Monday, November 30, 2015

The Search / Convert Baptism / Atonement

Twenty-four years ago, a woman moved out of Paucarbamba, Huanuco to live in Lima. Having studied some time at the university, perhaps she wanted to get out of the stony shell of her parents' house, out of the dusty little corner of Huanuco to see the world. Two years later, she came into contact with the Church and was impressed with the sincerity of the members and the message they shared.  She decided she wanted to be baptized. Unfortunately, she lost contact with them and four years later had a child.  The father quickly abandoned the two of them. The following twelve years are a little shaky, but during this time she lived for some time in a small town where there were no missionaries, finally made contact with them in another place, and was given a pamphlet of the Restoration. Unfortunately, as missionaries sometimes do, making appointments with many people every day who are rarely actually interested, they failed to visit her. Living once more in Lima, six years ago she found herself in a hospital with no family and no husband, giving birth to a second son. The doctors were demeaning and rude concerning her lack of support and obvious mistakes that led her to such a situation. Completely isolated, she found her only hope in the pamphlet, reading it as an anchor in this perhaps her darkest moment, having no other knowledge of the Church.

For the following six years, she lived with her two sons, but the younger showed signs of debilitating health. After countless reports, the doctors said his asthmatic condition couldn't support the Lima climate, and they would have to move somewhere else...perhaps to a warmer climate of a small town up in the mountains. So she returned with her six year old to the stony, empty shell of her parents' old house, in a dusty little corner of Huanuco, leaving her 18-year-old behind on account of the necessity of his work and schooling. Then she ran into us in the street a couple weeks ago and, as we inspected her house for ways we could serve, she told us she wanted to be baptized. There is nothing better than sharing the gospel with people who truly, desperately want and need it. Now, her older brother is plotting to throw her out of the house to sell the property, having already convinced their aging mother that her daughter is a terrible person who's taken up lodging in a house she has no right to. Now this story is pretty crazy, and one can find many possibilities of exaggeration and misunderstanding. But we know her, and she's wonderful and humble and trying so hard to be strong for her son, Jesús.

Well, we've been visiting them, but we also had a baptism this week! Epifania is an old, lovable, forgetful woman who has two granddaughters. Her nine-year-old is ridiculously excited about the gospel, though we'll have to wait a couple months according to a rule of the mission before we baptize her, with the permission of her parents. But I got to baptize Epifania- the first convert baptism I got to perform!  While I have the pictures on my camera, I forgot my memory chip back at our room, so I can't upload them. Sorry!

With so many people suffering and changing on account of the gospel, I think it always returns to Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, bleeding out so we can rise out of the past and become free. President Uchtdorf shared in the Ensign of this year his sentiments on a picture of Christ with the angel to comfort him. Of all pictures I've seen depicting this moment, this one captures for me how the Savior must have really felt on our account. It's by Frans Schwart, called the Agony of the Garden. 'And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels will be filled with mercy.' (Alma 7:12) 'Because the death of Christ bringeth to pass the resurrection, which bringeth to pass a redemption from an endless sleep, from which sleep all men shall be awakened.' (Mormon 9:13) That change is possible now, or at least a shade of that change, before we enter all of it in the kingdom of heaven. This is what missionary work is all about. In the name of Him, Jesus Christ, amen.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

He's Got the Moves Like Jagger

So I joined the little kids dancing and showed them some American classics, like "jump up and down really high"and Gangnam Style.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Catching Up with Pictures

Today, I thought I'd upload a lot of the pictures I've been meaning to send for the last few months, but never got around to. Here's me in the CCM, with the district that's two weeks "younger" than me.  I led them out of the walls for their first P-Day. We became good friends, and it turned out they all liked the show Community back home, which was one of my favorites. You can see in Elder Hoffman's hand that "nectar of Peru", Inca Cola. Man, I'm going to miss it when I return.

I had a wonderful relationship with the Latinos for my last two weeks of the CCM. Every time they saw me, they'd raise up on their toes and mimick my goofy walk, calling delightedly, "Pinguino!!!", meaning penguin. This was only one of their many nicknames for me- they also called me Happy Feet and Siempre Feliz, turning their mouths into an overblown smile. This one used to come in to our dorm and sit on the foot of my bed and sing English rock and pop songs with me- he'd memorized all the words, not knowing the meaning of any of it, haha. He gave me as a gift at the end the video of the Restoration, which has proved super useful.

Ah, reminiscing. Fast forward to last week. Here I am in the first baptism I got to perform! Her name's Melody, and she's actually the daughter of a sister in the ward. Usually, missionaries don't perform these, but her dad's not a member and is usually drunk, so she asked me. She's an absolute nut, and usually after visiting her, she's latched to our feet. A little while later, we realize we've been pick-pocketed and our pen or agenda is missing. Though in this picture, she's a little tame, haha. She was a little nervous for the service, and afterward at the party she was quiet.

Here's last P-Day. This is why I didn't have a blog post last week. We went to the Corona del Inca, or the Crown of the Inca. It was straight up Weathertop from Lord of the Rings. We hiked up to the top, preaching to some sheep along the way. At the top, one of the elders bellowed out the scripture we all had to memorize for our last multi-zone conference down to the village below. We all followed it up with a thunderous, AMEN!!!!!
 That's all for this week, but I'll have more stories to come! We have some awesome investigators I want to talk about in the following email!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Successful Week

This week was successful: we challenged five people to be baptized, and three accepted! One of whom was particularly important.  Because of her lack of progression and hectic schedule, we'd dropped her for about two weeks. When we returned, her aged sick mother began howling in the back room, "Why did you leave us?!  Why, why?  We've been so alone! Why were we forsaken!?"  Of course we felt terrible, and assured her we'd stopped by a few times but they weren't there.  While this was true, we certainly could have tried harder.  I've felt a particular duty to this woman for perhaps a bit of a silly reason. A month ago, we baptized a woman who had "Andrew" scrawled on her front door.  This woman has a scribble of "Burt" on hers, though you have to be creative to see the "t". We were working with them at the same time, but only one progressed. I'd feel my time in Paucarbamba was sealed if we could baptize this woman as well. 

