Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July 21, 2014

Mom, Dad, and Family,

It was so weird to see Sister Robbins and Brooke and Julia last week.  I knew I was going to see them soon, but I didn't know how soon.  And that was way soon.  I was with Elder Depew at our church building to go meet some German exchange students that are here for a month.  There were two outside of the church and so Elder Depew and I started talking to them about the church and the Book of Mormon.  They seemed interested enough and were asking us about missionary work when the Robbins came out.  Julia was hilarious!  She was like "I wanna hug you but I can't.  Can I touch you?  Let's get a picture!"  We talked for a little bit and then they left and I turned back to the exchange students.  One of them said "You guys are famous."  Elder Depew and I started laughing.  But she honestly thought we were celebrities.  So, because of the Robbins, I achieved celebrity status in less than five hours in Upland.  It was pretty sweet.

But then we got to the apartment.  Man...that was a disaster.  Poor Elder Depew, he had lived there for a transfer already and his last companion didn't want to clean the entire time they were there.  So we spent a lot of time cleaning and fixing things.  We even had to fix the AC.  We rearranged everything and threw a whole bunch of junk away and organized and redid the area book.  The area book still needs a lot of work, but it'll get there.  It was nuts.  We've probably spent a solid 10 hours cleaning this week.  But now the apartment looks pretty good.  I'm proud of it.

But the rest of the work is going well, too!  Elder Depew is the bomb.  He's super humble and kind to everyone (we're like total opposites).  I don't think he's ever not picked something good out of everything.  He's like Polyanna...except...he's male.  But it's so awesome being with him.  He's also so willing to work.  He doesn't complain (like I said, we're opposites), and just works.

So we decided to tract our entire area.  It's not very big and we thing we can do it all in this transfer.  And we're instituting the Gandalf principle.  The Gandalf principle was made up by a couple of my Zone Leaders when they were companions.  They were talking about investigators and potential investigators.  But then Elder Simpson was like "But what about the people that are nice to you but tell you they're not interested?  Where do they go in the area book?"  Because you have records for potential investigators and investigators, but not just nice people.  So Elder Ercanbrack and Elder Simpson came up with this idea for the area book.  They never did it, but they decided it would be cool to have a section in the area book for people you tract into that are nice but not interested.  Because there are people all the time that tell us they're not interested but will ask us if we need water.  So they go into this record of people that are nice.  Elder Ercanbrack said "It's kind of like you're Gandalf.  You just kind of wander around, and you know everyone, and everyone knows you, but you aren't really close or anything and you don't really associate with one another except for brief periods of time."  And so Elder Depew and I (since we're tracting our entire area this transfer) are instituting the Gandalf principle so we can keep tract of nice people in Upland.  And if we ever need water or anything, we just stop by one of their houses and ask for a drink--so we can build friendships and what not.  It's super nerdy and crazy hard to update, but it's fun.

Other than that, the missionaries in the past haven't been doing a whole lot of teaching and their teaching has been more like visiting (which is kind of a problem in missionary work) and so we're working on fixing that.  And they were visiting the wrong kinds of people as well.  But that's all changing, and this week we found the first investigator this ward has had in a month.  It was cool.

We went to visit this less active last night.  Elder Depew went off pure inspiration.  And this less active hasn't been home all week long.  Well,  he was last night and everyone was home.  Now the only non-member in the home is his wife.  For the past couple of years, he's been trying to get her to listen to the missionaries.  But she won't because she drinks, drinks coffee, and smokes and she doesn't want to give them up.  But we walked in and sat down and asked if she wanted to join us.  She said not really, but she sat down for a little bit.  We said a prayer, and started talking with her.  We taught her a few points and she left the room.  Later she came back a listened for a few minutes and then left.  Finally she came back and looked at me and said "Here's the deal, friend--because I like you--you come up with something really good and really convincing and I'll sit down and listen to you.  If I like it, I'll keep listening.  If I don't I won't listen to you."  I thought fair enough, you weren't really listening to us in the first place so we don't really have anything to lose.  "But I'm not setting up an appointment."  She said...don't know why that was important, but she said it. "It'll be the challenge of your mission."  "What?  You'll be the challenge of my mission?"  I asked.  "Yes."  She replied.  I looked her square in the eye and with a smile said "Challenge accepted."  We all had a pretty good laugh.  It was fun.

We have lessons set up with four potential investigators this week.  Which is pretty crazy.  We're going to teach some of the German students as well and give them German Books of Mormon.  I'm excited.  It'll be great.  The work is going well.

