Monday, June 16, 2014

Week 67: Like it Should Be

Hello friends and family,

This week was a great one! Because we petted a day old calf! And, the real reason... because Cristel got baptized. :)

Cristel is 9 years old and pretty poor. Her grandma is a very, very faithful member who got baptized about 4 years ago. Her many married children are in various stages of accepting or rejecting the gospel. Cristel's mom and dad are as far off as can be; they stayed in bed sleeping instead of coming to their daughter's confirmation. But the mom came to the baptism at least, along with Cristel's less active aunts and uncles, so that's a step in the right direction.

Anyway, Cristel is super cute. She's the oldest of her four siblings and helps out a lot around the house. She doesn't do super well in school, but she really made an effort to understand the things we taught her and read the pamphlets and scripture passages we left her. Her grandma drilled her on the steps of the repentance process, the substances prohibited by the Word of Wisdom, and the 10 commandments. By the day of her baptismal interview, she had it all memorized! I think the elder who interviewed her walked away astounded.
A mini miracle: The day before her baptism, Cristel had a fever and a lot of mouth pain. The day of her baptism, she woke up even worse, thanks to a cavity in one of her baby teeth molars that was infected. As we are in Guatemala, the solution was that her 19-year-old aunt pulled the tooth out for her. I don't know if they used anesthesia or anything, but it wouldn't surprise me to hear that Cristel didn't cry either way. She showed up to her baptism a few hours later, face completely swollen, but smiling. We asked if it hurt. ¨Not anymore,¨she said, shrugging her shoulders and running over to see the white dress she would put on for her baptism.

It was a beautiful service, for a beautiful child of God.

On Sunday we had a miracle too! But it started on Wednesday, when some missionaries from another area contacted a teenager who lives in our area, really close to our house, actually. We tried to contact him throughout the week but only managed to speak to him on the phone. Saturday night we invited him to church, Sunday morning we passed by... and he came!

He stayed for the whole three hours, really liked it, and was fellowshipped by Gaspar, who was baptized only two months ago but already feels so at home that he was explaining everything to Ryan and inviting him to institute. It was like the most beautiful scene in the world: Gaspar with his white shirt and tie, hand on Ryan's shoulder, gesturing to the church hallway and bearing his testimony. So beautiful. Like ice cream with sprinkles on top.

We visited Ryan after church on Sunday and he has a bunch of doubts about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. It'll be fun to teach him! :)

Well, I've got to go! But I love you guys a lot. Thanks for reading my emails, and thanks for all your efforts to follow Jesus Christ in your own lives, wherever you are. Jesus is our captain, our king. I am so grateful for his sacrifice. He lives.


Hermana Victoria Ison

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Week 66: It Was Exactly the Same

Greetings to everyone in the homeland! 

Here's a slightly more artsy sketch of this past week:

SanSe: Land of Traditional Skirts

A woman wearing the typical clothing of this part of Guatemala was trying to carry several big bags and some long black plastic electrical tubes into a building that was once a store and is now the courtyard of a house. We stopped to help her, but she gave us a wary look, as most people, especially those who wear the traditional clothing, do.

Then her grandson came out and kindly accepted our help and that was how we got inside. Once there, we camped out on some plastic chairs and a wet hammock and started to get to know the 63 year-old woman, Leonor Isabel. 

Turns out that she doesn't know how to read, but has everyone of the 10 commandments memorized. Her dad was a faithful Seventh-day Adventist, her mom not so much. After we got on the roof to help some construction workers tie down some metal poles, she laughed and warmed up to us. She gave us some soda and started to cry: her mom died seven days earlier.

Sometimes I look at people who are living lives so different than mine and just wonder what they're thinking. But when her tears came down, I knew. I knew what it was like to feel angst toward someone and then lose them, and then repent of all the times you didn't tell them how much they meant. I knew that she is my sister, and behind her traditional clothes and hairdo, we are the same. My companion felt it too, because it was the Spirit of God teaching it to us. I hope our love, and the love God has for our sister, Leonor Isabel, came across in the hugs we gave her.

Two days later, we went to help her make tamalitos for the celebration that marks nine days after the passing of a loved one. I don't know what I'd imagined, a kitchen space with a big pot over a fire and Leonor Isabel there. That wasn't exactly it. Instead, we walked in to find six women, all in the traditional clothing, gathered around the many pots that were there, spooning tamal mix into palm fronds and wrapping them up.

At first, they were all giving us that well-known wary look. They spoke to each other in kiche, the traditional language, and we didn't know what they were saying. But as we went straight to work and begin to win their confidence, they started making jokes about dressing us in the traditional clothing and keeping us there as their daughter in laws. All in good fun, we played along. 

Lapsing into a moment of silence, I looked around me and felt peace. I remembered all the times I've been gathered around in kitchens with my mom and grandmas and aunts, preparing meals for special days. Joking about family members, teasing the cousins that pass through the room, reflecting on the years gone by.... 

Two different continents, two different cultures, two very different lives. But right then, right there, for this LDS missionary serving in Guatemala, it was exactly the same. 

And I know that it is the same. We may look different, we make act different, but in the end, we all just want to be loved. We want to know that someday our Heavenly Father will reach out and let us come running into his arms, and tell us ¨Come, my child, job well done.¨

I know that he will, if we are faithful to him. And I will do everything I can as a missionary to cross these cultural, linguistical, and social boundaries and make Leonor Isabel and all my traditional sisters know what I for so long recited every Sunday in Young Women: ¨We are daughters of our Heavenly Father who loves us and we love him.¨

SanSe: Land of Hard Hearts

This week has been difficult, in a way. The goal in the mission is to be teaching, at any given time, five complete families (in other words, the mom, dad, and kids all together.) For a little while, we had six. Four of those families could be mine, I love them so much. As we've taught them the lessons, we've come to know them. We've seen their challenges and weaknesses, and also their faith and strength. We have prayed and fasted for them. 

But this week, we had to drop all of them. For one reason or another, they're not ready to progress. Carlos and Myrna won't come to church. Norma and Juan are so caught up in her pregnancy they aren't making time for God. Carlos left his wife, Juana, and Juana always says she'll come to church but never does. Carmen and Juan are too afraid of changing to even come to a Family Home Evening in one of the members' homes. 

It breaks my heart, literally. But as I learned this week in an exchange with a new missionary from Texas, we have to trust in God. As human beings - and even as missionaries, endowed and set apart with the power of God - we will never be able to change hearts on our own. We have to trust that God will do it, in his own good time. 

And I know he will. 

Evidence: We got word two weeks ago that a family we worked with when I was training Hermana Avendano, Rosario and Jose, were finally married and baptized. Writing their whole story would take three days worth of internet time, but the point is: it's a miracle. It required I don't know how many sets of missionaries and a lot of patience from members, but it's proof:  God always does his part.

SanSe: Land of Volcano Views

So, on Sunday morning I was feeling kind of down because we'd traipsed through a muddy cornfield to get to one of our investigator's houses, only to hear that they weren't going to come to church. AGAIN. Knowing this meant dropping the last of my supposedly golden families, I felt kind of crummy. Walking with my head down (not so much to see where I was going as we crossed a small brook but more out of sadness and frustration), the Lord sent one of his tender mercies: the Holy Ghost, reminding me of my mother's parting words, reminding me to remember where and who I am.

So I looked around, and, more importantly, I looked up. To a gorgeous view of two volcanoes sillhoutted against the sunrise. The birds chirped, the cows grazed, and, seeing it all, I remembered to be grateful. Who else gets to go hiking in the morning before church? When else in my life will I get to take in this sights like this?

Zooming out to see things from the eternal perspective, I realized only having children as investigators in church again wouldn't be the end of the world. All in good time...All in God's time. 

SanSe: The Perfect Land for Me

To conclude, I am ridiculously happy, as always. There's ups and downs in mission and normal life, but it's just the way God teaches and gently, proddingly reminds us, to be like his son, Jesus Christ.

People keep reminding me that my mission ends soon. There's nine more weeks, if you want to know. 

I think.... how that's an elementary school grading period. So much can happen in that time, and yet how fast it passes. It's funny how different a single span of time can be, how many different things it can include. How once a ten-year-old chubby girl studied indeginous cultures for nine weeks, and now a tall, white gringa in skirts walks among people who are not just pictures in books, loving them with her whole heart, hoping to be God's hands here on this earth for at least nine more weeks.

I love you all and wish you the best, wherever you are on this, God's good earth.

Tori/Hermana Ison