WEEK TWENTY-ONE: TRAVEL, TRANSFERS, AND A TRIUMPHANT RETURN

Dear Friends & Family,

Okay, so this week started out with a drive from Dyersburg, TN N to Bartlett, TN so that Sister M could attend The Temple Monday morning. Our mission’s rule for attending the temple is that you can go for your birthday, and you attend the last Temple trip before you go home. So this trip Sister M got to go for her birthday. S drove us down from Dyersburg, and following Sister M’s mad dash into the temple (we were running behind haha), S and I sat on the grass and visited with Elder B & Elder T (the Elders we replaced in Dyersburg). S then proceeded to embarrass me/ruin my life by going on this huge long tangent about how Elder B & I were her favorite people in the whole world, so we needed to get married and name our first daughter S. With both of us sitting right there!!! It was beyond horrible, but thankfully Elder B has good sense of humor and was able to laugh it off. It really was wonderful to spend that last little bit of time with S though, I love her a lot, and I miss her tremendously. I cannot wait for her baptism on the 17th!!!

Once the Temple session was over we traveled from Bartlett, TN to Little Rock, AR. It’s about a three and a half hour drive, and we were in a van with two elders going home and another elder going AP, so I mostly just napped and talked to the Elders. Once we arrived at the church in Little Rock, we got to spend a little time hanging out with everyone that was there for P-Day, which was pretty nice, because I got to see a few people I love serving on the Arkansas side, like Sister A, Sister F, and Elder W. W then told me he was coming to the Tennessee side, which I was excited about, but all my other little friends are staying on the Arkansas side.

Then we had to travel to Conway, AR, which is about an hour outside of Little Rock. We spent the night with the STLs serving in Conway, and it was really fun. We burned tea bags and tights. The tea bags because it’s fun, and the tights because Sister F was staying with them and she hit her six months mark. We also got to email on Tuesday, because all our traveling Monday prevented us from having time that day.

Wednesday we traveled back to Memphis in the transfer van with all the brand new missionaries and the AP’s. When we drove through Orange Mound, the AP’s & I were sure to tell the greenies plenty of stories about missionaries being held up at gun point and being robbed, mugged, etc. Every single one of them was from Utah, Idaho, or Arizona, so their eyes got bigger and bigger with fear as we talked. I thought it was hilarious; Sister M thought it was mean, haha. Then we passed Bellevue Baptist, a HUGE Baptist church in the area, and we were sure to tell them horror stories about their extensive anti-Mormon literature library.

Transfer meeting was a huge party, like always. The highlights were definitely sisters being put in Dyersburg and Millington, so our zone went from only two companionships of sisters when I first came out, to now SIX companionships of sisters! It’s so awesome. It was also pretty funny to watch 6’6 Elder M walk up to greet his trainee and realize he was taller than him. Elder T at 6’7. They are both giant and I am pretty sure they both weigh less than me, haha. (Especially now that I have been in the south being fed by southern people!!)

Finally getting back to Lakeland Wednesday evening was THE BEST. It seriously felt just like coming home. I adore this area, and I will love these people until I die. I absolutely loved Dyersburg, and I had a wonderful time there, but I know The Lord needs me here. After S quit smoking and set her baptismal date, someone asked me if I was now sad that I was leaving Dyersburg since she wouldn’t count as “my” baptism. I thought about that for a while, because I was certainly upset to be leaving Dyersburg. I love the people there, but I realize that I was sad well before S set her date, and that really has nothing to do with it. It doesn’t matter who baptizes S, she has gained a testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ; she knows where she came from, why she is here, and where she is going. She has felt the hand of God leading her home, and she knows her Savior lives. And the fact that I had a part in that, no matter how small, is more of a blessing than I could ever ask for.

I also have such a testimony of my divine purpose here in Lakeland. It may seem like there is a lot more work on the horizon in Dyersburg, but I have felt the Spirit testify to me that there are people here who need me. I don’t know who all of them are yet, but I can’t wait to meet them.

Once in Lakeland we met up with J and her mom. Her mom has recently put up some resistance to J getting baptized, so we have had to push her date back. We sat down with her mom and addressed concerns. She wants J to wait six months, because she wants J to be sure. She also wants to research the church and know what her daughter is becoming a part of. We are totally down with research, so we happily gave her a Book of Mormon, a Restoration pamphlet, and a card with Mormon.org and lds.org, listed on the back. She happily took them. Hopefully this leads to a new investigator! I mean I am willing to bet on The Book of Mormon.

We also had the opportunity to attend Women’s Conference and it was AMAZING. The talks given, each held something powerful and personal that I needed to hear. I especially loved Sister R and Sister M’s talks. I loved their tender talk of the Savior, and of the divine importance of the work of salvation. I especially loved the focus on families, their divine purpose and their central place in the plan of happiness. I am so thankful for families. For the one I have now, for the people I know who have become my family, for my mission family, and for my future family.

Saturday we helped Sister W in her yard, and I went a little too hard on the weeding, I ended up rubbing one side of my finger totally raw, with gloves on!! It was worth it to be able to help out Sister W though, I really love that woman.

Sunday we had J at church, as well as a woman named E that came with The J family. She stayed for all three hours and we were able to set up a return appointment to teach her in the J’s home! Overall it was an amazing week. Part of being a missionary is enduring hard times in order to receive great blessings. In her talk during Women’s Conference this weekend Sister Reeves described a moment, far in the future for each of us, when we will have the opportunity to look back on our lives in the presence of our Father, fully aware of the many eternal blessings we have received for our righteousness, and turn to Him with tears in our eyes, and say “Was that all that was required?” As I have served these past 5 months I have had what I consider a type of this moment over and over again while writing these letters. Each Monday I have the opportunity to look back on the week past, realizing the many blessings I received. I can’t help but look at the hard moments and ask: “Was that all that was required?” I love this gospel so much. I am so thankful for the opportunity that I have to be a missionary. I honestly can’t believe how quickly the time is going, and I love you all.

Sister Hannah Kathryn Thomas

ARLM

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WEEK TWENTY: A LITERAL ROLLERCOASTER OF EMOTIONS

Dear Friends and Family,

Okay, so this week was crazy, and I feel like I am not even sure how to write this letter, but I will give it a shot!

So I feel like maybe I just need to organize it into people? That might be the easiest way to play this. So this week we continued to work a lot with Sister A, S, and with S & D.

We had a lunch with Sister A, which was super productive and helpful. We were able to work through a lot of her issues, fears, and doubts concerning the Temple, and we talked a lot about how she can get back there. She enjoyed the lunch and agrees that she needs to be back in the Temple. It has been really great to see her progress. Thankfully as well, a new family moved into the branch, and Sister A immediately made friends with Sister B, who is super active and encouraging towards Sister A! We drove to the Stake Relief Society Activity this weekend in Bartlett with Sister A & Sister B. Sister B told her reactivation story, and Sister A really connected with it. And then at least half of the activity was about the Temple! It was amazing. She also came to church Sunday again, and stayed all three hours and came into Relief Society this time instead of staying with the kids in Primary. She was really upset when she found out we were leaving, but ultimately I think she will be okay. She knows what she needs to do, and the branch has done a good job embracing her.

S & D this week had us over to eat three times. One of the times S asked me to recite The Living Christ and D LOVED it. We finally really broke through his issues with the word of wisdom, and hopefully he will be baptized as soon as he can quit smoking! D started referring to us as their adopted daughters, so he was also really upset to find out we were leaving. He asked for President’s number to let him know of his complaints, haha!

But the real miracle of this week was most definitely S. We have been meeting with her quite a bit, and one day we decided to watch Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration with her, and she really, really, loved it. She saved the web page so she could watch it again! Then she came to the Relief Society activity on Saturday, and obviously had a lot of questions about the Temple. Thankfully there was a designated Q&A session concerning the Temple with the temple president and his wife! S got to ask all of her questions and received super awesome answers. She hung out with all the ladies in the branch who were at the activity and loved it, and they loved her! The next Sunday after sacrament meeting, I felt really prompted to go up and talk to her about baptism. I walked up, briefly addressed the subject, and then she goes “Oh no, I have already decided to be a Mormon!” She then showed me her notebook, where she had written down seven questions the night before. FIVE of them had been answered in that one sacrament meeting!! She also told me at that point that she hadn’t smoked a cigarette in two days!! I burst into tears and so did she, and so did this really recent RM who just got home from his mission to Canada. It was so special, and probably kind of hilarious to anyone standing around us! Hahaha

S set her baptismal date for October 17th, and she asked Elder B to baptize her. When we called Elder B to tell him, he freaked out as well! She told us later that her whole life she has known what she wanted, but has never been able to find it, so she has spent years settling for less. Now she has found what she was looking for all these years.

I am not sure what I have done to be worthy of such unbelievable miracles, but the past two weeks in Dyersburg were astonishingly spiritual and special. I have such a powerful testimony of revelation, and of God’s divine hand in this work. I am so upset to be leaving Dyersburg, but so excited to be returning to Lakeland, I know now of a surety that wherever I am, is where God wants me to be.

I love you all so much, thank you for everything.

Love,

Sister Hannah Kathryn Thomas

ARLM

Here is a picture of me cleaning a member’s stove hood! I started out with doing her dishes, and then I ended up here…

Cleaning a Stove Hood

WEEK NINETEEN: THE PYRAMID, TORRENTIAL DOWNPOUR, DYERSBURG, AND THE BEST DANG COOKIN YOU EVER DID EAT!

Dear Friends and Family,

Okay, a couple of weeks ago I titled my email “Craziest of Crazy Weeks,” well that was only because I had not lived this week yet. But since I had already used the title, I figured I couldn’t repeat, so I used this one instead. Seriously though, this week has been a BLAST!!

It started off with a trip to the Bass Pro Shop Pyramid in downtown Memphis. In case y’all don’t know what that is, it’s pretty much the most redneck thing that ever happened. So however many years ago they built this HUGE Pyramid shaped arena thinking that the Memphis Grizzlies would use it as a stadium, but for whatever reason the Grizzlies didn’t end up using it, so it has been sitting empty for years. Well then Bass Pro decided to buy it and turn it into the world’s largest Bass Pro Shop, and it is hilarious/wonderful. They have an elevator shaft right down the middle that goes all the way to the top of the Pyramid, where they have a restaurant and a big (glass!) observation deck. The view of Memphis from up there is really beautiful, and even though I was pretty terrified, I was glad I went up!

Tuesday we spent the day saying our goodbyes in Lakeland. We had lunch with SB, my BFF 4 Lyfe, and spent time with J, Sister G, Sister W, etc. it was a good day, but really, really sad.

Wednesday we had Specialized Training as a zone in Frayser (aka second sketchiest neighborhood in Memphis, second only to Orange Mound) and it was SO great. We focused on teaching more simply and powerfully. It built on our Zone Meeting instruction from last week about teaching the restoration in 7 minutes. We then were shipped out in randomly assigned companionships throughout the Frayser area to street contact with our newly learned skills. I went out with Sister N, one of the Bartlett ASL sisters, and we stopped by the home of some members in the Memphis 1st Ward. We ended up figuring out that only one of them is active and stayed there to teach them the restoration! At the end of the brief lesson we had three less active members committed to coming to church Sunday and one of them who has a young child, asked if she could get her baby blessed! It was pretty amazing, seriously. There is power in simplified and improved teaching, and I am so thankful for consistent, inspired instruction from mission leaders. Specialized was one last hurrah with my Bartlett buddies since in all likelihood Sister B & Elder M are both getting transferred next week. I like those weirdos. Also, it was POURING RAIN towards the end of specialized and Sister N and I had to run out and get some things out of our car during the torrential downpour. We were seriously soaked!!

After Specialized we had quarterly interviews with President W, and I am so thankful to be led by such a kind, spiritual man. After interviews it was time for the big switch, and we headed to Dyersburg. Since we were taking over an Elder’s apartment, President let the Bartlett sisters come up with us to spend the night and clean the apartment. I was really thankful for the extra time with Sister B, she is my #1 favorite.

That night we met the branch president and got some more info about the area. The town of Dyersburg is home to about 17,000 people, and there are about 25 active members of the branch. Branch life has blown my mind. I have never been exposed to such a small congregation, but I could not have asked for a better group of people to serve amongst. The people here are so dedicated to the gospel. They have to be in order to stay strong when there are so few. The member support of missionaries is ASTONISHING! We literally have been forced to tell people no on dinner appointments, because our calendar is full! There have been nights where three different people have wanted to feed us!

Here are some specifics on people I KNOW we were sent here to teach. So the first is a less active lady named N, who has been out of the church for about 4 years now. She has two kids and a husband who is an RM, but is also totally inactive. She has been to the temple, but has really struggled a lot with her faith these last 4 years. We texted her Wednesday night and asked if we could come see her Thursday. She was excited and invited us over Thursday evening. When we got there we found out she used to be super active, and even went out with the sisters regularly at one point while living in California. There were several times during the visit when she burst into tears, overjoyed at the fact that we had been sent to her. We set up a family home evening with her for the next night and it went super well. We committed her and both her children to come to church on Sunday and offered to come over and help them, get ready Sunday morning. When we got to the house Sunday morning they were ready and walking out the door! They didn’t even need our help! N stayed for all three hours of church for the first time in 4 years. It was amazing. At the end of the 3 hour block she asked if she could receive a priesthood blessing. The branch presidency performed the blessing and she cried all the way through it. That night she had us over for dinner and told us she had written and sent a letter to President W thanking him for sending sisters to Dyersburg! Seriously, what a miracle.

The next person is a woman named S. She is from New Orleans, and has only been in Dyersburg about 2 months. She has been talking to missionaries on and off for about 3 years, but the missionaries here found her on accident while looking for someone else! It is a really cool story. We have been able to meet with her a lot since we have been here and she came to church with us on Sunday! She also plans on attending the Stake Relief Society activity this Saturday in Bartlett.

Finally there is the J family. She and her 14 year old daughter are recently reactivated members, but her husband D is an investigator. He is very interested though, and LOVES us Sister Missionaries. We have taught him twice already and he has been happy and engaged both times. They also feed us LIKE CRAZY. We’ve had pork chops with mashed potatoes and gravy, beans, and peas, Red Beans and Rice, Gumbo, and Rice with Red Gravy, etc., just since we have been here! They also love to send us home with food for the apartment since, and I quote: “Elders don’t know how to grocery shop!” It has been so much fun getting to know the people here, I really do believe in miracles, and I have seen them this week. Thanks to each of you for your support.
Love,

Sister Hannah Kathryn Thomas

ALRM

Hannah in Memphis

Hannah and her comp. with the Bartlett Sisters in Memphis on p-day.

Bass Pro Shop

Bass Pro Shop in Memphis

Tennessee Has Changed Me

Tennessee has changed me! (C from New Orleans gave me the beads)

WEEK EIGHTEEN – GONE, HOME AND FIXIN’ TO BE GONE AGAIN

Dear Friends and Family,

So this week started out in Conway, Arkansas. We were there because Sister M had an appointment. We stayed with the Conway sisters and spent most of our time there on splits with them. While on the one hand it was really fun to see a different part of the mission, I found it really stressful to be out of my area for so long, and wanted to be back with my investigators and members. I got the chance to meet and teach some really cool investigators though!

The first one was a lady named M, she is a single mom and a college student there at University of Central Arkansas. The sisters had met with her twice before, and she had really enjoyed both lessons, but her daughter is only a year old and can be a big distraction during lessons. Thankfully, when we got there the baby was enamored with my hair (I’m glad I was wearing it down!) and was happy to sit quietly and play with it the entire lesson! Thankfully, also, I am not at all tender headed, haha. We taught M The Restoration and I felt prompted to invite her to baptism. She accepted the invitation and was excited! I was relieved because I was a little worried since it isn’t my area and I don’t really know her, but The Spirit is always right!

The other really cool person I had the chance to meet was a woman named L M. She is a convert and a recently returning member. We spent about an hour over at her house, just trying to uplift and help her if we could. She has such a sweet spirit and has really been dealt some rough cards in life. I really enjoyed talking with her though, and we exchanged email addresses, because she really wanted me to keep in touch.

Wednesday we attended the North Little Rock Zone Meeting, and it was really great. We learned about simplifying and intensifying our teaching, and role played teaching The Restoration in 7 minutes. It was really intense, and a little uncomfortable at first, but the idea of being able to teach the entire first lesson on a door approach is pretty cool. After zone meeting we traveled back to Memphis with the office elders and the new Bartlett American Sign Language (ASL) sisters. It was a way fun trip, and even though I was hecka tired I didn’t sleep the whole 3 1/2 hour drive. I will include a video of us crossing the bridge into Tennessee. I’m not sure any of you will be interested, but I’ve already gone full missionary weird and I like it. (sorry can’t post it to this blog unfortunately!) Side note-if any of y’all are ever in need of music that fits the awkward parameters of both super hipster and gospel related, check out Lower Lights, I am kind of obsessed with them. Props to Elder W for introducing me.

Once we got into town we spent the rest of the night helping the ASL Sisters open their apartment. It’s like a frickin’ mansion dude!! It’s the nicest missionary apartment ever. I was super bitter, but it’s on the third floor so I will get my revenge when they have to walk down three flights of outdoor steps following the first ice storm. Haha! It was super fun to set up their apartment though, I really love being able to help other missionaries.

Sister B & I also had a dramatic reunion. I told her I really feel like I need to go to BYU-Idaho when I get off my mission and she yelled and signaled a touchdown, because, in case you haven’t guessed, she is going there post mission. We have pretty much planned out our entire lives post mission. She has a cousin she would really like me to marry…but we will see about that.

Once settled back in Lakeland though we spent a lot of time preparing to leave the area this Wednesday by preparing our investigators and the members we are working with for the change. It was really sad to have to tell people we are leaving, but kind of comforting that they are actually sad we won’t be around anymore! I can’t help but worry about leaving Lakeland. I know that transfers are a reality of the mission, but I was not expecting/prepared to leave in the middle of a transfer. Having to tell Sister W, J, The N family, SB, etc. was really hard. Man, loving people makes life hard (and awesome)!

On the bright side J is doing AMAZING, she goes to Mutual, Book of Mormon Class, she comes to dinner appointments with us, and LOVED testimony meeting this Sunday! She is progressing so well, and you can literally see the change taking place in her countenance as the gospel becomes a bigger part of her life. I am so thankful to have been part of such a miracle, and I can’t wait to see everything that she accomplishes. She has even been asking us tons of questions about how she can become a missionary!!

I feel like this email hasn’t been as spiritual as it usually is, so I am going to share some of my favorite discoveries during studies this week.

“I Testify that bad days come to an end, that faith always triumphs, and that heavenly promises are always kept.”

-Jeffrey R. Holland

“You must get on your knees and plead with The Lord for help and strength and direction. You must then stand on your feet and move forward.”

-Gordon B. Hinckley

“The Kingdom of God or nothing!”

-Ruth May Fox

“Welcome the task that makes you go beyond yourself, and you will grow!” 

-Julie B. Beck

“True love blooms when we care more about another person than we care about ourselves”

-Jeffery R. Holland

I love you all! Thank you for your prayers and support, I can literally feel them lifting me higher.

Love,

Sister Hannah Kathryn Thomas

ARLM

The Sisters in Conway

Staying with the Conway sisters.

Opening the apartment for the ASL sisters

Getting the ASL sister’s apt ready for them with

Elder W, Elder A, and Elder H.