Monday, March 26, 2012

Final Thoughts

Hello Everyone,

Wow. I'm not exactly sure what to write about this week. We had a good week. Actually, this past week was my best in this area, this isn't the easiest area I've served in and it really takes a lot more work to get numbers that at other times in my mission have been easy to achieve. Every area has its advantages and disadvantages and it's just learning how to work best with what you have. I'm sad that now that I am finally getting into the swing of things I'm leaving.

Actually, it doesn't feel like I'm going home. Hna Garcia and I were talking about how I feel like this is just another transfer coming up and I'll just go to another area and keep working. Then we started joking about how my proselyting area is being changed and how now I get to go undercover. Haha. Actually that makes a good tie in to what mom had asked about member missionary work. I think I came on a mission to learn how to be a missionary for the rest of my life. That is probably one of the most important lessons I have learned. I think the key to being a good member missionary is just not being afraid to open your mouth. People recognize members of the church at a much faster than we as members think they do. I have had baptisms because of the example and service of members, and I have lost baptisms because of the examples set by other members of the church. The second one breaks my heart.

Two of my four areas were some of the highest baptizing areas in the mission, and two have been some of the lowest baptizing areas. Honestly, a lot of the difference can be attributed to how well the members and the missionaries work together. The Becks used to talk about the M&M candies, and say that it's just like what we are doing, members & missionaries. You can't successfully have one without the other. The other thing I have learned is to always invite others to learn more, regardless of what happens. Just to invite friends to activities where they can see what happens and feel the spirit is a huge help. There is a talk called "The Missionary Next Door" that I absolutely love. I listened to it at the beginning of my mission, and I have plans to listen to it again when I get home. It gives a lot of easy ideas of how to share the gospel, all focusing on the fact that from knocking doors missionaries will baptize less than 1 in 1,000. But from working with the members and teaching in their homes the ratio jumps to 1 in 3. That's pretty impressive.

I had plans to share some great parting wisdom in my last e-mail. I'm not sure it's going to work out that way. But maybe you'll all enjoy some thoughts I've had over the last few days.

One of the key moments in my mission happened just a few weeks after I entered the MTC. I was feeling really overwhelmed and as I looked out at my whole mission I didn't know how I was going to do this. I got to Sunday and I was really struggling. I remember feeling the weight of being a missionary and feeling like I couldn't do it. That Sunday my companion and I went and listened to Music and the Spoken Word, a Sunday broadcast put on by the Tabernacle Choir. In the "spoken word" part it talked a little about how all journeys are begun with a single step, and that no great journey is done all at once, it is done in single steps day by day and it's only at the end as you look back that you can see how far you have come. I remember listening and realizing that I couldn't do the entire mission all at once, but I could live one day at a time and try to do my best. In some of the hard points that came after that on my mission I often would reflect on that and remember that I only was responsible for the moment I was living in and that I could do one more day. Now that I am looking back, I feel satisfied with this time. I feel like my work has been accepted, and I feel like I have done what I came here to do.

I was reading recently in the Book of Alma in the Book of Mormon and I came upon a verse that really meant a lot to me. It's Alma 26:31, "Now behold, we can look forth and see the fruits of our labors; and are they few? I say unto you, Nay, they are many; yea, and we can witness of their sincerity, because of their love towards their brethren and also towards us." I would add that I can see the sincerity of my time by the love I feel for these people. In the last week or so I have gotten a few letters from different people I have worked with. Those letters mean everything to me, and the people who wrote them mean even more. I would go through all of the hard days and weeks again for any one of those people. It's really hard to know I am leaving, because I feel like I am leaving my heart here in Phoenix. I love the people I have been called to serve so much. I thought I was sacrificing to come on a mission, but I'm the one who has been blessed.

I have one more week, and if you hear of a fire burning in southern Glendale, just know its Hna Garcia and I tearing up the streets. We have work to do, and I'm excited to do it.

I love you all,

Hermana Okeson

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Meetings and Hailstorms

Hello Everyone!

This time I am writing you all from not so sunny Phoenix. We had a cold front move in and after a good week in the upper 80's it's back in the 50's. I know, I've turned into a wimp, but its cold on a bike! We got pretty soaked yesterday after church... it hailed on us! I thought it was rain, but then it was making a lot of noise on my helmet and I realized we were being pelted by little hail stones. No worries, it wasn't big, and we got to shelter pretty quick, but not until after we were thoroughly drenched. Ha Ha. My lovely companion took to singing songs like "count your many blessings" and "there is sunshine in my soul today" while we waited the storm out at a bus stop. She's a great example of having a good attitude. I did NOT feel like singing as I was dripping wet and cold waiting for a bus. Her good attitude is contagious and she has been such a great companion to serve with.

I have such mixed feelings right now. It's hard to believe that after today I will only send out one more e-mail as Hermana Okeson. I love this work, and I love the people I've been blessed to serve. Wednesday we went to a sisters’ conference. As part of the conference we hiked a small hill at the northern point of Phoenix.

As I looked out at the valley I could pick out all four areas I have served in, Aguila in the south right by South Mountain, Agua Fria farther north and to the west, La Joya by the big stadium, and Solano just North West of down town. I looked out and was filled with such joy and satisfaction as I realized once again just how blessed I have been to serve here. Phoenix certainly wasn't where I dreamed of coming to serve my mission, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. As we hiked I talked with many of my former companions. I have had 9 companions in my time here in Phoenix! About half of them are home now, but I still have a good number of companions who are here. I so enjoyed talking and spending time with each of them. I learned so much from each of them, and I really love them. Not many sister missionaries get to serve with that many companions, but I guess God knew I needed to learn from a lot of different people. Each of my companions have been a blessing in my life and mission.
As we hiked the mountain we talked about how we each must progress in our journey back to God. The hike ended at the grounds of the Phoenix Temple. It is just barely peeking out above the ground right now, but in about 2 years it will be finished and will be a huge blessing in the lives of the people I have been privileged to serve. My hope for each person I have worked with is that they can make it to the temple and form eternal families. There is nothing more that I would want for them.

