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Monday, December 29, 2014

Week #27: 6 months in, Christmas and Chuicaval

So this week was a very long week or at least seems to have been going on for a very long time. This week we made 3 trips down to San Pedro which for those of you who don't know means a 4am alarm and an hour and a half ride down and another at some point in the day to come back up to Rio Blanco.  Needless to say nothing has changed and I still don't fit in the buses here.  Though through all of the bus trips and the hectic nature of the week, there were still a lot of golden moments.
        I don't know how many of you have seen Christmas celebrated in another country but I have to say the whole decorating the house thing back in The 'Fee seems kinda lame when compared to all of the explosions of Christmas night.  When the clock strikes midnight (and we do literally have a huge bell tower in Rio Blanco that sounds the hour) explosions shoot off everywhere, as people let their fireworks fly into the night.  Fireworks are cheap here so everyone can afford them and  everyone can buys a lot. In anticipation of this moment we climbed up to one of the higher points in the area and looked down the mountain at all of the fireworks going off near and into the distance.  As we looked at some of the clouds behind the mountain we could only see the explosions of light reflecting in the clouds making it seem as if there is some giant storm coming towards us from the distance.  Maybe it is just me as I have been so deprived for so long living in CA where these kinda of things are illegal. But I guess there is a reason as shortly after all was over we heard the sirens of the police and ambulances scurrying around to clean up the injured and put out the fires.
        The following morning Was Christmas day and it was a little bit weird and even more so to see the family when we Skyped home. It is probably just because this is the first Christmas I have celebrated away from home or that I am in Guatemala or because I am a missionary.   It is a little weird trying to remember and recreate some of the traditions that we do as a family here. For instance, on Tuesday we tried to do the whole baked goodies plate gifting thing, but well the very limited budget and even more limited supplies really made it turn out quite different, and very improvised. But together us four college age missionaries "magyvered"  a plate of baked goods (like if we can rig up and fix an electric shower heater every couple of weeks when it breaks - baked goods should be no problem).  I thought that it turned out pretty good and the people who received them really loved it.  However, of course, when my parents taunted me with their Christmas gift plate later on through Skype ours really did pail in comparison.
       On Christmas day one of the branches I am in had a huge Christmas celebration party that started shortly after we finished skyping on Christmas morning. They had everything; a huge carne asada meal for everyone, a DJ, a part for Christmas pictures with Santa (almost had to be Santa :o) and even little skits run by the Relief society and YM/YW and Elders Quorum and so on.  Some of these made me roll on the floor laughing. At the very end there was a giant gift exchange with every person from the Rama. It might have just been one of the best Christmas parties I've been to in all of my life. The members here really put some work into their activities and there is another coming up for New Years that I am sure will be just as fun.
       On Friday we had our first little bit of experience with bus problems or at least my first experience with them. We had our zone meeting on Friday because the buses don't work on Christmas(imagine that). But we found out after the zone meeting they don't always work on the day after Christmas either. This meant taking a bus to a fork in the road and waiting for a bus or car or anything to come by and give us a ride up the mountain...and so we waited...and waited...and got some ice cream...and waited for nearly 2 hours for something to come. Finally one of the members (ironically the person who drives the bus and wasn't working that day) passed by us in his car and with a quick double take and reverse gave us a ride to the top. We had plans to go over to Chuicaval our other rama which would have been the first time missionaries had been there in over 3 months. But it is a two hr walk and when we had finally gotten to the top of the mountain it was already starting to get dark and it is to dangerous to go in the night so we made plans for the next day.
      So I am going to skip the little talk about the pure up hill walk to the little rama up there and just get straight to the info. Up there in Chuicaval the area is more catholic than the Vatican and more spread apart then Maclen our other rama.  The church building is more of a meeting house no more than 18 by 25 of my own feet (yes I counted) and there are only 15 or so active members that go to church. I think it might be one of my favorite places on the planet earth. It is so beautiful and humbling.  I honestly cant believe I used to complain back home about being the only young man in a ward of some 200 people strong when here these people here without even one young man in the branch. It is such a beautiful place and more so than just this. It truly is the beginning of the gospel seed up there,  there is so much that can be done that I myself can do to help these members become stronger and even more to bring the gospel to so many who have never had the chance to hear it up there. I don't know how such a place could have been so neglected for so long when it has so much potential. I don't know what we are going to do to get over there more often but I do know that we for sure will be.
       Now this last little bit is kinda just for you dad. I remember you telling me just before I left as I winged my last talk in English that I soon wouldn't be able to do this in the mission.  As I would have to really prepare to give a good talk in Spanish, as it would take a while for your thoughts and feelings to be expressed naturally in Spanish. But I really think that those last min winged talks have prepared me for the mission. If you think about it missionaries normally give talks as the last minute all the time as they need to fill time or the speakers didn't come to Sacrament kind of talks.  This Sunday all of those years of preparation really came into hand (along with the language coming along nicely)  as we were asked to give talks as we walked into the Chuicaval Rama and then asked to bless and pass the sacrament with no time to prepare.
       I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and has a Happy New Year!  What a great time to stop and reflect on being a better person as Christ wants us to be.  I hope you can all make sharing the gospel both in word and deed a part of your New Year's Resolution!

