Monday, April 29, 2013

"Daryl, were you ever in a gang?" "Yeah." "What are we talking, Bloods, Crips...""Both." "Wow. And what would you do if your homeboy just dissed you in front of everyone?" "We would give them something we call the fluffly fingers. You just go up to them and you tickle them, then you hug it out and go to church together."

Hey all,

I AM SO SWEATY. I got out of my cold shower this morning, and I was sweating within 30 seconds. There is no escape. The humidity will find you, and it will kill you. It is a tough battle, between sweating and me. You have to stay hydrated, or you get grumpy. But, hydration means sweat, which only invites the enemy. This battle is eternal, and I don't know if it will ever end.

I met this really ugly animal this week, I think you spell it "guatusa," and it looks like a rodent of unusual size from The Princess Bride.

No new foods, but soon I think that I will have to eat these worm things, the ones that he ate in Bizarre Foods, the grub things from trees. Woo!

There are many large bellied men here who sit around shirtless and get drunk. I feel like I'm at a Packers game sometimes.

This week was another tough one. We got investigators to church, but tons of the members didn't come. It's like the experience you shared with me, Dad, about how investigators came to church, but no members. We have to be in 4 places at once on Sunday. We have to go swing by our investigators, I need to be there on time to play the piano, two of us need to bless the sacrament, usually one of us talks, we do a special musical number, we teach, we watch the kids, one of the Elders is the executive secretary, lots of work to do. But, I love it. I feel like we're helping the people more than I did when I was serving in a ward with lots of members. Here, you get to know everyone a lot faster and a lot better, and it's just easier to feel like you're making a difference. It's busy, but it's always better to be busy than to have nothing to do.

With our investigators, it's a little frustrating at times. Here, it is fairly easy to find new people to teach. In general, the people here are very open and very nice. The problem is, there is no other church in the city that requires committments. In the other churchs, you just show up, sit down, listen, and leave, and you're good for the week. Here, the Church is young, so first off hardly anyone has heard of it. Second, our Church requires committment, and a lot of it. So, we're tyring to figure out what to do to help investigators progress well, and develop testimonies. We need strong members, and to have them, we need to teach well and they need to cumplir con sus compromisos. One thing that really seems to work is the Book of Mormon. No one has even heard about it, and when we teach about it, everyone is like, "Hey! That makes sense!" We're thinking of really focusing in mainly teach three things about the Book of Mormon: what it talks about, how we have it, and what it means if it's true. We've been teaching in that way for a few days now, and it's helping a ton. It's a very simple way to teach people about what is different between our Church and the other churches, and why it is important to complete with their compromises. We are also thinking of giving everyone that comes to church a free pet monkey, but that's if nothing else works.

This Saturday, we're having an open house of the building to help people know that the Church is here. If it goes like the branch activity that we had on Saturday, we'll have a whopping 5 people show up! But we made fliers and stuff like that, so we're going to really focus on getting people to come to that this week, and we hope that we can at least open up a few new doors with some people, and that the community knows where our chapel is. We're hoping and praying that it will be a success, and if it isn't, we'll think of something better to do in the next couple of weeks. Here, we can't get down or disheartened, we just gotta keep going and the Lord will help us out.

I'll probably be finishing the New Testament in Spanish this week. There are some versus that I like better in Spanish, and some that I like better in English. I've decided that my rule with reading things here is that I have to read it in Spanish before I can read it in English. So, I'm starting to go through the Book of Mormon in English, and when I finish the New Testament, I'll start that in English too. The Book of Mormon is way better in Spanish. English seems to have the ability to use a lot more words, like more variety of words meaning the same thing, and Spanish is at times limited in that sense. Comparing the two, sometimes the Spanish version uses one word, and in English, the word is way more powerful and has a better significance. I love Spanish, but English wins.

When I started writing this letter, it was raining and cool(ish). It has stopped raining and I am now dripping sweat. The absolute worst part of the day is lunch, when they give you the hot soup. What are they thinking?!

