Re-Capturing the Christmas Spirit

It seems the beginning of December, everyone’s really excited for Christmas and pumped for an extra measure of kindness, gift-giving, service, etc…. but as soon as we get into the late-teens and early 20s of December, everyone starts freaking out. Y’all all know this is true. And we’ve felt it here, even in the mission field. Trying to schedule appointments, dinners, FHEs, splits, etc. are all a no-go until after this coming weekend. My companion and I trying to strike that balance between staying low-key and getting work done. The conclusion we came to this week: re-capture the spirit of Christmas through service.

We had dinner with a foreign family in our Ward this week. Burritos with sour cream…. strangely, I never liked sour cream when I was in the States. But after not having it for a year and a half, I’m suddenly in love with it. I dreamed about it last night. Weird. 😀 Their daughter is trying to decide on whether to go to college first or go on a mission first. She’s prayed about it pretty fervently, and the answer she’s gotten is that either would be great for her. SO! She asked us if she can come out with us and be missionaries. She’s got plenty of time during the day and we need to be able to go on splits more often… answers to prayers! She’s even down with riding a bike in a skirt. Double win. 😀

There’s a family in one of our wards who are all members, sealed in the Temple, but recently the dad has not been wanting to come to church. The Ward Council is worried about them, and asked us missionaries to go over and see where we could help. We tried to set up with the mom a few times, but the Saturday night before she’d always call and cancel. Finally, we just told the Elders we were going to go anyway…. and to find a good excuse. Like caroling! 😀 It was the perfect set up. We biked all the way up the mountain on a prayer and a hope that we could get into their house. Worked like a charm! We kind of split up and helped each of the family members address their concerns, issues, stresses, hopes, expectations all individually. It was a great start, and as we left the family was preparing to make a ginger bread house together — the first time they’ve really spent time doing something together as a family in a VERY long time. It was a beautiful feeling.

We were supposed to have a baptism this week… but after her interview, she realized she believed it all but wasn’t quite ready to live it all. We gave her some time this week and have been praying and fasting for her. This is something I feel strongly about — people being able to stand on their own testimony before being baptized. That’s what makes the difference between a real convert simply a baptism. As a missionary, I’ve come to feel the difference between people with real desire and real intent and those who might not have it yet. There’s plenty that missionaries can do to help everyone understand the doctrine and how it applies in their day-to-day life… but the wanting to actually apply it is all on the investigator. Truely prepared investigators should be calling the missionaries and sharing what they’ve learned, should be wanting to come to church all by themselves, should be actively involving themselves in other member’s lives… etc. Any sense of doing those things out of obligation to missionaries is not healthy and not a solid foundation for a testimony. So, when I realized that she wasn’t going to be baptized this week, I got on my knees and asked God if He wanted her to get baptized this week. He said no, and let me see very clearly what I could do over the next few weeks to remind her of the testimony she already has. I felt at peace about it and discussed it with my companion. We are continuing on that path — obviously, we’d like her to receive the blessings of baptism… but we also recognize that time and agency are not things we can control.

One of our investigators is the recent boyfriend of a member. He’s an atheist… or, was a few weeks ago when he agreed to start meeting with us in an effort to better understand his girlfriend’s religion. Yesterday, I had a good talk with him about why he’s coming to church. His answer was completely different than the first time I asked him this question (last transfer)…. he’s now coming for himself. He’s heard things he likes and wants to better understand why he likes it. What a GREAT change! This has only been made possible by our great members taking care of him at church, using their own lives and their testimonies, and being able to hold up to really close scrutiny. That testimony is developed through daily prayer, scripture study, weekly family home evening, obedience and respect for their covenants. I love our ward members so much and I’m so proud of them! I’m not at all worried about this stake going into the next year, as each ward has this idea at the root of their ward mission plans: first solidify your own testimony, then help your friends feel the Holy Ghost / see the changes this Gospel has brough to your life, make a natural and appropriate invitation for them to come into the fold.

This whole week, the only question I’ve gotten asked is “are you going to be here until you go home… or not?” Well… I finally have an answer! I survived my last move call and I will stay in XinZhu with Tsai Jiemei. GREAT news! But as soon as everyone knew that, they started scheduling “the last time” with me. So, to put it simply, all dinner and lunch time is already scheduled out for the next six weeks. HAHAH! But, I noticed a change in the converstation. This time around it’s not just “I want to feed you” …. it’s become “I want you to come over and meet a friend of mine, we can probably all eat dinner together.” It’s GREAT! I’m no longer having to ask them if we can bring someone, or if they can think of a non-member to invite. They’re doing it themselves! XinZhu is the best. 😀

Recently, I asked President if I could read The Miracle of Forgiveness during personal study. He just chuckled and said yes… and I could probably pick up an English and Chinese copy and read them together. (mmmmmmmmm… up for a challenge? yes.) Unfortunately, English copies are scarce so I haven’t found it yet. But I have been studying on my own more about the Atonement in terms of forgiveness and the faith it takes to completely the repentance process. Jury is still out on solid conclusions and profound snippets to put in an email home… but it’s providing good food for thought while we’re biking up and down mountains.

The Baptism that Wasn’t…. ? A set of Elders in one of our wards was supposed to have a baptism this week. The kid passed his baptismal interivew, but his parents still hadn’t signed off on the permission slip. They were still planning on a bit of a hail-mary-pass in going to meet with the mom at 6pm, having the baptism scheduled at 7. Through a series of events, it got sorted out that mom totally supports the church and the message, but hasn’t seen the necessary changes in her son to make her believe he’s actually doing his part. The lesson turned into the missionaries and the mom they were all on the same page and the son just needed to get in gear. 😀 A great moment for them! But, that left my companion and I sitting at the church a) waiting for the verdict b) scrambling for a back-up plan. The day had all been tied up in coordinating this baptism and then un-coordinating it, then turning it into a fireside… then not. When we realized nothing was going to happen at the church that night, we called investigators, less actives, members, everyone we could think of to fill the hour we had left. We went out finding for a bit, with no success and ended up back at the chapel. We finally decided to say a prayer. Amen was said and we both realized that there were some people in the church building and we didn’t know what they were doing. We went in to check it out and saw it was the Bishop and the Young Men working on props for the Christmas pageant this coming Saturday and Sunday. We offered to help and were welcomed with cheers! The other missionaries originally involved in the baptism ended up joining us and reporting the investigator and his mom’s progress (she is now their new investigator, by the way!) to the Bishop. The whole feeling was wonderful — filled with love and service and productivity. We had a chance to really help the youth of the church bond with each other, talk about how to invite their non-member parents to the Christmas activities coming up and get to understand their parent’s original reasons for letting them all be baptized. 😀

Ohyeah…. and today for Pday we got the Zone together and practiced for our performance coming up on Sunday night. The missionaries sound SOOOO good! They’re all an incredibly talented bunch and I hope someone’s recording this whole thing so that one day y’all can see it.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Love,

Sister Oler

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