Wednesday, July 29, 2015

It's Been A While...A Post from "Home"

Tonight I was reminded how it is to feel edified.

At institute (our church's name for the scripture study class for young adults), we talked about using the cultural context of the scriptures to understand them better. The story in the Old Testament where the people of Israel are commanded to kill all the Canaanites was used as an example. For the first time ever, I could wrap my mind about this account that had so long bothered me and could even see the goodness of God in it. Which is proof that not every answer to a gospel question comes when we're 14 and impatiently demanding it, but that God waits for us to grow.

The spiritual insights of the evening are all too many to share, but one that really stuck out to me was that we shouldn't let our cultural norms or limited perspective keep us from trusting in God. After all, he's the God of the whole earth, isn't he? Which means he has to be big enough to be understood by those in Tonga, Korea, Nigeria, and the U.S. alike, not to mention those who have lived in all those places thousands of years before us and those who will live after us.

Which means we shouldn't freak out if some of his commandments or the ways he has asked people to live over time don't exactly match our standards of what's fashionable or politically correct (because our definitions of acceptableness are informed by only a few decades of human experience in, usually, just one part of the world). In other words, we're stuck in the forest with a compass while God has got the bird's eye view and access to Google Maps.

A classmate shared this related rhetorical question: "How come, in our society, we succeed by our own merits, but we blame God when things go wrong?"

The Guatemalan people don't do that. They're quick to praise the Lord and plead his help - maybe to the extreme of relying too much on Him and failing to act for themselves. But when things go wrong, it's rare to hear from them a complaint or a doubt of God's goodness. I think people there do wonder, like everyone everywhere does, but the socially acceptable thing to do there is praise Him anyway and marvel at His power.

I've learned so much from my chapines. I didn't know the learning would continue so profoundly even after I'd been home. And home for almost a year, at that.

But I'm so glad that no matter in what corner of the world I am or who I'm with, I can report to a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and learn something. And feel edified. I know that this is God's church, that Christ leads it through a living prophet today.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Homecoming Invitation

Welcome Home, Victoria

You’re invited to Victoria’s Homecoming Travelogue
Friday, Aug. 8th, 2014
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
4235 W. 3rd Street
Bloomington, IN

6:30pm We will begin with Victoria’s travelogue (She’ll  show and explain some of her pictures from Guatemala). Following that, will be a mingle and visit time with snacks.

Week 73: One Last Time

Running out of pages in the daily planner.
Having my exit interview. 
Writing this email.

They're little things that have come from time to time in this last week or two that have convinced me, mostly, that the end is coming/here.

When we went to the temple as a zone on Thursday, I was able to tell God all about my mission, turning into him the things I have done in these 18 months. I felt so much peace. Maybe I haven't done it all perfectly, but He knows I gave my heart.

Later, this scripture came to me: 

"By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain." (1 Corinthians 15:10)

It's true. My weaknesses are my weaknesses, but my strengths are His strengths. God has made me what I am. He has worked so many miracles in me. And - the most sacred of it all - he has permitted me to bring about miracles in the lives of his children. I have their names, every one of them, written in my soul. I love them, and it hurts so much to leave them.

But I know that what's coming will be incredible. I love each and every one of you at home and can't wait to see you!

My companion gave me this scripture to end with. It sounds cooler in Spanish because the Old English kind of puts a damper on things but, all the same, it fits:

"I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee. But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee." (3 John 1:13-14)

Hermana Ison

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Week 72: Poor in Time, Rich in Miracles

Hey familia, what's up?

I'm 10 days away from seeing ya'll, which is SO weird. But God has blessed me to not really spend much time thinking about it, because there's been so much to do here in the mission! :)

Over Mountains

I forgot to tell you last week about how we went to help one of the areas in our zone in an area attack. (For example, it'd be like all the missionaries from the Bloomington stake went to help the ones in Ellettsville, or all the missionaries in Muncie spending an afternoon in Winchester.) This area is HUGE and there's just two amazing sisters there, a good friend of mine and the missionary she's training.

That day my companion and I had planned to divisiones with some of the other sisters in our zone. We knew we had to do them, but we just didn't know who would go with who. For as much as we thought and prayed about it, we didn't feel any clear answer. So we just decided, called the sisters to let them know, and in the morning I went to be with a sister called Hermana Keltner. 

We had a regular morning, and then in the afternoon met up with the rest of the zone to go to the area, San Carlos, where many of that ward's members were waiting for us in the park. As the sisters assigned to that ward began to split everyone up and tell them where they would be visiting, my companion for the day and I hung back, watching everyone else get sent off. When finally we were the last ones there, I saw the missionary who was doing the assiging give us a second look. "You'll be going with Sulmi," she said, and then explained that Sulmi is an investigator who'd gone to church for about two months and knew all the lessons, but didn't want to be baptized yet. She asked us if we could encourage her to take the step.

So, we set off to visit prospective investigators, investigator in tow. It did not take long for us to realize that Sulmi is an unbaptized, 15-year-old missionary. She knocked on doors, prayed, bore her testimony, even invited the people we visited to come to church, from the depth of her heart. Between visits we asked her to share her conversion experience, and we talked about our own baptisms and tried to get her excited about her own.

When we finished and were getting close to the meeting point in the park, Sulmi saw the missionaries who were teaching her and started walking faster. When we got close, she blurted out, "Hermana Barba, I have an announcement: I'm going to be baptized this Saturday!"

It was a miracle! But...not even the biggest one we saw that day, in my eyes. 

Afterward, the sisters in that area told us that in the morning, when they were thinking about which missionaries in the zone could go visiting with Sulmi instead of a member, one of them thought of me, and one of them thought of Hermana Keltner, the sister I just happened to be on divisions with. 

In that moment, I got goosebumps. I was reminded that following the Spirit doesn't always mean acting in certainty. My companion and I weren't sure who needed to be with who in divisions that day. And, really, there was no way we could have known that that day's divisiones weren't for the sisters we'd be capacitating, or their area, or their investigadores - they were for an incredible young woman who is now baptized, and will certainly be a missionary someday. 

We should remember that God has his hand in everything, and if we go forward in faith, we can trust that we will see the miracles later. I am so grateful to him :)

In the Mountains, Literally

This week we were hardly able to work in our own area because President asked us to spend three days in San Pedro, an area about four hours away from the mission home, in the mountainous region to the north. 

I can not even begin to tell you all the miracles we saw there. 

One of the companionships we worked with will be having a wedding and baptism this Wednesday. The other companionship had a complete attitude shift, thanks to the Holy Spirit and answered prayers. We had an incredible lesson with a veryprepared investigator named Cesar, and gave service to a no-member family whose house had been destroyed by an earthquake. (We pulled nails out of wood and, yes, I totally missed you, Dad! Thanks for teaching me this actually very useful skill :D) So much happened, and it was just a wonderful time and place to be a missionary! :)

However, we did have one minor disaster. Because the APs thought they would ignore the schedule and go and get dinner even though it was too late and we should have gone directly to the hotel where we were going to sleep, my companion ended up getting her foot kind of run over by the mission truck.

We thought it would be fine for the first few hours. But when she woke up in the morning, she almost couldn't walk...When we came home to Reu the nurses took her to the doctor and it turns out she has two torn ligaments...and is in a cast for two weeks. She gets it taken off the day I fly home. :(

SO... she has crutches and can't walk, which makes missionary work exceptionally hard in this mission. Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon we were able to get sisters in the ward to be our companions so one of them could be in the house with her and one of them could go out and visit with me. Supposedly I'll be getting a mini-missionary as a companion today and for the next week and a half, but they haven't told us anything yet, so we'll see...

Anyway, it's been kind of an out of the blue struggle (and everytime I think back to what caused it, I just remember how important obedience is), but God has blessed us so much all through it.

From the Mountain Top

Remember the guy who just wanted to get baptized for his girlfriend? We taught him more about the Atonement and the baptismal covenant, and this time when he had his baptismal interview, he passed. He was baptized Sunday morning before church, and it really was a beautiful thing.

Also, one of the sisters of some of my recent converts in this area has begun to come to church and change her life. She's 18, really repentant, and has a lot of faith in the blessings that will come as she lives her life how Christ asks her too. She will be getting baptized on Saturday, my last baptism in the mission. :) To put the icing on the cake, her name is Victoria! :)

Climb Every Mountain

This week during long car rides and waits in doctors' office, I was able to reflect a little bt on my mission. Then, yesterday, I found scripture in the Book of Mormon, in Alma 26:35-37, that kind of sums up what I have to say:
"...Yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God; for he has all powerall wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on his name.
"Now if this is boasting, even so will I boast; for this is my life and my light, my joy and my salvation, and my redemption from everlasting wo. Yea, blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people, who are a branch of the tree of Israel, and has been lost from its body in a strange land; yea, I say, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land.
"Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth. Now this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever. Amen."
Love always, 
Hermana Ison

Monday, July 21, 2014

Week 71: Purple and Orange Roses

A Tender Mercy for Tired Eyes

The two year-old was maybe two feet tall and making the cutest scene I'd ever seen: in the middle of the church hallway floor, with a full-sized long-haired mop, trying his very best to mop the floor.

Someone made a comment about it, and hearing it, his four year-old brother, who was just a little taller, came to take over. When I turned the corner on the way to utility closet, I walked past the reason and root of all this brotherly love: the father of the two sons, mop and bucket in hand, cleaning the church.

In a culture where so few men can be caught doing household chores, and where the majority of men I meet day after day teach their sons how to drink and watch TV and talk bad about women, it was a ray of golden sunlight to see this simple family in the aftermath of the other ward's activity. It made me realize how much a father can influence his whole family and how doing simple, humble things can make a big difference. I know these children will grow up to be gentlemen and missionaries, simply because because they have a father who, smiling on a Saturday morning, mops the floor.

Favorite Moments from Sunday Church

This week Gabi didn't go to church because she didn't have any shoes. I don't know if she's going to school either. 

A recently married couple was assigned to give the talks. He came wearing a tie that matched her dress, but what most impressed me was the profound sprituality of their talks. She spoke about sexual purity, and he about having integrity for the commandments of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The convert elder's quorum president is usually very gruff and, when he gives the class in Sunday School, often sounds more like an Evangelical preacher than a humble Latter-Day-Saint seeking the Sprit's guidance. This week though, the Spirit broke through. When he talked about his son in the mission, he broke down crying. I thought grown men don't cry (but I still remember that there's a country song about that!)

Please tell my father that he has a twin here in Guatemala. Everyone who sees the pictures of my family compares him to a member of the high council here. There was even a Primary kid this week who was convinced I was his kid. 


This week I read almost all of the book of 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, and it has suprised me how many times the Lord urges us to read the scriptures.Seriously! I would look up all the references, but there's not time. 

This week we also went to visit a woman who was baptized in December, but who almost immediately stopped coming to church because of comments her family made. She also didn't read the scriptures because, like most people in this part of Guatemala, she has a super low reading comprehension. I was so full of feelings in that lesson, I just wanted to burst! If only she could read what I have read! If only she could know of the words that all of the prophets have written, crying and praying and looking ahead to people like her, who would need them.

One of the counselors in the bishopric stood up on Sunday and said, "This week, I repented, because I had been spending too much time reading my law books for the university and was neglecting the scriptures. Is it possible that Guatemalan law will be important to us in heaven? Obviously not. We should seek first the kingdom of God." 

It's so true! I LOVE the scriptures. There's something in them for everyone. If I could do anything for the country of Guatemala, I would just open a zillion libraries and make reading a cool thing. Bookshelves are a very rare sight here. So it's not surprising the scriptures get shunned. But it's still dissapointing. Becuase it's the word of GOD, who is our Father. 

I challenge each and every one of you to open your scriptures this week, every single day. And I promise you that if you do it, the windows of heaven will open and you will feel a little more of the peace that comes from God. 

Until next week!

Love you always,
Hermana Ison

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Week 70: Three Weeks Left (and my companion is counting it down)

Hello, world!

I am feeling fine and fresh today! Our zone got invited to the mission home for Pday today; we watched a movie and had lunch and played volleyball in the sand all afternoon, and it was oh so relaxing! How nice it is to sift sand between barefoot toes after walking around in dress shoes all week.

Speaking of feet, I thought of you all during Sacrament Meeting yesterday when I noticed and wanted to share this one detail: the brother serving as the usher at the door to the chapel had on a holely white tshirt with a tie painted on it. And he didn't have on any shoes. 

I noticed his big hairy toes standing out against the tile floor as we walked in with the investigators, and thought, "Good! This is how it's supposed to be." How many times, as missionaries, do we tell people that it doesn't matter what clothes they have on as long as what they have in their heart is a desire to worship God? Finally, someone understood. Now, this man has been a member for awhile, and I do believe the bishopric noticed the situation and found someone to give him some shoes after the meeting. That's how it's supposed to be, Christian kindness in action! But it made me think of Alma's words to the poor among the Zoramites in Alma 32-34 in the Book of Mormon. It's good to be humble. It doesn't matter what we wear to church, as long as it's our best.

And we go to church for God, not for any other reason. If we stay home because we're worried about what people would think of us, that's pride and a lack of faith in the Lord, who loves us unconditionally and is the only one who really matters. 

One of the less active girls we brought to church on Sunday got to live that learned lesson firsthand. We went to her house to wake her up before church in the morning, and she got up very obediently and got ready. She was sleeping in jeans and a tshirt on a mattress on the concrete floor of her family's one room house. To get ready, she washed her face and changed her jeans, but then she came out, embarrassed. "Sisters," she told us, "I don't know what to do, I don't have any other shirt but this one and it's got stains," gesturing to the bleach spots on the front.

In that moment, I knew why Gabi hadn't come to church any of the other Sundays before when we had come to wake her up, and I repented from having assumed that she just didn't want to get up early. We gave her a great big hug and told her God would not be worried about her shirt. She went inside and came back out again with her hymnbook, which she carried in front of her, hiding the stains, all the way to the chapel.

I love 14-year-old Gabi Ramos.

In Other News...

They say that the end of the mission is always full of challenges. I didn't believe it before, but now that I'm passing through all of them, I can't say it's not true. Satan wants me to go crawling home, but what he doesn't know is that I will endure to the end with a smile on my face, and my back straight, all the way to the airplane!

Challenge Number 1: Dengue

Never in my mission have I had to stay inside and rest from being sick. I've gotten sick, but God has always blessed me to be able to rest during the time allotted in the schedule to rest, and I've been able to proselyte during proselyting hours. I wanted to do the same with dengue fever, and happily ignored my companion's warnings that I should rest!

Well, I made it through 6 days without dying, but when we got to the district meeting on Tuesday and the mission nurse was there, I just collapsed on her shoulder, defeated. They took me to do a blood test, and low and behold, I had half the white blood cells a normal person should have. Which meant a day and a half of proselyting lost resting in bed, drinking this gross hydrating water stuff called Suero every two hours. (The coconut flavor doesn't actually taste too bad, if you drink it cold.) I missed my mom a lot, and watching movies on Grandma Ison's couch.

My companion steadily refilled all my water bottles with an "I told you so" smile on her face. She taught and told me, rather forcefully, that we should not be prideful. Sometimes our bodies just get sick, and like it or not, we have to take care of them. 

Afterwards, Heavenly Father taught me that I have to remember that all flesh is in his hands. On Friday, the first day we could proselyte normally, we saw so many miracles, had lots of lessons with members present, and found six new investigators! 

I know that if we are patient in our afflictions - even more patient than we think we need to be - the Lord will do the rest. Doctrine and Covenants 100:15, "Therefore, let your hearts be comforted, for all things shall work together for good to them that walk uprightly, and to the santification of the church."

Challenge Number 2: Baptisms

So, it's really cool when missionaries go out with a bang. My trainer finished her missions seeing six converts being baptized in her last month alone. I wanted to give that kind of a gift to the Lord.

But it looks like He has other plans for me. 

We're having the hardest time getting people to come to church. Try as we might, try whatever we can...nobody much seems interested. It's been like that for a few weeks. And then, this week, there came a new challenge:

Never in my mission had I had to tell someone they could NOT be baptized...until now. 

Remember that miracle person, the boyfriend of a church member who came to us one Sunday night saying he wanted to be baptized? Well, turns out he just wants to do it so his girlfriend will marry him. He doesn't actually believe that Joseph Smith saw Jesus Christ in a vision or that the Book of Mormon is true. But as his girlfriend won't marry him if he's not a member, he's trying to manipulate the system.

We had kind of an ugly lesson with him in the room with the baptismal font, which ended in us proclaiming, "God will not be mocked!" He was trying to give us an ultimatum that he had to be baptized on Sunday, "yes or yes." But we patiently explained that there is an order to the things, that this is the true church, and that he will recieve his own testimony if he searches dilligently and prays with faith. 

So, he's reading a chapter of the Book of Mormon a day, and we're praying hard for him. 

Challenges Numbers 3, 4, and 5

I don't have time to tell you them, and you don't want to know anyway! Just trust that life in the mission is good and glorious, as always, because it is. Carrying Christ's name on my chest is the greatest privelege anyone could have, and I have made myself the promise to honor this sacred responsibility with the necessary gratitude and love, all the way until the very last second.

Mom will be sending you details of the Travelouge we're going to do when I get home. Until then and always, I welcome your prayers for the people of San Sebastian, Retalhuleu, Guatemala! 

There is a God above, and he has all the time in the world for each and every one of us. 

Hasta pronto,
Hermana Ison