Monday, August 31, 2015

August 24, 2015 - Woodstock, New Brunswick

Dear Family,

After I posted that picture of our family on Facebook, I have been receiving comments from the members here on what a "good-looking family I have." I have told quite a few people that Chris just went on a mission and that our family won't have been together for 3 years by the time he gets home. People recognize the happiness in our family and that was very humbling. It made me really grateful for our family.

It has been a long week. This week it was the hottest it's been all summer with temperatures getting up to 30 degrees Celsius. On Thursday we spent most of the day in the sun. In between street contacting and knocking for an hour and a half, I felt out of breath so we took a 10 minute break just to get some liquids in us and I took some Ventolin as well. I guess Chris is going to have to get used that type of weather where he's going. The big difference is he'll have to deal with dry heat where I have to deal with wet heat. 

So yesterday we received transfer letters and I am staying in Woodstock with Elder Evans for another transfer. This didn't come as a surprise to me but I can never feel completely secure. The only time I'll feel totally comfortable going into a transfer will be when I go home :P. As for the Houlton Sisters Sister Trouter is being transferred to Amherst and Sister Deberry is staying in Houlton and will be training a new missionary from the MTC. My birthday will fall a week (6 days) before transfers next transfer.  This upcoming transfer will consist of: a CES devotional, zone conference, general conference, and my birthday so it should be a pretty eventful transfer. 

Wednesday we had district meeting in Caribou. We got trained on district unity and holding each other accountable. Each companionship had their own goals for the week and Elder Thompson had us follow-up on each other with each of our goals. After District Meeting we went knocking in the backwood's of Island Falls. There were a bunch of nice cabins there and none of the people were really receptive and didn't feel like they needed the gospel when they already have a beautiful view and a nice cabin. So that ended up being ineffective.

Friday, we picked up a new investigator. He is 23 years old and is the owner of a bookstore in downtown Woodstock. He isn't religious but is very open minded, He has a old copy of the Book of Mormon in his bookstore. He is really cool and super nice. We taught him the Restoration and felt like the lesson went well. 
Saturday, we decided to mix things up a bit and do a Popsicle stand instead of a lemonade stand with the Sisters. It worked out pretty well. More people came and talked to us so it was nice.

Sunday we had a really cool experience in the evening. After we had dinner, we decided to go see a sister because she had another surgery today. So we went there and she was sleeping so we didn't end up seeing her. Then the thought popped into our heads "Maybe we should visit this other family so we went by their house and all their lights were off. So we decided to drive around the block and call and make sure it was okay for us to stop by. We called and they told us we could come by. So we did and when we got there the wife told us that her son who is about 5 years had been in pain not wanting to move and had been lying in bed all day. So she wanted us to give him a blessing in his bed. After we give him a blessing, he started playing with his toys. She said he was in so much pain before that he didn't want to play. She was amazed. He was still in a lot of pain and was favouring his right arm. Her husband was still in Saint John so they had no priesthood in the home. It was a strong testimony to me of the power of the priesthood. It was a very humbling experience. 

Have a good week!

Elder O'Brien (The older)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

August 17, 2015 - Woodstock, New Brunswick

Dear Family,
On a sunny Monday morning I write my final letter to you as the only Elder O'Brien in the family. I was excited to find out that Chris has his visa and that his mission won't be delayed. After Wednesday, there will only be 3 family members at home. It is a new chapter in our family's life. Both sons have grown up and gone on missions. It will be an emotional day on Wednesday and it will be hard to let go but the experiences Chris will have and the blessings you'll receive will make it worth having us both gone. When you drop off Chris at the MTC I won't be there, but when you pick up Chris from the Airport I will be with you with you waiting for him in the terminal with my arms wrapped around you bracing ourselves for an emotional reunion and we will be together as a family. Remember that on Wednesday. 

