Sunday, July 27, 2014

Week 53: The Middle‏

I woke up at around 6:15 on Thursday morning. Breathing lightly, I stared at the ceiling and tried my hardest to recollect the events of my latest dream, something about going out tracting into a giant squid with Doctor Who as my companion. My memory started seeping back into my semi-conscious brain...the day before Elder Gil and I had a pretty good day, we taught Manuela and Jorge, one of the Daughters of Walter and Ingrid started listening to us and we visited a recent convert, Julissa and talked about the vision of the tree of life. 
And then it hit me.
A year ago, (this is a huge stretch for my 6 o'clock brain) I was on a bus, going through the gates of the CCM for the very first time with my MTC district. A year ago...I started the mission.
Happy Birthday.

It's a very interesting thought, and a rather indescribable feeling, reflecting on all the things that have happened over the course of this last year...and how many things WILL happen in the year that follows.
And just like that my friends, I found myself smack dab in the middle of my entire mission.
When did that happen?
I'm telling you, I'm not sure how time is governed, but it is definitely something relative (as Albert Einstein pointed out), because in "normal" life, it seems to go at a snail's pace...but here it feels like if I blink everything'll be over already.
But on the bright side, I have been having some pretty good days here in Guatemala City!

This past Saturday, Elder Gil, Elder Walton, Elder Rosales and I all went to the national Architectural Museum...only to find that it was closed. So we decided to go to the two neighboring museums, the Art and the Natural History exhibits...but it was overall a huge disappointment, nothing too special, and everything was really badly managed....and I also had an encounter with the scariest Bird Exhibit in the entire world! It was just this silent hallway overflowing with taxidermy ducks and flamingos...
Alfred Hitchcock was really on to something when he made the movie "The Birds."
On Sunday, the Francos were confirmed members of the church. They were both thrilled. Later when we ate lunch at the Relief Society President's house Sister Gonzales commented that in the class Ingrid told all the sisters that, "A lot of people were telling me a lot of bad things about the 'mormons' right before my baptism and I felt really confused...but the missionaries just kept telling me to 'ask God' and so I did...and I got baptized!" 
Ingrid is so great, when we passed by their house yesterday to visit them, she said that she had read the entire General Conference Liahona....and told us which talks were her favorites!
I am so lucky to have converts like the Francos.
The rest of the week went by at a rather normal pace...nothing too out of the ordinary.

Until Thursday.
The first day of the second year of my mission started off with a bang when we got a call from the Zone Leaders in the middle of our weekly planning session.
It was Elder Villarreal, calling to say that they were planning to go on divisions with us that afternoon and that I would be staying in Montufar II with him. I glanced at my agenda, it was close to empty, and the appointments that we DID have set up were extremely tentative.
Talk about bad timing.
So I had a problem here...Elder Villarreal, my Zone Leader was going to come here with me...and I had a feeling that if the day flopped right on it's face it wouldn't look too good on my reputation.
Elder Gil did the Catholic "Sign of the Cross" gesture in front over my stunned face and said, "Good luck to you my friend" in English.
We did a quick intermission and I went and prayed in a different room.
If there's one thing that I've learned in the Mission, it's the fact that if we are specific in the things that we ask for in our prayers, God is specific with the blessings that he gives to us. So in my personal prayers that morning I had a planning session with my Heavenly Father. 
I asked for a miracle at 6 o'clock p.m. that day, that we would find a family to teach.
I don't think that I have ever been so distinctive in my prayers before in my entire life.
We started divisions at 4 o'clock, went and visited a less active family, and by the time 6 o'clock rolled around I was all ready for a miracle.
And what do you know, the church is true....because we received just that.
Elder Villarreal and I left the house of the Escobar family, and we see a 14 year old kid walking down the street...he sees my Zone Leader and they tackle each other in a bear hug.
Elder Villarreal's grin is as wide as a summer morning: "Woaaah! Jorge! What are you doing here! Is your family home?"
"Just my dad" he answers.
"Let's go then!"
We only had to walk two doors down to find Jorge's house, his Dad is there and incredibly excited to see us as well, he invites us in and invites us to a glass of "Water" (water in this case being interpreted as Coca-Cola).
It turns out that it was a family of old investigators from Elder Villarreal's 2nd Area...they moved before they could get baptized and the missionaries had lost contact with them.
Until today.
Miracles exist my friends.
And every day I see another one!
-Elder Monson

