Monday, December 30, 2013

"There is no place like home for the holidays...or prison..."

Hey all,

Well, I talked with the family on Wednesday, which was great, and a lot of the things I would normally write in my letter I told them in the video chat. I don't feel like typing all of that stuff, so whoever wasn't in the video call can talk to the fam to get the low down. I would encourage all to ask about what happened on my Christmas Eve. It is a tale involving missionaries, hospitals, police, and prisons, so it's worth a listen.

We have a baptism today at 4! We're really excited. Her mom passed away last week, and she's been in Columbia with her family for funeral stuff. She got back Thursday night, and we stopped by last night for a quick visit. She was still pretty sad, understandably. Elder Dearden and Elder Ospina have both had family pass away, so they offered some great consuelo for her that seemed to help her out. I did what I always do when I'm not sure what to say, open my scriptures until I see one that works! After they talked, I read some scriptures with her about the Holy Ghost and the comfort that we can receive from Him. It was a good talk, she understood it, then we talked about her baptism, and her response was really funny. She was going to get baptized and confirmed before going to Columbia, but she didn't end up having enough time. So, we asked her yesterday if she wanted to get baptized today, and her answer, well, the best translation that there is in English, was, "Well, duh! I wanted to do it last week? Why are you even asking?" So, we'll leave from here in about a half hour to have that service. I'll probably have more time to write in the night, I only have about an hour right now because of the baptism. But, it's a great thing to miss a P-day for. Plus, it's a great way for Elder Dearden to finish his mission, his last weekend with a baptism. I'll miss that guy, you guys should buy him tasty treats.

We did some more surprise studies this week, and they are working out really well. Every time we've done them, we've discovered missionaries doing things that they shouldn't be doing. We help them set good goals to get better and to get more out of their mission. We need a lot more dedicated missionaries, that's one of the downsides of having such young missionaries now. We're seeing problems with sisters, too. Before, they were the mature ones in the mission, now they all flirt and it's uncomfortable to fix it, so we just look for food and use that as an excuse to leave. Life's lessons learned right there. We're working hard and brainstorming a lot about what to do to help out our missionaries. I've been really frustrated with the inexperience of all the missionaries here, but now I am trying to see it as a chance for me to learn how to train good leaders. Maybe the Lord needs all of us right now to get better at that for future things. Lots of missionaries with good potential, they just don't realize that yet. We scheduled all of our trainings and divisions for January, it's going to be a crazy month. And just, for the record, some weeks I may not have a P-day, so if I don't write, don't freak out, we're just busy.

It was really great to talk to you guys, thanks for teaching the kids how to say my name. You all look great and older. Soon we'll be talking again! I loved being able to communicate, even for just a brief time.

Well, I don't have too much to say since I was able to videochat this week. I'll give you a good letter next week. This week is going to be crazy with the new missionaries coming in on Monday. Here are a few random thoughts to finish.

Mango season is the best. We are in it right now.

Pistachio ice cream is really good.

The corn is really weird here and is not appetizing.

I don't get how the money works here. They use the dollar, but have their own 5, 10, 25, and 50 cent pieces here. Here, those "Ecuadorian coins" are worth money, but if I take them to the States, they aren't worth anything. How does that work? Wouldn't that mean that it's a lie when they say how much money they have? Come on, government here.

Here, on New Year's Eve, they burn the viejo. They buy sweet dolls made of paper and burn them, as if to say "out with the old, in with the new." As they burn it, they start a new year, burning the things from the last year that they want to change. We may burn one with Elder Dearden's face on it since he goes home that day. I think it's a cool tradition that they have here. I want to buy an Iron Man doll.

Love you guys! Don't do dumb things!

Elder Thomas

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Videochatting with Josh for Christmas

Best present ever. He's doing so well and loving it in Ecuador. We love our Josh!

"Buzz's girlfriend, woof!"

Hey all,

Another crazy week. I am really tired.

