Saturday, November 30, 2013

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

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

Love you! Happy Thanksgiving!

Elder Thomas

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

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

Hey all,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Elder Thomas

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

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

Love you!

Elder Thomas

Monday, November 11, 2013

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

Hey all,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love you!

Elder Thomas

Friday, November 8, 2013

"Are you two still living?" The Grinch

Hey all,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!

Elder Thomas