Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A good day to spead the gospel

Things have been going really well for Christopher in Buffalo.  In fact they have been going so good that Christopher and his companion recently had some baptisms.  This is the kind of thing that really makes a mission worth it.  But then there is more to that story.  Not only did they have some baptisms, but on top of that, one of the people that was recently baptized even did a little missionary work of their own.  So now Christopher and his companion are teaching a friend who is also really excited about the message that these missionaries bring. That is one of the exciting things about a mission.  You never really know where the Lord is going to lead you next.

A couple of weeks ago Christopher told us a really funny story about his companion.  The story starts out when a member of their Ward decided to take the missionaries to a local Denny's restaurant.  Being missionaries and always looking for the most food for their money, everybody ordered the all-you-can-eat pancake meal for $4.  All except for Christopher's companion.  Since it was dinner time, Christopher's companion decided that he wanted a burger instead.  That is, up until the time when the Ward member challenged the missionaries to a pancake eating contest.  Being missionaries and also being 20-something year old young men, a pancake eating contest was right up their alley.  At this point a little trash talking ensued as to who could actually eat the most pancakes, with the Ward member telling everyone at the table that they had this one in the bag.  Christopher's companion chimed in claiming that he could not only eat the most pancakes but he could do it on top of also finishing off the burger and fries that he had already ordered.  With that claim, the gauntlet had been thrown down and the contest began.  After a few orders of pancakes most of the Elders had already thrown in the towel, all except for Christopher's companion and the Ward member.  They both went back and forth eating more than the other up to the point of around eleven pancakes each.  By this time the Elder was really toughing it out and was having a rough time not only keeping the pancakes down that he had already eaten, but also struggling with each additional bite.  The Ward member finally called it quits after eleven pancakes. Just to be able to say that he had won the contest, Christopher's companion choked down a half of a pancake more.  So the ultimate winner was Christopher's companion at a burger, fries and eleven and one half pancakes.  Oh, did I mention that the Ward member was a Sister.  Christopher also mentioned that this good sister probably could have eaten more but she didn't want to bruise any egos at this point.  Especially since this good missionary really gave it all had for this contest.  I think they are all just glad that this Elder didn't give it all back up (if you know what I mean). 

Oh by the way, if you thought that the last story was funny, Christopher told us a great story about a hidden letter and a call to the mission president.  It was hilarious!  But to get the full story, you will have to come and see us in person.  OK, you can call us too.  I'm telling you, it's worth your time. :-)

Transfers came and went and Christopher is still in Buffalo.  But not with the same companion.  His previous companion was transferred to another area and Christopher told us that he is really excited about working with his new companion.  In fact in Christopher's most recent letter home, he told us about some of the work that he and his companion have been doing.  He said that in just the last week they have taught a lot of lessons, set some baptismal dates and found eight new investigators.  Christopher said that he is really excited about everything that is going one right now.

Then there are those days when things just don't quite work out the way that you would like.  Christopher told us about one day when he and his companion were out following up on some of the people that they had been teaching and the appointments that they had set up for the day.  Well, as the day wore on and most of their appointments had fallen through, they decided to check in on one of the appointments that they had set up for a little later in the afternoon.  When they arrived at the house and knocked on the door, they heard a woman's voice yelling back "who is it?".  The Elders responded with "its the missionaries".  Then she said, "you told me you'd be here at 2, it don't look like no 2 right now. I'm still sleeping, don't bother coming back!".  Well that's just how some days go as a missionary.  When the days are good, they can be great.  When they are not so good, well... those days can still be memorable.  Then there is always tomorrow.

Here is a picture that Christopher sent home recently.  Another one of those great and memorable days.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Being a productive missionary

It's been a few weeks since our last blog entry.  Since then transfers for Christopher have come and gone and Christopher is still in Buffalo.  That is a good thing because Christopher really likes it in Buffalo, all except for the fact that the weather is starting to turn very cold.  He and his companion are doing great there and working with a lot of good people.  Of course there are always the struggles with some of the people that they are teaching.  Things don't always workout they way that he would like them to sometimes.  But overall Christopher is doing well and progressing in many ways.  During conference one of the speakers talked about missionary work and made a comment about the old phrase "a mission is the best two years of my life".  But instead of saying that, he modified the phrase to say that his mission was the "best two years for my life".  The way he stated it by just changing one little word, really brought it home for Christopher.  He mentioned this a few weeks ago and said that he could really relate to what this conference speaker was saying.  Christopher feels exactly the same way.

Christopher has really been working on ways to be more productive as a missionary.  A few weeks ago he wrote home and told us about how he took out a huge map of Buffalo and started mapping out where all the members of the Church live.  He figured that it would be a good idea to visit these members, find out more about them and ask them if they knew their neighbors.  Then he and his companion would do some tracting in these areas and hopefully be able to find some new investigators.  Christopher told us how spending a little time up front to plan out where they were going to tract has really saved them a lot of time and allowed them to do a lot more missionary work.  All of their hard work must be paying off because Christopher told us that he and his companion have a few baptisms coming up around the first part of November. 

We hear a lot from the Church leaders how missionary work which involves working with the members of Church in the area is much more productive than just tracting alone.  Christopher talked a little bit about this in one of his recent letters.  He also talked about how there are so many people in his area that they meet everyday who could be such great members of the Church if they were just willing to listen. 
"You do everything you can, but people have to have a desire to change and help themselves.  "Progress" just isn't a desire for so many people that we talk to.  Just goes to show why member missionary work is sooooo vital! The people we need, the ones who will contribute and help build the kingdom are the hardest to find and talk to. They are the ones at work all day or at home with their families or driving by.... and worse of all, they're the ones who think they don't need what we have. If only everyone knew what we dorky kids in short sleeved white shirts had to offer them. I'm so grateful that I get to be here and have found out what it is that Christ has to offer me!"
This last week Christopher was able to return to Batavia for a mission conference.  If you remember, Batavia was the first area in which Christopher served.  Batavia basically sits right in the middle of the Rochester New York mission so many times it is a convenient place to hold a conference.  Being in the middle of the mission, most of the missionaries can get there without having to travel long distances.  Anyway, after the meeting Christopher was able to visit with someone who he had been teaching while he was serving in Batavia.  Christopher told us that this person has progressed a lot in their life and has made a lot of very positive changes.  He is hoping that someday they will be able to take the next step and be baptized a member of the Church.  He knows that they are ready, it is just a matter of taking the next step.  Meeting and getting to know people like this where the teachings of the Church has made a big difference in their lives, even though they have yet to be baptized, really make Christopher happy to be serving as a missionary.  The great thing about being on a mission is that he is able to share the gospel everyday and help others make the same kinds of changes. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

