Wednesday, October 27, 2010

SLC is colder than Mexico City

Hi Family!

Winter is finally upon us here in the Salt Lake Valley.  The past few days we have had 50 mph freezing winds and small hail.  Due to the fact that I only have clothes suited for the temperate climate of Mexico City, this cold weather means wearing practically every warm thing I own.  E. Chamberlain and I joke that we are finally being "really missionaries" (the kind you see in photos) rather than the pampered Salt Lake missionaries that we are.  Thankfully, my Zone Leaders found a winter coat that a missionary had left behind and are letting me borrow it until my visa comes. 

Speaking of visas, I should be getting it anytime soon.  I am planning on being here for another two weeks but will be happily surprised if it comes earlier!  I am excited that I will probably be here for the end of this transfer and get to see more of our investigators baptized.  This weekend we have two baptisms and a wedding!!  So many great things are happening and the Lord is blessing us so much.

With two companionships working in our tiny area, we are running out of progressing investigators and have started to teach less actives and recent converts.  This has been a really amazing experience as we have helped many less actives come back to church.  My favorite thing though is to talk to the recent converts about their conversion story.  They are so full of faith and devotion, inspiring me to try even harder to find people that are ready to hear the gospel.  One particular recent convert that we have talked to is Juan Jose.  He took and dealt drugs, has 24 DUIs, has an illegitimate daughter in Mexico, and was in jail for 5 years.  In jail, he read the Bible three times through and decided he wanted to change his life.  He was really interested in the Holy Ghost and didn't know where or how he was going to get it.  The day he was released from jail, he was in his mother's house praying to know what to do and where to find the Holy Ghost.  Right after he prayed, E. Chamberlain and another missionary knocked on his door and the first thing they talked about was the Holy Ghost.  Juan Jose knew at that moment that they were servants of God and he immediately invited them in.  The rest is history!!  He is such an amazing convert and has helped me grow in my testimony.  Right now he is helping us to talk to his 15 family members in the area that are all interested in the church.  Many exciting potentials!

E. Chamberlain and I have been really focusing on staying exactly obedient. The past week, we have had a very stressful time keeping the people we have on date for baptism.  One of our baptism-ready investigators just up and disappeared.  The wife and daughter told us that he does this from time to time and is gone for days on end.  They don't where he goes or how long he is gone.  This was Sunday night and worried about what kind of trouble he could be getting into, we decided to be more aware of our obedience and start fasting.  Monday morning at about 11am, Chan Hernandez called to tell us that he still wanted to be baptized and was sorry to run off like that.  An investigator calling us like that is super uncharacteristic of the Latinos.  We know that things are working out because of the faith and trust we put in the Lord.  However, like we teach out investigators, we put our faith into action by fasting and being as obedient as we possibly could.  I have no intentions to lose the fervor in exact obedience after this last experience and know that we will be blessed as we keep working hard.

We had this amazing lesson with a new investigator named Maria.  We walked into her home with plans to teach the Restoration, but the Holy Ghost impressed us to share the Plan of Salvation.  We rarely start an investigator out with the Plan of Salvation because it is so full of new information but we really felt that is what we needed to do.  When we got to the Spirit World, we found out why the Plan of Salvation was something she needed.  Three of her children had died and she had no idea where they were.  We explained the wonderful blessing of eternal families and that she would be able to live with her children again in the presence of God.  Maria gave the closing prayer and cried as she asked God to keep her babies safe.  The Spirit was so strong during the lesson and we could see it working on Maria the entire lesson.  We have a lesson with her this coming Friday and plan on finishing the Plan of Salvation lesson.

I love being missionary and thank Heavenly Father everyday for the opportunity to do His work.  I love seeing the amazing changes take place within the families that we are teaching. I hope you all have a wonderful week!

Elder Janis

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Who let the dogs out!

