Week 11: Thanksgiving, Dogs in the Night, and the New "He Is The Gift" Video

With Elder Rivera (right) and our two roommates

December 1, 2014
Hello everyone,

I had another great week! I am having a lot of fun. Because we opened a new area, we have been working on building up our pool of people to teach. We now have a pretty good-sized pool and we are hoping to turn it into a group of new members! I honestly think that the group we have has tons of potential. Everyone we talk with seems really interested, the problem is just getting them to progress on their own and keep their commitments. The Hispanic population is really nice and open, but because of this, they agree to like everything. Each week we have like 5 or so people tell us they will be at church, and then we even call them Sunday morning and they will say they will be there, but then they don’t show up, so that part can be frustrating, but we just need to give it time. 

Turkey on Turkey Day
But Thanksgiving was good for me! It didn’t feel like Thanksgiving at all, though. We had a breakfast appointment with this German woman and her 5 CRAZY dogs, and it was actually really good food. Her dogs were like loud as heck and barking so that made it interesting. And then we played football as a zone in the afternoon from like 2-5, which was super fun because I have been dying to play some football since last football season! It was actually really nice on Thanksgiving Day…like 60 degrees and sunny so it was perfect! We were all out in our shorts and t-shirts which was really fun. Then we had a dinner with a family from Australia, which was fun. Their family actually reminded me of our family, except they are in the next phase of life. They have 6 kids too, but their oldest is like 10 years older than me and is married and has two kids. Their youngest is in middle school, about Grace's age. But they had a normal thanksgiving dinner with turkey and potatoes and stuff so that was fun. 

With all the Elders at Isaac's house on Thanksgiving
Because there are 3 sets of elders in our ward, we all usually eat dinners together, so we went with all 6 of us to those meals. Then after dinner we went over to Isaac’s house for another "dinner" but it was mostly just a hangout for an hour with like 10 other elders. I posted a picture of that. And that was just about it for my Thanksgiving Day. Every Thursday we do a long weekly planning session, so we did that too. Our mission president told us that we could only go to two meals, so unlike the elders back at home in Virginia, I didn’t go to 5 dinners…haha.

So the big thing that came out this week is the new "He Is The Gift" video that the church is putting out worldwide this December.  It’s a 3-minute video to emphasize the true meaning of Christmas and remind everyone of the greatest gift we have ever received…which is the gift that Christ gave us of His life. It’s a great, powerful video that you guys should check out!  The church is taking over YouTube starting December 7th and continuing for the rest of the month.  The header and all the advertisements will be by the church. They will also have billboards in Times Square in New York City for a lot of the month. Here's the video - it's awesome:

On a different note, one night this week I woke up in the middle of the night and I heard like this whining noise and I couldn't figure out what it was, so I sat up in bed and this little dog came running up to me!!! I was so baffled and i was still half asleep so i was literally scratching my head as to what was going on. The members who own the house were out of town, so we were in charge of feeding their dogs and stuff. The dogs can get in and out of their house on their own, and they are good dogs, but we had left the door to our loft open that night, and the dog just marched in and somehow the door shut behind it, so it couldn’t get out! So anyways, i woke up and saw this dog and i had no idea what the heck to do with it, so i decided to just leave it.

Freakin' SUNSHINE (the dog) on my bed!!!
So i went back to sleep and ignored it, but then like a half an hour later I woke back up and it was now on my bed, still whining!! I was so confused and bewildered; I had never slept with a dog before!! So this time i was like all right – it needs something, because a dog doesn’t just whine for no reason! So then i got worried that like the dog needed to pee or something and the thought occurred to me that it might pee on my bed or somewhere in our loft!! So then I was like HECK NO – no more of this dog non-sense!! So I tried to get it to follow me to the stairs, where i could take it down and open the door, and thankfully it followed me without too much effort. Then i opened the door and it ran out. Who knew a cute little dog named “Sunshine” could cause so much trouble for me!! 

Another funny thing that happened this week:  we were in the middle of a lesson and we got a text on our phone from an unknown number that said "Please help…my llamas r out" and because we were in a lesson we didn’t make a big deal out of it.  But Elder Rivera showed me the text and we both looked at each other like "whooo in the heck is that...?"  So we texted them back and were like – who is this and tried to figure out who it was! It turns out that it was a crazy investigator from a different area who got the wrong number and was looking for some different missionaries. But apparently they have 12 llamas and they get out a lot, so the missionaries are always over there trying to bring them back – haha.

Helping to remodel the Lira's house
Speaking of service, this week we were able to help the Lira family big time! They are remodeling their house and tore a ton of drywall and wood out of their old trailer. Literally like 3 tons of garbage. And so a guy in our ward has a big 25-foot trailer and a huge truck that we used and piled all the garbage onto, and took it to the dump! It was like a three-hour ordeal, but of course that was right up my alley – so I was loving every minute of it!! And Brother Lira couldn’t believe it all. 

Hauling the Lira's garbage away on a 25-ft trailer
We paid for the dump and everything, and he was overwhelmed with all the help we gave him! We still haven’t had the chance to teach them too much, but they are moving in in two weeks, and hopefully once they are settled then we can actually teach them. It is hard to teach them because whenever we go over they are working like painting or something, so we are kinda waiting on them. 

The Flores Family's Dog
But the Flores Family is doing great. They are progressing slowly. The kids are actually making the most progress, and the parents told us yesterday that they are really interested in what we have to offer because after we taught them about the Book of Mormon and how to pray, their oldest son, Junior, has been really excited about praying. And they said that he has never been so excited to pray, so we must be doing something right. This got us excited and we are going back tonight to teach them more. Please keep these two families in your prayers.

Also keep Victor Andrande in your prayers. Elder Rivera was teaching him when he used to be there. He didn’t get baptized, but was really interested so we went back and found him and he agreed to be baptized this Saturday!! But he didn’t come to church yesterday, so we have to push it back a week, but he has lots of potential. He is doing everything we ask of him and loves learning about what we have to teach. He is 18 and a senior in high school and he is way cool! His grandma and cousin are both inactive members, so we are trying to get them all to come back to church.  Please pray that he will follow through with getting baptized this month. We have a mission-wide goal to have 100 baptisms in December, which is one per companionship across the mission. We have all been praying that we can make this happen, and we hope that Victor can be our baptism for this month. 

Hey Mom – I got the thanksgiving package!!! Thanks for all the food and treats, and thanks to the rest of the family for the notes you all wrote me. I love getting mail from you guys. Everyone is jealous of me because I get so much mail and packages, so that is fun.

Well I don’t have much more time, but I love you guys!! Thanks for everything. 


Elder Todd
In the back of the tractor-trailer

Week Ten: Spanish Parties, Spanish Food, and FEASTING (on the Word of God)

All the Mexicans are rubbing off on me...

November 24, 2014
Hey guys!!
My brother James on his baptism day -
with my family back in Virginia.

How is it going?? James – Little Bro!!!! I am so proud of you for getting baptized!  I can’t believe you’re already eight years old.  And that is awesome that you read 5 chapters in your new scriptures the very next morning!!! That is so great. It brought tears to my eyes.

I am having so much fun out here. I can’t believe how fast time is going though...we are already in week 5 of the mission...? What the heck?? But this week was fun. We had zone conference all day on Wednesday, so that was very motivating and fun. Lots of good stuff learned there. The weather is pretty cold here...like 40s and 30s all day. When the sun is out it’s not too bad, but if it is a cloudy day then we just about freeze walking in between appointments and stuff. 

Verduzco and me at the party
On Friday we had a Thanksgiving party for our little group and the Rama Vista, and it was so much fun!! Lots of great Spanish food and Spanish fun.  And we had another party yesterday for one of our little investigators. Hector and Crista (aka the Flores Family) has 5 kids, and their little girl turned 6 yesterday! They couldn’t afford a cake so we took one over and sang happy birthday and also shared a few short object lessons with them. They loved it. They are a great family who I think has lots of potential. They are just not very consistent. Every time we plan a church tour or a lesson, they always have something pop up. So we have found that not planning and just showing up is actually better. 

The English ward that we are part of is a great ward. The only problem is that they need more  strong families, which is something our ward at home has a lot of. So like with this Flores family, I wish there was a family to have FHE (Family Home Evening) with them or something, but it doesn’t work!! I was actually thinking about it the other day and the Jones family (Waide and Penny's family) would be perfect to work with them!! I don’t know all of the kids’ ages of the Jones family, but the oldest kid in the Flores family is about Zach's age so I thought that would be a perfect fit!!  But oh well.

We demolished that freakin bush in like 30 mins
with the Lira Family
The Lira Family is awesome too. They are moving into their remodeled house this December, and will live in our area. They are a great family with a lot of potential, and they have given us great opportunities to serve them. We have become quite close with them. I posted a picture of us tearing out bushes in their yard. We haven’t had too many teaching opportunities so far because most of our time with them is spent doing service. But we have left with them a Book of Mormon and they said they would read the introduction, so we will see what happens there.

So because this week is Thanksgiving, it has been on my mind a lot. And when we think of Thanksgiving, what do we think of? I think of FOOTBALL and FEASTS! And in the scriptures, in chapter 31 and 32 of 2nd Nephi (in the Book of Mormon) it tells us to FEAST on the words of Christ. And we often hear that “we are what we eat,” so if we FEAST on the words of Christ (like my awesome brother, James, showed us how to do) then we can become spiritual giants. And this can help us share the gospel with others and bring them the same happiness that we enjoy.  

I love you guys. Thanks for all the support you guys give me. 

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

Elder Richmandawg

Service project - unloading food for the needy in the area
Lesson learned from Elder Rivera...
don't spill water ALL over your seat and then forget about it.

Week Nine: Life in Sun Valley (aka DOG Valley)...Crazy Shooters, Burning Weeds, and Sharing the Gospel

November 17, 2014
Hello everyone!!

Service project...burning the weeds
Everything is great here. I am having a blast. This was another fun week. On Tuesday my companion and I had the chance to do some service for the Familia Lida!! They are a great family that is moving into the area.  We were able to help them tear out all of the dried tumbleweeds and sagebrush in their backyard and then we made a big fire and burned it all. It was a lot of fun. We came across them one day when we were biking around the valley, and asked if they needed help. They said yes, so we did some service right there for them, but told them we could come back another day, wearing clothes that were a little better for service. So on Tuesday went back and spent some time with them. They are super nice, and we have been able to slowly teach them small things. They are Christian, so we have been praying and fasted yesterday so that we can teach them more. They have 4 kids, ages like 16, 14, 11 and 8 - so a lot like our family!!   Please keep them in your prayers.

Sun Valley should be called "Dog Valley"
because of all the dogs.
(And chickens too!  Here's a chicken - just chillin')
I think that if i could i would rename Sun Valley to Dog Valley. Every house has like 15,434 dogs…it’s ridiculous. Like the other day we go to visit an address that was a referral and outside they have 4 dogs chained up and stuff, and we maneuvered our way around them and then we knocked on the door and from inside we heard like 3 more dogs come running up to the door...Rivera and I just shook our heads and laughed cuz of how outrageous it is. And then there will be dogs just chillin everywhere, like in the streets and everywhere. And another thing about Sun Valley is that it is DARK at night. There are like NO street lights and rarely do people have lights on the front of their house, so it can be scary at times. The other night we pulled up to a house for an appointment, and Rivera hopped out of the car, and this dog bolted out of nowhere and started barking and stuff, and so Rivera instinctively jumped on the hood of our car. I was still in the car so I was just laughing and laughing. I got a kick out of that, cuz he’s scared of dogs. 

This is only like a tenth of the police cars
and SWAT vans on my street for the crazy shooter...
One interesting thing that happened this week was we were studying and our roommates left for the day, but we were still studying and like 10 minutes after they left they called us and were like "Yo! You guys gotta come outside!!" and so we darted outside and just like 100 yards down our street were about 20 cop cars and armored SWAT vans and news crews and the whole works and they blocked a road off, so we went up to the cop and asked him if we could go through the road block, or if we needed to go around, and he was like "well if you go that way, then you will be shot by a mental man with a deer rifle." so that answered our question. But apparently some crazy guy was threating to go kill everyone or something, so his neighbor called 911. But no worries, I wasn’t shot…and neither was my companion.

Sal Verduzco (left) is the ward mission leader
and Isaac Zurito is his friend and roommate -
they are awesome to us
So a little bit more about Issac Zurito and his roommate, Sal Verduzco. These two guys are like my favorite people in the world. Verduzco is the Ward Mission Leader for the Rama Vista, which i served in for one week. But the thing is he actually lives in the boundaries for my little group, but he has been going to the Rama Vista (Vista Branch) for like 8 years, so he hasn’t switched over. But then just last week the stake president issued an announcement that everyone has to go to their respective wards, so now he is going to come to our little branch. But this has caused a lot of drama because nobody in the Rama Vista wants him to leave. He is basically like the branch president, because overall the leadership in the Rama is not too great, so everyone goes to him for support and help. We will see what happens. But he is a great example of consecrating himself to the Lord because he works until 5 everyday, but then as soon as he gets off he calls us missionaries and asks where he can meet us to take us to lessons and dinners if we don’t have any and pretty much be our father. He is so great. He is hilarious too. He reminds me of Grandpa, just his humor. And he doesn’t speak much English so he always asks me how to say things in English – which is fun. His roommate, Issac, I don’t know as well, but he is basically the same thing. He is always taking us out to eat and this man is all about his style. He refuses to wear a tie more than once so he always gives us free ties because he just loves shopping and buying ties, so after he wears them once then he gives them away. His closet is crazy amazing, he has at least over 500 ties, like every color and shape and design you can think of. He also gave me a new watch that is way too fancy for me for free. But they are both awesome. They already invited me to come to their house for Christmas, so I think that is what we will do.

So we have our feet on the ground here in Sun Valley, and are finding tons of people to teach. The only problem with the Hispanic people here is that they are flakier than freakin frosted flakes. I would say that like 95% of the people we talk to readily agree to have us come back, and we set up an appointment. But then i would say like 30% of those appointments actually go through. So that can get frustrating sometimes, but oh well. The people that have lots of potential and have actually shown some real deep interest include the Familia Lida, Juan Gonzalez, Hector and Crista and their family, Veronica and her family, and Mickey Sotelo. If you could keep them in your prayers, that would be great. Mickey has been an investigator for a few months, and we would drop him except he came to church yesterday for like the first time in a few months so we are going to follow up on him and see what the deal is. Also keep Alma Lopez in your prayers.  She is a recent convert who has gone inactive who we are trying to bring back to church.

Well that about sums up my week so far.  I know that this church is true. Don’t be afraid to share the knowledge we have about it with everyone. I know we will be blessed if we do.

Elder Todd

We got the "Greenie" package that my family sent
My comp and I and a younger "mini missionary"
that we had with us for the day
All the crap we burned
My goofy roommate...I tried to convince him to
go out and do missionary work dressed like that.
(He was waiting for his clothes to dry!)

Week Eight: Kitchen Fires and Car-Starting Miracles!!

Dinner with aprons

November 10, 2014
Howdy guys!!!

Well this week has been another great week. I love the mission, it is so much fun. So yes, I got moved to a new area!! Still speaking Spanish, and I’m still in the same zone, but 8 elders was just too many for the very small Vista Branch. So I am now in the Redhills Ward. They have a Spanish group, the Leon Group, which has its own sacrament meeting, much like the Potomac Crossing ward back home in Virginia.

Huge stack of empty beer cans!
We serve in Sun Valley, NV – which has the second biggest trailer park in the world!! (or at least that’s what I’ve heard) but anyways, its exactly what it sounds like!  It’s a valley that has TONs of trailers, and then up on the sides of the valley there are a few houses, but most of the valley is filled with trailers. And yes, it is as sketchy as it sounds, and apparently Sun Valley has the highest percent of felons in the world...so in other words, lots of CRAZIES. On Saturday we taught a lesson with a family that had two guys who spent 13 years in jail...he was telling us how he got really good at basketball while he was there. But they were all way nice. Lots of people tell us to be careful because of all the crazies. We tracted into a guy who told us to go away because he was in the middle of doing meth....hahaha, me and my comp got a kick out of that. But, when people aren’t doing drugs then we have yet to be turned down. Everyone is very nice and open, and actually 79% of the population in Sun Valley is Hispanic, so we have been put here to grow this small group into a branch. This group actually borders the Vista Branch, and they are in the same stake, but President Hermansen talked to all of us Span-Ams and told us that while it makes the most sense to combine the group with the branch, the Spirit keeps telling him to keep it separate. So he is putting us here because there is work to be done!

Our new loft apartment (above garage)
When we got the call on Thursday morning to say that we were moving, me and Elder Rivera were pretty bummed. We were just starting to have success and had found a few interested people.  The night before, we even got our first person to commit to being baptized on November 29!! But we had to drop everything, and start over once again with an empty area book. There were two Spanish elders serving in the Leon branch, so we split their area in half:  we have the north half and they have the south. 

Inside our new apartment
So once again, we are opening up a brand new area from scratch. At first we were way bummed, cuz it kinda feels like when you are writing a ten page research paper, and you’ve done all of your research and written the first two pages, and then someone logs on and deletes ALL of your work. So now we have to start over. But, i am actually really excited about our new area. Everyone is quite poor, and most people just walk all around town instead of drive, so that gives us plenty of opportunities to street contact. And many people are home all day, so we can visit with them during the day. And, obviously the majority of the people are Spanish, so that is a plus. None of those things were the case in our old area, so that’s great. The Lord needs Elder Rivera and I in Sun Valley, so we will do it!

Chillin on our bikes
We used our bikes for the first time this past week, which is way fun and I love it. The weather has actually warmed way up this week, which is funny cuz i wrote home last week and told you how cold it was and stuff, but this week has just been gorgeous. So we did some bike riding, which is fun. We just drive to our area and park and then ride around. 

So this week I was able to be a part of another miracle!! It was sweet! It happened before we were transferred, but Elder Rivera and I were walking down a street and we came up to two guys who were working on a really beat-up car, and we asked if they needed help, and they said, “sure – we just need to push it and then we will pop the clutch and get it started that way, because we need to get it started.” So we of course put down our bags and helped push it, but it didn’t work. We pushed it back, and that didn’t work either. Then Elder Rivera told them, "Hey this might sound weird, but if we say a prayer for your car, then maybe it will start." And the two guys looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders and were like yea why not, it wont hurt. Honestly at this point I was like uh-oh, that’s a cool idea and all, but if we say a prayer and it doesn’t
A lot of old beat-up cars in front of the houses...
work then we are going to look like fools...so i was very hesitant, but my comp said the prayer, and in the middle of the prayer, a friend of these two guys pulled up in a truck and
said, “You guys need help?” And so when the prayer was over, he was able to give the guys a jump-start, and the car started right up. My comp and I were like in shock, we couldn’t wipe the stupid grins off of our faces. And the two guys were like "wow that was cool, i guess miracles really do happen!”  My comp and I were both so happy!! I am so thankful that he had the faith that it would work, because mine was wavering. But it certainly strengthened my faith a lot. It was a testimony builder that the Lord does want to help us, and that he listens to our prayers. Some might say that was all a coincidence, but I know that it was a result of our prayer.

So we almost burned down our house this week…(in our hold house before we moved). We were going to make a frozen pizza, so we turned on the oven, and left it for a few minutes. Then a few minutes later my comp like looked over and was like "uhhhh why is there smoke in the kitchen...?" And i turned around and the whole kitchen is just full of smoke. So we were like “OH CRAP" and jumped up and opened the oven and all the windows and the doors and started fanning the smoke away from the fire alarm (like back in Hummelstown) because it wasn’t our house and we didn’t want the fire department to show up. So we were like freakin out and when the smoke cleared out we saw that there was like a pile of grease and gunk in the bottom of the oven that hadn’t been cleaned out in who knows how long. So we just ditched it and once the smoke was gone we went to Taco bell for lunch. The homeowner apologized of course and cleaned it out the next day for us, but then we moved the next day so it was all for nothing. But gave us a good laugh and a good scare!!

We got free lunch at Costa Vida
One of the things that we have done a few times to find Hispanic people to teach is to go play soccer with them! Every Tuesday and Thursday night all the Hispanics get together from the area and play on the soccer courts in the neighborhood. So all of us Span-Ams went and played with them and it was such a riot!! We obviously stick out like sore thumbs because of our clothes, and it strikes up a lot of conversations about the church. My comp is super good at soccer, so everyone loves him when he is on their team and stuff. So that is always fun, even though i am the farthest thing from a soccer player myself. 

Another funny thing that happened this week is that my companion and I were out on the streets and we came across this black guy, named Earl. He was hilarious. He would have talked all night if we let him, but we left him with a prayer and during my prayer he kept saying "Amen" and "mhmmm" just like the black pastor does in Uncle Curt’s “Southern Preacher” impersonation.  I could barely hold it together during the prayer.

Kitchen in our new place

So we now live at 480 Milroy Ln. Sparks, NV 89431. My comp and I live together with two other elders, who are pretty cool…and its way fun to live with two other guys. We live in a loft above their garage, and it actually reminds me of our cabin in Utah, just cuz of the decoration and the feel of it and stuff, with the tiny kitchen and tiny bathroom, and TINY water heater....But i love it!! (See pics).

I love you guys, more to come in a week!!

Elder Todd

My favorite picture ever

With my ward mission leader (left) and friend, Isaac

Selfies with Isaac...

Finally made it to In-N-Out Burger!