Monday, January 25, 2016

Week 60 We Survived the Storm

Well...I survived Winter Storm Jonas! I've never seen so much snow in my is crazy out there! Luckily, it provided us an opportunity to do a lot of snow shoveling...if you can consider that lucky! :)

This is Elders Cleere & Penrod from the
Braddock Heights Ward digging out cars yesterday.

(This is NOT Chandler's door,  just a picture someone posted on FB)
Biggest snow storm on record in Baltimore.
 29.2"-smashed the old record of 26.8" set in 2003

On Wednesday, a few days before the storm, there was a little bit of snow and ice and as we were heading back to the apartment that night, there was an intersection where none of the cars could even get up the hill. So we got to pull over to the side and went out and pushed cars up the hill! Every time we would get a car up there, we would run back down and the people in the car would say "Thank you so much! I was thinking you'd be too tired to help me after all of that!" It actually became super fun! We had to avoid slipping, but we were able to push these cars out of the ice and snow. As we were pushing one of the cars, another car pulled over and a guy got out and helped us. After we had gotten the car up the hill, he turned to us and then all of a sudden looked surprised and said "Elders! How are you?" It turned out that he was the Stake Patriarch's son! He has been inactive at church for quite some time now, but explained to us that he was grateful to have seen us doing service for those around us. It was crazy that he had driven past at the perfect moment. After we had finished with the cars, we walked back to our car and met a Russian lady on the way! She was very nice and we got her information for the Sisters to visit her!

Another miracle happened right before the storm. We took President Christiansen's generator in the mission truck and went looking for a place to get it fixed before the storm...but couldn't find anything. So we called this random number we found for a small engine repair shop...well they couldn't fix it either but somehow the person we were talking to gave us a number for a guy named Fred running a shop out of his garage..we were a little bit unsure, but we drove over to check it out. We pulled up, and sure enough there was a guy named Fred working on small engines..and he only had one arm! He agreed to fix the generator and seemed super nice, so we left the generator with him...within a few hours he had it fixed! We went over to pay him, and started talking to him about the church. He told us that 20 years ago he was involved in a huge plane crash, and that was why he only had one arm. 70% of his body had third degree burns...yet he survived, and has an amazing story. He invited us to come back once the storm was over, so we are hoping to go teach him this week!

We are still hoping and praying that Francis will have his baptism on Saturday! The storm kind of got in our way because we were going to have 2 lessons with him during the weekend! But we are praying that everything will work out before he heads off to Nigeria for the month.

Photo taken by Scott Meushaw

This entire weekend was tough because of the weather, but we got the opportunity to go over to the Selby's house last night! We ate dinner with them, had a lesson, and played games! It was like a Family Home Evening kind of thing. I love their family! We have so much fun together and it has been so great to get to know their family. Still unsure of an exact date for Sydney's baptism, but it will be soon!

Transfers are this week! I'll be staying in Ellicott City with Elder Lawrence. This will be the longest I've ever been with one companion, but we get along super well so I'm not worried! I'm excited for another transfer! Tomorrow we get to pick up the new missionaries from the airport, one of my favorite moments of the transfer! 

Thank you for all the support! Love you!

- Elder Leavitt

Friday, January 22, 2016

Winter Storm Jonas

Hello from the Maryland Baltimore Mission!

You have probably all heard of the of the huge winter storm, Jonas, coming our way today. They call it a super storm and we want to let you know what we are doing to insure our missionaries safety. The storm is just starting now and President Christiansen has sent out a message for all missionaries to go back to their apartments. They were told to park the cars and not drive again until he notifies them.

Yesterday he asked all missionaries to buy 4 days of food and water for their apartments and has asked each companionship to pray for wisdom to be safe and to take care of each other.

He called all the Bishops and Branch Presidents and ward mission leaders in each area and asked for them to check on the missionaries and care for them.

The missionaries are excited about the storm and the possibility of doing service but the president is careful to make sure that their safety is considered first.

We love your missionaries and like you, we want them safe and well.

Sister Wright 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Week 59 "Feed your Faith & you Doubts will starve to Death"

Happy Martin Luther King Jr Day! Libraries were closed yesterday so that is why I am having to email today!

This was an amazing week! Things quickly progressed with Francis Okolo, our investigator from Nigeria. We had an amazing lesson with him last Thursday. While we were preparing for the lesson, we called Brother Oladale, who we knew was a convert from Africa as well. Brother Oladale met us at the house of Francis, and as we were walking up to the door we asked him where he was from in Africa..and it turned out he was also from Nigeria!! As we went through the lesson, Brother Oladale was a perfect match for Francis. Francis had come from Nigeria without his family, raised in a Catholic home...exact same as Brother Oladale! When we asked Francis how his reading of the Plan of Salvation pamphlet went..well, he taught us the Plan of Salvation! He was incredibly prepared, so we asked him to be baptized, and he said yes! He got up and wrote it on this huge calendar that he has hanging up. So, Francis is getting baptized next Saturday on the 30th! 

This past Saturday, we were able to take Francis on a tour of the Stake Center! To go along with this, Elder Lawrence's Stake President, President Collings, was recently called as a Mission President to Uganda, Africa. Well, Sister Collings' parents are a senior couple in our mission! Long story short, they came to visit the senior couple before the Collings go to Uganda to serve in June. We got to eat dinner with them on Saturday night, but they also came out and helped us teach Francis during the church tour! It was a cool experience for Elder Lawrence having his Stake President there to teach a lesson during his mission! It was so nice to meet President and Sister Collings and I'm so excited to hear about their experiences in Uganda! Also, Elder Teh from the 70 that came and toured our mission got called as a Mission President to Taiwan!

Francis, Elder Lawrence & The Collings

We got to meet with Brother Selby this week, but the kids were all in school down in Virginia. We've gotten really close to him and he loves us coming over. He feels like an uncle to me now! This Sunday the Selby family is coming over to President and Sister Christiansen's house for dinner and a lesson! Sydney should be getting baptized sometime in February.

This week I heard that a family that I used to work with in the Columbia Spanish Branch, the Riggin family, are soon getting sealed in the temple!! Brother Riggin has been less-active for quite some time but has now returned to activity in the church and wants to get sealed to his wife and family. I was so excited to hear about that!

On kind of a more random note, Elder Lawrence and I got permission to go to a high school basketball game for a member in our ward that plays on JV and it was so much fun! We're trying to teach a few of his friends on the team and they've really gotten to know us so it was really good to get to go to the game, and it made me realize once again how much I LOVE basketball...I'm just glad I get to use basketball to find people to teach on my mission!

This Friday we have a leadership meeting in Frederick, so I get to go out to dinner with Axel Lara, the one that was baptized at the beginning of my mission! I'm so excited to see him again.

This picture is from Feb. 2015, when Axel Lara was Baptized.

Those baptism cards that Elder Mumm & I created are being used throughout the whole mission now and it's been cool to see! We have also created some in Spanish now as well. All of the missionaries are doing an amazing job of talking about baptism with everyone, and we are seeing the results! We have the most people with a date for baptism that we've had in over 2 years! The work is hastening.

I love this quote from Elder Renlund: "To effectively serve others, we must see them through parents' eyes, through Heavenly Father's eyes." I love the idea of trying to look at all people through God's eyes. Just as Jesus Christ did as he went out and taught: he loved all and served all.  I also really enjoy this quote: "Feed your faith and your doubts will starve to death." No matter what doubts we have, as we continue to focus on our faith, we will be perfectly fine and I am so grateful for that gospel truth.

Weeks continue to fly by! I was always warned before my mission of how fast time seems to fly..and it is so true! I continue to learn more and more each week and I'm so grateful for that! Thank you for the wonderful support!

