Monday, July 29, 2013

Now Is a Time For Faith, Not Fear

There are those weeks where all you can think is, "Why me." Where you need to draw upon strength from Heaven to be able to keep pushing along.
We started out the week by biking from Pass Christian to Bay Saint Louis to pick up our car. It had already been a rough morning - people slamming doors on us, getting yelled at, and placing no Books of Mormon. Then, came the miserable bike ride. It was about 102 degrees outside, 80% humidity, with hot and heavy winds pushing us back every time we pedaled. We had to bike through sand and grass because the sidewalks were in such disrepair and the roads were too dangerous to bike on. It was a struggle just to travel 10 feet. And we were expected to bike 20 miles. In these awful, wretched conditions. My companion kept periodically yelling out, "THIS SUCKS." Yes, yes it did. I began to question why we were doing this. Why we kept going. All I wanted to do was lay down and cry. Then, salvation came. 
Our wonderful Elders happened to be driving by. They pulled over, grabbed the bike rack, and gave us a ride to get our car. It was one of those moments where you could feel the Lord watching over you and providing in a moment of crisis. 
As the week went on, the adventures and hardships continued. On Wednesday, our Sister Training Leaders came by to do exchanges. So, Sister Jones went with Sister Jenkins and I went with Sister Tomisin. Sister Tomisin and I had the "opportunity" to tract next to the beach. Which means - every single house is raised on stilts. Which means stairs. Every. Single. House. It was miserable. I'm not going to lie. Utterly miserable. Once again, the Lord blessed us through His infinite mercy. We came up to this adorable home and knocked on the door.
There, a young girl answered, turned around and yelled, "Daddy! The missionaries are heeere!!!" Sister Tomisin and I were freaking out. How did this girl know we were missionaries?? We were let in and we started to celebrate - they're golden! They know we're missionaries! They let us in their home! Maybe we'll find an investigator today!!! Then... the little girl's father turned the corner. It was Brother Ladner - the ward clerk. Yes, we tracted into a member. Yet, it was such a blessing - he gave us something cool to drink and we got a break from all the stairs.
Later that night, once the Sister Training Leaders left, Sister Jones and I returned to our normal companionship and headed home. But. We forgot that we had loaned a key to the Sister Training Leaders... And they had already begun to head over to Ocean Springs an hour ago. After fretting for awhile, trying to find a key to no avail, we finally phoned the Sister Training Leaders and they had to turn around to bring us the key. At first, it wasn't fun. Sister Jones and I had to wait on the front porch to wait. After awhile of waiting, we began to just talk. I got to know Sister Jones in a way that I never had before. I felt like I was in a Southern vignette - relaxing on the front porch, listening to the frogs croak, watching the light bugs dance, talking with a friend, and feeling the heat soak into my skin. By the time the Sister Training Leaders returned, I was reluctant to go back into the apartment!
The next day brought more trials. If you recall, we were finally let into a woman's home because I played piano - Mimi. Throughout the 2 weeks, we had been intensely teaching her and even challenged her to be baptized! We had been so ecstatic about her progression! Yet, that morning, we received the most heart-breaking call. Mimi informed us that her husband no longer wanted her investigating the church and wanted her to stop seeing us immediately. I was heart broken. I could feel godly sorrow upon my shoulders. All Sister Jones and I could do was sit and cry over this wonderful woman. Never before had I felt this kind of heart break - it was completely unique and so difficult to work through.
Yet, we had to do what we had to do. We set out for the day to tract. And the Lord was certainly watching over us. We were able to meet an amazing woman, Muriel. Muriel had already read the Book of Mormon - her only issue was the darkened skin of the Laminates being called a "curse". She let us into her home and we sat down and talked to her for a good long time. Part way through the lesson, I started to freak out. She had so many issues with the church and blacks, I didn't know what to do. Finally, a voice came into my head saying, "Let me do my work." Instantly, I felt peace. I knew that the Lord had this. 
The Lord continued to bless us through the week - at the Pioneer Day picnic, John (someone we tracted into awhile ago) showed up with his family and we were able to get in and teach him later that day with the Turfitts (the ward mission leader and his adorable wife). There's no way to describe my excitement and love for John and his lovely wife, Erin. They've been reading the Book of Mormon and seem to believe almost all we say. We're hoping they'll keep listening!
Then, on Sunday, another lady, Ashley, we tracted into randomly showed up to church!! We were able to give her a Book of Mormon and set up a lesson with her! The amazing thing with Ashley is that when we met her, she stayed in the background cleaning while we talked to her sister. When we talked to Ashley, she informed us that there was something special she felt about us and wanted to turn her life around. What a blessing!!!
Yes, the work is hard. Yes, sometimes, we begin to doubt why we're doing this. Yet, Sister Jones and I were able to press onward, and let ourselves work. We adopted a new motto - "Now is a time for faith, not fear." It is truly a time to put all our faith into the Lord. We cannot doubt, we cannot step down, we cannot fear. In this day and age, everyone needs faith. 