Hi Family!
Wow, this has been an eventful week!  As I briefly talked about in my last letter, we have dropped many investigators that weren't progressing.  This has given us more time to focus on the people who are progressing and even on some less active members.  The Spanish Branch that I am serving in had a rumored problem dealing with money causing many members to be offended and leave the church about a year ago.  We have the opportunity to help these people remember their baptisms and rekindle their testimonies.  Many of these couples are starting to come back and we hope to help many more start coming back.
This last week we had a baptism for Alejandro and Juan, the 10 and 8 year old from the family of 6.  Man was that an experience.  Well first off, the baptism was to start at 11am on Saturday but actually started at 12pm because it took the family a long time to get ready.  Despite the late start time, we got the service started and brought the Spirit strongly in the room with the opening song and prayer.  Everything was super organized, going great, and then it was time for the baptisms.  I got in the water and beckoned for Juan to come on in.  As Juan took one  step on to the font's steps, he slipped and came crashing into the water.  Recovering from the slip, Juan stood up completely drenched and looked up at the entire audience who were busting a gut at what just happened.  Juan's family was beside themselves in laughter especially Alejandro who was to be baptized next.  I quickly composed myself, helped Juan stop laughing, and as the room quieted down we performed the ordinance. 
I then went to the bathroom to change while E. Arnell (the other visa waiter) baptized Alejandro.  When E. Arnell came to change he related to me what happened after.  It turns out that Alejandro could not stop laughing and when it came time to perform his ordinance he barely got through.  To top it off, Alejandro swam underwater out of the font.  Worried that these inevitable problems wiped out a lot of the strong spirit that was in the room, we had the congregation sing some hymns while the kids finished changing.  Luckily, the Spirit did come back and we ended the service on a good note.
Despite the eventful baptism, the Holy Ghost had been there and really affected the parents.  On Monday night, E. Chamberlain and I went to Juan and Alejandro's house to talk to the parents.  Usually the kids greet us at the door and we taught them outside on the porch, but on this particular night, Luzmila (the inactive mother) invited us in to the front room.  Alejandro (the investigator dad) also stopped working on clients' cars and came in to talk to us.  We then had the most amazing lesson thus far on my mission.  This spiritual powerhouse of a lesson ended in the parents deciding that they would take the step of faith and get married.  I have learned that for Latinos, helping them see the importance of getting married is relatively easy but then getting them to do it nigh impossible.  The baptism and the Holy Ghost had been the help they needed to finally to get married.  We got their marriage license with them on Tuesday and will have a wedding on the next coming weekend.  The Lord works in mysterious ways and definitely blessed this family with the faith to get married.
Just so you know, I do not like dogs...E. Chamberlain and I were walking down the dark streets of our area when a rather large Pitbull sprinted from a side yard straight at us.  The Pitbull ran until it was about 10 feet away, screeched to a halt, and then ran back to the dark side yard.  Our hearts racing, we stopped running and let out a sigh of relief at how fortunate we had been.  We then went to a member's home who had asked us for some help the previous day with moving a bed.  After helping with some service, we started the walk back toward our home.  A little way down the street, my companion stopped mid-speech and point at the Pitbull who was in the middle of the street just staring right at us.  Freaking out a little, E. Chamberlain and I started walking fast.  The dog ran at us, barking crazily, and then ran off a little to be only joined by another dog of an even greater size.  This HUGE German Shepherd was absolutely scary.   Both the Pitbull and the German Shepherd then decided to come running right at me and had no intentions to stop.  I had no idea what to do because I of all people could not out run two dogs.  Out of nowhere, I did the last thing I would have thought to do in this situation, I yelled "BACK OFF!"  I yelled this as loud as I possibly could and with as much force as I could.  The dogs stopped their running, stood in the middle of the street, and started barking like crazy at us.  Then before they could start running at us again we sprinted as fast and as hard as we could.  A car came out of nowhere and almost hit the dogs distracting them from chasing us.  E. Chamberlain and I sprinted down the next 6 blocks to our house.
So as I sit here all in one piece, I can't help but realize that there are TONS of stray dogs in Mexico City...I have been told that I will have to kick many dogs.  However, the Lord protected my companion and me from being hurt and blessed us so much throughout the week.  This last week especially we have seen so many blessings.  At the awesome Zone Conference we had last week, we learned that when we are obedient in the morning and diligent in the afternoon, we will have success in the evening.  Putting this in practice gave us the specific successes of a marriage and safety from rogue dogs among many other miracles.  I am so grateful to be a missionary and love every minute of it!!!
Sorry my letters are so long! I will work on condensing in the next letter!  I hope you all have a great week.  I appreciate all the prayers and love sent my way; it really does make a difference!
Elder Janis

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Shaking hands with a church leader

Hola Familia!
This week was crazy; the awesome kind of crazy!  We were told in the beginning of the week by our Zone Leaders that this coming week would be rough but that we would finish out with some great success.  This has definitely been the case this entire week.  First of all, E.Chamberlain (our Senior Companion) was stuck to the house for the week and me and E. Arnell took turns proselyting with E. Morris.  I enjoyed the times at home because they provided wonderful study opportunities in which I learned tons.  I specifically focused most of the study on the lessons in Preach My Gospel.  Slowly I am beginning to feel much more confident in being able to teach these lessons simply and in another language.