P-Days and patience

Christopher is really enjoying his time in Buffalo, NY.  He has been in Buffalo for a couple of months now, ever since the Hill Cumorah pageant finished last July.  He has really enjoyed working with his current companion and they have been having a lot of success lately.  In Christopher's most recent letter home, he told us about a baptism that they had a week ago and also about the people that he and his companion have been teaching. 

Both Christopher and his companion are really excited about the people that they are currently teaching.  Christopher told us that last week, four of their investigators came to church and really enjoyed the experience.  He said that their Ward is very supportive of missionary work and when they see new people attending their church meetings, they automatically take them in and make them feel welcome.  Christopher said that they have a great Ward mission leader and that the members who have been called as Ward missionaries are awesome too.  They have really helped out the missionaries especially when new people come to church for the first time.

A couple of weeks ago on what is normally Christopher's P-Day, we didn't hear from him at all.  However, the next day we finally got a letter from Christopher and he told us why he didn't write home the day before.  It turned out that the mission had a special visit from Elder Nash of the Quorum of the Seventy.  The missionaries spent about eight hours in meetings during the day and Christopher told us how the day flew by.  He really enjoyed hearing from Elder Nash and feeling the spirit of the meetings.  Before the meetings began, Elder Nash invited all of the missionaries to prepare a short talk.  The reason why he wanted them to prepare a talk was so that he could call on a few of them randomly to share the topic that they had prepared.  Unlike most people I know, this is exactly the kind of thing that Christopher really enjoys.  He loves to get up in front of people and share whatever is on his mind.  Christopher said that he was really hoping to be called on to speak, but to his disappointment, he wasn't picked.  To bad, because he felt like he had some really good things to say about being a good missionary, working with church members and teaching with power and authority.  Of course good topics like these never go to waste.  I'm sure that Christopher will have plenty of opportunities to share what he had prepared.

After Christopher told us this story, I think he just got so excited to share his thoughts that he decided to share them with us in the rest of his letter.  So to help give Christopher a little larger audience, here is some of what he told us:

"So I've been out for a bit of time now and it's really strange to look back and see the ways I've grown. It's not really at all what I expected. A lot of it has been things that aren't so related to the gospel. Patience is one of the biggest things you learn on a mission and being here you have the opportunity to work and deal with people that you never ever would have in my normal life. A mission is made up of all kinds of kids and so I've learned a lot from them. Its pretty difficult at times. I've met a few who have frustrated me more than anyone else I've ever met, but it all helps you learn and grow.  I feel like its hard to measure spiritual growth on a mission. I know I've grown a lot spiritually but it's hard to tell just how much. I think I'll really see myself in a different light once I am back home and have to face everyday things again. When it's your whole life, it's tough to judge. But things have changed a lot and I'm grateful for that. A mission is quite the experience. While it can be really hard, long and frustrating, the growth is amazing."

If you read the previous blog entry, one of the things that Christopher really loves is to play basketball.  Unfortunately for him, the other missionaries that he is currently serving with in his area, aren't much into sports.  Of course except for some rare occasions like the one he talked about several weeks back, his only opportunity to play basketball is on his P-Day.  He told us in his last letter that he really didn't know what he was going to do for the rest of his p-Day because there really wasn't anybody around who enjoys basketball as much as he does.  Maybe this is just a good opportunity to branch out a little and try something new besides basketball.  Apparently he must have because he recently sent home some great pictures of him and the other Elders in his district, out enjoying a day at Fort Niagara State Park.  We only know where he was because the pictures below kind of clued us in.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Spreading the gospel through basketball

The Hill Cumorah Pageant is finally over and life in the Rochester, New York mission is back to normal.  I mentioned in the last entry that Christopher is now in Buffalo, New York and enjoying it a lot.  The city is bigger, there are more people in his Ward and Christopher and his companion have already found several new people that they are currently teaching.  In fact the Ward in which Christopher is now serving is so diverse, that on one Sunday he heard a talk and prayer in Spanish and also a prayer in French.  There are a lot of people from different cultures in his Ward, which probably makes for some very interesting meetings.

In the latest letter from Christopher, he told us a great story.  He started out by saying that one thing that his patriarchal blessing has instructed him to do is to use his talents to serve others.  Especially now that Christopher is on a mission, he has really been trying to do just that.  Christopher has always had a talent for music and has spent time making sure that he can play all of the hymns so that he can share his musical talents with the members of the Ward.  Christopher has always had a great ear for improvisation and not too long ago he told us how, on occasion, he has used this talent to "spice" up the hymns just a bit.  So sharing his musical abilities has been an easy thing to do on his mission.  Now for the harder one. 

Christopher is a great basketball player.  He has really enjoyed playing basketball with the other Elders on P-Day.  In fact there have been several times when his competitiveness has gotten the best of him and landed him in the emergency room.  But that is a story for another time.  Christopher has been looking for a way to use his talents in basketball to help in his missionary work.  So this story is about basketball and missionaries.

Christopher told us that there is a fairly large park in their area of Buffalo.  There is always a lot going on in this park especially since the park includes a zoo, a cemetery, a golf course, tennis courts, jogging trails, large grassy areas and yes, even basketball courts.  Of course being interested in basketball, Christopher had to check out the courts.  He said that their are always a lot of younger people out playing basketball everyday.  Some of them are really good.  In fact so good, that they might even rival some of the best college players or even pros.  Most of the people playing basketball in this park are black and you will see why I mentioned that fact in just a minute.  A lot of the games that are played, are just pickup games.  In other words, people show up at the courts, randomly form teams and play each other just for the fun of it.  So the other day, Christopher and his companion were walking by the park and stopped at the basketball courts just to watch some of these games for a few minutes.  At that point Christopher had an idea and told his companion that he wanted to try to join in on one of these pickup games just to see if playing a little basketball with these guys would be enough to break the ice and get some conversations going. 

Not long after that, Christopher and his companion were at a dinner appointment which just happened to be right next to the park.  After dinner they both headed over to the park to try out Christopher's new plan.  Being missionaries, they could just walk over to the park in their basketball shorts and shirts especially since they are just a couple of white guys.  The crowd would have probably just ignored them and kept on playing.  So they decided that they would show up in their suits and ties, proudly wearing their missionary name tags.  They immediately got noticed and recognized as Mormon missionaries.  Well, that may have gotten them noticed, but Christopher still wasn't any closer to getting in on one of these pickup games.  After a short chit-chat with a few of the players that were standing around, Christopher changed into his basketball shorts and was ready to play. 

So the way this works is that if somebody wants to play ball, they form a team that is made up of others who are willing to play and get dibs on the next game.  Two teams play, the winner continues into the next game and the loser is out.  Then team with dibs on the next game, plays the winner.  Once Christopher had changed into his basketball shorts he tried to get onto the team that was going to play next.  Since none of the players had any idea who Christopher was, other than the fact that they knew he was a Mormon, they didn't really want to take a chance on this Mormon white guy.  So that just meant that Christopher had to find his own players, form his own team and get dibs on the next game.  Well, Christopher did just that and before too much longer, Christopher and his team were next up on the court.

Being the challengers, Christopher's team took the ball out first.  As Christopher described it, his teammate brought the ball in and across the half court line and then passed the ball off to Christopher.  As soon as Christopher got the ball, he stepped up to the three point line and took a shot.  SHWOOSH!  What a way to start a game.  Especially for the Mormon white guy.  The game continued on and Christoher's scoring streak never ended.  He scored several more threes and a few lay-ups too.  Christopher's team ended up losing the game but only by 2 points.  But what Christopher won, was a lot of respect from the same guys who just a short time before, wouldn't really give Christopher the time of day.  In fact at one point during Christopher's scoring streak, all of the black players who were sitting on the side lines watching the game, started yelling out "Larry Bird" every time Christopher scored.  Now, if you aren't familiar with the name "Larry Bird", he was a famous NBA basketball player back in the 80's and yes, he was a tall white guy.

The most important part of this story is that Christopher was able to open some doors and start some conversations all because he has a talent for basketball.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Unique events that help in the work

The last month has been all about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir tour and the Hill Cumorah pageant.  These are some of the unique events that only take place in the Rochester New York mission.  As missionaries, they are obviously encouraged to invite as many people as possible to attend these events and Christopher took advantage of these opportunities to do just that.  Christopher told us all about attending some of the choir concerts in Palmyra and at the Chautauqua Institution.  He was hoping to run into one of his former high school choir teachers but found out that she was no longer in the choir.  But Christopher said that they all had a wonderful and very spiritual time attending these events and were able to take some of the people that they have been teaching to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. 

The Hill Cumorah pageant has been another big event.  Over the last couple of weeks, Christopher has spent a lot of time there meeting and talking with people as they arrived to watch the pageant.  He told us that the traditional missionary work has almost come to a stop during the time that the pageant takes place.  Most of the missionaries spend their time talking with people at the pageant, answering questions and helping out wherever they can.  They also take the opportunity to invite some of the people that they have been teaching, to attend the pageant.  This is an opportunity for them to learn a lot about the message that the Church has and the gospel that each of these missionaries are spending their time to teach. 

One of side benefits of being in the same mission where one of the premiere events of the Church takes places, is that there are bound to be a lot of people that you know passing through.  This has been the case with Christopher as well.  He has seen some old friends from high school, some old Ward members from back home and various other people who had traveled out to Palmyra to see the pageant.  We also had the opportunity to hear about some of these experiences from people in our Ward who were their and met up with Christopher as he was talking to many of the pageant visitors. 

Christopher's latest email home was a short one, but a good one.  His mission president had told him that once everything calms down following the pageant, he would transfer Christopher to a new area.  Christopher simply wrote home last week and told us that after spending the first six months of his mission in Batavia, he has been transferred to Buffalo.  He also said that his new companion is great.  Hopefully this next week, we will get a little more detail on what he has been up to and what new experiences he has been having in the Buffalo area.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The best mission in the Church... Really

We have received a couple of letters and some emails from Christopher and from what he has told us, things are going well in Batavia.  Christopher and his companion held a baptismal services about a week or so ago which was really exciting for them.  I believe that this is the first baptism that they have had in Batavia for a while.  Christopher tells us that there are several more people that they are currently teaching who are also close to baptism as well.  It is always exciting to hear this kind of news and we are always praying that things will continue to go well in all of Christopher's missionary work.

In Christopher's latest email, he told us how grateful he was to be in the best mission in the church.  Of course every missionary says that and of course every missionary is right.  Here is how Christopher describes it:
"I honestly am in the best mission in the entire world! We get sooooo many awesome opportunities out here that no other missionaries get! It's amazing! The Sacred Grove, Hill Cumorah, the Pageant, Motab! Oh and we're the only mission doing online proselyting(i've really come to enjoy writing). Could life get any better for a Mormon missionary? Dont think so! It's amazing! We really get to know Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon in a whole different way, gaining an incredibly strong witness of the truth of it all! I cant believe how blessed I've been in the way my life has twisted, turned and led me here to this mission today. It's a miracle."
If you noticed in his description of the best mission in the Church, Christopher mentioned that his mission is the only mission that is doing online proselyting.  If you haven't heard of this before, it is a very different way of doing missionary work and breaks from traditional tracting and teaching.  Most missionaries are only allowed to use the Internet to write a weekly email home and to do some occasional research on LDS.org for upcoming Sacrament meeting talks or lessons.  They cannot use facebook, youtube, blogs or any other kind of social media web sites.  Well, in Christopher's mission things are very different.  The missionaries are encouraged to create a blog, a facebook page and reference church related youtube videos.  They are asked to create blog entries each week that talk about church related subjects and help to explain why missionaries do what they do.  Christopher is currently maintaining a blog at http://www.eldernicholes.blogspot.com/ .  Not your typical or traditional way of doing missionary work.  But with the proliferation of social media, it just might be a big part of the way that missionaries get the Lord's work done in the future.

