Monday, March 31, 2014

March 31, 2014

Hey Everyone,
   This week was a good one. A busy one, but a good one. Elder Clarke is a good elder and I'm excited to be working with him. Our new ward is incredible. Everyone there is completely on top of all of their responsibilities. We have 85% activity and it's honestly just a really good ward. We still cover the Mountain View young single adult ward as well so we get the best of both worlds.
   I've had a few interesting experiences this week. Last night was awesome. We got two new investigators. One because we simply asked right at the door how we can help her get baptized which somehow worked really well. The other reinforced my love for service. We knocked on a door we've been trying to get into for a while and the girl who answered it was completely drunk. We noticed that she had empty beer cans laying everywhere inside so we ended up walking right in and started cleaning it all up for her. Apparently we cleaned too well. We ended up finding a huge stash of weed and a coke spoon which my companion, not knowing what it was, proceeded to clean out. Because of this all we did for the next fifteen minutes was take her trash out and try to convince her that we weren't narcs. Luckily she came around and we set up an appointment for tomorrow. Hopefully she remembers.
   One thing I love about this new ward is that they use us as a resource. One of the members we were visiting on Saturday talked to us about a friend he has that is convinced that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a cult. He asked me if I could write a letter for him to give to her. So I did. I learned a lot from it actually. I had never really thought about why we're not a cult. So I studied it that night and then wrote the letter. This is the conclusion I came to:

To whom it may concern,
   Let me tell you why I love being part of a cult. I am currently a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Today I was asked the question as to whether or not the organization I belong to is a cult. My immediate reaction and response to the question was one of denial. At that moment I truly felt as though that were true. Yet, as I thought about it, it made me wonder if those feelings actually dictated the truth of my response.
   So here I am, at 9:34 p.m., sitting at a desk in my temporary apartment home studying and thinking about the matter at hand. The first thing I did was pull a Webster's dictionary off the shelf and proceeded to look up the definition of the word "cult". The definitions I found intrigued me. They made me really wonder what side of the argument I stood on. I found two. Of those two I would like to begin with the second.
   The second definition states, "devoted attachment to person, fad, etc.". This definition led my thoughts to the prophet Joseph Smith. From and LDS point of view, let me explain my thoughts and feelings for this man. I know that Joseph Smith was an instrument in the Lord's hands consistently throughout his life. I admire him for having the strength and faith to be able to let The Lord accomplish His work on Earth through him. At the same time, I admire Gandhi for having the strength to make his world a better place through peaceful means. I admire Martin Luther King jr. for following in his footsteps. I especially admire the inspired man/woman out there who invented the maple bar. 69¢ at Safeway for each of those for breakfast have definitely made my world a better place.
   Yet, however strong my admiration for these wonderful people may be, no matter how hard I try to be able to accomplish half of what these heroes did, that does not denote an attachment tot any of them. Therefore, according to Webster, that makes me free of the charge of belonging to a cult. However, there is a man that I strive everyday to be as attached to as possible. His name is Jesus Christ. I study and idolize Him daily. I do my best to live a life that I believe He would want me to live. I love Him and I am completely devoted to Him. In that sense, according to Webster, I am a member if a cult.
   The first definition of the word "cult" says, "a system of worship or group of worshippers". According to that definition here is not a doubt in my mind that I belong to a cult. I go to church on Sunday to worship God and to learn more about Him. I strive to let my actions everyday be worthy of further worship of Him. I know that He established his system if worship long ago.even before the time of Jesus Christ. I know that Jesus Christ came to earth and not only fulfilled it, but perfected it. I know that The Lord's system was lost when He and His apostles were martyred for His system's sake. I know that as a consequence of that martyrdom, the system had to be restored upon the earth once more. I know that through Joseph Smith, that system was restored once more. I know that I am part of it. I know that the blessings I have seen in my life are directly linked back to that restored system. I know that because of the restored system, I can be together forever with my family. I can have peace and satisfaction because of the knowledge it gives me. I can be relieved of the burden of sin because of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for me. In fact, I've even been blessed with two years of my life to share the gospel and to help other people receive the blessings I currently have and continue to receive every day. I love it.
   So yes. According to both definitions, I am a member of a cult. Would I call it that? Based on the knowledge that I now have I suppose I would. But also based on that knowledge I would suppose that any other human being who is associated in a form of worship is a member of a cult as well. I guess it's not that bad or uncommon after all. I guess all there is left to do is embrace it. I would invite all others to do the same.

      Sincerely,   Elder Ashton Earl

Monday, March 24, 2014

March 24, 2014

Hey Everyone,
   This week was a good one. Things have finally gotten better in the Mesa 2nd ward. I don't know what it was but something clicked and it is one of the best wards now that I've ever been in. Consequentially, as always, I'm getting transferred. I will keep Mountain View YSA and I will be picking up a family ward as well. I will be serving in the Groves ward in the Mountain View stake. Also, Elder Spencer and I are no longer companions. My new companion will be Elder Clarke. I have no idea who he is but I'm excited to find out. Our bishop from Mesa 2nd wasn't too happy about it. They will do well though. Things are finally moving there.
   Looking back at this last transfer I really didn't think that I would have been satisfied with it. Now that it's over I realize how much actually did get done. We met our goal. The members finally got to a point where they began to use us as a resource. Not the other way around. It reminds me of a quote that my mom told me. It went, "patience isn't the ability to wait, it's what you do while you're waiting". I'm glad to see that even though things didn't go how I wanted them to most of the time, things still went well and ended up well. Now it's another ward's turn.
   I didn't really have anything really make me think this week. Elder Meline got his visa to Brazil finally. It's sad to see him go but I know that Brazil needs him. In fact, he probably needs Brazil. He was a prime example to me of that quote. I can't even imagine staying in a mission I wasn't assigned to for almost a year. And he definitely made the most of it. I think one thing I can definitely think of to share is how much I've been forced to be humble on my mission. There are so many amazing people in the world. I remember Brother Mullen, my MTC teacher said something i liked. He said most people have 90% good attributes yet it's the 10% that they need to work on that we seem to always focus on. I never realized how true that was until my mission. I feel like everyone has something that we can learn something from. We simply have to care enough to look.
   I'm grateful that I've been placed in so many amazing people's paths both here in Arizona and before. I've learned tons and I'm grateful for the opportunity that we all have to learn from others strengths. I feel like that is one reason that our weaknesses are given to us. I feel like it's easier to love someone when you choose to learn from their strengths. I have been glad to have done so here and I can honestly say that I've seen a change in myself and in others as I've done so. 
   People are meant to grow. That growth can come come multiple ways but the most fertile ground always seems to be love. Ultimately that's what the gospel is all about. We have a father in Heaven who did all of this for us out of love. His son came to earth with the same motive. The best part is that you can feel that love. As you do so you will grow. I've seen myself grow exponentially on my mission as I've felt myself grow closer to the Savior. I know in that aspect I'm not unique.

