Monday, July 28, 2014

Week 50 - Splits

Friends and family, Aloha!
This week has been another week of hard work. My companion's getting sent to a new mission in Washington, so we've been split with the zone leaders this past week. It's been a really great experience because I got to work in a different area (which was a nice change) and learned a lot. I really got to see a different side of missionary work. Instead of the missionaries finding the people, it was mostly the members. They had splits set up with members almost every day, and their members were the ones that took the lead in inviting people they know to take the missionary discussions. It was really neat to see how successful the work is, and how much more work can get done, when the members really get involved. Because hearing the gospel, something important to you, means a lot more coming from a close friend than it does two weird kids dressed funny.
The highlight of the week was probably on Saturday. The area I was in had two baptisms, and our zone had four more. Our zone has been averaging about 4-5 baptisms every week this past transfer. We're leading the mission by far in just about everything. It's been really cool to see the transformation because when I first came to this zone it was dead. Almost nobody was baptizing and nobody wanted to be here. I was actually really mad when I found out that I was being transferred here to Waipahu. But as we've strived to seek out those people prepared for us, as well as getting the members more involved, our zone has transformed into one of the zones that everyone wants to come to because they know in Waipahu, we baptize.
We also got introduced to a new program in the church called JustServe. The church has set up a website where anybody in the community can post community service projects that they need help with and then different people and groups in the community come together to complete the projects. The focus isn't really proselyting, as much as it is just offering Christlike service. Missionaries will be doing service projects almost every day during the less-productive hours in the middle of the day. They said that they've already tried it out in a few places in California and it's been really successful. In the San Jose mission they don't even tract, but find most of their investigators while they are offering service in their community. So we're really excited, it sounds like a really good and effective program. We get to meet a lot of people, plus give the church good publicity and correct any misconceptions some people may have about our church.
Love you guys and thanks for all your support!
-Elder Merrill

Monday, July 21, 2014

Week 49 - 4 for 1

Aloha everyone!
This week was incredible. Johnny, Jibas, Deneise, and Monalinda all got baptized! We worked with them every day this past week up until their baptism and they were just super solid. So thanks so much for al of your prayers for me and them! They don't really speak English because all of them except Deneise just came from the Marshall Islands, so it's been a really good experience teaching them all in Marshallese because most the people we work with we teach in Marshallese because the kids understand gospel concepts better in English. Before the baptism things were super crazy. We were running around trying to get everything and everyone ready, but in the end everything came together and worked out, like it always seems to.
This was really a cool baptism for me because before this all of our baptisms seemed to fall through. Randomly they said they didn't want to take the lessons anymore, or they had family problems where their family wouldn't let them be baptized. Just a bunch of crazy stuff that happened with all of our previous with dates. One sunday I fasted for a baptism. That was the sunday that we talked to Johnny and Jibas and found out that they weren't baptized. So it's just really cool to see the Lord's hand in our lives when we work hard and put His will first.
We also had a really solid lesson with Simba. We taught him the plan of salvation. He said that he's been wondering a lot about those three main questions addressed by the plan of salvation: where we were before we came to earth, why we're here, and where we go after we die. We taught him the whole thing and he stayed really engaged and interested during the whole lesson. We talked to him about how, because our Heavenly Father loves us, he set up a plan for us to be able to return to Him, and that part of that plan was becoming more like His son Jesus Christ and following His example. We invited him to follow Christ's example and be baptized and he accepted! I feel like he's another one of those people that have been prepared for us. He randomly came to church one sunday and now is preparing to be baptized! I've really just seen so many blessings in this work.
Thanks for everything. You guys are the best support system a missionary could ask for. Love ya!
-Elder Merrill

Monday, July 14, 2014

Week 48 -

Another great week in paradise!
We've still been working with the same people. Right now our focus is on the four kids: Johnny, Jibas, Monalinda, and Denise. All four of them are set for baptism this Thursday so that's exciting. It's really how crazy everything is moving. It seems like we just started teaching them and already they're days away from entering the waters of baptism! The Lord really is hastening his work!
We've also been working with this girl named Carmela. She's 12 years old and was baptized a few years ago, but once the missionaries got transferred out she didn't really feel like she had any friends in the church so she stopped coming. I've been talking with her and trying to get her to come back to church for the entire five months I've been here, but she just kept going to this other Christian church with all of her other friends. Finally three weeks ago she showed up at church randomly, but ran out the door right after sacrament. We talked to her a little bit the week after and she came again to church the following Sunday, and this time stayed for all three hours. After Sunday school she pulled me aside and said that she wanted us to come and teach her that week. It was really surprising, but I gladly accepted. We went and started re-teaching her the missionary discussions. It went really well and she came again to church yesterday for the third week in a row! We taught a super solid Sunday school lesson on the atonement and I think it really hit her. This week we've committed her to talk to the branch president and get her temple recommend! She's really excited and is starting to feel like she belongs in church again!
The lesson we taught in Sunday school was on how to make the sacrament more meaningful. We picked one of the youth in the class and set up chairs (one for the feet and one for each hand) and then gave out Starburst to each kid as a gift. But the catch was that for each gift we gave out, the kid on the chairs had to do 5 pushups. There's about 45 kids in the class so it added up to a lot. We told the kids to look at how much Freddy was suffering for them and how much pain he looked like he was in. We told them that even though it was something that was hard, something that Freddy could hardly bear, he was doing the push ups for them so that they could have their starburst. He loved them enough to subject himself to pain and hardship all so they could get their gift.
We then related it to the Atonement. How it wasn't something that Christ wanted to do. He asked Heavenly Father if the cup could pass from him. But he did it anyway because he loves us. He did it so that we could all have the gift of eternal life and returning to live with our Father in Heaven. And not only did he suffer for our sins, but he suffered for our pains, sicknesses, weaknesses, afflictions, etc. So any time we are facing something hard, He knows exactly how it feels, because he's felt that exact same pain. And because Christ suffered so much to give us this great gift, shouldn't it be something that we treasure? We should always remember Him and his sacrifice, which is one of the covenants we renew each week we take the sacrament. So to try and help make the sacrament more meaningful to the youth, we asked them next time they take the sacrament, to think that Christ atoned for their personal sins. That their wrongs added to Jesus' pain, to his drops of blood lost. But that He didn't do it grudgingly, He did it so that no matter how bad, or how many times we mess up, we can be forgiven and eventually return to God's presence. To me, that's the greatest gift anyone can ever offer me.
Love you guys!
-Elder Sammy Merrill

Monday, July 7, 2014

Week 47 - And I'm Proud to Be a Hawaiierican

AloHA everyone!
I hope you all had a great 4th of July this week! The 4th here was pretty lame actually. I swear I've never seen less patriotism in my life. Everyone has Hawaiian flags raised and they'll support UH (University of Hawaii) no matter how bad their football team is, but when it comes to American patriotism there's not much there. The only fireworks shows were put on by the resorts and I could count the total number of American flags I saw on one hand. But as missionaries we still had a good time. All of the missionaries in our zone went to a park and grilled out. We cooked some hot dogs (cheapest meat, ballin' on a budget) jammed on the uke and played football and volleyball. Then we met up with another zone and watched a fireworks show one of the resorts was putting on. That's basically how you Hawaiianize a holiday. Just add the beach (which we can't go to) and you have the perfect 4th of Hawaii!
As for the work, all continues to move forward. We were teaching Johnny, Jibas, and Monalinda this week and Johnny's little sister Denise came and sat in on our lesson. We asked her if she wanted to study with us be baptized with Johnny, Jibas, and Monalinda and she said yes! So we recommitted all of them to baptism on the 17th, so that Denise can meet the church attendance requirement for baptism. So hoping and praying that we can have four baptized on the 17th!
Had a really cool experience at church yesterday. We went out into the parking lot and I saw this lady that I had ran into/taught back when I was in Honolulu. My companion and I were out contacting former investigators when we knocked on her door and asked if some person was home. She said no, and that she didn't know who that person was. We thanked her and turned to walk away, but she said "But I'm a Mormon, I just haven't been to church in a while". We asked if we could come in and found out she was baptized like 13 years ago, and hadn't really been to church since. We asked if she had any family we could teach and she told us she wanted her husband and kids to be taught and baptized. They all came to church the next sunday and we worked with her husband over the next few weeks and set him with a baptismal date! I got transferred to Big Island before I could see him get baptized, but talking to this lady yesterday she told me that her husband was baptized, as well as all but one of her kids (not old enough) and she also just gave birth and had her baby blessed in the church. They still go to church every sunday and they've invited some of their friends to start taking the missionary discussions too and they're working towards baptism now!
It was really cool, like an Aha moment to see how far her and her family have come, and also the effect that one person can have.
It reminds me of the story of Abinadi. He might have thought he was a failure because seemingly no one would hear his words and he was burned to death. But Alma did hear his words and wrote them down, then went about teaching people the words of Abinadi. Alma had his son Alma the Younger who, with the sons of Helaman, converted many of the Lamanites. And basically the rest of the Book of Mormon, all the converts, prophets, etc. all come from the effect of that one person. That's why it's so important to stay strong and be a good example to all, because you never know the effect you might have on someone, and who they in-turn might change.
Love you all. Mahalos for the prayers and support.
-Elder Merrill