The Zone Leaders are going to Quito tomorrow and will get back Wednesday night, so we have to cover two sectors and visit their investigators, our investigators, and basically all of the members. We'll have a busy week. But, we're really excited to keep working. I really hope that I stay here for a long time. There is so much to be done, and I'd be honored to be able to help out. I just feel like what we're doing can make such a difference. We're excited to work hard this week, and we hope to be able to see the fruits of all of our efforts.

I don't have too much more to inform you all on this week, next week I want to have more. I feel bad during the weeks where I don't write a lot, but oh well. This week was a lot of walking, sweating, and teaching. I ate a lot of BonIce. I want to start sharing more about the things I studied during the week. I love talking about the people I work with and who they are, and will continue to do so, but it's hard to say everything I want you to understand about them, because you aren't living with them. So, I want to start talking more about the things I study during the week, because that is stuff that anyone can easily understand without having to be in a certain location with certain people...

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Creed smells like death." "I know exactly what she's talking about. I sprout mung beans in my desk. Very nutricious, but they smell like death."

Happy Monday! Another week in the jungle for Josh--enjoy!

Hey all,

It continues to be hot. Very hot, and the internet is not good today, so I won't be using the full two hours, plus the other Elders and I dropped like $20 on stuff to make shakes in the house, so hay que hacerlo.

I just sweat, then I sweat, then I sweat some more. It's like I just jumped out of a swimming pool. Yesterday, we went by some investigators before church to go with them, and literally within 2 minutes of leaving the house, I was dripping with sweat. But, there is a new Yogozo flavor that came out this week, so I really can't complain. Fresacoco con leche condensada. Bad news? The price raised five cents. Injusticia. But, what can you do? You just have to buy five and move on. I drinks lots of Gatorade and lots of water, and we cook a lot at night with the other two missionaries. They live like three houses away, so it's easy. They're both from the same group, and they go home in 2 months, so they get a little trunky. They're fun, and while contacting, they found a house with a big monkey, so we're gonna stop by there later and just look at it.

The work is hard here. There are few members, and even fewer strong ones. We contact a lot, find a lot of people, but they never come to church (shocker). We're working together to see what more we can do to help out this little branch, because it is getting weaker right now, not stronger. We want to do some activities to get people into the capilla, because the Church is new here and very few people know about it. I think that if we can just help people to know our basic beliefs, and show them where the chapel is, we'll see a lot more people attending church, and see some great growth here. There are maybe 8 people who have been members for a long time, almost every else has been baptized within the last year. It's really fun to help out the little branch, but it's a slow start. But, if you think about it, the first sacrament meeting of the Church had what, 6 members there? And now there's 14 million, so we just need to teach, teach, teach and work, work, work, and the growth will come, and we can really help the Church get strong here. Any ideas of what to do to help the branch get stonger would be greatly appreciated.

Schaefers, I got the package that was dropped off in the office for me. Thanks so much, all my favorite things. I made the mistake of opening the package in front of other missionaries, and the package was almost instantly consumed. Thanks for your notes, too, that were in the package. I also got some letters from Dear Elder, and that'll probably be it as far as receiving things for the next little while.

I haven't gotten kidnapped by Columbians yet, and I don't know what more I can do to make it happen. We keep walking in darker and darker places farther and farther away, but no luck. Soon, it will happen.

I lost my umbrella. I don't know where I lost it, but I think it was when I was in divisions with missionaries in Coca, so I hope that it is in their house or something, or I need to hunt for a new one. Don't send me one, Mom, I can buy it here. The good news is that the rain isn't cold here, so if it starts pouring, I get wet, but it feels really good. The food here is pretty good. The food in Quito was good de vez en cuando, and here the food is good a menudo. The thing I hate is the soup. I don't know what they are thinking. It's like 85 degrees outside, I'm sweating profusely, and they still serve steaming hot soup with lunch. Come on, people, common sense.

We had a baptism of a little boy who just turned 8 in the branch, and we were going to go to the river to do it, but it rained hard that night and the river was overflowing. So, we did it on some tank on the roof that was like 30 cm deep. It was a very unique experience. The people that showed up, maybe 8 people, are the really faithful members that are holding the branch together. I'm not sure what they would do without the missionaries. We need to find more guys to come help out in the Church, but it's always harder to find men to teach. This Sunday, three of the four gave the talks, I played the piano, two blessed the sacrament, one taught Gospel Principles, one taught priesthood, one taught the youth, and two of us taught primary. It was a little nuts. So, we have a lot of work to do to help the little branch become more self-sufficient.

The internet is really bad, so I'm gonna call it at that and go make some shakes. Love you guys!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Monday, April 15, 2013

"Five minutes ahead of schedule. Right on schedule." Dwight Schrute

 Josh survived his first week in the jungle! Enjoy!

Hey all,

  IT IS SO HOT HERE. Oh my goodness, I cannot explain it, it is like a living heat. I am constantly wet--either with sweat or from the pouring rain. It's like the sun and the rain are battling each other all day long. It'll be so sunny and so hot all morning, pour in the afternoon, then be sunny again at night, and whatever it is, it's strong. After a week, I'm not longer Thomas-white, and my hair has gotten a lot more blonde. I've probably lost weight, too, because I am always, always, always sweating. But, it's cool here. We don't live too far into the rainforest, but I do technically live in the rainforest, which is pretty cool to say. Everyone here has coconut, banana, and papaya trees in their yard, everyone. We went to visit a less active person our first day (a very hot day), and she asked us if we wanted coconut milk. We accepted, and she went right up to a tree, chopped down two coconuts, used a machete to hack off the top, and we drank right out of the coconut. That was pretty cool, but I was a little worried cause Tom Hanks taught me in Castaway that coconut milk is a natural laxitive, but I'm totally fine. Everyone in the streets sells cold juices from just about every fruit, super fresh and super good. There's a guy who sells Bon Ice, it's like gogurt and otter pops, 12 cents each and he knows us pretty well. I think that this last week I spent more money on water than on anything, because I knew that if I got dehydrated from not drinking enough, I would just get grumpy, so I've had like 6 liters of water every day. It's really hot at night, too, and I take a cold shower twice a day, once in the morning and once at night because it is SO HOT. When it's raining, it's still humid, but the heat moves from killer to bearable.

  The town itself reminds me a little bit of Topsail Island. Not as nice, but it just kind of feels the same. The humidity is killer, a little stronger than Topsail Island, but it still makes me feel like we're living on the beach. There's the one grocery store, and not tons to do outside of stuff with family (or in this case other missionaries). Before, there were only two missionaries here, the Zone Leaders, and there were two more in their zone in another town called Coca. Now, we're four in Lago Agrio and two in Coca, and I am the district leader. When I need to go to Coca, it's like 3 hours away, so that'll be fun. We live right by the Zone Leaders, and just divided the city/province in half. We have a brand new house with brand new stuff, which is pretty nice... But it is really, really hot.

  The branch is small. Total members are 49, and a lot are inactive. The branch president is great. He is from the coast, and he's been a member forever, sealed in the temple, etc. His son is a return missionary who served in Argentina, and he's great too. They're pretty much the only strong members in the church here, so we have a lot of work to do to help them out. I play the piano for them, and they love it. Thanks for being right, Mom, learning piano was totally worth it.

  We did a lot, a lot, a lot of contacting here. It was really good though, because a lot of people haven't even heard about the church before. In Quito, the people are very closed, and here they are super open. Almost everyone invites us in to listen, but it's harder to get them to commit to things. They'll listen, they're just not as ready to act. In Quito, it was the opposite, closed people, but the ones who listened were willing to act. So it's taking some adjusting to get used to the new style of doing things, but it's a good learning experience. We had some people show up to church that we found during the week, and it looks like one lady and her kids will progress really well, we'll be visiting them later tonight.

  I had a coolish experience this week. Here it was fast Sunday yesterday, and we were dreading it all week. We were dying while we were able to eat and drink, plus on Sundays we work in suits. I was thinking, "If I don't drink for 24 hours, I'm straight up gonna pass out." So, to start my fast, in my prayer I said that I was willing to fast, but that I also knew that if I sweated like I had been, it would be very hard for me to do so. Literally as soon as we left the apartment, it started raining, and the sun didn't come out until Sunday afternoon after we had ended our fast. I sweated still, but not nearly as much as I would have had it been sunny all day. I thought that was really cool. It's like Nephi says, the Lord won't ask us to do something that we can't do--and if we need a little help to do it, he'll help us out.
Things are a little more expensive here, so we get more money when the apoyo comes. There's a pretty nice grocery store here, and tons of fruits like usual. I really like the fruit here. I haven't been super hungry this week, which is weird for me because I usually eat tons. I'm more thirsty than hungry, so I got some stuff to make fruit shakes to keep me eating well. The branch president has a restaurant, and their food is SO GOOD. We're not sure what we'll do for lunch here since there aren't enough active members to feed us, so we may get more money to buy lunch every day, and I would so happily eat with him. The rice is way better here, I'm not sure why, but it is.

  General Conference was awesome. I loved all the talk, but a few of them just brought down the hammer. I loved when Elder Bednar walked up to the stand and said right off the bat, "My message today focuses on why the law of chastity is so important." He was awesome. Elder Hales and Packer gave great talks, and are really old. Elder Nelson's "catch the wave" talk was really good too. They were all great! I wish I had time to talk about them all. We watched Conference in a different room with all gringos. I didn't realize how many there were in Quito. Sunday morning there were like 35 gringos there, and they made us lunch! Chili with cornbread and homemade cookies! Heavenly. I had the Ghost Pepper sauce again, too, and one Elder from Peru ate it and was dripping with sweat, it was super funny. While we were eating, President Ghent took me aside and talked to me about where I would be going and why, that the branch needs a lot of help and that it's really hot here. He was right. Priesthood session was great, but it's just not the same without pie or some kind of food afterward. Soon.

  My new companion is named Elder Coram, he's my first gringo companion. He's from the San Diego area, and is studying mechanical engineering. He doesn't eat much, but we get along fine.
For now, sending packages and letters isn't too smart. I probably won't get anything until I'm closer to Quito. If you want to send stuff, you can, but I think it would be better just to wait until I move sectors (which may be awhile) and start it up again, but it's your call...

  I think that that's about all I've got to say for this week, although I almost always forget things. I love it that anyone can email me now, cause I love hearing from people. Thanks for all your love and support, and enjoy your air conditioning this week, cause I sure won't!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Josh got transferred yesterday! He's going to the jungle!!

Won't be able to write too much today, I'm going to the jungle! Lago Agrio, 10 hours away, I'll be pretty much all alone with my companion. President took me aside and told me that I'll be on another "fix it" mission, just like when I started in the Gasca. I'll be honest, it's a little dangerous. The Columbians come in cause it's right by the border, kidnap people, and use them as drug mules. Sleep well, Mom! I'll talk to you guys in a week and fill you in more. They say it's really hot and really in the jungle--how many snake bites will I get?

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Monday, April 1, 2013

"What else floats?" "Rain! Apples! Very small rocks! Churches, churches!" "A duck!"--Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Happy Monday! Josh was so excited to get more emails. Also, I'm going to start putting Josh's email titles as each post's title. Enjoy!

Hey all,

So they don't do anything for Easter, anywhere. It was a big let down. We didn't sing one Easter song in church, and none of the talks even mentioned anything about Easter. But, that's okay, it was a lot like Christmas. I brought the Ensign from March 2008, where every article talks about Christ, which was a big help. I just whipped that out and read it whenever I had a spare moment. It's always different being in places away from home for holidays, but it's good to see how other cultures celebrate, or don't celebrate, holidays that take up a big part of our lives in the states.

We went bowling today with Sister and President Ghent, and it was a lot of fun. It was pretty much the first time for all of the Latinos, and it was really fun to see the different bowling styles. Elder Paz? His first time up to bowl, he gets a strike, and gets the highest scor of any of us. Hableme en serio. But it was a lot of fun. We thought about proselyting in bowling shoes, but President didn't seem to agree on that.

I did not have to eat the Fanesca this week, thank goodness. Elder Nelson had to eat two bowls of it and he said he just felt bloated for 12 hours, and the next morning was not pleasant. So, crisis averted there. What did you guys end up doing for Easter? Ham and that jazz? And who won the perfect plate contest this year? I hope I was awarded some kind of honorary prize, maybe best dressed or something along those lines.

We received a lot of references this last week, which was really great. We got nine, and one family had us over for dinner to get to know their neighbor and invite him to General Conference this next weekend. He's really great, and I hope he keeps listening to us. I'm super excited for General Conference this weekend. It's honestly better than Christmas or other holidays in the mission, because we don't work, we get spiritually uplifted, and we don't get trunky. Plus, we'll be with tons of gringos and they're bringing food for us. There is a burger place nearby that an American runs, has root beer and all, so we're going to eat there as a zone after the Saturday morning session. What are the odds of President taking us out to pie after the Priesthood session?

I did divisions with the Zone Leaders this week to do an interview for them. It was a pretty unique interview. The person came in claiming that all the prophets of the Old and New Testaments were Catholics. We spent a while talking about how they were all Jewish until Jesus came and started Christianity. I had never heard that before. The person said that the Catholic church was as old as Adam, so we had a brief little history lesson. It was really interesting, and was a testimony to me of the scripture that talks about how many people don't have the truth because they don't know where to find it. It's a great priviledge to be here helping people to understand the Gospel as Christ taught it, purely and without any changes.

I really love Spanish. Every day my Spanish gets better and better, and I just love it more and more. I mean, English will always be my native language, but a lot of things are getting easier to do in Spanish than in English now. It's funny talking to other North Americans in English, because we say all the church words in Spanish and all the other words in English. We say things like, "did you hear he got bajared (demoted)?" I just love learning how to say new things in Spanish, and it makes me appreciate languages even more. I want to study more languages when I get home. A teacher in the MTC told me that Italian is really easy to learn after learning Spanish, so maybe I'll give that a whirl. It's cool becoming fluent in a language, because you really understand how it works, if that makes sense. Before, studying in high school, I'll always try to find an exact translation for the things that I wanted to say. Being fluent helps me see that for a lot of things, there just isn't a translation. You have to really learn how to weave the words in the languages to say what you mean to say. For example, here they say, "Qué les vaya bien," which would literally be, "that it goes well to you," but you wouldn't say it like that in English. I just love learning how to say everything in two languages, and really mastering how people can use Spanish. Languages are awesome. If I ever go to Otovalo, I'm gonna do my best to learn Quichua. They're opening up like 6 new sectors there. The church is very strong in Otovalo. They are sending out 80 sister missionaries and 40 missionaries in the coming months, all from one little city. Very cool to see the Lamanites accepting the Gospel, and seeing all the promises for them in the Book of Mormon being completed.

We have changes next week, and I could stay, but I think that it is more likely that I will leave and Elder Paz will stay here to train a new missionary. We finished March strong, and April is looking good too, so it would be a great environment for a new missionary to work hard and with excitement. I'd like to leave Quito, but whatever happens, happens. This is my 6th change in Quito, same goes for Elder Nelson, and we'd like a change of scenery and get to know other parts of Ecuador. I think he and I are the missionaries with the most time in Quito, at least it sure feels like it. So, if I don't write much next week, it'll be because I got transferred. I wouldn't mind staying here another change, but I wouldn't mind a little more to leave.

I had a dream this week that I was Batman. I was coming out of retirement after a few years, and was really excited to beat people up again. I trained, put on my suit, and scaled a big building to scout out any wrong-doers. I found them, so sprang from the roof, and tried to spread out my cape to glide...and I started falling...and falling... and faceplanted in the pavement. Everyone pointed and laughed at me, and I felt very stupid. Turns out that I forgot my gloves that put an electric current into the cape to make me glide...amateur mistake. I was pretty embarrassed.

Oh, and I ate a Cinnabon today. So, so bad for you. But oh, so tasty. $2.20, worth every cent. I'm gonna take out a bit of money for General Conference, because we are going to eat a lot. Not too much though, because the package that you sent to the Dowlings is ridiculous. That is a lot of food. I'll bring it to Conference on Saturday and it'll disappear quickly. Thanks for sending it, it made me remember that Easter still exists in some parts of the world.

...Thanks to everyone who wrote to me this last week, it means a lot to me. Sorry if I couldn't respond today, I'll do my best to respond in the coming weeks. I hope you all have a great first week of April, and that you learn a lot at General Conference. I'm calling an Elder Oaks talk in Priesthood Session... I love you all tons, have fun this week!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas