Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Playing with Lions!

June 3, 2013
Hello to you all!

Yes you read that subject title correctly, playing with lions! Yeah so for pday earlier today 4 of us missionaries went to a lion park. We got a personal tour and were able to go play with baby lions and tigers. It was so cool! They can really bite and scratch though, I have a lot of scratches on my arms. It was a once in a lifetime experience though, there are many places like that in South Africa. I got some great pictures and video, I'll try to upload them next week.
As for the work this past week there is not a lot to report on. The baptism of the father in Welkom was great and it is another priesthood holder here in Welkom! Now that Welkom is apart of a Stake they have potential to become a ward. They are only a few priesthood holders away from becoming a ward. We are really searching to try and find those fathers out there!
I'll relate one neat experience from this past week. We have a YSA brother who has recently started working with us here in Welkom. He hasn't really worked with the missionaries before but we started to encourage him to come with us (he was less active for along time but he became active again last year). We have really been pushing him to serve a mission and he decided he wants to serve a mission! He is beginning the process of putting in his papers, it is really exciting to see him make this decision.
Well after making that decision to serve a mission he had a pretty hard trial hit him last week. He received news that he lost his mother. Even after losing his mom he kept coming and doing missionary work with us to stay focused and feel the spirit. Well on Saturday we could tell he was struggling and offered to give him a blessing. When we gave that blessing I could feel Heavenly Father's love for this young man. The spirit was powerful and every individual in the room could feel it. Heavenly Father knew his struggles and was very aware of his needs. The power of the priesthood is real and I have seen it manifest time and again on my mission. For those of us that hold the priesthood let us never forget the authority we hold. The authority to act in God's name! Let us never forget that and always live worthy of this sacred calling. As Elder Holland says, we must sanctify ourselves because we never know when lightning will strike. There have been so many instances on my mission this first year where we have been called to exercise our priesthood in the most extreme circumstances. As priesthood holders we must always be ready because Heavenly Father needs us!
I hope everything is going well back home, my prayers are always with you.
Elder Summers

Finding the Lost Sheep

May 27, 2013

Hello everyone,

This past week has been one of going out and finding the lost sheep. We did a lot of less active work and we were able to find even more less actives that haven't met with missionaries in years. A couple of
them did not give us the warmest responses! It was really exciting to see that yesterday a mother and her daughter came back to church for the first time in over 2 years after we had met with them a couple of
times. Everyone at church was so excited to see them and they felt like they had come home. It is a pretty joyful experience to see less actives come back after being gone for so long.

There was one pretty neat experience that I will relate very quickly. Time and time again the scripture in Alma 26:37 (which I quote so often) manifests itself in this great work. The Lord truly is mindful
of the needs of His children and we are His hands upon this earth! We were working in Phahamang, the branch pretty far from us. This littletown is very impoverished and people live in very modest homes. It's
hard to describe the living conditions of some of these "homes." Well one of our appointments fell through at night and we were thinking about who to check. It's hard to check people at night because there
is so much crime that most people are indoors and don't really like visits at night.

We were prompted to check on some less actives that we visited a couple weeks ago. When we got there one of the less actives ran out the door to avoid us so we met with his sister and the little ones. We
sat down and sung some primary songs with the little ones and talked a little bit. Then before we left one of the little girls said the prayer. She prayed that Heavenly Father would provide them with their
daily bread. As we were walking out my companion noticed that everything in the kitchen seemed really empty and clean. He asked if they had dinner yet and the older sister said no. Then they told us
that hadn't eatten in over 2 days and they were just drinking water. These are members of the church who are living on nothing! Their mother only comes back once a month to give them money for food and
they had run out of money. We left them with some money for food and electricity and notified the branch president. That little girls prayer was answered through the Lord's servants, the Lord was mindful
of the needs of this family at this time. It was a special experience that humbled me even further and made me forever grateful for the basic neccesities of life I am provided each day.

We also have a baptism coming up next Sunday. A father who has been taught by missionaries for a while will be baptized here in Welkom. We have a couple other people who are slowly progressing but not much else to report at the moment with regards to investigators. Just a lot of less active work which is also a very important part of this work. There is nothing better then seeing the Lord's lost sheep return to
the fold.

