Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Wow...what a special week. It was a jam-packed, intense one with a lot of work, trials, blessings, and miracles seen before my very eyes. Before I write you, I hope that everything sounds alright, given that I have a fever of 102 and am super dizzy, but I couldn't pass this opportunity to write you all about a truly special week.
First and foremost, the branch has 4 more members here, we had 4 baptisms and confirmations. On Tuesday, Elder Brammer came to do the baptismal interviews for Carlos, Alfredo, and Marlene. They all went well, I was really proud of them, and all the preparations they made to be worthy of baptism. I realized that I had been teaching them since October, and they finally turned the corner. Even Silvia has came around and was really happy to see her family be completed as members of the church. The coolest part was that they wanted to do the baptisms in the river, which was always one of my dreams. So on .... morning, bright and early, we went down to the beach of Rio Parana. It turned out perfect, even Alex came and gave a great talk on baptism, and shared some of his experiences. We were all so happy and left there super excited to keep working hard, to continue to have this same success!
Last week, I wrote about Fernando, who has become a really special person to me. He was progressing well, then some doubts came up about President Monson...they weren't real big doubts, just that he had never met him, and wanted to be sure of everything before baptism (and rightfully so). We had Branch Night on Thursday, so we decided to watch the movie "On the Lords Errand", which is a biography about the life of President Monson. Earlier that morning, we made a copy of his talk from last conference, titled "Stand in Holy Places", and committed him that very night, after watching the movie and reading the talk, to kneel and pray, asking God directly if Thomas S. Monson is a Prophet of God. We met with him on Friday in the chapel, and he came in with a smile on his face, and said that he had asked with faith, and that his answer was unmistakable. He went on to testify that Joseph Smith was a Prophet, and that Thomas S. Monson is the Lord's seer and revelator. We felt relieved to see first hand the role that the Lord has played in his conversion. He chose me to baptize him, so Saturday night came around and he was baptized. The service had a huge turnout, way more than a normal Sunday sacrament meeting, because everyone in the branch knew him and loved him. While we were changing into the white clothes, he asked me if we could say a prayer before the service with just us two. We went into a quiet room and we both knelt to say a prayer. He said it first, then I did, and the Spirit testified to both of us that he was making the right decision. The service went well, his best friend Alex talked, which was really cool. At the end, we left it up to an "open pulpit", and he decided to go up and share his conversion story, which made just about everyone cry. I shared some experiences as well. We felt really great about the whole thing, it was a great privilege to be there.
Sunday came along, and they all were confirmed, even though there were some trials that Sunday morning for some of them. The branch is super excited about missionary work, and has become very missionary oriented.
Its looking like we will have another baptism this weekend. I will keep you posted, keep us all here in your prayers!
Until next week,
Sunday, February 26, 2012
This week was pretty good. It was pretty slow as far as numbers go, but I felt like we were really trying and that good things came because of that. We found a really great Russian family, which was exciting because our Mission President said that "There is a Russian family there in Joensuu and you Elders need to find them" So we had been praying for that and it finally happened. It was a sweet first teach and we are excited to see them progress.
And another cool thing happened about 2 nights ago. We were done tracting and walking to our bikes. We happen to look in the window and see an African. And as you all know, I love Africans and so I said we should go and knock his door and try and teach him. It was not a building we had tracted at all and he was the only door we knocked, but he let us in. And it just so turns out that he is a member. Not only that but he has been an active member for 15 years (he even had his endowment) but has just sent his papers in to leave the church. He did not feel very welcome when he came to the Finnish branch (One of the challenges here in Finland is that Finns are more reserved and quiet and they don’t always reach out to people as well as they should) and he also had some good solid questions about the church, the problem was that he only asked his questions in Sunday school and never in a one on one interview with a Priesthood Leader. He had quite a long story of what led up to him sending his papers in, and we told him that the one thing he needed to do was have a long good chat with an actual Priesthood leader. He is leaving to go back to Africa this Tuesday, which made it all the more clear that we were definitely led to him. Our plan was to plant the seed so that he could some day actually talk with a leader because the place he was at was not the most open to allowing us to solve his concerns. I don’t know what will happen to him, but I am hoping the advice we gave him will help him later on when he is more open to accept the answers.
