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Monday, August 25, 2014

Week #9: Murphy's Law, S'mores and Philippians 4:13

Let me start off by answering your questions:
1. How do you wash your clothes?
Answer: We pay a sister in the ward to do our laundry, if we need something done quick, we use the sink/bathtub/bucket combo that I sent you a picture of to do it.
2. What kind of animals do you see in your daily adventures? Dad wants to know specifically if you have seen any monkeys but he always asks everyone that.  
Answer: No no monkeys, there are an abundance of stray dogs, and chicken/turkey/roosters everywhere.  I will include a picture of some peculiar birds I see up a tree near our house.
3. What about creepy, crawly insect life? 
Answer: More to mention here, maybe I will dedicate a week to just insect tales and pictures.
4. Where is your companion from?
Answer: Junction City, Oregon

This week has been a jam packed week in the service our the lord in Retalhuleu. I honestly don't even know where to begin. There is so much that goes on here and my head is spinning trying to keep up with it all.  I feel so much love for the people of Guatemala and am so happy to be here serving them.

As of this week I can finally talk, and I think most people understand, at least the expression on their face looks a little less confused and just in time as I was asked to give a talk this last sunday. I dont know if anyone understood me but I gave them my best shot at a talk in spanish.

There have been a lot of ups and downs this week.  We were doing baptismal interviews for the majority of the week. My companion, Elder Goodman, as district leader, is in charge of doing the interviews for the Hermanas in our district as well as for the zone leaders. These interviews took up a large portion of the week and more often than not when we crossed the city to an appointment that we did have schedule it had fallen through. Kinda funny just how often this happened and we simply learned to laugh it all off.

The electricity been off in our area for a large portion of the week (hence the request for more solar lights) making things interesting.   Some days when we hit a rough spot, we make s'mores using candles.  Nothing lifts one spirits better than a prayer seeking strength (Alma 37:36-37), and breaking out the s'mores in the middle of Guatemala.

There was a lot to bring us down this week.  Friday morning the son of hermano Hugo passed away.  He was only 4 months old.  It was hard waking up friday morning and my comp telling me that he had passed. We had a meeting that morning in the Concepcion area - after we went back home, and as we got ready to leave to go and tell the ward about the funeral service,  a storm started and it was the worst storm I have seen yet.  We needed to tell the members so we grabbed our rain gear and boots and headed out.  We told all those in the general area and then started to head up the road to the other members. After about the first kilometer the downpour of rain had soaked my pants and through my pants it soaked into my boots. I started to squish all the way down the road.  Eventually we were able to hitch a ride up to the next city. After we had told everyone we went to the service it was sad to see all of these people crying. Death is kinda  weird thing to experience as a member of the church, and with the faith and knowledge that we have. Through the gospel we know that we will be able to see and live with our families again and it gives us the comfort we need to push on in moments like those.

At the end of the night Hugo asked my companion if he would dedicate the grave the following morning and so we did. There is a tradition here in Guatemala that when someone dies, the family and friends of the person all walk with the casket through the city to the cemetery. I can only imagine how it looked to see Elder Goodman and I, a couple of fairly tall white guys walking with a group of Guatemalans through the streets.  When we got to the cemetery Elder Goodman and I carried the casket to the grave and after all of the prayers were said we put him into the ground.  It was a sad day to witness and I hope that I won't have anymore of these on the mission.

Later this same day we had three baptisms; Jeremy, Hilder and Cynthia.  This is when Murphy's Law or the power of the adversary took effect, in making things much more difficult than they should have been. We had had a full schedule all week long and didn't have time to give the members too big of a notice about the baptism.  As we ran around to let the members of the ward know (sure is a lot easier when you can call, text and put a notice on the ward facebook page - which of course we can't, we use our feet and our mouths), we were chastised by some for the short notice. When it came time to load up the pickup truck, the member who normally does it was out working. We scrambled to find another person for transport, and ended up turning to one of our investigators who thankfully could do it.  Once he was ready we made our rounds picking up everyone and started to head over to the Las Palmas building for the baptism. Eli was running out of gas so we had to go and fill up.  We were waiting at the gas station behind a truck who had brought multiple 55 gallon barrels to fill up and we had to wait quite a while for him to finish.   As we got to the building to set everything up, we come to find that the font doors were locked and no one had the keys. At this point we loaded everyone up again and headed over to the Concepcion building, where the  zone leaders were doing a baptism - so everything was open and they had the baptismal clothes that we needed. But wait there is still more.  We start the program and when it comes time to go down into the font for the baptisms, the door somehow got locked.  Nobody had the keys here either so Elder Goodman ends up jumping over the glass into the font from the front side in front of members investigators and the President of the Branch, slicing his toe open in the process.  (He is not hurt bad, just a sliced toe in case any of those missionary mom's are reading this, we don't tell you the real scary things...).

Jeremy's baptism with me went fine. I headed out and got changed. When I came back out there was chaos as apparently Cynthia was scared of the water and started crying.   After using Hilder as an example we finally got her to calm down and she was baptized.

I guess there are many things to be learned from this week... anything that could have gone wrong seemed to go wrong, isn't that Murphy's Law?  Maybe it was a lesson about "not to sweat the small stuff" or maybe it is that old Indian saying, "Everything will be all right in the end...if it's not all right then it's not the end!"   In the end the baptisms were completed and all was well.  But I believe, or better said, I know that it is really that "with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26) and "I [we] can do all things in Christ which strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)

Peculiar avian wildlife that inhabits near-by trees.

If only California had some of this thing which we call rain...this is a daily occurrence.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Week #8 Sardines, Bucket Showers and Blessings

Let me start off by getting some of your questions out of the way. [Editor's Note: In our letters we include a numbered list of questions we would like him to answer. This week we included 6 questions, we got answers to two: Letters and Living Space]

Yes, I have received a few letters (family, Grandma, Lovells) and I did receive the package. It looks like it is taking 3-4 weeks for letters to arrive, and the package actually took just over 2 weeks. It probably helps being so close to the mission home. Remember anything that was sent to the MTC that I didn't get before I left, probably won't be forwarded on. I have sent out some letters in return through the post office so if my calculations are correct from the time you send me a letter to the time one gets returned you are looking at 6-8 weeks. I guess that means you should send me my birthday present now!

Buenos dias tardes y o noches personas quien leyendo me Cartas. The area in which I currently serve is called La Verde and I am in the District of Las Palmas. Elder Goodman and I are the only elders in my district. A fact that you might find interesting is that districts with only one companionship of elders are referred to as SoSo districts. Soso is a short way of saying relief society.

This area, I am told, is fairly large compared to other areas. I don't have anything to compare it to since it is my first. It covers everything from the Trinidad (where I am currently am writing from a netcafe and have just eaten at McDonalds) almost to the ocean. The Trinidad is the more modern part of Retalhuleu. Its were the bank grocery store and other amenities are located.

Transportation is a little different here then in the States. Everytime we travel we play a little game called sardines. We enter into a normal car and/or pickup and see just how many people can fit in before the door won't close. All 6' 4" of me isnt really good at this game. If my knees weren't going to be calised from praying - they will be from digging into seats, people and everything else that simply wasn't made for the tall person that I am. Pickups here are modified with handrails and guardrails so that people don't fall out - then people are stuffed in the bed and they pack-in what and who they can. Every Sunday one of the Hermanos in the ward goes around and picks up as many members as he can in his truck and drops them off at church. There are usually around 50 or 60 members in attendance each Sunday and about 40 or so of them are picked up by that pickup. Now that is service and getting to know and love your neighbor at one time!

Church services are pretty normal as compared to church back in Socal and The 'Fee. It is amazing just how uniform the church is in all parts of the world.

You were asking more about where we live. We live in a cinderblock house that "usually" has running water and "usually" has electricity. Sometimes the power does go out and sometimes the water doesn't work, sometimes it's both and sometimes it's for a few days. Like right now, we haven't had running water for the past couple days. I believe I have mastered the art of the bucket shower. I only have to use one bucket full.

We sadly do not have a "Mamita" at least not in the way dad describes it when he was in Chile. Hermana Alejandra is our landlady however, and she is one of the sweetest ladies ever and cooks for us all of the time, which is kinda cool. We do go over to the members houses for lunches.
My Spanish is coming along, I am at the point of when someone speaks I can understand most, if not all of it, which is nice. However the speaking part is much harder. It is interesting how I have come to recognize the Spirits hand in my understanding. We do a lot of "contacting" here and when we contact we usually end up teaching someone a lesson. I have noticed that when the spirit is present and things are going good I can understand everything that is said. But when and if the lesson or the conversations starts to head south my understanding flies out of the whole in the wall (I would say window but there aren't any). Once we hit that point I tap my comp and we know its time to end and leave.

This week we have 3 baptisms lined up and I have truly come to love each and everyone of these people. I am sure I have said before it is amazing to see the way the gospel changes the lives of these people. It is amazing to see the way they smile, when we come by and when they feel the Spirit.

Right now it is the rainy season in Guate and with that comes alot of temperature changes causing a lot of sickness to be going around. Since I have entered the mission field I have given or been apart of 15 blessings and every time I can see the effect of it on these people. I know I cant speak well and my companion, though very supportive, knows that I am the master of broken gringo spanish, but I still have the opportunity and when I give a blessing the words flow from my mouth straight from my heart. In those moments I am lucky to know even a fraction of the words that are coming from my mouth. I do know that when we open our mouths the lord will fill us with the words that will touch their hearts and give them the strength they need.

Yesterday we were going around picking up the people for stake conference - we headed down the road to pick up a sweet sweet little elderly sister. We were headed up the road back to the truck when we heard a *smack* we look back and see her lying there on the ground. She was doing all she could to keep breathing but was totally unresponsive as we tried to get her attention. At that moment, in the middle of a dirt road we gave her blessing - immediately after the blessing she regained herself slightly, then more and more within every moment. She was finally able to sit up and then when someone had suggested that she had better return home and rest. But she said, "No I'm going to church."

Every moment we are here we have the opportunity to teach, to testify, to heal the sick, to serve the children of our Heavenly Father and to change lives. There is no Place on earth I would rather be then in the service of my Lord.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Week #7 Las Palmas - Las Verdes Area

So im going to start off by saying that I am sorry for not writing last week but there was no way that I could so I will do my best to go over what has happened in the last 2 weeks.

The last day in the CCM for all intents and purposes is an all encompassing review day. Throughout the day we had a series of workshops going over and showing ways in which we can apply the fundamentals that we had been going over for the last six weeks in the CCM. I won't go into to much detail concerning these however at some point in that day we were told that we would be leaving for our missions at 7am in the morning however we would need to have our bags down in the bus by 5:45.  These workshops were relatively "tedious" as most review sessions tend to be, but they had their golden moments of spiritual insight like all things in the Church tend to have, when one is where they should be doing what they should be doing.

It all just kinda set in, this was our last moments with our new family, in a few short moments we would be leaving the CCM and each other and moving into a whole new world one that is vastly different then the one we were raised in or even the sheltered world  of the CCM.  As this day came to a close we had our final district meeting, a district meeting that will never be forgotten as each of us in district mateo shared parts of the deepest foundations of our testimonies, specs of our true love for this gospel. The testimonies shared here kept tears running throughout the hour and a half meeting and even sometime after.

Saying goodbye to each other and other people in the CCM seemed to be harder than saying goodbye to our families at home. I know this sounds a little bad, because I do love all my family and friends back home, but there is some logic behind this. We know for sure that we will see our families and friends again, we will see them when we come back home and they will all be waiting for us.  But our CCM family, this just simply is not the same. We are spread out, some of us in different countries and we don't know for sure if we will ever be able to see each other again. It's a hard thing to think about losing someone that you have become
so close to.

We ended that final district meeting and left to fulfill a CCM tradition of all departing missionaries. The biggest and most infamous of such goes as follows. We gather as many elders as we can into the room with the best view of the temple (we fit around 100 missionaries into that room that day), we then in spanish, sing 3 hymns; hymnos #161 Somos hoy llamados, #88 Placentero nos es trabajar y #89 Para siempre Dios este con vos.  ( I dont know if I can will all honesty call what we do there singing. in reality it is a bunch of Elders and Hermanas screaming as loud as they can these 3 hymns. I myself lost my voice after) this is followed by a closing prayer then we leave and head off to bed for our last night in the CCM.

We left the CCM this morning but of course not without our final goodbyes and our long desired cameras. The bus ride to Reu is around 4 hours and as we began our journey we were all filled with joy to finally be leaving the spiritual prison that is the CCM. It was a weird experience to leave. The sun seemed brighter the world seemed different.   As we drove through the city and into the country of Guatemala we watched as the buildings slowing turned to trees and the people into animals. It is humbling to see the the way people (and now I) live here.  The small little cinder block or scrapmetal houses, the dirt floors, the animals everywhere and stray dogs galore. Most of these houses barely have running water or electricity. The further we moved
from the city the more rural the world seemed to become.  We when reached the mission office,  President Ruiz was there along with all of the APs and other office working missionaries.  We scrambled to look presentable before getting out of the van. after unloading the shuttle bus we had a series of presentations about the mission. They fed us lunch and then sent us to work.  We were paired off with missionaries serving in the area and began working.

I was paired with Elder Goodman he is a 5'7" blonde haired fella who was a wrestler and has been in the area, Las Palmas - La Verde in Retalhuleu about 10 min from the Mission office, for 10 months. We tried our luck at contacting and found around 5 people one of them being an older gentleman who we talked with. He was very hesitate about anything that we taught him.  After the lesson Elder goodman told me that this area is something we call an area of faith, where people who don't know about the church aren't really to willing to listen.   After the lesson with the old man we headed back to the Mission office and over to Presidents Ruiz's home to have dinner then we went to a hotel for the night.

The next morning is change day. There is a lot of stuff that happens there, but I'll save that for another day for now I will only announce that I will be serving in the Las Palmas Zone in the area of La Verde. I will be Serving and being trained under Elder Goodman!  It seems to be a recurring theme on my mission to be serving with the people I have some kind of pre-existing connection with (remember Elder Virgin and I had gotten together on the flight down to Guatemala before being assigned as companions).

Elder Goodman and I have been getting along great!  He is patient with my spanish and has been taking me around and introducing me to all of the members as well as the investigators throughout this week. After seeing him teach my respect for him has grown.  He is very good at what he does and for a gringo his spanish is amazing and when he is next to me he looks like a native as he speaks. I don't know maybe thats good though because they get the baby (nursery) or primary form of the lessons through me and then they get the better and more clarified version through my companion. Whatever we are doing through seems to be working pretty well. We had a baptism on Saturday and I was the one to do the ordinance.  I don't think there is anything better then being able to do this kind of work or even to do these kind of things they joy you feel when you see them come out of the waters of baptism is amazing and I want to be able to feel their joy on many more occasions as I go throughout my mission.  At this moment it looks as though we will we have another 4 baptisms lined up this month. The joy in these peoples faces is amazing when we teach we can literally see the spirit come upon them and change their whole demeanor. I dont know if I will ever want to go home. I can't even understand half of what these people are saying most of the time but I know that this will come in time. After this week I figure I can pick up on around 40% of what they are saying if not more.

Well its pretty much time to go and I love all of you and hope that you will keep the people of La Verde in your prayers.

Elder Goodman and I trying to prove that you can have your cake and eat it too!

Deluxe Accommodations: Large garden view bay windows

Deluxe Accomodations: Notice the walk in extra large shower, and the triple sink/bathtub.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Week 6: Therefore, o ye that embark in the service of God...

Editor's Note:  There was no letter or email from Elder Wilcox this week.  We expected this as he was supposed to leave the MTC early Tuesday morning to go to the mission home in Retalhuleu, where on Tuesday/Wednesday he would receive some training, orientation, interview with the Mission President and be assigned his new area and companion. 

We know that Elder Wilcox is jumping for joy to get to work...

and he is somewhere in this vicinity...

Guatemala Retalhuleu Mission Boundaries in blue

Anxiously awaiting to hear from him next week.