Monday, June 27, 2016

Week 82 Big Changes In Our Mission

It's been an amazing but absolutely crazy week! For starters, we had a major announcement come to our mission just a few days ago. Our mission will be going through a Boundary Realignment! We'll be losing one of our stakes and picking up two new stakes, both in Pennsylvania. All of the missionaries that are serving in those stakes get transferred to a new mission! All 28 of ours that we lose will be part of the DC North Mission, and we will be picking up 44 missionaries from the Pittsburgh mission! It's going to be a crazy week...Elder Fisher and I will be going up there this weekend with President and Sister Christiansen to meet all of our missionaries! It'll be sad to lose our missionaries though! It'll be an exciting experience for everyone though. We now cover places like Gettysburg, York, and Lancaster Pennsylvania! 

Elder Fisher and I did two exchanges this week, one in Woodstock, VA, and another in Randallstown, MD! While Elder Fisher was down there in Woodstock with one of our zone leaders in our mission named Elder Gorman, they had a pretty awesome miracle. They got a call from the Spanish Elders down there in Virginia, saying they had just met a man named Warren and that he wanted missionaries to come to his home. So, Elder Fisher and Elder Gorman headed over. Upon meeting him, Warren told them about how 3 years ago, he had been taught by missionaries. He was preparing for his baptism, but moved to Guatemala all of a sudden, because his wife wanted to move down there! After moving, he lost contact with missionaries and didn't make the effort to get back in contact, and never being baptized. He said that just a few weeks ago he had got divorced and came back to Virginia. That day he had just been walking and saw Elders walking around and felt prompted to talk to them again! Well, Warren is getting baptized in just a few weeks!! The Lord's timing is so amazing to see. Another miracle that happened in Woodstock with timing is LeRoy! LeRoy is somebody that Elder Mumm and I used to teach when we served together in Shenandoah Valley. His girlfriend is a member and he wanted to learn more so we had been teaching him, but he had moved during that. Well, he now lives in Woodstock, and he got married to his girlfriend! So they are teaching him now and I wouldn't be surprised if he gets baptized soon as well.

Spent some time with our friend, Jason Wright
He loves Haribo Gummy Bears & the Ducks are a
reference to an article he wrote.

Mary Cole continues to progress towards her baptismal date, which is now July 17th, because she is out of town for a week and a half right now! But this last week we got the opportunity to see her a few times. On Tuesday, we read through Alma 32 and 2 Nephi 32 with her, talking about the relationship between faith and prayer. At the end, we asked if we could have a kneeling prayer together and if she would offer it. She has been very hesitant in offering her own prayers, she usually asks us to do so. But this time was different, and she offered such a heartfelt prayer about joining the Church and if it was right for her and it was such a Spiritual experience. She is doing so great! She's been to church a few times, came to Stake Conference, the Members love her! This week before she left for out of town she texted us and explained that she'd be having a lot of quiet time on this trip and that she wants us to send chapters from the Book of Mormon that she should be reading! Her testimony of the Gospel, of the Book of Mormon, of everything she has learned about has grown every single day! Her husband David has become much more open to us as well, and so we will be teaching him as well, hoping that he will get baptized in August!

One of my favorite miracles from this week was the miracle of Ferris Watson. On Friday, we got a call from the Sisters that serve in our ward with us, saying they had just met this kid that seemed interested. They gave us his address, so we stopped by that night and met Ferris! He is 17 and from Cameroon. We talked a little about the Restoration and set up an appointment for the following night! I didn't get to be there for that, I was on exchanges but Elder Fisher told me how it went! They took Brother Cannon over to meet him, he is the Young Men's leader for our ward. They taught more about the Restoration, the Priesthood, Joseph Smith, etc. Ferris loved it! He talked about how he would love to have the Priesthood, so he committed to be baptized. On Sunday, we went with Brother Cannon to pick him up for church and he came! He absolutely loved church, even knew some of the Young Men already, and now is getting baptized on July 16th! We'll be seeing him again tomorrow. He moves to Ohio on July 31st, so we're trying to work with the mom and the rest of the family as well before they move.

