Saturday, February 22, 2014

"Once upon a time, there was a magical place where it never rained. The end." Holes

Hey all!

Well, another week done. It's crazy how fast time goes by. But, I like being busy, it keeps me busy.

Ronny's baptism went really well last week. For the holiday, there weren't too many people there, but it was a great service. He's excited, as well, to keep coming to church and to prepare for a mission in the future. The father of the family that gave us the reference was able to baptize him, it was very special. The family had a musical number prepared, a talk prepared, they ran the show. They were so happy to see their friend get baptized. It goes to show that with references, everyone involved grows happier from the process. Very good day, his confirmation was great, too. He'll be a good member, hopefully soon he'll get the priesthood and help the ward out with the sacrament. This work makes me really happy, it is the best to see people progress in the Gospel and to become much happier for doing so. It is the happiest work that there is, I am so grateful for this time that I have to be able to do it.

I've been thinking about how to judge my maturity level after being a missionary for so long. I can both listen to and find meaning in classical music right now, and find calm Tabernacle Choir music to be entertaining. I am listening to "Bring Him Home," from Les Miserables and finding great meaning in the words. I think I'm getting there. On the other hands, burps are still pretty funny to me, as is pouring cold water on my companions while they shower, and I still struggle staying awake in Sacrament Meeting, so we're not quite there. Maybe in the next four months we can make the jump. Progress, baby steps.

Also, did you guys see the new Bible video with Jesus teaching in the temple when he was a kid? ¡Bacan! It's got Mary and Joseph looking for young Jesus with two of Jesus' little sibling, I guess his half-siblings. I think they took it down for a bit because it caused some controversy, but it's awesome because we know that he had siblings. You can still download it though. Super sweet. The Church is true.

So, after doing the verifications on Monday, we got ready for various trips and meetings that are coming up in the next few weeks. We have a lot to get better at still. The mission is still so young, and missionaries still need to learn how to maintain a program, how to teach, find, lots of things, and we're trying to be patient through it all. When the mission divided, we kept the experienced leaders up till about when I leave, then we're in trouble. This change, two go home, in May, about 15 of the zone or sister leaders leave, then in my group we're 4 and all of the Elders are leaders. So, we have a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it. We'll be training a lot about how to be better missionaries. Lots of work, hopefully we can get it going before we lose all of our leaders. We have a few zone leaders that don't even have a year yet, which is usually not preferable. Toca a veces. We'll keep going, I feel like the Lord just really wants to teach us how to train effectively. I feel like I'm doing my best in the offices, and I feel that the Lord is happy with what is going on, while we do need to improve some things. But, if I feel good about it, it must be what the Lord wants from us right now!

On Wednesday and Thursday, we were in the coast, diga! I love the heat, it feels like home, although the orient is better. We had some really, really good food this time. There is a dish called encocado, it is so good. It is with fresh fish and a great sauce, gotta love it. Sister Richardson didn't come with us because Andrea had a big soccer tournament, so I got to stay in the hotel with President Richardson. It was really nice, and may or may not have been right on the beach. It is funny, there is a beautiful beach right there, but it one of the poorest parts of Ecuador. The hotels are fairly nice, but the city is pretty bad. It's very weird, but that's how it goes. Esmeraldas can't progress well as a city because there aren't many strong families there, in or out of the Church. Without good family morals, no city will ever progress because no one feels responsibility. The missionaries work very hard to get people married, but it is very hard to do so. We had good meetings with them, the missionaries there are some of the most obedient, so we feel good about them there, they just need to work a little bit more diligently. It's the rainy season right now, so there is mud everywhere there. My shoes got destroyed, so did my pants. But I miss that. Coming home wet, dirty and muddy is a great feeling, especially when you've worked as hard as you can and have been diligent. Hard work is the best feeling in the world, few other things feel as satisfying as knowing that you worked very hard. It was a good trip full of good trainings and good foods. We listened in the car to a bunch of the talks from the mission presidents' seminar from last year, those talks are great. Lots to learn from the great leaders of the Church.

Friday, we had more interviews, just like in the coast. I think that interview month is by far the busiest month of all. Friday was technically our zone, so we were supposed to have our interview, too. But, shocker, things came up and we had no time to have ours. But, we're always with President so we'll have ours one of these days. They went well, there were a lot of sisters. There are so many sisters here, it is crazy. I had to review their area books since Sister Richardson wasn't there, and the books of the sisters were unreal. The elders had good books, but just had the necessary. The sisters had colors, maps, fancy things, and I thing they even sprayed stuff on it to make it smell good. They show the elders up every time. Way to go, sisters.

We went to Andrea's soccer game today, it was really fun. She is a pretty good soccer player, and we make quite the fan section. She told us that her teammates thought that we were college scouts to see if they were good enough to play for us. I think that they were pretty let down. I found a new great restaurant with curly fries, so that was my lunch today. We had a few appointments, and now I'm writing. Tomorrow is election day here, and the government doesn't like me, so we can't leave the house and we can only have one hour of church. Pretty dumb, but oh, well. This is the first time I've had to bake here, so I bought stuff to make bread tomorrow! But, we don't have measuring cups...or'll see how that goes.

We got some killer good references this week. The Lord is blessing us big time. One just gave birth to twin boys, very cute little babies. She wants to get baptized, but won't be able to progress until she can leave the house and attend church. We'll keep teaching her and getting her ready, and then when she can attend, she'll be ready.

The other two are total studs. There is a family that no one has visited for over 5 years, the poor people. He was a bishop twice, and they moved here 8 years ago and people never really visited them. They aren't without fault, they should be doing visits, too, but it is still sad to hear that no one has gone by to visit. So, we went! We had a simple visit, nothing fancy, we just shared our testimonies. The dad gave the closing prayer, we finished it, and he slowly looks up and says, "Elders, I have a reference for you..." and tells us about them. They seem great. We met them, and they are super prepared. The member family goes to the States every now and again to work with an organization in Utah. The reference went once, and attend Sacrament Meeting, Music and the Spoken Word, went to Temple Square, all that jazz. When we met him, he said, "I didn't understand one word said there, but I felt so peaceful. I would like to know why." The lesson was a weird mix. We started with a Mormon Message, "Earthly Father, Heavenly Father," and ended up talking about the need to receive the ordinances of the Gospel through the right authority. Very weird, but at the end, both references said, "Everything that you said is exactly what we needed to hear. We have family problems and have always questioned infant baptism. Thank you for helping us. This is the truth." Super cool. They're coming to church on Sunday. The only problem is that they live in another stake, but President said it would be okay if we taught them and baptized them if they were willing to travel to our ward, so we'll go with that :) A great blessing from the Lord. They're sharp people and would be great additions to the ward. Now that we know that we can baptize them, we'll put a date with them the next time we have an appointment with them.

I think that the theme of my time in the offices is, "If we do our part, the Lord will do His." We've had so many times where we have maybe one day to work in our sector, but the Lord brings people to us. The members help with visits. The investigators keep their commitments. We get many references, many good, solid references. I can easily recognize the hand of the Lord in the work here. He is blessing us to very much, and I am so grateful for that. We are doing our best with the time that we have, and He is making that little time we have much more effective. I am grateful for the blessings that He has, is, and will give us.

I'm in Alma right now in my reading of the Book of Mormon, and this morning I was reflecting on what I'm calling the "Amulek moment." Now, a brief synopsis of what is going on. Alma was preaching, no one wanted to listen, and they kicked him out of the city. He's on the walk home, surely distressed and sad for not having success. It specifically says that he was "weighed down with sorrow," for the wickedness of the people. As he's walking, an angel comes, tells him to turn around, and he "entered into the city by another way," and bumps into his buddy Amulek. Amulek had had his own vision and knew that Alma was coming and that he would stay in his house. Amulek lets him in, learns from Alma, and feels very blessed for having him there. He says his whole family has been blessed for having a prophet in the home. It says, "And Alma tarried many days with Amulek before he began to preach unto the people." So, we can assume that Amulek learned a lot, as did his family, before the game day came to go out and preach again.

The day comes. Alma says pretty much the same stuff as he said before, and the people still mock him. They say that there is no way that they could believe just one man, that would be ridiculous. Keep in mind that these men are lawyers and judges, wise men who like to have their evidences. Alma is so brave in what he says to them, a true prophet of the Lord. No matter what the men are saying, questioning, or mocking, Alma says what the Lord sent him to say. Brave, brave Alma.

Now, during all of this going on with Alma, we forget entirely about Amulek until verse 34 of Alma 9. It says, "And it came to pass that Amulek went and stood forth, and began to preach unto them also." Now, let's picture what has been going on with Amulek. His is there, listening to this man who he knows is a prophet preach the word and be ridiculed. He is probably listening to the ping pong between Alma and the unbelievers, and a conflict begins in his mind. From chapter 10, we learn that

2 I am Amulek; I am the son of Giddonah, who was the son of Ishmael, who was a descendant of Aminadi; and it was that same Aminadi who interpreted the writing which was upon the wall of the temple, which was written by the finger of God.
 3 And Aminadi was a descendant of Nephi, who was the son of Lehi, who came out of the land of Jerusalem, who was a descendant ofaManasseh, who was the son of bJoseph who was csold into Egypt by the hands of his brethren.
 4 And behold, I am also a man of no small reputation among all those who know me; yea, and behold, I have many kindreds and friends, and I have also acquired much riches by the hand of my industry.

Amulek wasn't just a random guy, he was a big deal. This helps us to understand his conflict. In his mind we can imagine thoughts like these. "I have so much to lose. I know that Alma is a prophet, but I was fine before he came. Some of my friends are mocking him. If I side with him, what will happen to me? What will happen to my family? I could just stay sitting here, nothing would happen, Alma would leave, and I would be good." As these thoughts, natural, understandable thoughts, he surely then started thinking. "No. I saw an angel that said this man would come. He came. He taught me, he blessed my family. He is everything that he says he is. What he says is true. I cannot go against him, for to go against him would be to go against the Lord. I chose the Lord." And it is probably right after those thoughts that he stood up.

We all will have at least on "Amulek moment," or maybe we will have many. We cannot fight between one side and another. Maybe the Lord's way seems to make less sense, but it is the way that we need to go. We need to stand up, like Amulek, and be defenders of the faith, regardless of what we lose. Amulek lost pretty much everything. We can assume that his family was burned with the scriptures and the other believers by the wicked men, and his loss was so great that Alma took him home to comfort him in his pain. He lost everything, but he knew that it was worth it. The truths that a prophet taught him and his family were more valuable than any other thing. He knew that the prophet could help make his family eternal and that he could return to live with them again, as well as God. That was a knowledge worth "standing up" for. We should do our best to always be like Amulek in times of opposition and trials. We should always stand up for the Lord. Hopefully that made sense, in my mind it did. I love the Book of Mormon.

I love you guys tons. Hopefully you've enjoyed my letter, I've enjoyed reading yours. Thanks for all of your help with everything going on right now, especially with school stuff. It is a big blessing and helps me to stay focused. The new debit card got here okay, I haven't used it yet though. I really do appreciate all that you do. I hope that you guys survive the snow.

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

"Darnel gave me 5 bucks to walk by Andy and slide my finger over my throat to scare him. Darnel is a chump. I would have done a lot more for a lot less." Creed

Hey all,

La semana loca ha terminado. Goodness me. The first week of the change, from Monday at 11:00 a.m. until Thursday at 3:00 p.m., we have absolutely no down time. But, it's all good stuff, and we've gotta help the new missionaries start off on the right foot. Plus, it is much better to be very busy than to have nothing to do.

So, on Monday, the offices are completely crazy. Everyone who has changes comes here before traveling or to find their new companion if they are staying in Quito. We get about 50 calls in the day about how to get to various places, it is quite the headache. We sit down pretty much all day, but at the end of the day I feel like I've ran 10 miles. We also need to do the verifications with all of the zone leaders, which is hard to do with so many people making noises. Plus, we divided another zone this change, so we now have 11 zones. We'll have to keep dividing the zones as time goes. Next change, only 2 missionaries end their mission and we get 14 new ones, so we'll have to open up a lot of new sectors. Ay. Then, at night, we have the goodbye dinner for those that are ending their missions. This group that left was a dud. Basically all of them, except two, were disobedient, unfruitful missionaries. The testimonies that they gave were empty, it was very sad to see missionaries who never changed over two years. The next day in the car, President said, "Was it just me, or did that testimony meeting feel empty last night?" It was very sad. But, the new missionaries seem great, so out with the duds, in with the studs!

On Tuesday, we went to the airport in the morning to get 18 new missionaries. 6 gringos and 12 latinos, I think about 6 were sisters. We have so many sisters in the mission. 60 right now, we'll get up to 65. And we only have about 180 missionaries, so a third are sisters. We have some zones with more sisters than Elders! Anyways, on the Tuesday of crazy week, we pick them up from the airport and spend the day with them giving them classes on cooking and stuff, and we do some legal stuff. We send them home early to go and rest, some have been awake for 24 hours almost. Not too crazy.

Wednesday is the Mini-MTC, where we teach them all of the rules and stuff like that so that their companions don't trick them into doing dumb things. We split up into Spanish and English, and the other gringo office Elder wasn't there, so I had to train all alone for a good three hours. It wasn't easy. After being with a companion constantly for so long, it is weird to teach alone. At night, we had the welcome dinner in the mission home, so good. Andrea is learning how to do sweet napkin stuff, and she decorated the table really well. I tried to do what she did, and it just ended up looking like a wrinkly napkin. Room to improve there.

Thursday is the meeting when they get their companions. It is a quick meeting. We start, split up between trainers and new missionaries, tell the trainers to be obedient and patient, meet together, they get their companions, we talk about a few things, then we send them off. At night, an Elder from El Salvador got in around 6. He is assigned to our mission but had to wait for his visa, and it finally came in. We got home around 8, and that was the day!

