Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry Christmas!

This week has definitely been memorable.  It started off pretty normal, with work in our area and two exchanges.  We had a wonderful miracle with a part-member family we're teaching, the familia Lopez.  The dad is working on coming back to activity and his three daughters recently moved in with him.  We started teaching the two younger daughters.  On Wednesday we had an awesome appointment with the 20-year-old daughter.  We taught about the Book of Mormon.  It was amazing to see the Spirit teach her about the connection between the Book of Mormon, revelation, and knowing that the Church has been restored.  It all seemed to click for her.  I was on exchanges with a brand-new missionary that doesn't speak much Spanish, but the lesson went just about as perfectly as I could have hoped for.  The Spirit was strong and she accepted the invitation to be baptized on January 20th!  We feel like the Lord has been prompting us to work more with the part-member families in the ward, and in this lesson we saw what I'm sure is part of the reason for those promptings.
The rest of the week was very different from any other week on my mission.  Sister Jensen came back from our second exchange and was basically dead on her feet.  She has been really, really sick.  I don't think I've ever seen anyone as sick as her.  She received doctor's orders to not leave the house until Christmas.  That was on Thursday so we've been inside the house since then.  That's the other reason why this email will be short--we're not supposed to be out for long today.  We haven't been able to do any prostelyting work this week, and we had to skip out on the ward Christmas party and even on church yesterday, but it's still been a good week.  I've had lots of time to think about my purpose, to study the Book of Mormon and to think about the Savior, especially as we're approaching Christmas.  I've had many spiritual experiences this week, for which I am grateful.  I've also been blessed to remain healthy!  Despite spending 24 hours a day in the same room as Sister Jensen, I've come away without illness.  I felt a little sick one morning and started to get a cough, but took a short nap and I feel fine.  Sister Jensen is improving as well, which is an answer to many prayers.
Yesterday we had the sacrament brought to our apartment.  It was probably the most spiritual experience I've had taking the sacrament.  Because it was just us two taking it, it immediately became more personal for me.  The Atonement is so infinite and reaches all of us, but I really felt in that moment as I took the bread and water that the Savior would have still done what He did even if it were only just for me.  It was humbling and a very personal experience with the sacrament that I won't forget. 
Anyway, while it's been hard for both of us to not be able to go out and work in our area or go on exchanges, I think it's renewed our love for the work and the blessing it is to be able to preach the gospel.  This has certainly been a very memorable Christmas as a missionary--not in the way I'd planned it or envisioned it, but in many good ways. :)

zone conference, Elder Packer, and trials of faith

This week was really good, and full of spiritual experiences.  We had our Christmas zone conference, which was absolutely amazing.  I always learn so much from zone conference, but this one was especially significant for me.  We watched a talk given by Elder Holland, probably when Derek was in the MTC.  He talks about the same story of Paul and the apostles that he shared at this past conference, but applied it more forcefully and directly to missionary work.  I'm so inspired by the way he speaks.  I think the source of his ability to be bold and loving at the same time is that the "loving" part comes from his love for the Savior.  I want to be better at that--to say what needs to be said, in the way that the Savior would have me say it.  We also got to have a little fun with a gift exchange at zone conference, just like last year.  The missionaries who are going home this transfer and next gave their testimonies.  I remember that a year ago at the December zone conference I was shocked that they could say that they didn't want to leave their missions, or that time had gone by quickly for them.  This year, I felt I could relate.  Time has gone by way too quickly, and right now my goal is to wear myself to the bone until the end.  I love this work and I love being with missionaries.
So remember how in Derek's last letter, he talked about a mission tour with Elder Packer of the Seventy?  The same Elder Packer spoke in our sacrament meeting this week!  He has great Spanish, so it was perfect.  He talked about the Book of Mormon.  He told the ward that if we want to fill the chapel every week on Sunday, the way to do it is by reading, studying, and pondering the Book of Mormon at home.  There is so much power in the Book of Mormon.  When we really seek to understand the scriptures, they help us to change more than anything else.
This week has been one that's required a lot of faith and endurance in our area...  We also had a couple exchanges that were a little taxing.  On our last exchange this week I felt like I didn't fully fulfil my purpose.  I've had to do a lot of reflecting and repenting this week to find out what I need to do to be better as I work with investigators and as I work in my assignment as sister trainer.  It's been a trial of my faith in the power of revelation.  Sometimes I feel like I have no clue what to do.  While it's not very comfortable to feel that way, I'm grateful to my Heavenly Father for giving me those moments where I have no choice but to turn to Him for revelation and help.  So many times this week I've been put in places where I HAVE TO believe and know that the Lord will intervene and show me what to do.  I've come to understand the doctrine of Christ so much better on my mission, especially lately.  Nothing happens without faith and repentance.  Nothing is satisfying without making and keeping covenants with God.  And the blessings of the Spirit are so essential if we are to make it through to the end.  I'm so grateful for the experiences that are helping me to understand the gospel and help others to understand it and live it as well.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

This week has been pretty intense.  We had three exchanges this week, and it was kind of a wild ride.  This transfer has been so different than other transfers with exchanges.  We have quite a variety of sisters in the mission, with different situations and problems that require different types of attention.  I've sometimes felt like I have no idea what to do or say to help them, but I've really felt the support of the Lord this week.  In some situations I've felt like I've been teaching investigators as I've talked with the sisters.  I've really felt the need to follow the Spirit and understand what the Lord wants these sisters to hear to be able to overcome their problems and answer their questions.  It's been very humbling and has opened my eyes to the importance of doing the Lord's work in the Lord's way, even among His missionaries.
We had a great zone leader council this week.  Since it's the end of the year, we got the opportunity to review the mission's efforts over the past year and think about our baptismal goal for the coming year.  We were discussing our numerical goal together as a council and eventually the time came to decide on what the goal would be.  As we were talking about our mission baptismal goal, I felt very strongly the sacredness of the work that we're doing.  This is the work of salvation, and the goal we set for baptisms represents our vision and efforts to bring souls unto Christ.  As we were about to set the goal, my wonderful companion raised her hand and asked if we could kneel to pray as a group before we set the goal.  She offered the prayer, and I think all of us could feel the strength of the Spirit encouraging us and helping us to see and feel that the Lord is ready for His work to move forward, and that we are to be a part of that work.  It was an incredible experience in seeking revelation and understanding the Lord's will. 
We also got to help a lot with a Relief Society activity this week.  The sisters took bread and a Christmas message around to all the less-active sisters, and then had a posada (basically a Christmas party) on Saturday.  It was great to see the ward get together and be more unified.  And it was also great to see that Latinos know how to party!  :)  I love them and their energy and spirit.  Someday I'll be able to really party with them, but for now I'm content to just watch.
Our area has been struggling a little and our teaching pool is low.  We've been blessed to be able to find more new investigators than usual, but none of them have turned out to be solid.  I feel more motivated than frustrated, which is good.  The Lord is preparing people to receive the gospel.  Like we talked about in zone leader council this week, the Lord is ready to hasten His work, and all we have to do is show Him that we're ready too.  I feel like there's a lot of growing I need to do right now.  I've been working hard, but I need to progress more in my ability to do His work in His way, not just in the way in which I'm used to doing it.  I'm glad to have a great companion who is willing to have that as her goal as well.  Poor Hna. Jensen has been very, very sick this week, but she is a trooper and has continued to put her shoulder to the wheel, even with three exchanges this week.  I'm really grateful for her. Please keep praying for her and her health.  (P.S. I'm doing a lot better and feel almost at 100% again, thankfully!)
I feel immensely blessed to be a part of this work, and all I want to do is to give everything I have to Heavenly Father and the work of salvation.  I think back to the beginning of my mission, a little over a year ago, and how doubtful I was that I should even be on a mission.  At that point, the thought of 17 more months of feeling inadequate and overwhelmed was almost too much for me.   Now I feel like time has passed too quickly.  The Lord has been merciful in helping me change my heart and learn how to submit to His will, and in helping me grow.  I have honestly never felt more satisfied or happy in my entire life.  I feel that like the Savior said, in losing my life for the sake of His gospel, I have saved it (Mark 8:35).  Better said, He has saved it.
Wow, this week was so full of amazing things, all of which were full
of the sweet and the bitter.

First of all, saying goodbye to Hermana Osborn.  WOW.  It was almost
as hard as saying goodbye to all of you when I left home.  She really
has become like a sister to me.  It was so surreal to give her a hug
and see her get on the van to go to Oakland.  I'm glad I'll get to see
her soon.

My new companion is Hermana Jensen!  She's really great, and we get
along just fine as well. :)  She's just an impressive missionary all
along and I feel blessed to be her companion.  I know I'm going to
learn a lot from this experience with her.  I've been so blessed with
my companions on my mission.  I've never had a companion who was
difficult to get along with, which makes things so much easier!

