Monday, September 26, 2011

Red Flags, Spiritual Lessons, and Spicy Chili!

What a great week it was! I want to tell you all about it. I feel like I can never fit in everything that is worth writing about, but I'll try to sum it up as best as possible.

First off, thank you so much for the cards and letters. I got a whole bunch! Granny Willi, Mongo + Grandpa, Grandpa Williams, Uncle David, Loralyn, Geoff, Jared, Dallin, Drew, Alex, Maddi, the Walkers, and a few more that I can't even remember right now. Thank you everyone so much. It was a great birthday.

We met with our investigators Latorie and Ashiana this week, which was a miracle. They are so hard to meet with because they never keep appointments. They were just cooking some fried chicken, so we came in and joined them and popped in "The Restoration" DVD. It was much better than the Jerry Springer show, which they were watching, haha. Ashiana is progressing since last time we met with her, and has been praying!
We also were able to meet with Cathy Casteel!!! She is the investigator that moved to Indianapolis and was going to get baptized. She came back to Springfield for a couple days because of court. The situation with her and her boyfriend is really messy. Apparently she got kicked out of the house the last night we saw her. Her boyfriend was mad that she came out to talk to us and tell us the situation and everything, and so after we left he threw all of her stuff outside and just kicked her out. So Cathy's dad drove from Indianapolis that night and got her. That's why we never heard from her. But she still expressed interest in the church and everything, so we got her address and phone number and we are hooking her up with the missionaries in Indiana. We were so happy to be able to see her! I'll probably never see her again, but I know she'll be baptized.

On Wednesday we went on splits. Elder Crowley went to Decatur and I stayed here. I was with Elder Hansen all day. We biked our butts off all day with little-to-no success, but then had a great appointment with Josh Rhodeman that night. Our ward mission leader, Brother Mendenhall (the coolest guy ever, if I haven't already told you), came with us.

Josh told us about how he had this extremely spiritual experience at church on Sunday. He said he didn't know if he should tell us, but he did anyway, haha. He said that while I was up there at the pulpit giving my talk, that I had this extremely bright glow around my entire body. He thought he was crazy, so he kind of slapped himself around, rubbed his eyes, and made sure he wasn't just seeing things. But the glow continued. He said the same thing happened with another brother who gave a talk right after me. He mentioned that the guy who was teaching Elders quorum had a glow around his head, along with a few other people he saw. He said he felt extremely peaceful. He knows that we have the Spirit of God with us, and that what we are teaching is true, and that God wants him to be a part of it. Josh told us there is absolutely no turning back now. He is determined to follow this path. It was really, really neat to hear him talk about this. The change that I've seen in Josh from the time we first met him is HUGE. We taught him the 3rd lesson, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It goes over faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. It's probably the best lesson in my opinion. The spirit was strong and Josh loved it. Josh asked a question and I don't even remember what it was. But I remember answering it, and half way through my little spiel I realized, "Wow, I am answering his question in a way far beyond my own ability to articulate what I wanted to say." I really felt in that moment that I was being guided by the Spirit and given what to say (D&C 100:6). It's really cool to have an experience like that and know that I am being used as an instrument in the Lord's hands. It's life changing! We moved Josh's baptism date to October 15th.

We met with the Pastor again, John Wentz. Normally, he seems somewhat interested in learning about the Mormon doctrine. This time he was 100 percent trying to convince us that what we teach is false. He said we read the Bible through the lens of the Book of Mormon. He says that we can't trust our "good feelings" to know that this is all true. He said that our entire religion is based off the experience of one man (the first vision of Joseph Smith) and that it is a really weak foundation. John said that we cannot trust our own feelings. His testimony of the Bible is based on logic and proof, which he admitted to. John always comes up with contradictions in our teachings with the Bible and says that they are "red flags". He has the NIV translation of the Bible and relies on his own interpretation to understand it. We both left the appointment discouraged and down. Crowley and I felt like we both failed. It sucked big time. I prayed really hard that this experience would be a testimony builder, rather than one that would shake my testimony. The following morning in my study, I happened to be on 2 Nephi 28. Nephi prophecies of many things that would happen in these days and talks about the need for the Book of Mormon. One verse in particular really stood out to me, which is talking about Priests/Pastors: "and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost" (verse 4). That's a red flag for me! I've had witnesses and experiences from the Holy Ghost that I cannot and will not deny. And when a pastor comes along and tells me to deny the Holy Ghost and rely on proof and logic, it just makes my red flags start waving like crazy. The first principle of the gospel is faith, not proof. What a testimony building experience that was! I wish I had time to share with you more things I learned about it. The Spirit was VERY real. Don't ever deny its promptings!

I guess I have to tell you about my Friday experience. Elder Crowley and I did the Holy Ghost Pepper Challenge. This family in our ward always does this for missionaries. They order ghost peppers from Pakistan and make chili with it. The ghost pepper is the hottest natural grown pepper known to man. If we took two bites of it, we got our name on their wall in really small letters for "honorable mention", and if we ate the entire bowl, our name would be huge! Only two missionaries have ever done it before us. I took the first bite and my entire mouth was on fire, including my lips. My head was ringing too. It was HAWT! But for a reason unknown to me, I finished the entire bowl, almost killing myself in the process. Sister Greene bought me a tie for my birthday and wrote on the back "Happy Ghost Pepper Birthday!" Haha. Elder Crowley finished his bowl too. It was one of the dumbest things I've ever done. Sister Phillips videoed some of it and put it onto her Facebook page. She said she added you Mom, so you can go view the videos if you want.

The peppers were a lot hotter coming out then they were going in. Hard to believe, but very true. It made for a very painful awakening at 4:00am on my birthday. The price you pay for success. Anyway.......... My birthday was fantastic. We were busy the entire day and never had a moment to spare. We went to a funeral, which was SUPER EXCITING. Just kidding. We didn't even know the lady. But Bishop asked us to come to potentially talk to this dead lady’s family members about the gospel. We might actually get an appointment out of it. We also helped an inactive member in our ward move apartments. Whenever people need help lifting things, they always call the missionaries! Haha. We had an awesome finish to the day. Sarah Headman is a young woman in the ward and she invited like five of her friends to come play volleyball at the church. A couple other people came and we had an epic 6 vs. 6 volleyball game. It was such a blast. And the youth in this ward are amazing. What an incredible job on Sarah's part. Hopefully she can continue to invite them to things, and eventually it will lead to them listening to the discussions. Who knows!

Well, I'm going to stop there. I love you so much Mom & Dad, Jesse, Megan, and Alison! I'm glad to hear that Ali is doing great in Russia. I'm excited to read about her experiences in the field. I'm glad to hear about Jesse dating some good lookin’ babes and shooting an antelope! And of course Megan and soccer! What an awesome family.

Much love!

Russell

Monday, September 19, 2011

Rain, Mass, Reincarnated Christ, and Then Some!

So it's been a bit of an interesting week! We got cut off 200 miles this month, which is a bit of a bummer. And we also have to drive up to Champaign, IL for Zone Conference on September 28th, which will be about 200 miles round trip. And also driving to Decatur for District Meeting hurts us with miles too. So we borrowed a bike for Elder Crowley and we've been biking a bunch to try and save our miles.

To start off the week, we decided to bike down to Josh Rhodeman's house to check up on him. They live decently close to our apartment, but on a really busy road. We made it about half way, and then Elder Crowley's bike tire popped. So we walked with the bikes to the Rhodeman's, and they weren't home. So we walked all the way back to our apartment. That took a good couple hours out of our day, haha. We ended up getting ahold of Josh later that day though, and asked him how he is doing with the Word of Wisdom. He said it's been really hard and he's been without Coffee, but has had a few beers. We were, of course disappointed, but we don't expect him to quit everything cold turkey. Living the Word of Wisdom for Josh will be a process.

