July 23, 2012
I arrived in McAllen, Texas on July 5th where I was picked up by the mission president's wife, Sister Trayner. When we got to the mission home, which is only ten miles from the border of Mexico, she gave us (me along with two other elders and a sister) an introduction to the mission. Once President Trayner arrived we sat down for dinner; shredded beef sandwiches. A lot of other missionaries from the area showed up for dinner as well. After dinner, we all moved to the living room while President Trayner pulled us aside one at a time to welcome us.
Once that was finished, we split into trios to spend the rest of the night knocking doors and going to appointments. McAllen is basically Mexico, so everyone we talked with spoke Spanish; even the names of stores were half English, half Spanish. The first lesson we taught was done sitting in the driveway (because that was more comfortable than being in the house). We had a few more appointments that night, but the rest were pretty ordinary. We did walk down one street where every house had seven foot tall, chain link fence and a 'beware of dogs' sign on it (I'm not sure if that's a courtesy or a threat). As we walked down this street, one Elder carried a huge piece of granite in his hand just in case a dog came after us (they were all massive dogs too).
The next morning I was dropped off at the bus station with Elder Schumacher so we could head north and get to our new areas. We rode from McAllen to Harlingen and changed buses. On the new bus, we rode to Robstown where Elder Schumacher got off. I stayed on until I got to Corpus Cristi where I was picked up by Elders MacNielle and Ginez. We taught one lesson in Spanglish because in the family of three, one only speaks English, one was fluent in both, and one was learning English, but wasn't fluent. That night we had dinner in a member's home. So my first dinner with a member was Papa Murphy's pizza.
The next morning we went knocking doors for a bit and one person let us in. The man we taught is named Gilbert and he had some very interesting ideas. He said that religion is good and he likes what it teaches, but thinks people only believe in it because they convince themselves that it's real. The ironic thing was that everything he wanted from life, the Church offered.
A little bit after lunch we were waiting for Elder Bice, who is to be my companion, and Elder Ludlow, Elder Bice's old companion, to pick me up so I could get to my area, Portland. The three of us were a trio for a few days until transfers happened and Elder Ludlow left.
Portland doesn't even seem like Texas, it's all beaches and palm trees. The only reason anyone can tell it's Texas is because either the state flag or the shape of the state is on everything. What's cool is that I'm serving in the ward Elder Corum is from; I got a picture next to his missionary plaque after church. His parents knew that I was with him in the MTC, so they were asking me a bunch of questions about him that first Sunday.
I didn't have time to write last p-day because we went to the U.S.S. Lexington in Corpus. It's a retired battle cruiser that was turned into a museum. On Saturday, we're not supposed to use the car because the mission president wants us to be seen, so we walk anywhere from twelve to fifteen miles on Saturday. It's not tiring, just really sticky from sweat and humidity. We try to teach a lot of investigators, but a lot of the work here is reactivating less active or inactive members. So far, one less active is doing really well, we've had two baptisms, and one more already planned for August.
The first baptism is Lon Lawrence. He is in his sixties, retired from the air force, and has a bent rod in his lower back that prevents him from standing up straight. During his life, he smoked almost sixty miles of cigarettes, drank fifteen cups of coffee daily, and drank a little on the side. Now, he has given all that up and has read the Book of Mormon five times and it's his goal to go to the Salt Lake Temple. The most dramatic part of his story is that he was in his basement preparing to commit suicide when the missionaries who started teaching first knocked on his door. Now he's completely turned his life around. He used to bounce around from church to church trying to fill whatever it was he was missing inside, but could never find it. He said it felt like he was trying to get somewhere by boat, but couldn't go anywhere because he was stuck on the beach. Now that he has the Gospel he says it's like he is finally out to sea and is able to navigate his life where he wants to go. Because of Lon and his love for the church, we're now teaching his wife Judy who also wants to be baptized. Ever since Lon's baptism, he has tons of funny jokes for everything. He'll always say something like, "this is my wife Judy.... the other four are at home. You know how we Mormons are." Or when we ask if we'll see him at church on Sunday he'll say he can't make it because that's when he has ballet practice. So now Judy will be baptized in August.
We also just baptized Alynah Muhammad, a thirteen year old girl who will be starting eighth grade this year. She was really easy to teach because her mom was just baptized a few months ago. Angela, Alynah's mom, has really been a huge help to us because of the example she sets. She loves the Gospel so much that she divorced her husband, who she was married to for twenty years, because he is against the church. She's really funny though because she does that thing where you go "mmmhmm..." when you agree with something.
The biggest problems we run into are people who attend either one of two huge churches. And the frustrating thing about Catholics is that they all say they believe in the Bible, but they've never read it. And if they knew what was in the Bible they would know that the Catholic Church is wrong. Really, Catholosism is a pagan religion, although they would never admit that. All they did was take all the Greek and roman gods and change their names to Saints. Pastors even tell their congregations not to read the Bible because the average person will just get confused and won't be able to understand it.
We're teaching a family (mostly the parents: Bryan and Brenda) that attends one of these mega churches and they completely agree with the Book of Mormon and they love our lessons, but something is still holding them back. We taught them about the Apostasy and why there are so many churches today and it totally blew their minds, but they still don't want to give up their church or Pastor Bill.
Another couple we're teaching is Joe and Betty Cantu. Betty was baptized in December, but went inactive and got back into smoking. They've already been taught all the lessons before, but Joe still hasn't given up his addictions, so he can't be baptized. Betty has been really adamant about being better, not only with smoking, but also with her thoughts and her relationships with others. The last lesson we had with them we read the part in Alma where the Anti-Nephi-Lehis bury their weapons and then we had them bury their cigarettes in the backyard. It's slow work, but it's progress.
As far as meals are concerned, breakfast is typically a bowl of cereal or I'll make pancakes (Elder Bice hates to cook and I don't like to do dishes, so that worked out well). I'll also make scones or whatever pasta we have in the cupboard. One day I made cornbread so we could have something for a snack. Today I made chicken breasts for lunch that had to thaw since yesterday. We have Mac and Cheese, ham or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, quesadillas, canned soups like tomato and chicken noodle. We eat at member's, sometimes investigator's homes once or twice a week. It's always either turkey or chicken, or taco's or fajitas or enchiladas.
The things we don't have are junk food and snacks or candy and pop. Although a lot of members gave us peanut butter, so we have six bottles of that and five jars of jelly.
Other than that, Elder Bice keeps trying to get me to call him Master Bice so he can call me Padawan.