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

Sunday, November 17, 2013

11 November 2013

Dear everyone!

This is the first full week that the mission has had iPads. I've felt it from all the phone calls and Facebook messages...

The big problem this past week was making sure that stats are accurately added up (lessons with members present, others, etc). It's too complicated to explain right now but we spent a lot of time typing tutorials to go on the mission Facebook page on "How to do ____" and had to make sure everything worked before hand. That occupied way more time than I wish it had.

Having the Facebook page has proven to be super useful for getting news across the mission quickly.

This past week we set really intense goals to help us be more effective than ever on Facebook. One of our plans is to involve local members more with teaching appointments and helping encourage them to make statuses (stati?) about the gospel. It really isn't hard. We've been sharing the statistic that we were given by SLC (how only 2% of wards worldwide do missionary work) and it seems to be motivating people. Guilt is the best motivator :) haha

We've set daily goals for referrals received on Facebook, lessons taught, and more. This should be a good week.
Which would be nice since last week was kind of heart-wrenching. We're teaching a part member family. The husband was supposed to get baptized on the 9th. The day of he cancelled and then dropped us and asked us never to come over again. That was a surprise.

What had happened is that they were in a tough financial setting. They asked for help so we gave them the Bishop's executive secretary's phone number. They got offended since their last missionaries set everything up for them and we weren't caring enough about the situation. He never even called the guy.

Garbage. This is what happens when missionaries or members overstep their boundaries.

Nevertheless we're maintaining contact over Facebook and maybe he'll give the number a call and call us back.

But not all was sad! We had some really really cool OYM experiences this past week with inviting people to get baptized on the street. We picked up some great people that we are now teaching and got an amazing referral from the Mesa mission who's now on date for November 30th.

We fasted together as a zone yesterday and as a result we had someone who had disappeared on us show up to church, and other missionaries found amazingly prepared people. I totally have a testimony of fasting.

For two months I've been thinking about how I could fit Formula 1 into a status and tie it into missionary work. I did it this past week hahaha. Success! 

I also saw a B24 flying over Mesa. That was a surprise. It did a couple of giant circles and then flew off into the sunset.
And the new 2014 Corvette Stingray. Thhaaattttt's a car. That was a fun OYM to do. 460 horsepower, his was $76,000. So I creepily snapped this picture. #Never4get

I was in an interesting scenario this past week. I'm teaching people in the Philippines and it was way unique to be able to communicate with them as the storm passed and share the gospel with them in such a hard time. Luckily everyone I'm teaching is safe.

Mesa zone had three bikes stolen in two days and all in one district. One missionary locked the bike tire to the frame and walked inside and two hid theirs behind a car. Both of those thefts in two days! Unbelievable.

Last night we got a funny phone call from President Toone. He called me and asked me what the rules were for using YouTube haha. That was a weird phone call haha. 

We are so excited to be teaching one of the new people we found this week. She was investigating the church in the Mesa mission for four months and then moved here. She LOVED church yesterday and ran into a bunch of her coworkers. She has a young son and they are super super prepared. We're working hard to make a support group of people to reach out to here - that's really what makes the difference in a lasting conversion.

Thanks to those that have been sharing missionary stories with me on Facebook! Keep that up!

Thanks Mom, Mark, and Will for the letters! You're the best!
Con amor,
Elder Johnson

Monday, November 4, 2013

4 November 2013

This is going to be a quickly typed letter. President Toone has asked me to do another write up on the mission's facebook page about some things...

A few weeks ago I sat down with President Toone and he asked me to be the technology specialist. "I'm asking you to do something but I don't know what I'm asking you to do," is what he said. I said ok, left the room, and nothing happened. Facebook had just gone mission-wide and I was getting so many ideas I didn't know what to do with them. He told me that all these ideas I presented to him were answers to his prayers. That was humbling. This past Monday night at MLC he made the assignment official. 

And with that assignment the week became un poco loco. 

This was a crazy week. No, this was a hectic week. No, this was an insane week!