It has been a long week. A week of labour and emotional times. 
So on Saturday the entire district painted a lady's house. She has special needs and she's not able to paint the house herself. She told a member of the church she wanted someone she could trust and Sister P told her she knows exactly who she can trust. So she got us, the Houlton Sisters, the Caribou Elders, and the Presque Isle Sisters to come and help paint her house (The lady we helped). She lives in Madawasqua, Maine. It was two and a half hours away and we had to get permission from President Pratt to go. It is right on the border to Quebec. I'm not kidding; Quebec was only 16 kilometers from where we were on Saturday. It was on the very tip of our mission boundaries. So Sister P told us that it would last for 3 to 4 hours. But it ended up taking 7 hours to paint the whole house. I was pretty exhausted by the end of the day and I was sore yesterday. I had never done a district service project before that. It was a good time. We all had fun and we got to bond as a district. I was on the ground painting most of the time. While other members of the district were 20 feet in the air on the ladder, I stayed put on the ground. On the way there the GPS took us from Maine to Canada and back to Maine. Apparently it was faster so we did and the border was very hard on us. So on the way back, we just went from Madawasqua to Caribou and then back to Woodstock. We went through Edmunston, New Brunswick on the way there. When we got to Edmunston, it felt like we were in Quebec because everything was in French. We could tell that Quebec wasn't too far away. So that was the labour side of the week.
So there's this couple in the branch named J and L. They are a younger couple. The wife is very active but J is not. J had a rough upbringing as a child. They are polar opposites of each other. L is very clean and active in the gospel while J isn't active and isn't very committed. The other week on the phone J lied to her about where he was. L caught him on that and was upset with her thinking, "If he's lying to me about this what else is he lying to me about?" So now they are separated and L wants to get a divorce. She is tired of living with him and having to deal with his issues. Last Monday night, J asked us to give him a blessing to help him get through this. So we did and it was a really powerful blessing. After it was done, we were all crying. So on the weekend J wanted to meet with us and he told us his life story and everything that happened with him and his wife. J is similar to Elder Evans' brother and he feels very close to J because he reminds him so much of his brother. This hits home to me for me too. L reminds me so much of Julie and J is similar to her ex-husband. But J is a lot more humble about the situation and he acknowledges his weaknesses and the issues that he has. We are J's only sources of support right now and he is attached to us and we are attached to him. It is hard for me to be around L because I flashback to Julie when she was going through a divorce. I feel drawn to talk to L and use my experience with Julie going through a divorce to help her. I feel like they're the reason I'm in this area right now. So that has been the emotional side of the week.
After lunch on Friday we street contacted in Houlton and the first two people we talked to we picked up as potential investigators. It was a surprise to me and Elder Evans. That rarely happens. 
Had a good week! Good luck Chris! Have a fun trip!

Elder O'Brien

Friday, August 14, 2015

August 10, 2015 - Woodstock, New Brunswick

Food Portions at Grammys
Hello Family,
Let me start off my letter by saying "Happy Birthday, Dad." Hope you have a nice birthday filled with a day full of relaxation and peace like you deserve. There is a famous ice cream place in Houlton called "Houlton Dairy Farms and Ice Cream." They are known to have very good ice cream. We will be going there today in honour of your birthday. 

It has been a very interesting week. They say that this is the Bible Belt of the mission and that was evident this weekend. While we were knocking on Friday, we knocked into a man. He opened the door and we told him we were missionaries. Then he said "I have a few issues with you guys, first of all you are too young to be an elder, second of all you don't have credentials to be a representative of Jesus Christ." He explained to us that Jesus was a lawmaker and a fisherman. We then asked him if his disciples had any credentials; he responded by saying "It is unfair and not right for you to be asking me questions." We tried testifying but he cut us off. The conversation ended by him telling us "to do our research and go home, you are doing the wrong thing, you have been indoctrinated." Then he slammed the door in our face.
So this week I got a strong impression that I should talk to a lady I helped baptize but I was afraid to. I didn't know how she would react to me after her decision to quit coming to church. So eventually I sent her a message on Facebook telling her that I felt like I should talk to her and I just asked her how her and her family are doing. She responded to me saying that they are doing good. She asked me how I was doing. It was just a really good friendly conversation. This conversation I had with her just showed me that she still wants to be friends with me and it showed her I still want to be friends with her. As long as were still friends there is still hope for her. This impression gave me a glimmer of hope. 

