First of all, thank you for the packaged love that you sent the other day. I love you! I don't just love you because you sent me a package, but it certainly was a great reminder of all the reasons why I love you. I loved getting the notes and the old pictures. I also love the coat. it is perfect! It is coming in very handy with these cold days. So far, I've just been wearing the liner. I'm sure i'll add the other layer in a few more weeks. And yes, I am planning on being here for a few more weeks. If you're praying that I get my visa, please stop. I love it here! Please pray that everything will happen according to the established timeline of the Lord. (I'm hoping that timeline allows me to taste some Thanksgiving pie before I head south.)
This week has been kind of a roller coaster between having our area doubled in size and going on exchanges. Remember, Elder Stechnij and Elder Colligan are zone leaders, so I get to experience all of the fun things (and tedious things) of that assignment. Our area originally included South Parkersburg and Belpre, OH. On Monday we found out that the sister missionaries in North Parkersburg would be transferred to Charleston until the end of November for health reasons. That means that we were assigned to take over the northern part of the ward as well. That's a lot of ground to cover!
On Tuesday, we went to go visit one of the investigators that the North Parkersburg sisters were teaching previously. It seems that he has been trying to avoid us. I really don't know why. He was planning on getting baptized, but seems afraid of talking to us for some reason. Anyway, we knocked on his door and no one answered. As we were going back to our car, we stopped and talked to his neighbor. She is an older woman who has been going to the Baptist church all of her life. We talked to her for a while about our church and her beliefs. We asked if we could come back and share a message about Jesus Christ. She refused and said that she didn't think that we could teach her anything else about Jesus that she hasn't already heard from her preachers. We ended our conversation with her, got in our car, and drove off. As I was sitting there thinking about the experience, I got really frustrated with myself. I let her tell me that I had nothing else to bless her with. This was totally false. Over the next several days, I thought of all of the wonderful things that we know about the Savior in our Church. We have the Book of Mormon. That alone is marvelous. The Book of Mormon is not offensive, antagonistic, or harmful to anyone's faith. It upholds, exalts, and enriches the Bible. It speaks in harmony with the Bible's teachings. it speaks in correspondence with the Bible to support the testimony of Jesus Christ as our Redeemer. It further develops the understanding that we have of the love of God. He loves all people everywhere. He seeks to lead all people to the pure and only source of joy in this life, Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon helps us to understand the plan for our salvation made possible through Jesus Christ. He is the only way or means whereby salvation cometh. The Book of Mormon is powerful as it invites the Spirit into our hearts. Any person who can call himself a Christian should be overjoyed and desirous to read the Book of Mormon so that they can add to their testimony of the Savior and their faith in His power.
Later on Tuesday, Elder Colligan and I traveled to Marietta, OH to exchange with the elders there. It was a long evening. They haven't been able to find any people who want to listen to their message, but it is probably because they haven't been doing it very effectively. We spent the evening calling and contacting people who had been interested in talking to the missionaries. It was tedious, but we did teach one woman who has clearly been prepared to receive the gospel message. She was asking questions about life and Christ that are clearly answered by the Book of Mormon and modern revelation. One interesting thing that she said is that some different churches frown on people having an experience where they feel the presence of God. They also tell people that some questions cannot be answered. We teach the exact opposite. We tell all people to seek out a spiritual experience through prayer so that they can receive answers to their questions. Prayer is a communication tool to be used between God and man. We declare that every man and woman has the divine right, as a child of Almighty God, to receive a spiritual witness of the truth as a guide in this life. We invite all people to ponder about our message and then to ask Heavenly Father in faith, in the name of Jesus Christ, if what we teach is true. We do so with confidence because we know that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and God has a prophet on the earth today to lead and direct His people.
Wednesday morning, we woke up in Marietta and got a call from Elder Stechnij saying that we would switch back to our normal areas earlier than planned. That meant that we had to choose one name from a list of several people who we would go visit. I suggested that we pray together and ask Heavenly Father who we should visit. After the prayer, all of us had the same name on our minds. When we looked at her information, we found that she was 20 miles away in Waterford, OH. That seemed a long way to go to try to track down one person. Still, we decided that we would follow the inspiration that we had received. We drove for quite a while through some winding (and pretty) country roads in order to get there. Once we got there, we knocked on her door. No answer. We knocked on her neighbors' doors. No answers. We knocked on her door again. No one. Nada. Zilch. Why had we been directed to this place? It was confusing and a little concerning. We loaded back into the car and drove back to Parkersburg. After talking with Elder Colligan and thinking about it for a while, I decided that God had his reasons. Was he testing us. Had we avoided a major accident on the road. Was it a tender mercy just to drive past scenic and picturesque Ohio? Was it a combination of all of these? I am not really sure. What I have determined, though, is that I know in whom I have put my trust. I know the power of prayer and receiving answers. I will not be shaken. We were all guided in our thoughts to go to Waterford. If anything, I hope that I have shown to God that I will do whatever He commands me. It may seem illogical and unreasonable, but i trust Him. I hope that He can trust me.
Thrusday, I went with Elder Stechnij to Ravenswood on exchange. What a fun experience! This was a small town in which everyone knew the missionaries. Those that actually like he missionary refer to them as "the boys". Fun trivia for you, Dad, Ravenswood has the highest number of churches per capita of any town in the US. We got to visit several kind and sincere people while we were there. We went to go visit a man recovering in a nursing home. When we walked out, we walked past an old guy who said, "Hey, you've never come to visit me before." He was not a member of the Church; He was just a kind old man who felt slightly left out that "the boys" had never stopped by to talk to him before. What a great place!
Friday, we finished the exchange with Ravenswood, but we had to go down to Winfield/Teays Valley so that Elder Stechnij could do a baptismal interview for someone down there. It was a long drive. I was in the back seat and Elder Colligan and Elder Stechnij were in the front talking to each other. I don't know why, but I was feeling kind of low. I was feeling bad for myself. I tried to read the scriptures to cheer me up, but I wasn't really paying attention to them. On the the long ride back, I tried to sleep, but I was mostly just consumed with feeling sorry for myself. That's when I started blaming others in my head and thinking that everyone else should be trying to cheer me up. Then the Spirit came into my head and chastened me. I was being the natural man. The natural man is when we feel entitled to people serving us. In contrast, Christ's character is to turn outward despite opposition. Well, I tried to be cheerful. It wasn't coming. That night, I felt impressed to pray out loud. I went into our study area and prayed out loud. I cannot describe the peace that I felt. The Spirit helped me see the ways that I could change in order to serve those around me better. I feel such gratitude for prayer. It is a real and vital source of strength and connection with God. He is real. He is there for us, ever watchful and ever mindful.
Saturday was baptism day. We went to go visit Tina early in the day because she said that she was kind of nervous on Friday. When we got there, she was happy as could be. She said that she had been listening to John Denver's "Sunshine on my Shoulder" when the sunlight had come through her window and she knew that she had to be baptized. She is so sincere and sweet. She was baptized that night by Elder Colligan. On Sunday, Elder Stechnij confirmed her. It was a wonderful experience, and she was clearly delighted. She was also very happy because the Primary Presentation was on Sunday. She loved listening to the children sing. So did I.
Life is great. Life is beautiful. My life is a gift, my life has a plan. My life has a purpose, in heaven it began. THere is so much joy in the gospel. I feel that joy every day, and I hope that you do, too. I love you!
Love, Elder Parker Ayer