Monday, December 16, 2013

Week 43: The Reason for the Season

Hey everyone,

Hope you're all happy and healthy and drinking plenty of hot chocolate!

First things first, a favor to ask:

So many people that we teach here have a hard time with keeping the Sabbath Day holy. (For those of you who've never heard of the 10 commandments, or, better said, for those who conveniently choose to ignore them, that means not working on Sunday. Or requiring anyone else to work.) It's a pretty awesome commandment, with some pretty amazing blessings. But, understandably, it's difficult. And out of my 20 years of life experience, I can only come up with so many inspiring stories. But I know there are some people reading this who're amazing Christians, who've had practice standing up for God's truth, in this area especially. Would you mind writing me with your experiences about the Sabbath Day? How have you had to defend it? What blessings have you seen from living it? And when you've ignored it, how did you learn your lesson and start keeping Sunday sacred? I'd like to share your experiences with investigators, because I know they'll help inspire them, help them have the faith to make this major change in their lifestyle. You can respond to this email and my mom will forward them to me (Thanks, Mom!) or send them through dearelder.com, or contract a carrier pigeon... as long as they get here! :) Thanks! I'll really appreciate it, and so will the people we teach.

This week was a bit of a transition as we helped our recently baptized amazing investigators get used to being amazing new members of the church and learn how to keep progressing spiritually. We started looking for new people and have had some really, really spiritual experiences, including a divinely inspired lesson with a 23 year old kid named Joel, who in last year alone lost both his parents and his grandma. We haven't been able to meet up with him again, and nobody came to church on Sunday (except an adorable old guy with his little daughter, who always showed up on his own but can't get baptized because he's not married with his current wife because he's not divorced with the first one and can't afford a divorce and can't read. But he's full of smiles. We're looking for a solution for him.) Anyway, we're constantly building and working through our investigator pool and fighting Satan. Thanks for your continued prayers for the work and missionaries. :)

Something interesting that we've done this week is participate in the ward Christmas choir! It's been a little bit highly unorganized at times, but incredibly fun, made better by four preteen boys who sing better than Justin Beiber. We aren't singing hymns so much as normal Christmasy songs that you would hear on the radio, but in Spanish, and they all mention Jesus... way fun. My favorite is a version of the Little Drummer Boy. We perform on Friday, and Sunday, and I will tell you how it goes!

Life is good, the work is better, the Lord is great.

Love you all,
Hermana Ison

P.S. Interesting spiritual insight: I was reading Luke 2 this week and it occured to me that Mary and Joseph were really obedient.

Week 42: Miracles Never Stop

I don't even know what to say.

Which details do you want? 

Hermana Lola's entry into the baptismal font was sandwiched with smiles. Before and after, she was beaming.

In the moment, I think I might have been a little distracted making sure she had a towel and that the next person was ready to enter the font, but looking back... the Spirit was so strong.

In the very end, Gabi didn't want to be baptized. She was so excited, but when the minute came to enter the water, she got scared. She made them let water out, which made Elder Crookston almost have to go swimming to find the plug. While he was doing that, she was trembling and trying to leave. So, remembering a story I'd read in the Friend once, we said a prayer. Asking God to help her feel his love and have the strength to take the step. As soon as we said amen, she stepped into the water, and when she came out, it was with a smile that rivaled her mom's.
Sometimes, it's hard to make covenants. For kids, because of the water and the new white clothes and that everyone's watching. Kids have a lot of faith they can serve God all life long. As adults, the water doesn't scare us so much as the gravity of promising something to God. But I have a testimony - and in that against the wall moment with Gabi in the font - I felt it in me growing, that covenants are essential in our lives. Christ atoned so that we can live again with him - if we're willing to do the necessary things, even when they're hard. 

So proud of Gabi.

And then, maybe the miracle of miracles:

We stopped teaching Yosselin's little sister Heidi a month ago, after an incredible lesson in which everyone present felt the Spirit and cried, in which Heidi couldn't stop smiling, because afterward she still couldn't make up her mind and decide to be baptized. 

On Thursday during weekly planning we reviewed our lists of old investigators and chose three names of people we wanted to visit again. Heidi was one of them. That night, without us calling her or anything, she showed up at a ward activity. The next day, when we went to visit her, she asked us to be baptized. Gabi happened to be with us during that lesson, and invited Heidi to be baptized with her the very next day. 

And that is exactly what happened. She was the third person to leave the baptismal font smiling that Saturday, a day I will never forget.

God is so, so great. The month that we were teaching Heidi, we were also teaching a whole bunch of incredible people, we thought they were going to progress, and did so much for them. But in the end, none of them chose to be baptized. We were disappointed, but now I know for a fact that it was all part of the plans of God. Things don't happen on our timetable - who are we to think we're greater than God to command the miracles and blessings when we want them? He knows everything, and will take care of us, every one of us, if we diligently seek him with faith. 

I love the Lord, and am happier than ever, here to serve him with all I have.

This week, like every week, was not all peaches and cream. I was also witness to some details that reflect pretty ugly parts of life, that made my softened Spirit want to cry. But I know that I do not know the answer to everything yet, and the Lord does. The Atonement takes care of it ALL. And everything will be okay. 

Because beauty triumphs. And because of that, I have to share one more gorgeous detail, for my mom, more than anything:

Sunday was the Primary Program in our ward, where all the kids go forward to give talks and sing songs. They weren't going to give Gabi a part, because she was just an investigator when they were assigning them, but she begged for her piece of paper, and memorized it the next day. Every time we went to teach her she practiced it for us. Naturally, she shared her testimony perfectly when her turn came in the program.

But the part that most made me cry tears of Spirit-infused joy was when the Primary President came up to bear her testimony at the conclusion of the program. All the primary kids had gone in a bus to the temple on Saturday, to walk the grounds and hear a message from a temple worker in the waiting room. In her testimony, Hermana Itzel talked about Gabi, how she, without even being baptized yet, was answering and asking questions, recognizing and participating in the Spirit so strong in that holy place. Hermana Itzel said that Gabi will be able to be sealed in the temple that day, and Heavenly Father, in his infinite mercy, sent the Spirit to testify to me, her missionary, that it's true.

There is no higher gift. 

Mosiah 2:17.

I love you all, and I love this missionary life.

Until next week,
Hermana Ison 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A few more pictures







Week 41: Let Her Eat Cake





Announcement Number 1: Wedding Number 2!!! :)

Because nobody on this planet gets married anymore, lots of times missionaries have to organize weddings, or supervise to make sure they get organized. (Because nobody can get baptized if they're breaking the law of chastity. Otherwise termed living in sin. Or, maybe best said, still afraid of making commitments. As if having children together wasn't enough of a commitment. Sigh. Anyway...)

The wedding we are currently organizing for this Saturday is for a lady named Lola (or Teodora) who is the mom of the girl, Gabi, I talked about last week. I am basically in love with the whole family, all 11 members of it, except the dad, who has never talked to us. He got really mad when two of his older kids got baptized five years ago. As in, threatening to throw their stuff out in the yard and not let them back in. He does not like our church, and didn't tolerate the missionaries around. But one day we came by to see if we could teach Gabi, because her older brother had mentioned her to us, and it was starting to rain. Her dad let us in!! He left as soon as we entered the house, but at least we got to shake his hand!

That was how we started teaching 10-year-old Gabi, with her Dad's permission. But that's not where the story ends.

Gabi's mom, Lola, is awesome. She's really good at being happy, she laughs at everything worth smiling about. Her favorite hymn is, ¨There is Sunshine in My Soul Today¨ and she loves every single one of her nine children. She tolerates her husband with patience and care, but is quick to put him in line when necessary. The day she told us she would leave him if he didn't want to get married so she could get baptized, I almost cried. An independent woman in Guatemala.

She understands her role as a mother and a wife, and I loved seeing the peace on her faith when she went to the stake conference and heard the talks on the family that the General Authorities gave. She has faith that if her family isn't perfect, it can be, and has the energy and faith to work toward that goal. What's more, she's recognizing that the gospel is what will help her in that journey. Her testimony has come so fast. We asked her this week if she'd prayed about the Book of Mormon, and she told us, with such love and her traditional smile,¨From the very first day, sisters. And I feel that it's right. If it wasn't, I wouldn't have had you come back, now would I?¨ We invited her to ask her husband (of 25 years) if he would marry her so she could get baptized. Everybody (her, us, the members with us, her kids) was nervous about it, because of how her husband has felt about the church. But in the end, without even a struggle, he said....... YES!

We still haven't spoken with her husband more than to say ¨buenos dias¨ in passing, but have hopes that he'll feel the Spirit in his wife's baptism and want to know more for himself. He gave Lola the necessary paperwork for the wedding and she turned it into us this morning, giddy. We asked her if there was sunshine in her soul this morning, and she responded, content in a way that words can't even express, Yes.

Announcement Number 2: Thanksgiving in San Martín!

Changes came and went, and I'm still here in my second area, with my daughter, who has now finished her training and is, as she always was, a spectacular companion.

I´ll get to pass Christmas and New Year's in this area, and after this transfer I'll have been almost six months here. Way excited :)

This was an incredible Thanksgiving week for me in the mission. They don't really do Thanksgiving here in Guatemala, people just kind of vaguely mention it to the white missionaries when they get reminded on the news that it's being celebrated, but my companion and I celebrated all month writing every night things that were thankful for that had happened that day. It was a great experience to live a holiday on a diet, to put it one way.

Ooh, that was a pun, or ironic, and I didn't even realize it. Here, I will tell you the story, and you will see why, and also how God takes such good care of his children:

Last P-day I didn't buy any food, because it seemed like I was going to get transferred, so I still had stuff in the house to last two days. I also took out all the money that was left for that month in my debit card, to use during the week, and getting to my new area, if I went. That night, before we went home and I could my wallet in the house, we had a family home evening with some investigators and awesome members. When it got done, I had to use a payphone to call a tuc-tuc (taxi) to come get us and take us home, because it was late and we were far away.

We left, dropped the investigators off in their house, and coming back, I couldn't find my wallet to pay for the taxi. But I didn't think anything of it, because it was dark, and I had a lot of stuff in my backpack, and I figured I'd left it in the house. My companion pays the taxi, we go inside to plan, and start talking about all our awesome plans for the next day, laughing, and getting ready for bed. I forget about my wallet....until the ward mission leader shows up on our steps at 10 o´clock at night..... holding my driver's license and the debit card the mission gave us.

One of Gabi's older brothers had found those two items discarded on the street close to the payphone I'd used to call the taxi. He turned them into Hermano Rony, who turned them into me. Blessing number 1.

But a blessing that is really easy to overlook when your temple recommend and debit card from home and everything else that lives in a wallet is missing. I thanked the brother, who was just happy we hadn't been robbed, and set to work trying to figure out how in the world I could have forgotten something as important as my wallet. It was a stressful night, and in my efforts to call the company to cancel the debit card, we did not go to sleep at 10:30.

But, before I went to sleep, I prayed to my Heavenly Father to help me handle this big mistake like a missionary, like a disciple of Christ. That's when I began to see the blessings, and there are so many of them. I can't write them all, because I'm already being disobedient going over the time limit in writing this paragraph, but there were so many little miracles that God worked, even amid my stupid error. The biggest has to be that, even though I had absolutely no money (and my companion hardly had any because it was the end of the month) and no food the last half of this week, Heavenly Father provided for me. I did not go hungry. Thinking about it, he even blessed me enough that, during the week, I was fed a total of 5 slices of cake, an absolute anomaly for Guatemala.

So, it was an incredible week, and an awesome Thanksgiving. I know God lives and that he takes care of every single one of us. We should just make sure we look for the blessings, instead of focusing on the sad things.

Love you all lots,

Victoria

P.S. Yes, President Burdett, I am getting the letters! Thanks for including me, and for sending pictures of the Indy temple construction! I looooove seeing that. Keep up the great member-missionary work in the Muncie stake! :)

Week 40: Seven Pennis from Gabi

This week we were SO spiritually edified.

In preparation for a visit from Elder Amado, Central America area president in the church, we were supposed to study the atonement, the restoration, and four chapters in Preach My Gospel (1, 8, 9, and 11, for those that are curious) and prepare a 5 minute speech about each one. As predicted, it was a hoax to get us to spiritually prepare. Nobody had to give their talks, but I actually did it, and really did learn (and remember, which is almost the same thing) a ton as part of the study process.

Then on Friday the Elder, who is one of the Seventy, finally came. Our whole zone got to go together in a bus to Mazate (passing through my old area made me want to just jump off and start contacting people again!) to a pretty chapel that I hadn't visited before, to hear messages from our mission president and his wife, musical numbers from our zone and one other (we sang the Primary song, If the Savior Stood Beside Me), and the teaching from Elder Amado, to our group of 60 or so missionaries. We thought it was going to be from 9-12, but, biggest surprise ever, it finished at 5 p.m.! Elder Amado taught us the whole time, with just a brief pause for lunch (Subway has never tasted so good.)

Nobody wanted it to end. He started talking about one thing, and ended up talking about something completely different, and try as I might, I could never catch where the transition happened, caught up in the learning as we all were. He really and truly teaches by the Spirit. I felt like the early saints, so close to the apostles and prophet, content just to spend hours and days being spiritually edified by the words that leave their mouths. He gave us a lot to mediate, and a lot to put into practice. My favorite part was probably about the Atonement of Christ.

That was Friday; on Saturday we finished the last session of my daughter's (my companion that I'm training) training program, and on Sunday was stake conference. Except it was stake conference for all of Guatemala, broadcast from Salt Lake. One of the 70 from Central America spoke, then the General Primary President, then Elder Richard G. Scott, then Elder Henry B. Eyring.

Even though our chapel had technical difficulties such that at the beginning we could only hear and not see the speakers, and then later when we could see them the picture and the Spanish dubbed translation didn't match up, it didn't matter. I felt the Spirit so strong among all those wonderful Guatemalan people, coming each one of them from such different backgrounds, but united, with the missionaries with them, all in the cause of getting to be more like Jesus Christ.

I loved that there was something for everyone: tears in the eyes of our Relief Society president when they talked about not getting frustrated from working in a small word, very attentive ears and pensative eyes in the face of our investigator, Lola, mom of eight, when they talked about how a marriage should really be. Even 10-year-old Ronald, a more-or-less less active recent convert, left with a determination to tell his mom he loves her more often.

In this month and week of thanksgiving, I am so grateful to be a missionary, and for all of the spiritual edification we receive in this day of marvelous miracles. I'm grateful to have a time programmed into each day in which I can study from the scriptures and feed my spirit (and am determined to keep that time sacred after the mission). Most of all, I'm grateful for the testimony that God has given me through his Holy Spirit. I'm grateful to know the things I preach and teach are true, and to know them with a certainty that only comes from walking by faith. I'm grateful for the light, life, and direction this testimony gives to my life. I'm grateful to know who I am and what I stand for, and to be actively standing for it. I'm grateful to know each and every one of you, and pray that you can all say with the same sincerity that you're grateful for these things too.

Now, about those seven pennies...

We've been teaching a 10-year-old girl named Gabi for a few weeks. Her older brother, Marlon, has been a more or less active member for five years, and her mom, Lola, is the one who came to the conference on Sunday. In a pair of weeks where we've been struggling to find new, positive investigators, Gabi has been a light in every lesson. We gave her the Book of Mormon and she began to read immediately. Her reading skills are better than those of almost every adult I've met in Guatemala (or at least the ones that also live in two-room, dirt floor houses.) She is currently in 2 Nephi. She loves coming to church, and told us this week that she feels a warm feeling she doesn't know how to describe when she reads the scriptures and gets ready for church. We helped her understand that that's the Holy Ghost, testifying to her very ready heart that these things are true.







We invited her to be baptized this week, which was a delicate thing, because her dad is pretty against the church. But it seems like it's going to work out. On Sunday morning she told us of the date she selected, December 7. When she told me, she held out her fist and dropped into mine seven American pennies. Her aunt that lives in the US sends them to them periodically, and she had 14. She wanted to give 7 to me to commemorate her upcoming baptism. She kept 7 for her. I thought about that ´three little pennies´ country song and just wanted to cry. This little girl is an angel and I am so grateful to know her.

This Thanksgiving, put your gratitude in practice and help somebody feel God's love.

I'm so grateful to have felt all of your love throughout my life, family members and friends. Take care. Love you tons :)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Wee 39: Gathered in His Wings and the Words of Scripture

I remember being 7 years old, sitting at the kitchen table, imagining in my mind while reading for the first time in the scriptures where Christ talks about gathering his people like a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings.

This week I got to read that scripture again, for the second time in Spanish. That afternoon we had a lesson with some people who live really far out in our area, who don't have running water, just wash their clothes in the river a stone's throw away from their front door.

While we were waiting for the lady's sister to get done washing her clothes in said river, we sat on a little wood bench on her front patio and watched the mama hen look over her little chicks as they wandered in the grass and pecked up their food.

There was a moment of silence, and in that moment, tears unexpectedly came to my eyes. I looked around, at the wind moving the trees, heard the sound of the water on the rocks, saw the chickens so patiently going about their normal lives. I thought about how there have always been chickens, in pretty much every part of the world, all throughout time. The moms have always gathered up their little children.

I tried to pick up a little black chick. It flapped it's winglets and the mom looked around, eyeing me carefully. What are you doing with my child? she seemed to say.

In this mission, in this part of the world, there are chickens everywhere. In almost every house you visit, you'll see chickens. And I'm starting to see that what eight-year-old me thought was a fancy poetic metaphor for the way God is, is really the simplest description He could have put in the scriptures. Everyone here gets it, and I get it now, now that I get to watch chicks wander in the grass and sit bin my lap.

Sometimes we feel like the scriptures are limited, or exclusive, only for the learned and wise. But they're for everyone. For eight-year-old me who only knew carpet and libraries, and for 80-year-old Guatemalan women who only know chickens. God knows every single one of us.

MIRACLES for Jesus

So there's this guy in my area who claims to be an assassin, or like Indiana Jones. His wife and kids are members, but not super active...there was always the problem of their dad in the way.

He wouldn't get baptized, and he wouldn't get baptized. The companion I had when I got to this area had pretty much given up on him. He always talked in vague language, alluding to things in his work from the government that kept him from making a covenant with God. They live in the middle of nowhere, but have Mayan artifacts and internet in their house. It was very strange.

Then one day my new companion and I saw him drunk on the back of somebody's motorcycle, and it all made sense. Turns out he was into his vice, and into it bad. For weeks at a time he'd be in his house, just drinking, peaceful but useless, occasionally turning on very loud music, sending his 10-year-old son out to buy liquor for him. A 15-year-long cycle, and one that his wife was losing hope would ever break.

On Wednesday, in our ward-missionary correlation meetings, it was announced that the Hermano Ramiro wanted to be baptized as soon as possible. The day he always said would come finally came. He broke, and discovered how to be whole.

I don't have pictures because he actually got baptized with the elders (the latest in a long string of investigator stealing), but I don't think a camera could even capture the feeling of joy that was there that day, when Hermano Ramiro accepted what his family had seen a long time ago: that we are nothing without Christ Jesus.

Somehow, bloodshot hopeful eyes looked good in white, and there was a humble determination in them that I had not seen for a long time.

Recently I've seen a lot of baptisms for obedience and because this is the true church, but this is the first one that taught me so strongly how much we rely on our Savior. I want to bear my testimony to every one of you that Christ lives, and he makes the difference. He atoned for our sins, and we could not make it back to God if it weren't for him.

Learning to be like him is how we qualify to enter into his presence, and practicing the self-discipline and sacrifice it takes to be even a little Christ-like is how we become the kind of people who could possibly feel comfortable in his presence. I don't know why it is that we always feel closest to Christ in the most desperate moments of our lives, but I do know that means he's there. Because when we hit rock bottom, like Hermano Ramiro did, there's no one else with arms long enough to pull us up.

It'll be a long, uphill climb to heaven for Hermano Ramiro - but isn't it that way for all of us, in one way or another? The good thing is that Christ is there for us every step of the way. If we just open our eyes and throw away the sunglasses of our pride, to be able to see him clearly.

Hymn of the Week: I Need Thee Every Hour

Love you all,
Hermana Ison

P.S. In other news, my companion killed a three colored lizard and I didn't help at all! And, we had a really, really spiritual lesson with three young women, the young women president and her family, even though none of the girls decided to be baptized. I'm so grateful for my youth leaders who worked so hard to cultivate environments in which we could leave behind all the worldly thoughts and electronic devices and just feel the Spirit, to learn how to recognize it, to learn for ourselves that God is there. The Spirit is a cleansing, life-giving member of the Godhead, and I'm so grateful that God sends it to us. Just now I'm realizing how essential the experiences of girls' camp or youth conference are - and how much responsibility I have as a missionary to try and recreate that for the investigators in lessons, investigators who've never had anyone talk to them about the Holy Ghost before, let alone been to an amazing youth conference. To all my cousins and friends back at home still in or approaching the age for the youth program, I say this with respect to the activities: GO! Your future happiness and salvation depends on it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Week 38: Weddings and Ferris Wheels

Wow, what a week! I don't even know where to begin... If I could paint this email like a movie, I'd give you a montage of us carrying stuff through the fair. That would about cover it.

The Fair

It all started with the smoothie stand. It showed up in the main street, just shy of the Catholic church and the city park, ten days ago. Street vendors with tacos and tortas and beer shortly followed. Then kiosks selling candy and knick-knacks.

San Martin only has like three main roads, and one and a half of them are now taken over by the fair, which sounds cooler said in Spanish: la ferria.

The crowning adornment of the now transformed town was the five-day long construction of a ferris wheel, There's a big one for adults, made of metal with peeling paint, fluorescent lights, and giant speakers blaring rap music tied on the sides. It towers over the little town, it's base literally one block from our front door.

Completing the picture are some tents where you can play foosball and car racing games. There's also two little ferris wheels for little kids that teenage boys push because they don't have motor, and an assortment of merry-go-rounds for toddlers, a couple of stands with a rip off lottery, and a frightening table where anyone can buy all kinds of tequila.

We've also been witness to parades with dancing horses. One of our investigators, who's 13, competed to be the fair queen.

All in all... it is quite an epic experience. I've basically been living on smoothies and pizza and cotton candy. And it's been quite interesting to have to walk through the fair everytime we want to go anywhere.

Like, for example, on Saturday...

The Wedding

For two months, we've been teaching this lady named Sandy, who's really cute and petite and listens to We the Kings and Red Hot Chili Peppers and sells whole chickens in a room they rent in one of San Martin's side streets, cutting them forcefully with a giant knife if somebody just wants the leg or breast. (We always teach her there in the store; I think I've come to be an expert in dissecting chicken just from watching.)

She's six months pregnant and living with a guy named Juan Luis, who got baptized like seven of ten years ago but stopped coming to church like five years ago. One day the wife of our ward mission leader was passing by and he told her she should have the missionaries come by because he wanted to start coming back to church, now that he's about to be a dad and has his business going and everything.

So we started teaching him and even more to his wife, who wasn't a member but did have a strong desire to be baptized. She accepted everything really well. They even found a girl to work in their business on Sundays so they could kind of keep the Sabbath day holy. And at first they weren't so sure about getting married, but, in what was kind of a miracle, they prayed and accepted that they ought to do what God wants.

So they decided to get married! The wedding was Saturday, and it was beautiful!







But it was a lot of work getting it that way. It required like 117 balloons, yards of crepe paper, an impatient lawyer from Reu, help from Yosselin, and too much time taken out of proselyting.

We had to carry multiple things through the fair, starting with a giant round cake pan full of batter, going from panederia to panederia searching for someone to bake it for us. Then we basically ran to one of the aldeas, and ran back, carrying 15 feet of PBC pipe. That was fun to take through the fair. Honestly, I think it was great advertisement: everyone watching the Mormons carry their random items in a hurry to the church.

But it was fun, and in the end it was all worth it. The couple got married and were so, so happy.

Almost as happy as the elders, when we let them race-pop 117 balloons.



Sandy got baptized on Sunday morning, in the worst-attended baptism I've been part of. Only 7 people were there, but it didn't matter because the Spirit of the Lord was present.



I am so grateful to be a missionary, for all the adventures and for the everyday moments too.

Life is a beautiful thing. (Especially when there are smoothies, which we're going to go buy right now...!)

Love you all!

Hermana Ison

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Week 37: Cows and Testimonies

Sorry guys, I don't have that much time today! In summary: God is great and the church is true and we should be patient and dilligent in all things. Prayer is magnificent.

We are teaching the cousin of one of our recent converts. This week we brought Jorge with us to teach his cousin about the Plan of Salvation. It was special because they both lost their moms when they were younger, and my companion has lost a lot of members of her family too. Jorge was able to teach part of the lesson, and my companion and I both looked at each other and felt such joy to see him enjoying able to play this role of missionary and help his cousin! It was a cryfest but it was beautiful. 

Jorge also shared his conversion story, which I had never heard in full before. Turns out he'd had a dream two days before we ran into him in which all his friends had been attacked and killed for hanging out in the street. He said he'd been on the edge of getting into some bad things but felt like the dream was a warning from God. Two days later, in drizzling rain, he left his house to go buy bread. We were coming down the hill, in a hurry, but my companion stopped to contact him as he passed. I thought then that he was just some other kid, but since the first meeting in his house, the Spirit has been so strong. He talked about how he prayed and got his answer, It is so, so incredible, to get to hear a testimony that you helped grow. Just like Jorge said, I know that God takes care of every single one of his children, and he really does answer prayers.

Funny story of the week: We were waiting on a street corner to meet Yosselin to go visit people. But when I see street corner, it's an intersection with one direction of pavement and three directions of dirt road. Small talking with my companion, I see a guy we used to teach walk buy. We say hi, and then he says, Watch out for the cow....

I do a full, exagerrated turn and see this cow just walking up the street! Then comes a baby one, and a teenage boy taking care of them. They're grazing on the side of the street. It's pretty epic. 

I'm standing there in awe, really, really close to two cows, and then a lady walks by. I remember I'm a missionary and should talk to her, and so try to open my mouth to start a conversation. What comes out is, Look, there's cows!

Probably don't have to tell you that we did not end up going to her house to teach her about the gospel. But my companion and I got some good laughs.

Hope you're all doing great! Love you lots. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Week 36: A Collection of Little, Guatemalan, Missionary Moments

This week was pretty normal. Here's a few glimpses of some of the stranger moments:
 
1. Yosselin's dog
 
We have been visiting a lot with Yosselin, our amazing recent convert. In fact, she's done divisions with us to help us bring everyone to church on Sundays. Her dad doesn't like her to be out after dark, but little does he know... she has a magic guard dog! His name is Whinnie, like Whinnie the Pooh. He is very muscular and walks like a supermodel, and follows us all over her aldea to the houses of the people we teach. He protects us. Soon we will teach him how to bear his testimony, and give him a nametag :)
 
2. The 43 cent dress
 
Have I written about MegaPacas? They're like giant Goodwills, warehouse style. All the clothes are slightly used and imported from the U.S. We went last week on Pday and I found this beautiful, blue polkadotted dress, with the tags still on it. Supposedly cost $63 in the States... I bought it for 3 quetzales, or less tan 50 cents! Also found a teddy bear for my wonderful companion. Miracles of the MegaPaca.
 
3. Foaming at the Mouth
 
Last night we went to give the Book of Mormon to one of our investigators. She's 13 and lives with her grandpa, but a lot of her family are recently baptized members of the church. She was there with her other cousin, who's 11. They were very preocupied, looking into this cardboard box... Turns out a spider had bitten their other cousin's dog. It was there, dying, convulsing, foaming at the mouth. Poor pup. We sang it,¨Nearer My God to Thee¨ and offered a prayer so that it could live peacefully its last moments.
 
4. Signs of the Times
 
My ex-companion may be the first in our misión to start Facebooking! Her back is messed up, so she can't walk that much. The word on the street is that she'll start Facebook contacting this week. Wow!
 
Not to much to report, just that I know God answers prayers and his love is real. Take care, make good choices, and serve somebody!
 
Love,
Hermana Ison

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Week 35: I Think I Can

Good morning, everyone!

Though I think it's afternoon there.

How are ya'll doing? Sometimes I accidentally say ya'll in English when I'm talking Spanish. ¨Ustedes¨ just doesn't roll off the tongue as easily.

Right this minute, my district leader is talking about how he will be going home in two days. Another elder in our district is also finishing his mission. It stresses me out to hear about it; I do not want to think about ever not being a missionary.

Though I suppose that, even when I go home, I will get to keep being a missionary...

Which, hey, leads to what I wanted to talk about... member missionary work!

Because this week I don't have that much to report. We just put our shoulders to the wheel and lost ourselves in the work, and it was wonderful. We met our zone's goal of finding 20 new investigators this week, and had 17 lessons with members present! All of the people we're teaching who might be baptized this week are close friends or relatives of recent converts. We had 5 people come to church on Sunday, and all of them had a good friend there. It was a beautiful testimony meeting, with complete families going up together to the pulpit to share how the gospel has changed their lives.

It made me so happy to see everyone there, feeling the Spirit, loving being at church. It made me remember that living (and sharing) the gospel shouldn't feel like an obligatory duty, but should be a natural result of having a testimony, an outpouring of love.

I think in the language is where we need to start: in Spanish, it's called la obra misional. That can be translated to missionary work, but a better word for work is trabajo. Obra means more of a grand, great, overarching project. A long term goal, a cause. Not work, like a drudgery job.

If we are going to have success sharing the gospel in this church, we're going to have to do several things.

1. Stop thinking about it as a chore.

2. Strengthen our own testimonies.

3. Love people more.

Strengthen our own testimonies because doing so will help us understand why sharing the gospel so important. If I actually, really believe that this is the only true church, if I know that the priesthood was restored and doesn't exist anywhere else, and if I live worthy to feel its blessings in my life, I'm going to be a lot more likely to want to let other people know about it than if I'm just coasting along going to church because I know I'm supposed to but not really thinking about the doctrine or the teachings.

So, my challenge to every one of you, Mormon or not, is to answer these questions: Do I know what is being taught in my church? Is this doctrine true? What questions do I have about it?

Prayerfully study your questions and analyze your doubts. The truth is not hiding.

And then, we have to love people more because even if we know all the things about the doctrine and believe it's true, we might still be scared to open our mouths and invite others to move outside their comfort zone. But the apostles have promised that nobody will ever be offended by a sincere and respectful invitation to learn more about the restored gospel. Love conquers all. And love for our friends and family, combined with knowing that it's necessary that they know what we do, will help us put aside whatever fear and start the conversation.

Last but not least: I encourage you, also, to finish the conversation.

Lots of times before my mission, I thought it was enough to just have a profound conversation about theology and then go back to the dorm room and move on with life, having invited others to think about ideas new to them.

But that's really not enough, and I have repented of those times that I was scared to do anything more.

I'm seeing in the mission (and recognizing that it's held true in our life too) that as human beings, we generally wait to act until we're invited to. Sad, but true. So... invite people to meet with the missionaries! They're good at extending the rest of the invitations, that will help your friends change their lives if they're really prepared to recognize and live the truth. But we need your help in making that first invitation. People opening doors have a hard time believing that we, perfect strangers with name-tags, love them. But, if you're living like Christ, your friends have already felt your love, time and again.

It might not all be perfect, there might be an awkward moment or two, but if we're respectful and honest with ourselves and everyone else, I promise that everything will work out alright, and we (and our friends) will be happier and more satisfied than we were before.

This is what I want, for Christmas and Valentine's Day and my birthday and everything else... that people at home share the gospel. These missionaries around me who are going home this week will be doing it, and in 10 more months I'll be doing it, but it's a calling for every one of us.

And it's a pure and perfect joy :)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Week 34: Broken Shoes Now in Bronze

I don't know who it was that gave the talk in a Saturday session of conference, but they told a story about a pair of dress shoes all worn-through, from a missionary who was the only member in his family. They had the shoes bronzed into a sculpture, to remind them forever of the importance of hard work.

I like this story because it shows that gloriously working in the vineyard of the Lord is oftentimes not very glorious at all.

When I came on the mission, I was filled with excitement that shone like the tabernacle choir and sparkling clean temple windows. Then I got here, and it was all Spanish I couldn't perfectly understand, dust and exhaust, diseased street dogs. I thought, ¨Where's the Spirit in all this?¨

Then I realized: it's my job to bring the Spirit.

A mission isn't inherently glorious and beautiful and spiritual. It's all those things when and only if the missionaries wake up with the 6:30 alarm clock, study diligently all the time, find the people who're prepared to change their lives, teach them with power and authority, and commit them to change. Then come the smiling baptismal pictures, the friends we'll remember forever, the spirit that tells us the Lord is happy with our work.

We can't just float through life. If we want to be happy, we have to do something about it. We have to take control of our futures, fight entropy. In the mission and in every part of life.

The glorious part is that Heavenly Father helps us in this effort. This week I've been praying a lot of enthusiasm, and it's come. I know that God will help us in whatever righteous goal we have. What we lack, he can supply.

So I encourage you and me and all of us to take a good look at how we're living life, and make any necessary attitude adjustments. It might not be glorious. It might require tearing up a good pair of shoes.

But, after all, they wouldn't be worth remembering otherwise, now would they? :) 

In other thoughts, Josselin's dad came to general conference! Which was beautiful. I'm writing on Tuesday because we had to go to Guatemala City yesterday so they could take my fingerprints. We talked to the guy who was putting ink on my fingers about how baptism is like the lines on our hands. When they're searching for a bad guy, there's only one set of prints that will match. When God is looking to let people into the kingdom of heaven, there's only one kind of baptism that qualifies as the key. He listened to the missionaries a while ago and went to church for four months but didn't want to let go of his Catholic baptism. Maybe the metaphor will stick with him. :)

Well, out of time. Love you guys!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Week 33: Sand in my Shoes

In case you didn't hear the shout of joy - Yosselin got baptized on Saturday! It was her 19th birthday and we celebrated afterward with cake. We gave her a journal with pictures of Jesus and temples and women from the scriptures filled with congratulations and testimonies and spiritual thoughts from us and the members of the ward. She bore her testimony in the baptism and it was beautiful. She was trembling before and smiling to the sky after. She brought one of her friends from school. She's going to be a missionary someday. And I can not even say how glad and grateful I am to have been part of the whole process.

In other news, remember when I told you about Jose, the youth who came out of a ward testimony meeting telling us he wanted to move up his baptismal date? Well, the week after the week he got baptized, he started working in a bus. ON SUNDAY. We were heartbroken, and really confused. He was basically dropping out of school to do it too. Turns out he was helping support his family. His Dad works far away and his mom has to take care of his four little siblings, including a newborn baby that has to go to the hospital far away this week for some tests. But however good intentioned, Jose´s decision was, it was taking him down the wrong path: missing school and church, working in a dangerous position, and helping him make bad friends. We tried and tried to visit him at his house, but could never find him.

Finally, last week we found him and taught him. Turns out his Mom got him to quit the bus and finish the school year (which ends in October). He said he would be coming back to church. We read from the Book of Mormon with him and said we'd pass by on Sunday morning so he could help us pass by with investigators. But last Sunday morning...we found him sitting in what passes for the neighborhood arcade, definitely not in his church clothes, listening to music and hanging out with his friends, not planning on being in church. I wanted to cry. We had felt the Spirit so much with this kid... but the devil was working so hard on him. I felt bad for him, lost in the middle of this world, without any direction from his family, practically having to be the direction for his family. And all we were, two 20 year-old girls in skirts, begging him to come to church.

Well, I bore my testimony with all the energy of my heart, as the scriptures said. I did basically almost cry, but in love for him and hope in God and not in frustration, as I had felt. I don't know how it happened, I really don't know how it happened, but there in the middle of the arcade, with his friends all watching, he felt the Spirit and he came with us. We had to fight again at the door of his house - and when I say fight, I mean to pray and testify and try to help him see what we see, why it's so important - but finally he changed and he came with us. And he liked it, as we knew he would.

On Thursday a brother in the ward passed by to bring him to the activity, and on Friday morning we dropped by and dropped off his white dress shirt, so he can go and feel like the other boys, and someday bless and pass the sacrament. That was a beautiful, beautiful morning, in which he felt the love of God passed through us. At the end he offered a prayer, in the which he said, ¨thank you for the hermanas, that have brought my shirt, which I will use this Sunday and all the Sundays to come when I visit your holy church.¨ There may have never been sweeter words to my ears.

All this helps me understand that there is no giving up on people. So many times I saw that bus pass with Jose inside, and felt a kind of lost desperation: what are we going to do? But we put our shoulder to the wheel, as the hymn says, and let God's words be said. That morning with him, I really felt like an instrument in the hands of God, a force for good in this world. It made me realize that we, all of us, can be that force for good, if we just try. God will put his strength behind us, always, without fail. But how many times do we lose that opportunity just because we think it's too late.

It's never too late. Don't EVER give up on ANYBODY. As the scriptures say, after is a different story, but this life here in the world is our time to prepare to meet God. And it doesn't matter how far away we stray, in this life, He will always take us back into the fold. He will always come looking for us. We can always repent. And we can always help other people repent.

So keep on trying. Don't ever give up. And don't ever think you can't make a difference in someone else's life. You don't have to be a missionary to do it. In fact, it would have been a lot easier if the young men's president in the ward had been knocking on Jose's door on Sunday morning, or if it were Jose's mom taking him to church. We all have a role to play in this world... and the stakes are too high to shy away from it.

On a Lighter Note

Not to sound like a religious infomercial, or the blind preacher begging money on the bus today, I will change to talking about the beach! We went to Champerico, which is one of the popular beaches here, this morning. That's why there's sand in my cute plastic shoes. It was excellent to listen to the giant waves. Hannah Quinn, I hope you looked out the window at the same ocean I was dipping my feet in this morning! Also, I bought a really cool peacock made out of shells to bring home in a year and show you guys, but then I left it in the bathroom and it disappeared. Good thing it only cost the equivalent of two dollars!

I think I've gotten to the point in the mission where I don't know what to say anymore in these emails... I don't always remember that well what it was like before I was a missionary, so I don't know what would be interesting to hear about. Any requests?

An Invitation

General Conference is this weekend! That's when the prophet and apostles talk. For anybody reading this who doubts that there's a real prophet on the earth today, check out the conference, Saturday and Sunday, lds.org. You will feel the Spirit, and learn something you can apply to your life to improve it and feel better about yourself. And maybe, just maybe, you will come to believe in prophets again.

I LOVE CONFERENCE! And I love being a missionary.

Take care, all!

Hermana Ison

Week 32: Pictures from Guatemala













Monday, September 23, 2013

Week 31: Playing Baseball in a Futbol Field and Other Amazing Things

Stealing Bases: A different kind of P-day Activity

Somebody found a kids' baseball bat in the MegaPaca (like a giant, epic, Goodwill - Google it) and the mission office randomly has a set of baseball mitts, so this P-day, instead of playing soccer, we did something really American. We found some old cardboard boxes and a beat-up pillow for bases and started in. It was hard to explain how to play in Spanish to the sisters that didn't know, but we went at it.

I think it must have looked funny to the handful of Guatemalan people who gathered to watch us: a bunch of tall youth, some of them still in their white shirts and dress pants, playing a strange sport in the drizzle in a soccer field. Hope it makes them curious enough to open their doors to the missionaries when we knock... :) And it made me content to see, all of us missionaries from different countries with different interests and life stories, but united in the gospel and in this silly game. I love the diversity that comes with being a member of the church on a mission.

But my favorite part of all of this was when somebody hit a foul ball, it went over the fence of the soccer field and into a neighbor's yard... where a horse was grazing. One of the zone leaders was brave enough to hop that fence and fetch it. Dad will be happy to know that I hit a home run. And fought off the elder that didn't believe I could play first base. (¨I'm going to throw it hard,¨ he said. ¨And.... so?¨ I responded. :) Thanks, Dad, for teaching me well.)

And, Happy Birthday this week to Dad and to Robert! They are awesome birthday buddies. I will be eating cake today to celebrate with them in spirit. ....And to have an excuse to buy cake :)

Jorge: A Lesson in Answered Prayers

Maybe the most beautiful thing that happened this week is that Jorge got baptized. He is an 18 year-old kid who grew up without a Dad and whose Mom died 3 years ago. He lives with his 82-year-old Grandpa who always has a cowboy hat, his good-natured but very sassy aunt Heidi, whom I love, and some cousins, one of whom is 10-years-old and a member of the church named Darvin.

On Thursday before his baptism on Saturday we had a testimony meeting in his house with all of those people I just mentioned, plus their awesome dog Sheena, who has two different colored eyes and is my pet amiga. We all took turns bearing our testimonies (except the aunt, who's not a member and makes clear that she's not quite ready to be, but who's eyes filled up to hear everyone's thoughts.)

(Oh, and for not-Mormons reading this, we say we bear our testimonies when we say the things we have felt to be true by the Holy Spirit, like that God lives and loves us and answers prayers and the church is true, or whatever fills our heart in that minute.)

Anyway, we had never heard Jorge bear his testimony and didn't know what he was going to say. He went last, and when it was his turn we all stopped laughing at the joke his aunt had made and waited with bated breath. He looked at us like he didn't know what to do... we just smiled back, nodding encouragingly at him. After a pause, he opened his mouth.

¨The first time after you guys came here, when you asked me to pray, later that night, I did it. And it was like you said, Nefi (his member friend who was also there and bore his testimony), at first I didn't feel anything. But the next night I did it, and that time... I felt, like, a pressure in my heart.¨

The Spirit in that room was so strong. Here was a very precious child of God, expressing for the first time in his life, what he felt when God talked to him. With his friend, we helped him recognize that it was the Holy Ghost. We let him know that as he continues going to church, praying and reading his scriptures he will get better and better at recognizing that feeling.

Conclusion

I have come to realize that God is always trying to communicate with us, but that we have to perfect ourselves, fine tune ourselves, to be able to recognize when he's talking and what it is he's saying. That's why we, normal people, just get feelings in our heart or thoughts in our mind, and people that God, throughout history, has prepared and purified to be his prophets and apostles get to see and talk to him.

So my challenge, for me and all of us, is that we look harder for what God is trying to say to us. We turn off the TV for a while and stop texting, and just go for a walk in the woods and direct our thoughts to him. Whatever inspiration, whatever peace we receive, comes from him.

I love you all, and wish us luck in this. Ready, set, go.

Hermana Ison

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Week 30: More and More Miracles

There is an 18 year-old girl living on the very edge of Armenia, an aldea of San Martin, in Retalhuleu Guatemala, who is changing my life. Her name is Yosselin, and you've heard about her twice already. She followed us in the rain, and then came to the temple. This week she had some super awesome questions, and we answered them in some very spiritual lessons.

Then, on Saturday, she came to a baptism. She cried. Afterward, she was so close to committing to her baptismal date, but then shared with us some of her doubts, and that her family said she's be a disgrace to the church where they go if she got baptized. So we talked, and basically cried, and knelt in prayer together.

She stayed with us afterward for a ward talent show - and she sang! A gospel song. It was so beautiful, I got goosebumps. But then some other acts went on, and they involved pop music and dancing. At the end, she sat there astounded, and told us she didn't want to be part of a church that permits worldly music. (She comes from a religion where nothing but gospel music is allowed, dancing is a huge no-no, and girls can only where skirts.) We explained to her about agency - the ability to choose for ourselves between the good and the bad. And I bore her my testimony that it is not, in fact, easy to be Mormon.

She left not convinced, and we prayed so hard that everything would be okay with her and that she'd come to church in the morning. It took some convincing slash pleading Sunday morning, but in the end she came smiling, and had a spiritual experience. We had a really good lesson with her and her family on Sunday night, and have another one planned for tonight. She told us she's praying hard for her answer, and is confident it will come.

I am too, because God answers prayers.

So we'll see if she doesn't get baptized this week :) Pray for her, please! And for us, so we know how to be good missionaries to her.

Thanks!

The other crazy miracle of yesterday is that we were teaching this 20 year old kid, Jorge, who is about to graduate and be a teacher. Everytime we go it's just a really straightforward lesson, no small talk. We don't have a lot of confidence with him, but we do feel the whisperings of the Spirit in the lessons. Yesterday was our fourth lesson with him and we taught about the moral and behavioral standards of the church. At the end, we were about to finish, and I felt prompted to invite him to be baptized. I honestly didn't think he was going to say yes yet...

But he did! And then asked if he could do it this weekend instead of the one after.

So... I testify to you all that this gospel I'm preaching is true. It changes people's lives and it will never finish changing mine.

If you believe in Jesus Christ, try to apply more his teachings in your life. He's waiting for you.

Love,

Hermana Ison

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Pictures from Guatemala sent in August











Week 29: Faith, Hope, and Prayer

This week was awesome and crazy. It was my companion's birthday, we went to the temple, and we found out we have changes! I may be training a new missionary, but we'll see on Wednesday.

Also, I can't believe it took me 13 years of reading the Book of Mormon to find out the Alma war chapters are not about literal war. They apply to us today and teach us (or at least this week they taught me) that we can not glory in contention. The Lamanites wanted to go to war for the sake of their pride and bloodshed. If we use biting words or make snappy comments or in other ways show hatred or fight verbally with someone to make them feel bad, we're being just like them. It's better to be like the Nephites, who only picked up their swords to defend their families and freedom. If we have to contradict someone to defend the right, we should do it, but do it respectfully and with honor, with soft words and gestures. Nobody needs another reason to feel bad.

Hope you are all enjoying the beginning of fall! Does it feel like fall yet, or is it still swimming pool hot? I have a feeling I'm really going to miss hay rides and hot chocolate. Also, my body slash mind just like automatically knows it's time to start school and asked me this week why I wasn't there. I told it I had better things to do, and it agreed. Hope everybody at Ball State is adjusting well and having a wonderful time!

Yosselin (the crazy awesome investigator who followed us in the rain) came to the temple with us on Saturday. We left at 5:30 and drove through the mountains in a recycled American school bus as the sun was rising. It was impossible not to marvel at the wonders of God, the mountains and colorful houses and crops planted on a slant, the clouds dancing around the tops of the hills and the sun coming up in the east sky. So pretty!

We woke up at 3 am to go and it was so much fun! But I will never forget standing in the dirt floor doorway of the house where Handry and Celeste live (the teenagers who really want to join the church but have Catholic family) in the 5 am darkness while their Dad crushed all their hopes at the last minute and said they couldn't go. It would have been such an eye opening experience for them. I honestly don't know why they're obedient.

Just kidding, that's a horrible thing for a missionary to say. It's good to honor you're father and mother, everyone should do it all the time. But only God knows why this man's heart is so hard, and we will just have to trust that God's hidden hand will do something good for these children. So they're not going to get baptized, and now he's not letting them go to church anymore. Which means it's just not their time, but I know one day it will be, and one day their father will overcome his horrible alcohol addiction and be happy again.

And maybe, one day, all this family will be seen walking into the temple of Quetzaltenango together. One day...

God works miracles, I just try not to get in the way here.

And also try to put myself in the right place.

Last night we only had 30 minutes before we had to be in the house and were looking for someone to teach. My companion had the idea to pass by with a member who didn't come to church that day. We ended up running into her daughter, who was raised in the church but now isn't going. Standing there in the front of her house, we talked about faither and prayer. The daughter, 22-year-old Ramiro, offered the closing prayer. We sensed it was the first time she had spoken to her Father in Heaven in months. She ended crying, and we gave her strong hugs.

The church is true. And I don't know what else to say. That girl's front step felt about as holy as the temple grounds, with the Spirit so strong there.

Confide in God. Talk to him. He lives.

Love ya'll so much.
Hermana Ison

Monday, August 26, 2013

Week 28: Yosselin

Hey everyone!

This week was my birthday and it was super fun. I woke up to my companion tickling my feet and shouting, ´I'm going to turn on the light! Look there!´ She'd made me a sparkly purple birthday poster and attached some chocolates. :) Then we opened the package Mom sent me and ate Reese's Cups. Woo!

The best part, though, was definitely that everyone gave me hugs. And said God bless you to have lots more cumpleanos. But not, like, cheesy and fake. They looked in my eyes and really meant it. People are genuine here. With great big hearts. We should learn to be more like that more often in the States.

Challenge for the week: if you can, when you're making small talk with someone sometime this week, make them stop and feel the moment. Look in their eyes and don't think about anything else in the world except what they're saying to you or what you're saying to them. That's how I felt when people throughout the day were wishing me happy birthday. And that's how I hope all our investigators feel when I'm teaching them.

At night, we went to the church where three of our investigators were at a youth activity to eat cake and celebrate with them. They put me in the middle of a circle and sang to me, and then everyone gave me a hug or a handshake. My companion almost stuffed my face in the cake but did not get away with it! I shared with them my testimony of missionary work and of letting God work miracles in your life and it was just a beautiful, peaceful moment. I would have more birthdays in Guatemala if I could.

The major amazing awesome miracle of this week is Yosselin (Jocelyn - I'm still getting used to Spanish spelling). She's one of the five children of the man Hoel (spelled Joel) I told you about last week. She's 17 and super active in her Evangelical church. She's read the Bible and studied it a lot, and loves everything to do with God.

And doesn't reject us.

Sometimes people get so learned they think they are wise, as the scriptures said, and refuse to believe that the message we're sharing can help them. But something I've learned is the people who've studied the most are the most able to accept this message IF they're humble. Because they already know much about how God works and how to feel the Holy Spirit and how to recognize truth - they can easily recognize that what we're sharing isn't a lie and isn't just pretty words... it comes from God.

What's hard is to change. Because no matter how humble we are, admitting everything we've known for all the time before in our lives isn't everything - and admitting this by changing your religion (a big part of who you are and how your life is) in front of friends and family, who often judge a little more freely than maybe they ought, to put it nicely... it's difficult. But Yosselin can do it, I know she can.

This week we marched through the pouring rain and six inches of rain and mud to get to her street, where we're visiting two households. We knocked and knocked at both doors, but nobody answered, including at hers. We turned around and marched back through all the mud in the pouring rain to another investigator's house, thoroughly drenched (which is the norm, but I point it out now to add drama to the story.)

Ten minutes later, we're about to knock on the door of the other investigator, and I look up: waving us down, the only person in the empty river-street, wearing an over-sized yellow raincoat, is Yosselin.

Her brother had gotten home and said he'd seen us walking away. She'd ran out and followed us all this way, ¨because you're going to answer my questions,¨ she said.

I don't think I'd ever smiled wider in my life. This week we've had some incredible lessons with Yosselin, not just about Joseph Smith and the Restoration, but a lot about faith. Whatever disappointment I've felt in this mission, the love and joy and strength of the Holy Spirit I feel watching her conversion wipes it all out. These are the moments that make the mission.

These are the moments that make this life.

I invite you all to step outside your comfort zone like Yosselin is doing. She is an example to me, and should be to everyone of us. If it's the gospel you need to explore, or something else, just do it. And let God help you with it.

You're all wonderful. I miss and love you. And I love being a missionary.

Victoria

Monday, August 12, 2013

Week 27: A Candlelight's Glimpse

It was my first real lesson in a home without electricity, and one of the most spiritual experiences in weeks.

We found these two teenage girls, Handry and Celeste, contacting in the street one day. It was like my third day, and we just passed by really rapidly and invited them to church. They accepted, but in a whirlwhind of learning streets and names, I quickly forgot about them.

My companion did too, and we didn't pass by to bring them to church that Sunday.

It was a Friday or Saturday of the next week when we were walking one day, and my companion literally stops in the middle of the street and kind of screams.