Wednesday was a day I will never forget. First off, we went and taught our new investigator Cassi with Brother Giles, the member who referred her to us. She had SO MANY questions for us that she was never able to get answered in the Catholic Church. Just questions like, "What is the difference between God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit," and things like that. We answered all her questions and taught her the first lesson, The Restoration. She was literally taking notes the entire time, haha. She seemed to understand most of what we taught, and if she didn't then she would ask us so we could help explain it more fully. We were so excited! She is just SOLID.

We got the bike fixed and planned to ride bikes for the remainder of the day. We already had our entire game plan of what we were going to do. And guess what? It starts POURING rain. I put on my rain jacket, and Crowley put on his sweater (he doesn't have a jacket, hehe), and off we went. We rode our bikes around visiting people in the storm for 5 hours that day. FREEZING COLD! And guess what? Only one person was home the entire day. I thought for sure we were both going to be sick the next day, but we're fine! After the last house we tried, it was about 5:30 and we had to get to dinner at 6:00. So we are riding back and Elder Crowley was like 300 yards behind me the entire time. And it wasn't like I was going that fast or anything. So anyways, once we got back he rides up just huffing and puffing, sounding like he's about to die. He said he didn't understand why it was so hard for him to keep up! So we lift up his bike and spin the back tire, and it barley makes it around a full spin before it stops... Haha. The break was against the wheel the entire time, so he had been riding against it. Poor kid collapsed that night!

So we also visited the Veleros family this week. I don't know if you remember me telling you about them when I very first arrived in Springfield. I had visited them twice and then they left for Europe for a couple months. Well, they just recently got back so we visited them on Thursday! I don't know what to do with this family. They are SO nice. We are always welcome over there any time of day no matter what. They used to live in Sweden and they were really good friends with a Mormon family there. Those friends suggested that they move to Salt Lake City, so they did. They lived in Salt Lake City for about 7 years and really loved it. They grew to really love the church, the people, and everything about it. Sister Veleros expressed how every time the missionaries are over at her house, she feels this beautiful, strong spirit. They believe that The Book of Mormon is true, and that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. They believe that the church is true....mostly. They belong to this Unity Faith Church, which is really weird. The leader is a Korean man named Sun Myung Moon. He claims to be the reincarnated Jesus Christ. So yes, they believe that the 2nd coming happened. Sun Myung Moon's mission is to unite all faiths since all churches are true (they believe). But this Sun Myung Moon is not a prophet or anything, but they have doctrines which differ from any other Christian faith including ours. But yet he is Jesus Christ... but at the same time he isn't. I don't know, it's really strange. They are so committed to this Unity Faith Church that they won't get baptized and there is no way to approach the issue because they believe that the church is true! Very frustrating. Hopefully something can happen with them though, because they are so great!

We met with Cassi again on Friday, and had lunch with her and Sister Greene (her fellowshipper friend she met at church). It was a really weird lunch. Cassi claims to be so dedicated to the Mormon Church already. And yet at lunch, she was telling us stories from her life as a truck driver and how she has ran over people and beat people up with guns, and she was telling us all about the drug dealing and meth heads and prostitutes and all this junk. And the way she was telling it was like a high school kid who thought it was cool or something. Seriously, she told us about how one time a guy pulled a gun on her and she grabbed it from him and beat him almost to death. She explained it really graphically.... it was really confusing and we have a really weird feeling about her. She is converted to the idea of the Church, and her new friend Sister Greene, and all that, but if the Holy Ghost truly had taken place within her and converted her to the Gospel then she would not be proud of all these things and be telling them to us. And we don't want to baptize her (even though she wants to be) if she isn't converted within her heart. Otherwise she will just go inactive in months. Talking to the Bishop and the Ward Council, they all are very upset with the situation because Cassi follows Juli Greene around, and Juli does not go to Relief Society. Cassi also went to a primary class with Juli instead of the Gospel Essentials class which is for investigators. So Juli and Cassi have this REALLY amazing bond of friendship, but Juli is not a good influence on Cassi. So the ward council is not very happy about it and the Bishop is going to talk to Juli about it this week. I don't know, it's just a really weird situation. I'll keep you updated on it though.

