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

Monday, November 9, 2015

A Dead Opossum and Spiritual Rants

Hi everyone!

So I had a pretty good week. I have a couple of spiritual rants lined up for you all, so get ready! 

Mom, regarding the etiquette class you're teaching to the youth this week, people definitely notice when missionaries show etiquette and manners. I've encountered a few occasions when people were unwilling to talk to me because they thought my companion and I were Jehovah's Witnesses (nothing against JW's), but upon discovering that we were polite and courteous Mormon boys, they really opened up to us and their attitudes changed. People recognize that Mormons are generally kind and well-mannered, and that's one of the things people often tell me they like most about the church. We are always being watched, so we need to make sure that we are always living our religion and acting as Christ would.

Elder Dean and I had a pretty good day on Tuesday. We taught district meeting; I taught about 'How to begin Teaching' and Elder Dean discussed the Christlike attributes of Hope and Faith. I think we did a pretty good job. I am definitely getting a lot better at preparing and delivering talks and lessons. So spiritual baby steps are being made! After District meeting we got a call from one of our members, Brother Castillo, to help him move some furniture from his mom's work to her house so we invited Vallejo 2nd ward missionaries to come along and help him with that. Brother Castillo took us out to get Phö for lunch, which is essentially Vietnamese Top Ramen. I love Phö so much. I can wait to come back and tour with my family and make them try it because it's so freaking good. They might not like the cow uterus in it (although Gianni might think it's tasty), which adds texture more than anything else, but there are plenty of dishes that don't have that, so no worries. We taught Patricia and Adrian about the first four commandments normally taught after the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which are: obedience, pray often, study the scriptures, keep the sabbath day holy. There are only a few more lessons that he needs to be taught before he is ready to meet his baptismal date next week.

I feel like I have really been getting to know Elder Dean lately. I know my last few emails about him have been a touch on the critical side, but he really is a good guy even though he may have a sarcastic and hard outer shell. He's been telling me lately a bit of his concerns in life, and how he doesn't think he really measures up. He has some struggles with chronic depression and a terrible self image, so I am able to relate to his situation on that level. I know this is one reason that the Lord placed him and I together. The several years that I dwelt with depression and self-loathing were definitely unpleasant, but because of that time of trial I can sympathize with those dealing with the very same problem that I encountered.

Elder Dean and I went on exchanges with the Benicia elders this week. Elder Dean paired up with Elder Walpole in our area and I was with Elder Rasmussen in Benicia. Elder Rasmussen started his mission in San Rafael at the same time of my second transfer in Novato, so I have known him his whole mission. He puts up this sarcastic and cynical persona so people who don't know him might think he's standoffish and cold, but really once you get to know him he's a really good guy. He's actually changed and opened up a lot since last year when he first arrived in the mission.

My day with Elder Rasmussen was kind of hard to describe in only a few words. We exchanged words with a couple of individuals who were unwilling to learn, but just wanted to bash with us. Actually, I think those few words summarized our day pretty well! We met with one women named Nancy that the Benicia elders visit weekly. Nancy is an older women who doesn't have any intention of joining the church, but wants the missionaries to stop by for company and to teach her about the Book of Mormon, not to know if it's true, simply for the purpose of "intellectual curiosity". So, that right there brings up the question of why the missionaries even stop by her house anymore. When we sat down with her, she went into how she has all these problems with the church, like: tithing, Joseph Smith, women's position in the church, and many other little concerns. I tried my best to resolve Nancy's concerns but she is one of those people who don't really care what you say in response to their bashing because she already has decided that no matter what you say she's right and you're wrong. It's immensely difficult to hold a conversation with people like this. She wasn't at all hostile in her opinion, but she was incredibly stubborn and closed off to other suggestions or ideas. The best you can do at this point is bear testimony, be polite and courteous, and walk away; which is inevitably what we did. Elder Rasmussen still intends to keep visiting her, but from what I saw, it won't do any good at this point; some people need additional time for the Lord to work with them before they are ready to listen to the Spirit. That was just one of the lessons we had that day that were like that.

The other lesson we had that day was with an inactive member named Michael. Now Michael is an incredibly complicated man which, unlike the day as a whole, I cannot describe in just a few words. His family is active but apparently he got so overwhelmed with anti-Mormon material and petty concerns that he was just buried in it and now has zero interest in the church or religion as a whole. He is perfectly content worshipping a God that he is semi-sure is real in a way he finds suitable. He is a really great guy and, oddly enough, loves the missionaries. In fact, he is the unofficial Benicia dinner calendar coordinator, and signs up every Saturday to feed the Benicia Elders and has told them to inform him about any day they don't have dinner so he can feed them. He is a super great guy; this is why I was surprised when his son and wife left for scouts and he proceeded to share every anti-Mormon concern in the book. I seriously can't remember a time on my mission when my faith was attacked so viciously. Although he assured me that he wasn't trying to change my beliefs, every time I tried to bear a simple testimony, he would counter what I said with more pointless bashing. He brought up concerns of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, tithing, the temple being exclusive to non members, polygamy, how he thinks people are unable to change, the repentance process, how he sees the leaders of the Church as corrupted, and so much more. He talked about concerns that I hadn't heard before, and he did so in a rather offensive and hostile fashion; heck, he even threatened my life at one point during the discussion, and he said stuff that I wouldn't even say to my worst enemy. All I could do was bear testimony in what I know to be true: about Joseph Smith being a prophet, the Book of Mormon being an inspired book, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and so on. But at this point in his life, his heart is too bitter toward the church and life in general for my testimony to reach him right now. I pray that it will plant a seed that can one day grow into spiritual understanding.

Now the reason I am bringing this lengthy experience of mine to light is not to condemn Michael (believe it or not,  I like Michael a lot) or people with concerns or questions about the church. Asking questions is a good thing; it's asking a question that led Joseph Smith to pray and ultimately restore the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth. The point I am trying to make is that it is such a shame to allow these concerns to fester and lead to bitterness, indifference or even a self-inflicted apostasy. It doesn't make any sense why someone would let the opinion of man, whether it be through anti-Mormon literature or someone asking a question they don't know the answer to, sneak into their hearts and dismiss a testimony that they were given by the Holy Ghost, who is the very third member of the Godhead. You simply cannot let a temporal opinion or concern dictate your spiritual understanding of the heavenly. Just as you wouldn't go to a chemistry teacher to help you get an A in art class, you can't go to a man to gain a testimony of God. Now that's not to say we can't teach each other about the scriptures or about God. That's what missionaries, attending church and inspired leaders are for - to help people grow in understanding about our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. But one must take this knowledge they have received to God in prayer and ask for a confirmation of truth through the Holy Ghost. Likewise, we as missionaries are called to assist people to come closer to God by helping them to find out for themselves through prayer and study (Moroni 10:3-5); not by just taking our word for it! I exhort everyone to "doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith", and to not let your own lack of understanding overshadow a time when you felt the spirit testify the truthfulness of the gospel to you.

Sorry for the super long, seemingly never ending, point I was trying to make. I try to keep my crazy missionary rants to a minimum but sometimes they have to be made known.

Nothing really significant happened on Thursday. The most notable thing that happened was we had service with most of the zone for Vallejo 2nd ward's investigators helping them clean their yard that became a dumping ground for homeless people. Other than that, we continued clearing uninterested names out of our area book. On Friday we taught a young man in our ward named Mario. He has been out of town since I have been in Vallejo and he just recently got home so this was the first I was able to meet with him. We are going to start meeting with him a couple of times a week now. We also were able to teach Brother Wells who is a less active member in our ward. His family is trying to get more active in the church and his young daughter, who just turned 8, wants to be baptized so this will be a good incentive for them to start coming to church more.

Elder Dean and I had a pretty decent day on Saturday. We helped one of our members clean up their parent's house and yard a little. We had most of the zone there so the work went by quickly. After we finished helping our member, their neighbor came outside and asked if we could help her with a dead opossum that got caught in her backyard fence two weeks ago. When we went over to her house we discovered the opossum must've gotten it's head caught in between the fence posts and hung itself. So we had to lift it off the fence and bag it for animal control to come and pick it up. I just wanted to share with you another interesting service opportunity I was able to participate in.

We met with Patricia and Adrian and scheduled Adrian's baptism for Saturday at 2 pm. Elder Dean is going to baptize him and I will be giving a talk on the Holy Ghost during the baptismal service. There are a couple of points we still need to teach Adrian before then, but I am glad we finally scheduled it. So be expecting baptismal pictures next week!

I want to address something that had received a lot of attention this last week. The church recently announced a clarification in policy about same-sex marriage and how this situation is to be handled in the church. I know this announcement has sparked ill feelings among some members of the church. When our faith is tested like this we simply need to decide whether we sustain our prophet and apostles and if we believe they receive inspiration from the Lord. If we do then we can trust the decisions they make are out of love for us and love for Jesus Christ. I sustain Thomas S. Monson as the Lord's anointed prophet to lead and direct us along the straight and narrow path; which is where we will walk if we heed his teachings. I know that the leaders of this church aim for nothing less than to maintain the Lord's law in a world of ever-lowering morals.

Love, Elder Hayden Ellis

Monday, November 2, 2015

Bullying is No Bueno and a Chainsaw

Hey friends and family!

Well since it's only been half a week since I last emailed, not as much happened that I can report on, but hopefully I am still able to keep you all interested!

On Thursday Elder Dean and I went on exchanges with Vallejo 2nd ward missionaries, Elder Hansen and Elder Seastrand. I was with Elder Seastrand in my area. Elder Seastrand is a brand new missionary from Mesa, Arizona, who loves to dance. He's a really good kid and I like him a lot. I give some major props to him because he has a lot of health problems but he didn't let that be an excuse of why he could not serve a mission and came out here anyways. That's pretty admirable, in my opinion. When I asked Elder Seastrand at the beginning of the exchange what he wanted to work on improving the most, he told me that he wants to get better at opening his mouth, because he gets really nervous and quiet in lessons or when talking to people on the street. Well I can oblige him there since a majority of the work in our area is finding new people to teach and cleaning out our area book. We went and visited a lot of potentials on our list of people to see. We had some success in our finding and was able to give out two Book of Mormons. The first was to a man named Robert who said we could come back the next day, and actually followed us out to our car and asked us for a book, so that was pretty cool. The other Book of Mormon we gave out was to a women named Nina that we contacted outside a house of a potential we were trying to see. We went up and talked to her and she told us she was baptized in the church but now studied with the Jehovah Witnesses. After chatting about what we do as missionaries, I brought up the Book of Mormon and offered her a copy. At first she was hesitant and brought up some common concerns about how we view Joseph Smith and whether the BoM takes the place of the bible, but after we resolved those inquiries she accepted a copy. Sometimes people aren't interested just because they don't understand it.

Elder Seastrand and I had two lessons that day, one was with someone named John, who is kinda crazy. While I was teaching gospel principles last week about how families can be together for eternity, he brought up his desire to have a wife and a concubine and tried to justify why it should be okay. So that was interesting, but the lesson with him went alright. The other lesson that we were able to teach that night was with Patricia and Adrian. We discussed the gospel of Jesus Christ with Adrian and he understood it all pretty well. We are going to push back Adrian's baptismal date by a week since there were some appointments with him that were missed, so to make things less stressful for us and them we changed his baptism to the 14th, but it's till going to happen. While we were there Patricia told us she has been in a lot of pain lately due to her health problems. I suggested to her that we give her a blessing at the end of the lesson and she accepted. After a little bit of encouragement and persistent nudging,  I convinced Elder Seastrand to seal the anointing and give the blessing. Even though he was reluctant and nervous to do it, he did a pretty good job. I remember my first couple of blessings I gave. They didn't go to well. I remember my first ever blessing was in Crescent City to a man named Paul Cappell. I asked to do the anointing because it's easier, but I realized soon after I anointed him that I didn't know how to transition the blessing to the second person who seals the anointing and panicked and ended up just giving him the whole blessing by myself while saying none of the words that are necessary. They gave me an "A" for trying, but it didn't go well at all. I am pleased to say I've come a long way since then.

After our planning meeting on Friday, we went to pick up dinner from a member who signed up to feed us that day. Her neighbor used to meet with missionaries and is in our Area book, but we didn't know that when we were walking up to the house. He was outside and when he saw us coming he got mad and yelled at us to go away because we knew he is not a believer in Christ, but believes in Satan. So that was uncomfortable for everyone, especially for him when he realized we weren't there to see him.

And then later that night when we got home, we discovered that we got pranked by the Spanish Elders, Elder Perez and Scow. They broke into our apartment and took a bunch of our stuff and did other stupid things like put peanut butter and petroleum jelly on the door knobs. Elder Dean didn't handle it well and flipped out because he thought they stole his boots, and being from a ranch in Alaska, he really cares about his boots. So he started interrogating all the missionaries he thought committed the crime. It got so bad that he made us drive over to the apartment of the actual culprits behind the prank and demand our stuff back and, when they refused to return our possessions, seized and kidnapped their own possessions. Things have been getting way out of hand in this zone and I don't know how to get it under control!

Saturday was a surreal day for me because I realized that exactly a year ago from this day I was home in Tooele already released from being a missionary. It definitely does not at all feel like it's been a year since I had to pack my bags and get on a plane for Utah, nor does it feel like a year has passed since I was last with my family. It goes to show how little time we have to serve the Lord full time and just how quickly it all goes by.

Our whole zone had service in Benicia helping a member cut down trees and clear a ton of ivy in their backyard. A tree that the members were cutting down almost fell on top of their house and more importantly on us. Elder Dean took a video of the event so all can witness how we almost died.

Halloween was a really hard day to be an effective missionaries. It's not like we can go tracting or finding that day because people are expecting Trick-or-Treaters. Not to mention, our mission President wanted us all in our apartments by 7 pm so we didn't have much time during the evening to get any work done. It's not like we could've done much since no one wants to talk to missionaries on a holiday, especially when they are expecting cute little kids dressed up as Frozen and Star Wars characters.

I really try not to make every email home about me complaining or about what's wrong with my companion, but I feel like a lot of our days consist of me trying to get Elder Dean working. He sleeps so much it's ridiculous. Not only did he go to sleep early on Saturday since we got home at 7 pm, but we also got an extra hour of sleep from daylight savings and still the first thing he did upon getting home after church was get undressed and fall asleep. I normally fall asleep too after fast and testimony Sunday, but that's because we are instructed to pray for an hour on these days and I generally can't make it through the whole hour without dozing off. I am sorry for all the negative emails everyone. I do love Elder Dean and he can be a really good missionary when he tries to be, but I am just struggling with him right now. The time in my mission where I need a strong and hard working companion the most, I feel like I am dragging both of us along.

The Castillo family had us over for dinner on Sunday night. They are primarily a Filipino family, excluding the mom who is white, and have four young, super cute kids. The oldest child, who incidentally is a boy named Hayden, upon discovering that my name also hails from the Hayden lineage, invoked the law of those with identical names, thus making us best friends. So the entire dinner consisted of pleas for my attention. "Hayden, look at this!" or "Watch me jump on the trampoline, Hayden!" His three younger sisters also adopted the habit, so I was being frequently summoned simultaneously by four children, all beckoning to me by a name I almost forgot I originally was known by before Elder. It took me a few times before I realized that by 'Hayden' they meant me. I love kids so it was a fun dinner.

That night we had our Sunday night Leadership meeting. We were told by the zone leaders something that I found rather disturbing: someone in the zone feels like they are being bullied. NEVER should a missionary feel like he or she is being bullied or excluded by his peers. We are servants of the Lord and are far above that kind of behavior, or at least we should be. I really hope that nothing I have done or said has contributed to him feeling that way. I know what it's like to feel excluded by your social circle; those were some rough years for me growing up. I never want to make someone feel the same way I felt for so long.

Most of the zone went bowling for P-Day today and I got a not-so impressive score of 85, so that really cemented in my brain that I suck at bowling. There was a power outage while we were bowling, so that was interesting; totally ruined our already rather pathetic game. It's been raining pretty hard today and the other missionaries told us they heard lightening on their way to the bowling alley, so I'm quite pleased with that. California has been in dire need of rain throughout my entire mission. Also of note today, one of the missionaries in this zone, Elder Perez, is getting emergency transferred to Eureka zone. The Assistants to the President didn't tell us anything else concerning the move, like who is coming or what area he is going to be in, so other than the fact that he is leaving, we know nothing.

Sorry if my letter is boring. I am trying to highlight some of the more notable events but most of the work here consists of me trying to get work done while Elder Dean drags his feet, so keep me in your prayers, please.

Love, Elder Hayden Ellis