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

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