- Elder Leavitt

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Week 58 Surrounded By Miracles

This week was another great one! It still seems crazy to me that it's 2016, but the new year has brought new miracles, and I'm so excited for the months to come!

I'll start out with a miracle that happened in the Savage Mill Ward, a ward that is about 10 minutes away from me in the same stake that I am currently serving in. Savage Mill hadn't had a baptism in over 3 years...until yesterday when Jennifer Castillo was baptized!! The story behind Jennifer is what is truly a miracle:

The story begins a few months ago, with the two Elders who were at that time serving in Savage Mill. The Elders were walking along the side of the road, talking to people that were walking past and probably weren't too excited to stop and talk to two random missionaries. After about an hour of walking, a member from their ward drove past, saw them, and decided to take them out to lunch. They got in his car and drove to a Subway nearby. When they were at Subway, he told the Elders that they could order what they'd like and he would pay. The girl that was taking their order jokingly asked: "Why aren't you making them pay?" He replied with: "Well...they work for Christ." She gave a little laugh and said: "Well, don't we all in a way?" He laughed as well and replied "Well yeah that's true, but these two go out and teach everyone else about Christ! And you know what? On your next break, you should come out here and talk with them!" Well, they got their orders and it just so happened that her break was coming up, so she joined the two missionaries and the member for lunch. 

As time went on, the Elders passed her off to the Sisters that served in the same ward, and they continued to teach her, and she became more and more interested. Her parents noticed a huge change in her, and she was given permission by her parents to be baptized. Yesterday, on January 11th, Jennifer Castillo was baptized and her parents were there as well! It was amazing to see how something as simple as a member inviting a non-member to take the lessons with the missionaries ended up leading to Jennifer being baptized.

Celebrated President's Birthday yesterday
This week, we were able to find a few new investigators to teach! Their names are Francis and Brahm. All of our investigators are very diverse: Sydney, a 12 year old girl from a part-member family; Francis, a middle-aged man from Nigeria; Brahm, a scientist from India; and Michael, a 22 year old guy married to a member! Sydney is still doing really well, we got to see her and the Selby family yesterday, had a great lesson with them about the Plan of Salvation! Sydney's older brother Grayson will be ordained as a Priest here in a few weeks and will be able to baptize her! Francis was one of the ones that we met this week, he requested a Book of Mormon and we met him and started teaching him. He is going to Nigeria in February to visit his family for the month, so we are working with him and he is going to be baptized before he leaves so that he can teach his family and baptize them over in Nigeria! And then Brahm also requested a visit from Missionaries after visiting the Visitors Center in Salt Lake City. He is a scientist that came from India on a Rotary International Scholarship! It was really cool because since I was involved with Rotary back home, we got to talk a lot about it and he was very happy to talk about Rotary and Interact Clubs! He is the President of the Columbia Rotary Club here.  He grew up with Hinduism as his belief, but would like to know more about Christianity. And then Michael Stitchel was the Investigator that we were teaching a few months ago, we were able to see him again this last week and will be meeting with him again!

There has also been miracles with the members in Ellicott City finding people that have been prepared!! The Crandalls, a younger couple that met at BYU-Idaho had moved out here, and have a family friend that has been going through a lot. This past weekend, they invited him and his wife to the Baltimore Aquarium and have been doing an amazing job of trying to lift up their friend in his hard time. This next week we'll be having a dinner with the Crandalls and their friend's family as well!

I got to go on an exchange out in Shenandoah Valley for a few days, it was cool to be back in the area even if it was for just a little bit!

I love this quote that Brother Miller from my home ward shared with me:

"What you can vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe and enthusiastically act upon, will inevitably come to pass." 
- Paul J Meyer

A mission is all about vividly imagining, believing, and acting. I'm so grateful for my Mission and the wonderful experiences that are happening! Thank you for all the support!

- Elder Leavitt

Maryland Baltimore Mission

Monday, January 4, 2016

Week 57 A New Year to Forgive & Forget & Feel Happiness

Happy 2016! I can't believe I'm saying that, it still feels like 2014, entering the doors into the MTC! I hope that 2016 will be a year full of happy memories for decades to come.

New Year's Eve Dinner at President Christiansen's home.
On New Years Eve, we went down to the Washington DC Temple Visitors Center with President & Sister Christiansen. A few of our missionaries in this mission were performing there, so we got to watch the performance and then Elder Lawrence and I walked around and met non-members that were visiting the temple grounds. We got to talk to a bunch of people and had a good time meeting people from all over the world. We even met a few people that were actually up in our mission boundaries and passed off the information and hope that good things come out of it! That night, we got to spend more time with President and Sister Christiansen and their family as we prepared to enter 2016! 

For New Years Day, we had a huge group of missionaries that wanted to play basketball, but the Stake Center was being used for a Eagle Scout Project. So we got permission to go to a place called "Supreme Sports Club" where we were able to play basketball for a few hours! It was incredibly fun, and we even had a few non-members there with us that we had invited to come. We played a tournament and had a lot of fun!

We didn't get to see Sydney this week because she goes down to Virginia to stay with her mom during the week, but we get to see her and the Selby family this weekend!! Sydney's baptism looks like it is going to be closer to February, because her older brother is turning 18 soon and becoming an Elder, and they want to try and do that all in the same weekend so Brother Selby's parents can fly in. It's incredible to see! 2 months ago, they didn't go to church and now within the next month, Grayson, the older brother, will be an Elder, Sydney will be baptized, and Brother Selby has become fully active in the church!

Back when I served in Shenandoah Valley, Elder Mumm and I found Jerry and his father Ramon. This past weekend, Ramon was baptized in the Martinsburg Ward!! It was so good to hear that he did end up getting baptized. I guess I'll backup and reshare that story! For the first few weeks after finding Jerry, we had never met his father. But one day we knocked on their door and his dad answered. We talked for a second, he told us that Jerry wasn't there, and we walked to our car. All of a sudden, he opened his door back up and said "Hey, do you want to come in?" From there, we were able to teach him and he came to church a few times! His wife, Jerry's mother, was a drug addict though and ended up taking Jerry and leaving the house because she had a few warrants out for her arrest...pretty crazy. But Ramon had never done any drugs and had pretty much kept the Word of Wisdom his entire life. Anyways, as soon as the wife and Jerry moved out, Ramon had no money to pay for his place and got kicked out. We helped him get into a Salvation Army, but since it was outside our area, we passed off his information to the Elders in that area. A few weeks later, he ended up getting a job in Martinsburg, West Virginia (also in our mission) where his information again was passed along, and the Elders there taught him more and he came to church. And on January 2, 2016, Ramon Caraballo was baptized!

As we have started 2016, amazing miracles have already been happening throughout the mission. We ended 2015 having 230 total baptisms for the year as a mission. Since President has felt prompted to double the baptisms, we are striving for over 400 in this year!! In November, 2 months ago, we found the most new investigators in a month that had been found in the mission in over 3 years! As a result of those, January is set to be a record-breaking month for baptisms! There is currently around 35 people scheduled for baptism in January, where the average last year was about 19 a month! The work is definitely hastening and it's amazing to be a part of it! One of the wards out here, the Savage Mill Ward, hasn't had a baptism in about 2 or 3 years, but currently has 3 people on date for baptism this month!

This weekend, I went on a team up with the Zone Leaders in the Frederick Stake, Elder Penrod and Elder Cleere. Elder Lawrence joined another companionship close by. They serve in the Braddock Heights Ward, which also meets in the same building as the Frederick 2nd Spanish Branch, where I started my mission. So, I got to see some of my closest friends from the beginning of my mission!! I got to see Axel Lara, the 19 year old that Elder Pettersson and I baptized. He is doing SO great and is receiving his mission call soon!! It was so good to see him and hear about how he is doing. I also got to see Kevin, who I taught while there and was baptized just last week!!! Kevin's little sister is getting baptized soon as well!! It was great to see some of my favorite people and how much change the Gospel has given them! Later that day, I saw Tori Fisher, Axel's girlfriend that goes to BYU-Idaho. I also got to talk to her and her mom who remembered me as the kid that taught Axel and they told me all about how Axel is so excited for his mission!! It was great to get to be a part of that whole process!

This past week as I prepared to set goals for 2016, I found an incredible talk by Elder Holland entitled "Remember Lot's Wife." It taught me so much about forgiving yourself and others, being able to forget the past and move on from things. I'd like to share parts of it and exhort you to read this incredible talk:

Let people repent. Let people grow. Believe that people can change and improve. Is that faith? Yes! Is that hope? Yes! Is that charity? Yes! Above all, it is charity, the pure love of Christ. If something is buried in the past, leave it buried. Don’t keep going back with your little sand pail and beach shovel to dig it up, wave it around, and then throw it at someone, saying, “Hey! Do you remember this?” Splat!

Well, guess what? That is probably going to result in some ugly morsel being dug up out of your landfill with the reply, “Yeah, I remember it. Do you remember this?”Splat.

And soon enough everyone comes out of that exchange dirty and muddy and unhappy and hurt, when what our Father in Heaven pleads for is cleanliness and kindness and happiness and healing.

Perhaps at this beginning of a new year there is no greater requirement for us than to do as the Lord Himself said He does: “He who has repented of his sins,the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58:42).

The proviso, of course, is that repentance has to be sincere, but when it is and when honest effort is being made to progress, we are guilty of the greater sin if we keep remembering and recalling and rebashing someone with his or her earlier mistakes—and that someone might be ourselves. We can be so hard on ourselves—often much more so than on others!

Now, like the Anti-Nephi-Lehies of the Book of Mormon,bury your weapons of war and leave them buried (see Alma 24). Forgive and do that which is sometimes harder than to forgive: forget. And when it comes to mind again, forget it again.

One of the reasons I loved this so much was because it hit me so hard and helped me realize how I need to change for 2016. I realized how often I do this! I try to go to the past and think about a time I was hurt or judged, and I try to bring it back up, but don't realize that I have my own sins and I shouldn't use my time to think about how it could've been done differently. I am reminded of the quote "Don't judge me because I sin differently than you." I always know that one of the biggest things to be worked on is being able to forgive myself as well. Forgive and forget.

This next part explains a little bit more about Lot's wife:

Just what did Lot’s wife do that was so wrong? As a student of history, I have thought about that and offer a partial answer. Apparently, what was wrong with Lot’s wife was that she wasn’t just looking back; in her heart she wanted to go back. It would appear that even before she was past the city limits, she was already missing what Sodom and Gomorrah had offered her. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles once said, such people know they should have their primary residence in Zion, but they still hope to keep a summer cottage in Babylon.

It is possible that Lot’s wife looked back with resentment toward the Lord for what He was asking her to leave behind. We certainly know that Laman and Lemuel were resentful when Lehi and his family were commanded to leave Jerusalem. So it isn’t just that she looked back; she looked back longingly. In short, her attachment to the past outweighed her confidence in the future. That, apparently, was at least part of her sin.

I hope to be able to not look "longingly" at the past as Lot's wife did, but to be able to move past and realize that what God has for me in the future is better than anything in the past. I also hope to be able to rid myself of the desire to have a "summer cottage in Babylon" and hold my "primary residence in Zion." 

I testify of the words of Elder Holland and that as soon as we learn to forgive and forget, we will feel the happiness that Repentance and the Atonement can bring. I'm so grateful for a Mission where I get to learn things and teach things all at the same time. I'm so grateful for all of the wonderful experiences I have had and will continue to have.  To a fresh start in 2016, where we can forgive ourselves and others and move past all that has happened in our lives, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

- Elder Leavitt