Monday, December 19, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Santa Snow and his Reindeer!
(aka STL's - Sister Erickson & Sister Underly,
and AP's Elder Excell & Elder Wightman)
Hey everyone!

Another great week in the mission field! This last week, we had Christmas conferences here in the mission! We had 3 different conferences: one for the southern part of Vegas, one for the northern part of Vegas, and one for the people out-of-valley! It's been so cool to go around the mission and see all of the missionaries! (I'll include some pictures of me with some past companions.)  The conferences have been great! The basic lineup has been that we start with some announcements and videos from the office staff. Then after that, Sister Snow talks about the birth of the Savior. We then give a training centered around the life and example of Jesus Christ. Each of the zone leadership teams for each zone then give training about one of Christ’s miracles, and how ideas from it can be applied to missionary work. Then, President Snow trains on the death, resurrection, and legacy of Jesus Christ. There have been some really cool spiritual experiences during these conferences! This is the Snow's last Christmas conference in the mission, so it's been pretty emotional for them as well. After all of the trainings have been given, we have lunch (provided by the stake relief society of whatever stake we happen to be in), then a talent show, and then President dresses up like Santa Claus and takes pictures with everyone! There have been some great talents over the last few days! Some are really talented, and some, their talent is just to make people laugh, but they're all great! This year, President added a little something extra to his Santa Claus routine. We spent some time Monday night building a sleigh out of cardboard and wrapping paper. Every year, Sister Snow plays some Christmas carols on the piano, and everyone sings them before President comes in. This year he made his entrance by sleigh! We got to be the reindeer! (Hence the antlers with all the pics of past comps, haha). It's been a lot of fun!
Elder Dixon
Elder Andersen
Elder Aitchison
Elder Branning
Elder Tupou
One unique thing about doing zone conferences is that we give the same training multiple times throughout the mission. It’s been kind of cool, because it's given the message a chance to really sink in with me. In our training, we've been talking about the reasons that Christ did what he did. Everything that Christ did, he did because he loved other people. And every aspect of Christ's life was centered around others. He never had a selfish thought, even at times in his life when it would have been so easy to do so. I think we all have times in our lives when we're hurt or upset or something else, and we want nothing more than to focus on ourselves. It's our natural reaction to those circumstances. But in Christ's life, even when things were most difficult for him, he chose to turn outwards and serve others. As I've pondered on this, it's given me an increased desire to serve others and do so out of love for them! I'm so grateful for the opportunity that this mission has been for me to be able to focus completely on serving others! I'm so grateful for Jesus Christ and his selfless example, especially at this time of year. So this Christmas season, take the opportunity to go out and serve someone! It's an easy time of year to get absorbed into all of the different things that you have to do, but I promise, as we focus on others instead, it will bring us so much happiness!

I love you all so much! Merry Christmas!
Elder Excell

Building Santa's Sleigh
Video of Santa's big entrance pulled by his 4 new reindeer:

Santa Snow from Traci Excell on Vimeo.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Staying Busy, Staying Happy

Elder Wightman and Elder Excell
Hey everybody!

This last week has been great! There were a couple of things that happened that were pretty cool.

For one, in one of our exchanges last week, we exchanged with the Elders in the Kingman/Lake Havasu zone! This meant that I got to go back out-of-valley for a day to Lake Havasu City. A lot of the exchange was just drive time, but it was still really great. And best of all, the half way meeting point that we chose to meet at was Dolan Springs! It brought back so many memories to be able to revisit that place. I was almost on the verge of tears the whole time! I love Dolan Springs so much, value the time that I spent there so much, and can't wait for a chance to take friends and family with me some day to go and visit it! 

The other cool thing that happened this week is I had my first MLC as an assistant. It went really well! It was a shorter MLC than usual, and the main focus was presenting the 2017 mission vision to the mission leadership. We've been putting a lot of time into coming up with the 2017 mission vision, and it was cool to see everyone's reactions to it! I'm excited for the chance to work towards it! I won't mention it in this letter, because it's technically still top secret and hasn't been fully announced yet. Wouldn't want it getting leaked, haha.

