Monday, December 27, 2010

A Christmas phone call

Alright, the last couple of weeks have been real crazy and I'm not just talking about Alex.  In this blog entry I am going break from the usual and talk a little bit about Alex's family for a minute.  Once you read the whole story, you will understand how a lot of what has been happening with his family, all ties into where Alex is current serving his mission.

So here we go.  Alex has an older brother who just recently turned in his mission papers.  Under normal circumstances, we would have expected a mission call about 2-3 weeks after he turned in his papers.  Well things didn't quite go normally.  Instead of just the normal envelope from the church, we received a called from our Stake President who informed us that the missionary department would like to know if Alex's brother would be ready to leave in 3 weeks.  That's right, it's not a typo.  They said 3 weeks, not 3 months! Our Stake President said that he couldn't tell us where Alex's brother was going at that time, but it was somewhere very important and of special significance.  Thinking that we would have to wait another week for the envelope from the Church to arrive, we were surprised when it came the next day.  When Alex's brother opened the letter we were all surprised to find out that he was being called to the Rochester, New York mission.  That's right, the same mission where Palmyra, Fayette and many other very significant Church historical sites are located.  With Alex now serving in the Independence Missouri mission and his brother soon to be serving in the Rochester, New York mission, we are going to have the greatest Church historical sites tour ever in about 2 years from now!!   As you can imagine, trying to get a missionary out the door in 3 weeks has been crazy.  I won't go into all of the details about Alex's brother's call here.  I will save that for when I start his brother's blog in a few weeks.  But needless to say, Alex is very excited, we are very excited and Alex's brother is extremely excited.

Back to what's up with Alex.  Well this month has been pretty busy for Alex as well.  I have already mentioned previously that Alex was expecting to perform several more baptisms this month and as of the last couple of weeks, those baptisms have happened.  Alex wrote to tell us all about the most recent members of the church and their baptisms.  He said that the baptismal services went very well and that the spirit was very strong.  The only hitch that they ran into was that while they were filling up the baptismal font, they ran out of hot water and by the time they figured it out, the font was a bit chilly.  Alex told us that during the baptismal service he and several other missionaries sang the song "My Heavenly Father Loves Me" from the children's hymn book.  Alex told us that with only two verses, the song was a little short so he spent some time during the previous week writing a third verse.  He didn't tell us what he came up with for the words to this new verse, but he said that it all went very well.  I'm not sure that adding to even a children's song is Church approved, but hey, if you are so inspired, why not. Alex is very excited to see these new members of the Church learning and growing along side of the other members of the Ward.  Alex even talked about how one of these new members has already been interviewed to received the priesthood.

Speaking of musical numbers, in the last blog entry I told you that Alex and his companion had been asked to perform a musical number during Sacrament meeting, the following week.  Well, the duet actually did turn into a quartet.  Alex and his companion recruited a couple of other members of the Ward to help them out.  They all  sang "Guard Him Joseph" and according to Alex, it went pretty well.  He said that the others who sang with him had pretty good pitch and that he was able to blend in ok.  In Alex's words, "I didn’t think we sounded too horrible".  I'm sure it was great, but I am still waiting to hear a real opinion from somebody who was actually there. ;-)

Since this last week was Christmas, we got the rare opportunity to have Alex call home and tell us himself all about what he has been doing.  As always, it was great to hear Alex's voice and to catch up on some of the details about his mission.  Not only did we get to hear from Alex, we also got to hear from his companion and some of the other missionaries that were accompanying them on Christmas.  We talked to Alex for quite a while on Christmas as they were all headed from Manhattan to Wamego where they were going for Christmas dinner.  Of course the Christmas dinner that they were going to wasn't the first of the day nor was it the last.  Just like on Thanksgiving day, they ended up spending time and eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with several different families.  In fact Alex had to have his companion call us earlier in the day just to tell us that Alex would be calling a little later than scheduled because they had a teaching appointment along with breakfast at the home of one of their investigators.  That was all good though, because it gave us time to get through all of our Christmas morning traditions as well.  We got a short letter from Alex on Monday after Christmas since we had just spoken with him a couple of days before.  Alex filled us in on how the rest of his Christmas went and the fact that he and his companion attended mid-night mass also.  If you remember from a couple of blog entries ago, Alex and several of the other missionaries have been spending their P-Day playing ultimate frisbee with a member of the local Catholic church.  As part of this new friendship, this catholic member invited the missionaries to attend mid-night mass on Christmas.  Alex told us that it was very interesting and that it was fun to see their friend give one of the readings during the mass.

We got a package from Alex just before Christmas.  Along with the Christmas presents that were included in the box, Alex finally sent us the memory card from his camera.  Out of the 150 or so pictures along with a few videos, here are some of the highlights:

This is during his NASCAR period while serving in Burlington, KS.  We still don't know why he was so into NASCAR, maybe because there are some really "Nas-cars" (say that with a southern accent and you will get the joke. ;-)

While Alex was serving in Burlington, KS last summer, he told us a story about how he and his companion helped a neighbor do a little demo on their house. The problem was that Alex is a little shorter than everybody else that was working there.  So in order for him to be able to reach the ceiling, Alex had to pile up some of the debris and stand on it to get a little extra boost.

No, this isn't a picture of Alex but you can see a faint reflection of his feet in the window.  There is a zoo in Manhattan, KS where the missionaries volunteer most weeks to help out.  Alex told us that according to the records held by the zoo, this chimpanzee is the second oldest in the world.  How they know that, I am not sure.  Alex also told us that if you remember the scene in the movie "Return to Me" where the gorilla plays handsies on th window with one of the stars of the movie, Alex did the same thing with this chimpanzee one day as well.

Just a couple of caged animals at the zoo.  Nothing more to see here.  We are walking, walking...

We have no idea where Alex came up with the cowboy outfit here.  We certainly didn't send him with the hat, the big belt buckle, the boots nor those jeans.  It looks like he is back at the Wamego apartment, but why he is dressed up as a cowboy is still a question to be answered.  Maybe someday he will tell us. ;-)

"Look Mom, lunch!!"
Sorry for the joke if this is really your child's favorite pet chicken. But it does look good! ;-)

Alex told us that this is the picture that he and his companion are using for their Christmas card this year.  If you remember the Christmas card last year, Alex and his companion at the time did the same thing except they were jumping off a snow covered rock.  If you haven't received your Christmas card from Alex yet, "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A week of triumphs and tragedy

Alex opened up his letter from a couple of weeks ago by telling us all about a baptism that took place the Saturday before.  The person who was baptized was somebody that they had met through a referral from a relative that actually lives in Utah.  Alex told us all about the miraculous changes that this man made in his life to get from where he was previously, to becoming a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  In some of Alex's previous letters, he talked about several times over the last couple of months when they were teaching this man the gospel.  He described watching a life change right before his eyes and how it has actually been one of the more eye opening and spiritual events that he has experienced so far on his mission.  Of course Alex usually describes things in terms of sports and this is how he described this experience:
I remember Grandma pulling me aside one day and telling me that as good as it felt to win state [wrestling], baptizing someone on my mission would be a much better feeling, and she was soooooo right!!! Seeing [this man] change his life and be baptized was a way better feeling than winning state, I love it!!! I love being a missionary!
Alex spent most of his letter talking about the baptism and the Sacrament meeting the next day when they performed the confirmation.  He talked about the strong feeling of the spirit that came over everybody that participated and also talked about the great testimonies that were given following the confirmation.  This baptism was definitely the highlight of Alex's week if not his whole mission.  Like I have already mentioned several times in this blog, every week for Alex just seems to get better and better.  Alex is really looking forward to seeing more of the people that they are currently teaching, be baptized.  Several of them are already attending church regularly and have really felt the spirit.  Alex has really enjoyed serving for the last several months in Manhattan and really hopes to be able to stay there for several more months.  He really loves the Ward, the people and the members of the church there.    

In his letter this week, Alex told us about an incident that happened to another missionary that nobody ever wants to hear about.  Fortunately the accident did not cause any permanent damage but it was still very scary.  Alex told us about how one of the missionaries in a nearby companionship and stopped suddenly on his bike which caused the bike to go end over end.  Unfortunately, so did the Elder who was riding the bike and the first thing to break his fall was his face.  Alex and his companion were in the middle of a teaching appointment at the time.  Alex said that in the middle of the lesson they got an urgent text message to go to the hospital as quickly as possible.  When they got there they found this Elder a bit beaten up and bloody.  Since his face hit the pavement first, it knocked one of this teeth loose which he ended up have to have pulled later.  Alex told us that they had to take turns sitting with the injured missionary while he healed for the next few days and that luckily all of the hospital tests turned up negative.  It is a scary thing when something like this happens and fortunately in this case it appears that the Elder will be OK after his wounds heal up a bit more. 

