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: https://www.lds.org/youth/video/because-of-him?lang=eng. 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,