Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Homecoming Invitation

Welcome Home, Victoria

You’re invited to Victoria’s Homecoming Travelogue
Friday, Aug. 8th, 2014
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
4235 W. 3rd Street
Bloomington, IN

6:30pm We will begin with Victoria’s travelogue (She’ll  show and explain some of her pictures from Guatemala). Following that, will be a mingle and visit time with snacks.

Week 73: One Last Time

Running out of pages in the daily planner.
Having my exit interview. 
Writing this email.

They're little things that have come from time to time in this last week or two that have convinced me, mostly, that the end is coming/here.

When we went to the temple as a zone on Thursday, I was able to tell God all about my mission, turning into him the things I have done in these 18 months. I felt so much peace. Maybe I haven't done it all perfectly, but He knows I gave my heart.

Later, this scripture came to me: 

"By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain." (1 Corinthians 15:10)

It's true. My weaknesses are my weaknesses, but my strengths are His strengths. God has made me what I am. He has worked so many miracles in me. And - the most sacred of it all - he has permitted me to bring about miracles in the lives of his children. I have their names, every one of them, written in my soul. I love them, and it hurts so much to leave them.

But I know that what's coming will be incredible. I love each and every one of you at home and can't wait to see you!

My companion gave me this scripture to end with. It sounds cooler in Spanish because the Old English kind of puts a damper on things but, all the same, it fits:

"I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee. But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee." (3 John 1:13-14)

Hermana Ison

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Week 72: Poor in Time, Rich in Miracles

Hey familia, what's up?

I'm 10 days away from seeing ya'll, which is SO weird. But God has blessed me to not really spend much time thinking about it, because there's been so much to do here in the mission! :)

Over Mountains

I forgot to tell you last week about how we went to help one of the areas in our zone in an area attack. (For example, it'd be like all the missionaries from the Bloomington stake went to help the ones in Ellettsville, or all the missionaries in Muncie spending an afternoon in Winchester.) This area is HUGE and there's just two amazing sisters there, a good friend of mine and the missionary she's training.

That day my companion and I had planned to divisiones with some of the other sisters in our zone. We knew we had to do them, but we just didn't know who would go with who. For as much as we thought and prayed about it, we didn't feel any clear answer. So we just decided, called the sisters to let them know, and in the morning I went to be with a sister called Hermana Keltner. 

We had a regular morning, and then in the afternoon met up with the rest of the zone to go to the area, San Carlos, where many of that ward's members were waiting for us in the park. As the sisters assigned to that ward began to split everyone up and tell them where they would be visiting, my companion for the day and I hung back, watching everyone else get sent off. When finally we were the last ones there, I saw the missionary who was doing the assiging give us a second look. "You'll be going with Sulmi," she said, and then explained that Sulmi is an investigator who'd gone to church for about two months and knew all the lessons, but didn't want to be baptized yet. She asked us if we could encourage her to take the step.

So, we set off to visit prospective investigators, investigator in tow. It did not take long for us to realize that Sulmi is an unbaptized, 15-year-old missionary. She knocked on doors, prayed, bore her testimony, even invited the people we visited to come to church, from the depth of her heart. Between visits we asked her to share her conversion experience, and we talked about our own baptisms and tried to get her excited about her own.

When we finished and were getting close to the meeting point in the park, Sulmi saw the missionaries who were teaching her and started walking faster. When we got close, she blurted out, "Hermana Barba, I have an announcement: I'm going to be baptized this Saturday!"

It was a miracle! But...not even the biggest one we saw that day, in my eyes. 

Afterward, the sisters in that area told us that in the morning, when they were thinking about which missionaries in the zone could go visiting with Sulmi instead of a member, one of them thought of me, and one of them thought of Hermana Keltner, the sister I just happened to be on divisions with. 

In that moment, I got goosebumps. I was reminded that following the Spirit doesn't always mean acting in certainty. My companion and I weren't sure who needed to be with who in divisions that day. And, really, there was no way we could have known that that day's divisiones weren't for the sisters we'd be capacitating, or their area, or their investigadores - they were for an incredible young woman who is now baptized, and will certainly be a missionary someday. 

We should remember that God has his hand in everything, and if we go forward in faith, we can trust that we will see the miracles later. I am so grateful to him :)

In the Mountains, Literally

This week we were hardly able to work in our own area because President asked us to spend three days in San Pedro, an area about four hours away from the mission home, in the mountainous region to the north. 

I can not even begin to tell you all the miracles we saw there. 

One of the companionships we worked with will be having a wedding and baptism this Wednesday. The other companionship had a complete attitude shift, thanks to the Holy Spirit and answered prayers. We had an incredible lesson with a veryprepared investigator named Cesar, and gave service to a no-member family whose house had been destroyed by an earthquake. (We pulled nails out of wood and, yes, I totally missed you, Dad! Thanks for teaching me this actually very useful skill :D) So much happened, and it was just a wonderful time and place to be a missionary! :)

However, we did have one minor disaster. Because the APs thought they would ignore the schedule and go and get dinner even though it was too late and we should have gone directly to the hotel where we were going to sleep, my companion ended up getting her foot kind of run over by the mission truck.

We thought it would be fine for the first few hours. But when she woke up in the morning, she almost couldn't walk...When we came home to Reu the nurses took her to the doctor and it turns out she has two torn ligaments...and is in a cast for two weeks. She gets it taken off the day I fly home. :(

SO... she has crutches and can't walk, which makes missionary work exceptionally hard in this mission. Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon we were able to get sisters in the ward to be our companions so one of them could be in the house with her and one of them could go out and visit with me. Supposedly I'll be getting a mini-missionary as a companion today and for the next week and a half, but they haven't told us anything yet, so we'll see...

Anyway, it's been kind of an out of the blue struggle (and everytime I think back to what caused it, I just remember how important obedience is), but God has blessed us so much all through it.

From the Mountain Top

Remember the guy who just wanted to get baptized for his girlfriend? We taught him more about the Atonement and the baptismal covenant, and this time when he had his baptismal interview, he passed. He was baptized Sunday morning before church, and it really was a beautiful thing.

Also, one of the sisters of some of my recent converts in this area has begun to come to church and change her life. She's 18, really repentant, and has a lot of faith in the blessings that will come as she lives her life how Christ asks her too. She will be getting baptized on Saturday, my last baptism in the mission. :) To put the icing on the cake, her name is Victoria! :)

Climb Every Mountain

This week during long car rides and waits in doctors' office, I was able to reflect a little bt on my mission. Then, yesterday, I found scripture in the Book of Mormon, in Alma 26:35-37, that kind of sums up what I have to say:
"...Yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God; for he has all powerall wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on his name.
"Now if this is boasting, even so will I boast; for this is my life and my light, my joy and my salvation, and my redemption from everlasting wo. Yea, blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people, who are a branch of the tree of Israel, and has been lost from its body in a strange land; yea, I say, blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land.
"Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth. Now this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever. Amen."
Love always, 
Hermana Ison

Monday, July 21, 2014

Week 71: Purple and Orange Roses

A Tender Mercy for Tired Eyes

The two year-old was maybe two feet tall and making the cutest scene I'd ever seen: in the middle of the church hallway floor, with a full-sized long-haired mop, trying his very best to mop the floor.

