Monday, August 31, 2015

Week 38-39 Baltimore Orioles Game

There are absolutely no words to describe the last 2 weeks! So much has happened and I hope that I can explain it all and that this email all makes sense! I apologize for not being able to write last week, but I'll try to make this double long to make up for it!

I'll start with the Baltimore Orioles game! On the 21st, we got to go to the Orioles-Twins baseball game!! It was so much fun to be able to watch sports, it is something that I have definitely missed while I've been gone!! While I was at the game, I got to see many of my friends that I have met so far on my mission! I saw Elder Cornejo, my previous companion, along with the Branch President in the Frederick Branch! Also, our 9 year old investigator Victor Soriano and his sister and dad came!! We got to go up and sit by them for a little bit and they were absolutely loving it! It was so amazing to have all the missionaries in the entire mission all at the game, and the family that we went with also brought 3 of their friends that we are now working with! We also have been invited to go to another Orioles game with the same family, and President Christiansen has given us permission for that, so hopefully soon we will be going to another game! Overall, even though the Orioles lost, it was so fun to be there and meet people, see old friends, and enjoy the night.

Mormon Family Night
Over 4,000 LDS members attended the 8th Annual Event

Camden Field - Orioles vs Twins - August 21, 2015

Elder Cornejo and I with Victor and Leylani  Soriano

Rebekah, the lady that Elder Cornejo and I met in the streets, will be getting baptized on the 12th of September into the Ellicott City Ward. Rebekah is about 35 or 40, a very tall African-American woman that grew up here in Baltimore. Last week, I saw her walk out of sacrament and she ran up to me and said "Elder Leavitt, I was just thinking about you in there! I hope you'll be coming to my baptism!" She then explained how much she was loving coming to church, the Gospel, everything, and how grateful she was that Elder Cornejo and I had stopped and talked to her. I am so grateful for her and all that she has taught me. I can't even explain the feelings I felt to see Rebekah walk out of the chapel, and for her to look at me as a representative of Jesus Christ and somebody that meant something to her. I don't feel like I did much, I talked to her. But to her, what Elder Cornejo and I did changed her life, and because of that, I am so grateful to our Heavenly Father for leading us to where she was walking. Please pray for Rebekah the next few weeks before her baptism!

The progress with Victor and the rest of his family has been absolutely amazing. Victor has now come 3 weeks in a row which means...THIS SATURDAY HE IS GETTING BAPTIZED!! We are so absolutely excited! He has loved the primary, and not only that, his parents and sister have now been reactivated. Last night, we had a dinner with them, and the entire hour we were laughing, everyone was smiling, telling jokes, eating food, it was an absolute amazing time. What a change from when we had first met that family! The mother had not wanted to meet us, the father didn't talk much, but now we have grown so incredibly close and I absolutely love the Soriano Family. This Saturday, Victor will be baptized and the entire family will now be part of the Church of Jesus Christ. What an amazing miracle! 

It has been super fun to teach Victor! We have been trying to do cool object lessons so that he can understand better, and it's truly stretched our imagination. We have been teaching the lessons with everything you can imagine: skittles, One Direction cups, despicable me toys, and it has truly been so fun! We also play baseball with him every time we go! Tonight we will be doing a Family Home Evening with them! Victor truly feels like another younger brother to me!

Every single week the Branch seems to grow! 2 months ago, we averaged about 60 in sacrament and 7 in the Gospel Principles class. We are now averaging about 80 in sacrament and 18 in the Gospel Principles class. The Lord is truly helping us in this Branch and it has been so amazing to see. On Sunday, the Noboa family, a less active family I have been working with for about 4 months now, all returned to church and absolutely loved it. I can't even explain how it feels to see people that mean the world to you making choices to become closer to God!

The last few weeks, I got the opportunity to talk in sacrament and teach Elders Quorum! At the first of my mission, that would have scared me to death! But now that the Lord has continually been helping me, I've been so grateful for opportunities like that and that he has helped me become more comfortable with teaching in the Spanish language! I am truly grateful for the gift of tongues and all that our Heavenly Father gives to us!
As a Zone, we have set the goal of 30 baptisms for September. This is an INCREDIBLE amount because this entire year, 8 months, there has been a total of 14 in the Columbia we are trying to double that amount in the span of one month. But as each district and companionship, prayed that was the amount that we truly had the faith that we would be able to reach, so we set it! Well, it's not even the first day of September and this Zone now has 7 children of God that are on date for baptism! It is truly incredible.

P-Day Golfing to celebrate Elder Abraham's Birthday.

Elder Jones & I on the Golf Course today.
I just want to clarify that this is a Golf Tee hanging out of my mouth!)
This weekend, I got to go on exchanges with Elder Jones! He is in my district and also went to American Fork High School!! It was so much fun! We had an absolute blast and I loved every minute of it. We also ate a dinner with a family from the Phillipines and I had my first taste of Balut...which is duck embryo! You crack the top of the egg, drink the juice, and then peel off the rest, eat the yellow, and then eat the little duck was quite an experience!

On Friday, we came up with an idea of assembling a "B-Ball Squad" where we would, at every chance we got, invite people to come play basketball with us the next day at the Lambskin Courts, a court near our apartment. Well at 11 on Saturday we assembled the team, and we played 5 on 5 at the Lambskin Courts and it was a dream come true haha!! All of my mission I have dreamed of just playing basketball with a ton of super amazing basketball players, and it was so incredibly fun! Me and Elder Jones were the only white boys, but we had a blast and I'll never forget playing with all of them! We even had a few less active members and a few investigators come! 

While on this exchange with Elder Jones, we prayed to be able to be led to one of the 30 and more that need to be found. Well, on Friday night at around 8:30, with 30 minutes of contacting left before we walked back to the apartment, we found ourselves in a court full of townhouses. We decided that we would each close our eyes and point a direction, and then we would go in the middle of where we were pointing. So, we said a prayer, closed our eyes, and pointed. Well...we pointed in the exact same direction, to the exact same townhouse, so we walked that way. We knocked on the door, and a boy around 15 or 16 answered the door. I could tell he spoke Spanish, so I started talking to him. That was another cool part of being on exchanges, even though I wasn't serving in my area for the weekend (I was with the ward that Elder Jones is serving in) I still got to meet Spanish people and it was like we were covering 2 areas at once! Anyways, Alex told us that his parents went to a church but had been telling him that he needed to find a church that he liked going to. We also found out that he goes to the same high school as some of the members of the branch. We invited him to soccer and he invited us back this week. It was one of the most memorable miracles I'll always remember from my mission, and I'm so grateful for the guidance of the Lord! I am so excited to see what happens with Alex! Please remember to keep him in your prayers also!

The next day, while still on the exchange, we read something in a tracting book that talked about picking streets to contact. We decided we would each look at the map and write down a list of 20 names of Streets that we could contact on. So together we chose 20, I chose 10 and he chose 10. Then out of those 20, we prayed and then chose our top 5, without looking at what each other were writing. Well out of the 5 we chose, 3 ended up being the exact same. I'm not sure what the exact probability of that is...but pretty low that out of 20, we would pick 3 of the same. Anyways, that night we started with the top one out of those 3: Babylon Crest. We knocked every single door that is on Babylon Crest. Our very first knock, a guy opened and before we could even say anything he said: "Hey I already know who you are, my parents are members!" Which might be a common thing to get in Utah...but in the middle of Columbia, Maryland that is pretty rare to find. We knew from our first knock that God was guiding us. I guess now as I write about my experiences the last few weeks, there is a common theme of God guiding his missionaries to where they need to be at the right time. Well, we talked with this man whose parents were members. His name was Dave, and even though he said he wasn't too interested, he thanked us for the work that we were doing, and we headed to the next house. A few knocks later, we met an old man named Tom, who was very nice and told us all about the Spanish people that lived right next to him. He also told us to avoid the Seventh Day Adventists that lived across from him...which of course means we headed right over there! On my mission, I have loved meeting Seventh Day Adventists because they have many similar beliefs and it is very interesting to talk to them. They weren't at their house, but we left a card on their house and the Spanish house, and continued on our way.  Our next house was a man named Leon, who when he answered was not too happy with us. He kept asking "So why exactly are you here? Why do I need your message?" and continued to tell us that he was a good person, had good morals and didn't need help from anybody. Well for really the first time in my mission, we were able to teach an entire lesson right there on the porch. As we taught about Priesthood Authority, and talked about the reason he would need to be baptized into this Church, his entire countenance changed. From the beginning with "Why do I need to get baptized again?" it turned into "You know what, I've never got to go to your church. What's the address?" We talked to him for a total of about 15 minutes, and it was a complete change from beginning to end. It was truly amazing to see how a person can change their attitude so quickly towards the church or the missionaries.  Well, we capped off the street with our last house, which was opened by a very large man who when he saw us said "Come on are you kidding me?? It's 8:30 and the Ravens game is on!" and proceeded to slam the door...but other than that, Babylon Crest was a success! I have come to love even experiences like that..people just love their Ravens preseason football! It was so cool to see the process of choosing Babylon Crest, and then the results of that street as we followed the Holy Ghost!

Another miracle I'd like to share comes from the Ellicott City Ward. The Elders serving there, Elder Pail and Lawrence, told me about an amazing miracle they had. They are teaching a man named Roger, who has really been interested in the church. Roger also invited his friend Steve to take the lessons and do a church tour and things like that. Anyways, last week they were meeting with Roger and could tell that Roger was a bit sad about something. They finally decided to ask Roger: "Hey what's going on?" and Roger said "Steve got incredibly sick and was taken to the emergency room." The Elders taught Roger about priesthood blessings and then said, "Do you think that Steve would like a blessing?" Roger wasn't sure, but he said he would ask. A few hours later, the Elders received a text from Roger with the hospital room number and said Steve would love that. They went to the hospital, where things were not looking too well. The Doctors said that he would be in ICU for at least 5 more days. The Elders gave Steve a blessing. That SAME night, just a few hours later, Roger called the Elders. They said they would never forget the way they felt as Roger told them, "Well guys, I'm not sure what you did, but Steve is already out of the hospital." After just being told he would stay in ICU for 5 days, he was out. Roger and Steve saw the amazing blessings of the Priesthood. I am so grateful for that and so grateful for the wonderful miracles that happen in the work of the Lord!

Well, I am so incredibly grateful for my mission. The last few weeks have been crazy busy and just continue to be absolutely amazing. Thank you so much for your support!

- Elder Leavitt

Monday, August 24, 2015

Week 37 Soriano Family

One week through this transfer already, and this has definitely been another week that I will never forget from my mission. Each week provides amazing miracles from God and I am so grateful to be able to be part of this wonderful work!

I guess I will start out with last Tuesday with the Soriano Family. The parents are members, the daughter that is 14 is a member, but 9 year old Victor has not been baptized. They are all less active and haven't been to church in quite a few years. Hermana Soriano has had some problems the last few years and her husband has supported her decision to stay home. Tuesday night we went over to the Soriano family, and talked about Victor and the steps he needs to take to be baptized. We asked Hermano Soriano how badly he wants Victor to be baptized, and Hermano Soriano broke down a little bit and told us "Elders, I know that I need to be doing more. I need to be taking him to church and help him learn these things so he can be baptized." We were SO excited to hear him say that! He told us that he would probably not be able to get his wife to be able to come, but he would sure try.

Now flash forward to Sunday. We had been praying all week, trying to call and text them to remind them and help them get there, but they hadn't answered. Saturday Night we asked the whole District to remember them in their prayers. So, Sunday at 11:00 we were sitting in the chapel, and sacrament started, but we still hadn't heard from the Soriano family. I was starting to lack faith, and just wondering why in the world we had worked so hard and they hadn't come! Well, I will never forget when at 11:10, not only Victor and his dad and sister, but also his mother, walked in through those doors. The entire family coming to the church for the first time in a few years! I quickly repented of my lack of faith and realized what a miracle God had given us. I ran over to them and sat by them, and they had an absolutely amazing time at church. Everybody welcomed them back into their arms, and they fully plan on continuing to come throughout the next few weeks, and Victor now has the date of baptism for September 5th! It was truly a marvelous experience that I will never ever forget!

This Sunday was also the highest attendance for the Columbia Spanish Branch in a few years! We had about 75 people there, and about 15 of them were all new Less Actives that haven't been in a long long time! In our Gospel Principles class, we had the most people we have ever had! Elder Chaico and I also got the chance to teach Elders Quorum, we got to talk about the family and the importance of it and it was such an amazing opportunity.

Another amazing miracle was with Rebekah, the lady that me and Elder Cornejo had street contacted a few weeks ago, and we had passed off to the Sisters in a different area. When we first met her, we knew that something was super special about her, she loved everything she heard about the Book of Mormon and was super excited to learn more. Well, over the last few weeks the Sisters in the Ellicott City Ward have been teaching her. She had come to church a few times too! Well on Thursday I got a call, saying "Elder Leavitt guess what?? Rebekah is going to get baptized on September 5th!!" I can't even explain how excited I was to hear about that!! Rebekah has been telling the Sisters about how she will never forget when Elder Cornejo and I (the redhead) first contacted her. I remember that day when we met her, nothing had gone very well, everything had fallen through and so we had just started walking around and when we saw her we felt like we should walk over and talk to her. Now, because of the way God works and puts people in our paths, she has been coming to church and will be getting baptized the same day as Victor!! At church on Sunday they said she was telling everybody about her baptism and about how excited she is!

Carlos and Viridiana, the young couple we have been working with, are currently in Las Vegas with Viri's family and they are getting married! We are super excited for them, and now that they are married Viri can get baptized soon if she decides it is something for her. Our investigator William has been doing well too, we just haven't got to see him much the last few weeks! We have been sending him Book of Mormon excerpts though and he loves reading through the Book!

Elder Cornejo, who is in serving in Frederick where I started my mission, updated me on a few of the people out there and how they are doing and they are doing so well! A lady named Ana Konter who we had been working with has now come back to church and she wants to do her endowments in the temple! It is so amazing to see the progression of all of these amazing people I have met and become so close with.

This week we will be going to the Orioles Game on Friday for Mormon Night! We are going with the Riggin family, and they are bringing 2 friends that aren't members! I'm super super excited for the game and it should be an awesome experience!

On Sunday, a member of the Stake High Council spoke in the branch and I absolutely loved his talk. He shared an amazing story:

"There once was a man renting an apartment.  This apartment was absolutely filthy. The dishes of every meal he had eaten the last few months were strewn around the apartment. He used dirty clothes as his blankets to sleep. An old orange was in the corner of the room, slowly molding. One day, he realized that he wouldn't be able to pay the rent any longer, so he put out an ad for a roommate to come join him. After a few weeks, he received a call from a guy that was willing to help out with the rent. The man came to the apartment with all of his stuff to move in.  As soon as he saw the dirty dishes, he said "Hey before I move into here, let's clean up all these dishes." "Seriously? That's just the way I live!" "Come on, let's just clean up these dishes and I'll help you." Reluctantly, the man cleans up all his dishes with the help of his new roommate.  That night as they go to bed, the new roommate sees that both of the beds have dirty clothes all over them. "Hey before we go to bed, let's just clean up all these dirty clothes." "Really? That's just how I live." "Come on, I'll help you out!" A little bit less reluctantly, the man cleans up his dirty clothes with the help of his new roommate. The next day, the new roommate sees the moldy food "Hey let's..." but the other man interrupts saying "I know, you're right. Come on, let's clean it up." Quickly the man had learned to clean up the things that were dirty around the apartment."

The High Councilman compared this new roommate to the Gift of the Holy Ghost. All of us, no matter what, have the ability to have a "roommate" that will always be there to help us. He will always offer to help clean up, help guide us, whatever it may be. And as we listen and pay attention to him, we continue to grow and learn, and pretty soon the things we are reluctant to clean up, become easy for us and we see the amazing life we can have as we clean up everything around us. I absolutely loved this and started to think about when in my life I had ignored my "roommate" and just left everything a mess. I loved the way he explained this.

One more thing I would like to share from my reading of the New Testament. It is the last few verses of Mark Chapter 4. It is the story of Jesus Christ calming the storm. The apostles are in the middle of a huge storm, and they run into where Christ is sleeping and basically ask him "Is it not important to you that we are suffering in this storm?" and as Christ calms the storm he asks them "Why are you lacking faith?" I thought of it in a different way I had ever thought of it before. I realized that many times in our lives, we feel like Christ or Heavenly Father is just asleep in the back room as we go through the roughest storms of our lives. We ask "Do you not care that we are in a storm and suffering?" and as he calms the storm, we realize how much faith we really lacked. Christ and Heavenly Father, and I can say this without a doubt, are never sleeping on us. They are always watching out for us, and even though we might feel like we're alone in the middle of the storm, we always have their guidance and I am so incredibly grateful for that.

I have loved my mission, and continue to love it every single day. Thank you so much for the support!

- Elder Leavitt

Monday, August 10, 2015

Week 36 Transfer Week

Cooking up a little something.
Transfer Week!! I found out yesterday that I'll be staying in Columbia as District Leader for the next transfer, so I will be here at least until September 23. I'm so glad!!! I have loved Columbia so much, it is such an amazing place to serve!!! I will still be with Elder Chaico, this will be our 3rd transfer as companions overall.
Well...last Monday we got in a car accident! Someone ran a stop sign and ran us off the we've been without a car this week! So it's definitely been interesting, because everything is super spread out! But because of that, it has given us a great opportunity to talk to more people on the streets.
You really are "ONE in a Minion", Elder Leavitt
Minion Package from Home.

I love how God provides miracles, they come in so many different ways!! This week, one of the nights we went out with a member named Gino to eat dinner. Gino is 18 and preparing for his mission. In the hour that we were with him, he received a text from a friend of his named Ethan. The text said "Hey Gino! I'm hoping that you have an extra book of mormon..I've been wondering if I could learn some more about the church!" So Gino replied to him and told him that he was actually with the missionaries and set an appointment up for the next day! 

The next day, we drove with Gino to Ethan's house and had a wonderful talk! He has a girlfriend that is a member of the church, and has been super interested in the Book of Mormon. So we gave him a copy, and he is so excited to read it! It was such a miracle that Gino had received that text while we were with him and that Ethan had such a desire to read!

I got the chance this week to talk to one of my former investigators that lives in Frederick. Her name is Carolina, she is the one that had been in the hospital and as soon as she came home, we knocked on her door. She is doing well and is still trying to read the Book of Mormon!

This week as I've been reading the New Testament, I finished the Book of Matthew! It has made such a difference as a missionary to be able to have the time to study the scriptures! I'm so grateful for Jesus Christ and for the amazing example he is. This week as I was reading, something stood out to me that I had never realized before in Matthew 26. This chapter is all about the last events before the death of Jesus Christ, including the Atonement. In verse 51, one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ makes an attack at a guard, and in verse 52, Jesus tells him to put his sword down and not make a fight. In verse 53 and 54 Jesus Christ says: "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?" As I read this, it really hit me that Jesus Christ could easily have escaped this! He could have easily called upon the power of God to get him away from these guards or  the pain that was about to happen to him.  But he had to do it because it was a necessary event, and God needed him to go through that. WE needed him to go through that. And because of his selflessness, he went through that pain for us.

I love this quote: "When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don' throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer." I have a testimony that God is our Engineer. Sometimes, we seem to be going through the dark tunnel, but if we show our trust in him, he will ALWAYS continue to lead that train to light. We have to go through the dark tunnels so we can appreciate the light! I love that quote and I'm so grateful we have an engineer to guide us!

I hope that everyone has been doing well! I love all of you, thanks for the support!

- Elder Leavitt

Monday, August 3, 2015

Week 35 I Love To See The Temple

Washington DC Temple
This week we got to have our semi-annual Temple Trip!! Every 6 months, we get to take a trip to the Washington DC Temple, which I got the chance to do in January and now last week! The temple is incredibly beautiful, I can't even explain how amazing it is to see and to be inside of! I'm so glad that we got to go there, it really sets the tone for the next 6 months before we get to go again!

So because of that trip and a bunch of meetings, not a ton has happened this week! But, last Sunday, we got invited by one of our investigators to a birthday party for his little nephew named Jerrick! We got to go over and eat dinner with them, meet all of his family, and really built such a good friendship with them! It was so cool and we were so happy to be able to go to it.

Victor has been doing well, we are still having such a hard time getting them to come to church, but he is super awesome and loves to have us come over and loves to read the pamphlets and the scriptures that we leave for him!!

This week will be the transfer call, so by next week I will know what is in store for the next transfer!! I feel like with the new President, there won't be a lot of changes, but who knows?? He might surprise us! I hope to stay in Columbia, but I know that the Lord will send me where he needs me to be!
This week I started reading completely through the New Testament and I am loving it!! I have learned so much in just a few days, and it has helped my understanding of the Gospel so very much! I'm so grateful to be able to have time to study it!! Here are a few things that I have loved from it:

I love how it talks about Repentance in Matthew 5:10-12. And in the footnotes it mentions that repentance is a change of heart or mind! It is not simply just saying a prayer and God will forgive you. Your mind or heart, whatever is making you choose the wrong, has to change! It is a physical and spiritual change that we must go through to be able to fully repent, and I'm so grateful for that gift! That no matter what, if we change ourselves, we can be forgiven!

Another thing that I noticed is the fact that is talks about if we are persecuted in his name, he will protect and bless us. As members of the church, many times we have been persecuted in his name! As missionaries it happens every day, and sometimes, especially here in Columbia it is super hard! People don't treat you as well as they should, and they look at you as problem kids that are walking around selling stuff. But, I've learned to be patient and try to look at every single person as God would look at them, and it has helped me SO much! If we are persecuted in his name, he will protect and bless us no matter what!!!

I'm so glad that I have the opportunity to be a missionary! It is truly the most wonderful experience imaginable! Sorry for a shorter email this week, but I love you all!

-Elder Leavitt