We also had a dream come true yesterday- yes, a woman really did walk up to us in the street and, after we offered some service and talked a bit, said that she's been hoping to be baptized in the church. She received a testimony earlier and when she saw us thought to herself, "Í'm not alone!"  I can testify of the relationship between events like these and earnest, continual, even desperate prayer. When we give powerful prayer and then go to work, miracles happen. That's the formula. It was a strong week.

Also, this world is tiny. Not only does one elder in my district know a friend of mine- Riley Norton- from school, but I also talked to an elder during our multi-zone conference yesterday that knows someone from Kirkland. He explained he was from Argentina and that a missionary named Rachel Thompson had served and had been his best friend when all his friends had turned against him for his beliefs. He said it greatly influenced him to serve a mission. So, shout out to the Thompson family and Sister Thompson- it's crazy to see how far the effect of missionary work goes throughout the world! 

As missionaries, we see many powerful changes and miracles. You members of the church have the same privilege and duty. Please assist the missionaries in whatever way possible. Think of one reference you can give them, if possible. Go out working with them for one hour in the week. President Monson said, "There is no substitute for a member-oriented proselyting program. Tracting will not substitute for it. Golden questions will not substitute for it. A member-oriented program is the key to success, and it works wherever we try it."

As you continue to serve, blessings concerning all aspects of your life are promised. But work is necessary. Mormon and Moroni lived in perhaps one of the most wicked societies of history, yet they continued in the missionary work. Mormon said to his son, "We have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God." I would waste and wear out this tabernacle of clay for the far more powerful and eternal tabernacle, even in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, as Doctrine and Covenants 123:13 so eloquently tells us. Even so, let's remember that we're not expected to be miserable in the work, awaiting the promised blessings. For a hundred years, we have a glorious story book contention against ignorance and evil. Enjoy it. Today may be the day, but this life is the life. 

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Life in Paucarbamba

Paucarbamba rolls on in a little corner of Huanuco in the Peruvian mountains with its own set of characters and stories...

There's the Ward Council, including the Relief Society President. We often run into her during the day, walking to or from a visit of some member of the church in need. She conducts all sorts of activities and has a quiet sense of order. Missionaries want every member to be like her-- if so, our work would be much easier and effective. 

There's the Bishop, a short man named John Bravo who rides a motorcycle. He conducts meetings neatly and strictly, keeping things as tidy as possible in a culture where starting times of meetings are relative. His son, Hyrum, attends the Council, too.  Streetwise and round-faced, the ten-year-old seems to know as much about the ward as his father, helping count the church attendance each week and offering suggestions of people who can help as we discuss activities in the council. While he seems to always be wearing a suit, his brother's generally in a baggy sweatshirt with a soccer ball. He always has a new secret handshake to show us. 

There's our Ward Mission Leader, Junior, a recently returned missionary who plays the advocate for us missionaries and often accompanies us during the week. Many others listen and offer suggestions on how to fortify the ward and individuals. 

Then there's the people we visit: V, a recent 14-year-old convert who, like everyone here, is an avid dancer, but he does it on a higher level. He speaks with a low voice except when he laughs, when it's a single high-pitched "Tee Hee!" It cracks me up. 

We visit J, another young recent convert, and his insane verbal whirlwind of grandparents. To be honest, his grandfather F used to irritate me immensely, talking straight through us in a voice like a crab, sideways and scuttling. For the life of me, I still can't understand him, though the language is no longer a big problem. Then one day as we were talking with J, he burst into the room in a bright vest and a radio in hand, beaming proudly as a soccer score was proclaimed. Looking like he'd won the game himself, talking to no one in particular, he jubilantly explained what happened. Then I thought about how he always lays on his bed playing the harmonica wildly when we visit, how he unfailingly but a little resignedly lets us in each time, and how he was the one to forgive his wife and brother-in-law when one lesson became an insane triangular accusatory game of digging up the past that no one could penetrate. I decided I was a fan of the comical "abuelito". 

Sometimes we come across interesting characters in contacts. We met a pitiless pastor the other day who coldly, condescendingly talked through us from scripture to scripture in a voice like a knife. I wondered whether he'd erased the gospel from his mind to make room for scriptures.  This leader of the vastly popular and raucous MMM Paucarbamba church cut a stark contrast to the person in our next meeting- a man named Roberto. 

Roberto lost one child to murder, another very recently to an illness without doctoral diagnosis, and two in infancy. The faithful man turned to God in each tragedy, wanting to know what mistakes he had made and how he could change them. He humbly listened as we taught God's Plan of Salvation, explaining that trials didn't always come from our sins and that he could see his children again. He defended us when his son noted cynically that we were very young. Both accepted to read part of the Book of Mormon and pray about it. In his concluding prayer, he blessed us adamantly. The Pastor's piety won't compare to this father's faith in the end. 

Let's examine our religious tendencies and determine whether we use them to build ourselves up and note our righteousness, or to turn to Christ in complete recognition of how crippled we are. Christ said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the kingdom of God." These are truths that I have come to know better here in Paucarbamba, amidst a good people. 

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.