Friday, we spent almost all day in the offices planning and preparing various things, since we had no time to do so earlier in the week. We had to make up the rules for the election day here and for carnaval. The president wants to be a dictator basically, and for his desires he doesn't like Americans. The Church is very much associated with the States, so on the 23rd, we can only have sacrament meeting and the missionaries can't go out and proselyte. Pretty dumb. And carnaval is crazy, so we can only leave the house for set appointments, we shouldn't be out contacting or just wandering around. We planned trips and interviews, too. Since Otavalo has 4 zones now, 71 missionaries, we need to spend three days there to do interviews with President. This next week, we're going to the coast, and we started planning March a little bit, too. Crazy days.

Today has been tranquilo. We can't do activities, so we just relaxed in the house all morning, went grocery shopping, cleaned the house really well, and started filling up the font. We have another baptism tonight, another reference. His name is Ronny Cruz, and he was a big blessing for us. A family, the Chango family, brought him to church about a month ago, and he never stopped coming. It took us a few weeks to finally meet with him, and at last we set up an appointment with him. We asked if he had any questions, and he said, "Yeah, this baptism thing. I've heard a lot about it, I've been to a service and seen how it is, and now I would like to be baptized. How can I do that?" We taught him all the lessons in three appointments, he accepted, understood, and was already living everything that we taught him. A great blessing from the Lord and a great example of good, faithful members sharing the Gospel. Elder Ospina said today that he was confused how this baptism working out, because he thought it was too easy. The Lord really blesses us when we do our part. We're doing our job in the offices and working when we can in the nighttime, and when we do all that we can, the Lord really does the rest. It's amazing how He puts people in our path who are very prepared to receive the Gospel. It should be a great service tonight.

Sorry to bore you with the play-by-play, but that's all I did this week until yesterday. We had no time to study, to teach, only be with the new group. But, today, I studied for 3ish hours. Since we can't do activities this month, we were just chilling in the house. I was reading in that booklet, "Principles of Leadership." I really love that book, I'm learning a lot. I read Lesson Four, about being a good example. As we grow closer to Christ and develop His qualities, we become better examples and thus better leaders. A good leader is never a hypocrite, and always does the right thing in righteous ways. But, what I loved more than anything in the lesson was the talk it focused on. It was President Hinckley's talk about his 6 B's. I have known about the B's forever, I remember Mom and Dad teaching us them, but I don't think that I have ever listened to or read the actual talk before. It is so good! President Hinckley was such a wise man, everything that he said was spot on. And looking back on my youth years, 12-18, everything he said, every warning, every promise he made, has been accurate and true. He was such a wise prophet. I love, too, how lovingly he talks to the youth. Several times, he says things like, "my dear friends," "my fellow brothers and sisters in this great work," and a few other ways to express the idea that he views the youth as his equals. He talked about how important the youth are for the future of the Church and how important their decisions are for the future.

He spent a long time talking about the "B" be clean. Everything he mentioned is so accurate and true. We can't be good missionaries, good friends, good anythings if we aren't internally and externally clean. One thing that he touched on was how important it is that we pick good friends. Here's a quote:

Choose your friends carefully. It is they who will
lead you in one direction or the other. Everybody
wants friends. Everybody needs friends. No one
wishes to be without them. But never lose sight
of the fact that it is your friends who will lead you
along the paths that you will follow.

That's another truth about life, especially in our time as youth. The youth in Lago Agrio are very faithful in the Church because they have left bad friends behind and have clung to good, true, clean friends.

There are countless things that I could talk about from President Hinckley's talk, but it'd be better for you if you just read it instead of summarizing it all. The B's, to remind you, are: be grateful, be smart, be clean, be true, be humble, and be prayerful. Okay, just one more quote from be grateful:
There are two little words in the
English language that perhaps mean more than
all others. They are “thank you."...The habit of saying thank you is the mark of
an educated man or woman. With whom is the
Lord displeased? He names “those who confess
not his hand in all things” (D&C 59:21). That is,
those who walk without grateful expression. Walk
with gratitude in your hearts, my dear friends. Be
thankful for the wonderful blessings which are
yours. Be grateful for the tremendous opportunities
that you have. Be thankful to your parents, who
care so very much about you and who have worked
so very hard to provide for you. Let them know
that you are grateful. Say thank you to your
mother and your father. Say thank you to your
friends. Say thank you to your teachers. Express
appreciation to everyone who does you a favor
or assists you in any way.

Way to go, Gordon B. Those prophets sure know what they're talking about.

Here's a link to the talk:

Well, that's about all that I have for today. The week wasn't too eventful just because of all the meetings, hopefully this week will be better. We're going to the coast on Wednesday, coming back on Thursday night, with more interviews on Friday. Woo! Interview month is going to be the craziest month, because there are 11 zones and 180ish missionaries who need interviews. Poor President.

Well, love you guys tons! Hopefully I have some fun stories next week, or at least experiences from my studies that I'll finally have again. Work hard, study hard, and go to the temple lots!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Part 2

Okay, where was I?

