Monday, May 5, 2014

"Yeah, hi, I'd like to order an emu." Louis Stevens

Hey all,

Well, let's start off with some good new! Today, a family I taught in the Gasca got sealed in the temple! We taught the husband, Santos, who was the only non-member in the family. He had listened to the missionaries for over 16 years and never got baptized. While Elder Paz and I were working in the Gasca, he finally got baptized. Last weekend, Elder Paz and I went to visit them for part of our preparation day in the afternoon, and it was great to see them again. They were so very happy to have arrived at their goal of going to the temple. Their daughter will be leaving on a mission soon, as well. What a great family. Elder Paz and I were so happy to see them again and to see their progress over the last year. We wish we could have gone.

Also, Esteban LeGrand, probably the strongest convert I have, also from the Gasca, went to the temple for his endowments today. He's awesome, and I see him often. He stops by the offices a lot. He's read the Book of Mormon like 4 times, Doctrine and Covenants, is the ward secretary, he's a stud. He was very prepared for the Gospel. He was the "golden" investigator that all missionaries dream about having. He contacted us, invited us to come, and was baptized three weeks after meeting him. He will be living in the U.S. soon as a Cuban refugee, so hopefully I'll continue to see him for many years to come. He is very spiritual and very awesome, and now very endowed.

Moments like these make every tough thing worth it in the mission. There are some very hard days, very hard weeks where the excitement to work really isn't there. The worst feeling in the world is to have a really hard working week, and then Sunday comes and no one shows up to church. Weeks like that make it really hard to keep going. But, then you have the great moments. It really only takes one great moment to forget about all of the tough things. I remember that at the start of my mission, it was hard for me to be happy and upbeat, starting out working hard and not seeing much success. Every time great moments happen, you forget more and more about the hard things and can only remember the happy things. The longer you have in the mission, the easier it is to always be happy.

I've had a lot of great moments now in my mission, all of them centered on the people I've met. When I see people like Santos and Esteban really become converted, I feel so blessed to have been a witness to that conversion. They are examples that the Spirit is the true teacher, and that we're only here to support the conversion.

What I've really learned is how important the Book of Mormon is to having converts. I've been able to keep in touch with a lot of the people I've taught, and many of them are still active and faithful in the Church. All of them are in such a state because they are still reading the Book of Mormon. The ones who have stopped doing so have also stopped going to church. Real conversion can only come through a testimony of the Book of Mormon. I have seen it time and time again, with investigators and with less actives. The less actives don't read the Book of Mormon much, either, causing them to forget about the source of their testimony. So much depends on that book, and that is why it's so important to study it every day. I feel like a lot of times where we feel like life is tough and that our testimony isn't as strong as it should be, it's because we aren't reading the scriptures.

Esteban is probably the best example I can give of someone gaining their testimony from the Book of Mormon. He is unshakable in the Church. When he told me that he was going to be sent to the U.S. for his refugee visa, the very first thing he asked was, "Will I be able to still go to church and the temple there?" I assured him that he could, and once he knew that, we started talking about other things. He has read it many times in just a year, and he is the kind of person that you can always count on in church. All of that depends on the Book of Mormon.

Lots of missionaries have lots of stories about the power of the Book of Mormon in the work. For that reason, this month (May), we'll be training on using the Book of Mormon more in our teachings. When Elder Holland came at the beginning of my mission, he told us that we should be using the Book of Mormon in our teachings even before we explain what it is. He spent more than half his time talking about the Book of Mormon, and everything he said was true. I've tried to use his advice throughout my mission, and it's been very helpful. President needs about three hours to interview a zone, so we happily spend three hours talking with the missionaries about the Book of Mormon. The best part about training is that the one training is always the one who learns the most. Good blessing to have. We listen to a talk by Elder Callister, great talk. It's the one where he talks about the two dots, one is the Bible and one is the Book of Mormon. Good guy, Tad.

In May, we're focusing on developing a Christlike attribute. Each missionary is to choose one and to set goals to develop it. I'll attach the sheet in case you wish to join us. We choose the attribute, set the goals, then pick the "fruit" that we want to see when we finish. I am choosing as my attribute for the month charity and love. I took the questionnaire at the end of chapter 6, and decided that I want to do better expressing my love a lot more with words. I write my love to people often and feel like I look for opportunities to serve, but I want to get better at expressing my love for others as I am physically with them. My goals for the month are:
Read 10 pages of the Book of Mormon each day
Call a missionary each day to do a verification and express my love and appreciation         for their work.
Read a story from Christ's life about His love each day
Write a letter each Saturday to someone just to express my love for them
Read a General Conference talk every other day about love and charity
The fruit I would like to see at the end of the month is a "rescued" family. Here, a key indicator in the Area is "rescued" less actives. To be rescued, they need to:
Receive all 5 missionary lessons
Attend church at least two times
Have an interview with the bishop
We also like to give them a calling just to make their return a lot more official. I haven't done too many rescues in my mission, and I would like to as the end is coming up, plus it will keep me working very hard until the end, which is what I want. We'll be working hard and doing lots of divisions and trainings in these next 6 weeks to finish as strong as I can. But, that's my goal for May! Like I said, I'll send the sheet if you want to do it, too. I totally made it, the tree is pretty bomb, right?

