Monday, February 16, 2015

[2/16/2015] Week 102: Last Word

Dear Martin family [and all within the sound of my voice],

Well, here I am at the tail-end of my mission.

It's been an incredible experience and a humbling opportunity to serve the Lord Jesus Christ and the children of our Heavenly Father.

I find it difficult to determine how I "should" feel at this point, but I can tell you how I do feel.

I feel extremely grateful that I have been permitted to offer up two years of my life as a sacrifice to my Heavenly Father. I feel humbled that although my efforts weren't perfect, I still feel the Holy Ghost witness that I have touched and brightened the lives of many here in Washington. I feel awe-inspired that so many miracles have occurred and that I have been granted eyes to see and ears to hear (Matthew 13:9-16) the great voice of God in my work.

I feel that God loves me and that I love Him. I feel that He wants desperately for His children to recognize the love He has for them, that they might learn to love Him and keep His commandments. I feel that God loves us so much that He has given us a perfect plan, a perfect Savior, and a perfect organization on earth today to pave a path for our return to Him. I feel that as I continue to prepare by exercising faith, repenting, honoring covenants, and seeking after the fruits of the Holy Spirit, I will grow and progress and return to my Father in Heaven prepared to answer to Him for my labors in this life.

I feel that the Book of Mormon is a powerful tool in helping others find true and lasting and substantial faith Christ, for it has served that purpose for me, a foundation of testimony, a springboard for revelation, a well of peace and strength. I feel that God speaks to me through His Holy Ghost to inspire me as to how I might best serve and inspire His children.

I feel honored and humbled to bear the Holy Priesthood of God, and to have borne for two years specific authority to unfold and bear witness of the plain and precious truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I feel overwhelmed and yet refreshingly excited for the next phase of my life that will begin shortly. I feel confident that as I keep the commandments of God, He will bless and keep me and will provide me with the guidance and experiences I need to be successful.

I feel sad that here in a just a few days, I am to leave a land that I love. I have developed a deep fondness for Washington and the people that live here. I have grown close to many members of the Church, investigators, recent converts, and especially missionaries with whom I have labored diligently and whom I have striven to uplift, encourage, inspire and bless.

I feel a deep love for and satisfaction from missionary work and I look forward to maintaining that spirit throughout my  lifetime, that I might serve God as a "city...set on an hill" (Matthew 5:14) . I feel that our mission hymn describes the great urgency and divine purpose of missionary work best:

Brightly beams our Father's mercy
From his lighthouse evermore,
But to us he gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.

Let the lower lights be burning;
Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.

Dark the night of sin has settled;
Loud the angry billows roar.
Eager eyes are watching, longing,
For the lights along the shore.

Trim your feeble lamp, my brother;
Some poor sailor, tempest-tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor,
In the darkness may be lost.

("Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy", LDS Hymnbook, No. 335)

We were sent to this mortality to experience darkness and light, trial and triumph, bitterness and sweetness, misery and joy. In this modern, darkening world, children of God suffocate daily in sin and sorrow. We toil and sink in the murky waters of iniquity and crumbling values, and there is only one way to land: the Savior Jesus Christ. He is the lighthouse, He is the way home, He is the source of Life. And He asks that we as His covenant children labor with Him in directing those who are yet lost or wandering to the truth, to liberty and freedom from bondage. Those who live and strive yet without a fulness of knowledge of the true gospel of Christ need His help to experience true happiness, and He asks for our help in guiding them to Him. Those who invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel are a lower light on a darkened shore to lead people home to their Father, who is the source of all light, life, and love, and a shining beacon of hope in the midst of an ever-darkening mortality.

I love being a missionary!

I shall see you all soon!

With love and deep gratitude,

Elder Cole Austin Martin
Washington Everett Mission
2/2013 - 2/2015

Monday, February 9, 2015

[2/9/2015] Week 101: Faithful or Fearful

Hey, howdy!

This week was...interesting. We had a lot of people misuse their agency this week. Darn the luck.

But there were some cool experiences too. We were tracting one street in Snohomish that we started the first night Elder Cottle was here. We knocked a door, the lady who answered wasn't interested in talking even after a few invitations, so we asked her if she knew anyone else on the street that might be interested. She responded that she didn't, and then her 8 year-daughter, whom she was holding, piped up, "I do!" and pointed us to the house on the corner across the street. So we went and knocked it, and the lady who answered ended up being a long-time friend of a recent convert in the ward. Her friend had been inviting her to come to church for a long time now, we taught her about the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ, and she invited us back!

Get this: on Monday, we received a phone call from a member of the ward who said she had a possible investigator for us. She decided to pray for an opportunity to share her testimony with someone, and then she met Gail the next day! Gail recently suffered the immense loss of her son and has been grieving deeply. So Sister Fricke (the member of our ward) took the opportunity to bear her testimony about eternal families and God's plan for us. Gail expressed interest in learning more about our faith and gave Sister Fricke her address. Well, we went to the house, and what do you know, but it's a house that Elder George and I tracted almost two months ago! When we knocked the first time, her [other] son answered and was kind, but made it clear he wasn't interested. We probably would never have gone back (at least not until other missionaries were transferred into the area). But because of the wonders of member missionary work, we've been referred to someone who is prepared to receive the gospel! Gail wasn't home when we went over this past week, so we will try again tomorrow, but we need you all to pray that she will be prepared and that her heart will still be softened by the Holy Ghost so that we can begin teaching her and help her come unto Christ. She needs the comfort and hope that the Plan of Salvation brings.

On another day this week, we spent about twenty minutes looking for a less-active's house in the dark and in the rain and in the mud along a very busy highway. When we finally found the house after trudging through a field or two in ankle-deep mud, we knocked and were met with a man who was super creeped out (it was only 7:45 pm) that we came knocking so late, down his long, muddy driveway. Though he brandished a machete as he spoke with us, he was very friendly. He told us the lady we sought did not live there and asked us not to come back. He didn't even want to hear what we had to say about God calling a prophet on the earth today...

On Thursday, we had mission leader council -- my last one ever. I had the opportunity to bear my testimony at the end of the meeting and lemme tell ya, I was reminded of what a blessing it has been to serve a mission. What a blessing it is to have a clear, indisputable path of communication with God. What a blessing it is to hear and feel and recognize His voice in response to a desperate plea. What a blessing it is to show that path of communication to others and to watch them hear and feel and recognize His voice encouraging them to change and reminding them of His presence and His love. What a blessing it has been to serve Him in this capacity and to learn and grow into the person He needs me to be. What a blessing it is to learn how to repent on a regular basis and to feel the redeeming power of forgiveness and the encouragement to keep going, keep trying, keep learning. Ah, I love it.

On Thursday night, we had a sweet pass-off lesson with Frank. He is 27, so we decided he would get better fellowship in the young single adult ward. We called up the Silver Lake elders and scheduled an appointment to meet up with them and Frank. The lesson went wonderfully. Elder Green, who replaced me as Elder Foster's companion, seemed to make a really strong, warm connection with Frank right off. We all read the Book of Mormon together and pointed out to Frank all the marvelous insights that can be learned. He is excited to keep learning and reading and praying and to attend church (well, hopefully, he attended the YSA ward yesterday!). We asked why he decided to start meeting with us. He explained that missionaries have come knocking for years and years, and he has always turned them away in indifferent disinterest. Well, he said that when Elder George and I knocked on his door, he felt, "Why not just give 'em a chance and listen to what they have to say?" and invited us back. Now, he's doing great and his life is changing! As President Bonham would say, we were the "nineteenth person[s] at the bus stop"!

Yesterday, we went with Brother Schwartz to pick up our investigator, Elijah, to come to church with us. Well, we got there, knocked, he climbed out of his trailer in a nice dress shirt and slacks, with his hair slicked back all nice, and I couldn't help but grin at him! He was so excited to come to church! Get this: he told us he wasn't coming to church. I was so confused. Not twenty-four hours earlier, he committed with a firm "I'll do it." that he would give church a try. To confuse us more, he explained that he had been up all of the previous night and that morning reading the Book of Mormon through the middle of the Book of Alma. He decided that "there is absolutely nothing for me to gain by going to church with you". Heartbreaker. He was kind and cordial, but he was firm. The three of us had hard time understanding his concern, and after mulling it over some more, Elder Cottle and I decided that he really did want to come to church -- badly, I bet --, but his wife prohibited him. She has always been sour toward us and she seems to have a good amount of pull on his decisions. We will try back soon, but he seems to want a break from having to "choose" between us and her. If only she would listen to our message too, that would solve all our problems!

Colleen, our 75 year-old investigator, attended sacrament meeting yesterday, and then about five minutes of Sunday school before taking offense at something someone said (the source is still largely unknown) and storming out. She insisted on walking home -- about 3 miles in the rain on a busy street. The young women's president convinced Colleen to let her drive her home and they talked a little on the way. What we learned is that since Colleen fell last week, she has felt distrusted and even "spied on" by all the members of the ward who have stopped in to help with chores or drop off dinner. She described feeling severely depressed and even suicidal. Though she does face immense medical issues and the imminent reality of death -- and I can't imagine how sick of it she must be --, she also appears to be, well, mentally unhealthy. We try so hard to help her, but I find myself frustrated and feeling that there is nothing I can do to help. And then it occurred to me that the help has to come from the Savior. And she has to ask His help in. I just don't know if that will happen before it's too late.

Susan wanted to so badly to attend church yesterday, but Wayne, her sort-of husband, seemed to purposefully lollygag in Everett so that they -- or at least she -- couldn't make it in time. That's how she described it anyway. We will meet with them again tomorrow night.

Ah, what a week. Just gotta do your best to invite!

I love y'all!

Elder Martin

PS: Oh, and I found out today that one of my recent converts is going to be sealed to her husband in Utah this spring! Stoked!

Monday, February 2, 2015

[2/2/2015] Week 100: Century Mark

Hey, all!

On a hike at Wallace Falls state park
last Monday.
Wow, I got so many emails of encouragement this week. I feel like I can conquer the world! Or Snohomish, at least. I'm going to finish strong! Promise!

I'm low on time today, but I want to tell you about Frank.

Elder George and I found Frank tracting a while back, and Elder Cottle and I followed up. We taught him a brief lesson on Monday night, and he invited us back on Wednesday. Frank is a firefighter. If you know anything about firefighting, you know it's next to impossible to get a paid position, and every application is an extremely expensive process. Well, Frank got the job on his first application. Other men apply for years to get just one paid position. He considers himself highly blessed because of it. Frank was raised a Baptist down South, but his ex-fiancee, whom he met in the Navy, is LDS. He went to church with her for five or so months, but never really read the Book of Mormon or seriously investigated. Recently, however, he has felt a need to "get back on the wagon".

Ready for weekly planning in our apartment!
So we taught him the Restoration and really focused on why God calls prophets and how crucial it is that He has called a prophet in modern times. I tell you, Frank is a tender guy. He may be ex-Navy and a firefighter, but he's got big ol' Southern heart. And I believe he is sensitive to the Spirit.

We invited him to pray and ask God if what we had taught was true, he happily obliged, and then we paused for reflection after the prayer. If you know anything about the pamphlets we use to teach people, you know that page 16 of the Restoration pamphlet teaches about prayer and page 17 is a picture of a woman praying. It was a little later at night, and Frank hangin' out in his PJ's, which sported the Bud Light emblem as a pattern. Well, as Frank was pondering with his head bowed, his attention was drawn to his PJ pants and the picture of the woman on page 17. When we asked what he felt God was telling him, he responded, "Well, I looked down and I saw 'Bud Light', then I looked up a little and I saw the woman. Those are my two biggest weaknesses: alcohol and women. I feel like God is telling me that I've got a few things I need to get out of my life before I take this journey."
Elder Cottle is super tall!
Wouldn't you know it? Frank exercised faith, and now he feels a need to repent (Articles of Faith 1:4)! Isn't that exciting? I love it. We will teach him again tonight!

I love y'all tons! Thanks so much for the love and support. I will keep working hard and being obedient! There is yet growth to be experienced for me and for those whom I serve!

Elder Martin

Monday, January 26, 2015

[1/26/2015] Week 99: Trunky Papers

Gooood morning!

Man, I tell ya, it's crazy how the adversary works on you at the end of your mission. Every day, there is temptation to let up, temptation to give in. The way I see it, a month is still a long time (at least it was when I was in high school) and I still have plenty of work to do! So I'm hangin' in there and striving to improve on everything I can because it helps to keep me focused.

We taught Susan and Wayne this last week. This is super exciting because at first, only Susan was interested and learning, but then she invited her husband to join, and so he did! Wayne is a tired man who has worked hard all his life and done the best he could for his family. Unfortunately, he had a daughter fall into serious drug addiction, and he had to turn her away from his home to "show her tough love" as he described it. Then a thought jolted into my mind! The "tough love" he described is the same "tough love" Heavenly Father has had to show during every period of apostasy since the beginning of the world! This is especially true for the Great Apostasy. God's children refused to listen to the prophets he called to declare His word, and so He had to show tough love by taking the gospel and the priesthood from the earth until His children were again humble and prepared to receive it. We explained this parallel to Wayne, and it seemed to really click for him. He has great questions about the Book of Mormon and the Restoration, so we spent some time answering some of those, but didn't get through everything. One of the most frustrating things about being a missionary is wanting to answer a person's every question all at once, but there isn't time for that! On top of that, they learn more when they prayerfully seek answers on their own from the scriptures and from the Holy Ghost. So we invited them to finish reading the Restoration pamphlet together before we go to teach them tonight about the Book of Mormon. I love teaching families!

