Monday, December 21, 2015

Week Twelve: Honoring a Birth and Two Different Lives

This week was even slower than the past weeks. However, for good reasons.

On Thursday we went to the Mission Office in Harare and had our joint-zone Christmas Devotional (Bindura Zone and Mutare Zone). It was absolutely wonderful. We had great talks from missionaries, a few different presentations, and both zones had a Choir performance. Our zone did a rendition of Far Far Away on Judea's Plains, with me as the eccentric conductor. The Other Zone did a rendition of O, Come All Ye Faithful with soloists and everything. Both Zone's did amazingly, but we were surprised that President Mkhabela asked Bindura Zone to again perform Far Far Away as the closing Hymn.

We then did a gift exchange, a white elephant game, and had a lot of fun laughing with some of the gifts and reactions.

On Saturday, we then had a Christmas Activity in the Woodbrook Branch where we serve. Each of the auxiliaries performed skits about the birth of our Savior. It was very entertaining. The Branch President and his counselors asked me to prepare a last-minute scripture quiz about the events around Christ's Birth, so I was able to think up some questions and had a little competition between auxiliaries. The last question was "Why was Jesus Christ born into the world?" and I opened it up to everyone to come up with answers. Their answers ranged from "To save our souls" to "To let us return to the Father." I told them all their answers were right and bore my testimony that the Savior was born to save each one of us.

It also was raining so very hard during the activity, that everyone was wet, since we don't have an official chapel.

And then Finally on Sunday night, we honored the life of the mother of a branch member. She was living in South Africa when she passed away last week, and her casket arrived last night. We sang so many Hymns like Rock of Ages, Nearer My God to Thee, I Need The Every Hour, and God Be With You Till We Meet Again.

And it was a beautiful, humble service.

I know my Savior lived, I know he died for our sins, and I know that he conquered death and lives again, and as such we all will be able to conquer death and we will be able to see our loved ones again. I love my Savior and Redeemer, and I am eternally grateful for his sacrifice for me.
Ponderize: 2 Nephi 33:6 "I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell."

I love you all. Until next week, Merry Christmas
-Elder Wilcken

Week Eleven: The Weather Outside is Frightful

My dear family and friends,
Lest there be any confusion, I had previously written and said that the rainy season was starting. I was misinformed. It certainly rained a few times, but then the rest of the time it has been very sunny and therefore, very, very hot. It has also been very windy at times. Only these last few days had it really started to be seeming like the start of a rainy season. From Friday to this morning, there has been rain at times throughout the day, as well as much thundering and lightning. However, right at this moment that I am writing this, the rains from the morning has cleared, the sky is blue, the sun is out, and it is again hot.
There is no logic in the place.

I joke, there is some logic.

So last Monday after emailing, we had a zone activity at Arcadia Dam. We went there for a Braai (BBQ) and played some Volleyball and Soccer. It was a very beautiful place and we got some great pictures.

Anyway, This week has again been pretty slow. In fact, slower than last week work-wise. We had to drop a few investigators, as well as pull some off date for baptism because they aren't progressing. However the Lord has still blessed us greatly. We have a potentially "Golden Investigator" named Brother Jim, who contacted us, asked us for a pamphlet and to come teach him and his family, rescheduled with us when the appointment fell through, asked us for a Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith History, and told us that he wants us to teach his family and hopes one day to "join our ministry". The only problem so far is he didn't come to church yesterday, but this morning he called us to apologize and told us the reason he missed. The Lord really does prepare people to receive missionaries.

We also had a lesson with an investigator in our area, who (when leading us to his house in our area) brought to our attention that our area is so much larger than we knew. There is a very large and very beautiful neighborhood a good distance away from the main part of our area, that we didn't even know existed. Elder Makoni and I are very excited to start working in it this week. I felt so much joy as we were simply walking through it. I have high hopes for it.

This week I am ponderizing 1 Nephi 17:15. I am striving to keep the commandments of the Lord.
Until next week, I love you all. May the Lord bless you in all you do.

-Elder Wilcken

P.S. It is now raining again.

Week Ten: My Peace I Give Unto You

My dear Family and Friends,

This week is another lull in the work. Nothing really new has happened, except for getting some new investigators and some more progressing investigators.

This week I was able to notice a lot of times where the Lord's hand was in my Life. Missionary work unfortunately isn't always wonderful and progressive. There are many slow weeks and there are many trials that missionaries face. However in the midst of all these trials, the Lord still blesses us to feel peace and joy. I have found this peace many times this week, even through the difficulties. The small moments of hope as we talked to a less active member. The joy I felt seeing the local family of Dogs that loves missionaries run to greet us. The peace I felt as pray to my Father in Heaven.

This week I am ponderizing John 14:27 - The Lord gives us peace in ways the world can't.

My dear loved ones, I know that my Savior loves me and knows me personally. I know that I am doing my Heavenly Father's will. I know that he wants all of his children to repent and come unto him. And I know that as we strive to serve his his children he will aid and bless us.

Until next week,
-Elder Wilcken

Week Nine: My First Investigators Baptized!

This week it finally happened! I was privileged to reap my own harvest with my dear companion Elder Makoni. These were the first investigators of mine baptized, and we still have a couple more waiting to follow in the next couple weeks. It was such a wonderful experience from finding them, to teaching them, to inviting them to follow the Savior into the waters of baptism.

I really do love the people here in Bindura. Everyone here is so friendly and welcoming. They make me feel at home and like I have a new, larger family.

The young ones we baptized are from the family we have been teaching for a few weeks, that thought we were there for scripture study. The Grandpa and the Mother still don't feel the need to be baptized again, but they were so encouraging and supportive of the kids being baptized. Elder Makoni and I know that they all have testimonies, they just don't all understand what they need to do about it. I am confident however that the rest of the family will share the desire and will follow the example of the young ones and the Savior. Both of the kids who were baptized have expressed desires to serve missions as well when the time comes, so that is very exciting!

The older couple who was baptized as well are actually the grandparents of the first young man I baptized here in Zimbabwe! They only speak Shona, so the lessons were a bit difficult. I still have yet to hear and understand their testimonies, but I have felt the spirit from their testimonies.
I want everyone at home who reads this to know that I am doing the Lord's will and he is blessing me for it.

This week I am ponderizing Alma 38:5, His advice to his son Shiblon. I replace "Shiblon" with "Joseph", and others can feel free to do so with their names.

I love the my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and My Father in Heaven. I know they are watching out for me and supporting me in their work. I strive to put my trust in them and I know that I will be helped through my trials for it. I know that people can change, the atonement is one of the greatest gifts ever given for us. I love you all and hope to hear from you soon.

-Elder Wilcken

Week Eight: End of 1st Transfer

Ponderizing Moroni 9:25

Today marks the first day of transfer 2 of 17

This past week has been really great. We had no real distractions from our area, so we were able to do a lot of the Lord's work. The people here are as wonderful as ever. The rains have started to be constant, and yet it is still very warm here!

This week we were supposed to baptize an elderly couple we have been teaching, but unfortunately they weren't able to make it to the church, so it needs to be postponed. But we have 4 other people preparing for baptism as well, so the work is progressing.

This week's email will be short because there hasn't been a great story to tell. However, my testimony is as strong as ever.
I know that my Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ love me and know me personally. I know that they are aware of all that happens and that they love each and every one of us. I know that the Book of Mormon was restored through the power of God and that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of or Lord. I know that through the Priesthood Authority, God blesses his children. I am so thankful for all the Lord has done for me. I say this In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

-Elder Wilcken

Week Seven: Going to the Clinic and a Baptism for 9 People

Most of this week was spent going to the Clinic, First my dear companion Elder Makoni was feeling really sick, so I let him nap most of the day, and when I woke him up he had a high fever. So we went to the Clinic.

Then I was informed I needed a blood test to see if my liver could handle getting a new antibiotic, and so I had to go for that and then rest to recuperate. And also another Elder in the house, Elder Banda has had some health problems and he had to go for a post-medication checkup.

But besides that, we had a wonderful week in the Woodbrook Branch. Elders Banda and Sanyawu taught many investigators and got them ready for baptism. So we had a marriage, and then that couple was baptized a few minutes later, along with 7 other investigators!

They asked me to help baptize, and I of course accepted. I baptized 6 of them, the youngsters, and then our Branch President, President Moya, baptized the adults. It was wonderful, and all 9 of them were confirmed the following day at church.

This marks the start of my last week in my first transfer on my mission. The Lord is truly blessing me.

My scripture to Ponderize this week: 1 Nephi 2:14-15

Until next time,
-Elder Wilcken

Week Six: 11/9/2015

This last week was my week to shine. In my training, I was put as "Senior Companion" and required to make plans, lead lessons, contact people, and make decisions. It was not as easy as it sounds.

The other Elders in our house had a wedding last night for one of their investigators, and there is another this Saturday. That's one thing that is really interesting here, in addition to baptizing people, we also help to get them married. Often our investigators were unable to get legally married, not by their fault, so we hold civil ceremonies often and then baptism shortly after. 

This week I also had the privilege of eating Tapatela, a dish so good that I had been hearing about it for weeks. I'll describe it more later. This Email needs to be cut short, for I currently don't have much to say. It's all been more of the same. But here I'll leave my testimony.

I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God and I know that it changes lives. I know the Bible to be the word of God as well, and that they support each other. I know that the Lord hears and answers our prayers, and that he knows each one of us personally. I know that He blesses me in every aspect of my life and missionary work. I have a testimony of the priesthood, and the blessings it brings to God's children. I know that my Father in Heaven and my Savior, Jesus Christ both love me more than I can comprehend. I am so very grateful for the opportunity to serve them. I close this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

-Elder Wilcken

Mosiah 3:12

Week Five: Raining in Zimbabwe and Going to the Clinic

This week it rained twice. It rained hard and for a short time.

Last Monday we went to a place called Paradise. There were a lot of rocks, and an old dry riverbed. It was very pretty and a fun little hike.

So I had to go to the clinic in town on Wednesday with my companion because his hand had been hurting for 5 weeks. He is getting better now so that is good. But at the clinic we had a few people come and talk to us, asking questions about missionary work and we had quite a few contacts, which was all good.

I then had to go to the clinic again on Friday because I was having some pain at the back of my tongue, people thought it might've been tonsillitis but luckily my tonsils are fine. The doctor said it was likely to be just a flu and with the help of modern medicine I am doing a lot better. Let me just say when it hurts to move your tongue even the slightest bit, eating and talking is very difficult.
We have started teaching many new investigators this week. One of them was the first guy I ever contacted, we taught him about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and he seemed very receptive and interested. He said he really wanted to come to church and felt it was important.

We also got to teach a Pastor. We talked with him about the nature of God and the godhead for a long time, going back and forth for quite some time. It seemed like it was going nowhere until we got to share the restoration lesson. When we got to explaining the First Vision, I recited it from memory for him. And let me tell you, that account is just as powerful as they say. He said after that he had no doubt that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and he accepted the Book of Mormon and committed to read it and pray about it. We haven't yet been able to follow up with him as of yet, but I'm very hopeful for him.

There is another very sweet family that we have had the privilege of teaching, however we think we gave them the wrong impression on our first visit. They appear to think we are just there for bible study and they don't know we have more messages to share with them about the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. However we are still very hopeful for them.

Remember that young man I said I baptized my first Sunday here? Well he got confirmed yesterday! And what's even better is he has received the Aaronic priesthood and is helping us teach his grandparents, who have a baptismal date November 22nd.

The work is certainly progressing. I know without a doubt that I am doing the Lord's work. I know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ changes lives. I have a testimony that prayers are answered and that our Heavenly Father has a plan for each one of us.

Until next week,
Elder Wilcken
Helaman 5:47

Week Four: Work Hard and Play Hard

At the Johannesburg Temple

The Baptism of Spenser, with his family

My dear family and friends,

I'll do my best to keep this brief. On Monday after we emailed, we went as a zone to the Mwanga Lodge, the equivalent of a zoo. We saw many animals like Hyenas, Lions, and Monkeys. Al the monkeys were intrigued by me. They would come right up next to me, two even held my hand. I think it's cause of my skin.

This week went very well. On Thursday we had exchanges for the first time, and I was assigned to lead my area with Elder Banda. Leading in the 2nd week, and I did good. We only got lost once. But we got 4 new investigators because we were able to teach them each the restoration right there on the spot. Each one made a return appointment and two of them accepted the commitment to read and pray about the Book of Mormon. We also met a really sweet old man by trying to tract at his house, then he saw us and returned home from across the street. We left him a plan of salvation pamphlet and he seemed really interested in it's message. He told us to come by anytime on Tuesday and he'd make time for us.

On Saturday and Sunday we got the opportunity to watch Conference, it was the first time for everyone in the area. It was again a wonderful experience.

My time here is running short because the network here is slow. But just so everyone knows, I am doing well. I love my area and my companion. The people here are wonderful, and the Lord is blessing me.

Phillipians 1:2-3

Elder Wilcken
PS: my ponderize scripture is Mosiah 2:17

Week Three: End of MTC and First Week in Zimbabwe

So I rushed last week because I was going to the South Africa Temple again. It was so great!

The rest of the MTC was more of lessons and preparing for the field. On the last Sunday we watched Meet the Mormons, and then realized that the last family, the Elder Armstrong went to the South Africa MTC, in the 141st group! We found his picture in the records.

When we left the MTC we parted ways with Elder Matare who went to Capetown, and Elders Brooks and Robison who went to Zambia while they wait for their visas.

When we arrived in Zimbabwe we were taken to the mission office where we got to meet Pres Mkhabela, his wife, the assistants to the President, the office workers, and our trainers! My trainer for the next 11ish weeks is Elder Makoni, from Zimbabwe. We are currently serving in Bindura, in the Woodbrook branch area. We live in a mission house with Elder Banda and Elder Sanyawu.

Bindura is very dusty, it's hot, the power is only only at random times in the day, but I still love it here. The people are so welcoming and friendly. Little kids will stare wide eyed at me, and the yell "How are you?" and will giggle when I respond and ask how they are. Even if they are very far away, if they see me they yell "How are you?"

I'm beginning to learn a bit of Shona, just simple greetings. There is a family here that has really been helping me feel at home, the Tom family. The moma only speaks shona so the baba has been helping me learn words.

We actually had a baptism for Spencer, who was the only one in the Tom family to not be a member yet. Elder Makoni and Elder Banda had been teaching him, so yesterday. Makoni let me perform the baptism. It was such a wonderful experience. I've only known Spencer a few days but I am so excited for him.

Now I have many pictures to send home, including pictures from the baptism. But I don't currently have a way to upload them. So pictures will have to wait until I can do that. All the missionaries in the Zone email from the same Internet Cafe, so the network is also slow. But at least we can email.

If anyone has any questions for me I will try to answer them in personal emails. But I may not get to everyone each week. Still feel free to email me.

I know I am doing the Lord's work, I know this gospel changes lives. I know the Book of Mormon is holy scripture revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

I love you all, I love the work.

Elder Wilcken

Week Two: "We're in Africa."

Greetings all! I am alive and sending this from the South Africa Missionary Training center. It is 7:50 pm, Wednesday night, as I am typing this. We American Elders arrived early, the natives arrive tomorrow morning. And since we are here before our report date, the MTC president, Pres. Collins is allowing us to email home.

So here's how things went down:
After Michael dropped me off at the airport security in SeaTac, I flew to Atlanta Georgia. On that flight I sat by a college student who played Pokemon on his phone. I used that as a way to start a conversation with him, then he asked about my mission. I left him a pass along card and he accepted it, so I hope something happens with that.

I then had a 40 minute layover, so as soon as I was off my first flight, I had to rush over to my Johannesburg flight which was already boarding. I was sitting next to a couple, where the girl was traveling to study for her phd in something. I didn't hear what the subject was unfortunately.

