Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas in Norway 2013

What an amazing time of Christmas it was here in Norway!!  This past week, the work was so slow because absolutely no one goes outside!  We were able to spend much time with the members - welcoming the Spirit in many different activities!  We sang carols one night in city Sentrum and passed out Books of Mormon.  We opened gifts and had many delicious dinners with families!

My absolute favorite part of it all, though, was the time I got to Skype with my family!  I was able to see my parents and siblings on the screen!  It was so nice to feel like I picked up right where I left off with them, but only with a few hundred more spiritual experiences that have shaped me in the last year.  I feel that this time has been the best time of growth for me and that this has been the perfect time for me to serve as a missionary.  I would not have been able to receive so many insights on life and myself, had I not chosen to serve a mission as a 22-24 year old.  I absolutely love the time I have here to serve, and it will only continue to grow.

This past Sunday, we received a moves call and found out that my companion will be moving to Trondheim to be with my old MTC companion, Elder Skinner!  He is going to have an amazing time with Elder Skinner - he was one of my favorites and continues to be!  I'm a little jealous of the companionship - 2 of my favorite missionaries combined!  I will be receiving a companion, Elder Lane, from Arizona.  I have met Elder Lane one time and I remember him telling me something to the effect that I was 'as old as his brother' (I typically get that).  However,  I understand more and more WHY I am here at such a point in time.  As an older missionary, I realize the importance I have to 'be an example'.  Our mission is extremely young.  At one point, over 60% of missionaries here had been out for less than 6 months.  It is extremely important to set the tone for these guys and to expect that we can achieve special things here on this mission.  Miracles will be had.

This past Saturday, we had a Zone Conference where we talked about the upcoming 2014.  We talked about the goals we expect to accomplish and what we need to do in order to accomplish them.  Sister Evans taught us about the importance of setting goals.  It has been something that has always driven me.  I always want to accomplish something that will allow me to feel satisfied.  It is through goals that allow us to stretch and reach for something greater than what we achieve.  She pointed something out that has really stuck with me in the past several days: 'When we set goals and work to achieve them - we also need to be willing to suffer through whatever it takes in order to accomplish that goal.'  I immediately began to think about goals I have once pondered on in the past.  There was a point that I was not willing to suffer everything in order to come on a mission.  I always knew that rejection, to the extent that we face here on this mission would be a part of my experience.  As I began to experience the miracles that God performed around me at the time, I decided to serve a mission - it empowered me to be where I am today.

I face another year of the unexpected here on the mission.  However, with my willingness to suffer through whatever is laid before me, I know that I get to understand a little more of the compassion that Jesus Christ has for each one of us.  I know that He has suffered everything we have gone through in this life.  I know that He allows us to trust in Him in order to reach higher goals, even those that we never even knew we could accomplish.  It is always through our faith that our Heavenly Father blesses us.  I know that miracles are brought to pass according to our faith.  I know that He will always help us walk by faith when we do all that we can do.  I know that He is the head of this work and that we can experience the blessings He has in store for us when we really trust in Him!

I hope everyone has an amazing end to 2013!  2014 is a new beginning to put things in the past and to move forward!  I hope this New Year brings so many more blessings to everyone!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013!

Hello everyone!!

I am so grateful to write a little note this week.  I am so excited to Skype my family on Wednesday!  I can't think of a better Christmas present than to just be able to talk with my family!  I miss them a ton and I continue to be grateful for them in every way that they've shaped my life.  I always see different things and knew that my Heavenly Father hand-picked my family for me.  He continues to do so with the new additions that we have to my amazing family!  Little niece and another on the way!  My in-law's - I can't remember what our family was like without them as part of our family.  I am filled with so much gratitude that I get to be part of an amazing group of people.

This past week I was brought to remembrance the struggles that I had several years ago.  As a kid, I had always dreamed that I would go to BYU and leave on a mission at the age of 19.  After never being accepted to attend BYU or the University of Illinois, many of my plans changed and sent me on a different path.  I was quite literally scrambling to find my way and my future.  My expectations on life had changed.  I faced many trials that I eventually was able to overcome with faith.

Today, I am an Illinois State University graduate with a Bachelor's in Finance.  Overall, I was denied from the University of Illinois 3 times and BYU 3 times.  The last option I really felt for myself was to attend Illinois State and I did so grudgingly.  Through an experience I had, there was a professor that ended up teaching a Leadership class where I was accepted.  The same teacher, Dr. Ringer, invited me to 'come to church'.  I was lost and tried to find my own way, but as this man invited me to come to church it changed my whole life.  I recognized that there is a loving Heavenly Father, through all my weaknesses, He still calls us to do His work.  I came to know from that specific experience, Heavenly Father knows us.  He knows what we will choose.  He knows how to teach us.  In my own learning, I learned that I was supposed to be called on this mission at this time.

