Thursday, May 30, 2013

Week 16: Watching People's Puppies Grow

How many missionaries does it take to kill a tarantula?


Or one (an ex-golfer zone leader with a big broom) and five others standing around watching. I placed myself safely outside, looking in through the window with the very excited three-year-old daughter of the woman whose house it was. (Candy Alvarez, who I wrote about a while ago, who cooks us lunch every day.)

It was a very big spider. The size of my hand, no lie. And when it was killed, it shriveled up and shrunk. Kind of cool.

I thought, after a cockroach jumped and landed on the back of my hand, that I could handle anything. But a real live tarantula was another story.

We are in Guatemala, folks.

For further proof of this, today we went to a waterfall! It's awesome and I will send pictures next week. It rained a lot while we were there and, climbing down the slippery path with a rock wall and jungle on either side, I felt a little like Indiana Jones.

Oh, and speaking of Indiana Jones (which is what people who have heard of him say when I tell them I'm from Indiana) I should probably apologize to my home state. Sometimes, because I answer this question a million times a day and it gets redundant after a while, I just tell people I'm from Chicago. But I should probably stop, because it doesn't actually help; most people have only heard of New York, California, Florida and Texas. Though a very sassy Seventh-day Adventist once honestly asked me if I'm from Alaska....

The title of this email is just because it's week 11 in the mission field and it feels like home, more or less, except all the puppies belong to other people and there's no one that gives very good hugs. I will probably get transferred when we have changes in two weeks.

One of our investigators, Juan, is awesome, and this week we got to really see him grow. He decided to be baptized next weekend, and felt the Spirit super strongly during one of our meetings, and last week during a hymn during church. He's super humble and diligent, and it is an absolute treasure to see the way the gospel is and will continue to bless his life.

It's also cool because he works in a panaderia (bakery) on a main street we walk everyday. He's met with a million missionaries during his time here, always watched them pass, even went to church a few times years ago. But there was something about this time, when we stopped to talk to him... he was ready.

Also he gives us free delicious bread. I might be slightly addicted to the bread here. And I'm fulfilling every white person stereotype about milk by drinking lots of it.

On Thursday (or Friday?) it rained a whole bunch. I mean, a WHOLE bunch. Like when you see videos of hurricanes hitting a city, except with less wind. There was a river in the street. In Indiana, this would be a flash flood. We took shelter beneath a tin roof in a concrete workshop and sang 'Nearer, My God to Thee' to three 18-year-old boys who are apprentices there. You could hardly hear our voices over the noise of the storm, but the Spirit came anyway.

A while later, a drunk guy who was also sheltering there wandered off. I will never forget that vision: watching him walk away, too drunk to talk, like they say he gets every day. Wandering a wiggly line, barefoot, through five inches of rainwater running the other way. Going who knows where, his mind who knows how far from remembering his divine worth as a child of God. Another precious day of his only earthly life... lived to be forgotten.

He's got two kids.

Don't do drugs.

But I'm over internet time.

Lots of love to tide you over - until next week,

Hermana Ison :)

Oh, and the girl who lives in (next to) our house has to make a Rube Goldberg machine for school, and then five of her classmates and her all have to connect theirs, and they've been working on it in the house for the past few days. Call me a nerd, but it's SO COOL.

Pictures from a Missionary Lunch and a Baptism a Couple of Weeks Ago

Monday, May 20, 2013

Week 15: Absolutely Not a Philosophical Essay

This week I don't have a lot of time left, but hope you enjoy all the pictures my mom is going to put on Facebook! Here's a selection of interesting things that happened this week:

We met a whore. I'm saying it blatantly because she told it to us that way. She's 16 years old and the neighbor of a member. She has a kid already, who lives with his dad. Her mom doesn't know what she does. We're teaching her mom, as long as her interest lasts.

Anyway, meeting her was sobering.

This week, my companion learned that leaving food out in the open causes cockroaches to come (I have no idea how she didn't know this, except that where she lives in Guatemala its 'cold' and I guess there aren't cockroaches like there are here), but it's okay because cockroach killing is an excellent companionship bonding experience. Turns out we both scream in the same language :)

But seriously, I am getting good at killing them and am not really scared anymore, though it was terrifying when one touched me.

The other thing she learned was that there aren't any kangaroos in the US, only in Australia.

When my companion's visa comes and she goes to Mexico, it'll be the first time she's left the country and flown on an airplane. We met someone this week who ranted to us about Joseph Smith's plural wives and random awful things in the church's history. It was the first time she'd heard of most of it. I really admire my companion's faith. Because when I learned about those things, it shook my faith a lot. And I'd had the opportunity to go to Nauvoo and watch awesome church movies and objective documentaries and read the Book of Mormon a bunch of times and really make up my mind. But where she grew up there's really just not that much access to information. (And I'm not being patronizing or anything, it's just we're in a developing country and there's just not always internet access or a library or a TV in the house or a really good university in your hometown with a bunch of super educated people to talk to, like I always took for granted. In fact, this week she told me that the majority of the older women in her ward can't read or write, but they have all the words to the hymn, 'We thank thee, O God, for a prophet' memorized and sing it strong.) Anyway, my companion just believes Joseph Smith was a prophet because she's prayed and she knows the church is true and that no one person wrote the Book of Mormon and she has a lot of faith and trust in God. She is an example to me in that aspect, big time. I love her a lot.

Well okay, for a little bit of a philosophical essay: Today I read in the Bible, 'Don't doubt, only believe,' that Jesus says to the family of the 12 year old girl he brought back to life. There were so many people in that instance that laughed and said it was impossible, and made fun of Jesus. They relied on their own intelligence: and they were right, weren't they? People don't come back to life.

But they forgot, or didn't believe, or didn't want to see, that Jesus was Jesus and God can do anything.

So it is with Joseph Smith. People hear things about polygamy and revelations and think Mormons are crazy. And they have a bit of a point, don't they? Polygamy is gross and Moses and Noah and prophets got done a long time ago.

But they forget that God is God and he can do anything. That he loves us and that these are the last days.

And for this, I say that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the restored church of Jesus Christ, as it was throughout all antiguedad (antiquity) and when Christ was on the earth. The Book of Mormon is the Bible of the Americas, and Joseph Smith was a prophet, just like Thomas S. Monson is today.

So... not a philosophical essay, but a testimony.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Few Pictures From First Six Weeks After CCM

Week 14: Asombro Me Da (It Amazes Me)

This week, I would like to proclaim that things do not happen by magic.

For example, some people we talk to believe that it doesn't matter much what church someone goes to, or if they go regularly, or if they even fully apply the teachings of Christ in their lives. They're generally good people, believing that if they keep being generally good people it will all be okay in the end, the God's love will take care of them and lead them to a very fuzzily-imagined palace somewhere in the sky when they die.

I do not blame people for believing this. At all. Life is hard and, especially here in this third world country, most don't have time to sit around thinking about such things or read theological books.
But I, as a Mormon missionary, have the at time rather uncomfortable task of explaining that God is a God of order. I do not understand his order exactly, or how and why he works. But I do know, and spend every day preaching, that he commands us to follow his order. That means having faith, repenting, being baptized, and following the guidance of his Holy Spirit every day of our lives, keeping the commandments to the letter as best we can until we die. This is a narrow path, but there is so much room in it for thought, contemplation, happiness, love and laughter and the fullness of life. God does love us so much - and he blesses us because of that and also, I think, as a way to get us to recognize his presence, to get us to seek him out and keep the commandments and therefore receive even more blessings, immediately, from him.

Above all, he commands us to seek him out. And that doesn't require reading theological books or abandoning work to go to every church on the street or putting life on hold until some conclusion can be drawn. Because nobody's going to figure it out all at once like that - it's something that has to be learned living.

All it takes is thinking about it. While you're mowing the grass or macheting the bushes or making tortillas or fixing the car. Thinking about it. Honestly. Wondering. Who I am I? Where did I come from? Who is God anyway? Is he really the source of all my blessings? And what on earth is he doing giving me these trials?

It just requires wondering. And, as the fruits of that wondering, trying out the whole prayer thing. Scary but simple: Going to the source of it all, asking God where he is and if he's listening and if any of these churches is right or if he even operates through organized religion or what the heck is up.
But nobody much wants to ask that question, and that's the most frustrating thing about being a missionary, hands down, above all.

This week a 50-year-grandmother with two teeth and her boobs hanging out of her sloppily tied shirt stood on her front porch and made me cry. I never, ever thought I would be in that situation. But I loved her, and her son and his wife and their two cute little daughters, and she was telling me so smugly how she had convinced them to go to the church down the street where they blare mourning-sounding chanting from loudspeakers everyday at 5 p.m. and where her little granddaughters are probably going to grow up with a third grade education and get married at 16 never knowing or believing that they are divine daughters of God. And I could just see that family in the pew of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pioneers where they live, learning profound truths of God, entering the temple, knowing and striving to be all they can be.

But they never went to church, never visited, not once. They never asked the question. They family church down the street was far too convenient.

We are in a war. I never really believed it until now, but now I see it, now I know. Because those teeny little girls are never going to have what I have, a burning in their heart, the strength and drive and desire to see what is beyond the end of their dirt road, what plans God just might have for them.
Things do not happen by magic. We have to search. We have to try. Even God's true, restored church doesn't just suddenly make itself known and appealing to everyone in the world - God is a God of order and he requires missionaries to go out and walk day after day on dusty streets searching for the people who at this moment in time are ready to wonder.

It's a slow process, but the work is hastening, and I still have hope for those two little girls. Because as much as I love them, and their parents, and even their poor grandmother who with all her heart blessed the tall gringa girl to go back to her country and search out an evangelical church - as much as I love them and can muster to love that grandma, God loves them a million times more. And he WILL take care of them.

Well. I hope that wasn't too depressing. It's gloriously hot today and we're going to go play basketball after this. I got to talk to my family yesterday and that was amazing! Families are incredible important, if you doubt this try going three months without communicating with them.

Eat some ice cream and ask a profound question - with a real desire to find the answer.

Lots of love from Guatemala,
Hermana Ison

Last Pictures From CCM (mission training center)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Week 13 Lots of Words, This Week

A Correction

I take it back.

¨It´s raining¨ is actually kind of good excuse for not coming to church.

Not really, there are no excuses for not going to church, but thank goodness it never rains like that in the morning. Can somebody please look up the word "monsoon" and tell me what it means? I think it might apply here... SO MUCH WATER. Rivers in the street. I was very grateful for my rain boots, and for the family of 15 children (only 12 living, and only 6 in the house at that time) who let us in and gave us corn coffee and listened to us politely but disbelievingly as the lights went out and we explained in the dark that they really can live together as a family after this life.

A Change

So... I have a new companion!

Normally missionaries are in the same area for the first 12 weeks because there's an infield training course we do more or less every morning. You have the same companion for all that time too.

But... guess what? There are girl leaders in the missions now!

They take care of all the sisters in a zone (group of 25 or so missionaries), go on exchanges with them (where you switch companions for 24 hours to learn from the more experienced sister), and are in charge of this training course.

My companion mysteriously left me in a trio with other sisters on Monday and went to Reu to meet with the president... and came back with this news. We went to the temple on Tuesday, and on Wednesday at the transfer meeting I said goodbye to my first mission "mom" y hugged my second.

Her name is Hermana Martinez. I love her.

She's so short that when she sits upright in a chair her feet don't all the way touch the ground. She's from the mountainous, cold part of Guatemala, like three hours away, serving here until her visa comes and she can go to Merida, Mexico. She's quiet but nice, and incredibly obedient.

She brought one suitcase.

And does't know any English at all, except ¨we are walking to the house¨ because I taught that sentence this morning.

We entered the CCM at the same time, but she left four weeks before me, because she already knows Spanish. She also knows K'iche', a popular dialect here. She is so cool.

A Reflection

So, I'm learning a lot here. And like any worthwhile experience, it's painful. I miss you guys a ton, and I think I cried during every hymn yesterday at church. Our super positive investigator that was going to get baptized this weekend ran away on Friday and still isn't answering her phone. I feel bad because I can't make small talk to my companion as much as she deserves, and don't want her to feel like the atmosphere in our house is heavy... I just don't have the words yet to say lots of things, and sometimes get real bored of uttering ´´come se dice´´(How do you say...?)

But I'm praying a lot and I can promise you all that God is THERE. Really there, watching over me and answering my prayers. Yours too, if you just search him. Really LOOK for him and his presence in your life. Do what is necessary to be able to feel Him.

Okay, sorry for preaching - The members here are incredible. I don't remember what all I promised to write about last week and didn't, but I will just tell you about Candy Alvarez, the lady who cooks lunch for us five days a week.

An Inspiration

She's this little woman (like everybody here) and real sassy and witty, quick to crack an on the edge joke. She has two young daughters, Abish and Sesia, and she's raising them on her own in a two room house with peeling white paint and pictures of the temple on the walls. She was married in the temple to a man who was the bishop in the ward a few years ago, until he cheated on her, broke some other laws, and got excommunicated. She moved, got a job, and became a counselor in the Relief Society.

One day we found her missionary nametag in the house. She served a mission 13 years ago, a year and two months after being baptized in the church, which she did 15 days after first meeting with the missionaries. One day she told me her mom died when she was six and she grew up in a bunch of mostly familial foster homes, and there was a long dot dot dot after that, like some stuff happened then that she didn't want to talk about.

Watching her teach her littlest daughter to pray warms my heart all the way up to my nose. Her lessons in Relief Society make me cry and think, and her testimony in lessons with investigators always makes them understand things better.

I don't know how she got where she did, but I'm going to try and find the relationship with the Savior that gives her the strength she has.

A P.S.

I would like to thank Tora Knapp for her profound words of wisdom. Grandma, I got three of your letters at the same time. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY BROTHER SAM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HE'S 17 TODAY, EVERYBODY GIVE HIM LOTS OF LOVIN. Be smart, kid.

The church is true, and I love you.