Monday, December 25, 2017

“I KNOW I’ve Heard That Name ‘Snakes’ Before...”

Merry Christmas ya filthy animals! And a happy new year!

I will be hard-pressed to adequately describe with my weak vocabulary how amazing this Christmas experience is! There is nothing quite like serving the Lord full-time in the season we celebrate Him, our Savior and Redeemer. There is ALSO nothing like seeing the positive chain of events resulting in hard work in the Lord’s vineyard.

Allow me to begin from the start...

Mom, you will be so happy to know the top of the Christmas tree we helped decorate is equipped with an angel. Dad, I tried to tell them how wonderful the tree would look with a star instead. Regardless, I am proud the Baker’s family Christmas tree looks so wonderful!

It is Lynnde Baker’s birthday at the Baker’s home. My exchange companion, Elder Bonnemort (who quickly received the nickname ‘Voldemort’), draw Lynnde birthday pictures. This is my contribution:

One of Lynnde’s favorite animals is the elephant

Later the same night, we discover Grace has atrociously procrastinated an art project of decorating 30 Christmas party favor bags.

Another of my contributions

She wouldn’t turn around for the picture

One of the greatest highlights of my week is the baptism of Vaida! Elder Miller and I are invited to attend. To my great surprise Vaida requested Ian Englebright to baptize her! At the baptismal service Ian gives a talk on baptism and the Holy Ghost prior to the baptism as though he has been a member of they church his entire life. There are so many people at Vaida’s baptism! A ton of Vaida’s family and the wonderfully supportive members of the Bel Aire ward are packed into the rooms like sardines!

Ian and Vaida step into the waters. There I am, sitting near the glass like the children surrounding me, watching. A young man I taught the gospel holds and immerses a young girl I also was once blessed to teach. Elder Bischoff and I are blessed with the wonderful occasion to teach the congregated members and nonmembers why Vaida and Ian are dressed in white, why Vaida is fully immersed in the water, what the priesthood is, and why it is necessary the gospel to revealed to and restored through a young prophet by the name of Josephy Smith. A wonderful opportunity!

The bishop, Bishop Labrum, welcomes Vaida to the ward. He says to Vaida, “You have such a cute smile! Do you think Jesus is smiling as big as you are right now?” Vaida doesn’t miss a beat and responds with the happiest look on her face, “No. He is smiling much bigger!” My heart melts!

The Three Amigos!

Elders Saari, Bischoff, LaMont, Ian Englebright, Elders Folwell, and “Fluke” Fluckiger, little Miss Vaida at the bottom

Tacos for lunch with the squad

Thank You note from Grace for the art project help

I absolutely LOVE talking to my family on Christmas! It is the best Christmas present ever! Mom, Dad, Claire, Vivian, I enjoyed talking with you SO much! My family is such a beautiful light in my life! Thank you for being my Ohana!

Love each and every one of you as well! Thank you for your support and prayers!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Lights and Fallen Camrades - The Jovial Season

The beginning of this week has marked a first in the mission. Zone conference was on a Monday, the typical preparation day. We have been given opportunity to have our p-day on Tuesday the following day.

The mission president’s wife, Sister McCuistion, is decorating the cultural hall when Elder Miller, Elder Horton, and I arrive at the church. She is disappointed there is no star on the small Christmas tree surrounded by many wrapped presents addressed to missionaries in the Wichita and Hutchinson zones. Curious! Eager to learn more about the circumstance, Elder Miller and I offer to procure a star for the Christmas tree. After a quick hunt throught the church we find popsicle sticks, scotch tape, and tin foil. As we are creating our star, we hear the meeting begin. Elder Miller and I quickly throw the star together and place it on top of the Christmas tree before bustling into the chapel wherein a spiritual meeting was had.

Like elementary schoolchildren, the missionaries hustle to the gym at the announcement of lunch. I am blessed to see much of the Grant family from the Rolling Hills ward who so graciously helped prepare the zone conference meal. It’s so great to see them!