Analyzing the scriptures, what it tells us about taking two sides is the following:

No man can aserve btwo masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately. I think I'm inheriting Dad´s "relate everything to the Gospel," senses. It really is cool how it relates though. Trying to serve both gets us nowhere. It's a state of constancy, and that's just what Ecuador is...constant. The sun rises and sets at the same time every day, the only real change in the weather is if it rains or not. Nothing changes here. While thinking in terms of weather, that may be nice. When related to progression, it is the worst state to be in.

This life is about progress, not stand-still, constant performance. It's like saying we should stay in elementary school our whole lives-- it's easier, but there would be no real progress. We always need to be improving. Life isn't a time to stand still.

In Alma, we read:

 32 For behold, this alife is the time for men to bprepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of cthis life is the day for men to perform their dlabors.
 33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so manyawitnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do notbprocrastinate the day of your crepentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the dnight of edarkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
 34 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful acrisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth bpossess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.

These words that he speaks to his son help everyone to realize how important this life is. We have been given free agency, and now is the chance to be tested. Every decision is so important, so key. We must choose to progress; it's not something that can be forced upon us. Change is a choice as is progress. In the book of 2 Nephi, this principle is explained very well.

27 Wherefore, men are afree according to the bflesh; and callthings are dgiven them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to echoose fliberty and eternal glife, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be hmiserable like unto himself.

So, there we have it, the two basic decisions: follow the Savior or follow the devil. Which can easily be related to the experiments at the equator. One way or another, we need to act. If we try to take no sides, we will be "cancelled out," essentially not accomplishing anything worthwhile in life. But, whether we choose the Lord or the enemy, we will be progressing forwards or backwards.

It doesn't take a lot at first--with just a slight change of 8 feet, we saw immediate results. With us, it is the same. Whichever way we're going, it doesn't take a lot to see the results. Dante, our investigator, started praying every day, and that little change in behavior brought him to baptism. Little things do add up. Every decision counts. When we are indecisive, we feel like we're not progressing, because we aren't. By neither choosing the Lord nor the enemy, we cannot go anywhere. So, those are our choices: the Lord, the enemy, or a whole lot of nothing.

Not sure if that makes sense. I'm a little delusional with lack of sleep, but I hope that I got my point across. There are many ways to interpret the stuff at the Equator, for good things or for bad things. For example, the consistency of the sun could be compared to the consistency of the love and aid of a different kind of Son. But, for today, we'll focus on what I talked about.

We had a good lesson with Dante today about the priesthood, he'll be ordained next Sunday, and hopefully in April he'll be ordained to the office of Elder. He's doing great and looks awesome without his piercings. He came to church in a shirt and tie today, so great. He has his own scriptures now, and he's marking them up. Our Gospel Principles teacher is outstanding, he's a college English professor and he really teaches well. He's helping us out a ton with our investigators, they all talk about his class when we ask them how church went. Our bishop is really great, too, very calm and very helping. Good leaders make such a difference in the work that we do. It makes it very easy to keep people coming to church after the missionaries leave.

We have changes tonight, we'll leave soon for President's house to get them taken care of. We show up, he shows us the changes that he did and why, we pray about them together one last time, then we make the calls to everyone. There will be a lot today. We need a new secretary, a few new zone leaders, new district leaders, 20 trainers for the new missionaries coming and we're opening up 6 new sectors. Yay, changes! It'll be sad to see Elder Morton go, he was my running buddy. We get up at 5:45 every morning to run for about 40 minutes in a really pretty park. I'm gonna go with another one of the secretaries, Elder Hess, once Elder Morton leaves. Dad, I don't know if I told you, but Elder Hess, the missionary you met in the airport in Lima, is one of the secretaries now. Small world, eh?

Well, I think that's enough for this week. Wish me luck with the change week, it's the craziest one of them all. I can't believe that I'm already in my third change here, it feels like just yesterday I was sent here.

Love you tons!

Elder Thomas

Saturday, February 8, 2014

"For over 500 years I have walked among men, and now the only thing that I don't have is time!" Gandalf

Hey all,

I've got a half hour before we need to go to the chapel, the baptism is at 7. He's an awesome kid, named Dante. He's 21, and he's gone through a big change in the past month that we've taught him. He's the one that has tons of tattoos, piercings, etc. He told us last night that he's taking out his piercings today, and he'll never put them back in. He wants to serve a mission, he's at all the activities, he's reading his scriptures every day, he's a true convert. He was a great reference from a great family. The dad of the family is the son of one of the first converts in Ecuador. When I have more time, I'll write a little bit more about him.

