Sorry for the long break in between letters. I just missed the preparation day out here when I arrived so I haven't had a chance to write until now.
Everything is going pretty well. Except for one major problem--perhaps the most difficult challenge I could have faced here....IT IS TOO FLAT! It's so flat... (fill in your own it's so flat punchline and send it to me)...Ejjelok mountains, Ejjelok rocks. There are barely even any rolling hills. Why does a place like this even exist?!? How do people live here? I don't understand how they can sleep at night knowing that they can see the horizon in all directions. As a rock climber, I am repulsed by this sacreligious absence of anything to climb. At least they have some trees. I was also able to gather a few pebbles from the street and I sleep with them under my pillow to console myself. I'll probably survive, but if I ever become an assistant to the Mission President, my first act will be the relocation of Mount St. Helens to Ponca City, Oklahoma.
Which brings me to some real information on the field: I'm in a little town called Ponca City (population 25,000=about the size of Rexburg, Idaho for those of you familiar). It's about 2 hrs Northwest of OKC. There are some Ri-Mojol (Marshallese people) here, but not as many as in Enid. So I really haven't spoken much in my mission language yet. Probably because President thinks I need to work on my English. However, for some reason, I got placed here in the middle of the transfer period (a transfer lasts 6 weeks; you may move areas at the end or you might stay, but the possibility of transferring only comes at the end of the 6 weeks), so I might be moving to Enid or I might be staying here. I'll find out . It is a nice area though, and I'll be sad to leave if I do.
On to my companions (yes, that's right--once again, I am in a trio). Elder Nicholas is the other Marshallese-speaking missionary in the companionship. He's 19 and is from Texas. He's been out around 8 months and this is his second area. Despite the fact that I can't trust someone with a backwards name (His name is Evan Nicholas. That's so wrong.), we get along pretty well because our sarcasm levels match perfectly. At the end of this transfer, he will be my only companion, regardless of the area, and I think that will work out well.
Elder Bills is my other companion. He's 20, comes from Sacramento, California, and has been out almost 9 months. This is his 2nd area. We connect over food (he loves to cook), and in making fun of Elder Nicholas for not yet reaching the age of not-being-a-teenager, like we have. Statements like "I remember back when I was a child..." are pretty common. It's great. Elder Bills is English speaking, so he will be joining a different English speaking elder in a couple of weeks. We'll be sad to see him go.
Moving on from introductions onto happenings this weeK: My first day was spent with the assistants to the President (it's like a step above zone leader). We knocked doors with a member of the local ward missionaries and knocked doors. Other than that, because we had a zone conference, district meeting, weekly planning session, and then General Conference, and a new P-day our other proselyting experiences have been brief. But I should have more to tell next week.
Aside from teaching, other items of note are that it sprinkled, rained, poured, hailed the size of golf balls, and then sunshined all my second day. Also that I introduced myself to a member as Sister Kilmer. We also had a tornado warning, but no tornadoes so far. And then my only two Marshallese conversations that I have had have consisted of my asking an active member if they have read the Book of Mormon before and then telling another member "sort of" when he asked how long I've been speaking Marshallese (which, in my opinion, was the perfect answer for the situation.) Definitely don't have to worry about maintaining humility.
One thing that has been really difficult for me is patience. I thought that I was a pretty patient person. I don't mind waiting in lines. I've survived countless hours of roadtrips in a minivan with my siblings (with the help of the latest Disney or Pixar movie.) But I have been really struggling to be patient with myself out here. Missionaries that are younger than me are doing a better job than I am. If it were only that, I could probably handle it. (it's to be expected), but I'm also not doing everything that I know I'm capable of. I only have two years to put forth my greatest efforts to serve. Two years. That's nothing. I've already used up two months. And every day I look back and think of several situations where I wasn't working my hardest, when I wasn't as focused as I should have been, or when I was performing at a lower level than my capabilities.
Excerpt from his letter to the family: "In the MTC, Brother Coombs--one of our Branch Presidency counselors--told me that there 4 types of missionaries: 1) those who don't care and who don't want to be here (they leave pretty quickly); 2) those who come to meet expectations and put in their two years; 3) those who want to serve and who are obedient; and 4) those who love the Lord and work constantly to consecrate everything they have--time, energy, money, comfort, family, friendships--for Him and His work. He told me two things: that most missionaries are a number 3 missionary, and while they do serve honorable missions and shouldn't be looked down on, they don't give their all; and also that I have the potential to be a number 4 missionary.
I don't think being a category 4 missionary means being perfect. If you mess up, you aren't immediately demoted. That's stupid. It's mostly about where your heart is. But I know that our actions stem from our character and our character comes from our heart. I started out as a number 2 missionary. I knew how to work hard. I knew the Gospel well, but I was coming out to meet expectations and to put in my two years to avoid guilt--even though I didn't want to admit that to myself. I'm making improvements. During the MTC, I became a number 3 missionary. I wanted to be on my mission. I was obedient because they were the rules and I wanted blessings. I wasn't always exactly obedient, but I wasn't outright disobedient. And everyone tole me that I lead well, which means that I did something right. But I didn't do everything because I loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him. It was still all about me and my personal growth.
I think my point is that I know I need to be better. For the last several years I have become obsessed with improvement, but for myself only. Now I understand why it is important that we improve for others. We learned from General Conference that the best leaders are the best followers. We can't help others become better disciples of Christ if we are not improving ourselves. I promise that if you will turn to the Lord, he will make clear where you need to change. Ether in the Book of Mormon is a promise the Lord is happy to fulfill: "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." But we need to be humble and come to Him for an understanding of how to change. Then He will help us to do so. It will suck at first, but you will appreciate the higher plane it will open for you.
I'm not a perfectionist; I recognize that I will make mistakes. But I find myself continuously thinking, "By now I should have been better, should have been farther. I'm still not where I should be, I can do better than this." Well, I've come to realize that the truth of the matter is, yes, i am not where I should be. I shouldbe better. I should be farther. I am operating below my potential.
In Physics, while studying thermodynamics, we learn that no machine operates at 100% efficiency. Due to heat loss and other forms of energy leakage, we receive less energy from the engine than we put in. We have yet to find a way to create a perfectly efficient engine. I've come to recognize that we are the same way. We will never be able to operate at our full potential in every aspect of out lives all of the time. Sometimes we get close and we often improve and thereby increase our maximum potential, but we never do maintain complete efficiency for whatever level we are at; and that can often create the feeling of immeasurable distance between where we really are, and where we should be. I've realized that this is not a reason to give up hope. This is why we have a Savior. He didn't just suffer and die for us because He knew we would lie and cheat and steal and some will even kill. He atoned for us because we all knew that in this life we would never live up to our potentials. The Atonement--Christ's grace--is the reason we can have hope, the reason all is not lost when we don't live up to our true character. Yeah, I blew a lesson. Yeah, you failed a test or slept in or yelled at your kid. We fall short of our capabilities because we are mortal, but Christ's grace makes up all the difference. All we need to do is continue to work hard to follow Him and repent when we mess up. Change is the key, no matter how slow.
So, my challenge: don't give up hope on your progression. We aren't here to be perfect, we are here to learn and grow and that involves failure. We didn't scold the child for falling while learning to walk, but we also trip and fall throughout our entire lives. When we focus on the embarrassment of being clumsy, we waste our time and the growth we've already made by sitting on the ground, feeling sorry for ourselves. It's when we get up, laugh, and keep walking that we allow ourselves to enjoy the progress we have already made, and prepare to keep progressing. Be patient with yourself and learn to appreciate your current strengths while being humble in your weaknesses, and you will find a peace and happiness in your life that comes from a clear perspective of reality.
Hoped that helps someone. Thanks for all of your support. I love hearing from all of you. I'm getting used to a new schedule, so forgive me if it takes me a while to write back individually.
Elder Josh Kilmer
Oklahoma, Oklahoma City Mission, Marshallese speaking
Fudoshin: immovable spirit