Awesomeness is the perfect word to describe this past week! The work is going amazing right now and I feel so blessed to be a part of the miracles that are happening here. Before coming to Rivers Edge I had spent three months collecting key indicators from the zone and seeing this area consistently perform at the lowest level. The missionaries serving here had grown depressed over the lack of success and had, for the most part, given up hope of ever seeing it flourish. That is why I was so surprised that when I got the call to transfer into Rivers Edge I felt excitement and hope. Over the past 20 months of my mission I had been prepared to come here with a good attitude as I had the opportunity to see so many other wards pick up and become very success areas in the mission. However, the success we are enjoying is beyond what I had expected this early into the work, which is of course due to the Lord and this amazing ward. Our first week here we taught a total of three lessons (an improvement from zero the week before we came), and then the week after we taught nine. We were very excited about teaching nine lessons because our initial goal was to have an average of ten lessons per week in the first month, which was a high goal considering an average that high has not happened in any of the records we have of this area over the past couple of years. We were sure we could still accomplish our goal since we were starting only one under, and our ward leaders were enthusiastic about the progress. This last week we taught a total of fifteen lessons and had five new investigators, which is good for just about any area in the mission!!! With the Lord our stretching goal has become a small stepping stone in what He has planned for Rivers Edge.
The ward is recognizing our hard work and helping us in anyway they can. Last week we had members out working with us on four different occasions, sometimes for many hours at a time. One of my main focuses when it comes to working with the ward is in taking the priest age young men out to work with us. When Elder Cook came to our mission he taught that one of our responsibilities as full time missionaries is to help the upcoming missionaries prepare, which I had not been aware of prior to his visit. In this ward the young men come out working with us every week helping in about every aspect of the work. They teach, go tracting, give and visit referrals, eat at members homes, and attend baptisms with us so that they get a good feel for what their own missions will be like. In 2 weeks we will be attending Young Men's and putting on a MTC for a night to help further their readiness by showing how to use Preach My Gospel, answering questions, and role playing with them as investigators. I am so thankful for the time I was able to spend with missionaries in my own ward before coming on my mission so I hope to do the same for these great young men.
Yesterday after church, which gets out at 4pm, we took a young man out to spend the rest of the night working with us. Our first appointment fell through so we ended up showing up to dinner 20 minutes early. Since we had extra time we decided to start at the end of their block and knock our way to their door, something we do often when we are early to appointments. We went from being 20 minutes early to showing up 10 minutes late because of a great man that we met knocking. He was wearing a Vietnam hat and his cars had Marine stickers on it so right away I thought of Roy in Belen, who has become one of the most important people I know outside my family. This man walked out of his door and very kindly told us that he had lost his belief in God many years ago and had no use of what we were teaching. I asked him what had caused him to lose his faith and his reply was a very difficult one to listen to without tears rolling down my cheeks. He told me that if there was a God then what took place at Vietnam would never have happened. He told us of the memories that will never stop haunting him, and that have caused him to go through therapy for the past 40 years with little progress. Dreams that make him wake up and keep him from lying in bed for fear of what might enter into his mind so instead he leaves his wife in bed and wanders around his home in an effort to distract from his own thoughts. He has had to watch young children die in war, some of them from bullets fired from his own gun. There were times he would need to, by order, take an infant found on board a ship, wrap him in a blanket, and drop him overboard to limit the risk of catching the infants illness. And now he feels the guilt of having a family and home while so many of his fellow soldiers died horrible deaths in battle all around him, even though he knows he should not feel guilt for that. He attended his son's wedding and was overwhelmed as he thought of his friends years ago, while his son's age, that left their pregnant wives to go fight and never return home. We can not say that God is responsible for all the good in the world and not give him the same credit for the horrible things that happen as well, because that would mean that an omnipotent being watches it happen and does nothing about it. Therefore, God can not be real, and if He is why would someone worship such a being!
What was I supposed to say to this man? I have never felt a portion of his pain or seen a glimpse of the horrific things that took place all around him and still follow him through his dreams and memories. I know that Christ has felt all that he has and more, but this man had given up on Christ long ago. I felt like giving up, thanking him for his time, and walking away because it seemed impossible for me to help him, but I felt so much love for him that walking away was an even more impossible task. I bore my testimony that I knew those children were brought to a loving God. He said that he had to believe they were taken somewhere wonderful or he could not live with himself. Then I shared with him my experience with Roy a year prior and what transformation had taken place within him as he accepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I asked him if I could leave a scripture for him to read and he said that he would read it. I opened the scriptures to Alma 14 and explained what had been taking place as well as the question that Amulek asked as he watched the woman and children burn in the fire, and I promised him that as he read he would feel the Spirit's promptings. I left our number and told him to call us to talk about the feelings he has while reading, and to talk about anything else that he feels would help him. All of us felt the Spirit and he said that he thinks he will call us because he feels something we have to share with him will help. I promised him that he was right and told him I was excited to here back from him. I do not know for sure if I will hear from him, but I do know that he is one of the people I was sent here to serve and I am so thankful to have found him.
Christ loves His children!