Monday, September 30, 2013

September 30: Santa's COMING TO TOWN

Hey, cuties! I hope you are having the best week. :) The leaves are starting to turn, and my cute ghetto area, which we lovingly call Africa, is looking a lot more like the woods of Lorien. Spring of 1820 status. Lord of the Rings jokes! Restoration jokes! Aw, yeah. I love this place! MOM, I'm a woodsman!

Today is transfer calls, and Sister C and I are together one more transfer! Get to finish her training. Giddy on up! But also,after personal study today, I checked the phone and we had four missed calls from the office, and a text from the assistants chastising us for not answering our phone. My GASH. Honest to goodness, I thought one of you DIED. Called back, sat on hold for ten minutes, and President got on the line and blew my socks off by saying that I'm now a Sister Training Leader for the zone. ...... I was like... So wrong number, or...? Is there another Sister Ballif? Anyway. After feeling reaaaaally humbled and majorly inadequate, I felt so excited to be able to go on exchange with all the different sisters, get to know them and learn with them. Honestly, if there's anything I've learned from training, it's just that if I can be obedient and offer pure and honest love, the rest is the Lord's job. And all these sisters are pretty easy to love. I want with all my heart to help them be happy and successful mish-canaries. :) I know all their light will help me to do the same! They'rreeeeeeGREAT! (Tony the Tiger FIST PUMP.)

SO, moving on! Brother B's baptism. I absolutely loved it. We bought him a tie, since they can't afford one right now, and the bishop bought him a white shirt. He walked in, I gave him a thumbs up, and said, "General authority status." Hahaha. (It's so much funnier if you know his laugh. It's like a machine-gun.) He also called when he was late and tried to freak us by saying us he changed his mind. Really, he forgot something at his house and had to run grab it on the way. Pure sass. I LOVE him. 

His baptism was amazing. It was incredible because he knew what it meant, just exactly what that baptismal covenant requires and promises. And he is so ready and willing to live it. It has been an absolute privilege to meet with him for the past 12 weeks, to learn and to grow together. Honestly, 80 percent of the time, he is teaching me. I have no idea how we got so lucky to be a part of his conversion. His relationship with the Lord and with our Savior Jesus Christ has grown exponentially. Three things about the morning really stick out to me. One, is how well-attended it was. As a part-member, non-active family, they have received so many visits in the last 20 years from various members of the ward, and never once did any of those members see that the visits were helping or meaningful. But at his baptism, as he stood and bore his testimony, he talked about each one. About how they had impressed him, or affected him, even years after the fact. We truly don't realize the impact of following those promptings, even when we don't immediately see or understand that there is a positive effect. 

Two, his whole family came. They are all non-members besides his wife. They started the baptism with arms crossed, all dressed in black. None would smile for pictures, and all felt extremely uncomfortable. Throughout the service, each visibly softened, breaking into huge, uninvited smiles, getting misty-eyed, singing along and sharing hymn books. The Spirit was so strong, and I was so grateful they were able to share that experience as a family. This gospel is all about that family love. Mm. :) My heart was so full. FEELIN' it.

Three, Brother B has incredibly kind eyes. He has always had the light of Christ in his person. But when he came out of the water, and especially as we sat in our lesson Sunday night after he'd received the Holy Ghost, I was taken aback at the visible glow he had. There was a constant, subconscious smile at his lips. His eyes were bright and clear, and so full of understanding and love. AH. I can't really describe it, but tangibly seeing the conversion to the gospel in someone's person over time is seriously the most beautiful thing in the world.

Other great things about this week:

-Finally got to the temple!!!! It is such a tangible lift. So much peace. I love that tiny temple. I loved the new video. Also, I love the gift of personal revelation. And old people in the temple. I never wanna SEE a session without a funny little duffer there to make it even better. Sweethearts.

-The Relief Society Broadcast was amazing! We had a big stake-wide dinner at the church and watched it in the chapel. I love our prophet. But also, our table was all African ladies with do-rags and loud jokes and I felt so much love for the different people and cultures in this gospel and this area. As a side note, one tried to force a second helping of soup on me. She all slaps my thigh. "Le' me tell you a secre' fo' afte' y'mission. A real man LIKE a fuller woma'." Hahahaahahaha. THANKSsss.

-We taught someone named I this week. I love him. He's Russian, and in the army. Answered the door shirtless and flexing. I gave him a stank-face and he grabbed some clothes and quit being creepy. Mama don't play those games.

As we talked... I mean, I literally don't know how else to say it, but I knew things about him. It was so weird. And the knowledge didn't come from anything he said or anything I saw, but it came from the free-flowing love I felt for him. Not in like a, take-me-home-to-Russia-and-make-me-a-babushka kind of love, but like I truly saw him as my brother. As the lesson continued, Sister C had incredible insights, and we were connecting with him and his pains in a crazy way. There are some things that the people we meet can't express, or won't language. But when we have the Holy Ghost and allow it to work, we can see miracles and help people so much more. I'm so grateful for that.

It reminds me of the testimony a woman from Zambia bore on Sunday. She talked about how in Africa, people sing while they work. She said the African people do this so that when they work, they're not just working with their body, but with their Spirit. She then related it to the gospel. How when we go about God's work, we shouldn't just go through the motions to fulfill our callings, to do it just because it's the right thing to do. We should "sing" while we work. 

We should engage our Spirits, we should bring an open heart and a loving soul, to connect with others. I know that to be happy and to truly be an instrument for God, that's exactly what we have to do. Wherever we are. Knocking doors, teaching lessons, in every day occupations, God needs us to "sing." To be present with our Spirits and to give our whole souls. That is when the miracles happen. :) I love this gospel and I'm so grateful for my mission, and for another transfer with my cutie-pants companion.

This time means everything to me, and so do all of you! Go crunch some leaves, make some days, and getouuuuuuuuuttttTTTAAAheeeeeeeeeere. 

I love you!

September 23: Crazytown

This week was WILD. I feel like I didn't sit down or think straight once. It was the most random, exhausting week. But SUCH a good one! So it goes in missionary work. :)

So... in keeping with the week, this email will probably be pretty random and exhausted. Will it be a good one? Ehhhhh. You be the judge, America. 

So. This week:

Brother B (the man I talked about last week, whose wife is a member who just came into activity) passed his interview, and is all set for baptism this Saturday. We attended the baptism of B, a Liberian woman the senior couple is teaching, and he was glowing the whole time. Eyes all-a-glow. 

But really? He's the most amazing, Christlike man in the world. His whole life he has been working to bring those around him closer to happiness, and once he read the Book of Mormon, he was able to realize that that happiness he's been inviting everyone to have, and that he himself was seeking - is Jesus Christ. I love that as missionaries, when you meet someone, you never meet them at absolute square one. Even an atheist, or someone who has never heard of God. They're in the middle on the path to God, and you just get to walk with them for a while, and point out things along the path that maybe they didn't quite see. 

That's been such a happy thing with Brother B this week. As he has reflected on the past 50 years of his life, he is now looking with eyes that have seen the truthfulness of the gospel. It's like 3-D glasses, in perspective. So many instances when the Lord walked with him or provided for him, he now has the understanding to see. 

My gash. It's SO amazing to see the change in someone as they accept the gospel. Their family is still struggling with various things, illness and finance and handicaps. But now they are living the gospel. And that alone is greater than any opposition. I love that. 

HALSO. As we were out tracting this week, we hit an hour where we weren't seeing much success. Just a solid nothing. We were tracting Spookytown - the affectionate nickname we've given to an apartment complex where we get "hey mama"ed and "go shawty"ed more than I'd like to admit. Hahaha. We felt we weren't being productive where we were, so we pulled off in a corner of the hall and said a prayer. We kept feeling we should knock just one more door. (That hadn't worked for the last 8, but we DID.) The woman living there looked at our tags and invited us in as soon as we said our names. We talked with her for almost an hour, about losing 7 of her 12 siblings to drugs, about her love of the Lord, about the restoration of Jesus Christ's gospel. When we were done, she got on her phone, calling all those in her building and in neighboring buildings to recommend meeting with us. They were dubious at first, but she emphatically encouraged them. Like. EM. PHat. ICALLY. Hahaha. She's the sassiest black woman ever.  We were able to teach her friend K right after. K asked for a card and pamphlet to share with her brother. Such a great miracle. :)

We have seen so many miracles, met so many cutie families, and felt the Spirit so strongly this week. I wish I had time for more specifics, but may I just say, I love this work. I love that I get to wake up every day, all day, and focus on other people. God lives and loves us. Jesus Christ is our Savior. And no matter what happens, when we know that, all is well. :)

Have such a good one!

September 16: What a week

This week, has been absolutely hilarious. There is nothing more fun than being a missionary. (I know people at home are cringing reading this. Like, all right. She's lost it. She's one of THOSE now.) 

But listen to THIS. It's true. This week, we:

-Became regulars at a diner that serves breakfast all day. (It's in North Minne by all our unemployed less-actives. Breakfast for lunch? Don't mind if I always do.) 

-Celebrated Mexico's Independence Day. (Have you ever taught a lesson in broken Spanish to a room where you can hear a pin drop, while flies buzz, tortillas steam, and dogs bark and bump the table? 1 out of 2 English speaking missionaries HIGHLY recommend.)

-Got the devil cast out of me. Nope, this is all real. We were in North Minne, and as we're driving away from our less-active stop-by, Sister C says, "WAIT! Look at that blue house! It's so stinking cute!" And by rights, it was. status, straight-up. I didn't really feel prompted, but I respect her wisdom, so I was like, "Let's do it!" 

Cue the meanest old man who ever lived. (But really, he wasn't that old. But he was really mean.) He looked at my name-tag, saw the name of our church, and started spewing HATE at 100 miles an hour. I kept smiling and let him go on for a minute before asking him some questions, but Sister C's jaw hit the FLOOR. Bless her soul. She's been talking to friendly, humble, hilarious Africans for the past four weeks. The white, middle-class Lutheran is a whole other breed of cat. We talk a little, and I keep smiling and bearing my testimony, and correcting his assumptions/clarifying his concerns. He's gettin' NOwhere with me, so he turns to Sister C, and is like, "Sister C, I can tell you're doubting your faith... you can still get out."

Awwww, HECK no! The mama-bear within came out fighting! Get up off my trainee! I said a quick prayer, kept smiling, and I'm like, "Actually, Sister C has an amazing knowledge and personal testimony of God and Jesus Christ. She's just pretty new on her mission, and I don't think she's ever encountered anyone so angry." He started waving his hands wildly about "ERRANT BELIEFSSSS" and I just kept smiling, lowered my voice so he'd have to stop the angerrrr to listen. I'm like, "You sound like you have a great knowledge of the Bible." He loved that. I go on, "Jesus Christ encountered many who didn't share his beliefs. How did He treat them?" ...He gets all quiet and awkward. Then he's like, "I guess you're right. I guess if I want to follow my Lord Jesus, I need to know that I'm not angry at your flesh, I'm angry at your SPIRIT." Proceeds to place the palm of his hand on both our foreheads and say a prayer so mean I'm surprised he didn't get struck by lightning. Tried to cast the devil RIGHT outta me. Prayed I'd be released from Hell's grip. All of that good stuff.

I just kept smiling and when he was done, I asked if we could leave him with a prayer. I prayed about all the good things we had noticed about him, and prayed that he would have his heart softened and feel peace, truth, and God's love for him. He was real, reallll awkward after. Probably felt like he needed to exorcise me AGAIN. Thanks a heap, angry sir. We met people like that alllll week! It's been great. But really. It just makes me wanna love on them (in an appropriate way) and pray for them. I'm sad for them. That's got to be an exhausting, unhappy way to live. But also, it says everything that he had a problem with about our church... in the Bible. Poor guy. I know God loves him a lot, and I felt that. I hope he finds a way to feel less angry and find happiness. 

-Got stuck in a pouring rainstorm at 8 p.m. (which is like bewitching hour in Minnesota. Pitch-black. Dead. No moon. No warmth. Are dementors in town? Nope. Just fall in Minnesota.) I'd say we were in the ghetto, but that's kind of our whole area, so... :) Cute Shingle Creek. I love this place. People trash on it all the time, but these people are HUMBLE. Anyway. We knocked doors absolutely soaked to the bone. And I nearly ended the life of the world's biggest horny-toad while we were at it. First, by accident... second, on purpose. QUIT GETTIN' UNDER MY TOES, YA SICKO.

-This week, I was blessed with the opportunity of going on exchange with Sister D. She is a rock-solid disciple of Jesus Christ. We were Facebook friends before the mission, so we had creepy frames of reference for each other, which is everything I like. She's a convert of three years, and has absolutely no family support. She broke off an engagement to be here, and for the entire time, she has had crazy health problems. She is INCREDIBLE. I love her.

She is so humble and patient, absolutely accepting of all those we teach and talk with. She has every reason to complain and also, so many dazzling talents, and instead, she simply and quietly goes about, making herself invisible in God's work. She magnifies her calling without worrying about magnifying herself. I loved how simple and real her testimony was. She is extremely good at relating to others and being lovingly bold. And I kept thinking, as we talked about things like social conversions, the need for fellowship, revelation through the Book of Mormon in between contacts and doors, "I wish EVERY missionary was a convert to the church." And then, it was just like, DUH! We all SHOULD be. And those have been my favorite moments in lessons. When we are bearing personal testimony of the invitation we are extending to repent and to change, using the doctrine from Preach My Gospel and from the scriptures, and testifying of its reality in our lives. 

Whether we are raised in this church, whether we are hearing the gospel for the first time, whether we have known it and strayed. We all have a responsibility and hit a point where we have to ask for ourselves and make the steps for ourselves. Testimony turns into conversion when we act. Consistently and in a Christlike way. I am so thoroughly convinced that so many people that we teach have testimonies, but only the truly converted commit, and stay active. And the coolest thing is, conversion isn't a destination. It's a daily pattern of living. You can't blame it on anyone around you, even when circumstances are incredibly difficult. It's between you and the Lord. 

I LOVED working with her. We were completely on the same page. I don't know what her situation will be with health and the various challenges she does have, but I do know that she is fulfilling her purpose daily. She invites everyone closer to Christ by being who she is, saying what she does, using silence when silence is needed, and testifying constantly. She helped me further my conversion, for sure. She is amazing! And however the length of her mission does pan out, I know it will be the Lord's will, and she will accept it whole-heartedly and with great faith. She wants to be here. And her mission has already had great depth and impact, if not great length yet. Also, we both think poop is so, so funny. It was great times left and right.

Sister D and I were able to teach the second half of Gospel of Jesus Christ to the brother whom I mentioned in my last email. We went through the baptismal questions, and his only concern was that he was still "studying out" about Joseph Smith. "Do you believe the Book of Mormon is the word of God?" popped out of my mouth before I knew what was happening. Sister D was already racing to read the last two paragraphs of the introduction. Needless to say, pretty soon, he realized he had a testimony of Joseph Smith. He will be baptized September 28!!! :) There could not be a better thing for that family. I felt the Spirit so strongly, and both of their children ended up just filing in, and sat in silence - for once not in resentment or annoyance, but just in the peaceful feeling. The Savior's peace and God's love were so strongly in their home. 

This gospel is so true. Even, or especially, when those around you don't agree. When the circumstances aren't easy. When life feels like too much, when we think we can't juggle one more thing in our lives, we need to turn to God. To our Savior Jesus Christ. It's my testimony that this gospel is not the "one more thing to juggle." It is the arm with which we DO. 

I love you all. I'm so thankful for your examples and I hope you have a happy week! :)


September 9: Shart

Hahaha. Mom is already embarrassed about the email title. Let me explain! I have a lot of little African homies, as I'm sure you can imagine. I love these little people. Dark-skinned children really ARE more beautiful. It's a fact. I'm going to be ruined forever more. If my kids don't have brown eyes, like my Chinese students or these African kids... I don't know about it. I just don't KNOW. 

Anyway, we were in a lesson with our investigator A this week and her son, T, came up and was talking to me while Sister C helped A to read. (She has some crazy cornea business going on that I don't even preTEND to understand. She's such a trooper.) T brought his Bible reader because he knew we were learning about God, and showed me pictures of the stories. I love how easily children can feel the Spirit and WANT to learn. It amazes me daily. As we were talking, the following conversation went down. Keep in mind, this is all in whisper tones.

Sister Ballif: "T, what's your favorite color?"
T: "Shart."
Sister Ballif: 
(Speechless with disbelief and sheer delight. Is shart a word they USE in the Virgin Islands?! I can't. I need to move immediately.)
T: Yeah, shart. (shrugs)
Sister Ballif: "So... your... favorite color is shart?"
T: "Yeah. Shart." 

The lesson continues and I'm just a-WHIRL with delight at this kid. But then he pulls out a toy shark and points to its blue color. "See?" he says, all dark eyes and authority. "SHART."

So.... that African accent. It'll get you every time.

ANOTHER great one this week was S, one of my favorite kids in the ward. She's Liberian, and tiiiiiiny. World's best smile. She was really cold in church (we actually attend in an icebox. It's cool.) and so I gave her my cardigan. It still had my name tag, and she was THRILLED. For a solid 7 minutes, she ran up and down the length of the walkway outside as people left church chanting, "I'MMMMM SISTER BAAAAAAALLIF, I'M SISTER BAAAAAAAALLLLIIIIIFFFF!" It caused quite a stir. Cutie.

UGH. I love African babies so much. And our ward. One of the best parts about the mission is getting to know the ward. Stepping into people's homes for a little while, feeling how their family operates, and knowing you're there because they want to serve you and help you... there's honestly nothing like it. This week, we had a dinner with a family and they gave us marriage and parenting advice for like twenty minutes after we shared our message. It just made me happy. These people take such good care of us. I want to have that kind of home.

One miracle was in seeing the progress a non-member husband of a woman in our ward who has just returned to activity. This brother was able to see the changes Sister M and her companions helped his wife to make, and having talked to missionaries in the past, he became open again. Their family is going through great financial difficulty. Their daughter is an avid horseback rider (something we have in common) and their son has many health challenges. My heart aches for him and I want so badly for him to accept the Atonement and to feel God's love. I know, having worked with my peers with autism and other challenges, that the only true remedy IS that Balm in Gilead. It's the Savior. I have never seen a special needs kid happier than they are in seminary. Really and truly. It's the hope of this gospel. No matter their mental capacity or challenges, the Spirit is something everyone can feel and understand. Because Jesus Christ understands us.

Her non-member husband's need to take care of her, their children, and their growing financial burden, has caused him to reexamine the foundation of faith, or lack thereof, he has laid in his life. I think it's absolutely incredible to see the way the Lord humbles us so that He can help us with things that matter most. I think of the talk, "Whom I Love, I Rebuke and Chasten." The Lord loves this family so much. And they have been brought extremely low. Last transfer with Sister M, we saw no progress with this man. He felt pushed, he felt defensive, and essentially, he was at a standstill. He held us at arm's-length and sat suspiciously, arms folded over his chest, in every lesson. 

This transfer, he has come to church multiple times, is almost through 2 Nephi due to daily scripture study, and he and his wife have kept the commitment we extended to have a nightly prayer, together and as individuals, every single night. Seeing the changes it has already brought is so incredibly beautiful to me. Their circumstances haven't changed, but through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, THEY have changed. They have felt His love and they want to continue on the path, really the only option for those who want hope and happiness. They want the gospel.

This week, we invited this brother to be baptized on September 28. He agreed to pray about it. Last night, as we taught Gospel of Jesus Christ, we talked a lot during faith. We weren't able to teach all the principles of the lesson, and it didn't even matter. Sister C taught faith so well, and we were able to ask questions that led him to receive his own revelation. I was so happy. She's seriously doing AWESOME. Cutie little trainee.

We asked him what the next step was after having faith, and he listed everything he's been doing - praying, reading, etc. We asked for the next step. He was quiet for a long time and then said, "Well... I guess. Baptism." And then he just sat in silence, his lips forming almost words. This went on for about five minutes. When he finally looked up, his eyes were shining with tears and with the light of Christ. 

He took a breath like he would speak, but then, simply smiled. And we all knew.

I LOVE when the Spirit teaches an investigator what they need to know. It's so much more meaningful when the experience is theirs and not something we tell them.  Something I've also loved this week is seeing how every experience in our life is tailored so that we can help someone else. Everything that has happened to me has prepared me and changed me so I can better help someone else, to have hope, to have happiness, to change. I've always had a testimony of that, but it gets so perfectly synched up with the people you meet on a mission that you truly can't deny God's plan for you and awareness for His children. 

Also, we taught a new investigator, A, while this guy S sat in this week. SO, S's been taught by the elders and us. (Trust me, not on purpose. We only found out on accident one district meeting. S didn't tell either of us. He's about 5.2, constantly drunk, lessons are always WILD. It's great.) We taught the Restoration to A, and since S has had it twice, he like said it along with us... but then drunkenly.. and not quite true. And it was the funniest lesson of my mission. Maybe you just had to be there. It was unreal. Like that one friend who tries to sing along when you show them a new song... and they're always just a millisecond behind. Soooo good. Hahaha. I was dying. The first vision was not MEANT to be said as a round.

I LOVE being a missionary. 

Also! Fourteen investies to church this Sunday! We were SO happy. That's so many people. And like happens with Africans, they were all looking around, and they were like, "Hey, dat's m'cousin. Dat's my uncle" all through sacrament. Hahaha. YES.

I love my mission. And I love alllll of you. Have the absolute best week!!!!!

September 2: Like a child

So, this week was sweet magic. I could take any moment from any given day this week and produce a Patronus. All my Harry Potter homies out there, give me a shout. Can you even believe that? THAT good. 

This week, we got to help so many people! I know with all my heart that the biggest part of missionary work, is LOVE. And it's simple and it's elemental and it's the basic core of the gospel. Love drives the Atonement. Love drives change. Love drives hard work. Love creates understanding and bridges any cultural or lifestyle difference, any gap in age or span of experience. God works in simplicity. We kiiiiiind of like to make things a lot more complicated than they need to be. It always comes back to love. Love for God, love for others, and love for ourselves, to simply do what He is asking. 

I.... for lack of a better word? Love? It? 

So let's talk about this week. We met so many good people. They were coming out of the woodwork. We were busy all day, every day, all week. Which was suuuuper great in the heat wave. :/

(Cue pictures of us drenched in sweat, creep-smiling while we tract. But actually we never took them. Didn't want to break the camera. "Did you just fall in the pool?" Nope, just wanna come in your apartment and share the gospel, thanks a heap.) 

I have about 800 things I want to say, but I'll share just a few.

One of my favorite things this week was being able to feel that God knows us and loves us INDIVIDUALLY. I mean, we know that on a basic level and we share it every day, but in every lesson this week, it was so starkly different from the last lesson in what we wanted to say. And we had no idea why. Know why? Not us saying it. Sweet. 

R dropped us this weekend after slipping up with smoking again. It breaks my heart to see the discouragement people feel when they slip up, however large or small on the scale. This gospel is not for people who have never made mistakes. It's for people who need big help and deep healing. And every time we face a trial, a difficulty, or find ourselves in the midst of another mistake - because we WILL, we are human - we have a choice. We can succumb to the temptation to think that these feelings are forever, that this mistake defines us. We can let Satan make us feel like we can't try again. Or we can turn to God. We can recognize ourselves as divine beings, and, with His help, rise to that potential. He will make our burdens bearable, He will help us love the lessons we are learning and be happy in the meantime. And when the time is right and our heart is sufficiently changed, He will deliver us. I know that's true. 

Literally, we walked up for our appointment and R panicked. "Yo, I can't DO this right now." Runs up the stairs. I felt like Arwen in the Fellowship of the Ring. You know, after Frodo's been stabbed by the Morgul blade and she's riding like outer darkness to try to  get him to Rivendell so he can be healed by higher magic. (I tried to use this analogy with my companion. She shut it down by saying, "Stop that... I had friends in high school." Yeah, well. Know who didn't, probably? Sauron. All that hate doesn't come from nowhere. Anyway...) Anyway. In her Arwen voice, she's like, "FRODO NO! FRODO DON'T GIVE IN." Yeah. That. But in this situation. 

I was pretty devastated just because I've seen him have a confirmation of truth. I've felt the Spirit with him, and I know what this can do for his family. But I also know, that if we have kept a faithful record of our time with R, and if I keep him in my prayers, whether sooner or later, he will be shown by Him who never forgets that he can try again. I know he'll find his way to this gospel. Whether this month or in twenty years. God won't lose track of him. He knows all of us where we are. 

Plus, we'll keep trying. It's what missionaries do. ALL I'MMA DO IS TEXT YA TIL YOU'RE TICKED, CALL UNTIL I CAN'T, AND DROP BY 'TIL Y'MOVE. (But even after, too, cause the new resident might be interested in the message. Giddy up.)

We had so many good experiences this week, but one of my favorites was with our friend M. M is a Liberian woman with four children. Her boyfriend also has children with her sister, and the children are about the same age as her children. Missionaries have been working with her family for about 8 months on and off. It's just so hard for her to get out. It kills me every time we go over. Her boyfriend recently gave two-week notice to the office that they were moving out, but didn't tell M. He was planning on leaving her and not telling her she no longer had a place to live, but someone from the complex contacted her and asked her to confirm the two-week notice. And so now she and four kids are searching for somewhere to live. I can't describe the way my heart breaks for these people every single day. All I can say is, it's breaking and expanding in a way that makes me better. I feel so humbled that God trusted me with this area and allowed me to learn from these good people. They are mighty men and women, shouldering burdens most of us go our whole life without ever imagining. 

In our lesson this week, we invited M to fast with us about her situation and come to church. When we went to pick her up, she answered the door sobbing and holding her face. I had nothing to say, but I felt the biggest and most powerful love for her. I just put out my arms and I held her for a while as she cried like a child. That image and that feeling stayed with me all through church, as we sat with our new investie J and her family (who are AWESOME and all set for later this month. I'll email about them soon.) during fast and testimony meeting. Several times in the scriptures, God urges us to be like a child. And we've talked about that with a lot of our investies this week. What that means to be like a child - submissive, meek, patient, full of love. I think it also means that quickness to forgive. That ability to hope.

As I reflected on the almost-parental feeling I had as I held this woman with sorrows more than I've ever carried and with years more than doubling mine, I thought maybe that encouragement to be like a child meant something else, too. Maybe it's in reference to each of our need to remember who we divinely are - WHOSE we are. I felt compassion for her as a daughter because she is God's daughter. I felt fierce love for her because she is my sister, and her elder brother is Jesus Christ. I got to feel both, because I'm a missionary. That responsibility and those feelings, even when they are heavy, mean everything to me. 

M missed church, but as we met with her later, she sent her kids in the other room and poured her heart out. About the abuse from her boyfriend, about doubting her worth, about getting calls from his other women and about the misery in which she lives. We listened in silence, watching her profile as she stared straight ahead through the tears that fell on dark and storied skin. And then, she surprised us. She squared her jaw, and turned to us, and a new light came in her eyes. She said she had still fasted with us, and that she had hope. 

And what had given her hope was the love of her oldest child, T, laying awake with her all night, holding her hand through the worst of her heavy heartache. She told us T turned to her and said, "Mommy, I'm gonna fast with you." And she did. She said that pure love, that trust, that fervent hope, and knowledge of God who can help, and the meaning of what we asked them to do, changed everything for her. They fasted together, and she opened to 2 Nephi 31. She asked to baptized as soon as possible, and the ward members are working with her to find an apartment and finally leave her boyfriend. 

All because of the purety, understanding, and simple faith of a loving child. 

And isn't what T gave exactly what God asks of all of us?

M called her children back out, and each of them hungrily listened as we read a chapter about God easing our burdens and helping our unbelief. All it takes is our trust, our complete loving trust. Those two steps forward in the dark, so our loving Father can flip on the light and flood us with good as we follow His will against seemingly impossible odds.

I LOVE these people. I love this area. The love here is so tangible. Quick flashes of white teeth in a dark face, a liquid gleam to smiling, dark eyes. The African people are the best in the world. 

This gospel is real. It's so true. It can help with any darkness we face. It can help us when we feel overwhelmed, when we feel inadequate. But most of all, it can help us feel joy. :) And that, cuties, is exactly what we felt, at the end of our lesson with M. We went, in an hour, from a place of unreachable darkness to laughter and love, because of the gospel. I love it. I know God is in this work. I know He knows you and loves you!!!

Have the actual best week. Like if weeks are bacon, have Applewood SMOKED!

Sister Ballif

Dinners with the Wardies

August 26: My Firstborn in the Wilderness

Hey there, cuties! 

So... pretty sure I've mentioned, but missions have this creepy culture of using your mission connections as a family tree. So when you train, you have a son or a daughter. So... I'm a mom? Congratulations? Kind of disappointed because I never got a baby shower or anything, just more responsibility? What? Hahaha. Just kidding. It's awesome.

This week was NUTS. Seriously. Monday, I was really overwhelmed to take this area over from Sister M, and also to train. I'm only three-months old! I still introduce myself as elder sometimes. (It's cool. It's a crowd favorite and not even that embarrassing. So.) I was panic-praying all day. Yeah. Panic-praying. (A man just lost his kid in the library, and found him again. This guy knows what I'm talking about.) That afternoon, we got a call from a man named R saying he'd found a Restoration pamphlet in the park with our number on the back. He said he was going through an incredibly tough time and finding the pamphlet, he knew it was God's message to him. He was SO eager to meet. So... if that doesn't show you God hears each of us and knows His children where they are, I don't know what will. :) 

Sending Sister M off was actually incredible for both of us. We were able to go around and visit each of her recent converts. Serving in this area for nine months, she has done great, great good. She's a pretty level-headed, non-emotional person, but we visited one Liberian sister who hasn't seen her children for like twelve years, and she just lost it. We were mid-chapter in the Book of Mormon and she just started praying and crying. We all lost it. She told us, for what felt like the twelfth time, that each time she is lonely or missing her children, we knock on her door. And then, she pulled out a package and insisted Sister M take a dress that she had saved up to buy for her daughter back in Africa. She kept trying to refuse, but Sister B sent her into the bathroom and insisted with all that African sass. These people are priceless. We sat there waiting for her to come back out, just looking at each other, smiling and crying. , "You're a good mom," I finally said. 

She patted my hand and wiped one of my tears, while letting her own fall. "You look a mess. I gon' get you a real pretty African dress when you leave me, too." Every single person we visited, at some point in the visit, expressed love and gratitude for my staying. 

DANG these people. Tugging at ALL my heartstrings. They show so much consistent and continual faith in Christ. Every time, when they have every logical reason to turn away, to feel He has done them wrong, they turn TO Him. They thank Him for hurting them. They trust in Him with a solidity that inspires me. I am so, so lucky to be in this area.

I picked up my trainee, (my ... daughter?) Sister C, on Wednesday. She was a bundle of nerves and a straight-up cutie. She is from South Jordan, and was a Bingham High Cheerleader. She loves to talk to EVERYONE and never hesitates to approach people. I LOVE it. I was so nervous about how to teach someone to do that... cause I just like it! I don't know. Why not approach them? Anyway. She learns SO fast, she's super hard-working, and we have seen miracles.

Our second lesson was with R, the man who had called on Monday. Our joint-teacher fell through, so we set up chairs under a tree. We were a little lost trying to find his building, and he called at 1:32 to make sure we hadn't forgotten. TWO MINUTES. He was so eager. Like a fat kid in the cafeteria line. That's what I like. He practically ran across the lawn, and was talking a mile a minute when he sat down. He shared how he'd gone to the park to clear his head after his fiance/girlfriend of 16 years and 5 kids had left him. Going in, he glanced at the picnic table, and thought about sitting down. Instead, he kept walking. When he went to go, he kept feeling like he should look again. There on the table sat the pamphlet, with our number on the back. He said he didn't see anyone come in the park, and he's positive it wasn't there when he walked in. The park is away from where we usually work, but the Lord knew R was in our area and knew exactly where, when, and how to reach him. It's honestly like, mind-boggling to me how well Heavenly Father knows each and everyone one of us, where we are, how we feel, what we need.

R poured over the pamphlet every night for four days, and before we could even say the opening prayer, asked to be baptized, told us he had given up drinking and weed a couple weeks before cold-turkey, and begged for a Book of Mormon. I kept looking at Sister C when he looked down to read scriptures and I was like, "OH MY GASH." It was incredible. Something that was also amazing was the feeling I had during that whole lesson - the feelings all of us had. As he shared his story, and this gangster of a man just cried and cried, I cried with him. And I felt, in waves with as constant crash as an ocean shore, "This is why you stayed, this is why you stayed, this is why you stayed." I honestly couldn't tell you a thing I said in that lesson. It was a completely out of body experience and my favorite lesson on the mission, because I know with all my heart, what happened there had nothing to do with me. This truly is the Lord's work and it's so humbling that He lets us be a part of it.

We met with R again on Saturday, and he had read the whole Plan of Salvation pamphlet, filled out the back page with notes on the reading, and practically taught us. He was also sitting with his two daughters, who are eight and ten, who want to learn and be baptized with him because they already see this making his life better. 

................Ummmmmmm, what? I grabbed Sister C after and I was like, I KNOW YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING DIFFERENT BUT THIS IS A STRAIGHT-UP MIRACLE LET US CELEBRATE

Hahaha. It hasn't been without bumps, though. In church on Sunday, R had the worst migraine he's ever had, and came anyway. And it was the loudest our congregation had ever been. Babies SCREAMING. He stood up after and was practically shouting, "I'on't DO no babies, man. Mah hayyyeed is ACHIN'. My kids don't cry like that. My kids didn't cry. I'm never comin' back. I'on't DO NO BABIES MAN." The whole congregation was looking. Hahahaha. My trainee was flipping out. I just smiled at her and raised my eyebrows. I leaned over and whispered, "Welcome." Luckily, our ward is full of champs and he stayed for gospel principles and heard testimonies and people prayed with him and alllllll was well. My gash. Hahaha. What a rodeo yesterday was. Luckily, his daughters LOVED primary and they will be back next week. We were able to touch base Sunday evening and do an FHE with them in a members home. All is well. 

But let it be known. To the entire, family-filled congregation, R don't DO no babies, man!

Honestly, I have no idea how we got so lucky to learn with these people. I know that opposition will come, especially when his illumination has been so clear. (Joseph Smith story, anyone?) But I also know that the Lord knows each and every one of us. He knows exactly what we need to humble us, to hurt us, so that He can step in and help us understand where we need to go and what we need to do. 

This video has been on my mind a lot this week, and has helped a lot of our investigators. God gives us trials to correct our course, to open us to something greater, to a joy we can't language or fully understand, but we can always cherish. I love seeing the way God has cut these people down, redirected them, because He loves us enough to hurt us. And every time, if we let them, they help us be who we need and what we need. I know it's true. I love it. 

Have the happiest week eeeeeeeeeeever. :)

August 19: A Year To The Day

In two days, it's a year to the day that I moved to China. I've been reading over my journal entries from last August this week. It all feels so surreal, you know? Like it's this huge chunk of my time and of me, so filled with moments and colors and magic, that it just bleeds into everything else that I am or hope to be. It feels simultaneously like yesterday and like it never happened. And in two days, that day in the airport, in my glasses and my green shirt, that sleepy stumble up a dark Beijing alleyway was a YEAR ago.

And now I'm here.

Packing my plans away and embarking on the trip the Lord has in mind, lugging along an over-large, under-packed suitcase into the unknown seems to be a pattern this past year.

I think I love it. :)

Welp, today is transfer calls. And we have been informed that this week, I will both finish my training, and START someone else's. I'M TRAINING SOMEONE HELP I CAN'T BE RESPONSIBLE FOR ANOTHER HUMAN LIFE. I have no idea how to teach someone how to be a missionary! My gash. Also, I'm taking over the area from Sister M. No big deal, she's just been here a year and OPENED the area in the first place. I'm not intimidated. It's fine. But really, it will be. If there is one thing I have learned this transfer, it is that our inadequacies don't need to make us fearful. They just need to make us faithful, and it will all work out. I can't teach someone how to be a missionary, I can't take over an area and run it, I can't even teach an inspired restoration lesson. But the Lord can. Every last time. BOOM. Thank goodness, right?! 

This week has been both amazing and super hilarious. I feel like Sister M and I got things figured out just in time to switch. Hahaha. UGH. That's how it goes, I guess. Seriously, this week has been unreal. In e'rry sense of the word.


-Got stuck in a lesson that became two hours and every time we tried to walk away, end it, or comment on anything, the guy just started following us, talking super close to us, talking about the heavens and prayers and electricity and things that made no sense while also offering cookies and I just can't even make this have proper grammar because what EVEN JUST HAPPENED I CAN'T. Hahahah, you can bet your sweet bippy that I muttered the words, "I'M IN A GLASS CASE OF EMOTION" to my companion in the lesson while we couldn't get a word in edgewise. Hahaha. Afterwards, we tried to figure out how to describe it. The best was when I started twirling and saying, "I'M A WHIRLWIND OF FRUSTRATION AND FEELINGS." Yeah, so... anyways, things are going great. :/

-Sat down to teach a Liberian man, and it was the most tense atmosphere in the world. He invited us in, got us food and water, said the opening prayer. His wife was on the couch and she was TICKED. She was also preggers, so I was like, eh. I'd be ticked too, no big deal. Nope, it was a big deal. I was like, "Oh, when are you due?" And she was like, "Any time." I thought she meant any day, but then as the lesson went on, her husband casually tells us she's been having contractions for two days and they're waiting on the nurse to call.

.....Ummmmmmmmmmm....!!! I'm SORRY, don't invite us in when your wife is in LABOR. I feel like these are just common things people should know. Sweet mercy, sir! We just grabbed our scriptures and were like, "We'll stop by another time." I don't know NOTHIN' 'bout birthin' no babies. Not about to tackle that one just yet. 

The Twins game was awesome! Minneapolis is incredible. The Twins lost by one in the last inning, after leading the whole game. I love being at the baseball field. Something I come by honestly, I guess. Plus, we stopped at this suuuper legit brick, hole-in-the-wall/sky loft/rustic dreamland of a burger place. Malts, shakes, burgers, sandwiches. It was divine. It's called Annie's Parlour, and I cannot wait to go back there someday with dad. For real. We will gorge ourselves. 

And my birthday was wonderful. Thank you to everyone who sent me so much love! Seriously, I got spoiled. Homemade granola, GPS, knitted booties with POM POMS, gummy worms, new clothes, new journal, cards, Ryan Gosling journal with Mormon Hey-girl sayings... seriously. I could go on. It made me so happy. I love you all!!! :) Every birthday should be a mission birthday. 

As we worked on Saturday, and I thought of the contrast between this year and last - spending the day at home with my family before moving to China - versus a day of every appointment falling through, walking until my feet were sore and my blisters rubbed raw, trying to talk to everyone and only to teach two people. It could've have been one of the most discouraging days of my mission, but I just felt so grateful to be here. 

Also, we had Subway for lunch, courtesy of Grandma and her cute giftcard. I got an African cooking lesson from a Kenyan family we teach, during which we swapped the principles of the Plan of Salvation for advice on which mountains to climb when in Kenya. (Toto may or may not have been playing in my head.) We also had dinner at an Asian buffet with a less-active lady we're working with. ASIA! All the workers were from China and I loved talking to them. Cuties. :) It was a good day. You people are wonderful.

I think the real reason this week was so good, despite being a lot harder and more discouraging than other weeks was because of mom's email this past Monday, telling me that Uncle Wallace had passed away. It's all been pretty sudden, and I sat at the computer in the library and just cried to myself. I love and admire that man so deeply.

Right after, we had a meeting with a member to talk about fellowshipping the family we are teaching into the ward. Instead of talking about the investigators, she talked about her own family. Her daughter-in-law's sister committed suicide a few weeks ago. It was an enormous tragedy and has required this sister to do so much. We of course understood, and listened as she tenderly testified of the comfort of the Plan of Salvation has brought her - through the suicide and through her husbands passing a year or so back. I cried with her, because although neither she or Sister M knew, she was saying everything I needed to hear. When I asked her what we could do, she said, "Find people and share this. It is SO important what you teach. People are going through these things, and they don't know. It's so important what you're teaching."

The Spirit was extremely powerful and I felt our purpose SO strongly. All week, I felt like the best tribute I could give to this John Wayne, cowboy-esque disciple of an uncle, and to this sister and her family, was to labor with all my might. We didn't teach as many lessons as we usually do, but we taught to peoples' needs so much more and the experience of farewelling Uncle Wallace gave me strength and was something I felt prompted to share a few times this week as we taught the Plan of Salvation. He truly remembered that he bore Christ's name and everything he did was a teaching of that principle. I am extremely lucky to be a missionary, a member, and his great-niece. 

I am so thankful for the plan Heavenly Father has for each of us and for our families. I love it. I love our family and I love my friends, who feel like family. I am so happy to be a missionary. As we have taught this family, D and S, I have been so humbled by my good parents, who disciplined me and kept me out of trouble, who raised me in truth and love. 

I LOVE YOU and I like you.

P.s. This choice quote from a sir we taught this week. I was laughing so hard. His girlfriend just broke up with him:

"She a psychology major, and I think she messin' wit my MIND. I'on't even got a Associates, she can't DO me like that!"

He then proceeded to read me all their texts and ask us to pray with him. Hahaha. It's cool. I love missionary work. :) Have the best week!!

August 12: Perspective

Oh, hiiiiiiiiii, guys. 

This week was incredible. I mean just a masterclass in all the things I am not so awesome at, and also a masterclass in how hugely awesome this gospel, really is. Giddddy up.

Items of miracle bid'ness:

Our goal is to teach a restoration a day minimum. Usually two, but either way. Every day, somebody needs that message. For three nights in a row, we didn't teach one ALL day. And then the very last door or stop of the day, we'd get to share it. It's a good example of the principle of giving our all, every ounce of energy and effort and mental resource, and right at the end when we have nothing left, the Lord carrying us to where we need to be. I love that. As we give our all, He blesses us with the things we can't control and helps us to serve these amazing people. I love them, and it's all I wanna do. 

This week, we had an awesome lesson with WM. She's a less-active, fabulously entertaining woman. She's in her seventies and has the hots for an insurance salesman. She gets all flustery and "Ooooh, child!" every time we ask her about it. Anyway. She's in her seventies and has been smoking for sixty years... yeah. The missionaries who baptized her ten years ago didn't teach Word of Wisdom super well, so I guess she only stopped smoking for her baptismal day. :/ She hasn't been to church in years, but every time we talk to her, it makes my spiritual jaw drop. She is so close to the Lord and has crazy dreams. She asked us a question, in great detail, about a dream she had that was, oh, you know, the entire temple endowment session. I had no idea what to say. She is so good at applying the scriptures and her whole life, she's been able to see answers to prayers and to apply the scriptures. But lately, she's felt distanced from God. We talked about the Sabbath Day with her and Word of Wisdom, in great detail. She kept skirting around it, and all the sudden, we were ELDER HOLLANDING HER. I was like... can we do this? She's in her seventies? Answer: No. But the Holy Ghost can do whatever is right for the situation. Soh, it happened. What got her was the word "sacrifice." She said she'd never thought of that. Her whole life, God had handed her these blessings, promptings, experiences, on a silver platter. And now He was asking her a small thing, a sacrifice, so He could bless her and help her more.

Aaaaaaand.... she was in church on Sunday for the first time in years. I WANTED TO HIGH-FIVE THE ENTIRE CONGREGATION WHEN SHE WALKED IN. 

Also, the family we've been teaching was at church on Sunday, too. We haven't been able to meet with them all week with their schedule, and we were getting a little worried about commitment. After church, a brother in the ward came up and casually told us they asked to see the baptismal font and talked about how excited they were for their baptism. Awwwww, yeah. :) Now we just got to figure out how to help the dad quit smoking. (Every time he talks about smoking, he wiggles his fingers, which were frost-bitten and partly skin-grafted, and we just talk about all the crimes he could commit without FINGER-PRINTS. .. I love that family.)

A less active lady we've been helping come back to church for a while got her temple recommend Sunday! :)

Our African family - baptized at the beginning of the transfer - had FHE with us this week. During the course of the evening, the middle child declared herself a future prophet, the youngest peed her pants, and the parents bantered for half-hour about how they met. Hahaha. Family... isn't it about time. I LOVE THEM. They are doing so well. 

This week, the Lord has been teaching me a lot about faith. It's super humbling. Mostly, trials without faith are pointless. And the way we make them mean something is by letting ourselves be shaped by Him. I think it's amazing that in every situation, we have the choice to turn TO the Lord, or away from the Lord. I.e. Laman and Lemual vs. Nephi. Stark contrast, eh?

I've had a biiiig perspective change this week. Faith. What a tricky little guy. I feel like I change the definition of that eighty times a day as a missionary. THERE'S JUST SO MUCH TO IT. I used to think faith was moving forward no matter what, not complaining or murmuring like Laman and Lemual, but putting my head down and plowing forward holding onto my beliefs through whatever life has thrown at me. And I think that's a dimension of faith, but I also think Nephi showed great faith, that Ammon and his people showed great faith, when they were in bondage or they were hurt and they SHARED it with the Lord. They weren't being ungrateful or murmuring, they were trusting a loving Father with the things they needed help with, the things that had hurt them. And once they shared those things with them, He could heal them. But first they had to pour out their hearts to Him. 

Every day this week, I have poured out my heart to the Lord. And every day, I have seen little improvements - incrementally and in the Lord's timing, but changes that are deep and meaningful and help me better to love those we are serving at all times and in all places. Changes that help me to be a better servant to the Lord and to be the Sister Ballif He knows and needs. It keeps me from feeling like I am shrinking, like I am swimming against a current, but rather like I am remembering how to swim in deep water, and with a smile. 

I hope any of that made sense. I know it was all pretty vague, but the Atonement is so real. It can help us with our hurts and our wounds, no matter what they are, and it can also help us to change and to better align our will with His. This transfer, and really, this mission thus far, has been a masterclass in both. I love the Lord so much. I love my Savior, Jesus Christ, and know that He walks with us and wants to lift us as we make changes. And I love this gospel. :)

Aaaaand, now, a few things I loved about this week:

-We knelt down to nightly plan last night and our upstairs neighbor was watching Lord of the Rings. It was the music they play whenever THE EYEEEE comes on. Anyone who's been a missionary and nightly planned on zero energy knows how awkwardly appropriate that was in that moment.

-"If that's Satan, take me now! He's hot. Hot as HELLfire, ladies!" - A lady in our ward describing what she liked about the old temple movie. Hahahah.  I was laughing so hard. STOP IT. But don't ever. 

-We knocked into a family who'd been baptized in Philadelphia and their son ran the entire length of the apartment hall at top speed while we talked. In his Batman briefs. Yelling, for fifteen minutes, "I'M FOREST, I'M FOREST!" The mama - she's African - was like, "He aptly named." Hahahaha. I LOVE IT HERE.

Have the best weeek!!!