In a couple of weeks, a Seventy is coming to tour the mission, Elder Waddell. He came in November of 2012, so I'll get to hear him twice in my mission, which will be a great blessing. He is a great teacher, I really loved his visit last time. He talked about how to convert people more. He gave us the statistic that in the Area in 2012, about 36,000 were baptized, but there was only an increase in 9,000 in sacrament meeting attendance, which is not what we want to see. Hopefully he'll have some good stuff to say this trip, too. He comes May 21st, so those will be busy days trying to impress him. I've been blessed to hear from a lot of General Authorities in my mission, Elder Holland, Elder Maynes, Elder Uceda, and Elder Waddell (twice). It is always awesome to have them here, and when we listen to them, we never want the meeting to end. Lots to learn from these great men.

Today, I finished the Principles of Leadership book. I learned a ton from it. I kept in my study journal and in the actual book the notes I took, and I feel like I've grown a lot as a leader as I've read the principles and put them into practice, especially about arriving at goals. In everything I do in the mission, I feel like I've gotten a lot better about talking about how to get there instead of where we want to get. For example, when I first did verifications, I would give comments like, "You need to teach more with members present. What would be a better goal? This week you had 60 in the zone. 80? Okay, get 80 and we'll see if you do it in the next verification." Which really doesn't get us anywhere. A vision doesn't do much until we figure out how to get there. Now, I try to focus on little goals. We figure out how to involve members more, how many we would need to have each day, how we're going to verify it, and we're seeing better results. There are many things that I feel like I am doing a lot better at with being a leader, another example would be being firm and correcting when it is needed. When you put young Elders and Sisters together, dumb things happen. The iron fist of Elder Thomas comes down with force in those times. I still feel like I have a lot to learn, but I feel like I'm improving. There was one chapter on martial arts in the book, I've still got work to do on that. Very key to good leadership.

So, I finally got mugged on my mission. Almost two years and never once has it happened. But, don't worry, I'm not hurt and they didn't steal anything. In fact, I think that they were the world's dumbest thieves. Elder Hess and I get up at 5:45 each morning to go running. We don't bring anything with us, we just go run and come back to the house, no need for anything more than clothes. We jog to a park, do a loop, then jog back home. Well, as we were jogging to the park, all of the sudden two guys came running up from behind and grabbed us. One hand was one my shoulder, the other holding a knife and pointing it at me. My advice to thieves everywhere: if you are going to rob with a knife, be sure it is sharp. The knife the loser had couldn't cut a banana. Really? Then, the golden phrase by him. "Hey, give me your backpack!" I wasn't sure if I heard him right, because I had no backpack. I looked over my shoulder, and said, "Um...what backpack? I literally have nothing you can rob." I took out my pockets, nothing. Elder Hess was the same. The guy put his knife in his sleeve, then said, "Oh, sorry man. My bad." Then held out his hand to give me a high five and apologize. I didn't accept the high five. They left and I burst out laughing. Elder Hess is young in the mission, so was a little shaken up, but I just laughed and laughed. True idiots, bless their hearts. But, now I have a mugging story! Woo!

Hopefully Mom doesn't freak out about that one. Don't worry, Mom, they were super dumb.

This week is change week. I'll be losing Elder Ospina. He's been in the offices for 5 changes now, almost 8 months, and 4 of the changes were with me. He's been my companion for 6 months, and I'm going to miss him a lot. But, he wants to go back in the field to train the new zone leaders we'll be calling in these next few changes. He has 3 more changes in the mission, so he'll train a new zone leader each change. It'll be weird without him. My last change, I'll be training two new assistants, Elder Miranda, who has been here for 3 weeks already, and a gringo. I'll need to teach them a lot, but they'll catch on quick. As of Monday, in terms of the mission, I am officially "dying." But, I really don't feel homesick at all. I can easily stay focused on the work here, with the appropriate thoughts of home every now and again, but nothing that is distracting my from working hard. It'll be a great, hard-working change for me to end on. Time just flies right on by.

I hope that you're all doing okay without Dash. I'm sure it's weird to not have him in the house, after all of the years of getting used to his Dash habits. He'll be missed!

I'll have one more preparation day before Mother's Day, but it sounds like we'll be talking at 7 p.m. on the 11th. Can't wait!

Well, I think that's enough for this week! I hope that you all have an excellent week and read your scriptures a lot. Go to the temple, too. And see Captain America for me!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

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