Monday, February 29, 2016

The Fleas Bite Back

I swear, I think all the fleas of Mission Quito, Ecuador North have conspired to never let me live in peace. Somehow they found a way into my sheets again and once again I'm covered in bites, some of which have developed into blisters because there's just not way to prevent them from rubbing against my clothes. If I came back disfigured by scars, at least you know, now.
This week was pretty good, but unfortunately our investigators with a date, Miguel and Marlene, didn't came to church yesterday, which means...they don't have a date anymore. We don't know why, but we suspect it's because their grandson, who they have care for, is in Catecismo (I don't even remember what that is in English) and so they have to go to his classes in the Catholic church and everything. It's kind of frustrating, because the grandson himself wants to go to our church but if a kid doesn't do his requisite things in the Catholic church here that can sometimes cause problems, because many of the best schools here are Catholic and to get in you have to have done all that stuff. Well, I don't understand it fully, either, but it has been a bit of a stumbling block for us. I'm confident they'll be baptized this month, however.
Also, we saw a cool miracle this week. Some members in our sector had some non-members living with them who had come from the jungle for a time to look for work her in Ibarra. One of them, Eric, had received a few of our lessons but we hadn't really focused much on him because we thought he'd go back to the jungle anyways, since that was their intention. But strange things have passed, and Eric ended up staying a week longer, then a week longer...and now it looks like he might be staying here for a more indefinite period of time.
And he's interested in the gospel.
We're still not completely sure if and how long he'll stay here in Ibarra, but his friend (who's a member) he's staying with basically told him last lesson, "The Lord's got you here for some reason. Just look at everything that's happened. You're still here for some purpose."
Pretty cool, huh?
We also had another miracle this week - we recently discovered there's a member who came back a few months ago from the jungle (why is it always the jungle?) where she'd been working. She got baptized here in Ibarra and when she went to work in the jungle, since the church wasn't to be found in the village she went to, she didn't go to church for three years. Now she's back, and guess what...her oldest daughter now has the age to be baptized. So, we're teaching to help her back to activity (the awesome thing is she came to church several weeks already without us even knowing she existed) and also her daughter. At first her daughter, Samantha, was really shy. The first time we wanted to teach her she kind of shut down because her mom had pulled her away from the computer where she had been watching a movie. I could see she just didn't want to talk with us, so while we opened with a prayer, I prayed in my mind to know what to do to help her open up. And that's when I got an idea. I suggested we watch...the Restoration, the movie! So we did, and since then she's been much more receptive to us. Miracles, big and small, happen all the time.
This week I also realized something important: God doesn't want us to be sad.
That may not seem so earth-shattering, but for me it was an important realization. All my life I think I've always felt that God gives us happy moments, smooth stretches on the highway to happiness, but that always on the other side there's going to be a long stretch of rough road. I thought I was always destined to have moments of tranquility and peace, but just waiting for the next trial to tear through my life to make me feel sad again.
I've realized that even though God does want us to learn and progress, that doesn't mean he wants us to be sad.
Yesterday in sacrament meeting one of the councilors in the district presidency shared an interesting thought. Paraphrasing a bit, he said, "Christ showed us, through his suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross, that happiness isn't to be won by luck, but by hard work and sacrifice." I really liked that idea, because it's basically saying that if you want to be happy...all you need to do is work at it! No one else is responsible for your happiness, and you can make it happen.
Our mission president's wife recently shared with me a thought from Mosiah 24:13-14. In this story Alma and his people are in captivity, but the Lord answers their prayers and promises to liberate them. He says:

 ...Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.
Could it be that lifting up our heads and being happy is actually a prerequisite to being delivered out of bondage?
This ties into a bit of what I've been learning about faith and hope as well. In the Bible Dictionary it says the following:
Faith is to hope for things which are not seen, but which are true (Heb. 11:1; Alma 32:21), and must be centered in Jesus Christ in order to produce salvation. To have faith is to have confidence in something or someone. The Lord has revealed Himself and His perfect character, possessing in their fulness all the attributes of love, knowledge, justice, mercy, unchangeableness, power, and every other needful thing, so as to enable the mind of man to place confidence in Him without reservation.
So when we truly understand Christ's character...we'll be able to have faith. And as He is perfect, that faith can be perfect as well, and overcome any obstacle. That faith that He is at the head of this great work and will not abandon us if we follow him is what gives us hope, and that truly is the anchor that keeps us steady. I love Elder Maxwell's thoughts on hope:
For a variety of reasons, brothers and sisters, today’s society seems to struggle in order to be hopeful. The associated causes and effects co-mingle ever so subtly.

