I love you all so much. There is nothing greater than family. Families are a support system of love and comfort. I have sharply felt the the effects of not being able to always call on my family for help. One thing I am coming to learn is that Heavenly Father takes away comfort sometimes so that we will rely more fully on Him. I thought I knew how to do this before, but Heavenly Father is proving my ignorance through experience. I also never imagined how hard a mission could be. I was told by my missionary prep teacher that a mission will probably be the most physically, psychologically, mentally, and emotionally draining experience we will ever go through. I thought that was a bit of an exaggeration. Back then I thought that I would be able to do it. That is where my ignorance was. In life, it is never us who can do it alone. We have to humble ourselves and say that only through Christ can we perform the labor that He has called us to do.
With that somewhat dreary beginning, let me tell you how my week went. :D Well, it's been great. It's been challenging, but great.
Thursday morning I moved into the Vienna house with Elder Gadberry. The new place is not an apartment, but a house. It is pretty spacious, which is why they decided to stick another set of missionaries in the same house with us. They got there a little bit later in the day. They will be taking over the Belpre, OH area from the zone leaders (my old companions). Their names are Elder Kieran and Elder Markowski. Elder Kieran has been on a mission for 21 months now, and Elder Markowski is a brand new missionary. After talking to Elder Markowski for a little bit, I found out that he went to BYU and was in Will's ward. In fact, we would see Will a couple times a week. In fact, Will was his Sunday School teacher! Isn't that great?! His name is Colby Markowski. That was pretty fun to find out.
Friday was a long day of weekly planning. After studying for a good four hours (training and language study included) we planned out our week and kind of our plan for this transfer for another three hours. It was a long time to be inside. One bright spot on the day was that we got to go visit a man named Todd. He is golden. Elder Gadberry was on exchange a couple weeks ago when he felt prompted to knock on Todd's door. They weren't able to set up a time to meet with Todd until this week, but Todd is ready to hear the gospel. He is a 34-year-old Master Mason who believes in the Bible but doesn't belong to any Church. He used to have an addiction to alcohol, but has now been a month sober. When he was talking to us, he said that he's been wanting a spiritual awakening and he feels like it's about to happen. He's already read some of the Book of Mormon and said that he's willing to believe that it's true. It was so exciting to be there. It is interesting to see how God prepares His children to receive His messengers and His gospel. Another thing that happened today was that while we were biking somewhere, Elder Gadberry's handlebars got loosened somehow so that he wasn't able to control the bike. That means that we will be walking. That's right we have no car. If we want to get anywhere, we bicycle, walk, or bum rides from members. It's not that bad, but it has made the days exciting.
I feel like we celebrated Pioneer Day on Saturday. We walked and walked and walked. There was no reaching the Salt Lake Valley, we just walked and walked and walked. We had a couple appointments set up with people during the day. The people live pretty far away for walking, so we were calling everyone in the ward to see if someone could come with us to a lesson and drive us. No one was able to come. Well, that meant we were walking. Luckily there were quick visits that we could make with less active members on the way, so the walking wasn't a complete waste of our time. For our first appointment in the day, we walked 45 blocks to a man's house. We had scheduled an appointment with him before, but he hadn't answered his phone when we called to confirm earlier. We were still pretty sure that he would be there. It took us well over an hour to walk all the way to his house. We arrived perfectly on time, and knocked on his door. After knocking, I could hear someone inside say, "they're here". The man came to the door and opened it barely wide enough to fit his head through to talk to us. That was a bad sign. Then he told us that he had some people over, so now wasn't a good time. He didn't take any pity on us standing out there in the cold. He essentially told us that we should have known it wouldn't be a good time for him because he didn't answer his phone earlier when we called. We told him to have a nice day and that we'd try to stop by next week. I was pretty frustrated. Here we had walked all of this way so that we could come to him. We had frozen our butts off and worked our calves to get to his home and bring him the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ which is the only way to feel God's fullest joy in this and the next life, and he waved us off. I was ready to sit down and fume a little bit. Elder Gadberry, thankfully, kept me sane. We didn't stop a bit. We got back on the road and started walking to another home with another family. We walked for the rest of the day. As we were walking back that night, snow started falling and I could feel blisters forming on my feet. These were the challenges and trials that the Lord had called me to endure with patience. This was the experience that He wanted me to grow from. I was determined to be cheerful and positive. Elder Gadberry and I began singing the hymn, "Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd". I love the chorus because it reminds me of nights back at home when we might get a little crazy and start singing opera style. Elder Gadberry and I changed the lyrics so that it would fit our situation. "Out in Vienna they wander, hungry and helpless and cold." We thougth it was pretty funny. Usually this part of the hymn refers to Christ's lost sheep who and wandering, but I felt like that it perfectly applied to my situation as a missionary. That's when I realized that as missionaries, we have to go rescue the sheep from the situation that they are in. If they are hungry, helpless, and cold, we have to go find them where there is no path and where the environment is uncomfortable. This is what Christ did for us. He descended below all things. His Atonement is the perfect example of the Shepherd gathering His sheep from the places they wander. He experienced every sin, temptation, pain, sorrow, or sickness that we have or will ever feel. He lets us become partners with Him in His work when we help others to come unto Him and accept the gift of the Atonement. It is a wonderful opportunity that we have to serve Him, albeit difficult and uncomfortable.
Sunday is always a blessing. This Sunday was no different. There is such a Spirit when we get to partake of the sacrament. We basically do the same things on each day of the week, as missionaries, but Sunday feels especially joyous. We had our first district meeting of the transfer on Sunday as well. It went great. The district includes the Parkersburg, Belpre, and Vienna elders. Along with these missionaries, the ward has a set of sister missionaries. That means four sets in one ward alone! It's pretty amazing, and we're hoping to see some good things happen.
Well, in my studies today I got to read Alma 26. This chapter is so wonderful and tells us some great things about how to do missionary work. The verse that really hit me today was verse 27. It is kind of strange to think that the Sons of Mosiah were ever depressed in their missionary work, but they were. They had times of sadness, but they always turned to the Lord for support. When they did, they were strengthened by His voice and were commanded to bear their afflictions with patience. This is my hope and my prayer. Missionary work is super hard, but I'm trying my best to stay positive and put my whole self into loving the people here.
I love you all. I hope you know that. I had some thoughts come into my head about what I might want for Christmas, but I can't think of anything. I do need some clothes to stay warm (long johns, gloves, hat), but I'll probably get those on my own before too long because the weather is getting bitter. I would love to be home with a nice cup of spiced cider listening to some old Christmas albums, but I know that I need to be here. Be happy. Try to make those around you happy. Invite them to Church. Invite them to learn about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Invite them to read the Book of Mormon and come to know Christ this Christmas in a way they've never known. These things will bless them now and for eternity. It will also bless you. You're in my prayers.
Love, Elder Parker Ayer
P.S. I saw a super flattened squirrel on the road and thought about Sarah's picture with a super flattened dog. Que grande! :D