Monday, October 26, 2015

Family Reunion

This was about the most up and down week ever. Here's a sum-up:

Monday: I manage to leave the keys in the apartment, and without any way to contact the landlady and the back up keys hours away in the offices in Quito we had to go and sleep with the zone leaders for the night. I thought it was pretty funny, but we lost our appointments. The good thing is that President and the assistants were already scheduled to be here in Otavalo the next day so they dropped off the back-up keys without any problem and we got back in.

Tuesday: We found a new couple to teach! A huge blessing, considering the fact that we've had almost no new investigators these weeks. They might not progress at all because they're pretty catholic but it's cool because we found them contacting and it just so happens that the brother of the husband is the high priest group leader in our ward. Built-in fellowshipper.

Wednesday: We were with President receiving training. It was pretty great because I got to see a bunch of people I hadn't seen in a while (there were two zones there in the training), including my "parents" in the mission, Elder Budge and Elder McPhie! I hadn't seen Elder McPhie since like January so it was great. He's an awesome missionary, and now serving as a zone leader in the other zone.

Thursday: Surprise divisions with the zone leaders. It wasn't a very good day but my zone leader taught my something incredibly important.

I've felt like something has been missing from the work I'm doing as a missionary and I think I received at least part of the answer. It makes me remember a talk that a Seventy gave in the April Conference about the "Music of the Gospel." Basically, if we do the dance steps but don't hear the music it doesn't work at all. And I think I've been pretty deaf to the music, which is charity. It doesn't matter how much work we do or how obedient we are - if we don't do it with charity, it doesn't matter at all. Really, everything Christ did was motivated by love. So it should be with us, too. Paul explains it best: 

 1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels,and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have al lfaith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity,it profiteth me nothing.

Friday: We found a new less-active to teach and his non-member wife!

Saturday and Sunday: Probably two of the worst days on my mission. On Saturday we almost literally had nothing. Just a few contacts. Every single appointment fell through.

I'm not sure why things are happening. It's hard to know when they're just the things that happen or if we're doing something wrong.

But things will get better.

Something one of our assistants said Wednesday really, really struck me. He said in effect "You'd better get used to doing this work now. Because it's not like it's going to stop after the grave. No, it just keeps going. In the spirit world, and for all of eternity. This is the work you'll be doing. So get used to it, and love it."

It reminded me of something in Brad Wilcox's excellent discourse on grace:

I know a young man who just got out of prison—again. Each time two roads diverge in a yellow wood, he takes the wrong one—every time. When he was a teenager dealing with every bad habit a teenage boy can have, I said to his father, “We need to get him to EFY.” I have worked with that program since 1985. I know the good it can do.

His dad said, “I can’t afford that.”

I said, “I can’t afford it either, but you put some in, and I’ll put some in, and then we’ll go to my mom, because she is a real softy.”

We finally got the kid to EFY, but how long do you think he lasted? Not even a day. By the end of the first day he called his mother and said, “Get me out of here!” Heaven will not be heaven for those who have not chosen to be heavenly.

In the past I had a picture in my mind of what the final judgment would be like, and it went something like this: Jesus standing there with a clipboard and Brad standing on the other side of the room nervously looking at Jesus.

Jesus checks His clipboard and says, “Oh, shoot, Brad. You missed it by two points.”

Brad begs Jesus, “Please, check the essay question one more time! There have to be two points you can squeeze out of that essay.” That’s how I always saw it.

But the older I get, and the more I understand this wonderful plan of redemption, the more I realize that in the final judgment it will not be the unrepentant sinner begging Jesus, “Let me stay.” No, he will probably be saying, “Get me out of here!” Knowing Christ’s character, I believe that if anyone is going to be begging on that occasion, it would probably be Jesus begging the unrepentant sinner, “Please, choose to stay. Please, use my Atonement—not just to be cleansed but to be changed so that you want to stay.”

The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can go home but that—miraculously—we can feel at home there. If Christ did not require faith and repentance, then there would be no desire to change. Think of your friends and family members who have chosen to live without faith and without repentance. They don’t want to change. They are not trying to abandon sin and become comfortable with God. Rather, they are trying to abandon God and become comfortable with sin. If Jesus did not require covenants and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, then there would be no way to change. We would be left forever with only willpower, with no access to His power. If Jesus did not require endurance to the end, then there would be no internalization of those changes over time. They would forever be surface and cosmetic rather than sinking inside us and becoming part of us—part of who we are. Put simply, if Jesus didn’t require practice, then we would never become pianists.

Pretty great stuff, huh? Well, I know God's grace is sufficient for us. And it's something I need to be constantly reminded of out here. More than anything I know he loves us, and that's got to be one of the most important things I can teach people out here.

Hope you all have a good week!

 I ate oyster (I think?) today. I'm sure it's not as good as what you can get in the coast, but I liked it.
OH and I received some great news that one of the people I was working with in my last sector, Dina, got baptized! The guy on the right is my old companion!

                                        Me and my companion from the MTC. Great guy.

The Zone

The Plaza de Ponchos, where lots of people buy the native handicrafts.

I've been in the same zone as the guy on the right for like half my mission up till now and I had the good luck of seeing him Wednesday as well. We're good friends, so that means he can take selfies with my camera without punishment.

With my trainers!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Menos-Activo Madness

Welp sorry I don't have much time to e-mail you guys, but here's a bit of news from the mountains of Ecuador:

We've been shifting the majority of our work to the less-actives here. Which there are plenty of, as in all of latin america. The idea is to activate and through that find references and baptize, which is the way the area presidency wants us to work. It really does work, but for now we're just trying to help our less-actives get there to a point where they can also help others. Things will get better - and have been getting better - but it means we've had few lessons with investigators this week (even though we've been searching). We'll get there. For instance, our less-active Victor Piedra is doing great, coming to church on his own. And as he was the ward mission leader in the past he knows lots of people we can teach.

We had a pretty cool experience where our last appointments for the day fell through and so of course we had to contact at night which is probably what missionaries least like to do. After a bunch of rejections, we stumbled into a less-active family we didn't even know existed! That kinda happens. But they seem pretty receptive and we might see some good things there.

It was a frustrating week overall and I had a lot of doubts (as usually happens) as to whether I was truly doing enough, what I was doing wrong, what's happening to the sector...but everything turned out well in the end. I need to do a lot better about seeing the good things I do. It's so hard to be grateful when we least want to, but it's all in our heads in the end.

I'll leave you with that. Next week will be more extensive, I hope, and include pictures of me eating guinea pig, which is totally going to happen within the next week. I'm excited. Are you excited?
In the fields.

 I went on divisions with the zone leaders this week, which took me out to the "true" Otavalo experience out in the fields. It's really gorgeous out there, and poor as well. Here have the Lake San Pablo and Imbabura, one of the resident volcanoes.

I saw a sheep but it didn't want a picture.

 There's a tourist train that passes by every once in a while. I'd totally do it a p-day if it didn't take like 10 hours round trip and 50 dollars.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Quito Double Trouble

This week was pretty interesting! It started off super lousy actually. Monday and Tuesday every single on of our appointments fell through and we just contacted (for some of you in mission in the states - or worse, Europe, I know I'm probably whining way too much), without hardly any success. Then, guess what! Our district leader shows up Wednesday morning to surprise us telling us my companion has a surprise medical appointment in Quito that day (he has to go to Quito for regular check-ups on a foot problem - nothing serious, he can work  just fine, he just has to get these check-ups every once in a while...) so we lost the entire day travelling in the bus. It's a two hour drive in the bus from Otavalo winding down the Andes into Quito and from the terminal in Quito it's another hour in the super-confusing city bus system to get to the hospital. Well, at least the medical appointment turned out well.

And the next day, we had to go once again to Quito to renew my visa! We were sitting there waiting for the visas for something like two hours, and I'd left my scriptures somewhere else so I couldn't even do that (only in the mission would you want to read scriptures to pass the time). So we lost that day as well.

But you know what I've been thinking this week about the talk President Eyring gave in the Priesthood Session this conference. He explained that as holders of the priesthood, if we do our little part the Lord will make up for the rest of it. I suppose I get overly worried about just doing my little part a lot of the time, but this week I could see that the Lord could really bless us despite the time lost.

First, we came back home both nights to actually have appointments. One of them was with Jaime, a less-active reference that the wife of the previous bishop gave us. It was the first lesson we had with him, and he shows real desires to progress! He's had a hard time with his marriage but the Lord really blessed us there because he has lots of desires and great members to help him on the way back to activity.

The next night we came back and managed to find Victor, a less-active the elders had already been working with for a long time. He's a good guy but had never shown progress - said he'd go to church but never did, which is some kind of contagious condition here in Ecuador. He has a lot of opposition from his less-active family as well. But the Lord worked a miracle and he told us he truly wanted to come this week! We went by to pick him up Sunday morning and it was true - there he was, ready to go, and off to church he went! I could see it was hard for him - he was fairly nervous, but the members did a great job of helping him feel at home and he had a great experience.

Finally, it looks like we have a real miracle of a referral to contact. After ward council one of the sister missionaries from the other ward (there are two wards that meet in our building and our ward starts first) called us over. She explained there was a family that had recently moved into the ward that, according to the boundaries, belongs to us but had mistakenly come to church in the other ward. The wife isn't a member and the husband is less-active but just the fact they came to church and stayed all three hours is a huge sign that they could have potential! We'll be contacting them this week and we'll see how it goes!

It's true, though, the Lord does it all if we do our part. I was reading Alma 18-19 this morning, the famous story of Ammon and how he converts an entire kingdom. I was thinking about how it must have been from his perspective. He started with "I'll serve the king let's see how that goes." He was pretty excited about an opportunity to serve. I'll bet he was thinking "awesome, maybe if I help defend the flocks the servants might listen to me and I might get a few converts there, cool." But little did he know the king would soon get involved and not only the king, but the queen, and then the entire people. Who could have known that they would repent so quickly and miraculously and that they'd all flop to the ground and then it just happens that this other lady was already there who'd already been converted just by chance from a vision her dad had seen a while ago? Pretty remarkable. Ammon just did his small part and the Lord really took care of the rest.

Well that's it for this week. Hope you guys are all doing well!
A cool cathedral that I'm sure has some kind of historical significance. We went to Cotacachi, another village about 15 minutes from Otavalo, to check out some leather products for p-day.

 At about center-right if you squint really hard you can see the Cotopaxi volcano spewing smoke. I took this picture as we went to Quito. They say it's going to explode within the next few months, but sadly we won't see anything very exciting out here in Otavalo - it's on the other side of Quito and too far away to do anything to us.

 In Quito I was super happy to find guaguas de pan. I've been waiting literally a year to eat these things again. It totally reminds me of my training, because I entered Ecuador and started eating these things a little less than a year ago...

Monday, October 5, 2015

This Is One of Those E-Mails Where I Just Send A Bunch of Pictures of Me Eating Things‏

Sorry this e-mail will be rather short - school got out early for some
reason today and all the students flooded all the good internet
places. I'm struggle here with gmail in basic html. Woe, woe is me.
As for the week and the work, it goes, it certainly goes. It's
incredibly hard to find people to teach here and we spent most of the
week contacting. But we still had some good experiences.
One day we had nothing, absolutely nothing, nobody was home and nobody
even answered the door as we contacted. Winding down the day we
desperately go to a visit we'd planned with a less-active hoping she'd
be there but of course she wasn't. But her mom, an older lady who's a
firm member, was home and so we talked with her. We just spent time
talking and helping her undo some fabric, which is what she sells for
a living. She lives awfully humbly and without even much of the help
of her family but I could feel a lot of love in that little broken
concrete house. I love her example because despite the fact she has
practically nothing she's happy. She just goes about being kind to
others and helping. I'm not sure how to communicate it here, but I
needed that little moment of service, and I think the greatest service
we gave was simply visiting her for a moment.
We ended the day with nothing but a handful of contacts but you know
what I think the Lord was happy with what we'd done. We'd helped
someone. That's what we're here to do.
Conference was great! We watched it in the stake center, which is
normally how they do it here because not everyone has internet. Those
who have internet usually stick around at home but we went to the
stake center. The gringos hid in the family history center and used
the computer, with some difficulty, to watch conference. It was great!
I hope you all felt the power of the new apostles as they spoke. I
think it's amazing they all focused on overcoming weakness. Remember,
it's the weak and simple that will overthrow the enemy in the end!
I approached conference a bit different this time-I formulated a
list of questions I had in my life and for the sector and simply
waited for inspiration in the talks. And I definitely got a lot of
answers! Often they weren't the answer I expected nor wanted but I got
them. One of the talks that most impressed me was by Elder Lawrence of
the 70. I love the idea he gave us to pray to know what's detaining us
or limiting our progress. I did it and once again got an answer, even
if I might not have liked it.
Sorry this is so short this week - I normally plan these things out
but I left my planner at home by accident but please check out the
conference talks! I know we're led by prophets who speak with God.
It's a huge blessing and we need to take advantage of it.
OH and one last story. We went to our lunch at a member's house
between sessions on Sunday. We're sitting there and a taller, blonde,
white guy walks in and says hi in not very good Spanish. A gringo! I
was excited. Turns out he's from Germany and touring a bit of South
America to see if he wants to study here. We could converse in English
because he knew enough and of course the church came up in the
conversation (it's easier when you're wearing a plaque). We talked
about that and I was happy to learn he believed in God. I showed him
the church websites in German on his tablet and encouraged him to
watch conference in half an hour and he seemed very enthusiastic! I
could feel the Spirit as I could bear him a bit of a testimony in
English. God's plan is perfect! I know we were put there for a reason!
There's a guy from Florida here who makes burgers. The closest
thing I'll come to real American food in two years...

                 I eat the burger.

       Downtown Otavalo from our apartment.