My emotions are close to the surface. I can't believe all that has transpired in the past two years, but I can't express my gratitude for the blessing of it all. We are too blessed by our Father in Heaven. I could not have imagined at the outset of my mission the spiritual feast that has been laid before us. My greatest joy is to look at each one of my wonderful siblings and see how faithful each of you are to the gospel. I am practically brought to tears when I think of the faithfulness of these beautiful families. Can we possibly imagine the joy that we will have when we meet our family that has passed on from here?
I know, I'm getting sappy. But I just can't help it. And none of you can interrupt me because it's an email. So I'm sorry, but I just love each of you.
I'll have the chance to go to the temple with the nine other missionaries that I will depart with tomorrow, and I look forward to renewing my covenants there. Temple worship is something that is an infrequent thing on a mission. I'm grateful for the restored blessing of temples.
I don't have much to add. I'll have all of the stories to tell later. This week we were blessed to meet a single mother of 5 named Heather who has been seeking out spiritual direction. We hope to be able to help her!
We also taught a young lady who yelled at us through her window as we were walking down the street. It's so cool to be a missionary!
I love you all!
Picture: We found this place while contacting a potential one day. As we were walking up, Elder Swainston said, "Do you feel like this belongs in a Call of Duty video game, or is that just me?"
The weather here in Iowa is finally holding! It's become warmer and warmer. The humidity is out in full force today, and it's pretty thick outside! It's wonderful to experience.
Right before coming to email today, we went grocery shopping. On our way in, a lady in nurse scrubs was standing by the grocery carts, rubbing two coins together. When we approached, she said, "Do you guys have any quarters by chance?"
"No," I replied, "But I can go back to the car and get one!"
"Oh! I'm sorry! Do you not work here?" She replied, a bit embarrassed. We explained who we were, and she released us, saying, "Ok, I'll go ask this guy!" She proceeded to ask a different man for a quarter.
I felt a bit bad for not inviting her to learn a little bit more about the Restored Gospel. We began to shop. Suddenly as we came around a corner, a woman spun around and looked me right in the eye. "Where is the cottage cheese?"
I was a bit startled by the abruptness of the comment so I paused, then I responded, "Uh... I don't really know. Maybe by the other cheeses?" I pointed in their general direction in the store.
"Do you not work here?" Queried the woman.
"No, I'm sorry!" I responded, chuckling a bit. She went over to where I had pointed. I thought to approach her about the gospel, but my companion had already moved on, and I justified my decision away.
Feeling now DOUBLY bad for not "Talking with Everyone" as PMG tells us to, especially with such soft ball opportunities, I sent up a prayer of repentance. That was when we were approached a third time.
"Where are your coffee beans?" Asked an old woman pushing a cart. Now, lest you be confused, this is MAYBE a once a month occurrence. It never happens three times in one visit to the grocery store. I got the hint. Circumstances weren't veiled enough to slip past THIS time tested elder! (More than twice... hahaha)
We started to talk with her and shared a bit of the Restored Gospel with the lady. Her name was Rita, and she was so pleasant! She invited us to her home to share with her the message.
So, despite my hardheadedness and timid nature, the Lord's work in Iowa moves forward! Turns out that here in the Midwest, old ladies and corn are both harvested when the time is right.
Hope that analogy wasn't too much of a stretch... haha
I loved seeing the pictures of the birthday party! As I was looking at them, I was reminded of just how good looking my family is! You all are just beautiful. I love to see the kids as well and how happy they look.
Isn't that weird? I remember when the Aunts and Uncles used to call US "the kids". Now we ARE the Aunts and Uncles, calling all the other ones "the kids".
I love you all so much. I always have to stop myself from telling people too much about my family. It is an amazing thing that we get to all be connected for time and all eternity. What a marvelous blessing it is to be sealed! I cannot imagine how much joy must be possible in the hereafter. There is so much to look forward to in an eternal family in heaven. Like Dad taught at Stake Conference last year, it truly is the "treasure of heaven".
We've experienced some decent growth in our area. We found a few new investigators and were able to meet with one of them again. We have another appointment with one of them later on today. I realized this morning that I have been way too focused upon the lessons and not on the people. This whole transfer I've continually felt to study the fundamental principle of "Teach People, Not Lessons". I'm really trying to focus in more on that. I was studying in "Learning to Recognize the Spirit" in Preach My Gospel, and it talks about how if we are not careful, we can become "preoccupied" and miss the promptings of the Spirit.
I realized that some of my preoccupations involve the lesson itself. I get so caught up in the next principle, or how to tie it back into the lesson or how to get the person to commit that I forget to actually focus on the person! It was a good moment of spiritual tune up for me.
Scripture study is like that. It's like a spiritual "Jiffy Lube".
I have to just start writing this week. I have no clue really what to say. We've had a busy week with transfers having happened on Thursday. We had a couple of District meetings and some really wonderful new missionaries came into our district. Our new district leader is Elder Todd! I was his zone leader in Davenport, then when I left he came over to Kirksville and was in the Quincy zone, and now he is in the Clinton Zone with me! I love him and he is really wonderful. I'm glad to have him back with me.
Bill had a really weird week this week. He smoked. On Thursday we began to teach him, and he started complaining of some pain, and then began to put on a show and told us to call 911. It was really hard, because we could tell that it wasn't 100% real, and we didn't know exactly why he was doing it. He has regressed a bit.
But then, out of nowhere, he showed up to church. Maybe he could make his date of April 25th after all? We are doing our best to help him and not just hope he makes it.
There is also a part member family we've been working with. Both the Less Active wife and the Investigator husband came to church! It was a miracle. This area has taught me how much of the work really comes directly through the instrumentation of the Spirit. We did hardly anything to inspire these two men to do what they did. We simply invited them to come unto Christ, and then helped them in the feasible ways. Being a missionary, you want to force people to do things, but the most effective thing was inviting and helping. Agency was completely in their hands the entire time.
I'm so grateful for the lessons of the Lord.
We also found a few more investigators this week. We look forward to Mission Leadership Council tomorrow.
I know this is the work of the Lord! It moves forward and will not be frustrated. I know the Lord will come again to the earth "in power and great glory." I look forward to that day. I hope He will recognize me. I desperately hope I can show that I loved Him. I know that each of you will, and I expect we'll see Mom there too.
I love you all!
Elder Leavitt came back to visit! He was doing awesome:)
I feel like all week long things are happening left and right, and then the moment I sit down to email, I come up blank. "Nothing happened this week!" My mind protests as I dig through the filing cabinets of memories. I have to say, this week, I agree with it.
There were some shake-ups in the zone this past week. The bottom half of our stake had the ward boundaries change fairly drastically yesterday, and it caused one of our areas to be absorbed completely into the other zone. This means our zone is now only composed of 7 areas. Isn't that ridiculous? One of the transfers I was in Fort Madison, the district alone had 6 areas! The mission is slowly stabilizing and shrinking. It is really sad to see a lot of the missionaries go, but it's the way of life out here.
Also, Bill came to church this week! It's been a long time coming, but he's committed to his date of April 25th. He is a great guy, but he'll need to overcome smoking if he's going to be baptized.
Hm... What else to report... I lost 4 pounds! Elder Swainston is a huge perfectionist, so he's making me diet with him. We run every morning and drink smoothies with spinach in them. It's weird. No comment. But hey, I'm getting good habits. I'm going to be buff as buff can be when you see me again!
We also went on exchanges in Dubuque with the Marshallese speaking elders this week. It was super fun, and I ate a bajillion different weird foods. I had tuna jerky! It's just like beef jerky, except made out of tuna. What did it taste like, you may ask? Do you know that smell when you are walking along the beach with a slight breeze coming off the water? Smells like salt and freshness, right? Suddenly, you catch a whiff of dead fish. Mix those two smells together, and you've got yourself some fish jerky!
Oh! By the way, make sure that you get some of those "BecauseHeLives" cards and start handing them out. I wanted us to be united in doing this. It's such a powerful tool! One of the best ways to motivate yourself to do it is to set a goal for yourself, such as, "every week, I'm going to hand out at least one." Then, report to Heavenly Father on your goal at the end of each week. Use this tool to share the gospel!
I know the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. He is the Son of God. I know this is His church on the earth today.
Picture: This is Kirby Heyborne from all the Mormon movies! He is on an ad in Dubuque.:)
We were nutso busy this week. We had an exchange sandwich with zone conference in the middle. I practically didn't even SEE Elder Swainston for 3 days. It was really strange because I was in our area both times, and there is just something cool about splitting the work between two people. I just had an eye opening moment that Elder Swainston was supposed to be my companion and we were supposed to be teaching these people at this time. He is a great missionary and I look up to him a lot.
In other news, at Zone Conference I gave my departing testimony. It was a little bit weird because I'm not departing with nearly any of the other missionaries that gave their testimonies. Out of like 9 missionaries, 7 of them go home on April 10th, and Elder Allred, my MTC companion, and I go home the next transfer, so it was like giving your deathbed advice before you've even been admitted to the hospital. I felt like I should stand up there and say, "Just in case something changes between now and Summer, don't write any of this down. I'll be here all transfer. And then I'll STILL be here next transfer."
I don't know. I'm not really complaining, it just felt a tad bit premature.
But enough of my boohooing. We found quite a few new investigators this week! We just need some work on retention. We've found bajillions of people to teach, but a lot of them just fall off the map. We set up specific return appointments and leave them the appropriate commitments, but we're just sifting to find those who are willing to follow the Savior.
Which brings me to another thought. This morning I was reading in the scriptures, and Helaman 14:13 stood out to me quite a bit. Samuel the Lamanite makes a statement about those who will believe on the Savior. Look at what he says they will do if they truly believe. "And if ye believe on his name ye will repent of all your sins, that thereby ye may have a remission of them through his merits." I testify that that is true. The Atonement has a natural draw to it. If you understand how much Christ loves you and has done for you, sins become a lot less appealing. If you believe and have faith in Him, a natural result is repentance.
I'm so grateful for you guys. I love you and am so grateful for your testimonies. I trust that anyone with a sincere faith in Jesus Christ will eventually become purified and sanctified. The plan is a lot more simple than we sometimes make it out to be.
This week was great. We had our Mission Leadership Council meeting in Iowa City, and then our Zone Training Meeting here in Clinton. It was so fun to be around the whole zone. I don't know if I mentioned this to you last week, but I have been working really hard to not be so selfish. It's been a large tendency of mine across my life. It just makes you miserable when all you think about is yourself. You are always worried about what you are going to say next or what other people think of you or what you look like or what type of missionary you are. If it's not that, you are the opposite side of the same scale, convinced that you are the greatest, or that your testimony is so strong, or that you are grateful the Lord made you so wonderful and yada yada yada. Well, I've been really really trying hard to focus more on others whenever I feel a need to think about myself.
Let me tell you, it's changed my whole outlook! I love it.
Hm. That's kind of ironic. I just wrote a whole paragraph about me and how selfless I've become.
I hope that came out right.
Anyway, this week was a ton of preparations for the baptism of Jesse and Tanya. They are ready! Tanya just needs to be interviewed and they are as good as gold. It should be a really fun weekend as we prepare for the baptism. It has been remarkable to see the changes that have taken place in that lady, and how open and willing the ward has been in accepting their little family. I can't lie and say that Tanya's Huntington's Disease doesn't cause a large struggle for the ward members, but I haven't once heard someone complain. We had an extensive discussion on how we could make it possible for her to feel welcomed and loved in all classes during our ward council. This ward is really really incredible.
So, we'll be spending a lot of time close to them as we help them to remain strong for the baptism this weekend. Thank you for your prayers!
That's what is happening in Clinton this week. The Lord continues to move His work forward. I'm grateful to be a part of it.
You all are going to be the death of me! I love that you are excited for me to return, but I am still full of energy to work and time to do so! I'm really trying to be all that the Lord needs me to be. This is a strange request, but can you not mention me coming home in emails or letters unless I need to be involved in a decision?
I just don't want to regret this last few transfers. They should be the most effective of my entire mission.
But! Don't get me wrong, I'm excited to see you all when the time is right, but I'm just grateful to be out here in the first place! :)
Alright, now for updates. Tanya and Jesse are still on date for the 14th of March, as is Zouzou. Tanya is solid as a rock for her date, and the others are progressing steadily, giving me gray hairs, just like usual. The good thing is that my hair isn't falling out like it was in Quincy! Missions do really weird things to your body. I feel like my spine is compressed because of how much my sidebag pulls on it. I think I'm crooked by now!
I officially sent home Elder Leavitt this week! He's a goner, back to Las Vegas. I traded him in for the newer model, Elder Swainston, from Las Vegas! Isn't that weird? I was Elder Swainston's first zone leader when he entered the mission in Davenport, and now I'm his companion! He is a really diligent worker. I love him already, and we have had tons of fun together. We already taught this crazy nutso guy who talked about how he would've been a member of the church if the people in Juab county in Utah would have taught him the gospel. He was not having any of the lesson we were trying to teach him. It was weird.
But if you went two whole years without teaching a few crazies, you wouldn't have a single good story to tell, now would you?
In other news, I'm really excited about this new guy we're teaching named Bill. He is a really old guy who smokes like a chimney, but he is desperate to be cleansed of his sins. He is struggling to overcome his vices, but we're helping him out.
I thought I had this missionary thing down! Apparently not. It seems like every time you get comfortable in one way or another, the Lord shows you that you aren't as cool as you thought you were.
I don't think He does it to "put us in our place" or make us remember that He is the alpha male or anything of that nature, just to help us keep progressing.
Let me explain. I wrote this earlier to Damon and Little Brooke:
Just yesterday my companion and I taught a terrible lesson. It was really disappointing because we reacted to the situation in a really poor way. Our investigator Zouzou, who has a baptismal date for the 14th of March with Jesse and Tanya, had a lot of complicated questions that we chose to answer rather than direct her to the Book of Mormon. We fielded them poorly, the Spirit wasn't very present, and the whole lesson was completely out of control. After the lesson, we visited about it and came to the conclusion that we handled it so so wrong and made plans to improve.
Last night in my personal prayer I pleaded for forgiveness. I felt really embarrassed because I have been out 21 months and my companion has been out for 23 months. How could we have made such a poor decision? We had both sat across from someone else with the exact same questions and felt the out-of-control parts of the lesson before. It was so difficult to face the Lord in prayer after the lesson and explain to Him what happened.
I feel as though the 'infinite' nature of the Atonement is for moments such as this. This mistake could be made at any time, but there is not a time limit on utilizing the Atonement. It will be available at 3 months, 21 months, and long after the finite mission of "Elder Brown" is over.
Use it often!
That's a bit of the spiritual thought for the day. I still am praying for an opportunity to help Zouzou refocus on the most important things. I plead that the Lord will give us another opportunity to correct this mistake.
Tanya is still smoke free! She is wonderful. In her pure and precious way, she related to us that when she gets resurrected, she wants to be an eagle. We quickly cleared up that misconception:) She will most definitely be a human. She now understands that. haha
Elder Leavitt goes home this week! Back to Las Vegas where he came from, then I'll get another companion here in Clinton. Good things are happening always!
If I'm going to be obedient, this email is going to take me seven minutes to write.
I want to be obedient.
I now have 6 minutes.
Sorry it is short.
But Tanya, Jesse, and Jackie all came to church yesterday! Tanya quit smoking on Wednesday and is now FIVE FULL DAYS a NON SMOKER! Woot woot! We had an amazing miracle on Friday evening. We were supposed to go and teach them at 8 pm, but right when we pulled up, we received a text from Jesse that said, "Sorry guys, it's a no go." We were practically at the door, so we knocked anyway. Jesse told us that his mom was really not feeling well, but he let us in to see her. She was laying on the couch covered in sweat and shivering.
Jesse spoke up, "I think it's because she quit smoking cold turkey."
With all of the medicines and stuff that she has to take, I wasn't super surprised that she was struggling, but we offered a blessing, and she accepted.
Two days later, at church, she raised her hand in the combined Relief Society and Priesthood meeting and told about how on Friday night, she had been feverish and had bad chills, but when we gave her a blessing, the chills went away and the next day she was completely fine.
Miracles are real! I'm out of time! The Lord is working in this part of the vineyard! Please be praying to help bring people to Him!
About 3 months ago in an interview, I sat across from Sister Jensen and she asked me, "So, Elder Brown, where have you served?"
"Well," I replied, "I've been on the river nearly my entire mission. The only area that wasn't on the Mississippi was Kirksville. I was in Fort Madison, then Kirksville, then Davenport, and now Quincy. Every area has at least been super far East."
"Really?" She seemed a bit astonished, "Well, that won't last long."
I sat across from President Jensen not 10 minutes later. "Well, Elder Brown, how long have you been here so far?" I told him the amount of time I had been in Quincy, about 4 months at that point. "Hm... Maybe a transfer more and you'll be out of here."
"President?" I ventured, "I've been on the Mississippi my whole mission. I'd really like to see Des Moines or go somewhere in that direction."
He looked pensive, then said matter-of-factly "Well, that's pretty logical. It will happen, don't you worry."
So, you may ask, was I surprised when I got transferred to Clinton, IA? Why yes, I was. And then you may ask, is that anywhere near Des Moines? No, No it is not. Well then where is it?
You guessed it. Right on the Mississippi river. I'm still in the Davenport Stake, serving as one of the Clinton Zone Leaders. My companion is Elder Aaron Leavitt, who I replaced when I went to Quincy. He was one of my zone leaders during the time that I served in Kirksville, so I already know him well. He goes home at the end of this transfer, and so I'll be his very last companion! He is wonderful. He is from Las Vegas, Nevada, and he is a great missionary. I've looked up to him for a long time, and so I hope I can learn from him in the short time that we'll have to serve together. So far, the zone has struggled a bit over the last little while. I hope that good things come about as Elder Leavitt and I serve together. I still have little to no idea about the area, but we have a sweet African young lady who is scheduled to be baptized on the 31st of January. I hope we can help her to reach that date!
Also, just a little miracle. I can't remember if I mentioned how we did a Called to Serve program during the time I was in Davenport. We had mini missionaries, and my mini missionary was Chris? Well, he lives in Clinton. When I got here, I found out he was less active! So maybe that's one of the reasons that the Lord has sent me back to the Mississippi... We will see.
Maybe it's been obvious to everyone else, but the sacrament took on a new meaning for me this past week. Last week we had an INCREDIBLE snow storm that dropped 13 inches of snow in a very short amount of time. As such, church was canceled and we didn't get to partake of the sacrament.
This last week was good, but it dragged on and on and on. I couldn't figure out why I was so tired until the very end of the week. Saturday night I sat down on the bed, exhausted, and remembered that the very next day I would renew my covenants. Suddenly it hit me. I was trying to do a spiritual work when my spiritual reservoir was running desperately low.
I was so pleased to be able to receive once more the bread and water and to be fed spiritually. It made me wonder, if I'm spiritually hungry after only one week, what is happening to those who haven't been to church in a month? a year? Never before in their life? President Boyd K. Packer said,
"Almost any returned missionary will have a question: “If they are starving spiritually, why do they not accept what we have? Why do they slam the door on us and turn us away?”
Be patient if some will not eat when first invited. Remember, all who are spiritually hungry will not accept the gospel. Do you remember how reluctant you are to try any new food?Only after your mother urges you will you take a little, tiny portion on the tip of a spoon to taste it to see if you like it first.
Undernourished children must be carefully fed; so it is with the spiritually underfed. Some are so weakened by mischief and sin that to begin with they reject the rich food we offer.They must be fed carefully and gently.
Some are so near spiritual death that they must be spoon-fed on the broth of fellowship, or nourished carefully on activities and programs. As the scriptures say, they must have milkbefore meat (see 1 Cor. 3:2; D&C 19:22). But we must take care lest the only nourishment they receive thereafter is that broth." (Feed My Sheep, Boyd K. Packer)
I know that this is true. We are searching them out here in Iowa and Illinois. Please do the same where you are! There are even some who sit at the dinner table but never choose to eat. Those who attend church but who never internalize the principles will remain hungry.
