Monday, January 30, 2012

January 30. 2012

Hello Everyone,

Thank you all for all the letters. I'm sorry that I don't have time to reply to all of them, so I hope this letter covers mostly everything.
This week, while still very rough, was significantly better than the last. It was better because we actually got to teach the people that we set appointments with. Most of them anyway. 2 of the people we're teaching (Markus and Jessica) are getting baptized on the 12. It'll be way exciting, and we've challenged a lot of other people to be baptized and set dates for them as well. Most of them seem genuinely interested in our message too.
Starting with Markus. And yes, I've been spelling his name wrong in the emails I've sent previously. I hate english spellings. He's more than 3 weeks clean and we had his pre-bapt interview, interview. He passed with flying colors. We've even taken him to another person's lesson this week and he bore his testimony to them and everything without even being a member yet. He's way powerful. He's an electrician but is not currently employed because the job market is suffering here too. It's kind of a good thing though because he spends tons of time studying the scriptures. Elder Blake and I read 1 Nephi 20 with him this week, because that is where he currently is studying, thinking that we might be able to answer some of his questions because it's a chapter from Isiah. We were caught way off guard when he started offering insights that neither of us had even considered before. He was teaching us. It was crazy.
Jessica is also doing well. She's going to be baptized on the same day as Markus, and even though she's very young, she's very excited about the gospel and can't wait to be baptized. Her mother Yvonne has been sitting in on her lessons and we challenged her to be baptized also which she accepted. It was way cool. I think her seeing the change in her daughter is causing her to want to change.
We taught the Ntshonyana family again this week also. It is going relatively well except that the beginning of pretty much all of our lessons is a dispelling rumors time. Somehow they keep coming across crazy stuff about the church just on tv. It's a little discouraging. At the end of every lesson they seem excited, then the next time we come, they are concerned again. At least they're reading though. The Book of Mormon is the most powerful tool we have in converting people to the gospel. If anyone is having trouble with family members or anything about the church. Give them a Book of Mormon. It's the best missionary out there.
We also had the Jennings family attend church this Sunday. I about died when one of the speakers got up and started talking about baptisms for the dead. I think that the spirit prompted the family to not pay attention during that though, because they didn't say anything about it afterward.
We also contacted our first referral, and it was an amazing lesson. Her name is Ina and she was a golden investigator. She stopped going to her church because she felt the scriptures were teaching different things than she was learning there. We had a very interesting discussion and she pretty much already believes everything we do, we just had to kind of go through the motions of the lessons while she guided it. It was awesome, and this is the lesson that Markus came to and bore his testimony of the scriptures.
Last Tuesday was transfer meeting, and I ended up staying home all day with one of my zone leaders who we think got food poisoning. Elder Blake and my other Zone Leader went to the meeting and I just stayed home and puttered while Elder Crawford slept. We have a new Zone Leader and District Leader, Elders Foster and Madsen. They both seem to be pretty cool guys.
We also were able to go to the Joburg temple on Friday. It was awesome. It's not quite as pretty as a lot of other temples but I still loved it. I remembered my recomend this time too, so I actually was able to go inside.
We have also reactivated a family in the branch named the Sheasbys. They're the coolest people and they had us over for pizza this week, and I think we're really getting them interested in the church and missionary work again. We're working on getting some good referrals from them.
I guess in the end this week was a lot better than the last. We just barely missed a crazy armed robbery where shots were fired just a short walk from our flat. I'm starting to understand what's up with all the gates and fences. We were literally in the exact area of the robbery within hours of it. We're fine though.
One of the scriptures that I've thought a lot about over the last couple of days is Mosiah 4:21. I'd encourage everyone to read it and apply it in your lives. The whole chapter is pretty awesome as well.
Also, those of you who send me letters and packages, I made a typo on the sheet I handed out. It is Private Bag X4, not Private Bab X4.
I love everyone and I am so thankful for all of the correspondence, It really makes me feel a lot better. I hope everyone has an awesome week and remembers that you're all in my prayers.

