Sunday, March 30, 2014

(Luke Dunphy to Phil as he leaves for work) "Smell Heather for me!" (Phil Dunphy with his wife watching) "I always do....not!"

Hey all,

Another week down. This was the crazy week with the new missionaries coming. It wasn't all that crazy since the group of new missionaries was pretty small (12). I got no study time until today, which totally stinks. Also, we're fasting this weekend here, I would imagine it's the same almost everywhere. It's our fourth time fasting this week. I say we deserve a day in a Paul Bunyan's or at least a shoutout in General Conference. If someone could talk with President Monson, we should get that moving.

Well, we had a great baptism last Saturday in the evening. Esteban is Ronny's friend and another reference from a great family in the ward. He was lugged by his uncle to help him move at 3, then at night, his grandma fell and hit her head. They were worried that she wouldn't make it from the fall and the hit to the head. He still came to his baptism, he wanted to continue with it, but he was pretty worried about granny. We had the service, it was great, then almost right after he got a call saying that his grandmother was fine and was returning home to rest. He was really happy after that, and considered it a blessing from the Lord for having chosen to follow Him, and he was right about that. He got confirmed on Sunday, and hopefully tomorrow he'll be getting the priesthood. We've been having a lot of success with references in our ward. Lots of the members are the pioneers of Ecuador or the kids or grandkids of the pioneers. The chapel was the first built in Quito, it's an old chapel. full of old geysers, but they are faithful. They always have people for us to visit, and they're great references.  Yay, good members!

Sunday night we had changes, and there were a ton. We had a lot of missionaries in trios from sending so many missionaries home, new missionaries coming in, plus the missionaries from Venezuela to deal with in the changes. It took us a while to call them out, then the mayhem started on Monday. There is always some zone leader that messes something up in the changes, lots of confusion until about 12 on Monday, then things settle down a little bit. It was the farewell of three missionaries, Elder Damián, Elder Leal and Elder Lema. Elder Lema is a special needs missionary who did a mini mission to see if he could handle it. It looks like he'll be serving some kind of service mission instead of a full time mission. Great kid though, he just has fairly severe autism. Elder Damián and Elder Leal have been my friends in the mission for a long time, it was sad to see them go, especially Elder Damián. I've know him since my second change here in Ecuador and he was a great missionary. He was very sad to leave, he loved his mission so much. It's tough to see the end. but it's how things were meant to be. Plus, our mission of bringing others unto Christ never really ends, we just start to do it in another sector without a plaque.

Tuesday was the arrival of the new missionaries. Since it was a small group, we spent the day in the mission home. We've learned that since they come so tired, if we try to do too much, it's not effective, they all fall asleep. So, we did a few simply things, like memorizing the First Vision, then we sent them to the mission hotels to be able to rest. It was a tranquilo day, pretty easy and laid back.

Wednesday was our Mini-MTC, where we pound them with the rules and what we expect from them so that we don't have new people with the "I'm new and didn't know the rule" excuse when we catch them doing dumb things. It's a good thing that we do and it helps out a lot. In the evening, we have a dinner and a testimony meeting in the mission home. I never get sick of dinners in the mission home.

Thursday we had the meeting with the trainers and the new missionaries. The group of trainers that we have is fantastic. They are young and new, but excellent, well prepared missionaries. There is a program that all missionaries do called "The First 12 Weeks," and basically if the missionary is dedicated, in 12 weeks, he can be ready to train another new missionary. All of the trainers, well, almost all of them, are offspring of that program. Great, great missionaries. We'll see good things from this group of new missionaries and their trainers. We spent the afternoon in the offices getting some needed planning done with President.

Friday, we had our last zone conference for the month, and it went really well. It was a good group of missionaries, with some of my good friends in the mission, like Elder Murphy. He's the butt of pretty much every joke we make, and he takes the jokes really well. Gotta love him. It was with the Quito zones, so we didn't have to travel. Sister Richardson is practicing some of the food that they're going to make for their son's wedding, and we got to eat it for lunch. I don't think that anyone was complaining. It was a good training, we learned a lot, and we are hoping to see better work from the missionaries with the things that we were able to teach them.

We had trainings every day this week, so it is nice to have a P-day today. We've had a very low key day, bought some food and had some lunch, now we're just writing and watching videos on the Tabernacle Choir website. Great stuff, music. It was really fun to hear about Nikki's mission call, that'll be so great for her and she can send us those tasty waffle things to celebrate her work there in the Motherland. Congratulations, Nikki!

Super excited for General Conference. It's the best weekend in the mission, the best "holiday." With Christmas and stuff, you just sit around all day thinking about the turkey being eaten at home. With Conference, we don't have time to work too much, and we leave pumped and ready to work harder. It's the best. I bet it'll be a great one with lots of great announcements. I'd bet that we're at 90,000 missionaries now.

Seeing as how I had no studies, I don't have too much to share on that end. Here is a link to a great video that we watch with the new missionaries, though. It's about the Atonement and Missionary Work.

Very great video. Hopefully this week I can study more to share some bomb insights that'll blow your minds. Or I could talk about the great foods I've eaten. Either one has about the same level of spirituality. I'm not sure when I'm going to write you guys, I would imagine that Saturday would be tough. Maybe Friday or Monday.

Also, a public thank you for all who signed me up for classes, especially Heather. You're the best!

Love you guys! Talk to you in a week or so!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"Dude, you've got some Arst on you." Hurley from LOST

Hey all,

Well, hopefully we'll be having our baptism today around 7:00 tonight. It was supposed to be at 3:00, and lots of members showed up. But, the investigator getting baptized didn't. We were with him last night, he said that he could at 3, members were playing soccer until 11 last night, they said that he knew to come at three, and his friend told him that he was gonna pass by him at 2:30. Nada. We called him, he didn't answer. We called his brother, didn't answer. We called his mom, and she told us that his cousin had dragged him to help him move houses. Bueno. We got the number of the cousin's wife from Esteban´s mom, and called her, but Esteban was with her husband. We got the number of her husband, but he didn't answer. Finally, he answered and said that he had forgotten to call us to tell us that he couldn't at 3 anymore. Bueno. He wanted to see if we could do it next week, but we told him at 7 tonight, 100%. We'll see if it works out, hopefully it does. Our skills that we developed in Operación Matacuy helped us to find him today. No one can hide from us.

Well, we had, surprise, a crazy week. I'm learning how to function on little sleep, so there's a life skill earned! On Monday, we headed out bright and early to have our zone conference in the coast, diga. It went well, there are some great missionaries out there. Some of the best are sent to the coast, because it is a place that often creates problems with the missionaries. But, the ones that are out there are great. There is a new missionary, Elder Tituaña, he's originally from Otavalo and is a total Lamanite. He is a crack-up, I get along really well with him. Great guy. The food in the coast is so great, but just about everything else is poor and dirty, and the kids have no clothes and only live off rice. But, hey, good food makes me a happy guy, so I can't complain.

The zone conferences are going really well so far. We're doing a ton of practices to help the missionaries know how to correct missionaries when they're disobedient and how to be brave and to say what needs to be said. We are focusing a lot on our loyalty motto that is in the mission manual--our loyalty is first, to the Lord, then to our mission president, then to our companion. One thing that we've been teaching is that the respect that we want should follow that same pattern--the respect that we want should first come from the Lord, then our mission president, then our companion. A lot of problems stem from being more loyal to our companion than our mission president, and we're trying to fix that. Hopefully we'll see the desired results.

We came back on Tuesday from the coast, and at night had a meeting with all of the missionaries from Venezuela. They are all Chilean, which is a problem. Pretty much every Chilean that I have met on my mission has gone home early. When I opened the Gasca, the missionary who got sent home was Chilean. We're worried. Of the 7, only 3 don't worry us. We talked a lot, a ton, about obedience, but we're not sure if it'll help. We'll have to keep a close eye on them to be able to help them progress and become more spiritually mature. But, the dinner was really tasty, so can't complain there!

We finished the dinner on Tuesday night, and Wednesday morning, we headed out to Otavalo bright and early. Wednesday morning we had another zone conference with two of the zones in Otavalo. At night, we were eating dinner on a lake, Lago San Pablo, which is right at the base of the volcano Imbabura. It was a clear night, very rare in the mountains. You could see all of the stars because there is little light pollution in Otavalo. Behind the volcano, you could see the light from the full moon slowly moving up. We were so anxious to see the full moon come right over Imbabura. It was very pretty, stars, lake, moonlight, the perfect night for the moon to come up. I was waiting, looking through the window like a kid waiting for Santa to come. And, right when it was about to come up, the clouds came in and we couldn't see the skies at all. Boo. That was a pretty big let down. That would have been pretty pretty. Lame clouds. Thursday, we had the zone conference with the other two zones there, ate some burritos in a Mexican place, super good, then headed home and got home around 10:00.

