Monday, November 26, 2012

One More Week

Hey Crafts!

                Well I'm not exactly sure how long this letter's going to be and what there is to talk about.  It is a weird feeling now to see the next week and how crazy it's going to be.  Happy Birthday to Natalie first of all!  That's a good start for her week.  Thanks for the email too Nat.  I didn't know someone could put so many smiley faces into 4 sentences haha.  I appreciated the enthusiasm though.
                We have the exchange with Elder Mead and his companion Elder Davidson later this afternoon actually.  We had to switch days on them so he will be here with me tonight until tomorrow morning.  Then we have exchanges with missionaries Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday with meetings for the mission leadership Wednesday and Thursday with all the new missionaries and their trainers.  It's plenty to keep us busy but I'm afraid of how quickly the week's going to run by!  I have nothing against you guys but like Mom said it perfectly I could almost come visit for a little while, catch up on some sleep, and then come right back and that might be just fine with me.  President hasn't assigned anyone to replace me yet so sometime amid all the other stuff we'll pick up my replacement and try to train him on everything I know for Bloomington in whatever time I can.

                I have had to write me final letter to President about my mission and all the memories and things that I feel I have learned.  That task has proven to be much harder than I could have anticipated.  It is almost impossible for me to summarize all the amazing experiences that I have had in my two years in Minnesota!  I can look back and say that I have loved every bit of it.  This has definitely been the best two years of my life that I could have ever imagined.  I have felt the biggest change come in my view of priorities and values.  I have come to learn that the Gospel really is the only thing to bring true happiness to us as God's children.  It's not the church that brings that happiness but is the divine organization for the Lord's eternal restored Gospel on the Earth that is our most helpful tool and aid in living the Gospel fully in our lives.  I have come to love learning from the scriptures and seeing the truth that is taught to us in there.  We had the chance to teach the Gospel Principles class yesterday on the Postmortal Spirit World and in that discussion and preparation we learned how crucial our choices are to eventual lead to our eternal destiny.  The Spirit World and the happiness, rest, peace, and ultimate joy that come with it are only temporary and immeasurable compared to what we can imagine returning to the presence of the Father will be like after that brief waiting period.  That is why I feel so grateful that the Lord has shaped me and helped me learn the importance of my priorities because as Elder Oaks put it in General Conference that, "Desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions".  Those actions are what we must strive to be obedient and righteous in because President Uchtdorf teaches us something that I know to be true, "Diligently doing the things that matter most will lead us to the Savior of the world".  I have loved seeing what matters most in life.  Our relationship and devotion to Our Father in Heaven is what our life ultimately comes down to.  His love is endless and His Son was sent to show us that.  If we change our focus and priorities to see that we can repent and become better through Him.  That understanding has been one of the greatest blessings in my life and greatest things to teach others.  Trying to obtain an eternal perspective has been one of the things I have strived for in my time serving and feel like I have only now caught a glimpse of it.  The quote Dad sent last week about fearing our potential is so true because it is so true.  God wants us to receive all the peace and joy life is intended to have for us and you as my family have helped to bring that to me!  I have come to appreciate and love you guys more now than I feel I did before my mission when I thought it would be hard to leave you all behind.  Through that sacrifice my feelings have only grown.  If you weren't so great I might just hide out in Minnesota and never come back haha.  I have feelings that words can't describe and gratitude to my loving Father in Heaven that is unmatched for the blessing and opportunity to serve as His minister and messenger for His Son in this great mission.  I will be eternally grateful for this blessing and privilege of trust that He has given to me that I have been able to gain so much from.  It has changed my life forever!  I love you all and will be sending one last note either Sunday night or early Monday and look forward to talking to you then.  I love you and appreciate you all more than I could say.

Love, Elder Alex Craft

Thursday, November 22, 2012

International Travels and Thanksgiving!

Hey family!

                I am sorry that this weekly update is coming to you late and a little bit shorter than you would like I'm sure but I just wanted to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and hope that all went well down in Sandy with that side of the family.  Tell Jacob congratulations for me and I look forward to meeting his fiancĂ©.

