Monday, March 31, 2014

31 March 2014

That was the fastest 6 weeks of my LIFE. How is it already week 6? Next Sunday are transfer calls. I am pretty sure we are both staying here together. But to be safe, if you can't send a letter by Wednesday or Thursday, send it to the mission office!
Mexican Spanish kills me. I've mentioned 'words' like yarda, shinear the zapatos, etc before. This week I learned how to say "sprinklers" in Mexican. "esprinklers." GENIUS!
There have been a number of times on my mission where I have gone somewhere and just knew that we were not supposed to be there. Elder Myler and I both experienced that this past week. It was around 8:00pm and we drove into "the Box" to visit some former investigators. As soon as we crossed the "line" into it, we both had this terrible terrible terrible feeling. I told him we needed to leave and he said that he felt the same way. We gunned it out of there and felt inspired to go to the church...
But the church was 5 miles away and out of our area. But, we followed the prompting.
When we arrived at the church we had another impression to drive to a missionaries house. We quickly found out why we were not supposed to be where we were.
One of the missionaries opened up to us a little later about some concerns he had with obedience with his roommates. We made a mental list and left to think about how we were going to solve it. We set a time to visit them the next day to talk about the things but that got interrupted by a phone call from President Toone.
President asked us to present at MLC about Facebook and iPad effectivity. We counseled together and came up with three things that we were going to focus on:
1) Standardization/uniformity of rules
2) Break down the rule book paragraph by paragraph
3) Motivate
The next day we set up a time to visit him and share our ideas with him.
But bad things happened that day...
Dinners are usually pretty great. But not dinner that night. I do not know what I ate but I know that crushed up shrimp was in it somewhere. Oh man. Just thinking about it makes me sick. I ate 2/3 of it and then had to throw in the towel. Every time I have eaten seafood on my mission I have gotten sick.
This was no exception.
I left dinner feeling weak. We worked the rest of the night. At 8:30pm we visited President and ran our ideas by him for our presentation the next day. He loved them. Feeling queezy, we drove home.
Seconds after walking into the house, dinner came up again.
And then it did five more times that night. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't think. I couldn't move. It was one of the worst nights of my life. At 4:00am I woke up Elder Myler and the other ZLs that we staying with us from Yuma to travel with us to MLC the next day and asked them to give me a blessing. Still I did not improve.
At 7:30am I stood up off the couch to get ready for the presentation. I still was very very sick and worried that I wouldn't be able to present. I could barely stand.
As we drove to the mission office for MLC I honestly contemplated just turning back around and sleeping at the house all day. But how could I? I've been praying for an opportunity to share what I've come to learn about Facebook with the mission for months. We had prayerfully prepared inspired plans. There was no way that that sickness was giong to stop me!
I can honestly say that I suffered through the first hour of MLC as we waited for our turn. Sister Toone graciously brought me some medicine but it didn't help. I stepped out a number of times to close my eyes and drink water. I had been praying all night and all morning that I would be healed.
But 15 minutes before our presentation I changed my prayer and asked that I could be healed just long enough to present.
Specific prayers yield specific answers. When it was our time to go up, I felt 100% better. I felt fine. I felt healthy. We stood up there and nitpicked every single rule and then we took the rules that had been outlined and motivated the MLC about how to be effective. We were up there for over 1.5 hours.
Afterwards, many of the missionaries approached us and thanked us! They said they had never been more motivated to use Facebook before. It was rewarding.
But as soon as we finished, I felt sick to my stomach again. I felt terrible. I asked Elder Myler if he would be willing to sit in the door to the room on a chair so that I could go into the hallway and sleep on a chair. Like a boss he said yes.
A chair has never been more comfortable before. I was out for two hours.
When MLC ended, a bunch of people came up to me and thanked me and said they hoped that I would feel better. I wasn't sure why so many were until later...
Apparently while I slept President Toone talked about me for 30 minutes. He trained on diligence and used me as an example. I was glad I was in the hallway asleep for it and didn't have to hear it. He was far too kind. I left embarrassed, humbled, and grateful.
There's something I don't understand: Men. Men are so stubborn haha. It seems like every family we teach struggles because of the husbands/boyfriends. We visited a man this last week who just gave excuse after excuse after excuse about why he cannot change and that God made him how he was for a reason. We were so bold with him that I was surprised he didn't throw us out of his house.
While learning Mexican slang, I'm also learning Mexican English slang. Apparently intense music is called, "Juice" here in the south side.
Someone I taught in Mesa got baptized this last weekend. We were planning to go until the day of. We had not had very much time to proselyte all week and three hours before I told Elder Myler that we would skip it so that we could work our area. That was a hard sacrifice to make but it was worth it. I had taught this women for two months and loved her and her family.
Two days ago we finally had time to go and talk with the missionaries about their obedience problems. I have hesitated to write much about experiences with correcting on my mission because they're problems I wish that no one had. But this experience was very unique.
Some background first: every transfer we have been invited by President to do iPad checks. One missionary accidentally left theirs in our car and we took that moment to make sure he was following mission rules. We were shocked to find videos of two missionaries dancing in their home to techno and rap. It broke our hearts.
That night we visited with each companionship in that house and showed them the video. We took a different approach. Instead of the "guns blazing" approach, we went in with the "we're so disappointed, you broke our hearts," approach. It worked. So well. The whole house was humbled. We left the house with six CDs with classic rock and a vinyl record.
From what we've heard, they have taken it well. The two in the video were broken after we talked to them about it. They've committed to doing better and we have seen night and day difference in just one day.
I'm convinced that the best leaders do not lead by fear or terror. The best leaders lead by love, example, and boldness. Who are the best leaders? A mother and a father. Why? They are genuinely interested in the success of those they lead: their families. And they love them enough to fix problems when they arise. Thanks, Mom and Dad. Luckily you didn't have any problems to fix with me, right? :) Haha
Anyway, thanks for the letters Tanan, Simmons, family, and Natalia!
I hope that everyone has a brilliant week!
With love,
Elder Johnson
PS: Big dust storm hit!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

24 March 2014

I've officially heard my first six gunshots in South Phoenix! pop-pop-pop...-pop-pop-pop.
President Toone told me this last week that he was considering calling SLC and requesting that Facebook be withdrawn from the mission. Luckily I was in front of him when he told me that and was able to show him some of the miracles that I am seeing on Facebook.
One of my investigators went to church in London. Twice now! Another wants to get baptized. Another wants to go to the temple. Another is receiving missionaries. Another is returning to church activity after being on the no-visit-list.
And it goes on. Facebook is a direct fulfillment of many promises in my patriarchal blessing.

We have used Facebook to connect with one family in particular that lives here in our area. They. Are. Amazing. The wife is totally ready to get baptized after the three weeks that we have been visiting her. She loves it all. In fact, in three weeks, she has read almost to Jacob. And comprehends everything. She reads to her husband and children every night. She is nothing but respect and love for her husband who isn't progressing as quickly though. It is inspiring to watch them interact. You learn something from everyone...
Anyway, our lessons with them in person are usually focused around him. We use Facebook as a means to teach her and help her specifically. It is so good for her, she loves sharing what she is learning.
We love that family so much.
Wednesday from 6-9 I felt very sick. Elder Myler, being the super diligent and awesome missionary that he is, called and coordinated members for the rest of the week. Que hubole!
We invited that very family to a family home evening with our Bishop last Monday night. It was amazing. They built a great relationship. Tonight they're coming to another family home evening with anther family in the ward.
We LOVE that family so much!
On Thursday we are having a meeting with President Toone to determine how we are going to solve the Facebook problems that have sprouted up. Here are some of my thoughts:
Facebook is being treated as a separate proselyting tool. Actually, it's not being treated like anything at all. There is no emphasis on it on a mission level. There is no training. It is a directionless hour. The "what-not-to-do" has been illustrated but we are lacking  a "what-to-do." It has fallen off the radar and as it has fallen away missionaries have fallen into the "scroll" trap where they just flick through the news feed and do nothing. This is a tool that can change everything, if we let it. There are many things the mission needs to focus on but this one has been neglected for six months. It is hard to train on because it cannot be done in a group setting, I feel. In those six months I've met with every single Zone Leader and talked a little about being productive but that training didn't get anywhere - it never made it to their zones. Frustrating.
Solution? I am not entirely sure. I had a very strong impression to offer to not have a proselyting area for my last three months and just train missionaries. But I don't know how feasible that is. I think I would run out of things to do. My nightmare is that Facebook dies when I die.
So we'll discuss these ideas/concerns/thoughts more on Thursday. We'll see whazzup.
Crazy story time. Our Bishop is THE MAN. This ward loves missionary work because he loves missionary work. He is a missionary 24/7.
THIS WEEK I ATE THE MOST DISGUSTING ICE CREAM I HAVE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE. CUCUMBER FLAVOR WITH CHILE. I've never almost thrown up from ice cream before that moment.
The people in South Phoenix are so humble. On an exchange this last week I had a humbling experience. One of the members really wanted to go out with the missionaries. So they scheduled him and I went out with him and another missionary. He drove an ice cream truck. Seriously. We sat in the aisle behind the drivers seat on coolers full of drinks and in a truck surrounded by candy and ice cream. He insisted that we eat some. It was a fun experience but one that really made me reflect on how much members sacrifice to come out with us. I asked him what hours were the best. He replied, "right now." At one stop some children ran up to the truck, money in hand, and he turned him down because he was, "with the missionaries!" We told him he should sell and he said no.
These people sacrifice so much for their faith. Are you?
This last week we taught almost 30 lessons with members present! We met many of our goals.
Things are going great here. We are praying for another transfer together. Praying. You should too!
Thanks for the letters, family! It was great to hear from you!
With love,

Monday, March 10, 2014

10 March 2014

There have been three points on my mission where time has hit me. When I hit 6 months, when I hit 18 months, and this past week when I realized I had less than 4 months left. a;lksjd;slkdjfalskdjfa;lsdjh;fashdaslkndal,kjsdf;liasjdflknasdf;lajs;dpfjasdlngkdfpgjsd'flgkmsdflgjsdpf'gjsrsdflgjsdfljgksgf
That's the sound that I made when Elder Myler and I realized that. We've made a lot of jokes about it like, "the hotter it gets..." etc etc. Good thing neither of us are slowing down at all.
South Phoenix is insane hahaha. I love it here. Everything about it is awesome. Story time!
This past week we drove into a gated community on the golf course (the gate probably cost more than most houses here). We drove around, found a white Mormon family that is in the spanish ward, asked if they knew Spanish people in there, drove to the house they gave us, and on the way I noticed something...A 2012 Maserati Grand Sport! So naturally I pulled the car over and we went and knocked on the door. It was the race spec - big fat tires, double exhaust. Beautiful car. After some moving around inside and some whispering, someone finally opened the door. It was a man from Venezuela with very broken English. I asked if he would turn the car on for me and rev it. Nope. I asked if he would trade it for our Corolla. Nope. Finally we gave up and started talking about faith. He wasn't interested and reached out to shake our hands and say goodbye. He had a massive gold watch on. Four of his five fingers were cut off halfway and so he only had stubs.
I've also been picking up lots of Mexican slang words. They're the best. I used one with a member this last week and he started laughing so hard that he was crying. He was driving at the time and I felt a mixture of awkwardness and danger haha. Turns out the word that i used meant something TOTALLY DIFFERENT than what the person in Yuma had told me. It was a really really bad word haha. Oh well, you learn new things everyday!
Last week I wrote about the South Phoenix zombies. Well this week I need to correct that and add a new category to it. South Phoenix Witches! Elder Myler and I were sitting at an intersection, minding our own business, when Elder Myler leans forward and says, "look at those nails!" I thought he was talking about construction nails.
Nope. In the car to our left was a woman with 7" fingernails on one hand! And they were BLUE! Naturally I let out a shreiking cry and we drove away quickly but not before I could take a picture of it. For all of your sakes, I won't attach it, but it is disgusting hahahah.
And then returning to the previous topic: ZOMBIES! WE SAW A REAL ZOMBIE THIS PAST WEEK.
But first, some background. Elder Myler and I were finishing a split that we had done. I went with one member, he went with another. On our way back to the church we got a phone call from him and he told us that a truck had just driven into the house across the street from the church and it had resulted in a complete demolition of the house and an explosion! There was lots of smoke. He told us to meet at one of the other companionships houses so we took a different route and met there. It was 9:40pm - very late due to the traffic. As we get into our car and turn away, I noticed how dark it was. No street lights! That's ok though, we were in a car. As we turned the corner onto a dark street, the headlights of the car brightened a silhouette. A ZOMBIE! It was a man walking all by himself EXACTLY LIKE ZOMBIES IN MOVIES WALK! He was on the sidewalk, arms out to his sides at shoulder level, and stumbling forwards with his legs matching the height of his hips! I SCREAMED SO LOUD. I'm sure he heard me. Elder Myler stopped the car and I screamed "GOOOOOOOOOOO!" So we shot down the road! When we reached the end we looked out the back window and he was still walking like that, 100 yards behind us! We were laughing so hard all the way back to the house. It is the most ridiculous thing i have ever seen in my life
There are zombies here.
Speaking of fun stories, Elder Myler almost died this week. We are teaching a man who has two ferocious German shepherds. One bit a missionary three weeks ago right before I arrived. The house is enclosed with a fence. To knock the door you need to walk past the fence. Being a great companion, I let Elder Myler walk past the fence to knock the door. He did so very, very cautiously. Before he got to the door he looked around the corner of the house to see if the dog was there. He saw one chained up and thought he was clear. So he turned around. In a quick flash of fur, the OTHER German shepherd was all of the sudden at his side! Elder Myler panicked and RAN but for some reason not for the gate! The Shepherd went into pursuit mode, jumped, and bit his bag. Continuing to maintain my reputation as most-supportive-companion-ever, I closed the gate and locked Elder Myler in with the dog!
