Monday, September 26, 2016

Week 95 "It's not her time, take her back"

Hey everyone! This was another great week here in Ellicott City.

For starters, I'd like to share a really amazing story, the story of Mary Jones. President Christiansen shared this story with us this week. Mary Jones grew up in Baltimore searching for a true religion, seeking for truth for over 66 years without finding it. About 18 years ago, she got in a terrible car accident where she was in a sleep-induced coma for over 6 1/2 months. She had an amazing experience while she was in a coma. Whether it be a dream, a vision, or an experience, this is what happened to her during the coma. She remembers everything being white and more beautiful than she had ever seen before. She saw a man dressed in a white robe, but she could only see from his shoulders down and was not able to lift her head to look at his face. She knew that it was Jesus Christ given the wounds in his hands and feet. She wanted to look at Him but couldn't. He asked her to follow him and she obeyed. As she was walking, she couldn't help but notice the indescribable beauty around her. She came to a path, and on both sides of this path she saw all of her family members for generations. They were all working on something, writing and drawing on boards and she couldn't see what they were doing. She continued to walk with Christ until she came to what she thought was a throne of some sort. She heard a voice say "It is not her time, take her back." She instantly wanted to shout out that she didn't want to go back, she wanted to stay in this beautiful place, but immediately she turned around and followed Christ back. 18 years later, now fully recovered but still remembering that experience, she sat in on a Bible Study with her niece in Washington DC. Her niece had explained to her that she had recently been meeting with missionaries from the LDS Church who would come and read with her. Mary wanted to see what that was like, so she came. Not only did she love the experience, she wanted to have missionaries come over to her house as well! She went online and requested missionaries to come over, but for some reason it didn't go through. 2 weeks later, she found the number for the Mission Office and talked to one of the Senior Couples, requesting that missionaries come over immediately. As they taught her, she loved every moment of it. When they talked about the Spirit World, she realized just how special her experience 18 years ago had been. And now, 18 years later, she was just baptized and confirmed two days ago as the newest member of the only true Church in existence. Want an amazing series of events that were planned well before she came to this world. President had the opportunity to interview her for her baptism where she shared this wonderful story with him.

This fox loves coming up to eat the 
food on the porch of the mission home!!

Larry Miles is doing great! He's preparing for his baptism on the 15th of October. He came to church again and loved it and is so excited about General Conference this weekend. This week in Sacrament, Elder Fisher and I spoke! We were assigned to speak on Prophets and the blessings that come from obeying their counsel. I've grown to become much more comfortable speaking in public and it was a good experience. While we talked, there was Larry right in the middle of the front row, intently listening! He's an amazing man.

This week we saw Dave Ort again, he is the one that is Agnostic and is trying to gain a belief in God again. It was a great visit, he introduced us to his roommate Evan who sat in and listened as well. We went through the story of the Tree of Life in 1 Nephi 8. Afterwards, Dave asked "What do you do if someone believes that all of their beliefs and customs are true but they actually aren't?" We talked about how there is partial truth throughout the entire world, but we have to find the fullness of the truth. Evan then asked: "So how much truth do we need to be able to get into Heaven?" We felt prompted to talk about the Plan of Salvation and ended up teaching the entire lesson and they loved it. They just kept looking at each other and saying "Wow, I've never heard this before!" At the very end, Dave was a bit hesitant to pray, but Evan, obviously having listened very well during the lesson said: "Come on Dave, you can do this! Just pretend like I'm in Spirit Prison and you have to teach me how to pray!" It was a great end to the visit and Dave gave an amazing prayer.

Playing Volleyball on P-Day with a group of the
missionaries in Baltimore Inner Harbor.
(Chandler is in the very back)

Last week, we took a young man from our ward teaching with us. His name is Ben Bartles and he is leaving in January to go to Brazil! While he was with us, he introduced us to a family that lives across from him. They are an older couple named Ron and Mary. They are so nice! They have quite a few medical challenges but accepted our invitation to come help them with some service and to teach them about the Book of Mormon. We've been there twice since and they watched Meet the Mormons and are reading the Book of Mormon!

Deborah, the one that is very similar to Mary Cole who was baptized in July, is now being taught by the Sisters! She said that she wasn't interested in "investigating the Church" just in "joining" so I don't think she completely understood what that phrase meant, and I don't blame her! But it was great to hear that!

Rodger Bryant, who was baptized last October, is doing well! He has lost over 55 pounds in the last 3 months! He seems to be doing better than he was a few months ago and it was good to see him again. While we were about to go into his home, there was a lady down the street that was struggling to parallel park her car, so the member that was with us went down to help. We joined him and as he was parking the car for her, we talked to the lady and one of her friends. Well, it turns out that her friend that was there is already a member of the Church! She said her parents live in Utah but she hasn't been to church in years but said that she'd be willing to come back so she invited us over for dinner to help her return to activity in the Church!

I hope that we are all excited for General Conference this weekend! What an amazing opportunity it is to listen to our modern-day Prophet, President Monson, the First Presidency, the Twelve Apostles, and the other leaders of this amazing Church. I hope that we all prepare and listen intently to the promptings that come to us so that we can improve. Thanks for everything!

- Elder Leavitt

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Week 94 Meeting an APOSTLE

Hey everyone! I hope that everything is going well and that you have had a great week so far. It was an amazing week here in the Maryland Baltimore Mission!

This last weekend, we had the amazing privilege to hear from Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Presidency of the Seventy, and Elder Kevin E. Calderwood, our Area Seventy in the North America Northeast Area. It was so great! Elder Oaks is also the chairman of the Missionary Executive Committee. It was such a wonderful experience to get the opportunity to learn from these amazing Servants of the Lord!

Elder Dallin H. Oaks
I had the privilege of introducing Elder Oaks. 

On Saturday, the entire mission gathered for a special conference in Frederick, Maryland.  As we were waiting in the chapel, there was such a strong Spirit knowing that we were going to be able to listen to Elder Oaks, Elder Robbins, and Elder Calderwood. When they made their entrance, we all stood as they walked towards the front of the chapel. We each got the chance to walk through and shake each of their hands. There is such a power just from shaking the hand of an Apostle! After we all had that opportunity, we began the meeting and had such a wonderful experience! Elder Oaks is not only one of the most amazing teachers, he's extremely funny! He had us laughing the entire time! President & Sister Christiansen began the meeting with their testimonies, and then Elder Calderwood spoke. He talked about how we learn from Grace to Grace, line upon line, precept upon precept. He served as the Mission President for the New York New York South Mission just a few years ago. Following his remarks, Elder Robbins spoke! He is an amazing speaker as well. He talked about Christlike Attributes, focusing his remarks on the concept of love. Elder Oaks was the concluding speaker, and he started off by saying "Elders and Sisters, the things I say to missionaries are different depending on the mission. Sometimes, I need to teach them about why they're here. But, as I shook hands with each one of you, I can tell that you know who you are and why you are here." That was so amazing to hear from him and I'm so grateful to get to serve in this mission, President & Sister Christiansen are incredible leaders and the  culture of the mission is great to be around. Elder Oaks spoke a lot about revelation, how we can seek and receive it. He opened it up for about 30 minutes just for a Question and Answer session. Like I said before, Elder Oaks is extremely funny! Someone asked a question about discouragement and he said something like "it is so easy to be discouraged sometimes because of the rudeness of the world, especially during the time of an election such as this." Now, he was trying to make a point of how divided people can become during these times, but everyone kind of laughed because most people in Maryland at least seem to not like either of the choices (I feel blessed to know close to little about this upcoming election) and Elder Oaks started laughing as well, and he looks around and says "Ok, do not put that comment on the internet! I was not making a political comment!" He said funny things like that throughout the meeting, yet brought the Spirit more than I've ever felt before. It was a perfect balance and such an amazing thing to be able to learn from him. There are many more stories, but they are hard to explain through email in the fullness that he was able to explain them!

Sister Christiansen, Elder Fisher, Elder Dallin H. Oaks,
 Me and President Chistiansen

On Sunday, we got to hear from Elder Oaks again! He came to the Columbia Stake for Stake Conference, and since we're serving in that stake currently, we got to come! He arrived about 45 minutes early and started walking from row to row, talking and shaking hands with every person in attendance! It was so amazing to see. As he saw Elder Fisher and I again, he said "You know Elders, I've been did two red heads become companions?" I think a lot of people have wondered that! He made incredible remarks on Sunday as well, but I will just share one of the things he talked about. He invited an 8 year old boy to come up named Adam Mitchell. Adam is the son of the Stake President. He explained to the congregation that he was going to demonstrate a principle of what it feels like in a new leadership calling or when something changes in your life. He talked about what it means to have a "mantle" on you. When you come into a new calling, there is often a mantle that you feel like you must fit immediately. He then proceeded to take off his suit jacket, and he placed it on Adam. Obviously, it was much too big. He told Adam to face the congregation for a few minutes to demonstrate this principle. He talked about how no matter what, when we started a new calling or responsibility we will not fit, it will be much too big. He talked about how we will always be able to grow into it, but we need to realize that it will take time. It was a great object lesson! He went on to teach more about Sabbath Day Observance, Tithing, Missions, and other great doctrines and principles. Towards the end he once again showed his great sense of humor! He was trying to find a scripture on his iPad but seemed to be struggling and a bit frustrated with how it was working. He referred to his iPad as an "infernal device" and said "I wouldn't even be using this thing if President Packer hadn't told us that we had to!" President Christiansen ended up loaning him his paper scriptures, but the entire congregation was laughing as Elder Oaks demonstrated an amazing balance of humor and Spiritual teaching. I am so grateful for the chance that we had to learn from him this weekend! Later that day, we got a picture with him before President & Sister Christiansen took him to the airport. As he shook the hands of Elder Fisher and I one last time, he said something that I will never forget and always strive to live up to: "Elders, thank you for being the kind of missionaries that we need." I'll never forget that moment, and hope that I can become better every single day to some day be as Spiritually in tune and humble as Elder Oaks.

A Day I will NEVER forget!

Mary Cole got to be in attendance for the conference with Elder Oaks and she loved it! She shared a really cool experience with us this week. We were reading 2 Nephi 31 from the Book of Mormon, and asked her how the Gift of the Holy Ghost has blessed her since her baptism. She told us that just a few weeks ago, she was eating lunch with her brother. Her brother got her coffee and asked her to drink it before it got cold. She had quit drinking coffee ever since she had learned about the commandment to live the Word of Wisdom. She didn't want to offend her brother and started to lift the cup up to her mouth. While doing so, she felt this feeling in her stomach that she described as something that was trying to tell her she shouldn't drink it. She set it down and explained that she no longer drinks coffee! It was so amazing to see her recognize an experience with the Holy Ghost. Obviously, something like drinking coffee is not going to be as serious as other sins, but she recognized it as a commandment of God and knew that as long as we follow his commandments, we are blessed! Regardless of whether or not we know all of the reasons behind it, we trust in a living and loving God and we obey!

It was an amazing week! Thank you again for the wonderful love and support!

- Elder Leavitt

Joseph & Megan Giuseppe family.

Megan cuts our hair for us.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Week 93 What an AMAZING Week!

Hey everyone, this email is coming a day late because we were in Zone Conferences yesterday for the west half of the mission! This last week was packed FULL of stories and experiences. I'll have to save a lot of them for a different time to prevent this email from taking over an hour to read, plus some are hard to explain through an email, but I'll share a few of the experiences that we had this week!

First, we had a great miracle with a lady named Deborah. We received a text from Church Headquarters with the name of somebody that had ordered a Bible. Those are always great because most of the time, they actually want you over and they are expecting your visit. We stopped by, she let us in, and we taught her, her mother, and her grandson about the Restoration. Deborah is exactly like Mary Cole in every way! So tonight we are taking Mary over there and having her meet Deborah and will be passing it off to the Sisters for them to teach her. If Deborah gets baptized, that will be 2 people that Mary has helped learn about the Gospel, and she only joined the church herself less than 2 months ago!

This was an absolutely incredible weekend! On Saturday, we had a Mission Conference for the East half of our mission with Elder Robert C Gay of the Seventy. He is an amazing man! He helped Mitt Romney get Bain Capital up and running, now one of the biggest investing companies in the world. He served as a mission president in Ghana, and now helps out with the Self-Reliance Program of the Church. He gave great instructions and helped us out so much! We held the Mission Conference for the West half on Monday and it was great as well. It was so amazing to be able to work with him and learn from him.

Chandler is on the front row, far right.
As part of the Mission Tour that he performed, he went out teaching with us on Sunday! We went to visit a doctor from Cameroon, his name is Armel. We had one of the most Spiritual lessons of my entire mission as we talked to Armel about the struggles he is going through, particularly with his marriage. He talked about how he felt that most of the things that he has experienced in his life have been random events, not planned by a God. Elder Fisher and I both shared experiences of trials in our lives that could have been random, but taught us a very important lesson and were part of an eternal plan. Elder Gay shared a story about a doctor that talked about how she saw God everyday in her work in medicine. The Spirit was so incredibly strong as Elder Gay promised that us being there with him was in fact part of a plan and not a random event that just happened. Armel felt that Spirit and there was the most amazing feeling in the room. Elder Gay told him to email him and that he would send him a book about a doctor's conversion story. We gave him Alma 36 to read from the Book of Mormon about Alma's conversion story and how he came to realize God's plan for him. The next day, Elder Gay had already gotten an email from Armel! We'll be seeing Armel on Friday. He has 3 children, his whole family is amazing!

While Elder Gay was here, he also held a fireside for all of the investigators and recent converts. He shared amazing stories and doctrines of the Gospel, and as part of the program, Mary bore her testimony! She is absolutely incredible. She talked about how after living for almost 70 years, she realized that she needed something more than just a belief in God. With all of these wonderful people in the audience, going through the same thing that she was just a few months ago, she testified of the Book of Mormon, of the reality of one true church, and of a living Christ. She shared an experience she had never shared with us before. As she was being taught, she was hesitant at first to set a date to be baptized. She continued to learn with us, had wonderful experiences, and one night, she woke up in the middle of the night. As if there was someone in the room with her, she heard "Mary, what are you waiting for? You know it's true." I will never forget those words and the feeling that I had while listening to her testimony. I wish that you all could meet her! She told us that instead of reading mystery books now, she reads through each of the manuals that have been made for the Presidents of the Church! 

Larry is preparing to be baptized on October 8th! He came to church on Sunday and loved it! He loved how diverse it was, in the Ellicott Ward we have people from America, Mexico, Canada, Jamaica, Germany, Peru, Honduras, Nigeria, Guatemala, Colombia, China, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, the Czech Republic, and many other countries! He participated well and enjoyed the testimonies. His aunt is a member of the church as well, so he has great family support. It was interesting because on Sunday, we had saved a spot for him and he hadn't showed up yet and the sacrament meeting had started. As I was sitting there thinking during the Sacrament, I turned around and Larry was already there! He had come in without me seeing, and was sitting by Elder Fisher and a few of the members. I was so grateful and felt a little rebuked because I was beginning to doubt that he would come! I had a similar experience a while back with Victor Soriano and his family, who got baptized about a year ago now! 

We also had a miracle with a man named Dave Ort. Dave is 26 and had been taught about 2 or 3 years ago by missionaries. We had found his information on a weekly report from over a year and a half ago and decided to give him a call. He was very nice, and invited us to come over last night. We got the opportunity to meet him and had a great visit. We talked about how he is Agnostic, how he has slowly lost his belief in God. We asked questions, directed by the Spirit, about what he would want the Nature of God to be if he could have an "ideal God" and he talked about that God being "all knowing, all loving, all powerful." We shared our knowledge that there IS this kind of God that he is looking for. We taught him about the Book of Mormon and how other people have had his questions. After looking down for most of the visit, he looked us in the eyes and said "You're telling me that people in this Book had the same questions that I have?" It was just as D&C 123:12 states:

"For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations....who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it"

He absolutely wanted the truth! He just didn't know where to find it. We had that same experience with a woman named Julie this week. We helped her move into a new apartment. She has 3 children. As we helped her, we taught her about God and how truth has been restored. Full truth, not just partial. She invited us back, and we brought the Sisters with us to meet her and her family, and they are now teaching her! She accepted the invitation to be baptized and is progressing well.

In closing, I'd like to issue a challenge and share one last story! In October of 2002, Elder M. Russell Ballard gave a talk entitled "The Greatest Generation of Missionaries." In essence, he talked about raising the bar for missionaries in the church and it's a wonderful talk. The following General Conference, he gave a talk entitled "The Essential Role of Member Missionary Work." I've included this talk below if you're interested in reading it! 6 months after the raising of the bar for missionaries, he raises the bar for members of the Church. Here is one of the parts of his talk:

"We should exercise our faith and pray individually and as families, asking for help in finding ways to share the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Ask the Lord to open the way. Prayerfully set a date with your family to have someone in your home for the missionaries to teach. Remember, brothers and sisters, this is the Lord’s Church. Let Him guide you through constant prayer. With a prayer in your heart, talk to everyone you can. Don’t prejudge. Don’t withhold the good news from anyone. Talk to everyone, and trust in the promised power of the Spirit to give you the words you should say. Let them make the decision to accept or reject your invitation. Over time, the Lord will put into your path those who are seeking the truth. He is the Good Shepherd. He knows His sheep, and they will know His voice, spoken through you, and they will follow Him."

Throughout this talk, he talks about setting a date to have someone that you can invite to hear the Gospel. He promises that even if you don't have a name yet, that name will come to you through fasting and prayer. I'd like to issue this same challenge! Whether it be with someone who is currently struggling with the Gospel or for one that has never heard of it, prayerfully follow the council of our Prophet, who stated that "now is the time for members and missionaries to come together, to work together, to labor in the Lord's vineyard to bring souls unto him." 

Now, I'll close with the experience that goes along with this. We shared this talk and issued this challenge to a family in our ward, the Bartholomew family. They accepted the opportunity, and right as we were walking out the door after a wonderful visit with them, one of the little kids told Sister Bartholomew that she would like to run to the neighbor and give him an Article of Faith card. As we were headed to our car, they went over as a family to deliver this card. They told us that at a later day, they'd try to introduce us, so we headed off towards our next visit. The next day in church, Sister Bartholomew told us this: "Elders! I need to tell you what happened yesterday. As you saw, I went over with the 4 kids to help them deliver that card to Tom and his wife. Well, they weren't home when we stopped by, so we took a picture of the kids in front of their door and sent it to them. Later that night, we received a text that said 'Thank you so much for stopping by! We are actually out of town right now. Ironically, we are visiting Wyoming and actually just had the opportunity to go down to Utah and visit Temple Square, it was an amazing experience!' My kids were so excited to hear that!"

What an amazing experience, and I know that we can all have experiences just like that! So, that's my challenge and I promise that as you set a date and prayerfully ask for the Lord's help, you can have a wonderful experience in sharing the Gospel with those around you. I love this work!

Well...that was a long email! I wish I could share some of the stories that Elder Gay shared, but he did it in such a way that I feel like an email just doesn't do it justice! One day I will share them. Thank you so much for all of the support! I'd love to hear any experiences you have with sharing the Gospel!

- Elder Leavitt

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Week 92 Labor Day

Hey everyone! We couldn't email yesterday with all of the libraries being closed because of Labor Day, but I hope that everyone had a good holiday! We had a Ward Picnic and played basketball and ultimate frisbee and got to meet tons of new people that came to the activity!

This week was great! It started off with picking up 16 new missionaries at the airport! I always look forward to that, it's so exciting to see how prepared they are and how ready they are to be out there working. We were supposed to have 17, but one of the Spanish Hermanas had to stay a few days later in the MTC because a bat flew into their room! Sort of a crazy experience I'm sure. The new missionaries are awesome and I'm so grateful to get to serve around them! Wednesday was transfers, which is always one of the busiest days imaginable! Then early in the morning on Thursday we took the departing group of missionaries going home, 10 of them this time! After that, the transfer feels like it has officially begun and we can again focus on our area here in Ellicott City! 

Chandler is 2nd in on left side.
Chandler is 5th down on the right.

One of the Sister missionaries that just came into the mission is from Alabama, and before she left was given two names of people in Maryland that she should visit! She was just shopping at Walmart before her mission, getting ready to leave and someone stopped her and asked her about what a mission was and where she was headed. It turned out that they knew a family that lived in Maryland and wanted the Gospel taken to them! It just so happens that those people live here in Ellicott City! So when she came into the mission last week she gave us the names and we're going to go by and meet them, it's amazing how the timing worked out perfectly for that!

Elder Cornejo (previous companion), me, Elder Southwick 
(another spanish elder), Elder Fisher, Sister Emery who
 used to serve here but came back to visit after her mission,
 and Sister Emery's friend.

We had a great miracle this week with Larry. Larry was being taught by other elders until the recent ward boundary change when he was passed off to us. Over the last 3 or 4 weeks, we haven't been able to get ahold of him and he has been busy working out of town. He does maintenance for about 10 different apartment complexes around Maryland and Virginia, so he is generally pretty busy. On Friday night, we had Larry on our plans to go visit and we stopped by. He was home and invited us in. He told us about how over the last few weeks, he had felt such a difference without the influence of reading from the Book of Mormon, learning with the missionaries, feeling the Holy Ghost, and all of the things he had grown to love over just a few times with the missionaries in his home. He told us about how his aunt keeps telling him that he really needs to be meeting with the missionaries and be baptized. While we were there, Larry told us that one of his friends named Joe was going to be staying with him for a few months. Joe was out on the back porch, so Larry invited him in and said "Joe, these people can help you with your challenges right now." We explained to Joe that it wasn't us that were going to help him, but through listening and learning more about Jesus Christ, his burdens could be made light. He talked to us about how his wife cheated on him recently and he is going through a lot of pain because of family circumstances. We talked to Larry & Joe about the Plan of Salvation, especially about our life here on earth, and had a great experience with them. It has always been so interesting to me about how people that haven't heard about the Plan say that it has a familiar ring when they hear it. I truly know that we all learned about God's plan before we came here. Now, both Larry & Joe are preparing for baptismal dates.

Leadership Council

Pramod, the man from Nepal that was referred to us by a member, gets back from New York City this week! He texted us this week asking if we could meet up, him and his wife would like to learn more about the Church. We showed them the clip from Meet the Mormons about Bishnu from Nepal and they loved it! That movie has been a great resource to teach about the Restored Church. We're excited to meet more with Pramod and Leila, his wife! We also found somebody named Dave Ort who used to meet with missionaries and he invited us back on Monday to learn again. Another man, named Geoff Haver, went to the Philadelphia Temple Open House this last week and invited us over to meet with him and his wife! It's so exciting to see all that is happening. 

This picture was taken the day Elder Lawrence went home.

This week, our mission gets the opportunity to meet with Elder Robert Gay of the Seventy. The week after that, we get the opportunity to meet with an Apostle, one of the seven Presidents of the Seventy, and a member of the area presidency all at one time! We're so excited for the chance to meet and learn from these amazing servants of God! 

Because Elder Robert C Gay will be meeting with us, I'd like to close this email with a story he shared in General Conference in the October 2012 Session:

"The Savior once asked His disciples the following question: "What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" This is a question that my father taught me to carefully consider years ago. As I was growing up, my parents assigned me chores around the house and paid me an allowance for that work. I often used that money, a little over 50 cents a week, to go to the movies. Back then a movie ticket cost 25 cents for an 11-year-old. This left me with 25 cents to spend on candy bars, which cost 5 cents apiece. A movie with five candy bars! It couldn't get much better than that. All was well until I turned 12. Standing in line one afternoon, I realized that the ticket price for a 12-year-old was 35 cents, and that meant two less candy bars. Not quite prepared to make that sacrifice, I reasoned to myself, "You look the same as you did a week ago." I then stepped up and asked for the 25-cent ticket. The cashier did not blink, and I bought my regular five candy bars instead of three. Elated by my accomplishment, I later rushed home to tell my dad about my big coup. As I poured out the details, he said nothing. When I finished, he simply looked at me and said, "Son, would you see your soul for a nickel?" His words pierced my 12-year-old heart. It is a lesson I have never forgotten."

I love this story and what it symbolizes! Elder Gay goes onto to talk about how sometimes we let small obstacles get in the way of the promise that as we keep our covenants, we will receive all that the Father hath. I hope that we can all look at our lives and see where our priorities are and to make sure that we are always willing to submit to His Will. I love you all, thanks for the support!

- Elder Leavitt