Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Pam, did you see Oprah yesterday?" "No, why?" "She talked about adoption, and I decided that I want to adopt a baby. Could you get the papers ready for that." "Okay Michael, but my sister looked into adoption and the papers alone took six months..." "Yuck! Six months? I don't even know if I'm gonna want a baby in six months."

Hey all,

Guess who has to go back to Quito next week? Woo! Not. I hate that STUPID BUS. So, yeah, we'll see what happens. I'll get on Monday morning quick to print off your letters, and Monday night or Tuesday night I'll write you guys something quick. Three of the five weeks in September, I'll have to travel to Quito. Woof.

I have a new companion! I'm in a trio for two weeks. I've talked to you guys a few times about Elder Murphy, he's huge. He was in Coca, the other city in our zone. He was the other Zone Leader, but he wasn't my companion (they had us split up for the distance between the sectors). Friday, I got a call from President Richardson and he told me that Elder Murphy was going to come to Lago Agrio to be my companion. He said that I had two weeks to train him how to be branch president. The change ends in two weeks. (The Monday after Conference). So, with minimal intelligence, I can predict that I will not be here in two weeks, which really stinks. We're only confused with why they did it so suddenly, the change. I would think that they would have given me a whole change to teach Elder Murphy the ropes, the sector,etc, but now only two weeks. It seems like it was a last minute decision and that I am needed somewhere else. I really don't want to leave. To be honest, I want to spend at least the rest of the year here, maybe the rest of my mission. But, the Lord knows better, so we'll see what happens with the changes in two weeks. I'm not going to tell anyone that I'm leaving. They're going to be mad when I go, but it'd be really hard for me to say goodbye. I've going through a lot with the people here, 6 months of leading them helped us to develop good relationships. Especially with one family that Elder Burr and I taught, it's going to be really hard to leave them. I'll leave notes behind or something like that for them. Hopefully I'll be able to see them again someday in the future. So, my time here in Lago is coming to a (reluctant) close. It's like when you leave Primary. At first, you're excited, then you realize how nice it was to have cookies given to you every week and get a half hour to sing every Sunday.

We've had two weeks in a row of about 50 people coming to church, which is awesome! We're excited about that. Our goal by the end of the year is 80 people attending each year, and 110 by the end of the next year. The branch is growing very quickly, and everyone is very excited about the missionary work here, which is fun for everyone. Tons of youth attend seminary, which is great. A lot of people came to the chapel cleaning on Saturday, too, which is great. I've discovered that a good sign of conversion is if you are willing to clean the chapel. When I get home, I'm gonna volunteer every week because I know what a pain it is to not have anyone come. But, the strongest members of the branch always come to clean, so it is a good indicator of conversion. Every week we have a few people more, and it takes less and less time to clean. Yay, progress!

I haven't been able to read much Neal lately, kind of a bummer. It seems like the more I want to study the Gospel, the less time I have to do it. We pretty much always have something to do with our day, which is a great blessing, but some days we come home exhausted. There are so many things for us to do between contacting, teaching, filling out informants, visiting members, training members, visiting less actives, lots to do. A lot of the stuff in the past has been the job of the bishop in the ward, but here we have to do it all. It's great to be busy though, better than having nothing to do. I sleep like a rock. Elder Murphy said that last night I fell asleep in 2 minutes and woke up and I hadn't changed body position. Gotta love it. There is a big sports complex right by our house, which is great. It's like Zumbro but bigger and it has a track. Like Soldier's Field would be better said. We go there on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to run on the track, and I am still doing Ab Ripper on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. I've made it a big goal to keep exercising my whole mission, and it has been a big blessing. Shaved my 2 mile time down, 14:00, oh yeah. Not bad for a missionary. I still miss basketball a ton, I would imagine that I am bad at it by now. My knees still bug me, but I'm used to it, plus I hear that in the new Batman he has knee problems, so it'll be a good help for me on my quest to be Batman.