Guate can be picturesque at times and at other times not so much...

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Week #26: Shucking Corn, Christmas and 25%

Elder Rivas and Elder Wilcox
     Wow,  where has the time gone?!  I am reaching some what of a milestone in the mission soon because in three days 1/4 of my time serving a mission in Guatemala will be over.  Four those math challenged individuals that means that I will have been here for six months, and will have 18 months to go.  I am not quite sure how I feel about this.  As I look back through all of the photos, I have taken, all the people I have met, all the experiences I have had, in my time here, I honestly cannot understand how so much has happened in such a short amount of time.  At this point in the mission it is just a little weird to think about home, but so hard not to at a time like this. Its Christmas after all with all those memories of many years... how can we not? But I also think long and hard about my time here, how I can be a more consecrated missionary, how I can better serve all of those around me, how I can help, build up, teach and inspire at every moment, and make all I come in contact with hopefully better than before.
     This week has been all about getting to know the area, we have had a lot of meetings this week and were only in the area for a small fraction of the week, but we did what we could. On Tuesday, we had our yearly devotional with President Ruiz and discussed the goals and the logros of the year past and the year to come. I found out a lot about my area in that little meeting. I knew that my knew area was a hard area and an area of faith but when they showed the stats for the year in Rio Blanca it made me realize just how hard and just how much faith I am going to need to have in these next few months here. But I not discouraged, I see it as a motivation more than anything else.

    The members here are amazing and I know we can start to find a lot of new people if we just work through all of these pilas families that we have here. (there is more than 3x the amount of people in this rama than my last).
     Service up here is little bit different than it is down on the coast. On Wednesday I had my very first experience shucking corn in a barn. It's pretty cold up here and after shucking for a few hours in the cold my hands became pretty numb but that only helped me shuck faster.....I like the word shuck.

    There is one thing that happened this week that was different and new for me.  I don't know if any of you know what Cal is but its one of my least favorite things in the world now.  Apparently there is a rock here called Cal that when put into hot water it has a chemical reaction becomes acidic and putty like and creepy.  Apparently they use it for just about everything here from tamales to cleaner to cement.  One day we went to do a little service for one of the members and when we got to the house she asked if we could help her paint the ceiling of her house. I had no problem with that. I can easily touch the ceiling with my head there, so painting it really wasn't to much of a problem.  Then she gave us the "paint"(cal). I didn't know what it was at the time I just thought it was some home-maid "chapin" paint.  Little did I know I was painting with acid....and after the two hours was done and over it had turned my hand disgustingly dry nastily and cracked. Even today it still looks like my right had is that of a 50 year old man. Needless to say I now know what cal is and will never touch that stuff again in my life... lol I almost lost a hand and an eye.  [Editor's Note:  We also don't know what Cal is, if someone knows we would love to know... :-) ]
     We had a little Christmas celebration this week with the District Rio Blanco.  Familias were paired into groups and given specific scripture stories to act out. We missionaries were paired with our landlady and her family and were given the good Samaritan to act out. Long story short we rocked that performance but didn't sadly did not get any video.  We had fake blood mask donkeys(well me dressed up as one) and so much more we brought the house down, and it was fun creative way to teach and remember our Savior.
     I don't know if I told you this but I am living in the same house as Elder Owen who was in the same CCM group as me. One day after a meeting we were in the main plaza of San Pedro waiting for the bus after getting some "sheka pan" to eat (best bread in the world I'm going to put on some weight here from it). Elder Owen is about as canche as possible with his pure white skin and blonde hair. He and I paired together simply draws attention. As we were sitting there in the park people kept coming up to us simply because we are gringos and they haven't ever meet any before. By the time the bus had arrived at the station we  had seven lessons together with random people contacting US. I wish it could be like that everyday. So much easier that walking hours on end in order to get to simply one lesson.
     Well this area is huge, amazing, beautiful and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. I don't know everything that The Lord has planned for me here, but I am going to work hard and enjoy every minute of it.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Week #25: Transfers to Rio Blanco, a bus ride, and it does get cold in Guatemala...

Our Christmas Tree with picture ornaments

Greetings family and friends!  

This week has been absolutely crazy... I dont really know where to begin so I guess ill just come out and say it...I am very cold.  Dad asks me every week what I learned this week, and there have been many learning opportunities but the biggest things I have learned is there are some cold parts in Guatemala.
       So every Tuesday we have a district meeting and the Tuesday before changes we have a little extension to the meeting to find out who in the zone has changes. Last Tuesday morning I woke up and we went over to this meeting and there I along with seven (7) other missionaries in the zone we found out that we would be having changes or transfers.   I took some time later that day to say my goodbyes to my first new little chapin families in Guatemala.

Wednesday morning the day of changes I awoke and I was cold...which I took as a sign that I would be going to the mountains of Guatemala.  Sure enough, after one of the longest change meetings in the history of change meetings because of the many changes, I found my new hope to be in the icy tundras on the other side of the mission in the area Maclen in the zone San Pedro.  As I am sure some of you have seen by now that there were a lot of missionaries leaving that meeting and it was a very sad day for a lot of reasons. But sure enough the mission continues and after saying goodbye to the fragments of my old zone I headed into the bus to make the 4 hour trek to the zone San Pedro.  Along the way we stopped at Burger King and used the debit card in hopes that my parents would understand that it was code for "yeah I had changes". I believe dad understood, and after the little pit stop we jumped back into the bus and rolled all the way up to San Pedro leaving our mission and passing through the Quetzaltenango mission to get to this particular part in the Retalhuleu mission.
When we got to San Pedro the zone leaders told us that my area is actually another hour and 30 minutes away still by bus and is one of, if not thee biggest area in the mission, but because it is so late you couldn't get a bus there so I had to stay the night there.  The next day we had a zone meeting and that morning I finally meet my new companion Elder Rivas who is from El Salvador and is my first latino companion in the mission.  He has 20 months in the mission and will probably be leaving the area after this change but from what I have seen once he get started on a days work he can do a lot.
          Apparently a lot in this area depends on the bus schedule. Elder Rivas and I live with 2 other Elders(Ramirez and Owen) in the frozen lands known as tierras frio.  Up here is one of the few places in Guatemala that actually gets snow but there are only a handful of buses that go up and down to our area every day.  For example today is Pday and in order to get down here we had to wake up at 4 to catch the 4:30am bus to get down to here by 6am and tonight we have to take the 7pm bus back and come back down again tomorrow morning at 4:30am for a christmas devotional with the President of the mission. Every trip on the bus takes an 1 1/2 hours and with my height you can imagine the knee problems I will have after my time here in this area.
           This area is absolutely amazing, beautiful beyond belief.  It is hard to capture what you see here in a photo because pictures simply don't do it any justice.   We have a branch up here so big that it would probably be a ward if it were possible, but there isn't a stake close enough so it falls under the district.  Everything is simply beautiful..i dont even know how to put it into words.
        Everything I know about the area is amazing and the people are super pilas. The only temporary downfall is that my california body that was acclimated to the hot humid jungle of Guatemala is not used to the cold and the clothes that I brought for the mission are not quite adequate to tackle the climate of this area,  Though a quick trip to the pacas in the area can fix that nice and quick.
         Birthday went great and happened ti fall on the first day I was in my new area I didn't really tell anyone but I made sure to celebrate the next day in the house with my new comps. we had a blast.

So starts a new chapter in the Retalhuleu Mission getting to know and serving the people of Rio Blanco!  I am excited to press forward to get to know the people and see how I can make a difference in their lives!
Rio Blanco land of the apples
View of my area from the ZL house in the city...the area is that which is up in the mountains under the clouds.

