Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Mexican Luau and an Expired Recommend

This is the photo that will accompany Elder Ellis' blog post this week. As a pig lover,
I just couldn't post any of the pictures that Elder Ellis emailed home this week. 

Hi Everyone!

Sorry this email is late. We had a temple trip on Monday and so we only had a partial p-day and I had to send my email in the middle of the week. I have had quite an active and interesting life since last you all heard from me. I won't keep you all waiting with a boring introduction; on to why you're all here!

I went on exchanges with the Benicia Elders on Wednesday; I was with Elder Walpole in Benicia and Elder Dean was with Elder Rasmussen in my area. Elder Walpole and I both were in the MTC together and got to the mission at the same time, so this is his last transfer. He is one of the most humble missionaries that I know. He was raised on a dairy farm in Colorado and he is almost childlike in his innocence and humility. He is also the oldest missionary in our mission being 28 as of Tuesday. In my opinion, it's quite peculiar for me, a 20-year-old kid, to give life counsel to a 28-year-old man which is what happened throughout the entire exchange. He asked me questions like: "How do you keep yourself motivated out here? How do you handle a trunky companion? What if my wife doesn't like the way I look in the Celestial kingdom? How should I talk to the Sister missionaries here? What are you looking for in a girl? If I don't get a college education then will I be behind everyone else progression-wise after this life?" I answered these questions to the best of my ability. You'd think having more life experience than I, he would have more of the answers to these questions than I would. I think he must've been pretty sheltered on that farm because Elder Walpole is seriously like the most humble, sweetest, big kid I've ever met. I love this man so much it's stupid. I looked through their area book to see how their area is doing and it isn't too impressive so we tried to do a lot of finding and door knocking in their former investigator list. We were able to meet some really cool people and get a couple of return appointments for Elder Walpole and Elder Rasmussen.

I may have mentioned this in the past, but I'll say it again: interesting things always happen on exchanges. Five minutes into our drive, their Chevy Cruise overheated and we had to pull over to the side of the road. The car had run out of coolant and we had to call our companions to come pick us up and take us to a gas station to buy some more and refill it before the car's engine exploded. Poor Elder Walpole got a solid rebuking from the vehicle coordinators when he called the mission office for letting the coolant get so low.  Later that night we had a lesson with two young member girls, Tia and Mia, and read with them in the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 3 and explained it as we read. I've gotten pretty good at teaching children about the gospel, so that's definitely a positive takeaway from my mission.

Elder Walpole and I exchanged back with Elders Rasmussen and Dean on Thursday afternoon. After that, Elder Dean and I had to run some errands to fix our car. We are having trouble with the front passenger door locking and unlocking electronically using the car keys. Having car doors that refuse to lock can be a major problem, especially here in Vallejo. That's actually the reason Elder Dean doesn't have an iPad now. The missionary before me, Elder Hardy, forgot to lock his door manually when they ran into a store for five minutes and someone stole Elder Dean's iPad that he left in the car. Elder Dean served here nearly two years ago when he first arrived in the mission and he says it used to be a lot worse than it is now, but we still see copious ambulances and police rushing around daily. We just have to be very careful about leaving attractive looking objects lying around because people are not afraid to break a window to swipe our stuff. I mean heck, someone keyed our car the other day so people certainly don't care about other people's possessions here in Vallejo. Later on Thursday we taught Adrian, the young kid who has a baptismal date, the entire Plan of Salvation. I am pretty impressed with his questions he asks; he pays attention in the lessons and always has a new question on his mind. His date is coming up pretty soon so hopefully we can bust out all the lessons before November 7th.

We had a rather atypical weekly planning meeting this week! Everything was pretty normal up until dinner time. We ate dinner at the Kaiser hospital here in Vallejo with the Falcones. They decided to feed us at the hospital on the off-chance someone might come up to us during dinner and ask us about the church or requested a blessing, which isn't a bad idea since that happens every now and then. Sister Falcone asked us many questions throughout dinner, but one of the bigger concerns she had I was able to answer while giving my dinner message. She experienced some difficult trials while she was hospitalized a few months back, and she wanted to know why trials and afflictions happen; after all, if God truly loved us then why would He allow such terrible things to happen in our lives. I didn't know this was a concern of hers when I shared the scripture Alma 7:11, which is one of my favorite scriptures about the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and explains how not only did the Savior experience every possible feeling or trial we can face in this life, but because He did He knows exactly how to succor us in our trials. I explained to her that God loves us enough to allow us to be hurt. One can't learn to ride a bike without falling off it every now and then. It's through trials and falling down that we are able to learn and grow, whether from our own mistakes or the curveballs life throws at us. Like I said in a previous email home, I don't like correcting people. But it is so important that we aren't afraid to speak up if it's to help someone to improve and come closer to the Savior. President Alba said if we don't correct others then we are selfish because we care more about what they think about us than their spiritual progression and I believe it's the same with God. If He who created us never placed obstacles in our lives because He didn't want any of us to get mad at Him, then He would be selfish, and more concerned with Himself. But our Heavenly Father isn't selfish, but puts us at the top of His priorities. When we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place we must remember that trials are from God to help us grow, and, if we allow Him to, He will show us how to overcomes the burdens placed on us, that we may be stronger.