Mark came to church as well! Mark was the one that we have been teaching for a few weeks, he is a much quieter guy but very nice. He's in his 30's and grew up here in Baltimore. He loved church as well! Sometimes it is SO hard to get people to want to come to church, but as soon as they come and get to meet everybody and feel the Spirit, you can see such a change in them!

One more miracle involving Brother Cannon! The people that he home teaches in the ward recently got changed to a man named Brother Herman Cooper, who doesn't normally attend church. Brother Cannon gave him a call though, and found out that he is interested in returning. Not only that, he has a 40 year old son and a 9 year old grandson that are looking for a church! So we'll get to meet them tomorrow night as well!!

Also, Brother Elliott is a member in our ward that got baptized about 2 years ago. He's in his 70's. Well, he recently was told by his doctors that he only has 3 to 6 months left to live because of a few diseases that he has. We visit him about once a week because he has a lot of friends that he always wants us to teach! He's awesome. Anyways, this past weekend he got to go to the temple and do his work for almost 16 close relatives, and get sealed to his parents! I'm so grateful for Temple Work, for the knowledge that we have about the family unit and that families truly can be together forever! 

We continue to see the Lord's merciful hand with all those that we are teaching. After seeing Francis' baptism in April, Sydney's wonderful baptism last week, we now get the opportunity to see Ferris baptized on July 16th, Mary on July 17th, and Mark towards the end of July! It's been such an amazing experience to get to work with all of these wonderful people and I'm so glad to get to see them make these changes in their lives!

What a week! Thanks to everyone for the wonderful support you give :)

-Elder Leavitt

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Week 81 Sydney's Baptism

This week was so great!! For starters, Sydney Selby got baptized and confirmed on Sunday. It was such an amazing experience for the entire family. Grayson, the older brother, gave the talk on Baptism. He's returned to activity and is going on the Young Men's campout in a few weeks! The grandfather baptized her, and many of her family members were there that haven't been to church in a long time. Sydney's dad loved it as well, it was so great to see him as he finally got to see his daughter be baptized. I'm so grateful for the Selby family! They feel like my siblings and family members, they're so much fun to be with.

Sydney & Sarah Selby.

Mary Cole is doing great as well! We'll be seeing her tonight as she prepares to be baptized on the 9th of July. It's been so amazing to see the progression in her, and we're hoping to teach her husband as well! She is loving reading the Book of Mormon as well.

Elder Fisher & I also had the opportunity this last week to take President Christiansen's nephew, Christovin, out teaching with us! He's from Provo and will be serving his mission in July. It was so great to have him come out with us and for him to ask us questions! I still feel like I'm preparing to serve a mission, and then I look back and realize it's almost been 2 years since I submitted my papers and got my mission call. It's such a weird feeling! But as we were out with him, we went to Towson to contact a referral we had received through the Church Website, a lady named Florence who wanted a Book of Mormon and a Bible. As we were walking towards her work, Elder Fisher asked if it had said where she was from and kind of as a joke, I said: "Honestly, she's probably from Nigeria!" We've had the opportunity the last few months to teach so many wonderful people from Nigeria, and Francis Okolo, who got baptized in April, was from Nigeria as well! So that's always what we're hoping for in these situations. But, sure enough, as we met her and asked her where she was from her response was Nigeria! She's interested in learning more about the Book of Mormon and we'll be seeing her this week!

This week I got to be in Spanish work for the first time in almost a year! It was nice to get to speak Spanish again. I was with Elder Cornejo, one of my previous companions, and we were in downtown Baltimore! If there is one thing I've learned on my mission, it is that American Fork, Utah is just a little bit less diverse than Baltimore! It's definitely a crazy place, but I've loved serving around this area and love the people that live here. We had a great exchange and I got to meet Maria Isabel, who just got baptized and is from the Dominican Republic. It was such a great experience to be able to speak Spanish, eat Hispanic food, everything! I loved it! 

Standing in front of some art work @ the airport.
(I love that Chandler is standing at the end of the rainbow,
 he is my pot of GOLD!)

