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

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