Monday, May 27, 2013

"Just...give me all of the bacon and eggs that you have." "You got it!" "Wait, come back. What you just heard was, 'give me a lot of bacon and eggs.' What I said was, 'give me all of the bacon and eggs that you have." Ron Swanson

Hey all,

This week was good, we worked really hard. We had 22 baptismal invitations, and we're happy about that because it shows that we're doing our job. We worked very hard from Monday until Saturday, super hard. And, shocker, no one came to church, so all our hard work amounted to nothing! Woo! It was frustrating, but oh well. As Jack Shephard says, "What happened happened." So, we'll be working hard this week to help people keep progressing and to get them to church. We do all we can to help them get there, and it's just so frustrating when they don't come. The worst is when we pass by their house, as planned, to go to church together, and they aren't even home. It's 8:30 in the morning! Where could you possible have needed to go so early? Oh, church. But you went to play with a monkey in the jungle. Bad call, my friend. The monkeys don't even come out that early...

We've been trying to figure out ways to get the members more involved in the work here. First, I would like to put in a plug for the missionaries in the wards you guys attend. Go out and do visits with them, it makes us really happy. Maybe the investigator isn't the best, but the lesson will always be more powerful with the member there. An invitation to church is way more effective when a member makes it and says that they'll be waiting at church for the person. They are much more likely to actually show up. So make a goal, maybe twice a month at least, to go out and work with you missionaries.
We are going to try something that we read about in the book "The Power of Everyday Missionaries," a great book that every not full-time missionary should have. There we read about a branch in Maine that did something called "U-Night." The branch president assigned three families to be "proselyting families," and they had a week to find a family to invite to church to see a video by the Church and to hear the branch president's testimony. After the first night, all of the families were baptized. Then, original three families found another family, as well as the new converts, and so on and so on, growing exponentially. In one year, they had 451 baptisms. We want to try something like that. It is a great way to get the members involved and to help the branch grow. It all came down to member participation and good leadership, and we need to help the branch develop both of those things. So, we're going to try it out the 8th of June to see how it goes. It can only help us. If you guys have any good ideas  of how go get the members more excited or more involved, that are legal and don't involve pirates, please let me know.

I studied a great talk by Elder Maxwell this week called "Repent of Our Selfishness." Elder Maxwell is a stud, I love his talks. In this talk, he focuses on how we all need to be careful with our selfishness. He quotes Joseph Smith as saying, "Let every selfish feeling be not only buried, but annihilated." He uses such great language in this talk. Another part I loved was this: "Long ago it took a Copernicus to tell a provincial world that this planet was not the center of the universe. Some selfish moderns need a Copernican reminder that they are not the center of the universe either!" Classic Copernicus slam. Need some ice to go with that burn? He quotes G.K. Chesterson as saying, "if we can be interested in others, even if they are not interested in us, we will find ourselves under a freer sky, and in a street full of splendid strangers." He then moves on to say how we can finally get rid of selfishness. "Meekness is the real cure, for it does not merely mask selfishness but dissolves it!" I feel like I'm just quoting his whole talk. You guys should all read it, it's really good. Basically the message is that we do stupid things because we are selfish and only think of ourselves, and that we need to become more meek to avoid selfish, stupid decisions. So stop being so selfish!

Being a zone leader is fun, but it's a lot more stuff to do than a district leader. We need to receive and send more reports and we have more missionaries to worry about. Plus, the other district is far away, so we lose a lot of time going out there to help them. But, it's good. The offices are a little different right now preparing for the mission split. There are four assistants and four secretaries, instead of the normal two of each, with the two old ones training the two new ones. When the mission splits, it'll go back to having just two of each. I can't believe that the split is so close. When I first heard about it, it seemed so far away, and now it's about to happen!

I hope you all have a good week coming up, can do fun things. We will be working hard and reading talks by Elder Maxwell. Love you guys tons, thanks as always for your support and for your prayers. Remember that you aren't stupid.

Also, I saw on a box of Oreos that the new Superman come out June 14th. What's the word on that? Good, bad, buff?

