Monday, June 16, 2014

"Crying: acceptable at funerals and the Grand Canyon." Ron Swanson

Hey all,

I can't believe that this is the last letter that I'll be writing. It's the weirdest thought in the world, going home. At the beginning, the focus was, "What will I do once I get home?" Lots of Elders would ask that, and lots of Elders would focus on that. Now, ending up, my thoughts are "Why do I have to go home?" It's really hard and a very strange feeling. I'll be excited one minute to see everyone, and then in two minutes I'll be sad and almost crying. This mission has been so awesome for me and so needed by me, and thinking about not doing it anymore is the hardest thing in the world. Like I said last week, I feel like I am betraying the Lord by being excited about going home and that I am betraying my family by wanting to keep working. I would make a very good Two Face if they were ever going to remake Batman.

Well, a lot of time has been spent reflecting on my mission, and much more time will be spent in the coming days. I have done my best to pick out 10 of the best memories that I have and the lessons I have learned from each one. I will try to be brief so as to not bore anyone, and I also want to point out that I have a lot more than 10 awesome memories from my mission. These are just some of the bigger ones. I think that it'll be a good way for me to end my writings, seeing as everything else I can tell you in person. But, these are memories that are very special for Elder Thomas, so Elder Thomas should write them down before he is released.

1. Sector: Guamaní. Companion: Elder Richimondg. Moment: Finding the Escobar family.

When I got to my first sector, everything was a mess. The house was a mess and the work was a mess. There was a lot to do. We spent a lot of time contacting, which wasn't the most fun thing in the world, but we did it. One afternoon, every appointment fell and we faced yet another afternoon of knocking on doors. Just as we started, it started pouring rain. Pouring. And in Quito, when it rains, it's cold. Plus, there was thunder and lightning. It was terrible and we could barely see in front of us. We talked about what we should do. We had a few options, such as studying in the house while the rain stopped or visiting a nearby member to wait the rain out. We praying as the rain poured, and I remember looking up and seeing a lady entering her house and feeling something special. Instead of doing the easier thing and waiting out the rain, we decided to be diligent and contact. It wasn't fun. I felt again that we should go to that lady's house and contact her. We did so, and we left the appointment with a new family with desires to be baptized, and that happened. The lesson that I learned there was that good things can happen on rainy days.

2. Sector: Guamaní. Companion: Elder Sanchez. Moment: The Morales family.

Part of this happened while I was still with Elder Richimondg, but basically we were working as hard as we could in our sector and seeing few, if any, fruits of our labors. It was getting hard to keep going, working without any success. One Sunday, after a hard week of work with no investigators in church, the bishop called us over to him and presented us to Veronica Morales. She told us that she had listened to the missionaries about a year ago, that they got married to get baptized, but they never got baptized. Right there she told us that she wanted to get baptized, and she did two weeks later. Later, her husband, who could only come to sacrament meeting for his work, called us Sunday around 9 and asked to be baptized that day before sacrament meeting, which started at one. We filled the font as we could and he was baptized that day, completing the family in the Church. Those were unexpected blessings, total surprises to us. The lesson that I learned there was that when we do all that we can, the Lord will bless us with what we need.

3. Sector: La Gasca. Companion: Elder Paz. Moment: Esteban LeGrand.

Esteban LeGrand is probably the strongest convert that I have been able to teach. He is awesome, and has already gone to the temple for his endowments and all of that jazz. He has his calling, he is at church every week, he is awesome. And, he contacted us. Elder Paz and I were at the bus stop, and he contacted us thinking that we were high school students, and he wanted to ask us if there was work available in our school. The inital conversation was brief, but we presented ourselves and set up an appointment for the next day. We had little to do with his conversion. We visited him every day, for he lived right by our house, and he did everything on his own. He read almost the whole Book of Mormon in three days, prayed always, and did everything he invited us to do. I get to see him frequently in the offices, and I have grown to love him greatly. I learned there that we don't always have to find them, sometimes they need to find us.

4. Sector: La Gasca. Companion: Elder Paz. Moment: Santos Ganán.

Santos was a father of a family where everyone but him was a member, and he had listened to the missionaries off and on for 16 years, never getting baptized. When we first got the the sector, the bishop introduced us to him and asked us to visit him. The first appointment was to mostly get to know him, but the second appointment was game time. Elder Paz was very new, and I taught a lot of the lesson, but it was basically an hour battle with him giving excuses to not get baptized, we'd read a scripture to tell him that that excuse wasn't valid, and we'd keep going like that. Finally, he ran out of excuses, and he accepted a baptismal date right there after the hour battle, and he got baptized. He was sealed to his family about a month ago. I learned there that good things are worth fighting for.

5. Sector: Various. Companions: Various (esp. Elder Paz and Elder Burr). Moment: Being with them.

All of my companions were great. Not one of them was disobedient, not one of them had any major problems. I was very blessed by my many companions. I don't remember how many I had, it was around 13 or 14, but two very special ones were Elder Paz and Elder Burr. Elder Paz was so much fun to be around, and we worked so hard together. We had to open a sector where missionaries had done dumb things, and we worked so hard to build up confidence again and to find people to teach. We worked so hard, and we had to much fun. We saw lots of fruits from our labors, and fruits that have remained strong in the Church. I am glad that I have gotten to see him again in the offices so often, and he'll be at BYU studying, too. Elder Burr was such a great companion for me. We got along right away, and we never had fights, yelling, or any ill feelings one towards another. We worked so hard and were so dedicated to the work. Together, we saw many miracles and were blessed in many ways. That was probably the time in my mission where I thought least about not mission stuff. It was 100% working, and we made a great team. I've kept in touch with him ever since he finished last year, and his friendship and brotherhood and very important to me. He was a wonderful companion.

6. Sector: Lago Agrio. Companion: Elder Burr. Moment: The Fast.

Things were a disaster in Lago when I got there. Bad leadership, bad membership, bad progress. We worked so very hard with everything, but something would always happen between the members and the investigators and it would impede the progress of the work. My first change, we didn't really see too many fruits. When changes were made and Elder Burr was put in as the branch president, we started it off with a fast. As we finished the fast, I went into a room alone to pray, alone and out loud, something that I hadn't done before. I was going to ask the Lord if what I was doing was what He had wanted from me, for I felt that it wasn't. As soon as I started praying, it felt like someone came up behind me and was giving me a hug. I started crying, and I knew that I was doing all of the right things. I just had to keep going. That was the day that missionary work changed in Lago. We found many families after that fast and saw many fruits from out labors. But, more importantly, I changed a lot that day and became a much more dedicated missionary. What I learned there is that when we are weak, the Lord can make us stronger.

7. Sector: Lago Agrio. Companion: Various (Burr, Tumpay, Murphy). Moment: The people.

We helped a lot of people in Lago receive the restored Gospel, and it was amazing to see their lives change. Membership more than triple in the time from April 2013 when I got there to October of 2013 when I left. Families like the Cedeño Gordón family, the Lopez family, the Lema family, the Moreno family, and many, many more were all changed by the Gospel. Those friendships I formed there are very important to me. Saying goodbye to them last week was so hard for me, because I had grown to love them so much. They feel like part of the family, and it is great to visit a year after their conversion and to see that they are still strong. What I learned from the people, those very important people, in Lago Agrio is that changing others changes you.

