From Elder Paul Freeman, dated January 23, 2008
Oh how much fun we have as missionaries. Here are a few pictures and a movie. I'm not sure if I told you before, when they split my companion and me all those weeks ago, his new companion is Elder Marsh, first cousin to Billy Marsh. Then, last week I talked to a missionary up in the desert who said he new a girl from Texas and he said her name was Stacia Johnson. I thought it was pretty neat. So, Billy's cousin is in one of those pictures (he's the one wrestling in blue). The movie is pretty interesting and the other picture is the new missionary in our apartment in his James Bond pose.
So, we're finding out a lot more about the situation with all the Samoans up in the high dessert. At first I was really excited because it seemed like there was a strong possibility they could get their own unit. Now, we understand more of what's going on and it's harder to say what they really need. The majority of Samoans are second generation and English is their first language and speak or understand very little Samoan. Well, I should say, the majority of strong, active members. The number of non-members and less-actives is astounding, and if a unit was created it would be a great platform for missionary work. The biggest problem is not a having a strong enough pool from which to draw priesthood leaders for an independent unit. On top of that, there isn't, and will most likely never be, enough support from multiple stake leaderships that are involved.
However, if the area authorities and the strong faithful members that we do have were to catch an idea of how well a unit like this could thrive it would be done without hesitation. Perhaps the roots are not yet strong enough to support the amount of new growth that could result. But at the same time, if these roots are strong enough now I fear they never will be. I'm also afraid that those who would be the greatest strength simply don't want to come to a Samoan unit, because their families don't understand Samoan.
Then again, I'm reminded that it isn't our responsibility as missionaries to form a branch, and thank goodness it isn't. But, in all fairness, President Sanchez did ask for my opinion on the matter. We are also in charge of accounting for all the Samoans in that neck of the woods including non-members. So, we are compiling lists of people, the majority of which are less active and non-member.
Once again to the other hand, it occurs to me that the purpose of forming a new unit would be less about catering to the needs of those already converted to the gospel, but more about bringing others who haven't. How much strength could a unit draw from people who don't understand the language or the culture? A whole heck of a lot more than members who don't understand the way the church works. The most valuable thing President Price taught me was the difference between Ministering and Administrating. One is subjective the other is objective. How good are people who speak English at administrating, and how good are Samoans [at] ministering? This kind of hybrid unit has potential to become the most successful unit in the mission. But, all parties involved need to forget themselves and do what's best for everyone.
I'm sorry, but this email has turned out to be more a letter for me than the rest of you, but I really could use all of your input. It seems like the weight of this entire situation falls on our shoulders as missionaries because we gain the perspective from every different angle possible. And President Sanchez is the one who is going to be reporting our findings to the coordinating council in two weeks, and it sounds like that is what ultimately decides what is going to be done for the time being. It feels like such a delicate situation with every move we make that I don't feel like we can afford to take it any less seriously.
I know in my heart that it truly is the work of the Lord and He won't let His sheep go astray, but I don't want to begin doubting that this could be they way He has of going about this particular situation. I care [too] much for these people to let them go unnoticed by those who have the authority to do something about it.
Here's your long letter :) Enjoy.
[Editor's note: the remainder of the pictures Elder Freeman sent are included in the slide-show to the right.]