Alex and his companion had a great experience at church the other day.  Not too long after Alex arrived in his mission, one of his companions introduced him to the guitar.  Alex has always had a musical background but guitar wasn't this primary instrument.  Well since then, no matter who his companion has been, they always seem to spend some of their time teaching through music.  Alex has taught himself how to play the guitar and both he and his companion sing hymns.  This time Alex and his companion were invited to play and sing for the primary children.  Alex told us that it was a real blast and that he really loves the primary kids in his Ward.  He told us that they sang a version of "Angels We Have Heard On High" and as they reached the end of the verse, all of the primary kids started singing along with them.  Then after they finished singing to the primary, they decided to go into the nursery to sing to all of the little kids as well.  The nursery kids didn't sing along with them like the older primary kids did, but Alex said that while they were singing, all of the little kids were very quite and really seemed to enjoy the music. 

Ah, but here is the real kicker.  After playing and singing for the primary kids, Alex and his companion were invited to sing a duet in Sacrament meeting next week.  One thing that Alex did inherit from his mother is a musical talent.  However, that musical talent only extends to playing musical instruments.  His talents seem to stop abruptly when it comes to actual singing.  So needless to say, Alex is a bit nervous about having to sing in front of everybody in Sacrament meeting.  His last statement to us was that maybe he would try to recruit a few more people to help them out and maybe a quartet could drowned out a lack of talent.  But hey, you have to give Alex points for trying.  How many of you would actually have the guts to stand up in church and sing in front of 300 people.  I told Alex that he needs to find a member of his Ward who would be willing to describe to us truthfully how it went.  We would really like to hear about it.

So to finish out his letter, Alex told us a story that no mother of a missionary ever wants to hear.  At least not until years after the missionary returns home.  For some of us who have served missions, this story is really no big deal, but to the mother of a missionary, she can only imagine the worst.  Alex told us about how they were traveling to Witchita one day and got stuck in a huge traffic jam.  This traffic jam was so bad that apparently the highway was nothing more than a parking lot and it went on for so long that people started turning around and going back to where they came from.  To Alex and his companion this traffic jam just presented them with yet another opportunity to spread the gospel.  So they hopped out of their car and started talking to truckers that were stuck in the same jam.  How they would do this was by climbing up on to the running board of the truck and then talk to the trucker through the side window.  Here you might think to yourself, so what is the big deal?  Sounds like a pretty good idea.  Well this is where the mother of a missionary starts to cringe.  Alex told us that since many of the cars were turning around, everytime a car would whiz by, they had to press themselves up against the truck just to keep from getting hit.  Now of course every mother remembers teaching and warning their kids about the dangers of playing in traffic.  Well guess what, you all forgot to teach them about how equally dangerous it is to teach the gospel in traffic as well.  So let that be a lesson to you!! ;-)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Developing your talents and other missionary preparations

So to start out with, Elder Scott of the council of the twelve apostles visited with the missionaries a  couple of weeks ago.  Apparently he was assigned to speak at a Stake or regional conference in the Topeka area.  One of the things that the general authorities will do while on assignment is hold special meetings with the missionaries while they are in the area and this conference was no different.  Alex spent most of his letter talking about the meeting with Elder Scott and about the things that were said.  During the meeting Elder Scott allowed the missionaries to ask him any question that they liked.  This was one of Alex's favorite parts of the meeting.  Alex told us that there is a missionary from South America in their mission who primarily works with the spanish speaking people and really doesn't speak much english himself.  During the meeting this spanish missionary got up and asked Elder Scott some questions about his relationship with Jesus Christ.  Of course the questions that the spanish missionary asked were in spanish and Elder Scott was able to translate for the rest of the english speaking missionaries.  But there was one point when the spanish missionary asked Elder Scott a very personal question about Christ and at that point Elder Scott stopped translating and continued listening very intently to the question.  His answer to this missionary's question was very short but yet very powerful.  Of course since Elder Scott was no longer translating, the rest of the english speaking missionaries had no idea what was said or what his answer was.  Finally another missionary stood up and asked Elder Scott if he could finish translating the question and his answer.  Elder Scott proceeded to do so and as Alex described it, everybody's jaw just dropped at the spiritual insight that Elder Scott shared with just his very simple answer.  Not long after that, Elder Scott again bore his testimony about his relationship with the Savior.  Alex told us that it was spirit talking to spirit rather than just words.

Alex told us about a scary experience that they had during Sacrament meeting.  Alex and his companion have been teaching several people lately and some of them have been attending church rather regularly.  Well on Sunday during Sacrament meeting, one of the people that they have been teaching suffered from a seizure during the closing hymn.  Of course things stopped right there and they had to call an ambulance to take this man directly to the hospital.  Alex told us that they were able to go over to the hospital a little later to give him a blessing and that this man is doing Ok now although he is still having some health issues.  That is the type of experience that you don't see everyday unless maybe if you actually work in a hospital emergency room.  But for a missionary, this is the kind of thing that is totally unexpected yet also something that they need to be prepared for spiritually.

Once again Alex started off his latest letter by saying "Well, good things continue to happen here in Manhattan".  Alex and his companion had a really good Thanksgiving which usually means that they ended up enjoying more than just one Thanksgiving dinner.  This is the time of year where if Alex doesn't watch it, he might really get fat.  During the holiday season people really like to have the missionaries over for dinner and sometimes that might mean more than one dinner per night.  Thanksgiving and Christmas always seem to be some of the multiple dinner occasions.  Well, by the time Alex and his companion got done visiting everybody on Thanksgiving, I think they had visited at least three different families, held a church history DVD "movie night" with one of the families and just had a good time all around.

Alex also shared a story about a girl he met at one of the families that they visited during Thanksgiving, who has down syndrome.  For any of you who attended high school with Alex, you will probably remember how Alex spent several months helping out in the seminary class for many of the down syndrome kids.  As a result, there was one special girl that decided that Alex was her boy friend and from then on, that was the way it was going to be.  Alex was always very kind to her and tried his best to make her feel special.  Because of this seminary experience and other similar experiences with these special kids, Alex has always had a soft spot in his heart for them.  This girl who Alex met during Thanksgiving was no different.  Alex told us that she reminded him of his old seminary "girl friend" back in high school.

Alex shared another little tidbit with us as well. I'm sure you all know how much Alex likes sports and also how much he really enjoys wrestling in particular.  Well in Alex's words, here is a realization that he has come to:
"Isn’t it crazy how wrestling has allowed me to share the gospel with people? Legit!  Yesterday in Sunday school we taught a lesson on developing our talents, and it really made me think about how wrestling has been a lot more for me than just a sport. It has helped me to reach out to people and help them. J.R. sent me a really nice letter, and I was only able to meet him because of wrestling. It made me feel really good!"
As has been mentioned several time on this blog, wrestling and his love of other sports has really had an impact on Alex's missionary work.  From coaching at Wamego high school a year ago and developing a very good friendship with one of their wrestlers to using wresting stories in Sacrament meeting talks and even starting up conversations with people just through sports, it has made a difference.

Oh by the way, Alex also told us that he has received some really great letters recently from his friends back home.  He is really sorry that he hasn't been able to write back but please don't let that stop you from sending the occational letter in the future.  Alex has been busier than ever at this time in his mission and if he is able to find a spare moment or two, he will try to write.  So he just wants you all  to know that he is greatful for good friends.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Teaching the gospel in all places and at all times

Ever since Alex became a zone leader, "busy" seems to be one of the main topics each week.  Not that all missionaries aren't very busy all the time, but on top of an already busy missionary life, Alex and his companion have even had to resort to scheduling appointments on their P-day just to keep up.  A couple of weeks ago Alex wrote us and said that they had traveled more in one week than ever before.  Here is how he described just one day in a whole week of meetings, exchanges and conferences:
"But Thursday was an absolute nightmare! We had to drive to Wamego to switch back from exchanges early in the morning. Then we made a quick stop in Junction city on our way down to Salina for their district meeting. We got to Salina and had a great meeting down there. We had to drive all the way home from Salina, and then that night we had to turn around and drive clear down to Wichita for our leadership conference that was on Friday! Just on Thursday alone we drove over 400 miles!!!"
All of their hard work seems to be paying off and from what Alex has told us, many of the people that they are teaching have already decided that being baptised and becoming a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the right thing to do.  Over the next several weeks, Alex told us that he and his companion have about six baptisms scheduled.  Of course a lot can happen in just a few weeks for a missionary but they have been working hard and doing everything that they can to bless the lives of those that they are serving.  Alex just keeps telling us just how great all of the people are that they are teaching.  He loves going to their homes, talking with them, teaching them the gospel and getting to know each one them better.

