Monday, February 27, 2012

Hello Jacksonville, Illinois

February 27, 2012

It feels so good to finally be writing home again! It has been almost 2 weeks since i got to sit down at a computer but i have been so insanely busy the time has flown by.

First of all thank you so, so much to everyone who sent me packages and letters while i was in the MTC. I can’t even explain how good it is to get those. Especially thanks to the Atkins for all the little tooth brush things haha. They are probably the greatest invention ever. If you write me and i don’t get time to write you back I’m really sorry i just don’t have enough time on P day. But I want you all to know that getting letters and packages makes my day so much better. So thank you so much for all of them.

Oh and before i forget it is my sister Jennifer’s birthday today so happy birthday Jen :) Sorry i couldn’t be home to see you but I’ll just get a baptism for you or something haha. And happy birthday to Hannah on Thursday. I know it’s a little early but i won’t get to send another email before then so i hope you have an awesome day!

I heard that Jeremy Evans won the slam dunk contest!! I’m so mad i missed it. But that is still sweet. My mission president and his wife are both BYU fans though so they told me they would keep me updated on sports and if i get 10 baptisms i can come watch a game with them haha. I think she was kidding but I will still bring it up if i get to that point.

I can’t believe all the places my friends are going to college and on their missions! I thought that everyone would just kinda stop growing up while i was gone but i guess not. The Lord must know that all my friends going to foreign countries are better people than I am cause there is no way i could stay in the MTC for 9 weeks. But you guys will all do awesome. I’m so proud of all of you.

K i have so much to say in this email it’s crazy. I have a little more time than I did in the MTC but i still have to kinda hurry. Hopefully i can get everything in that i want to though. This past little while has been awesome. The only thing that has been not so great is I haven’t gotten any mail for over a week cause of the holiday and then moving to a new apartment. So here is my new address: 500 W State St. Apt. 3F Jacksonville Illinois 62650. Apparently the mail system here is horrible, so it will take anything you send almost a week to get here. But the good news is that I live in a safe apartment building so any packages or anything won’t get stolen. So you can all feel free to send me as much candy as you want :) (I ran out)

So as you gathered from my address my first area is Jacksonville Illinois. It is a town of about 19,000 people and it is so pretty here! I always think of my sister Amanda while i am walking around cause every building pretty much looks like a castle and every single thing is so pretty. I will take a lot of pictures and send them home in a couple weeks. It is kinda weird how pretty everything is though because it’s a pretty run down little town. There is a lot of pretty ghetto places and a ton of trailer parks but the nice buildings are really nice.

So i am getting a little ahead of myself i am realizing. I totally forgot you haven’t heard from me since i left the MTC. So half of my district left Monday morning at 3 AM to head out to Toronto Canada. That was really hard cause that half of the district was the 4 elders that i had grown closest with. The day before they left we had a testimony meeting and it was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. I had no idea that i could grow that close with some other random guys in 20 days. One of my good friends, Elder Alex Snelson, bore his testimony last. He was bearing his testimony to 7 other missionaries who already had red faces and watery eyes. But he really just made us all lose it. He kept saying "It has only been 20 days and I am already calling you guys my brothers. It’s amazing... It’s just amazing" and it really was. I have never grown close to a group of people that quick before. It was just another one of the MTC miracles that i got to experience every day. He also said something else that stood out to me. He said "Think of all the people in the world and how small of a percentage get to go on missions. We must have been superstars in the pre existence!!" I thought that was way cool. Cause i know that all of us who are blessed enough to know the gospel were superstars. We have been blessed with an amazing blessing and we need to not waste it.

So they came and woke me up at 3 when they left and i got to say goodbye. In that 10 minutes i experienced every feeling i had felt in the MTC all over again. They covered me with a can of silly string and we all started laughing and having a good time. Then we got serious and we said a prayer and the Spirit was there so, so strong. Then i had to watch them walk out the door to go to the airport and I instantly missed them so much. Those 10 minutes pretty much sum up the MTC for you. I layed in bed for about an hour trying to fall back asleep. When i finally did i got to wake up the next morning and sit in a class room for about 6 hours with those guys now gone. I pretty much just sat there and cried every time i looked over at their empty desks haha. I am such a baby now it’s a joke. But i know they are doing a good thing out there in Toronto.

So the next day the rest of us woke up at about 5 to head over to the bus to take us to the airport. Even though i was in charge, somehow we all made it to St. Louis safely. President and Sister Clark were at the airport to greet us and it was so cool to finally get to meet them. They are such awesome people. We then went to the mission home and stayed there for a night which was way fun. I took some pictures of it that i will send home with the other ones.

Then the next day we went to transfers and we got our companions. My companions name is Elder Jensen and he is so cool! He is 21 and he has been out for a year this Friday so we are going to have a pretty sweet hump day party at our apartment. When we got assigned to our new area it was interesting to find out that we were white washing it. That means that neither of us had ever been there before so we knew nothing about the area. And it was even weirder when we found out we were white washing sister missionaries. They haven't had Elders in Jacksonville for about 5 years. So for the first few days that we were here we just tried to meet people. The sisters did a pretty awful job of keeping records on people so we had no idea what to do. But after a few days we finally got everything worked out and we have been having appointments with people ever since. We have a few investigators now who we are really excited about and hope to get baptized soon.
So the ward here is super awesome. It is really big compared to surrounding areas. The people here love us and they are so nice and helpful. The relief society president made us a cheese cake for our first Sunday and another mission miracle was that i ate it and I actually liked it! For those of you who didn't know i hated cheesecake before my mission. But the ward area is huge and very different. There are some houses that are pretty nice with normal suburban families in them (well as normal as people get in Jacksonville) but there are also some pretty trashy areas as well. These are the kind of people that would kill to live in a trailer park. We went to visit with Shelly who is an awesome investigator but she lives in a pretty weird part of town. And she told us about how there was a shooting and the SWAT team showed up a few days ago. But all the people that live right around her house are pretty cool and normal. They are just poor. And all of the parts of town that are actually dangerous are restricted so don’t worry mom i won’t be anywhere that’s actually dangerous.

Something that i forgot to mention about the ward that i also think Amanda will like is that the deaf college is in our boundaries so we have a few deaf people in our ward. Me and my companion are going to go to a deaf class every Tuesday for 6 weeks to try to learn more. It is super cool (but super distracting) to have the interpreter in sacrament meeting with us.

Something that might be cool if you want to look it up is that there is a church video about family history called "Turn the Hearts" and it was filmed in Jacksonville and most of the people that are in it are actually people from the ward i am serving in. I haven’t seen it yet but everybody says it is pretty good.

Probably the coolest part about living in this area is that we live in the best apartment ever. We live in an old high school. They converted the classrooms into apartments and it is so cool. The rooms are huge and the ceilings are super high. And they are made of the same stuff high schools have so we can throw pencils into them. And the hallways are tile so we got a skateboard and a ripstick to ride around in the hallways and it is so much fun. And yes i know this makes us sound like we are 7 years old, but on your mission you will pretty much do anything that sounds fun at all. It has been an adventure living in the apartments cause everything there is pretty much broken. We get like 15 minutes of warm water a day so whoever showers second gets an ice shower. And I’m not kidding. It instantly goes from warm to so freezing cold it takes your breath away. So that’s always fun. And we had to make a clothes line today cause we found out the dryer is broken. Just like the dish washer and the toilet. Pretty much the sisters before us destroyed everything they could get their hands on. Some good news is that we get a car so we don’t have to walk anywhere. The bad news is the sisters used all the miles so we don't have any again until March. So it may sound like this apartment is horrible, but for some reason it is like my favorite part about living here.

I don’t have much time left but I just want to let everyone know how thankful i am that i get to be out here on my mission. Sometimes it is super hard and frustrating and i just want to go to bed but i can’t. But other times it is so rewarding and such an amazing experience i never want it to end. One of the greatest parts of my mission so far is that i get to teach the doctrine of the church in its simplest form. Sometimes we think we have to know all of the extreme details to really understand our church. But something that i challenge all of you to do is to read chapter 3 of Preach My Gospel. IT IS NOT JUST FOR MISSIONARIES. Yes it is what we teach people. But I have learned way more than i could ever teach from reading that chapter. I don’t care if you think you know everything there is to know about the church or if you think you don’t know anything. Reading and praying about these pages will increase your testimony more than i can explain and you will be that much closer to becoming truly converted.

Also something that we don’t talk about as much as we should is the Joseph Smith History. That simple account of what happened is an amazing testimony of the real truth. If you read that and pray about that as well then i know your testimony of Joseph Smith will increase.

I have grown so much on my mission i can’t even imagine how spiritual i am going to be when i get home in 2 years. I have also gotten weirder already so i will probably be super weird when i get home too. But it will be totally worth it to experience the blessings that i have already received from being out here. I love all of you and I hope to hear from you all soon.

-Elder Parker Banks

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Here is Parker at the "famous" map wall pointing to the St. Louis mission.

Parker with his MTC district.

This will be a familiar pose for the next two years.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

February 15, 2012

Hey everybody so this is my 2nd and last p day in the MTC. This week went by so fast it was crazy. The first week here was so slow and so boring and i thought i was going to be stuck here forever. But now that i am getting more into things it is going way faster and it seems like just yesterday I was getting dropped off by my family.

So the first thing that happened since my last letter was we got our travel plans. I found out that i am the travel leader for the group going to St Louis and i have to take care of 14 missionaries while we travel. This could be interesting saying that i can barely take care of myself. But our flight leaves at either 8 or 10 in the morning i can’t really remember and i don’t have the paper with me, but it will be great to get going out there.