Now up the mountain in the area.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Week #24: Transfers, living nativity and getting lost...

Elder Wilcox playing Joseph in a living nativity in the streets of Guatemala.
Starting out in December we have began to work and focus our teachings so much more on Christ with it being the time of the year where so many remember him in the celebration of Christmas. Every set of missionaries in the mission have been challenged to throw some kind of celebration or activity to get people to remember what the true meaning of Christmas is.  Right now in the world people don't really remember what the true meaning of Christmas is. People seem to focus on the food, the presents, Santa and all the superficial stuff of the world.  Being here on the mission I have really learned a lot and one of the  parts most important of all is the gift that Christ is in our lives.

Right now the mission is trying to remind everyone that he was and is the reason that we celebrate at this time of the year. That he was the first gift of christmas.

     Ok so this is the goal and on Saturday we had our first of these activities and Wow! it went simply amazing.  We had started to plan these activities as a zone and will then do the basic idea in all of the areas of each pair of missionaries. Right now we have alot set up for everyone of these but here is the basic Idea.  We reserve a field or street or some lot to hold the activity.  We set up a little manger, a stage for the video,  "El es el dadiva" and as missionaries we sing Christmas hymns for all to hear while some of the missionaries are teaching and taking down information from those that are there, so we can go and teach them at some other time.  We also do kinda a santa picture taking session but instead of santa we have Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.  We even bring in animals to make the whole thing that much better (but only the cute little baby goats and others --after they grow up they just stink and are nasty). So far we have only done this over in San Sebastian the area of Hermana Phillips and Garcia but we will be going and doing others throughout the month.  I am sending some of these pictures so you can see.
     Last week I mentioned there is a chance that I might have a transfer this week, but quite simply know one but the office and mission President really know and maybe not even them as of yet.  I am tied for the most time in the zone at the moment, however the other 2 I am tied with are about to go home and so no one really believes that the President is going to change them with so little time left in the mission. In addition others are thinking that they put Elder Garcia with me so that he can learn the area really fast so that they can switch me out into a different area (Elder Garcia has 15 months). and with all this I simply think that anymore than 3 changes in the zone will kinda make people a little unproductive.  But who knows really where my path will go - and it doesn't really matter, although it would be nice to stay here for another transfer especially with my birthday and christmas fast approaching.
     Someone asked about the bathroom situation...even in la verde our house at least has indoor plumbing and a shower...if you can count a pipe out of the wall that squirts water a shower.  Really it is not that bad except for those darn mosquitos.
    We got lost this week...that was quite the adventure. we started to go to las vegas - but we were walking through a forest and got lost and ended up walking for an hour before we stumbled upon a brand new area within our area...honestly these little colonies of people just pop out of the ground. Once there was someone to ask where we were and they said Las Flores...which would have helped us alot if we knew where that was.  From here we ended up following a road up and up and up,  two hours later we popped out of the wilderness and where at the very edge of our area over in San Luiz...that was a great experience,  the entire time I was just thinking where in the world is my iphone with google maps?

        On thursday we went over to Xetalulu to celebrate christmas. this was pretty great and unlike the US super cheap.  A ticket to go into the park is only 8$ and to eat at the super fancy restaurant is 8$ as well.  Best part about going to an amusement park here is seeing the latino missionaries. They go absolutely crazy for everyone of the rides. they sure know how to make whatever they are doing a lot better and fun for those they are with.
   I don't know what this next week will have in store but things are about to change a lot in the mission.  There are 25 missionaries leaving in the transfer this week, including almost all of the hermana leaders, the 4 assistants and many zone leaders.   At the least this is going to be a very long change meeting.  Fingers crossed that I don't get transferred, though things are hard in this area and from what I have heard its one of the hardest, I know this place has done me good. The only dilemma for the moment is whether I should by food for the week or not today...cause if I have changes...well lets just hope I don't.

setting up the living nativity

this is when the goats are cute...

Monday, December 1, 2014

Week #23: Thanksgiving and El es la dadiva

The hot weather and all the rain makes for some beautiful sunsets!
Pday this week is cut short yet into a half day.  We are not really sure why, but when the mission president cuts the Pday in half he usually has a lot of fun planned for us in the near future.  I have heard rumors that we will be celebrating christmas this week in Xetalulu.  I will let you know next week!  Hence the reason I sent emails so much earlier today.

Sadly, we did not have the chance to kill and eat that turkey. The plans fell through and though I would have loved to have eaten that whole thing with my companion, we decided that it was probably best to just go out and work.  We didn't really celebrate thanksgiving, just a silent moment of contemplation and thanks for all that we have,  and I am starting to get the feeling that I wont be celebrating my Birthday in La verde, changes this round up fall on the 10th of dec and if I do end up having changes there won't be too much time to get the members in my new area to get to know me well enough to throw me a birthday party.  Oh well, I have come to the conclusion that holidays don't really exist on the mission.  Unless of course they fall on Monday.  Maybe that is too critical of a statement...holidays and all days are what you individually make of them, I am just realizing more and more about what really matters in life.

Before the mission Merv bought me a watch and it has been more useful than I ever thought it would be.  As you can imagine keeping kids happy and entertained during a lesson is very challenging, like keeping kids entertained during sacrament meeting on Sunday. However here I don't have my phone and all of its apps to give them something to do.  But I have the watch and it's light. Every little kid loves it. I have it perfectly timed to where I can "blow" the light out. It has saved more than its fair share of lessons by allowing me to easily pacify the crying little toddler.

We have been trying out our luck this week going and contacting all of the families that live over across the river from Las Delicias. There are a ton of little families over there and love talking to the gringos. There are so many cool little families over there and many of them except every single word that we say know that it is true but simply don't understand the resounding movement that should be pushing them after. If you look in the bible dictionary at the word devil it says that one of the greatest tools that he has is the ability to change the world's perception of something bad and make it seem good. I was doing a lot of studying this week on this. and if we look over in 2 Nefi there is a chapter that talks all about how false churches with be risen up at the last day and they will have false doctrine and false teachers.  I believe that the worst part of this is the confusion that it causes. Here in Guatemala there are evangelical churches literally every couple of houses with at least one on every block. In Las Delicias alone there are around 10 different churches on just the main road that leads to our house. Everyone of them teaches something different and everyone of them has there own individual doctrine or teachings. As we go and teach people almost all more or less will let us in the door and will listen to everything that we say. However every single one of them says the same thing, that I am searching for my own individual salvation and it doesn't matter which church I am in because all of them worship god and that makes them all right and so I'm not going to change my religion because my religion is god and every church worships god. The horrible thing that has arisen is the false conceptions that have arisen to keep people from the truth, the complete truth with the ordinances and authority that are required.

Last night we meet this girl while out contacting she is 16 years old and is married to a 22 year old man.  She is an evangelist and he is catholic.  As we taught her she started to really open up to us she told us about all of the problems she has been having in the relationship and why people in her family were leaving her church and joining the LDS church. She initially had a little bit of anger towards us but then she for some reason asked us what colleges we had graduated from(because we had the answers to whatever question she had).  We of course told her none and I said I'm only 18 way to young to have graduated. She didn't believe me and I had her look I have my license. She looked and after we started to really get into to teaching her. It was a great lesson and a great experience!

Sunday was great this week as well.  We were sad because we had none of our investigators there, even after trying for 10 mins to get one to come as he ate a bowl of chicken and said I'll go tomorrow, and throwing one of the recent converts into the pickup as he was making an excuse as to why he couldn't go.  Everything was just kinda slow and sluggish until we started to sing the Sacrament hymn.  We were two verses into the song and right as we were about to start to sing the 3rd verse everyone starts on the 4th.  My companion and I were confused,  but we joined in and made that the best 4th verse ever sung. After we finished the person leading the music said ok now lets try the 3rd verse! and as so it was done.  The little differences that bring can bring a smile to your face.

We have 3 baptisms lined up right now if things go all according to plan but we will see how that goes as the week presses on.  Well time is short here on the computer.  We are going to start celebrating Christmas today and using the new El es la Dadiva ( put out by the church to contact people.   We are planning to a big Christmas celebration on the 20th of December, inviting the other pastors and other churches to all put up tiendas in the soccer field and have a Festival of Lights.

I hope all is well at home, that you had a fantastic Thanksgiving! This Christmas is going to be a special Christmas for me - as I am away from home for Christmas for the first time and spending it as a special disciple and witness of our Savior Jesus Christ!  I plan to make the most of it.