Sunday, December 20, 2015

Elder Ellis' Last Mission Email

Last mission selfie

The Beard Family

My last supper on my mission

Me and Elder Dean

The Final Chapter of the Book of Ellis:

Well everyone, the time is upon us. This is my final missionary email. It's really a relief for me because these emails are stressful to write - trying to make them detailed, interesting and spiritual. I'm glad that henceforth if people want to know how my week has been going they can just call me on the phone. This week has been an emotional roller coaster for me. I've had many ups and downs this week and it's been insane. I wish to begin my letter with a scripture that I feel is quite appropriate. 

John 1:13-14
13. I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee:

14. But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name.

I shall keep my remarks brief, and by brief I mean shorter than my emails normally are. Actually, let's be real - my email is still pretty long for a final missionary email home, but I just really wanted an excuse to use this scripture. It's perfect for returning missionaries!

Tuesday was my very last District meeting. Elder Sobczak and Elder Rasmussen did a really good job teaching about finding new investigators through our own efforts and teaching while we find and finding while we teach. It was a pretty decent last District meeting for me. I've been getting really bummed out lately because everybody has been reminding me I am going home. Heck, they bring it up more than I do! I feel like they are getting trunky for me. The depression comes more from the thought of a major chapter of my life coming to an end opposed to an overwhelming desire to stay on my mission. I mean I am certainly going to miss my mission and I know I will frequently long to be a missionary again later on, but the idea that a stage of my life in which I have been preparing for 18 years is finally over kinda scares me. This has been in the making for my whole life and now it's finished! I don't really know how to describe it but right now I am feeling more anxious than accomplished. After District meeting we practiced our skit we were asked to prepare for the mission Christmas devotional the following day. I have it recorded so I don't have to worry about explaining it. After practicing the skit I went on exchanges with Elder Rasmussen in his area. The purpose of exchanges isn't to hang out with other missionaries or get away from your companions; now that being said, it was super nice to get away from my companions. It's a similar situation I had with Elder Dean, (although now Elder Dean is now one of my closest friends out here, so there was a happy ending there.) I get along alright with Elder Johnson and Elder Eccles, but sometimes they can be too much for me to handle, especially together. I fear for this companionship after I leave. I've never liked saying negative things about people I've served with so I will permanently conclude my venting sessions about them by saying this: they're great guys and good friends, but I am looking forward to being friends with them from a distance for a little while.

I really enjoyed my exchange with Elder Rasmussen. One of the families we stopped by to visit were members. I can't remember their names right now but the husband; I think his name was Kenneth; and I really hit it off and he gave me his business card. He is one of the few people I've met on my mission who not only know where Overland Park, Kansas is but also lived there. He showed me on a map where he lived and it was on 83rd Terrace, or something like that; it was only a couple of miles from my house! His job takes him all over the country, so he has also worked in New Orleans (he knows where Thibodaux, LA is, which is a miracle) and he knows where Tooele is. It's not huge but I consider this a tender mercy just for me. It was really cool to meet someone that I could talk to about everywhere I've lived when normally one can't do that unless they're from Utah.

I was still on exchanges with Elder Rasmussen so I drove over with him to Fairfield, where the devotional was taking place. As soon as we entered into the Fairfield city limits I became so ridiculously nostalgic; I miss my days in Fairfield so it was really good to be back in the area. Well I got to say that the past two mission Christmas parties were way better than this one. President Wright changed some things up so this year wasn't an all mission party; only Fairfield, Davis and Woodland, Vacaville, and Vallejo missionaries were at mine, so it was pretty small. Not to mention I am so old in the mission I hardly know any of the other missionaries here. Last year I knew almost everyone but now there are so many new faces. The mission is completely different than it was back in the day. Our lip syncing skit went pretty well, I'd say. I think ours was the best out of the 4 zones. After all the missionaries shared their memorized scripture of what they want to give to the Lord (mine was Proverbs 3:5,6) and the devotional concluded I had my departing interview with President Wright. That was rough on me; he asked me to offer the opening prayer and I couldn't even get through one sentence before I found myself weeping uncontrollably. I didn't even cry like that when my father passed away. I calmed down and he asked me questions about my short and long term goals, qualities I think my spouse should have, and what I have learned on my mission. I share with you all what I told President Wright: I now know how much God loves me, and how much value I really have, because I didn't think I had any before my mission (I was crying during this segment as well, just to let you know). We had a really good talk; President Wright cares so much about all of us missionaries. Then he told me that he accepted my efforts as a missionary and that he was sure that the Lord did also and he thanked me for my service. That was really special for me to hear, because I've always felt inadequate about myself, especially my efforts in serving the Lord, so that was a great relief for me to hear. Not much happened the rest of that night. Elders Johnson, Eccles and I were invited by Elder Dean to go Christmas Christmas caroling with their ward, so we obliged and hit a few houses and then for the rest of the night we visited some members that I've gotten close to.

Well, Thursday was officially my last day on my mission. It was hard to wrap my head around it. I had to keep reminding myself while I was packing that I wasn't getting transferred and that I was actually packing to go home. I am really not sure how to feel right now; but don't get me wrong, I am definitely excited to return home. I am definitely a lot more optimistic and excited for the future now than I use to be. I don't think I will have much problem adjusting to being home; I certainly didn't have any trouble getting use to my mission when I first arrived so being home shouldn't be to hard, at least in theory. Well like I said, Thursday was mostly packing and getting my iPad taken care of, like getting photos and notes off of it before it gets wiped. So sadly my last day was sitting around all day trying to prepare for my departure home. But I think it helped get me more in the mindset of going home. So other than having breakfast with Brother Aguilar and saying goodbye to him, and visiting Patricia and Adrian, my recent convert, and saying goodbye to them, I just physically and mentally prepared myself for home.

Thursday night for dinner, my last dinner here in California as a missionary, I ate with some of my favorite members here in Vallejo, the Beards. They made my last night memorable and really made me feel loved. Trevor really went how of his way to try to make the best meal for me he cool, and it was fantastic. There was lobster, oysters, mussels, crab, shrimp and scallops; all my favorite things in the world. It was one of the best dinners I've had out here. Then he gifted me a really nice knife. The whole evening really got me right in the feels. He told me he really wanted to make my last supper something I could look back on, and how he was excited to stay in touch with me while I'm off my mission. In fact he charged me with the task to call him soon after I get home. I've made some amazing friends here in California, that I will be forever grateful for. My mission has blessed me more than anything else in the world could at this point in my life. I will forever be grateful for my decision and ability to serve a full time mission, and I know it will affect the Ernest of my life.

Well everyone, my two years of full time service is concluded, but now my rest-of-my-life mission has begun. I wish to end my missionary letters with but a few words:

And thus I close The First Book of Ellis; an account of Elder Ellis and his companions in the land of California. Although this Book may not be doctrine or revelation applicable to the reader, the writings within are wisdom granted unto me by the Lord whilst in his service. It is a record of my two-year journeyings in the wilderness amongst the Californites and my dealings with them. The course of my travels. It contains an account of my afflictions and my triumphs in the Lord. Enclosed is my testimony in the Savior, Jesus Christ, and His Atonement. Also my testimony of The Book of Mormon, which was written by revelation given from God to men much more inspired than I. This is according to the account of Elder Ellis; or in other words, I, Elder Ellis, wrote this record. About A.D. 2013-2015.

Now I close my epistle. I am Elder Ellis; I am a missionary of the people of California and a warrior for the California Santa Rosa Mission. My final exhortation is to keep the commandments, and "....come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness..." (Moroni 10:32), that ye may receive the promise from our Heavenly Father of Eternal Life.

Christ lives and is the Savior of mankind, the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and Joseph Smith restored the Lord's true church on the earth which I am a proud member and missionary of. I bear you all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen

Monday, December 14, 2015

Wax Man and a Priesthood Blessing

A service selfie

Me and Bro. Walsh

A classic game of soda pong

(I have officially run out of opening salutations.)

Well this is my last full week of work on my mission. I have so many mixed feelings right now that I'm feeling overwhelmed. My situation is one of much stress and mental conflict. I'm definitely excited to return home, but at the same time I am going to miss my mission. To be honest, I am not sure how to feel. Right now the only thing I'm sure I feel is exhaustion. I am just super tired right now. But I am powering through and enduring to the end!

On Tuesday we had Zone meeting and I thought the zone leaders both did a pretty good job. Elder Bushman taught on obedience and the avoidance of being idle on our missions and Elder Branson taught about having an attitude of gratitude? I think Elder Branson did a stellar job, especially considering this was his first zone conference he taught. I learned something about having a feeling of gratitude toward our Heavenly Father for all that we have. Literally EVERYTHING we have is a blessing from our Heavenly Father, including Jesus Christ. If we don't express gratitude for that which we have we are eligible to lose that blessing.

We got a call the day before from one of our members asking if we would be able to give a blessing to one of her nonmember friends on Tuesday. Her friend, Bonnie, was in the hospital about to have her foot or possibly her leg amputated because she had a bad case of gangrene. When we got to the room at the Kaiser hospital, one of the nurses came out to speak with us. She told us a little more about how Bonnie was doing and that they weren't sure she was going to survive the operation or not. I had a feeling the nurse was talking to us like we were Catholic priests, and we were going to walk around and purify the room and whip out the holy water. I was asked to offer the blessing while one of my companions anointed. It was definitely powerful to lay my hands upon a dying woman's head. I started to get emotional before I could even state by what authority I offered the blessing. I had a deep sense that regardless of what may happen, Bonnie was a much loved daughter of Heavenly Father and she would be alright. It was a pretty powerful experience for me.

After we left the hospital we met at the Zone Leader's apartment we exchanged with Elder Branson and Elder Bushman - Branson being with Elder Eccles and me in my area. Elder Branson is from Florida and he is super funny and we had a fantastic time together. He and I have very similar types of humor, so we had a blast during the exchange. He was in the airport with me when I returned to California, so he has been on his mission for a year now. I feel bad because during the exchange review I feel like Elder Eccles and I did a lot of venting about Elder Johnson, but he has been frustrating me lately. We get along fine, but he is definitely a contribution to why I am "enduring" to the end.

So, allow me to present to you all another example of how missionaries, despite their sacred calling, are still dumb young men. On Wednesday we exchanged back with the Zone Leaders and they stayed at our apartment to eat lunch with us. We had some candles that Elder Eccles had taken from the Zone Leaders' apartment when the exchange started and he lighted them after the end-exchange prayer. Well, he was dripping wax off the counter into a trash can, and for some reason I took it upon myself to put my hand under the dripping wax and have it harden on my hand. One thing led to another and by the time the lunch hour passed, my hand was completely encased in a quarter inch of candle wax. Elder Branson was really a major force behind this act of sheer stupidity. He fused multiple objects to my hand by dripping wax on them, including: a plastic spoon, a chewable vitamin C tablet, a chunk of bell pepper, a Christmas bell, and some tooth picks. The removal of the aforementioned wax was excruciatingly painful. Arm hair and congealed wax are a horrendous combination. So a word from the unwise: if you are aspiring to be a Batman super villain, do not be Wax Man, because I can already tell you it's a terrible idea. I'll be the first to admit that I am indeed an idiot for allowing this to occur. So in case you needed another example that missionaries are still just dumb young men with name tags, here I am. 

Despite how the morning may have started, we actually had a pretty productive day. After Elder Branson managed to swiftly and violently scrape off all the wax in my arm hair with a butter-knife (which, might I add, was the worse part of the ordeal), we tried finding some less-active members and potential investigators on Mare Island. Afterward we taught John Cappello, Mario Gonzalez and his mom Sarah, and the Wells family. I don't know what it is with me and children, but they seem to greatly enjoy my company. The youngest child of the Wells clan continuously tackled me throughout the entire lesson. I guess the kids can relate to my absurdity in a way they cannot with anyone else.

I am surprised I have not encountered as many Bible bashers in Vallejo as I thought I would, but we definitely find one every now and then. On Thursday we searched in American Canyon for some of the copious numbers of referrals we have been getting from Salt Lake. While we were looking for some people that lived in an assisted living home, a man named Robert walked outside and we began talking with him. Now most people who have bashed on me in the past have gone about it like so: they first pretend like they are interested in learning more about the church in order to get our attention, then they bring up a concern, whether it is Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the priesthood, etc., we then try to address their concern but the given explanation never suffices, then as we realize what's about to happen the contender begins unloading every piece of anti-Mormon and false doctrine they know at us, spitting question after question but never allowing us time to answer (not that they would accept the given answer anyways). That's how bashers normally operate; they try to overwhelm us in lies and then interrupt us, bringing up a different concern, or changing the subject to prevent us from shining a ray of truth on the matter. But this man was different. He didn't boldly declare his beliefs that our church is a cult or Joseph Smith was a fraud, but he slyly and with great subtly tried to instill seeds of doubt into our hearts. He mentioned to us that he had read a little of the Book of Mormon before and was "greatly disturbed" that the book started with a crime. He tried twisting the story of Nephi and Laban by saying he murdered Laban, stole his stuff, impersonated him to deceive his servant and then was chased out of the country. As we shared our testimonies that God loves His children far too much to allow one wicked man's stubbornness to cause "a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief", he then asked why God could soften the servant's heart but not Laban's. I explained God cannot force us to change our nature. Laban was wicked and unwilling to comply with Nephi's request but Zoram had a desire to do what was right and the Lord was able to work with his desire. Something I don't understand is people who believe in the Bible and are appalled that in the beginning of the Book of Mormon Nephi is instructed to kill a wicked man. How can someone who believes the Old Testament possibly have a problems with that? I explained to Robert that Moses was commanded to slay the wicked rebels when he came down from mount Sinai in Exodus 32:26, 27:

"Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the Lord’s side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.
 "And he said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour."

