I'm finally feeling settled into my new area. This side of Cleveland is very different from all of the other places I've served thus far and it challenging me to stretch and grow in ways I haven't had to before. Here are a few experiences we've had the past week...
Pam - Pam is an elderly woman from the older part of town who was being taught by the East Cleveland Elders (the ones we live with) about 5 or 6 months ago. She went into a coma for some reason and the Elders somehow found her in a rehab center. They would go over a few times a week and though she couldn't talk or move, would sit with her and read the Book of Mormon. The only evidence of her appreciation were the tears that would stream from her eyes as they would read. Months later now, she can move, talk, read, etc. although her relearning these things prove stressful. She misses her family immensely and her trips home on the weekend just aren't enough. When I arrived here they were teaching her and she was doing well. But very quickly she became more and more discouraged with her situation. What we thought was at first just a struggle to understand the Book of Mormon quickly uncovered to be a much deeper concern. In our last lesson with her, we decided that we needed to discover what was the deeper concern (we could see the tip of the iceberg but needed to find out the bottom, real concerns like PMG teaches). We went in and were just going to ask questions and listen. As we did, we found that she had been feeling abandoned by her Heavenly Father. She felt that her prayers weren't be answered. She felt hopeless, powerless, and overwhelmed by everything. She cried and cried and used all of my tissues ;) We read scripture, bore testimony, and at the end of our lesson invited her to pray. Her prayer started with tears of sorrow and misery, and as she closed in the name of Jesus Christ, she laughed and opened her eyes and with tears still pouring exclaimed, "I can feel it. These are happy tears now. I can feel it!"
Debbie and Travon - Debbie and her 12-year-old son had been found and taught by missionaries about a year ago. She was making great progress (quit drinking coffee, was reading very diligently in the Book of Mormon) but due to work conflicts could not commit to church. The rule of the mission is investigators must come to church at least 3 times before they are baptized. With this putting strain on her commitment, the missionaries felt it best to stop teaching her. Elder Hansen had set up an appointment with her before I had even arrived in Shaker Heights and sent me on splits to go teach her for the first time (I and a member from the ward went to teach her). I didn't know the things I explained above and went into the lesson thinking that we would have to reteach her everything and that her understanding would be very minimum. But she practically mocked me for being so elementary with her and laughed when I asked if we could read from the Introduction to the Book of Mormon - "I've read this like 10 times but sure we can read it again." When we asked how she had felt a year ago when she was reading the Book of Mormon and learning from the missionaries, she described the Spirit pretty clearly, though admitted she had never received an answer that it was all true. We helped her see that she had received answers and the different ways that Heavenly Father will answer our prayers and direct our lives. She was a little worried about knowing what was the Spirit and what was the devil trying to trick her, so we left with her Moroni 7 to read and set-up a return appointment for a few days later. Our next meeting was at the home of a young couple from our church who she had become good friends with when the missionaries introduced her to members of the ward. The lesson was great and at the end when we committed her to baptism she turned to the husband and said, "Do you have the Priesthood?" he told her yes, and she asked "Will you baptize me?" It was great! We are going to be meeting with her again tomorrow and will be talking more about baptism and setting a date with her and her son.
Nick - Nick plays football at Notre Dame and has been less-active for some time. Since we work with the University Branch for the Kirtland and Cleveland Stake, we have been working with him and helping him get his life back on track. He called us this week and told us he needed us to bring over as much church material (Books, pamphlets, cards, movies, whatever) as we could because a teacher at school was interested. He later told us how his Theology teacher had found out that he was a member of the LDS church (from a questioner she had the class fill out) she go really excited and asked the whole class one day "So...I read something interesting in your papers - one of you is a Mormon? Who is the Mormon in here?" Nick raised his hand (imagine this big, black, football player with tattoos all down his arms) and she asked him to see her after class. She decided to put "Mormonism" as one of the 6 world-religions that the class would be studying and decided that Nick would be her go-to guy for information and facts on the religion. Nick is stoked and is studying all that he can so he can help teach his teacher and show her what we believe. He wrote his testimony in a Book of Mormon and gave it to her last Wednesday and on Friday we gave him tons of material that she can give to those in the class who will be assigned the religion to study. We're working on Nick getting her or the class members to meet with us, but it's a slow process. Still very cool though.
Julia - pronounced "Hu-lia" (Spanish speaker). Elder Hansen is a Spanish missionary and when I got here they were teaching Julia. We try to go on splits whenever we have an appointment with her but this week I went with him (and a member who speaks Spanish). I sat there and tried to be productive or engaged, but it was difficult. Je parles Francais! Mais tres mal... :) ...that was probably wrong. HA!