One of the many miracles we've seen lately is the progression in the Columbia Stake, the Stake that we're serving in right now! I've served in this stake for more than a year total, and absolutely love serving here. In 2015, the Stake had 22 convert baptisms, which was the lowest of all the Stakes in our mission. By next Sunday, the Columbia Stake will have had 28 baptisms, and that's only half of the year done! It's incredible, and this pattern is going on throughout the entire mission. I'm so grateful to see the Lord's hand in His work!

Well, one thing I was taught again this week was the power and influence that other people can have on our lives, whether it be a good influence or bad. I realized how many good influences I've had around me. I'm so grateful for families, friends, leaders, all of the people that are around us and help us. The Selby family has been one of my favorite families that I've gotten to teach on my mission. I've grown so close to them! Mary seems like family as well. President & Sister Christiansen and their children are some of my closest friends. I'm so grateful that God allowed us to work together, give each other support when we need it most, and encourage each other on the path back to Him. I'm so grateful for the people that I've met on my mission, the people I haven't even got to meet yet but will during the next few months, and all those that have influenced my life up to this point. 

Thank you so much for the support, have a great week!

- Elder Leavitt

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Week 80 The Progression of the Mission

Hey everyone! This was another wonderful week. There are so many experiences that happen throughout the week that it is hard to keep track of! 

For starters, this last Wednesday was the beginning of a new transfer! Sadly, though, that meant that a few missionaries would be going home, and Elder Lawrence, who I was companions with for more than 4 months, was one of those! It was a cool experience to drop him off at the airport though, seeing how we had done that together with so many missionaries and now he was in their shoes. I'm grateful for Elder Lawrence and the example that he is to me!

Elder Spencer Lawrence with his Family @ the SLC airport,
after a LONG 4 hour delay in his flight home.

My family was able to attend his homecoming
 in Grantsville, Utah.

The last few weeks, Elder Fisher and I have been talking a lot about the progression of the mission and how amazing it has been to see the series of events that have taken place to get us to where we are! Here are some of those events:

July 2015 - President Christiansen and Sister Christiansen become the Mission President and Wife. With the change in a Mission President, the focus of the work sometimes changes based on their training in the MTC from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. More emphasis and focus was put on baptism and confirmation.

October 2015 - Elder Quentin L Cook from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visits our mission and gives some amazing promises: As we learn to plan and prepare, we will be able to see more success as a Mission. As one of the Elders was going up to say the closing prayer, Elder Cook stood back up and said "I have one more thing to say, I'm sorry. It's come to me three times and I've ignored it. I want to tell you to focus on finding those people that are within the age of 16 to 25, the Millennial generation." Well, more than a 3rd of the baptisms this year have been people in that age range!

November 2015 - As is usual with a new Mission President, the Missionary Department sends out 2 visitors to help the mission. Our visitors were Brother Hill and Brother Donaldson. Elder Lawrence and I got to go out teaching with Brother Donaldson and we had a Leadership Meeting as a mission with these two. Many of the things that we were used to doing over the last year were changed, reverted back to the original teachings of the Preach My Gospel handbook, and many people were concerned about all of the changes! President Christiansen tells the mission of the  Lord's vision for the Maryland Baltimore Mission, which is to double the baptisms in 2016. We are promised that by making the necessary changes, this will be accomplished.

November 2015 - Later that same month, Elder Teh, a member of the Quorum of the Seventy, comes out and does a mission tour, teaching us many amazing things about becoming a Consecrated Missionary.

January 2016 - For the first time in over 10 years, the Missionary Department, led by Elder Oaks, holds a live Missionary Broadcast for all full-time missionaries. They teach us based on the theme of "Teach Repentance and Baptize Converts."

Feb-Apr 2016 - More visits from members of the Quorum of the Seventy, Elder Perkins and Elder Carlson! They both leave amazing promises upon the mission and talk about the success that continues to happen. 

It has been so amazing to see these things happening! I've loved meeting the people that have found the gospel and seen the amazing blessings that have come to them through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our goal to double the baptisms is in sight because of the faith that President Christiansen shows and the wonderful hand of the Lord in all things!

As an update to those that we are teaching, Sydney Selby is getting baptized this Sunday, the 19th! We're so excited, her grandparents flew out from Nevada and everything is set up, it will be an incredible experience. She's so excited as well!

We got to meet Mary's husband for the first time this past week! He is a very nice guy, we are trying to help him have the desire to learn as well. On Sunday, Mary came over to the Christiansen's home for dinner, and she accepted the date of July 9th to be baptized! It was an amazing lesson, we talked about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I'm so grateful for our Savior! His wonderful example brings the Spirit into the room every time he is talked about!

The Rosskopf family is reading the Book of Mormon! They are going through a lot right now as far as trials and tribulations, but they have stayed so strong and they are such good people. We've loved  teaching them and are trying to help them on the path that leads towards all of the blessings of the Restored Gospel.

Mark is also doing well! We've still been meeting with him at the library. He is reading the Book of Mormon as well! Our testimonies of the Book of Mormon have definitely increased the last few weeks as we have seen the influence it has on our investigators.

We also had a great experience last night with Andre, who is going through a tough time because of his fiancee leaving him. As we talked last night though, he opened up and said that he really wants to learn how to get past it, how to move on and accept the plan that God has for him. He wants to be there at church on Sunday and is so excited for all of the things he is learning!

This week, I noticed something in one of the hymns. This came on Sunday in Sacrament as we sang Hymn 29, A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief. I'll share a few of those verses. (I especially love the last few verses, which are seldom sung):

1. A poor, wayfaring Man of grief
Hath often crossed me on my way,
Who sued so humbly for relief
That I could never answer nay.
I had not pow'r to ask his name,
Whereto he went, or whence he came;
Yet there was something in his eye
That won my love; I knew not why.

5. Stript, wounded, beaten nigh to death
I found him by the highway side.
I roused his pulse, brought back his breath,
Revived his spirit, and supplied
Wine, oil, refreshment--he was healed.
I had myself a wound concealed,
But from that hour forgot the smart,
And peace bound up my broken heart.

6. In pris'n I saw him next, condemned
To meet a traitor's doom at morn.
The tide of lying tongues I stemmed,
And honored him 'mid shame and scorn.
My friendship's utmost zeal to try,
He asked if I for him would die.
The flesh was weak; my blood ran chill,
But my free spirit cried, "I will!"

7. Then in a moment to my view
The stranger started from disguise.
The tokens in his hands I knew;
The Savior stood before mine eyes.
He spake, and my poor name he named,
"Of me thou hast not been ashamed.
These deeds shall thy memorial be;
Fear not, thou didst them unto me."

These words mean so much to me! I love that last verse. I am reminded of the scripture in Matthew 25:40 - Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. To think that we will be able to see the Savior and we will be able to hear him say "Of me thou hast not been ashamed" leaves me with so much joy and comfort!

Thank you so much for all of the support!!!!

- Elder Leavitt

Monday, June 6, 2016

Week 79 Transfers

Hey everyone!

This week was another great one! Over the course of my mission, one of my favorite things has been the opportunity to see the progression of those that we have worked with, even the progression that happens while I'm serving in another area and get updates. Yesterday,  I got to see one of my favorite families that I met in the Columbia Spanish branch, the Riggin family! I saw them at church because the Spanish branch meets right before us! While I was serving there, Hermano Riggin didn't attend very regularly. I remember as my companions and I worked with them, we saw the wonderful changes that the Spirit brought into Hermano Riggin and how that affected his family. Over the past few months, Hermano Riggin has returned to activity in the church...and yesterday as I walked over (more of a run because I was so excited to see them) to Hermana Riggin, she said "Elder Leavitt, guess what? My husband is getting an interview for his temple recommend for the first time in 10 years." (This was in it's paraphrased haha!) He got his recommend and they are getting sealed as a family! I'm so grateful for this family and the change they have brought into my life! I'm so excited for the blessings that Heavenly Father has in store for this family.

Mary came to church again on Sunday! She loved it, she has met so many good friends already! We get to meet her husband for the first time this Thursday and are hoping that he is going to be interested as well. Mary is still preparing to be baptized towards the end of the month!

Tonight we were with Joe & Megan Jolissaint, who have become some of our closest friends as we have helped in the teaching of Joe's mom! One thing I never realized before my mission was how many amazing people I would have the opportunity to meet and be around. I've made incredible friends that have touched my life! Whether they have been members of the church, people I've gotten to teach, or even people I only had a few seconds with, I've met some incredible people and being with Joe & Megan helped me realize that again! Such amazing people in this world gives me hope for the future.

This week is transfers! I'll be staying in Ellicott City again! This will be my 3rd transfer with Elder Fisher, 6th transfer in Ellicott City, which is definitely a long time to stay in one area! The good news though...I love it here!! I'll now have spent 60 weeks of my mission here in this city because I served here in the Spanish Branch as well! It's really feeling like home!

Elder Lawrence, my last companion, goes home this week! He's been a great friend to me and we've had some awesome experiences together, I'm sad to see him go, but I know we'll be friends for the rest of our lives still. I'm grateful for the chance to serve with him!!

Elder Spencer Lawrence

Spiritual thought for the week: This comes because we met a man named Andre this week that wanted us to teach him about forgiveness because of the things that had happened over the last few months. My mind was drawn back to the wonderful talk from the last General Conference by Elder Duncan:

"As victims, if we are faithful, we can take great comfort in knowing that God will compensate us for every injustice we experience. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin stated: “The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. … Every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude.”

As we strive to forgive others, let us also try to remember that we are all growing spiritually, but we are all at different levels. While it is easy to observe the changes and growth in the physical body, it is difficult to see the growth in our spirits. One key to forgiving others is to try to see them as God sees them. At times, God may part the curtain and bless us with the gift to see into the heart, soul, and spirit of another person who has offended us. This insight may even lead to an overwhelming love for that person."

I love how he says that "every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude." I'm so grateful for that! I'm so grateful for the wonderful, pure love that God has for us and the forgiveness we are able to receive from him. I'm so grateful for the chance we have to learn the principle of forgiveness and live it. 

Thank you so much for all of the support!!

-Elder Leavitt

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Week 78 Happy Memorial Day

Hey everyone! With Memorial Day this week, our email schedule was a bit messed up!

This last week we had Zone Conferences! There are 9 zones in our missions but we combined the Conferences so we had 4 of them to do. Elder Fisher and I get the opportunity to travel to each of these and we got to instruct on "Spiritual Planning & Preparation." On Tuesday we were in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Wednesday was Frederick, Maryland. Thursday was Columbia, Maryland. Friday was Baltimore, Maryland. It's always a cool experience to get to be around the mission and see the different areas! Zone Conferences went well and we talked a lot about our progress on the way to doubling the baptisms in 2016.

Elder Fisher and I have had the opportunity to see some incredible miracles lately. One of these miracles has been Mary Cole! We've been working with her for a few weeks now and she is preparing to be baptized here in the month of June. A few weeks ago, I shared the miracle of how she randomly accepted a job at a Senior Living Center, met a member of the church and eventually the Sister missionaries, and then expressed interest in learning more. Well, over the last few weeks she has continued to progress thanks to the wonderful support of the ward! A few weeks ago there was a Relief Society activity coming up, so we asked the Relief Society President, Sister Gardner, if she would be willing to call Mary and invite her! Well, she did and Mary was more than happy to come! The following Sunday, Mary came to church and sat with Sister Gardner. She met all of the women in the Relief Society and they continued to friendship her and help her along. This past week, Mary's mother had a stroke and was hospitalized. As we notified some of the members, Mary was flooded with texts spreading the love and support for her and her mother. On Sunday night, we had the opportunity to go visit Mary and her mother in the hospital. Mary broke down and expressed her sincere gratitude for the members and missionaries that continued to reach out to her. She even said "I'm sorry that I wasn't at church today, but tell me all about it!" Mary is an amazing example to me and I'm so incredibly grateful for the chance we have to work with her! She'll be getting baptized on June 25th and is doing so well.

Scott Meushaw, a member that is
always helping out the missionaries.

Another miracle we had the last few weeks is the Selby family. Brother Selby is a member and has 3 children. Sydney, one of the daughters that hasn’t been baptized, was supposed to be baptized back in January but wanted her grandparents to come out for it and with scheduling conflicts, it kept getting postponed! As May approached, the Selby family had missed 4 or 5 straight weeks of church and we were starting to get a little bit concerned that the interest level was going down. As we were planning ahead for one of our weeks, we felt prompted to go visit Brother Selby just one-on-one. Up until that point, we had really only visited them every other weekend because that was the only time the kids came to their dad’s home. One night that week, we set up an appointment to visit him. As we were driving there, we were talking about what the best way would be to talk to him about church attendance and how we could help them. We once again had a prompting about him, and felt that if we went in and got him to open up a little bit, he would bring up church attendance without us even having to say anything specifically about it. It sort of felt like we were winging it, but we relied on that Spiritual prompting and went on in. We had a great talk with him, he told us about work, family life, everything that was going on. And then, out of the blue and as we were talking about something completely different, he looked up and said “By the way, we don’t have anything this weekend so we’ll definitely be at church.” I think Elder Fisher and I were a bit caught off guard but tried to hide it, knowing that he really had just brought up church attendance without us even saying anything related to that. From there, we talked about why they hadn’t been there and got the baptism of Sydney all planned for June 18th, 2 weeks away!

We had the wonderful opportunity to start teaching a man named Mark yesterday! Elders serving in the downtown Baltimore area contacted him on a bus and passed his information off to us. He had come up to them, saying that he was studying different religions and would like anything that they had that he could read. Yesterday, we met him at a library and taught him all about the Restoration and the Book of Mormon and he accepted the invitation to be baptized as well! He talked about how good he felt as he talked to the missionaries, that something just felt different and he identified that as the Holy Ghost as he learned more about the role of the Spirit. He is a pretty quiet guy, grew up in Baltimore, lives with a few of his sisters and is probably around 35 years old. We will be seeing him again tomorrow and working on setting a date for his baptism and continuing to teach him and to help him.

Debby Jolissaint came to church as well! She came a few weeks ago for her granddaughter’s baby blessing and loved it. Her son was baptized a few years ago and she has expressed interest over the last few years in learning more but her husband has bit a little bit opposed to it. But, she has accepted the invitation to take the missionary lessons and is preparing to be baptized sometime in July!

Both the Rosskopf family and the Diaz family continue to add to the wonderful miracles happening here in the Lord’s work. We had a great lesson with the Rosskopf family yesterday, and all 3 of their kids participated as well! We taught all about the Book of Mormon, and the father, Mike Rosskopf, was excited to have his own copy and to begin reading. They watched the Restoration DVD as a family and he said that he has definitely felt like Joseph Smith many times in his life, searching for the truth throughout all of the churches in this world. The kids love reading “The Illustrated Book of Mormon” and are learning the stories as well. We hope to have them at church this week as they continue to learn and grow! The Diaz family is progressing very well also. We saw them yesterday as well, helping them with some service they had asked for. They expressed interest once again in the differences between our church and the Catholic Church, and have been reading the Book of Mormon also. Their kids have participated in the lessons as well!

Transfers are a week from today! This has been my 5th transfer in Ellicott City, so I guess we'll see what happens!

In closing, I’d like to share a short story from President Monson’s October 2015 address entitled “Be an Example and a Light.”

“Recently, as I have been reading and pondering the scriptures, two passages in particular have stayed with me. Both are familiar to us. The first is from the Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” The second scripture is one which came to my mind as I pondered the meaning of the first. It is from the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to Timothy: “Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” To illustrate that the light which comes from a pure and loving spirit is recognized by others, I share with you an experience of many years ago.  At that time, leaders of the Church met with officials in Jerusalem to work out a lease agreement for land on which the Church’s Jerusalem Center would be built. In order to obtain the permissions needed, the Church had to agree that no proselyting would be undertaken by our members who would occupy the center. After that agreement had been made, one of the Israeli officials, who was well acquainted with the Church and its members, remarked that he knew the Church would honor the no-proselyting agreement. “But,” he said, referring to the students who would attend there, “what are we going to do about the light that is in their eyes?” May that special light ever shine within us, that it might be recognized and appreciated by others.”

I am so grateful for our beloved Prophet and for these wonderful truths that he expressed in this story. I’m so grateful for the light that continues to shine within each one of us and the opportunity we have to share that light with others. Thank you for all of the wonderful support, have an amazing week!

- Elder Leavitt