Wednesday, July 31, 2013

DC Week 25!

Tuesday was so good! In short, I felt like I was in a scene from Inception. Not to make a non-missionary reference, but here’s why: 

So my day started early. Had to meet my companion (who was on exchanges) at a convenient halfway point between Olney and Bowie. So naturally, finding a rendezvous spot that worked for both of us in New Carrolton ended up being more of a hassle than it would have been to go all the way. Anyway, Sister Kaarma, (from Estonia—she came out a few weeks before me) and I made our trip out to meet them, and we all switched back in time for Sister Word and I to be back at the VC for shift at 8:50 in the morning.

Shift was good. I met a young man named Jobari from Iran. We cruised right through all trivial small-talk and dove deep from the beginning. He was there for a specific reason, there was no mistake about it. As I shared Joseph Smith’s account of the first vision in his own words, Jobari began to listen more intently with each line recited. I watched as his eyes grew wider and wider with understanding, and I could begin to see realization and recognition sweep over his face.

As if he had heard it somewhere before.

He then proceeded to confide in me a dream he had several months ago. A dream of this “vision”. The only difference, he said…was that he was the young boy… He said he has had many dreams in his life, but never felt such immense joy or elation from any other kind before. He knew this was personal revelation to him from God, but didn’t know what to do with it. Kind of neat to see the way God speaks to each of His children in ways they can understand and relate.
After just a short hour of talking, he wanted to begin meeting with missionaries. Felt so good to know I correctly played my small role, in God’s big plan for him.  

So the original plan was to be at the VC all day (Sister Word had trainer duties, so I was going to take another shift in the evening) which would have been fine. But then because of some medical complications with my sweet former companion, Sister Nakatsuka, I got to go on another exchange back to WHITE OAK!! Words couldn’t have described my joy to return to where I was “born”, despite the fact that it was just for one short evening. I felt like Heavenly Father was giving me a second chance to “fix something”.

So, Sister Bullock (a former White Oak “baby” herself) and I drove out to White Oak together, reminiscing about the many people we taught and loved there. We were never companions, but could very easily relate to each other’s joy. Well, we arrived at our old apartment, and Sister Bullock stayed with Sister Nakatsuka (who wasn’t feeling well) so I could go out with Sister Weber, (who is a brand new missionary), giving her the chance to finally have some time in her area this week.

We first went and checked on Marc Meredith, a recent convert within the last year. He is still doing so well, and was super excited to see us! We talked with him for a bit and encouraged him to look for ways he can continue to follow Christ. Afterwards, we had an awesome finding activity with the whole zone. We all met at the chapel to split off into different companionships, and go tract! The goal of the activity for the whole zone was to go “finding” only in White Oak. This was partly as a service to Sister Nakatsuka who had been in the hospital for the last week and not had the chance to do any work in her area with Sister Weber. My last “companion” of the night was Hermana Clement, who I happened to be roommates with last transfer! Yes, she’s in the Spanish program, and had never been tracting in English before. Well, actually, I hadn’t been tracting in forever either, so we were both a little rusty, but it was a great experience for the both of us!

So, for the fourth time in a 24-hr period, I went on exchanges yet again. And it was so awesome! (Are you beginning to follow my lame Inception reference now?)

We went everywhere, and even saw a hard-to-reach recent convert that some former missionaries had baptized. He should be coming to church this Sunday.

One of the houses we knocked seemed very familiar, and so did the man who answered. (I swear Sister Lawrence and I knocked his door back in February…) Anyway, He considered himself a very accomplished theologist and, a very rigid born-again Christian. As soon as he answered the door, he never gave us the time of day, but we listened. And listened. And smiled. And listened some more. Eventually, he migrated from behind the “safety” of his screen door, to opening the whole door, to stepping out onto his porch, to laughing with us. We talked until it was dark, and although I wanted to use the mosquito on his forehead as an excuse to smack him every time he degraded the church in some condescending way, we held strong and testified. That was all we could do. He seemed to appreciate our compassionate, patient demeanor, and may have even been somewhat confused at how two 21 year old girls could seemingly have as much religious understanding as him without any degrees, or tangible “diplomas”. We left on cordial terms, and certainly gave him something to chew on for some time…At least until he has another contact with the church. Made me wonder what would happen, if every missionary who ever knocked his door just shied away in timid succumb-ness. What then, would he think of this church? I was grateful God gave us the strength to withstand the blows we took, and yet still magnify our callings in that moment as representatives of Christ. Well of course He would! This is His work, right? Makes sense.

Anyway, it felt so good to just get out and street contact. To talk to as many people as we could in the short two and a half hour period of time that we had. This approach to missionary work is quickly becoming “old-fashioned” and considered useless and foolish by most missionaries, (or at least considered not as effective). The Lord is really hastening His work through modern means. We can feel it here in the DC North Mission, and as a Visitor Center Mission…that the Lord is moving along with the times. Personally, I love feeling physically exhausted from this work as opposed to mentally drained from staring at a computer screen for hours. However, it has been fun to try to find that balance here in this mission. Good thing is, I get both.

Well Sister Clement and I wrapped up our tracting adventures, and raced through the dumping rain, running and laughing and knocking as many doors as we could in our last few minutes, (all the while, doing a really bad job at trying to stay dry). Man we really must have looked like loony-bins dancing in (and tasting) the sweet, fat drops all around us. They pelted us like a shower head…but we didn’t care. We had the best message in the world, and we wanted to share it with the world.

So then, we reported back to the chapel, where the climb back up through my various companions began: From Hermana Clement, back to Sister Weber, back to the apartment where Sister Bullock was waiting to take me back to the VC where my own sweet companion  was waiting for me to go home to Olney. What a day, right?! You read it, I lived it!—and I would do it again in a heartbeat!

Well, I think this beats my own record for longest email. Not that I was having a competition with myself or anything.         

Gotta run, family. 
Hey, guess what? I love you guys!

Hermana Graff
Omni 1:26

PS—I caught a frog yesterday. Do you know when the last time I caught a frog was? Me neither. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

DC Week 24!

Well, it's happened.

They're switching me to the Spanish Program!!!
I got the call from President late Monday night. It was a short conversation (and it took everything in me to keep it inside until transfer meeting today). He simply said they have confidence that I would be a significant asset for them in that area, and that this is the Lord's plan for me. With the influx of new missionaries, and the odd numbers it just worked out. It was kind of cool to hear the gasps and excited chatter from all the missionaries today as President made the public switch. "Tongue nor pen" can describe how I feel. This has been an answer to so many of my prayers! God really does come through. Now I only hope I can do the same for Him. 

My new companion is Hermana Word, from Las Vegas. Our area is Olney North. It's just about a twenty minute drive south to the temple (if traffic is good). We are going full steam ahead this next six weeks, and I think it will be an eye opener for the both of us. There are countless opportunities ahead, and I want to seize them all. I have never felt such strength from the Lord before, and all I want to do is please Him. God will help me to magnify my calling, and I know I will need to rely on Him like I never have before. This will be an interesting chapter. Pray for me...

In other news, This last week, has been one of the most trying in my mission so far. I had blockade after blockade hit me, almost to my breaking point (mostly internal things: the adversary trying to drag my thoughts toward worthlessness, and inadequacy). And yet on the other extreme...this week has been one of the best. 

We met with Karla several more times, and now her whole family is beginning to come back to church, (right now only her mom is a member, but her older sister wants to be baptized as well). At our last meeting with them yesterday, we said goodbye, and confirmed her date to be baptized on August 25th. Each one of them shared their testimonies, and there was no denying the pure, innocent, blossoming Spirit that was present there. They will be an eternal family. 

My favorite part of the week was meeting with Brother Hutchinson. Brother Hutchinson is what you would call an eternigator, (an eternal investigator). He and his wife were first taught by the missionaries back in the seventies. She got baptized. He did not. Since then, they raised their children in the church, and they now have righteous families of their own. Still, he never got baptized. Many missionaries tend to shy away from/drop such individuals, because they have a well known history with taking the lessons, (there is no new material to cover, and it can be intimidating to approach someone so seasoned and sure that they don't want what you are trying to offer them). Well, such was not the case for my dear sweet companions, Sister Bowman, Sister Tembo and myself. 

With our time in Laurel, we have each devoted time and energy to figuring out God's plan for Brother Hutchinson, especially Sister Bowman. She spent six months in Laurel. I spent six weeks. Yet, yesterday evening, as we sat eating the vegetable stew he had prepared for us, we talked. And he talked. And as he talked, we began to see the chinks in his cold hard armor. He began to open up about his experiences with the missionaries. He began to confess his secret desire to be a member...but no one had ever worked for him to be. Every missionary who had ever come into the Laurel ward must have known Brother Hutchinson. He came to church every Sunday and sat with his wife. Third row from the front and in the middle. If they missed his physical presence, they would have at least heard the giggles from the little children who would flock to him as he would tickle their faces with toothpicks during sacrament meeting to keep them occupied. They would have eaten one of the many hamburgers he cooked and flipped for all the ward BBQ parties. Or maybe even had a brief, necessary conversation with him on his front porch as they visited other investigators in the surrounding area. After all, he does like to have a smoke or three every day in the comfort of one of his shaded wicker chairs, quietly observing the neighborhood...

No one had seen his potential. It wasn't their fault. He made sure to blend well enough. But how many of those do we pass by on a daily, maybe even hourly basis? I cringe to think of all those over the years I had not "seen"...or at least allowed myself to see. 

There is a poem I shared at my farewell. It's one of my favorites, and has served as a theme of mine throughout my mission. This is the last stanza:

And many a man with life out of tune, all battered and scarred with sin, 
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd, much like the old violin. 
mess of pottage, a glass of wine; a game - and he travels on. 
He is "going once", and "going twice". He's going...and almost gone. 
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd never can quite understand... 
The worth of a soul...and the change that's wrought... 
By the touch of the Master's hand.

Well, there we sat at his kitchen table. The four of us. Quenching his thirst. Having a meaningful, and much awaited conversation about the deep doctrines of the gospel. No fluff. No tips of the iceberg. Just the raw, rich principles we all know internally, but never get the chance to voice much with recent embryonic converts, let alone new investigators. Brother Hutchinson will be baptized. He admitted it himself. He just needed to know that he was worth it. He never wanted to be bought for a cheap price. He wanted us to work--to FIGHT--for him. So we will. Because every child of God has divine value. And they are so precious to Him. 

As we gathered our things to leave. He stopped us. We three stood, looking into his eyes. He just stared back. He mentioned he felt a special bond between him and us. A bond he hadn't felt in forty years. He inquisitively asked if we felt it too. With tears in our eyes, we nodded. Then my sweet companion, Sister Bowman, wisely brought to light, "You know, I've heard it said that on your mission, you meet up with those friends you knew before this life." Then smiling back at him, she firmly stated without any question, "Brother Hutchinson, I think we knew each other once before." Suddenly it all became so clear. Now I'm not sure what will immediately come of it, but I think Brother Hutchinson figured out what he needed to do in that moment. We left each feeling the same Divine love for our fellow brother. 

The second verse of the sacred hymn, Oh My Father, reads:       

For a wise and glorious purpose
Thou hast placed me here on earth
And withheld the recollection
Of my former friends and birth;
Yet ofttimes a secret something
Whispered, "You're a stranger here,"
And I felt that I had wandered
From a more exalted sphere.

Gotta run. Take the time to find the "Brother Hutchinson's" in your lives. Each one is worth saving. 

Hey, have I ever told you guys that I love you? ~Just sayin'. 
Keep on keeping on. 

Sister Graff
Enos 1:26-27

PS--Mama, Happy Birthday on Sunday! The family better be spoiling you rotten. Love you to pieces!!!    

PPS--Adam, hope your foot gets better, Bud. Man sitting on a throne all day, having everyone feed you grapes sounds pretty tough. On behalf of the entire family, I will pray for a quick recovery. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

DC Week 23!

Yeesh, what a week.

Don't worry everyone; we reached triple digits the last few days with high percentages of humidity all throughout! Man it literally feels good to be alive. On top of that, our mission has collectively decided we would have a "car-fast". So yesterday and the day before, we didn't use our cars. They wanted us to realize how lucky we are, as well as open new opportunities to talk to people on the streets. So since we didn't have bikes, Sister Bowman, and Tembo and I hit the hot sticky pavement. New appreciation for modern conveniences: CHECK. It really was one of those "character-building" experiences. And while we weren't trekking through the thick jungles of Panama, my secret dream to have a similar experience was fulfilled (sort of--in a less exotic way). At least the number of mosquito bites on my arms and legs would have made anyone who took a glance at my pathetic appearance seem so. It felt SO great! I love being a missionary!!

Anyway, lately, we have been teaching this young Hispanic girl named Karla. She is fifteen years old, and so awesome! She reminds me of Caty a little bit...We meet with her twice a week, and the goal is to have an August baptism. Oh she is on fire. Every time we visit her she has her Book of Mormon ready with sticky-notes all over the place. Last time we saw her, she confided (through tears) to us that this is the first time she feels like she'd doing something for herself. Not for her mom or her sisters, but all because she wants to learn more about how she can come closer to Christ. 

We're not quite sure what we have done to deserve such prepared individuals, but Heavenly Father has been blessing us with a number of His children lately. I just hope I don't mess up. I really want to "act well my part". Often times, I feel like He gives blessings to us so freely, and we miss all of the miracles that got us there in the first place. We earn every blessing we receive in some form or another. For me, the harder the work, the more I enjoy it, (like after a good run). I think probably because I learn to appreciate the fruits of that labor. It confirms to me why I'm out here in the first place. If missionary work were easy, my motives might be different. And I shudder at the thought. 

Jeffrey R. Holland put it this way:

"Anyone who does any kind of missionary work will have occasion to ask: 'Why is this so hard? Why can't our success be more rapid? Why aren't there more people joining the church? Why isn't the only risk in missionary work that of pneumonia from being soaking wet all day and all night in the baptismal font?' I am convinced that missionary work is not easy because Salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. We are the Church of Jesus Christ. This is the truth. And He is our Great Eternal Head. How could we believe it would be easy for us, when it was never, ever easy for Him?" 

Family, I know that we have a Savior who has given everything for us. Follow in His footsteps. Little kids, think to yourself, "What would Jesus do?" It's a very real and applicable question to all of us. My commitment to you all this week, is to do something hard. And then see what comes of it.

I love you all.

Sister Graff

PS--Pictures later.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

DC Week 21-22!

Hello everyone!

Sorry I dropped the ball with writing last week. Life here is so good though.
Happy (late) Fourth, and Anniversary Mom and Dad!!! Sure love you both. Thanks for raising us the way you did. We can never repay you... I will be writing you soon so keep a wary eye on the mailbox. 

Well, these last two weeks have been full of miracles. 
We had another baptism! Her name is Tiffany Heath. She was baptized on Mom and Dad's anniversary (7/7). I can honestly say we did nothing. Nothing. Tiffany was so prepared by from the beginning. She practically taught herself the lessons. I was just lucky enough to participate in that special day with her. It is so interesting how the adversary will try so hard to destroy these sacred days. Every time, no matter how much preparation goes into the mix beforehand, he still looks for ways to trip it ruin the show. I know he has real power...but I also know without a doubt that Heavenly Father is more powerful.  It always works out. With some work on our part and God's, it always works out.  Sister Bowman, Sister Tembo and I sang When I am Baptized. Reminded me of sweet and simple primary days. The speakers were wonderful, and she was truly changed, I know. There was definitely a special spirit there, and we couldn’t be more proud of her and this decision she’s made. I will send pictures. 

We’ve also been working with many less actives in Laurel. It’s interesting how many aspects of “missionary work” there really are. I have come to understand that the Lord works in the details of each of our lives.  He works many mighty miracles in every stage of our “conversions”… 

There is this one woman, a less active named Sheryl, whom we have been working quite closely these past several weeks. It’s the first time I have had a situation like this on my mission. She has been struggling with same-sex attraction, and is currently in a relationship that she wants out of, but she feels trapped. Since her conversion to the church as a young adult, she has been sealed in the temple, raised a family in the gospel, and taught seminary for eight years. Then…the unthinkable happened, and she admit to us that she let Satan get a hold of her. She confessed to giving in to temptation, and watched as her life slowly and painfully fell apart in front of her eyes. When we visited her the other day, she expressed her gratitude to us for our visits (which have been in secret at her request so her partner won’t begin to question her motives). Sheryl sheepishly mentioned that “Taking lessons from the missionaries was a lot easier the first time…” She then added that she never fully understood our role as missionaries until now. I didn’t either…
Our sole purpose is to help individuals come unto Christ. No matter their situation or circumstances. We are not out so simply baptize; we serve God by being that pure vessel for good and truth in the lives of ALL those in need--whatever they stand in need of. Last Sunday, Sheryl attended church for the first time in years. We have been visiting her regularly, and she is beginning to take those steps to mend her relationship with her Heavenly Father by casting out fear, and “lay[ing] aside every sin which easily doth beset [her].” I love seeing the humbling process in action…it’s something each of us must go through.    

Our recitation for this transfer is the following:

“[We are] called of God. [Our] authority is above that of the Kings of the earth. By revelation, [we] have been selected as […] personal representative[s] of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is [our] Master, and He has chosen [us] to represent Him. To stand in His place. To say and do what He himself would say and do if He personally were ministering to the very people to whom He has sent [us]. [Our] voice is His voice. [Our] acts are His acts. [Our] words are His words, and [our] doctrine is His doctrine. [Our] commission is to do what He wants done. To say what He wants said. To be a living modern witness in word and deed of the divinity of His great and marvelous latter-day work. How great is [our] calling! ~Bruce R. McConkie.

Oh family…I love you. I also love being a missionary. I hope you all know that.

This church is so true. Until next week.

Sister Graff