Friday, March 21, 2014

Service Project for the Elders - - Cleaning the Shower
From March 17:

Wow this week has been so much better than last. We're working so well together now. I don't know what happened really, but when my companion started trying to make it work (probably when he saw my letter was mainly about getting through difficult companions), all of the frustrations faded and everything came into focus.
It's strange to be exactly one third of the way through my mission. It's gone by so fast and I really hope it slows down.

There's been so many miracles that have happened this last week.

On Thursday we asked Crystal if she wanted to delay her baptism, because we would need to meet four more times before Sunday if she was going to be baptized the next Sunday. She said she really didn't want to and was willing to meet that often. We were concerned because baptismal candidates need to repent fully and have a spiritual confirmation that it was true. We committed her to read and pray about the Book of Mormon, she felt that it was true, and then we commited to her to read President Monson's talk, "I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee." and she prayed to know if he was a Prophet, and when we returned she said she knew it was true.

We really felt like the 22nd was the day for Crystal. Well it turns out that Kevin K. and his family, our other investigator that's considering baptism, is going to have dinner with the Fry's (who we live with) and the Steele's, two family friends. That dinner will take place the day after Crystal's baptism, and so all of the family's doubts about whether or not Kevin understands what he's doing and knows from God that this is what he wants him to do will be erased, Kevin going to a baptism literally the day before. He'll know without a doubt then what it is he needs to do.

So last preparation day we both needed hair cuts and my companion needed to ship a package, he forgot his wallet, and so I payed for him. Somehow in the conversation no agreement was made and no expectations for having to pay it back were made. That left me with $10 for the next three weeks, and I never asked him for the $20 because I knew it wouldn't be until next month probably. Anyways I didn't know that until last night, and so we talked about it calmly even, and I was trying to distance myself from it, and I heard the voice, "drop it". I tried, realizing that under different circumstances I would have freely given it to him anyways. Literally 5 minutes later some ward members came in with a box of food and supplies. It was a testimony to me that the Lord is mindful of us and our situations. Grandpa Nebeker's advice to focus on what's important and not on the little frustrations or let them magnify in your mind is so true.
I read through Abinadi's ministry to the people of King Noah. I was just so amazed at the calmness he exhibited while he completed his assignment among a people that sought to kill him, teaching them lovingly or at least without indignation or frustration what the consequences would be if they did slay him. 

I've been focusing a lot recently on overcoming weakness, Ether 12:27 teaches us,
And if men come unto me will show unto them their weaknessgive unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will make weak things become strong unto them.
I had the opportunity to prepare for Gospel Essentials before Church. I felt impressed to not do the lesson about Prophets in the book, but rather on Elder Scott's conference talk, "Personal Strength through the Atonement of Jesus Christ" 

That talk is so true, as I've repented of sins and the effects of weaknesses, I've had a greater portion of the Spirit in my life. For example, while preparing for the class, I had the impression that I was prepared enough to teach it. Then the whole class time I taught by the Spirit, probably more so than with investigators. It was an incredible experience. Seemingly small fears and silent pleas to heaven were answered, we thought that we might not have enough people there, but I felt like it would be enough, we had 5 people besides Crystal.

I'm not sure exactly why I felt so much of the Spirit yesterday at Church compared to other Sundays, but we know that, "There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." (D&C 130:20-21)
We taught the lesson that God wanted us to teach. If we took the wrong path he wouldn't have inspired us on how to best teach the wrong lesson.
Our lives, our companionship, and the work was in harmony. We were doing exactly what God wanted us to be doing, and we were blessed to know what to do and what to say. There's always some weakness or some counsel in our patriarchal blessing or some conference talk that we strive today to follow, and by doing so we'll be ready for the times to come.

"For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them straight course to the promised land." Alma 37:44
Yesterday I reoriented myself to the course that Heavenly Father has given me and I was blessed greatly for it. There truly is no end to God's love or long suffering towards us, and I know that as we live today the Gospel of Jesus Christ as best we can that God will bless us. I know that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ and that He restored the fullness of His gospel to the earth through a living Prophet. Carry on!
Elder Szendre
From March 10:

Being companions has not been easy lately. There's a lot of ways a companion can pull you the wrong way. I've had to really struggle to work and be around my companion. We had a companionship inventory yesterday, and he said that comp unity was shot, which made no sense to me since we were making improvements. It just takes so much devotion and love towards him, and when that love fails I become very frustrated and have to repent. There's just so many little things that are different that annoy him, his expectations for not having too many rags in the apartment from the Fry's, lights being on, cupboards open. When there's been something off in the recent past, there's no pleasing, even with German pancakes. It just takes repeated love and devotion (to the work not to him) that includes just willing to start over and make it work, every day if needed.

Jesus commanded us to love one another,
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:34-35 italics added)

If I could just see him for who he really is, his history, what he values and holds dear I would think better of him. For instance one day he laid down for three hours without saying a word. I ended up doing the same thing a week later when I had run empty. "Fatigue is the common enemy of us all—so slow down, rest up, replenish, and refill. Physicians promise us that if we do not take time to be well, we most assuredly will take time later on to be ill." (Elder Holland, "Like a Broken Vessel" General Conference Nov 2013). 

The great frustration I felt from my "lazy" companion was translated to sympathy and compassion for the great trials he must have been going through.

I had what I think was my last hiccup from that prescription change last Wednesday, I was out for about 20 hours, there was no chance in the world I was going to wake up anytime before 9:00. My compassion for companions who have slept in went much higher.

We want to inspire, lift and encourage our brothers and sisters in this great race against sin. However in our efforts to help them on their way, we can for selfish motivations use methods that aren't in harmony with the Lord's way of influencing others.

"The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to (1) cover our sins, or to (2) gratify our  pride, our (3) vain ambition, or to (4) exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man." (D&C 121)

I have to frequently repent, acknowledging to my companion when I wrong him. I can't ignore it and argue that I'm right. Do we always have to be right? Should we assume we're always right?

We as missionaries invite, helping people make changes in their lives.

"We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen. No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death." (D&C 121)

We just have to love others, to understand them as best we can, to appropriately express brotherly kindness whenever possible. It's so difficult following this path, bearing all offenses and answering them with love. From the last verse of Faith of our Fathers,

"Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife,
And preach thee, too, as love knows how,
By kindly words and virtuous life."

I testify that God loves us, that He will help us overcome our weaknesses, and that the Gospel is restored in our day.

Much love!
Elder Szendre

Thursday, March 6, 2014

From March 3rd:

This last week has been incredible.

Kevin prepared himself for baptism this week. He has friends, a testimony of the truth of the Church, and desires baptism. We were set for this Saturday but his family wants him to wait. It's understandable, because in the last 6 weeks his family has probably seen his activity in the Church as a social change and not so much a spiritual. Although a friend of his has seen some pretty incredible changes in his life since he's started meeting with us. We're having dinner with him today and will talk it over.

Crystal referred herself to us. She has a brain tumor, a 2 year old child and her foot was run over 2 months ago breaking it in 3 places. She was homeless but is now living with 2 other families in a house that her friend's mother owns. From her first meeting with us, she has felt really good, in contrast to the previous Christian churches she's gone to before, where she felt empty. She wants to learn everything she can, and she looked so happy to have been able to keep the Gospel Essentials manual from Church. It's really incredible. When I watched Ephraim's Rescue the Spirit was so strong throughout the movie. She really is like one of those starving pioneers that after months and months of privation and shortened rations were on the brink of massive losses. However difficult her life is, from Preach My Gospel, "As people are taught the restored gospel and live it, their needs will be met." We "preach [His] gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth." (D&C 50:14)

We had another lesson with Vladimir with the Cowley family. They had the most well behaved and respectful children I've seen in a very long time. The father promoted Christianity during the Soviet Union (extremely dangerous) and was an evangelical minister in Ukraine. He's very interested in the Book of Mormon, seeing the difference between Church members and the other people he sees.

The conflict in Ukraine is bringing the work to a halt. It's looking like there's going to be a civil war, Russia arming the third of Ukraine that's Russian-loyal against the other 2/3s that ousted the President. People have no interest right now over there, and hopefully my small efforts will bring a small part of that great and marvelous work, as Joseph Smith's grandfather prophesied, that would "revolutionize the world of religious thought."

"And I would, my brethren, that ye should know that all the kindreds of the earth cannot be blessed unless he shall make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations.
"Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to make bare his arm in the eyes of all the nations, in bringing about his covenants and his gospel unto those who are of the house of Israel."

Last night we had dinner with a couple where one set of their parents are serving as Mission Presidents in Ukraine. Other missions are having so much difficulty during this time preaching the Gospel. Missionaries are often confined to their apartments, with the possibility of being sent State-side because of the chaos that might erupt in Ukraine. They got all the missionaries out of Crimea before the Russians got there. I had the thought of why so much effort over trying to escape the Russian empire for the EU, but we had 10 years of terrible bloodshed over our freedom here from a similar empire.

"And I would, my brethren, that ye should know that all the kindreds of the earth cannot be blessed unless he shall make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations.Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to make bare his arm in the eyes of all the nations, in bringing about his covenants and his gospel unto those who are of the house of Israel." (1 Nephi 22:10-11)

We ended up finally dropping Galyena and Yuri, they aren't taking the Restored Gospel seriously and we'll come back in a month or two, they brought some Pentecostal friends, but the teaching situation is too stacked against us. When we get our first Ukrainian convert we'll bring him or her to them and have that testimony. They will not pray to know if the Book of Mormon is true. They had me say a prayer for it, and she said she felt the Spirit really strong, but then when I asked if that could be evidence that God was telling her that the Book of Mormon is true, she said that prayer just brings the Spirit automatically. It's just really hard, they are from the Soviet Union and have such a faith and trial filled history and religious tradition, it just takes time to let the Restored Gospel sink in, as was Grandpa and Grandma Nebeker's experience with the Chinese in Oakland, so much fruit has been harvested of the years. It just took time for the seeds of the Restored Gospel to plant in even the most fertile soil.

The Spirit is so strong here in Boise. It's been incredibly difficult here, as I got my prescriptions refilled by a psychiatrist, who actually changed my dosages. I was still able to teach and interact with others but for several days I wasn't very stable. I'm just so lucky to be on the right dosages right now (go Mom!) and benefit from psychiatry, I can't imagine how much harder it would be to be off the medications. There's such a stigma to mental health, if men can function at all without seeing a psychiatrist they'll do it. It's just so important to have it down before your mission, because I would hate to be juggling dosages right now.

It was good though, because I became super sensitive to stress (things are back to normal now). If you think about it, life will never be this calm again, even though I'm actively proselyting 70 hours a week, to really meet the needs of my investigators and serve and teach the people we're working (assuming regular appointments) it would not take nearly that much time. Add school, work, family and Church assignments when I get back and it will be chaos. My patriarchal blessing says that I'll enjoy my responsibilities in the future, and if I'm terribly stressed out now, how much more will I be then? 

"And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order." (Mosiah 4:27)

I was running faster than I had strength, or at least could find joy in the journey. It was really humbling having to rest from time to time from the work during those few days. Yeah there will be times when you have to grin and bare it, but a central purpose to our lives is to have joy, serving others at a pace that is productive but manageable.

I'll have to bring a sheet for how to deal with stress from a psychologist that gave a devotional on managing stress before I left (particularly on missions). Russians and Ukrainians not being interested or having the faith to keep commitments used to be super stressful and discouraging. Being in tune with the Spirit has really helped, bringing me comfort and the knowledge that I did my part and that they would be brought in soon enough. However one of the methods that I learned at a devotional to help deal with stressful situations is Decatastrophizing. 
  • Disputing the negative thoughts of the event, like "Will that lesson really negatively impact their salvation?" or "Is it really as bad as you think it is?". Our emotions can overstep reason in these times.
  • Distancing yourself from what has happened can also help, "What I think if I could see this situation from someone else's perspective? Would it really trouble me so much?"
  • Distracting my mind has been one of the best ways to cope with the stresses of missionary work. Memorizing hymns and scriptures has helped so much to take my thoughts from this world to a higher sphere. Scriptures like Mosiah 3:7-9, or John 13:34-35 can help me keep love between me and Elder Nelson when we disagree. Moroni 7:45-47 has been particularly helpful. 
    • "Great power can come from memorizing scriptures. To memorize a scripture is to forge a new friendship. It is like discovering a new individual who can help in time of need, give inspiration and comfort, and be a source of motivation for needed change. For example, committing to memory this psalm has been for me a source of power and understanding: (Psalm 24:1-5)" (The Power of Scripture, Richard G. Scott, October 2011 General Conference).
    • "Hymns can lift our spirits, give us courage, and move us to righteous action. They can fill our souls with heavenly thoughts and bring us a spirit of peace." (Introduction to the LDS Hymnal, p. x)
I'm going to find joy in this journey, no matter how difficult it may come or what circumstances will occur, with full faith in God's plan for us and in the Restoration of the Gospel and the sacred covenants that almighty God will fulfill for us and our families. No matter how difficult our circumstances or handicapped we may feel, my "dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed." (D&C 123:17). This work is true!

Much love,
Elder Szendre

Expect miracles! (and birthday letters)

From Feb 24:

Honestly there's nowhere else I want to serve. Yes people are pretty well off here, and me and Elder Nelson are getting along pretty well. 

We're hitting a point where we need to rely on miracles for the work to progress, we have a lot of work coming from investigators and less actives here, but it quite frankly doesn't take up the 70 hours a week of proselyting. And even though working through the members is the key here, I don't think they would appreciate us taking the remaining 50 hours a week in their homes, although some would. 

Speaking of member's homes, it's hard sometimes to leave member's homes because they love us so much, the other day this member let us in, told us to get comfortable and wait 5 minutes out by their pool while he rushed out to get wood for his stove and we ended up getting pictures of us looking frustrated sitting next to the fanciest pool and hot tub known to man. It had lit up streams of water and the most incredible lighting system you could imagine. and a legit waterfall. I would've disliked to have plastered that pool, the nicest ones have to be meticulously scrubbed via scuba gear and when the water is 60 degrees and the senior laborer is too cold the inexperienced junior has to join in. We were able to escape, though, afterwards, and only needed to talk about one thing in particular.

We're finding so many more opportunities to serve now that it's spring. It gives us such an easier time talking with people now that we can legitimately serve them, (they'll never let us clean their homes and during the winter that's all there was to do), except for when it snowed, which opened up a lot of opportunities. We just started talking to this one guy and we're going by tomorrow to clean up his yard, there's still people that haven't even raked up last year's leaves. It's like unemployed people, you just kind of have to see the need and fill it, you really can't rely on people telling you they need help, or be super judgmental when people do ask for help, who are we to judge the magnitude of someone's difficulties from their outward or physical trials? "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it."

Kevin is still on for baptism. He's really committed to the decision, and is convinced the Church is true. We're stuck between trying to get him to meet with us three times this week and then an interview on Sunday to be sure he'll pass (for a grand total of 5 Church visits in one week) or spreading it out over 2 weeks and giving it a chance that it'll be announced in Church and then cancelled.

Michael, we have no idea what's going on with him. We're going to drop by tomorrow and see if we can't start talking with him. If they don't know how to keep the Sabbath day holy or why it's important, why come to Church? For some people it can be a huge hurdle to come to Church.

We had an excellent lesson with Galyena and Yuri, (Dad I almost need to skype you in on one of those lessons, I heard of some California missionaries skyping their mother and having her answer an investigator's questions... Mom, you'll be the next Dear Abby after my mission here). I brought a member that speaks excellent Russian, he tried doing what I had been doing for the last three weeks, trying to help them understand that the Book of Mormon is just like the New Testament. There are so many different claims and they have a completely different life experience than me.
Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained?
To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth...
Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?
And if it be by some other way it is not of God.
They understood what we were saying, didn't accept the claims we had, and had I persisted in helping them understand our message when they really understood it I would have joined the last 19 centuries of rhetoric and dogmatic arguments. We brought a copy of "I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee" from conference (the Prophet's talk in I believe Saturday Afternoon) and when we were there I felt so much joy and peace wash over me, and the knowledge that if they would read it and pray about it they would feel the Spirit confirm it to them. For whatever reason they became Pentecostals when they came to America (most of our Ukrainian investigators have been Pentecostal strangely enough) and so they understand very strong spiritual experiences and have had a few (that I know of) during their lives. They don't come frequently, but after diligence in keeping the commandments and serving God they do come.

I know the work is true with all my heart, I know I've probably quoted this scripture 10 times in my letters but I know it's true:
Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.
Just have the faith to keep the commandments, repent when you don't (feel sorrow, stop, ask forgiveness, make restitution, keep the commandments, acknowledge the Savior) and then renew your baptismal covenant by the sacrament every week, even if you're constrained like Nephi, "O wretched man that I am" take it if you're sincerely striving to live the Gospel, but do go to the bishop for serious sins.

The Gospel is worth it while in this life! It's not going to take long to "break even". They're closing the family history center down. So take care!
With much love,
Elder Szendre