Monday, December 27, 2010

Merry Christmas to All

Hey there everyone,

Well, I didn't talk much on the phone about the missionary work over the last week, so here's what's been going on:

(name) got married on Christmas. We met with him Wednesday before he left and checked up on his word of wisdom progress. He said he wasn't able to completely quit yet, but he reduced his smoking all the way from three packs in two days to three cigarettes in a day. We're planning to talk to him tonight and find out if he's completely quit yet. I once again am amazed by this man. The willpower it takes to change your life so much in so little time is truly incredible. I am confident it's because he has felt the influence of the Spirit telling him this is true and good, and he's willing to pay any price to grow closer to his Father in Heaven. The one obstacle is still the Sabbath Day. He told us he's going to use some of his special vacation time to take three hours off on Sundays and then work the rest of the day. While that's a great effort, we're going to have to teach him that the Sabbath Day means a complete rest from all labor. Our bishopric member, Brother (name), said "Oh, yeah, that's no problem!" kind of is. I realized in personal study that the scriptures and prophets and Preach My Gospel are all very clear that we are to rest from labor on the Sabbath. I've been praying very hard that after conquering the word of wisdom his faith will be strong enough to do whatever it takes to keep the Sabbath day holy. I am so excited to help him prepare for baptism; he's so willing and ready.

Our other investigator right now is (name). He's really great--he came to our ward's Christmas party and got to know some more ward members. He was taking notes during Sunday School in the back of his Gospel Principles book. We just need to teach him often, in little bites of truth, because he's not really able to remember a whole lot of new things at once. But he's really willing to be baptized. He says baptism is important because we become God's people and we can help God do His work. I just want to make sure he's converted to the Savior, and not to the missionaries, so we're really emphasizing the importance of reading the Book of Mormon.

It's so exciting to be a part of this glorious work. I hope none of you are offended when I say I'm not the least bit homesick right now. I loved talking to you all and hearing your voices, and now I'm just feeling ready to keep going. I can't BELIEVE I'm already 1/4 of the way through. I feel like I just started. I didn't have time to really bear testimony or anything on the phone, but I definitely know that this is where the Lord wants me to be. His hand has upheld me and led me every minute of every day, and I feel like I'm a very changed person. I want to keep changing; this is the time I'm being molded into the man God wants me to be.

And speaking of change...I really just can't get over how different everybody except Dad sounded. Sorry Dad. But I'll be honest, when I heard Megan saying hi in the background and I said "Hey, everybody's there!" it was because she sounded like Aunt Shanny. o_O I bet Megan and Kelsi are tall now, Dillon's probably got a better not have a moustache.

So I've been realizing recently as I've worked with less active members that there is basically one common thread: the first things they stopped doing were reading their scriptures and praying every day. I don't think I really realized before how vital that daily spiritual nourishment is. Not that I think any of you would do this, but just remember to never, ever, ever convince yourself there's no time for scripture study, prayer, or going to church. You'll starve your spirit!

Well, today we went out to a barbecue restaurant again. This one even had the option to order marshmallows on sticks :) or cream cheese wrapped in wonton wrappers. It was so good. But I feel like between today's beef-fest and Thursday's all-you-can-eat steak, I've eaten the better part of a cow myself. Can't be healthy for you.

So on that Thursday Christmas activity I got to see a lot of people I haven't seen since the MTC, which was fun. We also went to Lugang, which is an old 1700s Taiwanese town. There were, of course, tons of tourist shops, but we went and visited this old temple. It was really cool, because it looked and felt like an ancient Chinese mansion with the courtyard and the log interiors to the buildings. I wish I could describe it, because my camera battery died before I could take any pictures of it. :( We also visited a giant Buddah statue. Inside were some stories from the life of Buddah. Legend says when he was born he took seven steps to the east, stood on a lily flower, and pointed to the heavens and said some deep philosophical something. It was a lot of fun to go see some of those cultural sites around Taiwan. Then to end the night we had a Christmas devotional at the mission office chapel.

Well, that's about it this week. I love you all a lot.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Merry Christmas!

It sounds like everybody's glad to have some relaxation after a stressful week at school. That's really funny about having 18 priests. I really hope that all of them serve missions. My mission has already changed me in so many ways; I see now why Elder Holland spoke so strongly about the miracle that it is to serve a mission. I agree with him.

Dill, you definitely deserve a break to calm your brain down. That reminds me of how during my first couple move calls I would dream about doing missionary work. For instance, I'd be trying to convince somebody to meet with us or worrying about how to help some investigator overcome his problems (only to wake up and realize I had no idea who I'd been dreaming about).

Kelsi, Taiwanese celebrate Christmas much like most of America celebrates Christmas. They put up Santa Claus statues and Christmas trees, have big sales in the department stores, play music about Santa Claus in other words, only the commercial aspect of the holiday. Christians are very few in this enormous city, so most people don't really know or care about the real reason for the holiday. And that's why I'm here--to help them know about it!