I don't think that I've mentioned to you guys that we're reading the Book of Mormon in three months as a mission. We started three weeks ago, and I've forgotten to mention it. We are marking every reference to Jesus Christ in red, and in blue we are marking every scripture about obedience and/or a topic of our choice. It has been an awesome experience so far. They gave us all a new copy, a cheap paperback on, to mark up, and my scriptures are covered in red and blue, it's awesome. I never realized just how much the Book of Mormon makes reference to the Savior until I did this. So often, He is either talking or people are talking about Him. Plus, it's been helping me in everything that I read. I kind of habitually spot out any reference to Christ in anything I read, and my mind kind of mentally highlights it in red. Now, everything I read seems to be a lot more centered on Jesus Christ. No matter what the topic is that I'm studying, His name jumps out a lot more naturally to me now. Plus, it is interesting to note all of the different titles He is given. Lots of names for a really important person. It got me thinking about cool titles that I could have, too. Elder Thomas, Burner of Throat. Elder Thomas, Beat Zelda. Elder Thomas, Likes Sunchips. Elder Thomas, Smelly. They have a nice ring to them, right? But really, it's a great experience for me in my studies to focus more on the Book of Mormon and my testimony of it, my relationship with my Savior, and the eternal need to be more obedient. The topic of my choice that I am marking is wisdom/knowledge. Usually the biggest "bad guys" in the Book of Mormon are described as being wise according to men, and not according to God. A wise man that obeys God has so much more power to do good than a man with wisdom and now higher power guiding him. I love the Book of Mormon, it's almost like it's true or something. Weird...

It is my birthday this week. I will open up the Captain Crunch and zebra cakes and eat them with my companions, and open up the card. I already saw the gift, flipping sweet Batman tank, how awesome is that. But, I put it back in the bag and I'll pretend to be surprised. Root beer barrells are awesome, Cheez-its were gone in minutes. I haven't opened up the bigger card yet, so I'll do that on Friday. I still have the card from last year because it is really cool and has the Avengers. Big hit with everyone that I've shown. It's weird that I'm almost 21, that sounds so mature. But, if maturity is measured by desires to watch Pride and Predjudice, I have a very long way to go. If, however, it can be measured by self control while in the candy aisle in the grocery store, I'm just about there. Yay, birthdays! I think I need to buy a duffle/carry on bag, so I may go hunting for that when I'm in Quito next week. I just mooch off Elder Murphy and we share a bag when we go to Quito, but it would be nice to have my own. I'll look for one and may get it as a present. If maturity can be measure by whether you ask for toys or necessities for presents, I am really mature now. I would consider an awesome present nice socks rather than a Transformer, although a Transformer would be awesome. And Trevor, where the heck is my Iron Man suit?

I don't want to go to Quito. I still hate rice so much.

I feel like I'm forgetting something, and I probably won't remember it. It probably had something to do with Jell-O or dead dogs or something. I'll just write a little bit more, keep it short and sweet this week so I can write a few personal notes as well.

Read Alma 5. I read it today, but I don't have enough time to write what I want to about it. It's a really great, kick-you-in-your-pants kind of scripture. You read it and start out thinking, "Dumb de dumb de dumb! I'm so darn righteous, how great am I? I go to church every Sunday, pay my tithing, I even talked to someone about the Church!" And by the time you finish it, you are thinking more, "Well, I'm a failure. Better start repenting and getting better at living the Gospel. My bad, Alma, don't be hatin'" and then you get better at living the Gospel. It's a good one to read every month or so just to keep us getting better instead of planing out for awhile. Constant progress is the goal in life, sí o qué?

Love you guys tons, we'll talk whenever I get some time next week. If you wish to write me epistles, I do have an 8 hour bus ride, even longer if we have to go by horseback.

Keep living the Gospel and going to the temple!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"How fast is your mile time?" "About seven minutes." "Pssshh. I could beat that on a skateboard."

Hey all,

I'll be the first to say it. I am so sick of eating rice. I just hate it so much. It doesn't even have a flavor OR a texture. Just bland carbohydrates. And pounds of it. Can we not make a nice side salad? Or Cheeto Puffs? Cheeto Puffs aren't even real and they still taste better than rice. Or some Bush's baked beans, styrofoam, anything! Just please, no more rice. If I see one grain of rice in the rice when I get home, so help me I will uncork like the Hulk and destroy you all. Stupid rice. Stupid Christmas!

How was your week this week? You guys are all super busy. When was the last time you watch America's Funniest Home Videos? It's probably been awhile, I can tell by the stress of you modern day office lives. Kick back, watch some Nueva Loja Branch President prescribed AFV, it'll help. Also, you should watch Fineas and Ferb. I've never seen it, but I could see it being funny. It's got a platypus, which is pretty cool. "Platypus," in Spanish is Ornitorrinco. Just as fun to say as platypus, and it is still a useless animal. I only know that word because everyone watches it here and talks about Perry el Ornitorrinco. So, yeah, AFV and Fineas and Ferb, we'll see what happens. Take notes and be sure to have a constant in your experiment or it isn't valid.

Whenever we go to Quito, it is tough to have a good week work-wise. But, we did a pretty good job this week. Hard work always pays off, sí o qué? We had 47 people at church this week, and for the past few weeks we've had 30 to 35 coming, so we're progressing little by little. The goal is to have 80 people attending by the end of the year. We're focusing a lot on General Conference in October. I hope a lot of people come, it is such a good thing for everyone to see. So, this Friday, we're having an activity to get everyone excited for it, a pep-rally, if you will. Basically we're just going to drink Coca-Cola and eat columbian empanadas, but we'll make a few references to General Conference in there.

The weekend started out tough, but ended up being pretty good. The young man that was going to get baptized on Saturday has disappeared. Straight up nobody knows where he is. He was here on Thursday, excited for Saturday, and up until today no one knows where he is. So, time to pull some Sherlock Holmes skills (I've seen both movies more than once, so, yeah, I know how to sleuth) and find the little bugger. Hopefully nothing bad happened to him, and hopefully we can find out where he is soon. So, that was kind of a downer on Saturday, but Sunday turned out to be really good. There is one family here that is just the best, the Cedeño Gordón family. We got to know them about three months ago, and they are my favorite people here. Their kids got baptized almost right away, but the Mom and Dad didn´t. One problem that I've explained with the men here is that they work for the oil companies and are hardly every here. The Dad is an oil guy, so is hardly ever here. The Mom wanted to wait and be baptized together with her husband, which is a great thing. So, the Dad has been coming to church when he is here, and yesterday he was able to attend and we went and visited them. They give us lunch on Sunday, so we just stayed longer to talk. It looks like they'll be getting baptized the weekend of General Conference, which will be a great thing. We're praying for the Dad so that it all works out, and then in a year they'll be able to go to the temple. So that looks that it'll be the big thing happening soon. We have another young couple who are progressing well, too. We're excited to have these great families progressing in the Gospel, and on the branch president end, we're starting to focus the new member families on the temple to get them going there ASAP.

Is Mom a General Authority now? That's cool that you got to do visits with the RSGPOTCOJCOLDS. Long title, but it commands respect. I'm sure that you learned a ton from her, and she learned a ton from you. You're a great woman, Mom, and you've been helping a lot of people for a long time. Thanks for being a great example to so many people. $10 says that the RSGPOTCOJCOLDS makes a shoutout to Mom in General Conference. Who wants in on the bet? Verán, she'll talk about it. Way to go, Mom.

Yay, school! Hahahaha, I haven't done homework in over a year. Crap...I haven't done homework in over a year. When I think about the things that I learned in my first year at college, there are a lot of empty gaps. So...bueno. Maybe someone will have invented that pill from that movie where the guy takes it and becomes like super smart. Limitless or something like that?

Andrew, I like your goal of going into anesthesia so that you can perform Inception, keep going with that. Your job as a doctor would have to be considered an Inception Job, because you have there a job within a job. Being an Anesthesiologist while being an Inceptionist. I hear the pay is good there.

These past few weeks have been a big blur, I don't even know what else to tell you guys. I saw monkys in the trees the other day, cute little buggers. It rained a ton yesterday, then it was really hot. We have a branch mission plan. There it is!

We have a branch mission plan now! Woo! Responsabilities fulfilled! I've called some youth as branch missionaries since there is no one else (we don't even have a branch mission leader yet), and we had a meeting to start planning what our goals should be. In branch council, we fine tuned it, and soon we had our plan for the rest of the year! Yay, progress! It is really weird to be in charge of things like that. Now the trick is to get people to actually do what we planned, that's the hard part. We're getting seminary started, Tuesday to Friday from 5 to 6 if any of you want to attend. The school schedule here is really weird, and seminary in the afternoon makes more sense, early morning isn't possible here. So, all the youth are really excited for that. We have some good young people here, which is really inspiring everyone, myself included. It's cool to see things progress and little by little go as you planned it. The Lord really helps us to do the rest once we've done all that we can, that's something that I've learned here, too.

