Saturday, May 30, 2015

Week 25 First Week in Columbia

Hello from Columbia!!

Wow. As much as I miss Frederick, I'm so grateful that I am here in Columbia. First of all, what a beautiful place to be! The most green I've ever seen in my life, beautiful houses and buildings and architecture, it's an amazing place. The branch is amazing, the members that I have met are so nice and supportive and it is amazing to see!! I guess I look like some guy named Tyler Oakley, so that's what I'm known as to most of the Youth... In my area of Frederick, I was told I looked like the guy in Meet the Robinson's, so each Branch has a different identity for me I guess!  But I'm learning so much in this beautiful place. My District and Zone is amazing, and I'm so excited for the upcoming weeks!

Elder Ence & I helping out a member of our Branch.
Finding new people to teach is definitely tough though. We have been searching all over, and most of the people just don't seem interested! I've gotten common responses of, "Talk to me when women have the priesthood" or "I already know enough about your church", "There is no soliciting in this neighborhood" and "Why isn't science in the bible?" The people just don't see a need for the message that we have.

Finally, though, we found someone. Last night we had a miracle. We had received a referral a few days ago, but hadn't been able to get ahold of him yet, so I decided to send a text to the number we had received. I quickly got a reply, and the man said that he had been waiting for a text from the missionaries! He wants to come to church on Sunday, and we are finding him a ride so that he can be there. He is very interested in learning more and very excited to come! We also are working with a part member family, and the 9 year old really wants to be baptized!

The Villatoro Family is an amazing family in the branch. We have been working so closely with Hermano Villatoro, who is less active because of issues with various members. He is married and has 2 daughters, Cindy and Marcy, who are 16 and 14. Their family is amazing, and so much fun to be around.  His wife is one of the nicest ladies I have ever met before! We have been doing service with Hermano Villatoro, and he has really learned to trust and love us, he calls us his sons! Now with that trust, we are working on bringing him back to church! He is always taking us out to lunch and dinner, and telling us about his friends that he wants us to teach!

Jesus is the most recent convert in the area. He is only 8 years old, but has the strongest testimony of anyone that I know! He was just baptized 2 weeks ago. We talked about the Holy Ghost with him, and he said "Wow, I don't want to choose the wrong or else I won't have my best friend with me!" He is amazing. His prayers amaze me, and I've been learning so much lately, the innocence of children is what we all need to have!

Jesus, the newest member of our Branch.
Last weekend, I got to see my very first Quinceanera, for a girl turning 15 in the branch, Andrea Hernandez. We helped set up for it all night on Friday night, then on Saturday night got to come and eat dinner and talk to people. I would say about 80% of the people weren't members, so it was an amazing opportunity to share the gospel, and to see what the Spanish traditions are like!

 This weekend I got to go on an exchange with the Zone Leaders, so I worked for a few days in the Columbia YSA Ward! It was super cool to be able to work in a YSA ward, working with all these guys my age and even getting to go to an activity where we played basketball!

I have heard back from some people in Frederick. Elder Baca and Elder Chaico told me that Diana Ventura, the 6 year old daughter of Alex & Christina, bore her testimony and said that she hopes the best for me! I also got to see them up in Baltimore last Sunday, for another multi-stake testimony meeting!! 

On a Spiritual note, I heard a few amazing insights this week. First was a quote from our Branch Mission Leader, he said "When I was a Bishop, I always told my members: "Whether here or in the Celestial Kingdom, you'll have to forgive others sometime." I loved that. So much of our life we spend being mad at someone or holding something in and holding a grudge. Well, eventually we're going to have to clear it up if we all want to live together in the Celestial Kingdom! So we should learn from Jesus Christ, the perfect example of forgiveness, who immediately forgave people that were trying to kill him. The Character of Christ is truly amazing!

The other thing that I'd love to share is an insight on a verse in the Book of Mormon that I had never thought of much. It's very short, and it's Nephi talking about Lehi. All it says is "My father dwelt in a tent." Doesn't mean much right? But I heard a guy talking about this, and he said that if you look in the verse before, Lehi is reprimanding his sons, telling them that they need to shape-up. The man talking about this said "As a father, this verse means a lot more to me. I feel like Lehi went into the tent to be alone for a little bit. It's not easy being frustrated with your kids and having to reprimand them. Lehi needed some alone time and probably felt bad for what he had to do." I thought that was so interesting! It's made me realize that the scriptures mean more than we think they do! Every scripture has purpose in there, we can take every verse and really learn so much more about it!

