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 mormon.org, 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