There were many people who inspired me to become where I am.  Today, being my 11-month mark on my mission, I am able to recognize the blessings I've had in the past year.  Even more than just the year, He has blessed my entire life.  He hand-picked my family and allowed me to have the experiences that were necessary for me to grow.

My favorite investigator has come to know of this knowledge.  This past week she shared with us a story that she had.  When she was alone and in a dark place in her life, she turned to the only person she could, our Heavenly Father.  She prayed for help.  She said that He answered her prayers and told her how strong He was.  She explained Him as solid as the cement ground - immovable.  I then shared with her the scripture in Helaman 5:12 - quite possibly my favorite scripture in the Book of Mormon.

When we build our foundation on Christ, the greatest gift that God has given us, we are able to stand immovable.  This investigator has come to know that through her experience.  I have come to know that through my experiences.  I know that there is a Heavenly Father who knows us individually.  We are all imperfect, but He has given us the Savior Jesus Christ to help us overcome our imperfections and to be lifted to a high plane of thought and understanding.

I am so grateful this season for Jesus Christ.  I am grateful for my family and the foundation that they laid for me.  I know that Heavenly Father knows us all individually and that He only wants us to be as happy as we allow ourselves to be.  When we allow our lives to be filled with the grace of Jesus Christ, I know we can become happier than we've ever imagined.

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas!!!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Knowing Our Heavenly Father

Hello everyone!!

This week has been another special one!  Yesterday I was able to see the first baptism on my mission and to add to it - I was able to participate in the Confirmation!  I am grateful to know of the knowledge we have that Confirmation is performed by laying on of hands - as it is spoken of in the Bible.  It has been something that has strengthened my understanding since I have been on a mission.

This past week was pretty special with an experience that my companion and I were able to have.  There is a couple that we have been visiting once a week for the past few weeks - the husband is member (less-active) and the wife was once a foreign-exchange student in Utah.  They have, in their home, The Family Proclamation and The Living Christ documents framed and sitting on a book shelf.  The couple is very much into black-metal and going to concerts like that.  It has been so awesome to teach them!  They have felt that there are some people who don't entirely accept them.  Judging others is something that occurs, but of course is not something we are taught.  Of course we are all imperfect, but we all need to be patient towards one another.  My companion and I have really been able to connect with this couple - it's been absolutely incredible!

Since we have been meeting with them, we have been showing them our desire to get to know them as individuals and not just as people you go in and immediately ask to be baptized.  This does not work in Norway.  With this couple, we've been able to get to know them for who they are.  We eventually got into speaking about the Restoration and were able to discuss and share our own personal experiences about the Restoration.  When it came towards the end of the lesson, my companion, Elder Stookey, bore a powerful testimony about not being on a mission because it was expected of him but because he knew it was the right thing to do.  Among the things he sacrificed to be here - he is here because he knows that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith is a prophet.  After he shared his testimony - the couple said they both felt goosebumps and thanked him for sharing that with them.  It was powerful.

I have been able to be a part of many powerful moments here on my mission.  It's been the greatest blessing.  I am so happy to feel the Spirit and bear testimony of it!  To add to it - one of our favorite investigators had her 40th birthday and told us that she had brought her Book of Mormon with her on her trip to Oslo.  She also said that she was grateful to come to know about the Mormon church!  This past week we asked her who her Heavenly Father is to her.  She, not coming from a religious background, told us that she knew Heavenly Father was a loving person.  He knows us and our struggles, and he knows what is best for us.  He doesn't force us to do anything that we don't want to do but that he allows us to choose for ourselves.  I wasn't entirely surprised by her answer, but I too have the same knowledge that she explained.  I know our Heavenly Father is person who loves us and knows us, He knows how to help us succeed, and He wants us to succeed.  He will not force us to do anything to choose His path, but He gives us the opportunity to choose for ourselves.

I am so grateful for the knowledge that I have of such a Heavenly Father.  I wish everyone was able to come to know the same thing.  I know it is possible, but I also know it comes from our willingness to find it out for ourselves.  I hope everyone has a great week and desires to continue to find out truths for themselves!

It's almost Christmas where I get to Skype to my family!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Progress in the Area and Snow in Stavanger!

Hello everyone!!

