Monday, April 29, 2013

Week 12: That Family Just Needs One Big Hug From Jesus

Four falsities we're working hard to mythbust here in Mazate, Guatemala

1. 'I have to make breakfast' and 'It looks like it's going to rain' are good excuses for not going to church.

One day I said, 'Hermana, did you just tell me that you don't have time for God?' She said, 'Of course I have time for him, just later in the afternoon. My nephew's birthday party is this morning.'

2. Praying works better if you speak and breathe during it with a rhythm that sounds like you're giving birth.

I don't actually do anything to counter this, just listen with interest.

3. Saying 'primeramente Dios' excuses you from actually doing anything that would qualify as putting God primero (first).

Dude. I just pray for patience.

4. All the churches are the same.

If you have a good answer for this, let me know. We all are worshipping the same God, but there's the restored authority in this church that doesn't exist anywhere else. It's hard to explain all that to somebody on the street, though, let alone help them feel or actually believe it.

Well, my companion was a really speedy writer today and we have to go to the stake center, so I'll just say that on Saturday we had our first baptism and it was awesome! A 75 year old man named Juan. He's so sweet, and so happy to belong to this community in the church now. 

I had prepared lots more details and a sad story that relates to the title of this email and also a hopefully amusing description of transportation in Guatemala but it'll have to wait til next time! Sorry for the rather lame message this week, and please do believe that there are lots of incredibly cool and powerful and interesting people here in Guatemala, and not everyone says annoying things like those I listed above. The church is so true and I am happy here and, above anything else, God is so good.

Oh, and Brigham French once told me that mission work is all about numbers. I scoffed at that, but got here and found out he's almost right. I certainly is about talking to lots of people, but I think it might be ever more about timing. God is always preparing people to remember the truths they've heard once before... we just have to find them in the moments of their lives when they're ready for them.

Good luck with everything and all the moments life will bring you this week!

Much love,
Hermana Ison

P.S. I've been in the field for as long as I was in the CCM now. The time here in Mazate went much faster.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Pictures From Guatemala City a Few Weeks Ago

Week 11: Week 5 in the Mission Field

Greetings from Guatemala,

Hoping that everyone is doing quite well! We freaked out last week when our landlady told us North Korea had bombed America - envisioning nuclear warfare and all. But only a few people died, right? Not that that's not still super sad and scary...

Being out of the range of news is weird. There's plenty of news in Guatemala (though, my goodness, the papers really are kind of tabloidy - it makes me want to study how journalism varies internationally, because you can tell so much about the cultures by... but after the mission, after the mission I will think about this.) Anyway, the news gets to Guatemala, just as missionaries we're not supposed to pay attention to it. So I haven't read a newspaper in 2 months, and I think it's the longest I've ever gone. I miss it, obviously, but at the same time this is what I wanted right? I'm spending all my time focused on the people around me and how I can help them spiritually, as well as how I can be a better person. And I trust that it's right for me to be here right now. I know that I'm learning things here (even things I can't see right now) that will make me a better person and professional and everything when I return.

And, seriously, being a missionary is kind of like being a journalist. An investigative one. We get to ask lots of inspired questions and contact people in the street and go door to door searching for them, sometimes. And now, instead of just listening to somebody's sad story, sympathizing, and putting it in the paper, never to see them again, I can offer them something: the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that heals everything.

On a lighter note, it has started raining a lot in the afternoons. Riding in camionetas (the beds of pick-up trucks, fitted with this iron cage-looking-like thing, and used as busses) is incredibly fun, and yesterday there were 14 missionaries in the back of a short-bed pick-up truck, going to a field in the middle of nowhere to play soccer. I am getting good at soccer! But oh, the things you can do in Guatemala... It's a wonderful life.

Adios amigos,

Hermana Ison

Monday, April 15, 2013

Week 10: On Being White in Guatemala (and Other Irreverent Thoughts)

As promised, a selection of colorful details about missionary life here in Mazate:

First off, about being "canchita"

In the US, it's common to see people of all colors, speaking all different languages, etc. At least, in Bloomington this is the norm and not very exciting at all. In this part of Guatemala, it's exactly the opposite. Exactly zero other Americans have crossed my path, and only two blonde people, one of whom was albino. Even the other sister missionaries from the states are all dark-haired. I have never felt more blonde.

And I wouldn't even notice. except everybody else does. One Sunday a couple weeks ago, the Relief Society president touched my curls and said I'm just like a little Barbie. I took it as a compliment, because the RS president is named Edna and hard core legit awesome, but surely my mother will know how much I inwardly bristled at that. The same day, we met a dad and his grown up kids sitting on the front step relaxing, and sang a hymn to them. He told me I sound like Britney Spears.

I promise you, I do not sing hymns like Britney Spears.

A few days ago, I got my first marriage proposal thrown out of a tuc tuc passing by, from some teenage boys inside who knew just enough English. Before that, it had just been 'que bonita' o 'where are you from' said creepily by men in the street scratching their bellies.

I do not feel too horrible about it though, and never feel unsafe, so Grandma can relax. It's not threatening, just entertainment for them, and the other sister missionaries get it too, even the Latinas, and the gringo elders get it really bad. It's kind of funny, actually. My companion and I have taken to introducing ourselves first in all situations, because if we don't we'll be halfway through a spiritual thought and the person will interrupt to ask where we're from. Still, sometimes people interrupt to comment on my eyes being blue.

It's kind of weird, but I get it I guess - if I only ever saw white people on TV and then there was one at my front door I'd want to talk about it too. I think what it really is is a statement about the situation here, with lots of people trying to get to the US and nobody really trying to immigrate to Guatemala. I took ethnic diversity for granted in the States, took it for granted bad. Never again.


On Saturday, we had two interesting experiences with prayer. The first came at the end of a lesson with an evangelical preacher and his family (we didn't know going in that that was the situation.) It was a good lesson all in all, about the restoration, and they asked questions (and he preached a little bit about the need for every girl, including all 5 daughters seated in the room, to wear skirts always, and how dancing and dying hair is bad, and then I thought of all the times at home people said Mormons were prudes). At the end we asked him to offer the closing prayer, and he did.

My head was bowed but my eyes were only mostly closed - good thing, too, because as I peeked I saw his feet coming closer and closer, and his hand came out to touch my companion's head. Good girl that she is, she wasn't peeking, and had no idea this was happening, and flinched like crazy. I giggled just a little at that but mostly kept composure, and then he briefly touched my head and the head of the member we had with us, to bless us, and it was all very nice, just unexpected.

Later that day, we taught a really cool lady who is the only one of her six siblings not married, who stays at home and takes care of her 80 something year old father, who was married for 54 years to her mother, who died recently. We taught the plan of salvation and then the father gave the closing prayer. It was nine minutes long, and while he was talking the cat threw up and six mosquitoes bit me. No lies.


I hope these details have been amusing, and no one thinks I don't respect the culture here. I love it, There are probably better details, but that's all I've got for today, folks.

your favorite Barbie
(missionary dolls coming soon)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Week 9: Miracles Just Happen

Hola todos!

I am starting to feel more at home here in Guatemala and am loving it and the mission work! There are so many small little moments that make us laugh, and I don't ever have time to write them all each day, but I will try to collect them this week and offer a sampling next week. Oh, and on Friday I taught English classes in the church! That was way fun.

This week we really focused on getting people to General Conference (Oh my goodness, I hope everybody at home watched it!! And if not, go to SO good. Even translated into Spanish. Though I watched Jeffrey R. Holland's talk in English, because you just can't pass that up.) 

Anyway, we were trying to get as many people as possible to Conference because we knew, and had a promise from the mission president (who stops being the mission president in June and got called to the Seventy this conference) that if they went they would feel how right it is and want to know more. Here's who came...

*Benjamin, to two sessions. He wears a different article of clothing from Cuba everyday, sometimes more than one. My favorite is his Fidel Castro hat. He really likes socialism and gave us some literature about it during the opening song of the first session of conference. He has started reading the Book of Mormon, lived in Mexico for 30 years, and is very smart. I'm excited to meet with him, but it's hard to get appointments because he doesn't believe in planning anything because he believes in living for the moment. He's gonna get baptized, and it's gonna be a fun journey there.

*Estaurdo, his wife, and his seven year old daughter. He was just a contact on the street one day, but was given a Book of Mormon years ago and is curious. We met him a week and a half ago and weren't able to teach them, but we kept coming back and bugging them, and lo and behold, they came to conference! They operate a little window store out of the front room of their house, and have a white cat that always sits in the window waiting for people to come shop, but jumps down when we get there.

*Juan, who is 75 years old and just like our grandpa! He told us where to get the best doughnuts and Mazetenango and is getting baptized on the 20th.
*Patricia, who my companion found while I was convincing four barefoot neighbor kids that my blue eyes are in fact real, and teaching them how to say body parts in English. She's 28 and lives with her parents in this hidden away property full of mango trees and chickens and dogs and cats. We drank Coca Cola with her parents, who are really really nice to us despite being strict Evangelicals themselves, after the lesson.

*Tommy, who is last because he was the miracle. We were late to the Sunday morning session because we were walking all over the town trying to find people and get them to conference, all with no luck. The last straw was when we went to see this woman Sarita, who works in a tienda and was a reference from a member, and who had said she would come. But when we got there, she said she couldn't because she was waiting on her pollo, which means chicken. Determined to have her come at all costs, we sat down on the curb at 10 a.m. sharp, read her scriptures, and waited together for the people to bring the chicken for the week. When it got to 15 minutes past 10, we decided to leave. We walked down the street, and I hailed this tuc tuc motertaxi that was driving on the main road in front of us quite a distance away. I have no idea how he noticed, but he saw us and turned around and came and got us. We started talking with him, like we do with all the tuc tuc drivers, and my companion invited him to the conference. Then..... HE CAME. He parked the tuc tuc in the church parking lot and walked in and sat down with us. Afterward, with glowing eyes, he said he loved the messages and asked us to take his number and come visit or invite him to more things. AND, guess what? He LIVES IN OUR AREA. There are like 9 areas in this city, and tuc tuc drivers can be from any, but he's from ours. He actually lives in our NEIGHBORHOOD. Guys, missionary work is not this easy. But I am so excited for him.

Okay, that was a lot about people you don't know. This girl you do know is doing just fine! Loving life more and more each day and hoping every single one of you is too. You are a child of God and he LOVES you, and he is guiding your steps. Get to a point where you can catch glimpses of how he's guiding yours, and I guarantee you'll be ten times happier.

Much love to all! And a request to please send me news from your lives and the states. Happy April!

Hearts and abrazos,
Hermana Ison

Monday, April 1, 2013

Week 8 The Stars Are Pretty and Mangoes Fall from the Trees as if from Heaven

There is nothing like Guatemala.

And there is nothing like mission work.

I honestly don't know what to write or where to start. Sorry, I promised myself I'd never send lame emails home from the mission but now I understand: I'm living in this world so different from what I knew before that words don't quite do it justice. Pictures don't either, though I'll send more of those next week.

Most of Thursday and Friday we (all the missionaries in my zone) were sequestered in a church in the center of the city reading the New Testament from start to finish (except we didn't finish) because it was Semana Santa and in some of the areas (not mine) people get drunk, dance with and then burn life-sized, modernized dolls of Judas, and paint murals on the street with flowers. They decided it was better we didn't proselyte through this celebration. Reading the New Testament was good but it made me want to sing Christmas songs. I hope everyone had an excellent Easter!

I am looking forward to a full week of proselyting without interruption. We are teaching this old man named Juan who gives us food every time we visit and is precious. He lives by himself with his cat and likes talking about when he lived in the U.S. His wife lives down the street with his son because she has Alzheimer's. They bring her by every couple days and the two sit on the stoop and talk, but she doesn't remember who he is. He is reading the Book of Mormon and is going to be baptized toward the end of April.

How I just wish everyone in the world would read the Book of Mormon!

We had a kid this week (18 years old, Luis) who wouldn't read it. Just wouldn't. We opened it up to read it in the lesson with him, but he said he didn't feel the Spirit. It was apparent he wasn't trying to. And that's fine; honestly, I get that. He's been raised with the Bible and now here's this 'new' book and he doesn't want to dishonor God by reading something that might not be true. But the thing is, it IS true. And you can never, ever know that if you don't read it with an open heart and mind.

For my not-Mormon friends: the Book of Mormon is a collection of writings of ancient prophets that lived in Americas at the time the Bible was being written in Europe. It was buried in the earth for centuries and translated - not written - by Joseph Smith. Do you believe God would communicate with all his children, not just some in one part of the world? This book, just like the Bible, talks of Christ. It's purpose is to help people be closer to Christ.

I know it sounds far-fetched, but I also know it's true. And I know too - and trust - that Luis will read the Book of Mormon at some other time in his life, and then it will make sense to him. He's such a cool kid, it was just hard to see him not want anything to do with this. Because I know he would love it! But I get why he didn't want to read it, and that maybe was even harder, because I could just as easily be in his shoes (orange crocs) as in my dusty black flats, and then I would probably be turning the missionaries down a lot less politely than he did.

Which is why I'm so grateful for Grandma's however-many-great grandparents, who had the courage to step outside their own religious comfort zones and investigate this something new. I'm grateful that their hearts were open enough to feel its truth, that they were brave and faithful and strong enough to leave England and immigrate to the US for this, knowing it was directly from God. Coming to Guatemala is hard enough, I don't know about crossing the plains.

And I'm grateful for Mom's parents and grandparents, who have found and held on to this truth - all of which culminated in my being here, preaching what I have had the privilege to come to believe and know as I've grown, with time, in a setting much more gentle than two missionaries on a doorstep and the dog barking and the kids hollering for more tortillas. People who can recognize truth in that kind of setting amaze me.

When we got to the CCM, the president of it told us that our 'placas' (nametags) carry two names: that of Jesus Christ, and that of our family. And that no matter how our family is, we're here today because of the decisions they made. I don't think I've ever realized and felt that as much as I have here in the mission, and not just because my family is Mormon. The way they are and the way they raised me to be... I miss you guys (immediate and extended and the friends that count) a lot.

When Oprah came to Ball State she said, about her life and success, ´I feel like I've been carried on the backs of a whole bunch of ancestors who never got to have a voice.´´ I sure hope that my family feels like they have a voice. Now is my chance to add to that voice, proclaim to the world, and, right now, to every single person in Mazetenango, Guatemala that the world is a beautiful place, that God loves us, that his true church is on the earth once again, and that there is so much hope to be had.

I hope ya'll feel like that. God bless.