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Week 52: Harvest‏

In Doctrine and Covenants section four we read that "The field is white, all ready to harvest" and to be perfectly honest, for a while there, I wasn't quite sure that that promise applied to Montufar II. Elder Gil and I went through a pretty rough patch over these last few months that we had together...and there came a point when we weren't sure that we were going to be able to see any of the fruits of our labor while we were together.
...until this week.
This week was like the culmination of all the stuff we had gone through all just sort of coming to a head, like a climax. In both the office and in our area we were able to see a lot of blessings:
Saturday: Right after I finished my letter home, our new mission president and his wife burst-ed through the doors with all the "gung-ho" to put me in a startled sort of coma.
The Caffaros had arrived to the South Mission.

We got right down to business explaining to them everything that they needed to do on the financial front. It was overall an incredible conversation, I learned a lot from both president and sister Caffaro. They were very humble and ready to learn with us, and they brought a sense of excitement that completely floored me. It will be a great opportunity to get to know them better.
When we left the offices the sun was already hung low behind the Guatemalan clouds...and I just thought to myself about how glad I am to be able to be here. I have learned so much over the past year, about who I am and how I can better contribute to the human family. I am enamored by the culture and the lifestyle here in this country, every day seems like it's an adventure, that at the end of every day I can't wait to flip open my journal and write in the next chapter.
I am so happy to be a missionary.
Sunday: Today was a day that I will hold close to me for a very long time. Right after the regular 3-hour meetings, we held a baptism service for Walter and Ingrid Franco. I have grown to love this couple so much, they have a sincere desire to follow our Savior Jesus Christ and they have both come to knowledge of the truth through study and prayer.
They asked our Bishop to be the one who effectuated the ordinance for them, and to see them in the Baptismal Font was a sight I hope to never forget.
The entire service was an incredible experience, especially because President and Sister Caffaro and the Trapnells were able to come to see it. I felt like I was on top of the world! My testimony was fortified tenfold throughout the entire course of that Sunday Afternoon.
Walter and Ingrid did it!

Monday: Today went by pretty fast, we were in the area offices for a while with Sister Caffaro. It was definitely a fun day, she was very nice and asked me about million great questions about the mission and about the country of Guatemala. It was fun to get to know her better and see how excited she is to serve the Lord and help this mission.
That night we visited some less-active members and had some good lessons!
Tuesday: This morning we had interviews with the Caffaros (It was like the first week of school: 4 "getting to know you" days in a row) where we had a great conversation about how we have personal conversions to the Gospel of Jesus Christ during the course of our mission. Another great day...that afternoon Elder Gil and I taught a lot of lessons and did a lot of was such a blessing to have a good day!
Wednesday: A lot of our appointments fell through today but we were able to teach one of our investigators: Ana Victoria. She's a youth that we taught about 4 months ago as a referral from a member, and thought that she was never going to progress...until one day when we went to a member's house only to find her there too, after a chat that we had she said that she has a goal to be Baptized and that she wants to go to church with the member family (the Pascuals). A little bit surprised we said that we would come back another day to teach her and left her a chapter in the Book of Mormon to read. 
When we came back she had read (and understood) the entire thing, and she had a list of questions for us (what is the difference between a Disciple and an Apostle? What is the Word of Wisdom? When can I be baptized?). Since then she has grown immensely on a spiritual scale and currently has a baptismal date set for August 2nd.
We'll see where that goes...

Thursday: Today was weekly planning, and Elder Gil and I had a great little chat about how we are doing as companions...and the truth is that neither of us can complain at all...we are both very content!
Friday: Yesterday we taught Manuela (who is also progressing VERY well)...she continues to receive answers to prayer through the dreams that she is having. I wish my dreams would have some sort of eternal significance like that...I mean, if I am supposed to be receiving messages from heaven through my dreams I feel like the major underlying message would be that I am a total nut case.
...Anyways, that was how my week went! I hope you are all well and I'll talk to you later!    

Mom's note:  Today our family was delighted to meet Pres. and Sis. Stay at their home ward, Cottonwood Heights 5th, homecoming talk.  It was wonderful to hear their stories of miracles both with those the missionaries teach and the miracles that happened within each of the missionaries.  They shared they had over 700 missionaries in 3 years and they have more missionaries at home then still in Guatemala.  We also met Pres. and Sis Nicholias from the CCM.  Both of these couples remember Elder Monson with love.  They say he is hard working, taught them a lot, helped them, was prepared and ready when he got there, they are not surprised he is doing so well and they LOVE him!  What a treat!!!


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Week 51: Changing of the Guard‏

This week was a rather reverent change, different from the fast-paced felicity that is the work of the Lord. For some reason, this week had another way to teach me to love the Lord than the way I had been previously learning, like the difference between Sunday School and a Seminary Class.
My feelings were tainted with a sense of renewal and excitement, and stalked with the bitter sense of uncertainty that grows when a change is expected.
The day to day events were focused on preparations in the mission offices and in my area. With the change of our Mission President and the baptism of the Franco family on the horizon, we had a great many things to do.

Saturday: We had a great PDay. After we played soccer in the church gym, we went to an incredible hamburger joint on the other side of the capital. I was incredibly surprised, it was great, the burgers tasted like they had been cooked on a BBQ at home (not like those gross McDonald's patties that I have resorted to). That night we had another lesson with the Francos just to recap everything that we had taught them over the past three months (has it really been that much time?). Walter and Ingrid are so prepared, they haven't just accepted the gospel, and they’ve embraced it!
Sunday: Walter and Ingrid came to church today along with Manuela and a few other people we've been teaching, in total we had six investigators present in Sacrament Meeting! It was an awesome feeling. That night, we passed over the Baptismal interview questions with Walter and Ingrid and they shared their testimonies with us. Walter explained that before he had taken the lessons, he had a thousand different ideas about our church, (that we worship Joseph Smith, that we have a hundred wives, etc.) but he said that when we first talked to him on his doorstep, what really impacted him was the faith that we have in Jesus Christ, and how our entire religion is centered around him.
I remember that lesson, and I remember how it was completely focused on the Savior, we used a Book of Mormon pass-along card that shows Jesus coming to the Americas, at the end of the discussion we gave it to him.
Now he keeps has that card taped to the wall in the entryway of the house.
My friends, the church is true.

Monday: I woke up this morning at 5 o'clock a.m. feeling my bed moving swaying back and forth beneath me. I was too tired and groggy to realize that I was in the middle of an earthquake, and just rolled over and went back to bed.
I'm not sure that was the best idea in the world, but I don't hold myself accountable for my actions in the early morning.
We enjoyed the very last office meeting of President Stay. It was a solemn assembly, especially because the opening hymn was "God Be With You Till We Meet Again." The whole thing was just pretty emotional.
That night, the Zone Leaders from Jalapa couldn't catch their bus to get back to their area in time, so the ended up having to stay in the White House with us. I did a division with one of them, Elder Cooper, from Toole Utah, so that Elder Gil and I could get to all the appointments we had planned.
Overall it was a good day.
Tuesday: not much to report. The Internet went down in the offices and we were kind of left hanging out to dry as secretaries. We were stuck waiting for the area offices to fix things...but nothing happened!
Turns out that everyone there was too engrossed in the World Cup Germany vs. Brazil game that they forgot to pay our internet bill (which doesn't make any sense at all...I mean, I heard that the game ended up at 7-1 for Germany. That's not a soccer game! That's called playground bullying!).
That night all of our appointments fell through and the permanent retainer I have on my top front teeth popped out on one side.
So...basically, today wasn't that great.
Wednesday: Today was the Zone Council for "La Zona Guatemala" ...but I couldn't make it to the meeting because I had to go to the mission's dentist office in Zone 2 to get my retainer fixed.
The actual visit took only 10 minutes...getting there however, was a little more complicated:
We left the house at about 8 o'clock and started walking to the Avenida Reforma (a really big, nice street in Guatemala, it's where the Mission Offices are) to go and take a bus to Zone Two. Approaching the street we saw a great hoard of people marching down on the other side of the street. They carried banners and microphones and were all shouting.
"Wow," I thought to myself, "how fun, a parade!"
But upon, listening closer, Elder Gil and I heard their cry through the megaphones: "Gringos! Fuera de Guatemala!" (Translation: Americans! Get out of Guatemala!)
This wasn't a parade, it was an Anti-American protest. A good amount of people were all swarming towards the American Embassy like angry (but pacifistic) bees.
We were stopped dead in our tracks, I looked at my companion and said, "I'm not about to cross the street" so we both turned around and we ran in the other direction before any of the members of the angry mob would see me.
We ended up having to wait a good hour before it was safe to cross the street and take a bus... and we made it to the Dental Clinic safely and without any problems, but it really started me thinking: What would have happened if one of them would have seen me? There were about 300 people, and none of them even noticed me!
We were definitely protected by the Lord that day, as he always does...
Even though the mob was non-violent, I wasn't about to be caught up in the midst of an international conflict.
Thursday: I had the opportunity to go on divisions with Elder Ampaza, from Bolivia, while Elder Layton went to Montufar with Elder Gil to do an interview for Walter and Ingrid. Elder Ampaza is a brand new missionary, he has been here for only three weeks and carries this pure desire to share the gospel. He's a rather short Violin player who is so excited to be a missionary that he really just shares this fire with everyone he comes in contact with. I definitely learned a lot from him.
Friday: When Elder Ampaza and I returned to the mission office this morning we were the only ones there. So we talked until President Stay and all the others came. Today was the very last day of the mission of President Stay, so to celebrate, he invited the Secretaries and the Assistants to eat at "La Estancia" (a stake house! yum!) and we had an incredible lunch at the offices (because we got take-out, they brought it here so we didn't have to go anywhere). Then we ate and President said to us "Well, do you have any questions for me?"

For your information, President Stay is like the smartest person I think I have ever met. His knowledge is incredibly extensive in regard to the doctrine of the Church, so basically the next two hours were filled with open-fire, anything-goes, gospel questions.
Awesome. I don't think I've ever had so many doubts cleared up in so short of time.
Then we took a picture and President and Sister Stay said goodbye.
It was incredibly emotional.
The thought of crying hadn't even crossed my mind until President gave me a big hug, and Sister Stay shook my hand with tears streaming down her cheeks.
By the end, everyone in the office was just a watery mess, as the two of them walked out of the office doors and waved goodbye. Elder Walters, one of the assistants said to me "Seeing your mission president walk away from a job well done is like watching your family drive away from you in the MTC."
And just like that...he was gone.
I am still thinking about all the things I learned from President Stay, how many ways he had helped me through some of the most difficult times in my mission...he and his wife were always there...and now it's time to welcome a new leader!
Now I'm here on Saturday morning, waiting for President Caffaro to come so that we can train him financially...a whole new adventure is starting; this is the beginning of the 2nd part of my mission.
I'm sure it's going to be great!
Especially because tomorrow, the Francos will be baptized!

Extra! Extra!  Had a quick email with a picture of new Mission Pres and Sis. Caffaro with the office staff...  Super great!