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!

Week Seven: Back in the States!!!

With my mission president and his wife:
President and Sister David Hermansen

November 3, 2014

Well guys, I made it!! I love it here!! It is so much fun. My companion is Elder Rivera. He is the man!!  He is from Peru, so his native language is Spanish, which is great. I actually think I speak more Spanish throughout the day here in Reno than when I was in Mexico. 

Traveling from Mexico City to Reno
(via LA and San Francisco)
But anyways, my first night was not very fun at all. We got in about 5 or 6 and went to the mission office, where we met the mission president and his wife. Because we got in late, we didn’t meet our trainers that night - they just assigned us to live with some random missionaries who lived in the areas right around the office. I was assigned to this apartment with three really cool elders, but I was STARVING and extremely tired because I hadn’t slept well in two nights straight. There was like no food in the apartment, and only two beds, so I was on the floor. I didn’t have all of my suitcases; I only pulled out a change of clothes and a towel so I had nothing to sleep with. It was freakin freezing and I had like no blanket except the towel i brought with me. That was my first taste of homesickness. All i could think about that night was how long two years was. 

New missionaries arriving in Reno on October 28th
(with our mission president and his wife)
But, as things always do, things got WAY better the next day. I went back to the mission office where we had orientation with the mission president and all of the mission leaders. They fed us a good lunch and all was well. They then announced who my trainer would be, and because he was still traveling to the mission home, I spent the rest of the evening with the two assistants. They had a dinner scheduled, so I was able to go to dinner with them which was fun (they served spaghetti - surprise surprise haha!)  But then that night my companion arrived and we met up and drove to our house. So we actually live in a members house!! It’s way cool and there are some things to be grateful for...we don’t have to go to a laundromat and pay for our laundry, nor do we have to pay for our laundry detergent, which is nice. And the neighborhood we live in is super nice. 

8 Spanish-speaking missionaries in the Vista Branch
So I am serving in the Vista Branch in Sparks, NV. It’s great. There are actually 8 of us Spanish missionaries here, which is a lot for one small branch. But apparently most of the Spanish-speaking elders in our mission spend most of their time in "zebra" land where they only teach like half of the lessons in Spanish, and the other half in English. So i am so glad to be where I am. Our branch mission leader is awesome. Hermano Verduzco is his name, and he is hilarious. He reminds me of grandpa because he is always joking around and stuff and likes to poke fun at everyone else. 

With my companion, Elder Rivera in our car
We have our own car, which is way nice because it is FREEZING here. The first three days here were beautiful, but then it got way cold all the sudden and now we are like freezing our butts off cuz I don’t have all of my warm clothes...so mom please send the long johns and everything else ASAP hahaa. Our area is actually brand new because they split an old area, so both my companion and me are starting from ground zero. We don’t have much to go off of now, because our area book was practically empty, so we have spent almost all of our time just street contacting people. We have had some success, and have been able to set up a few appointments for this week. We are just trying to get the ball rolling, slowly and steadily. The work is slow, but we are being patient. 

We get $125/month so one of the most stressful things for me so far is how to budget that with food and everything. That covers food, clothes, everything.  I'm gonna learn how to budget, thats for sure haha. But if you want to send me money, don’t send a check, because i have no way to cash it…just send cash or gift cards.

We are supposed to get iPads before the end of the year, which will be awesome!!! I think i will be able to talk to everyone more once that happens. I will be on Facebook and everything daily when that happens.

Love you all,
Elder Todd

Selfie with my awesome comp, Elder Rivera 
Chillin' in Nevada
Beautiful view from our street
The first thing I saw when I got off the plane...
Hangin' out with the two AP's on my first day in the mission field
(AP stands for Assistant to the President)

Week Six: Last Week in the Missionary Training Center!!

October 27, 2014

Hola!!! Como Estan? Como esta Virginia sin Richmandawg? Todo bien aqui en mexico, y estoy muy animado para salir manana por el campo misional! Ayer fue nuestro ultimo domingo aqui en el CCM, y fue perfecto. Todos de los discursos eran buenos y tuve la oportunidad a cantar en el reunion sacramental otra vez! Cantamos "If the savior stood beside me" pero era en espanol!! Queria llorar durante esta cancion porque fue muy hermosa.

I'll let you guys translate that and see if between MJ and Nathan and Dad they can figure it out. If not Google translate always works pretty good.

Last picture with my district
Well guys, today is my last day here at the Centro de Capacitacion de Mexico. (Mexico City Missionary Training Center.)  Anndddd its a mixed bag of feelings for me right now...with mostly happiness though. I am so extremely happy to get out of here and teach REAL people!!! So far all we have done is teach role plays to each other and to our teachers, but starting this week I will get to teach real people!! I am so excited. I am a little sad however, to say goodbye to all of the friends here. I've gotten really close to many people, especially my companions, and the other Elders in our house and in our zone. They are all way cool and i wish that we could all go to the same mission. But i know that Ill make more friends once i get to Reno, which will be fun.

Some of my favorite Latino friends
This half-week has been just as awesome as the others. I love the Hispanic people. For whatever reason we were just never that close to any Hispanics until this week but they are hilarious!! They are seriously some of the funniest people i have ever met, and I am pretty sure they think we are the funniest people they have ever met too. One funny thing that happened this week is the Elders that are staying in our house did their laundry, but instead of laundry detergent they put a bar of soap in the washing machine!! We couldn’t stop laughing because it was so funny. The next guy who was going to go use it went to put his clothes in but there was like this clump of white stuff at the bottom of the washing machine so he pulled it out and smelled it and it was soap!! Then we asked them later what the deal was and they explained it. I can’t blame them though...if it can clean our dirty hands then it ought to be able to clean our dirty clothes too!!

So the road that is behind our house that is outside the fence is still as crazy as described in past weeks. However this week we had a new addition....... as if the other ones weren’t enough. Some guy with a big tractor-trailer truck drives by at 5:30 every morning. And i am 99% sure that he took off the mufflers from his exhaust pipes and instead put megaphones on, cuz that truck is LOUD as all heck. Like its ridiculous how loud it is. And its everyday at 5:30! Every morning at that time we are all woken up.  We laugh/curse the guy driving it and then go back to bed for another hour.

Our entire zone (zones are bigger than districts)
I forgot to tell you guys about the wonderful devotional that we had last Tuesday. The international directors of the MTCs came and spoke to us. They showed us pictures of the other MTCs around the world, and it was way cool to see people all around the world doing the same thing as us!! The England MTC looked beautiful. But did you know that as of Tuesday morning at 8 am there were 87,598 full time missionaries serving in the world!! And i am one of them!! Also the director of all the mtcs told us that we were his favorite MTC, because it was the biggest with the most beautiful campus. Just to put things into perspective, the Provo MTC is about 30 acres big and has about 2000 missionaries there right now. Here at the one in Mexico we have just under 90 acres and we have 450 missionaries. So needless to say I am blessed to come to a place with such a big, wonderful campus to learn!!

Pics from my family at Halloween:
Grace is Minnie, James is a Redskins player,
Spencer is Olaf, my cousin Lucy is Elsa,
and cousin Violet is the ladybug.
So what is everyone going to be for Halloween this year?? I saw the costume that Spencer was wearing, is he going to be Olaf?? I loved that costume. I took a picture of that picture on my camera so i can look back at it. It is hilarious. But what about everyone else?? 

In a few days you guys should check out the Reno Nevada mission blog, because i will probably be on it!! Apparently the Mission President's wife updates it regularly so be sure to check it out!!  The address is http://nevadarenomission.blogspot.com

One funny Spanish-English translations that get mixed up a lot that can result in some very awkward/funny scenarios is as follows:  In Spanish embarrasado is NOT embarrased, it means pregnant. I’m sure you can imagine the funny things that are said with that mistake.

One thing that i forgot to mention from a long time ago was that the roads here in Mexico are crazy!! They have bumps put in everywhere so people don’t speed, but it gets SO annoying. Like imagine riverside parkway with bumps in it every 1/4 mile...its ridiculous. 

Also one other thing that you guys should check out is this talk that was in the Ensign a few months ago...one of the counselors in my branch presidency wrote it, his name is Presidente Lima. He is awesome but the article is SO cool, especially cuz i know who wrote it!! Here is the link: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2014/06/amazed-at-the-love-jesus-offers-me?lang=eng Be sure to check it out!

So some of my closest friends are the Elders who are staying in our house with us. We are especially close with two of the companionships because we have both been there the whole time. A few of the pictures from this week include all of our housemates. 4 of them are going to serve in Salt Lake City; one of them is going to Chapman Tagg’s mission!! I told him to look out for Elder Tagg. But they are all really cool.
We enjoy playing pranks on each other and having fun. So far the funniest prank that has been pulled was that we put an alarm clock in the little closet with the iron in a different room, and set the alarm for like 2 am, and then we put a cup of water in the closet and positioned it so that when the closet would be opened, the cup of water would spill all over the person who opened it. Needless to say, that prank took the cake.

So last night was awesome. It was our last Sunday night here at the MTC and we had a testimony meeting for all of us who got here together and are now leaving together. It was incredible. The spirit was so strong it was awesome. I was overcome with this feeling of emotion that I cant quite describe. Right now I kinda feel like I am standing in the Huskies helmet on the field and we are all jacked up on emotion ready to run out of the tunnel, before a football game. Except instead of sprinting out onto the football field, we are sprinting out into the mission field, just like a bunch of stripling warriors ready to rock and roll.  I can honestly say once again that the Lord has blessed me with 100% confidence. Just like Ammon says in Alma 26:12 when he talks about how he doesn’t want to boast in his own strength, but he is powerful because of the power of his God. I feel the same way. I know that it is only through His strength that I am not nervous at all. I heard someone say this scripture the other day so I looked it up and I love it, in D&C 84:88 it says: "I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up." I can feel him bearing me up. Last night I got almost no sleep because we had to take Elder Cook to the bus drop off area at 2 in the morning (so now it is just Me and Elder Agren, no more three-some) but he was up late packing and stuff and I didn’t sleep well. But today i am not tired at all. Again, I know that he is bearing me up on my right and left hands. I am sure it will be the same thing again tonight because Elder Agren is leaving at 2 am again, and I leave at 5, so there wont be much sleeping going on. But I know that I can pray for help and guidance and support and he will come through.

Today kinda feels like the last day of school, because we aren’t doing much.  We still had to go to all of our classes and stuff, but our minds are elsewhere. 

I love you guys. You are the greatest. I know that the Messiah has come, and that He will come again. I am SO excited to go share that knowledge with the people in Nevada who are waiting for me. 

I sure do love and miss everyone!!!!!



My district plus Hermano Sainz
(who reminds me of my Uncle Chad Cannon)
Bein' goofballs

My companions and two of our teachers

Goofin' off with the whole zone