Wednesday, 21 August 2013


Dear Everyone,

     This week has been a challenge-no doubt about that. I don't think I ever really explained or understood that opening a new area is really hard. Basically, two nineteen year-olds who have been out for a combined total of just over seven months get dropped off at an apartment somewhere and have to become productive missionaries. Neither of them has hardly any experience doing that kind of work or making things happen but they have to try. They have no one to teach from the outset and most people don't seem interested at all in what they're trying to share. It can be a little bit disheartening. Anyway, we just have to work hard and do everything the way we've been taught to and then eventually, we'll see the success that we want to see.
     So, some cool things this week:
   1. I only spent £10.73 or something like that on groceries today. It's nice to finally have a base built up to work off of food-wise.
   2. Elder Smart is amazing! It's so wonderful to have him as a companion. We can work hard together which is really nice.
   3. It only rained on us once. We were riding home in the rain/dark at that one time which was actually not that bad. Note though that it was really only a drizzle.
   4. We are getting a lot better at finding people to teach. It's really hard to get better at something when it seems like even your best isn't nearly enough (not getting anyone who is willing to let us come share a follow-up message for days) but we keep trying and our finding has been getting a lot better and more productive. Though we're nowhere near where we want to be and our finding has a lot lacking, we are getting much better. The other day, we talked to about 20 people in 40 minutes on the street starting with the Golden Questions "What gives you purpose in life?" and "What is it that keeps you going?" We're also getting better at figuring out where more receptive people are likely to be. This is more difficult than it seems. The end result is that we now have an investigator who we found! It's an interesting situation that is kind of unfolding so I'll wait to explain until I know more of what's actually going on. Our lesson with him was a bit scattered but also pretty good. He has definitely been prepared in many ways.
   5. Church is amazing! I love Sundays! The Warwick Branch is awesome! The funny thing is that the Warwick Branch is quite a bit larger than the Stroud Ward. It also has a nice new, well maintained building while the Stroud Ward has an old, odd, and getting older (it is well maintained but it feels a bit haphazard compared to the Warwick chapel) chapel. The Warwick Branch is composed Primarily of young families. (That was a pun!... because the Primary is so large...). There are a few older people and single adults but it's really mostly 20somethings and their kids which is awesome. There are also a tonne of Americans (mostly teaching at the University of Warwick (which is actually in Coventry, our Stake Centre ). I think that there are three young American Families plus the Branch President's wife is American. So nice to hear American accents! They sound really strange though. The problem is that their children adopt the language of their social (school) group so all the kids who have been here for a while speak with English accents. How weird would it be to have children who didn't speak like you do? One of the American Families sort of knew the Hobbs too!

     On to more important things, this week we had our first real lesson in Leamington! We taught a man who was referred to us by a recent convert. Did I mention that missionary work is way easier when members of the church are doing missionary work too? I was never good at this at home but as a missionary, I appreciate the fact that I would be using my time much more effectively if every family in the ward/branch was working on bringing just one person the happiness that they themselves have gained from living the gospel. Imagine if every family shared the gospel with three people! Or five! Missionary work would take off. It is hard and it seems awkward but there are just so many people who don't know what we believe (but want to understand that at least) and if they did know, they would want to learn more, then they would come to a knowledge that this is God's one and only true church on the Earth and recognise that he wants all of his children to be a part of it and receive the blessings and happiness that come from living the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. It's so important to realise that most people don't know or fully understand the purpose of life or their Heavenly Father's love for them. That's why we're here though--as members of the church, people who do know the truth, we have a responsibility to share the joy that we have received with those we meet.

     In Preach My Gospel we are taught to share the gospel with everyone (period). It's really hard to catch that vision when of that 100% of people in our area, very few actually listen to us. It's hard to even stop people, many are in too much of a rush and ignore us or brush us off. I'm working on talking to everyone though because I'll never know if someone who the Lord has prepared to hear the gospel is walking right past me unless I talk to them. I've definitely seen that our finding efforts improve when we do try to talk to everyone.

