Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Here's Elder Raymond's letter this week! He loves getting mail... letters, cards, or packages (via priority mail... I've found the flat rate boxes are the cheapest way to go, they take about 1 week to get to him, if sent any other way they can take a month or more before they reach him)

Dear Famiree,

It's been a very eventful week. You may or may not have gotten the phone call from the mission office on Monday. I'll just go day by day:

Monday - We totaled our car. We were driving down the road, going straight through a green light when somebody turned left in front of us. We slammed on the brakes, but to no avail. KABOOM!!! Airbags smell like burning hair...or that could have been burning hair...not really sure.... Anyway, my companion and I are both okay. Our poor car, not so much. Back to a bike area! :) (Side note: I spoke to Alec's Mission President, he said Alec was driving, the accident wasn't his fault, and other then injured pride and some bruising from the airbags- no bleeds- he and his companion are fine. It's comforting his Mission President is also a doctor! - Darlene)

Tuesday - An AMAZING day! We had a special zone conference with Elder Paul Johnson of the First Quorum of the Seventy. He is the administrator of religious education for the Church Educational System. That means he's in charge of BYU (all of them), Institute (all of them), and Seminary (all of them). He gave excellent training on different ways to teach and learn different types of knowledge. He called my companion and I to role-play to him and his wife as though we had just tracted into them. We knocked, they answered the door and it quickly became clear that they spoke Norwegian...not English. My companion asked them if they spoke Spanish and they said that they spoke a little bit. In Spanish, we asked them if we could watch the Restoration in Norwegian. :) It was pretty fun. After the conference, one of the companionships in my district had a baptism that we went to. It went very well.

Wednesday - One of the elders in my district had a bike accident. He essentially clotheslined himself in the mouth with a three-inch metal bar. He broke several teeth, split both lips and his tongue. We spent six hours in the ER with him.... That was fun.

Thursday - THANKSGIVING!!! We had breakfast with one of the families in the English ward. We had bacon and sausage and bacon and biscuits and gravy and bacon and pancakes and bacon. It was really really really yummy. Then we had Thanksgiving dinner with another family from the English ward. We had all the standard stuff. One of the family's daughters is engaged to a member in the Spanish ward and he made a humongous delicious flan. He and I were the only ones who like it...so...we ate it all.... It was YUMMY.

Friday - I had my last district meeting as a district leader. I trained on receiving revelation through the Book of Mormon. It went really well. That evening, the sisters in my district went home to a flooded apartment. Their water heater had leaked all over their kitchen, bathroom, and hallway. The every-other-day curse continues. Now everyone in my district has had an 'exciting' experience this week.

Saturday - I found out I was being released as a district leader...and called as a zone leader. I'll be leaving on Wednesday. That means I'll have very limited opportunity to use Spanish since there are no Spanish zone leader areas. It should be interesting. (Pres. Griffin said he uses Alec a lot for training other Elders... he said he is a very effective teacher and an excellent example.) :)
Sunday - The elder who smashed his face left to go to Morristown, Tennessee to get his teeth fixed. His companion is in a trio with Elder Kenyon and I until we get transferred on Wednesday.

Monday - I'm writing about my exciting and slightly nerve-wracking week in an e-mail home to my family.

I did get my box! I'm actually wearing one of the sweaters now. I think it's blue...not really sure...but I think so. :)

The weather is starting to get fairly chilly. Right about 30-40 at night and 40-60 during the day. We've been getting lots of rain. I heard everything out west is under blizzard warnings. Is there a chance you might see some white palm trees this winter? ;)

Well, I love you all and I'm going to try to send some pictures so, hasta luego!

Elder Raymond

Pres. Griffin also said he has several Elders in his mission that have NO family support. We are going to send some extra Christmas goodies to Sis. Griffin for those missionaries. If anyone is interested in sending stuff, email me and I'll give you more info on items requested and where to send it. Here is Elder Raymond's "list"...

Dear Santa,

This year for Christmas I would greatly enjoy receiving:

- A CHEAP portable DVD player (President Griffin has authorized the use of portable DVD players for training other missionaries and for watching Gospel DVDs in investigators' homes).

- A CHEAP GPS (to save on time and miles and gas, especially since I'm going to be doing a lot more driving now...) (Santa already got one for him)





My wish list is not necessarily in any particular order.
Elder Raymond
Some things never change! ;)

First of all, sorry for not writing very much lately...like for several months.... I've been really, really, really busy. I do feel bad for not writing though. The biggest problem is that I can never figure out how to put my experiences into words, so I usually don't even try. This week, I don't have much time, but I'll try. :)

We have a special zone conference tomorrow where I'm hoping to see my package. If it's not there, I'll say something to them about forwarding it to me. Elder Paul V. Johnson of the First Quorum of the Seventy will be there. There is not a single person in our zone that plays piano, so I volunteered to give it a try. It should be...exciting.... :)

I have a breakfast appointment and a dinner appointment and about 15 other offers for Thanksgiving. I'll not be going hungry.

Things are going great. Extremely difficult and frustrating at times, but great. We just had another baptism on Saturday. It was a deaf gentleman. He can speak very well and reads lips, so we were able to communicate. My limited sign-language vocabulary of things you would say to a two-year-old (sit, stop, eat, more, yes, no, and shrimp) was not of much help...but it was fun trying. :) It was a wonderful experience to see someone we tracted into change his life, stop smoking, make the covenant of salvation through baptism, and get the gift of the Holy Ghost. I'll have pictures next week.

As far as challenges I'm facing...pretty much anything Satan can rustle up. It's actually kind-of funny sometimes to see the wacky things he can come up with. He magically dropped off an unopened box of cigarettes and a lighter at the deaf man's house between his baptism and confirmation. He didn't fall for that one, but it was definitely interesting.

We have had great success recently. One of the guys we baptised has received the Aaronic priesthood and hasn't missed a Sunday since his first. Another is doing great. Several other families that were baptized a while ago are finally coming out of the bumps most people experience right after baptism and are doing very well.

The language is fine. I can understand about 99% and have no difficulty expressing myself. It's actually really cool and a wonderful opportunity.

As a missionary, thank you for your help with people investigating the church. One single person speaking under the influence of the Holy Ghost is often (not sometimes, but often) the turning point in an investigator's progression towards baptism. You are a great help to the missionaries there.

One last little blurb from the soap-box: Study the scriptures. Learn what they say. Read them. Learn the history behind the events and experiences of the prophets that have walked this earth. Treasure up the words of life. Learn and apply the doctrine of Christ. It will save you and exalt you. We have to do everything we can to gain eternal life, and then the Lord does everything. We cannot exalt ourselves. Nor can we be exalted by grace until after all we can do.

Tell everyone I say 'hi'!


Elder Raymond

Monday, September 20, 2010

Thanks for all the Birthday Wishes!!!

Dear Famiree,

It's MUCH easier to get people to Church in Dalton. We had two come yesterday (12th) and 10 in our district! We committed one of them for the 25th of September and have plans to commit the other this week. He is only 12 years old and we want his parents to be there when we commit him. We actually tracted into his dad who wasn't really interested but wanted to teach his son about God. So, we told him a little about how God is our loving Heavenly Father, talks to us through prophets, sent His Son to die for us, and then restored His Church to the Earth by calling another prophet.... His dad liked what we taught and gave us permission to keep coming back. Now his son has been to mutual and Church and is ready to be baptized. We're pretty excited for the 25th!

We also have a crazy new zone conference this Saturday! President Griffin has arranged a Spanish training meeting. ALL of the Spanish-speaking missionaries in the entire mission are coming down to Dalton for a 5-hour role-play session with the members of our ward, President Griffin, and Elder Cornish of the Seventy. That means that I'll get to see Elder Woller (my trainer, now an assistant) and Elder Morente! And both the Elders I have trained! It's like a family reunion where we get to role-play teaching the Gospel! We'll probably get railed on by President and Elder Cornish though...as a whole the level of the Spanish-speaking missionaries in the mission is not anywhere near where it should be. That's why they organized this special "Spanish zone conference" in the first place. Oh well...I'm excited! There's a good chance that President Griffin and Elder Cornish will stay for the baptisms that evening. That would be awesome! (a little nerve-racking, but awesome...) We're pretty excited for Saturday.

The members feed us A LOT!!!! For a couple weeks we were getting fed at least twice a day. (Everyone was fighting over who got to feed Elder Rayon before he left) Now it's down to 4-5 times per week. They give us a lot of food too, so we always have leftovers or something in the apartment if we don't have a dinner appointment.