We saw incredible miracles this week.  One miracle happened while I
was on exchanges in my area with Sister Boac.  Our appointment with
our recent convert fell through on Friday, so we went to our back-up
plan.  I was surprised at the back-up I had planned, because
logistically it didn't make a ton of sense, but we decided to go with
the plan we'd set.  We ended up knocking doors in the rain.  We
knocked on the door of Jessenia, a 21-year-old girl.  We started
talking to her and I asked her what was important to her in her life.
She said, "Is that a trick question?" I said no, and she eventually
started opening up and we began to talk about the restored gospel.
After a few minutes, she invited us to come in and talk with her.  We
got to know her a little and started teaching about the restored
gospel.  She told us that she felt something different from us, and
that she was sure that God had sent us to tell her it was time to go
back to Him. We told her about the Book of Mormon and she requested a
copy before we could even offer one to her.  She said that she
couldn't explain what she felt but she knew it was from God. We
invited her to be baptized, and she accepted a baptismal date!  It was
incredible.  The Spirit was so strong and it was all I could do to not
cry.  Within 30 minutes of us knocking on her door, Jessenia showed
incredible faith and accepted the invitation to be baptized.  It was
an experience I will never forget, and it taught me that it truly is
the Spirit that does the work, and that there are people who are ready
to receive the gospel. I think it was a blessing for the sister who
was with me on exchanges as well.  She's had a difficult mission, and
it was a tender mercy to be able to have such an amazing miracle to
build our faith in the Lord and His work.  There will definitely be
opposition in working with Jessenia.  We knocked on her door last
night and her mom answered and told us to get lost because her
daughter wasn't interested, then slammed the door in our face.  We're
praying that Heavenly Father will soften her mom's heart, or at least
strengthen Jessenia's, so she can make the choices she wants to make.

Another miracle is that Liborio (apparently I've been spelling his
name incorrectly all this time) came to church again!  We were
disappointed because he hadn't showed up yet, but he walked in about 5
minutes before sacrament meeting started.  Just like last time, he was
greeted by lots of members and had a great experience.  We'd been
praying all week that he'd be able to come to church, and he did!
He's progressing more and more each time we meet with him.

It's been a little crazy to try and work in our area this week.  It's
been raining like crazy--literally pouring night and day--which makes
it a little difficult to contact people at times.  It's also pretty
fun though. :)  We had Hna. Rodriguez, an elderly sister, come out
with us to visit people a couple nights ago, and she was a trooper,
running through the rain and giggling like a little girl.  It was
memorable!  Unfortunately the rain and cold are not helping me get
over whatever illness I have.  When I wrote last Monday I felt like I
was getting over it, but unfortunately I got the second wave of it the
next day shortly after sending Sister Osborn off.  Sister Jensen is
sick too, poor thing.  But DON'T WORRY--we're being well taken care

It's been a challenge being the senior sister trainer and getting
exchanges all arranged for the transfer.  I've truly felt the help of
the Lord as I've tried to do things that I've felt are way over my
head.  This is pushing me a lot, and making me rely more on Heavenly
Father.  It's definitely humbling, and also wonderful to see how much
help He is giving me to help me overcome my weaknesses.  I feel
blessed to be here, and I know that this work is a sacred work.  I've
felt that reality many times this week.  I don't ever want this to

New transfer

This has been kind of a crazy week. We got to be together in our area the entire week, which is something that rarely happens.  We were really blessed to find new investigators through a lot of different sources, and it felt good to be totally focused on the area together.  We're making another big push with the members to help them be more involved in missionary work, and it's awesome to see them get excited to share the gospel.  It's been such a good week!  I did get a little bit sick on Saturday and had a temperature all yesterday, but I feel a lot better today and this week is going to be great as well.
We were blessed to be able to go to the temple on Tuesday.  Every time I go to the temple, I'm amazed at how close I feel to my Heavenly Father as I'm there.  The connection seems so much closer because of the beautiful environment of the temple.  There are no distractions from the outside world.  I was thinking this week that being on a mission is kind of like being in the temple for 18 to 24 months.  It's a very sacred experience, and we're so blessed to be able to eliminate many of the distractions that sometimes keep us from feeling the Spirit.
We had a good Thanksgiving.  Originally we were a little bit worried because our schedule was almost totally empty.  We were not allowed to tract on Thanksgiving, and many of the members, active and less-active, were out of town (most of them in Utah) for the holiday.  Some wards have a lot of members that can be visited, but we have a very small ward and very few members that live in our area, so we were nervous about not having a very productive day.  We'd been looking for service projects but hadn't had any luck.  We finally decided to just put on our jeans and work gloves and seek out some service.  We ended up at the house of a sister who hasn't been coming to church lately.  We'd been trying to contact her for weeks with no success.  We went and started pulling weeds in her flower beds.  After being there for about 20 minutes, she noticed us and came outside.  She wasn't very warm toward us, but didn't tell us to go away, so we kept working in her yard alone.  We were there for about 2 hours, until we had to leave to go to another appointment.  She came back out as we were leaving and again was not very nice to us, but told us a little about what's going on in her life.  It ended up being a very valuable opportunity to at least have contact with her and help the bishop and relief society president know a little more about how they could help this sister.  It was kind of an odd experience, but taught me that we should serve as the Savior did whether or not that service is appreciated.  I walked away feeling that I had been an instrument in the Lord's hands in a small way, and that is all that I want to feel.
We were finally able to meet with Livorio last night after a whole week of canceled appointments.  The poor man is going crazy with work and some pretty serious issues with his ex-wife and custody over his 10-year-old son.  We talked to him about his baptism and I was touched at the thoughts he shared.  He said that baptism is a serious commitment to God, and that he wants to be ready to keep it for the rest of his life.  He said it was a promise to always keep the commandments, including going to church every single week.  He talked about how he felt at church last week when he came and how he wants to keep going back.  Livorio probably won't be baptized when originally planned, but I know that he understands the covenant and wants to make it.  We'll keep working with him to be able to rely on the Lord to help him through the issues in his personal life and to keep moving towards baptism.  He's so sensitive to the Spirit and it's great to see that he's gaining a personal conviction of the gospel.
Today is my last full day with Sister Osborn. :(  She gets on the transfer van tomorrow morning, and then it will be "hasta luego."  I'm really sad to see her go.  She's been an incredible example to me my whole mission.  She's the only senior companion I've ever had, and I feel so grateful for everything she's taught me.  We've become so close and have been so blessed to be companions for so long.  She's my hermana for life, for sure.  The only bad thing about being so close is that it's really hard to say goodbye.  We've been crying off and on for a couple days now, haha.  I hope you can make it to her homecoming talk!  We've decided our families should be friends. :)
Transfer news came on Saturday night.  I'll be staying in San Mateo as sister trainer, and my new companion will be Hermana Jensen, from Cottonwood Heights!  She went to Brighton and the University of Utah, but I'm sure we'll still be great friends. :)  I've had the chance to go on exchanges once with her, and she's an outstanding missionary, and definitely prepared to be a sister trainer.  I'm excited to be her companion.  We have an exciting transfer ahead of us with lots of new sisters we'll be going on exchanges with.  Arriba y adelante!

Happy Thanksgiving!

This week was really good.  We were blessed to find Livorio, our investigator we lost track of last week.  Sister Osborn and I went to his house once again because we saw his van was there.  We went up to the gate and his 3 dogs started barking at us, as they always do.  He usually is there to put them away and save our ankles from being chewed, but this time he wasn't.  Liviorio knows we're terrified of his dogs and thinks it's hilarious.  We debated the pros and cons of putting our feet through the dog version of a paper shredder, and decided finally that we just had to cowboy up and go knock on his door.  We prayed for the beasts' mouths to be shut, I opened the gate, marched past our snarling furry friends, and knocked on the door.  Livorio opened it, looked at me, and said, "Que valiente!" ("How brave!") Since then we've been able to have consistent contact with him.  He came to church this Sunday for the first time!  It was cool to see him recognize that church really is a place where he can receive answers for his personal questions.  He had a revelatory experience and told our ward mission leader that he'll be coming every week to receive more good teachings. :)  He's still looking great for his baptismal date, and we feel like he's felt the support of the ward and wants to keep moving forward.  It's wonderful to see the Spirit keep working on Livorio.  I was reading his teaching record from when he was an investigator in 2009, and it's astounding to see all of the changes in his life that have prepared him to be at this point and to accept the gospel.  I wish those missionaries who first started teaching him 3 years ago could see the progress he's made in his understanding of the gospel and his willingness to show his faith and live it.  One way or another, all the work that every missionary does is part of God's greater plan for His children.
This week we were also blessed to be able to attend a fireside on member missionary work given by Elder Packer of the Seventy.  He talked about how members can apply the principles of Preach My Gospel.  Preach My Gospel truly is an inspired work.  President Meredith shared a quote from a General Authority (don't remember who) that says, "Preach My Gospel was designed beyond the veil and put together here on earth."  That's very true!  I've seen so many miracles and found so many solutions by reading and applying Preach My Gospel.
I also had a cool experience with teaching a new couple we found.  We taught them the message of the Restoration.  Their kids were making a mess and breaking things, their food was burning on the stove, and everything was super distracted when we started the lesson. The husband was defensive and skeptical at first, but as we started to help them see that the confusion they've felt and the questions they've had about religion could be answered through the Restored gospel, we saw huge changes in them.  The distractions were still there, but the Spirit was cutting through them like a knife. The husband was a different person by the time the lesson ended, and I know there's nothing that could have made that change but the Spirit of God.  It was touching to hear him pray out loud for his family and to see the excitement they had to learn more.  Heavenly Father knows His children and His Spirit is touching their hearts and leading them to the truth in ways that no missionary can understand.  This is His work and I feel so blessed to be a part of it.
I can't think of a subject for this email because this week was full of many varied and unusual experiences.  Sister Osborn asked me this morning what good things I would write about in my email home this week, and I couldn't really label anything from this week as "good" or "bad."  So I guess I'll just tell you what happened!
This week exchanges were a little bit crazy.  I was here in our area with a brand new missionary, and her enthusiasm for being part of the work just blew me, and everyone else, away.  She's a great example of being truly excited to serve the Lord.  My personality might not be as "excitable" as hers, but I definitely learned that I need to always keep in remembrance that there is nothing better than being able to serve the Lord and God's children.  From Wednesday to Thursday I was in the San Francisco Chinese program.  We did a street display in Chinatown for two hours in the wind and rain.  We were trying to spread interest for the English class that the Chinese district uses to find new investigators.  I think I said "Free English class!" in Cantonese about 7,000 times.  I wished I had the ability to actually talk to people instead of just handing them a flyer, but I did what I could when English-speakers passed by.
Friday brought one of the most intense exchanges I've had so far.  There was a lot of disobedience going on with one of the missionaries in the companionship, and President Meredith had asked for our help in investigating the extent of the problem a little bit.  I was here in San Mateo with the companion who was struggling because her companion was being disobedient.  It was heartbreaking to see how much the actions of the other companion were hurting this sister, as well as hurting the members and the sister herself.  I don't think we ever understand the extent of the influence our actions have, good or bad.  It was a blessing to be able to help this sister, who has literally been suffering all transfer.  After we ended the exchange we had a chance to talk with President Meredith about the future of the mission and what changes will be made with the sisters who are coming in.  It's so exciting!  It gives me chills to think about how many good experiences and miracles are in store for the sisters who are coming in and the sisters who will be training.
Sunday was a little disappointing.  We had talked with Livorio the night before church, as well as Sunday morning before church, and he was very solid and was fully planning on arriving at church.  We waited and waited for him, but he never showed up.  Then we went by for our lesson in the evening after church, and he wasn't there.  It was strange because we had driven by his house just 5 minutes before arriving for the lesson, and we saw that his car was in the driveway.  When we got there for the lesson, his car was gone and so was he.  He didn't answer our calls either.  :(  We're not sure what happened, but we're going to do everything we can and trust that the Lord has great things in store for him.  Livorio is a great person and has felt the difference the gospel can make in his life.  We'll keep praying for him and trying to have contact, and in the meantime keep searching for more people who are ready to accept the gospel.
This week has been a week of re-evaluation for me.  Things are still going slow in the area, and I've realized that instead of getting frustrated and just plodding forward, this is an opportunity to re-assess my teaching abilities, my self-discipline, and--most importantly--my personal faith in the Savior and His work.  There's a phrase that a sister in the ward here uses that's going to be my theme for this week: "Arriba y adelante!" ("Upward and onward!")  That's the purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ: to help us not just pass the time here on this earth, but to reach upward toward our potential as sons and daughters of God, and to move onward from the mistakes and weaknesses of the past by utilizing the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  Enduring to the end should be joyful and full of satisfaction, despite trials and disappointments.  As I was reading this morning in Preach My Gospel, I encountered a quote that goes along really well with this:
President James E. Faust taught:
“Hope is the anchor of our souls. . . . Hope is trust in God’s promises, faith that if we act now, the desired blessings will be fulfilled in the future. . . . The unfailing source of our hope is that we are sons and daughters of God and that His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, saved us from death” (“Hope, an Anchor of the Soul,”
Ensign, Nov. 1999, 59–60).
Keep the faith, and keep moving upward and onward!


I feel like there's not much to write about this week.  Like Derek's week last week, it's been kind of a struggle.  We too have had a lot of contacts and investigators that have been avoiding us and canceling appointments.  It's alright though--a trial of faith is always preparation for a miracle, and we're working for and expecting great things in our area this week.
We are teaching a man named Livorio who has been a joy to teach.  He's a very humble man, by nature and because of his experiences.  He's going through a very nasty divorce, but it seems to be producing the change that he needed to be ready to accept the gospel.  He was actually a former investigator years ago, and has gone through several sets of missionaries, but he is in a different situation now and is very humble in learning about the gospel.  He's showing a lot of faith in reading the Book of Mormon and praying very sincerely.  He has a baptismal date for December 2!  We're hoping we can move it up to a little sooner because he's already living the Word of Wisdom.  We're praying he'll be able to come to church and continue preparing himself.
We also had an awesome Zone Leader Council this week.  We got to talk about lots of the things that will be happening as the new missionaries come in.  It's such a blessing to be a part of the process of preparing this mission to receive these powerful missionaries who are ready to come and set the work on fire.  It's astounding to see how so many things came together in this last general conference.  The new systems for youth Sunday School, family history work, and missionary work are all preparation for the big leaps that are about to be made in bringing the gospel to all the world.  There Spirit has been so strong as we've thought about these new missionaries that will come to our mission in the next year or so.  The Lord is preparing His servants to do His work, and they will astonish the world as they carry the gospel throughout the earth.  It gives me chills!  We're going to see an increase of about 70 missionaries in the next short while in this mission.  It's so exciting!
It sounds like you all had a pretty quiet Halloween.  Ours was quiet too.  We actually had to stay inside after 6pm, and we were given a deep-cleaning checklist to complete during our time in the apartment.  It was pretty fun, and very refreshing. :)  It was a little scary at times too (especially when we cleaned under the oven), so we got our Halloween frights in.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tender mercies and trials of faith. And GO GIANTS! :)

Hi everyone. :)
This week has seemed like an eternity, not because it dragged, but because so many things happened.  I feel like I'm a different person from who I was when I wrote last Monday's letter.  Hermana Osborn and I have been through heaven and hell this week, but at the end of it all, I'm almost overwhelmed by how merciful Heavenly Father is, and how aware He is of the finite details of each of our lives.
Nancy was supposed to be baptized yesterday.  Like I wrote last week, she came to church last Sunday and had a great experience.  The next day, however, we saw a decline in her confidence about her decision to be baptized.  After meeting with her she admitted that she had some doubts about some of the commandments.  We helped her talk through her concerns and then talked about the doctrines of the commandments and the importance of the Savior.  All through the week we met with her daily to help her feel prepared to be baptized.  We rescheduled her baptismal interview and moved her baptismal date because we wanted to make sure she felt comfortable about taking the step of being baptized.  Hermana Osborn and I fasted for her on Wednesday.  By the time Wednesday night rolled around, she'd stopped reading the Book of Mormon and wasn't receptive in the lessons.  She got defensive and started to close off.  On Friday, we went by her house for a lesson.  We were waiting outside because we didn't see her car there.  We called her twice and she didn't pick up.  We texted her to let her know we were waiting for her, and she texted us back telling us that she couldn't make it and there was something she'd left for us.  I ran up to the door and saw a bag hanging there.  In it there was her Book of Mormon, all of the pamphlets and cards we'd given her, her gospel principles manual, a letter, and a manila folder full of paper.  We drove away, pulled over, and read her letter.  She said lots of things that didn't even sound like her and told us she couldn't continue meeting with us.  She asked us to never communicate with her again.  I opened the manila folder she'd left and within reading one sentence off of the first page it was apparent that the folder contained about 25 pages of anti-Mormon literature that she'd printed off the internet.  The Spirit immediately left and we locked the folder in the trunk. We didn't read any of it because it was so apparent that it was absolute poison.
We're really disappointed, of course, that all of this happened, but there's really nothing we can do.  She made the choice to distance herself from the Spirit by stopping her study of the scriptures and looking elsewhere for other sources.  It was a struggle at first, just thinking about how quickly her testimony got shaken and how sad it is that she made the choice to walk away from something that she knew was good. It's very startling to think about the difference between the happiness we felt just a couple weeks ago at the Oakland Temple when we went with her and the sadness we felt as we read the letter and realized that she had decided not to go with what she had found out for herself was true.  Regardless of her choices, I know that Nancy is a beloved daughter of God and that He will of course continue to take care of her.  It's just sad to see her distance herself from the gospel with the choices that she's made.
Even though Nancy was not baptized as planned this week, we've seen an amazing outpouring of tender mercies.  Before all this happened, we had canceled the exchange we would have originally gone on just a couple hours after finding the letter.  It was a blessing to be together and have the support from each other.  This week as I've prayed for understanding and for the faith to move forward, I've felt closer to my Heavenly Father than I ever have before.  I've received confirmation of the things that I felt as I was preparing to go on my mission--that this is the most important thing I can be doing right now and that the Savior is aware of my mission, and that the gospel is absolutely true.  I've realized that no matter what choices others make, I will never be able to deny the many blessings I have received from the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and from being in His church.  This experience has strengthened my testimony that this gospel is absolutely true, and that this church is the church of Jesus Christ.  That knowledge is something I have gained for myself, and it can't be taken away.  I feel a stronger desire to share these blessings with my brothers and sisters.  I can't deny the changes I've seen in myself and in others through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  The gospel of Jesus Christ and the Plan of Salvation are real!
We had another fun tender mercy of being able to go do a service project in Half Moon Bay on Saturday, right after all this happened with Nancy.  We got permission to go with the Daly City ward and our ward to do a beach clean-up.  There was a SHIPWRECK on a beach and we got to help the other volunteers who were there. Apparently the captain, a tuna fisherman from New Zealand, had fallen asleep at the helm and crashed into some rocks on the coast.  He was there at the cleanup and we got to meet him!  We made a giant human chain and carried the pieces of the broken boat across the beach and up a big hill.  It was really strenuous work, but exactly what I needed, physically and spiritually, to recuperate from the other events of this weekend.  Hermana Osborn and I are both super sore now, but it was totally worth it, and such a unique experience!  As missionaries we're not usually allowed to visit the beach, but this was a fun and memorable exception. :)  I don't have any pictures of it but I'll try and get some from Hna Osborn.
Also, last night, in the exact minute we left our last appointment of the night, fireworks started going off all around the city.  Apparently the Giants won the World Series!  Everyone was cheering and setting off firecrackers and pretty big fireworks.  People were driving around honking their horns for a good couple hours after the fact.  How cool!  It was pretty fun to feel so connected to the place where I'm serving my mission.  I think I can call myself a Giants fan now, since I've spent the most important year of my life here in this area.  And I don't even like baseball! :)  Today we're going to the city to buy some San Francisco Giants merchandise. :)  We've got to take home at least some memorabilia.
All in all, this was a crazy week.  It was exhausting, but so good and a week I will never forget.  I feel like a different person, and I'm excited to find and teach those that the Lord is preparing to accept the gospel.  Sometimes things don't turn out how we expect them to, but I know that the plan of God is perfect and that in His love for us, He lets us experience the things that will bring us closer to Christ.  I love you all!  Thank you for your love, support, and your faithfulness in the gospel.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Can't believe it... another week gone

This week was really great.  It involved a few days that seemed slow and frustrating at times, but overall I can't believe how quickly it's gone by.
This week we were really blessed to have Nancy be able to come to church.  She hasn't been able to because of her job, even though she's wanted to be there, but this week she was able to come to all three hours of block time!  She's doing super well and is learning the gospel so quickly.  We've been going over the plan of salvation with her again and it's so wonderful to see her understand and apply all of the doctrines so well.  She's been a little down because her family still doesn't support her investigating the church.  She's very decided on being baptized, but hasn't invited her family to her baptismal service yet because she doesn't think they'll react supportively.  This week at church a sister who served here earlier this year happened to be there visiting.  She has an amazing conversion story.  She was kicked out of her house at age 18 for deciding to be baptized and during her whole mission never had any communication from her family because they didn't support her decision to be a member of the church.  She was able to share some of her story and testimony with Nancy, which was a huge blessing and hopefully will help Nancy have the strength and the faith to move forward.
I feel so blessed to have been given the opportunity to grow up in an environment that has been centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I've never felt alone in my decision to live the gospel and I've never felt alone in my decision to serve a mission.  Of course Heavenly Father supports those things and is literally beside each of His children as they strive to live the gospel, but it's been such an amazing blessing to have my family on earth support me too. There are so many people who don't have that, and I hope I never take that blessing for granted in my own life.
This week at church we also had a recent convert who has been slowly slipping into inactivity, David, come to church as well!  He hasn't been to church the whole time I've been here--so over 3 months.  It was a relief for us, especially for Sister Osborn, who found him and taught him from the beginning, to see him come to church and immediately be welcomed by the ward.  The YSA swarmed him right away, which was a great sight to see.
I had a cool experience on exchanges with Sister Bram, my old companion, in Daly City.  That day all of their appointments had canceled before I got there, so we had what was going to be a very long and disappointing day ahead of us.  But Hermana Bram is such a positive person, and the Lord is so merciful to us, that we somehow got put in the right place at the right time all night long and all day the next day.  We thought we'd have zero lessons during our 24 hours together, but we ended up having 5 lessons, which is a lot for such a short amount of time, especially in that area.  It was a lesson in having faith that the Lord will let us fulfill our purpose as long as we're patient and diligent in working as hard as we can and following the Spirit. :)
Anyway, that's about it.  I hope you all have a fantastic week with lots of good experiences.  I love you all!  Stay safe and healthy.  I can't believe it's almost been a year!  My mission birthday is coming up....  Wear mourning clothes in my honor.  :/

Wow. I am going to kill Sister Osborn.

This week was full of surprises.  Like Derek, we had transfers this week.  Sister Osborn and I were anxious all week long because we didn't know if she would be released as sister trainer and transferred or not.  We thought it would be impossible that she'd stay another transfer, since she's already been here for 6 transfers as sister trainer and we'd had a total of 4 transfers together.  But apparently she's supposed to be with me in San Mateo as sister trainer, because she's staying for one more transfer!  That's where the title of this email comes from--I will be her last companion before she goes home on Nov 28th.  I get to kill my trainer... in my 9th transfer!  That's pretty much unheard of.  We're both very happy and excited for this transfer.  I love Sister Osborn and I'm so grateful that I've had her as my example literally from day one.
I have to tell you more about Nancy.  We had an amazing week with her.  We went to the Visitor's Center this weekend and it was an awesome experience.  I'm just blown away at how faithful she is at recognizing and following the Spirit.  She recognizes the difference that the Spirit makes in her life, and she's doing everything she needs to be doing to prepare for baptism.  It's so amazing!  This week we had a lesson with her and she shared some interesting things with us about how the Lord has prepared her to accept the gospel.  She said that for a long time, before she even met missionaries, her family would always tease her for dressing modestly and not drinking alcohol.  They would tell her, "You might as well be a Mormon--you live like one!"  She also said that she had a couple of good friends that she loved being around, and eventually found out that they were Mormon as well.  When she first met Sister Osborn in the street, she loved the way she felt when she was talking to her, and didn't even realize she had talked to Mormon missionaries until she got home and read the pamphlet about the Restoration.  It's so amazing to see how many small things have helped her to be open to and prepared to receive the gospel.  AND, get this.... last year, she randomly bought her nephews BYU SHIRTS.  I know, right???  We couldn't believe it!  Haha, it was actually really funny.  Sister Osborn and I were elated.  Her family was like, "Why did you buy them BYU shirts?  Well, at least they have a good basketball team."  Hahahaha,  :D  She showed us a picture of her nephew in his Cougars garb.  We were so proud. :)  Anyway, I've been amazed at how prepared Nancy is, in so many ways.  We went over the baptismal interview questions with her and found her to be so faithful and so ready for taking the step of baptism.  Her heart and desires are in the right place, and she's gained a testimony through the witness of the Spirit as she's read the Book of Mormon.  It's absolutely amazing, and teaching her has been an experience that has strengthened my faith that the Lord is preparing people everywhere to receive the gospel. Thank goodness her Mormon friends were good examples and had the Spirit with them so she could see and feel the difference!
This week we also had interviews with President Meredith.  I love talking with him.  His leadership style is very much based on receiving revelation WITH people, not just for people, in his stewardship.  It was a great experience to talk with him about the needs of the mission and the needs of the sisters in the mission.  I'll be forever grateful to have been called to this mission at this time so I could be with President Meredith, and also with President Wade.  I've learned so much and I've been so amazed to see how the Spirit really is the one guiding this work, because it is the work of the Lord.  And just like it says in Jacob 5, which I read this morning, as we labor diligently in His work, we shall have "joy with [Him] because of the fruit of [His] vineyard."  I feel so blessed to be here and to see the many miracles and gifts of the Spirit daily.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What a week!

HIIIIIII!  Wow, so much craziness this week, right?  I was blown away by the announcement on missionaries being able to leave at a younger age.  Like Elder Holland said in the press conference, the work is hastening, and I'm so excited for so many more missionaries to be able to serve in this great work!  It's the Lord's work, and He obviously has great plans for it to move forward with greater speed and an even larger army.  It was cool to be in a chapel full of missionaries when that was announced.  The only two places I can think of that would have been more exciting to be in are the MTC and the basement at 1692 E. 6765 S. :)  The first person I thought of when the announcement was out was of course Rachel.  I'm excited to see what the future will bring. :)
We had a week truly full of miracles this week.  A lot of them happened last night and are thus fresh on my mind.
We have a recent convert here, David, who has been slipping away little by little.  He had to start working on Sundays right before I got to the area, and things have gone downhill from there.  I can't imagine how difficult or testing it must be to be a brand-new member of the church, especially at age 21.  He's struggled somewhat, and we've been trying desperately to meet with him and also to have him more connected with the ward.  We've been very scared that he's going to slip further and further into old habits.  After two canceled appointments this week, we were finally able to have a lesson with him in our bishop's house.  It was a miraculous 30 minute lesson where we shared some of the things we'd learned as we thought about him during General Conference.  The spirit was so strong and we could feel Heavenly Father's love for David so potently as we talked about the Doctrine of Christ and the Plan of Salvation.  It was a huge blessing to be able to see Bishop Jacobson working under the mantle of his calling as he talked with David.  We're feeling so much relief after this lesson that we've been trying for weeks to have.  Heavenly Father is aware of each of us in our individual struggles and He works things out perfectly for us to be in the right places at the right time.
Another miracle happened with Nancy, our investigator who was preparing to be baptized on the 21st, this week.  On Friday night, we got a very long text from her saying that she couldn't be baptized and she wasn't ready to make the change, and basically that she didn't want us to waste our time meeting with her anymore.  It came completely out of nowhere, and after a series of nearly "perfect" lessons with her.  We were quite shocked and asked if we could meet with her to talk more.  She agreed, and last night we met with her.  This whole experience made me realize that I need to pay more attention to peoples' needs.  Nancy was probably harboring all of those fears for a long time, despite her being very faithful and very prepared to accept the gospel, and I wasn't paying enough attention to recognize that she needed to talk more openly with us!  Leading up to the lesson, we weren't sure what we would do or say, but we spent all of General Conference prayerfully looking for things that could help us understand how to help her and how to approach this lesson.  When we went into the lesson, we felt we just needed to ask questions that would help her express herself, and then listen.  She expressed a lot of doubts and fears and confusion, but also a sincere desire to know for herself that this is what God wants for her.  The Spirit was so strong in this lesson with her, especially when a member of the ward shared about how she had come to know that this is Christ's restored church.  Nancy told us, "I just need to pray and ask Him!"  It was awesome to see her make the connection between her faith, her desire to know, and the need to seek revelation through prayer.  The Spirit was the teacher, and it felt so good to be an instrument in the Lord's hands.  I'm also so grateful for Sister Osborn and her sensitivity to the Spirit.
Overall, the thing that has been the biggest miracle this week is the power of revelation.  Sister Osborn and I decided that we would focus on David and Nancy during general conference and seek out the answers and inspiration that they need to be able to progress.  We also both went with our own personal questions and needs.  As I am every conference, I was amazed to see how the Spirit teaches us through the words of the Lord's servants.  This conference was especially powerful as I tried to focus on the needs of others within my stewardship, and on receiving the direction I need to magnify my calling.  Every day I realize more and more that this calling is so much bigger than I am, and that I'm so inadequate in so many ways--therefore it is impossible to do it without the guidance of the Spirit.  This weekend was an amazing blessing and I really feel that the heavens were opened in many ways for me personally, and for the people we're teaching.  I know that our Heavenly Father is aware of our individual needs and hears our individual prayers, on our own behalf and on behalf of others.

A week full of spiritual (and Tongan) feasts

Like Derek said about his last week, this week was jam-packed with so many things, I almost can't believe it all fit into one week.
Nancy is doing great!  We had a lesson with her on Monday about the 10 commandments, and all on her own she came to the conclusion that we shouldn't pray in front of a crucifix or work on the Sabbath.  She's so prepared and understands the principles behind all of the commandments so easily, and then accepts them with a lot of faith and a willing heart.  She's very solid for her baptismal date of October 21st.  She's already very committed to not working on Sundays and she's in a position where she'll be able to ensure that she has Sundays off, starting in a couple weeks.  It's such a blessing to be able to share the gospel with her and see the very sincere faith that she's showing as she accepts it.  Thank you for all of your prayers in her behalf!  I've felt a little disappionted because I haven't been able to teach Nancy very many times up to this point since I've been out of the area on exchanges for the majority of her lessons.  It wasn't planned that way, but it just happened to work out like that.  I might have even been feeling a little jealous that I couldn't be there to have spiritual experiences with her and Sis. Osborn and the members during the lessons.  But the great thing is that even if I can't be there for every lesson, we still get to be a part of each others' lives and the work I'm doing outside of the area is still the same beautiful work.  There are always different things we sometimes have to give up, even if they're good things, as part of serving, and I need to learn to appreciate all of the opportunities and blessings that I have, and not focus on the things I'm "missing out" on.
We also got to go to the temple this week!  It was so wonderful to go back to the temple and realize the bigger "whys" of the gospel.  Everything we do in the church leads us to the temple and the beautiful promises and blessings we receive as we make covenants there, and I think that was made more clear to me this time as we went to the temple.  It was interesting to me that even though I wasn't there with any of my family members in the temple, I felt close to each of you, and even to our family members who are on the other side of the veil, as I thought about the gospel and the plan that Heavenly Father has given us, and the covenants that literally bind us together.  There is no greater blessing than having those eternal ties.  Our bishop talked about the temple in the 5th Sunday class yesterday, and how those covenants and ordinances should change the way we see and do everything.  Thinking about those blessings and promises makes everything we do have so much more significance, even things like going to work or doing the laundry.  Even day-to-day temporal activities help us to be able to focus on acheiving our eternal spiritual goal of being together as a family forever.  The gospel is true, and the covenants we can make with Heavenly Father change EVERYTHING.  I want to understand that better in my life and be a better teacher as I talk about covenants with those we visit.  There's no greater joy than drawing closer to Heavenly Father and leaving the rest of it behind.
On Wednesday I got to go to the Tongan program on exchanges!  It was pretty awesome. :)  I thought people were exaggerating when they talked about how much food they give you... they weren't exaggerating.  I went to a missionary correlation meeting with the ward, and after the meeting they had a "snack."  On my plate, they put a giant chunk of pie probably 8 inches long, two chicken salad sandwiches on French bread, and 8 or 9 scones.  Then they gave me a big glass of Otai (look it up and make it!  It's soooo good!) and sent us out the door so we could eat our "snack."  My companion that day said, "oh good, they're giving us light food!"  Wow!  Another thing that was amazing and not exaggerated is the singing of the Tongan members.  WOW.  Even in the lessons we taught in members' homes, the harmonies and their beautiful voices floored me.  I almost started crying during the opening song at correlation meeting.  So awesome!  And it just comes out naturally!  Amazing!
We also got to watch the Relief Society broadcast on Saturday.  It was so great!  It's like a sneak-peek of General Conference.  I loved hearing the sisters talk so earnestly and sincerely about the power of the Atonement.  I realized that I need to do more to help others feel of the depth of the power of the Atonement, whether I'm teaching someone who's been a member for 30 years or someone who's talking to missionaries for the very first time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Went to the Philippines and China!

This week has been super weird.  I feel like there's nothing special to report and also a million things to report.
In our area we're at the point where we're going to have to drop quite a few investigators.  They're just not progressing and they're not seeking to be converted to the gospel.  Sister Osborn and I have been feeling a little weighed down this past week, and we realized this weekend it's because we need to stop teaching a lot of the people that we're teaching right now.  They're all at the point where we could kind of push them or persuade them into baptism, but it wouldn't be right and we wouldn't be fulfilling our purpose.  We're seeking for conversion, like Derek said, and it has to be their choice.
Our shining star right now is Nancy.  She was a little discouraged last week because her family doesn't support her, but at our last meeting with her she was once again excited about the gospel and willing to keep preparing to be baptized on Oct. 14.  Her barrier is still church attendance--she was willing to make the 50 minute drive to the chapel in the middle of her work day to be able to attend, but other things got in her way.  She can make it, we know it! It will take faith and prayers and probably some sacrifice, and maybe some waiting, but she has a sincere desire and we feel very confident that she will be baptized.
This week I went to the Tagalog program and the Chinese program.  It's so interesing to go and "visit" different cultures.  I feel blessed to be able to get to know the sisters, but also to appreciate different cultures more.  It's amazing how we can feel instant love for people when we're trying, like Derek said, to see them as Heavenly Father sees them.  There are no barriers of culture for the Spirit or for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We also had a fun experience with the young women this week.  They invited us to have an "open forum" about what it's like to be a missionary.  It was interesting to be there with the girls and then with their leaders, almost all of whom were returned sister missionaries.  I LOVE talking about my mission and missionary work.  I feel so blessed to be here and it's hard for me to believe there was a time when I didn't want to go on a mission or when I was reluctant about it.  It's made me appreciate everything so much more--my family, the gospel, the scriptures, the plan of salvation, the commandments, my education, the privilege of being born in the U.S., Spanish, my health, everything!  It doesn't feel like a sacrifice at all because the happiness of serving in the Lord's vineyard is the greatest blessing there is.  The gospel is true and Jesus Christ really is our Savior!  I feel it more deeply every day.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Fiesta Latina, baptism, and investigators!


This week was extremely FULL.  It was really fun, really busy, really spiritual, and at times really difficult.  But I wouldn't have it any other way!  One of the things that's been a huge blessing is to know that each day as a missionary is full of the things that matter most.  At times it can be easy to forget that and focus on details that don't really matter, but this week was a good reminder of why all of this is happening--for the progression and salvation of God's children!

Last night there was a baptism in the ward for an investigator the elders were teaching and a little 8-year-old from a part-member family that Hna Osborn and I teach every week.  Both stories are very touching.  After the baptism, the convert shared about how the elders had knocked on her door at just the right moment in her life, and how their invitations for her to pray to her Heavenly Father changed everything.  She thanked them for searching for the right words to say to her to help her accept the gospel.  It's always humbling to hear someone express their feelings about how the gospel has changed their lives.  The dad who baptized his little girl also shared his testimony.  A year ago he was addicted to alcohol and receiving multiple DUIs.  He had fallen away from the church for over 20 years, and just recently came back and received the Melchizedek priesthood.  He bore the most humble testimony of the Atonement I've ever heard as he talked about how blessed he felt to be worthy again to perform his daughter's baptism.  I had to get up and lead the closing hymn at the end of the meeting and couldn't help but cry as we sang "Senor, Te necesito" ("I Need Thee Every Hour") and I thought about the power of repentance, both in this brother's life and in the life of the sister who was taught by the elders.  It was kind of embarrassing to cry in front of a congregation, but the Spirit was stronger than I was. :)

We've been extremely blessed this week with our investigators.  We're teaching a woman named Nancy that just amazes me with how readily she accepts the gospel and how prepared she is.  She accepted a baptismal date right away, was already living the word of wisdom before she even knew about it, and came to her own conclusion that working on the Sabbath is not right.  We left her a chapter in the Book of Mormon as a reading assignment and when I asked her what her experience was like, she told me she'd read it 4 times just to make sure she understood!  In the first prayer we ever heard her say, she thanked Heavenly Father for helping her to find the right religion.  Amazing!  She also came to sacrament meeting this week and loved it.  She's truly amazing and understands the gospel so quickly and readily.  It's a reminder to me that as we teach people about the gospel, we're really just reminding them of things that they already learned in the pre-mortal life.  Her only barrier right now is church attendance because she works on Sundays, but she's already working on changing it.  We're excited to see her continue to progress!

I also had an amazing experience with one of our investigators, Leslie.  We were teaching her about obedience and the Atonement.  She opened up and told us about some mistakes she'd made in her past and talked about her desire to repent.  Instantly my love for her grew dramatically.  It's so hard to watch people struggle with a lot of the pain that's entered into their lives because of their mistakes and the mistakes of others in their lives, but it's so wonderful to see them realize that there is hope through the Atonement and Gospel of Jesus Christ.  President Holland once spoke about how we need to go with people into the "highways and byways" of their lives to understand them, and then take them to the Sacred Grove and Gethsemane to help them see how the gospel can help them.  I feel like this experience was one of those in which that happened, and it strengthened my testimony of the Savior's power of deliverance.

On a more lighthearted note, this weekend we had a giant Latino cultural festival in the ward.  The sisters from all different countries shared dances and food from their countries.  It was so great and I realized how attached I've become to the Hispanic culture, even though I'm still in the U.S. :)  It was sad when after the "party" they turned on the dance music and started the REAL Hispanic party and we had to leave.  Haha. :D  I'm hoping that their rhythm will rub off on me and I'll be a better dancer when I finish the mission and am allowed to dance again.

Anyway, I hope you all had a good week and that this week will be even better.  Stay tuned for more adventures from the Chinese program and the Tagalog program in next week's letter!  I love you all!

Another week already!

Hola familia.  This mission time-warp thing is getting out of hand.... I feel like this week absolutely flew by, but at the same time, what happened at the beginning of this week seems like it was in another lifetime.  It makes my brain hurt sometimes to think about how time passes on the mission.
On Monday for a zone activity we went to Alcatraz!  It was pretty cool.  They have a self-guided audio tour through the jail and the grounds.  It's kind of funny--trips to Alcatraz are approved by the mission, even though it involved breaking all of the rules (riding on a boat, wearing headphones, watching Discovery Channel, etc.).  It was fun!  I'd recommend it for the family (but after I get home from my mission!).
Thursday morning was zone leader council for us too.  Like Elder Croft said, zone leader council is awesome.  It's always really interesting to see how the Lord blesses us with different types of inspiration as we discuss the doctrines and principles that we'll apply to our calling as leaders, and then to see how He guides us in adapting those things to different needs.  President Meredith is doing us a great favor in teaching us to sit in council like the apostles do, basing ourselves in the doctrines and principles and then applying them according to inspiration and the specific plans we make.  We discussed a lot about how we can work better with our members and encourage the missionaries to seek revelation as they do so.  Sometimes we get caught up in the to-do list and we forget that this is a revelatory work that we're doing.
We went on two exchanges this week.  We're trying to front-load the transfer with exchanges, so that's 2 of 12 done.  I love going on exchanges with the sisters.  I always learn a lot from them.  It's something that's really pushing me though, to offer feedback in a way that's kind and loving, but also addresses the problem directly.  I know that's an important thing to learn, but it's definitely not easy!
Our teaching pool is a little crazy right now.  Christian, the kid who told us he believes in aliens, was going to come to church but canceled.  We had an awesome lesson with Osvaldo, another teenager we're teaching, and were waiting for him at church, but he didn't come either.  We were also expecting Leslie, Flor's cousin, but she didn't come either.  It was disappointing to not have anyone come, but we feel like this will be an opportunity for us to be able to distinguish where we need to be focusing our teaching, and with whom we should be spending our time.
Sister Osborn and I both spoke in church on Sunday.  It was a good experience and I appreciated the opportunity, although it's always super odd to hear my voice speaking Spanish over the microphone.  Sister Osborn did a great job.  This was actually her first talk in sacrament meeting as a missionary, even though she's near the end of her mission!
This week we learned a great lesson about setting goals.  This week we'd set a goal to teach a certain number of lessons.  In this mission, and especially in this area, one of our struggles is teaching enough lessons.  There are a lot of reasons why it's difficult to teach a lot of lessons every week, but this week we decided we would do absolutely everything we could to reach the standard of excellence that Elder Perry set when he came in March.  We set the goal, prayed like crazy, worked like crazy, and last night as we were totaling our lessons, we were shocked to see that we'd somehow reached our goal.  The math almost didn't make sense, and we didn't even realize that we'd reached the goal until our district leader said something.  It taught me that I need to have more faith to work toward a goal and prayerfully invite the Lord's help as I work.  It's something I'll be applying more, for sure!

New transfer!

Hola familia!
This letter might be a little shorter because we're going to ALCATRAZ today! Wooooo!
So we got transfer calls this Saturday. And, wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, Sister Osborn and I are staying together in our area!  We almost can't believe it.  It was a huge blessing to get to be her companion for one more transfer when we first got put together as sister trainers, and it's almost ridiculous that we get another one!  We're both very happy. :) We really feel like this transfer is going to be full of amazing things.  There is so much potential in our area right now, it's amazing.
So this week I fulfilled one of my dreams as a missionary.  I painted someone's living room!  And we painted it GREEN!  We have some investigators that are really stellar.  Leslie, the aunt, and her 2 nephews, Michael and Jesus, all came to church for the second time this week.  Flor, the mom, is also wonderful.  We know that this family will be able to accept the gospel.  They're extremely humble and they're looking for the truth together.  Flor's problem right now is that she's completely overwhelmed with work and taking care of her 3 kids on her own.  She has so many things on her plate right now that she feels like she can't concentrate on the gospel.  We're trying to help her see that learning about the gospel isn't just an obligation or another thing to put on her to-do list, but that it's the thing that will lift her burdens in other areas in her life.  But we also want to be there to help out physically and serve in every way we can, so this weekend we helped her clean the house and paint her living room.  It was really fun, and then she fed us Peruvian food. :)  It's interesting to see how people trust the missionaries so quickly.  She lets us come into her home and help her out and trusts us as if she's known us for years.  I guess that's another evidence of the reality of our calling as servants of the Lord.  People can feel that what we're doing and who we represent is something they can trust.
We had an interesting experience with a new 15-year-old investigator named Cristian last night.  The first time we met him and his dad, this kid told us he had a "strong belief in aliens" and that he was "kind of" an atheist. A little weird, no?  We went back for an appointment last night and he told us that he believed that God is our Heavenly Father.  He even prayed at the end of the lesson and it was really sincere.  This all came from reading the pamphlet on the message of the Restoration.  We're not sure what to think about that dramatic of a change in so short of a time, but we invited him to be baptized and he accepted, so the baptism is planned for the end of September.  We really never know what will happen or how the Spirit will help people to change, but miracles occur!
This week we had lots of cool experiences and neat opportunities (that just sounded like something Daddy would say :D) from a visit from Elder Robert C. Gay of the Seventy.  He came for an amazing zone conference.  At the beginning of the conference he told us to put down our pencils, stop taking notes, and just listen because he was going to share something he didn't plan to share and hadn't shared with the missionaries in the other zones.  He talked about how the Lord takes care of His servants when they are magnifying their callings, and how He will take care of our loved ones at home and strengthen us in our personal trials.  Even though our personal problems and weaknesses don't go away when we dedicate ourselves to serving the Lord, we have the promise of His care.  The room was absolutely burning with the Spirit and there was not a dry eye in the group.  It was a blessing to hear the words of a servant of God as spoken by the Spirit and to come to an understanding of some things that I needed to learn personally.
We as the leadership of the mission also got to have a special three-hour council with Elder Gay the day after zone conference.  I was a little intimidated by the idea at first (counseling with 18 zone leaders, the assistants, President Meredith, and a general authority), but it was an extremely uplifting experience and something I'll remember and refer back to for the rest of my life.  It was amazing to be able to learn how to counsel and how to take principles and doctrines and what Elder Gay called "scattered revelation" that can be received by members of the group, and then to put it together into solutions and plans that will help the mission and the missionaries progress.  We talked a lot about how to work closely with the members and ward leadership in order to carry out missionary work.  Elder Gay also gave what was apparently(we didn't get to go) a powerful fireside for all of the bishops, stake presidents, and ward mission leaders in the area, and everyone is excited to step up to the plate and increase their efforts as leaders in missionary work.  We're excited about it and have already seen a difference in the way our ward is thinking about missionary work.  It's definitely true that we cannot have success without the support and help of the members.  I feel like this area of the world is especially in need of finding and fellowshipping through the members because there's so much opposition to the gospel even as we walk down the streets.  We're expecting miracles as a result of this visit from Elder Gay.  It was an amazing blessing and will do a lot for the success of the work here.
I feel so humbled and so blessed to be having this experience.  It is never easy and it is often frustrating, but all of that pales in comparison to the blessing it is to be here and to serve the Lord.  I've never felt closer to my Savior and to my Heavenly Father than I do right now.  And I've never been able to see people so clearly as my brothers and sisters and children of God as I'm able to now.  I love this little piece of the world and the people in it, and my testimony of the gospel has grown so much as I've seen it change people in innumerable ways.  I love this work and I love this gospel!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Chinese program, one week left in the transfer

Nimen hao!
I feel like this week has been long!  Not that it wasn't a good week--it was just a tiring one!  Going on three exchanges a week can be a little exhausting, but we'll get a little bit of a break from exchanges this week. 
This was the week I've been waiting for my entire mission... the week when I got to go to the Chinese program!  It was just for 24 hours, but it was really cool.  I even got to ride the train for the first time here.  It felt like Taiwan!  We spent a couple hours teaching a beginner's English class, which was interesting.  I felt like I was back in my Mandarin class at BYU, because everyone was speaking Chinese and I couldn't understand anything!  I really liked going on this exchange because I was with a sister that's only been here in the field for about 12 weeks, and this was her first time ever being in charge of her area.  It was interesting to think back on my first experience leading the area on an exchange, and then really weird to hear the same advice I'd received coming out of my own mouth as I talked with this sister.  It's interesting to think about how much I've changed in such a short time as I've come to understand my calling a little better and trust more in the Lord to help me to do His work.  I also loved being in lessons on this exchange because it made me realize that the Spirit speaks in a universal language.  In one lesson, I couldn't understand a single word of what was being taught (despite my 6 weeks of Mandarin experience...because the lesson was in Cantonese :D) but I could completely follow what was happening with the investigator.  I could tell that she felt the Spirit.  After we got out of the lesson, I commented to the missionary, "She knows it's true!" and the missionary said, "How did you know she said she believes it?"  I honestly could tell just by looking at the investigator and feeling the Spirit myself!  The Spirit works amazing changes in people, no matter what language we're speaking.  It was a cool experience and a good reminder that I need to do everything I can to teach by the Spirit and never rely on my own words, no matter how much Spanish (or English) I think I can speak.
We've continued teaching the family that came to church last week.  Leslie, the aunt, is super prepared and I feel like she's really going to progress a lot... as long as we can keep teaching her.  We taught her this week and invited her again to be baptized and she said that there are things she wants to arrange in her life before she gets baptized.  She mentioned several changes she wants to make so she can feel worthy, and several of them go right along with commandments we haven't even taught her about yet.  It's always so amazing to see people develop a natural desire to live the commandments as they're taught by the Spirit.  Leslie's also doing great with the Book of Mormon.  She told one of the ward members, "Don't you just love how this book grabs you and you want to read more and more?"  She's so great!  However, we were really disappointed yesterday because she didn't come to church, and neither did her cousin or nephews.  We've been trying all weekend to contact them but haven't been able to get a hold of them.  We don't want them to disappear!  They're so special and so prepared, and we know they can progress.  We just have to track them down!  We're praying hard that we'll be able to find them again today.
We also had a really good experience with a recent convert here who's been struggling with old temptations.  This week he made huge amounts of progress.  He's re-started reading his scriptures every day and praying, and the difference is amazing.  He even carries the Book of Mormon around in his pocked all day long to help him resist temptations.  It's absolutely beautiful to see how much of a difference the "little" things like reading the scriptures, praying, and keeping our thoughts clean can make.  Those "little things" really are the big things!  It was so cool to see evidence of that in this recent convert.  He's made many changes in very little time, and has put forth a huge effort to stay on the right path.  His faith inspires me.
I hit 10 months yesterday....  Eek.  That's extremely bizarre to think about.  Yesterday we ate dinner at a member's house.  The daughter and one of her old mission companions (they served in Washington DC North!) were reminiscing about their missions.  It was kind of a surreal situation, to hear people talking about their missions as something in the past.  Sister Osborn and I looked at each other and had the same thought--"What?  Missions don't end!"  We may both be in denial....  I really would love this time to last forever, but it doesn't, so we have to make the most of it!  But that is all I will say about the "end" because as far as I'm concerned, the end doesn't exist for me right now. :)
Anyway, have a good week, everyone!  Tomorrow we'll be hearing from Elder Gay of the Seventy during zone conference, and we'll get to have a special meeting with him as leadership of the mission.  It should be a really amazing week!  Take care, and good luck with school!  The house is going to be so quiet! Weird!  Love you!
Hermana Croft

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Week of miracles

Hi family!  First of all, thank you for your prayers this week.  We've been praying hard too to find success.   Last week was the lowest of the low, and this week has exploded with miracles.  I know that your prayers helped us to have success.
The highlight of the week--we had 4 investigators at church!  These are four new people we found on Monday night this week.  Leslie and Flor are cousins, and Flor has two boys named Michael and Jesus that are 8 and 10.  We taught them the message of the restoration and about the Book of Mormon and they were super excited!  Flor was fascinated that there were scriptures about Christ in the Americas.  They are so awesome and really prepared.  We invited them to church and they said they'd come but they'd drive themselves.  Sister Osborn and I were panicking all morning waiting for them to arrive.  They left late, and then got lost.  We were praying hard that they'd keep going and not give up and turn around, and then 5 minutes before sacrament meeting started, they pulled up in the parking lot!  It was truly a miracle.  We've been struggling a LOT to get people to church, and then we had this family come.  It was amazing, and definitely an answer to many prayers, both mine and yours, I'm sure.  We'll be teaching them again tonight, so hopefully all goes well!
Other highlight of the week--I went back to Richmond for an exchange!  It was sad to see that some of my recent converts are struggling and are not active right now.  It's truly painful to see them make decisions that won't make them happy.  The temptation to beat myself up for not "teaching them right" or not fulfilling all of their needs as a missionary is definitely there, but in the end, it's their decision to live the gospel or not.  That's why the atonement is there--so we can get back on track when we wander off, which we all do to some degree.  But it is still sad to see people I've come to love so much struggling as new members.  Imagine how our Heavenly Father feels when we don't do what we know is right!  But the sadness of seeing some converts not progress is a stark contrast to the enormous joy of seeing converts who ARE solid and still progressing, namely, the AVILES FAMILY!  It was so good to see them again.  The oldest girl just got back from her first YW camp and the mom is calling the whole ward to repentance and getting them to do visiting teaching.  The littlest girl shared her testimony of the plan of salvation with a lady in the library this week, and they are reading the Book of Mormon every day and going to church.  It was so FILLING to see them and to see that they are truly converted and are enduring, even through trials.  They are so special and it was a huge blessing to see them for a few minutes when I went back to Richmond. 
Things are going well with exchanges.  This week I left the area 3 times in a row, 2 of them back-to-back, so I lived out of a suitcase for a few days.  It's a huge blessing to meet the sisters, be in their areas, and be in this calling.  And it's a huge blessing to have a companion that is a wonderful example and a rock-solid missionary.  I love Sister Osborn so much and it's sometimes hard to have to share my companion with other missionaries 3 days out of the week! :)  She's wonderful and we have lots of fun together and I love working hard with her.  Just being her companion is one of the greatest blessings I've received from serving a mission.
Anyway, I hope you have a great week!  Time is FLYING, as always.  I'll hit 10 months this week!  AAAAAAHHHH!  Scary.

Learning about the Atonement

This week was a good one--definitely a week where Sister Osborn and I felt pushed to the limit.  We've had lots of really potent experiences and are working hard to be able to fulfill our purpose. 