Christopher told us about one interesting story to which I think many missionaries can relate.  As missionaries they obviously meet and talk to a lot of people every day.  Apparently there is a man that Christopher and his companion see around town and talk to from time to time.  Well a couple of weeks ago this man came running into the church during the regular Sunday meeting, yelling for the missionaries.  He had been shot by is son with a BB gun and needed some money to get a prescription filled.  We aren't really sure of what else might have been going on in this man's life, but from what Christopher told us, the prescription was only about $10 so the Branch President handled the situation and sent the man on his way.  A missionary has to be ready for all kinds of unique and unusual experiences and this was just one of them.  There are probably many more to come.

If you are from around Utah, you might have heard on the news recently about a tour that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is just starting this week.  I'm not sure of all of the places where the tour will take the choir, but New York just happens to be one of them.  In Christopher's description of all of the opportunities that he has in his mission, attending a Mormon Tabernacle Choir performance is another one of those great opportunities.  The choir will be performing in at least two locations very close to where Christopher is currently serving and he has made arrangements to attend both performances with several of the people that he and his companion are currently teaching.  Another reason why Christopher is excited about seeing the choir is because, being from Utah, there are several members of the choir that Christopher knows and would like to see.  One of them being his old choir teacher from his high school days back home. 

Another big opportunity that is coming up next month is the Hill Cumorah Pageant.  Christopher has already made plans to attend some of the performances again with several of the people that they are currently teaching.  Can you think of a better way to teach a missionary lesson to an investigator than to take them to a performance such as the Hill Cumorah Pageant and have it played out for them by live actors?  What an experience that will be, I'm sure.  And again, being from Utah, there is bound to be plenty of people attending the pageant that Christopher knows.  Who knows, maybe the Rochester, New York mission is the best mission after all.  Well, we do know one thing, it is definitely the best for all of the missionaries who are or have ever served there.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The work is moving forward

We haven't had a lot of news from Christopher since his Mother's Day phone call.  He has sent home several of his voice recordings that he keeps as a daily diary.  A lot of his entries talk about all of the tracting and teaching that they do.  Both Christopher and his companion have been doing a lot of tracting and teaching.  Unfortunately, most of their appointments have not gone much beyond the first few lessons.  But the good news is that out of all of the new people that they have contacted and all of the lessons that they have taught, they have several people who have been attending church each week and have a baptismal date scheduled. 

There are some days when Christopher and his companion just go all day long.  He told us about how they walk up and down the streets and just talk to everybody that they see.  People on the street, standing in their yards, sitting in their garages, wherever people are, these missionaries just walk up and start talking.  During one day recently, Christopher and his companion taught ten lessons and found four new people to teach.  Christopher says that his approach usually starts out with either the weather or just some random topic that crosses his mind as they walk up to the person and start talking.  Then he will segway into their belief in God and finally into one of the first lessons.  Speaking of the weather, Christopher said that it has been raining in New York about as much or more than it has been raining here in Utah.  The wet weather has kept them from doing as much tracting as they would like in a day.  He said that their is so much water that it pools up in the streets and in the yards.  Even with an umbrella, Christopher says that they are still soaked by the time the day is over.

Christopher told us about a recent zone conference that they had in his area.  The zone conference was partially held in the Sacred Grove and then finished up at a nearby Stake center.  He said that they talked a lot about conversion and also listened to a talked by Elder Holland which was actually a talk that Elder Holland give at the MTC while Christopher was there.  Christopher really loves Elder Holland's talks and wanted us to download as many as we could find from the Church's web site, burn them onto a CD and send them to him.  All of the talks combined filled up about four CDs, so Christopher should have a lot of good things to listen to. 

Just this week we finally got a letter from Christopher rather than the voice recordings on a memory card.  Transfers came and went again and both Christopher and his companion are still in Batavia.  Christopher was kind of hoping to stay in Batavia for at least one more transfer because this month is when most of the people that they have been teaching, have baptismal dates set.  From what Christopher said in his letter, the first of these dates is coming up this weekend.  That will be really exciting for Christopher since this is probably the first baptism that he has experienced as a missionary.  Since they have been so busy with all of the teaching that they have done and the baptismal dates that are scheduled, Christopher told us that they haven't had as much time for tracting.  As a result, their teaching pool is down right now which just means that they have a new challenge.  He said that they will be spending a lot more time tracting and contacting new people over the next few weeks so that they can build their teaching pool back up to where it was a few weeks ago.  With all of this missionary work going on in Batavia, things are really exciting for Christopher.  It is always good to see the work moving forward.

Christopher has been playing the piano a lot during his mission.  He said that he plays the piano at all of the missionary meetings and during Sacrament meeting on Sundays.  He has learned a lot of hymns and has really improved his sight reading abilities.  I'm sure that his musical ability has really benefited both himself as well as all those who hear him play.  He told us in his letter that he was even asked to play the piano at a funeral that was held recently in his Ward.  Christopher has always enjoyed playing music and it is great to hear that he has been able to share his talents for music with the people that he is serving on his mission.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A missionary phone call on Mothers Day

This week Christopher decided he would tell us all about his mission in a little different way.  Rather than sending us emails as usual, he decided that he would record his letters and send them back to us on memory cards.  So this last week we not only got to hear his voice, he also sent us a few pictures as well.  Mother's day is coming up soon so rather than just listening to Christopher's voice on a recording, we will be able to hear his voice live when he calls home.  We are really looking forward to that.

Things are going well for Christopher in Batavia.  Christopher and his companion are doing a lot of tracting and finding new people to teach.  Christopher actually really enjoys tracting.  He told us that through tracting they are able to meet a lot of people which also results in being able to teach a lot of lessons.  Even though they have been able to teach a lot of lessons, it has still been a little difficult to get past the first lesson or two.  In fact, one day not long ago Christopher and his companion had eleven appointments scheduled.  Out of the eleven appointments, none of them came through.  Having so many appointments fall through can be a little disappointing.  But for Christopher, it just means that they need to set up eleven more and move forward the best that they can.  The bright spot is that several of the people that they have been teaching, have attended church with Christopher and his companion.  It has been really exciting for them to have these people attend church and have the opportunity to associate with the members of the branch and feel of the spirit there.

Transfers came and went and Christopher is still in Batavia although he now has a new companion.  Before transfers actually happened, Christopher thought that he might be getting transferred out of Batavia.  Once he found out that he was going to stay, he was pretty happy about that.  According to Christopher, Batavia is probably one of the hardest places to be in the Rochester mission.  Christopher is always up for a challenge and being assigned to one of the tougher areas just turns out to be a new challenge and a new opportunity to overcome the challenge.  Since he is staying in Batavia, the challenge is ahead of him again and Christopher is certainly up for it.  Christopher is really glad to be serving a mission.  He told us that his has learned a lot already in just a few months and that his testimony has increased a lot in that time.

Christopher has been using his music abilities quite a bit in his first few months on his mission.  He has been playing prelude music in Sacrament meeting and priesthood. He has played the piano at a couple of baptisms and during training meetings and other events.  He was told to practice the piano at least three times a week in order to improve his sight reading skills.  Since Christopher's is really talented at improvisation, sometimes he doesn't really play the music as it is written.  He kind of changes up the chords a bit while still keeping with the melody.  I am sure that his improvisation makes for some really interesting and fun music to listen to especially as prelude music before the meetings actually start.  But that is just like Christopher.  He likes doing things his own way and when it comes to his music, that is really where his talents shine through.

This last Sunday was Mothers Day and for us, it is also the day when we get phone calls from our missionaries.  Both Christopher and his brother called home on Mothers Day and it was really fun to talk to them and get a little more detail about their missionary experiences.  With the timing of when Christopher left on his mission and when his brother will be coming home, this last Mothers Day was the only time that both of our missionaries would be calling home on the same day.  By the time Christmas comes around, which would be the next time Christopher calls home, his brother will have already returned home from his mission.

Christopher's Mothers Day call was really fun.  It was really good to hear his voice and to talk to him for a while on the phone.  Christopher told us all about what he has been doing.  He told us a little bit about the branch in Batavia and some of the members there.  He also told us about some of the interesting people that they have been teaching over the last couple of months and the experiences that they have had attending church and learning more about the gospel.  He told us some funny stories about tracting and also about how successful he and his companion have been at meeting new people and teaching them the gospel.  Christopher has had a lot of new experiences over the last few months and he is just at the beginning.  All of his experience that he gained while working as a salesman and learning how to communicate with people effectively over the past few years, has really been beneficial in his missionary work. 

As we talked to Christopher on the phone this past Mothers Day, we learned about a couple of not so fun experience involving missionary basketball games.  One of the more common P-Day activities for missionaries is to get together and play a little basketball.  But for whatever reason, Christopher has had some bad luck as a result of basketball.  He loves to play basketball, but so far these games have sent him to the emergency room twice in the last couple of months.  Once for dislocating his finger and the most recent for getting elbowed just above his eye.  In this latest accident, Christopher was sure that the x-rays were going to show a cracked skull just above his eye socket.  Fortunately, that wasn't the case but for now he is walking around with a very prominent black eye.  Hopefully he will learn to tone down the game a bit and realize that this isn't "church ball".  But then again, maybe it is.  Just be careful out their please. :-)   Here are a few pictures that Christopher sent home on his memory card.

Chowing down on a few treats during P-day in the MTC

Christopher and his MTC district in front of the Provo Temple on P-day
Finally, out of the MTC and in Rochester, New York

A visit to the Sacred Grove on his first day in the mission with his mission president and his wife

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Missionary work is the same wherever you are

It has been a while since I last wrote on this blog so I am trying to catch up with all that has been going on.  It is always great to hear from Christopher.  He is getting used to missionary life and is doing really well.  In his last few letters he has talked about the people that he is currently teaching and how well some of them are progressing in the gospel.  There aren’t any firm baptismal dates for any of their investigators yet, but some of them are very close.  Christopher told us how he and his companion recently traveled with one of their investigators up to Palmyra and was able to spend the morning before the first session of General Conference in the Sacred Grove.  He told us all about how special it is to be serving as a missionary in a mission that has so much church history.  Having the opportunity to spend time in a place like this, really helps to life his spirit and allows him to do everything he needs to in order to be a good missionary.
After spending several hours in the Sacred Grove, Christopher along with his companion and the investigator that traveled with them, went to a nearby Stake Center to watch the opening session of conference.  After all of these years growing up and watching conference on TV at home, Christopher told us how much more special and spiritual it was to watch conference as a missionary.  There is just something about being on a mission that magnifies the small things in life that so often are taken for granted.
There have been a couple of events that have happened to Christopher recently that has made life as a missionary a little more interesting.  When Christopher first arrived in the Rochester mission and was assigned to the Batavia branch, he and his companion had to spend some time trying to find a place to live.  As it turned out, the place that they found wasn’t so great.  Christopher told us that they had some “not so neighborly” neighbors that would yell profanity constantly and play blaring music 24-7.  He also said that the smell of cigarette smoke was just constant and overwhelming.  Needless to say, they decided that it was time to find a better place to live.  Luckily they were able to find another apartment that was in the same building complex where the senior couple missionaries live.  Christopher told us how this has made such a big difference not only in their environment but the convenience of having other missionaries around.
Christopher also had a little medical mishap while playing basketball on his P-Day recently.  One of Christopher’s favorite things to do is to play basketball and as a missionary on P-Day, that is one of their primary activities.  Apparently this basketball game wasn’t one of his best.  Christopher told us that while playing basketball, one of the other Elders came down on his hand which bent his thumb backwards to the point where he and those around him heard a loud pop.  At that point they decided that it would probably be a good idea to see a doctor. After seeing the doctor and expecting the worst but hoping for the best, things turned out for the better.  Expecting the doctor to tell him that he had broken a thumb or a wrist, it all turned out to be just a serious sprain.  Other than it being painful and swollen, it looks like Christopher’s basketball pride and his wrist will be OK.
Overall Christopher is doing well even through there are some times where he has some struggles.  Missionary work is not always easy and sometimes there are people that are being taught that just don’t quite follow through in the manner that the missionaries would like even though the people are trying.  Christopher mentioned that the Batavia area is a bit difficult because of the down economy and the affected that it has had on so many lives.  There are very few jobs which also contributes to people being more interested in providing for their basic physical necessities in life rather than the religious ones.  Hopefully things will improve and Christopher, his companion and the other missionaries in the area can do their part to move the gospel forward.
Even though this blog is about Christopher and the many experiences that he will have as a missionary over the next couple of years, there will be a few times when I feel that it is appropriate to talk a little bit about Christopher’s family.  This is one of those time where I would l like to share with you an experience that is very much about a mission, missionaries, Christopher and his family.  I am currently writing this blog entry as I sit in the mission home in Quito, Ecuador.  This is significant because I served my mission in Guayaquil, Ecuador thirty years ago.  My wife and I are here because my wife’s cousin and her husband are mission presidents in the Quito, Ecuador mission.  This experience being here in Ecuador has brought back so many memories of my mission and being a missionary.  In our short time here my wife and I have been able to see missionary work take place from a mission president’s perspective.  One of the most significant experiences that we have had in our short time here was a visit to a city on the Ecuador/Columbia boarder called Tulcan.  The reason why this experience is so significant is because of what happened on Saturday night just after we arrived.  This experience allowed both my wife and I to participate in missionary work in exactly the same way as both of our missionary sons, Christopher and Alex. 
We traveled to Tulcan with the mission president and his family to attend a district conference in the small Tulcan branch.  Saturday evening before the conference, several of the branch leaders in Tulcan including both the Priesthood as well as the Relief Society, paired up to go out and visit some of the less active members of the church to invite them back.  I had the privilege of going with one of the counselors in the branch presidency as well as the district president.  We traveled to a very humble home of one of the members, not too far from the small chapel in the city.  There we met with a less active member of the church where I was invited to share some of my missionary experiences as well as give the prayer before we left.  This was a very special experience for me for several reasons.  Those reasons include being back among the people who I had served thirty years ago, using my Spanish language which I still remember and because this is exactly the same experience that both our sons Christopher and Alex share with us in their letters home each week. 
My wife had a very similar experience that evening in Tulcan as well.  She accompanied several of the Relief Society sisters on visits and was able to experience what missionary work is like as a full time missionary.  Since she was not able to serve as a full time missionary when she was younger, this has been a new and very exciting experience for her.  Even though she does not speak Spanish, she was able to understand and feel the spirit that was present in each of her visits.  She was even asked to give a prayer, in English, several times during the two days that we were there.  For us, this whole trip to Ecuador has been all about missionary work even though we are not currently called as full time missionaries.  It has been an experience that has brought us very close to our missionary sons even though we are thousands of miles apart.  Our time here, we will never forget.  Whether we will ever be back, I don’t know. But we will follow in Christopher and Alex’s footsteps and serve as full time senior missionaries one day in the future.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New experiences everyday

Christopher's first few weeks in the Rochester, New York mission have been full of new experiences.  One of the common experiences has been knocking on doors.  Since there hasn't been missionaries in the Batavia area for a while, Christopher and his companion have had to build up a new teaching pool.  Of course this is where Christopher really shines.  All of his experience as a salesman in various parts of the country is now coming together to help out in his missionary work.  Over the past several weeks, Christopher and his companion have been able to set teaching appointments with over 30 people.  Christopher told us that tracting has been one of the most effective ways of meeting people.  He said that in about an hour and a half of tracting one Saturday morning, he and his companion were able to set up seven new teaching appointments.  Of course not all of their appointments have followed through which can make missionary work a little frustrating at times. 

Christopher has told us about some of the new people that they are currently teaching.  He told us a funny story about a little girl who is not a member of the Church and likes to watch TV.  In the New York area, the Church has been showing some short TV commercials that simply show various people from around the country.  As part of the commercial, these people will say something like,  "I'm Chris, I'm a Father, I'm a husband, I'm a former NFL player and I'm a Mormon".  Well apparently this little girl had seen several of these commercials on TV and one day announced to her Grandmother,  "I'm [__] and I'm a Mormon!".  I guess that can tell you a lot about the influence of a TV commercial as well as the interest that something like this might spark in a person.  Anyway, they all got a good laugh out of it and thought that it was a pretty cute story.

One experience that missionaries seem to have quite often is the opportunity to speak in church.  Christopher just recently enjoyed this experience as well not long ago.  He told us that a few weeks ago he was asked to speak in church on faith and hope.  Things have been so busy for Christopher and his companion, that Christopher didn't have a lot of time to prepare.  But if you know Christopher, that doesn't seem to stop him from getting up and doing his best anyway.  He told us that when it was his turn to speak, he got up and spoke for about twenty minutes.  Everything went very well and he felt good about his first talk as a missionary.  He also told us a little bit about the branch in Batavia.  Being a small branch, there are only about thirty people who attend church each week.  This is also a new experience for Christopher.  He is used to Utah Wards where there are usually at least a couple hundred people in the congregation.  I'm sure that in a small branch like Batavia, Christopher will probably have quite a few more opportunities to speak in church.

About a week or so ago, Christopher told us about another very exciting and unique experience that he and his companion had.  This time they were at a mission conference at the Palmyra Stake center.  There were several general authorities visiting the mission at this time including Elder Richard G Scott, Jay E Jensen and David Cook of the seventy.  During the meeting Elder Scott invited a missionary companionship to come forward to do some teaching role playing.  Christopher and his companion couldn't let this kind of an opportunity go by, so they both immediately volunteered.  Once they were up in front of everybody, they were asked to teach the first lesson as if they were at a regular teaching appointment.  As Christopher described it:
"So.... we taught the first lesson in front of 2 mission presidents(the Utica, NY mission pres was there too) 4 stake presidents, the Palmyra temple president, a member of the 70, member of the presidency of the 70, and an Apostle and 120 missionaries!!!! Very intense! We did really well though. The best part was that afterwards Elder Scott,Jensen, and everyone else all critiqued us on our teaching! It was pretty fun and definitely a once in a lifetime experience!"
All in all Christopher seems to be getting into the swing of missionary work.  He is a little upset about BYU basketball though.  Out of all of the years of being a big BYU basketball fan, the year he decides to go on a mission is the year that BYU is expected to perform their best in the NCAA tournament.  As Christopher put it, "Ohhh the sacrifices of a mission!!  ha ha"

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Even the cold and snow doesn't stop missionary work

We received Christopher's first letter from the Rochester, New York mission.  He has been assigned to a town called Batavia which Christopher says is kind of out in the middle of nowhere.  From what Christopher told us, this is an area that hasn't seen a lot of missionary work in the last couple of years.  Since there hasn't been any missionaries there for a while, the first order of business for Christopher and his companion was to find a place to live.  I guess it took them a little while to not only find a place but to have the apartment approved by Church headquarters as well.  But after a week and a half of commuting from Rochester, they are finally settled into their new apartment and really ready to get the work done.  Christopher told us that when the day came for them to finally move it, they had to make the move in a foot of snow.

Building up a new teaching pool in a new area can be a hard thing to do.  But Christopher and his companion have really been working hard and their work has been paying off.  Christopher told us all about many of the people that they have recently met and even about some of the teaching experiences that they have had in their short time together.  Christopher's companion has been out in the Rochester mission for almost two years and like Christopher, he became a missionary a few years later than usual.  Christopher told us about many of the other similarities that he and his companion have and just how well they have been working together.  Many of the experiences that Christopher shared with us are very personal so for that reason I won't be sharing them in this kind of forum.  But feel free to drop by or call if you would like to hear more about them.

Christopher started out his next letter home by telling us all about the harsh winters in upstate New York.  Utah gets quite a lot of snow every year but even after growing up in a snowy climate, Christopher told us that there is much more snow in New York than Utah.  It seems that every truck they see has a snow plow on it just to be able to keep up with clearing the streets and parking lots.  They even have small snow cats that drive up and down the sidewalks to keep them clear.  I guess one fortunate thing, or maybe not so fortunate depending on how you look at it, is that they don't have a car.  With all of the snow in the area, driving around in anything other than a 4x4 might be a little difficult.  So they are doing a lot of walking which also serves to keep these missionaries in shape.

One interesting experience that Christopher told us about was when his companion need to trade off with another missionary in a nearby city.  This paired Christopher up with a temporary companion who had also only been in the Rochester mission for two weeks as well.  Of course just because they are both brand new missionaries doesn't mean that the work has to slow down.  Both of them picked right up and headed out to do a little tracting and try to meet a few more people.  The efforts were successful and they were able to meet and teach lessons to several people.  After a full day of tracting and teaching, Christopher told us that they had a very successful day.  It is always a good thing when you can look back on your day and feel good about what you have accomplished.

Christopher's competitive spirit has already taken hold in his missionary work.  His mission president hold Christopher that his companion is one of the best at meeting new people and teaching them the gospel.  During one transfer he was able to meet and teach a certain number of new people.  Christopher has taken that as a new challenge which has motivated him to want to beat that number.  Whether that happens or not really isn't the most important thing.  What is important is that these missionaries work hard and allow themselves to be guided by the spirit to the right people.  Christopher has already told us about several great teaching experiences that he has had and I am sure that there will be a lot more to come.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Short time in the MTC and off to Rochester

It was a quick 2 and a half weeks in the MTC and Christopher is now in Rochester, New York.  We finally got a letter from him after he had been at the MTC for about a week and a half.  Not a really long letter, but then Christopher isn't much for long letters anyway.  He told us that for the first few days in the MTC, he didn't really know how he was going to handle the next two years.  But after the shock of entering the MTC wore off, things got much better and he really started to enjoy his time there.  From what Christopher said, he and his companion really worked well together and were able to accomplish a lot in the short time that they were there.  Christopher mentioned in his letter that it was kind of weird to be around a bunch of missionaries that were several years younger than him.  But that is just something that you have to get used to and I am sure that after a while, it didn't really matter anymore.

We really only heard from Christopher twice while he was in the MTC.  His second letter really wasn't much longer than the first but then he really didn't have a lot of time to write due to everything else going on.  He told us again in his second letter that things in the MTC just kept getting better and better.  But at the same time he was really excited to leave the MTC and get out to Rochester.  Christopher commented that all of the experience that he has gained over the last several years in the various jobs that he has held, has really come in handy in his preparation to be a missionary.  But he still felt like there is still a lot more that he can learn about the scriptures and the gospel.  Actually, that is feeling that will never go away and is a true statement for everybody.  Learning the scriptures and gospel principles is an on going process that doesn't end with just missionary work. 

