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

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