This week I feel like I've been able to learn a lot about the Atonement.  We had an appointment with a recent convert who's fallen back into some of the habits that were part of his life before his baptism.  It was amazing to see the Spirit in action as we taught him about the Atonement.  We talked about faith and repentance and the miracle of change that's possible as we do our best to do what the Lord requires of us, and how He makes up the part we literally can't do by ourselves.  As I walked away from that appointment, the reality of the Atonement and of the Savior hit me so hard.  The atoning sacrifice of the Savior is REAL.  The Atonement always becomes more real to me as I recognize the need for it.  This recent convert needs it to be able to change, the people we meet need it to be able to change,and more than anything, I realize again and again that I need the atonement to be able to change.  It's so humbling to think of everything that the Savior does for each of us.

This week we had stake conference and the theme was "Come Unto Christ."  It was amazing, and just what I needed after a week in which we've struggled to see success in our area.  Most of the speakers focused on the Atonement and the healing and saving power of what Christ did for us as part of the plan of God.  One speaker described a moment in his life where he realized something similar to what I felt after our appointment with the recent convert this week.  In thinking about the Atonement, he had a moment in which he read the account of the Atonement in Mark and realized, "He did that for ME."  It's such a miracle that each of us can say that phrase and have it be true: "He did that for ME."  The atonement is so personal and so merciful.  It's hard to fathom, and even though we can't really understand the atonement enough to answer the question, "How is it done?" (Enos 1:7), we can see the effects of it in our lives as it changes us and allows us to overcome sins, injuries, and weaknesses.  The effects are so REAL, and I'm seeing that as a missionary more than I've ever seen it before.  It's an amazing blessing to be a part of the process of conversion.

This week I went back to my area in Daly City for an exchange.  In just 3 weeks, so much has changed there.  Before AND after Marina's baptism right before I left, I felt like we had nothing--no solid investigators and no prospects, just disappearing investigator after disappearing investigator.  This week when I went back, they have 2 investigators that have baptismal dates, and several other solid prospects.  One of the investigators who will be baptized this month was a person that I contacted initially.  It's actually kind of a miracle story, seeing the whole thing now.  It was near the end of a long, long day, and we were saying a prayer in the car before going out to contact.  We were parked in front of a house that I had knocked a few days before.  The door got slammed in our face before we said a word.  But when I opened my eyes after saying "amen," I saw a man smoking a cigarette near the back gate of that house.  I looked right at him after opening my eyes and I felt that I needed to talk to him right then.  We had a good conversation, set an appointment, and then I was transferred out  of the area the next day.  And then when I went back this weekend, I found out that he's quit smoking completely, has come to church every week, and has never missed an appointment.  He's incredibly solid!  I feel blessed to have been a tiny part of that work, to have been able to contact him even if he won't be "my baptism."  We truly never know the influence we have by
doing what we're asked to do.  At first when I went back to Daly City, I
felt discouraged and a little bothered to think that I had seen so little success, or so I thought, and that as soon as I left the area exploded wit 
great prospects.  I've had to repent of that feeling, which is completely selfish and may even be jealousy, and realize that this is ALL the work of the Lord, no matter the point at which we enter the process.  I worked really hard in Daly City, and that should be enough for me--that I did what I was asked to and did my best to train the missionary who would stay.  I don't need to beat myself up or be bitter that I only saw one baptism from my 2 transfers there.  It's all the work of the Lord, and I'm blessed to be able to do it every day, no matter the external results.  I was definitely called to repentance by the Spirit for feeling a little bitter about my experience there.  That's not a feeling that I want attached to my mission at all, so I needed a major attitude change.  The mission is humbling, every day!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

first exchanges, time going by

This week was a little more crazy because we started the exchanges with the sisters.  I went to Walnut Creek in the English program for a day, and it was a totally different experience to teach in English and contact in English.  The population and the neighborhood was just so different just by switching languages.  On the exchange, we did a service project and we dug holes for posts in a deck by hand.  It felt great to work in the yard (crazy, right?), but I was super sore for the next 2 days from shoveling.

I also went on my first exchange as the leader of the area.  I struggled a little getting around, but it was a great exchange and things went well. We taught a lesson to a woman whose family is all studying with another religion.  Her mother-in-law decided it would be a good idea to lecture us for 5 minutes straight on how to use the Bible and how we need to learn the Bible better (before we even said anything about any type of scripture or doctrine).  We thanked her for sharing and then sang a hymn and started teaching.  It was interesting to see how the daughter-in-law could tell the difference between the Spirit of the Lord and the spirit of contention. It's amazing to be a participant in this work, and to have the blessing of being able to help people feel the Spirit and understand the love of God through the gospel.

We had a great experience last night where we were truly able to be instruments in the Lord's hands.  We went to visit a member who is recently becoming active in the church.  We had planned to be at the Visitor's Center during that time with Angel, but he canceled so we were in our area instead.  We knocked on this sister's door, and when she opened it, it was clear that she'd been crying and was just about at the end of her rope. She let us in and started telling us about some truly awful things that have been happening with her daughter.  The look on her face was heartbreaking and she was literally in agony because of some of the choices her daughter had made.  We showed up at the right moment to be there to help her feel the Spirit.  She said she had started to think that maybe God had abandoned her, and then we dropped by.  We were able to read the scriptures with her and talk about the Atonement so the Spirit could bring her some peace.  It's so humbling to be put in the right place at the right time to help someone.  God has a plan for us, and that plan is eternal and bigger than we can imagine, but even the smallest moments day to day are a part of that plan too.  It was part of His plan that all of OUR plans fell through that night so we could be there to help this sister to remember that her Heavenly Father is aware of her.  It was a good reminder for me as well that God is aware of the work we are doing, and that what we do really does matter and make a difference.  Our area is struggling right now and our teaching pool is nearly dry, and it's been frustrating to see people feel the Spirit powerfully in a lesson and then turn around and reject the gospel.  Regardless of what others choose, this is the work of the Lord and it is the Savior's gospel that we are sharing.  Our encounter with this sister was a tender mercy and a good reminder of the healing power of the Holy Ghost and the Atonement, and of our role in being where the Lord needs us to share that healing power in the right moment.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

San Mateo, CA--Loving it!!!

This has been a great week. It's always a challenge to adjust to a new area, but Sister Osborn is great and is helping me get to know the ward and our prostelyting area.  I've been able to do the driving this week, which is really good, since this week I'll be running the area alone on an exchange.  I'm so grateful to have Sister Osborn as my companion and my example.  I love her so much and I'm so excited to serve with her again.  She's become one of my best friends and we're really able to work in unity, which is a blessing.  She pushes me and makes me better, just like a good companion should.  :D

We only have one solid investigator right now.  His name is Angel and he's about 24 years old. He attended a baptism in the ward this week and felt the Spirit really strongly. We went on a small tour of the chapel and talked with him about the baptism. He got some great interaction time with the members and they did a great job of saying hi to him and inviting him to activities. We also had a lesson with him this week. We taught part of the plan of salvation from Alma, and invited him to be baptized again. He's planning to be baptized at the beginning of September!  He understands the importance of baptism and told us that he's been praying about the Book of Mormon.  I'm sure you'll hear lots of good things about him in the future!
This Friday I got to go to Marina's baptism in Daly City!  It was such a sweet experience to see her make that covenant with Heavenly Father. There's always such an amazing spirit in baptisms.  It's so amazing to see someone make that decision, especially further on in life.  Her son baptized her and the ward members gave excellent talks.  Everyone felt Marina's strong spirit and the Spirit of the Lord.  So great!  The only heartbreaking thing is that I'll probably never see Marina again.  She goes back to Guatemala on Wednesday, so that goodbye at the end of the baptismal service is probably a permanent one, at least for this life.  She asked for my home phone number and I told her she could call me after May 2013, so hopefully I'll at least get to hear her voice in the future.   It has truly been a privilege to teach her the gospel.  It's so humbling to hear people say "thank you" for having taught them, when really I feel like I didn't do anything.  It's all the Spirit--that teaches, that helps them change, that helps them learn, everything.  I feel so blessed to be here
and to serve the Lord.

This Sunday I got to go to church for the first time here in the El Camino ward.  It was a good experience!  The bishop is amazing.  I got a few unique opportunities this week in church.  I got to play the organ (it was a little rough, after many years of not playing it. oops!) in sacrament meeting and accompany the special musical number.  Bishop asked me before church started to speak for 10 minutes in sacrament meeting.  He asked me what I'd speak on, and he approved the topic I told him.  But then when he stood up to announce my name in the program, he said, "We'll now hear from Sister Croft, our new missionary.  She'll be sharing with us on the theme of the Doctrine of Christ and the temple."  Uhhh, what??  Hahaha, that's NOT the topic we'd talked about.   Apparently he was inspired to change the theme.  I think it went well, and it was a good experience for me to always be prepared to teach and bear testimony, and to follow the Spirit. 

We didn't go on any exchanges this week, but we have two coming up this week.  I'll be going to Walnut Creek and then staying here in the area on my own for the first time.  It will be interesting!  I'm praying hard that I'll be able to fulfil the purpose the Lord has for me in this area and in this calling with the sisters.  It's a big responsibility, but I feel mostly calm about it.  I just feel blessed to have this assignment and to be able to help in a small way with each companionship and sisters' area in the mission.  Pray for me!