We learn from this that the Lord's work will never cease nor be hindered. He will press forth His work in His own time, and no person or group of people can impede His plan. Of course, like all bashers, this explanation was not suitable and Robert just continued to bring up another concern he had. He inquisitively mentioned how he thinks it's peculiar that in the visitors center in Oakland "we worship a talking statue of Jesus and think it's the Christ". He was really just firing blind at that point in the conversation. The way that Robert was trying to discreetly deceive us reminds me of how Satan lies to us. Now I'm definitely not comparing this man to the Adversary, but I believe the way he tries to dissuade us from the truth is very similar. Satan is very crafty and subtle in instilling doubt into our hearts. He doesn't come out and make grandiose, combative accusations, but he brings up small concerns, and twists the scriptures he knows all too well in order to cause us to question a book or church in which we have already received a witness of their truthfulness by the Holy Ghost. The Adversary is very good at his job and this is why we must continually build our spiritual defense daily by keeping the simple commandments Heavenly Father has given us. If we build our foundation upon Christ by obedience to His commandments then we cannot falter.

Saturday morning we went to get breakfast with Brother Aguilar at IHOP. At the end of the meal the waiter came over to our table and informed us someone else had requested to pay for our meal, so our tab was taken care of. We saw him walk out and waved to him in appreciation (even though a member took us out and we wouldn't have had to pay for it anyways). It wasn't anyone we recognized; we think it was just some member who was passing through the the area and stopped for breakfast. That's the fourth time an anonymous donor paid for my expenses, not including the philanthropist who has financed the entire expense of my mission. I place my mission benefactor in a much higher sphere of charity than someone paying for my pancakes. 

After breakfast we tackled a list of potentials in Vallejo and American Canyon and tried contacting them, and we had moderate success with. I'm pretty proud of myself for not having a crippling case of trunkiness. I think I have done a pretty good job of staying focused without my companions having to drag me from door to door. Perhaps it just hasn't hit me yet that my time left is short. I've just kept reminding myself that I'll never be able to work in the Lord's service in this capacity again, so I can't afford to waste the time I still have; it's been helping me stay focused so far. It also helps that I have seen lots of missionaries near the ends of their missions and how unappealing it was, so I promised myself I would not get lazy and have my mind at home like many of them did. 

We got a call from one of our members who asked us to help clean up her shed that was left trashed by their friend. While we were cleaning we were all finding some pretty cool stuff which she ended up gifting to us at the end of the clean up. She gave me a really cool fountain pen. I don't have ANY use for a fountain pen, but it's so cool I couldn't say no, so now I am the proud owner of a fountain pen! That night was the Vallejo 1st Christmas party which was super fun. The party just got me more excited to be home with my family for Christmas.

Sunday was my very last Sabbath day in my mission (well everyday from now till I go home is a last for me). I was asked by Brother Jenny to give a short talk in sacrament for my last Sunday here in Vallejo. It was an overall good day at church. Unfortunately, Elder Johnson's father passed away on Saturday and he received the news on Sunday. President Wright called him to inform him and he drove down here before sacrament meeting started and spoke with him. Elder Johnson is handling it really well; he doesn't seem to be letting it affect him at all. It's amazing the moment you understand why you're in an area or with a companion. Although he doesn't seem to need my consolation, it's still something I can relate to.

After lunch we looked for some potentials in American Canyon and we stopped by David Walsh's house for my last visit. After our lesson with him we were finally got a hold of some of our referrals. One of them was a man named Ebby, who used our number we left on a card at his door to call us. He told us how he has a friend who is a member of the church and because of his example wants to read the Book of Mormon and come to church. So that's one referral we were able to pick up as an investigator. The other referral we were able to pick up is Julia, who was referred to us by her separated husband in Maryland. She let us in and we sat down and had a really good 'How to begin teaching' lesson. She told us about her current beliefs, her struggles in her marriage and family, and her expectations from us. I exhorted her to read and pray about the Book of Mormon and that not only would the answer she will receive change her life, but also save it, including her marriage. When she heard this she began to cry. I then invited her to be baptized and she said she would if she knew it was true. The message of the Book of Mormon is life-changing and free to all who sincerely seek it. People just have to be willing to put forth the effort necessary to bring to pass that change.

We were called back to the Kaiser hospital to give another blessing to Bonnie, the women who got her foot amputated on Tuesday. She was doing a lot better than she had been last week. The doctors told her last week before surgery that her chances of surviving the operation were 50/50 and even then would still look bleak afterward, but now she seems to be doing pretty well. Her recovery from that point on was a concern, and they had already seen the miracle of a successful surgery take place from our blessing, so they asked us to give her another. She asked me to give the blessing again, to which I obliged. From the experience we were not only able to introduce the Book of Mormon to them and interest them in reading it, but we also brought the Spirit into their lives, which is one of the most important things we can do for someone. 

Well, I will send one last email before I get home to top off approximately two years of emails, but essentially this is the last one; or rather it's my last full week to report on. I can't believe I'll be home in a few days. None of this feels real to me. I know this last little stretch is going to absolutely fly by, so I am going to make the most of it. Thank you all for your support and aid in making this miracle happen in my life. These last two years have been the best thing that have ever happened to me, of which I will be forever grateful for. I'll TALK to you all soon!

Merry Christmas!
Love, Elder Hayden Ellis

Monday, December 7, 2015

Helping the FBI and Seeing Santa

Merry Christmas from my companionship to your family

Decorating a tree 

Santa came to visit!

Vallejo 2nd Christmas party

One of my favorite signs in Vallejo

Another one of my favorite signs in Vallejo

On splits with Elder Sobczak

Hello Everyone!

I hope everyone had a good week! Mine went by pretty quickly and was pretty eventful. Let's see if I can construct an exciting enough preview that won't leak too much information and will add the perfect amount of vagueness and intrigue that will keep the interest of the readers and lead them to investigate further.... Hmmm. This week I had some dealings with the FBI and I had a minor "altercation" with a homeless man in church. I've successfully peaked all of your interests, haven't I?

But before that, let's all hear how my Tuesday was! Elder Rasmussen and Elder Sobczak (pronounced sob-chack) taught an excellent district meeting about the importance of the Book of Mormon in the conversion of the people we teach. It really is the center to everything we teach people. Everything hinges on whether the Book of Mormon is true and if Joseph Smith was called by Jesus Christ as a prophet. If Joseph Smith isn't a prophet, then none of our claims to the Priesthood authority, temples or modern day prophets are true. But if he was indeed called by God to be a prophet, then we do have claim to the Lord's restored authority. It's through reading the Book of Mormon and asking God of its truthfulness that we can come to know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that we may inherit all the blessings that come from this knowledge.

Following our district meeting, Elder Eccles and I went on exchanges with Elder Sobczak in my area. Elder Sobczak is such a good, hardworking and obedient missionary. He is pretty new on his mission; this being his fourth month out here. He got to the mission field the same time my son, Elder Christensen, arrived in California. The three of us went and tried to find a woman who was referred to us, to no avail, so instead we walked around the area to find some more people to teach. We contacted an Iranian women who was interested in coming to our church and who was really grateful we stopped to talk with her. We gave her our phone number and church information but I made the amateur mistake of not getting her contact information. Hopefully she's interested enough to contact us or come to church! Immediately after speaking with her, we turned a corner and contacted three young men named Rob, Rodney, and Emer. They were super cool guys and immediately asked us what the good word was when we walked up to them. They were so thankful that we weren't afraid to approach and talk to them despite their gangster-looking appearance and them smoking weed. They say a lot of people would have crossed the street to avoid them, so they were grateful we talked to them. We gave them all a Book of Mormon and said a prayer with them right there in front of their house. We have a return appointments with them tomorrow so we will see how it goes. It just goes to show, yet again, you never know who is ready for the gospel. We then met with Helena who is one of our investigators I've never met before. She had pneumonia when we talked to her that night so I offered to give her a blessing so she accepted and we did so right there on her front porch. I'm so grateful for the Priesthood authority restored to the earth that it can be used to bless the lives of our brothers and sisters.

Wednesday morning we got up, worked out, studied and were out the door. I had planned for that morning to drop by and see one of our investigators that hasn't been taught in a long time, named Beverly. We knocked on the door and received the normal welcome of: "Who is it!?" We tell her it's the missionaries and get an enthusiastic reply of, "C'mon in!" The nice part about trios is we are able to enter a single woman's home, so we did just that. Beverly is an old black women who, after talking with her for a little while, we found isn't willing to change her ways so we may not be going back. This church isn't a church of keeping the status quo, it's about growing and molding into who the Lord wants us to become. If people aren't willing to do that, then there isn't a lot we can do as His servants, because all we do is invite people to change and follow Him. We had a lesson with our investigator John that afternoon and I must say, I knew he was a little crazy before, but he was extra unhinged that day. He was cursing left and right and telling us all these insane stories. It's lessons like that that make me wonder if we should even continue to meet with him.

Wednesday evening was pretty difficult. I'm starting to have trouble getting along with my companions, especially Elder Johnson. Who knew the last two weeks of my mission I would start having companionship problems?! I don't like talking bad about my companions, but Elder Johnson is very prideful and has to be right about every topic to the point where an argument ensues. I really don't want to end my companionship with him and Elder Eccles on a bad note, so I'm just trying to endure to the end and be patient with them.

On Thursday Elder Johnson, Eccles and I went through and looked for a whole list of potential and former investigators along Daniel Ave. It was a really good day because we were able to clean up the area book quite a bit. That night we taught Patricia and Adrian about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Afterward Patricia asked us to help set up their Christmas tree, and as you all can see, many festive pictures were taken of the occasion. We've been unsuccessful at trying to get a small Christmas tree for our apartment, so at least we were able to decorate someone's Christmas tree this year.

We had a rather exciting day on Friday. This was the day in which we had an encounter with the FBI. The first thing we did that morning was to visit a couple of potentials that were leftover from the prior day, both of which were either not home or uninterested. So we were on our way to the church to begin weekly planning, when I came to a stop at a stop sign and Elder Johnson, from the backseat, looked out the window and saw a laptop handbag sitting on the curb. Elder Johnson hopped out of the car and retrieved it and then jumped back into the car. I parked the car and we started going through the bag in order to find some sort of identification and contact number to return the bag to its owner. There were two passport books, one of which was a red, government official passport book, a brown envelope of unclassified documents, a sheet of paper with a list of names and phone numbers, and some apple chargers that were hanging out of the bag. It was obviously with the envelope that had "unclassified documents" stamped on the front and a government passport book, the owner was probably somebody important. We looked in the passport book and the man's name was Alexander, which was one of the names on the list with the phone numbers, so we gave him a call. When he answered, I told him that we were missionaries and found his bag and that we wanted to return it to him. He was a little skeptical, questioning who we were, but eventually he believed us and was grateful to us for finding his bag. We met him near where we found the bag and when he got out of the car he looked up at us and said, "Wow, you really are missionaries!" Apparently he had a machete on the front seat of his car in case we weren't who we claimed we were. We gave him his bag and he told us that he is an FBI agent and that his house had been broken into only two hours prior, and all that was missing from the burglary was the satchel we were giving him. His laptop was taken and so were his credentials but both his passports were still there, and those are what were really important to Alex. We walked over to where we had found the bag and he took some photos. Then we gave him our information so he or the police could get ahold of us if need be. He offered to take us out to lunch but remembered the police were on their way to his house, so instead he pulled out his wallet and gave us $60 for lunch, which we weren't expecting at all. So needless to say, I am working with the FBI now to track down a local crime syndicate of burglars, which makes me a pretty big deal. I mean it's no big deal...but it totally is.

Saturday was a little bit slower than the rest of the week. In the morning we tried to visit some referrals we have received lately. I have never before been in an area where we have been sent so many referrals. I have been sent more media referrals from Salt Lake while in this area than all my other areas combined. Without fail, every time we are able to contact some names we are sent, we receive 2-3 more referrals that put us right back to where we were before. So we average around 19 un-contacted media referrals a day. Referrals are definitely not a bad thing, but we just can't keep up with them all! But I digress. We visited one of our referrals named Rachel and she wasn't home, but we left a card with our number so she could call us back. And she did! People don't usually respond to our pass-along cards, so when they actually do it calls for much celebration among my brethren and myself. At least we are know if people are interested or not so we don't have to keep knocking on doors of people who don't want us to come by.

We went to Best Buy that afternoon to purchase a thumb drive because my iPad was getting full and I needed to get my photos and videos off of it. It's crazy how many pictures I have taken on my mission. My mom would be so proud of me because she knows how much I hated photos growing up and how I hated smiling in them. Now I am so much better at both of these!

Just before dinner we visited Mario, who is a 17-year-old recent convert, and Sarah, his nonmember mother. We read in 2 Nephi in the Book of Mormon with Mario and talked about it. He has got a really awesome testimony of the gospel and was talking to us about his plans to serve a mission. Then his mom, who is an investigator, walked in just in time to watch the "A Savior is Born" Christmas video we have been showing people. She told us she wants to follow the Savior and be baptized one day, but right now she just isn't ready to be fully committed. The Savior will work with everyone at their own pace. Some people progress faster than others, and the Savior is willing to work with each of us according to our needs. So Sarah might not be ready now, but I know she will get there, because she definitely has the desire. For dinner that night we crashed the Vallejo 2nd/Los Santos Spanish branch Christmas party. There was also a talent show going on while everyone was eating, and the missionaries were assigned to sing "Oh, Come, all Ye Faithful" for it, which the Spanish Elders "left out" when they invited us to come to the dinner. But it was no big deal; my mission has really helped me to overcome my stage fright I had in the past. In fact, I was asked by Brother Jenny, the bishopric second counselor, to give a short talk on my last sabbath on my mission, and I cheerfully accepted. I wouldn't have been as optimistic about talking in sacrament if I hadn't served a mission.

I had such a crazy and high-maintenance Sabbath day. To start off the day, we had Ward Council/PEC at 7 am and one of my companions took forever to get ready in the morning so we were 30 minutes late to the meeting. So the day was already frustrating to begin with. Then after Ward Council concluded, we were speaking with Bishop Christofferson in the foyer when a rather dirty and unfamiliar face hobbled up to the front door. I opened it for him to enter and he walked in telling us he needed help: a shower, clean clothes, food, a motel to stay at, etc. Bishop talked to him and made no promises assistance-wise but welcomed him to stay for the church services. His name was Kevin and he introduced himself as a once wealthy but betrayed by family and now homeless man. He said he was a women in a previous life, so that says a lot. He was moaning pretty loudly during fast and testimony meeting so I eventually got up and went over to him and asked him if he was in pain. He spoke very loudly and I tried to get him to lower his voice, but it didn't register with him, so and I invited him to step outside and talk to my companions and me. We then stood outside and listened to him tell us how he is in agonizing pain and needs help getting on his feet again. He stood uncomfortably close to me and I was quite sure I could smell alcohol on him. He stayed around for a little while after that and he even spoke with the bishop about getting a ride to the Fairfield Crisis Center, but he randomly walked out of church before Priesthood meeting and didn't come back after that. The members were pretty appreciative I took him outside because you can never tell what's going to happen with people who aren't entirely in their right mind. It was pretty weird because I was in a similar situation in Crescent City. Elder Haynie and I would have to be on high alert whenever "Crazy Debbie", a former member, came to church. She had the cops called on her a total of four times in sacrament meeting, so we just tried to make sure she didn't do anything insane at church.

We had dinner with the Beard family on Sunday night and they know exactly how to speak my language when it comes to the culinary arts. We always eat like kings over there. Trevor Beard is probably my favorite member here in Vallejo. He is the coolest ex-gang leader and now temple-attending man I have ever met. Whenever we go over he always tells us stories about when he was still in a gang. He use to run a group of 2,000 that he built up himself that ran Fairfield, Vacaville and Vallejo back in the day. I'm very glad to be friends with him and he is definitely someone I am going to keep in touch with when I get home. The Beards made sure they signed up for my last dinner on my mission and they promised to make me anything I wanted. After a little indecisiveness on my part and some pressure on theirs, I told him I liked seafood, especially shellfish, and he offered to make lobsterand abalone (if he could find it), and there's no way I could refuse an offer like that! Although I'm pretty sure abalone is illegal here in California, Trevor is an ex-gang leader so I'm not going to concern myself with whether he can get a hold of abalone or not and just embrace it if he does.

Well, that is what happened to me this week. It's weird to think I only have one more P-Day after this. In addition to next Monday, I'll send an email right before I get to the airport, so you all can at least count on two more emails from me. I am excited to come home to my family for Christmas.

Love, Elder Hayden Ellis

Monday, November 30, 2015

Preparing for Marriage and a Funeral

Elders Eccles, Johnson and me

Greetings, from the ghetto.

I hope everyone had an awesome Thanksgiving! I am kinda glad I was able to have at least one Thanksgiving in California. Both of my previous ones were either spent in the MTC or at home last year when I had surgery. I never thought I would spend a holiday of gratitude in one of the worst places to live in California. Seriously, Vallejo was ranked the 22nd worse place to live in the state. Frankly, I'm surprised it didn't rank higher. Lucerne was in the top ten and I served there!

Last Monday I had the departing missionary devotional and I had so much fun seeing all the people I came out with on a mission two years ago. We had a meeting where President and Sister Wright spoke on the essentials we need to concentrate on when we return home. I need to make sure I stay focused on what's important when I get home. President Wright asked us what our concerns were about going home and after a long pause one Elder finally shouted out: "Marriage....! Well, someone had to say it!" So, President Wright made him come up front and practice asking one of the Sisters out. It's quite a phenomenon how a mission can take a young man and make him excel in conversing with absolute strangers without it being uncomfortably awkward but at the same time a mission destroys all proficiency in social interaction with girls. I'm sure I'll get home and be a social superstar until I talk to a girl then I will instantly turn into Lenny from 'Of Mice and Men'.

After the devotional we went to the mission home, which the average missionary in the CASRM (California Santa Rosa Mission) only gets to go to twice; when he enters the mission and when he leaves the mission. I can't recall a single moment when everyone wasn't laughing; we all had so much fun being together again. It was really cool to sit down with almost everyone I came out on a mission with and share experiences we've had since we first arrived to California; and also to see how much everyone has been changed through their selfless service. I could see so much spiritual growth in every single person. We had a testimony meeting after dinner and the spirit was so powerful. One by one, each missionary got up and shared his testimony of the Savior and how his Atonement has changed them for the better. My mission has been the biggest and most important part of my life, and it was clear that was a mutual feeling with all the other missionaries who were  going home. After everyone had borne their testimonies President stood up and exhorted us to not forget how we felt that night. It's easy to forget things we see and hear but one doesn't forget a time where they felt the Holy Ghost testify to them. Then he said there was not a bad soul in our group and started going from missionary to missionary talking about good qualities each of us have and memories he has with each of us. President Wright really knows and loves all of us; he had a lot of good things to say about each person in that room. When he got to me he paused—I'm sure the thoughts he was trying to articulate added additional tears to the ones already present from talking about the other missionaries—and he mentioned how my father had passed away, and how well I handled the news when he told me on the phone. With tears in my own eyes, I thought to myself how I definitely didn't feel like I handled it well.

After the devotional the AP's had the Santa Rosa south zone leaders come pick me up and I stayed the night at their apartment. It's funny because I did the same thing — I even slept in the same apartment — when I sent Elder Stephenson home, and now I did it for myself because I am going home soon. 

Tuesday was the big day of Transfer Devotional where we all found out our new companions. Even though everyone was frustrated about not knowing where they were going or who they were with, it was really cool to gather together and two by two have each companionship announced. I felt like we were in Harry Potter during the sorting part where everyone was finding out which class they would be in. After most of the mission was sorted, President Wright finally got to the Vallejo zone and it was my turn to stand and be told my companion. While I was standing up, President Wright explained my situation and how I was only going to stay here for three more weeks so I would indeed receive two additional companions. The big announcement is my last companions are Elder Johnson and Elder Eccles! When I heard him say Elder Eccles I made quite an audible gasp of surprise because I have already served with Elder Eccles before in Napa, so he was the last person I was expecting! Elder Eccles is from Hyrum, Utah, and has been out for almost 18 months now, and Elder Johnson is from Whitehorse which is in the Yukon providence in Canada and has only been out for three months. So I am excited to have a Canadian companion! I remember that I struggled to be patient with Elder Eccles in Napa and it doesn't look like he has changed much since then, so I can see this being a hard three weeks. But 18 days isn't too long, so I can definitely endure to the end. It is kinda cool that we are companions again.

