January 31, 2011 Ashtarak, Armenia
Wow a lot has happened. This is going to be long, I’ve got three really good stories.
(1st Story) Splits
the Zone Leaders called and we went on splits with them Elder Lusk (my first companion) came up to Ashtarak and I went down to a part of Yerevan City, called Davitashen. I saw miracles happen. I saw my grammatically incorrect Armenian change hearts and invite the Spirit. We met with a recently baptized man named Edgar, 19 years old. He has had experiences that he can’t speak of. He asked us some questions concerning the Plan of Salvation that can only come through pondering. He knew about progression, beyond the Plan of Salvation and just wanted us to clarify some things. He has been learning about the for less than a month now and he has read the Book of Mormon and most of the Doctrine and Covenants.
The next meeting was with a young man, Sahak, preparing to serve a mission. He wasn’t willing to trust his leaders and read 2 chapters from the Book of Mormon every day, there was a spirit of “proving” and arguing”, as he told us why. I was new so I used it. I listened more than I spoke and as a result I was blessed to speak with love and the Spirit. With the right words and the scriptures the Spirit was invited into the room. All of calm and Sahak listened to the Spirit. I was prompted to make promises. I was prompted to show my love in simple but important ways, such as a smile, a nod of approval, a congratulations. After this meeting I was as happy as I had ever been, knowing that in my weakness the Lord allowed me to make a difference. It reminded me of this scripture “Neither take ye thought beforehand awhat ye shall say; but btreasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be cgiven you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.”
The next day we met with the 2nd Counselor in the Davitashen Branch Presidency, Simbat. We is a great, lovable man. He is an artist. He is very humble. I was blessed to love him before I met him and then the Lord blessed me with an even greater love as I spoke with him. Elder Puslifer and I were visiting him to help him realize how much of a difference he can make, as a leader. Previous to our meeting with him, he would only go to the first of of Church and then leave. We read Jacob 1:19. We expressed to him that leadership can be hard and it will require sacrifice, but in our sacrifice we find salvation. Elder Pulsifer said, “Some people only go to church for the first hour and then they leave, we can help them” Simbat, replies. Hey, I’m one of them… You have come over to my house and told me this, you have helped me understand… I realize that I have done wrong. I promise that I will start coming to all three hours of church.” It was amazing to see how such a humble man would be willing to make such a change in an instant. We did very little. We just shared a scripture and some of our experiences and he just learned from the Spirit.
The whole time on splits I felt an overwhelming joy in knowing that I was making a difference. I felt so much gratitude towards God for giving me a love for people I hadn’t met and hardly knew. Elder Pulsifer is great, he too felt that joy with me as we saw the hand of God working with the people. He taught me something I will never forget. The Gospel is a Gospel of Hope, but it is also a Gospel of Repentance. It is not just a Gospel of fluffy blessings and happy joy. There are consequences for sin, eternal consequences, and God requires that we give up our sins and serve other. The Doctrine of Christ is clear. It is a doctrine that we should apply on a weekly basis. Exercise Faith in Jesus Christ, repent, be baptized (or renew you commitment to God) and receive the Holy Ghost (be worth of His help). I’m not here to just show people how to be happy for eternity( which is a great thing). I am here to help others understand that we must repent if they want to live with God again.
It has been hot and rainy this week. I have loved both. I love the rain. The fresh air. I haven’t been warm for 2 months, until this week. I love the sun.
Transfers are coming up in the next couple of weeks. I feel like I will be staying. I feel like the Lord wants me to be here to continue and to support the church here. I would love that, I love the members here and Ashtarak will be beautiful in the spring.
First off, update on my dear friend Aram. He is in Russia. Needless to say, that was a choice he made. I pray for his success, and I pray that he will realize his duty. He has had unspeakable events and unrepeatable words spoken, concerning his future in the Lord’s Kingdom. I feel a sorrow, but at the same time a comfort.
Some crazy events have taken place this week.
At church President Sargis Ayvasian spoke about judging. We will be judged according to how we judge others. He made a wonderful point, If we see someone do something “bad” and then stand back and judge them. What should we expect the savior to do when we approach the judgement seat, take a few steps away from us because of our sins? No that is not the Lord’s way. The Lord’s way is to notice that someone is doing “bad” and then ponder how we can help that person do better. This is when we know we are judging righteously, when we don’t think less of a person for their wrong doings. We know we are judging righteously when we love those around us despite what they do. This is what Christ did. Non-stop, until he “gave up the ghost”, as the Bible says it. “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” when we see someone in need, lets take a step forward.
Karo the man that was baptized with Aram is now the 1st Counselor in our Branch Presidency.
Levon, that young man who has been “reactived” ( I don’t really like that robotic word) is now the 2nd Counselor. This is pretty interesting considering he is only 18. But I feel that it is the right thing. He is a great guy, willing to make the sacrifices necessary to serve.
I didn’t know it until sacrament meeting but I was called as the secratary/clerk.
I didn’t need to be set apart. As a missionary, an Elder, I can serve in any capacity that I am called.
The Lord has answered my prayers, with my companion, investigators members in the Branch. We have met 4 people this week who want to meet again. Finding 4 new investigators in 1 week probably hasn’t happened in over a year, at least in Ashtarak. It is amazing. The Lord is preparing people to learn of his love, his path, or in other words, eternity with our families.
Olga, a 73 year old lady has walked about 3 kilometers for the last three Sundays, to go church. This last Sunday she was drenched because of the rain. She has a hole in her shoe, which allows rocks to roll into he shoe. This made her walk to church even more worse, but she said it would be ridiculous not to come because of rain. She has been reading the scriptures everyday. She brought a notepad to write questions. She is learning a lot and understanding everything she reads. We haven’t been able to meet with her because to leaves right after church, but yesterday we set up an appointment with her. We are meeting this week, she said she wants to get baptized. We were amazed and humbled that the Lord and this lady were preparing her for baptism.
Armen, the man we met last week, has a pregnant wife and a young boy. The wife is now listening in. I haven’t been able to meet her yet, because I was gone on splits, but she must be amazing. Her husband in a great man.
This week Elder Reece and I met with an old contact, Alik. He brought 11 12-20 year old guys with him. Some of them were drunk, but we decided to try and teach them a little bit. We were meeting at the church. We tried to keep order, but Alik was translating our Armenian into Armenian(unnecessary, he was just trying to be funny) and everyone had something “funny” to say. I asked a question, ” Who wants salvation?” everyone raised their hand. I asked “What do we need to do to be saved, through Christ” No one knew. Which is what I wanted. I wanted everyone to realize that this meeting wasn’t a joke. These young boys started to get out of there chairs and grab our name badges. We told them the meeting was over and that they needed to leave. Once we left the room all of them just scattered. They went into the various rooms and started taking anything they could find. One kid tried to take the fire extinguisher, another almost got my name tag. Elder Reece had to yell and literally run them out of the church. But despite all of that, they only stole a ping-pong ball. During all of the chaos two of the young men came up to me and said they were interested. I talked to them a little bit about this life, about what God requires of us and about the life to come. We met with Harut. He wants to quit smoking and he is willing to meet again. He is a very calm and collected person he wants to improve and do what is right. I really admire his courage to meet with us.
Levon (not the 18 yr old Levon) is a 35 year old man who has three very intelligent kids. He invited us over. We spoke about our beliefs. He had questions about what made us different than other Christian religions. We explained some fundamental differences, which he didn’t really feel that they were important, such as finding your personal relationship with God. He didn’t think that it was interesting that we don’t prove our religion, we just ask people to read and ask God. I could tell from the beginning that he was very set in His beliefs. He liked to tell us his observations about religions. He liked to talk about what he had done, and his experiences. I knew that more then ever I would need to listen to the Spirit and him to know what he needed to hear. There came a point in the lesson that we talked about how we believe that there are a few things God requires of us in order to be saved. He asked what they were? Elder Reece answered We must have faith, repent, be baptized and keep God’s commandments. So he said, we have already been baptized, my children have been baptized. I said told him that he had done well. Baptism is very important. Then I showed him why I felt he had done well in being baptized. So I asked them to turn off the TV and we read 2 Nephi 25:26 “And we atalk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we bprophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our cchildren may know to what source they may look for a dremission of their sins.” Then I talked a little about how God requires some things of us that we can’t find in the scriptures, commandments that are for our day. We learn those things through prophets. I testified that there was a living prophet who speaks with God and guides us. He sat there quietly. The Spirit had pricked his heart (Mosiah 2:12) We asked him if we could return and speak more about this. He said yes. He said he would read the Restoration pamphlet. He reads Russian so we gave him a Russian Book of Mormon. When we left we were again humbled that God would work through us. I had never seen the spirit hit someone so….hard. I had never seen my testimony make such an affect. I was amazed that the Lord had once again, used my grammatically incorrect Armenian, to change hearts.
God is willing to work with us, if we are humble and acknowledge His hand in our lives. I read in Mosiah yesterday. The only words that King Benjamin told his sons before addressing the people was to remember how the scriptures had delivered them from ignorance. He taught that the scriptures teach us the commandments and that keeping the commandments is the only way that we can prosper and receive God’s help. Then in concluding he said this “Therefore, as they were aunfaithful they did not prosper nor progress in their journey, but were bdriven back, and incurred the displeasure of God upon them; and therefore they were smitten with famine and sore cafflictions, to stir them up in dremembrance of their duty.” (Mosiah 1:7) Let’s not look at hardship as a curse but rather an opportunity to draw closer to God. I know that as we do so God will show us those things which we must learn to find the happiness that we seek. The joy that comes from God is unexplainable, it is the most uplifting and energizing emotion. It is joy that cannot be forgotten, because it is a spiritual joy. Therefore it is eternal.
Love Elder Cook
1- 12) Garni (Pagan Temple) and Garhart (church)
13) The letter I wrote to Aram
14) Karo and Aram’s Baptism. (From left to right : Elder Vandyke, Cook, Lusk, Branch President Sargis Ayvasian, Aram Orugian, Karo Nalbandiyian, Elder Cheney, Karo’s Wife Anna, (Karo’s Son) Gevorg,(Karo’s Daughter) Mariam, Elder Christiansen, Elder Zebley
15) Elder Pulsifer
16-17) Edgar. I truly can say I have been blessed with the opportunity to speak with him.
18) Simbat. I can’t tell you how much I love this man. Just thinking about him makes me smile.