Monday, July 29, 2013

Testimony--the Grace of God

Dear everyone awesome and wonderful,

Some random bits and pieces before getting to the good stuff:

-Last P-day we bought a really basic messenger bag and reading glasses for R at the Dollar Star, so that he could read his scriptures more easily and carry them on his bike. When we saw him on Wednesday we gave them to him - and he had brought something for us too! Two huge, ripe, amazing mangoes... And he gave us two more on Sunday :)

-And although we haven't even taught a tithing lesson, he knew from his interview that he needed to pay tithing. So he brought his 10% to church and asked us to help him pay his tithing.

-Here in Hialeah/Miami there is a phenomenon that we like to call the Cuban finger. When you're in traffic and need to get over a lane, you stick your hand out the window, point to the lane over so the person there can see you, and point down. Then you move over! It is so great. I learned how to do it this week, and have made some really impossible lane changes because of it!

-Something I just realized I forgot to share from a couple of months ago in West Palm. We were teaching a very unsuccessful lesson to an closed-off audience. When we left, one of the guys ran after us. He wanted me to look up a Bible reference. I said I would and left. It was 1 Corinthians 11:15. I about died laughing when I read it the next day.

-D and P moved to Tampa :( But we got the info for the church services in Spanish there, gave them a picture of Jesus Christ for their new house, and sent their info to the missionaries in Tampa! It was very sad leaving them, which was unexpected since we only taught them two lessons - but they were awesome. I am going to visit them when I come back to Florida after my mission.


A really wonderful spiritual experience that I had this week was in a lesson last night with our soon-to-be-recent-convert J (more about him below but I added this section later, sorry for the weird organization). We were talking about becoming like God, becoming perfect. I had been pondering earlier about what it means to do "all you can do" (as in 2 Nephi 25:23). As we talked about it I received wonderful revelation, which I wrote down this morning. I learned that doing all we can do doesn't mean being perfect. It has more to do with not giving up, continuing, and then relying on the Savior and His Atonement to make up for what we can't do. I don't know why it didn't sink in before, but somehow I realized more fully what it means that we need the Atonement. It's not just about getting rid of sins we've repented of, although that's part of it. It's also about making up for those weaknesses that are inherent in our character, as long as we are doing our part. I learned that doing all we can do is more a matter of diligence, persistence, and faith than it is a matter of strength or capacity. The Savior bridges the gap between us and perfection.

I had started thinking about how that applies to missionary work, and the first verse I read this morning in the Book of Mormon was Mosiah 18:16, which says, "... and they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God." Without the ordinances of the Atonement, if we wanted to return to God we would have to become perfect on our own, which is impossible. We as missionaries are spreading the good news that we can become more, and helping others to realize the fulfillment of the Atonement of Jesus Christ

We had several very cool experiences with testimony this week. To start off, R. He got confirmed yesterday! After his confirmation during Sacrament meeting, he went to the pulpit and shared his testimony. He told us all that he wanted to change his life, and he knew that he was following God now. It was amazing and sweet. The Spirit has really touched him, and although he doesn't know everything he is truly converted to his Savior Jesus Christ and wants to follow Him the best way he knows how. 

We have another investigator, J. I've written a little bit about him before, but just to clarify. He is amazing. He has had a crazy life (If I didn't know him I would think he is literally crazy from all the things that have happened in his life), and is super ready for the gospel. Sister Judkins and Sister LeBaron met him probably two months ago, and he has had something insane come up every week so that he couldn't come to church (like, his coworker is in a work accident on Saturday night, or an old injury that hasn't been a problem in years acts up come Sunday morning, etc.). He has a strong desire to be baptized, but hasn't been able to progress because he hasn't been able to come to church. Yesterday he came to church! He loved it and is getting baptized next week. We had a lesson with him last week and he shared his testimony with us. We were talking about the Plan of Salvation. Jesse told us that he wasn't sure what God's plan was, or why anything happened, but he was committed to serving God always and being the best person he could be. We were able to share our testimonies of why God has just one church (a sticking point in the past), and he understood, where all of our explanations in the past just created confusion.

One more story. Yesterday we were waiting at a bus station to talk with a man we'd met the day before. He didn't show, but we decided to talk to a random guy riding his bike past. We found out he was a less-active member who had been thinking about coming back to church. We talked about why he had become less-active. He identified that the biggest reason was because he hadn't shared his testimony. He knew the importance of sharing his testimony (in building his testimony and feeling the Spirit), but he hadn't ever borne his testimony. We're working with him now so that he can come back and be solid in faith, especially through sharing his testimony.

Finally, a scripture. Doctrine and Covenants 10:33 says, "Satan thinketh to overpower your testimony... that the work may not come forth in this generation." Our testimonies are our protection. They are gifts of the Spirit, and must be nurtured or we will not be able to maintain them. By sharing our testimonies we are able to do much good. The Lord can work through us and the Spirit can be felt. If we don't share them, they may leave us.

Every single person on the earth has a testimony of Jesus Christ. Every one of us was in the great council in Heaven and defeated Satan with our testimonies of our Savior and His plan. By sharing our own testimonies, those we share them with will be able to feel the Spirit and their spirits will begin to remember what they really already know.

I know that Jesus Christ lives, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is His organization to administer His priesthood power. I know that it is true. I know that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that we have a living prophet today, Thomas S. Monson. I know that God is my Father and loves me, and each one of us.

This is my testimony, the most valuable and priceless possession that I have. By sharing it, it becomes even greater. I love you all!

Hermana Houghton

Monday, July 22, 2013

Hialeah Is Crazy. I Love It!

Harmana Houghton after biking in a Florida rainstorm!

Dear Family, Friends, and Everyone,

What a week! Hialeah is crazy. I love it. We have a zone goal of having two baptisms per companionship this weekend - and I honestly believe it's going to happen!
So, really great things have happened from being on bicycle. The people we've met have been beyond compare. I told you about R last week. Sadly, he disappeared all week. We didn't see him at all, although we went out of our way to bike along Palm Avenue (the main road near where he lives) every day as much as possible. The phone number we had for him (his brother's) wasn't working. Then, as we were singing the sacrament hymn at church, guess who walks in! Sister LeBaron and I both felt very strongly that he was ready to be baptized, although we had taught him a grand total of once. He had his baptismal interview during Sunday School and was baptized after church.

