Monday, February 16, 2015

A (Possibly Very Premature) Boot-Eulogy

I think that's how you spell that word. I think I'm going to be completely unintelligble when I get back. Now that I've had a Latino companion I can't speak English nor Spanish competently.

Anyhoo. Transfers are next week, and I'm guessing that I'm going. They change us fairly frequently here in this mission. It's not very common to have a companion for more than one change. Even in the middle of training the switch us around. It happened to me.

And that's what I'm going to write about a little bit. Because looking back I understand, I think, why it was that I had to come here to La Bota.

They say there's two things you should be very careful to pray for: Patience and Humility. Because if you pray for one of those - or worse, both - you're GOING to get it. So it was that one day here in La Bota I remembered that quote and realized that I had been doing exactly that for about a month and that it was for that exact reason that I was here. The epiphany was of that genre of comedy where you have no idea whether to laugh or cry hysterically.

My training was rough. I think it is for every missionary, first of all because of the adjustment. To strange foods that are at times questionable (as to whether it is still living or not), walking in the dust and fending of dogs in unbearable heat - or pouring rain, not understanding a thing anyone says, and coming home only to have to do paperwork before you can finally throw yourself in bed only half-undressed because there wasn't time and your companion is one of those - heaven forbid - obedient ones. For me, the adjustment to all of the work wasn't actually incredibly hard, but for perfectionists the real trouble is in that House of Mirrors like a mentioned last week. And I can tell you, I looked in a lot of distorted mirrors.

I figured out, and my trainer helpèd me figure out, that I needed to take it easy, relax, because if I kept it up I was going to explode. I realized that too and started to pray for patience, patience to get me through until the point when I felt comfortable with myself and my abilities. I don't remember if I started to pray for patience at the end of that first transfer, or in the second, but I do know that it was my main goal for my second transfer. I remember when I learned I was going to leave Moran - we did the nightly call out in the middle of the street because that's where the pay-phone was conveniently located outside our apartment. We learned that the transfers were already coming in and we were told to call back in about 5 minutes. We waited, then called. I don't know what I was expecting, but I do remember my companion listening into the phone that his face lighting up in surprising then him telling me, "You're going to La Bota!"

I was sad to go, but also excited to get to know a new sector. I was also excited as I arrived - my companion was great, we got along incredibly well, and I was ready to work.

Then we got to work and it was incredibly hard.

I'd come from Moran - one of the highest-baptizing sectors in the mission. Here, to La Bota, where we've had only a handful in the past year. We didn't have a ton of people to teach, the sector was tiny and already contacted several times over, and I got sick on top of it. I prayed for patience practically every night and got more and more frustrated as appointments fell through, we had to contact constantly, and I doubted more and more my ability to do this. Many were the times when I looked at the day in front of me and just didn't know how I was going to do it.

It was, as Nick Arvanitas put it, "the desert of my afflictions."

And so it was that one day I realized I had been praying for patience this whole time and that I was here for that very reason.

But the point of all this is now I have a much stronger faith in the Lord. Hope that everything will get better. And a little bit more patience to wait that out. Because this second transfer here I've come to love it! I no longer have so much fear to go out and work. I feel like I can do what needs to be done. And more and more I'm wanting to do it, too! Nothing more than to go out and do the work of the Lord every day. I still have a looong way to go - I often look at the e-mails of other missionaries out there and feel a bit overwhelmed seeing their awesome example. But I'm also more certain I can do it.

We have such a small perspective. How often do we think about how the things we are doing right now, in this tiny moment, will impact us for all of eternity? Maxwell explains it better than I in his talk "But for a Small Moment:"
An eighth trap to be avoided, brothers and sisters, is the tendency we have—rather humanly, rather understandably—to get ourselves caught in peering through the prism of the present and then distorting our perspective about things. Time is of this world; it is not of eternity. We can, if we are not careful, feel the pressures of time and see things in a distorted way. How important it is that we see things as much as possible through the lens of the gospel with its eternal perspectives.
I should like, if I may, to share with you on this point the fine writing of your own A. Lester Allen, a dean and scientist on this campus. This is what I have come to call the “Allen Analogy” about time. Let me read you these lines, if I may. Their application will be obvious. Dean Allen writes:
Suppose, for instance, that we imagine a “being” moving onto our earth whose entire life-span is only 1/100 of a second. Ten thousand “years” for him, generation after generation, would be only one second of our time. Suppose this imaginary being comes up to a quiet pond in the forest where you are seated. You have just tossed in a rock and are watching the ripples. A leaf is fluttering from the sky and a bird is swooping over the water. He would find everything absolutely motionless. Looking at you, he would say: “In all recorded history nothing has changed. My father and his father before him have seen that everything is absolutely still. This creature called man has never had a heartbeat and has never breathed. The water is standing in stationary waves as if someone had thrown a rock into it; it seems frozen. A leaf is suspended in the air, and a bird has stopped right over the middle of the pond. There is no movement. Gravity is suspended.” The concept of time in this imaginary being, so different from ours, would give him an entirely different perspective of what we call reality.
On the other hand, picture another imaginary creature for whom one “second” of his time is 10,000 years of our time. What would the pond be like to him? By the time he sat down beside it, taking 15,000 of our years to do so, the pond would have vanished. Individual human beings would be invisible, since our entire life-span would be only 1/100 of one of his “seconds.” The surface of the earth would be undulating as mountains are built up and worn down. The forest would persist but a few minutes and then disappear. His concept of “reality” would be much different than our own.
That's the most clever way I have seen time and intimations of eternity dealt with. It is very important that we not assume the perspective of mortality in making the decisions that bear on eternity! We need the perspectives of the gospel to make decisions in the context of eternity. We need to understand we cannot do the Lord's work in the world's way.
I just want to testify that the Lord knows us and answers our prayers. He gives us exactly what we need - and sometimes He has to yank us kicking and screaming out of our comfort zones to do so. In fact that's exactly what He does all the time. I know that only through that method we can become who we need to become - and God knows exactly what that is and how to do it. We just need to trust in Him! I'll probably have other hard trials in the future, but I know better now that by relying on him I can get through it. I've loved La Bota and because I'm writing this eulogy I'm probably going to stay here another 3 months or something. Love you all! I'll close with a scripture I love. In this passage Alma and his people are in captivity and in dire straits. So what did they do?

 12 And Alma and his people did not raise their voices to the Lord their God, but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.
 13 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.
 14 And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.
 15 And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.
 16 And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying:Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage.
On the morrow! It may seem like forever, but it's not much, in the end. And we'll all look back one day have a laugh at it.

Monday, February 9, 2015

House of Mirrors

The continuing saga of the Boot-Crew, because I really enjoy writing about these people:

El Cubano: The Cuban. That's how everyone knows him because he's, well, Cuban. What does that mean? I can't understand a thing he says, that's what that means. The accent is awesome, just unintelligible. Anyhow, he was a taxi driver around here but it looks like he's left that vocation to open up a restaurant. Pretty much anyone can open up a place here in Ecuador and sell what they'd like - don't worry, we only eat at the trustworthy places. And since this guy is only a few minutes down the road from our house we go there every once in a while. For $2 we get a normal lunch - a soup first, and then a plate afterwards of some kind of meat, rice, and veggie, plus juice. I always walk away pretty darn content. And he gave us free pizza the other day. It was good pizza. Most of the pizza here is pretty lousy. One day we're going to have to teach this guy.

Manchitas: The most over-fed dog I have ever seen. She's the property of a recent convert and I think the first time I saw her (the dog) I nearly died. Some people I'm sure have actually mistaken her for a cow on occasion.

And a few words for you:

Machete: When somebody in the church needs to correct someone else it's called a machete. The verb being machetear. I just love the imagery. I've been present during a couple pretty rough machetes and even given one or two myself. I'm not very good at it because I'm too darn nice but some people really are. Sometimes we just have to be direct with the people we teach! But it has to be done with the Spirit, as explained in D&C 121. And it can be really effective and useful. It just has a brutal name.

Apostatar: As missionaries we can't always employ the kind of humor we used back home and so we eventually turn to a scripture-nerd type humor. One of the most delightful things to accuse someone of is apostasy or apostasia. Literally it is the turning away from the truth. It's something we teach about as missionaries. But we also love to accuse each other of it. It's really only funny to use because we can't be funny about other things I think.

House of Mirrors

This week we had interviews with President Richardson, which was great! We have a great mission president and he does a lot for us. I'm going to be trying harder to follow his counsel. Sometimes we think, "Man, the ZLs have really gone bananas this time" or "Seriously, why do we have to be trained in this, the APs know we know it already" or "That's a cute initiative idea" and discard what our leaders tell us. But we know this church is directed by revelation and if we accept that and also accept that our leaders are put there for a reason, then we'll want to follow that counsel. Because if we ignore our leaders that's....apostasy. Huh.

We need to commit to doing the things asked of us. We need to make the ward's goal our goal, not just something we have to sit through and applaud for at the end of ward council. Or the stake's goal. Or the prophet's. And as we do so we can really find success.

Anyhow, Hermana Richardson is another awesome example for us in this mission and as I talked with her waiting for my companion to be done with his interview I learned a great deal. One thing she explained is an example that really stuck to me and I think it might be the best analogy I've heard yet for mission work.

It's like a house of mirrors. One we can't escape. We walk in and are surrounded by mirrors - some normal, some distorting what we look like, but the consistent thing is that we CAN'T. LOOK. AWAY. As missionaries we have to constantly be looking at ourselves and reevaluating ourselves. Outside of the mission we can go for a car ride, watch a movie, listen to music, but here in the mission there is no escape. We have to face ourselves. And for perfectionistas like myself it is an incredibly painful experience.

But, I can tell you, it is also the greatest opportunity to shape yourself into who you want to become. The only place that a missionary can look to for help is really the Lord. And so with all that one-on-one time you get to learn a lot about yourself and can truly learn incredible things. And become an incredible person.

I hope that made sense. The way she explained it to me really struck me. I can't wait to see the kind of person I am when I come back. We've all seen it in returned missionaries. It's a difficult experience at times, but one of the best, in the end.

Love you all, hope you all have a good week!
A blurry photo of the one and only Manchitas.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Boot-Dwellers

I'll continue a bit describing some of the people we work with here in La Bota, which I only recently realized translates hilariously into English. At least, for me. Slowly I think that everything about English is becoming hilarious to me.

Oh remember the Manual Belief-Destroying I mentioned that the missionaries used to use? I got some questions about what exactly that is.

It's exactly what it sounds like.

They actually had a book with scriptural references and everything to tear apart the beliefs of anyone they came across. Whether they were Jehova's Witnesses, Catholics, Evangelists, the manual took care of them. They taught with the manual open on one knee and the Bible on the other. The missionaries actually waltzed in to other churches on occasion and preached there. And baptized.

Of course that's the exact opposite of what we do now. It's because we're more chevere now. And spiritual.

Anyhow, to continue:

Edison Lopez: The Elder's Quorum President. A fantastic example for the returned-missionaries here. He served about 8 years ago and now works as a math professor as he studies. He may not live in grandeur but he's really living the commandments of the Lord, getting an education, and everything. The only thing he's lacking is getting married. Our district leader won't let him live that down. Curly hair, always joking and animated, always willing to help. A good teacher.

The Salas Family: I always enjoy visiting them. The dad is less-active and has been for some time, but the son and especially the daughter are more active in the church. As a family they have a pretty good dead-pan act that I enjoy a lot. We're trying to help the son especially to get excited and involved in the church because soon he will turn 18 years old and thus qualify for a mission. So hopefully we can get them there!

The Ruano Family: Recent converts from a change or two before me. The kids are the recent converts and the mom was reactivated. She's an awesome example, really trying to help her kids get involved in the church. When we ask "did you read the scriptures this week?" we rarely have to worry about them. The oldest kid recently turned 12 and we're getting ready to give him the Priesthood next week. I can just see the boys becoming great missionaries one day! It's really awesome seeing the progress in a family like that.

I heard y'all wanted to hear a bit more about the people that aren't members I'm working with...will, our investigators aren't doing too hot right now. We have part of the blame too because we've been focusing a lot on less-actives and recent converts...hopefully I'll have more to report in the coming weeks.

Also, I thought I'd share a bit about the mission life that's good fun: the vocabulary. Just like any profession or hobby it's developed its own vocabulary. For instance:

"Fech:" Apparently this is a Utah thing. It's funny though how the latinos always get rather American-ized and pick up odd things here and there. Fech is one of those words we like to put in place of worse ones. There's probably a name for that but I've forgotten it. Fech. (I don't say it much because, one, it's apparently from Utah, and two, the white bible tells us to avoid slang. I think part of the reason I find it so funny is because if it IS from Utah, it's such a hilariously cute Utah kind of thing.)

Morir: To die. But in the mission it means to go home. whether at the end of the 2 years or before. The sector you start in is where you were born. Until 6 months you're a "guagua," or baby. From then until 12 you're a "joven" or youth. At 12 you become an adulto and at 16 an old person. I don't know how much of this vocabulary is standard across all missions, but I imagine this is one of them. It leads to funny sentences though. I remember one of my ZL's talking about this once and saying, "With my first companion he told me, 'Yeah, three of my companions have died' and I was like, "Fech...!"

Ok enough of that. On to more spiritual things.

I learned this week another part of the missionary purpose: to help everyone. Not just investigators, not even just less-actives! Everyone. I noticed this as I was able to have some awesome experiences this past week with members. In several instances we went to appointments, they fell through, and we ended up going to either members or recent converts that we thought - and ARE - strong members but discovering that we were able to share with them in that exact moment exactly what they needed to here. 

For instance, a small example is when there was an appointment we were excited to go to - actually, it was with the Salas family above, and we were going to bring Edison Lopez. But they weren't there. I was pretty bummed, and didn't know what to do - we were far from any other investigator or less-active, it was late, and we didn't have time to travel to anybody else or we wouldn't be able to teach a lesson and get back home in time. Then my companion suggested we go visit a recent-convert family nearby that we already had an appointment with. I thought, "We already have an appointment, so what does it matter? We can just visit them then." but because there wasn't a better option, I said, why not?

We went there, taught the lesson, it was alright (all of the electricity had gone for some reason so we had to do some shenanigans with Edison's phone to have light to read the scriptures). We asked one of the little kids to close with a prayer. As she did, she mentioned something about her dad (who lives somewhere else and isn't a member) and I didn't catch all of what she said, but something about not letting him go very far. Huh? And then after the prayer the mom explained to us that they were all passing through a bit of a rough patch, that the father has cancer that can't be cured. The kids were all crying. It was completely unexpected for me.

Edison shared his testimony and many words of comfort. He promised them that he felt that their dad was going to be ok. I believe him. I hope they did too. I think they felt a little bit better afterwards.

But what a strange turn of events that put us there! And I can't help but think that that's why our other appointment fell through. That only Edison Lopez could tell that family, in that moment, what they needed to do. And that my companion had the idea to visit them.

It's a work of miracles out here! I'll keep trying to love it! Love what you're doing, wherever you are! And find something useful to do. Miss you and love you all lots!