Monday, December 30, 2013

"There is no place like home for the holidays...or prison..."

Hey all,

Well, I talked with the family on Wednesday, which was great, and a lot of the things I would normally write in my letter I told them in the video chat. I don't feel like typing all of that stuff, so whoever wasn't in the video call can talk to the fam to get the low down. I would encourage all to ask about what happened on my Christmas Eve. It is a tale involving missionaries, hospitals, police, and prisons, so it's worth a listen.

We have a baptism today at 4! We're really excited. Her mom passed away last week, and she's been in Columbia with her family for funeral stuff. She got back Thursday night, and we stopped by last night for a quick visit. She was still pretty sad, understandably. Elder Dearden and Elder Ospina have both had family pass away, so they offered some great consuelo for her that seemed to help her out. I did what I always do when I'm not sure what to say, open my scriptures until I see one that works! After they talked, I read some scriptures with her about the Holy Ghost and the comfort that we can receive from Him. It was a good talk, she understood it, then we talked about her baptism, and her response was really funny. She was going to get baptized and confirmed before going to Columbia, but she didn't end up having enough time. So, we asked her yesterday if she wanted to get baptized today, and her answer, well, the best translation that there is in English, was, "Well, duh! I wanted to do it last week? Why are you even asking?" So, we'll leave from here in about a half hour to have that service. I'll probably have more time to write in the night, I only have about an hour right now because of the baptism. But, it's a great thing to miss a P-day for. Plus, it's a great way for Elder Dearden to finish his mission, his last weekend with a baptism. I'll miss that guy, you guys should buy him tasty treats.

We did some more surprise studies this week, and they are working out really well. Every time we've done them, we've discovered missionaries doing things that they shouldn't be doing. We help them set good goals to get better and to get more out of their mission. We need a lot more dedicated missionaries, that's one of the downsides of having such young missionaries now. We're seeing problems with sisters, too. Before, they were the mature ones in the mission, now they all flirt and it's uncomfortable to fix it, so we just look for food and use that as an excuse to leave. Life's lessons learned right there. We're working hard and brainstorming a lot about what to do to help out our missionaries. I've been really frustrated with the inexperience of all the missionaries here, but now I am trying to see it as a chance for me to learn how to train good leaders. Maybe the Lord needs all of us right now to get better at that for future things. Lots of missionaries with good potential, they just don't realize that yet. We scheduled all of our trainings and divisions for January, it's going to be a crazy month. And just, for the record, some weeks I may not have a P-day, so if I don't write, don't freak out, we're just busy.

It was really great to talk to you guys, thanks for teaching the kids how to say my name. You all look great and older. Soon we'll be talking again! I loved being able to communicate, even for just a brief time.

Well, I don't have too much to say since I was able to videochat this week. I'll give you a good letter next week. This week is going to be crazy with the new missionaries coming in on Monday. Here are a few random thoughts to finish.

Mango season is the best. We are in it right now.

Pistachio ice cream is really good.

The corn is really weird here and is not appetizing.

I don't get how the money works here. They use the dollar, but have their own 5, 10, 25, and 50 cent pieces here. Here, those "Ecuadorian coins" are worth money, but if I take them to the States, they aren't worth anything. How does that work? Wouldn't that mean that it's a lie when they say how much money they have? Come on, government here.

Here, on New Year's Eve, they burn the viejo. They buy sweet dolls made of paper and burn them, as if to say "out with the old, in with the new." As they burn it, they start a new year, burning the things from the last year that they want to change. We may burn one with Elder Dearden's face on it since he goes home that day. I think it's a cool tradition that they have here. I want to buy an Iron Man doll.

Love you guys! Don't do dumb things!

Elder Thomas

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Videochatting with Josh for Christmas

Best present ever. He's doing so well and loving it in Ecuador. We love our Josh!

"Buzz's girlfriend, woof!"

Hey all,

Another crazy week. I am really tired.

On Monday, we had a Christmas dinner, it was technically ours, although we go to all of them. It was zona Quito, and we had around 45 people in the house eating. It was really crazy, but by far the best dinner of them all. THe zone leaders prepared a killer message, they somehow got costumes for everything, and it was very well put together. We, as the office Elders, prepared a special musical number, "White Christmas," and it was a big hit as well. I just love Christmas stuff. I even found candy canes in the mall today, how great is that? We got home at around 12 on Monday, completely exhausted.

Tuesday, we woke up super tired, but it was a good day. We were in the offices all afternoon getting reports ready and such, then we went out to work in the evening, but all of our appointments fell. It's pretty frustrating when we don't have a lot of time to work, and the things we have planned fall. But, that's okay, that's why they give us two years to work instead of 2 days. There is lots of time to improve, and then right hwen you think that you're in the hang of things, they make you go home. We're doing our best though, and I'm learning that the focus of being in the offices is more of a focus on helping the mission as a whole instead of focusing more on our own personal sector. If we're doing a good job, the mission is doing a good job. If we aren't doing a good job, we should probably just quit while we're ahead.

On Wednesday, we had another Christmas dinner, it was way different from the rest. It was the zones from the coast, Esmeraldas and San Rafael. There aren't sisters in those zones yet, which makes the dinner way easier. We start on the ground floor eating some bocaditos before going up to eat the dinner. Usually the sisters take forever to get upstairs. We tell them it's time to eat, and they want to take a thousand pictures and don't want to go upstairs, really frustrating. The Elders, we just say, "Hey, Elders, there's more food upstairs, let's go." And within five minutes we're all eating dinner. Smooth sailing baby. Good dinner, though. It was good to see the Elders from my old zone, too, they're good guys. We have to send the best missionaries to the coast so that they don't do anything stupid. They still end up doing stupid things, but that's okay.

On Thursday, we had a crazy day. We were asked to go by some missionaries that are having some troubles with obedience and diligence. We went by for a surprise study with one companionship, and that actually went really well. It seems like the Elders are doing a lot better than we thought, at least speaking about studies. We then felt that we needed to stop by another companionship before going to district meetings, and it's a good thing that we did. We got to their house at 10, and they had just gotten out of bed. That's rotten luck for them, they get caught red handed by the assistants. We had a good, long talk with them about their struggles and their challenges currently in the mission, why they're waking up late, things like that. It was actually a really good talk, and we set some good goals with them. They're struggling a little bit with their testimonies, and if they do the things that we left with them, hopefully they'll feel the Spirit more and have stronger testimonies. I liked what we could do to help them, it felt really good. After that, we went to a district meeting, and the district leader did a great job, really great job. It makes me happy to see good, dedicated missionaries doing what is asked of them. We headed back to the offices, planned, then had a good couple of appointments, one with our investigator who is getting baptized soon. She's great, and progresssing very well. Her sons are members, and they're helping her well, plus the bishop is a stud and doing great. We're also visiting a less active family who is returning to activity. That's a great process to see, as well; not just acceptance process of investigators, but also the remembrance process of less actives. There are a few people in the family who aren't members, so we'll keep working with them to help them progress together. I'll keep you posted.

Friday was a good day, too. President has his son coming today to stay for the holidays, and his son's girlfriend (almost wife) is coming too, so they want to have everything ready for when they come. We've been working hard to get changes done a couple of weeks early, and to get all of the meetings planned before Monday so that President can spend as much time as possible with his family. We managed to get a lot done throughout the day, there is still a little bit more to do, but the work is minimized for President while his family is here. At night, we had a ward talent show, and the less active family and Nidya, the investigator that's getting baptized were there. It went well for them (I hope). But, bad news hit right at the end of the show. Nidya's mom, who lives in Colombia, passed away unexpectedly. She was really sad, and we were worried that she wouldn't be able to be baptized. It was cool though, the very first thing that she said to us was, "How can I still be baptized?" We talked it through and thought that we could still have her baptism today, but no luck, she had to go. So, we'll have to wait until next week to have her baptism. We're happy that she understands the importance of baptism, and that it'll give her more consuelo than anything else right now. Yay for the gospel!

Today has been a fun day. We got some hair cuts, printed off letters, then hit up Crepes and Waffles with Elder Paz and Elder Clark, the assistants from the other mission. I'm trying really hard to budget, but when we go to Crepes and Waffles, I lose a lot of money. You can only understand what I mean if you have eaten at that wonderful establishment. Best restaurant in Ecuador, no doubt. We went bowling after, got a solid 125. I'm better on Wii though, not sure why. It's been a fun day, and I bought candy canes for a dessert that Sister Richardson is going to make for us on Christmas Eve. And that is my week!

We don't always get tons of time to study, but when we do, I study all that I can. I want to finish the Old Testament in Spanish. I gotta be honest, the Old Testament is whacky. Well, Genesis is really whacky, then it gets a little more normal over time. I liked the book of Numbers, I'm in Deuteronomy right now. This week, we've been studying a lot about a mix of the Atonement/Leadership/Covenants. Our missionaries aren't doing so hot right now. We're way below the Area average on baptisms, and we need to improve by great bounds. As I've said before, our leaders here are not the best, other than a handful. We have a lot of "dilly dally" missionaries who don't push themselves and who don't feel the drive to do a little bit more every day; to go the extra mile. We're getting a training ready for January where the general idea is to make them feel bad about how things are going in the mission without macheteing them too badly. We're working hard on the training, and we feel like it could be really good. If you have any good ideas, send them my way! I've learned to love my study time, I hate days where we can't study. There is no better way to start the day than exercise and study, it leaves you feeling so happy and ready for action. I encourage you all to find some way to study a little more in your lives. Waking up early is totally worth it, you may feel tired, but the study makes up for it. Staying up late isn't as effective for gospel study, plus it's not allowed as a missionary, so tough luck there. Studying is so great, I've always loved it, but I love studying the gospel a lot more now than I ever have before. Yay, studies!

I'm excited to see you guys on Christmas, it'll be fun to see you again and see how everyone looks older. Again, if the babies can't say "Josh," the call will be quick and brief. But, I can't wait for Christmas, it's the best day ever! Woo! I haven't gotten any of the packages yet, but I did get the Madsen Christmas card. That's a very funny picture of Jack, nailed the "baby Christmas" feel.

Well, I hope you're all happy, we'll be talking around 1 my time on Christmas, sounds like! If there are any complications, I'll give you guys a call to fix things, but all should be well. I love you all!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

And sorry, to those of you who I won't be talking to on Christmas, Merry Christmas! I hope that we can all remember the true significance of the holidays while we celebrate them with our families.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"Dad.....DAAAAADDDD....DAAAAAADDDDD" Buddy the Elf

Hey all,

It is the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas dinners. 9 zones. 7 dinners. Assistants need to attend them all to be the servers. What does that dinner include? Turkey. Sweet potato casserole. Mashed potatoes. Salad. Stuffing. Homemade rolls. Gravy. Dessert? Tres leches cake. Games, caroling, prizes, and lots of great, spiritual moments where we are able to focus on Christ. The sacrifices that we make in the misison. I feel so spoiled, but I won't complain. We do, however, have to wake up early to run for a long time so that we don't feel guilty about eating all that three times a week.

I really love Christmas. Tomorrow is the devotional, and we should be able to see it here at 8, remember when we went to that a few years back? It's a great way to start off the season. It kind of stinks living in an eternal spring, since it never snows or changes, but we are seeing lots of decorations here which is really fun. Christmas ins't huge here because the President of the country is kind of dumb, but the members all get excited to celebrate. The Christmas dinners really help out, too. We sing lots of songs in the house, plus when we're in the offices we always have Christmas music playing.

This week was good. We had our leaders' council, and it was my first one as an assistant. Getting all of the reports ready kind of stunk, but in the end everything went well. I really like analyzing and training, so it was fun to be able to do it. We had it in a special place to get everyone excited to work hard in December and to not get trunky, called Pululagua. I think I talked about us visiting there a few weeks back, and we had the budget to go there and do it, and it was great. It is a beautiful volcanic crater with a beautiful view. It's one of three in the world where people actually live in it, so that's pretty cool. They have llamas, and one of them spit on an Elder, so that was pretty funny. The food was unreal good, the main plate was sea bass, so smooth, so good. We had a killer dessert, passion fruit mousse. Why do I always talk about the food? I think that the spirit of Christmas is perfect for missionary work. We focused a lot on Christmas, but inspiring missionaries to work harder than ever to preach about Christ's life. It was a very spiritual meeting. President gave a great training on the doctrine of Christ, it was awesome. We had lots of other great messages, all focusing on Christ. I loved, loved, loved it. I wish we could have stayed longer, but it was a good burst of spirituality to get everyone pumped for December. We'll see how the month goes, we've had two dud months, so this would be a great time to improve.

We went to a zone conference, just Elder Ospina and I, to see how a few missionaries are doing. We have a big challenge in our mission with missionaries with experience. We have 160 missionaries right now, and I think 42% have less than three changes. By March, we're supposed to have 225 missionaries. So, we have a lack of leaders right now, and we want to get traveling around more and doing divisions to help people get going. It's a challenge for us. For example, we have 3 zone leaders going home this change, and we have no idea who else we could call. Disobedient missionaries sometimes have to train since there is no one else, so we have problems with disobedience with new missionaries, too. We just need to get involved more and do brief check ups every now and again to see how the missionaries are. The conference went well, then we finally had some time to work in our sector for a little bit.

We now have investigators and people progressing! One lady is named Nidya, she's the mom of some recent converts. She couldn't get baptized because her husband is a dud and wouldn't marry her, but recently she kicked him out, so she's good to go! We're visiting her later tonight, all looks good with her progress. We also have the mom and the brother of recent converts, they're great too, and when we invited them, they accepted! Hopefully everyone can come to Church tomorrow to keep progressing. We're really excited about their progress, and so is President Richardson. He does all that he can to get us out and working, and wants us to set good examples of maintaining a good sector. We have about 3 hours a day to work, but if we use it wisely, we have plenty of time to get things going. We want every companionship to help someone come unto Christ in December, and we were worried that we wouldn't be able to do that, but it looks like we will be able to do that and set examples to the mission. We really should have a good sector so that we aren't hypocrites when we tell other missionaries that they have to work harder, haha. But, work wise, we had a great week, I feel good about it.

Today, we went and played tennis, it was really fun. It's weird, playing tennis on Wii is a lot easier. On Wii, you can just shake the controller and you win. I tried that in real tennis, and it doesn't apply very well. We went to a huge parque, Parque Carolina, I'd heard about it, but I'd never been there before. It is huge and super pretty. Really huge. You can do pretty much everything there. We want to go back next week to keep exploring. The tennis courts were nice, I had like 2 good hits. The Richardsons really like to play tennis, they want to play next Saturday with us. They're traveling this weekend, so we figured we'd practice to not look like fools when we play with them. I think that we'll still look like fools. I'm really good at hitting the ball really hard, if the court was about twice as long, I'd be really good at tennis.

We've been planning the year 2014 with all of the arrivals and departures of the new missionaries, plus all of the big meetings that we'll have. It's kind of scary how close I am to the end. I'll have to keep working really hard to get all that I can out of the time that I have left and to serve the Lord and do all that He intended me to do when He sent me here. I basically have six months left, time to get going and work harder than I ever have before. The Dark Knight Rises is waiting for me in six months, but only if I work hard. I can't believe that we're almost in the new year again. I remember thinking at the beginning of the year, "This year is going to pass by so slowly," and somehow it's December. Time really does fly by in the mission.

Did I mention that I love Christmas?

I think someone asked me how old the Richardson's daughter is if I read right. She's 14, goes to a school where all but 2 hours are in English. I think it's tough for her, but she made the varsity soccer team, so that keeps here happy. She's really good at Connect 4, it's really hard to beat her.

We ate at a Chinese restaurant today, super good, it was like the Chinese food we eat in the states. And it's right next to our apartment building. So...

We had an epic pillow fight last night. We had one a few nights ago and broke a lamp (don't tell President), so we took some precautions last night, wrapping all of the lights in blankets. It was more to catch all of the glass upon breakage than to actually prevent them from breaking, let's be honest. We're six Elders living in the same house, what do you expect would happen. We had a mixture of weapons, couch pillows, fluffy pillows, harder pillows and mattresses, turned the lights off, then it was game time. We played for about 45 minutes, it was awesome. Don't worry, we planned and everything, but we finished in time to play. We're thinking about buying Nerf guns and having battles with them, too. Super fun. No blood, but hopefully in the next few wars we can get someone to the hospital.

We had a good week, I'm loving my time in the offices and the time that I have to learn and progress working closely with the Richardsons. Oh, we also helped someone move this week, super funny how they "loaded the truck." Hopefully I can survive the Christmas dinners this week, we'll see what happens. I love you all, do lots of Christmas things to be really happy this season. Talk to you next week!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"If there was a vampire in the States, it would make sense for it to come to a Pennsylvania" Dwight Schrute

Hey all,

Happy late Thanksgiving! I have a little bit of time to write quickly since I didn't on Thursday.

Thanksgiving was awesome! We had it all--turkey, stuffing, rolls, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoe caserole, salad, bubbly, pies, mama mia, it was grand. The sacrifices we have to make in the mission, right? We played games all day, ping pong, spot it, connect four, and a few other board games. It was a very fun preparation day. We even got to help them put up their Christmas decorations. It was a great day, but I didn't have time to write at all. But I think it was worth the sacrifice. The beauty of it was that there was not one grain of rice on the table. And, now it is officially Christmas season. Yay!

It's a weird transition still to the office schedule. If we're lucky, we get to work from 6 until 9 at night, and that's if all goes well in the day. We live downtown, so contacting is not too too effective. We rely a lot on references from the members or it is tough to work. With only three hours a day, it has to be a pretty productive night, and if we're stuck contacting, we don't come out with too much. It's just a little frustrating since I've worked all day every day for so long, and it's been more effective to contact. But, we've set some good goals to make our nights super productive and to continue to have success with investigators.

While the change is frustrating at time, I overall am loving my experiences in the offices. I get a ton of interaction with President Richardson and his family, which is a big blessing. He is a calm, wise leader, and I am learning a lot from him every day. I like being able to supervise the mission on a wider scale than just a zone, to find problems and look for solutions, I really love that. I love my companions, they're the best missionaries in the mission and we get along very work and have a good team attitude, always searching for how to help out the missionaries. I love training. I love, love, love training. We get lots of opportunities to do it, and I feel like I'm improving every day. Those are the chances that we have to make the missionaries better, so we've gotta make them good. I like traveling. We don't have a car, but we travel with President pretty much whenever he travels. This last week, we went to Esmeraldas for interviews. It was fun to go back for a quick visit. We stopped at a fruit stand and bought tons of fruit. I bought $10 of mangoes, cacao, red bananas, and more mangoes. Love the fruit here, and everything is in season from November to February. Great stuff.

While I still need to get my groove going here with the balance between working with investigators and working with missionaries, I am happy to have this assignment. There is a lot to do, and never a dull moment. I feel blessed to be able to serve in this way, and I hope to improve with it every day.

Now, to finish this quick note, the things that I am thankful for. I'll keep it within 10 things to not go on forever.

1. Mangoes

2. My family

3. Hard, challenging situations

4. The David Archuleta Christmas CD

5. The Scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon

6. The Restored Gospel, including presiding prophets and apostles

7. The Savior and His Atonement

8. Prayer

9. Our potential to grow

10. Being a missionary! Woo!

Anyways, that'll be the quick note for the week. We don't have the full two hours today, but that's okay because I had a marvelous feast in a third world country. Next Saturday, I'll shoot you guys a good one. Merry Christmas!


Elder Thomas

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hey, not sure when I'll be able to write, but I can assure you that we are being very spoiled, and the food is almost ready. If I have time today, I'll write, if I don't it'll be in the coming days.

In case I don't have time to write, just for the record, I am thankful for a lot of things, including mangoes.

Love you! Happy Thanksgiving!

Elder Thomas

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"Francisco! That's a fun name! Francisco..." Buddy the Elf

Hey all,

This week has gone by unbelievable fast. I haven't even had time to think. I'll walk you through everything that happened starting with last Sunday.

We had three baptisms this last week, the kids of an inactive family. They got confirmed in church, and it was a really good Sunday. We had lots of investigators there, they members were really helpful with all of them. Church ends, and we get a message from the zone leaders in the other zone in Esmeraldas. We called them, and a councelor in the stake presidency had caught two of the missionaries in our zone in an internet café on a Sunday in normal clothes on Facebook and YouTube. Bueno. So, we called President, had to go machete the Elders, President talked to them, machetied them. He told us we'd talk later, so we kept working. We got home after working, and were waiting for the changes, they usually come late. It was about 10:30, and the phone went off and we figured that it was the assistants with the changes. Elder Black picked up the phone, it was President calling. I figured that he wanted to talk more about the two Elders, but he asked to talk with me. I just thought, "Crap, what did I do?" But he talked to me a little about the two Elders, then explained that he's been keeping his eye on me for awhile and was happy with the leadership that I had been demonstrating, and wanted me to come to the offices to serve as one of the assistants. I told him that I would be happy to, and that I'd head out as soon as possible. We left at 7:15 in the morning on Monday, I got to the offices around 3. They put me right to work, I did verifications of some of the zones, it was fun to do them. We got some reports ready, then we had to go to President's house for the farewell dinner of the missionaries who were ending their missions.

I felt so spoiled in the farewell dinner. Super good food, and I just had to be there to eat it. The dinner went well, then we had to go to the airport for a sister whose flight got in at 11 at night. Got there, picked her up, home at 1 in the morning. Bed, got up at 6:30, had to be in President's house at 8:45 to go to the airport again to get more new missionaries. It was a group of 24 that got here, almost all gringos, all great. We picked them up, then we went to a chapel to have some trainings for them and have some lunch and dinner. The day ended, up at 6:30 on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, we had a mini-MTC. We wanted to teach all the new missionaries all the rules and stuff in case their trainer didn't want to be so obedient. I had to make so much stuff up. We had no time to plan or talk about it, so I just blabbed on and on with Elder Ospina and Elder Dearden. I think that I will be doing that a lot, haha. But, it went well, and we finished the night in the mission home again with another delicious dinner. So spoiled. The newbies went home, we had some stuff to do in the offices, home at 11. Up at 6:30.

Thursday we had the meeting where the missionaries got their trainers. Another day of making things up as I went, but I think tht it went well. We did some trainings, yada yada, and then we paired everyone up with their new companions, ate some Subway (spoiled), then they headed out. We went to the offices with President, did some planning, home at 10:30. Up at 6:30.

Friday. Finally, I had time to breathe. Oh, it was so nice to have time to study, exercise, etc. We went to the offices at 11 for some planning, were there pretty much all afternoon, and at night we had to go with President to visit this beautiful place, Pululahua, which is a big volcanic crater where people live, one of three in the world where people can live. We want to have a zone conference there or something. Very pretty, very expensive. We did finally have time to go out and work, we found a new family to teach, but we'll see how it goes. It is hard to have time to proselyte here, but we'll make it work. And that was my week. So busy.

Today, we finally could rest. My son, Elder Paz, is one of the assistants in the other mission, so we went out to have lunch (Crepes and Waffles, baby) with him and his companion today, it was great to hear from him and be with him. I'll get to see him almost every day, which is a great blessing.

I feel really spoiled here. Our apartment is super nice. It has carpet, and I totally have lost the habit of taking off shoes when you walk in a house, because no one has it. In our house, if I walk in with my shoes on, I get yelled at. What the heck is happening. We had a dryer, an electric stove, an electric oven, three bathrooms, and, wait for it, hot water! I feel really weird having all this fancy stuff, but it's funny because before the mission I would have considered all of this stuff as normal or expected. It's funny how your perspective changes. Someone made us lasagna. Is that even how you spell it? It's been so long since I've ever even thought about lasagna. What is going on? I saw a Burger King the other day. A haircut costs 4 dollars. What am I, rich?

My companions are great. I've always wanted to be Elder Dearden's companion since I met him, so my wish came true! He is going home at the end of the change, he plays soccer for BYU. Elder Ospina is a stud, a real hero and example to me. He has been a member for just over two years, he is from Colombia. He is 27 years old. His story is remarkable to me. He got baptized, knew that he should serve a mission, and left when he was "old" to serve the Lord, and he does it very well. I get along well with them, and am excited to be with them working hard. Elder Ospina and I will be together for a long time, so I'll get to know him very well. Great companions. We live with the secretaries, too, so we interact a lot with them and they are basically our companions. There are three assistants right now and three secretaries. In each companionship, one goes home at the end of the change so they're training the new one. We're getting along well, and I'm sure that we'll continue to do so.

President and Sister Richarson are such great people. They do so much before the mission, something you don't really realize unless you are in the thick of things with them. They sacrifice so much time to help out their missionaries, plus they need to balance their time with their daughter. They told us that in the MTC, they were instructed that they are parents first, then mission presidents. It's tough, but they're doing their best to balance both, and I think that they do a great job. They're good examples of good parents, both to their own children and to their sort of children, the missionaries. I'm excited to keep working with them and getting to know them better. Hopefully I can do what I can to help keep the load light with them.

I'll need to keep adjusting to the new schedule in the offices. It's a lot of tired, we miss a lot of sleep. I feel weird not working in the field all day, but I know that what we're doing is important and necessary. We've set the goal to try to be out and working by six every day that is possible, but it's tough to do, especially in weeks where we have a lot of meetings, like this last week. But, I know that we can find a good balance of doing what is necessary in the offices and still work with investigators. We'll find the balance quickly and still manage to work. Some weeks though, it'll be really tough to go out and work. Yay, no time to breathe!

Overall, I am really excited for this new opportunity to serve. It's going to be stressful, but I feel like it'll be a great chance for me to grow in many ways. Sorry I don't have too many spiritual things to share this week, but almost every minute was filled with meetings and trainings. I loved the trainings that we did, and felt the  Spirit strongly during them, it's just hard to explain those things. But, don't worry, the Church is still true.

One day, I'll be able to sleep in. One day.

I love you all, keep working hard, keep going to the temple. Next week, my P-day is going to be Thursday, so write me before then and I'll write you one Thursday. We may or may not be having Thanksgiving for our P-day. Love you all tons, happy holidays! Don't do stupid things!


Elder Thomas

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Hey guys, I'll be on just for a few minutes today, my P-days have been changed to Saturdays now. I received changes, I've been assigned to be an Assistant in the offices. I'm in a trio with Elder Dearden (he dies this change) and Elder Ospina. I'm really excited for this new opportunity to serve. I'll write you guys more on Saturday, I'm just on quick to read what you wrote.

Love you!

Elder Thomas

Monday, November 11, 2013

"My little buttercup has the sweetest smile! Dear little buttercup, won't you stay a while. You and I will settle down in a cottage built for two, oh, dear little buttercup, sweet little buttercup, my little buttercup, I love you!" The Three Amigos.

Hey all,

Totally went to a lighthouse today. There was tons of razor grass, and I got pretty cut up. But, totally worth it. I took over 100 pictures, it was so pretty. You could see the whole ocean, the shore, the city, big boats, and I think Shamu. It was super, super pretty. I'll send what pictures I can, but I won't be able to send them all. I shaved my head again too, it's just so much easier here where you sweat all the time. Hopefully I don't get changed next week to a cold place. Super, super cool.

We had a really good week, with a nice ol' Tuco Tuesday. It is pretty funny sometimes how easy it is to teach new people here sometimes. You'll knock on the door, and sometimes without saying anything they just open the don't and shout "Come on in!" They always listen to us, but few of them progress. But, at least you get a lot of opportunities to teach and to testify, which is what we're supposed to do. The law of chastity and the word of wisdom are really tough here. Even if the people know it's the right thing to do, they don't want to. Poor guys. But, we keep working and we keep being happy.Good things will happen so enough, we just gotta keep doing what we should.

They give us a lot of rice here, a lot of carbs. I try to get my companions running, but it doesn't always work out. We burn tons of calories just walking around, but I think that I might have gained a little weight here, just a bit. Maybe not, I have no way to tell. I could have lost weight for all that I know. But, I am being good about my exercises and I'm doing a lot more push ups now since we don't go out and run as much, and I feel like I'm getting stronger again. I can't jump anymore though, my legs have thinned out from walking all day long. I won't be very good at basketball when I get back. But, no sense in thinking of that now!

It's weird how my attitude has changed over time about things here. Before, all the food and all the new culture stuff seemed so weird to me. To be honest, at first it seemed way "lower" than what I thought was acceptable. Now, everything seems so natural to me, and thinking about how things are done at home are starting to be weird. I first got here, and people would offer us as a "dessert" boiled whole milk with sugar in it. It was so weird and nasty, and now it's totally normal and thinking about drinks like apple cider or hot chocolate seems totally foreign to me.  Tons of stuff like that is just the norm now, it's just become how things are done. One thing that I do still hate though is how much the fry stuff. For example,
 "Elder Thomas, want a banana?"
"Sure!...Wait, why are you frying it?"
"Elder Thomas, how about a nice bread and cheese empanada?"
"Oh boy!, don't put it in the oil..come on..."
That's still pretty gross. But, that's how it is! And I really love colada morada.

I was thinking about some stuff while studying yesterday, about some things that I see here, in investigators, members, and missionaries, that aren't as they should be. Things that aren't lived as they should be, studied as they should be, any kind of lack of appreciation for things in the Gospel. Thinking about it, I think that a common problem is that things rarely lose their truthfulness to people, but they do lose their sacredness. And then I started thinking about how that applies to all of us in some way or another. For members, the things we believe we usually believe for our whole lives. But, at various points in our lives, the things that we believe may lose their sacredness for a time. Many people I have seen take for granted the Book of Mormon, for example. Everyone says it is true, but few people truly study it realizing that it is sacred scripture. The same goes for temple stuff, Sunday stuff, all that jazz. We just need to be on top of things and never forget the sacredness of the truths that we know. If members and missionaries could be better about that here, they would be so much stronger. And as our appreciation grows for the sacredness of Gospel truths, we'll naturally become more like our Savior and be more like him. So, keep sacred things sacred.The Nephites had that problem, too, it talked about them sharing sacred things with people who weren't ready for them, and that led to the end of the Nephites. So, if it is sacred, keep it sacred. Sacred is a lot more than true, and there are a lot of sacred things that we have.

My things are starting to break. My sandal broke, I took it to a shoe store today, hopefully they have fixed it by now. We'll see after I write. That's another weird thing. If my shoe broke back home, I would never think to take it to a shoe store, I'd probably just look for new ones. Here, no one buys no shoes unless they have no other option. My watch broke, too, that faithful watch. First, about a month ago, the hands stopped working. Then, the strap broke two weeks ago. I don't want to buy a new one, but I can't find anyone to fix it. They don't have the right kind of strap. If I can't find one, I'll either buy one at a store for $8, or there is a special right now that if you buy 10 packs of Oreos, you get a free little watch. Whichever is cheaper I'll do. That watch was a good one. I started my mission with a watch like Dad has, but that broke in the MTC. Nat bought me one at Walmart or something like that and sent it with Sister Madsen, and the pal's been with me ever since. Don't you die on me. Everything else is holding up good. I need to dry clean my suit, but there isn't a place to do it...and there hasn't been one where I've lived for almost 8 yeah. The news shoes are great, the old ones are still walkable, and my clothes are doing good. Only one pair of pants has a hole in the pocket, but I just put duct tape on both sides of the hole and it seems to be working fine.

We're teaching a little kid that looks just like Russell from Up. I'll attach a picture. He can't get baptized though because his parents are not very smart. We'll keep talking to them and they'll turn around. The adults here are not good parents and are not responsible. It is really sad to see, actually. They all get pregnant at 17 years, live with their "husbands" and have no idea how to raise a baby and never care enough to learn how. It makes me mad sometimes to see it. Most of the adults that we teach don't  progress cause they are all like that. Their kids are super smart though, and they progress. They have to be awesome kids because their parents stink. This little kid is one of the smartest 11 year olds that I've met here in Ecuador. Great little kid.

We had the Primary program this last week, as did you guys it sounds. It was good! There were about 10 kids in the program, but they did a good job. No one knows how to play the piano except me, and the piano is horribly out of tune, so they use a CD player for all the music. It was funny, there weren't many kids singing the songs, so you could basically just hear the music player. But, it's awesome to see the same happiness in the faces of the kids and their parents as you see in a thriving ward in the States--they're all families that have received the blessings of the Gospel and especially the temple. That's a universal happiness that you can see in any LDS family anywhere in the world. It seems like just 10 years ago that I was in my last Primary program. I probably gave a killer 3 minute talk on helping around the house with chores.

We've been working a lot with less actives here. I don't remember if I've said this before, but our ward has about 800 less active people. Granted, many have probably moved away, but we're still talking hundreds of less active people. It's mostly the fault of the missionaries, just trying to baptize tons instead of helping people become converted, but still, bottom line is that they decided to be baptized and need to keep living the Gospel. The promise that President Richardson gave us when we learned about the new stuff we'd be doing to work more with less actives was that if we want to find people to teach and progress, we need to work more with less actives. We've been trying to do that, and it's working really well. Pretty much everyone we are teaching is a reference or a family member of a less active. It is such a good way to work, because you not only bring someone new into the Church, but someone old, as well. They can support each other and they can all become active in the Church together. We have a temple trip coming up, which is good motivation for less actives to get going and to get clean to be able to go.

We've got three baptized planned for this coming Saturday, hopefully everything turns out fine. They live right in front of our house, and it is a reactivation/finding new people effort that helped us to have these people. It's been great to see the process in everyone involved in growing closer to Christ.

We've been studying this week how we can do better about teaching the Restoration lesson. We teach it tons and tons, and it can be easy to fall into a routine and to plane out instead of getting better every day. We were talking about how we usually focus too much on the organization of Christ's Church (Prophets, Apostles, and Priesthood) and how that was restored through Joseph Smith, but really that shouldn't be our focus. The lesson itself is called the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We should really be focused on how the Gospel is restored, not primarily the organization. Everything that happened in the Restoration happened to help us the have the whole Gospel again. We need the priesthood power to perform the necessary ordinances for salvation. We need prophets to correct us when we're wrong and to guide us when new problems arrive. He can't do it alone, so we have Apostles helping him. The reason that our message is so important is because only here we have what we need to truly live the Gospel as God instructed, not primarily because we have the correct organization. All of those things are important, but what we want people to understand is that the Gospel has been restored. And what a blessing it is to know that. We know can have faith, repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost and endure to the endure in the right way and with the help of people with priesthood power.

We had surprise studies with missionaries this week. It is a problem in the mission that missionaries get up late, and we are supposed to show up early to see if they are awake, make them breakfast, and study with them to help them get better about waking up. We did two this week, and they were fun. We stole a waffle iron from some missionaries and made waffles and eggs, with Aunt Jemimah syrup. They didn't turn out too well, but it'll do for now. At least it was edible. We also ended up cleaning a lot for them, because their houses were filthy. We do a good job keeping the house fairly clean, some missionaries are terrible at it.

Elder Tirado is super fun to be around. He still needs to be more obedient, but when he's doing so, he's really fun. He's the classic chubby guy. He wants to get skinny and exercise with me. I explained the concept of calories to him, and it totally rocked his world. After I finished explaining, he asked,

"Does oil have a lot of calories?"
"Yep, tons."
"Fetch! That's why I'm getting fat! What should I eat instead?"

I told him some stuff, and he bought tons and tons of carrots. It is super funny, he walks around everywhere, all day, eating carrots. All the members and investigators make fun of him and call him the rabbit. He bought celery today, too. What a nut. He makes me laugh about a lot of things, but he's got a lot to get better at, too. He's got a problem with the whole truthfulness/sacredness thing, that's one of the reasons that I've been thinking about it. But, fun guy.

Well, I can't think of too much more that I could write, I think that's about all that I've got for this week. You guys are all awesome, be sure to preach the gospel. Don't do stupid things!

Also, quick note, if you have good missionary Christmas music, please send me what you've got. Basically any song other than "I'll Be Home for Christmas," for obvious reasons.

Love you!

Elder Thomas

Friday, November 8, 2013

"Are you two still living?" The Grinch

Hey all,

I'm a little confused at this point. I'm coming up on 17 months in the mission, and Taylor Swift hasn't written me one single time. Anyone know what's happening with that? Pretty weird...

So this last week, like I said in my little note last Tuesday, we had the leaders' council. I sent a picture to you guys on accident, I was gonna send it with this email. I wanted to send a picture of my shoes, I'll send that with this note. We got back on Wednesday night a little late, made a few visits and called it at that. The week of the council, we always lose quite a bit of work time. But, that's how it goes! Meetings are important, without them we're never bored and we never learn how to be better.

We're starting this thing in the whole mission called "Tuco Tuesday." Tuco means buff or jacked. It is something that was Lago and Elder Thomas! We figured out that if we had a really good Tuesday, new investigators, lots of lessons, stuff like that, we have a good week. A lot of missionaries are lazy on Tuesday because it is the day after P-day and they want to be lazy. Elder Burr and I invented Tuco Tuesday, and had really good Tuesdays all of our time together, and it totally changed the work in the orient. Before, it stunk, after Tuco Tuesday started, it got really good. We did divisions, and implemented it in the zone, and everyone's work got better. We talked about it with our leaders a bit, and they seemed to like it. So, now, the whole mission is going to do Tuco Tuesdays, all the zone leaders are going to do 24 hour divisions and get all the missionaries super excited to work on Tuesday. Hopefully what happened in Lago will happen in the whole mission. Yeah, Tuco Tuesdays! You guys should make your Tuesdays Tuco, as well. We also have TGI Fridays, which is basically the same thing, just keeping everyone excited to work all week long. Working hard feels really good, diga.

Our lazy companion is really funny. He's acting obedient because he is with the zone leaders, but that's okay. He had problems getting up on time, but he doesn't anymore. We're making him exercise. He's super chubby, and goes home the same change I do, and wants to get skinny, so we use that to help him get up on time and to exercise. I really like exercising, and most of the missionaries don't. You can tell because they just keep gaining weight. I still eat tons, by the way. Tons. But, I keep exercising. Talk about honoring your father and your mother. But , yeah, he's disobedient, but he's pretty funny. Latinos use a lot of mayonaise, it's really gross. Yuck.

I finished the Book of Mormon last week, and I'm starting it again this week with the same idea, marking specific things. This time, in blue I am marking scriptures about patience or remembrance, and in red any time Jesus talks. It helps to study the Book of Mormon like that, because it makes you read it with new eyes. When Elder Holland came here last year, he told us to read the Book of Mormon with new eyes, then re-read it with new eyes over and over and over. This is a great way to do that. I think President Eyring talked about doing a similar thing. Every new calling he got, he read the Book of Mormon, marking scriptures that had to do with his new calling. Great ways to read it with new eyes.

True to my "slacker goal setter" nature, I am behind in my one week old goal of memorizing all the Scripture Mastery Scriptures on the new list by the end of my mission. I'll get there, don't worry, it may just have to wait until tomorrow.

We cleaned our house good today, I tackled the bathroom. Somehow it's always me that gets the bathroom. The house hasn't been cleaned well in months, but now it's all set to go. You'd be proud, Heather.

I feel like a little kid sometimes with the snacks that I eat. I have raisins and crackers. That is what they give kids in the nursery. But, I took a dive and bought chips and salsa today, and I already ate one can of salsa pretty much. I forgot how good Mexican food is. It beats rice by a long shot. Did I mention that I'm sick of rice?

We had a good fast Sunday this week, with good blessings from our fast. I've never realized how many blessings I've gotten from fasting until I looked back in my journal the other day. I think that usually by the end of the fast, I am just thinking about what there is to eat, that I don't 100% understand the blessings that I've gotten from it. Every time that I've fasted in my mission, I've gotten the thing that I fasted for. Every time! How awesome is that? I'm glad I've kept a journal to help me to see that. Fasting works, call the news stations. We've been having down weeks in pretty much the whole zone because of disobedience. The iron fist of Black and Thomas came down, adn we were all being more obedient. So, we wanted to see the fruits of our obedience, and we fasted for that. And, the work exploded this week. We only had four days to work, and we had an awesome week, and it looks like one family that was having troubles is moving more towards marriage. Everyone has people progressing, which is great. Plus, we have completed with one of the new key indicators that we've received lately, which is "Rescued Inactives." If an inactive receives the 5 lessons from us, has an interview with the bishop, and attends church twice with us, they are "rescued," and we had our first one this week. It feels just as good as a baptism, to be honest, because really, it's the same thing that we're doing. Bringing someone to Christ, closer than they were before. We have a handful of new key indicators that help us to focus more on activating the less actives. They said it comes from the First Presidency, so I would imagine most missions will be doing the same thing soon. Inspired men doing inspired things, classic "True Church" move. So, yeah, fasting works. True it makes you hungry, but it works! We had a great week, hopefully we'll continue to see great things.

My new shoes got here. It is honestly like walking on clouds. In my other shoes, you feel every rock, every bump, and they sink as you walk. These new shoes can still support themselves. Comparing my shoes to people, my old shoes are like that old guy that sits on the corner and does nothing, and my new shoes are LeBron James. Thanks so much for sending them, even if my other shoes crash and burn, those new ones will hold out until the end, no doubt.

I had a lot of colada morada this last weekend, seeing as it was my last time probably ever drinking it. So, so good, I wish you guys could try it. It is almost entirely fruits with purple flour. Super good. Pineapple, apple, grape, mango, strawberry, blackberry, so many great fruits, in one great drink. Can I get an amen? Love it tons!

I finally managed to take some pictures. I carried my camera around all day and was super nervous, but nothing happened. I'll take it out another day to try to take pictures. When I take it with me, I take out the memory card and put it somewhere else, that way if I get robbed, they won't have my pictures. I'm always thinking one step ahead. Like a carpenter..that builds stairs.

People are putting Christmas things up. I can't wait to start decorating the house. We have changes two weeks from today, I'm gonna wait to see what happens. If I stay great, if I go, great, but wherever I am, two weeks from today, it is time to get Christmasy. It is my favorite time of the year. I love it so much! And it'll probably stink again this year, but hey, the spirit is still able to be felt. I'm looking for a Santa suit to rent out, I'll proselyte in it for a day. I love Christmas so much.

I think that that's about it for this week. If you could look into why Taylor Swift hasn't written me yet, that'd be great. Pretty weird there. I hope you all are well, and are preparing your stomachs for Thanksgiving. My Thanksgiving feast will be rice and fried fish. Again. Enjoy all the time coming up that you'll be able to spend with family, those are the best and most important times of all. You guys are all the best.

Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!

Elder Thomas

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"I have great news! As of today, Schrute Farms is completely wireless. As soon as I find out where Moze hid the wires, we'll get that back online." Dwight Schrute

Hey all,

Well, colada morada is still really good. The official holiday where they drink tons of it is this Friday and Saturday, but I leave tomorrow. Some people already are making some, so I am losing a whole lot of money.

We had the consejo de líderes today, it went well. Rumor has it that I have a package in the offices, hopefully my shoes came so I can stop walking barefoot all day. But, we learned a lot in the council, and I left feeling ready to work. We had a really good month in September, and a terrible month in October. It was mostly because missionaries are really stupid sometimes and aren't obedient and that leads to more problems. So, yeah. We talked about things that we need to do better to keep an eye on the missionaries and help them to be better workers. They asked some stupid missionaries to train on that, Elder Thomas and his companion Elder Black. A couple of losers. I hope that you never have to meet them. We talked for a really long time about it, because it just keeps on being a big problem. I don't know what it is about Ecuador, but lots of missionaries go home or just get into trouble. It happened last year in the other mission, it's happening again this year. Obedience isn't that hard, you just have to choose to do it. Come on, team mission. Step up. So, we set goals to do surprise visits to the houses of the missionaries in the morning to make sure that they're awake, we are going to do a lot more divisions, lots of new things that we need to do to, unfortunately, become more like babysitters. Elder Black and I did what I feel like was a good training, hopefully people liked it and will do what we said.

Names of people here are really funny, the highlight being a guy named Fricson. I giggle every time I hear it, and in my agenda, I write his name down as Freakshow. There are some really crazy names here, and when we ask people what it means or where it came from, they usually just say, "No clue! It just sounded cool!" There is a neighborhood called tripa de pollo (chicken guts), where I live is called santas vainas (more or less the equivalent of how we use "holy cow."), super funny. I just find a lot of things to laugh about here. The market is still my favorite part. This week I saw a little kid drop a chip in what was some kind of fluid seeping out of some kind of fish, picked it right up and ate it. Gotta love it, he'll have a killer immune system one day, if he doesn't die first. Natural selection!

I don't have too much to write about concerning the work yet, we have few investigators right now because we have a lot to clean up here. We need to get the missionaries obedient first if we want to see any kind of success. We are doing a good work with the less actives. Elder Black is teaching me a lot about how to do that. We visited around 10 less actives and they all came to church, and from one of them we got a reference, and he's got a baptismal date, which is awesome. Now, if they can just not drink anymore, we're all set. The leaders before didn't like the missionaries that much because they were wicked and didn't work, but after church, one of the councilors came up and thanked us for the work that we were doing. So, little by little, we're seeing the changes that we want. We just need to be patient and keep doing what we're doing, and soon we'll have a successful, obedient zone. Or it could backfire and we could all go home for being disobedient. Fingers crossed!

New Scripture Mastery Scriptures, eh? I printed them off. It'll be a hard work for me to forget the 100 old ones that I never memorized and memorize the new ones. I wish I would have been better about seminary, I wasn't bad, but I could have been better. I want to memorize the new list before I go home. I know that not all of them are new, but I know maybe 10 of them. Side note, if you're preparing for a mission, don't go with the scripture mastery, go with the scriptures in Preach My Gospel. A lot are the same, but the ones you'll really use in the mission are the ones that are found in Preach My Gospel. If you guys want to do the same, memorize all 100 by June, we could work together to do it. Game on.

I finished the Book of Mormon again, super true. This was the time where we marked everything about obedience in blue and every reference to Christ is red. Lots of blue and red. A great, great experience, I want to do it again, marking different things this time. Great idea by President Richardson. I feel so happy when I read the Book of Mormon, I hope you're all doing it every day.

With more talks from leaders and more news from the "outside," it is easy to see that some big trials are probably in the near future, and that we are passing through a lot of them right now. I've been thinking about what things need to be our anchors in the coming days. Obviously, Christ needs to be our foundation, He should be the center of everything. So, more the idea is what we can do in these days to build our faith and our testimony in Christ. I was thinking about a few things.

1. Temple attendance. In the states, we don't realize how blessed we are. Within a few hours, we can be in the temple. Here, people are happy going twice a year. We need to attend the temple more than we currently are. I'm one to talk, as I haven't gone in over a year, but I have a valid excuse...

2. House attendance. I think that this is a big problem. Here, the kids who are never home are never doing good things. We need to be in our homes more. A nice vacation here and there is great, like going to Topsail Island, but we need to focus more on important moments at home. That's where the good things are taught, learned, and lived. We've gotta spend more time at home with our families. After all, our home should be like a temple to us.

3. Daily scripture study. I was flojo on that back home. I read every day from the scriptures, but I didn't study them. Just opening them isn't enough anymore. We need to study them deeply to strengthen our faith and to be prepared for testimony earthquakes that will certainly come. Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, Liahona magazine, any material that we can get our hands on to teach us more about the Gospel. We need a deeper Gospel knowledge than we currently have to better feel the Spirit to to be earthquake proof with our testimonies. We should especially study the Book of Mormon, because it all, 100%, depends on if that Book is true. If you already know it is, know it better. If you aren't sure yet, do what it says in the introduction, read, ponder, pray. We've gotta study more.

4. Keep a good journal. A really good one, with good and bad things that have happened and the things that you've learned from all of your experiences. Focus on the spiritual stuff, and talk a little about the other stuff.

5. Write your testimony down with the date, and renew it every month or so. Never forget the testimony that you have, that is a dangerous thing that happens sometimes. I've seen it happen a lot here, people just forgetting the testimony that they once have. Write what you know and why you know it, and look back on it frequently.

6. Buy Elder Thomas and iPhone 5. What? Who put that in there?

Those are five big things that I was thinking about, just ideas. There are many more that we could add, but bottom line is that we've gotta gear up for the times ahead. The better prepared we are, the better we'll put up with whatever happened. Focus on your testimonies, and stay true to it rather than to other people. The Church is true.

Love you guys, talk to you in a week!

Elder Thomas

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"What? Who? They want you to take the dinner rolls!" Boy Meets World

Hey all,

Let's start with a stress relieving exercise. Close your eyes.

You feel the breeze coming across the hills from the ocean, you can see it coming in the grass on the hills. It hits you, you inhale, and almost vomit.
"What is that horrible smell?" you think.

You open your eyes to see what the source of the stench is, and dust blows into your eyes, mixed with floating ash from burned stuff. A naked little boy runs by you as he is eating a very dirty banana.

"This," you think, "is the life."

Welcome to Esmeraldas.

You probably want to see pictures, I haven't taken any yet. I brought my camera to the cyber, but I don't have any new pictures. Usually I always have it in my backpack, but if I do that here, they will rob me blind. So, we'll see when I can get pictures. The ocean is really pretty though. I have to climb up a hill to see it, but it's not too far away. The market is so funny, it makes me laugh so hard every time we walk by it. There are carcases of cows, pigs, chickens, just sitting out in the open air, as well as all kinds of sea food. It smells terrible, and there is no way that it is safe. And, I probably eat food that comes from there. Faith, baby, faith. So far I haven't gotten sick or robbed, but that is probably something that won't be true forever. A lot of things make me laugh here, I love it. If I had started my mission here, I probably would have been super grossed out like Erica with everything, but at this point those things are just normal and funny. Classic Ecuador.

The law of chastity does not exist here. Pretty much everyone here that is married is married because they are members of the Church. No one else is married, rarely, if ever, do you find a married couple. So, that is a big thing here, getting people married. We were teaching a couple the other day, and I wanted to punch the guy in the face. The wife totally wants to get married, the girls always do. The guys are just bums. This guy told us, "It's better to try it out first just to see if it works, then we can get married." I told him that that is terrible logic, that my parents never lived together before getting married and they've been together for almost 30 years. Then, I asked him, "And how long have you guys been living together?" Response. "4 years." I almost laughed in his face, as well as his wife. He had no excuse to not want to get married other than he didn't want to be responsable. And, that's pretty much the attitude of every guy here. They get a girl pregnant, and figure they have to live together, but they don't want to commit. I guess the members are really good about visiting and helping them get married, though. Every Friday they have couple's night to help people see the blessings of being married. But, yeah, the law of chastity does not exist, and even if they know about it, it isn't important to them. We need Elder Bednar to come give his talk here from 5 months ago. Another example.

Before my old companion left here, he told me about a 17 year old girl they contacted. They asked her about her life, and she gave the typical response that a 17 year old girl would and should give. Something along the lines of, "Oh, I live here with my boyfriend and my two little kids, I just stay home all day while my boyfriend works!" Such a happy, normal response for a 17 year old. Wait, WHAT? You've got to be kidding me. I think that we should have a contest in the zone to see who can find the youngest girl with the most children. Winner gets KFC.

So yeah, that's tough. And, we don't know most of the members yet because we are both new and have no idea where any of them live. We're working on that so that they can help teach the people who need to get married and get the men to be men. Truly, truly 100%, the only truly good men who I've met on my mission are the brethren of the priesthood or those who are ready to accept the Gospel. Men need to learn how to be men here, they're not very good at it. At least exercise, for heaven's sake, you're all fat here! Someone send in Tony Horton or a drill sargeant of something, we've got men to make. I'm thinking of forcing them all into intense Navy SEAL training to get them going, I'll see if President Richardson approves the idea.

We had a good work week, but a bad fruits week. It was my first week in months not having people at church, which kind of stunk, but that's part of opening up a sector. It used to be so hard to work and work and have no one attend church, it would feel like I wasted the weeks away. But, the more I understand my purpose as a missionary, the harder it is for me to get sad. I know when I'm doing my job, and I know when I could be doing better. Every week there is something that goes wrong and something that we should do better, and there's no point in being sad about that knowledge. It's just a great chance to grow. The mission is great, isn't it? So, we'll keep on working, and good things will happen.

I've opened pretty much every sector in my mission. (Opened just means we're either the first missionaries in the area of we're two new ones sent in blind.) Guamaní, when I got there we had no investigators. Opened the Gasca. Opened the second sector in Lago. Pretty much opening here. I've grown to like it, because really it makes you think of others more than yourself. You get to a new or broken sector, and you want to make it better not just for yourself, but more for the future missionaries that come. You can clean the house, gain the confidence of the members, find investigators, fill the area book, and you leave it way better than you found it. Clearly, it feels good to find investigators and to help them receive a valid baptism, but I think it feels even better leaving a sector when lots of good things happening. That's the best feeling in the world, just helping others. Hopefully we can keep the sector clean, make it better, and whether it's me that sees the people get baptized or the future missionaries that will be here, I'll feel happy.

We did a service this week, it felt great. I haven't done a service in a very long time. I think I remember the missionaries in Minnesota having set service hours every week. Here, it's too tough to have set hours, but I wish it were possible. Any service just makes you happier, and makes you so excited to work. Yay, service. We helped people build their house. Houses don't make sense here. They are all made of sense, and they are made much more by faith than by physics. I think the general mentality is "Oh, the cement will hold it!" and somehow it does. I don't understand how, but it works just fine. One day, I'll be in a well designed house that actually was planned out before building began.

We've had no problems with disobedience from any of the missionaries lately. Really, all Esmeraldas needs is Batman and many of it's problems will go away. I saw a guy this week chasing after a theif with a machete and throwing big rocks at him, so at least he was trying to destroy injustice. I don't think that it's a coincidence that I was sent here. Mom and Dad, I may need to take out a few billion dollars to prepare myself. Good thing we invested in the Wayne Interprises, ¿no? But, we do need the principle that Joker talks about in the second Batman. He talks about how the relationship between him and Batman is like "when and unstoppable force meets and immovable object." The temptations here are pretty much an unstoppable force, they're always going to be here. We just need to be immovable objects. We're trying to help the Elders to be just that. A big problem, I was told, is the members. They really want to have wicked missionaries, and try to make them wicked. They pressure them and pressure them, as well as investigators, and boom, they fall. Be good members, and all of you should know the mission rules just as well as us missionaries do to help us to live them.

You should never underappreciate a good piece of toast. There is a granola here that is really good with coconut and raisins, love it!

Mango season is coming up in about a month! There is a mango tree behind our house. Score. Also, colada morada, the best drink ever made, will be made November 1st. Mark your calendars, it is so darn good.

I listened to a talk by Neal that I really like, it was called "Consecrate thyselves," or something like that. I love it, he talks about how we have to dedicate everything in every way to the Lord, everything. He talks about how our will is really the only thing that is uniquely ours to offer the Lord, everything else is really His already, He just let us use it for awhile. We can all do better about that--doing everything for the Lord in every way possible. Pilas, guys.

Elder Black is a great companion. We're getting to know each other and we're learning a lot together. He's the oldest in his family, his youngest sister is 3. He was at BYU and is from Utah. I'm glad that I can say something different when people ask, "Where are you from Utah?" I tell them Minnesota, and they don't understand, but at least I can feel special and different. We get along fine, and he'll be a great leader in the misison. He gave me some peanut butter, so that was pretty sweet.

Contacts here are fun. In Quito, the people are generally very closed. You've gotta have a really good contact to get them to listen, because they are all Catholic and have no intentions to change (even though they never even go to church). No good contact, no lesson. I got good at contacts in Quito. Lago, the people were a little more open, with an okay, pretty brief contact, you can get in to teach and they listen. Here, sometimes I literally say, "Hey, we're missionaries and we teach about Jesus Christ. We'd like to teach you right now." And they 80% of the time let us in. Super funny, super chill people here. Not as many progress, but at least you can teach a lot of people good things. No effort is ever wasted in the mission.

I hope all is going well back in America. Can you believe it's almost November already? Keep me filled in on the things going on with your lives, I love hearing from you all. I'll try not to get any parasites in the coming week, but no parasites. I'll try to find a way to take some pictures, too. And to not get robbed.

Next week, I need to go to Quito again for the leaders' council, but Esmeraldas isn't as far away. We're going to leave as early as we can, and I should still be able to write without any problems. Yay, traveling!

I love you guys! Read your scriptures, pray, and go to church/the temple, and you'll be way happier than you are right now. Keep on going! There is a great quote that I like, "Everything will be okay in the end. If everything isn't okay right now, then it is not the end." Anonymous supposedly wrote that, but we could just put my name and no one could deny it.

Keep being obedient!


Elder "0 parasites and counting" Thomas

Monday, October 14, 2013

"Sometimes people say stupid things, like, 'this water is ice cold.' If it was really ice cold, it would be ice." Dwight Schrute

Hey all,

What is going on? Do I have lots of time to write you guys? How weird is that!

Raise your hand if you can see the ocean from where you live, (My hand is raised.)

Raise your hand if you will most likely get robbed where you live. (My hand is raised.)

Raise your hand if the streets are covered in garbage where you live. (My hand is raised.)

Hopefully, I beat you all in scoring 3/3, and hopefully at most you scored 1/3. Oh, Ecuador, how cute. Esmeraldas is super different. Everyone always talks about how hot it is here, but it is nothing compared to Lago. There is a nice ocean breeze all the time, carrying with it a light cloud of dirty dust that stings you eyes and the light, fresh scent of burned garbage. It is really pretty to see the ocean, but it is not a clean city. There are dirt roads everywhere, and lots of poor sectors. Almost every place we visit, they say, "Don't come here at night. You'll get robbed!" Excellent!

My original companion, Elder Acevedo, was my companion for a week. I arrived at the big bus terminal in Quito, Quitumbe, and ran into him, to my surprise. He explained that he had a medical appointment that night, and that we had to go to the hospital. Well, we didn't get back to Esmeraldas until Thursday. At the beginning of my mission, not working for a few days sounded awesome. It's not. It's just boring. On Thursday, he talked with President and had to be transferred to Quito, so today we had emergency changes and my new companion is Elder Black, a gringo. I will be training him as a zone leader. So, new leader, new sector, and I'm basically starting from nothing. I had three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) to learn what I could. So, here's to relying on the Spirit! Woo! For my whole mission, I've always though, "oh, it will get easier with more time." And it really only gets harder as time gets on, you're just so tired and hungry that you don't notice it as much. I'm excited for my new shoes to get here, because I am basically walking in my socks! Kidding, Mom! Don't worry...but really.

I miss the jungle a lot. Remember that scene in Cars, where he's in the last big race? He's driving and starts daydreaming of Radiator Springs. That's kind of how I feel here, I'm working really hard, but I think back a lot to the branch in Lago Agrio. But, I know that there are great things to happen here in Esmeraldas, and with hard work and patience, I will be able to help a lot of missionaries and a lot of investigators to gain stronger testimonies of the gospel. Plus, if it really is like Cars, soon I'll have to save the old car guy after he crashes, so that's important, too.

I don't know why, but Esmeraldas has a bad history with obedience. It is weird if something bad doesn't happen every three of four months here. All that jazz that happened about this time last year, when President Ghent had to send tons of missionaries home, happened here. Recently, more stuff happened, and they had to change things up. Why is obedience so hard sometimes? It is so easy to see that, like countless prophets have said, obedience brings blessings, disobedience only makes us sad. In the stake here, there are over 4000 members, and only about 1000 attend. I am sure that it is because disobedient missionaries baptized people without them having gained a testimony because they didn't have the Spirit with them. It is so sad to see things like that. Nothing good can happen in life without the blessing from the Lord for keeping His commandments. So, hopefully my new companion and I can set the example of how to be obedient, Spirit-led missionaries. Yay, lots of work to do!

Is Thor 2 coming out soon? And Captain America 2?

There is a ton of sea food here. It's really awesome. Crab, shrimp, fish, shark, and things I've never seen and probably never want to eat are all over the place. There is one dish, encebollado, that is very, very good here and only costs two dollars. It's like a tomatoish soup with fish, yuca, onions, and chifle(Fried banana chips), and it is really, really good. They have it in other parts of the country, but it is way better tasting here where the fish is fresh. Everyone cooks us mariscos, and it is killer good. I'm excited to try new seafood dishes here, and am just as excited for the probable parasites that will accompany them! I figure by now I already have a ton in my body, so the more, the merrier, right? The fish markets are hilariously dirty. I laugh out loud at some of the things I say, the way the store the meat and stuff. So not clean. Tunas are really big.

It's very weird for me to not sit up front, but to sit down below again. On Sunday, I just showed up, listened and participated, then left, nothing else! It was weird to not prepare the chapel, not have meetings, not have interviews, not count tithing, yada yada. I miss it a lot! It is definitely a weird transition. But, on the plus side, it is great to have endowed members with experience in the Church, a full bishopric, enough members to fill all the callings, all that stuff. You really can feel the difference when it is the members themselves presiding in the ward, much better than having a dumb gringo do it all. It is also cool to note the difference in the spiritual maturity of those who are endowed and those who are not. Basically no one in the branch was endowed, and they did their best, but they have a lot to learn. The endowed members here are all super pilas, super smart and right on track. It is a nice blessing that is associated with the temple. It is also cool to hear about the sacrifices that the older members had to make to be able to go to the temple back in the day, true pioneers of Ecuador.

I've been thinking a lot about the importance of patience lately. As a missionary, I have grown a great habit of always needing something productive to do. Before, I like to have a day every now and again of just laying around and being lazy. Now, if I'm not doing something productive, I feel like I'm sinning or something, haha. Sitting in the hospital with Elder Acevedo all day was not a very productive thing for a missionary to be doing, so I started going a little crazy. Just in my mind, I didn't show it. I just wanted to get to Esmeraldas and work. But, I had to be patient. A lot of things came to my mind about how I can learn to be more patient. Joseph Smith once said, "Patience is heavenly."

One thing is what I call the "Jack" principle. It has nothing to do with Jack Madsen, if it did, the principle could only consist of eating ice cream and messing my diaper. So, I'm not talking about that principle. I am talking about my man Jack Shephard, heck yeah. Throughout the series, they always talk about his whole "counting to 5" thing in his surgery. That comes in handy with a lot of things. You can apply it for pretty much any emotion, you let yourself feel it for 5 seconds then kick it out. So, when I start to feel impatient, I let myself for 5 seconds complain about the things that are driving me crazy, whatever they are, then after that, I have to be patient. It helps me to realize what things are out of my control, and after whining about them, I can just breath calmly and try and be more patient. Thanks, Jack.

Another thing that has helped me is my good pal, Neal Maxwell. A while back, Mom or Dad sent me a DearElder letter with a bunch of great quotes from my man Neal. A lot of them happened to talk about patience, perfect for what I've been studying. I didn't bring it with me, I forgot it, but he basically says, lovingly, when we are impatience, we are saying that we think that we know better than God's timing. Ouch, Neal, I thought that we were friends by now, what gives? But I love that quote and a handful of others that were included in that letter. The Lord always knows better than us, and when we push our own timetable instead of His, we're saying that we think that we know better than a God. Only Hercules is smarter than a god, and that was just with Hades and was a cartoon, so I'm not even sure if we can count that as real. Oh, just found the quote on, score! Here it is.

“Patience is tied very closely to faith in our Heavenly Father. Actually, when we are unduly impatient, we are suggesting that we know what is best—better than does God. Or, at least, we are asserting that our timetable is better than His

NIce, , Neal, thanks for that one. We'll see you at the next PTA meeting.

Now, let's talk about the good old General Conference. I am right there with Tommy Monson in saying that it is one of the best ones I can remember. Lots of great talks going over a number of different topics, all needed by every member of the Church. I thought the Elder Bednar's was especially interesting, on how tithing works in the Church. I was think the whole time, in your face, other churches! But in a loving, respectful way... Here, that is a big problem for people, the pastor says you have to pay tithing, and he has a big house, new car, all that junk. It's like this is the true church or something...huh. I also really enjoyed the priesthood session. It appears that it's not longer a "must be in the chapel" thing, right? It aired without need of a password online, so I would imagine that something changed. I love the priesthood session because I feel like I'm personally sitting down with the leaders and they are talking right to me. I also always love remembering going to the sessions with Dad. I don't remember many of the words I heard growing up, but I do remember that Dad was always sitting right beside me. Plus, he totally snuck me in before I even had the priesthood. No one ever caught us. Also pie. All of the talks were masterfully written and delivered. Edward Dube's was so cool, I thought I was listening to Sebastian from the Little Mermaid. He seems awesome, I was reading a little bit about him, cool guy. All the talks were so great. Hopefully by the end of the year the Liahona will show up and I can start studying the talks in more detail. President Monson is so inspired, and truly is a prophet of God. I always love listening to President Eyring talk, when he chokes up while speaking. Aww. I wish we had General Conference every week. Elder Oaks laid down the law. I felt that his talk was very intelligently written. The way he related having no other gods to the social problems that we face today was masterful, very well done. The Church, if you didn't know, is super true.

I love you guys, a lot. Eliza and Jack, you're kind of smelly, but I still love you. Thanks so much for being so faithful about writing to me. It is such a blessing to be able to hear from you all on a weekly basis. A lot of you say that your lives are boring, but I love hearing about everything you tell me and I think that everything that is happening in your life is interesting and exiting. I am so proud of you all and all of the good things that you are doing. I am glad to hear about your obedience to covenants, the best thing that any of you could be doing. We should never take the temple for granted. In the States, we are very blessing to have easy access to the temple... We should always think of the sacrifice that other people need to make to get to a temple and receive ordinances. The temple is such a wonderful blessing that we have. And remember, no life is ordinary, everything about live is extraordinary, even my famous raisin pie.
Don't forget to be happy. If you don't feel happy, apply the "Jack" principle. Not the Jack Madsen principle, although if that floats your boat, more power to you. If you don't feel happy, then don't be happy for 5 seconds, then get on with the show. There are many more happy things than sad things in this life. Happy things are eternal things, sad things have an end. We read nowhere in the scriptures of eternal sadness in the celestial kingdom, only elsewhere. Keep looking forward, don't focus on what's happened. Happiness is a choice!

That's about all I've got for you guys today. I hope that you are all well, and that all the food that you eat is parasite free! I'll eat enough parasites for all of us!

Love you all tons!

Elder Thomas

P.S. What is coming up soon and rhymes with Histmas? What what??

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"I.....declare...bankruptcy!!" Michael Scott

Hey guys,

I'm here in Quito, tranquilito waiting to go to Esmeraldas tomorrow. I'm very tired and don't really have the ganas to write a ton write now, but I just wanted to shoot you some pictures and share a few thoughts, then on Monday I'll be able to write you guys a lot.

General Conference was amazing. I was able to watch in English, which was a great blessing. All of the talks were great, and I wish I had time to comment on each of them. I loved Elder Bednar´s talk, it was really good for the branch to hear about the importance of tithing. I loved the emphasis that they put on the importance of working together as missionaries and members. There really is no other way to have true success in the work. Elder Holland's talk was a touching one, as well. So great, I'll share more thoughts on the Conference with time. I left inspired to work hard and to be a better person in so many ways. I think that I want to start setting six month goals to set every Conference, because watching Conference inspires me to be better than any other thing in the year.

We had a great baptism of a sweet little family this week. They have two little kids (6 and 1), but only the 6 year old was at the baptism, their daughter was sick. It had rained the day before and the river was super, super flooded, so we had to do the baptisms in a swimming pool. It was weird for me, but I entered a swimming pool as a missionary. So rebellious. We confirmed them right after, and hopefully next week, the husband will get the priesthood. He has potential to be the branch president in the future, so hopefully they will keep working with him there.

It is very hard for me to leave. I am in kind of a "downer" mood right now to have left, but I'll get over it. All of the people in Lago grew to be my family. It is my only sector that I've had (of a whopping 3) where I stopped keeping track of time. I loved every minute, I loved every person, and my 6 months there flew by. I don't know if you remember, but the Monday after the April Conference, I came to Lago. Then, the Monday after the October Conference, I left. Six months on the dot. But, there are many great things ahead for me. The coast is full of very open people, and a lot of people of African descent live there. They say that years ago a slave ship crashed there, and there they stayed. They talk Spanish really cool, dropping all of their s's, and they eat tons of seafood. They say that it is about as hot as the orient is. My companion is Elder Acevedo, he only has 2 weeks there, so we are basically opening up a sector. Esmeraldas has a bad history. Lots of missionaries have "fallen," and had to be sent home without honor or worse, and it happens frequently. Hopefully we can be good examples of obedience to the missionaries there. (Just two weeks ago there was a case of disobedience.) Obedience is so important, so many people fail to realize that.

I'll write more next Monday when I FINALLY have a real P-day. I need to take more pictures.

Love you all tons,

Elder Thomas

Here are some pictures from Josh's birthday and some other pictures