Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Went to the Philippines and China!

This week has been super weird.  I feel like there's nothing special to report and also a million things to report.
In our area we're at the point where we're going to have to drop quite a few investigators.  They're just not progressing and they're not seeking to be converted to the gospel.  Sister Osborn and I have been feeling a little weighed down this past week, and we realized this weekend it's because we need to stop teaching a lot of the people that we're teaching right now.  They're all at the point where we could kind of push them or persuade them into baptism, but it wouldn't be right and we wouldn't be fulfilling our purpose.  We're seeking for conversion, like Derek said, and it has to be their choice.
Our shining star right now is Nancy.  She was a little discouraged last week because her family doesn't support her, but at our last meeting with her she was once again excited about the gospel and willing to keep preparing to be baptized on Oct. 14.  Her barrier is still church attendance--she was willing to make the 50 minute drive to the chapel in the middle of her work day to be able to attend, but other things got in her way.  She can make it, we know it! It will take faith and prayers and probably some sacrifice, and maybe some waiting, but she has a sincere desire and we feel very confident that she will be baptized.
This week I went to the Tagalog program and the Chinese program.  It's so interesing to go and "visit" different cultures.  I feel blessed to be able to get to know the sisters, but also to appreciate different cultures more.  It's amazing how we can feel instant love for people when we're trying, like Derek said, to see them as Heavenly Father sees them.  There are no barriers of culture for the Spirit or for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We also had a fun experience with the young women this week.  They invited us to have an "open forum" about what it's like to be a missionary.  It was interesting to be there with the girls and then with their leaders, almost all of whom were returned sister missionaries.  I LOVE talking about my mission and missionary work.  I feel so blessed to be here and it's hard for me to believe there was a time when I didn't want to go on a mission or when I was reluctant about it.  It's made me appreciate everything so much more--my family, the gospel, the scriptures, the plan of salvation, the commandments, my education, the privilege of being born in the U.S., Spanish, my health, everything!  It doesn't feel like a sacrifice at all because the happiness of serving in the Lord's vineyard is the greatest blessing there is.  The gospel is true and Jesus Christ really is our Savior!  I feel it more deeply every day.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Fiesta Latina, baptism, and investigators!


This week was extremely FULL.  It was really fun, really busy, really spiritual, and at times really difficult.  But I wouldn't have it any other way!  One of the things that's been a huge blessing is to know that each day as a missionary is full of the things that matter most.  At times it can be easy to forget that and focus on details that don't really matter, but this week was a good reminder of why all of this is happening--for the progression and salvation of God's children!

Last night there was a baptism in the ward for an investigator the elders were teaching and a little 8-year-old from a part-member family that Hna Osborn and I teach every week.  Both stories are very touching.  After the baptism, the convert shared about how the elders had knocked on her door at just the right moment in her life, and how their invitations for her to pray to her Heavenly Father changed everything.  She thanked them for searching for the right words to say to her to help her accept the gospel.  It's always humbling to hear someone express their feelings about how the gospel has changed their lives.  The dad who baptized his little girl also shared his testimony.  A year ago he was addicted to alcohol and receiving multiple DUIs.  He had fallen away from the church for over 20 years, and just recently came back and received the Melchizedek priesthood.  He bore the most humble testimony of the Atonement I've ever heard as he talked about how blessed he felt to be worthy again to perform his daughter's baptism.  I had to get up and lead the closing hymn at the end of the meeting and couldn't help but cry as we sang "Senor, Te necesito" ("I Need Thee Every Hour") and I thought about the power of repentance, both in this brother's life and in the life of the sister who was taught by the elders.  It was kind of embarrassing to cry in front of a congregation, but the Spirit was stronger than I was. :)

We've been extremely blessed this week with our investigators.  We're teaching a woman named Nancy that just amazes me with how readily she accepts the gospel and how prepared she is.  She accepted a baptismal date right away, was already living the word of wisdom before she even knew about it, and came to her own conclusion that working on the Sabbath is not right.  We left her a chapter in the Book of Mormon as a reading assignment and when I asked her what her experience was like, she told me she'd read it 4 times just to make sure she understood!  In the first prayer we ever heard her say, she thanked Heavenly Father for helping her to find the right religion.  Amazing!  She also came to sacrament meeting this week and loved it.  She's truly amazing and understands the gospel so quickly and readily.  It's a reminder to me that as we teach people about the gospel, we're really just reminding them of things that they already learned in the pre-mortal life.  Her only barrier right now is church attendance because she works on Sundays, but she's already working on changing it.  We're excited to see her continue to progress!

I also had an amazing experience with one of our investigators, Leslie.  We were teaching her about obedience and the Atonement.  She opened up and told us about some mistakes she'd made in her past and talked about her desire to repent.  Instantly my love for her grew dramatically.  It's so hard to watch people struggle with a lot of the pain that's entered into their lives because of their mistakes and the mistakes of others in their lives, but it's so wonderful to see them realize that there is hope through the Atonement and Gospel of Jesus Christ.  President Holland once spoke about how we need to go with people into the "highways and byways" of their lives to understand them, and then take them to the Sacred Grove and Gethsemane to help them see how the gospel can help them.  I feel like this experience was one of those in which that happened, and it strengthened my testimony of the Savior's power of deliverance.

On a more lighthearted note, this weekend we had a giant Latino cultural festival in the ward.  The sisters from all different countries shared dances and food from their countries.  It was so great and I realized how attached I've become to the Hispanic culture, even though I'm still in the U.S. :)  It was sad when after the "party" they turned on the dance music and started the REAL Hispanic party and we had to leave.  Haha. :D  I'm hoping that their rhythm will rub off on me and I'll be a better dancer when I finish the mission and am allowed to dance again.

Anyway, I hope you all had a good week and that this week will be even better.  Stay tuned for more adventures from the Chinese program and the Tagalog program in next week's letter!  I love you all!

Another week already!

Hola familia.  This mission time-warp thing is getting out of hand.... I feel like this week absolutely flew by, but at the same time, what happened at the beginning of this week seems like it was in another lifetime.  It makes my brain hurt sometimes to think about how time passes on the mission.
On Monday for a zone activity we went to Alcatraz!  It was pretty cool.  They have a self-guided audio tour through the jail and the grounds.  It's kind of funny--trips to Alcatraz are approved by the mission, even though it involved breaking all of the rules (riding on a boat, wearing headphones, watching Discovery Channel, etc.).  It was fun!  I'd recommend it for the family (but after I get home from my mission!).
Thursday morning was zone leader council for us too.  Like Elder Croft said, zone leader council is awesome.  It's always really interesting to see how the Lord blesses us with different types of inspiration as we discuss the doctrines and principles that we'll apply to our calling as leaders, and then to see how He guides us in adapting those things to different needs.  President Meredith is doing us a great favor in teaching us to sit in council like the apostles do, basing ourselves in the doctrines and principles and then applying them according to inspiration and the specific plans we make.  We discussed a lot about how we can work better with our members and encourage the missionaries to seek revelation as they do so.  Sometimes we get caught up in the to-do list and we forget that this is a revelatory work that we're doing.
We went on two exchanges this week.  We're trying to front-load the transfer with exchanges, so that's 2 of 12 done.  I love going on exchanges with the sisters.  I always learn a lot from them.  It's something that's really pushing me though, to offer feedback in a way that's kind and loving, but also addresses the problem directly.  I know that's an important thing to learn, but it's definitely not easy!
Our teaching pool is a little crazy right now.  Christian, the kid who told us he believes in aliens, was going to come to church but canceled.  We had an awesome lesson with Osvaldo, another teenager we're teaching, and were waiting for him at church, but he didn't come either.  We were also expecting Leslie, Flor's cousin, but she didn't come either.  It was disappointing to not have anyone come, but we feel like this will be an opportunity for us to be able to distinguish where we need to be focusing our teaching, and with whom we should be spending our time.
Sister Osborn and I both spoke in church on Sunday.  It was a good experience and I appreciated the opportunity, although it's always super odd to hear my voice speaking Spanish over the microphone.  Sister Osborn did a great job.  This was actually her first talk in sacrament meeting as a missionary, even though she's near the end of her mission!
This week we learned a great lesson about setting goals.  This week we'd set a goal to teach a certain number of lessons.  In this mission, and especially in this area, one of our struggles is teaching enough lessons.  There are a lot of reasons why it's difficult to teach a lot of lessons every week, but this week we decided we would do absolutely everything we could to reach the standard of excellence that Elder Perry set when he came in March.  We set the goal, prayed like crazy, worked like crazy, and last night as we were totaling our lessons, we were shocked to see that we'd somehow reached our goal.  The math almost didn't make sense, and we didn't even realize that we'd reached the goal until our district leader said something.  It taught me that I need to have more faith to work toward a goal and prayerfully invite the Lord's help as I work.  It's something I'll be applying more, for sure!

New transfer!

