Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Another week

Hello all! I can't believe it's been another week already!

This week is the last week of my second transfer, which simultaneously feels like it came too soon and also like I've been here for ages. Time is really weird here.

This week has seemed really long. We spent the majority of our week knocking on doors for appointments only to have people cancel or just not answer. We had made a couple appointments with ladies we had tracted, and when we came back their husbands told us that their families wouldn't be interested. I keep noticing that women are much more likely to want to talk with us. Maybe it's just because women like to talk with each other, or maybe it's because women are more in tune with the Spirit (no offence, guys.)

We met with our part member family, the Bals, this week. We've been wanting to set baptismal dates for their two kids, Victoria and Antionio, for pretty much this whole transfer, and we finally felt like it was the right time to invite them. We've been kind of tiptoeing around baptism because the dad is Muslim and we didn't want to cause contention in their home. Sister Bal has been bringing her kids to church for a while now, but she told us that it has taken twelve years of prayer for her husband to allow her to take them. Victoria, who's 10 years old, really loves church and is keen on learning about and being part of the gospel. Antonio, 13, has some doubts and is a bit unsure still, but he told us that he likes to be 100% sure about something before he'll commit or say that he believes it. This week we taught them about the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end, and how those five things are the steps to allow us to live with our Father in Heaven again. When we asked them if living with God is something that they want, Victoria responded with an excited "yes!" We invited them to pray to know if baptism is what God wants for them, and they said they would. I'm sure Victoria will. She is just so excited about the gospel. We'll have to see about Antonio, though. I think he is stuck on feeling 100% about it and also not offending or letting down his dad. Sister Bal told us that there's been a bit of tension in the house lately because the two religions are kind of clashing, and it makes me really sad. I can't imagine how hard it would be to be married to someone who doesn't have the same beliefs and wants to raise your children with a completely different worldview. I can imagine it's so hard on both parents. I guess that just means we'll have to baptize Brother Bal as well. ;)

Other than that, this week has been pretty slow. Most of our appointments fell through and we spent a lot of time driving from house to house and visiting all of our backup appointments to no avail. Here's to hoping next week looks up.

I love you all!

xoxo Sister Larsen

Friday, May 23, 2014

Firesides and Finding Families

Dearest friends and family,

Sorry about the lack of letters for everyone last week! I spent all my email time Skyping with my family and basically trying not to lose it and cry at our members' home. But it was really great to see your beautiful faces! I hope you all know how much I love you and miss you even if I kind of stink at writing people back.

I have two weeks of miracles to update you all on! First big miracle: our musical fireside! Remember how I said we had to pull it off in less than two weeks? Well, we did. We really felt like this fireside was something we should do, so we put all our effort into making it happen and getting our ward members involved as well. Thankfully, so many people were willing to participate! We asked a handful of members to provide musical numbers, all of whom were totally willing, and Sister Vakalahi (our Relief Society first counselor and every missionary's surrogate mom here) worked with us to put together a program and make flyers. With everyone involved, we put together a song list, organized performances, wrote a script, scheduled rehearsals, made flyers, and spread the word in a matter of days. The whole process must have been facilitated by the Spirit, because everything went so smoothly!  
We were a bit worried about getting a good turnout due to the short notice and the fact that it was Mothers' Day, but on the evening of the fireside, the chapel was packed. The crowd filled up to the overflow! We even had some less active members who probably hadn't been to a fireside in years attend, as well as some investigators! The Spirit was so strong throughout the whole evening and I suspect that there were very few people who didn't shed at least one tear. Our bishop gave our closing remarks and bore his testimony of the Savior through tears. I'm sure everyone who heard him was moved. 
One of the part member families we have been working closely with (the mother is a member, her husband is Muslim, and her children are not baptized) attended! Even the dad came, which was such a wonderful surprise! After the fireside was over, the dad pointed to Bishop and said, "I like him. He is a good man." He may not be open to learning much about the gospel yet, but I do think he was able to feel the Spirit!
The whole fireside was such a miracle. Our ward has talked of nothing else since. There's already been talk of putting on another one! I'm really grateful that I could be part of this experience and be able to facilitate so many people feeling the Spirit and drawing closer to their Savior. 

This Monday and Tuesday was Sisters' Conference, where all of the sisters in the mission gather together for a day of service and a day of training from our sister training leaders and the APs. It was so cool to see all of my fellow sisters gathered in one place! Even the Tassie sisters got to come up, which meant that I got to see Sister Kruyer for the first time in what felt like ages! She is loving Tasmania and totally tearing it up. Everyone says such wonderful things about her, and I know they're all true. We had some really nice training on working with members, recognizing success, companionship unity, and the importance of finding and teaching families. The training on finding families was especially inspiring to me. The APs pointed out that in Preach My Gospel, the same wording is used to describe the gravity of the Atonement and the importance of families. Both the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the family unit are central to God's plan for our happiness. I had never really thought about the family in that way before, and it really inspired me to work harder to find whole families to teach. Often times we settle with just teaching one member of a family to seems to be progressing better than the others, but really this work is about bringing families into the gospel. Our ultimate goal is to help God's children enter the Celestial Kingdom in the family unit, so we should be teaching according to that goal!

We had Zone Meeting the following Thursday, which was just as inspiring as Sisters' Conference. Our Zone Leaders told us that we need to focus on finding new investigators, not just new contacts. In other words, we should find and teach people at the same time, and share the gospel with them as quickly as we can. Sister Leota and I really took that to heart and tried to apply that in our finding this week, and it worked! We met a Vietnamese man named Tun, who has a wife and three children. We knocked on his door and he invited us in, and we eagerly taught him about how God is our Creator and Father and how much He loves us. Tun is Buddhist, so he doesn't know much about God or anything about Jesus Christ. He drank in everything we taught him and totally felt the Spirit. Unfortunately, his wife speaks pretty much no English, so she and her kids weren't able to sit it. But! We contacted the Vietnamese missionaries who work in the area next door to us, and we invited them to our next appointment with Tun. They were able to talk with Tun's wife and teach them both! We decided to hand Tun's family over to the Vietnamese elders so that the whole family could be taught. So even though we aren't teaching them ourselves, I feel so blessed to have been able to find them!

We also have started meeting with Shony and Hone, a Maori couple from New Zealand. We met Shony at church, when she was attending her cousin's baby blessing. They are both very religious and Hone is actually an evangelist at their church. We had just decided to stop by and see if Shony was home, and both she and her husband welcomed us in and talked with us for over an hour about their faith and how they came to find God. Hone shared his remarkable conversion and how much both of their lives have changed since they gave their lives to the Lord. The invited us over for lunch a couple days later, and we had a great discussion about how much Jesus Christ loves us and how grateful we are for His Atonement. Shony and Hone's beliefs differ a little bit from ours, and Hone is very passionate about those things that do differ. He strongly believes that all you need to do to be saved is "give your life to the Lord," or just pray and confess with your mouth that Jesus is your Savior, and believe in Him, and that's it. He doesn't believe you need baptism or that faith requires any kind of works, which could prove a challenge. Hopefully we can come to help him see how baptism really is a necessary step to salvation and how faith is made manifest in our works. Shony seems more open and in tune with the Spirit, so hopefully she can be our gateway to helping them receive the gospel. But we're excited to keep meeting with them! They are really awesome people.

We have still been meeting with Elizabeth, who is really grateful for our visits but still seems to lack the desire to come to church or read the scriptures, which are things she said she knows she needs to do. She just doesn't feel very urgent about it, but hopefully if we keep coming over and helping her to feel the Spirit that she'll gain motivation.

These last two weeks have been so awesome! But Satan is certainly working hard to stop the work progressing. As soon as we get onto something good, he tries even harder to make us feel down about ourselves and to distract us from our purpose. We just always have to remember the importance of the work we are doing and power and authority of our callings! 

I love you all! Thank you so much for your prayers!

xoxo Sister Larsen

Monday, May 5, 2014

Zone Conference

This Wednesday we had the opportunity to have a zone conference with Elder Hamula, the area president for the Pacific area. We got to listen to him speak for two hours and it was so inspiring! He is so full of wisdom and is such an impressive scriptorian. He taught us so much about how the Book of Mormon can strengthen our (and our investigators') faith in Jesus Christ, and how it contains power unto the convincing of men that Jesus is the Christ. He counseled us about personal obedience as well, and how we gain intelligence, light, and truth through obedience to the laws of God. As missionaries, we have so many rules that we have to obey, but if we change our perspective of obedience from grudgingly following rules to gaining the blessings of heaven through obedience to divinely inspired laws, we can gain so many blessings. Probably my favorite thing he taught us was the three steps to defeat the adversary:
1. Put a smile on your face.
2. Love sincerely.
3. Walk in obedience.
If we do those three things, the adversary cannot have hold on us. If we stay positive, replace negative feelings with acts of love, and obey the laws of God, we cannot fall into temptation. I've been repeating those three things to myself since Wednesday. Smile, love, obey!!