Last Wednesday, we had District Meeting in Houlton. Elder Thompson talked about how we need to let ourselves become the missionary the Lord wants us to become and he quoted a scripture in Mosiah that says our afflictions and our trials will be but a small moment. It was a good reminder that everything I go through is for my benefit. After District Meeting, we went as a district to a Catholic food pantry and helped move some boxes. Over the last 3 weeks of me being here, I have noticed that this is a very close-knit district. This is the closest district I've ever been a part of. We all love each other and we all want to work hard for each other. There is a good spirit of unity in this district that I love. For dinner, the Lee's took us out to Grammy's. It is a restaurant exclusive to Maine. It is known for its large proportions of food. The slogan for the restaurant is "Grammy's... Where you get more then you expect!" Elder Evans had been telling me that I'll get the most served to me in my entire life. Of course I didn't really believe him at the time and doubted that. So I ordered roast beef with sweet potatoes. When they came out with my dinner, I was shocked at how much they gave me. I definitely wasn't expecting that much food. I ended having to take leftovers home. 
On Saturday, we went on exchanges with the Caribou Elders. Elder Evans went to Caribou with Elder Thompson and I was in Woodstock with Elder Stratton. Elder Stratton is a brand new missionary from the MTC. He has been in the mission field for about 3 weeks now.  He was supposed to come out with me last year but when we got to the MTC, he decided he wasn't ready so he worked for a year and saved money. So he came back out this transfer. He is a good new missionary. It was a good exchange. I was able to be a mentor to him and teach him a few things. On the exchange, we had lessons with two investigators. With both of them, we taught them about the Book of Mormon. One investigator has been smoke-free for a week now. In both lessons I was able to take the lead. So that was a good experience of me taking the lead. 
Have a good week!

Elder O'Brien

Monday, August 3, 2015

August 3, 2015 - Woodstock, New Brunswick

Dear Family,
It has been a much more sunny and hot week this week. We had hardly any rain and the temperature stayed above 20 degrees all week. Thursday was a bit of a hard day for me. I had flashbacks of when I got dropped off at the MTC and saying goodbye to you. At times during the day, I had a hard time focusing. But I was able to get through that day. I was able to commemorate my 1 year mark on Thursday by burning one of my white shirts that I got pen marks on by accident. So it wasn't good to wear anyway. It was a good burning.
They say when you go on a mission it is the passing of an era and that you start a new life. Elder Holland talked about it in a talk he gave at the MTC, "Feed My Sheep." He said that we can never go back to the people we were before our missions. That hour we entered the MTC, we began a new life. He talked about Peter and Jesus asking him to leave his net To quote what he said, "When I asked you to be a missionary, it was for forever! When I asked you to be an apostle, it was for forever! When I asked you to feed my sheep, it was for forever! You must never go back to your nets Elders and Sisters." It is very common among missionaries to be scared to go home and get back into old habits and turn into the person they were before their missions.
When we go home we will have to live on our own, we will have to find a career, we will have to date and get married, we will have to support a family, we will have to find a new job. It makes you want to be a missionary forever when you think about it. So it is easy to be discouraged about going home and facing all these new life pressures that we didn't have to worry about when we were on our missions. It is something I am getting scared of myself. But we as missionaries just need to remember that the Lord has great things in store for us and a mission provides experiences that will help you deal with things that you'll face in your lives. Elder Holland said in his talk that every meaningful thing that has happened to him in his life is because of his mission. He said that a mission is supposed to create a lasting change within us.
Some of the things I want to work on in the 2nd half of my mission is being more bold with people (with companions, with investigators, with less-actives, with members, with proselyting, etc.). Far too often I find that I am too timid and passive.  I want to be better at listening to people. I want to take more notes during my personal study. I want to write in my journal more. I want to memorize more scriptures. I want to increase my teaching ability. I want to take the initiative more. 
I got to go to Caribou, Maine on an exchange, During the exchange, I got to ride a bike for the first time on my mission. We went and put up posters around town. We also gave service at a food bank in Caribou. We got to take boxes of food to people's cars. It was a good workout. Those boxes weighed a lot and were quite heavy.  We also mowed a less active's lawn for about an hour and a half. She had a very big yard too and the lawn mower was short so I had to bend down every time I had to turn it around. It was very tiring. She is allergic to grass so that's why she has missionaries mow her lawn. But she fed us dinner afterwards. So between carrying boxes, riding our bicycles on up hill roads and mowing a less-active's lawn, I did a lot of labor on the exchange.
A new change came out from the mission this week. We will no longer be counting finding hours and contacts on Sundays to meet the finding standards. To quote President Pratt, "Sunday is a day to observe the sabbath, not to rush to meet standards." Right now a big focus in the mission is to make the sabbath day more of a personal experience for missionaries. On my mission, I have found that Sundays feel like just another regular day. They don't feel different like they did back home. So that is something that President Pratt is working on changing right now and I think this is a good first step. I also had my first interview with President Pratt. In my interview he wanted to get to know me more and my background. He asked me about my family, about my mission, what I did before my mission, etc. He also asked me about my personal study and our companionship studies. Then I asked him if key indicators will still count on Sundays and the answer was yes. Just not the number of people we talk to or the number of hours we knock. He then thanked me for making this transfer work. He said he knows it's been a harder one but he appreciates me making it work.
Thursday was my one year mark. We gave service in the morning and then we did a lemonade stand with the sisters in the afternoon in Woodstock. We had lots of people come up and talk to us.
Saturday we did another lemonade stand with the sisters. Except this time it was supposed to be in Houlton but we need a permit to do a lemonade stand in Houlton so we ended up doing it in Woodstock again. Not as many people came this time though. We were able to visit our investigator that evening and we picked her roommate up as a new investigator. She was asking us a lot of good questions about the bible and requested a Book of Mormon, Meanwhile her roommate was asking us questions about the Plan of Salvation. It was awesome. We were able to get into a teaching situationafter teaching her the stop-smoking program.
Have a good week!
Elder O'Brien

