Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A great week in Villahermosa

¡Buenísimas tardes! Les escribo desde un cibercafé que se encuentra en una calle muy linda acerca del centro de la ciudad de Villahermosa, Tabasco. Espero que puedo expresarme bien y relatar lo que pasó esta semana para el beneficio de todos aquellos que me escuchen. Hemos tenido una semana muy exitosa, y quiero compartir algunos experiencias con ustedes.

I thought about writing the whole email in Spanish, but figured I'd stick with just the opening. It still suprises me sometimes how easily it comes to mind. In any case - hey everyone! :) This week has been a good one. Let's get down to it.

First, the investigator Estefania. I mentioned her last week - she was introduced to the missionaries by a friend of hers in the ward (named Noé Gabriel, which I thought was a little ironic - speaking of, I don't know if I ever mentioned this, but back in Tuxtla we once contacted a man named Julio César who had a brother named Marco Antonio - and he said that their names were pure coincidence, which I doubted - but anyway, back to the point). She's pretty much ready for baptism, but a couple things are holding her back. She has the permission of her parents, she has a solid testimony of the Book of Mormon, and she prays a lot and listens to the Spirit. The problem is, she hasn't made it to church yet. Last week she couldn't go because of an event in "her church." We realized it's a little tough for her to let go of old habits and traditions - she knows the Church is true and everything, but it's sometimes hard to make that transition. So we taught her a few times last week, helped her strengthen that testimony, and then had her friend pass by for her on Sunday morning - still nada. She had "a previous commitment" in her church. So Elder Enriquez and I prayed about what we should do - whether or not we should keep working with her, or give her some space and try again later. We decided to give it another shot this week and see what happens. We're going to watch the Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration movie with her tomorrow, which I hope will help her realize that going to another church won't help her with her salvation. That movie's great for a variety of purposes; it's helped us out a lot. I know if she goes to church this Sunday she'll want to be baptized for sure - the church is really strong and the members are great at... friendshipping? fellowshipping? (hermanar is what I'm thinking of). Anyway, they're good at that. We're praying for Estefania a lot and I know that the Lord will help us get her to church and to baptism.

We have another investigator named Maritza. She's pretty much a golden investigator on a lot of things. For example, she read the GEE in one night of her own volition. (GEE = Guía del Estudio de las Escrituras. It's found at the back of the Spanish Book of Mormon; it's like a mixture of the Topical Guide and the Bible Dictionary, in that it has definitions of key topics and an index for scripture references. It's a good 200 pages, and she read it in a night. Pretty awesome.) She has the triple combination and the Bible and reads every single day without fail. At church they gave her the Gospel Principles manual and she's been reading through that too. And her friend, who's a member, gave her James E. Talmage's "Articles of Faith," and she's been reading that too! She probably studies more than I do every day. It's incredible. And, what's more, she understands really well what she reads. She tells us all the time that she feels like she's already read and learned all of this, and that she's just remembering it right now. She has a wonderful spirit and desire to learn. The one concern for her right now is that she hasn't yet prayed about Joseph Smith or baptism or the Book of Mormon. She says she knows they're true (and that baptism is necessary) because she feels it, but still hasn't asked God directly. We're not really sure why that is, but we're confident that she'll do so in the next day or so - the last lesson we had with her was really powerful. I think she could be baptized this Saturday, but if not, the following. It's really been fun getting to know her and teach her - she pretty much teaches herself.

We have another investigator right now that's progressing really well - her name's Angelica. She's a single mom with two kids - Karen, who's 13, and Eduardo, who's 5. She was a contact from about a week and a half ago, and since then we've taught her several times and it's always gone really well. It took a couple days for her to start reading the Book of Mormon and to pray, but she finally kept those commitments, and saw immediate results. She told us that when she prayed about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, she felt so happy and peaceful that she wanted to cry, and that the feeling stayed with her for the rest of the night and the day after. She intended to come with us to church yesterday, but didn't answer the door when we stopped by before sacrament; we later found out that her son got really sick the night before and she was up all night. She felt pretty bad about it, too - she really wanted to go. We're going to work with her a lot this week. I know she and her daughter are headed for baptism - I can just feel it.

That's most of the significant news of this week. We have a few other people we're working with, some less actives and everything too. We've got lots of work to do, which I love - this is going to be a great week. Also, we have a sort of zone conference thing on Friday - Elder Daniel Johnson of the Area Presidency is coming to speak to us. I'm really excited for it. It's going to be a great experience and I know I'll learn a lot.

