Monday, May 30, 2016

Doing the Right Thing

Life rolls on in Junin, and things are looking up. The weekdays were discouraging, and we hardly found anyone to speak to, day after day. This is particularly not fun when the mornings freeze, the afternoons scald, and the nights' temperature dips down again. Once the weekend hit, we began seeing a lot more results from our work. While our attendance didn't rocket upward, nearly half of the attendance was less active members we've been working with. Many of them have interviews scheduled with the President to talk about progressing, and among those who came included both the less active men who used to be the Branch Presidents. We're still on the edge waiting for the baptism of our good friend, the daughter of our Pension, but she is diligently reading the scriptures and taking the lessons and going to church. 

We're recognizing the real results of all our work the last couple months. Some families we've finally decided to stop visiting for their lack of interest. We had a very serious lesson with one about the decisions they had to make and their continual lack of effort to keep promises. When we saw even such an earnest discussion as this did nothing, we decided to dedicate our time elsewhere. Mission decisions such as this are extremely difficult...these were recent converts and a family we are well acquainted with. Yet time will always be a factor we need to keep in mind, and the shower of blessings we are seeing elsewhere is an indication of what we need to do.

Doing the right thing has always been a chief worry in my life. I am so blessed to live in this time where that question can be quieted to some extent. There are many other worries in mission life, and I won't pretend the work isn't at times discouraging here. We're all told going to South American missions that the success will be flying, and the people are lining up to have gospel change their lives. The disillusionment was difficult and discouraging. Yet the truth is, the work can never be easy. As Elder Holland once said in one of his most inspirational talks, salvation is not a cheap experience. It never was. Why should we expect it to be for us when it never was for Christ?  If He gave His life in what was more or less the most important missionary work the world has seen, how can we expect conversion and following Him to be easy? It never will be...the only thing we can be sure of is that it's worth it. And that by participating in such a work, we are standing with the greatest man who ever lived. To all the invitation comes and to all the privilege is issued. Accepting it is what this life experience is about.

From Zone Conference last week. Elder Burt is 3rd from left, standing.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Taste of the Jungle

I've never been one for the jungle as a story setting. It always seems to take control of the plot, and is so exotic that it's hard to relate to. When I heard there was a good deal of jungle in our mission, I was excited to visit something so different, but not ridiculously anxious. We recently spent a couple days there for a multi-zone conference. My perspective changed a little.

Let's start with the air.  The atmosphere is thick and hot, opposite to the Junin atmosphere so thin that oxygen comes at one breath's worth of air for the price of two. The air was sweet, and reminded me of vacation. Strips of evaporated water floated around hills of jungle forestry framed by the branches and vines of nearer plant life stretching into the sky. We stayed in a hotel where a thin sheet replaced the five heavy wool blankets I'm used to, a refreshing fan blowing over the room while we watched church videos on the TV. Cold water is all they have for the showers in the jungle, but it hardly matters at all. We had nothing to do while we waited the night before the multi-zone, so we played cards, caught up with other zones who were staying there as well, and played foosball. I was in paradise. Our dinner was spread on wood tables outside underneath a covering. Bugs hummed in the background. It was the most refreshing experience I'd had in a long while, and I think I woke up the next morning smiling. It continued as we had an enlightening conference with our mission president.

When I returned, luckily, the successful work load of the remaining week kept my mind off of paradise. We're happy where we are, and we're looking forward to the progression of the area. I wouldn't mind serving in the jungle one of these days, though!

Ah. Did I take pictures? Hum, I suppose that's all for this week! Till next time! I go back to the jungle for another conference in three weeks!

Monday, May 16, 2016

On Faith

This week was a strong success, and we were elated to spend it inside the homes of many. Usually we don't get lots of lessons in Junin, but things worked differently this time. Many people we visited had suddenly been shattered by recent devastating experiences. While this concerned us, it did soften their hearts to listen to our message, and we could provide comfort and support. Many expressed the need only to have someone who cared enough to check on them and talk them through it, as it was awful to bear alone.  I believe that upon seeing the situations turn out alright, their faith in God will increase.

Faith is not just a principle of hope in the future, nor does it rest in reliance on blessings yet to come. At one point this week, I prayed for heavenly direction according to what my faith merited. In other words, I wanted a bank withdrawal, cashing in on my faith for what it was worth.  Is this the currency of heaven, a system in which miracles, blessings, and spiritual promptings come as we reach certain levels of faith?  On the contrary, I think part of faith is merely placing greater worth in what we have. Rather than upgrading to what my faith merited, I found that what we already have becomes more than what we merit. In belief, we find God's discourses in the Scriptures; a personal Almighty Father listening to our concerns; a modern prophet guided by revelation; and unbreakable purpose to our actions. Outside of belief, all monumental blessings such as these become mere cultural traditions to provide a relief to spiritual concern.

As faith increases, so then does an understanding that we have far more than we 'merit'. By faith then is the entire world transformed, and steps in our lives carry dramatic import. By so believing, my mission rises from a valuable foreign experience -- to an indispensable growth opportunity -- to an eternally significant service -- to their service to my deepest desires granted, all inextricably connected and rising on to something understood fully only on some distant day when all promises are fulfilled. 

Such faith's fate at the end of its evolution is not, I think, only knowledge...for Hebrews 11 says God created worlds without end through faith rather than factual understanding. Faith, then, ought to be our goal. For through it and the action it demands we wax transcendent. 

In the name of Jesus Christ, the center of faith in this world, Amen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Adventures in Sharing the Gospel

Elder Burt and Elder Granstaff
Well, here I am emailing on Tuesday...a little late as we were exploring deep underground caves all of yesterday for P-Day. As missionaries, we're always looking for opportunities to preach the gospel, and we did so to all we encountered. We found a small kid named Tom Sawyer looking for buried treasure...we explained we had a treasure that would never rust even unto the next life, but he said he never believed in any of that religious hogwash anyways. He refuses to stay in church for all three hours, so we figured it's time to drop him. Deeper down, we found a real strange investigator named Smeagol, but he's got some powerful addiction problems and may take quite a bit of time to help. He struggled with the concept of tithing, too... ´Gives one of my ten fishes away to a fat gringo, always stuffing their faces???´  We found a really cool cave down a bit called the Chamber of Secrets, but Tom Riddle had already formed some Secret Combinations named the Death Eaters, and we figured that might put a halt on progress. The Goonies just swore at us.

Sometimes missionary work is hard, but it's always adventurous. We  share our testimonies and know that is enough. As the Lord said in Doctrine and Covenants 127:4, "Let...all the works which I have appointed unto you, be continued and not cease; and let your diligence, and your perseverance, and your patience, and your works be redoubled, and you shall in nowise lose your reward. And if they persecute you, so persecuted they the prophets and righteous men before you. For all this there is a reward in heaven."

I know this is true, and I know we ought to continue on without fear, but rather with joy and trust. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.   

Monday, May 2, 2016

Growing the Branch

[Today Andrew spent time answering a question about his branch in Junín, particularly about attendance and their efforts to re-activate many people around the town.]

Attendance is looking optimistic, it used to be in the teens a lot before I got here, and now we're regularly in the mid-twenties with several less-actives attending. We want to get over thirty before we leave, as President said a decent branch should have more than thirty.

Andrew relaxing in his blanket fort.
This week we spoke to a number of less-actives. My favorite sort of lesson is when the atmosphere is quiet, the limited room causes us to sit right next to our investigator/less active, and we can just have a very quiet, personal conversation. Opportunities such as that allow both of us to feel the Spirit strongly as we share the story of the Restoration. I also enjoy the strength in teaching a family, where all can participate and feel gathered in an activity. 

We spend a lot of time with the Youth, too, being completely in charge of them. We play simple games with them for Mutual like Liar's Dice and Uno.  We're also in charge of two-hour lessons with them on Sunday! We show a lot of videos, haha.

[Andrew will be Skyping with us next Sunday for Mother's Day (hopefully) and we're very excited!  We'll post some pictures and perhaps transcribe some of our conversation.]