Monday, May 30, 2016

Birthday Miracles and Stand Your Ground

Hi there everyone! Hope you're all doing alright and seeing God's hand in your lives... we definitely have this week! The Lord has magnified our efforts and never fails to help us to keep going every day. It was a super fun week in the service of the Lord. So many miracles this week!

-District contacting in Oxford
-Intense knocking
-Found more unknown less actives
-Almost got beat up
-Birthday miracles

We got to do some district banner contacting on Wednesday! After a district lunch at Pizza Hut, we hit the streets of Oxford. For those of you who are unfamiliar with banner contacting, we got an enormous banner with a picture of Jesus on it and threw it up in the busy streets for everybody to see. Then we talked to everybody who glanced at it, even though it was hard to miss! I haven't had the nicest experiences while banner contacting... the last couple times we've just been bashed and sworn at a bunch. But this time was a little bit different--still lots of swearing (not from us!), but we really worked as a team to find the lost sheep. We shared the Gospel with numerous people who saw their Savior's face smiling at them from the banner. I absolutely loved it, even though my voice was nearly gone afterwards.

Loads of knocking this week! We are working on a street called Halton Road, which was given to us by a member doing the street initiative. Naturally, I was pretty excited because we've had some awesome experiences with knocking streets. We found a former investigator from Leeds who invited us to teach her again, so we are eager to follow up on that this Tuesday. We didn't have much more luck after that, but we spoke to some really cool people in the RAF (Royal Air Force base) and walked with a pilot onto the base for a bit, which was spectacular.

That night an interesting thing happened. While having a glass of water, I noticed that the glass had some decorative writing on the side of it. Note that I've been drinking out of this glass for the last 10 months, right? Well, the word written on the glass was "Halton". No joke! So that confirmation made me all the more excited to knock Halton Road. I think it's no coincidence! God definitely has a sense of humor :)

One of the greatest miracles occurred on Friday when we decided to return a missed call from a random number. A young man called Cody answered. After a lengthy discussion, we learned that Cody is from Leeds, he lives with his family here in Witney, they are all less active members of the Church, and he wants to become active again. WHOA! I'm starting to think that Witney is populated with hidden members. It's going to be great to work with that family and bring them back into the Gospel. I hope it all works out!

That's how our miraculous weekend began. Then some interesting things happened. After a long day of working and traveling, we were street contacting in a part of Witney where we don't go too often, and now I know why: a guy called to us as we had turned around to head home, so we turned around and approached him. When he figured out that we were sharing a message about God, a flip switched inside of him and he went berserk! He was yelling and swearing at us and threatened to "bash our heads in" if we ever set foot on that street again. Despite his boldness, Elder Reynolds and I remained in front of him, unfazed. While one part of me wanted to run for my life, something else told me I was going to be alright, so I just stood there and took the heat. Something similar must have happened with Elder Reynolds because he did the same! Looking back, I've realized that there were angels round about us at that time, but for different forces. Angels for one force on our side and angels for the opposite force on His. I know that God's team always prospers, and I know that the angels on our side greatly overpowered those on the man's side. Eventually we walked away with our hearts pumping, but with a greater testimony that we can overcome the adversary! I know that God watches over and protects His missionaries.

Sunday was my birthday, and it was the best one yet! I got to go to church, bless and partake of the Sacrament, teach Gospel Doctrine, play the piano, and watch an inactive man attend and even participate in church! So many blessings--not to mention the munch & mingle after church. Turns out that it wasn't exactly for my birthday, but I called it my birthday party because it just so happened to fall on the 29th. :D That night we had a birthday dinner at the Suttons. I am blessed more than I deserve to be surrounded by loving, caring, Christlike people in my life. I want to thank you all for supporting me and for helping me to be where I am. I was touched by the packages, emails, letters and prayers, so thank you so much. I definitely felt of God's love. 19 is going to be a good year!

Thank you all for keeping me posted in your lives, I love to hear from all of you! This Church is the only true church on this earth, and I know Jesus Christ is leading it. I know it! In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Have a great week!

Love, Elder Thomas


Last moments being 18

One spoiled missionary!

Birthday roast at the Sutton's house

Me and my companions!

Opening birthday packages

Monday, May 23, 2016

Tri-Zone Conference and Less Actives

Hello there, friends and family!

Another week has come and gone in Witney. My love for this beautiful place grows with each day that passes, and I really couldn't be serving in a more beautiful place. Yeah, I've been here a while now, but it never ever gets old because the Lord is literally in every detail of life. Can't get enough of the Gospel! Here's what went on this week:

-Tri-Zone Conference in Staines (close to Heathrow airport) and listened to Elder Herbertson of the Seventy. Received some really valuable knowledge and got to see some old buddies!
-Went on an exchange in Reading with the zone leaders. I was with Elder McAravey from South Africa and we literally talked to everybody in fun! We also talked to a man on the street and gave him a tour of the chapel there.
-Found an abnormally massive spider in the flat and called him Harold.
-Irene came to church! She's the less active lady from Uganda who we found in Witney about a month ago. She loved church!
-Got rained on again. Good old England!

Zone Conference was the best part of the week, hands down. It was a huge privilege to hear some wise words from Elder Herbertson. He's from Scotland and he's hilarious! He taught using some really good analogies, which I thought was great. I learned that we need to be constantly looking forward to what the future has in store for us. Imagine you're in a car. You've got your big, front windshield and you've also got your rear view mirror. Good drivers will spend most of the time focusing on what's in front of them so they don't crash. Occasionally they'll check their rear-view mirror and see what's behind them. However, if the driver spends too much time looking behind them and not watching where they're going, they're going to crash! It's just like life: if we spend our time dwelling on past mistakes, we will not be able to progress and will crash, so to speak. While it is good to remember and learn from past experiences, we need to always be planning for what awaits us, because God has good things in store for us.

The other story hit me the hardest. It's all about shortcuts! I think everybody loves shortcuts because they get you where you want to go really fast. But there aren't many shortcuts in life. The story is about a rich guy who had loads of houses all over the world. He had a palace in almost every single country! Then one day this man came up to his son and asked him to build him yet another house. The son was confused: Why on earth would his dad want another house when he already had countless others? And why did he want him to build it? Anyways, he got to work. This house was going to be magnificent until the son started "cutting some corners" by using cheap materials and hiring mediocre workers. Instead of 3 swimming pools, he only had 1 installed. His intent was to spend as little money as possible, and he did everything he could to keep things cheap -- although his father was paying for it. Nobody else knew about the cheap materials -- not the workers or the father -- only the son. Finally the wonderful house was finished. The father looked at it for a few minutes, admired it, and praised his son for the work that went into it. The father then pulled the house keys from his pocket, handed them to his son, and gave him the house. At this point, the son realized that the house would never reach it's potential because he took shortcuts and cut corners.

As I thought about this story, I learned that we are all here on earth to build our own house. Every choice we make determines the quality of that house. I wondered if I have cut some corners in the work during my time on a mission. Let us not cut corners! Jesus said, "In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you."

Remember Irene from Uganda? She came to church and loved it! We've been trying to help her come for the past month, but her job requires a lot of time every day. But this week was her holiday so she came to church and we were so glad she did!

Invited some more members to do the praying-for-a-street-initiative this week. We need to find some more people to teach! Our current investigators are progressing very slowly. Our focus is to do better at following up with people.

I know this is His work! I've been blessed more than I deserve here, which has brought me complete joy. I've found that my feelings are similar to those of the Sons of Mosiah... "And they traveled throughout all the land of Zarahemla," 

"publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them."
"And thus they were instruments in the hands of God in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer."
"And how blessed are they! For they did publish peace; they did publish good tidings of good; and they did declare unto the people that the Lord reigneth."
"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."

Couldn't have said it better myself! I have indeed seen great miracles here, and I testify to you that they are not just coincidence -- there are none with God. God is still a God of miracles and I am so grateful to witness them each day.

The ward is throwing a birthday party for me this Sunday...I'm officially part of the ward family :D

Love you all so much, and have a good week!

Love, Elder Thomas


The two Scotsmen and me

District picture from the top of Carfax Tower

Zone Conference

Elder Herbertson

At the Reading train station

Monday, May 16, 2016

Rainstorms and New Missionaries

Hi there, friends and family! The sun is shining here in Oxford today!

Exciting things are happening around here! Miracles and blessings are abounding not only in Witney, but across the entire mission. I'm so blessed to be serving in such an amazing place and on such holy ground. It's a great time to be a missionary! Many of you will disagree with me, but I firmly believe that this is the best mission on earth :) but I'm pretty sure every missionary says that.

Today marks the beginning of what could be my last transfer around here. The crazy thing is, it's only a 5 week transfer so it will go by really quick! Some missionaries kind of find 5 week transfers a drag because of that...they go by fast, so the missionaries aren't quite as diligent. But President Gubler had a plan to counter this! He sent out an email with a challenge: the companionship who gets the most baptisms this transfer will get to have dinner at his house, go to their own temple session, and then get driven home. Also, the top baptizing companionship from each of the 9 zones get dinner with President as well. So the stakes are high and Elder Reynolds and I are in it to win it. Let the game begin!

LOADS of highlights this week. Here's just a few:
-new sisters in Didcot! We have Sister Alushaj from Albania who is training Sister Brandley (or Sister Brand-new) from Spanish Fork. They are doing such good work over there! Crazy that I was trained there as well. No more work for us in Didcot!
-taught a guy called Leslie in Witney. He builds engines all by himself and lost his leg while driving a race car. Really interesting guy, and he's really interested in the Gospel!
-exchange in Oxford with Elder Watson from Alloa, Scotland. In my 9 months here, this was my first time working in Oxford and it was awesome! So many people though. Amidst the work, I got to see the track where the 4 minute mile was broken. Really cool!
-had a surprise lesson with a lady called Lucy in Carterton. She knows the Suttons and she totally absorbed everything we taught a sponge!
-it rained buckets on Wednesday and we got soaked to the bone! Nevertheless, we kept knocking.
-last minute musical number in sacrament meeting.

Such a good week! As mentioned, there are now sister missionaries in Didcot and they are awesome. I've been able to help them out a lot since I've worked there a lot. Our district just got that much bigger, though! I'm so blessed to be able to serve as the leader of this district because things are going great.

We did a lot of finding this week. Although street contacting can be effective and spiritual, we felt like we should do some more knocking. So that's what we did! We knocked for hours in Carterton and we found 3 investigators and another unknown less active. We thought it was really effective!

Things are rolling here in Oxford. Not too much more to write about, but it's been a great week! There's some awesome stuff coming up as well. This Wednesday we have zone conference in Staines with Elder Herbertson of the Seventy, and of course the London trip is coming up with Elder Oaks. Super exciting! It's the best time to be a missionary, and I'm loving it!

Thank you all so much for all your love and support, I feel your prayers helping me every day. Love you all and have a great week!

Love, Elder Thomas


The country, just North of Witney

Radcliffe Camera at Oxford University



Panorama fun

Absolutely drenched!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Transfers, Mother's Day, and More Miracles :D

Hello, everybody! Elder Thomas here. It's been one crazy week! I want to thank each of you for all your support and love. Your words and prayers help me to give it my all every single day. The life of a missionary is the best life.

But what a week! The craziness just never seems to stop, but I guess it's a good crazy. If you've been counting, you've realized that I've been in this awesome place for about 9 months now, which isn't normal. You're also probably wondering if I'm still here. The answer isn't just yes, but YES! I was thrilled to find out that both Elder Reynolds and I will be holding on a bit longer here in good old Witney. I can't believe it either. The one change is the Didcot area... we aren't working there anymore! 2 sister missionaries are coming to Didcot tomorrow and we're all really excited to have them here in Oxford. So glad to be here though...Witney or die!

I did, however, have some last parting moments with Didcot. I'm really not a huge fan of Didcot, but it was bitter-sweet to leave because I was "born" there. We got to do some last minute work there on Saturday and it was really effective! Had some really weird experiences there though, as usual. During a lesson with a recent convert, some lady poked her head out of a window above us and started asking us if we were JWs, what's the Book of Mormon, is it the play in London, etc. So we started teaching her as well! She wanted a Book of Mormon but wasn't willing to come down and get one from us, so I decided to attempt to throw one up to her. It was a PERFECT throw, but the Book of Mormon slipped out of her hands and fell...into a bucket of water. I didn't know what to do, so I just stared into the bucket in disbelief for a while. It was really sad! Turned out to be a pretty ok day though. And yes, to top it off, we got Caprinos Pizza, which was really good. In fact, a few people tried to take it from us as we walked back to the flat. Just shows how good Caprinos is. But I have taken my last step in Didcot, which is a real milestone in my mission!

Got to do a lot of service this week as well. We got to help Brother Rathbone set up his greenhouse in his back garden, and we got to pull weeds at the Suttons for a few hours. I was surprised at how badly I wanted to pull weeds...never thought I'd actually enjoy it! Must be a mission thing.

Sunday was a great end to a great week. Right before church I was asked to give a talk in Sacrament meeting and to teach a lesson in Gospel Principles. I had a few seconds to get my thoughts together, but it went really well! Like, better than it would've if I had actually prepared. I went Elder Holland style.

We had a surprise investigator show up at Church, which was great! He's called Ian and he's from Brazil. He grew up in the church but was never baptized. He's in the Didcot area, so lucky sisters! We're excited to work with him a bit. Miracles never cease in the ELSM! Skyping with my family was the perfect end to an awesome day. It was a real treat for me to virtually introduce my real family to the Rathbones (my mission family). My joy was full and I cherished every moment of that Skype. The best part was getting to see my Mom on Mother's Day! I think I speak for every missionary when I say that I could not and would not be here with out my Mother. In my opinion, she's the best mom in the world! Just wanted to let everybody know how
much I love my Mom. Thanks Mom!

I guess there's only 7 & 1/2 more months until the next will go by quick.

Looking forward to some more time here in the promised land! Even though I'm glad to still be here, I know I'm here for a reason. Just as a baby doesn't understand what the parent understands, so it is with our Father. He knows our needs, challenges, shortcomings, and trials. Even in the hardest times He is there with His angels to bear us up. I'm grateful for the strength He blesses me with and I know that all things are possible because of His son, Jesus Christ. I know He lives! In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Thanks so much for your emails and prayers! I love you all so much. Happy Mother's Day and have a great week!

Love, Elder Thomas



Goodbye... stay classy, Didcot!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Zone Trainings and Baptisms

Hello friends and family! I hope that you're all happy and well. From what I hear, everyone is excited for warmer weather and for school to get out. I can't believe it's May!

What a ride! This week has been awesome. With all the good things happening here in Witney, I'm afraid I'm wanting to stay for more. It will be interesting to see how transfers turn out this week. Everybody here reckons that I'll be leaving good old Oxfordshire...Even President Gubler refers to me as an "old timer." Will I stay or go???

An update on Thomas Baker: he got baptized! The baptism was on Saturday evening. It was kind of weird to fill up the font at our own chapel for somebody we haven't even met in person yet. Our ward was able to make the program and prepare for everything so quickly, and it was a great turnout! Half our ward was there to welcome Thomas into the ward when he arrived at the chapel with the Aylesbury Elders. So we finally met Thomas! Elder Pederson from Norway baptized him. I got to be the pianist for the whole thing and I loved it! I even got to play a musical number: Come Thou Fount. It's Thomas's favorite song.

Thomas is really cool! He's a 23 year old Englishman and he's been searching for truth his whole life. His search has lead him to many churches. He even served a 3 month mission in Romania a few years back.

But his thirst only grew stronger...

Eventually he found a book called "Mormons for Dummies," which fascinated him. He loved the doctrine and referred himself to be taught by the missionaries. 3 sets of missionaries were notified about him, including the Aylesbury Elders (from the London mission), who began teaching him. He described his experience hearing the gospel as "drinking a glass of water after a marathon." His thirst was quenched and he decided to get baptized. The Lord prepares the way!

The other big event this week was Specialized Zone Training (SZT) in Reading. SZT is different from normal ZT because the mission president comes! I always love SZT, but this one was special. Everything we did was to help us know who we are. President Gubler and the Spirit were able to help us not just have the knowledge that we are sons and daughters of God, but really know, believe, and embrace it in our hearts. When we know who we really are, we can be at peace even in the hardest times because we know that brighter times are ahead. We should also know who He (Jesus Christ) is. When we know this, it confirms who we are because He will never abandon us. We are all children of Heavenly Father, and He cannot leave us alone. He'll always be there to help us, teach us, and guide us. We've been sent to live here at this time in the last days for a reason. He's called all of us to be a part of His work! All this because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which connects us back to our Father in Heaven. The Gospel is great!!! Learned SO much this week!

Now our main focus is to find new investigators and get the less actives back to church. We're working with Irene from Uganda. We taught her last week and when we asked her to offer a prayer, she said it in Ugandan! Coolest sounding language ever. She is also coming to church on May 15. This is a big step for her since she hasn't been to church in a while, and she works all day every day as a caregiver.
She's doing great!

I went on my first exchange as a district leader on Wednesday. We met the Oxford Elders--who are both Scottish--in Oxford, where we had a quick lunch at Pizza Hut, of course! Then Elder Barrett and I set off for Witney and had a great exchange. We got stuff done! We had some crazy experiences too. As we were walking down a road, a couple teenagers approached us. Now, Witney isn't a big town for thugs and stuff, so I wasn't too worried about them. I also recognized one of them from a previous encounter so I knew we weren't in danger of being jumped or mugged or anything, but then they beckoned 10 more of their friends over...Elder Barrett and I were a bit nervous when they all surrounded us. The first one looked at me curiously and asked, "aren't you gonna share your message, mate?" He didn't have to ask twice--we dove in and taught them all about God and Book of Mormon and prayer. Yeah, we were a bit intimidated at first, but a couple of those kids felt the Spirit as we testified. 2 of them accepted a Book of Mormon and one of them has been calling us to know more about prayer. We loved the whole experience, even though one of the kids snapchatted our prayer.

Loads of good things happening! The Portuguese family we are teaching has an 8 year old daughter called Luana. She speaks perfect English and Portuguese, so she translates for us sometimes. We asked her what she thinks about the Book of Mormon, and she said it's true. Children are always in tune with the Spirit!

Well, that's about it for this week. I'm as anxious as you are about moves this week, but I know that I'll go where the Lord needs me to be. I love serving as a missionary and wouldn't trade it for anything. I hope you all have a fantastic week and I'll talk to you later! Thanks so much for your love and support. Cheers!

Love, Elder Thomas


Mariachi band in Oxford

Thomas's baptism!  The Witney Elders, Thomas, Elder Peterson from Norway, and Elder Masuku from South Africa.

Weird to see London missionaries in my chapel

Found another cat