                Today has been a definite Thanksgiving for the books and one I don't think I'll ever forget.  I am so thankful at this time of year to reflect on all the many things that I am so thankful for in my life.  I am most thankful for a loving Father in Heaven that sent His Son to be a Savior for the world.  I am also thankful for His love in putting me in a family with all of you!  I don't know what I could or would do without you and know that there is no other group of people that I was meant to be with and associate so closely with in my time here on Earth than all of you.  You do so much for me and help me in so many ways that I can't even begin to describe.  I love even more the Plan of Salvation and the knowledge that it gives me in knowing that I can be with all of you as a family for eternity.  Even if not all of you want me after my choice in schooling haha jk ;).  There are so many things that I could be so thankful for and that I am thankful for but are hard to find the words for.  More than anything at this moment I am thankful for the chance that I have had to be missionary and to serve here in the greatest mission the MMM!  I have learned and will learn so much from my time spent in service.  I am thankful for the good and not so good times.  I am thankful for the hard faith building and testing times and the miracles that I have witnessed in my life and the life of others.  I think that through this experience I have become most thankful for my testimony especially on the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Atoning sacrifice for all of us.  I am thankful for the knowledge of all the simple things that I can do in my life with eternal blessings that come and for the joy I feel in doing the simple things that we are asked.  There  are just so many things that I have and should not take for granted that all come from my Father in Heaven.

I wish I could tell you all the details from my Thanksgiving 2012 but this story will have to be a little briefer than my usual ones haha.  As you know we spent a day in Pine City, MN Sunday to Monday and in Grand Rapids, MN for Monday to Tuesday which were both awesome experiences!  It was great to work with those Elders and to see the work going on there and those parts of the state that I never got the chance to serve in.  The areas up North like Grand Rapids remind me a little bit of what it's like near Yellowstone just minus the mountains and crazy geysers haha.  It's all very beautiful.  My first time out of the country was a really cool and really close experience going to Thunder Bay.  (Relatively speaking for those others in my family that have traveled or served all the foreign missions that they have).  We got there at about 8:30 pm CST on Tuesday night and then started for home this morning at 4:30 am CST to travel the 7 hours that we had to back for the Thanksgiving dinner that we would be having this afternoon, which was a great experience in and of itself.  With all the turkey and stuffing in me now it's making concentrating and communicating a little more effectively difficult haha.  It has been crazy to think about the experience that we had of being out of the country earlier today and traveling about 400 miles back down to Bloomington.  It was just as much fun to see and work with the Elders up there to get spend some time seeing a part of the mission that only a handful ever see.  In our time there in Canada I got the chance to teach, find (tracting and street contacting mostly), and see the brotherhood that is formed in serving together for the common purpose of serving the Lord.  This 4 day exchange experience was a huge blessing for us in being allowed to do it.  I realize that I've used the work experience a lot in this email but that's what my mission has been to me and for me, especially in the last couple of days, a lot of experiences.  It seems like looking back I have had an unbroken chain of good experiences throughout my entire time as a missionary and treasure so much the great lessons learned and people I've met along the way.  Every experience has been a good one for me in one way or another and I wish I had the words to convey to you and help you understand what it has fully meant for me as I have reflected on it throughout today.  (14+ hours in a car over 4 days has given me a lot of time to think and reflect haha).  I have learned and seen myself appreciate even more the joy in living in the moment and having joy every step of the way not just when the journey's over.  I look forward to telling you all about them and sharing with you in the most heartfelt way I can what it has meant for me.  I know that there is still a lot to learn and look forward to and I'm excited to embrace all the experiences coming my way in the near future.

I'm sorry that this isn't as detailed or descriptive but I had very limited time to try and write this.  I hope that all is well and to hear from you again soon.  I love you all.

Love, Elder Alex Craft

Monday, November 12, 2012

Goodbye to the Rest of My Group

Hello Craft Fam,

                This was a great week and has been a crazy day for us gearing up for the crazy week that we have ahead.  But it should all be fun haha.  I think I mentioned last week that we have Mission Conference tomorrow and Wednesday from about 7 am when we have to be there to set up and get ready until around 4 pm.  That was the plan before we came in this morning and found out that Elder Gavarret, of the Seventy, who is coming won’t be coming until later tomorrow morning so our meeting will go from about 10 am, when we have to get there to set up, until 6.  So we’ve had to switch things up today and move them around on the agenda to accommodate.  Wednesday it should be the same 7 am- 4 pm.  It should be a great meeting and our 25 minute training for both of them is on how to introduce the Book of Mormon and use the Gospel Art Book in contacting people effectively and should go pretty smoothly.  Mission tour last year was really great when we had Elder Zwick, of the Seventy, come too.  It’s always a great way to learn a lot and get inspired.  The real inspiring thought for us and the rest of the office staff today is the fact that Elder Gavarret wants to spend some time tomorrow touring the office  and inspecting it.  We’ve been cleaning and organizing that for part of the day and will have to spend some of what’s left in the day at our apartment cleaning too because the GA’s usually like to inspect missionary apartments at these conferences and with us and the Bloomington Spanish Sisters being only a couple of miles away each we are likely candidates for a visit.  Good thing we’ve been cleaning and maintaining it the whole time.

