Monday, April 28, 2014

Que pasa, Calabasa?!

Hola! What a week!

I'm just gonna breeze through this super quick, please hold your questions for the end.

Our mission has never been able to Skype before, it was a phone call mission only. But today our mission president said he would let us try it for mother's day. So what are all of your plans?! I have every intention of calling Mama and Papa and if you want to talk to me, y'all better congregate to one of those two areas.

Hermana Gonzalez is staying here with me in Wichita Falls for another transfer! I am endlessly excited about it, I must say, even though I'm sure she's a little bit less than excited about staying here for what will now be ten and a half months in the same place... But I am selfishly thrilled about it. I adore her. And our companionship sees miracles every single day because there is very little room for contention between us.

Mister Mark Reed got baptized on Saturday! We went strong not eating sweets and he went strong not smoking and it was all fine and dandy. Until Saturday morning. One hour before the baptism. We get a call from one of the members who tells us that for whatever reason the font had been filled but the water came out green. We kind of pictured it just looking a little bit off color, but we went to look at it and it was murky and thick, like lake water. Super nasty. But after four thousand phone calls, Mark was baptized in a member's swimming pool, and even showed up to the baptism wearing a button down shirt and tie for the first time ever. I could have cried.

On Sunday, we had a family of 8 come with us to church!!! This family is amazing and we love teaching them. They ask a lot of questions and are always eager to learn more. The kids range in age from 9 to sixteen, and the parents, both moms, are both really sweet. We have had a lot of tornado-like weather this week and their family even let us and all of the other missionaries come into their shelter on one particularly scary evening.

After church, we went to Church Without Walls, another one of the interesting churches that Mark went to before his baptism, and still kind of goes to for the service aspect. This church holds services under the freeway for the homeless and they give out hygiene packs and food. It was actually pretty interesting. Except one of the men came up to me and was deaf and started asking me all kinds of crazy questions. I was glad I knew enough sign language to entertain a conversation with him, but he kept asking me if I was married and if I would stop being a missionary so we could date and have babies. Unfortunately, I had to politely decline. I know, what a bummer. I bet the fifty year age gap would have made for a solid relationship.

Last story, this week Sister Gonzalez and I showed up to a less-active's house for an appointment but he wasn't there. So the spirit, naturally, told us to steal his porch light bulbs and leave a sign that read, "If you ever want your precious light bulbs back, you need to call us and make another appointment." Now, I don't mean to toot our own horn or anything, but that less active definitely showed up to an activity the next day to claim his light bulbs and schedule another appointment. Who knew "thou shalt not steal" was a conditional commandment?!

Can I tell you why this week has been so wonderful? Okay, I will. It's because the beginning of it was the worst. I was just kind of mopey and doubting my capabilities and, ultimately, not trusting in the Lord. And I found myself counting down the days for the first time ever. But then I remembered why that's idiotic. I read my setting apart call, (because someone wonderful typed it up, lamanated it, and sent it to me), I prayed and repented for being so sluggish, and then my companion talked some sense into me. And ever since then, I have felt so motivated. So centered in the Lord. I remember why I'm here, what I'm doing, who I'm helping. And I'm so grateful for that. My life at home is amazing. But instead of dwelling on that, I need to remember that I'm here! I'm grateful that life at home is amazing but I'm not home! I'm here to help other people whose lives are far from amazing. Or help those who just need a little help remembering what God values them at.

I love this Gospel. I am unwaveringly aware of what God can offer each and every one of us as long as our priorities are set on the right things. And that God does not punish his children. He helps us make decisions if we ask for help, he gives us everything as long as we ask, and he gives us anything as long as we have faith. Because when our will is aligned to God's will, what we want and what God wants for us will be the same.

I love you all. Con todo my corazon! (don't be fooled, still haven't taught one lesson in spanish.)

Sister Best

Monday, April 21, 2014

Baptism Follow Up, Another on the Way, and Easter!

Week 11

Hola Beloved!

I'm happy to hear that everyone is doing well and had a good Easter. I also had a wonderful Easter but I'll get to that in a bit! This week has been long but it's insane to think that this is the last week of the transfer. I literally feel like I just got here. And I'm starting to get a little bit of anxiety because Hermana Gonzalez and I are both fairly certain she's getting transferred. She's been in this area for 9 months, which is unheard of. But I have very little interest in taking over the area and adapting to a new companion. I love mine a bit too much.

Leigh is still doing really well! She's out of town but she texted us and told us that she went to church anyway and had even contacted the missionaries in the city that she went to so they would walk in with her. And she brought one of her non-member friends! She's seriously a rock. The light of Christ emanates out of her every pore and I am so blessed that I have the opportunity to learn from her as much as I do. She has such a desire to share the Gospel. Sometimes even more than I do! Hahah.