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Monday, May 20, 2013

"This is Meat & Stuff. It's where I buy all of my meat, and a lot of my stuff." Ron Swanson

Hey all,

So, I am still in Lago Agrio, but I have changed companions and sectors. Elder Gomez, Elder Tuckett's companion, went to another sector, and I am now Elder Tuckett's companion, and we are the zone leaders. I am killing him (this is his last change), so we'll be working it hard so that he can give it his everything before he goes home. It's weird, though, because we had some great people progressing, and now I won't be visiting them even though I'm still in the same city. I'm excited to be a zone leader, though, and we are receiving a lot of new missionaries today. We're hoping to really help them all work hard and with faith to see some great growth in the jungle. Elder Coram will be training, he's still in Lago Agrio, too.

Here are a few of the things that I was able to come up with on my list of the "tender mercies of the Lord." Keep in mind that I am 20 years old, so there aren't too many shell-shocking moments. (These aren't numbered in any special way, just a list)

1. I remember when I was given the Aaronic Priesthood by Dad. He was the bishop at the time, and Aunt Nancy and Aunt Deb happened to be in town for this day. Dad put his hands on my head and gave me the Priesthood and the office of a deacon. I don't remember too much about how I felt while I was being ordained, I imagine that I felt good, but what I do remember is what I saw when I opened my eyes. There were 8 girls shooting big smiles at me after being present for my ordination. I'm guessing Mom was crying, and it made me realize how important the Priesthood was to these woman. That was the first time that I really began to understand how important the Priesthood is to everyone on earth, and especially to the women in my life.

2. In 10th or 11th grade, the Priesthood session of General Conference was the same night as a high school dance. I think that it was my first dance where I was 16, so part of me wanted to go. I remember thinking about it and realizing that it would be way better for me to go to the Priesthood session, even though most of my friends would be at the dance. I don't remember one single word from that session of Conference, but I do remember how happy I felt to spend the night with my Dad, listening to prophets and apostles teaching us how to be better men. Plus, the all you can eat pie at Baker's Square was a bonus, I remember that very well.

3. Being in this branch makes me realize how important good Priesthood leaders are for the progress of every member. I have been blessed with great Priesthood leaders throughout my youth, and continue to have them today. The Lord has been very merciful to me by giving me great leaders that have helped me to be where I am today. There are too many to name, some were named after famous poets, others were very bald and from Iowa, but they all helped shape me into a better young man. My family members have also been great leaders and examples to me of how to be a good Priesthood holder.

4. My Mom had always wanted to go to the Conference Center to see the leaders of the Church, I remember hearing her say that a few times. One winter, she and I went out to Utah to do a visit to BYU, and we happened to be there the weekend of the Christmas Devotional. She was so happy to be there, I remember that distinctly. The messages and the music were beautiful and inspiring, and I remember looking over at her during the devotional and seeing her smile. I am blessed with a wonderful mother with strong faith, who understands the things that really matter in this life.

5. My Mom let me get a dog. That dog is still alive after several threats to hurt and/or maim him.

6. There are good books in this world that teach us, entertain us, correct us, and inspire us. Each book can help us to be better, to be happier, and we should never stop reading new books, and we should keep studying the books that we have already read. I love to read, and every book that I've read has left me feeling way better than how I felt before reading, and also makes me know that Harry Potter does, in fact, exist.

7. I tore off my fingernail right before my freshman year in high school. As I ran in the house holding my bloody finger, I learned that Mom wasn't home, and Dad, obviously, was at work. Erica was the next-in-charge, and was completely worthless, bless her heart. She came up to look at the finger, and simply said, "Oh, I can't do this," and Erica quickly disappeared. Heather came up, forced my finger in the sink, and started washing it. Quickly, Mom came home and we went to the hospital. My fingernail was healed, but for a while I was only able to use my left hand to do things. I am thankful for tough sisters, right hands, the fact that our bodies can heal themselves, and that Erica married a husband that doesn't have problems seeing blood.

8. I love to learn, love to study, love to be a nerd (but not the kind that Mom is). I think it is such a gift that we all have to be able to remember things that we have studied and learned. The more I study, the better I feel. I'm glad that I have been blessed with an intellectual mind to help me learn how to be smarter and to be better, even though I still make dumb mistakes.

9. Mom always writes us notes in our lunches and other things. Those always made me happy. My friends when I was young would laugh at me when I would read them, but as the years went by with Mom's notes, they grew jealous. Mom always let us know that she was thinking about us and that she loved us, and I will always be grateful for that.

10. I only have 5 sisters. It stunk when I was younger, then I got taller and stronger. Then it was even. They've taught me a lot, and I am thankful for that. I know when to not argue with girls, and when to not burp. I know when I shouldn't, but I do it nonetheless. They've helped me to be a better person and I do understand much better how to treat and how to respect women, so in your face, guys who are jerks!

11. I got awesome roomates in college. I had been praying for that to happen-that I could find good, life-long friends that didn't do stupid things. I was blessed with all of my roomates my first year in college, especially Nick. They're great guys, and I'm still keeping in touch with them even when we're all serving on different continents.

12. I can count to 12!

To me, all of the tender mercies of the Lord that I have seen in my life have to do with my relationships with other people. I am young, but I am glad to have had a family that is happy and united, and that in that family I have been able to see how merciful the Lord has been to me. Truly the happiest we can be is when we are with our families, something I realized while thinking through these different events in my life. As I grow old, I'm sure that I will have many more significant opportunities and experiences, but these are great ones to me. Thanks to all who have been part of my juventud, you've been great to me, and I can't thank you enough. The Lord really has been merciful unto me, and I can never thank him enough.

Have a great week, everyone. We're going to work really hard this week. (The zone leaders needed to find people, now I'm part of that process.) Love you all, and always say thank you. Happy birthday to Nat, Dad, and others.

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Stupid. Great advice, hurts my feelings every time." Dwight Schrute

Hey all,

Great to talk to you all yesterday. You all look great, the kids are walking, Dash is skinnier, and Mom and Dad, you don't look TOO old. It was a great experience to talk. The Christmas call made me a little homesick, but the call yesterday just left me happy, so really great.

This last week was a solid 7/10. We worked hard, and we focused more than usual on helping inactive people start coming back to church. Every inactive person that we visited during the week showed up, which was really great, we were really excited about that. The down side is that very few investigators showed up. One of these weeks, we'll strike the balance. The zone leaders baptized this great guy this last weekend, and he'll be a big strength to the branch. We want him to be the mission leader, but we'll see what happens. We're working very, very hard, and we know that we'll see great things here. Like I was saying here, I've learned when I am doing my job and when I'm not doing my job. I've learned to focus a lot less on the numbers and a lot more on just completing my purpose. If I know that I'm doing what I've been called to do, I can and should be happy with whatever is happening. If I every slack off and don't do my job, then I should start feeling bad about things going on that aren't as I wish them to be. So, we're happily working hard and happily waiting for big things to happen here. There is a ton of potential in this part of Ecuador.

This last week, I was studying Elder Maxwell's last Confence talk, "Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been," and I love it. It is very simple, and it is nothing mind blowing, but I really loved it. He just talks about 12 different things that have happened in his life, and the things that he has learned from them. I read it several times, and thought that it would be a cool thing for all of us to do, as well. He says, "There are clusters of memories embedded in each of your lives. And these can help us to “remember how merciful the Lord hath been.”  I think that this would help us all out, if we can take time this weeks to write down 12 experiences that we've had in our lives that show how merciful the Lord has been to us. This can come in handy whenever we are passing through trials and feel that we have been forgotten. We can have 12 things written down that will always show us the mercy of the Lord. So, here is the link to the talk Read it, then make your own list. If you want to send it to me to read, I'd love to read it, but you can keep it to yourself if that is better. I will make my list and send it to you in my letter this week. I think that finding ways to stay hopeful is very important. A lot of the talks in the last General Conference focused on that point--that we live in an incresingly hopeless world, but with the Lord it doesn't have to be that way. I think that writing this list will be a great thing. So do it.

In my district, we're focusing our studies this week on the Atonement. I read a part in Preach My Gospel (page 2) that basically says that the strenth of our testimony in the Atonement of Jesus Christ will determine our dedication to preaching the Gospel. I felt inspired to have us focus our studies on the Atonement with that in mind--hoping to dedicated myself more and to help the other missionaries to dedicate themselve more to the work as they strengthen their understand and their testimony in what their Savior did for them. I've felt a big difference in the work. I feel a lot more focused more than anything, and I understand how important it is to help people to come unto Christ. I read something in Moses 5 that I'd like to share, too, that is a great example of how the Atonement helps us to do better at preaching the Gospel.

 6 And after many days an aangel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer bsacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.

 7 And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a asimilitude of the bsacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full ofcgrace and dtruth.

 8 Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the aname of the Son, and thou shalt brepent and ccall upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.

 9 And in that day the aHoly Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of the Father and the Son, saying: I am the bOnly Begottenof the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast cfallen thou mayest be dredeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.

 10 And in that day Adam blessed God and was afilled, and began to bprophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my ctransgression mydeyes are opened, and in this life I shall have ejoy, and again in thefflesh I shall see God.

 11 And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had aseed, and never should have bknown good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.

 12 And Adam and aEve blessed the name of God, and they made all things bknown unto their sons and their daughters.

Okay, so here's what we got. Adam and Eve were offering sacrifices without knowing why. We can say that this is the time in our lives when we don't yet have a personal testimony of the Gospel. An angel comes down, and tells them why they do these things. That can be people who teach us throughout our lives. The angel teaches about the Atonement, the sacrifice of a Savior, then says that everything that we do, we should do in His name. That's tough to do! So, they've now been taught, and after that, the Holy Ghost testifies to them that the things that they just learned are true, and that through that same Atonement, they will be saved. So, now they've learned, felt the Spirit, and in verses 10 and 11, they've receive their own testimonies of the Atonement. Look at how happy they are in what they say. Adam talks about the joy he now feels, how he understands the purpose of everything better. Eve is happy to have children and to be able to have eternal life. Their testimonies make them happy and fill them with joy. But, it doesn't end there. In verse 12, they teach what they know to their kids. This is the pattern we all follow in life. For a time, we do things really based off the testimony of the Atonement of other people. But, little by little, we are taught, separate from those whose testimonies we have been living off of. As we learn, the Spirit testifies. As the Spirit testifies, we grow our own testimony. For some, this process if fast, others, slow. But, it can and will happen to everyone if we do the right things. That testimony will bring us such happiness and joy, that we cannot keep it to ourselves, and we will share it with the world. As seen here, your own testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is vital to your dedication to serving the Lord and helping others to come unto Him. How is your testimony doing?

I'll keep sharing things that I've learned from my studies, but these are the big things from this last week. Study the Atonement more, go to the temple and think about what you've studied. We always need to be more dedicated, and the source of our dedication will be our testimony in the Atonement of our Savior. I know that Christ died for our sins, and that there are things that we need to do to be covered by His Atonement. What we teach to the world is what those things are, and how we have to do them. And that is only available in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Study the Atonement always, and if you already are, study more!

Also, Jesus Christ is given 47 other names in the Book of Mormon before His full name, Jesus Christ, is written. Fun Fact.

I love you all tons, thank you for your love and support. We are working hard here, and hope to see some big things happening. Study hard, pray hard, be happy.

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"I'm not superstitious, but I am a little stitious." Michael Scott

Hey all,

Well, this week stunk! I mean that both physically and metaphorically. I, of course, sweated a ton, a ton, a ton, and today I shaved off most of my hair. I couldnt deal with it anymore. I looked like I had just jumped into a pool all day long. It was bad. Mom, I don't wear sunscreen. It sweats off in about 10 minutes, so it would just be a waste to even use it. I am okay though, and drinking tons. Fasting yesterday was hard, but I survived. I ate seven bananas, lunch, and drank maybe 4 liters of water within about 15 minutes to break my fast, so I've still got the stomach and the apetite of a champion. Now, the story of my week.

Last Monday, we just stayed inside all day and played Monopoly Deal. I destroyed. Then, we made shakes and headed out to work. No one was home, so we just went off walking to visit some recent converts. Then, we came home, planned, and I showered for like 10 minutes, just standing in cold water. Got out of the shower and started sweating. There is no escape. But, Tuesday was really cold and pleasant. Oh wait, nope! Didn't rain once last week, not even at night! But, we had a great week during the week. We found this awesome little family of 8, the kids are hilarious. I hope they progress, becuase they are awesome. We found two families like that, actually. But, like I said before, the hard part here is the idea of committing people to do stuff. You can't trust what people say here, which is unfortunate. We call, visit, teach, yada yada, and every always says that they'll come to church, and they rarely do. So, the downer was that just about everyone we visited this week didn't come to church, except this family of 8. We had 41 people attend church this week, which is really good. Usually about 30 show up at best, and we had 41, with most being investigators. The highlight of the week was our first baptism! It was this little guy named Justin, we found him and his family contacting our first day here. The Mom is getting baptized soon, she hasn't been in town for awhile, but the son wanted to be baptized. We went to a nearby river to have the baptism, and it was really pretty there. I got to baptize him in the river, which was cool because usually we have a font to do that. (It was the last baptism in the river probably--the font for the branch gets here this week). He was really happy, and he has become good friends with some little kids in the branch. He's a really funny little kid, lots of fun.

I finished the New Testament in spanish this week. Super true. Apocalipsis is a sweet book. Good way to end it, John. There were a few things that I didn't understand reading through, like a red-colored horse at one point. I came to the conclusion that he was unintentionally endorsing Twizzlers. I may be way off on that, but also, I could be spot on. Never rule anything out. I loved being able to read through the live of Christ and the lives of his various Apostles. There were all wonderful men and wonderful teachers, and set great examples for us. Reading through the New Testament fortified my testimony that is necessary that we have men just like them today-Apostles and Prophets--to do exactly what they did during their own time on earth. We need men like that to love, teach, and serve, but I would say most importantly, to correct. A lot of the letters were sent with the intention to correct. Some saints somewhere were worshipping in the wrong way, teaching false doctrines, doubting in the faith, or just simply not being nice to other people. The Apostles used their callings and their authority to correct in the way that the Lord would have them do it, and did so in a very loving manner. I know that we need Prophets and Apostles today, and I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has them. These men have been called of God, and they are on earth to love us, to guide us, to teach us, but most importantly, to correct us. Only through corrections can our errors be fixed. No paper that we write is perfect-for that reason we always ask someone to revise it. There have been many times in my life where I have submitted a paper for revision thinking that there are no grammatical or spelling errors, as I have checked over it several times. But, every time I get the paper back, it is covered in red marks. We need other eyes to look over our work--wiser eyes, clearer eyes, and more experienced eyes--to catch the error that we ourselves cannot see. It is for this same principle that we need Prophets- We need men with better eyes to see the errors in the "papers" that are our lives that we cannot see. They can look over the things going on in the world, and make the marks of correction that we need to make our lives better. They do so because they love us and want us to be happy, and they are called of God to do so. I testify of the necessity of Prophets to guide us today, and that they can truly be found in the Church.

I was listening this week several times to a talk by Elder Maxwell. It is called, "Content with the Things Allotted Unto Us." I really like it. Elder Maxwell is an excellent speaker, and I want to listen to more of his talks. I was young when he was around, so I don't remember hardly anything about him. But his talk was so great about just being happy with the things the Lord has already given us. He talks about how Alma speaks of his desires to delare the gospel with a trump, but then later says, "For I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me." Then, he speaks bascially about how it is easy for us to complain about situations or lack of things in life, but with the right perspective, we can always be thankful and grateful for everything that we already have.
Being content means acceptance without self-pity. Meekly borne, however, deprivations such as these can end up being like excavations that make room for greatly enlarged souls.

Some undergo searing developments that cut suddenly into mortality’s status quo. Some have trials to pass through, while still others have allotments they are to live with. Paul lived with his “thorn in the flesh”

Furthermore, varied as our allotted circumstances may be, we can still keep the commandments of God!

Everyone's tests and trials will be different, but we can all be happy during them, regardless of what they are. And, as he says, we can always keep the commandments. Neal A. Maxwell, you rock. All of you, read his talk. I'm starting to go farther back in time to find older talks that rock, you should do the same.
I've been reading the Book of Mormon in English this time around, which has been great. This time through, I'm writing down all the names of Christ the Book of Mormon uses. In about 100 pages, I already have 30ish, and I'll post that list on a letter whenever I finish the book.

I love studying, and I hope to get better and writing about the things that I have studied during the week. I know where the correos place is, so maybe I'll send a letter sometime, but probably not.

We had troubles in the branch this week. The leaders fight, but I don't want to get into too many details about that stuff. Basically, we don't know what else we can do to help the members. Please send any ideas that you can. We've used all the ones that have been sent so far, and they have helped, but the problem is not yet eradicated. Trevor, where is the Iron Man suit? You've had a year, and it's still not done? That would probably be the best solution to that problem. That, or bringing in Aslan.

Love you guys tons. We get to SKYPE on Sunday! We were thinking that we could do it at 5 our time here in Ecuador. We will have 40 minutes to talk, and I have Skype here. I just tested it on the computer I am using, and the video and sound work, I just need them to switch the headset for one with a microphone. So, we'll plan on 5pm on Sunday. I can call before to double check, we are authorized a 5 minute phone call if we need it.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading my letter this week. I love writing them, I just hope there is someone who loves reading them. There are always things that I wanted to say, and I always forget them until Monday night, but I hope I wrote the important things. Happy day to anyone who has a birthday/anniversay/anything important this week. Love you all tons!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas