Monday, May 30, 2016

See You On The Other Side...

It has begun.

My group of missionaries, the group that came here before us, and the group before that together make up a good third of the mission. And one of those groups finished their mission this week. It's just crazy how fast time flies. I had a bunch of friends in that group. We all graduate high school in 2014, came to the mission, started around the same time...and we'll be going back at the same time, too. Nuts. I saw a bunch of these guys when I went to Quito this week (we were there a couple days for visa stuff for my companion), and I can get a sense of what it'll be like to come home. I think it just fast, more than anything. So darn fast.

Anyhow like I said, we went to Quito, not only for visa stuff, but also for something called "verifications." At the end of a new missionary's first transfer, they bring him and his trainer back to Quito. They just make sure that the trainers are doing a good job teaching the newbies how to plan, use the are book, etc. It was a good experience.

In that meeting, President pulls out two small wood statues that he had made in Ibarra. they're of missionaries - one kind of unfinished, with a lot of rough edges still, and the other nice and shiny and finished. He talks about how we all start out with a few rough edges but eventually become like the well-polished, finished missionary. It's a tough process, and involves a lot of refining from the Lord's part, but it's oh so worth it in the end. Like it says in Malachi, "for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap." It testify of that, but I'm glad to say that I feel like most of my rough edges have been worked out and sanded off. I know that if we put our lives in the Lord's hands he will make something of us far greater than anything we would make of ourselves!

While I was in Quito I also had the opportunity to work with one of the missionaries in my group who's now a zone leader in Quito. It was cool working with him, but what most impacted me was the change that he had had as well in the mission. He'd told me a bit of his story from before the mission, and for me to see the change from what he'd told me before and what I saw was amazing. I testify that Christ can change us and His Atonement allows good men to become better! There's really nothing He can't do.

Learning about impossible things this week, I also liked reading a talk from last conference by Elder Arnold. While in the offices I finally got my hand on the conference Ensign. I like what he says about going to the rescue:

President Thomas S. Monson, who has sounded the clarion call to go to the rescue, noted, “Our members need to be reminded that it is never too late when it comes to our … less-active members … who could have been considered a hopeless cause.”

Like many of you, I have shared the gospel with some who are soon baptized or activated, and others—such as my nonmember friend Tim and his less-active wife, Charlene—take much more time.

For over 25 years I engaged Tim in gospel conversations and took Tim and Charlene to temple open houses. Others joined the rescue; however, Tim declined each invitation made to meet with the missionaries.

One weekend I was assigned to preside at a stake conference. I had asked the stake president to fast and pray about whom we should visit. I was shocked when he handed me the name of my friend Tim. When Tim’s bishop, the stake president, and I knocked on the door, Tim opened it, looked at me, looked at the bishop, and then said, “Bishop, I thought you told me you were going to bring somebody special!”

Then Tim laughed and said, “Come on in, Merv.” A miracle occurred that day. Tim has now been baptized, and he and Charlene have been sealed in the temple. We must never give up.

Never give up! I suppose we had our own little experience with that this week - we'd been teaching a less-active called Andres and his wife for a few weeks, but they'd had minimal progress. Well, none whatsoever, really. Yesterday we'd even planned on how to we would drop them in the next lesson we were going to have with them that night. When we got there, we followed up on their commitments, and weren't surprised to hear that they hadn't done anything. But something stopped me from sharing what we had planned. Instead, we read King Benjamin's speech with them, because they'd talked about how grateful they were for their blessings. I've always loved these scriptures:

 20 I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice,and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—

 21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.

 22 And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land;and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.

Well we felt the spirit in that lesson and decided to keep helping them! I know that this is a labor of love, and we really want the best for these people.

Our other investigators with a baptismal date are doing well, which was a huge blessing, considering the fact that we had lost so much time in Quito. Anyhow, that's that. Hope you're all doing well at home!

We found a good encebollado place in our sector.

Coming back from Quito in the bus.

Some scenery in the sector. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Indiana Jones Wild Ride

Don't have much time to write, because more people e-mailed me than usual but that's what I want anyways.
Wednesday, at about 3 in the morning, I was sound asleep until Elder Molina woke me up - right away I realized we were in another earthquake. It was pretty darn strong - my companion was actually kind of scared and already searching for his flip flops to run outside. We live in the second floor so we could definitely feel it. It went by pretty fast, though, so I just went back to sleep.
Later that day we had interviews with President. My companion was in his interview and I was talking with Sister Richardson when the second round hit. Like they say, it feels a lot like you're in a boat. Everything rocks back and forth. This one was strong too, and it just kept going. Sister Richardson was a little worried - she was telling me that a few weeks earlier she'd had a dream where she felt like she was in "Indiana Jones Wild Ride" and since then she'd been afraid of another earthquake. One of the assistants came over and she was like, "This feels just like my dream." The assistants and President and she all tried calling the missionaries in the coast, but the lines were down. Everyone stayed pretty calm, though. Later on we heard that everyone was ok. It sounds like it didn't do much damage in the coast, but it was close to being the same thing as last time. People have been telling us that according to the news channels we're in for at least another few months of this. Kind of crazy, but I can't say I'm particularly worried. If Imbabura exploded, that'd be a different story, because I kind of live right beneath it.
Interviews went well, by the way. It's been amazing seeing the progress I've had in the mission. I know that the Lord puts us through these trials to help us learn. I'm sure I'll keep getting as much as I can out of it in these last few months. Chao!

My companion taught me some Peruvian dishes this week. Here's some pollo estofado.

The house is a little farther up this road. That's Imbabura, on a rare clear day.

 It's been really pretty out lately.

Monday, May 16, 2016

This Week

Well a stomach update: turns out I don't have parasites. Instead, I have some kind of bacteria! So the nurse told me to take a mountain of pills which I just barely had money for, dipping into my emergency fund as well. Thankfully our "apoyo" arrived earlier. If it hadn't been for that, I would have had like 95 cents left over at the end of the week.

This week we had a really awesome training from our zone leaders. They gave us a bunch of popcorn kernels taped up in balls and started to teach to juggle. At first we started with one, then two, then, after about 30 minutes, we could almost get three. But dang was it frustrating! Every 5 seconds I had to squat down to pick up the balls to keep trying because I just couldn't keep them in the air (in fact my rear end was a little sore the next day from doing that so much). I kept trying and trying. By the end I could almost get it down. They had us stop after about half an hour and had one elder come up and show what he'd learned - he could almost juggle! Then our zone leader pulled out three eggs. "Try it!" he said. "You can do it! It's not any different from the balls you were using." The elder didn't want to, but after a lot of encouragement, gave it a go. He got the three in the air for a couple throws...and then they fail, splat, on the ground.

Then the lesson. Says our zone leader: "Elders and sisters, juggling with eggs is like trying to do missionary work without the Atonement. Juggling with popcorn balls is like doing it WITH the Atonement."

It was so simple, but for me it really impacted me. It helped me, we really do have unlimited tries! How comforting! Later that week I was reminded of something I read in a talk by Elder Holland's wife:

Military historians tell us that an army can seldom fight a successful war on two fronts. Napoleon learned that lesson too late, and we should make certain that we learn it in a less painful way than he did. We will always have some external battles to fight on an exterior front—those battles of life that the Lord in his wisdom allows us to face so we can grow and be purified and become skillful problem solvers. These “outside” problems might include a poor grade in a difficult class or some dating frustrations or perhaps the very real financial challenges you face. My prayer for you is that such troubles on the external front can be faced and finally conquered.

However, the battle that many of you wage on an interior front concerns me more than these external ones I have just mentioned. Many of us create a civil war within ourselves by internalizing problems of fear, uncertainty, self-doubt, and worry—often over things we can do preciously little about. If we spend our time and energy worrying about being too tall or too short or about our freckles and warts and big noses, then I fear we are doomed to certain defeat. The person who is engaged in such a constant internal fight has little energy and power left to win the outside battles. To be successful in the many skirmishes of life, you cannot afford to be your own worst enemy. And taking the battles inside—firing mortal shells into your very soul—is potentially one of the most damaging of all human activities. Believe it or not, you can recover from poor grades or a missed date or a flat tire and dead battery on the car. But if you turn such outside matters into self-recrimination and self-criticism, letting them damage your spirit and your sense of self-worth and esteem, then you have begun a battle with a very high mortality rate indeed.

...You can begin by practicing just three simple exercises in right thinking: 
(1) Remember that any failure is only temporary in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The decision to carry on in spite of disappointment turns the worst circumstance into success. (2) There can be no self-pity—and that means no self-pity. Nothing dissipates our strength faster or more quickly drives away those who would truly wish to help us than self-pity.(3) Eliminate all “would haves,” “could haves,” “should haves,” and “ if onlys.” What has happened is past and finished. Leave it there. Profound power will come in living and making things right in the present.

That's really helped me in my mission, let me tell you! I'm glad that this week I could remember a bit about Christ's Atonement.

We have two investigators that are progressing towards a baptismal date: Pamela for the 28th of May and Juan for the 4th of June. There's a lot of work we still have to do, but I'm just incredibly grateful to the Lord for what he's done for us. More than anything we've been working with members to help them get to church, be present in the lessons, everything! It's going well. Way too well, haha.

One last thought that I heard in sacrament meeting yesterday. I like what it says in John 16:33:

 33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

What a simple but important though. In the world we WILL have tribulation and trials. We're here to have that happen to us. But. Don't worry. Christ has overcome everything.

I think if we just learn to trust in Him, we'll have the faith to overcome anything. Love you all!

p.s. HEY just like to let you know that the Edwin Donoso mentioned here: was totally the first councilor in the ward I was serving in while in Otavalo some 6 months ago. 


It's been very nice these past few days. Stopping to get a pic.

 We have to climb all of that to get to the chapel (on the left).

Monday, May 9, 2016

Firsts, Frustrations, Frozen Food‏

Well this week started out with a first and a frustration which was that the nurse could finally diagnose what was wrong with me and it turns out I have parasites crawling around my insides. She had me buy some pills to kill them off, but they haven't been going easy. My stomach is still pretty uneasy, and this week wasn't the happiest, but the worst happened at the beginning of the week. By the end of the week we could see quite a few miracles.

One day when we were walking around I suddenly remembered that we'd bought a tub of ice cream on p-day (I promise I usually try to eat healthy, this was an exception.), and so I was like, "hm, how about if we get 10 contacts today we can eat ice cream." It was funny how much that motivated me, but at the very end of the day we had nine contacts and were getting out of an appointment way late - we had to go to the house right away, and I was worried we wouldn't have time to talk with someone in the street along the way there. The members we were with called a taxi to get us home on time, which was a relief, because not only did we get home on time but I could also contact the taxi driver! It was just funny to me because I felt that the Lord was trying to help me reach my goals. I'm just glad the ice cream was there to help me go the extra mile. And it tasted delicious let me tell you.

And like I said we could have some miracles! We'd met a young single mom recently named Pamela who we'd taught just once. We had an appointment for Saturday with her and her less-active mom, but as we were thinking about how to meet our monthly goals I couldn't help but feel like she could be someone who could progress. So we planned to go with her a different day, and not only did we find her...but she accepted a baptismal date for the 28th! And she and her mom came to church!

More than anything I was just learning about the power of prayer. When we keep focused in our prayers, asking for help with our goals and thanking the Lord for how He helps us, I think that increases our faith and leads to a more conscious, focused effort, and the Spirit. It's been important for me to have a focus this week because I've just had to do so...much. Between training, receiving reports as a district leader, battling parasites, trying to work in my own sector....

Speaking of which, I had a big first this week - my first baptismal interview. It was pretty crazy because the sisters called Tuesday and said "We have a miracle! Our investigator wants to get baptized - next week!" I was like, "Great!" and then I realized...that meant he'd have to have his interview that Saturday. Something I just had never done!

Just getting to the interview chewed up almost our day, because trying to flag down the buses on the highway didn't work for like half an hour so we had to walk 10 minutes to another town the catch the bus from there - but the bus driver lied to us saying he'd pass by where we wanted to go but didn't so we got stranded out in the highway and had to walk another 15-20 minutes to get to where the sisters were going to meet up with us - and from there we had to wait to take another bus to get to the chapel...the baptismal candidate was an older guy who didn't really hear or understand well, which made the baptism interview an adventure, but I felt he was ready!

Good grief there's just no time for anything honestly. I've never had so much to do in my mission and it's kind of crazy sometimes...but it's good. They're the best two years. I'm trying not to sound too much like I'm speaking retrospectively there. It was great calling home, too. Anyhow, I hope you're all doing great.
There was a dog listening to sacrament meeting this week.

There's a touristic train here in Ecuador, which is cool, but way too expensive for missionaries.

 The sun can beat down strong enough here to make my companion want to use an umbrella.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ups and Downs (Not Just Geographically)‏

Another crazy week. We've been climbing lots of hills to get to know this sector, and little by little we're finding people to teach. It's not too hard to find less-active to teach, because there are lots here. We just need a good focus, more than anything. We've met lots of people, but we just don't know who's going to progress yet.

More than anything I've realized that we just need to focus on letting the Spirit guide us. I had to go to Quito this week for a meeting where they train many of the leaders in the mission, and while we were there, someone asked President, "Of all the things I have to do as a leader, what's most important?" And he simply replied, "You just need to follow the Spirit." Now, that's not always the easiest thing to do, honestly! But I learned a few things about that this week.

In another meeting we had, one of my zone leaders said, "Sometimes the Spirit just tells you to do CRAZY things, and you don't know why." I think it was later that same day when our appointments fell through and we didn't know what to do. So, I suggested we pray. We prayed, and I always wait for a moment after the prayer to see if I feel anything, and a name came to mind, the Morales family. Now, I don't always trust my own thoughts! I often ask myself, are they my thoughts or is that an idea from the Spirit? We had an appointment with that family the next day anyways, why would we need to visit them now? So I said, let's go over here instead to find someone else, a recent convert we wanted to get to know. Well, that person...wasn't there. So I was like, fine, we'll pray again. We prayed again and after waiting for a moment the same family came to mind once again. I also remembered what that zone leader said. And if there's anything that's helped me understand the Spirit in these past few months, it's the scripture in John 14:26, which explains that the Spirit will bring things to our remembrance. So I decided to go to that family. We did find them there, and could teach a good lesson! I do feel like it was a spiritual prompting, now. But it's so hard to distinguish them!

We also had a kind of weird experience this week with an investigator. This investigator, I don't know how, just has the strangest idea in his head that Christ isn't the Son of God. He believes in God, but not in Christ. What's stranger is that he believes in the Bible. He must not have read it much because it exists to testify that Christ is the Son of God, that He really was divine.

At the same time, I realized that we need to help him read the Book of Mormon. Is great as the Bible is, it doesn't give us the complete understanding of Christ and His purpose the way the Book of Mormon does. That's why it's so important!

I personally received my testimony of Christ through the Book of Mormon. Here are some passages in Alma 34 that I like:

 8 And now, behold, I will testify unto you of myself that these things are true. Behold, I say unto you, that I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it.

 9 For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.

 10 For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.
 14 And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.

 15 And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto ment hat they may have faith unto repentance.

I know that Christ lives and that He really is the Son of God! Salvation only comes through Him. I'm glad I have this opportunity to testify of Him, even if people don't always get it. :)

And well these past few days I've been pretty sick. But hey, things can only get better. See you next week!
It seems like the cows just sprout out of the mountainside here.


In a member's house we found some souvenirs from when someone from her family had gone to the states...complete with a postcard from Pittsburgh!