Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Slow start, fast finish.

Hello Everyone!
This week started soooooooooo slow. We had a pretty rough start to the week. Most of our appointments fell through, and I think I spoke too soon about it cooling off, because it was really hot again. Luckily by the time we hit Thursday things picked up and the end of the week was both successful and speedy. That was nice. Our most exciting news is that Leonila is being baptized this Saturday! We are so excited for her, and she is so thrilled. I've spent six months working with her, and it's been an incredible experience. So, after the afternoon session of General Conference on Saturday, we'll be having a baptismal service. What a way to start October! I'm pretty thrilled.

Thursday we had interviews. Last time we had interviews it was the first time we got to meet the Taylors. It was a little weird to realize that they have been here for 3 months now. As I was thinking about it, I realized how grateful I am that I have been able to work with 2 different presidents. It is so cool to see how personalities may be different, and styles may be different, but this work goes on irregardless. Interviews went well, with the most exciting news being that I now have permission to get my hands on a flute. I'm pretty excited. I'm excited to be able to play flute for the holidays. Playing flute at Christmas is one of my favorite things, and so I'm excited to have that chance this year. I really missed that last year.

We've had some cool experiences this week where the Lord has really blessed us. Multiple times we've felt prompted to stop by people we wouldn't have normally visited and found people to teach through them. We've been focusing a lot on not only getting to know the Spanish speaking members in this area, but also some of the English speakers. That is quite the task, because there are a lot of English speaking members of the church in this area. Hna Alvarez and I decided that we have an advantage because we are sister missionaries. We're such a rare novelty that the members are just excited to meet us and see that we exist, so it's pretty easy to meet them and share a short message. We had one visit this week where we stopped by a family, and their five year old girl came up and asked us if we were really sister missionaries, we told her yes and she said something to the effect of, "Oh, I've never seen real live sister missionaries before". We got a good laugh from that one.

The other really memorable event from this week was going to the Relief Society session from General Conference. I'll admit, I've never been much for this session. I'd always looked at it and thought it was for the "old women" and that it was boring. I worked really hard before this Saturday to come with an open heart and be ready to learn. The talk that really stood out to me was by President Utchdorf. In part of his talk he made a comparison to the book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a book I loved as a kid. I think that was God's way of telling me to listen up. :) In his comparison he talked about how at the beginning of the book Mr. Wonka announced to the world that 5 chocolate bars would have a Golden Ticket- a ticket to a lifetime supply of chocolate and all sorts of wonderful things. The world then began to buy tons and tons of chocolate, only to open each on and throw the chocolate away when no Golden Ticket was found. President Utchdorf then talked about how often we spend too much time looking for a Golden Ticket, and forget to savor the chocolate along the way. That really stood out to me. As a missionary we work at a pretty fast pace, and the time really flies by. We spend a lot of time looking for "golden investigators" and "golden contacts" and "golden referrals" and golden this and golden that... and after listening to the talk I realized that in all this search for the "goldens" sometimes we forget to savor the chocolate along the way. A mission is really, really, really hard. You face a lot of challenges and discouragement on a daily and sometimes hourly level. Some days you come home and only have the energy to crawl into bed and pray that you can get up the next day and do it all again. That said, a mission is also the best experience of my life. Between all the hard events you get these amazing moments that make everything worth it. President Utchdorf reminded me that I need to work harder to savor these moments, because they are passing, oh so very quickly. The numbers, and the hours, and the miles traveled will all melt into the past, but the memories of the people served and met will be things I can keep forever. That's pretty cool. So, with 6 months left to serve, I want to savor more. I know the routine, I've done this for a year now. But I don't want to get caught in the routine and miss seeing and savoring the "chocolate" along the way.

This next week is going to be pretty busy. Wednesday we have exchanges. I'll be here in Agua Fria, and Hna Alvarez is headed out to Wickenburg. Saturday we have Leonila's baptism, and then Sunday we will be going down to Mesa to see the visitors center with another family we've been working with. It will be a very full, and exciting week.

I love you all, thanks for your prayers, and letters, and support!
Hermana Okeson

Now for some pictures from Nicole. With nice weather, the two Hermanas decided to sleep out side. :)
I am sure that you all have wondered what Hermana does on her p-day. Wonder no longer. :)
Finally a trip to a sandwich joint. Hna Alvarez's dad runs some sandwich shops down in Florida. We found one in our area. This was my first visit. (Think Subway and your about on the right line. . . they're called Fire House Subs. It was pretty good.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

I'm a Mormon!

