Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Chase

When I started this blog I anticipated writing a story each Sunday. I figure two years of writing in my journal every day would allow me to go for quite some time and that the following story would be my concluding one. As is turns out, I'm horrible at adding to this consistently. And at the rate I'm going, this story would never make it online. So, here it comes. Some of you have already heard about this, and to others it should be entirely new. Feel free to ask me to tell you the story in person cause I love to. One final note that I find interesting is that this happened two years to the day from my entering the MTC.

"... Today we went to visit a former investigator who lives at the edge of our area. We were asking him about his experience with missionaries in the past. As we were talking, his little kid was looking beyond us out the screen and said, "He's gettin' ya'll bike!" We turned around and this guy was getting on Elder Gillen's bike and starting to ride away. Elder Gillen yelled, "What are you doing with my bike?" and began running after him. I handed Eddie a card and told him we'd be back.

I helmetted up and the chase began. To save from any tension I'll write first that each time I had to cross traffic there were large gaps. Never during the ride was I in any danger of collision with an automobile. As I left there were immediate chants from the little kids, "Go get 'em!" As I approached my companion, I heard more sideliners, "Hey, is that your bike?!" I sprinted past Elder Gillen and got up to speed, with the thief still a ways ahead of me. He turned then turned again. Thanks to more bystanders I knew where he had turned because they pointed the turns out for me so I has able to once again find the stinker. I persisted while breaking two rather important mission rules (I was both out of my area and way out of sight and sound of my companion).

I continued on the chase gaining ground. When we got to the corner of Gratiot and State Fair I was close enough to shout at him, "What do you think you're doing? You're gonna give us our bike back!" [Not recorded in my journal, but I'll add that I remember sounding pretty grizzly here. I never yell, so it was intense for me to hear myself sounding like a bear] He kept going, while I kept gaining ground and was eventually right on his side. I told him to get of the bike, but he refused. I told him again to get off. I told him we'd report him to the police, then he threatened me saying he'd push me off my bike. I said, "You're stealing our bike, and threatening me now?" He told me to back off, bit I didn't.

That conversation went on for a bit, then his plan changed. He told me, "I'm not stealing it, I'm just borrowing it. I had a long walk home." So I said, "You're not borrowing it. You didn't ask if you could take it. Get off now!" Him: "When I get home." Me: "Oh, you probably don't want me to know where you live after stealing this bike." He went about two more streets, and got off the bike. He was about to leave and I stopped him.

"Have you ever spoken to missionaries like us before?"

I handed him a Book of Mormon pass-along card. I told him our purpose is to share a message about Jesus Christ our Savior. I told him I was pretty upset with him, because he just slowed the Lord's work down. He left and I went to find my companion. Luckily he had the cell that day and I was close to a car stereo store so I was able to call him and 10 or so minutes later we met halfway. His helmet had been left at Eddie's house so we had a long walk back. The walk was great though because when the groups of people saw us coming back with two bikes they cheered! One man told me he knew I would get him because he could see the fury in my face as I chased him :)." 

I love and miss Detroit because of the people like these. Obviously there were some on a negative end, like the dude who stole the bike and like Eddie who turned me down when I asked for a glass of water after a high speed bike chase. However, for the most part whether the people cared to listen to us or not, the majority respected what we were doing.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Prophet Moses

I just googled "churches in Detroit" for fun, and found just short of 1900 churches in the city of Detroit. Now, that seems like and is a lot, however none of the LDS churches were listed (so there probably are other churches left out) and I'd thus assume that 1900 may be a little less than generous number. A taste of some of these are Fenkell Gospel Temple, Linwood Church of Christ, Landmark Temple of Deliverance, Flowery Mount Baptist Church, Canaan Missionary, Household of Faith, Masjid Wali Muhammad, Greater New Light, New Bethel, New Birth Church, New Jerusalem, and my favorite named church; Shrine of the Black Madona of the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church. All of these mentioned churches were on the same road on a stretch of maybe two miles, and not all the churches on that stretch have been mentioned. Now, I think my fellow MDMers would back me up in saying anyone in Detroit can start their own church if they want to. If not in a building, small groups could meet in a house as long as they have a prophet, a commodity quite easy to come by. The following is a story of one such group, taken from my journal near the end of my mission:

"We were riding to a media referral, but contacted a guy in his front yard. He invited us to come in and talk to him, so we locked our bikes in the backyard and went in. When we entered he went down to the basement, then came back up. Another man followed, then another, then a woman and so forth. One of the women hugged us, and one of the men let their plan slip. "How did you hear of this New Jerusalem?" he asked my companion. We just looked at each other puzzled and moved into the living room. It took some time for all the "brothers and sisters" to gather together. When everyone was there, we asked if we could have a prayer. They excitedly linked hands in a prayer circle. We were in a circle, when a few of them left the circle to shift places with each other. What started next is the most demonic prayer I've heard. As one of them prayed, everyone in the circle (except me and Elder Gillen) added their, "oh yes"s and "thank you God"s  along with many others. In the meantime, the woman holding my hand was squeezing it like nothing else. She had to be doing it as hard as she could because it felt like my bones were smashing together a  little. Also, I peeked and saw she'd tensed up her whole arm as if she was flexing (The darn woman is lucky I didn't squeeze back, I'll tell you what). Following the prayer everyone was clapping and chanting amens, while that woman continued clinching my hand for several extra seconds. Then, while everyone was still enjoying the spirit of the Devil, she opened the door and told us to get out now. Elder Gillen was curious and asked why. I however was fine with the request and started getting my bag handy. The others begged her to let us stay. She thought she had read my companion's mind, and she shared with the group what he'd been thinking. This amazed them and they began clapping again, but these weren't actually what he'd been thinking anyway. They let one man ultimately decide if we would leave or stay, and he permitted us to tarry (dangit).

They gave us time to talk, so we shared a condensed Restoration lesson with emphasis on the Book of Mormon. We said we'd let them share a copy if they would commit to read from it and pray to know if it's true, which they accepted. They then got that excited look on their faces again (the one they had each time they clapped). Then the man who originally let us in gave us his rundown. He told us of a miracle book written by a man in our very midst: "The one and only, the prophet Moses!" They all pointed to the relaxed Moses and started clapping for him. They said it cost $20, but if we read it within 30 days and give them a written testimony we could get $7 back. They yapped and yapped about how great the New Generation of Jerusalem is. We asked what religion they considered themselves to be. The answer we received, "REAL-igion!" These pogo-sticks are so confused and so lost. It's nuts how uncomfortable the spirit we carried scared the spirit each of them had been possessed with. There was no light in their eyes."

As I mentioned in introducing this story, this is all a direct copy of my journal from the day-of to this blog. This is really a part of Detroit. I miss walking those streets wondering when the next crazy thing is going to happen. However revisiting these things puts me in my place about how lucky I am to have what and who I have in my life.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Hole

I've mentioned before how incredible Ann Arbor, Michigan is. One of the coolest things about it is the amount of diversity the University of Michigan brings. I met people from what seemed like every foreign country while I was there. One such man was Nic Jain, from India. His basement had flooded because the heavy clay surrounding his house created a pool of water against his house and together cracked the foundation. I was one of the four elders who agreed to help this nice man with this problem.

June 29th - Work began on this project. We dug a little against the wall of the house until we uncovered the crack in the foundation. We patched the crack, so leaking would stop, and made plans to prevent future cracks and leaks. There's typically a layer of pea gravel underground a ways to allow a less dense (that freaking clay) place that water can run off. The plan was to dig a hole down to the gravel, then fill the hole mostly with new gravel so water would never pool against this part of the house again. We dug the first couple feet and called it a day, making plans with Nic to come finish on July 4th, at 10:30 (ie just after studies).

July 3rd - (Note: This part of the story would be much better given in person. Having watching Apu from the Simpsons for 16 of the first 19 years of my life I've developed a pretty okay, Indian accent.) We got in for the night and called the Hill Street elders to confirm our plans. Elder Wade said Nic had left a message saying we should start at 8:00 because, "Elder Ledbetter likes to get an early start!" Considering our daily schedule consisted of two-hours of scripture study from 8 to 10, we could all only laugh at the ridiculousness of him saying this. Nic then called us and said Elder Wade was hoping to get started early. We couldn't believe this dude was lying to us when we were already willing to help.

July 4th - Anyway, he offered to make us breakfast so we decided to move our studies up an hour, and told him we'd be there at 9:00. BIG mistake! It was clearly the first time this man had ever made oatmeal, which I say because it was basically like eating chunky water. It was so bad that midway through my bowl when he announced he'd now be making us toast, his voice sounded like an angelic choir. Bread, a toaster, and jelly and butter packets he'd obviously stolen from IHOP.... can't go wrong there right? WRONG! Minutes later he brought us each a piece. We expected toast, but were blessed with crackers, completely blackened and sprinkled with stale crumbs from previous uses of the toaster. We choked down that round of toast and, before he made more, we taught Nic how to empty the crumbs from the machine which had never been done. With two slices of "toast" and a bowl of "oatmeal" in each of us, we were ready to go to work on the hole.

Really the next few hours (I do not recall how much time we actually spent) were a lot of fun. Clay is super hard to dig, and the deeper we got, the harder it was to lift it out, but it was a great time with three friends and an experience I'll never forget. We dug, and dug, and played the movie game while we dug, and told mission stories while we dug, and it was a blast. However the longer we were there, and the deeper we went, the more ludicrous our task seemed. We kept expecting to hit the pea gravel but it just wouldn't come. Three feet down, nope. Four, five, six, seven feet. Nope. Time passed and finally we stuck the gravel and rejoiced! We had dug a hole in clay wide enough for the four of us to stand in and nine feet deep (on stomachs filled with only the breakfast described earlier).

July 14th - Time between digging the hole and now had been used doing actual missionary work. We had placed a board to keep too much water from going in the hole, but simply didn't have the time until today to fill the hole with gravel. In the meantime, we'd been receiving calls from Nic all the time. He seemed to have all the time in the world to accept our help, while we truly had no time to finish the project until now. We went to his house and filled the hole, put a thin layer of the original ground on the top and the project was finished. Throughout the project, he'd continuously been telling us how much he wants to hear what we have to say about the church when we get done, so we pulled out our planners to see when we could arrange a lesson. Turns out July 14th is the last day he has any time to do anything, so we were unable to set up an appointment. (For the rest of my time in Ann Arbor, he never met with us, nor talked to us again.)

I'll leave interpretation of the title of this blog to you. Does it describe four elders bonding while digging a nine foot deep hole, or does it describe a man who "abused our kindness and fed us the worst oatmeal ever distributed unto man?" Or maybe both?   

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I'm Catholic, I don't need Jehovah

The title you have just read is just one of the hundreds of funny things people said to be over the course of two years while tracting. I think most who have served missions would admit that at the start of their mission, tracting wasn't their favorite thing. It was scary. It was hard work. It was difficult to see whether what we were doing had any affect. The majority of us have these feelings initially and over the course of time either let them continue, or learn to embrace tracting. I for one learned to love it! Not only were some of the funnest (and funniest) experiences of my life had during tracting, but also some of the coolest people I've ever met were met while tracting.

Tracting is the door-knocking part of missionary work. If you're not teaching, you should be finding. Tracting was our chance to knock on doors with no idea of who would be on the other side. Now that it has been defined, I will give a few short experiences I've had. Expect more of these in the future, because there were far too many to post in one blog.

Powerup Guy - I don't like Japanese cartoons, but I'm aware there are times in them when characters will "power-up." They will be alone on the screen, standing there, while seizure causing blinking lights are going on. Once the character is sufficiently powered-up he procedes to go berserk. This story is an example of me being too much of a smart alec and what it caused a grown man to do. I'm assuming it had been a long day, and hope I wasn't a jerk very often, but here it is. "The man opened the door and I told him we were sharing a message about Jesus Christ. He readily replied, "I'm not interested," and I said, "You're not interested in Jesus Christ?" He responded in a delightfully humorous way. He actually did a powerup! He closed his eyes and clinched his teeth. He stood there and all of his muscles got tense and he started shaking. At the top of his lungs, he they yelled, "Get lost!" We bid him farewell and a pleasant night."

Alien Expert - "We met a man today who went by the name Mr. Greencircle who was pretty weird. I don't really now how to describe him other than sharing some of what he told us in all seiousness. He said that aliens from space are all around us and that the government is trying to find a way to allow them to live among us everywhere. The biggest problem they face in accomplishing this, he said, was that aliens usually die after three years of living on Earth. Yeah, that really does sound like a problem, Mr. Greencircle."

Jesus Experts - "We met a couple awesome people tracting today! One of them, Danny, has seen a spacecraft. He also told us that Jesus thought the world was flat. He insisted that if Jesus knew the Earth was round he would've let everyone of his time know. I assured him that it doesn't really matter whether Jesus knew or not (but frankly, if you believe the Jesus is God and that he created the Earth, he probably knew it was round...). We met someone else today that actually knows Jesus. We showed him the picture of Jesus visiting the Nephites. He was familiar with it, and said he had been there this morning. Hahaha, it was grand!"

Christmas Cheer - "Today while tracting a single street we met a man who has taken all the missionary lessons before, a woman who teaches catechism, and a friendly minister. We then met a lady who had a Book of Mormon with her and a testimony of it. She's not LDS or a member of the Community of Christ, but of something called the Restoration Branch Church. Next we approached a man asking if we could share our message with him. He told us to get away, so we asked if we could help him with his car (my companion is a mechanic). He told us again to leave, so we began walking away, and I said "Merry Christmas." He responded with "#@!* you!" and as we walked further away he called us jerks."

If these stories don't convince you that I loved tracting maybe stories of someone trying to break my hand, or a naked couple I stumbled accross, or a plethora of people calling the police on me will convince you that it was awesome. Those will wait for another week though.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Warren Love

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, so I felt it was appropriate to share a story of love. However, I could think of no interesting love stories from my mission, so am giving you something a little different. It takes place in one of the funnest places of my mission, Warren, MI. For those of you who have never heard of Warren... when Eminem says he's from Detroit, he means he's from Warren.

We had met a man named Bill a couple times. He had two rottweilers (Rosie and Rocky) that were pretty wild, so his house was in commotion. He invited us in to teach him though, and was very friendly. On our second visit we met his girlfriend, who's name I do not know (Yes, I somehow recorded the dogs' names but not the girlfriend's). Though I couldn't pinpoint it, something struck me as very odd about her. When we left I found out my companion had about the same opinion. A few days passed since this first encounter with "The Girlfriend" when Bill made it into our backup plans in the evening. We had a scheduled lesson which our investigators needed to postpone for a few minutes, so we went to see Bill in the meantime. The following is taken from my journal (If you've read my blogs before, specifically Fallen Angel, you know things might get intense. So jump to any conclusions as you read to guess what happened.):

"...We went, expecting to find Bill there and be welcomed in. I knocked and a minute later Bill's girlfriend answered the door. "Is Bill around?" I inquired. "He's resting." I said, "Alright, we'll let him keep at that. Could you just tell him we stopped by?" She stared at me, right into my eyes, for probably 15 seconds and finally said, very softly, "He doesn't live here anymore." I thought to myself in confusion... Firstly, all his cars were still there. Secondly, she doesn't even live there. She lives next door. Thirdly, Rosie and Rocky were still there... I said, "That's weird. He just sort've ... disappeared?" "Umm hmm." "Huh. when did all of this happen?" She continued looking into my eyes and didn't answer me. She looked more terrified than anything I can imagine. After a long pause from sound I asked, "Is there anything we can do to help you?" She blinked but didn't answer. After another long pause I asked her if she was alright and after another long pause I again asked, "Are you sure there's nothing we can help you with?" We finally left and told her to take care.  She didn't close the screen door till after he had cleared the driveway and neared the car. We waited in the car to keep an eye on the place for a few minutes, then we went to meet our investigators for a lesson..."

"... We drove by Bill's house at the end of the night. I was looking closely at the windows to see if anything had changed. It all looked the same except that she was now sitting on the porch bench by herself. It was 9:00 at night, and in the low 30's at best and she was just sitting quietly there. I'm not sure what happened, but I am sure that she was horrified. The more I think about it, the more I feel like she's done something terribly wrong and was so terrified because we caught her almost in the act. Again, she looked more terrified than anything I have ever seen. It was seemingly straight out of a horror movie..."

----- Okay, if you haven't come up with a solution as to what happened, don't read on yet. My opinion was that she killed Bill. Eye-contact is a pretty cool thing when you're talking to your friends, or to a lovely you're interested in, right? Yeah well, this lady was staring into my soul through my eyes for a really long time without saying a word. It was terrifying! A week later we got the courage to go back to Bill's. -----

"We caught the answer to the mystery of Bill's girlfriend today. Bill is alive! We stopped by and talked to him and learned that she has mental ailments and was off her meds. Right now, she's actually in a hospital getting treatment."

In a way, this whole thing is a love story, and a happy ending one at that. Bill lived, and his insane girlfriend was put in an institution. Happy V-Day! I love you!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Harassed by a Loon

After arriving in Michigan, I spent my first months in the beautiful city of Ann Arbor. The city is distinguished by numerous trees and home of the University of Michigan, and the infamous Big House. It is also home to some oddballs including a man who suits up in a woman's bra and squirts people with his water gun while riding his bicycle, and to the woman referenced in the following story.

I had been in Ann Arbor for a week and a half when my trainer and I spent an afternoon street contacting downtown. Our encounter with an average looking woman found at a newspaper dispenser is preserved, as the dialog between us was recorded that day.

"... we were passing by her and said, "Hello. How are you doing?" She turned and looked at our name tags, then it started. "I'm Roman Catholic." "Okay, ma'am. Well ...." "Bye!" She interrupted. She turned us around and as we told her to have a good day, she began reading the newspaper aloud in a state of ignorance. We walked away and began speaking with someone else. During this conversation, she passed by saying, "I know who you are. We talked before. I remember, two tall guys." She continued onward and crossed the street. Our conversation ended and we began walking again. There was that crazy loon, now staring at us from across the street! As our proximity to her shortened she started shouting, "You guys are weird! You are weird!" We passed her by, but she followed and continued her shouting. "This is the second time you've done this to me. You better never interrupt me when I'm reading the newspaper!" She continued after us for a few minutes still shouting. As we were able to distance ourselves further, her words became more interesting. "Are you a weird cult? Oh ho, you are, you're a weird cult!"

Okay lady who's been following and shouting at me for some time, you're right, I'm weird."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Fortune Cookie

Serving in the Warren area, I became associated with a member by the name of Won-Tai Kim. Won-Tai was originally from Korea, but had been in Michigan for a number of years on a work visa. His red corduroy jacket and bright-orange framed glasses typify this man's personality. He was full of energy and always laughing, and also a great help to us as missionaries. He was always willing to teach with us, and would be our member-present at least twice every week. He became a good friend over the short time I was around him. It is from him, that I learned the saying, "What in the Sam Fong?".

During an October General Conference, Elder Russell M. Nelson gave a talk about the gathering of scattered Isreal. Throughout the scriptures and especially in the Old Testament, we read that the time will come that all the tribes of Isreal will be gathered together again. Elder Nelson, talked about the early days of the church and how at that time, this gathering was being realized physically. As the church grew, more missionaries would preach the gospel, more people would be baptized and in most cases make the trek from the Eastern states or Europe or wherever to where the body of the church was; ultimately in the Salt Lake Valley. Elder Nelson then talked about missionary work, and that today the gathering of Isreal happens a bit differently. It has become a spiritual gathering rather than a physical one. He mentioned that the gathering place for the saints now, is in the place they already live.

We were sitting a few rows behind Won-Tai during this talk, and I caught some humor when Elder Nelson said, "The gathering place for Korean saints is in Korea." I looked at Brother Kim after the words were said and noticed him chuckling a little. For the next two weeks, this became a standing joke. Whenever we'd see him, we'd remind him that his gathering place was in Korea, and ask him what he was still doing in Michigan.

On preparation day, two weeks after conference, Won-Tai said he wanted to take us out to lunch. We went to the Bankok Cuisine in East Pointe (as a side note, this was my first experience with Thai food and it was fantastic). The meal started normally, and we talked about some of our investigators and other normal things. Then he told us he had news for us. Learjet, the company he worked for, had been going through lay-offs for awhile and he had just been layed off. What made the news bigger is that his work visa had expired, which meant if his current employment status changed he would in actuality have to move (gather) back to Korea. It was crazy to think that something we'd been joking about for two weeks ended up happening to him. He had about three weeks from then to get everything in order and leave the country. We thanked him for his help and told him how much we'd miss him.

To this point, this story of course has no relation to the title (The Fortune Cookie), right? Well at the end of the meal, our server brought us each a fortune cookie. Won-Tai's fortune cookie was perfect, so I wrote it in my journal:

"Pack your bags. You are bound for an exciting destination to the far east."

Won-Tai is back in Korea, and is now happily married and expecting a newborn baby in March.