We played basketball today, on a real wooden court. Andrea's high school is super ritzy and has everything a normal high school in the states would have. We got permission to use the stuff today. We played soccer for a little bit, then we went into the full sized, wooden basketball court. We played a game of 21, and I won it! I thought that I would be really bad at basketball for not playing for over a year, but I wasn't nearly as bad as I thought I would be. I'm excited to play some more on real courts when I'm in America again. After, we went out to eat with the Richardsons in the Denny's of here. It is pretty good food, but not as cheap as the faithful Denny's. I ate a ton of breakfast, super good. We did all of this because Elder Morton, one of the secretaries, is leaving the offices with this change. He's been there for 8 months, and he wanted to work in the field before he ends in April. He's a great guy, and we had a really fun day today playing around and eating pancakes. And Captain Crunch. I love basketball, it was so fun to play for a bit.

We had our leader's council this week, it went very well. Last year, we had a thing that we did in February and March, "The faith in February will bring the miracle of March." It sounds better in Spanish, but oh, well. We sacrifice some things in these months to better focus on the mission, and we strive to find as many people, be them investigators or less actives, that need to come to the Church to receive the necessary blessings. Last year, we had 223 confirmations in March, so it is something that works. We can only listen to music that would be played in General Conference (Some missionaries like to listen a lot to EFY songs and other songs like that), we can't do zone activities on preparation day, and we are to pick one personal sacrifice for these two months. I'm not sure what mine will be yet. In February, we want to end with 165 confirmations and 150 rescued less actives, and in March, 200 of each. We're really trying to push the missionaries really hard so that we can see great success in the coming months. I'm excited. Last year, I was in the Gasca for these months, and by sacrificing a little more than usual, we definitely saw a lot of miracles. For example, a brother who listened to the missionaries for 16 years got baptized. He and his wife are going to go to the temple with their family in the coming months to get sealed. I know we'll see cool miracles these year, too.

I'm gonna start writing about something I've been studying, but I won't have time to finish today. We went to the equator a few weeks ago, and thinking back, there are a lot of great gospel lessons to be lived there.

The equator is a "nullifying" line. On the equator, there aren't any big storms, no tornados, nothing dangerous from weather. The reason is that the way the earth spins causes the northern hemisphere to go in one direction, and the southern goes the other direction, just because of the spin. While watching the earth spin and looking at the poles, one pole spins one way and one spins the other. For that reason, the middle, the equator, is where they cancel each other out.

The guide took a bowl of water with a hole in the bottom. When he unplugged the hole while the bucket was right on the equator, the water just fell straight down, without spining or anything. When we went 8 or so feet to the north of the line, it spun in one way. When we went 8 feet or so to the south of the line, it spun the other way.

When walking on the equator, if you close your eyes and try to walk right on the line with your hands spread out, one on each side of the equator, you can't do it. The difference of the spin makes you lose your balance, and you always fall.

When you are 8 feet away from the equator, if you put your hands up and someone tries to pull them down with all their force, you can resist, no problem. When you do the same thing on the equator, the person pulling down on your hands can use only two fingers, and you can't resist at all. Your hands go right down and you lose your balance.

These experiment got me thinking about the idea of serving two masters. We just can't do it. When we try to serve both, nothing happens, just like the weather or the water on the equator. We're weaker, we lose our balance, we can't even walk. We have to choose one side or the other, or nothing will happen. It is just like that with choosing between the Lord and Satan. We can't try to do both, no progress with be made. We must choose one or the other. If we choose the Lord, we will progress for the better. If we choose Satan, we will take steps backwards. But, in this life, we are not able to choose a stalemate.

Out of time. I'll finish my thoughts whenever I can find time. Next week will be crazy, it's change week again.

Love you tons!

Elder Thomas

Sunday, February 2, 2014

"Creed gave me a tapeworm to start losing more weight." Kelly "That wasn't a tapeworm." Creed

Hey all,

What a great week. I love being a missionary. I feel really happy right now.

I am going to start out with the best part of the week. I went back to Lago Agrio! We decided lasat minute to go out there to get everything done with the missionaries out there for the next three months. It is hard to find time to make it out there, usually about every three months President goes out with the assistants to do trainings, interviews, etc. We decided on Monday to go on Friday and come back today around 12. I got there, and I just felt so happy. Part of me will always be in Lago Agrio. I got to see all of my converts, the members, everyone. I was so happy to see them, and they were happy to see me. Since it was last minute, they were kind of mad because if they knew that I was coming, they would have had an activity or something. I love all those members of that little branch so much, even the headache members. We got in Friday morning (we flew, hallelujah) and did trainings all night, and in the evening the members showed up to say hello to me. Here comes the best part of the trip.

