Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas and Family

I hope you all had a merry Christmas! For Christmas Eve, all the missionaries in the three zones of Huanuco gathered in a plaza to sing Christmas Carols and hand out Book of Mormons as Christmas gifts. I got to play chorister, which I had fun with. Later, we all went to the Zone Leader's house to spend the night. I'll send some pictures; it was definitely a solid way to make Christmas special on the mission. 

Christmas Day itself was special as we got to skype our families. It definitely impacted me. I thought about writing some sort of tribute to them, but I realized soon thereafter how limiting words were (I hate that excuse because they can express a good deal). As family relationships have eternal significance, I began to realize that the import of my brother, or my sisters, or my mother and father made trite phrases like "they're always there for me" or "they're the most important people in my life" seem cheap. I worried if I went into experiences like board games with my brother, or literature discussions with my sister, or the goofy things my little sister and I would do to keep life fun, I would try to define our relationships by something external that shows a fraction of what it really means. But as Shakespeare said, "They do not love who do not show their love." And in Peru, I can demonstrate my love in weekly posts. So to my Mom and Dad, who are always there for me and are the most important people in my life. To Alex for the countless afternoons we hung out and played a thousand games. To Madeleine, for the ideas we share expounding on books and poems and movies to make them more interesting. And to Gracie, for "Calm a llama down" or blasting music like "Sweet Caroline" in the house and dancing around. I really do love you all, and honestly find these summarizations ridiculous in comparison to all we've done together and who you are. I know you. But my thoughts don't end with them; I love you too, grandparents, and uncles, and aunts, and cousins. I hope my friends are doing well, and I think of you guys and include you in my prayers. Especially at Christmas.

I'm a dork who likes Christian rock music, and my favorite group is Relient K. They made a Christmas song called "I Celebrate the Day" that I love. He's talking to Christ about the last year and he says, "Here is where you're finding me in the exact same place as New Year's Eve. And from the lack of my persistency I'm less than half as close as I want to be. And the first time that you opened your eyes did you realize that you would be my savior?... I celebrate the day that you were born to die, so I might one day pray for you to save my life." 

I've definitely grown this year, especially with the mission, but this time always is one for self-reflection. Don't forget the purpose of Christ's birth. It implied His death, His Atonement, His Resurrection. And with that, we can pray with confidence that He'll save us, as we live His gospel and repent. That's the Christmas message. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Merry Christmas!

This week was heavy in events-- for one, it was my birthday! It was also the Ward Christmas Party, and we did a fun skit from a popular missionary song among South Americans- "Querido Juan". OHHH Porque no me esperaste??? Con esto menso te casaste!!! Amor amor amor!!" It was awesome, and we have it on video, but I don't think it'll send over email. The original's great, too, but you pobrecitos who can't speak Spanish might not understand it, haha. 

It was the "multi-zone" yesterday, too, for Christmas.  Zones presented skits, and ours was pretty good:  a "Missionary" video game where we had to battle snakes (the girls who try and flirt with us missionaries), cholitos (the crazy old women here who dress up like munchkins), contentious investigators, and stray dogs (you literally can't look down any street here without seeing four or five.)

And this week is Christmas...the commencement of the greatest life lived.  One so important that it would echo into the fabric of countless other stories. Someone of humble circumstances rises to the challenge, fights for what's right, ultimately sacrifices everything he has for others, and triumphs in glory. But not even fictional characters can do anything greater, or more powerful, or more noble, than what Christ did. Which means, really, that we're living in the greatest story ever told. Many don't understand this and are determined to live weaker stories, with thin plots and trifling themes. The imagery of the scriptures is powerful, that we're waking up with the Atonement of Christ.  C.S. Lewis used something similar by describing life here as the Shadowlands before we reach the Reality of Heaven. People sleepwalk in routines, but as they awaken they realize our most wonderful part to play in this story is the Emissary. Show the message, more than anything, in how you interact. Speak thoughtfully. Meet people's eyes when you talk, and share confidence. Live like Christ. 

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas Preparations

The Christmas spirit is in full swing, and it leaves missionaries in a good mood. We get to use feel-good church Christmas videos for lessons, we're helping out with the ward Christmas party, our zone and district meetings are in part devoted to practicing sketches and songs for the multi-zone conference, and paneton is rampant. Paneton is the beloved Peruvian delicacy for Christmas... a flaky, store-bought, often-burnt-on-the-bottom fruitcake. Stores evolve into paneton distributors and billboards are dedicated to spreading paneton cheer. As merry as Christmas is here, someone had to play the Grinch, and Serpost- our beloved mailing service- went on strike. Things might take a while to get through, depending on how long the strike lasts.

This week we had a good deal of fun with Vladi, our recent convert friend. We love his whole family, and we get to spend a good amount of time with them because one branch of cousins are investigators and another cousin is a less active, and they all live in two houses across the street from each other. On Saturday, we helped them bring out and clean their Christmas dishes and decorations to the popular vellensicos (Christmas Carols) of South America. Think of a nightmarish mix between the Smurf's Christmas album and Alvin and the Chipmunks. They don't have the same Christmas Carols here, except in the Hymnbooks. Afterward, we talked a bit more with Vladi and, in a Santa hat, I read and explained what happened in the Americas the day of Christ's birth in the Book of Mormon: the day and the night of light, the new star, and the prophecies of the coming Christ.

I love the Christmas story, and I worry that sometimes we turn the characters into caricatures. Joseph is a quiet figure in the Bible, but his story is powerful to me. I can imagine how conflicted he must have felt when his fiancee explained nervously she was pregnant from a divine miracle. In Matthew, we learn he didn't immediately accept what probably seemed to be a pathetic lie to cover an obvious and hurtful truth. As a 'just man', he came to the conclusion he would shield her from the full brunt of the law, yet let her go. Only after he thought of these things-probably in agony- did he receive the angelic verification of Mary's story. He solved the problem the best he could before the great relief of the truth. Then began a new worry in his life, which probably lasted until the end: a fear of inadequacy. Firstly of the Savior he would need to raise, and secondly to Mary who he had previously chosen to reject and disbelieve. What guilt he must have felt when he explained they needed to travel to Bethlehem for his taxes when she was many months pregnant! All such feelings probably reached an apex while he watched helplessly in the stable as Mary gave birth, recognizing the best he could give the King of Kings and his personal queen was the equivalent of an abandoned parking garage. He prepared a little manger, perhaps thinking of the crib he'd been hoping to make back home. I'm sure he prayed a good deal. And I would assume he received a good deal of comfort, and a welcome into the divine family. I don't think any of us can give much more. He asked us for a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and Joseph is an example of this to me. Humility is a recognition of the world as it really is...that things are much more magnificent outside, amidst God's plans and people and potential, than they are within our worries and desires. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Cambios (Transfers)

Hello, all! This week we had "cambios", or transfers, and while I'm still in Paucarbamba, the smallest area in all the mission, I've got a new companion- Elder Fernandez Davila. He's awesome, and I'm happy with how he interacts with the investigators. 

The first day, we visited the sister I spoke of last week, with the many problems, and she asked us if we knew a missionary who could sing Happy Birthday to her very sick friend. My companion offered that we find a bunch of members, other missionaries, and all go together that very night. She was absolutely delighted, and so we found the Bishop's family and called our Zone Leaders and went, more or less, Christmas Caroling. Our investigator was giddy- she kept announcing a new sort of arrangement we were going to do. Some were cool ("Now we're going to sing We Wish You a Merry Christmas!") And some were less cool ("Now Elder Burt will sing a hymn for us in English!").  But the experience was great and the sick friend very much appreciated the visit. 

Later in the week, we also spoke to a family who had recently lost a little daughter in an accident from the upper stories of their house to the ground level. Speaking about the Plan of Salvation was powerful and spiritual, and we have two commitments to baptism, and we'll meet with the mother this Tuesday. We're bringing the gospel to people who need it and letting it change their lives in a powerful way, and that was what made missionary work seem so magnificent to me. 

I'm very happy that the miraculous truths of Christ are made manifest in this day. As the Book of Mormon says in Mormon 9: 19, And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not. Miracles are manifest in this day through the gospel of Jesus Christ and the authority He has given us. We have countless opportunities to give blessings of health to people as missionaries, and this is only one example of the types of miracles in this day. Keep to the faith, and let it erase the worse feelings we sometimes let crowd us in. Faith is what's real in life...we've just got to wake up to it.