July 27, 2015 - Woodstock, New Brunswick

Hello Family,

It has been a very cool week here in New Brunswick. It rained for most of the week and we hardly saw any sun. The cool weather is putting a damper on the summer. So hopefully we start getting more sun this week and for the rest of the summer.
I was excited to learn of the new "My Plan" program for all prospective and returned missionaries that will be coming out in August. I think it will be a great way for missionaries to apply the life skills and attributes they learned on their mission and apply them to the rest of their lives. I am grateful for this new program. You can be rest assured that I will start using it when it comes out. Although I wish it would have came out before my mission. Better late then never I guess. I am glad that Chris will be able to use it for his whole mission though. It seems whenever something associated with the Church happens or comes out, missionaries are always one of the first ones to find out about it. That is one of the perks of being a missionary. You get a inside scoop on everything that goes on in the Church.
A year ago today, I was sitting on the stand at the church in Stirling getting ready to give my farewell talk in front of all our family and friends. I remember that day perfectly. I remember feeling sick in the morning because I was nervous that the spotlight was on me that day. I remember Dad giving me a blessing that morning so that I could give my farewell talk with no troubles. I remember going to church and having everyone come up to me and shake my hand. I remember looking out from the pulpit and seeing people back to the gym. I remember feeling in control when I gave my farewell talk. I remember feeling confident. I remember feeling the spirit. I remember lots of people complimenting me on the talk I gave. I remember people telling me that it was the best farewell talk they've ever heard. I remember feeling overwhelmed with love and support of all my friends and family. I remember the amount of people that came to my open house that afternoon. I remember Chris being more nervous than I was that he wouldn't see his brother again for 3 years. I remember him being very emotional that day. I remember when President Evanson came and set me apart. I remember the powerful spirit that was there. I remember giving everyone a hug that was there (including Shawn). What a sacred day that was and one that I will never forgot and you'll never forget. I remember saying goodbye to Julie the next morning. I remember her giving a heartfelt prayer for me that morning. What a weekend that was.
This morning I read over my farewell talk and my setting apart from President Evanson. Yesterday, I looked over all the farewell cards I got from family and friends that day. I shed some tears as I was doing so. Realizing the amount of love and support I have back home. I experienced flashbacks to that day.
A year later, I now find myself sad that I hit my year mark on Thursday. As I have had the most fun I've ever had in my entire life and the most happiness in my entire life in this past year. I have grown the most in this past year than I have in any other year alone. At the beginning of my mission, I was scared of the next 2 years. Two years seemed like forever to me. But now I find myself wanting more time. I've realized that 2 years is an incredibly short amount of time and it goes by way too fast.
I thought a lot about this past year and what I have learned. Some of the skills I've developed are planning, working with people, the importance of follow-up, how much people matter, patience, open communication, talking to people, discipline, organization, cooking, communication, studying. There's probably more skills I've developed but I just can't think of them right now. 
I have also thought about if I were to write a homecoming talk what experiences I would share. I think I would share about how I learned the importance of being obedient early on in my mission when I was in Hampton. I would share the experience I had in Kentville with giving M** the Holy Ghost and baptizing her and her mom. I would share the memories I had of the winter shoveling roofs. I would share the experience I had coming to Bridgewater when there wasn't much happening at first. I would share the experience I had with a companion there and how open communication helped me love him and now he is one of my best friends. I would share how I ended up having the most success with Elder M** out of any of my other companions. That is a summary of what I would share if I were to give a homecoming talk one year in. 
My week was much better than last week. I have gotten settled in and I am feeling much more comfortable now. Although as far as the work goes, it was a rough week. Things fell apart on us and our week was all over the place. The work has been stagnant here. This is proving to be the hardest area I've served in so far. The work is going at a slow moving process.
It was branch conference yesterday. So we got to hear from the Stake Presidency in Sacrament. The stake presidency consists of President Spragg (SP), President Elliot (1C), and President Straight (2C). President Straight spoke about the organization of the Church. He spoke on how we as human beings naturally doubt revelation that we receive. President Elliot spoke on the difference between a sheep herder and shepherd. A sheep herder pushes the sheep along from the back. A shepherd has the sheep follow him. He related that how we are all shepherds in the Church. We are all leaders. We all have a circle of influence and we need to have the people that we influence follow us. President Spragg spoke about facing trials with confidence. He also said in his talk that he thought of missionaries as being shepherds. He said that he has a son that is going on a mission. He is going to the Edmonton Mission and will be reporting to the MTC, August 12th. So when you go to the MTC Chris watch out for a Elder Spragg. In Sunday School, it was combined with the Priesthood and the Relief Society. The Stake showed us the first part of the training that the Quorum of the Twelve apostles and the First Presidency gave at General Conference to all the area seventies on "Sabbath Day Observance." They talked about making Sacrament more of a meaningful experience by being to sacrament meeting early. They went in depth about each part of the sacramental prayer. Elder Holland spoke about the frequency of the sacrament and how it is the most repeatable ordinance in our Church. They talked about that we do everything "IN THE NAME OF CHRIST".
After Church we had linger longer.Everyone brought food items and then we all ate it. It was really good food. We ended up with a bunch of leftovers that the members gave us including bread, chili, cake, lasagna and more. Overall I really enjoyed branch conference and got a lot from it.
We had zone training on Wednesday in Fredericton for the New Brunswick West Zone. The STL's gave a training on teaching for understanding with the plan of salvation. In the afternoon, we got a training from the zone leaders on "Observance" and asking inspired questions. It was pretty good overall. I didn't really learn anything new but it's good to review.
We did a lemonade stand with the Houlton Sisters on Thursday. We had quite a few people come up to us and get some so it was a good success. But it began raining really hard after a while so we had to shut it down quickly.
On Friday we visited a new convert. We taught him about missionary work. He is really enthusiastic about the gospel right now and we want to teach him how to use that to his advantage.
One of the members here I have really connected with. He reminds me of Uncle Jason. He is very sarcastic and has a sense of humor like mine except he's like that consistently. He is just so funny and I got a kick out of him every time.
On another funny note.. lately my companion has been sharing spiritual thoughts with me in his sleep. Like the other day, he shared a scripture with me from Moses and Isaiah. Then he invited me to have faith in Isaiah. In my head I'm thinking "Kay sounds good Elder, thank you for the spiritual enlightenment in the middle of my sleep."
And the other night he said a prayer for a former investigator.
Have a good week!
Elder O'Brien

July 20, 2015 - Woodstock, New Brunswick

Hello Family,
It has been a very busy week for me. It has been a rough couple first days in my new area with my new companion. In my final days in Bridgewater, I intended to go out with a bang and I feel like I did. On my final day in Bridgewater, an investigator got baptized and a member got his mission call. I received the tender mercies of the Lord that day. I felt like I got rewarded for all the work I did there. I left knowing I made a difference. The area was a lot different from when I found it. It has been a difficult adjustment for me being transferred here. It has been such a long time since I got transferred I have forgotten what it feels like to be transferred. In Bridgewater, I knew exactly what to do at every hour of the day. I knew exactly who to see, I knew exactly who to work with. I knew exactly where to go. I knew Bridgewater inside and out. Now I don't who any of the people area. I know little about the area and the investigators. It has been a very slow adjustment.
In my first few days in Woodstock, I have gone back and forth between the borders successfully without any issues. Although they did tell me that my B1 Visa has expired and took it out of my passport. I have enjoyed going to Maine in my new area. I didn't think I would get serve in Maine on my mission but now I do as part of my area. Maine seems very patriotic and American from my first impressions. It has been a nice change going to the US. We get to buy cheaper milk there and they have Dunkin' Doughnuts as well. Maine is along the I-95 and the I-95 goes all the way down to Florida. Houlton is about a 20 minute drive from Woodstock. Our area covers all the way to Island Falls in Maine which is another additional 20 minutes away from Houlton.
Woodstock is a town of about 4, 000 people. It is the first town that got settled in New Brunswick. It is home of the world's largest covered bridge. It is a smaller town. Woodstock is located on the Bible Belt. There is a lot of different religions here including Pentecostal, Baptists, Catholics, and Protestants. But I haven't ran into any bible bashers yet. The people here seem very nice.
So it is a branch here. "The Houlton Branch" is a branch of about 60 people. There isn't a third priesthood rule here due to the lack of priesthood holders. The branch president is an older man. They just called a new branch mission leader yesterday. He is very passionate and enthusiastic about missionary work. It seems like a very close-knit branch. The members seem very close with one another. We have about 7 investigators that we're teaching right now. I've only met one of them. They have been teaching her the stop-smoking program and are hoping to transition into teaching her the lessons. The rest of their investigators seem more like stop-by investigators. They had a recent convert that just got baptized 2 weeks ago and received the Aaronic Priesthood yesterday. He is an older man. They also have a number of less actives that they are working with.
We had a meeting with the branch mission leader yesterday and he said that the branch president wants him to "tighten up" on the missionaries. Apparently some members are complaining that the missionaries are spending too much time on the computer.The members seem very nice. I got to introduce myself yesterday and bear my testimony.  I told everyone where I was from, how many siblings I have, I told them that I have a brother that's going on a mission in a month and I concluded with my testimony of the Book of Mormon.
On Saturday, I got to go to a birthday party for a cat in Island Falls, Maine. The family that hosted it have a big celebration for their cat every summer. Ironically their cat ran away so it was a cat-less birthday party. It was a branch activity and half the branch was there. It was raining that day so they had to have it inside. In Maine they have red hot dogs. They're called "Maine Reds". They are bright red hot dogs that taste really good. That was the first time I've ever seen a red hot dog. So I got to meet some of the members at the party and had some food. It was a good time.
On Friday, one of their investigators invited us to her sister's birthday party. So we got to meet some of the members of her family and introduce ourselves to them as missionaries.
Every Thursday night they have a Book of Mormon class where they read a chapter in the Book of Mormon and then discuss it.  There were only about 3 people there this week. There's normally 8 that usually come.
In my first couple days in my new area, I find myself emotionally let down and I am having trouble being motivated to help the work move forward this area. But I feel like I am going to enjoy serving here. Lately I have been praying to have a cheerful heart and lift up my head, 

Have a good week!
Elder O'Brien