At the start of this week, my companionship had roughly 20 investigators, some more promising than others but a lot of them had potential.  We had 8 couples/families we were teaching that needed to be married before they could be baptized.  That is actually a huge problem in my mission with the Latinos.  One family, we are teaching and helping get married, has been together for 11 years and have 6 children.  Sad huh....but we are taking them down to the marriage office this week and will hopefully have a wedding for them this coming weekend!  As an added plus, 99% of the families married will eventually be baptized also.  At the start of this week we had these 8 couples and now only have 2 that are really sticking it through.  A couple families fell away due to unfinished divorces and one decided that their Catholic tradition was what they wanted.  We also had many people fall off date for baptism because they got drunk and their hangovers prevented them from coming to church.  After losing quite a bit of our investigators, the Lord blessed us with many new investigators that are even more ready to be taught the gospel!  We did lose a lot of people due to un-before-seen circumstances but now we have the ability to really focus in on some very good families.
This weekend we have a baptism planned for two children 10 and 8.  They are the oldest in the family we are helping to get married whose parents have been together for 11 years and have 6 kids.  They came to church this last Sunday and loved it.  Having already made friends, we have high hopes that they will help their parents start coming to church also.  The mom is a really inactive member that we hope to reactivate as we baptize the father this next weekend.  They are a great family and I have really enjoyed teaching them.  Another recent discovery was a sweet kid named Franklee who just moved to the Salt Lake Valley from Guatemala about a year ago.  We talked to him and his mom and they seem so prepared and very humble.  With many other potentials, we have tons to do and the Lord really is looking out for us.
I had a really cool opportunity for service this last week.  We received a referral for a lady in a huge apartment complex in our area. (by the way: about half of our investigators come from this apartment complex called the Seasons).  We met her once and set up an appointment to meet with her on a later day because she was on her way to therapy.  It turns out that she had polio as a child which really messed up her foot leading to painful limping walk.  With plans to meet her later we went on our way.  However, a couple days later we came across her in the apartment complex with a huge stack of flyers.  She had been hired by the Seasons to put the flyers on all the doors in the complex.  This meant that she not only had to painfully walk around the complex but had to climb stairs up to the third story.  After talking to her and finding out that this is what she was doing, I quickly offered her our help to which she gratefully accepted.  It had taken her over 4 hours to do about a third of the apartments in the complex and was only getting paid for 4 and a half hours of work.  So with 30 minutes left to finish, she didn't really know what to do.  However, E. Morris and I helped her do the last 2/3 of the complex in just over 30 minutes.  When we finished, she was so relieved and thanked us profusely.  She also promised Dominican Republic juice at our next appointment at her house.  Feeling pleased with this wonderful opportunity to serve, we left with a good feeling that Angelica (the lady with polio) would now be that much better of an investigator.
Today, has been one of the coolest P-Days I have had in the mission.  First of all, when we got to the Salt Lake Temple to do endowments this morning, there were security guards standing just behind the recommend desk.  We soon found that they were there because this Wednesday morning was the time that the 12 Apostles and the First Presidency go to the temple.  As we walked to the room just behind the recommend desk we saw Elder  L. Tom Perry and President Uchtdorf walk up the stairs.  L. Tom Perry didn't really see us standing their but man is he tall!  He was taller than most but would have been way taller but seems to be a little hunched over.  President Uchtdorf however saw us, waved, gave us a thumbs up, and then came over to shake our hands.  I got to look President Uchtdorf in the eyes, shake his hand, and say the first thing that came to my mind, "Good Morning."  WOW...amazing!  I will always remember his huge smile and warm greeting even to me, a complete stranger.  Then we had, as always, a great session in the temple! 
After the temple, a Service Missionary named Elder Burbidge drove us in his 1956 Chrysler Imperial to a Costco and bought my companionship what ever we wanted.  This is the same service missionary who brings our companionship over Marie Calendar Pies or Milkshakes every so often.  After doing something like this for us he would ask, "who's your best friend?"  Ha ha, he and his wife teach English to a lot of our investigators.  Sister Burbidge always tells us, "I am so lucky to see you missionaries work so hard in the field because I'm sure your mothers would do anything to be here right now!"  So basically, Elder and Sister Burbidge have put it upon themselves to be my companionship's "parents" while in this area.  Not only that but the Sporls (the Brazilian family who have us over every Sunday and who also helped my companions pull that prank on me) have also declared  themselves our parents and bring us food all the time.  There are tons of some very generous people looking out for us!
I decided to share my best experience this week for last!  Jesus Hernandez, who was baptized last week, was set to be confirmed this last Sunday.  Because of conference weekend, we had to wait more than a week before he could be confirmed.  All throughout this week we went by Jesus' house to check up on him and to also teach him about the Holy Ghost.  Things were going great until Sunday morning.  We went by his house on the way to church and no one was home.  We knocked and knocked and even tapped on some windows spending about 10 minutes waiting.  Unsure what to do and very worried, E. Chamberlain and I walked toward the church.  E. Chamberlain then suggested that we say a prayer and put our trust in the Lord.  He then gave me the opportunity to say the prayer.  After praying we resumed our walk toward the chapel.  About 10 seconds into our walk, I felt that we needed to return to Jesus' house.  I voiced this to E. Chamberlain who then lead us back to the house.  Upon returning, we found Jesus sitting on his porch as if almost waiting for us.  He was asleep and had not heard any of our knocking, but had just decided to come sit outside.  The hand of the Lord was undeniably in the work Sunday morning and blessed Jesus and us with the confirmation.  I will remember this event for the rest of the mission; this really is the Lord's work and His hand is always in any and all success.
This has been an amazing week and one that will be long remembered.  I was so lucky to have this usually long time slot today to write emails so I could tell you all about it!  I love you all tons and hope that you have a great week.  I appreciate all the prayers!
Elder Janis