After lunch is organized a small 12 Days of Christmas activity. Missionaries are organized into groups. Each group enacts one assigned day of Christmas while all of us sing the song. My group is assigned ‘5 Golden Rings’ so we dance like Justin Timberlake in Beyonce Single Ladies SNL every time our turn comes to present as the song is sung. When the activity is over, President McCusition laughs and says “Elder LaMont I never want to see your hips move like that again.” I guess he didn’t like the sister missionaries reaction to my dancing. Good thing it’s my last zone conference!

I am given opportunity to bear departing testimony. I say it is difficult to leave Kansas. I reference a story called The Prophet written by Kahlil Gibran - the change to leave Kansas and to end my ministry as a full time representative of the Savior is “not a garment I cast off... but a skin that I tear with my own hands.” It is not a simple and easy thing to do. Kansas is to me as the waters of Mormon are to the people of Alma, the renegade priest of King Noah. “How beautiful are [the waters] to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer” (Mosiah 18:30).

The time finally came to open the gifts addressed to us encompassing the Christmas tree, mine and Miller’s redneck star glistening at the top. The gift is a Kansas Wichita Mission shirt with ornaments upon which are written single words our families use to describe us. Mine are ‘Magnanimous’ and ‘Diligent’. Thank you family!

Later in the week the three of us respond to a small plea for a blessing at the local hospital. As I write, I remember a latter-day saint woman asking me if it is wrong to request many blessings in times of trial. This woman was once victim to a man’s impatience to an additional request of hers to receive another priesthood blessing. Though as imperfect as the impatient man in this memory, I always remember my answer to the woman’s inquiry: no worthy priesthood man should ever hesitate to exercise the power of God to the benefit of another soul. It is an honor and a privelege to serve.

My dear friend Elder Horton chose to go home to Pueblo, Colorado. There he will await his visa so he may have more time in his assigned mission. It has left a great void in our former trio, now companionship. The news left each of us in a very dejected mood so we decide to lift our spirits by service. We go to the Baker family home to hang Christmas lights on the house and the Christmas tree. It was a great time!

On Saturday Elder Miller and I are trying to get along in the area without Elder Horton. We become lost and find ourselves in an old area of mine. Very close to the home of Billy and Amie! I can’t resist directing him to the house to say hello. Vaida insisted Elder Miller and I take her wagon for a spin. Her baptism is scheduled Saturday the 23rd at 11:00 am! Vaida has asked none other than Ian Englebright to perform the baptismal ordinance. I am looking forward to being there.

The same evening is the ward Christmas party. It was a great opportunity for Elder Miller and I to acquaint ourselves with more members of the ward seeing as how we are in a near white-wash situation. Santa was there! Perhaps I’m a little too old to sit on Santa’s lap and didn’t want to take any opportunity away from the little ones. Had to get a picture at the least!

Sunday is a great day. Before sacrament in Priesthood Executive Council our Ward Mission Leader Brother Farthing, who I love dearly, throws me under the bus to fill in for an assigned speaker who had fallen ill. “How about we get our soon-to-depart-for-home-missionary to speak?” He says loudly, eyebrows raised, as he dramatically leans forward to look me in the eye. The decision is made. I know when I am ‘voluntold’. It was such an awesome occasion to both bless the sacrament and give a short talk with ten minutes of preparation. Hogging the blessings!

It’s a wonderful time to be alive! Love you all! Thank you for your support and prayers!

Light the World!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Three is a Party

As a missionary coming to the end of his mission does, I'm doing a little thinking about the nature of time. I hear from the wise the importance of cherishing the small moments. I am told by so many, 'Time moves so fast.'

We are taught in the scriptures time according to our Heavenly Father. 1,000 years on Earth is equivalent to a single day in the Lord's time. The average human life is a mere forty-five minutes to our prior home. Many of us are blessed with the knowledge of the life before Earth. Perhaps we have existed there for thousands of millenia according to our mortal time. There would be little wonder then why it seems time in this earthly experience seems so short.

I celebrated my birthday this past week. Turning twenty-one is not as exciting when you can't have any alcohol! You know you're a Mormon when you say, "Hold my Coke and watch this', or perhaps when the punch at the party is spiked with Mountain Dew. Instead of drinking legally for the first time I decided to serve at a soup kitchen. I remember being thanked by a member of the volunteer crew that night. I said, "There isn't anything else I'd rather be doing right now." It struck me how truthful I felt my response was. The Spirit washed over me in that instant and I felt a particularly powerful happiness from an experience that occured in half a moment.

Posing in front of amazing Christmas lights in Pratt

Because it's tradition

Playing with the photoshoot gift

Around the middle of the week I have occasion to be on an exchange with Elder Herbine, one of our zone leaders. Elder Herbine and I have some interesting proselyting experiences in our time together. First, we knock the door of a woman that tells us she is not the least bit interested until she discovers we are not Jehovah's Witnesses. This woman is running a daycare inside her home. From inside we hear a young girl speaking strings of profanities. Elder Herbine and I get a real laugh from the woman's story about this toddler-age girl in her care who learns these terrible words from her parents but does not understood why they are bad. This young child inadvertently teaches her peers resulting in a daycare full of chaotic vocabulary. *In the sweetest little girl voice* "Can I sit in the d--n chair?" and a response to the barking hounds, "Shut the h--- up!" Oh the innocence of children. Second, we contact a potential investigator that happens to be working on their dragster engine. I've never experienced something so loud. The candid video does no justice to the crippling din.

In preparation for the baptism of Kim Brown, the three of us are configuring a baptismal program at the Valley Center Library. Something special about this library is they have a live mascot named Pages. Pages is a jet black tabby cat. This feline is packing more of a belly than my pet Yorkie.

Kim's baptism follows Saturday. We have a great turn out, the talks are wonderful, the Spirit is there. Poor Kim has to be baptized not once, not twice, but FIVE times! Elder Miller just couldn't quite get her all the way under the water. The crowd applauded when Kim came out of the water after being fully immersed. This deters Kim not at all. Though I've not known her long, I've never seen Kim so happy. She graced me with the privilage of confirming her the following day in sacrament meeting.

Monday night my companions and I are knocking some doors and we hear loud music and lots of lights. Like moths to a flame we flock to the commotion and stumble upon this scene.

We are the only white people there and nobody seems to speak any English. Watching the dance is real fun though!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Twilight Town

I am so sad to leave Wamego! Goodbye Oz.. My companion and I are sure to go through Wamego's Oz Museum before we leave.

The transfer day is crazy. The situation is complicated. Elder Miller is training Elder Horton and I'm in the companionship, making three of us. So my companions are in training meetings as mandated in every case of training on transfer day. I have the pleasure of hanging out with Elder West who is leaving for home, and Elder Fluckiger the new assistant vehicle coordinator. We help the housing coordinators and make sure we snag another bed for Elder Miller.

Valley Center is a neat place. I've affectionately termed this land 'Twilight Town' because I have entered the twilight of my mission. The usual spot (where I live) is very different and quite small. It looks even smaller with three men sharing the place. It is a duplex we share with a middle-aged less active woman that comes to church every onve in a while. Unfortunately I have not met her yet. My wonderful family sends a package to the incorrect address I provide them. A hilarious wild chase ensues. In the end the package is obtained.

The three of us have a great blessing of teaching Kim Brown. Kim has been looking forward to her baptism for several weeks. A date and time is set for the ordinance. It will be this Saturday, the ninth. Mille, Horton and I are so very excited for Kim.

Friday and Saturday the Wichita stake sets up a massive event called The Pageant. In the church gym there are rows and rows of tables packed with nativity scenes. There is a room with many pictures depicting the life of Christ. Live music is softly playing in the chapel where the music is heard from the gym. The atmosphere is wonderful. We have the occasion of bringing our less active friend Victor. The companions and I did not find anyone there to teach right off the bat. I know this community event has touched many hearts and planted many seeds.