I never really imagined being a missionary who is nearly one year out on a mission.  I'm almost at the peak of the mountain and coming down the other side.  To think about the last 7 weeks I have spent here in Stavanger - I've never been challenged this much in my life.  I came to this area 7 weeks ago with a lot of pressure mounted.  My president told me that I needed to 'bring a fire' to the area.  We had a lot of success in Alta, our area began to take off between the new investigators we were finding and many people whom we met.  My trainee who is still serving there (Elder Hurst from Hawaii, serving like a champ through mørke-tid) has really allowed the area to take off even more.  The people in the area are saying that they don't want the missionaries to leave the area because of the special things that are happening!  It's really cool to be a 'proud parent' in mission talk - when you train a missionary, they become your son.  If you are the second missionary to serve with a missionary on their mission, you are their 'mother'.  So, I am currently a father and a mother in mission-talk.  I am currently mothering a missionary as I serve here in Stavanger again.

However, as I look back on the week - we were able to get a second baptismal date in our area.  We have one for Jan 12 and another for Jan 26.  I have felt that it is better to be bold and extremely loving at the same time.  I have been able to find a balance in the two.  I know that in missionary work, some people may not be willing to change - but there are many people out there who really are seeking for a knowledge of the things we have to share with them.  It's up to us to invite them.  I have a good time inviting people to many different things!

Wednesday we flew to Oslo for Mission Leadership Council, where we come together and discussed where to take the mission moving forward.  It was a very uplifting meeting and I enjoyed being part of that and learning how to continue to help the work go forward.  Of course, the answer to taking missionary work forward is through the members in the ward.  It is our responsibility to find the best matches with members and also help the members become missionaries and invite their friends.  The gospel is a huge blessing to us and we need to continue to help it move forward!

Unfortunately, we had a crazy wind storm on Thursday of this week.  It destroyed our plans of having a great day.  Everything became canceled and we ended up going to a member's for dinner and tried to be most effective with our time.  The next day (Friday), we woke up with about 4 inches of snow!  It never snows in Stavanger!  It only stayed for that day, because the next day there was a ton of rain and all the snow was gone.  Amidst all of that, we were able to get an additional baptismal date.

Next week is looking impressive though!  Our mission president and his wife will be coming to our area to hold a Zone Leader Training meeting.  Fortunately, we don't have to put on a meeting - so it finally gives me a break from having to prepare a lesson!  We also have a baptism in Stavanger coming up next Sunday, the sister missionaries from Sandnes (they took over my old area and are amazing missionaries) have been teaching a young guy from Germany.  He is very special.  I was able to give him his baptismal interview and he passed.  Very awesome guy!

I hope everyone has a great week! The work continues to roll forward!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Christ's Atonement: Physical and Spiritual Healing

Hello everyone!!

This week has been awesome!  We have been able to achieve a lot of great things here in Stavanger so far!  My president initially said that the area was dead - a huge challenge to come in and 'keep the fire burning' that I had kindled up in the North.  So, here we are in Stavanger again and I've been here 5-6 weeks.  The area has been picking up a ton and we have had some awesome miracles!  The one person I would like to focus my writing on this week is a woman we have been teaching for several weeks.  She is a single mother of a 19-year-old son.  She is currently living in Stavanger to study at the university and she seeks to finish her studies.  When the missionaries met her on the street, they were able to get her number.  When I moved back down here I called that number on the first night and got an appointment for the next day!

That next day, she was brought to tears.  She was sharing experiences she had had of praying to Heavenly Father and receiving strength through Christ.  Her health had been slipping at one point.  She did not grow up in a religious home, but thought to pray as she was struggling with her health.  Ever since that day, she says her health has gradually increased.  She said that when she prayed, she felt hands on her shoulders - helping her receive strength to endure.  She has experienced the grace and mercy of Christ's Atonement, which heals us physically and spiritually.  From that experience we've been able to share with her the message we teach.  We've had many members involved in the teach and she loves to sit and discuss the gospel with the members.  After a few weeks, she decided she wanted to come to church.  On her first church meeting, she was touched by the Spirit and was brought to tears.  This past week we had a fast and testimony meeting in church and I was told she was crying throughout the meeting.

My most favorite thing about this woman is when she comes into the church, she has the biggest smile!  She feels the love of the Savior as she walks into the church and sees the pictures of Christ.  This past Saturday, she attended a Super Saturday activity that was put on by the Relief Society.  I walked into the gym during the activity and she was beaming!  She came up to me and told me about the activity, that they had been doing yoga, watched a spiritual movie, and then were going to be doing crafts.  She was so excited about the new friends that she had made!  It was amazing to see the love and joy that she had.  She doesn't stop smiling and saying 'eg e heldig!' - I am lucky!

It is a huge blessing to be able to teach this woman, and every person we are able to teach.  The members in this ward are absolutely incredible.  The Spirit that is present at these meetings is so fulfilling!  I am so grateful to be a missionary and to be able to meet these special people in Stavanger, Norway!

I hope everyone has an excellent week!