No More Neutral Ground

“When we joined this church, we enlisted to serve God. When we did that, we left…neutral ground, and we never can get back onto it.” -Joseph Smith

Well, this is it. I can’t believe it. An incredibly fast year and a half has passed, and I have memories stored up in my head that I could never be able to describe to anyone. Just like Joseph has said, I’ll never be able to go back to neutral ground, and I certainly won’t allow myself to even try to get there. I just need to keep doing what I’ve told every single person I’ve taught to do: read, pray, go to church, and keep my temple covenants. I’m just going as an undercover agent. With a badge, that’s hard to do!

This has been the best week of my mission so far. I’ve seen absolutely incredible miracles take place in such a short amount of time, and I want to share one experience from Friday. It was my last shift at the historical sites, and Sister Gillespie and I were at the Joseph Smith Farm. Within the first hour, we had a huge BYU tour bus group come through, and I got to take them. So many comments going back and forth…it was fantastic. Once I finished that one, no other tours had come through in a while, so I was getting worried that could have been my last one! At five minutes to six (we close at seven) the Wirthlin family walked in. Yes, the grandson of the former Apostle. I introduced myself, had them sit down, and gave them a little background about the Smith family. Before we walked out to the property, I asked them specifically what they wanted to hear about the place. Brother Wirthlin said that he thought the historical facts were interesting, however, they had come here to have a real spiritual experience with his wife and two daughters. None of them had been to the Farm yet, and they had waited their whole lives to be here. I immediately felt humbled that I got to be the missionary to take them through, and I appreciated so much that they realized the nature of the experience. We had a fantastic discussion through the log home about God really knowing who we are, in the frame home about the protection He gives us, and it just continued through the threshing barn and onto the cooper shop. Once I sent them on their way to walk into the Sacred Grove, a huge wave of gratitude swept over me as I started down Stafford Road for the last time. That’s my usual (only) place to really pray out loud, and tears just wouldn’t stop the whole way back. (See, I do have emotion!) On the drive home, through my tears, I told Sister Gillespie that was hands down the best tour I’ve ever been a part of, just because of how prepared they were to receive the message the Lord had in store for them. She got the biggest smile on her face–she told me that it had been a matter of her personal prayers to see that I got the best tour of my mission for my last one. (She really is the best companion…yes boys, she comes home in just one transfer! That’s a good catch!) I just cried even more out of gratitude that my Heavenly Father allowed me to come to such a place. Poor Sister Gillespie.

I still can’t comprehend the magnitude of the things that happened here, or the things that I’ve accomplished here. I hope to one day see all of the fruit of my labors, and rest with them in the Celestial Kingdom. As President Packer said this last general conference, “When I look at the future, I am overwhelmed with the feeling of positive optimism.” I’ve had a year and half to become friends with Joseph, a year and a half to realize my purpose in life, and a year and a half to get to know my Father. What have I learned?

I could go on forever with the list, but I hope I learned everything that I needed to. I feel great about the work that I’ve put in, and I know that I’ve put in my whole heart, might mind and strength. If Jesus Christ asked me to turn around next week and go again, my next question would be, “How long do You need me?” I guess that’s how I can know how I’m doing on the conversion scale. I have experienced a “mighty change of heart,” and my heart issinging “the song of redeeming love.” I will be eternally grateful to my Heavenly Father for allowing me to serve Him for just a short amount of time. For this, I owe the rest of my life to Him.

“Now, Jesus said unto him, no man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God.” -Luke 9:62

BE HAPPY!
Hermana Hawkes

It’s Not A Competition

Brittany’s story has to be one of the most note-worthy stories I’ll ever tell about my mission.

On Thursday, we went to the sites with her…well, just the Joseph Smith Farm, the Hill Cumorah, and the Book of Mormon Publication Site. I noticed it’s a whole different thing knowing Brittany’s spiritual journey, and then applying the history at the sites to her. While in the Sacred Grove, we read Joseph Smith’s experience straight from his history, and she mentioned how much she can relate to him. However, her whole spiritual journey has magnified by a million in just the past few days. After a really rough night last night, she sent us the scripture in 2 Nephi 1:15, “I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.” She gets it–she really gets it. Brittany is now tearing up Irondequoit with us, teaching lessons, and even basketball tracting! (Note: basketball tracting is recruiting for our Tuesday night basketball games at the church…one of the greatest finding activities in my opinion.) She wasn’t afraid to just go up and knock on doors, even if we got a door slammed in our faces. I wish she had any idea how much she was teaching us instead of what she thinks is the other way around. By teaching with her, we’ve been able to hear more of her conversion story, which puts mine to shame. Thankfully, it’s not a competition, and all that matters is that we get the same end result.

That reminds me of a lesson I’ve learned the past year and a half–nothing ever is a competition, especially when it has to do with the Spirit. I don’t need anything big to happen to me to be truly converted; I don’t need the scriptures to shake as I read them, to hear a “voice of thunder” of confirmation as I am bearing my testimony, or that I don’t need to cry throughout the whole sacrament meeting in order for me to feel the Spirit. Elder McConkie said, “Being born again is a gradual thing, except in a few isolated instances that are so miraculous they get written up in the scriptures.”

As for the other events of this week, we had an exchange with the Victor sisters, and then two exchanges coming up this week, where I’ll be off to Henrietta and Fairport. The leaves are beginning to change, and that means more bus tours! This week we had a bus tour while Sister Tran and I were serving at the Hill Cumorah. I read on the schedule that it was a mission reunion, but lo and behold, did I ever know that it was the Mexico Monterrey Mission from the early 1970’s. Just my grandpa’s missionaries themselves! A few of them came up to me, introduced themselves, and fortunately I got to talk with all of them in the Christus room. (The painting of the Sacred Grove right behind the statue of Christ.) We talked about our missions, the thoughts the Spirit has given them throughout their lives, and what specifically their missions have done for the rest of their lives. A few of them came up to me after and told stories of how Grandpa has a lead foot, how Grandma was so patient with all of the Elders…I was just beaming with pride to be their granddaughter. We did get a picture of a few of us that I’ll have to show you later.

The last, but definitely not least, thing I want to mention was the anniversary of Joesph getting the plates on September 22, 1827. He met Moroni for the first time on September 21, and since that day fell on a Saturday this year, we decided to plan “the walk” for that morning. Most of us sisters, senior couples, and President Francis walked from the log home at the Joseph Smith Farm to the top of the Hill Cumorah, which was about four miles. (I’m proud to say that Sister Gillespie and I were the first ones to the top, after President started racing us!) What a great walk to remember Joseph Smith and the things He did for Jesus Christ.

Miracles are piling more and more on top of each other as I head towards the end of my journey here in New York, As I’ve thought about that though, I’ve noticed they’ve been happening not just my whole mission, but my whole life, and it’s great to finally realize His hand in many more things.

Keep staying strong, and remember that God always has unlimited minutes.

BE HAPPY!

Hermana Hawkes

Earned Not Given

…said the Nike slogan right above President’s head projected at Zone Conference. I knew I came to the right mission.

We had to earn absolutely everything this week. (Nothing new, really.) Who knew that filling up our car meant we had to earn things, too? As we were coming home from an appointment on Saturday night, we stopped at the usual place to get some gasoline. To our surprise, it said, “Please see attendant for cashier,” which to the both of us, meant “someone in there needs you.” We walked into the store armed with our Book of Mormon, when immediately a man yelled, “You’ve got to be KIDDING me!” He proceeded to tell us he knew all about our church, and that we had no idea what we were talking about. Obviously, the conversation was pointless, so we ended professionally. Not much time later, the cashier announced to the rest of the convenience store, “These girls have a really cool church, and it’s all about families!” We immediately had three different women with their children come up to us. One, Joy, said that she had been talking to her sister just the day before about how she needed to join a new church that actually had something for her two little girls. I think we pulled up to the right gas station, don’t you?

Most of the week was filled with exchanges, baptisms, and both Rochester Zone Conferences. Sister Steel and I had to present trainings about online proselyting, and it went really well. We took a couple of our investigators, Brittany and Mandy, to the baptism at the singles branch in Rochester. Both Sister Steel and I were independently praying so hard through the whole thing that they’d feel just something. Not to our surprise, right after the closing prayer, Mandy turns to me and says, “Everytime I come to one of these things, I want to be a better person.” Whoo! They are coming closer and closer to their Savior everyday, and progressing so well. I wish I had more time to expound on them, but seeing as I typed more than half of this letter, and accidentally deleted it, I don’t have too much time. Don’t worry, it’s all in my journal. Find me later.

A huge lesson I learned this week was simply just to be absolutely positive about everything that goes wrong. It’s incredibly hard to slap a smile on your face when you just want to crawl in a hole for a couple of days and only come out when everyone else is smiling, too. But it really doesn’t work like that. The only way to actually get a smile on your face is to go to one of your “holy places,” as they call it. These experiences I share with you are literally the highlights of the week, work wise. The rest of the week was like Alma’s, “Alma labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer, that he would pour out his spirit upon the people who were in the city; that he would also grant that he might baptize them unto repentance. Nevertheless, they hardened their hearts, saying unto him: Behold, we know that thou art Alma…and we are not of thy church, and we do not believe in such foolish traditions.” -Alma 8:10-11 I’ve literally been on my knees more than ever, just wrestling with God that He would deliver those people from out of their bondage. It’s not like it hasn’t worked; coming home each day, I felt as if the Lord had run marathons for us in working miracles. It’s not that the miracles aren’t happening, it’s that free agency that always gets in the way. 🙂 We are working as hard as we can. I can feel the Lord is proud of the work we are accomplishing. But let me tell you–it’s a battleground!

I appreciate the prayers and support you still continue to give me.

BE HAPPY!

Hermana Hawkes

Your Ultimate GoogleMap

It’s a scary thing when you don’t know where you’re going. Thankfully, Heavenly Father loves us so much that he’s provided a way to not only return back to Him, but to become just like Him. It takes some effort on our part, but what good thing do you have that you haven’t worked for? Missionaries (like myself) are online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week ready to help you start your process on finding your road map back to Him.  Check it out:

mormon.org/chat

Celebrity Sightings…Part II

I now realize the phrase, “I’m humbled to meet you.”

On Wednesday for our weekly site meeting, we had Joseph Smith’s great-great granddaughter, Kim Smith, and 3rd great grandson, Brian Davis, come to the Hill Cumorah. They told us of their conversion stories, how they came to realize the importance of their grandfather, and what they had heard of him throughout their lives. They sang a couple of songs they wrote, one called “Willow,” based on a tree Emma used to pray near, and another one, “Serenity Blue,” describing the prophet Joseph’s eyes, and what was seen through them.  I’m pretty sure no one’s eyes were dry the whole hour.

The next day, we had shift number two at the Joseph Smith Farm…since I have come back to the sites. We all couldn’t wait to talk about what we learned the night before! As we were talking, a car pulled up, and lo and behold…it was Kim and Brian! Guess who’s turn it was to take a tour. MINE. However, I quickly realized that I wasn’t the one who would be giving the tour.  Ha. Anyway, we greeted them at the door–more excitedly than we did last week with the lead singer of The Killers might I add–and I re-introduced myself to them. She remembered I was from Centerville, and immediately asked about me, how my mission was going, and what I had planned after. Hello, I didn’t want to talk about me, I wanted to talk about them! So I quickly answered the questions and jumped into shooting my questions in the opposite direction. As they were talking, I noticed the pictures of Joseph and Emma so perfectly framed right next to their faces in the background, and couldn’t help but see Joseph’s blue eyes and wavy blonde hair in Brian. We are talking exact DNA people. So, “their” tour started by going into the humble log home, and her telling me what she knew from what was passed down from her fathers. Kim and Brian were two of 80 direct descendants of Joseph Smith that are actually baptized into the church, and 200 in-direct…with marriages and everything. Horror stories have been told more times than she’s wanted to hear, and she knew there had to be something positive about her grandfather. As we were standing in the same space where Joseph formulated the million-dollar question, little old me got to be the one who got to hear them the behind-the-scenes of the consequences of abuse in his posterity.