Sunday is a great day. I relish every moment of my final fast and testimony meeting. Kim enjoys the meeting. Elder Miller and I sit with her while Elder Horton sits with Donovan. Donovan is fourteen years and he has consistently come to mutual with the bishop's children and he loves it. We invite him to sacrament several days prior and play some basketball with him. The kid is a great ball player. Donovan loves church and we hope to be teaching him the first lesson this week, at least.

The highlight of this week is the Christmas Devotional. Elder Kevin R. Duncan's experiences he spoke of really touch my heart as I listen intently to how his faith and determination builds his life from tragedy enjoying many blessings. How great is our Father on Heaven! He loves all of us so much.

Thank you to all those who have wished me a happy birthday! It is wonderful to have so many emails in my inbox so close to my return. I love you squad. Thanks for your support and love.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Sun Sets...

To begin I announce to you transfers has claimed me victim. I will no longer be serving the ward of Wamego. Instead my future lies in the northern reaches of Wichita, in the ward of Valley Center. As bummed as I am to leave Wamego, this is exciting news. I’ve heard great things about Valley Center from my trainer, Elder Hilborn. He served there nearly eight months of his mission. Elder Richins will be serving in Lamar, Colorado at the Western border of the mission. Wamego will be whitewashed. As for me, I will be in a trio with Elders Ethan Horton and Shane Miller. How funny, huh? In the beginning I was assigned two companions and here I am at the end in the very same boat.

I’m happy to report my last week in Wamego is a really great one.

Tuesday we have the opportunity to eat a fast dinner in the Kansas State arena. Brother Casy Winn is a rodeo coach for the university. Roping steers on horseback is his life. The entire family loves to rodeo. After scarfing down some tacos, Elder Richins and I get roping lessons. Unfortunately our roping could not be on horseback though we have a great time snatching the dummies.

Another night dinner with the Crouch’s brings about an opportunity to learn another skill: clogging! After Brother Crouch shows us the well-trained family dog, Bandit, Elder Richins and I tour the basement. Sister Crouch is an amazing teacher and teaches me well despite my slow learning. Brother Crouch shows his hand at another talent in addition to dog training and dancing and gives Elder Richins a great haircut. That man is a legend! He’s been cutting hair since 1963! What amazing people Elder Richins and I had such a pleasure to meet.

Our Thanksgiving is an experience to remember. I suppose the Winn’s liked our time together earlier in the week and wanted us again to rope with them and eat a great feast. The Ballard’s, Hayden and Casey, are there too and it made for a very memorable holiday.

Though I don’t know it in the moment, Elder Richins and I meet with Kolby Baker for the final time encouraging him to read the thirty-second chapter of Alma and educate himself about faith by reading the amazing sermon given of Alma the younger to the poor Zoramites cast out of their synagogues. I hope it leaves a mark on Kolby no matter how small.

Elder Richins and I are able to meet with Eric Sawtelle a couple times this week. Eric has some beautifully innocent and genuine questions about the plan of salvation we are able to answer by reading the scriptures. The final section of the Doctrine and Covenants, section 138, contains the miraculous vision given to President Joseph F. Smith concerning the visit of Jesus Christ to the spirits of the dead just prior to His resurrection.

The Saturday before the departure, Elder Richins and I spend the vast majority of the day working on the roof of the Vaile home. Brother Vaile is remodeling the old home. His progress so far is astounding. The task is to tear apart the roof and build a second story, in essence. I learn quite a bit about construction. Measure twice, cut once. Elder Richins and I have a great time serving in this capacity.

My last Sunday I am blessed with a opportunity to pass the sacrament to the congregation. I’m very grateful for this honor. The sacrament becomes a completely different experience while passing.

After church Elder Richins and I meet briefly with Micah’s wife. Micah hasn’t been feeling well, though he looks forward to meeting with us next week. Small joke on him, the missionaries that show won’t look quite like we do but they’ll get the job done.

