Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Week 53: Blessings


Well, on Wednesday they had transfers and, as expected, my wonderful companion went away and another amazing sister came in her place. Hermana Escoto, from Honduras. She is an excellent missionary and we are working hard and happy together :)

The Unheard Of
Tomorrow will be a day that goes down in history.

It is the day that more than 700 Books of Mormon will be distributed among the youth of southwest Guatemala, the future of the country.

This is possible, from what I understand, because there's some kind of law passed in Guatemala where they want students to learn about different religions in the schools. There's also a giant high school in our town run by a stake president (church leader).

Take those two facts and 2 plus 2 is 4, or rather, 700, because it means we'll be going around to every classroom tomorrow, showing a four-minute Mormon Message video about the Book of the Mormon and giving them to the youth.

The elders and branch missionaries have been working diligently to cut and paste lists of questions of the soul in the front covers of the books. Every list includes questions that we all have about the purpose of life and why bad things happen to good people, and some that are less cliche, like how we're supposed to balance school or work with family, and the scriptures that address those topics.

Once every kid has their book, all of them are going to brought together (which is an accomplishment in a school without a gym or auditorium) and they'll be a presentation where the mission president bears his testimony and the choir sings that song 'Hallelujah' en four-part harmony.

It's going to be amazing.

We know that not everyone is going to read it, but some will. And it's a TRUE book! So it's a huge step toward them knowing that this is not a false church, Thomas S. Monson isn't a false prophet, but that God really lives and works miracles and talks to his children individually and collectively once again. The apostasy is over, the good news has gotten even better because the Second Coming is even closer, and if we repent we have no reason to fear!

Whew. I'll stop myself now, before sliding into more scripture lingo. But it's true, all the prophesies, all the scriptures weren't written for nothing. The light of truth is shining once again, and this is the dispensation of the fulness of times!

In 20 years, when I have 10 kids...

...it will be because of this week.

It was Sunday morning and we passed by for the last time for a family that has said they're going to go to church three times but has never come. The wife had her bucket of atol (oatmeal-like drink) on her head and was walking out the gate of her house to go to work when we arrived. We talked for awhile, and finally she said ''Look, sisters, I'm going to tell you the truth.''

She proceeded to communicate to us that she is going to another church and will not be changing. It doesn't matter that she thinks the Book of Mormon is probably true (she doesn't know how to read, so it's hard for her to say for certain) and that she felt like everything was correct the Sunday that she did come visit the services. She said the other church is closer and it's where her family goes and that will be the end of that.

Those words are some of the most frustrating a missionary can hear. With no idea what to say, I took a breath and looked down.

There he was, 4-year-old Jose Luis, sipping his half cup of breakfast coffee and watching our interaction with his mom with wide, innocent eyes.

In that moment, I could not help the strong and unexpected tears. I just let my companion say whatever it is that she said.

It was then when I really came to understand, for maybe the first time, why the prophets invite members of the church to have as many children as they want.

It's not just because of the commandment to Adam and Eve, to multiply and replenish the Earth. It's because a child born to active, honest LDS parents is born into a house with the truth. If his parents live as they should, he will not suffer, he will be protected from so many things Satan and the world try to do to him.

And it's because there are a whole lots of souls still waiting to come to this earth. Souls who deserve to be born to parents who will at least search for the truth, who will be faithful to GOD, not traditions.

I do not harbor bad feelings against this mom who will not search for the truth. I know that one day, she will. And she will find it in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In the meantime, I'm just grateful that God has a lot more patience for his children than can be found in one weak, human heart like mine.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Week 52: Week #...Who Knows!

Tech-Savvy, with chocolate

Hey, guess what?

Our mission has a website now! I haven't seen it, but the url is: www.misionretalhuleu.org. (Probably better off copying and pasting that link...)

Supposedly, there is a picture of me on there because I was one of the winners in a Preach My Gospel quiz we did. Woo hoo! They gave me chocolate but I ended up giving it to a less active woman we visited because it had almonds in it. And her husband is a bum who never visits her, nor brings her any money with which to purchase food and school supplies for her six kids. I figured they could use some holiday cheer.

But the excitement of the little gift was diminished because we arrived right in the middle of them trying to figure out if the oldest daughter, who's 12, should go to live in a town an hour for a month to do housecleaning for a family. We told them to pray about it.

My heart literally wrenches for this family. And the unbelievable economic crises they go through. But they don't come to church. They don't do what it takes to invite the help of God in their life. I don't know how many times I'll have to testify with my entire heart before it gets through to them. But I will keep testifying, because I love them so much. You can pray for them, if you want. The mom's name is Susannah.

Buses, buses, and more buses

Yesterday I had to go to Guatemala City again to get everything figured out for my visa. The good news is that everything did get figured out and, a year later, I'm legal here in Guatemala!

This process of going and returning to the capital was a big one. We had to leave here at 3:30 on Sunday afternoon, with a sister who got off her mission 2 months ago, so that when my companion left me in the mission office she'd have someone to return with before continuing normal life in a trio with the other sister who lives in our house.

We took a small bus 50 minutes from our town to the nearest city, then on big tour bus turned public for an hour and a half to get from the city, Coatepeque, to where the mission office is in Retalhuleu. That bus was so packed that we stood in the aisle the whole time. A guy contacted us; he turned out to be a member from another stake, and I'm pretty sure he will end up being the eternal companion of the sister who was accompanying us.

After that adventure, where my nametag fell off and then one of the nice guys we had to literally force our way past to get out the door, found it and through it out the window to me as the bus pulled away, we waited in the office for a while, my companion left, I helped the office assistants clean up the chapel, they gave us dinner and took us to a hotel, where I stayed with the other girl who had to go to Guate, a sister who's only been here for a month but has graduated from BYU and had a full ride to long and triple jump there. (What a run-on sentence, right?!)

At 3 in the morning the bus came to take us to Guate, which is like a whole other world compared to regular Guatemala. We got to the Area Offices at like 8 am because there was a ton of traffic entering the city, and then we waited while missionaries from other cities arrived. They took us in a different bus, a recycled yellow school bus, to the country's immigration offices. We waited in line, smiled for a photo, and signed on the dotted line.

Then we repeated the process going home. All in all, I think it was like 13 hours on 6 different buses in less than two days. BUT it was good because I only missed P-day at the beach, and I got to meditate a lot in gospel topics. Yay, road trips!

The Family With Hope in Their Eyes

I have sent my mom pictures to put up of the baptism we had this weekend, a family of 5 (four who got baptized) who also got married on Valentine's Day. It was an absolutely beautiful service, and I am not done cherishing it in my heart yet.

But I think my favorite part of the whole process was on Sunday, when the dad went up in front to give the closing prayer in Sunday School class. He did it so naturally, and in that moment I could just see him doing it for years and years to come.

When they received the gift of the Holy Ghost on Sunday, the 11 year-old daughter was blessed to be able to serve a mission if she has the desire when she's older. I didn't see that coming, but it made so much sense in the moment. What grand joy!

I am so grateful for God for letting me be a part of this miracle process, and will be doing everything I can to make sure this family stays strong in the church.

It's the true church. God lives and loves us. Take care, and have a very happy week!


Victoria Ison

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Week 51: Seguimiento

Happy (upcoming) Valentine's Day, everyone!

To all the members reading this: I encourage you to give a Book of Mormon to someone you love or appreciate this Friday. What better gift is there?

Well, we did not end up getting to go to the temple with the ward last Saturday, but we will be having a beautiful wedding on Feb. 14th! We've been teaching this family for a few weeks... Kristina y Jeremias. My companion taught them several months ago with her previous companion, and they went to church a couple times, but they didn't progress. Now everything's ready for their wedding and baptism on Friday.

It's been really cool to see how the Lord has been preparing this family. I love them a lot, and will have pictures to send next week :)

We've also been having a lot of fun with one of our less active families, the one that has a 9-year-old girl with Down Syndrome. Her name is Favi (Faviola) and she has become a good friend of my companion and I. On Sunday she came up and gave me a hug, and then pulled me by the hand so I would play with her and a cute 4-year-old boy who was wandering mom-less. Her mom invited us over for lunch after church, and when we finished, Favi and I did the dishes. I washed, and she rinsed. She gave me a great big smile and thumbs up every time she successfully put a dish in the drying bucket.

We've been talking a lot about the Plan of Salvation lately; in fact, yesterday in church we learned how we come to Earth and receive our bodies so that we can learn to be more like Jesus Christ. Favi's mom said her daughter's Spirit must have been so close to perfect, she just needed to come to Earth to get her body.

I feel like that's true. We as people aren't anyone to judge, but Favi doesn't know right from wrong well enough to commit sins. Her presence here just helps the rest of us whose lives are touched by hers to love more and increase our faith in Christ. And one day, in the eternities, she will be a perfected and resurrected person, a glorious whole, a wonderful addition to her family.

Now we just have to help her Dad see that... It's been nine years since he's been active in the church, and no one knows why. But Favi is nine years old - who knows... But teaching doctrine never hurts. We're going to prepare a really good Plan of Salvation lesson to do with them.

I know that God lives. He loves us. And he really does have a glorious plan. One day, all of the confusion that there is in this life will make sense. But, for now, we should remember Isaiah 55:8-9:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Please take care, and have patience and faith. God wants to bless you.

Love you all bunches and bunches!


Week 50: Pigs and Parasites

Happy Monday, everybody!

The 5 Less Active Families

It was like no other lesson that I had ever had.

The man hasn't been to church in a year, but he volunteered the first prayer, bore us his testimony, and promised he would go back to church, all without us having to say anything.

But all I could think about was a story his daughter told us earlier that week when she accompanied us to visit investigators. She had been sick and needed a priesthood blessing. ¨I was just praying the elders would come by, and I looked up, and there they were.¨

Sitting there with her dad, slightly flabbergasted, still wondering why this man wasn't putting all the things he was telling us into practice, I couldn't even speak for the tears. It hit me so hard: we can be proud as much as we want, put on a good face for the world, make promises to God that in the future we'll change and feel more or less okay with ourselves, but if we're not keeping the commandments, not doing what's right, the only people we're hurting our ourselves and our loved ones.

That man's daughter, 15 year-old Ingris, deserves to be able to ask her Dad for a blessing.

I hope that something in what we said touched the brother's heart. But, more than anything, I pray that the same Spirit that made me cry so hard makes him feel the compassion I felt for his daughter, his wife, everyone.

Please. Let us just be humble, repent, do what's right.

And I want to thank my dad, with every fiber of my heart, for ALWAYS being there, always worthy to exercise his priesthood and protect us.

Random Details from the Week

Detail 1: On Sunday I left the keys inside the house, and we didn't know how we were going to get in. While I was still scratching my chin wondering if the answer was written on the window, my companion told me to make a step with my hand, stepped in it, and literally climbed up the door, jumped down inside the patio, picked the lock on the second door, and got us in. From now on, she is called Sister Spiderman.

Detail 2: Missionary work sometimes involves teaching basic geography. ´´Did you know Jesus Christ came to the Americas?¨ my companion asked a mother and daughter we were teaching in our first visit. They both nodded. She paused, looked at me, and asked the question again. Another nod. Sometimes people answer yes to this question because they're not listening, but these ladies were definitely paying attention. ¨Do you know where the Americas are?¨ was my companion's follow up question. A pause... And I pulled out my map. In the end, they both learned what continent we live in and seemed to grasp why it would be important for them to read the Book of Mormon. We find out tomorrow if the younger lady read her assigned part.

Detail 3: Remember when I told you about our awesome ward mission leader? Well, I finally figured out who his secret girlfriend is. I told him I had seen the love in their eyes when they innocently greeted each other after Sacrament Meeting. His smile to hear that gave it all away... and he revealed to us that he's bought her engagement ring and will be asking her to marry him - not on Feb. 14 as planned, but on Saturday, when they go to the temple. We've already gotten permission to go on this ward temple trip as missionaries, so I can promise you that the recent converts will have spiritual experiences AND my companion and I will be gushing all the bus ride home :)


We only had two investigators in church this Sunday, a big drop from the 11 of last week, but we're determined to get Satan out of our investigator's lives so they can come next week.

The highlight of the Sabbath day was actually that we, with the rest of the ward members who wanted to stay after church, got to witness the setting apart of a missionary. His name is Martin Valdez, and he should be en route right now, actually, to the MTC. He's assigned to the Salt Lake City Central mission.

It's super rare that someone from Guatemala goes to the States, I've only heard of one other person recently, but it makes sense for this kid. They live in a beautiful mansion and have visited the US and Canada multiple times because his dad is a gerente (I think that's like president) of a giant banana farm. (Yes, you guys in the States are probably eating some of the bananas from right here in Guatemala, they work with Dole, Del Monte, and Chiquita.)

But aside from their massive fortune and the fact that Martin is like a piano prodigy and already knows a lot of English, they're really humble people who serve in the church in every capacity - example: the mom just got released from the stake young women's president and can now be found every Sunday mopping the chapel floor. They're not afraid to get their hands dirty, and have helped a lot of poorer families send their missionaries off. It was beautiful to see Martin get set apart by his dad, with his two grandpas helping out. They also read a letter from his older brother, who has been serving in Argentina for the last year and a half. I definitely cried.

The mission is the best thing any youth can do with their time. If someone who is reading this is thinking about going, do it. It will NOT be easy, on the contrary, it will be hard. But it is supposed to be. If it wasn't, how would we ever learn anything about Christ, or get to be the people he wants us to be?

I love you all, and send you hugs and smiles from Guatemala.


Hermana Ison (Victoria)

P.S. I do not have parasites. This email is titled like it is because the nurses came to talk to our zone on Tuesday about how we should be careful around pigs and remember to wash our hands all the time so we don't get parasites. It made me laugh, because when I got here they divided Pajapita in three parts, and the area they assigned my companion and I to work in is called La Playa, which means The Beach.

It's not anything at all near the beach, but is named that because there's a TON of sand. The streets are more like gravel driveways with tons of sand poured on top. One day we will make sand castles and take a picture to show you. (Probably not.)

Anyway, in this area everyone is immensely poor and pigs run free in the streets. (There are actually more of them than there are stray dogs, and there are a lot of stray dogs). There are pink pigs, white pigs, black pigs, pigs with big floppy ears pigs with curly tails, etc. It feels like the county fair.

The day before the nurses told us this, my companion petted one of our investigator's pig and helped wipe the sand out of its eyes. ... It goes without saying that she will not be doing that again. Though we do sometimes joke with people that we'll give their pigs a bath to make them let us in the door :)

Anyway, love you all, take care, and stay WARM!