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.