Speaking of learning a lot - my scripture study has gone so well this week. I've really been focusing on learning by the spirit, on personal revelation, and on coming to know the Book of Mormon really well, and I've seen the blessings in a very real way. One thing I liked that I read this morning was a talk by President Faust in the October 2004 General Conference. He talks about trials and being tested and holding firm to the gospel. There's a section where he quotes a Dr. Something-or-other and then President Kimball, and I really liked the point those two quotes make together. If you have a chance, look up the talk and give it a read - good stuff. Another thing I learned this week was how much joy the company of the Spirit brings. It's something I've learned many times before, but it's always amazing to feel the joy and peace that comes from the Spirit, from prayer and scripture study, etc. It's what gives us the courage and desire to keep going and to have many more experiences of that kind. The power of inspiration is great.

And now it's time for another Q & A session with Elder Greer. :)
Questions from this week. Memory card - if you send a memory card, I can find a way to copy my pictures to it and send it back. That would be a good idea. I'll check around here to see how much a card costs, but I think it'd be about the same as at home, so feel free to send one when you can.

Thanks for forwarding the missionary emails from everyone. It's really cool to hear from all my friends and see how they're having similar experiences to what I'm having. It's also cool to see the differences in the work in various areas of the world.

The food here is pretty much the same as in Tuxtla. They seem to eat more fish here, which makes sense because it's closer to the ocean. (Mom - we ate a good three pounds of shrimp and fried fish a few days back. Delicious!) They also have gringas (female Americans? haha), which are quesadillas (which, in America, is basically a taco - I know, kind of confusing) with pineapple, fried meat, and jalapeños. They have them in various parts of Chiapas and Tabasco, but I hadn't ever tried them before coming here. They're really really good.

The people here talk a little faster than those in Tuxtla, for the most part. They also have a tendency to drop the s at the end of a word and to slur some words together. It took some getting used to, but I like the way it sounds a lot.

Gabbie - Your trip to China sounds pretty fun! ;) Haha. Your shopping spree sounds like fun. What exactly is a sit-n-bounce? (Well, you see, you sit on it... and bounce.) I'm jealous of playing in the snow - the last few days have been quite the toasty ones, and we keep hearing from members how this is a fresh spring breeze compared to what happens around here in April and May. Oh boy. :) Let me know how FHE goes, I'm sure you'll do great teaching it. And thanks for always writing me every week! Keep doing well is school and having lots of fun! I love you very much! :)

Miranda - How's the lacrosse been going? How do you think your team will do this year? How's the new term started out - same as usual? (Haha.) (Random insert directed more at Dad - on the radio right now at this cibercafe a song by Kylie Minogue is playing - the first time I heard it was when we had dinner on the university campus in Edinburgh. Remember, we ate at that lounge thing and went outside to eat, and you had your shank of lamb? Hah. Funny how memories are tied to music like that).  I've been meaning to ask you - how's the Book of Mormon coming? Did you meet your goal of finishing it by the end of the year? Any cool new insights that you've had? What about journal writing - how's that going? Well, as always, I look forward to hearing from you and hope that everything's going well in all aspects of life. Remember to rely on the Lord, and also on Mom and Dad. Despite what it may seem, they really do know a lot about life, and can help out in any type of situation, so listen to and follow their advice. I love you very much! :)

Mom - I tried thinking of a way to explain how to say "Villahermosa" after your letter last week. I came up with "bee yair mosa" and then slur it into one word. Villahermosa. Haha. I'm sure Dad has been able to teach you how to say it, though. I think it's a little funny that you have to get adjusted to me being in a new area - isn't that my job? :) haha. But don't worry - it's a wonderful area, very safe, and the members take really good care of us. Just this afternoon we ate spaghetti and pork chops, and it was prepared almost exactly like we have at home. I haven't had a chance to see the temple, but it is pretty close to where we are - hopefully I'll have a chance to assist (er, attend) while I'm here. The Cliffs of Insanity is a pretty good reference for the Cañon del Sumidero - it was definitely an amazing experience.

The water in the river here is very, very brown indeed. The mission actually gave us these water bottles that filter out and sanitize the water, and they say that you can fill them up with the dirtiest water there is and it'll still be safe to drink. I've just been filling it up with tap water, and have been using it for the past month or so without any effects, so I think I'm safe. The area's definitely pretty, though - you'll be able to see that in the pictures today. So far I've only received Dad's letter, but at the conference on Friday I think they'll be handing out mail, so we'll see if anything's arrived so far. I think the trend is that usually companionships live alone, but every so often they put a couple of them together; it really just depends. The zone leaders are the ones living with us; one is from California and the other from Monterrey, Mexico (I think). He actually speaks English really well, too, so in the house we speak a lot of both Spanish and English. It's pretty cool living with them - we get to have a lot of fun, learn from each other, help each other out. I appreciate the company. For food here it's the same as in Tuxtla; the sisters cook lunch for us every day. We've been washing laundry at the bishop's house. His family is awesome and we really have a good time with them. I laughed at the story of Reagan and the Smashed Snowball (I think every story should have a Hardy Boys title). 162 days? Really? Wow. That's a long time. I hit the 5-month mark last week - I think I forgot to mention that. Time goes by so fast. Miranda playing the piano with Reagan sounds like a lot of fun too (Reagan and the Played Piano? The Curse of the Keyboard? Haha). I was sad to hear about Mrs. Stahle. I remember Gabbie talking about her a lot. I'm glad Gabbie's taking it well. It's always sad when someone dies, but can help reinforce our testimony of the gospel because we know what lies in store for them.