All my love,

Sister Sarah Michéle Durrant

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Infestation of the Elder Kittens

This week has been a bit of a whirl wind. There hasn't been a day that's gone by when it hasn't rained. Yet, it rains differently here than it does in the West. Without warning, it'll hit. Dark clouds will roll in and thunder shakes the houses. The streets flood within seconds and people duck for cover. The rain drops come down huge and hard - it sounds like hail and it stings your back.
I do love the rain here though. It makes you want to curl up with a good book and a cat on your lap. Alas, we must continue to press forward and work hard. No breaks for us.
Our car had to be taken in Wednesday because the Zone Leaders, who had the car before us, left a giant scratch on the side. We've been on bikes ever since. Yes, bikes. To most, that doesn't sound too bad. Try biking our area. Everyday, we need to bike 10 miles, over bridges, hills, and dirt roads just to get to our area to prosylete. Then, once we bike to our area, we need to bike another 4 miles to get to a street where we haven't tracted yet. That's fourteen miles just getting there. On bikes. My knees aches, my thighs sting, and my back is sore. But it was sooo worth it.
We met this wonderful lady, Margie, on one of our biking excursions. She had been apart of the Church a long time ago, but went inactive. She was full of heartache and sorrow - life had gotten her down. I can't even begin to elaborate on what she's gone through without tearing up. She had recently lost her 3rd husband and her only daughter. Sister Jones and I sat down with her and just listened. Once Margie brought up these devestating deaths, an overwhelming feeling came over me. I knew, without a doubt in my heart, that her late husbands and daughter was there in that room. They were there, waiting for her. Cheering for her. Urging her. Chills ran down my spine and I began to cry. These people loved Margie so much and I could feel it. The room was saturated with these departed people. Sadly, Margie didn't recognize it. She said she'd consider returning to church, yet she wasn't sure if it was right for her. My heart ached when I heard that. All I wanted in that moment was for Margie to come back. All I wanted was for her to recognize that her husband and daughter were in that room. I cannot accurately express what I felt in that moment, but I have never felt a greater love towards someone, nor had I ever felt so much joy and love from those who walked before me.
Along with the biking, we had the change to visit Mimi again. If you recall, she is a sweet musician who finally let us in last week. Sister Jones and I were able to set up a return appointment and talk to her once more the other day. We walked in, and she sat us down. Mimi then went along and taught herself the Plan of Happiness from the pamphlet that we had given her previously. Sister Jones and I basically listened to what she read and bore testimony. Then, we turned to her and asked her if she believed what we were teaching was true. "Yes," she said. My heart began to pound. Then, we asked her the load-bearing question.
"Will you be baptized by the proper authority?"
"Of course," Mimi replied. Sister Jones and I sat there. Completely awe-struck. We didn't know how to reply. My fingers were tingling and I had to restrain myself from cheering. Then, Mimi's eyes grew huge. "Oh. Wait. You mean into your church? I'm not sure if I'm ready for that."