8. Sector: Lago Agrio. Companion: Various (Coram, Tuckett, Burr, Tumpay, Murphy). Moment: My conversion.

Before going to Lago Agrio, I was a good, obedient, hard working missionary. I worked as hard as I could every day, and was able to meet and to help many people receive the Gospel. But, I would say that Lago Agrio was the land of my conversion. I look back in my journal now and recognize my growth there so easily. Especially after the fast mentioned above, I became a different missionary. I didn't work hard because it was expected of me or to gain recognition, I began to work because I loved the Lord and wanted to show whatever thanks I could for His Atonement. I walked in the rain because I loved the Lord. I rarely, if ever, thought about home during the week. I thought only in the investigators, the members, the less actives, the people there. They became my family, they became so important to me. I learned so much serving as the branch president there, and learned how to be a loving leader. I studied hard and grew much in those wonderful six months in Lago. Part of me will always be in Lago Agrio, for that is where I became the man that the Lord needed me to be. I became converted. I became dedicated. I became His. I could talk about Lago Agrio for hours. I began working for love, not for anything else. And that is when I really lost myself, which is the lesson learned here: losing yourself really is finding yourself.

9. Sector: La Colón. Companion: Elder Ospina. Moment: Operación Matacuy.

The month of March was a hard month. We had some bad missionaries doing bad things. I have no need to go into the details of what happened, but it was a very real battle of bad vs. good. We worked hard, planned everything out super well, and started taking out the bad missionaries, and we did so successfully, every missionary involved. We took out the bad root in the mission, which allowed us to start growing to be better and more obedient. In my exit interview yesterday with President Richardson, he said that that operation helped the mission so much as we were able to get rid of the bad to replace it with good. I felt bad for the missionaries sent home, but bad things always bring bad consequences. Details can be shared once I am home, but it was a hard month with little sleep and lots of trickery and lies from the missionaries, but in the end, we took them out. There I learned that good beats bad, every time. It may take more time than we would like, but that is always the outcome.

10. Sector: La Colón. Companion: Various (Dearden, Ospina, Miranda, Burleson). Moment: The Richardsons.

Probably the biggest blessing of working so long in the offices is how well I got to know the Richardsons. They really do feel like second parents, offering such great advice and guidance throughout my time with them. What I learned most from them, of all of the many lessons, is the importance of loving everyone, no matter how stupid they are. Both President and Sister Richardson are so good at loving people, especially the stupid ones. I have learned a lot about the importance of love in leadership. Before, I would easily get upset with missionaries when they didn't do what they were supposed to be doing. I have learned that there are two ways to get people to follow you: they can fear you or they can love you. Instilling fear may bring you obedience, but not loyalty. Instilling love will bring you everything you want: obedience, loyalty, diligence, honesty, etc. The Richardsons understand the effectiveness of love, and show it so masterfully, which is the best lesson that I've learned from them. From them, I learned that true love and admiration are deserved by everyone.

Honorable mentions: Peeing blood for a week, loving to study Elder Maxwell's talks, shaking hands with a little monkey.

Like I said, there are a million more things that I could write, but those are some of the standouts. I tried to be brief, as with details I could talk about each memory for a long time.

I've had a good week this week, but I am almost out of time to write. Plus, I may as well just fill you in when I get home.

My mission has been so important to me. I have become my greatest converted, as promised in the MTC two years ago. I have become a servant of the Lord, a defender of the faith, a testifier of Christ. I know that the Gospel that I have preached for two years is true, and that it is worth defending. The truth will be attacked and hated by others, but it will never be abandoned by me. I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior, that He suffered for us, and that by living His Gospel, we can become perfect like Him. He loves everyone, a love that we must try to show as well. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and I know that because I know that the Book of Mormon is true through the power of the Holy Ghost. That Book is amazing and will be studied by me every day for the rest of my life. There is nothing more important than the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. I testify that all of these things are true. My mission in Ecuador may be ending, but my mission on earth is far from over. Through my experiences on my mission, I come home ready to keep defending the faith and serving the Lord, and will do so happily until He calls me home. Nothing is more important than this work, the work of salvation.

I love you all and thank you for your love and support over the last two years. I have felt your prayers, your love, and you kindness from very far away. I have tried to serve in a way so that whatever you think a missionary should be, I have been. I have been obedient and faithful, and any success that I have had has come from that. I thank you all infinitely for all that you have done for me and the numerous sacrifices that you have made for me.

With all of my love,

Elder Joshua Jay Thomas

P.S. I may hop on quickly on Monday to see any last messages or information I may need.

"I know these vents like the back of my chang." Señor Chang, Community

Hey all,

I am so sorry to hear about the passing of Grandpa Thomas. I've been praying all week for everyone involved. I hope that you're all doing okay and that your testimonies of the Plan of Salvation and of the Savior have been strengthened.

I'm writing in Lago right now. President is going to be in Lima all week, so he has a lot to get done today (like changes for next week), so while he's doing that I'm writing on the hotel computer. I won't have the full 2 hours probably, but I'll have enough.

President was so good to have "planned" this trip conveniently at the end of my mission. We did need to come out here to do interviews and trainings, which we did yesterday, but I know that the date has to do with my leaving. Just I came with him, the other two are in Quito. Yesterday, we spent about 6 hours training. It was tiring, but fun. I had to do it all alone, which was very weird for me as usually I train with at least one other missionary. It's hard to keep their attention when just one missionary is talking, so I had to put up a bunch of videos to keep their attention. We even had nap time. Not really, but it would have been a good idea. Whenever we come to Lago, we do the trainings that we would normally do in three meetings over three months in 6 hours. It is a lot and we go fast, but they seem to do okay with it. There are only 8 Elders in the jungle, so it's easier to move faster. At night, we had dinner with a great family, recent converts that got baptized in April. They love President Richardson and really brought out the big guns.

This morning, we attended the meetings in the branch for my last time. I was asked to speak by Elder Coram (my old companion and the branch president right now), and I spoke on missionary work. The branch is continuing to grow a at a great rate, but it could be even better. There are 4 or 5 solid families that attend and that keep the heart of the branch pumping, and they have anywhere from 6 to 10 baptisms a month. If they can keep pushing, they'll have a chapel soon, which is the goal of everyone there. There is a wonderful, wonderful spirit there, it is contagious. At the end of the classes, it was time for me to say my goodbyes, but I told them that hopefully I'll be back in July with Dad. It was still very hard to say goodbye, because I'll never be back as a missionary. There are a lot of important people there from my mission. It was hard, but it's part of the process. Missions end.

Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, was my last leadership council. That was hard, too, because at the end, the missionaries who are "dying" gave their last testimony. I thought I would be okay, but I cried like a little baby, diga. I started out talking about how sad I was when I started my mission because I wouldn't be able to see Batman before I started. I spoke how that was my prize at the end--after serving an honorable mission, I would get to see Batman. I then said that the best prize that I received is the person that I now am. That's when the waterworks started. I don't remember a lot about what I said specifically, but it was a sincere testimony. After, I took pictures with all of my good friends in teh mission, and that was really hard, as well. A lot of them, especially the latinos, I'll probably never see again in this life. But, that, too, is part of the process.

We were also in the coast for two days this week, which was a good visit. I've grown to love the heat, and the missionaries there are great, as well. We had a leaders meeting and a zone conference there, it went well. Sister Richardson didn't come this time, so I got to be in the hotel with President. It is right on the beach. I wasn't complaining. He's been so great to me, I'll miss being around him so much.  

I read a couple of great talks this week, one by President (then Elder) Benson and one by Elder Maxwell. President Benson talked about 14 principles of following the prophet. It was a great talk, I won't talk too much about it, but at the end he makes the statement that if we want to measure our faith and our obedience to the Lord, we should analyze how well we are following the prophet. Great talk. Elder Maxwell's talk was called "Our Creator's Cosmos," and it as a killer sweet talk that he gave at BYU in 2002, if I remember right. He uses pictures from telescopes to explain scriputres about the creation. It is a great talk, you should read it.

I'm getting to a really weird point where I'm not sure what I should write you and what I should just wait to tell you. It still hasn't truly hit me that the end is so near. Obviously I know that the 17th is my return date, that in a week I complete my last change, but I think that I don't want to accept quite yet that I need to end. It is a very strange feeling. Part of me is excited to be home and to move on to the needed stages of life that follow, but the more dominant part of me doesn't want the mission to end. It really is the greatest, best thing that I have done or ever could have done with my life. And I feel like I've finally got it down how to be a good missionary and it's time to end. Elder Waddell talked about that, saying that our way to work is 100% contrary to what a business would do. To bring someone new in, train them, and then right when they get good, release them makes no sense in a business, but that is why we know that it is the work of the Lord. He makes it work. But, it's a very weird time for me. I feel like I'm cheating the Lord when I think about going home and finally watching Batman, but then I feel like I'm cheating my family when I think about not going home. It's hard to explain well, but all in all, I feel weird. I'm not letting myself cry, but I feel like I'm constantly on the brink of tears.

I always thought that serving a mission was a brave thing to do, but really the brave thing is to go home and keep doing what was expected of me for two years. I don't have a companion at my side the whole time nor such a spiritual environment 24/7. Keeping up what I've been doing will be harder and harder as the world gets worse and worse. I realize now that ending a mission takes a lot more bravery than starting one. One phrase that I said in my last testimony was that a mission was ending, but my mission still has a long ways to go.

There is one thing that I would like to ask of anyone who reads my letters that I liked that Elder Burr did when he left. His last preparation day, his parents send him letters to print off to read on the plane. I don't know what they said, but I liked that idea. If you would like to, I would like to ask you to do something similar, send me a letter to read while flying home. I got my flight schedule this week, and it is going to be a long day. It'll be a sad day, too, I'm sure, and I feel like it would be nice to have some good letters to read. Jack and Eliza should know how to write by now, so I expect letters from them at the very least. If you don't have time, no worries, I can read the scriptures eternally now, diga.

Next week will be my last letter to you guys as a missionary, I think that I will make it my "Top 10," letter, the bests of my mission. It would be cool if you could send me a similar list of your top 10's over the last two years. A lot has happened, and I need something to talk to you about when I get home so I don't bore you with mission stories. I know that #1 on Nikki`s list will be "Walking into a wall and consussing myself."

I am so grateful for the Gospel that we have. That video that the Church made for Easter, "Because of Him," is so great because it helps us to remember the simple truths that we have again from the Restoration. One of the phrases is that "because of Him, death has no sting." I know that it's been tough with Grandpa's passing, but I know that it's not the end and that we'll all see him again. Temples are great for that. I will be praying for you all, as always.

I am ready to work. I'll give it my all this last week that I have. There is nothing greater than the work of salvation. Sorry that the letter is a bit shorter, but for question of time and for knowing that it will be easier to say in person, we'll keep it shorter. I love you all tons!


Elder Thomas

That is a picture of me eating a worm.

Monday, June 2, 2014

"What's living if you don't pull your shorts down and slide on the ice, Ren?" Louis Stevens

Hey all,

I am so sorry to hear about the state of Grandpa Thomas right now. He's been in all of my prayers, and I hope that everything goes well with the situation. I send my love to everyone and hope that we can all feel the peace that the Gospel gives us in tough times.

This week, we finally had a day without any travels. Just one day though, Tuesday. We took the day to plan and to do a lot of good stuff that we had neglected for a long time. It was a very weird experience for me. We planned a lot of stuff and I won't even be here for most of it. This coming week we have meetings every day, but the next week, President is in Lima for a mission president seminar, so we don't have meetings there. The majority of the stuff happens after I leave, which is very weird to think about. I'm planning stuff that I'll never even do. Weird stuff.

We're going to be focusing in June about how to retain better and how to find better. In the mission council on Tuesday, the focus will be retaining, and in the zone conferences in June will be training and practicing on finding new people to teach. We're seeing a problem in the mission that too many missionaries think that when we say that they need to find people, the only way to do that is to knock on doors. But, there are tons of awesome ways to find people. Chapter 9 is full of awesome ways to find people, and few of them talk about knocking on doors. And, as the chapter teaches, the best way to find people is through the members.

A lot of times the members don't even realize that they have references until they are asked the right question. For example, a lot of times if the missionaries ask, "Who do you know that could benefit from the message of the Gospel?" a mental block is put into play because the question they hear is, "who do you know that could be baptized?" And no one thinks that their friends would be baptized. Better questions to ask are, "Who do you know that has recently had a birth/death/accident in the family" "Who do you know that seems to be lost in life?" "Who do you know that is struggling with a sin/addiction?" Questions like that don't shut the mind off, they actually open them up. When we ask like that, the members don't think of the word "baptism," they just think of people that need help. And the people that need help are 90% of the time ready for the Gospel. So, that's one thing that we'll be training on, well, that the other missionaries will be training on, in June.

There are other great ideas for finding, many that get invented as you go. A great way that I have found that works for me is to just offer to sing someone a hymn. We knock on their door, and mention that we are missionaries, and we offer right away to sing them a hymn. That has gotten us into a lot of different houses, and some of the people that let us in have gotten baptized. The trick is to find a good balance between finding through the members and finding on our own. If we try to do just one, it's not very effective.

Another good way for all of us to find people to teach is to talk about the family. No one gets mad talking about their family, unless you are the Kardashians. We contact a lot of taxi drivers in our travels around Quito, and the fastest way to get to a Gospel discussion is to talk about the family. Always, always, always, something comes up that you can tie to the Gospel. A common line here is, "My son is a chump. He drinks all day and is a bum." Well, we've got good news, we can fix that. But, they all live in the other mission so we never get to teach them. There are just so many excellent ways to find people, we just really have to have the desires to do so. Chapter 9 is a bomb chapter, you should read it.

Wednesday through Friday, we were in beautiful Otavalo for my last time as a missionary, I think. It was a great trip, there are tons of missionaries there, around 80. Poor President, that's a lot of interviews. But, they were good meetings. Like I've explained, we talk about the Book of Mormon the whole time. We've done the training around 20 times in the month, so we had it down pretty good for these last meetings. We just keep talking about the Book of Mormon and we watch various videos until President finishes all of the interviews. Depending on how the interviews go, that can be a long time or not too long, and we had a good mix of both in Otavalo.

The last one, I changed it up a bit to not get too bored and busted out a fun analysis of Mormon 7. I think that it is one of the best chapters for missionary work, and we hardly ever use it. It's the last chapter that Mormon actually writes himself, what he would consider to be the end of the book. He busts it out big time, and it is in that chapter that Mormon himself explains what he would consider to be the purpose of the book he put together.  He explains a few key things in just a few short verses:
The Lamanites (and many others reading the book) are part of the house of Israel.
We have to repent if we want to be saved.
We have to abandon our weapons of war, or submit ourselves to the will of the Father.
We have to both learn of and follow Jesus Christ.
Through Jesus Christ and His Atonement, we can return to live with God again.
The Book of Mormon was written to support the Bible, and the Bible was written to support the Book of Mormon.
We must live the doctrine of Christ, or His Gospel (Faith, Repentence, Baptism, Holy Ghost, Endure to the End)
It's pretty much everything that we need people to know to follow Christ, all in 10 verses. Pretty dope, it's like he's a prophet or something. We talked about the chapter for various minutes with the missionaries in the last group, and hopefully they will use it more in their teachings, because it is a power chapter, much like Mosiah 4 or Moroni 10.

Going along with that, it is interesting to note the most important chapters in the Book of Mormon, as most of them are the final words of the prophet teaching. We can consider 2 Nephi 1-3 are the final words of Lehi, 2 Nephi 31-33 are the final words of Nephi, Mosiah 4 the final words of King Benjamin, Samuel the Lamanite, Mormon, Moroni, many of them were the authors of the power chapters, and those chapters were their final words. I feel like the prophets are at their strongest when they are physically weakest and know that the end is near. That may be one of the reasons why Mormon 7 is so powerful. Mormon knew what he wanted his last words to be, and he made them good. I love the Book of Mormon.

I set the goal to read all of Preach My Gospel one more time in my last change, and this coming week I should be finishing it up. I don't know how many times I've studied it but now, but even after two years of doing so, I am still learning from it. It's interesting going through it again. There are parts that I never remember having read, but things that I recognize that I do while I teach, kind of a natural development of a skill that Preach My Gospel says that I should have. But, there are also tons of things that I feel like they weren't there before that would have been so nice to have known during my mission. There is so much to learn in the book, and reading it again and again helps me to recognize how much more I need to improve to become a better missionary. There is always so much to get better at in life, always something to work on.

For example, in chapter 12 there is a section about filling out the baptismal record. I testify that I have never done anything that it suggests there, and they would have been great things to have done if I had known about it. Woops. Did you know that you're supposed to fill out the record in the baptismal interview? I sure didn't until two days ago. Also, did you know that it's a commandment to live the Word of Wisdom? Just kidding, I'm not that lost.

Preach My Gospel really is such a blessing to have today. We can be much better sharers of the Gospel with the things that it teaches us. It is so packed of so much good stuff, that everyone needs to study it as often as they can. I loved the invitation in Conference for everyone to have a copy and to study it. It's true--we're all missionaries and for that we all need to be studying how to be a better one. I'll keep up my study of it as well as I can so that I don't lose my missionary habits, diga.

I read a great talk this week by President Benson. He talked a lot about the Book of Mormon. His talks caught my attention after having used Chapter 5 of Preach My Gospel so much in the interview trainings this month. The talk I read was called "Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon." It is a great talk, and be summed up in a few words: "You losers, use the Book of Mormon more." The talk is not very long, but that really is what he wants to say. It is such an important key in everything we believe, and we have to rely on it more. There are a few quotes that I would like to attach:

“Few men on earth,” said Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “either in or out of the Church, have caught the vision of what the Book of Mormon is all about. Few are they among men who know the part it has played and will yet play in preparing the way for the coming of Him of whom it is a new witness. … The Book of Mormon shall so affect men that the whole earth and all its peoples will have been influenced and governed by it. … There is no greater issue ever to confront mankind in modern times than this: Is the Book of Mormon the mind and will and voice of God to all men?”


I do not know fully why God has preserved my life to this age, but I do know this: That for the present hour He has revealed to me the absolute need for us to move the Book of Mormon forward now in a marvelous manner. You must help with this burden and with this blessing which He has placed on the whole Church, even all the children of Zion.

It is a great talk that really inspired me to find more ways to use the Book of Mormon in everything that I do. We really do need to focus a lot more on our reading of and sharing of the Book of Mormon. He says a lot more about it, but we can get the picture with the two quotes I pasted on. So, you losers, use the Book of Mormon more.

You may ask, "Elder Thomas, you are always traveling and in meetings, how did you study so much this week?" Well, my friends, the answer is simple. We had about 20 meetings for interviews, saying the same things in each one. President and Sister Richardson each train for about an hour and a half in total, and after 5 times, we have what they say memorized. So, we discovered that we can sneak in to the back and take that time to study. Brilliant, we just jumped up 300% in study hours. Boo yah.

Well, that's about all that I studied this week and about all that went on. Tonight and tomorrow and Monday we'll be in the offices planning all of our trainings, it's a lot to do. We need to plan the leadership council on Tuesday, the zone conference trainings, and the leadership meeting training. Lots to do, but it's good to be busy. I'm excited to fast, although I am already hungry. Here we fast lunch to lunch instead of dinner to dinner. Dinner to dinner is better. Plus, hardly anybody actually fasts here. Yay, South America!

Anyways, I love you guys! I hope that all is good, and I hope that everyone can feel the peace of the Gospel as some tough things are probably going to be happening this week. I'll keep you all, especially Grandpa, in my prayers.

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Also, I may not be able to write next Saturday. If all goes according to plan, I'll be going out to Lago next week with President to do interviews. If you don't hear from me, don't worry, I haven't died.

Monday, May 26, 2014

"I am making a quality cucumber shake here, Ren!" Even Stevens

Hey all,

Well, we had a pretty fun week this week that totally flew by. Elder Miranda didn't even know today was Saturday, he thought it was Friday. The visit from Elder Waddell kept us very busy, but it was awesome.

On Tuesday, we went a day early to Otavalo to do divisions with some zone leaders there and to make sure that everything was set for the training from Elder Waddell. The divisions went well, but I was exhausted afterwards. We visited a family that lived halfway up the mountain and it took us around 45 minutes to arrive at the house. But, it felt good to work outside all day and to see how the zone leaders are doing. It was a fun time to work that day. I took more pretty pictures.

On Wednesday, we got the chapel set up nice, and the Waddells and the Richardsons arrived around 10:00. We said quick a quick hello to them, and then Elder Waddell did some interviews. The acutal training was from 11 until 4:30, and the time flew by super fast, super fast. After the meeting, we had a leadership meeting, then at night he met with all of the ward and stake councils in the area to train/correct them. He corrected a lot. I'll put details about the training a little further along.

Wednesday night, we went back early while Elder Waddell trained the ward and stake councils to be able to prepare the chapel before they got there in Quito. They stayed the night in Otavalo, and got to the chapel around 10 again. Wednesday and Thursday were pretty much the exact same. The ward/stake council meeting was bomb. He corrected a lot of stuff.

Friday we had the last meeting in Quito again, but in the north part. Same speal, they left at 4 to go to the airport. The time went by so quickly, it was amazing. I can't believe that the week has already ended.

I learned a lot in the training. Elder Waddell visited the mission in November of 2012, and taught a lot of the same stuff, but he did change some stuff up to keep it interesting.

The first thing that he talked about was how missionary work changed on June 23rd, 2013, the day of the broadcast of Hastening the Work of Salvation. He said that before that day, we were all Missionary 1.0, our only job being to baptize. But, after that day, we got upgraded to Missionary 2.0. We still have the job to baptize, but now it is way more than just that. More than baptize, we need to convert, retain, and activate. We now have three jobs, not just one. Working with new members, less actives, and investigators are our main focuses now. Speaking of this, he said it is too big of a problem that missionaries baptize, leave them for the ward, then move on to the next baptism, never thinking of the progress of the new convert. We need to get rid of that culture and really get people converted. That was his theme for his training. Converts, not baptisms. We have a lot more work to do now. One example of this problem is that we are the Area that baptizes the most in the world. Last year, we had 39,000 baptisms in the Area. But, the problem is that there was an increase of only 10,000 people attending sacrament meeting. That's not a great statistic.

After speaking of our upgrade, he went on to the doctrine of what we were doing. He is a great teaching and taught eloquently. We are here serving now because we were brave before coming here, and the Lord needed us in this exact time to be missionaries. We read in DyC 88:72-72 where the Lord says He will hasten His work in His time, and when that time comes, He will provide Elders. Well, that time is now because President Monson said so. He also spoke that we are here in this mission, not only to help the people, but because we need to learn from the Richardsons. They have what we need to shape ourselves to serve the Lord for the rest of our lives. Pretty dope, right?

After that, we followed a scripture chain of DyC 2, 1 Nephi 22:9,12, DyC 101:64-65, and DyC 110. This part was sweet, and I'm not sure if I'll be able to summarize it well over email, but it's worth a shot. Plus, I studied it in Spanish, so I may not remember the exact words in English.

But, in DyC 2, Joseph has the "second" vision, where Moroni visits him and tells him that Elías el profeta will reveal the priesthood to him. Elder Waddell taught that there he is talking about the purpose of the priesthood, which is to seal families together. Through Elías el profeta, Jospeh would get those keys again, seeing as Elías was the last Old Testament prophet to have them, and it was him that gave them to Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. It talks later in the section about remembering the promises made to the fathers, which means Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or the Abrahamic covenant. When the promise talks about having offspring like the sand of the sea, that means to say exhaltation. Elder Waddell said that a blessing like that can only be received in the Celestial Kingdom, seeing as now wife could bear that many children in this life. So, the Lord was going to reveal the priesthood, or the sealing keys, to fulfill the Abrahamic covenant, to seal the families together.

Then, in 1 Nephi 22:9,12, we read about the gathering of Isreal, and that all can receive the Gospel and the promised blessings in the Abrahamic convenant. We read one verse in Doctrine and Covenants 29:7 that explains that it is our job to gather Israel as missionaries.

In DyC 101:64-65, we reach of two things, the harvest and the garners. The harvest is the gathering of Israel, which we have to work to help accomplish. The garners are temples, because the scripture explains that by going there, they will receive eternal life. So, we need to gather Isreal and get them all to the temple, not just to baptism.

In DyC 110, the prophecies are all fulfilled. Joseph receives the keys of the gathering of Isreal, was reminded of the Abrahamic covenant, and finally the sealing keys, all happening in the temple. As of that day, the prophecies were fulfilled and we could begin the work to gather Isreal and to bring them to the temple, which is what we continue doing today. But, no one can receive the blessings promised in the convenant unless they are sealed.

That was a sweet part, he took awhile on it and explained a lot more. I can bust out my notes when we're together. But, after explaining that, he really emphazied the point that it is not baptism, it is the sealing, It's not the font; it's the altar. He told us that baptism is a necessary step to entering the temple, and that is why our work in baptizing is so important. But, it really is only the door at the beginning of the path of discipleship--there is so much more after. He quoted Elder Nelson, and, paraphrasing, he said, baptism without temple ordinances has no worth. Baptism followed by temple ordinances is the most valuable thing that we have. He also said that the best missionaries are those who understand the Abrahamic convenant.

After that, Sister Richardson taught about how to develop Christlike Attributes. It was great. She said that to imitate our heroes, we need to be like them, and to develop Christlike attributes, we need to have a cape like any superhero would have. In Spanish, cape is capa.
P-Pedir ayuda
Believe, learn, ask for help, and act. It was a good training.

President then spoke about how to follow the Spirit better in the work. He gave many great suggestions, and helped remind us of the importance of the Spirit in the work.Three key things that we need to do to have the Spirit are: the study of the scriptures, being worthy, and praying often. He said that missionaries can convince, but only the Spirit can convert. We need to do all that we can to invite Him in every lesson. I really like that phrase that missionaries can convince, but only the Spirit can convert.

Sister Waddell then spoke about setting a good foundation. She doesn't speak Spanish, but her husband translated for us. It was a good talk about how we should leave the mission with a stong foundation in Christ, ready to face any challenge that we have with faith.

After them, Elder Waddell took the rest of the time. He killed it hard on a talk about obedience. That's one that I'll have to say in person. He ripped it apart. He started by saying, "I didn't want to talk about this, but we all know what happened a few months ago here." And delivered a quite needed machete. Any wicked missionary there would have wet their pants, an easy way to know which ones aren't obedient. It was awesome, seeing it from the view of someone who is obedient. In Spanish, we would say, "La mamá de los machetes."

He then spoke about how important the Spirit is, giving examples in the scriptures. Without the Spirit, we don't have success. He used Alma 17, 18, and 26 to talk about Ammon and how his power came from the Spirit, and a great quote from Preach My Gospel that says basically that if we don't teach with the Spirit, we won't have success, no matter how much talent we have. Super true, diga. We need to bring the message to the hearts of the investigators, and only with the Spirit we can do that. He repeated the phrase that missionaries can convince, but only the Spirit can convert. We've gotta have the Spirit.

He finished talking about the steps of the Gospel, and that it is too easy to skip repentence, especially here in South America, and go right to baptism. But, the scriptures Alma 34:15-16 and Helaman 15:7-8 teach us that everyone needs to have "faith unto repentance," if they are to be converted, not convinced. Three things that we do to help them to have faith unto repentence is to help them to pray, to read the Book of Mormon, and to go to Church. If they do those things, they are converted. To do these things, we have to be strong with our compromisos, which will offend many people and make them not want to listen, but we still need to be bold. Each person needs to do those things before baptism to be converted. There are baptisms without those things, but there are not conversions without those things.

There are a lot more things that I would like to write that I learned, but that'll do for now. In the future I can explain more. It was a much needed training for the mission. We really do need to focus on much more than baptism, although that is an important part of our work still. We need to convert, retain, and activate. Lots to do. We received the promise that if we active less actives, we will find many new people to convert. We need to be Missionary 2.0 now.

I got to listen to the training three times, which was a big blessing, and allowed me to really listen to promptings that I received from the Spirit. The two biggest things that I felt that I need to do personally are,

1. I need to become a true Gospel scholar, a master of the scriptures.
2. I have built myself a good foundation, now the question is: how do I want my house to turn out?

And those are the things I will be pondering about over the next several days and weeks. There is just so much to learn.

It was such a privilege to have the Waddells here and it inspired me to be a better missionary and to work even harder. Elder Waddell really is called of God to serve as a Seventy, and he has a great ability to help us understand our destiny and our identity. It was one of those meetings that you wish could keep going and going.

Well, that was my week. There is so much more that I would like to say, especially about the sweet machete that he gave (it was awesome), about the visit in greater detail and in ways that email makes difficult to do, but I hope that you could learn something from what I learned. It is conversion, not baptism, It is the altar, not the font. This is a great work to be involved in.

I love you guys tons! Happy birthday to Nat and Dad. I hope you all have a wonderful week and that you can go to the temple.

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Monday, May 19, 2014

"It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me." Batman, diga

Hey all,

Well, if there is one lesson to be learned, it is that dead dogs smell really bad.

This week flew by for me. These next few weeks are going to fly by because we don't have any down time whatsoever. Especially with the visit from Elder Waddell, we're going to busy every single day to help make sure that everything runs smoothly. We've gotta have lunch, get everyone there a half hour early, have the meeting, finish on time, we have meeting with the ward councils at night, it is a lot to do. And, probably not a good idea to mess up. If we do, we'll just blame it on the new guy. Problem solved.

We went to the coast for my last time this week to do the interviews. I ate my last encebollado there, and President let us go to my favorite lookout point before going back. We have some good missionaries out there, and the work is finally starting to pick up in the coast. Before, it was known for being a very successful zone, but the work and the excitement started dying down. There were some problems with disobedience, not just with the missionaries but with the members, too, and now the stake is suffering quite a bit. But, the work will go on, we made some changes, and we're seeing improvements in the stake. We are focusing a lot there on using the ward council to work together to build the stake back up, and it is working. It is a pretty area, killer hot, which can lead some people to fall into temptations. We send the obedient missionaries there, and we're seeing a good change.

That is probably one of my favorite things about being able to travel around so much with President is that we get to see each missionary at least once a month. That allows us to really see the progress of each missionary, which is a real blessing. Some missionaries don't really progress because they don't want to be obedient and they are problems their whole missions. Some missionaries make slow, but constant progress which can only be seen with patience and with several months. And some missionaries come so ready and skyrocket in their progress. It is also interesting to see how our initial feelings of the new missionaries are, and how accurate they usually are. But it really is a blessing to go to a zone, teach them how to do something, and come back in a month and see how it has helped them to serve better. I love that. Everyone can progress, and the blessing of being here for 7 months now is that truly every missionary has the potential to be great, we just need to be patient and guide them along the way.

On Thursday and Friday, we had interviews here in Quito. They went well. Interview month is crazy. Of the three things we do, interviews, zone conferences and specialized trainings, my least favorite month is interview month. It is just so much to do. The other meetings are one, maybe two meetings a week, but with interviews, President needs 10-15 minutes with each of the 185 missionaries here, which creates the need to have a lot of meetings. Plus, with Elder Waddell's visit for the next week, which is a great blessing, we have to squeeze in even more meetings in less days than usual. It is a lot of stuff, and a lot of saying the same thing many times. I don't get bored of talking about the Book of Mormon, but the other stuff, yep. But, interviews are highlights for the missionaries and helps out President a lot to better know how to help the missionaries out. So, while it may not be the most exciting month, it is probably one of the most important that we have.

I've wanted to get better organized with all of the things I've been studying for a long time but, shocker, I haven't had any time. Today I finally had time to go and buy stuff to get all of the talks I have well organized. I'm gonna make a few folders and have the talks by speakers. What has happened is that I have read a ton of talks, and I just throw them where and can't remember where they are or accidentally throw them away. Now, with the Folder300, I'll know where everything is and be able to lug it around with me while we travel to be able to study them more and more. I love studying so much, not just Gospel stuff, but everything. I've told you guys a lot that that is one thing that I don't like about being in the offices--in the past two weeks we've only had 3 days to study. But, it's what the Lord needs from us now I guess! I'm excited to be organized. I figured that those things should be bought with personal money since it isn't really a proselyting need, so I took out $20 dollars to buy a few organizational things. I hope that's okay.

I was reading a great talk by my man Neal. Kid nails it every time. It is called, "The Pathway of Discipleship." He gave it, I think, shortly after finding out that he had cancer. After events like that, I think people get more spiritual, and he even admits that it's true in his talk. He talks about how if we realize that we are truly immortal in our destiny, we would do better to take eternally important decisions in our lives. His whole talk is about how that mentality will help us to become better disciples, better servants, better friends, better everything. I really loved his talk. He gives such wonderful talks. There is a lot I could cite from it, but I'll just put on this one quote:

In that cumulative process, today’s small inflection for good adds to what becomes tomorrow’s mountain of character.

Little things really do make a big, big difference. Gotta love Elder Maxwell.

Oh, by the way, it was really nice to talk with you guys on Mother's Day. Good to see you guys. I wanted to thank you for always being appropriate in our calls home, all four of them. Many of my companions don't choose to be too obedient on call day and talk to their families for 2 hours or so. I've loved that in every call, when we hit the 45 minute mark, Dad is the one who reminds us that it is time to wrap it up. Plus, it would have been easy to be "trunky" for the whole call and just talk about things that would happen as I come home, but we focused on mission stuff and your life stuff, but not really too much about me going home. I really appreciate things like that. Having a supportive family that talks about my mission and not my coming home helps me to work even harder. It is a great blessing that not everybody has. I am grateful for you help and your encouragement to keep going, and when the time comes, we'll see each other again. But for now, there is no reason to talk too much about that.

I was pondering the other day on some of the many things that I've learned on my mission. For me, being obedient and being diligent has felt very natural and easy my whole mission, and I have never dwelt on thoughts about the end and going home. I was thinking about why that has come easily for me and why maybe some others struggle with that. I think I hit an "ah-hah!" moment early on in my mission.

I think a big problem is that missionaries view the mission as a two year pause of their life; they leave things behind and their mission is a two year, short lived but happy life, then they go home and get back to the old things. There is your mission life and your "actual" life. I think a key to losing yourself in the work is to realize that this isn't a different time in your life where you spend a special kind of temporary service; it is a part of your life, your real life, and it is just the start of a lot more time serving. The only real difference is that we get to serve every hour of the day, which is a great blessing. This is not a separate life; it is really just the beginning of a life of devoted service. Having a mentality like that takes away the "if I can just make it two years, I'll have my stuff again" mindset and replaces it with thoughts of, "if I can do this right, I'll be ready to serve the Lord however He asks for my whole life." I think that too often missionaries trap themselves in thinking about two years, when two years really has nothing to do with it. It's just the time we get to serve in a place that is far away. The service never ends, so there is really no need to think about the end. I think that is one key to being a good missionary, and something that many people can't quite get.

That was pretty deep, diga.

Well, with all of the travels and whatnot, I didn't study too much so I don't have too much to share or tell you this week. This week with Elder Waddell I should have some sweet stuff to share. I hope he likes to joke around or it's going to be a really uncomfortable week. I should probably say something about the prayer he said in Conference, too, to gain some brownie points there.

Oh, yeah, one more thing. We sort of got a little crazy in the apartment one night, and in self defense, I may or may not have broken the shower hose. I know that that sparks many good questions, but we'll just leave it at that. I may need to pay for that...but it wasn't my fault! It was four against one, I just did what I could to survive.

Anyways, I love you guys tons! We'll talk in a week!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

"What do you do in the Lumberjack Club?" Ren Stevens "We talk about...lumber lore..and we sing lumber songs..." Louis Stevens

Hey all,

Nobody tried to rob me this week, bummer.

It's been a crazy week--the typical when all of the new missionaries come. We have a lot to teach them in little time, so it's a week that goes by quickly after we do all that we have to do.

I have a new companion, my replacement! His name is Elder Burleson, he's from Michigan. He finishes his mission in December, and he'll be great. For some accidental legal problems, he got transferred from his mission in Peru to Ecuador in January and is great leader. He seems great, I'm excited to get to know him better this change. He's a horse trainer and has tons of cool stories from various jobs he's had, I feel like he's at a Grandpa level with the amount of cool stories that he has. So, I'll be with him and Elder Miranda for this change training them in, then they'll be all on their own! This month is going to be a busy month.

We have interviews this month, as I think I talked about last week, and we're focusing the time we have to train on the Book of Mormon. When we have interviews, we have around 22 meetings to do them. We don't want missionaries just sitting around for a long time waiting for their interview, so we divide the zone into two groups, one before lunch and one after lunch. Usually I get super bored of doing the same training so many times, but not with the Book of Mormon. I could talk about that book all day long. I've done it every day for 2 years, and I'm still not sick of it. Gotta love it. But 22 meetings is a lot of meetings.

We're also going to have a visit from Elder Waddell from the 21-23 of May, and we're excited for that. We've gotta be super prepared for it with food and all that jazz. With a mission president, you can run a little late, but we're not so sure if a Seventy feels the same way. Here Papa John's doesn't give us the half our guarantee (shocker) so we'll see how we can work that out. We're not sure how much we personally will interact with Elder Waddell, it'd be cool to get an interview with him or something. But, he may just want to be with President and Sister Richardson and talk about old people stuff. Who knows! We'll at least be at each of the three meetings with him, which is a bonus. When he came in 2012, it was an awesome meeting and I'm sure it'll be the same this year.

With all of the stuff with the new missionaries, we didn't have one single day to study this week. Bummer. I have had a lot of study goals for my last change, but we never get study time so it's tough to me. The biggest thing that I haven't like about being in the offices is how little we get to study. But, maybe I'm supposed to learn how to find time to study even when it seems like there isn't time to prepare myself for the future. Gospel study needs to be a priority. Maybe I can get better at finding the little times to get studying more.

My goal at getting better with love and charity is helping me a lot. I'm praying every day for help with that, and I call at least one missionary each night to see how they're doing and to express my appreciation and love for what they are doing. It's so important to know that when we push them or ask them for more, it is because we know their potential, not just because we want to see more numbers. A phone call can make a big difference with that. That's one thing that I've learned from President Richardson, he can do a lot with just a phone call. So, maybe we're not studying, but I do feel like I am progressing in the Christlike attribute that I chose this month.

One of my goals is to finish Preach My Gospel one more time this change. I recently finished chapter 4, and loved it tons, maybe a little too much. While studying it, I realized how much of an influence the Spirit has had in my mission. I feel blessed as a missionary to be in a state where it feels weird when the Spirit is not with us than when it is with us. It plays such an important role in everything in the Church, especially missionary work. Looking back on every person I've taught, I can remember distinctly the point where they felt the Spirit, and that what we were saying became less important. Feelings more than teachings are what makes missionary work successful. I remember listening to a talk by Elder Bednar where he said that in a survey of recent converts, 40% had no idea what the missionaries were talking about on the first lesson, but they felt something and wanted to come back. That is so true. I doubt anyone understands what we teach in the first lesson. A lesson is a success if they can feel the Spirit, not if they understand every word.

There is a great example of that in our mission, Elder Smith. He is still working on his Spanish, he's a district leader and training now, and doing a great job. A lot of people can't understand him very well still, but he's baptizing like a maniac because whenever he talks, he invites the Spirit, every time. That's an amazing thing to see, and a testimony that we don't do too much as missionaries, but the Spirit guides us and helps us in everything. Good guy, the Spirit. Good book, Preach My Gospel. Do you all have a copy of it yet?

We went to a cool place today, Pululagua. It's the most populated volcanic crater in the whole world. We had our mission council there in December if you remember well. We hiked to the bottom with President and Sister Richardson and had a sweet view, then hiked back up. It was a pretty tough hike, but super worth it. The view was awesome, I'll attach pictures. Elder Hess and I went running in the morning, so we burned tons of calories today. I'm super hungry. One of the secretaries, Elder Beltrán, is pretty chubby, the classic chubby funny guy. We weren't sure if he was going to make it, but he did it! Yay! And when we finished, they totally interviewed us to be on the tourism section of the news, and we dropped a missionary moment there. Super sweet, plus I bought a sweet statue of a Blue Footed Boobie made out of a seed. Dope.

I hate weeks where we don't study because I run out of things to talk about. An Elder got his gall bladder taken out on his birthday, there's something.

If the topic has moved to gall bladders, it's probably time to end the letter.

We're talking tomorrow anyways, so that'll make up for what I didn't write today.

Anyways, love you guys. Congrats, Madsens, on the new baby. Here, common girls' names are: María (for the Virigin), María José (Mary Joseph), María Belén (María Bethlehem), and Betsabe (Bath-Sheba). Not sure if you want to go with any of those.

Love you guys! Talk to you tomorrow at 7!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Monday, May 5, 2014

"Yeah, hi, I'd like to order an emu." Louis Stevens

Hey all,

Well, let's start off with some good new! Today, a family I taught in the Gasca got sealed in the temple! We taught the husband, Santos, who was the only non-member in the family. He had listened to the missionaries for over 16 years and never got baptized. While Elder Paz and I were working in the Gasca, he finally got baptized. Last weekend, Elder Paz and I went to visit them for part of our preparation day in the afternoon, and it was great to see them again. They were so very happy to have arrived at their goal of going to the temple. Their daughter will be leaving on a mission soon, as well. What a great family. Elder Paz and I were so happy to see them again and to see their progress over the last year. We wish we could have gone.

Also, Esteban LeGrand, probably the strongest convert I have, also from the Gasca, went to the temple for his endowments today. He's awesome, and I see him often. He stops by the offices a lot. He's read the Book of Mormon like 4 times, Doctrine and Covenants, is the ward secretary, he's a stud. He was very prepared for the Gospel. He was the "golden" investigator that all missionaries dream about having. He contacted us, invited us to come, and was baptized three weeks after meeting him. He will be living in the U.S. soon as a Cuban refugee, so hopefully I'll continue to see him for many years to come. He is very spiritual and very awesome, and now very endowed.

Moments like these make every tough thing worth it in the mission. There are some very hard days, very hard weeks where the excitement to work really isn't there. The worst feeling in the world is to have a really hard working week, and then Sunday comes and no one shows up to church. Weeks like that make it really hard to keep going. But, then you have the great moments. It really only takes one great moment to forget about all of the tough things. I remember that at the start of my mission, it was hard for me to be happy and upbeat, starting out working hard and not seeing much success. Every time great moments happen, you forget more and more about the hard things and can only remember the happy things. The longer you have in the mission, the easier it is to always be happy.

I've had a lot of great moments now in my mission, all of them centered on the people I've met. When I see people like Santos and Esteban really become converted, I feel so blessed to have been a witness to that conversion. They are examples that the Spirit is the true teacher, and that we're only here to support the conversion.

What I've really learned is how important the Book of Mormon is to having converts. I've been able to keep in touch with a lot of the people I've taught, and many of them are still active and faithful in the Church. All of them are in such a state because they are still reading the Book of Mormon. The ones who have stopped doing so have also stopped going to church. Real conversion can only come through a testimony of the Book of Mormon. I have seen it time and time again, with investigators and with less actives. The less actives don't read the Book of Mormon much, either, causing them to forget about the source of their testimony. So much depends on that book, and that is why it's so important to study it every day. I feel like a lot of times where we feel like life is tough and that our testimony isn't as strong as it should be, it's because we aren't reading the scriptures.

Esteban is probably the best example I can give of someone gaining their testimony from the Book of Mormon. He is unshakable in the Church. When he told me that he was going to be sent to the U.S. for his refugee visa, the very first thing he asked was, "Will I be able to still go to church and the temple there?" I assured him that he could, and once he knew that, we started talking about other things. He has read it many times in just a year, and he is the kind of person that you can always count on in church. All of that depends on the Book of Mormon.

Lots of missionaries have lots of stories about the power of the Book of Mormon in the work. For that reason, this month (May), we'll be training on using the Book of Mormon more in our teachings. When Elder Holland came at the beginning of my mission, he told us that we should be using the Book of Mormon in our teachings even before we explain what it is. He spent more than half his time talking about the Book of Mormon, and everything he said was true. I've tried to use his advice throughout my mission, and it's been very helpful. President needs about three hours to interview a zone, so we happily spend three hours talking with the missionaries about the Book of Mormon. The best part about training is that the one training is always the one who learns the most. Good blessing to have. We listen to a talk by Elder Callister, great talk. It's the one where he talks about the two dots, one is the Bible and one is the Book of Mormon. Good guy, Tad.

In May, we're focusing on developing a Christlike attribute. Each missionary is to choose one and to set goals to develop it. I'll attach the sheet in case you wish to join us. We choose the attribute, set the goals, then pick the "fruit" that we want to see when we finish. I am choosing as my attribute for the month charity and love. I took the questionnaire at the end of chapter 6, and decided that I want to do better expressing my love a lot more with words. I write my love to people often and feel like I look for opportunities to serve, but I want to get better at expressing my love for others as I am physically with them. My goals for the month are:
Read 10 pages of the Book of Mormon each day
Call a missionary each day to do a verification and express my love and appreciation         for their work.
Read a story from Christ's life about His love each day
Write a letter each Saturday to someone just to express my love for them
Read a General Conference talk every other day about love and charity
The fruit I would like to see at the end of the month is a "rescued" family. Here, a key indicator in the Area is "rescued" less actives. To be rescued, they need to:
Receive all 5 missionary lessons
Attend church at least two times
Have an interview with the bishop
We also like to give them a calling just to make their return a lot more official. I haven't done too many rescues in my mission, and I would like to as the end is coming up, plus it will keep me working very hard until the end, which is what I want. We'll be working hard and doing lots of divisions and trainings in these next 6 weeks to finish as strong as I can. But, that's my goal for May! Like I said, I'll send the sheet if you want to do it, too. I totally made it, the tree is pretty bomb, right?

In a couple of weeks, a Seventy is coming to tour the mission, Elder Waddell. He came in November of 2012, so I'll get to hear him twice in my mission, which will be a great blessing. He is a great teacher, I really loved his visit last time. He talked about how to convert people more. He gave us the statistic that in the Area in 2012, about 36,000 were baptized, but there was only an increase in 9,000 in sacrament meeting attendance, which is not what we want to see. Hopefully he'll have some good stuff to say this trip, too. He comes May 21st, so those will be busy days trying to impress him. I've been blessed to hear from a lot of General Authorities in my mission, Elder Holland, Elder Maynes, Elder Uceda, and Elder Waddell (twice). It is always awesome to have them here, and when we listen to them, we never want the meeting to end. Lots to learn from these great men.

Today, I finished the Principles of Leadership book. I learned a ton from it. I kept in my study journal and in the actual book the notes I took, and I feel like I've grown a lot as a leader as I've read the principles and put them into practice, especially about arriving at goals. In everything I do in the mission, I feel like I've gotten a lot better about talking about how to get there instead of where we want to get. For example, when I first did verifications, I would give comments like, "You need to teach more with members present. What would be a better goal? This week you had 60 in the zone. 80? Okay, get 80 and we'll see if you do it in the next verification." Which really doesn't get us anywhere. A vision doesn't do much until we figure out how to get there. Now, I try to focus on little goals. We figure out how to involve members more, how many we would need to have each day, how we're going to verify it, and we're seeing better results. There are many things that I feel like I am doing a lot better at with being a leader, another example would be being firm and correcting when it is needed. When you put young Elders and Sisters together, dumb things happen. The iron fist of Elder Thomas comes down with force in those times. I still feel like I have a lot to learn, but I feel like I'm improving. There was one chapter on martial arts in the book, I've still got work to do on that. Very key to good leadership.

So, I finally got mugged on my mission. Almost two years and never once has it happened. But, don't worry, I'm not hurt and they didn't steal anything. In fact, I think that they were the world's dumbest thieves. Elder Hess and I get up at 5:45 each morning to go running. We don't bring anything with us, we just go run and come back to the house, no need for anything more than clothes. We jog to a park, do a loop, then jog back home. Well, as we were jogging to the park, all of the sudden two guys came running up from behind and grabbed us. One hand was one my shoulder, the other holding a knife and pointing it at me. My advice to thieves everywhere: if you are going to rob with a knife, be sure it is sharp. The knife the loser had couldn't cut a banana. Really? Then, the golden phrase by him. "Hey, give me your backpack!" I wasn't sure if I heard him right, because I had no backpack. I looked over my shoulder, and said, "Um...what backpack? I literally have nothing you can rob." I took out my pockets, nothing. Elder Hess was the same. The guy put his knife in his sleeve, then said, "Oh, sorry man. My bad." Then held out his hand to give me a high five and apologize. I didn't accept the high five. They left and I burst out laughing. Elder Hess is young in the mission, so was a little shaken up, but I just laughed and laughed. True idiots, bless their hearts. But, now I have a mugging story! Woo!

Hopefully Mom doesn't freak out about that one. Don't worry, Mom, they were super dumb.

This week is change week. I'll be losing Elder Ospina. He's been in the offices for 5 changes now, almost 8 months, and 4 of the changes were with me. He's been my companion for 6 months, and I'm going to miss him a lot. But, he wants to go back in the field to train the new zone leaders we'll be calling in these next few changes. He has 3 more changes in the mission, so he'll train a new zone leader each change. It'll be weird without him. My last change, I'll be training two new assistants, Elder Miranda, who has been here for 3 weeks already, and a gringo. I'll need to teach them a lot, but they'll catch on quick. As of Monday, in terms of the mission, I am officially "dying." But, I really don't feel homesick at all. I can easily stay focused on the work here, with the appropriate thoughts of home every now and again, but nothing that is distracting my from working hard. It'll be a great, hard-working change for me to end on. Time just flies right on by.

I hope that you're all doing okay without Dash. I'm sure it's weird to not have him in the house, after all of the years of getting used to his Dash habits. He'll be missed!

I'll have one more preparation day before Mother's Day, but it sounds like we'll be talking at 7 p.m. on the 11th. Can't wait!

Well, I think that's enough for this week! I hope that you all have an excellent week and read your scriptures a lot. Go to the temple, too. And see Captain America for me!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas