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.