Tuesday, June 14, 2011

week 25

I decided to try to reverse the order that I write emails today. Normally I start off responding to peoples' emails first and then by the time I get to my big email I just don't want to write it at all. It takes a lot of effort to remember things from the week that felt eons long (but really short at the same time), and then filter those things to things that you actually want to share, and then get those things out of my head and on... computer.

That said, this week was a good week. Things are definitely starting to pick up in good old Shengavit. The last 2 weeks we picked up 3 new investigators each week (which may not sound like lots to people who served state-side or in South America), but that's pretty huge for us here. So, we have a big long list of people to teach now, but the real trick is actually getting up with them and planning up with them. We're trying to be better about setting up return appointments before we leave, but people are often so non-committal, it drives me crazy. They always just say "we'll be in touch". Bah! But, I guess that that is a good indicator of who is really interested and ready to change for the Gospel's sake and who is just along for the ride with the Americans (little do they know neither of us are American! Haha, suckers!). SO, I think this next week will be a week of sifting. We don't want to have people just to have people - we want to have people to have baptisms, or in other words to save!

We've had some eye-opening conversations this week that helped me to see more of the problems in the church here (the people), but also helped me to see what needs to be done. We spent a pretty good amount of time this week going through our branch list (from before the branches merged, so just our area) of over 200 people and trying to figure out who from that list is actually active. We discovered that probably only about 40 people are active - and even then I'm not so sure about that number. The majority of the people on that list joined the church when it first got here over 15 years ago and they joined for the welfare help, the fun, or just for something to do. As soon as they got bored, or the welfare got taken out, they were gone. But we still have all their names on our list because they didn't even think the church serious enough to have their names taken off the list. They were never converted to begin with. And that kinda depressed me a little. There are all these people who did all of the physical things they had to do to join the church - they participated in sacred covenants, some of them have even gone to the temple, but they were never there on a spiritual level. They were never committed to the gospel of Christ, and now we have to sift through their names and try to find those who were actually converted to try to strengthen them. So, I was a little sad about that for part of the week, but then I just realized that it all works out, and it all will work out. There are not many people from way back then who still come, but there are a few and they have been the foundation for the church. Now, the requirements for baptism are MUCH more strict - which is why we don't have a ton. But we're working to get to the point where those who join the church now actually have testimonies, are truly converted, have changed, and are willing to continue changing, and who will be a support to the church. The church is still SO young here, it's still in it's developing phases which is frustrating to work with at times, but it's exciting at the same time. Looking at the two women who we've helped to baptism I still worry because I'm scared they're going to follow so many others and just fall away, but they really are strong. They have testimonies and they are working through the struggles of change to become better and to devote themselves to the gospel. They joined the church for the right reasons, they are in the strait and narrow path - now they just need to stay there and keep moving forward. Knowing all of this also helps when trying to decide who to really work with - who is seriously investigating and could really be prepared for baptism. It's all about quality, not quantity. When you focus too much on quantity you end up with a list full of people that no one knows and no one knows how to help. That list is no fun to try to organize. It's a pain in the butt.

SO, that was part of our week. Haha. I am such a rambler. Sorry! On Monday night we had our last meeting with Karen before he left to got o Sevan for a month. It was a short meeting, but while we were waiting for our member present to show up we chatted with him and he told us that he has decided that he does want to get baptized, and he decided that because he received an actual answer from God as he was reading "The Gospel of Jesus Christ" pamphlet, the part about baptism. He also has been consistent with reading the Book of Mormon and whenever he could (AKA when he didn't have to work) was coming to church. He said that when he first saw us he decided to approach us and ask us about the church because he had heard bad things about it. But, he wanted to find out the truth for himself and not just take others' words for it. So he acted - he talked to us, and when we invited him to church the next day he actually came. Then he kept coming even though that first day was when the crazy lady freaked out on Mariam. So, we are really excited about Karen - he is one of those who is actually ready and has experienced the converting power of the Holy Ghost and is acting on it. But now we have to wait for him to come back. Bah! For our last lesson we bore powerful testimony though and we drilled that he needs to read from the Book of Mormon at least 30 minutes a day and pray so that he can continue to feel the spirit and learn. If he does that I know he is going to be ready when he comes back. Oh, also, another miracle, when I quickly taught the word of wisdom (he wanted to know what he had to do to prepare for baptism) he said that he already doesn't do any of those things. That is never the case with men here! We are staying in touch with him, and he has actually already called us. So good.

The rest of our investigators right now are pretty new or not really progressing too much, so I won't spend any more time there. We just need to see them and teach them so we can invite them to start making and keeping commitments.

Friday was Sister Brower's birthday (she just turned 22) and that day we had a specialized training meeting with the south and centre zones on planning. While planning can be really dull and teaching about it can become pretty mechanical as President Carter put it, it was actually a really really good meeting. Yes, parts of it were boring, but they did a really good job of incorporating the spiritual aspect of it too and I learned a lot and saw a lot of things that I need to change. They had a focus not only on planning, but also on repentance. They talked a lot about a talk called "The Fourth Missionary". I don't know if any of you have ever heard of it, but it is such a good talk. You should definitely look it up and read, study and apply it because it is not just about missionaries, but really its about us all. There is so much good stuff in that talk that I can't share it all, but it's all about how to become the best and happiest missionary/person you can be, and the only and easiest way of doing that is by completely submitting your will and heart to God. Reading the talk this week really made me think about what the source is for my desires - do I just want what I want, or do I want what the Lord wants? Why am I really serving a mission and what motivates me every day? Who am I becoming and who do I want to become? Even if we do what we're supposed to be doing, it won't be to our profit unless we really want to do those things. Just like it says in 1 Cor 13:1-3. Without Charity or pure love of men and God, nothing we do is worth anything - "it profiteth me nothing". The talk says "you can't be happy if you don't want to do the things that lead to happiness, even if you do those very things" He then goes on to say "You world is in your head. Get your head right and your heart will follow, and you will be right." The whole talk is about surrendering our will to God and giving up our desires to take up his. And then the promise is joy, peace, and exaltation. He says "Trust Him that He will make of you, immeasurable more than what you will ever, ever, in all eternity, make of yourself. He will create of you a masterpiece. You will create of you only a smudge. You will create an ordinary man. He will Create a God." So, I have been thinking about that a lot the last fews days, and I expect I will continue thinking about it a lot for the remainder of my mission and my life. I feel like I am on the right track, that I have surrendered some of my will to God, but definitely not all, and so that will continue to be my pursuit in life - to give up myself and in doing so find my true self.

Maybe I shouldn't write my big emails first, they turn out much longer :) For Sister Brower's birthday we went out for dinner with our senior couple, the Watkins. Oh, Dad, I keep forgetting to tell you this. Elder Watkins served in France 50 years ago! I am pretty sure the same mission as you, but I know you were there less than 50 years ago. The Watkins arrived here 3-4 weeks ago. They remind me a lot of Mom and Dad - they're great. I love having parents and family away from family. They found a restaurant with steak! And it was dang good steak too! Our members Samvel and Hasmik also helped to celebrate Sister Brower's birthday by surprising her with a dinner and cake on Saturday night, and then our investigators Serine and Arpine surprised us with more cake and icecream last night when we went over to teach them. I love those two so much. They're so cute and funny. I just wish they would start reading the Book of Mormon now! So we ate a lot the cake the last couple of days.... dericious.

I think that's all from this week. It looks as though I'm sticking around in Shengavit for at least another week. Which is good. Things are picking up and I just love this area and our branch and our apartment! haha. Have a beautiful spring week, stay safe and be good. Also, you should all read "The Fourth Missionary" by Lawrence E. Corbridge.

Also, thanks to those who have written me/sent messages through my dad to me. I'm sorry that I don't have time to respond to you all but I really appreciate the love and support!

Sister Smith

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