Monday, May 27, 2013

The importance of questions????

                                      This is the last picture with President & Sister Thompson.

Dear everyone,

Elder Arrington and I had the sad realization that we're starting to
run short on p-days.  As someone said today:  "You have one month,
nothing more, nothing less."  I've come to terms with that.  I'm
content with my one month--so long as I keep on working.  I'm going
home on a stretcher.  There are blessings to be given, lives to touch,
and people to love.  While I'm still here and still called to do it, I
won't rest.  I can sleep on the plane.

This week was great!  Augusto got the Melchizedek Priesthood, was
called to be the Executive Secretary of our branch, will baptize his
wife in the coming week, and is working hard with his kids, friends,
and neighborhood.  He's on fire!

We found many new investigators this week and they're so much fun.
We're teaching so many men!  And they're coming to church.  It's an
awesome feeling to greet so many potential leaders for our potential
stake every Sunday as they come to church and feel the Spirit of the
special meetings we hold.  Church is a miracle.

We taught like wild last week.  We went over our numbers and realized
that even with a lot of unplanned disturbances, exchanges, interviews,
etc. we were able to meet 6 new people and teach 24 lessons.  I'm not
really a numbers guy, but it's nice to see in some small measure what
I did during any given week.

I didn't stay sick last week which was a huge blessing.  I was feeling
much better when I woke up on Tuesday morning and we went to work.  We
sent off the Thompsons and had a trunky moment as Elder Arrington and
I realized that we were the next to go.  We ran from that thought as
quickly as our mental legs would carry us.

Today we went to an Art Fair in Benfica and we got some really cool
stuff.  I think you'll all like it.  =)  Haggling has become more fun.

The importance of questions has been on my mind lately.  I think that
we downplay our questions sometimes and don't seek answers.  If we
don't ever ask, how are we to know anything?  In this Gospel, there's
an answer for just about everything.  Admittedly, sometimes the answer
is "we don't know" and that's okay--we can rely on what we do know and
have faith that the answer to such questions will come one day.
Really, with more time and maturity in the Gospel I believe that many
such questions will resolve themselves in us.  So, all that being
said, it's not a bad thing to ask questions or to have doubts!
Abraham and Moses knew that God had all knowledge and exercised their
faith by asking Him for answers which they then received.  Nephi had
questions.  The Brother of Jared had questions.  They are very
different than Laman, Lemuel, Corianton, or a plethora of others who
also had questions and were nearly rebuked for so having.  Why?  The
former had questions coupled with the faith to receive answers.  They
weren't seeking signs or trying to prove God or trying to satisfy some
selfish urge.  They weren't seeking to justify some sin.  They knew
God that God knew and they desired to also know.  I think that we
should be this way as we pray and study our scriptures.  Questions and
doubts can lead to greater knowledge if coupled with the belief and
faith necessary to find the answers.  Never let your doubts, however,
overcome your faith.  Question your doubts before questioning your
knowledge of the truth--they disappear much more quickly than the
eternal truths that you've learned and that ring truer than mere
logic.  Just a little thought I've been having this week that I wanted
to share with you all.

I love my mission.  I wouldn't trade this time for anything.  I didn't
sacrifice a thing to be here.  The gain is too great to say that I
had.  The Lord is incredibly good to us.  My life has been touched in
a way I didn't know possible and has been changed both for the better
and for good.  I wish I could put all that I feel onto this page right
now in order to thank my Father for this service, but I'm incapable of
that.  I love my mission.  I'll think about it every day when it's
over.  I'll take lessons from it for the rest of my life.  I recommend
a mission to all who are considering one.  It's hard, but you grow.
It's shorter than you think.  It'll change you and you need it.  At
least, I did.  I do.

I love you guys.

Elder Eckman

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Plan of Salvation realization!!!!

Dear Everyone,
I'm not really very good at writing greetings, I think.  =)
This week was great.  A... got the Priesthood, he'll soon get the calling of Assistant Branch Mission Leader, and has referred many great people to us.  He's doing so well.  His wife, C..., will be baptized on the 1st.  Their kids will follow soon, I think.  They have both grown so much and I'm very proud of them.
I'm currently sick with something.  I was up half the night throwing up and I have little to no energy.  I'll be fine soon, though.  =)  It's a mission first for me.  Elder Stewart is very understanding.
I had a cool realization about The Plan of Salvation today:  Sin is not a part of our natures nor a true measure of who we are or what we're worth.  Sin is a bit like a parasite.  It's got nothing to do with our true natures or characters.  It's extraneous to our true selves.  I think repentance probably has a lot more to do with remembering who we are and we once stood for--the cause of the Savior of mankind.  Once, we dwelt with the Father of all and learned at His knee.  Now, we are separated from Him for a wise purpose.  So, as we trim the fat, conquer the diseases, parasites, and passengers that we've picked up along the way, we'll grow beyond where we were in the pre-existence.  It's sort of beautiful that as we remember our true home and live according to its laws we will return there.  The more we become accustomed to this stranger's world, the less capable we become of returning to our Heavenly home.  Remember to remember and the rest becomes simple enough.  We should truly become as children and follow Christ in His way.  That's all He really asks.  Just...  Be what we've been and remember where we came from.
I love you all.  Sorry for the shortness of this letter.  I don't feel very well.
Elder Eckman

Monday, May 13, 2013

"sprint to the finish", I'm finishing strong and I'm seeing the blessings!!!!

Dear Everyone,
This week we officially send off the last group to leave before Elder Arrington, Elder Harper, Elder Perry, Elder Richter, and I leave.  Goodbye Elder Rainbolt and Elder Walker!  They're having a dinner tomorrow night and, due to the Thompson's departure on the 22nd, we're all attending it together, having our exit interviews with President Thompson, having a testimony meeting, etc.  Elder Arrington facetiously calls it our "funeral" and I find it curious that we're attending our own funeral.  Still, I suppose that we're "dying" in about a month and a half and it's all in good fun to make the jokes.  I feel for Elder Stewart and Elder Merkley--it's probably not easy to see 2 of the missionaries that you live with go home.  I've been told that it's surreal, at least.  For their sakes, I hope not.
It was weird to talk with the family yesterday.  I just didn't have much to talk about.  That, added onto the ever-increasing reality that I'm going home soon made it just a bit strange.  It was nice to see you all, at least.  =)
We had 11 investigators in church and are seeing some awesome progress in our area.  Between the 3 companionships in Cassequel, we had 25 investigators in church!  What a cool blessing to the branch.
Life here is running faster than I might wish, but I'm trying to take some wise advice I recently received and "sprint to the finish".  I'm finishing strong and I'm seeing the blessings.  I sure love being a full-time servant of the Lord and I hope for the opportunity to do it again someday.  I'll have to plan a mission with my wife.  I hope she's interested in Africa--I certainly am.
Elder Harper reminded me that he, Elder Arrington, and I are the only Elders who served in Angola from beginning to end without it becoming a mission.  We are the poster boys of the mission that never was.  I liked that.
I don't really have all that much to share.  All is well!  The folks we're teaching are taking real steps and making real progress.  The church is still true.  The people here are still teaching me so much.  Being a missionary is still pure joy.  I love my life and I love the gospel.  Thanks so much for sharing these experiences and this belief with me.  It's made my life.  I don't buy into the "best 2 years" ideal of a mission--it's a great chapter and I know that there will be even better--but I do believe in what a mission does for a life.  It just might be the best therapy, boot camp, training field, or what have you for the rest of forever.  I don't think I'll pass many--or any--mortal days without thinking for a moment or two on what I've done here in Angola.  I have so much to learn still.  I feel very strongly that I now have the tools to learn it.  Thanks for this Mom and Dad.  You're indispensable in this process.
I love you all and I wish you happy days.
Elder Eckman

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"the mission that never was"

Dear everyone (and everyone else),
Hey!  This last week was a little uneventful due to an outbreak of Dengue Fever (we think) in my companion.  He was down for about 4 days.  Or, rather, he should have been--we went out to work one of the days and he got really sick.  But that's all in the past and he's doing just fine as of Sunday.  It just so happened (really!) that we had 2 exchanges planned last week, so I was still able to go out and do some things with other elders in their areas.  That was fun and I learned much as I walked with Elder Mariquele and Elder Montgomery.
We didn't, sadly, have any baptisms on Saturday.  We're hoping to see them on the 18th, but it's up to the agency of the folks involved and the dedication they put into growing a deeper testimony of The Book of Mormon.  They have the desire to be baptized, but we're not in a hurry to commit them to such great covenants when their testimonies of the most basic--and important--parts of the Gospel are still fledgling.  We felt better about putting it off.
We saw a miracle today--American food.  =)  We bought Kraft Mac and Cheese, Apple Jacks, Gatorade, Quaker Oatmeal, and other, less healthy food items.  It was a good shopping day.  Elder Arrington and I thought it was kind of sad how excited we got to see all of that stuff.
I don't know if I've ever mentioned it, but Elder Arrington and I are living together, going home together, came in to the MTC together, and probably have a million other commonalities.  I love that kid.  Also, due to the fact that we live literally across the street from the airport, we're going to walk there with our luggage when the day comes.  It'll be pretty sweet, we think.
That brings me to some sad--but strangely fitting--news:  The Thompsons will be leaving on the 22nd of May!  We'll be without a Mission President until the 29th of June.  So...  Yeah.  It's a perfect end to "the mission that never was" for all of us who are leaving on the 27th.  We officially become a mission on the 1st of July.  We all thought that it was just...  Right.  Right that we all left just before Angola became fully independent.  We're very content with it.
On May 12th, I'll Skype home.  Mom, I'll be calling at about 8 in the morning your time (15h00 here in Angola).  I hope that works!
I learned such a cool lesson this last week about the Natural Man.  Elder Jeffrey R. Holland made a really powerful statement in which he explained that we are not Calvinists--that is, we don't believe that man is inherently evil.  He said that the Natural Man is more like a natural resource.  It's more like a river.  When a river is left to itself and not controlled it just kind of flows.  Worst case scenario, it becomes troublesome, dangerous, etc.  But, when directed or subjugated it becomes a great help and a benefit to all around it.  When we dam up the right parts and encourage the flow in other parts, it becomes a powerful force for good.  That's how we are!  =)  We need not look on ourselves as evil or terrible or what have you.  We needn't be so hard on ourselves.  We're simply here to direct the river and turn it into something useful, practical, and good.  I really liked that idea.
I feel so blessed to be here in Angola doing exactly what I'm doing with the people I'm doing it with.  I love this work and these folks.  I love the Lord and the slow but steadily growing relationship that I've allowed Him to build with me.  I've never felt more at home--and I'm a few thousand miles away, I think.  But, I suppose I'm really not--I'm at home in Angola.  I'll be a bit homesick when the time comes to wake up from this dream.
I love you all.  =)

Elder Eckman