As for Josh Rhodeman's baptism, it's going to have to be pushed back. We have a lot more to teach him, and he has to overcome his Word of Wisdom struggle first. Hopefully it will still be this transfer though, but it won't be on October 1st.

Also, we went to this massive cathedral downtown on Sunday. We went to Mass.  J  I've never been to another church before, so it was really interesting. As we were leaving the cathedral, this guy walking out with us said sarcastically, "You two are sure dressed nice! What are you, a couple Mormon Missionaries? Haha!" We turned around and said, "Yep! We are!" Then he looked at our nametags and realized we really were. And then sounding really confused he said, "Oh!.. Okay... Well you know.... this is a different church!" I wanted to say, "Oh...crap. Really? We must have taken a wrong turn! Darn!" Haha. It's funny how people think we are crazy for attending a different church. I just want to be familiar with how other people worship, that's all! I ain't judging anybody for their beliefs.

Well, that was pretty much my week. I think last week we were at the top of the roller coaster, and so we had nowhere else to go but down. I hope things will work out though.

Well, I love you Mom, Dad, Jesse, Megan, and Alison! And of course Granny Willy, Mongo+Gramps, and anybody else reading this! Thanks for the e-mails! I have 4 1/2 days left of being a teenager! Weird!

Russ

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Teaching, teaching, teaching

So I'm going to try as hard as I can to squeeze in everything that happened this week, without dragging out this e-mail. Short & sweet.

So we picked up 2 new investigators: Latorie who is 26 and Ashiana who is 17. Elder Anderson and I contacted Ashiana on the street a couple months ago and it has taken until now to finally get in the house and teach her! They are at very different points in their lives spiritually. Ashiana believes in some sort of higher power, but not necessarily the Christian view of God. Latorie is your typical Baptist. She believes in Christ and can REALLY talk the talk, but has probably never walked the walk, if you get what I'm saying. We had a good chat with them and taught them the simplest doctrine possible. That God is our Father in Heaven, literally. He has a body of flesh and bones. He loves us. And we can know that all of this is true if we pray about it. We have been unable to meet with them since. I probably have already told you this, but we don't really set appointments with investigators because it's pointless. We just have to drop by their house and hope it's a good time. It's tough.

We started meeting with Mike Standage a bunch this week. He is a convert of about 2 years, but went totally inactive after the missionary he got attached to left. This guy has no hope inside of him. He has no job, no friends, no nothing. He is almost impossible to get to come to church, even though he knows he needs to. We have started teaching him the missionary lessons from the beginning, and we told him we we’re going to get him a ride to church on Sunday. He seemed unsure about it. We have committed him in the past to come to church, and he always promises he will, but never does. We met a ward member at the church a bit early and then went with him to pick up Mike. Lo and behold, Mike was actually ready when we knocked on his door, and he came to church!