Because iPads went mission-wide. 205 iPad minis arrived in the mission on Sunday night. The church got a killer discount from Apple. 


On Monday from 5pm-9pm we had a mission leadership council meeting (MLC) where we talked about the needs of the mission. On Tuesday from 8am-12am we had a special training for the MLC about how to use the iPads. Lee Donaldson, Director of Proselyting, came as well as the other leaders to introduce the technology and how to use it. From 1pm-4pm, three zones gathered, including ours, to receive the iPads and the training. 


President Toone and Lee Donaldson asked me to be present at all the meetings. After the first day, Lee Donaldson came over to me, pulled me aside, and said, "Do you think you could do all of this?" At first it sounded like a job offer hahaha. He continued and said, "Can you replace all of us and do these trainings? We don't feel we need to be here since you can do this for us."

And so they all left. 

They left me in charge of the training on how to enroll the devices in the program, how to train on the AreaBook app, and so forth. They downloaded the presentations onto a flash drive for me and said adios. 

All day on Tuesday we were doing trainings.

All day on Wednesday we were doing trainings,

All day on Thursday we were doing trainings.

I've never spoken so much in my life. The phone has never rung so much in my entire life. Missionaries from every zone and area have been calling us with questions. 

On Thursday morning we woke up at 5am to prepare to go to Casa Grande and Yuma. We were at the mission office at 6am preparing the car with 80+ iPads, four routers, a 100 foot long ethernet cable, a projector, laptop, and dozens of other materials. 

At 6:15 we realized we had lost the 70$ cable that connected the iPad to the projector. The cable was one that the SLC reps had given to me and said, "send this and the routers back to use in a month." The presentation would be very difficult without it.

President Toone gave us his credit card and sent us to Walmart to buy a new one. Yesterday we found the old one and sent it back to SLC today.

At 8:00am we arrived in Casa Grande. There wasn't enough bandwidth and the internet was super slooow.

At 1:00pm we left to Yuma. At 4:00pm we arrived. 

President Toone surprised us and the APs by putting us up in a hotel for the night. It. Was. Awesome. It was also the first time in 16 months I had been on an elevator! That was the best night sleep I've had in my entire mission.

The training in Yuma went smoothly. 

I was fortunate enough to run into someone I had taught months ago in Yuma. When I had left something big had happened in his life and it didn't look like baptism would happen soon. Well in Yuma last week he told me that he had married a member and had been baptized. It was heartwarming and made the trip 5x better.

The drive there and back was a nostalgic experience. 

We spent the night in the hotel, woke up at 4:50 the next morning, took pictures by the California state line, and started our journey back to Mesa. We arrived 1 minute before our Friday morning planning meeting started.

So yeah. Hectic week. Less than 12 hours of sleep in two days and each of those days was over 17 hours long. 

I was reflecting on how cool this experience was the other day. It was one of the highlights of my mission. I got to train alongside the director of proselyting, someone who I have deep respect for. He was the Mission President in the District 2 videos and apparently a close friend of Grandpa and Grandma Johnson! He made a nice comment about them to me.

We also had the opportunity to go to dinner with President and Sister Toone and the assistants. That was a very special experience.

The vision of the AreaBook app is amazing. The ward mission leader and bishop will have access to the app and the missionary's planner. He will be able to make plans for them. All information will be streamlined and clearly visible. A progress report will be generated automatically and submitted to ward leaders. 

We are already seeing miracles from the AreaBook. The sisters were putting in a former investigator from long ago and felt inspired to call him. He wanted to meet immediately. He is now on date for baptism. We found two new investigators in the home where one of our former investigators used to live but recently moved from. We never would have found them without looking at that sheet and digitizing the data.

Miracles. Miracles everywhere.

At church we only had one person we are teaching there. A decline from eight or so the week before. Not surprising since we barely worked our area this week. But he loved church. He got up and bore his testimony. He's from Kenya and everyone loves his accent. He offered one of the most powerful prayers I've heard in my entire life and we walked out of the lesson shell-shocked. BAM.