Last week...and the week before that, but especially last week, my email time was cut short. Busy times.
So picking up where I left off with Samantha--she didn't want to admit to us that she was pagan because she normally gets negative responses. She said she would like to continue to meet with us, and will finish the Book of Mormon, but she wanted to push her baptism back, because as of now, she doesn't understand baptism and church attendance as commandments. We haven't gotten to see her this past week as she's been busy, but we contact her regularly via phone. Love her.
Most exciting news: MerryAnn was baptized on Saturday and confirmed yesterday!!! I love her so much. Every time we come to teach her, she asks, "have you been good?" we say, "yes," then she asks, "all day?" We say, "so far," she says, "good. Be good all day." She does the same thing for herself, because enduring to the end to her, is being good all day today, then doing the same thing tomorrow. It's a good way to look at things. All of the questions she has had revolve around how she can serve more and live higher standards. She is already a very strong member, and will be a great asset to the church. We have been amazed at her standards and desires to serve. She is so much fun. We get to go to baptisms for the dead with her on Friday.
Another miracle. I brought a sister from Gadsden to Leeds for exchanges, and we just had a few minutes before our next set appointment. I had been thinking a lot about Anthony and his parents. Anthony is 13, at the beginning of the transfer when I was on an exchange in Leeds, I taught a family in a trailer park, previous sisters had taught, but the family hadn't made much progress. The first time I went to meet them, I felt impressed to reteach them the Plan of Salvation. We taught them, and they had lots of questions, but weren't terribly focused. Anthony, who lives nextdoor to them, was at their trailer, fully engaged in the lesson. I could feel his spirit, and talked to him after, and he said he wanted his parents to hear this lesson. I met his mom, Gina, briefly who struggles with many health issues. In the weeks following, we stopped by several times, and were never able to meet with her. We volunteer regularly at the civic center in Leeds, and met a woman named Cora. She agreed to let us come over and share the message of the restoration. When we did, it just so happened to be neighbor trailers with Anthony's, and Anthony just happened to be over with his dad for the restoration lesson. Since then, we still keep in contact with Cora, but she hasn't progressed, and we hadn't been able to meet with Anthony's family. There is a lot going on in that trailer park, and Anthony is surrounded by all kinds of chaos and issues, and I have always had a strong feeling about him. HIs composure and manners are amazing in stark contrast to what goes on around him. He is a special kid. Back to this past week on exchanges, I decide to drop by once again to try to catch Gina and Anthony. Gina was outside (a good thing, since if she's inside and we try to knock, we typically get someone who lives with her, who will just swear at us and slam the door), in seeing us approaching, she pointed at me and said, "I've been praying that you would come! I know there's something about your and your church, and I knew that you would come back!" We had a discussion and brief lesson with her, and asked if she would bring Anthony to the church that night for mutual and we could give her a church tour since she wants to start coming. She agreed. Anthony's dad dropped him off at the church just as mutual was ending. We introduced Anthony to the young men, and asked one of them to help us give him a church tour. It was an amazing experience. Hayden, the young man who helped us was very nervous, but bore a beautiful, sincere, powerful testimony. This was the first time we really got to talk to Anthony in a quiet place apart from the chaotic surroudings he lives in. The chapel was the last place we went, in talking about the messages we had shared, he said he knows they are true. When we asked him how, he explained his feelings. This kid knows how to feel the spirit, he is so remarkable. He said the closing prayer, and accepted the invitation to discuss baptism with his parents for July 19th. I talked with his dad, who had been waiting and smoking in his truck for us to finish with Anthony, and asked about Anthony's being baptized. He said he didn't have any objections, and that he doubted his wife would, but they would talk it over. He agreed to bring Anthony to church every week.
They are hard to contact, and didn't bring Anthony or come at all to the baptism on Saturday or church as they said they would, but I know that Anthony so desperately needs the gospel and positive influences in his life. We are trying to figure out how we can get a stable person to bring him to mutual and church every week, since his parents say they will take him every time, and his mom says she wants to come, but never does.
Another miracle. Before I came into this area, the sisters got a referral from a member for a 24 yr old girl named Nicole. We have had contact with her since then, and have found times to briefly meet with her at work, but have never been able to teach her...until this week. This week we finally taught her at her Grandma's house, and it was so powerful! She says she knows that God sent us to her, and wants to be a part of the restored church. We talked about baptism during the restoration lesson as we always do, and she was receptive. We invited her to come to MerryAnn's baptism which was the following day. She said she was determined to be there.
We got a phone call the next morning from the member who referred her. He asked if she was seriously getting baptized that day....we were confused, we told him she wasn't, she hadn't even been to church yet, and would have to be taught three more lessons, and quit smoking before she could be baptized. He said that she called him seriously wired, and said that she was being baptized that day. Apparently she misunderstood our inviting her to MerryAnn's baptism, as it being a service that she could also be baptized. It's a good problem to have, I suppose. We called her and cleared up the confusion. She came to the baptism, and we gave her a church tour afterward, and she came to church yesterday. She LOVES it. She said one of her favorite things that she hasn't heard in other churches is that people so often say they know it's true. Most people here choose churches for the features--the pastor, the programs, the choir, etc, but seldom do they choose a church because they know it's true. I love this girl so much.
Y'all remember Mark? Great kid, 19, horrible family situation, has been living with an old neighbor friend, finally found work through someone he met coming to church. Cool stuff. He has no trust in man, and doesn't trust the bible, wants to trust the Book of Mormon, but doesn't want to be taken for a fool, and doesn't believe in Christ yet as the Bible and Book of Mormon talk about Him. He does believe in God, and has a relationship with Him. He has been having a very hard time, hearing so many people bear their testimony and talk about these powerful feelings they have and their knowledge of the gospel to be true, because he doesn't feel like he's gotten any answers as he's come to church and read the Book of Mormon. We have been relying on the Book of Mormon to give him the foundation of believing in Christ, and he has loved reading the Book of Mormon, but says he still can't say he knows it's true. Sister Dodini told me before our last lesson with him, that she felt that perhaps the reason Mark hasn't been getting answers is because he is still smoking and possibly doing other things that have been dulling his spiritual sensitivity. Neither of us had ever seen Mark smoke, or had reason to believe that he did, but as soon as she said it, it felt right. We decided to focus on obedience to the commandments in the lesson and read with him wherever he was at in the Book of Mormon. The lesson got intense (it normally does with Mark, he thinks very deeply about things), and he expressed how aggravated he was that he wasn't getting an answer. Sister Dodini was also aggravated in trying to explain things to him, and finally and brashly, told him that she could promise him he would get an answer if he would do one thing. He said he would do whatever it was, as he so badly wants to believe the church is true, and just wants an answer. She said, boldly and brashly, "quit smoking." The spirit overcame me as she did that. Mark's face fell, as he admitted his addiction, and said he would go to a dark place if he did that, not be able to be amiable with people, etc, all the real things that do happen in a process like that. He asked her how she knew he would get an answer if he quit, she said "I just know." I told Mark about the spirit I felt when Sister Dodini promised him that, and that it was not her promise, but it was the Lord's promise to him, that as he goes through the process of quitting, if he relies on the scriptures through it, he will come to know and rely on the Savior. Mark agreed to do it.
Since then, as we've made contact with Mark, he's been pretty short with us, he left the neighbor's home he has been staying in, and it sounds like he is sleeping in his car, and looking for a place to live. Please pray for him. I have a tremendous amount of love for this kid, and know he is suffering, but God will bless him with his answer, and help him work out his living situations as he commits to his sacrifice.
So many other things happening, but I dare not make this too much longer. I love my calling. In preparing for trainings, I have studied and felt impressed to share things, and then learned later when giving it, that while it was meant for everyone, it was meant for one missionary in particular, who has also been answer to my prayers. God answers multiple prayers with us, and allows our prayers to be answered in the process, it's been such a sweet experience.
So interesting that I used to be a little down on myself for not having baptisms. Then I came here, and we had Selena and Tim, but I still didn't feel like I could consider them mine. Then MerryAnn was the first one who was baptized and I was there for the whole process--I still don't feel like I can consider her mine, she was already prepared, she is just the Lord's. They're all the Lord's. I don't feel any more successful as a missionary, now that I do have baptisms. We're here as missionaries to give our all in service, and if we see baptisms along the way, great. While I have learned to find, teach, and prepare people for baptism more effectively than I used to, I still have so much to learn, and have always done my best, so I don't feel any more successful now than I did before. I sure love this work. It is an absolute privilege that God allows us to be His instruments.
Sometimes, when Sister Dodini and I are planning our next day, I say, "We have to be crazy! Normal people don't do this--leave their careers, education, families, loved ones, lives to wander around and talk to people in hopes that someone will let us talk to them about Jesus. The church has to be true. It is. The gospel is so true. Sometimes we don't feel the spirit super powerfully, because it works so subtly, and sometimes the spirit is overwhelming, but the gospel is always true.
Sister Liz Sheffer