Congratulations on the new calling! That's really exciting. I'm a little worried about Dad and Reagan alone though - maybe you should have them go stay with Grandma Bown while you're gone, just to be sure. haha:) That should be a lot of fun, to help with the planning and to be able to go with the girls. The theme sounds really cool too. I don't know if they do girls camp here; I should ask.
Thanks for always writing, Mom, and for all the love and concern. I'm doing great here and having a wonderful time. I love you very much! :)

Dad - "The cliffs were down in Dingle." Haha. That's a pretty cool catchphrase (and a fun time there in Ireland). Also, coo loo coo coo coo coo loo coo! right back at ya :) Always very funny to read your letters. Oh, and the reference to my Spanish video - de las manzanas! Haha. That was a pretty good one.

What you said last week about the work being endless and how we have to focus on every hour of every day and do the most possible is definitely true. Every hour is precious and can be used to further the Lord's work here. It's hard work in that it requires a lot of effort, but the blessings far outweigh the effort I give every single day. I liked what you said about how often we just pray for ourselves and our own benefit and are a little selfish in our supplications. I've worked on focusing on other people in my prayers this last week, and boy, it has made a huge difference. Not only have I received inspiration for how I can help the people I pray for, but I also receive guidance in my own life - without even asking for it! It's been something really cool to learn about.

Pretty cool that you could see the Grijalva chapel on google earth. Our area is indeed on that side of the river. The area lies between the river and a highway, and extends outward from both sides of the chapel. It ends on one side at a road called Torno Largo; I'm not sure about the boundaries on the other side. It's a pretty fair size; not huge, but big enough to do a lot of work. The weather is supposedly a lot, lot hotter here and more humid than Tuxtla. So far it hasn't been terrible, but we'll see how that goes. The bus ride here was pretty awesome too, straight through the mountains and everything. Nothing like the road to Machu Picchu, but still an adventure. The Spanish is still steadily progressing, and I made a goal this week to really study hard and do my best to learn all I can and improve my Spanish - I don't want to fall into a rut and stop learning. Ah, that's right, I forgot to mention the inactive's name - it's Carlos. He came to church again yesterday, and is even more excited about being back than before. We gave him a white shirt and tie, since he didn't have one, and he was really grateful. He's reading the Book of Mormon a lot; we stop by to visit him at least every other day, at least just to say hi, and he always has something new that he's learned and wants to share with us. It's been really cool.

I think it's neat that so many people read the blog - if any of them ever leave comments, I'd be interested to know what they say.  It's cool to know that other people can benefit from hearing about the experiences that do so much for me.

What you said about President Uchtdorf's message sounded really cool. We should be getting the Liahona soon, and I'll read it as soon as we do. What you said about testimony reminded me of a quote from Harold B Lee that I heard in Seminary once and wrote in my scriptures; "A testimony is like a moonbeam. It has to be recaptured every day of your life." It's true, what you said - we're either progressing upward toward more light or falling back into the shadows. We can never just stay still in one place. The reference to 2 Nephi is very good as well - the devil slowly leads us away, little by little, until we realize, like you said, that he's been lying the whole time. One thing to remember is that he knows us extremely well, having been around us since the beginning. If something ever seems like, "Oh, it's not that bad - just a little sin" - that's when we need to be extra careful, because Satan knows what will catch us. (no, I'd never heard him referred to as Scratch before.) There's a lot more to be said on this subject, as always - I'm going to study testimony this week and learn a little more about it.

Okay, I'm winding to a close. Lots to say, but that's why I keep a journal and a study journal and take pictures and all that. As usual, I'll write more next week, and let you know about the conference and the investigators and what I've been learning. I'm still loving every day of the mission and having a great time. The Lord is so loving and will help us with whatever happens in life if we put our trust in Him and keep His commandments.

I love you all very much. Thank you for all your support and love. Until next week!
Con amor,
Elder Greer

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