Saturday, January 30, 2016

January 19, 2016 - Now It's P-day - Joshua, Texas

Dear Family,

Sorry I had to let you know I wouldn't be emailing yesterday on such short notice. I totally forgot last week but we got permission from the zone leaders to tell you yesterday.

As I mentioned, we had a giant multi-zone service project so our P-Day was moved. The reason it had to be yesterday was because it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day and there was a huge service day put together in downtown Fort Worth to celebrate. There were a ton of different churches involved but ours was best represented! That definitely made for an interesting experience though. The project began with a religious service at the African Methodist something or other church. There was some singing and swaying, a few speeches, and some prayers accompanied by the organ and drums. There were some amens interspersed in there as well. It was something to remember for sure.

From there we split off into several groups and did different projects. My group went to the food bank and started by sorting bread into "sweet" and "regular." After that we made some 40 pound grocery boxes. Each one had to have 10 cans, 5 condiments, and however many other groceries it took to make the box about 40 pounds. Suffice it to say that our Tetris skills have been greatly improved. At the end they told us we had sorted enough food to feed about 1400 people.

The rest of the week was fairly routine. Did some knocking, taught some lessons, you know. While knocking one street we saw some geese in one yard, some turkeys in another, and large dogs in just about every other yard. Passing by one house, Elder Balser pointed to a large German Shepard and, first making sure it was fenced in, said, "you wanna see a scary dog, that one can tear you to pieces!" ...There was a hole in the fence. We both kept a calm-ish facade and kept walking as if there was not a killer dog out. Luckily it didn't follow us. Its little buddy that was an 1/8 it's size did though. The little ones always do. I still have all my limbs though, no worries.

Well, I hope y'all are enjoying winter up there. I know I'm enjoying it down here! Take care and drive carefully!

Elder O'Brien (the younger)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

January 11, 2016 - Joshua, Texas

Hello family!

This week definitely had some ups and downs but it was good overall. On Tuesday we had to drop our 85 year old investigator. I don't remember if I've talked about her a whole lot but Elder Simmons and I found her while tracting back at the end of September. She was progressing pretty well until she finally came to church in early December and then decided she wasn't interested in reading and praying about the Book of Mormon anymore. There's not really a whole lot else to do when people lose interest so completely.

In other news, we started teaching a Jehovah's Witness this week. He was actually the one who bishop invited to church last week. Turns out he's not quite as open to baptism as we thought... Spoke too soon. We tried teaching both him and his wife but it turned into him asking question after question without giving us a real chance to answer them. Eventually he went to bed because, apparently, it was a little too much to take in. Luckily we had a member with us so we could continue to teach the wife. She was a lot more open to what we had to say and the lesson went well. We had both of them go to a fireside with President Ames last night so hopefully that answered some of their questions. We would've gone too but we couldn't find a ride.

The lessons were both pretty draining because of all the questions but I did learn a ton about Jehovah's Witnesses. They believe that:
-Jehovah is God and that Michael is Jesus Christ
-our bodies and spirits do not separate at death. We just lay in the ground and our "breath of life" (not a spirit) returns to Jehovah until resurrection
-the 144,000 will be the government in heaven and the rest of us will reside on a paradisaical earth
-to become an actual Jehovah's Witness you must receive a letter from the angels saying that you are. (I might have my facts slightly wrong on that one but it involved a letter and some Angels)

Also, some of them don't even bother trying to teach members of our church.

The next day was a whole lot better because we had a short mission conference with Elder D. Todd Christofferson. I'm not sure if you've seen the pictures yet but if not they'll be on the Facebook page soon. They didn't want us telling anyone about who was speaking because then some members might try to come in uninvited and they wanted to keep it small. Our poor ride was sitting outside of the building from an apostle and didn't even know it. Some missionaries' rides actually walked in at the end to find Elder Christofferson. I bet they were a little shocked.

At any rate, the meeting was pretty awesome. It was a little different because I've gotten so used to doing spiritual things around spiritual people that having an Apostle there felt almost natural. We all got to shake his hand as we walked in so that was cool. When Elder Christofferson got up to speak he started by saying, "I always get excited when I send missionaries to the Fort Worth mission and I don't know why. I probably assigned some of you here," which was neat because I was just thinking about that a couple minutes before.

