Monday, February 27, 2012

being bold when it comes to bearing, and living, my testimony.

This has been an interesting week.  Luckily I haven't been sick like Derek, though!  It's been pretty frustrating because we've been working very hard but not seeing results in the ways we've been expecting to see them.  We'll set several appointments with new investigators every day, and every morning, when we call to confirm appointments, EVERY person cancels!  It's so weird to go from having 5 appointments at 9:00pm the night before to having 0 the next morning.  It's normal for several appointments to fall through every week, but it's never been like this before, where literally every one cancels or falls through!  It's been really good for me though, because it's made me pay close attention to EVERYTHING I'm doing and to focus on improving my abilities to teach and find by the Spirit.  The work of the Lord takes humility and love, and hard work, but most of all, hard work in the Lord's way--by the Spirit!  We've had several experiences this week that have been a test of faith for Sister Camarillo and I.  We've had some pretty interesting contacting experiences.  This weekend, we knocked on a lady's door and she opened it, all smiles and very enthusiastic because she's also Christian.  We testified of Christ and of a living prophet.  She told us we were wrong, and that God isn't going to call more prophets.  She told us that she'd pray for us because we're lost and we don't know the truth!  It made me think about where my testimony comes from.  Its hard to hear someone tell you you're preaching lies!  However, my testimony of the restored gospel is something I can't deny.  It's something I know is true on many levels, but most importantly, on a spiritual level.  What I know on a spiritual level really can't be challenged by the intellectual arguments that people throw at us every day.  I know that Heavenly Father does call prophets!  I sometimes feel the temptation to "soften" my testimony so people won't slam the door in our faces, but I don't ever want to slacken my conviction of what I know is true.  I'm not naturally a very forward person, but my mission is teaching me the importance of being bold when it comes to bearing, and living, my testimony.  We've also had a lot of experiences where we've been protected by the Spirit.  Nothing bad has happened, don't worry, and we're very cautious about where we go and when we go there.  But there's a lot of bad stuff that goes on in the Bay Area, no matter how careful we are!  But it's true that the Lord constantly looks out for us, and the Spirit does have a warning voice!  I say that not because I want you to be scared that we've been in situations where we've had to listen to the warning voice of the Spirit, but because I want you to know that I have felt the protection of the Lord.  So don't worry! 
[M] (the man who didn't want to stop drinking coffee) was supposed to have an interview with President Wade this week, but he didn't go! He requested an interview last week, so we set one up for him. We were calling him and calling him Thursday night, and finally we went to his house and he was there, instead of at the interview. We talked with him and he said he didn't want to be interviewed by President. He seemed to feel a lot of bitterness still, and it made me realize the importance of always being loving toward everyone, even and especially when calling them to repentance. It's really trying sometimes to show love when there's also a lot of stress and frustration involved, but if they can't feel the love we have for them, they of course can't recognize that we've been called to represent the Savior, and that they can trust the things we teach them. So many times this week, I've realized things that I need to change about myself if I'm going to fulfill my purpose as a missionary. I need to be more loving, more bold, more diligent, more committed, more patient, more everything! Sometimes it's overwhelming to think about, but with the Lord, it's possible for me to get closer to being what He wants me to be. Without the Lord, it's more than impossible. Anyway, that's what's been keeping me awake at night.
We had zone conference this week and the theme was the priesthood. It was such a great zone conference! Sister Wade gave an amazing talk on honoring the priesthood. Honoring the priesthood truly is the responsibility of both men and women. The priesthood is the power of God and I've seen the blessings that come to homes in which all members of the family uphold and honor the priesthood. The contrast between homes in which the priesthood is not a part of family life and the homes in which it is amazes me. Funny thing that happened this week--President Wade made an allusion to the movie WAR GAMES!!! And I was one of only 4 people that knew what he was talking about! Hahaha, thank you, Dad! We have Tiwi boxes installed in our vehicles (Google it, since you have that power) and the automated voice sounds JUST like the computer, Joshua, in War Games. :D Kind of freaky. Other news: we're getting a new mission president in July! Look for their picture in the Church News at the beginning of March. ALSO, my companion's parents were just called as mission president and companion in the Mexico Guadulajara Mission!!! Look for their picture too! Elder and Sister Camarillo. So cool!!!

Monday, February 20, 2012

First Earthquake!!

This week was really really interesting.  A lot of crazy stuff happened. Like, lots. BUT, just the highlights for you.
[M]. This is the brother that drank coffee. We went over to his house again to teach him, and we told him that the mission president said he cannot be baptized on the 26th. We testified once again of the importance of obedience and the sacredness of baptism by proper priesthood authority. Then it all sort of exploded after that. His wife,who is a long-time member of the church got really angry and defensive. His brother-in-law,also a long-time member, started telling us that things like the word of wisdom are laws of man and not of God. [M] was the least angry of all the bunch. His wife got so mad she stood up and left the room and told us she didn't want to go to church anymore. It was probably one of the saddest experiences of my mission, not because I felt attacked or offended--I surprisingly didn't feel so!--but because it hurt to see that this family couldn't accept the commandments. It's sometimes very hard when there's nothing more you can do for someone--when they know the truth and they they know the commandments, but they exercise their agency in a way that makes them lose the blessings their Heavenly Father has prepared for them. Thankfully they showed up at church on Sunday, which made me so happy, but there is still a lot of preparation that needs to take place. But whatever it takes, when they do accept the commandments, they will be all the happier for having chosen to be obedient and worthy to enter into covenants.
Guess what!!!! I felt my first earthquake. During companionship study we were reading Preach My Gospel and the building shook for about 3 seconds. I freaked out and my blood pressure went craaaaaaaazy but nothing bad happened.
This week we started teaching a lot of new people. We have quite the variety of investigators right now! One of them is a hard-working mom that loves her children, but feels like this life is only meant for suffering. Another one is a woman that has a lot of vices and sadness in her life, but is so humble and so willing to change her life to draw closer to Christ. Another one is a man who seems to have nothing in his life but his job, but who wants to understand the scriptures. We started teaching a couple that let us into their home, fed us lunch and sang us a Mexican gospel song, and ate up the idea of genealogy and eternal families, but is tied to Catholic traditions that really are a part of how they've formed their identities, both within their culture and within their families. Everyone is so different! It's really true that as missionaries, we need to teach people and not lessons (see Elder Matthew Richardson's talk from last General Conference). Sometimes I wonder how I'm going to know what to teach to all of these people, because their needs are so incredibly different. They come from different backgrounds, have different trials and expectations, different beliefs and doubts, etc. My conclusion is that I really don't know what to teach, and I won't know what to teach, and I CAN'T teach, unless I have the Spirit with me (see Doctrine and Covenants 50)! Like Elder Croft (hee hee, awesome) Sister Camarillo and I talked a lot with [some Christian Church] this week, like every day for a few days straight. It's true, they really do know and study the Bible really intensely, and a few of them were trying so hard to tear our words down with leading questions and Biblical citations. But as long as we overcame the temptation to start fighting over details, and instead focused on bearing testimony of the Savior and the Restored gospel, I never felt intimidated or attacked. I know what I know, and I know this is the true church!
Hilariousness from this week: in Sacrament Meeting, the closing hymn started, and NOBODY was singing except my companion and I. Nobody! For at least a whole line of the first verse! Bahaha, so funny. Our ward struggles with the music sometimes, but I always love it. Also, Sister Camarillo and I were almost attacked by a bat! I felt awful. It was night and we parked the car and started walking a little to get to the house we were going to, and there was squeaking and black shadowy stuff above us. My poor companion--still in her first two weeks on the mission and her trainer drags her out into the night to be attacked by bats! Don't worry--nothing happened.

Monday, February 13, 2012

First week of the transfer!

So, my new companion is here! Her name is Sister Camarillo and she was born in Mexico City, lived most of her growing up years in Provo, and then moved around in Mexico. She used to live in Monterrey, where Nathan served his mission! She's doing really great and I'm learning a lot from her. She comes from an awesome family. She has 2 younger sisters and a younger brother, and her family lives in Mexico right now. Her dad is in charge of the Church's humanitarian program for the whole country of Mexico! She's a great missionary and she's working hard and learning very quickly.
It's interesting how the Lord gives you exactly what you need to be able to grow. I was shocked to be assigned to be the senior companion and a trainer so early on, but I'm already seeing that this is exactly what I need to be able to grow into the missionary the Lord wants me to be. I've learned in just a few days what it means to truly lose yourself in the work. It's interesting because I see missionary work a lot differently now that I'm the senior companion in my area. This assignment has really helped me recognize the sacredness of this time that we have to be working in this companionship and in this area, and that the Lord really has blessed us with a wonderful opportunity and we can't afford to waste a minute of it. I'm completely exhausted, and so happy. I've never been this exhausted in my whole life, not even when I had my 4:00 AM job or when I didn't sleep at all in high school. But I've never felt more urgently the desire to keep working. The Lord has been very merciful in helping me learn how to really serve Him with everything I have.
Anyway, now I shall describe my week. :) Monday involvled lots of crying. Lots of it. We had an appointment with the family [was baptized a few weeks ago] and Sis. Osborn had to say goodbye. It was very hard for everybody. We taught a lesson on endure to the end, and we know that this family will continue to live the gospel, even when the missionaries leave. They are wonderful.
On Tuesday we woke up early in the morning to finish packing everything to send Sis. Osborn off to San Mateo. We got everything packed and went to Oakland. I said goodbye to my companion, which was totally weird because we've gotten so close over the past 2 transfers. Then I was companions with Sister Essig, from the English program in San Leandro. I got to work in her area and be her companion for Tuesday and most of Wednesday. She's a great missionary and I learned a lot from her!
On Wednesday I got to work in the Visitor's Center with Sister Essig. I LOVED it! It is such a wonderful place, and the Spirit is definitely the teacher there. I got to teach a father and son that came in. I had to do it by myself because Sister Essig doesn't speak Spanish, but it was a great experience to be able to teach with the resources of the Visitor's Center. Awesome! I also met a man who walked in, not knowing anything about the church, but who has read the Book of Mormon one and a half times. He told us he prayed about it and he had a powerful experience and knows it's true! This was a few years ago, and he's never met with missionaries at all. Amazing! We got his information and hopefully he will meet with the missionaries soon. In just one day at the VC I saw lots of miracles!
On Wednesday night I got to meet Sister Camarillo. We had a short meeting with all of the trainers and new missionaries, and then headed home so she could get some rest.
On Thursday, we started out by going to Auto Zone to get a new light bulb for the rear blinker of our car. An easy fix, right? Yes, maybe. We knew how to change the bulb but couldn't get it off because it was on too tight, so we asked the AutoZone guy for help. He tried to help us but couldn't get it off, so we decided to just buy the bulbs and have the mission take care of it later that day. As he walked away I followed him to give him an invitation to receive a copy of the Book of Mormon. As I was talking to him about the Book of Mormon, I heard the trunk of our car slam, and my heart dropped because I realized that the keys were in the trunk. NOOOOOOO!!! Ay-ay-ay. The AutoZone guy laughed at us and went inside, and I started trying to stop myself from panicking. I called my district leader and told him we would be over an hour or so late to district meeting (basically all of district meeting), and then called Oakland to tell them we needed someone to bring us keys. My wallet, my planner, and everything except the phone and my purse were in the car. That left us with a set of Spanish scriptures, about 10 pass-along cards, a cell phone, and an hour and a half of time that needed to be used effectively. I felt HORRIBLE. My first day as a trainer and my brand-new companion and I were locked out of the car with almost nothing. So we did street contacting! It was actually good because it was a nice way to get a feel for Sister Camarillo's teaching style and personality, and we did talk to a lot of people. Unfortunately none of them spoke Spanish, but it's ok! I felt like puking the whole rest of the day because I felt so guilty for missing district meeting and wasting the time of the person who had to come from Oakland to open our car. We did get about 6 referrals for the Tagalog program, so maybe that's why we were there.
Other highlights from this week.... It's actually been quite a tough week as far as investigators go. Let me 'splain.
[G], who had a baptismal date, dropped us this morning. We had an appointment with her on Saturday and we were trying hard to resolve her concerns about church. When I was in San Leandro, I called her and asked her how she was doing. I had talked to her after church and she said that she loved it, that she wanted everyone to be baptized, etc. Then on the phone when I called her from San Leandro, she talked straight for 15 minutes about how she didn't ever want to go to church again because everyone is rich and she's poor, and how she felt like the people who gave their testimonies in fast and testimony meeting were trying to compete with each other for who had the best testimony, etc. It was awful. I was trying so hard not to cry during that conversation. During our lesson with [G] on Saturday, it was the same thing. She's also stopped reading the Book of Mormon and told us straight up that she didn't want to come to church. We tried to teach the doctrinal importance of church attendance, but she has so many problems, in her family, with her self-esteem, with her preoccupations on being at church, that nothing changed. This morning she called me and said that she doesn't have time to meet with us and that she'll call us when she's ready. Sad. :( She is such a good woman, and she will get baptized someday.
[M] had a baptismal date last week. It was a miracle because he has been investigating the church for FOREVER. When I was in San Leandro I called him and called him but he never answered. When we had an appointment with him, the first thing I did was follow up on the word of wisdom. The requirement for baptism in this mission is that they have to live the WOW for 3 weeks at minimum. He is within those three weeks. He told me that every morning he's still been drinking coffee with his milk at breakfast. I was so, so disappointed and sad when he told me that. He knows the word of wisdom, and Sister Osborn and I had made it very clear that he was within his 3 weeks. He wants to be baptized on the 26th because he wants to be baptized by the former bishop of the ward, who is moving permanently to Chile in 3.5 weeks. When we told him he couldn't get baptized on the 26th, he got really angry, as did his wife, and he said that if he didn't get baptized on the 26th, he wouldn't get baptized at all. They talked about how nobody is perfect and how there are lots of members who drink coffee. That's probably true. All we could do is testify of the importance of obedience and the restored gospel--that the word of wisdom is a commandment from God. The saddest part of this is not that [M] won't be getting baptized on the 26th, but that he's not repenting. He doesn't have a desire to leave behind the coffee in favor of the gospel. I actually cried during the lesson, which freaked me out, and Marlon kept saying "No llore, no llore" (don't cry, don't cry). The mission is hard! It's emotionally very difficult. But the gospel is true, and there's nothing I'd rather be doing than serving a mission!
Hilarous story of the week: Locking the keys in the car, aaaaand, a guy telling us to be careful in a certain neighborhood and to not go into a certain apartment complex. I looked to the apartment complex where he was pointing and it was [the apartment complex of the family who was baptized a few weeks ago] :) Hahahahha.

new transfer, new missionary! (Feb 6th)

We went to the temple with the family [who were just baptized a few weeks ago]! The mom and the older daughter got their recommends to go and do baptisms for the dead last week, so on Thursday we got to accompany them to the temple. It was so amazing to be in the temple with them, all of us dressed in white. They got to do a lot of names--close to 20 people and they were so excited to be able to participate in this sacred work. Spanish-speaking temple workers came so they could participate in confirmations and baptisms in Spanish. How great! I was surprised at how much it meant to me to be able to have this experience completely in my mission language, which I have come to love, and with people that have come to mean the world to me. It was a heavenly experience and such a blessing, for me and for the Aviles. They are truly dedicated to this new life they've chosen and they understand the sanctity of doing work for the dead. It was a huge testimony builder for me to be able to have this experience. It makes me sad that I didn't go and do baptisms for the dead more often! Go to the temple! Everybody!!
So, like Derek explained, on Saturday we get transfer calls, and if you are to receive a special assignment, the mission president calls you and extends the call. Saturday afternoon we were innocently eating bunuelos (basically a deep-fried tortilla with cinnamon sugar.... tastes like a churro!) when President Wade's ringtone started going off. I picked up the phone and President Wade said, "Hello Sister Croft, I have a special assignment for you. You'll be training a new missionary. Isn't that exciting?" I was literally in shock, literally shaking. I told him it was exciting and that I'd gladly accept the assignment. I was completely surprised. Just that morning Sister Osborn had said as we finished companionship study, "Ok hermana, the 12 week program is over. You're officially trained!" And then hours later Pres. Wade told me I'd be starting the 12 week program over, but on the trainer's side. What?! And then Sister Osborn was called to be a Sister Trainer! The sister trainers are a companionship who are assigned to go on exchanges with every sister in the mission--Chinese, English, Tongan, Spanish, Tagalog--in every area of the mission. A huge responsibility and a huge challenge! She is so prepared for it and she's going to be great! I'm so sad to see her leave though. We've been crying all day because it's hard to see this companionship come to an end! I'd imagine this is a problem that only sister missionaries have (the continuous weeping)... but it's ok! We're both excited for what lies ahead. I'm extremely humbled by the new assignment I've been given, because it comes with a lot of responsibility. All I can do is trust that the Lord has given me this calling because He knows it's what this new sister and I both need, and because He knows we have specific work to do in Richmond together. Please pray for me, and for Hermana Osborn! And for my new companion, whomever she is! I'll meet her on Wednesday night.
This has definitely been a week of refinement for me in the lessons we've taught. We have several investigators who have accepted baptismal dates for the beginning of March, but who have major difficulties they need to overcome. I'm coming to better understand my role as a missionary over the course of this week. My role as a missionary is to invite others to come to Christ, which is not an easy thing for many people. They have to experience major changes in every aspect of their lives as they learn about and accept the gospel--changes that I can't imagine having to make. It's sometimes hard to stay in my role as a missionary, and not to step into the role of a therapist or a casual friend, especially considering the training I received in school. It's been humbling to have to rely on the Spirit to tell me what to do and what to say to best represent the Savior in the capacity in which I've been called to serve. I've noticed this week, however, that I'm "settling" more into my role as a missionary. I feel like a missionary. I'm even a missionary in all of my dreams at night, even if I'm not in California in my dreams! I'm coming to understand the sacred nature of my call, and to accept and love it. At first it was hard to admit to myself that I'd committed myself to living this life, which is so completely different from anything else I've ever done, or anything that I ever saw myself doing, but that perspective is changing and I can finally admit to myself that I love being a missionary. I love being set apart to represent the Savior and to love and serve the people here in this area.

Almost the end of January?! (Jan 30)

This has been an interesting week. There was a point this week at which we had zero investigators. It's hard to literally have an empty teaching pool. Sister Osborn and I were pretty down on Thursday night because it felt like nobody in the world wanted to talk to us. More than that, it was sad because some of the people we dropped were people that I knew had felt the Spirit and really could have progressed in the gospel, but chose not to at this time.
I'll just talk about one of the investigators we dropped because it was an interesting experience for me. This man's name is Leonel. We'd been teaching him for about 3 weeks and he really is a special person. We'd invited him to be baptized several times, and he said he wanted to be baptized, but he couldn't accept a baptismal date because he wanted to be sure, and very prepared, before getting baptized. He seemed afraid of committing sins after baptism. He was so afraid that he couldn't accept baptism because he didn't feel like he was ready to be good enough to enter a covenant. This comes from a good man who loves his children and is an excellent father, and who was reading from the Book of Mormon and even taking notes on his reading. I think he knows the Book of Mormon is true, because he trusts it as a source of knowledge from God and understood the importance of baptism by reading the words of Christ. This pattern of discussion--of inviting him to be baptized, and of him telling us that he wants to but not making the necessary changes or accepting the baptismal invitation--had continued for several lessons, and we had to help him make a decision. We taught him on Tuesday night and invited him to pray, make a decision to either prepare for baptism or not meet with us anymore, and then talk to us the next day. I prayed so hard for him that night--that he would pray, and that he would choose to prepare for baptism. We called him the next day, and he told us that he had prayed, but that he didn't feel like he could make the decision to be baptized right now. It's always hard to drop investigators, but saying goodbye to Leonel over the phone was especially hard. It breaks my heart, because I think the thing that stopped him from accepting baptism is one of Satan's greatest lies--that we can't repent and that we aren't good enough to come unto Christ. Leonel will be baptized someday, I know it, but unfortunately we can't continue teaching him. Hopefully in the near future he'll be able to start meeting with missionaries again.
We've been working hard on finding people to teach, which can be frustrating, but the Lord is putting people in our path. It's been one of the most humbling weeks of my mission thus far, but I've learned so much about WHY it's important to share the gospel. This morning as I was reading a conference talk, "The Divine Gift of Repentance," this hit me hard in relation to my responsibility as a missionary to invite others to repent:
I gratefully acknowledge and testify that the incomprehensible suffering, death, and Resurrection of our Lord “bringeth to pass the condition of repentance” (Helaman 14:18). The divine gift of repentance is the key to happiness here and hereafter. In the Savior’s words and in deep humility and love, I invite all to “repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). I know that in accepting this invitation, you will find joy both now and forever.
As I read this talk this morning, I felt and understood the doctrine of repentance in a very different way than I ever have before. What a wonderful gift we have--repentance! What a wonderful thing, a thing that so often we're afraid of or don't use! That was the point of the Savior's sacrifice--to provide a means for us to be able to repent and return to live with our Heavenly Father.