Hermanas Houghton and LeBaron with R
 I have learned some valuable lessons from R. I'm going to use some quotes from the Challenging and Testifying Missionary talk I've told you about previously to explain some of this. First off, and this has been stuck in my head all week, "The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not knowledge... The Gospel is a feeling." I can't rationalize or explain my testimony no matter how hard I try. But it is enough to motivate me to act. I know and have faith strongly enough to be here, doing hard things, and loving it. Testimony and true conversion come through the Spirit, not from words or any outside influence, though those may open the way for the Spirit to touch our hearts. To be baptized, a person needs to have a testimony from the Spirit and a desire to follow God.
"I know investigators who cling to the idea that they can't be baptized until they know what they are being baptized for." When they get a testimony from the Spirit and have a desire to be baptized because they know deep in their hearts and souls that it's right, baptize them! This conviction and willingness to act will continue after baptism and even increase. Gospel learning is lifelong, and it's better and easier after you receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. If an investigator has the desire to be baptized, and is willing to live the covenants of baptism, why should we hold him back just wanting to teach him everything? The baptismal interview is the standard established by God, and if a baptismal candidate passes that, he can and should be baptized. He will learn the rest of the details of the Gospel as he goes along afterward.
Finally, "These things have nothing to do with teaching. They are the power and Spirit of the Lord... If we are to understand the ways of the Lord we must understand we are but the servants. We sustain Him. It is His work. It is not our work."
I saw the Lord's hand at work so strongly with Raul. We literally spent less than 15 minutes teaching him. His baptismal interview was maybe 20 minutes long. But the Lord knows who He wants in His church, and He prepared R.
So, some funny things about R's story: Elder Shepherd told us a little bit about the interview. During a combined companionship study this week we talked about Cuban culture. One Cuban cultural thing is a way they reject things. If a Cuban doesn't want to talk to us, he will tell us: "No estoy interesado. No no no no no no no no no no no." If we keep on talking, he will just keep saying "no no no no no no no." So during the interview Elder Shepherd role played with R, helping him know how to respond if someone offered him coffee or alcohol. R's response in these role plays was: "No tomo eso (I don't drink that). No no no no no no no no no no no." So great. After the baptism we followed R (on bikes) back to his house, because we hadn't known where it was before. He gave Sister LeBaron his sunglasses. Then he wanted to give me something to remember him by, so he gave me his driver's license so I could make a copy of it and have that.
We met another R (RM) this week as we were biking along. We taught him for the first time last night. It was a great spiritual lesson, and he told us over and over that he just needs God. I loved seeing the change in his eyes as we taught. Then his friend came over with 8 beers. They were planning on just chilling and drinking beer. We taught them that the spirit couldn't dwell in unclean temples, they gave us the beer, and I almost fell off my bike balancing a bag of beers on the handlebars! Then RM called us a few minutes later and asked us where the beer was. We told him it was in the trash, where it belonged. He laughed and told us okay, he wouldn't go out and buy more. A bit later he called us and asked us not to forget to remind him about the appointment for today. So great.
We had an amazing lesson with a super sweet couple named P and D and their seven-year-old L. They arrived from Cuba about a month ago. We met them last week during a thunderstorm, but hadn't been able to see them again. So we dropped by on Saturday and taught them about the Restoration. They are both going to get baptized. Sadly they are moving to Tampa this week so they won't be baptized here, but they are another example of people that are SO prepared (plus they're pretty much the cutest couple you've ever seen). Sorry to leave it at that - I know you don't know them so that whole interlude doesn't mean very much, but it was a powerful lesson. I cried, which I have never done during a lesson. They came to church and loved it, especially when they met the Cardenas family, who we had been trying to arrange a lesson with for them....
Some other fun things: I got to go to Institute this week while I was on an exchange! So fun.
-My companion has a beautiful voice. Sometimes I feel like I'm at the opera getting ready in the morning.
-I swallowed a fly while I was biking. There was also one afternoon when the gnats were out and we were picking dead gnats off of our clothes - probably about 40 each.
-I made arepas this week! The Venezuelan kind. I will tell you about them later... So good.
I love you all!!

Pictures from last week:  
Hermanas Houghton & LeBaron,
with new convert, J
Hermano Gonzalez, the second counselor in the Bishopric,
with new convert J, who discovered they were first
cousins at his baptism.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Knee Callusses

Sorry for the delay on this post--it was written in March, but never posted.  So here it is!  HH's Mom

March 18, 2013

Happy Belated Saint Patrick's Day! I didn't actually have any green to clothes to wear yesterday, but I wore my green watch. And for some reason there aren't a lot of Latin people who celebrate an Irish holiday. How curious...
No pictures this week, so this will
have to do!
So this week I was looking at my knees. This doesn't happen often as we always wear skirts that are below our knees. Anyway, I realized that I have knee calluses from kneeling so much. So when I realized that I also remembered that I haven't shared on the blog the awesome way that we do tracting here in the Florida Fort Lauderdale Mission.
Our tracting/finding method is called harvesting*, and it's all focused on the fact that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true, and that God's power and authority have been restored to the earth. We know that as missionaries we have literally been called of God and set apart by His authority to represent Jesus Christ. So our whole purpose is to bless people and help them to feel the Spirit testifying to them that we are teaching the truth of God.
We start off by praying** about where we should go to harvest. Then we go to that area and knock on people's doors. We testify to them that we are representatives of Jesus Christ and He has sent us to their homes to leave His peace and blessing with their homes and families. We come in and ask them what specific things they need from God in that moment, and then leave a blessing on their homes and on each member of their family by name by the authority of our calling and by the direction of the Spirit.
At the end of the blessing we identify that the peace and hope they are feeling comes from the Spirit of God, and He sent us to give them the opportunity to have more of that Spirit in their lives. We tell them about the way they can receive that - by following their Savior Jesus Christ. Then we invite them to follow His example and be baptized.
I am out of time and will tell you more about harvesting and some miraculous experiences with it next time. I love all of you and hope to hear from you soon and often!
Hermana Houghton
*There are lots of scriptures that talk about missionary work by saying that "the field is white already to harvest"
**We pray a LOT on the mission - thus the knee calluses. It's especially important to listen to the Spirit directing us. This is how miracles occur! Lots of times we show up to people's houses at a crucial moment when they really need a blessing from God.

Car Crash #2 & Loving Hialeah

From 15 July 2013

Hello everyone!!
So much happened this week that I have a sticky note full of things to write to you about. Get ready for the flood!
Tuesday after District training we were driving over to see if an investigator was home. Sister LeBaron looked left and right at the stop sign and didn't see anybody... but there was somebody. We were waiting there for a few hours, finishing up paperwork (with a SWAT guy in an undercover police car) and waiting for the tow truck. Eventually we got home, via the District Leaders. But before that happened, we gave a pass-along card to the tow-truck driver, P. When he got to the shop he met Elder Bare, the Senior Missionary who takes care of all the mission cars. He told Elder Bare that he'd felt something special the entire time he was towing our car, and got the information so he could go to church in his area!
At 5 we called J, whose baptism was scheduled for 6. He told us he was working and wouldn't be able to make it. So we got in the car with Sister Fletcher and Sister Hansen. They dropped off Sister Fletcher and I at the chapel so we could fill the font and get the church ready for a chapel tour if Jesus didn't come, because we'd invited lots of investigators to come to the baptism. Sister Hansen and Sister LeBaron drove over to talk to J. They bore testimony and got over his concerns, and he said he'd be there at 7. He arrived just after the second counselor in our bishopric, Hermano Gonzalez. They talked while we got the jumper and the baptismal record ready. And what do you know? They're first cousins who haven't seen each other in almost 50 years. Hermano Gonzalez confirmed him, and J is now a much more solid member than he might have been otherwise! So cool! It was an amazing day.
So we were on bike all this week. The first day was fabulous - we had a light rain, we went a long way, and we enjoyed every second of it. The days since have been a little more exciting. Trying to schedule everyone in, being sore, and getting soaking wet have all been on the agenda. There have been some really amazing miracles though. We've met two former investigators who want us to come back and teach them. We met this guy named R, who we stopped while he was biking too. He lives with his brother and doesn't want us to go over there, and he doesn't have a phone, so it's really hard to get in contact with him. But we've seen him four times this week at completely different places, and taught him, all on bikes. And he came to church and is getting baptized next week! We also meet some great people. We sang hymns with an older couple while we were trapped at an apartment building during a thunderstorm, and we prayed with and taught two sweet families who wouldn't let us go out in the rain, so we had to just stay and teach them!
I now have six months out on the field, as of today. This is crazy. But I am learning a ton every day. A new analogy that I came up with is about war. The fight with sin is real. We as members of the Lord's church are soldiers in His army. We missionaries are going out every day trying to find those who are already fighting on our side and then give them the resources to keep going - the tools, the uniform, and the support they need. I am excited to be out here, and loving it!
I love you all!!
Hermana Houghton
P.S. Sorry, the internet isn't working fast enough to include pictures today! I have lots to put in, but you'll just have to imagine a lovely wrecked car, Hermano Gonzalez and J, and a soaking wet missionary. Next time!
P.P.S. And another miracle - the airbags didn't go off in the accident. If they had we would be looking at a lot more problems. Sister Anderson still had us go to a doctor just to make sure nothing was wrong, but I'm just glad we were protected!


From 8 July 2013

Sisters Houghton, LeBaron, ?, & Smaellie
Hello dear world!

Sorry to have confused some of you last week - I found out I was leaving West Palm on Monday night, but I didn't find out where I was going until Wednesday morning during transfers. Are you ready to know where I am right now?? Drumroll... Hialeah East! aka Cuba lite.

My lovely new companion is Sister LeBaron, who has been out for two transfers. She is from Roosevelt UT and is great. I have already learned so much from her. She is a very positive and grateful person, and has a laugh that makes people feel like what they just said was hilarious. We get along very well and really mesh. We are united and we are going to do a lot this transfer! We live with two other sisters who work in the area next to ours, also Spanish. Their names are Sister Fletcher and Sister Hansen, they've both been out three transfers, and they are wonderful. They're shorter than I am, but both of them have size 10 feet - and Sister Hansen has my crocs in black :)
Hialeah is awesome. It is basically all Spanish - most of the kids here speak English, but everyone speaks Spanish, so it's a safe bet to just start any conversation in Spanish. The majority of the people here are Cubans, but there are also Hondurans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, etc. I've said this before, but I really love Cubans. They are great! In general they are very hard-working and kind. Unfortunately this means that many of our investigators are working 24/7, but they are worth any hardship in getting ahold of them.
There are more Spanish signs and stores here than in West Palm, and my favorite store is the Dollar Star. It is ghetto and I love it. We get cereal and granola bars and random other things for ridiculously low prices. I got a family-sized box of Honey Bunches of Oats for $1.59. Yes it expired in March but hey...
Okay, so on to the missionary side of things (aka the BEST side of things!) Work here is super fast-paced. We have a large teaching pool and are doing our best to keep it that way.
We have an investigator named R who is a truth-seeker. So he's been looking into different churches, and has many many questions. We've had a couple of cool experiences with him. He had a bunch of Jehovah's Witness pamphlets in his BoM and I just said: "Can I take those?" Then held them up and said, "These will not bring you salvation. You don't need them. They are wrong." And stashed them in my bag. He was dumbfounded for a minute but then accepted it :) Then at another lesson he told us who he thought God was to us - a universal, uncaring kind of being who had all power. We told him that God is our Father and loves us, and then got into another part of the lesson. At the end of the lesson he was talking about his ideas and told us about how God was our Father and that was why this and this made sense. It was so cool! I've seen that happen before too, where they just seem to integrate that eternal truth as soon as you tell it to them. When we teach true fundamental doctrine we're not really giving them anything new - we're uncovering what they already knew inside. And the fact that God is our father and loves us is as fundamental as it gets.
The ward building in Hialeah
We had a great experience our first day together, on Wednesday. We were coming back to the car from an appointment and both felt that we needed to knock on a door. Nobody answered the first or second knock, but we tried one more time. A woman came to the door, having just woken up. We left a powerful spiritual blessing with her. And then she asked us how we knew to come to her house. We were able to tell her that God sent us directly to her door. Then we weren't able to get in contact with her for three days (she's a real estate agent and has an irregular schedule), and weren't expecting to see her again. We called her 20 minutes before church on Sunday on a whim and woke her up. Then she walked into Sacrament meeting. We still haven't taught her a lesson, but this whole experience has really built my testimony that God has prepared people, and that even when we might give up hope in somebody, He never forgets them, and will make sure that the people He wants baptized will get there.
I am so grateful to be serving a mission right now. I love you all a lot!!
Hermana Houghton

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Where in the world is. . .Hermana Houghton?

Hermana Houghton told us she was leaving, but not where she was going!