Elder Burr and I taught and baptized the children of a family, the Cedeño Gordón family. The kids are pilas. They got baptized last July, and by the time I left in October, they were some of the most faithful members of the branch, and they still are today. They all have mission plans, they all read their scriptures, they're the best. The parents are also great, but they didn't get baptized with their kids. The dad works for an oil company, so he can come to church once a month, and we have 2 or 3 days to teach him in a given month. Because of that, his progress was a little slow. His name is Bernardo. The mom, Elvira, is also very faithful. Ever since we first found them, she hasn't missed a single Sunday. She was more faithful than some of the members. But, she wanted to wait to be baptized until her husband decided to be baptized, as well. When I left in October, he was almost there, but not quite. The companion that I left, Elder Murphy, kept teaching them, and around December they were both ready, but they said that they only wanted Elder Burr or I to baptize them. The Burr wasn't really a realistic option, although he is arguably Superman and can probably fly, but they were hoping that in some way at least I could go back to do the ordinance. They already had goals for temple, supporting their kids on the mission, etc. Basically members, just needed the baptism. Well, our trip to the orient just happened to fall on the weekend where he doesn't have to work, and we had time this morning to do a baptism, so we did so!

It was such a great service. President Richardson was there, the missionaries in Lago were there, and a lot of the members of the branch were able to come. It was a very special service, almost like a family reunion. Everyone had been waiting so long for Elvira and Bernardo to get baptized, they were all so anxious for this. They are some of the best people I know, and they are such good members of the church. We got there, a little hurried because of the flight that we had to catch, but we performed the ordinances that I had been to so many times, this time being very special. I baptized the husband, and he had a big smile on his face the whole time. He's more of a quiet guy, but you could see the joy coming out of him. Elvira was next, and as she got in, I could see that she was starting to cry, and I mumbled to her, "Por fin, hermana," and she looked up at me an smiled, I said the prayer, and she was baptized. I've never seen a reaction like hers before, she was so, so, so happy. She came out of the water and gave every single person a hug, and was just so visibly happy. They gave their testimonies, and talked about how they knew that this was going to help their family be even better than ever, that the temple would bring them great happiness. It was so awesome to hear their testimonies and see their conversion, all brought about by the power of the Holy Ghost. Such a wonderful thing. President gave some great thoughts for all of us, then they asked me to say a few things. I basically just talked about how important the family was for Elder Burr and I, and that although we may be far away from them, we're always thinking about them and praying for them. I wish Elder Burr could have been there, that's the only thing that the service lacked. Everything else was perfect. After, Elvira knows that I love colada morada, so she made some for everyone. It was delicious. We talked for a little bit, then it was time to go back.

It was hard to leave there again, like I said, it's like part of me will always be there. But, the Lord needs me in other places doing other things, and I understand and happily do what He needs of me. I'm learning a lot being in the offices, and am excited for the things that I will continue to learn in my months here in Quito. Every book needs to end, and I feel like this was a good way to "close up" for now my work in Lago. I am blessed for my time there, and I am blessed by having my assignment in the offices. What the Lord asks, I'll do! That's such an important thing that I've learned while being a missionary, when we do what the Lord wants, we're happier. When we whine and complain about what is asked of us, we distance ourselves from the Lord and end up being grumpy. Doing what is asked is really the only right way to do things. We'll end up being happier that way. Plus, that attitude helps us to keep progressing gradually to being more consecrated, although we'll never quite be as consecrated as we should be. For example, I will never share my Captain Crunch with anybody. Forget about it. But, we all need to be improving constantly, and that's a big task; we've got a lot to get better at. But, the right attitude makes all the difference in our quest to be better. It's important to choose to do what the Lord wants, thank goodness for agency!

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we were back in Otavalo, so beautiful. It's a good fight between Lago and Otavalo for prettiest part of Ecuador, but I think that Otavalo wins because of Imbabura. The trainings went well. It was the last group to receive the trainings, so we had all of the kinks worked out, and it went really well. It always turns out that right when we get good at something, it's the end of doing that thing. That stinks. Right when we got good at a training, we'll never give it again. Oh, well. But, we taught all of the same things that I have already talked to you about--being good leaders, being good followers, how to cleanly eat chicken is a suit-- the usual. It went very well, and we're starting to see the results we want little by little. We are asking more from the missionaries and pushing them more, with promised cookies and other goodies at the end of the road. It seems to be working, I think that the things that we trained on were just what the mission needed to hear. The Lord definitely inspired us to know what to teach and what to do to help the mission, hopefully February can be a great month. Tuesday we went and checked a bunch of the houses to see if they were clean, some were, and some stunk. Literally. One bathroom was the end of me, I lost my eyebrows walking in. Some missionaries need to learn how to clean. Heather, you could teach a lot of people here how to clean. Wednesday we had the last meeting, and the President met with the stake presidents there. Otavalo has the nickname "Utahvalo" because there are tons of members there. They say 40% of the city are members of the Church. It is a town roughly the size of Rochester, with two stakes and 11 chapels, all of them gorgeous. They have solid attendance, and when they go to the temple, they fill up tons of buses of people. President Kimball, when he visited there once, said that they were some of the purest blooded Lamanites that there are today. Pretty cool, huh? The promises of the Book of Mormon are being fulfilled, they Lamanites are accepting the Gospel again. They speak Quichua, a sweet ancient Lamanite language. All I know in Quichua is the Book of Mormon--"Mormonpaj Quicashka." Talk about fluent, eh?

