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."
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