So there was a promise that was given by Elder Bednar to Missionaries one Christmas in the MTC.  He said that if we read the Book of Mormon with a specific question in mind concerning an attribute of Christ we would like to develop, and we highlight and mark our Book of Mormon with passages that stick out to us and the Spirit prompts us to concerning that attribute; at the end of that read through, if we write a page about what we've learned we'll develop that attribute a lot in our lives.  So I started doing that and it's awesome.  You all should give it a try.

I love and miss you all so much.  Upland is pretty cool.  I'm happy to be here and to work hard.  I pray for you all.

Elder Russell

P.S.  I heard the Robbins family is coming to visit you all.  Tell me all about it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

July 13, 2014

Mom, Dad, and Family,

This week has been a blast.  Quite frankly, the transfer has flown by way too fast.  But if it were going slow, that means it probably wasn't good.  So the fact it went fast is positive.  I don't know if that made any sense.

The Lord blessed us so much (probably too much) this week.  We fulfilled almost all of our goals (which is a rarity...Elder King likes to set high goals--and I like his optimism, it helps me), and we superseded some of them as well.  We found some investigators that really kind of came out of nowhere.

The first one is Randy.  Randy's name isn't really Randy.  It's like Shoiniati (all I really know is it's Thai).  He moved here from Taiwan just about a year ago if I remember correctly, and instantly joined Jehovah Witnesses.  Well, I don't know if he got the memo about not looking at religious propaganda, but he made his way over to and ordered a bible.  So we delivered it and that was how we met.  I'm not sure how exactly it happened because neither one of us could understand each other (my Mandarin is a little rusty) but somehow we set up a return appointment.  Well we got there this week and we helped him order a Mandarin Book of Mormon (which again, I'm not sure how we did it because we changed the website to Mandarin).  Clearly God's hand was in all this.  We taught him the last half of the Restoration and set up another return appointment.  He's really cool and has a lot of faith and knowledge.  He was asking us about the Book of Mormon and was taking notes as we answered his questions.  He probably has the Book of Mormon already and knows more about it than I do.  So that was cool.

The next one we found was also part of a referral.  We got a referral for a less active member in the Spanish ward (which I thought was a little weird, but maybe they thought we had the gift of tongues or something).  She was less active but the rest of the family were non members.  So we took a little bike ride over there and popped in.  Well, Sister Razo was very happy to see us and spoke English (which made it easier for me to translate).  She was expecting us.  Apparently she was the one who sent the referral (which I think is pretty cool, because not a lot of people refer themselves).  Turns out she has a 6yo grandson living with her who has a severe bone disease that could take his life.  It is on the up and up, but they still wanted a blessing.  He has a little sister, an older sister, and his parents with him.  After the blessing, his mom went to work, grandma watched the baby, older sister was on the tablet, and he zoned out.  So we taught his father.  It. Was. Awesome.  This experience has changed his life, humbled him, and made him look to God for help.  He was so invested in the lesson, it was amazing.  All of his questions were honest, all of his answers to ours were sincere and true.  He is just ready.  We're teaching his family when we go over this week.

The last investigator that we found we tracted into (I actually like tracting more than any other missionary I know.  Because it works when my faith is in the right place).  Anyway, this guy opens the door and his name is RoShawn.  It sounds like the last name for a football player who plays for an Eastern college team.  He's tall too.  So he opens the door and we didn't say much but we set up an appointment for Sunday.  Went over, taught him a lesson and he says he wants to read the Book of Mormon.  Pretty sweet stuff.  He's a good guy.  He said things like "Well the church has been corrupted since the renaissance," or "Everybody understands the bible differently, so I don't like the controversy between the churches," or "God would teach in a way we could understand," or "We should go to God for truth."  We're got it pretty right.  It was way good.  We're seeing him this week too.  We have a lot of lessons set up with people this week.  More than we ever have before.

But I got moved today.  I'm now serving in the Upland 5th ward with Elder Depew (It's pronounced duh-pew--which also sounds like a college football player's last name).  He's a way happy guy and loves serving here.  It should be a great transfer.  I'm glad you got the text from Brother Mejia.  He's the bomb diggaty.  One time his wife (a recent convert) took a month to go to Texas.  So he had like nothing to do.  So he'd go for 4 hour splits with us every night.  It was pretty great.  I'm gonna miss that family.

Andrew, one of our less active members, since we started working with him, has been coming to church.  We've taught him just about every lesson there is in Preach My Gospel and he's eaten it up.  He now reads his scriptures, prays, attends church, and is one of the best guys I know.  The Bishop pulled him in a couple of weeks ago and talked to him about going on a mission.  Andrew said he'd pray about it.  Well yesterday he told me he got an answer and he'll turn in his papers as soon as he can.  It blew me away.  I'm gonna miss him too.

The Cortez family is doing pretty well.  John (oldest son) is struggling doing what's right.  Pray for him.  Pray for the whole family, but especially him.  He's a good kid, he just needs help.  That help is with God, but I don't know if he realizes that.

But the new ward I'm serving in is in the Robbins' stake.  I wanted to go to Upland 3rd, but there are Sisters there right now.  One of the Sisters was in my district for the past two transfers.  She's super cool.  Her name is Sister Riley.  Tell the Robbins to treat her well.  We had a lot of fun in Ontario.  Maybe I'll see the Robbins some time, because I think we have Stake Conference coming up here in Upland.  That will be cool.

So there's this missionary I was room mates with last transfer.  His name is Elder Fenn.  He has a lot of talks from General Authorities, and motivational speakers like John Bytheway and Hank Smith (the guy who does the Dos and Don'ts of Dating and Running Down Your Dreams).  Well he was playing this talk by Hank Smith about temptation killers and he was speaking about scriptures.  One of the thoughts he had concerning the scriptures came from Matthew 4--the commencement of the Savior's ministry by way of fasting.

Well in the chapter, as we know, Satan comes to tempt Jesus.  Now the first temptation makes sense; Jesus has been fasting for forty days and is probably hungry (I get hungry after four hours).  So Satan tempts him by saying "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread."  Christ, in his strength of Spirit answers back with scripture and resists.

In the next temptation, Satan and Jesus go up to the top of the temple and Satan says "cast thyself down..."  Now, I've never really been on top of a temple, but to me it would never be tempting to jump off the top of one.  Of course the temptation has to do with misuse of Christ's power and authority and charge over angels to keep him safe.  Nevertheless, Jesus doesn't cave.

Now the last temptation has never really made sense to me.  The Devil takes Jesus to a mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world and says "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me."  To me, that has never made sense.  Christ knows that the kingdoms don't belong to Satan anyway.  They aren't Satan's to give.  So why would it be even remotely close to tempting for the Devil to say that.

But Hank Smith made sense of it for me.  He said "Here's what I think he's really saying.  He saying 'I'll give this all to you.  I won't even try.  I'll stop tempting and creating sin in the world and turn it over to you, if you just give up.  You won't have to perform the atonement.  You won't have to feel pain.  I will give you the world without sin, if you give up and worship me.'"  I thought that was powerful.  I had never thought that that was the true temptation for the Lord.  Not of material possessions or power on earth or position in the world.  But the offer for your adversary to quit, if you give up.  That must have been a struggle.

I think there are a lot of things in our lives that Satan does that with.  "Sin here.  If you sin here, life will be easy for you.  I'll make it easy."  That's probably one of the only reasons sin is enticing after all.  "Keeping commandments is unnecessary.  You don't need that burden.  I'll make it easier for you.  Just give up."  But giving up is a surrendering of agency.  We cannot be happy if we give up.

I love you all and thank you for all of your support and prayers.  They really do work.  I miss you, and pray for you everyday.  Keep living righteously.  Keep the commandments.  I'm excited about my new assignment, but I'll miss my old ward. ;)

Elder Russell

Monday, July 7, 2014

Pics July 7th 2014

July 7, 2014

Mom, Dad, and Family!

Happy 4th July!  Sounds like everything went great!  How were the parades?  I bet Rylie did great at dancing in the Tooele one.  I think last time I was in that parade was almost a decade ago when the homeschoolers in the valley put together a float headed by the Jensen family, I think.  That's pretty much all I remember about it.  Did y'all pick up lots of candy and frisbees?  (I always thought the frisbees were a weird idea...I don't know anyone who eats frisbees.)

The parade down here was pretty fun.  Brother Francis (chiropractic friend to Brother Robbins) is over the YM in the stake and wanted all the scouts to hold all the state flags in the parade.  Unfortunately...we don't have 50 scouts in the stake.  So he asked President Hobbs if our zone could be in the parade.  Lo and behold, the 26 missionaries of the Ontario Zone held state flags in the Ontario 4th of July Parade.  It was pretty cool actually.  I held Oklahoma (there are a lot of Utah missionaries).  But we had a blast!

We had a pretty good day for the rest of the 4th.  We taught a couple lessons, got back to the apartment at 6pm and planned for the upcoming week.  Things went good.  So nah, I didn't see any fireworks.  But we heard them.  They sounded beautiful.

How'd Ricky and Landon do in the talent show?  I mean, I know they were great, but tell me about their perfomances.  Did Robyn perform or was she just dressed up for fun?  If she did...tell me about it! :)  Was the BBQ good?  Did you eat enough for me?  Did you throw any parties and stuff?  How was the rest of the week?