Thursday we had another training meeting. In this one we got a lot of good training on the mission and where things are going. As I watched I realized that things here just keep getting better and better. The newer missionaries are so excited and have so many great things going for them. It made me a little sad that my time has come to leave. I feel like I could stay here forever. In some ways I feel a little more like Hermana Okeson than Nicole. I am so at peace here and in this work. I think that has been the blessing of this last transfer. I have felt so much peace. I didn't really expect that. I really wasn't happy to get moved for my last 6 weeks, and felt like I was just put here because they had to do something with me for my last 6 weeks. I'm glad to say, I know that's not true. I don't know that I'm ending quite how I would have chosen, but I am learning so much here and have been stretched in new ways I never imagined. I guess that's one of the most important things I have learned here on a mission, God has so much more planned for us than we could ever imagine; we just have to choose to accept His will and do all we can to make the most of every opportunity. I've certainly been far from perfect at that, but I feel like I've tried.

Mom asked about my favorite and least favorite parts of missionary work. Honestly, for different parts of my mission I would pick different things. I think my favorite overall has just been being out and working with people. I love being in their homes and spending time with them. I love getting to know them and looking for ways I can help them out in their lives. I enjoy the time I get to spend with the people we work with and teach. It never feels like enough, but I love the moments we do get to spend with them. I love hearing their life stories and listening to the things that made them the people they are today. I especially love seeing the way that the Lord has moved them and helped them reach a point where they are ready to listen and learn. That's always really cool to see. I think my least favorite thing as a missionary are meetings. I like training meetings but some meetings we have with the members tend to run on Hispanic standard time... which means late and long. I would love to just go in there, get things done and get out. But, in part I think I came on a mission to learn patience, and God has given me plenty of opportunities to develop that one.

Have a wonderful week everyone. I love you all!


Hermana Okeson

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sunshine and Dog Bites

Hello All,

It has been quite the week. The weather here in Phoenix is beautiful right now, and I am really enjoying it. I keep having to warn Hna Garcia that she shouldn't be fooled, it's going to get really hot really quick, Luckily I will miss all of that. We've had some really cool success moments over the last week. Effectively we have dropped all of the investigators that were being taught when I came and we've been starting from scratch. It's one of the bigger challenges in working with Hispanics. They love to hear you talk about God, but they are not so keen on commitment or making changes. So often missionaries will get attached to an investigator (or an investigator to the missionary) and then when the missionary leaves the area and a new one comes in there are usually some pretty big changes. I guess that's just part of how all of this works. It's been cool though, because we have been really blessed to find some really cool families. I don't think I will see them get baptized in my time here, but I feel like they are well on their way.

It's been pretty interesting coming into an area knowing I would only be here for 6 weeks. 6 weeks go by really quickly. So far no one in the ward knows that I am going home in 3 weeks, and I like it better that way. It's been really nice to just focus on working and not to be bogged down by the "trunky" questions that often get asked to missionaries just before they go home. This is by far the most... interesting ward I have served in. I'm learning a lot here, and so while it's been difficult having to be somewhere new for my last 6 weeks, I'm glad that I've had this chance to serve.

I had an interesting experience this week... somewhat of a first for my mission. We see a lot of dogs as missionaries. I've worked in some rougher areas, and either you see a bajillion chihuahuas or some pretty vicious looking guard dogs. Well, on Saturday we were out knocking doors and we came up to this house and the main door was open, but the metal screen door was closed. So, like normal, we knocked. The next thing we knew four good sized dogs jumped at the door and it was open! Long story short, I got bitten by a dog. Right on my ankle. I had to kick him off of me and I'm pretty glad the owner called them off because he was winding up to really bite me a second time. Don't worry, I don't have rabies, and he didn't draw blood. He just scratched up my ankle pretty good and I'm a little bruised. It was quite the experience. The poor lady who felt there just about had a heart attack and she felt really, really bad. So I can officially say that as a missionary, I've not only been chased by dogs, I've been bitten by one! (The strays will chase you and they look pretty vicious, but you just have to grab rocks and start throwing and they'll take off pretty fast. haha.)

This week we have the Sisters Conference. I am super excited. We got the invites for it on Saturday. We will be "hiking" to the new temple site up in North Phoenix, and then after we'll have lunch and a conference in the mission home. I'm pretty excited. The temple (originally) was supposed to finish during my mission, but from various hold ups it is now just barely peeking out from above the ground. It looks like it won't finish for another 2 years. Hopefully I'll make it back some day to see it when it is finished. I'm excited to get to see old companions and such at the Sisters conference. It will be really good.

We had a really cute experience on Saturday. We are working on and off with a little girl named Jossy. She's getting ready to get baptized this summer. We had dinner with her and her Grandma and as we were getting ready to leave she bounced over with her backpack and told us she was ready to come with us. We walked out the door and she had parked her bike right next to ours. She was ready to go! I attached pictures with her. It was too cute. She's a fun little girl in some rough circumstances so it's nice to get to at least spend a little time helping her family out.

I think that is about all of the excitement for this week. We have a pretty packed week in this coming week, which will be good. I'm pretty excited. Everything just keeps moving forward, and the work is really moving. Missionary work is the best!

Have a great week!


Hermana Okeson