Monday, October 22, 2012

The Last Melon


Well, this is the last big email home before I get there. It's so weird! We've had loads of miracles the last week, partially due to our systematically inserting members into our map so we can find them so much easier. We've taught two families that hardly recognized us as missionaries, but they've been on the records for years. And we've got ahold of some promising new investigators (three in one lesson! Isn't that amazing?).

President says that as a mission, we struggle finding new investigators, but once we've got them, we're like 50% more likely to baptise them than any other European mission. I tell you what, that's no surprise considering the incredible missionaries I've been able to work with. I'll be able to brag about the Elder Hollands of the future (since most of the heroic ones are 18 already) and that I served alongside them. Amazing teachers--even in those horrible practice sessions where we can't keep a straight face for too long, everyone can feel the Spirit.

It's sad to think that I only saw eight people enter the waters of baptism on my mission, ones that I helped to get there. But the number 8, in Hebrew, is a symbol of rebirth, resurrection, and of course, baptism. In the temple (down in the baptistry) there are 8-pointed stars and often the font itself is octagon-shaped. These 8 will never meet altogether in this life, but I pray that they will in the next, all together in the celestial kingdom. Isn't it marvelous how the Lord works? I will always see a sacred 8-pointed star and think of Noreen (Shekinah), Steve, Linda and Holly, Lina, Carla and Bruna, and Shalen. I pray that they stay strong. If not, I know that I have done for them everything I could--been the best teacher I could, followed the Spirit as best I could, and tied them to the ward the best way I knew how. I will do my utmost to live worthy of their trust after this is over and I seek for new baptisms.

The biggest convert, of course, is me. Heavenly Father does not require the young women of the church to serve in what are priesthood obligations, but He made it clear to me that I needed to go. He could have raised up missionaries of the stones on the beach to teach those eight. But He sent me so that I could reap the blessings of service and growth that invariably come to every missionary who tries even just a little bit. I will forever be grateful for these things I've learned and witnessed.

I bear record and testify of the reality of Heavenly Father. He has answered so many of our stupid little prayers with such speed. He has granted me the peace that comes through the grace of His Son, who understands exactly what I need. This is the only true church on the face of the earth, and Jesus Christ is captain of it. He will never lead us astray or let us crash. The Book of Mormon is the other witness prophesied by Ezekiel and John and Isaiah. How marvelous that we have come to a knowledge of God's actual character and of His eternal laws! We can return to live with Him, and more importantly, we can return to be like Him. I am so grateful for this knowledge, which I had before, but to see it in action and to feel it burn in every fiber. This is real because I am changed. This is the power of God.

Thank you so much for everyone who has shown me support and has prayed for our success here in the British Isles. What a blessing to finish in the place where the first apostles came, and where the first ever sister missionaries served in 1898. If any of you are considering serving a mission, this is the best thing I have ever done. Pray. Ask God if you should go, and He will never direct you wrong. If you feel that desire grow within you, it is the Spirit helping you to do the impossible.

Seven days left! Let's plant some seeds!

Love from,
Sister Willard

Monday, October 15, 2012

It's Freezing Here


Well, we've gotten to the part of the year when the radiators are permanently on and I'm sleeping with a hot water bottle. (Request for home: there are electric kettles in every household in England, and for some reason we don't have one. We should fix that. They're super cheap, and you can have hot chocolate, oatmeal, soup, and hot chicken stock for slow cooking in two minutes' tops. I personally advocate Rooibosh tea at breakfast time, but that's just me.)

Highlights from this week:

-I got to speak at church yesterday on counsel from conference for sisters, and I used Pres. Eyring's and Elder Cook's talks about feeling the love of the Lord. I talked about the false doctrine of earning Heavenly Father's love and how many of us accept that--it's not true, but the choices we make or things we do can impact how often we feel His infinite love.

-Paul and Alison got priesthood blessings this week, which we wrote down. They were really cool. Unfortunately, for the seventh week in a row, they have not come to church when they said they would. I'm ready to drop both of them, and certainly prepared to say how needed we are in Downend and how both of them are wasting our time.

-We keep getting hit on by Muslims. Apparently in Pakistan they do arranged marriages, and in today's society, it is difficult to keep a loving marriage together, let alone one decided by two fathers. So along come two sister missionaries, and the lonely hearts club thinks (lost in translation) that whilst there isn't a ring on our fingers that we are available. One such came to church yesterday and made us a cake and talked about the Quran through all of Gospel Principles and was souped-up on cannabis. I'm so glad our Ward Mission Leader is over six foot tall and three feet wide.

-Sometimes miracles happen by way of laughing hysterically for no reason. It releases the tension and allows us to be happy and enjoy the moment. Those are tender mercies, and they've been happening a lot this week.

-We've gotten to de-wallpaper two houses, and I've learned how to plaster a wall. It's easy. The family we were working with (Marcus and Laura) are so cute. They've been "burgled" twice now (three kids tried to take his motorcycles by pulling the garage roof off and dragging the bikes away--this time they kicked the front door down and were looking for the keys to the steel shed and took her laptop and wallet as well. Both times Laura caught them in the act and stayed calm enough to call 999--Marcus was freaking out and couldn't find his shoes. I think he should pull out his airsoft handguns and threaten them the American way. They've arrested two of the kids, but they're all wanted and no one will tattle on the others.) They are so awesome. Wallpaper is such a pain--go paint!

As far as study goes, I'm finishing up the Book of Mormon and the Old Testament, and it's been really rewarding to see the patterns of Heavenly Father in His dealings with His children. He has always called a prophet and tests the man to build his faith. The prophets are recognized by the phrase "Thus saith the Lord", with absolutely no association to themselves. The prophets love the people and want Heavenly Father to turn His wrath, which He so often does an account of some good man's righteousness (ie: Joshua, King Josiah). He still operates the same way. I've found that wholesale Christianity simply rejects many of the principles taught in the Old Testament (ie: The Law, there is only one path to heaven, there must be organization and prophets, disobedience brings the Lord's wrath, etc) simply because Jesus fulfilled the law.

I testify that there is a law, and when laws are broken on earth, punishments are exacted. How much more are they exacted by the Perfect Being who sees all in man's heart? How much more does He reward His faithful servants? He cannot reward us if we are not more faithful to Him than to Facebook, Desperate Housewives, or Chelsea's football season. We cannot pretend He won't care when we show Him that He matters very little to us. What is the first commandment? Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy might, and with all thy mind. This is why we keep the commandments. Because He loves us and always will. I am so grateful for this knowledge, for understanding that God is not some shadowy figure in the clouds, but that He has parameters and form and feeling and real power to transform my life through His Son.

It's so good to be a missionary! I've got one more email to write home--I'll try to make it a good one :)

Love from,
Sister Willard

Monday, October 8, 2012

Conference Weekend


Note: Last weekend during General Conference, President Monson announced a change for all missions. The eligibility age from Young Men has been moved to 18 (for all countries) and to 19 for Young Women.

Huzzah! The last time they changed the age was 1960--this is intense! It's the last long haul before the Saviour comes. Could be that they change the years required for service. First the senior couples, then the elders and sisters. It's true though--we've had loads of 18 year olds from Europe due to military obligations, and they're all serving in leadership and are incredibly mature. It really closes the window for prospective missionaries to drop out. And hopefully the isolation of sisters will shrink--it sucks when we can't talk to each other or go on exchanges for a year and a half.

Everyone in our pool stinks. Naomi all but dropped us, so there goes the last potential baptism. I think these last few weeks will be spent trying to find new people and working with less-actives. I hope the Harvester project is big and exciting for the ward--I love it when the members report to us their missionary experiences.

We didn't get the first session very well because the satellite kept failing, and I haven't seen Sunday afternoon yet and probably won't until the Ensign comes out. More and more people out here are manning up and getting BYUTV on their Sky viewer, so more people can watch conference at home. The only problem is the whole 5-7pm, 9-11pm sessions. I look forward to the morning parties at home again. My favorite talk was Elder Oaks (I'd already heard the talk from Elder Holland, but it was so different and even more powerful because it was given at the MTC. He was shouting and cracking jokes.)

Anyways, not much to report. Rain. I have to find a ukulele case or I have to leave it here. Hopefully there's a music store it town.

Thank you for all your support! I look forward to driving again--the buses in Bristol suuuuuuuuck your life away.

Love from,
Sister Willard

Monday, October 1, 2012

Trunky Moves


So we had the most disappointing week ever. Here are some highlights:

-Downend Ward Temple Trip--the first thing we'd heard of when we got here. Get an investigator to come and we could go. I've been to the temple 3 times since I got into the field. We killed ourselves trying to get Shirley, Naomi, Joseph or the Skinners to come for weeks, and at last we were all set to go with Paul and Alison until 9pm Friday night, when they called to cancel. So, naturally, I still wanted to go because we'd made zero plans for the next day. There were so many people going, and it had never happened before to have the whole ward there. We called the ZLs (who were going) and they said we couldn't go because they already told Taunton sisters they couldn't go.

-Naomi's not coming to church because her dentures are no good and she has to wait months for the dentist (typical NHS) and she's afraid people will make fun of her lack of teeth.