     I never have nearly enough time to write all the things that I'd like to share and though a picture is worth a thousand words, I'm not taking nearly enough of them. I really will get up to speed on that some time.

     I love you all immensely and wish I could tell you more and hear more from you but I can't. Missionary work is hard but I'm doing my best and learning a lot. There are plenty of difficult experiences but there are also plenty of wonderful ones that make up for it.

Elder Houghton

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Fortunate Encounter. . .

On my birthday, I received this email.  Happy birthday to me!  
Luke's Mom

Good morning.

My name is Ian Houston. I am traveling with my family through England and Scotland from Washington DC. I am LDS.

My mother is originally from Leamington Spa England. We had just visited my grandfather's grave and had been walking in the park called Jephson Gardens. My son saw elders walking in the distance. I called out "Elders."  They stopped.

We talked for some time and had a nice visit. I want to let you know that your son looked well and was happy and very friendly. I thanked him for what they both are doing and noted there was a purpose for every encounter including the one we had.

Here is a picture of your son and his companion with two of my sons who are 15 and 17. It was a special moment.  The possibilities of the encounter at that moment a million to one. I was grateful for the blessing of encountering your sons.

I hope you enjoy the picture and the story.

God bless,

Ian Houston

Monday, 12 August 2013

Transfer to Leamington. . .Details

A view of Leamington Spa from a small hill (really just a gentle rise) near Lillington
(for those of you on Google Maps)

Dear Everyone,

     This week has been a whirlwind. We found out about transfers on Monday night. I'm now serving with Elder Smart in the Warwick (War-ick) B area. It's a new area (really we just now have two teams=four missionaries) within a branch that had only had two. We haven't split the area for the two teams yet but may in the future. We live in Royal Leamington Spa which is actually bigger than Warwick (where the building and thus branch name are). It's usually just called Leamington Spa or Leamington. Leamington is a pretty affluent area. There is a really cool/nice park/pond/river/aviary/garden thing in the middle of town across from the really nice library that I'm in right now. We do live a bit far from the church-it's a 25 minute bike ride and we may have to take a train when the weather is bad which is kind of difficult but it will all work out. Also, opening a new area, we have no investigators and no one to work with. So, we are spending all our time finding. We aren't very good at finding because neither of us have done much of it before and it's really hard to just go talk to people and then lead that in to the Gospel. Most people just ignore us when we try to say hello and then stop them to talk. It's really hard. However, I'm working on building up my faith that there are people here who Heavenly Father has sent me to meet, teach, and eventually welcome into the church. As we do more finding, we'll become better at it right! So it's hard but we're trying. We're also working on helping out the members with their missionary work. Missionary work is so much better when members are engaged in helping the missionaries find people to teach. Random people are more put off by two weirdos in ties than by their trusted and kind friends. It's hard to see it that way when you're a member though (It certainly was for me). So, we're trying to figure out how to use our time effectively. We will always have to do finding so it's best to just do it and get good at it now.

New library=we didn't know how to reserve computers=>a big blue banner telling me I have 5 minutes left. Ahh! Letters to come. Hopefully my new address was posted on the blog and everyone has it.

I love you all lots and hope all is well. I'm working hard even though it's really difficult and I still don't quite feel like I know what I'm doing or how to be really productive. It's great though. The best things are hard. My faith is growing. I love being a missionary!

Elder Houghton

P.S. I'll detail our epic trip to Leamington from Birmingham in a letter home. It was pretty crazy!

This is not Elder Houghton, but it probably could be. . .except for the cars behind them.
In the UK, they only have buses and trains for transfers!
Dear Everyone again,

We just got to (after a long search and eventual resignation to needing a map and having to head to the flat only to realize that we were about two streets away the whole time we were searching) another library that's a bit smaller but also a lot less busy so I now have more time to write. 

