Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Week 7: Pioneer Children Sang as They Walked...


That's a thing.

When I first got here, it was all I could see. The first thing we did the first moment we got here to my area (Mazetenango) was go to lunch at the house of the wonderful member woman who cooks a meal a day for us.

On the way we met a member woman named Gris in a green-painted shop and I stared at the trash on the side of the road and the cars barreling down the streets without thought for laws or safety, and the balding, flea-bitten dogs lying pitifully on the uneven sidewalk.... it was like all those romanticized pictures or documentary screenshots of third world countries - except with an overcast sky and a nice Mormon woman who was hugging me, convincing me this was REAL. People actually live like this and for the next 18 months I'm going to live like this, spending all of my time talking about religion and trying to bring people who don't all have clean water to church. Suddenly that seemed like a really trivial thing to be doing.

The miraculous thing is that it's not. We stopped on the side of the road with this woman who's 70 years old and every day sits with a fraying pink flyswatter behind a table with a couple bowls of fallen from tree fruit, selling it. I've never seen anyone buying it but everyone stops and talks with her and wishes her a good day and she looks after her grandkids through the open door into their living space. This day there wasn't anyone around and it was about to rain. We stopped and asked her about her self and her business and chatted about the gospel and God and found that she loves the Catholic church even though she doesn't go and her husband left her a long time ago. While we were talking she slipped two mangoes into our hands, a gift for the stranger girls with nametags. We left her with a prayer and a hymn and a little more peace in all of our hearts.

Later that day, my companion, brave Spanish speaking soul that she is, stopped in front of a house where a shirtless man with a long frazzly beard and patchwork pants was trying to mend the sole of a shoe. Not two words into the conversation we noticed all manner of dusty porn posters on the wall behind him. I wanted to vomit, from that and from the cow stomach we ate at lunch. But I didn't. We looked into his eyes and asked if he ever went to church and then we sang him ''Divina Luz'' ('Lead, Kindly Light') and I guarantee you it was the first time in years that that man had felt anything like a child of God.

So poverty is a thing, but it's not at the same time. It's just normal here. And as I forget what it's like to have air conditioning and feel clean, and get accustomed to putting a rock over the drain in the sink outside where we wash our dishes and clothes (so cockroaches don't come up in the night), I start to feel at home and love these people and see the very, very real ways the gospel blesses their lives. We went to church on Sunday and I just bawled all through the start of Sacrament meeting to see the families walking in together and the deacons in their white pressed shirts passing the bread that represents the sacrifice of Christ, which reaches here and everywhere in the world.

And they'll never be enough time to account all the experiences of this week or the weeks to come, but I want you to know there have been a thousand beautiful moments.

God is so good. My Spanish is coming along. This weekend is Easter. They have peanut butter and jelly in the grocery stores here. It's hot and humid every day like August in Indiana. People think it's strange that I'm white. The little kids are so cute. Women greet each other with besitos, which is friendly. I miss houses that are built up high off the ground. My companion is cooing to the pet parakeet that lives in the courtyard and a few paragraphs ago there was a little earthquake.

I missed my mom a LOT the first few days (and Emily Kathman too, and Hannah Quinn (thank you for your letters, I promise to mail yours next week!!) and Grandaddy and Grandma Mae and everyone) and am starting to feel just how long 18 months is going to be. But I KNOW this is the right thing to be doing, because I know God is greater than me and all of us and that his restored church is on the earth again and he has led me here, with the purpose of doing this. And though I may feel lonely and scared in the mornings, when we go out into the hot street and start testifying to people about modern day prophets and Christ coming to the Americas and they look at me like I'm crazy, I feel alive and certain again. Because I KNOW these things are true. And, inexplicably, I love these strangers in this foreign country so much, I want them to know too.

Week 6: Pictures from the CCM (Mission Training Center)

Sorry, there's no letter this week. I'm moving on prep day. Here's a few pictures from the training center.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Week 5: Eight Girls on an Elevator, One Taller Than the Rest

Greetings from Guatemala! This will be my last week writing from the CCM... And today I have the announcement that I have been put in a different district! Several of the people in my group left early for their missions, and we were down to four. That's not enough people to merit a class, so they split us up. My two companions, who I had come to love so dearly and now miss much - we shout Spanglish to each other when we pass in the hallway and now sneak hugs at every opportunity - got put in one of the districts of the 29 missionaries from the U.S. who arrived last week, along with our sole elder.

And they really did put me in a Spanish-speaking district! So I'm repeating some of the lessons but it's good practice anyway still because it's in Spanish. At this point, I can understand 90 percent of what teachers say and participate in class well, but I only get about 40 percent of informal conversations. So it's been good for me (and probably very annoying for those around me) to be living with people who only speak Spanish and to have a companion from Honduras, named Hermana Betancourth. She is SO cool. I will have to devote a complete blog post to each of my companions, if I ever get time. (Also there is one other person in our district who speaks fluent English - she's 19 too, from Australia, but with Chilean parents.)

Anyway, our district is awesome. We laugh a lot and have some incredible spiritual moments. A lot of the elders are the very first missionaries in their family, one was baptized a year ago and has already done a mini-mission, and one gave up a professional soccer contract to come on a mission. But, despite how amazing and incredible everyone is, it was kind of a shock to go from a very English, U.S.-like environment, to one that was really and truly Spanish and Central American.

And here comes the 'profound' reflection: Beginning when I started college or maybe a bit before, I started to realize that things don't much matter. That as long as you're surrounded by a group of people who love you, it doesn't really matter whether you live in a bunk bed in half a dorm room or the laundry room of your parents' house or on a whole bunch of peoples' couches. I thought I had accomplished something, come to one of life's bigger conclusions, to have figured out and truly come to believe people were the most important, that physical environments and things could change, but that people could be the foundation.

Then, all of a sudden, I was here, for the first time fully enveloped in Latin culture, something I have wanted for ages, and I found myself missing American ways of exclaiming 'oh, I found the page number' or the heights of my American friends when they give hugs. And then I realized that love is just like things, as far as missing it goes. In that, if I am fully and completely enveloped in the arms of my Savior's love (2 Nephi 1:15), I am centered and sane and inwardly happy enough to accept the elbow bumps and permanent smiles and spontaneous hugs of my fiery little companion as if they were the arms of my very own mother - at least for these 18 months. That's because Christ is my Savior and my companion's and my mother's - and all the love that we on this earth are busy (or not as busy as we should be) giving each other is just a shadow and a type and reflection of his, meant to teach us how to be a little more like him. So I will take what love comes my way these 18 months and always, and will give out absolutely as much as I can for as long as I can and as well as I can.
Okay, I'm trusting my mom to clean that up and put some paragraphs. Sorry, it's not as good as I'd like to make it if I had more time, there's a group of rowdy elders outside waiting their turn at the computer. I promise lots of details next time about the Guatemalan countryside, because by then I'll have traveled by bus across half this country to my wonderful, beautiful, love-it-already mission!

Much love, much faith,

Hermana Ison :)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Week 4: Changes in the CCM

Hey guys! Guess what? I am currently in possession of a cell phone. This is because I'm a coordinating sister for the hermanas (sisters, missionaries)in the MTC right now. I'm in charge of fostering unity, organizing nightly prayer, and having the cell phone in case something goes wrong in the house where we live separate from the CCM. Interestingly, however, I will only have this cell phone for one day! That's because I got called to this position yesterday by someone who did not know (and I did not know at the time) that tomorrow I move out of our house back into the CCM into a district (group of missionaries) of the Latinos who are here for two weeks because they don't have to learn Spanish! This is because our district-which is now down to three sisters and four elders-is getting dissolved into new districts tomorrow when 29 more 6-weekers arrive from the states! They're putting me with Spanish-speaking people because I've basically begged for it for the last two weeks. I am way excited, though genuinely sad to be leaving my old companions. We have had some serious success lately!

Yesterday we taught three lessons and in them all had unity and felt the Spirit and addressed the needs of our investigators. Furthermore, we have a REAL investigator! On Friday we got to go out and talk to people near the temple grounds about the church. I am beginning to see that journalism is excellent preparation for missionary work. We talked to this man, Estuardo, who was holding the hand of his three year old daughter, Fatima, who had a bright pink shoes and dress and a yellow lollipop because she'd just gotten a shot at the hospital. Estuardo is a business professor who's three fourths chapino (Guatemalan) but was born in Israel. He's a business professor and he reminds me of Brother Horowitz a lot. Anyway, he's super nice. We spoke with him in Spanish and English and talked about being missionaries and his life and the church. We expected to just give people folletos (pamphlets) or whatever, but at the end we got his contact information and set up a return appointment for Thursday. We call tomorrow night to confirm! I am way excited.

I liked talking to him because it was a super genuine meeting. We were down to earth, explaining “No, Hermana is not all of our first names.” He was honest in his questions like “Are you just here for a few weeks to shove your religion onto Guatemalan people?” We were honest in return “No; we're here for 18 months because we care about this gospel and all the people in the world.” My companion shared her conversion story and I shared my testimony of temples. We were walking the temple grounds by this point and it was so good. I don't know if I have EVER been as happy as I was walking back to the CCM after talking to Estaurdo. After having been in a building for four weeks, learning and practicing but not really helping anyone, here was a chance. And in this chance, we met someone who really does believe -he told us so- that this message can better his life.

Tambien (Also), today we went on a short tour of Guatemala City –“Oh my gosh it is so gorgeous.” We went to a market and a Wendy's and then to this beautiful public plaza to try to talk to people about the church. We ended up giving someone a Book of Mormon, and I loved it because when we talked to a man about it and listened to what he had to say, his eyes shone. He was wearing a yellow shirt and was on a lunch break from a nearby building, where he's a lawyer. We took his contact information too, and he said he would welcome a visit from some missionaries. – We promised, laughingly, to send ones who spoke better Spanish than us.

I just want to say that I love Guatemala, I love Christ and his gospel, and I love my family so much. I am so lucky to know so many good letter writers, my brother Robert probably ranking among the best. Thank you guys :)

Tambien, being in downtown Guatemala reminded me so much of London. So much. What with the open plazas, old cathedrals, and busy markets, it’s very much European. And a little bit like what I saw of Seattle. And a very big bit just Guatemalan. I love, love, love it, and am very much planning on someday coming back just to study the culture and architecture and society and things. My humanities classes have prepared me very well, I think, in that I'll have a lot to think about if I ever need a break from thinking about investigators and the gospel when I go tracting (looking for people to teach) one day. And I can't wait to meet and get to know more people who live here.

Every time a group of 2-weekers leave, it's such a cool experience. So many have fantastic stories - I wish I had time to summarize even a few. I’m standing in the CCM parking lot, frantically taking pictures, giving them hugs and summoning up some Spanish phrases to try and express how much I appreciate their love for the gospel and each other, the sacrifices they've made to serve missions, and the hope they have in the future.

There are so many incredible people in the world, and I am beginning to see life is a wonderful gift of getting to meet a few of them here and there and some at a time. That probably doesn't make sense and I'm running out of time, but I love you all, I love everything, and just please, if you do anything, have the courage to do what you need to do to make your life the best it can be.

I'm trying, and, with all the ups and downs, it's turning out so well. Hasta luego, amigos (Until later, friends)

- Hermana Ison