Our everyday usage of the word hope includes how we “hope” to arrive at a certain destination by a certain time. We “hope” the world economy will improve. We “hope” for the visit of a loved one. Such typify our sincere but proximate hopes.

Life’s disappointments often represent the debris of our failed, proximate hopes. Instead, however, I speak of the crucial need for ultimate hope.

Ultimate hope is a different matter. It is tied to Jesus and the blessings of the great Atonement, blessings resulting in the universal Resurrection and the precious opportunity provided thereby for us to practice emancipating repentance, making possible what the scriptures call “a perfect brightness of hope” (2 Ne. 31:20).

I hope all of you can be of good cheer this week and come unto Christ! I know He lives and that as a result there isn't anything we can't do if we have his help.

Bringing my dad's famous chicken to Ecuador on p-day.

I'm not that great at capturing the landscapes here. They're pretty beautiful sometimes, trust me.

Doing some service this week. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Elder Holland

Well, it was WAY cool to be able to see Elder Holland this week - not once, but twice, because he came to Otavalo the day before he met with all the missionaries, and since Otavalo's only about 30 minutes away in bus we got permission to go if we could bring investigators, too. So we planned everything out with our investigators with a date, Miguel and Marlene Pillajo (they have a date for the 12th of March!) and zipped off to see him. There were a ton of people in attendance, mostly the indigenous people from Otavalo and the surrounding villages. Something like 3,000 people were there all in all. And I love what Elder Holland said. I'll try to remember what he said here.

It was interesting, because he got and basically said, "I had the impression in the car ride up here that I needed to speak on something different than the other things I had prepared, and it was all confirmed right now, with the intermediate hymn was just sang." We'd sung "Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy." So he went on to explain why.

The hymn has a bit of a story. It talks about the lighthouse, which of course is God, beckoning us home. Now, in a storm, or at night, that light is essential, but the problem is it only tells you generally where you are. Also necessary are the lower lights that the hymn talks about, lights along the shore that accompany the lighthouse. What the captain of the ship needs to do is align the lighthouse and the lower lights, and then and only then will he be able to get the ship safe to port. As the hymn says, we are the lower lights. God is constantly there. But are we?

He told a story of something that had happened to a member of the 12 some time ago in Apia, Samoa. The apostle traveled to another island one day and held meetings all that day, and thus had to come back to the main island, Apia, by boat at night. That part of the ocean can be fairly dangerous, with plenty of reefs, and so of course they counted on the lighthouse. When they approached the island, the lighthouse was there, sure enough, but there was a problem.

There were no lower lights.

The crew debated and they attempted to, very cautiously, get back to port, but kept hitting reef after reef. At the end they decided to simply turn around and took the long way around the island, to other side, where they went by land back to where they needed to be - a process that took many more hours.

The next morning, they learned what happened. Two priesthood holders had been sent to turn on the lower lights at something like two in the morning. They waited, and waited. Three in the morning, but still no boat. They kept waiting. Still nothing. And, understandably, they fell asleep at their posts.

Elder Holland explained that everyone had a good laugh and no one was hurt. But years and years later, despite the best efforts of friends and family, those two priesthood holders still could not forget, ever, that they had fallen asleep when the Lord needed them.

So Elder Holland compared this to hastening the work of salvation. There are people looking for those lower lights. They need our help. But we need to be there for them. We can't be shining in some other spot, or worse yet, asleep. We need to be aligned with the Lord's light and ready to receive those who are struggling out at sea.

The Lord's work is hastening. By 2020, he said, the base line number of missionaries in service will be 100,000. And we'll never again talk of temples by the tens or twenties, but by the hundreds. He shared with us 1 Peter 3:15:

 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

This work of salvation is not easy. God never wished for us to be saved easily, and does not offer cheap grace. But it is worth it, and it can be done.

I had the very special experience of being able to see those I'd worked with in Rumiñahui - Andres and Jhon Sanchez. They got baptized after I left the sector, and so that was the first time I'd seen them as real members of the church. They seemed very happy and were very happy to see me, too. I know this work is the most important thing I can do in my life, and I know the Lord is preparing many people to listen to his gospel. Look for those opportunities to share it. You can save lives. Love you all!

Elder Holland with all of us. I can't even see myself, but oh well.

 But here I am shaking his hand! He explained afterwards that that was his way of interviewing us. Just looking into our eyes. Woah.

Monday, February 15, 2016


I think Carnaval corresponds to Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras in the States or something like that. The idea of the holiday is that the city turns into a great big water fight, where anyone's game. The city actually regulated the water this year so that people wouldn't go crazy, so things weren't too crazy, but as missionaries we weren't allowed to leave the house unless we had set appointments, and since most people wouldn't set appointments for that day anyways, we mostly sat in the house and studied. It was good, though, I learned a lot. Never thought I'd enjoy just spending a whole day reading the scriptures. And the time went by fast, too.

My companion and I have also had an adventure trying to eat a bit healthier - we've both gained weight in the sector, so we've started to ask the mamitas (the members who give us food) to serve us less. Eating a heaping plate of rice is the norm here, which is...pretty unhealthy, it seems. And sometimes the rice comes with potatoes and chicken. But usually not anything else. Food here is weird. And American restaurants are expensive. For example, a personal-size Papa John's pizza (probably like the size of your dinner plate or smaller) is like $7 here. I'm pretty sure that's not what it would have cost in the States. KFC and McDonald's are almost posh. In Pizza Hut you sit down and they wait on you and everything.

Other than that we've had some interesting trainings this week. One I really liked involved D&C 30:1-3 and talked about how we need to reflect on our callings as missionaries more. It's really something incredible. Of the many, many people on this planet, not only do I have the gospel in my life, but I also have the chance to share it with others. Being a missionary is the best!

We also had a good experience teaching an investigator. We've been teaching Miguel Pillajo and his wife for a couple weeks now, and they're great, but they hadn't been to church yet together (just the wife). We'd taught the Sabbath Day to them, but felt we needed to go over it again. As we did so, we discovered that Miguel plays in a band on Sundays and he does so to be able to have enough for the rent, etc. He's out of work other than that right now, and so it's hard for their family and as he explained to us, if the doesn't play, they sometimes don't have enough. But my companion and a member we had with us bore powerful testimonies of the blessings of keeping the Sabbath Day holy, and he committed to keep it holy...and he came to church!! It was interesting to me, because I think it was the first time in my mission that an investigator had run into that problem but been able to really overcome it. I'm glad my companion and that member were there as well. I know following the commandments brings blessings!

And, this week in the mission we'll have the awesome opportunity of seeing Elder Holland. He'll meet with the entire mission in Quito on Wednesday and I'm super excited (and maybe a little afraid). Sorry I didn't have much to talk about this week, but I promise I'll have more next week! Love you all!

Eating burgers. Almost American.


Monday, February 8, 2016

Wading in the Muck of Moral Relativism‏

Let me tell you about an experience I had this week. We found an old investigator that other missionaries had been teaching and go to talking with her, trying to figure out why she'd never gotten baptized. We started asking questions. More or less happened the following:
"Have you ever prayed about the Book of Mormon?" I asked.
"No," she said. "I believe that it's true."
A little confused, I followed the line of questioning to find a weak point. "You believe it's true?"
"Yes, everything that comes from God is true."
"So, do you believe Joseph Smith was a prophet?"
There was probably something wrong here, because that usually implies baptism, right? " you believe this is the only true church on the earth?"
She paused for a second and thought this one out. "I think they all have...their significance."
She hadn't said neither yes nor no. The plot was thickening. I took a guess. "Do you believe that if we join any church we will be saved?"
She had to think harder this time before responding. "I think we should do it because it comes from the heart. If someone goes to a church because they're obligated, that's not good."
She hadn't answered the question, so I restated it. "Do you believe that if we join any church we will be saved?"
"I think...we need to keep the commandments," she said after a moment. "We need to follow what's in the Book of Mormon."
I couldn't believe it. Could she not see the gaping flaws in her own logic? Not feeling mean enough to actually point them out, we kept on with the questions and answers until we finally somehow tied it back to an invitation to read and pray about the Book of Mormon. It reminded me of a very similar incident that had happened earlier in the week, and the way my companion answered in the instance was really instructive. "You don't understand the plan of salvation," he had said.
It's true! God wants us to progress and learn to become like him. That means that we need agency, and the ability to choose between the good and the bad. Now, this obviously implies the existence of eternal truth, of an actual good and actual bad. Lehi explains in 2 Nephi 2:
 13 And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.
And so if there is no good or evil, God doesn't exist. Elder Christofferson explained this really well a few years ago:
God who makes no demands is the functional equivalent of God who does not exist. world without God, the livingGod who establishes moral laws to govern and perfect His children, is also world without ultimate truth or justice. It isworld where moral relativism reigns supreme. Relativism means each person is his or her own highest authority. 

Of course, it is not just those who deny God that subscribe to this philosophy. Some who believe in God still believe that they themselves, individually, decide what is right and wrong. One young adult expressed it this way: “I don’t think I could say that Hinduism is wrong or Catholicism is wrong or being Episcopalian is wrong—I think it just depends on what you believe. … I don’t think that there’s a right and wrong.” Another, asked about the basis for his religious beliefs, replied, “Myself—it really comes down to that. I mean, how could there be authority to what you believe?”

To those who believe anything or everything could be true, the declaration of objective, fixed, and universal truth feels like coercion—“I shouldn’t be forced to believe something is true that I don’t like.” But that does not change reality. Resenting the law of gravity won’t keep a person from falling if he steps off a cliff. The same is true for eternal law and justice. Freedom comes not from resisting it but from applying it. That is fundamental to God’s own power. If it were not for the reality of fixed and immutable truths, the gift of agency would be meaningless since we would never be able to foresee and intend the consequences of our actions.
So, I guess if you don't believe God exists, I can't blame you if you think that way. But I know He lives! And the very right, very just thing about the way He works is that you, too, can know if He lives. Just ask Him in prayer. It requires faith, I know. But there is one truth, and you can know what it is.
Love you lots!

1. I didn't end up taking any pics this week, but here's a pic that they sent me of when Blanca and Jhon, two people I was teaching in my old sector, got baptized with the elders that followed me in the sector. Not sure who the girl is though.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Ibarra Sector

I feel like I do this every time, but I want to vent a bit about the sector again.

We have a new less-active family we're teaching that lives out in a little town called Urcuqui. The trip from the next closest town to Urcuqui is something like 30 minutes. As a result the missionaries have practically never been there and when we went contacting for a little bit because we had time, almost nobody had seen a Mormon missionary ever. There's nothing there, apart from this family the recently moved there and that we're now teaching.

Now on the other hand, we have Atuntaqui, another town about 20 minutes away but in the other direction. There's practically nobody here either - a single less active and maybe two or three members we've only heard about but aren't sure where they live. And, of course, our family closest to having progress right now, the Pillajo family, composed of the husband and wife.

And there's everything in between, which includes at least 2 or 3 more towns that, depending on how far into the mountainside they are, are anywhere between 15 - 30 minutes away in bus from our house. We have a smattering of people and practically every part and planning for all of them so that the appointments work out and we don't lose tons of time travelling is a real nightmare. Several times this week I was just super frustrated and felt like nothing was really working out.

But one night I felt in prayers that I just needed to list all the things in a prayer I could be grateful for, so I did. And there was a lot!

First, we have a goal of 3 confirmations and 5 less-active "rescues" this month, one of the highest goals in the zone. That's a lot of people to help, and we're confident it'll happen!

For instance, this less-active family I told you about, the Andrango family, came to church on their own and are more than ready to come back to full activity! They still have a testimony, they try to read the scriptures, they get along with the members.

Also we've been blessed with a ton of references this week, mainly from the sister missionaries who keep finding people for our sector but hey that's awesome.

We've also found several new families, one of which, the Potosì family, we found contacting, and they're excited to listen to the gospel! The mom, more than anything, makes the kids sit down and listen to us, which is fine by me! It's funny because she wants them to be baptized but still doesn't get the fact that she, herself, needs to be baptized with the correct authority (she's already been baptized) but hey we'll keep working. They're just very warm and receptive.

We've found a ton of people in general - 12 in all this week, which is the standard of excellence. It's kind of ridiculous really.

And one of the references was from the members who live in the apartment above us who gave us the reference of the family that lives above them, the Colcha family. At first when we went to teach them they didn't seem super interested. But we kept trying to get to know them better, ask questions, understand what they need. And at one point the husband said "I'd like to change...if there was a way to change." I could feel that the feel kind of hopeless, without direction in their lives, and that response was key. We watched the video "Because of Him" that the church made for Easter a few years ago, and we could feel the Spirit strongly.

The testimony I shared with them is the same one I share with you. There is no such thing as an "ending!" We never run out of second chances. If we need to change and are willing to pay the price, Christ will be there every step of the way. He is the reason we can change and because of Him we can all live better lives, free of the memories of all the mistakes we've made beforehand. I know He lives!

Hope you have a great week!
A fantastic burger I made.

The Imbabura volcano.

We found a really pretty part of the sector.