We eventually made our way to the Frame Home, expecting to spend just a couple of minutes there for them to take a few pictures. We walked in and Kim said, “How much time do you have, Sister Hawkes?” “You tell me,” I said. “Sit down, let’s talk.” I asked her question after question of the character of Joseph, the moment she became truly converted, and how they’ve been missionaries to her family. From growing up, she heard horrific stories all about the “Utah Mormons” and the “Brighamites,” and was basically forbidden to go to Utah. Kim knew they weren’t true by the power of the Holy Ghost, that had come into her life at an early age. She was always taught from her mother, “the Holy Ghost trumps everything.” So, she decided to always follow Him, and never listen to what anyone else says. Since then, she’s always poured out her heart to the Savior, and she’s never said no to a prompting–because she knows exactly where it comes from. After half an hour of an uninterrupted quizzing session, we took a slow walk back to the parking lot on Stafford Road. I walked right in between the two as they continued to tell me stories…including how the missionary discussions they took at Meryl Osmond’s home went. (I couldn’t help but think how intimidated those poor sister missionaries were.) On the third discussion she knew she needed to be baptized. About the members of the church, she said, “there was something in those people that I couldn’t deny, and that was the Holy Ghost.” Kim was baptized June 7, 1998, and her son, Brian was baptized a year later. Right at the end of our visit, she said they would love to come do a fireside in Centerville when I return home. I gave her my e-mail address, and planned to set it up! (Mom, I think I’m going to turn that over to you for now.) We’ll make sure you all know when that’s going to happen!

Basically, that’s been the highlight of my week so far…if not my whole mission! Luckily I’ve had many highlights, and many experiences that turn me closer to our Savior, Jesus Christ. Every experience that I have as a servant of the Lord gets me closer to Him. It doesn’t matter how “famous” these people are. If I meet them on the streets of Rochester, and I put a smile on their face–that’s really all I care about. All of those combined make up the “highlights” of my mission. More often that not, it’s entertaining to see how that smile actually got there in the first place, but regardless, it’s a blessing. Anyway, we found three more investigators this week, and we’re teaching two tonight and another one on Thursday. They look promising, and I’m really excited!

It’s been another beautiful, rainy week in Upstate New York, and I’m so happy to still be wearing this nametag.

BE HAPPY!

Hermana Hawkes

Voice of a Trump

…that is until I lose my voice! I guess when the Lord said to “declare my gospel with the sound of rejoicing, as with the voice of a trump,” I took it literally. (D&C 29:4)This week back at the sites has been the most I’ve ever seen myself grow. The last time I took tours at these historical sites was in my first four transfers as a missionary. Now with a year of missionary service under my belt, I can see the drastic difference it has made with just four left. Not only were my tours completely guided by the spirit, but they were backed up by scripture and testimony of prophets…regardless if I shared everything that was in my mind or not. Three different men came into the sites to specifically ask about the Bible and how it correlates to Mormonism. Let me tell you a bit about each of them:

1. Louis, a businessman, a husband, and a  dad of two daughers, walked in to the Hill Cumorah Visitors’ Center on my first day back. He had dropped by the VC before about a year ago, but only had time to watch the 20 minute version of the Restoration. This time, he wanted to see it all. After he was through watching the 60 minute version of Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration and the 15 minute God’s Plan for Families, he had tons of questions that had been burning in his mind. He was trying to find unity in any church, and specifically the unity between Jesus Christ and His church that He established on the earth 2,000 years ago. “I can’t figure out the gap between Jerusalem and the Americas,” Louis said. “There’s got to be something that ties the two together if you claim to have Christ as the center.” I opened up the copy of the Book of Mormon that I was holding in my hand to the title page. I asked him to read the first few paragraphs where it talks about Lehi, where he came from, and we talked about Lehi’s journey to the Americas, along with the Jaredites and the Mulekites. I then brought him over to the display, “The Restoration of the Priesthood.” (It’s extremely convienent to be at a VC.) I explained that Peter, James and John, who he agreed got their authority straight from Jesus Christ, came to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and gave that same power to them. It was powerful to see it click in his mind, and for me to bear my testimony about the priesthood. It was perfect for it to come from a young girl like me, because I don’t have the priesthood. There’s no pride in it for me–I have to rely on it completely, through other men that I trust do their duty. I explained how my own father’s priesthood lineage traces back to Christ, how that power is in my home, and how it helps me even when there are hard days as a missionary. We spoke for about 45 minutes, and Louis agreed to have the missionaries in Pennsylvania teach him and his family in their home.

2. Keith, a very tall, bearded man with long gray hair and thick coke-bottle glasses came into the Book of Mormon Publication Site to ask a few legitmate questions about what the Lord revealed in the book of Revelations. Since I have had my share of persecution, I wasn’t going to go in this without backup. It wasn’t a coincidence that my two zone leaders from Brockport were there with about half an hour to spare. We all went into a seperate room with another senior couple that was working their shift at the time. So you can imagine: five missionaries surrounding this one man who said no one could ever explain to him what he was feeling. Before we even started, I asked him if he knew the Book of Mormon was true. He has read it cover to cover and said he knows it’s a book from God, but he isn’t sure about the whole thing. Keith then jumped right into his quesiton from Revelations 7:1: “What is the Lord going to do about getting these angels on the four corners of the Earth?” Immediately, 2 Nephi 28:11 popped into my head. I asked him to turn to it, and we read it together. “For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them…”I explained that was missionary work, and that exact thing was happening right now–to him–at that moment. We were clarifiying scripture from Jerusalem with the Lord’s other word that came from the Americas…with missionaries from all parts of the world. The next thing he said was, “God just told me that what you said was true.” (That still never ceases to amaze me, by the way.) We invited him to do the same thing with each verse of the Book of Mormon–to ponder and to pray about it–and to do the same thing with the First Vision. He left with the promise that He would do just that.

3. Robert, a less-active member who wasn’t too sure about his testimony, came in just for a “normal tour.” (I love it when people call it that.) I could tell he was questioning his testimony when he told me that “not very many missionaries make it out alive.” I wanted to turn around, put my fist up and say, “YA WANNA BET?!” But, I didn’t…I tried to be professional. I asked him if he was doing everything he could to serve the Lord in his best possible way, and not to worry about what anyone else thinks. He brought out some scripture with statistics of those who really do what they say. Once I felt my person on the defense, I knew it was time to turn it over completely to the Spirit. I bore a powerful testimony of what we were doing as missionaries was the right thing to do–even if only one person in the whole world had accepted the gospel. I bore my testimony about the power of the priesthood, restored by Joseph Smith, and how that power had changed people’s lives through the things I’ve taught them. It came to the point where he just looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and walked off. Seriously you guys…bearing testimony is the most powerful tool for any missionary ever, it is everything talked about in Ephesians 6–the Armor of God.
Yes, that all happened within the first 48 hours back at the sites, and yes, I taught plenty of other incredible lessons at the sites in between these as well. Because of that, I haven’t had a voice in about a week! But ya know what, Alma and Amulek, Ammon, Captain Moroni, and definitely Paul probably had the same problem. It’s actually a problem at all.Teaching these three men was a symbol of the power of three to my testimony, and that the Lord really does call his weakest to confound the strongest. I’m just so dang happy. I know that’s not the most professional word, but I don’t know what else to use to describe my emotions. Hermana Steel and I comment about every five minutes about how much we love our mission. Oh yes, we had Emergency Transfers on Thursday, and I am training a new missionary! It’s a long story, but now she’s with me, and we are both Cast Training together. She was only in the field a few hours before we had these ET’s, and it’s been awesome flush training her in Irondequoit. Hermana Steel came pre-trained and is one of the best missionaries I’ve ever seen. She has already taught me way more than I could ever teach her in the time we have together. (That seems to happen a lot…) But, we live in downtown Rochester, with an hour commute to the sites four to five times a week! It’s great, we get a lot of studies done in the car, since we have SIX hours: personal, companion, 12 Week, site, language and now, pageant study. The cast gets here in six weeks and I’m trying not to make myself over-excited about that, because I’m already jumping out of my chair for being back at the sites! I do miss Brockport, but there’s something about the sites that has every single part of my heart. The sites, combined with the sisters, the senior couples, and the landscape is enough to convince me to buy a burial plot here.

 

Wow, I know that was a really long letter…I hope you didn’t get bored. I could go on for another few pages, but I’ve only got a few minutes left. The power of study is REAL–and it really does build confidence in the gospel. I encourage you all to set a specific study schedule, preferrably in the early morning hours, so you can have that time to put on your armor of God every single day. Start with Ephesians 6, and I promise that you will feel 100% ready for anything thrown your way.

 

BE HAPPY!
 
Hermana Hawkes

Finally some photos…

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Sister Johnson and I in our lovely Brockport apartment. It doesn’t get much better than this!

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This is the cake that the Young Women made for the New Beginnings this year. I am so impressed!

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At Elder Warren’s farewell…that boy will be a great missionary in Monterrey!

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Anne’s baptism: January 27, 2013

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Last but definitely not least, Steph’s baptism: January 20, 2013!