From 2 July, 2013

The Mendez family. I love them so much. I'm pretty sure I've told
you about them before... A few minutes ago Sister Mendez
 texted to find out who was leaving and then called me
 to tell me how much they would miss me.
She was crying!
She asked if she could send a package to the mission office for me.
I felt so loved.

Yes, dear family, friends, and everyone, I am leaving West Palm Beach tomorrow. I have no idea what it is going to be like, and I am going to miss the ward and the people here so, so much, but I am excited to go to a new area, have fantastic experiences, and meet more of Heavenly Father's wonderful children.  

Hermanas Smaellie and Houghton
with Natalie and her mother, Maria

Before going any further, I should tell you that we had a baptism this week! You probably don't remember, but Emma lives with another family that we were going to start teaching once they got their schedule worked out, because the mom (Maria) works in Miami every weekend. We had shared the Book of Mormon with the nine-year-old, Natalie, when we taught Emma, and had also learned that Maria's family in Honduras was LDS. This week we went over to Emma's house to pick her up because she was going to accompany us to a teaching visit (and she was incredible, BTW :) While we were there Maria told us that she wanted Natalie to get baptized that weekend. We were a little taken aback - but definitely in a good way. We started talking with her and found out that Maria is a member! She was baptized when she was 9, and her family got sealed in the temple! She thought she needed to get rebaptized because she drank coffee.

So we visited three times in three days. Every time they fed us - a blessing because Emma is a chef (looking for a job at the moment, but she's really good), but they feed us a LOT of food. We taught Maria and Natalie about the Word of Wisdom and the Sabbath Day, and Maria committed to live both of these commandments. She is currently looking for work in West Palm so she will be at church on Sundays :) Natalie had her interview on Saturday and got baptized on Sunday! Her mom is already making plans for when she will go on a mission. She and Emma sit and talk about their daughters going on missions. It's way cute.

Some other great things that happened this week:
-We have a super awesome investigator named Jose. He is going to get baptized in a little under 2 weeks. He's way sweet and humble and just a nice guy. Also we realized yesterday that he needs to marry Emma. 
-I ate raw fish this week! Ceviche with the Fernandez family, from Peru. They made it 'poco picante' for us poor gringas - but the Elders wanted more spice... It actually was pretty good.
-I went to the endocrinologist's office yesterday and we met two amazing people whose information we got and gave to the Creole Elders who will be teaching them.
-I gave out a card at a stop light today.
-Last night Sister Smaellie and I carried the laundry of a Haitian family two blocks back to their house. My bag was boring, but the lady whose bag Sister Smaellie carried taught her how to balance it on her head!
-We had an amazing exchange with the Sister Training Leaders on Friday. I learned a lot, and had a wonderful time.

Okay, to finish this email off I am going to write some of the things that I've learned this transfer, from the list I made this morning. Some of these seem pretty obvious; guess I'm just a bit slow!

-Ask people if they would mind doing something rather than just telling them that something needs to be done... even if it feels ridiculous
-If you're not humble, you're not going anywhere
-Repentance is great!
-Boldness invites the Spirit; tell it like it is, because they NEED this
-Sometimes doing my best doesn't mean it's going to be perfect
-You get things done a lot more effectively and efficiently if you have a plan
-Sometimes recognizing that I'm wrong is how I make it right
-If you feel like you've hit a brick wall with somebody, take a step back and try to treat them in a Christlike way; be the most loving you can be
-Letting others lead means encouraging them, helping them, asking if they need help - not just giving them responsibility
-The greatest problem with communication is the assumption that it has happened
-Always love people more
-It takes two people to contend - and I will never be one of those people
-We need to keep our thoughts kind and loving; look for the best in others
-Doctrine is simple, bold, and essential

The last twelve weeks have been challenging. If I had to do it all again I would change a lot of things... But live and grow, right? I am excited for what's coming down the pipe. I love you all a ton!!

Hermana Houghton

Natalie & the Elder

"The District" + Zone Leaders + AP