Monday, June 26, 2017

The Blessing- Week 100

Well, I am shocked again that it is already time to be sending this email and I feel so blessed because of the blessed and wonderful companionship and friendship I had with Elder Burrows and the miracles we were able to see together and now Elder Van Alfen is a stunning missionary and an immediate best friend and it feels that this week was just filled with deep rooted conversions and God's perfect guidance and timing to produce mighty miracles. 

Heavenly Father's perfect guidance and timing to produce mighty miracles:
The very first day Elder Van Alfen and I were together and got to campus, we saw immediate blessings and miracles that can be attributed only to God's supreme and masterful plan and how He directs and guides His children with perfect timing.
Emmerson-We were walking on campus for no more than 4 minutes before we spotted Emmerson who was baptized last October so we ran to her and were able to walk with her to her apartment and had a great visit with her outside for about ten minutes to feel the Spirit and God's love altogether.

Paydon-We met Paydon a few weeks ago on campus and played basketball with him and then talked about the Book of Mormon and Restoration of the gospel and he was so intrigued and we were able to set up a time to come visit him but with some things coming up we weren't able to go visit him then and couldn't get a hold of him by texting or calling so immediately after we finished talking with Emmerson, we turned around and walked for 90 seconds when we say Paydon playing basketball and not realizing it was him at first we looked at each other and hurried our way over to him to see if we could play and to my great surprise it was in fact him and we got to play again and talk a little bit more after playing and set another appointment and nothing will get in the way of it this time:) haha 

Kirk-Just as we finished playing our game with Paydon, as the winning shot was taken, Kirk was walking passed the court on the sidewalk and saw me and we had met a week and a half ago and he called out and said "Hey, is that Elder Rick?!" (Haha it is a common occurrence for others to forget I have an s at the end of my name:)) so while I went to talk with him for a few minutes and we set up a time to get together for a lesson, Elder Van Alfen kept talking with Paydon and it was just miraculous all the people we had previously met that God placed in our path once again within a half hour of each other. This morning, walking to the library, we saw Kirk again and he is looking forward to us coming over to visit him and share with him the Restored gospel.
Deep rooted conversions:
Ashanti-She has been so prepared and has been one of God's elect the whole time we've been able to teach her but I can't believe how deep her conversion is getting and the passion and excitement that has filled her this last week. I'm not sure what happened and can describe it in no other way than that the Spirit of God, like a fire, is burning within her and she is so anxious for her upcoming baptism and taking so many strides towards that remarkable and sacred experience.

Alice-Gave a talk in sacrament meeting and was the highlight of the entire meeting. Her testimony is so powerful and she declares the stark contrast and blessing of having the gift of the Holy Ghost in comparison to not having it and she is gaining so much confidence that can come only by living the principles of the gospel and coming to know Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

Scott-Has returned to the Church and come back into activity for the last six months after 16 years of inactivity and he too bears such a powerful and sincere testimony of the power, mercy, and divinity of Christ and he received the Melchizedek Priesthood at Church yesterday before he moves to Arizona this week to begin his career after finishing residency. He really and truly is a brilliant example of Christlike love and light and he radiates both of those things wherever he stands.

Hannah-Received her patriarchal blessing yesterday and is so strong. I've talked about her in every one of my emails I think for the last two months and I still can't say the smallest part of just how miraculous and deep her conversion is. If you took away every single other piece of evidence or thoughts or feelings that confirm, by the Spirit, the reality of God, then looking only at Hannah and the story of her conversion and the true and everlasting joy that rests within her soul, then you will have seen and felt enough to know that God is and that He loves His children, every one. 

I love my Savior and my Heavenly Father and am so full of gratitude and joy.

Keep the faith,
Elder Ricks

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Blessing- Week 99

My heart is full and my words insufficient to express my love and gratitude to God for the many tender mercies and miracles I've been so blessed to see and be apart of.


Elder Burrows- After three incredible months, having so much fun and seeing so many miraculous things together, I thankfully get to think back on all the things that Elder Burrows has taught me and helped me with since I got to this area and it's tremendous to me how the Lord has used Elder Burrows as an instrument in my own spiritual growth and path to perfection. I love him so much and am so grateful for his companionship and for all that God has done to strengthen and bless us. I have been so blessed my entire mission with the best companion's that can be given, oh how I love my companion and how I love this work.:)

Elder Van Alfen-I learned of who my new companion will be for my last transfer as a full-time, tag on your chest, missionary in Christ's Church and am so excited to be with him! He has been out for a little over 10 months, is from Eagle, Idaho, and is absolutely incredible!!:) I got to serve around him for a time while I was in the Village and just can't wait for all that I will be able to learn and experience with him over the next 6 weeks and the people we are working with and will be able to work with this next transfer. I feel confident in the expectation that this will be the best 6 weeks of my life and I want to cherish every moment of it. We are going to work harder, be more obedient, and have more fun than either of us ever have on our missions and I couldn't be more excited to end my mission with him.:) 

Hannah-Wow, she has been and continues to be such a great source of strength and faith and Christlike discipleship and convicted testimony of the Savior and I still stand in aw, among everyone else who has met her, at the conversion she is having and the way our Heavenly Father is working in and through her. In an opportunity that was unplanned by us but prepared by God, we had a lesson with Ashanti yesterday at the church and Hannah was the teacher the entire time in sharing her unique conversion story and filling every heart with the Spirit of God and with His pure, all encompassing love in a way that has touched us so many times before and again then and in a way that really and truly has now changed Ashanti's entire life which will extend into all eternity.

Ashanti-This last week we were able to visit Ashanti a couple times and in such a spiritually moving way and in her sincere desire to follow Christ, she has decided with a surety that she wants to be baptized and is planning to have that sacred ordinance take place on July 8, just a few weeks away. I just marvel at the way that God loves each of us as His children and how He wants every good thing for us. I have learned so much about His nature and goodness and mighty and miraculous power since arriving to this area and seeing time, and time again, His power and love in this work that is His. I know with a certainty that it is His work and that no unhallowed hand can frustrate or stop my God and Friend, the Creator and Savior and Redeemer of the world.

Keep the faith,
Elder Ricks

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Blessing- Week 98

What a blessed week in Oklahoma!

This week we were so fortunate to have a visiting General Authority Seventy and his wife come to our mission for a mission tour and then after that he actually presided over our stake conference this weekend as well! It was truly a week of edification, sanctification, renewal, inspiration, spiritual confirmation, and testimonial growth. I loved each and every minute!

Ashanti is still progressing so much and making decisions that are propelling her to true conversion and eternal life which is such a miraculous process to witness. I will never grow weary of seeing the Lord's hand and power in my life and in others lives as He guides us on the paths of eternity. There were so many other people we got to see and other miracles we were blessed to witness and be apart of but primarily today I wanted to share a couple of the things that I learned from this week of ministering from on High.

Elder and Sister Echo Hawk are both converts to the church and speak with such love, respect, and reverence towards the missionaries and the members who played such an influential role in their conversion. As they bore testimony of this conversion they experienced, they invited the Spirit in all that they did and said particularly as they testified of the power of the Book of Mormon and as they said something that will forever echo in depth of my soul. In speaking of those missionaries that taught them and helped them in their conversion Elder Echo Hawk said "I would like to be a witness for my two missionaries at the judgement day." This one line, I feel, will have changed my life forever more. The Spirit bore witness of it to me and in a flood of thoughts and emotions I began thinking of those who have played such a profound role in my life, namely my parents, and thought to myself, "I would like to stand as a witness for my mom and my dad at the judgement day." That thought continued to develop and I thought more of others who played a role in the conversion of my life to this point and I realized I want to stand as a witness for each of them and my thoughts on the subject concluded with the realization that I hope and pray that I can live the kind of life that those around me will be able to see and witness a very real, physical and spiritual change, that they can see my life from the beginning, see the flaws and weaknesses and shortcomings and witness the desires of my heart and my nature begin to change into a character of pure love and discipleship, a truly Christlike life, countenance, and reflection permeate my entire being so that others will be able to stand as a witness for me at the last day that they have truly seen and witnessed a mighty change in me to the point that I have no more desire or disposition to do evil but to do good continually because I will give all my sins to feel the power of the Holy Ghost that I may know the Almighty, my Heavenly Father and my Savior and Friend.

Keep the faith,
Elder Ricks

PS: Hannah was in Texas this weekend and went to church down there. She looked on LDS tools and learned that the ward meets at 1:00 so she arrived, ready for church, and walked into a chapel where there was seemingly nothing going on because there were just a few people standing and talking. She thought maybe she had seen the wrong time or went to the wrong place and knocked on one of the doors where a couple of Priesthood leaders were standing and talking together. She inquired about the meeting telling them she had just recently joined the church a couple weeks ago and it was her first time there and they informed her that she was at the right place and the right time but it was stake conference that day for them so it was over now but that there was someone she needed to meet so they walked her into another room where she met Quentin L. Cook and was able to sit down and talk with him for 15 or 20 minutes. She recounted her conversion story to him and she was struck at the love and brightness and genuineness of that man. Two weeks as a member and she meets an apostle and is able to have a sit down conversation with him, I promise you with how miraculous this whole thing has been that the Lord is preparing Hannah for His great and eternal purposes and we can't wait to see what those things will be!

The Blessing- Week 97

Miracles on Miracles!! I love these people and I love this work and I love this ward/area and I love the feelings of the Spirit of the gospel and I love to love! I am convinced that there is nothing in all this world that can bring greater joy, satisfaction, fulfillment, purpose, and  success to anyone leading up to the time that individual begins his or her own family. 

Immediately after Hannah's baptism last Sunday, Bishop was able to visit with her and gave her her temple recommend. It just so happens that for the last several months a ward temple baptism trip has been planned for this last Wednesday, three days after Hannah's stunning baptism, and she was able to go with the ward to the temple to do baptisms for those who have passed on and not had an opportunity to accept the fullness of Christ and His everlasting gospel. God's timing is just impeccable and unparalleled. It was amazing and she was just beaming and couldn't stop smiling from ear to ear the entire time that we were there. Just a few days before we were able to witness the Spirit and joy of the gospel consume Hannah in that hallowed place, we were able to see the same affects happen with two other individuals that have become so dear and near to my heart as well. We were privileged to have been invited by David in the Village ward and Alice in the Norman YSA ward to be able to go to the temple with them to witness the same ordinances and the same special Spirit and joy in the House of the Lord. 

There is so much happening here right now and I am just so grateful and I love and marvel at the opportunity to be apart of such a work that is so much greater than myself. I feel no more and no less the joy and gratitude of Ammon, one of the great missionary heroes and representatives of Jesus Christ, as he expressed the feelings of his heart in the entirety of Alma chapter 26. I love those words and I too feel to sing the song of redeeming love "Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel."

Keep the faith,
Elder Ricks

The Blessing- Week 96

Wow...This had to be the most insane and miraculous week of my mission and if not then it is certainly one of them.
Let me tell you a little bit about Hannah and her quest in seeking to find and know Jesus Christ and to follow Him and the pure and absolute miracle of conversion that has transpired for her and in her over the last 3 weeks.

Sometime prior to May 5, Landon arrives to Oklahoma as a summer sales representative and through a funny story is able to meet Hannah but only through skype.

Saturday May 6: Hannah and Landon meet in person for the first time and Hannah notices something different and special about him for a number of reasons so she inquires about it and he is able to offer a simple and somewhat casual testimony/response which led to her telling him that she wanted to come to his church, check it out, and learn more because she was just intrigued.
Sunday May 7: She came to church with him for her very first time in an LDS church service, Landon introduced us to her and she absolutely loved every minute of the entire three hours. (Unexpectedly, that morning, without us or Bishop knowing that Hannah would be coming to church that day, Bishop texted us and asked us to teach gospel principles class which was essentially on the Restoration of the gospel and Church of Jesus Christ.) She was mesmerized by it all and later asked Landon if she could come back with him the next week.

