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, 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,


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 :)