Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Dec. 21, 2015 R___'s Baptism :)

Hey there and Merry Christmas!

Wow, what a wonderful wonderful weekend!  R___ was baptized! It was the best and there's no feeling as fun as the spirit!

R___'s husband G___ was able to come. He was really nice and everyone was happy to get to meet him. R___ was telling him all about the church building and the members. I think he really enjoyed it.

After the interview last weekend, we spent most of our time putting together programs, asking people to help with the different parts of the program, printing programs, getting R___ her baptismal clothing, and stuff like that. Between that, the meetings we had, and life in general, we only ended up with like 6 other lessons. Not that we didn't try to teach others, we were just so busy that we didn't get lots of time and no one was home during the times we were able to go out. But R___ was able to get baptized and confirmed so it worked out well :)

The actual baptism was at 4 on Sunday and lasted about 45 minutes. We had a talk on Baptism by Chief G___ B___, who was chief for like 34 years, and a talk on the Holy Ghost by Brother C___. The baptism happened in between the 2 talks. Elder P___ got to be a witness.  

Wow! What an amazing feeling, being able to baptize someone!! Definitely one of the happiest and most spiritual moments on my mission, right along with J___'s baptism day and seeing P___ come back to church. So yeah, for the baptism R___ wanted to sing Christmas songs, and it was just a party :)

On Sunday, Brother C___ confirmed R___, and we were in the circle. The blessing was powerful, and once again as we took our hands off her head, she smiled and it was that happy feeling all over again. Man the spirit is fun to feel! :) 

After that, we had the sacrament, which is just the best! Following the sacrament, we had the ward Christmas program and Elder P___ and I were in the choir. We have practiced lots of fun songs in the choir, and I sure liked how it sounded. I was also part of a double quartet that sang a super neat version of "With Wondering Awe." The version almost sounds like a Gregorian chant, and it's done completely acapella. The last song the choir sang was a version of "For Unto Us a Child Is Born", based off of the Messiah piece but with a totally different arrangement. It is tons of fun to sing too, and to cap off the whole program we had a choir and congregation version of "Oh Come All Ye Faithful", with a sweet organ and piano fanfare accompaniment. R___ said the whole thing was "Awesome!!" So yeah, it was pretty much the best weekend of my mission, followed by what I hope will be the best week yet!

Thanks for all you do. Love you!
Happy P-daay! From Elder Branch

R___'s baptism day!  

Caroling with the district was a blast@ We caroled to a whole bunch of
places, and people actually liked us! :) This was at the Stake
President's house, and it was lots of fun :)

This is R___'s dog Hoss (like in Bonanza). He was legit sitting like a
human on this footrest. He seems to be a similar breed to Rascal. :)

I was eating a brownie, and this crumb that was left on the plate
looked so much like a llama that I had to take a picture!

Elder P___'s burrito  :)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Dec. 14, 2015 in Catawba, South Carolina with a new companion, Elder P___


R___'s baptismal interview was perfect! She is getting super excited, she told us more about an experience she had where she was driving to work and thinking about the church and the Christmas devotional and how much she likes how it all runs. She said the thought just came in her mind: "It's because it's true." She got the warm feelings of the spirit, and realized what happened. She said she spent the rest of the day thinking about it. We went by last night and set up all the arrangements for the baptism. She asked me to baptize her, and lots of other members to do the other parts. It is so exciting! :D Just pray that she will be protected through this last week and then into her new convert stage! :)

To answer your questions about Christmas, we get the packages on the 22nd at a Mission Christmas party thing they are doing. I am in charge of putting together a musical number for our zone for the party too, so that will be fun. There is a specific version of the song "I heard the Bells" that our ward choir has done a couple times that I'm thinking we will try. If you could maybe find a copy of that online or something, and email it to me, that would be amazing! Thanks. Speaking of Musical numbers, this week we had our stake nativity festival and all the missionaries in the zone sang on the closing night. Lo and behold, I got made the conductor, and fortunately I was inspired I guess to make some copies of the music. It worked out, otherwise I would have nothing to go off of! As it turned out, my inspiration wasn't all the way perfect, as I only brought 2 out of the 4 songs, so I ended up conducting 2 of the songs with no music! It was very very intense, but once again the
spirit had helped by having Elder B___ and I practice the songs on the piano with me singing while he was still here, because we had thought that he was going to be the pianist. Once he got transferred, a member in one of the wards took over the piano, but the practices we had done stayed in my head well enough for me to conduct the whole thing, including the breaks in the music, the timing, and everything. Twas super exciting! We are sure there were angels singing with us missionaries, cause it sounded way too good for it to have just been us. ("us" meaning 20 or so missionaries with very little musical practice and only 20 minutes of total practice before.)

So besides the musical number and R___ being fantastic, our week also consisted of District meeting, interviews with President Alexander, transfers, 17 lessons, me trying to figure out how to train someone, the ward Christmas party and miracles! I will expound on a couple of these.

District Meeting:
I gave a training on helping investigators make and keep commitments. My favorite part was a story I heard from Elder B___. At the end of my training I brought out a little bucket of rocks I had picked up and cleaned, and handed it around, letting everyone pick one. I then told a story about how when Elder B___ was in the MTC, they were in a class and their teacher told them about how we invite people to be baptized at the first lesson. All the missionaries were like "That's too soon!" "That would scare them!" etc. etc. The teacher looked at them, and then said "Elders and Sisters, follow me." She took them outside and told them to find a rock. They all found rocks and brought them back. Then their teacher said "Elder and Sisters, look at these rocks you found. I invite you to be a "little boulder"! ("little bolder"). Haha, so I shared that story and they all laughed. So yeah, district meeting was fun. I love the district we have right now, it is such a fun group!

Elder P___ is from Twin Falls, Idaho, but has also lived in Utah, Colorado, and Wisconsin. He likes all the trees out here lots :) He liked to wrestle back home, as well as mountain bike, camp, and fish. He has 6 siblings, including an older brother who is almost done with his mission, and a twin who is putting in his papers soon. He has a great attitude towards the work, and is always excited to go out and work. Bad news though - he got hit on his bike on our way to go play laser tag. Fortunately they just hit the bike and not enough to damage it. He didn't even fall off (There's where the mountain bike skills come in). But he is okay, and we still had a super fun and intense laser tag battle) ((Elder P___ beat me, but it was close!)) but yeah, what a good first p-day for Elder P___!

Probably one of the best interviews I've had! It was like 2 days after transfers, and I was kinda feeling overwhelmed with how I am apparently supposed to be perfect so I don't mess up my trainees mission and life. President was super positive and encouraging, and it was super good to know that he trusts me. Like I told him, it hasn't been me, the Lord has just been blessing us with so much good stuff right now! He added, "Keep remembering that, but also remember that you are placing yourself in positions to receive his help. Keep doing that, and you are going to be one of the Elders to help lift our mission." So yeah, hooray for good interviews! :)

The C___'s are asking questions and looking for more answers again! So pray for her to feel confidence and to find answers to her questions. Other miracle, we met a man named B___ this last week who has an incredible story! I won't go into too many details, he has told us pretty wild stuff, but essentially about 8 months ago he was in prison. He read the bible, changed his ways, and has been a youth minister for the last few months. He was just switching churches when we met him, and showed him A Savior is Born. We got to go back a couple days later, teach the Restoration, answer some questions, and we are going back by to read the beginning of the Book of Mormon with him today.

So that about sums up my week. Once again, crazy, but super good. Thank heavens for that! I am sorry that y'all are so busy and trials, it's almost like my blessings have stole yours, but I pray things will work out for all y'alls good too!

Happy P-daay! From Elder Branch

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Dec. 7, 2015 in Catawba, South Carolina, Elder B___'s last week in Catawba

Hey family!

This week was pretty grand, and really really ridiculously busy (again)! We taught quite a few people, not quite as many as we had hoped, but it was still good. I don't have long to write today, because unfortunately Elder B___ is being transferred. :( Tis sad.

I also found out that I will be training this transfer!! I'm super excited and super humbled/nervous I guess. Anyways so we will be super busy today but I do want to tell a couple quick stories.

R___ is great, she is sad Elder B___ is being transferred but she is super excited for baptism. She is having her interview this coming Friday :) We are going to try to get permission for Elder B___ to come back from wherever he is transferred for the baptism. She loved the Christmas devotional last night. :)

We had a zone meeting this Friday and I sang a solo while Elder B___ played the piano. While on the topic of music, we were also putting together a bunch of hymns for the missionaries to sing at an upcoming Nativity Festival deal. But we are going to need to find a new piano player. Hopefully my new comp is musical! We are also singing in the ward choir, and Elder B___ was an awesome base, so he will be missed. The songs we are doing are way fun! I love music :)

My third story combines the music theme and the baptism theme. On Saturday night, the Charlotte South and Gastonia stakes had a combined presentation of Handel's Messiah, and we found out super last minute that we could go. We showed up and turns out some friends from our ward invited us to sit with them, so that was perfect. It was also fun, because the C___'s were there, as well as the Dad's friend from Lifetime, Brother B___, and a couple other members from past areas. A sister from Huntersville was the first string violinist for the whole thing, and I saw her husband there too. Well, about half way though, Elder B___ had to use a restroom. As we were walking out to the doors, I saw a man kind of turnaround in his seat and when he saw me, he waved. Turns out it was Johnny!!! :D (for those of you who don't know, Elder S___and I got to teach and baptize him in Huntersville, and I haven't seen him in a year) I immediately ditched Elder B___ and went and sat and talked with him for a while. We hooked up again with the Huntersville members and him (they had given him a ride) at the end and got to talk a bunch. It was too fun! As we were riding home, I remember thinking "that is what missions are about." :)