For all my faithful blog followers: I wish to draw your minds back to the email I sent home a few months back pertaining to the slaughter of turkeys. I have accepted a new challenge of combating a vicious and ferocious swine. The Spanish south Elders asked us to come along and help a nonmember/part member family slaughter a pig for a Halloween party they were having the next night. What happened first was I was challenged to tackle and wrestle the pig, so I obliged. There is video evidence of this event so I won't go into too much detail, but needless to say, all spectators were impressed. After I single handedly caught the pig,  Elder Scow and I lifted it up on the porch and I held it down with Elder Dean as another man slaughtered it. I am scheduled to return to the same house and help kill a lamb - I don't think killing so many animals is normal for a missionary but at least I am getting some life experience from it! We have a weekly community service opportunity on Saturdays with a group called the "Vallejo's People Garden". The missionaries, along with other volunteers, help weed, spread mulch, plant seeds or whatever else they want us to do for this organization that grows produce for the Vallejo community. I do not know the finer details of the charity or who they distribute to, but I know there is a great need it in the community. There are SO MANY homeless people here; probably even more than Napa or Fairfield, which I was surprised to discover how many were in those areas. While I am here I am keeping an eye out for more community service possibilities that the missionaries in this zone can help with in the future.

After we were finished at VPG, we headed back to the home that was hosting the Halloween party to help them prepare and cook the pig. It was pretty cool and now I know how to cook a whole pig. We shaved it, seasoned it, stuffed it, sewed it back up and stuck it in a fire pit in the ground and buried it! Unfortunately, when we got back that night to partake of the savory meats of our slaughter, we were informed that despite our efforts, the pig didn't cook all the way through. Evidently Polynesians have a secret method to their underground pig cooking that is unbeknownst to the local Hispanic populace here. So after all the pig wrasslin' and culinary expertise I demonstrated for this process, I didn't get to indulge upon any succulent pig meat. Later I was informed that when they tried an alternate means of cooking the pig, they ended up burning it and it didn't taste very good, so the whole experience didn't end too well. Worst Mexican luau ever.

My ward had its Primary program on Sunday, and gosh dang it, those kids were adorable. I always love listening to the primary-age children bear their testimonies. 3 Nephi 26:16 "Behold, it came to pass on the morrow that the multitude gathered themselves together, and they both saw and heard these children; yea, even babes did open their mouths and utter marvelous things..." I love how simple the gospel is that even a young child can understand it. There's nothing complicated about God loves us all, families can be eternal, Jesus is our Savior and example and keep the commandments of God. It's applying these things to yourself that can be pretty difficult some times.

I taught in district meeting on Tuesday of last week about extending bold commitments and teaching the simple doctrine of Jesus Christ. Our job as missionaries isn't to get baptisms, but to teach the gospel in a way that people can understand. If we explain a gospel topic to someone and they don't understand it by the time we're walking away, that's when we need to improve our teaching ability. But we can explain the restoration perfectly, promise blessings of the gospel to them and do everything we can to make sure the spirit is in the lesson and they still reject the invitation of baptism. Everyone has their agency to accept or reject the message, but as long as we help them understand it, then as far as I am concerned we did our job.

Other than reading the Book of Mormon with a less active member who just went on and on about how Republicans are bad because they want the country to carry fully automatic M16's (yeah, I don't know what he's talking about either), we spent the rest of our day going through our area book and trying to find referrals in American Canyon and downtown Vallejo. In my experience I've found that media referrals from the Salt Lake are the least reliable referrals in the history of the church. I can not think of a time where I tried to contact a referral sent to us by church headquarters where the person didn't deny requesting us to come by their house. They had to have gone online or called a number and requested missionaries or some piece of literature. But even though we have their name, phone number, address and sometimes even their email, they always claim that they never ordered us and "somehow" we have them mistaken with someone else who has their exact likeness in ever possible way. So right now I am just looking for that referral that is actually expecting us.

We had zone meeting yesterday, which I was especially excited for because it meant I didn't have to prepare to teach district meeting! I like a break every now and then. The big news here is the Zone Leaders announced a rule change that they received at Mission Leaders Correlation. At the end of the meeting they told us, with the help of some videos made by Sister Wright and the tech Elders, that the rule of Mormon Tabernacle Choir being the only kind of music we can listen to was abolished. Now we go by the missionary White Handbook pertaining to rules about music. We can listen to any kind of music as long as it is uplifting, helps us focus on the Savior and our purpose, and doesn't merely entertain or disrupt the spirit by its tempo, beat, loudness, lyrics or intensity. President Alba was an above and beyond, high expectations type of Mission President, while President Wright is a by the book kind of guy, so it's interesting to have served under them both and compare different leadership styles. I am very excited about the new rule change. I have listened to so much Motab on my mission that my mind is numb to it. So even though I have very little time left, I am immensely excited to embrace the Piano Guys and BYU Vocal Point (by the way, have I ever mentioned that my second EFY councilor, Trevor, is in Vocal Point? I thought that was pretty darn cool when I found out!)

Well something rather unfortunate happened today. The whole reason I am emailing you today instead of Monday is because today was our temple trip — my last temple trip on my mission. We asked Brother Aguilar, a Filipino man that loves missionaries and takes us out to eat quite frequently, to drive us to the Oakland temple. Well to our great sorrow and much lamentation, when we arrived at the temple, both Elder Dean and myself were informed that our temple recommends were expired. The emotional trauma I felt knew no bounds. We asked the temple workers if they could contact President Wright and talk to him about arranging some way for us to attend the temple; like us having an interview with him on the phone and him giving them the okay, but to no avail. I forget that when I was a youth going on a temple trip and I would forget my recommend, there was always a member of the bishopric there to give me a quick interview and smooth it over, but that certainly is not the case here. So they told us that we couldn't attend the temple until we had a written recommend. Unfortunately, my very last opportunity to attend the temple on my mission was rejected because I didn't keep an eye on my recommend's expiration date. I'm pretty bummed about this. We sadly returned to the car and told Brother Aguilar that we were going to head home he decided to take the scenic route through San Francisco, making us stop to get out for pictures all along the way. I told him we were suppose to head straight home but he didn't care. So if anything good came from the experience it's that I have some cool pictures of San Francisco; although I would have rather gone in the temple one last time before my mission ends.

Well, that's how my extra long week went. I cannot believe that it was a year ago that I left Novato and went home for surgery. It's absolutely insane for me to think about how time is flying by. I can hardly wrap my head around the idea of my mission coming to an end. Right now I am in the "enduring to the end" stage. I don't have a lot of time left as a full time missionary so I need to make the most of my remaining time here in California. I love you all! Remember the church was true yesterday, today, and forever onward. We have the wonderful gift of the restored gospel so, like my remaining missionary service, it shouldn't be wasted.

Love, Elder Hayden Ellis

Monday, October 19, 2015

Spinning Signs and Losing Self Respect

Last companionship photo in our apartment
Bags packed and ready to leave Lakeport
Saying goodbye to Lakeport
Alex Beare and Joey Sainsbury
Me and Bishop Tipton

The Liningers
Sis Larsen
Dave and Natalie
I'm going to miss my Kelseyville brothers - Elders Cote, Wilkes, Christensen, Blaylock and Frodsham
Posterity picture - me with my son, Elder Christensen (the missionary I trained)
and my father, Elder Whittingslow (the missionary who trained me).
Last photo with Elder Christensen
Me and Elder Achal
Me and Elder Raban
Elders Moua and Coursey
Me and Elder Moua I come!!!

Greetings from Vallejo!

Hey everyone! So first of all, might I say that Vallejo is pretty dang cool. It feels a lot like and reminds me of Fairfield. The people are quite alike and contacting pretty much goes the same way as it did in Fairfield. The change in scenery is exactly what I needed to maintain my focus out here. I can honestly say I don't feel like I am going home in two months; so that's a positive.

Monday was primarily spent saying a lot of goodbyes to people in Lakeport. One cool thing was that we attended the setting apart for a young man named Bailey who took off on Tuesday to go on his mission. It was an uplifting experience to be a part of such a life changing experience for someone else, and to watch him be given the same mantle I bear. His setting apart was much different than mine, I guess primarily because he had a huge turn out there. My setting apart (both times) was really small and his was like a party. But regardless of how different they are, the spirit was the same. As soon as President Engstrom referred to Bailey as Elder Elkington for the first time, the spirit just rushed into the room like you wouldn't believe. I'm grateful I was able to be there for such a important and powerful moment in Elder Elkington's life.

Tuesday was the big day we drove down with the Lake County zone leaders, Elders Frodsham and Blaylock, to Santa Rosa for transfers. It's always so much fun to see missionaries I've served with in the past. At transfers I always feel like I am Alma being reunited with the sons of Mosiah "...therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God." At the end of the Transfer Devotional I had a sorrowful goodbye with Elder Christensen and met up with my new companion, Elder Dean. Elder Dean is from Alaska and, like I said last week, is the Elder who replaced me in Novato when I went home. He is an interesting guy. He makes a lot of crazy inappropriate jokes and doesn't have the best work ethic, but he's a good guy and we get along really well. My goal is for us to keep each other working since we are both pretty close to going home. After we got to our area we had a lesson with a recent convert and her nonmember grandson, named Adrian, and we taught him the first half of the restoration (very simply because he's a young kid) and set a baptismal date with him for November 7th. He accepted and is excited for the date so it looks like right off to bat I will have a baptism coming up in a few weeks.

I haven't been here in Vallejo for very long, but I already love it here. It's so delightfully ghetto. People are way fun to contact and talk to here and there is always something interesting happening. Most people might feel out of place or uncomfortable here but these are my people and I am at ease here.

On Wednesday we had service at some place called Mare Island. I'm not at all sure where that is since I don't know anything about Vallejo yet. The whole zone was there, which is the most missionaries I've been around in a long time. We were helping a man move a ton of his junk out of a warehouse for a good 3-4 hours. Apparently the two things we do a lot of here is service and finding new investigators; we don't teach as much, so I guess I'll have some more interesting tracting stories by the time I am done here. We had dinner that evening with a recent convert couple, the Falcones. Before I left Lakeport, Elder Wilkes gave me a list of people to see while here since he served here over a year ago and the Falcone's are on that list. I'm not really sure how to describe them other than they are incredibly energetic and love sharing the gospel. They still have that recent convert fire burning to talk to people about the church, so that's a plus. But also they don't know much about the church, which leads them to giving their sick cat a priesthood blessing.... with consecrated oil and everything... so that's not good. I spent the rest of the night searching for referrals and getting to know Elder Dean more. He's unlike anyone I've been companions with so far. You'll hear more about him as the weeks go by, I don't want to overload you all with Elder Dean stories.

After being in Lake County for 1/4 of my mission, I'm not used to being in an area like Vallejo or being around so many other missionaries. There are 14 missionaries in this zone opposed to the eight in Lake County. That may not seem like a lot, but from our standpoint it's a sizable difference. I lived really close to four other elders while in Lakeport and we had to drive 15 minutes to Kelseyville to visit other missionaries, so I am still getting use to that too. Today we had our weekly planning meeting and Elder Dean is easily distracted and it's hard to keep him focused. Also, he sleeps a lot. If I don't wake him up in the morning I'm sure he would sleep in till noon. It's not easy waking him up either. I found that beating him repeatedly with various articles of clothing is the only effective way to wake the sleeping beast. Like I said, he's certainly much different than any companion I've had before.....or maybe I'm just different than I was before.

Elder Dean and I taught a district meeting together about patience and testifying frequently. We both came up with an acronym to be themes for our district this transfer. His was COCO PUFF which stands for: Change Ourselves, Change Others, Purify Urself For Fortification. This transfer he is going to focus on how we can improve ourselves and develop more Christlike attributes. Mine is GHETTO which means: Glorify Heaven Every Time Testifying/Teaching/Talking (to) Others. I'll teach in district meetings throughout this transfer about how we can help others in their spiritual progression.

We have an ENORMOUS potential investigator list in our area book; probably around 300 names of people that we need to try making contact with so we will be at that for a while. We did some finding that night and got some return appointments out of it. We also cleared some names off the list of people uninterested in us coming back, so progress is being made. As we were on our way to find another referral, this guy called us with a restricted number, and gave us a fake address of where he lived and pretended to be interested in learning about the church all so he could bash with us. It's ridiculous how people will go so far out of their way to try to tear down other people's faith. Elder Dean answered the phone and the man was spitting nothing but anti-Mormon venom at Elder Dean. When Elder Dean attempted to answer a question and bear his testimony, the man would proceed to cut him off and tell him that's not what he believes as a Mormon, or that's not the Jesus we believe in, etc. Thanks for telling us what we believe in, bro. We appreciate that. He didn't want to hear what we had to say - he just wanted to put us down. Elder Dean just told him in the end that his heart wasn't open and he wasn't doing what Christ would want him to do and then hung up. It's sad to see the lengths people will go to oppose the church.

The zone had a finding activity at the church on Saturday. We were doing free car detailing (which means we were cleaning the interior of their car; vacuuming, the dashboard, the windows, etc) and giving church tours while the person waited. We all were assigned different jobs by the Zone Leaders; some did the actual car detailing, some gave church tours for those who were interested in taking them, and some advertised our event by standing by the street and waving a sign around. Of course my job somehow fell amongst those of the sign-spinners, which was by far the least desirable job out of the three. I felt like I was working my old job at Mama Leones where I had to spin a sign to attract customers and I promised myself I would never do again. That clearly didn't pan out the way I hoped. Even though standing on a street corner with a sign and dancing around to get people's attention is humiliating and the last thing I want to do with my life, I thought to myself: "Pre-mission Elder Ellis would much rather accept the sweet embrace of death than to publicly humiliate himself but I'm not the same person I was when I first embarked on my mission." So I figured if I'm going to be given a job, I'm going to do it, and I'm going to do it the best I can. I went to an incredibly busy street corner by myself (don't worry, other missionaries were in sight further down the road) and I white-boy danced my heart out. I jumped around and waved that sign around as if my self-respect depended on it; which was left on that street corner that day. I can promise you that I looked absolutely ridiculous. I'm sure it was funny for people to see me dancing to no music since I didn't have headphones in, but I tried to substitute music with my own amateur beatboxing so I had a beat to dance to. The whole scene must've been difficult for people to spectate and what makes it even worse was I did that for about an hour and a half. My arms and shoulders were dying by the end of the ordeal. Despite how uncomfortable the experience was, I managed to have fun with it and it was cool to see a small way I've changed from my mission, because there is no way I would've done something like that in the past. Unfortunately, only about five or six people accepted our services and even fewer than that took the church tour but one of the Spanish companionships have a return appointment with a guy who stopped by to get his car cleaned. Also, contact information was exchanged between the missionaries and the three people who took the tour, so that's better than nothing.

We had dinner with the Atwaters Saturday night. Much to my dismay, they have an eating competition amongst the missionaries that come over for dinner to see who can eat the most pieces of French toast - and these were the abnormally large Texas toast pieces. I regrettably downed 13, which made me feel like death was an attractive pursuit in life at that point, and I placed myself in the higher ring of winners in the competition, so I'm quite pleased with that. Elder Dean, on the other hand, somehow managed to consume 19 pieces of French toast. He, therefore, not only broke the standing record of 18, but also greatly reevaluated his life and how it took a turn for the worse right then. His stomach was destroyed after that. We both learned that night of the lasting negative side affects of devouring a whole loaf of fried bread.

I was able to meet my new ward, Vallejo 1st, yesterday for the first time. I've definitely felt more welcome in some wards than I have in others, and this one I didn't feel like people tried that hard to welcome me. Now that personally doesn't bother me that much, but I thought about if I was a less active member or an investigator - how would their weak fellowshipping make me feel? It's so important that members are vigilant when there is a new face in church because that fellowship is crucial in helping them feel acceptance and love at church. God often manifests His love and direction for His children through others and we need to be someone He can count on to reach out to His children.

Well that's my report for this week. To top it off, we went to a member's house today to grab our laundry and while we were leaving we saw a bunch of cops outside a house while a squad car came screeching onto the street. While this was happening, we heard a man getting tazed because he flipped out due to his lack of medication. Welcome to Vallejo!

Love, Elder Hayden Ellis

Monday, October 12, 2015

Leaving Lakeport and Embracing Vallejo

This is Moose - he's grown quite a bit since I held him as a pup

Happy transfer doctrine Monday!

Hey everyone! This is your favorite Santa Rosa, CA Missionary (and if I'm not, then you greatly need to reevaluate where your loyalties lie). Well this week was, yet again, a tough week for missionary work. You're going to receive another letter about how all our appointments bailed on us and we hardly taught anyone. Just a warning.

I know I may sound like a broken record, but I am going to say it again: We are still getting cancelled on by all our appointments. It's so frustrating that we can't get a hold of anyone. This is like the third week in a row that we've been flaked on by everyone. We have set appointments with Jake and Cheyenne on Wednesday and Thursday in order to get Jake ready for his baptismal date of Nov. 9th, but we haven't been able to meet with him since we set the date weeks ago! We drove up in front of his house, said a prayer, and by the time I was finished I looked up, saw him standing there, and rolled down my window to be told to come by the following week. They do that to us pretty often. He isn't going to be able to make his baptismal date at the rate we are working at. Also to add to the unfortunate news, we may or may not have been dropped by our investigator, Brenda. Chase texted us and said she is feeling unsure about whether she wants to keep investigating the church. In my experience when investigators randomly drop you out of the blue it's because they don't understand something about the church that scares or confuses them, and once you explain it to them, their concern is resolved and you get right back to teaching them. So hopefully we can meet with them at some point and talk to Brenda about why she's feeling hesitant to continue learning. The rest of our day in Upper Lake and Lucerne was spent trying to find some referrals we have gotten from members and also from Salt Lake, but to no avail. That night we finally had a lesson with Brother and Sister Crites after a month of them flaking on us. We are pretty disappointed with how they, especially Sister Crites, are doing. We were assured by Sister Crites that when her husband finally got here he would help get her to start coming to church again and quit smoking. So far all that's happened is Brother Crites has started smoking and she still doesn't come to church. I don't know how much more we are going to stop by in the future.

We had a rather hard day on Thursday. That morning I felt a strong prompting to ask Elder Christensen some questions on how he is doing. I've just had this feeling of uneasiness about him for a little while now; the feeling being especially strong that morning. It's incredible how the spirit can speak to us if we are willing to listen. When I asked how he was he broke down and told me how he was struggling a lot being out here, and how he hasn't been feeling happy on his mission. He said how he was worried about things changing at home, and although he likes being a missionary, he doesn't feel like he's really happy out here. Elder Christensen has trouble opening up to people so he never told me how he was feeling until then. We skipped studies and had a long talk that morning. I could feel the Spirit guiding me on what to say to best help him. The Spirit knows him a lot better than I do, so it's a pretty safe bet to go with what the Spirit prompts me to say opposed to what I think will help. I gave Elder Christensen a blessing of comfort telling him the Lord knows his worries and will bare him up throughout his struggles, which is true for all of us as we keep the Lord's commandments. He will not leave us comfortless through our trials as long as we rely on Him. I also had do something that I definitely do not enjoy, which is to correct misconduct. I don't like correcting people because it makes me feel like the bad guy coming down on them, but it's so important that we do. If we notice someone under our stewardship making a mistake and fail to say something to them, not only is the sin on the head of the person who didn't speak up, but it also shows how selfish that person is because they are more concerned about what the other person thinks of them over spiritual progression of the one making the error. Does that make sense? In short: never be afraid to lovingly correct someone's spiritual mistakes because if you don't, the Lord will also hold you accountable for it. His mistake wasn't anything too serious or I wouldn't be telling you all, but I did need to address it to assure it wouldn't be a problem in the future. I was afraid of how Elder Christensen would handle it, but if those being chastened see the love behind it then they have no reason to get defensive. Well things started getting better for us during the rest of the day. After awhile I was able to cheer him up and the mood was a lot happier. Even though all but one appointment fell through, we managed to have good attitudes throughout it. Oh, and something else noteworthy happened that night. Joey Sainsbury brought by $110 of gift cards bought by the Beare family for us. I have a fantastic ward that has taken care of me these last six months. Lakeport Ward has a special place in my heart. These people have been so good to me and I'm definitely going to miss it when I'm gone.

