Monday, September 28, 2015

Getting Native in Otavalo

Actually that's a gigantically huge lie because I don't even work with the natives here but it's super cool anyways.

So I'm now in Otavalo! I'm now one of the few people blessed enough to get to go to the "four corners" of the mission. I started in Quito, went to the Coast, then the Jungle, now out here in the Fields (well I suppose I've been in the field this whole time ho ho ho). Otavalo is one of the more famous parts of Ecuador. It's a small city a few hours north of Quito and as such situated in the mountains. It's mostly famous for the natives who live here, the Otavaleños (English translation unavailable), and all the handicrafts they make and sell on the world market.

Now don't get me wrong, when I say native I don't mean to say people running around with spears and loincloths. That's what you find deep in the Amazon. Here the Otavaleños are actually super civilized. The vast majority speak both their native language, Quichua, and Spanish. On rare ocassion you'll run into some older people that mostly speak Quichua but I haven't had to teach anyone like that so far. Mostly because the ward I'm working in, Rumiñahui, is a Latino ward despite the Otavaleño name.

It's actually pretty confusing. There are both wards for the latinos and wards for the natives. In the latino wards they speak Spanish but the native wards are run entirely in Quichua, despite the fact that they can speak Spanish. It also makes for some really confusing ward boundaries. For instance, we actually share sectors with the sister missionaries from one of the native wards. If they find latinos, they give them to us to teach, and if we find natives, even if they speak Spanish, we send them over to the sister missionaries. The boundaries of the ward overlaps with at least two or three native wards and there are even two separate stakes. Plus the fact that there are three zones's super confusing. But usually the natives live further out in the fields, so most of our interaction here in my sector, in basically the center of the town, is with latinos. But probably half the people walking around down here are natives. Look up on Google how they dress because I don't have pictures but it's pretty cool. The guys also keep their hair long and in ponytails. And I hear a good bit of Quichua in the streets. For me it's practically like being in Quito again, but with lots more natives.

The Otavaleños are pretty famous for being solid members - the fact that there are two stakes alone here and one in the making is a testament to that. And it's fun for us missionaries sometimes because we can get the inside scoop on how much their handicrafts actually sell for. Because don't get me wrong they will rip off any foreigner with no remorse. The main market for their artisan work is actually like two blocks from my house and I can see gringos sticking out like sore, pale thumbs at any given time of day. Not just from the States but from Europe as well. It's pretty darn funny actually. And I can walk around with my Samoan skin and nobody suspects a thing...

So. What does all this change mean for me?

1. FINALLY I don't have to put up with the lousy Colombian bakeries I lived with for 7 months in the Jungle and the Coast. Back to the actually good bakeries.

2. It's been ridiculously cold. I remember when I started my mission I always walked around with short sleeves and everyone was like "aren't you freezing?" "Well, where I come from I'm used to the cold." But after 7 months in the heat I can really feel it now. With wind chill it probably never drops lower than 60 but that's still a 20 degree difference from my last 7 months. Now I actually have to put on a suit when going to church, too.

3. I have to get used to that hilarious mountain accent again. It's just so...bad. Not only does the "ll" become "sh" but also "rr" and just normal old "r." Honestly I think some gringos have a better accent than that.

4. There's less music in the streets.

5. They don't make the rice with a lot of flavor and they generally give us less to eat. But at least I'm eating with latinos. I've heard the natives just give you rice and potatoes. And if you're lucky every once in a while a bit of meat.

6. The ward is a really strong ward, the best I've been in so far. It'll be great to work with the members.

7. But at the same time the work is a bit harder. The sectors are more picked over and people are more Catholic and will actually even be rude some times. So it's been a little more difficult to work now.

But I've been thinking about that a lot. It's going to be a test of our faith and hope. I liked something I read in a talk by Elder Holland the other day.

We speak about excellence a great deal at BYU these days, and, by definition, excellence does not come easily or quickly—an excellent education does not, a successful mission does not, a strong, loving marriage does not, rewarding personal relationships do not. It is simply a truism that nothing very valuable can come without significant sacrifice and effort and patience on our part. Perhaps you discovered that when you got your grades last month. Maybe in other ways you are finding that many of the most hoped-for rewards in life can seem an awfully long time coming.
My concern this morning is that you will face some delays and disappointments at this formative time in your life and feel that no one else in the history of mankind has ever had your problems or faced those difficulties. And when some of those challenges come, you will have the temptation common to us all to say, “This task is too hard. The burden is too heavy. The path is too long.” And so you decide to quit, simply to give up. Now to terminate certain kinds of tasks is not only acceptable but often very wise. If you are, for example, a flagpole sitter then I say, “Come on down.” But in life’s most crucial and telling tasks, my plea is to stick with it, to persevere, to hang in and hang on, and to reap your reward. Or to be slightly more scriptural:
Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.
Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days. [D&C 64:33–34]
I am asking you this morning not to give up “for ye are laying the foundation of a great work.” That “great work” is you—your life, your future, the very fulfillment of your dreams. That “great work” is what, with effort and patience and God’s help, you can become. When days are difficult or problems seem unending, I plead with you to stay in the harness and keep pulling. You are entitled to “eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days,” but it will require your heart and a willing mind. It will require that you stay at your post and keep trying.
It's true! It may not be easy but it will be worth it. The Lord has always provided a way!
Amazonic scenery

My last day in Lago Agrio with Benjamin, a good friend I made there.

Eating Pizza!

In Otavalo

The Andes.

Cotacahi, one of the many volcanoes around here.

2. .

Monday, September 14, 2015

Having a Year Left in the Mission Didn't Mean Anything To Me Until Somebody Showed Me a Trailer for Pokemon Go‏

Sector update! Our investigator Dina is doing well. Unfortunately it seems like she won't be baptized this week but we'll see what happens. The problem is that she feels unprepared for some reason or another. She wants to be baptized, yes, but doesn't know when. But I feel more and more comfortable with her progress. What really helped us was that we brought her to a church activity Wednesday night and she miraculously started chatting it up with one of the young women here - which has never happened. That's been one of her big problems, just overcoming her shyness, but now we've got a perfect fellowshipper for her and not only that but this fellowshipper is one of the very few members that live in our sector and also the ones who live closest to Dina. So it was a pretty heaven-sent solution. We left Dina last night with the commitment to pray for a baptismal date so we'll so how things go! I'm feeling pretty relaxed about the whole thing. I feel like we've done our part.

The week overall was semi-rough. We had a hard time finding people even though we were searching a bunch. We did end up with a bunch of references that we're going to be contacting over the next few weeks, so that's good. It's always frustrating went people aren't at home or don't progress or whatever and we have a real heck of a time trying to get members to come with us mostly because we have trouble coordinating without a cellphone but things work out. It ended well because we had a bunch of people in church!

We're coming to the end of the transfer here and it's been a good time in Lago Agrio until now. There's a chance that they'll take me out of here but I doubt it. I certainly hope not. It's been awesome working out here in the jungle. It's a unique experience I'll never get again. The church is so new here and it's so cool seeing the growth taking place. There's just so much potential in this sector and although I might have not seen a lot of "success" I know it's just waiting over the horizon.

And yeah, I also hit my year mark this week! Nuts, huh? It doesn't even seem real to me. And I also turned 20. I'll admit I might have been thinking a bit more about home but the work continues just the same. I don't feel like I'm one year old in the mission nor twenty years old on planet earth. Things don't feel different though I think my brain is just not able to process right now that things are different now and there's no way that can get back to normal. But I guess that's how life really, normally is. It just won't stop changing.

I was talking with Elder Rubisch, the branch president here, who is going home next transfer. I asked him what his greatest success has been in the mission. He said it's basically been himself, and the change he's had, the person he's come to be.

Looking back on my year I'd say the same. Though I have been able to help many other people I think the most important person I've been able to help is myself. I have learned so much about myself and what God has in store for me. I have a much clearer vision of who I am and who I can be. And I'm getting there, too! I know I wouldn't have learned any of that without the mission - and what could matter more? We only take with ourselves into the next world ourselves. What we've become.

Early on in the mission one of my companions taught me part of the meaning of those verses we know so well in D&C 18:

15 And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

 16 And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!

Now, who is that one soul? It's actually you, yourself. President Richardson reminded me of that a few weeks ago in my interview. The point is to bring ourselves unto God, first. Then we can find even more joy bringing others there as well.

I think I'm doing pretty good so far. :) You guys out there keep it up, too! The Lord sent us here to win, not to fail. The plan of salvation is not a level playing field.

I also testify that my call is divinely revealed because I'll be back home before Pokemon Go comes out.
 The birthday cake I bought myself.

We dropped on some less-actives improvisedly but hey they bought me ice cream, too. I like how the candle poses the difficult question of hold old am I actually turning.

 Eating encebollados on my one year day!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Redeemer of Israel‏

First of all we have an investigator with date!!! Woohoo! It's Dina, and she has a date for the 19th. Yes, she had a date last week but we decided to put another one down because we have to finish some teaching and she feels she needs to make some changes in her life.

It's been an interesting experience with her. When I first came here one of the first appointments we had was with her family, the Gracia-Viteri family. They reminded me so much of the experience I'd had fresh from the coast (because the parents are from the coast) and I was so excited to teach them. But as we did we saw problems - most of the family lost interest, it was  a challenge because many of them didn't know how to read, they weren't coming to short, not progressing. I did want to leave them or at the very least was very discouraged. But something, not just my companion, told me to keep teaching them. And we came to realize that Dina was the one who listened to us most and was ready to fulfill commitments.

So we started focusing more on her! It's been a long journey so far but this Sunday she took a huge step and came to church alone! So we need to work hard to include her and make sure she has friends (especially because she's pretty timid) but we have a working goal that she'd like to achieve as well. It's exciting! The closest I've been in all my time here in the Orient.

But apart from that this week was ROUGH. Appointments fell through, it seemed like we didn't find people to teach, the people we found didn't seem to progress...for me it was kind of hard. I remember in one appointment especially I was excited because we found an entire family (Married, at that! That's not very common here.) but we spent about an hour and a half teaching and at the end they somehow just DID NOT GET the message of the Restoration. I left pretty darn frustrated.

Sometimes it's pretty hard for me to have faith that the church will grow in the way it should, the members, or the missionaries. It's easy to see the difficult things.

But apart from my forever fight to be more patient, I've learned a bit this week. In our Book of Mormon reading this week I finished 1 Nephi and I loved some scriptures I found. The more I read it the more I come to like the Isaiah chapters and the prophecies of the prophets about the House of Israel. I like to apply them more to me. I love what it says in chapter 20 of 1 Nephi:

 10 For, behold, I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction 

It's disconcerting but comforting at the same time to know that the Lord loves us so much that he wants to purify us through affliction. And, some companion verses in the next chapter:

14 But, behold, Zion hath said: The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me—but he will show that he hath not.

 15 For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel.

Pretty great, huh? The Lord never forgets us! I also love the middle two verses of the hymn "Redeemer of Israel."

2. We know he is coming
To gather his sheep
And lead them to Zion in love,
For why in the valley
Of death should they weep
Or in the lone wilderness rove?

3. How long we have wandered
As strangers in sin
And cried in the desert for thee!
Our foes have rejoiced
When our sorrows they've seen,
But Israel will shortly be free.

Have a good week people! Oh yeah I'm going to turn 20 years old this week and 1 year old in the mission! But I don't think I'll feel any different. Best not to think about how old I am.

We finally went to a park here with some actually cool animals. I had someone take a rare picture of me. Look at how burnt I am. One year more and I'm going to come back pretty crispy.

I realized today I'm used to eating this but you guys aren't so I should probably send a pic. The good thing is that I was in a restaurant so I could leave it uneaten there and no one would kill me.

A terrible selfie but I should probably be proud of how bad I am at taking them.

A gigantic snake.

Some turtles.