Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A change is in the wind

One thing about missionary work is that you better always be prepared for change.  It seems that change will soon be coming for Alex and his companion.  From what Alex has told us in his last few letters, every year around the time that Kansas University finishes up their winter semester, at least a couple of the missionaries from Lawrence (the home of KU) are transferred out for a few months.  I guess with the so many of the KU students heading home for the summer, this gives some of the missionaries a chance to spread out and serve in some of the smaller areas of the mission.  Well, it appears that Alex and his companion will be doing just that and the really good news here is that they are both being transfered together. 

Of course there is a downside to everything.  But for missionaries, this kind of "downside" means that they must have been doing a really good job.  What I am talking about is the fact that both Alex and his companion are really going to miss Lawrence.  They have both spent the last three months in Lawrence where they basically started from scratch trying to find new people to teach.  Now three months later, they are teaching some really good people and have really grown to love them and the Ward.  At least one of the people that they are currently teching has asked these two missionaries who he can call and convince to let these missionaries stay in Lawrence.  Well we all know that it really doesn't work that way, but sometimes we really wish it could.

These two missionaries have also grown very close to many of the people in their Ward.  In fact in the last couple of letters Alex has referred to one Ward member as his Mom in Lawrence.  I mentioned this before in a previous entry. Since his real mother can't be there with Alex during his mission, as his parents, it is always nice to know that there are good people everywhere that are willing to step in and do whatever they can make our son feel at home.   To put it all in Alex's words:
"Well we had another good week here in fabulous Lawrence, Kansas! I have really grown to love Lawrence, and it is going to be super hard to leave! I really love the [the family we live with], our ward, our area, and all of our investigators. It is weird to think that I have already been here for three months, and I only have 9 days left here! Crazy!!"
Next stop, Burlington Kansas.  Burlington is a fairly small town south of Topeka.  Alex mentioned in his last letter that Burlington has a small branch of the LDS church and that there haven't been missionaries in Burlington since 1993.  From the way that Alex has described Burlington, it seems to be a very small town where everybody knows everybody else.  Alex mentioned that it will be very weird serving in a town that has less total population than his old high school.  I guess Alex and his companion will find out whether all of that is true very soon.  But no matter what happens, I am sure that they will find some very good people in Burlington to teach just as they did in Lawrence.  But until then, there is still work to be done in Lawrence.

So Alex told us all about is new ride.  No, I'm not talking about a car.  I am talking about a missionary's favorite mode of transportation, the bicycle (Note: make sure you re-read that last sentence with a very sarcastic tone ;-).  Yes that is right, Alex now has a new bike.  Well, when I say "new", I guess what I really mean is "new" to him.  It is a vintage Schwinn Sierra.  So I just had to see if I could find this bike somewhere on the internet and this is what I found.

Alex will have to let me know if this is really what his bike looks like.  There are no shocks to smooth the ride and the most interesting thing is that there are no fenders.  I can just see him now, riding down a rain soaked street on a hot and humid summer day.  We all know what happens to the person who is riding a bike in the rain with no fenders, right?  You guessed it, Alex is going to end up with one long dirty wet streak right down the middle of this back.  What's even better, this will all be enhanced by the fact that he will be wearing a nice clean white shirt at the time.  I can already tell that we are going to have to send Alex some extra money so that he can buy a 2 year supply of bleach to cover up the zebra stripe he is going to have.  Anyway, Alex claims that he likes riding this bike more than any other bike he has borrowed so far.  From what Alex told us:

"It is so sick! I think it is from the late seventies or early eighties, but man I can haul on it! I can ride faster on that old bike than I could on the brand new Trek. [My companion]doesn’t like it so much because he had a hard enough time keeping up with me on the Trek, and now on my new Schwinn racer I haul butt! Ha ha."

Speaking of bikes, Alex also told us that he and his companion were a little frustrated with the mileage limit that they have on their car.  So, to try to show that they are obedient and willing to take whatever they are given, they decided to see if they could put more mileage on their bikes in a two week period, than they had allotted to them for the car.  Alex told us they biked over 35 miles around town one day while they were traveling between teaching appointments and visits.  In the end they didn't quite meet their goal of 200 miles a week that they needed, but they biked a ton and loved it! Of course I am sure that this doesn't mean that they wouldn't have rather taken the car if they could have, but as the old saying goes, "When you are given lemons, make lemonade".

Ok, here is another funny story that Alex told us and I just couldn't resist including it in this blog entry.  One of the things that Alex took with him when he left on his mission, was a camel back.  If you don't know what a camel back is, it is a water bladder that you can fill up and wear like a back pack while you are hiking or riding a bike.  There is a small hose that comes out of the top of the pack that you use like a straw to drink the water.  Apparently Alex has really been taking advantage of having his camel back with him whenever they are riding their bikes.  He claims that he must be the most hydrated missionary in the world.  The reason he knows this is because they are constantly having to stop for bathroom breaks.  This has become such a frequent event while they are traveling from one part of town to another, that they now have designated "peeing stops".  One of the stops is at JC Pennys and the other is the local Hy-Vee grocery store. 