On Monday, we had a Christmas dinner, it was technically ours, although we go to all of them. It was zona Quito, and we had around 45 people in the house eating. It was really crazy, but by far the best dinner of them all. THe zone leaders prepared a killer message, they somehow got costumes for everything, and it was very well put together. We, as the office Elders, prepared a special musical number, "White Christmas," and it was a big hit as well. I just love Christmas stuff. I even found candy canes in the mall today, how great is that? We got home at around 12 on Monday, completely exhausted.

Tuesday, we woke up super tired, but it was a good day. We were in the offices all afternoon getting reports ready and such, then we went out to work in the evening, but all of our appointments fell. It's pretty frustrating when we don't have a lot of time to work, and the things we have planned fall. But, that's okay, that's why they give us two years to work instead of 2 days. There is lots of time to improve, and then right hwen you think that you're in the hang of things, they make you go home. We're doing our best though, and I'm learning that the focus of being in the offices is more of a focus on helping the mission as a whole instead of focusing more on our own personal sector. If we're doing a good job, the mission is doing a good job. If we aren't doing a good job, we should probably just quit while we're ahead.

On Wednesday, we had another Christmas dinner, it was way different from the rest. It was the zones from the coast, Esmeraldas and San Rafael. There aren't sisters in those zones yet, which makes the dinner way easier. We start on the ground floor eating some bocaditos before going up to eat the dinner. Usually the sisters take forever to get upstairs. We tell them it's time to eat, and they want to take a thousand pictures and don't want to go upstairs, really frustrating. The Elders, we just say, "Hey, Elders, there's more food upstairs, let's go." And within five minutes we're all eating dinner. Smooth sailing baby. Good dinner, though. It was good to see the Elders from my old zone, too, they're good guys. We have to send the best missionaries to the coast so that they don't do anything stupid. They still end up doing stupid things, but that's okay.

On Thursday, we had a crazy day. We were asked to go by some missionaries that are having some troubles with obedience and diligence. We went by for a surprise study with one companionship, and that actually went really well. It seems like the Elders are doing a lot better than we thought, at least speaking about studies. We then felt that we needed to stop by another companionship before going to district meetings, and it's a good thing that we did. We got to their house at 10, and they had just gotten out of bed. That's rotten luck for them, they get caught red handed by the assistants. We had a good, long talk with them about their struggles and their challenges currently in the mission, why they're waking up late, things like that. It was actually a really good talk, and we set some good goals with them. They're struggling a little bit with their testimonies, and if they do the things that we left with them, hopefully they'll feel the Spirit more and have stronger testimonies. I liked what we could do to help them, it felt really good. After that, we went to a district meeting, and the district leader did a great job, really great job. It makes me happy to see good, dedicated missionaries doing what is asked of them. We headed back to the offices, planned, then had a good couple of appointments, one with our investigator who is getting baptized soon. She's great, and progresssing very well. Her sons are members, and they're helping her well, plus the bishop is a stud and doing great. We're also visiting a less active family who is returning to activity. That's a great process to see, as well; not just acceptance process of investigators, but also the remembrance process of less actives. There are a few people in the family who aren't members, so we'll keep working with them to help them progress together. I'll keep you posted.

Friday was a good day, too. President has his son coming today to stay for the holidays, and his son's girlfriend (almost wife) is coming too, so they want to have everything ready for when they come. We've been working hard to get changes done a couple of weeks early, and to get all of the meetings planned before Monday so that President can spend as much time as possible with his family. We managed to get a lot done throughout the day, there is still a little bit more to do, but the work is minimized for President while his family is here. At night, we had a ward talent show, and the less active family and Nidya, the investigator that's getting baptized were there. It went well for them (I hope). But, bad news hit right at the end of the show. Nidya's mom, who lives in Colombia, passed away unexpectedly. She was really sad, and we were worried that she wouldn't be able to be baptized. It was cool though, the very first thing that she said to us was, "How can I still be baptized?" We talked it through and thought that we could still have her baptism today, but no luck, she had to go. So, we'll have to wait until next week to have her baptism. We're happy that she understands the importance of baptism, and that it'll give her more consuelo than anything else right now. Yay for the gospel!

Today has been a fun day. We got some hair cuts, printed off letters, then hit up Crepes and Waffles with Elder Paz and Elder Clark, the assistants from the other mission. I'm trying really hard to budget, but when we go to Crepes and Waffles, I lose a lot of money. You can only understand what I mean if you have eaten at that wonderful establishment. Best restaurant in Ecuador, no doubt. We went bowling after, got a solid 125. I'm better on Wii though, not sure why. It's been a fun day, and I bought candy canes for a dessert that Sister Richardson is going to make for us on Christmas Eve. And that is my week!

We don't always get tons of time to study, but when we do, I study all that I can. I want to finish the Old Testament in Spanish. I gotta be honest, the Old Testament is whacky. Well, Genesis is really whacky, then it gets a little more normal over time. I liked the book of Numbers, I'm in Deuteronomy right now. This week, we've been studying a lot about a mix of the Atonement/Leadership/Covenants. Our missionaries aren't doing so hot right now. We're way below the Area average on baptisms, and we need to improve by great bounds. As I've said before, our leaders here are not the best, other than a handful. We have a lot of "dilly dally" missionaries who don't push themselves and who don't feel the drive to do a little bit more every day; to go the extra mile. We're getting a training ready for January where the general idea is to make them feel bad about how things are going in the mission without macheteing them too badly. We're working hard on the training, and we feel like it could be really good. If you have any good ideas, send them my way! I've learned to love my study time, I hate days where we can't study. There is no better way to start the day than exercise and study, it leaves you feeling so happy and ready for action. I encourage you all to find some way to study a little more in your lives. Waking up early is totally worth it, you may feel tired, but the study makes up for it. Staying up late isn't as effective for gospel study, plus it's not allowed as a missionary, so tough luck there. Studying is so great, I've always loved it, but I love studying the gospel a lot more now than I ever have before. Yay, studies!

I'm excited to see you guys on Christmas, it'll be fun to see you again and see how everyone looks older. Again, if the babies can't say "Josh," the call will be quick and brief. But, I can't wait for Christmas, it's the best day ever! Woo! I haven't gotten any of the packages yet, but I did get the Madsen Christmas card. That's a very funny picture of Jack, nailed the "baby Christmas" feel.

Well, I hope you're all happy, we'll be talking around 1 my time on Christmas, sounds like! If there are any complications, I'll give you guys a call to fix things, but all should be well. I love you all!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

And sorry, to those of you who I won't be talking to on Christmas, Merry Christmas! I hope that we can all remember the true significance of the holidays while we celebrate them with our families.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"Dad.....DAAAAADDDD....DAAAAAADDDDD" Buddy the Elf

Hey all,

It is the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas dinners. 9 zones. 7 dinners. Assistants need to attend them all to be the servers. What does that dinner include? Turkey. Sweet potato casserole. Mashed potatoes. Salad. Stuffing. Homemade rolls. Gravy. Dessert? Tres leches cake. Games, caroling, prizes, and lots of great, spiritual moments where we are able to focus on Christ. The sacrifices that we make in the misison. I feel so spoiled, but I won't complain. We do, however, have to wake up early to run for a long time so that we don't feel guilty about eating all that three times a week.

I really love Christmas. Tomorrow is the devotional, and we should be able to see it here at 8, remember when we went to that a few years back? It's a great way to start off the season. It kind of stinks living in an eternal spring, since it never snows or changes, but we are seeing lots of decorations here which is really fun. Christmas ins't huge here because the President of the country is kind of dumb, but the members all get excited to celebrate. The Christmas dinners really help out, too. We sing lots of songs in the house, plus when we're in the offices we always have Christmas music playing.

This week was good. We had our leaders' council, and it was my first one as an assistant. Getting all of the reports ready kind of stunk, but in the end everything went well. I really like analyzing and training, so it was fun to be able to do it. We had it in a special place to get everyone excited to work hard in December and to not get trunky, called Pululagua. I think I talked about us visiting there a few weeks back, and we had the budget to go there and do it, and it was great. It is a beautiful volcanic crater with a beautiful view. It's one of three in the world where people actually live in it, so that's pretty cool. They have llamas, and one of them spit on an Elder, so that was pretty funny. The food was unreal good, the main plate was sea bass, so smooth, so good. We had a killer dessert, passion fruit mousse. Why do I always talk about the food? I think that the spirit of Christmas is perfect for missionary work. We focused a lot on Christmas, but inspiring missionaries to work harder than ever to preach about Christ's life. It was a very spiritual meeting. President gave a great training on the doctrine of Christ, it was awesome. We had lots of other great messages, all focusing on Christ. I loved, loved, loved it. I wish we could have stayed longer, but it was a good burst of spirituality to get everyone pumped for December. We'll see how the month goes, we've had two dud months, so this would be a great time to improve.

We went to a zone conference, just Elder Ospina and I, to see how a few missionaries are doing. We have a big challenge in our mission with missionaries with experience. We have 160 missionaries right now, and I think 42% have less than three changes. By March, we're supposed to have 225 missionaries. So, we have a lack of leaders right now, and we want to get traveling around more and doing divisions to help people get going. It's a challenge for us. For example, we have 3 zone leaders going home this change, and we have no idea who else we could call. Disobedient missionaries sometimes have to train since there is no one else, so we have problems with disobedience with new missionaries, too. We just need to get involved more and do brief check ups every now and again to see how the missionaries are. The conference went well, then we finally had some time to work in our sector for a little bit.

We now have investigators and people progressing! One lady is named Nidya, she's the mom of some recent converts. She couldn't get baptized because her husband is a dud and wouldn't marry her, but recently she kicked him out, so she's good to go! We're visiting her later tonight, all looks good with her progress. We also have the mom and the brother of recent converts, they're great too, and when we invited them, they accepted! Hopefully everyone can come to Church tomorrow to keep progressing. We're really excited about their progress, and so is President Richardson. He does all that he can to get us out and working, and wants us to set good examples of maintaining a good sector. We have about 3 hours a day to work, but if we use it wisely, we have plenty of time to get things going. We want every companionship to help someone come unto Christ in December, and we were worried that we wouldn't be able to do that, but it looks like we will be able to do that and set examples to the mission. We really should have a good sector so that we aren't hypocrites when we tell other missionaries that they have to work harder, haha. But, work wise, we had a great week, I feel good about it.

Today, we went and played tennis, it was really fun. It's weird, playing tennis on Wii is a lot easier. On Wii, you can just shake the controller and you win. I tried that in real tennis, and it doesn't apply very well. We went to a huge parque, Parque Carolina, I'd heard about it, but I'd never been there before. It is huge and super pretty. Really huge. You can do pretty much everything there. We want to go back next week to keep exploring. The tennis courts were nice, I had like 2 good hits. The Richardsons really like to play tennis, they want to play next Saturday with us. They're traveling this weekend, so we figured we'd practice to not look like fools when we play with them. I think that we'll still look like fools. I'm really good at hitting the ball really hard, if the court was about twice as long, I'd be really good at tennis.

We've been planning the year 2014 with all of the arrivals and departures of the new missionaries, plus all of the big meetings that we'll have. It's kind of scary how close I am to the end. I'll have to keep working really hard to get all that I can out of the time that I have left and to serve the Lord and do all that He intended me to do when He sent me here. I basically have six months left, time to get going and work harder than I ever have before. The Dark Knight Rises is waiting for me in six months, but only if I work hard. I can't believe that we're almost in the new year again. I remember thinking at the beginning of the year, "This year is going to pass by so slowly," and somehow it's December. Time really does fly by in the mission.

Did I mention that I love Christmas?

I think someone asked me how old the Richardson's daughter is if I read right. She's 14, goes to a school where all but 2 hours are in English. I think it's tough for her, but she made the varsity soccer team, so that keeps here happy. She's really good at Connect 4, it's really hard to beat her.