In answer to some of your questions about Elder Wightman, he's from Rexburg, he came straight out of high school, he did a lot of track and field, he loves peanut butter, and he's one of the happiest people I know! He's always smiling, haha. Because of our assignment, he's really serious a lot of the time, but he's actually a huge goofball, so we get along great!
Mission Office
I've been really loving my time in the office! We have a lot on our plates, and we stay super busy, but we've still got time to proselyte, and we still find and teach a lot! This last week we revised the mileage budgets for the whole mission, went on two exchanges, prepared for and had MLC, had several meetings with President Snow about different things, and still had time for a bunch of Christmas miracles!

One of my favorites from this last week was finding Jaeleen. As you know, we're in a YSA ward, and sometimes it can be hard to find YSA investigators. We had an awesome miracle though! We were on our way to an appointment, and saw an older lady getting in her car. We stopped her quickly and asked if she would like missionaries to come by sometime. She said she was busy right now, but that we should go talk to her daughter. She told her daughter to come outside, and she ended up being YSA age and really interested! Now she'll be at church this Sunday! It was so cool because talking to someone, who we could have easily let drive away because they were in a hurry and not YSA age, led us to an amazing new investigator!

Well, that's all the time I have for today. Love you all!

Elder Excell

Our Apartment

Monday, December 5, 2016

Working Hard and Loving It

Hey Ma and Pops!

I've got just a little while to write, so I figured I'd better sieze the opportunity!

This last week has been crazy!  I’ll tell you about the first part of the week just to try to give you an idea of what's gone on. The first week of the transfer is always extra crazy for the AP’s so we’ve been running non-stop. Every Monday morning, we have a meeting with President and Sister Snow, as well as the Mission Sister Training Leaders. (One of the MSTL's is Camry Erickson from Pocatello!) We discuss the state of the mission for a few hours, and then President and Sister Snow take us out to lunch. We were able to do a few normal p-day things, and then we went to proselyte in the evening.  Each night, there's a lot of stuff that needs to be done in the office. For example, putting together agendas and preparing for meetings, managing miles for the mission, and all kinds of other administrative things.

On Tuesday, we took the departing missionaries to the temple, had a meeting for all of the new leaders in the mission this transfer, and then had a departing testimony meeting for all of the departing missionaries. It was all back-to-back with no time in between! Then, after the departing testimonies, there was a "last supper" for all of them at the mission home. We then went out and proselyted in the evening.

On Wednesday, we dropped off the departing missionaries at the airport, and then picked up the new missionaries coming in. That came with its own challenge, because they all came in on different flights, at different times, and some of the flights changed part way through the day, and we were running around to different terminals trying to find missionaries. It was definitely an adventure. We spent some time at the mission home while all the new missionaries were being interviewed by President Snow and then helped to get everyone to their new areas. It was a busy day, but I really liked being able to help all the new missionaries.

And, that’s just the first part of the week! There are tons of things that keep us extremely busy every day, but I love it and am happy. 

Thanks for all you do for me!  Love you lots!

Q&A - 12/5/2016
1.) Is it hard for you to go to testimony meetings for departing missionaries? Does it make you trunky or does it just make you want to work harder so you can depart with no regrets?  --  I actually really enjoyed it.  Definitely more of the second one than the first. It's really cool to be able to see other missionaries finish their missions, and it definitely gives me a strong desire to work hard so I can go home with no regrets!

2.) Did you get your bike moved? I'm guessing you're not really using it much these days. Do you have a good safe place to store it?  --  Yep! My bike is in my new apartment!

3.) Do you get to work pretty closely with the senior couples who work in the mission office in different capacities?  --  Yep! There's a couple of different senior couples that we get to work with. There's the Brewsters, who are in charge of vehicles and phones; the Kalmes's, who are in charge of housing, and Sister Addington, the secretary for the mission office. Also, Sister Stubbs and Sister Stephens, who are in charge of baptismal forms and referrals.  I really like working with all of them!

