Monday, May 25, 2015

Thoughts of Eternity

First off, we had a baptism this week! Yay!

His name's Anthony. We first got in contact with him when, leaving the chapel one Sunday back in March, an Hermana called us over - someone we didn't recognize. Well, she presented us to Anthony and explained they had recently come here on a kind of extended vacation and that she was a member but her son wasn't and that she wanted us to teach him and prepare him for baptism. Of course we accepted the invitation!

It turns out they live near Loja, another city in Ecuador (that's outside of our mission), but they live far outside of the city and where they live there aren't any chapels, so it's hard for them to come to church. So that's why she wanted him to receive the lessons and be baptized here. So we did it!

Anthony's a good kid, and although teaching a kid (he's 11 years old) has its own set of challenges, we've helped him to read the Book of Mormon, pray, and also receive an answer that the church is true - he just felt it, and we explained that was what he needed. Maybe it took a couple tries to help him understand the math of tithing, or the meaning of the word of wisdom, but it all turned out well in the end. The greatest challenge was actually convincing his mom to let us baptize him at the time that we did - she wanted to keep waiting and waiting until he practically knew the Book of Mormon and Bible backwards and forwards. That and the fact that she had to travel to Spain for a few weeks and that all this time we've been worried, running against the clock until the time that they have to go back to Loja (they're going back next month). So in the time that we have now we need to really solidify what he knows and help him set out on a good path.

Honestly I had a lot of doubts about whether we should baptize him. Which was kinda funny - I'm sure most missionaries would jump on that, but...I just really worried about whether I was doing the right thing, if I was really trying to love him and care about his salvation. I do feel much better now and know it was what we needed to do, but it's made me think a lot. About why it's not easy, why we don't have more "success." Sometimes I look at all the wards here and the problems that they currently have and wonder how in the world it happened and how in the world we can actually continue having progress. It always seems to happen to other missionaries, you know? They always seem to be the ones that have the miracle conversion stories and it's hard to see what we've done.

The thing I do know is that it's the Lord's work! It will keep going, like the stone cut without hands, until it fills the whole earth. And we are always helping people even if we don't realize it. Today I was talking with one of my old companions - in a funny twist he left La Bota to come here. Between me, him, and my companion, we represent almost the entirety of the history (9 months or so) of the sector La Bota 2 and we're all here in the same zone. It was great to hear that some families we had all worked with for all that time were progressing and coming back to church.

I got the audio from a video where Elder Holland speaks that is really powerful. He explains why it's so darn hard.

My only other thought from this week comes from the training that our district leader gave last Thursday. He explained that we need to help the people we're teaching understand the ETERNAL significance of what we teach, and of the decisions we take.

Do you think about that often? Do you think about the fact that what you're doing in this moment will have an impact on how you will live for eternity?

We can imagine a string that stretches out in both directions infinitely - take another piece of string and tie it around the infinite string. The width of that string represents the time we have in this life. The time we have to affect all of the rest of the string. Mathematically speaking (no, I haven't entirely forgotten math) that actually represents zero.

What we do, the decisions we take, are different when we think of it in that light. If we fail to be faithful, to live the commandments, to search God and religion, it's often a lack of perspective. Moroni 7:41:

 41 And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.

Keep that in mind! And strive for eternal life! More than anything...remember you can do it. It is absolutely within your reach.
Have I mentioned I'm in the coast yet?

I seriously don't understand why latinos can't smile for pictures! I swear, they have nice smiles!

 On divisions with my district leader. Esmeraldas is one of the poorest parts of the country.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Me quedo!

Well, there were changes today, but not for me! I'm staying here with Elder Gonzalez. But I did take a bunch of pictures just in case I was going to leave, so you'll have plenty of pics today. I'm happy to be staying here in Paraiso. There's a lot of work to be done and I'm seeing fruit from what Elder Equite and I were sowing months ago. It's pretty interesting how the missionary work functions some times - it seems to me that missionaries very rarely get to actually see the end result of their efforts - at the very least in this mission, where they change us around so frequently. I should keep that in mind more. And it's rather odd for me - this'll be the first time I'll have had more than two changes in a sector. Most missionaries usually have at least one or two sectors where they're there for more than two changes, so this is one of mine, I guess.

Anyhow, I'd just like to share one experience today as I don't have a ton of time. I don't think I ever mentioned Sebastian. We first met him about three weeks ago. We've been teaching a less-active family, the Espinozas, who are making excellent progress and are very close to being rescued. One day after a lesson the mom mentioned to us that she had a friend, a non-member, whose son was a cancer patient, and that she'd (Hna. Espinoza) been feeling recently that she should mention to them about priesthood blessings. (For those of you who don't understand exactly what that is, you can look up a definition on We encouraged her to do so, and so the next visit she gave us the news that they'd accepted to have us come and give a blessing to Sebastian!

So, we did. We went there a few weeks ago and got to know the family and gave Sebastian a blessing. I hadn't really realized the severity of his cancer until I saw him in his bed, where he's confined, and the massive swelling in his head. He's had it for quite some time and the doctors hadn't given him much time to live. He himself isn't aware of a lot and so we mostly talked with the parents. We explained that the blessing depended on their faith as well as the will of the Lord and gave the blessing. They were very gracious and invited us to come back whenever we wanted.

We went back after a bit more than a week. While we were there I could really feel the Spirit there - I think it's that way often in situations like this. We talked with his mom. I felt to share Alma 7:11-12, and we also left the pamphlet for lesson 2, the Plan of Salvation, with them.

We went back yesterday night. We found there were a lot of people there that weren't from Sebastian's immediate family, and when we went in to his room, his dad explained to us that he was in the final stages. It could be hours, or days, but he's on his way out. The family had known this for a long time - they were very calm about it. I felt we needed to share lesson 2, so I said, "Could we share something with the whole family?" and of course they were like, "sure!"

When all the other people I didn't know started filing in I realized just what I'd gotten myself into. The other people there were family as well - uncles, aunts, cousins, and in total we had probably about 10 people crammed into his little room. I realized, in the back of my head, this is the kind of experience that people share in e-mails and homecoming talks.

Well, we taught. Maybe I didn't feel the Spirit a lot during the lesson itself and maybe a few people on the fringes found an excuse to leave the room. But what's important is that we testified of the importance of eternal families. I could testify, even if I couldn't explain and can't exactly what it is I know or what I feel - but I testified and testify that families weren't meant to last just for a brief moment here on Earth, but that they're supposed to continue after, as well. Just know that, please, whoever you are, that it's possible. Your family can be together forever. I know it, and I hope you can come to know it, too.

I could testify of Joseph Smith, that he truly saw Christ and our Heavenly Father, and that through him the church of Christ has been restored on the Earth, that the Priesthood Christ used is on the Earth and that is has the power to seal families.

I'm not sure if, in the end, any of those people will listen to the missionaries. It's an odd situation - we aren't technically teaching the family, more doing a service. But I do know we needed to share lesson 2. I hope it helped them. I think it helped some of those people there, even if they weren't the immediate family of Sebastian. I know Sebastian is going to a better place. And I do know that the Lord had placed us there in that moment for a reason.

I'm really coming to realize that I do practically nothing here. I'm nothing more than an instrument in the Lord's hands and it's His work, not mine. I just know I need to live righteously and follow the Spirit.

What I'd like for you to do, person who's reading this, is pray to God to know if what I said is true. I want you to know it's true - and He does too, I'm sure. You can know it! You just need to ask.

 Anthony, the kid we're probably going to baptize this weekend! :)

Yes, that is a coconut in my hand.

Downtown Esmeraldas.

 It rained something ridiculous this past week and the streets got turned into rivers.

A less-active family, the Espinozas, who are progressing really well and are almost rescued. The girl in the middle is a reference who lives down the road who's also been doing great - she's got a baptismal date for the 13th of June! We just need to help her family, too!

A snail. I didn't think things like this actually existed.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Cast Not Away, Therefore, Thy Confidence‏

Sorry if the e-mail comes out a bit funky today. The keyboard I'm using isn't great. I've already peeled off the stickers they'd placed on the keys that had been worn out so that I can write a bit better.

Calling home was great! As missionaries, for those who don't know, we get to do it twice a year - once on Mother's Day and once on Christmas. And I'll have you know I most definitely didn't cry. Nope. I don't even know why you'd think such a thing who told you I cried because I didn't.

And with that call I also hit my 8 month mark! Whaat! The mission flies by fast, people. But I think I've done a pretty good job helping people and doing what I'm generally supposed to do. I was listening to one of my Zone Leaders do his call - his last one - and he kept saying he got depressed every time he started thinking about going home and leaving Ecuador. I'm well on my way to getting to that point.

Honestly, I don't think much about you people! That doesn't mean I don't love you but it means that I'm getting the hang of this work and getting it done, too. These 2 years are about thinking about the people here, after all.

New Investigator Miracles!

Speaking of which, we've been really blessed to find a lot of new people this week! Our leaders had given us the goal of finding 7 new investigators (12 is the standard of excellence) and we actually got all 7! It's really important to constantly be finding - we talk a lot about the "weekly process" here. The point is that we constantly need to be finding new people because inevitably the people we're working with will stop listening, we'll stop finding them, or they'll get to their goal of baptism. So when that happens, instead of starting back at zero again, we need to keep finding people constantly so we always have people to work with.

Here's a cool experience. A month ago or so, maybe more, Elder Equite and I were walking to an appointment.  As you usually do here you at the very least can greet the people with a "buenas tardes!" So we passed a guy on the street and at the last moment I said hi - and he turned around, calling after us, "Hey, wait, where can I get a Book of Mormon?" Awesome! We talked, but unfortunately didn't have one on us. He didn't live in our sector so we passed along the reference.

Weeks later we ran into him again. What?? This time we actually had a Book of Mormon and so handed it over.        

Last week we'd some less-actives and were teaching them when all of a sudden this guy walks in. I did a double take. "Have we talked at one point?" Guess what - it was the same guy! His name's Alan and now he's moved to live in our sector, so we can teach him! He has great questions and is super interested. He's a young guy and really friendly. We might see awesome things down the road!

Cast Not Away Thy Confidence

My message this week has a lot to do with last week's - for me, at least. Because this week I felt a lot of the same things I did last week. It was pretty frustrating. But this highlights another important principle we can learn.

In the Book of Mormon the prophets always talk to the people and to their kids about "remembering the captivity of their fathers." I've wondered why they talk so much about that. Why was it so important that they always remembered that stuff?

In Helaman 5, Nephi and Lehi (who were named as such so that they would always remember their ancestors of the same names) work some pretty marvelous miracles among the Lamanites. There's this whole deal with a cloud of darkness, angels, all of them being encircled with fire that doesn't burn them...pretty crazy stuff. But here's something interesting in verse 49, after all this happens:

 49 And there were about three hundred souls who saw  and heard these things; and they were bidden to go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt.

That's what I've had to realize this week. We won't always be encircled about with fire. We won't always have angels talking to us. We won't always have a constant confirmation from the Spirit. If God did that, it'd be too easy. What he wants is for us to exercise our own free will and make our own choices.

The point is: after we've received personal revelation or confirmation of something, we can't afterwards doubt in what we've already received. We have to keep moving forward.

I needed to apply that this week. Many times the Lord has told me, "You're doing fine, don't worry, keep going."  But I've doubted! I've forgotten the captivity I was led out of and I forgot the many things the Lord has already shown me. Hours or minutes after receiving the comfort of the Spirit I've gotten impatient again and started to doubt that what I was doing was what I needed to do in that moment.

This is why it's so important to write down the impressions we've received - it's partly why I keep my prayer journal thing. So that I can remember what the Lord's promised and move forward, nothing doubting. I've got a little annotation on my patriarchal blessings of a spiritual confirmation I received some months ago about exactly how I should put in practice a promised blessing. I haven't received a confirmation since that that interpretation is correct, but I was smart enough to write it down in the moment. So I should keep going!

Anyhow, don't doubt! Go forward in faith! If you know you've received an answer the church is true, don't cast away thy confidence! The confirmation WON'T always be there, but you received it once. Now comes the hard part. Just stay true to that!
1. We have to buy a lot of water in the coast. I finished this in about 2 days.

2. My shoes are coming apart hilariously.

Monday, May 4, 2015

One Rough Week

Leading a sector isn't a lot of fun! For those of you less-familiar with mission parlance, every once in a while we receive different companions. So of course the companion that's been in the sector for a while has to take over for a while and show the new guy around - usually for a week or two - until the new guy knows the sector well enough to really start to contribute in the daily decision-making. And of course there's a period of getting used to each other's quirks and teaching styles and whatnot. Communication is incredibly important. And it can be really rough!

So it was with my week. A little bit about my companion: Elder Gonzalez (there are two Gonzalez in the mission and now they're in the same zone here) is from Chile, from Talca, about 3 hours from Santiago. His been out for a good long time and this is his first time in the coast! He was pretty happy about that because he was in Quito for 14 months. He's been in every single zone in Quito. Anyhow, he's also the trainer of my second trainer (so in mission vocabulary that makes him my step-grandpa or something) so we already knew a little about each other. He likes soccer - pretty darn good at it - Dragonball, drawing, and playing drums. Another thing he likes to do is let the newbies learn by doing a lot on their own - which is helpful and frustrating at the same time. Honestly up to this point in the mission I've really relied on my companions a lot - and this time it's been different. Of course he helps a ton, but just in different ways, and as he was getting to know the sector it's been really hard for me because I've had to do a lot of the decision-making.

That's why this week was so hard! I don't have a ton of confidence in my own ability to do that decision-making - and I had to do a lot of it. And there were quite a few appointments that fell through! Problem upon problem seemed to pile up - I wrote down a phone number wrong, our family that was progressing towards marriage don't have the money to do it and no plans to get said money, I let my fear get the best of me and didn't contact in the park, I couldn't understand some people...lots happened. What's worse - for me - is winning the confidence of the members. Being social can be hard for me and especially in a new language.

But the week ended with a ton of blessings on Sunday! First of all, we had 11 less-actives attending church. (By the way, here in the coast that's where we do a lot of work. With less-actives.) That's the most I've ever had! The standard of excellence of 9. Next, two references fell out of the sky - we found them as we were leaving the chapel and they were like, "hey we want to come here now but didn't know what time church started." Wow! And finally, a member invited us to lunch - we didn't have anyone to give us lunch that day.

But what was most important was an experience I had in the last lesson of the week. We were with a recent-convert family (I sent a picture of them a few weeks back) and I was feeling a lot of what I'd felt during the week. I saw that my companion won their confidence faster than I did, I felt that maybe they didn't love me as much as many other previous missionaries that had passed through the house, and as I tried to share a scripture (we hadn't planned for the lesson because it was a backup plan that came to our mind at the last moment because - guess what! - another appointment had fallen through) in Spanish, I felt I was talking in circles and not pronouncing very well. I tried to finish up as best as I could and handed off to my companion. He pulled out Ether 12:27.

 27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

As he shared it something stuck out to me I hadn't realized before. It explains that if men come unto the Lord, He will show their weakness unto them. I flipped the words around a bit. I realized that sometimes, if we are more conscious of our weakness, it's because we're coming unto Him!

And I thought about later on in verse 37. Sister Richardson shared with me a few months back the amazing promise in that scripture. Because we have seen our weakness, we will be strengthened!

All of this showed to me that...I'm doing fine! Uncovering my weaknesses is a part of becoming a better missionary. If I don't see my weakness, I can never progress. And because I'm seeing them...I'm actually doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

I'm not sure if I made myself understood completely, but I do know that His grace is sufficient. I know God loves us and has a perfect plan for each one of us. I know He exists without doubt and that he will help us through the hard times.

After the lesson, I asked my companion why he'd felt inspired to share the scripture. He said, "Well, it just went along well with what you shared at first." So...I can do it. And I know you, whoever you are wherever you are, can do so as well!

1. Our zone has a tradition of putting birthday cakes on the floor. We do it because it's one of the few zones that doesn't have sister missionaries, so we can actually get away with it.

2. Some people marching around on Labor Day (May 1st here). I'm not sure why. But it was peaceful and all. My companion said the marches in Chile aren't very peaceful.

3. I still haven't learned how to take selfies properly. But anyhow, here I am with shawarma. Who would've thought my first shawarma I'd eat here in Ecuador? It's pretty popular. Also I realized just how much I look like Dad :)