Then on top of that, Alex also mentioned that whenever they stop at the Hy-Vee, they also have to make sure that they take advantage of the free blood pressure machine.  Being the health minded athelete that Alex is, knowing his blood pressure, heart rate and weight is just something you do whether you are on a mission or not.  Of course you could apply all of this to the scriptures.
"And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;"
"And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint."  D&C 89:19-20
One last story before we share some pictures with you that Alex sent home recently.  It seems that one of the people that they are teaching is also trying to stop smoking.  So one idea that these missionaries came up with, was trying to substitute a bad habit with a good one.  In this instance, they felt like it would be a good idea to use exercise as a way to overcome smoking.  One thing that Alex used to do in high school was run on the cross-country team.  So naturally Alex's idea went straight to running.  Since the person that they are teaching happens to be female, Alex thought that maybe if this person decided to take the challenge, he could convince a couple of sister missionaries to run the 5k race with her.  Of course the sister missionaries that Alex had in mind had no idea that they were being volunteered to run a 5k race.  I'm sure that the story doesn't end here, so we will just have to wait and see where this ends up in a future blog entry.  Stay tuned.
I promised you a few pictures before we finish up this entry.  Every few months Alex sends home the memory card from his camera.  The memory card usually contains some pictures as well as video of his apartment and some of the activities that the missionaries have been involved with.  This one was no different.

If you know Alex, he doesn't do anything small.  Everything has to be as big as possible.  I guess in this picture he is trying to tell us that he is the king of the world... at least in his own mind. ;-)

That's right... Nicholes, Elder Nicholes
(If you don't get the joke, re-read the above caption with a British accent.
If you still don't get the joke, then maybe it wasn' t that funny in the first place ;-)

I'm thinking that even though Alex says that he loves his new bike, he is really looking to upgrade to this sweet new lawn tractor.  This thing has got to have a top speed of oh say... 5 mph.  Check out the chains on the back tires.  It may not be fast, but he will never end up in a ditch on the side of the road again.

Weilding the sword of truth... What more can I say!!

Ok, there's not really a joke that goes with this picture.  This is actually at the Kansas State High School wrestling tournament.  If you remember back when Alex was in Wamego Kansas, he helped out for a while as a volunteer coach on the Wamego High School wrestling team.  Alex later got permission from his mission president to attend the tournament to support one of the wrestlers who was also a member of the Wamego Branch and a future missionary.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Low single...

We received a great email from Alex last week. He talked about all of the things that he and his companion had been doing and told us about many of the people that they have been teaching. Alex also discovered one of the talents that is given to many missionaries. That is the talent of being able to respond to assignments in a moment's notice and having to be prepared to teach and speak on any gospel subject.

Alex was asked to speak in church last week and had emailed us previously looking for some good personal experiences that he could use on the topic of faith. After thinking about it for a while, Alex settled on a wrestling story (like you wouldn't expect that) from his final home dual as a senior on the varsity wrestling team. If you were at the church meeting where Alex spoke, you already know how Alex weaved this story into the rest of his talk. For the rest of us who weren't there, I will try to recount what happened that night during his final wrestling dual and how Alex likely related this story to faith.

Alex has a cousin named Matt (actually Matt is Alex's Mom's cousin, but that is beside the point ;-) who had been helping Alex with some of his wrestling technique throughout Alex's senior year. Before this final home dual, Alex and Matt had been working on a takedown move called a "low single". Basically this move is where one wrestler pushes off from the other and then quickly moves back in on his opponent to tie up the leg below the knee. From that point the wrestler can easily takedown his opponent by throwing him off balance.

With the entire gym dark except for a single light shining directly down onto the wrestling mat, it is very difficult to see anything outside of the wrestling ring itself.  Throughout the match, Alex's wrestling coach had been yelling out instructions from the side of the mat. But up to this point Alex had not heard any of what his coach had been saying nor could he see the coach or any of the people in the bleachers. Then at the beginning of the third period after the crowd noise had died down, Matt, who was sitting in the bleachers, yelled out loud and clear, "I WANT TO SEE A LOW SINGLE". Alex looked up at the bleachers from where he heard the voice and with an acknowledging expression on his face, he proceeded to take down his opponent several times with a low single.

Alex told us in his email that he had likened this story to faith. He and Matt had been working on this move for several weeks but Alex never had enough faith or confidence in his abilities to actually use it. Then during this final match, Alex's coach from the side of the mat, was yelling out different instructions. But there was too much crowd noise and commotion for Alex to hear and understand the instructions. Then when the noise finally died down so that Alex could actually stop and listen, he heard the instructions loud and clear from the person that had been teaching him the move. At that point Alex put aside his doubts in his abilities and put his faith in what he had been taught.

Since we were obviously not at the church meeting where Alex recited this story, I'm guessing that when he used this story in his talk, he said that it was like listening to the still small voice. Once all of the outside noise and commotion dies down and we are able to actually listen, we hear the voice loud and clear.  Listening to this voice can give is the confidence and faith to follow the instructions that are being told to us.

For all of you who were in the meeting that day when Alex spoke about faith and for those just reading this blog entry, here is the actual event that goes with the story. The following is a video clip of the actual event taking place during the final home wrestling dual. Up to this point Alex was winning the match but had struggled on a few of his other takedown moves. His coach had been yelling out instructions from the edge of the mat during the entire match. The clip picks up at the beginning of the third period. Pay special attention to Alex's facial expression after his cousin yells "Low Single".  Who would have known that the experiences of this night would be part of Alex's preparation for a mission.


So that was just the beginning of Alex and his companion's Sunday as missionaries.  Oh, before I move on to tell you about the rest of his day, there was one other funny part to this story.  As you probably already know, the mid-western states are notorious for tornados.  So one of the things that I guess the people are used to who live in these states, are tornado warning drills.  For whatever reason there was going to be a tornado drill sometime towards the end of Sacrament meeting.  While Alex was standing at the pulpit giving his talk, he knew that at some point the warning bells would ring and that he would have to wrap up very quickly.  Sure enough towards the end of his talk the warning bells rang right in the middle of talking about the stripling warriors.  At that point somebody kicked Alex in the knee from behind, Alex abruptly ended his talk and the congregation got a good laugh out of the whole thing.  Like I mentioned earlier, missionaries have to be prepared for anything.  Who would have thought that a tornado warning drill would have been included in that list.

In addition to speaking in Sacrament meeting, Alex and his companion were also assigned to teach a lesson to the young men in another Ward.  At the same time that they were supposed to also be attending PEC meeting in their home ward.  They managed to find splits so that they could actually be in two places at once and were able to take care of their responsibilities.  Then on top of all of that, they were asked to teach sharing time in primary for both the junior and senior primary kids.  When they were orignally asked to teach the primary kids, they were simply told to teach about prophets and missions and that was about all the details that they were given.  So being good missionaries who are always prepared, they just winged it. ;-)  But when it was all said and done, everything worked out well.  In Alex's words:
"The junior primary was a little rough because they didn’t really participate, but the senior primary was a blast! They asked us questions about what we do as missionaries, and we had everyone laughing! The teachers had more fun than the kids did I think ha ha."
Then right after their church meetings ended, they had other teaching appointments to attend to that day.  All in all, a very busy day for a couple of missionaries.  I am sure that by the end of the day, they were both very tired but also very satisfied with all that they had accomplished.

General Conference weekend was this last week with many good talks given by the General Authorities of the Church as well as the Prophet and Apostles.  Alex told us in his latest email that conference weekend is like the super bowl for missionaries.  They don't have to plan anything for the whole weekend and they get to watch conference and eat food at the institute building.  Alex was very impressed by many of the talks that were given during the various conference sessions.  He told us that the message that most impressed him throughout the conference was making the family stronger. 

As usual Alex told us about several of the people that they are teaching and how well things are going.  I won't share those stories here but in almost every email he talks about how great these people are and how much he looks forward to teaching them more about the gospel. 

One last funny story for this week.  For whatever reason, Alex asked us to contact his doctor who gave him his physical exam before Alex left on his mission.  What he wanted to know was his exact height before he left because he now swears that he is taller because his weight has gone up even though he is still in the same shape as always.  Alex also mentioned that there were a couple of pictures of him and his companion that were posted on a web blog called bakingandboys.com .  It is a blog that is maintained by one of their Ward members who apparently really likes to bake.  Anyway, the pictures on the web site show Alex and his companion with several pieces of very yummy looking cheesecake in front of them (Cheesecake tasting competition).  I sent Alex back a response that maybe we should ask the doctor what his width was before his mission rather than his height. If he keeps eating deserts like that, his weight gain could be easily explained. ;-)  Alex likes to do a lot of baking himself.  But the difference is that Alex's recipes usually come from the back of a brownie mix box. 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A couple more follow ups...

Alex wrote us a few weeks back and told us that he and his companion had recieved permission to go to a Kansas University women's basketball game with a family in their Ward and some of the family's friends.  Alex and his companion really enjoyed the basketball game even though the Jayhawks got creamed.  The funny story about this whole event was that Alex told us that everytime the cheerleaders would come out on the floor to dance, he and his companion would look away.  One of the family members that invited them to go to the game, noticed this and started joking with these good missionaries about not wanting to be tempted checking out the cheerleaders. :)  Anyway, sometime during the event, Alex was able to get a picture of himself with the Jayhawk's mascot so I just thought that I would share it here.
Yep, I agree.  The missionaries are #1!  Since this picture was taken at a women's basketball game, I just hope that the person under the jayhawk costume wasn't actually a female.  Otherwise this might be incriminating evidence of a mission rules violation. ;-)  Just kidding!

You also might remember the newspaper article about Alex and the Wamego wrestling team.  In addition the the above photo, Alex also sent us the original article from the Wamego Times (turns out I was right about the name of the newspaper :).  So I took the opportunity to scan the article and include it here.  The image below is probably too small for you to read.  But if you click on the image, a larger copy will appear which should be big enough to read the entire text.  Enjoy!