Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas In Ecuador

Everybody thank you so much for the Christmas well-wishes and cards!! I'm going to try to send all of you cards back...hopefully they don't get lost in the mail.
I don't remember if I've already talked about this or not, but a little about Ecuadorian Christmas Traditions, as I understand them:
-Actually, a lot of it is very similar to the US. They have trees, for instance, and put all the presents underneath them, dress them with ornaments...the only big difference I've seen is that they are ALWAYS fake. If Mr. Armstrong did his fake tree vs. real tree question, there wouldn't be a single hand raised for the real trees. It's a travesty.
-Also, Santa Claus, or Papa Noel, is pretty much the same, too. I even heard some kids singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in Spanish the other day. I don't know what I was expecting, but not so much of the same! But it feels comfortable, and that's good.
-The one big difference I know of is that everything happens the night before, the 24th. The custom, as I know it, is to have a big dinner at midnight, complete with turkey. (I'm remembering a funny experience I had when in my last sector we brought a recent convert family to help teach some investigator relatives. Their goal was to go to the temple in a year, which is awesome, and the one recent convert was like, "Yeah, get baptized, and we'll all get sealed and be eating turkey in the temple next Christmas!" I don't think it quite works like that but if it helps them with their goal, hey.) I believe they open their presents that night as well. And so the 25th is pretty much a normal day.
For us, as missionaries, we have a lot of rules for these two days. First of all, our p-day was changed to today (that's why I'm writing today). And we have to be in our house at 6:00 PM, and can't leave. That unfortunately means we can't go eat with any members or anything, but there are some members who are going to drop us off some food, which is FANTASTIC. We can stay in our house and study and whatnot. Actually, my companion and I were probably the only people excited to hear that. My plan is to finish the Book of Mormon again and start the New Testament. Likewise, tomorrow, we have to be in the house at 5:00. Between that, the fact that we have a district meeting in the morning, and the calls we get to make to our families, we're not doing anything these two days. But we ARE studying. So, I guess that's something.
He Sent His Son
And so I'd like to share a bit with all of you about Christmas. First, check out this awesome video if you haven't seen it yet: (And it's a good thing I didn't accidentally send you the Spanish link.)
Our whole mission was a little late to the party on this initiative, but for the few days when I can do it, I'm going to. It's an awesome video that reminds us of the real meaning of Christmas.
The other day I listened to the song "He Sent His Son" on my iPod. Here it is for you, as well:

It's absolutely beautiful, to me. As I listened to it, the words really struck me. How COULD the Father show the world how much he loves us? How CAN we know what path we need to take, the people we need to be, the purpose of this life? How can we find true peace and joy?
The Lord didn't work in a great cataclysm, cause the Earth to shake in fear, send forth torments and plagues to show us the way. He gave us a child, the simplest and most beautiful of all creations.
 Alma 37:6: Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
And so it is that in John 3, it says:
 16 ¶For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
God loves us. He knows each and every one of you individually and wants to help you, and always will. He gave us His Son to show us the way, because He loves us so.
Christ was the only perfect being to have walked the Earth. He showed us the way to walk, the way of love for God and for one's neighbor. He founded a church to guide us and give us a place to learn more of Him and how we can be like Him. What does the Father ask? Be like His son.
I know that by following Christ we can find true joy in our lives. He is my brother and my Savior. I know that He suffered and died for our sins so that we could all live again. I know that only through accepting Him and His sacrifice can we find the peace that we seek, the gift of love for others, the relief from all the sorrow and sadness we feel in this life. I want to add my voice to what the prophet Joseph Smith said so simply and powerfully in D&C 76:
 22 And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him:
That he lives!
I know that He lives. The way the Father has showed us His love is through His son. And so, I hope that whoever you are in whatever situation you find yourself you can take a momento to think about this. That you can take a moment to Discover this gift, and Accept it.
In particular I'd like to challenge you to read 3 Nephi 11. This is one of the most powerful chapters of the Book of Mormon. Also, I'd like to really fast link you to a talk by Elder Holland I found on the front page of the Church website. It's an awesome talk.

So, have a Merry Christmas! Remember, in the midst of all the gifts and Christmas Specials that you can find joy by loving someone else and serving them. As a missionary I get to do it every day and I've never found such exquisite joy. As Lehi in 2 Nephi 2, I feel:
 Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.
 Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.
 Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth...
I love you all! Until next week!
Our Christmas pile. Sadly, my companion's Christmas package is STILL locked up in customs...we decided not to go today down to Quito to get it because the traffice would've been horrific, but hopefully next Monday...

The Zone!

From left to right, my current trainer (step-dad), me, some guy, a guy who's being trained by my old trainer (step-brother), and my old trainer (dad). We have a happy little "family" here in the mission. 

A pic of me with our awesome mission president and his wife!

We do "tours" to show investigators and less-actives the chapel so they can get a feel of what it's like before attending on Sundays. This time we had fun and did an end-of-tour pic with a frame we found. This is one of my favorite families...they gave us some candies for Christmas. Awesome! I'm going to get their kids personal mini-hymnbooks because they always fight over mine and Elder McPhie's in Sacrament Meeting.

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