Happy New Year!

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas! I love you all!

I loved talking to everyone on Christmas. It was awesome to “hang out” with everyone. Yeah, every mission is different. Our mission only lets us call for 40 minutes. I’m not quite sure what I would say for two or even three hours! The rest of Christmas was great. We went to the stake center, watched a mission slideshow, and watched Ephraim’s Rescue. It was okay… I liked 17 Miracles better, though.

Yes, I got both packages, Mom. Thank you SO much. My companions love the candy. We’ve gotten SO MUCH candy during Christmas. It’s ridiculous. I loved all the pictures. Christmas here was sunny and 85 degrees, so the pictures of snow were a relief. The best part by far, though, are the new scriptures. They are beautiful. I don’t have a case, though, so I’m trying to keep them safe. If you haven’t sent the package yet and you are able to find a scripture case, maybe you can put one in it. If not, though, it’s fine.

Lacey told me about everything that is for sure happening this year. I can’t believe it… it’s crazy how much we know is going to happen in just one year.

I’m not sure what else happened this week. A lot of our appointments fell through this week. It was kind of a bummer. Two of our investigators came to church and we are doing service with two other investigators tomorrow. No one in our companionship got transferred, so we will be together for another transfer. A lot of really good things are falling in to place to happen this transfer. It will go by super fast.

I emailed at the family history center today. It was really loud and distracting and other people are waiting for the computer so I’ll email more next week.

I love everyone! Tell Grandma and Grandpa Koetitz I love them!

Also, do you know what Jon and Tami’s plans are after he retires from the army?

Christmas Caroling
This picture is from one of the other Elders. He’s the one in the Santa hat. We had gone caroling.

Merry Christmas!

I LOVE Christmas… and it only gets better on a mission!

Thank you for sending pictures of snow! and the christmas tree. Now that I’ve seen snow it actually feels like it could be Christmas. The house is super festive. You’re right, Dad, my Christmas in California is probably completely different than the first Christmas on your mission in Nova Scotia.

As for when I call on Christmas, it will be sometime between 11:00 PM and 3:00 PM. I honestly do not know when it will be. We aren’t too busy during the day. I think we are just meeting as a zone, opening packages, and watching a church-related movie (I think Ephraim’s Rescue). Just be available between 11 and 3. I wish I had enough information to be more specific, but I really don’t. And to clarify, we aren’t skyping or anything like that… just the regular phone call.

I haven’t received your package yet, Mom. It may have come on Friday or Saturday or even today. I’ll just make sure our zone leaders pick it up when they go to the mission office tomorrow.

Dad: I forgot to tell you last week, because I ran out of time, but it is really good to hear that they are finally recognizing what you do at work. Congratulations on the community reception. It shows that when you are bold and honest with a community they grow to respect you and take ownership of a plan when they trust it. That’s how the entire plan will bear fruit. I’ve always been fascinated with economics and have been surprised on how foreign a concept economics is to a lot of people.

Dave and Kimball: Thanks for the advice on using members. Strangely enough, we just had a training in district meeting about doing those exact two things, and the week before, we decided as a companionship to prepare lessons instead of spiritual thoughts for members. We are having two zone conferences in January and February where all of the members are invited as well, which should be awesome. We are also asking the members who come to lessons with us to share their experiences with the ward at church on Sunday, which seems to work really well to inject a strong spirit of missionary work into our already strong ward. I’m excited to talk to you on Wednesday! I can’t believe Hyrum is already 18 months old! He is going to be such a ladies man! Fique Firme.

Lacey and Michael: Those are pretty extravagant gingerbread houses! I’m definitely impressed by Adelaide’s ;). Have fun with your first Christmas at home! I love the Christmas season where everyone around us is sensitive to the spirit of Christ. Sometimes it seems like miracles happen more often around Christmas, and as our mission president pointed out earlier this week, they do. When there is more faith in the world, God is able to perform miracles through more people. When more people are sensitive to the spirit and focused on giving, they can become instruments in God’s hands to bring happiness to those around them. The guy who switched shifts with you is a simple example of that. I love you! Merry Christmas!!!

This week was kind of strange. Last week I told you I was with Elder Rasmussen. Well, surprise, I’m with Elder Garcia and Elder Miller again. I got switched back to my normal companionship because a missionary in our zone was going to be going home early… but I saw him at the Christmas conference and he said he will be coming back (hooray for repentance!), so I have no idea what is going to happen. For all I know, I make be packing my bags for the third time in two weeks. Elder Rasmussen and I were together for three days.

We FINALLY got in contact with a less active part member family this past week. The father is a member, but works more than 80 hours a week, including on Sunday. He wants to come to church but he is afraid his crazy boss will fire him if he tries taking Sundays off. His wife and children are not members. However, when Elder Miller and Garcia met with them last week (while I was gone), they said they wanted to learn about their husband’s church because they were no longer happy with theirs, even though the daughter had just finished a year of study to officially become a member of her church. The daughter said she felt like her questions couldn’t be answered and that a lot of things her church told her just didn’t make sense. We began teaching the family mother, daughter, and son, and they are stinking awesome! They came to church on Sunday without their husband/Dad and loved it! The member who came to the lesson with us told us that it was the best lesson she had been to since she was baptized over 30 years ago. The daughter has tons of good questions, and knows considerably more about religion than the average 11 year old girl. It was definitely a miracle for us after such a weird and confusing week.

I love everyone! I’ll talk to you on Christmas!

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Here is our mission picture. This is 1/3 of our mission. The other 2/3 had their own Christmas Conferences and had their picture taken seperately. If you can’t find me, I’m in the front row.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas is, without a doubt, the MOST wonderful time of the year!

This week was incredible!

Honestly, I don’t remember what happened at the beginning of the week. Every Tuesday we do service at a senior center. This week they discovered I play the piano and had me play for their Christmas luncheon. All of the seniors loved it and the volunteer supervisor made me keep playing even after the luncheon ended. The five missionaries in our ward sang at our Ward Christmas Party. Honestly, it was probably pretty awful. I’ll just say that some of the missionaries in our ward sing better than others… some of them sing in the “monotone” range. I also played Christmas music on the piano while everyone ate dinner, played at three baptisms this week, might be singing or playing at a funeral this week, and played the organ at church on Sunday. So don’t be worried at all. I’ve definitely been taking President Larson’s advice and have been sharing the talents I’ve been given.

Tyler- Go to the temple again and again and again. It is such a faith-building experience. As Dad shared, each time you feel even more the sacred and eternal nature of the atonement and plan of salvation.

Also, we met a family here, the Winders, who were great friends with the Condons when Brother Condon joined the church 30-ish years ago. Tell The Condons Hello from the Winders!

Thank you so much for the package I am definitely looking forward to it. It will be such a blessing to have new scriptures. Also, if anyone has found effective ways for marking scriptures (especially effective for missionary work), let me know. I’ve heard a few different opinions, but before I begin marking my new scriptures I would like a plan of attack. Because I’ve really discovered on my mission, almost every single verse can be good enough that I want to mark it at some point.

On Christmas, I will be calling sometime after ten or eleven. I’m honestly not sure what time yet. Our schedule on Christmas shows that we will be doing a zone activity from 10:00 AM- 5:00 PM, and during that time we will call home. That’s a pretty broad spectrum of time, so hopefully this week at district meeting we get a LITTLE more information. My guess is between 1:00-4:00PM. I will let you know next week for sure.

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Now for the miracles of the week.
In Long Beach, we taught a sweet husband and wife, whose names are Kyle and Nicci. I think I shared before, Kyle needed approval from the first presidency to get baptized. We waited… and waited… and waited to here back from Salt Lake, but we expected it may take a month or so based on the character of his past. Simultaneously, his wife, Nicci, was was meeting with the Bishop in hopes of being rebaptized because she had been excommunicated in her similarly murky past. Nicci’s son, who she has been afraid will follow the same broken path as so many of the people she knows, came to visit for Thanksgiving and Christmas. On Monday of this week, Nicci received approval (after more than a year) to be rebaptized. On Thursday, Kyle received permission from the First Presidency to be baptized. So, with no delay. Kyle was baptized on Saturday. He received the priesthood on Sunday and baptized his wife Sunday night. This family showed through their patience and through their faith that they truly were willing to leave every sin which easily doth beset them for something better… for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. After Kyle and Nicci were baptized, Kyle told me, “I finally have a reason to celebrate Christmas”. Nicci was in tears during her whole baptism. She said, “I always knew the day would come when I would be rebaptized. I always knew that Kyle would be here to support me. He always has been. He is my very best friend. But I never thought that he would be the one to baptize me”. Even better, the whole family was able to experience this miracle together. This truly will be the best Christmas this family has ever experienced. And it is simply because they turned their lives to Christ. Every part of their life has been blessed, and they will freely admit it. Kyle said he could no longer deny the truthfulness of Christianity when he saw the blessing and eternal potential it provided for his family. In his words, believing in other Gods just stopped making sense.