So here is a rather interesting story that Alex told us.  This story actually spans over the last couple of letters that he wrote.  Alex starts out by telling us that he and his companion actually attended mass at the local Catholic church.  How this all came about was that one of the favorite activities for the missionaries around Manhattan is to play ultimate Frisbee for a couple hours on their P-day.  Well it so happened that while playing ultimate Frisbee, the missionaries came in contact with someone who is a very good member of the Catholic church.  While talking with this person, he invited Alex and his companion to come on over and take a look around his church building.  Alex and his companion thought that since they regularly invite people to take a tour of the LDS church buildings, this would be a good opportunity for them to do the same at a Catholic church.   Of course in return this good man also agreed to accompany the missionaries on a tour of an LDS church building as well.  As it turned out, Alex and his companion also ended up attending mass at the Catholic church and agreed to come back the next week and teach a class to some of the church members there.

So the next week Alex and his companion went back to the Catholic church just as mass was ending so that they could teach the class that they had agreed to.  Except this week there was a different Priest in charge whom they hadn't meet before.  As they walked into the lobby of the church, they immediately ran into the Catholic Priest who was obviously dressed in his normal Sunday robes.  The Priest walked up to Alex and his companion, looked down at their name tags and told them “looks like you boys are at the wrong church!”.  Alex said that the Priest had a pretty good sense of humor and that they all got a good laugh out of it.  Then just to top it off, as the Priest was walking away he commented to one of the other parishioners "I'll bet they are going to convert".  Alex told us that it was obvious that he was being sarcastic and that the whole experience was pretty funny. 

Alex went on to tell us about the class that they taught while they were visiting the Catholic church.  He said that there weren't very many people who stuck around for their Sunday school class but there were a few.  Alex told us that it was kind of hard to teach the class for obvious reasons.  Walking into another denomination and basically telling them that what they believed isn't the whole truth, kind of puts you in a confrontational position.  But Alex and his companion were very sensitive to that fact and really tried to be as non-confrontational as possible.  During the class Alex told us that the people who attended,were very courteous except for one man who wanted to bible bash a little.  Of course the missionaries tried the best that they could be resolve his issues with a few scriptures and after that Alex said that the rest of the class went very well.  Who knows what will come from this experience but Alex said that at the very least, it taught him a lot about what their investigators must be feeling when they attend the LDS church meetings for the first time.  Through this experience, Alex can now be much more sensitive to their investigator's feeling and help them to feel more comfortable.

Of course, later on that same Sunday Alex and his companion also attended their own church meetings at their Ward building.  Alex told us that it felt wonderful to be back at church that day and it was even more exciting because not only were they at church, they also had many of the people that they are currently teaching, attending church with them.  Things seem to be going very well for Alex right now.  Of course there are always ups and downs and Alex has also included a few of the downs in his letters as well.  But he is very excited about everything that is happening right now and every day and every week just seems to bring more stories and new experiences.

Oh one last funny story.  Through Alex's studies he seemed to have run across an interesting verse.  In Alma 56:27 Alex claims that the scriptures are telling us that we should be sending him more packages more often.  Looking up the scripture it says:
"And now it came to pass in the second month of this year, there was brought unto us many provisions from the fathers of those my two thousand sons. " Alma 56:27
Of course this scripture is talking about the 2000 stripling warriors and the provisions that their families sent to them while they marched with the armies of Helaman.  Alex being a missionary is like being one of the stripling warriors and I guess that since we are his parents, we need to make sure that provisions are sent to him regularly to help sustain him in the Lord's work.  Funny thing is, his Mother just sent him a package the week before.  So if any of you who are reading this feel that you would like to help re-provision a missionary, the address to the mission home where you too can send provisions is at the top of this blog.  Thanks in advance. :-)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

One down, one to go

Alex started out his letter a couple of weeks ago by saying that the previous week had been the best week ever.  It seems like we hear that every week.  Can you imagine having your best week ever, every week?  Most people can't even imagine a life like that.  Alex is apparently living it now on his mission. 

Alex told us all about a baptism that they just performed a couple of weeks ago.  Fortunately for these missionaries, they have some really good people in their Ward who really love to help out with the missionary work.  A brother in their Ward who together with his wife, played a big part in fellowshipping the person who was being baptized, was asked to perform the baptism.  From what Alex told us, the name of the person who was baptized was kind of hard to pronounce.   So in order to make sure that the name was pronunced correctly during the baptismal prayer, Alex wrote down her name with all of accents and pronunciations on the back of a pass along card and taped it to the front of the baptismal font.  Alex told us that the baptismal service went off without a hitch and said that everybody felt the spirit.  The next day (Sunday), Alex was asked to perform the confirmation during Sacrament meeting.  You would think that since Alex has been out for a year now, performing a confirmation wouldn't be a big deal.  But Alex told us that he was really nervous mainly because now it was his turn to make sure that he pronounced her name correctly.  This time there was no pass along card with the proper pronunciation taped to the front of anything, so he spent most of the morning before Sacrament meeting practicing the pronunciation to make sure that everything would go as smoothly as possible.  He told us that at one point before the meeting, he was so nervous that it felt like the same nervousness he used to feel right before a big wrestling match.  Well being nervous must really suit him because he wrestled very well in high school and he told us that the confirmation went very well in church. 

I mentioned that Alex has been out on his mission for a year now.  He just past his year mark about a week and a half ago, if you can believe that.  Just as a personal note: when you send your son out on a mission and you go through the experience of dropping him off at the MTC, that goodbye moment on the curb can be really rough.  Knowing that there are two long years ahead before you will see him again, seems like forever.  This last year seemed to fly by.  Now instead of two long years ahead, there is only one more to go.  Right now even one year still seems like a long time, but given that the last one went by so quickly, I'm sure that the next one will as well. 

During this last year, Alex has had a lot of great experiences.  Some much better than others and some that were really tough to get through.  I won't go into any of them again here because you can just read back through the previous blog posts to review many of those experiences.  There are many experiences that Alex has told us about in his letters that we haven't talked about on this blog.  The reason why is because the experiences just seemed to personal to be published in a public forum.  But like I have mentioned before, if you want to hear more about these experiences, just come on over to the house and we will be glad to fill you in on more of the details.

For the last couple of weeks and probably even longer than that, Alex has been telling us all about a new missionary program that they have been using.  It probably really isn't that new, but it is something that they have been doing lately and has proven to be a turning point for many people that the missionaries are teaching.  The program that they have been using is really kind of like going on a church tour at Temple Square or any other church visitor's center.  Except, rather than going through an actual visitor's center, the missionaries introduce people to the church by showing them around the church building itself.  From what Alex has said, it allows some of the people that they are teaching to really see what the church building itself is like without having to feel nervous around all of the other church members who might be there during a regular Sunday meeting.  It also allows them to feel the spirit that is always present in a church building.  Alex has shared several great stories about the experiences that he and his companion have had while introducing new investigators to the church through one of these tours.  During one of these tours, Alex told us that the person that they were teaching asked them if the building had an extra room that they could rent because it felt so peaceful just being there.  Of course they were just kidding about wanting to rent a room, but they very serious about the peaceful feeling.  According to Alex, these "Intoduction to the Church" tours are probably one of the best teaching tools that they have.  Introducing somebody to the church in this way, really makes a big difference in the way that people feel about the church, its teachings and especially about attending a regular Sunday meeting and being baptized.

