Can you guess how things are going in Lebanon, Tennessee?
To quote my senior companion, Elder Fishburn (who has been out for 7-8 months), "This has been the worst week of my entire mission, as far as numbers are concerned." It isn't all about the numbers, but when you're coming up with things like one other lesson taught, or maybe two lessons with recent converts/less actives (now referred to as returning members), you start to wonder certain things, like "WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON AND WHY!?!?!" I wouldn't have room to say anything if Elder Fishburn and I didn't work hard, but we do work hard; every day we work like there is no tomorrow, and now.... well, here's the situation: every appointment we make falls through. Every person we thought we counted as Progressing Investigators has fallen off of the face of the planet. EVERY door in Lebanon has been knocked, every street explored, every nook and cranny ventured into. EVERYONE seen on the street has been contacted, and EVERYONE seen has rejected us.
Aside from the fact that the missionary work in Lebanon has grinded to an utter and almost complete halt (thanks only in part to a... stubborn and stiff-necked people), we had zone conference. I will be honest (I am in a very blunt and honest and straightforward mood so I will attempt to choose my words carefully [the whole situation here has filled me with wroth]) and say that I do not enjoy large gatherings of missionaries. I don't have many friends here and the ones I do have already have closer friends that they typically gravitate towards when they see each other at these larger meetings. To be short, I feel very much like an intruder here; visa-waiters are typically unwanted in any mission field that is not their own because people don't think you will be around for very long, which is why it is difficult to make friends; no one wants to make friends with someone who could, at any given time, receive flight plans and a ticket to their assigned area (in my case, Australia). Cozying up to the ward has been difficult, and other missionaries don't get too close because, again, no one wants to make friends with someone they'll have to part with at any given time. Thus is the story of my life right now. I can honestly say I do really miss the Monument Ward; the closeness of the ward and the care they have for each other is exemplary. And you all have beautiful singing voices... no one here sings...
On a brighter note, Elders Fishburn, Alarcon, Rowley, and myself were awarded the first ever Golden Hubcap Award for having kept our car in such fine condition. Our pictures are going to be displayed in the mission office beneath the golden hubcap which will be displayed on the wall. Yay for us! How sad is that, though? Having my picture hung on a wall beneath a plastic Toyota hubcap spray-painted gold has been the highlight of me week...
It rained more, by the way. We had a few sunny days and today there's some sunshine, but it rained more, and to save on miles (we're only allotted 1,000 miles per month for the four of us) and to keep ourselves relatively dry, we opted to go tracting on foot. All I have to say is that rain is not conducive to doing the Lord's work. But why do we tract in the rain (we went over this at zone conference)? Because we love the Lord. Why are we homesick? Because we love the Lord. Why are we out here knocking doors, street contacting, and trying to set up solid appointments in a town that has completely closed itself from receiving the restored gospel of Jesus Christ? Because we LOVE the Lord.
For any of you who know me, and I would hope many of you do, yes, I am in a "Fake It Until You Make It" mood, and I will make it eventually. Today is going to be a great day! I'm going to get a door slammed in my face and I will say "Mmm, what a nice breeze!" I'm going to get mocked and laughed at and scorned and you know what? It's like Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said in his talk "Missionary Work and the Atonement" (which you should ALL watch, it is... powerful): "When our missionaries ask themselves why is it so hard, they should all remember this: they are not the first ones to ask that question."
The whole video, "Missionary Work and the Atonement" is something that deserves some kind of award because by watching it, you will experience the best ten minutes of your life. It makes many comparisons to the challenges missionaries have to the things that Christ faced. Any time I want to complain about something or think that I've got it bad, I think of Christ. He was spit upon, he was whipped, he was stoned, he was crowned with thorns and he was NAILED (not tied, as was the more common practice among the Romans of the time) to the cross. When he suffered in Gethsemane, he -even the Only Begotten Son of God- asked "Is there no other way?" Like Elder Holland points out in the video, if we desire to share the gospel, and walk the path Christ walked, we must experience at least a little, an inkling of the suffering that he went through. If we did not experience at least SOME tribulation, or trial of faith, we would NOT be walking in the path that Christ walked. One of my favorite quotes out of the whole thing is when Elder Holland boldly declares, "Salvation is not a cheap experience; Salvation was NEVER a cheap experience!"
My time is short, but really, look it up on Youtube or something, and just take ten minutes to watch the video. I can testify that by doing so, whatever your ideas of Christ and his sacrifice are right now, they will change, and you will gain a much greater appreciation for what he went through for all of us.