On the bike ride home, me and Elder Rogers we just amazed at all the things that led up to us meeting with him at such a critical time. He had just sent his papers in and he was leaving for Africa in 3 days. I know that we were led to him.
Other than that, a pretty regular week. It has not been too cold, but a little bit more windy. I am getting really excited for the spring to come. We are planning on playing Badminton with our 65 year old bishop today. I’m pretty excited.
Thanks for all the support. I love yall.
The story of the week comes from yesterday, when I felt that working hard we would find some golden investigators, anyway we were walking and I heard someone singing a song by Teeg and Sarah, a fairly uncommon group, in fact they are lesbians, but they sing good, and I had never heard any song of the style I liked in Mexico in this entire year here, well she started singing it mopping the garage, and as we heard it I told my companion we had to go back and contact her. Any way I contacted her with all the spirit I had and was waaaaaay happy and excited when she interrupted me telling me she doesn’t believe in god... ha-ha. Well we continued with the atheist contacting style inviting her to pray and telling her of the promise of prayer. Turns out she didn’t want anything... I laughed it off and ended the night thinking of the adventure of missionary work.
Thanks for everything, I really don’t need anything but take care and keep sending updates on everything. Elder Shaun Rhodes
Sometimes in life, there are moments and experiences that change a person forever. Times when the whole world just freezes, and you feel something never felt before. I had one of those experiences this week, that I wanted to share with you all.
Before coming out on the mission, I received in my home ward a talk about two friends in the premortal existence together, waiting for their "calls to earth". One is sent to the US born in the gospel, and the other to Costa Rica, living in poverty without the gospel. They separated at birth, but made promises to find each other again one day. Long story short, they reunite through the one elders mission, and know without a doubt that the Lord played a big part in bringing them back together, with a knowledge of the gospel and salvation in reach. I had always read that story and thought it was cool, but never imagined to have an experience so intimate and real. I have felt the Lord use me as an instrument, and see many great people be baptized, but hadn't yet experienced a "sure knowing" like that.
This last week, we had been teaching one of our great investigators who is 19 and almost got baptized a few years ago, but fell into many doubts and ended up not following. We had been going over some lessons and teaching him and he was progressing well. We met up with him and had a lesson in the church, when he started talking and saying that he had fasted to know the truth, and 3 Nephi 27 together with prayer and faith, brought him to know that the church was true. He was so thankful for us. I asked him what had sparked the changes in his life, and he said that it was since the first day that I had got there, he felt something different, and has been improving in every aspect of his life since we met. I shared with him that story of the 2 friends, and about how Donna Andrews had said that I would get here and find many people, but there would always be that "one" that had been right prepared for me. I shared with him that Donna had recently passed away, but she is looking down smiling, seeing her words come true right before her. We both lost it as the Spirit was tangible there in the chapel. We went on to teach him, and it was one of the best feelings of my life.
This story doesn't end. On Friday night we taught him, everything smooth, and at the end of the lesson, he told me that he "had something he needed to tell me", which I thought was kind of weird, but wasn't a big deal. On Saturday I called him and he was acting way weird, so after some effort, we got him to meet us at his house to talk. We sat down, and at this point I was so nervous, I was expecting some big doubts, because he had told me that some things from his past experiences with the missionaries kept coming to his head. We said a prayer, and before passing him over the time, I felt like I needed to testify of the truthfulness of our message, and even though we might not speak perfectly in Spanish or be able to answer all his questions, that we know that we have been called by a prophet of God, and that our message is true. Then, he started to speak.
