Monday, March 24, 2014

Week 57: Coming at You from Tecun Uman

Hey guys,

This week was amazing! And, to top it off, today we went to the Mexican border for P-day! It's a wonderful life. 

Here's three experiences. 


Last night, we were walking toward an appointment when we saw this guy sitting on his front step holding a new born baby in his arms. I make a point of contacting all men who demonstrate interest and love for their families in public, so we went over to meet him.

Turns out Mynor Sr. is a member; he was baptized with his grandma when we was 13 but stopped going to church four years later because he started working on Sundays. Mynor Jr. was born 24 days ago and is the first boy in a family of two older girls. 

While we were talking, the wife came out, plus their two daughters and her sister. We talked about the Book of Mormon and had a really nice little lesson, except for when everyone stopped paying attention to what my companion was saying because a dog and a pig passed by, growling and screaming, respectively. I didn't know dogs torture pigs, but this one does, and the mean hound chased a huge, black, muddy big right through the middle of our lesson! Seriously, they ran in between the investigators and us! I think the pigs touched my knees! It was an experience.

That lesson was also interrupted twice by a stray soccer ball, and one other time by a car that sped super fast right by us on the dusty, rocky driveway road where we were sitting. But in the end the family agreed to a return appointment and accepted their Book of Mormon. All's well that ends well :) 


For a few weeks, we've been teaching on and off a large extended family. All the members live in bamboo and tarp shacks in the same plot of land. They're very, very poor, but good people.

When we first taught them the doctrine of Christ, they refused to accept it because they are afraid of the endure to the end part. They expressed sincere concerns that if they chose to come to church and be baptized, they wouldn't be able to keep it up for long - that it wouldn't be a real change, or that their carnal natures would get the best of them again in the end. 

Nevertheless, one of the dad's brought his son and two nieces to church one time, so we kept teaching them. As we got to know them more, and the lessons got more profound, my companion and I probed to find what it is that really keeps them from accepting the commitments we invited them to do. The majority don't have any vices, they simply don't go to church or pray or anything. We were puzzled as to why they are were resistant to our invitations that they try to change, even when we promised and tried to show them all of the blessings of developing your spirituality and putting Christ in your life.

On Saturday, we had an excruciating, heart-wounding lesson in which we found out why.

I will not tell you all the details, because there's not time and you'd have to have been there and been listening in Spanish to really get it. But I learned something there, and this is something I will share, because it applies to all of us. 

When people told me I was going to Guatemala and be teaching humble people, they always said it with a soft smile, implying that people who live in humble circumstances are also, as the scriptures say, ´poor in Spirit´ and rejoicingly receive the gospel. I have often admired elements of the Guatemalan culture, where many people who are very poor don't seem to feel the weight of their poverty. At times because it's all they know and at times because they learn to be content and happy living as they are. We should all try to be happy, no matter what are circumstances are.

But we should never, ever, settle. And that is what this family we were teaching had done: settled. Settled for the worst of the worst, physically, emotionally, and spiritually too. The matriarch of the family voiced some of the harshest words I had ever heard. She said she knows they're going to hell because they're sinners, that we are better people than them and shouldn't waste our time.

Believe me, we fought a verbal war there, with our hearts and testimonies, trying so hard to get those ideas out of her head. We testified and taught that they are children of God, that he knows and loves them, that He is always aware of them. That they are of huge worth to Him. That he gave up His only child for their sake. The Spirit was present, but the listening hearts weren't prepared. We left on cordial terms, promising them that one day God will send missionaries to them again, because they CAN change, and they are of great worth to them. 

What gets to me the most are the kids, 10, 11, 12 years old. They always run up to us grinning, asking when we're going to take them to church. We had to tell them yesterday that it'll be awhile, because their parents aren't ready yet. I hate to think of the time that is being wasted in these kids' lives, kids whose eyes are so bright. They haven't inherited yet the hopelessness of their parents, people who have become comfortable with failure, who have lost so entirely their sense of self-worth that they view any change as impossible. 

It makes me scared, frankly.

Heavenly Father blessed me with a huge desire to keep fighting, to work for the best, to make goals and meet them. As I've grown, I've learned to loosen up a bit, to be happy where I am. But it's a continual balance to keep.

The warning I want to give now is against conformism. If you're not happy, change. It's that simple. Pray; God really will help you. There is no reason to be satisfied with less than you deserve. Have hope. Things change, and people do too. Even ourselves. 

Anything is possible!

Tears Rolling Down Teenage Cheeks

I think I told you about Luis, the boy whose mom died in a tragic car accident a few weeks ago. He didn't actually progress; I don't know why he doesn't want to go to church.

But his older brother, Darwin, is 18 and will be getting baptized in two weeks, if everything goes well. We had a powerful and humbling first lesson with him in which we testified that Christ isn't just a pretty name. He's a resurrected being who made it possible that families can reunite again. I KNOW that this is true.

And Darwin knows it too. He accepted the invitation to be baptized without hesitation, and when we asked him why, he simply said, ¨Because I want to be with my mom again.¨ 


I don't really have one. 

A conclusion, that is. The mission is an amazing thing. I just want to be God's hands on the Earth, however imperfect a tool I may be, for as long as possible. He lives, and he loves us, and everyone has to come to know that.

And not just know it, but FEEL it.

I've been thinking about my brother, who is straying from the path my family and the church has laid out for him. 

It breaks my heart, because I know how lucky we are to have been born where and when we were. We are so blessed. 

But I understand that coming out here has helped me a whole bunch to know, with 100 percent certainty, that the church is true and the path we're supposed to follow is the only one that leads to happiness. Because it's the path that Jesus Christ has set. The straight and narrow, as the scriptures say. 

To realize this, I had to lose my family, friends, culture, language, pastimes, everything. Sure I was replacing it with something better: being a missionary. But I lost those things, my identity, frankly, in the process.

Now I see that my brother may just be on the path to losing those things too, but in a very different way. I hope that his journey doesn't hurt him too much, and that it leads him back to the same conclusion that this life always leads us to: God lives. And we must obey him. 

I love you, Sam. No matter what.

Week 56: Where Can I Turn for Peace?

Happy St. Patrick's Day!
This holiday is definitively not celebrated in Guatemala, but at least in my district of missionaries we're sporting green today.
This week was special. It involved another fiesty ward council meeting, a trip to the most rural of Guatemala's ruralness, hitchiking again (but always with the elders), four more brand new people in church, talk of brownies, some kneeling family prayers, and my companion's birthday.
Here's just one highlight:
When someone dies in a country without obituaries, they use a pick-up truck outfitted with loudspeakers. You'll be eating dinner or sitting down to watch TV, and suddenly 'Ave Maria' will start playing down the street and you'll stick your head out the street to see the moving annoucement pass by: So-and-so has died and all are invited to the funeral at this time in this place.
This happens for or five times a week, but about two weeks ago a message even sadder than normal was heard: a mother had died in a tragic accident, leaving behind several children ages 5-17. The family lives in our area and we pass by their house everyday, but we didn't visit them until last Tuesday, when one of the young women in the ward was accompanying us and asked if we couldn't stop by with her friend, Luis.
Luis is 15 and when I was met him he was sitting on a rubber tire watching his friends play soccer. He can't join them just yet; he got a little beat up in the car accident - in which his dad was driving and swerved to miss a drunk man that wandered out in the street, leaving the road and causing the death of his mom - and his body needs time to heal.
His soul needs even more time to heal, but we'll get around to that.
We started talking to him about Jesus Christ, but he didn't know very much. We taught him about the miracles the Savior performed, his teachings of peace and tolerance. Then we asked him if he's heard of the Book of Mormon.
Turns out he goes to the school where we gave out the 800 Books of Mormon, and recieved his copy that day. He started trying to think about where it was, when was the last time he had it. Then he remembered, and the cover of a kid who seemed so untouched by a tragedy slid off and suddenly we were seeing a bruised little boy who needs a lot of hugs.
The book was in his backpack the day of the accident. His backpack that was thrown out of the car onto the Guatemalan roadside, at ten o-clock on what should have been any other late night coming back from work with his parents.
I watched the youth playing soccer in the field, but my mind and heart and soul was with Luis, trying to convey to his heart, without words or tears or gestures, that God understands, that everything will be alright, that one day it will stop hurting so much. ¨
¨For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice, yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl, for it shall not a be a human sacrifice, but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice...And this is the whole meaning of the law...Thus mercy can sacrifice the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety.¨ -Alma 34: 10, 14, 16 in the Book of Mormon
Jesus Christ is a God. But he descended from the incomprehensible presence of his Father to come to Earth and suffer every single pain, emotional and physical, that can be suffered. We can not comprehend the Atonement, but in that moment with Luis, I could comprehend that it is the only hope, the only solace when one if faced with terrors and tragedies so horrible.
I don't know exactly how we're going to show Luis that Christ is where he can turn for peace. When you're 15 and have never really belonged to any church, you tend to look for the answers in other places. (For example, yesterday he went to the beach with his girlfriend's family instead of coming to church.) But that's where we come in, as missionaries, I suppose. To help him feel the Spirit of God and grow the pocket of faith that he has.
Everything really will be alright. That's what we promised him.
And that's what God promises every single one of us, when we choose to come unto Christ and take advantage of the infinte and eternal sacrifice that has been made for us.
Bueno pues,
Lots of love from Guatemala! Hope it's thawing out over there. I would love some lovely letters... :)
Please take care!
Victoria/Hermana Ison

Week 55: Repent Ye, Repent Ye

Hey all,

How's life in the States?


For a while now, I've been wanting to train another new missionary, but they haven't given me a second ´hija.´ It's probably for the better though, because I think I've become so accustomed to being in Guatemala that I'm turning into a 'chapina'. I would probably freak out a new American missionary too much.

I've been thinking about this in part because my 'mom', or the sister missionary who trained me when I first got to the field, finishes her mission this transfer. I literally can not believe that so much time has passed... I remember our first days together as if they were yesterday.

But it's true, and I bet if I could stand face to face with the thought-she-knew-it-all Hoosier girl who got here a year ago, I would see how much I've changed.

And not just me: this week, the convert, Yosselin, that I always talk about, was passing through Pajapita and stopped by to visit me. She radiates light and hope and is thouroughly happy. Her grandma got baptized last week and her brother has been going to church. She's working hard in the Young Women organization with her calling as second counselor and gave a talk in church a couple weeks ago. She told me straight out: she's never been as happy as she is now.

I think about how all this came about because one dark night when my companion's back was hurting we decided to rest on a rock and I got up to talk to a man that passed by. He was Yosselin's dad. Now, six months later, his daughter has found her individual worth and is working her own miracles there in San Martin.

The worth of souls is great. Every action has a reaction. And God is so good.

The Second Principle of the Gospel
So I've been thinking a lot about repentance lately, because it seems to be the biggest challenge for all our investigators, and for us as people and missionaries.

We usually think about repentance in really simple terms, like how we teach it to kids: ¨Oops, I yelled at my mom. I should probably tell her I'm sorry and try not to do it again.¨ We repent from having been dishonest or made a work mistake, little things, errors that we don't want to committ again but pretty much keep committing anyway.

But repentance also has to do with big things: recognizing that moving in with your boyfriend isn't the best choice and choosing to move out or get married. Forgiving someone who you've held a grudge against for years and years. Starting the habit of praying everyday when you've never done it before.

Those examples represent the kind of repentance that is more than simply avoiding committing sins or mistakes that everybody recognizes as such.

I like how the Gospel Dictionary puts it, ¨Repentance comes to mean a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined. Without this there can be no progress in the things of the soul’s salvation, for all accountable persons are stained by sin and must be cleansed in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.¨

There are a ton of people who repent for their daily sins (getting angry, sleeping in too much, eating unhealthily) but who are super resistent to making any major change in their lives.

That's why, I think, it's so important to grow faith in Christ first.

The Role of the Atonement

My companion and I have noted two prominent reasons why people don't repent:

- pride
- lack of faith in themselves
People who don't want to repent for the first reason simply don't want to admit that they're wrong. They were afraid to commit to marriage so they just moved in with the guy next door because it was easy and it's true that everyone is doing it. They got offended when they were victims of other peoples' sins and stopped coming to church when those around them didn't handle it right. It makes me sad to write more examples.

But these are people who really need to learn about the nature of God. They need to know - and FEEL - that God is their Father. Who loves them. Who has given commandments to help guide us through this confusing life and get back to his presence. They need to know that living life as He has instructed us is the very best way to be happy. They need to know - and, again, FEEL - that it doesn't matter what we've been through, or what we've suffered, we're not better than the Son of God, who suffered it all. If we humble ourselves and do His will, he will bless us. (See Mosiah 2: 17-26, the scripture that most helped me to figure this out and feel the endless love of God, even if it is a little harsh, it's beautiful and true.)

People who don't want to repent for the second reason are scared. They fear God and know that he lives but maybe aren't familiar with his mercy. They don't want to start going to church or commit to being baptized because they worry that the change wouldn't be permanent in their lives. They feel like the ´natural man´ will get the better of them in the end, that they'd be too lazy to get up and go to church after a few months of being a member, that they'd start drinking again, or that they'd get distracted by Satan's flashy temptations and lose the ground they'd won in terms of their spiritual progress.

I love teaching these kinds of people a lot more, because they just need to know and feel how inclined the Savior is to forgive. He is endlessly merciful with us while we're living in this life. He gives us so many chances, and never holds a grudge. (See Moroni 6:8). I think about the Sacrament, the church's disciplinary process, how even excommunication can be a way to receive perdon and forgiveness from the Lord, in some special cases.

In conclusion, I know that we are infinitely happy when we repent. The Lord loves us and wants us to return to live with him. He gave everything he had for us.

We all need to repent in one way or another. And we will all be happier for having done it - of that, I testify. (Because I've lived it too - missionaries make lots of mistakes, or harbor bad attitudes, etc.)

So I invite you and me, with all the energy of my heart: Let's repent, and let's please not let Christ's loving sacrifice go to waste.

Love you lots! (He loves you more.)

Until next week,

Hermana Victoria Ison
Guatemala Retalhuleu Mission

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Week 54: Book of Mormon Stories

Epic P-Day

Today we went to a Mayan Ruin site about an hour and a half from our area, and it was very interesting. We learned that there are still people who practice some of the Mayan rituales (nothing violent, just ceremonial fires and prayers) and that, in 2012 when everyone thought the world was going to end, those people came to this site (part tourist museum, part acheological work site, part hallowed ground) and watched the sun rise and thanked their version of God for a new millenium. It was peaceful to put my feet there for a little while.

858 Books

Last Tuesday was the activity where we gave Books of Mormon to every student in a giant high school-like institution in our town. Going classroom by classroom. we showed them all the five-minute video that can be found at the following link:

I would like to invite everyone who reads this to watch it, because it's beautiful and accurate. Also, it has London in it. :)

Then, for the last 40-minute block of the day, all the 800-some students were assembled in the basketball court of the school. Our mission president spoke, made everybody laugh, and committed them all to be like Nefi, not murmur, and read four pages a day. It was marvelous.

I got assigned to write the article we're going to submit to the Liahona about it, so that afternoon was even more of a whirlwhind for me. It was a combination of all the things I love: being a missionary, being a student and teacher, being a journalist. Oh, and singing in the choir! But I'm not sure yet if that goes in the list of things I love :)

Anyway, with all those things going on and all those identities in that moment, I didn't really know how to act or what to think. But I remember, in a moment when President was talking, looking out on the crowd, seeing the kids laugh and page through their scriptures, and just looking up at the open sky, seeing the rays of the setting sun through the clouds, and know God was looking down on Pajapita.

Maybe it's not how the Lord would have gone about making his restored gospel known to today's youth, but we are his imperfect hands here on this earth. And he was with us in this project, just like he is in ever lesson we teach or step we take if, that is, we look for him.

I know that God is a real being, with a glorified and perfect body of flesh and bone. Jesus Christ is his son, an equally perfect ressurrected being. They live far away, in a place inaccessible to us right now, but they love us and take care of us, guiding us with the influence of their Holy Spirit and the prophet they have called to prepare the world for Christ's second coming. It is by that same Holy Spirit that we come to know that Thomas S. Monson and the other men who have served in this dispensation are NOT false prophets, but are called of God and are fulfilling ancient prophesies. Prophesies that are found in the Bible, and weren't written just to be pretty words.

To Be Continued

There are so many things I would like to say to you: how the picture of Christ's Atonement was painted on my eyelids all Sunday morning, how two back-to-back testimony meetings made for a Spirit so strong it's impossible to describe, how a child in a tree guided us to a glowing family really excited to come to church, how a less active member named Hope spontaneously invited us to lunch, how I threw up in the street with four other missionaries and the stake president and his wife as witnesses and then laughed about it, how I got to divisiones with a sister from Peru and we talked about Christ all day, how we taught a woman who had never heard of the Trinity before, and mostly, how I just so much do love being a missionary...!

But today there wasn't even time to eat lunch or buy groceries. We hitchhiked in two trucks, one that sells water and one that was painted purple. (But you don't have to worry, Dad, I was respectively with 27 and 7 other missionaries.) Anyway, we have to go because we will be teaching a family about the repentance process in just a few minutes!

Please make the best choices, the ones that will make you eternally happy!


Sister Ison