What was extra cool about the conference was that every question I've been thinking about for the past couple of weeks was answered in something Elder Hamula said. He is definitely an inspired man of God, and our Heavenly Father is definitely aware of us and our needs.

I also had the opportunity to be one of the few missionaries interviewed by Elder Hamula himself! He just asked about myself and my area, kind of to get a cross section of how the AMM is doing. But I got some one-on-one time with a real live general authority. So cool. 

The Point Cook missionaries started planning a musical fireside this week, and we're going to pull it off this coming Sunday! We wanted to have an activity to bring the ward together to feel the Spirit together, and thankfully our idea is taking off. We've had so much support from our members to help us with musical numbers and flyers and such. I'm singing a solo (yikes) because apparently if you're a missionary with a decently good voice you get to sing all the time. So we'll see how that goes. But overall I think it's going to be really, really great!

Yesterday I had an incredible opportunity to be an instrument in the Lord's hands. We were driving around a neighborhood trying to find a member's home, but we couldn't remember where the street was, so we stopped to get our map out of the trunk. I noticed that we had stopped right in front of the home of Elizabeth, one of the former investigators we had been trying to contact for weeks but haven't had any luck with. I felt the Spirit nudging me to knock on her door, and at first I didn't really want to because she was never home. But we decided to knock anyway, and for once she was home! She told us that she had lost our number and was really glad that we had come over because she needed prayers. She told us how her mother and brother, who live in their native country of Sudan, are in trouble because two people died in their well. It was an accident, but the families of those who died are angry and unforgiving. In Sudan, it doesn't matter if the law says you are innocent if the people don't forgive, and Elizabeth is really worried for the safety of her family. We got to offer words of comfort and pray for her family with her. I know the words that I said did not come from me, but rather from our Father in Heaven through me. She was so grateful that we had come at that time when she needed her Heavenly Father most. I am so grateful that Heavenly Father gave me the opportunity to be there for one of His children and to impart His Spirit to her through me. It's things like this that make missionary work so, so worth it.

I love you all, and so does your Heavenly Father! Thank you for your prayers!

xoxo Sister Larsen

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A New Flat and a Weird Week

This has been the strangest, most off schedule week I've had yet! We got to go to transfer meeting on Tuesday (we got special permission because some of Sister Leota's good friends are going home) which was a really cool experience. All the departing missionaries bear their testimonies at the end, and it was cool to hear where I could end up after my eighteen months are over. Hearing their burning testimonies and their love for the mission, the people, and the Lord really motivated me to want to be the best missionary I can be. One of the elders in our district, Elder Snyder, is going home in the middle of this transfer, so he got to bear his testimony at the meeting. It's kind of weird being so new to the mission and serving around people who are so close to being done. But it's inspiring to see what I can become as a missionary!

We moved into our new flat this week! It's so new and so much nicer than our other flat. (I totally forgot to take pictures of it though. Next week!) We have nice carpet and the kitchen cupboards still smell new and we have a cute little garage and a little baby front lawn. We're so in love with it, even though it's quiet with just the two of us.

Mercedes kind of dropped us this week. We wanted to hand her over to the new Werribee sisters since she's actually in their area, so we had a lesson with all four of us missionaries there. Mercedes' sister, Ida, was visiting when we came over. Ida is actually a member, but she has been less active and going to a Catholic church for probably twenty years. We invited both of them to come to church with us on Sunday and they said yes, so we were really excited! The Werribee sisters arranged a ride for them on Sunday morning and everything. Then on Saturday the sisters stopped by to see how Mercedes was doing, and she said that she didn't want to come to church with them and she didn't want them to come visit her any more. We don't really know what happened. We think maybe her sister influenced her or something. Sister Leota and I want to stop by this week to see what's up. Mercedes is still reading the Book of Mormon every day, so I really hope it was just the confusion between having her sister over and meeting new missionaries. We shall see!

Our investigator pool is kind of dwindling, what with Mercedes and some of our other investigators kind of stopping progressing. It's been kind of a crummy week, to be honest, besides moving into our new flat. We have just been so off schedule and it's felt really weird. But it's good to be all settled and back into the normal groove of things! Hopefully if we work hard and pray hard, we'll be able to see the work pick up this week!

It's actually getting kind of cold here now, and I'm kind of regretting leaving all my scarves and hats and tights at home. I guess it just means I'll have to do some shopping! Shucks. ;)

I love you all! Thank you so much for your prayers!

xoxo Sister Larsen