We also taught Josh Rhodeman the Word of Wisdom this week. This was probably the highlight of the week. Josh is a major coffee addict (he drinks coffee all day long, even before he goes to bed) and he is also a recovering alcoholic. The good news is that he isn't a smoker. He was drinking a cup of coffee as we were teaching the lesson. We started off the lesson by reading Moses 1:39, and explained that God's purpose and glory comes from making us, His children, happy. And then we explained the W.O.W. and how it can make us happy. We also put a big focus on the fact that our body is a temple and we need to take care of it. He of course disagreed with not being able to drink tea. He explained how it is actually healthy for us. We brought it all back to the Book of Mormon and explained that if the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith was a prophet. If he was a prophet, then the Word of Wisdom which was given to him through revelation, is of God. And when it all comes down to it, God knows better than we do! He then stood up, took his cup of coffee into the kitchen, set it down, and got himself a bottle of water. When we asked if he would live the Word of Wisdom, he committed to without hesitation. If that isn't faith, I don't know what is. We told him that reading the Book of Mormon would also play a key part in overcoming this addiction, because the Book of Mormon helps us come closer to Christ. And Christ is the one who experienced and suffered for Josh for this exact addiction and struggle. Today (Monday), Josh has been without Coffee for 4 days.

The following day we dropped by our investigator Sarah Koonce’s house. We stop by her house probably about 3 - 4 times a week, but usually never get inside or even see her. But this time she was home and invited us in. She had more questions about Joseph Smith and "where he came into the picture". We answered all her questions and she said she was for sure coming to church on Sunday. She said that this was going to be the "make it or break it" moment. So we hoped and prayed really hard to have good speakers at church that would teach about Christ and help her feel the spirit and have a good experience so she could be baptized.  J  I called her Saturday night and verified that she was still planning on coming. She said "fo sho"...................She didn't show up to church.

We also made a quick visit to a referral we received from a member. This kid in our ward who is about 25 (he is an inactive member but has a very active family that he lives with) was buying a new phone on Craig’s List. He went over to the lady's house to pick it up and she found out he was from Idaho and asked if he was Mormon. He said yes and she told him she had been trying and trying to get a Book of Mormon. The kid told his dad and they took her a copy, and then gave us the referral. She was very happy to see us when we stopped by. We didn't have much time to talk to her, but we gave her the address to the church and she said she'd come. And guess what...............................She did!

I was waiting outside the chapel on Sunday for her to come in (she was late) and she walked inside at the exact same time as this really cool ward member, Julie Greene. I greeted Cassi and then she asked where she should go. Julie quickly replied, "Come sit with me and my family!" So Cassi did and they really hit it off. Cassi loved church and participated in the Gospel Principles class. She was literally in tears multiple times and expressed how she knew that God sent her here. We have 2 appointments to teach her this week!

So church was just awesome. We had Cassi, Josh, and Mike Standage there. The ward was stunned to actually have investigators there! I think it really showed the ward that we have been working hard and that they can trust us. We are continuing to work hard and hopefully the work will continue to grow in this area. I really hope to have at least 1 baptism before I leave Springfield. If things keep going the way they are, we might be able to pull off 2 or 3. And the mission is really struggling for baptisms, so this would be a miracle. But I know it can happen. I'm loving the work, I'm loving the people, and I'm loving the mission. The mission office cut off a few hundred of our miles this month, which means we will be forced to bike and walk more. I'm excited about that! I actually haven't gained a single pound since I left Florissant. I thought for sure with all the driving we do that I would have gained some. But nope! Haha.

Well, I love you Mom & Dad, and Jesse and Megan, and Alison. You’re all in my prayers!
Thanks for everything!

Elder Williams

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hoarders, Thugs, and a Baptism Date!

Well first off, I'll give you the news. Elder Crowley and I are staying together for another transfer in Springfield. This will be the first time that I serve with a companion for longer than one transfer! We are both pretty happy because we have some work to do this transfer! We are going to get at least one baptism! The district is changing a lot though. Our Zone Leaders are being white washed (both of them are leaving the area and we have 2 new ZLs coming in), and we'll have a new District Leader too.

We went to the temple on Saturday with Toni, as you already know. It went great! Elder Adams was there with his parents, as well as Elders Larsen and Saulala. It was also good to see some members from the Florissant Ward. But of course, the best part was being there with Toni. She seemed to LOVE the temple. We were in a really big rush and I waited outside for a few minutes for Toni to come out, but I think she was just chillin' in the Celestial Room for a while so I didn't get any pictures.  L  Sorry Mom!

So let’s see about my week... We FINALLY got to sit down and teach a lesson with Sarah Koonce. She is so hard to catch. Her pastor has been telling her not to meet with us and that we worship Joseph Smith and all sorts of garbage like that. We sat down with her and just taught her what we really believe. We even expressed interest in visiting her church some time, which she thought was pretty crazy because she is used to her pastor slamming on other churches like ours, and so I guess she expected we would do the same to hers. We are supposed to meet with her today at 3:00. She isn't known for keeping appointments, but we hope and pray she'll be there!

We also met a lady named Susan. She is a former investigator that we called up and she wanted us to come down and do some service, and so we agreed. Turns out she is a huge hoarder and her house was just filthy and full of junk. We spent a couple hours filling garbage sacks up with toys. She wanted us to "sell it on EBay and donate the money to the Church". Haha, we threw it all away. Hopefully we can start teaching her soon. She lives in Taylorville which is about 45 minutes away from Springfield. It's kind of a pain to get there, but we'll do what we can!

We met with our pastor investigator, John Wentz on Thursday. He finished 2 Nephi. He always has plenty of questions for us. For example, he had a question that was in the Book of Mormon about money and how it shouldn't be why we teach or something like that. He asked us if we thought it was bad for pastors like him to get paid. We followed the spirit and basically answered that it isn't bad, but it's about where our heart is. He then pulled out a scripture from the Bible that he interprets that it's okay to get paid for preaching. So he was basically waiting for us to say that it was wrong, and if we did he was going to slam that scripture down, haha.

So basically what John is doing is looking for errors in the Book of Mormon. He reads it along with the Bible and looks for contradictions, and if it seems to go fine he will use an educated judgment that it teaches truth. We explained that he will not get an answer by looking for errors. He needs to read it with faith and rely on God to tell him that it's true rather than using his own judgment. Not to mention that he will miss all the good teachings in the book if he only looks for the bad! We hope to be able to sit down with him longer this Thursday and explain that a little better. He also questions that if the Priesthood was lost, why would God wait 1800 years to restore it to the Earth? Which is a valid question. He just views it as God failing, rather than the people on earth exercising their agency to choose wickedness. John has much to learn!

We met a guy named Dion who is really nice. He is 35 years old and still caught up in the gangster life. He is from Chicago but got chased out of there and came to Springfield. He can't go to St. Louis because there are people who will kill him if he does. Haha, so he is stuck in Springfield. Really interesting guy! He is desperate for a job and he thinks Christ can help him out. His only problem is, despite the fact that he has killed people and commits fornication plus plenty of other things, he still thinks he already has Christ with him. That's a very common thing that people believe. We want to help them come unto Christ, but how can we do that if they think they are already there? People need to learn that there is no arrival. It's constant progression. I'll keep you updated on good ol' Dion though!

Last but least, we taught Josh Rhodeman twice. The first lesson we had with him we basically talked about the Book of Mormon, and we read some of it with him. He drinks beer and coffee every day, and he knows he is going to have to give that up if he joins the Church. He refers to them as his "crutch"...which is exactly why we aren't supposed to partake of those things! Ha. Last night Brother Mendenhall (our ward mission leader) came with us to their house and we taught the Plan of Salvation. It went really well. At first, the Spirit wasn't very strong due to lack of preparation on our part. But when we started talking about the atonement, the most important part to the Plan of Salvation, the spirit came in and the lesson went great. WE COMMITTED HIM TO BAPTISM ON OCTOBER 1ST!!!! He explained that he is going through a rough time in his life right now. He didn't give us any details but told us that because of this rough physical change he's having with life, it's triggered his desire to have a spiritual change. He doesn't know if he'll be ready by October 1st, but he said he'd pray about it and work towards it.

So that was basically my week. Thanks for the letters and e-mails! I love you family!

Elder Williams