Ah, onto my last week. Feels weird to be so close to the exquisite end (and just in case you're curious, yes, I do feel quite intelligent for using the word exquisite). We're hoping to have a really full week, though it seems that every time we load a week up, half of it falls through and we end up having a week about the same as any other.
Nothing has really changed around here, so I'm going to continue with my mission summary style of emails.
I ended last time talking about when I was in Hamilton serving as a district leader. I was in Hamilton until the end of January. I'm thinking that transfers were on the 31st of January. Because I remember being super bummed out that I was getting transferred to a new area only days before my birthday. I was transferred to New Plymouth, Taranaki, and I was also called to be a Zone Leader with Elder Johnson. I was a bit nervous about being called to be a Zone Leader. Mostly I was just nervous of what might be expected of me. Up to this point, all of my zone leaders had been pretty staunch fellows. All of them good guys, but very strict on everything, very serious, always diligent to the utmost. There's nothing wrong with that, but as I mentioned before, I tried that for my first six weeks and I hated it. I knew going in that if it was going to be expected of me to change who I am in order to be a zone leader, I was going to have a bad time.
Elder Johnson turned out to be a very good companion to train me up as a zone leader. The two transfers that I had in New Plymouth with the J-Dog have turned out to be two of my most favorite transfers. Those times, and the time I've spent here in Kawhia have been the most enjoyable for me. I didn't feel any pressure to serious up, and pretty much all of the missionaries in Taranaki zone were awesome, so there was hardly any stress serving as the leader down there. Not to mention we went to the beach almost every P-Day and had awesome times with the other Elders that were serving in the area.
Out of everything that I learned while with Elder Johnson, one thing stands out; for me to teach the people, I need to know the people. Elder J was a really good missionary. He was a standout example of how we need to talk with everybody that we see, and do our very best to share the gospel in every situation. He was very diligent in the work. The guidelines for teaching a lesson go about like this; open with a hymn and a prayer, teach for 30 - 45 mins, leave a "will you" commitment, end with a kneeling prayer. He was very good at this, and it helped me to really start to develop a love for teaching. There was only one problem though. We spent so much time teaching and teaching and teaching everybody, that after a few weeks, I realized I still didn't really know any of those that we were visiting. I realized that when we went out, I could testify as a missionary, but I couldn't testify as a friend.
In my previous areas my companions and I had probably weighed more on the friend side of things. We always made sure to teach those that we visited, but we did spend a lot of time talking about nonsense. I've found that when you slide too heavily to that side, you soon become too much of a friend, and you can't testify as strongly or be as bold as some occasions warrant.
With Elder J I could testify and commit and be bold, but it seemed to me that the response we were receiving wasn't as good as what it should have been. And honestly, I wasn't enjoying it as much as what I should have been. Eventually I decided that I was going to have to get to know these people.
One of the nights, we decided to visit a part member family for the ending visit of the evening. The family consisted of three young children and the parents, who were not married, one of which was a less active member and the other not a member. We showed up and started talking to them out front, following up on commitments that we had left previously, then listening to why they hadn't been kept. I could tell that my companion was getting ready to segue into a lesson, but as I stopped and thought about it, I really did not feel that it was what we needed to do, so I didn't follow his lead. He would start to change the topic to gospel things in the hopes of teaching a lesson, and I would gently bring it back to just having a chat. Eventually he got quiet, and I knew he was upset, but I didn't care. As we kept talking with the couple, I kept pondering about if a lesson was needed, but kept getting the feeling that I should just keep chatting. It made me wonder after if it was the spirit directing me to, or if it was just me wanting to, since my companion obviously did not feel the same way. After about 45 minutes, we wrapped up and went back to the car to head home. My companion was very silent. After we had been driving for a few moments I figured I'd just ask him straight up what he was upset about. He calmly responded that that had been the most useless 45 minutes of his entire mission.
For me, that 45 minutes hadn't been useless at all. I seem to remember talking about lollies and Twinkies, and a whole lot of other pointless things, but to me that didn't matter. It wasn't about the subject matter of the conversation, it was about actually becoming something to this couple than just the Elders. I have found that I cannot teach those that I don't care about. At least, not with any amount of conviction. Some missionaries can. Some missionaries have the attitude that you shouldn't get to know anyone in your areas, because eventually you're just going to get transferred and never see any of them again. That's not me. For some reason I have to love the people that I teach, and to love them I have to know them. I'm not sure that will make sense to anyone else aside from me, but it's been something that I've kept with me ever since.
Elder Johnson ending up loosening up a little bit after I explained that to him, and we ended up being sweet as. At least, I recon we had a pretty good time, though I cannot attest to what he thought of it all.
After Elder Johnson I had Elder Brann as my companion in New Plymouth. Elder Brann was good, and for the most part I enjoyed the time that I spent with him. The major thing that I pulled from our time together was the need to be happy. He reckons that he struggles a bit with bi-polar disorder. He was a good missionary and a good companion, but quite often he proved to be a bit of a downer. It made me think on a very regular basis about my own attitude. I recon that I sit fairly stable right in the middle as far as attitude goes; I'm not overly optimistic about everything, but at the same time I'm not exorbitantly pessimistic either. Being with Elder Brann helped me realize though how quickly I can sink. It wasn't that I developed a bad attitude, but I began to be less and less assured that good things could happen. Will this person accept our message? Probably not. Will this person show up to Church? Doubt it.
A few weeks into the transfer one of the sister missionaries came to me after a district meeting and warned me about my "grump face." She reckoned that I seemed to have been on a downward spiral of general unhappiness. Up to this point I somehow hadn't noticed it. Later that night as I sat and pondered about it, I realized how much of a grump I actually had become, and how easily it had occurred. It also made me think of all the times I'd been the same, unhappy person back home. I thought to myself, "Isn't a mission supposed to change me? How is it that I've been out for over a year now and I'm still a grump?" I came to the conclusion that I had never made the conscious decision to change. I had never made it a priority to be happy. I'd been through plenty of trainings about how we need to keep a smile on our faces and yadda yadda yadda, but that wasn't good enough. Plastering a smile on my face wasn't about to get rid of the aura of grump that I had floating around me. It was then that I made the conscious decision to change. Each day I would make myself see the good side of things. Sure, that person didn't accept our message, but at least we were able to stand in the shade while we talked to them. It's been something that I've tried to do every day since then; see the bright side of things. As cheesy and cliche as it may sound, it actually works. I'm still not the most outgoing and happy guy you'll ever meet, but I'm doing monumentally better, and that's what counts. Being able to be happy is a big deal, especially in the face of adversity. It seems to me as though more not-so-great things happen out here than the super-great things, so does that mean that I should be less happy? Should I really only allow myself to be happy when good things are happening? Nah. Whether the day turns out a lucky one or not, whether it ends up sunny or cloudy, I've found it always pays to keep a little sunshine in my soul. haha.
I'm not sure I'll email next week, but we'll see.
Hope you enjoyed the email!