Monday, July 21, 2014

Week 71: Purple and Orange Roses

A Tender Mercy for Tired Eyes

The two year-old was maybe two feet tall and making the cutest scene I'd ever seen: in the middle of the church hallway floor, with a full-sized long-haired mop, trying his very best to mop the floor.

Someone made a comment about it, and hearing it, his four year-old brother, who was just a little taller, came to take over. When I turned the corner on the way to utility closet, I walked past the reason and root of all this brotherly love: the father of the two sons, mop and bucket in hand, cleaning the church.

In a culture where so few men can be caught doing household chores, and where the majority of men I meet day after day teach their sons how to drink and watch TV and talk bad about women, it was a ray of golden sunlight to see this simple family in the aftermath of the other ward's activity. It made me realize how much a father can influence his whole family and how doing simple, humble things can make a big difference. I know these children will grow up to be gentlemen and missionaries, simply because because they have a father who, smiling on a Saturday morning, mops the floor.

Favorite Moments from Sunday Church

This week Gabi didn't go to church because she didn't have any shoes. I don't know if she's going to school either. 

A recently married couple was assigned to give the talks. He came wearing a tie that matched her dress, but what most impressed me was the profound sprituality of their talks. She spoke about sexual purity, and he about having integrity for the commandments of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The convert elder's quorum president is usually very gruff and, when he gives the class in Sunday School, often sounds more like an Evangelical preacher than a humble Latter-Day-Saint seeking the Sprit's guidance. This week though, the Spirit broke through. When he talked about his son in the mission, he broke down crying. I thought grown men don't cry (but I still remember that there's a country song about that!)

Please tell my father that he has a twin here in Guatemala. Everyone who sees the pictures of my family compares him to a member of the high council here. There was even a Primary kid this week who was convinced I was his kid. 


This week I read almost all of the book of 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, and it has suprised me how many times the Lord urges us to read the scriptures.Seriously! I would look up all the references, but there's not time. 

This week we also went to visit a woman who was baptized in December, but who almost immediately stopped coming to church because of comments her family made. She also didn't read the scriptures because, like most people in this part of Guatemala, she has a super low reading comprehension. I was so full of feelings in that lesson, I just wanted to burst! If only she could read what I have read! If only she could know of the words that all of the prophets have written, crying and praying and looking ahead to people like her, who would need them.

One of the counselors in the bishopric stood up on Sunday and said, "This week, I repented, because I had been spending too much time reading my law books for the university and was neglecting the scriptures. Is it possible that Guatemalan law will be important to us in heaven? Obviously not. We should seek first the kingdom of God." 

It's so true! I LOVE the scriptures. There's something in them for everyone. If I could do anything for the country of Guatemala, I would just open a zillion libraries and make reading a cool thing. Bookshelves are a very rare sight here. So it's not surprising the scriptures get shunned. But it's still dissapointing. Becuase it's the word of GOD, who is our Father. 

I challenge each and every one of you to open your scriptures this week, every single day. And I promise you that if you do it, the windows of heaven will open and you will feel a little more of the peace that comes from God. 

Until next week!

Love you always,
Hermana Ison

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Week 70: Three Weeks Left (and my companion is counting it down)

Hello, world!

I am feeling fine and fresh today! Our zone got invited to the mission home for Pday today; we watched a movie and had lunch and played volleyball in the sand all afternoon, and it was oh so relaxing! How nice it is to sift sand between barefoot toes after walking around in dress shoes all week.

Speaking of feet, I thought of you all during Sacrament Meeting yesterday when I noticed and wanted to share this one detail: the brother serving as the usher at the door to the chapel had on a holely white tshirt with a tie painted on it. And he didn't have on any shoes. 

I noticed his big hairy toes standing out against the tile floor as we walked in with the investigators, and thought, "Good! This is how it's supposed to be." How many times, as missionaries, do we tell people that it doesn't matter what clothes they have on as long as what they have in their heart is a desire to worship God? Finally, someone understood. Now, this man has been a member for awhile, and I do believe the bishopric noticed the situation and found someone to give him some shoes after the meeting. That's how it's supposed to be, Christian kindness in action! But it made me think of Alma's words to the poor among the Zoramites in Alma 32-34 in the Book of Mormon. It's good to be humble. It doesn't matter what we wear to church, as long as it's our best.

And we go to church for God, not for any other reason. If we stay home because we're worried about what people would think of us, that's pride and a lack of faith in the Lord, who loves us unconditionally and is the only one who really matters. 

One of the less active girls we brought to church on Sunday got to live that learned lesson firsthand. We went to her house to wake her up before church in the morning, and she got up very obediently and got ready. She was sleeping in jeans and a tshirt on a mattress on the concrete floor of her family's one room house. To get ready, she washed her face and changed her jeans, but then she came out, embarrassed. "Sisters," she told us, "I don't know what to do, I don't have any other shirt but this one and it's got stains," gesturing to the bleach spots on the front.

In that moment, I knew why Gabi hadn't come to church any of the other Sundays before when we had come to wake her up, and I repented from having assumed that she just didn't want to get up early. We gave her a great big hug and told her God would not be worried about her shirt. She went inside and came back out again with her hymnbook, which she carried in front of her, hiding the stains, all the way to the chapel.

I love 14-year-old Gabi Ramos.

In Other News...

They say that the end of the mission is always full of challenges. I didn't believe it before, but now that I'm passing through all of them, I can't say it's not true. Satan wants me to go crawling home, but what he doesn't know is that I will endure to the end with a smile on my face, and my back straight, all the way to the airplane!

Challenge Number 1: Dengue

Never in my mission have I had to stay inside and rest from being sick. I've gotten sick, but God has always blessed me to be able to rest during the time allotted in the schedule to rest, and I've been able to proselyte during proselyting hours. I wanted to do the same with dengue fever, and happily ignored my companion's warnings that I should rest!

Well, I made it through 6 days without dying, but when we got to the district meeting on Tuesday and the mission nurse was there, I just collapsed on her shoulder, defeated. They took me to do a blood test, and low and behold, I had half the white blood cells a normal person should have. Which meant a day and a half of proselyting lost resting in bed, drinking this gross hydrating water stuff called Suero every two hours. (The coconut flavor doesn't actually taste too bad, if you drink it cold.) I missed my mom a lot, and watching movies on Grandma Ison's couch.

My companion steadily refilled all my water bottles with an "I told you so" smile on her face. She taught and told me, rather forcefully, that we should not be prideful. Sometimes our bodies just get sick, and like it or not, we have to take care of them. 

Afterwards, Heavenly Father taught me that I have to remember that all flesh is in his hands. On Friday, the first day we could proselyte normally, we saw so many miracles, had lots of lessons with members present, and found six new investigators! 

I know that if we are patient in our afflictions - even more patient than we think we need to be - the Lord will do the rest. Doctrine and Covenants 100:15, "Therefore, let your hearts be comforted, for all things shall work together for good to them that walk uprightly, and to the santification of the church."

Challenge Number 2: Baptisms

So, it's really cool when missionaries go out with a bang. My trainer finished her missions seeing six converts being baptized in her last month alone. I wanted to give that kind of a gift to the Lord.

But it looks like He has other plans for me. 

We're having the hardest time getting people to come to church. Try as we might, try whatever we can...nobody much seems interested. It's been like that for a few weeks. And then, this week, there came a new challenge:

Never in my mission had I had to tell someone they could NOT be baptized...until now. 

Remember that miracle person, the boyfriend of a church member who came to us one Sunday night saying he wanted to be baptized? Well, turns out he just wants to do it so his girlfriend will marry him. He doesn't actually believe that Joseph Smith saw Jesus Christ in a vision or that the Book of Mormon is true. But as his girlfriend won't marry him if he's not a member, he's trying to manipulate the system.

We had kind of an ugly lesson with him in the room with the baptismal font, which ended in us proclaiming, "God will not be mocked!" He was trying to give us an ultimatum that he had to be baptized on Sunday, "yes or yes." But we patiently explained that there is an order to the things, that this is the true church, and that he will recieve his own testimony if he searches dilligently and prays with faith. 

So, he's reading a chapter of the Book of Mormon a day, and we're praying hard for him. 

Challenges Numbers 3, 4, and 5

I don't have time to tell you them, and you don't want to know anyway! Just trust that life in the mission is good and glorious, as always, because it is. Carrying Christ's name on my chest is the greatest privelege anyone could have, and I have made myself the promise to honor this sacred responsibility with the necessary gratitude and love, all the way until the very last second.

Mom will be sending you details of the Travelouge we're going to do when I get home. Until then and always, I welcome your prayers for the people of San Sebastian, Retalhuleu, Guatemala! 

There is a God above, and he has all the time in the world for each and every one of us. 

Hasta pronto,
Hermana Ison

Monday, July 7, 2014

Week 69: Jungle Fever

Dear Family and Friends!

Hope you had a great Fourth of July! I live in a house with three Latin sisters, so my celebrations were limited to putting on red, white and blue clothes and eating banana pancakes that one of the sisters from Honduras coincidentally made. But it was awesome, though, because I spent the day doing what I love...being a missionary!

So I've packaged the events of this week in a different way this time around, hope it make sense!

To demonstrate that we do new things every day, this week:

They canceled the third hour of chruch so we could attend the funeral service of the mom of one of my recent converts. In Guatemala, the funeral procession is all walking, and men carry the casket on their shoulders. In the cementary, it's totally okay to sit and stand and walk all over the graves, and they sell cotton candy and juice to the mourners.

We told an investigator he could not be baptized. N. O. (He wants to do it on Sunday, without having gained a testimony of the restoration, just so his girlfriend won't dump him. I really think a lightning bolt will hit him if he were to try it.)

To demonstrate the depth of apostasy present here in Guatemala, this week:

A woman who blurted out the reason she thinks she can't be baptized: she likes to dance! (Mormons do dance.)

Someone else who told us they previously attended ¨The Church of Shakira.¨ ¨I just couldn't get used to all the dancing and raucous they made there,¨she said.  

To demonstrate the opposition that really is in all things, this week:

After 17 incredibly healthy months, I finally contracted dengue, a mosquito-carried disease that gives you a fever and makes your body hurt and is starting to give me a rash. 

This morning at 5 AM, we experienced a very powerful earthquake! My companion jumped out of bed and pulled me out too, and we went running outside, in case the house were to fall down. It didn't, nor did any nearby houses, so I can't decide if it was cool or scary.

To demonstrate the power of the priesthood present in the restored church, this week:

The blessing the elders gave me for dengue said I would be able to work uninterrupted. So far, it's been absolutely true!

After three of the four missionaries living in the house had very realistic dreams about nightly visitors, the other ward's bishopric dedicated our house. From that point on, all has been tranquil.

To demonstrate the depth of the Lord's love, this week:

When we were walking down an empty street, far from the center of the town, and "our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us" (Alma 26:27, Book of Mormon) and put a service opportunity right in front of us, and we were able to help and teach a brand new, large, family.

When it was Sunday night and raining hard, when we were tired and short on lessons and new investigators, when every door was closed shut and the district leaders were already sending us messages thinking about P-day, we prayed to find a family and the first door that opened was one, a mom and dad and their two daughters, very interested in the gospel!

To demonstrate that miracles do happen, this week:

On Saturday, the ward's second counselor invited us to lunch in his home and gave us each a huge, steaming bowl of chicken soup. "I served you so much," he said, "Because the ward needs you to go out this afternoon and work extremely hard." He told us that the attendance goal for Sunday was 140 people, and he was trusting in us. Well, I'm not sure if it had to do more with us or with the families from out of town who came to see a baby blessed and an elder who finished the mission and brought his family back to say goodbye, but when all was counted up on Sunday the attendance was...140. Not more or less. With 17 less active members present, many of whom  we've been working with. The finishing elders' mom also played the piano, so the congregation didn't have to sing a capella. Woo hoo!!

The previously mentioned funeral procession was very well-attended by ward members, which made me grateful to see their support. Gaspar, a miracle convert, was baptized in April and is the one who went to 4 of the 5 sessions of General Conference beforehand. Well, he hadn't come to church for about three weeks, because his mom had been sick. This week, when she took a very serious turn, we let three ward members know, and before we knew it, ALL of them were going to visit her and Gaspar and their family! I don't know how a unit that almost doesn't have ward councils or home or visiting teachers can mobilize so fast, but they did, and we were sure grateful for it. Because life isn't easy for a new convert, ESPECIALLY when passing through grief like this. But when I saw Gaspar walking in the funeral procession, with two sturdy ward members - worthy priesthood holders, and men who are his friends - gripping his shoulders and walking with him, side by side - I knew that Gaspar will be okay. He has the gospel, the knowledge of the Plan of Salvation, and, most importantly, he has friends to help see him through. It makes me think of Alma's words, describing the baptismal covenant that these two brothers were keeping so clearly, " are desirous to come into thefold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death.¨

May we all keep our convenants, and love one another, and make every day a special one, this week. 

Hermana Victoria Ison

Friday, July 4, 2014

Week 68: God is Our Loving Heavenly Father

Hey all!

This week was pretty special. Here's why:

The Change Meeting

When people who are getting transferred find out their new areas, the new missionaries arriving to the mission bear their testimonies, and we all say goodbye to the ones who're finishing their missions and going home. This all happens on a Wednesday morning every six weeks, in what is known as the change meeting.

We didn't have changes, and I totally didn't want to go (because I've been to the last several ones, and the next time it comes around, I'll be the one going the first week of my last change, I just wanted to go out and visit people, which is what a missionary is for!). But, for being sister leaders, they had us go so we could help keep people reverent and know where all the sisters are going, etc. 

It ended up being a good thing, because the family of one of the APs had come to pick him up from his mission. He sat in between his mom and his dad, translating for them, but his sister was on one side and couldn't hear. My companion noticed and nudged me, so I went over and translated for her. 

¨Oh, thank you,¨ she told me. ¨You don't know how lost I was!¨

It's nice to be needed, and it totally humbled me! Maybe what I wanted to do that Wednesday morning was go out and save the world, in my own way of thinking. But what God wanted me to do was something else, something really simple. I'm grateful to Him for gently reminding me that my will is not His. 

The Closed Area

There's a bunch of new missionaries coming in September, but until then, Mission Reu is short on missionaries! This time around, President had to close five areas, which means there's five wards or branches in mission boundaries that now don't have missionaries where there used to be some. 

Our ward is one of them. Hermanas Rodas y Carcamo, two really good friends, are now elsewhere in the mission, and my companion and I are alone in the ward. It's the first time in the mission that I haven't shared a ward with other missionaries! Totally feeling the weight of responsability. 

But we spent Tuesday night in the rain hurridly learning where the other sisters' investigators live, and then the rest of the week trying to teach them. It's been really fun, actually, the hand off. We've been blessed to get to know some really cool people, and I know God will help us teach them in the way they need. 

The Sister Training Meeting, Talks in Church, Ward Movie Night, and Changing Houses

Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday: everyday a different task! It's rare in the mission that there's so many big things to do all piled up next to each other! I think Heavenly Father is reminding me what life at home is going to be like. I can't say I don't miss those ¨good old days¨ in the mission, days I used to think were boring, weeks of just teaching day in and day out. That's when I learned SO much. But I'm learning a lot now too, learning and loving every single day. There's so many moments where I just stop and thank my Heavenly Father for being where I am. Two years ago I would have said you were crazy if you told me I'd be finishing a mission in Guatemala right now. But now I'm here, without a single doubt in my mind that God lives. He has worked a miracle in my life. And he works miracles every single day. 

I echo Moroni's words, in Moroni 9:19 in the Book of Mormon: ¨And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you that he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.¨

The Best Part

There's one more amazing story I have to tell you.

For a while we've had a hard time bringing people to church. Almost all the less actives and recent converts we're working with are coming, but investigators... not so much. This week just one person came, but it was a miracle, because he was a reference from the other sisters that we hadn't been able to get ahold of all week, but who came by himself to church on Sunday after we invited him that morning at 7:30 a.m. 

Anyway, after church and lunch, before going out to work again, we prayed to Heavenly Father, thanking him that Thomas came, and asking him to help us find someone we could teach who would want to be baptized in July. I remember when I said the words in the prayer, I kind of doubted a bit. Maybe we were asking too much of God. Maybe He had other plans for us... But I asked anyway, halfway trusting that this time, the blessing would come. 

Four hours later, we're walking in the front gate of Cristel's house, when her aunt stops us. ¨Sisters,¨ she says, with tears in her eyes. ¨You're like angel's falling out of the sky for me right now.¨

She proceeds to explain that she and her boyfriend of almost a year were just about ready to go out and look for us. After who knows how many months of listening to different missionaries and going to church activities, but battlings with fears of how his very Evangelical family would react, 20-year-old Kevin has decided to get baptized. He wants to recieve the missionary lessons and prepare himself for July 12th.

It is the answer to the prayer I should have uttered with more faith.

I repeat: God works miracles. He lives. He knows us. He answers prayers. 

I testify that when we humble ourselves and sincerely repent, the blessings come quickly. There's so many more miracle stories I would love to tell you to prove that, but... times' up!

Until next week :)

Hermana Ison