4.) Favorite moment of the week?  --  New Leadership Training.  That was on Tuesday.  It's the chance that we, here in the office, have to train the new district leaders and sister training leaders.  It was an especially spiritual meeting for me, and I felt like I was really able to make a difference for some of them, and inspire them as leaders! At least I hope I did!  I really want to do all I can to help them. That's definitely one of my favorite things about being in the office now is that I get the chance to build up and train others.  Anytime I get to work with individuals on a personal basis, I like that the most! Although, I also really like some of the administrative stuff that we do in the office as well.  I've always really liked working with computers, and this gives me an opportunity to do some organizational stuff there as well.  All in all, I'm really loving my new assignment!

Monday, November 28, 2016

A New Opportunity to Serve

Central/Sunrise Zone
Hey Family and Friends!

Just when I thought it couldn't possibly get any crazier, this weekend has been even crazier than almost all the ones before!  As you may know, this week is transfer week, and I have a new assignment! I've been asked to serve as an assistant to President Snow! For those of you who aren't really familiar with missions, district leaders help 8-10 missionaries with their work, zone leaders help 3-4 district leaders with all of their missionaries, and the assistants to the president (me and one other missionary) help all of the zone leaders in the mission. I'm definitely really overwhelmed!  It'll mean I'll spend a lot of time working really closely with President Snow, and will be traveling all over the mission! It's a ton of responsibility. I know that on my own, I couldn't possibly handle this new assignment, but I also know that with the Lords help, I can do all things!

I'll be serving in another YSA ward - the Robindale YSA Ward! And, I'll be serving with Elder Wightman from Rexburg. 

Unfortunately, my new assignment will mean I'll be even busier than usual on pday, so my emails might not always be the longest, but I'll do my best! 

I love you all! I know I couldn't do any of this without your love, prayers, and support. Thank you, and happy holidays!

Elder Excell

Thanksgiving with the Littlefields!

Q&A - 11/28/2016
1.) What was the most memorable part of your Thanksgiving? Foods? Traditions? It's cool to celebrate with new people in new ways. I'm so grateful to the Littlefield's for including you in their day!!  --  It was way fun to be with the Littlefields! They're a great family, and they had a huge Thanksgiving party with lots of people!

2.) Now that you've had a day for things to sink in, how are you feeling about your new responsibilities? Are you doing OK? Are you happy?  (Note from Mom:  We got the most wonderful surprise on Saturday, 11/26 - an unexpected phone call from our missionary!! President Snow had asked him to call us and let us know that he was being asked to serve as an assistant to the President.  To say that we were surprised and thrilled to hear his voice would be an understatement!!)  --  I'm super excited! It's definitely a lot, and I'm a little overwhelmed right now, but I feel like I do well when under pressure.  I'm also super excited to work so closely with President Snow!

3.) Is Elder Tupou with you? We were curious what he would be doing in the midst of the changes with you.  --  He's hanging out with some other missionaries. Elder Green and Elder Wightman came and picked me up Sunday night. The last day or two has been crazy! I'll try to tell you more about what I've been doing next week.
Amber Miller

Me and Elder Tupou with Anna and Jennifer

Me and Bradley

Derek Lang

David Howe

Monday, November 21, 2016

My Week in Pictures

Hey y'all!

This last week has been great! Not a lot of time today, but I'll try to make up for it in pictures! 

Amanda was baptized his last week! She's awesome, and it was really cool to see her make that step! 

This next week is transfers, and it seems like there's going to be a big shakeup! I'm excited to see what happens, and I love you all!

Amanda's Baptism!

Finally got myself a new belt. Sometimes, you just know it's finally time...

Me, Elder Young, Elder Tupou, and Elder Leakehe (who's in my zone
again!) helping someone move!

A picture from when we were proselyting the other night. Our area
covers right by the stratosphere!

Enjoying a sunset at a stoplight.

Q&A - 11/21/2016
1.) Did you get our package of Cutler's Cookies finally? Are the cookies green, or will they still be edible? Still sad that it took an extra week to get to you!  -- I got it! And the cookies are still ok! Definitely not fresh out of the oven, but not green either!

2.) Something new on your gratitude list that wasn't there last year.  --  All of the experiences I've had his year! (Kind of lame, I know, but I'm not good at thinking on the spot, and I'm running out of time, haha)

3.) The thing I want to remember most from last week is....  --  I went on exchanges with an elder, and he really opened up to me about some struggles that he's been having the last couple of weeks. We had some really good talks, and I think he felt a lot better afterwards. I'll always treasure any opportunity I have to help other missionaries!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Tender Mercies

Hey everybody!

This last week, I've been thinking about tender mercies. There was a class about it on Sunday this last week, and so I've been thinking about it a lot lately. I'll include a part of a talk given by Elder Bednar a few years ago so y'all can see what I've been thinking about:

Six months ago, I stood at this pulpit for the first time as the newest member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Both then and even more so now, I have felt and feel the weight of the call to serve and of the responsibility to teach with clarity and to testify with authority. I pray for and invite the assistance of the Holy Ghost as I now speak with you.

This afternoon I want to describe and discuss a spiritual impression I received a few moments before I stepped to this pulpit during the Sunday morning session of general conference last October. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf had just finished speaking and had declared his powerful witness of the Savior. Then we all stood together to sing the intermediate hymn that previously had been announced by President Gordon B. Hinckley. The intermediate hymn that morning was “Redeemer of Israel” (Hymns, no. 6).

Now, the music for the various conference sessions had been determined many weeks before--and obviously long before my new call to serve. If, however, I had been invited to suggest an intermediate hymn for that particular session of the conference--a hymn that would have been both edifying and spiritually soothing for me and for the congregation before my first address in this Conference Center—I would have selected my favorite hymn, “Redeemer of Israel.” Tears filled my eyes as I stood with you to sing that stirring hymn of the Restoration.

Near the conclusion of the singing, to my mind came this verse from the Book of Mormon: “But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Ne. 1:20).

My mind was drawn immediately to Nephi’s phrase “the tender mercies of the Lord,” and I knew in that very moment I was experiencing just such a tender mercy. A loving Savior was sending me a most personal and timely message of comfort and reassurance through a hymn selected weeks previously. Some may count this experience as simply a nice coincidence, but I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are real and that they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Often, the Lord’s timing of His tender mercies helps us to both discern and acknowledge them.

What Are the Tender Mercies of the Lord?

Since last October I have reflected repeatedly upon the phrase “the tender mercies of the Lord.” Through personal study, observation, pondering, and prayer, I believe I have come to better understand that the Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ. Truly, the Lord suits “his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men” (D&C 46:15).

Recall how the Savior instructed His Apostles that He would not leave them comfortless. Not only would He send “another Comforter” (John 14:16), even the Holy Ghost, but the Savior said that He would come to them (see John 14:18). Let me suggest that one of the ways whereby the Savior comes to each of us is through His abundant and tender mercies. For instance, as you and I face challenges and tests in our lives, the gift of faith and an appropriate sense of personal confidence that reaches beyond our own capacity are two examples of the tender mercies of the Lord. Repentance and forgiveness of sins and peace of conscience are examples of the tender mercies of the Lord. And the persistence and the fortitude that enable us to press forward with cheerfulness through physical limitations and spiritual difficulties are examples of the tender mercies of the Lord.

In a recent stake conference, the tender mercies of the Lord were evident in the touching testimony of a young wife and mother of four whose husband was slain in Iraq in December of 2003. This stalwart sister recounted how, after being notified of her husband’s death, she received his Christmas card and message. In the midst of the abrupt reality of a dramatically altered life came to this good sister a timely and tender reminder that indeed families can be together forever. With permission I quote from that Christmas card:

“To the best family in the world! Have a great time together and remember the true meaning of Christmas! The Lord has made it possible for us to be together forever. So even when we are apart, we will still be together as a family.

“God bless and keep y’all safe and grant this Christmas to be our gift of love from us to Him above!!!

“All my love, Daddy and your loving husband!”

Clearly, the husband’s reference to being apart in his Christmas greeting referred to the separation caused by his military assignment. But to this sister, as a voice from the dust from a departed eternal companion and father, came a most needed spiritual reassurance and witness. As I indicated earlier, the Lord’s tender mercies do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Faithfulness, obedience, and humility invite tender mercies into our lives, and it is often the Lord’s timing that enables us to recognize and treasure these important blessings.

