Monday, December 23, 2013

Feliz Natal!

Dear kin, Kilarney clan, manger mates, and all ya'll,


Wow, you can tell that Christmas is having its effect on me. It's really pathetic when I start laughing at my computer. The other elders think that I'm reading something funny, but I'm under the false impression that I'm writing something funny. Our mission is also being visited on the tenth of January by Elder S. Gifford Nielson, so I'm getting ready with lots of exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (that was 18, Sarah, just for you) Oh boy, time to cool down my overactive Christmas joy jets and talk about the spiritual things that happened this last week.

We got hit with a lot of food this last week. The ward members decided that it was time to chub up the missionaries, so we got some huge boxes of food. We have also gotten many, many plates of cookies. This is great if I choose to never look in a mirror again. :D But seriously, it is wonderful to feel so much love from the members. I am glad that I come from a family that loves the missionaries in the ward, because I am definitely grateful for those in the ward that show love for the Lord's servants.

There were several highlights from this last week. One Tuesday I went on exchange with Elder Markowski who is serving in Belpre (he and his companion, Elder Kieran, live in the same house as we). <-- (good grammar, no?) Anyway, it is so much fun living with another set of elders. We live the law of consecration among all four of us. None of the support money given to us on our cards is really "our own", we've chosen to share it all among the four of us, and it works out great. There's a lot of great love in our house! Anyway, Tuesday was a great adventure with Elder Markowski. Elder Gadberry's been dying to serve in a place with a car, so he went to Belpre, OH with Elder Kieran.

Wednesday night we had the great joy of caroling as a district. We had picked out a few homes that we wanted to go visit. Some elders in Ravenswood, WV also told us of a man, Brother Stauers, from their ward who is in the local hospital, Camden Clark. We went to go sing to him. We've visited him before in the hospital, so I knew a little bit about him. Elder Kieran served in Ravenswood before, so he had a conversation with Brother Stauers and then Brother Stauers volunteered to sing for us. Here Brother Stauers was in very humble circumstances. He just had the lower half of his right leg amputated, he had a tube in his throat, and he was very hoarse. He sang "The Little Drummer Boy" to us. It was the purest and most sincere song I have ever heard. As you will recall, the boy in the song lays before the Christ child his song as a gift. Here Brother Stauers lay, broken and low, and he gave us the gift of his song. I don't think that I will ever hear that song sung the same way again. I was so deeply touched. I want to be able to give my whole self as an offering and a gift to the Christ.

On Thursday we had specialized training which was taught by President Pitt. It was wonderful. For several hours we were taught about and discussed the importance of covenants. Covenants really are so important. Every blessing we receive is based on our obedience to covenants we made with Heavenly Father before this life or during this life. At the end of the training, Sister Pitt led a special Christmas program. Several groups from the mission sang songs. I was the very last performer and I sang "O Holy Night" as a solo. The whole time, I thought about Brother Stauers and how I hoped I could present the same kind of gift that he had given me. People said they liked it, but I wished that I had had my family there to sing with me. :D

We had another very exciting addition to our companionship this week. A senior missionary couple is moving into the Spencer Branch in WV, and so the elders are moving out. Elder Ramirez, who was serving in Spencer, is now serving with Elder Gadberry and me in Vienna! He also brought with him the truck that they were using in Spencer! How wonderful! We now have transportation to do the Lord's work more effectively!

I love you all so much. I know that Jesus was "born to give us second birth". Through HIm, we can receive joy in this life and eternal life in the world to come. I will talk to you on Christmas. By the way, the time has been changed to 11:00 AM. I will see you then! I love you dearly and miss you truly. Merry Christmas!

Love, Elder Parker Ayer

Monday, December 16, 2013

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

Dearest family,

Christmas time is here. Happiness and cheer. Something, something, something, children call the greatest time of year. If I could insert some little musical notes, I would, but I can't. As Christmas gets nearer, all sorts of emotions are increasing. I feel so glad to be a missionary. There is so much joy that all people feel during this season. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the source of all this joy, and it's what I get to talk, sing, and think about all day! I also start thinking about all of our Christmas traditions. This makes me happy and a little homesick, but mostly just happy. I got to watch Mr. Kreuguer's Christmas the other day, and it made so happy. I think it mostly reminds me of the fun, happy, musical atmosphere of our home. I've been so happy to have the advent calendar to remind me of you all every night. I am so glad to hear about all of your many Christmas joys including snow, snow, SNOW! We've had many cool experiences this last week to be joyful about.

Elder Gadberry and I were out knocking doors the other night when we ran accross a gem of a home. The home is completely decked out in Christmas lights. What's greatest about it is that every night, from 7 to 8 pm, the family puts on an automated music and lights show. Some electrical engineer must live there because the lights are completely coordinated with the music. It was the coolest thing every, just tucked away into a neighborhood. Since then, we've been able to walk past the house to go knock other doors, and each time it is so fun to see. We were so excited when we discovered it. Each night there are a few cars parked outside watching.

This last week, under the authorization of our mission president, all of the missionaries in our ward set up a free hot chocolate stand. There wasn't too much preparation that went into it, so we were caught off guard a little when we were told that we would have to get permission to set up anywhere near a business. As the son of a town employee, I should have known better. We probably also needed some vender permit, but who actually does that? :D Anyway, we went to the mall, to Walmart, to Little Ceasar's (we thought we had a pretty good relationship with them), to anywhere wwe could think of trying to set up a free hot chocolate stand where we could hand out some cocoa and cards. Well, we finally were accepted by some random shoe store to set up outside. We set up our stand, posted a big sign, sang some carols with no luck. The few people who walked into the store weren't really too interested in getting free hot chocolate. It was the wierdest thing. One lady who accepted hot chocolate insisted that we take her 3 dollars. What's the deal? Why won't people accept a little toasty token of love? Well, we packed up our stand and drove over to the house with the light show in Vienna. We passed out cocoa to all of the cars parked around the house. Then we proceeded to carol to all of the surrounding houses and pass out hot chocolate to them. It was a little bit of a role reversal having carols give hot chocolate to the warm people in their houses, but it was a lot of fun and was so spiritually uplifting. Our voices weren't quite as melodic as the Stephenson clan's, but it was great nonetheless.

This last week we had been trying to contact one of our investigators. Do you remember me talking about Samantha, who had been found under divine circumstances and who had apparently read through a quarter of the Book of Mormon? Well, we tried calling and texting her this whole week and she never responded once. We were scared. She had cancelled a lesson with us before, also. We were worried that she had decided to close herself off to the truth. Well, we decided to go over yesterday to see her. We knocked on her door, hoping for the best but ready for the worst. She inched the door open and peeked at us. After seeing who it was, she opened the door wide and smiled. We asked how she was doing, and she said she was great. We relieved to find out that her phone was broken. After chatting for a little bit, we asked how her Book of Mormon reading has been coming. Guess what? In the past two weeks, she has already read half of the Book of Mormon! We were stunned. This is a woman who has difficulty reading, and she has been able to read the same amount in 2 weeks as I was able to read in the MTC in 2 weeks. That is amazing. The Book of Mormon is so important. I know that it is true. I have studied it, been blessed by it, and have gained a divine and sure witness that it is true.

Also this week I got to go on exchange with the Elders in Parkersburg. We see each other all of the time, but it was good to be able to be in Parkersburg again. Elder Stechnij worked with Elder Gadberry in Vienna, and I worked with Elder Colligan in P-Burg. It was so great. All three of them are missionaries that I love and respect greatly.

