Thursday, January 31, 2013

22nd Epistle from Elder Kaleb Erickson serving in Far Rockaway New York

Dear Family,        writing Jan 28. 2013

The weather is a little funky here in Far Rock. We had a big snowstorm last Monday night. I saw snow on the beach. It was unbelievable. One minute there was snow, the next there was sand and water. So crazy. The next morning we decided to go around and shovel snow for people as a service project. So that was pretty cool. The rest of the week was mostly just super cold weather. In the 20s and a really cold wind chill. The wind is the worst part. If it wasn't windy, it wouldn't be bad at all. But the wind is killer. Then on Sunday, it was in the 40s or 50s. No wind at all. It was warm compared to last week. And this morning it was snowing again. So I don't know what's going on with the weather. It's ridiculous. I just know that I have a nice, warm jacket that my mother helped me buy. And thermals to wear underneath my shirt that keep me nice and warm.

                                               Hear the message and get free cocoa!

I was sick for a bit last week, but it was really just a cold, I'm doing fine now. It's been pretty cold recently so I've still got a bit of a runny nose, but nothing too bad. I just keep drinking those fluids. That's about all I know how to do.

Here in the branch I play the piano every week for Primary. It's only for a half an hour. Yesterday (Sunday) I found myself teaching all day. I played for primary then found out the young men had no teacher. So Elder Munday (he's an AP right now) and I taught the young men a short lesson. Then I taught the youth Sunday school class with Elder Munday again. Then they have seminary after church here, that way more kids don't have to struggle to find rides to come. The seminary teacher is out of town for the next three weeks and the elder who was going to teach it had to do an interview. So I went and taught an impromptu lesson on John 6-9 with that elder's companion. I just teach youth lessons on the spot, that's all I do on Sundays. Because I had no preparation for any of those, we just saw a lack of teacher, so we jumped in. They were pretty good lessons though. Elder Munday and I make a solid team.

The mission president has decided that we need to have a member attend every lesson that we give. This member lessons thing is pretty tough. I think in a stronger branch it might be easier. But it's rough here. Lack of English speaking members and sound knowledge of church doctrine. You have no idea how many crazy people we have here in the branch. It's scary. I am almost afraid to bring investigators to church because I don't want the members to tell them crazy things and scare them.

Aside from that, things are going well here. We actually got to go to the temple last Saturday! The youth in the Rockaway Branch were going to go do baptisms for the dead and they didn't have enough Melchizedek Priesthood to go with them. We got permission from President Calderwood and we got to go! Manhattan is freaking awesome! We took the train there, which was very exciting. You always get to see exciting things when you use public transportation. We only had five youth there, but it was still a really nice experience in the temple. The Manhattan temple is really small; I had no idea how small it is. Not that the size diminishes from the spirit at all, it was just interesting to see how the temple is consolidated to fit the city. The coolest moment was when we walked out of the subway station and saw Moroni chilling on top of the first building we saw. Super cool experience.

Not too much else happened last week. Scott Madden is getting ready to be baptized next Sunday. That will be my first baptism, I'm really excited about that. We taught Lisa and Terrance again, although Terrance was busy working on things to put their house back together. We had an awesome lesson with Lisa about the Gospel of Christ. She's pretty much ready to be baptized, we just have to work with Terrance a bit more. They are such a cool family, I love them.

Things are getting exciting, we're going to be working more in the areas that the Mormon Helping Hands worked in. Our plan is to go around and see how people are doing, offering our help either with things to be done on the house or to hear a special message about Jesus Christ and eternal families. I'm really excited to get started with it.

So yeah, life is good out here. I'm not looking forward to the snow that started earlier today, but I guess that's life. Snow isn't so bad once you get used to it. I love you guys and I hope you're doing well in California!

Elder Erickson

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

21st Epistle from Elder Kaleb Erickson serving in Far Rockaway, New York

Hey Mom and Dad!               Let the Fun Begin!      written Jan 21, 2013

Things are changing pretty quickly out here in Far Rockaway! As of last week, we decided that Far Rockaway is going to get rid of area boundaries. This means that we can visit any members in the branch and proselyte in whatever area we would like. Though the plan is to focus on the areas further down the peninsula. Our main goal in Far Rock is to build up a new branch in the areas that we worked in after Hurricane Sandy. The area is called Belle Harbor. It is full of middle to upper-class white and Jewish families. Pretty much all the white families are strongly rooted Irish Catholics. Not exactly your easiest place to try to start a branch, but this is the plan. They all love Mormons because of the help we gave them, the only problem is that they recognize Mormons by the yellow helping hands vests, not by our suits and ties. People are super apprehensive when we walk up in shirts and ties. They're nice once they find out that we're the Mormons, but it's getting to that point that's the big problem. And just because they're nice to us doesn't mean they're interested in listening to us. So it will be slow work for a little bit in Belle Harbor. 

I got a new companion last week, his name is Elder Pearce. He has been in Far Rockaway for about 6 months now. It's great because he knows all the Spanish members well and I know all the English members well. We make a pretty good team out here. We've been working most recently with a guy I talked about last week named Scott Madden. He's doing awesome work. We taught him about the word of wisdom last week. He understands the reasons for it all, but he has a problem with smoking a pipe. He loves to smoke his pipe and it's especially tough since he's been under a lot of stress recently. We told him a few things that might help and explained that God would help him quit. He said he would give it a shot. 

We came back two days later and he was still really struggling with it. We suggested a couple of things and taught him about the power behind prayer and reading the scriptures. It seemed to hit him hard when we explained that there was a level of worthiness we needed to obtain in order to take the sacrament every week and he needed to start living like that in order to get baptized. It was a really cool lesson. When we saw him at church on Sunday, he was so excited to tell us that he hadn't smoked in three days. After we left he had one more smoke and then he decided that he really wanted to get baptized and giving this up was the only way he could do it. He wanted to make himself worthy to take the sacrament and get baptized. He went to the store and bought some little peppermint candies that he will suck on whenever he has the desire to smoke. I think he's going to give it up and he will make a great member of the church. We went over to visit with him after church and he gave me the rest of his tobacco to get rid of. I had to take a picture with it before we threw it down the incinerator. Scott tells me that it's pretty good quality stuff. He had just bought it before he decided to give up the pipe. I'm really happy for Scott's decision and I think this is a great example of how the Spirit and the Atonement of Christ can help people change and better their lives. 

That was really the coolest part of the week. In other news, President Calderwood has announced that from now on we will only be counting the lessons that we teach with a member present. He wants us to work closer with the members of the church and lessons with members are always better because they really help strengthen the spirit for the investigator. The only problem here is that the demographic we're trying to build up (middle to upper-class white) is not exactly abundant here in the Far Rockaway Branch. It's hard to find members to bring to lessons that will help in a meaningful way. Sure I could bring pretty much any English speaking member and be able to report the lesson at the end of the week, but did that really help the investigator? This is my new dilemma out here. Finding ways to meaningfully integrate the members of the branch into our missionary work. Once we get can baptize a few people out there, it will get a lot easier. But for the moment, it's very slow work. Luckily Scott Madden's brother is a member of the church, so we bring him to our lessons. That is really helpful because Scott's brother is a great example for him. 

In other news, my Spanish is getting a lot better. It's funny, the more you speak the language, the better you get at it. And I'm lucky enough to get to speak it more often nowadays. I'm not perfect by any means, but I'm a lot better this week than I was last week. And every improvement helps. 

Things are going well out here. It's getting colder, so I'm not super excited about that. Luckily we have a car so it's not too bad. But thanks again for all your love and support! I know this Gospel is true and that I'm doing the Lord's work. I can see His hand guiding us every day. Love you all!

Elder Erickson

Monday, January 14, 2013

20th Epistle from Elder Kaleb Erickson serving in Far Rockawy, New York

Hey Mom and Dad!      written January 14, 2013
This was a pretty fun week in Far Rockaway. We got the party started with a lesson with one of our investigators, his name is Scott Madden. He has a brother in the branch, who asked us to talk to his brother about the church. We started meeting with him and he's a very nice guy. He lives by himself with these two little dogs. He came to church for the first time last week and he really enjoyed it, so we decided to set a baptismal date and he agreed to be baptized on February 3! We're very excited about it and we're planning to keep meeting with him and his brother to help him fully understand the covenant that he's going to make with God. And his brother is going to baptize him, so that will be great.
Last Wednesday was a pretty exciting day. The AP's were going to have a film crew follow them around all day to make a short film on what a day is like in the life of a missionary. They asked us to find a service project to do that day in order to demonstrate that we do service, especially out here in the Rockaways. We set something up and had the whole district there, hoping to get on tape at some point. It was a largely lackluster event, but at least we got to help this guy out with his house. After that, we went to Subway with the film crew where they filmed us eating lunch. I can only hope that the one shot they use of me, is me scarfing down a Subway sandwhich at lunch. That would be beautiful. The AP's went their own way after that and the rest of the day was pretty calm and normal. But it was a pretty exciting adventure for a bit.
On Thursday we had an awesome lesson with our investigator family. Just a reminder, their names are Lisa and Terrance. Before this, we had only ever taught Lisa, but we finally got to talk with Terrance too, as we taught the Plan of Salvation. It was an awesome lesson, they seemed to really like it. We invited them to be baptized at the end of it. Lisa wants to be baptized, but Terrance is a little hesitant about it all. Which is understandable, it's a pretty big commitment. We're planning to teach him the restoration next time, in order to make sure that he fully understands the concept of priesthood authority. Hopefully through that, church attendance, and prayer, he can come to a decision about baptism. We invited them to church yesterday, but their family got pretty sick, so they weren't able to make it.
There isn't much else to report from the week except for transfers are tomorrow! I will be staying here, although I will have a new companion and I will be moving to a new group of members. Meaning that I will get to go visit the more Hispanic part of the branch. I'll finally get to practice my Spanish on a more regular basis and that will be really good for me. I'm sad to lose Elder Wolfe as my companion, but I know my next companion already and he's a great guy. I'm just happy that I'll be able to stay here to keep working with my investigators. I know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ will bless their lives greatly, I just hope that they can realize the great blessings this church has in store for them. Thanks for all your love and support!

Elder Erickson

Monday, January 7, 2013

19th Epistle from Elder Kaleb Erickson serving in Far Rockaway

Hey Mom and Dad!          Switching Gears   written Jan 7, 2012
Well this week should hopefully be starting my first normal week as a missionary. It sounds so crazy to say that after I've been in the field for almost three months now. But the first week here was interrupted by a hurricane. Then cleanup prevented us from doing normal work for a while. Then when things were about to get back to normal, I got signed on to perform at all these Christmas concerts. Then we had two weeks with big holidays. Now, my 12th week here should finally be a normal week for the first time since the MTC. I'm hoping so at least.
This last week was pretty good, although it was largely uneventful. On New Year's Day, we visited some members in the branch. We saw the remnants of some crazy parties out here. New York definitely knows how to do a New Year's celebration. We finally found a family that we had just started teaching before the hurricane hit. It was the chiropractor we helped, who gave us all free adjustments. We had helped them out after the storm and wanted to meet with them again, but they had a bunch of work to be done on their home. They had to pull out all of their floorboards and get a whole new first floor in their house. They moved to a hotel while the work was being done and we lost contact with them for about three weeks. We finally found them again on New Years. I guess they had decided to go on vacation and they had just gotten back that day. They're an awesome family and the mother seems really interested in the Gospel. We just need to find a time to sit down and teach them the rest of the lessons. We set something up for this Thursday and we're really excited because her husband is going to come to the lesson too. That should be an awesome lesson.
We met with a few other people during the week, but nothing really extraordinary. On Friday, we hosted a free hot chocolate stand to help spread the word about a neighborhood service day. We set up in the cold right next to a few busy stores and a bus stop. We had a hundred fliers and two gallons of hot chocolate. We had given out everything within an hour and a half. It was a lot of fun.
The neighborhood service day was another mission-wide service day. Our entire mission came out and the whole New York North mission came down in busses to help us out too. We split up into teams of ten and went back out, just like the days right after the storm. Good times. We were back to shoveling sand, once again. This guy had about a foot deep layer of sand covering his entire lawn. It was crazy that it had stayed for so long. We probably shoveled sand for three or so hours and it still wasn't all taken out. But the pile of sand we had created on the curb was gigantic. We did some solid work. I don't think we'll be done with giving service out here any time soon. We've already got two appointments this week to help people out with their homes.
Sunday was a really cool day too. Our Branch President decided to have a combined lesson with the Priesthood and Relief Society on testimonies. What a testimony is, how to get one, how to strenghten it, and most importantly, how to share it. He taught that in testimony meeting, your testimony should only be one to three minutes long and shouldn't be a long and rambling story. We've had some solid issues with that in the past. We even had a woman bring in posters to use as props for her testimony. It was awesome. Gotta love New York. But after the lesson, the testimony meeting was noticeably different. Nobody rambled on about insignificant things; they kept it short and to the point. It was probably one of the best testimony meetings I've ever been to. It was really amazing. And we had one of our investigators there on Sunday, so I'm really glad he was able to be there for it.
So that's about it for the time being. We've got some plans in the works to host a few Meet the Mormon nights. We're trying to help people understand that we're all normal people and teach a bit about our values. The first one isn't until the 16th, but we're planning some hot chocolate stands to spread the word. It should be a lot of fun and it should do a lot of good for the work out here. Next week is the end of this transfer and I'm again hoping that I'll stay here another transfer. But who knows what will happen? Things are changing fast in the mission field. We're supposed to get 30 new missionaries in the next two transfers, and 20 of them are sister missionaries. I'm sure by this summer, there will be a whole new flood of 18 year old elders coming in and we will get to do a lot of training. It will definitely be an adventure.
That's all for now, but I love you and I know that I'm doing the Lord's work out here. Thanks for all your love and support!
Elder Erickson

Sunday, January 6, 2013

18th Epistle from Elder Erickson serving in Far Rockaway New York

Hey Mom and Dad!                 written Dec 31, 2012
Things are slowly getting back to normal out here. Though not quite yet because of New Years and whatnot. There's a lot of people who went out of town for that and a lot of people still haven't moved back yet from the hurricane. But Elder Wolfe and I have been going out every day like normal missionaries instead of clearing out basements or playing in big concerts. It's been a nice transition back to normalcy.
                                                    Christmas in Far Rockaway 2012

There's not really too much that has happened since we talked last. I think I mentioned that we've been doing service for a guy named Arthur who invited us to come have dinner with him and his wife. This was already a cool opportunity, but it got even cooler when we found out that he has a master's degree in theology and has read the Book of Mormon before. He wants us to explain more about it and discuss religion with him. We decided to bring the zone leaders along with us because they are in our district and helped us clean up his house. We had no idea what to expect, but it was so awesome. They cooked us a steak dinner with potatoes and green beans, then we had this super tasty cheesecake for dessert. Already a good start. The whole time we talked with him and his wife, they are really interesting people. He is interested in just about everything. He used to be a really good swimmer; he once tried to swim across the English Channel, but he couldn't finish because of the weather. He has traveled all over the world and knows a lot about all sorts of different cultures. His wife is from Ireland, so she had a really cool accent and had some cool stories about Ireland. The guy also knows how to play like six or seven different instruments, so he and I talked music for a while. He had a big harp there, so we convinced him to play us a tune on the harp. It was a really fun dinner.
After that we sat down to discuss religion and that was just as fun as dinner. What's awesome about Arthur is that he is really open to new ideas. Even though some of the things we explained to him about the great apostasy and the restoration might have sounded crazy to him, he's willing to listen to the ideas without any criticism. I got to take the lead on the lesson and invite him to read and pray about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and he seemed very willing to do that. It's also fun to talk with Arthur because he knows so much about the Bible that he is able to teach us a lot of things that we didn't know. I wish I could think of a solid example at the moment, but I would say that we learned just as much as he did in that lesson. It was an awesome night.
We also had a really cool experience last Thursday. Well actually it started about three weeks ago. We had just started knocking doors in the elliptical area. One of the first doors we knocked on, a lady answered the door and told us that she had just lost her job of 28 years as a nurse and that this was a bad time for her. We expressed our condolences and then asked if we could return another time. She kind of said yeah whatever, then told us that we weren't dressed warm enough for the weather. We told her that we'd be sure to dress warmer next time.
The next day, Elder Wolfe suggested that we go get her a card to wish her well and a merry Christmas. We got a nice card and bought some chocolates for her. We wrote a little note and signed it as "The boys who need to dress warmer." We left them on her porch and bounced. We didn't go back until this week. We had nothing going on at the time, so we decided to go back and see how she was doing. We knocked on the door and her husband came to the door. We were ready to just do a regular door approach, when he said to us, "Are you the boys who left the card for my wife?"
We were not expecting that. We said yeah, how's she doing? She came running  down the hall to the door and told us to come in. It turns out that this little card we had written for her had changed her whole attitude about the loss of her job. She was really depressed about it all, but this note turned everything around. When she told people at work that she was losing her job, they would be sad until she would say, "Wait! Something good came out of it though!" Then she would pull the card and the chocolates out of her purse and tell them the whole story. She still has the cards and the chocolates and carries them with her everywhere in her purse. It was incredible to see how her whole countenance had changed from that first night to this next visit. It was like a whole different person. She thanked us profusely and told us that she wants to write up the story and submit it to the New York Times. They were about to sit down to dinner at the moment, but she gave us both big hugs and told us that we were welcome to come back any time.
We haven't been back to visit yet, but we're planning to in the next couple of days. It was just so cool to have this opportunity to help brighten this woman's life. Whether we end up teaching her or not, I am completely content with the knowledge that we helped lift this woman's spirit in her time of need. I feel like that's what Christ would have done and we were helping her feel the love of her Heavenly Father.
Aside from those two stories, not much else has happened. It's tough in Rockaway because people were hit so hard by the storm, we can't just go teaching anywhere we'd like. But slow and steady is the way to victory. We have a couple of people we're working with, so things are going well. We're working on planning big weekly activities to bring families together and help them associate with members of the church. It will be a long and slow process of finding and teaching people, but Elder Wolfe and I are ready to work hard and do whatever we can.
I know the church is true and that this is the Lord's work out here. I love you very much and I hope you have a wonderful New Year's!
Elder Erickson