The flight was long and exhausting, the food was tolerable, I got to read a lot from my Book of Mormon, but finally, after 14 h 45 min, we arrived in South Africa. And immediately I found 3 other elders. Elders California, Idaho, and Texas. As we walked to the passport check, we met up with Elders Utah and Utah. (I learned their names later, California= Elder Brooks, Idaho= Elder Merrell, Texas= Elder Allen, and Utah= Robinson and Billings).

After we found our luggage we were greeted by a huge crowd of EVERYONE picking up anyone at the airport. They were all so happy. So cheerful, a lot a laughing. It was very heartwarming. At one point, a famous prophet from another religion arrived and so the crowd erupted into cheering and vuvuzela trumpeting. In the middle of a crowd, a man waved to us. It was the MTC Manager, Brother Makobe. He checked all our names, got our driver to pick us up, and then we left for the MTC.

South Africa roads are very interesting. I'll leave it at that.

Since the time we Elders got together, every hour or so, a couple of us would have the realization "We're in Africa."

It truly is an amazing place and I've been here for less than 4 hours.

There are 6 of us Elders here currently in the MTC, there's one more native Elder arriving tomorrow, and then a few Sisters arrive tomorrow as well. This is a small MTC class. My current companion is Elder Merrell. Tomorrow at 11:am this time zone is when our MTC course starts, so Pres. Collins say we may be able to email tomorrow morning before then.

Until next time, I love you all, I know this is where I need to be. I miss you all, but I'll see you in two years.

(above) Elders Merrell, Robinson, Allen, Brooks, and Billings behind Elder Wilcken

Week One: First Prep Day

My goodness this week has been so amazing, however I only have a short amount of time to email so I will try and get everything. I am going to get a second opportunity to visit the Johannesburg Temple shortly so I am giving up a portion of my prep day for that wonderful opportunity. I hope you all understand, I don;t know that I'll have time to respond to everyone today that I want to but I'll be sure to respond as soon as I can. Probably when I'm in the field and have normal Prep Days, not just an hour or so to do everything.

First of all let me just say, General Conference was absolutely wonderful. I loved hearing from President Monson and the other general authorities. My favorite talks I'll have to go over in a later email because of my shortness of time.
This whole MTC experience has taught me so much, here are a few of the highlights:

I cannot do this on my own, having the spirit with me while I teach is an absolute necessity.

Being humble and letting go of what you think needs to happen can go a long way to having things go the Lord's way.

Being unified with your companion is very important to being able to listen to the spirit.

I've been able to have some amazing experiences in South Africa, More details can be given with time and questions.

We got to watch each session of conference as an entire MTC group, all 9 missionaries and President and Sister Collins. We got to watch Saturday and Sunday morning sessions live (at 6:00pm here), and then we got to view Saturday afternoon, Priesthood, and Sunday Afternoon with recordings.

We were privileged to attend to Johannesburg Temple as an MTC group. The Temple grounds are absolutely beautiful, I took many pictures that I can share once I get to Zimbabwe.

Before we went to the temple however, we got to have a devotional with an Area Authority, Walter Chatora. It was truly an amazing experience all together.

We were able to visit the distribution center as well, where I purchased an Elephant Scripture case and a new Pocket hymnal with a cutout Ostrich in the shape of Africa.

Other than the Extraordinary things, most of the MTC experience has been a lot of studying, practicing teaching, and learning to recognize promptings of the Spirit the spirit, We have been teaching "Progressive Investigators" who are really just our teachers, but it has really helped us learn the importance of knowing and loving those you teach. It has been very difficult at times, but Elder Merrell and I have learned so much already and have improved a lot.

Elder Merrell is a wonderful companion and is very encouraging and helpful with my learning, and I do what I can to help him as well. Oh yeah, and we were called to be the MTC zone leaders, so we've also learned a lot about leadership.

I'm running short on time so I'll say goodbye for this week, I don't know when my next chance to email will be, but I will do what I can to respond to all who email me, so feel free to do so.

I love you all and I want you to know, I feel so blessed to be serving here in Africa. This place is so lovely and the people here have very strong faith. My love for them grows everyday. I know I was called to serve here for a purpose and as I strive to serve the people here I know I'll feel their love and the Love of our Heavenly Father.

Until next time,
Elder Wilcken