Monday, September 28, 2015

Sept 21, 2015 "There's a first for everything"

This past week was a rough one. We were unable to see most of the
people we needed to,  and our finding efforts didn't yield
extraordinary results. Despite it all though we saw many great

The first blessing is a man by the name of Freddie Greene. Freddie is a
member of the church here, and is one of the biggest supporters of
missionary work in the Jonesboro ward. As I am writing this I am in
the passenger side of his car heading to Memphis (more on that in a
bit) and the whole trip so far has been made up of him telling us
about how he wants to buy a van around Christmas time, for the sole
purpose of being able to help all of the missionaries get to meetings
easier. Either that or an old truck, because a truck would be able to
hold suitcases and bikes easier than the little compact he is
currently driving. I look out the windows and see a few splotches of
white clouds, a whole lot of flat farmland, clusters of trees
stretched out in lines to mark where one field ends and the other
starts, the worn and faded tan upholstery of his car, and several
missionary pass-along cards sitting in the front dash with the
pictures looking out the windshield in the true missionary fashion.
Beneath each exposed card are several others, all of them bleached
blue from sitting proudly for so long in their place of honor. When I
made the announcement in priesthood meeting yesterday that I would
need to make a trip this morning, asking for someone to help me,
everyone with few exceptions slowly shook their heads as they
contemplated their work schedule for the following week. Freddie
volunteered to help, and I am very grateful that there are people like
him in the world.

Another miracle occurred on Friday morning. We got a call from one of
the other Elders the day before informing us on an opportunity to help
out with food distribution to various local food pantries. We drove to
a baptist church about 9am and saw the semi were going to unload. It
was packed full of pallets of various foods. We were surrounded by
trucks and trailers from all sorts of different churches. There was
probably a good 50 people there, ready to help unload and receive
their portion of the food. Since I am a missionary right now I get to
have a rather unique perspective on things. Very rarely do we get to
work along side anyone of different faiths; most of the time other
preachers and missionaries avoid us like the plague. But when it comes
to helping feed the hungry, all religious differences are set aside.
Hunger is hunger, and it is a beast that knows no boundaries. So too
are there no boundaries when it comes to fighting it. About 3 hours
later the semi was unloaded and everyone was off to take their cargo
back to those who needed it.

Saturday we spent nearly the whole day trying to contact less-active
members of the church. With the exception of 2 people, nobody we were
looking for actually lived at the address we had for them. With the
exception of two families, we were able to attempt contact with every
less-active who lived inside Bono city limits. We put about 65 miles
on our car and got to go down some seriously fun backroads doing so.
One of these people is the son of an active member and hadn't come to
church in probably close to a decade. We pulled into the driveway and
less than 30 seconds later he and his family pulled up. The trailer
was clear out in the boonies, down a glorified one-way dirt trail. The
family headed into the house, and the man we were there to see opened
up with "OK, who sent you this time?" After talking with him for the
better part of a hour we learned that he wasn't coming out because of
some of the other members in the ward, that some of them had acted
spiteful to him and his family because of his past. He was a super
nice guy whose biggest concern was for his family and their wellbeing.
He plans to move to another part of the state soon, and will start
going back to church once he gets there.

A funny story about our adventuring around the boonies of Arkansas:
when we were headed out to see this member I just talked about we
passed a young couple on horseback. As we were talking with the member
they passed us twice, once heading the was we came, and the other
heading on the way back out again. Naturally, I waved at them at every
opportunity. As we left the trailer and began our trip on to the next
less-active family we saw them a fourth time, again soliciting as big
a wave as I could give (just because I could). It took us about 8
minutes to drive to the next persons house, again driving down dirt
county roads, just to find out that the person we were looking for had
never lived there. That's normal for less-active work, so we just said
thanks to the nice shirtless man who answered the door. (You can
imagine what was going through his mind. I would bet he had never seen
missionaries, or any sort of visitors for that matter!) Our time was
running a bit short so we began the process of heading back to
Jonesboro for supper. We took a different road this time than we had
earlier, and who should we pass on the road but our good friends on
horseback! Judging by the laugh on their faces as I waved for the
fifth time they enjoyed the irony also.

Earlier that day we went to try and contact a few of the less-actives
in Jonesboro itself. None of themwere living at the listed address,
(one of said addresses was in the middle of an elementary school
compound... yeah...) but we met a guy named S*** at one of the places
(not the elementary school). He had moved in just a few months ago,
and actually was being taught by missionaries up in Paragould earlier
in his life. He doesn't seem to remember a whole lot of the specifics
we teach, but he recognized us for what we are and also remembered
about the Book of Mormon once we showed him one. There were a lot of
other people in the house, but he seemed the most interested. As we
walked in there was a couple doing something, I couldn't really see
what, on the recliner, but they got up and left the room shortly after
we entered. Before we even asked S*** anything he simply stated
"Darkness can never stay when light enters the room." He's a pretty
awesome guy, and I look forward to teaching him.

Another awesome miracle occurred late-ish Sunday evening. There was a
semi-active member by the name of R*** R*** who I was working with
the entire time I was living in the Pocahontas Branch. We would go
over to his home and read the scriptures with him, focusing on helping
him understand what it was he was reading. Not long after I left that
area for Morrilton he moved to Jonesboro, and I thought that would be
the last time I would see him. I guess not, because not only was I
able to find his house, but we were able to got a solid phone number
for him. He was taking his granddaughter to her church service, so I
wasn't able to talk with him face-to-face, but the conversation over
the phone was awesome. He recognized me instantly when I called him,
which I guess goes to show that it's pretty distinctive! As we talked
he seemed to be much more mentally alert and aware of things than he
was when I had last talked to him about a year previously. As we
talked I soon found out why that was; he had developed a habit of, in
his own words, "reading the scriptures diligently every night." He
said he has a copy of the Book of Mormon by his bed that he reads
before going to sleep. He said he's been coming to church quite a bit
also, but usually sits in the foyer because of a special need of one
of his grandkids. It truly was incredible, and made my day.

By this point in time, as in my writing this paragraph, we are headed
back home to Jonesboro from the Memphis, Tennessee Temple. It was an
enlightening experience, but not in the way I was expecting, or even
remotely wanting. I learned that simply going to a spiritual place is
not enough to receive large amounts of spiritual enlightenment. You
have to prepare for it, be that going to church or going to the
temple. And the way we prepare is through diligent scripture study and
earnest prayer. It was humbling for me to see this in myself, that
even with all of the knowledge I have gained so far, it does not
license me to slack off in doing what I am supposed to.

A final thought to consider, mainly directed at those few missionaries
who are getting my emails and are still out in the field, but
hopefully something that we all can gain from. Elders and Sisters, be
the type of missionary your mother thinks you are.

In Christ's name, amen
~Elder Barker

"Don't forget to read!"

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