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!