Monday, June 30, 2014

Small Miracles

June 30, 2014

Good Morning 'Murica!
Things are really going awesome here in Walnut Ridge. As I said earlier, it's a very small branch, but we are hoping to help it grow and bring those inactive members back into the fold. It is difficult for me to imagine why people would walk away from God the way they do, but it isn't my place to judge or even to question: it's simply to love them and help them realize that God still loves them too. A great many of them have said that the reason they won't go back to church is because it is a 'dead branch' meaning it has very few people that come. I wish I could help them see that you don't go to church for the other people - you go for yourself. You go so that you can gain the blessings that our Father in Heaven has in store for you, and so you can renew those promises you made to Him when you were baptized. If it just so happens that there are other people there doing the same thing, then the more the merrier.
The weather down here is getting quite warm, and the mosquitoes are out in force. Poor Elder Raiford is getting mauled by them. We were teaching a man by the name of D*** out on his porch for about 2 hours. During the course of our long discussion  Elder Raiford's left arm was destroyed by mosquito bites. It looks like he has a very bad case of the chicken pox. For some reason they don't like me nearly as much. I think I will want to stick around him for longer, if only so I can continue to offer him up as a sacrifice to the blood-thirsty pests and so they will leave me more alone. Haha
The Sister missionaries are also doing great work in the Pocahontas branch, but for the most part they stay in the city of Pocahontas itself, while we take care of Walnut Ridge and Hoxie. We usually only see them twice a week at church and at a missionary meeting during the week. Walnut Ridge is fairly small, and we can walk from one side of it to the other within an hour. That hour, however, is rather painful right now because of the high temperature, high humidity, and high number of flying parasites. Just like the rest of Arkansas the streets here make zero sense, and you just need to walk around a great deal in order to find your way around and remember where everything is.
On to Small Miracles. I have heard, and seen it true in my own efforts, that 90% of your results come in the last 10% of your effort. It is similar to the story Christ appearing to his Apostles on the water "in the last watch of the night". That last watch, the last bit when you give everything you've got, is the most important because it is when you prove just how dedicated you truly are to whatever it is you are doing. For us it was last Wednesday. The entire day had fallen through, and we had completely run out of people to try and visit.  We took the newly freed time to try and find more people to go and teach. After 2 hours of this, all the while the sweat getting in our eyes and Elder Raiford being devoured  by mosquitoes, all we had to show for it was a flat tire on Elder Raiford's bike. It was 8pm, and we stopped to drink some water and fix the tire. Luckily it was a quick fix, but that gave us time to talk about what we wanted to do.
We decided there really only two options: we could go in, call it a night, or we could keep going and just try to talk to everyone we ran into. Eventually we decided to ditch the bikes at the house and start walking. As we walked we were able to help a young couple finish up some yard work. They introduced themselves, and accepted a Book of Mormon with assurances that they would read it. We continued on our way and I felt prompted to go and talk with a woman smoking on her porch. I mentioned this to my companion and we turned back around. This led to a very good discussion with her. She introduced herself as K***, and said she was a teacher at the local school. Both she and her husband, J***, were Catholic and were very interested in what we had to offer. They both invited us back and said that they would like to attend a church meeting with us, but they both got sick and were unable to attend. We will be going back soon, hopefully today.
By this time it was about 8.50pm, and we started back. I was very pleased with what had happened and would have been content to stop them, but Elder Raiford wanted to stop and talk to one more person who was outside trimming his bushes by his house. He had been taught by missionaries about a year previous and wanted us to come back again to answer some questions that he had, particularly about the BoM he had been given during the last missionary visit. Again, the very last bit of work produced the best results. 5 people who invited us back within 1 hour just doesn't usually happen. It was very much blessings from the Lord.
You have my testimony that the Church is true. I have no doubts that somehow these letters will find their way to someone who does not believe the same way I do. I just want to bear you my witness that Christ's church was once on the earth. It was lost because wicked men killed off it's leaders, but is now back and led by Christ through a prophet similar to Moses, Isiah, or Jeramiah. You can know this if you pray and as God if it is true. Great blessings will come into your life if you do.
Elder Jayden Barker

Success is "just around the riverbend"

June 23, 2014

Ladies and gents, I am officially out of Cabot. Yessir, I am almost out of the state of Arkansas, and am now far enough away from Little Rock that I am now considered a missionary on the 'other side'. My new home is the Pocahontas, Arkansas branch!  Heck yeah, it's awesome. Just a bit of random trivia about me, Pocahontas, as in the person, is one of my ancestors. Yep, the wonders of family history. Anywho, I am living in a super small town called Walnut Ridge roughly 30 miles to the south of Pocahontas.
My new companion is Elder Raiford. He's been out for a little over 18 months, but isn't trunky yet. Thank heaven for that! He's 6'3", light brown hair, loves Risk, and is so much like me it's a little scary at times. We are already doing wonders in this area, and the next foreseeable future is going to be awesome.
For instance, I'm no longer living in an apartment building. Because it is such a small town we have a small house that we get to stay in, complete with a front lawn and everything. We also get to experience all of the joys of de-bugging the place because missionaries have only lived there for the past 3 months. Apparently there was a bit of a battle with carpenter ants of some sort and a wave of brown recluses just before I showed up. The only evidence of that is a couple of horror stories and an unusually high stockpile of Raid bug killer. No crazy creepy-crawlies inside the house yet, but we are on the watch for them and are ready when the 'Empire strikes back'.
It is rather strange, going from an area with a very high population and (I have since learned) an unusually high number of people who want to talk to us, to an area with very few people (we made front-page news in the local newspaper a few months back) and an even smaller number of people who want to talk to us. The majority of people here have no idea what it is us missionaries are out to do, or even who it is we represent. The majority of people here have never even heard of a Mormon before and mistakenly think us to be Jehovah Witness missionaries. This is quite the double-edged sword: on one hand people down here haven't heard of any of the false information and outright lies that are told about the Church (ie. we have multiple wives, worship "John Smith",have horns growing out of our head, and are all going to Hell), of which I am very grateful; however, the JW missionaries down here are also quite aggressive in their proselyting, and so people are even more leary about talking with us than what I consider to be normal because they think we are one and the same. Sorry guys, we are not JW's. We just both look really good in white shirts and ties.
There's a guy we found recently by the name of B***. I'm pretty sure that's not how it's spelled, but it's the closest to how it's pronounced. He's walked away from God until fairly recently and has been trying to get his life back together. He saw a bunch of the Mormon Ads on TV and has wanted to talk with us for a while because the ads caught his fancy, but he doesn't trust the media in just about everything. Guess who ran into his father a few days latter? Yep, the missionaries! He has a bunch of really awesome questions and has some really good ideas about, well, everything really. We are going back to talk with him again tomorrow.
So, I had a bunch of pictures to send to you, but I am no longer using a church computer. Instead I get to be in the local public library, on a computer that is probably older than myself. Just kidding, it's probably not that old, but it doens't like my camera all that much. I'll work around it next time, but in the main time just picture my glorious face rednecking it in Arkansas.
Love you all! Keep staying awesome!
Elder Jayden Barker

Suit up and move out!

June 16, 2014

This morning, about 3 hours ago, we recieved a very nice call from one of the AP's to tell us that I will be leaving. New area - unknown. New comp - unknown. Number of bathrooms in new area - hopefully two. I'm kinda sad to be leaving, I had hoped to baptized someone in every area I serve in, but I'm looking forward to the next adventure. I've been feeling like I've done all I can in Cabot for a while now. I'm not sure how it feels to have that particular impression vindicated. Anywho, here's hoping that any letters you may have sent my way will arrive before Wednesday.