Hello Everyone!
It's been an interesting week. For some reason this transfer has been dragging by. I'm hoping it will pick up near the end... we'll see. The exciting news is that this week we had the opportunity to go to a training meeting for the "I'm a Mormon" campaign starting here on the 3rd of October. I am sooooooooooo excited. It will run for exactly the last 6 months of my mission, and I feel like this is a huge blessing to be able to be a part of this for the last part of my time as a missionary. The meeting was lead by Brother Tracy Watson, the director of all proselyting efforts for the church. It was so cool to get to work with him. He spent the first hour and a half just helping us to be better missionaries. He was full of lots of good ideas, and I was taking notes like crazy. Then after a short break we started the training for the media campaign. For the next 6 months there will be short commercials on all the main TV channels, billboard adds, Internet adds, and lots more. This will be a huge help to the work in this area. The only thing I'm disappointed about is that they don't have everything up and running in Spanish. So, our focus is going to be the teenagers, because they all speak English. We're still expecting a lot of traffic in the Spanish work, and we're trying to get into as many homes as we can before October 3rd to help families understand what will be happening. We've done a few trainings over the last few days and they have all gone well. It will be exciting to see how things go starting in October.

For other exciting events this week, we had the opportunity to run a Tuesday night activity for the youth this week. It went really well. The focus was on helping them answer questions about the church and their beliefs. We split them up into teams and they had to race and take little 3 question multiple choice/ fill in the blank tests, and with each one they couldn't go on to the next station until they had all the answers right. That left them doing lots of searching in the scriptures, and some clever kids started pulling out cell phones and going to the Internet! I got a good laugh about that, as we saw some of them googling some of the harder questions. The goal was to be the fastest group to finish, and there were good prizes for the winners (movie tickets, Coldstone ice cream gift cards, and other goodies). They really got into the activity, and it proved to be a good kick off for working with the youth to help get them ready for the media campaign. This same campaign was run in 10 other cities across the US last year, and the results showed that about 50% of adult members of the church were asked by someone about the adds, but 100% of the youth were asked. So we've got lots to do to help them be as ready as possible to answer questions from friends.

Besides that the week has been a lot of finding and working with the members. We've had some really good experiences as we've spent more time working with member families, and getting to know them better. We had one really cool experience where one person walked with us over to meet his neighbors. That was super cool! Also, this week was nice because we had Stake Conference. It made me think back to last Stake Conference and where I was... It's amazing what can happen in 6 months. I've been pretty frustrated lately with this area and the work here, but then as I thought back over the last 6 months I could really see lots of progress and while things still aren't where I would like them to be, it was good to know that at least we have moved forward. I really enjoyed the meetings, and it was really good for some of the people we are working with. We're hoping and praying for some big miracles this week. We'll see what happens.

Well, I think that's about all. We're keeping busy here, and that is good. It's been a bit of a rough run, but I'm really hoping that this week will be a turning point for us here in Agua Fria. We'll see. Oh, and I almost forgot, I celebrated my year mark this week. That was weird. It doesn't feel that long, but I guess I really have been a missionary for a year now. I feel so blessed to have had this opportunity to serve. Last night Mary was asking me about why I chose serving a mission over some of my other options, and I was so glad that I could honestly tell her that coming here was the best decision I could have ever made. I have loved serving, even in some of the really hard times. A mission is a really big roller coaster, lots of ups and downs and it moves so fast that if you blink you might miss it, because it moves at 100 miles an hour.

I love you all lots! Thanks for all of your support!
Hermana Okeson

Monday, September 12, 2011

Feliz Dia de Independencia

Hello All,

It's been an interesting week. I've been promising to send pictures for a while, so this letter may be more pictures than actual writing. But I thought you all would enjoy them. The first, and most exciting event was the ward party on Saturday. It was to celebrate Mexican Independance Day. Everyone thinks about Mexicans and parties and they think of Cinco de Mayo. Well, from personal experience, Cinco de Mayo has nothing on Mexican Independance Day. Hna Alvarez surprised the ward and showed up in Mexican outfits. That was pretty fun. There was tons of food, music, and dancing. It was quite the party. We were excited because there were a lot of investigators there, which was really good. People enjoy these parties, and the ward is now looking at doing them more often, which is a great help to us here with the missionary work. The best part of the whole night though was the skit put on by the Elder's Quorum. If you all understood Spanish I would forward you the video we got of it. It was super funny. Besides a few different skits, there were also lots of traditional and not so traditional dances done. My favorite was watching the sisters in the Relief Society do the cool looking Mexican dance with the really long swirly skirts.

This week, a lot like Trent's week, has been one focused on finding. We've started changing our tactics though. Now we're going and visiting members in the English wards and asking them if they know their neighbors, and if any speak Spanish. Some give us really good suggestions, and others tell us that they think one of four houses on the other side of the street is a hispanic home. We'll take what we can get. It's working pretty well though. We've been meeting a lot more people, and so we're hoping that soon we will have more people to teach.

Some of the other exciting news of the week is that we are pretty sure fall is here! It's been under 100 degrees twice this past week, and the rest of the time it really didn't get much over 105. We spent lots of time out on bike, and it's been so nice! It's amazing how from this side of the summer 95 degrees feels amazing, while 4 months ago I thought I was going to die. I guess it's all about perspective.

One more thing before I end for today. The mail system for the mission has been changed. The office no longer forwards mail. My Mom has my home address, and so if you want to write me try to get the address from her. If you do choose to send me a letter through the mission office, it could take up to 3 weeks to make it from the office to me. That also means, if you are writing me to the home address that about a week before transfers you should hold off sending letters or just send those directly to the mission office. Our next transfer week is the week of October 17th.

Okay, I think that's all for this week. Sorry it's not been much. It was a pretty long week with not much out of the ordinary. Hopefully something exciting will happen over the next week so I have some fun stuff to write to all of you.
Love you lots!
Hermana Okeson

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

6 More Weeks

Hi All!
As you may have guessed from the subject line, I'm staying here in Agua Fria for another transfer. I'm not particularly surprised. I didn't think I was leaving. I'm both happy and sad. I've really gotten attached to the people here in Agua Fria and I'm enjoying working with them, but I was partially looking forward to maybe having the chance to go start somewhere new. I guess it'll happen some other transfer. It'll be good to see some of the follow up on the work here in this area. I've got pretty high hopes for this next transfer, but we're going to need some miracles. This transfer has been a pretty rough run for the work. I've never seen quite so much turn over as I have this past six weeks. It's both good and bad. I enjoy finding and teaching new people, but it's hard when nothing seems to stick. We'll see where things go over the next transfer.

I thought I would share a funny story from the week. I've had some trouble for a little while with one of my toes... it's gross so don't worry about the details. But, I got permission to go in and see a podiatrist to get it looked at. As he was looking at my toe I started to feel a little warm and light headed, but I thought I would be okay... My next memory is as I'm lying down with my feet over my head and my companion telling me to breathe. I guess I was a little more light headed than I thought. I was out. And then I felt pretty sick for the rest of the day. Whoops. I've decided my toe doesn't hurt anymore. :)

Now for some exciting news. We found out a few weeks ago that Phoenix has been chosen as one of 9 cities across the US where the church will be doing a large media campaign. The whole campaign is focused towards the newly redesigned Mormon.org website. There will be TV adds, billboards, and all sorts of other adds all over the mission. All of this starts in October, and in two weeks as a mission we are going to be getting trained on exactly how everything will work. We're pretty excited. Now, I have an invitation for anyone who is interested. Go check out Mormon.org! I love using the new website, and for those of you who are LDS make a profile on there. I would love to be able to tell people to go look up people I know and read their thoughts. So, go check it out, and then if you can and would like to, make a profile! (I'm working on getting one together... as missionaries we've been asked to make one. Mine's not up yet.)

Okay, I think that's pretty much it for right now. Things are moving along slowly but surely. It's starting to get really nice here in Arizona and once again we are starting to see people out and about on the streets. All summer long the only people outside were the crazies and the missionaries... now there's some not so crazies out too. With the cooler weather Hna Alvarez and I have been on bikes a lot more, which has been really nice. I enjoy being out and meeting so many people.

Okay, I think that's about it for this week. Have a great week!
Love you all!
Hermana Okeson

PS. Nicole has a new mailing address. Let me know if you need the address. :) Effie