Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Dec. 29, 2014 in Huntersville, NC

These past 2 weeks have been really good for Huntersville. We are finding more investigators and seeing more miracles. In fact, we have 2 new investigators. One is named D., and we met him knocking doors. He moved to America a year and a half ago from the Dominican Republic, and he feels like God called him here. We taught him the Restoration and he wants to read the Book of Mormon. He's been sick the past couple days, so we haven't been able to visit him, but we keep praying for him and for the Spirit to touch his heart.

The second investigator is a man named J. We taught him the Restoration and he really liked us and the message, but over Christmas he got anti-ed by his Sister. He told her though that he would meet with who he wanted, and that he hadn't seen anything wrong with us. We were able to clear up some confusions about Joseph Smith, polygamy, and the Book of Mormon with him and he wants to read the Book of Mormon! We are super grateful for him and for his courage, and for his kindness to us. We're praying that the Spirit will continue to guide him as we meet!

We also met a woman named J. and her wolf (a husky) :) I was grabbing the mail, and Elder S. was on the phone when all of a sudden around the corner, this giant dog comes pulling this woman. She asked if I worked at the apartment and I told her "No, we're missionaries!" She asked what we did, and so I gave a rundown of the Restoration real brief and talked about the Book of Mormon. Elder S. joined me then and we talked all about dogs and life and Elevation church (look it up, it's wild!) and such. We gave her a Book of Mormon and a pamphlet, and we should be going to visit her and talk more some time this week :) So thank you for your prayers! God is listening and he is answering!
...Before my mission, I'd read the Book of Mormon a number of times, and knew that it was true, but I'd never realized how much it teaches the Doctrine of Christ! I can hardly find a chapter where it doesn't mention something about faith, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost, or enduring to the end! I love that the gospel gives us the chance to change and to improve. If my destiny was based of a "Santa Claus, naughty-nice list" idea, I don't know how well I'd do, I'm far from perfect! But because I can have my mistakes erased and forgotten through Christ's Atonement, I can improve and learn to love to live like our Father in Heaven! I'm grateful for a Heavenly Father who loves me and who accepts my best efforts. Jesus Christ lives!!! 

Love, Elder Branch

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Dec. 22, 2014 in Huntersville, NC (A picture of a Zone Activity from Sister S.)

Well… we suppose it's because of our upcoming Skype conversation this week, but for whatever reason we didn't get a letter from Elder Branch yesterday. Actually, Hunter did get a short email response to a few of his personal questions about seminary and we got a message about some expenses but that was it.

Fortunately, Elder Branch's companion, Elder S., sent some pictures of a Zone Activity to his mom and she posted them. Thank you Sister S.! We think we can see Elder Branch on the left in the back in a white shirt. We also think that's his companion in the front on the left bustin' the break dancin' moves. How does he do that?!   ;)

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dec. 15, 2014 in Huntersville, NC Elder Christofferson's Visit

Howdy Howdy Howdy,

So Elder Christofferson was in North Carolina for a stake conference, and he gave us a couple hours in the morning that we could meet with him. President and Sister C. bore their testimonies, and then Elder Christofferson had a question-and-answer session for an hour and a half! Lots of the questions he answered with scriptures, and it was funny, because he carries one of the new tiny little sets with him when he travels, and he said "Elder Ballard will ask me "Are you sure you have all the scriptures in there? It seems you could be missing a few!"" Haha It was fantastic! Our questions covered all kinds of topics, including unified service, priesthood keys, building a testimony, the Book of Mormon, grace and the Atonement, the power and reason for covenants, faith, repentance, and forgiveness. I'll highlight a couple of ideas:

In Hebrews 13:17 it talks about how our priesthood leaders will give a report on us. Elder Christofferson told us to make sure President C's report about each of us missionaries is a happy one, and not one where he says "oh, uh let's move to the next one..." He actually used Elder Z. as an example for this one, and we all know Elder Z. is super fantastic :) Elder Christofferson just said "Where is Elder Z.? (Z. said in an Italian accent). So Elder Z., will pres. C.'s report on you be a happy one? Of course it will."

Talking about unity, elder Christofferson said "if you are missing unity in your companionship, you each must love God more and keep the first commandment. We should all have this love in the Church."

In Matthew, Christ gives what's called the great commission. It's restated in the Doctrine and Covenants section 112:28-29. It's to "go into all the world, and preach the gospel and baptize." It was given to his Apostles, but the Apostles can't reach the entire world. That's why they have the Seventies. But the Apostles and the Seventies still can't reach all the world, that's why they have us. Elder Christofferson then said we are literally companions with the Apostles, and we share Apostolic authority! So that was pretty neat to think about. He also said "it's a miracle God lets us touch anything in his kingdom. Yet he lets us handle the fine China and the Crystal. He trusts us with a portion of this work. We must handle it with the spirit. With the spirit all will come out right, so pray mightily."

Then Elder Christofferson talked about how testimonies are formed gradually. He said that his seemed to develop overtime without any certain turning point. "That doesn't mean that our testimonies are deficient. There's no problem with knowledge from the Holy Ghost, it's truth is pure. That's why to sin against it is the unpardonable sin." He said his testimony began with the Book of Mormon, and he hopes we rely upon it in our missionary work. We will never receive the chance to study it for 2 hours a day again. He said "the Lord doesn't just tell us once it is true, he will confirm it to us again and again. If we can control anything in life, it is living in the condition to receive a confirmation."

When asked about Grace he shared the scripture Doctrine and Covenants 20:29–31. We are cleansed, justified, and sanctified by grace, but we must accept Grace by living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is Faith, Repentance, Baptism, Receiving the Holy Ghost, and Enduring to the End. As missionaries we come offering this gift to all people. We invite them to repent to receive the kingdom of heaven. He jokingly talked about using that as a door approach "knock knock knock. How can I help you? REPENT!" :) Hahaha. He said "now, not everyone you talk to will believe that we are "the Kingdom of Heaven", but that doesn't change the fact that it is true. They will reject us but it is true. It is true." Also talking about Grace he said that if we are on the path to repentance and living righteously when we leave this life, we've succeeded. No matter how short or far on the path we've come, if we're on it, we pass.

Someone asked him a great question about what covenants do for us. He told us that everything starts with faith. Faith is a spiritual gift and we must increase it. We can grow our faith through prayer, acting on faith, bearing testimony, and repenting. But one way we may not think about is that keeping Covenants increases our faith! Covenants are individual promises with God, so God literally says "Zac, you can live in the Celestial Kingdom if you keep your end." One time while talking with a Protestant minister, the minister said that the world needs more strong Christians. Elder Christofferson said that Covenants are what make us "strong Christians."

One Elder asked "what would you have us know about repentance?" Elder Christofferson responded "do it!" :) haha. Then he said "when we talk about repentance, we should have on a smile." He also made mention of the people who believe repentance is easy, and we can do whatever we want as long as we plan to repent later. He said that first, how can we be sure we will repent? And second, "this kind of attitude is basically slapping the Lord in the face, telling him "you pay for this." He then told us a story of one time when he took the sacrament, and in sacrament cup only had a couple of drops in it. His first thought was "One of those teachers isn't doing his job right." But then his second thought came, and it said "wouldn't it be nice if I was faithful enough that he only suffered a few drops for me." We don't wish for the Savior to suffer unnecessarily. He also talked about how time doesn't erase sin, only repentance does, and how we need to check ourselves and make sure we're clean. He said that those kinds of prayers for remembrance can be scary, because we receive an answer! But often the repentance process is simple and we can be forgiven and cleansed of that burden we didn't even realize we had.

Finally, he talked about once we finish repenting, then it is finished! We are to first, confess our sins but second, to forsake them. The Lord remembers them no more, but if God knows everything, then how can this be!? It's because it is as if that sin never happened. Then he said "Satan doesn't want us to forget our sins. The jerk..." :) We all laughed super hard! Haha, it was great! Then he said this: 

"God wants you to walk in the Sunshine, not in the Shadows."

Looking at our future lives he said "there will be trials yes, challenges yes, discouragement yes. But in the end it's a good life. Some of you wondering if you're doing enough or if the Lord accepts your offering. I bless you that in the coming weeks you'll see the joy God has in you. You worry about being too perfect. It is important to change, but you are already doing more good than you realize. I bless you with power in teaching and testifying. You are the Kingdom of Heaven. I bless you with protection. And I bless you that you will remember this day, and that you heard these words, and this testimony, from my lips."

It was a wonderful visit and a wonderful chance to hear him speak. The church is so true!!

Thanks for the email and support!
Love you!
Elder Branch

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Dec. 8, 2014 in Huntersville, NC

Hi Everyone,

I did get the Allreds package, it was the greatest!! Lots of yummy candy, and they matched it all with stuff for Elder S. It was so great!

Sorry no pictures this week but we can send pictures next week. We spent the last 5 hours with a member doing service so we've had no time for anything else today. He did take us to lunch though and that was nice.   :)

So this next Saturday, guess who comes and speaks to our mission!? Only Elder D. Todd Christofferson!!!! We're so stoked!!

This week was strong. Elder S and I are getting along well and we are working hard in the area. We are seeing more miracles each week and are striving to develop great relationships with the members here. The Ward members here really are phenomenal and they are excited to do missionary work. Many of them have accepted "He is the Gift" pass along cards and are going to hand those out to friends.

We are trying to get permission from President C to teach a 20 year old named B. Elder S taught him when he was in Alexandriana and we found out he now lives in Mooresville, right by the church! He came to church this last week and we really want to be able to teach him. The ward was super excited to see B there! Also pray for T and H, and also a woman named R. And finally, pray for M that we will be able to meet with her more often, she is so great and has tons of potential but she's super busy! Thanks for your faith :)

So we contacted 74 people this week :D one of the best tools we had was the Christmas nativity night as a stake. They have done it for the past 7 years, but this year they had more people come than any year previous! Essentially, they decorate the Huntersville building with all kinds of Christmas decorations at the entrance and exits, and in the gym they set up tons and tons of nativity scenes that members bring! Like probably 200 different nativities, including ones with mice, ones with bears, one was made out of tiny little pieces of rocks or something that fit inside a sea shell. A couple were from Jerusalem or other countries. Some were glass, some were like paper that was hardened, and some were wood. They even had the little glass set that us kids put on our night stands!

In the chapel they had different schools or Ward choirs come and perform, and it was just packed! They had a dress up nativity station for kids and families to come take pictures, and some arts and crafts for kids as well. It went on the past 3 nights, and missionaries from all the close by wards (Huntersville, Alexandriana, Mountain Island) helped man the event. Elder S and I were there Friday and Saturday nights and it was great! We gave visitors a "Living Christ" Document, a picture of Christ, and a "He is the Gift" pass along card. It was so solid! We had a couple good contacts from it and hopefully should get a lot more referrals or at least more appreciation as Christians. One lady we saw there we had actually talked to at Walmart last week briefly, and she said "Hi" to us. Another lady apparently started to cry when she saw the picture of Jesus we gave her.  

In the Book of Mormon reading, I just finished reading about Alma teaching his sons. My favorite part of these chapters is in Alma chapter 36:24-27. It says:
24 Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

25 Yea, and now behold, O my son, the Lord doth give me exceedingly great joy in the fruit of my labors;

26 For because of the word which he has imparted unto me, behold, many have been born of God, and have tasted as I have tasted, and have seen eye to eye as I have seen; therefore they do know of these things of which I have spoken, as I do know; and the knowledge which I have is of God.

27 And I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions; yea, God has delivered me from prison, and from bonds, and from death; yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes for E to add to her awesome wall! The first one is from a talk by Jeffry R. Holland in 1980 called "For Times of Trouble." You can find the talk on lds.org and I recommend yall do, cause it is literally one of the best talks I've ever read in my life!!! Like, so seriously good! :)
A link to the talk is below...

I love yall so much!! Thanks for the emails! :)

Love Elder Branch