August 25, 2013

Dear Family,

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Wow, It is going to be difficult to write this letter, there is just too much good news from our week!
maybe as an opening thought, I can liken this letter to something I thought about on multiple occasions this week. That being… my homecoming talk… that’s still several months away, so I will explain why I have been thinking about it. During a lesson with one of our investigators this week, he asked me to “share an experience that I saw the hand of god in my life” luckily he was prepared to share a few experiences of his own to give me some time to think… My mind just raced throughout my life…. anyone who has read any of these letters would know many of those experiences I have had on my mission.. There have been countless times in my life that I have not only come to know of gods existence, but also his love and individual concern for me…. despite these many experiences, I was a bit stumped at first about what I should say. many of these experiences are very sacred to me, things I don’t share very often, others may seem somewhat insignificant to an outside observer, but to me were infinitely meaningful, which could I share to stand as a witness of Christ in this moment? I was glad that the spirit came to my rescue in that moment, and reminded me of an experience I had when I was in harboard ward, when I was called upon to give a blessing to a pregnant woman who was having severe difficulties in the late stages of her pregnancy, and the feelings I had surrounding that blessing, and the undeniable power I felt when asked to participate in the baby blessing a few weeks later. (That was a wonder in itself, I had not thought about that in months, but that’s what I was prompted to share) so, I was saved in that moment, and that was the experience I felt prompted to share. but, as we left that lesson I talked to my companion about my testimony, especially the testimony I have developed as a missionary… I discovered something… that’s really hard to share with people! I thought to myself, how on earth am I going to summarize all the ways god has touched my life as a missionary in a 20 minute homecoming talk? There are just TOO MANY things that have contributed to who and what I am and what I believe and know, they are ALL essential pieces to the puzzle of my testimony, how could I really talk about my mission without acknowledging all of these soul stirring experiences… how could anyone really understand the love and devotion I feel to my heavenly father and saviour Jesus Christ without knowing all of these things? how could they know it without knowing my heart? I don’t really have an answer to those questions. I want more than anything for everyone, especially those I love to know what I know, believe what I believe, but I don’t yet know how to give that to them fully.. Anyway, there were several times throughout this week that I was… I guess you could say, “carried away in the spirit” to memories of other special experiences that I have been blessed to have, I doubt anyone around me would have known how frequently I felt an overwhelming presence of the spirit, that was alone for me in my heart to remind me even more deeply, of just how much my god has done for me… I suppose that does exaggerate my dilemma of “summarizing my mission” haha, but I have a hope that whatever I do share, the spirit will be there to fill in for where my word of necessity will be lacking. I feel it a great duty as one whom the lord has blessed so greatly, to share that witness with others. I will have to trust that the spirit will bring to light the things I cannot. Anyway, that’s basically how I feel about most of my letters, especially the one I will write today, there is not enough time or words to express the fullness of the blessings Ihave seen in this week, but I trust that the holy ghost may share with you the significance and power that I am limited in sharing.

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-So Ill start with some lighter, fun news! We saw snow this week!!!!! I never imagined that I would see snow in Australia, but, we were visiting a family outside of town on Monday evening, and as we left, snow was pouring down outside! We picked the right day I guess to visit “meadow flat” because this is one of the only places and days this year that our area has seen snow! anyway, if you don’t believe me, I took pictures of our car covered in snow with more falling. Pretty surprising!
-I finished reading the Torah this week! haha, or the Pentateuch, or the books of moses, or in other words the first 5 books in the old testament. haha. its been an interesting journey studying the new testament, I may have told you that I have a goal to real the entire standard works on my mission, so far I have read the book of Mormon twice, the New testament, pearl of great price, and the doctrine and covenants, along with several other church publications, so… it was time for the old testament… I think we don’t read from the old testament enough, there are some very valuable things in there!!!! saying that, I am glad I have read it last, because I think I would not have enjoyed it or gotten as much out of it without the foundation of the other standard works… if you ignore some kinda strange things, read with the spirit, and think about the significance of the stories, there is great treasures to be found in the old testament!! I have learned so much from reading it! now, there are also some pretty funny things, in fact another elder in the zone named elder griffin and I have a tradition that whenever we talk to eachother, we share strange discoveries we have found in the scriptures, mostly from the old testament. We have found dragons, witches, monsters, santa clause, wizards, even the dimensions of the bedframe of the king of the giants named og (its about 4 meters long in case you were wondering. haha.) makes things fun. but in all seriousness, I have come to value all of the scriptures, especially the book of Mormon and D&C.
-We saw an amazing miracle with the fisk family this week! we had a great lesson about the restoration, tracy committed to prepare for baptism! Damion committed to prepare to take of the sacrament worthily. (a funny note on that, I asked damion what date they would like to set as a goal and he said… before you two leave, that could be 12 months you never know, but then I reminded him that I finish in 3 months, haha, he had a bit of a look of shock but then said, yeah, we’ll do it before then, haha) anyway, the real miracle was that we were talking about the things tracy could do to prepare to be baptised, we started with prayer and asked them if they would have personal prayer that night, damion surprised us and said, “we can do that together! we’ll have a family prayer every night before we go to sleep, Ill say the first one tonight”, and then he said “Also, we’ll read 30 minutes of the book of Mormon together every day” haha. I was so surprised, we did not even need to invite them to read the book of Mormon. so, I don’t know yet if they have done that, but I was amazed at how willing and excited damion was to do these things! It was a cool miracle to see a father taking a leadership role in his families conversion, I hope he can continue to grow! next step will be getting them to church, but guess what, they just bought a house literally around the corner from the chapel! so that will help!
-We had interviews with president Lew this week, since he was coming to our district conference this weekend, he had originally planned to hold interviews with all the elders while he was here for the conference, but, since Elder walker of the seventy would be with him, he did not have time to do interviews with us, and since we are so far away, he would not be able to make another trip to orange this month, so! we had phone interviews with him, haha, that was a first for me! Its always great to have one on one time with our mission president, even though we did not get to do it in person, I had a half hour to talk with him about all the good things happening in my life and area. I really love President Lew, he is a great man. HE told us some interesting statistics you may be interested in, these keep changing all the time, but heres where we are at right now… when the mission split, the south mission had 85 missionaries, since then, 30 more have come, and only 2 have gone home. before the end of the year, 15 more will finish, and 110 with come in!!!! that’s insane!!!! more than doubling the mission in less than 6 months. CRAZY. I am very interested to see how it all goes! but we will be back to being a large mission af about 200 in just a short time.
-This weekend, The assistants to the mission president came up for exchanges in our area, they actually stayed with us all weekend (Friday to sunday) so they could attend our district conference with president lew and elder walker. I know the APs well, (elder Thompson from Utah and elder haeata from japan) we all came to the mission at the same time and they will both be leaving the same day as me, we have been serving as zone leaders together for over a year,  we have a lot on common because elder Thompson also served as mortdale zone leader and elder Haeata also served as Canberra zone leader, on top of that, elder skinner and elder haeata are both Japanese, so basically, it was a really fun weekend! Exchanges are so much more fun when you are all good friends. But anyway, since we had two companionships working in our area, I took the opportunity to fulfil a goal I have always had, that being, to go tracting ALL DAY. haha. Poor Elder Thompson, we asked who was going with who and when elder Thompson said he would be working with me, I felt so sorry to tell him that we would be going tracting for 9 hours straight, but I was happy to hear that he had always wanted to do the same thing, but never had the time! it was great! it gave us so much time to talk and catch up and share experiences and talk about plans for the mission and our lives. We found so many interested people! Its bound to happen if you go finding all day, but I was surprised at how many people we found! Also, we tracted into a mosque! haha, it just looked like an ordinary house in the middle of a normal neighbourhood, but it was a mosque. was not expecting that. anyway, I am still a bit sore from walking all aross Bathurst (we did not use the car all day) but it was well worth it to find those people, and to have those experiences) another note, I  had never been tracting after the sun went down, I was always worried at how people would respond, but to fill our goal we kept tracting until 8 PM…. we did find some pretty annoyed people, for that reason I may never try it again, but!!! we also found a few people that we never would have met in any other way because of their work schedule! so it was well worth it!
-What kinda added to my physical exhaustion was that the next day, we helped one of our investigators gather some firewood, for 5 HOURS. haha. it was pretty tough work, but it was fun. Andrew (investigator) got the permit to chop wood in  the forest and took his 4WD diesel ute (that’s what aussies call pickup trucks) and trailer and a few chain saws off road into the middle of the Australian bushland.  probably about as manly as you could get. really wish I had brought a camera, it was some beautiful country.
-OK so I am running out of time so I want to share some of the coolest news we have had here in Bathurst… so, Andrew, the investigator we helped with the firewood and who asked me to share that experience I talked about at the beginning of this letter, He came to district conference in orange yesterday! So, ill tell you a little about him, he is married to Megan child who is an active member in our branch. They have only been married about 5 years, both second marriages. He works as a correctional officer in the Lithgow jail. He is a practicing Anglican, his father was an Anglican minister, but he calls himself a mormonized Anglican. haha. over the past few years being married to megan and having missionaries in their home and learning of the church, he has developed a great respect for the church. He is a really great guy, I have only know him a fews weeks, but I can tell from my brief time with him how good of a husband and father and disciple of Christ he is. He will definitely be one of the great men I will look to as an example when I am a husband and father. I have just been so impressed with him as a person. We have not been able to get too far into teaching him so far, so I really don’t know yet where he stands about joining the church, but he knows megan wants him to join the church, and he is supportive of her activity int he church… but anyway, something amazing happened at the district conference, after the sunday general session, there was a potluck lunch, when everyone gathered for prayer, President Lew turned to Andrew and asked him to give the IMG_2495prayer, I did not even know it at the time, there were too many people for me to see who was praying, but after the Amen elder skinner said, hey, elder Faulkner, that was Andrew saying the prayer, haha, elder skinner rushed over to tell our mission president that it was our investigator whom he asked to say the prayer! haha. President had no idea that’s what his was doing, he just turned to the brother closest to him… anyway, what it turned into was Both President and sister Lew and Elder Walker of the seventy having lunch with Andrew, megan and their son Brandon! I was so amazed!!! the whole lunch I kept looking over to see what was going on, from what I could tell they were having a great conversation, I had to imagine that since it was a mission president and area authority seventy, that their discussion was about the gospel!!!! haha, you could ask elder skinner about how excited and amazed I was that our investigator was having lunch with a seventy and our mission president. We did not get much time to talk with Andrew afterward, all we did was confirm our next appointment with him, but our mission president explained that elder walker shared his conversion story, and that he wanted us to commit Andrew to a baptism date next time we saw him and to invite him to the baptism service! I said, “of course president” and then president hurried off the set apart the new district presidency that was called that morning…. I still had no idea what they talked about, but president seemed quite confident he will be baptised!!! and this morning I got an email forward…. Sister child wrote to elder walker, who forwarded to president, who forwarded to the assistants who forwarded it to us. haha. but Sister child expressed her gratitude and desire for her husband to join the church, etc. it was one of the most touching email I have ever read, full of faith and love and hope and gratitude. WOW. Anyway, according to megan’s letter to elder walker, their son Brandon (15) would like to baptise Andrew, so,,, I don’t think I will be in the area when that happens, elder walker seemed to agree that waiting for Brandon to perform the baptism would be a good idea, but I don’t even care, what an amazing and miraculous turning point in someone’s life to be able to witness and be a part of. I am still in shock about it. haha! because we will be away from our area a few days this next week, we wont see Andrew again for almost 2 weeks, its killing me to wait that long to talk to him about everything! haha, but I am looking forward, learning patience. haha.
-brings me to my next point, we will be having a crazy week this week. We have a mission leadership council (zone leaders+ sister leaders) with elder Hamula (pacific area president) on Thursday morning!  then the next day (Friday), there will be a zone conference with elder hamula, so we will stay over and go on exchanges in my last area (bankstown 1 with elder bennison! stoked about that) on Thursday afternoon! Then, after the conference we will be traveling to orange for a companion exchange in orange on Friday evening to Saturday. Man, 3 days out of the area, driving to Sydney and orange. its going to be crazy. But I am really looking forward to it!
It has been an amazing week, so many memorable experiences. Like I said at the start, there is more in here that I don’t have time or words to express. but I am just so greatful for this mission, as it goes on, everything about this gospel continues to be magnified and deepened in my soul. I hope everyone that reads this will find similar experiences and opportunities in their lives that will deepen and expand their faith and love for life and for Him who gives us life, Even God our father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.
Love, Elder Ryan York Faulkner
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