On Wednesday we went to work trying to contact referrals and potential investigators. Having two companions instead of one is a bit of an adjustment for the three of us. My last trio was way back in my first transfer with Elder Morely and Elder Meiners after my trainer went home, so I forgot how weird trio-companionships are to work in. It's pretty hard to contact or knock on doors when there are three missionaries because it can be intimidating for other people, although we are making it work pretty well. So far what has been happening is I have been the one taking the lead contacting and talking to people while Elders Johnson and Eccles just stand behind me and watch—perhaps acting as moral support—so I guess it hasn't been too hard figuring out how to go finding as a tri-panionship. That being said, we had a eventful day of finding and talked to some really cool people. We definitely talk to a lot of interesting people here in Vallejo. We met a man named Ricky while knocking doors, and he was a pretty friendly guy, but he did not hesitate to try to "educate us" in "true doctrine". Just like any other basher I have talked to in Vallejo or Fairfield, he told us how Christ was black. That's a very popular opinion among people in this area. He tried to support Jesus being black by claiming He was born in Africa, but someone overlooked the fact that Jesus was born in Nazareth. I assume he is referencing Christ coming out of Egypt, but He isn't from there, His family fled there to avoid the wrath of King Herod. Ricky also stated that Christ was not nailed to a cross but lynched and hung from a tree and refused to accept the fact that Christ was crucified. He gets that idea from Acts 5, which is a mistranslation. Had Christ been hung from a tree and not crucified, He wouldn't have had the prints in His hands and feet to show to His apostles as a sign of Him being the resurrected Messiah. Some people are like Thomas and won't believe until they see the nail prints for themselves.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Let me first start off by saying how difficult it is to do missionary work on a holiday. Nobody wants to talk to two well-dressed strangers when they have family visiting from out of town. Thankfully our mission President recognizes this, so he is lenient on the activities we participate in on Thanksgiving. For example, he approved Turkey Bowls, so we played flag football in the morning with the zone and that was a lot of fun. None of the members showed up (even though it was my Elders Quorum that originally planned it), so it was missionary exclusive. We then played chair soccer at the church. Thanksgiving was basically a second P-Day for us. That night we had Thanksgiving dinner with the Glens. Brother Glen is our ward's High Priest Group Leader. He had a good amount of family in town so there were quite a few people at dinner. We all went around and took turns saying what we are thankful for, and what I am most thankful for is my family. My family means the world to me, even if I don't tell them that as much as I should.

Friday of the transfer is always district meeting day, so for the first time the whole zone was together and we were able to meet the other missionaries. I am not the District leader anymore - now it's Elders Rasmussen and Sobzek. It wouldn't make sense for me to only be District leader for three weeks, plus their district meetings are way better than mine, so it was definitely for the best! One expected thing about district meeting is that President Wright showed up and sat in for our meeting! That doesn't happen very often. I think he was there to interview one of the missionaries, so he stayed for the meeting. And then to top it off, he payed for the zone's lunch. I love President Wright so much, he really cares a lot about us. After lunch we had weekly planning and then we went - yep, you guessed it - finding. We were able to contact a referral who is a less active member that actually was expecting us. That doesn't happen very often, when the person we are looking for is actually expecting us. But I enjoy it; like I said, finding people in Vallejo is a lot of fun.

On Saturday my zone went to help with a community service project at Mare Island that we go to every now and then called Vallejo People's Garden. Before we left that morning to go there, the Benicia Sister missionaries asked us to meet them at the church so they could follow us over. While we were waiting for them in the church parking lot, one of the members in Vallejo 2nd ward came over to our car and asked the three of us to help her carry some food and other refreshments into the church kitchen for a funeral that was happening that day. Of course we were happy to oblige, so we all grabbed some bags and traversed toward the kitchen. To get to the kitchen from the front door one needs to go through the Relief Society room, which is what we did. However, no one told us that the Relief Society room was where the services where being held and that the man of the hour was already in attendance; and let's not forget the fun detail that the service was an open-casket. So I walked in the Relief Society room with the bags in hand and wearing jeans, a hat and sunglasses and I look down and see a dead guy just laying there. "Oh...... Hello there, friend." I felt very uncomfortable; not because of the cadaver but because I felt like I was defiling the sanctity of the occasion with my casual appearance. So I just thought I would share a story of how I awkwardly walked in on an open-casket funeral service. After we hurried out of there to avoid further disrespecting a dead man, we drove over to Mare Island and helped build a planters box at Vallejo People's Garden. I'm really glad I took the job with Jeremy Bedier in construction before my mission, because it's really nice knowing how to use power tools. The rest of the day we went finding and looking for referrals and potential investigators, and heard some gunshots along the way, which is the common melody of the local populace here. It's weird to say that even though I have only been here for about a month and a half, hearing gunshots in the distance doesn't even faze me. Elder Eccles and Elder Johnson stopped and turned around trying to figure out what the sound was, but I just kept walking. Vallejo changes a man.

I feel like this week has gone by so ridiculously slow. Maybe I am just getting a little anxious because I am running out of weeks out here and I am not really sure what to do with myself. The idea of going home is finally hitting me and becoming more and more visible. It's such a weird feeling to think that something I have been preparing and planning for eighteen years is almost over. Returning home last year wasn't too strange because I knew it was temporary deal, but now the rest of my life is about to begin and I'm not sure what to think about it. I'm excited for it of course, and I'm super stoked for the 18th so I can see my family again, but there are obviously mixed feelings present with the enthusiasm as well. I feel like I don't know what my life outside of being a missionary is like anymore. I know all theses concerns with dissipate eventually, but right now they consume most of my thoughts and attention.

Well, that's my week! Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. I'm really excited to be home for Christmas. I know this church is true and I am grateful for all the Lord has given me. I truly am blessed far more than I deserve.

Love, Elder Hayden Ellis

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving and Waterboarding

Only in California......and in Colorado

On our way to the departure devotional

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving this week! I'm not really sure what my plans are for it. I think the Glens might be feeding us, but other than that, I don't think we have anything special planned.

This was a really rough week for us. I feel like we didn't accomplish much, although, I was able to give quite a few blessings this week. I am so grateful for the Priesthood authority that has been restored to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith. It's an amazing gift we have been given to bless the lives of those around us.

Our last District meeting of the transfer was Tuesday and, I must say, it got a little out of hand. We asked two departing missionaries in our district, Elder Hansen and Elder Walpole, to teach. I should've known better than to have two dying missionaries teach in their last district meeting because one just awkwardly talked about contacting people and it was evident he didn't prepare at all, and the other just had a bunch of activities for us to do with no real spiritual application at the end. Then Elder Dean took a long time in his part, leaving me with only two minutes for the lesson I prepared with a commitment at the end. This failed attempt at a district meeting gave me another example of what to aim for and what to avoid when I prepare a lesson in Elder's quorum in the future.

After district meeting, Elder Dean and I went on exchanges with Benicia. I was with Elder Walpole in my area - it was his very last exchange on his mission. The two of us did some finding in search of potential investigators in my area book. We primarily worked in parts of my area that I am still not familiar with. There is still a lot of my area that I haven't worked much in yet, like a place called the Crest. Apparently it's the most ghetto and dangerous area in aIl of Vallejo, so I for sure need to explore that place a little before I leave; don't worry, I'll be careful! I would definitely have to say that out of all my areas, Vallejo is the most fun place to talk to people.

Before we started the exchange, Elder Rasmussen and Elder Dean tried to convince me to allow the exchange to be extended several hours so Elder Dean could accompany Elder Rasmussen to Sacramento for a doctor's appointment because Elder Walpole didn't want to go. What the heck? Absolutely not! There's no point whatsoever for my companion to leave the mission boundaries! After badgering me a little while, they gave up and we exchanged back as scheduled. Now it's a difficult thing to stand firm and it's much easier to drift along with the current, but Heavenly Father needs us to build our firm foundation upon Christ and be not moved. That's something I have learned on my mission, whether it's gently correcting people or just saying no to what is wrong, sometimes you have to stand strong for what you know is right. I hope I'm not making this sound really cheesy, but it's a lesson I've learned out here. I know in the past I would've just told them to go for it to avoid standing out and being the bad guy, but if we can't stand our ground to every gentle breeze that wants to move us, then how will be able to stand against the adversary when he "shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you..."? (Helaman 5:12)

Friday we had a lot of service that consumed all of our time for weekly planning. First, the entire zone went down to Benicia to help the Sister missionaries move out of their apartment and into a new one. While we were loading their stuff into a moving truck, all the missionaries going home this week drove to Fairfield to have departing interviews with President Wright. My departing interview will happen closer to the time I actually go home.

The Zone Leaders told us that night they received an email from the AP's pertaining to how transfers are to be done from now on. I believe the change is occurring to align or mission with how other missions operate, but we will no longer be told where we are going or who our companion is when we receive transfers information on the last Saturday of the transfer. All we are told is if we are leaving or not. The transfer devotional in Santa Rosa the following Tuesday will be the new day this information is revealed to us. So needless to say, the missionaries are not happy about this change because that means we have to wonder where we are going and who we are with for another three days; which doesn't sound too bad, but when the next six weeks depends on this info, one tends to get rather anxious.

We did our weekly planning on Saturday because of the tons of service we did the day before. While we were finishing our planning, we received transfer information from the ZL's which informed us that Elder Dean is getting transferred. That totally caught us off guard. We both thought he was going to stay a total of six months here and we would get a third companion since I am leaving in the middle of next transfer. So now I will be leading out this area and trying to show my next companion(s) around as best I can in three weeks.

Elder Dean used Sunday as an opportunity to say goodbye to members, which comprised most of our day. But something really strange happened that I've only heard of in the past. While we were at the Beard's house saying goodbye, Brother Beard asked Elder Dean to give him a quick haircut and I took a trip to the imagination station and played action figures with their two boys. Elder Dean got a call from the APs saying he doesn't need to pack up all his stuff because he is getting transferred to some other area in Vallejo. We were completely stunned. In-Zone transfers never happen; I've only heard of occurring maybe twice before. And this will be the third time Elder Dean will serve in Vallejo. His first area was Vallejo 2nd ward for 4 1/2 months, then he spent 4 1/2 in Vallejo 1st ward, and now he will finish his remaining three months here. We are still not sure which area he is going to serve in. It'll either be Benicia or 2nd ward. We are leaning toward Benicia since he hasn't served there before, but who knows at this point? The unexpected had already happened repeatedly this transfer so we have given up trying to make predictions. I am glad that Elder Dean is still going to be in the zone. Regardless of our disagreements at times, we are good friends and he is a good missionary. Last night he mentioned he wants to do better than he has lately, so I was really happy to hear that.

I received a Facebook message from my friend, Von, in Lakeport and she told me that Elder Christensen may have to go home soon to get his tonsils removed. I asked her to tell me more of his situation but she hasn't answered back yet. So all I know is my beloved greenie may or may not be home or going home soon. Well, my trainer went home and came back, I went home and came back, and now Elder Christensen may go home and hopefully will come back; I guess it's hereditary.

Well this was the final stretch for many of the missionaries in the Vallejo zone. We have six missionaries that go home tomorrow; one of which is premature for medical problems. This is definitely the oldest Zone that I've ever served in. Admittedly, I am a little sad that I don't get to return home with the missionaries I began this adventure with and do the the big airport welcoming scene, but I'll get over it. Even though I miss my family and friends, I know the Lord has me out here longer for a reason; whether it's something I need to help teach someone or something that I still need to learn.

Well now I am off to a departing missionary meeting for everyone going home this transfer is going to. I am glad I was still invited to it by President Wright even though I won't be getting on the plane tomorrow. I'll stay the night in Santa Rosa and then bring my new companion(s), whoever he/they may be, down to Vallejo. We will see what happens!

Love you all and Happy Thanksgiving!

Love, Elder Hayden Ellis

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Neighborhood Shooting and a Baptism

Me, Elder Dean and a gigantic teddy bear that hitched a ride with us

Our best Blues Brothers impersonation

A shooting down the street.....just another day in Vallejo.

I love Dutch Bros - they make the BEST hot chocolate!

Me with Elder Hacking and Hermana Figuroa

Adrian's baptism!

I bring you glad tidings straight from the ghetto!

Hi everyone! So it was an awfully exciting week; not just for us but for everyone in Vallejo. There has been a ton of crime happening as of late. There was a shooting (which I'll address a little more in the next paragraph), some guy threw a brick into a Walgreens window, a crazy man was roaming around the streets one at night with a machete, and a bunch of other things. We have been hearing sirens regularly so I've gotten fairly use to them now. Well, other than the police having a terrible and busy week, mine, on the other hand, was pretty good! I ate some nasty Filipino food, gave my departing testimony, and had a baptism! Woooooh!

I had such an awesome day on Tuesday. Elder Dean and I went on exchanges with the Zone Leaders; I went with Elder Despain in my area and he always brings a smile to face. I've known Elder Despain since my second transfer in Fairfield, so about a year and a half, and this is the third place we have been around one another. If I were to describe Elder Despain in a few words I would have to point out how happy, humble, and loving he is all the time. He is someone that I definitely need to stick around in my life after my mission. Our exchange started on an unsettling note, because as soon as Elder Despain and I left our apartment, we came across a potential murder scene. Literally half a block away from our apartment an intersection was closed off because someone was, I assume, shot and possibly killed. When we drove by it we couldn't see much, except the yellow crime scene tape and the little yellow, numbered cone-things were on the ground to mark evidence, and there were crime scene investigators taking pictures of the scene like in all the criminal justice dramas on TV. And also, I'm pretty sure I saw a chalk body-shaped outline on the ground but that's not confirmed. Later in the week someone put a bunch of candles at the corner where it happened and a sign requesting prayers, so I'm not sure if the guy is okay or not but the whole event paints a accurate picture showing what my area is like. So needless to say, we had an interesting start to our day. Gotta love Vallejo!

Well after Elder Despain and I discovered our lives are threatened at any given moment, we went off to work! First, we had a lesson with one of our moderately crazy members. We read the Book of Mormom with him in Alma 17 about how Ammon becomes a servant of King Lamoni and begins to work for him. Even though the member we were with is a little out there, he brought up a point that I never gave much attention to before. He noted when Ammon was brought before King Lamoni, he found favor with the Lamanite King, insomuch that Ammon was given the hefty offer to marry one of his daughters and, I'm sure, live a life of luxury in the kingdom. When he mentioned that it made me start thinking about how that was a proposition that was pretty hard to say no to; but that's exactly what Ammon did. Not only did Ammon decline the offer but he proposed a counteroffer of: "Nay, but I will be thy servant." He went from the extreme of living the rest of his life in comfort and contentment to the polar opposite of living—potentially the rest of his life, because he had no idea how long he would be doing this when he initially offered his services—in labor and servitude. Ammon was even offered later on by King Lamoni's father half of all the Lamanite kingdom and he still refused. Now why would anyone turn down these enormous offers? I know why Ammom did: he understood the principle of denying himself his earthly kingdom in order to build up his kingdom in heaven. Ammon would rather have lived a life of hard work and toil than to sit around on a throne all day and forfeit the spiritual blessings that come from laboring in the service of the Lord. Mathew 7:21 says: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." I know by only the grace of God we will be redeemed from our sins; but not while we are still in our sins (Helaman 5:10. I also know that this isn't an easy church to be a member of, but the road the Savior walked was never easy for Him, so why should those desiring to follow Him expect a smooth ride? Although there's much expected of us, and we may not get to kick back and stand idle while the Lord's work continues, the promise is clear for those who forget themselves, thrust their sickle in with all their might and endure to the end: "...thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life." (2 Nephi 31:20).

After that lesson, Elder Despain and I went to American Canyon, the northern part of my area, to look for some potential investigators missionaries have visited in the past. There weren't many people who answered their doors so we ended up leaving a bunch of blank cards with a brief message and our phone number on it; so hopefully people give us a call back and let us know if they are interested or not so we don't have to keep knocking on their doors. From what I've seen, people don't generally give us a call when we leave our card, but that's just one of the reasons member referrals are way more effective than our own finding efforts.

We had two dinners on Tuesday - one was at the Lewis' house where they fed us Filipino food which included, upon my own request, a balute egg. If you don't know what balute is, I exhort you to research it so you have a full understanding of what I ingested this day. To give you a rough understanding of what I ate, balute is a hard boiled baby duck embryo. Imagine a cute, little duck egg well on its way to hatching into an adorable baby duckling. And now imagine someone tragically taking that duck egg away from its mother, in the middle of its developmental process, and then dropping it into a pot of boiling water for 20 minutes and eating it. Each egg is a surprise because you don't know how far the duck is in its development. Some eggs are far into their development and you can actually get a whole baby duck, with feathers, eyes and a beak. Mine was still pretty new and I couldn't recognize the duck yet, but there were feathers and cute little baby duck bones. It tasted like concentrated chicken and eggs mixed with disgusting flavor. So, in honor of my father, who also ate this delicacy when he was in the Philippines, I ate balute. If you are looking for a tasty snack, I don't recommend it, but it is quite an experience.

The other dinner we had was with Patricia and we continued teaching Adrian the rest of the commandments, like the law of chastity (which I taught - it is always a joy to explain that to children), the Word of Wisdom, and tithing. He's a sharp kid so he picked up on them pretty quick. 

On Wednesday we had another exchange with the Vallejo 2nd elders - my good friend Elder Hansen and his greenie Elder Seastrand. I was with Elder Hansen in his area and we had a good time reminiscing about our missions and how long it's been since we were in the MTC together. We also talked about how much we've changed since we first came on our missions. We taught a women a doorstep lesson and afterward thought of how much better we are at talking to and teaching people; we have both come a long way since we first embarked on this adventure. A mission provides an opportunity and experience that you literally cannot get anywhere else. I will be forever thankful for my desire and chance to serve and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Thursday was my very last Zone Conference ever. It was a really spiritual experience for me. It made me think of how far I have come, but also how much progress I still need to make. Even though I am not going home at the end of this transfer, I was asked to give my departing testimony which, when I was a new missionary, I thought would never come. I recorded the audio so I won't take any time writing what I bore testimony of.

On Friday we did our weekly planning at the Benicia meeting house because we had to drop our car off at a member's house down there so he could fix our car. A couple of weeks ago someone keyed some gang sign in our car door so he buffed that out for us. And then that night the Zone Leaders asked Adrian the baptismal interview questions and he passed them no problem. Obviously at his age he doesn't have a problem with the typical things that prevent someone from being baptized on time, like being on parole or probation.

Saturday was the big day of Adrian's baptism! There is always such a strong spirit at a baptism. At first while we were setting up and getting ready, I caught myself being in a bad mood for some reason and I had to remind myself to cheer up. It's not everyday one gets to be part of another's coming unto Christ, which definitely calls for nothing but positive feelings. Elder Dean baptized Adrian and after they came back from the changing room, I gave the talk on the Holy Ghost. I saved the talk so I will send it home as well. After the baptism, Patricia called us and told me on the phone that Adrian had something that he wanted to tell us. When she put him on the phone he said that the dark feeling he had before was gone, as if it was lifted off of him. He expressed how he didn't want to lose this good feeling he now has. It's such a testimony to me that the Spirit of the Lord can manifest itself so strongly even to a ten year old kid whose attention span could hardly focus on anything other than diving into the baptismal font. The Spirit speaks all languages and to all age groups. We are so blessed to live in a dispensation that not only has the fullness of the gospel but also such an outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord. This truly is a great time to be alive!

We had an awesome day on Sunday! I was honored and privileged to be able to be the mouth piece in the confirmation of Adrian. It was a really a powerful and special moment for me. The really cool part was there was a non-member family there that was a result of stellar member missionary work, and they loved everything about church. The ward did a good job of fellowshipping them and the spirit was strong. They both graciously accepted copies of the Book of Mormon to study and plan to attend our church services again. The member who brought them suggested for their family to talk to the missionaries if they ever have questions about the Book of Mormon or about the church in general and they responded that they wanted to do some personal study first, but that they were definitely going to see more of us. So we may be teaching a family very shortly! I'll keep you all posted!

So, Uncle Nate, do you happen to remember a Sister Miller in Vallejo 2nd Ward? Also, is there anyone that you do remember here? I had dinner with Sister Miller on exchanges and I showed her a picture of you that mom sent me and she said that you don't look unfamiliar. So, as vague of an answer that may be, it's still something. Also, Mom, could you tell Sister Garrard and the other sisters I said thank you for the card and photo of Christ? I greatly appreciate it!

Well, that's about it for this week. I cannot fathom the fact that if it weren't for my medical leave of absence last year, then I would be returning home next week. It's absolutely insane. I can't believe how quickly it all goes by. But since I'll be out here a little bit longer, there are still a few weekly letters for you all to look forward to! I love my mission and I love my Savior; I just pray I can return home the man He wanted me to become from my service.

Love, Elder Hayden Ellis