Monday, April 25, 2011

The Easter Bunny Visits Missionaries Too (April 25, 2011)

Happy Easter everyone!

We had another great week, nothing different there. Yesterday was Easter and we had a Surprise visit from the Easter Bunny! Elder Angelos and I went to the store a few days ago and bought a bunch of eggs, candy and little gifts for the other Elders in the apartment. The first picture is of Elders Custance, Ward, Cava and Johnson with their Easter "baskets." The second picture is of all of us, about 7 am on Easter morning with our spoils after the search was over. We found something for everyone. Elder Custance got his favorite hair gel, Elder Johnson got Eggo waffles, Elder Ward got Fruity Pebbles, and Elder Cava got a bottle of his favorite chili sauce. We even had a special golden egg that we hid, and whoever found that egg won the grand prize, a king-size Hershey's Cookies and Cream bar. Elder Cava found the golden egg and was pretty excited. Not bad for his first Easter egg hunt. Elder Ward finally got his new bike in the mail and while he was putting it together, Elder Johnson, myself and Elder Angelos used the box as a bobsled. There's a pretty funny sequence of pictures of us as if we're on an actual bobsled run, including a crash. You'll see those when I send the memory card home. The last picture is of our house Rule Board. We've picked some rules that we want to improve on as an overall house. Everyone has a dish night and trash night. Should anyone violate a rule, there are punishments affixed, as identified by the tally boxes at the bottom of the chart. Oh yes, we have fun.

Elder Angelos and I had a good Easter Sunday. The wards did great programs and had good speakers. We were invited to dinner a the Wagher's home in the West Point ward and had a blast. They had family in town and it reminded me a lot of holidays back with grandma and grandpa. We mostly told stories to the teenagers about our missions, and then their family gave us a each a giant Easter egg filled with candy. We didn't stay too long, but we were very grateful for their kindness. Elder Angelos and I spent the evening street contacting because we didn't feel like knocking doors on Easter Sunday. We went back into El Mirage, the ghetto part of our area and just walked the streets and talked to people. It's a pretty sketchy area. Lots of trashy yards, bars on houses, dogs in the streets, shady allies...SO MUCH FUN! There were a lot of families outside together and were very nice to us. We walked down one ally and saw lots of families in back yards who waved to us. We turned to go down another ally and saw a huge pitbull halfway down the ally. No thanks. We met a few drunks and lots of Hispanic families but overall had a good Easter evening. The funniest part was that we forgot where we parked the car...oops. It was very much like the episode of Seinfeld where they wander the parking garage looking for the car. We just laughed as we turned every corner and the truck wasn't there. It started getting dark and we were kind of freaking out. Not in a scared way, but in a humorous way. Yeah it was dark and we were in the sketchiest part of the area, but we were having such a good time and the people were so nice to us, we weren't (too) worried. We eventually found it and by that time it wasn't blue-dark anymore but straight up black-dark.

The work this week has been going very well. As a mission, April was a tough month for finding and baptizing. As a zone we wanted to step it up and focus more of our meetings and trainings on living our purpose as missionaries by inviting to baptism. In just a week we've already seen a huge change. From last week to this week, our number of baptismal dates in the zone has DOUBLED. That was a very good thing to see, and President Beck's pretty happy with it. This week we have a zone leader council (tomorrow), leadership training (Wednesday) and a specialized training on Friday with half the mission meeting in the morning, and the other half immediately after the morning session. It's going to be a long week for meetings, but I see good things coming. The meetings' focuses will be on living our purpose as missionaries and extending baptismal invitations. We'll learn more as zone leaders tomorrow, and in turn will pass it to district leaders on Wednesday, then to the rest of the mission of Friday. President really wants to make sure that we all get the water to end of the row on this one. Already our zone has a projected 19 baptismal dates for the month of May, and the zone record is 20. Elder Angelos said that before President Beck goes home, we want to break that record. May is looking very promising!

