Monday, April 25, 2016

Week 73 Transfers

Home away from Home.

Transfer week! This Wednesday is transfers, and I'll be staying in Ellicott City with Elder Fisher! This will be my 5th transfer here, the longest I've served in one place! Combining these transfers with the transfers I spent serving in the Spanish branch here, Ellicott City and Columbia feel like home! This was one of the biggest transfers we've had, only 24 out of the 96 companionships stayed the same!

So much happened this week! For starters, Francis is still doing amazingly well. He had an interview this past week with Bishop to prepare for the Aaronic Priesthood and to go to the temple to do baptisms for the dead. We brought over Brother Gardner, the home teacher for Francis, along with another member, Brother Howell, and had a great lesson as well. At the end, Brother Howell invited Francis over to his home for a dinner! The members are continuing to fellowship Francis and it has been so helpful!

Alyona Rasmussen, the lady that is from Russia that is married to a member, came to church this past week! We have built a really good relationship with her and she enjoys coming now, we are going to see her and her husband tonight! This past weekend, the Rasmussens even had some of the other members of the ward over to their house for dinner and games, so they are warming up to everyone.

We saw the Selbys yesterday! Everything is still set for Sydney's baptism in June, and she is recovering really well from her surgery! We get to see them again next weekend, which is awesome because usually it's just every other! The Selby kids are definitely going to be people that I will talk to for the rest of my life, I'm so grateful for the opportunity to know them.

The Rosskopf family is doing well also! We got to stop by this past week, brought something by for their 10 year olds birthday! They are becoming more and more open to us coming over, it's just been so hard because Mike, the father, works out of town during the week so we can only really see the whole family on weekends. They should be coming to church this next week though!

Progress is also being made with Rodger and Maria! Maria finished her Catholic School, she graduated this past weekend so now has sundays free, so should be coming to church! We're still just working on her mom to be able to clear her getting baptized..

Tonight we have an appointment with this lady named Mary Cole, and we are so excited to teach her! The Sisters in Columbia 1st Ward, Sister Hubenthal and Sister Mangisi, met her while they were visiting a nursing home where a member lived. Mary is a nurse that helps the people out there! Sister Hubenthal and Mangisi go over about once a week to teach this member, and Mary started sitting in recently! Well, she lives in our area so they passed her off and we gave her a call and she is so excited to meet! She loves the temple, she went down to the Visitors Center in DC, and she is excited to be baptized as well! Tonight will be great. This week we also received another Headquarter referral for a man from Nigeria, we have an appointment with him tomorrow! Last week we also met a man named Jason Sing who grew up in Provo! It was crazy because we got to talk about Purple Turtle and other things in Utah County! He is Catholic but knows almost everything about the church and it was great to talk to him.

Washington D.C. Temple

We got to go to the Visitors Center this past weekend with President and his family as we planned for transfers. The DC temple is so beautiful! It's also made me so appreciative of how close I lived to a temple growing up! It's crazy to not be able to see 10 temples within a 50 mile radius! 

Here are some of the things I learned this week! First, my testimony was definitely strengthened of the power of the Holy Ghost in our lives. President Christiansen has taught me a lot about how if we're not progressing, we are regressing. We must constantly be making changes in our lives so that we can be progressing. There is no standing still! And I realized this week that not only does the Holy Ghost help us to stay away from temptation (keeps us from regressing) it also adds to our knowledge and understanding (helps us to progress)! I realized this as I was listening to a talk from a previous general conference by Elder Larry Lawrence entitled "What Lack I Yet?" The Holy Ghost helps us know what we can do to progress in our lives, what changes we can make to continually improve, and I'm so grateful for that! Through the Holy Ghost, I've definitely found many weaknesses in my life, but I know that the Lord will strengthen me.

Elder Fisher and I have been talking a lot recently about the truths that were lost during the Apostasy. As I had mentioned last week, one of the most important doctrinal truths for us to understand is that we have a loving Heavenly Father. Yet, through the Apostasy, one of the most confused doctrines is that of the trinity, which we have had a lot of people talk to us about recently! This belief that they are not 3 distinct people alters our image of having a loving Heavenly Father. All of a sudden, he seems much more distant and unimaginable. I'm so incredibly happy that we have the knowledge of our loving brother and Savior Jesus Christ, and that he and all of us have a Father that loves us with all of his heart, might, mind, and strength. For that I will ever be grateful! 

Thanks for everything!

- Elder Leavitt

Monday, April 18, 2016

Week 72 The Doctrine is always the WHY

We had so much fun playing Beach Football in North Baltimore today.
A group of Towson University Football Players asked us Missionaries
if we wanted to join in on their game, it was awesome!
(Chandler is the one in the hat)

It's been a busy week!!! The weeks just continue to fly by, and then by the time it gets to Monday, I can only remember half of the things that have happened...but I will try and expound on the highlights of the week!

This past week, Elder Fisher & I had a very interesting experience with a 19 year old named Trevon. Within one week, 3 different sets of missionaries had run into him! So, we got a text with his information and we called him and set up an appointment. He texted us a few hours before the appointment and asked that we also bring over a Doctrine and Covenants, which was something we had never got asked before! However, we grabbed a copy and headed over. Upon arriving, Trevon told us that he had a few questions for us...these few questions ended up being 10 pages of questions that he had gotten off of Anti-Mormon websites. We answered all of the questions that he asked us, and he would never respond, he would just put the paper down and ask the next question....To go back a little bit, recently Elder Fisher & I have been studying a lot about "The Answer is the Doctrine" by Elder Bednar. To summarize what he says, people get so caught up in the principles and applications of things, they bypass the main important doctrines, the most simple truths. So, this is exactly what was happening. Instead of focusing on the Doctrine that Joseph Smith was a prophet, Trevon was caught up in a bunch of principles and applications (random revelations in the D&C, etc) and hadn't even prayed about the Doctrine. So, that is what we told him! We explained to him that these were questions that we had never studied that much about, because what we did know was that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that means all of the little things just fall into place! It was an amazing learning experience to really understand what Elder Bednar meant. The Doctrine is always the WHY behind everything. We are always going to be motivated if we can understand the basic doctrines of the Gospel. We read quite a lot of different sections out of the Book of Mormon with Trevon as well and it ended up being a great lesson. However, when we came a few days later, he wanted to bash a little bit, and he would ask us trap questions and then read his own response out of the Bible. As a mission, we have been striving to focus more on the Book of Mormon than anything else, and we were promised that there would be less contention and more Spirit if we read out of that with everyone we met. It was such a testimony to me to see that! The second lesson, with him reading confusing verses out of the Bible that he had twisted a little bit, brought contention into the room. Even though there was no arguing, you could feel such a difference from the experience we had had reading straight out of the Book of Mormon. Even though Trevon isn't ready to accept the Gospel at this time, those two lessons taught us a lot and it was something that I'll never forget and always want to apply to my life!

Elder Fisher & I with Francis Okolo at his baptism.
We saw Francis this week, he is doing great! He is trying to get a different job so that he can have more time off on Sundays. He is preparing to go to the temple for Baptisms as well! The members are doing a great job of fellowshipping him as well. Sydney is doing great, we'll get to see her this weekend when she comes up from Virginia! The Rosskopf family has been hard to get in with, Mike (the husband) has been working all week, but they watched the Restoration DVD as a family and so we're very excited to follow up with that! We also have a dinner this Friday with the Rasmussen family, Sister Rasmussen isn't a member and she is from Russia.

Tonight we met a man named Jason Sing who grew up in Provo! He is Catholic and teaches at Loyola out here in Baltimore. It was crazy to meet someone out here that wasn't a member but grew up in Utah, he asked me if I had ever gone to Purple Turtle in Pleasant Grove, a question I had never thought I would get on my mission! It was a great conversation though, we talked about his experience with the Church, growing up in Utah, and he invited us back this week, so we're excited to see how that goes!

For those of you who don't know what the Purple Turtle is, it is a little Drive-In
not far from my home that we would go to for Shakes!

There is a younger couple in our ward named the Jolissaints, Megan and Joe. Joe was baptized when he was 17, and his parents aren't members, but they live with them. A few weeks ago, Joe and Megan took them down to the Visitors Center at the Washington DC temple! And then this last week, Joe texted us and said "Hey, my mom wants to meet with you guys!" So we're also excited to see how things go there! The work is always hastening.

The last few weeks, I've been pondering the relationship between two of Elder Holland's talks. One is from the October 2012 General Conference and the other is from the most recent. These are some of my favorite quotes from these talks:

"I am not certain just what our experience will be on Judgment Day, but I will be very surprised if at some point in that conversation, God does not ask us exactly what Christ asked Peter: “Did you love me?” I think He will want to know if in our very mortal, very inadequate, and sometimes childish grasp of things, did we at least understand one commandment, the first and greatest commandment of them all—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” And if at such a moment we can stammer out, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,” then He may remind us that the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty." (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, The First Great Commandment, October 2012)

"My brothers and sisters, the first great commandment of all eternity is to love God with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength—that’s the first great commandment. But the first great truth of all eternity is that God loves us with all of His heart, might, mind, and strength. That love is the foundation stone of eternity, and it should be the foundation stone of our daily life. Indeed it is only with that reassurance burning in our soul that we can have the confidence to keep trying to improve, keep seeking forgiveness for our sins, and keep extending that grace to our neighbor." (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Tomorrow the Lord will do Wonders Among You, April 2016)

I love the way Elder Holland speaks, but more importantly I love being able to know that God loves us with all of his heart, might, mind, and strength. As I was talking about early, the only Doctrine that we need to fully understand and believe is simply that God loves us. Everything else, the Atonement, the Plan of Salvation, every single thing about the Gospel is an appendage to the Doctrine that God loves us! I am truly convinced that the more we believe this, the more we are willing to change, to become better, and to progress. I'm so grateful for a loving Heavenly Father, that possesses every quality that a loving Father should possess and more. I'm so grateful for the knowledge that he loves us unconditionally, and I'm so grateful for the commandment to love Him in return.

Thanks for everything!

- Elder Leavitt

Monday, April 11, 2016

Week 71 Francis' Baptism

What an amazing week! This past weekend, Francis Okolo became the newest member of the Restored Church! His baptism and confirmation were absolutely amazing. He bore his testimony afterwards, saying "I know that confirmation brings us closer to Christ, and I have now received the full gift of the light and guidance of the Holy Ghost. In Jesus name, Amen." It was amazing to see him become a member. Now, we are helping him work towards the temple! He is working double time now to be able to have enough money to bring his wife and his daughter over from Nigeria. As soon as they come over, he will get the opportunity to baptize them! His wife's name is Joy and his daughter's name is Goodness!

Sydney Selby is doing great as well. She had to have surgery this last week, but we got to talk to her on the phone and she is feeling alright! We had Anna Christiansen, President's daughter, send her a letter wishing her well. They have become good friends! Now we're just playing the waiting game with Sydney because her grandparents are coming out for her baptism, but not until June 12th! Their family is doing great though.

We had a great experience with Rodger Bryant and his daughter Maria. Rodger hasn't been coming to church for quite a few months now, but we have been trying to teach his daughter Maria...but still have the obstacle of Irma, the wife/mother who doesn't want to be part of the church. Well, this last week, we brought President Hook, the Elders Quorum President, to the lesson with us. It was incredible. He made sure that Rodger knew how much he cared, and then asked "Rodger, what can you set a goal to do that you haven't been doing right now?" Rodger thought about it and replied, "Well, I haven't been doing much at all to be honest." He thought some more, and then expressed his sincere desire to be able to sit in church with his entire family and how it makes him sad to be there alone. But the more he thought, he started to talk about how amazing it would be for his entire family to be able to enjoy the blessings of the Gospel. We watched the wonderful talk from Sister Oscarson from Conference last week, and he loved that. It talked about how our church isn't just a place we can all meet to become better people, it is the one true church. The Spirit was there in the home, and it made everything go so smoothly. That is definitely something I've learned on my mission! Sometimes, some of the things you do on a mission seem like you're invading into their personal life: you are visiting people that already seem to be happy, but are telling them they can have more happiness. You are visiting people who aren't attending church and helping them return. But as soon as the Spirit is there, it makes inviting somebody back to church go so much better. The Holy Ghost does not allow any "awkward" or weird situations to happen, it always seems to work out!

Another miracle that happened this week was while we were trying to meet a part-member family called the Richburgs. We knocked on the door, but nobody answered. It was apparent that the neighbors were home though because of how loud their music was, so we decided that we would knock. A girl that looked like she was in her 20's answered, and looked pretty surprised to have missionaries at her door. She quickly said "I already know a lot about Christ, there isn't much more you can teach me." This actually worked out perfectly though, because we have been trying to put more emphasis recently on the Book of Mormon, so we quickly grabbed a Book of Mormon out of our bags and started teaching her out of it. She had never heard of it before, and we showed her the pictures at the beginning and explained why we had it. She loved it! When we talked about Joseph Smith, she said "Hey! I was looking at my family history recently and I'm related to someone named Joseph Smith, maybe that's him!" Earlier, she had mentioned that her life had been terrible but that she knew God still loved her, and so towards the end when we had gained her trust, we asked her what she had meant by that. She told us that she had been homeless since she was 5. When she was 14, she was taken in by a grown man but got pregnant and then had a child at the age of 15. She told us that she is now 18 and has a 3 year old with Autism. But, through it all, she knew that God still loved her. When we had first met her, she seemed very uninterested, but because the Holy Ghost directed the message towards something unfamiliar, yet familiar at the same time, the Book of Mormon, she loved it and knew there was something that she was missing! We walked away having a stronger testimony of the power the Book of Mormon has. I wish that I would've used the Book of Mormon more for the first part of my mission! I'm starting to figure out things and wish I would've figured it all out earlier. We have passed this girl, named Bethanee Smith, to the Sisters and are excited to hear how it goes!

The Rosskepf family is doing amazing! They were sick this last week, but we brought them some cookies and the Restoration DVD, and when we dropped off the DVD the mom said "Well, I've got about 20 minutes before I put the kids to bed...we'll watch it right now!" I don't think a response like that has ever been given to me in my entire mission....but we took it! Usually people are too busy to watch any sort of video that has to do with a church or God in general....but the Rosskepf family is just different! They are awesome.

Here is an excerpt from President Uchtdorf's talk last week:

If you cannot say you know God is there, you can hope that He is. You can desire to believe. That is enough to start.

Then, acting on that hope, reach out to Heavenly Father. 
God will extend His love toward you, and His work of rescue and transformation will begin.

Over time, you will recognize His hand in your life. You will feel 
His love. And the desire to walk in His light 
and follow His way will grow with every step of faith you take.

We call these steps of faith “obedience.”

I love this. I know that as we take these steps of obedience, we really will be able to recognize His hand in our lives. I'm so grateful for the wonderful restored Gospel of Jesus Christ that allows us to have commandments that give us the opportunity to show our obedience! I love the Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ, and am so grateful for him.

Thank you so much for the continuous support!

- Elder Leavitt

Monday, April 4, 2016

Week 70 General Conference

What an incredible General Conference! I love getting the opportunity to hear from our beloved Prophet & Apostles. There is no better place to enjoy Conference than in the mission field! One of the talks that I have reflected on since Conference has ended was Elder Hallstrom talking about us being Children of our Heavenly Father. I loved the story that he shared, where a young first-grader was asked to write a response to the question: "You have just drank from the witches brew. What happens to you?" Her response was "I will die. And then I will be in Heaven. I will be happy." What an incredible testimony from such a young Child of God. I truly believe that when we are able to fully come to the realization that God is our Heavenly Father, everything else just seems to fall into place. We make every effort to keep his commandments because we know that he is our Father and we want to please him. We fulfill every assignment or calling we have been given, because we know that he will be proud of us. This doctrine, when understood, truly changes behavior. I also really enjoyed Priesthood Session and the amazing responsibility it is to hold the Priesthood of God.

The last few weeks, I have really slacked off when it comes to writing this email! Luckily, these last few weeks have been some of the most memorable of my mission, so I have plenty to share and hope to be able to share these experiences all in this email.

First of all, Francis is getting baptized this Saturday at 9:00! We are incredibly excited! He has now been back from Nigeria for a few weeks so he is able to get baptized this Saturday. Also, he announced to us recently that he is saving up his money so that his daughter and wife can also be able to come from Nigeria and live in America, and he talked about how excited he is to get the opportunity to baptize them! As we were sitting in a lesson with him this last week he said "So, after baptism, what is next?" We told him about the temple and he loved the doctrine of the eternal family. Brother Samuel Oladele, who is also from Nigeria and is already a member, has been coming with us to many of the lessons, and he is about to have that same experience! He almost has enough money to bring his family over, and they aren't members either and he is looking forward to the opportunity to baptize them. 

Sydney is doing good! We finally set up the weekend that she will be getting baptized. This Friday she has to have surgery, so we got to see her yesterday and gave her a blessing and watched some of Conference with the Selby family. Sydney is super excited to be baptized and Sarah and Grayson are super excited for the chance to finally get temple recommends and do baptisms for the dead! Sarah is 15 but hasn't had that opportunity yet! And Brother Selby is doing amazing as well. The Grandparents will be flying out for Grayson's graduation and the grandpa will get to baptize Syd! 

In the Ellicott City Ward, we have somebody that is assigned to set up meals for the missionaries, and she does a great job at setting up dinners with part member families, we can pretty much give her a list of the people that we have been wanting to visit and she will call them and set it up. So, this last week she set up a dinner with the Mackay family, who we had not had the opportunity to meet yet. It was a pretty cool miracle, though, when as we started talking they told us that their daughter had graduated from American Fork High School! They were pleased to hear that I had also graduated from there, and it quickly became a great conversation topic. It's crazy how those little things seem to happen, small connections all over the world! The Lord always prepares his way, well in advance! We had a great dinner with them and got to know them. Brother Mackay is not a member but was interested and grateful for the visit. We are also teaching another part member family, the Chaudhry family. Sister Chaudhry is from Laos and Ejaz is from Pakistan!

Alright, this next miracle is quite a long story, but I'll give it in the most condensed version I can! So, we occasionally get headquarter referrals that come in through our phones. This happens because people, either through an advertisement or, order a Bible or Book of Mormon. So, I was on exchanges with an Elder named Elder Singleton, and we got a text from somebody that had requested a Bible. We were a little bit confused because in the address it had a Suite Number, so we figured it must be an office building! But as we got to where the GPS had led us, it was just this plaza with a bunch of clothing stores and restaurants. At this point, we were just getting more confused, but we looked at each of the Suite Numbers, and finally found Suite 21, which matched the address on our phone. Above the door to this little office, there was a sign that said "Celestial Church of Christ." Of course we weren't going to let this opportunity go! A random church in the middle of clothing stores and restaurants? So, we walked into this little room that had a sign saying "Please take off your shoes" which we did, and opened the door into a small cathedral, where we saw a 13 year old boy looking at us. We asked him for Sylvain, who was the man that had ordered the bible, and he went and got him. Sylvain came over and talked to us for a second, telling us that he was from Ghana. There were 2 or 3 others in the room, all from Nigeria or Ghana. We gave him the bible and told him that we had plenty more in the car, and that we would go grab some. As we were walking back out to the car, a group of 5 or 6 other Nigerians were walking into the Church and invited us to participate in the Service! We had about 30 minutes before our appointment, and had planned to be around that area anyways, so we grabbed the Bibles (and copies of the Book of Mormon) and went inside. The entire time I couldn't help but have the thought "Wow. This is going to be some kind of mission story!" :) So, we go in. We joined them for some prayers, some songs (we couldn't sing in their language very well...) and since it was the Thursday before Easter, talked about the last supper and Jesus Christ washing the feet of the Apostles. The ceremony was the most interesting hour I've ever been apart of, but you could tell that they absolutely loved their Lord and Savior and their Father in Heaven. It reminded me of Paul in the New Testament telling the people "You worship the unknown God." They loved to worship God, but they didn't have the knowledge of his true identity. They were the kindest people I've ever met, and were explaining everything that they were doing. We couldn't help but feel that we had been led to them for a specific purpose. Afterwards, they continually asked us for cards or books from our church that they could look at! We had a great experience getting to tell them a little bit about the Book of Mormon and asking if we could come back another night. Well, this story continues a few days later, Elder Fisher and I were going through some old records and found a referral that was about a year old that had never got contacted because they hadn't passed the information off to us. So, the night before, we planned to go there. That next day, we knocked on the door of this referral named "Kehinde." A woman came to the door, but didn't answer, and asked "Who is it?" "The missionaries," we said. She asked who it was a few more times and then finally, in a quieter voice she said "I can't let you in, my husband is Muslim and he won't accept Christian visitors." We completely understood, so we held up the Book of Mormon to the window at the top of the door and told her that she could still have the Book if she would like. We could hear her take a step back to look at what it was, then we heard her say "One minute." We were a little bit confused, but I can't explain the joy I felt as the door was opened and one of those amazing ladies from the Celestial Church of Christ answered the door, looked into our eyes and said "You are the two that came to our church!" I can't even explain how all of this could've worked out! We get led to a random church in the middle of Baltimore, then somehow find a referral that is over a year old that leads us straight to one of the 15 members of this Congregation! We talked to her for a bit and she said that she was super excited for us to come back to the church again, that she had told all of her friends about the Mormon missionaries that had come by! So, the other night, Elder Fisher and I got a chance to return to the Church! We joined them again for their service, and didn't get a lot of time to teach because they had a planned service. But, once again, afterwards there were many questions asked, and Sylvain, who we later found out was the Assistant Pastor, came up to us afterwards, kind of in secret, and said "What is your number? I want you to come to my house." I can't say just yet what the fate of these wonderful people will be as we teach them about the Book of Mormon, whether or not they will fully accept it, but I can tell you with all of my soul that we were led to these people for a purpose and that a few of them, if not all, will have the faith to accept the restored Gospel and join the Church. It was the most amazing experience I could have imagined!

One last miracle! Sorry this is probably such a long email, and I hope that you all have even been able to make it this far! But, this miracle started a week and half ago on Saturday. We were coming out of the Chaudhry's house, and saw a dad playing catch with his kids. We walked over and started to talk with him, tossing the ball with his kids, and getting to know them. He was extremely nice, and we had about a 45 minute conversation about his family and the Gospel, and he invited us back the following Saturday. So, last Saturday we knocked on his door, and his 11 year old daughter answered. The mom came to the door, and seemed a little bit unsure of letting us in, she hadn't been there when we had met Mike, the father. But Mike let us in and soon Sheila, the wife sat down as well and joined in our conversation. For an hour, we talked and they shared the incredible miracles that have led their family to where they are now. They have 3 children, an 11 year old daughter named Alyssa, a 9 year old son named Mikey, and a 5 year old son named Isaiah. For each of Sheila's pregnancies, the kids barely made it out alive. Before she was pregnant with Isaiah, she had 4 ulcers and other medical problems that were so bad, the doctors gave her 2 years to live. But, when they found out she was pregnant, something about the way the body sends nutrients through the body during pregnancy, healed Sheila. Mike and Sheila are probably around 30-35 years old now. As we talked, they recognized God's hand in their lives and it was an incredibly spiritual experience to talk to them about our own experiences with medical problems and God watching over us at all times. Their last name is the Rosskepf family, and they are amazing! We will be seeing them again on Saturday and we are extremely excited!

Wow! It's been a crazy last few weeks. Thank you all for the support! I hope that we all can continue to hold on tightly to the things that we learned over this last weekend of General Conference. I love you all and am so grateful for all that you do and the happiness you bring to my life!

- Elder Leavitt