Monday, June 25, 2012

William baptism

Well I have to start off I have to say congrats to Taylor for his Heat winning the championship. I guess I’m happy for you. Pretty sweet way to end basketball before your mission. Stinkin LeBron. But on a happier note good luck to Austin and Ryan this Wednesday!! It will be an insane day but you guys are going to love it. The perfect way to describe the MTC is that they days feel like weeks and the weeks feel like days. If your anything like me the days will feel more like years, but once it’s all over you will realize that it was a pretty good time.

This week was a really good one ending off with Williams’s baptism. His baptism was awesome. It is always an awesome experience to get to watch someone make that covenant as a missionary. That hour really makes up for all of the long hard and hot weeks that you put into helping get that person there. Elder Anderson got to baptize William which is really something special in our mission. We very rarely have missionaries do the baptism because we like to have members do it. But William picked him so he had a really amazing experience getting to do that for his first baptism as a missionary. The coolest part of the baptism for me was when Brother Michael got up and gave a talk on the Holy Ghost. He started off by bearing his testimony about how much he had seen William grow. I would try to type out what he said but there is no way it would do it justice so I will just say that it was an amazing testimony and it was one of those experiences where the Spirit is so strong that no one there could deny it. Then the next day he got the Holy Ghost and the bishop gave that to him. Me and Elder Anderson both got to stand in on the circle so that was awesome. The coolest part about that though was that Williams grandma Betty came into the chapel to watch him get it. She has been to church probably a dozen times and she has heard all the lessons and knows it’s all true. But for some reason she just doesn't really care. She has never sat in the chapel for sacrament meeting before though, she had always sat on the couches outside no matter how hard we tried to get her to come in. So to see her in there sitting next to her daughter and grandson was a really awesome experience and one that we hope will turn into something that gets her a little more interested.

William is doing really and the rest of our investigators are doing really good too. Carlos is still awesome and has been to church all 3 weeks and still loves meeting with us. He still has a date for July 14th and we hope that works out. We still can’t believe we tracted into him. It was pretty cool because the zone leaders came down to our district meeting and after we all walked over to Carlos' house so that he could meet all of them. They gave us a call later that night and both of them have been out longer than me and Elder Anderson put together. They told us that they had never seen anything like Carlos before. They said good job for being able to find him and also to make sure we appreciate how huge of a blessing he is. He is an awesome guy and it blows my mind how much he is willing to change. Every single lesson we teach him about the commandments he has a huge problem with it in his life right now. But every single time we have committed him to keep the commandment he has dropped it that day and never had a problem with it again. It almost seems too good to be true so we are of course still praying for him to continue to grow and progress and stay strong.

Booker came to church for the first time on Sunday and that was awesome. He is friends with Shelly and probably the nicest guy I have ever met. He has a super hard life. He is about 60 years old and spent all of that time in abusive relationships and living in some pretty rough areas. Having friends at the church who actually like him for who he is and don't just want to use his house to sell drugs is a pretty big change for him. He likes it a lot and wants to keep coming.

Unfortunately we don't have any awesome miracles about Kodie this week. We still haven't heard anything from him and just hope that he is doing alright.

We met an awesome couple named Dan and Stacy the other day tracting. It was really cool cause it was the first time that I have ever gotten into someone’s house tracting. It was just Dan the first time we went but then we went over to teach him again and Stacy was there. They had both read The Book of Mormon together and prayed about it. They haven't really gotten a for sure answer yet but they are willing to work at it which is the most important thing. We meet with them again tomorrow so hopefully that works out.

I am so thankful for the awesome district that I get to be a part of right now. We are headed up to Pittsfield today to have district P-day and we are pretty excited for that. We are going to play some basketball and then we actually got special permission for the AP's to watch “17 Miracles” because our district has had such good numbers over the last transfer. I have never seen it so I’m pretty excited to go watch that today.

Something funny that happened this week was with Elder Schriver from Pittsfield. We have a district of only 4 people so we are pretty close. They called us on Friday night to talk a little bit and Elder Schriver was so excited to tell me that he found an awesome soccer jersey at a place they volunteer at and he knew I liked jerseys so he picked it up for me. He saw that it was a large and figured it would fit me. The only thing that he knew about it was that it was a USA jersey and the last name was Hamm. We were both laughing pretty hard when I told him that it was a Mia Hamm jersey and that its a woman’s jersey. It’s a woman’s large and fits me about skin tight. It was a really funny little experience but just one of the many simple stories that I will remember from my mission. And it really meant a lot to me that he would think of me when he saw it and buy it for me.

I love that our district is so close and that we get to have so much fun with each other. We got transfer calls this weekend and no big surprises we are all staying in our areas. We are all really excited to have another 6 weeks together. I have been really blessed to have such hard working fun companions and people around me. These first 4ish months have really helped me to realize how fun missionary work can be and that it’s not just out walking around sweating our brains out all day. We definitely do that, but there are so many fun and positive things that come from all the hard work that we do.

One of the coolest things that happened to me this week was in my personal study. I have had a feeling that I should be studying the Doctrine and Covenants for a long time. But every time I got that feeling I decided that I didn’t want to and at the most I would just read section 121 over and over again. But finally this week I decided that I should try to read the whole thing from front to back. I am about 10 sections in right now and I have loved every second of it. I have no idea why I felt so prompted to read it over these last few weeks, but I am starting to understand why God wanted me to crack it open. The revelations and promises that I have read and learned about over this last week have been amazing. It has just really helped me to appreciate more than just the Book of Mormon. I do love the Book of Mormon and I want to read it every second that I can. But learning from modern day revelation and prophets is an amazing experience that we all need to take advantage of. I love the scriptures and I am so thankful for the 2-3 hours a day that we get to study them. I am so thankful for all of the prophets and people who have worked so hard to put all of these things together for all of us. Preach My Gospel is another book of scripture that we love to read. Chapter 6 about Christ like Attributes is an amazing section that has rebuked me just about every time I have opened it up, but I have learned and grown a lot from it. I am thankful that I get to spend these 2 years out serving the Lord and I am so excited for all of my friends to get the same chance. It is an amazing blessing.

-Elder Banks

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hello family:

I think that’s awesome that Shelly called you. She asked for your number the other day so I figured she would. I don’t have a copy of her program because we didn’t have any haha. The copier at our church broke so we didn’t make any. And Caitlin’s last name is Buchanan. Thanks for everything and I’m glad that you had a good time in St. George. And I laughed so hard when you ended my letter with Park-meister. Man that was awesome. But thanks for everything and I will talk to you again soon! P.S. Thanks for the package! It was awesome and delicious.

I would be an awful son if I didn’t start out by saying happy father’s day to my dad. One of the biggest things that I have realized on my mission is that I wish I had spent more time with my dad. So get ready dad cause in about 2 years I am going to have a lot of free time to spend with you until I get a job. But thanks for everything that you do for me and always being an awesome example.

Austin I heard you did an awesome job on your farewell talk. Weston is going to have an interesting birthday this year with Austin and Ryan both leaving for the MTC that day. And Austin you will have to send me some pictures of your missionary haircut haha. I don’t know what that could look like.

Speaking of pictures I sent my SD card home this last week with like 100 pictures on it and all that made it to my house in Utah was an empty envelope. So that’s the reason why there won’t be pictures on Facebook for a while.

This week has been a roller coaster for sure. There have been some awesome things happen but also some pretty awful ones. One of the cool things that happened this week was we got to go to Springfield for zone conference. That is always really fun. I told the story about Carlos in my last email and President Clark called up "the Jacksonville Elders" to tell that story in zone conference. So that was pretty cool. But for me the coolest part was when the Smiths got up and bore their testimony. They are the senior couple in our mission and they are awesome. A few weeks back they took me and Elder Jensen out to lunch and it was really cool to get to know them better. President Clark called them up to bear their testimony about their mission. Of course Sister Smith cried the whole time but when it really got extra spiritual was when Elder Smith started talking. He isn’t a very emotional guy but he started crying talking about some of the lives that they had changed. One of the 4 Elder Andersons that was sitting within 4 feet of me is a big goof ball who had been joking around the entire time. But right after that testimony he turned around and looked at me with watery eyes and just said "Oh man if I cry I’m going to kill myself." So it’s official that if he cried there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. So as always zone conference was awesome.