We've had a really good week, met all of our goals, felt the spirit really powerfully, and strengthened our companionship. A lot. Every Friday, we have what's called weekly planning, and I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but we always go to Sonic and buy everyone in the district slushees (because we know how terrible it is) and then we sit in our den for two or three hours and just plan. It's... really fun. We usually end up just painting our nails and playing with play-doh so that we can stay focused. Trust me, it works. But at the end of weekly planning, you're supposed to have Companionship Inventory. Which I hate. Because it's awkward. I have no problem pointing out strengths, my companion is full of them, but I hate giving constructive criticism and I hate receiving it. Luckily, so does she. So we usually just say "Something you could work on... let's see... Could you please stop being so beautiful because it's getting distracting..." And then we move on. Probably not the best way to go about it. But over the past week or so we've been better about confronting our feelings and I've learned that when you're doing all that you can to better yourself, giving and receiving feedback isn't a scary thing. It gives you something to work on. And usually things I need to change are minute and I'm pretty aware I need to be working on them anyway. I think it's a good thing for everyone to step back every once in a while and say, "Am I humble enough to be teachable?" And if the answer is no, it's time to start thinking more about others and less about ourselves.

So here's the miracle for the week! We've been teaching a man named Mark, and Mark is... Christlike. To say the least. He claims he's not a "churchey" kind of guy, but he goes to a different church every day of the week and if he isn't at church, he's serving others; feeding the homeless, giving away his own posessions to people on Craigslist who need help, you name it... We've been teaching him since I got here and he has never dropped a committment. He always does his reading, he reads all of the standard works and True to the Faith. Religiously. He aks questions until he understands, but there was always something missing. No matter how much we explained the priesthood, prophets, every thing that differentiates our church from others, he wasn't getting it. We finally decided to stop just answering his questions in our lessons and teach the Word of Wisdom. We knew he had a problem with smoking and we were trying to help him gain a testimony of Joseph Smith before we taught it so he would understand its origin, but we decided to teach it anyway. So we did. And he was so touched. He said he knew this was from God (who'da thunk the Word of Wisdom would be what testified of truth to him?!) We invited him to pray to see if God wanted him to quit smoking a be baptized. He said an incredibly heartfelt prayer full of sorrow and belief. He cried, we cried. He knew this was right. We said we knew it would be hard for him so we would give up sweets (Because candy keeps us going through the day!) He agreed to give up smoking and he is getting baptized this upcoming Saturday! The Lord works in amazing ways. Really, truly.

And last but not least, Easter! Church was beautiful. We had a wonderful Easter Cantada in Sacrament and our choir was beautiful. (I bet Mama sang beautifully this Easter like she always does--sorry I missed it!) Then we went over to the Bishops house and played with his horses and donkey. Eventually I'll figure out how to send pictures from my camera but for now you'll have to settle for those which I steal from my companion. Our bishop and his family are hispanic and they always cook the most amazing food so we all helped cook dinner which was a huge metal pan set on top of a firepit that was filled with, like, six different types of meat. Then, out of nowhere, it started pouring rain. (Again, we're in a drought, so...) then it started to MONSOON. I've never seen rain like this in my life. The entire driveway flooded. We were cooking underneath a metal roof and the lgihtening and thunder started to get out of control. It was terrifying. But by the time we cooked and ate, it stopped raining and we were able to go outside and do what they had planned for us. I guess it's a tradition in their culture that they take eggs and hollow them out, then paint them, fill them with confetti, and cover the holes with tissue paper. Then you go and smash the eggs on peoples heads. It is... probably the most fun tradition ever. Way better than decorating eggs American style. I got some epic pictures of me smashing eggs on our Bishop's bald head. I've decided to steal this tradition and do it always. Who's with me?!

Anyway, that's my life.

I've been studying the atonement a lot which has been strengthening my relationship with Christ. And it reminds me why I'm here, proves to me how much God needs hands to comfort those in need. I hope everyone realizes how much we're all in this together, everybody on this Earth. We need each other to feel joy, we need each other to help each other. And we are responsible for one another. That is a huge responsibility that I know we will be held accountable for hereafter. So never forget how much influence you all have. I love you. So much!


