Monday, September 24, 2012

New companion, Elder Williams

             I can’t believe it has only been 7 days since I emailed last. So much stuff has happened it feels like it has been a year. Monday and Tuesday were pretty normal days. Then Wednesday was transfer meeting and we headed out to St Louis to get new companions. It was tough to see Elder Waldron go home but from what I have heard he is doing well with his new life. I must say transfer day was probably the most stressful day of my mission so far. I don’t think there was 5 minutes where our phone wasn’t exploding with calls and texts. Between having to drive back to St Louis to get some lost keys and opening 2 new areas where elder’s didn’t have rides to get back from the meeting it was quite the day.

The best part of transfer day was getting to meet Elder Williams. He is awesome. He is about 6'4" and close to double my weight. He is a huge goofball. Just like all the rest of my companions he is really tough to figure out. He loves outdoor stuff like hunting and has worked on an oil rig/ in an oil field thing since he was 13. But he is also super good at singing opera. Haha that is definitely a talent that can keep us entertained. Unfortunately he is a Broncos fan so the trash talk has been pretty much nonstop. If the Raiders lose next week I will probably never heard the end of it. It has been amazing to have him back in Fairview Heights though. Everyone in the ward loves him and is so glad he is back. He has only been out for 6 weeks longer than me and he spent his first 6 months in Fairview. He has never really had a normal companion because he got trained and then trained twice. So this is a big change for him but he loves it. As zone leaders we are co-senior companions which is great. I am ZL1 but I’m 99% sure that doesn’t actually mean anything. We are both just really happy to have a companion who is close to our same mission age and we can work completely as equals. Apparently there was a ton of confusion between when he left Fairview and now because he has like 20 investigators for us to go and see. Our teaching pool has doubled in the last couple days just from people who were lost or forgotten after he left. We stopped back by and they are excited to see us and want to learn more.

            Of course it has been a big change getting a new companion. One big difference is that Elder Waldron would ask me every time we left the apartment if I had the keys, and every time I thought Ya I’m not stupid of course I have the keys. So of course the 2nd day that he is gone I locked the keys in the apartment. That was a humbling experience. It was really fun though because it would have been so easy for us to get frustrated and for Elder Williams to get mad, but it ended up being a ton of fun. Luckily the night before we had unlocked the window of our apartment. The bad thing is that window is on the 2nd story. So we spent the next 30 minutes breaking into our 2nd story window and getting the keys. It was a fun night.

            Another theme this week was humbling experiences. We met up with a kid named Alex White. He was a former investigator and is a really cool kid who is about 13. Because the weather is cooling down when we go down to Cahokia there is always a million kids outside playing street ball. So of course when we saw Alex outside playing basketball we did the whole, if we can beat you in PIG we get to teach you thing. Let’s just say getting killed by a 13 year old in PIG will knock your pride down a couple levels. But thankfully he wanted to have a lesson with us anyways. He is a super bright kid and we read Lehi's dream with him. He picked up pretty much everything that we wanted him to and we are going back for a little bit of redemption in basketball and a 2nd lesson sometime next week.

            This coming up week is going to be absolutely crazy. Tonight we are going to O’Fallon for an exchange and I will be spending the night there. The next night we are going up to Alton to have a blitz up there. We are going to drive home from that and head straight over to Zone Conference. Zone Conference is a 6 hour meeting with about 60 other missionaries and president and sister Clark that we are in charge of. Then Friday we are going to St Louis for Zone Leader Council and that’s another 6 hour meeting. Then we get to finish the week off with DLZLC for a couple hours on Saturday and then church on Sunday. It sounds like a lot of long boring meetings but we are so excited. This is going to be the quickest week ever for us.

             Something in my mom’s email to me this week that really surprised me was hearing that Connor got his mission call. It is so crazy that it has been almost a year since I found out I was headed to the St Louis Mission. And now hearing about all of my friends coming up on their missions is the coolest thing ever. I can’t wait to hear about all of the mission calls that are coming to my friends now. Going on a mission is by far the hardest decision I have ever had to make. And don’t try to fool yourself into thinking it’s going to get any easier once you are out in the field. It’s always going to be tough, but it is also always going to be worth it. Having the testimony that what you are doing is the greatest thing that you could ever do for your life and for the lives of so many others makes all of the hard times worth it. There is no physical, mental, or spiritual pain that any of us could ever go through that Christ hasn’t already gone through first. No matter what comes our way the quiet assurance that all of our losses and trials will be made up to us if we are faithful can always keep us going. There are many people in our lives who have tried their hardest to point us in the right direction, but that is about all they can do. They can show us the right way and try their hardest to help us down it, but we won’t ever budge down the right path unless we make that choice ourselves. I love you all and I pray for you every day. I am so thankful for good friends who are making the right decision to go on a mission. I know that if you put the effort into it that God expects of you then it will be the greatest experience of your life.

-Elder Banks

Monday, September 17, 2012

New companion

Most emails homes I can start by saying that it has been a roller coaster of a week with lots of ups and lots of downs. Unfortunately some weeks have a lot more downs than ups. It has been interesting because nothing really that bad has happened this week but it has just been so hard to do everything we need to do. It’s just one of those weeks where you know Satan is trying to smack you around and all you can do is hope that he is trying so hard to get us down because next week is going to be so amazing.

Something that has been hard recently is trying to work with our investigators. They are all great when it comes to having lessons. But lessons don’t do much good if the people aren’t progressing or wanting to put in the effort. Something else that has made this week a little tough is knowing that Elder Waldron goes home on Wednesday. It’s always hard to lose a companion. As I have learned recently it’s extra hard when that companion is going home. The normal feelings of having to get a new companion mixed with all the thoughts of holy cow I still have a year and a half left before I am at the point he is. It’s been a long weekend haha.

With Elder Waldron going home I am in need of a new companion. We got transfer calls on Saturday night and they came with a lot of excitement but also a ton of stress. My new companion is Elder Williams. All I really know about him is that he is really tall and blonde. One interesting thing I learned about him is that he has been out for about 10 months and he spent his first 6 or so in Fairview Heights. I am so thankful that he is already going to know the area and the ward so well. There is going to be a lot of learning going on between the 2 of us. He has never been a zone leader before so I will be training him on how to do that. And he has 4x the experience in the area that I do so hopefully he will be able to bring all kinds of new secrets with him.

Transfer calls were interesting because we found out we are opening 2 new areas in the zone. It’s really exciting because we get a few new missionaries, but it brings a lot of chores onto the zone leaders. We have so many random things to do. We have to figure out how to get people to and from transfer meeting and get them apartments and pretty much help them start an area from nothing. Also I get the fun job of telling some areas that we are taking their cars away and giving them to the new areas that are opening up. I have noticed that I keep getting comfortable on my mission so God decided to give me a nice hard shove out of my comfort zone. Thankfully the only way I can expand my comfort zone and learn is to rely on God’s help. He won’t ever leave us on our own and even when a bunch of trials come by we have to rely on him to help us make it through.

 This email has probably sounded super negative and made me sound way stressed out. Which pretty much sums up the way I feel. But Sunday was a really good learning experience for me this week. In Fairview they have a very clear theme to their sacrament meetings. This week’s theme was adversity. There was a talk by a lady in sacrament meeting and she had 2 quotes that I really loved in it. The first one was "We have to decide if we are going to be a Tigger or an Eyore." I loved that idea because our attitude means pretty much everything. Our happiness in no way relies on the circumstances that we are put in. We are as happy as we decide to be. God didn’t put us down here on earth to be miserable and to have us suffer our way back to Him. We are here to learn and grow and have fun. God will always be there giving us the opportunity to be happy we just have to be the ones who accept it.

The second quote she had was one that everyone should apply to their lives. "Don’t complain. Just work harder." That was a real punch in the chest the first time I heard it. It is so true though. I could sit in my apartment all day and feel bad for myself and wake up the next morning and be just as miserable. Or we can get up and stop worrying about ourselves and get to work. God didn’t give missionaries 2 years to come out and do whatever they want with. This is His 2 years that he is allowing us to have and we will answer for every minute that we waste. I am so thankful that God knows me and that He is willing to help me every time I need it. No matter what it is or why I am not feeling the best there is always something that comes into my life to make me happier. I am so thankful for all the people that I have had the chance to meet on my mission. A lot of people are getting transferred out of the zone this week and that is really hard to lose so many friends so quickly. But I am so thankful for the missionaries and the ward members who have changed my life so much so far. Being on a mission is great. We are constantly surrounded by people who hate us, but we also have the greatest support system anyone could ever ask for. There are hundreds of people we have the opportunity to talk to who know this church is true and want to help us as much as they can. I am so thankful for all the people that have blessed my life so much.

I’ll end with a cool analogy that I heard in church this week. The straight and narrow path that we all try to live our lives on is like the lane of a highway. When we stay in the lines we will be safe. However, no one is perfect and sometimes we cross the line a little. Sometimes we can get back over no harm done. Other times we get into a head on collision. The only way to truly stay safe is to stay inside the lines at all times. Thankfully just like a rumble strip on a highway we have a warning. When we start to cross that line in our car we get a nice loud noise and a shaky car to tell us to head back over. In life whenever we start to drift of our path the Holy Ghost gives us a nice reminder that we should get back in the lines. Just like a rumble strip, the Holy Ghost can’t stop us from going outside the lines. It is ultimately our own decision what we want to do. But we are always safer and better off inside the lines. I am so thankful for all the blessings that I have seen in my life and all the people who have helped me stay on the straight and narrow. I hope that someday I will be able to give back even a fraction of what you have all done for me. I love all of you and will talk to you again soon.

-Elder Banks

Monday, September 10, 2012

I love getting to hear about my friend’s mission calls. That is one of the coolest things that I get to read about in my mom’s emails. Way to go everybody for making the best decision that you will ever make! I heard about Jeremy and Sam today. Way to go guys. I also know there is a bunch of stuff going on in the sports world right now. I heard all about the Utah loss to Utah State which is great. And the Raiders play tonight. I will probably just have to tract in my McFadden jersey today. I also had the great realization a little while ago that a mission is 2 years and 5 days long. And just my luck in the 5 extra days that I’m out I will miss my 3rd super bowl. I guess that is Gods way of trying to get me to stop thinking about sports.

But anyway now we can start talking about the important stuff. This week started out reallllly long, but it got a lot better as the week went on. Monday was a normal P-day but I stated to feel my ribs on my right side acting up a little bit. I have always had problems with them coming out of place but it has never really been a problem so I just left it. That night we were in Mt Vernon and we slept on the floor. After laying on my ribs for 8 hours straight on a hard floor I woke up and they hurt a lot. It made sleeping really hard for the next few days. I would finally fall asleep but every time I woke up at night it hurt too badly to lay in bed. So I had to sit up and it took forever to get back to bed. Between that and not sleeping in Fairview Heights for a few days I was probably more tired than I have ever been before in my life. But the good thing about being tired as a missionary is that the more tired you are and the more you don’t want to do something the more blessings come from doing it anyways. The end of the week was filled with amazing blessings that were probably a result of pushing through those first few days.

Saturday was the beginning of some of the better things of the week. We went down to Cahokia and served food at the Atrium which is a retirement home full of crazy people. That is always an adventure. This time it was even weirder because while we were serving lunch some preacher guy was giving a sermon. It really helped me appreciate the Spirit more. Because the Spirit wasn’t with that preacher at all and it made a world of difference.

After we served lunch we stayed in Cahokia for a while and taught some people. There is a guy named Ron in our ward who I have talked about before who comes around with us to teach his friends. Thank goodness he is willing to come with us because without him we would be totally lost. We went to teach a few of his friends and every time we tried to explain something they got confused. So after we would talk Ron would translate what we were trying to say into the ghetto version and they understood perfectly. The MTC should definitely start teaching ghetto as a language. We had a really good couple hours down in Cahokia and a few appointments to come back later this week. Hopefully we can have a few people make it out to church with us next week and help them progress.

The one heartbreak of the day was when we went to teach Lee. He told us that he prayed about the Book of Mormon and knew it was true and knew our church was true. That was great news. The not so great news came about 30 seconds later when he told us that he was moving to North Carolina tomorrow. So he is already gone out of the state but now we just hope and pray the missionaries we pass him off to can help him make the final steps to baptism.

I forgot to mention this but Friday we got to go to the temple. It was in interesting experience. We went to Applebee’s right before the temple and it was a pretty worldly environment with ESPN on all over and just stuff like that. It was pretty cool to get to go from that atmosphere straight into the temple to watch Elder Waldron’s old ward mission leader get sealed to his wife and kids. I had never seen a sealing before so that was a really cool experience for me.

Saturday night was probably my favorite part of the week. We got a text from one of the members in our ward and he asked us if we wanted to come play basketball. After finding out he had a nonmember friend there we decided to go play. First of all I loved it because I haven’t played basketball forever and it was a blast. But the real testimony builder came at the end. We played a few games of 2 on 2 and we had to play the classic game where the missionaries have to be on the same team. If we win then we get to share a spiritual message. The game was fun and everything but I started to get a little worried at the end. We were tied when it got close to the end and the next team to get up by 2 won. The reason that worried me so much was because like i said before I was dead tired all week, and after playing basketball for so long my ribs were really starting to hurt again. I could barely walk around and I knew we couldn’t win without some help. Standing a few feet back of the 3 point line after I got the ball and just said a silent prayer of Heavenly Father, I’m so tired... I really want to share a spiritual thought and we have to win to do it. Please let this shot go in. So as a last ditch effort I faded back and just chucked the ball in the direction of the hoop. There is no doubt in my mind that God helped on this shot because it felt bad coming off my hand and looked even worse once it was in the air. But thankfully a simply prayer was answered and it went in without even touching the rim. After the game we shared a message with a teenaged kid named Kevin. He committed to read the Book of Mormon. At the beginning of the lesson he was cracking jokes and not taking it seriously but by the end you could tell he knew what we were teaching was serious. I really hope that we get talk with him again soon.
Sunday was good as always and it was Elder Waldron’s birthday. Before any birthday celebrations we went to church. The first hour was the primary program which is always fun and the second hour we were supposed to have a lesson on Charity by our ward mission leader. About 2 seconds before class started he looked at me and said hey Elder Banks, will you start the lesson off for me I have to go do something. I ended up teaching the 45 minute lesson on charity. I am so thankful for that opportunity. God obviously knew that I needed to work on my charity a little more. I thought that I was a really charitable person. But right when you think you’re good at something God likes to show you how much you still have to learn. I know that I still have a ton to learn and I am so thankful that I got to learn more on Sunday.

I have heard this quote a couple times on my mission and I might have shared it before. But my mom showed it to me again this week so I figured it was a good thing to end with. The quote is "Pray like everything depends on God, and then work like everything depends on you." I love this quote because it takes away any excuse anyone has to not work. To get results in anything we have to do our part. God won’t magically give us a testimony of everything. He could, but he won’t. We have to act and do our part. There is a story about a man on a sinking ship. He prays that God will save his life. A boat comes by and tries to pick him up and he says no thanks God will save me. Then a helicopter come by and tries to save him but gets the same response. The man drowns. When he gets up to heaven he is pretty annoyed and says go God I prayed so why didn’t you save me? God tells the man I sent a boat and a helicopter. What else do you want me to do? We have all been sent our own versions of boats and helicopters. God is always reaching out trying to save us. But we have to act, and we have to accept the gifts given to us by God. I hope we can all recognize and accept those blessings in our lives.