-Paul and Alison flogged us at church. We saw them in the evening, and when they found out we couldn't go to the temple, they said we should have told them! They would have come!

-Joseph and another Paul flogged us back-to-back (felt like I was back on Jersey).

-Jo dropped us via a text message. The Book of Mormon is not the word of God, and she does NOT like Nephi calling her church part of the great and abominable church.

I'm ready to drop everyone and start over. Except Naomi. She has a date for the end of October. I feel akin to Mormon and Moroni, who knew in the midst of everyone eating each other that they definitely were promised a place in the kingdom of God. It's helpful to have this attitude when everyone's problems and gossiping and bickering and family problems just drag you down. Maybe it's a good thing this is my last moves, so I can brush this rubbish off much easier and their problems are no longer my problems. It's amazing what people will tell you when you wear a badge that says Jesus Christ on it.

The Church is still true, even when investigators suck your life away. Joseph Smith did not write the Book of Mormon as a joke. The Book of Mormon is the word of God, dictated by the hand of ancient prophets as proof that God loves all His children. Why so upset that God still speaks to us? What will happen when the Ten Tribes come back from the North with their records?

I'm grateful for what I've learned. We're undertaking the Harvester Project next week--for every missionary moment, you put a teaspoon of wheat into the Ward Jar, and when the jar is full, we'll grind up the wheat and make the sacrament bread--partaking of the fruit, literally, of your baptismal covenants. We're really excited. Apparently there's wheat already in!

Hope all is well at home and that your light is shining to those around you. We really can't do this work on our own--with the help of the members, everything will take off ;)

Love from,
Sister Willard

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chuckin Down With Rain


The rain finally found us. We went three solid weeks with sun (the temperature is dropping by the second) and then on the way to church yesterday, the ocean came down on us. Whenever people ask where I'm from and then say, "It rains a lot in Seattle, doesn't it?" I just look at them and laugh. Seattle is a verified desert compared to here. Man alive.

Highlights from this week;

-A guy named Paul (Rwanda) came to church on his own--we're meeting with him this week to fill in the gaps where the elders left off (although that will probably mean re-teaching the whole thing.)

-A guy named Joseph (South Africa) was referred to us by Wells Road, and his first question to us was, "Tithing?" He went on to say that he knows he needs to pay it, according to Malachi, but his church doesn't teach that. We gave him a tithing slip and taught the principle and invited him to church. His other question was, "Faith--how does it work?" Out comes Alma 32 and personal experience--courtesy of Elder Bednar--and we were smiling from ear to ear. That was a rad day :)

-We are teaching a lot of part-member families, and I'm always intrigued as to why people just don't investigate the church when it's such an integral part of their sweethearts' lives. My favorite reason so far is one husband's, who, when he read 1 Nephi, stopped when Nephi was commanded to slay Laban. He railed on us and said it was against the ten commandments. My favorite title of the Savior is the Author and the Finisher. He wrote the law, He reserves the right to amend it in any given circumstance--however, I like to believe that you have to be prophet-status or so to have those kind of amendments made.

-Sri Lanka is apparently a fantastic place to visit. Everyone wants to speak English to you, they're much more respectful to women than in India and Pakistan, and it's the most beautiful place. I saw pictures of Pakistan in a Pakistani paper advertising to come visit, and the place is full of piles and piles of rubbish and standing water. Filth everywhere. I was shocked that those were photos catering to tourists.

-It's so great to serve in a ward with so many children--best DA messages are focused on them, and then the parents get excited about missionary work.

I hope the work is going fantastic at home. I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Love from,
Sister Willard

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Staying in Downend to the end


So we're not moving, thank all that is holy. I'm intensely grateful, since Bristol is like a celestialized version of the entire mission field. Here are some highlights from the field so far:

-I got to do my second exchange ever with Sister Pallekonda from Hydrabad, India. She is so sweet and such a good teacher--she saved one investigator from totally dropping us, which she would have done to the elders, except that they got moved. Miracles!
-I learned about the mission in Pakistan, which is part of the Singaporean mission. Only natives are allowed in. We're teaching two men from Pakistan at the moment. Both Christians, so they won't face severe penalties or anything.

-The mission in Madagascar is intense. Simon Evans, the ward clerk, got back about 8 months ago, and his average attendance on a Sunday was 40 investigators. (The most we've ever had was six, and we usually average about one or two.) The retention rate of 2000 baptisms yearly is about 85 percent, so the African Church is growing like mad. (The Danish mission baptises 30 annually, just to put it into perspective.)

-Ward Indexing party had a really good turnout. I worked with one of the older members, and he can read that handwriting like he wrote it himself. I had NO IDEA that scribble said "Henry Williams." He dictated, I just typed. It was really fun :)

-Taunton is opening a new area in place called Forest. Not Forest of Dean, that's in the Cheltenham Stake. It's like a village in the middle of a bunch of trees, and they'll have to drive to Taunton ward for the Sunday. Hopefully a branch will grow...

-This ward is so boss! Lots of the less-actives are on the fence of coming back, so we're working with them. The Ward Mission Leader is very supportive of everything we're doing, and the families keep telling us how great we are. Sheesh. I feel like we're watching a football game and winning, and everyone in the stands keeps turning around to us and thanking us. Weird.

We are having such a rad time! Still learning how to get around and what to say to all the Muslims, but we're doing great. I'm excited to be here another six weeks--we're trying to get an investigator to church every Sunday till I go home, which looks like it'll be pretty easy. :) Amazing!

Assignment for everyone who chooses to accept. We've got a bunch of people complaining about women not holding the priesthood.

So my question to each of you is: How have you come to understand this as the Lord's way? How has the priesthood blessed your life? How has it been a responsibility? What do you understand about the roles of men and women through this example?

Write back, and we'll be able to print it off as a testimony to our investigators. Are you in?? Thank you for helping us!

Keep being the great examples that home so desperately needs. I look forward to sharing all of our missionary experiences together! Nothing quite gets the Spirit in the room like missionary experiences, whether it's this side of the veil or not. You just feel useful in the hands of God.

Write to you soon!

Love from,
Sister Willard

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bristol!


At last! Sister Nelson and I have had every element combine to hedge up our way, including useless buses (Me to Nelson as she checks the schedule again: "Don't even LOOK at it! It'll just LIE to you!"), ancient computers all booked by old people who don't show up until the last minute, and the fact that our district meets at noon in town. We left super early this morning and I still haven't started emailing until an hour after the fact. It's a conspiracy, I tell you what.

Here's some of our highlights:

-Half the district is Chinese--Elders Wu, Huang, and Wan. Confusing, yes. We conference call to sing, pray, read the handbook, do a spiritual thought and tell a joke every morning. Do we get comp study? Nope, but we get to hear what sounds like a lot of geese from Kung Fu Panda on the other side. Elder Hilton is from Idaho. He's the calm reassurance :)

-Lots of investigators were left by the elders, all of whom had baptismal dates. It's a bummer to leave dates behind.

-However, on further visiting and gauging their understanding, we've hosed all those baptismal dates and have determined to reteach everyone. They do not understand basic things like the Plan of Salvation and they talk about how much they loved the elders. Be that as it may, I refuse to baptise any of them until they have a spiritual conversion of some species.

-Once again, we had a concern brought up about women not holding the priesthood and being inferior to men. The asker? A man. It's always blokes that have a problem with it--I've never had women ask me about this my entire mission.

-The people in Bristol are sooo friendly--I was a little affronted when someone asked me how I was on the street, like they knew me. Happily so, because Sister Nelson and I have been looking so lost the last week and a half. Both of us were trained whitewashing, so I feel much more in my element than I have done since Weymouth.

-The ward is HUGE! We're systematically stopping by less-actives, and for the first time ever, some of them did not recognize who we were. At all. It was like knocking on a regular door. We even got the response, "I'm happy in my own faith." What the? We have the same faith! Awkward for everyone.

-Moves happen next week. If they move either of us, I will reject that moves call altogether. I expect Sister Nelson to train after I die--she's an animal and asks things like, "Sooo--what's your problem?" when I am too scared to ;) Brings me joy.

I’m trying desperately to finish the Old Testament. Psalms are so booooring. I like Jeremiah, but he's properly depressing. But I'm almost there! Also I found an article about the first French Book of Mormon featuring my great-grandfather Curtis Edwin Bolton. That was really exciting :)

The ward seems to like us, and we've got a lot of leads. The best one was a referral given to the elders NINE MONTHS AGO but they didn't do anything about it. We went round. Her name is Shirley. Her daughter Tara joined the Church in Arizona when she moved there, and she didn't fess to her mother for ages. She welcomed us in and told us she thought the Book of Mormon was the biggest sham ever, but Tara is this brilliant scientist who definitely spent much of her life not believing in God. This church has changed all that. Marvelous. We are so excited to teach her--she's already reading the Book of Mormon daily and praying to know. Golden.

Hope all is well at home. We're so excited to serve here in Downend--there are five ward missionaries, a mission leader, an assistant, and they get us dinner appointments each day and members for each lesson. It's like stepping into the Celestial Kingdom.

Love you!
Sister Willard

P.S. New Pictures are up at Mom's Flickr Site.