Monday, March 22, 2010

Patience and perseverance

How time flys when you have a missionary.  It's been a couple of weeks since we last wrote on this blog and Alex has had a lot of new experiences in that time.  One of those experiences has been learning that everybody has their free agency.  Alex wrote us last week and said that he has had one of the toughest weeks since he arrived in his mission.  It has been a little rough at times trying to get things going in Lawrence.  Alex and his companion have had some successes but they have also had some disappointments.

Six weeks ago when Alex and his companion arrived in Lawrence, they really didn't have anybody to teach.  They were literally starting from ground zero.  Since then they have been able to find a few people who have been interested in listening to the message that these Elders have.  Unfortunately some of those people have also decided that they had heard enough.  That is where the free agency part comes to play.  Alex mentioned that a few days ago they had set 5 different teaching appointments.  As the day went on, 4 out of the 5 appointments never materialized.  Fortunately and unfortunately at the same time, the 5th appointment did work out.  The unfortunate part was that when it was all said and done, it didn't go real well.  Needless  to say, it wasn't a good day in the life of a couple of the Lord's servants.  They don't call a mission the hardest two years of a young man's life for nothing.  But out of every experience there is a lesson.  But as good as that lesson might be, sometimes it is hard to learn.  Maybe this lesson is just to learn a little patience and perseverance.

It wasn't all bad though.  One of the bright spots was that a young man from the Wamego branch (Alex's first area if you remember) decided that he wanted to spend his spring break working with Alex and his companion  in Lawrence, Kansas.  Think about it.  A young man, just a senior in high school, wanting to hang out with the missionaries over spring break.  For a missionary, it just doesn't get much better than that.  To know that you have influenced someone else to the point where they feel that the best way to spend their spring break would be to help the missionaries teach the gospel.  Alex told us just how much this young man enjoyed spending the week with the missionaries.  Alex also said that some really good things happened and the whole experience was life changing.  In Alex's words, "It Rocks!!!"  Things also picked up the next day when they went out to teach some other people that they had been talking to.  Alex said that during one of the lessons, the spirit was really strong and that the person they were teaching could really feel it.  In the end, it really isn't the missionaries that change peoples lives, what it really is, is the spirit testifying to that person.  I'm sure that they must have had many other great experiences that week.  Of course weekly letters just can't capture them all.  But the overall impression was that sometimes things go the way you expect and other times they don't.  It is that whole free agency thing.

In most of Alex's letters he usually includes some kind of interesting story about an event that happened to him.  Well this week wasn't any different.  Alex told us about how he and his companion were baking some brownies to take to some of the people that they had been teaching.  Making food for people is one thing that Alex picked up long before he arrived in the mission field.  There were plenty of mornings when we would wake up to find Alex making breakfast for is friends after an early study session or temple trip to do baptisms.  But anyway, back to the story.  So while they were making brownies, Alex heard the phone ring and knew that it was a call from the mission president.  Apparently they have set a special ring tone on the phone for the mission office.  So Alex picked up the phone and sure enough, it was the mission president with a new assignment.  If you remember back a few months, the last time Alex got a call from the mission president with a new assignment, the new assignment included a transfer to a different area.  Alex was a little scared that this new assignment was going to turn out the same way and the last thing he wanted was another transfer.  Luckily this new assignment didn't include a transfer.  So here is the rest of the story in Alex's words:
 [Mission President speaking] “Elder Nicholes, congratulations I have a new assignment for you!”, my heart just dropped, I thought I was getting transferred for sure! But he told me that I was going to be the new district leader and that my companion and I would be staying together in Lawrence. So I didn’t really know what to say, I mean it’s crazy! I barely know what I am doing as a missionary, let alone a district leader.
Yep, that's right.  Alex is the new district leader over the Lawrence, Kansas area.  We also received a nice letter from the mission president today.  Among other things, it said just how well Alex has demonstrated leadership abilities and because of that and his strong testimony in the restored gospel, he has been called to be a leader in the Independence Missouri mission.  This isn't the first time that Alex has stepped up to be a leader but most of the other times usually had something to do with sports.  I'm sure that this leadership position will come with new experiences and challenges.

It seems like every week Alex is talking about new people that they are teaching.  Sometimes they start out teaching somebody and things don't work out and other times they do.  The thing to remember is that life as a missionary has a lot of ups and downs.  You just have to learn to roll with them.

So here is a follow up to something that happened to Alex during his first few weeks in Wamego, Kansas not long after arriving to the Independence mission.  If you recall, one of the things that missionaries do is try to volunteer some of their time to the community.  In an effort to do that, Alex and his companion at the time, volunteered at the high school to help out with the wresting team.  For those who may not know, Alex was a state champion wrestler during his senior year in high school.  Anyway, the local newspaper found out that there were a couple of "Mormon" missionaries helping out with the high school wrestling team and decided to write a story about it.  Unfortunately before the newspaper article ran, Alex got transferred from Wamego to Platt City.  So finally, just today, we got a copy of the article that ran in the Wamego Times (OK, I'm not really sure what the actual name of the Wamego newspaper is).  The article was titled "Mission on the Mat, Mormon missionaries assist Raider wrestling program".  Too bad this particular newspaper doesn't have an online version, because it was truely a well written article.  Since I can't really reprint the entire article here, I will try to just pick out a few quotes.  The article starts out:

    "Utah's 2009 state wrestling champion in the 152-pound weight class is back on the mat as a volunteer coach for the Wamego High School wrestling team.  
    He's 19-year-old Alex Nicholes, an elder in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon church), who was assigned to Wamego as the first stop on his two-year mission for his church."