We had a couple other good things happen this week. Brother S___ didn't come to church but he will be there next week. Also Sister H___ told us that her son really liked Elder B___ and I when he had met us. She said that he said "I like those 2, they aren't pushy. I think I will talk to them about taking the lessons again." So that was super good news! We hope it goes well with him, we are supposed to see them Wednesday or Thursday. :)

I have loved getting to show A Savior is Born to everyone this last week, it is such a great video. I love the Christmas season, and the gift of Jesus Christ. What an exciting and special time to be a missionary!

So anyways, that was my week. We did have a district activity today that was fun :) We made a Christmas village thingy of sorts, had a pie eating contest, and did a gift exchange. I got bath salts and a Christmas rubber ducky! Twas the best gift I believe.

I will keep praying for y"all! Thanks for the prayers for all of us! I hope you all see lots of miracles and blessings!

Elder Branch

Elder B___ saying some goodbye's to awesome people in Catawba.

Elder R___ and I petting a dog on exchanges. 

I buy dog treats and give them to dogs we meet on the Reservation. 

I don't know what happened to our grill...

Our District Christmas party

Our Zone 

The largest cross I've ever seen

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Nov. 30, 2015 in Catawba, South Carolina

Hello everyone. Happy Thanksgiving!!! :D

So this week was pretty great. Lots of people were willing to talk to us (hooray!) and we had delicious food. I think that any time we get to go around talking about what we are thankful for it's a good week, and luckily that can be every week if we are in the right frame of mind! One of my favorite scriptures I read this week was Doctrine and Covenants 59: 7-8. It says "Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things. Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit." I love it because of how it teaches us a way we can give our thanks to God by offering our broken hearts and contrite spirits to him. Sister Alexander is super big on studying scriptures about hearts, and it has been eye opening to me to read about all the different types of hearts. Hard hearts, soft hearts, open hearts, etc. It sufficeth me to say that Thanksgiving was great, and now we get to look forward to CHRISTmas. Oh boy!

So as far as specifics about this week, R___ is doing super great! We watched the Restoration movie, and she really liked that. We got to teach her twice this week, and the second visit we wrote out a baptismal calendar with her of everything we need to do before the 19th! How exciting! :D We are seeing her twice this week, and she is coming to the Christmas devotional on Sunday night. So keep praying for her!!

We totally found a dude who was writing a "hip hop" bible this week! "Now let me tell you some words o' wuzzum bout my main-man Solomon..." It was pretty legit! I'd read it. Haha, just thought you would think that was funny.

Not much of an update on the C___'s or anyone else, so I think I will take the time to tell you about our preachers here in Catawba. First off, M___. He is an 80ish year-old man. He used to be a Non-Denominational Preacher for quite a while. The reason he was Non-Denominational was because he never agreed with one religions view of the Bible, he felt that all of them pick and chose their favorite parts. So he just decided to read and teach all of it, especially the part in Ephesians where it talks about "winds of doctrine." So anyways, we have been teaching him for a while and he likes the visits. He is a little confused on some of the stuff we teach (he thinks there are lots of prophets still around, and that anything can be the word of God as long as it backs up the Bible) but he wants to read the Book of Mormon, and said if he finds out God is leading him this way, he will follow. So that is a plus.

The other preacher is actually a pretty great story! So on Saturday this week, Elder B___ and I were super pumped to go out and just find like 60 billion people to teach. Unfortunately fate had other things in store, and we just had loads and loads of 'faith testers' (like doors slammers, drunk people kicking cars, and the Clemson-Gamecock college football game). At about 5:00 with our faith a little worn out, our daylight fading (yes, at 5:00! Crazy, right! Who wants to tract in the dark!?), and our tummy's rumbling, we decided to give one more try. We had met this man in a pretty nice neighborhood. He had been pulling out in his car, and as we were riding our bikes by we waved and he stopped and asked us if we were handing out pamphlets. We had given one to him, and then he drove away, so we just named him "Pamphlet Lover" in our notes/areabook. So anyways, we stopped by his house and knocked on the door. He opened it up and invited us right inside to a little office in his front room. I saw a book about the Bible on the ground, but didn't think too much of it. Anyways, he was quite a young man, and very animated and happy. He told us his name was R___ C___. He started asking us about our missions, how long we do it, and what we do afterwards. Then he asked what we talk to people about and we were able to start teaching him a bit. He asked what the main difference was between Mormons and Christians, and we told him that we do believe in Christ and the Bible, but we have more knowledge about them because of a living prophet and priesthood authority. We then explained the Book of Mormon, and as we told him about that he stopped us and said "So I have been a little depressed lately. I am 29 and want to get married, but just haven't found someone yet. Is there anything that could help me with that in the Book of Mormon? Elder B___ shared Ether 12:27,(" And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.") and we discussed that for a bit. Then I brought up a 2009 CES devotional by President Uchtdorf I absolutely love where he talks about the ugly duckling and how his true potential is much more than he believes. R___ pulled it up on lds.org and started listening to the middle section. Essentially President Uchtdorf is addressing major questions young adults ask, and the second question he addresses is "I am so lonely. Will I ever find my soul mate?" It is a super good part of the talk, one I will definitely be studying closely after the mission! ;) So anyways, we listened to a good 10 minutes of that with him, and he totally loved it! He tagged it, and wanted to look up more General Conference and CES Devotionals.

He thanked us a whole bunch, and got all excited about keeping in contact. We told him we had facebook, and as he was logging on he said "So I have something to tell you, I am actually a pastor." (Wildcard!! Suddenly I understood why he had those books about the Bible). He pulled up our facebooks and added us, and when he added me he commented how beautiful my cover photo was. The picture was of Lehi's dream, so I asked "Do you want to know where to read about it?" He got super excited (he does that a lot), and we showed him 1 Nephi 8. He started reading, and then paused and was like "Wow, these words are beautiful! Listen to this.." and then started reading us parts of the chapter he liked. So yeah, after that we shared Moroni 10: 3-5 " (Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.") and he was super pumped to read and keep in contact. We messaged him the new "A Savior is Born" video yesterday, and this was the response he sent back to me:

Pastor C___ PC: Elder Branch thank you so much so much so much for stopping by on the other day! You don't know how much your visit has impacted my life. You are such a blessing I felt such an instant connection with you the minute you begin to speak about the Mormon message. What a powerful powerful book my brother. I cannot wait to see what lies beyond. I pray that the lord continues to use you and continues to put light on the path that he has for me. And I thank you so much for sharing your video and also for him bringing you into my life. I just feel like we're going to be lifelong friends in Jesus Christ. Thank you so much for sharing your video and I will be in touch with you soon. Let's certainly make the best of the remaining months that you have on your mission!!!! #cantwait

Haha, so yeah, that was our super great talk-with-everyone-miracle-moment-Saturday! We haven't set up a solid return appointment yet, but it was a great experience, and a huge tender mercy :)

So one other story. Elder B___ typed this one out already, so I will send you that account. So our area is cut in half by a river, and the bridge is at the bottom so it takes a ridiculous amount of miles to get to the other side of our area, so we only go over there when we're driving through for like a meeting, or we get to the end of the month and somehow have excess miles. Well on the other side of our area is a little town call Van Wyck (Pronounced Wike like a bike). It's comprised of a gun shop, a post office and about 3 different churches from the early 1900s. Well we decided it would be a lovely place to tract, and we met a lady named C___and we ended up talking to her for close to 3 hours.

A couple of weeks later we were back in the area and thought "hey... That one lady was super nice and liked talking to us, maybe we could talk to her about religion?" So we went back, talked to her for a couple hours again, and happened to still be talking to her when her daughters got home from school. They invited us over for Thanksgiving dinner. We didn't know how serious they were about it, we showed them a quick Mormon message and left.

For our Thanksgiving dinner we were eating with one of 3 families who live on the other side of the river, so we were out there again. We decided that after dinner we would drop off a thanksgiving card for them and go home and hand out a bunch more thanksgiving cards. Well, lucky us, right as we were pulling into their driveway, C___ was walking out the door. She was super excited to see us and invited us in to have pie with them. We shared a thanksgiving Mormon Message, and we were getting ready to go, when we mentioned that transfers were the next week. One of the daughters was super sad and told us to hang on real quick and she ran into another room. She came back with two pieces of pottery she'd made in art class and told us she wanted us to have them in case she'd never see us again. The nicest people.

Other plus sides: 4 friends came to church, we taught 18 people (on a holiday week too! Yay!) We had like 5 new investigators, and we have 2 new people to teach with who are already in the process of coming back to church :) So yeah, life is grand and God is Good! (Now we just pray really hard that He will keep helping us, cause we are gonna need it!)

So anyways, I will probably wrap up this epistle of a letter to y'all now, but once again thanks for the stories! I love hearing about everything! Sure love ya!

Happy P-daay! From Elder Branch

PS: Cook Out makes pumpkin pie milkshakes with real chunks of pie in them and they are to die for! Random, but I had one today and thought you should know. :)

I Love the Book of Mormon!