Monday, June 29, 2015

Week 98 - Thanks for the Memories Hawaii

Man I can't believe I'm writing my last email I'll ever send to you guys as a missionary. My mission has been the best thing I could ever hope to do and has meant so much to me. The people I've met and the experiences I've had are indescribable, I wouldn't trade it for anything. Not to say it's always been easy, but definitely worth it.
This past week was the perfect way to end my mission. Micah, Mekelah, and Makani were all able to be baptized and confirmed this past week! Then Micah got the priesthood and set apart Makani! Their baptism was amazing. There were about 80 people who showed up to support. So many that lots couldn't even see the baptism because the viewing space for the font in our little branch building wasn't big enough. So we made sure the family could see then everyone else just kind of crammed in wherever there was space. Things were also crazy right before the baptism, but it all worked out. Just like it always does. The guy that was supposed to baptize Makani said he was sick and couldn't make it, so I hurried and threw on a suit to baptize him, but I wasn't planning on it when we left home so I didn't have dry clothes or a towel. Luckily some missionaries were nice enough to miss the baptism to run back to our house and grab clothes for me. The talk I gave on the Holy Ghost was a little delayed due to that, but with the extra time to burn they invited some of the boys from the priesthood camp up to bear their testimony to the kids and say how proud they were of them, especially Micah. Perfect baptism.
Yesterday was also my Aloha Oe sunday. It was so sad for me to say goodbye to all these people I've grown to love. It's crazy how close you can become in just 6 short weeks. The leis I got made it look like I was wearing a neck brace, and the aloha kisses I got from old aunties made my cheeks red (not from blushing by the way) but I loved everything about my last sunday.
We also got the chance to help out with a graduation party luau. We went and helped prepare and cook the pig and other foods, then helped serve and eat the food the next night :) \
I love it here and don't feel like I'm ready to come home yet. I'm definitely gonna miss this place, but I'm looking forward to great things to come as well! Love you all and I'll see you soon!
With Aloha,

Elder Merrill

Monday, June 15, 2015

Week 96 - King Who Day?

Aloha again!
We had a pretty fun, exciting, and productive week here in the Honomu Branch! This past week there was King Kamehameha Day. (said like Ka-may-ha-may-ha, not said like when people go supersain in Dragon Ball Z) For those who don't know who he is, he's the guy that conquered all the Hawaiian islands and brought them under a unified rule. He's basically worshiped here because there were prophecies about him and the things he would do. Anyway, it was the __th anniversary of his birthday, so they had a big celebration with parades and all. Kind of similar to Alpine Days back home. But on Friday they had a big festival at this place called Coconut Island. Basically all these people set up tents on this island with crafts, jewelry, live Hawaiian music, etc. Some members had a spot for a genealogy booth so they invited the missionaries over and we took shifts at a commissary table talking to people that walked by at the festival! It went pretty well. We had the usual crazy people come and present the weirdest theories I've ever heard, but we also got to meet lots of cool people and give them a chance to hear about the gospel!
Another really cool thing that happened was a stake activity that they did for the young men. It's called Aaronic Priesthood camp and they had all these activities to help build faith and testimony. Like this one activity called the Atonement Walk, where they loaded these boys up with a bag full of water bottles then made them walk up a hill. They were told at the top that they couldn't enter with all the sins they were carrying, so they went to the bishop and he helped to relieve them of their burdens. Also they did an activity about holding onto the iron rod and resisting temptation. Unfortunately we didn't get to go, but the oldest of the three kids that will be baptized, Micah, was able to go! He had an amazing experience that truly converted him. On the way back the First Counselor in our branch asked two of the boys if they would share their testimonies in sacrament meeting the next day. Micah quickly chimed in, saying that he wanted to share his testimony too! He got up at church and shared what he knew to be true. He said that after that camp, he truly knows that this church is God's true church, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that the Book of Mormon is true! He was never the best at reading the scriptures before this, but he says he loves reading now and is going to continue reading every day! It couldn't have been more perfectly timed because it's right before their baptism. He even says he thinks he wants to go on a mission now! I'll forever be grateful to the young mens' leaders who put that camp together.
So a pretty great week. I'm loving it here and I'm not too excited to come home. It just feels like when I finally start to get the hang of missionary work they send me home. Oh well.
But hope you all have a great week. Love ya!
-Elder Merrill

1. Our booth for King Kamehameha Day
2. Waterfall Road!
3. Big Island biker gangs
4. A legit road sign

Monday, June 1, 2015

Week 94 - The Bread of Life

Iakwe Erryone!
It's been nothing but sunshine and smiles here in Hilo! Sunshine in the soul of course because it's never sunny here. It rains every day. It's so humid here that nothing's really ever dry and everything is sticky. But I love it!
We had a lesson with Micah, Mekelah, and Makani this past week. They're honestly so ready to be baptized. They've been coming to church and have had all the lessons already. We're basically just reviewing the lessons and reading the Book of Mormon with them because there's nothing really new as far as the basic lessons that we can teach them. They told us last time that their mom felt that they were rushing to their baptism, so I prayed about it and felt like we should set a date in a month and ask the mom about it. We talked to their mom and got a sense for what she was feeling, then asked her if she would let them be baptized on June 27th. She said yes! We were pleasantly surprised. Even my companion said he didn't think she'd actually say yes. So my last saturday on my mission should be a good one :)
Also something cool that our ward does here is deliver bread. They get the bread that's almost expired from one of the local grocery stores here (similar to walmart minus the clothes and toys) and give it to us to distribute to whoever we visit. It's a great way to get into people's houses because almost nobody in Hawai'i will deny food. Not a joke though, food is life here. So we went out with out of our members and he showed us around the upper part of our area (which is huge by the way). We were handing out bread like nobody's business. Muffin Man get on my level! The only problem is since the bread is a little old, it's a little hard. Comparable sometimes to a solid rock. So one of our members had a good times making jokes about the bread, how you need to build your foundation on the solid bread rock of Christ, or how it's like we're handing out the bread of life...because it lasts forever :)
Our branch is great. Small, but great. My companion and I gave talks in sacrament meeting yesterday. I still hate giving talks so it's a good thing the majority of people in our branch are old and hard of hearing anyway!
Hope y'all have a great week centered on Christ!
Elder Merrill

Monday, May 25, 2015

Week 93 - Undercover Brother

What's up friends and family?!
We've had a good, but crazy week here. We replaced sisters so there's been a lot of complication and confusion that comes with that. For one almost all of the people that the sisters were working with are girls that are usually home by themselves when the sisters went to teach them so setting up appointments has been a challenge. Also neither of us know the area or really anyone in the branch so finding our way around has also been a struggle at times. But overall I really like it here. The members in the Honomu branch are super welcoming. Almost all of them came up and introduced themselves to us, as well as to anyone they didn't know. Perfect atmosphere for investigators. Also the priesthood brethren are pretty excited to be able to come out with us and do missionary work. I guess it's been about 6 years since the last time there were elders here.
Right now our investigators closest to baptism are three teenagers: Micah, Mekelah, and Makani. They were originally supposed to be baptized this past saturday, but their mom doesn't feel like they're ready for baptism yet and that they're kind of rushing into things so we're working on helping her see that baptism is just the starting point and the first step.
We're also working with this guy named Les and his wife Kina. Les is actually the father of one of the members in Honoka'a ward so I've been by before to teach him. He's come a really long way in that year and a half. Before he said our church would be the perfect church if we just didn't have the Book of Mormon, now he reads from the Book of Mormon almost every day and says that he knows that it's true! Also they've been coming to church every sunday. Word of Wisdom problems are really the only thing holding them back right now.
Something interesting and kind of funny was a talk that was given by the high councilor over missionary work in the stake yesterday in our sacrament meeting. He talked about how he saw the title for this movie a while ago called "Undercover Brother". Apparently he'd never seen the movie so he didn't know it wasn't church related at all and actually about a black cop going undercover, but his relation to the gospel was good. He asked how often do we as church members go undercover? He talked about how when he goes to the temple he used to change clothes and go shopping after, but now he just stays dressed up and people ask him why he's dressed the way he is, which then opens up an opportunity to share the gospel and a a little about the temple. So don't be an undercover brother! One of the scriptures I've come to love on my mission is Romans 1:16. It starts "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ" Love it! Don't be ashamed of the gospel, but rather share the happiness and blessings with others!
Love you guys and hope you have a great week.
Elder Merrill

Monday, May 18, 2015

Week 92 - Big Island Boy

So for starters some crazy news: I'm getting transferred back to Big Island! Because of our small our ward and boundary is one set of missionaries are going to cover both our ward and another one of the Wahiawa wards. I'm going to Hilo zone this time, but to the Honomu branch which is right next to Honoka'a! So hopefully I'll be able to drop by and say an official goodbye to some of the awesome members I met there. But I guess I'm just one Big Island boy and they can't keep me away! I've had some good times here in Wahiawa and met some cool families, but I'm excited to experience something new. I'll be the only missionary on all of Big Island that's going home, so that's kinda weird. It's also been awkward telling people that we're leaving. They'll be like "Oh transfers is coming up yeah?" Then we'll say yes and tell them it's this wednesday. Then they find out my companion's leaving and they're like "well at least you'll still be here Elder Merrill" and that's when it gets really awkward... So it's been another bitter sweet round of goodbyes.
We had an...interesting experience while doing service for these two old ladies who apparently don't have filters. We helped them clean up their yard and afterward were leaving a spiritual message with them. We got onto the topic of talking about our missions and one of the ladies told us "This mission is like a virgin for you folks, a new experience". Probably the most interesting way I've heard a mission described... 
We also had a really great talk given in church yesterday. A high councilman talked on the talk that President Monson gave this past general conference. I just want to echo his words about how important temple attendance is and how blessed we are to have so many in the world today! I know that Heavenly Father can give us the answers and comfort we need when we frequently attend the temple. I mean what more credible source can you have than the prophet right?
Well love you guys and take care!
Elder Merrill

Monday, May 11, 2015

Week 91 - Don't Worship Llama's

Aloha and Happy Mothers' Day!
I hope all you mothers had a great mothers' day and know how much you are appreciated. We visited a less-active member that really helped me realize the importance of my own mother. His birth mother and adoptive mother have both passed on already and he told us that he'd give anything to have them back, hug them, and tell them how much they meant to him on this Mothers' Day. It really put things into perspective and made me think about how grateful I am for my own mother and how much she has done for me.
In our ward we helped hand out roses to all the mothers in the chapel and took one with us to give to a less-active member later that day. The only problem is that rose endured 3 grueling hours of church, then baked in the sun for about a good 2 hours after that, so that by the time we got to the member's house the rose was all bent and droopy. It looked like a really sad rose, but hey it's the thought that counts yeah?
We're still focusing most of our efforts on less-actives in our area. We have a few families that are pretty close to coming back, but aren't quite ready to take that step. However, we do have 2 families that have started coming back to church so that's something to be excited about! 
We found this group of kids that we've been teaching every week. They're about 8-11 years old so our lessons are pretty fun with them. We taught them the 10 commandments with hand signs. The second commandment we made like a cow head with our hands to represent no graven images, but I guess to them it looked more like a llama...So if you asked them they'd tell you the second commandment is "don't worship anything other than God, especially llamas!". We have a lot of fun teaching them, now we just have to worry about getting them and their parents to church.
I don't really know what else to talk about since I skyped my family yesterday so this email's going to be kind of short, but take care and don't worship llamas!
Elder Merrill

Monday, May 4, 2015

Week 90 - mahALOHAwaii

That title probably didn't make much sense but I saw it on the back windshield of a car and thought it was pretty cool. Things are pretty good here in Wahiawa. It rains every day, people say the weather's like Seattle. It's weird because Hawaii's usually sunshine and rainbows, but here it's all dark clouds and rain storms. 
Like I've mentioned before we've been working with a lot of less-active members. One of the ladies we're teaching is Sister Sugai. She hasn't been to church since she was 18 and is 50 something now. Her husband is a non-member but she told us that she wanted her grandkids to come to church because they're approaching baptism age. She has word of wisdom issues so she told us that she doesn't feel like she's worthy to go to church because she keeps trying to stop, but can't seem to kick the habit. We helped her realize that church is like a hospital. Lots of people think that church is for perfect people, but really everyone at church needs help in one way or another. We go to receive help and get answers, not because we already know all the answers. We told her that if someone smells like smoke in church, what better place for them to be! Also that God doesn't care how many times we fall, it's the times that we get back up that are important to Him. She said she'd come to church this next week so we're praying that she'll come!
Another family we're working with is the Losoncy family. The dad is a non-member and the kids just got baptized about a year ago. The mom got offended by one of the members of the ward and as a result neither her nor the kids have been attending church. One night we were at dinner with them and were talking about church. Her little 5 year old son told her that they needed to go to church and she told him "mommy has a problem with some of the people at church". So I asked her who she went to church for, and she said God. Then I asked her if she was going to church for God, why was she letting people other than Him keep her from going to church. She agreed and said she'd come to church this next week!
So some good work going on and hoping for even more in the future! Take care and Aloooooha!
-Elder Merrill

Monday, April 27, 2015

Week 89 - I Don't Even Know Him...

Aloha y'all!
We had a pretty good and eventful week full of surprises. For starters we had a funeral. At 7:00am on Wednesday our bishop showed up at our house and asked us if I would give a spiritual thought and my companion would give an opening prayer for this funeral. We agreed and asked when the funeral was, he told us in 2 hours. We asked who it was for and the bishop told us "honestly, I don't even know. Some less-active guy I've never met". Great. We got to the funeral and looked at the program. I saw that I was the only person assigned to speak at all aside from the eulogy and apparently it was supposed to be a talk-length deal. I prepared like a 5 minute dinner message... And to add to it all they played a recording of a song that the guy had sung that talked about checking out girls in bikinis and illegitimate children. Really set the mood to give a spiritual thought right after that. So I got up to the podium in front of all these people I've never met speaking about a guy that I've also never met. I was like "Jimmy sounds like he was a great're all so lucky to have known him..." basically bull crapping my way through it. I thought it was a total disaster. Then to add to it we said like three simultaneous prayers at the burial ceremony. My companion said the opening prayer, then there was the dedication prayer, then I said the closing prayer. Just like that, no talks, no thoughts, nothing. But I guess the family was really touched at how much our ward was willing to do for this family that they'd never met. Hopefully we'll be able to start teaching his daughter who lives in our area and is a non member.
That's about the most exciting thing that happened in our week. Hope you guys all have a great week! Stay classy!
Elder Merrill

Monday, April 20, 2015

Week 88 - More Like a Twig...

Overall a pretty good week here in Wahiawa. We live on California Ave (right? California in Hawaii?) which apparently is the world record street for having the most churches on it. So it's always fun with all the dirty looks we get driving home. Also our ward is more like a branch, or maybe even a twig. I think the average sacrament meeting attendance is about 60, and dropping. We've got some of the main families in our ward moving out within the next couple of months, so our ward has the possibility of being dissolved into the other two wards in Wahiawa. Because of this, our bishop has asked us to focus all our efforts on less-actives. It's weird resolving concerns for less-actives because it's different almost every time. Lots of people were offended by the previous bishop in the ward, others have problems living the "Mormon lifestyle", others just like cruising on sundays and "don't have the time to go to church", and some don't even realize they're less-active. They'll talk about rescuing less-actives and not even realize that they hardly if ever come to church! The joys of missionary work.
A large chunk of our ward is military families, so the ward is constantly changing. We have a third of Scofield military base in our ward boundaries. It's hard because there's lots of less-actives that are in the military, but my companion isn't a US citizen so unless we get a pretty chill guy at the gate we have to have a sponsor for him to come in.
We also do lots of service every Saturday. Last week we chopped all the trees in this lady's yard down with machetes. That was fun. We'd see who could get through a tree in the least amount of swings, then played real life fruit ninja with the fruit that was on the trees. Also we have a weekly recurring service project with this lady named Momi. She has this house that's unlike anything I've ever seen. She was in the hospital for a while, and while she was in there her brother lived at her house. He's a major hoarder. So he bought tons of worthless stuff and put it in plastic bins all over the yard. Also the entire yard got overgrown with trees, bushes, and all kind of junk so we're helping her clear as much as she can out. It's good fun and a lot of work.
Love you guys and have a great week!
-Elder Merrill

Monday, April 13, 2015

Week 87 - Look Up!

Friends and family Alooooha!
So this past week I arrived on Oahu. It's definitely a big change. Our area went from taking an hour and a half to drive across, to 15 minutes. Our ward had about 50 people at church yesterday. Our bishop asked us to focus our work with the less-actives to try and strengthen the ward. We don't have too many investigators right now, so we're working to try and find more people to teach. I definitely miss my old area, but am looking forward to good things in this area as well.
This past week when I was back in Kona we set a baptismal date with Kaneke! Sucks that I won't be there to see him be baptized, but I'm still excited for that day regardless. We taught him about the plan of salvation and the importance of following the example of Jesus Christ then committed him to a date. He told us he was already planning on being baptized and was wondering when we were gonna ask him. He's one of those people that's just prepared by the Lord.
A second experience I wanted to share also comes from back in Kona. We had the opportunity to clean the temple last monday. They shut it down for a couple of weeks and asked for missionary volunteers. My companion and I spent the majority of our time up in the attic of the temple painting. The first counselor in the temple presidency took us up in the inside of the roof to where the angel Moroni was. He told us we were part of a handful of people to ever see that part of the temple, so we felt really privileged! Also while we were cleaning there was this older brother cleaning the vents on the ceiling of the celestial room. He had this little lift that he would use to get up there and at one time was wheeling it across the room to clean the vents on the other side. It had a big metal beam that the basket rode on sticking up about 10 feet. While he was wheeling it he was so preoccupied with the wheels and guiding them in the right place that he completely forgot about the metal beam. He caught the chandelier and pulled the cart about 10 feet before someone noticed and frantically whispered "Brother Mahi, look up!". He recognized what was happening and got the beam out of the way but the chandelier was swinging back and forth like that viking ship ride at Lagoon. He was standing right under it with eyes as big as oranges not knowing what to do. Probably not the best place to be standing. Fortunately everything turned out alright and neither Brother Mahi or the chandelier were injured.
This experience really made me reflect. How often do we forget to look up? I feel like a lot of times in my life I get so caught up with the wheels, or smaller less important things in life that I forget to look up. When we become too busy with the small or unimportant details in life we can forget to look up to our Heavenly Father, to turn to Him and acknowledge the role He plays in our lives.
Love you all and take care!
-Elder Merrill