Friday, we had the verification of the new missionaries that got here at the start of the change. They are doing surprisingly well, it's a pretty solid group. There are only one or two that are struggling greatly, the rest seem to be progressing well. We always go to the Panecillo on the verification, and it's always so pretty to go up there. You can see all of Quito, the statue is on a hill right in the middle of the valley of Quito. You can see the north, south, all of it. It's pretty breathtaking, I love going there. We finished that around 3:30, went to the offices and washed President's car for him, then went to an appointment with Esteban where he told us that he wanted to get baptized the following day at 3, now 7. That was a pleasant surprise, we're happy with that. It's never a sad thing to hear someone say that they want to get baptized. I got home and went right to bed.

Today is our first full P-day in three weeks, and even then, we don't have the full time because of the baptism. But, that's fine. It's Elder Damián's last P-day, he goes home on Tuesday. It'll be sad to see him go, I've been working with him since my second change in Ecuador. Great guy. We went and got some ice cream at Crepe's & Waffles, pistachio, delicious. Bought some food, filled the font, then waited for our 3 p.m. baptism eating Subway. And now I'm in the offices! That about sums up the week until now. Woof, busy week.

A few of you were asking about how I'm doing with exercise. We've made it past step one in our Captain America diet, and are slowly making progress on step two, not eating cold cereal. But, really, we've been doing good with our exercises, mainly Elder Hess and I. We get up at 5:45, well, they days where I'm here, and we go running for about a half hour and do push ups, pull ups, and ab ripper X. When we travel, I try to do whatever I can to get exercise in, I can usually talk Elder Ospina into running with me for a little bit. We've got a pretty good routine down, and I feel like I'm a bit skinnier than when I left, but more of less the same. I haven't gotten any fatter, I'm pretty sure on that. I'm eating well, that's easier to control in the offices because members only feed us on Sundays, the rest of the days we eat in a restaurant or something like that. I've been good about not eating at night, too. A lot of missionaries eat tons right before going to bed, but I remain true to the doctrine that my parents taught me: don't eat late. Nailed it. A true heart doctor's son.

I had one day to study this week, today. That stinks. That's the hardest part for me about being here in the offices is that we rarely get our full study time. Today I read a little in the Book of Mormon, and more in the Principles of Leadership booklet. I read today about honoring the priesthood and honoring womanhood. I haven't finished it, I have about two pages left to read, but I have loved what I've read so far. The chapter starts out stating how we have to recognize that the priesthood is what governs everything, and we must understand and respect that. I don't remember who, but some Apostle said that Christ has trusted us with His priesthood, and we honor him by honoring the priesthood, whether we have it or not. President Kimball (I think) then goes on to say that there is not one person on the earth that has not been affected in some great way by a woman in their lives, and that women play a key role in everything. He says that it is impossible to honor the priesthood without honoring womanhood, pretty dope. There is a talk by Elder Nelson talking about these things, but I haven't finished it yet. Hopefully soon we'll have a few days in a row where we can study, but probably not. As modern men put it, "You go girls!"

Tomorrow we have changes, so that'll be crazy. Next week is another crazy week with all of the new missionaries coming, plus we need to finish up zone conferences still. Woo! One day, I hope to be able to sleep a full night's sleep. But, it's like good ol' Benny Franklin said, "there is time enough for sleep in the grave." True that. But, to be honest, I don't think the idea is that one day we'll be able to truly rest, we'll just be in a state where we don't need to sleep anymore. Or like Superman, we could just learn how to get our power from the sun. Option two would be a little bit cooler, but I'm fine with either one.

Well, I think that's about all that I've got to say for this week. I feel like I haven't been able to think for a week. It's tough to go non-stop for so long, but that's how it goes sometimes! If I feel tired, I can only imagine how tired President Richardson gets. Love you guys tons, congratulations Lowes for the good news, and hopefully Nikki can get her call to Nigeria this week. Talk to you in a week!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Monday, March 10, 2014

"Some people ask if I'd rather be feared or loved...Is it too hard to ask for both? I want people to be afraid of how much they love me." Michael Scott

Hey all,

Did we have a book called "The Book of Virtues" with a buffalo on it or am I going crazy?

These last 8 or 9 days have felt like one long day. It's been non-stop motion with a few hours to sleep every now and again. We're calling this Operación Matacuy (Operation Kill Guinnea Pig), hoping to make the situation a little happier. We also made FBI secret agent badge to feel cooler. We really have been detectives for about a week. I am writing down every detail in a digital journal. I was going to write it by hand, but that would have taken way too long. When the book is done, you can buy it for $20 at Deseret Book. It'll be under the title, "Operación Matacuy," I would imagine under the bestsellers list. It's about 12 typed pages long so far, so it'll be a good read. It is a sad situation, hopefully the Elders don't become inactive. We're hoping to send them home tomorrow, but we're still waiting on approval from Salt Lake City. We've done reports, we've gathered evidence, we've done about everything there is to do, even raiding missionary apartments. I think we should purpose a CSI:Quito show on CBS. I could see it being a hit.

I haven't even been able to study that much these last few weeks, which is really sad. But, I did get to study a little bit, which is enough for now. I'm almost done with Alma this time through the Book of Mormon, reading the war chapters is pretty inspiring right now. We're in a definite Lamanite vs. Nephite situation right now. I wanted to go out and buy swords, but President didn't seem too excited about that idea. Maybe next time. Moroni was such a great guy. He had all the power in the world among the Nephites, but he never misused it; he never really even wanted to use it, just when they were being attacked and their freedoms were at stake. Everything described about him is what we look for in a good leader, it's always a great lesson to learn about him and how he worked in his position as the leader of the Nephite armies.

I also read in that Principles of Leadership book the lesson about being happy as a leader, which was a perfect one to read during this whole situation. There is a wonderful, wonderful talk included in the lesson by Elder Wirthlin. He was such a sweet old man, his talks always uplift and make you feel much happier afterwards. This talk is called "Lessons Learned in the Journey of Life." He gave it as a BYU fireside in 1999, and I really, really enjoyed. He gives 5 tips to enjoying our journey through life. They are:

1.) Have faith in Heavenly Father
2.) Set righteous goals
3.) Work to accomplish your goals
4.) Magnify your callings
5.) Enjoy the journey (he mentions learning to laugh at yourself)

The last point was a stand out for me. He talks about how our happiness is really always our choice. We can always choose to be happy, we just have to actually do it. I'm going to paste a lot of this section so that you can read it.

We have so much to smile about, be happy about, yes, even to laugh about.
So many of us are always waiting to be happy. “If only I could graduate, if only I could afford a car, if only I could get married . . .”
For too many, happiness is just over the horizon, never reachable. Every time we climb one hill, happiness beckons just beyond the next.
It is a terrible thing always to be waiting for tomorrow, always depending on tomorrow, always excusing our todays because we are sure that only in the future will we possess the things that will fulfill us.
Don’t wait for tomorrow. Don’t wait for the right job, the right house, the right salary, the right dress size. Be happy today. Be happy now.
Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make their minds up to be”

Good ol' Abe. Always knew what to say. Here's another chunck.

Make up your mind to be happy—even when you don’t have money, even when you don’t have a clear complexion, even when you don’t have the Nobel Prize. Some of the happiest people I know have none of these things the world insists are necessary for satisfaction and joy. Why are they happy? I suppose it is because they don’t listen very well. Or they listen too well—to the things their hearts tell them. They glory in the beauty of the earth. They glory in the rivers and the canyons and the call of the meadowlark. They glory in the love of their families, the stumbling steps of a toddler, the wise and tender smile of the elderly.
They glory in honest labor. They glory in the scriptures. They glory in the presence of the Holy Ghost.
One thing I know for certain: the time we have here goes by far too quickly. Don’t waste any more time sitting on the bench watching life pass you by.
Can I give you one other piece of advice? Be willing to laugh at yourself.

And one more chunk.

George Bernard Shaw said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” Don’t worry about searching for who you are; focus your energies on creating the kind of person you want to be! You will discover that as you pursue that journey you will not only “find yourself,” but chances are you will be pleasantly surprised and proud of the person you find along the way.
Do not procrastinate a minute longer. Every moment is precious. Determine tonight that you will make of your lives something remarkable!

Really great things that he said. I've realized that so much in my mission, how happiness really is a decision. So many hard things and unhappy things do happen in any mission, tons of hard things, to be honest. But, the best missionaries are the happiest missionaries. They aren't happy because they've magically made the hard things disappear, they just grow to understand how the Gospel allows us to always be happy. Agency is a great thing, we just don't realize how great sometimes. That's one of the great gifts of life--we are given time to figure out how to effectively use our agency. It's takes some people longer than others to figure it out, but if we try to figure it out using the principles of the Gospel, we usually make some fast progress.

