This blog chronicles Matthew Staib's progress as he serves an LDS mission over the course of twenty-four months.

You can also read his personal blog at different, defined.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Mike Rowe, a Birthday and a Baptism

Let's see how much of this week I can fit in here. I'm thinkin' this will be a doozy.

On Tuesday, Elder Bigelow and I were roped into working as a clean-up crew for an abandoned apartment. We're talkin' Mike Rowe business here. I should have taken pictures to show how bad this place was... The apartment is owned by a sister in the branch, Sis. Mosley, who recently suffered from a stroke. The family that lived in the apartment was kicked out a month and a half ago for not paying rent. Elder Bigelow and I teamed up with Sis. Mosley's grandson to clean the place. We opened the door.

The apartment is made up of the main room, a hallway leading back to the kitchen, the kitchen, and then a small dining area. In the main room sat two couches, and laying on the black leather couch sat a cat that was just as surprised to see us as we were to see it. The scamp leaped off the couch and ran to the back of the apartment. It'll reappear later.

The apartment was left in a state of disarray that is near inhumane. There were baby clothes, toys and books sprawled all over the floor, along with DVDs, Happy Meal toys, wigs, brushes, blankets, fabrics, coins, random plastic objects -- everything a mother and 3 young children would need to be mildly amused all day. The smell was a haze that fogged my lungs, and the air was thick with festering bacteria. The shovels, rake and pitchforks we brought were very useful in filling the ten garbage bags we brought with us.

Every piece of clothing we picked up yielded a small crowd of cockroaches that dispersed from their homewreckers. Some roaches even lounged around on the walls, watching us move around the apartment. The kitchen was no better. More clothes, a box of corn starch with mouse dropping all around it, more ants and cockroaches and toys all awaited us. The cat reappeared from behind the kitchen counters and darted out the front door. The whole ordeal took 2 and a half hours. We had to go outside and renew the air in our bodies from time to time. Nevertheless, we removed a bluk of them mess, and I even picked up an old copy of Pokemon Stadium that might be salvagable. What an adventure. :3

Yesterday was my 21st birthday. I felt as if I was a true member of the West Memphis branch at church yesterday, given my assignments and invitations to help out. Let's see... For starters, we had a meeting with the branch presidency to update them on our missionary work and get them involved. Afterwards, I helped the branch mission leader draw out a map to his property for a hayride the branch is holding this Friday. As I made the final touches on the map, the chorister came in and summoned me as the branch's piano player.

Of course, I don't play piano, but I'm one of the only people in the building that knows how to operate the LDS electronic piano that stands as backup in the event our actual piano player is missing. I got sacrament meeting started off with a grin on everyone's face as I struggled to get the thing started up and had about 3 false starts before the music finally played. Elder Bigelow gave a talk for the latter part of sacrament meeting on fasting. Sacrament meeting ended, and after making copies of the map I had drawn an hour ago, we were swept off to teach Gospel Principles, just like every Sunday. The lesson was on the Postmortal Spirit World. Following Gospel Principles was Priesthood, and I'm glad that I was able to take a breather for that hour.

A half hour after church, Joe Orey's baptism was scheduled to begin. In Mormon time, that means 50 minutes after church ended. The first talk was given, and then we all filed around the baptistry to see the baptism take place. Poor little Joe... He stood in that baptistry, shaking like a leaf. Elder Bigelow and I tried so hard throughout the day to get the water warm, but nothing was working, so Joe stood in some colder-than-pool-temperature water. He was baptized, and the moment he came out of the water he darted for the stairs.

We waited for Bro. Orey and Joe to return from getting changed, after which I had been asked to share a talk on the Holy Ghost. It was short, sweet, and to the point, which was a relief to most people there, I think, because all the other talks given in the church building that day had been just the opposite. After my talk, Joe was given the gift of the Holy Ghost. Joe asked me if I could stand in for it. That was a great experience. The Oreys have become a dear family to me, and it'll be fun to see all the kids grow up. They plan to move to Idaho as soon as they have the means to, so they'll never be too far away to visit when I get back home. I told Sis. Orey a week ago that Elder Kowalk and I would have to get a van and take a roadtrip to see them. She laughed and got excited.

<streeeeetch> Oh man, lots of words are in this thing... It's been a good week. I had 5 different cakes for my birthday: a baby shower cake, a butter pecan cake with brown sugar cream cheese icing, a spice cake, a chocolate cake with Sis. Orey's chocolate trifle on the side (that stuff is LEGENDARY), and a chocolate muffin my parents mailed to me a few days ago. Thank goodness it's bike week.

Well, that's about it. We had once investigator to church that is very studious about other religions, and he stayed for all 3 hours of church AND the baptism, despite back problems and other ailments that get worse over long periods of sitting. What a trooper!

We're still working with part-member families, trying to use the gospel as a way to create unity and family blessings, but it seems that these families have run into a point in their lives that are hard to focus on anything other than getting by day after day. We're doing our best to strengthen and support them.

Thank you, everyone, for birthday wishes, and other wishes on a successful mission. The next transfer period is on November 14, and I'm thinking these will be my final weeks in West Memphis.

-Elder Staib


Happy Birthday. To me.

Me, Joe and Bro. Orey

Joe's baptismal program. Joe made the assignments for the speakers and the songs.  
I think I make a decent mummy

Monday, October 22, 2012

"Sweatin' Up a Storm"

MAN. This week. Talk about sweatin' up a storm. 
On Monday this past week, I was asked by the branch president to give a talk in church. After preparing the night before and the morning of my talk, I managed to sweat and stagger for 20 minutes as I spoke on missionary work and the gospel we are to share with the world, as well as how to find out its truthfulness. I kept the notes from my talk to remember the moment. I'll just say that it didn't feel like it was me giving the talk. The Spirit was there, and I think I'd compare the boldness of my speech to Paul towards the end of Acts. 
There was a Stake high councilman who spoke after me, but he only had about 15 minutes to speak. I didn't realize so much time had passed. I was just pouring my heart out over that pulpit. I noticed that was the first time I've ever held on to the sides of a pulpit. Weird fact, but true. Maybe that's the transition to becoming a good speaker: grabbin' that pulpit.
Later that evening, we were to have a cottage meeting at a member's home. Cottage meetings are like firesides, but they're open for everyone to come, both members and investigators alike. Not too many investigators showed up, but I would still say the event was a success. 
Elder Bigelow and I prepared a spiritual thought on temples, using clips from the films "Between Heaven and Earth" and "Mountain of the Lord". If I can just say really quick, "Mountain of the Lord" is my favorite church history movie ever. Hands down. I can't believe I hadn't seen it before my mission. Anyway, we used a combination of movie clips and the Socratic method, i.e., asking questions and having discussions, to give everyone a chance to share their temple experiences with everyone else. It was wonderful.
I'm really excited for this upcoming weekend. I'm having a combined birthday party with a recent convert in the eveining, and earlier that day is the branch's turnk-or-treat party. We've got candy to help out. It'll be a great day. The only downside I can see is that I'll be 21. Bluh... that's so weird... I still feel (and look) 18.
The missionary work itself has been sluggish. There aren't any excuses I can give for it. I desperately need to revitalize my hopes, really. But that'll all come with time. For now, I need to serve and love the people here in West Memphis, and let the Spirit guide me to those that need the gospel.
I love you guys. Thanks for all you've done for me. My mission has changed me. There's no doubt about it. You'll see.
-Elder Staib


ELDER KELLY YES. He went home in December last year, and he came back to visit! He was AP when he left and drove me to the mission home when I got off the plane. Talk about a blast from the past.

Arkansas Razorback birthday cup for me

Monday, October 15, 2012

One Year on October 12

Expect this to be a short entry this week, folks.

We've endured bike week. Elder Bigelow and I are safe. It's been a week of going around, letting Elder Bigelow share with everyone how he got hit by a car a year ago and how he's now back in the area.

Not much has changed in anyone's progress since last week.

I guess there are a couple things I can touch on. I'll be telling stories, but they're not exactly happy ones.

Last Saturday (conference Saturday), Elder Bigelow and I attended a funeral in between sessions of conference. The funeral was for an investigator's "life partner", who passed away in a nursing home after fighting the side effects of a stroke for 3 years. Elder Bigelow, the investigator and I were the only Caucasian people at the funeral, so I felt a bit out of place.

The people were friendly, though, even though we had the name of another church pinned to our chests. It was held at a Baptist church with a Baptist preacher and I'm guessing an entirely Baptist congregation. That was the most intriguing point in my mission, being part of a world where prayers are shouted, you say "Amen" in the middle of every sentence, and songs of mourning are sung at a steady 3 beats per minute.

This past Saturday, we witnessed another funeral, but this one was different. Brother Mason, who was called to be second counselor in the branch presidency only a month ago, passed away from blood clots in his lungs. It was a terrible blow to the branch, losing one of the most powerful priesthood holders we had. It was a very solemn ceremony, where tears were shed from many members of the branch as well as friends and relatives.

It was somewhat amusing when the speaker, who was LDS, reiterated the Plan of Salvation to us, and described where Bro. Mason is now, when a woman a couple rows behind me whispered loudly to another woman, "I've never heard THAT before." As I explained to a member of the branch later, that is the doctrine Bro. Mason believed in (and we're all taught), so it is perfectly acceptable to share at his funeral.

During the fast and testimony meeting yesterday, many people went up to express love for Bro. Mason, and others got up to testify of how the Atonement heals heartache. I got up and thanked West Memphis for letting me stay 6 months of my mission out of the 12 I had already served.

I love this branch very much. They've been through so much loss these past few months, and the branch president is in a state of discouragement and heartache from it all. The Houstons had moved to Maine, Bro. Mason passed away, other members have been hospitalized and gone through car wrecks... You can imagine why I'm not exactly in the best of spirits at the moment. I still love the gospel, and I love the influence of the Atonement in my life. I really have to put it to practice over this next week, though.

-Elder Staib


We spent last Monday at Bro. Floyd's house, a very good friend of the missionaries in Memphis. We played two games at his house: an old-fashioned top game where you knock down pins...

...and Risk. I came in second place, miraculously.

This is a cotton gin. Ginning cotton.

The trees haven't changed too much yet, but the leaves are already falling pretty bad. Everything's just...dead.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ask the Missionaries

Exchanges happened. I'm now with Elder Aaron Bigelow from Blackfoot Idaho. My suspicions from last week were correct, so yes, he is the missionary I described who got hit by a car and was out of the mission for 10 months (instead of the 9 I mentioned).
So let's get this elephant out of the room. Conference. Missionaries may now come out at younger ages. That's awesome, and I can't wait for this new wave to come through. I can see both pros and cons to the situation, but more pros. Great conference, though. You can imagine what one of my favorites was: "ASK THE MISSIONARIES!"
As I write, I look back on the past couple of weeks, and notice a miracle has taken place. Elder Mortensen and I were going through the branch roster two weekends ago. There was a name I didn't recognize. We went to visit this man, he opened the door, we introduced ourselves and asked if we could come by and visiti him and get to know him some time. He told us that he had only sat through Sacrament meetings, but that he was still coming pretty often. I felt pretty bad about not knowing him, but nonetheless, he allowed us to come back and see him the next week.
So fast forward to this last Thursday. We met with him, got to know his situation and his career. He had lived a very good gospel-oreinted life until a divorce and some bad decisions. He really opened up to us, desperately seeking a spiritual light in his life to guide him back to church. That's honestly the first time I had seen something like that. 

This man who had once had the gospel in his life cast it aside for a time -- that's pretty common. But this sudden realization that something that was once there is missing, and wanting it back, that was a tender moment for me. There's no doubt in my mind this man is sincere about his decision to make his life better and receive the full blessings of the gospel. He's been wandering back to the path alone for too long, so God had us step in to finally take his hands and show him the way.
Another wonderful part of this relationship is that the man has found many friends outside of the church that he shares the gospel with. We left him with a Book of Mormon last night that he can place at work. He loves this church, knows it's true, and isn't afraid to let others know. We're excited fror him.
Well, this week I hit ONE YEAR since I became a missionary. I could write pages and pages of what I've learned and how I've changed and all those good things here, but I will save them for my journal.

All I want you to know is that I am not the same I was before. I'm spiritually stronger. More spiritually intelligent. More spiritually-aware. In all, my spirit, which only lived inside my body before, now commands my body, and I have a desire to strengthen it and keep it lively always. That is the biggest change I've seen in myself this past year. Not only that but I know how I can receive knowledge from God. Many hidden and obscure truths have come to light as I've climbed over trials and tribulations, and my understanding of the Atonement has increased in depth and love.
My favorite one-liner from conference came from Elder Holland: "The crowning characterisitc of Love is Loyalty." That's something we can all apply, not only to God, but to the people around us; including ourselves. I'm reminded of the scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants that says that your joy will be full if you bring one soul to Christ. I find joy in bringing my own soul to Him. As for more souls, which will only bring more joy -- I'm working to find and teach them.
I'll end with a quote I got from Elder Levi Stannard. He said something to the affect of, "Share what you know, and eventually others will know that you know it!" His play on words and other things was more fantastic, but you get the idea. I know this gospel, this church, this priesthood and the Book of Mormon are true, otherwise I wouldn't have the incredible friends and family I have today. I love ya guys. Thanks for all the letters, packages, prayers and pumpkin bread. :3
-Elder Staib


At the Memphis, Tennessee Temple with Elder Kowalk and His New Companion

Elder Boyer. Yes! He's in my District.

A Family in the Branch Has New Kittens

Monday, October 1, 2012

Staying In West Memphis

First of all, I'm staying another transfer. I'll be in West Memphis for another 6 weeks, which makes my entire potential stay here a whopping 7.5 months. I'm glad I get to stay here for things like General Conference, my birthday, Halloween and a couple other events. I share the same birthday as a young boy in the branch, who is turning 8 this year. Elder Kowalk and I taught him the missionary lessons, on request of his parents, so that'll be a fun birthday bash!

I have mixed feelings about staying. On one hand, things might finally turn around, people will settle and see the ways the gospel can bless their lives, and I get to get to have more laughs with the people I've come to know and love here. On the other hand, not much has changed in the branch ever since I got here, and it feels like I'll be staying in the more difficult areas for most of my mission.

Nevertheless, I don't know why God keeps me here, but I know He does it for His wise purposes.

In terms of who my new companion might be, I have it from a pretty good source that it will be a missionary that already served here... until he got hit by an old lady while riding his bike, and he got smashed up so bad that he had to stay home to recuperate for 9 months. At least, that's the rumor, so we'll see how that goes. He got injured about mid-October of last year, right before I got into the field. He returned 2 months ago.

Today was a good day spent at the temple, the first time that Elder Mortensen attended the Memphis temple since he got into the mission. I got to see Elder Gerber and Elder Smith before they left and wish them well. They've been awesome missionaries.

The Fall's gotten off to a good start. I ate chili (prepared by a member) and pumpkin bread (prepared by my mother~) for lunch the other day. It was the perfect start. NOW all I need is an argyle sweater vest, and I'll be set! Quickly talking about wardrobes, I went through my tie collection the other day, and counted 50 ties in my possession. Tie-collecting is a very big thing over here, and it's fun to have so many outlandish patterns, designs and images that can be found nowhere else.

Well, I'll let you guys know next week who my new companion is. OH. I do know one thing: Elder Boyer (my brother-in-law's cousin) is going to be in my district. YES.

-Elder Staib


Sis. Justice and Carl, good friends from Wynne.

A tie I got from a friend. Uncle Chris, eat your heart out.

You should be able to see my name!