This past week has been a real roller-coaster of ups and downs. Monday was P-Day and we have started a tradition in my district of getting everyone + the nearby Bebe sisters to come to Cabot and we will just play games. The most popular one thus far is Werewolf, basically a supped up version of Mafia. There's nothing like building bonds of trust by playing a game where the sole point of the game is to accuse each other of murder and do the same in return. We have probably play a dozen games the past four or so weeks, and only in three of them did I survive past the first day, either getting killed by the werewolves or lynched by the townsfolk. Two of those three times I was the narrator, and thus incapable of dying. I will also have it known I was the werewolf only twice. ("I'm usually innocent guys; stop killing me off!" "Meh, let's kill him anyway." "Yeah, it's pretty much tradition." *sigh*)

The next day I was in Searcy on an exchange with the Zone Leaders. I was with Elder Daley, a tall black guy who has a dream to play professional basketball and will most likely succeed. He's really good at it. Anywho, while I was up there we visited a man who was preparing to be baptized sometime in the upcoming weeks. We arrived at his house and he told us after inviting us in that he has an abnormal growth in his belly, and is pretty sure it's cancer. He was debating putting off his baptism just in case he was baptized and then died from it before he was able to serve God in the Church like he would want to. He didn't want to be baptized and be unable to pay everybody the debt he think he owes them.

This was when I shared him what happened with J***. I told him how we had knocked on his door, how he had let us in, and how he had begun to change. I shared with him our perspective (missionary's) on things and how we were able to see the incredible amount of blessing that has come into J***'s life as he grew closer to God, and then how he started to slide back. I told him the cost that waiting on baptism had on J***, how it never happened for him and how he is now lo longer seeing the missionaries and has become miserable once again, turning back to the smoke and alcohol that drove him away from God and happiness in the first place.

I was able to share with this man the blessings J*** was so close to receiving but failed to obtain because he became scared and backed out at the last second. We did not want this to happen to to anyone, especially those we care about. I encouraged this man to pray about what he should do after reading from the scriptures, and should the answer be that he shouldn't wait then he should go and be baptized as soon as time would permit. He said he would do that. I honestly felt that the sole reason for my being in Searcy that day was to meet this man and be able to relate this story to him.

I found out the next day that he had taken my challenge to heart. He had read from the Bible for about 20 minutes and then walked outside onto his covered porch to pray. He closed his eyes, put his head on his Bible, and asked God to show him a sign of what he needed to do. After praying for a long while he looked up across the field next to his home. Blinking off in the distance, he spotted a lone firefly. This in and of itself isn't uncommon by any stretch of the imagination - they are super common around here - but what made it surprising was that it was raining that night, and fireflies do not come out in the rain. The insect flew closer and closer to him. Soon the firefly was hovering before him, blinking in the air. He held out his hand, and it settled itself down in the palm of his hand. He stared at it, trying to decide if it was his sign or not. While he was pondering hundreds of other fireflies appeared around him and begun to circle him. The one resting on his hand  took off, and all the others followed him. He took that as his sign to be baptized, was interviewed the next day and was baptized three days later on Saturday. 

Wednesday I was sick with the flu and stayed in bed all day. Bleegh!

Thursday I was still pretty sick, but had the Zone Conference so I just sucked it up and delt with it. I think I did terrible on the piano, but luckily the accompaniment is so fast of a song and has such some pretty awesome chords so that nobody except me and a few others noticed. On the plus side I have gotten incredibly good at making mistakes in just about any song, particularly hymns, sound like they were supposed to be there the whole time and sound good.

Friday and Saturday nothing spectacular happened except I still felt like crap. We taught a decent number of lessons and had some good conversations, especially when Elder Kimber was up here on exchanges from Lonoke, but really they were just typical days.

Sunday was cool. We had a super awesome discussion with T*** and J***, and their daughter, son, and random friend of their daughter who just happened to be over at the time. It worked out that Elder Matangi started talking with T*** and J*** and I started talking to the son, daughter, and friend. They were super into it and were asking me all of these questions about what happened after death.  I started explaining to them about the Spirit World, that place where we wait for a period of time before Christ comes again and we are resurrected. I showed them the story of Christ right after his return to life and his conversation with Mary. "Christ says that he couldn't be touched yet because he hadn't ascended to God yet," I told them, "but Christ's soul went somewhere. If it wasn't straight to God, then where did he go? Answer: the same place where every departed person will go and has gone; the Spirit World." We read Alma chapter 40 in the Book of Mormon, verses 11-13. We then started talking about the different degrees of glory, about the different places people go after Resurrection and Judgement. Together we read 1st Corinthians, chapter 15, verses 40-41. The son said, echoing the thoughts of the others, that he couldn't believe that other churches didn't teach any of this, especially because it made so much sense and was in the Bible. I was just thinking, I know right? It's crazy what happens when you follow a living prophet.

Meanwhile Elder Matangi was having an awesome experience teaching. During their conversation they mentioned that they have been reading and praying as a family, and they now know that the Book of Mormon is true. Elder Matangi mentioned that "the best part is after they are baptized and get older they can totally go to Africa or something and build churches and teach people there, just like we are doing, except in Africa." They totally freaked out asking how he knew. He was thoroughly confused and asked them what they were talking about. They said that T*** had always wanted to go to Africa and teach people about Jesus, and that J*** had been having dreams for about a week now about going someplace else and building up a church. T*** turned to J*** and said "We have to be baptized now. These guys are true." He replied "We've already been baptized though, remember?" "Yes, but we need to be baptized into their church." He then asked them if they believed that Joseph Smith was a prophet and if they were willing to live the word of Wisdom. They both very strongly said yes. I hope I'm nearby so I can see them when they are baptized, but we will see what happens.

I think that's everything. I'll let y'all know what my new address is in a bit. God loves you and so do I!

Elder Jayden Barker

Bring it, Mother Nature! We be ready!

June 9, 2014
 Magnolia flowers are amazing!  They should make perfume out of these things!

 A tree that had fallen on a house compliments of severe thunderstorms.  Not only did they help to clear the tree, but Elder Barker was able to embrace his inner ape at the same time!

Thanks to Brother Murphey, not only did the Elders enjoy a sweet ride, but the new hairdo's were an added bonus!

Now that you're all sick of pictures and all that jazz... 

It has been raining pretty much non-stop this past week, and there is very little time where the sun has been present in my life. This is also going to continue next week. And guess who's on bike week.... Yep; your favorite missionary! Thank heavens for waterproof rain jackets. On the upside, people grow faster spiritually in the rain.

Just for fun, and also because most of the other missionaries around here were looking it up, I looked up how long it will be until I get home. It is only a mere 596 days, 10 hours, 39 minutes and 1 second. Probably less by the time you read this sentence. Or this one. It's definatly less by now. Or even now. Or from now to now. That's probably at least another second or two.

I've also learned something really interesting lately. Most people, regardless of what it is, cannot stop reading something once the end of it is in sight. For example, this paragraph will contain absolutely no useful information, or pertinent information regarding to my mission in Arkansas. However, this does not mean that the majority of you will not read this anyway. It is text on a screen; you kinda forced yourself into it! So long as I am writing something in a vaguely amuzzing way, or spell words obviously incorrect, or throw in some random sentence containing the words "Flaming Taco" you will continue to read this anyway. So yeah. I hope the past 30 or so seconds of your life was worth it. ;D

This upcoming thursday is a Zone Conference. This means that there will be an 8-hour long meeting with 100+ missionaries and the President to receive instruction. There will also be a special musical number performed by about 20 of them, including the pianist. Any guesses on who that incredibly lucky and fortunate pianist may be? If you guessed me I say well done on your powers of deduction. If you guessed wrong.... for shame.... =D

Anywho, it should be an eventful meeting. This is what I get for knowing the Mission President personally (he was my family's stake president when I was little) and for him knowing I play the piano. Apparently he asked for me personally. To make things even better this is also his last meeting with us before he "dies" and goes home. So yeah, no pressure!

Not sure what else to say, but I would leave every one of you a personal challenge: In Preach My Gospel there is a chapter on learning to feel the Holy Spirit. This has been one of the strongest benefits to me while I have been out on the mission. I don't care if you are LDS or not - everyone can and should benefit from being able to tell when it is God telling you to do something or not. So go and read it, no matter who/what you are!

You are all beautiful! Never forget it! If you don't believe me, just ask your mother; she will confirm it. 

Elder Jayden Barker