Hermana Best

Monday, April 14, 2014

Leigh's Baptism

 Elder Steed, Me, Leigh, Sister Gonzalez

Week 10
Surprise! We had our first baptism yesterday. Didn't see it coming? Us either. She wasn't even on our progress record last week... So... Leigh is twenty years old. We started teaching her when I got here because she had shown up to church on her own and wanted to learn more. This girl KNOWS her Bible and admitted that she was only meeting with us to try to disprove us. So,naturally, we kept meeting with her. We taught her a lesson or two my first week and she texted us and told us that she wasn't interested in meeting with us anymore. This was the same girl that said, "Actually, I'm going clubbing right now..." Hahah. So we let her cool off. We didn't meet with her for a bit.

And then we felt like we should talk to her again so we tried to track her down but couldn't. Finally, she texted us and told us she had questions so we met up with her. Turns out, she was super depressed and lonely and wanted to keep learning more. I felt such a connection to her from the very beginning, but to see her talk about how she felt like she had reached the point of no return and she felt like her identity had been compromised, it proved to me that God really does put people in our paths that he knows we will be able to help. She and I had a lot in common. We met up with her and taught her another lesson and she knew it was true. She agreed to be baptized on the 26th. She even came out with us a few times to teach lessons to other investigators.

So on Friday, we were weekly planning and we started joking around saying, "we should just move her baptism up. She's so ready!" But then we started thinking... "Wait. That actually makes a lot of sense." So we met up with her again. She told us that she had broken up with her boyfriend because he wasn't respecting her new beliefs. And she had started dressing more modestly because her other clothes were making her uncomfortable. You could see a noticeable, fast change in this girl. We asked her if she wanted to be baptized on the 19th. She said she would be out of town so I accidentally blurted out, "what about this Sunday?!".

Well. If you've ever planned a baptism, which I hadn't, you don't realize that it takes quite a bit of preparation to plan a baptism. But she was excited! She was ready! So we just committed to it and got permission from the Mission President and she was baptized after church on Sunday. It was such a remarkable experience. You could see the light of Christ in her eyes. This beautiful girl thought that she was worthless and then found her identity as a daughter of God in an instant. I don't mean to be so corny, but I've never seen such a dramatic difference in anyone. It was such a blessing to see her overcome weaknesses.

After the baptism, we went to a members home for dinner and Leigh showed up with two of her friends. She said, "this is Abby and Kate and they want to learn more". Mind you, she had only been a member for like 4 hours, so how's THAT for "every member a missionary"?!  We started teaching them and answering their questions and one of them, by the end of our lesson, had asked to go to Girl's Camp and the other one said she knew what we were saying was true. We'll keep meeting with them but I have a really good feeling about all of this. So we're seeing miracles here in Wichita Falls!!!

Although, you know you're doing something wrong when one of your investigators texts you on Sunday night and says "Sorry I didn't make it to church but I'm stopping by Wal Mart right now if you girls need anything." Aww geesh, hahah.

Things I probably shouldn't write home about so that y'all don't freak out but I'm going to anyway: Let me tell you what's brewing in Texas. Yesterday, it was 100 degrees. I can prove it. I took a picture of our thermometer. Today, it is 44 degrees. We went from wearing t-shirts to wearing huge coats. I'm calling a tornado soon. Also, this just in. We just learned that someone we just barely met and invited to church stabbed somebody. So we're going to go ahead and not meet with him anymore. This world is... Horrifying.

On a much, much lighter note, here are some things that really stuck out to me this week: The church and the gospel are not the same. The church is just the vehicle that helps us live the gospel. So just if we go to church every Sunday, that does not mean we are living the Gospel. It may not even mean we understand the gospel. My testimony increases every time someone mentions that something, "makes sense" when we describe it. That is the very foundation of this religion, it is entirely cohesive, It is a religion of order because God is a God of order. So while they may be separate, the church and the gospel, we have the responsibility of not only going to church, but of living the doctrine that Christ taught, having faith in all He was, is, and does for us, continually seeing the good in people and doing what we can to love and serve them, and enduring, truly enduring by continually learning, growing, and strengthening our testimonies of him and his attributes.

I know with all of my heart that there is an answer available to all who get on their knees and ask. We can know why something happened, we can understand something we don't get, we can know what we're supposed to do. If we're sincere enough, God loves us enough to tell us anything. I don't think I really believed that God loved me before my mission. But being able to look at somebody else and feel the love God has for them really proves to me that he knows us individually. He knows all of you. He cares about you. He does what he does for a reason. And if you don't understand why, you're allowed to ask. But I can promise you, it's because you're supposed to be learning something. At least that's what he's been telling me. I love you all. I appreciate every single person who has helped me in my life, who has shown me the love of God through their actions, which is all of you.

I love you.

Sister Best

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Conference, Rain, Bizarre Week

Week 9

I wish I even knew where to start this week, but I don't. So let's dive right in. I will start by telling you that when you are on a mission, you see things and meet people that you would never ever even knew existed. So let me start with an interesting streak of events that occurred this week.