One of the cooler things we got to do this week was go to a Civil war reenactment. There are some very interesting people at those things. But it was really cool. We definitely stood out when we went there. A bunch of dirty civil war actors and then two guys walking around in their white shirts and ties was a pretty big difference. It was cool cause we had people walking up to us the whole time asking us what we were doing. That was a pretty fun couple of hours.

Another cool thing that happened this week was once again we had to wait a few minutes to have a meeting with one of our investigators. So we had to find something to fill up a little bit of time so we went tracting at an apartment complex. We only ended up having time to knock on 2 doors. One of them no one answered. But the second one was a guy named Dan. The reason it was so cool was because a ton of zone conference was about tracting. So it was my turn to talk and I just practiced doing all of the stuff that we learned a couple days before. And what do you know for the first time on my mission someone actually let us into their house from tracting. We taught a quick first lesson and set up a return appointment with him. It was cool to see that applying what we learned from our leaders turned into a new investigator for us.

Most of the investigators that we already had this week dropped us. I think we lost 4 progressing investigators this week total. Which stinks cause I have only been dropped about three times on my mission before this week. But our 2 most progressing investigators now are William and Carlos.

William is a 11 year old kid who is awesome. His mom was less active but she makes it out every week now. William is so excited because he is getting baptised on Saturday. This will be the first baptism I have been a part of being the senior companion. Turns out it’s a lot harder to throw a baptism together than I thought. But thankfully Brother Mathusek has been helping us out a lot and taking a little bit of the stress off. So William is set to be baptised in a couple days and we are really excited for that.

Carlos is the guy that we met just over a week ago. We have met with him every day since we met him and he has grown a ton each time. It’s insane cause his testimony is already amazing. Satan is smacking him around hard but he is withstanding every bad thing that comes at him. So far his mom and all of his friends have told him to pretty much get out of their lives until he drops this religion. That was the very edited version of what they really said to him. So he is pretty much losing everything. But on Friday we told him to pray and ask if this was the right thing for him to do and if he should be baptised. When we went back on Saturday we got a pretty crazy response. He told us about how his dad is the most important person he has ever had in his life. He was paralyzed for the last little bit of his life and then he passed on not too long ago. He said that when he prayed he didn’t get a response for a while. But then he prayed again and the voice of his dad came into his head and told him that this is what he needed to do. The story that he told us would normally be really hard to believe. But it was so sincere that there is no possible way that he was lying. Carlos reminds me of Joseph Smith because he is giving up everything for this religion. And there is no way that he would be willing to do that unless he knew that it was true. He has some things to work out but he now has a date set for July 14th. We are really excited to work with him towards that.

A lot of awesome things happened this week. But as missionaries know all too well there must be opposition in all things. Losing so many investigators this week was really hard. But the hardest thing of all happened on Saturday night. Kodie had a baptism set for the 30th of this month. We met with him earlier that Friday morning and talked to him about everything. He still had a couple doubts to be worked out but he was working hard on it. We stopped by to see Shelly, his next door neighbor, later that night and all we saw was a very, very sad looking Kodie putting his bike into the back of his moms car. We didn’t think much of it but we went over and could tell from the yelling inside the house that there was some family troubles going on. We thought it was best to stay out of it so we just gave him a pat on the back and told him everything was going to be alright. About 10 minutes later he came up to talk to us and Shelly and said something like my mom wanted me to come say bye to you guys cause she said we are never coming back here. So I’ll probably never see you guys again. Then he just turned around hopped in the car and they drove off. I had no idea what was going on. All we know is that poor little almost 11 year old kid is out somewhere away from all of his friends, family, and everything he has ever known living with his 24 year old mom. It is not the best situation in the world that’s for sure.

But even as that awful night has haunted me for the rest of the week the words that Shelly said to Kodie as he was walking away have been constantly running through my head. "Don’t worry buddy. God will work everything out." Every time I want to just give up or not knock on that last door. Every time I think of how unfair it is that the first person that I ever grew to love in Jacksonville could get so close then get ripped away at the last second. That same line just runs through my mind. I hope and pray that I will see Kodie again someday soon. But no matter what happens I know that God will work everything out. This life is full of trials and afflictions that no one wants to go through. I have seen and heard things since I got to Jacksonville that I never could have dreamed of. I always thought that the news or the movies were bad. But the stuff that they don’t show on the news is even worse sometimes. There are people here who go through more each day than I have in my entire life. But Shelly’s advice always rings true, "Don’t worry buddy. God will work everything out." I am so thankful for the knowledge that I have of the plan of salvation and this gospel. It brings hope to even the darkest situations. I used to feel bad for myself when things would get hard on my mission. But all I have to do now is look out the window and get on my knees to realize how blessed that I really am. We should all take some time to count our blessings, because whether we think so or not we are all blessed.

Elder Banks

Monday, June 11, 2012

June 11, 2012

So when my mom wrote in my email this week that Austin’s farewell was coming up in a few days I couldn’t believe it. For some reason I thought he still had a month or so before he left. But either way I know that he is going to be an amazing missionary. You're going to be awesome out there in those islands. And hopefully they have a little time to get over Manny’s loss before you get out there. But always remember that my prayers are with you and you're going to be awesome. It’s going to be hard, but it will be worth it.

A few really cool things have happened this week. About an hour after I sent my email last week we went back to our apartment and for some reason I just couldn’t stop thinking about my family. Not in a bad homesick way but I was just thinking about how grateful for them I am and how amazing they have always been to me. That my parents must have known what they were doing at least a little bit to get kids like my brother and sisters. I started to eat lunch and popped in a random conference talk to listen to while I ate. It ended up being President Packers from this most recent conference that was all about families. It may not really seem like much but it was a really cool experience.

I know this is still a little ways off but I am so excited for July. There is so much cool stuff going on. None of it is really spiritual but I’m still excited haha. Jacksonville is having a big 4th of July party at the park right by our church on the 3rd and 4th so that is going to be really cool to stop by and take a look at. Even though nothing can really compare to starting giant fires in the road with McKay and Jaron I’m sure that this will be pretty good. Then on the 11th through the 15th there is a big fair going on here. There are going to be a lot of random things going on but we are going to stop by and check that out too. Chris Young and Rodney Atkins are going to be there which doesn’t mean anything to me but I heard they are country singers so maybe my family will have heard of them. But the thing that I am most excited for is on July 23rd, I think it is, we are going to have the mission super activity. It is pretty much a giant P-day with the entire mission in St Louis. And we just found out that we are going to a Cardinals game. So ya, I am pretty dang excited for that to come up. I think they are playing the Dodgers but not really 100% sure. I know the Dodgers are one of the best teams in baseball right now so hopefully the Cardinals can step up and win it for all the missionaries there.

This is another pretty random story but it made my day. We went to see Brother Michael and his nonmember wife the other day. We didn’t teach them a lesson or anything but we just stopped by during lunch to watch a movie about Thomas S. Monson and eat some pizza. And while we were there Brother Michael just said "Hey Elder Banks me and my wife decided that we wanted to give this to you cause you would probably enjoy it more than we ever will cause we never use it. Its older than you are but it’s still in pretty good shape" and then he tossed me a big white garbage bag. I opened it up and it was a sweet new Raiders blanket. At first I didn’t want to accept it but they said that they would never use it so they wanted me to have it. It is awesome and actually keeps me warm at night unlike my other blanket so it was a really nice surprise.

While we were over there we also talked about Jabari Parker. I am hearing more and more about this kid and it sounds like he is going to be an awesome example for the church. Hopefully he goes on a mission! On there is a sweet video about some kid who has a name that I can’t pronounce, but he is like the Lebron James of rugby. He is really young and one of ten best players in the league. He is getting like 1.5 million dollar offers to sign with a team but instead he is going on a mission. It is an awesome video so if you have some time you should definitely check it out.

So I guess I should probably talk about something spiritual at some point in the email. Sunday was an amazing day. In Jacksonville we have had some amazing numbers over the last few weeks. We have been getting about 7 times the average number of member present lessons and beating the mission standard of excellence in every other category. But the one thing that we just haven’t been able to do is get people to come to sacrament meeting. We have only had 1 investigator at sacrament meeting over the last 2 weeks. So we have been fasting and praying a lot about getting people to come to church. When we got there on Sunday we were happy to see 1 person there. But as we got closer to the start of the meeting they just kept coming in and we ended up with 5 investigators at church this week. It was a huge blessing and a miracle big time. We know that fasting and prayer has been helping us out a lot.

But there was one person there that was more of a miracle than anyone else. His name is Carlos. He is 26 years old and lives about 2 houses from the church. We had a few minutes before out next lesson on Saturday so we figured we would do some tracting real quick. He is one of those knocking on one last door stories. We decided to knock on one last door and he answered. He said that he has wanted God in his life more and we knew him for about 2 minutes before he committed to come to church with us. We picked him up before church and walked over. Before sacrament meeting started he was saying that he had read some of the Book of Mormon that we had given him. He kept saying that it just felt right and it just made sense. It was way more powerful than any other scripture he had ever read before. Then during all 3 meetings he kept fighting back tears and saying that it just felt like everything that was being said was being said straight to him and that he has a really amazing feeling in his chest that he had never had before. After church we were going to lunch at the Mathusek’s and they invited Carlos to come with us. So we ate lunch there and had a first lesson with him. So after less than 24 hours Carlos knows that our church is true. He still has a long way to go and a lot to learn but he wants to learn more and he never wants the lessons or church to be over. He said that he has never felt as good as he did walking out of church on Sunday. He is the kind of person who God has been preparing to hear our message for a long time and we were blessed enough to be the missionaries who knocked on his door. I know that God guides each of us step by step every day and if we will let Him, He will let miracles happen. And I am thankful for that each and every day.
-Elder Banks

Monday, June 4, 2012

June 4, 2012

This email might be a little rushed. We had zone P-day today up in Springfield and it took a really long time. We are having to really rush through everything today cause we have to be on time to a dinner at the bishops house tonight. But there were a few awesome things this week that I want to talk about.

But first congrats to all my friends who graduated high school! That is awesome. College is a blast. And Joel and McKay I heard you guys are staying at my house for Alma Academy. So even though it might be really boring sometimes Alma Academy is like the closest thing you will get to the MTC. And of course Cole is the district leader in his MTC district haha. I have a feeling that kid is going to be doing a lot of leading for the rest of his life.

So this past week there was a leadership training in St Louis that I was pretty excited for cause Elders Barney, Cooper, and Jensen were going to be there. So I was way excited to be together will all of them again. Then I got the great news that for the first time ever trainers don’t get to go to leadership. Yay. So that was awful.

But then today I got a letter from Elder Jensen and I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. He is wondering how everything is going and especially how Shelly is doing. That leads into the coolest experience of the week for me. So Shelly has been having a little bit of a hard time over the last few weeks and she missed 2 church weeks so we were getting a little worried about her. We went over to visit her with brother Mathusek and she told us that she had started to get a little bit relaxed about her reading and wasn’t doing it as much. That led her to kinda fall downhill pretty quickly. Then just a few days later we went to see her again and she had that bright happy spirit about her again. And she told us that she had listened to all of Alma on the computer in less than a week. So we were really excited to hear that. But the really cool thing for me this week was in sacrament meeting. Getting Shelly to church was really hard cause she is terrified of big rooms of people. So when she got up to bear her testimony on fast Sunday I was shocked. She bore such an amazing testimony and it wiped any doubts that I had about her right out of my mind. It was great to see that light back in her and to know that she knows that this is true. She is awesome.

Earlier this week on Tuesday we went to the temple with the Paradees. It was awesome just like always. The coolest part was that we got to do sealings with them for some of their family members after the session. It was really cool to get to do that and it was Elder Andersons first time doing sealings. Then we found out we aren’t supposed to. Whoops. We won’t be doing it again but it was pretty great to get to break that rule once on my mission. The temple is such a special place and I am so glad that I get the chance to go once a transfer. We went to the distribution center afterwards and I ended up spending 30 bucks on random church stuff. I never in a million years would have guessed I would think the distribution center was so awesome. I always told myself that I wasn’t going to turn into one of those weird missionaries who was such a nerd but then we got on our bikes and saw myself in the mirror with church clothes and a bike helmet on and gave up all hope of trying to be cool still. The best part though is that it really doesn’t matter. Yes, we don’t fit in and most of the people here hate us. But most of the time not fitting in with the rest of the world is a good thing.

So quick baptism update. William came to church with his mom this Sunday and it seemed like he really enjoyed it. So he is still on track. Kodie missed church again this week because he was out with his mom so late. It is super frustrating cause he wants to come to church with his grandma so bad but his mom is slowing him down. So we are going to have to move his date back a little bit. We are going on a bike ride with him tomorrow to make sure that everything is still going well though.

Earlier this week I met the craziest human on earth. I will do my best but there is no possible way that I will be able to do justice to this man. So me and Elder Cooper were on exchanges and had just gotten out of an amazing lesson with Terry and TJ. We were walking home and this crazy little red headed guy rides up to us on his bike and just screams Hey are you Jehovah’s Witnesses!! And we said nope we are with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And he just goes well Mormon or not Mormon I know your Christian so let’s do this! And he stuck his hands out and I thought for sure we were going to have to fight this guy. I though he was going to try to kill us. But he just grabs out hands and starts screaming out a prayer in the middle of the road. It was a really weird prayer but it was really nice at the same time. He was asking God to bless us to find people to teach. Then after the prayer he started telling us a bunch of stories about how he had to cast demons out of his friends a couple days ago and now his apartment had evil spirits in it. So that was weird. And the best part is that we set up an appointment with him. We have no idea how that is going to go but we are excited to go and teach him. Like I said earlier there is no way that short story did it justice but just take my word for it that this guy was insane. Super nice and really funny. But insane.

So I will wrap up with a more spiritual note. On Sunday me and Elder Anderson had an appointment to go see Terry and TJ. Brother Farmer went with us too. So we got there and it ended up just being Terry. Real quick just in case you don’t remember, Terry is a less active who was praying for someone to help him get his life back together and a few days later we knocked on his door. He works every other Sunday but he is coming to church again which is awesome. So the lesson we had with him was really fun. We destroyed some stuff that he shouldn’t have in his house and overall it was just a really good lesson. But the best part for me was when I got to bear my testimony to him at the end. I just told him how proud of him I was. That i had loved seeing the change in him so much. He is like 45 and plays Facebook games all day but i can honestly say he is one of my best friends. I will never lose contact with him.

That got me thinking about all of the changes that I have seen in so many people recently. The biggest changes have been in the people that we have recently started teaching. But also I have seen so many changes in my friends from back home. As they all prepare to go on their missions it blows my mind how awesome they all are. Even just getting a simple letter from Weston or Austin shows me that they are changing so much even though they haven’t even left on their missions yet. I’m sure I will grow up a little bit on my mission eventually but the real change that I am hoping for is spiritual. With a physical heart when we get a transplant we have to take pills and stuff to not reject it. And it is the exact same thing with a spiritual heart. My heart has gone through an incredible change over these last 4 months and it is still changing. But the most important thing is that I keep "taking my medicine" so that I don’t reject my new heart. And that is a lifelong process. The last principal of the gospel of Jesus Christ that we teach is endure to the end, and President Eyring always says "endure well." So I hope that all of us can continue to endure well the trials and challenges of life and never reject our new spiritual heart.

Sorry if this email was jumpy at all but we are running low on time. Thank you so much for all of your support, letters, and prayers. They mean more than you will ever know. I pray for all my friends and family every night especially Austin, Taylor, Weston, and Cole as they are all now starting or about to start their missions. Enjoy the NBA finals guys cause I don’t think that you're going to get much of that in the insane places you're about to head out to haha. I love all of you and will talk to you again soon.

-Elder Banks