This week was pretty good!  Really good actually.  The Cortez family is doing great.  They're on track for baptism.  Emily left to go to Michigan to visit her dad though and wont be back for a month.  But things are going great.  What's cool is it's actually easier to teach the whole family when we're reading a lot from the Book of Mormon (which makes our job really easy).  We also have recently started working with another less active member who has some pretty rough stuff in his life right now.  His name is Brother Zuniga.  Pray for both him and the Cortez family.

I also went on exchanges for the first time out of my ward.  I went into the Tongan ward with one of my Zone Leaders, Elder Ercanbrack.  Elder Ercanbrack is a new Zone Leader and is an awesome guy.  We found out recently that we also have some mutual friends from Grantsville.  We're pretty good friends, so the exchange went well.  The exchange went really really well.

It was crazy though.  The exchange started with a bad planning session that night.  It was bazaar, because at the time, we both thought our plans were pretty good for the next day.  The next day came and we realized we had forgotten to do almost half of the planning.  We were kind of appalled at ourselves, really.  It's not like either one of us to have a bad planning session.  So we ended up coming back to the house at about 11am and realized we had nothing to do for the next 6hrs.  But Elder Ercanbrack went into the bedroom and said a prayer.  I also said one as well.  He got up and walked over to the study and grabbed a Book of Mormon and said "We're going to place this today."  I thought "Great!  I'm for it." Those next six hours were so slow.  Probably some of the slowest I've had out in the field yet.  I'm talking way too slow.

Finally, dinner came with the Motelau family.  Elder Ercanbrack and I had this awesome dinner message prepared and it was going to be great.  Well...everyone but Cione was gone.  So we ate dinner...with only Cione.  Which was actually okay because he's an awesome kid.  But in the morning,  Elder Ercanbrack and I had set some language goals (because we're both rather sarcastic and casual).  We promised each other that we wouldn't make any casual remarks and that we would be appropriate all day.  But when dinner came, it's like we just forgot everything that we had promised.  We were just joking around and as we became casual, the Spirit left.

When dinner was coming to a close we realized that we still had to share a message, but the Spirit was gone.  We both realized that something had to change.  So we apologized for our language and talked about language.  We pulled out the Missionary handbook and talked to him about the things missionaries should be saying and apologized some more.  We bore testimony about language and how important it is.  Slowly the Spirit started to come back.  After we were done repenting (and there is nothing more humiliating to a missionary than to tell someone else that he had not represented the Savior correctly) and had finished our message, Cione got a little emotional and talked about the struggles he had had with language as well.  He told us some personal stories and said "I feel like my family was supposed to be gone during this dinner.  I feel like that message was specifically just for me.  And I needed to hear it by myself."  It was a really powerful experience and hopefully by the time we left, we had done more right than wrong.  I think the Spirit was there when we left.

We then left to go to our next back up (because our after appointment fell through during dinner) and the family we went to visit was also gone.  We started back to the car, which was parked in front of someone else's house.  Elder Ercanbrack stopped and said "We're parked in front of his house, might as well go knock on his door.  Well, we did.  A man answered and Elder Ercanbrack, holding the Book of Mormon, said "We're missionaries, and we would like to share an important message with you."  The man responded "Don't waste your time." and closed the door.

So onto the next door we went.  No one was home, so we decided to go back to the car and do something Else Elder Ercanbrack had in mind.  On our way back, the Spirit prompted me to go back to the other man's house again.  Obviously the Holy Ghost has a sense of humor.  But I couldn't walk back to the car.  Elder Ercanbrack stopped at the car, but didn't get in as I stood in the driveway.  "If you're getting a prompting, we should follow it."  He told me.  So very slowly, we walked back up to the man's door.  We stood there for a while.  "Just follow the Spirit,"  he said and knocked on the door.  Obviously Elder Ercanbrack also has a sense of humor.  Well the man answered the door again and I'm not 100% sure exactly what was said.  I remember we told him we had an impression to come back to his house.  He wasn't to happy at first.  But he listened as we talked.  We asked him if we could give him the Book of Mormon that Elder Ercanbrack had taken from the house that morning.  He accepted it and by the end of the conversation he shook our hands and said "I'm Jim.  I'm glad you came back."

I don't think I'll ever be able to deny the church is true.  I know it's true too deeply to.  This past week has been a blast and everyday I'm more and more happy I'm a missionary.  I know the church is true.  I know the Book of Mormon is true.  Like, completely.  The scriptures are so important.  I wish I would have read them more and paid more attention to them before I came out on my mission.  I know prayer works, as I see prayers answered everyday.  Always pray.  Read often.  And never miss church.  I love and miss you all.  I pray for you all.  Always, always, strengthen your testimony through reading the scriptures, praying, and attending church to receive revelation.

Elder Russell