Monday, 29 July 2013

Book of Mormon Study, Skinny English Suits, and Llamas?

Dear Family and Friends,
     This week in Stroud has been a bit slow. Although I hate to start by talking about the weather, you all know the saying "When in England, do as the English." I've been told that the best way to start a conversation is to talk about the weather. It's been mostly hot and muggy. Not as bad as last week but still pretty draining. On Wednesday though, I woke up to a thunderstorm which was really cool. Thunder and lightning are rare here. It's been on and off cloudy and rainy since Saturday afternoon now as well.
     In other news, we heard that the dress code for missionaries was changed recently. We haven't gotten the details. It's kind of funny that other people know about all this before the missionaries who are actually affected by the change know. There are rumors about Khaki trousers (not pants here in England), no backpacks, no skinny ties, brightly coloured ties being encouraged, etc. etc. It will be interesting to see if things are different here. I don't know how I would function without a backpack. Skinny ties were not allowed before but are the norm in England as are brightly coloured ties so it's interesting to see what would seem like at once both a loosening and tie-tening of the rule (so punny... I guess Josh did rub off on me) in the colour and width columns. It's also funny how such a small change as that is actually really significant to us.
    I'd like to share a bit today about our awesome ward in Stroud. The ward is really small (would be a branch in the States and is definitely on the branch/ward boundary even for here) but also very vibrant. Everyone here is so loving and friendly. They are all really willing to help with missionary work and be involved in making things happen. We have a pretty large YSA group here as well. They are the best! On Sunday, our amazing recent convert Brother Kojo Williams (I'll have to get a picture/video at some point) spoke and then Sister Jacqui Webb spoke. It was quite the contrast in many ways. Kojo is really spirited and energetic. He knows the bible very well and did a great job getting the ward energised on sharing the gospel. Sister Webb is a bit older and is a fireball English lady sometimes (especially around Kojo who we've helped to work on her house) but other times quite calm and stately. They are both really interesting people and it was cool to me to see how Heavenly Father has so many different children but how they can all share the same testimony of him. That's how the Stroud Ward is. Each person is unique and has their own story but they all share a deep and abiding love for and commitment to the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are amazing.
No pictures, so we'll have to guess
what Elder Houghton might look
 like in his skinny English suit. . .
     Bad news though, I forgot my camera and though the library is only two minutes from our flat, we lose reserved time and we were late so I don't have any pictures to share with you. Look forward to Elder Houghton decked out in skinny English suit with pointy English shoes. You might laugh but that's ok--when in England, do as the English ok!
     I've been studying the Book of Mormon lately. I'll have Mosiah finished soon. The Book of Mormon is amazing because it's so full of clear and concise truth. Unlike some other scriptures, it's meant for our day--for us. I have such a strong testimony that the Book of Mormon is true and that it is God's word for us. It came forth as part of the Restoration of our Heavenly Father's true and everlasting gospel--reading it and abiding by its teachings will bring every person closer to our Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ of whom the book testifies. I love the words of Abinadi which explain that men are not saved by the law but rather by the atonement of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. I just love the Book of Mormon. I wish everyone would read it. I'm also excited to hear that my wonderful Mother and Uncle will be teaching the Book of Mormon in Seminary! I love and miss Seminary so much! I wish I could go back through high school just for Seminary. I'm sure they'll love waking up at 5 every day with their children too!  (Note from Mom. . .we already did!)
I'm running out of time. I love and miss you all so much.
Elder Houghton

P.S. Who knew llamas could teach seminary??? 

(Houghton cousins refer to their uncles as Llamas for some reason.)

Monday, 22 July 2013

Miracles via Post!

Dear Family and Friends,
This is going to be a particularly short one. Sorry again.
England is awesome as usual. It's been really hot and muggy and the people are complaining about the weather as usual-regardless of the fact that it's the opposite of the weather that English people most often complain about and the fact that it's not nearly as bad here as elsewhere around the world.
Shout out to my cousin Macklin Riffel who got his mission call to Ecuador! I'm so excited for him. He's going to be great!

This week, I saw a miracle! I was having a slow hot day and we hadn't left the flat and it was late and I saw the postman down the road. I thought to myself that it would just be so nice to get some mail. Then I realized, there was no reason that I ought not to get some mail. I decided to pray about it. I just prayed simply that I would please get a letter, that it wouldn't affect my faith or anything but that it would just be so nice to get a letter, could I please get a letter. I envisioned an envelope addressed from Soulsbyville (especially because I have most people mail to the mission home). The postman came and delivered not one, not two, but three letters for me. One was from a friend who got her mission call to El Salvador (woot woot!), another was from a sister of a friend in Virginia, and the third was sent to all the missionaries in the Birmingham mission and included President Uchtdorf's talk "Waiting on the Road to Damascus" which was the vehicle for some much needed personal revelation. It was wonderful. None of those letters were expected at all, they just showed up. After the fact, I realized that my faith had changed. I have gained a greater testimony of the fact that I have a Heavenly Father who hears and answers the prayers of his children. He really cares for us and wants us to be happy. We just need to reach out and accept the blessings that he's waiting to give us.
That ties in to some other experiences I've had this week where I've come to see that Heavenly Father really wants us to be successful. He's doing everything he can to help us be the best we can be, we just need to act and we will receive. The Saviour's atonement is real. As we accept and live the gospel, we accept his sacrifice in our lives and show our desire to become more like him.  He is reaching out to help us with whatever challenges we may face!
Out of time,
Elder Houghton

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Still in Stroud

From 15 July, 2013 

Dear Family/readers,
     This past week has been incredibly hot and humid. It's supposed to rain on Wednesday but that's the only break from a 2 week heat wave. It's pretty rough wearing proselyting clothes in the heat and sun. Then I thought of the missionaries in Africa, South America, SE Asia, and basically everywhere else where it is also really hot and humid and probably much more so than here. I guess I'll survive without too much complaining. That's one thing, the English always complain about the weather. It's never just right. There are jokes about "the great British Summer" and those words are always next to some rainclouds or something like that.
     Today I want to tell you about R. R is 79 (but tells us there's no way he's 79, he thinks he's 60 then ten minutes later insists that he's 50 this keeps going but he doesn't get much lower than 35) and many years ago was hit by a car at 60 mph and lost all of his teeth, was severely injured throughout his body, and suffered some brain damage. His wife is an inactive member named RL. We started visiting RL and R with the Darracqs so that we could keep R busy while the Darracqs taught RL and invited her back to church. R is not all there and really hard to understand, doesn't hold in his saliva very well, and it's hard to tell sometimes if he's joking or just not really understanding. He's also mostly deaf. It's pretty funny. We've been trying to convince him that he should come to church with RL. Though his mobility is limited, like clockwork he goes in to town every day to get his cigarettes, booze, and newspaper. He sort of hobbles and it must take ages but somehow he makes it. He won't come to church because he "would have to give up all the good things in life: drinkin', smokin', and chasin' women." It's a crack up to talk to him. He and RL are really generous though and give us treats when we visit and almost always send us away with some kind of candy. Last week we commited R to go without drinking and smoking for a week and promised that if he did it, his leg (which had been bugging him) would get better. He didn't quite make it through the first day and the next day we caught him in denial about the cigarettes in his pocket and (vodka) "just lemonade" in his bag. It was funny but also sad that those are the things that really bring him happiness (he thinks) and at this point he's basically trapped. R was the one we got all the beer and cigarettes from in the last email btw. We had to bring them back on Tuesday but we've been continuing to visit him impromptu because he's always home. With our encouragement, he now stops by the church to get some water on Sundays on his way into town but won't go inside though members greet him and he felt like "a movie star" when he got water last week. RL also came to church for about two hours (she had to leave right after the sacrament was passed to take care of R) and was a great contributor to the Gospel Principles lesson. She has the sweetest testimony ever! It wasn't just our visits though. There is also a recently returned missionary in our ward named A who has taken RL as his responsibility with a new one to one mentoring program that the Bishop has introduced (every member in a leadership position chooses and works with one inactive member/family) and has done amazing simple things to try to bring RL (his former primary teacher) back to activity. With our many visits, his visits, the Darracqs' best efforts, and a lot of help from the Lord, it worked and she came to church. By small and simple things are great things brought to pass. The lesson I learned this week was that it's often lots and lots of small and simple things that make it all work out in the end. It's amazing to see the hand of the Lord using his servants to do his work to rescue two wonderful sweet spirits who might otherwise have felt forgotten. They are awesome!
     In other news, today I bought my first English suit. Basically, all my American clothes are really baggy by English standards and I wish I had bought my clothes here like everyone told me to. Advice to missionaries going to England in the future: bring one suit and 5 white shirts (that's all that you'll need in the MTC) and a few ties and buy Everything else here. There's good quality stuff pretty cheap and you won't stick out like a sore thumb. The suit I got was a pretty good deal-there was a pretty good salesman. I liked him though and feel a little better about being sold because I think he deserves it and he was Scottish. He was so good that he convinced me I needed a new white shirt and cool tie too. I did avoid getting shoes from him and it was a three piece suit... It's kind of a challenge to have to always remember that even though a pound goes as far as a dollar, I'm getting charged $1.5 per £1 plus international transactions fees which really kill. I'm not going to go as overboard as other missionaries do though for clothes. I found some super cheap pointy English shoes too. They were £12 and my shoes are perhaps the worst part of my American ensemble so it will be alright. Pictures to come next week.
     Did I mention that the Stroud Ward is AMAZING! They are the best member missionaries and totally devoted to everything they do here. When I first arrived, it seemed really small and gimpy but through they are few in number, the Stroud Ward is huge in spirit. The ward dynamics are quite different from back home just because they are much smaller and more personal. I love them all so much! We had dinner at the Bishop's house the other night. He was called from an adjoining area. He and his wife are the best. Bishop Markham is also a musical super star and wrote the music for a full blown musical "Faith, the Musical" which many of the members performed in and brought to SLC a few years ago. They're still performing firesides throughout the UK. He's amazing.
     I'm still working on my photographering. It's harder than you might think to remember to take pictures of everything. I went on a spree yesterday afternoon though so here are a few English things from the flat.

First is me in the apron I found there and a cool English tie that I traded Elder Wood for.

Second is the house/series of flats(?) across the street from us with it's wind turbine.  (See the top picture on this blog).   Basically all the other houses on the street up from that one and ours are brick row houses (which are actually flats as well(?)).

Third is digestives. They are delicious and no one can explain why they're called digestives. They're just lightly sweetened wheat cookies that you can get plain or dipped (on one side) in chocolate. Elder Wood likes caramel/chocolate ones that you can find in a few odd places. These are just the cheap Tesco ones. The plain ones can also be used crumbled up for graham cracker crusts and the like. They're super!

     Like I said earlier, the lesson that I learned this week is that by small and simple things, great things come to pass and that it's not just a few small and simple things, it's often many many small and simple things. I'm working on doing the small and simple things that will make great things come to pass in our field of labour here in Stroud and in my life.

Elder Houghton

The Flat

A flag in the flat that is supposed to record its
missionary inhabitants.  A few holes in the record though.
A map of our "Greater Stroud" area

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Testimony of Love, Gratitude, and Prayer. + British Food

From 1 July 2013

Beans on Toast!

Dear Family (and other readers?),
I'll start with my letter to President Rasmussen:
Dear President Rasmussen,

I'd like to bear my testimony of love. Love is what got me through this week and I've come to appreciate how important it is in our Heavenly Father's plan. Love is the motivation for the real good in the world. Heavenly Father's love is the foundation for everything we teach as missionaries. If we do not have a loving Heavenly Father, this life on Earth is pointless. Helping people feel his love through the spirit but also through the loving actions of the Lord's representatives and others is essential. If people do not feel loved, they will not have any desire to press on facing the challenges they face. Satan wants people to feel unloved and hopeless and it's our job to help them feel Heavenly Father's love and give them hope.

This week I've been studying 2 Nephi. I just got started on the Isaiah chapters this morning. Like Nephi, I find great insights and knowledge in those chapters when I liken them to myself and things that I'm experiencing. It's amazing to see the symbolism and other themes that the Lord has woven into those words so that they really can apply to anyone who sincerely looks. The scriptures really are marvelous and I love them! I also studied for a talk I gave on Sunday on The Restoration and the blessings it brings. That was a great experience as well.
Anyhow, I will continue doing my best to be the best missionary I can be and to follow the promptings of the spirit and to love others and be a tool in the hands of the Lord to share his love for all mankind.

Elder Houghton

So, to get to the fun stuff. This week has been a bit slower. The weather has been nice though. English people love talking about (but mostly complaining about) the weather. It's pretty funny.

Just two pictures this week. One of them is a gypsy camp in the middle of a really big roundabout. It's really weird because they are real gypsies with their real horses and weird wagons and rabbit hutches (what???).

