Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Big gooey donut monster

Time just keeps flying by.  It seems like I just wrote on this blog and here it is a couple of weeks later and more news from Alex.  Alex has been in Manhattan KS, for about 7 months now.  Over that time he has had a lot of great successes as well as other great experiences.  He wrote us this last week and sounded a bit nervous because transfers are coming up soon and he doesn't want to leave Manhattan.  Everywhere that Alex has served has been great but so far Manhattan has been his dream area.  There are probably a lot of reasons for that which include the members of the ward, the people that Alex has taught and baptized, being there for 7 months as well as also being the places where some of his relatives lived and grew up.  Even though transfers come up in just over a week, we probably won't hear anything for at least a couple more weeks. 

Alex told us all about another great experience that he recently had during an area conference.  Elder Kevin W. Pearson of the Seventy visited the Wichita area recently and of course all of the missionaries who are serving near there were able to attend a special missionary conference.  Alex said that about an hour before the conference actually started, he and several of the other zone leaders were able to meet with Elder Pearson for a special training meeting.  Alex described it as being a once in a lifetime experience to be taught on almost a one-on-one basis by a member of the Seventy.  He also told us that he learned a lot from that special experience as well as from the rest of the conference.  Alex said that Elder Pearson was very blunt in telling the missionaries exactly what needed to happen in their mission.  He gave the missionaries a lot of valuable information that should help them make some changes and experience even more success. 

We have only heard bits and pieces of this next story so I am going to try to fit some of the pieces together and see how it turns out.  For the last couple of months, the Young Men's presidency in the Manhattan Stake have been planning a special mini missionary activity for the young men.  This activity actually took place about two weeks ago in which many of the young men actually got to spend a couple of days with the missionaries while they went through a regular day as a full time missionary.  As it turned out, part of this activity actually carried over into the regular missionary P-day.  Because of that, the normal P-day was switched to Tuesday rather than Monday so that the young men could spend Monday working and tagging along with the missionaries.  Of course we didn't know what the plan was and were wondering all day Monday why we hadn't heard from Alex like we normally do on a P-day.  Anyway, once we finally did hear from Alex, he told us that the young man that he was suppose to pair up with, didn't show up.  But that didn't bother Alex.  He went and found another young man to pair up with and share the missionary experience.  Alex and his companion had been visiting with one of the families that they are currently teaching and talked their 15 year old son into joining them for the mini mission activity.  They found an old suit that happened to fit the young man that one of the former missionaries in the area had left behind.  Through this activity, this young man was able to meet the mission president, the Stake president, the young men's president as well as all of the other young men in the Stake.  I'm sure that after meeting all of those "presidents" and hanging out with the missionaries, he must have thought that everybody in the church is either called "Elder" or "President".  From what we heard about this activity, it all went really well and the young men in the Stake came away with a good understanding of what missionary life is like.

Alex included in pretty funny story in his last letter that he said would be even funnier when we get the pictures.  We actually did receive some pictures from Alex this last week, but apparently the picture that Alex is talking about in this story must have happened after he sent home his memory card.  Alex has always really loved little kids and we have seen videos that he has sent home where he plays games with some of the families and then rewards the winners with Klondike bars, cookies or some other type of goodies.  Alex started out this story by telling us that each week he and his companion go to one of the Ward member's homes for a weekly correlation meeting (I'm assuming that this Ward member is the Ward mission leader).  The Ward member that they meet with has some young kids so before they start their correlation meeting, Alex and his companion conduct a room inspection to make sure that the kids are obeying their parents and keeping their beds made and rooms clean.  Then if they pass the room inspection, they are rewarded with some kind of treat.  So before they arrived, Alex and his companion stopped by the store on the way to their correlation meeting to pick up the reward.  They decided that they would treat the kids to some giant donuts.  These donuts weren't just any old giant donut, they were the kind that were HUGE.  Once they got to the family's house and before they were able to conduct the room inspection, the littlest child (about 1 1/2 years old), reaches into the box of donuts and picked out the largest one of the dozen.  Alex said that this donut was so big that it was basically the size of this child's head.  One of the funniest things was that even though the donut was obviously too large for a kid this size, this little 1 1/2 year old almost ate the entire thing.  But there came a point when the donut was just too much to handle and finishing it off just wasn't going to happening.  I'm sure you can picture this whole event in your head even without the picture that Alex has promised to send.  Seeing this tiny little mouth biting into this huge donut while the rest of her face is hidden behind nothing but mounds of sticky, gooey glaze.  YUM...