    Sincerely, Elder Earl

Monday, March 17, 2014

March 17, 2014

Hey Everyone,
   This week was an interesting one. Working with Young Single Adults is not exactly the cream of the crop when it comes to spring break. All of the members in one ward went on a cruise and the other ward had most of its members hanging out in California. There were not very many people around at all. We made due however.
   The family of seven I was teaching in my last area was baptized on Saturday. It was a great experience and one that I'm grateful that I had the chance to participate in. That's most likely the last time I will be back for Baywood ward until after my mission. I will definitely miss the incredible people I served with in that area.
   YSA is still as interesting as ever. I enjoy it but it's hard to be a missionary here. It comes with very cool opportunities though. Being in Mesa has made me realize something that I never would have in Hermiston. It's possible to actually do something with my life. Yesterday I got the chance to meet the founder of Coldstone Ice Cream. It was interesting listening to him and how he got where he is now. I also had the chance to listen to the architect of the new temple in Gilbert speak. That was amazing and I learned tons from it. There are amazing people here that have gone out and done things with their lives. It helps me to realize that I can do the same.
   One man that I continue to hear things about, even here in Mesa, is my dad. I can't even begin to give him the praise he deserves from me. I know I wouldn't be here in Arizona without his guidance and without his example of doing the same thing I'm doing when he was my age in Brazil. I have gained an appreciation for the word intentionally this week. I feel as though it's a word that has been skewed to have a bad connotation but I feel like it shouldn't. I feel like there's some things I never did as intentionally as I should have back home. If there was one thing I could do at home right now I would tell my dad how much I love him and how big of an impact he's had on my life. I would want him to realize how intentionally I said that. I literally am who I am because of how much love I was shown by my dad growing up and I've been too caught up in my life to realize it. I hope I'm who my dad intended me to be at this point in my life. I love him.
   I had some other thoughts this week that really caught my attention. I was sitting in our Toyota Corolla riding down McKellips when I noticed the insane amount of street lamps lining the road. There were just enough to keep the entire street lit once the sun goes down. There was no room for darkness. It made me think about how obsessed we are as human beings with light. It made me question why. Why is a fire a necessity when camping? Why does there have to be a flashlight in the emergency kit at our house? Why do we have to pay so much as a city just to keep all of those street lamps running? Is it for security reasons? If so then why do crimes happen so often in the dark? Why do we all retire for the night until it's light again? Why are we so obsessed with light?
   Light brings security. It brings warmth. It helps us to see. I suppose that's why Jesus Christ is sometimes referred to as the Light. He brings us security. He brings us warmth. He helps us to see. But the point I want to make is the necessity that light has for maintenance. If you don't feed a fire, it will burn out. If you don't replace batteries in a flashlight then it won't matter how much you shake it, you still won't have light. If the street lamps are not properly maintained then the result will be a city where light has ceased to exist.
   There's a scripture in the Book of Mormon that I really like. It's 1 Nephi 17:13. It's at the point I mentioned in an earlier email where Nephi and his family are in the wilderness and The Lord tells them to build a ship so that they can make it safely to the promised land. As Christ speaks He says, "And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led".
   Jesus Christ is our light in the wilderness. We all have to suffer through our own individual wilderness in order to make it back to Him. We are commanded to maintain the relationship we have with Him. We are commanded to keep His light shining in our lives so that through Him we can succeed in this life. If we don't maintain that by doing what he tells us to do then his light will cease to shine in our lives. We need to place street lamps in a way where there is no room for darkness. Only then can we be led by the light he so lovingly shines. He invites us to see through that light. We honestly don't have to. We have the choice. We can choose whether to sit in the dark and hopelessly wait for a light to shine on us or we can move to where the light will shine. I would encourage the latter.

   Sincerely, Elder Earl

P.S. Don't worry Mom. I love you too.

Monday, March 10, 2014

March 10, 2014

Hey Everyone,
I love the way Mesa smells during the spring. All of the orange
groves have bloomed and the air smells amazing! I love it. Not to
mention that it's still in the 80's here. It feels wonderful. But just
like before, it's foreboding to know that it will just get hotter. A
shirt and tie will not be as fun during the summer.
It's so great to be a missionary here in Mesa. People definitely
take care of us. It's not uncommon to go out to eat and leave with
more money than you came with. For example, the other day we went to
Panda Express. As we waited in line, one person gave us a coupon for a
free entrée, then another gave us twenty dollars for the meal, then we
got up to pay and someone had already payed for our meal. It's crazy.
Work is still going tough. It's extremely difficult to find people
to teach. We have been going around trying to visit people who had
formerly been learning about the church. We were blessed enough to
have set return appointments with three of them so far. Hopefully it
will be a turn for the better.
What bothers me is how much we rely on the members here. I mean I
don't blame them for being busy. These people are between the ages of
18-30. They are trying to figure out the rest of their lives which
requires a lot of their time. It is just sad to see all of these
return missionaries return to their old ways. It makes me think of how
I want to be when I get back home. Looking back I can already see what
I could have done better and different. But I suppose that's the way
looking back on life always is.
I think the main problem is that I know if each person just gave an
hour of their time, once a week, to the missionaries we would see
amazing growth. If people just had a mindset to help people receive
the blessings that they have been given this work would skyrocket
further than it already has. It makes me think of a hymn named,
"Because I Have Been Given Much". The song is all about how because we
have been given much, we too must give. I never realized exactly what
that song meant until now.
For me it's easy to have that mindset. Especially because I do this
full time. Therefore I look at it through missionary's eyes. It makes
me think of an experience I shared when I spoke in church right before
I left. For those of you who don't know, I'm the oldest of seven
children. They all mean the world to me and I can't help but think
about them more and more every day that I'm away from them. It's
amazing to me how I continue to learn lessons from them, even this far
away from home.
Of those siblings of mine, Peter, Andrew, and Martha are adopted.
They are from a country on the west coast of Africa called Liberia.
They lived there until Peter was 7, Andrew was 5, and Martha was 4.
Liberia was in the midst of civil war when they left. The things that
my siblings had to go through really isn't worth going into much
detail about. Their father James is a role model to me. After the
death of their mother, James knew that there were better ways for his
children to live. War and starvation wouldn't cut it. Because of his
love for them he found an adoption agency to insure a better life for
his children.
Peter, Andrew, and Martha then said goodbye to that amazing father
of theirs and moved from their village home of Yorwee to a foster home
in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. A picture was posted of them on
the adoption agency website and shortly after my mother found it. She
knew instantly that they were supposed to be part of our family. I
remember my mom and dad coming to my other siblings and I and asking
whether or not we agreed with their decision to adopt three more
children. I remember with me being eleven and my other siblings
younger the excitement that came with the idea of having three more
hoodlums running around our house.
The adoption process was supposed to take three years. I believe
that it was that long due to the dangers in the country at the time.
Incredibly, six months later I was standing in the Portland airport
waiting for my three new siblings to exit the long flight from Liberia
to Chicago and from Chicago to Portland. My mom gave me a video camera
to film them get off the plane. I remember staring through that camera
as children of all nationalities ran through the gate. It was insane.
I remember beginning to get impatient as I searched through that
camera to find my two little brothers and my sister. As I was watching
the gate I felt something grab my arm. I looked down from the camera
and saw a little African boy holding my arm and staring up at me. He
was wearing yellow tribal clothes and some extremely beat up black
dress shoes. He stood there for a little and then simply said,
"Brother". He then wrapped me up in his little arms and held me. So I
hugged him back and we just stood there for a while holding each
other. I remember how weird it was to love someone as much as I did
without knowing him at all. All I knew was that my brother was finally
I feel like that is similar to what it will be like when we leave
this earth. Even with all the bumps in the road, as long as we follow
the path God has set for us, we will one day be able to embrace our
brother Jesus Christ. We will know that we are home.
Now why on earth would we let someone go without the opportunity to
have that experience one day? That's exactly what missionary work is!
Being a missionary means giving someone the opportunity to look Christ
in the eyes one day, call him brother, and then return safely home.
It's up to them as to whether or not they want that. Our job is simply
to let people choose that for themselves. Every child of God deserves
that. By not performing that divine duty we deprive them of that. My
invitation is simply to look for those who need to have that and then
give them the choice. You are only successful once you invite.

Sincerely, Elder Earl

Monday, March 3, 2014

March 3, 2014

Hey Everyone!
   This week was a good one! Two more children of God were baptized on Saturday. They both were from Baywood ward but I taught them both for a very long time and they asked me to participate in their baptisms. I had the privilege of becoming close friends with both of them and I'm so happy for how far they have come. One of them is a sweet, 91 year old woman who pretty much waited till the last second to be baptized.
   We went on a hike this morning. Well, maybe it was more of a climb. We did a trail called Flat Iron. It's probably the hardest hike I've ever done. One reason why, it was to the top of the Superstition Mountains. And two, we lost the trail. Because of the latter we were forced along a much more difficult, dirty climb which brought us to the point of scaling the cliffs. It was pretty intense.
   The scenery of it all was beautiful. The top was incredible. You could see the entire valley. The 4 mile ascent to 3000 feet elevation was definitely worth it. We spent about an hour up at the top before we decided to make our journey down. The trek down the mountain was much easier. It was interesting to me. On the way down I felt comfortable enough to look down less. As I did this I noticed painted blue dots marking the trail in places I hadn't noticed before. Because of this we were able to stay on the trail in a much safer descent back to the car.
   It made me think further. Am I looking to the places in life that I need to be in order to stay on the trail? It made me think of the scriptures. I read my scriptures every day out here on my mission but back home there were many days that I neglected to do so. I could definitely see the difference it made in my days when I chose to obey The Lord and read. I was able to see the blue dots that Heavenly Father put in my life to keep me on the trail.
   It's very comforting to know that our Father in Heaven loves us enough to put marks on the trail to keep us from danger. We simply need to make the effort to look ahead and see them. They are right in front of our faces as long as we look where God would have us look.

   Sincerely, Elder Earl