The other picture is of some Yogurt (pronounced Yog-ert: Yog like log and ert like hurt )I bought today at Tesco after our two week food shopping fast (not my idea and I was starved). Hopefully you can see that I was adventurous and got the pack with three totally English flavours: rhubarb, gooseberry, and blackcurrant. I ate the one gooseberry so far and it was pretty good.

English food is pretty good so far. The other day we got taken to a fancy Asian buffet by a recent convert/superstar named Kojo Williams (from Ghana) he's awesome. Honestly, I don't think the food here is very bland anymore, it just depends on the person cooking (as it would in the states) I think really that stigma came from the fact that nice classic English meals are kind of boring, always some roast, potatoes, vegetables, and gravy but that's just a "proper English tea." It's weird because they call Dinner Tea sometimes but not all the time and some people have a dinner=lunch thing I think but others don't. I'm kind of confused by it all. Another note on English Food: There are no white eggs sold in English grocery stores. At least I haven't seen any. Also, Beans on Toast is an awesome breakfast. I think the baked beans here are the same as in the states...? I would definitely recommend it because it's fast, easy, cheap, filling, and good energy--I basically lived on beans on toast for the past week until I ran out of bread...
I've had some wonderful experiences with prayer this week. I decided to pray for about thirty minutes one night instead of a usual before bed prayer. It made me realize how much I have to be grateful for--a lot. Gratitude is such an amazing and powerful principle! Meaningful prayer is so powerful. I think we often get stuck in a rut of just giving a normal prayer but it's important to remember that each prayer is direct two-way communication with our omnipotent and loving Heavenly Father. Remembering that helps me make my prayers more meaningful. I've also gained a testimony of families. It's so important to have strong families for the eternities but also important that we have strong families on the Earth. It's really heartbreaking to see how Satan is attacking and destroying families everywhere. I'm grateful for my amazing family and all they've done to get me where I am now.
I'm out of time and sorry that this email isn't particularly long or interesting. I'll get a letter out though.
I hope all is well. It's wonderful to hear about all of your marvelous adventures and fun even if they make me a bit jealous. Thanks for everything!
Elder Houghton

Excerpts from letter to Mom.  Luke heard that one cousin received his mission call to Brazil, and two others are waiting to hear where they've been called.

This is just the response to the email you wrote. You're welcome to share with the family though. Congratulations to James! He'll be there for the World Cup! Also, there's supposed to be a new temple there soon. I'm super excited for him. Can't wait to hear about Macklin and Jacob. You're right about the visas. All the missionaries going to Brazil take forever. Most of the ones I knew went straight to the Brazil MTC but he could be different. Sounds like the chickens are fun. I can hardly wait to see the setback from the bike as well. I'm still quite stressed about that decision but I did pray about it and now I just hope it all works out.  On ministering to ward members:  Contacting people is so crucial. People build up these excuses to make them feel better about not coming to church. Sometimes all they need is an excuse to come. They certainly won't if they're not invited. Sounds like a good and worthwhile effort and goal.  You'll be happy to know that after my one-week delayed talk was delivered on Sunday on the Restoration and Blessings it brings (basically the first and third lessons in a cool mesh which was really fun but also super doctrinal and potentially boring and I also made it 20 minutes long but it was good... breathe.), Our Bishop's wife, Sister Markham, who is from the Netherlands (but has lived in England for 35+ years) complimented me for my strong testimony but also wanted to say that she could see that my parents had strong testimonies and had taught me well just through my own testimony and knowledge. I thought I would pass that on. My experiences with some of the people I'm teaching here help me to appreciate more and more what it means to have intelligent and capable parents. I'm feeling a bit nostalgic about being at home with a wonderful and happy family. Absence makes the heart grow fonder right???
Sounds like Girls' Camp will be fun! Make sure you check on the banner unfurled that we put up. (Responding to the news of a lice outbreak at camp). . Maybe you should just get all the girls to donate their hair to cancer victims before camp and get cool hats!  Don't tell any of them that I suggested that though! haha!

The fourth of July party should be fun. I'm a bit jealous and not sure what I'm going to do to celebrate that occasion. It's a tender subject for the English as it was our rebellion against them. Sorry that the Snail Mail has been patchy. I have little time to write. I thought I got one off last Monday though. Royal Mail is sketchy. I just got a letter from May 23 the other day (it did come through the mission office which was most of the delay but still). I've also had a hard time getting stamps and may send you some letters that I'd like to forward to some friends who are now on missions. We'll see if I can find a place that sells the ones I need.

I love and miss you much.
Elder Houghton