Monday, March 30, 2015

Life in Barrio Caliente

"Barrio Caliente" translates to something like "The Party Neighborhood." We learned the other day that that's what they officially call the blocks where are apartment is, and it wasn't just what we liked to snidely call it. It's pretty frustrating at times here. The weekends are the aboslute worst - people drinking and smoking all night. And because they don't have any kind of laws against music volume, they bring out their biggest speakers and turn them up as high as possible. Right beneath our apartment. I have no idea how these people still have eardrums at times...Thankfully, as missionaries, we're so physically exhausted most of the time that we have not trouble sleeping. It just makes studying frustating sometimes. (Don't worry, I'm perfectly safe. The house has an alarm and we live on the third floor.) I've heard it was even worse during Carnival. I'm glad I was safe and secure in Quito.

But yeah, that's the life where I live. Just a little glimpse into it. On to more spiritual things.

Nephi's Psalm

The other day I had one of the most spiritual experiences I had in my mission. We went to visit a less-active family that moved from Spain about a year ago and went inactive - change is tough. They're good people, they've even been to the temple, but the transition has been hard. We found the wife and her daughter and we started to teach them outside their house. The wife started to share with us this, and we could really see how hard their situation was. We had a plan to share a missionary lesson, but it was obvious we needed to share something different. But what?

Our first instinct is to go to the Book of Mormon, but I was having a hard time coming up with something to share. Then my companion pulled out 2 Nephi 4.

A while back my Grandpa had sent our family a great big dictionary of gospel topics for reference. I really love that book - I wish I had it with me here some times. I loved to use it as I studied in the mornings at home. Once I had come across a detailed explanation of the last part of 2 Nephi 4 - what some people call "Nephi's Psalm." I really came to love that passage of the Book of Mormon and had annotated the brief analysis in the margins of my English copy, and when I came here in my Spanish copy as well.

I have always wanted to share it with someone.

So I made signs to my companion and he turned it over to me to lead the lesson a bit. Nephi begins with his feelins of inadequacy, things we fill many a time. We see what we've done and begin to feel regret and remorse:

17 Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.

 18 I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.

 It's pretty sad, huh? But here's the turning point:

 19 And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.

And what he does next is extremely important - he begins to list his blessings:

 20 My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.

 21 He hath filled me with his love, even unto theconsuming of my flesh.

 22 He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.

 23 Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time.

 24 And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me.

 25 And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body beencarried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them.

What a great example! That's what we need to do. I try to follow this model when I feel overcome. I list the things I've seen to remind myself that God is still there. Then I love what his conclusion is:

26 O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?

 27 And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?

 28 Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.

 29 Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.

 30 Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.

When our less-active reached verse 28 she began to cry. So did I. Not just because I love how these scriptures apply to myself, but how I had the chance to help somebody else apply them, too. We all felt the Spirit incredibly strong.

I honestly feel like I was sent there to give that message in that moment. Interesting how I'd had all the preparation to do so and how that was what my companion felt he needed to read. The Lord knows what he's doing!

The Parable of the Owl Express

I know this e-mail's already been pretty long, but I'd love to share something I read recently. It's a parable James E. Talmage wrote:

During my college days, I was one of a class of students appointed to fieldwork as a part of our prescribed courses in geology—the science that deals with the earth in all of its varied aspects and phases, but more particularly with its component rocks, the structural features they present, the changes they have undergone and are undergoing—the science of worlds.

A certain assignment had kept us in the field many days. We had traversed, examined, and charted miles of lowlands and uplands, valleys and hills, mountain heights and canyon defiles. As the time allotted to the investigation drew near its close, we were overtaken by a violent windstorm, followed by a heavy snow—unseasonable and unexpected, but which, nevertheless, increased in intensity so that we were in danger of being snowbound in the hills. The storm reached its height while we were descending a long and steep mountainside several miles from the little railway station at which we had hoped to take [a] train that night for home. With great effort we reached the station late at night while the storm was yet raging. We were suffering from the intense cold incident to biting wind and driving snow; and, to add to our discomfiture, we learned that the expected train had been stopped by snowdrifts a few miles from the little station at which we waited.

… The train for which we so expectantly and hopefully waited was the Owl Express—a fast night train connecting large cities. Its time schedule permitted stops at but few and these the most important stations; but, as we knew, it had to stop at this out-of-the-way post to replenish the water supply of the locomotive.

Long after midnight the train arrived in a terrific whirl of wind and snow. I lingered behind my companions as they hurriedly clambered aboard, for I was attracted by the engineer, who during the brief stop, while his assistant was attending to the water replenishment, bustled about the engine, oiling some parts, adjusting others, and generally overhauling the panting locomotive. I ventured to speak to him, busy though he was. I asked how he felt on such a night—wild, weird, and furious, when the powers of destruction seemed to be let loose, abroad and uncontrolled, when the storm was howling and when danger threatened from every side. I thought of the possibility—the probability even—of snowdrifts or slides on the track, of bridges and high trestles which may have been loosened by the storm, of rock masses dislodged from the mountainside—of these and other possible obstacles. I realized that in the event of accident through obstruction on or disruption of the track, the engineer and the fireman would be the ones most exposed to danger; a violent collision would most likely cost them their lives. All of these thoughts and others I expressed in hasty questioning of the bustling, impatient engineer.

His answer was a lesson not yet forgotten. In effect he said, though in jerky and disjointed sentences: “Look at the engine headlight. Doesn’t that light up the track for a hundred yards [90 m] or more? Well, all I try to do is to cover that hundred yards of lighted track. That I can see, and for that distance I know the roadbed is open and safe. And,” he added, with what, through the swirl and the dim lamplighted darkness of the roaring night, I saw was a humorous smile on his lips and a merry twinkle of his eye, “believe me, I have never been able to drive this old engine of mine—God bless her!—so fast as to outstrip that hundred yards of lighted track. The light of the engine is always ahead of me!”

I love that imagery! My companion and I have been talking about faith a lot and how we can apply it better. We can have faith, but more specifically faith in Christ. We can have faith in Him because He was perfect. He's the only one that never failed or faltered. And that faith can lead us to marvelous things, but most importantly it gives us that guidance Talmage describes. We can have that security that there is something secure, something true in this life. If we build our lives and homes upon his teachings we can keep moving forward, despite everything. If we don't have that faith it can be developed through prayer and scripture study, and more specifically by reading the Book of Mormon. Nephi had that faith!

I know that Christ lives. I know that he died for us and that through him we can become more perfect. I know he cares about us and is always there to lift us out of our despair.

Here's the conclusion of the parable:

As he climbed to his place in the cab, I hastened to board the first passenger coach; and as I sank into the cushioned seat, in blissful enjoyment of the warmth and general comfort, offering strong contrast to the wildness of the night without, I thought deeply of the words of the grimy, oil-stained engineer. They were full of faith—the faith that accomplishes great things, the faith that gives courage and determination, the faith that leads to works. What if the engineer had failed, had yielded to fright and fear, had refused to go on because of the threatening dangers? Who knows what work may have been hindered, what great plans may have been nullified, what God-appointed commissions of mercy and relief may have been thwarted had the engineer weakened and quailed?

For a little distance the storm-swept track was lighted up; for that short space the engineer drove on!

We may not know what lies ahead of us in the future years, nor even in the days or hours immediately beyond. But for a few yards, or possibly only a few feet, the track is clear, our duty is plain, our course is illumined. For that short distance, for the next step, lighted by the inspiration of God, go on!

Love you all! Hope you're excited for Conference, because I am!
         Finally something flat! This is out in the island.

A pretty critter.

That's the ocean out there!

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