We ate at a Chinese restaurant today, super good, it was like the Chinese food we eat in the states. And it's right next to our apartment building. So...

We had an epic pillow fight last night. We had one a few nights ago and broke a lamp (don't tell President), so we took some precautions last night, wrapping all of the lights in blankets. It was more to catch all of the glass upon breakage than to actually prevent them from breaking, let's be honest. We're six Elders living in the same house, what do you expect would happen. We had a mixture of weapons, couch pillows, fluffy pillows, harder pillows and mattresses, turned the lights off, then it was game time. We played for about 45 minutes, it was awesome. Don't worry, we planned and everything, but we finished in time to play. We're thinking about buying Nerf guns and having battles with them, too. Super fun. No blood, but hopefully in the next few wars we can get someone to the hospital.

We had a good week, I'm loving my time in the offices and the time that I have to learn and progress working closely with the Richardsons. Oh, we also helped someone move this week, super funny how they "loaded the truck." Hopefully I can survive the Christmas dinners this week, we'll see what happens. I love you all, do lots of Christmas things to be really happy this season. Talk to you next week!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"If there was a vampire in the States, it would make sense for it to come to a Pennsylvania" Dwight Schrute

Hey all,

Happy late Thanksgiving! I have a little bit of time to write quickly since I didn't on Thursday.

Thanksgiving was awesome! We had it all--turkey, stuffing, rolls, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoe caserole, salad, bubbly, pies, mama mia, it was grand. The sacrifices we have to make in the mission, right? We played games all day, ping pong, spot it, connect four, and a few other board games. It was a very fun preparation day. We even got to help them put up their Christmas decorations. It was a great day, but I didn't have time to write at all. But I think it was worth the sacrifice. The beauty of it was that there was not one grain of rice on the table. And, now it is officially Christmas season. Yay!

It's a weird transition still to the office schedule. If we're lucky, we get to work from 6 until 9 at night, and that's if all goes well in the day. We live downtown, so contacting is not too too effective. We rely a lot on references from the members or it is tough to work. With only three hours a day, it has to be a pretty productive night, and if we're stuck contacting, we don't come out with too much. It's just a little frustrating since I've worked all day every day for so long, and it's been more effective to contact. But, we've set some good goals to make our nights super productive and to continue to have success with investigators.

While the change is frustrating at time, I overall am loving my experiences in the offices. I get a ton of interaction with President Richardson and his family, which is a big blessing. He is a calm, wise leader, and I am learning a lot from him every day. I like being able to supervise the mission on a wider scale than just a zone, to find problems and look for solutions, I really love that. I love my companions, they're the best missionaries in the mission and we get along very work and have a good team attitude, always searching for how to help out the missionaries. I love training. I love, love, love training. We get lots of opportunities to do it, and I feel like I'm improving every day. Those are the chances that we have to make the missionaries better, so we've gotta make them good. I like traveling. We don't have a car, but we travel with President pretty much whenever he travels. This last week, we went to Esmeraldas for interviews. It was fun to go back for a quick visit. We stopped at a fruit stand and bought tons of fruit. I bought $10 of mangoes, cacao, red bananas, and more mangoes. Love the fruit here, and everything is in season from November to February. Great stuff.

While I still need to get my groove going here with the balance between working with investigators and working with missionaries, I am happy to have this assignment. There is a lot to do, and never a dull moment. I feel blessed to be able to serve in this way, and I hope to improve with it every day.

Now, to finish this quick note, the things that I am thankful for. I'll keep it within 10 things to not go on forever.

1. Mangoes

2. My family

3. Hard, challenging situations

4. The David Archuleta Christmas CD

5. The Scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon

6. The Restored Gospel, including presiding prophets and apostles

7. The Savior and His Atonement

8. Prayer

9. Our potential to grow

10. Being a missionary! Woo!

Anyways, that'll be the quick note for the week. We don't have the full two hours today, but that's okay because I had a marvelous feast in a third world country. Next Saturday, I'll shoot you guys a good one. Merry Christmas!


Elder Thomas