Wednesday, December 30, 2015

December 7, 2015 - Joshua, Texas

Dear Family,

Well it was a much warmer, more successful week this time around! Texas weather is weird sometimes. It rains for a week straight then suddenly it's sunshine and lollipops for a couple weeks. Apparently it's supposed to get up to about 79 on Friday so that will be interesting. Definitely does not feel like December around here.

I'm starting to get the hang of this whole training thing. Basically, I've stopped trying to train and started to just act like both Elder Balser and I are experienced missionaries that know what they're
doing. It works pretty well. This week holds my personal record for most investigators at sacrament with 4 and most random people to contact us wanting to be baptized with 2. We may end up having to
refer both of them to other missionaries but hey, it counts. One of them we actually met at the wedding a couple weeks ago. He has a few friends that are members so he decided to look into it and said he would be baptized if he finds out the church is true. It's always interesting when you just throw all the crazy first vision, heavenly messenger stories at people and all they say is, "Well, that would be hard to make up." The members that set up the lesson and sat in on it seemed pretty surprised when we committed him to baptism. It's always great showing members exactly what and how we do things. Both members were pretty recent converts but I don't think they really realized
that conversion can move that quickly. Exciting stuff.

The other man who wants to be baptized grew up next door to the second counselor in the bishopric and was invited to church yesterday. The second counselor told us to look out for a guy sitting next to his wife and daughter but we had no idea he already wanted to be baptized until the daughter bore her testimony and said, "I'm happy for my friend who has decided to turn his life around and be baptized." That got our attention a little. Joshua is THE area to be in right now, I'm telling ya.

On top of these potential baptisms, we also had our 80 year old investigator at church for the first time yesterday! I wouldn't be surprised if she got baptized in a few months. Really, her only obstacle is actually wanting to be baptized. We're working on it.

The only down side of our week was that our car got backed into on Wednesday night so we had to spend some time reporting what happened and getting an estimate for the repair. What happened was it was about 8pm, super dark out, and a lady didn't see our car parked on the side of the street when she backed out. Streets around here are super narrow but everyone parks on the side anyway. It gets to where only one car can get through at a time. We'd parked in the same spot a dozen times but we got unlucky this week. Unfortunately, we'll have to spend some time on bikes this week to get it fixed.

Overall it was a great week though. I'd take baptisms over a non-dented car any day. Hopefully this week will be successful AND accident free though. I wish the same for all of you as well.

Elder O'Brien (the younger)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

November 30, 2015 - First Week of Training - Joshua, Texas

Hello family!

This week was definitely an interesting one. The first couple days we mostly just got things ready for Elder Simmons to leave which was pretty sad for a lot of people. I guess when you spend 7.5 months in an area people grow attached to you. It was also pretty hard for me with him being my trainer and all. Having a companion leave really makes you think back to when you first became companions. The last three months with Elder Simmons were pretty awesome when I look back, especially when I started getting the hang of things. I don't think it really sunk in that he was leaving until the night before transfers. Before bed that night I also realized that I had never even driven in this country before and that I would have start doing so the next day. I'll talk more about that later. So anyway, we did that whole traditional tie trade thing and Elder Simmons was off to Saginaw!

As usual, President Ames held a breakfast for the brand new missionaries and their trainers that morning. When it came time for him to do the "big reveal" and announce the companionships he called all the trainers up one by one and then named who they would be training. When he called me up it went like this:

President Ames: "Elder O'Brien! ... You're in Joshua right?"
Me: "Yes"
President Ames: "And you live in a barn?"
Me: "Well... yes. But there's a nice part of the barn!"
President Ames: "Okay, well, you'll be serving with Elder Balser!"

From there, President Ames gave some advice to everyone, we headed back to our areas, and we got to work. This first day was a little hard just because I was dealing with the initial shock of leaving my
trainer while also dealing with everything that comes with starting to train. The next few days were pretty rainy and cold and our appointments kept cancelling so I was scrambling for things to do. The
MTC teaches missionaries how to talk to your everyday Joe Shmoe but as far as planning your day and teaching actual people with crazy problems, it doesn't help too much. So, as trainers we end up doing most of the planning and coming up with lessons. I completely expected that, but it started feeling like a little too much by Saturday night. We had a couple good visits with some less-actives that night and yesterday which was enough to keep me going though. Plus, we had pretty decent stats compared to the rest of our district.

About driving though. It's super weird driving here because first of all, everything is in miles and second, the roads wind around people's property right and left. It's also starting to get cold, rainy and
potentially icy. I have not crashed yet though! I'm getting used to driving again so I should be fine.

I hope you're all doing well. Christmas time is always fun and it sounds like you're making the most of it. Talk to you next week!

Elder O'Brien (the younger)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

November 23, 2015 - 'Tis the season to have meetings - Joshua, Texas

Elder O'Brien with his trainer (center) and his trainer's trainer

Hello Family!

I had a week full of meetings and conferences so not a lot happened with our investigators. It's alright though, sometimes missionaries just need a week of figuring out what they can do better and this was one of those. We had Elder Falabella from the Seventy come for a mission conference and the Fort Worth Stake conference so I heard a lot from him. It was pretty funny because all the Spanish-speaking missionaries started pronouncing his name "Fal-a-bay-a" because usually two Ls make a Y sound in Spanish but he kept correcting them because he's always pronounced it "Fal-a-bell-a." There were some confused missionaries.

Anyway, he first spoke to the mission on Friday and mainly focused on teaching families. The next day was the adult session of stake conference so we got to hear him again. This time he mostly talked about the Sabbath and the temple. On Sunday he spoke some more about the temple and having faith to do what the Lord has trusted us to do. I also got to hear from President Ames all three days which was awesome! Rarely do missionaries get to hear from their mission president that much. From all the talks given, I've decided to open my mouth and speak more, invite everyone in a household to hear the gospel rather than just one or two, and help make salvation a personal experience for everyone I teach.

Oh, and I guess I should mention that I also heard from President Ames at the new trainer meeting on Wednesday. You can take a couple seconds to reread that if you need to. I know I had to hear it twice before I was sure. I will be staying in Joshua this transfer and I will indeed be training a new missionary. At about 6:30 Monday night we heard the super intense ringtone that is reserved solely for President Ames by most companionships and we're like "WHAAT?!" When I answered he told me "I'd actually like to speak to both you and Elder Simmons." He then proceeded to tell me that he felt inspired to call me as a trainer this transfer. After we were done talking, President Ames asked to speak to Elder Simmons and told him he would be a district leader in Saginaw.

I thought a lot about why the Lord would want me to train so early in my mission and I think the answer came to me when, at the meeting, I saw six other new trainers who barely finished being trained. This includes Elder Brinkerhoff and Elder Newey from my MTC district. It seems that the Lord is building a foundation of strong missionaries by forcing both us trainers and our new missionaries to rely on Him rather than our own experience. Elder Simmons explained it this way: Most missionaries come during the summer or early fall. These missionaries are soon going to make up the majority of the mission. The Lord wants all his Texas Fort Worth missionaries to fully rely on Him. So, what group of missionaries would he start this with? What's the best way to do this?

The answers are 1. the biggest, newest group and 2. by having them train. I'm a little nervous about training a new missionary but I know it's what is best for me right now. It's easy to slide into the background when your companion knows what he's doing but that's not how missionaries improve and become who God wants them to be. Plus, history shows that both my new missionary and I will most likely make it out alive. It'll be a crazy few weeks but I've made it through harder things.

You can look for a picture of me with my new companion on Facebook this week. Hopefully I don't look any more terrified than he is... You'll have to let me know. Have a good week!

Elder O'Brien (the younger)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

November 16, 2015 - Joshua, Texas

Dear Family,

Let me first clarify something. I've only "lost" one solid investigator in the sense that we had to drop her. However, I've had four investigators go missing in the sense that they ran away from home and nobody knows where they are. One of them was actually on my second day. He was living with a member and was taught one lesson in which he committed to be baptized and then that same week he walked out of the house, left all his belongings and is now homeless somewhere. Another one walked off a week or so before his baptismal date and got picked up by a Christian men's home about 20 miles away. That was around the beginning of October but he he showed up yesterday! So, I guess a better question would be is it normal to have four investigators choose to be homeless in your first two transfers? I'm sure it does happen more than we realize but I'm hoping it doesn't become a regular thing for me.

Back to this week though. We actually had a few solid lessons this past week. We met with an investigator again and his lessons are always super spiritual. Unfortunately he didn't keep any of his commitments from the lesson I wrote about in my last email. He has strong desires when we teach him but it just disappears by the next day. We sure aren't going to give up though.

Friday night was super busy with lessons. At 6:00 we had one with a new investigator who moved  here from Nigeria several years ago. Missionaries from other churches used to always stop by when he lived there and he said we were the first to come since he left. Right when we walked in he got all excited and said he was busy cooking but that we could teach his sister and her boyfriend who were there. Only the boyfriend was interested so we just taught him. Our actual investigator sat on the floor taking the nasty bits out of his pile of bean/seed looking things while we taught. Apparently that's what he meant by cooking. The boyfriend was one of those "It doesn't matter, we're all following Christ" guys so we tried to teach him about the apostasy and the need for one true church. It kind of went around and around for a while but we learned a little about other Christians from him. A lot of them believe that the priesthood is what people use when God works through them. Thus, if God is working through someone they must have been ordained. He had an issue with us claiming that anyone but Joseph Smith had the priesthood because he didn't understand that the restoration of the priesthood was a one time event and that Joseph Smith then had the power to ordain other worthy men. In this guy's mind ordination always had to come directly from heaven. Pretty interesting... but confusing. Anyway, this guy was super confused and we're trying to explain everything when our actual investigator stops everyone and fully explains the restoration with perfect clarity. Turns out he was actual retaining everything we said even though we weren't even teaching him.

By the end of that lesson it was 7:15 and we were late for our 7:00 appointment. This lesson was with a less-active family and their daughter who is over eight and wants to be baptized. They hadn't come to church since around January so the plan was to politely explain that they need to start coming again or their daughter can't be baptized. What actually happened was Elder Simmons got in there and called them to repentance for about 25 minutes and we were out of there. They totally accepted it though! We never would have planned on being so bold but it just came out of Elder Simmons' mouth like nothing. When we got in the car he said, "I don't even remember what I just said to them," so I recapped the lesson and he was pretty surprised. It's amazing what happens when you follow the spirit.

Saturday was probably the best day this week. The whole day was just us going to a returning less-active's wedding but it was surprisingly productive. It was an actual Catholic Sacrament of Matrimony in a Catholic church so that was interesting. I just walked in there with my nametag and pretended it wasn't weird. We got a couple looks but hey, we do no matter where we are. After the ceremony was over we went over to the social hall in the church and met one of the less-actives Elder Simmons has been looking for since he came. He was super nice and we talked with him for a while. After everyone was settled, the groom (the member) came over and asked if we were ready to do our Book of Mormon reading and if we knew where the bishop was. Apparently our Bishop was supposed to do the sand ceremony but he never showed up so we got asked to do that too. Again, we just got up there on stage and pretended that it wasn't weird to be reading from the Book of Mormon in a Catholic church. It went well though, no shouts of "Heretics!" or anything. At the end of the night the Bride's mother came over and gave us Michael Kors ties as a thank you gift. They're one of the kindest families I've met out here. Sometimes we like to call them our Catholic family. So, yeah, that's the story of how we got 1 other lesson and 2 Recent Convert/Less-active lessons in a Catholic church. It was a lot of fun and still ended up being a spiritual experience, especially when the groom mentioned taking their marriage into the eternities in his vows. YES!!!

Sorry I wrote so much this week but I just had too many stories to share. Have an awesome day!

Elder O'Brien (the younger)