This Wednesday, President Richardson's counselor is coming out to the the audit (I honestly have no idea what that involves, other than me getting in trouble) and to interview all of the priesthood holders here in the branch. So, hopefully with those interviews we can start getting the branch more independent and get me out of the branch president position. I am willing to do whatever is needed of me, and hopefully soon the members can take over again.

I've learned a ton here in Lago Agrio. I am coming up on six months here. Can you guys believe that? I almost have 16 months in the mission. How did that happen? I feel like I just got here. I remember when I got here and I saw all of the older missionaries who had a lot of time and thinking, "Look at how worn their plaques are, mine will never get that worn!" or "Their shoes are destroyed, my shoes will never be that broken." "Their shirts are not white at all, mine will never get that dirty!" And I'm at that point now where I see a lot of the newer missionaries and think, "Haha, look at how clean their plaques are." "Those little newbies with their clean little shoes! Mine are destroyed!" "Look at how white their shirts are! You just got here, didn't you!" And those kind of things just crept up on me. I still have a lot of time left to serve, which is a blessing, but at the same time, I can't believe how much time has gone by already, especially here. All the time here has flown by super fast. Nuts!

It's really important to be obedient. I've been reading the talks from last Conference about obedience because it is really important. I love President Monson's talk when he tells the story where he almost burned down the neighborhood for not being obedient. In that talk, he says, "Brothers and sisters, the great test of this life is obedience." So true. I've been pondering a lot about that lately, how important it is to be obedient. I know a lot of missionaries that either aren't or weren't obedient in the mission, and a lot of times they seem to be the people having more success than anyone else, which can be frustrating sometimes. But, it is always more important to be obedient. I was reading the story of Abinadi today, and he is a great example of that. Everyone wants him to stop talking and they want to kill him, but he is boldly obedient to the commandmants of the Lord and tells him that he will not be touched until he has complete the job the Lord has given him. Looking at his example, some would say that he wasn't a very successful missionary. From his teaching, he didn't event baptize anyone, he just reactivated the less-active Alma. And Abinadi probably didn't even know that he did that. But, what Abinadi did do is way more important that how many people he baptized. He was bold, obedient, and taught by the Spirit. That is surely more important to the Lord than his "numbers." I am sure that when the Lord asks, "So what did you do with your life?," He is a lot happier to hear a response like, "I was obedient to what Thou has commanded me," than "I held x position or I baptized x people." Truly obedience is the true test of life, and in the end the only grade that matters. Also, I do hear that in the Final Judgement, God does grade heavily on your floral design skills. It is so important to be obedient, and we can always do better about that. It's like President Packer said, "We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see." Nothing makes us happier than obedience to God, not one single thing. So, like Nike says, "Just do it." And keep up on your floral design skills.

Well, I think that sums it up for this week! Next week I'll be focusing on "The How-To's of Monkey Trapping And Tribal Weaponry." So, please study up so that we can all be enlightened together. All of you should go to the temple before General Conference starts and be making your list of questions you need answers to. I'll do the same, minus the temple part since I can't. Sam, come on, just design a little one to put in Lago Agrio.

Love you all tons, have an excellent week, and be happy about everything! And watch some AFV.

Con amorcito,


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Hey all,

We had our zone conference today, it was pretty great. Sister Richardson made lemon bars, so what more can I say?

It's been two weeks! Are you guys still alive? I feel like I have a lot that I wanted to tell you guys, but I don't remember the last two weeks super well. If I don't write every Monday, I forget a lot of things because the days just blend together...