To detail the CRAZY transfer we had: For transfers, everyone who is moving to a new area leaves their old area and gets to a central location within their zone. For the Cheltenham zone which I was in while serving in Stroud, we had to train to the Gloucester Train Station. That's pretty easy as it's a 20 minute train from Stroud, the Stroud station is only a 5 minute walk from the Stroud flat, and Elder Wood was there to take half of my stuff. So, the missionaries who are going to a new area leave their companions behind to work with other missionaries who are staying in the area and getting new companions like they are. So, I got on the train and my travelling companion was Elder Bunting and I left Elder Wood behind. We had two people with two bikes, two suitcases each, our backpacks, and my carry on. The bikes had to go in a separate compartment on that train so it was a rush to get everything on and off in time but we made it safely to Gloucester. At the Gloucester station, there was a drug bust with police officers and drug dogs going on and we had to get all of our stuff out of the station to get to the Coach which would take us to the mission office. With a few extra trips, we made it out and waited for the coach which we loaded our stuff on and boarded. Only one other missionary was leaving the Cheltenham zone via Gloucester (all the missionaries who are getting brand new companions and training (a lot of them) had to be there early so they weren't on the coach) so we waited for him, some Zone Leaders took his companion and we left. It was pretty funny because there were only three of us on this big coach headed to the mission office. You'll appreciate this later.

We got to the mission office where I met up with Elder Smart and got to see some other missionaries who I haven't seen since the MTC which was cool. For some reason, they had decided to cut costs so instead of one coach to each zone as usual, there was one to Wales (two zones), one to Cheltenham (one zone), none to Birmingham (they all trained from the mission office) and then one for Lichfield, Leicester, Coventry, and Nottingham (four zones). I think that was how it was supposed to be anyway. Some of the Lichfield people might have trained as well. Anyhow, there were way too many missionaries, bikes, and suitcases going to 3.5 zones on one coach so the Coventry Zone (which I am in now) was booted off the coach and we were told to train. This is more complicated than it sounds. We had to train from Chester Road (10 minute walk from the mission home-fortunately some Zone Leaders took our stuff and we got a ride) to Birmingham New Street (the biggest/central station in Birmingham). Unfortunately, between getting everyone's stuff up to the train at Chester Road, some missionaries not going on that particular train, etc., I got left behind with my stuff while the rest of Coventry Zone including Elder Smart had made it onto the train. There were a few missionaries who were still going to Birmingham New Street which was good and they had also left another missionary's suitcases. So, I made it onto the next (very crowded) train and we jammed three bikes and a ton of stuff onto a little boarding area of the train. It was packed and probably illegal. Some people were glaring at us but we made it. At Birmingham New Street, the platform was completely packed with people trying to get on the train so the missionaries waiting for us there bucket brigaded all of our stuff through and we made it out without annoying too many people. Then we took an escalator (each of us took two-three trips) and the people going on our next train to Coventry (The two of us, our District Leader, his new trainee, and the other Elder going to Warwick A=5 people with 4 people's stuff and three bikes) made it to the Coventry train (barely). We barely fit all of our stuff onto the train to Coventry and had to let a bunch of people by who were switching carriages. We were just praying that there wasn't a stop where the doors opened on the opposite side because we had suitcases piled to shoulder height and they would topple out if the doors opened.

So, the five of us made it to Coventry where we got on a new train to Warwick/Leamington Spa. At this point, only Elder Smart, Elder Cagle (going to Warwick A) and myself were there with three bikes, etc. Fortunately, we met up with the only missionary staying in Warwick (Elder McKechnie) but he just sent us onto the train and kept Elder Cagle with himself. So Elder Smart and I barely made it on and threw our bikes into this super obnoxious bike rack thing that couldn't even fit the handlebars. We made it to Leamington Spa and some nice people helped us get all of our stuff out of the train before the doors closed. Then, we left our bikes on the platform locked to a bike rack and took all of our suitcases (even just the suitcases were a bit much, I really wish I had the spinners now) down below the rails and out to the car park. We got the Zone Leaders to text us our address and a member came to pick us up in his tiny British car. We managed to get all of our suitcases in (although my knees will never be the same) and with the A to Zed map we got from Elder McKechnie, made it to our new flat where we were unloaded and left. We managed to get into the flat and get everything in with us.