Christopher left the MTC last Monday on a fairly early morning flight.  He was able to call home and talk to us for a few minutes before he had to board his flight.  There really wasn't much time to talk a lot but it was good to hear his voice.  He was very excited to be heading out to Rochester and get started on doing actual missionary work.  Christopher may not know this, but later on that evening we got a call from the mission President's wife.  She called to tell us that Christopher had arrived safely and just wanted to let us know that all was going well.  The mission President's wife talked to Christopher's Mom for a little while all about Christopher and what his talents are.  Of course his Mom talked all about Christopher's musical abilities and let her know that doing missionary work through music might be one way that Christopher can share his talents.

We are really looking forward to hearing from Christopher on a regular basis and learning all about the wonderful experiences that he is having.  We are excited to hear about his first assignment, companion and everything else that could happen during his first week.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A whirlwind mission call

Elder Christopher Nicholes entered the MTC on January 5th 2011.  That statement sounds rather normal for any missionary called to serve an LDS mission, right?  However this time it was anything but normal and here is the reason why.  Christopher actually received his mission call only three weeks earlier, which if you do the math, just happened to be about a week and a half before Christmas.  So combining the usual hectic pace of the holiday season with the stress of getting a missionary out the door, you can already see just how out of the ordinary Christopher's mission call was. 

This all started about a week and a half or so after Christopher turned in his mission papers.  Of course as the next Wednesday rolled around, which is normally when you would expect a big brown envelope in the mail, we got a phone call instead.  Our Stake President was on the other end of the phone call and after a few common pleasantries, asked the question, "could your son be ready to leave on his mission by January 5th?".  Given that the date that day was the 15th of December, you can imagine the rush of emotion and urgency that suddenly came across his mother.  The answer to that question was of course "Yes".  The Stake President then informed Christopher's mother that he was not at liberty to say where Christopher was being called but he could say that Christopher would be serving under one of the finest mission presidents among all of missions of the church.  [Just a small side note at this point, if you are wondering who that is, just go look up the New York, Rochester mission and see for yourself.  If you have lived around Utah Valley for any amount of time, you have probably heard of Christopher's mission president.  And if you haven't, I am sure that somebody you know has and they will go on and on telling you just what a great man he is.  At least that has been our experience.]

After finally picking herself up off the floor and giving herself a little time to recover from the bomb shell that had just gone off, Christopher's mother immediately called Christopher to let him know what had just happened.  Not knowing when the big brown envelope would actually arrive, we certainly hoped that it wouldn't be long and it wasn't.  The very next day Christopher's mother was driving down the street when she happened to see the mailman driving up the street in the opposite direction.  Just on a hunch she stopped and began to ask the mailman if he had anything...  But before she could get the words out of her mouth, the mailman pulled out a big envelope and handed it to her.  Again, she immediately called Christopher to tell him what was going on for a second time.

Later that night, which was the earliest that everybody could get together, Christopher came over to the house with his grandparents and several of his friends.  Keep in mind that up to this point Christopher still hadn't actually opened his mission call and because of that, his mother started asking everybody where they thought Christopher would be going.  Everybody made their guesses and surprisingly enough both his mother and one of this friends picked the same place.  Christopher opened the envelope, pulled out the letter and began to read it silently at first.  Then when he got to the point where it stated exactly where he would be serving, it read, "New York, Rochester Mission" which was exactly where both his mother and his friend had guessed.  This was one of the few times that we have ever seen Christopher cry.  At least one of the few times after having outgrown the "terrible two's".  Once Christopher had let things sink in for just a few minutes, he finally commented that this was the perfect mission for him.  He couldn't think of anywhere else that he would rather be serving.  Remember how I told you that either you or somebody you know would know Christopher's mission president?  Well as soon as Christopher announced to everyone who his mission president would be, his friend who also happened to be the same friend that guess right, immediately jumped to his feet in total surprise and started telling everybody in the room all about this mission president and just how wonderful he is.  Ever since then, every time we tell anybody who the mission president is, we have gotten the exact same reaction. 

The next few weeks flew by quickly.  There was still a lot of Christmas shopping to do, a lot of missionary clothes shopping to do and a lot of loose ends to tie up before Christopher would be ready to go.  Just to give you an idea of how quickly time flew by, that very next Sunday Christopher stood up at the pulpit in Sacrament meeting to announce his mission call.  The following Sunday he stood at the pulpit again to give his farewell talk and just over a week after that, all of the shopping was done, the most critical loose ends were tied up and Christopher entered the MTC.

When the day finally arrived for Christopher to enter the MTC, he was still running around trying to make sure that everything was in place and ready to go.  He had asked his mother the night before if it would be OK for him to invite some of his friends over for breakfast before going to the MTC.  Of course she said yes and that morning several of the friends and roommates dropped by the house.  Most of Christopher's friends had already served and returned home from their missions so they were all talking about their mission experiences during breakfast that morning.  It was great to hear all of the stories mixed in with many of the other experiences that they had all shared together since then.  Finally after spending time talking and laughing, they all said their goodbyes and Christopher was back to running through the last minute checklist. 

One of the things that still needed to be checked off the list was selling his nice car that he had bought almost a year earlier.  Of course that wasn't going to happen before he left but when it came time to actually load up his luggage and go to the MTC, it worked out that his car was the one we took.  Christopher has always loved driving nice cars and it was just like him to be able to drive his car for one last time as he drove himself to the MTC.  That last statement almost sounds like we sent him off by himself, but that was obviously not the case.  No, we were all right there with him in the car but yes, he did drive himself to the MTC.  From where we live, it isn't a very long drive and when we finally arrived, we pulled in the parking lot, parked and all got out to take a few pictures and say our goodbyes.  It was a nice sunny day but still a little code with snow on the ground all round where we parked.  After a few minutes of snapping pictures and talking, we all got back in his car, drove across the street to the MTC, parked again at the curb, unloaded his luggage and gave him one last big hug that would have to last for the next two years.

So this is where it all begins.  Hopefully over the next two years, we will be able to share through this blog, all of the wonderful experiences that Christopher is guaranteed to have.  This is just our way of not only being part of Christopher's mission, but allowing all of you to be part of it as well.