.

5) Just to make sure all the wildlife remembers to come to a full and complete stop before entering the intersection.

6) Notice how the porch light is full of what looks like pencil shavings? Well, guess what? Those are actually dead moths. O.o

7) Picture: A member had this at her house. It reminded me of my Grandpa's stories of sending middle schoolers down the road to the grocery store for ridiculous things. Imagine if one had actually come back with a jar of this stuff!


Video 1) Sometimes I bark at dogs for fun.
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Video 2-5) The latest form of missionary entertainment, courtesy of Elder Frederick.

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Monday, August 1, 2016

Family Reunion

Hey folks!

We had a good week this week. Super busy which is always great. We did lots of finding and contacting former investigators and less active members and such and actually had a fair amount of success. We also have a ton of return appointments for this week. It's really cool for Elder Frederick to be here in Melton Lake right now while he's being trained. He gets to experience an area with a lot of work going on and really great ward members. I'll give you some of the highlights from this week.

On Tuesday we were able to meet with Verner, a less active member, again. We are focusing on helping him regain a testimony of Joseph Smith as a prophet of God because that will help him resolve basically all his other concerns. He is really sincere about it although he hasn't read much from the Book of Mormon yet since we have started meeting with him, despite our efforts. Hopefully he'll read this week.

On Wednesday we went on splits with the priests. Well, sort of. We were told that they wanted to go on splits this week, but apparently it was actually supposed to be next week, and they forgot to tell us about the error. But the YM president and one of the priests ended up going with us anyway, bless their hearts. I went with the priest named David and saw Esther. She is doing well, she is on board still with telling her parents but she hasn't really done it yet. She wants to wait until they are through with the stress of moving. Elder Frederick went with the YM president and visited with a less active named Michael we have been working with. We are doing basically the same thing with him as with Verner. He has a lot of real intent so I have high hopes for him.

Thursday we saw Janice, another less active member. She's awesome. She's really down to earth and just a little crass and it's super funny. She's not come to church in decades, but lately she has been making huge progress. And she actually came this week to hear Bishop Tobler speak! It was actually a funny story, her plumbing was having issues and her brother kept telling her to call the Bishop and ask if he knew a good plumber, and she was right in the middle of telling him how she was "NOT going to call Bishop Tobler!" and then as she walked into Firehouse Subs mid-sentence, there was Bishop Tobler standing right there. Long story short he helped her get a plumber and then invited her to church to hear him speak in a few weeks, and to his and our great surprise, she actually came, for the first time in decades! :)

Friday we went up to Rocky Top, TN, which is in the northernmost tip of our area. Yep, you read that right: Rocky Top, TN, just like the song. Although the song actually came first. The town used to be called Lake City just a few years ago, but it was sort of dying, so I guess in some sort of desperate attempt to give it a boost, the people there voted to rename it Rocky Top after the song. We went partly because we just wanted to see what the heck was up there. Well, it was SUPER po-dunk and backwoods and turned into an all-day adventure that didn't yield much fruit. :P But it was really pretty and also a lot of fun. Our GPS took us on all sorts of mountainous backwoods gravel roads way in the heck out in the boonies, and the scenery was so pretty. And we met a guy named Jeff who was hit by a train once. That was fun.

Saturday we met with a lady named Sharon who requested a free Finding Faith in Christ DVD. She talked about the things she has been going through and the reasons she is trying to find greater faith in Christ. We taught her about the Book of Mormon as a way to increase her faith and she promised to read.

Sunday we met with Jonas again, the 17 year old who wants to be baptized. We haven't met with him in almost a month, but he is still on board with his August baptismal date which is great. And we also met a cool less active guy we didn't even know existed - we went to contact someone else at the house and he popped out and talked to us for awhile about how he wants to quit smoking. We talked about the Atonement and how we can have greater access to it through priesthood ordinances like the sacrament. He promised to come to church. It was neat to meet him.

Wow, this is already super long. I'll finish up. But I'm doing well. Training is hard and stressful but also a lot of fun. I know I'm sure learning and growing a lot in the process and I hope and pray that somehow Elder Frederick is too. Haha it's definitely a humbling experience for me.

I'm gonna steal my message from the week from Elder Merrill. Oh - by the way - there was an unexpected early transfer in the mission this week, and Elder Merrill - my trainer - is now in my district!! He's actually my district leader too! It's super cool. He will almost definitely be finishing his mission in the Poplar Creek ward (the other Oak Ridge ward - I am in the Melton Lake ward) and I'm glad I get to be around him one more time before he goes home to Georgia. And it's cool that Elder Frederick gets to be around his mission "grandpa." :)

But yeah. I'm stealing this from him. In our district meeting this week he talked about the "fruit of the gospel" in Lehi's dream and the sweet blessings we enjoy because of the gospel. As missionaries we are focused on sharing that fruit - planting its seeds in the hearts of others. But in order to get to the seeds of most fruit, you have to eat through the outside. His point was that in the midst of everything we are doing as missionaries, if we forget to take time to enjoy the fruit and its sweetness ourselves, we will be denying ourselves blessings and also missing the whole point of the gospel. If we want to get to the heart of the fruit where the seeds are in order to share them, we need to be eating the fruit and enjoying it. The sweetness of the gospel fruit keeps our own testimonies fresh and strong and fills us with a sincere desire to share it. As members of the church and followers of Christ I think we can all apply this truth. In the midst of all the programs and activities and callings and responsibilities and even trials and struggles and issues we face, let's not forget to enjoy the sweetness of the gospel. What is it about the gospel that you enjoy most? What makes you happiest?

I love you all and I hope you make yourselves a great week!

Elder Alex Swindler

Sum Pitchas
1) A picture of me making a normal face. You're welcome, Mom.

2) Heh. Nice.

3) Elder Frederick was tired

4-5) Welcome to Rocky Top


Video) Just a video of us tracting.

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