We drove down to Clearlake on Friday to help the Highlands elders, Elder Mallory and Elder Raban, with some service in their area. We baled some more hay on the Lease's ranch. But this time the hay literally weighed a ton. We needed a tractor to move those things. Our job was to wrap a chain around the bales and attach it to the tractor so it could lift it up and Brother Lease could drive it over to where he was storing them. At some point during the endeavor of securing the bales with the chain it got dropped on my foot. Not the bales, of course, but the chain. If a bale of hay that size fell on my foot, I would have had to get it amputated. The chain fell on my toe and for a while I was contemplating whether it broke my toe or not! Chains are heavy! Don't ever believe the movies where they whimsically toss a chain like a lasso; those things weigh a lot! But my toes fine, it just hurt like nobody's business. After we managed to move all the bales where they needed to go, and Brother Lease took us out to lunch, we adjourned to the Highlands ward building to weekly plan. I'll be the first to admit that it's pretty hard to be focused in making plans for a week you're quite confident you won't be around to execute. So Elder Mallory and I weren't at all helpful in the weekly planning process (especially since Elder Mallory is going home tomorrow. Our greenies were left with the task to plan the upcoming week. That night we had dinner with them at their members' house. His name is Steve, or known by the missionaries that serve in that ward as Crazy Steve. He was definitely an interesting character. Aside from what I had heard about him prior, what tipped me off that his elevator didn't go all the way up was the first thing he started talking to the four of us about was his excessive use of Acid and LSD back in the day. He was a Hell's Angel biker gang member so that's some impressive accolades right there. And he explained to us, in detail, how we are being visited by extraterrestrials who are here to warn us of our imminent self-destruction. Not only did he start to use visual resources of tv shows like Ancient Aliens and other documentaries about aliens to support his claim, he also cited Joseph Smith to back up his proposal. Not sure how he pulled that one off. Now I believe there are additional planets that are home to other children of our Heavenly Father, but they are certainly not bug-eyed little green dudes. We wouldn't have stayed there so long if he hadn't freaked out and started yelling at us whenever we told him we had to go. The four of us eventually just stood up and started walking to the door and that was the end of that nonsense!

We were in Clearlake again on Saturday for another big service day. We helped with cleaning out the rest of the clothes donations out of the church that no one came and collected. Again, we had a ton of people donate with hardly anyone accepting donations. So the Highlands Elders, some members from the ward, and Elder Christensen and I spent some time taking all the left over clothes and putting them into a Deseret Industry pod to be hauled off and distributed to other people who need it. Finally their church is liberated from random piles of clothing and they can have all three hours of church now! Afterward we headed over to one of their investigator's home and gave her a hand with some jobs around the house she needed assistance with. She did something that bothered me, that many other people we meet do as well, and she called us by our first names. I don't like that. We only have so long to bear the title of "Elder" before we go back to our first names, so show some respect for the calling we hold and address us by what you see on the name tag! Ok, I'm good now. Venting mode ON [OFF]. Our next stop was at the Highlands Ward bishop's house. We helped out with some small projects they needed some aid with. But none of you want to hear anymore about random service I've been doing.

It's time to get to why we are all here. We got the call for Transfer Doctrine while at the Highlands bishop's house. And the big news isssssss.....I'm staying in Lakeport! It'll be a struggle staying here for 7 1/2 months but I know I can endu--just kidding I'm going to Vallejo!!!! Wooooooh!! I am so excited! What's even cooler is I am going to Uncle Nate's old stomping grounds! I am going to Vallejo 1st Ward and apparently my area is huge. I also cover American Canyon. According to Elder Wilkes, who served in this area before, I have the most dangerous area in the already ghetto town of Vallejo. So everyone pray I don't get shot! I am so stoked for this next transfer. Vallejo is an area I've always wanted to serve in. I'm not so sure about my companion though. His name is Elder Dean. He isn't know for being the hardest worker. He is the missionary who replaced me in Novato when I went home and he is also the one who shut down that area for bucketing, or hanging out, with members for hours on end. So we will see how things go with him. I'll be a co-District Leader with him. I am so excited for this next transfer!

Well that's the big news of this week! I'm off to ghetto Vallejo! I'm definitely going to miss this ward and area. The people here have been so good to me. Bishop Tipton assures me that I have a place to stay at his house when I come back with my family in April. People weren't happy on Sunday to hear I am leaving - I guess people are just used to having me around here. Well, the next email I send will be from deep in the ghetto, probably being held at gun point. Love you all and have a great week! 

Love, Elder Hayden Ellis

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Native American Dance and a Zombie Nerf Gun War

Elder Frodsham is a hotdog

Elder Ellis likey! Assassins Creed hooks!

Getting back to my Kansas roots and baling hay

Getting ready for our p-day activity

Happy week 6!

Hello everyone! Might I begin my letter home with an abrupt exclamation - GENERAL CONFERENCE WAS AMAZING!!! Hrmph, now that I got that outburst out of my system, how's everyone doing? I'll talk about my feelings of conference in a little bit, we must abide by my established emailing protocol and take it one day at a time.

Last Monday for p-day we had a very last minute planned and impromptu Nerf gun war in the church cultural hall. But here is the kicker! Since we only had two Nerf guns, which is not sufficient for the preferred Nerf war, we arranged a zombie first person shooter instead! So we had one or two persons with a gun vs everyone else who was a zombie. It was terrifying. At one point you have so much adrenaline pumping you forget your life is not actually in danger. It went pretty well considering it was a last minute decision. We set up obstacles, basically just tables and chairs, in the gym and turned the lights off, so it was really freaky. It's just you, a flashlight, a Nerf gun, and room full of people trying to kill you. It was so much fun. I was nominated to go solo vs everyone else and see how long I could last. So my standing record is 11 minutes! We even went as far to acquire a GoPro and use that to chronicle the chaos. Unfortunately, it was too dark to see anything, but we are going to make some improvements and do it again today for P-Day, although this time we have guns for everyone, the Highlands Elders will be there too, and it will be more planned out. So I'm really excited.

On Tuesday we followed up with our Native American investigator, Leo, on whether he is reading the Book of Mormon. To our great joy, he has been reading it! He asked us about the beginning of the Book of Mormon concerning the testimony of Joseph Smith, and how he saw an angel who led him to some plates which he translated by God, etc. He brought up a common concern people have about Joseph Smith which is how this story is far fetched and difficult to believe. He even went as far as to compare it to the TV show Ancient aliens. Now something that I personally don't understand is why people constantly put a cap on what God is capable of. Anyone who believes in Christ (Leo included, him being a Catholic) should be able to believe that Joseph Smith was led by an angel to ancient scripture. If someone doesn't believe Joseph Smith's story because they think he was lying and none of it actually happened, well then that's one thing, but to say something as miraculous as him conversing with the Lord, being led by an angel, and translating holy script is far fetched and couldn't happen, and then go on to tell us the bible is the word of God, that I can't wrap my head around. All kinds of miracles happened in the bible! People say that Joseph Smith couldn't have seen God and His Son, Christ? Well Stephen did. And not only that, but Moses chatted with a bush... so that right there shows the Lord can talk to His prophets in any way, shape, or fashion he wants, including in person. An angel appearing to Joseph Smith is hard to believe? God often used His angels to carry out His works, whether it was to declare glad tidings, or warn of danger to come, or even just to comfort and support His children. If you examine the different appearances of angels in the bible, something like one revealing additional scripture finally to be brought forth isn't hard to believe. And Joseph Smith interpreting an ancient language? The way I see it is God is fluent in all languages. If He is able to confound the tongue of man, like He did at the Tower of Babel, than He is able to expound words written by man, inspired by Him, to a man. As I explained this to Leo it made more sense to him and his doubts (concerning this particular topic, of course) dissipated. But I want to bare record that I know miracles have happened since the dawn of this earth. Seas have been split, donkeys have spoken, and the dead have been raised. And just as miracles have happened then, they continue today. The Master of miracles has not ceased His work, and the account of Joseph Smith is nothing short of a miracle.

Well I hope you enjoyed my soap-boxing. I guess I am still in the General Conference spirit!

We had a pretty rough day on Wednesday, but to be honest, this whole week was pretty rough missionary work-wise. All of our appointments cancelled on us, much like the rest of the week. I swear it's as if they all discuss with one another which week they wanted to synchronize their cancellations! The only good thing on Wednesday is that I did get to relive my boyish youth growing up on a farm in Kansas (that's a lie, I don't even know what a farm looks like) and bale some hay for the ranch family we do a lot of service for in Clearlake. I've baled hay twice now on my mission, both of which were here in Lake County, so it's safe to say I have mastered the art and am now ready to use a combine. Later that day, we had a member, who is a recent returned missionary, come on splits with us to see our investigator with a baptismal date. Well considering our luck, it wouldn't make any sense if they were home for the appointment, which they weren't. But maybe that was a good thing since I was not impressed with our returned missionary's behavior at all. Basically, all he did was stand on a Rameumptom and tell us how he was an amazing missionary and baptized thousands and how his mission is way better than ours and how he was foreordained to be a zone lead.......simmer down, Hoss, and just try to relax. Now who am I to declare someone else as prideful, but that being said,  I have been given an example of how not to act when I return home.

We drove to Ukiah on Thursday for a training seminar by President Wright, the AP's and the Tech Elders. While we were there, President Wright told me that my NEW-new release date is now the 18th of December because the Church doesn't like flying missionaries around during the weeks of Christmas and Thanksgiving since it's so busy at the airports - which is the same reason I stayed an extra week in the MTC since it overlapped Thanksgiving. The training was pretty good. It was all about better working with ward members and finding more people to teach, both of which I could work on.

On Friday we assisted the move of the Wiggins family (who moved to Nice during my second transfer here) and helped them load a truck that was bound for Freemont. Before we left the church to head over and help them, we grabbed a food order to deliver to a reactivating member per their request. The member was out of town so she told us to leave it with her neighbor who would get it to her when she got home. That's all fine and dandy, but she told us the wrong neighbor at first... So we went and talked to the neighbor, telling them we are delivering the food order for Crystal, and even though they were super confused they still let us in and see the food on her table. Well I told Elder Christensen to call Crystal and confirm that she let her neighbor know that we were coming, because the neighbor sure wasn't expecting us. Well, turned out she messed up and gave us the wrong neighbor, so we went over to the other side and she was expecting us. She told us it's a good thing we didn't leave the food with the other people because they just would've kept it. Bullet dodged! Later that night we taught our young investigator, Ki, who we read the children's Book of Mormon with, which he is almost finished reading all the way through! Then he tried to sell us cookie dough for his schools fund raiser...umm, no thanks buddy, but thanks for the offer.

We had an awesome day on Saturday! First of all, General Conference was amazing! I am so grateful we have such inspired leaders to teach us the things God wants us to know this very day! I think some of my favorite talks from the first session were Elder Holland's (I was practically crying by the end; I know, I am a mama's boy), Elder Hales' advice to youth; "we don't marry perfection, we marry potential", this is good advice for my future wife when she is considering me as a candidate. Also, the talk by President Uchtdorf about not over-complicating the gospel. "Tell a man there are billions of stars, he will believe you. Tell somebody that there is wet paint on a wall. He will touch it just to be sure", that's so true it's sad. Those were a few of the talks that I really liked from the first couple of sessions on Saturday.

Something pretty cool that happened in between the second session and the Priesthood session was we went to a Native American dance with our investigator, Leo. Like I mentioned in previous emails, our investigator, Leo, invited us to come see this dance. It was fascinating to be a part of. The Natives who live on this reservation hold two big dances a year which, incidentally, fall on our General Conference schedule. When Elder Christensen and I got to Leo's house, we headed over to where the dance takes place. It was in this area that looked like a trailer park. In the middle of the park was this big, circular, wooden building that had an opening in the top where smoke was coming out. This is where the dance took place. After waiting awhile and talking to people outside (one of which was actually a member, so we talked to her about Conference and about Leo, and how she has seen a change in him since we have been meeting with him), they were finally ready and let us in the circular building. Inside there was a lit fire pit in the middle with straw with mats along the wall of the building encircling the fire. There was also about seven small wooden pillars around the fire that were holding the ceiling up. As we sat down before the dance started, Leo started telling us some of the do's and don'ts of the dance - like how you are only allowed to walk counterclockwise around the fire. We sat just to the right of the doorway, so if we wanted to leave we would have to walk toward the fire, circle it, and then head out the doorway. And that's another rule: it's disrespectful to leave during the middle of a dance, which was the reason we were late to the Priesthood session later on. So the whole dance is broken up into four different dances, each dancer wearing head pieces with different colored feathers representing different things. The headdresses were pretty crazy looking. Imagine a hat made of long, dead grass, longer in the back, kinda like a mullet, and protruding out of it are approximately 40 arrows with colored feathers on the end forming a semi-sphere in front of him. So his head basically looked like a pincushion. It's hard to describe but it looked super dupes weird. I'm sure he could hardly see out of that thing. Each dancer danced roughly eight dances, each lasting a minute or so, before he was rotated with another dancer, dressed the same but with a different quantity and color of feather. While they were dancing, the people sitting along the edges could and were encouraged to dance as well. They would throw pennies at the feet of the dancers, which was good luck, and then they would dance too, which is really just stomping your feet to the beat of the drums. On top of that, the only thing needed to know while dancing is that men hold their hands down lower and women hold theirs up higher. Well we didn't know of its simplicity when we were given a handful of pennies and Leo leaned over and said, "looks like your expected to dance!" We were obviously a little hesitant. Then Leo stood up and said, "Just watch me first and see if it's something you're comfortable doing. You don't have to but... Well, you do have eyes on you." So right then it was over. Challenge accepted! So we did what anyone would've done in our place; we got up the next dance and we danced our hearts out! And, again, by danced I am still referring to the aforementioned rhythmic stomping to clapping and a drum beat. So nothing too difficult like what we initially thought. We stayed for three of the four dancers, the third being forced on us because apparently the black feathered one is special, so they didn't want anyone to leave for that one and closed the door before we could escape to the Priesthood session. There wasn't anything different about it other than the feather color, so we just witnessed the same thing we were seeing the whole time. But it was still a cool experience! I felt so cultured after it. So on my mission I have attended not only two different Catholic masses but a Native American dance, and I joined in the dancing, so I don't want to ever hear someone call me close-minded! #crossedoffbucketlist

We watched the Sunday morning session of Conference at our bishop's house with him and his wife. I am excited to see what our new apostles bring to the spiritual table. Although they can't fill the shoes of our beloved friends, President Packer, and Elders Perry and Scott, they have been called by God to this sacred offices, so we must sustain and support them - not that I think people will have trouble doing that. Elders Rasband, Stevenson, and Renlund are more than qualified for the job and I'm looking forward to hearing more from them in the future! A talk that I really loved in the later session was by Elder Keetch about the barrier. So many people think the commandments and the church are restrictive but they are actually a safe guard against the gaping jaws of sin. "The gospel is not weight, it's wings."

Well that was my week. Tons of cancellations, General Conference and dancing with Lamanites. Also, transfers are coming up as I indicated in my salutation. It's hard to believe six weeks have passed by so fast. As much as I didn't want to stay here, I have seen the good come from it and it definitely didn't feel like six more weeks. On Friday we shall see where my final area is. So by this time next week, I'll let you know where I am going next. Well, I don't want to make any promises since I was so sure I was leaving last transfer and I stayed. But we shall find out on Friday night! Love you all! Don't forget that General Conference doesn't mean anything unless you apply it to your life after Conference is over. #ponderize

Love, Elder Hayden Ellis