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Conference Was Amazing

This last week was AMAZING and went by in raging fast blur.  I had some awesome spiritual experiences and learned tons.  The highlight of this last week was going to all 5 sessions of conference and going to the Sunday PM session with Mom, Dad, Laura, and Sarah.  Being a missionary in the SLC Mission brings you the amazing opportunity to go to every single session of conference in the Conference Center.  I have never learned so much or taken so many notes in conference in my life.  I'm sure writing more notes had more to do with taking the words of the prophet and other general authorities more seriously than just being in the conference center.  Throughout the 5 sessions many of my questions were answered and I was given more understanding of how to be a better missionary.  Seeing my family at the conference glory made it even that much better.  It was so nice to see your faces, give you huge hugs, and spend some time eating lunch together!    I was so excited when my Zone Leaders gave me the okay to see you and then even to sit with you in the conference center.  I love you tons and will always remember this specific opportunity.  I look to it as a catalyst to work harder and remember that my missionary service blesses my family too.  The harder I work the greater my family is blessed and the more useful I will be in the Lord's work.

Throughout this week I learned a pretty valuable lesson.  We started the week with some really amazing potential investigators and many plans to put people on date for baptism.  However, as the week unfolded, many people didn't keep commitments and a couple told us that they were no longer interested.  With so many hopes for these people in the back of my mind, I found it hard to let them go.  After learning that we could no longer teach a couple because they weren't married and the husband was still waiting on a divorce to finalize from his other marriage, a family we had a lot of hope for called and told us they no longer wanted us coming by.  Despite this sad news, me and my companion kept marching on.  We knew that the Lord would bless us as we kept our faith in Him and didn't let ourselves get too discouraged.  Sure enough, later that night we had a wonderful lesson with another family and put a person on date for baptism.  Neither of those blessings were expected and I know that they are blessings and even miracles given to us by the Lord.  From this experience, I learned in a real life setting that hard things happen but when you stay faithful and obedient the Lord will bless you.  I understand that this will not be the last time I have rough times in the mission, but I can get through them using what I learned in this experience.

I had a really embarrassing moment this last weekend during a baptism for Jesus Hernandez.  I volunteered to give the Holy Ghost talk in Spanish as part of the baptismal service.  Taking a little time during our lunch break, I quickly found a scripture and wrote an outline of what I wanted to say.  When the time came to stand up and give the talk, I silently said a prayer asking for peace and confidence.  I stood up in front, pulled out my scriptures, and started introducing what I was going to talk about.  After telling Jesus how excited I was for him to be baptized, I starting reading out loud the scripture I had planned.  Half-way through the scripture I realized that I had remembered the wrong reference and was reading a scripture nowhere near related to the Holy Ghost.  Realizing my mistake, I quickly decided to apologize for messing up with the scripture and paraphrased the scripture I meant to read.  With my mind amazingly clear, I was then able to give the rest of the talk without using my outline.  I know beyond any doubt that the Lord's hand was there to help me.  I was immensely embarrassed but through the clear mind and confidence from the Lord I was able to finish teaching about the Holy Ghost and bring the Spirit into the room.  It turned out to be a wonderfully spiritual service and am so happy for Jesus Hernandez!

My companion E. Chamberlain had his tonsils removed this last Monday and will be home bound for the next week or so.  In order for there to always be someone home with him during the day, we received another companion named E. Arnell.  E. Arnell was actually a member of my MTC district who is also waiting on a visa to Mexico City.  E. Arnell and I will take turns sitting at home with E. Chamberlain while E. Morris takes the one of us not at home to proselyte.  I am loving having only the two of us out there teaching and have had many more chances to teach this past week.  Also during the time when I am home and E. Morris and E. Arnell are out, I have had some really productive scripture studies and learned tons.

Well I am off to another week full of potential and maybe even a baptism of a family of 3!  Thanks again for your love and prayers!

Elder Janis