Alex told us a interesting yet funny story that happened this last week.  While he and his companion were out tracting, they tracted into a girl who claimed to be a "Campus Crusader for Christ".  If you remember, Manhattan KS is the home of Kansas State University.  Anyway they were invited in and taught the first lesson to her and a friend.  Alex said that she seemed interested in what they had to say but seemed to just want to ask a lot of questions more than listen to what was being taught.  Later, Alex and his companion were invited back to teach them again.  But in the back of their minds they kind of knew where this next teaching appointment was heading.  During the next appointment this girl told them that she wanted to share some of the things that she had been studying lately.  Alex and his companion knew at that point that this would probably lead to a bible bashing session so instead of engaging in that, they just sat quietly and listened.  At one point she wanted to read some scriptures from the New Testament and asked Alex if she could borrow his bible.  Of course Alex said yes and she went on flipping through the pages of the New Testament and reading scriptures.  Then when she had finally gotten through everything that she wanted to say, she turned to Alex and his companion and asked them if they would read the bible, pray about it in order to find out if it was true.  Like these missionaries have never heard a request like before.  The funny part about this story is that while she was flipping through the bible that she had borrowed from Alex, she apparently didn't notice all of the underlined scriptures in various rainbow colors that were a result of all of the reading and studying that Alex had already done.  I guess it didn't really dawn on her that if the missionaries really had a problem with the truthfulness of the bible, why did they carry one around, study it constantly and teach from it regularly.  Interesting in sort of a funny way.

Alex told us that he has a pretty crazy week coming up.  He said that they have a lot of zone meetings, a leadership conference and some traveling to do over the next few days.  In fact things were so busy that he told us that they even had teaching appointments set up on their P-day just because that was the only time they had. Things seem to be busier than ever but he feels like that are being blessed a ton in everything that they do. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The work goes on even if you have to do it alone

Alex has had a exciting last couple of weeks.  On top of it all, he has had one of the more unique experiences a missionary could have.  One of the basic rules of being a missionary from the day they are set apart until the day they are released is to never be without your companion.  Well, Alex has been without a companion for almost a week and a half.  Of course he wasn't really physically alone, but as it turned out, his current companion was called into the office as the new assistant to the President.  This new calling as an assistant required that Alex's companion needed to leave immediantely for the mission office in Independence which left Alex without a companion until the next transfers.  That also left Alex as the only zone leader in Manhattan, juggling two zones and trying to schedule Ward members or other missionary companionships who could be temporary companions so that he wasn't left entirely alone.  Alex told us that it was one of the most stressful weeks of his mission but his Ward members really stepped up to help him out and he even had some help from a Wamego friend. 

When he wrote to us on his P-Day during this time, he told us that he had gone jogging in the morning as part of his daily exercise program.  Being a little confused since he didn't have a companion to go jogging with, we wondered who accompanied him on his run.  He told us that he had talked a couple of other Elders into going with him that morning but not exactly in the way that you would think.  Of course Alex laced up his running shoes for a nice long jog while the other two Elders started up the car engine.  It turned out that both of these other Elders ended up following Alex in the car rather than actually jogging along with him.  In fact it was even worse than that.  As one of the Elders drove the car, the other Elder brought along his pillow and blanket and slept in the back seat the whole time.  Well these two Elders may not have enjoyed the same run along some new dirt roads that Alex found near their appartment, but at least they were good sports to get up early and go with him so that Alex could enjoy a good run on a P-Day.

Alex has really had a good time serving in Manhattan, Kansas.  There are several reasons why he has been enjoying this assignment so much.  One reason is that Manhattan is not too far away from Wamego where he first served almost a year ago.  During that time in Wamego, Alex met a lot of really good people and it has been fun for him to go back there and spend some time as a zone leader.  Alex told us that he recently got to spend the whole day in Wamego with one of the youth in the Branch, as his companion.  This is the same kid that Alex used to wrestle with back when he was a voluteer coach at Wamego High School and also the same kid that spent spring break last year with Alex and his companion in Lawrence.  Anyway, one thing that they were able to do while in Wamego was go back and revisit some of the people that Alex and his former Wamego companion had started to teach.  Alex didn't really go into detail about how any of the visits went, but his said that they visited a lot of people, worked hard and had a really good day.  He also said that the Elders that are currently serving in Wamego are doing well and are close to having a baptism there as well.

Alex wrote us this week and told us that he finally got a new companion after spending almost a week and a half without one.  Alex only got to spend just a few weeks with his first companion in Manhattan and he said that he really learned a lot about missionary work and how to be a good leader.  Alex was really sad to have to lose his companion when he was called to be an assistant because Alex said that they both really got along great together.  But from what Alex said in his last letter, his new companion is going to be just as good and Alex is really excited about it.  In fact Alex told us that a lot of really good missionaries were transferred into his zone including his old MTC companion who is one of the new district leaders. Alex is really looking forward to working with these new Elders for however long he is allowed to serve in Manhattan.  Of course when it comes to new companions, one of Alex's first criteria for determining how well they will get along is how much does the new companion like to exercise.  Of course that isn't the only criteria, but whenever Alex has gotten a new companion, right along with telling us just how good of a missionary and hard working they are, is something like "plus he loves sports and we get along really, really well".  That's Alex, he isn't satisfied working hard doing missionary work during the week, he also needs a companion that is willing to workout hard on P-Day as well.

Despite all of the work that is involved with being a zone leader, the proselyting work is moving forward for Alex and his companion in Manhattan as well.  Alex told us this week that they are planning on a baptism this weekend and that they have also found some new people to teach.  He also went on to tell us a little bit about some of the people that they have recently met and how tough some of their lives have been.  Alex is hoping that as they are able to teach these people some more, that they will be able to feel the spirit, recognize how the gospel could make a difference and really change their lives for the better. 

Here is a bit of a funny story that Alex included in his last letter.  Apparently during the week and a half while Alex was without a companion, the Relief Society President called and ask him if he would come and teach the sisters about faith for a few minutes.  Of course Alex said yes and started to prepare the short lesson while trying to handle everything else that was going on.  Well Sunday came along and Alex attended Relief Society meeting rather than his usual Priesthood meeting.  Alex said that he was a bit nervous because the Ward that he is serving in now is huge which means that the Relief Society room is usually packed.  So he started off the lesson by explaining to the sisters that since he has been on his mission, he has taught every auxiliary organization in a Ward except for the Relief Society.  He got a good laugh out of the sisters when he told them that not only was this the first time that he has taught Relief Society, it was also the first time that he has ever attended a Relief Society meeting in his entire life.  Alex said that the lesson went very well but the funny part of the story was that the following week Alex was invited back to the Relief Society meeting again to talk about the new missionary program and the pass along cards that they use.  So after never having attended or taught a Relief Society meeting ever before in his life, Alex has now taught back to back weeks in the Manhattan Ward.  Of course he joked with the sisters that now he would have to find a new excuse to come back to Relief Society next week.

Oh one last note, to the Hinds family, Alex says that you are one of his favorite families.  But then I am sure Alex says that to everybody.  ;-)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The people you know and the stories that never end

A while back I commented about how Alex always seems to find connections between people he meets on his mission and people he knows back home.  Well this story just goes to show that the world is small and the Lord works in mysterious ways. 

So Alex told us a story in one of his letters a couple of weeks ago about how he and his companion were out tracking one day.  They were walking through a trailer park when Alex spotted a couple of cars with Utah license plates.  He really wanted to go and knock on the door of the car owner right then, but they were in a hurry for some reason and had to get going.  A few days later, Alex and his companion were back in the same trailer park and sure enough, so were the cars with the Utah plates.  This time they weren't in quite a rush so they decided to meet these people and hopefully catch up on a little home town news.  Sure enough the car owners were from Utah and one of them was about the same age as Alex. During their conversation they started comparing high schools and people they knew.  Soon they discovered that even though their former high schools weren't anywhere near each other, they still had friends in common.  It turned out that this person actually went to high school with one of Alex's old wrestling buddies.  The more they talked, the more they discovered common acquaintances that weren't even from their respective high schools. 

So here is the most interesting part of the story.  As part of the missionary duties, Alex and his companion commonly attend some of the leadership meetings on Sunday mornings.  Attending these meetings gives the missionaries an opportunity to report to the Bishop about the people that they had met during the week.  Even before Alex was able to report on the people from Utah, the Bishop of the Ward spoke up and said that he had received a call from a concerned parent in Utah who's adult child had just moved to their area.  As it turned out the people that Alex and his companion had met and the person that the Bishop was talking about were the same people.  Alex mentioned in his letter that there was still some work to be done in that home and was very excited that the people had invited these missionaries back anytime they wish.

There is another story that just keeps weaving its way in and out of Alex's whole mission experience.  This one has to do with a young man that Alex met during his first assignment in Wamego Kansas.  You probably remember from a previous blog entry how Alex had the opportunity for a while to be a volunteer coach for the wrestling team at the local high school.  During this time he got to know a young man who was a member of the wrestling team in Wamego as well as a member of the church.  After Alex was transferred from Wamego, the friendship between Alex and the young man continued.  There were times while Alex was assigned to serve in Lawrence, when this young man came to visit the missionaries just to help them out.  Now that Alex is back in Manhattan, which isn't far from Wamego, he now has a chance to return the favor and help this same young man in preparing to go on a mission himself.  

Alex told us a story about how he and his companion were in a nearby city working with one of the districts that Alex is in charge of as a zone leader.  During this time the mission president was also there conducting missionary interviews.  Alex thought it would be a good idea to invite this same young man to the interviews so that he could get the chance to meet with the mission president.  Of course at the time, this young man wasn't aware that the mission president was going to be there.  Once the young man arrived, Alex and his companion ushered him into the Relief Society room where the mission president and his wife were waiting.  Alex told us that once the whole thing was over, the young man had had the chance to talk with the mission president for a while and take part in helping to teach some of the other missionaries about the new teaching lessons that were recently introduced.  Alex told us that this whole experience seemed to really touch this young man and get him excited to serve a mission as well.  I'm sure that this won't be the last that we hear stories about this young man.  For whatever reason, this will probably be a recurring event throughout Alex's entire mission.

So apparently Alex has a problem that just recently came up.  The good news about this problem is that it is one of those kinds of problems that you generally wish for.  Alex told us that they have been teaching several Samoan people lately and they love to have the missionaries over on the weekends to teach them.  Usually after the missionary lesson, these good people also like to feed the missionaries.  Most of the Samoan people that I know really enjoy good food and good company and I am sure that these people are no different.  The problem that Alex has is that dinner is usually a little later at night that they are used to.  According to Alex, eating that late at night especially after having eaten earlier in the day, just helps to put the weight on.  You would think that with all of the running around that these missionaries do all day long, burning off a few extra calories wouldn't be a problem.  But if you knew Alex, he is a bit of a health nut (unlike his old man) and tries very hard to stay in shape.  But what a problem to have!  Great people who are excited to learn about the gospel, good food and good company with whom to enjoy it.  Wouldn't we all like to have that problem? :-)

In Alex's last letter he talked a lot about how busy he and his companion are in taking care of all of the zone leader responsibilities in addition to trying to get in some actual proselyting time.  Much of his letter talked about attending the various meetings that they have and just how fast the time is flying by.  Once he got to the end of his letter, he probably decided that most of what he talked about was just the day to day life of a missionary and his last week really wasn't full of a lot of new and exciting stuff.  So to end off his letter, this is what he told us:
"So yeah that is pretty much it for this week, sorry I can't think of anything too cool, I ran over a possum yesterday…that was kind of cool ha ha. So I love you all so much and I hope things are going well!!!

Love, me!"
We don't know the exact condition of the possum at this time, but we are all now fasting and praying that the possum pulls through.  ;-)

Monday, September 20, 2010

A mission is busy, busy, busy...

"Busy" seems to be the key word for the past few weeks and that is what Alex has been experiencing since his transfer to Manhattan, Kansas and his new assignment as a zone leader.  For the past couple of weeks he has only had a limited amount of time to even write home.  Even on his P-day he has been busy taking care of all of the things that needed to be done.  Alex gave us the rundown of how his first week went...
"Ok so here goes for this week! So wow I don’t think I have ever had so many meetings in my life! It is usually not this bad but this week was just a freak accident. On Monday night we had to leave to Independence so we could be at zone leader council on Tuesday. So that took up most of Tuesday and we didn’t get back until that evening. On Wednesday we had district meeting for the Manhattan district and that took up a good chunk of our day, and after that we had to drive out to Junction city to help move the sisters out of an old apartment. On Thursday we had to drive an hour and a half to Salina for their district meeting and of course we always have lunch after and then the drive home so that took up a huge chunk of Thursday. That night we had to drive down to Wichita so we could go to a leadership conference down there and that took up the entire day of Friday. So of this whole last week we only got one day to proselyte…lame!!! But the meetings were all really good and I have been learning a ton!"
And that didn't even take into account the time spent organizing the vehicle situation for the entire zone, meeting with the Stake President and High Councilors and then anything else that just happens to pop up.  But the one thing that he did say at the end of all of the craziness is that he has never had more fun on his mission as he is having right now.  Through all of the busy times, one thing that Alex is learning is how to organize better so that he is able to take care of all of his new responsibilities.  He told us in his last letter that he is having to simplify some things in his life so that he can spent more time focusing on his mission and serving the Lord.  He told us that this mission experience is really a once in a lifetime thing and now is the time to make sure that he serves as a missionary 100% of the time so that he has no regrets when his two years as a full time missionary are done.  When we read this, it really showed us the maturity level that Alex is achieving in the decisions that he is making at this time of his life.

Well Alex reached another milestone in his life this last week.  He is no longer a teenager.  That's right, Alex is now a 20-something (minus the "something").  He didn't really tell anybody that it was his birthday because he didn't want anybody to make a big deal out of it.  So if you happen to live somewhere in Manhattan Kansas or the surrounding area and just happen to know an Elder Nicholes, well guess what, Alex had a birthday and he is now 20 years old.  So wish him a "Happy Birthday" the next time that you see him, especially from his parents and family.

Even though Alex didn't really tell anybody about his birthday, he told us that it was a really great day for him.  First of all, he and his companion were able to baptize a woman that they and the Elders who were there before Alex, had been teaching.  So for a missionary, having a baptism on your birthday is probably one of the best ways to celebrate it.  Alex told us that the baptism went really well and that there were a lot of the Ward members in attendance.  He said that the Ward where he is currently serving is very missionary minded which really helps to make the missionary work there a lot better. 

As it turned out, there were a few other people who somehow found out about Alex's birthday.  Alex told us that while he and his companion were filling the baptismal font before the service, he got a phone call.  When he answered the phone, the next thing he heard on the other end was a bunch of people singing "Happy Birthday".  At first he wasn't quite sure who it was and then he figured out that it was a group of his favorite people from the Lawrence 2nd Ward where he had served for several months last winter.  Alex told us that it was really great to hear from them and that it was probably one of the best birthday presents that a missionary could receive.  He still isn't quite sure how they tracked him down and got his phone number, but he is really glad that they did. 

This week Alex gave us a little more information about what they are doing as volunteers in the community.  If you remember in some of the past blog entries, Alex has talked about being a volunteer wrestling coach, raking leaves in the neighbors' yards, helping out at the community centers and various other volunteer services.  But this one kind of took us by surprise.  Alex told us that they have been doing volunteer work at the Sunset Zoo every Tuesday.  He went on to tell us all about how wild it is to be sweeping the sidewalks right next to a bunch of crazy Snow Leopard cubs.  He talked about how cool it was to be working next to the sloth bear exhibit and to see a big sloth bear hanging from a tree about 40 feet in the air, eating leaves.  I'm sure that the next time that Alex sends home his memory card from his camera, we will probably see a bunch of pictures of all of the wild animals from the zoo.  Maybe there will be a few pictures of him at the zoo and hopefully he will be standing on the outside of the animal cages. ;-)

Finally Alex mentioned a pattern that he has noticed lately about the Wards where he has been serving.  For whatever reason, Alex seems to be drawn to the 2nd Ward no matter where he goes.  In Lawrence he served in the Lawrence 2nd Ward.  Now that he is in Manhattan, he is serving in the Manhattan 2nd Ward.  All of this doesn't seem to be that significant especially when you consider all of the places he has served and will serve, until you consider that he came from the Battle Creek 2nd Ward too.  For some reason, the 2nd Ward just seems to be the right place to be for Alex.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Big news, read all about it

Alex sent us some big news this week.  If you remember from the last entry, Alex told us that transfers were coming up soon.  Well this last week was transfer week and the big news is that Alex was transferred out of Burlington. Alex has been serving in Burlington since last April when he and his companion at the time were sent there to serve as the first missionaries in Burlington for quite some time.  Well this week Alex was transferred to Manhattan Kansas which is the home of Kansas State University.  So after spending several months in Lawrence Kansas near Kansas University, now he is in back in a college town, only this time it is Kansas State.

On top of that news, there is more big news this week.  Not only was Alex transferred to Manhattan, he was  also assigned to be the zone leader over the Salina zone.  This is all new territory for Alex not only figuratively but physically as well.  Manhattan isn't like Burlington which was only about 16 blocks wide.  No, Manhattan is much bigger than that and Alex told us that it will take him a couple of weeks to learn his way around.  He told us in his last letter that he spent almost everyday this last week in one kind of zone leadership meeting or another.  In fact we waited around all day to hear from him and when we finally did, it was because he has spent all day in a zone leader training meeting in Independence.  He will be splitting with a lot of the missionaries in his zone and spending time supervising, teaching, training and reporting back.

Alex told us that he is very excited about this transfer for several reasons.  That's not to say that he wasn't sad to be leaving Burlington.  He had grown very close to not only the new members of the church there that he helped to teach and baptize, but also to every member of the branch and especially the family that he lived with there.  He had a lot of success in Burlington and I am sure that he will never forget his time there.  But with a transfer comes new challenges and new experiences.  Being in Manhattan, Alex is very close to his first area, Wamego.  As a matter of fact, he told us that he would be going on exchanges with the Wamego Elders soon and has a dinner appointment with one of the families of the Wamego branch that he grew close to while serving there.  Alex is also very excited to be back in a university environment and a larger city.  He is excited to be paired up with his new companion who is also a zone leader as well.  Alex told us that he has been very impressed by his new companion and feels like he is being trained all over again.  He told us that there is so much that he doesn't know and now with his new responsibilities and new companion, he is learning a lot which will carry him through the second half of his mission. 

Alex didn't have time to fill us in on much of what he has been doing this week or about his new companion.  Only to say they he and his companion are very much alike.  They both like to eat healthy, get up early in the morning to go running and his new companion is another California Elder.

Before Alex left Burlington he had a little work to finish up.  One of the last things he did before he left was to speak in church.  Alex told us that he felt like he needed to ask the branch president if he could speak during the next Sacrament meeting.  But before he had a chance to ask, he and his companion were having dinner at one of the branch councilor's houses and the councilor asked Alex to speak on the following Sunday.  In addition to Alex, his companion would also speak as well as one of the new members of the church.  Alex told us in his letter that he felt like his talk went very well.  He didn't know at the time that he would be getting transferred out of Burlington and that would be his last opportunity to speak in the branch.  But what a good way to end a long and successful run in the Burlington branch.

Alex told us a funny story about what happy during a primary sharing time recently.  Well after Alex spoke in Sacrament meeting, we and his companion were asked to help out teaching the primary kids during sharing time.  After he finished talking with the kids and teaching them the sharing time lesson, Alex and his companion decided to stay for the rest of the meeting.  I'm not sure if Alex has been working his companion too hard or what, but for whatever reason his companion fell asleep during the rest of the meeting.  Now I could understand falling asleep during a High Priest group meeting, but for any of you who have ever taught primary children, during sharing time there is a lot of singing and activity going on.  This level of noise would make it very hard to even rest your eyes let alone fall asleep.  Anyway at the end of the meeting one of the primary leaders came over to talk to this very tired Elder and told him that she usually gives out stickers to those who participate.  She advised this Elder that he would not be receiving a sticker this week and that she would have to get in touch with his mother about it.  They all laughed about it and I am sure that this Elder won't be falling asleep during sharing time again.  I suspect that getting a sticker for participating in primary is probably one of the most significant honors that one could receive.  A little advice to anybody who is thinking about falling asleep in primary, don't mess with the primary leadership.  These ladies really know their stuff.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Putting your training into practice

Alex has had a really great few weeks.  In the last entry we told you about the baptisms that have happened in Burlington lately and how much success these missionaries have had.  Well, this week has been just as exciting.  Alex and his companion have been teaching a relative of one of their recent baptisms and now this person has also decided that they want to become a member of the LDS church as well.  Every time Alex writes to tell us about the people he has been teaching and how they have felt the spirit and decided to become members of the church, Alex end his sentences with multiple exclamation points !!!!!  He has been really excited about the work in Burlington and about the newest members of the church in that branch.

Another big moment or rather, week long series of moments, happened when Alex was able to attend the leadership training classes for missionaries.  The missionaries are being introduced to several new lessons and being taught how to listen and teach by the spirit more.  The way that Alex described it to us was that they were up and attending training classes from 7:30 in the morning each day until 5:00 in the evening.  Alex went on to tell us that he never new that he could actually enjoy 36 hours of church in one week, but he did.  And he loved it.  Alex told us that when he got back from all of the training, the best part was putting everything that he learned into practice and seeing how well it works.

In addition to the week of missionary training, Alex was also able to attend a Stake priesthood meeting in Topeka as well.  He told us just how exciting it was to go to the priesthood meeting because a lot of the people that he met while serving in Lawrence were also there.  He got to see the Bishop from the Ward where he served as well as many of the other leaders from that area.  Then while traveling from Topeka to Olathe for the training classes, they passed through Lawrence so he got a chance to drop by his old stomping grounds and say hi to even more people that he knows.  All in all this week of training and meetings was a very spiritual and fun week for Alex.  Besides all of the training, he got to hang out with many of the other top missionaries in the mission, play a little basketball on his P-day and even buy a "super sick nike k-state shorts at tj maxx for only $15!! Legit!".

There was one last story that Alex told us about that happened to him while he was in Olathe.  One night Alex and several other missionaries had the opportunity to meet and talk with an older gentleman who also happens to be a Pearl Harbor survivor.  This WWII veteran told these missionaries all about his experience at Pearl Harbor and how he was actually standing on the deck of  the USS California as the Japanese fighter planes were attacking.  During the attack this man watched a Japanese Zero fly just above the water in the harbor right directly at the ship that he was standing on.  In fact this plane flew so close that he could see the face of the Japanese pilot that was flying the plane.  This was actually a very rare experience for these missionaries because there are only about 10% of the surviving WWII service men and women still alive today.  And of that 10%, only a small fraction actually served at Pearl Harbor during the attack.  Hearing a story like that from an actual Pearl Harbor survivor is pretty amazing.  Then to top off the night, these Elders were able to lay their hands on the head of this man and give him a priesthood blessing.  I'm sure that this will be one of the mission experiences that Alex will never forget.

The Bishop of our Ward recently visited Independence Missouri and while there, met several of the missionaries.  Of course being Alex's home Ward Bishop, he asked these missionaries if they knew Alex.  It turns out that one of the Sister missionaries that he talked to, had also just returned from the training meetings in Olathe.  We mentioned this to Alex and he told us that this Sister missionary was part of his training group during the week so he got to know her quite well.  Alex told us that she was a really nice girl and probably one of the best sister missionaries in the mission.  It is always fun to hear from people who have come in contact with Alex even if it is kind of an indirect meeting.  There is still a connection there and we are always happy to get any news we can about how Alex is doing.

Transfers are coming up again and like every other transfer, no matter where Alex has been, he really wants to stay where he is and not get transferred.  The reason why is because he really gets attached to the people, the Ward or Branch and the missionary work in the area.  In fact he gets so attached that wherever he is becomes the best place in the mission.  So far Alex has served in four "best places" and I am sure that he will have an opportunity to serve in many more before his time is done.  He loves it in Burlington and really wants to see it continue to grow. 

As always, Alex included some more personal experiences in his letters.  In some of these experiences, Alex talks about the testimonies of the people that he has been teaching and just how much the message that the missionaries have brough, mean to these people.  These kinds of experiences have really made a big impression on Alex in letting him know that where he is and what he is doing right now, is the right place for him to be.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A time and a place for special powers

Transfers came and went and Alex is still in Burlington.  Normally places like Burlington are just temporary missionary assignments during the summer months while KU is out and all of the students have gone home.  But Burlington might become a permanent location for missionaries given the fact that there has been so much success there lately.  Alex actually told us that his mission president emailed him not long ago and told Alex that he may just leave missionaries in Burlington for as long as they are having success.  If you remember back when Alex and his previous companion were sent to Burlington, there hadn't been permanent missionaries assigned there for many years.  Well, maybe with the passing of all that time, the Lord has decided that the Burlington branch just needed to grow a little more and the people there were ready for that to happen.  From what Alex has been telling us, the work is still going very strong in Burlington and he is very excited about many of the people that they are currently teaching.

This week Alex will be attending a series of mission leadership meeting in Olathe KS.  Since Alex is a district leader, he has been given the opportunity to attend these training meetings and take back what he has learned to all of the other missionaries in his district.  Alex told us that this training is actually part of a world wide missionary training and that they will be introduced to 8 new lessons.  Alex has been really excited about attending this training for several reasons.  First of all he just wants to learn more about how to do missionary work better.  Second, it gives him a chance to talk with many of the other missionaries in the mission to see what they have been doing.  Finally, it gives him a chance to reunite with some former companions and just reminisce about the good ole days (of course since Alex has only be out for less than a year, the good ole days could be a recent as last week ;-).  Anyway, I am sure that he will have a lot to tell us about next week when he gets back to Burlington.

In this week's letter Alex told us all about some funny experiences that has happened to him over the last couple of weeks.  So I thought that I would try to recount the stories here.  The first one he told us was all about a dinner appointment that he and his companion went to with the family of one of their recent converts.  As Alex told it, they were trying to cook a turkey in a oil-less fryer but things just weren't going as well as they hoped.  So to try to compensate for an under cooked turkey, they ended up going to a local restaurant.  While perusing the menu, Alex noticed that the restaurant happened to be serving up a dish which is normally everybody's favorite, Mountain Oysters.  Here in Utah they usually call them Rocky Mountain Oysters.  Well if you aren't familiar with what a Rocky Mountain Oyster is, just follow this link to find out( ).  Anyway, it's just like Alex to throw up a challenge, he told the people that he was with that if he ordered them and ate one, they needed to do the same.  Well it just so happened that they took Alex up on that challenge.  Alex downed the first one and actually kind of liked it.  So to keep up with the challenge, everybody else ended up trying them too.  Alex told us that he got some good pictures of them eating these delectable cuts of choice steer parts and they all had a really good time.

Apparently this last week as been filled will service projects.  During the week they helped a new church member line their driveway with rail road ties, helped another neighbor tear down a ceiling in an old house and knocked down a wall so that they could replace it with new sheet rock.  Of course Alex has to always find a game or challenge in everything.  So while they were knocking down the wall, Alex bet the others that were there that he could punch a hole right through the wall.  If I haven't mentioned this before, Alex is no stranger to breaking things with his bare hands.  For a number of years Alex took taekwondo lessons at a local dojo and when it came time for his black belt test, he had to break five different boards using only his hands and feet.  Well it has been a long time since those days of being a taekwondo black belt so to make things a little easier, he tried to make sure that where he was going to hit the wall, there were no studs behind it.  Almost needless to say, he had a little trouble punching through the wall and it really hurt his hand.  Well Mr. Genius might have figured out that there were no studs behind the wall that he was about to punch through, but he failed to check for the cabinet that just happened to be built into the other side of the wall.  As I was reading this story, I was just imagining that Alex was going to tell us that the next thing he did was go to the emergency room with a broken hand, but as it turned out, he just has some very sore and scabby knuckles.  I would say that he probably learned his lesson and he won't be doing that again, but then he probably will.

Alex goes on to tell us more about this construction service project that they were involved with.  Apparently the person that owns the house is about 6'3.  Alex's current companion is also about 6'3.  Alex, on the other hand is only about 5'9.  So as they were working on the demolition and reconstruction of this wall, Alex had a harder time reaching the taller parts.  So Mr. Genius kicked in again and he decided that the only way to reach higher was to pile up bit of wall debris and then stand on the pile.  Alex told us that they got some pretty funny pictures of him trying to compensate for the short genes that he inherited from his grandparents.

Finally one of the funniest stories that Alex told us was about a little boy whose parents Alex and his companion have been teaching recently.  As it turns out, this little boy really likes a cartoon called Naruto.  I have never actually seen this cartoon but Alex told us that it is all about a boy called Naruto that has special powers by making hand signals that activates the Jutsu (not sure what that is but I'm sure if you are a kid, it is really cool).  Anyway, whenever Alex goes to visit this family, he and this little boy always play fight and use their special hand signals to activate the Jutsu.  Well this family came to church last week and of course so did this little boy.  When Alex saw this boy in the hallway, Alex immediately started playing and held up his fingers in one of the Jutsu signals.   When this little boy say Alex do this, in true reverent fashion, he told Alex "hey, No Jutsu's in the church!!!".  Apparently before they got to church, this little boys father taught him what it means to be reverent in church.  Alex said that it was one of the funniest things that he had ever heard.  It looks like Alex got put in his place by a 3 year old. :-)


Monday, July 26, 2010

Fun and exciting times in Burlington

Time just seems to be fly by.  We are already starting to hit different anniversary marks with Alex's mission.  In about another week, it will be one year since Alex received his mission call.  The way Alex put it was like this:
"So this week has flown by! The longer I am out on my mission the faster it seems to go by! I am so close to my year mark I can taste it! Only three more months to go, and if they keep getting faster I am going to be home before I blink! It just blows my mind how fast the time goes by out here, but then at the same time it seems like it has been forever since I have been home."
In his letter home a couple of weeks ago, Alex went on to talk about how he is now so into missionary work, that it is hard for him to remember what life was like before being a missionary. 
"I don’t really remember what it was like to wake up and do normal things ha ha. It is actually a really neat feeling, I finally feel like a real missionary. But I still feel like a greenie at the same time! Its crazy to see how much you learn out here too, I mean it feels like I don’t know anymore than when I left but when I think about the difference in Wamego [(first area)] and then here it is HUGE!!"
Getting into the missionary work and working hard is what makes the time go by so fast.  Burlington has been a great place for Alex to do missionary work as well.  Alex told us that he was finally able to perform a baptism in this area.  He was so excited to tell us all about it in his letter.  I won't go into all of the details here, but Alex told us that the baptismal service went very well and the person that was baptized was very excited to become a member of the LDS church.  Alex told us that they are currently teaching several more people that have also been touched by the gospel and are close to being baptized.  What a great blessing for the Burlington branch.  It is always great to see the church grow whether it is in a small branch or a large ward.

One of the nice things about baptisms is that it provides an opportunity for a missionary who might have been transferred out of the area, to return to the area to attend the baptismal service.  In this case, Alex's previous companion who had been transferred to a different city, was able to return briefly for this baptismal service.  If you hadn't noticed already from several of the previous posts, Alex and his previous companion had become very good friends and loved working together in both Lawrence and Burlington.  Being back in Burlington for the baptismal service also gave them a chance to relive some of the old days, OK maybe not that old, and do a little tracting together again.   Alex told us that while they were out tracting once again, they ran across a bunch of guys that might have had a little too much to drink.  When Alex and his companion met them, these guys were about to climb onto a riding lawn mower just to spin a few donuts.  Alex and his former companion stopped to talk to these guys just to see what they were doing and ended up striking up a conversation about the church (as if that wasn't the plan all along ;-).  They actually set up an appointment to teach one of them the next day but Alex told us that the appointment didn't turn out so well.  However that isn't the end of the story.  The next Sunday at church, Alex and his companion where sitting in Sacrament meeting when one of the members of the branch tapped them on the shoulder and told them that somebody was out in the hallway wanting to see them.  It turned out to be this guy from the riding lawn mower contact.  It turns out that this guy had walked all the way across town just to find the missionaries at the Mormon church and to ask them to come back and teach him more.  The whole thing really surprised both of these Elders, that somebody would actually go to all of that effort just to find out more about the gospel.  As Alex put it, usually the missionaries are having to work hard to find people to teach.  How often does somebody just show up at the church and ask to be taught more.  I guess we will see if there is anymore to this story later on.

I mentioned at the beginning of this entry that one of the people that Alex had been teaching was baptized a couple of weeks ago.  Well this last weekend Alex was able to baptize two more people.  Alex told us that all of these people are really great and that they all have wonderful testimonies of the truthfulness of the gospel.  In every one of his letters this last month when he talked about the people that he has been teaching and how close they were to being baptized, he has been so excited.  Not just because these people were going to be baptized, but because they were happy to be joining the church and that it would be making a big difference in their lives.

We received Alex's memory card from his camera this week.  That means that we have new pictures of where Alex has been and what he has been doing.  I picked out a few of them that relate to some of the previous blog entries.  A while back Alex told us all about the new (old) Schwinn bike that he picked up from one of the other missionaries.  Well Alex sent us a picture of this sweet ride.

The internet picture that I posted of the bike was close, but the color was a little bit different.  We haven't heard much more about this bike for a while.  Although, Alex also sent us some video of he and his companion jumping their bikes off a ledge on the side of the road.  From the looks of the video, it didn't seem like one of their more brilliant ideas.  But it was funny ;-). 

We aren't really sure what Alex and his companion were trying to do in this picture, but they sure seem to be excited about whatever it was.  These two missionaries just loved doing missionary work and from the sound of all of Alex's letters, they always seemed to be excited to get going every day.

For some reason riding lawn mowers seems to be one of Alex's fascinations out there in Kansas.  The last time that Alex sent home pictures from his camera, it also included a picture of him on a brand new riding mower just excited to take a ride.  His other fascination seems to be NASCAR.  We have heard several stories about discussions with people that they met that started off talking about NASCAR.  Alex even gave us a run down on all of the top NASCAR drivers.  All of these conversations eventually lead to missionary work and teaching the gospel, but hey, if NASCAR gets you a foot in the door, why not take it.  In this case, if climbing on a riding lawn mower and doing a little community service gets you an opportunity to teach, the mission better start teaching missionaries how to work one of these things.

I have never actually been to Kansas or any of the other mid-western states.  But I have heard that it is very flat.  In this picture Alex is walking down one of the streets that heads out of town.  If you click on the picture and take a closer look at this road, it doesn't seem to end until it hits the horizon where the earth finally curves enough that you can no longer see the road.  The only place in Utah were you can see this same kind of thing is out near the Great Salt Lake on the Bonneville Salt Flats. This is where many car enthusiasts meet once a year to try to set new land speed records due to the fact that the salt flats are so flat and long.  Everywhere else in Utah is mountains.  I can just imagine that there have probably been a few car races along this road as well.  Hopefully none of them involved any mission vehicles. ;-)

A couple of months ago Alex and his companion had the opportunity to tour a nuclear power plant.  Here you see a couple of missionaries ready to teach the gospel no matter where they are.  Give them a couple of hard hats, safety glasses and some gloves and they are ready for anything.  In the letter that Alex sent home when he told us all about this tour, he was very impressed by all of the pipes, tubes and electronics that goes into running a nuclear power plant.  He just couldn't get over just how complex a place like that is.  Of course they couldn't actually get in to see the nuclear reactor itself, but they did get to see a lot of cool stuff.

It has been a long time since Alex was able to sit in a chair without touching his feet on the ground.  I guess he still has some growing to do. 

Alex sent us this video of a typical Kansas rain storm.  Well maybe it isn't really a typical rain storm.  More like a typical tornado.  Luckily they were both safely inside of the church building rather than outside in the middle of the storm.  Alex told us in his last letter that they had another tornado watch this last week.  The way that he describes it is "fun and unusual".  I think that I would describe it more as being a bit scary.  He told us all about the chain lightning during the storms and how sometimes the lightning seems to go from the ground up to the clouds rather than the other way around.  Just another day in the life of a couple of missionaries. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Being prepared for the moment

It has been a few weeks since we updated you on all of the things that Alex has been doing.  In the last entry we told you that Alex now has a new companion.  The work is moving forward and Alex told us that several of the people that they have been teaching have been attending the LDS church meetings and are interested in joining the church.  Alex is really hoping and praying that they will be able to hold some baptismal services fairly soon.  These kinds of experiences really make a mission worth it.  Especially when a missionary is able to share the message of the gospel with someone else and watch that person come to know and love the message.  This is basically the type of experience that Alex has been having over the last few weeks and it has made him really feel good about all of the work.

Of course, in between all of the teaching and spiritual moments that a missionary has, there are those down times when they can just have some good old fashion fun.  Alex told us a story about a recent Branch social that they attended where he had the opportunity to play a little sand volleyball.  Little did the Branch members know, but Alex spent quite a bit of time playing volleyball with all of his high school friends before his mission.  Of course I have never actually seen Alex play volleyball so we will just have to take Alex's word for it when he says that he plays fairly well.  Well during the game, as we all know from our experiences with Ward basketball, the two sides got a little "competitive" and Alex decided that it was his turn to quite one of the more vocal members of the opposing team.  It was Alex's turn at serving the ball and he claims that he was just "wrecking the other team" on his serves.  Then with one very strong and well placed serve, apparently Alex knocked the smack talker right on his derriere.  Alex never told us what the final score was, but he did say that they all had a really good time and the volleyball game was the highlight of the social.

If you know much about the Independence Missouri area, it is rich with LDS Church history.  Since there is so much history there, many members of the Church also visit during the summer months.  This presents a bit of a unique opportunity for missionaries in this area in that some of the visitors are friends and relatives of the missionaries that are serving there.  Alex's grandparents where in the Independence area just a few weeks ago and took the opportunity to visit with the mission president for a few minutes.  Then just about a week ago, one of Alex's good wrestling buddies also passed through Independence on a family trip.  This time Alex happened to be at a zone conference near Independence and was able to find a little bit of time to see and talk to his friend.  What made it even better is that his friend recently received his mission call and this would be the last time that they would see each other for the next three years.  Alex told us just how much fun it was to be able to visit for a little while and just how much of a boost it was to his spirits.  They didn't have very much time to talk because some of the other Elders had to get back to their areas after the zone conference to be on time for some teaching appointments.  As always, when you are on a mission, the work comes first.

While Alex was at the same zone conference he also had another great experience.  Of course whenever there is a conference of any kind in the mission, the mission president is always there.  One of the things that Alex's mission president tries to do whenever he is around his missionaries, is to try to greet each one and spend a little bit of time talking with them to find out how things are going.  This conference was no different.  Alex told us that during many of their conferences they have an opportunity to watch a spiritual and motivational video about a football player who crawls a 100 yards across the field while his coach is yelling at him to do his best.  These were all the details about the video that Alex included in his letter so if you have actually seen it, you probably have a better idea of what Alex is talking about.  Anyway, this video must be very inspiring for the missionaries because Alex told us that it almost makes him cry every time he watches it.  Well, later as the mission president was making his rounds and spending a few minutes talking with each of the missionaries, Alex finally had his turn.  During their conversation, the mission president told Alex just how proud he was of all of the work that Alex had been doing.  In Alex's words,
"Then he started crying and said that I was a 100 yard missionary if he had ever seen one. It made me feel so good!"
People ask us at times how we raised such a good young man.  I tell them that Alex just came that way.  All we did was allowed him to grow in our home.

So here is a funny story that Alex told us about in his last letter.  It is all about a group of missionaries doing what they do best and that is preaching the gospel.  Alex started out the story by explaining that he and his backpack are like a woman and her purse.  His backpack goes with him everywhere.  As Alex explained it:
"I never take it off and it goes with me everywhere I go, even if its not really needed. I figure you never know when you are going to need to give out a BOM."
Apparently the other night they were staying with the Elders from Topeka in their apartment.  For whatever reason, they needed to go to Walmart at about 9 o'clock that evening.  True to form Alex grabbed his backpack and put it on as they got out of the car.  One of the other Elders started kidding around with Alex and giving him a hard time about always taking his backpack with him everywhere.  Alex, half jokingly, told the Elder that you never know when you will need to give out a Book of Mormon and he was praying that it would happen at Walmart.  They just need to show a little more faith.  The other Elder responded by telling Alex that you can't pray for something like that just out of spite.  Within ten seconds after their little test of faith, a man walked up next to them in the parking lot and started talking to the missionaries.  Alex immediately asked the man if he had ever heard of the Book of Mormon.  The man told Alex that he had.  Then Alex asked the man if he had ever seen one.  Right about that time Alex looked over at the other Elder with kind of an "I told you so" look on his face and a big grin.  The man told Alex that he had never seen a Book of Mormon so Alex pulled one out of his backpack.  Right there in the parking lot of Walmart they started introducing this man to the Book of Mormon and what it means for members of the LDS church.  Once the conversation was over, the man left and the missionaries continued on into the store.  Once inside, Alex pumped his fist in the air and they were all super excited about what just happened.  Alex mentioned that the man was from another state so they probably wouldn't have a chance to talk to him again.  But because he had his backpack with him, an opportunity to simply place a Book of Mormon and plant a seed, was not wasted.

Alex told us a little bit about what they did on the 4th of July.  He said that they had met somebody new that day who was interested in learning more about the Church so they spent part of the day teaching as well as attending their Church meetings.  Later on that night they enjoyed some BBQ with the family that they live with and watched the fireworks over Burlington.  Alex said that the fireworks in Kansas put Utah fireworks to shame.  That's not hard since Utah bans anything that shoots up over 15 feet and in Kansas just about anything goes.  He told us that they spent the rest of the evening watching all of the big fireworks and making fun of the little fountains by calling them "Utah fireworks".

The other day Alex and his companion were walking through the church building and decided to check out the condition of the baptismal font.  What they found was what you could classify as a mixed blessing.  When they opened up the door to the baptismal font, they found that all of the recent rains had caused the sewer to back up.  This left a pretty big mess that they now needed to clean up.  The reason why this was a mixed blessing is because this could have been a disaster if instead of just checking things out, they had actually had a baptismal service planned and then found this mess.  At least now it gave them some time to get everything cleaned up and ready to go for when they do have a baptism scheduled.  Alex said that he wasn't really looking forward to having to scrub the font out with bleach, but hey, missionary work is missionary work.  Sometimes it isn't pretty.