So i want to apologize for how jumpy this letter is going to be cause i wrote down everything i wanted to say but it is all just in a random order and i don’t have time to organize it, so the ideas will probably be all over the place. A group of new missionaries came on Wednesday and they are staying in the room next to mine. One of them is named Tanner Wilson and he said that he knew Taylor and Chad so if either of you guys see this i met your friend Tanner.

So a lot of what i have done in the MTC this week has been sitting in class. One of our teachers names is Brother Sikahema. He is a little Tongan and he plays on the BYU rugby team. This week we found out that his dad is Via Sickahema and he played pro football for the Eagles for a long time and everyone in that town loves him. Then the same day that we found that out i got a package from the Chamberlains. They wrapped some stuff in newspaper and one of the pages was the sports page. But what was even funnier was that on the page attached to the sports page there was an article by Via Sickahema. So he is a legend in Philadelphia and he writes an article for a Utah newspaper. It was really funny to find all that out in one day.

But speaking of my teacher Brother Sickahema, he gave us a cool quote that will help on our missions. He said "be able to dine with kings, but have the peasants touch." This was really cool to me because he was telling us that we are going to meet all different kinds of people on our missions and some may be rich and successful and some will be poor and humbled and we have to have the ability to talk and teach all of them.

Probably the best part about this week is that i have gotten a lot more comfortable teaching the investigators that we have at the MTC. Me and my companion Elder Brower have been teaching a lot and it is getting a lot easier to feel the spirit. One of the coolest experiences that i had this week involved teaching my district. Me and Elder Brower had to teach our district about patience diligence and obedience. I was really praying and hoping that i could do a good job and teach with the spirit. We gave our lesson and it went pretty well but when i looked around after no one really seems to care that much about what we had said. It was a little frustrating because we had worked so hard and prayed so much for the spirit. However, later that night me and Elder Brower were in our room getting ready for bed and one of the missionaries came in and closed the door behind him. And with tears in his eyes he thanked us for the lesson we had given. He told us that there was something he had really been struggling with and that our lesson had helped him so much. Having that moment of knowing that what i had done to prepare had really helped someone was amazing. It made all of the frustration and hard times worth it. I hope that when i get to St Louis i can have more opportunities just like that one.

This week i have also been focusing a lot more on getting revelation for the people that i am teaching. It had been going pretty well and i want to share one experience this week that was really cool. So me and Elder Brower went to teach a TRC investigator. They are just actors but it feels real to teach them most of the time. But this one time as i went in i just couldn’t get the spirit or concentrate cause i knew that the person wasn’t real. So when we kneeled down to say the opening prayer i prayed in my mind to help me feel the spirit and to know what to say. Almost instantly 2 ideas popped into my head. The first idea was perfect and went along with what we were talking about and i brought it up right after the prayer and it was perfect. But the 2nd idea seemed very random and like it had nothing to do with the lesson so i kinda just pushed it out. But then to my surprise the investigator responded to my first comment with a question. And the 2nd thought that had popped into my head during the prayer was the perfect answer to their question. It really helped me to know that God knows what is best for us as missionaries and also for the people we are teaching.

So this week i have had the opportunity to go to a bunch of different firesides. A couple of them were video recordings of Elder Bednar and those talks were amazing. But it is always a little more special when the person is actually there speaking to us in person. Every Sunday we have a fireside. And we always look forward to those because most of the time on Sunday we are just sitting around studying by ourselves and after like 6 hours that can get pretty boring. So sacrament meeting and firesides are always a super nice break. But before the fireside starts we always sing 3 or so songs and that is always amazing. All 2000 missionaries are gathered in one room singing as loud as we can and it is super powerful. One of the songs that we sang this week was the Army of Helaman. Having so many people singing that song so loudly was amazing. And of course i got teary eyed from singing it cause I’m a huge baby now that I’m a missionary. But it was amazing to hear all of these elders and sisters singing together. Also on Sunday like i mentioned earlier we have sacrament meeting. And it’s interesting cause in our branch we have like 5 different languages. So a lot of the talks and testimonies are in different languages. It’s interesting and it’s cool that we can feel the spirit even though we can’t understand what they are saying.

I have so much more stuff that i want to say but i only have 3 minutes left to type so i am just going to get down as many ideas as i can. So something that i thought was funny this week is that Elders Wickham and Hacking had to go to the doctor or hospital or something for Elder Hackings knee, and when they got back they told me they had met someone who knew me and that he had long hair and a big beard. And it turns out they had seen Boyd Tippets (from our ward) while they were at the doctor and i thought that was just a really funny coincidence.

Also one of the most important things that i learned this week is that it isn’t good enough to just have a testimony. We always work to have a testimony. But what we should really be working towards is becoming converted to the gospel. We can always increase our love towards Heavenly Father and His son. I know that i need to continue to work on that. I wish that everyone could come to the MTC for a couple weeks. Cause in these 2 short weeks my knowledge of the gospel has grown more than in the rest of my life put together. I am truly on my way to becoming converted to the gospel.

Well i really have to go now but i am sending my SD card home right now so you will be getting pictures soon. I love you all and I’ll talk to you again soon. I don’t know when my next opportunity to write will be cause i fly out the day before my next p day but I’ll write as soon as possible.

-Elder Parker Banks

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

February 8, 2012

Hey everyone!! Oh man it’s so nice to be able to email home finally. Of course i would get the Wednesday P day so I had to wait a full week before i could send this home. But wow the MTC is so hard. I have had people telling me my whole life that this would be hard but i had no idea what I was getting into. It is so exhausting. I am physically mentally emotionally, and spiritually exhausted every single day. I have been sleeping pretty good recently which is a relief because i have been so so homesick. But I’m starting to adjust and its getting a little better. Thank you so much to everyone for the letters and stuff. They have meant so much and it is the greatest feeling ever to have my district leader walk in and tell me i have mail. I love it so much. I forgot all my letters my friends gave me before i left so i didn’t have anything from home for the first couple days except for Solveig Christianson’s letter. So Solveig if you hear about this thanks so much for that letter haha. And I’m so mad i missed the Super Bowl! From what i heard it was pretty good. Thank you so much for the package Mom. Me and my district have loved all the candy and treats.

So it is super hard here and the lessons are crazy and I’m so stressed its unreal. I sit in a little tiny class room for about 6 hours a day and then I’m teaching fake investigators the rest of the time. It’s really hard for me to get into the lessons sometimes because the investigators are just other missionaries. But me and my companion, Elder Brower, got to teach an actor pretending to be an investigator and it was actually really real and it was so much fun! The spirit was insane and it was one of my first real amazing experiences. I have learned that i just need to be humble and really realize that i can’t have a foot back home or i will never be able to completely focus. The one thing that i was kinda disappointed with was that on Tuesday the day before i got here Elder Holland and Nelson were here for a devotional for the 50th anniversary and i missed it. It sucked to hear about how amazing it was. Sorry i don’t know if sucked is appropriate missionary language haha.

But i do have to say that the thing i am most grateful for is my district. We have the greatest district ever. It is so much when we have fee time. Some of the funniest kids i have ever met for sure. Also it has been super cool cause i saw my friends from high school Tanner LeBaron, Mike Dockendorf, and Kyle Byington. I have had a lot of time to talk to them and it has been way fun. Jack Barney comes into the MTC today and i can’t wait to run into him. So my district is awesome and i have a couple pictures of them that i will send home on my SD card soon. I got a few good pictures i hope you guys will enjoy.

I got to go to the temple this morning and do sealings and that was my first time ever it was so cool. Just knowing that i was helping people in heaven was such an awesome feeling. So overall my experience in the MTC has been really good. But so, so hard. To all my friends that are about to come into the MTC get ready cause it is awful. You will most likely hate the first week unless you're some spiritual freak. However now that i am past it I look back and it is insane how much i have grown and learned. A couple days ago in a fireside the speaker said that it will be super hard for us to go home when the time comes. And i thought about if i went home right now and had to take my name tag off and because i have been such a baby recently i actually got teary eyed. I have only been here for a week but the gospel is my life now. I work 16 hours a day and it blows my mind how hard it is. But it think about going back to my old life and not being surrounded by the spirit and these amazing other missionaries and it’s hard to imagine. I love my family and friends so much but for the next 2 years the spirit is going to have to replace all of you in my life for the next 2 years.

And this is random but it has really struck me and i wanted to share it real quick. We have 2 sisters in our district and they are going to Ukraine and Russia and they are so cool. Sister Lewis is from England and sister nelson is from California. They are so fun but i realized there is something special about them and all the other sisters here. I love that the sisters all have such respect for themselves. They all know that they are daughters of god and that gives them such confidence. They dress very modestly but they still stand out. To all my friends that are girls that read this letter please, please, please always dress modestly and gain that relationship with the spirit that makes you more confident. God loves you so much and he wants you to always respect yourself and others. And i guess God loves my guy friends too. Just probably not quite as much haha. I’m running out of time so i have to go now. But thank you all for everything and i don’t want to beg but i will anyway. Please send me mail. I love it so much and it makes me so happy to read them. I totally forgot to write some scriptures that i found this week down but I’m out of time. I will send them next week. I love all of you so so much!!!! I talk to you all again soon.

-Elder Parker Banks (Jodie’s favorite son)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Saying goodbye at the MTC

We dropped Parker off at the MTC this afternoon. It is a hard day for a family but we are so proud of Parker and know that he will be a wonderful missionary.