-Elder Balmforth

Monday, January 23, 2012

January 23. 2012

Well this week has been really hard. I really haven't done anything worthwhile. So I'm sorry if this letter isn't very long. Tomorrow does mark the end of the first transfer, and 2 months from home, which is pretty cool. It seems like everything has gone by so fast.
We didn't have very many appointments this week that kept so we spent a lot of time finding which is hard in an area where everyone and their dog has a strange fear that everyone is out to get them. If you didn't know any better you'd think Alberton is a ghost town because everyone is locked up in their homes behind their deadly fences and dogs 24/7. There are days when I don't talk to anyone besides my companion face to face. We haven't had hardly any success this week and it feels like we're doing something wrong even though I come home exhausted every night because we're working as hard as we can. Our numbers, make it look like we're sitting home all day though.
There are only a few people that we met with this week, but they're the same people we always meet with. The first is Marcus. He's doing pretty well except that he took a couple of backward steps this week which may or may not push back his baptism. It was really depressing because he's one of our only progressing investigators because the area is so tough. I would've been way more depressed if our Zone Leaders (Elder Crawford and Elder Hare) didn't come over and talk to us for a long time. They're both really cool, and Elder Blake and I are some of their favorite missionaries in the zone so we see them a lot. They're pretty good friends
We saw Jessica, the other baptism that we're going to be having in the next few weeks. She's doing pretty awesome. She's reading and praying which makes us feel good. At least we're having a good influence on someone. We also met a new investigator this week named Oliver. He's a pretty cool kid. He's 18 and is from Uganda originally, but he's a way active, cool, and interested person. That is basically all of the people in our area that we taught this week though.
On Friday I went on exchanges with Elder Beenfield in Alexandra. Alexandra is the township that I went on exchanges in before. Even though it's a ghetto, I love it way more than my area. I was only there for 24 hours and I had way more success in my missionary week than I do in a month in my own area. We contacted so many people and they're all so nice and humble. It's a crazy place, everyone is packed in there so tight and as soon as the sun goes down it turns into a giant party. Elder Beenfield and I had to drive home after our correlation meeting that ended at 9, and it was almost impossible to get home because there were so many people hanging out and partying in the streets. It's strange that conditions like this make the strongest members. In spite of all the sin all around them, somehow the members there are so devoted to the church, and are the nicest most humble people to talk to.
That's about all that happened this week though. The best part of my day everyday is my study time. I've learned so much and gained a much greater understanding of the scriptures as I've made a point of praying earnestly before and after I study. I've learned how truly important prayer really is. It's not the words that you say but the feelings of repentance and desire to learn and follow and overcome that you can't really describe with words that constitute the best prayers. The best prayers are the ones where you just open the door of your heart and let what you feel come out, even if you can't find the words to describe them. As I've tried to do this, I've found that I feel more in tune with the spirit. I can't describe it. As I strive to learn and be forgiven and bring my life more in line with the teachings of the savior, I feel more at peace, even when I'm down.
I love you all and thanks again for the letters. I miss you and you're all in my prayers. Have a great week.

Elder Balmforth

Monday, January 16, 2012

January 16. 2012

Hello Everyone,
This week was a pretty good week. We had almost nobody cancel their appointments all week, and I've been getting better and better at talking with people that I don't know. It's hard because nobody is sarcastic at all here, which is basically the word that would sum me up.

Church this week was pretty awesome. We set a new record for the number of investigators in Alberton that attended sacrament meeting. Get ready, it's a huge number.. 6.. Believe it or not its actually a ton for this area. Priesthood meeting was kind of crazy because the teacher basically just read the chapter out of the book to us. And he offended several people with the remarks he did make outside of what he read. He talked a little bit about how he use to be a white nationalist, and about how when he was a Branch President in Katlehong he developed a love for "the blacks," but that as soon as he was released apparently that love went away again. Keep in mind that he said this to an audience filled with several black people. I pretty much just stared at the ground the entire time, and looked at the pictures in the teaching manual.
We did teach a bunch of good lessons this week though. The lesson's we had with Umro and his mother Sharon was pretty much like they always are. The Muslim lady that always translates for us continued to throw in her 2 cents which is a little annoying, but it's ok. Marcus' lessons this week were pretty usual for him also. He is almost 2 weeks off of cigarettes though which is awesome. He is going to be baptized on the 29th. My first baptism in South Africa is going to be a white guy. I know. I'm pretty awesome. We didn't get a chance to teach the Ntshonyana sisters, but they did come to church. I'm glad that they came because apparently one of their friends has been telling them some weird stuff about the church that is completely false and they almost dropped us. But when they came to church, we were able to show them that we're all normal, and I was able to clear up some of their concerns. Jessica's lesson's are also going pretty awesome. She is going to be baptized on February 5th, and she's way excited. She texts us all the time trying to get us to come over more and teach her quicker, so that she can be baptized sooner. It's pretty cool. I know that she's only 14 and that she's the Stake President's niece, but I'm still going to count it as a normal baptism. So I should have 2 white baptism this month, which is unheard of. The last person that we taught was Seun. He's an older guy who lives with a less active sister. Her name is Theresa. And I have never wanted to choke an old lady so badly in my life. We were at their house trying to teach Seun, but apparently we're the only people that ever talk to them so Sister Theresa and her mother, Sister Patsy, go of on these crazy tangents for like 20 minutes at a time. Now I know why Seun is mad all the time and always drunk. They would drive me to drink too. At one point we were trying to read out of the Book of Mormon with them, and it took 45 minutes to get through like 8 verses. This is because in the middle of our reading, Sister Patsy decided to tell us (in great detail) about her husband's suicide. It was the longest lesson ever. I think Seun is just talking to us because Sister Theresa is pressuring him to, and it's easier for him to say yes than it is for him to listen to her bug him about it for hours on end.

On a funnier note, Elder Blake has been having some crazy bouts with diarrhea lately which is pretty funny I think. He wears mesh garments and I've given him the nickname "the Strainer." I'll let you figure out why. Anyway, we think we've found the cause. He has not washed his water bottle since he has gotten here and we looked inside it the other day and found that the inside of it is covered in mold. And he drinks out of it everyday. I thought it was pretty hilarious.
It's weird to think that I've been away from home for almost 2 months now. January 13 marked 1 month in the field for me. It's crazy.

I've decided that my favorite part of the day everyday is my personal study time. It's strange how much more I understand and love the scriptures now. I encourage everyone, if you're not doing it as you should, to make time to do it. I only wish that I had more time to study every day. I could do it for like 5 hours a day easily if I was allowed to. I've also come across an awesome missionary scripture. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Read it if you get a chance. It talks about how to more effectively teach and bring people unto Christ. It's awesome.
Well, that's the week. I love you all and thank you all for the letters and encouragement. I hope you all have an awesome week.

-Elder Balmforth

P.S. Sorry about not sending pictures. I broke the screen on my camera and I have to find a camera shop to see if I can get it fixed.

Monday, January 9, 2012

January 9. 2012

This week was actually a pretty good week, because we were actually able to work for a solid week. I also was able to have my first interview with my mission president, President Omer. My first interview in the field anyway. It was pretty cool, he's a really nice guy and I can tell that he genuinely cares about all of the missionaries, and that he spends all of his time thinking, praying about and serving the missionaries here. It's really cool.

On Thursday this week Elder Blake and I got stuck in the rain for several hours, and despite our best efforts to get inside people's homes to get out of the rain, we ended up getting drenched. Soaked to the bone, I never thought it was possible to be that cold in Africa. Even the appointments with the members that we set up that day cancelled at the last minute, making us have to bike in the rain even longer. The next day Elder Blake punctured another bike tire so we had to walk to all of our appointments. We spent like 5 hours of the day just walking in the sun. The sun was out and way intense too so we both got really sunburnt. I now have a ridiculous tan line where my watch was.

Other than that though, the rest of the week went very well. Most of our appointments kept and the people we are teaching all seem to be keeping their commitments. Marcus, our investigator who has progressed the most, is now 7 days without smoking. If all goes according to plan he should be baptized on the 29th. That is still the only thing holding him back. Other than his smoking, he's been ready to be baptized since I got here. We have also been getting him involved with the branch members a lot more lately. On Tuesday, we took him to do some service (painting) at the home of the branch relief society president. Ever since that day they have been hanging out a lot together, and she is helping him stay clean. She's divorced and so is he, and Elder Blake and I are pretty certain that they are going to get married down the road. All thanks to us. Because we're awesome.

We also taught the Ntshonyana family again, but this time we brought a member of the branch who is a recently returned missionary. It went awesomely. We went over the entire restoration with them and introduced all 5 people who were there to the Book of Mormon, and challenged them to read and pray about it, which they all accepted.

We also taught Sharon and her son Umro again. I don't know if I've mentioned them before but they are both Afrikaans speaking, and the only person who has been able to translate for us is the lady who is hosting them in her home. The hard thing about this is that the lady is a muslim, which makes things a little complicated because she keeps throwing in her own understanding of God in the translation process. Anyway, we planned a lot for our lesson with them this week and it paid off. They have both been reading the Book of Mormon and seem to be liking it a lot.
The final significant lesson that we had was with the Stake President's neice Jessica Doyle and her friend Jai. It was cool though because they both are motivated to learn more about the gospel, and when we asked them to be baptized they were both excited to accept. They should get there by the 5th of February.

Sunday was fast and testimony meeting, and I was actually very glad that very few of the people we challenged to come to church showed up, because there was this crazy Africa from Mozambique who showed up and got up and was yelling into the microphone pretty much. He speaks portugese and very broken english. But he went on forever and all I could understand was at the end when he gave out his phone number for some reason. There was also another man who we've never seen before from Zambia who came to our class that we teach. He was very nice and knowledgeable, but I don't think he's ever taken a shower in his life. His smell filled the whole room and I almost started to choke when I walked into the classroom. I had to sit next to the open window to be able to breathe at all.

I feel good this week becaus I was able to work pretty hard and, some funny stuff happened. I just wanted to remind everyone that they should all have and study from Preach my Gospel. It's really helpful, not just for teaching but for learning as well. It has a section on prayer, that has truly helped me to understand it's importance, and as I have been praying more earnestly I have felt a lot better throughout the day. It truly helps a lot and I want everyone to see how important it is. I've also learned how important sincere scripture study is in life. So much so, that I've been waking up an hour early every morning to study more. It has been helping me to grow and understand very quickly.

Also if you get a chance to watch Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration, you should. It's pretty awesome.
I love you all and hope that you know that I pray for you all the time. Thank you so much for all the letters and support.
-Elder Balmforth

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

January 3. 2012

How's it everybody,
I'm sorry that I didn't have a chance to email yesterday. Because New Year's Day fell on a Sunday, all of the email shops were closed on Monday. I hope everyone had an awesome New Year's Eve and Day by the way. This week we went to a place called Bruma which is a huge market place where you haggle with people for really cool, traditional African stuff. It was crazy. All of the shop owners pretty much swarmed us because we look rich all dressed up. We had to fight our way out almost. That was the most interesting part of the week though.

We started to teach a few new investigators that we found. They're really cool and just happen to be like the only black people in all of Alberton. It was awesome. They're the Ntshonyana family, and don't worry because I still can't pronounce it. The family is a mother, a son and four daughters. They're all super nice, and if we can get them baptized I know that they will be a super strong family in the church. That lesson was last Tuesday, and after that everything went downhill way fast.

Almost 90% of our appointments this week cancelled our teaching appointments. It was actually looking like a very promising week until that happened. The only other person that we taught this week was Marcus, who is going to baptized soon if we can get him to quit smoking. I mentioned him in my last letter, and he was actually doing very well for the better part of a week, but he relapsed. He's been taught every lesson like 3 times now and he has a strong testimony, he just has to quit smoking. To help we go see him almost everyday.. That's one reason we see him anyway. The main reason is that we don't have very many investigators because rich white people are the hardest people to teach ever, so we have a lot of open time to tract and visit members.

I also crashed my bike this week and I have a huge welt the size of a grapefruit on my thigh, and it's turning a bunch of crazy colors and it hurts. It was just a result of me being dumb though. I didn't rip any of my clothes or anything though which is good. I'm really working on staying positive lately. My companion, Elder Blake, and I are working on developing Christlike attributes and Hope is the one I'm working on right now. It's really hard to make a person (myself) who is a pessimist by nature, to have a hopeful point of view.

Since most of our appointments cancelled, we have had a lot of time to tract and I think we're getting to be pretty good at it. I've just recently been trying to think "I'm going to get into this home" before I ring every call box, and it has actually been working really well. I'm also learning to be more bold, and aggressive when talking to people about the church rather than trying to dance around the fact that we want to help them.

This week Elder Blake also got a flat tire which means we have to walk until we can get him a new tube, and get our bikes serviced. It doesn't seem like a big deal until you think that our closest investigator is like a 45 minute walk from our flat, and the church building is like an hour walk. I never thought I would be glad to have a bike in my area until I had to go without one.
New Year's eve and day were really fun though. I was able to hang out with my district since we weren't allowed to be out proselyting because of all the crazy people out partying. I like pretty much all of the guys in my district, they're all fun to be around. Especially Elder Beenfield. He's an awesome guy, but he's one of those people who makes you feel like you have done nothing with your life. Not because he's mean, but because he's just so much better than everyone at everything he does.

Anyway, I love you all and I'm so thankful for all the letters and everything. Remember to read and pray always, and follow the commandments to the t. I miss you all.
-Elder Awesome
Elder Blake and Me at the summit
View of my area from the mountain we climbed

Crazy cactus we found on our hike
Same cactus
What tracting for us looks like

This is what all the fences around every house looks like