First off, Happy Birthday Park! I can't believe you'll be 12and receive the priesthood...that's crazy. I sent a card, it won't be there by but it's coming! I'm trying to keep all the birthdays written down, but only writing once a week I may miss one here and there so sorry if I do, I'm sending birthday wishes by heart to all of you! :)
So the first week in the field was pretty interesting. Albany, Georiga is another world compared to Utah. I think in my last letter I said it's a little dangerous here, but I felt safe. This week kind of changed my thoughts on that... it's more than what I would call a 'little' dangerous and this week I felt like I was living in fear. Not to make ya'll nervous or anything, haha. So we have an area that has the reputation for being the hardest. It's also the biggest-we cover one ward and the boundaries are as big as entire areas in this mission. It's HUGE. There are proabably 700+ members listed, and I believe 100 are active. I still wonder what it was that caused the mission to close and such, and though I can't say for sure, it's sounds like a big part of that was disobedience on the part of missionaries. It's hard coming here and seeing the result of what they left behind and trying to clean it all up. They used to have a high baptizing rate, but with the people that were baptized, looks like many only joined to get welfare from the Church and when that was cut off, they quit coming. They weren't truly converted because Christ was not the reason behind their desires-it was only the temporal, worldly things. We definitely have our work cut out for us here.
But anyway, we have the 'Ghetto' and the 'Projects' in our area, so that's what I'm mostly referring to when I said I was kind of living in fear. The two Elders take the Ghetto, and Sister Turner and I have the Projects. And we're the only four missionaries in this area. I think it waswe were in the Projects because we have three guys we're teaching who are super awesome, but this particular moment we were teaching a 19 year old named Shaquille. We teach on the porch because the Spirit cannot be felt in the home. It's hard to feel it outside too, cars driving by, music blasting, foul language-it's just bad. But as we were talking to him, I looked up to see a car go by and it looked like the passenger was holding a gun to the driver's head and making demands. Umm...what do you do in that situation?? My companion didn't see and I knew there was no way we could follow them, so I waited until the appointment was over and we were in our car to tell her what I saw. I said I wasn't positive, but I was pretty darn sure. She was just like "yep you probably did see that, I wouldn't be surprised. Welcome to Albany." Holy moly.. that's uncool. The elders also told us of a street nearby where statistically speaking, three people get shot on that street every week. That really makes me feel good... and how it's set up, the elders are in the same apartment complex as us, but in a different building. The parking lot is between are buildings and we were in their building and then we could hear this fight breaking out in the parking lot and it's dark outside so I'm like holy shoot, I don't want to walk outside! We waited until it got quieter and were fine, but Sister Turner did say they've had the elders walk them back to our apartment before. No wonder this area has only been open six weeks...it's sketchy. I think it was that I felt the most fear here, but I also have to recognize that people have it a lot worse than living in Albany. To live in Iraq or Afghanistan, I couldn't do it. I think it was in the Projects we pulled up to the house we were going to and when we got out Sister Turner started leading me down the street. I was way confused. But as we walked she said I really need to look confident being here. The way I was holding the strap to my bag made me look even more nervous than I felt. She just kind of talked to me about it and I guess tried to make me look and feel more calm before we went up to the door. She's only been in this area six weeks but she's done really well for herself by trusting Heavenly Father in keeping her safe and she's been a big help to me as I work on doing the same. I do know I need to be cautious and careful here, but the Lord is still on my side and I know he will protect us.
So after that, let me tell you the really good stuff! Sharing the gospel is always the coolest part, and the people you meet that are prepared is even better! In the Projects Sister Turner and her former companion met with this guy named Terry one time before I got here. We went to see him again, and his friend Micheal was there (spelled eal). We taught them about prayer and the restoration and Terry asked a lot of questions and it was awesome. He expressed things to us and Micheal laughed and we kind of rolled our eyes at him because Terry was being really sincere. But Micheal still seemed interested and we actually committed him to baptism! He wants to change. Terry does too, but he didn't want to commit just yet because he has issues with the law of chastity and word of wisdom. He'll get there though, no doubt. But as we were getting up to leave, after commiting them both to pray about our message to know if what we said was true, Micheal out of nowhere said that before we pulled up he had just been praying in his heart to find a church and to know what was true. He told us that and then said "and then you pulled up." Cool huh?! The Lord has been preparing people long before I got here, and long before I got my mission call. It's so cool how He works and I'm so excited to be one of the instruments in His hands to share His gospel! It's so fun!
Alright, an even cooler story now. We're teaching another young man I mentioned before who lives right next to Terry and down a couple houses from Micheal. His name is Shaquille. We really had to start from the beginning with him--he didn't believe in God or Jesus Christ or anything. And you can't know you're a son or daughter of God without first having faith and knowing that there is a God. I would say that I don't know 90% of Shaquille's story. I don't even think I want to know. The little bit I do know just makes my heart ache--I can't believe the person he is with his past. All his life he has been a diamond in the rough-he doesn't smoke, do drugs, fight, anything! As we've talked to him and shown him a few pamphlets, there are pictures of Christ in them that I just love, and he doesn't really care for any of them. Not that he doesn't care, but he looks at the sometimes corny pictures of the families and those are the ones he loves. He's told us of times he's seen families out together and that is the only thing he wants in life. He wants to find a wife and have kids and just have a family and be with them forever. Sister Turner and I couldn't stop smiling after he said that, because that's what our message and this gospel is all about! Hearing Shaquille talk about what he's been through and how he's handled situations where boys ganged up to 'jump' him in high school and he ended up talking them down and befriending them, he is so Christ-like! Shaquille would be the best missionary ever. He now says that us being spirit children of God makes sense to him now, and he knows there has to be a God because he has so many deep questions about earth and planets and how there must be other life besides just us on earth. He recognizes that a great Being had to have their hand in it all, the way the world exists couldn't have happened on it's own. I have no doubt in my mind that he will recognize the truthfulness of the gospel soon enough. He has a wall built up though because he doesn't want to get his hopes up for anything and then find out later that it was false. He protects himself. He also says that if he has made it through everything bad already in his life by himself, why does he need help from God? When he understands the power of the Atonement and how Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ CAN help him, it's going to be the most amazing moment. Things just need to click for him. I know that God has already been helping him, protecting him and keeping him safe, making him an inspiration for others, but he doesn't recognize that quite yet. I might even feel the same way he does if I had lived his life. His birthday is actually next week and he doesn't care much because he hasn't celebrated his birthday since he was 13. Leave it to us though, we're having a birthday bash! Well, we're getting his favorite cake and we're going over there. Our main goal right now is to let him know he is loved by us and our Heavenly Father. He expressed his desire to get out of Albany-one place he would like to go is can you believe it, Salt Lake City, Utah. He feels no love where he's at, I don't know who lives in his house besides his gma and gpa who are his caregivers, and a sister we are also teaching that he doesn't get along with, and I think uncles and other people. I've watched drug deals happen right in front of us on that porch and it is so sad to watch and know that this is where he lives and really has no refuge. As he talked about leaving though, he started getting hesitant saying if he abandons his family, even though he feels no love from them, it's going to show them he doesn't love them. Another reason why he's amazing, he loves EVERYBODY! In his eyes he doesn't see race, color, gender, anything. Along with wanting a happy, future family, he just wants everyone in the world to love each other. Twenty years old growing up with one of the worst backgrounds I could imagine, and these are the things that come out of his mouth.
I could go on and on about Shaquille. I wish you all could know him because he makes you want to live better--he is so converted to Christ and he doesn't even know it yet. He told me that he feels comfortable and a connection talking to us because we are the same age and though he claims he's not going to tell us certain things, each time we visit him he opens up a little bit more and each time I see more and more of Christ's attributes in him. I am sooooo excited to see his progression! So yeah this area scares me sometimes, but people like Shaquille are why I'm here so it makes it worth it.
I have to go now, but I really do feel safer today than I did a few days ago so don't worry! I love the people here who are investigating the Church, they are prepared and to have any one of them accept Christ and His gospel will make everything worth it. Sorry I don't have pictures for you this week. I hope you all have another fantastic week and I hope to hear from you soon! Love you!