Well, it's been an interesting week. I've been with Elder Perry for a week now, and he's really focused on helping people have a lasting conversion, which is great. We actually have a ton of less active members here because some people got baptized without any kind of testimony of these things. One thing we're trying to work on together is working harder to hit the goals we set. We actually had our worst week ever for adding new investigators, which was making me depressed and feeling like I was failing the Lord and everyone else. Our week B, (name), is avoiding us because his parents oppose anything to do with Christianity. Then this morning I read in Alma 26, where Ammon glories in the Lord for the blessings they received. Even though they were cast into prison and spit upon and everything else, Ammon barely mentions those things. He focuses on how gloriously blessed they were to bring souls unto Christ and see these people's faithfulness in enduring to the end. It made me realize that yes, there are things I need to improve on, but I can't always be looking at what's wrong. The Lord gave us many great blessings this week as well.

One of those blessings is (name) (yes, last week I wrote his name wrong). He amazes me every time with how much faith he has. We found out this week that before we made contact with him he was praying to God to help him know Him and know how to follow Him. A couple days later, I called his name from our cell phone referrals and he was willing to set right up. That blew me away to hear that. The Lord truly answered this man's prayer and sent us to give him the truth he was seeking! And he loves it. He still can't come to church because of work, but he said starting in January he can start requesting time off on Sunday to come to church. He's actually getting married on Christmas in a chapel in Tainan (our chapel, even though neither he nor his fiancee are members).

Another awesome story: when we shared the word of wisdom with him, he said he really liked to drink coffee and he smoked a lot. We asked him if he believed this commandment was from God, and he said he did. Two days later we met with him to help him set a quit-smoking plan and he said he hadn't touched coffee since our last lesson. We asked him to set a goal for when he would quit smoking and he said "Hmm...well, how about tomorrow?" And he wrote it down. We'll be following up this afternoon to see how it went, but this man has enormous faith in his Heavenly Father and his Savior. He really desires to do what's right, and he has the will to act on that desire.

Another surprise blessing yesterday was that a group of five college students just randomly showed up at church. They said they were doing a report on our church's missionaries, so they wanted to come and see what our church was like. It was really unexpected. After church we shared with them the message of the restoration and gave them each a Book of Mormon, and I think several of them definitely have actual interest in the gospel.

So I know there's a lot I need to be better at, but I'm also humbled and awed by how greatly the Lord has blessed me. I've already had the privilege of helping two people come unto their Savior, and I have faith I will be able to help many more in the future. I know this is God's work. I know He loves me and all of His children whom I serve, and He will never leave me if I am constantly seeking His guidance.

Actually, I just remembered our mission is doing some sort of top-secret Christmas mission conference, which will last all day this Thursday. I have no idea what it could be, but it should be interesting.

In other news, this week was the COLDEST week I've ever experienced in Taiwan. It was raining, wind was blowing hard, and it was both humid and cold. So even though I was wearing long johns and a long-sleeve shirt, it was really darn cold. We had dinner with the Li family on Thursday and they picked up my jacket and said "This isn't going to keep you warm!" And gave me one of their coats. I really tried to refuse it, but they said they had a bunch just like it that they never use, and if I didn't take it they would put it in a bag and hang it on my bike handlebars. (-_-) So it was embarrassing, but that coat was very helpful and it could not have come at a better time. These people are so good and Christlike.

Well, I can't really think of much else to say. I guess I'll wrap this up. I love you all so much, and I'm looking forward to talking to you on Christmas. But I still expect a letter waiting for me on the next preparation day. ;) I love our stake as well, and I don't know how I could possibly thank everyone. I got the package from Emily Freeman with notes from a bunch of people in our stake. I plan to send a thank you card, but if you see anyone who sent me a note, please tell them thank you from Elder Durrant!


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Someday I'll run out of clever subjects for these lettters

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Or maybe it is over there in the States. Here it's basically just 7-eleven and McDonald's that really even acknowledge it's Christmastime. Well, and the Ward--they're planning a big, elaborate Christmas party, which they'll hold on Christmas Day. Not sure why they'd do that. But they did. I guess in Taiwan it's not like in America, where nobody wants to leave their houses on Christmas.

For you youngsters tuning in, an Area Book is this gigantic binder where missionaries keep records of anyone they've ever taught. There are records from around twenty years ago. It's supposedly a gold mine for finding people who maybe weren't prepared to be baptized back then, but are now. I haven't had a whole ton of success from it so far, but I'm sure there are people in there who are ready.

About the pancakes, yeah, the $380 is Taiwanese dollars. The exchange rate is about 1 USD = 33 NTD. So that's about ten or eleven USD. But as my trainer told me, you don't want to go exchanging things into USD or else you'll go broke quickly, since we get our money according to living costs in Taiwan. I think of it more like this: I can get about 200 pancakes out of that bag of mix, meaning I spend roughly $2 on breakfast each morning. A typical breakfast costs around $50. :D That lets me save up money for more barbecue restaurants!

