Thursday, January 21, 2016

21 January 2016

Dear All,

This week was full of ups and downs, but hey, I had one companion for the whole week, so that's a big positive! Well, I hit my two-month mark as a missionary on Monday! I feel like I've been a missionary for a long time, but I also feel like I'm new, especially when I realize that I got to the MTC only 9 short weeks ago. It's crazy how much being a missionary changes my perspective on life in general. Something that I've truly come to realize is that, "You determine your own happiness." That's something President Burgess said in the MTC. It's so true too. Yes, there are outside factors that can affect your mood, but honestly, you can decide whether or not that will affect your happiness. I used to wonder about the idea of controlling your mood, but I've seen people with seemingly nothing going well in their lives, and they're still happy. Honestly, I've seen many people who own nothing but the clothes on their back, and those clothes aren't even enough to keep them warm! But guess what, they're still happy. These people are homeless, and their families disowned them, and they have no friends, but they're still optimistic. If people like that can be happy, what should be able to stop me from being happy? My challenges throughout the day might be that I'm tired and cold and hungry, and maybe our appointments fell through. A lot of other people's challenges - right in my zip code - include not having a home, not having food for the day, people mocking them, having no place to sleep, or not having enough clothing for the weather. How can I be unhappy when I am so blessed; have I forgotten why I'm here? Things like that help me remember to be happy and not to complain.

I'm really learning how to live within a budget, which is certainly a useful life skill. I was able to live off of $20 in meals last week. It really helps me appreciate all the food my parents would buy me at home. I keep a budget on my iPad and I generally spend around $3.25 on meals a day. Oh my gosh, I would spend about $5 for one meal at Taco Bell! I can't afford to do that now; that's more than my food all day! Just a funny thought I had this week.

New Yorkers really like to perform on the subway trains or in the subway on the way to the trains. I saw a guy performing while playing at least 9 instruments. I'll attach a picture.
I also saw some other things on one train at the same time on Sunday this week. All of the things I saw are technically illegal, but most people here don't seem to care. There was a beggar, there are often beggars, who was just yelling a mixture of Spanish and English about her life story. I'm sure it was sad, but honestly I couldn't understand it. All I know is she walked by me and Elder Holloway and said, "Can you help? I'm trying to pay for a funeral". Something that kind of stinks is how many people are beggars, whether that be on the train or just on the streets. It's hard to see people struggling that much. Missionaries here aren't supposed to give them money. I think it's because the money we have isn't actually our money to spend, it's the Church's money and it's specifically for our food and other everyday items. At the same time this woman was yelling, there was a person who was so, so, so intoxicated on who-knows-what and was just yelling a conversation back and forth with himself. He was yelling and I think he was trying to be a man yelling and then a woman yelling back. He honestly looked and sounded like he was possessed. Normally I would think that kind of thing was funny because of how weird it is, but I just felt bad in that train. To add to that, there was also a British guy with a little bird, which was tied up by a string and attached to his neck. It would just rest on his head and every now and then it would try to fly away, but it would only go about a foot because of the string. While his bird was flying he was arguing with an older woman about some random stuff. That was a very strange train.

I've taken it upon myself to read the Book of Mormon in 100 days. It was a challenge issued out to the missionaries here before me, but someone had the schedule to do it, and so I decided to do it myself. I've noticed that the Book of Mormon has so much awesome stuff in it. I think most people already know that, but seriously, it has the answer to everything ever. My Book of Mormon is all marked up with notes and stuff because I receive so much revelation as I read. I know that this is possible for everyone that wants it. I invite all of you to read the Book of Mormon everyday and have an open heart as you do so. Think of a question you want an answer to, and you will find it. Don't just underline stuff and write down what it says, write down what you feel. Those feelings are almost always inspired from the Holy Ghost, who is God's messenger.

We were walking home from a meeting and passed two college age guys. We heard something hit the sidewalk and noticed that one of them dropped a prescription medicine container full of, you guessed it, marijuana. So Elder Holloway and I just kept walking by. We wondered if they would come back to pick it up but they didn't even notice they dropped it. It just sat there on the sidewalk. Until eventually some guy walked by it and then turned around to see if someone nearby was watching, or maybe to see if the person who dropped it was there. So he just picked it up, put it in his pocket, and walked away. Just another Bronx moment.
Oh my gosh, milk here is $4 a gallon, and that's cheap! I'm so not used to milk being that much. Speaking of food, we had an awesome experience while doing weekly planning at the chapel this week. Elder Bell came by and let us know that the party on the fourth floor could use some help cleaning up. So we said, "Yeah, we can take a break." We went over to the room, and there were still people there, eating at this party-ish thing. So we started walking back to our floor but a woman stopped us and was like, "Where y'all going? Eat the food!" We're like, "Oh no, we're not part of that ward. We just came to help clean up because we thought it was over." Her response was, "Okay then, go clean up a plate!" And so we did just that. You know I'm not one to turn down free food when I'm hungry.

We have some awesome investigators. One of them is name Jason Smith. He had promised to show up to Church on Sunday so I was really hoping to seem him there. He didn't show up at first to Priesthood and I was super sad because none of our investigators showed up...and then at like 11:15 He walked in! I was super happy and excited. He was participating and everything, he even stayed for all three hours! So we've been trying to set up appointments for him but he said he's too busy this week and will next week, so I'm excited to meet with him again! Jason is homeless and doesn't have many friends, he actually missed two of his meals on Sunday because of Church, which stunk a lot. So I'm hoping he can continue to come to Church so that he will stay on track for baptism.
Sacrament is really awesome because during songs, everyone is signing, but I sing and sign together. I'm like a soloist who no one hears, since they're deaf of course. The deaf people here are so unique and individual. There is no normality. In fact, two members who use ASL have cerebral palsy, which can make it really hard to understand them. But they're so awesome; all of the members are awesome in their own ways. But one thing that kind of stinks is that gossip is really big in deaf culture, so there's lots of gossip about members and missionaries too. So that's something we try to get rid of. But during meetings the members all participate and are super in-tune with the Spirit. The meetings are so spiritual, or at least when they stay on topic.

You know, people in Oregon use their car horns when they're angry. People in New York use them when they're angry, when they want to get someone's attention, when they want you to get in their car, when they want to say "Hi," when they want to say "Bye", when they're frustrated, when the bus cuts them off, when the police cut them off, just generally when they want to, and when pedestrians cross the crosswalk. It's like a symphony. The city sounds like a mixture of police sirens, fire engines, ambulances, car horns, yelling, people advertising for companies, bands trying to get noticed, and preachers. Oh my gosh, preachers, especially in Hunts Point and Harlem. Actually, recently in Harlem we saw two guys riding motorcycles doing wheelies and having all sorts of fun. So much fun that the street wasn't enough for them. They decided to just ride right onto the sidewalk past Elder Holloway and me. They then proceeded to ride by some guy who held out his hand and they gave him a "high five" as they drove by. I'm sure it was a high five full of drugs. Another New York moment.

It turns out that my first day was special, since I was the only missionary to arrive on that day - it has something to do with the fact that ASL missionaries don't follow each mission's individual transfer schedule. Instead, ASL missionaries come into their mission partway through the transfer. Normally all the new missionaries come to this mission on the last Tuesday before transfers and spend their first night in the mission home, rather than in their apartment. They don't do missionary work on their first day, instead they have study periods and other random stuff. Then on their second day they do a training with all the other new missionaries. The training includes the handing out of iPads and medical cards and some "welcome to the field" kind of stuff. But I came in on a Tuesday in the middle of the transfer, and I was alone. Because of that, I got special treatment, but I also missed the regular training stuff. So two weeks late, I got to witness some other missionaries on their second day, and I got to see this training meeting. Except for me it was two weeks late. Although, to be honest, I'm glad that my first and second days weren't like the regular ones. I got thrown right into the work on my first day. We did tracting in a project building, which was really hard and kinda tough at first, but it helped me get more used to the missionary work very quickly. Of course, I also greatly appreciated the Cheesecake Factory meal, especially because I didn't realize at the time that I would not be getting meals like that for a long time.

I was in a meeting with the new missionaries and their trainers. I was asked to attend since I've only been here for about two weeks, but most of the people had only been there for 2 days. Something I've realized is that the MTC truly prepared my testimony for the field, but the field is very different than the MTC. What I've learned so far in the field really boils down to something very simple. I do not get to choose who deserves, or is ready, to receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My job is to open my mouth. Here, I'm starting to learn how to see people through the eyes of Jesus Christ. When I allow myself to do this, I feel a love for them. It's a love that I can't describe, and one so much stronger than I have ever seen or felt. I'm not gonna pretend like I'm good about opening my mouth to everyone, because I'm not. To be honest, I think I expect people to just ignore me or say something rude back, and they do sometimes. But when I say, "Have a good one," or "How are you?" or something else to each person I walk by, about half of them respond with, "You too" or "God bless" or some other happy response. Sometimes they'll even say that made their day, or want to keep talking with us. It's always a pleasure, and as I continue to talk to everyone, I'm happier.

During that meeting, President Smith asked me to share my experience with Evelin R., which I believe I wrote about in last week's letter. It's the one where I went to see a less active member and ran into his mom instead, and we challenged her to baptism and all that great stuff.  As I was telling it, I realized how truly blessed I was to be able to be an instrument in Heavenly Father's work. On my third day, I was able to participate in the answering to someone's prayer. And honestly, I was able to participate in physically healing another person: she said that all her pain was gone once she received the blessing! Truly a miracle. I know that as we are faithful and obedient to our Heavenly Father's commandments we will be blessed and have much success. This applies to everyone, not just missionaries. Those commandments He has given us are for our benefit. People often think that they are limitations, and that we're "not allowed" to do stuff. But really, those commandments bring forth blessings and make us happier. I hope everyone reading this can agree with me on that. Keep being great: all you at home, or serving missions, or wherever you may be!

"Make every moment count."
"Miracles happen every day."

1 Nephi 16:2 - the wicked take the truth to be hard
2 Nephi 1:15 - encircled in His love
2 Nephi 2:6 - redemption comes through the Messiah
2 Nephi 4:28 - don't dwell on your sins
Romans 1:16 - I am not ashamed of the Gospel
2 Nephi 9:34 - you don't want to be a liar.

Keep on truckin

-Elder West

One-man Band on the subway platform

My Zone

King of the Subway (above)

We decided not to knock on this door.

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