Thank you for all your support and love. I love you all!
Elder Summers

The Spirit of God

May 20, 2013
Family and friends,
It has been an absolutely powerful, uplifting and humbling week. God truly does live and this really is His church! I can't even begin to express how I'm feeling at the moment. Let me just start out by saying that I was struggling a little bit coming into my new area because I was missing all of the great people in PJ. It's always tough coming into a new place because once again you have to learn everything from the start! I received so many tender mercies from the Lord this past week and answers to my prayers. Sometimes the call to serve as a missionary can be quite overwhelming especially with heavy responsibilities. As I was reflecting on some of the things weighing me down and trying to see how I could best move forward. As I was pondering and reading I immediately had the words of a hymn come into my mind: "Because I have been given much I too must give..." I have been blessed with so very much and the least I can do is serve the Lord for 2 years with all my heart, might and strength. Although at times the call to serve can be difficult, it's worth it! I felt the Lord ever present in my life this past week and found that just going to work and serving those around me was the best antidote for any struggles.
Well those answers to my prayers came at the start of my week. We then pressed forward going out and rescuing the lost sheep in our area. We were able to track down a couple of less actives that haven't seen the missionaries in years. Sometimes it is so difficult to find these less actives but we were led to a few of them. I will relate one experience that helped me feel the presence of the spirit stronger than ever before on my mission. We were trying to find a less active girl who was around 25 years old. We went to the address but found that she had moved and her number had changed. We were able to find her new address which just happened to be within the vicinity. As we visited her new address at first we found a friend who said that someone by the name we were looking for did not live there. But as we were about to leave then I asked who lived there and found that she was using her other name (Africans have many different names). We were led in and just "happened" to find her there. Most of the time she is working and not home but she just once again "happened" to be home at that time. Nothing happens by coincidence in missionary work.

As we sat down and began to talk to her she told us everything that had been happening. She hadn't been to church in a couple of years and was kind of hiding because of some things that had happened. We were able to relate to her the power of the atonement and the story of Enos. I love the story of Enos in the first 8 verses because it shows how Enos was forgiven. His guilt was swept away because of his faith in Jesus Christ. I could relate to her on some levels and the spirit was so strong. I really hope she will have the courage to come back and overcome the trials that she has been faced with. It gave me further testimony that the Lord is mindful of all His children.
Well I thought the week was going pretty well and then it got even better. We came to Bloemfontein (about 2 hours away, we apart of that district) for district conference on Sunday. It was a historic weekend because Bloemfontein was turning into a stake! Okay so that might not sound like a very big deal but let me give you guys some background. South Africa has not had a district turned into a stake in a very very long time. Most of the stakes created here have been stakes that have been split or stakes added onto an existing stake. Elder Carl B. Cook came to Bloemfontein under the direction of the First Presidency to create Bloemfontein into a stake of zion. This was Elder Cook's first time since he has been a in the Africa South East area presidency and a member of the 1st quorum of the seventy that he has seen a district created into a stake here in Africa. That kind of gives you an idea of how incredible this moment was.
As the service began on Sunday you could just feel the excitement in the air. The chapel was completely packed! Just imagine one of our stake centers being packed all the way to the stage and then having to use overflow classrooms. There were close to 1,000 people there! The spirit was so strong and the meeting started off by singing hymn number 2 "The Spirit of God." Wow, I don't know what else to say. It was powerful when we sung that hymn as a congregation! There were so many wonderful testimonies and it was great to see the new stake presidency called. And to make it even better about 15 people from the PJ branch were attending! I was able to see some of my great friends from PJ, including Lebohang and Lerato who we baptized. They were both sustained and set apart to receive the Melchizedek priesthood at conference. That will be so great for that branch! After conference we stayed in a hotel for the night because we had zone conference the next day (today). The hotel was so nice!! We had a way nice breakfast made for us and incredibly comfortable beds. I felt like I was in the MTC again haha. That was a lot of fun!
And then to top it all off we had an incredible zone conference today. This was President and Sister Von Stettens last zone conference on mission. They are heading home in just a months time! I thought I had felt the spirit strong the past week but I can't even begin to describe the spirit that was felt in that chapel as 40 Elders sat and listened to their mission president bear his testimony and final words. I have never felt more committed and ready to go out and serve the Lord. President Von Stetten is an incredible mission President and it will be so sad to see him go. His service to this mission has been unbelievable. He completely turned the Durban mission around from what it used to be 3 years ago (it didn't have the greatest reputation before). I only wish I could help people fully understand the peace and comfort that comes from the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Although the gospel requires sacrifice and trials do come, I know my Savior loves me and I always have the strength to move forward with that knowledge. This truly is God's true and living church upon this earth today, I have no doubt. What we know will always trump what we don't know in the words of Elder Holland. Never let your doubts or questions with regards to the gospel overcome what you know to be true! I love you all!
Elder Summers

The Blind Leading the Blind

May 6, 2013

Hello everyone,

Where do I start this email? This has been an absolutely crazy week with so much to talk about. First off I'm here in Welkom (that is "Welcome" in Afrikaans) and the area is completely different from my
first area. In PJ I was the only white person but here there are quite a few whites. It is about 80% Sotho and 20% Afrikaaners/English people here in Welkom. Welkom is a mining community so whenever mines shut down everything is cut back and a lot of people move. The branch fluctuates quite a bit based off of what is happening in Welkom. There is a chapel here in Welkom which is really nice! The chapel was built in the late 1950's but it was recently rennovated so it's nice inside. The branch right now has between 45 and 60 people that come to church with quite a few less actives. The auxilaries are all filled and everything is very organized so I don't have to act as a chorister or clerk anymore which is nice!

Okay now to the kind of crazy thing I learned when I arrived. My companion and I actually cover 2 branches! The other branch we cover is in Bultfontein which is about 75 km's away (about 45miles). The
branch there was started about 10 years ago by a single man and his family! It is now a very powerful branch with about 50+ members each week at church. It is very similar to my area in PJ, very humble
people and no whites there. The people there are pretty poor. The meet in a high-school in the center of the area and from what I've seen it looks like a pretty nice school. The branch president there is legit
and loves missionary work. The branch has "mini missions" each month where they go out after church and do tracting! Then they give all of their referrals to the missionaries. Pretty cool eh? We switch off
where we go to church each week. Yesterday we went to church in Welkom so I'll have to tell you about church in Bultfontein next week. We switch off where we work each day. We work in Bultfontein on Tuesday and Wednesday and the rest of the days we work in Welkom.

So our district currently consists of 3 companionships. My companion and I in Welkom, 2 Elders in Kroonstad (small group meeting about 70k's from Welkom) and 2 Elders who just opened an area in Virginia (about 20k's from Welkom). On Wednesday when I arrived we went with the Elders and the couple missionaries to dedicate the city of Virginia for missionary work. Virginia has a few members living there and it's a really nice community. We went to a hill overlooking the city and said a dedicatory prayer. It was a very special experience and there was an incredible peace in the air. I believe that area will thrive! It's exciting to see the expansion.

Okay so you are probably wondering why I titled this email "the blind leading the blind." So within our district 4 Elders are brand new and the other 2 Elders have only been in their areas for one transfer (6
weeks)! My companion is completely lost here in Welkom. There are so many round abouts! They do not have traffic lights here in Welkom but instead just round abouts. It is crazy and really confusing. So my
companion doesn't really know the area all that well and it's been a struggle. I'm really considering buying a gps or else we are just going to run around lost. We are really trying to find less actives
but that is hard to do when you are lost.

We did manage to find a couple of really cool less active families though! I'll tell you about one of them we met yesterday. Their name is the C_____ family and they are really fun. There is a mother and 2
daughters (ages 18 and 13). Both my companion and I met them for the first time last night. They haven't met with missionaries in a long time and they haven't been to church in a couple of years. With less
actives you can't just go straight into their home and tell them to come to church, you really have to get to know them first. We spent 2 hours in their house just talking, laughing and getting to know them
without even discussing the gospel. After that we were about to get the daughters to open up. After there mom left the room to go cook we were about to get the daughters to tell us what was going on. They
told us they were all sealed in the temple about 10 years ago as a family. Then we found out their dad passed away in 2009 and their mom couldn't deal with coming to church anymore because it brought too
many memories of their father. They are still committed to the gospel but we just have to get them to see the light again. I was able to share some of my experiences with losing my mother the same year in
2009 and how the gospel and church helped me pull through that. The spirit was so strong and they really had a desire to help their mom start coming to church again. I think we'll be able to get this family
back but it may take a little time. The spirit was strong though and I was grateful we were able to be led by the spirit and discover their needs.

It is unfortunate to see people go less active in the church because I know the blessings the church has brought me in my life. I was able to overcome some of th emost difficult challenges in my life because of the gospel and the loving support of church members. In the worlds of Elder Andersen (I paraphrase): "You do not leave the protection of a storm shelter right as the tornado is in view" and the same applies to the gospel. You should not leave the roots of the church and the foundation of the gospel in your life as the challenges present themselves. Life is not easy but neither is salvation, as Jesus Christ
told his apostles in John 16:33: "...In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be not afraid I have overcome the world." There is someone who has experienced our pains and knows our challenges, Heavenly Father is very mindful of our needs and we can overcome anything as long as we exercise a little bit of faith and patience.

Love you guys and Happy mothers day this week!!

Elder Summers