I went on two exchanges this week. The first was with Elder Cava in his ward. He totally took the wheel and stepped it up. We had a great day together and got a lot of work done. I bet we spent an upwards of 6 hours tracting, which makes for a long day. It went by really fast, though. We met a ton of people. One guy tried tearing us apart with bashing, and it didn't go so well for him. We didn't fight back at all. It was just pure doctrine and testimony the whole time. I really admired Elder Cava's patience with him and his sincere testimony of the Restoration. I always learn something from Elder Cava about character. He's a wonderful example of patient service and humility. The other exchange was with Elder Tripp, one of the Assistants to the President. The AP's are in our zone, so I wasn't really sure who was the senior companion here. Elder Tripp said that since we were in the zone leaders' area, the zone leader was the senior companion. Elder Tripp and I had a great day together. We had meetings in the morning and a whole lot of tracting in the afternoon. We went into El Mirage, the ghetto part of mine and Elder Angelos' area that I referred to earlier. Very humble people. It was cool because of all the houses we knocked, every single door was opened except one. That's never happened before! We picked up a new investigator and three potentials. Such a good afternoon. We had lots of chances to talk and share thoughts about being in leadership. We both learned a lot from one another. Elder Tripp suggested that even though I'm a young zone leader I should expect to strap in and get to work, because I may be in Surprise for a while (there's been strings of zone leaders who have been here for up to 11 months...just saying...). Who knows. I figure that as long as I'm doing what I need to be doing, the Lord will put me where He needs me.

So last week I mentioned that we were having dinner at Bishop McLaw's home with Jeff and Marcy. It went SO well, better than we could have planned it. Turns out that Marcy and Sis. McLaws' families are family friends. They both grew up knowing each other. Friends that Bishop McLaws had in the neighborhood were siblings to friends that Jeff had growing up (Bishop McLaws is a very young bishop, young 30's). It was a very "small world" dinner. Sadly, nobody knew anyone from Washington or Ohio, so Elder Angelos and I were kind of left out. It happens. We tried pulling Bishop aside to see if he would do a fmaily home evening thought on receiving answers to prayers, something we knew that Jeff was trying to understand. We never got to talk to him and then we started family home evening. Bishop proceeded to talk about, you guessed it, receinving answers to prayers. Can you say inspired? It was a short lesson (due to the McLaws' kids' attention span) but very powerful. You could see that Jeff and Marcy enjoyed it.

Saturday's lately are my favorite days, because they always seem to be the days where we have the most spiritual experiences. With that introduction, we met with Jeff and Marcy again on Saturday night. They invited us over for dinner before the lesson, which we gladly accepted. The first thing I noticed on the wall was that painting of the Salt Lake Temple which I love. Mom, you know which one I'm talking about, the one with the close up of the temple and the bright red leaves in the foreground? Marcy's parents gave that to them as a gift. I think it's a perfect addition to their home, and a great motivator to apply the gospel into their homes. After dinner we started the lesson on the Plan of Salvation. We switched things up a little bit and halfway through the lesson we transitioned from the Atonement to how we apply the Atonement into our lives...and invited him to be baptized. There was a long pause until Jeff said, "Wow, you guys really brought the hammer down on that one." More pause... Jeff said, "I think that it would be nice to have that clean slate, yes, I would like to be baptized." He had a lot of questions about what he had to know, because he feels like he doesn't know anything. We told him how our role as misisonaries was to be those guides to help him prepare to follow the example of Jesus Christ by being baptized. We promised him that we would help him prepare, and invited him to be baptized on May 21. Elder Angelos said, "Jeff, will you prepare yourself to be baptized on that date?" Jeff immediately responded "Absolutely." The Spirit was very strong in the room for the rest of the evening. We kept it there by ending with a quick prayer and then by heading home. We saw them the next day at church and they were very happy to see us. I'm so excited for Jeff, and so is the ward. Lots of work to come, I'll be sure to keep you posted.

Life is good in Surprise, Arizona! It's going to be a busy week but busy is good. I wouldn't have it any other way. I hope everyone at home had a good Easter weekend. While I'm certainly grateful for egg hunts, Cadbury Eggs and coconut jellybean nests, I've been reflecting more on the Atonement and Resurrection of the Savior. Lately I've been studying in Acts and I've been loving it, particularly chapters 3-10. The apostles all are witnesses of the Resurrected Savior and were commanded to teach the nations. Their experiences have motivated my efforts to better represent the Lord in my missionary efforts. I wish I could go into more detail but I'm out of time. I love you all and hope you know that I'm having the time of my life in the service of the Lord. Write back soon, take care and be good.

Much love,
Elder Eric James Turner

"Easter" baskets in hand

Easter Morning!

Bobsled team ready for the push

Flying down the bobsled track

The RULE board 

Monday, April 18, 2011

We Have A Dinner Tonight! (April 18, 2011)

Hey everyone!
It's been another great week in the APM! We've got a few extra pictures in this week's email. The first is of myself and Elder Angelos with some epic planning. On Wednesday we had a zone conference and took a lot of pictures of the ride there, so that's the whole house in the truck. At zone conference we got to see Elder Bennett, and Elder Johnson and I had to get a picture with him. It's Johnson, me and Bennett in that picture from left to right. If we had Elder Buttars there too that would have been the whole MTC gang together. We haven't been together as the four of us since September when we had an all mission conference. The pictures of the cake were something special for Elder Custance. He hit his 18-month mark of his mission this week, so Elder Angelos and I made him a cake with the words "Hap 18" and "CTR" underneath it. He had no idea that we all knew his month mark and it made for a pretty good surprise party at the end of the day. The last picture is of a Batman I found tracting while I was back in Avondale. I got a little creative in my personal study one morning and made him a title of liberty. So yup, those are the pics for the week!
We've had another one of those "work really hard but the numbers don't show for it" kind of weeks. Elder Angelos and I have been working our tails off, but we still seem to come up a little short. Jacqueline's still struggling with smoking and a lot of other things that are hitting her family. It's been really hard for her. We've been trying to get her to come to church but she hasn't been putting forth the effort. We still meet with her twice a week and we have another appointment on Tuesday with her. Last night we stopped by Tom, a gentleman we met last week and to whom we gave a Book of Mormon. He said he had heard stuff about the church but wanted to read it himself. Last night when we followed up with him, he had read something like thirty pages and was very interested in what he had read. He wanted to keep reading and said that he appreciates it when we stop by, so we're keeping track of him and his reading. John wasn't home, and we found out his mother passed away. We were planning on teaching the Plan of Salvation anyways, so we'll give him some time and we'll try again. The toughest lesson this week was with the Para's. Their 14 year old son loves meeting with us and loves church, and so the mom wanted to sit in on the lesson. On Wednesday night I went on splits with one of the priests in the ward to go teach her...oh boy was it rough. As soon as we sat down she started tearing into us about the Book of Mormon and the Prophet Joseph Smith. Long story short, she thinks we worship prophets and don't worship Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth. I lovingly corrected her and tried to teach her pure doctrine but she just wouldn't listen. She kept asking the same questions over and over again and when I gave her the answer, it wasn't good enough for her. She wanted me to say that I was wrong. I wasn't about to let that happen. She just. wouldn't. listen. It was so frustrating! She wouldn't accept the Book of Mormon because her "research" tells her that it's only a story of the Prophet Joseph Smith's life.  We did the best we could to help her understand that she had to read for herself. She kept yelling at me saying that we, quote, worshipped a sinner more than Christ. Her son totally stepped it up and said, "Mom, you're wrong, and you haven't even read the Book of Mormon." Best timing ever. After another half hour of going around in circles of her ignorant comments and misconceptions, she finally committed to read a chapter from the Book of Mormon to know for herself. It was just very frustrating. What made it even worse was that Elder Angelos told me that missionaries in the past have taught her that same principle three times already. We'll be following up this week, I just hope she actually read and prayed. Gotta have faith.
Despite the experience I had with Sis. Para, we had another incredible lesson on Saturday night. Last week we received a referral from Elders over in South Phoenix. A family over there wanted missionaries to check up on their daughter and husband who recently moved into the West Point Ward. Marcy and Jeff are there names, and Jeff really wanted to meet with the missionaries. We went by on Saturday night to go introduce ourselves. Marcy answered the door and looked shocked. She invited us inside and sat us down. The reason why she was so shocked was that she hadn't been to church in years, but when we knocked on the door she had just sat down the reading the Book of Mormon. Jeff eventually came out in the room to meet us and we all hit it off great. Marcy fell away from the church in her teenage years and wanted to come back. Jeff wanted to meet missionaries and to learn more about the church. We asked him what he wanted to learn. His response was, "Everything. Start at the beginning." As we started with the Restoration you could feel the Spirit grow stronger and stronger in the room. Everything made sense to him. Marcy left the room here and there to take care of their daughter, but you could tell she was still listening intently. Before we could even invite Jeff to pray at the end of the lesson, he asked us how to pray! We took the time to teach him how to pray and he said he'd try it. Marcy came back into the room for the closing prayer and I asked if we could kneel. We did, and Jeff looked really nervous trying to pray. He started a simple prayer, but you could feel the Spirit so strongly in the room as he poured out his soul, asking to know if what we were teaching was true. You could see the tears in his eyes, and Marcy's too, as we stood up to wrap up our lesson with them. As we left, we set up another appointment for Tuesday night with them. While shaking my hand Jeff told us, "You guys are welcome in our home at any time." It was such a great lesson. What made it better was that last night we went to go see Bishop McLaws of the West Point ward to tell him about the lesson. Come to find out that Sis. McLaws is family friends with Marcy's family! Almost instantly Bishop McLaws said, "Let's have 'em over for dinner and Family Home Evening tomorrow night! Elders, what's their number?" We gave him Jeff's phone number and he called them on the spot to invite them. You could hear Jeff on the other end with an excited tone in his voice as he said, "That would be great!" It just makes me so happy to see how this will all unfold. Not only do we have dinner tonight, but they volunteered to invite Jeff and Marcy over too. It's just so perfect. Tonight is going to be great and I can't wait. I will definitely keep you posted on that in next week's email.
You know, we have all of these bummer things that happen, appointments falling through and whatnot, but it's just the little things that make the mission experience worthwhile. Spending an hour inside the home of a young family may not seem that glamorous to many people. But with the Spirit as strong as it was, it's safe to say that it was the best hour of my week. I love you all and pray for your well-being. Keep in touch and write back soon, I love hearing from everyone. Until next week, take care and be good.
Much love,
Elder Eric James Turner
With Elder Angelos, hard at work planning

A truckload of missionaries headed to zone conference

Mini-reunion from the MTC

I'll pass on the cake.....

Batman....and the Title of Liberty

Monday, April 11, 2011

From 106 to 44 in Three Days (April 11, 2011)

Hey everyone!

DID I HEAR RIGHT THAT SPENCER BRAME IS COMING TO THE APM??! That's awesome! Someone find him, give him my email/writing address and have him get a hold of me. I want to let him know how awesome it is down here. I'll just get this out of the way, since Spencer's going to be here in the middle of July, yes, it will be hot. No way around it, pal. Love it and get to work. Can't wait to see you here Elder Brame!

The first two pictures are of a reoccurring problem in the Surprise House. The toilet in mine and Angelos' room keeps clogging (thanks to Angelos...). The pictures here are probably the third or fourth time it has been clogged since I was transferred in to the house. I give it another two days before it clogs again.

Toilet humor aside, we had a pretty awesome week. Elder Angelos and I have been working really hard, particularly with Jacqueline. She's really struggling with quitting smoking. Last Tuesday I went with Bro. Housari, the West Point ward mission leader to go see her. I told her that by the end of the lesson I was going to take her cigarettes from her. We shared a great lesson and then I asked (for the first time in my life), "You got some cigarettes for me?" She went and got the pack she bought that morning and gave them to me. I asked if she had anything else, ash trays, more packs, lighters, anything. She said she had a lighter, and I told her to give that to me too. We were really proud of her. Needless to say the other Elders were pretty confused as to why I came home with a pack of cigarettes. We went outside and trashed 'em. Since then Jacqueline hasn't been buying any cigarettes, but she's been bumming them off of coworkers and her sons. Ugh. A couple days ago, Elder Angelos and I made special cigarettes for Jacqueline, which were a bunch of scriptures and quotes written on slips on paper and rolled up to look like a cigarette. Whenever she had the urge to smoke, she had to call us and unroll one of the "cigarettes" and tell us what it said. Then she had to go and do what it said. She thought it was very creative and she really liked it. Unfortunately, she didn't come to church yesterday. Elder Angelos and I are still pretty upset about it. Plus, she hasn't called us at all, so we're a little skeptical about that too. I don't want to be, but I've heard that smoking is the toughest addiction to quit, and I'm just concerned for her. I know she can do it because I saw Stephanie do it back in Garden Lakes. We pray for her a lot and we're in frequent daily contact with her too. The bishop in West Point invited us and her to their house for dinner tonight. I'm really looking forward to that.

Today we had a volleyball tournament for a zone activity. All of the missionaries in Surprise and Peoria North got together and we set up a tournament. It was pretty crazy with a bunch of people who hardly play volleyball. Sorry dad, our team lost our only two games and were eliminated. Fail. We had a blast though. Also, sorry for the various times that emails have been sent to you guys. The house is pretty go with the flow when it comes to P-Day, so emails become kind of a "whenever sounds good" kind of deal. Personally I like emailing and shopping in the morning so we have the whole afternoon to do what we want. But hey, no worries, it's P-Day so why complain?

I have to tell you all about the coolest experience I had in a lesson this week. So there's a man named John who was referred to us by the Spanish missionaries. He's probably in his 60's or so. The first time we went by was about three weeks ago with Brenton Beals, a guy who lives in the Copper Canyon ward. Brenton's been home from his mission for a few years and loves going on splits with us. We use him every Saturday night, and he's amazing. He can get along with anyone, regardless of age or interest. He's very intelligent when it comes to the scriptures, so it's always good to have him with us. Anywho, back to John. The first time we went by he asked us a bunch of questions about the Bible, questions we knew that he already knew the answer too. It was kind of a boring lesson that night. We saw him again on Saturday night and boy was it intense. We knew he would have more Bible trivia questions for us, but our goal was to teach the Restoration. John lets us in and sits us down, and begins asking more questions about the Bible, particularly about the book of Revelations, which I know hardly anything about. The questions he was asking were honestly kind of pathetic. I won't go into too great of detail about that discussion, he tried throwing out government insults, all that stuff. It was weird.

At one point he asked about a statue made of different metals. It was right then I lost track of what he was saying, not because of him, but because of something else I heard. In my head I heard something say to me, "Daniel." I thought that was weird, but as I kept thinking I could vividly see a certain picture in my gospel art book. The picture is one Daniel interpreting Nebachudnezzar's dream of a statue made of different types of metals. I kind of knew the story, but I had no idea why this came into my mind. I asked John if he was referring to Nebachudnezzar's dream in the book of Daniel in the old testament, but he kept trying to say it was in Revelations. I have no idea if this is actually in Revelations, but I said, "John, let's open up to Daniel." I still had no idea why I was going to Daniel, but it just felt right...more right than anything I could think of. I opened up to Daniel chapter 2 and was shocked at what I saw. It was the story of Daniel interpreting the dream, and in my margins I saw that I had previously written what each of the metals in the statue represented. I felt this ruch in my body followed by an immediate sense of peace that seemed to say, "Go for it, Elder. Teach." I told him that each of the metals were a certain government that would eventually rule in Biblical history, starting with Nebachudnezzar and Babylon, then Persia, Greece and Rome. John was pretty satisfied with that answer, being the history buff he is. Looking across the page, I saw what what was stronger the statue. It was the stone cut out of the mountain without hands: the fulness of the gospel. I told John that the fulness of the Gospel was on the earth. He didn't have to worry aobut governments or worldly worries, because Christ's true church has been restored. John paused for a moment and said, "Tell me more."     Begin Restoration.

I couldn't believe what had happened. Elder Angelos and Brenton just looked at me with a "How did you do that" kind of look. I know that the Holy Ghost was leading me to that Old Testament account of the fulness of the gospel. It had to be. I hardly know the Old Testament at all, what else could have painted that picture so clearly in my mind? The rest of the lesson was difficult, but incredible. It was easily the best lesson we've ever had. He had so many questions, and tried using so many scriptures to prove the doctrine wrong. We put his scriptures back into context and used more scriptures to clarify his confusion. He agreed with everything we taught. By the end of the lesson he was writing down the scriptures we had used because he hadn't read those before. We told him about the Book of Mormon and he stopped us saying, "Wait, there were actually people who were here anciently who believed in Christ?" We told him yes, and he responded, "I want to read that book." We eventually left his home and came back to the house. Elder Angelos and Brenton kept asking me where that came from. We all knew the answer, but it was so powerful to actually see it in action. I've heard about all of these missionaries who tell stories about the Holy Ghost guiding them in lessons so that they know exactly what to say. I now know what that is like. Teaching by the Spirit is the only effective way to teach. I'm looking forward to seeing John again on Saturday.

I hope you all are doing well at home. I love hearing from you all. Please don't worry about me down here, things are great. Elder Angelos and I are tearing it up down in Surprise. Write back soon. Take care and be good.

Much love,
Elder Eric James Turner

Monday, April 4, 2011

More Conference Please (April 4, 2011)

Hey everyone!
It's been another good week down here in Surprise. On Tuesday we had a Zone Leader Council, which is always the last week of the month. The zone leaders all get together at President and Sister Beck's house and, in a nutshell, set goals and address other concerns of the mission. We all met at President's house at about 6:30 for a light breakfast and then a hike up Sunrise Mountain. President Beck led the way and stopped every so often to use the sights as object lessons for teaching various principles of the Gospel to us. The picture I've attached is of me and Elder Angelos on the top of the mountain with Surprise WAY off in the distance. The rest of the council went pretty well, I had hardly any idea of what was going on, so it was mostly a lot of smiling and nodding. It's coming though, step by step.
With Elder Angelos on Sunrise Mountain
Elder Angelos and I have been keeping busy, that's for sure. We've been working with a few people in particular, Jacqueline, Greg, and the Nez Family. Jacqueline gets better every time we see her. She's so set to quit smoking, she just needs to take that leap and start. She keeps saying, "Tomorrow" but that's not going to work. She's set a goal for a day to start, and she says she wants to be baptized by Easter. We said we'd be there every step of the way. The Nez family is pretty cool. They're Navajo and love it when we come visit. Bro. Nez really wants to be baptized but there's still lots of things we need teach to help him be ready. Greg is pretty awesome, he really wants to learn. When we told him about general conference he said that he wanted to go. Oh, he went. He went to every session except Sunday afternoon (something came up). Four out of five sessions?! Awesome! We took him to Saturday morning and gave him a pen and paper just in case. Every session he went to, he took notes. When we were driving back he told us about the things he liked about the speakers and some things he had questions about. Greg's holdup is that he has a lot of questions about things that don't entirely have answers. He's very logic based. We still meet with him regularly, and he even ends up answering his own questions in some way that it's no longer a concern to him. He wants to come to church though and we're pretty excited about that. 
General conference was AWESOME! This past week it was all I could think about. The joke among us in the house is we know that these men and women are called of God, because why else would a bunch of twenty and twenty one year olds be so excited to hear a bunch of old guys talk for ten hours? We met at the stake center just by the house and watched the sessions there. I enjoyed so many talks I could hardly just pick one as my favorite. I enjoyed the Priesthood session as a whole, because most of the talks focused primarily on the Priesthood and the service that pertains to it. President Monson was pretty bold in his talk. He got the points across. I also liked his points in his Sunday morning talk about the importance of the temple, particularly his charge to the youth to take as many opportunities to go to the temple, even early in the morning before school. What a great idea! There was an Elder of the 70 who focused on the "Do's" and "Be's" of our lives, which I appreciated. Elder Scott's talk on marriage and family touched me more emotionally than anything else. When he started talking about comforting his son with his illnesses, I was in tears. It was such a beautiful talk on the application of Christlike attributes to strengthen marriage and family relationships. Elder Nelson was rather bold in his statement that the Gospel is not a "Cafeteria approach" to obedience to the commandments. We shouldn't have to choose which of the commandments we want to obey because one may appeal to our interests more than another. God gives us commandments, and we obey. It's that simple. Dad I love how you mentioned to me that you like Pres. Uchtdorf's reference to the quote about preaching the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words. I heard that from him and I wrote it down so I wouldn't forget it. Very powerful. I'm looking forward to when the Ensign is published so I can read them again. Once the cd's come out too I'll be listening to those as much as I can.
Elder Angelos and I are doing really well together and things are picking up. I'm getting to know people better and the area is getting a little easier to navigate. The air conditioned truck is so nice. It's getting hot again. No bueno. We're still happy and healthy and things are going great. I hope things are going well at home. Write back soon. Take care and be good.
Much love,
Elder Eric James Turner