The new flat is a palace compared to Stroud's flat! The carpets are new and clean, everything is new and clean. Also, the Mission supplies each of the new flats with the bare minimum of cheap Asda (like Walmart) stuff (four plates, four bowls, four forks, etc. etc.). There was no food though. We have new memory foam beds, nice couches, lots of mirrors, and an extra layer of toilet seat (we think that the previous occupant was an old lady because of this and the flowery curtains). Everything is new or at least really clean. We have a bunch of cheap furniture, tiny tiny desks, etc. etc. I'll have to include pictures soon.

So, in the spare hours that we had left before we had to get to bed (because we were exhausted (note: all of this travel was in a wool suit) and sticky), we walked to the train station (25 min. walk) to get our bikes, biked to Asda (more of a grocery store than a normal Walmart really) and did some grocery shopping. Then we realized that with all the stuff we had, it would probably be best to walk, not bike, home. We made it with some badly protesting/aching arms in about five minutes. We then walked back up to Asda to get our bikes, biked back, and that was the end of that day.

It was super hard and exhausting but also really exhilarating. The only thing that would have made it more epic would be if it started to downpour. Fortunately, the weather was actually quite nice. I thought about the whole experience later because there were a lot of things that, if they had gone as planned, would have made the whole adventure quite a bit easier (the coach, our member being at the Coventry train station when the coach got there, etc.) but we just had to go with it and make do with what we had. We were all happy and excited, maybe only one of us actually knew what we were doing at any one time, but at the end of the day we all made it safely to our new homes and were all the happier for it. It reminded me of the fact that our loving Heavenly Father always prepares a way for us to do what he wants us to do. It's not always the easiest way (limousine from flat to flat) as we might like, nor is it often the slightly harder way that we might envision (which may be plenty difficult as we had envisioned it). However, at the end of the day, each of the different paths ends at the same spot. We also learn more and have more of an adventure doing things the difficult and hectic way than we would if it were easier. So, He will provide a way and he knows better than we do what we need and what is best for us so when things don't go according to plan, it's better to make the most of the new opportunities that you do have than to bemoan the fact that you don't have the opportunities you had envisioned.

Ok, that story took way longer to tell than I had intended. Hopefully it makes sense. I had hoped that this email would have other stuff in it but it looks like that isn't going to happen as I'm out of time (Again!).

I hope all is well and that you're happy and healthy and enjoying life. Leamington Spa is great and quite a change but I love it. The Church is True, Heavenly Father loves his children, and The Book of Mormon is true and Amazing! We're going to work hard and get good things done and learn a ton and be amazing missionaries and it will be fantastic! I'm really happy and excited. Can you tell?

Lots of Love,
Elder Houghton

Elder Smart in the new flat.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Transfer to Leamington Spa

Dear everyone,

     I'm safe and happy in my new area, Warwick B, with Elder Smart. We're opening up a new area! Elder Smart has only been out 1.5 months more than me so we're both super new and it's going to be an exciting adventure. He's great though and I'm super excited. Our flat is really nice, clean, spacious, wonderful in every way, etc. Basically the opposite of the Stroud Flat. They've stocked it with the bare essentials of cheap Asda (like walmart) stuff though so it's pretty sparse. It's crazy figuring everything out and we have basically no one to work with but we're moving forward and united and it's awesome! We actually live in Leamington (prounounced Lemmington ... town of lemmings... haha). It's real name is Royal Leamington Spa. It's the posh side of the Warwick (prounounced War-ick)/Leamington area. The Branch may be a train ride away though.

Our area includes Stratford-upon-Avon =where Shakespeare was born. It's super amazing and really exciting but it's going to be really hard especially since we're so new and have very little finding experience. We also had a crazy time getting here from the mission office. The coach was too full so our zone (Coventry) took the train but we had 4 peoples' stuff with 5 people at one point. That meant about 10 suitcases and three bikes plus 5 backpacks for 5 people. It was kind of crazy packing on the trains. I got left behind at one point but there were other missionaries going to the same station who actually knew where they were going so it was alright.

Our address is:

7 Ryland Close
Leamington Spa
CV31 1HU

Lots of love. Hope to hear from you all soon,
Elder Houghton

Monday, 5 August 2013

First Caffeinated Soda?

View across the Severn River into the Forrest of Dean
(of Harry Potter fame)

 Dear Family and Friends,

Elder Houghton's new English "ensemble"
 including skinny purple tie and English suit

     This week has been... I don't know. Good news is that the weather has been back to the English normal so it's been fresh, clean, wet, etc. I love it. It's great to wake up to it raining just enough that it clears the air and lowers the temperature so you can have a beautiful sunny day! Being out in the rain isn't the best though. I'd better get used to it though. Being here during one of the hottest and driest summers on record hasn't really helped me acclimatize to normal English weather.

Kool-aid winnings from a contest at Zone Conference--
needless to say, they have no Kool-aid in England
     One thing that actually happened last week that you'll find funny is that I drank my first caffeinated Soda. Ever! And also my second (I think). The first was at a dinner appointment with an awesome recent convert and her nonmember husband. They served us what is I guess Tesco brand diet Dr. Pepper. Or something like that. I didn't even think about the fact that it was probably caffeinated until after I'd drunk it and I didn't get a chance to check but I think it was. Later that week, another awesome recent convert wanted to get us something to drink before our meeting in a nearby park. He got a big case of Coke. It being my first Coke, I thought it was actually a bit bland. I probably wouldn't drink Coke even if it didn't have caffeine now that I know what it tastes like.

     This Sunday, our ward was super small for a number of reasons. We only had 34 people there which was a bit sad. However, the testimonies for Fast and Testimony Meeting were great. It was inspiring to see and hear some really amazing and wonderful people testify of what they know to be true. Testimonies are strengthened when testimonies are shared and my testimony was definitely strengthened. The Gospel of Jesus Christ really does change lives. Our loving Heavenly Father really wants us to be happy now and in the eternities. Sometimes it's difficult but we just have to let him work in our lives to make that happen.

    Today I get to find out who my next companion will be and if/where I'm moving areas. I've learned to love Stroud and my sweet trainer Elder Wood but I am looking forward to a fresh start and a change. I've learned so much about what I need to do to become the effective and capable missionary that I want to be. Now, I just want to go out and do it. One thing I've seen is that there's always room to improve and we constantly need to be learning and striving to do our best in order to receive the revelation and direction that our Heavenly Father is sending to us. As we step forward with faith, he illuminates the path for us. Periodically, he lets us see a glimpse of the distant future but most of the time we just have to accept that what we're experiencing will be the best for us.

     Also this week, I finished reading "Jesus the Christ" by James E. Talmage. It's 800 pages of amazing information. I've learned so much about the life and ministry of the Saviour. One thing tha struck me that I hadn't noticed before involves Christ's death. Elder Talmage explains something that I did not know or think of before; that Jesus Christ literally died of broken heart. The extreme physical, spiritual, and emotional stress his body went through as he prepared to sacrifice himself for us and as he hung on the cross caused his heart to rupture. In Psalms somewhere, it prophecies that his heart will break for us. It's interesting that we talk about heartbreak the way we do now as sadness over the loss of a relationship or something like that. Our Redeemer's heart broke as he suffered and mourned for us. He loves us so much and wants us all to come unto him. I hope that as a missionary, I can be a tool in the Lord's hands to help others do that and receive of his love and the peace that comes through living his gospel.

I'm out of time. The Lord keeps doing His work.
Elder Houghton