Wednesday, December 19, 2012

16th Epistle from Elder Kaleb Erickson serving in Far Rockaway, NY

A Crazy Week     December 17, 2012

Hey Mom and Dad!

This has been arguably one of the craziest weeks of my life. The only good rival with it is the week of the hurricane. But things have been ridiculous this last week. 

The first part of the crazy week is all of the practices for the Christmas concert. I am playing for three numbers consisting of two singers and a cello player. Two of them are only a 20 minute drive away, but the cello player is in the heart of Brooklyn, so that's kind of a trek to go practice with her. And I had two practices at each place this last week. There was a lot of driving and a lot of piano playing that went down. All the songs are sounding pretty good though. The people of New York are in for a treat this week. 

So that began on Tuesday. Wednesday we had to drive out to Brooklyn to practice with the cello player and we may have gotten a bit lost along the way. Driving in New York is a whole new adventure compared to driving anywhere else. There are very few rules, as far as I can tell, other than you honk at the person in front of you if they aren't driving as fast as they can. And I'm pretty sure that bus drivers here are some of the most talented drivers in the world. It's absolutely incredible. 

Thursday was really the craziest day of the week. It began at 3:30 in the morning when we woke up to the sound of a man outside our apartment yelling at everyone to evacuate because there's a fire. I was super confused and thought it was part of my dream at the time. Luckily my companion was already awake to use the bathroom at the time, so he woke up the other two missionaries in our apartment and we all threw on shoes and got out of there. It was crazy outside. People were freaking out and the fire department had showed up and was starting to get the hose upstairs. We could see smoke coming out of the roof. One of the firefighters told us to help them with the hose, so we were volunteer firefighters for about a minute. We decided to head over to the zone leaders' apartment since it was close by. They were really confused to see the four of us at their door at 3:45 in the morning. They let us stay the night and we went back to our apartment in the morning. 

Everything was fine, it was like nothing had happened from what we could see. If you look on the other side of the building though, you could see a whole apartment had burned out on the top floor. We're glad that we were safe and that nobody got hurt, but that was a crazy night for everyone involved. 

So we were already disoriented from the fire, when we got a call from the AP's that we needed to move into a new apartment that day. It wasn't because of the fire, I guess the mission only wants two missionaries to an apartment from now on. So Elder Wolfe and I began packing up our stuff to move over. The problem is that we had to go to a practice with two of the singers midway through our process of moving apartments. When we had to leave, we didn't exactly have all of our stuff. So I threw on the suit that I left out, but I only had white socks. And Elder Wolfe didn't have his suit with him, so he just wore regular clothes. We were a rag-tag looking crew that day. He was looking like he had just done a bunch of service because all he had on were his service clothes, and I was looking like I was part of Michael Jackson's entourage with my white socks. People looked at us funny most of the day, but that's really nothing new to us. We finished moving in later that day. 

And that pretty much brings us to where I am now. We're finally moved into our new apartment. We haven't had too many chances to go out teaching, but I have played a lot of piano. The primary program was yesterday, so they had me come to an extra practice on Saturday and play for the program on Sunday. It's a good thing I like playing the piano. 

I wish I could say that this week will calm down, but it probably won't. We have four concerts and two more practices to go to. We are planning a few events for the elliptical though. We're going to set up hot chocolate booths for people near the areas that were hit the worst and sing Christmas carols as a district. Hopefully that will help people see us and recognize us as people who want to help. I think the work is going to be slow out here for a while as people attempt to get back to normal. But we're laying a groundwork for the church out here so that hopefully in five or ten years, the Mormon church in Rockaway will be stronger than ever. I know that this church is true and that the Lord's hand is working through us to help lay the foundation for His church here. Thank you for all your love and prayers and have a very merry Christmas!

Elder Erickson

To send packages and letters please use the mission address:

New York New York South Mission
8569 60th Drive
Elmhurst, NY 11373-5547

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

15th Epistle from Elder Kaleb Erickson

Big Changes in Far Rock...

Hey Mom and Dad!

 Last week we had our second transfer meeting. It was largely uneventful because we're mostly staying here, but there was a new addition to Far Rock because the AP's are now stationed in Far Rock. We thought that was a little odd. But we later found out why. We are done doing service as a mission. Since we're in Far Rock, the elders there can go out and do service still, but it's not our main focus anymore. We're headed back to proselyting, but with a new plan in mind. They're trying new and exciting ways to do missionary work in New York. President Calderwood wants to try new ways to find people because the traditional ways just aren't working. And we aren't looking for just anybody. We're specifically looking for what he calls "anchor families." These are just good families that will be around for a while and can serve as branch president or elder's quorum president. Essentially families that will really help strengthen the branch. We had a meeting with the AP's the next day to discuss. 
The idea is pretty simple. Pretty much, we pick a small area near or around a chapel and we focus all of our efforts there. It becomes an open pool, so any elders in Far Rockaway can go tract and work there. Then we plan all sorts of finding activities and fun activities to help get the church known in the community. All of the elders will work there, so people will see us all over the neighborhood. As we become more well known, people will be more willing to talk to us and hear our message. And since we now have 8 elders in Far Rock, they will see us a lot. The small area is called an "elliptical." I don't know why. I personally am not a big fan of the name. It sounds kind of boring. We like to change the name when we discuss it. Sometimes it's called the vortex, sometimes it's the eclipse, other times it's the cyclone. We'll find a better name at some point.
But anyways, the two problems with Far Rock are that it got hit so hard by the hurricane that we can't tract in most areas right now and that the church is pretty far away and in kind of a sketchy area. And it's not a full chapel, it's the fourth floor in a building. So that's kind of difficult. But they're planning to move the church further down the peninsula to be more accessible to the areas around there.
The miracle of Far Rockaway though is that there is an area that was untouched by the storm. All of this destruction all over Long Island and there is an entire housing development that was pretty much untouched. That's absolutely incredible. It's not super big, but it's the perfect size for the elliptical. The development is called Arverne by the Sea. It's a nicer area than most of Far Rock and lots of families live there. That's what we're looking for. So the plan is to tract these areas a lot and then put on a lot of family-oriented activities through the church to get people involved.
Our ideal elliptical placement would be around all the houses that we helped clean up after the storm. But they're still so devastated, we can't start working out there yet. And we don't want people to think that we only helped them so that they'd join our church. That was not our intentions at all. But our elliptical is close to this area and so once the devastation has passed, we'll be able to go start working that area. And then things will really catch fire in Rockaway.
Elder Wolfe and I started tracting last week and on the first street we started on, we found a woman who asked us to come back the next day when her husband was home. That's exactly what we're looking for. So we came back the next day and they welcomed us in. It's a very nice family, they have a 4 year old son and a 21 month old daughter. We sat down with the husband and discussed life with him and kind of our purpose as missionaries. On the first visit with people, you generally don't get into lessons. You explain your purpose and answer any questions, but you don't go into too much depth. You explain that you will need to visit again to continue discussing all the doctrine in detail, because there's way too much for one visit.
But at first the mother was busy with the children, so we just talked with the father. He seemed pretty interested. After about 15 minutes, the mother came in too. We started discussing all the service that we gave and why we did it. Then she mentioned that that's why she loves the Mormon church; because they are such kind and genuine people. After which, she tells us that she was actually baptized into the Mormon church when she was a kid.
Well that was a surprise. We did not see that one coming. She told us that she remembered the church with fondness and having the missionaries over to dinner all the time. That's why she wanted to find us and have us talk to her husband because she's interested in the church still. He told us that he's a very open-minded person and that he's ready to listen to what we have to say. Then they invited us over for dinner next week. That was our first experience with the elliptical vortex. We are loving it so far.
We did some more tracting there last night with the other elders in the area too. Nothing quite as incredible as that first family, but things definitely look promising there. My favorite was one guy would only talk to us through the window. When we said that we were Mormon missionaries, he told us that he is really sick and that we shouldn't talk to him. In fact, we better leave now before we get sick too. Then he shut the blinds. It was pretty funny.
One of the big activities that they're doing this Christmas season is to hold free Christmas concerts around the areas that got hit the worst by the storm. There are 5 of them altogether and one of them is in Rockaway. We found out about those on Friday, then on Saturday I got a call being asked to play the piano for two numbers at the concerts. Of course I was excited about that. One is accompanying for a Sister Missionary who is singing O Holy Night, and the other is accompanying for a cello player on O Come O Come Emmanuel. And I just got word today that they need me to do a third number. I'm not sure what it is yet, but the first concert is this Saturday. Now that I'm playing all this Christmas music, it finally feels like the Christmas season. These concerts should be a lot of fun. 
So that's about it for the time being. Things are a little different, although I never really had any sense of normalcy since I got to the mission field. It should be fun to work with all these other elders and start meeting all these people in the elliptical. We're thinking about going Christmas caroling and setting up a hot chocolate stand and running all sorts of family activities for the area. I think it will turn out really well. The work may be slow at the moment, but I know that my efforts here will lay the groundwork for the next few years when the work will really get going in Far Rockaway.
Small sidenote, I bought a harmonica last week for $5. Best investment ever. I'm getting pretty good at it and I've been picking up some Christmas songs to play for kids to entertain them. It's a lot of fun.
But in closing, I'm excited to get back to teaching the Gospel and I'm looking forward to helping bring the joy of the Gospel to families in Far Rockaway. I know this church is true and that I'm doing the Lord's work. Thanks for all your love and support.
Elder Erickson

Saturday, December 8, 2012

14th Epistle from Elder Kaleb Erickson

The Show Goes On...          December 3, 2012

Hello Mom and Dad!

This was the last week of mission-wide service in New York. It has been an unbelievable adventure that still isn't quite over yet for me and my companion. I don't even remember what it's like to live in normalcy. First I had to figure out the MTC, then when I got used to that they sent me to New York. I had six days of trying to figure out regular missionary work when a giant hurricane hit us and then I had to figure out balancing being a missionary with doing service for six hours a day. And now I'm supposed to go back to being a regular missionary. It's all a whirlwind of adventure for me. 

Well anyways, last week we continued the daily service we've been doing for five weeks now. We've recently moved our work farther in the peninsula. And we found that a lot of people there haven't even started cleaning up yet. There's still a lot of work to do out there. We worked at one house for three days this week and we still haven't finished yet. We're just about done, but that has been a huge project. 

What I think is interesting is that the Mormon Helping Hands was one of the first teams out there helping to clean up the hurricane, and now that most organizations are closing up shop, we are one of the last to leave as well. There's another group called Team Rubicon that has been working out there to provide service, food, and medical help. They were leaving, but still had more work orders, so they sent them to us. That meant that on Friday evening, my companion and I had to call fifty people to see what work they needed done and when would be the best time to send help to them. That took forever. But on Saturday and Sunday we had another 600 or so volunteers, so we were able to get help to all those people and they were very grateful for the assistance. 

On Saturday evening, we had another mission conference. This one was exciting though because we had Elder Hallstrom, a president of the Quorum of the 70, came to speak to us. That was really cool. President Calderwood also spoke, as well as the area 70 who lives nearby. All of them talked about how incredible this whole hurricane cleanup experience has been and how the Lord is pleased with the work we have done. Then they warned us that we are now in a very delicate balance and that we need to be evermore careful of how we conduct ourselves from now on. People have seen the Mormons out there helping every day and we need to make sure that we don't ruin the goodwill that we have created. I think that's especially important in my area since there's so much destruction still there. 

Speaking of my area, we got the call on Saturday night that my companion and I are staying in Far Rockaway. I'm really glad that they aren't moving us out. We have just started working with some people again from before Hurricane Sandy and I don't want to miss out on the opportunity to teach them. Elder Wolfe and I plan to keep on doing service in the mornings and afternoons and try to do as much proselyting as we can in the evenings. There's only so much we can do, but we want to keep on visiting the members and less actives and see if we can set up appointments to visit with people in the evenings. We're not really sure how things will turn out, but it will be exciting to see how things work.

There's not too much else to report at the moment. The last big push for service will be this Saturday. We're getting one more big group of volunteers and we're going to finish up whatever we can. Then any other service will be from us and and other Far Rockaway Elders. The rest of the mission is supposed to go back to full-time proselyting. That will be a big change for a lot of people, I think. But it will be good to get back into the regular swing of things. All this service has been a great way to start my mission though. I have grown closer to my Savior by helping serve His children in their time of need. I have come to better understand my role as a missionary and feel like this will affect the rest of my mission as well. It has changed the way I view talking to people about the Gospel. Which may seem odd, but now I am better able to see people as fellow children of God. And when you look at everybody like that, you have a greater desire to help them feel the Spirit and bring them closer to Christ. So I'm excited to get back to teaching and start to put this new knowledge into action. Next week I'll let you know how things are working out with the service/teaching combo. It should be a great adventure!

Elder Erickson