Monday, June 23, 2014

June 23, 2014

This past week was a week of highs and a week of lows. Isn't every week?

On Tuesday we had a great visit with one of the amazing members of this ward. We saw miracles that night. One miracle was actually life changing for our member. Years ago, he had worked closely with a young man struggling with some major problems. He had involved him in church ball and youth activities and then completely lost contact. This was in '93. They were very, very close at that time. 

We had felt inspired to swing by a family this past week, not knowing why, with this member. We got to the door and were very surprised to learn that the man living there was the great friend of the member who came with us. They embraced in tears and it was a very tender moment for all of us: being reunited with a lifelong friend, blessings of following the spirit, and another chance for this man.

Afterwards he sat in his car and thanked us profusely for 20 minutes. I didn't realize how much he loved us. The feeling is mutual.

This past week concluded my last zone conference as a full time missionary. President Toone spoke on the challenge they had extended to have every companionship baptize this transfer. As you know, we haven't. We haven't for 4 months. He talked about the background of the challenge, how he had felt inspired months ago at a training with Elder Bednar to help his missionaries, us, grow in faith. One man commented that his only regret as serving as a mission president was not helping his missionaries truly understand what faith is. He said, "Do not let any of your missionaries end their missions in a crisis of their faith!" President Toone said he had immediately thought about my group that goes home next week. He did not want us to end in a crisis of faith.

I'll admit, this has been a transfer that has really tried my faith. I've learned that faith is what we have when we have nothing else. 

Anyway, with that background, President Toone had felt inspired to help the mission grow in faith. He assigned a committee to come up with the specific challenge (to baptize per companionship this transfer) and he had sustained it.

That was the challenge that was extended. But he said with it came another challenge, from the spirit, to have every companionship experience a moment of conversion this transfer.

Looking back, it would have been so easy to give up. We had nothing going for us any of our weeks. Every solid opportunity we found was taken from us, either by family opposition or people moving randomly from our area. We haven't taught anyone solid this entire transfer. It would have been so easy to give up. 

But faith is what we do when we have nothing going for us. And we practiced our faith. We worked. We worked hard, every single day. 

Elder Sylvester and I had a great talk this past week about that. Our area has not seen great success but we have in our own personal lives. Sometimes success isn't visible to others, but it visible to me and it is visible to God. 

President Toone also introduced something amazing. Remember how the Arizona Tempe Mission is the coolest mission in the world? How we were in the first group of 44 missionaries in the world to have iPhones/iPads and even Facebook? Well, the First Presidency has chosen the ATM (Arizona Tempe Mission) to pilot another program. A program designed to change the MTC (Missionary Training Center) forever.

The Program - Applies only to Spanish for now:
This new program will include a Pre-MTC experience which will last six weeks.
Missionaries will be assigned a tutor who will train them in the six weeks prior to the MTC, during the MTC, and for rest of their full time mission.
Missionaries currently leave the MTC at level 4 Spanish. With program, missionaries will leave at 7.
Tutor will be involved daily in the "First 12 Weeks" training program. They will be involved over Skype.
After training, the tutor checks in once a month to follow up on progress. During the last two months in the field, the tutor checks in daily and helps prepare the missionary to return to normal life (dating, resume work, college prep, etc).
When the misisonary finishes the mission, he is given the opportunity to serve as tutor for a future missionary who will be called to serve in the same mission that the tutor served in.

It begins July 4th

Crazy cool! A year ago, Lee Donaldson said, "The First Presidency  has their eyes on this mission."

We have been asking referrals from EVERYONE this past week! On Monday it started well - we got four referrals! We taught them for about a week and ended up dropping them, but it was still a great opportunity for that member to feel the missionary spirit! 

I love this district and this zone. Aaahhhh. 

All of my shirts are ripping. This past week, in tucking my shirts in lightly, two of my shirts ripped. I don't think I'll be taking any of them home...they're all pretty worn out. 

We had a miraculous experience this past week. We were driving to visit someone and I had a strong impression to turn a different way to visit a less active family. On the way to that house, I had another impression to stop at the house 100 feet from the members and knock the door of a potential investigator we had never contacted.

Upon leaving the car, we noticed a man leaning against the wall drinking a beer. We went over and talked to him. We had an amazing experience talking to him about his potential and how we can all improve. He said he wanted to be better, that he had the desire to improve, but didn't know how. I asked him, "Are you willing to stop drinking?" 


"Then  pour that out."

"Right now?"


And then he poured his beer out.

Those are some of the best moments, I think. Few people have enough faith to do it. When they do, you can see a fire in their eyes as they recognize that they have the ability to overcome their weaknesses. It was inspiring. 

We returned to our car and said a prayer to thank God for that miracle.

He did not go to church but we knew that God put him there for a reason. 

Church yesterday was very intense. It began with disappointment as everyone we invited cancelled. That was hard. It continued with stress when we learned that a woman would be showing up to try to get a man who was recently released in prison back into trouble  She got him there in the first place. She called us, gave us a false name, and asked if her friend was there.  We didn't know who she was at the time and said yes. We mentioned it to our Elders Quorum President (EQP) and he immediately got very worried. We put a plan into motion to keep them from coming into contact. 

We had two Elders sit with the woman and her mother during sacrament meeting. The man we were protecting, a man wanting nothing but to fix his life, was sat in the front by the front exit door. The Elders Quorum President sat in the back on his side, ready to pull him out the front door.

Right before the closing prayer, the mother stood up and left. We didn't know to where.

As soon as the closing prayer was said, Elder Sylvester and I stood by the two hallways to make sure the women did not get past. The other elders guided her slowly to the next class. 

The EQP quickly stood and guided the man out the door. Turns out the mother was standing in the door opposite and saw them leave the other door. She panicked, ran to her daughter, and the two women ran outside to the parking lot trying to find the man.

The EQP walked around the corner, saw the women, and grabbed the man and they hid behind a car and worked their way back inside the church.

The women hid in their car watching for him. 

We got the man to class.

After the first hour they came back inside and lied to us about a daughter that he doesn't have.

They asked if there were houses for rent in the area. Then they got angry and left. 

It was the most intense sacrament meeting ever. Even the stake president was there! We got him around safely, luckily. 

Haha, that was a good memory. 

Anyway, thank you all for your support! I'll have one more email after this one - please let me know if you have any questions! 

Elder Paul Johnson

16 June 2014

I've been reminding myself a lot recently that anything worth anything is worth anything. 

I'm so exhausted. Every minute of every day I am so tired. I feel healthy. Two years are catching up to me, I think. Mind over body, mind over body, mind over body...

We had a hard week. Actually, we've had a hard few weeks. We just cannot find solid people. We have done literally everything I have ever done or ever heard of and never done. I even got on my bike and biked around in 105 degrees! I got a flat tire. 

As I have written before, President Toone made a promise at the start of the transfer that every companionship could baptize this transfer. As of last week, every companionship in our zone was on track to do so. Half of them already have, the other half (minus us) had someone on date. 

Every companionship was assigned another companionship to pray for. They pray by name for those they are teaching. This last week we asked the zone to pray for us so that we could find someone. Before my personal study on Thursday, I got down on my knees and begged for someone we could find, teach, and baptize before I go home.

During my personal study I had a strong impression that we should alter our morning plans and spend an hour calling former investigators. We have two phones and thus were both able to call. We set up around five appointments after over fifty calls. 

The first lesson we had set up was with a woman who had only been visited twice,  years ago. We visited her and I was blown away by how powerful a spirit they had in their home. We had a great lesson and as we sat there teaching, I reflected back on the last two years. It has been hard, but it has been amazing. I don't want to be released as a full-time missionary. We taught this family and they all accepted a baptismal invite. We were very excited.

The next day was our monthly ward visitors center trip. We took the daughter-in-law to the visitors center. Her answers were just perfect. When the sisters asked her why she came she said, "I see so much happiness here. I want it." She loved the Joseph Smith movie. Afterwards she said, "That book...where can I get it? I love reading and I want to read it." Afterwards in another display she said, "This is what I want."

She accepted a baptismal date for June 28th. That's a mighty fine birthday present. 

On the drive home we sat in the back seat, ecstatic, as our investigator talked and became friends with the member. Remember, we taught the daughter-in-law at the older woman's home the day before.

The member asked where she could drop her off and the daughter-in-law replied, "_____." 

She doesn't live in our area.



That was a hard moment. We had to refer her over to the sisters in a different ward.

That was a very hard moment.

Yes, she is still going to get baptized and that is wonderful. It's hard to put into words why it is so sad to lose someone to a different area. There are no words.

That was a hard night. I felt tried to my last straw. I felt ready to give up. I felt like the Lord was trying to break me. And I almost let him.

I opened my scriptures and stumbled upon something that changed my perspective. 

 15 And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
 16 And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!
When people try to tell me that God doesn't answer our prayers, I immediately think to the many many many times He has answered me. 

That scripture taught me that although we have not baptized in some months, I can find joy in my efforts. We're doing absolutely everything we can. Isn't that enough? We've frequently discussed what else we could do and we do it. 

Nothing worthwhile is easy.

Last night was the last Mission President's Devotional of my mission. Elder Myler and Oscarson drove up from Yuma to perform a musical number. They go home with me. Elder Sylvester and I translated. It was another unique experience of being lifted above our ability. It was smooth and felt natural. 

That was the last time I'll see many of the missionaries here. We only had five minutes after it ended to say goodbye since we had another meeting with missionaries right afterwards but it was a sad moment. I was happy to see a family I had baptized in Mesa there.

Exciting news! The church has released an electronic progress report that is accessed through! Gone are the days of spending time writing a paper progress report for the ward council! Stake and ward leaders can access an auto-generated progress report at any time from any device! 

President Toone got a cool new Tahoe. It's the only car he fits in. The Traverse he had was way too small for him. I offered to give him our Corolla for it but he sad no.

On the 27th of June we will be going to the Gilbert temple for one last temple session with all the missionaries that go home with me! There are six of us. President and Sister Toone will go as well. Can't wait.

I'm honestly toying with the idea of being a car salesman. 

A miracle we saw last week was that every single less active that we visited and invited came to church! One family works all night on Saturdays and used that as their excuse. We were bold with the parents and they came on Sunday with a big smile on their face! 

We were also surprised by a family of former investigators that showed up to church! There is still hope for a baptism before I finish my mission! 

If I've learned anything on my mission it is that happiness and optimism are choices we make. In the midst of a trial we decide whether to overcome it with a smile on our face or a frown. We control what happens most of the time, so why don't we? Why don't we take our happiness into our own hands more often?

Love you all!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

June 9, 2014

I think the absolute highlight of this last week was a spontaneous companionship study with President Toone. I've always had questions that I don't have the answers to and he ALWAYS has the answers. I think for a year straight I've been texting him at random intervals with questions that I cannot answer. A few weeks ago he said, "Elder Johnson, why don't we have a companionship study together?" I wasn't sure how serious he was.

On an exchange with Elder Nelson this last week, I told that very story to him. Elder Nelson said he had always wanted to do one with President and encouraged me to text President and invite him to come over the next morning. At 9:45 pm we sent the text to President. Ten minutes later we got the best text ever.

"Oh wow...I would love that! Let me check my schedule. I will call you."

We got a text from him the next morning saying, 

"I'll be there in 20 minutes!" 

We were stoked! Luckily our apartment was suuuuper clean (isn't it always?) and we invited him in. He had to lean over to fit his head through our door frame. We all sat down in our room and bam, it started. We asked him some questions which triggered his excitement and for 1.5 hours he taught the two of us in our small room.

It was one of the coolest memories of my mission. President Toone LOVES church history and knows absolutely EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING. All three of us were all smiles that morning as we talked about the doctrine and some very interesting things that he has learned over the years. It was an amazing experience. President Toone has instilled a passion into me for church history. He knows the absolute coolest things in the world. 

I got a message from President Toone this morning saying, 

"I loved out companion study the other day. We should do that more often."

If you insist!! :) 

I'm going to miss President and Sister Toone.

This past week was zone meeting. In all my time giving them, I had never struggled so much to plan one as we did for this one. Our zone is perfect. There are no problems. We sat there for hours and tried to figure out what to do. Eventually we concluded that we'd show them the improvement. We made a graph of the last 16 week statistical areas for each area and the zone. We are 3x as high as we were 16 weeks ago. This is the place to be! We also talked about a mission-wide push for a family mission plan. 

After the zone lunch we went to heaven: Canton Wong #8! We squeezed 21 missionaries into the tiny restaurant and had a great lunch. We all love that place haha. 

Story time. This last week the craziest thing that has ever happened to me happened. A missionary almost died. [Paul often writes stories about people dying.]

Here's the story. We have the best district in the world. Elder Sylvester and I, Elder Nelson and Torres, and Hnas Smuin and Acosta all serve in the same ward and we make up district 1. We usually eat dinners with Elders Nelson and Torres. This past week we were slated to eat together but the member asked us if they could drop Carls Jr (haha) off for us at the church at 5:45. We said yes and went a little before that so that we could just eat dinner in 15 minutes and be out at 6:00 to work. At 6:05 she showed up and we were all starving and out of time so we quickly blessed the food and ate.

Elder Torres and I are both allergic to sea food, except he is deathly allergic. Once consumed, he has 30 minutes to live.

We opened the giant bag and pulled out the food she had brought us. There were two chicken nuggets inside of it that Elder Torres and I grabbed. He ate the entire one and I took a bite, looked inside, and said it tasted funny. It was fish.

In a moment of pure panic, he ran to the bathroom to gag himself. I hadn't swallowed and spat it up in the kitchen. I came back and we waited for Elder Torres to come out of the bathroom. Panic started to set in as Elder Nelson explained to us the seriousness of what had happened. While waiting, we quickly called President and Sister Toone. No answer. We kept calling. No answer.

Eventually Elder Torres runs out of the bathroom with tears running down his face with a look of pure terror. "Guys," he said, "I don't want to die! I can't throw it up! I don't want to die!"

The expression on his face was one that I will never forget. It was one of someone who was sure they were about to die.

Elder Nelson quickly grabbed a chair and said, "Sit down, we're going to give you a priesthood blessing!" We gave the phones to Elder Sylvester and had him call President and Sister Toone over and over until they answered. 

During the blessing we had contacted President Toone and been approved to go to the ER or Urgent Care. We ran to the car and I floored it backwards. 

I like driving fast. [from mom: better not drive fast there OR when you get home!]

As I backed, I called 911 and asked for the nearest location. I had a 15 second battle over not sending an ambulance. He insisted, I insisted against it. ($$$). He gave us the cross streets and I raced around the corner a safe speed. Thank goodness we did not have Tiwi - that was the first miracle. [from mom:  I think we need a tiwi for him as a coming home present!]

We left the zone then the mission as we raced to downtown Phoenix. We sat in utter silence as Elder Nelson encouraged Elder Torres. It was a weird feeling. I was watching the clock closely, terrified that 30 minutes would expire before we arrived. Elder Torres started to react with his throat closing off and his tongue becoming inflamed. His speech was slurred. 

We kept driving.

After five or so minutes, I commented that I felt a very strong peace in the car. Elder Nelson agreed and we kept driving.

We arrived at the Urgent Care. Elder Torres ran inside, naturally still scared. 

There was absolutely nothing wrong with him. The doctor thought we were crazy since he had no symptoms of any allergic reaction.

He had been healed. Completely healed. His life was saved.

And with that miracle came a secondary miracle to all four of us: an assurance that the Lord runs the show. This is His church, His priesthood and authority to perform miracles is back. 

And it works.

We reflected on it after we left and I continue to think back to it. He should have died. But he didn't. He is completely fine.


Another miracle happened when the only missionary couple on Sri Lanka contacted a referral I sent them! They have a return appointment today :) She told me the entire family was excited to see them! So excited, actually, that they called another family member at the doorstep and let the senior couple talk to them over the phone!!!

It is so hot in Arizona.

Yesterday, eight of our 10 zones were affected by an ET. Hna Acosta, our favorite Australian sister, was transferred back to her last (and only other) area in Northern Phoenix. Sister Smuin is staying and will be training someone who has been out for three weeks, Sister Finau. She's from Tonga but lives in Hawaii. She'll be a good addition to our weekly zone gatorball activity! 

Elder Sylvester and I found a hornet nest on a door at church yesterday. The building we go to is really unique: there is a courtyard and the classrooms go around the perimeter of it. We pointed it out to Bishop. He's a tough guy. We had seen hornets fly in and out of it. He walked over to it, grabbed it with his hand, and ripped it off! Somehow there were none inside haha. His response, "Will it kill me? Then I'm going to take it down!" Hahahahahah. He's the man.

This last week I finished a personal goal that I had set to read the New Testament in 3.5 weeks. What a great experience! I've read the gospels many times but never all the way through the epistles. Every chapter I read just reinforced my gratefulness for the our church. Everything that no one else can explained is so clearly explained in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! There isn't confusion! "God is not the author of confusion." 

This morning I started my next challenge: read the Book of Mormon in 22 days. My goal is to read about 25 pages a day looking for attributes that I want to have. I read 28 this morning and am loving it so far. It's about 150 a week or so. I'll keep you updated as I go along but I have already learned so much from Nephi, Lehi, Laman, Lemuel, and more. 

Thank you all for your continued support! I hope it's freezing cold wherever you are!

Elder Johnson