Thursday, January 31, 2008

Jan 31: Interesting things happened...

[Top picture is us and Elder Lepeškin, who is from Latvia but is actually a Russian. We were excited out of our minds to meet a real Latvian (he grew up in Latvia, so he's Latvian), and it was great to hang with him and learn from him.
Bottom pic is my whole district, all four of us learning Latvian to go to Latvia, with Sister Farns in the middle. From the left: me, Elder Brown, Sister Farns, Sister Hagen, Sister Knight. We are standing before the Latvian flag.
We redecorated our room on a day that we couldn't bring ourselves to study any more, and so there is an artsy mosaic that sister Knight (the artist in our group) spearheaded, and the flag and maps and such take up another wall.]
So, some interesting things have--wait...that's the subject? My bad.

Thank you for the prayers from all of you. I wish to let it be known that you are all in my prayers as well.

Ok, time to talk about that interesting stuff I mentioned. Last Friday (the 25th, I believe) I thought at the TRC (Training Resource Center) in pure Latvian. The first thing we did was talk about food, share a quick message, and set up an appointment to return to teach later that night. We asked if her family would be there, utt (the equivalent of etc in Latvian, means un taa talak, "and [the] rest"). We then left, prepared ourselves to teach, changed what we would talk about a little to fit the things we were told by the "investigator" about her family and circumstances. Then the fun part: we went to knock on the door to teach her the first lesson in Latvian. As I was going to knock on the door, Elders Brauns suggested that we let the Spirit guide us, and forget about straining so hard to form sentences correctly. Just say what we are there to say as best we can, focusing on what we are teaching, not how we are saying it. I testify that the gift of tongues is very, very real, and readily available to those doing the Lord's work. We talked for over half an hour about God and our relationship with him. About prayer, families and their eternal importance, God's love for us and how he knows us each individually, and love each of us as we ARE His children. We talked about prophets, the falling away, God's authority to act, Jesus Christ's ministry on Earth, the Prophet Joseph Smith what God did through him, and had just begun to talk about the Book of Mormon when our time ran out. It was amazing!

We must have used well over 200 words, in sentences that were understandable to the listener. Now, we weren't perfect. Our cases were off sometimes, our verbs were conjugated wrong, but the message was still there. And the Spirit of God was there. So powerfully that both the missionaries and the volunteer found it hard to speak more than once. It was the most amazing experience I have ever had teaching the Restored Gospel. Never has the Spirit been so strongly with me teaching and testifying that my message was true as then. And I have not been exactly silent concerning my beliefs before, and I have shared my testimony with others. But I have never had the Spirit that strongly. So, again: thank you for all your prayers.

Another thing worth mentioning is that with my new study plan, I have come to improve a good deal in Latvian. I am able to say much, and am able to more rapidly produce sentences. I have already gone, in the past five weeks learning this language, from taking 15 minutes or more per sentence to being able to write out 7 or so correct, fairly complex sentences in the same time. The language makes more and more sense each day. And the mercy of the Lord in this is obvious. My greatest apprehension comes from the language, and if I continue to progress at this rate, within two months I will be completely comfortable speaking to people, even though I do not have the vocabulary to back it.

A native Latvian came in last week by the name of Elder Lepeshkin. He speaks Russian, Latvian and English fluently, and has been called to Finland. This amazing individual was baptized into the church barley a year ago. This is literally the fastest he could come on a mission. A few weeks after baptism, he was already talking about a mission. He went from drinking, living with his girlfriend, and only partially caring about God to a missionary [in barely a year]. He is pretty much alone, as his family, his girlfriend, and most of his friends were seriously opposed to him doing anything in this church. But, here he is. He is excited to teach us whatever he can, and when he speaks Latvian, I am able to understand him (for the most part), which is seriously impressive to me. That fear is now just a discomfort. I just have vocab to work on.

Now, I am counting down the three weeks I have left here at the MTC before I fly to the other side of the globe and begin to teach my fellow man. News from Latvia is that the work is going far faster than ever before, with 3 companionships teaching over 18 investigators. For Latvia, even a year ago, this was almost unthinkable. It was a good wish. But now, it's fact and moving fast. I am super excited to be there, adding to the Fold of God.

It has been written to me that I may prefer emails to letters. Not true. In fact, I don't even get email. I have half an hour a week of computer time that I use to type one letter home each week. That's it. So, if any of you have tried to correspond with me through email, I suggest you think try again through letters or

I want yo all to know I love you! This is God's true church on the earth! The power that comes from this missionary work is unfathomable! And I know that it only expands outward. If one person receives light, that one will effect others. Those others will effect others, and after 50 years, a single missionary may influence some many thousands! For example, one missionary of several years ago was mourning that he only brought one dirty, shoeless boy to baptism during his mission. He felt a failure. He made it his goal, some 35-40 years later, to see what had become of that. It turns out that over 1100 people had joined the church because of that "dirty, shoeless boy" and that boy was now in global church leadership! So you just never know. For those that have light, share it. Never fear to share it. That's one reason you have it!

Again, I love you all. Do well, miss me a little, and carry on! Dievs buut ar jums! (God be with you!)

Elders Argails

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jan 24: Hello

[This must have been an odd week for me. Given the sobering nature of the rest of the post, I will post these pictures (I have a lot of silly ones I'd like to share, but later).
Top: A sunset out our window in our classroom. We spend as much as 12 hours a day in this same classroom, studying scriptures, gospel principles, language, and teaching skills, as well as practicing teaching, speaking, and so forth. This little room dominated our lives' scenery, so I was very aware of differences or beauty in it, like this sunset.
Bottom: We all drew plans of salvation. This is one of the fundamental doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka the LDS church or the Mormons. It is described in more detail later in my mission.]

It has been made known to me that some of you believe my answers to your questions were unsatisfactory or non-existent. I do not have a list of these questions. I have answered most of them in the limited time I am allowed, but I haven't time to answer them all at once. If you would like to ask a question, sent it to me or my folks, and I'll do my best to answer it. But I cannot promise a speedy delivery of the answer, for which I am sad.

Then, there are two things that hit me pretty hard this week. The first is that I am not thankful enough. I was fairly discouraged by my apparent lack of progress in Latvian and the gospel this week, but as I reflect back I can truly see how I have been blessed, and that I have grown a good deal. Due to this, and the fact that it was made pretty clear to me that I will not and cannot receive further light without acknowledging that which I already have, and treasuring what I have received, I have re-organized my study journal and spent a good deal of time accounting for my usage of the Lord's time.

The second big hit this week was of the power of the Book of Mormon. There is no way that any person can read that volume of holy writ without feeling the power and influence of God coursing through them. I promise to all, and as an ordained direct representative of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Himself I am authorized to extend promises of this nature as moved by the Spirit, that if you will read this volume of scripture, even the first book, you will feel God's Spirit in some way or another. You will feel His love, His peace, His grace. There is no way that you cannot feel the Spirit if you will but read the book, honestly seeking to know of it's truthfulness. It is not just some commentary on the Bible, it is not a book written by a man. It is God's direct words to us today. For us personally. It was not written for those who were alive at the time of its writing. It was written for us. And as such it caters to our needs directly. It testifies of God and the divinity of Christ our Lord from the title page all the way through to the end of Moroni. It is powerful scripture, given directly from God through His chosen mouthpiece Joseph Smith. To this man God gave the power and authority to act in His name, and to no other organization of earth is this power extended. Using that authority and power (together known as the Priesthood), Joseph brought forth the truths of God's kingdom, the reality and power of Jesus Christ's atonement, and its significance to us. The way was shown more clearly than ever before. This is contained in this book, the Book of Mormon. To all who read this I issue a powerful, sincere, and well-thought out witness that the Book of Mormon contains the most powerful testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ to exist in writing anywhere. The might of the book can clearly, easily, and powerfully be felt by any honest seeker of God. I would strongly encourage each reader of this note to find the gifts in that book for themselves. It has brought millions to Christ, and can draw you closer to God regardless of your religion or current beliefs.

Upon this book rests all we stand for as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This book is proof that God speaks to mankind today. It is concrete, solid, indisputable evidence of God's love for us. If you come to know this book, you will come to know that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. You will know that He is the maker of heaven and earth, and all things therein. You will know that Jesus is our Saviour and Redeemer. You will know that only by fallowing Christ's gospel can we be accounted worthy before God to enter into his presence, and to become one with Him and Christ.

Finally, if you know your Bible even a little, you will appreciate the Book of Mormon all the more. One suggestion for understanding that is this: The Holy Ghost bears witness to us that God is the Father, that Christ is our Saviour. The Father and Son are the source. The Holy Ghost testifies of Them, and of anything true said about Them. The Bible is a record of Christ. It is filled with magnificent doctrines and truths of God's kingdom. It is the testimony of God and Christ. The Book of Mormon serves as a witness of that testimony--it is, in a sense, the Holy Ghost for the Bible in that it confirms it and makes it even easier to believe. It testifies of the truths found therein, and supports all God has spoken throughout time. One of the greatest benefits of the Book of Mormon is that is is simple to understand on the surface. The truths of God are laid out in a way easy to understand, and hard to confuse. Nephi, a prophet from the Book of Mormon, stated that "[his] soul delights in plainness," that the hearer may clearly understand. That is how the book is laid out. Plain, simple truths of God, easily accessible to all.

[Please don't come to read the Book of Mormon assuming that you know everything there is to know about God. Nobody knows everything that there is to know about Him. We are always learning. If you come to this book with the thought that you will learn from the Spirit of God directly, then you cannot be lead astray, and you will be open to all the truth in the book, and you will be aware of any nontruths, because the Spirit will let you know what is and is not true. Trust God and His spirit, and you will be able to know what comes from Him. Do not rely in man...God condemns that so many times in the Bible that you'd think it would happen less, but it doesn't. People trust everything their preacher says without praying about it, and they assume that they can just attend church on Sunday, and then not think much about God for the rest of the week and that will be enough. Sorry, but that's not how things work. Come, and see what its like to learn from the Lord directly. Or, to continue doing that. You will receive only good from accepting this challenge to read.]

I want all to know that I know with surety that Jesus is the Christ. I know that He loves us deeply, even more than we can comprehend. Our Heavenly Father loves us even more than does Christ, and weeps with us during our hard times, as does Christ. I know that revelation is not a thing of the past. I have experienced direct revelation from God countless times throughout my life. I know that the priesthood is truly God's authority and power on this Earth. I testify to the world, as an ordained missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, that prophets are alive today and head God's church. They deliver His messages of strength and His commandments to the world today. The head of these modern-day apostles is Gordon B. Hinckley. I know that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God to us today. I know the power of the Holy Ghost is true. I know that Christ lives, and that He is our advocate with the Father. I know that you are loved by God. I know you are known by him personally. Seek Him, I implore will all my soul!

Elders Ārgails

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Jan 17: Hello!

[Top pic: This is Brother Shell, our primary instructor at the Missionary Training Center. In general, our teacher situation was crazy. He was with us the first few weeks, then went on a cruise to celebrate his marriage, and we had the Lithuanian teacher (who is a native Lithuanian, but knows almost no Latvian, though Lithuanian and Latvian are the only two living languages in their portion of the language tree, so a lot is similar and she is a linguist, so was able to be of some help near the beginning of our studies). Then, about the time Shell returned, we got another lady named Sister Farns, who was there until they could find another teacher (she had felt that she should move on, and returned when no other teachers could be found so there would at least be a teacher until another could be found). Well, near the end of our stay, a Brother Flory came and Sister Farns left. Turns out, I don't have a picture of Brother Flory, but I do have the other two. Sister Farns will be pictured later.
Middle pic: This is our sign, which translates to "Merry Christmas, and happy new year!!" only it's wrong. It should read Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus un laimīgu jauno gadu!! Subtle differences, but important. The breakdown in translating goes like this (literal translation time!): Priecigus is cheerful/happy/rejoicing/merry in accusative, because there's an implied "I/We wish you a" in there. It's plural because holidays are always plural (and adjectives always agree in case, number, and gender with the words they describe).
Ziemassvētkus is plural accusative for the aforementioned reason, and literally means winder--ziema--holiday--svētki. Again, there's the implied wish, pushing it to accusative.
laimīgu is happy (prieks is joy, laime is happiness, so subtle differences) in accusative, singular because a year is singular.
jauno is definite singular accusative, because it is "the" new year, not "a" new year.
gadu is year in accusative. Maybe that was a little too much breakdown? Anyway...there you go.
Bottom pic: this was the "Christmas Tree" we made for our room. Some time later, Elder Dundee followed through with a Swedish tradition of literally throwing the tree out, so he chucked this out of our room and into the hallway.]

Ok. so, there are a few things that are worthy of mention today.

I begin with a loving tale of blissful cheerfulness. Or not. In the cafeteria, Sesuo Thomas ("sess-wah", sister in Lithuanian), a Lithuanian-bound sister, approached us with a piece of "chicken." This looked very much like a piece of bread wadded up into a ball, then battered and fried. Coincidentally, it tasted much like chicken. Anyway, she comes over to us to show us this monstrous mess. We admire(?) it, and a she remains for a little while waving her fork with that on it as she spoke. I decided I'd try to make a funny: I said, "Sesuo, would you mind not flinging that thing around? you're getting sawdust in my noodles." She, in an attempt to joke back, menacingly jerked the fork in my direction. Upon which action, however, the item of questionable integrity came flying off the fork, and fell perfectly in the center of my companion's chest, rolling down his shirt on onto the floor. To make it better, Elders Braun was mildly reading a letter he had just received. He never even saw it coming. Anyway, we wound up laughing for a few minutes, and still bring it up every now and again.

Then, I have discovered the Māsa's middle name. Brother Black, I'm afraid that it was not any from the list you sent. I apologize for that. The name I actually discovered from digging through her wallet at all the cards she carried. Her student ID bore the following middle name: "W." Unfortunately, she returned as I was returning the cards, so I don't get the promised chocolate cake for discovering it. I think it's still valid, however, because I told her that my plan for obtaining said name would be through the means of theft, to which she replied. "Oh good!" But she claims it was misunderstanding during that conversation. In any case, it is a unique name, and I will continue to strive to obtain my reward for learning it. [For the record, I never did get it, and Sister Knight continued to insist that I had obtained the information by fraud and illegal means.]

Next, I want to inform you that I did get the tapes in an Argyle envelope, I received several other packages (including the journals and your delectable gift and much needed FAR SIDE CARTOONS(!!!!!!) Janin), and a mess of letters. Thank you to Grandma J, who fought through the steps to dearelder me a note. That was much appreciated. Also, to my dear cousin and friends to dropped me a line over the next few weeks, thank you. I love hearing from you all! And Robyn, I love to hear from you!

Also, a spiritual thought. I never fully understood why Christ's Atonement opens the way for all of the gospel to take place. Let me see if, in the next 10 minutes, I can explain how this unfolded to me. First, a little background:

Before we came to this earth, we lived with God. He is literally our father. He has a glorified body of Flesh and Bone, and lives in a state of perfection and constant peace and happiness. God, being our loving father, wanted us to advance, and to become as He is. But we lived as spirits with Him, and didn't have a body like He does. He created a plan for us, in the which we would come to earth, gain a body through earthy parents, and have the opportunity to prove our faith and devotion to Him and to ourselves, so that we can obtain the growth necessary to regain His presence. Therefore, we passed through a veil of forgetfulness on the way to earth, so that we could grow from having no knowledge at all, to whatever we aspired to here.

Now, we are all subject to death. When we die, our spirit separates from our bodies. We lose them for a time. Second, every time we sin, we lose God's presence, as God cannot tolerate the least degree of uncleanliness. This is a second death--a spiritual death. By ourselves, we could do nothing about it.

It can be seen like this: a man wants to get a farm, to provide for himself. He doesn't have the money to do it, so he borrows the money. He has good years and bad. But through constant work, he is able to make payments back to the person he borrowed from. However, after a series of bad years, in part to the weather, and also in part to his lack of diligence in work, he is unable to pay. The contract expires. He cannot pay. According to the law, the farm will be taken and sold, and he will be thrown into prison. We are like this man. We all fail sometimes, and we all work a little less than we should at least for some of the time. Say this man had a rich friend, who was willing to pay his debt. The law would be satisfied, but now the farmer would be in debt to the man who paid his debt. Christ similarly paid for our sins. The rich man would expect something in return for his generosity, though it would be something that the farmer would be able to pay back, and would be on a different schedule from the Law's. In this same manner, we are not in debt to God here on this earth. We are in debt to his Son, Jesus Christ, Who paid for our sins.

He has set forth His gospel--the payment we must make to Him for His aid. This is very simply: Have faith in Him, repent, be baptized in His name with the proper authority, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the same authority (that would be His authority), and endure to the end. Another way of saying that last part is never give up, and stay faithful until death. This is the way that we pay Christ. If we do so, he will be our Advocate with the father, and will plead on our behalf, paying our debt to the father for us (D+C 45:3-5). If we do not uphold our obligation to Him, He cannot do anything for us. We have not satisfied the Law nor qualified for His Grace. One of the names for Christ in Latvian is very interesting. The preposition "starp" means between. "Starpnieks" means "between person." Christ is indeed our starpnieks between us and the Father. He closes that gap we cannot.

Three days after His crucifixion, He was resurrected. This gave Him power over death, and gave Him the power to resurrect us, allowing us to return again in our bodies. When we are resurrected, our bodies are perfected, and if we lived worthily, and meet the requirements, they are glorified as the Father's is. That is our goal. It can only happen through Christ.

Elders Ārgails

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Jan 10: No pictures...

So, I tried to upload photos to this silly application, but no dice. The computers are pretty well locked down here. [That means that it's close to impossible to do anything but go to the church's web site or this email application. I have since added a couple pictures.
Top pic: Me, standing by a Christmas tree. Yup, it was Christmastime at the MTC.
Bottom pic: They decorate the open space between buildings on the MTC campus with a large amount of Christmas lights. They try to make the place as cheery as possible, because it's often very hard for missionaries--these 19-26(ish) year old young people who may not have every really been far from home on Christmas before--to be away from home for Christmas. These lights, I will admit, were calming in a way, and helped me stave off homesickness during Christmas.]

First, I need a single list of all names of Scottish origin that start with the letters "Wa." Typically, it seems to be a last name. The reason for this is I'm trying to find out Māsas Naitas (genitive case, shows possession) middle name. All she'll say is it's of Scottish origin, typically used as a last name, and she has a rather famous uncle (whatever that means). So, if I could get a list of some of the less usual ones, I'd much appreciate it.

Second, language has been coming a little slow this week. I don't know why. Interestingly enough, we now have two teachers. Brālis Šels returned from his honeymoon cruise, and Māsa Farnes also joined us. She was formally a teacher who recently left to pursue other things, but has returned because she is much needed. The came in speaking almost all Latvian, which was VERY different from what we normally experience. But, I can now understand what is being said without having to see it, so nothing but good has come from it. So, that was different. Anyway, I really like having teachers again. But, because of that I totally forgot what I was supposed to be studying language-wise for the TRC (Training Resource Center. You go there, teach, and speak your language with volunteers. You are then evaluated on how you did. Very helpful [the idea is that you are in simulated mission environment, so you teach lessons, talk about menus and order food, buy clothes, and so on in the language so that you can use that vocabulary. That section of the TRC usually lasts some 15 minutes, then you have 35 to teach a simple lesson]. So, about now I'm a little frantic on trying to learn the vocab I need to know. Oh dear...

In other news, despite our best efforts, Elder Dundee is still Sweedish. One of my roommates, Elder Dundee, is fairly unaccustomed to American things, and when he finds something he didn't like, he usually comments on how it's the fault of Americans for having such a thing. I find it very humorous, actually. We've been trying to inaugurate him in the American way, but no dice thus far. This week, however, we had a breakthrough: he likes Nerds! candies! Truly this discovery was a victory for good!
(In all honesty, we massively love Elder Dundee as he his. This is a running joke we have, since we also have a Danish elder, and he and Elder Dundee do tend to mock each other's nations a lot. We felt left out. So...this is how we include ourselves).

One last thing (probably): I spent some time in the RC recently. That's a place where missionaries take calls from people who order free stuff they find out about from pass-along cards, commercials from the Church, and other means [from you can request a Bible, a Book of Mormon, several DVDs about Christ, His life, about families, and many other things. You can also read a lot about things in the Church from an accurate source, if you are trying to learn about it. You can also find regular members of the church who talk about what the church means and does for them. It's a very good site]. We also call out to make sure that things ordered arrive to the person who ordered it. It's very interesting working there. The outbound calls are all randomized, so you get somebody who needs to be called, but you don't really know where the call will be going until you get the name on the screen. Most of my calls this last time were to Tennessee, and for a little while, it was fairly difficult for me to work out what was being said. But, once I figured out how to hear that very different kind of English, I realized I was bein' told a story. To summarize the four-or-so-minute-long story, the lady I called had been pushed into a wheelbarra' by a large dog she was trying to catch. As a result, she was now taking to bed rest for a little while, making sure not to hurt herself more. I was surprised--I don't often get stories when I call. Maybe I just need to call more people...I don't know.

That's really all I can think of talking about this week. Lots has happened, but not overly much to talk about. So, until next week, THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR PRAYERS!! I have begun to feel the power of that from you all.

Es zinu ka Jezus Christus ir mūsu glabejs. Es zinu ka vinš dzivo! Es zinu ka Greku Izpirkšana ir spēks. Es zinu ka pēdējo Dienu Svēto Jēzus Kristus Baznīca ir dieva baznīca lodē! Es zinu ka Mormona Gratama ir patiesiba. Es milu misionāri dārbu!! [Note: the double vowels have been replaced with long signs, and the ^s is replaced with š, to make it look more foreign. No grammatical or vocabulary errors were corrected. There are some of each error, by the way.]

I love you all!
Elders Džordan Ārgails
(all latvian spelling, fyi)