Larry - A week or two ago, the East Cleveland Elders were riding the transit and talked to Larry about meeting with missionaries. He agreed and they taught him once when they realized when he was in our area. They gave us his number and we tried and tried to call him but with no luck. Then on Friday we get a call and he says "Hi umm...dis is Larry umm... I wanted ta come to you all's church this Sunday. Can ya'll fine me a ride?" And we said "Sure! Can we come over tonight and meet you?" So we did! We were running a little late because our dinner appointment beforehand was a little further away that we had thought, so I called him to tell him we'd be there in about 5 minutes and he said "Oh it's all good we's all waiting here and are ready. I gots my whole family here and we's jus be waiting." I got off the phone and told Elder Hansen and he said "MY WHOLE FAMILY?!?! I've never taught a family before!!!" haha And so we went and had an amazing lesson with Larry, his wife (sounds like they've been separated for a while and are trying to work things out), and two of Larry's kids (18 year-old son, 19 year-old daughter). The children live in Olmsted Falls (my old area!) and have traveled a lot with their mom as they've grown up. So they were pretty intelligent (Larry lives in the poor side of town and him and his wife has that kind of mind-set. Great people! But just different than I've had to deal with my whole mission. It's been an interesting transition). The kids were really interested in the University Singles Branch and plan on going next week. The couple really wanted to come to our Ward so we found them some rides and they came yesterday! They both seemed to enjoy it and after church we had a lesson with just Larry (his wife was at his sisters or something?) about the Book of Mormon and his prayer at the end was great. You have to be a little cautious with people in the more run-down areas or town and make sure that their intent is real - salvation, not welfare. On the other hand, we (or what I especially have been working on) have to make sure we're not too skeptical and are filled with that charity that we as representatives of Jesus Christ need to have! We have to love these people for who they really are, sons and daughters of God, and not be too distracted by their different way of life or ghetto frame-of-mind. We have high hopes for Larry and he told us how he really wants to pick his life back up - get a job, get a car, come to church, etc. and so we will continue to teach him and pray for him in hopes that he can be worthy to enter the waters of baptism!
Last Sunday we had a meeting with the ward missionaries and our ward mission leader in the School of Prophets at the Kirtland Historical Sites. It was great! Since that was really the first MTC, it seemed fitting to have a meeting for our ward missionaries and train them on their duties and responsibilities. We have been working a lot with our Ward Mission Leader (Brother Baker) and have lots of plans to help this ward explode with missionary enthusiasm and faith! We are instigating a lot of things that we started in my last Ward and can't wait to see the results of our efforts!
Toccara - 30 years old. Part-member. Her father was baptized about 5 or so months ago. She is supposed to be baptized this Saturday but it wont be happening quit yet because of her father who convinced her that she needs to investigate more and not let the missionaries force her to be baptized. (I'm rolling my eyes right now). She is another pretty ghetto investigator but she is really sincere in her desire to be baptized and works hard at reading and understanding the Book of Mormon. We will meet with her (and probably her dad - separately) to go over any concerns and help them understand the purpose of the gospel more in depth.
It's been a challenging week this past week with appointments falling though, Toccara's baptism being canceled, Pam struggling, but Elder Hansen and I have done great at keeping positive and not letting these things get us down. We just have to keep smiling and working hard and let God be God. We can't control everything, and have to remember that nobody can frustrated God's plan for us! He knows us personally and individually and will help us gain the peace and happiness in our lives if we will rely on Him! We also found that talking in an Indian-accent (we have a man named Gupta in our ward whose from India. He's a ward missionary. He likes to talk a lot. He's kind of crazy and hilarious) can help overcome the really hard, discouraging times. No we're not being childish!! But I am loving serving with Elder Hansen. President was at our ward building when we got to church (he and Sister Sorensen attended the ward who meets before us - although I told them that that was a poor excuse for just missing me so much!) and President started bragging about us to some of the leaders he was with. He said that we were two of the missions finest missionaries and afterwards Elder Hansen was like "woh..." haha he IS one of the finest (just hard on himself, like me) and we're just having a blast serving together.
Shaker Heights is definitely helping me grow a lot and I can see reasons why I was sent here already. Although my speech is starting to get bad when we're in the ghetto for too long! Just kidding (...but seriously). The snow has been coming down more this week than it has all winter, but it's still very mild. We've been very blessed! (missionary work seems to slow-down as the snow comes down; people like to hide in their homes and not open the door). The 90-day Book of Mormon reading challenge is going great and I am learning so much! A part of the challenge is to highlight every reference to Jesus Christ and write at the bottom of each page how many times he is referenced. It was really opened my eyes to just how much the Book of Mormon really DOES testify of Christ and bring men closer to God! I sometimes think "man...I wish I could just stay home today and read all day" and then another thought says "that's not why you're out here! learn your purpose!" haha, but I am coming to love the Book of Mormon more and more as I "drink deeply from it's pages" as President Eyring has instructed us to do.
Tomorrow is my Birthday! 21! Wow! Really it will be just another day to me, but (tender mercy!) tomorrow we're having a mission council meeting at the John Johnson Farm. We did this last year and it was incredible! We read the Doctrine and Covenants that were received there concerning the Plan of Salvation and the whole experience was just so revelatory! So I guess for my Birthday I get a round-two of it! For the rest of the Zone Leaders, it will be their first time. But I get to be spoiled again. It should be great!
Well, I am so happy and wake up in the morning full of excitement and joy to be alive. I bet mom wouldn't believe that I can wake up at 6:30am sometimes literally jumping out of bed and pumped and ready to go out and work! It's be best feeling ever. And I know it comes due to my obedience to the commandments (or at least striving to follow them as best as I can) and my understanding (as little as it may be) of my purpose. This understanding that I wish to bring to those here in Cleveland and allow them to taste of the goodness of the gospel. It is so true! And right! The only way is through Jesus Christ's church! Who woulda thought? :) I thank my Heavenly Father every day for the blessing of being a part of His church and for the little testimony that He has allowed me to develop over time. I thank you for all the prayers and letters of support I receive! I wish you all the best and apologize for writing so much this week!!! Love you!
"Kirtland Relief Society President"
We knocked but nobody was home
Elder Michelsen (with the scaf) went home last Wedneday. He worked with Elder Hansen and I for the week after transfers until he went home). Our apartment was saying goodbye to him.