Training is going great! My new companion's a stud! He's definitely green though, haha. He's learning both the language and how to teach really quickly. He has a strong desire to be exactly obedient, to work hard, and to follow the Spirit. I can't really ask for much more! Elder Rayon and I went around picking up all the sticks and wood scattered all over the place and now Elder Kenyon and I get to light it on fire. We foresee great success this month and in the coming months.

Right now I'm reading Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon again. It's amazing how many missionary applications there are when you look for them. (I guess you don't really have to look that hard in Doctrine and Covenants...) As far as insights go...not really anything specific. It's all truth and there is no darkness in the scriptures. It's all of God. Read something kind-of interesting the other day...not really very insightful, but interesting. See 1 Nephi 21:12 and Isaiah 49:12 as well as the Bible Dictionary "Sinim, land of" I think we might see some really interesting stuff happen once China opens up to the Church.

My "favorite" investigator is a guy named Juan Carlos. He was a referral from a less-active member that we've been working with a little bit. He absolutely LOVES the Gospel. He recognizes truth and has the faith to change his life as he learns the Gospel. When we taught him the word of wisdom and the law of chastity, he cried. He could feel the guilt and shame of sin and was willing to do anything to repent. He just didn't know at the time that what he was doing was wrong. He actually reminds me a lot of King Lamoni's father. He has already been to Church a couple of times and is just waiting for an interview to resolve some special concerns before he is baptized. I always look forward to teaching him because I know he will follow the principles of the Gospel as he learns them.

Love you MORE!!!!!

Elder Raymond

Monday, August 2, 2010

los dos reyes

I'm in Heaven!!!!! Dalton, Georgia!!! My companion's name is Elder Rayon. He's from Veracruz, Mexico and the only other native missionary in the mission. This is his last transfer, so I'll kill him. :) Of the two native missionaries in the mission, one is my son and I'm killing the other one haha. :) In Spanish Ray is pronounced rey which means king. We call ourselves los dos reyes, or the two kings since both of our names start with Ray. He's an amazing missionary. OUR APARTMENT HAS A DISHWASHER!!!! This area has a lot of Hispanics from all over the place. It's a wonderful opportunity to speak Spanish almost all day everyday. I love it!

Sounds like things have been going well back on the homefront. Flash being silly and Kimmee stepping on deadly reptiles...what else is new. >:) haha

Anyway, no requests for the package this time...oh! More tuna thingies. Those were rockin'! And peanut butter crackers. It's so hard to get peanut butter stuff around here you know.... haha, just kidding. It's like I live in Mexico, but still have peanut butter. :) I'll actually write a letter this week. I have a little bit more time now that I'm junior companion again and don't have to worry about nightly phone calls and stuff.

Oh!!! Guess what my companion and I bought this morning?!? A tongue!!!! A hugenormous 5 lb cow tongue. We boiled it and made it into tacos. It's actually really really really good. It's just like steak, but more tender. The only bad part is that it takes 6 hours to boil. It's solid meat--there's no fat, bones, veins, nothing--just meat. Once you get over the fact that it's a tongue, it's really quite tasty.

Love you all,

Elder Raymond

Monday, July 26, 2010

My 1st Transfer!

There are MAJOR changes going on in the entire mission this transfer! We are cutting two of the six zones in the mission and combining districts to be 5 or 6 times the size that they are now. Also, our teaching methods are changing. We are now supposed to teach everything directly from the scriptures, simply, and by the Spirit. We teach the doctrine and principles by the scriptures, and the Spirit teaches the applications as we ask our investigators what THEY think they should change/do with their lives.

Also, I'm being transferred! My first transfer haha. I've been out almost 8 months and have had only one area.... :) I'll find out where I'm going at transfer meeting on Wednesday. My boy is trained and going out into the world haha.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

2 Weeks and Mystery Meat...


Poor mommy :( I hope you're feeling better! I'd suggest making a yummy cake to help you feel better, but then I'd worry that you might try to eat it and fly at the same time. :)

How did the yearly cat scan go? They always seem to do funny things at those. (Cats went to the Vet...)

Anyway, here's a funny story. We had a dinner appointment Saturday evening and they grilled up a bunch of carne asada (steak, chicken, corn, etc.). Anyway, I had just finished a bunch of steak and corn and figured that I'd finish it off with some chicken. I scouted out the chicken plate and tried to find the yummiest looking (least boney-looking...) piece of chicken. I stabbed it up and put it on my plate. I certainly did get the least boney piece in the whole bunch! I took a bite and it was squishy and slightly sweet with the texture of stuffing. I quickly started running through the list of all the edible parts of a chicken trying to figure out exactly what I had just eaten...it wasn't on the list. I proceeded to run through the list of all the what I thought to be inedible parts of a chicken...there were several possibilities, but I still couldn't quite place it. I eventually just had to ask.... Turns out it was just a grilled banana that somehow made its way onto the chicken plate. Phew! As a banana, it wasn't too bad, but when you're expecting chicken...it's quite a surprise!

Anyway, I want you all to know that I have a testimony of this Church. I think it was Joseph Smith who once said that the members of the Church will be surprised at the Second Coming to find out just how true this Church is. Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He is my Savior. God lives.

I love you all! Sorry for my lack of letters lately...it's been kind of rough.... :)


Elder Raymond


Sorry I can't send a big huge e-mail this week...President sent us all some handy scripture flashcards that I needed to print out after some substantial reformatting...

It's awesome to hear that Bryan's getting all ready! When can he put his papers in?

Love you all!

Elder Raymond

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Priesthood La La Land

15 Jun 2010

Dear Famiree,

I guess it's about time I sent a letter home! Hang on, I have to go wash my fingers, they're sticky from chicken from our dinner appointment.... Sorry, I had to blow my nose too and ended up giving myself a bloody nose... surprise surprise.... Ok, I've got half an hour to write this. You all know how much I like writing letters, but President Griffin told us that we should be writing a "substantial letter" home each week and I ran out of time on P-day.

Anyways, here's a funny story. We had a multi-zone activity on P-day with ultimate frisbee, tennis, soccer, and the like. We got a call from our neighbor that lives above us asking if we had cooked anything that morning before we left. Of course we hadn't (the most cooking I've done is a Totino's pizza a few times a week :) ). Our neighbor said that they kept smelling smoke, but couldn't figure out where it was coming from. I just figured they left a pan on the stove or something and quickly forgot about it . Several hours later, when we finally got home from the activity, we opened our front door reeking electrical smoke smell and a nice foggy bluh in our whole apartment with an oddly hissing thermostat in the background. After a little exploring and investigating, I decided to check the electrical A/C unit thingy to see if anything was obviously wrong. Something was obviously wrong. One of the lines into the house was surrounded by an inch thick layer of frost. I promptly turned everything off and did a little more investigating. I think the thermostat malfunctioned, causing the air conditioner to not turn off when it hit the set temperature. The external unit froze solid, subsequently burning out the internal one which then thought that it would be fun to start spewing smoke through the vents rather than cool air. Now I'm sitting downstairs in a roasting apartment. :] I called the land-lord and he's sending a repair guy pretty soon. It's been a fun couple of days.

Oh! I salted a slug tonight! We didn't have any real salt, so I covered it with jalapeño salt. It didn't like that very much. :\ Okay...what else should I write about?...

Oh! Elder Dino's great! (that's what I named the screature thing) I've gotten several missionaries with him! I take them through the whole "He really likes it when you pet his back" and "He bites if you put your hand in front of him" and eventually get to "He loves it when you pet his nose." I always make sure he's pointed right at them when they pet his nose and they get soaked! It's rather funny....

Oh. I guess you probably want to hear about how it went with Elder Ballard, huh! It was really awesome! It was about a four hour bus trip each way. We left at 10:00 p.m. CST. I had a pretty cool experience before the meeting. As we walked into the building, Elder Ballard and a couple of his escorts walked down the hall right in front of us. I got to see him from about three feet away, which I thought was pretty cool. Then I had to go to the bathroom. It was one of those teeney little LDS chapel bathrooms tucked away in the corner with one urinal and one stall. Anyway, apparently Elder Ballard had to use the bathroom too.... I walked in and crammed into the little bathroom was Elder Ballard, Elder Snow (of the Presidency of the Seventy), Elder Duncan ( 1st quorum of the Seventy), President Griffin, and me! Needless to say, I was pretty much in priesthood la la land as I waited to use the urinal between Elder Ballard and Elder Snow ( Elder Snow had me cut in line in front of him). I peed in the same toilet as Elder Ballard. Haha... that's kind of gross I guess, but pretty cool! I was the only person in the bathroom who wasn't at least an area seventy. That was pretty humbling. Well, I'm out of time tonight. I'll finish writing about the meeting tomorrow morning. Good night! Spiel.