Despair. Complete and utter despair. We then got into a huge conversation about why she wouldn't be ready. In the end, we found out that her husband was totally opposed to our church and that she would lose her only source of income if she joined our church. Yet, Sister Jones and I are determined to work with Mimi and help her understand how greatly her life will be blessed if she takes that leap of faith. Mimi knows this is true. She believes in everything we've said. She just needs that courage now. The kind of courage one can only get if they lean on the Lord and ask for his help. Luckily, tomorrow, we have scheduled a church tour with her and we are praying with all our might that this might help urge her along.
But, the Lord knows what Mimi needs and we will rely on Him.
One thing I love about Mimi - she does "prayer talk". It's a huge thing here in the South. I began our closing prayer with her and all of a sudden, she utters a "Yes Lord." I didn't know what to do. I had to bite my tounge to keep from laughing. Then, as I went on, I heard a "PRAISE". My sides were hurting from trying to not laugh. By the end of my prayer, I had heard about 3 "Yes Lord"s, 2 "Thank you Baby Jesus"s 1 "Praise" and 5 "That's it"s. I love the South.
To liften our spirits, we went tracting a bit. Somehow, someone let us into their home. John. What an incredible man. He has 2 adorable children and the sweetest wife. He was willing to listen to what we had to say and seemed interested in learning more. John is a Catholic and really knows his stuff. Sister Jones and I were able to place a Book of Mormon and came back the next day. He had read in 3rd Nephi 11 (which I highly recommend) and came armed with questions. The whole time, we were answering questions left and right - some we need to go look up on our own and find out. John seems so good and he really has an open heart. I know that he has been prepared by the Lord and is just waiting for that "Aha" moment. I hope that we can get it to him. 
In other news, our Elders have picked up a particularly... interesting habit. About two weeks ago, Sister Jones and I were in the car with the other 4 elders in the back. All of a sudden, we hear a single meow. I didn't know what to think at first. So we just kept going. Soon enough, the meowing grew louder and more frequenct. Then, I felt something on my back. I turned around and there were all four of our elders - scratching my back, licking their hands - hissing and meowing.
Later that night, we got a phone call from one of them. Since we were in the middle of planning, we didn't get a chance to answer it and sent it straight to voicemail. They left a voice message and the whole message was them meowing "Jingle Bells" "Hark, Ye Herald Angels Sing" and "Call Me Maybe". My word. This meowing has now persisted for over 2 weeks. 2 weeks. I feel like Old McDonald "A meow here, a meow there, everywhere a meow meow meow." Elders.
Well, time is running short. I just want you all to know that the Lord loves each of you. He has a hand in your life and is watching over and protecting you. Everyday, I see my Lord in what I do. I thank him for my blessings and I witness miracles every moment. Find those tender mercies and I promise that life won't seem so hard.

All my love,

Sister Sarah Michéle Durrant

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"The Rains Came Down, and the Floods Came Up" AKA - The Weather Sucks

One thing I have to say. Hurricane season in Mississippi? Don't do it. I highly advise against it. Especially when you're on bikes. In a skirt. While the streets are flooding. 

On Thursday, my lovely companion and I were visiting an older gentleman's home, Gary. We found him the other day while 'tracting' and were able to place a Book of Mormon - he was reluctant to take it at first, but after we bore testimony, he snatched it out of our hands. When we came to his front porch, Gary handed us back the Book of Mormon and said, "I'm sorry - it's just not for me."
Being the diligent missionaries we are, Sister Jones and I tried to figure out why he wasn't interested anymore. Right as he turned us away, a giant tropical storm hit. Trees started bending in half, the street instantly flooded, thunder shook the house, and lightening lit up the sky. Warnings started buzzing in over the television and phone lines - I could feel the blood drain out of my face as I thought about braving that weather to get home. Gary could sense our fear and knew that he shouldn't send us out into that wretched storm.
He opened up the door again and told us that we could wait out the storm in his home. We sat there for a good, long time - just talking. We talked about his family, his interests, his wants, and his loves. Finally, Sister Jones got a genius idea. Turning to Gary, she stated, "Sister Durrant and I are fairly new missionaries. It would help us out a ton if we could practice a lesson." Gary agreed and let us teach him the Restoration lesson. 
When it was my turn to testify of Joseph Smith, I'll never forget that moment nor the words I said. I'll always remember how the Holy Ghost worked through me in those few sentences. "Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I know this with all I am. I've given up everything to be here today to bring this joy to the world. He saw Jesus Christ and the Eternal Father and through Joseph, the truth was restored. What a wonderful message that is - to have the real, pure church of Jesus Christ upon this Earth today. I know with all my heart that what I am teaching will change your life. It'll lift your burdens and make your life so much better."
Gary, a grown tough man, was shedding tears. I could see his shoulders shake. I don't know what he was carrying on his back, but I knew that he needed to hear. He once again grabbed the Book of Mormon from our hands and said, "Ok. I'll try it." 
Right then, the storm ceased. The streets began to drain and we were able to leave. I know that Heavenly Father sent that storm - just so that we could bring this message to Gary. He needed it and God knew that he needed that push. 

Later that day, we got to meet with Mimi - this sassy woman who loves music. Sister Jones and her previous companion had been working on her for almost a month but she still wasn't making any progress. At the door, Mimi asked a little about me. I told her how I was majoring in piano and her face just lit up. She finally let us into her home so that I could play some music for her. The whole time, she sat there, nodding her head and whispering under her breath, "Yes. Yes. Yes." After that, she was so willing to listen to our message and what we had to tell her. We're hoping we can eventually get her to come to church! Afterward, Sister Jones turned to me and said, "There's a reason you play piano."

The skies continued to storm all week. Our power was out half the time and it was near impossible to get anywhere. Rain soaked everything and I have just barely begun to dry out. Yet, our work continued on.

A few days later, Sister Jones and I were able to tract a little bit more. We ran into this insane man while knocking on doors. He went on and on about how the Mormons were evil people, Brigham Young was an evil dictator, and the pioneers massacred and murdered people. He just wouldn't stop speaking ill of the pioneers and my ancestors. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore - my tongue was bleeding from biting it. Sister Jones turned to him and said, "I know Brigham Young was a true prophet of God. I don't know where you are getting your information, but it isn't true. In fact, it is false. I urge you to read the Book of Mormon and find out for yourself these truths." We were finally able to leave but I was so rent up that I had a hard time concentrating for the rest of the day. 

For the record, my ancestors were pioneers. They gave up their life for this church. I am so blessed to have such a strong heritage and I honor and love it. I'll never forget them. I wish I could be as amazing as them.

I love you all. Do good and be good.

All my love,

Sister Sarah Michéle Durrant

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Monday, July 8, 2013

That's Not What They Taught Me at the MTC!!

The South is not what you'd expect. At all. First off, everyone who told me I'd be learning a different language? They were spot on. What on earth is a screet? Why does everyone say "fixin'"? Don't even get me started on buggies. Put the Southern jargon on top of thick, Southern accents? Just don't go there. I can't understand a word said here. Second, I'm finally a minority here. Everyone stares at me funny because I'm a teeny white girl with blues eyes and blonde hair. There is no way that I am still in the United States of America. I'm in the Confederate States of America, where the War of Northern Aggression and Hurricane Katrina shaped and changed their lives. 

When I first got here, I was in awe. Grass grows on everything - houses, trees, cars. You name it - I was taken aback when we were going to an appointment and my companion parked on the grass like it was no big deal. Apparently, no one cares about the grass here. And whatever you do, DO NOT WALK BAREFOOT ON THE GRASS. I made that mistake and chiggas, fire ants, and skeeters destroyed my feet. Fantastic. 

Walking around, you can still see the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the area. Homes are boarded up, roofs are still caved in, abandoned warehouses, stairs that lead to nowhere, and the leftover foundation from destroyed homes can be found at every street corner. It's fascinating really, yet at the same time, it gives the coast a foreboding feeling. 

