I am so sorry to hear about the passing of Grandpa Thomas. I've been praying all week for everyone involved. I hope that you're all doing okay and that your testimonies of the Plan of Salvation and of the Savior have been strengthened.
I'm writing in Lago right now. President is going to be in Lima all week, so he has a lot to get done today (like changes for next week), so while he's doing that I'm writing on the hotel computer. I won't have the full 2 hours probably, but I'll have enough.
President was so good to have "planned" this trip conveniently at the end of my mission. We did need to come out here to do interviews and trainings, which we did yesterday, but I know that the date has to do with my leaving. Just I came with him, the other two are in Quito. Yesterday, we spent about 6 hours training. It was tiring, but fun. I had to do it all alone, which was very weird for me as usually I train with at least one other missionary. It's hard to keep their attention when just one missionary is talking, so I had to put up a bunch of videos to keep their attention. We even had nap time. Not really, but it would have been a good idea. Whenever we come to Lago, we do the trainings that we would normally do in three meetings over three months in 6 hours. It is a lot and we go fast, but they seem to do okay with it. There are only 8 Elders in the jungle, so it's easier to move faster. At night, we had dinner with a great family, recent converts that got baptized in April. They love President Richardson and really brought out the big guns.
This morning, we attended the meetings in the branch for my last time. I was asked to speak by Elder Coram (my old companion and the branch president right now), and I spoke on missionary work. The branch is continuing to grow a at a great rate, but it could be even better. There are 4 or 5 solid families that attend and that keep the heart of the branch pumping, and they have anywhere from 6 to 10 baptisms a month. If they can keep pushing, they'll have a chapel soon, which is the goal of everyone there. There is a wonderful, wonderful spirit there, it is contagious. At the end of the classes, it was time for me to say my goodbyes, but I told them that hopefully I'll be back in July with Dad. It was still very hard to say goodbye, because I'll never be back as a missionary. There are a lot of important people there from my mission. It was hard, but it's part of the process. Missions end.
Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, was my last leadership council. That was hard, too, because at the end, the missionaries who are "dying" gave their last testimony. I thought I would be okay, but I cried like a little baby, diga. I started out talking about how sad I was when I started my mission because I wouldn't be able to see Batman before I started. I spoke how that was my prize at the end--after serving an honorable mission, I would get to see Batman. I then said that the best prize that I received is the person that I now am. That's when the waterworks started. I don't remember a lot about what I said specifically, but it was a sincere testimony. After, I took pictures with all of my good friends in teh mission, and that was really hard, as well. A lot of them, especially the latinos, I'll probably never see again in this life. But, that, too, is part of the process.
We were also in the coast for two days this week, which was a good visit. I've grown to love the heat, and the missionaries there are great, as well. We had a leaders meeting and a zone conference there, it went well. Sister Richardson didn't come this time, so I got to be in the hotel with President. It is right on the beach. I wasn't complaining. He's been so great to me, I'll miss being around him so much.
I read a couple of great talks this week, one by President (then Elder) Benson and one by Elder Maxwell. President Benson talked about 14 principles of following the prophet. It was a great talk, I won't talk too much about it, but at the end he makes the statement that if we want to measure our faith and our obedience to the Lord, we should analyze how well we are following the prophet. Great talk. Elder Maxwell's talk was called "Our Creator's Cosmos," and it as a killer sweet talk that he gave at BYU in 2002, if I remember right. He uses pictures from telescopes to explain scriputres about the creation. It is a great talk, you should read it.
I'm getting to a really weird point where I'm not sure what I should write you and what I should just wait to tell you. It still hasn't truly hit me that the end is so near. Obviously I know that the 17th is my return date, that in a week I complete my last change, but I think that I don't want to accept quite yet that I need to end. It is a very strange feeling. Part of me is excited to be home and to move on to the needed stages of life that follow, but the more dominant part of me doesn't want the mission to end. It really is the greatest, best thing that I have done or ever could have done with my life. And I feel like I've finally got it down how to be a good missionary and it's time to end. Elder Waddell talked about that, saying that our way to work is 100% contrary to what a business would do. To bring someone new in, train them, and then right when they get good, release them makes no sense in a business, but that is why we know that it is the work of the Lord. He makes it work. But, it's a very weird time for me. I feel like I'm cheating the Lord when I think about going home and finally watching Batman, but then I feel like I'm cheating my family when I think about not going home. It's hard to explain well, but all in all, I feel weird. I'm not letting myself cry, but I feel like I'm constantly on the brink of tears.
I always thought that serving a mission was a brave thing to do, but really the brave thing is to go home and keep doing what was expected of me for two years. I don't have a companion at my side the whole time nor such a spiritual environment 24/7. Keeping up what I've been doing will be harder and harder as the world gets worse and worse. I realize now that ending a mission takes a lot more bravery than starting one. One phrase that I said in my last testimony was that a mission was ending, but my mission still has a long ways to go.
There is one thing that I would like to ask of anyone who reads my letters that I liked that Elder Burr did when he left. His last preparation day, his parents send him letters to print off to read on the plane. I don't know what they said, but I liked that idea. If you would like to, I would like to ask you to do something similar, send me a letter to read while flying home. I got my flight schedule this week, and it is going to be a long day. It'll be a sad day, too, I'm sure, and I feel like it would be nice to have some good letters to read. Jack and Eliza should know how to write by now, so I expect letters from them at the very least. If you don't have time, no worries, I can read the scriptures eternally now, diga.
Next week will be my last letter to you guys as a missionary, I think that I will make it my "Top 10," letter, the bests of my mission. It would be cool if you could send me a similar list of your top 10's over the last two years. A lot has happened, and I need something to talk to you about when I get home so I don't bore you with mission stories. I know that #1 on Nikki`s list will be "Walking into a wall and consussing myself."
I am so grateful for the Gospel that we have. That video that the Church made for Easter, "Because of Him," is so great because it helps us to remember the simple truths that we have again from the Restoration. One of the phrases is that "because of Him, death has no sting." I know that it's been tough with Grandpa's passing, but I know that it's not the end and that we'll all see him again. Temples are great for that. I will be praying for you all, as always.
I am ready to work. I'll give it my all this last week that I have. There is nothing greater than the work of salvation. Sorry that the letter is a bit shorter, but for question of time and for knowing that it will be easier to say in person, we'll keep it shorter. I love you all tons!
That is a picture of me eating a worm.