It feels like it has been about 5 years since I sent my last email home. This week has been really good and a ton has happened but it feels like it has gone on forever. The first few days of this week I was in Jacksonville. It was a really interesting couple days. Tuesday I went around and tried to see as many different people as possible. It was really tough to say goodbye to all of them. Tuesday was a huge reason that this week felt like it went on forever. Leaving an area is one of the strangest and hardest things I have had to do on my mission so far.
Wednesday was transfer day. I packed up all my stuff and headed out to St. Louis. We had a really good transfer meeting this time. We had 5 missionaries come into the mission and 20 leave. It was a big chunk of people leaving because some went home a transfer early so they could sign up and go to school. Overall we lost 15 missionaries this transfer so it has caused quite the change in the mission. A bunch of areas have closed and tripanionships have turned back into companionships. Wednesday was the first day time that I met Elder Waldron. He has been an awesome companion so far. We get along really well and we have a lot of fun together. Like I said before he goes home at the end of this transfer. That comes with a lot of positives and some negatives as well. It is awesome because he has 23 months of experience to share with me. I have learned so much over these last few days it’s crazy. The only thing that is a little bit distracting is that we always have the only 6 weeks left thing over our heads. It never slows us down or distracts us but it is always there in the back of our minds. I am really thankful that he is willing to work hard to finish out his mission though.
Being called as a zone leader has been a really interesting experience. Just like pretty much everything else it comes with a bunch of ups and downs. Before I got to Fairview Heights I was thinking the positives would be I would almost always be put in a good area (so our area can be the example) and I would almost always have a good companion. I wasn’t so excited to have to deal with problems in the mission and a whole bunch of meetings and paper work. The first few days in our new area were definitely not what I expected. I found out that we were white washing so I am still yet to find out what it’s like to get a new area without doing that. Elder Waldron was the zone leader in this zone before but he was in a different area. They decided that it was time to change things up a little bit so they moved the zone leader area.
When we got to the apartment it was not looking so good. The apartment itself was a disaster. There was furniture everywhere and none of it was clean. Every single table and desk has about 50 names of past missionaries carved into it and pretty much everything was covered in dust and everything else you can imagine. That wasn’t the best of starts. Then we found a piece of paper that told us about the area a little bit. It was really, really negative. The main thing that stuck out to me is that the past elders said that the ward is very unhelpful. They never seem to want to do any kind of missionary work. As you can probably guess we weren’t doing too great after we saw all of that. The first few days were really long. We had a ton of planning to do and cleaning to do. For probably the first 2 days we cleaned, planned, and tracted. It got old real fast. The funny thing is I know that God knew that’s what we needed. We hated our new area a lot and that was the one thing that seemed to bring our companionship closer together. It didn’t seem like we had any support from anyone except for each other so we supported each other as much as we possibly could.
The week really got a lot better on Sunday. We headed out to church and we sat down in ward council to talk about the missionary work. From reading the letter and talking to a couple people on the phone we fully expected it to be awful. We could not have been more wrong. This ward is amazing. They have been feeding the missionaries really well recently. But we told them that the purpose of the dinner calendar isn’t to get us into members’ homes to eat. It is to get us into less active and part member homes to find new people to teach. That idea isn’t usually loved by most wards that hear it but they jumped right on it. They looked at the less active part member list and instantly assigning people to make calls. By the end of church we already had 3 part member dinner appointments set up for the coming weeks. This has all really been a testimony to me of what working hard as a missionary can do. The missionaries in the past didn’t work very hard and felt like it was the ward against them. We came in this week just wanting to do what is right and the ward has been behind us 100 percent. And the best part about the ward is that their church looks like the inside of a boat. Probably not on purpose. But every time we go into the chapel it feels like we are in a Viking ship. It’s pretty sweet.
After church we went to teach a part member family the Kremers. We were really excited to go to this lesson because we hadn’t been teaching very much and we knew this was a great opportunity. She had taken the lessons before from other missionaries but it just hadn’t really worked out. She came to church and liked it alright. Teaching her the first lesson was an amazing experience. She understood everything and it all made sense to her but nothing too special was happening. Then we got to the Joseph Smith story and the Spirit was so strong there is no way anyone could deny it. Taking advantage of the amazing feeling everyone in the room had we invited her to be baptized. Miraculously she accepted. Sister Kremer has a date set for the 1st of September. I am so thankful to God for putting great people into my path so far on my mission. I have had the opportunity to teach so many amazing people and I am glad that the blessings are continuing to come.
Going from Jacksonville to Fairview Heights has been a pretty huge change. In Jacksonville I was one of 4 missionaries in a district and the closest companionship was about 40 minutes away from us. In our new area we preside over about 20 missionaries and there are companionships within 10 minutes of us in every direction. I have loved getting to be around so many other missionaries. Very rarely a day goes by that we don’t get to hang out with other elders.
The area itself is a little interesting. Fairview Heights is right next to East St Louis so we have some very rough areas. Thankfully in our area we can just stay on the good half of the city and be alright. Last night I got a real wake up call to what the world is really like though. The East St Louis elders called us at about 8: 30 and told us they were stuck in the city and didn’t have a way home. They had missed their bus and would have had to wait for a while to catch the next one. Not wanting to make them sit in the dark in one of the most dangerous cities in America we went to pick them up.
Sitting in the passenger seat of that car and looking around at what we were driving through that city made my heart heavy. We drove through a small city of about 4500 people. On the main street alone we drove past 8 strip clubs. Driving through the neighborhoods and seeing the way those people live is hard to even look at. Taking the other elders back to their apartment we drove past a bus stop. Elder Hart said "That bus stop is where we missed our bus a few days ago because some guys got mowed down by a machine gun."
I always thought it would be pretty cool to get to say I was in East St Louis after dark. It was a lot more sad than it was cool. It humbled me so much though. I don’t know why I am lucky enough to be blessed with the knowledge of this gospel but I am so thankful I am. Looking around the world and seeing how messed up everything is makes me want to share the gospel with everyone. The reason that we are willing to walk around in neighborhoods like that is because we know that the message we share can change someone’s life. No matter how far gone you seem to be the gospel can always bring you back. I am so thankful for this opportunity that I have to share this life changing message with everyone around us. We are all blessed more than we can imagine. It’s our job to never overlook that and to always serve and share as much of our happiness as we possibly can.
113 Union Hill Road #6
Fairview Heights, IL 62208