Alright, I'm back. The meeting was awesome! Elder Ballard brought a full squad of Seventies too. Elders Snow, Duncan, Cornish, and McSomething were also there. Their main focus was on how we should obtain a vision by the Spirit of how the work in our areas will be more successful as we follow Pres. Monson's Rescue Plan. In short, use members. They really pounded us hard and called us to repentance and told us we weren't baptizing enough ( which is true). Elder Ballard said that the key to being a successful missionary is to be a "very, very, very good teacher." He talked a lot about finding and teaching methods. I found A LOT of answers to questions I've been having lately. We've been working closely with the ward and the branch PEC to implement the Rescue Plan. Anyway, the meeting went really well. Afterwards we rode back home in the bus, finally got back about 11:30 and crashed. It was pretty intense.

I can't think of anything else to write. (My brain's not working yet). I love you all! Thanks for your letters and packages!

Elder Raymond

Monday, June 7, 2010

Learning Mandarin?!

The stinkin library was closed for Memorial Day >.< >:(

I got the boxes! Thanks oodles of noodles (that's a lot) :) I love the screature! I named it Elder Dino and drew him a nametag on his back with a Sharpie. :) I so appreciate your letters. It's really nice to see how much the Lord is blessing each of you.

Guess what?!? The whole mission is driving to Nashville (not Knoxville) this Saturday (by bus) to hear Elder Ballard in a bi-mission conference. Elder Morente's brother, Elder Morente, is serving in the Nashville Mission so they'll get to see each other and I'll get to meet him! We're pretty excited.

Hey, in one of the Elder Watson's letters, he mentioned that he went on exchange with an Elder Charles (whichever one's in Argentina). He kind of gave a time-frame for how long Elder Charles has been out on his mission too and I think he might have been my first zone leader in the MTC. Could you ask him if Elder Charles was companions with Elder Healey in the MTC for me?

Anyway, here's kind of a funny story. Elder Morente and I were tracting the other day (duh...) and we tracted into a TON of Chinese people. There's a Chinese circus in Pigeon Forge called Cirque de Chine. We found where ALL of the performers live. It's a row of around 20 townhomes and they are all full of Chinese people. All the vehicles out front had the logo of the circus on them. Most of them don't speak a lick of English. We ran into one that spoke a little bit, so we had him translate for us and then another guy (he was a little bit older, we think he was the trainer) actually called one of his friends who speaks English and she translated over the phone for us. We used the Restoration DVD cover to figure out if they speak Mandarin or Cantonese. The cover has all the languages on it and we had then point to the one they spoke. One guy pointed at the Mandarin, started nodding his head vigorously and started screaming Chinese! Chinese! Chinese!... that was interesting, but we found out they all spoke Mandarin. I learned that my default when talking to someone who doesn't understand English is just start speaking in Spanish...unfortunately that was even worse while trying to talk to someone who only spoke Chinese. I kept trying to explain things in Spanish and English and it just wasn't working. Anyway, I brought it up in Missionary Correlation yesterday morning and asked (without any hope at all) if there happened to be anyone in our ward (50 people in backwoods Tennessee) who spoke Mandarin. A guy in the back said "My wife." One of the counselors in the bishopric started explaining that she probably wouldn't be any help anyway because she wouldn't know any of the Gospel vocabulary in Mandarin since she was converted here in America. Bro. Kurtz then said, "Well she served a mission in Taiwan, so she probably knows the vocab pretty well..." Anyway, long story short, we're going to started teaching a couple dozen Buddhist circus performers most of whom have never even heard the name Jesus Christ. Guess it's time to brush up on my Mandarin... :)

Habave fubun abat thebe beabeach!
Soubounds goobood!


Ebeldeber Rabaymobond

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I Met Grandpa's Cousin!

Thanks for the mail from Grandma, Dad, Mom, and squiblings!

I don't have a whole lot of time left. I had a long e-mail to President this morning.

Yesterday was an interesting day! I had to give a talk in Spanish sacrament meeting on the Great Apostasy (my companion spoke about the Restoration) and in English sacrament meeting on Exaltation (of all possible topics, Bishop assigned me to speak on exaltation in sacrament meeting...) (my companion, who doesn't speak very much English at all, bore his testimony in English--it went really well!). I think they both went really well. I really only messed up my Spanish one once. I used the wrong verb for "to break." I used the verb "to break commandments or covenants" rather than "to physically break something." oops... :) My English talk went really well. I used the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 to relate God's love for us and His desire for our return and exaltation. Afterwards an older gentleman came up to me and asked me who my dad is. I told him, "Jon." He paused for a second and then asked me who my grandpa is. I told him, "Cleve." He paused for another second and said, "I'm Richard Raymond from Mesa, Arizona. Cleve is my cousin!" That was a pretty cool experience. Either he or another gentleman he was with starting speaking to me in Spanish and told me that he was a mission president over the Los Angeles, California mission about 5 years ago. I don't remember if it was him or his friend. Who'da thunk that I'd meet one of grandpa's cousins in a sacrament meeting in Sevierville, Tennessee?

Anyway, I better get going.

I love you all!

Elder Raymond

Monday, May 17, 2010

New Library!

Dear Famiree,


I'm sending my e-mails from the brand spankin' new Sevierville Library! It literally opened two or three days ago. It looks like a cross between a bank and a state capitol building. It's HUGE and REALLY REALLY nice. You oughta Google it to see if there are any pictures of it. Anyways...just thought that might be interesting :)

Here's a photo and an interesting article about the library:
"Sevierville Tennessee’s new King Family Public Library will soon receive its first books to stock its newest library opening May 14th to the public. The first books will arrive by hearse April 20th at 9a.m..
Now why would anyone deliver new books to a new library in a vehicle that is a symbol of ending? Well, Sevierville’s first library opened in 1920. The library was founded by the local mortician Fred Rawlings. Fred Rawlings delivered the new library’s first books from Knoxville by use of his hearse. In 1968 Sevierville built a newer library and Fred Rawlings was asked to symbolically transport the first set of books for the newest library once again in his hearse.
Steeped in tradition, Rawlings Funeral Home will provide its oldest hearse for the delivery of the first books for the King Family Public Library. A Rawlings family member will ride along for the delivery to Sevierville’s newest library."

Thanks for the update! I hope everything works out with the car. It really stinks not being able to drive places when you need to. We are in a car-share in this area and some places in our area take 2+ hours to bike to (including two of the prime Spanish areas...). The weeks when we do not have the car can be very frustrating! I guess it's the Lord's way to teach us how to plan and coordinate with members better. :)

We are kind-of going through a rough patch in this area. None of our most promising investigators have been progressing for several weeks because they have not been coming out to church. They all had dates for baptism that we had to drop because they never come to church. We've done everything we can for them to help them make it out, from to calling them to wake them up and having their ride knock on their door to fasting and teaching the importance of coming to church before they can be baptized. At this point, we are going to have to spend our time with new investigators that Elder Morente and I have found together. We have a lot of promising people we're teaching right now and a couple of progressing investigators who we are committing for baptism this week. We look forward to a lot of success in this area as we work hard, are exactly obedient, and follow the Spirit!

By the way, Sister Griffin did get her flowers. In the middle of zone-conference President Griffin stood up and said something to the effect of , "Let Elder Raymond, Sister Griffin's favorite missionary, be an example to you all: His mom sent her flowers." :) That was a little unexpected. haha! :)

Anyway...I gotta go! yup yup :)

Love you all!

Elder Raymond

Monday, May 3, 2010

I have LOTS of news!

Okey dokey, here's the big news real quick.

My two transfers with my trainer are over this Wednesday. I'm training now. My new companion's family lives in Kentucky and is all non-members. His name is Elder Morente and he apparently doesn't speak any English at all. His travel is restricted to car, and thus, has not been to nor will be going to the MTC. He's coming straight from Kentucky to me on Wednesday. I think that a couple of the zone leaders in the mission (Elder Woller, my current companion being one of them) are going to give Elder Morente a week-long crash MTC course. It should be interesting. I'm extremely excited and can't wait to start working with him. As a native Spanish-speaker, he will have a huge advantage in teaching the Hispanic population in this area (not to mention my Spanish is going to rocket ;) ) It will be fun teaching him English too!
All the tornados/floods/storms/everything gross have COMPLETELY missed us. Sevierville and Pigeon Forge are nestled in a little valley in the middle of the Smoky Mountains and absolutely nothing makes it over the hills intact. Several days tracting, people would yell at us to go home or we would die from grapefruit sized hail and other stuff like that and then it never even rained. Apparently it all goes north of us.

The Hondurans don't celebrate cinco de mayo. I think it's Mexican Independence Day. There are a lot of Mexicans here too, so, there will be plenty of partying going on. :/ Tracting into drunk Mexicans is always...interesting... :)
Love you more,
Elder Raymond

Monday, April 26, 2010

in His own way...

Last week I e-mailed a story about the Juan family. We had another similar experience this week.

We have been teaching a guy named Gerardo for a couple months. He's from Guatemala and speaks ZERO English and a little Spanish--he speaks a local Lamanite dialect called Chu. When we first found him he was absolutely the golden investigator. Every time he read the Book of Mormon he cried and his prayers were more sincere than you can even imagine. He's about as humble and kind as it gets. Since day one, he asked us to pray for him to find a better job so that he could support his parents and siblings in Guatemala. We promised him that as he came out to church and committed for baptism, the Lord would bless him with better work. The first time he came out to church, his boss gave him three more days of work, more than double his original two days. He then accepted the commitment to be baptized and confirmed. His boss gave him another day and he started getting double shifts at work. He came out to church again the week he was to be baptized. He was ready for baptism. As we taught each lesson and commandment he expressed his feelings that every thing we taught him was true. He has never drunk alcohol, smoked a cigarette, done any sort of drugs, or drunk tea. He did drink coffee in the morning every once in a while, but only when he had the money to buy it because that's what everyone else did. When we taught him the Word of Wisdom he immediately stopped drinking coffee. When we taught him the law of tithing he said "Wow, I've finally found a way to repay God for all the things He has given me." When we taught the law of chastity he said, "In my country, we would never dream of even dating without specific permission from the woman's father. One of my life's goals is to be baptized in the Church, find a woman strong in the Church and marry her in the temple." The week of his baptism arrived. He was to be baptized on Friday and confirmed the following Sunday. Everything was ready. We had the programs made, the branch invited, the member to perform the baptism ready to do so. We went over Thursday evening with the member that Gerardo had chosen to baptize him. He wasn't there. His roomates told us that after we had left the previous day, he had gotten a call for a full-time job in Virginia, but he would have to start Friday morning. He left early Thursday morning and was already in Virginia when we went to visit him in the evening. He had received an answer to much prayer and more faith. We called him Thursday evening and again Friday afternoon. He is getting settled in nicely in Virginia and has already started work there. Although he will not be baptized in this area and into this branch, we are connecting him with the missionaries in Virginia and are confident that he will continue on the path that he has begun towards the gate of baptism. God certainly heard and answered his prayers. Gerardo now has a full-time job and is able to support his family back home in Guatemala. Although the Lord certainly did not answer our prayers in the way we expected or would have liked, he did answer them with a blessing that is better than anything than we could have hoped for here in this area. God works in mysterious ways, on His own time, and in His own way, but He certainly does work!

Elder Raymond

Monday, April 19, 2010

Power of Prayer

Alright, you've been asking for a cool story. I guess the Lord wanted to bless me with one. I've changed the names in it but everything else is completely true.

About a month ago, our branch president took us out and introduced us to a family. I will call them the Juanes family. It is the mother, whom we'll call Juana, her two kids, Juanita and Juanito, and her boyfriend, Juan. They are all from Honduras and have been in the States a couple of years. We taught them regularly for several weeks and they were about to be committed to a date for baptism and confirmation. They have all been out to church several times and enjoy learning about the Gospel. About a week and a half ago, Juana got in a fight with her boyfriend Juan and one of their neighbors called the police. When the police got there, they ran Juana's name and discovered that she is on the dreaded deport list. They promptly threw her in jail, to be deported the following week. Juana is pregnant. She was to be deported without her kids or boyfriend back to Honduras where she has nothing and nobody. Her kids were to be shipped off to California by themselves to live with a distant relative under the influence of a less-than-perfect environment in Hispanic California. Juan, the boyfriend, planned to stay in the area where he already has a decent job in order to earn money for the rest of the family. Needless to say, the situation stinked. The family was devastated and our branch president was crying all through church that Sunday worrying about what was going to happen to this pregnant mother and her two kids ages 15 and 9. Also needless to say, there was A LOT of prayer going in within the branch, ourselves, and the family for the Juanes. My companion and I went to the courthouse and subsequently the jail to get some information--at the time nobody had any idea what was going on. We only knew that Juana was in jail and was to be deported. We found out the visiting hours and they told us that Juana would still be in custody during that time, so we were not worried about her being deported before we could visit her with the branch president. The day of the visit finally arrived. We went with the branch president to the prison to visit her and see if there was anything we could do for her or her family. When we got there, they told us that she had left the jail the previous day and that they did not have any more information. We did not know whether she had been released to go home or released to immigration. Honestly, we weren't very hopeful. We decided that we would swing by her trailor on the way home and see if by some miracle of God she was there. She was. She told us that the very hour she was to be deported, she went to court where the judge dropped all charges and released her to return to her family. This was truly a direct answer to our prayers and a miracle from God. Her family is reunited and are again studying the Gospel of Jesus Christ and are being prepared for baptism and confirmation.

The power of prayer is real.

God is truly a God of miracles.


Elder Raymond

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter, Dinos, and Art Work

Happy Easter! or as the Hondurans say: Feliz Pascua!

(imagine a cool picture of an Easter bunny and some eggs or something here)

:) I got my [Easter] box, thanks! I was going to have my companion hide it, but I forgot and opened it (it came on Saturday). Sounds like it has been another busy and fun week! It's wonderful to hear how everyone is doing. Your bowling story provided me with quite a funny mental image. ;) I have to be careful in the library, everyone gives me mean looks >:( when I laugh AT ALL. [The kids and I went bowling with Sarah Bowerman (a lovely young lady from our ward in IL) at the Wilkinson Center (BYU). We started off the afternoon with me falling on my backside when my thumb got stuck in the ball and knocked me off balance. It was hilarious (I didn't get hurt in the least...). I knew I was going to fall and tried to steady myself with what looked like a windmill, then my right foot crossed that dreaded line and I hit the oiled floor, did a strange rendition of the splits and toppled. The kids were all staring at me until I started laughing... then we all laughed so hard, I couldn't get up! Pretty funny stuff.]

I got to watch ALL of conference. We only have three times a year that resemble a vacation: General Conference, Christmas, and General Conference :). We only had a Spanish investigator in the Priesthood session so I got to watch the rest of it in English. I jotted down a couple interesting things to write from conference. First, the conductor for the Orem Institute Choir that sang Saturday afternoon (I think) is one of the two choir directors in the MTC, so I've sung with him many times. He's HILARIOUS!!!! What else...oh! Kenneth Johnson said the opening prayer on Sunday morning :). I bet Grandpa Ken got a kick out of that. I think you were right about the whole back to basics thing because the Church has so many new/inactive members. It's much easier to bring investigators to conference that way too. :) I enjoyed the theme in just about EVERY talk: the responsibility of parents teaching their children. It made me think of my parents and the love and gratitude I have for their strength of testimony and example for me. I was impressed by the influence that parents have over their children and figured, well, I think I turned out all right, so I must have some pretty good parents. :) Thanks!

[Alec requested we send him some dino stuff...] :) Every missionary has their little quirky thing they like (some examples: my companion, Miley Cyrus; Elder Page, cows; Elder Allridge, guitars; Elder Rock, the Book of Mormon :)) and I like dinos.... There's a dino museum here but I can't convince the other missionaries in my district that it would be more fun to run around like a velociraptor and chew on fossils than play basketball on P-day...so I haven't been yet and probably won't ever make it there. :(



Elder Raymond

Oh, something else kind-of cool. There's an English family we've been teaching for a couple weeks. We visited them a few days ago and one of their boys came up to me and said "When I found out that you work for God, I wanted to draw you a picture, so here's a picture I drew of a truck for you." I hung it up on the fridge. :)

Monday, March 29, 2010

we caught a mouse, I guess...that will have to do. :)

Dear Famiree,

I can't really think of any cool stuff to write this week, so I guess I will just type and hope something pops up. :)

My first transfer in the field is over! I will have been out 4 months 9 April. I am doing great! When we came into this area, we had literally nothing to work with. My companion and I white-washed the Spanish area and the English area was white-washed this transfer. Six weeks ago there were four different missionaries here! We're finally getting everything settled and have already had baptisms in both the Spanish branch and the English ward. When my companion and I transferred into the area last transfer, the area was the entire county and was shared with the English elders. It was pretty much a free-for-all-modge-podge-hope-you-don't-tract-the-same-neighborhood-at-the-same-time blob. We've got the area split up now and actually have an area book. That helps A LOT!

We're teaching several Spanish families who are close to being ready to be baptized. This will be a huge boost to the branch as there hasn't been a baptism there in upwards of two years.... If the branch continues to grow at this rate, we will soon have enough priesthood brethren to become a ward! The work is starting to pick up some momentum in the English ward as well. Our mission president, President Griffin, has asked us to attend both the Spanish and English units so that we can teach everyone we find rather than handing our English investigators off to the English elders. That means 8 hours of church each Sunday starting at 0800 for English PEC [an executive meeting with the bishop and other leaders]! It won't be so bad after the Spanish block is moved to 0700-1000. Then we'll only have 7 hours of church from 0600-1300. Plus we'll have more daylight to get out and proselyte. The Lord is taking care of us here!

I am super excited for General Conference this weekend. We're in the Eastern Time Zone here, so the Priesthood Session is from 2000-2200...that's after my be-at-home-time.... We have permission from President Griffin to attend--I just hope I won't fall asleep during it! :) We look forward to General Conference as missionaries because it is an opportunity to bring investigators and members who normally cannot attend church services due to work, to hear the words of the general authorities and feel the Spirit.

[questions we asked him]

[How's the weather?]

A little warmer--just means rain instead of snow :).

[Do the Spanish members celebrate Easter differently that you know of yet?]

Every day's a party with Hispanics. The holiday just changes the shape of the piñata.

[Did your companion get transferred?]

Elder Woller's still my companion.

I have 15 minutes left but can't think of anything else to write. I can never remember anything that happened during the week when I actually go to write the e-mails and I never remember to bring anything that I remembered to write down when it happened... :)

Anyway, I still can't think of any cool, fun stories...we caught a mouse, I guess...that will have to do. :)

Thank you all for your support and love!

Elder Raymond

Monday, March 22, 2010

Translation of Previous Post...

Loosely translated, he said...

I can say everything that I want, but, sometimes it's a little difficult to understand when the people have different and strange accents…. There are many people here that speak with an accent like 'Redneck' only in Spanish. Also, I can read and write in Spanish just fine. I can almost understand everything when I am listening in church meetings. :) Good luck! (assuming he meant translating this)

Questions & Answers

This week he spent time answering my questions...

Dear Mommery,

Thanks for the letters! I'd love to get cousin letters too. (I told him I would print them off and mail them to him) Were any of them delayed by the earthquake in Chile?

Mom's questions
Elder Raymond's responses

Did you get you contacts we ordered?

I haven't gotten my contacts yet, but I heard that the zone leaders picked up a package for me at the mission office and they're driving down today for p-day, so I imagine they're in there.

What kind of camera do you have? We're still waiting to send a memory card until you tell us...

My camera is the kind that can take pictures...and it has a special mode for taking pictures of rainbows...and other than that I keep forgetting to check it... :)

Are you paying fast offerings on fast Sunday (Pres. Waite told us today in ward conference that he told his son that his fast would not be complete unless he gave to the branch/ward he was serving in. I hadn't thought about it, so I decided to ask...)?

Thanks for the reminder about fast offerings. It says the same thing in the Missionary Handbook (white bible, but we're not supposed to call it that, but just so you know what it is...). This Sunday is Fast Sunday since general or stake or some sort of conference is the week after so I'll have to remember to do that.

How do you like your bike?

My bike is pretty sweet. I have legs like rocks now.

Okay, now for the long one ;) (notice his "numbering" system...pure Alec!):

How are you really doing (if you say "fine" or any other 1 word answer, I may have to reach through the screen and poke you in the eyes! I want details, about your living conditions, eating, physical well-being, scripture study, companion, tracting, language, testimony, etc...)?

!. I'd like to keep my eyes intact

@. We live in an apartment about ten feet off the highway, so we have quick access to the road...I guess.... It's owned by a member, so we have a really nice landlord. It's pretty average as far as missionary apartments go I guess. I don't really have anything to compare it to.

#. We have meal appointments every Jueves, Viernes, Sabado y Domingo with members of the Spanish branch, so we're never hungry then and the English ward fights over who gets to feed us Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday...so...food's not a problem. And man, Hispanics can cook. They can all cook any type of meat to perfection and we always have unlimited tortillas.

$. Physical well-being: I'm doing great! I don't think I've gained or lost any weight yet and my legs are like rocks as aforementioned due to extreme biking ;).

%. I'm still working on the Book of Mormon assignment (I'm in Alma 39) and I'm studying the New Testament along with Jesus the Christ. It's pretty stinkin' sweet.

^. My companion's awesome. He likes to work hard, but still have fun. We're exactly obedient, but not robots. He's a HUGE Miley Cyrus fan...it's actually kind-of obsessive...and a little weird...but hey...I like...dinosaurs...I guess.... :)

&. Tracting's great. Spanish people are ALWAYS super nice and let you in. Unfortunately, there are no more Spanish people to tract into...we've literally tracted every Spanish house in our area. So we tract English in the afternoon and then visit Spanish investigators in the evening when it gets dark so we don't get the police called on us for walking around people's houses in dark suits in the dark...English people...:). We usually get around 13 hours per week. The mission standard is 20 (no more, no less) so 13 is where we should be as Spanish elders since we have 7 hours less proselyting time due to Spanish study every day.

*. Language: Yo puedo decir todo lo que quiero, pero, a veces es un poco dificil para entender cuando las personas tienen acentos diferentes y malos.... Hay mucha gente aqui que hablan con un acento como 'Redneck' en espanol. Tambien, yo puedo leer y escribir qualquier cosa que necesito. Casi yo puedo entender todo cuando estoy escuchando en las reuniones dominicales. :) Buena suerte!

(. Testimony: Never been stronger or growing faster! I'm learning and progressing in my spiritual journey as the Savior did: grace for grace. Thank you for the good example that you and Dad have always set for me. You made it easy to remain active and to become a valiant member of the Lord's Kingdom on the Earth.

). etc.: hmmm...just an interesting fact: the mission average for the Tennessee Knoxville Mission is 4 baptisms per missionary during your entire mission. I've already had one, spoken at another, and have 2 set in stone for April and 7 maybes. When we have a true, sincere desire to bring souls unto Christ and are willing to work hard, be obedient, and keep the commandments, the Lord will fight the battles for us. The Spirit converts. The Book of Mormon changes hearts and lives. The missionaries try to keep up.

Any unique experiences this past week?

Unique experiences...I got to go to another baptism and taught The Restoration to the people attending, while she was in the dressing room changing after the ordinance. That was pretty cool, but hopefully not a 'unique' experience.... I got to participate in a couple of blessings. That was pretty cool.

Anything funny (loved the possibly naked Sasquatch story! Not the getting shot one...I am your mom...)?

Haven't run into any naked sasquatches lately...or been shot at >;).

Elder Raymond

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mormon Hunters & First Baptism

Dear Famiree,

Thanks for your letters! Caiti wanted some cool stories to share with her seminary class. Let's see if I can think of one. Hmmm....Oh! I remember an interesting one. A missionary that just got transferred into our district got shot a couple weeks ago.... He was tracting out in the country with his companion (obviously... :)) Anyway, apparently a couple of twelve-year-old kids were out hunting for Mormons that day. They shot him in the back with a pellet gun and ran away screeching.... He thought his companion hit him in the back and then his companion saw the hole in his shirt. Anyway, he's fine. He had to have surgery from a redneck doctor in a redneck hospital. It took them an hour just to find the pellet (with x-rays...) and the doctor wouldn't put him under...so he was awake the whole time.... I can only imagine: "Nope...not there...nope...not there either...ah ha! There's the little stinker!" Makes for a good story though. Not many missionaries can say they got shot on their mission. :) (Yes mom, he was on the other side of the mission, nowhere near this area...) Anyway, there's an interesting story for you.

On a less weird, more mission-related note, I had my first baptism on Thursday! His name is Fabricio. His uncle, the first counselor in the branch presidency, baptized him. True to form, there was a HUGE fiesta afterwards. We didn't even know there was going to be food or anything after the baptism. Fabricio's mom just showed up with a 40-lb caramel cake with whipped frosting that was almost as good as mom's cakes but not quite, 20 liters of soda, hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, and a piñata.... The ENTIRE branch showed up. We had around 60 people at the baptism. I got to give a talk on the Gift of the Holy Ghost...in Spanish...in front of 60 Hondurans, Argentinaites (not sure what the right way to say it is, so I figured I'd just follow the example of the Book of Mormon), and Mexicans that speak little to no English. That was fun...I'm glad the Spirit speaks to the heart and not to the ears in whatever language that slightly resembles Spanish that I was probably speaking. Anyways, it went really well.

In all honesty, my Spanish is actually progressing very well. I can understand about 70% of everything anyone says to me (including in church :)) and I can pretty much say whatever I want to say; albeit often using weird verbs that don't quite make perfect sense here and there.

Anyway, the work is progressing very well in this area. We're working our tails off and are having a lot of success. We're currently working with the branch priesthood leadership and the stake to change the meeting schedule to 7-10 am so that more members and almost all of our investigators can attend sacrament meeting. The biggest problem we have in this area with members and nonmembers alike is working during church meetings. With this change, we will increase attendance in sacrament meeting by members by around 25% and by investigators by around 400%. We hope to be able to turn the branch into a ward by the end of the next transfer. We almost have the priesthood necessary to fill all the callings and already have as many in sacrament meeting as the English ward. We're all praying for the Lord's continuing support and preparation of His kingdom in this area. I've seen lots of miracles and see lots more to come.

Elder Raymond

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Probably-Naked Sasquatch

Dear Famiree,

I love my mission! We are having so much success as we teach with the Book of Mormon. I may have already mentioned this, but when we got to the mission, each of the new missionaries received an assignment from [the Mission President]. We are to go study the entire Book of Mormon marking each reference to Christ, His words, His attributes, and each doctrine or principle discussed in the Book and then keep a tally of each reference at the bottom of each page. I'm about half-way through Mosiah. My testimony of the Book of Mormon is growing like a young piglet that recently found a whole lot of yummy food and is eating it all. (that's a lot of growth--just in case you didn't get that :)) The Book of Mormon is Another Testament of Jesus Christ and has real power that every person we teach can feel. It is pretty cool watching the power of the Book of Mormon change lives.

The only hard thing about this area is that EVERYONE works Sundays. Since this is a tourist town, everyone who lives here either works construction (and is currently out of work) or cleans hotels and cabins (and works ALL DAY EVERY Sunday because that's when all the tourists leave to go home). If it weren't for that, we would have 300 more people in sacrament meeting in the English ward and 100 more in the Spanish branch. It's actually really frustrating. We work with so many people that have a testimony of the Book of Mormon and the Gospel but cannot be baptized because they cannot attend church.

Anyways, I love you all and appreciate your letters and the package! The St. Patrick's Day package had a bunch of cookies in it that have to be at least 10000000000000000087 calories each. The package says that each individual cookie is four servings. :) As you might expect from a 10000000000000000087 calorie cookie, they are pretty tasty.

Here is a funny story:

First of all, one of the English elders flew off his bike and hurt his elbow (that's a different story, it sufficeth me to say that he probably shouldn't have been trying to 'buzz' his companion's back tire with his front...) and the doctor said he can't ride a bike for several weeks. Thus, my companion and I have been on bikes in one of the biggest areas in the mission (not to mention we're out in the boonies in the Smoky Mountains) for a couple weeks.

Okay now for the story. We got a referral from [the mission president's wife] on Friday to go see a lady who lives out in the middle of nowhere, but in our area, that the missionaries in Chattanooga had contacted at a gas station. So we rode our bikes out to see her on Saturday. It was a beautiful sunny day and we were riding along the Little Pigeon Forge River over the mountains and through the woods to this lady's house we were going. After about an hour we no longer recognized the street names that we had seen on our map back at the apartment when we were planning our route. We stopped at a gas station and figured out that we had actually passed her street several miles back...grrr.... So we turned around to go find her unmarked, private, straight-up-the-mountain street. We saw a street that appeared to be in about the right place and had the same shape as hers on the map. So we walked our bikes up it (riding up these streets is physically impossible...) and eventually found ourselves at a cabin with a sign out front with the name 'Bearly Naked' on it. We hoped this wasn't the right place and were on the phone trying to call the lady for directions when we heard a really weird sound coming from the woods behind the cabin. It sounded a lot like a cow, only 2 octaves higher. Some of the sounds remotely resembled English words. Fearing a gruesome death by a probably-naked sasquatch, we turned tail and rode straight down the mountain REALLY fast. We went a little bit further up the main road trying to find this lady's street. We eventually found it, but of course, she wasn't home. We left her a note and moved on with the rest of our plans for the day.

Anyway, I want you all to know that I am doing great! I am having the time of my life sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the people her in Sevier County, Tennessee--even the parts when we have to flee before the gaping maw of a probably-naked sasquatch.

I love you all!

Elder Raymond
P.S. Tell everyone "hi" for me! Tell Jake congrats [on starting his mission papers]! That's awesome! It's starting to get a little bit warmer. We've actually had sunshine the last 2 days. It's been glorious!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Food and Sleep???

Send food...I'm sick of Ramen noodles...haha :)

I'm being humbled and learning A LOT. I've never been more excited about anything in my entire life...it's actually kind of weird...but a good weird! :)
I have a wonderful companion and there couldn't be a better culture to teach. It's impossible to get discouraged when every single Hispanic door you knock on let's you in. Even if they're busy, they'll still come out and apologize and set up a return appointment. :) The only bad part is that it's MUCH easier to recognize Americans who are ready to receive the Gospel. They either slam the door and swear at you or let you in and commit to be baptized.... Hispanics always let you in and they always commit to go to church and read stuff, and then they just don't...but, when they do show up to church they get baptized! We have a baptism scheduled next week and another 27 March (it's part of a family, so the rest should follow :)). This area was hard getting started since we started from absolute scratch, but now the ball's rolling and there are A LOT of hills here for it to roll down...:)
(Alec has several friends serving in Chile and several cousins and friends in the MTC scheduled to head down to that general area soon. This is his response to an email we sent him letting him know his friends are all safe)
... We usually here about EVERYTHING that goes on in South America pretty quickly. We heard there were supposed to be Tsunamis all the way up and down the coast of the Americas and Hawai'i as well. Thanks for the update on everyone's status down there. Hopefully Dave, Mike, and Josh won't be delayed. Right now is a wonderful opportunity to offer service and teach a humbled people...even though natural disasters stink...a lot...especially floods....

Oh! By the way, the Gospel absolutely is true!


Elder Raymond
P.S. Sleep is overrated... ;)

Lessons from Chile

What will it take to make us more humble and teachable? Here is an excerpt from a letter President and Sis Laycock (Chile Santiago East Mission) as they wrote home after the earthquake:

"Today, we attended a strong ward where Larry was invited to speak. The entire chapel and beyond was filled. People were so humble and so teachable. Larry taught the importance of doing the small things. He taught about Jesus Christ and the opportunity we have to love one another and to share what we have with others. It was a great blessing for us to be with these beautiful Chilean people. Some have lost their homes...or at least parts of their homes. But they are strong and they want to serve the Lord. He taught of the scripture in Luke 21:11,13 which says, "and great earthquakes shall be in divers places...and it shall turn to you for a testimony." He also welcomed the sweet young woman who was in the congregation with the missionaries...her first time attending church...and then he invited her to be baptized from the pulpit. He asked her to please invite us to her baptism, and she said, "I will." The Lord always knows what His people need. Landon was reading in Alma 15:17 today. He said, Mom listen to this. This is what is happening here in Chile just like in happened in Ammonihah. The people were humbled and "checked as to the pride of their hearts and began to humble themselves before God, watching and praying continually that they might be delivered from Satan, and from death, and from destruction."

Our hearts are filled to the brim with gratitude for all of the blessings we have received in the Chile Santiago East Mission. We see miracles every day. In the midst of great pain and suffering, we can always find our Savior. He stands with His arms open, pleading for all of us to humble ourselves and come unto Him. He loves us. He invites us to accept His gift...the atonement. He invites us to repent. He wants us to love one another and to serve one another. He wants us to bring our families and those we love to Him. We can do it. We can do all that He asks, no matter how difficult it may seem. "With God all things are possible".

Monday, February 22, 2010

Busy, busy, busy!

Hola all!

First of all, I want you all to know that my mission is already the best time of my life and the hardest time of my life. I've never been so tired and my testimony has never been stronger. We have a wonderful opportunity to live today in the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. The fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the exact same Church He set up during His ministry on the Earth is restored. I know this.

I'm out of time, but I love you all! I'm alive... :)

Elder Raymond

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The 1st Week...He Only Thought He Spoke Spanish...

Alright, time to answer questions!

Tennessee is great! It is really really really cold here. It's snowed EVERY single day since I got here and it's humid, so the cold penetrates all the way to your bones.
I am in the Pigeon Forge area of Southern Tennessee. I'm in Pigeon Forge Branch (all Spanish :) I understood about 20% at church on Sunday). Our area covers all of Sevier County, all the way to Smokey Mountains National Park. It's super duper pretty here. It's like a combination of St. Louis and Little Rock. Pigeon Forge is often described as a mini-Las Vegas. We're super close to Dollywood (which is strictly forbidden to missionaries haha :) ) and there are all kinds of weird buildings, hotels, and museums. There are a few Hispanic areas in town that we tract a lot.
Our apartment is actually just north in Sevierville. Our apartment has two rooms: upstairs and downstairs. Downstairs we have a couple tables for desks, a couch, and a kitchen. Upstairs is the bathroom and our beds. The apartment is about 10 feet from the highway. 3 weeks ago a car on the highway lost a wheel and plowed through the apartment so a lot of it is new. The elders weren't home at the time (which they actually got in trouble for since it happened at about 2145) and no one was hurt but the apartment was...como se dice...totaled :). Wednesday was the first day that it had power and water again--just in time for us to move in :). The other elders had been living in a hotel for a couple weeks.
The first day we stayed at the mission home, had dinner and a couple of orientation classes. The next day we went to transfer meeting, got a companion and off we went. My companion is Elder Woller. He's from Oregon and he's awesome! He's been out 6 months and is our district leader. Our district is actually really small, just us and the English elders in the same area. Their apartment is down the street.
We cover a HUGE area and only have a set number of miles that we can drive each month (we share the car with the English elders) so we do a lot of biking and walking. Oh! That reminds me. Our helmets got stolen (yes they were locked up mom...:) ) so we had to buy new ones...that was fun.
I do get delicious food! We have dinner appointments every night and it's all super tasty. 95% of the branch is from Honduras, so we get some really interesting, but really tasty food!
Anyway, President thought it was pretty cool that he was in my line of authority.
I'm having the time of my life out here on my mission. I've never been happier or closer to the Spirit! Each day is like a week of normal spiritual progression. You learn so much so quickly it's hard to keep up with yourself. :)
Eeek...I'm running out of time. We type e-mails at the library (which was closed yesterday, hence the e-mails today) and they have a one hour time limit to write e-mails and our weekly report to President Griffin.
Tell Grandma 'hi' for me if she hasn't left yet.

Thanks oobers for the Valentine's Day package. :) It had all my favorite things in it (including socks...) :).
Bryan, Good luck with your Board of Review, I'm sure it will go well!

Swine cat (Mori got out again, we spent over 2 hours looking for him, finally found him huddled on the neighbors front porch)...at least the neighbors moved...now you can open the windows at night :).

Elder Raymond

Made It!!! (11 Feb 2010)

Here is a letter we just received in the mail with the attached pictures! One is of Alec with Pres. & Sis. Griffin, the other is with his first companion in the field, Elder Woller!

Dear Famiree,
I made it safely to Knoxville. The Area is beautiful. The mission home and office are beautiful. President and Sister Griffin are AMAZING! I feel really good about being here and I'm very excited to get to work. There are 20 Spanish-speaking missionaries here and 3 Spanish-only branches and several Spanish/English wards. I don't have a companion yet, but I have eaten real food. :)

I'll write you all on P-Day (Monday).

Elder Raymond

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Last Letter from the MTC!

The Coolest Family Picture Ever!!! Cousins... Elder Alec Raymond, Elder Josh Day, Elder Mike Watson, and Elder Dave Watson all pose in front of the famous "Where Am I Going Map" at the MTC! This next year will add 2 more Elders to the families list... soon to be Elders, Jake Watson and Bryan Raymond! What an exciting time for our family!!!

(side notes are in Italics)

Dear Famiree (and friends),

This week's letter is going to be disjointed and unorganized because I didn't have time to write it out beforehand and my thoughts are all over the place.

First of all: AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!! Dad, check your line of authority, you'll notice a James E. Griffin--that's my mission president!!!!! My line of authority runs through my mission president!

Okay, next item... from now on you can send me letters to:

Elder Alec Raymond
11320 Station West Dr. Ste 101
Farragut, TN 37934

I leave for Knoxville early Tuesday morning and will arrive there in the evening. Speaking of which, I'm a little sad but a LOTTLE excited! I've received a testimony that Knoxville Tennessee Spanish-speaking is my mission. I'm called of God to serve the people there and I cannot wait to get there!

Thanks for the pictures! Everyone's been bugging me to get pictures of my family. Of course, everyone says Dad and I are twins...

Next, I ran into an Elder Sever the other day headed to Switzerland (I think). Yup! It was Trent (he's a friend of Alec's from IL and is a huge runner). He looks really different but still runs like a maniac.

Dad, thank you so much for your work and dedication as a ward mission leader. As a missionary, I can really see how much more successful the work is when the missionaries and the ward work together (it's infinitely more successful). Thanks for your unfailing testimony and example. Love you!

Bryan, CON-STINKIN-GRATS!!!!!!! (Bryan just finished his Eagle Scout project) Your welcome to my pocket knife...keep it away from Jakey, he's a weirdo... Love you! (the cat has a fascination with Alec's pocket knife and keeps trying to steal it, Bryan asked Alec if he could use it... the knife, not the cat)

(left out personal messages to Mom, Caiti, and Kimmee here, although sweet to the intended parties, they wouldn't make any sense to everyone else...)

I hope you can see how much the Lord is blessing you. I'm so grateful that the Lord is watching over, protecting, and uplifting you all. I know that in His hands and Dad's hands, I never have to worry about you all. Thanks for not being a distraction! I can just love you and look forward to seeing you in two years. Love you!

-Elder Raymond

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I Love the Gospel!

I love the Gospel!

I feel like Lehi after he partook of the fruit of the Tree of Life and had the desire to share it with his family. I was studying Lehi's dream in 1 Nephi 8 this morning. There are some very interesting points made when you study it from a perspective of missionary work.

Sorry if this letter is kind-of random.

I had a really cool little blurb of revelation on faith the other morning while I was studying the Holy Ghost. It was nothing new or unusual (revelation never is :)), but I was able to really comprehend what faith was and what place it has in my life as a missionary. (I am a missionary by the way! :) I have two little name placards and everything. And they're even in Spanish!)

Everything about the Gospel is really coming together. I can see clearly how my life fits into God's Plan for His children on this Earth. It's such an opportunity and a privilege to be entrusted with the Lord's invitation to come unto Him. I'm eternally grateful for His help.

I can't really think of anything else to write this week.

Oh, by the way, I haven't received my travel plans yet, but I should get them within the next 2-3 days. I do know that I leave exactly 2 weeks from today! I'm the last person in our district to leave. :( As much as I love the MTC, I'm pretty excited. I trust that as long as I do everything I can here and now, the Lord will pull me the rest of the way so that I might be the most effective tool in His hands that I can be. I can't wait to get to Tennessee! I know that's where the Lord wants me to serve and I'm super excited!

Anyway, it's good to hear from you all.

I love you all!

You're in good hands--the best hands.

Elder Raymond

P.S. I'm back with my two companions. Elder Seppi flew off to Guatemala Friday morning. :)

P.S.S. I'm 100% healthy and it's slightly stinkin'licious!

P.S.S.S. I speak Spanish.

P.S.S.S.S Just saying...:)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Where in the world... got a picture of the three cousins in the MTC by a map!
Elder Mike Watson is going to Argentina, Buenos Aires North Mission(he's pointing to both locations his mission covers), Elder Alec Raymond is going to Tenneessee Knoxville Mission, and Elder David Watson is going to Asuncion, Paraguay Mission! They don't look excited do they!

Cousins together in the MTC... actually it took a bit of planning to get this picture. Their schedules don't exactly match up! Great to see them together though!

The Foursome (Elder Watson, Elder Watson, Elder Day, and Elder Raymond) We asked them to make sure they got this picture. They said it was pretty tough finding a time they could all be there. Four great missionaries!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Powerful Testimony!

(Elder Raymond is only allowed 30 minutes on the computer each week and then it shuts down, whether he is done or not... so he is always rushed when writing...last week it went down completely, then shut down again just as he was about to hit send.)

Dear Famiree,

I really hope e-mail works today. I guess if you're reading this, you'll know that it did. :) I'm currently sitting in the doctor's office awaiting the verdict on my new companion. Oh! By the way, I have a new companion! He's from the district that just left on Monday, but was held back for medical reasons. His original mission call was to Guatemala City North, and today's the day that he finds out whether or not he can still go to Guatemala or if he's going to be reassigned. Oh, and his name is Elder Seppi. He's pretty much a perfect companion, except we're always in the doctor's office. :) This afternoon we have to go off campus for a doctor's appointment. Eeek! We're hoping for the best, but at this rate he may not even leave until after we do. Since he's been here three weeks longer than me, he's an excellent resource for both Spanish and teaching experience.

Anyway, since we went straight from companion study to the doctor, I haven't had a chance to read any of my letters, so I'll respond to those at the end (I guess that's pretty much what I usually do anyway). Hopefully you all got my letter last week. This week has been wonderful. In the MTC, each week tends to have some sort of focus. It's never planned out, but the topics we study in class, devotionals, meetings, and personal and companion study are always at least related if not the same. It's amazing to see the Lord's hand in His work as leaders, teachers and missionaries alike follow the Spirit in selecting study topics.

This week's theme is the Book of Mormon, and especially how we should teach from it. The Book of Mormon is truly the word of God. It contains the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the keystone of our religion as Joseph Smith taught. With it, everything stands; without it, everything falls. I can testify that everything stands. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to hold in my hands and study all those things necessary for the salvation of myself and all those I teach. The power of the Book of Mormon is real. I'm so grateful for the opportunity I had to grow up in a home where the Book of Mormon was read, understood, and shared. If anybody that reads this does not know for themselves of the truth and power of the Book of Mormon, you need to. You absolutely need to. Moroni's promise is real! Read the Book. Desire to know. Pray about it. Act on the answer. I've done it, and I know the Book of Mormon is the word of God. Follow President Hinckley's advice: if you want to know if the Book of Mormon is true, read it! I've read it and I know. The Spirit has borne witness of the truth of the Book of Mormon to me. The Book of Mormon holds the answer to every question of the soul. It contains the Plan of Salvation, a second witness of the Savior and His Atonement, and all things necessary for all men to return to live again with our Father in Heaven. I cannot express my gratitude for the opportunity I have to know these things. I feel like Moroni. My writing is weak, but I do have a testimony. I don't remember if I wrote my testimony last week or not, but I suppose it doesn't really matter since I still have it. :) God lives. He loves me and helps me more than I could ever know. Jesus Christ is my Savior. He has truly redeemed my soul from everlasting destruction. He is my Older Brother, my Perfect Example. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored in its fulness to the Earth today. Joseph Smith is the Prophet of the Restoration. I'm so grateful for his strength and perseverance. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. It is powerful. It is an ultimate source of truth. I have a testimony of the power of prayer. It is ever amazing to me that God listens to me and even more, that He answers me. It is the ultimate opportunity to receive guidance and help from Him. I know that the Spirit of God witnesses of truth. I've felt that witness many times. The Spirit is the source of testimony. It is the primary means of communication betweeen God and individuals. I'm eternally grateful for the opportunity I have to receive personal guidance and revelation in my life. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. We are led by men called of God under the direction of the Savior Himself. Their words and witnesses are the words and witnesses of God. I've had the privilege to hear dozens of them bear solemn witness of the Savior. I'm so grateful and humbled that the Lord would trust me with a part of His work. There is no place or time that I would rather be.

I love you all and will write responses to your letters when I get to read them.

2 hours later...

Alright. Doing laundry now. :) I got lot's of letters this week. :) It's always wonderful to read your letters and see what you're all doing. First, answers to questions (I'll just go in the order I read them):

Caiti: My roommates are awesome. They are all either current or "ex-companions." And yes, they eat my food. :)

1. The whole mail on P-day thing came down from our Branch President. It's not MTC wide. I get my mail throughout the week and hide it in my bottom drawer until Wednesday. :)
2. Haven't heard about any In-N-Out
3. I've gotten letters from Grandma Raymond, Ken and Nanna, Carlene.
4. I'm feeling much better.
5. I'm actually two-thirds through the MTC. 3 weeks left exactly. :)
6. Don't need anything.
7. Don't need cold stuff.
8. I've taken lot's of pictures including some with Elders Watson and Elder Day.
9. I'm in beginning Spanish.
10. No I don't mind answering questions. (mind-reader) :)

No more time eeeeeeekkkkk!!!!!!

Individual parts are gonna be short sorry.

Dad, I love reading you newsletters. Love you!

Mom, Thanks for your love. Love you!

Bryan, Congrats on your Eagle! Love you!

Caiti, Work hard, then the Lord will bless you. Love you!

Kimmee, Don't procrastinate. Love you!

Animals, Don't be idiots or pee on each other or die. Love you!

Elder Raymond

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"Wishful Thinking"

I got five ties from Mr. Mac. I have since named all five of them except one... sort of. Their names are (in the order I wear them):

"Anderson" (I was wearing it when Elder Anderson came),

"Perry" (I was wearing it when Elder Perry came),

"Speedairman" (Spiderman, said with a Spanish accent),

and "Tartar Sauce" (because I dropped a tartar sauce covered piece of fish on it the first week I was here).

You'll notice only four were named. This is because I wear the fifth every Tuesday in the hope that it will get a name at the evening devotional. That's when the Apostles come. I've been doing this so long without success that I've come to call it "Wishful Thinking." Well, last night (12Jan10) an Apostle finally came! Funny enough, my tie is still called "Wishful Thinking." Elder Perry came again. :)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Stay tuned...

So, Alec didn't write this week. Bummer. He's halfway through his time at the MTC now. We'll just have to wait to hear from him. Stay tuned for more from Elder Raymond next week (hopefully).

Thursday, January 7, 2010

He's Sick :-(

Mom's note: I usually take out the special notes Alec writes to specific family members. I left a couple in this time because it is such sweet counsel from a big brother. I did remove the name of who he wrote to (you can kinda tell anyway...) Also, a little background... I tried to get him to pack a family picture and more than one pair of white socks before he left; he refused. He ended up requesting I send him more socks...

Dear Famiree,

This week's letter is going to be fairly short for a couple of reasons. One reason is because I spent most of the morning opening a package, setting up a camera, changing my pants (they're perfect by the way), putting sockies on (I was 100% positive that I'd get an I told you so on that one :)), and reading wonderful letters from my famiree, thus, I don't have as much time as usual to write. The second is because I've been sick for a week and it's very difficult to have meaningful spiritual experiences to write about when you have a constant throbbing sinus headache. Anyway, I'm feeling much better now and I was never nearly as bad as my companion. Four elders in our district (myself included, unfortunately) got what the doctors simply called a "severe viral cold" which they told us was completely untreatable and would take weeks to recover from...ugh.... Not fun--especially the four days that I couldn't even talk. A lot of funny stuff and good stuff has come from all of us being sick though. The branch president asked us to wear yellow masks in class because we were all coughing so much. We were quite the site :). The best thing that came of it though is A LOT of hope and faith and as a result, a stronger testimony (opposition in all things, right?)

(special notes)

You're in my prayers (all of you are every morning, every evening, and several times in between, but especially dad right now :)) and I know that whatever the result of your introspection, you will only be closer to your Heavenly Father. I just hope that some day I can catch up to you. Love you!

Thanks so much for your letters and your love--oh, and by the way, everyone thinks our "spiel" is awesome and wants you for a mommy. Oh, and they want to see a picture of my family...so do I now that I think about it. Love you!

I can't wait for you to have the opportunity to serve a mission. The world needs you! Love you!

Keep up the good running! Watch out for cars, they're bigger than you are (and they're really mean)! Love you!

Regardless of what school you're in or where you want to be, do your best where you are. Only your best effort is worth anything to anyone. Other people can benefit from your gifts and talents infinitely more than you can. Do your best for them! There is a word I like to use to describe people who know more than everyone else: teacher! Love you!

Tosca, Stop being stupid and stay alive! Ya dumb dog! Love you!

Thank you all so much for your letters and your love! It means a lot to me!

Elder Raymond

P.S. Mom, I know it's really cold Provo. Trust me, I know...:)

P.P.S. Sorry that this e-mail came later than usual...like I said...less time...but the temple's finally open!

P.P.P.S. I saw an Elder Watson! Not sure which one though honestly.... His residence is in a different building, but his classroom is just down the hall from mine, so we should run into each other quite a bit.