Ohio is full of surprises

Hi all –

I don’t feel very prepared to write this week, which is weird given that it was a good week with lots of interesting (I think) happenings, but I’ll just start right in:

On Tuesday we received another online referral, this time it was a guy named John who had seen an ad about Mormons on his tablet while downloading some random app. He filled out the form and requested more information and next thing he knew, there we were at his house. We were excited because the last online referral was Douglas (who continues to be great) and we John had requested more information about the church specifically, not just a Bible. We knocked on the door and it was answered by an older man who clearly had some mental disabilities. We asked if he was Joe, he said no, and walked away, though he left the door open. Then an older woman came to the door and as we explained who we were she said, "I had no idea he’d asked to meet with anyone….come on back." She walked us back to John’s room and we met John, age 62, wearing a pilot’s cap and playing some sort of helicopter video game. We were both disappointed….we discovered that John has cerebral palsy and lives with us mother (Vicki, age 84) and his brother (Jimmy, age 59).

However, as we stood in John’s bedroom talking with John and Vicki, we discovered that they are both incredible people. John does have cerebral palsy – he has physical limitations that seem to include trouble standing for long periods of time and really shaky hands, and he is probably not quite as mentally mature as a typical 62 year-old man. But, he is also smart and genuine and interested in learning and really, really kind. His mom was telling us about various health struggles he’s had and how miraculous his life has been, but my favorite thing, which I will never forget, is when she told us about how he handled being teased when he was growing up. When people would give him (or his brother) a hard time or when he was dealing with pain and other physical difficulties he would just say, "Testing…1, 2, 3…testing," because he knows that life is a test to help us learn. After Vicki shared this, John proceeded to talk about how we are taught to have faith, even if it’s no bigger than a mustard seed, and how even that much faith can help us do hard things, even move mountains. Wow! Talk about unexpected…

Our initial reaction (not shared in the moment but discussed afterwards in the car) had been one of disappointment and that this referral was a bust. Because of his situation we didn’t think we were going to be able to teach John anything. After listening to him I had the same thought but for very different reasons, what could we possibly teach someone like this? I just wanted to listen to him talk! (He also made a great comment, paraphrasing a televangelist he had heard once, about how God has given us each day so we should wake up and rejoice in it!) But he was somewhat familiar with Joseph Smith and was really excited about the Book of Mormon that we gave him. Vicki also seemed excited about our being there – she made a lot of comments about how she didn’t think there were any believers left out there, and how cool it was that we were taking time to talk with people about Jesus, especially at our age (not an uncommon reaction here actually). She said she raised her kids to believe in God and Jesus and that they would read the Bible together every night even though they never went to church. At the end of our conversation she even said, "Wow. I feel like someone who has been really thirsty and I’ve just had a drink of water!" My jaw almost hit the floor when she said that…nobody says stuff like that in real life! We didn’t ask her what she thought or how she felt or anything, she just blurted that out.

We went to visit them on Saturday and John agreed to be baptized in March, assuming he learns all the different things we have to teach and comes to feel that it’s all true. Unfortunately Vicki told us right when we arrived that she was happy with where she was at and she didn’t care to participate. Such an interesting experience and so typical of missionary life…people are so unpredictable. I don’t really understand how a person can feel the way Vicki seemed to feel on Tuesday and then react the way she did on Saturday (very friendly and kind, happy for Joe to learn more, but just not interested herself). It makes things tricky with John because he can’t drive, and getting him a ride to church will be logistically difficult because they live on the very farthest border of our Ward (the houses across the street are in a different Stake) and because of his physical limitations. But, as John told us Saturday when we asked him if his mom might want to come to church with him, "People have to make their own decisions, we all get to choose."

He’s so right, and I’m really glad that’s the case. Watching people make choices can be difficult (especially when those choices are destructive, but also when they’re just even a little bit off from what we might think would be best) but I’m also glad that compulsion isn’t a part of this job. There is no quota we have to meet (though we definitely set goals) and we’re not operating under the direction of some sort of dictator trying to bring people under his influence or force them to follow some narrow set of rules. The missionary purpose statement says our job is to ‘invite’ and to ‘help’ and we are operating under the direction of a father (God) who loves everyone and wants them all to be happy, and we won’t be happy if we don’t get to choose good things for ourselves. Not sure how things will work out with John and Vicki but I hope more happiness lies ahead for both of them, and I hope we can help somehow.

Here are some other quotes from this last week, not in the profound category like John’s, but still worth mentioning:

-We were having dinner with an older, single woman in our Ward, and she was admiring Sis. M’s hair and wondering if we could teach her how to do some different things with her hair. I told her that I wouldn’t be of much help as I don’t know how to braid and don’t do anything fancy with my hair. Her response was, "That’s ok. You have a very business-like look. Very professional." I was feeling pretty good about that, I’ll take it. Then she told Sis. M. that she was very feminine and very personable, so she’ll make a great dentist (Sis. M’s planned career). Hmmmm…is ‘business-like’ not compatible with femininity and personableness?

-We encountered this same woman at church on Sunday in the library where she made yet another comment about my appearance being very professional, and another woman standing there immediately jumped in to say, "Oh yes, you always look so professional and organized." I don’t dislike the idea of that perception, but I’m not sure it’s a look that is well-received in these parts…

-A woman we have been meeting with for awhile was talking about some of her tenants who are being needy and wanting her to paint rooms three different times, for no good reason. She was telling us how she likes doing things for people and being accommodating, it makes her happy, but then burst into tears and told us that right now, "these people are stealing my joy!"

-Sis. M had met this man named Daniel (50’s) and we were finally able to set up a time to meet with Daniel this week. We met him at the library and started talking to him about prophets. We asked him if he was familiar with the prophets in the Bible, like Moses, Isaiah, Abraham, etc. He was staring blankly at us so I said, "Or like Noah? You remember him…he build an arc because of the big flood?" His response was, "I don’t know much about floods but I know about mudslides…" I was trying really hard to contain my laughter, the conversation up to this point had contained similarly unexpected responses, so Sis. M said something like, "Yeah, mudslides, avalanches, etc. are all natural disasters and prophets have taught…" when Daniel jumps in and says, "Floods….yeah, lots of people drown in floods."

So then, as we’re both trying to contain our laughter, we realize that the Noah example isn’t helping, so we tried asking him what he thought a prophet was. It was reasonable for us to assume, I think, that he might have some concept of the role of a prophet because he is in his 50’s and had gone to a Methodist church for a long time in this 20’s and 30’s. So he says, "Uh…they’re the guys who grow the corn and stuff for people." And I couldn’t speak because I was shaking with laughter….Sis. M was laughing too, but she is more practiced at speaking through laughter so she said something about him maybe thinking of the word ‘profit’ when we meant ‘prophet’, but he just stared blankly again. Needless to say the lesson didn’t get very far.

-We were reading the Book of Mormon (alternating, each of us reading a verse at a time) with a woman we are teaching over the phone at the Visitors’ Center, and it was her turn to read a verse in Alma 7, talking about the birth of Christ. She read, "And he was born…." then stopped and said, "Oh YES! That’s beautiful!"…and then she kept right on reading. The ‘mute’ function is so nice when we’re teaching online/phone lessons.

-I was making small talk with someone about Groundhog Day because I heard that Puxatawny (sp?) Phil hadn’t seen his shadow and I was informed that Phil only counts for Pennsylvania, not Ohio. Apparently Ohioans have their own groundhog named ‘Buckeye Chuck’ and he DID see his shadow. More winter for us I guess, though it’s been very nice and pretty warm here this week.

Pictures this week are from the Visitors’ Center, I don’t think I’ve shared any from there yet.

-The first one is of some of us singing around the piano, something we do every morning and occasionally when we need a quick break from the computers. This is late at night after a long day so we’re not looking our best.

-The second is a selfie a really nice couple wanted to take with Sis. M and I after we took them on a tour (longest tour I’ve been a part of here, over two hours!). They’re from northeast PA, he’s a carpenter from NYC (and sounds like it) who joined the church in 2004 and is now a Bishop, and she’s from Tennessee getting her Masters in Education. They’re both really nice people – he surprised her with a quick overnight trip to Kirtland for their anniversary.

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