Randomly Mom says, "We're excited to have Dylan over for dinner next Sunday." WHAT!? How did that all come about? I'm sure it will be a lot of fun. And yes, I totally want to be there. I will be thinking about all of you Sunday!
Also, I think Jeff was on the same Red-eye flight Dylan was on Friday night into JFK! You'll have to find out. Jeff is crazy, now just stuck in New York? Just a few months ago he was stuck in South America! Mom, how do you stand it? Tell him to stop planning trips without a set flight home! That's so great he's here in New York though! It's so exciting when people I know are just a few hours away!
Mom, that's way funny Don called you and left a voicemail! He's the one that is just like Grandpa Stevens! He's also the one with a baptismal date for April 10th. He's going to be awesome for the branch. When we met with him last Wednesday he said, "I want to give your parents a call and just let them know how much I appreciate you both." Then he said, "Is there anything else you want me to tell them?" I knew you were waiting to hear my release date so I told him to tell you I'm coming home May 26th. He called the next morning and said he tried calling you a few times and didn't get an answer. It was sad! He was like, "When is the best time to call?" I feel bad he kept trying and didn't reach you. I'll send you his number so you can call him back.
We have had a wonderful week. The sun has been shining this week! Sunday was the first Sunday it hadn't snowed for a few months. It really was a "Sun"day! Ha. We had three progressing investigators at church. But the best was to see this couple, Brother and Sister Swank there! We have been trying to reactivate them since early Fall. When Sister Despain and I knocked on the door they'd just talk to us on the porch, but never wanted us to come in. We kept being persistent because we felt very prompted to keep trying. After about two more porch lessons, they let us in. We've asked a lot of questions, but have been trying not to pry. They gained our trust and opened up to us, sharing why they haven't been coming lately. Guess why? Offense. We go to their home faithfully every Friday and read from the Book of Mormon with them. She always feeds us lunch too which is a bonus. Their testimonies are still so strong. Sunday morning, about a month ago, Sister Swank called and said she's coming to church! It was the best surprise! She first came alone, and the past 3 Sundays her husband has been there too! He's a former counselor in the Branch Presidency! We need that couple in the branch sooooo badly. They are almost reactivated! I'll attach a picture to this email that I took with them on Sunday. I love them so much. I never knew so much joy would come from reactivating. A lesson I've learned up here through them and Diane has been that God truly knows all of His children. It's been so sweet to see testimonies rekindled and the light of the gospel shine through them again.
Another amazing thing happened. I know I've told you about our investigator, John who has a lot of "why" questions for God about death. He's been at church every Sunday for several weeks. We found out what is one of the barriers in his progression. He always says he wants to have more faith. But he looks at autopsy photographs of both of his children who died in a car accident, every month on the 17th (the anniversary of their death), and that cannot be comforting. He was a former police officer, and had access to the pictures. So we turned to the scriptures to Alma 22 where Aaron is teaching Lamoni's Father, the King and the King says, "I will give up all that I possess" even forsake my kingdom to receive eternal life, and come to know God. We left him with the challenge of getting rid of the pictures, or atleast to stop looking at them. And how God knows death is hard but that he needs to remember the good memories with them, look forward to seeing them again, and not dwell on their death. He didn't like that at all. He likes the pictures. We made it clear that we want to help him find happiness and that's why we suggest not to look at the pictures. This month was the real anniversary of their deaths, February 17th. We met with him on the 17th, the day he usually looks at the pictures. We didn't bring it up because we knew it'd be a touchy subject that day especially, but mid-way through the lesson he said, "I haven't looked at the pictures today and I'm not planning to." WE WERE SOOOOO HAPPY! It's times like this that I want to just jump out of my seat and hug our investigator, but have to put on a calm presence instead.
We have been getting ready for the Open House. Oh my, it's going to look AMAZING. Sister Woodmansee is a scrapbooker too, so what a team we are! The theme is "We Believe" and each room in the church is going to be about something we Believe in, with the an article of faith or scripture supporting the point. Sister Woodmansee made the flyers while I was typing up short powerful statements to go in each of the rooms. These are the rooms: Jesus Christ, The Restoration, The Plan of Salvation, The Book of Mormon, Service/Humanitarian, Temples, Family History. It will be a self-guided tour. We committed each member to bring a friend. Sunday we let them take as many flyers as they want to hand out. Our recent convert, John was in charge of handing them out. It was sweet to see the branch members' excitement for it. Each room is going to look awesome. We've prepared a lot for it and are going to set it all up on Friday. In the Plan of Salvation room we're hanging clouds from the ceiling with the questions, "Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?" We've made a giant Plan of Salvation layout that will go on the wall and one liners above each part of the plan answering the questions on the clouds. We know a man we tracted into that is making an arch for us out of wood to go In the Book of Mormon room and we're going to label each piece. The center piece will say "The Book of Mormon" and somewhere near it we're going to put a quote from an apostle saying that it is the "keystone of our religion". Free Books of Mormon will be in there too. Each of the rooms will have free material. Elder and Sister Esplin are really good at the new family search website and are bringing their 3G internet service thing to show the importance of Family History and how we can find our family roots! Then in the Cultural Hall we will have the baptismal font open with a picture of Christ being baptized and on the other side a picture of a modern day confirmation. We're thinking of putting the 4th article of faith there. In that same room will be refreshments, and Mormonads playing (we have a DVD of them). That's going to be the last room they go to. I wish I could go off about each room. But I don't have time. The other day I was matching up things I typed out with pictures and I didn't know what to put with the "God is our loving Heavenly Father and we are His children, created in His image" because we don't have pictures of Heavenly Father. And then I got a splendid idea! We're going to put a mirror below it! Oh I love when creative juices start flowing! ha ha.
President Champagne has contacted soooo many radio stations and local newspapers for advertisement. We've been delivering flyers to investigators, less actives, former investigators, potential investigators and our neighbors. The word is out! We're hoping to have a good turnout. But it's quality we're looking for, not so much quantity. I just want to help bring people to Christ and feel of His love for them. Even if only a few people leave having felt the spirit, it will be a success. We are looking to find potential investigators so we'll be asking those who show up if we can come and share more with them. Saturday from 5-7 p.m. is when it is being held. We can't wait!
I'm trying to make every second in the Lord's service count because time is flying and this is the only chance I get to be here in New York, as a full time missionary, sharing with people the pathway to eternal happiness. I love it here. I am so grateful for this gospel and the joy it is to share it.
Well, I love you all so much! I think that's so cute Parker and Blake have a paper chain counting down the days until I get back! I'll be sending a lot of pictures in the next email. Have fun on Sunday :)
Mom, I woke up thinking about heart shaped pancakes and how cute you made the table look V-day morning growing up.
Thank you for the Valentine's Day package and the funny funny tape! I've listened to it twice and I probably will end up listening to it again whenever I need to get a good laugh. I was dying laughing at Parker's Bball class story and think you're wise to get on potty training him Em. Poor kid. His cute little voice! I could not believe he sang the whole song, "Follow the Prophet". I kept rewinding the tape to hear Blake and Parker. I love when Parker said, "I member you, Tia." And "Be my Vawentine!" Chad was hilarious. I made a tape in response and I'll be sending it off today, so get excited.
My companion has been really sick the past few days. Saturday we went to Insta-care and after like a 3 hour wait they found nothing wrong with her. She was like, "If this is how I feel with nothing wrong, I don't want to see how I am when something is wrong." It's too bad they didn't at least test her for strep. Her throat has been hurting badly. I waited in the waiting room for her and not until the ride home did she tell me they didn't test her for strep. I wanted to turn around and go back. All that waiting for them not to even do a strep test!? The Insta-care was packed full. I felt like I was getting sick just sitting in the waiting room. All these people were talking about how mono is going around. Sister Woodmansee didn't get tested for it but has slept sooooo much the past few days and her back really hurts. I remember those symptoms. I'm kind of glad I had it once before so I can be sure I don't get it again. Yesterday was the first Sunday on my mission I've had to miss church. I was way bummed but tried not to show it because I know she can't control being sick. One of our investigators didn't want to go without us there because she was afraid of feeling uncomfortable. Next week though. We've had to stay in Saturday and Sunday. She's feeling better today so we're going to go out and work tonight. She got a blessing yesterday from Elder Esplin and Elder Sherwood (a palmyra temple missionary). Elder Esplin saw on our counter all the valentine's day treats and said, "Looks like the Valentine's fairy delivered!" Both Sister Woodmansee and I got packages with tapes from our families on Saturday. It was perfect. I always feel bad if I get mail when my companion doesn't, you know? AND Dylan sent me a Valentine's Day package! He even wrote Sister Woodmansee a letter and gave her candy too. Nice huh?
Sad news: We had to hand Allen over to the Potsdam Elders. I told Elder Miller he should be kissing our feet because we basically handed them a baptism. Lately Allen hasn't been able to come into our area to be taught and so since he lives in Elder Miller and Maxfields area, they are supposed to teach him. It's been way positive for Wayne and Patty (the couple whose home we teach them at). We talked to President Bulloch and he said we'll still get to go to Allen's baptism, even though it will be in the Potsdam building. So now he's their investigator and they can start the fellowshipping process there with their members.
We met Allen Friday and broke the news. It was sad that it was our last lesson with him, but it was a good test of his conversion. Sister Woodmansee wanted me to tell him. Ugh. So between telling him we can't teach him anymore, calling and canceling our appointments with investigators Saturday and Sunday, and talking to President about Dylan, it's been a week I'm so ready to have over. Ha ha. I've had to face so many fears of confrontation, say a lot of prayers, and trust in the Lord for help.
It all went well and no one reacted badly. We told Allen the message is about Jesus Christ, not us missionaries and that's why they move us around so much. Prior to this conversation, Allen had said, "I don't think I'd listen to Elders, so it's good you Sisters are teaching me." Thinking back on that made us apprehensive to tell him he is going to now be taught by them. When we told President Bulloch that, he said, "Of course he'd rather have you teach him. You're two beautiful girls." Ha ha. Allen took it so well though and said he'll for sure meet with them and still prepare for baptism. Wayne was in the room and said, "Now if you come here and meet with Patty and I is Allen going to have to go sit in the corner?" It was way funny and totally lightened the mood of the conversation, which was good. We were laughing and saying, "Lock the door, Allen is coming!" We were like, "No, of course not. If he is here, we'll teach all of you. The majority of his teachings will have to be by the Elder's just because it's more convenient, and we can't leave our area to teach people." So Tuesday Allen is going to be at Wayne and Patty's and we'll be there too, to meet with Wayne and Patty. But we want a picture with Allen just in case I'm not here for his baptism. It's been a humbling experience, handing him over to the Elders. I've had to learn how the harvest really isn't ours, it's the Lords. It doesn't matter who does the teaching, all that matters is that they develop trust and faith in Jesus Christ. President talked me through it and helped me have a better perspective. It was hard though because I really feel like Allen was one I needed to come on my mission to teach. President Bulloch said, "I don't doubt that at all. That is why you were supposed to meet and teach him. Now we need to have him attend the branch he lives closest too." I'm over the heartache about it now. ha ha. And I told Allen to just pay attention to the way he feels when being taught from the Elders, because the Spirit is the same, and it can be an added testimony to him that this is really true, regardless of who delivers it.
Yesterday John (recent convert from November) taught the Priesthood lesson!!! Isn't that awesome? Elder Esplin came over after church and told us who of our investigators were there and that John did a fabulous job on the lesson. I'm sooooo happy John is progressing so well. I guess two of our other investigators (men) were there and the one with a baptism date, Don even said the opening prayer in Priesthood! It's amazing to see the Lord answer our prayers. Every day since I've been here I've prayed to be led to Priesthood holders who can lead this branch, and it's been happening. Elder Esplin said there were more men than women there yesterday! John is preparing to receive the Melchizedek priesthood here soon too. Not yesterday but last Sunday he passed me the sacrament! It was the coolest thing to take the bread from a tray being held by someone we tracted into. I love seeing this little branch grow, and see how the gospel of Jesus Christ really does change people!
I LOVE LOVE LOVE YOU! I miss you and am counting down the days until I see you all again, 101 :)
Have a Happy Happy Valentine's Day and I will too! Thanks again for the cute package and tape. The mini mailbox was adorable. And chapstick--so perfect! Love you!
Oh my, I loved the emails. You guys are hilarious! Why do we always do contests? Ha ha. Geez, I can see you awake at like one in the morning trying to make your hot chocolate the best. Chad is always the designated taste tester huh? Em, didn't you do this with chocolate milk too? I really laugh out loud reading your emails some Mondays. Aw, I miss you guys! New Beginnings sounded so perfect. Did anyone take pictures? I'd love to see how it was all decorated, with the signs of each store. I'm so glad the girls liked the theme so much. It's an idea they'll probably be repeating! Did you think of it, Mom? I bet the bishopric was so pleased with it all. Way to go, Mom. And how perfect that Em and Ash are now home so they could help with everything.
So, I'm so excited for the tape. I am going to start one for you too today if I have time, or next Pday. I can't wait to hear Blake and Parker talking! I can't believe they both talk now. Is little Katey talking now too?
Yeah, Mom you were right on, we got hit pretty hard with snow all week. And it's still snowing outside. It's crazy how close together and big the flakes fall here. It's like sheets coming down. We even got SNOWED IN on Wednesday. It was falling so fast that even the snow plows couldn't keep up with it. The roads closed and if anyone was found driving on the roads they'd get a ticket. Needless to say, Sister Woodmansee and I had the longest day Wednesday. We got a lot planned for the open house though (February 26th). By evening we were stir crazy and made some funny videos of people we know. ha ha. It's so hard not to imitate some people we meet because they are SO funny. I'm trying to be better though.
Such great news, we set another investigator with a baptismal date! He's been investigating off and on forover a year. I'm pretty sure I've written about him in emails or letters home in the past. His name is Don and he reminds me of Grandpa Stevens, so it's been so easy to love him. In the Fall when we'd ask if he believes Joseph Smith is a prophet or if the Book of Mormon is true, he'd say things like, "Well, nothing has shown that it's not true." And "Joseph Smith seems like an honest man." But he'd never say that he "knows it's true", he just hadn't received that personal witness yet. He keeps all his commitments though and reads and prays every day. Ohhhh patience. It's really hard with people like him who want to follow Christ but haven't received that witness from the Holy Ghost that it is true. Sometimes when investigators have been taught for awhile and have felt the spirit and don't take that step towards baptism, there isn't much more we can teach them and at times it feels like we are spinning our wheels. We call them "eterni-gators" and they're in every area. It really bugs me if someone's teaching record is longer than a page ha ha and so usually I like to get them baptized or stop seeing them. With prayer we usually know if we should continue teaching them or not. Don is one we have felt like we should continue seeing. We been meeting with him once a week and inviting him to pray really wanting to know. Lately he's been coming to church weekly, which he wasn't doing in the Fall and the feelings of the spirit in his lessons has grown. We have been able to tell with him that just in the past few lessons, he's become more serious and is sincerely listening. He even gets teary eyed. I have felt the spirit strongly in his lessons and I know without a doubt, he feels it too. About two weeks ago we invited Elder and Sister Esplin to come teaching with us there and afterwards Elder Esplin said, "He doesn't want to make that step to be baptized because his conviction of this being true isn't strong yet. He's going to get to the point where his wife gets sick and he starts worrying about death and then he'll pray with that real intent." We all felt that during the lesson and didn't set up a return appointment because we wanted to see if he'd call us or show up at church (oh the games we play, it's like dating ha ha). We rode to church with the Esplins that weekend and Elder Esplin asked us, "How do you know when someone is converted?" We talked about the things people do that are little clues that they are converted. Things like when Dan (Ithaca recent convert) came to a lesson and said something inside didn't feel right about listening to the music on his ipod, and so he deleted all but 4 songs. ha ha. And how John just shaved his beard off because he wants to look like a more clean cut priesthood holder. It's just soooo cool to see people make changes in their life, not because the missionaries told them to, but because they are following the promptings from the Holy Ghost! One of the other clues is when they just can't wait to share the gospel with someone else! It's helped them so much so they know it will help their family and friends. Like Amanda (recent convert in Ithaca) creating a "The truth about Mormons" blog and over skype teaching her husband the gospel, him being in China. Ohhhh I love these people! So with that said, we got to church, had our meeting and guess what? Don showed up with his granddaughter. He brought his 23 year old granddaughter! Elder Esplin looked at us and smiled when Don walked in with her. There is the clue, he wants to share it with his family. Then after church Don was like, "We never set up a time for next week." He was so insistent about it. It just warmed my heart! That Tuesday (this week) we went to teach him and he said he's decided he wants to be baptized!!!! He received his witness. His sweet wife is suffering with dimensia and he wants to be sealed to her for time and all eternity. We gave him a picture of the temple that he's hopefully put up now, as a constant reminder of the eternal blessings that come from covenanting. The bummer is the date he wants to be baptized is APRIL 10th! His wife's birthday. I thought it was cute but soooo far away. It's a big commitment though so we don't want to push him. He feels like he'll be ready April 10th, so that's when he's getting baptized. I'm really excited to write Sister Despain and let her know he finally has a baptismal date. It's way fun, Sister Despain and Sister Goettsche and I write each other pretty often. Sister Goettsche keeps me informed on the Ithaca peeps who I love there.
One thing God always proves to me is that he'll give people that witness of truth. I've learned to put my trust in Him and that He'll answer the prayers of those we teach. He's taught me that I can trust him too, because he provides that answer. It's always after testing my patience and faith. I promise those we teach that he'll answer their prayers of knowing if the church is true, and eventually He always does. It's deepened my testimony of the power of the Holy Ghost and through him we really can know the truth of all things. How grateful I am for that! I don't only know he's done that for me but I have seen him witness to so many others. Oh the reality of the Holy Ghost is sooooo cool!
Allen is doing sooooo well. I've decided who he reminds me of... JEFF. He's all tall and skinny and plays the guitar and is really funny. He's forty, but looks like he's in his twenties. When I get off my mission I'm finding a cute Mormon lady to hook him up with. He's so awesome, you guys. He even talked about wanting to raise his family mormon. I can totally picture him moving out West and meeting someone and marrying in the temple and just having this new life. On Thursday we met with him at his place which is in Canton (right outside our area). We were able to go there because we were passing through, driving home from District Meeting in Potsdam. Usually he comes into our area and we meet him at Wayne and Patty's (formers) and teach him there. Elder and Sister Esplin were with us so we were able to go inside his apartment. We taught Allen the Law of Tithing and the Law of the Fast. It's just so cool to teach him principles, now that he's gained that sure witness from the Holy Ghost. He trusts that it's all true now and he's really willing to live any commandment. Elder Esplin just loves Allen and thinks he's so neat. After we were done teaching we were all just talking and he said there have been very few people in his life where he's thought, "I want what they have" and that it's this inner hapiness that radiates. Then he said, "I noticed it in Sister Zwick." It kind of made me feel awkward and blush. ha ha. He looked right at me when he said it too. I felt like looking away because it was kind of embarrassing. But it was also one of the best compliments I've ever heard. Just knowing that the Lord used me as an instrument to help Allen realize where the happiness I feel is really coming from. Then he's like, "It really intrigued me and now I know where it's from, your beliefs." Then he said when he lived in Baltimore this black lady was on the same sidewalk he was on and she just had this glow about her and she was coming directly at him. We were kind of laughing. I could totally picture it. He said she walked up to him and started talking to him about God. He bore testimony that he knows Heavenly Father has placed people in his life to come to know Him better. I guess me and that lady have something in common? hmm. I thought Em and Chad might like that story. Before we left we kind of cautioned him that the adversary is going to try to distract him from being baptized and he said he doesn't care what anyone says and that he's already decided he wants to join the church. We were like, "Okay then!" ha ha. He picked Saturday February 26th to be baptized!
The saddest thing happened yesterday though. He doesn't have his car right now because it is getting fixed. So he arranged for his friend to pick him up and bring him to church. Well his friend canceled on him! So like 15 minutes before church started we got this voicemail saying, "I'm all dressed up, for the second time and it happened again. My friend can't pick me up, so I won't be there today...." He was even fasting too. ughh. We could just hear it in his voice how disappointed he was. So there it is, the adversary at work. After that happened and we talked to Elder Esplin about it we decided he really needs to go to the Potsdam branch, because technically he's living in that Branch's boundaries, and that way someone in that Branch who is closer than people in our branch are to him can pick him up and start the fellowshipping process there. We were really sad about him not being in our branch, because we've taught him and seen him grow. We're still going to be in charge of the baptism details. The Potsdam Elders are not stealing this baptism. We've worked really long and hard for it. Ha ha. But he will have to start going to the Potsdam Branch. He would've made a great addition to this branch, and the Ogdensburg Branch NEEDS him and his testimony, but we've gotta stick with the boundaries rule.
Just funny how the Lord has perfect timing: Allen always talks about how if someone asked him a year ago if he'd be going to church and have quit smoking he wouldn't have believed them one bit. And at that time (a year ago) he was living in Ithaca! We definitely could have met him then, but didn't. It strengthened my testimony that God puts us missionaries in places where we need to be and leads us to those who he's been preparing to receive us.
Well, I'm kind of sick of typing. ha ha. Sorry. I love you and I'll be writing you today!
"After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel." -Joseph Smith
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Sister Christina Zwick New York Utica Mission PO Box 149 Whitesboro, NY 13492-0149
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Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.
"Young men and women who serve missions are never the same. They return home with qualities and strengths that seem to come from no other experience. They know, as they never knew before, that this work is true and that it is the most important work on the face of the earth. They return home with a desire to continue to serve. They have established a foundation on which to grow in future responsibilities."--President Gordon B. Hinckley, Dec. 1986
“The Standard of Truth has been erected. No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing. Persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame. But the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and dependent till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, until the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the Great Jehovah will say, ‘The work is done.”
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Thomas S. Monson- 16th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
"Women of God can never be like women of the world. The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity." Margaret D. Nadauld (General Conference Address ~ October 7, 2000)