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