I'm so grateful for everything that is happening on my mission, the wonderful things I've been able to learn!! Can't wait to keep learning more this next week!

- Elder Leavitt

Monday, May 18, 2015

Week 24 I'm being Transferred!

I will be in Columbia, just 19 miles out of Downtown Baltimore.

As my time serving in the wonderful branch of Frederick comes to a close this week, I'm so grateful for the experiences that I have had so far, the people that I have met and taught, and the changes that I have seen. After spending almost 5 months with these amazing people, I have grown to know Frederick as my home, and I am so grateful for this opportunity.

Saying Goodbye to the Alvarez Family Today
 So, the time has come for me to go to a new area! I will be serving in Columbia, Maryland, just outside of Baltimore. Columbia is in Howard County, the 2nd richest county in all of the United States. I have heard that it can be tough, the people have all that they believe they need, but I am so excited to serve there! I am so excited to meet new people, talk and teach, and continue to serve in this Gospel. I will be serving with Elder Ence, from St George, Utah. He started his mission in the Dominican Republic but got a rare disease and came to this mission! He has been out almost a year now.

I will miss my companion, Elder Baca.

I will also miss my other companion Elder Chiaco.
This week was great, we have been finding a lot of new people to teach! Most of them have been ladies that we have passed off to the Sisters, so they are teaching them now.
Elder Dutson, one of the Assistants to the President, came out with us this week for a team-up. He came out with me on my very first weekend, and we have been good friends throughout the Mission. I spent Tuesday-Thursday with him and Elder Chaico and Elder Baca worked together. Elder Dutson leaves in a few days to return home from his 2 year mission, so I got to spend a few days learning so much from someone who has been out so long and knows so much. It was such an amazing experience!

A miracle we had was that on Tuesday, Elder Dutson and I decided to knock on a door of a man that I had met a few weeks ago named Artemio. He wasn't there, but someone named Elmer answered and said that we could come over on Monday. So we now had 2 people that were interested in the house. That night, when we returned to the apartment and talked about our day with Elder Baca and Elder Chaico, they talked about a man they had met that said they could come back next week as well. As we talked about it, we started to realize that about 20 minutes after we had knocked Artemio's door, they had knocked on the exact same door, but talked to a different guy named Carlos. So we now have 3 different people that live there that are all interested in the church, without even planning that out. We all thought it was so cool that within 20 minutes we had met different people that lived in that same house, and that we had both decided to knock on that door!

I've been thinking a lot about the transition from a trio back to having just one companion, and I have realized that my entire mission, I should have a trio...because I should always have the Holy Ghost with my companionship. The Holy Ghost must be present or nothing works, I have learned that over and over again on my mission. I'm so excited to go work with Elder Ence in Columbia and have the Holy Ghost with us to help!

Well, this week I start my new journey in Columbia! I'm so excited and so grateful for this opportunity. Thank you for all the support!!

- Elder Leavitt

I received a "Box full of Sunshine" from home this week.

Lots of yellow Goodies!

I think all my bases are covered.

Including little "MINIONARIES"...
Elder Baca, Myself and Elder Chiaco

Mom made these 2 sided cards for me that say, "Note from the Elders".
We can write down our number or leave a little note for people.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Week 23 Mother's Day Call Home

My mom was pretty happy about our Skype call!

Happy Mother's Day!! I hope that everyone had an amazing day yesterday. I'm so grateful for my mother, I know that I wouldn't be out here serving if it wasn't for her love and support throughout my life. I'm so grateful I had the wonderful opportunity to Skype yesterday and see her on that special day for Mothers.

 Well, this past week has been good! Elder Chaico, one of my companions, was sick for a few days, so it provided me a lot of time to Study and learn more of this Gospel! President Richards told us to stay in all day on Tuesday and Wednesday, and it felt so weird! I didn't like being inside when we could've been out talking to people and teaching and sharing this incredible message! But it did provide a great opportunity to study and be more prepared for the next few days.
Yesterday in the Branch was an amazing Sacrament Meeting about Mothers. They had each youth share their testimony of their mother! It was such an amazing experience to hear and see.

Once again, it seems like more and more people show up every single week! Alex and Christina brought a friend named Juan, who lives pretty close to them. They live about 45 minutes from the Church, but I haven't seen them miss a week since January when they were baptized. They are truly converted to the Gospel! Juan seems interested, and we ate dinner with him after Church too! He has had a rough life, and is looking for a better one out here in Maryland. He just moved from Texas, where he had lived for a few years.

This transfer has just flown by, and by next Monday I will know where I will be for at least the next 6 weeks. Wherever I am headed, I am so excited to serve those people! And if I stay in Frederick, I'll be just as excited to stay in this amazing place.
This past week was tough finding people in their houses, which is pretty common now that the weather is better, everyone has found good jobs and is always working. That provides difficulties to teach, but it means that more and more people are outside now! We've been talking to so many people the last few weeks, just trying to meet every person that we can and see who is interested in learning more of the amazing message of Jesus Christ.

I love a quote that was just shared with me today, "Fear knocked on my door, Faith answered, and there was no one there." It really makes you think! When we have faith, fear isn't present. Faith and Fear are complete opposites! It reminds me of the amazing talk that Elder Bednar gave in General Conference about fearing God more than we should fear man. I hope that when fear knocks on all of our doors, we allow faith to answer it and realize that there is nobody knocking.
I love my mission. As I approach 1/4th of my mission complete, I think about the amazing things I have learned so far, and the amazing things I still will be able to learn! I'm so grateful for this opportunity to serve. There is nothing better than seeing the change that the Gospel brings. Share the Good News of the Gospel!

Con amor,
Elder Leavitt

Monday, May 4, 2015

week 22 Happy Cinco de Mayo

My Zone here in Frederick

This week has been crazy to say the least! From lesson to lesson, contacting people, and the Baltimore Riots, there has been so much going on!

With the craziness of Baltimore, I have definitely seen the power of fasting and prayer. Even though there is so much evil going on there, there is so much good in the people that are still standing for peace and helping others that are in trouble. This past Fast Sunday, we fasted for the people of Baltimore and for the safety of everyone around. It is something that I will never forget, being here during the Baltimore Riots, and I'm so grateful that things are starting to turn around now.

Our view as we headed into Baltimore last Wednesday for an appointment. 

The National Guard was Posted on the street corners.

Another picture of the National Guard from our car window.

Another miracle has happened recently! So, a few months ago, Elder Fisher and I, while on exchanges, knocked on a random door that we felt prompted to knock on. A lady opened and we talked to her, and invited her to an activity for the Stake, and she seemed happy and excited. Well, a few weeks passed and eventually it was hard to find her in the house with a man there, so we couldn't go in and teach her. But now, with Sister Missionaries, they have been able to have lessons with her! Not only that, Tami, this lady, said that a few weeks ago she was in dire need of help, and that was the day when we, the Elders, knocked on her door. It was a similar experience to what I had last week with Carolina, and was something so cool to hear about! The Sisters are teaching her the lessons and I'm so excited to see how it goes with her, the Spirit really leads and guides us throughout everything.

Things are going well with our Investigators. It's hard at times to find the Zamora Family in their house, but when we do we have had great talks with Alfonso, he is still reading the Book of Mormon and really trying to find out for himself that it really is true!

Carolina is progressing well! She will always be a miracle with the way we found her. We talked more about her journey through the hospital and through the Appendix Surgery. We talked a little about my Liver Disease actually and she talked about Prayer and how she would pray for me as I serve my mission. She really is understanding everything so well and loving what we have to teach!

We have a few young men we are teaching right now, around ages 16 to 18. All of them are some of the coolest people I have met, but they all have the same issue...they are just too busy or too lazy. It's hard for them to read because of school, and we have found that they are basically just using their time for Netflix and the Church and the message we have just hasn't really been a priority to them! So that's been tough, and I've realized that sometimes at home, I didn't use my time super wisely! We only have so much time every day, we really do need to make the best of it...maybe watching 8 hours of netflix a day is too much? 

Last night was super cool, we got to go to Martinsburg, West Virginia, for a Testimony Meeting for the Spanish Branches around us. We took Alex and Christina, and they both bore their testimonies. I can honestly say I don't know if I've ever felt the power of a testimony more than when Alex bore his testimony to all these people about the power of the Book of Mormon. A man who knew nothing of the Book of Mormon months before, bearing probably the most powerful testimony I've ever witnessed in person was something I can't even explain. Alex is such an amazing example to me, and their family is so incredible!

Alex and Christina's beautiful daughter.
The last few weeks have been crazy busy! I think we've taught more lessons and talked with more people than at any point of my mission so far. Spanish is pushing me, being with 2 Native Speakers, but I love it! I feel like I'm learning so much.

Zone Conference this past Friday.

My companions & I had the opportunity to teach at Zone Conference.

There is so much of the Gospel to learn, and things that we might never be able to fully understand and be able to completely grasp! The immensity of the Plan of Salvation and the love that the Lord has for us can never truly be comprehended. But I know without a doubt that this church is true. I know that a Mission has changed my life more than anything ever could!!!!