A lady named Angel has regularly invited us to her home because she is interested to learn more, but sort of has her own church that she attends. In recent weeks, she has become more sincere about reading the Book of Mormon and praying to know that it is true. This last week, however, she "confessed" to us that she had explored a ton of anti-Mormon stuff on the Internet. She invited us over to help her understand what she had read and discern what was true because she was questioning everything we'd taught her. Well, we went and with a prayer in our hearts, did our best to help her see and understand our purpose as missionaries and how she can receive revelation from God. She set up her laptop in her office and started reading to us all this junk she'd read and, let me tell you, the Spirit was gone so fast. I was getting so frustrated (in a Christlike sort of way) and we had to cut her off. Elder Cottle asked how long she'd spent studying the Bible to know if it was true. She said it had to have been many, many hours. He then asked how long she'd spent in the Book of Mormon. Maybe an hour. How long on these websites? Two or three hours. I told her that she wasn't giving herself and her family a fair chance. She was, in a sense, damning her progress and her ability to recognize the truth by poisoning her mind and heart with all of this codswallop. She was allowing Satan to disallow her and her family the blessing of being together forever, and she didn't even know it! We urged her -- and we were bold -- (with love, Alma 38:12) to look for God, to look for His word, to ask Him what the truth was. And so she did. She prayed right there. And before doing so, she made the most marvelously symbolic gesture: she turned around, closed her laptop, turned back to us, and bowed her head in prayer. And she offered the sweetest, most sincere prayer, asking God what the truth is. The Spirit was so strong! In a short period of reflection after the prayer, she felt God telling her in her heart, "Keep studying. Keep seeking. Keep reading my word." In response, I pointed to her laptop and declared, "That is not His word," and she concurred. She committed to read the Book of Mormon and the Bible together and to seek God's confirmation of truth through the Holy Ghost. Man, I love being a missionary.

So, Snohomish High School is really big on wrestling and there are a few kids in the ward that perform really well at every tournament. Reminds me of Seth all the time.

I finally finished my "trunky papers" as they call 'em here in the mission. They are the essays President Bonham asked me to write about my mission, what I've learned, and what I plan to do after I return home. Came out to 21 pages, hand-written. I'll ask Mom and Dad to read it when I get home, and I think I'll send a copy of it to Christian. It's interesting to reflect on all that I've learned and the ways in which I've grown, and also the things I still have a long way to go on. Mostly, I get really sad when I think about it, so I'll stop now.

Jill texted us this week and told us that she's moving back to Kirkland! It was kind of a bummer, but she has a ton of mold problems in her apartment right now, so it makes more sense for her health and safety to move. But! I'm not too worried about it because when I think about it, she moved from Kirkland to Snohomish for a very short period of time. We were able to find and teach her and get her started on the restored gospel and help her have some incredible spiritual experiences. Now she's headed back to Kirkland with an aroused seed of faith and a desire to keep learning from missionaries down there. I'm ok with that. I'm just glad I got to help.

John is one of those investigators who has investigated for a long time. Probably 6 to 9 months now. He is getting so close, but it seems he is waiting for a lightning bolt-esque answer from God that he needs to be baptized. He knows that his baptism as an infant isn't valid and believes strongly that baptism should be his personal choice. He has recognized a dramatic increase in the quality of his life and an improvement in his relationships with all others since meeting with the missionaries and attending church regularly. However, we discovered this week that he doesn't understand clearly as much of the doctrine as missionaries seem to have thought he did in the past several months, or as much as one might expect after investigating for a while. We decided to really go slow and re-teach him the lessons while checking frequently for understanding. Now, he told us, he understands the importance and gravity of the connection between ancient prophets, Joseph Smith, and Thomas S. Monson, and he has almost a thirst to learn about and comprehend more fully this fundamental concept. Progress, progress! The ward council is going to fast next week for him and for Colleen, our other investigator who refuses baptism on the basis of Mersa and its contagious nature, but seems to have more deeply rooted spiritual concerns that she's not yet willing to unveil.

We actually have a pretty large teaching pool right now. It's one of the largest of my time as a missionary. But all of these people we teach are having a hard time getting over some hump that keeps them from coming to church or accepting a baptismal date. I get the feeling that we need to rely a little more on the Lord to do His work because a lot of what we face seems to be beyond our control...

I really want to take a picture of Elder Cottle and I and send it to you all, but I simply keep forgetting. And my camera is back at the apartment. Sorry... But I promise he really is 6' 6"! [link to Elder Cottle's blog]

All for now, folks! I love you all!

Elder Martin

Monday, January 19, 2015

[1/19/2015] Week 98: Floating in the Spirit


The blessings keep on rolling!

I don't have a ton of time, but I want to share the most marvelous experience I had teaching Jill with Elder Cottle on Saturday.

When we first sat down with Jill, she said, "Guys, I haven't read a lick since you last came. But, you know, I've been praying about, and it really just isn't lining up for me." My heart sank. And she went on to express concern that we hadn't known the exact number of book in the Bible when we last met and concern for a few other things. I guess she was raised pretty strictly on the Bible and so "new and different" things are hard to deal with. Basically, doubt had crept in since we met last Saturday. So Brother Tevaga, whom we brought to help teach, didn't waste a second, and he went off -- with the kind of love only an Islander can profess -- about the Book of Mormon and the gold plates and Sister Tevaga and her conversion and how she faced a ton of anti and was still converted by the Spirit. I began to get frustrated because it seemed we were losing control of the lesson, but I should have paid closer attention as Elder Cottle did because what Brother Tevaga said tore down her walls of disbelief and really seemed to connect with what she was feeling.

At one point, I can remember having this marvelous experience where she was dubious about all that was "new and different" about what we were sharing from what she grew up with, and so I felt inspired to teach her about how Peter felt after his vision of the unclean beasts, and how that was "new and different" from what he had always known and taught. And as I explained this, I could feel so powerfully that my words were inspired and carried by the Holy Ghost. I don't remember all that I said, but I remember such power moving within me and almost becoming emotional and finishing by saying something like, "You can have this happiness and peace in your life too. You just have to be willing to take it sincerely, and have faith, and put down your doubts and fears, and ask God to guide you." It was a sudden, powerful ending and I remember feeling so sincere and almost desperate on that last phrase. For a few moments, there was a touching silence, and Jill felt the Holy Ghost, and she became emotional. And then she said, "That was powerful. Thank you. I know that was the Holy Ghost speaking through you, telling you what to say, to me." All I could manage was, "You're welcome." So with member fellowship and with inspired questions and testimony, Jill is back on track, and she's gonna read and pray, and she is way inoculated [that means she is aware of and defensive toward anti-Mormon literature] now. Heavenly Father really helped us out there. I felt some of the purest joy of my mission during this lesson. Dad, I think I know what you mean now about "floating in the Spirit".

I have become an entirely different missionary in this area. Maybe it has to do with the time I have spent as a missionary and the time I have left, but I teach so powerfully and sincerely and individually now. And I've noticed a huge difference in how much love I feel for our investigators. That's a new gift for me, but I'm grateful for it, and it seems to have a huge impact on those we teach. I love this!

Last night, Elder Cottle and I were tracting, and a lady came to the door wearing a USNA sweater, and I got to talk about Christian and it made for a great ice-breaker! And it turned out she's best friends with a member of the ward, and she's going to come to the ward talent show! So thanks, Christian, for getting into the Naval Academy so that we could talk to that lady. Her son is just now a plebe, so I don't think you'd know him.

Elder Cottle
People keep asking me if I'm "dying" or if it's getting hard to stay focused, and while I admit that there's a lot to be distracted by, I have to say that I'm blessed in that it's not a huge deal for me. I'm finding it easy to stay focused and diligent and efficient and obedient. It helps that we have a lot of people to teach and that I have a great companion -- Oh, yeah. Elder George got transferred, and my new companion is Elder Cottle from Pleasant Grove, Utah! --, but to be quite honest I keep remembering a piece of advice I received from another missionary, whom I look up to a lot: "A mission is like a 400-meter race; you sprint during the beginning, middle, and end." It's as simple as that.

Elder Martin
Snohomish ward

Monday, January 12, 2015

[1/12/2015] Week 97: Week of Miracles!

President and Sister Bonham at Stake
Conference on Saturday night. They wore
blue and green in honor of the playoff game
everyone was missing to be there. Aren't
they great?
What a miraculous and fulfilling week this was. It was our very last week together (yes, we found out just minutes ago [~12:00p PST] that Elder George is being transferred tomorrow), and it was was incredible.

On Monday, we enjoyed dinner with Colleen and had a lesson afterwards where we went through the baptismal interview questions (Preach My Gospel, page 206) and discussed how she felt as far as preparing for baptism and confirmation. Well, the interview went really well until we came to question 5 and talked about tithing. We knew she was uncertain about tithing, but she really made it clear that if she doesn't have the money, she won't pay tithing. Her situation is understandable as she lives off of government income and has lots of medical expenses, but the real problem we feel she faces is an issue of faith. We will involve our bishop in teaching her tomorrow night to talk a little more about tithing and to encourage her to focus on growing her faith.

Wednesday, we walked out of an investigator's home after helping her put her Christmas decorations away, and as we walked to the car, we noticed her neighbors a few houses down working frantically to load stuff into an old, primer-ed Dodge dually with a bed cover on the back. We walked over and offered to help, and (this never happens) they accepted! So we spent about the next hour moving an older gentleman out this home he'd lived in for sixty years! Most of what we moved was very old and smelly. To his credit, most of it went into a dumpster he'd rented for that very purpose. We also helped him move and dump a few trash cans full of rancid material that had soaked in rain water for months.

November 23, 1963 - Seattle Post
In the process, however, he showed us some pretty cool stuff, including the issue of the Seattle Post from November 23, 1963 -- the day of John F. Kennedy's assassination, another issue that highlighted the erection of the Seattle Space Needle for the World's Fair in whatever year that was, and he even gave us a vinyl entitled "Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Greatest Hits" from 1974 in perfect condition!
April 8, 1962 - Seattle Times

We also carried a large, old, non-working speaker from the house to the dumpster, and to save time and have a little boyish fun, we dumped the speaker over the top rim of the dumpster instead of going around to the open end (it's one of those huge construction dumpsters that semi's come to pick up when you're done) so that it would crash and burst to pieces inside the dumpster (why set trash down nicely when you can break it?). Well, because the dumpster was sitting on a grade on his lawn, the speaker rolled down to the open end of the dumpster and came creaking to a stop (in pieces) just before the edge of the dumpster. Well, as we picked the speaker up to move it further back in the dumpster, the back of it fell apart and out slid three framed family photos well over eighty years old, which the man whom we were helping had been looking for for over 20 years! Pretty cool!

Friday was amazing! So amazing! We weekly planned, had lunch, and then went with the President Jensen of the elders' quorum to teach Elijah, a new investigator, the Restoration in his cramped travel trailer. Regardless of the circumstance, Elijah is very smart and very well informed about many religions of the world--he's just rough around the edges. He's always been impressed by Mormons and the "lack of feeling judged" when he's around them. This just happens to be the first occasion he's had time to sit down and learn from missionaries what it's all about. He read the pamphlet six times before we met with him and knew it very well, and he had great questions. We gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon, he prayed about it, and we'll see him again this week!

Nearly Discarded!
Before dinner on Friday, we spent a little time tracting on Glen Avenue (this was Elder George's choice of street) and the first door was Frank, who was super nice, whose ex-fiancee was LDS, and who said we could come back this week. As we walked around the other side of the duplex, a lady carrying a baby walked out of the door to which we were headed. So, of course, we started talking with her, and immediately something was familiar about her. We asked about her baby, and she told us that her daughter was her first child, and her name was Ivy. And then it hit me. It was Sarah, whom Elder Foster and I had tracted into in an apartment complex in Mill Creek when I was still serving in Everett! She and her husband, Ryan, met with the elders in the Mill Creek ward a few times, but I remember her telling us that they were moving to Snohomish soon. I was so enthralled to see her again, and to think that it had happened by marvelous "happenstance". I could hardly think as we talked with her because my mind was so blown at this miracle, but we got her information and we will be going back soon. It is clear to me that Heavenly Father isn't going to let this young family go.

Just a few doors later, we were invited right in by a man named Dan'l, who was involved in a motorcycle crash that paralyzed his left arm at 22. As his wife cooked dinner, he shared with us his strong faith in Christ and his unique ideas about the "bride of Christ" and how His church is simply established in the hearts of all the true believers. He was incredibly respectful and warm. We taught him boldly but respectfully about the organization that Christ established anciently (Ephesians 4:11-14) and how He has restored it in modern times. He tended to agree with us more often that he didn't, and when we invited him to read the Book of Mormon and pray about it, he readily accepted, though he described feeling both the Bible and the Book of Mormon to be "extraneous"--not necessary for salvation. In a respect, we could agree with him because, of course, Christ is the way to salvation, but I know that God has given us the Book of Mormon as a tool to teach us that Jesus is the Christ and that this is His church on the earth today (see "Introduction to the Book of Mormon", ninth paragraph). After talking for about thirty minutes, we parted on great terms -- both having inspired the other party to think a little differently -- with an invitation to return and teach him more.

At about 8pm on Friday, we headed to an appointment with Susan (whom we met miraculously on December 21st--see according email). We weren't sure she would remember, but of course, we tried anyway. As we parked, she emerged from her home and invited us right in. What followed was a powerful and sweet discussion that entailed a review of the Restoration and an introduction to the Book of Mormon. Susan is so sensitive to the Spirit, and she is embarrassed by how easily she gets emotional, but, boy, is she prepared. She just knew everything we taught was true and readily accepted the invitation to be baptized when as she learns more. Though she was hesitant, she prayed at the end to ask God if what we had taught was true, and her prayer was incredibly sweet and sincere. She is just one of those ladies who may not have much, but she knows it and she just knows right from wrong, true from false, and she is absolutely loyal to God. She is apprehensive about attending church with large groups of people, but she is going to give it a shot!

Ok, I know I just wrote a ton about Friday, but get this: Saturday was just as great!

On Saturday, our investigator John was going to spend the whole day with us (like a ride-along [except we would ride with him because it is against the rules for nonmembers to ride in missionary vehicles. [[missionary handbook, pgs. 18, 48]]) because he wanted to see what missionary life is like, but then he woke up sick, so he only came to one appointment with us. He didn't even get to tract with us! But that's okay because the teaching appointment he came to was awesome! Do you remember me mentioning Don in my email last week? And how he referred us to his sister, Jill? Well, we taught Jill on Saturday morning, and it was awesome! Dude, Jill is so prepared. As we taught her the Restoration, every question she asked had to do perfectly with the next principle we planned to teach. At one point, she said something like, "You know, prophets make sense. I used to look at the Mormon church as a cult, but really, it makes sense to me that if God called prophets back in the day, why wouldn't He call them today? I've never really thought about it that way until, well, today. Like right now. A prophet is like God's tool to get the message out." Can I just say that I have been waiting my whole mission for someone to say that? This lady is a missionary's dream come true. Halfway through the lesson, there was a knock at the door, and in walked Jill's brother, Don! He sat down and bore testimony of everything we taught (especially of President Monson as the living prophet today), and he did so in his own unique way: "He's like the Elder of all elders. The wisest of the wise! This guy is the true prophet today. I mean, he's a normal guy, but he's definitely a prophet!" So funny. Anyway, Jill shared with us the story of how she prayed for Don and her son, Daniel, as they worked together on a fishing boat that ran aground and sank. She had recurring scary dreams for a month prior to the incident, but she prayed consistently, and she remembers hearing God's voice accompanied with certain peace: "Something really bad is coming, but don't worry because I am here and everyone will be all right." And they were. Jill gladly accepted the invitation to be baptized, prayed for truth at the close of our lesson, and felt peace and a desire to continue learning about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. During the lesson, she said something profound: "I think God has a special place in his His heart for the prayers of mothers. He hears those especially."

Later on Saturday afternoon we taught the Mitchells, a part-member family with an unbaptized child, Isabella, who has expressed a desire to be baptized. We taught the Restoration using a Rubik's cube to help demonstrate for Isabella, but I just really felt a lot of Christlike love for the nonmember father, Brother Mitchell. When we asked him why he wanted to start taking the lessons again, he said something along the lines of, "Well, I've been going to church and hearing a lot about eternal families and if this is all true, I don't want me and my family to be left out. I want to be with them forever." We're teaching a family!

The infamous "tie wall" of the Snohomish apartment.
I counted a few weeks back and the grand total was
about 475 ties.
A dear missionary friend of mine whom I look up to once told me that the last 6 months of a mission are where a missionary is entitled to the most blessings because they are the hardest six months. Another missionary friend told me that the last 10% of a missionaries efforts are where 90% of the blessings are manifest. I feel like this was exactly the case this last week. I'm still working hard and people are just crawling out of the woodwork left and right. Elder George and I have even seen a ton of great results in our tracting efforts recently. It's great!

Tie Exhibits
You may have heard that the Seahawks are doing well lately. I tell ya, it makes for a great conversation starter. Did you know that their offensive coordinator is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Yep, he even served a mission in Ohio!

I have been working a lot on the essays President Bonham asked me to write as an opportunity to reflect on my mission experience, and I tell ya, I've learned a lot. And I've grown a lot. I've got lots of goals to work on when I get home!

I love you all and I am so excited to hear about the growth you're experiencing! Seth, I want a replay of your talk when I see you next.

Nearly out of time. See you later!

Elder Martin

Monday, January 5, 2015

[1/5/2015] Week 96: Googly Eyes

Hey, hello!

Super sweet Seattle Seahawks socks
(say that five times fast!) that a
family in the ward gave us for Christmas!
We had the wonderful blessing of teaching quite a bit this week, but I guess you already know that.

Since we are re-teaching Mandy all of the lessons in greater detail, we taught her the first half of the Plan of Salvation on Friday, and it was powerful. Everything was really focused on how Jesus Christ, our Savior, is at the center of all we do and all that is expected of us here on earth. We invited her to pray at the end and ask specifically if He truly is her Savior. She prayed, but she didn't ask that specific question. Fortunately, we had just given instruction earlier that day at interviews on how to correct an investigator's prayer and invite them to pray again. So Elder George corrected her beautifully, and invited her with great love to pray again. And she did! And she had no problem! The peace in the room was so powerful, but Mandy just didn't seem to recognize it. I think there is a looming concern that she isn't expressing, and I don't know how to help her beyond it. I think it might be helpful to teach her with just one other person present as opposed to the whole Schwartz family (who have been so wonderful and supportive for Mandy). I think she is afraid to express her concerns, feeling she will let others down if she does.

We taught John on Monday night, and I just have to say that I love that guy so much. He's a humble and simple guy, but he's committed to learning about and embracing the gospel for all the right reasons. We taught him about the principle of obedience and how obeying God's commandments is key in helping us discover truth (John 7:17). I felt clearly guided by the spirit in the words I used, the questions I asked, and the statements of testimony I made. I just love teaching! He committed with a "determined resolution" (Alma 47:6) to live the Word of Wisdom and to fast on Sunday with a specific question in mind. Then he wasn't at church, which is terribly uncharacteristic of John.

This week, President Bonham interviewed all the missionaries in our zone and learned about some specific challenges that a companionship has been facing. One of the missionaries in this companionship is a new missionary, and they have struggled to be exactly obedient for a lot of different reasons. When the issue surfaced with their district leader several weeks ago, he came to Elder George and I for advice. I made some comments to the new missionary (we'll call him Elder Brown) that I thought were strengthening and encouraging (seeing as my trainer and I also had struggles back in the day, but in hindsight, they were judgmental and based on my perception of this missionary's trainer (we'll call him Elder Turner), whom I had only known for a few weeks. I thought that I was blessing Elder Brown when I said what I said about my trainer (and it sounds like the meaning of what I said was a little bit mistranslated when it got to Elder Turner), but I took no thought for Elder Turner's feelings or for the good that he has been able to accomplish on his mission. I admit that I did have a soured perception of him before really getting to know him and I have allowed that perception to get in the way of granting him trust. (Those in a leader's stewardship ought to know clearly that he trusts them. This principle is illustrated in Alma 7:6.) When Elder Turner asked his district leader and Elder George and I to talk with him privately after his interview with President Bonham, my eyes were opened. Tearfully, he explained his frustrations with his own imperfections as well as with how he felt betrayed by his leaders. I saw in Elder Turner a lot of myself. He experiences a lot of the same feelings of inadequacy, fear of failure, and need for trust that I have experienced (and do still experience) on my mission. I was crushed. I knew exactly how he felt and realized that I hadn't been treating him the way I ought to have: with love, trust, integrity, and fairness. I have resolved to repent and be better. However, I must note that I love that we were able to convene as priesthood brethren and representatives of Christ, talk mildly and respectfully about the sharp words that had been said and the feelings that had been hurt, and come to a conclusion for all of us to be better. It's incredible what the gospel will do for people.

Sorry I haven't been sending pictures lately. I haven't been taking them a whole lot!

A member of the ward, Austin, whom I knew in the Silver Lake ward, drove us home on Christmas Eve in his sweet '64 Ghia. Parked next to our sick slab (the Subaru Legacy).

Austin, that same member, having too much fun with googly eyes that he received as a gag gift for Christmas.

[Socks photo] Yes, that's a bench press in our apartment. No, the bar does not fit perfectly with the rack. Yes, Elder George and his former companion picked it up off the side of the road. Yes, it has 215 pounds on it. No, I did not lift that obscene amount of weight. That was Elder Lemon's doing. He is one of the assistants and he decided to go all out while on exchange with us. And by all out, I mean all the weight we had at our disposal.

Elder Cole Martin