Wednesday, February 17, 2016

17 February 2016

Note:"Taco Tuesday" is a group of friends from Daniel's high school racquetball team who all went to Taco Bell after Tuesday night practices.

Dear All, 

It has been yet another crazy week. 

I've been on two emergency splits this week and one planned split. For those who don't know what that means, a split means I am companions with someone else for 24 hours. It's generally with the missionary's leaders so they can just spend a day proselyting with them to see how everything's going. So Friday was a planned split with Elder Buckley, who's one of my zone leaders. It was awesome. We had seven lessons that day and met a ton of people. We worked super-hard and just honestly went hard in the paint. We had a ton of success, but were completely exhausted by the end of the day. It was nice to have a day like that because it reminded me that even in this ASL program, which is struggling very badly, we can have success. Elder Buckley serves in the Spanish Harlem area, so one of his major purposes in splitting with me was to learn more about the ASL program. So I gave him a lot of information about it. It helped him realize why our program has been struggling so much. There are some personal issues, and our branch really struggles. I bring this up because I've gained a strong testimony of why I've been called to this specific mission. Our branch needs a lot of help before we can go find a ton of investigators. This is not to say that we shouldn't be finding people, but we want to make sure that when people are baptized and they join the church, they have a strong group of people to support them. However, we can't help a lot of other people if we can't even help ourselves. We've got to work hard to make sure our district works well together and functions before we can help others. Again, I want to emphasize that I'm not saying, "serve yourself before you serve others." What I'm saying is that maybe a successful mission starts with companionships who get along well and work well together. President Smith and my district and zone leaders have involved me a lot in the potential changes and have asked me to voice my opinions many times. In these moments, I do everything I can to allow the Spirit to speak through me rather than just say what I think. I have felt a strong witness from the Spirit that this is a huge reason I've been called to this mission. 

Now let me explain the whole emergency split and district problems thing. So on Saturday night at 8:00 we were called and asked how quickly I could pack my bags. As I'm sure anyone can imagine, that phrase made my heart drop really fast. Eventually he explained that the other companionship needed an emergency split, hopefully for 24 hours but possibly for multiple days. I will admit that I did not have the best attitude about this. I really didn't want to leave the East area to go to the West area, I also didn't want to leave my companion. I didn't want to be at the other apartment for multiple days. There were a lot of things I didn't want. But I reminded myself, "It's not about you," from Elder Bednar's "Character of Christ" talk. So I was on splits at the other apartment for a couple days. I don't want to explain any of the details of who, what, when, where, or why so I'll just keep it at that. Now this may sound a little rough in the beginning, but it gets good.

Lots of people come on the subways playing music with their instruments and asking for money or just straight up selling stuff. It's illegal, but no one really cares anymore, nor do I know if anyone ever cared. So we got on the train and there were 6 cops on it. This is something that has been pretty common: lots of cops on a train usually searching for someone. On the same train there's a guy playing the guitar, the way people do it asking for money. The cops didn't care, at all. I think it's funny how this guy doesn't care that there are cops, and he just continues to play, and on the flip side, the cops don't care either. Although it's a very minor law and really not a big deal, it's still a law. Just a funny thought I had. New York cops seem pretty relaxed as a whole.

Taco Tuesday, this one's for you! I WENT TO TACO BELL ON FRIDAY WITH MY ZONE LEADER. It was so awesome. It had been almost three months since I had Taco Bell. That's got to be some kind of record for me. Going every Tuesday and usually another time during the week for a few months, and then going almost three without it makes it taste so much better. That was definitely one of the highlights of the week.

Oh my goodness there was a straight-up miracle this week, although sadly, there wasn't the immediate happy ending I had hoped for, but I have faith that there will be a happy ending ultimately. So we (Elder Buckley and I) were supposed to meet at the Harlem Chapel at 8:30 pm on Friday to end our split, but then the bus didn't come to co-op city until 8:45. The bus was scheduled to arrive at 8:05, and we would have been late even if it came at that time. At the time I wrote this, "There's either a really good reason for this craziness or some bus driver decided not to show up for work." But wait, there's more. Elder Buckley and I got on the bus and within a few seconds I realized that there were three deaf people signing to each other. What the heck! Elder Holloway has been out for 18 months and he's only run into like 3 deaf people his whole mission. I tried to join in the deaf people's conversation but they weren't very welcoming. I almost gave up but Elder Buckley was like "Dude, this is why the bus was super late, don't give up." I thought the same thing so I just inserted myself into the conversation, thinking that if they really didn't want to talk to me then I wouldn't bother them, but I had to at least give it a shot. One of them really didn't like me, the other was just super ticked off for whatever reason and staring at the corner, and the third was completely refusing to give me her contact info. I taught her a lesson and gave her a card and also gave the other girl a card. I continued to try to get her contact info but she swore she would call us at some point. I have no doubt that the reason the whole bus thing happened was so that I could meet one of those three people. Something is going to come from it, I just don't know when or if I'll even have any more of a role in it.

So we get on a train and I sit down, I'm looking forward and there's a very inappropriate advertisement, which I've seen on a lot of other trains. I just move to the other side so I can look forward without seeing that ad. I move to the other side, look forward and there's another inappropriate advertisement for something else. So my only option is to look down. That happens pretty frequently here, which kinda stinks. You know, I've talked with a lot of the other Elders here about New York. We all agreed that before we got here, whenever we thought of New York, we'd think of the famous pictures of the skyline from Roosevelt Island. That's the only kind of stuff they really show on TV and movies. It's always Manhattan, and it's only parts of South Manhattan. It's always a ton of rich people walking around in these beautiful areas and so it portrays New York as the American Dream. Let me say something, most of New York is not that. Most of it is pretty ghetto with garbage everywhere, unhappy people, lots of crime, and just a general awful environment to live in. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love serving here and this place is super legit, but I would never want to raise a family here. These awful things that I see help me appreciate what I have, and it helps me just love it here even more. It makes me realize that I've been unhappy at times for silly reasons, like because a hotel wasn't as nice as I wanted, or something else wasn't exactly the way I wanted it. There are plenty of people here who are extremely happy with what they have. The Bronx is a very popular place for immigrants, specifically from the Dominican Republic. We commonly ask what made these people come here, and it's always how they wanted a better life. These people are usually very grateful for the better life they have here, which seems to me that they must have come from a truly awful life. I cannot imagine how growing up was for them. It makes me sad to think about, but it's incredible how awesome these people are. So hey, the American Dream is still alive.

We've got a few members/investigators with Usher syndrome. I'm not exactly sure what Usher's is, but essentially it means you slowly go blind. The members that have it are getting worse, rather than getting better. One or two of them have it so bad that they're pretty much blind, so they have to hold your hands when you're signing to them. They'll understand what you say as long as they're holding your hands as you sign. So one of the deaf/blind members is here, and Elder Brown (from the South Mission) would sign everything the speakers and teachers signed, while the member held his hands. It's really incredible to watch. He's selflessly serving her to make her experience at church better. Through Elder Brown's service, she is able to learn the Gospel. And signing nonstop for three hours isn't always the most fun thing.

Luke 22:42 - "Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." This is when Jesus Christ is suffering for our sins in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus Christ is suffering so much pain that he asks God the Father to remove his burden, but then follows it up with stating to only do it if it is His will. This has kinda been a theme for my mission so far. A lot of things happen that I don't want, I often ask Heavenly Father to help me, and sometimes I even ask to be removed from the trial. But if I am going to be the best missionary and person that I possibly can be, then I need to be submissive to His will. The sign for the English word "submissive" is "willing to give up" in ASL. That is exactly how we need to be. We must be willing to put aside our wants and think about His wants. I may not want to go on emergency splits or want to get up at 6:30 each morning, but it's not about me. It's about Heavenly Father, about his children. I will do whatever He requires of me if it hastens the spreading forth of His Gospel. As imperfect humans, we often believe that we know what's best for ourselves. God knows us better than anyone else and better than we know ourselves. Also, his purpose is to "bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." He wants us to be as happy as we can. Therefore, every commandment we are given and every prompting we receive from Him will help us. The commandments are not limitations that stop us from having fun. Rather, they're instructions on how to live a happier life. To be submissive would be to be willing to obey all the commandments with exactness, even when we think we'll be unhappy by doing so. This has just been on my mind so much because it's so true and so important. 

Holy cow it got below freezing this week. The cold never bothered me before. But there was a windchill of -17 and humidity of almost 90%. It was awful: I felt like my face was on fire from the freezing cold. It was not something I expected. 

So on Wednesday we had plans to visit a deaf less-active member and her hearing son, who is a new investigator. The thing is, we knew that if that were the case then we would have to do an English and ASL lesson. From what I've heard, that does not generally work out too well, but we were optimistic going into the lesson. It was super successful. So Elder Bell and I started, and another one of our deaf investigators was at the house too! We kind of expected that, but it was still awesome. Also there was a man whom I have met at Church, so I assumed he was a member. We didn't know much about him though. So the point is, we had 3 deaf people there to teach and one hearing person. The son was kinda tuning himself out, and I was a little bit worried that he wasn't really that interested. So Elder Bell and I started teaching in ASL and I was like, we need to teach the son too. So I tried to include him a lot and started teaching the full Restoration lesson out of the pamphlet. Elder Bell continued teaching the deaf people and I decided to focus on the son. I was kinda lost as to where Elder Bell was in his lesson because I wasn't able to talk with the hearing kid and watch the ASL at the same time. Eventually I just removed myself from the ASL lesson and went to talk with the hearing kid. It was super legit. I was going hardcore with the kid and the lesson went really well. Every now and then I'd watch Elder Bell for a few seconds and try to gauge where he was at and I'd add some stuff in ASL. It felt super cool to have the two lessons happening simultaneously, but it was also kinda tough for each of us not having a companion in our lessons. It gets even better: I had my first dinner appointment! We didn't even plan it. At the less-active member's house we were going hard teaching multiple lessons and it was super legit, and then her Dominican mom just totally made us fried chicken, white rice, and beans in some kind of tomato sauce. It was super nice of her and totally unexpected. I'm super grateful they did that for us. She just came up to us mid lesson and was like, "(insert Spanish here)". Her son translated and said it was about chicken. We were totally stoked and it was pretty dang good. That was probably the actual highlight of the week. Two amazing lessons, two people committed to baptism on April 17th, and free dinner. So legit.

One scripture I read last night was super awesome. Alma 26:9-12 - it talks about how Ammon is glorying in the greatness of his life. Eventually his brother rebukes him and tells him to be humble. Ammon's response is this, "I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God. Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever." That was super legit when Elder Bell shared that with me. I asked him to help me remember to be humble and not be thinking I'm the best missionary because of our much success recently. His response was if I'm glorying in the greatness God is rewarding us with, then that's wonderful, but to not be giving myself the glory for any success. That was just something that stuck out to me. 

Anyways. That summarizes this last week. It's been crazy-busy and awesome but also hard with all the transfers and so much uncertainty. I'm hoping everyone else is enjoying life too.

"If you don't take the time to be well, you take the time to be unwell."
"I can tell you things about the Book of Mormon that you never thought about. I can tell you every detail about the great apostasy. But none of that matters if I haven't been converted."
"Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done."
"And the Elder Bell keeps splitting, with Elder Hollowayyyyyy and you." -a new version of "Happy Holidays".
"Jesus Christ loves you."
"Some bus drivers are happier than others."

Alma 26:9-12 - I don't boast of my own strength.
John 6:38 - I'm here to do the Father's will, not my own.
D&C 121:7-8 - If we endure, we'll be blessed greatly.
Isaiah 1:18 - You can be forgiven of your sins.
D&C 6:36 - Go your ways, and sin no more

Keep on Truckin

-Elder West



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