The rest of the meeting was Q&A and let me tell you, there were some deep questions! I'll just share a couple. The first was how resurrection and judgement work if the time of our resurrection (first or second resurrection) is based on righteousness. His answer was that we will be resurrected with the body that pertains to the kingdom we will inherit but we will not actually inherit that glory until the Final Judgement. He backed it up with D&C 88:28-31. Don't quote me on any of this by the way, that's how apostasy happens.

The second question I'd like to share was, "As a special witness of Jesus Christ, what does he look like?" Elder Christofferson paused for a second and, half laughing, said, "Not like His paintings!" The whole room gasped a little. Take from it what you will but I'm not lying to you. He then pointed out that Apostles are witnesses of His NAME which means His authority, His Atonement, and His identity. Most people just focus on the identity part, hence the question.

What stood out to me the most was when Elder Christofferson talked about our callings as missionaries. He said that we are serving the Apostles' mission and that we are their companions. We don't hold the keys for missionary work but we are called to help carry it. It made me realize just how great of a work this is. I'll leave you to ponder on that this week.

Love y'all!
Elder O'Brien (the younger)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

January 4, 2016 - Shalom Ya'll - Joshua, Texas

Dear Family,

This week was an interesting but successful one. It started pretty normal on Monday and most of Tuesday but then I made a bad mistake that afternoon. There's this one church out here that a lot of people belong to and whenever we ask their members about their beliefs they say "We're a New Testament church." So anyway, after talking with one of these individuals I made the mistake of commenting to Elder Balser, "Well that narrows it down. Every Christian basically belongs to a New Testament church!"

The very next day I was proved quite wrong. After district meeting, we decided to tract this one neighborhood in the middle of nowhere (there's a lot of those around here) that we'd seen last week. We got out of the car and were super excited because we'd been waiting to get out there for a few days. The first couple doors weren't answered but then we walked up to this one that apparently belongs to a realtor (his picture and company were on his truck) and I thought, "Ooo, he'll be a talker."

When we proceeded to the front door I noticed a sign with the words "Shalom Ya'll" hanging by his door. The guy whose face was on the truck answered and, as expected, he lectured us about the Torah for a few minutes and how we literally need to put the word of God in our doorway. Jewish people aren't very common here but it was normal enough. What made this man in particular a little odd was that he also believed that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't the Jewish believe otherwise? Apparently not this guy. His final thoughts regarded how he refers to Jesus as Joshua or Yahweh. He sort of combined them into what sounded like Yeshua. Nice guy though we're just not sure exactly what religion he identifies with: Jewish, Baptist, Christian Jew, or Baptwish.

The confusion continued across the street where we met a Baptist Preacher who refused to even hear a verse from the Book of Mormon. Most of what he said is not worth writing about but he did say one thing that caught my attention. He said that he's helped a couple Jews accept Jesus Christ as their savior but they haven't become Baptist yet, implying that they are still Jewish but are also now Christian. My thoughts of course were, "I wonder if that includes his neighbor across the street."

Oh, and this preacher also chastised me for not reading the Old Testament. I think he was just in shock that I'd read the New Testament and didn't know what else to say. Long story, but I hope you can now see my confusion with this weird Old Testament Christian neighborhood.

Unfortunately, I was not able to place a single Book of Mormon on this street. I was sure at least one person would at least let it lay on their bookshelf for a few years if nothing else, but nope. It really is true that sometimes when nothing is happening it means something big is about to happen though!

On Saturday, we did a day in Godley which is a town about the size of Magrath with about 7 different churches. It's pretty secluded and far away so we don't get over there often but we finally got the chance this week. It's not exactly a "Mormon-friendly town" but we like to give it a chance anyway. For the first few hours we really had no success but then we decided to visit a less-active who lives even farther from civilization in what is still technically Godley but not really.

We drove on a deserted highway for a while and then through this narrow, muddy road for a few minutes but he wasn't home so we decided to tract this random neighborhood of nice houses around the corner. Nobody answered the first three or four houses but we were determined! The next house was answered by this teenage girl who was religious but not really active in her church. The whole contact was a little awkward but she invited us in to get out of the "cold" 45 degree weather. Her friend was also there and we just started teaching them stuff. At one point Elder Balser asked them if they'd ever wondered about their purpose in life and the first girl looked at her friend with a shocked face, which I think probably meant yes... The whole lesson went exactly like we always role play which never happens. She even accepted a restoration pamphlet and a Book of Mormon and said "Yeah, I'm actually really curious now! I'm gonna read it."

It was kind of funny though, at one point her dad came into the room and said, "We're not interested!" Followed by his wife who said, "Don't be so mean!" The dad then laughed and told us he was kidding. Talk about a mini heart attack! We're meeting with them next Saturday so I'll let you know what comes from it.

I could write a lot more but I've written too much already. Just know that we have some awesome new investigators one of which just came to church by the Bishop's invitation and wants to be baptized. Also, I'm staying in Joshua another transfer. It'll probably be my last so I'm expecting some great things. It's totally possible for me to get a baptism before I leave! Talk to you next week!

Elder O'Brien (the younger)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

December 21, 2015 - Twas the P-Day before Christmas - Joshua, Texas

Dear Family,

It's been a pretty good week in good ol' Joshua. Nothing much came from the guy and his family that we tracted into last week but we had some spiritual experiences nonetheless. With it being the week before Christmas, the mission had a few multi-zone Christmas Devotionals. Ours was on Wednesday and it was an awesome experience. Basically, President and Sister Ames wanted to serve us and show that they love us so we had some smoked meat and beans for lunch, watched the "Christmas Carol" movie, and a heard a few talks.

It was interesting watching "A Christmas Carol" as a missionary because, first of all, we don't watch movies and second, it takes on some new meaning. It was the 80s version so it was a little weird in the first place but it was interesting because as missionaries we kind of saw a lot of our investigators in Scrooge. That sounds awful but it's true. At the beginning of the movie Scrooge just seems like a grumpy old man who only cares about money. As you get to know him a little more you see that he's really just been let down by family, friends, and relationships in general so much that he's turned to the only thing that hasn't failed him--work and wealth. It's the same for some our investigators. Religion failed them completely and so they turned to the only person they felt the could trust-- themselves. Later Scrooge is visited by Jacob Marley and blames the whole experience on some bad food doing weird things to his mind. Sound like feeling the spirit and not recognizing it, anyone? That night Scrooge is visited by three ghosts that come at the most inconvenient times. Missionaries anyone?! On top of that, these ghosts teach him about his past, his present, and his future. Totally the Plan of Salvation. After watching the whole movie I thought, "Whoa, we're totally the ghosts of past, present, and future for Mr. Brown!" Thinking of our investigators definitely made Scrooge's change of heart a lot more meaningful for all of us.

After the movie we moved into the chapel and the whole mission presidency spoke to us. I'll tell you know more about what I learned on Christmas, there's too much. When we were all about to leave after the closing prayer, President Ames told us he had the best gift yet for us if we'd stay seated. He then gave all the Zone Leaders a stack of letters from home to hand out to the individual missionaries. They were put inside of envelopes decorated by children in the mission and included one from our parents and one from our Stake President. Everyone was bawling and it was probably one of my favorite mission moments and Christmas memories yet. I can't even begin to describe what it felt like.

Friday morning was pretty great too because we did a little bit of service for a homeless shelter in downtown Fort Worth. We started by singing some Christmas carols in their chapel and then we handed out some dress shirts to the men there. It's always great doing service but it's even better when you get to do something a little different like that. Usually it's just helping someone move or cleaning up a yard so it was a nice change.

The rest of the week was pretty typical again. Though, we did have another investigator at church yesterday. That's always awesome. Right now we're working on getting investigators to actually come more than once. It's a slow process, but we'll get there. It's pretty amazing to see people progress so much from when we first knock on their door to when they come though. It's really rewarding to see the whole process from the beginning rather than starting in the middle like I did at the beginning of my mission. There's so many people that could be baptized right now and I only wish I could get them there faster. It'll happen eventually. I can see some big things happening in Joshua this next year.

That's about all this week. Talk to you later and have a wonderful Christmas!

Elder O'Brien (the younger)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

December 28, 2015 - Joshua, Texas

Just after Christmas in Joshua

Dear Family,

It was good to talk to you on Skype a few days ago even though you couldn't see me half the time. I still looked the same the rest of the time, no worries. I've been dying to share at least a few quotes in their original Texan twang for a while so I was happy to do that. I'm also really sorry that we couldn't discuss "The Full Story of Christmas" after I read it. I sent it to you with all the references and everything so feel free to share it with anyone and everyone. I'll never forget that devotional when I first heard it, so I hope you felt the same way. If I had more time after I would have asked what you felt when I read it and why you think there was so much before Christ's birth and not as much after. So, you can ponder those this week.

The rest of Christmas Day was spent mostly doing service and such. Actually, before we even went to Skype, we stopped by a member nearby and gave him a gift (cookies and a large sum of money) from another family in the ward. The family told us to deliver it to whomever we felt needed it most. During our visit, the member mentioned that he was waiting on a check and that he only had enough money and food for a week. He was completely humble about it and said he'd be alright but we were glad we chose him for the gift. It was a cool experience.

After Skyping, we went with the Burleson Elders and held some bingo games at the local retirement home. We were only there for a few games and it was going pretty slow but apparently after we left, it really heated up. The Burleson Elders said there was this one lady with four cards going that was just dominating. Definitely was a memorable experience.

For Christmas dinner we went to the Hansons and had salmon and such. They wanted to give it more of a Jerusalem feel and it actually turned out quite well, I enjoyed it. They're an awesome family so I was glad to spend some time with them and share a Christmas message. They actually had us back again yesterday because our other dinner appointment fell through. They're just one of those families that are always looking out for us.

Christmas Eve was pretty great too. We started with some planning which was extremely difficult to focus on, but we got a little bit done. Our dinner appointment was, once again, awesome. We had steak and baked potatoes which I've been waiting for since I got here. The family also had some kids our age which is nice once in a while. We don't have a whole lot of those in Joshua. It's just nice to be able to relate to people a little more sometimes and you don't get that often here. After dinner we went and taught our investigator a short lesson. He's progressing pretty well so it definitely made the night a little better.

The rest of the week was pretty uneventful so I won't bore you with it. Overall, it was a good Christmas and a good week. I'm glad ya'll enjoyed your Christmases too. It's always a nice time of year and it's even better on a mission. I hope you enjoy New Years as well and I'll talk to you next week!

Elder O'Brien (the younger)

December 14, 2015 - Joshua, Texas

Dear Family,

This week was pretty typical as far as most things go. I did get the Christmas packages so thank you for those! The ginger snaps are always my favorite so I've been enjoying those. Elder Balser actually got his packages the same day as two of mine so there were four big boxes just sitting outside on the driveway. Missionaries... Anyway, the Twelve Days of Christmas packages have been fun to open. The string of ten Christmas lights were the perfect size for our little tree.

As I said before, my week was pretty typical so I don't have any good stories for you. Unfortunately we didn't have any investigators at church yesterday and we found out that both people that came wanting to be baptized last week will for sure have to be reassigned to other missionaries. That's just how it goes sometimes.

We did have some pretty good contacting though. There was one house that I felt like we should knock that ended up pretty well. It was a young father and his 3 kids that answered and we asked if we could share a short Christmas message with them. The father said yes which was a shock because it was the first time that approach worked all week. So, we showed them the "A Savior is Born" video and they all seemed to feel at least something. After that we were surprised more when the father kept talking to us. Long story short, we ended up teaching most of the Restoration and gave him a Book of Mormon.

It was pretty funny at the end because he requested our number so he could text us after he clarifies some things with his preacher. My thoughts were, "Wow, he honestly needs to talk to his preacher because of what we taught? I didn't think we were that good." Of course, we really aren't. We just happen to have the Spirit backing us! Kind of goes to show you that people really don't know their Bible that well anymore. Most people outside of the south think that everyone down here looks at us and thinks, "Awesome, I totally know how to stump these guys!" but really most of them think, "Oh no! People that actually study the Bible! Where's my preacher when I need him?!" Let it be known that four years of seminary and three months of a mission is enough to stump most other Christians in Texas! Stay in seminary kids.

All joking aside, the best thing I did in that conversation was bear my testimony. He asked about why we think the trinity are three separate beings and I told him, "To me, it means a whole lot more to know that it was an actual Father literally sacrificing his own Son than it would if they were the same person." That conversation ended quickly! So, testimony borne, Book of Mormon given... I think I'll call that a success.

In other news, we heard our first criticism about a recent church statement this week. Any guesses which one? If you're thinking any of the gay marriage or related ones you're wrong. It was the one about welcoming refugees from the Middle East. People around here have some different views, but I still love them.

That's all I have this week. Take care and try not to freeze! I know I won't.

Elder O'Brien (the younger)