Sunday May 14: They came together again and after gospel principles class we were able to sit down with her and had our first lesson together and it was one of the most spiritual visits I've ever had. She asked us a lot of questions which we worked at answering and essentially just ended up talking about Christ and His power and about the miracle of conversion in which we were able to share personal stories of. She would make comments such as "I'm not saying I am converting, yet, but..." or "Growing up my faith would teach ..... but I love that you believe ....." and other things similar to that. We left, simply inviting her to read 3 Nephi 11 from the Book of Mormon. In a Spirit guided fashion, we told her that we wouldn't invite her to convert or to be baptized at any time unless we were absolutely overwhelmed by the Holy Ghost because we knew and were confident that she would feel the Spirit and be invited by the real teacher, when the time was right and when she was prepared to take that step and it would be something that she would just want to do to follow Christ and commit to Him.

Monday May 15: We had a lesson all together at Landon's apartment and once again had an equally spiritual visit as we answered more of her questions and talked about accepting Christ's invitation to throw the net to the other side, to love Him, feed His sheep, and to follow Him. She had read 3 Nephi 11 and continued reading through to 4 Nephi. We invited her to continue reading and praying.
Tuesday May 16: We had another lesson all together at Landon's apartment and taught about our Heavenly Father's plan for our salvation and happiness and success and she loved every second of it and we had, yet again, such a powerful and spiritual experience together and it left me stunned. She had read from the Book of Mormon for over 3 hours that day out of her own personal curiosity and desire. We invited her to continue reading and praying and she would make comments such as "I think it is just the greatest thing in all the world that you believe we can be sealed with our families for eternity" with the biggest, happiest smile from ear to ear.

The rest of the week she had job interviews in Chicago and Edmond because she just graduated college that week with a graphic design degree so she kept reading and praying and pondering on her own and talking with Landon and doing all she could to continue learning more. At various times her father would send her some anti-Mormon things simply out of love for her and because he doesn't know what we really believe but only what he had heard from others and from online. None of it ever phased her though because she was learning and seeking for herself and asking us all of the questions and seeking the guidance and inspiration of our Father in Heaven.

Sunday May 21: They came to church for the third time together and that night we met at the temple and sat on the steps of the temple as we had, yet again, one of the most spiritual visits I could imagine and had experienced. She had begun saying things like "Our faith..." or "I used to believe ...." and she would talk about "conversion" and "baptism" and ask questions about those things. We answered more of her questions and continued teaching the doctrine of Christ and we, still hadn't invited her to baptism but it was apparent that the Spirit had already touched her, pricked her heart, and invited her to be baptized so we inquired about her feelings and, being absolutely overwhelmed by the Spirit, followed up her words of desire and commitment by encouraged her to pursue this course and to do as the Spirit invited  her to do just as Alma invited the people at the waters of Mormon to be willing to bear others burdens that they may be light, to mourn with those that mourn, comfort those that stand in need of comfort, stand as a witness of God at all times and in all places and to clap her hands for joy because this was exactly the very desire of her heart.

Monday May 22: Hannah's father sent her a lot of online anti-Mormon things which stated that we in no way were Christian but instead that we worship Satan and praise Joseph Smith and think we could replace God and a number of other things and we had emailed and told our Mission President, President Mansell, about her and we talked with him about what was going on and he actually lives in Edmond also and invited us and Hannah and Landon to come over to his house for a lesson that night so that's what we did. We addressed some of Hannah's questions and she said "I know it's true and I believe it and I am only asking the questions so when other people ask me what I believe or about our faith I can tell them the answer like how you have been doing it for me." She didn't have any concerns, no doubt about any of the things she had been sent and heard. In 8th grade she was at a Bible camp and read Matthew 5:48 which reads "Be ye therefor perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect." She saw that it said perfect and asked one of the camp ministers about it and he told her not to ask questions like that and that perfect didn't really mean perfect like God but instead that it is absolutely impossible for us to be perfect like Him. She shared that with us after we had already gone over the beautiful doctrine of Deification and she was astonished and so pleased that the question she had asked in 8th grade was finally answered and that the answers came from the scriptures and that it made sense and felt right. We talked about a number of other things and concluded by watching Elder Holland's April 2016 General Conference address "Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders among You" and it was such a spiritual experience once again. It was amazing how President Mansell was able to say just a few short things and offer a fatherly perspective and give that kind of advice and comfort and counsel.

Tuesday May 23: She went back home to Fort Worth Texas with her family. She learned that she received both of the jobs that she had interviews with in Chicago and miraculously everything was smooth and loving and went well with her family.

Thursday May 25: We received a phone call and learned that Hannah wanted to be baptized that weekend. In a state of awe and excitement and thanksgiving and praise at the hand of the Lord in Hannah and each of our lives, we began making all of the plans and the arrangements for her baptism to take place on Sunday, May 28.

Friday May 26: We had another lesson all together in Landon's apartment and in standard fashion the Spirit was so powerful and tangible and we were able to have a beautiful visit, talking about the last three weeks and the miracle of each event and about the requirements of baptism and going over the questions of the "baptismal interview" (really it's just a sacred and spiritual testimony meeting that a missionary or the mission president gets to be apart of). By this point she has read over half the Book of Mormon and has it all marked up with incredible insights and we invited her to read Joseph Smith History and to look for the nature of God in this account of what is, in all reality, the second most sacred and most important event that has happened in the history of the world, after the first and greatest and most important event that of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. She told us that she wanted President Mansell to baptize her so we got to listen as she called him and asked him to baptize her and you could hear him begin to cry and he said he would be honored and so happy to do that and that he was so proud of her. After they hung up she sat for a moment and began to tear up as she expressed that she really enjoyed and needed to hear that he was proud of her as a kind of father figure because her father isn't supporting her in this and hasn't said that he is proud of her and it was such a tender and spiritual moment to feel that kind of love that surpasses all natural love and moves into the realm of pure and true and Christlike love that only our Father can give.

Saturday May 27: We met Hannah at the church and talked about the Joseph Smith story and how it all points to God and how it restored and helps us to understand His character and nature. She then had her interview and we went to Landon's apartment for one last, wonderful visit before her baptism the next day. The most powerful words that I've ever heard out of an investigator came in a request that she made to Landon, Elder Burrows, and myself. I won't go into them yet, because she also made the same request to everyone who attended her baptism.

Sunday May 28: They came to church for the fourth time now and it was exactly 21 days from the day we first met her until then. It was another incredible church experience and it was amazing, the lesson in gospel principles was all about baptism. It wasn't man inspired and worked out just too perfectly to merely be a coincidence.  
President and Sister Mansell invited Hannah and Landon and Elder Burrows and I over for dinner at their house before the baptism so we went there for dinner and then left to the church for the most spiritual baptism I've ever been apart of. After she had gotten dressed in white we went to take some pictures and she just broke down. She was so happy. She walked about half way down the hall from us and just fell on her knees and started praying. She is a miracle. She asked for some time to get up and speak before the baptism was preformed, and when she did so she rocked everyone's world. She read out of Mosiah 18 specifically, these verses:

10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
11 And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts

She bore such powerful testimony that she was clapping her hands for joy and that this was the intent of her heart. She then made the request. She asked that her story be told, but insisted that it was for a specific purpose. She asked that we never share her story to glorify Her, or Landon, or us as the missionaries who got to teach her, but that we share her story as a testament that people can change and hearts can be softened and to glorify our Savior Jesus Christ and our Father in Heaven. She insisted that she would never be a Mormon. She insisted that all she wanted was to learn more, but as she read the pages in The Book of Mormon, as she prayed and received answers to prayers, as she sincerely attended church, the Lord changed her. In 3 weeks, to the day, the Lord changed her. That is why I just wrote you all this novel (Sorry about that). I testify that people can change, and hearts can be softened. I wanted you all to hear her story so that I can make it very clear that I know that He lives. So I can make it very clear that I know that the power of Christ's atoning sacrifice is real. He is the Master Teacher. He is the Author and Finisher of our faith. I hope you can feel the same and I hope that you can feel how much I love being a missionary. I can't believe the miracles that have happened in front of my eyes and I can't believe how fast the end is chapter is coming. This work is the Lord's, He lives and His love suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen. Of Jesus Christ whom has changed me and whom I represent and of these simple truths I know, feel, and bare solemn witness of.

Keep the faith,
Elder Ricks