Tuesday: We went to a ward member's house for dinner and to teach an investigator. During dessert, one of the ward members stands up and walks to the bathroom. She comes back out looking dizzy and hot, a look I know all too well. She told me she was epileptic and I knew she was about to have a seizure but before we could run to catch her it was too late. She was on the floor seizing before our very eyes. For anyone who has ever had to watch me have a seizure, I apologize. It is terrifying. And you feel so helpless just watching them have no control over their body. After she was done shaking, she continued to be passed out for five minutes... ten minutes... fifteen minutes... eventually we concluded that we would just teach the lesson anyway. So sitting on couches surrounding a very passed out sister, we taught the Restoration to Melanie, our investigator. I asked our Mission President if that counted as teaching a lesson with a member present and he just laughed and told me that the member needed to be conscious. Good to know.

Wednesday: We had what's called "Veteran's Meeting" because I'm practically a veteran now, obviously, so we drove to Oklahoma City for this meeting. As we were driving through a toll, the car in front of us lost a hub cap so we pulled over and I got out and bolted down the (luckily carless because no one drives at 6 AM) freeway and then I ran back to the car and we "drove the speed limit" to catch up with him. When he pulled off and we gave him his hubcap, he laughed that my companion and I were matching, because yes we have matching polka dot dresses, and yes we accidentally wore them on the same day. So two things could come of this. He will either 1) Think Mormons are way weird. 2) Totally join the church one day.

Thursday: Picture it: it's 9:30. Being the completely hard working missionaries we are, we roll in and are walking up the stairs when these two Islamic girls get out attention and say "Hey, hey. Come into our apartment". We, naturally, don't hesitate at all and walk inside. They start giving us cookies and wine glasses filled with juice--don't worry, we both discreetly sniffed it to verify-- and telling us that they just moved here to go to school and they wanted someone who could teach them about Christianity but that they didn't have any friends. These girls are the sweetest. They taught us all about what Muslims believe and I was able to recall the little knowledge I had retained from my 9th grade geography class to ask about Mecca and Allah and whatnot. I asked how they know where Mecca is when they're in the US. Turns out, there's an app for that. Who'da thunk. It's funny having to teach them about Christianity and then teach them what we believe. It's also not easy to describe to two girls who really struggle with English. Unfortunately, I didn't learn Arabic in the MTC. Strange, I know.

Friday was somewhat normal. We met up with our new friends from Saudi Arabia, Amaal and Sarah, once again to learn more and teach more. We're really not allowed to teach them the lessons, for their own good, but it's an interesting learning experience. I've included a picture of them, they taught me how to turn my scarf into a head wrap the proper way, but Amaal was not fully covered the way their culture requires so I'm covering her up. What are bizarre apartment neighbor friends for?

Saturday, after conference, we were completely edified and spiritually uplifted. So what better think to do than knock doors of people who think you're not a christian? To preface this story, let me tell you what Wichita Falls is in a terrible drought so everyone of all faiths has been praying for rain. Well, Saturday (because the Prophet spoke, of course!) it rained! So we knock this house, a lady opens the door and the following conversation ensues:

Me: Hi! We're in your neighborhood praying with people to thank God for rain!
Her: Oh! That's great!
Me: Would it be alright if we prayed with you?
Her: Of course!
*Sees our name tags
        .... Wait, who are you with?
Me: We're missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. --Silence-- Is everything okay?
Her: No. It's not okay.

And she proceeds to back away into her house and slam the door. And my heart hurt. I finally understood all the scriptures of the righteous in the scriptures that say their hearts hurt for the hardness of their hearts. God bless that sweet lady. We are all Christian. We are all here to glorify God. And it is our responsibility to strengthen one another and help one another return to him. I'm grateful for this experience, because it reminded me there are so many people who may be happy in their faith but need help coming closer to Christ in their hearts.

I absolutely loved conference. I thought it was just what the world needed to hear. I loved the focus on being sure our standards align with God's law and that even though it may be legal of the world, it is not acceptable in God's standards. I loved how much focus was given to the nature of God, and what he expects from us.

I also expect you all to share with me what you learned in Preach My Gospel, per the request of Elder Ballard. ;)

Lately I've been studying the Sermon on the Mount, and I was impressed how often it was mentioned in conference. I encourage everyone to read it and apply it because it is a wonderful reminder of what God expects of us.

Our investigators are all progressing really well. We have quite a few that we meet with once or twice a week and that come to church. Mark, who is incredibly Christlike and obsessed with serving others, and KNOWS this church is true admittedly, but is nervous about the responsibility he would have to bear after joining the church. Pete, who just lost his wife and is intimidated by the amount of members in our church services, and Melanie who was baptized catholic a few years ago but feel that our religion answers the questions that her leaders in the catholic church never could.

This is exciting. Missionary work is (draining, hard, long, emotional) exciting and spiritually uplifting. Thank you (everyone) who reads and supports me. Thank you for the letters and treats and emails. They are consistent reminders of how blessed I am. I love you all. And I know, absolutely know, that God loves every single one of you on an incomprehensibly personal level. He watches over you and pulls you out of your afflictions one by one, he answers your prayers precisely the way he sees it will help you the most, he cares about you so much. I can feel it when I pray for you. I love you.

Sister Best

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Wichita Falls, Texas. First transfer

Week 8

Good morning everybody! It's a sunny day here in Texas. And if you're wondering why, it's because we're in a horrible drought and every baptist and their dog has a "Pray for Rain" sign shoved into their front lawn. But none the less, I love my life.

This week, my testimony has grown more than ever. I always thought I was pretty solid in the church, but I never realized how much I just accepted principles I didn't understand. And I think about how many people accuse Mormons of being blind followers. I'm starting to realize that the reason we blindly follow is because... well, there's not a whole lot to dispute. We know it feels right and we know that the things we have researched have checked out and made us happier, so it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to diligently look for flaws. But I'm here to tell you, without getting too preachy, there aren't any flaws. Just ill-researched theories made up of out-of-context material. I never realized how much people hate Mormons until I came to the South. But it just builds my testimony of the validity of it all. We don't sit in our services and trash other churches, and if you'd like to know why, it's because we're a Christian faith, doing what we can to be Christlike. We have no necessity to tear down other faiths, only invite them to learn more about how to be closer to Christ.

We've had some pretty interesting experiences this week. We finally got someone to ask us how we knew that Joseph Smith didn't just do a bunch of drugs and then make up the Book of Mormon. That was pretty easy to talk her out of. We just showed her the video of Jeffrey R. Holland rebuking everybody who doesn't believe in the Book of Mormon. Saying, "never mind that Joseph, Hyrum, and thousands of others either gave their lives or risked their lives to protect this book." That turned into a powerful lesson.

We also had one of our investigators invite us to "Broken Chains Freedom Church". Let me lay the scene of this awesome experience, we pulled up to the building in the middle of no where. We were the only car in the parking lot, everything else were huge motorcycles. We were greeted by two burly men with beards and tats and lots of leather. and walked into a building that smelled like cigarettes. It was fun, don't get me wrong. A rock band played all sorts of songs for us to sing along to and then we listened to the sermon. It was no uncommon for members of the congregation to shout "Amen!" or "Ain't that the truth!" after everything he said. I actually loved it, and let me tell you why. I have the opportunity to be surrounded by people who love God and Jesus Christ all the time. We may differ in beliefs, but everyone we have talked to worships Christ, loves Christ, and wants to return to Christ. Everyone lets us pray with them. They may think we're going to Hell because we "added to the Bible", but they care about us as their "Sisters in God" and want to tell us their opinions for the same reason we're here to tell them out knowledge. We all are just looking out for each other. And that's wonderful. But I know God knew I needed to come here to Texas, whever everyone is really firm in their faith, to help me see WHY our church is true, HOW our church is true, and how other churches are based on very true principles, but are missing pieces. And I don't know who reads these emails, I don't say this deliberatly to step on anyone's toes. But I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is operated by God himself. "One church. One faith. One baptism". I know this is the same gospel and church Christ established when he was on Earth. And because God is a God of order, he would give us a prophet to guide and direct one organized (incredibly, unrealistically, impossibly organized) church.

Despite what these emails sound like, I don't have much time to think about life at home or myself, for that matter, all we do is plan for, talk about, and think of the people we should be or could be or are teaching. So I'm getting socially awkward. In a good way, I hope. But I thought I should throw that out there.

We taught a bundle of lessons this week. None worth mentioning specifically, except for that when you're a missionary, you learn to feel the spirit in some pretty interesting places. We taught the Plan of Salvation to a man in a little dingy restaurant called "The Branding Iron". All you can order is meat or peanuts made by men who probably smoke in the kitchen and all the decor was made of dark wood and horseshoes. Hahaha...Sup,  Texas? I cried. It was awesome.

Well, to wrap up I should mention that I have caught myself saying "y'all" three times now. We better teach a lesson in Spanish soon. This is getting out of hand.

I love you all. One day I'll send pictures... I can't figure that part out yet.


Sister Best