Monday, February 24, 2014

February 23, 2014

Mom, Dad, and Family,

Sounds like life is going great back home.  Mom, I hope you get better soon.  I'll keep you in my prayers.  Pulled muscles are way less than stellar.  I haven't received the package yet, but thank you so much for sending it!  It means a lot to me and I'm super excited.  I love you so much!  I'm so happy for Babs!  She's super talented and I wish I could have seen her perform.  Yeah, we were eating at a member's house (my comp, our wardmates and myself) and she said that Pam had told her about me.  So we talked about the family a bit.  It was super cool!  I'll see if I can get president to transfer me to Upland ;)

I want to apologize for the last letter I sent home.  I was super negative and wasn't reflecting on the week with my spiritual eyes (those are like...kind of a big deal).  Truth is, people here rock!  Although I will probably never be converted to the California Climate, the people here really are awesome.  The members pwn and most everyone here is really nice (even street contacting).  Ward council is going great.  There is a lot of progression that needs to be made still, but things are FOR SURE moving forward.  I'm super pumped for this week.  Elder Bringhurst and I made some goals for improving ourselves and we're so stoked.

Finding's been going a lot better.  We teach a lot of active members because they're a huge part in finding and reactivation efforts.  Actually, they're just a big part of everything.  We have been getting a few referrals in the working and a lot of the members are helping us out--which is awesome, because we need a lot of it.  We also have a lesson with an FI family, that puts them at a PI, and hopefully at the end of the lesson they'll be an I family.  They seem ready and open and willing to change, so we're really excited.  Elder Bringhurst and I are really pumped for that lesson.

Church was crazy yesterday.  We got this less active member to come (he hasn't been for about a year), and when we met with him last week he said he was meaning to come recently and he was considering a mission.  He's the nicest guy on the planet and if we can get him active and immersed in the word and in prayer, he will be one of the greatest missionaries on the planet.

During choir practice (before church), we were rehearsing Come Thou Fount.  Now I told Sister Fugate (choir director) that if she wanted a solo I could sing one.  So in the middle of practice she turned and said "I want to do something different with Come Thou Fount.  Elder Russell, I want you to sing the first part of the verse solo, because you told me I could tell you to do that."  ...It wasn't till after practice that I found out we were singing it that day.  I hadn't warmed up, or sang a solo in months; my voice kept cracking in practice; and she still wanted me to do it.  So I all worked out alright.  That was intense though.  I was happy because I got to sing my part without a mic.  I'm a loud singer so I had no problem belting.  With God's help, my voice didn't crack, thankfully (because when my voice cracks, it cracks louder than I sing).

So Carla is kind of settling down, from what we're hearing from her mom.  But she's living with her dad, who doesn't really want anything to do with us.  But she told her mom that she wants to make it back out to church.  So things are starting to look good, if she can make it out.  We're looking to get an appointment through her mom because she really isn't in a spot to contact us.  We're happy things are securing for her though.  Her sister lives with her mom as well and we're trying to get a lesson with her.  She has kids that are way young and make a lot of noise, so she's a little embarrassed.  Little does she know of the noise and ruckus I managed to create and disperse while in the advent of my youth.  So we're going to show a movie to get the kids involved as well.

Rita is doing a lot better.  We hear she's back to work and things are starting to settle in to where we can go see her again.  We have a member who works with her and she's kinda doing our job for us...which makes our job easy.  We spent hours last week getting a Book of Mormon together with references we feel will strengthen her.  ...We're almost done with it.  We have like 60 references.  We're pretty excited to give it to her.  She had a lot happen and we're happy things are looking better.  Hopefully we can get the gospel in her life soon.

The new family we want to teach (we have a lesson with tonight) is a mother, father and 8yo daughter.  We were talking to the mom last night and she said she wants to know more about forgiveness.  Elder Bringhurst and I could hardly contain ourselves.  We taught three lessons that week about the forgiveness aspect of repentance.  We are so excited to teach her and her family tonight.

Other than that, we just have a lot of less actives and recent converts we're working with.  I love that part of the work.  I love all of the work actually.

So what we've been learning about repentance is it's more than a change in behavior.  It's a change in nature.  It's more than just stopping sin.  It's stopping the desire to sin.  Which is awesome, because we can than look at how God sees the repentant.  Mom and dad, you know this, when a kid gets caught redhanded and is sorry because they got caught--you feel frustrated, right?  (Maybe I assume to much).  But the reason being that they didn't learn what they did was wrong, they learned it sucks to get caught.  But when a child feels bad because they realize what they did was wrong, you don't feel angry with them, you feel happy for them (or maybe you were just really nice to me when I felt bad).  That's been my experience in forgiving others as well though.