Some time ago I spoke with a priesthood leader who was prompted to memorize the names of all of the youth ages 13 to 21 in his stake. Using snapshots of the young men and women, he created flash cards that he reviewed while traveling on business and at other times. This priesthood leader quickly learned all of the names of the youth.

One night the priesthood leader had a dream about one of the young men whom he knew only from a picture. In the dream he saw the young man dressed in a white shirt and wearing a missionary name tag. With a companion seated at his side, the young man was teaching a family. The young man held the Book of Mormon in his hand, and he looked as if he were testifying of the truthfulness of the book. The priesthood leader then awoke from his dream.

At an ensuing priesthood gathering, the leader approached the young man he had seen in his dream and asked to talk with him for a few minutes. After a brief introduction, the leader called the young man by name and said: “I am not a dreamer. I have never had a dream about a single member of this stake, except for you. I am going to tell you about my dream, and then I would like you to help me understand what it means.”

The priesthood leader recounted the dream and asked the young man about its meaning. Choking with emotion, the young man simply replied, “It means God knows who I am.” The remainder of the conversation between this young man and his priesthood leader was most meaningful, and they agreed to meet and counsel together from time to time during the following months.

That young man received the Lord’s tender mercies through an inspired priesthood leader. I repeat again, the Lord’s tender mercies do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Faithfulness and obedience enable us to receive these important gifts and, frequently, the Lord’s timing helps us to recognize them.

We should not underestimate or overlook the power of the Lord’s tender mercies. The simpleness, the sweetness, and the constancy of the tender mercies of the Lord will do much to fortify and protect us in the troubled times in which we do now and will yet live. When words cannot provide the solace we need or express the joy we feel, when it is simply futile to attempt to explain that which is unexplainable, when logic and reason cannot yield adequate understanding about the injustices and inequities of life, when mortal experience and evaluation are insufficient to produce a desired outcome, and when it seems that perhaps we are so totally alone, truly we are blessed by the tender mercies of the Lord and made mighty even unto the power of deliverance (see 1 Ne. 1:20).

I've been really looking for the tender mercies of the Lord throughout this last week, and when you start to look for them, you start to see so many of them! I was in the Spanish elders area again, and this time it was with a really new elder who hasn't quite learned Spanish perfectly yet. Neither of us were very sure what was going on a lot of the time, but in my very limited Spanish, I got the chance to just testify of the gospel really simply, and I could really feel the spirit throughout the day! Also, I've been really wondering about a lot of things lately, so I decided to fast this Sunday and read my patriarchal blessing. The Lord spoke peace to my heart so strongly! And then all throughout the day on Sunday, all of the lessons and talks seemed to be pointed right at me! There are so many tender mercies that we can see each day!

I'm so grateful for all of support that you all give me! I love you all!
Elder Excell

Q&A - 11/14/2016
1.) Since Thanksgiving is next week, are you making any plans? Do you have a dinner invitation for that day? Will that be a regular missionary day or more like a p-day? -- We do have a dinner invitation with a really cool family! The Littlefield's. It will be pretty much like a regular proselyting day.

2.) What are you most looking forward to in the week ahead?  --  We have a really busy week this week, including a zone training meeting. It's always fun when you get a chance to be with the whole zone.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Temple View

Hey everybody! This last week has been great!  
The view outside of our chapel -- not bad!!

I guess the best place to start would be last Monday. It was Halloween, and for those of you who don't remember from last year, we aren't allowed to proselyte on Halloween night. Apparently in the past there have been problems with people dressing up as missionaries and doing stupid things, so instead, all of the missionaries get together at the mission office and have a Halloween party! It was pretty great, and it's the one time of the year when all of the missionaries get to watch a movie together! Last year it was the Cokeville Miracle, and this year it was Shrek!  It was great for a few reasons. As a missionary, the things that you find funny change a lot. I've never seen so many 20 year old's so caught up in, or laughing so much from watching a kids movie! I've also never felt quite so uncomfortable about incredibly small amounts of crude humor, haha.

The baptism this Thursday was great also! Isaac had a lot of friends and family there to support him, and it was a really cool experience.

I've actually had a lot of cool experiences this week that have really helped me to appreciate the things that have happened to me on my mission. I already mentioned it in the Q&A, but I think it bears repeating. I'm so grateful for everything that I've learned, all of the people I've met, and all of the ways that my life has been changed. I really love this mission!

And, I love and appreciate you!
Elder Excell
Elder Tupou puts his feet up by the fire after a long day

Q&A - 11/7/2016
1.) We'd love to hear more about the baptism on Thursday.  -- The baptism was a guy named Isaac. He's a really great guy! He has a girlfriend who's LDS, but he didn't let that influence his decision at all. He made sure that he was getting baptized because he knew it was true. To be honest, I didn't have too much to do with this baptism, it was already pretty much in place before I got here. It was still really cool to participate though! He asked me to do the confirmation, and that's always a really cool experience.

2.) Does it feel weird attending a YSA ward as a missionary?  It seems like not so much a temptation to start dating or anything, but just kind of weird because everybody is your same age, but you're the only one that is a missionary.  Let us know how that feels.  --  It can definitely be kind of weird serving a YSA ward sometimes. But it can also be really cool! It's like getting to do missionary work with a bunch of your friends.

3.) What do you wish you had more time to do on P-days?  --  I definitely wish I had a little more time to send off some decent emails. But I'm grateful that I get the time I do!

4.) During this month of gratitude, I'm thankful for...  --  The chance that I have to be a missionary. I can't even describe all of the ways that this mission has and is changing my life, and I think often about how fast it's going. Don't get me wrong, I miss home and everything, but there are a lot of times that I never want to leave. I really don't know what I'll do. But no need to think about that for quite a while yet!
Pictures of our patriotic apartment...

Monday, October 31, 2016

A Drunk Guy Almost Punched Me

Hey everybody!

Not a lot of time today, so I'll have to keep it short but still try to include some stuff! 

This last week has been pretty great! Elder Timothy J Dykes visited our mission. He's a seventy, and had some really great insights. It was also really great to see most of the rest of the mission, because we all got together for his visit. Especially enjoyed seeing Elder Branning, Elder Andersen, and Elder Dixon. (Elder Aitchison went to a different conference.) 

In other news, a drunk guy almost punched me the other night! It was definitely a little crazy, but nothing ended up really happening. Elder Tupou and I were just walking and talking to some people late last night, and we came across a couple of drunk guys. We talked to them for five or ten minutes, but could see it wasn't going anywhere. When I said, "well, we have to get running", one of them got really upset with us. He started getting really angry and shouting at us, and his friend held him back so that he wouldn't hit me. It was pretty crazy, but I'm fine, and nothing really happened. Just one of those crazy Vegas stories! 

I hope all of you are doing well! Sorry I don't have time to write more!

I love you all!

Elder Excell

Elder Tupou and Elder Excell
Q&A - 10/31/2016

1.) Thank you, for sending us the audio file of your musical number with Elder Branning!! I loved hearing you play the piano again and have listened to it dozens of times this week! Is this an arrangement that you wrote or was it from a book that you have there with you? It was incredibly well done!! Both piano and voice!! -- It was a lot of fun to perform with him! Definitely a great way to end the transfer.

2.) Did you find some time to take pictures of your patriotic apartment?  --  Shoot! I forgot! Next week for sure.

3.) How are things going with Elder Tupou? Are you adjusting to a new companion?  --  Were getting along really well!

4.) What was your biggest challenge this week?  --  I actually got the chance to go on exchanges in a Spanish area for the first time. Not gonna lie, it was really confusing. Not sure how those missionaries who have to learn a foreign language do it! I was just really lost and confused the whole day. I did manage to learn how to pray in Spanish before the end of the exchange though!

5.) What was your biggest success of the week?  --  This was not necessarily this week, but just in general. I've got a couple of baptisms coming up that we are really excited about! We should have one this Thursday, and another on November 19. Really excited for both of them!