Monday, April 27, 2015

Sometimes Things Happen!

Frankly I don't even know what to say in this e-mail! Our district leader came to our house this morning to tell us we had transfers. We weren't at all expecting that - transfers aren't technically for another 3 weeks. Sometimes this happens - they suddenly have a spot open in one companionship or they need to shuffle some people around and so there are intermediate changes. My companion and I were both super sad, but...I've heard good things about my new companion, so I'm not worried. We'll just keep working normally! He's coming from Quito and my companion left for Quito in the morning - the zone leaders have had to drag me around all day.

...Yeah I seriously have no idea what to say. Sorry, people.

More than anything I've been learning the importance of following our leaders this week! Sometimes I feel bad for the Zone Leaders and District Leaders - they put a lot of work into the meetings they have with us Thursdays and afterwards it seems like the rest of us just leave and forget all about what they said. But more than anything we have to accept that our leaders in the church have been called by God. It's the basic mechanism of the church - revelation. What a blessing it is to have that, too!

It's explained simply in Articles of Faith 5 and 6:

  1. We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
  2. We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.
And so that's how it gets done! Sometimes it seems like the leaders are off their rockers or just talking in circles, but if we accept that God has called them there has to be a reason and we have to learn something from them.

So I've been trying to apply a bit better the things our leaders tell us to do. I'll tell you all how it goes but I guess the answer will be obvious - everything will turn out better.

I know this is the truth! I know the Book of Mormon was true and as a result I know that Joseph Smith truly was a prophet of God. I know there are prophets on the Earth once again. And I know this is the best work we can be involved in! Get out there and do something good instead of dreaming of your mansions above. I'll try to do the same. As we apply the gospel in our lives God will make of us something far greater than what we could have made of ourselves.

Some awesome artifacts that one of our less-actives dug up north of Esmeraldas. Sorry for the poor quality.

Me trying to pretend I'm Asian while eating chifa (Chinese food).

                      Us in the terminal this morning.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Irony!

Spelling update: the sickness is spelled "Chikungunya." How do I know that?

Welllll my companion got it.

It was a bit rough because we had to stay in the house a couple days. He had a pretty high fever, pains in the joints and back, and a pretty bad headache. As a missionary it stinks being inside because we just want to go out and work. We can get so much done in one day - visit so many people, change so many lives...buuut yeah it didn't happen those two days. Luckily they were two days where we normally have meetings so we didn't lose quite as much time as we could have.

And for me it was a great opportunity to serve. I gave my companion a priesthood blessing after the first day, and in that moment his fever broke and started to go back down. Some people have contracted this stuff and two weeks later the joint pains are too much for them to do much of anything. We were only in the house for two days, which was a great blessing.

The remedy? Pretty much just tylenol. That and everybody here told us to drink Guitig with lime and a bit of salt. Guitig is carbonated water. And they recommend it for everything. Well, it's pretty tasty with lime and salt so hey it worked out.

Much better than what other people have been trying to do - kill it with alcohol. Um, I'm pretty sure that doesn't work. And I'm pretty sure the only cases that have died because of chikungunya are the ones that tried drinking it to death. They drank something to death, I guess.

But We Did Have Some Success!

-First, we have a thing as a mission that we need to try hard to contact families we see in the street. I was on divisions with my district leader and because he wanted to focus in that I finally worked up the courage to do it. I saw a family down the road on the other side of the street and finally said, let's cross over and contact them. And we did! It turns out they were a family of Colombians that had recently moved here (they come here to Esmeraldas a lot - they know better how to run a business so generally do better than the lackadaisies here) and we got to share with them The Family, a Proclamation for the World. Unfortunately they didn't live in our sector, and my companion finished the contact before we could try to get their address to pass along the reference, but I felt the Spirit! I think they'll find the church some day. And I need to contact families more.

-Also I got to read a ton in my Book of Mormon while in the house - my second time through in the mission. I got through Helaman and about half of 3rd Nephi - now I'm almost done with Mormon. Whoo! Read it every day, people!

-And one of our less-actives did well. He's a guy who's been a convert for a good while but always had a few struggles, mostly with his family. Now he's pretty down all the time. He sees all his faults and it just gets him even more down. He doesn't like saying "Yeah, I'll come to church," and not fulfill his promise, which often happens. He can't stand it. But we really committed him to coming to church and he came! It's the first time in my my two months here that I've seen him in a regular sacrament meeting. And he was just so proud saying, "I did it!" that day. We can all do it! What kills is when we say "That's just the way I am. I'll never change." Because then we really do kill that last chance we have to do so.

The Tongue Can Be a Sharp Sword, by Marvin J. Ashton

I listen to this talk a couple times a week because my playlist is kinda short but I've really come to love it. He talks a lot about the damage we can cause with just what we say, and charity. Here's a snippet:

During an informal fireside address held with a group of adult Latter-day Saints, the leader directing the discussion invited participation by asking the question:“How can you tell if someone is converted to Jesus Christ?” For forty-five minutes those in attendance made numerous suggestions in response to this question, and the leader carefully wrote down each answer on a large blackboard. All of the comments were thoughtful and appropriate. But after a time, this great teacher erased everything he had written. Then, acknowledging that all of the comments had been worthwhile and appreciated, he taught a vital principle:“The best and most clear indicator that we are progressing spiritually and coming unto Christ is the way we treat other people.”

Really, I just don't get it sometimes. Why is it so hard to give someone else the benefit of the doubt and believe that they're really trying? Why is it so hard to accept that many people struggle and help them instead of critizing them? Is it because they sometimes hold leadership positions? Why do we hold everyone else to a much higher standard of righteousness than our own? And why don't we just display charity and help them?

I've always loved a talk by President Monson, "See Others as They May Become." Another snippet for you.

Back in the year 1961, a worldwide conference was held for mission presidents, and every mission president in the Church was brought to Salt Lake City for those meetings. I came to Salt Lake City from my mission inToronto, Canada.

In one particular meeting, N. Eldon Tanner, who was then an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve, had just returned from his initial experience of presiding over the missions in Great Britain and western Europe. He told of a missionary who had been the most successful missionary whom he had met in all of the interviews he had conducted. He said that as he interviewed that missionary, he said to him, “I suppose that all of the people whom you baptized came into the Church by way of referrals.”

The young man answered, “No, we found them all by tracting.”

Brother Tanner asked him what was different about his approach—why he had such phenomenal success when others didn’t. The young man said that he attempted to baptize every person whom he met. He said that if he knocked on the door and saw a man smoking a cigar and dressed in old clothes and seemingly uninterested in anything—particularly religion—the missionary would picture in his own mind what that man would look like under a different set of circumstances. In his mind he would look at him as clean-shaven and wearing a white shirt and white trousers. And the missionary could see himself leading that man into the waters of baptism. He said, “When I look at someone that way, I have the capacity to bear my testimony to him in a way that can touch his heart.”

We have the responsibility to look at our friends, our associates, our neighbors this way. Again, we have the responsibility to see individuals not as they are but rather as they can become. I would plead with you to think of them in this way.

I've found this mindset actually kind of...liberating. And it helps me to love the people more. Instead of getting annoyed with the less active that doesn't come to church I can instead see that they're really trying to do what's right in their family. I don't know, it's just...better to think this way. I don't mean to say it lowers our expectations but...well, I love this recent talk in General Conference. And I love the way the audience reacted to it. It's by Elder Renlund, and at the end of his talk his said:

"If we don't try, we're just latter-day sinners-"

The audience chuckled. Cute little phrase!

"If we don't persevere, we're just latter-day quitters-"

Laughing again. He made it rhyme! But then to make it clear that he wasn't joking, Renlund delivered:

"and if we don't allow others to try, we're just latter-day hypocrites."

Silence. I felt the heat from that machete swing here in Ecuador.

But how true it is! Love you all, hope you have a good week! 
A banana cart. My favorite thing in the world. As you can tell by the angle I'm stalking him. Waiting...

 A critter I found in the shop below our apartment.

A poorly-lit picture of people watching a football (soccer) game. They had all these drums lined up and where making QUITE the racket.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Elder Scanlan and the Case of the Sillily Surnamed Sickness‏

Have a new word: Baina. I have no idea if it's spelt that way, but it's more or less Spanish for "silly stuff."

Have another new word: Chee-con-goo-yah. I also have no idea what it's spelled like, so that's the phonetic version. Chee-con-goo-yah is this baina that's been running around here in Ecuador and more specifically Esmeraldas. It's some kind of virus transmitted by mosquitos that apparently first came from Africa and made its way here and everyone's freaking out about it. The symptoms are bone aches, fever, chills...doesn't sound like any kind of fun. The name is so absurd I can't help but laugh. I think they made it up just to make it sound scarier.

But I guess it's really no laughing matter because I swear every time we visit someone we hear about another person who got infected. Thankfully I haven't heard once of anyone dying from it - it just seems like it really, really stinks to have it.

In fact, two women from the Ministry of Health came to church yesterday and talked to us about it after sacrament. It's that important. They explained the mosquitos usually stick around in dark places and only bite in the mornings and evenings - in other words, they get you if you're at home. So we basically don't have much of a chance of getting it because we're always running around outside in the sun, working.

There is a missionary who got it about a week ago in the other zone here and so the next time we see him we're going to bug him about it so much.

It reminds me of something I once heard. Tragedy is when you break your leg. Comedy is when that other guy breaks his leg.

But I have had the opportunity to give more health blessings than in all my mission I think!

My Week, Arvanitas-Style

I've gotta say I love the format of Nick Arvanitas's e-mails (another guy I know serving in Mexico!). Somehow it's a perfect description of what happens in missionary work. Everything and nothing happen so often and at the same time. Here is a brief description of the things of this week:

-Finally discovered that when people call their oatmeal drinks "Quahker" it's because they're saying "Quaker" (as in the oats brand) with a Spanish accent.

-Fell asleep in a couple lessons.

-Got rejected hard by an old investigator.

-Woke up 6 in the morning to bring less-actives to church.

-Found a new family. Maybe they'll progress if they want to get married.

-Got contacted by three girls. We gave them pass-along cards and sent them on their way.

-Got a little sick from apples bought off the street.

-Taught hilariously semi-frustrating lessons to our kid with a baptismal date. He's got just too much going on in his head.

-We do have people progressing. Mostly less-actives. They just don't want to come to church. Why's it so hard?

-Need to find new people.

Well, really, we've been doing well. We were going to have baptisms this week but the kid we're teaching didn't come to church yesterday and we have no idea why. He's actually just here on vacation but his mom wants him baptized here because where they live a little bit more to the south they live faaar from the chapel and it's hard for them to attend regularly. So we're working against the clock, but it should turn out fine. He's just easily-distracted, that's all.

Oh, I always forget to mention that one of my favorite less-actives here raises chickens. For cockfighting. He's a great guy, he just hasn't come to church yet! We're not exactly sure why - well this past week it was probably because his nephew had the chee-con-goo-yah. Stinking virus.

The Power of Faith

Our Zone Leaders shared this message with us and I'd like to share it, simply, with you. It has to do with the cycle that starts with faith.

If you have faith, you're going to realize you can do it. You can really understand your true potential. You'll have animo (uh in English something like encouragement or enthusiasm) because of that belief you can have the focus to know what you want to get done and the vision to do it. With that you can get to work, with diligence. Diligence brings blessings, and you'll be more obedient. They end result? Humility and happiness, the kind of happiness the Gospel brings!

But what happens if you don't have faith? When you have doubt? You're going to get discouraged, feel like you can't do it. You getdistracted and start doing other things - any thing other than live the Gospel - because why do it in the first place? It won't bring blessings - who knows that? You start to lose focus and stop working. You get tired of it and stop living the commandments, become disobedient. And without those blessings, without the vision of what the Gospel does for you, why bother with any of it? You just give up and stop believing.

Pretty crazy huh? It's amazing what faith can do!

I realized I've never left my testimony here in Spanish, so here's a short one.

Yo sé que el Señor vive! Yo sé que el evangelio es el único camino que trae la felicidad que queremos en esta vida y que por medio de él podemos vivir con nuestras familias para siempre! Es la bendición más grande que podemos recibir. Yo sé que el Libro de Mormón es verdadero y que necesitamos leerlo cada día! En el nombre de Jesucristo, amen!

For those of us who speak English here is a translation (thank you Emily Wahlstrom!):
I know that the Lord lives!! I know that the gospel is the only way that brings us the happiness that we want in this life and through Him we can live with our families forever!! This is the greatest blessing that we  can receive. I know that the Book of Mormon is true and we need to read it every day! In the name of Jesus Christ, amen!

Huh. For the first time spellcheck isn't going nuts.

 Just one pic - us and an awesome recent convert family!

Conference Snidery Answer Key (See "The Jowls Strike Back"):

1. "The Music of the Gospel." Awesome talk.
2. "Stay By the Tree," by Elder Pearson. Just watch the talk.
3. Elder Zeballos. Chileans have the hardest accent to understand ever.
4. Elder Andersen explained that temples are chosen because the Lord knows the people there will use it well. I guess that Pittsburgh just isn't saintly enough yet for a temple.
5. The Young Single Adults choir.
6. Elder Packer's talk.

Monday, April 6, 2015

April Conference 2015: The Jowls Strike Back‏

For those who may not know...General Conference is a semi-annual meeting over the course of two days, where members of our church get to hear counsel from the Prophet and other leaders of our church. For more information you can go here:

Conference was great, of course. Most people congregate in the stake centers here to watch it by satellite - it's fun to do it that way, see everyone there. We gringos had a room to ourselves where we watched it in English, which was great. Of course, for the Spanish speakers we flipped over to the Spanish channel. And everybody had all the packages that had arrived for Easter so we had a nice little American-food party as well.

I don't have a ton of time. Here are some of the more profound thoughts that crossed my mind as I watched conference:

-"Of course. The string section is always out of tune."

-"Just a bit closer. Come on, a bit closer. Your tie knot is almost on that mic.  Just give a little tap for me."

-"It's just the worst when they speak Chilean."

-"Confirmed: Pittsburgh is just not righteous enough to get it."

-"The combined hormonal power in that choir could destroy a small nation."

-"I think that was the most explicit conference talk I've ever heard."

Didn't understand?

Sounds like you fell asleep during conference!

Seriously though, it was great. I honestly don't have as much to share with y'all as you might expect - this time I just wrote down what applied to me in my journal. Maybe I wrote less than I usually do, but I treasure these notes more than anything. I was praying and even fasting to know when the speakers were talking directly to me, and I think I got what I was supposed to. I can't wait for the Liahona to continue studying and understanding.

It's something I've found interesting that I'm learning to do - listen to the Spirit. It comes in a great many ways and if we're not listening we won't hear what we need to. I've been very interested to see that it often comes very quietly. That it might just be confused for a "lightbulb" moment, or a weird thought. It'll take practice to figure it out and listen hard. My prayer journal has converted into also being a record of those promptings. As I write them down I think I'll understand better how the Spirit works in my life and how to listen better later on. Who knows what it could be telling us?

And I just liked sharing conference with others. I always think of some of the lines from "High on a Mountaintop."

-And people will be heard in distant lands to say:
We'll now go up and serve the Lord,
obey his truth, and learn his word.

Pretty awesome seeing the work of the Lord filling the whole earth! And it'll keep going. I know it's true and the best work we can do! Get involved! Or figure out what the heck these Mormon people are seeing and why the believe this things! It might just change someone's life.

That's all for this week. But have some pics:
The conference set-up.

The sketchy bridge that leads to "The Island."

 The greatest Zone pic ever. It was completely improvised. This is what happens when there aren't sister missionaries in the zone.