Hola familia!
This letter might be a little shorter because we're going to ALCATRAZ today! Wooooo!
So we got transfer calls this Saturday. And, wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, Sister Osborn and I are staying together in our area!  We almost can't believe it.  It was a huge blessing to get to be her companion for one more transfer when we first got put together as sister trainers, and it's almost ridiculous that we get another one!  We're both very happy. :) We really feel like this transfer is going to be full of amazing things.  There is so much potential in our area right now, it's amazing.
So this week I fulfilled one of my dreams as a missionary.  I painted someone's living room!  And we painted it GREEN!  We have some investigators that are really stellar.  Leslie, the aunt, and her 2 nephews, Michael and Jesus, all came to church for the second time this week.  Flor, the mom, is also wonderful.  We know that this family will be able to accept the gospel.  They're extremely humble and they're looking for the truth together.  Flor's problem right now is that she's completely overwhelmed with work and taking care of her 3 kids on her own.  She has so many things on her plate right now that she feels like she can't concentrate on the gospel.  We're trying to help her see that learning about the gospel isn't just an obligation or another thing to put on her to-do list, but that it's the thing that will lift her burdens in other areas in her life.  But we also want to be there to help out physically and serve in every way we can, so this weekend we helped her clean the house and paint her living room.  It was really fun, and then she fed us Peruvian food. :)  It's interesting to see how people trust the missionaries so quickly.  She lets us come into her home and help her out and trusts us as if she's known us for years.  I guess that's another evidence of the reality of our calling as servants of the Lord.  People can feel that what we're doing and who we represent is something they can trust.
We had an interesting experience with a new 15-year-old investigator named Cristian last night.  The first time we met him and his dad, this kid told us he had a "strong belief in aliens" and that he was "kind of" an atheist. A little weird, no?  We went back for an appointment last night and he told us that he believed that God is our Heavenly Father.  He even prayed at the end of the lesson and it was really sincere.  This all came from reading the pamphlet on the message of the Restoration.  We're not sure what to think about that dramatic of a change in so short of a time, but we invited him to be baptized and he accepted, so the baptism is planned for the end of September.  We really never know what will happen or how the Spirit will help people to change, but miracles occur!
This week we had lots of cool experiences and neat opportunities (that just sounded like something Daddy would say :D) from a visit from Elder Robert C. Gay of the Seventy.  He came for an amazing zone conference.  At the beginning of the conference he told us to put down our pencils, stop taking notes, and just listen because he was going to share something he didn't plan to share and hadn't shared with the missionaries in the other zones.  He talked about how the Lord takes care of His servants when they are magnifying their callings, and how He will take care of our loved ones at home and strengthen us in our personal trials.  Even though our personal problems and weaknesses don't go away when we dedicate ourselves to serving the Lord, we have the promise of His care.  The room was absolutely burning with the Spirit and there was not a dry eye in the group.  It was a blessing to hear the words of a servant of God as spoken by the Spirit and to come to an understanding of some things that I needed to learn personally.
We as the leadership of the mission also got to have a special three-hour council with Elder Gay the day after zone conference.  I was a little intimidated by the idea at first (counseling with 18 zone leaders, the assistants, President Meredith, and a general authority), but it was an extremely uplifting experience and something I'll remember and refer back to for the rest of my life.  It was amazing to be able to learn how to counsel and how to take principles and doctrines and what Elder Gay called "scattered revelation" that can be received by members of the group, and then to put it together into solutions and plans that will help the mission and the missionaries progress.  We talked a lot about how to work closely with the members and ward leadership in order to carry out missionary work.  Elder Gay also gave what was apparently(we didn't get to go) a powerful fireside for all of the bishops, stake presidents, and ward mission leaders in the area, and everyone is excited to step up to the plate and increase their efforts as leaders in missionary work.  We're excited about it and have already seen a difference in the way our ward is thinking about missionary work.  It's definitely true that we cannot have success without the support and help of the members.  I feel like this area of the world is especially in need of finding and fellowshipping through the members because there's so much opposition to the gospel even as we walk down the streets.  We're expecting miracles as a result of this visit from Elder Gay.  It was an amazing blessing and will do a lot for the success of the work here.
I feel so humbled and so blessed to be having this experience.  It is never easy and it is often frustrating, but all of that pales in comparison to the blessing it is to be here and to serve the Lord.  I've never felt closer to my Savior and to my Heavenly Father than I do right now.  And I've never been able to see people so clearly as my brothers and sisters and children of God as I'm able to now.  I love this little piece of the world and the people in it, and my testimony of the gospel has grown so much as I've seen it change people in innumerable ways.  I love this work and I love this gospel!