Monday, December 30, 2013

Week 20 - Mele Kalikimaka!

Aloha everyone!
I hope you all had a merry Christmas filled with joy, and love, and Christ and such. Here, it didn't really feel like Christmas, it was sunny and 75 with no snow and hardly any lights and no Christmas tree. Christmas for me was just like the rest of the holidays, spent with my missionary family. We baked like 600 cookies the night before, then on Christmas day, after we'd all skyped our families, we went caroling and delivered all the cookies to widows in all the wards in our zone. It was cool not having to worry about presents and instead focusing on the Christlike spirit of Christmas and serving others.
One of the other sets of missionaries in our zone baptized a guy this past saturday with a really cool story. Our zone leader, a year and a half ago when he first started his mission had met this guy, Isaiah. He was the first door he knocked on his entire mission. They started to teach him, but after a while Isaiah started hiding when he saw the missionaries and eventually the elder was transferred. A year and a half later, we had a meeting and were all gathered together at the chapel of the ward he had served in. After the meeting, all the elders walked outside and saw a guy, sitting on one of the benches hungover and crying. We went over to talk to him, and the elder recognized it was Isaiah. Long story short, he told about how he wanted to change his life, and couldn't think of any other place to go. He accepted the invitation to start taking lessons from the missionaries again and was baptized three weeks later! He has such a strong testimony and completely turned his life around. Right after he was baptized, he came out of the water, and hugged his friend that had baptized him. They stood in the font embracing for a long time, but no one moved. The spirit was so strong because everyone in that room knew what he had come from and how much of a change he had to make and how much it meant to him to be baptized. He told all the missionaries how grateful he was for us and that when we get discouraged, to keep on going, because you never know what'll happen down the road. It took him a year and a half to finally realize he needed to change his life, then to recognize how much the gospel could bless his life.
I also had to give a talk yesterday in sacrament meeting. Because we have such a small ward, when someone doesn't show up to church that's scheduled to give a talk, they just ask the missionaries. I focused my talk on Christ, in the spirit of the holidays. I talked about how great it is that at Christmas time, the whole world comes together to remember Christ's birth, but now that Christmas is past, we can't just forget Christ, instead we move on in His life, in remembering what He continued to do for us after His birth. His atonement, and dying for us on the cross. I also talked about trials. How God will never try us above our capacity, so when we're faced with a trial, to look at it as a blessing and be thankful, because God is complimenting you, saying "I know you can do this, and when you overcome, you will only be stronger". I shared what a bishop in my last area told me about the refiner's fire. He said when a silver is refined it has to be put through intense heat first to break it down and purify it. The silver is finished being refined, when the refiner can see his reflection in the product. Then I related that to us, and how we need to be put through intense heat to humble and purify us, to realize we need Christ and to turn to Him. But once our trials are overcome, we better reflect our Savior and His life. I know trials make us stronger, and I hope by pressing forward, that Christ will be able to say to us as he does in 1 Nephi "I have refined you".
Happy Holidays!
-Elder Merrill

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Week 19 - Christmas!

No letter from Elder Merrill, but we were able to Skype with him!  He looks great!  Happy to be serving a mission. Here are a few Christmas day pics that he sent...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Week 18 - Brothers and Sisters....Talofa

I. Hate. Satan. He's really good at what he does, and our investigators keep dropping like flies.
Yesterday at church another one of our investigators decided she didn't want to meet with us anymore. The temple president came and spoke to our ward and of course he had to go all deep doctrine on us. He started talking about other worlds and how Jesus' Atonement applies for "aliens" as well. Our investigator had apparently gotten into anti-mormon stuff online and said that when the guy mentioned that, it was just too weird for her to continue taking the lessons. Then she started attacking and asking all these stupid, really weird questions in our gospel principles class.
On a good note, we had our ward Christmas party on friday which was awesome. For a lot of members, at least the ones here, it's pretty hard to just start talking religion with your good friend and then invite them to meet the missionaries. So the Christmas party was a really good and easy way for our members to invite their friends to a fun church activity, then once they were there, they introduced me and Elder Hill to their friends. We ended up meeting lots of new people, both investigators, and less actives we've never met before, so we're excited!
Most the crazy stuff that happened this week was to other missionaries in our zone. The sister's investigator made out with their ward missionary and now they're dating. Then a drunk homeless guy came and knocked on their door at 3am and demanded they bear their testimonies and sing hymns.
They also had a Christmas concert in the chapel of the next ward over. There was people from all kind different religions and they'd go up in groups and perform a few Christmas songs for everyone. The coolest was one of the kids from a ward in Waimea. His name's Kuha'o. He's blind, but he's like and organ/piano prodigy. There's a Mormon message about him and it's super cool how he just plays everything by ear and can't see a thing.
Something cool that we've been challenging all of our investigators and members to do this Christmas season is to think of a gift that they can give the Savior. Something that they can give up, or something they can do more to help them come closer to Christ and remember the true meaning and spirit of Christmas. It's crazy because here, even people who have nothing give all that they have to others. In ward council we shared stories about how we help bring the Christmas spirit into our homes. Many people talked about how in their families their kids will give up a toy, or they'll pick a family that they can go help have a good Christmas. Almost without fail, they said it's not that much because we don't have much to give, but it helps us focus our holiday season on the Savior.
So I'd like to leave all of you with this same challenge. Thinking of something that you can present to Christ on his birthday this year. I love you all!
Aloha, Elder Sammy Merrill

Monday, December 9, 2013

Week 17 - Aloooooooha!

Aloha and iakwe friends and family!
This week's been like a roller coaster. I've had some high highs, and some low lows. We had two of our investigators call us this week and tell us that their boyfriends don't want them to meet with us. They thanked us for what we had taught them, and said hopefully sometime down the road, they'd be able to start taking the lessons again. That happened within an hour of each other. Then that night, we had a lesson with our only with date, Georgia, and found out that she semi-lives with her boyfriend, so they have to get married before she can be baptized, so we have to push her baptism date. But she's doing really well. She just recovered from her illness which the doctors determined was withdrawls from her quitting smoking cold turkey. She really wants to change, and has a real desire to be baptized! So we're excited for that.
We are also teaching this couple, Kelton and Kehau (friends of Brandon from my letter last week). They've been coming to church every week and are currently living with a part member family. They're completely changing their lives around. They've given up their friends, drinking, smoking, drugs, and are completely making a change for the better! During our lesson this week we asked them what they thought the next step was in continuing to follow Christ. The boyfriend, Kelton said "I want to be baptized!" Kehau wasn't so enthusiastic, but she said she'd pray about it. We then taught the law of chastity to them and tried to help them move closer to marriage, so that they can eventually be baptized!
We also had this lady Haunani who has social anxiety disorder, so basically, she's too terrified to leave her house. She had also told us in the past how she doesn't even have a car and doesn't have a way to get to church, even if she wasn't scared of going out in public. We worked long and hard with her and finally got her to commit to coming to church. I felt like I should tell her that if she had faith and prayed for help, she would have a way provided for her to get to church. My companion and I prayed really hard that night for a miracle... The next day we got a phone call from her so excited we could hardly understand what she was saying. She told us that she had just received a check in the mail from some company had made a mistake in some situation with her in the past. She said she had enough money to pay off all of her debts and even to buy a car! She also said her son was coming to town so she had a ride to church on Sunday! It was a really cool experience.
And just yesterday we had a member bring a girl he had just met the day before to church! She stayed all three hours, accepted a book of mormon, return appointment, and is coming back on wednesday to do family history work at the church!
I guess the main lesson I've learned from this week is that when the Lord closes one door, he opens many others. We were pretty upset when we lost those two investigators, because we don't have that many in the first place. But we kept pressing forward, trusting in the Lord, and He provided a way! It's easy to get upset, depressed, and even angry when you have an opportunity taken away from you, and that's why it's so important to turn to the Savior and put your trust in Him, because he knows perfectly how to help and comfort us, and in turn, will present us with opportunities and blessings which largely outweigh those which were seemingly taken from us before. I love my Savior and am so grateful for His hand in my life!
I hope you guys have seen, and continue to see the Savior's hand in your life!

Ippen Iakwe, Elder Merrill


Monday, December 2, 2013

Week 16 - It's me, Elder Merrill

Malolelei friends and family!
I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. Holidays out in the mission field are a lot different than back home. We don't really have friends to go cruise with or family to go see, so we just got together with our makeshift family (the missionaries in our zone) and play some football, rugby, ukulele, etc. Then we went to a member's house (I guess you could relate them to like an awkward cousin) and had dinner with them. We were fed plenty, and I had a lot of different things to be thankful for.
This week we got a with date! She's going to be just the second baptism for our small Honoka'a ward this entire year! Her story is actually really cool, so I'm gonna paraphrase it for you guys.
Her son, Brandon, joined the church a while back, and shortly after went inactive. After him and his family went through a lot of trials, they decided that they needed the Lord's help, and they needed Him in their lives, so they started to come back to church. As they consistently came to church, prayed, read scriptures (the small things) they gained the spirit in their lives and the Lord was able to lift them up. They completely changed their lives, giving up their old lives of partying, drinking, etc. They are now some of the most faithful members of our ward, and a lot of our work and investigators come from his example that he's set. Friends that he used to party with notice the change in him and how much happier he is, so they ask him about it, and he invites them to start taking lessons from us!
Anyways, relating back to his mom, Georgia. She also noticed the change in him and his wife and how much happier they seemed to be. She also wanted that same happiness in her life and started taking lessons with us. We taught her the plan of salvation this week, and it really opened her eyes as to how life continues after, and why what we do here on Earth is so critically important. She started crying and saying that she should've been the one teaching this to Brandon, and that she should've been the example of him while he was growing up, because she's his mother. But she said instead, he has been the example to her and has helped her find greater happiness. She smoked since she was 14, and for the past two weeks, hasn't smoked a cigarette! We didn't even address the Word of Wisdom yet, she just knew it was something that she needed to stop, and she knew with the Lord's help it was possible. 
Brandon's story bore testimony to me of how important it is to be that example for all those around us. He says that it's hard, at work he's like the outcast and he's not invited to go out with his friends on the weekends anymore, but he also says he's so much happier and wouldn't trade this happiness for anything. He and his wife are preparing to be sealed to their family in the temple! And he told us that his mom making the decision to get baptized on the 21st is the best Christmas present he could ask for!
So go out and be that example that Christ needs you to be always!
I love you guys and thanks for all the prayers and support!

-Elder Merrill