...  "Hartwick said Elder Nicholes has already made a positive impact on the WHS wrestling program. "He's helped make our team a team," the senior wrestler said."
... "Nicholes credits his faith for his wrestling success.  He has been wrestling since eighth grade.
    "I put a lot of religion in my wrestling," Nicholes said. "That's where I get my strength from." 
    While he enjoys wrestling, Nicholes said the main benefit of being a volunteer coach is that he is "meeting great kids."

... "Only the LDS church officials know how long Nicholes' tenure at Wamego will be, but Hartwick and other WHS wrestlers hope this assignment lasts at least through the wrestling season. He has definitely found a unique way to help out in the community."
Those were just a few of the many things that this article had to say about Alex, his companion, wrestling and life as an LDS missionary.  After having been in the local PG newspaper several times during his high school wrestling and track career, it was great to see Alex in the newspaper one last time for his wrestling accomplishments.  But this time is a bit different.  More importantly, he is in the newspaper for being a great missionary. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

You never know who you are going to meet...

Can you say "road trip"?  I told you last time that one of the wrestlers from Wamego (Alex's first mission area) who is also a member of the LDS church, would be wrestling in the Kansas state tournament.  This wrestler had asked if Alex would be able to go to the wrestling tournament to support him and help out in his matches.  Alex and his companion talked to both the assistants to the president and the mission president and received permission to go to the tournament.  What an opportunity!  Not only would Alex get to watch wrestling again, but he would get to do it while wearing his suit, tie and missionary name tag.  I'm sure that many people will take notice that there are a couple of Mormon missionaries wandering around a wrestling tournament and wondering why they are there.  The more people who ask questions, the more opportunities to share the gospel.

Anyway, Alex and his companion got up early on the morning of the tournament and headed for Wamego to meet up with the wrestler and his family.  After giving his companion a quick tour of the town, they met the family and were off to the tournament.  To make a longer story shorter, the tournament didn't quite turn out the way everybody had planned.  As we can testify, sometimes wrestling matches go your way when maybe they weren't suppose to and other times they don't when they should have.  In this case it was the latter.  On a more positive note, it always amazes me just how much Alex has influenced for the good, all the people he comes in contact with.  This case is no different.  Alex's influence and I am sure the influence of many others as well, will never be forgotten.  Alex told us that despite the unfortunate outcome of the tournament, it was still an awesome day.

Well after their big day at the Kansas state wrestling tournament, it was back to normal missionary work and trying to find those who are willing and ready to listen to the message that the missionaries have to offer.  From the time that Alex and his companion arrived in Lawrence, this has been their biggest struggle.  But Alex told us that things are really picking up for them and that they are now teaching a number of really solid contacts.  Of course you always have to take the bad with the good and missionary work is no different.  There are always those who start out with a real interest in learning more about the gospel of Jesus Christ but then later, for whatever reason, don't want to continue.  Alex and his companion have been experiencing this as well.  But literally, in their case, as one door shuts another one seems to open up and the work moves forward.

Alex told us a story about how he and his companion where taking down the Christmas lights at a neighbor's house one morning.  Seems a little late in the year to be taking down Christmas lights.  If it were up to me, I would just forget about it and leave them up for next year.  But that is a completely different story.  Anyway, since they were having to climb up and down a ladder while working outside, they weren't dressed in their normal missionary suite and tie.  While they were working, a couple of missionaries from a different denomination just happen to pass by and started up a conversation with Alex and his companion.  At first these other missionaries didn't know that Alex and his companion were actually missionaries themselves, but from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  As the conversation continued and the other missionaries started throwing out bible references, Alex was able to recite the references from memory even before the other missionary had a chance to look it up.  Finally the other missionaries asked if Alex and his companion were Mormon missionaries.  Alex said in his letter:
"...we weren’t going to lie, so I put my arm around one of them and said we sure are!!"

Needless to say, not a whole lot of progress was made on either side, but chalk one up to new experiences.  You never know where it might lead.

Alex and his companion have really been working hard to get things going in Lawrence.  Every week he tells us about all of the people that they are teaching and how well the work is going.  The Ward that they have been assigned to is really stepping up and helping out in the missionary work.  Alex has mentioned several times how much he enjoys working with the Ward mission leader and what great families there are in the Ward.  Alex also mentioned just how crazy it is that there are so many ties back to home.  He said that there are a lot of people in his area that have sons, daughters, nieces, nephews or grandchildren that live in Utah and some that even went to the same high school with Alex.  Alex found out that one Ward member was actually at Alex's graduation last year.

It is always great to hear from Alex and to read all about the people that he has met.  Hopefully Alex and his companion will be able to stay a little longer in Lawrence rather than getting transferred again.  I know Alex would love that.