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