-Elder Banks

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sister Kremer's Baptism

Thanks to my mom I am going to be a good son for once and remember someone’s birthday before it’s too late. It’s my dad’s birthday today and I just wanted to say happy birthday and I hope that everything goes great. I know mom will put raisins in the desert for once so that will hopefully make today a good day.

Just like always this week was insanely busy. I can’t believe that I have been with Elder Waldron in Fairview Heights for like 3 weeks now. The time is going by so fast because we always have a ton of stuff to do. One of the things we got to do this week was have a zone leader council. We all drove down to St Louis and the zone leaders, assistants, and president Clark all met up to have a meeting. I always laugh because I used to almost die having to sit in sacrament meeting for an hour. But on Friday we sat in a big room around a table for 6 hours and it flew by. We did get a break half way through to go eat some huge hamburgers so that helped too. It was a new experience getting to sit in a meeting where decisions for the entire mission are made. Even though it really only matters what president decides it’s fun to get to feel important. I got super lucky this week with meetings as well. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I was in a church building and all 3 times in the middle of the meeting it sounded like the building was going to get ripped in half. We had pretty much nonstop rain for the last few days but all 3 times it really started to pour I was lucky enough to be inside.

The day after that meeting was Saturday and that was a great day because we got to go to Sis. Kremer’s baptism. Baptisms may only be an hour or 2 long but those few hours are amazing. It is so nice to get to just sit down and think about the changes that this person has made in their life. Knowing that I get to play even the smallest of roles in helping these people completely change their lives is an amazing blessing. But my favorite part of baptisms is always the day after when they get the Holy Ghost. Seeing a person freshly baptized and perfectly clean is an amazing experience. When they get that brand new gift to lead and guide them through their lives they always seem to just glow. They are a completely changed person and they get to feel Gods love in a whole new way.

Something that I have found about being a missionary is that it’s impossible to really share any of the experiences that we have, especially over email. But I am just so thankful for the opportunity that I have had to see another person’s life change through finding the gospel. A lot of the time people will thank us for helping them but honestly we are the ones who should be thanking those people. They allow us to do the one thing that missionaries love more than anything and that is to help people come closer to their Savior Jesus Christ.

This upcoming week is going to be a really interesting one. I think we are spending 2 nights this week in our own apartment. It is always really fun to get to go to other areas and work with other missionaries. But just like a vacation it’s always really nice to get to go back home. We start out trips this week in Mt Vernon. We are actually there right now and it is a really good place. They have a pretty small branch and a lot of struggles with missionary work but we love getting to come in and try to help out.

Outside from the baptism this last week was super normal. We were a little worried because after Sis. Kremer got baptized we weren’t going to have anyone else to teach. Thankfully God had mercy on us and we found a couple new people to meet with. Everything is just in the beginning stages right now but hopefully soon you will be hearing about more people making the decision to be baptized.

I want to end this week with another quote from Bryan Ready, the Baptist minister. When we had our meeting with him the other day he said "Faith without works is dead, but works without faith is meaningless." I know i have talked about this a lot recently and I might have even used this quote before, but the idea behind it is so important. I have heard a ton of stories this week of missionaries that I knew who went home and have already reverted right back to making the same mistakes they made before their missions. Serving a mission is an amazing thing but it also amazes me that completely dedicating your life to this gospel for 2 years isn’t enough to keep you active for 2 months, much less the rest of your life. To really be converted and stay active in the gospel and in the church we have to make these things important. Church can’t just be a 3 hour chunk of time we take out of our week because our mom taught us it was a good idea growing up. It has to become the most important thing in our lives that lasts forever. It’s not good enough to just hold onto the iron rod, we have to grab on and start walking toward the tree. We have to do our part. Satan is smart. He knows exactly when we are most vulnerable and he is going to do everything he can to get us off the straight and narrow path. I hope and pray that I can continue to stay on that path and trust in God far more than I trust in anything else. I hope that we can all see the importance of this and work together to reach the end goal.

-Elder Banks