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

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