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 über 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.
"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.
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
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