Dante and Ronny are doing really well. Ronny gave a talk this week and Dante was assigned one for next week. They've really become part of the ward, it's fun to see them with their group of friends now. Dante is facing some pretty tough opposition, but he's doing a great job fighting against it. His life before knowing us was not a great one moral-wise. His old friends want old Dante still, but he's fighting really hard to be a new Dante. He's a great example to a lot of people in the ward. He really turned his life around, and you can see his happiness that wasn't there before he started coming to church.

We had another miracle this week, another if we do our part, God does his moment. We have had not one second to work in our sector for over a week. We didn't even go to church last week because we had to go to Otavalo. It's been crazy. One of Ronny's friends has come to church with him for 2 weeks now, but because of all this going on, we haven't been able to meet with him. We've tried, but it never worked out. Well, today, his fellowshipper called us over after church and said, "Hey, this kid wants to get baptized! Where have you been? Teach him!" So, after the church meeting, we sat down at taught him a few things. At the end of the lesson, we asked him if he wanted to be baptized next Saturday, and he basically said, "Well, duh! I've wanted to get baptized since Ronny got baptized!" We were very humbled and very happy after that experience. We had no time whatsoever to take care of our sector, so the Lord took care of it for us. We feel very blessed by all of the great things that the Lord has given us in our time working in the offices. This truly is His work, and He takes care of things when we can't. He just asks us to always do our best, then we can leave the rest to Him.

I am sorry that I don't have any cool thoughts or experiences to share right now, this whole Operación Matacuy has been taking up so much of our time. One day I'll be able to sleep. One day. But, I've still been able to run every day during this. I'd rather sleep, but running helps me stay awake even when I don't have a lot of energy.

I just want to close bearing my testimony of this work, of this Church. I know that what I am doing is what the Lord would have me do. I know that what I teach and share every day is the truth. My doubts of anything shrink with every page of the Book of Mormon that I read, with every light I see grow in an investigator's eye, with every person I grow to know and love. I know that God lives and that His Son, Jesus Christ, is our Savior. He suffered and died for us, and now He lives for us. As we follow Him, we grow to be better people and to be happier people. There is no better thing in this life than to preach the Gospel, whether it be as a missionary, a family member or a simple church goer. We can share the Gospel in all that we do, and that is the principle thing we should strive to do in life. I know that this is the truth, and I know that this is the pathway to happiness. Every sacrifice made is worth it, and when we do it for long enough, it stops being a sacrifice. Living the Gospel in the most intelligent thing that we can do. I pray that we can all find ways to live it better every day.

Hopefully next week will be more calm and I'll have some cool things to write about and can write a letter a little bit longer. But, I'm not getting my hopes up.

I love you all tons! Be smart and happy and go to the temple a lot. Read your scriptures, pray always, and eat lots of cookies. Life's short, might as well eat cookies.

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

(As Phil Dunphy answers his cell phone) "What's Yo Yo Ma's favorite instrument? Cello!"

Hey all,

Well, this week has been a disaster! I don't really have that much to write today. I'll write more on Saturday.

We were gone all week, we spent one day in Quito. Tuesday through Friday morning, we were in Ibarra and Otavalo to do interviews with our mission president. They went well. We did the training that we do during the interviews 14 times, so we were getting kind of sick of doing it. It was nice to be done with the interview month. I can't believe that it's March already.

We got back on Friday with bad news from President. We had heard about various things going on, and with some planning and the help of some great missionaries, we discovered something very bad going on. We've been occupied pretty much every minute since Friday night trying to end this in the mission. It's almost done, we're just tying up some loose ends in the stories and the testimonies of the missionaries. It is a very cool story how everything worked out, but it would be more appropriate to save it until I finish my mission. For now, there is no reason for anyone outside of the group involved to know the details. But, the Lord blessed us and guided us, and we somehow whipped out an almost flawless operation, we would make good spies. But, it's all thanks to the Lord that it's working out. We've fasted twice now, hoping to help President know what the correct decisions are to take. Just always be so sure to fill your lives, your spirits and you thoughts with light, nothing else. Only the light that comes from Christ and the Gospel will make us truly happy. That's all I've got to say on that for now.

I hope that all is going well with you back home. Nikki, I hope that your birthday was a good one. I hope that everything that you're doing in life makes you feel the light of the Gospel.

I'll write more on Saturday. I don't have too much to write about all this, sorry that it is short.

Con amor,

Elder Thomas