¨Those girls!¨

Of course, I don't remember, but somehow she does and the next day we find their house. The mom and dad are sitting on the rocks out front, talking to a neighbor. All the kids happen to be home, and we share something with the whole family. Sometimes this companion and I don't always manage to teach with great unity, but this time, yes. The Spirit was SO strong. I walked away knowing I was leaving sacred ground.

The girls couldn't come to church that Sunday, but came to Young Women's and a baptism this Saturday, and church yesterday. We stopped by in the afternoon to see what they thought and how they were feeling - we had already invited them to be baptized once.

Lo and behold, the whole family was there again. (This is kind of a miracle. Apparently a lot of elders have visited this family in the past, including our current district leader, but they could rarely find the mom at home, and only met the dad once.)

It was about 5 o'clock and raining, so kind of dark. They lit a candle, and I brought out my little flashlight and we settled down to talk about why we have to be baptized in water. (The family is Catholic.) Turns out that the grandma of the girls wanted them to start Confirmation classes this Sunday, but they went to church instead. The mom, who is amazingly prepared, said she had always wondered why in the Catholic church they don't baptize in the way that Jesus was, and that it was the decision of the girls. The girls, glowing in candlelight and with the Spirit, both said they felt really good when they went to church, like they were already members. They agreed to be baptized on the 24th.

Only the father was left to give permission. He stood silent against the wall, his arms crossed. We asked him what he thought... Silence.

Again... silence.

The member who was visiting with us just happens to have been Catholic... and went to the same Catholic church building as this family like 10 years ago. She bore her testimony.

The Spirit was SO strong.

Two neighbor girls, friends of Handry and Celeste that we taught once but who have never been to church, spoke, and said they want to be baptized too.

The Dad said he felt like it was fast, he's going to talk to his wife and give us the answer to night, at a family home evening with the bishop.

I know this church is true. I know this whole family can be baptized, and am so grateful for the girls for being so apt to feel the Spirit and brave to set the example for their parents and their two little brothers. I am so grateful for the missionaries who came before us, who prepared this family to reach the true church.

Nobody said missionary work wasn't messy, but it sure is beautiful. And you don't need electricity to see and feel the light of Christ.

Love you all.

Victoria

Monday, August 5, 2013

Hermana Ison at Work






Week 26: Bryan's Prayer

He's got 10 years and 1 eye going for him.

And his name is Bryan.

It looks like the first baptism I will help out with in my new area (San Martin, close to San Felipe, for all those who will Google Earth it) will be of my new biggest hero, 10-year-old Bryan.

While he doesn't have a lot going for him (nobody knows who his dad was, and nobody knows where his mom is now; he's been growing up with his great aunt, who can't read, since he was 1), he does have the gospel of Jesus Christ. It has been a gold-wrapped gift from God to teach him in these days, when my companion is having some serious health problems with her back and we had to go to the mission office several times. Every time we come back to teach Bryan in his aunt's humble home, I feel a really special spirit. If Christ were to come again right now to my part of Guatemala, I thin Bryan would be one of the very first children to sit on his knee.

We teach him about the Sacrament and why he's going to get baptized, and who prophets were, and what life after death is like, and he listens politely with a 10-year old's embarrassed, I'd-rather-be-playing-right-now smile on his face. But when he answers the questions, in his one good eye (he lost the other a month ago in a nasty accident with a clothes hanger), I see a lot of light and hope. And at the end of the lesson when he prays...

¨Heavenly Father, thank you that the sisters could come. Thank you for my aunt and that my cousins are here. Please help me to be a good boy. Help me to be baptized on the 10th. Help them to put my eye in on the 20th- Please bless us that we can have enough food. And please bless the sisters. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.¨

More of less, that was the prayer we got to hear yesterday. Maybe you didn't cry just reading it, but if you'd been there... This is one very special kid. And we have such high hopes for him. I know with what he will learn in the church, he will grow up knowing who he is and that he has at least one set of parents (the Heavenly ones) who love him very much. With this knowledge, he will be able to overcome whatever obstacles that await him. Maybe, one day, he'll be a missionary. And then, maybe one day, he will be a father. Who will love his wife and children very much.

Maybe the world can't see it right now, a one-eyed child playing marbles in the dirt, but God knows it, and me and my companion know it. This kid could change the world.

I love you all, and am out of time. Last thing: The holiest place I've been this week was a baby shower the Relief Society had for a new mother. They played this game where basically they had to go around in a circle giving advice to her about the birth and the first few days with her kid. Somehow, basically every single comment, turned into something spiritual. Pray before going. Sing hymns to him. Thank God for this gift. Etc, etc. The spirit came.

Please be nice to people and remember who you are... and who you can be.

Love always,
Hermana Ison

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Sister Missionaries


Week 25 TRANSFERS! And (almost) living on bread alone.

Guess what? They changed me! I'm in my second area, with my fourth companion. She's named Hermana Sandigo and is nice, and the area is HUGE! It's way bigger than my old one, in a little town with lots of aldeas, which I don't really know how to explain in English. Dirt roads with houses on one side and corn fields on the other? It makes me really happy to see corn, and it's fun to get to live in a little town where all the people know eath other.
Things have kind of stopped surprising me. This week, I watched a man named Anival climb a coconut tree with his bare hands. Like they do to that post in the movie Mulan, except without the fancy golden medals. He just used this simple crocheted net thing on his feet, to have friction. It was a tall coconut tree.

Afterward, he gave us coconuts (which we drank the milk out of - it was my first time - and it was good but more like sweet water)and we taught him about keeping the Sabbath day holy, which he said he would start doing. He's a proffessional coconut dropper. (Don't know how to translate that into English either!) But it was awesome.
This week in transfers a whole bunch of Nortes came! Like 16 sisters. And 4 elders, just from the US. It was really cool to see all the new ones and realize how far I've come.

Loving life and love you guys!
Hermana Victoria Ison

Monday, July 22, 2013

Week 24: BREVITY

In reflective mode: it was a year ago exactly that I was in London for the Olympics, studying at Kings College London and participating in the Fulbright Summer Program. I`m so grateful for that organization and for the experience. Even though the country I`m in now is completely different, it prepared me a lot to be here becoming part of another country and losing parts of who I was before.

I told a 17 year old kid we met this week that God has transformed me. Though its unlike me to use words like that, I realized when they came out of my mouth that they`re absolutely true. I have no idea how I`m here, surrounded by strangers that so easily become friends, speaking fluently now a language that confounded me for years, preaching a gospel that`s eternal and true.

I started out not wanting to go on a mission and wanting to take French, but over time, here a little and there a little, God has guided my decisions and given me people who have helped me get here. I really believe he has even molded my desires, working with the small but earnest desire I gave him of wanting to be the daughter and person he wanted me to be. I remember being so confused last August, unhappy, and getting a blessing from Ian Kleeberg in which God, through him and the power of the priesthood and the Holy Ghost, conveyed to me that I should not worry, that God was guiding my steps.

He was, even earlier than that, even before I noticed, and even when I didn't think I was doing a very good job of letting him lead my life. Religious and spiritual terminology is misleading at times, and I don't know if the words I`m saying mean the same things to everyone else as they do in my head. But for me it amounts to turning yourself over to God. Entregado a Dios.

Because we can only do so much on our own, but he can do anything. And if we want to be better, the only way to get there is to let him work in us.

So let him work in you, and see what blessings it will bring.

I love you guys so much. Be kind.

Hermana Victoria

Pics from Guatemala and the Seashore