Thank you for your support and prayer as always. Love you all.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Better to Light One Candle than Curse the Darkness

The week begins with an awesome opportunity to utilize the blessing of increased means to teach from the technology we are allowed to use. A great less active young man we have been motivating to return to activity in the church journeyed to the east coast to be with family weeks prior. Elder Richins receives word this man, Eric, is struggling with the conflicting religious opinions of his family. A relative of Eric’s degraded the church by insulting the prophet Jospeh Smith and, by implication, a church which firmly believes in a living prophet and the priesthood power of God. Eric did his very best to stand his ground but was relentless bombarded with what could best be described as little love and high criticism. He calls for help feeling dejected and sorrowful by the hard-heartedness of his kin. My companion and I organize a time to call him via Facebook video chat. Prayer and scriptures with honest and true testimony allowed the Spirit to work through imperfect teachers and bless the heart of Eric, boosting his faith and morale. Truly the Lord is a sympathetic creator who loves us and all our complex detail with enormous care. The prophet Joseph Smith was called of God. The Book of Mormon is true. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the Lord’s church restored to the Earth.

The following day is spent frolicking in Manhattan while our vehicle is cared for at a local Firestone. Seeing as how we are stranded outside our area, what better to do than visit ‘The Top of the World’? With the Manhattan elders who so graciously provided us a ride, we enjoy the view and find an enormous gutter littered with tires. It’s not long before we decide to roll the tires down the slope. We aren’t adults. We are children grown bigger and hairier!

We take the opportunity to initiate an exchange. Elder Richins stays in Manhattan with Elder Fluckiger, and I bring Elder Timothy Holland home with me. How many missionaries can say they’ve gone on exchanges with an Elder Holland? I know I can!! I will not allow the exchange be boring considering the occasion. The same night we arm nerf darts with thumb tacks, tape balloons to the ceiling fan and open fire! It was a blast!

The very next morning near half-past the seventh hour the phone rings. It’s Fluke, “Your companion is defective. Come take him back!” I learn Elder Richins was up all night the night previous throwing up. How unfortunate! Poor Elder Richins is still not fully recovered.

It’s Friday, the day of the highly anticipated time to meet Elder Vern P. Stanfill of the area seventy. He has come to tour the mission and is making his last stop in Topeka where we have the opportunity to learn from him.

A most profound thing he says - he promises me there will be a time I will go through the veil in the next life; In this time there will be those I have influenced for good in my mortal life, ever so infinitesimally, that have passed before my mortal death, waiting to rejoice with me. This is so fulfilling to me. More than two years ago I wrestled with the option of going on a mission for the Lord. This particular truth Elder Stanfill promised is one of the very many reasons you are reading this right now. What a blessing! Elder Stanfill also promises every day on the mission sanctifies one ever further. He looks into my eyes and tells me I have changed during my time in Kansas.

His challenge at the end of his speaking is one perhaps each of you would like to take upon yourselves. Elder Stanfill encourages us, “During a time of meditating and pondering, think of yourself standing before the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane.” He testifies the atonement is very personal. In the garden, one by one, all of us looked into the eyes of our Redeemer as He suffered for each of us.

Ian surprises us Saturday with a visit. He had been in Topeka visiting family and decided to say hello. It was wonderful to see him again.

Sunday afternoon following church, Elder Richins and I make our way to Micah Breshear’s house. Micah continues to be very open and curious about our message. We teach again the magnificent truths of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ through the prophet Joseph Smith. Elder Richins and I challenge him to pray to our Father in Heaven and ask if the Book of Mormon is true. Micah heartily accepted the challenge. He looks forward to coming to a few ward activities the Elder’s Quorum is planning. Micah and his family will be a wonderful addition to the Lord’s church someday, I know it!

I’d like to take a moment to humbly ask for your prayers in the behalf of the Eck family. RaLee Eck has tragically passed this last week and her dear family would be so blessed by so many of your righteous utterances to our Father in Heaven in their behalf. Thank you.

You are in our minds, hearts, and prayers, Eck Family.

It has been a wonderful week. I’m so grateful to be enjoying every moment in the twilight of my mission. It’s been an enormous blessing to me.

Have a beautiful week everyone!