Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Week 91 Transfer Week

Hey everyone! It's transfer week again! And.....I'll be staying in Ellicott City for another transfer! It's been pretty crazy to stay in one area for this long, it's been 8 transfers (6 weeks each) so almost a full year now!

This week, we got to go on exchanges in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. I stayed here in Ellicott and got to be with Elder Abraham for the day! I've gotten the chance to serve around him for a lot of my mission in one way or the other, and he was my Zone Leader while I served here in the Columbia Spanish Branch. I've always looked up to him and it was great to be on an exchange and get to work together for the day! He's approaching his last transfer and has been a great example to me. While on exchanges, we taught a man that told us that all he believes is the Bible and that any question he has, he goes to the Bible. We taught him about how not only can we read on the Word of God, we can go straight to Heavenly Father for our answers. It was a rough lesson and just felt like he wanted to Bible Bash, and it taught both of us the importance of not only believing in the Bible, but believing in a living and modern Prophet and that we can still receive guidance in our day.

Mark Martin had the chance to attend the Philadelphia Temple Open House with some of the members of our congregation! Dennis is still doing so well, we taught him about the Word of Wisdom and he is one of the most spiritual 16 year old kids I've ever met. He amazes me every time we go and teach him!

Tomorrow we get to go pick up the new missionaries, 17 are coming in! And then on Wednesday will be transfer day, and Thursday we take the missionaries that have finished their 24 or 18 months to the airport, so it's a busy week! I always like this week though because it feels like a new start with renewed focus!

Sorry this week's email is so short! Next week will have more stories and experiences!

Love you all!

- Elder Leavitt

Monday, August 22, 2016

Week 90 "It is the Kingdom of God or Nothing!"

Another week full of miracles here in the Maryland Baltimore Mission! 

The first miracle I'd like to share actually wasn't something that had happened this week, actually something that had happened months ago that I had never realized until this week! It actually starts over a year ago when I was serving in the Columbia 3rd Spanish Branch with Elder Cornejo. It was a super humid day, which is almost every single day in Maryland, and we were by an apartment complex on a street called Brook Way in Columbia. As we were walking up this hill back towards our car, there was a lady coming out of her apartment and heading towards the mailbox to get her mail. She looked hesitant to talk to us, but we made our way over and introduced ourselves and shared the Book of Mormon with her. She was excited about the idea of the Book of Mormon and we gave her the information for the Sister Missionaries. She told us her name was Rebekah, that she had grown up here in Baltimore, and that she was actually looking for a Church but had thought we were Jehovah Witnesses. She told us we could send the Sisters by. A few days later, we heard back from the Sisters, Sister Anderson and Sister Rogers, and they had met with her and had a wonderful lesson! Over the next few weeks, she came to church a few times and accepted a date to be baptized. When that date approached, she became very sick and wasn't even able to meet with the missionaries as often. It was extremely sad to see her fade away, and then I was transferred out to Winchester, Virginia. A few weeks later, I came back to Ellicott City and since she was now in my ward boundaries, stopped by again to try and teach her, but never got in touch with her. To be honest, that has been one of the experiences that I've always wished I could go back and somehow change her getting sick and be able to see her and her son get baptized. But, here is the miracle about all of this! So for a meeting on Friday, Sister Anderson, who now serves up in Hanover, Pennsylvania, shared a miracle that I had never realized before. While her and Sister Rogers were teaching Rebekah, they found a few other people to teach in that same area because they were frequently around Brook Way. One of the days that they were around that area, they met a man named Greg and his son Grayson, who had recently moved in. They offered to help them move some of the stuff into their apartment, and came to found out they were members of the church! Their records weren't in the Ward though, and so they were able to get their names and talk to the leadership in the Ellicott City Ward to find out where their records were. Well, a few months later this provided the means for Elder Lawrence and I to start teaching Greg and his son Grayson, who turned out to be the Selby family! We found out that one of Grayson's sister had never been baptized, and that they hadn't been able to go to church in about 5 years. We taught the family, Sydney got baptized in June, and now they are all going in a few weeks to do baptisms for the dead at the Washington DC Temple! It started out as Elder Cornejo and I talking to Rebekah, passing her off to the Sisters, the Sisters being in the right place at the right time and meeting the Selby family, and then a few months later the Selby's getting baptized and becoming active again in the church. I never would've connected all of these things together, but I have now realized that maybe that was all part of the plan! They needed to be teaching Rebekah at that time to be able to find the Selby family. And I know that Rebekah will one day be taught again and I can't wait for that day!

Mary Cole continues to amaze! In what is now her 4th week or so of being a member of the Church, her week consisted of the following:
Tuesday - Took her husband, son, and granddaughter up to the Philadelphia Temple Open House to tour the new temple
Wednesday - Went with her friend Tina to the Washington DC Temple Visitors Center and shared her testimony of how becoming baptized into the restored Church has blessed her life. Later that night, helped a less active member of the Church in the Columbia 1st Ward
Friday - Met with us, shared a bit of Meet the Mormons with her and she said she would show it to her husband David, who she is trying to involve more and more!
Sunday - Met with Bishop for a temple recommend and received a calling in the Church! She is on the Relief Society committee!
Tuesday (tomorrow) - Is going to be meeting with a Family History Consultant to prepare a name for the temple!
Mary is so amazing....she is such a Christlike person! It has been so amazing to see her progression week after week, she hasn't missed a Sunday yet!

Another amazing miracle is that while I'm typing this, Mark Martin, our investigator who is preparing to be baptized, is with a family in our ward up at the Philadelphia Temple Open House! They offered to take him and he was really excited for that opportunity.

We found a few great families to teach this week. One family is the Crescenzi family, Sister Crescenzi is a member and her husband is not but is open to learning. The next is the Lodowski family, a very similar situation where the wife is a member of the Church but her husband is not. He is an active member of the Church of Christ and one of the nicest guys I've met! When we met with him on Monday he asked us all about our families and our testimony. The next is the Rohr family, which was quite a miracle in itself! They had been taught by missionaries over a year ago, and so we stopped by on Monday. We met the wife, her name was Stacy, and was so nice and invited us back on Saturday! So we stopped by. Her husband's name is Keith, and he is agnostic. They have 2 children, one that goes to the University of Maryland and a daughter in high school. They talked about how they don't trust in organized religion. Stacy was raised Catholic but has been to many different religions. They didn't know much about our Faith and asked many questions, and talked about how the Members that they new from the Church were all very nice. We taught them about the Book of Mormon and the Restoration and they loved it, and had never heard much about it before, and said that they will be visiting our church to see what it is like. Keith is a physical therapist and is such a nice guy, they are an awesome family!

This week, I came across two statements that I hadn't heard before concerning our ultimate decision in life. The first came from President Brigham Young who said, "It is the Kingdom of God or nothing." The second, very similar, was quoted by Elder Neil A Maxwell in one of his talks in General Conference: "If you have not chosen the kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead." As I have pondered over that this week, I have realized that, in a way, these statements describe what missionary work is all about: our duty and purpose is to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth, in the form of the restored Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Those statements have made me realize how important it really is to evaluate ourselves and to ponder on which side we are choosing, because in the end the only thing that matters is what we put first!

Thank you again for all of the wonderful support, have a great week!

- Elder Leavitt

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Week 89 Another Great Week!

Hey everyone! This was another great week here in Ellicott City! Besides the 115 degree weather with humidity...

First off, Mark Martin is now on date! He's getting baptized on September 3rd. It's been amazing to see his progress since the first day that we met him. He was originally contacted by two Elders in downtown Baltimore who gave his information to us. As he's been meeting with us, he's opened up more and more each time. He has some social anxiety and other social disorders, but has now met so many of the members he has really opened up to everyone around him. At first, it was hard to find him a ride to church, but as time went on he was able to work with his family to get a ride every week. 2 weeks ago he just showed up in Elders Quorum after we hadn't seen him in a few weeks, and wanted to continue learning! So we started teaching him again and he has now committed to be baptized! This week as we were preparing for one of the lessons, we felt prompted to talk about Prophets, Obedience, and Tithing. He doesn't have a job right now, so we felt like we should go over self-reliance and helping him see how the money in the church is used so that we could really see where his intent was in meeting with us. It was such a great experience to see how the lesson turned out, you could tell that he really did understand that even though the church could provide resources like Job Employment Specialists, they don't just have hand-outs for everyone, and there are certain things we must do in the Lord's Church. It was such a great experience! 

This was a great week with Dennis Danieli as well! Dennis came to church on Sunday for the first time!! His mom took him and she was going to stay but then got called into work right at that time! But his parents have made so much progress because at the beginning they were very stand-offish. This week we continued through the story of Abinadi with Dennis, reading through Mosiah 17 and 18 about how Alma establishes the Church. Dennis loves the Book of Mormon more than any 16 year old kid I've ever met! It was also great in church because Dennis sat in between Elder Fisher and I....3 red heads in a row!! He loved it and will be going to the Philadelphia Temple Open House with our Stake President and his family!

Mary Cole is still one of the most amazing women I've ever met! After getting baptized 4 weeks ago, she has continued to do SO much in her progression in the Gospel. Tomorrow she'll be taking her husband, son, and granddaughter to Philadelphia to tour the Temple! This will be a great opportunity for David, her husband, to really show his interest in learning more. We'll be showing him Meet the Mormons later this week! That movie has been a huge resource in helping people see how normal we really are! I'm excited to hear about how Mary's experience is! And then on Wednesday, Mary is taking Tina, one of her friends that has been coming to church lately, down to the Visitors Center at the Washington DC Temple! Tina will be getting baptized in just a few weeks as well!! Mary meets with Bishop Moffat this week as well to get her temple recommend and she is doing Family History to pick a name to go to the Temple with.

As for those others that have been recently baptized, Francis is doing well! Since his job change, his schedule has opened up so that he is now free on Sunday. Marcia Threatt continues to do well also! She got baptized the week after Mary, and she is also preparing for the Temple. She's one of the funniest people I've ever met and always says "I never thought God's plan would have me become a Mormon...but I did it anyways!" She's so great and we feel so privileged to know her!

The Selby family is also picking a date to go to the temple and do Baptisms for the Dead! Since the Baptism in June, they've been back in forth between Fredericksburg and here, so we've only had the chance to see them a few times. But we met with them yesterday and Grayson, Sarah, and Sydney, are SO excited to get the chance to go down to the Temple! They're still one of my favorite families I've met on my mission!

Back in March, there was a man that we were teaching named Kunle Omisore. He is from Nigeria and had some amazing experiences meeting members of the Church, and finally referred himself through the Church Headquarters because he wanted to meet with missionaries. We had some amazing visits, but then he left for Nigeria for a few months....but this week he is back!! We finally got ahold of him and he was so excited to hear from us again, we'll be meeting up this week with him! 

Well, I hope that everyone is doing well! Thank you again for the constant support and love!

- Elder Leavitt

We Finally hit the "Double Digit" Mark this week in our
 Countdown for Chandler to come home!! So exciting!!!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Week 88 Gettysburg & Temple Visit

This was a great week! Luckily, this week did not include pneumonia or flash floods like the previous week!

Last week was our temple week! Every 6 months, we get to choose a day during the week to go down to the Washington DC Temple! We went down with Jo Jolissaint this week, it was such a wonderful experience, I truly love the temple! I'm grateful that I have gotten the opportunity to serve so close to one, and am excited for the new Philadelphia temple as well!

It's been interesting with these new boundary changes here in the Columbia Stake where we serve! A few of the members of the Columbia Spanish Branch where I previously served are now in my ward in Ellicott City, it was so great to see some of them at church yesterday! Our new area now includes even more members and our ward has grown! It should be a great opportunity over the next few weeks to get to know some of the new members.

With these changes, some of the missionaries passed off a few of the wonderful people that they were teaching, and we got to meet them this week! First was Larry. He is in his 60's and works as a Maintenance man. He is such a humble man, and originally met with missionaries about 15 years ago and now feels that it is his time to learn more and become a member! The other wonderful person we got to meet was Dennis Danieli. He is 16 years old and a track and field star in High School. He has one of the most amazing Spirits that I've ever been around! He loves reading from the Book of Mormon and wants to be baptized but is waiting for permission from his parents. Both of these people are truly amazing.

This is NOT the "Dwayne Johnson" we met.

We had a pretty cool experience this week while on exchanges! I was in Ellicott City with Elder Carlson, who serves over in East Baltimore. As we were walking around and talking to a few people in a certain neighborhood, this guy came up to us and introduced himself as "Billy" and told us a few things that he knew about the Mormon church. We talked to him about the Restoration, but he only had a few minutes and he said he'd give us a call at a later time. So we figured that was all! And then later that day, we got a text from the Church Headquarters with a referral for a man named "Dwayne Johnson" with an address near the area we had been earlier. So, when we went over to meet turned out to be Billy! Turns out that he had just kind of given that name because at first he actually thought we were Jehovah Witnesses. After talking with us, he went inside and found the LDS Home Page, and referred himself!! We taught him about the Book of Mormon and the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he was so excited to learn more! 

One other great miracle that we had this week was with a man named Joel Hoyle! We got a call from a lady that lives about an hour north of us, and she explained to us that her father Joel is dying of cancer and is currently at a living center in our area. Her name was Lisa and she was the niece of Joel. Joel is the only member of his family, he joined the church in California in his 50's. He is now 82 and has terminal cancer. Lisa explained that he would love a visit from the missionaries! When we went over to visit, we got to meet Joel's son named Russ! He is an amazing man, and we talked to him a lot about the church. He told us that even though Joel's health is not good at all right now, he told Russ to print out the talk "The Only True and Living Church" by Elder Oaks and pass it out to all of the nurses! His dying wish is for Russ to become a member. We got to go back on Saturday and give Russ a Book of Mormon. Who knows? Even though this is an extremely tough time for the Hoyle family, maybe this is exactly what they need to take that next step in finding out about the church. It was such a humbling experience!

Mary Cole is doing great! She has continued to be an amazing member of the Church, even though she has only been a member for a few weeks now! She goes teaching with the Sisters occasionally and has had wonderful experiences! She is taking her husband, son, and granddaughter to the Philadelphia Temple Open House next week, we're so excited to hear about how it goes! Her son is meeting with missionaries in Delaware! Sydney, Marcia, and Francis are all doing well in their first few weeks/months of membership!

Today for preparation day we got to go up to Gettysburg! It was a truly amazing experience seeing all of the history that is there! President Christiansen gave us these CD's that tell stories of the War as you drive to different locations. It was such a humbling experience to see some of the places where one of the most important events in all of American History took place. I'm so grateful for all of the people that defended the unity of our country so that we have the opportunity to still be the United States and not separated! What an amazing place to visit.

- Elder Leavitt

P.S. I felt like this quote went very well with us being able to enjoy something like Gettysburg today! I don't think that Brigham Young means diversion as something that takes us off of our purpose, but I do think that sometimes we get so caught up in what we're doing, we forget to enjoy ourselves in a good, healthy way! 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Week 87 Pneumonia & Flash Floods

Well...I can easily say this was one of the craziest weeks of my mission! Ward boundary changes, historic floods in Ellicott City, and staying in the Hospital with pneumonia..all in one week! But I'm totally fine right now, so don't worry regardless of the title of the email!

"Hey mom!! Doing well, we got the room
 with the resort/vacation background!!"
Chandler was able to send me this text on Sister Christiansen's phone. 
Here he is with his positive attitude, still wearing his 
Missionary name tag & his big beautiful smile while he was so sick, 
doesn't surprise me! 
This picture was taken earlier in the day with his 103 fever,
who would have guessed it? 

I'll start with the pneumonia. Starting on Tuesday or Wednesday, I started to get pretty sick, but figured it was just a cold. By Thursday, I was thinking it had to be the flu. I could hardly walk without becoming nauseous, was coughing consistently, and went into the doctor with a temperature of 103 that wouldn't go down. They told me I had a Sinus & Bacterial infection with early stages of the flu. They gave me me an antibiotic & sent me on my way. By Friday, it was worse and I had already lost weight so I went into the ER with Elder Fisher, Elder Gordon, and Elder Tharp. They took me in, gave me fluids, and ran tests during the night to find what was wrong. When all was said and done, I had pneumonia. This last weekend was quite the experience, I haven't felt sick like that in quite some time, but her I am, just a few days later, and I feel absolutely fine! I definitely learned a lot throughout the weekend even through those couple of days. Hospital visits are never fun but I got to meet some great people that took care of me and we even got to share the Gospel throughout. I appreciate all of the prayers in my behalf! Also, I met with my Liver Specialist and as far as that goes, things couldn't be better with my blood work!!

We also changed boundaries here in the Columbia Stake. Our ward got cut in half, so some of the people we were working with will be passed off to the other Elders! It will be tough not to be around the Jolissaint's anymore, but I know that Greg and Debby are going to get baptized and join the church soon and am so excited for them! The sad part of the change was definitely that they closed down the Spanish Branch here in Columbia. I served there for 4 1/2 months and absolutely love the members! It sounds like most of them can speak at least decent English though, so they will be attending English wards which means I'll get to see some of them here in the Ellicott City Ward with me. Still, it's a piece of memory that I feel like was taken, and I'm so grateful for the time I got to spend serving there!

2 dead, hundreds rescued. Emergency declared
after historic Ellicott City ravaged by flash flood.

And now onto the historic floods! We had a crazy storm on Saturday, and that's an understatement. It hit the worst in Old Town Ellicott City, which isn't designed to hold a lot of foundation when that much water comes at it. Elder Fisher and I weren't out and about because I was in the Hospital, but if we would've been, we probably would've got stuck right in the middle of it. I've attached a story from one of our investigators, Laura Diaz. She has 3 kids, Ella, Danny, and Jake. Her husband is Welvy and we've been teaching them for a little bit now. They live right in the middle of Ellicott City, next to the river. This story portrays the horror that has hit most of the people here in Ellicott, we're keeping all of them in our prayers, but it also portrays the miracle that they are still alive and well and God's hand in all of this.

Here is the story in Laura's words:

"We are good!  I mean emotionally a mess, but physically fine. Just sore and a few bumps and bruises.  I felt like I needed to just say that right away.  And thank you, for thinking of me, for praying for us and for all that you have done to make this just a little better.  I mean the reason we had to move there in the first place was drama and now this…I can’t seem to catch a break...The county is saying it could be months before we can go back...Now all we are worried about is people breaking in and taking what little we have left.

It was around 7 and I asked Welvy to take the kids up to take a bath.  I never do that, I usually let him take a nap before work and I do the bedtime thing, but I had an unusual amount of dishes and I wanted to get them done STAT.  As I am washing away my community is also washing away.  I look out the window, my sink overlooks the train tracks and the river.  And I see the white water rapids and an SUV fly by.  I screamed for Welvy...and we traded places.  He went to move the car, he had to run through waste deep dangerous water to get to the car, drive half on the curb and half off just to get out of town.  I didn’t think when we passed on the stairs it could have been the last time we saw each other.  It was only for a few hours though thankfully.

While he was off with the car and trying to get back to us, we were stuck inside.  I got the kids ready for bed and put them in bed, I told Ella to keep the boys with her and not to move.  Then I heard a loud bang and the house shook.  I ran down stairs and the inside stair well was swirling high with water, like in the titanic movie, it was crazy fast.  The door was being banged on and finally broken into by a homeless man.  Not the nice homeless man we usually help (he’s ok by the way), but a scary one I have never seen before.  His name turned out to be Mike. He chased me up the little stairs that were left not under water and he and I did a little back and forth door pushing.  Finally my dog decided to go nuts, he hesitated once and I got it bolted shut.  I called 911 violently shaking but they were busy…yes that is what they said.  By now, my children are crying for their daddy and frankly I am too. He proceeded to get into my neighbors houses but was unsuccessful.  So I just got it together and said to my children, no this is gonna turn like fun (something Ella used to say when she was little).  And I said pack a bag just in case of everything you can’t live without, Ella said that’s just you guys and Danny said DONATELLO!!! (his Ninja Turtle)  So I said outfit, pjs, ipad and Donatello.  The screaming from the street, fire alarm and continuous honking was enough to make anyone go crazy.  We peaked out the window, and shouldn’t have.  We saw families and couples yelling from their cars.  One woman could see me and was begging me to help her, I wanted to jump out of the window and help her, but I had 3 little faces looking at me crying for their daddy that we weren’t even sure made it out alive.  I didn’t want to orphan them.  Plus I am a great swimmer but wasn’t sure I was strong enough to go through that with cars flying by and building parts and electric wires and fire, help them, and then swim back.  I'm cool but not that cool.  I will have nightmares about her the rest of my life.  By now the entire bridge was under water.

The neighbors came over one by one, I am like the mom of the group.  Everyone else is young and no kids.  We all ended up separated but we came together the next day, it was almost agonizing for all of us to be apart and not know what happened to the other. 

So my phone is at 2%, electricity is flickering, the gas pipe breaks, the car in front of my house is wiping around tangled in the telephone wires catching on fire and I cant find my husband.  The smell of gas was so bad we had to cover our faces with towels.  The police want us to evacuate because they think we’re going to explode.  He said to get in the boat, I was like no I have an infant.  He said too bad.  I get in that nasty scary water with my infant on me and Danny on my shoulders and next thing I know my husband comes walking up the back way, him and his friend Grant, climbing down the mud slide.  My one neighbor said this feels like its from a movie.  He parked in Catonsville (a few miles away) and walked, all that way, not knowing if we were even still there.  We strapped the babies on us and walked, more like climbed straight up the hill in the mud hands over feet.  Eli (my dog) helped all of us the best he could.  Finally we made it up that mountain, after countless slips back down and trees falling all around us and sticks stabbing our legs and the mosquitoes having a field day with my children.  We made it to the top…the worst is over right. Wrong.  We get separated in the chaos AGAIN!!!  Me with kids and dog, husband and grant with bags.  Miles later we find each other in the pitch black woods.  I swear Welvy and I have been together/known each other for 30 years and we have been thru more disasters than one couple should.  We don’t need phones or gps to find each other, even before we owned phones, we always found each other.  Ella said I am starting to trust this thing you two have going!  And my little boy clutched that Donatello every step of the way.  He kept saying thumbs up mama Donatello is OK! And my sweet 20lb 4 month old slept in the sling strapped to me the whole time. 

So when we finally got to each other and walked miles to the car we tried going places, but its hard a family of 5 and a dog covered in mud for people to want to let us in.  Our land lord did.  Once again she has saved our lives. 

For now we are here off St. Johns lane. Not sure for how long.  People want to know what I need or how to help.  I don’t know how to answer that. I am pretty sure we all have like PTSD, which sounds crazy but we all got in the one bed and cried ourselves to sleep. And all day today we haven’t left each others side.  We keep meeting up with the neighbors and just crying it all out. 

No one would believe what we went through, not really.  The news can say what they want, they can send you pictures of what happened, but no one, aside from my neighbors will ever know truly in your soul know what just happened to us, in the matter of 20 minutes we were fine and then in the middle of a natural disaster.  And when it was all said in done my little man said to me thumbs up mama you are so cool so awesome!  And I said not me, God is.

Thanks again for all your prayers, keep them coming, this craziness is just the beginning of a long road ahead."

I'm so grateful that they are safe, what a crazy story! A miracle as well though. Like I said at the beginning, this was a crazy week full of all sorts of experiences, but I'm so grateful for those kind of weeks! I'm so grateful for all of the wonderful people around me that continue to support and pray for me, thank you so much. Have an amazing week!

- Elder Leavitt

Here is a link to videos/pictures of what happened as well:

*I am including some photos of the damage and aftermath of the flooding in Ellicott City so that Chandler will always remember this, not only as a tragedy but also a Tender Mercy from the Lord! I want to add that as I sat here heartbroken & in tears knowing I couldn't be there to take care of him as he laid in a hospital bed, I consider this such a miracle! What a great reminder that Heavenly Father is in charge and he has a plan for each one of us! Chandler has never taken a sick day before and we know without a doubt that this pneumonia is the one thing that kept him in his apartment during this flood on Saturday. I never thought my sadness on Friday would turn into such a feeling of Gratitude!! I love you Chandler & I love sister Christiansen & Elder Fisher for taking such wonderful care of you for me!!

Notice that the water level is right up to the street sign.