Share the Gospel! We are part of something so incredibly special. Remember that everyone around you is a Child of God. Judging will do nothing, we must love with all that we have, and at that moment, we will become more like God and see his Children as he does. We will be able to understand more of the Gospel and the way that we should live. Even though we may never fully grasp the entirety of the Love of Christ, we can work every single day to emulate his amazing example! I pray for this with each one of you throughout the week, thank you so much for the support.

Con amor,
Elder Leavitt

My "Cinco De Mayo" Package from home.

I was so happy to see there was NO Cow Intestines included!

Dear Parents,

It's time for an update on our missionary work here in the Baltimore area of the Lord's vineyard. The riots have calmed over the weekend and things are quiet. The safety of the missionaries continues to be our priority and after prayer and counciling with authorities we are sending our inner city missionaries back to their apartments today and they will start teaching again tomorrow! They will  have an 8 pm curfew at our request to insure their safety.

We realize that many of you dedicated your fast yesterday in behalf of the mission and we feel that the Lord has answered your prayers.   We are honored to serve with you and with your missionaries.


Mark L. Richards

LDS missionaries in Baltimore safe as city calms

In response to rioting and violence that has shaken downtown Baltimore this week, six LDS missionaries serving in the area have been temporarily reassigned to nearby suburbs. The three companionships of elders had been serving in the Inner Harbor Ward and the Alameda Spanish Branch, both in the Baltimore Stake, and the Brooklyn Park Branch in the Annapolis, Maryland Stake.
“My wife and I have been monitoring it very closely,” Maryland Baltimore Mission President Mark L. Richards said Wednesday morning. "I struggled to sleep Monday night and spent the evening watching news coverage. Sister Richards and I love these young missionaries like our own sons and daughters.”
President Richards had already mandated all missionaries in the area return to their apartments before dark on Monday.
“Let me tell you, the Lord truly watches over his missionaries," President Richards said. "I got a call Monday morning from the Washington D.C. North Mission president, Peter Cooke. He was hearing things would get really bad at 3 p.m. So, I immediately texted all missionaries telling them no one was to visit downtown on their preparation day. They love going down there, especially the missionaries serving outside the city who don’t normally get to see the sights around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.”
As for the three companionships closest to the rising protests, they were safely in their apartments by 3 p.m. A senior couple also serving downtown live far from the epicenter of activity and were never in harm's way.
By 4 p.m., violence erupted in areas the missionaries likely would be have been visiting. Before calm was restored, schools were closed, more than 100 vehicles were destroyed, 20 police officers were injured and 15 buildings were set on fire.
President Richards monitored the situation closely throughout the night, and at 2 a.m. felt impressed to remove the three companionships at sunrise. “We didn’t want to send young missionaries, or even a senior couple downtown after dark. So, we kept them safely in their apartments and began making calls at 6:15. By 7:30, when the trouble was still asleep, the six missionaries were safely in a vehicle with Elder and Sister Moss, a wonderful senior couple serving in the office. Where would we be without our senior missionaries?"
President Richards reports that though Tuesday night’s curfew seemed to have helped the situation, the six missionaries will likely remain outside the city for a few more days. "Just like any mission president, we take no chances," he said. "We won’t send the missionaries back to work downtown until we’re confident they’ll be safe.”
In the meantime, President Richards has been communicating with contacts in the Baltimore Police Department, local church leaders, the missionaries and their families. “We've been getting calls, emails and texts from all over. We're grateful, and please know the missionaries were never in any danger."
President Richards concluded with a call for prayer. "This is a special place. We love Baltimore and the people here, no matter what church they belong to. Their safety and well-being is just as important as the missionaries, and we hope everyone will join our prayers that peace will last.”

Article by Deseret News
Published on April 29, 2015

Friday, May 1, 2015

New letter from Mission President

Dear Parents,

Thank you for your continuous prayers and concern on behalf of our missionaries serving in the Maryland Baltimore Mission! We want you to know that the missionaries continue to be safe and are working hard to further the Lord's work. The safety of your missionaries continues to be our highest priority.

We still feel it is unsafe to allow any missionaries to go into downtown Baltimore at this time. Helping Hands projects have been suggested for cleanup in the area but we deem that unsafe because of the danger that still exists.

Again, we are very grateful for your prayers for your missionaries and also for our members in Baltimore.  We are honored and blessed to serve with your missionaries! They are the finest in the world.


Mark L. Richards