First off, I have some big news. Here, there is a good ice cream company called Pinguino. (The "u" should have two dots over it, but I don't know how to write that letter on the keyboard.) They have a special promotion right now that one some of the popsicle sticks, it says, "vale otro Pinguino," and you get the same ice cream you bought for free. It's just one of those dumb tricks to get people to buy more than usual, expecting to win a free one. When they don't win, they buy another, etc., thinking that on the next one they'll win. They fall for the trap, and end up paying about $10 for a free ice cream that's worth $0.75. Those suckers, they just end up losing money that they could have had for a little victory. I, as one of those suckers, have to tell you that it felt really good to win. I enjoyed my free ice cream, and Pinguino enjoyed my money. My next goal is to win a free one, and with the free one, win another free one. I call it the "Inception win."
 I'm pretty nerdy, so I try to attach the word "Inception" to a lot of things. It just means that you do one thing twice, basically. In the movie, they have a dream within a dream (within a dream within a dream). So, for example, an "Inception win" is a win within a win. "Inception divisions" is doing divisions within divisions. An "Inception burrito" would be a burrito within a burrito. I may have to try that one...
We're really excited in the branch, because within two weeks, they won't need the Elders for the Sacrament. It's a baby step to better things, so we're really excited. When I got here in April, there was 1 active deacon. Within two weeks, with the baptisms we'll have, we'll have 4 deacons, 1 teacher and 1 priest, just among the young men, then we have the adult converts who are priests and a few that hold the higher priesthood. So, that's a great step for the branch.
Two weeks ago, we had a young woman get baptized, Sharon. Her father passed away five years ago, and her step dad is a very inactive member. We contacted into them, and he told us that he wanted to come back and Sharon wanted to grow closer to the Lord because she had been mad at Him for awhile. She had always prayed for her dad to get better, and he never did. We taught her all the lessons, and the message of temples really caught her attention and was the reason for her conversion. She told us many times something along the lines of "If these are the things that I need to do to see my dad again, I'll do every one of them." The young women in the branch were really friendly to her, too, and they all came to her baptism. Hopefully we can help her step dad repent, get married, and get active, and he can be a great help to the branch, as well.
This last weeked, a young man named Pablo got baptized. Pablo's mom and brother were the last baptisms that Elder Burr and I had together. The older brother that got baptized a few weeks ago, Carlos, is pilas. He already knows the First Vision and works with us almost every day. He is 15 and when he teaches people he introduces himself, "Hi, I'm Carlos, I've been a member for a month, and in three short years I'll be a missionary like them." He's got a killer testimony, and I love working with him. We were teaching his brother Pablo when we first met them, but Pablo left to live on his dad's farm. We thought we'd never see him again, but after Carlos got baptized, he told Pablo that he had to come back and be baptized and active in the Church. So, all thanks to Carlos, Pablo was able to progress. Carlos is our teacher and Pablo is a deacon, so they both help with the Sacrament together. Their mom is pilas too. It's a great little family, they'll help the branch out a ton. This week, President Richardson's counselor is coming out to do interviews, we want a member leading as soon as possible, so hopefully we can get that going soon.
It's cool to see the branch progressing little by little. One of the keys has been branch council. The Area Presidency here has given the instruction that every ward should be having ward council every week. When President Richardson told us that, he said that there was a ward in Guayaquil with something like 500 inactive people, maybe more, I don't remember. The bishop started having ward council every week, focusing on the inactive members and the investigators of the missionaries. In a year or so, they had to divide the ward, and two years later, they divided the ward again. Tons of those inactives came back from having ward council to plan for them every week. So, now they want everyone to do it. We started it with Elder Burr, and I'm still keeping it up. Everyone is so much more excited here about the work. This last Sunday was awesome. Awesome. We were talking about the names of so many people, investigators and inactives, and with the missionaries and the leaders, we were planning all of the visits that we were going to do. It was such a fun spirit in the room, everyone left happy. We took a poll this last month of all the wards where they have ward council every week and those who don't. The missionaries got the annual baptismal goals of their ward and the baptisms that they've had up until now, and then wrote if they had ward council every week. Of every ward, maybe 20% had ward council every week, and all of them were going to reach their yearly goal. For example, here in Lago the goal for the year is 25, we have ward council every week, and we had 23 up until now, so by the end of the month, we'll reach our goal. Every ward was like that, very close to their goal, and the wards that didn't have it every week, maybe once a month, were very far from the goal. Plus, reactivation efforts are way more effective if we are able to have weekly reports on the inactive people that we are visiting. I love this instruction from the Area, and I know that as we continue to do so, we'll see great results. Plus, it has made the members get way more involved in the missionary work, because they go more from monthly viewers of our works to weekly participants in our visits. Pretty cool.
There is a package waiting for me in the offices, I'll grab it tomorrow before going back to Lago. I'm going to be 21, how weird is that?
There is probably more that I was going to write, but I'll write you guys more on Monday. I'll finally have a P-day! Two weeks without one. So I will be sure to write you both a fat and a phat letter on Monday, but at least I was able to write some of the things that have been going on. I watched a dog die the other day, it was pretty sad.
Fill me in on everything, let me know how life is going. How's Dash? Thanks for taking care of him for me!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas