Well, hello there! It's finally P-day! Going a week and a half without a p-day was harder than I anticipated. Though, I guess spending time at the mission home counts as a break day, because we didn't do much once we got off the plane at the Knoxville airport. We met President Irion and his wife, who are both amazing individuals. I love them so much! Their house is gorgeous. And so is this state. I love, love, LOVE Tennessee! I've been here less than a week and I have already decided that I will live here one day. Maybe retire here. Or build a cabin. It is so beautiful! D'y'all remember the glorious feeling you felt when you fell in love the first time? Yeah. Arriving in Tennessee was like falling in love all over again! The whole landscape is covered in trees! I live in a forest. And I'm really happy about it. Even though it's the beginning of February and most of the trees have no leaves, it is still super gorgeous. I'm excited to see what it's like in the Spring and Fall! I do miss the mountains, but I can't get over how beautiful this landscape is. Dad mentioned once he wants to move to Idaho. No, he wants to move to Tennessee. Because out here, you can live in the suburbs and the forest at the same time. We have a Wal-Mart here and so many other resources, yet everywhere you turn the landscape looks rural. So many huge fields, hills, streams, and meadows surrounded by trees. It doesn't get much better than this.
The weather is gorgeous too. I've been wearing short sleeves every day! But no, I'm not going to brag about it, because in the thick of summer it gets up in the 90's, and it's super humid here. So no bragging. Though I am loving the smooth skin and the volume in my hair. And the fact that I can actually breathe here. If someone nearby isn't smoking. But I digress.
My companion, if you couldn't tell from the title, is Sister Stone. She's been out 9 months and she is awesome! When we met the bishop, he said, "Fox and Stone. That sounds like a law firm. That's how you should pitch yourselves, 'We're Fox and Stone. We come to you! Have you been injured? We have Elders that can heal you!'" Yeah, took me a while to stop laughing after that one. He's a lawyer. If y'all couldn't tell.
And apparently Stone Fox is a really good book with a surprisingly sad ending. But that doesn't mean anything.
I have to be honest, we had a bit of a hard time the first few days out here. Sister Stone and I are white washing this area (meaning we replaced the missionaries that were here so we are both brand new to the ward and the area) and this is Sister Stone's first time training. So we're both a little lost, but we're getting a better sense of the area and the ward. We absolutely love the ward here! They are all so fantastic. The first night we got here we made one phone call to Sister Blankenship and she immediately invited us over for dinner. Since then we have been fed almost every night! And guess what? No fried foods. Nothing drenched in butter or gravy. And a lot of fresh garden vegetables. So put that in your frozen pipe and smoke it (Haha sorry y'all, family inside joke. Please don't break the Word of Wisdom. Besides, you know what they say: You can't smoke a frozen pipe).
This ward is so supportive! Relief Society members are really in to missionary work, and several have already volunteered to go on team ups with us. I feel like we will never be lacking a member in our discussions, so that's a huge blessing from above. The ward mission leader is also really in to missionary work. He already gave us a challenge to visit every member, spending more time with the less actives, and suggested several members who will be willing to do team ups. He has a whole ward missionary plan to get more ward members involved in retention and activation, and is setting goals for numbers of new baptisms in the ward. I am really looking forward to working with him!
Ok, the ward is HUGE! That's the overwhelming part. It used to be three wards, and without knowing why, the Stake President said they had to merge the wards. Three wards in one, yeah. It's gigantic. There are actually 3 sets of missionaries assigned to this one ward, because its boundaries cover three different areas: Pleasant Ridge North (that's where I am!) Pleasant Ridge, and Pleasant Ridge South. Together we are the Pleasant Ridge Ward. It's nuts. There are 200 members in the Relief Society. Yeah, you read that right. 200. And more than half are less active. So we definitely have our work cut out for us here. What's really hard about activation and retention, besides the fact that Satan is working hard on families here, is the location of the Church building. Here in Tennessee there are church buildings on every corner. Think of how many frozen yogurt places are in Provo. And then quadruple them. And you have the churches in this area. Literally, on every corner. All different kinds. But none of them are LDS! We have one building, 20 miles away. It's not even in our area--it's about a 50 minute drive. So, my dear family, when you take that 10 minute drive to church every Sunday, count your blessings. :) I love Tennessee, but I do miss the convenience of church attendance in Utah.
We have other progressing investigators but they cancelled on us. It's hard whitewashing because some people get so attached to the elders and you have to work extra hard to gain their trust. We haven't gotten a hold of them yet, but hopefully we will be able to contact them soon. Pray for us!
We have had a bit of success finding potential investigators too. There was one night, after we were fed at a member's home, that I felt we should stop by and visit one of the Elders' progressing investigators named Amanda. She invited us in and we were able to talk a little bit with her. She has a beautiful family and is looking for a church to help her children. We taught her a bit about the Book of Mormon and committed her to read. We're returning tomorrow night to teach her! Pray for us!
We found another potential investigator as we were out tracting. We have an appointment with him tonight, so pray that it goes well!! We have an interesting approach as we tract, one that I've personally never heard of. Because almost every person in this area is Christian, when they open the door we offer the Savior's peace and blessings in the home. We offer a simple kneeling prayer, asking the Savior to bless their home and help them to recognize the truth and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. When they have a spiritual experience like that, they are more likely to commit. So, we tried it. We didn't get as much success as I would have liked, but it does help soften hearts. Remember the night I got set apart? When President Gottfredson asked, "Who can say no to that face?" Well, I'll tell ya who. I got my very first door slam this week by a die-hard Baptist. It was surprisingly funny! We knocked on this door and a man opened it a crack and stared us down. Ha, if looks could kill. I tried to be nice though. "Hi! I'm Sister Fox and this is Sister Stone. We're going around and leaving the Savior's peace and blessings in everyone's homes. What that is, it's a simple praye..." "I KNOW what that is! I've been Baptist all my life! Thank you!" *slam*. Took some effort not to burst out laughing on the doorstep. Sister Stone didn't think it was that funny. My first thought was, "My first door slam! That's going in my journal tonight!"
However, when most people turn us down, they're pretty nice about it. We were able to pray on the doorstep of three different homes, but no one wanted to kneel or let us inside the home. Even though we're two young sisters, they don't trust us in their home. Which stands to reason. After offering the prayer we tried to teach them about the Book of Mormon and they kindly turned us down. We got really close with this one woman, but she's also a devout Baptist and doesn't want to make any changes. That's the tough part of the work here in Tennessee. It's fantastic that everyone has a personal testimony of the Savior and has a love for Christ, but so few are willing to accept the fullness of the Gospel. I am grateful, though, for the opportunity to plant some seeds. Those seeds will spring up when they're ready. Brother Bunch (the ward mission leader) told us Sunday that he believes the South will one day be the strong point of the Church. I feel like if we all have that vision for it, that could be true. The Church is really growing in the United States, and even though there is still so much work to be done here, I know that it can only get stronger and stronger!
Well y'all, that was my week. It has been overwhelming on many different levels, and I've already had good days and bad days, but the Spirit is always here. My patience has been tried and it's hard not to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the work and trying to get to know the ward and the area. But I've learned that when you pray for the spirit of optimism, you can have it. The magnitude of the work that needs to be done here is staggering, but "by small and simple things great things are brought to pass." I know that I'm supposed to be here, and I know there are people out there for me to teach. I know that as I walk by the Spirit I will be able to find them and strengthen them. I just always needs to be faithful and optimistic.
Well, my computer time is about to expire. I love y'all and hope that all is well back at home. I'm doing splendidly here, and am loving the work! I appreciate all the prayers and support. I love y'all so much! Until next week!