Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Time flies when you're having fun...even more so when it's with those you love

2011 September 26

Yikes! Last letter? How the heck did that happen!? Oh well... guess that means we better make it count then, right? With the amount of entertaining stuff that happened this week, that shouldn't be a difficult task (aside from the typing part :-P).

Monday, I'm not even gonna bother writing about because it was pretty worthless/frustrating haha. We were supposed to have a few appointments during the day that fell through, but still pulled time out of our P-day, so that night after (a failed dinner appointment), we decided to take advantage of our p-day time and catch up on some much needed R&R to get the batteries charged up for the week.

Tuesday proved to be an eventful day haha. We decided to spend the majority of the day in Canby and try to contact a couple of potential investigators as well as knock for a few hours. One of the places we stopped at was the house of a kid named Danny that we had met a week or two ago. Unfortunately, he wasn't there, and there was some super paisa guy who was too lazy to even get off the couch to say hello to us. In spite of this though, we talked to him and tried to get him to open up. We were a little worried about talking to him because the rest of his family belongs to the "Luz del Mundo" church (an apostate branch of OUR church that got its start in Mexico), and they're not exactly friendly with the Mormon missionaries at times haha. The sweet thing that happened though was that he ended up being completely golden! We told him we were missionaries from the church of Jesus Christ of latter-day saints, and he said "another church? There are so many nowadays, and I don't understand why. From what I've studied, I know that there has to be one true one, but I don't know how I'll ever end up finding it. I know it can't be the Luz del Mundo because of the things they do, and it's DEFINITEY not the Catholics... I just wish I knew how to find it." Like I said earlier: golden. We told him we knew which one he was looking for and how he could find it. We had a really good lesson with him about the great apostasy and restoration of the one true gospel. A couple of times he tried to bring up some "money" questions to get bashy with us, but the spirit was so strong as we taught and testified to him that he couldn't cause any contention... it was cool! Oh, so that you know, "money" questions are the ones you hear from different churches: for the Catholics, it's "do you believe in the virgin Mary?" With the non-denominational Christians, it's "are you saved?" With the Jehovah's Witnesses, it's "what is the name of God?" and with the Baptists, it's "in what name do you baptize?" Yeah. Money questions to start contention haha. Like I said though, with the spirit that was there, it wasn't possible to get bashy, and he ended up accepting to let us come back. He even committed to read and pray about the book of Mormon!
Later that night, we had a little lesson with Jorge where we just hashed out what it was that we were gonna need to cover for his interview, and it turned out well. He's a typical nine year-old as far as attention span goes, but we've found some ways to keep him interested haha... you'll see how later on in the email :-)

Wednesday, we had a completely wide open day after district meeting in Woodburn, so we decided to take a trip out to Oregon City and try to find some Hispanics because up to this point, we've had no investigators out there, or even people to visit really. The thing that made me want to was the fact that our strongest members live out there haha. Anyway, it was fun! We drove all over while doing some racial profiling, looking for Dish 500, shoes outside the doors, spider-man bikes, curtains in the windows, more cars than occupants in the houses, F-150's with lots of chrome, bright yellow, pink, and blue houses, etc.. We ended up finding some pretty promising places, and decided to knock in one of them. It was kind of interesting how we found it, and even more interesting the prompting that came to knock it when we did, because we were supposed to be heading to dinner within ten minutes so we could arrive on time. There was a row of townhouses that looked potentially paisa, but after four doors of angry white people, we were about to call it quits, but I decided that there was one more door we should knock. Across the street, kitty-corner to where we were, there was a house that I felt we should knock. All things considered, it looked like a VERY white house. Newspaper on the driveway (Hispanics do NOT get the newspaper), Chevy truck, Nissan altima (not chromed/riced out), No curtains (slat-blinds actually), and a plain-Jane earthy green and tan color combo on the house. Nevertheless, we knocked it, and lo and behold! A Hispanic lady took one look through the screen door at us and said "come in!" We were a little confused because we hadn't even said anything yet, so we said "are you sure?" and she said yes, yes come on in! Sit down!" Turns out that this lady was a member who had been baptized in Mexico more than 15 years ago, and when she had come to the states with her non-member hubby, had lost contact with the church. She lived with her husband on a piece of land out in the boonies east of Gresham, and he was a total jerk who never let her leave the place I guess, so she had no contact with anyone who was LDS. Anyway, long story short, she ended up divorcing from him because he was abusive and moving in with her son and daughter in-law a year ago. Recently, she had been thinking about her church days and how she wished she had given her son an opportunity to learn the gospel.... then we knocked her door. Hooray for direction from the Spirit! We're set up to go back over and talk with her and her son this coming week, so hopefully it'll bode well for baptisms in the future.

Thursday was a freaking sweet day! So, the first thing that happened: I finished the book of Mormon again... absolutely awesome as always. The thing that made it better was that we were going to the temple that day, so I decided to try something. Instead of just saying a prayer and asking if the book was true, I could do it in the temple! I must say, it was definitely a good call. If you get good reception to hear answers to prayers by living the commandments, it must be like standing next to the cell tower when you go to the temple, because holy cow! I definitely got my answer. The book of Mormon is true. Jesus is the Christ. Joseph Smith was called to translate it by God. The church is true. I love this church!
To top it all off? We decided to go to Quizno's after our session, and someone paid for our lunch! It's like the cherry on top, right? haha

Friday turned out to be quite epic as well. We went out knocking in those streets we discovered in Oregon City on Wednesday, and it turned out to be a very good call, because we had some sweet lessons! The first one that we knocked into that was awesome was actually a Muslim guy named Ali (go figure, right?) To preface this a little bit, I've gotta backtrack a couple of weeks. So remember how I said I bought a Qur'an at the DI that one P-day? Well to entertain myself sometimes during lunches or at night after planning, I started reading a little bit just to kind of see what the big differences are and where we coincide, and it's pretty dang interesting. Fun facts for the day: Did you know that in the Muslim religion, they believe in a pre-mortal life, a code of health similar to the Word of Wisdom, that God the Father and Jesus Christ are two separate people, in degrees of heaven, and that scripture AND prophets are both important keys to guidance back to God's presence? They even believe in repentance and having what you do in this life "restored to you in the resurrection" when you're judged by God. Yeah... we're definitely a lot closer in beliefs than people think.
Anyway, when we knocked into this Ali guy and got to talking, he asked if we were Christians. I responded that yes, but not what most would consider "traditional Christians" which sparked him to ask what made us non-traditional. I responded that we were different in that we actually believed that God and Jesus Christ were separate individuals, that Christianity as most people practice it today is not the kind that Christ himself established, and that we believed in a pre-mortal life, degrees of heaven, and in modern-day prophets that go in accordance with the scriptures. He was kind of taken aback when I spouted all of this to him, and he said "please, come in and tell me about this." We went in and ended up having an hour-long conversation with the guy about how we were close in what we believed, and how we recognized that prophets are extremely important. Now, the Muslims believe that Jesus was just a prophet-- not the son of God, and I think even that he didn't pay for our sins. They also believe that Muhammad was the last prophet and that there aren't any more. We talked about how it's difficult to know that Jesus Christ was really the son of God with only the bible as a witness of his divinity, but that the book of Mormon was an additional evidence that he really was the Christ. Talk about a sweet lesson! Holy crap! That morning in my personal study, I had read a couple of verses in 3Nephi 10 that I was able to share with him (divine guidance on this stuff, I'm telling ya!) but here's the background, this is the chapter that talks about all the great disasters that happen as a sign of the death of Jesus Christ, and how it fulfills a lot of prophecies "of all the holy prophets":

"11 And thus far were the scriptures fulfilled which had been spoken by the prophets.

"12 And it was the more righteous part of the people who were saved, and it was they who received the prophets and stoned them not; and it was they who had not shed the blood of the saints, who were spared—

"13 And they were spared and were not sunk and buried up in the earth; and they were not drowned in the depths of the sea; and they were not burned by fire, neither were they fallen upon and crushed to death; and they were not carried away in the whirlwind; neither were they overpowered by the vapor of smoke and of darkness.

"14 And now, whoso readeth, let him understand; he that hath the scriptures, let him search them, and see and behold if all these deaths and destructions by fire, and by smoke, and by tempests, and by whirlwinds, and by the opening of the earth to receive them, and all these things are not unto the fulfilling of the prophecies of many of the holy prophets.

"15 Behold, I say unto you...many have testified of these things at the coming of Christ..."

After sharing this with him, We talked about the divine law of witnesses-- how that "out of the mouth of two or three witnesses shall the truth be established." #1: the Bible. #2: the Book of Mormon. #3: Thomas S. Monson. He was actually pretty pumped to hear about all of this, especially coming from the faction of Islam that he belongs to. There are two main divisions in the Muslim religion (didn't know you were in a religions of the world class did ya?): The Sunni and the Shia. The Sunni are kind of what you could compare "old school" Christian bible thumpers that believe that the bible (or Qur'an in their case) is it, whereas the Shia are almost like us, in that they believe in inspired modern-day guidance. Well, sort of. Anyway, because he's a Shiite (that's really what they're called haha) he's more open to the thought of modern-day prophets. We're procuring a copy of the book of Mormon in Arabic this week so that we can give it to him and hopefully have one more lesson with him before I take off... talk about a crazy lesson right?

That night we had another lesson that maybe wasn't as doctrinally exciting, but it was pretty freakin' fun! We taught Jorge the restoration, but we did it in a little bit different fashion than we normally would. We came to the conclusion that we needed to do something fun to make it more attention-getting for him, and at first we weren't quite sure how to, but then it dawned on us... we could teach the great apostasy by using some little cups set up in a pyramid to represent the teachings/organization of the original church of Christ. We soon came to the realization, however, that we had NO cups to build our little pyramid with. What we did have though was a montage of Diet Coke cans in the window that were already stacked up in pyramid form, so what did we do? Oh yes. We did... we labeled Diet Coke cans to create our pre-apostasy original church! :-) haha. Never did I think that Diet Coke could be useful in teaching the restoration, but little Jorge understood PERFECTLY after we showed him how it worked haha. Pretty sweet right? It was a good way to end the night for sure

Saturday turned out to be an all-day service extravaganza with president Martinez. We spent the entire day helping him out at the house and talking about who we were teaching, as well as starting a revolution in the branch to get the members excited and progressing. We started off by helping him haul off a cinder block wall and throw it into the hole of some random farm that was looking for fill. That wasn't too big of a job, but then the real work began. We got back to his house and came to find out he wanted us to help him put together a shed in his backyard. It had originally been owned by another member of the branch who recently moved out, and so they disassembled it into the four walls and two sections for the roof, but president had to build the foundation and floor for it at his house. It was an adventure putting it together-- lemme tell ya haha. It wasn't exactly square, and the walls weren't exactly plumb either, so it made putting the roof on a major adventure... especially since it wasn't a tin roof. This was a legitimate roof with asphalt shingles already installed on it, so each of the two sections weighed probably 250 or 300 pounds apiece. What we would do is all three of us would lift up a section from one side, lean it against the rickety wall (held to the other two walls by three wood screws...yikes!) until it was about to tip to the other side, then while one person held the piece from the outside, the other two would run to the inside and catch it and pull it up towards the center of the peak of the roof. This wouldn't be so sketchy, but seriously, there was NOTHING holding up that frickin' roof aside from a couple of wood screws and some 2x4's haha. Long story short: We got it up and screwed in place, but it's what elder Hernandez has termed a "Mexicanada" which translated to English would be the equivalent of grandpa Mooney's endearing term of "you-know-what" -rigged haha.
Luckily, we were able to make it out of there without having the dang thing fall on us/kill us, and only received some scrapes and bumps... oh, and a nail that stuck through the bottom of my sandal and into my foot...youch! It looked pretty funny, but it sure didn't feel that way! Oh well haha stupid is as stupid does right?
The cool thing about finishing off that day was the lesson we had with Elisa. We were finally able to sit down and talk to her after almost a week of total silence from her. She has been praying, and trying to be better about doing what she's supposed to, and we were able to talk a little bit more in-depth about baptism. She asked us what the requirements were for it (like if she needed to study the bible or take a test or something), so we talked to her about us teaching her and getting interviewed and she said, "oh, well if that's all I need to do, I'd be okay with that." She was feeling a little leery about getting baptized next week, and in all honesty, she won't be ready, so we pushed back the baptismal date for the 16th of October where I'll just happen to be to baptize her :-) Sweet right? I really hope it goes through because she's really a great lady and would be so happy if she just "gets" it.

Sunday, we had quite a few people show up to the branch... more than I've seen in five weeks here, and the family that I laid the law down on last week ended up showing up for church! Other than that, I played the piano again, and it made me kind of sad to know that was my last normal Sunday as a missionary. It's okay though, because we ended up having like a five hour block haha. What they did was the normal three hour block, a mix and mingle to eat and talk for an hour, then they called a special branch meeting where we were able to hash out the revolution :-) Remember how I said we discussed the revolution during our Saturday service extravaganza a little bit? Yeah... it's happening now! During that meeting, Presidente Martinez talked about how the branch has been stagnating and how he is worried that they'll dissolve it if they don't get more done and start growing soon. He was open to suggestions, so everyone started giving their opinions about how home teaching needed to get done, how families needed to read their scriptures, how people needed to come to church, help each other, blah blah blah. While all this was going on, a thought came to me (like I said, CAME to me-- this was not something my little noggin is capable of coming up with on its own) and I raised my hand. At this point in time, they were complaining about how it was so difficult to set up to do home/visiting teaching because their companions could never find time and the families they were assigned to could never set up a time to do it either. President Martinez called on me and out came the rebuking :-P. I said "it's understandable, and yes, it's difficult to set up to get your visits done, but let me ask you a question: if a close friend called you right now and asked if they could stop by and talk for 15 minutes sometime in the next week, would you make time for them to come by? Absolutely." I then said "would you like to know the real reason why getting your visits done and getting people to come back to church is so difficult? It's because you don't really care that much about the other members of the branch. You aren't really friends with each other, and that's what kills it. Yes, those of you that come to church have testimonies that the gospel is true, but you look at the branch members that surround you as your co-workers instead of as friends-- or maybe better said-- your brothers and sisters. The moment that you really come to love and care about each other instead of criticizing or just 'doing your duty' is when this branch will begin to truly thrive and grow."
Talk about a rebuking, right? I felt really bad saying it, and honestly, I don't know everything that's going on in the branch, but from what I've seen and what I've felt from different members in their interactions, that's exactly the vibe I get. The reaction of the branch was pretty interesting when I said it, because up until this point, hands were going up, comments being made, points, counter-points, etc.. Once that was said though, it went really quiet. Presidente Martinez said "you know, he's absolutely right. Elder, thank you for pointing it out, because it's something that none of us have been willing to acknowledge. What do we do to change that?"
The revolutionary idea that they're going to implement is a branch family home-evening every Tuesday night from 7:00-9:00 where there will be a potluck dinner and spiritual thought by the missionaries, followed by games so that we can get them to be closer friends with them. We're just going to open that night having three families assigned to bring a dish (so at least three families show up) and then inviting friends and other families to come and join the fun... Revolution!

Coming to the close of my mission, there is one last thought that I wanted to share that came from a scripture I read. Doctrine and Covenants 30:11 Here, the Lord is giving a commandment to Peter Whitmer as to what he should do. Up to this point, he has been faithful to the commandments that he's received, and is coming to the close of one mission, but is now sent out to another one, and it seems like it applies pretty well to where I find myself right now, so I took it to heart.

"11 And your whole labor shall be in Zion, with all your soul, from henceforth; yea, you shall ever open your mouth in my cause, not fearing what man can do, for I am with you. Amen."

From what I've put into it, who I've met, what I've learned, and who I've been able to help change and grow, I realize now that this simple commandment to Peter Whitmer applies to me perfectly. For these past two years, I've been trying to be obedient, love those around me, share the gospel, set a good example, serve the church with the time and talents that the Lord has given me. Because of this, I know that even though the stake president take my missionary tag off (and I'll probably cry like a baby), it doesn't change much. Being a full time missionary? Yes, that's a rare opportunity that I'm glad I took advantage of. However, being a missionary is part of your baptismal covenant, and unfortunately, I didn't realize that before the mission. Knowing what I know now though, I know that even if I don't have the mantle of being a full-timer, I still have the opportunity (and duty, actually) to share the gospel and build up the Lord's kingdom on earth after the mission. This is one thing that actually makes me look forward to go home. I know that with the distractions of life, it will be more difficult to find opportunities to do so, but I'm just glad I have the rest of my life to enjoy the gospel, share it with those I can, and someday build up my own family on the foundation that the gospel provides.

One of the last things I wanted to include here (like parting words of a dying person--or missionary for that matter) is something that I've come to realize in serving for these past two years. Going on a mission isn't a time of hiding the "real you" to put on the "missionary mask" and planning on going back to "normal life" and the "real you" afterward. You can't do that. It's impossible. Well, you may think you can (and try to), but if you do, you're an idiot and will soon find out you can't. Life will never be the same after going on a mission-- whether you come home early or return with honor, you're forever changed. Whether that's for the good or bad is up to you. If you do it right, you can be the "real you" as a missionary and avoid putting on the mask. As you serve as an obedient, diligent missionary and strive to follow Christ's example, you go through a refinement process where you continue being "you," but discarding the parts of you that aren't Christ-like. As this happens, you become the best version of yourself-- all the good without the bad.

I'm excited to be able to apply the things I've learned in these two priceless years to the rest of my life. To be like every other cliché mission-serving member of this church, these really have been "the best two years" so far. There are a lot more things to look forward to in life, but I'm grateful to have this as a source of strength, experience, and happiness to draw from for years to come. One thing that I should probably put on here with a little asterisk next to it is the "best version of yourself" part. I say that because I'm still working on that version of me, and there's a LONG way to go! Please forgive me if I'm not perfect when I get home... just like everyone else, I make mistakes. I'm not saying this as an excuse to fall off the deep end, but I don't want people thinking that I'm one of those who says the word "darn" once a week so that they don't immediately get translated into the celestial realm haha.

Anyway, Mom, Dad, Katie Jo, and everyone else who might chance to read this, I am so grateful for all of your love and support during this wonderful mission, and I am SO EXCITED TO SEE YOU! See you next Monday! :-)

All my love,

Elder Kurt Kay Mooney

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