To add to this miracle, I also taught another man in Long Beach named Ernest. I believe I may have talked about him before. We taught him the Gospel of Jesus Christ, gave him the pamphlet and came back the next day. He had read the whole pamphlet, answered all the questions, and was searching for even more. We taught more. He studied more. We taught the Word of Wisdom and asked him to stop smoking after 30+ years. After reading and studying the pamphlet and hearing the testimony of a recent convert, he set down cigarettes for good… cold turkey. He didn’t even believe he could do it. He was baptized at the same time as Nicci.

Also, when I was at the baptisms, my companion, Elder Miller and Elder Garcia were still hard at work. They went by a less active part member family who we have been by most likely 1000 times this transfer, and were never home. Finally, they opened the door while I was at the baptism and invited Elder Miller and Elder Garcia in. The husband, who is the member, told them that Saturday night was the only night in three months he had off from work, that it was a miracle that they were home. His wife told my companions that her husband was holding her back from learning more about Mormons because he’s always gone and doens’t have time to talk from the missionaries. Her 13-year old daughter told my companions that both her and her Mom want to be baptized and they don’t care if her Dad is home, they still want to learn.
This is a family the ward has been trying to activate/fellowship for years and years.

Everything I have seen this week is truly a testament that diligence and patience when it is hard to be diligent and patient brings huge blessings. Kyle and Nicci were able to be baptized the same weekend, with their son there to see it, after waiting months and months. This part member family wants to learn after years and years of the ward reaching out unsuccessfully to them. On Sunday, one of our ward members said to look for no’s in missionary work. That way, if we make a goal to have five people decline our invitations each week, we can successfully reach our goal. However, along the way, someone is bound to say yes.

On another note, an Elder in our zone went home for Christmas, so I actually got transferred to another ward in our zone. My new companion is Elder Rasmussen. We aren’t really sure how permanent this is. I could be back with Elder Miller and Garcia in two weeks when the transfer ends.

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This picture is from Brenden’s baptism.

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This is a boa constrictor (I think) that a less active family in our ward had. It is super calm. Don’t worry, Mom!

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Earnest’s Baptism

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Kyle’s Baptism

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Nicci’s Baptism

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This is our “Christmas Tree” and a snowman we made out of grapefruit we picked from a widow’s yard. We trimmed all of her fruit trees and had more fruit than we could eat without killing ourselves, so we decided to put it to good use.

Hot Chocolate in Chilly 75˚ Weather

I’m living in the “cold” of California. Yesterday we woke up to FROST on the roof of the neighboring apartment complex. If that’s not crazy for Cypress, I don’t know what is. My one sweater is feeling a little thin every day, but the members are compensating by giving us cups of hot chocolate whenever it dips below 75 degrees. It’s funny to see people walking around in huge jackets every day. I wonder what they would do if they stepped outside into -20 degrees in Rexburg. My companion, Elder Garcia, has been having the same problems with his hands, Mom. He is from Hawaii and he has been freezing here. He has only seen snow twice in his life, when he lived in Maryland, so 45 degree nights for him are a kind of like 0 degree nights for you. He keeps trying to turn the heater in our house up to 90 degrees.

This week was fantastic. The beginning was slow and frustrating, but it is amazing how a few good experiences can wash away memories of many not-so-good experiences.

On Friday, we had a Zone blitz in our area. I think I described what that was a month or so ago when we had one in Long Beach. We prepared a little bit differently this time. We didn’t have many former investigators that would set appointment with us and we couldn’t get members out since it was a weekday in the morning, but we planned and prepared relentlessly nonetheless. It turned out really well.

During the blitz, another Elder and I knocked on a door of a former investigator. The woman who answered the door informed us he wasn’t there, but she was super friendly and we quickly struck up a conversation. Her name is Anna and she is getting married on the 17th to the man she has been dating for 7 years. We discovered that she is atheist, and when asked why, she simply said it is because she has never had religion in her home. I asked her what faith is. After her brief, generic response, the missionary with me pulled out his scriptures to Alma 32, which of course is perfect for defining faith. Anna was touched and told us it’s “eery” how we read that scripture since she was just thinking earlier in the week about why she didn’t believe in God. She became excited as we taught her that she has a loving Heavenly Father who cares and watches out for her and as we shared with her how she can develop faith. After eagerly accepting scriptures so she could finish reading Alma 32, she invited us back. We prayed, and afterwards she told us she felt great and that she wanted to pray every day. It is amazing how when we prepare, God is able to send us where we need to go, even if our plans don’t follow through.

Another set of missionaries met two foster kids named Fernando and Bryan. They had a good conversation with them and set an appointment for us on Saturday morning. We then called all of our members who said they were available on Saturday mornings and they all said no except one: the young men’s president. You would think we would have called him first. We had a great lesson with Fernando and Bryan. A few years ago, four foster kids who lived in the same group home were baptized, and our ward has really rallied around these two kids that we are teaching now. They came to the baptism of our investigator, Brenden, two hours after our lesson with them. Then, when invited by our Ward Mission Leader, they went to the LA Temple to see Christmas lights and go to the visitor’s center. While they, they realized that they sit at the same lunch table as a priest-age young man that we helped reactivate. To make a long story short, everything fell perfectly into place. They already want to be baptized and have real, sincere intent.

Of course, we also had a baptism on Saturday for Brenden, which I already mentioned. The service was great. Brenden loves collecting rocks. Earlier this transfer, we talked to a neighbor of a lady we were going to do service for to invite her to help with service. Though she couldn’t help, we had a great conversation. In the course of that conversation, she somehow ended up giving us a huge chunk of petrified wood they found somewhere in the Northwest. We gave that piece of wood to Brenden during the baptism, tying it in to Helaman 5:12 (having a firm foundation in Christ) and turning it into the only prayer rock I have ever seen that is also a fossil. He was pretty stoked.

Mom- As far as pictures go, mostly just recent pictures of our family members. They don’t have to be “family pictures”, but maybe just a few of the pictures that have been sent by everyone in recent months to my email, and whatever else you would like to include. Also, possibly pictures of home (Spokane and Lady and Whitepanther). I’ve just had a few experiences where it would be useful to have those pictures. Oh, and maybe just a picture of snow!
Also, I forgot to mention this last week. I really need a new set of scriptures. My current ones have fallen apart beyond repair. I don’t even take them with me anymore. I’ve just been using a pass-along copy of the Book of Mormon and a pass along copy of the Holy Bible.

If you send me new ones, I would prefer the mini split version of the scriptures (Where the Bible is separate from the Book of Mormon) in blue if it is available, brown if it is not.

I’m surprised how many people in our ward right now work with special ed kids. In fact, Bryan, one of the foster kids we are working with, has a slight mental disability. It is mostly just a reading disability. I’ve been surprised on my mission how common these disabilities really are and how much confusion there is about what they really are. It has been a huge blessing on my mission already to have your background in special education. I didn’t realize until now that I have really learned from your example and am able work with those with disabilities because of it. I love you! Hopefully you don’t feel too lonely with all of the Christmas activities while Dad is gone!

Tyler- It is so exciting that you are going through the temple. My advice would be to go as often as you can. The more you go, the better it gets. Also, I would suggest trying to prepare family names and at least doing baptisms for them before you leave, if possible. I know some sides of our family already have a lot of work done, but there is always more work to do! The church is really pushing to involve the full-time missionaries more in Family History work, and the more you have experienced it, the better it will be. I wish I would have taken time to do more before I left.

Lacey- Holy cow! I thought this was going to be a part-time, three days a week job. Crazy! What exactly does your job entail? Are you staying in Arizona for Christmas?

Grandma- I loved that quote from President Hinckley! It is so true!

Dad- I hope you will at least be home for Christmas! It sounds like a busy December. Busy is good, though, right?
Thank you for the advice on working with members. It is so essential, and I’ve realized here that there is a difference between just talking to members and helping them come closer to Christ. It is easy to just chat with members as a missionary, but that forsakes my purpose as a full-time missionary. I love you and miss you. Hopefully you get a chance to see Mom before 2014!

I love you! Happy Holidays, everyone! This is seriously the most wonderful time of the year.

Thanksgiving Recap

Thanksgiving!

For Thanksgiving we had two dinner appointments. The first was at an older widow’s home in our stake. The second was at a recently reactivated Hispanic families house… and let me tell you, Hispanic families DON’T LET YOU STOP EATING! I finally had to stop halfway through dessert because I could tell if I took another bite I would be putting my dinner back on the table. It was rough. She had a lot of family there crammed in her double-wide mobile home, too, and most of them didn’t speak English. We tried sharing a spiritual thought, but right when we tried, an old woman started pulling bottles of tequila out from under the table and we decided it was time to go. Don’t worry, the reactivated family wasn’t drinking… but everyone else definitely was.

One of the sons in the family is preparing to serve a mission next year. We’ve made it a goal in this ward to take a priest age young man out with us at least twice a month…. the young men in this ward have a lot of potential, but definitely need good, spiritual experiences with the missionaries to encourage them to get on or stay on the right path.

I don’t remember what I told you last week, but this Saturday we will be baptizing a young boy named Brenden. He is nine and he lives with his Grandmother. She became active because she wanted Brenden and his little sister to be raised in a strong, faith-driven home. Brenden’s parents live close by, but aren’t financially or mentally capable of raising children. One of them is in rehab and the other just isn’t mature enough to be trusted with his children. It is sad to see their family situation, but it is invigorating to see grandparents who will move across the country to guarantee the well-being (spiritually and physically) of their grandchildren. Brenden is awesome. He pretty much taught us the Law of Chastity and Word of Wisdom.

We are also working with an 84 year old woman whose husband died exactly a year ago. She is strong friends with her neighbors, who are ward missionaries. She is at a critical point in her life where she is open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Plus, she yearns to see her husband again and the knowledge of the Plan Salvation is giving her something to rely upon during a holiday season that now only reminds her of the last moments of her husband’s life.

It is amazing to see that no matter where we are in life, the Gospel of Jesus Christ aids us perfectly and completely.
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Lacey, Kimmie, Ryan, Dad, David, Michael… and whoever else wants to chip in their two cents… What do you do to energize an area that has a reputation (among members and missionaries) of being “slow”? Our ward members are all great at praying for missionary opportunities and creating family mission plans, and our three investigators are all member referrals, but we find ourselves struggling daily to know where to go and what to do. It is still kind of alien to me, coming from an area where we literally don’t have time to make it from appointment to appointment.

We are visiting and seeking referrals from members, trying to work with less actives, visiting potentials, doing service, contacting, even knocking (sometimes), Our ward mission leader, ward missionaries, and ward council are effective and fantastic, but what can we do that is more effective? We just haven’t seen results from doing those same things every day, and as President Tew loves reminding us, doing something the same way and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

I love Cypress. The ward is great, the area is nice, and I see potential. How do we turn that potential into fruit? As a companionship, we don’t want to fall into a spirit of complacency.
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The picture you sent from Thanksgiving looks like a record small Thanksgiving (in numbers of people) for the Madsens. Crazy! And it seems weird to just go to a tree lot to get a tree. The four-wheeler is probably feeling a little left out at this point. We helped a member of our ward set up their fake Christmas tree. Something about opening up a tree like an umbrella just seems wrong to me.

Being on a mission definitely fills my heart with gratitude, especially around the holiday seasons. Their is nothing better than the holidays. Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. You will need to send pictures of the Christmas tree and actual winter! It seems like people here compensate for the lack of snow by using a ridiculous amount of Christmas lights and decorations on their lawn. It is weird in Cypress. You can see the mountains, which means you can see palm trees and snow at the same time. The tops of the mountains are finally getting snow. It is really disorienting.

Ryan— That is AWESOME that one of your fellow interns got baptized! I really do feel the work hastening around the world. We have a missionary in our district from Hong Kong. He has been out 18 months and the language barrier is definitely still there sometimes. He is great, though. He is so diligent!

Lacey— Cypress is chock full of Taiwanese people. I been practicing the three phrases I know in Mandarin. Hello, I love you, and Thank you. It sounds like half our family was at Liz’s house!

Kimmie— I hope you feel better!

Tyler—- I can’t believe you leave in less than two months for your mission. I am so excited for us both to be out at the same time. It sounds like you are super involved in the single’s ward. I miss our Single’s Ward.

Isaac—- I’ve heard the 7 Habits series is something that anyone who wants to call themselves remotely successful must read. That is sweet that they have retreats based on it. How was it? I really want to read the books when I get back. In fact, that is a series that my MTC Branch president made me promise to read when I get home.

I love you all! Merry Christmas season!