So as promised, here are a few pictures that Alex recently sent home. 

Here's the whole district. 
Just looking at them you can tell that they are all out-"standing" in their field.

Watch out Elder.  Remember Eve was tempted by a serpent too.

Alex with his Aunt and Uncle during their visit to Manhattan

That's our boy!! 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The successes are great

In the last several letters that we have received from Alex, he is constantly telling us how things are really picking up for them.  Alex and his companion have been working really hard to build up their teaching pool and with the news that we got this week, they might have to work even harder at that.  The news was really good.  This past week two more people that they have been teaching for a while, were finally baptized.  Baptizing people that you are currently teaching is a good way to have to go back to rebuilding your teaching pool.  The people that Alex and his companion had been teaching weren't the only ones getting baptized that day.  In fact Alex said that there were so many people in the changing room after the baptismal service, that he had to wait out in the baptismal font for the changing room to clear out.  Here is how Alex was feeling at the time:
"It was a very neat experience to just sit there in the font by myself with all the doors closed. The spirit was really strong. It was a very good weekend for us."

Sometimes when you are in tune with the spirit, even some of the seemingly insignificant experiences can be powerful.

This seems like a never ending theme in Alex's mission.  Alex is constantly telling us stories about how someone he has met or some experience that he has had, ties him back to people or places he knows from Utah.  Well this week was no different and the experience that he recently had, following a Stake conference meeting, brought him even closer than just Utah.  Alex told us that following Stake conference a couple of weeks ago, the Stake Patriarch's wife walked up to him and asked if he was Elder Nicholes.  Of course Alex said yes.  The Patriarch's wife then proceeded to tell Alex that she had just received a call from western New York.  If you remember a couple of months ago, I wrote on this blog about how Alex's older brother had just been called and recently left to serve his mission in Rochester, New York.  As it turns out, the Patriarch and his wife have a son who lives in New York and had called to tell his parents that Alex's brother Christopher was at their house in New York eating dinner.  So here they are, hundreds of miles apart yet sharing some of the exact same missionary experiences.  How cool is that?!!

So here is an interesting story that came from Alex's Aunt and Uncle who had recently returned from Manhattan, Kansas.  I wrote about this whole experience in the last blog entry but this time we got the other side of the story directly from his Aunt and Uncle during a Sunday dinner at our house.  They told us that while they were on their way to visit some of their friends who live near Manhattan and before they had actually seen Alex, they decided to stop by the church building in Salina, Kansas.  As they pulled up to the church, they noticed that there were several cars in the parking lot which were all similar models with Kansas license plates. They pulled up the building, got out of there car and went inside the church to take a look around.  While they were walking around, they could hear some voices coming from one of the rooms in the building.  Once they finally tracked down the voiced to the Relief Society room, they cracked open the door and saw several well dressed young men in the middle of some kind of meeting.  Well of course these were the missionaries from the Salina district in the middle of their weekly district meeting.  Alex's Uncle quietly walked in the back of the room just to see if maybe Alex happened to be there.  As he looked around at the Elders, he didn't see anybody he recognized and decided to quietly step out before he caused any kind of disturbance.  Later on after his Aunt and Uncle finally met up with Alex, they told Alex the story about how they stopped at the church Salina and saw some several missionaries there conducting their weekly district meeting.  To everyone's surprise, Alex told them that as a zone leader he just happened to be visiting the Salina district that day and was at that district meeting.  Apparently Alex was sitting just out of sight on the other side of the room where his Uncle couldn't see him.   Since all of the missionaries were so focused on what was going on in the meeting, they really didn't notice the visitors that had momentarily poked their heads in to the room. 

In addition to that story, they also told us that once the members of the church in Manhattan found out about Alex's relation to their former Stake President, the members told his Aunt and Uncle all about the great job Elder Nicholes has been doing in their mission.  I can't tell you just how proud that makes us feel as Alex's parents to hear stories like that.

Well there are a lot more stories that Alex has told about some of the great people that he and his companion have been teaching.  Most of the details are a little too personal to share here but they are great experiences.  Every week Alex shares more about the teaching moments that they have had and the spirit that is present during these moments.  The response towards the gospel message that the missionaries share, has been very positive at times.  Of course there are ups and downs and not everybody is as receptive as others, but from the letters that Alex sends to us, he is having a great time and that time is rushing by too fast.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The secret is out

Well, it has been a few weeks since I have written anything on this blog.  It wasn't because I am lazy or procrastinating or anything, it is because over the last several weeks Alex has been so busy that he hasn't had much time to keep us up to date.  He has written to us every week although with the library being closed on President's day and the various snow storms that passed through the area, Alex has had to write to us on a day other than his P-day.  Because of that, he doesn't like to spent a lot of time writing because they have so much work to do.  But it is always good to hear from him no matter how brief his letters might be. 

Not many people knew this but I guess the cat is out of the bag now.  Alex has an Uncle or rather his mother has an Uncle, who used to be the Stake President in the Manhattan Stake several years ago.  They now live in Salt Lake but just recently travel back to Manhattan to attend the dedication of a new church building in the Manhattan area.  This presented a rare opportunity for Alex since he is now serving in the Manhattan area as well.  Alex hadn't told many people about his Manhattan, KS relatives mainly because the conversations would usually turn to reminiscing about old times rather than focusing on missionary work.  Not that reminiscing is a bad thing but for a missionary, focusing on your mission is the number one priority. 

So now that you have a little background, here is the funny part of the story.  A few weeks ago when Alex's Uncle and Aunt were visiting the Manhattan area for the building dedication, the local Ward members held a potluck open house for them.  A little later in the evening after Alex and his companion were finished with their teaching appointments, they dropped by the open house to say "Hi".  As Alex described the scene, there were quite a few people talking and mingling with his Uncle and Aunt.  As Alex entered the cultural hall his Aunt spotted him and immediately came over to give him a big hug.  Normally missionaries aren't allowed to hug someone of the opposite sex while they are serving as a missionary.  But in this case, since this was his Aunt and it had been almost a year and a half since they had seen each other, a big hug was the appropriate thing to do.  Of course since Alex hadn't said much about is Manhattan relatives, most of the people there had no idea why this former Stake President's wife was hugging this random missionary.  This drew a lot of funny looks and dropped jaws from the people in attendance.  So like I said, the cat is now out of the bag and now everybody knows that Alex has some roots in Manhattan, KS.  Ever since then, all kinds of Ward members have been giving Alex a hard time about not telling them about his Uncle and Aunt.  Once again, it is a very small world.  Alex didn't have a lot of time to chat that evening, but with the next day being P-Day, they were all able to meet up again and catch up on everything that has been happening at home and in the mission field. 

Another transfer day has come and gone and Alex is still in Manhattan.  He was lucky enough to be able to stay with his current companion, but he told us that almost every other companionship in their zone experienced a change.  I'm not sure what kind of challenges or opportunities this presents for Alex, being a zone leader, but from the tone of his last letter, there are new experiences to be had by everybody.  Alex has been serving in the Manhattan area for six months now and really loves it.  He and his companion have been working really hard to build up their teaching pool since many of the people that they had been teaching were actually baptized around Christmas time.  Alex told us that they are currently teaching some really great people and has shared with us many of his most recent experiences.  He also shared with us some really funny stories but they are all a little too personal to recount here.  Needless to say, Alex is very excited that he is able to spend at least one more transfer in Manhattan and wishes that he could stay forever.  Of course, forever is a long time and we would like to see him come home once his mission is done so that we can give him a big hug too, just like his Aunt did.