Pause. To justify myself, it was either he die or we both die. Survival instinct! Totally justified.
Continuing...anyway, so the dog is flying through the air biting his bag and a split second later the owners run out the door and scream at the dog and it runs away.
Elder Myler survived with no damage, except that done to his pride. We laughed awkwardly for the next few minutes as the owners got things under control. Good times.
This week we had a great week! We jumped from the 12 member present lessons that we taught last week to 23 lessons with members present! The mission is still really struggling with knowing how to use Facebook effectively. This last week we talked about how to teach and find people and Elder Myler did a great job! President Toone is trying to find a way to get me to go around the mission and train people but I don't know how that would work. We taught 15 lessons in our area and 8 lessons with members present on Facebook. That was a great week.
One such lesson was to a woman that lives in our area. She and her family went to MX for a few days so we taught them over FB! We used the relief society president as the member present and she did PERFECTLY! And now she's taking that excitement to the ward :) I try to give as many different people as possible chances to teach on FB with me so they can catch how exciting it is. I think I've used over 20 different members now.
While teaching that lesson on Facebook, Elder Myler got a crazy message. One of his family members had walked allthe way from Idaho to Phoenix (with a guitar) on a spirit walk. We read the message and had a good laugh about it.
It's March. What happens in March? March Madness! So, to spike some competition here in the zone we created a triple elimination March Madness bracket! It was inspired! Every week there are "three games." Each game, each companionship will "play against" another companionship (8 competitions per game) to compete in something. Monday-Wednesday the "game" is a combination of member present lessons+referrals contacted. Thursday-Friday is a "game" about new investigators found. Saturday+Sunday is a game about total at church, on date, and progressing. Those are some of the key indicators that we use to measure ourselves. After each "game" we will update the roster (which we printed 2 feet x 1.5 feet) and text out who each companionship will be competing against the next day. Each companionship created a team name. It's awesome. Everyone is super excited about it!
This past week I met a man named, "the Prophet Israel!" He sat us down and we had a non-contentious conversation about his beliefs and ours. He knows his bible better than anyone I've ever met. Let me rephrase that, he knows references better than anyone I'd ever met. As he talked to us I took notes of what he said. It was hilarious. These are directly from his mouth:
-"Moses and Jesus prophesied of ME!"
-"There is no such thing as a white Jew! The Jews were all black and it's only us blacks who will be in heaven!"
-"Leprosy just means their skin is white! All white people have leprosy!"
-"Black means clean, white means dirty! You all have a devil!"
-"Isaiah 53 is hogwash and was written by the feminist Pauline!"
-"King James (of King James Bible) lived before Jesus Christ!"
-"Satan is a bad booger."
-"Don't defend yourself because you have nothing to defend yourself with!"
-"Obama and I were buddies back in university!"
-"Russel Smith wrote the Book of Mormon!"
-"The whole new testament was written by a woman! Pauline!"
-"The first man [Adam] was made out of the blackest soil in the universe!"
-(paraphrasing) 'when Jesus cast legion (which apparently was originally LIGION) out of the swine they ran into the water! Every time you get baptized you get a demon! And getting baptized makes you RE-ligioned!"
It was one of the funniest and most entertaining lessons of my mission and despite him going off on us about being white and having leprosy, there were absolutely no hard feelings and we all left loving each other!
We had a man show up to church yesterday who has been anti-ing our members. He sat quietly through sacrament meeting and then when we invited him to stay afterwards he said, "I have to go - I am teaching a class on Hebrew and Greek in my church." Hahahahahhaha. He has a PhD but that was the funniest reason I've heard in a long time for not going to church haha.
As of today, all 30 test missions have iPads! That's over $2,000,000 of iPads! Exciting times!
Thanks Grandma and Grandpa for the letter this week! You won the competition of fastest to write me! And thank you family for yours as well :)
All is well here, I hope all is well there as well!
Have a great week!

Monday, March 3, 2014

3 March 2014

New address! Who will be the first one to write me?!? 7611 S 36th St #214, Phoenix AZ 85042
There must be a God because I'm back with Elder Myler!! We are so excited to be together again and we've had so much fun already! And we're in South Phoenix, baby! The crack capitol of the USA a few years ago and home to what we lovingly call the Phoenix Zombies! 
We had done the "math" right before transfer meeting and figured out that we would probably be together. So we went to work and started planning what we would do when President Toone read our names and that we'd be companions. 
The normal procedure goes like this, "And in Phoenix South 11, Elders ____ and _____" The missionaries then get up and go hug, sometimes with lots of excitement, sometimes with less haha. 
We wanted to leave a mark. So we played baseball. How?

When President Toone said, "Elder Myler and Elder Johnson," neither of us stood up. Instead, Elder Diaz stood and pitched an imaginary ball at an Elder who swung an imaginary bat. Someone else yelled, "FLY BALL!" 
That was our queue. We were sitting on opposite ends of the room and stood up when we heard that. We stared at the ceiling looking at the imaginary ball and ran to the back of the room with our hands in imaginary mits and then ran into each other. After recovering from the "shock" we "noticed" that we were companions, got excited, and ran back to our seat.
It was the most memorable one of the day. 
Elder Myler is the THIRD companion that I have had twice haha. I've never heard of that happening before more than once! 
We talked a lot about the area. Elder Myler believes it has been under-performing and in the four days that we were together in the past week we already set an area record. The future is exciting! We are both on the same page for everything and it's AWESOME!
South Phoenix is completely different than Mesa. Whereas Mesa was poor, South Phoenix is destitute. It has everything that comes with a poverty-stricken city: drugs, violence, gangs, and intense minority groups. Things are rough down here but I LOVE it. My second day gave me the taste for what South Phoenix would be like:
The ward that we serve in, just a Spanish ward, is amazing. It is very organized (DREAMS DO COME TRUE), the members share the gospel on their own, the Bishop is excited, the ward mission leader is amazing, and great things are happening already! The members have very...unique...pasts but that's ok, all that matters is the future! They're converted and are converting many! Retention is at 80% for the first year - probably the highest that I've seen in any ward. 
There are 18 missionaries in the zone including us, a fraction of the 30 that we had in Mesa. I was sad to see Mesa go but I was excited to be able to serve in a zone so small. There is a family atmosphere here. 14 of the missionaries here are Spanish speaking.
We have a 2014 Toyota Corolla. We picked it up with 30 miles on it. It has a backup camera?! Hahahaha. And no tiwi :D
Within my first two days here I had an experience that has changed my life and has changed my mission. We were at the church waiting for our member to show up to take us to some lessons and the Sister Training Leaders (STLs) called us with an emergency. They were alone at a different church building at 7"30pm when a man ran up to the locked door and started pounding on it while screaming, "I NEED TO GET SAVED, LET ME IN!" 
After a few minutes, he fell onto his knees in tears and the sisters talked to him through the door. They called us and we floored it over. 
When we got there they were talking to him outside. He was a meth addict and has been haunted and tortured by "the devil and evil spirits." He was 20 years old and clearly had been through hell in his life. He had piercings. We took him inside the church and into the chapel, sat him down, and told him his life wasn't going anywhere. He told us some of his recent experiences, which were shocking, and told us that he was willing to give anything up to have peace. He was desperate, depressed, lost, and confused. 
We gave him a priesthood blessing and he immediately calmed down. It was night and day. His voice level softened, his countenance changed, and he recognized that he was a child of God.
That was humbling in and of itself.
He told us that he had been clean for 11 days. He was so proud of that. And you know what? I was proud of him for that. 11 days is not very long but that was all the hope that he had. In his eyes, he was winning! And in mine he was too.
As Elder Myler and I got in the car to drive back, we reflected quietly on that experience. This kid was my exact age but our lives were going in completely different directions. 
I could have been (name changed) "James." I could have been a meth addict, running around alone at night being haunted by personal demons. I could have had his life.
But thanks to everyone that preceded me, I am not. I am serving a mission for James. He is my purpose. I am out here going through what we do everyday for James' everywhere. I am serving a mission so that James' children don't have to experience what he did. I am serving a mission so that James can trust himself, can believe in himself, and can believe that his future is as bright as he wants it to be. I am serving a mission to say thank you to my ancestors for helping me be who I am today. This isn't for me; it is for all of them. But what it has done for me is inspiring.
I would do anything for any 'James,' because I've seen James' change. And it's the best thing ever.
That experience was so intensely profound that it has changed the way I approach everything. I wake up at 6:30, exhausted beyond belief, for James. I work hard all day everyday for James.
And it is all worth it. Every. Single. Second. 
James has changed my life. There are few other single moments in my entire life that have impacted me as much as 'James' did in that moment.
Yesterday was the Gilbert Temple dedication. It was a special experience. It was a little strange hearing such loud sounds inside the celestial room, but whatever! President Monson strangely didn't look very happy. 
I found my apostate great great great (etc) grandpa in the Doctrine in Covenants! D&C 132:124! Alpheus Cutler!
We had a cool experience this last week in a meeting with the DLs and STLs of the zone. We met together to discuss the needs and make a training plan for the month. It was exciting to see everything come together as we refined ideas and made plans. That's the coolest thing to experience.
This past week was Mission Leadership Council (MLC). I love MLC. I learn so much at MLC every single time.
However this time President Toone thew a curve ball. President Eyring, when he gave President Toone his final interview, commissioned him to teach the missionaries of the Arizona Tempe Mission how councils in the Lord's Church work. So that is what we have been doing.
But at MLC we counciled in a different way. We did a mock High Council disciplinary meeting. It was intense, terrifying, and inspiring. I've never felt the way I did when being involved in that practice. It was agonizingly sad and unbelievably peaceful at the same time. Weird combination. I won't go into the specifics for what we "role played" but I had never felt what I did before. 
At MLC, President Toone also spoke to the missionaries that replaced Elder Diaz and I in Mesa in front of the whole group of 40 of us. He said that we were all there to support them as they replaced Elder Johnson and Elder Diaz in Mesa, "a zone that was run marvelously and magnificently." That was a nice moment. 
On Saturday night, contrary to previous instruction, President Toone invited all the missionaries to watch the Gilbert Temple Cultural Celebration video. It was hilarious. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time and I *think* that the humor was planned. It was also very well done and ran smoothly, despite the massive rainstorm. That was the first time it had rained in months. I honestly can count on one hand how many times it has rained in the last six months. 
Thanks for the letters Susie and Family! 
Miracles are going to happen here! I'm so excited to be here in South Phoenix and even more excited to be here with Elder Myler! #ComoSeDiceANDALEPUES
Thank you all for your continued support! Be sure to like and share my posts on Facebook so that more people can see them! 
Con mucho amor,
Elder Johnson