Monday, June 27, 2011

Hot and Hotter

Hello all!
It's really heating up. Apparently the last few days have set heat records. Our "cooler" spring is sure trying to catch up for lost time. And, to my dismay, I discovered there is a huge difference between 110 degrees and 118. At 110 (for anyone who wants to know) the poor missionaries on bikes feel pretty hot and sweaty, but can still stand it. At 118 the poor missionaries on bikes want to die and even the wind feels like it is burning you. While you are out knocking doors you feel like you are baking in an oven. It's certainly turning into quite the experience.

Luckily we have really been blessed this week, although until we totaled up our numbers we sure didn't feel like it. This week was a week for canceled lessons. Each day almost every lesson (and some days every lesson) called to cancel, or just wasn't there. A few canceled lessons a week is pretty normal, but we had over 15 cancel or not show. That is a huge number. Hermana Graves and I were super dissapointed with each cancellation, but like President Beck always says, when it's hard you have to "POGO!" So that's what we did. Every time a lesson canceled or fell through we made the best of it and tried to figure out where we were supposed to be instead. It worked out really well, because after over a month of having no new investigators we found a new family to teach and an older lady. It was really really cool to see how even though everything fell through we were still able to get a lot done. We also ended up teaching a lot of impromptu lessons and visiting other people who don't usually get as much attention from us.

Like Trent, we also had out last Zone Conference with the Becks. I was really amazed to see some of the things that President brought to this mission. I'm also quite excited to meet and work with President Taylor. I think the coolest changes was that in 3 years this mission doubled the number of baptisms. That's so cool. It was also interesting to see how the work really will move on. Besides President and Sister Beck's final testimonies and a short presentation by President on "change" it was a completely normal Zone Conference. Both of their final testimonies were really good, and definitely showed their personalities. Sister Beck cried, President pounded the pulpit (although he did look a little more choked up than I've ever seen him). I've really enjoyed working with them so much, and I feel like I have learned so much. I think the most interesting thing will be to see how President Taylor chooses to move forward. I'm pretty curious.

I also have thought a lot this week about when President wrote me last August and told me that I would have to leave my flute at home. I didn't realize it then, but I think that was the best thing he could have ever done for me. It's been hard, but I've learned a lot about how to sacrifice for something better. I know I focus so much better without the flute here, and that because of that I have become a far better missionary. The most interesting thing that I learned interestingly only partially relates to the flute itself. The most interesting thing I learned was to be completely obedient. Back in August when I got the e-mail I had to decide whether or not I knew President was called of God, and whether or not I was going to be completely obedient. It wasn't easy. But making that decision before coming out has made my mission so much easier. From that point on anything I was asked to do paled in comparison to how hard it was to leave the flute behind, and so it was easy to remind myself that I knew President was called of God, and that I had already decided to be obedient. I also learned about attitude. I could leave the flute and be miserable for 18 months, or I could leave the flute and work hard and be happy. The time or sacrifice wouldn't change, but the way I felt about it would. Again, that made a huge difference for me as I have been in interesting and sometimes very challenging moments over my mission. I spent a good deal of time thinking about all of this yesterday, and really was shocked by just how much of a blessing this has been. That's certainly something I never expected 9 months ago! I guess missions really do change you.

Tomorrow I'm going on splits back down to South Phoenix. Sadly, I won't be going back to where I served, but I'll be more or less in the same area. I'm pretty excited to have a day of speaking all Spanish again... there are so many Mexicans in South Phoenix, and while I love it here, I miss feeling like I'm in Mexico. I should be a good exchange. We had a little trouble getting it to go through because when we go on exchanges we have to have members drive us.
That's normally not a problem, but the Sister I'm trading places with for the day is tiny... and there is no way I could use her bike or she could use mine. I'm pretty sure she wouldn't be able to reach the pedals, and I would look like a clown. Luckily this morning we finally found someone with a truck to take us down... so the bike dilemma is solved. Later in July I'm going on exchanges again out to Wickenburg (for the second time).

We've got to run. I love you all! Thanks for the letters. Have a great week!
Hermana Okeson

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fun in the Sun

Hello All!

This has been yet another busy, busy week here in Phoenix. The exciting news of the week is that Raphael is on date for baptism! He's going to be baptized on the 30th of July. It's a little later than we would like, but he and his girlfriend have to get married, and that's not much time to plan a wedding. We're pretty excited and he is too. We're going over on Wednesday night to start wedding planning with them. It should be lots of fun, and a little work too. I've not been able to help with wedding plans before on my mission, so this should be an interesting experience.

Trent commented on having a last interview with his Mission President. It made me a little jealous. For various reasons we aren't doing final interviews before the Becks go home, but we do have Zone Conference this week. I'm excited to see what they have planned. I've heard from one of the Elders who has been helping with planning this Zone Conference that it will be really, really good. I'm excited to see what we have planned. And to answer Mom's question, I believe all Mission Presidents come to their new missions on June 30th. In our case that puts us in week 3 of this transfer, which I think is nice. It gives President a good chance to try to start getting to know the missionaries before transfers come again. So for my e-mail on the 11th I will have met the new mission president and then can tell you at least a little. I don't know how much interaction we'll actually get with him right at the start. Because of some of the things that happened at the beginning of my mission I had a little higher interaction with President and so from that I got to know him a little better faster, but really we don't see much of him. I'm assuming it will probably be the same with President Taylor.

As far as the heat goes, we're surviving. You know it's really getting warm as you can feel the sweat drip down your back. It's a pretty common feeling. It's also been interesting because Hna Graves and I have tried to go out on bike more. We smell pretty bad a lot of the time. I always feel bad when we come into people’s homes and they want to kiss you on the cheek, and I'm really hot and gross. I've gotten a few comments like, "wow, you sisters are really warm" or, "it must really be hot out there, make sure you are drinking enough water", although, it has its advantages. That's how Hna Graves and I got the biggest slice of watermelon I've ever seen. I attached the picture because I thought you all would enjoy it.

I also almost passed out for the first time on my mission. Don't worry, it wasn't from dehydration. My weak stomach kicked in as we were contacting a fellow who went into very, very graphic detail about the Crucifixion of Christ. I blacked out, but wasn't out cold. He felt pretty bad, and my companion was a little nervous. I felt sick for the next hour or so, but was fine after a little bit, quite the experience. Hna Graves was just glad she didn't have to call into Sister Beck and explain that her companion with a weak stomach was passed out on some guy’s doorstep.

Wednesday we had an interesting experience. As we were at home doing our planning for the week, one by one all of our appointments for the afternoon canceled. We were pretty bummed, until Mary, the Sister who was baptized last month called us out of nowhere and asked us to come by, have dinner with her and answer some questions. It worked out perfectly, the exact amount of time from our appointments canceling was used getting up to Mary's house (she lives really far away) eating dinner, and teaching a lesson. It was also really good because she left for San Diego for a month on Friday morning, so it was good to get to see her.

Friday night was the ward party. They were celebrating Fathers Day, and it was quite the party. English wards just hand out candy, Mexicans throw a huge party with tons of food, music and dancing. The Sisters from the Relief Society put together one of those cool Mexican skirt dances. It was so cool to watch. I attached a picture of Hna Gutierrez all dressed up for the dance so you can have an idea of what the outfits looked like. Then the next day in a visit I got Hna Gutierrez to let me put on her skirt and try spinning it around, it was quite fun. The primary girls also put together a dance that was quite impressive. I think Mexicans just have dancing in their blood, because they are really, really good at it. The food was also incredible, and after Hna Graves and I decided that if we're going to keep going to ward functions we may need to ride bikes there and back. We did have a really good turnout of investigators, and so that was good (because what Mexican will turn down a party?).

Saturday we got to go to the Mesa Temple visitor’s center with Leonila. It was a really, really good visit, although we felt a little like the blind leading the blind since neither Sister Graves nor I had been to the visitors center here before. It turned out really good, and I think Leonila really enjoyed the trip. I hadn't realized just how small that visitor’s center was until we went into it. With having gone a few times over the last few years in Provo to the Visitors Center in Salt Lake, I've forgotten that it's far bigger than any other visitors center would be. It was still really good, and I loved being there.

Sunday I got to give my first talk (in Spanish) in Sacrament meeting. I felt like it went well, and I was pretty happy about it. Giving a whole talk in Spanish really made me work hard, but also was a good gage for how much Spanish I have learned over the last 9 months. It's really quite impressive. I've reached a point where it's only a few words here and there that I don't understand, and when I'm talking I feel like I can pretty comfortably say what I want. Especially in the last few months I've finally really started to hear all of the different verb tenses and be able to use them comfortably, which is nice.

I think that is about all the fun I have to tell you about for a week. I love you all. Thanks for all of your support!


Hermana Okeson

Monday, June 13, 2011

Day 1, Transfer 6

Hi All,

Today began my sixth transfer... weird. I've officially become one of the "old" sisters in the mission. We've had a lot of new sisters come in since I got here, and now well over half of the sisters who were here when I got here have gone home. It's crazy how fast time flies. This week has been a pretty good one. I now understand why we don't get transfer news until the day before, when you know you are leaving far too much time gets waisted saying goodbye. It did get us back in with some people we've not been able to see in a while, so I guess we're going to count our blessings.

Monday night we had a really fun lesson with a family in the ward, and a friend who is investigating the church. We taught about testimonies, and coming closer to Christ and made pizza. Dad, your testimony pizza lesson has been a hit every time I've used it. Monday night was no exception. It's especially fun with Mexican families who have never made "homemade" pizza before. Everyone was very very excited and the results were quite yummy. I've attached a picture for you all. The lighting isn't so great, but we did manage to get a picture which was a small victory.
I think I'm in the opposite position from Trent, we're trying to squeeze in time for finding between all of our appointments. To try and do that this week we're going to be using our bikes as much as we can. We are able to talk to way more people on bikes as we go by bus stops than we do when we knock doors. I just wish we had had this problem before it got so hot. Hna Graves and I went out on bike a few days ago, and by the end we were completely drenched. I'm starting to understand when I've heard people talk about how sister missionaries here often go home half way through the day and shower. I'm not sure that we can do that, because we live a good distance from the areas where we usually work... but there may be days where we have to, because we get pretty gross pretty fast. We're hoping that with it getting hotter we'll be able to somehow move more of our appointments to the hotter hours of the day so we don't have to spend as much time outside. The sun is brutal! You can just feel it roasting you right there and then. It's certainly an interesting experience.

We've had some interesting experiences this week. I can only write about a few of them in part... but this week because of some things that have happened we've seen some of the uglier side of the immigration issues here in Arizona. Most of the time here as missionaries we work very very hard to stay oblivious. We never ask, and if anyone tells us anything we try hard to forget. Most of the time we really don't have to deal much with the political issues here, but this week was definitely an exception. It was a little stressful. Luckily things always manage to work out, and we always manage to feel incredibly blessed.

Friday was interesting, we had the Trainer/Trainee meeting. It was at that meeting at the beginning of my mission where Hermana Hoof received her flight plans to go home. It was weird to think about that and to realized that I was at the same point where Hermana Graves is when I had to take things over for Aguila. It made me really realize once again how blessed I was during that time, and how the Lord really helps us. It also made me really evaluate myself as a trainer, and wonder if I would be able to let Hermana Graves take over the area and feel comfortable that I had taught her enough and been a good example to her so that she would know what is required of us as missionaries.

The Trainer/Trainee meeting was also interesting because we had a chance to evaluate the new training program and to also swap ideas as to how to do better. This new training program is going world wide in August, and so we have been monitored very very closely over the last month or so for feedback. I honestly have nothing bad to say about the program, and I have loved it. It walks you though all the different things we do as missionaries week by week, so one week we will focus on just a few skills, and then the next move on to others. It really helps me as a trainer know how to help Hermana Graves, and I feel like I am learning so much as well. I really hope I get to train again, because I am really loving it. It was also nice to hear the other trainers talk about the challenges associated with training. Training is so demanding because you have such an impact on the kind of missionary your companion will be. I know both of my trainers impacted me a lot and that I learned so much from them. I think the hardest thing is just making sure that you are doing everything by the book and that we are really living up to our potential. As missionaries we do a lot of things very repetitively and it is so easy to get caught in ruts... I guess it's like that for everything in life, but I think it really applies here. So as a trainer I feel like I've really had to stretch to try to avoid those ruts. It's been amazing to see how I've progressed and how blessed I have felt as I've really given all that I have to work and serve.

I think that is about it for this week. If I haven't melted by next Monday I should have lots of fun things to share with all of you. Feel free to send questions, sometimes it's hard to know what to write about as a missionary, so I always love getting questions. Also, the other picture I attached is of one of my favorite two-year-olds. As a missionary I do quite well with the two-year-olds, and I even have one who comes and looks for me and sits with me in sacrament meeting. My companions think it's quite funny. This one likes to steal my name tag, and in this picture she wanted to wear my shoes... Oh, and here is one of my district. I hope you like that one too. Aaand one more, one of the families we work with has puppies, so we got to play with them... I think they are maybe a month old... I guess I'm just full of pictures today.

Anyhow, have a wonderful week. I love you all lots!
Hermana Okeson

Monday, June 6, 2011

110 Degrees

Hello All!
This week has been another fast week. We are so busy, and spend most of our time running from one appointment to the next. I love it, especially because when I first got here we had absolutly nothing, and spent all day out contacting. Now we're on the other end and frantically trying to contact even a few people each day. It's pretty satisfying to see what happens when you really give all that you have and work hard. In my time here in Agua Fria I've worked like crazy, and I am pretty sure this is only the beginning. I'm pretty hopeful that I will spend the better portion of my mission here. I absolutly love this area and the people I am working with.

This week was full of a lot of little miracles mixed with some minor frustrations. We've really been pushing and trying to give everything we have and we've seen some great success. One of the hardest things as missionaries is to get the members to trust and be willing to work with you. One of the benefits of having a little more time in an area is that the members do become more comfortable with you and you can really start working with them.

That brings us to our first miracle of the week. On Tuesday night we were at the church for a meeting and one of the sisters came up and started talking to me. She has a son who just left on a mission, and I've enjoyed talking with her and asking her how her son is doing. Well, as we were talking she asked if we could come over to teach her husband. She has been a member for over 20 years, and her husband has never really wanted anything to do with the church, but apparently with having a son on a mission things have changed. We were able to teach him on Friday, and we are looking for him to be baptized the end of this month. We are soooo incredibly excited, as is his family. There are a few hiccups to work out (which counts as some of the minor frustrations of the week) but these things always manage to work themselves out.

Now for my favorite story of this week. I've talked a little (I think) about Concepcion and her family. They are the neighbors of some recent converts and we've been teaching them for a little over a month. About a week ago we had a small miracle when her husband came home from work early and sat in on the lesson and we were able to meet with him. Well, we were over there on Friday (Friday was just a really really good day for us here in Phoenix) and we asked Concepcion about how giving up coffee is going. When we first taugh her the Word of Wisdom she flat out refused. Well, she told us that for the last week or two "se me quito las ganas de tomar cafe" in other words she lost the desire to drink coffee. Then she looked at the member who we had brought with us and told her that she thinks it's because "las hermanas estan orando" (the sisters are praying). That made my night. Darn right the Hermanas are praying.

Also, for anyone who was wondering, we hit 110 this week. I've actually decided that after 100 it's just hot, and it really doesn't matter too much. We'll see about what I think when we pass 115. There is so much more I would love to write about, but my time is out, so have a wonderful week!
Hermana Okeson

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Goodbye May

Hello All,
This week has been F.A.S.T! We have had a lot of work this week and the days have really flown by. We are now in week five of this transfer, and things have become interesting as Hna Aydelotte is winding down and preparing to go home in two weeks. I certainly don't envy her. Missions are an amazing time, and as missionaries we love and miss you all, but we wouldn't trade being here for anything. Mom asked about transfers and really for me not much will change. With the new training program being called as a trainer is an official 2 transfer call, so Hermana Graves and I will stay together here in Agua Fria for 6 more weeks. I'm excited and really enjoying having more time in one area. It's really only after being in an area for a while that you feel like you can really work, because then you know the people you are working with better and you also know the area. I'm hoping that things work out such that I can spend a long time here, but we'll see where I'm needed.

With this new transfer starting in two weeks we also come to an interesting point in the mission, because on June 30th President Beck leaves and President Taylor arrives. I'm both nervous and excited about the change. I have loved working with President Beck, and really appreciate his leadership of the mission, he's done so much good and he is a wonderful mission president. I'm also excited though for what President Taylor will bring. The first thing that President Taylor wants to work on is obedience, which I'm excited about. I never cease to be amazed when missionaries decide to only be obedient when it is convenient, and I'm excited to have a renewed focus on being exactly obedient. It'll be interesting though to see the difference in personality, and just what will change. I guess in a month I will know.