Well, we got a surprise Saturday night; Elder Gardner is being moved to NanTun (still in Taichung City), and he'll be a district leader over there. I'm kinda sad, because I really consider Elder Gardner a good friend, but we'll continue to do the Lord's work no matter where we're called. My new companion is Elder Perry. I don't really know him, and his train doesn't get here for another couple hours, so more on him next week.

(name) is a week B now (meaning he'll be baptized on Christmas), and he's been keeping the commandments we've taught him so far. He was a little confused about the word of wisdom, because he likes to drink tea and coffee, but he's been living it so far. He's a really shy kid, so probably the biggest obstacle is getting him to speak up so we can find out what he truly feels and believes. He's a big fan of one-word answers to questions, so we've had to become big fans of multiple follow-up questions. I'm really excited for him; he seems to really have a desire to learn more.

We've also found a new investigator this week who's really great. His name is (name), and he's a really humble and nice man. He was actually a member referral from another area, and he set right up to meet with us. He has a Christian background and he's really desirous to get closer to God, so he has been more than willing to read the Book of Mormon, pray, and repent. His challenge, I think, will be Sabbath Day. The place he works is busiest on weekends, so they won't let him take those two days off. But we shared 1Nephi 3:7 with him and he really committed to do what it took to keep the Sabbath holy. I'm really excited for him as well.

I wanted to share a little experience from this last Friday. We just got out of a lesson with a Mr. (name), who we strongly committed to pray about Joseph Smith (he's a Christian and doesn't believe the authority to baptize was ever taken from the earth). The Spirit was really strong in that lesson, and afterward I felt like there was nothing we couldn't do. I'd be circling around an intersection talking to people, trying to invite them to meet with us, and even if they drove off in my face I was just filled with love and faith that we would still find new investigators that day. I share this experience because it helped me remember that whenever we feel discouraged or hopeless or angry, or whenever we think badly of other people, we don't have the Spirit. The Spirit will fill us literally to overflowing with faith and hope and charity. There will be no room for those dark thoughts Satan wants us to have. I testify that Heavenly Father has sent us His Spirit to give us a "perfect brightness of hope" and "a love of God and of all men" (see 2Nephi 31:20). If you ever feel those depressing feelings, pray or read the scriptures or sing a hymn until the Spirit fills you up with light. You will have the strength to conquer any challenge or temptation.

I sure love all of you. I pray for you every day. I'll talk to you again next week!


Monday, December 6, 2010

Happy December!

Hello everyone!

Well, this week was kind of fun. We had our ups and downs as usual, but we've found some really great people. The man I told you about last week, (name), came to church on Sunday and said it was really enlightening and uplifting. We taught him the third Preach My Gospel lesson and committed him to keep working toward his baptismal goal of Christmas Day, and he said he would without hesitation. He's truly a great man, very desirous to follow the Savior. We also got another new investigator to church for his first time: (name). No relation to the other Mister (name). He's this super old beibei who we visited on Wednesday and we didn't think he would come. He kept saying "yeah, yeah, if I have time I'll go check it out." Then out of the blue he showed up half an hour early on Sunday and stayed for all three hours. I like him; he's still not really sure how to pray, though. His prayers are almost always: "Our Heavenly Father, I thank thee, I ask thee, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen." We tell him every single time to say something specific he's thankful for or is asking for, but he doesn't ever remember. :)

This week's food story is much better than last week. Last Monday after writing to you, the two of us went to Fengjia, the other area in our district, and the four of us Elders went to this great barbecue restaurant. They have this barbecue right in front of you with charcoal briquettes and everything and bring you as much meat as you want and you just grill it yourself. It was so good. It's kind of sad because I doubt that's even legal for you to cook your own food in America, so we won't be able to find a place like that for me to take you to when I get home. Then today we got pizzas and took them to our apartment and the four of us played Chinese Chess, which is actually pretty fun. Yeah, if you can't tell already, preparation day is usually the day missionaries eat a lot of expensive food. But that barbecue place was so, so good.

I'm really not thinking of too much more to write about this week. I'll upload some pictures while I think.

The baptism picture is (name) and his friend (name), who baptized him.

Well, I'm really not sure there's much else for me to talk about this week. I have about four minutes left.

I think I'll just bear my testimony to all of you that the promise in Doctrine and Covenants 84 is real--the Lord will go before our face. He will be on our right hand and on our left. His Spirit will be in our heart and his angels will be round about us. God lives and this is his work. Through the atonement of His beloved son Jesus Christ, each of us will be resurrected and will inherit a reward according to our actions in this life. We must press forward continually, never sacrificing what matters most for what we think we want now.

I love you all so much. I know the Lord is watching over you.