We had a great week besides. We taught our wonderful little family, Jesse and his mom Tanya, yet again. They are scheduled for baptism on March 14th! We're excited for them. They have been taught the Word of Wisdom and have agreed to live it. Tanya just has to stop smoking! Pray for her please:)
And if you're hungry? Just remember, "He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away."(Luke 1:53)
I love you people! Keep eating!;)
This week... what happened this week? I can hardly remember what occurred by the time I sit down to write an email...
Well, I know for a fact that I got a SPEEDING TICKET on Monday night. I was pretty frustrated by that. It taught me a good little lesson about Justice and Mercy. Justice is a true principle! I'm going to have to take traffic school when I get back home... sigh. I've got $120 worth of justice hanging over my head right now.
It caused me to reflect a little bit about how the world is nowadays. There is a lot of "relativism" or ideas of "it doesn't apply to me". I can't tell you how much the phrase "It just doesn't fit what I believe" is said to missionaries. We teach and we teach that truth is truth, and God can help you see what that truth is and apply it in your life(The most difficult part of repentance is changing the fundamental core of what you believe. That's why it requires you to have enough faith to know that God knows better than you do.), but still people seem to think that they are their own higher power.
But, think about it, so do we an awful lot of the time. I do it WAAAY too much.
I guess the ticket just goes to show this. Is the consequence for speeding immediate? No, not really. I don't have to pay the ticket for another month.
If I convinced myself that it wasn't that bad and that the judge would be merciful, would it automatically happen? Nope. "For Justice cannot be denied..."(Jacob 6:10)
There is your doctrinal discourse for the week:)
In news of my life, the inhaler is working miracles! I'm feeling soooo much better. I can walk around outside without a hitch anymore. My singing voice is still non-existent though. It hurts a LOT to sing.
We found a beautiful little family this week. We were walking down the street and talked to an 18 year old kid named Jesse as he was coming home from school. He told us where he lived and invited us to come to his home later that evening. We arrived at his home at the appointed time and when we met his mother, we were dumbfounded. His mother's motor movements were jerky and her speech was halted. Jesse was almost certainly her caretaker. We never got a clear answer for why, but we heard them discussing something about a car accident.
As we visited with them, there was a sweet spirit that permeated the entire home. You could tell that these were people that God had His had over. Jesse could not take care of him mom alone, especially not with school and other things. She needed much more help than just he could provide, but you could tell that there was some other source of help in action. It was divine and we felt overwhelmed with gratitude that we had been led to this family. They accepted a baptismal date of Mar 14th.
I love this work! I promise you that I will not slacken! I'm doing my best to remain humble and show the Lord that I want to help in his work.
Well, six short months later, I've been asked to transfer. 3 transfers with Elder Kay, and one with Elder Wardell, and the Lord has decided to send me elsewhere. I have been pretty subdued with my emotions this transfer. I'm really really going to miss the Loves, and they've done more for me than I could have possibly expected. I've seen their family weather trials with patience. I've seen a new Bishop struggle to find balance in a new ward. I've seen a very pregnant mother work carefully for the welfare of her six little kids, two crazy missionaries, and a 17 year old recent convert that they've opened their home to. I've seen that recent convert take the gospel and embrace it, putting it fully into practice in a life that was once far different than what he lives today.
It seems unfair that I'll miss the birth of their 7th child by a matter of 4 days. Sister Love has her baby scheduled to be due on the Tuesday after transfers. I've been begging her to just have the baby today so I can at least see her. Turns out the doctors don't care too much about my opinion... Who would have thunk! I think, as a roommate of the family, I should at least get some sort of decision making power, right? Well, not so.
On the bright side of things, things are looking up in Quincy. I hope to leave as much behind me as I can. I didn't do much of that in Davenport, and I hope to be able to do more here. Elder Wardell is a marvelous finder, so it has been fun to find new investigators with him. I often wonder if I accomplished the Lord's vision for Quincy, and I can't help but feel like I've accomplished what He called me here to do. Let it be in His hands. He has called me here, and he has called me away.
I love this work! I've decided that wherever I am transferred, be it Kirksville, Davenport, Fort Madison, Des Moines, or Chico, California, I will be the servant of the Lord. I want to echo President Monson's words, "I want the Lord to know that if He ever needs an errand run, He can depend on Brett Brown."