I don’t have much of note to say this week, but I do have a few pictures (finally) and some random thoughts.
1) 2 Tim. 1:8 – this verse says to "be partakers of the afflictions of the gospel" which I think is interesting. The gospel is often discussed as a source of strength in times of affliction, not so much the cause of affliction, but it certainly can be. Of course I am feeling a little bit that way as it relates to the challenges of being a missionary, but there are all kinds of ways the gospel can cause ‘afflictions’ in regular life I think – burdens of callings, guilt, etc. But, I think, as it sort of says in the remaining verses in that chapter, the afflictions are the sort that are worthwhile and allow us to remember and keep focused on the things that really do matter. Back to my favorite verse of my favorite hymn (How Firm a Foundation) – distress isn’t necessarily a bad thing, overtime we gain understanding and perspective such that we value our deepest distress.
2) As I’ve mentioned before, making sure people know that we care about them is an important part of being a good missionary, and I continue to realize how terrible I am at this. In a conversation a few days ago my companion was talking about this and letting me know that some people in the Ward possibly think that I don’t want to be here or that I don’t like them. Well….this isn’t the first time in my life that people have assumed I didn’t like them. I know much of it is due to the way my face is – I once had a YW leader who, when I told her I had a job interview, said, "What are you going to do about your face?" I responded, "Uh…" and she explained that I have a face that she described as the ‘I’m not sure I like you and you don’t know what you’re talking about’ face. That continues to be an issue here, though I suddenly care about the effect of my face, and I’m not altogether sure how I can fix it. Smiling isn’t terribly natural even when I am really happy, and while I wouldn’t say I’m miserable here, I haven’t yet arrived at a state I would describe as generally happy either, so the thought of smiling incessantly sounds fairly exhausting if not straight up impossible.
I have been racking my brain trying to figure out how the people who do know that I care about them (mostly people at home) came to know that I care about them. All I can think of is emails, and that isn’t an option here, so I’m at a bit of a loss. I know I am unlikely to win any missionary cheer-miester awards but I need to do better. Thankfully the problem is not that I don’t care about people – it’s the outward evidence that’s the trick. Any tips/advice on how to communicate ‘caring’ would be appreciated.
3) Along similar lines, we spend a lot of time here trying to figure out how to endear ourselves to the members. We don’t want them to see us as referral hounds – though we do of course always hope for those, but I’d love some ideas from regular people about how missionaries might make inroads with you, what things missionaries do that drive you nuts, things you’d wish they’d do, etc.
If I could say one somewhat obnoxious/preachy thing about that subject it would be that I wish people who interacted with missionaries remembered that we are regular people, not church robots. I have really appreciated it when people here take an interest in me as a person, recognize that I might not be having a terribly easy time, or even just treat me like a human being more than a church obligation or a pest.
We went on exchanges last week (where we swap companions for a day) – I went to be with Sis. Allen down in Chardon which admittedly has a very different vibe than Madison/Geneva, but we met some great people who, I felt, treated us like people and it was a nice thing. We knocked on their doors, and none were really interested in the church, but they were nice and civil and friendly.
At one house we were invited in, fed delicious cookies (with grape jelly in them – grapes are BIG here) and given water bottles for the road, despite the fact that this couple was watching the Ohio State/Notre Dame game. At another house we were invited in and given prayer shawls by a woman who has a degenerative muscle disease and is home bound, but feels that the path the Lord wants her to take is to make these shawls – the count to that point was 2,222 prayer shawls that had made it to every continent except Antarctica. At another house we talked with a nice Browns fan (even though I’m near Cleveland, it still surprises me how many people are actually Browns fans) who said he didn’t have much of a relationship with Jesus, but was satisfied with the way things were. He listened to us talk about how important having that relationship was and thanked us for coming very genuinely and wished us a happy new year as we walked away. At another house the woman who came to the door was clearly very, very upset (we had heard her wailing as we walked by the house) but even as tears ran down her face and she expressed that she didn’t think anything could help her, she listened to us and thanked us for coming.
Who knows if any of these people will do anything with the videos/cards/numbers we left them, but they were all very nice and didn’t seem to see us just as interruptions, which was great! I doubt I would have been as kind as they were if people knocked on my door out of the blue. I’m not sure that we did anything which made us less obnoxious than any other missionaries, or than we had been with the other people we met, but I’d be curious to know if you, as ‘regular people’ can think of anything that two random strangers knocking on your door could do or say to help foster cordiality and maybe even spark an interesting conversation. With temperatures the way they are now (winter has arrived in Ohio!) people aren’t likely to want to talk for long while we’re on their porch but we want to make even those cold moments as positive as possible 🙂
4) A few quotables for the week:
-A woman we visit was telling us about an outing she’d been on (from her nursing home) in a Ashtabula (a town not too far from our area) and she described the place as "Not a nice town, it’s going downhill, but we went to the nice part with the K-marts and the Red Lobster." I haven’t been to Ashtabula but I know that in our area, places of business such as these do indeed indicate a nice area. #theohiolife
-A woman who we are teaching over the phone who is really excited to get baptized, but really doesn’t understand much about the church yet, was saying a prayer and said, "Thank you Lord that I have been saved, and that I might be a Mormon."
-This same woman, when asked whether she’d prayed about the Book of Mormon and about Joseph Smith, "Nope." Our response, "Why not?" Her reply, "I already know Joseph Smith is a prophet. So is my pastor." I really thought the idea of a modern prophet might be a hard thing for people to swallow, but the problem we seem to encounter regularly is not that people don’t believe there are prophets, it’s that they believe EVERYONE is a prophet. Their pastors are prophets, their brother or sister is a prophet, and missionaries are definitely prophets. Interesting.
-The first picture is of me with an extremely large cat named Ginger. He weights almost 30lbs and belongs to a lovely couple in our Ward. I had to get a picture because I’ve never seen a cat that large, and I was really happy to be holding a clean, well-taken care of cat again. Just about everyone here has at least two pets, even if they live in a small trailer or live on disability or welfare. Most of these pets are not ones I get excited about touching, but it is nice to visit this couple and get some quality cat time in.
-The second picture is of me with President and Sister Brown (mission president and his wife) the first day we arrived. I hesitate to even share this picture but I have taken almost no pictures since arriving in Ohio, and I think this one captures how I was feeling that day pretty well – sleep deprivation and all kinds of other emotions…I was in about as much pain as my facial expression implies.
There have been several pictures taken of me at the Kirtland historic sites (including a few from our Christmas breakfast I believe) and those get posted on the Historic Kirtland Facebook and Instagram pages by Sister Wynder (one of our site directors). I haven’t actually seen any of them but I know she posts a lot, so feel free to check them out if you’re dying for more pictures.
I think that’s it for this week…hope you’re all doing well and that your year has started off on a good note. Prayers are appreciated and felt, and as for letters….there is a saying about people who write missionaries getting a special place in Heaven and I’m not sure there could be any other people more deserving, so thank you!