Someone made a comment about it, and hearing it, his four year-old brother, who was just a little taller, came to take over. When I turned the corner on the way to utility closet, I walked past the reason and root of all this brotherly love: the father of the two sons, mop and bucket in hand, cleaning the church.

In a culture where so few men can be caught doing household chores, and where the majority of men I meet day after day teach their sons how to drink and watch TV and talk bad about women, it was a ray of golden sunlight to see this simple family in the aftermath of the other ward's activity. It made me realize how much a father can influence his whole family and how doing simple, humble things can make a big difference. I know these children will grow up to be gentlemen and missionaries, simply because because they have a father who, smiling on a Saturday morning, mops the floor.

Favorite Moments from Sunday Church

This week Gabi didn't go to church because she didn't have any shoes. I don't know if she's going to school either. 

A recently married couple was assigned to give the talks. He came wearing a tie that matched her dress, but what most impressed me was the profound sprituality of their talks. She spoke about sexual purity, and he about having integrity for the commandments of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The convert elder's quorum president is usually very gruff and, when he gives the class in Sunday School, often sounds more like an Evangelical preacher than a humble Latter-Day-Saint seeking the Sprit's guidance. This week though, the Spirit broke through. When he talked about his son in the mission, he broke down crying. I thought grown men don't cry (but I still remember that there's a country song about that!)

Please tell my father that he has a twin here in Guatemala. Everyone who sees the pictures of my family compares him to a member of the high council here. There was even a Primary kid this week who was convinced I was his kid. 


This week I read almost all of the book of 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, and it has suprised me how many times the Lord urges us to read the scriptures.Seriously! I would look up all the references, but there's not time. 

This week we also went to visit a woman who was baptized in December, but who almost immediately stopped coming to church because of comments her family made. She also didn't read the scriptures because, like most people in this part of Guatemala, she has a super low reading comprehension. I was so full of feelings in that lesson, I just wanted to burst! If only she could read what I have read! If only she could know of the words that all of the prophets have written, crying and praying and looking ahead to people like her, who would need them.

One of the counselors in the bishopric stood up on Sunday and said, "This week, I repented, because I had been spending too much time reading my law books for the university and was neglecting the scriptures. Is it possible that Guatemalan law will be important to us in heaven? Obviously not. We should seek first the kingdom of God." 

It's so true! I LOVE the scriptures. There's something in them for everyone. If I could do anything for the country of Guatemala, I would just open a zillion libraries and make reading a cool thing. Bookshelves are a very rare sight here. So it's not surprising the scriptures get shunned. But it's still dissapointing. Becuase it's the word of GOD, who is our Father. 

I challenge each and every one of you to open your scriptures this week, every single day. And I promise you that if you do it, the windows of heaven will open and you will feel a little more of the peace that comes from God. 

Until next week!

Love you always,
Hermana Ison

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Week 70: Three Weeks Left (and my companion is counting it down)

Hello, world!

I am feeling fine and fresh today! Our zone got invited to the mission home for Pday today; we watched a movie and had lunch and played volleyball in the sand all afternoon, and it was oh so relaxing! How nice it is to sift sand between barefoot toes after walking around in dress shoes all week.

Speaking of feet, I thought of you all during Sacrament Meeting yesterday when I noticed and wanted to share this one detail: the brother serving as the usher at the door to the chapel had on a holely white tshirt with a tie painted on it. And he didn't have on any shoes. 

I noticed his big hairy toes standing out against the tile floor as we walked in with the investigators, and thought, "Good! This is how it's supposed to be." How many times, as missionaries, do we tell people that it doesn't matter what clothes they have on as long as what they have in their heart is a desire to worship God? Finally, someone understood. Now, this man has been a member for awhile, and I do believe the bishopric noticed the situation and found someone to give him some shoes after the meeting. That's how it's supposed to be, Christian kindness in action! But it made me think of Alma's words to the poor among the Zoramites in Alma 32-34 in the Book of Mormon. It's good to be humble. It doesn't matter what we wear to church, as long as it's our best.

And we go to church for God, not for any other reason. If we stay home because we're worried about what people would think of us, that's pride and a lack of faith in the Lord, who loves us unconditionally and is the only one who really matters. 

One of the less active girls we brought to church on Sunday got to live that learned lesson firsthand. We went to her house to wake her up before church in the morning, and she got up very obediently and got ready. She was sleeping in jeans and a tshirt on a mattress on the concrete floor of her family's one room house. To get ready, she washed her face and changed her jeans, but then she came out, embarrassed. "Sisters," she told us, "I don't know what to do, I don't have any other shirt but this one and it's got stains," gesturing to the bleach spots on the front.

In that moment, I knew why Gabi hadn't come to church any of the other Sundays before when we had come to wake her up, and I repented from having assumed that she just didn't want to get up early. We gave her a great big hug and told her God would not be worried about her shirt. She went inside and came back out again with her hymnbook, which she carried in front of her, hiding the stains, all the way to the chapel.

I love 14-year-old Gabi Ramos.

In Other News...

They say that the end of the mission is always full of challenges. I didn't believe it before, but now that I'm passing through all of them, I can't say it's not true. Satan wants me to go crawling home, but what he doesn't know is that I will endure to the end with a smile on my face, and my back straight, all the way to the airplane!

Challenge Number 1: Dengue

Never in my mission have I had to stay inside and rest from being sick. I've gotten sick, but God has always blessed me to be able to rest during the time allotted in the schedule to rest, and I've been able to proselyte during proselyting hours. I wanted to do the same with dengue fever, and happily ignored my companion's warnings that I should rest!

Well, I made it through 6 days without dying, but when we got to the district meeting on Tuesday and the mission nurse was there, I just collapsed on her shoulder, defeated. They took me to do a blood test, and low and behold, I had half the white blood cells a normal person should have. Which meant a day and a half of proselyting lost resting in bed, drinking this gross hydrating water stuff called Suero every two hours. (The coconut flavor doesn't actually taste too bad, if you drink it cold.) I missed my mom a lot, and watching movies on Grandma Ison's couch.

My companion steadily refilled all my water bottles with an "I told you so" smile on her face. She taught and told me, rather forcefully, that we should not be prideful. Sometimes our bodies just get sick, and like it or not, we have to take care of them. 

Afterwards, Heavenly Father taught me that I have to remember that all flesh is in his hands. On Friday, the first day we could proselyte normally, we saw so many miracles, had lots of lessons with members present, and found six new investigators! 

I know that if we are patient in our afflictions - even more patient than we think we need to be - the Lord will do the rest. Doctrine and Covenants 100:15, "Therefore, let your hearts be comforted, for all things shall work together for good to them that walk uprightly, and to the santification of the church."

Challenge Number 2: Baptisms

So, it's really cool when missionaries go out with a bang. My trainer finished her missions seeing six converts being baptized in her last month alone. I wanted to give that kind of a gift to the Lord.

But it looks like He has other plans for me. 

We're having the hardest time getting people to come to church. Try as we might, try whatever we can...nobody much seems interested. It's been like that for a few weeks. And then, this week, there came a new challenge:

Never in my mission had I had to tell someone they could NOT be baptized...until now. 

Remember that miracle person, the boyfriend of a church member who came to us one Sunday night saying he wanted to be baptized? Well, turns out he just wants to do it so his girlfriend will marry him. He doesn't actually believe that Joseph Smith saw Jesus Christ in a vision or that the Book of Mormon is true. But as his girlfriend won't marry him if he's not a member, he's trying to manipulate the system.

We had kind of an ugly lesson with him in the room with the baptismal font, which ended in us proclaiming, "God will not be mocked!" He was trying to give us an ultimatum that he had to be baptized on Sunday, "yes or yes." But we patiently explained that there is an order to the things, that this is the true church, and that he will recieve his own testimony if he searches dilligently and prays with faith. 

So, he's reading a chapter of the Book of Mormon a day, and we're praying hard for him. 

Challenges Numbers 3, 4, and 5

I don't have time to tell you them, and you don't want to know anyway! Just trust that life in the mission is good and glorious, as always, because it is. Carrying Christ's name on my chest is the greatest privelege anyone could have, and I have made myself the promise to honor this sacred responsibility with the necessary gratitude and love, all the way until the very last second.

Mom will be sending you details of the Travelouge we're going to do when I get home. Until then and always, I welcome your prayers for the people of San Sebastian, Retalhuleu, Guatemala! 

There is a God above, and he has all the time in the world for each and every one of us. 

Hasta pronto,
Hermana Ison

Monday, July 7, 2014

Week 69: Jungle Fever

Dear Family and Friends!

Hope you had a great Fourth of July! I live in a house with three Latin sisters, so my celebrations were limited to putting on red, white and blue clothes and eating banana pancakes that one of the sisters from Honduras coincidentally made. But it was awesome, though, because I spent the day doing what I love...being a missionary!

So I've packaged the events of this week in a different way this time around, hope it make sense!

To demonstrate that we do new things every day, this week:

They canceled the third hour of chruch so we could attend the funeral service of the mom of one of my recent converts. In Guatemala, the funeral procession is all walking, and men carry the casket on their shoulders. In the cementary, it's totally okay to sit and stand and walk all over the graves, and they sell cotton candy and juice to the mourners.

We told an investigator he could not be baptized. N. O. (He wants to do it on Sunday, without having gained a testimony of the restoration, just so his girlfriend won't dump him. I really think a lightning bolt will hit him if he were to try it.)

To demonstrate the depth of apostasy present here in Guatemala, this week:

A woman who blurted out the reason she thinks she can't be baptized: she likes to dance! (Mormons do dance.)

Someone else who told us they previously attended ¨The Church of Shakira.¨ ¨I just couldn't get used to all the dancing and raucous they made there,¨she said.  

To demonstrate the opposition that really is in all things, this week:

After 17 incredibly healthy months, I finally contracted dengue, a mosquito-carried disease that gives you a fever and makes your body hurt and is starting to give me a rash. 

This morning at 5 AM, we experienced a very powerful earthquake! My companion jumped out of bed and pulled me out too, and we went running outside, in case the house were to fall down. It didn't, nor did any nearby houses, so I can't decide if it was cool or scary.

To demonstrate the power of the priesthood present in the restored church, this week:

The blessing the elders gave me for dengue said I would be able to work uninterrupted. So far, it's been absolutely true!

After three of the four missionaries living in the house had very realistic dreams about nightly visitors, the other ward's bishopric dedicated our house. From that point on, all has been tranquil.

To demonstrate the depth of the Lord's love, this week:

When we were walking down an empty street, far from the center of the town, and "our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us" (Alma 26:27, Book of Mormon) and put a service opportunity right in front of us, and we were able to help and teach a brand new, large, family.

When it was Sunday night and raining hard, when we were tired and short on lessons and new investigators, when every door was closed shut and the district leaders were already sending us messages thinking about P-day, we prayed to find a family and the first door that opened was one, a mom and dad and their two daughters, very interested in the gospel!

To demonstrate that miracles do happen, this week:

On Saturday, the ward's second counselor invited us to lunch in his home and gave us each a huge, steaming bowl of chicken soup. "I served you so much," he said, "Because the ward needs you to go out this afternoon and work extremely hard." He told us that the attendance goal for Sunday was 140 people, and he was trusting in us. Well, I'm not sure if it had to do more with us or with the families from out of town who came to see a baby blessed and an elder who finished the mission and brought his family back to say goodbye, but when all was counted up on Sunday the attendance was...140. Not more or less. With 17 less active members present, many of whom  we've been working with. The finishing elders' mom also played the piano, so the congregation didn't have to sing a capella. Woo hoo!!

The previously mentioned funeral procession was very well-attended by ward members, which made me grateful to see their support. Gaspar, a miracle convert, was baptized in April and is the one who went to 4 of the 5 sessions of General Conference beforehand. Well, he hadn't come to church for about three weeks, because his mom had been sick. This week, when she took a very serious turn, we let three ward members know, and before we knew it, ALL of them were going to visit her and Gaspar and their family! I don't know how a unit that almost doesn't have ward councils or home or visiting teachers can mobilize so fast, but they did, and we were sure grateful for it. Because life isn't easy for a new convert, ESPECIALLY when passing through grief like this. But when I saw Gaspar walking in the funeral procession, with two sturdy ward members - worthy priesthood holders, and men who are his friends - gripping his shoulders and walking with him, side by side - I knew that Gaspar will be okay. He has the gospel, the knowledge of the Plan of Salvation, and, most importantly, he has friends to help see him through. It makes me think of Alma's words, describing the baptismal covenant that these two brothers were keeping so clearly, " are desirous to come into thefold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death.¨

May we all keep our convenants, and love one another, and make every day a special one, this week. 

Hermana Victoria Ison

Friday, July 4, 2014

Week 68: God is Our Loving Heavenly Father

Hey all!

This week was pretty special. Here's why:

The Change Meeting

When people who are getting transferred find out their new areas, the new missionaries arriving to the mission bear their testimonies, and we all say goodbye to the ones who're finishing their missions and going home. This all happens on a Wednesday morning every six weeks, in what is known as the change meeting.

We didn't have changes, and I totally didn't want to go (because I've been to the last several ones, and the next time it comes around, I'll be the one going the first week of my last change, I just wanted to go out and visit people, which is what a missionary is for!). But, for being sister leaders, they had us go so we could help keep people reverent and know where all the sisters are going, etc. 

It ended up being a good thing, because the family of one of the APs had come to pick him up from his mission. He sat in between his mom and his dad, translating for them, but his sister was on one side and couldn't hear. My companion noticed and nudged me, so I went over and translated for her. 

¨Oh, thank you,¨ she told me. ¨You don't know how lost I was!¨

It's nice to be needed, and it totally humbled me! Maybe what I wanted to do that Wednesday morning was go out and save the world, in my own way of thinking. But what God wanted me to do was something else, something really simple. I'm grateful to Him for gently reminding me that my will is not His. 

The Closed Area

There's a bunch of new missionaries coming in September, but until then, Mission Reu is short on missionaries! This time around, President had to close five areas, which means there's five wards or branches in mission boundaries that now don't have missionaries where there used to be some. 

Our ward is one of them. Hermanas Rodas y Carcamo, two really good friends, are now elsewhere in the mission, and my companion and I are alone in the ward. It's the first time in the mission that I haven't shared a ward with other missionaries! Totally feeling the weight of responsability. 

But we spent Tuesday night in the rain hurridly learning where the other sisters' investigators live, and then the rest of the week trying to teach them. It's been really fun, actually, the hand off. We've been blessed to get to know some really cool people, and I know God will help us teach them in the way they need. 

The Sister Training Meeting, Talks in Church, Ward Movie Night, and Changing Houses

Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday: everyday a different task! It's rare in the mission that there's so many big things to do all piled up next to each other! I think Heavenly Father is reminding me what life at home is going to be like. I can't say I don't miss those ¨good old days¨ in the mission, days I used to think were boring, weeks of just teaching day in and day out. That's when I learned SO much. But I'm learning a lot now too, learning and loving every single day. There's so many moments where I just stop and thank my Heavenly Father for being where I am. Two years ago I would have said you were crazy if you told me I'd be finishing a mission in Guatemala right now. But now I'm here, without a single doubt in my mind that God lives. He has worked a miracle in my life. And he works miracles every single day. 

I echo Moroni's words, in Moroni 9:19 in the Book of Mormon: ¨And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you that he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.¨

The Best Part

There's one more amazing story I have to tell you.

For a while we've had a hard time bringing people to church. Almost all the less actives and recent converts we're working with are coming, but investigators... not so much. This week just one person came, but it was a miracle, because he was a reference from the other sisters that we hadn't been able to get ahold of all week, but who came by himself to church on Sunday after we invited him that morning at 7:30 a.m. 

Anyway, after church and lunch, before going out to work again, we prayed to Heavenly Father, thanking him that Thomas came, and asking him to help us find someone we could teach who would want to be baptized in July. I remember when I said the words in the prayer, I kind of doubted a bit. Maybe we were asking too much of God. Maybe He had other plans for us... But I asked anyway, halfway trusting that this time, the blessing would come. 

Four hours later, we're walking in the front gate of Cristel's house, when her aunt stops us. ¨Sisters,¨ she says, with tears in her eyes. ¨You're like angel's falling out of the sky for me right now.¨

She proceeds to explain that she and her boyfriend of almost a year were just about ready to go out and look for us. After who knows how many months of listening to different missionaries and going to church activities, but battlings with fears of how his very Evangelical family would react, 20-year-old Kevin has decided to get baptized. He wants to recieve the missionary lessons and prepare himself for July 12th.

It is the answer to the prayer I should have uttered with more faith.

I repeat: God works miracles. He lives. He knows us. He answers prayers. 

I testify that when we humble ourselves and sincerely repent, the blessings come quickly. There's so many more miracle stories I would love to tell you to prove that, but... times' up!

Until next week :)

Hermana Ison

Monday, June 16, 2014

Week 67: Like it Should Be

Hello friends and family,

This week was a great one! Because we petted a day old calf! And, the real reason... because Cristel got baptized. :)

Cristel is 9 years old and pretty poor. Her grandma is a very, very faithful member who got baptized about 4 years ago. Her many married children are in various stages of accepting or rejecting the gospel. Cristel's mom and dad are as far off as can be; they stayed in bed sleeping instead of coming to their daughter's confirmation. But the mom came to the baptism at least, along with Cristel's less active aunts and uncles, so that's a step in the right direction.

Anyway, Cristel is super cute. She's the oldest of her four siblings and helps out a lot around the house. She doesn't do super well in school, but she really made an effort to understand the things we taught her and read the pamphlets and scripture passages we left her. Her grandma drilled her on the steps of the repentance process, the substances prohibited by the Word of Wisdom, and the 10 commandments. By the day of her baptismal interview, she had it all memorized! I think the elder who interviewed her walked away astounded.
A mini miracle: The day before her baptism, Cristel had a fever and a lot of mouth pain. The day of her baptism, she woke up even worse, thanks to a cavity in one of her baby teeth molars that was infected. As we are in Guatemala, the solution was that her 19-year-old aunt pulled the tooth out for her. I don't know if they used anesthesia or anything, but it wouldn't surprise me to hear that Cristel didn't cry either way. She showed up to her baptism a few hours later, face completely swollen, but smiling. We asked if it hurt. ¨Not anymore,¨she said, shrugging her shoulders and running over to see the white dress she would put on for her baptism.

It was a beautiful service, for a beautiful child of God.

On Sunday we had a miracle too! But it started on Wednesday, when some missionaries from another area contacted a teenager who lives in our area, really close to our house, actually. We tried to contact him throughout the week but only managed to speak to him on the phone. Saturday night we invited him to church, Sunday morning we passed by... and he came!

He stayed for the whole three hours, really liked it, and was fellowshipped by Gaspar, who was baptized only two months ago but already feels so at home that he was explaining everything to Ryan and inviting him to institute. It was like the most beautiful scene in the world: Gaspar with his white shirt and tie, hand on Ryan's shoulder, gesturing to the church hallway and bearing his testimony. So beautiful. Like ice cream with sprinkles on top.

We visited Ryan after church on Sunday and he has a bunch of doubts about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. It'll be fun to teach him! :)

Well, I've got to go! But I love you guys a lot. Thanks for reading my emails, and thanks for all your efforts to follow Jesus Christ in your own lives, wherever you are. Jesus is our captain, our king. I am so grateful for his sacrifice. He lives.


Hermana Victoria Ison

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Week 66: It Was Exactly the Same

Greetings to everyone in the homeland! 

Here's a slightly more artsy sketch of this past week:

SanSe: Land of Traditional Skirts

A woman wearing the typical clothing of this part of Guatemala was trying to carry several big bags and some long black plastic electrical tubes into a building that was once a store and is now the courtyard of a house. We stopped to help her, but she gave us a wary look, as most people, especially those who wear the traditional clothing, do.

Then her grandson came out and kindly accepted our help and that was how we got inside. Once there, we camped out on some plastic chairs and a wet hammock and started to get to know the 63 year-old woman, Leonor Isabel. 

Turns out that she doesn't know how to read, but has everyone of the 10 commandments memorized. Her dad was a faithful Seventh-day Adventist, her mom not so much. After we got on the roof to help some construction workers tie down some metal poles, she laughed and warmed up to us. She gave us some soda and started to cry: her mom died seven days earlier.

Sometimes I look at people who are living lives so different than mine and just wonder what they're thinking. But when her tears came down, I knew. I knew what it was like to feel angst toward someone and then lose them, and then repent of all the times you didn't tell them how much they meant. I knew that she is my sister, and behind her traditional clothes and hairdo, we are the same. My companion felt it too, because it was the Spirit of God teaching it to us. I hope our love, and the love God has for our sister, Leonor Isabel, came across in the hugs we gave her.

Two days later, we went to help her make tamalitos for the celebration that marks nine days after the passing of a loved one. I don't know what I'd imagined, a kitchen space with a big pot over a fire and Leonor Isabel there. That wasn't exactly it. Instead, we walked in to find six women, all in the traditional clothing, gathered around the many pots that were there, spooning tamal mix into palm fronds and wrapping them up.

At first, they were all giving us that well-known wary look. They spoke to each other in kiche, the traditional language, and we didn't know what they were saying. But as we went straight to work and begin to win their confidence, they started making jokes about dressing us in the traditional clothing and keeping us there as their daughter in laws. All in good fun, we played along. 

Lapsing into a moment of silence, I looked around me and felt peace. I remembered all the times I've been gathered around in kitchens with my mom and grandmas and aunts, preparing meals for special days. Joking about family members, teasing the cousins that pass through the room, reflecting on the years gone by.... 

Two different continents, two different cultures, two very different lives. But right then, right there, for this LDS missionary serving in Guatemala, it was exactly the same. 

And I know that it is the same. We may look different, we make act different, but in the end, we all just want to be loved. We want to know that someday our Heavenly Father will reach out and let us come running into his arms, and tell us ¨Come, my child, job well done.¨

I know that he will, if we are faithful to him. And I will do everything I can as a missionary to cross these cultural, linguistical, and social boundaries and make Leonor Isabel and all my traditional sisters know what I for so long recited every Sunday in Young Women: ¨We are daughters of our Heavenly Father who loves us and we love him.¨

SanSe: Land of Hard Hearts

This week has been difficult, in a way. The goal in the mission is to be teaching, at any given time, five complete families (in other words, the mom, dad, and kids all together.) For a little while, we had six. Four of those families could be mine, I love them so much. As we've taught them the lessons, we've come to know them. We've seen their challenges and weaknesses, and also their faith and strength. We have prayed and fasted for them. 

But this week, we had to drop all of them. For one reason or another, they're not ready to progress. Carlos and Myrna won't come to church. Norma and Juan are so caught up in her pregnancy they aren't making time for God. Carlos left his wife, Juana, and Juana always says she'll come to church but never does. Carmen and Juan are too afraid of changing to even come to a Family Home Evening in one of the members' homes. 

It breaks my heart, literally. But as I learned this week in an exchange with a new missionary from Texas, we have to trust in God. As human beings - and even as missionaries, endowed and set apart with the power of God - we will never be able to change hearts on our own. We have to trust that God will do it, in his own good time. 

And I know he will. 

Evidence: We got word two weeks ago that a family we worked with when I was training Hermana Avendano, Rosario and Jose, were finally married and baptized. Writing their whole story would take three days worth of internet time, but the point is: it's a miracle. It required I don't know how many sets of missionaries and a lot of patience from members, but it's proof:  God always does his part.

SanSe: Land of Volcano Views

So, on Sunday morning I was feeling kind of down because we'd traipsed through a muddy cornfield to get to one of our investigator's houses, only to hear that they weren't going to come to church. AGAIN. Knowing this meant dropping the last of my supposedly golden families, I felt kind of crummy. Walking with my head down (not so much to see where I was going as we crossed a small brook but more out of sadness and frustration), the Lord sent one of his tender mercies: the Holy Ghost, reminding me of my mother's parting words, reminding me to remember where and who I am.

So I looked around, and, more importantly, I looked up. To a gorgeous view of two volcanoes sillhoutted against the sunrise. The birds chirped, the cows grazed, and, seeing it all, I remembered to be grateful. Who else gets to go hiking in the morning before church? When else in my life will I get to take in this sights like this?

Zooming out to see things from the eternal perspective, I realized only having children as investigators in church again wouldn't be the end of the world. All in good time...All in God's time. 

SanSe: The Perfect Land for Me

To conclude, I am ridiculously happy, as always. There's ups and downs in mission and normal life, but it's just the way God teaches and gently, proddingly reminds us, to be like his son, Jesus Christ.

People keep reminding me that my mission ends soon. There's nine more weeks, if you want to know. 

I think.... how that's an elementary school grading period. So much can happen in that time, and yet how fast it passes. It's funny how different a single span of time can be, how many different things it can include. How once a ten-year-old chubby girl studied indeginous cultures for nine weeks, and now a tall, white gringa in skirts walks among people who are not just pictures in books, loving them with her whole heart, hoping to be God's hands here on this earth for at least nine more weeks.

I love you all and wish you the best, wherever you are on this, God's good earth.

Tori/Hermana Ison

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Week 65: Can We Talk a Little More About Christ?

Hi friends and family!

So much to say and so little time...

Right now I'm sunburnt because all morning we played softball! I fast pitched (muscle memory never goes away!) and batted in a lot of runs. It took me about a full minute to remember what a grand slam is called. Baseball has so much vocabulary. We basically made up our own Spanish words for the things with the Latin missionaries.

Playing made me miss dad, and all the hours he had patience with me, when he caught my many pitches and gave me advice. Not to mention all the volleyball games he went to, the throwing shoes he bought me, the conversations on the way home from basketball games, how he taught me to dribble the ball... he even learned to retrieve shot puts just because I wanted to throw them. I know it's not Father's Day yet, but I've been remembering all those many beautiful moments, and just want to say thank you, Phil Ison, for being such a good dad. :)

Also, this week, a frog entered into our house. I don't know how or why or where, but all of a sudden there was a head-sized zappo sitting on our back porch one night. Thankfully, the neighbors came to get it out. I'm good with frogs in the wilderness, but in the house? No thank you!

This email is titled as it because this week we met the mom/grandma of one of the families we're teaching. The children in this family have gone to church on their own for a month, but their parents haven't come once. It's the first time they've ever really seriously contemplated spiritual things, and they're very reluctant to start the repenting process.

Meeting the grandma taught us why.

¨I think it's just great that you're visiting my family,¨ she said. ¨But I tell them they have to think these things through really well. I'm old and about to die, if I get baptized I don't have that much time to mess up! But my son? My grandkids? They're young. They have their whole lives out in front of them. They need to be real careful if they're going to try to get close to God.¨

I just bit my lip and tried to silence my tongue. No one had ever pronounced this particular fear quite as clearly as la Hermana Fidelina. And it made me so sad to think that she, and all of her posterity, don't understand hardly anything about the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

So you better believe we've been talking about it. And we've been reading the Book of Mormon with them as a family. And we're starting to see the change. The parents are just starting to understand that they can't save themselves, that God is not a cruel, punishing power but a loving, caring Father, who sacrificed his only Son so that every one of his children could reach their full potential.

I think King Benjamin says it best, in Mosiah 3: 1, 5 to 13, 17 to 18, in the Book of Mormon:
And again my brethren, I would call your attention, for I have somewhat more to speak unto you; for behold, I have things to tell you concerning that which is to come.
For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases.
And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men.
And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people. 
And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.
And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name; and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him.
And he shall rise the third day from the dead; and behold, he standeth to judge the world; and behold, all these things are done that a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men.
For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.
But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Jesus Christ.
And the Lord God hath sent his holy prophets among all the children of men, to declare these things to every kindred, nation, and tongue, that thereby whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them.
And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.
For behold he judgeth, and his judgment is just; and the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy; but men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.
We can fall and rise and fall and rise time and time again. But we can only rise, thanks to Christ. I am so grateful to him, and so aware that he is who helps me rise, time and time again.

Love always,

Hermana Victoria Ison

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Week 64: News from Retalhuleu

Hey everybody!

How's Indiana/the United States? Is it summer time yet? Please eat some warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies for me!

Hope you enjoy the reflections this week....

(And I know my time left in the mission is short, but I still love letters! Thanks to those who've been sending some :D)

Thoughts on being OLD in mission time

This week my companion and I discovered a new disease. It's called: I can't do anything but be a missionary!

We were sitting on a member's front steps waiting for another member of the Primary Presidency that was going to come with us to visit a family we're teaching. All kinds of people were passing by and I was growing desperate: 10 minutes without talking to any of them!

Seriously, it's all I can do. If any short period of time goes by and I'm not doing mission work (contacting, teaching, etc.), I start getting antsy. My companion might kill me... but, she's ¨old¨ in mission age too, and may be suffering the same symptoms. We can't even have regular conversations without inviting people to do

Although, I suppose it's a blessing... So many missionaries don't understand why they're here. I'll stop complaining about knowing it all too well. I really have prayed to be able to fulfill and magnify this calling. (Moroni 9:6, Book of Mormon)

A Change

We had transfers and Hermana Betancourth went to Tecun Uman - one of the first of four sister missionaries to serve in that border town in the history of the mission. I'm sure she's living it up!

In her place came Hermana Arévalo, from El Salvador. Like almost all of my companions, we entered the mission field at the same time. We're both probably going to finish our missions here in San Sebastian...and we're going to do it having so much fun!

She laughs all the time. At every little thing. It's amazing.

Especially because I was worried that the mission was making me a really serious person. But Hermana Arévalo is reminding me how to be lighthearted. It's nice :)

Random Facts

On Saturday people we visited gave us mangos, cantaloupe, and avocado. By the end of the day our backpacks were so heavy! And then our stomachs were so full :)

In the end, I did get parasites. But it was just like having a bad stomachache. And they very obediently went away when the nurses gave me some pills. No harm done!

We're teaching a family that live really far away. But every Sunday the kids (ages 5, 9, 12, 14) leave their house, wait on the side of the highway for a taxi to pass by and take them to town, and come to church! They stay for the three hours and love it, and then they go home. I don't know why the parents are so stubborn and don't want to come, but we're working on them. Advice?

Another MIRACLE!

Remember, Yosselin? The one who followed us in the pouring rain so we would come back and answer her questions, and got baptized on her birthday?

Well, she's been baptized for eight months now, and it's been kind of difficult for her. Some of her family members also got baptized but then stopped coming to church, other family members criticized her even more, she had some health problems, etc..

About a month ago my mission daughter (who lives in my house now and is the one who was with me when Yosselin was baptized) and I found out the Yosselin hadn't gone to church for a couple Sundays and just wasn't doing very well spiritually or emotionally.

We didn't know what to do. There's only so much a missionary can do for a convert, no matter how much we love them. We talked about her for a long time, and then we knelt down and prayed for Yosselin, turning her and her future over to the Lord.

Then, on Thursday, after the changes, the zone leaders mentioned they needed a mini missionary for one of the sisters who was left in a threesome. A mini missionary is a youth from a neighboring stake who serves as a full-time missionary (without being officially set apart) for a few weeks until more missionaries arrive at the mission, or other changes are made to accommodate the companionless missionary.

They asked me if I knew anyone. Racking my brain...and Yosselin's name popped out. We called her right that minute. I still had the phone number memorized.

The next day at 8 AM sharp the elders were loading her suitcase into the mission truck and taking her to her new home. She's serving in the same zone as both me and Hermana Avendano (the missionaries who baptized her.)

It is a miracle.

I really don't have words to thank God. He takes care of every one of his children. He knows their needs and He knows in what moment he will fill them. When there are things (or people or situations) that we can not control, we can turn them over to him, trusting completely, because He will never fail.

I read these words from one of my favorite chapters in the Book of Mormon this morning, and they seem fitting now (Jacob 4: 7-10):
Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things.Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God.
For behold, by the power of his word man came upon the face of the earth, which earth was created by the power of his word. Wherefore, if God being able to speak and the world was, and to speak and man was created, O then, why not able to command the earth, or the workmanship of his hands upon the face of it, according to his will and pleasure?
Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his Works.
I know that God lives. And I know that he knows best. May we ever trust in him, not just in word, but in actions too.

I love you all and still pray for you. Maybe I've become a Guatemala missionary and lost who I used to be, but we're still brothers and sisters under the same sky.

Thank you for all the good you do.

Much love, until we meet again,

Hermana Victoria Ison

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Week 63: Holding Out for Miracles

I thought my companion was crazy when she asked Vicente if he wanted to get baptized.

He was lying in gently swaying hammock muttering, ´´Í'm dying, I'm dying.´

Eighty-seven years had nearly shut both his eyes, profoundly wrinkled all his skin, severely messed up his prostrate, and done who knows what with his mind. But the friendly old man is a child of God, and all the effects of age couldn't stop my companion, or the member who brought us there, from seeing that.

We sang him a hymn and he really lit up when he heard it. ´sing me another,´´ he begged. 

So we looked at each other, smiled, shrugged, and opened our hard-backed green books again.

We sang another hymn, and another. We visited every day this week, with a different member of the church accompanying us each time. Every single one of them seemed to immediately love Brother Vincent, and was willing to do anything so that he could come to church and be baptized. 

His daughter, Manuela, stopped coming to church a long time ago, and is living with a man she's not married to, Jeimy. But they both got so happy to see this patriarch stop with his chorus of Í'm dying,´ put down his walking stick, and step up into the car that came to take him to church.

He supported well the physical strain of his baptism, and satisfyingly swallowed the bread and water of the Sacrament on Sunday. He even made conversation with another old man from the ward who came up to welcome him. That was so cute: two viejitos sitting together in the foyer. 

All in all, it's a miracle.

We had made the goal to baptize somebody every weekend this month, but didn't have anyone ready for this week. Then, out of thin air, a member takes us to visit a less active sister, and we get to know Brother Vincent. He is able to partake of the saving ordinance of baptism, and is all the happier for it in the end. The members of the ward go above and beyond making sure that everything come to pass smoothly. 

It's a miracle.

One of the many miracles I've lived this week, actually.

I don't know... it's hard to ignore now that my time in the mission is running short. But I feel like the less time there is, the more miracles I see! Things I have waited for my whole mission are happening... it's crazy. 

It makes me realize that God always has more planned for us. 

It also makes me think of this talk from the October General Conference, Look Ahead and Believe, from one of the church's pioneer leaders in Africa. 

Whether we're like an 87-year-old man being born again, or a sister missionary who's been out awhile seeing evermore the hand of God, I testify that it is never too late to progress. This life is time to prepare to meet God (Alma 34, Book of Mormon). It is never too late to start preparing. Never too late to change.

Never too late to live miracles. 

May your eye be single to the glory of God each and every day this week  as you note and make miracles in your lives.

Much love,

Hermana Ison    

Week 62: Up Against the Wall

Hey all,

I just want to bear my testimony of the Plan of Salvation. Death is not a barrier to eternal happiness. Jesus makes all things possible, like it explains a bit in this 3 minute video: My heart and prayers are with the Shrack family.

All in the Family

A year and a week ago, I was writing to you after seeing my very first baptism in the mission. The man's name is Juan Luarca. He was 75.

Now he's 76, living in the same house, telling the same old stories, his hymnbook still kept neatly on the edge of his bed. It was a great privilege to be able to stop by and see him again, thanks to some exchanges we did with sisters in my first zone. Really, there aren't quite words for the joy you feel knowing someone you helped bring into the faith is still going strong.

But the biggest joy - and surprise - came when Hermano Juan learned where I'm serving now. He started describing a street close to the church, a family he knows... I pulled out my notebook and pencil, thinking he was going to give us a referral of someone to visit. 

Turns out the family he mentioned are members. Turns out they're members I know, who invite us to eat with them, who accompany us to visit investigators. Turns out one of them is a 17-year-old girl who's the closest thing to a friend a missionary can have.

Turns out she's Hermano Juan's granddaughter! 

I turned speechless.

I had no idea, a year ago, when we were struggling to help a rambling grandpa wash his sins away, that he was the grandpa of someone I would come to love. 

It makes me realize that all our investigators are family. That everyone of them deserves to be taught with as much earnestness and effort as if they were our very own family. I love Hermano Juan, and I love his granddaughter. I love mission work, because it brings us all together. 

Wanting to Go Home

This week I got to go on exchanges with a sister who's been here in the mission field for about two months, but who's really struggling. She's had moments in which she's been close to going home. 

We all have a hard time at the beginning. I don't know why exactly it's been so much harder for her than the rest. She's a great missionary. 

But something I do know is that we all have to do hard things in our life. Here in the mission, or away at home, we all, sooner or later, have to come face to face with the things that scare us. We have to change our personalities, or we can't enter into the kingdom of God. (See 3 Nephi 27:19, in the Book of Mormon).

I am of the opinion that every person, while in this earthly life, has to come to terms with who Jesus Christ is for him or her. I have been so blessed to do it here in the mission. 

Don't get me wrong: I don't ever intend to stop getting to know my Savior. I won't stop doing hard things. But I feel like, here in the mission, I came head to head with a brick wall. I either had to turn away from it, or change myself to be able to climb over it. 

In choosing the second choice, I became converted to the Jesus Christ and his gospel in a way that is impossible to forget. I feel like Lehi, the first Book of Mormon prophet, who said, ¨But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.¨ (" Nefi 1:15)

I pray that this missionary - and every one of us - will not shy away from the difficult challenges in this life. I pray that we will confide in the Lord (Proverbs 3:5-6), humble ourselves, and do what needs to be done to be faithful to God and his Beloved Son Jesus Christ.

Because of them, we are, and we have hope to forever be. 

Be happy, be healthy, be honest.

Until next week,

Hermana Ison

Week 61: Burnt Corn Juice

Greetings from Guatemala!

I think it's time I shared some little details glimpses again. 

From Church Halls

You should have seen the Primary President, a short, stout, little fiery lady, literally wrestling a ten year old kid to his classes yesterday in church. She had him in a headlock with his legs half walking half kicking down the hall. It was so, so funny. I should have taken a picture. I think it was her grandkid, anyway, but if not I'm all for it. This ward needs somebody to teach them what's what sometimes. 

What Kills Vampires,...

Today I ate garlic for breakfast! It's because it supposedly kills parasites. I don't have parasites, but people in my area are prone to getting them and my companion and I want to make sure we stay clean. 

Because yesterday we watched one of our investigators take water from the well and pour it in a pitcher, then mix in some burnt corn juice and give it to us to drink. I've drunken well water before, but you never know... The good thing is that the burnt corn juice (called pinol) is actually really good, because it's toasted corn, chocolate, and cinnamon. 

It was funny because before going out to work that day my companion had found a scripture in Romans that talks about the importance of eating with faith, doubting not :) 

Not So Funny Coincidences

I don't believe in coincidences in the mission; everything is the hand of the Lord. With my current companion, who was my CCM companion, and is incredible, we see all kinds of cool things. 

For example, in the month we've been together we've come across a family in the process of seperating (we're talking waiting on the side of the highway for the bus to come and take the wife and kids away), a woman crying on her parked motorcylce, a divinely organized car accident half a block ahead of us, and a broken hearted lady sobbing on the sidewalk who wiped away her tears and started singing hymns with us. 

The Lord is living life with us. It just takes faith to see it.

I know he put us in the path of all those people and more. If only there were time to tell all the miracles...

Just know I love you guys and I LOVE being one of the Lord's missionaries. This is his true church and the Savior Jesus Christ really is his child, who died and rose for us.

He gives us so many blessings. 

Out of time!

Love ya,


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Week 60: Miracles in San Se

What stories I have this week!

The Convert

He arrived at his baptism before us. A lot before us. We arrived, panting, hair falling out, but with investigators in tow, and he was sitting there calmly chatting with the other members, light in his eyes, awaiting the moment.

His name is Gaspar, he's 25, and he's pretty much going to be a bishop.

Between his baptism on Friday night (which was a beautiful service, the whole ward came out to support with a lot of less actives and recent converts there too) and his confirmation Sunday morning, he went to the temple to support two couples from the ward who got sealed, and he want to a YSA dance. It's his second weekend in a row dedicated solely to church things. He's the already converted convert that every missionary dreams to have.

The Incest

He was sitting in institute class on Sunday night when we arrived looking for priesthood holders. A wild-eyed crooked-handed old man accompanied by three silent children had come up to us asking for a prayer for his sick wife. We thought a blessing would be better.

So after institute, Gaspar, the teacher, and four other youth came with us to the house of the old man, whose name is Adan. He goes to another church but was desperate because his wife, who's 30 years younger than him, had been sick for six days and nobody from his church had come to prayer for her. He'd taken her to the hospital but they just have her a shot and sent her home.

The members came in and took action. Gaspar, who's a certified nurse, started checking the woman's symptoms, while my companion pulled medicine out of her backpack and another sister looked for a towel to cool her fever. The woman was very, very sick - and what's worse - had gotten to the point of hopelessness and was crying and coughing and gagging. The brothers gave her a blessing and ended up calling the Red Cross to come and get her in an ambulance.

The old man watched helplessly. His kids huddled in a corner, running away if anyone tried to approach them. Their level of poverty isn't uncommon in Guatemala, but somehow it felt different - worse - than any other house I'd been in. When all was taken care of and we left, the institute teacher told us why it had been so hard to feel the Spirit there: the old man's wife is also his niece.

I don't know how God can stand all the sins his children can commit. I don't know how he can look down on things like this without being repulsed, but I know that last night he let us feel and borrow a little bit of his love. Because instead of wanting to run away and throw up, all I wanted to do is wrap those children up in a big blanket and take them to a place with lots of light and give them stuffed animals and tell them stories of Jesus. Even the poor desperate old man merited a bit of pity.

The point is, I don't know why people make horrible decisions. Or why God sends innocent spirits to broken homes. But I do know that the Atonement of Jesus Christ covers everything.

The Reflection of the Week

The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is something so big, so incomprehensible, that I always shy away from writing about it.

But the fact of the matter is: a God descended from heaven.
¨And the angel said unto me again: Look and behold thea condescension of God!

And I looked and a beheld the Redeemer of the world, of whom my father had spoken;...

And I beheld that he went forth ministering unto the people, in a power and great glory; and the multitudes were gathered together to hear him; and I beheld that they cast him out from among them.

And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again,saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was a taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.

And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.¨
That's from 1 Nephi 11: 26-33 in the Book of Mormon. And I know it's true.

It was not a perfect man who suffered for our sins. It was a perfect GOD.

Who still lives. Who loves us.

Everything unfair in this life is made right by the Atonement. The next life is made possible by the Atonement.

I love my Savior, Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Week 59: Full Circle

Hey all,

Conference Recap

I just want to say I hope you're having a great week! If you watched General Conference, you will agree with me that it was awesome, as always. I especially liked Elder Ballard's talk inviting us to verify our commitments to call the church by its proper name and invite people to learn about the restored gospel. I don't know why we're so shy about it! There's a phrase here they say to kids in school when they're afraid to go up in front of the class: ´Shame is for if you've stolen something' meaning that we shouldn't be embarrassed or shy to do good things. And I can't think of any better invitation than one that helps someone work out their salvation and find peace and happiness in this life! :)

If you listened to Carlos H. Amado during the Sunday morning session, you might have noticed a thick Spanish accent... it's because he's from Guatemala! And he did a special training with our mission in November. I feel like I know him! It was so cool to see him up there talking... and I absolutely loved his message about Jesus Christ. There is no other theme more important. 


So I've got some surprises to announce. 

I'm not in Pajapita anymore. Since Wednesday, I've been back in the department of Retalhuleu, in a place called San Sebastian, only about 20 minutes from my second area. SanSe (for short) is a regular sized ward with two sets of sister missionaries.

I'm currently living in the same house as Hermana Avendano, the sister missionary I trained and the companion I was with for the longest. It is so nice to be back together!

And, you'll never guess who my companion is!

We were companions two weeks in the CCM. She was the fiery little Latin girl who had me running around organizing musical numbers and helping me speak Spanish. We told everyone we were twins and daydreamed about what it would be like if we were companions again in the mission field...

And now... we are :)

Her name's Hermana Betancourth and we are set to change the world. Or at least our little corner of it. 

They've made us sister training leader leaders, which is an assignment specific to our mission. We're in charge of doing divisions with the other sister training leaders in the mission, and any sisters who need extra help. They're 8 sister leaders, and only 6 weeks in the change... we've got a full schedule. But it's going to be AMAZING.

Keeping it Grounded

But I'm a big fan of the small and simple things, so admidst everything we have to do to help the 60 sisters that now are a part of our mission, plus the random assignments President gives us (like planning the schedule for a mission-wide activity we're doing during Holy Week), we're determined to make waves in our area. The best way to teach is by example, right? 

And if I'm being honest, plain old mission work is what I like best :)

So this week we hit the ground running and brought 10 investigators to church. We're teaching all kinds of people, a cocaine-addict dad, a family of 14 kids, parents of a child with a water-inflated head, a white guy from Kansas living with his deported Guatemalan wife and their three kids. He went to the priesthood session of conference, actually, and loved it.

But the best part of all is Gaspar, our amazing investigator. He's getting baptized on Friday, and went to four or the five sessions of General Conference this weekend, finishing the last two out in a white shirt and tie.

God is so great. That's really all I can say.

I just invite us all to stay humble and never forget to listen to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, who will guide us in all that we do. Personal prayer is the key to having a fulfilling spiritual life, and life can't be fulfilling without the spiritual side.

Please take good care of every part of yourselves. 

Tori/Victoria/Hermana Ison

P.S. Half the women in my area use the traditional Guatemalan corte (wrap around and tie skirt with beautiful weaving) and this week I ate a traditional dish composed of cow ear, cheeks, and eyes. That one was thanks to my spunky little comp. Fortunately, no parasites yet!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Week 58: It's the Living Who're Harder to Preach to.

Hey everybody,

Today I lived an episode of How It's Made! One of the counselor's in the stake presidency is head of giant banana plantation. He took us around and gave us a tour and it was SO COOL. Pictures will be coming in a couple weeks :)

Also President right out told me in his email this week that I'll have changes on Wednesday. Stay tuned to know next week where the Lord sends me to finish my mission! 

And a reminder: WATCH GENERAL CONFERENCE. All the sessions. It's not everyday that a prophet speaks to us. It's gonna be so good!!! :)

Baptisms for the Dead

Yesterday during church the speakers talked about family history and temple work. Or, in clearer terms, the practice of being baptized and confirmed (recieving the Holy Ghost) for those who have passed on.

Everybody knows that we, as Latter-day Saints, do this. And everybody thinks it's wierd. 

Which, frankly, says a lot about the religious beliefs of 'everybody'.

Let me explain.

The most common complaint that we as missionaries hear about baptisms for the dead is that the salvation is individual: how presumptous to think that we can be baptized for someone else and they'll be saved.

People who say that don't understand that the ordinance doesn't automatically save the soul who recieves it. The person (maybe somebody who lived their whole life out on earth without hearing about Jesus Christ) has to learn about him, accept him, and repent. Then they accept the baptismal ordinance. In the temple, we just share our bodies for a few seconds so that that ordinance can be done for them. Obviously, a spirit can't be baptized for itself. 

(1 Peter 4:6 talks about how the gospel is preached to the spirits that have passed on, in case you think that conscience life ends with death.)

The other complaint that people make is that it's just not necessary. If somebody didn't get baptized, oh well. God will have mercy on them.

But the scriptures clearly state (John 3:5) that nobody can enter into the kingdom of heaven without being baptized. If it wasn't absolutely necessary, why would we bother with it? All those trips to rivers or lakes, and the pain of getting yourself wet...

No! We do this beautiful, simple, humbling ordinance because God has commanded it. Because even Jesus Christ, being absolutely perfect, did it, to show us the way. It is incredibly necessary.

And if somebody dies without being baptized, they can't go to heaven.

So the goal of the Mormon church, incredible as it is, is to perform the baptismal ordinance for every single person that has lived. Ever. Because God loves every single one of his children and commands them all to come unto him. (2 Nephi 26: 24-28, 33) What doesn't get done now will be done in the Millenium. 

I know it sound ridiculous. But it also sounds ridiculous to some that some person who walked around Jerusalem in dusty sandals 2000 years ago could be the Savior of the world. 

God works miracles. And his ways are not our ways. We have to look at things with spritual eyes. 

Ahora, applied

Little did we know that the little brother of one of our investigators hasn't been wanting to listen to our lessons because of something he heard in another church a few weeks ago.

Their mom died about a month ago, and she was never baptized. It seems like he heard some Evangelist preacher in the neighborhood declare that everybody has to accept Christ right now because we never know when we'll die. Then he pointed out our investigator's mom as an example.

Needless to say, the poor, motherless, 15-year-old boy went away crying. 

We didn't know any of this until Sunday, when Darwin (Luis' older brother, who has a baptismal date for April 12th) listened to the talks about baptisms for the dead. He walked out of Sacramente meeting with light in his eyes, full of questions, asking about the temple.

I know he will share this glorious news with his brother, and they will rejoice together in the fulness of this restored gospel.

I testify that this is the true church, with the authority of God to bind on earth what will be bound in Heaven. I testify that temples are truly holy ground.

And I testify that we are baptized not because it is a pretty tradition, but because it is a commandment of a living God whose son, Jesus Christ, is the Savior of your soul and mine.

I love you all, and hope you have a great General Conference weekend. 

Sister Ison