Monday, June 24, 2013

"Don't worry Michael, I'll take us to shore!" "It's a fake wheel dumby!"

Hey guys,

The Church is true. I am writing while watching last night's broadcast since our internet was bad yesterday. There were a lot of missionaries there. My heart is so full as I listen to the words of these inspired men, the great musics, and I feel so excited to continue working as a missionary. Isn't is the best to be part of these great cause? Watch it again, and write down what you feel like you can do to help out the missionaries. I feel like a lot of the new policies and such were directed at the missionaries in the States and other well developed parts of the world, but it can still help the work in the whole world. For example, using the Internet here in Lago Agrio would pretty much do nothing to help us, but there are principles taught that can be applied here in Ecuador, too. Right now, I'm listening to Elder Anderson's video segment, good stuff. I feel so happy right now. Church is true.

We had an unbelievable week this week. The "Burr factor" has helped us a lot. I know that numbers aren't important at all to determine a good missionary, but we had really good ones this week. It felt so great to finally have a week where not only we work hard, but we see the fruits of our labors. For pretty much my whole time here in Lago, I have worked harder than any other time on my mission, and have basically seen nothing for doing so. Few people at church, little progress in the branch, and it was just all around frustrating. I knew that I was doing my job as I was supposed to, but it's hard to keep going when nothing seems to be happening. On a good Sunday, we'd have 25 or 30 people at church. Yesterday, we had 52 people show up! 52! It was so wonderful, we felt so happy. It's like the Lord just finally decided to really open the hearts of the people here. It was a great day.

The way we work has changed quite a bit, it is hard to have enough time to do everything. As the branch presidency, we not only have investigators to worry about, but we have to help the members come back that have become inactive, we have to help the members that are active to progress, plan activities, budget, etc. It is great experience to learn about leading, but we are exhausted every day and have little time to even breathe. It's a weird transition, but a necessary one. We're starting to get the hang of it, changing little by little. It's weird to direct meetings, too, and to lead branch council. Overall, it is a great experience to prepare me for future callings, and I have a better knowledge on how things are taken care of in the Church. I've done interviews, extended callings, etc, and it has been great to learn and to grow. Elder Tuckett goes home next Monday, and then it'll just be Elder Burr and me. I may send stuff with Elder Tuckett since he'll be by those who are living in Utah right now. Elder Burr is an unbelievable missionary. I have learned so much from him. He is always looking for opportunities to help people and to teach them. I love it. I'm excited to continue to be with him and to learn and to grow with him. He goes home in seven weeks. He wants to take Nikki on a date. Nope.

So, next Monday is the division of the mission. President Richardson (zoomed up on in the broadcast last night), will be getting here Friday or Saturday, and officially will be my President on the following Monday. We hope he gets out here to Lago quick so we can fill him in on the situation. I'm sad to say goodbye to President and Sister Ghent, but the Richardsons seem like great people. I am just excited to keep working. I'll keep you update on the things I learn and when I finally meet him. It'll be great.

I am now watching Elder Nelson's video segment, cool stuff. I'm loving the video segments.

I discovered last week thanks to Elder Burr. So many good speeches, unlimited speeches, really. I read one that was given recently that is called "The Truth of All Things." Great, great speech. It talks about the technology that we use here on earth, and then he speaks about celestial technology. He says that while we can use earthly technology to our benefit, celestial technology is much more worth it. The best celestial technology that we have at our disposal is the Holy Ghost, who is able to teach us the truth of all things. He quoted President Monson as saying, " When we deal in generalities, we rarely have success; but when we deal in specifics, we rarely have a failure," And then proceeded to say that we need to ask the Holy Ghost specific things if we want His help. Math problems, scriptures, be it what it may, we need to ask specifically and we'll have the best celestial technology at our disposal. Loved it!

My talk by Elder Maxwell this week was his second one given in a General Conference setting, "Why not now?" He talks to the people who "will not come inside the chapel, but neither do they leave its porch. These are they who need and are needed by the Church, but who, in part, "live without God in the world."" It is a wonderful talk that he gives a little sarcastically. He tells the people that he sincerely wants them to come back to Church, although they may not want to. He then tells them that if they don't want to commit now, then heed his warnings, after which he gives a series of "do-nots." His do-nots are a series of things that are not complicated, but if done would fortify your testimony-read the Book of Mormon, serve others, seeing how the commandments protect us, prayer, stuff like that. He quotes Joshua saying, choose today, not tomorrow, who you will serve. He exhorts the people to come back and says that if they do, "Once one leaves the porch and comes inside the Church, then one not only hears the music more clearly--he become part of it!" Our past cannot be changed, but we live in the holy present, he says, that helps us to focus on the now. Now is the only time we have to act. He tells us to avoid the "not-yet" game, seeing as there is now time to wait! Jesus did not say, "Go thither," but "Come, follow me." He is willing to help us, to guide us, and He will always do so. I love what he says at the end. "If you sense that one day every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jeus Christ is the Lord, why not do so now? For in the coming of that collective confession, it will mean much less to kneel down when it is no longer possible to stand up!" Let's choose today to be better converted. Thanks, Neal.

I hope you all feel more inspired to work. I hope you all find people in this week to visit with the missionaries. They are there waiting, you just haven't thought about them yet. One thing that we've started to do is to ask people if they not only have friends we could visit, but enemies, too. Maybe that is why you are struggling to find people to present to the missionaries. We often think about the people who we get along with that would be easy to share an hour or two with over dinner and a lesson, but your enemies need the Gospel just as much as your friends. So, as you pray for missionary opportunities, pray to know what enemies you have that need to hear the message. If they listen, I doubt that they'll be your enemy for too much longer! Watch the broadcast again, and get to work with your missionaries...

 You guys really are the best, I love you tons. Pray for, work with, and love all the poeple that are in your life.

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Monday, June 17, 2013

"A realtor is really just a ninja in a blazer, we don't leave any clues behind. Nope, I'm completely clueless." Phil Dunphy

Hey all,

So, this week was really slow up until Friday. We had to go to Quito again, and we left Tuesday, had the meeting Wednesday, then went home Thursday and got back at like 6/6:30. So, we pretty much had Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to work. The highlight of the trip was that I got to see Elder Paz. I miss him so much, and it was so great to see him. He's doing super well in the Gasca, and I'm super proud of him. And Dad, remember how you met Elder Hess in the airport? He is Elder Paz's son and my grandson, I got a picture with them both. He gave me the business card that you gave him. But, I got a call this morning from Elder Paz, and he got transferred to an area in the south just today, so I will probably never see him again, as he will stay in the Quito mission. So, that's a little sad, but one day we'll be reunited.  But, have you seen the Princess Bride?You cannot separate true love.

When we got home on Thursday, we got a call from the branch president, and he wanted us to come by and talk to him. We went to his house and sat down with him, and he said that he couldn't handle to stress of his calling anymore, and felt that he could not continue being the president. We told him to call President Ghent, which he did, and then we called President. He told us that he was going to send out one of the assistants to be in a trio with us, and that he would be the new branch president. He came out on a plane the next day to get started. His name is Elder Burr, he's from Provo. He's an absolute stud, unreal missionary. I'm excited to learn a lot from him in the coming weeks. It's interesting to see how the Lord has prepared him during his whole mission to be a branch president, because he is doing an excellent job. He has all the traits he needs to save this dying branch. I'm the first counselor and Elder Tuckett is the second. What'll happen is Elder Tuckett goes home two weeks from today, then Elder Burr goes home six weeks after that. So, I am killing them both. I am an assassin, fear me.

I am officially in the MisiĆ³n Ecuador Quito Norte. Two weeks from today, the mission will officially be divided, and I will be with President Richardson. The mission offices are in the same building, so I'll still be able to see President Ghent every now and again, but it's still a little sad to have to change presidents. But, President Richardson seems great, and I am really excited to get to know him and his family once he gets here. It will not be fun, however, to fill him in on the things that have happened in the branch in the past, cause he'll just get a good headache. But, he's called of God, and he will lead us well and we'll learn a lot from him. One thing that the mission has helped me out with is being used to change. It happens often, and you just have to deal with it and keep on working, a great trait to have when things change in life in the future. So yeah, he's here in two weeks.

I was studying about sacrifice today in my personal study. We all need to get better at sacrificing for the Lord. It's so easy to get to the point where we are doing "enough," which is an awful mentality to have. Obviously, we should realize when we are doing good things that will help us reach our goals, but that does not mean that we are doing "enough." There is always a little bit more we can give to the Lord and His work that will help us progress and grow closer to our Savior. We can also get better about our attitude when we are sacrificing time, talent, or whatever it may be. If we do it with complaints, we aren't doing it right. And that may be the hardest part about sacrifice, not complaining. So, I've been thinking about that a lot--avoiding the thoughts of my having done "enough," and not complaining when I have to sacrifice. Especially as a missionary, it is so easy to have days where we think that we have done "enough," but I've learned that those days don't exist. Certainly, there are days where we have been very successful and have done our job, but it will never be "enough." That'll be a good thing to keep in mind in my future, as well, especially in Church callings. It will be very easy to assume that I've done "enough" in my calling, call it a day, and go home and watch an episode of TV's hit show, LOST. While I will certainly have times where I am dutifully magnifying my calling, and certainly there is always time for LOST, the status of "enough" will not be reached while I am on the earth. Studying the Christlike Attributes in Preach My Gospel is such a great thing to do, everyone should read from that chapter (6) at least once a week. It provides us with constructive and subtle "you're not good enough" thoughts and goals that help us to progress. So, just so you know, you're doing great with what you're doing, but you're not doing "enough." So, stop watching LOST for an hour of two, and go visit that one guy that needs a visit. His name is Jack Shepherd.

We're really excited to have Elder Burr with us. We've had an excellent week, found two new families yesterday and...wait for it...they're married! That is literally a 5% chance of finding in the orient. We hope to see some great things going here with the help of such a great Elder. With a full week, we can get a lot of good things done. I feel like he's Superman. The branch has been floundering lately, and this may be the added boost that it needs to get going. We'll do all we can to find new people, to strengthen the members, and to get the less actives back to the branch. Do you guys have any tips that could help us out here? Anything that you've been doing to help out your organization/congregation? We'll take any ideas that we can get. Elder Burr leads the branch so well! We had a consejo de rama yesterday and we didn't having any shouting or fights. Not one punch thrown. It was so different from what has been happening in the past few months, and all the members are excited to have him here too. Obviously, the problems of the branch won't magically be changed by his being here, but it will make a huge difference to have a good, strong leader here. It'll be a great time to learn and grow together as we study and learn how to be leaders in the branch.

Another week with not much happening since we didn't have much time to work. But, I'll keep you updated if anything cool happens. I saw a monkey, her name is Gabriela. She was pretty nice, but chained up to a tree like some kind of animal. Come people, she's no animal, she's a monkey. I would have offered her a banana, but I didn't have one. I want to get eaten by a boa constrictor and slice my way out of it with a machete, a realistic dream that will become a reality. Worst case scenario, I die. Best case, I can say that I've sliced my way out of a gigantic snake.

Have you guys been watching the Bible videos? They are so good! We watch a lot of them since we have 2 hours online now. My favorite one right now is I Am the Light of the World and the Truth Shall Make You Free, where he totally destroys the Pharisees. Are they planning on putting those on a DVD or something? It would be cool if they did.

I am now over a year old. It's amazing, isn't it? I remember very well the day when I went into the MTC. It was a bitter-sweet day, but now I'm just happy. I already don't want to go home, but there is no point in thinking about that right now. I'm excited to use my experiences from this past year to help me to become a better missionary and to continue progressing in every possible way. One goal that I have is that before I finish my mission, I will have read or listened to every one of Elder Maxwell's General Conference talks. I love the way he teaches and speaks, he's very eloquent. He uses cool words like "poise." Let's be honest, when was the last time that you naturally used the word "poise?" You say that word to make yourself sound smart, and he uses it because he is smart. Also, British people use that word, but that doesn't count because they are British. I didn't have time to read a talk by him this last week, but I'll print one off today and talk about it next week.

I gave a talk in church yesterday on how important it is to forgive and forget. I had great poise as I spoke. (See what I did there?) But, I think that they enjoyed the talk and that they got the message. I tried to nicely tell them that what is happening between everyone in the branch is not acceptable and not what the Savior wants from them, and I hope that they took that message away with them.

I didn't have any giant baby dreams this week, but maybe this week after eating a weird plate of food, I'll get hit with "Giant Baby Two: The Great Escape." If people could film my dreams, they'd get like 40 hits on YouTube.

Well, I think I've run out of things to talk about. This week, we'll finally have a full week to work, so I'll have a full week of things to say to you guys. You all rock and I love you all tons. Invite someone to listen to the missionaries, and remember that you are not quite doing "enough."
Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"I'm one of the cool dads. I know all of the moves of every dance in High School Musical." Phil Dunphy

Hey all,

So, last week on the bus ride, we had to leave last minute because the road we usually take fell down the valley. Made us feel very secure on the bus ride. We saw a bridge that fell down too. So South America. My companion brought apples for the ride, but forgot to wash them. We were very hungry and not even close to a store. I, against my better judgement, at one of them, knowing that it was probably covered in not good things. I was right, something I learned about 3 hours later. That was a hard bus ride. I leveled up on bladder control. But that was uncomfortable. Lesson learned, clean your apples.

Also, tomorrow we have to go back to Quito for a zone conference, woof. We'll have two days to work in our sector before Sunday comes, which makes seeing progress with people almost impossible. But, that's how it goes sometimes.

All that they told us about the mission division is that on June 15th, we will know which mission we belong to. President Ghent said that that is the most that he knows at this point. So, next Monday, I'll know which mission I will be going to. I guess the new president, President Richardson, lived here in Quito forever, which is cool. He is coming with his wife, a son that leaves in August for his mission, and a 13 year old daughter. That's all that I can tell you about the division for now.

These weeks have been pretty hard. I've been a little discouraged this last week, especially since we had so little time to actually work. A vacation seems like it would be great as a missionary, but it's really not. All we want to do is work, we don't really know what to do if we aren't working. So the weeks when we miss a few days snail by. So, that got me a little sad this last week. But I'll be okay. This week, we won't work much either, so pray that we'll be able to get a lot done with the little time that we have.

Our branch is at war. It gets worse every week. We are running out of things to do. I'm the secretary in the branch, so when we have meetings, I try to keep as close to the agenda as possible, and it still gets out of hand. Oh, branches. "It's like in Lost when they meet the others," says Dwight Schrute. But seriously, it's like in Lost when they met the others. It's dangerous, and both sides think that they are the good guys and the other side is the bad side. Luckily, no one has been kidnapped, killed, tortured, or stranded on a mysterious island, otherwise we would have a problem exactly like in Lost. It's like Jack says, too, "if we don't live together, we're going to die alone." Wise words Jack. It's pretty cool how things from a TV show can have such meaning in a small branch of the church in a jungle. I guess my dream came true! I'm living Lost! Who trusts me enough to do a surgery on their spine? Amber?

I had a cool dream this last week that I'd like to share with you. For the first part, it will sound ridiculous, but I promise that it has a point. We've been praying and fasting a lot to figure out what else we can do that we aren't already doing to help the branch progress. We've brainstormed a lot of ideas, and they just aren't working. We were getting impatient and wanting to see more immediate results. We wanted the members to be stronger, more faithful, and we wanted faster progress from the investigators, and we weren't being patient. In comes my dream. Stay with me, I'm not crazy.

So, I'm Batman (obviously). I was fighting a bad guy, and found giant babies. Let me explain that better. They were the babies of giants. So, little babies that would one day be giants. And, for some reason, I wanted them to grow up to be giants very quickly. No idea why, I'm not very experienced with the care of little giant babies. So, I had a machine that was designed to make them grow up faster. After a few hours of using the machine, they babies still weren't giants, and I was very frustrated. Then, an old guy who I think was supposed to be Alfred, came up to me and said, "Look, you can't grow giants quickly. They need to grow inch by inch, then one day, you'll have big, strong giants." And then I woke up.

I know what you're thinking. Elder Thomas, you live close to Columbia and someone clearly drugged you. That is a bizarre dream. I respectfully disagree. I think that this was a very needed lesson from me. We are trying to grow "spiritual giants" too quickly here. We are wanting a pace that we demand, which isn't the right one. We want fast progress, when really that won't help the branch at all. Spiritual giants are needed, very needed, here. But, they will not come quickly. Spiritual giants must grow little by little, and in a few years, you'll have the biggest and the strongest giants at your disposal. So, I learned that I need to be more patient. All the people here are little babies, so to speak, with a lot to learn as they are all new to the Gospel. With patience and the right kind of care, they can all grow tall. I'm not sure if I am here to help the branch grow by finding new members, or if I am merely here to help strengthen what we already have. Whatever it is, I'll do my best to help these little baby giants grow tall.

Temples are great. Go to them.
Money is not that great. Give it to the General Missionary Fund.

Really not too many things are happening right now, which is a little sad, but it more means that there is a chance to improve. I was talking to President Ghent the other week, and we were talking about how every problem has a solution. You start with the question, write what you know, then try to solve it. If your way doesn't work, you start from the beginning, adding what didn't work to the list of the things you know, then just keep going. With work, help from peers and teachers, and innovation, you'll find the solution to every problem. There are a lot of problems here, and we're just struggling to find the solutions. We'll get there one day, and then we'll have a doctorate degree.

I studied two talks this last week, by Elder Bednar and by Elder Maxwell about how we need to not offend people and how we need to choose to not be offended. Great talks, look them up. We gave them to the branch leaders to read, we'll see how it goes. I really like Elder Bednar's approach to visiting offended people. He basically says, "You're going to risk your salvation because someone was mean to you one time? Get off your couch, stop being offended, and come to church." Of course, he said it much nicer than that, but that was his point. 10 points to Elder Bednar! Elder Maxwell gives few ideas on how to reactivate the less active and offended. I've already written too much, so I'll just put the titles if you want to read them. "A Brother Offended," and "And Nothing Shall Offend Them."

Thanks for the videos of Eliza, she is super cute. Nat and Alex, don't die in Mozambique or wherever it is you're going. Read your scriptures, pray, and go to the temple this weekend. Love you tons, wish me luck on the bus ride!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Monday, June 3, 2013

I gotta go to Quito today, 10 hours on the bus because the fast way had the road collapse. Woo! Have a great week. Happy graduating, way to be married for a long time parents! 

Elder Thomas