Monday, June 29, 2015

Death in The Jungle

"Hey, Elder Scanlan! How's it been!"

"Great! I'm getting sent to the Orient!"

"The jungle! No way! And your companion?"

"They say I'm getting sent there to kill him."

I just like how missionary slang works some times.

Anyhow, I got changes! And I'm getting sent to Lagio Agrio! As it's going to be my companion's last transfer he's going to "die" and I'm going to be the one that "kills" him. I'm super excited because I've heard a lot about this place. It's in the "selva" of Ecuador - basically on the exact opposite side of the country. I'm going from the coast into the deep, dark, jungle.

Well, actually, from what I know it's just a city like any other. Apparently it's just really hot - as hot as the coast, but without wind, and more humid. It rains a lot there. There are monkeys. They also eat "gusanos" (worms) and I've heard you can find boa, armadillo...I'm excited. Are you excited? I'm excited.

Lago Agrio itself is an oil town - how big I'm not sure, but there's one branch and three sectors. In fact, our mission currently works in just two places in the Oriente - both of them branches. One in Lago Agrio and one in Coca. The missionaries haven't been out there for more than about 4 years, so it's going to be a totally different experience and I'm super excited. A missionary works as the branch president and other missionaries have callings like councilors and secretaries (I know all of this thanks to Elder Equite, who was my companion a few months ago. He was the secretary in Lago Agrio for a while.). Now it's not like I'm going to be teaching natives or anything like that - Lago Agrio is actually pretty close to Colombia from what I've gathered, so there's a good number of Colombians and some Peruvians as well. I think the majority are just people who've come to work in the refinery. But we'll see what happens.

Also there aren't any sister missionaries out there. I'm going to have been at least half a year with being in a zone with sister missionaries. Not that I'm complaining, exactly...also, President only visits every three months or so I think, so we're kind of out on their own. Everybody forgets about the people out in the Oriente. I'm not going to know anybody by the time I get sent back to someplace like Quito or Otavalo...

I'm actually in Quito right now, enjoying the cold for a little bit. Since it takes long enough to travel from the coast to the selva (about 6 hours for each trip from or to Quito) they have us do it over two days so I'll be staying in one of the houses in Quito tonight. Next week I'll have plenty of pics, I'm sure!

But anyhow, Esmeraldas...It was great being in Paraiso. The change us a lot in this mission so it's interesting to see the growth of a ward and in the people there over a longer period of time - the three changes I had there. I guess it's hard, more than anything, to keep a good perspective. As missionaries we have goals to meet and expectations we have and some times it's easy to get stressed out about people not getting to a certain point in a certain amount of time. But in the eternal scheme of things, if it brings salvation...we just need more charity.

Maybe that's one of the things I learned most being in Paraiso, watching the interactions of the ward members and the missionaries. It can be very hard to put your trust in somebody and care about them enough to help them out. It's often very hard to know whether certain people will progress, others no...it's important to see with charitable eyes. I read a talk a few weeks ago that talked about seeing with eyes wide open but a heart wide open as well. It's so true. Just have charity with all the people you interact with! A while ago the Karatosses sent me this talk: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/04/the-rescue-for-real-growth?lang=eng and I really loved it. More than anything I love the story that he tells.

One Sunday morning some 30 years ago, while I was serving in a stake presidency, we received a telephone call from one of our faithful bishops. He explained that his ward had grown so rapidly that he could no longer provide a meaningful calling to all worthy members. His plea to us was that we divide the ward. While waiting for such approval, we decided as a stake presidency that we would visit the ward and call all these wonderful, worthy brothers and sisters to be stake missionaries.

About the third person I visited was a young female student attending the local university. After chatting for a few moments, I issued the call to serve as a missionary. There was silence for a few moments. Then she said, “President, don’t you know that I am not active in the Church?”


After a few moments of silence on my part, I said, “No, I did not know you were not active.”


She answered, “I have not been active in the Church for years.” Then she said, “Don’t you know that when you have been inactive, it’s not all that easy to come back?”


I responded, “No. Your ward starts at 9:00 a.m. You come into the chapel, and you are with us.”


She answered, “No, it is not that easy. You worry about a lot of things. You worry if someone will greet you or if you will sit alone and unnoticed during the meetings. And you worry about whether you will be accepted and who your new friends will be.”


With tears rolling down her cheeks, she continued, “I know that my mother and father have been praying for me for years to bring me back into the Church.” Then after a moment of silence, she said, “For the last three months I have been praying to find the courage, the strength, and the way to come back into activity.” Then she asked, “President, do you suppose this calling could be an answer to those prayers?”


My eyes started to water as I responded, “I believe the Lord has answered your prayers.”


She not only accepted the call; she became a fine missionary. And I’m certain she brought much joy not only to herself but also to her parents and probably other family members.


And I love the conclusion he draws from this:

Over the years I have wondered how this interview might have gone had I approached her as a less-active Church member. I leave you to be the judge.

Have charity! Love you all!
Look at what my companion did to his white handbook. It's..beautiful...such rules...

Have I mentioned I love the things people put on the back of the cars/trucks? This is one of the high councilor's trucks. "No success can compensate for failure at home."

 The Martinez family, our infamous cock fighters. Well, actually, the husband wasn't there that day but here's the rest of them.

Comin' back to the outskirts of Quito in the bus.


 The Rangel family! We were helping the husband to get active again and he was making great progress.



 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Esmeraldas Grab Bag‏

I used to have these e-mails so neatly laid out. I don't know what happened. But here's a jumble of stuff that happened this week!

First of all, we're teaching some clowns. Yes, that's right, clowns. It's a less-active family and the dad is a professional clown. It was actually pretty cool - he taught us some magic tricks using coins. I need to practice a bit more. And the son-in-law is a potential investigator. He's a Spaniard so he has a hilarious accent (People from Spain pronounces all their "s's" like "sh."). We'll see what happens there!

Saturday we went on divisions and I stayed in the sector with one of the zone leaders. It maybe wasn't the best day, but he really helped me to understand what a joy it is to invite people to come unto Christ. That's our missionary objective, after all. That's all we're here to do, invite people to come unto Him, ultimately through baptism. And more than anything we just do the inviting and the Spirit does pretty much all the rest. So probably the best appointment we had that day was when we found Lourdes and her husband, who isn't a member (Yet. Muahaha)! We didn't have much time but we had a great lesson about the Book of Mormon and invited him to read it. I definitely felt the Spirit during the lesson so that was a great experience for me. Read it, people!

Which reminds me of HOLA. It's an acronym we use here in the mission that means "Hay que: Orar, Leer, y Asistir." In English, "You need to: Pray, Read, and Attend church." It's to help us to remember the commitments we usually extend to everyone - and they're the canned seminary answers that build testimony and families. I've realized that it's dangerous to stop doing any one of these three things and especially as a family. Gosh why is it so hard for people to read scriptures as a family? It's something I've wanted to focus on more recently. People really need to get into that habit. It's hard for recent converts especially I think. So we've been trying to help people to do it here in the sector. I just know that if we read the Book of Mormon in our families we'll get the families we want! It's so simple but so important. Read this talk by Pres. Benson. At the end it lists that promise.

Oh, here's a cool experience we had. Our zone this month has as one of its focuses praying when our appointments fall through. We need the guidance of the Spirit in every moment! So we went to an appointment we had set and the family wasn't there. We started to walk away, nowhere in particular, when I suggested we pray. So we turned around the corner to find a bit of privacy and my companion said the prayer. We open our eyes, we turn around, and there are the parents, running right past us to their house in the rain! They let us in and we start to teach. I didn't really know what to teach - next up on the list was Word of Wisdom and we'd planned to just to keep going with that, but it'd been a while since we'd taught the family and so I wasn't sure if that was right. I prayed to know what we should teach in my mind. We start off with Word of Wisdom and like normal we first talk about the Spirit and how we need to feel it (because then we lead into why we need to keep our bodies clean to feel it, yadda yadda). I ask the teenagers (they're our focus in the family) if they know what the Spirit does and how it works. They give me blank stares. Then I realize that with my other companion we had never checked up on something really important. "Have you prayed to know if the Book of Mormon is true?" Blank stares. Well. We had a good lesson about that! Follow the Spirit! It's the only thing that'll tell you the true needs of a person - yourself included.

Attendance in church was light because of Father's Day (People here will look for any kind of pretext to goof off...it was hard to sleep Saturday night because of the music and drinking outside the apartment.) but we did have one of our less-actives we've been working with for a while come to church for the first time, Hermano Rangel! That was awesome. He's a great guy and we just want all of the family to be there. The wife and kids are always there, we were just missing him. And it was great seeing the ward helping him feel at home.

We also learned a little bit of cha'pala, the language of the natives from the coast here, the chachi. Here's some phonetic spellings: oora kepenĂ©ne (good morning), ia Elder Scanlan (I'm Elder Scanlan), na-nai-yu (how are you). Pretty neat. We've got a less-active chachi. Of course, she speaks perfectly fine Spanish too.

The other day a Jehova's Witness contacted us. That happens a good bit. First time it's happened to me in the street. As my companion explained, there are only two types of people that will come up and talk to you: the prepared people, and the Jehova's Witnesses. She quizzed us on how many books the Bible had, what language "Yawheh" is in, and how old she was. I didn't answer right once. She turned 80 recently! My companion asked her how her birthday was, which was fantastic (because, you know, they don't believe in birthdays). She was actually really nice though.

And I've been reading the New Testament in Spanish. It's so much more understandable, believe it or not. I've really enjoyed it. I'm beginning John, now. The other day I saw that one of the APs walked around with just the Book of Mormon and the New Testament. That's awesome. I'd love to do that. Sometimes it's a pain lugging all 4 standard works around...

Well there's my week. Hope you have a good one, too! I know this church is true, I know the Book of Mormon is true, and I know that Christ lives!

The river! I don't know what it's name is. But this is part of the river we cross to get to the island in our sector. Where it passes through our sector it's much smaller.

People like to put their kids/spouses/Homer Simpson on every decal possible here. Sometimes the results are terrifying.

I was trying to figure out a pose for the picture and my companion took it anyways but I like how it turned out. Esmeraldas!

This is a zapote eating selfie. It basically tastes like cantelope, but it's stringy.

This is zapote, just one of the many fruits I've only found here. No they don't normally have anime faces.

 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Our Hero Forgets To Think of a Decent Title Part 2‏

Update on Paradise!

There was this recent convert named Lourdes who I only knew vaguely existed because her name was in our records. I'd never seen her and she didn't come to church - one day some months ago one of our appointments fell through and we ended up at her house and found her! She explained she had found a job that had her working every single day and getting back home at 8 - so in other words there was no way we were going to be able to teach her. It was just a blessing that we stumbled across her that day. So yeah we taught something and didn't see her again.

Until like two weeks ago when we were leaving the island (she lives in the island) and somebody calls after us - Lourdes! So it turns out she's not working any more and came to church yesterday! We've started teaching her again and things are going great. We even managed to teach to her husband once and some family members - it's going to be a great opportunity to bring her back to activity and possibly find more investigators and baptisms!

Apart from that our investigator with a date, Roberto Chavez, is also progressing well! He came to stake conference yesterday as well and he's doing a pretty good job of reading the Book of Mormon and all. Maybe I'm invoking Murphy's Law here but honestly it seems like the only problem will getting all the lessons in. We can only teach him about once or twice a week because he works until late, and I don't want to just teach the lessons to get him baptized...I don't think it's likely he'll be baptized this transfer (i.e. I probably won't be here for his baptism) but I don't see any problem otherwise.

More than anything we've just been getting in contact with some people we haven't seen in a while and had 3 investigators in church yesterday. That was pretty great. And they're all demonstrating a great chance of progress. One of them is Alan, who I mentioned a good while ago - go find that e-mail because I don't have time to write out the story again here.

We had a Zone Conference with President. Here in the Coast we're a bit more cut off from the mission - there's just the two zones here and as it's about a 6 hour drive from here to Quito, we just don't see anybody else. We only really get "news" (who's in what sector, how people are doing) from the outside world when President comes or when there's transfers. It was good, but it meant we didn't do anything the whole day. More than anything we've been focusing on asking references and using recent converts and less-actives as a good finding tool.

And yeah. Here's a fun cultural thing about Ecuador. Like in all of Latin America, the biggest meal is lunch (though they don't do siestas here) and so people don't eat a very big dinner - just a snack. What's most popular is "pan con cola" or in other words just bread and soda (Cola is the word for soda here. It's funny because there's a returned missionary who recently came back from Panama in the ward and he says soda all the time and people give him funny looks.). And usually Coca-Cola. Anyone will attest that you don't know what it's like to have soda as a part of the food culture until you go to Latin America. I will sincerely miss the gallon-size bottles. Anyhow people gave me bread and soda a good two or three times last week. It made me pretty happy.

Hiding Happiness

I just wanted to share a little story I heard in stake conference yesterday that I liked.

Back before we were born, when the world was being created, the Gods held a council and decided how exactly everything would work it. Although there were many ideas they generally came to the conclusion that man would eventually come to dominate the world.

However, the three wolf gods had a different idea. They were determined that man would be miserable, and so they devised a plan. A plan to hide happiness from man. And so they thought and debated about how exactly they would do it.

"I know!" said one of the wolf gods. "We'll go up and hide happiness in the highest mountain peak. Surely they'll never find it."

"No," replied one of the others, shaking his head. "These humans are determined creatures. One day they'll work up the courage to climb that mountain. I'm sure of it."

So they thought and thought some more.

"I know!" said the second wolf. "We'll go down and we'll hide happiness in the deepest depths of the sea. They'll never find it there!"

"No," said the first, shaking his head. "You've forgotten these humans are clever things. One day they'll devise a machine that can reach even the deepest depths and find it there. I'm sure of it."

Now they were stumped. They thought and thought and thought. Where could they hide happiness?

"I know," said the last wolf, the oldest and wisest. "I know where we can hide happiness. Where they will never, ever find it."

The other two looked at the third, astonished.

"Where, where?" they asked.

The old wolf smiled. "We'll hide it in themselves."

The other two thought about this and as they realized what their companion was saying they, too, smiled and nodded.

"They'll be so focused on searching for it outside..." said the first.

"That they'll never look inside themselves," finished the second.

I just really liked that story. Hope you liked it, too! Just remember that the only way to true happiness is through the Gospel. Only the truth can dispel darkness, only the light can replace it. Love you all, have a good week!
 
Shaky cam of the zone.

I took about a bajillion pics of our cockfighting less-actives chickens the other day.


Motorcycles are popular here in the Coast.


Lourdes's house. Working in the island is fun. It makes me really feel like I'm not just in a crappy, hot part of the US.

This is what I drew for the zone shirt. I'm pretty happy.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Hardest Battles You'll Ever Fight...‏

Hey all, not a lot of time this week, so, well, here are the titles of my journal entries for the last week or so:

-A Decent Day!
-A...Lousy Day
-No Package, No Appointments
-Sick
-Not Again!
-Blaargh

So yeah that was the week.

Honestly it's been pretty good, though. We're going through one of those phases where we really need to find new investigators but we're not having a TON of luck. The best part of the week is that we have an investigator with a baptismal date for the 27th! His name is Roberto Chavez. He's about 38 years old, the boyfriend of one of the members here. He's progressing well and he's a great guy I don't think there should be much of a problem getting him to his date.

On to the soap box part of the message.

soapbox/

David O. McKay once said something along the lines of "The greatest battles you will ever fight will be within the chambers of your heart."

I really love that quote and I think about it a lot. It's totally true. We all have our agency and choose what we will do and who we will become in this life. It's entirely our choice! So the greatest battles we will ever fight will be between what we want and what God wants.

I thought about this a lot because of an experience we had this week. Our ward mission leader showed us the house of some members that haven't been active in the church since they were kids - around 30 years ago. We figured out when we could find them in their house and planned to visit them later in the week. When we came and knocked on the door a lady, well into her 40s, answered the door. We talked and discovered that she was a member but it was obvious she didn't remember much at all. As we talked it was also pretty clear that, like any family, they had their share of challenges. We asked her a couple times if we could set up an appointment to come teach their family but she would somehow manage to derail herself from that idea.

My companion asked, "Do you think it's coincidence that we've come here?" He testified of the power of our calling as missionaries and that God had sent us there in that exact moment to help her with all the problems she was experiencing. I felt it. I knew it, and so did my companion. I think that although she didn't know it in the same way we did, she could feel something tugging at the back of her mind. I could see it in her face. We asked if we could come teach them and I could see what was going through her mind.

I think we've all felt it before. I've felt it many, many times. We think and think and think not because we are actually trying to figure out the problem but because we already know what the answer is. We already know or at the very least feel exactly what we should do. But we think, "I could just tell them to come back Saturday. Yeah, Saturday. I know I'll probably get late back from shopping, but I can try my hardest to get there on time." Knowing we won't. Or, "I'll just click on this page here. I know it'll be a bit risky and I might not get where I want to but it's not the worst that could happen." We try to make the decision anyone's but ours or the outcome anyone's fault but our own but we know, deep down inside, that we're deciding, that we've always decided, and that's how individuals and nations are built or destroyed.

In the end she said she'd come to church. We got her phone number, too, to call her the night before. She told herself she could make the decision in the future but she knew she'd already made it. When I called that night she pretended to not hear well and hung up. When we passed by Sunday morning her husband answered and said she was busy cooking breakfast and couldn't talk to us.

Actually, now I realize those were moments that determined her eternal destiny.

It makes me pretty sad, but I think this is one of the main reasons why few will get to God's kingdom. My companion's been sharing this scripture a lot and I'll share it here - 2 Nephi 28:30:

 30 For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.

The Celestial Kingdom is only for those that can bring it upon themselves to humble themselves, to take that leap of faith. I read this morning about James Covel, a Baptist minister that, although having been part of his church for 40 years, was ready to do all he needed to do to please God. He asked Joseph Smith about this and the prophet received Section 39 of D&C, which tells James he needs to be baptized. But he didn't. And we read in Section 40:

 1 Behold, verily I say unto you, that the heart of my servant James Covel was right before me, for he covenanted with me that he would obey my word.

 2 And he received the word with gladness, but straightway Satan tempted him; and the fear of persecution and the cares of the world caused him to reject the word.

 3 Wherefore he broke my covenant, and it remaineth with me to do with him as seemeth me good. Amen.


Well there's my food for thought this week! I know this work is true and I know it'll keep going forward, no matter what! And I know we can all do it! Love you all!

 A picture. I didn't take much this week, sorry. This is behind our apartment.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Paraiso Week 14: In Which Our Hero Sends An Entirely Un-Inspired Letter

Well I confess I didn't think a lot about this e-mail beforehand so I guess it'll just be a status update of the work here in Paraiso. I'm two weeks into my third change here (likely my last) and it's been pretty interesting being in one area for this long. Every time I look back I notice a change. I can't stop changing on the mission - if you asked me a month ago I would've told you I'd finally figured out how to do the work and I'd finally stabilized, but it just keeps happening whether I want it to or not. Now I feel like I'm still stabilizing, still getting better. I guess that's the point, huh? The point of this life is to see how we respond to challenges - whether we respond in the way Christ would or not. If we just keep doing it a bit better each day, we'll get to salvation eventually. As my trumpet teacher Drew Fennell always said, "In music and in life, be careful around points of transition." I understood that in the musical context, but I've really come to understand the real-life context as well.

Anyhow, Paraiso. We actually had maybe 80-90 people in the chapel yesterday, which was great. Normally about 60-70 attend church. Yes, it's a ward, but it's had its share of hard times. But things are always looking up and it's the work of the Lord. As missionaries we're finally reaping some of the efforts we put in when I first got here.

For instance, we have one less-active family that's very close to being rescued - the Espinoza family. They had their interview with the bishop, have their required church attendances (3 is what the Area Presidency has established), and so we just need to teach one more lesson! Then they can really start on their progress, getting callings, going to seminary, all that jazz. We've gotten the progress started and it's been great seeing them get back into it. To clarify, it's just the mom and their two kids we're rescuing - the dad has to work a lot and we don't see him often. But one day I'm sure he'll come back to so that we can complete the family! As they were already sealed in Spain it's incredibly important that it's a family thing! I sent a picture of me with them a few weeks back I think,

Anthony, our newest member here, the guy we baptized last week, is doing well, too! He was ordained a deacon yesterday, which is great. We're just helping to solidify his understanding of the Gospel as we give the follow-up lessons and whatnot. We're praying so that his mom can open the business she wants to so they can live closer to the chapel (they're going back to Loja, where they normally live, sometime this month) in Loja and go to church every week!

We haven't been finding a ton of new investigators but we are finding some less-actives. Here our ward mission leader is super helpful because he's been a member for a looong time and was the branch president way back when, so he knows everybody and where they live. He showed us, for instance, a family of less-actives that we're going to start to teach. The husband works as a clown which gives me no end of amusement. We need more less-actives to work with because the ones we've been working with have mostly stagnated in their progress (other than the Espinozas).

We've been learning, too, how to ask for better references, and that less-actives and recent converts are the gold mine. They're the ones who are most likely to have lots of friends that aren't from the church, so they've always got better references. Elder Godoy, who's in the Area Presidency, promised that if we dedicate half of our time to "rescuing" our baptisms will double. Pretty great promise, huh? We've been putting it in practice and I'm sure we'll be seeing results.

The Navias are a couple that have investigated the church for forever and are practically members - they've just never been able to get married so they can be baptized. With Elder Equite we started the process a few months ago and they're super close. We need to stop by them - it could be that they only need the money and they're good to go! The ward has plans to help them out, so that'll be great.

Well...These wall-of-text letters are just the kind of thing Ian McCrary (Ian is Jeremiah's good friend currently serving a mission in Madagascar) hates and I gotta admit I don't find it very attractive either, so that's all you've got from me today. I didn't really prepare a good spiritual thought, but I'll tell you to go read Elder Packer's talk from last conference.https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/04/why-marriage-and-family-matter-everywhere-in-the-world?lang=eng

 I was reading it this morning and it's awesome. Really puts things into perspective. Love you all! I'm starting to feel really old out here because everyone from the grade below is graduating and it won't be long until I've got a year in the mission. I don't want to feel that way at all but I'll keep trying my best to work hard.
 I will never get tired of posting pictures of the things I eat.


Never.

There are five of us from our district in the MTC here in the coast, which has been really weird/fun. Catching up on all the good times. I'll be honest I rarely want to go home but I do often want to go back to old sectors or the MTC.