                The work in Bloomington is going great!  Brother S committed to live the Word of Wisdom in the lesson that we had on exchanges this last week and is really confused by why people question what we teach.  He said, “I have loved everything I’ve heard, I’ve loved the worship service with you, and I know it’s all true.  Why does no one else see that or have a hard time listening to what you say?”  If we could have a world full of people like Brother S and the Ns’, so basically the Liberians, it would be a much better place haha!  We are looking forward to Brother S’s baptism here in the next few weeks and the Ns not too far after.  Brother N is really trying to get work off and once he can get to church he will be able to set a date for him and Sister N to be baptized.  There are a lot of exciting things going on here that we are really looking forward to.

                Transfers went well and the departing activities were very fun.  Getting the chance to be together with all those Elders again and just reminisce on memories that we had or experiences that we’ve since had was a lot of fun.  The stories that we all got to tell throughout the day and getting to go to the temple was pretty great too.  President seemed a little more relaxed asking questions about different crazy things that we’ve seen or experienced and laughed mostly because I think those were things he never heard or knew about and now got a chance to catch it firsthand without having to worry about consequences like he would with a new missionary telling him that because they were all going home in a few hours.  None of it was really too bad just about different companions that were more interesting than others and the stories to go with them haha.  A great part of the whole day though was getting to have them all stay in our apartment and getting to talk with them all there.  The best part was after all the fun, memories, emotions, and stories that I got to drop them off at the airport and wave good bye to them all while I went back to my element in what I knew in Bloomington haha.

                That’s about it for now and the rest of this week will be outlined on the calendar I sent you.  I decided with all the cool information and things that I tell you about doing each week now recently that I’d just attach the calendar that Elder Clancy and I had to make for our schedule.  One of the coolest things that you might notice is the road trip that we have to do next week for Sunday through Thursday to do 3 of the exchanges that we have to in the Duluth Zone.  It will start with us in Pine City, then to Grand Rapids, and finally we’ll end up in Thunder Bay Canada for a little over a day to do that exchange up there.  It looks like I’ll use my passport after all and it should be pretty sweet!  We were really surprised when President approved it and said that was a great idea but we’re going with it and looking forward to working with all the great Elders all along the way.  The last cool thing to point out on the calendar is that exchange that last Monday with the New Brighton Elders.  That’s where Elder Mead is serving with his new companion that he is training, so that means exchanges with us!  I’m pretty excited for that too.

                There’s a lot of great things happening and just not enough time to tell you all about it haha.  I love you all and I’m so thankful for your love and support to me.  Talk to you again soon!

Love, Elder Alex Craft

Monday, November 5, 2012

Final Transfer Calls

Dear Family,

     That email quote that Dad sent is one that I heard at the beginning of my mission and has been kind of the theme for me throughout especially when I was in Kasson and had nothing going so it was either be obedient and diligent and be blessed or be like the rest of the dingle berry  missionaries that had served there and see absolutely nothing happen.  I have seen that principle prove true time and time again in my life and time as a missionary and in the life of those investigators I teach that make the changes that they do.  When we strive to be obedient and make it a quest to do all that God asks of us to the fullest we will not only be blessed with power from on high like President Benson says but we are blessed with confidence and assurance in the Lord and what His promises are.  Obedience brings peace into our lives.  I have still in all my time here yet met a missionary that is disobedient and happy.  It just doesn't happen.  It's a lot easier to distinguish and differentiate while on a mission I think because of all the black and white clear lines that we have clarified for us and we know what to do and not to, what it means to cross and what doesn't.  I think it's harder to see that same difference and and differentiation in the world as we live our lives because Satan is such a master of subtle persuasion and distraction that we may not recognize or see the lines all around us because of his cunning craft to blind us.  I have a firm belief that one of Satan's best tools against all of us is distraction.  For those of you who don't know what quote I'm talking about it's by President Ezra Taft Benson that says, "When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest in that moment that God endows us with power".  It's a true principle and one that we can all adopt and strive to develop within us all a little more fully.  Thanks for sharing that and your thoughts, Dad.

     It's not too cold as of yet.  On one of the exchanges last week I got to ride my bike around with one of the new missionaries and it was around 40 degrees that day without the windchill but that's the lowest really that it's gotten.  It may have snuck down into the mid 30's but nothing bad at all.  There isn't snow down here yet but we have seen flurries.  Nothing has stuck in the cities but up north around the areas of Grand Rapids and Bemidji they have a few inches of snow and have for a week or 2.  I'm just glad I wasn't riding my bike in that haha.  I should be fine and survive no problem.  Not only am I a toughened Minnesota Viking after 2 years now, but I had a feeling not to send all my winter stuff home when I shipped that package with the Youngs in April, so I still have a beanie, my earmuffs, gloves, and my Mr. Mac 3 in 1 coat.  Nothing should stop me now haha! :)  Thanks for the concern though Mom I appreciate it.  I won't say anything about the cold if it stays like last winter, but I'm kind of hoping for another winter like my first to go out on a bang.  So that means we'll need a few inches of snow here soon and temperatures about 40 degrees colder than this last week.  Bring it on! haha

     This P-day is what used to be known as transfer calls when President Clements would call to notify all missionaries being transferred of their new area, companion, and assignment, but this last week we had to change it. With the increase that's sure to come of new missionaries there won't be any physical way for him to call and talk to everyone that is changing.  We still met with him this past week to go over the transfers and will continue to do that even with the new missionaries that start to come in floods, but now we type up all the transfers like normal and will send that info to the Zone Leaders over fax for all the changes among their teams.  The Zone Leaders will then call all teams transferring to notify them.  President will now just call the new Zone Leaders and Trainers in the mission.  So needless to say this morning didn't have as many transfer "calls" like the usual "transfer call" day in the office used to for the other 4 that I have done.  We still have a lot of things to get done to prepare for the transfer coming up on Wednesday.  It's a lot of coordinating and logistics figuring out everyone's transportation to the mission office now for transfers.  It shouldn't be too bad though.  Nothing I haven't done before.  It is weird to think that this is the last transfer I'll officially be apart of and help out in though.  Crazy stuff!

     Before transfer Wednesday all the departing missionaries will come starting at about 9:30 tomorrow morning to do all the stuff they do when they get all trunky (Departing interview with the President to review goals, watching some training videos, lunch and dinner at the mission home with President and Sister Clements, and going to the temple to do a session together before ending with a testimony meeting and training from President and Sister Clements on adjusting to life again and being successful I guess).  I have been there for the very beginning and very end of those days while serving here and helping with all the other groups to go home that I have.  I always got to see the after effect of all those departing Elders coming to our apartment to spend their last night before breakfast in the morning at the mission home after which I'd take them all to the airport and wish them good bye and joyfully return not facing that  thought of getting on a plane haha.  What's cool about this transfer because it is my MTC group leaving I get to do all of that and some.  President is letting me and Elder Lewis go to the temple and all the middle of the day Tuesday stuff that I'd miss because we're going home mid transfer and would miss out on that otherwise.  The best part is that even though I get all that fun stuff with the other missionaries I came out with I still don't have the consequence at the end that I should.  I get to still drop them all off at the airport and leave them there while Elder Lewis and I joyfully return to the field haha!  It should be an eventful next few days!

     After this week we have to gear up for Elder Eduardo Gavarret of the Seventy coming for our mission conference next Tuesday and Wednesday and the meetings that the while mission is having for that.  There will be two 4 zone meetings, so half the mission at one and the other half at the other, where Elder Gavarret and his wife and President and Sister Clements will present and Elder Gavarret has asked also that Elder Clancy and I spend 25 minutes in each meeting training all the missionaries.  It is kind of intimidating having to prepare to do that in front of a General Authority but it should be a lot of fun too.  After that at the beginning of next week we have to start our exchange craze up again.  We finished 14 of 20 exchanges total this transfer (so about 5 weeks time) with 6 more to do to finish the last batch of new missionaries while starting the work on the 9 new Elders that will have just recently have come out.  It's going to be a very busy time for us, but well worth it for all the fun we will have and miracles we will see!

     I hope that all goes well with all of you this next week and to hear from you soon!  I love you all and love to hear from you.  Your love and support has always been such a big help to me.  Thanks for all that you do!