Monday, July 27, 2015


This computer is giving me a headache, we'll see how it goes. I'm so glad I live in a rich country where pay-computers don't exist...

Anyhow, this week for about three days we were with another missionary, Elder Vargas. The other three missionaries from here in Lago Agrio left for Quito for a bit for meetings and various other sundries. So it was a weird three days but we got along fine. It's nuts how dangerous the roads here can be. There are "derrumbes" (um, landslides I think) all the time and the roads have been fairly un-navigable. Those other missionaries were stuck on a bus for almost an entire day. But they got back safely, phew.

This week we've been blessed with a load of new people to teach! 12 new investigators in total, three new families! 12 is the standard of excellence so I'm pretty darn happy. Statistically speaking, there's got to be a baptism among ONE of the people we've found at the very least...

One awesome experience we had with new investigators was a family we found that was super Catholic. As such they didn't want to believe in practically anything we said and wanted proofs in the Bible. But we went along, reading from the Book of Mormon and the Bible, answering their questions, and finally we got to a point where the investigator said, "Ok, then, show me in the Bible where it says that Joseph Smith was a prophet and I'll be baptized." But of course we explained it doesn't work like that. We got him, essentially, to the point where he HAD to read the Book of Mormon or he'd never know. We shouldn't contend with people but I do think we need to get them to that point. Pres. Benson says we all at some point hit the wall of faith and there we have to make our stand. I think our job as missionaries should often be just get people to that wall.

And one last experience - this week we got assigned a new family - a family we know well, in fact, because they give us lunch on Tuesday. They've been drifting away for a while now and the branch president (another Elder, remember?) finally decided to declare them officially "less-actives." My companion felt pretty sad because he partly considered it his fault, but I reassured him telling him there was still time. "For me there isn't," he responded. He's finishing in two weeks.

But you know what, there's always time! One thing I've learned is that the most important decisions are often made in a small moment. I like Pres. Hinckley's story of when he was on his mission. There was a moment when he just decided to make the decision to give it all up to the Lord. There's always time to change, and the real danger is never making the decision! The point is that it's never too late. There's nothing the Atonement can't heal. One of my very favorite talks is called "You Can Do It Now!" by Elder Uchtdorf. Here's how he illustrates this:

When I was young, falling and getting up seemed to be one and the same motion. Over the years, however, I have come to the unsettling conclusion that the laws of physics have changed—and not to my advantage.

Not long ago I was skiing with my 12-year-old grandson. We were enjoying our time together when I hit an icy spot and ended up making a glorious crash landing on a steep slope.

I tried every trick to stand up, but I couldn’t—I had fallen, and I couldn’t get up.

I felt fine physically, but my ego was a bit bruised. So I made sure that my helmet and goggles were in place, since I much preferred that other skiers not recognize me. I could imagine myself sitting there helplessly as they skied by elegantly, shouting a cheery, “Hello, Brother Uchtdorf!”

I began to wonder what it would take to rescue me. That was when my grandson came to my side. I told him what had happened, but he didn’t seem very interested in my explanations of why I couldn’t get up. He looked me in the eyes, reached out, took my hand, and in a firm tone said, “Opa, you can do it now!”

Instantly, I stood.

I am still shaking my head over this. What had seemed impossible only a moment before immediately became a reality because a 12-year-old boy reached out to me and said, “You can do it now!” To me, it was an infusion of confidence, enthusiasm, and strength.

Brethren, there may be times in our lives when rising up and continuing on may seem beyond our own ability. That day on a snow-covered slope, I learned something. Even when we think we cannot rise up, there is still hope. And sometimes we just need someone to look us in the eyes, take our hand, and say, “You can do it now!”

If there's ever something you feel you need to change, just can do it now! There is nothing in your life that can't be erased or repaired by the Atonement!

Special shout-out goes to Zach and Nick who returned from their missions...holy cow, I can't believe it. I may not have e-mailed you guys like at all but I care! Les quiero mucho! No se olvidarán de su español...
Thank goodness no imminent flooding.

Pretentious pic of a flower.

A smoothie place. I had guanabana. Um look it up on Google. I'm not sure how to explain it. But it was delicious.


Monday, July 20, 2015

The Book of Mormon Does It Again!‏

This week, a few sketches of how the Book of Mormon solves everyone's problems ever. They've cut down our e-mail time to an hour and a half here (Some of you other missionaries might say "'Cut down?!'") so my letters might be a bit shorter from here on it but it doesn't mean I don't love you!

First off, our investigator with date, Mayra, is still struggling to find a testimony. We asked her how she feels while reading the Book of Mormon and she mentioned that she feels a bit more alleviated - so I frantically searched for something like that in the Book of Mormon and my companion helped me find Alma 36, where Alma talks about how he felt as he cried out in the depths of his sorrows.

 18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.

 19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.

 20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!

Pretty great, heah? Check out the chiasmus that's in this chapter to even better understand the beauty of these verses.

Then, later in the week, we checked up on whether she'd called her parents to ask for permission to be baptized - she still hadn't called her dad and was a little afraid to do so. But we searched in the Book of Mormon and again my companion suggested we read Alma 20 - the story of when Ammon and his recent convert King Lamoni have a run-in with Lamoni's dad. The result being that Lamoni's dad gets converted a few chapters after!

We've also been teaching a family that's great, but the huge problem with their progress is the fact that like three of them don't know how to read. Lousy public education. So we've been teaching them bit by bit how to read and they have been having a bit of progress. But for me it was a big disappointment when they didn't come to church this week. I was pretty frustrated. But the second councilor in the mission presidency (I didn't even know mission presidencies existed), who's in charge of the branch, came down for a branch conference, and while he was there he shared a scripture in 3 Nephi 18, where Jesus explains what we need to do with people that might not be progressing.

 32 Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out of your synagogues, or your places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.

That helped me to realize that we should keep visiting them, despite my frustration. And when we went to visit them that night, we learned that they'd had a lot of problems with one family that day who had gone off and done a lot damage and now the mom was pretty ticked off. We ended up sharing that very same scripture with them, but applying it to their home! We testified that Christ can change people and that they could really see those changes they want to see if the follow Him.

And finally we were teaching a less-active that's also been having plenty of problems in their family. It's hard for her to come to church because not everyone in her family is a member and even those that are members don't want to come to church. This reminded me of a part in Alma where Alma goes to rescue the less-active Zoramites. When he sees their state of apostasy, he's really saddened, but I love the prayer he says in chapter 31.

 31 O Lord, my heart is exceedingly sorrowful; wilt thou comfort my soul in Christ. O Lord, wilt thou grant unto me that I may have strength, that I may suffer with patience these afflictions which shall come upon me,because of the iniquity of this people.

 34 O Lord, wilt thou grant unto us that we may have success in bringing them again unto thee in Christ.

 35 Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are our brethren; therefore, give unto us, O Lord, power and wisdom that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee.

The scripture really helped her to see how she can help her family and she came to church the next day!

The Book of Mormon does it, once again! Hurrah!

In other news like I said Presidente Ayala came, the second councilor in the mission presidency, and he organized for the first time an Elders Quorum here and ordained 5 new elders! It's great for the branch and we keep progressing. In only 4 years the branch has about 70 members and the missionaries here have been having a lot of success in baptizing as well.

The mission isn't easy but it's great. I know this is the Lord's work and that Christ lives! Have a good week, everyone.
A coconut tree.

The Cevallos family are some awesome recent converts in our sector from Colombia. They make guitars and play them for a living. How cool is that?

              Papaya growing in a member's backyard.



Monday, July 13, 2015

Cantan Santos Ángeles


Just reminding you that's where I am.

But as you probably realized from the last photos I sent it's really just any other town. It's just hot, rains, and things are more expensive. But I think I did hear some monkeys running around outside the other day.

These week's update might be a bit shorter but first we have an investigator with date, Mayra Ponce! She's a 16-year-old that they found last transfer, but she's been having good progress. She doesn't live with her parents I think because she's going to school here and they work out on a reserve or something deep in the jungle (Yes, there ARE natives that still run around with spears, but a good 4 hours away, not counting the canoe ride, so we kind of don't work there.), so we still need to get their permission and she still needs a testimony as well, so that'll be the focus. But she could get baptized this week. We'll see what happens.

In the rest of the sector we have people who can progress in the future, but need to get married, and since so many people are Colombians getting the papers arranged for that type of thing is a nightmare. But one of my favorites of these people is Juan. He's a young guy but you couldn't tell by looking at it - he's been through some Stuff. And it sounds like his voice box got thrown into a blender from its whispery rasp. But he's awesome. To illustrate, a story from the other day:

One of the other elders was bugging him about his fancy-looking watch and the nice new motorcycle he bought.

Juan explains, "They're God's blessings. Just like the song." (Singing)  "'Count your many blessings...' I love that song. I sang it in jail. They'd always put that music on and I'd cry and cry..."

That's Juan.

Oh and speaking about baptisms we got to see a baptism from one of the other companionships here last Saturday. As we're renting an apartment for the church, there's no font, and so we baptize...IN A RIVER. Needless to say it was a cool experience and really very spiritual. Like I said, it's awesome seeing the strength of some of these members here that have hardly been members for more than a few years - or months or weeks. Pics at the end of the e-mail.

This week I got to know Coca, the other city where missionaries work out here in the Oriente. Since it's two hours from here to there in bus, we alternate where we have the weekly zone meetings so that half the zone doesn't have to lose that kind of time every week. (Remember that Coca and Lago Agrio are the two branches that are covered by this zone and that there are three companionship in each branch.) So that was cool and I also took a million pics on the bus ride.

I had a cool experience this week. There's a returned missionary living here who moved here from Guayaquil and he's a great help in the branch. He also likes to sing and is one of the few latinos I've ever met who's actually had some kind of training, and so we've already hit it off good. We're always finding hymns to sing and work on the parts. I suggested "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" because I love the bass part and we sang. We sang our hearts out. Then he surprises me by pulling me into a hug and crying. "Thanks for your service," he tells me with a smile. Music helps us feel the Spirit! And it helped me remember I'm here to serve in any way possible. That's the joy of the work.

I've been thinking a bit about these verses in 2 Corinthians these past few days:

 9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.

 10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

There's an interesting and important difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. I had this problem at one point. Worldly sorrow is wanting to change because of our shame or thinking about what other people think. That kind of sorrow can't help us repent. Only godly sorrow, which is what we feel when we'll do anything to make things up with God. Getting rid of our pride is often the first step to repentance.

Love you all! Have a great week!

Oh and check out! The article on the front page that talks about pioneers talks about some members from Otavalo! That's part of the mission, an area of "campo," or field. There are so many members in Otavalo it's been nicknamed "Utahvalo." One general authority once said that it's one of the purest Lamanite places on earth. I'll have to dig out that quote. Anyhow there are four parts of the mission, more or less: coast, mountain (city), field, and jungle. I've gotten three down. It's likely I'll get sent to Otavalo in the future, too.


 To the left here is the building serving as the chapel, on the second floor.

 Pomarosa - one of those fruits I'd never heard of ever before coming here. It's pretty good, I guess.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Lago Agrio

Sorry I am late posting Miah's letter this week. I was at our church Girls Camp all week. Thank you for all your support for Jeremiah!

If only my blog could have:
-the titles of Elder McCrary's blog
-the picture of Elder McCrary's blog
-the snarkening pop-culture saturation of Elder McCrary's blog
-the food of Elder McCrary's blog
And then I was going to put a picture here of me eating a fish but it looks my blog does at least have the inconsistency of Elder McCrary's blog. 
Anyhow, looks like you won't be getting pictures because the computer refuses to read my card. And on such a crucial day! Oh well. Such is la vida misional. He was able to post pictures, they are at the end as usual.:)
As I said before there's a missionary in charge of the branch here, one of the zone leaders. Our district leader also has a responsbility - he's the secretary. Other than that there's just me and my companion, the good ol' normal companionship. We've got a gigantic sector here. Logistically, it's an absolute nightmare, because there aren't any buses and we have to pay taxis to get anywhere. Also we live on one extreme of the sector and on the other end live practically all the people we're teaching. On top of that my companion wasn't taught the sector very well (because his companion wasn't taught the sector well beforehand) and we've got to figure it out pretty much together. But hey, I'm hoping that within a week or so I'll get the hang of it and we can start being more efficient.
As for being "jungle," it's not like I'm hacking through undergrowth with a machete or anything. Really, I'm not even sure we're in the actual Amazon. Go look at a map or something and tell me. It's an actual small city out here and fairly nice, too. Pretty clean and with actually good-looking planning closer to the center. But where we spend most of our time I'm stepping on pebble roads - my feet hurt a good bit.
The majority of people here are actually from Colombia - I'm not exactly sure why, but it's annoying at times because it means I have to spend another few months with Colombian bread, which is just the worst thing on the planet. At least, when you've experienced Quito's bread. But weare teaching a recent convert that only knows the native language here - I don't remember what it's called. Her daughter, who's a member, translates for us. But she lives in a normal (Ecuadorian) house and everything, so don't get all excited.
Also things are generally a bit more expensive here, I'm guessing because getting stuff here is a bit of a trek through the mountains and whatnot. Just imagine those windy Western-PA backroads that always get you sick. That's pretty much all of the roads leading to or from here. They're well paved and everything, it's just fairly slow going, so what would in distance be only a two or three hour trip on a normal highway in the states turns into like twelve hour trip. And so bananas cost 10 cents each. TEN CENTS. That's a 100% difference from the coast. I guess that's why they give us 30 more dollars to play with here.
As for the branch membership, the great majority are converts that have at most 3 or 4 years in the church. It seems like we have an attendance of about 60 members. There is a couple of returned missionaries that moved here and they're a great help for the branch, it seems. And of course a lot of the converts are great, too! I'm just excited to try to find a couple on my own, too haha.
What else? The house is tiny. That's not fun. And it's not always super hot here so it stinks showering in cold water. It rains a ton - I think it's rained every day while I've been here and I managed to lose my umbrella about a month and a half ago...but there's KFC.
Relatos Verídicos
I thought I'd share a couple awesome stories I heard this week. For instance, I was talking with one of the other missionaries in the branch when I learn he's a recent convert with just 2 years as a member! It's awesome hearing that sometimes from gringos because I guess when I look at a gringo I assume he's been a member for all his life. Turns out his parents are less-actives and he didn't know much about the gospel, but as he went to college in Utah he got to know lots of member friends and one of them gave him a Book of Mormon. One night he finally got around to reading it and as he described it, started to feel super bad about the things that he had been doing. He got in contact with the missionaries and three weeks later got baptized. Now he's serving a mission and being a total champ.
I talked with one of our recent converts and she explained how she got to know the church a good while back but could never convince her husband to get married so they could get baptized. Then they moved here and last year got in contact with the missionaries again. This time she told her husband, "I'll give you two weeks and if we don't get married, I'm leaving - to China, if necessary, so I can get baptized." The husband had a change of heart and they got married - and one of their kids got baptized to with his wife. Now they have callings and they're all doing great in the church.
Yesterday was testimony meeting. I watched as a young lady who couldn't have had more than a few years as a member get up and testify powerfully of her desire to be married in the temple.

I was eating at the same table as our branch president/zone leader and I asked him, "What did you do before the mission?"
With a smile he says, "I was a bum."
More than anything it's just amazing how the gospel changes lives. There's nothing else that can do it so completely. When we light up a dark room the darkness just flees. It can't do a thing.
I like to think about Alma the Younger, sometimes, and the change he had in my life. I realized while being out here that at some point we have to stop reading the Book of Mormon stories and start living them. It can happen. And it will! I know the gospel is true and that it changes lives. I know the Book of Mormon is true and that we have living prophets. Love you all, have a great week!

Aha! I figure this thing out. Good, pics. Here's a lousy one of me in front of the sign that says "Lago Agrio."

We passed by some gorgeous scenery on the way down here.

Another lousy picture of the place we're renting to do the meetings.

With the Cevallos family, a family of recent converts. My and my comp are about to dig into that bandeja paisa. It's a Colombian dish and it has: sausage, egg, rice, avacado, plantain, pork, arepa, ground beef, and beans. It was the best way to end a fast ever.

Rain and more rain.