Monday, April 14, 2014

"I don't even have to floss!" Groundhog's Day

Hey all,

Another week under the old belt. And I mean that quite literally, my belts are quite old and starting to fall apart. How the week actually got under the belt is the real question.

This week has been a good one. I don't remember if I've explained this to you, but we got through a three month cycle of what we do with the missionaries. One month is zone conference, one month is a specialized training, and one month is interviews with President Richardson. We keep that cycle until the Second Coming pretty much.

This month we have specialized trainings. We've only had one so far, but it went well for us. We're training on how to teach the Apostasy better, it's a fun training, as I kind of talked about last week. We're studying the Apostasy, like the actual events that happened during the Apostasy. It really is a great Apostasy, there is tons of junk that went on when all of the Apostles died. It's so true what Preach My Gospel says about the importance of teaching it well. We talk about how often times, especially here in South America, many people understand and accept the story of the Restoration, but they don't progress because what they really don't understand is the concept of the Apostasy. Many people here think that any Church is fine, a common phrase is "It all leads us to the same God, right?" And sometimes we get frustrated that they aren't understanding the Restoration, but more often than not it's the Apostasy that isn't quite clicking. We train a bit, then we do tons of practicing. We want to get better at doing practices because if we don't practice, they probably don't do what we ask them or don't do it well. We're spending about 75% of our training times now doing practices. It's going well, hopefully they will now apply everything we learn in the field. If not, they are dumb.

President does his training on the Restoration, and he does a great job. He talks about the importance of the First Vision, that that should be the spiritual climax of the lesson, and it is true. I don't know how many times I've recited the First Vision, I imagine that between practices and lessons it's getting close to a thousand. But, every single time, without fail, you can feel the Spirit easily and strongly. He talked about how important it is that we say it with feeling, something that some missionaries don't do too well. We need to keep eye contact, testify, and help them to know that they are feeling the Spirit. A very important question to ask in a lesson is "How do you feel?" It is probably the most important question you can ask. What they feel is a lot more important than what they understand (few people understand everything that we teach in the first lesson). How they feel will be something that they remember a lot longer than what we taught in the specific lessons during their investigation of the Church. Again, we spend about 75% of the time practicing, and we've seen some good practices. Woo First Vision!

I was studying this week about the importance of councils. I learned a lot, great tips there. While there aren't tons of councils of big groups of people, so to speak, in the mission, we do have councils with President every week and the leaders' council once a month. It's important to help everyone have a great experience being part of any kind of council, and it is important to have a council in pretty much everything that we do. The chapter starts explaining that the Godhead is the Great Presiding Council of the Universe. How sweet is that title? How do I apply?

"Oh, Elder Thomas, what do you do for a living?"

"Oh, I am a member of the Great Presiding Council of the Universe."


It also provided an interesting study of Abraham 4-5, looking for the use of words like us, we, they, our, the gods, indicating a work of many people to build the earth, or a council to do so. I'd never really payed great attention to that before, but it's totally true. Rarely does it talk about one person, if ever, creating the Earth alone, it is always with plural words. Pretty sweet.

It also explained that the Church is governed entirely by councils and that the purpose of each Church council is to "help God's children enjoy the full blessings of the Gospel." That is the purpose of ward councils, the Council of the Twelve, the Council of the First Presidency, councils of the presidencies of the Church in their various organizations, family councils, all of them. It spoke a lot about the family council, how we should use it to prepare the family for the future, and that when more people feel ownership of a problem on any level, including the family, more will want to find solutions and more gets done.

It included two talks by Elder Ballard about the importance of councils. It taught a lot, but I won't share everything, just four points he gave to make us have more effective councils.

1. Remember that it is ALL God's work
2. Focus on the fundamentals
3. Focus on people
4. Promote free and open expression
5. Participation is a privilege

With number two, he talked about how easy it is to get off track and start talking about things that have nothing to do with the doctrine of councils or trying to discuss deep doctrine of the Church. He explained that if it isn't doctrine, it isn't in the council. He also warned against the danger of not talking about the names of people, and that a lot of council meetings just turn into calendaring. If we aren't mentioning specific names and making specific plans to help that person in the majority of the council, we aren't doing it right.

I learned a lot about councils from that, it was a great read. You should check it out if you have time in that booklet I sent several months ago.

In the Book of Mormon, I am reading about Christ's visit to the Americas. I loved seeing His pattern of adjusting His teachings to the needs of the people there. He starts out teaching the big things He taught in Israel, and once He covers, as He explains, what the Lord had commanded Him, He starts sharing things that the people need to hear to really understand. He explains the Sacrament, He explains the whole other sheep stuff, how important true faith is, just a slew of things that they needed to hear. He blessed the children, prayed for all of them, a great, great example of doing what we should do and should say, then looking around to see what else they need. We need to be good about that as missionaries, too. With the new Preach My Gospel way of teaching, we do have specific things that we need to teach them, but we also need to be listening well to be able to adjust the lessons to the needs of the people we teach. If we are robots, people don't think that we are awesome. Although robots are pretty sweet. (See Iron Man)

In Preach My Gospel, I am currently studying chapter 2 about effective studying. It's a great chapter, I always find something that I want to do better in my studies. What stuck out to me this time as I was reading was the importance of knowing more than you teach. In more than one place, it talks about how we should always be obtaining more knowledge on the doctrine, but rarely, if ever, we will teach everything that we know, But, obtaining more knowledge will strengthen our testimony and help us to be better prepared and better converted with whatever question we face or whatever principle that we teach. So, we need to studying a ton if we want to be a good teacher. Right next to that, it has a quote by Hyrum Smith, I think, about how we know that we're true masters of something if we can teach it to a child and they understand. So, we need to know tons and also know how to sum it up very simply. That being said, if anyone wants to know more about Nephite rock carving customs, I'm your guy.

Since this month is specialized trainings, we are able to do a lot more divisions, which I love. I love my time in the offices and the things that I am learning, but it feels so good to get out and work for a whole day and teach and find. I miss that a lot. We get to some nights during the week, but never all day long. It's great. I miss a lot of things about working in a sector all day. One thing is that whenever you pass by a little bakery and smell the fresh baked bread, you take a quick pit stop to each a bread or two, drink something, then get going again. I love when citas fall and you have to think of something more productive to do. Teaching people, seeing them understand what you teach and accept it, man, gotta love it. We do good divisions; we're so anxious to work all day that we bust it. We'll do as many as we can this month, I want to do tons in the next two months.

This week was a little tough for President because his son got married and he didn't get permission to go to the wedding. Sister Richardson and Andrea did get to go, though. President used Skype to pretty much be there all day, and they had a cardboard cutout of him there. He's alone here, so Elder Ospina and I are staying with him for another week or so until his family gets back. We were with him a lot of yesterday to keep him occupied playing games. By the end of the day, the phone they were Skyping with from the States died, so they charged it for 10 minutes and it would die again. Poor President, you could see how much he wanted to be there. But, technology is a big blessing, and he could see almost everything that went on at the wedding. A good example of being obedient and sacrificing to better serve the Lord. Great man, President Richardson. He's in the jungle this weekend for a baptism. I really wanted to go, but no luck this time.

We went to the Teleférico today for an activity. It was fun, I went at the beginning of my mission, too. I'll send a picture of today and a picture of almost two years ago to see if I've changed at all.

Anyways, I think I've bored you guys enough for this week. Hopefully you've enjoyed reading at least some part of the letter, and remember that I am always willing to have that talk about ancient Nephite rock carving customs if you are interested.

Love you guys! Thanks for all of your prayers and support!

Con amor,

Elder Thomas

The picture with us reading the scriptures is "lámpara" as they say in Ecuador, it would be something like cocky or showy in English. We're gonna use it for our council to show that we're always thinking of the Gospel :) 

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