Monday, December 30, 2013

30 December 2013

Well, Christmas has come and gone and with it it has brought many miracles! 

It was nice to be able to Skype home. I'm still waiting for you to put the pictures on Facebook! It was a fun conversation! Thanks family, you're the best!!

Speaking of family, I was able to do something unique this past week: Skype Mom and Mark into two separate lessons that I had! We were teaching two separate lessons at the church building that night and had wifi and thought, 'hey, Mom speaks spanish...lets get her into this lesson!" and then, "Hey, Mark barely speaks English, lets get him into this lesson so he can learn a little more english!" They both went great.

And they were both baptized two days ago :)

We've recently decided that we aren't going to visit people anymore. This last week was our first time doing that for an entire week.

To clarify: our investigators come to us. We have their fellowships pick them up and take them to the church where we meet and talk. For new investigators, it is a great opportunity to give a tour of the chapel. For current investigators, it is a great opportunity to get away from the many distractions we so often run into: TV, music, cars, angry family members, birds, chihuahuas, and drugs. It works.

Mom, remember the awesome woman that you met over Skype? She and her entire family went to her son's baptism and to church the next day. They loved it. More on that later.

Christmas week is always a hard week to find people to teach. On Christmas Eve we worked until 1:00pm and then had P-Day until 6. At 6, we went caroling as a district. Those are always great memories. We got in our "drug rugs", santa hats, and went and visited some great people. We never said we were great singers but it was an awesome experience.

After the caroling, we met together as a zone and had a testimony meeting. It was a highlight of the week.

Christmas day was fun. We got up and did our morning studies and then the rest of the day was a P-day. That's when I skype'd home, had a nice lunch at a member's home, and then got together as a zone to play floor hockey. Fun times.

Like I said, we had two baptisms this last weekend. They're both amazing people who have developed strong testimonies. One was found, taught, and baptized in a grand total of 18 days. The other has been about three months. One of them was baptized amidst intense family opposition. Preachers got involved, anti literature was shared, and negative things were said. Regardless, this person stayed strong to the testimony she had received and was baptized. She said, "God has told me this is for me. I must do it." She's an awesome example for us all. 

It always makes me sigh when family members say, "HEY, BEFORE YOU GET BAPTIZED COME LEARN ABOUT MORMONS FROM MY PREACHER!" What? How is that even logical? I would never go to a Buddhist to learn about Catholicism. I would never go to a Mormon to learn about Wickens. To. The. Source.

We have changed how we do baptismal services. Historically they go, 
1. Opening hymn
2. Opening prayer
3. Talk on baptism
4. Ordinance of baptism
5. Talk on holy ghost
6. Welcome to ward
7. Closing hymn
8. Closing prayer

I've never liked that. When I was with Elder Harder we threw away the welcome to the ward's because they drag on and chase the awesome spirit that follows a baptismal ordinance away. But we tried something new this past weekend and it was AMAZING. The new baptismal program went like this:

1. Opening hymn
2. Opening prayer
3. Talk on whatever
4. Talk on whatever (don't need two)
5. Ordinance of baptism
6. Recent convert shares testimony
7. Closing hymn
8. Closing prayer

BAM! No refreshments. End on super high note, leave. The service only takes about 30 minutes then and it is so much more powerful.

I have another exciting announcement! Elder Holland is coming to our mission in a little under two weeks! And President Toone asked if Elder Myler and I would be involved in a violin/vocal/cello/piano musical number for him and two mission's worth of missionaries! We'll be performing, "Because He Lives," and it's super hard. I spent three hours getting five measures down...and I'm still not confident about it. It'll come together though, it always does somehow. It is so much fun to practice together. Mom said on the Skype call, "You're playing more violin on your mission than you did in your last year home!" 

That's sadly true....At least more in Mesa than I did back home.

Mesa Zone ended the month with nine baptisms. Seven of the nine came from member referrals and the other two came from self referrals. Interesting how that works. Elder Diaz and I sat down yesterday and prayerfully put some new ideas together for the month of January; things we can and need to improve on to do better. We know we can! All those nine people have such strong testimonies and are so grateful. They have the desire to share the gospel too because they've seen and felt the change that it has made in their lives.

Anyway, HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! Thanks family for the letters!

Con amor!
Elder Johnson

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

23 December 2013

Chocolate Never Faileth. Never.

This last week was the realization of much prayer. A man came from another state to get baptized here in our ward. It was a happy day.

As I sat there during the baptismal service, I thought to myself, "I've done absolutely nothing for this baptism. I've met him once before today for 30 seconds." And then the thought came, "You've been obedient. What more can I ask of you?"

It was an interesting moment. I realize that, as we read in Job, the disobedient may still flourish in some regards, true growth and progress comes to obedience. 

This was a special baptism too. His family came from all over the country to the service. He had such a great support group. He, his wife, and his kids will be in the temple in 363 days. None of his direct family knew until the day before the baptism that he was getting baptized :)

I was spiritually chastised at the baptism too. We were to be the witnesses at the service. The person who baptized him said the baptismal prayer just a little off and then quickly when he came out of the water went to change. I stood there trying to justify to myself that it was ok. One of the high councilors approached me as soon as we shut the curtains and said that he thought they may have said it wrong. We ran into the changing room and invited them to do the baptism again behind the closed curtains. We poked our heads around the stairs and wall to witness it and make sure it was done correctly. It was.

I sat in my chair feeling terrible afterwards. It was such a minor thing he did incorrectly (he said "commissioned by"). I'm not quite sure what I would have done if that high councilor hadn't pulled me aside but I sat in my chair repenting as soon as they had correctly done the baptism. Lesson learned.

This past week was, "THE MEETING." Brother Lee Donaldson came back from Salt Lake City to do some trainings with the MLC and some other missionaries chosen "at random." That meeting blew me away. He talked about teaching more effectively and "staying in our lanes of responsibility/stewardship." It was enlightening. I sat in my chair thinking, "For x months I've been teaching this lame way when I COULD have..." I resolved then and there to change everything so that I can teach better. It has made a HUGE difference already.

One of the things he invited us to do was change the way we teach about the Book of Mormon. Instead of teaching the entire restoration and introducing Book of Mormon in one lesson and then inviting them to read it before our next visit, we are moving some things around. He said that the average college educated recent convert reads 8 pages in the Book of Mormon before being baptized. "That is not enough."

So, to help them read more, we do this.

In our first visit, we teach the "Restoration" in 8 minutes using the pamphlets, focusing primarily around the pictures. Invite them to read the pamphlet between visits. End the visit with, "Next time, we're going to bring you a gift!"

In our second visit, follow up. Pull out "the gift" and talk about this amazing book that _____ to us or whatever. Emphasis its value in our lives. Relate the characters to our investigators. Help them learn how to liken the scriptures. Don't read every verse of a chapter, pick and choose some that illustrate a point. For instance in 1 Nephi chapters 1-4 we can talk about faith, prayer, and acting in faith, overcoming trials. Wow, that sounds a lot like what many people today do!

I left that meeting enlightened and excited. We put it to test yesterday, obviously changing that basic outline I just drew to help the needs of those we teach. It. Was. Amazing. The spirit was so much stronger and he left saying, "I can't wait to read this!"

The other part of that training that day wasn't so exciting. One of the internet proselyting people who works with came to talk with us. He said that we should not connect with people we do know personally know over Facebook. 

I disagree. He said that the week after I had just finished doing one on one trainings with all the zone leaders emphasizing the power and potential of connecting with people everywhere, not just our proselyting areas in Mesa or Tempe. I wasn't very happy. I used 8 hours of my time to do these trainings. He sat in on one and said he loved it. Then later he went in front of everyone I had just trained to tell them the complete opposite. Not cool.

He told people to refer those we do not know to local missionaries then move on to finding local people. I totally disagree. 

I talked to this man and President Toone afterwards about it. I told them the miracles I'm seeing through it. President Toone talked to me later and said, "You're the exception, Elder Johnson, not the norm." 70% of our mission hasn't even taught a lesson on Facebook yet. And with them being pushed strongly to teach locally, that number will stay that way since they can't look outwards for investigators. 

I see online proselyting differently than SLC. They see it as 99% your own proselyting area. I see it 50% 50%. I am teaching people that live in Mesa over Facebook that we can't visit due to family situations. But I am also teaching people in Africa, Europa, etc who are meeting with missionaries, going to church, and setting goals for baptisms. When Facebook was introduced we were told that we were called to the AZ Tempe mission but our area now also includes the world. That was an inspired statement because I've seen it become a reality. 

Anyway, I have President Toone's complete support to continue doing what I've been doing on Facebook and other tools. The vision that that side of the proselyting department has right now isn't high enough.

Good thing the gospel is still true!

Elder Gaspar is home now. This mission couldn't get rid of him though! He went to the airport for his flight and, once dropped off, realized that his flight was cancelled. So he got a ride back to the mission office and hung around an extra 40 hours waiting for his next flight haha. Poor guy.

We had a neat experience this last week as we were driving to visit someone. We were in a really sketchy part of Mesa and drove past this apartment and I felt immediately that we needed to knock the door. I turned the car around, drove back to the apartment, and knocked the door. A heavily tatoo'd man answered and said, "JOAN! THE MORMONS ARE HERE FOR YOU!" I said, "We're here for you too!" 

They let us in. I was already surprised! Turns out they were a member family (part less active, some active) that had just moved in and needed to know where church was and at what time it was. 

God works in mysterious ways.

Anyway, I'm excited to Skype this week! Merry Christmas everyone!

Thanks Grandpa and Grandma for the package! Love you!

Con amor,
Elder Johnson

17 December 2013

Time. They say time flies. That isn't true. Time doesn't fly. Time doesn't even exist. I was sitting in my chair this week and realized that I hit 18 months really soon.


From 10 months to 16.8 months, I honestly thought that the mission would be the rest of my life. That was all that I thought about. Nothing else even mattered to me. Well, nothing else DOES matter to me, but something weird happened yesterday and that's why I'm talking like this.

Yesterday was our mission's Christmas Party. It was awesome. More on that later. During the testimony meeting, all I could think about was college. No matter what I did, all the thoughts that came to mind were about college. 

This was not timely. We had just finished the most ridiculous week of my mission with over 60 lessons taught and 30 of them with members present. Ridiculous. So many. We worked so hard. Everyday we were doing everything we could to make everything possible happen. And we saw it. We have four people with a baptismal date and four progressing towards baptism and nine at church and seven new investigators and 15 referrals received. Obscenely good week! I was so in the zone!

And then that testimony meeting hit. Gah. Afterwards I went up to President Toone and asked him what I should do. He looked at me, grabbed my shoulders, smiling, and said, "Elder Johnson...the spirit is telling you that it is time to start planning for the future."


I'm not "trunky" at all, not distracted, but the idea of planning for myself rather than other people is shocking me. 

And then Elder Oscarson told me today that he and I are the ninth oldest missionaries in the mission. 

And that the sisters that came out with me are going home in three weeks. Today we went to the temple as mission and got the following pictures of the original District 38D from the MTC. 

Anyway, other things happened than me going into shock. 

The Gilbert Temple open house is approaching. The pass along cards have arrived. They're nice. They don't want us handing them out on the street; rather, praying over those that we are teaching and sharing a few. They're not giving us the 700 per companionship that I requested (surprise!) but rather more like 100 </3

We aren't allowed to go to the open house. We are expected to send our investigators to the temple with members. Not all that said considering that the very first sessions after dedication are reserved for missionaries. Hopefully I won't be too far from it for that.

It is a unique experience to meet on a monthly basis with the Stake Presidents in our zone. I don't know why they trust us as much as they do, but they do. I'm twenty and they're 50+ and very experienced. But these meetings are so inspiring. I learn about humility, patience, love, boldness, honesty with oneself and others, and effectiveness. I look forward to those meetings. They meet with us to discuss the state of the work and how the wards are doing, any concerns or miracles we're seeing, and offer us some guidance. It's awesome. They reach out to us warmly. 

It was especially cool to be in the temple this morning doing some initiatory work and find the high councilor over missionary work in one of the quadrants. That was also a special moment. Really, they're such powerful people and great examples.

Today has brought the first three trainings that I've been assigned to do on effective use of Facebook. Mom, I bragged about you again. I talked with President Toone last week about how I felt the mission has lost focus on Facebook as it has appropriately shifted focuses to help the younger missionaries. But I felt it was an important topic and as I sat talking with him he told me that he wanted me to meet one on one with every zone leader companionship and train them on how to train their stewardship. It has been highly effective so far and I've already figured out a ton about the state of the mission in regards to Facebook. Doubling every zones total teaching opportunities per week is my vision.

Speaking of vision, I want to comment on how inspired this has all been. The APs put together the zone conference and made "Vision" the focus. At the same time and without knowing, I put together the Facebook training and had vision as my focus! INSPIRED!

It is reasonable to say that between 60-80% of our mission is yet to teach their first lesson on Facebook. A missionary who isn't busy is a homesick missionary. And that's the big struggle of the mission right now. So we're expecting miracles out of this.

Ok, now I can talk about the christmas conference. It all started on Sunday night with a Mission President's Devotional. All the missionaries and as many investigators as possible were invited. Elder Gaspar, Anderson, and I played a special musical number on, respectively, Viola, Violin, Violin. We played, "Silent Night/Still, Still, Still" arranged by Sally DeFord and had someone on Piano. That was a lot of fun - wish I had recorded it.

The christmas conference continued all day on Monday, starting at 7:00am with a breakfast. Yum. That day consisted of some AMAZING talks by President Laney (one of the amazing Stake Presidents I previously mentioned in this letter) on how Jesus Christ is a healer and the difference between being cured and healed. He's a doctor and spent the time noting how doctors cure but don't heal. He used the parable of the 10 lepers and how it uses cured/healed interchangeably to refer to the nine and to the one. Amazing. If you want my notes just let me know.

The Mesa Arizona Temple President and wife also spoke to us. That was phenomenal and they gave us some great pointers for how to get a lot out of a temple visit. 

The rest of the day was full of some fun activities, lots of musical numbers, a visit from Santa (nice and naughty list for missionaries and the funny stories that landed them on each list). It was a fun experience.

The conference culminated in a temple trip this morning. We went extra early to do some initiatories -that was fun. Elder Gaspar missed the temple session so went through alone afterwards haha. And then he missed the mission picture because he went through a later session...

We went to the temple twice in two weeks since we were sneaky and planned the temple trip the first week of the transfer and got to go again. Genius! Normally we just go once a transfer. Inspired! 

The trip last week was super insane. We forgot about it. No, really, we did. We go to the 7:30 session and at 6:52, while exercising, we realized that we had a temple session in 40 minutes. So we RACED home, changed SUPER fast, met our ride 10 minutes late, and got into the session as they shut the door. That. was. Intense. I hate being rushed through the temple haha.

Anyway, MERRY CHRISTMAS to everyone! I hope everyone has a GREAT week! 

With love,
Elder Johnson

Monday, December 9, 2013

9 December 2013

Elder Diaz, Elder Gaspar, Elder Johnson

Mesa Temple at Christmastime

I love my family! 

Thanks for the super creative Christmas package! Half of the things said, "Open on arrival." I didn't need any more prompting. Included was a felt  Christmas tree that is pinned to our wall (3' tall) and decorated by us, Christmas lights, and cinnamon sticks! Genius! They smell delicious. We had fun putting all of that up this morning. And to think that I was just thinking how boring our apartment was haha.

Highlight of the week: Getting messages from Mom on Facebook saying, "You have a lesson I set up for you on Facebook at 2:00PM Tuesday. I can't teach ___ with you today at 4:00 so I found a member to join in with you and take my place."

Mom, I'm bragging about you to everyone and everyone is jealous that we don't have to plan anymore. Keep up the great work! This is the vision for what it is supposed to be like! 

The Arizona Tempe mission had a standard of excellence for 12 lessons per week with members present. I remember coming here and thinking that was absurd. Well, for 2 transfers straight we exceeded that. Two weeks ago the standard of excellence was changed to more accurately reflect the hastening of the work of salvation. Now, we are encouraged to get 16+ lessons a week with members present. I've hit that number twice on my mission, once three weeks ago before the standard change and once this past week when we exceeded it and got 17. It was a huge accomplishment and one that we are excited about. Very very very few people are even at 8 or 9 a week. We've really buckled down on planning ahead and using Facebook effectively. I would say 5 or so of those member present lessons were on Facebook (thanks to those that helped!) 

It really makes a big difference having a member's testimony as well. Missionaries can seem pretty intimidating with the whole white shirt and tie thing. Members are (more) normal and (more) relatable since they're normal humans haha.

It was an extra special accomplishment because this past week was transfer week and it was hectic. 

Oh my goodness was it hectic. The following paragraphs will not do justice.

This was the Arizona Tempe mission's first transfer with electronic AreaBook. I have the assignment to be the "tech-specialist," whatever that means, and was thus not excited for transfers. I knew there would be problems.

It started transfer day. The wifi was way too slow at the transfer building to provision the new iPads in the AreaBook program. So, a process that should have taken 30 minutes in a group turned into a 4+ hour process as I had to call every new companionship in their new areas and walk them through it over the phone. What a nightmare. 

That wasn't even the worst part. Basically EVERYONE called that day or the day afterwards with questions. "My iPad is empty!" "I can't connect to the internet!" "How do I turn this on?" "Our area got split...what happens now?"


We planned 9:45 AM - 5:00 PM on Thursday to do the phone calls. That didn't finish it. Friday from 9am - 12pm I was still on the phone.

We did the math afterwards. In 48 hours, I logged over 10 hours on the phone and over 104 phone calls to unique/different phone numbers.

Our Financial Secretary in the office is an ex-Intel exec and logged 6 hours on the phone. 

We took part in two conference calls to SLC in that time. Our Financial Secretary said, "until a more stable system is in place, we recommend that these devices are not rolled out to any other mission."

I felt bad but agreed. There just isn't enough on-ground training, not enough resources at our disposal, and not enough stability. 

SLC said they planned to roll the iPads out to 5 missions in December but has since cut it to 2 and said they'll probably cut it again. Sorry, other missions! You'll be thankful though, I promise! 

But we are all totally 100% converted to this program. It just isn't where it needs to be yet. We've seen miracles and will continue to see miracles, but more needs to be established before 300 missions get "hastening devices."

What a unique experience this is.

Miracle of the week: last week a member approached us and said, " brother-in-law is being taught by the missionaries and wants to come here to get baptized. Can you make it happen?"

Nah, sorry. OF COURSE! We've contacted his missionaries and everything is in place for his baptism in two weeks. Life is good. God is real. Christmas miracles exist.

The Christmas lights at the Mesa Temple are unreal. We went with the woman who was baptized last week and happened to run into the sister missionary that first started teaching her 12 months ago. You see, her "conversion process" began when she wandered into the visitors center. And, without any planning, the two of them ran into each other 12 months later last week! It was a special thing to witness and something they don't get to see very much. We did everything possible to get her to the woman's baptism but there was a misscomunication somewhere.

And the other big news of the week...

We're in a trio! Elder Diaz is our third companion! I was his first companion seven months or so ago. I hesitate to say I was his trainer since I learned more from him than I think I taught him. Nevertheless, life is awesome. Elder Gaspar finishes his mission in a little less than two weeks, actually, 10 days, and so Elder Diaz will stick around afterwards.

I wonder if I'll stay. It is convenient to be so close to Tempe to help out with the iPad side of things but i've also been here for almost 6 months. Vamos a ver.

We have some great members here. We have some who are always inviting people over to their home for dinner and us as well. It makes such a great difference. Members, invite a friend and the missionaries over. They'll love you for it.

It was great to hear from you family and Susie!

Merry Christmas to everyone! 

Con amor,

PS: At church a member asked a class if they could have anything for Christmas what would it be. I said, "Homemade cookies." A package from home with homemade cookies arrived. You're all the BEST!

Monday, December 2, 2013

2 December 2013

Transfer calls were last night!!


I'm not leaving. Elder Gaspar and I are staying together here in Mesa. By the end of this transfer it'll be six months here. I'm ok with that. It's a little weird though since Elder Gaspar goes home in three weeks. We're suspecting we get a third missionary on Wednesday but it's all up in the air. President Toone has been asking a lot of zone leaders to change assignments to provide more support at other areas in the mission. We're not sure who changed but a bunch did.

Well I've officially finished the book of Job in the Old Testament! I'm working on reading the standard works in my last seven (SEVEN?!) months of my mission and it's about 6 pages a day. Easy. Job was a pretty cool book. It reads differently than the other ones in the Old Testament do. It was different than I had expected - I've read parts of it through the years, but I didn't expect Job to talk so much about his trials. For some reason I thought he had endured them all silently. Nevertheless it was a good experience and I gained some good insights on keeping an eternal perspective things while going through trials. On to Psalms! 

This past week I went on exchanges with a missionary in the zone. Their area, and district, had been struggling with teaching people and getting their OYMs. I put my Queen Creek OYM hat back on and went at it. In one hour we trippled their week's worth of OYMs and doubled their lessons taught. So much of the success of an OYM and a lesson on the street has to deal with those first thirty seconds.

So many missionaries start those contacts with, "Have you ever talked with LDS missionaries before?" Not even a hi. We talked about that and set some goals together. As the quality went up, so did the number. It was pretty cool to see.

After a while we were heading back to our car to move on to another area. We had a really cool experience. Here is what I wrote about it on my Facebook page:

Two days ago we were walking in an apartment complex. We were talking with as many people as possible and inviting all who would listen to come to the Christmas Lights at the Mesa Arizona Temple and Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors' Center!

As we were walking across the parking complex, I looked across a field and saw someone 150 yards away. Immediately I felt that we needed to talk to him. My first thought was, "Move on, that's too far. He'll be gone if you go that way. There's no reason to waste that time."

But again, the prompting to talk to him came back.

So we power walked 150 yards across the grass, hoping we would get to him before he got in his car.

"Hi, how's your day going?" He quickly replied, "Terribly."

Three minutes later we were sitting on a bench with him and teaching the message of the #restoration of the #gospel of #Jesus #Christ and he loved everything he heard.

God puts people in our paths for a reason. I also believe He puts us in their paths for a reason as well!

You can touch someone's life and all you have to do is cross your personal "150 yard field" to get to them. He will provide the words for you and He will prepare the hearts of those that you speak with.

I know that we can be instrument's in #God's hands. I know He loves us all and wants us ALL to be happy! If you're not happy, drop down on your knees and ask if He loves you.

I promise you He does.


The story took an interesting twist. Yesterday as we were at the Mesa temple lights, I got a text from those Elders. It read, "

Good thing we stopped ____. He was planning on taking his life.

I read that and thought for a moment, "God let me take a part in saving someone's life." If I hadn't followed that impression from the spirit, this man may or may not have taken his life. He is on a different path now; a better path. That was a humbling moment in my life.

We were seriously 150 yards away. And we had been a little more lazy, things could have gone completely different. Wow.

Yesterday I saw another miracle on Facebook. I posted it on the mission Facebook page since some people are losing faith in it as a proselyting tool. This is what happened:

I posted a status a week ago about someone's baptism. She liked it and shared it on a Christian page for me (someone who isn't a member.) Yesterday I got a message from someone saying she has loved what I've been posting. Within five minutes she said, "We need this in my country." The process to get her in contact with local missionaries has begun. She is prepared for the gospel. I wrote this on the mission Facebook page:

Next time you think what you're doing on Facebook isn't working, remember that people are reading what you type even if they don't "like," comment, or, "share," it right away!

Sometimes it takes time for your fruits to come forward. This person was touched by a post I made a week ago and initiated a conversation with me about it today! 

She is in the process of being referred to local missionaries. She's prepared for the gospel. There are tons of people on Facebook just like her for you to find them! Be proactive and productive and you'll see miracles!

It's also great idea to start Facebook hour with a prayer :)

 Fun stuff is happening. Everywhere.

We have a recent tradition here of having people send "Oh Yeah Moments" in via text of miracles that they see. We then send them out to everyone so we can all enjoy miracles we see daily. Yesterday, as a zone, we fasted for a miracle. Or two. Or three. For an hour straight we were getting text messages every few minutes from people seeing miracles. From one homeless man that was OYM'd, "I'm sorry I couldn't make it today! I will next week and can we meet this week?" From a set of missionaries, "Someone jogging past the church felt inspired to come inside and loved it!" From our own area, a whole FAMILY just showed up to church and loved it. 

Miracles are happening everywhere! President Toone told us to prepare for a spiritual Pentecost as the Christmas lights open and the Gilbert temple open house goes on. I'm glad I'm here for that! 

So yeah.

Yesterday we went to the Mesa temple lights. Super cool! You know what's cooler? I saw someone from EVERY area that I have served in! Even Yuma! The picture is of a very special man that I taught. I can't write all the details about it, but when I left he was working on baptism but had some things to work around. In the past 6 months he has gotten married, baptized, and the priesthood. He is amazing. He is proof that you can change and that your past doesn't need to hold you back.

We also found out that there are grapefruit trees around the property of the temple and they're free game! I had one this morning. "A holy grapefruit" for breakfast. Yum.

Anyway, all is well! Thanks for the letter family! I'll write back today!

Love you all!
Elder Johnson

Monday, November 25, 2013

25 November 2013

That was the fastest 6 weeks of my life. Daaaang.

The highlight of this past week is this picture. She was finally baptized! President Toone came to teach her with us a few weeks ago and they hit it right off. It was only natural that she ask him to do it. That in and of itself was pretty special.

The service was powerful. President Toone's voice is as deep as he is tall and it made the baptismal prayer super intense. Our baptismal talk cancelled since her husband had to go to the ER so Sister Toone filled in and did a wonderful job. One of the local members gave the talk on the gift of the Holy Ghost and did the best talk I've ever heard.

He had served in the military for some time and was a paratrooper. He spoke about how sitting in that plane waiting to jump is a nerve racking experience and it is very loud. He said that as soon as you jump, you are surrounded by comparative silence. Everything just fades away and "for a brief moment you have the view of the angels." Ah, it was so great.

There was a great turnout at the baptism, including several missionaries who had originally taught her. 

That was a powerful powerful baptismal service and one I'll never forget. Her conversion is so deep, I wish everyone could have seen and felt her smile. I've never seen anyone so happy.

I confirmed her yesterday in church and, to our surprise, President and Sister Toone showed up for that as well! Pretty cool.

The church is trying to decide whether or not to equip these "hastening devices" with mobile phones that have hotspots. In our area we have an iPhone and an iPad, but the rest of the mission outside of Mesa zone uses just the wifi iPads. For my 4 months here we have been making the case for getting hotspot enabled phones in every area. 

We had a miracle happen that hopefully helps the Brethren make the decision. On Tuesday morning, I think, during our breakfast, we were able to teach four different lessons to people in four different countries. These were people we had been struggling to make contact with due to time zones. Well, we decided to forward that experience on to our contact in SLC. He texted us back an hour later,

"Your experience has been well received. Will you text me your mission, area, and names so I can  copy and paste the info in an email message that will get forwarded to department leaders and the Brethren. Thanks!"

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!?!?! They're sending OUR experience to the Apostles?! With OUR names?! That shocked me, I thought someone would just summarize the story for them! How cool is that?!?!?!?

We went to the temple this past week. Always a very uplifting experience. There were lots of missionaries there and it was nice to see everyone again.

I got super stressed this past week while thinking about the future. A lot of wards in the area are way too unorganized. I was sitting there thinking about who was going to take care of the people we were baptizing into the area... We aren't going to be here in Mesa forever...

So the next day I took Elder Gaspar out to a Chinese buffet for lunch to relax. I stumbled upon some money I had hidden from myself from last Christmas. Miracle! That meal was just perfect and it did the trick. 

I have the best brothers in the world. 

We went to the visitors center this past weekend with the woman who got baptized. A year ago, she walked in there and was taught by the sister missionaries. She frequently tells us of her first experience seeing the picture of the First Vision (the one with Joseph Smith facing away from us and Jesus Christ and God the Father facing towards us) for the first time. She said she couldn't sleep that night because she felt the spirit so strongly. She didn't want to sleep.

It is "the picture that started it all" for her so we managed to find a copy of it from a member and gave it to her in a frame at her baptism. It is hanging in her home.

But we went back to the visitors center with her and she had another amazing experience. We went the day before her baptism and, again, she couldn't and wouldn't sleep at all that night! She is so excited to go inside the temple. This is a deep deep conversion that will bless the lives of her family forever. She has already referred her friends and family to missionaries. I wish all members had that kind of enthusiasm...

Apparently Elder Gaspar and I are famous in the Mesa Alma stake. News that we both play violin has gotten everywhere and people keep commenting about it. We played in church yesterday with the choir and the high counselors that were there mentioned before hand that they had already heard about us haha. Hopefully we don't get split up at transfers - playing together is way fun.

Yesterday after church Bishop told President Toone that he should leave us in the area. "As of now there aren't any plans of moving," he said. Five or so minutes later as we were talking to Bishop, President Toone walked by and said, laughing, "He told me to transfer you too!" hahaha

SLC sent a researcher to our mission last week to interview missionaries on how they're using the "hastening devices" and whether or not it is working. We had a nice two hour interview with him right before he left. He summarized some of the feelings that some missionaries had and asked for our views, as well as advice, on certain issues. It was a neat experience. It is a really unique place to be in here. This program is rolling out to 6,000 missionaries now and they're asking us how to do it since this has never ever been done before.


This was a good week. Every week is a good week. I've never felt so optimistic before. Life is good. Bad things happen but life is good.

(I'm not going to be able to write anyone today - P-day ends at 1PM since we'll be staying in most of Thanksgiving day.)

Thanks for the letters family! 

Love you all!
Elder Johnson

Thursday, November 21, 2013

18 November 2013

I bought corn and salad for the first time in my life last week from the grocery store and ate both for lunch and got sick. Lesson learned: healthy food is not as healthy as everyone thinks it is. I knew I should have bought those donuts...

This past week was a week full of 'stuff.' On Wednesday we had interviews with President Toone. He came over to visit the zone. As he did those privately with each missionary, Elder Gaspar and I did trained on some aspects of missionary work. It was a lot of fun.

For part of my training I was going to address how we can be more excited about what we're sharing. I had everyone tell me their favorite hobbies and asked for someone to volunteer who was the most passionate about his/her hobby. One of the Elders raised his hand and volunteered. He was way into dungeons and dragons so I had him teach me the basics in about three minutes and try to get me interested. It was a really effective way to demonstrate the difference between being excited and energetic about something as you teach it and being rote and emotionless. It taught the principle pretty well and everyone got a good laugh. By the end of the practice he had convinced me that I should be a halfling named grapling hook hahaha. 

President Toone does his interviews a little differently than President Howes did them. He interviews each companionship together and then each missionary individually. This shortens the available time for personal interviews but allows him to address some important things for the individual companionship. The interviews were around 5-15 minutes. 

My one-on-one interview with President Toone was awesome. It turns out he knows Grandpa Johnson! That came up as we were walking out the door haha. These interviews are always very uplifting and inspiring times. It's amazing what you can learn in 5-15 minutes.

If you'll remember, last week we did a zone fast. Our zone saw many miracles. One of the miracles we didn't even realize until later that week when we got a phone call from newly weds (as of a week or so) who both returned from their missions within the last two-six months (they knew eachother before hand). They had moved into the ward the day before we fasted. They are SO excited for missionary work, it is AWESOME! Their first sunday they invited us and one of our investigators over for dinner. That's tomorrow. We're pumped. I went out with them on splits last week while Elder Gaspar was supposed to go out with someone else (more on that later.) 

That was probably one of the best evenings of my entire mission. And I think it was all because of one lesson...

No one we were visiting was home. No one wanted to listen to us outside. We went over to one of our appointments and managed to find her home. That single lesson was the best one I've ever taught in my entire mission. That night was the culmination of howevermanymonths of practice and study. I felt like the spirit was guiding everything I was saying. It was really cool to hear her comment, "I really feel the spirit..." The members did a perfect job with their insights and the spirit was super powerful. 

I walked out of that lesson on cloud 9 haha. That was an extremely uplifting experience. As we pulled into the church we noticed Elder Gaspar was still there. His member had never shown up so he had sat on the stage making phone calls for an hour and a half while the spanish ward played soccer hahahaha. He wasn't too happy hahahahaha. 

We are both convinced that them showing up when they did was a miracle of fasting.

Another unique thing that happened this week was Skyping home.

It wasn't a normal skype call. Nah, not really. My Dad had the idea to Skype me in to his lesson in church about hastening the work of salvation. So, projecting me onto the wall, I was able to talk and share some experiences with the members of the local congregation I went to in Virginia! That was cool! 
Sunday School at the Arlington 2nd Ward, Virginia
I was thinking about that this morning...that was probably the first time in the history of the church that that has happened. There is a lot of hype from other missionaries about that experience as well - the picture was almost perfect for it - Dad was just out of the screen though. 

The exciting week culminated with a hectic night last night. We had forgotten that they were planning on us to translate at the mission president's fireside. So, with an hour or so to go before it started, we made some phone calls and arranged for the lesson we had to just go to the fireside and hear the talks. 

Elder Gaspar and I were asked to accompany the ward choir in the spanish ward with our violins so we had, the day before, found two violins that we borrowed. 

And then the musical number for the MPF cancelled. We volunteered to play a violin duet and were accompanied by Elder Myler on piano. It came together really really well, especially considering we had an hour to practice and only went through it twice with Elder Myler. 

The piece wasn't hard - Beautiful Savior - but having not really played for three years, I was surprised! It was almost flawless. 

Our names were on the program for translating and for the musical number haha.

If you'll look at the picture, you on the Wolthuis side of the family recognize some familiar faces! We made the healthy decision to go to Wendys for lunch last week. After we had ordered, this family walked in and said, "Hi, missionaries!" 
Elder Paul Johnson, from Arlington, VA (son of  Rene Wolthuis Johnson, grandson of Henry B. Wolthuis) with Darrell and Christy Burnette of Tuscon, AZ (son of Ivan and Leone Burnette, family friends of Henry Wolthuis and family from 1968 onward, originally from Sweet Home, Oregon.  It's a small world!) meeting at a Wendy's in Mesa, AZ
We exchanged pleasantries and answered the traditional, 'so where are you from?' questions. They said they were from Oregon, I said, "Oh cool! My Mom is from Oregon but it's a small place you probably won't know."

They said, "Try us."

"Sweet Home."

"What! Wait...what is your Mom's last name?"


"Oh myyy!"

The rest is history. Turns out the Burnetts (spelling?) are very close family friends of Grandpa and Grandma Wolthuis and my mom and all her siblings and have known them for decades! Small world! If I remember, they're in Tucson now. They are both retired and are putting in mission papers! 

Twice a month we have the opportunity to meet with the stake presidents in the two stakes our zone covers. These are always wonderful experiences. The Gilbert side of Mesa zone has those meetings at 7am and invites all the missionaries in the stake over. 

Some of the wards there are struggling and the missionaries weren't so happy. They expressed their concerns.

I sat intently waiting to see how the stake president would respond. He is a friendly man, very kind, probably in his late 40s. 

I can't remember everything he said, but what he said was so perfect. I was blown away by his answers and advice he gave to the missionaries in his stake and knew that he was an inspired man. I hope they all apply what he said! 

Anyway, this has been an exciting week! More than half of our teaching pool dropped us or got dropped. Our number of lessons dropped from 55 to 35 but the quality sky rocketed. We are expecting a baptism this next Saturday and President Toone will likely be the one baptizing her - they've met a few times and he is the momentum behind a miracle in her life! Pray for her, she's going through some hard times right now overcoming some challenges. 

The church is true! 

Thanks for the letters Mom, Eric, Will, and Grandpa and Grandma! 

Elder Johnson