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!! ;-)