The greatest miracle this week happened with Amy. Do you remember Amy? She is the woman that I talked about last week that we met in Dairy Queen and then saw later at Taco Bell. Well, we had an appointment to meet with her on Tuesday, but that didn't work out. We went to see her again on Wednesday, but that didn't work out either. Then we arranged for an appointment on Thrusday. Thrusday we were able to meet with her and her daughter at the Dairy Queen next to her house. The only other person there was the man behind the counter. It was a surprisingly great setting; I don't even think the music was playing. We had a great discussion. We could feel the Spirit so strongly. When I retold the First Vision account, she began to cry. She told us that just before I told the story, the Spirit had reminded her of an experience she had when she prayed as a young adult. She also told us that she had had a complete change of heart during the lesson. She had anticipated coming in there and telling us that she wasn't interested, but the Spirit had born testimony to her during the lesson. Before we had even invited her to read the Book of Mormon, she told us that she was excited to read it. It was such a wonderful and uplifting experience. I could feel the Spirit whispering in our hearts of the truthfulness of what we spoke. I know that the Book of Mormon is true. I know that Joseph Smith saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in a grove of trees because he humbly sought the question of his soul in prayer. God answers prayers. If each of us seek out to have our own sacred grove experience, we will be blessed from on high with manifestations of God's power and moving answers to our questions.

Well, I love you all so much. Thanks for the well wishes of halfy birthday. I'll try to whoop it up. :D There is so much joy to be had this Christmas season, don't be afraid to spread it around a little bit. There is no reason to be ashamed of inviting someone to partake of the bounteous blessings that we have in the gospel. Just because they don't know how they will be blessed doesn't mean that we shouldn't invite them to learn and know what we know. There may be friends of mine who will read this email and think that it is nice for Parker to have something that he believes so much in. It is nice, but it is more than nice, too. I know with absolute surety that God lives and is our loving Heavenly Father. I know that through the sacrificial, atoning power of Christ we may be forgiven of our sins and perfected. I know that through the covenant of baptism, and its preparatory steps, we can come to receive the blessings of Christ's atonement. I know that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God. I know that the Book of Mormon contains the words of Christ and His true gospel, and it will lead us to Christ in a way that no other book can because it leads us to a witness of the restoration of God's true church. There is so much joy to be had in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I love you all. This Christmas, find one way to help bring yourself and another person closer to Jesus Christ. Therein lies happiness.

Love, Elder Parker Ayer

P.S. A couple weeks ago, President Pitt received an update on my visa status. Church travel only included two words on my report: "not close". hahaha

P.P.S. I don't know if I will be able to call in the morning on Christmas. We have to go to a member's house in order to skype you. I don't know if any of the members in the ward will want us in their house right in the think of their festivities.

P.P.P.S. You can't send me any sound bytes this year of "Christmas in Killarney" or "Dominique the Donkey", but know that I'm singing them in my heart. :D

Monday, December 9, 2013

Back on the Stage

Hello dearest family!

Yes, we have gotten snow. It hit mostly yesterday. It was really just a baby snowfall. We don't have too many hilly roads around where we live, so it really didn't make driving to Church too dangerous. I am staying warm. I really don't need any other winter clothes. I will probably buy some gloves. It might be nice to have some boots with more traction as well. If you could put money on my card, that would be wunderbar.

I am loving being a missionary! Each week I grow in the absolute love I have for being here. While it might be nice to have some more moments just to sit down and relax, I am adjusting to working all of the time, and it feels great! I absolutely love the missionaries in my district. I love the people that Elder Gadberry and I are teaching. That's why I get so disappointed when they choose not to keep commitments. We really only keep ourselves from the blessings of heaven. We experienced a lot of teaching appointment cancellations this week, but we continue to persevere.

One of the things that took center stage this week was a skit that we performed at our ward Christmas party. It's a funny story, actually. When they were talking about the ward Christmas party in ward council, they were discussing which groups they would ask to prepare and perform skits and musical numbers. Well, I raised my hand and volunteered all eight of the missionaries in the ward to put something on. The other missionaries were a little frustrated that they had been thrown under the bus, but they were willing to do it. Once we started planning and rehearsing for it, everyone became very excited. We told the story of two missionaries who are knocking on doors one cold, wintery night when they decide to go visit a member of the ward. They visit the member, are told about some friends to go visit, teach the family's friend, and they accept the restored gospel and are baptized on Christmas. We wanted to give a good Christmas message that related to missionary work. There was plenty of fun and spiritual moments. Elder Colligan and I played the part of the missionaries. It was my big break. Our part as missionaries was interspersed with some really lame impromptu LesMis-type talk-singing. It was the most ridiculous fun thing ever. It felt good to be back on the stage, but I'm not quite sure if I gave the ward an accurate representation of several years of theatre instruction. It was a great laugh. What was most important, though, was that we rehearsed Joseph Smith's personal account of the First Vision. The Spirit could really be felt in the room. We did an encore presentation on Sunday for some members of the ward that missed it on Friday. I think they are going to put it online. When I get the URL, I'll send it to you!

Elder Gadberry and I saw many many blessings on Saturday. It was a balmy 32 degrees. We tracted for 6 hours and then had one appointment at night. I think the Lord could clearly see the dedication that we were putting into our efforts. Missionary work is interesting. I don't think that daily success is a reward from God for keeping the rules, but I think that we are more accepting of God's guiding direction when we are humbly and diligently doing His work. When we submit ourselves to Him, He can more easily guide us to those people who have been prepared to accept and live the gospel. This is what we saw on Saturday. No, not every single door we knocked was opened by someone perfectly prepared for baptism, but we definitely saw God's hand in our labors. One door we knocked on was opened by a woman who had just moved in. When we told her we were missionaries, she became excited and asked if she could have a pamphlet about our Church. She told us that she and her husband would read the pamphlet and then call us. Later, Elder Gadberry had to use the bathroom. The nearest public restroom was at Dairy Queen. For some reason, I suggested that we use a random Dairy Queen gift card I had to buy some ice cream. Why I suggested this, I have no idea. We were freezing cold. For some reason, both of us agreed to get ice cream. After he used the bathroom, Elder Gadberry and I got our ice cream. While we were sitting there eating ice cream, a woman named Amy walked in who lived next door. We talked to her about the restored gospel and gave her a copy of the Book of Mormon. At seven o'clock that night, we had a dinner/teaching appointment with one of our investigators at Taco Bell. We were tracting just behind Taco Bell. We were both ready to go in and warm up. Elder Gadberry had to use the bathroom again. I wanted to get warm, but we still had ten minutes before 7. I suggested that we knock on two more doors. At the second door, a woman answered in her footy pajamas. After we said the name of the Church, she said that her husband had grown up in the Church and they were considering going back. She also asked for a pamphlet and said that she would call us back. When we got to Taco Bell, lots of craziness happened. Right after we walked in, Amy, the woman we had met earlier, walked in. This was accross town from Dairy Queen. It was no coincedence that we had this second meeting. She told us that the outlook of her day had completely changed for the better after meeting us. We set up an appointment to meet with her next week. At Taco Bell, we also saw one of our other investigators who hasn't been coming to Church. We set up a time for him to be picked up for Church. We also saw a Priest from the ward. Then we had our lesson in Taco Bell. It went great. The heart of our investigator was touched. She had a fresh perspective. Elder Gadberry and I felt like our words were guided by heaven. In the bitterly cold and fruitless moments of that day, it was really hard. Looking back, there is so much to be grateful for. The Lord's hand was truly directing our actions and others'.

Is life hard? Yes. Does this mean that it shouldn't be joyful? No. There may be bitter moments, but a fullness of joy can be found in applying and appreciating the power of Christ. One quote that has been in my head for a while now is from President Hinckley. He said, "stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight". When we enjoy the sunlight, our lives will be filled with light and joy. We can obtain a greater measure of that light and joy when we make and keep sacred covenants like baptism. Keeping and preparing to make these covenants includes things like reading the scriptures, praying, and going to Church. When we do these things, we will come closer to God and all of our concerns and cares will melt away as we submit our hearts to His.

Thank you for your support, family. I love you all so much! You are always in my prayers. I don't know when I will call you during the day on Christmas, but I can't wait. I will probably be able to skype you. Don't quote me on that. We'll see if the ipads come before then. You're the best!

Love, Elder Parker Ayer

P.S. We went to Texas Roudhouse this week and I thought of all of you!

P.P.S. I was making backwards footprint tracks in the snow this week and I thought of you, Sarah. Stay cool!

P.P.P.S. Elder Gadberry and my district are teaching me about football. I have a long way to go.

P.P.P.P.S. It's the holiday season. So whoop-do-do and dickory-dock and don't forget to hung up your sock. (Or something like that) :D

Monday, December 2, 2013

Uma semana de MILAGRES (A week of MIRACLES)

Oi familia!

I love you all so much. Last week you might have been a little scared getting my email. I think I might have sounded a little down in the dumps, especially when I shared that scripture about being depressed. Well, I was a little down in the dumps. I was trying my best to stay positive, and I have been clearly able to see the hand of the Lord in this week. As the Book of Mormon says, the Lord will give us mercies and success after we bear with patience those afflictions that we are called to bear. Well, the miracles have been pouring in this week.

I'll start at Monday. Or in Maria's words, I'll start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). Monday was a little strange because it was my first P-day in Vienna. It just wasn't quite the same. That night we knocked on doors for a long while. It was cold, frustrating, and tiring. The Lord had great blessings in store for us because of our diligence. We were determined to work the night out despite the cold. We knocked on one door and talked to a man for about 10-15 minutes about his grandchildren who are Mormon and have served missions. That was pretty cool and I thought that that was the end of our cool experiences for the night. That's when Elder Gadberry suggested that we knock the door of the neighboring house. I thought, "why not?" We knocked on the door of a very nice looking home. An older man came to the door. Before I could rely introduce ourselves, the man said something about the cold weather and asked us to come in. I thought that he was going to just let us in long enough to explain what we wanted and then get out. Nope, not at all. We told him about our purpose as missionaries. He asked us to sit down and said that he would wake up his wife who was asleep on the couch in another room. We were shocked, but we sat. We taught him and her about the Book of Mormon and about latter-day prophets. They were very kind and attentive. They discussed the gospel with us. Then they asked us if we would like some homemade pumpkin pie. Elder Gadberry and I looked at each other dumbfounded. Surely, these were the nicest people ever to be found on the face of the earth. After having a warm conversation, we sat down to enjoy a healthy slice of the most heavenly pumpkin pie I have ever tasted. We talked to them until it was time for us to head back home. They invited us back anytime. I don't think that they were necessarily interested in changing their lives for the restored gospel, but they were definitely good Christians who had definitely been a blessings to God's servants.

That was just the beginning of the week's miracles. Tuesday we met with a former investigator who we haven't been able to get into contact with for a month. Wednesday we were inspired to talk to a woman on the street who invited us back to talk to her. We also met a woman tracting who is a member of the Church from Uruguay who understands Portuguese better than English. I got to talk to her in Portuguese. What a blessing! Thursday we had 3 different dinner appointments with members of the ward and had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Friday I got a wonderful advent calendar in the mail from a family that I love more than anything else. We also had a district meeting that touched the hearts of the missionaries there and brought us together in a feeling of unity and love. Yesterday we met with that woman we met with on Wednesday and her boyfriend. She has already begun to read the Book of Mormon, and she loves it. We have seen so great miracles! 2 Nephi 4:26 "O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?" Nephi couldn't have said it better. I have been privy to some great blessings this week. They stem from diligence and faith.

I know that Christ is my Savior and king. He has redeemed me. My Heavenly Father knows me and loves me. In Him I can find all happiness and joy. By reading the Book of Mormon, we can come unto Him and partake of the richest blessings known to man. I love you all. Merry Christmas! You are in my prayers always.

Love, Elder Parker Ayer