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

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