Wednesday, March 30, 2016

30 March 2016 - Happy Easter

Dear All,

Happy Easter to Everyone!

Well one of the greatest things that happened this week was with an
investigator. He was our only one that was truly preparing to be
baptized. He hadn't been going to church and just wasn't really doing
anything related to the gospel and was even dropping our appointments
all the time. So we were finally able to meet with him and he was
like, "April 17th, I'm getting baptized, right?" Elder Bell and I looked
at each other and our response was very blunt. We pretty much said,
"All right, we can't baptize you if you don't keep any of your
commitments. Baptism is a big deal and we just can't let you do it if
you're not ready. There's just too much responsibility that comes with
becoming a member of the church." He was distraught. He then started
begging for us to still baptize him. He truly wanted it, but I think he
just hadn't understood that it's a big deal, and that the idea of being
baptized isn't a joke. We let him know some things he had to do to be
baptized. We also asked him about why he wanted baptism, because
we just wanted to be sure he's doing it for the right reasons. He then
said some awesome stuff and continued to beg us to baptize him. It was
a very necessary ultimatum we made with him. He has since reminded us
every time we've seen him that he's getting baptized on April 17th.
He's got a true desire and has been keeping his commitments and we can
see that he now understands the importance of baptism and really
desires it.

Easter Sunday was awesome. Both of our investigators with baptismal
dates came to church! That hasn't happened in a long, long time. Church
was super spiritual and all the meetings and classes were very
enjoyable. We were able to talk with some of the Branch leadership and
discuss how we can help support the branch. It was very sad to hear
how one of the members responded. They said something like, "You guys
are the first missionaries that have offered to help with teaching and
scheduling. Many times before when I've asked missionaries they've
said something about how I need to ask the members because they were
too busy to help." It was just so sad to see him say that. So we
continued to discuss about how we can help without taking over other
people's callings. It was just a wonderful Sunday. Brother Harris
("April 17th, baptize me, please") got up to sign during one of the
classes and started talking about how much he's been helped by "Bell
and West". He talked about how much better he is than before and how
much he appreciated us. It just felt so nice to see everything working
out with him.

I was thinking about Easter on Sunday, for obvious reasons. Elder Bell
and I were talking about what to teach someone for Monday. It sparked
a thought about Easter and Christmas. I thought about how Christmas is
so so hyped. It is by far the most hyped holiday, but obviously not
for the right reasons, although it is well known that Christmas
celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Obliviously that's one of the
most amazing things to celebrate. But as I was thinking, I realized how
overlooked the holiday of Easter is. Easter is definitely not quite as
hyped as Christmas, but Easter celebrates the two most amazing
miracles that have ever occurred. The first and probably foremost, is
the Atonement. So amazing for obvious reasons. The second miracle that
I think is overlooked is the Resurrection. These are literally the
greatest things that could possibly happen. It's just so crazy that
some people don't even know about these things. Harder for me to
accept is when people just disregard the Atonement and the
Resurrection, or just simply disregard Jesus Christ. He did
everything for us. His entire life was devoted to us. It's just so
incredible the things He did for us.

We had a slightly funny thing happen to us yesterday. We went over to
see a Less Active and then Brother Harris. Brother Harris was at the
Laundromat and when we walked up to him he looked at us, kind of
shrugged, and then with a very cold-hearted stare, just slightly waved
at us. Our first reaction was, "Oh no, what happened. He's always
super excited to see us but now he doesn't care anymore; what do we
do?" We were genuinely worried, and then he just signs, "Joking
joking." It was not funny for a second, and then we realized he just
totally played with our emotions. It was pretty funny. Earlier in the
day we were teaching our other investigator with a baptismal date. He
had told us at church that he didn't want to "rush into baptism, maybe
in like 2 or 3 weeks". We were both just surprised to see someone say
that. Two or three weeks is very, very fast. So when we were teaching
him yesterday we said that we don't want to hurry him into baptism, so
set him up for a date that was about 5 weeks away. Even that is very
fast, but he had obviously wanted to be baptized quickly. We asked him
what he thought, and this was his response, "I don't care. Really it's
honestly no good." We both were super surprised and thought he didn't
want to be baptized anymore, so we asked him what was up.  He said, "I
mean, I guess I don't care if I have to wait that long to be
baptized." Oh man he got us good. We both thought the guy didn't care
anymore, but in reality he just didn't want to wait "that long."

Yay! This weekend is General Conference weekend! The reason General
Conference is so important is because of the people who are talking to
us. They're literally Prophets, Seers and Revelators of God. They
can see everything that has ever happened, everything that is now
happening, and everything that will happen. Their warnings are for us.
Elder Bell and I were talking about this and I finally realized how
important their words are for us. They know exactly what is going to
happen to us! They're warning us as to how to avoid the bad things that
can happen in the future. It will be extra special this time too
because we'll be watching Conference with our members and
investigators in ASL.

At some point on my mission I've realized a fundamental part of this
Church. I don't think I had ever realized that this Church is truly
about Jesus Christ. It's not all about Joseph Smith, it's not all
about President Monson, it's not even all about us. It's literally
God's Church on the Earth, lead by the one and only Jesus Christ. It's
not lead by the prophet. As I've taught people and shared my
testimony, I've truly started to know more about my Savior. He loves
us so much and He's given us this Gospel to be happy. The point in
having this Gospel is to come closer to Jesus Christ, and by doing so
be prepared to meet God and enter into His kingdom. If we don't want
to do this, then that's okay because God's given us the ability to
make choices. That's why He gave us this ability, but if we don't
choose the right path then we won't be able to reach our full
potential, nor will we be able to have eternal happiness. Once we come
to know our Savior, we will then be able to learn the ways to be
prepared to enter into His kingdom. I'm so grateful for this
opportunity to serve others and improve myself while helping others.
I'm even more appreciative of the opportunity to grow closer to Jesus
Christ and show others how to do the same.

That'll all for this week. I hope everyone had a good Easter and is
enjoying life.

Quotes:
"April 17th, baptize me. Please, I'm begging".
"Ya'll sexy".
"Listen here, Chum Bucket."
"Listen here, Pinto Bean."
"Do you want to see a video of Jesus?
No. I served my time."
"Remember those two boxes of cookies I bought? They're gone. I ate 64
cookies today."
"I start out with 4 cookies. And I'm like, 'wow, these are some good
cookies'. So I eat 4 more. And I'm like, 'wow these are so good'. Then
I eat a row and before I know it, the box is half gone."
"Mmm, there's nothing like nectar from the white cran-peaches of
Portland Oregon."

Scriptures:
3 Nephi 10:14 - Learn of Him
3 Nephi 11:10-11 - "I am the light and the life of the world"
3 Nephi 12:44 - Love your enemies
3 Nephi 27:33 - The way to Eternal life is narrow, while the way to
death is wide
Mormon 8:17 - The word of God is perfect

Keep on Truckin

-Elder West

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

23 March 2016 - Chum Bucket

Dear All,

We had some pretty incredible lessons this week. One of them was on
Wednesday night and it was with Brother Chkheidze again: he's the guy
we met from Georgia. At that lesson we had the English missionaries
teach with us so that they could teach him from then on. The reason it
was so good was because he had legitimate questions and concerns. He
actually read the Book of Mormon and prayed and went to church and
everything! He also had a lot of really difficult concerns that we
honestly couldn't help with. It was cool to have a lesson with someone
who actually has the desire to learn more. He truly wanted to know if
this was the path he should take, and for that reason he tried to find
out for himself. I am yet to have an investigator who truly does these
things. I haven't met a deaf person who really understands these
things, and it's honestly because of the lack of education here. We
can't ask questions the way you would ask them in English. We can't
even do it the way I learned to do it in ASL at school or the MTC. We
have to just make a statement, describe it in extreme detail, and then
they will either confirm or deny the statement we just made. It's very
difficult. The other lesson that went really well was another pass-off
lesson with a man named Brother Tavarez. He is so prepared to learn
about the gospel. We will likely see him around too just because he
lives right near us.

Yesterday was an off day. It was a good day, but in the back of my
mind it just felt kinda off. I've reflected on that and tried to
figure out why, and I've come to a conclusion. Our morning studies
were non-existent. Even our personal study time was significantly
reduced because we went to go do service. Not only were studies
reduced, but for some reason mine just weren't successful. I didn't
really get much out of my reading for my investigators or for myself. I've
related this to life before my mission. I did not study my scriptures in
the mornings, or very much at all for that matter. I'm wondering how
much different my days could've been, had I feasted upon the words of
Christ each morning. Now that I've studied every morning consistently,
I've seen the difference it makes. I've also seen the difference it
makes if I don't study. So, my invitation for all of you is to study
the scriptures and the talks from modern-day prophets. It will make a
difference in your days, IF you do it willingly and for the right
reasons.

We had a Zone study with interviews on Saturday. During one of the
trainings President Smith mentioned that Hailey Molina called
President Smith and Sister Smith and said that Thomas is coming to
this mission, Spanish speaking. As soon as he said that, I was going
crazy in my mind. And President could obviously tell because he asked
me if I knew him. My response was something like, "No way. I graduated
with him. He was in my seminary class many times and he was my doubles
partner in racquetball last year!" It was just so random and
completely out of the blue, but also so cool that he's coming here.

We were leaving Popeyes (it was my 4 month mark) and Elder Bell saw a
phone on the ground. He picked it up and eventually someone called it
and we were wanting to return it but we didn't know exactly where to
go. The person called and we let them know we could give it to them in
the next hour. It kinda threw off our schedule, which stunk, but Elder
Bell felt it was important to do this. I had kinda been thinking that
we should visit this one hearing investigator we met (Brother
Tavarez), but our schedule was too full to do so. Well, lo and behold
as we're on our way to give the girl her phone, we run into the
investigator that was on my mind. He said he had been really busy and
really wanted us to come over. He asked us to come over on Tuesday,
which we did, and it went super well. It was just so cool that we ran into
him on our way to giving this girl her phone. That was no coincidence.

We got bashed on by some guy on the subway on Monday. It was another
wonderful Harlem experience. We walked onto the train and then this
man got our attention. He said, "Excuse me, are you guys, uh, Mormons?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints?" Of course we said
"Yes," then continued to chat with him. Rather, he chatted at us. He kept
on quoting Bible verses and asking leading questions. He was a member
of a certain faith here that believes God is all about vengeance
against white people. Anywho, his questions were cunning and always
leading to him wanting us to answer his questions a certain way. So
eventually I asked him, "What do you want us to say?" Many times
people from this faith have asked us questions trying to put us in
corners. It is often tempting to respond with verses we know will
prove their statements wrong. But then you're falling into the trap of
trying to prove someone wrong and prove that you're right. So anyways
he continued to talk to us like that and eventually Elder Bell asked,
"What is your intent in talking with us?" His response was, "I just
wanted to see if you are knowledgeable about the scriptures." He had
already made it clear that he did not accept that our religion had
credibility and that we were wrong. Essentially, the whole time was
him just wanting to prove his scriptural knowledge and trying to prove
us wrong. So the best option was to just walk away from him. And just
like that we got to our stop and he started quoting another scripture
to say that we were evil because we're white. I asked his name and
wished him a good day to which he laughed back. These kinds of
experiences often happen to us, especially in Harlem. I'm sitting
here, trying to imagine that situation from his perspective. I just
don't understand why people do that. I just wouldn't call someone over
to me and start bashing them for their religion, especially if I don't
know them. There's just nothing good that comes from doing something
like that.

We were walking to a subway station from a district meeting in Harlem
and walked past this guy singing by a store. He was singing random
stuff but it sounded like he was trying to get our attention. So I
looked at him and nodded along. Keep in mind, there are very few white
people in the areas we proselyte in, especially in Harlem. So he
smiled back at me he sings, "Look at the white guys." It was just a
funny thing to hear him say. That was a Harlem moment.

We were walking out of our apartment to see Grand Central Station this
afternoon when a lady said something to us. We didn't quite understand
what she said at first so we asked again. She said it again in a less
than nice way, "You guys are not in my world." It was pretty clear
that she was saying that she didn't like us because we were Mormon. It
was just a funny way of saying it. Elder Bell responded, "Oh. Okay."
And we kept walking and she said some jibberish as we passed her. Oh
how I love the Bronx.

I've realized a very basic principle in the last couple of weeks. The
best way to grow your testimony and your faith in Jesus Christ is
simply to share it. There is a particular Less Active that Elder Bell
and I have been visiting since I got here. In the beginning, she was
not welcoming to us at all. We continued to visit her because there
was an investigator literally 2 doors down from her. Her first few
visits generally consisted of her telling us that we're young and do
not understand. She made it clear that she was too busy to go to
church, and she clearly did not seem interested in meeting with us
either, based on her numerous excuses. So we thought about it and
decided not to invite her to church anymore and just to make it clear
that we were there to help her and that we cared; we weren't just
there to invite her to church. So as we continued to meet with her, she
very slowly became more open and willing to talk. We even brought her
along to the lessons with the investigator. She actually started to
not hate us, which was huge progress with her, compared to her past
meetings with missionaries. After a little while, we met her husband.
He's super cool but also had a ton of excuses for why he hadn't been
doing stuff, even though we didn't ask. Her husband was sometimes home
by the time we were there, but sometimes not home. We started taking
him to lessons when available, and he started opening up. On Monday,
the sister asked us some deep questions, (lots of which were personal
so I won't share them,) but the fact that she trusted us enough to do
so was incredible. We promised her that we would study hard and try to
help find the solution to her concerns. We showed one of the Bible
videos and she was clearly moved. It's so awesome how far these two
have come. Elder Bell and I feel that they actually like us and enjoy
our company as missionaries. She even asked us about doing temple work
for her family, and family history. Even her husband really likes us
now, and more importantly, he likes sharing his testimony and helping
us teach. He's always asking us - when we see him - if we're ready to
go teach that investigator. All of this progress came by being willing to
meet with us, and even better, from sharing their testimonies. I would
have to say the exact same thing for myself. My testimony has become
dramatically more solid. And it's all from teaching others, or sharing
my testimony with other people.

That's all for this week. It was one full of ups and downs.

Quotes:
"I just wish there was an outlet in the shower."
"What? Black LDS? I didn't know that was a thing."
"Missionaries? I didn't think y'all existed anymore."
"But don't take my word for it because I'm nuts."
"Someone, anyone, please respond."

Scriptures:
Matthew 18:4 - Humility is great in the kingdom of Heaven.
James 4:10 - Humble ourselves and we'll be lifted up.
D&C 98:26 - If we're patient in our afflictions, then our reward will be great
Moroni 10:20 - Without faith, hope, and charity we cannot be saved
Helaman 15:13 - True knowledge is knowledge of the Redeemer.

Keep on Truckin

-Elder West

Zone Conference

Grand Central Station


Elder Easter Bunny Dan


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

16 March 2016 - 11th Letter Home

11th Letter Home

Dear All,
It's the Easter season! And we all know what that means: bunnies and
candy. Well, that's what a lot of people think it means. What it's
actually about is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I'm gonna add a
few links to videos at the bottom that I encourage anyone who reads
this to click on and take a couple minutes to watch. They're all
related to Easter and mainly about the Resurrection. I've never really
realized the significance of Easter. I always thought about it as this
awesome holiday where the Easter Bunny brings candy to me. Honestly,
it's about so much more than that. This has been the theme of the
week: "The resurrection that Christ made possible." We've been talking
with people about this a lot, and it's been super on my mind. Can you
imagine if everything ended at death? What would be the point? The
good thing is, it doesn't end at death. In fact, our mortal lives are
so so short in comparison to the rest of time and eternity. Jesus
Christ made it possible for all of us to be cleansed from our sins and
gave us the Resurrection for free. It's just great.

I'll start with something funny that happened about 15 minutes ago. I
had a full half-gallon of milk that I wasn't gonna use and was gonna
be bad soon. Elder Bell loves cereal and was gonna have some, so I
told him he could have the milk. I sat down to eat lunch and he was eating
cereal. About 10 minutes later, I look over and the half-gallon is
almost completely gone. Also, the cereal bag was about 2/3 of the way
gone. We laughed hysterically once we realized how much he just ate.
We did the math and he ate about 2000 calories worth in that short 10
minutes. It was 60+ grams of protein and about 200 grams of sugar. It
was just so, um, ridiculous. I think that is probably the best word.

I was reading an email from Elder Olsen, my MTC district leader, and
he said something really profound that I totally agree with 100%. He
said, "I feel as though I am a new convert to the church, out here on
my mission. My testimony feels so young and small, as words I've
repeated again and again in my youth finally mean something to me. I
have such a strong testimony of the Book of Mormon, and know it is
the Word of God. Whatever happens, that can't be taken away from me! I
am finally beginning to understand the Atonement, repentance, and why
the sacrament is so important. I really feel a lot of regret for not
really making use of the Gospel earlier in my life. But now I know and
have felt the strength and stability that the Gospel of Jesus Christ
provides." I just couldn't have said it better. I feel like I finally
can say that I know the things we teach are true. It's so awesome.

We walked over to a group of kids with the intention of showing them
the Easter initiative video. As we were approaching them they kinda
scattered and backed up a little bit. They were like, "Bro, it's the
cops. Yo, bro come on." We were like, "No, we're not the cops; hold
up." It took a while for them to trust us, but eventually they did. We
showed them the Easter video, and the best part was when one of them
said this: "So our friend that died will be resurrected one day?" He
was so amazed that people will come back to life after they've died.
I just try to imagine what life would be like if there was no
resurrection: it would feel almost pointless. So our family dies, then
we die, and then it's all over? That would just be horrible. But
luckily, it's not horrible. It was awesome because we continued
talking and a few of them mentioned that they have family members who
have passed away, then they asked if they'd get to see them again.
Obviously, we answered with "Yes." The way their faces just lit up once
we said that was so priceless.
Elder Bell and I have been having lots of success, and we've been
thinking about why we've been given the success, because it sure isn't
due purely to our efforts. We've thought about it and have come to the
conclusion that it is likely due to our planning. Let me explain. So
we plan to the best of our ability, and plan out every part of the day
to make sure there is absolutely no free time, other than meal
periods. So once we've done our part in planning, the Lord does His
part and helps us with finding people and teaching them and stuff. The
thing is, rarely do our days go according to plan. They usually kind
of follow our plan, but oftentimes our day is completely different
from how we planned it. However, it also turns out to be a much better
day than we planned for. It's just awesome how much the Lord helps us
once we've done our part. As we've made planning a priority, and
continued in obedience, we've seen the fruits of our labors.

On Monday we saw a guy with a giant rotating blade. It was like a
rotating saw people use to cut wood, but instead, it was the size of a
small car and was used to cut asphalt. The guy using it was across the
street. Then we heard him and someone arguing very loudly. The one
without the car-sized weapon was calling the guy with the tool all
sorts of names, and eventually threw off his backpack like he was gonna
fight him. The first thought that came to my mind was, "If I were
him, I definitely would not challenge someone to a fight if they had a
giant rotating saw bigger than me." Just a funny random thing we saw.

We had an amazing miracle this week. Firstly, Brother Harris
(a deaf investigator) came to stake conference in a suit! We 
interpreted for it, and it was awesome. I wish I could remember exactly 
what was said and such, but I don't. However, I do remember how I felt. 
It was a super spiritual meeting. After that was over, we showed 
Brother Harris to the subway, and said our good-byes. All of a sudden I 
felt like someone was talking to me. Initially I thought he must have 
gotten my attention and started talking to me, 
but now that I'm thinking about it more, he didn't, and even if he had
it would've been too loud to hear him. So anyway, I asked him 
something that I don't remember, but then he asked us about
a Church. He's from Georgia (the country) but knows English and will
be in New York for a while. He asked us where the Church was and we
brought him to the 65th street church, but there wasn't any service
because of stake conference. We proceeded to talk about the Book of
Mormon and just the Church in general. He's already met with some
missionaries before, and he's been reading the Book of Mormon. He said
he feels really good about the Book of Mormon, especially because it
helps him feel close to God. We then invited him to baptism and he
said he would if that makes him feel closer to God. We even set up a
lesson with him later in the week where we'll hand him off to a set of
English elders, since Elder Bell and I are called to teach deaf
people, not hearing people. It was a super legit miracle and I can't
help but think about how many things had to happen to make that all
fall into place. If even one thing hadn't happened exactly how it did,
then there's no way we would've met Brother Chkheidze, the 
investigator from Georgia.

I'm standing here eating pizza and the phone starts ringing. My first
thought is, "Dang it. Some elders are probably calling about
something." So I go to answer the phone and it's a call from Brother
Chkheidze! It's funny how quickly my attitude about that call changed.
I went from, "I don't want to interrupt my lunch," to "Heck yes, it's
Brother Chkheidze!" Elder Bell answered it and Brother C asked if we could
meet him in an hour from that point. At first we were like, "Well, our
schedule is completely full, but we can still meet you on Wednesday."
But then we realized this was a prime investigator who's totally ready,
and we should be willing to do anything to meet with him. So we
ditched a couple of studies and moved some stuff around to meet with
him. We were actually a little bit worried about the reasoning behind
his interest in the Church, but during the lesson it was so apparent
that his roots of interest were very righteous reasons. It's just so
cool that we met him the day before and he calls us the very next day.
So we're still going to meet him tonight too, when we will
introduce him to the English elders, and they'll teach him from there.
The discussion we had with him was awesome. He's super interested and
just a super cool guy.

We were talking with Brother Harris and he was talking about how he's
kinda lonely and has no family or wife or girlfriend. It was kinda
sad, but then it became slightly comical because he started asking us
about our families. He eventually asked us about our girlfriends and
wives and our kids. We briefly explained that we don't have
girlfriends, nor do we have wives, and certainly not kids. He seemed
slightly confused, but we let him know that we could totally relate to
the idea of not having family with us. The reason this came to my
attention today was this: Elder Bell and I were on the subway on a
different day, and he started talking to this lady with a stroller and
a kid. She mentioned that it's really hard not getting sleep because
the baby is always waking her up. Elder Bell replied with something
like, "Yeah, I'm not looking forward to that." Her response was, "Yeah?
Are you expecting one?" I just cracked up in my head. I didn't do
anything more than smile but it was so funny. Now that I'm thinking
about it, I'm not really sure why it was so funny. But I guess it was
just amusing to me that someone would think Elder Bell (as a missionary)
has kids.

Last thought. One of the songs we sang at stake conference was "I am a
Child of God," and it was so incredibly powerful. It was just such a
spiritual meeting already, and then having everyone mightily proclaim
that we are children of God in unison made it so touching. And then we
also sang "I Know That My Redeemer Lives," which was also so touching,
especially when we all sang the part, "Oh sweet, the joy this
sentence gives: I know that my Redeemer lives." It's just so true.
It's so incredible that we have a Redeemer and that we can proclaim
the truth of it. I'm so grateful that we have the opportunity to learn
and grow on the earth. I'm even more grateful that we can use the
Atonement and the Resurrection for saving power. I hope you've all had
a wonderful week!

Quotes:
"Don't forget that you're a missionary."
"We livin in poverty."
"I shall seek death among them until they shall sue for peace." -Captain Moroni
"That's chump business." -Elder Davis' response when talking about how
people try to be sassy, but can't even look you in the eye when they
insult you.
"I hate people that speak stupidity."
"Boldness is not the same thing as rudeness."
"Your grade is on effort with God, not on paper with us."
"because of...their boastings in their own strength, they were left in
their own strength"
"Every time you wake up in the morning you get two presents: you open
your eyes."
"I read the Bible, but I don't believe. I take from it the things I
agree with."
"Much love from the man above."

Scriptures/Links:
Alma 56:44-46 - Awesome conversation between Helaman and his 2000 "sons."
Mosiah 16:8-9 - The Resurrection.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

9 March 2016

Dear All,

On Wednesday we saw a guy do a drug deal right in front of our house.
And then he started walking on the other side of the street and within
30 seconds did another one. And then he turned a corner and did a
third one. We're pretty sure he then did a fourth one, but we're not
100% sure on the fourth. That guy must be a master dealer. Possibly 4 deals
in about a minute. We were just utterly stunned and honestly confused
as to how he did it. That was certainly a Bronx Moment.

We just went over to teach an investigator but they weren't home.
We're afraid that they actually were home but the person who answered
just won't let us in because (we're pretty sure) the owner of the home
doesn't like us very much. We had a person near there that we
wanted to visit so we stopped by. The person is a Less Active and we
just wanted to see how she was doing. She was super happy to see us
and said that the sisters who usually visit her hadn't been by in a
while. She said she had needed people to stop by and knew that God
sent us. We had an awesome lesson and the Spirit was totally there.
It's just cool to see that Elder Bell and I went over there planning
to go to one person's house, but God had a different plan for us. This
has been a relatively common theme I've noticed in missionary work.
We'll make plans to visit someone and the plans will just completely fall
through. We then visit someone nearby and it becomes a miracle. It's
been humbling for me because when the lesson falls through I'll think,
"Well, coming over here was useless. I guess we'll just go look up
someone." Then we do it and realize that that's the reason Heavenly
Father sent us there, not to visit the person we thought we were
visiting.

So you'll often see people with babies in strollers trying to go up
the stairs in subways. We commonly offer to help them with the
stroller. Some people accept and others don't, but we figure why not
ask? So we had just gotten into the subway and there was a lady who
had been carrying a stroller up some stairs by herself. We offered to
help and she accepted without hesitation. We took it up the one
flight of stairs to the turnstiles for entering the actual subway
station, but those turnstiles are still underground, which means
there are still more stairs to go up. If we left the station we'd have
to wait 18 minutes to get back in - our metro cards are monthly
unlimited cards and there's an 18 minute waiting period between each
swipe. So Elder Bell offered for us to take the stroller up the
second, bigger flight of stairs. I was like, "Wait, if we do that then
we'll be stuck outside of the turnstile for 15 minutes, which means
we'll miss our train and then some." I wouldn't have cared if we
weren't on a tight schedule, but we were. Of course we could've gotten
back in the subway without using our metro card. I'm sure the
emergency exit would've been opened by someone at some point, but we
try to avoid going through the gate because it looks like we're going
into the subway without paying. Elder Bell's response was, "Oh, we'll
get through." I was doubtful of how we would but figured we were
helping someone, so why not? As we're taking the stroller up the
stairs, right as the thought of how we're getting back in the subway
entered my mind, the woman says, "Hold up, let me go tell the woman in
the MTA booth that you guys are helping me, and to open the gate for
you on your way back." Boom, there was my answer. It was just so cool
how it all played out. We were providing service to someone, but by
doing so, we were messing up our schedule. I think that Heavenly Father saw that
what we were doing was a righteous thing and knew that we needed that
gate to open. So He did it. He did it very simply.

Church has been pretty good. The Spirit has been pretty strong,
especially in comparison to some of the other Sundays I've been here.
It was fast and testimony meeting on Sunday, so people were sharing their
testimonies. I realized that I miss the testimony meetings from
Summerlake. (Note: Summerlake is the name of the congregation in
 Oregon that Daniel attended before his mission.) The meetings here 
are wonderful, but in a different way.
There are almost no families here, and most of the members are still
searching for a testimony. In Summerlake, there are so so many
families and generally stronger testimonies. Families are the most
important unit to God's Plan of Salvation. The gospel thrives in
families. I think one of the main reasons there's such a strong spirit
in Summerlake is because of the families. The idea of family and what
makes family important is very weak in New York. I believe that is a
huge part of why there are so many people struggling here. A lot of
our members mention temple sealings and how they want to do them.
We've made it clear that we would love to help them get there: helping
people get to the temple is one of the most important parts of being a
missionary. The problem is a lot of people aren't willing to work hard
to achieve these wonderful goals. This brings me to my next point.
There is a fundamental difference between conversion and having a
testimony. We cannot, absolutely cannot be converted if we don't 1 -
Consistently go to Church, 2 - Pray everyday, and 3 - Read the
scriptures, specifically the Book of Mormon. We can certainly have
testimonies without doing one or more of these things, but we cannot
be converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Something to understand
is that conversion is a life-long process. It's not like
we're magically converted when we do these three things; we must
continue doing them our whole life in order to be converted. I can
promise that doing these three things makes a world of difference in
our lives because this has been my experience. I used to just go to
church and pray but not read the scriptures much. I certainly had a
testimony and knew that the Church was true, but I wasn't fully
involved nor had my conversion process really started. As I've read
the Book of Mormon I've been so much more faithful and knowledgeable
and happy, and everything really.

We had the most epic run to make the train. We heard the train and so
of course we sprinted across the crosswalk and up the stairs, and we
barely made it. I literally felt the train doors closing on my bag. It
was super epic and I looked back and the doors were shut. Elder Bell
was looking around for me hoping I made it in and boom, we made it. The
best part was I was carrying Elder Bell's bag and shoes because we
were headed to a chapel for Zone Leader splits. It was so legit.

You know, fasting is hard. The few times I fasted before my mission were
hard. I would be starving at church and throughout the day. But when I
got home, I would usually sleep or relax in some other way. So yes
fasting was hard, but it wasn't that bad. Oh my gosh, as a missionary
fasting has been so much harder, but so much more spiritual. I have
felt the Spirit more while fasting every single time I've done it, and
I've also been completely and utterly exhausted every time I've done it. I
don't think I understood fasting at all before my mission, and I'm not
gonna pretend like I fully understand it now. But I certainly have a
better understanding of how it helps. Fasting has been an actual
sacrifice so far on my mission. At home it was a sacrifice, but just
not quite as much. I am pretty much dead while I'm fasting. I'm also
so much hungrier than I ever was at home because it's so hard to go
without meals as a missionary. But it being such a sacrifice makes it
so much more meaningful. I get to show the Lord that I'm willing to
give up something very important, with faith that it will reap some
sort of reward. It's honestly so cool that He does that for us. He
pretty much says, "If you'll give up food for a while, for a purpose,
then I'll give you something in return." It's just so wonderful.

So yesterday I was on a split with one of my Zone Leaders, Elder Kerr.
He's super legit and we had so much success and fun. We didn't have
time to eat dinner, but we were able to talk to so many people that
had been shutting us down. Elder Kerr is in the Spanish Program and
one of our investigators' mom is Dominican and only knows Spanish.
Elder Kerr talked with her and it seems like she doesn't hate us
anymore. That was just one thing that happened; it was just overall an
amazing day.

Alma 36 is an incredible chapter. This is when Alma is talking with
his son, Helaman. Alma tells his conversion story. In verses 12-13 he
explains that he was "racked with eternal torment...tormented with the
pains of hell". He continues to explain how awful he felt and how much
pain he was in because of his sins. Verses 18-21 are my favorites. He
explains that he was without strength for three days and knew that
what he had done was wrong and needed to repent. He then says, "Oh
Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of
bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of
death...when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more...oh
what joy, and what marvelous light did I behold; yea my soul was
filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!" It's so incredible how
even when Alma had done so many bad things, he was still able to
repent. God wants us to repent. He wants us to be happy. It doesn't
matter what you've done, you can repent. The best part about it all is
how he explains the relief and joy that came from that repentance.
"There could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains.
Yea and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand there
could be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy." When we do
wrong things, we feel awful. Sometimes we feel so guilty and so awful
that we don't know if we can continue. The level of pain and guilt we
feel from committing awful sins can be completely reversed. If we are
willing to humble ourselves and have faith even unto repentance, then
we can be happy. Jesus Christ already suffered for every single one of
our sins, he made it so we don't have to suffer. The exceedingly great
joy that can come from repentance is absolutely real. I know it is
real. We're here on earth so that we may improve and learn from
experience. One of the most important experiences we should often have
is that of repentance. Because we're humans, we are imperfect.
Therefore, we must repent to become better. We must change ourselves
to become more like Christ.

Well, that's all for this week. "It was another wonderful week here in
my little Lamborghini. I'm sure glad I had my Hollywood Hills account
to drive around in my eight Lamborghinis."

Quotes:
"I like that outfit, Elder West. It really SUIT-s you." -Elder Bell's
incredibly dry sense of humor
"Yo, It's not safe here after dark...but really, all joking aside,
it's not safe."
"No wicked man could write such a book. And no good man would write
such a book, unless he was commanded by God."
"Mmm, magma pillows. My favorite snack."
"It is never too early, nor too late for ghetto trap music."

Scriptures:
Alma 30:60 - Wicked people have no support from the devil.
Alma 32:16 - Blessed are those who are humble without being compelled to be so.
Alma 37:37 - Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings.
Alma 5:26 - Can you feel so now?
Ephesians 4:32 - Forgive each other as God forgives you

Keep on Truckin

-Elder West



Post Fast Sunday Dinner:



New York Sized Rat




Wednesday, March 2, 2016

3 March 2016

Dear All,

I'll start off by simply explaining the final changes in the ASL program that occurred yesterday. Elder Holloway is now in the Manhattan ASL apartment with Elder Turner, who came back down to the city from upstate. Elder Bell and I are companions again and are working super hard, seeing lots of success. So I'm back in the Bronx apartment, for sure this time. Or at least for the next 6 weeks (theoretically.)

So the subway trains are long enough that they have a conductor in the front of the train and one in the center of the train. I think the front one controls the speed and movement and such, and the middle one controls the doors and lets the front conductor know when he can go. The middle one usually sticks his head out the window when the train stops so he can look down each end of the train to make sure the doors don't close without leaving a significant number of people behind. We were standing where the conductor sticks his head out, and Elder Holloway just waved at the guy. He kinda ignored us but also kind of acknowledged us. Elder Holloway wished the guy a good day and handed him a pass-along-card with our names and number on it. The conductor's face was really funny when Elder Holloway gave him that. The guy was like, "Uh...thanks, I guess."

Another interesting thing that happened came about while we were teaching an investigator about the Word of Wisdom. He's extremely low-educated so it makes it that much harder for him to understand it. He was very resistant but eventually I felt it was important to stop stressing how he shouldn't be partaking of alcohol, drugs, tobacco, coffee, or tea and instead just testify of how he'll be happier if he's willing to obey the commandments. He seemed to accept it, but I'm not 100% sure yet. We'll have to wait and see. It's funny because he offered us water and soda, as well a beer while we were explaining this commandment. 

I realized something on Sunday. The path to eternal life is very simple. It includes five things to stay on the straight and narrow path to the tree of life. These five things are included in our purpose as missionaries and in Jesus Christ's Doctrine. They are: having faith in Jesus Christ; repenting often; being baptized by proper authority; receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost; and enduring to the end. Oftentimes we don't quite understand what it means to endure to the end. Enduring to the end includes doing the four aforementioned things all the time, as well as: going to the temple for numerous things; going to church; praying; and reading scripture. Sometimes this list of things to do seems long, but it's really quite simple. The key is to just do it. Something that's talked about in the "Adjusting to Missionary Life" booklet is if you lack motivation to be obedient to the mission schedule, the best way to gain the motivation is to just do it. Motivation generally follows action. I've certainly noticed the application of this in my life here. Sometimes I don't want to get up early and excercise. I feel like I'm just not motivated enough, but the best way to gain that motivation is by just doing it. This idea of motivation following action applies to everyone. If you don't have motivation to do your daily studies (like many people) but you want that motivation, just do it. Nike and Shia Labeof truly understand this concept. If you start studying and working hard to come unto Christ, you'll then gain the desire to continue doing it. Once you realize how much happier it makes you, you'll want to keep doing it. Daily studies was just an example, but honestly that is the best way to be motivated, by acting and showing your willingness to obey.

Elder Bell and I were signing on the train about something and there was a woman who was just watching us sign. I made eye contact with her a couple times as we were signing and I was like, "Alright, I want to know who this woman is." So I signed to Elder Bell that I would sign to her if I noticed her watching us again. So I started signing to her and she just froze and kinda freaked out: it was funny. Elder Bell proceeded to talk to her but I didn't feel comfortable talking now that she thought I was deaf. So as they talked I would sign to Elder Bell and he would talk to her, and the other way around too. So I guess I pretended to be deaf, but not because I was trying to use that in some way, we were just using sign language and it felt super awkward to start talking...anyways that was pretty fun. The funniest part was while they were talking and not looking my way I'd try to get Elder Bell's attention so I could sign something, but when he didn't notice she would yell at him to get him to look at me, even though I wasn't being demanding in my efforts to get his attention. It was just really funny to see a hearing person that didn't know anything about deaf culture and to see her reaction to ASL. That happens a lot here, like a lot. We usually sign while we're in the trains or buses so that we can hopefully run into a deaf person, and also just to improve our ASL. 

So another funny thing happened that relates to the whole Dominican lady watching us sign. Elder Bell and I were signing on our way home from the temple, and these two really young girls were sitting with their mom across from us. One of them asked their mom, "Mommy, what are they doing with their hands?" The mom's response was pretty funny, and as the conversation continued it got even funnier. Her response was something about how we were communicating with our hands because we were deaf. The girl later asked, "Mommy, why don't they just talk?" The mom straight up chastised the daughter after that and in a very sharp tone responded, "Well it's not that easy when you can't speak!" Her tone of voice was hilarious. This was another funny moment when hearing people who don't know much about deaf culture try to explain deafness. Oftentimes when we talk about how we teach and serve deaf people, people ask us about deaf culture and make lots of assumptions. There's just a lot of confusion around deaf culture and the Church. That's just something I've noticed. 

We met these two people on the way home that were Spanish. One of them was super drunk but interested in who we were. So we taught him, and then his friend came up, and while Elder Holloway and Elder Bell taught him (the drunk guy), I taught his friend. They were both super nice, awesome people. The first ├╝ber drunk guy just started walking towards the road as Elders Holloway and Bell were teaching. He walks up to a parked car and what does he do? You guessed it, unzip his pants and starts peeing on some parked cars. It was truly a different experience, and I wasn't quite expecting it. He then came up to shake our hands and we were just like, "Uh, have a nice night," and started walking away because we had finished teaching, and really didn't feel like shaking his hand. Oh the things that happen in the Bronx.

"Pray about and ponder the scriptures. The scriptures open the window to revelation" -Preach My Gospel (PMG.) I thought it was so awesome when I read this because it really wasn't until recently that I realized that our answers to problems don't necessarily come from the scriptures, rather they come from revelation you receive as you are reading the scriptures. It's by doing the righteous action and surrounding yourself in teachings of prophets that allows Heavenly Father to communicate with you best. Oftentimes as I'm reading, some random thought comes to my head. These thoughts aren't always connected to what the scripture says, but they do come best as I'm studying. The scriptures are so awesome, they have answers in them, and answers come as you read them.

Now it's time for a really long story (ha ha, as if the other stories have been brief.) We were on our way home from a lesson when a Spanish member walked by us, so we talked a little bit. At Lexington and 125th a guy stopped us and asked if we were Jehovah's Witnesses. We explained a little bit, and then started talking with him. At first I was worried he was gonna lightly bash us, based on his comments. We found out his name was Money Mike. He explained that he was a hood guy and that he did a lot of bad stuff but still believed in God and didn't like it when people judged him. We were really short on time, about to get dinner, but he stopped us to talk. As we were talking with him some random guy comes up and shakes Money Mike's hand and was like, "Yo, you got a six?" Money Mike's response was, "Really man? Right when I'm talking to my Christan brothers?" So a drug deal almost went down right there but everything was all good. Then another person came up while we were talking. At this point Money Mike was legitimately interested. So while we're all talking this white guy comes up, obviously high or drunk or something, and starts asking who we are. We explained and when we said Mormon he flipped out. He was just going at us while we were talking with Money Mike, and we were just ignoring the guy, who's name also happened to be Mike. So we were trying to leave because we had like no time, but Money Mike had to leave for a sec and asked us to wait right there for him, then walked away. We were stuck there and then white Mike just started bashing us hardcore. He was cursing and telling us we don't believe in Jesus and just going off. At this point he was yelling very loudly. I told Elder Bell that we should leave because we're not doing any good by getting bashed. This guy was high, unstable and causing quite the scene. So we walked into a store to buy some dinner and white Mike decided to follow us, cursing at us, cursing the religion, and cursing the Book of Mormon. He continued to persecute us, and we did what we could to ignore him. We were gonna buy dinner but this guy wouldn't leave us alone. I had a very bad feeling that there was gonna be some kind of physical confrontation soon, so I felt it was best to just get on the subway and get out of there: skip dinner, whatever, just get out of there. Elder Bell didn't seem to have the same idea. I was able to convince him to leave the store, but if we left right then, we would've left Money Mike hanging. So we headed out of the store, and then Money Mike was there and realized what white Mike was doing. He told him to get out of here and to leave us alone and what not, but at this point there were lots and lots of people gathered around watching the whole thing unravel. Money Mike wanted us to keep talking with him, but white Mike wouldn't leave us alone. Now Elder Bell and I were on the stairs for the subway trying to completely avoid white Mike. Money Mike was now pushing and shoving to get white Mike to leave us alone. All the while, white Mike is flat out screaming at us. Lots of profanities and just lots of stuff about how Mormons are the devil. Money Mike kept apologizing to us on behalf of white Mike and now other people are like, "Dude, you're the devil. Just leave them alone! You're only picking on them because they're not gonna fight back!" So at this point everyone's defending us, but white Mike will not back down. There's progressively more shoving and pushing, and white Mike is trying to come down the stairs to do something to us, but people are pushing him back. After a solid 5 minutes, Money Mike comes down and he gives us his phone number in exchange for a Book of Mormon and some other stuff. The whole time I just wanted to leave because I was afraid something would happen and we would be involved, which I was trying to avoid at all costs. Elder Bell was not backing down though. We just stood there and waited and waited to try to get something from Money Mike, but white Mike was just too crazy. So it all worked out fine, but there started to be confrontation and just a really bad feeling overall. I had kind of expected to run into stuff like that in New York, but I hadn't expected it to be as bad and truly scary as it was. White Mike was trying to hurt us, and then people started threatening him with other stuff. It was just all one big mess. Never in my life have I been attacked so much because of my religious beliefs, and I've never felt in so much danger. I'm so so grateful that Elder Bell and I got out completely safe, without any bad impressions on other people. We were being protected by Money Mike, some random people, and most importantly: Heavenly Father. 

So we were at 125th Street waiting to head home. The 2 and 3 trains stop at 125th Street but only the 2 train will take us back to our apartment. Elder Holloway jokingly got on the 3 train and was like, "Oh I'll just go to the next subway and get off at the next stop." Of course he was joking though because that would mean he was separated from us, and alone, which is totally not allowed. So he turns around to walk back off the train to complete the joke, but the doors closed on him. There's glass on the doors so we saw him get stuck in the train and I signed to him and asked if he and a phone so that we could still be in contact for the short time that he would be alone. He didn't. So Elder Bell and I are just laughing as Elder Holloway rides off into the distance on the train, without a companion. We ended up being able to take the train to that stop and it was only a couple minutes. The look on Elder Holloway's face was just priceless. 

On Sunday we were standing in the subway and there was a guy preaching very loudly. He was preaching about how we must have a relationship with Jesus Christ to be saved. So his basics were totally right, he was also saying lots of other stuff though. One thing he said is that he's not preaching about a religion, but rather, about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He started yelling about how there are so many founders of religions and so many religions, but that they don't matter because it's all about your relationship with Christ. He is partially right: it is all about the relationship with Christ, but that is why we have churches. That's why we have the Book of Mormon, and that's why we congregate with others of our faith: because it helps us feel even closer to Christ. Anyway, he announced that he could name off so many religions and their founders and how evil they are. I had made eye contact with him a couple times to show that I was listening, but of course I will never try to Bible bash, nor will I publicly preach. The man listed off a couple of foolish churches and he threw  Mormons in there. Quite honestly, it didn't upset me that he was trying to bash on us, it actually felt good that he knew that we were Mormons. That was a fun moment in Harlem. Harlem's got so much religion and hardcore preaching.

I already mentioned this scripture in a previous letter but it came up in my personal scripture study and I wanted to share some thoughts that came to me. It's Alma 26:11-12 - this is such an amazing scripture, it talks about how Ammon is glorying in the greatness of the success they've had with the Lamanites. 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." This took on a much different meaning for me this week. We are absolutely nothing compared to the power of God. When people become converted to the Gospel, it's not because of the missionaries. It's because of God. It's the Spirit that they felt, and they want to keep feeling that peaceful sense of relief. It is so wonderful that God gives us happiness and success and everything. He's so merciful to us, even though we continuously rebel and reject Him. How incredible it is that God can do all things, and will do all things to help us once we've done everything we can. This then leads to the fact that God will help us once we've done our part. "I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise." It's so great how Heavenly Father will always hold up His end of the deal, even though we are imperfect humans and don't always hold up our end.

Anyways, that's another really long letter from Elder West. Just before I got into the MTC I thought my letters would be really short paragraphs or something because I just didn't think I'd have much to write. I was so wrong. I didn't realize how many awesome experiences would occur on my mission. I would feel guilty not to share a lot of the things that I have the pleasure of seeing. I am so grateful that Heavenly Father allows me to experience these things. I like to think that these letters home aren't just ways for me to communicate with my family and friends. Rather, it's just another way I can share the Gospel. I'm also so grateful that we have the technology to communicate across the country. "Whatsoever is good cometh from God". All good things, technology included, come from God. The ultimate purpose of these things is "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man". We've got to take advantage of all these things to spread the gospel. The end is near; don't let yourself be wicked when judgment comes. Also, don't hold back your knowledge of the Gospel of Happiness from your friends and family.

Quotes:

"But that's just how life works, I guess."
"The only difference between the statements, 'I'm perfect' and 'imperfect' is an apostrophe and a space."
"That's your 5th bowl of cereal...
This is nothing. Absolutely nothing. I could eat 11 bowls of cereal and not even think about it, not even think!"

"Don't set outrageous goals. Yeah, that would be great if we could achieve perfection, but we can't. Set realistic goals."
"Remember, Christ numbers his sheep. That's the reason the Church and the mission do statistics. Christ numbers his sheep, but He remembers them as people."


"One foot in and one foot out fills the heart and mind with doubt."
"It's not about whether or not the train is moving, it's about whether or not we'll be riding it." 
"Reading is fundamental." 
"Girls are dumb. They don't like food or dirt. They won't eat dirt for a million dollars." -Elder Bell's little brother.


Scriptures:
Alma 7:11-12 - "He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions of every kind".
Alma 19:29 - We must have faith and gratitude towards God.
Alma 29:6-7 - "Why should I desire more than to perform the work with which I am called?"
Alma 29:9 - I glory in God, and in being an instrument in His hands.
Mosiah 23:11 - I am unworthy to glory of myself.

Keep on Truckin

-Elder West


My Zone

Crazy Missionaries
Manhattan New York Temple Trip
Manhattan New York Temple