Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Week 49: Well...

You Had to Be There

On Saturday we had lunch with a drunk man and a Bangladesh illegal immigrant.

And the elders. And a convert of 8 months who's kid entered the mission field this week. It was quite an experience. We ate carne asada, which is like steak with onions, guacamole and tortillas.

The drunk man (husband of the convert mom, and not a member yet himself, for obvious reasons) wanted to exercise his English skills. (Why do all the men here speak English better than Spanish when they're drunk?) And the immigrant, who is 25 and has the goal of getting to the U.S., only knew Bangkol, a teeny bit of Spanish, and a bit more English. The elder from the Dominican Republic knows a bit more English than the Mexican elder, and my Nicaraguan companion chimed in periodically with ¨What's your name?¨ To say the least, it was a very international, and very noisy, meal.

Hearts of the Children

The church in the area of Central America has a plan that every organization should be actively working to reactivate (bring back to the fold people who have stopped coming to church) a certain number of people and families. As part of this project, every companionship of missionaries gets assigned five households of people who are already members but have forgotten why, or stopped coming for whatever reason, to work with.

Here in Pajapita, the majority of the 15 families we're working with as missionaries (because we're three companionships) are families in which the mom and children go, but the dad doesn't. We're assigned two like that, and they just really get inside my heart.

The mom in the first family is named Maria. She has four kids ages 8-16, and one husband who fell away a few years ago and now has a horrible gambling habit. To compensate, she works evenings selling chicken and fries in a stand in front of their house. We stopped there the other night, asked when the dad would be home so we could visit them all together. It was a question that none of them could answer.

The mom in the second family is named Thelma. She has three kids, but the only one I know well is Faviola. She's 9 and severely physically and mentally impaired. The dad in this family is married to his wife in the temple, but hasn't come in years and we don't know why yet. This Sunday, Thelma gave the lesson in Relief Society, and it brought tears to my eyes watching all the sisters pull together to take care of Faviola while Thelma shared her message.

Then on Sunday we went to New Beginnings (a recognition program for the young women in the church) and I was astonished to see 20 girls there. They sang and shared their messages and the Spirit was SO strong. But when I looked around in the audience, only about half of the parents that should have been their were there. Many aren't members, or aren't active.

These youth are so brave. And these lonely moms too.

It's hard to be the one in the family who's strong in the gospel. But it's so, so worth it.

I just pray, and do all I can, to help these beautiful people feel the Spirit enough to stay strong.


It can be pretty depressing to be a missionary when nobody comes to church, and I've had plenty of Sundays like that in my mission.

But this Sunday was a record: ELEVEN people visited with us, and among those 11 were 2 families. I really don't know how it all came together, I'm just so grateful to God, and super excited to show that gratitude working with my companion as hard as we can to help these people come to know and accept the restored gospel.

I love you all tons, and miss you.


P.S. Highly recommend the half hour film: Finding Faith in Christ.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Week 48: Odds and Ends

Things Missionaries Might Not Know

First things first, an important CORRECTION: We are not 1-2 hrs away from Mexico.

Not even close. We are 20 minutes from the border.

I about had a heart attack in the street when our stake president's wife, getting into her car, explained that they were going grocery shopping in Hildalgo.

Hidalgo! I saw a movie about that! Could it be, could it be...? Yes! It's Mexico.

We had been misinformed. Mexico from here is actually just like from Bloomington to Martinsville.

I'm still stunned...And the members were stunned that I was so stunned.

But grocery shopping. Who goes grocery shopping in another country?

People in Pajapita do.

I am super jealous. We're trying to figure out a way to be able to go to Mexico for P-day. Or at least get permission to visit the other zone and take a photo with Mexico in the background. I love internationality. :)

This Week's Hero: The Ward Mission Leader

His name's Nery (pronounced Neddy) and he's been a member of the church for 3 months.

Though his conversion process began about eight years ago.

Thanks to a combination of interesting life events, he stopped drinking and smoking on his own, was almost a witch doctor, and since like a year ago has had a mystery girlfriend who's part of our congregation, but nobody knows which sister she is. He's a single dad of a really cool girl my age, and drives a red pickup truck. He readGospel Principles and 200 pages of the Book of Mormon before being baptized. And he's taking on one of the biggest challenges Rama Pajapita has to offer: a third timer branch president.

(Oh, and I apologize right now if this part of the story includes a lot of Mormon jergon. Oh, that's a word I haven't used in English for 11 months... How do you spell jargon? Anyway, I will try to include definitions...)

This branch (smaller congregation) is amazing. I actually don't know why the New Era (church magazine for youth) hasn't written about them yet. There are like 15 youth called as branch missionaries, and they go out on their own during the week and visit members who are less active (haven't been coming regularly) or recent converts. They also talk to strangers and friends about the gospel, and refer them to us if they're interested.

This kind of organization is something that should exist in every congregation, but hasn't really caught on yet in most parts of the world. There are like 12 missionaries serving from this branch, and 5 more preparing. (One is going to Salt Lake City Central in March, but him and his family is a story for another day!) When I find out how they helped these kids to have such burning testimonies in their adolescence, I will let you all know.

The Gospel Principles (Sunday school class for new and returning members) teacher is also completely amazing. I can't say the same about my last area, but it makes me happy here that they've got resources in play to help the people who join the church stay active.

The only thing that concerns me is the branch president (the member called by God to help lead the congregation) is a carbon copy of his wife, who, before I had said more than 15 words in their house, and while I was contently eating my chicken soup, began a 12-minute lecture on the manners missionaries should show while eating in members´ houses. It was an unasked for and inexplicably fiery lecture that did not stop even when my companion, who had been feeling poorly that day, suddenly jumped up from the table to go throw up.

Our first branch council (meeting for leaders of the congregation to talk about how to help the members and plan activities) was like that meal, except mission work was the victim.
After the branch president gave an hour long speech (which included a bit of apostasy of its own), he turned the time over to us and the ward mission leader. It all started cool and calm...but how it ended, I can't tell you. Let's just say that I had never seen a branch president angry and yelling before.

Thankfully, he was the only one. I was flabbergasted to see the rest of the branch leaders shaking their heads and smiling, telling us to get used to it, that's just how it is. Hermano Nery was the only leader there who hadn't worked with or at least known the branch president before... and we were worried he was going to renounce his baptism or something.

But that man held his ground.

He left cool as a cucumber, actually telling the all of us with nametags not to be frightened, explaining to his missionaries (we're starting to feel like little chicklings under his wings) that we will find a way to work together with all the branch leaders, because that's what the prophet wants, and this is the Lord's work, not ours or the branch presidents´.

And it's true. I don't know how God did it, but he put the gospel in Hermano Nedy's life right when he needed it. And he put Hermana Nedy in Pajapita's branch council right when we and all the investigators need him.

I know that lots of times people's personalities get in the way of getting the job done. That's not how it should be. Especially in the Lord's church. Hermana Nery instinctively understands that, and I have faith that wis his and the Lord's help, we are going to be able to work miracles in Pajapita... not just in the lives of the people who learn about and accept the gospel and true church, but with the members leaders, and the unity of this unit.


He's 25, deaf from birth, and as a result, speech-impaired.

He leaves on his mission tomorrow.

Yesterday we visited his Mom, a very dignified, well-to-do lady, convert of less than a year. She cried. Her little baby boy is all grown up, going off to the temple to serve the Lord for one year.

Her lawyer husband, also Sergio, is a convert of a little more than a year and now a member of the branch presidency. That afternoon, he looked at his son in an oversized sweatshirt, and tried to be strong. This time, I cried. Because when I watched those two Sergios interact, so much love was present between father and son.

And so much faith.

The church is true. And maybe those three beautiful people haven't had the years or even the physical abilities that I've had to learn it, but they feel it in their heart, and they're making the sacrifices to serve the Lord in his appointed way.

I love them so much, without even knowing them. And I think that is the spirit of missionary work.

Let us all be a little more like Sergio.

And Just Have to Say:

I love you guys a ton. Take care :)


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Week 47: Wide Open Spaces!

I'm now in Pajapita, a good-sized highway town on the way to Mexico. Living in a house with four girls, and they've made me one of the sister leaders. The zone leader and district leader are companions and are the elders in our ward, so there's a total of 6 missionaries in a unit with a weekly assistence that's around 160. The funny thing is that it's still a branch... We're working on that :)
It's been a wild week, with changes and training meetings and now just getting to know the area and the people. But in the midst of it all, what's kept me grounded has been the lessons with the people. Tears falling down in the goodbye talk with Yosselin, reminding her and all of us that with the Atonement of Christ, all things are possible. Peeling corn (how on earth do you say that in English?...Oh! shucking.) Ahem, shucking corn with two little girls, who want to get baptized but their mom can't because her husband won't marry her, and who have to help their mom everyday to make this corn drink that they wander the streets selling to make money. Testifying of the need to come unto Christ to two embittered women, at the end of a dusty road hidden from everyone but God. Feeling the Spirit with my companion, who has challenges of her own.
But we are going to get through this, get through it all, and be better for it on the other side.
This is the only true church. God is our Father. And life is meaningless without Jesus Christ.
So much love,

Pictures- A Christmas in Guatemala

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Week 46: Fast Thoughts from Guatemala

Well, I know that I've been here long enough to be fully adjusted and consecrated to the mission, because now I have to make the choice between writing to you guys and going to print out pictures to give to all my converts and the members in this area if they transfer me on Wednesday and.... I'm leaning toward printing out pictures :)

The time is so short today because we had an amazing P-day activity as a zone. We piled into a bus and went up winding mountain roads to an area called Palmar. The legend is that 40 years ago the people that lived there were really wicked and mobbed the missionaries. Three months later, the volcano that towers over the area erupted. The government warned them but the people in Palmar were too hardhearted to leave. Their town was destroyed and many people died.

Today they're starting to rebuild a bit, but we drove past all that to this beautiful overlook where there's a wood plank and cable footbridge that lets you cross high above a rushing river. When you get to the other side, there's a small footpath, carved out by locals who bring firewood from the deserted land. You walk through and there's just high grass and rocks and African looking trees. It's quiet and peaceful and quite extensive. At the end there's a beautiful lake.

We got to go and spend the morning there, and it was beautiful to relax and marvel about nature and God. We climbed up a hill and shouted to hear the echoes, and sang hymns. I love life.

Leaving, we passed through the ruins of an old Catholic church and cemetery, and then we went to eat lunch as a zone, where one of the elders had cooked us a delicious soup from Ecuador.

Now I have to go print out pictures, because it's very possible that I will have changes on Wednesday. Which I think is probably a good thing because I've gotten super comfortable in my area and with my companion. We've seen a lot of miracles, lives changed... This week Yosselin went visiting with us and basically taught the restoration lesson. I don't know how to describe the peace that I felt, knowing that 4 months ago she didn't know or believe any of this, but the Holy Spirit has worked a change in her heart and mind, and now her testimony is as strong as mine. I hope she keeps sharing it. She will be a great missionary one day.

Other miracle, we've been teaching this family where the husband hasn't been to church in like 5 years, except to play soccer in the evenings, and the wife belonged to a different church before they got married. When we first started, they were pretty reluctant to make changes in their lives. But we had an amazing lesson about the Atonement and it's incredible to see them start studying the scriptures and coming to church with smiles and dress clothes on.

Really, we don't have any excuses. Yes, God will forgive us a million times. Yes, he is infinitely patient.

But Jesus suffered everything. Everything.

And he gives us everything. Why shouldn't we choose the right?

Love you lots! Until next week :)

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Week 45: In the Aftermath: Live Like Christ

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Today in our district meeting we talked about how WE are the ones who make new years good, or new months productive, or new days interesting. This is very true. I hope 2014 brings you all good things, but I also hope we can all bring some pretty amazing things to 2014 too :)

Yesterday we had a 4-zone (equivalent of like 60 missionaries) post-Christmas party with the mission president and his wife and sons. First came the spiritual part where the president talked and we watched the video of all the baptisms in November (which you can now find on YouTube!) and remembered why we're here.

Then they gave us a test of how well we know Preach My Gospel. I came out in one of the top 10 scored and won a Crunch bar, which was meltingly delicious, eaten in the December heat beneath the waving shade of palm fronds.

I'm reading Preach My Gospel again right now, but doing it really slowly, going through all the study activities and reading every scripture mentioned. It's super edifying. I'm super grateful for how years ago President Simmons asked everyone in the Bloomington stake to read Preach My Gospel. I think I was 15 or 16 then and remember one afternoon lying on the living room floor thumbing through a chapter about how to find new investigators, bored, wondering why on earth had to be so obedient to invitations from stake presidents when this didn't even apply to me.

Now I know :)

But even then and especially now looking back, I realize how much I got out of it. I really encourage everyone to read this manual, full-time missionary or not. You learn a ton about the gospel and how to feel the Spirit and how to be more like Jesus Christ, which is the goal in this life.

I also want to to testify to being obedient to invitations that come from church leaders. Sure, I was 15 when they said that and didn't really even have plans of going on a mission, but I learned SO MANY THINGS that set the foundation for my high school and college years and increased my desire to go on a mission, God knows what´s best for us and uses his servants here on earth to give us advice or recommendations. We just have to be humble enough to accept them, trusting that they come from God and not from men, and trusting that we will reap the rewards sometime in the future.

On a related note, this week I'll finish the Book of Mormon for the seventh or ninth time, I can't remember, but it's the second time in Spanish. It's been really cool to go through it slowly, marking up the pages, meditating. But what has been the coolest of all, I think, is that there have been times that I've read a scripture and my mind has gone back to the very first time I read the same verse, sitting at our plastic tablecloth covered kitchen table, 7 or 8 years old, just trying to get through my 3 columns-a-day goal. It was rare, because I was little and didn't understand so many things, but there were scriptures that pierced my heart. It's cool to see that they still do that, the very same words with the very same power, in the heart of a very changed person. I know they come from God.

There were other scriptures that I didn't get until my mom explained them. I remember her explanations even still. Thanks, Mom, for being there.

But, back to the Christmas celebration. After the test, every zone had to go up on the stage and present 2 or 3 musical acts. My group danced a Mexican dance (complete with giant skirts, I will send pictures), sang a traditional and Guatemalan Christmas song with funny dancing because it makes absolutely no sense, and sang Carol of the Bells, but in Spanish. It was awesome, and the other groups' presentations equally so. It was really nice just to sit back and laugh for a while.

After that, they fed us a delicious lunch, complete with carrot cake cupcakes, and we split up to watch a movie (Facing the Giants) and play volleyball. I, of course, played volleyball. Outside, waiting our teams' turn, I reunited with my CCM companion and we reflected about our 9 months in the mission field. The time goes so fast...

Looking around in that moment, with everything lit up in the light of the setting sun, two days away from the start of the year in which I'll see my family again, the peace of Jesus Christ in my heart, I just felt so calm and content. Surrounded by missionaries, all of us lost somewhere between being normal high school kids and adults in this world, I felt a bit of solidity in this great time of transition. We're changing, but we're not lost, because we're right where we're supposed to be.

This year in the church-wide Christmas devotional I was really struck by the general Primary President's talk. She spoke about what we do after Christmas, when the surprises are now known and it's time to take down all the joyful decorations. Her answer was this: live like Christ.

And that's my resolution this year: Be a true disciple of the only perfect man, the living Son of God. Put into practice everything I learn and live the ideology I so cherish. Be perfect, even as He is.
Love you guys, so much.
P.S. I was thinking about her this week and just want Evie Lichtenwalter to know that God loves her and everything will be alright, but she should probably do a better job of looking for him.

Oh, and a shout out to Elder Crookston's mom, who should be discovering this blog this week. Your kid's a great district leader and I really appreciate how he shares with us the MnMs you send him :)

Week 44: God Talked to the Shepherds and He Talks to Us

Merry Christmas, everybody!!! :)

I can't believe this day has already almost arrived! The time passes so fast. Before I say anything else, I just want to tell you all I hope you have an incredible Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. May there be lots of glowing lights and colorful paper and comfy food and maybe even snow!

And, more important than all of that, I hope you can be with your families.

May you hold them close and breathe deeply. Freeze the moment in time. Thank God to be with them. We don't get to take anything with us when we end this life, but God has given us families to cherish. May we love them with our whole hearts this year, above anything else.

Desanimo is of the devil

On Sunday nobody came to church (well, none of our investigators and not very many of our recent converts) and during Relief Society my companion and I were kind of feeling down about that, because it was the second Sunday like that in a row.

I was staring at the floor when the woman sitting next to me started reciting under her breath the scripture that another sister was reading. A few minutes later, she did the same thing. I realized they were scripture mastery scriptures, two of a hundred that all youth in the church memorize when they go to seminary. This woman is married with a kid now, but she still remembers them.

Then I remembered that this woman is Mildred, not in our ward anymore, but back visiting her family for the holidays. Her family of mom and dad and 11 brothers and sisters, NONE of whom are members or who want anything to do with the church. She got baptized by herself when she was 16, and instead of going inactive like it seems like so many who are baptized young do, she went to all the remaining years of seminary, got her Personal Progress medallion, and got sealed in the temple.

She's a missionary work success story, and she's the reason I'm out here.

Inspired by this, I started listening to the lesson better. It was being given by Maria Isabel, a 20-year active and faithful Catholic. But also a Mormon convert of three years, and now the Relief Society president. I listened to her share her testimony of prophets and apostles and personal revelation, and thought there were no more beautiful words. This is the only true and living church, and slowly and steadily, all the world is coming to see it.

I looked around the room, and saw that it was filled with missionary success stories. The church in Guatemala is a big mash-up of mostly converts, and because of that, sometimes it's really messy. But I love it. And now I know that if I ever start getting sad again, I just have to look around me. The inspiring examples are everywhere.

Nuevas de gran gozo, que seran para todo el pueblo

Well, I was going to write some other stuff but it will have to wait. My time is up. I love you all so much. Take care, and merry, merrry Christmas.

P.S. Remember - and really remember, please - that Jesus is the reason for the season. That's a sentence that's way more important than it sounds wrapped up in a rhyming phrase, but it's so true. Jesus lives! He didn't just get born in a beautiful way, but he atoned for us, and made possible the Resurrection and eternal life. It's a beautiful thing... and, because of Him, it's a wonderful life. :)