Where I'm living, the homes are majestic old plantation homes - huge yards, black shutters, and white siding. They're really gorgeous. Yet, I don't tract in the same area where I live.I tract in the overgrown neighborhoods. Almost every street has shanties and homes made out of tin and cardboard. It's common to find people living in RVs where their home used to stand before Katrina. Mississippi is a beautiful area, yet everyone here has taken on a refugee attitude and are so poor and desolate. 

The vast majority of people are either Catholic or Baptist. They are always so kind when we come to their door - they never want to hear what we have to say, but they will take us in for a bit and give us a tall glass of water. Southern Hospitality is a real thing here and it's considered rude if you don't address others by "Sir" or "Ma'am". 

On my second day, Independence Day actually, we had a lunch appointment where I was thrown right into the Southern culture. The members feeding us tried to forced FISH BRAINS down our throats. I feigned sickness and the head of the household kept telling me, "Sista Durunt. Yuh betta eat. A wind cumin by will knock yuh down and break yuh bones. Yuh too skinny." That went on for a good twenty minutes before my companion saved me. Then, he started talking about good Southern food and cooking. Chilluns (Never eat those. Ever. Ever. Ever. It's pig intestines.), fish brains, octopus, roadkill delight (possum)... It went on and on and on. I wanted to throw up just hearing about it. WELCOME TO THE SOUTH SISTER DURRANT. I'm not in America anymore.

After the holidays ended, a downpour of rain started that still hasn't ended. Yet, Sister Jones and I still had work to do. We bravely got onto our bikes and biked four miles out to a home where we had an appointment that fell through. Afterward, we went door to door tracting - attempting to find at least one person that would listen to us. Door after door got slammed in our faces until we met a wonderful man, Thomas. 

He brought his kids out onto the front porch and while they sat in the rocking chairs, Sister Jones and I taught them about the Restoration of the Gospel. The children's eyes lit up with excitement as we told them about Joseph Smith. They asked the cutest questions and loved it when we said that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph and restored the true church on the earth today. 

We made plans to return and then left. But his kids didn't want to let that happen. So they too climbed onto their bikes and started following us. Sister Jones and I got a good laugh out of that until they started running up to doors, knocking on them, and asking whomever answered, "Do you want to hear about Jesus??!" It was one of the most adorable things, but it was really drawing away from the Spirit and annoying people. Finally, we pretended that we had to head home and they should too. 

Towards the end of that day, we heard this awful, foreboding, screeching sound. We had no idea what it was!! We knew that we had to finish what we were doing, so we continued on with our work. When we finished and were heading home, there was a train completely stopped on the train tracks (which we needed to cross to get home). So, we bravely walked our bikes alongside the trains, with the dense Mississippi forest on the other side. The whole time, I kept thinking, "This is how a horror movie would start out." After about a mile in, we noticed that the flammable train cars were leaking fluid and hissing. We knew that something wasn't right and we ran. We booked it. Exhausted and tired, we made it out and were able to find where the train ended and get home safely. 

I have one last story that exemplifies Mississippi and the ward we're serving in at its finest. On Sunday, we were sitting in Sunday School, discussing our resurrection when Jesus comes again to the earth. A lady in the ward piped up, saying, "I heard that when you're resurrected, you become the age of an average tree." 
Someone else said, "Yes! I heard that too! I think that age is about 105." 
"Nooo. It's 82!!" 
"You're both idiots. The average age of a tree is 98." 
Thus began the great debate about the average age of trees. Instead of talking about the resurrection. People began standing up and screaming at each other, a fair amount of swear words was tossed around. All of us missionaries (there are six of us serving in the ward - two of whom I was in the MTC with) were completely dumb-founded and couldn't seem to diffuse the scuttle. 
Finally, the Relief Society president stood up and said, "I DON'T CARE ABOUT THE AVERAGE AGE OF TREES. YOU'RE ALL IDIOTS. All I care about is getting into Heaven! I don't need to know no average age of a tree to get in there. So shut your traps." 
That shut them up alright.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Mississippi.

I love you all. I love this gospel, and I love my Lord. I know with all my heart that this is the true church and that Jesus Christ did walk upon this Earth two thousand years ago. Someday, the truth will be heard throughout the world and I couldn't be more happy than to be apart of it.

All my love,

Sister Sarah Michéle Durrant

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

We're Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto

The last week at the MTC was a complete blur. Can I even call it a week? There was about 3 days after my last P-Day - so not even a week! Yet, the best part of the MTC happened during that short amount of time. The MTC shows old devotionals every Sunday and I had the chance to listen to Elder Bednar's Christmas Devotional titled, "The Character of Christ". If you can, look it up and read the talk. I promise it will change your life and the way you view the Savior. When I walked away, all I wanted was to "turn outwards when others turn inwards." Elder Bednar talked how whenever we are upset and struggling, the natural man inside of us wants to think about ourselves. We all do it - I know I do. Yet, Christ didn't. Instead, He turned to others.

When Christ suffered in the Garden, He asked His apostles to stay awake with Him for one hour. Just one hour. Yet, they fell asleep. When Christ came back, He woke them up and again asked them to stay awake while He suffered. Again, they drifted off. Three times this happened. Once Christ returned for the last time, Judas betrayed Him with a single kiss. When the soldiers came to take Jesus away to be crucified, a scuffle began and a soldier's eye got cut off. 

If I was in that situation, I wouldn't have cared about that ear. I would've just gone on my way. Yet, Christ didn't. He paused to heal the ear. Christ had just suffered the sins of the world - bled from every pore because the pain was so great. His friends just abandoned Him to sleep and a dear apostle just betrayed Him. He was about to be lead away to death. Yet. He stops and heals an ear. Christ could've turned inward - lamenting His life and brooding over the fact He was abandoned and betrayed. But He didn't! He healed His captor! 

After hearing this, I walked away different. All I wanted was to be able to turn outward instead of inward. I just wanted to learn how to assimilate the character of Christ into my life. That now is one of the greatest desires of my life. I'll never be the same after having seen that talk - therefore, I urge each and every one of you to track this devotional down and read it! It'll change your life just like it changed mine.

Once Sunday ended, Monday came much too quickly. Around 2 in the morning, after three mere hours of sleep, we had to report to the travel office and it took a good few hours to travel down to Salt Lake. I was so pleased to see the city again after being stuck in Provo for (what seemed to be) so long. Once we got to the airport, my district only had a few moments to spare before boarding. I won't even go into the airplane ride - it was so miserably cold. 

Our stay in the Atlanta airport was brief and sweet. I was given the opportunity to phone my parents there and finally hear their voices again after two weeks. Most wouldn't think that hearing your parents voice after such a short time would be so tender, yet it was for me. I knew that I wouldn't hear them again until Christmas and it was such a tender mercy to be able to listen to my dear family talk (excluding my younger brother sadly). 

Then, finally, after one final plane ride, we arrived in Mississippi!! I'm here! Everyone is so kind and friendly - I just cannot get over it. The mission president and his wife are the sweetest people I know and are so willing to work. We stayed the night in the mission home and were given the opportunity to just unwind after the long day of travel. The next morning, we went out and took tons of picture with the president. Afterward, we got our mission assignments! I am so so so excited for my transfer - I'll be going to Pass Christian, Mississippi. RIGHT ON THE COAST. It's my dream. I'm smack dab in hurricane country during hurricane season. So, it'll definitely be an adventure. And, my house is just BEAUTIFUL and it's on stilts!! I'll send pictures as soon as I can. I haven't met my new companion yet, but from what I heard, she is just amazing and will be a great trainer. 

I've loved it here so far and I'm so excited to share the gospel to the people of Pass Christian. It'll be just lovely. It's sad to have to bid my farewells to my district and my companions - who all quickly became some of my dearest friends, yet I know that we will see each other again. 

All my love,

Sister Sarah Michéle Durrant

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