Mom also asked in her letter about tracting, and so I thought I'd write some about that. I have a love hate relationship with tracting. I serve in an area that has very few Spanish speakers, and so often when we go out tracting we rarely run into anyone who speaks Spanish. Often we find people for the Elders, but I've not seen a single return appointment in my four months here from tracting. In this mission there is an expectation that we are talking to 140 people each week. That's a lot of people, especially to find them tracting, we can knock doors for 2 hours and only actually talk to 8 or 9 people. We've come up pretty short of late on the number of people we are talking to because of various circumstances, but I am really hoping that soon we will be able to be out and meeting more people. One of my favorite places to talk to people is just out on the streets, especially at bus stops. Often they have time, and are more than willing to chat and listen a little. I've also learned over time that if I'm careful and really interested in what they have to say instead of just feeling like I'm trying to get out as much information as I can in 3 minutes that the time I have talking to these people goes so much better. People are so interesting, and I'm surprised at how willing they are to talk about the things they hope for in their lives and for their families. All it takes is just asking the right questions and really looking for how in that brief moment in time I can share something that might help them a little, and give them a desire to learn more.

Mom commented a little in her letter to me on just how odd it is that we are comming up on June (tomorrow!). I have to agree. June marks the "half way" point for both Trent and I. Before my mission this time seemed so long to me, it seemed like this huge abyss of time. I had no clue what to expect, and I was pretty nervous. I remember having to think about a mission in weeks because it seemed shorter to me that way. Now I'm coming up on my half way point I realize how short this time is. Each week really does go a little faster. I feel like I blink at it is Sunday again and we are calling in our numbers from the week. I am so tired all the time, which is good, because it means we are working hard, but am I ever tired. Some mornings and nights I have to pray standing up so I don't fall asleep (it's happened a few times, much to the amusement of my companions). We start each day with a huge list of people to see and things to do, and then we just work until we have to call it a night. I'm loving it. Training has also been a really good experience for me. I never really wanted to train. I'm not sure why, but I just didn't. Now I almost hope to train for the rest of my mission. I love the energy that a new missionary brings, and I love working with someone who is willing to really work hard, and is ready to try anything. A lot of missionary work is trial and error. We try something and when it doesn't work we move on and try something new. We are constantly trying to be better and to squeeze every minute out of every day, and so it's fun to have someone to work with who isn't as jaded by some of the happenings in mission life.

I thought this week I'd take the rest of my time to share a little about a family we are working with. I've never felt quite so much like my life experiences have helped me to be a good missionary than I have with this family. We are working with a family who are all members, but the adult children are working on coming back to church. We've had a lot of really good visits, and last week when we were over for dinner we invited the oldest son who is in his 30's to start meeting with us again, to try and answer his questions and help him go back to church. Now I need to preface this with some more information to help this make sense. We had an appointment fall through about 2 months ago, and ended up feeling like we needed to go by only one of the daughters was home, but we visited with her. She told us that she felt like our visit was for her, and that she had been praying for help and answers. This has happened a few times now with each of the children in the family. Well, two weeks ago this happened again and this time we went over and ran into the son. We talked to him in the door for a long time, and it came out that he was a musician. We started comparing music that we liked (mostly hispanic music) and found that we liked a lot of the same groups.

Okay, now jumping forward. We had our first actual lesson with him last night. As we started he asked us each to share why we came on a mission. It was really cool to have the oportunity to share why I decided to serve and also to hear my companions share their stories. Then he started talking about a lot of things in his life that had happened especially surrounding the time he was baptized. He told us how he struggles with some aspects of religion, and then felt like he couldn't be a normal person any more. And then he said "it was when you all came over and we talked about normal things, and I found out that you listened to spanish singers I like, and I learned that you gave up music to be here that I realized that you all are normal people". I was so touched. More so by the fact that the Lord really knows us and knows how to help people. The spanish groups are ones I remember listening to in highschool for homework. It was so cool to me that that was what he needed to hear, a little bizarre maybe, but that was what helped him be ready to think about coming back to church again. (Also I'm having a great time working with a musician... I heard a music theory rant last night and it wasn't coming out of my own mouth *grin*)

I think that's about it for the excitement here in Agua Fria. We're working hard, drinking lots of water, and sweating even more. Life is good!
Love you all,
Hermana Okeson