As you can see by the pictures, we went to the temple this week! On Friday the 3rd, we had a huge Christmas zone conference. I'd say that probably half of the mission was there. President and Sister Beck shared a few thoughts on the holiday season, and there were lots of musical numbers. That took up most of the morning. We had lunch, watched a slideshow of the past year and then got the news of our mission Christmas gift: we got to go to the Mesa Temple! We all drove over and walked around the grounds for a bit. We went inside and did a session with President and Sister Beck. It was incredible. Sitting in the celestial room with nearly a hundred missionaries around you is a very powerful experience, one that's difficult to put into words. Sister Beck was nearly in tears when she saw all of us together. President and Sister Beck were right there to greet us individually as we entered the celestial room. When we finished, we went outside to look at all of the lights. The grounds are decorated like Temple Square in Salt Lake City, tons of lights! I took a few pictures of myself and Elder Abel, and hopefully soon I'll come up with a Christmas card-worthy photo of sending to everyone.
We went to a few baptisms this week. I hadn't taught any of them, but Elder Abel had and so did the other Elders in our district. We went to support them. The first was on Saturday morning, the Thomas family's eight year old son, Jarett. The Thomas' are a less active family in the Garden Lakes ward slowly returning to activity. We had taught them a few lessons for family home evening a couple months ago. Sister Thomas called us earlier this week and asked if we would come to Jarett's baptism, and also if we would stand in on his confirmation. I was pretty honored; I didn't know they appreciated us that much for coming by to teach them. The second baptism was Saturday evening, the Arias family. Missionaries have been teaching them for three years! They know it's true, but they just never made the effort to progress. Elders Egan and Tameilau kept working with them but they kept falling through with commitments. A month ago they started coming to church, and finally expressed a desire to be baptized. Elder Abel taught them when he covered their ward, and so we went to support Monica, Johnathon and Julian. It was pretty cool to see, and they were very excited.
Stephanie still has a desire to come to church. Her son Jared does too. We're still working with her older son Johnathon. Jared loves reading the scriptures and always calls us to ask who's picking him up for church on Sunday and then for scouts on Wednesday. Stephanie was pretty proud to show us this week that she's been using nicotine patches to help her quit smoking! When we saw her she said she hadn't smoked in three days, and that was this past Tuesday. You can tell she's very serious about quitting. She knows it's what she has to do. She called us the other day to say that she wouldn't be at church because she was sick, but had also said that the promise we made her was actually happening. When we started teaching her back in October we promised her that the Gospel blesses families, that her life would make a change for the better and that she would feel comfort as she lives the teachings of the Savior. She called to tell us that it was all happening, and that she's very thankful for us teaching her. It's true though, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of happiness.
For Christmas we were also given a crisp, clean copy of the Book of Mormon. As a mission, we're taking the challenge to read it in thirty days. As we read it, we're focusing primarily on the Savior Himself. We're going to highlight every reference to His name, His ministry, His Atonement, everything He said and did. I'm pretty excited for the challenge. I know it will strengthen my testimony of the Book of Mormon and its testimony of our Savior.
Things are great in Arizona. I really can't complain. I say that a lot, yeah, but it's true. I love what I'm doing. Hopefully everyone back home is doing well despite the cold and the snow (which I miss). Strange enough, last week was cold! At night it dipped into the thirties and I was freezing! I actually broke down and bought a sweater to wear under my suit. It's leveled out right now into the sixties, and it's great. I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season. Take care and be good.
Elder Eric James Turner