He said that he was thinking about some past things, and that he needed to share them. He said that when he was with another old elder, they talked about the story of the man drowning in the water, saying that God will save him. So 3 boats pass by, and he says that he is waiting for God to save him. Then he dies and asked God "why didn't you save me?". And God replies, "what do you mean? I sent you 3 boats!" Fernando had been thinking about that, and realized that 3 years ago, an elder "Gonzalez" had tried teaching him, but he didn't listen. Then, elder number 2 "Morrill", had worked hard too, but wasn't the one to get him. He looked me dead in the eyes and said, "I just realized, you are the 3rd elder, the 3rd boat. I know that God sent you here for the 3rd time to save me before drowning." I couldn't believe my ears. I, expecting a huge doubt, heard probably the best thing I had ever heard in my entire life.
If that wasn't enough, he directly follows that story up with another dream or vision or realization...whatever you want to call it... that he had also had in that past time period. He saw Elder Morrill (old elder that taught him) in his dream, at Fernando's house. Fernando went out to receive him, when he said that THIS elder (pointing to his companion) would be the elder to bring him to the truth. Back then, he said he looked at him, and distinguished the height, weight, size, stature, etc...but for some reason, couldn't recognize the face, as if it was blank. He had been wondering for all those years who it was. He said that when I, missionary number 3, started teaching him, and after feeling the Spirit manifest it unto him, he received the revelation that I was that elder from his dream. That I had that exact stature, everything. That the Lord had prepared me to be the one to find him. I felt the Spirit confirm that truth unto all of us. I felt pure charity, the pure love of Christ. I know that the Lord has a plan that is so personal and individual that sometimes we don't always understand it. But if we follow his plan with faith, we get to experience first hand the tender mercies of the Lord. I know that the Lord sent me to Paraguay for many reasons, and one of those reasons was to find Fernando. He is progressing well, has attended church 3 weeks in a row, and is preparing to be baptized on this Saturday.
The Lord is really blessing us so much here, I am thankful for the Spirit felt during this week. Keep us in your prayers, its going to be a big but exciting week.
Until next week,
Monday, February 20, 2012
Of course, the week when I find myself being more efficient and having more time for the "main email", I didn't have time to collect my thoughts on what to write, but I have some ideas, and hope the Spirit will be here to express myself well.
We had an awesome Sunday in church! We have many investigators progressing and attending church, which is always a plus. We have been working really hard with our buddy Carlos, who is such a great guy that even though of being able to know him is such an overwhelming blessing, let alone be here to see him stop smoking completely, change his life, and be baptized and married in this weekend! He is a great guy. We visited him after church with our District President, and talked about the baptism and wedding. Carlos, Alfredo, and Marlene will get baptized in the Rio Parana! We are working hard with the two teens so that they can keep understanding well and preparing, but its looking good for this Sunday. I am so proud of them and their desires to change. Even his soon-to-be-wife that was inactive for more than 15 years has came around and fits in great in the branch. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with them, this preparation has been and will continue to be stressful, and require many prayers and efforts from everyone (including you all at home), but I am really excited to be a part of it.
We are also teaching a 19 year old that has read the whole Book of Mormon, but got mixed up in doubts, false doctrines and theories about our Church, and confusion, and ended up not being baptized about 2 years ago. He came to us wanting to learn more, and we started teaching him but he wouldn't commit to anything. The other day, we go in and I had marked Alma 32 for him to read about faith. He comes back and quotes it word for word, analyzing new things I had never realized and saying that he needs to open up more and have more faith, and not "over analyze" everything about the church, and just let his heart open up. I felt the Spirit testify that I needed to share the Joseph Smith Story. We followed it up with Alma 7, it was a spiritual lesson, and at the end, I asked him what he thought he could do to know the truth, totally expecting a "read, pray, go to church, etc." but he hits us with a "enter into the water and get baptized!" I couldn't believe my ears! He committed himself to be baptized, something he wouldn't even come close to committing to do before. He said that 3 Nephi 27 really has help with his doubts, which is a great chapter.
Also at church, we had another miracle! We started working with a family that had been inactive for years. They have tons of kids, 1 of which hasn't been baptized yet. We started working with the parents, and we had a great lesson about the Sabbath Day, and the blessings that they would receive if they went to church yesterday. They said that they didn't think they'd go, but "they'd see". I remember praying really hard for them Saturdays night....Whaddaya know! Sunday morning they all come walking in the doors, I just about died. It was so great to see them all there, including the one who isn't baptized. She is progressing well.
We had a big training meeting this last week, where President and Hermana Madariaga were there. We learned about diligence, and how to become more united as a mission, with God, Christ, our companions, our branches, and with ourselves. I learned so much! We had our interviews with President, and I am so thankful for him. We were able to talk, and it just felt great being around him. He is such a great servant of the Lord, and I am thankful for him and his efforts. We talked a lot about leadership, and the plans the Lord has in store for me as a leader, which always makes me feel overwhelmed and incapable, but I am excited to see the changes that I am striving to make in order to become a great leader.
I am so thankful for this awesome branch, its such a blessed area. I love the people here, and the things I have learned here have changed my life and mission so much. I still have a long way to go, but I am starting to see the changes not only in the things here, but in myself. I am thankful for the mission, its such a great opportunity to grow, change, and love. I love the mission, and hope all you RMs haven't forgot about the great things you learned. All you future missionaries, I would take Elder Hollands Priesthood talk seriously and get on board! Don't miss the opportunity to serve the Lord, its the opportunity of a lifetime.
Keep us in your prayers, its going to be a great week!
Until next week,
We had a pretty good week. One of the highlights was that we had an investigator in church! It’s a long story but with the Family Erika (Mom) Erik (16) Aranza (12) Grecia (9) Job (4) we have been working with them a lot. Aranza came with us Wednesday to mutual and we were hoping that she was going to excite her whole family. Well the young women were practicing for their new beginnings program and they included aranza. So she got way exited for church. Well Sunday comes around and she calls us crying cuz they didn’t pass for her to go to church... so we went to pick her up in a taxi... but ya know how girls are she let her emotions get to her and shut herself in her room :) But her little sister wanted to come so Grecia came and had a wonderful time. Erika told us she wants to have the whole family go this Sunday... so were very excited for that.
As far as Rafael goes... he has his baptismal date for the fourth of March. It’s doable but this last week they had a little argument and there can’t be support and spiritual progression when there is contention. So that work went on hold for this week.
We have been contacting like crazy and were able to testify of our work in our zone conference. It went super well and we are focusing a lot on family history. My companion gave a talk and he did a good job for such little time we had to plan. President Walker said that family history will be a great way to keep the converts in the church with their family history and doing vicarious work in the temple.
My companion is a great guy. He’s serious so sometimes I have to laugh alone. He does although imitate Dale on King of the Hill saying "Gosh dangit bobby" super well, But I think heavenly father has a sense of humor too cause there is a way to enjoy the journey and do the work. Elder Muñoz has two younger brothers and a younger sister and has a very cultural background. His parents are from Mexico and Uruguay and met in Colorado in a church dance.... oh church dances :) This week in our companionship inventory he asked me in tears to not joke about Lilly because he can’t imagine his life without her... and I took that opportunity to commit him to not write his girlfriend the last month of our three months together. I’m super stoked for him to accomplish :) I figure missionaries can be as hard as investigators to crack :)
I’m lovin life and really sorry that I can’t send a picture of him today cause we just got done ripping down the rotted cardboard of a recent converts roof and didn’t take my camera. I’ll be sure to send you one next week.
Sometimes you just need a person who understands you, and as a missionary I’ve been trying to figure out how to understand the people, understand why they do, or don’t do what they do. It’s been a crazy journey and I’m exited for it to keep on keepin on. "Life’s not a statue, push the bobble head once in a while” With love
Sunday, February 19, 2012
This week was pretty basic. Our solid investigator is still doing well but she left for Sweden for a couple weeks (And she is going to talk to her sons about the church and about her wanting to be baptized.) So, if you could pray for *her it would be great. (*The laws in Finland are weird so we aren’t supposed to write their names but I’m sure if you just say "Elder Merkley’s solid investigator," it will be understood what you mean.)
We had a pretty funny teach with a buff African who has a lot of tattoos and has been in prison a couple of times. Before my mission, this would have made me a little nervous, but with all the Africans I have met, I feel absolutely at home with them and knew that he was as harmless as a kitten. I love the foreigners from Africa. They are very humble and usually love talking with the missionaries. He told us his life story and he had had quite an interesting life. He had been in prison and deported a few times and just all sorts of wild stuff. We walked out having not really taught anything, but it felt good to just listen to him because that is what he seemed to need right then. I love all the random situations you get into as a missionary.
It really hasn’t been that cold lately. This week was actually a little warmer and im starting to think the worst is over. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still pretty dang cold, but much more manageable.
We wrote the Valentines to all of the missionaries. I just used the typical lame-o phrases like "Wood you be my valentine" (and drew a stick with a smiley face) and " Bee mine" (and I drew a dog.... just kidding, a bee) Haha it was pretty fun to think of all the cheesy lines.
That’s about it. Thanks for all the love. I love you all. Have a "berry" good Valentines.... (actual line used in one of the Valentines)
Sunday, February 12, 2012
This week was colder than last week. I thought -20 C was unbearable, but when it got up to -30 C (about -20 F) It felt like the other weeks were almost warm. It was so cold that I actually had my snot freeze into hanging icicle like in the movies. It is definitely an extra challenge because we have to schedule everything so that we are not outside for to long. Also the bikes don’t pedal as well when it’s that cold. And also, people aren’t very open to talk when the last thing they want to do is stay any longer out in the cold. But, it is an adventure and pretty sweet to experience. I have not seen the Northern lights yet, but the clouds in Finland are really pretty. I don’t know what it is but they seem to move really fast and its usually dark and quite outside which really sets a sweet mood. We are staying warm, the gear I brought is holding up pretty well. I’m hoping I can get a few winter pictures to sent home because it is really pretty and also after a big bike ride it is crazy to see what we look like. No exaggeration in saying it looks straight out of the movies with frost everywhere, on the hat, scarf, hood, and even on the eyelashes. It is pretty dang cold.
This week we had a Zone Conference in Oulu. It is on the West side of Finland and is a really cool city. We took a car ride (with other missionaries) there and trained back. Combined it was about 14 hours of traveling, but it’s not bad because we just study and rest. The Conference was really good, President Rawlings talked about praying always and that is sort of the big push in the mission right now. I learned some good stuff. It was fun to see all the other missionaries. The mission is so funny because there are all types of personalities and when everyone gets together there are some interesting dynamics. I almost feel like I am back in high school sometimes but they are all really cool and its always a good time.
Me and my companion have a funny idea of writing valentines cards to everyone in the mission. Haha it will be a lot of work for our P-day but I’m thinking it will be pretty funny and worth it.
That’s about it. Things are very cold, but going good here. It is really good to hear from you all, thanks for everything. I heart you all.
Love ya, Vanhin Merkley
Elder Shaun Rhodes
Monday, February 6, 2012
This week has been really cold. Its the kind of cold that really smacks ya right in the face right when you go outside. We were biking from a recent convert’s house that lives really far and I almost thought we weren’t going to make it. I kept thinking about the part in Star Wars when Han slices open the snow camel and puts Luke inside to stay warm... I could have really went for a nice warm snow camel to snuggle up inside of. It’s different than Utah in that it is not only super cold at night but instead its super cold all the time. And in winter its always cloudy and so I realized this that I hadn’t seen the sun for a long time but then on our way to church I saw it. I was really great to see the sun again, and really weird because even with the sun the air was still freezing.
Our gold investigator is still doing great. She came to church again and is reading and praying. We are really excited. This last Sunday I gave a talk about the Holy Ghost and I had to write it all out in Finnish because I didn’t want to freeze and forget simple words. I had my companion (who is younger in the mission than me but knows the grammar like a whip KWA-CHEE (whip sound)) go through and correct some stuff. The talk went pretty well and was understandable, but after our investigator said she could correct it even more for if I ever wanted to give it again. And I saw her correcting just the first page and there were A LOT of corrections. Haha. So, in other words, I was humbled.
We are still doing a lot of finding and things are a bit slow still. But I’m having a great time. My companion is cool and the area is sweet. I wish I hadn’t ruined my camera battery because the winter time is really pretty. When it gets super cold the trees get frosty white, it is somehow different than in Utah, but it is really pretty.
All is going well here. The mission is a good life.
Thanks for all you guys do. I love and miss you all. Keep being cool.
So we got changes yesterday and I will be staying here in the Hacienda while my companion Elder Wittwer will be going to an area like 15 minutes away from here haha. I will be district leader and will train a new missionary fresh from the sea (mtc).The weather has been absolutely perfect lately with clouds over all the mountains. It rained a bit also. I will be gettin a new comp I'm still not sure if he is from the states or from down here, but I am really excited no matter what. The week was good, I have yet to find my camera, but an elder let me borrow his for the week, but I think I will buy one today. On Tuesday we did divisions, and I got to go with the Elder that trained me when I first got to Mexico, Elder Lopez. It was a good experience and I learned a lot from him. The investigators are going well, but there is one problem. They are splitting our area in 2 so I will now be in La Hacienda 1, and I will be losing the investigadors that are progressing. Its kind of a bummer, but I know its inspired and will be for the best. We ate lots of tacos this week and had tomales for breakfast on Thursday with a really awesome hermana. We are going to be moving houses soon and we will be 4 Elders living together for the whole change. It will be interesting, but exciting. I think I have turned a little OCD on my mission, I like to be really organized and clean, and the houses here are the complete oppostie. So Im deciding whether to battle against the culture or tranquilize the OCD haha.
This week I had a sure answer to a prayer. I had a question on my mind for a while, and woke up one day and knew the answer. It was really wild and an experience that I have never had before. I want to invite you all to read your patriarchal blessings and pay attention to the promises... and the conditions upon which those blessings can be obtained. I was overwhelmed by the promises in mine this week and also a little overwhelmed in what I need to do in order to receive them. But at the same time I felt a lot of excitement to do my best to acheive it.I love you all, you help me more than you know. Hasta la otra- Elder Millet
1. 1 Nephi 11 16-17 It doesn’t matter what happens in life... we don’t understand the meaning of all things... and we can’t pretend like we’re going to in this life but we know god loves us. And that changes our questions from "why does god chastise me (even though that’s politically incorrect)" to "What can I learn from what I’m going through in this life."
2. We might have trials but we shouldn’t let them define us like Alma and amulek... one of the most horrible scenes in the book of Mormon watching them burn women and children.
3. that Jesus Christ understands us through the atonement Alma 7 11&12 and that he wants us to use our free will to choose his course... and that if we live right... we will return to the presence of our Heavenly Father and all knowledge will be restored unto us. I loved the topic... it’s a hit with all the stuff going on in Mexico and I was able to bear my testimony of our savior Jesus Christ. I know he lives and loves us... That just as a father or mother would cry to watch their babies dying... that spiritual death is even more important... its eternal,,, and that it is possible that our Savior cries being holy from eternities to eternity Moses 7 29-33.
We were able to feel the spirit more... talk about our decisions to serve missions and testify to the son Misael in front of his brother in law Rafael that isn’t member... the feelings one receives on the mission. The happiness to see someone offer their humble prayer and come to feel of the truth... of Baptism and the saving ordinance that it is and the thanks that the people return to you for having chosen to serve a mission. I’m grateful for this area... for all of the people and more especialmente for my savior... for my mother that loves me so much to have scheduled the interviews with the bishop and the stake president to help me leave on the mish.
My companion is learning a lot and I am learning with him. Hna walker called us up and challenged us to do 20 contacts daily in the street and we are going to bear testimony in our zone meeting.. It has made us super energized and stoked to contact our whole area. By the end of this year ... I will have contacted... or have helped more than 4,000 people know of the true and restored gospel...