I imagine when our Father in Heaven sees us repent, truly repent, He is happy for us; because we aren't just changing what we're doing, we're changing who we are.  The commission to forsake the sin, is not in action only, but in our nature.  The people of Benjamin had "no more disposition to do evil," thus being truly repentant.

Now, when we are forgiven of the Lord, we must also forgive ourselves.  Part of forsaking sin is leaving it behind.  If one does not forgive themselves, they are not letting the Atonement take place.  They are resisting grace.  That is not faith in Christ, that is doubt in Christ.  Forgiving ourselves is indeed an act of faith.  If we doubt, the adversary works with us instead.  Don't look for excuses, but when you feel the Spirit work within you again, when you gain confidence while being humble, and when you feel God's forgiveness, leave behind the sin.

The mission is awesome, and I'm happy I'm here.  I know it's where I'm supposed to be and I wouldn't rather be anywhere else.  I love you all and thank you for your prayers, they're needed and I can feel them.  Please pray for Rita, Carla, Andrew, the Bailey family, and the Soliz family.  You're all awesome and a great light in my life.

Elder Russell

Monday, February 17, 2014

Feb. 17, 2014

Mom, Dad, and Family,

This past week has been super rough.  Which is weird, because we taught more lessons this week than we have before.  Our investigators have kind of vanished.  We've lost all contact with Carla.  We don't know if we'll ever end up seeing her again.  We've tried our best to get a hold of her and we can only try for so long before we're completely lost and have exhausted all of our resources.  We hope she'll come back and turn her life around.  Rita's life turned upside down and backwards.  The week we taught her, her stepfather got admitted to the UCLA ICU, ended up with a blood clot in his brain and had a double bypass surgery; he's now in a vegetative state.  He real father got hit by a car...and was also arrested.  Her brothers were both arrested.  She's just been hit with adversity.  I wish we could tell her why without scaring her off.  One of our investigators that wasn't progressing had some weird things happen to her in her dreams that have scared her off from talking to us.  Things are just going wrong for our investigators.  It's super nuts.  Keep the investigators in your prayers.

So, everyone here is Catholic or Born Again.  It's funny because we'll see people and say hi to them on the street, and to try and get us gone they say "I'm Catholic! I'm Catholic!"  It's like...I know...that's why I'm talking to you.  I guess they don't understand what we do.  Things with the ward are going lots better.  Ward council was a success this week and things are progressing.  There is still a lot that needs to be done, but God has blessed us with a lot of progress in the ward.

I felt crazy trunky (the word for missing home) towards the end of the week.  Valentine's night was crazy rough.  None of the couples were interested and all of the single people were working.  Saturday was the hardest though.  Everything we had planned fell through.  We ended up going back to the apartment to look through the directory to find someone to call or someone to visit.  That was when I got your card and package.  It made my day a whole lot easier, knowing I had support.  Thanks so much for that.  It helped a ton.

Even though a lot of the people in my are live in humble circumstances, there is a lot of pride in their hearts.  I was under this impression when I came out that I would run into people all the time that are searching for guidance and truth in their lives.  There is one like that.  I thought I would be finding the "fainting struggling seaman" and I'm sure that person is out there.  There are loads of people struggling out here, but no one is looking for a rescue.  Most reject the offered hand.  We're still looking for the one that is struggling and humble enough to accept the help from the Lord.  But it's really got me thinking this last week.  The gospel isn't just for those who are struggling and looking for help.  It's for everyone.  In Preach My Gospel it talks about those who are kept from the truth because they don't know where to find it.  I've found there might be a lot of those people somewhere else, but there aren't very many in SO CAL.

So it made me wonder.  Why on earth are we teaching in SO CAL?  Clearly they aren't looking for the truth (70% of the ward has it and ignores it anyway).  So why are we giving them something they don't want.  I was actually talking about this with one of my MTC teachers.  I realized it's so easy to teach someone who is having a hard time and is looking for a way out.  But I asked her "How do you teach a happy person?"  She told me something about how everyone has scars that need healing, pain something broken something repentance blah blah blah.  Yeah I understand we all have things we need to repent of.  But the happy person isn't going to see that.  So I came to the conclusion that sometimes the gospel isn't there to just make us feel better. (That's the born again religion).  I realized that no matter what we do here, it's pointless if we're not working towards something greater.  You may be pretty content with who you are, but the fact is, God has something He wants to do with you.  You might live a pretty excellent life.  But in Ether 12, we learn that God has prepared a "more excellent way."  No matter what you do, God's plan for your is always going to be better than yours.  It kind of comes with the whole being God thing.  He's just smarter than you.  So I think it's important to realize the Gospel is here to show us that way.  That helps me when people don't want to change and become better.  It helps me when I don't want to change and become better.  God's ways are better than mine.

Thanks for all you do.  You'll probably get a letter soon asking for the Missionary Reference Library (I thought I'd get it in the MTC.  Guess not).  You are all awesome.  Keep the faith.

Elder Russell

Monday, February 10, 2014

February 10, 2014

Mom, Dad, and Family,

I am healthy now, yes.  Well, okay, not entirely true, I started getting a cough yesterday.  But that's okay.  It was funny, right after I wrote you all last week, the stomach flu kicked in and I was puking the whole day.  It was awesomely miserable.  I ended up taking my comp's entire P-day, so I felt a little bad, but not too much...because he was sick the rest of the week.  We didn't get out to do too much this week because we were so sick.  But we're alright now and this week should be better.

Thanks so much for the prayers about the ward.  They really did help.  We now have good relationships with the EQP, RSP, YMP, WML, the counselors in the bishopric, and even bishop is starting to get along with us.  They're all starting to realize that missionary work is pointless without the ward, and it's also pointless without the missionaries.  Consequently, we are trying to work together.  It's getting better with the ward.

Satan's been working on our investigators like crazy.  We really only have two that are really legit in interest.  We had to drop one this week because she's not progressing, which is super depressing.  But the weirdest things have happened.  The strongest investigator in our area was actually committed to baptism before I got here and right before I got here (just a couple weeks before her baptism) things got really bad.  She got told she was going to get evicted, her living situation was terrible anyway, she was looking for a new place to go and everything just blew up.  We haven't been in close contact in a few weeks, so we had to move her baptismal date and we'll have to reteach some of the lessons.  It was super depressing, but hopefully we'll be able to get back in contact with her.  Her name is Carla.  Our other awesome investigator got sick the day we had a lesson scheduled with her this week AND her dad was admitted to the hospital in LA.  That and she's considering quitting her job.  So the adversary is working hard because this is something she really wants for her family.  Her name is Reeda.  She's super ready and super new to the doctrine.  Pray for them both please.  They really are doing great, they just need the path to be cleared for them.  I wish we had some sort of way of telling investigators that their lives are about to get really hard for a moment without coming across super weird or evil.

I've been thinking a lot about the story in the gospels about the raging tempest after Christ feeds the five thousand and He and His disciples go into a ship and sail across the sea.  I try and put myself in the shoes of the apostles as I think about how they embarked and their leader, the Savior, goes to the bottom of the boat and rests.  I imagine the apostles didn't mind at first as keeping the boat afloat is something they would do for someone they loved so much.  It probably wasn't a big deal at first.  But as the other ships on the sea left to the shore due to the clouds they saw forming overhead, the apostles must have started to worry.  With direction from Jesus to sail to the other side, they couldn't turn back and go back to shore, but continued to sail on into the gathering storm.

As they sail right into the storm, the situation started to get worse.  A tempest includes more than just rain and wind, it includes thunder and lightning.  Reasonably, they started to fear for their lives.  The boat began to take on water and start to sink.  The stranded apostles had nothing they could do.  At this point it was too late to turn back, there was no option to wait out the storm.  If nothing was done, they would all die, and they one who directed them to sail across the sea and into the storm is down below, sleeping.  This could be the end of their lives, which would leave their families helpless.  The fearing, terrified, confused, and maybe frustrated and angry apostles turn to Christ and ask "Master, carest thou not that we perish?" out of desperation.

This is the part that really makes me think.  After they asked that question, I wonder if they forgot who they said that to.  Perhaps they had forgotten that this Man they were sailing with was the very God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.  Perhaps they had forgotten that by His power, the earth was created, the children of Israel were brought through the red sea, the Jaredites were brought to the promised land and countless miracles were brought to pass.  Perhaps they had forgotten that He had stepped down from his throne on high to become a mortal man.  That He began his ministry fighting the same temptations as they do.  Maybe they forgot that just hours before he had fed thousands with only five loaves and two fish.  Perhaps they had forgotten that in just a matter of days, he would suffer all pain, sin, and afflictions that they would ever feel, lose their support while doing it, be betrayed by His own people, the state, and be crucified and die for them.  Perhaps they forgot that after all that would be done, having coming from His throne on high, descending below all things, He would rise again to take place as the Mediator for everything that they had done wrong and make intercession with the Father on their behalf for eternity.

"Master, carest thou not that we perish?" Out of everyone who has, does, or will walk the earth, they ask the Savior if He cares.  There is no one who will ever care more that they perish.  It seems right that Christ then calms the storm and chastises them "Where is your faith?"  Perhaps they had forgotten, and perhaps because they forgot, every scriptural prophet ends his life pleading with us to remember.  Lehi, Nephi, Benjamin, Alma, Heleman, Mormon, Moroni all tell us to remember; because forgetting causes us to lose faith.

Sometimes, we are in a tempest.  Sometimes we feel like we are stranded, taking on water, and are going to sink.  Sometimes we feel like asking if God cares if we perish.  I would challenge you to remain faithful and when those times come remember who is on the boat with you.  Have faith.  For it is by faith that in a similar tempest, Peter was able to brave the storm for a moment and step out of the sinking boat and walk on the turbulent waters.

This church is true.  God is over all and will never let the tempest over take us.  The hardest part about the gospel is enduring to the end.  Everyday reapplying what we know to what we do.  Repenting, becoming clean, trying again, and getting better.  Remember, and never forget that Christ is always with you.  Always.  Thank you for your prayers, they are felt and needed.  Thank you for your influence and examples.  Thank you for being the wonderful parents you are and your testimonies.  Thank you for being the best siblings I could ask for.  Thank you for your support.

Elder Russell

Monday, February 3, 2014

February 3, 2014

Mom and Family,
I miss you all so much it's not even fair.  The work here in Rancho Park, Ontario is a little slow right now.  Although my comp has been here for six weeks and works hard, his last comp wasn't really into the work here because he had been serving in a Tongan ward and didn't really like the change.  On top of that, the companionship before them was super great at teaching and baptizing, but not so much the finding, so they left the place cleaned up...with no one to teach and starting fresh for finding.  In addition, it's super tough to start from scratch for finding because the ward doesn't have the strongest relationship with the missionaries here, so we don't get a lot of referrals.  So the ward is kind of mine and Elder Bringhurst's (my trainer) goal for this transfer, is to build relation with the ward.
Elder Bringhurst is pretty awesome, he's only been out since November, so we're both new and excited to work hard.  He works hard and loves the work and the people.  Oh my gosh he loves the people.  Just everything he says, you can tell the gospel really does make him happy and he wants to share it with others.  I look up to him and have a lot to learn.  He doesn't get mad at me when I do stupid things, which is nice, because I do a lot.  He's a visa waiter and he's actually supposed to be in Brazil, but California's cooler.
So the food was alright in the MTC, but I've been in the field for less than a week and already my urine is a healthier color.  I assume that's a good sign that I'm doing better.  However, I am gaining weight...HA! AND I DON'T EVEN MIND!  It's pretty awesome.  So the whole "eat everything" rule doesn't apply here in the states...and I am so happy.  I gave it a try last night (eating everything) and well...I had a steak, two baked potatoes, three servings of veggies, two bowls of salad, four slices of bread, three plates of spaghetti, and a bowl of ice cream (she just kept bringing out food).  It was delicious, until it came back up on the side of the road on the way back to the apartment.  Yeah, awesome huh?
Anyway, it was day two after getting here when my comp and I were out visiting a PI (potential investigator) and we just went by to set up an appointment to come back and teach a lesson...but we ended up teaching almost all of lesson three (Gospel of Jesus Christ).  She's now an investigator and everything we said she said she was thinking about earlier that day.  It was a miracle.  It was really awesome and she wants us back over to teach the rest of her family.  A very small number "PI"s actually turn into "I"s.  That was awesome.
No one speaks English one.  We were tracting an there was this lady walking down the street.  My comp leaned over to me and was like "Alright, go talk to this lady that speaks absolutely no English."  He was right...she didn't.  We're going to pick up some Spanish materials today as we're out shopping.
Speaking of which, I actually haven't bought the bike yet.  I'm borrowing one and I think I might just buy it.  It needs some repairs but it'll be fine and it's a buttload cheaper than buying a new one.  So I don't think I need any money for it.
Please, please, please, PLEASE give referrals to the missionaries back home and talk to people about the gospel.  Half of our ward are converts and they weren't introduced to the church through the missionaries.  Ward members are more effective in finding than missionaries will ever be.  Non-members, less actives, recent converts, refer the missionaries to all of them.  And please share the gospel.  Ask people if they want to go to church with you.  Nothing bad will happen.  I promise they won't kill you.  I don't know if I could stress this enough.  Members are the way the work moves forward.  You will see the blessings in your life as you share the gospel with everyone.  All of your friends.  The work is amazing and I don't know if you have any idea how much you play a part in it.  I love this gospel and I know you do too, please share it.  Pray for those who don't have it.  Thank you for all you do.  You're amazing.  As you share the gospel with all you meet including (and especially) your friends and loved ones, Elder Ballard promises us that fear will be replaced with faith and confidence in the gospel.

Elder Russell