We got back late Wednesday night, and because of the last minute trip to the orient, we had to have the interviews planned for Friday in Quito moved to Thursday. We had absolutely no time to plan anything for them. We got home at 10:30 Wednesday night, and had the interviews at 9 the next morning. So, we applied our motto as assistants: "Fake it 'till you make it." It seemed to work quite well. President told us what he wants us to train, so we just made it up as we went, and when we needed time to thing, we put an 8 minute video on to give us time to think. Classic. It turned out fine in the end, and I don't think that they could tell that we made the stuff up. We have our Mission Council on Tuesday, a very important meeting, that we also need to plan still. These weeks have been and will be crazy, we have very little open time to sit down and plan. We'll find time soon to get everything ready. I hope...

When we travel with President, sometimes we get to listen to the mission presidents' seminar from last year. There are some very interesting talks there, lots of cool insights from the Church leaders. They put so much importance on the missionaries and their presidents, it's interesting to see how important it is for them to train the presidents well. They do a good job, too, the talks are outstanding. He's got 30 discs of talks, lots to learn and to listen to.

Elder Callister recently gave a CES devotional. We couldn't see it, but this week the text was put up to print. Killer talk. I'm not sure if you've listen to or read his talk, but you should. He talks about the blueprint that Christ left for His Church. He used various scriptures, only from the New Testament, to explain what Christ had in His Church (Prophets, Apostles, Seventy, Priesthood, knowledge of the plan of salvation, temple work, the importance of families, etc.). He used the example of how he and his wife had planned out a new home for their growing family. They submitted the blueprint, and occasionally requested changes to be made to the plans. He said that at the end of construction, there was only one house in the world exactly like his. There are many similar houses, an occasionally similar window or door or room or table, but piece for piece, design for design, there is only one house in the world like his. It is the same with Christ's church. He made it in a specific way, and while there are other organizations that have similarities, there is only one church that matches the blueprint perfectly: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He talked about the "change orders" in Christ's church being revelations. The example that he used was that Christ had told the Apostles to only preach to the Jews, but in a dream to Peter, said that everyone could here the Gospel. The only changes that can be made to the blueprint have to be made by revelation. There was never a revelation that said that we no longer need prophets or the organization of Christ's original church, so we must do our best to search for the truth and to stay with it. Very interesting his talk. I loved it, you should read it if you haven't.

As a mission, we've studied a talk called "The Fourth Missionary," given by a mission president many years ago. He talks about four types of missionaries, I'll summarize very briefly what I learned. The #1 is disobedient and goes home for doing something stupid or by his own choice. #2 stays in the mission, but is disobedient and doesn't do anything good. #3 is obedient and works hard, he has success, but he only serves with his might and strength, not his heart and mind. He does the things a missionary should do grudgingly, he withholds part of himself and doesn't give himself completely to the work. He is a good guy, but not quite there. Because he holds back, his progress is minimal on a personal level, although he helps many to receive the Gospel. #4 gives it all. Heart, might, mind and strength. He holds nothing back, and grows greatly from his mission. He is consecrated, he is dedicated, he thinks of nothing but the work. The mission president obviously expounds on this with more details (25 pages), but that is the general theme of the talk, and he invites all to become a number 4. I like how he did the invitation. He said that being a #4 is the intelligent thing to do, in the end, it is the easiest thing to do. When we withhold a part of ourselves, we will always have an inner conflict between ourselves and the Lord. When we take the step to be a 4, all we have is the Lord's will, so there is no conflict and we'll be happier. Being a 4 is the intelligent thing to do. Pretty cool thought. I wish I could share more about the talk, we'll have to read it together sometime. In a group of 100 missionaries, he said that 5 would be 1's, 20 2's, 70 3's, and 5 4's, but we all have the potential to become a 4, we just get lazy. Reading it gave me a lot of good goals to help me have more and more characteristics of a 4.

I haven't had too much time to study other things, with all of the traveling, we've lost a lot of our study time. That's probably the hardest thing about the offices--we lose our studies all of the time. But, I study when I can, and I am still learning and progressing. Training and teaching is probably the best way to learn, anyways. The teacher always learns more than the students, unless the teacher is Dumbledore. Studying the Gospel is just the best. Studying in general is great, but especially the Gospel makes me super happy.

I hope that you haven't fallen asleep reading the letter. I've gotta take advantage of the weeks where I have the full two hours to write you guys, some weeks it is tough to get a good note off (next week may be one of those weeks.) I hope that you all know that I love you a lot, and I pray for you always. This Church is true, this work is important. I hope that you all have chances to share the Gospel this week. Love you guys!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas