Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Conversion & Testimony

Hola Familia!
This week has been such an adventure!  I cannot believe the all the "first-times" that I am having while on a mission in SLC of all places!   This past week, Elder Fuentes and I tracted like crazy.  Most days we tracted, knocking door after door, for 5 hours with a couple of 8 hour days in there also.  I have learned to love the surprise of meeting the person answering the door, getting to know them, and teaching them a principle or two.  We will then ask the Americans if they know of any Latinos in their neighborhood and then go and knock those doors.  If they are Spanish-speaking, we will then close our door approach with a commitment to baptism.  At first I thought such boldness would just scare our investigators away, but it has really helped us find some really solid new investigators.  E. Fuentes and I thanked Heavenly Father everyday for the success we are having this week after the trials of little finding success last week.  We are now pretty stock full of wonderful families to teach and now actually have to find time to tract sometimes.  I can definitely see the hand of the Lord in our finding these families and look forward to teaching them!!
Yesterday was quite the experience for E. Fuentes and I.  We were eating dinner when the blizzard hit the SLC Valley and when we came out, everything was covered in snow.  What I really love about our companionship is that this blizzard didn't slow us down one bit!  Despite the onslaught of snow and the 7 degree wind chill, Elder Fuentes and I hit the streets of the South Salt Lake Stake with a determination to show the Lord that we could be diligent despite all of the opposition.  We made a game out of it almost!  Anytime either of us said anything about it being cold, we would joke about how scourchingly hot it was outside and that we wished we were in bathing suits and flip-flops.  We continued this as we walked around the very quiet and vacant streets of our area going from appointment to appointment.  However, one of our appointments fell through and we were given the opportunity to tract an apartment complex that we hadn't knocked yet.  The fifth door we knocked  in the complex turned out to be the most spiritual lesson that I have ever been in!
We knocked on door five of the complex to be greeted by a man who seemed rather annoyed at our bothering him.  We found out that he has been less active for many years now because of the culture of the LDS church.  After we showed interest in trying to help him see the importance of going to church, he invited us into his home to discuss more. Inside his home, he explained to us that he was mad at the church for their refusal to answer certain questions he had about Joseph Smith and the practice of polygamy.  We shared with him Mosiah 4:9, a beautifully pointed scripture, and then bore testimony of the importance of only concentrating on the knowledge and faith necessary for salvation.  He then admitted that before we knocked on his door he had been praying for certain answers to his questions and he knew that us coming to his home was an answer to his prayer.  Before leaving, we offered a prayer in which we asked the Lord to help him come back to church and have to power to overcome his trials. The Spirit was so strong in the room and at the end of the prayer, we opened our eyes to a grown man bawling.  He, while trying to choke back his emotions, thanked us and as we left, he invited us out for dinner sometime.  I have never been in such a spiritual lesson in my life.  The questions and the words we spoke were not our own.  I will never forget this experience and the power the Spirit had on a hard-hearted member of the church.  We are going to visit him again tonight and see how he is doing.
I also came to a wonderful realization while pondering the events of the night.  I am on my mission to help in every possible way the conversion of the people here, but to also continue to convert myself.  As I have taught the wonderful doctrines of the church, read the Book of Mormon, prayed, and bore testimony everyday, I can feel myself more and more converted.  The most noticeable difference I have seen in myself is a greater desire to share the gospel and work harder everyday.  I am finding it easier and easier to want to work hard and to be diligent even though it would be so easy to just be lazy.  My conversion and testimony has brought me so much peace and joy and I want to share this with every person I can!  I know that Christ lives.  I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God.  I know that this is the Lord's work and man do I love it!!
I love all you so much and hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!  The lovin' from home in the last package was awesome Mom, thanks!  I can't wait to enjoy the treats you brought to me.  I was so excited to see the homemade granola!!!!!!  Laura, thanks for sticking in that huge Butterfinger, you are so wonderful!  Enjoy the family and holidays!
Until next week with love and thanks,
Elder Janis

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Learning to ride a bike, maybe...

Hola Familia!
What a week it has been!  I have had a lot of experiences this week that have been amazing and others that have been insanely crazy.  I only have a short amount of time to email so I am going straight to the stories this week.
This last week I got to do temple service in the Salt Lake City Temple.  In all honesty, being a visa waiter and the few amount of times that missionaries are asked to help, I was very lucky to be able to go.  Wow, what a blessing!  They had a temple worker devotional in the Solemn Assembly room of the temple which is where the General Authorities meet before General Conference to prepare.  It is a huge room in the top story of the temple that looks relatively like a stadium with many, many seats.  They asked us missionaries to help take down the chairs and store them and then clean the baptistry.  The whole time I was in the Solemn Assembly room I was taken aback by the beauty and elegance that went into the 40 year construction of the temple.  I could not help but think about the many consecrated hours of service and selfless talent that was spent to make every inch of the House of the Lord such a work of art.  The Solemn Assembly room especially.  As we put away chairs, swept, and vacuumed, I decided that I needed to put as much or even more care in the way I cleaned the House of the Lord as the people building it did.  The early saints of the Church went through SO much in order to build this temple and bring such an amazing blessing to each of our lives.  I thought about this pretty much the whole time I was cleaning and tried so hard to work just as hard and meticulous as the early saints!  I will never forget the wonderful peace and joy I felt as I went about cleaning the temple.
So, Elder Fuentes and I are in this ginormous area in the South Salt Lake Stake with only our own two feet to get us around.  However, we talked to the Stake President about how usually there is a car in this particular area and that without one we were wasting tons of time walking from place to place.  He really likes Elder Fuentes and me because we have been working as hard as we can and so he went out and got us bikes.  He got two bikes donated and then paid to have them repaired.  Grateful to have a faster way to get around, we started this week proselyting for the first time on bikes.  HA HA, E. Fuentes and I have had some pretty crazy adventures already on the bikes.  First night that we were out riding we got in a wreck.  The streets are really dark and some person put a gigantic pile of leaves in the middle of the bike lane of the street.  I was in front and saw it but it was to late to stop and mowed right through it.  I didn't know what it was other than a pile of something and seriously thought I was going to die for a good couple seconds.  On the other side of the pile, I breathed a sigh of relief while looking back to see if E. Fuentes made it through safely too.  He was not as lucky.  As I turned my head around I heard a grunt and a bike crashing to the ground.  I ran over to my companion who was face down in the pile of leaves.  I helped him up, brushed him off, discovered that he was fine, and we both started laughing hysterically!  We both wished that we had had a camera to film my reaction and his enormous tumble.
Then the next day, we were pedaling down the street and E. Fuentes was telling me how wobbly and unstable his seat was feeling.  Not knowing exactly what to do about it at the moment we just kept going.  At the next stop light, we were coming to a stop when E. Fuentes's seat came completely of the bike!  We then had to spend the next 30 minutes trying to figure out how to put on the seat and then do it exactly right so it didn't happen again.  We have many other problems with the bikes and have almost decided that they might be more trouble than they're worth.  We just laugh a ton as we recount our experiences to other missionaries in the Zone.
Well, I just ran out of time...but I wanted to quickly add that we had a great week and found many more great families to teach!  We are working so hard and see the hand of the Lord every day!  I love missionary work and thank Heavenly Father every day for the opportunity to be a missionary!!!  Thanks for the all the wonderful letters!  Aunt Mindy and Uncle Brandon, I really appreciate the letter you sent me.  Thanks for thinking of me.
Elder Janis

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A week of miracles

Hey Family,
Cold weather has finally come to stay and it is supposed to snow tonight and tomorrow!  The mountains are beautiful and I love the crisp cold air as I walk my area.  Me and Elder Fuentes think we walk upwards of 4 or 5 miles-a-day.  I am so thankful for the exercise because the Spanish ward here feeds us like kings at every dinner.  After most meals, I feel like just rolling around to all our lessons!
This week, Elder Fuentes and I had some AMAZING experiences.  What I am learning from Elder Fuentes that will really help me now and later on in the mission is to diligently follow all of the counsel and advice of our Mission Leaders.  I came into this area with no one on date for baptism and only one or two that were even close to reaching that point.  We discussed what we wanted to do in order to gain more investigators and help the ones we have progress.  The first thing we did was make a goal to talk to every person that we met on the streets and tract out the apartment complexes in our area.  The second thing we did was make a goal to hard commit someone to baptism everyday.  (A hard commit= "will you follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized by someone holding the authority of God?)  The third thing we did was pray and have faith that the Lord will help us find one new investigator every day.  The fourth thing we did was commit to asking for referrals from every investigator, less active member, and recent convert we talked to.  The fifth thing we did was decide that we would do everything we could to enable ourselves for the Lords blessings such as obedience and really hard work.
After making these goals, we hit the ground running and have been working hard to meet every one of these goals.  Through this last week have added one or more investigators, received tons of referrals, and have put four people on date for baptism! I have seen many miracles this last week, but due to time I will tell you my two favorite experiences.
The first experience was with Rene Balan.  We were walking down 300 East when we saw a Latino man out racking his front lawn.  Both of us without really saying anything knew that we must talk to him because we had made a commitment to talk to everyone.  As we started up a conversation with Gorge, the man racking the leaves, we found out that he was a less active member.  We talked to him about coming back to church and the blessings that would come from following the commandments.  In this situation we would normally end with a prayer and go on our way, but as we offered to say a prayer he invited us in his home.  Inside his home, Gorge introduced us to his girlfriend Rene.  Rene then told us how she was interested in our church and had been taught a couple of times by sister missionaries.  Due to her working on Sundays, the sisters dropped her.  However, she recently become unemployed and has time for both the lessons and to go to church.  Elder Fuentes and I then taught her a couple of principles and then hard committed her to be baptized on the 20th of November which she then unhesitatingly responded yes.  We then made a calender of lessons for the next two weeks.  I know that the Lord had been preparing Rene for us and blessed us with the opportunity to meet with her.  This was undeniably a miracle to which I am so thankful to the Lord for blessing us with.
The next of my favorite miracles happened last night.  In the theater of the General Conference building, the church was putting on a musical theater production called "El Salvador del Mundo" (means "The Savior of the World").  It was an amazing depiction of the Savior's birth and post-Resurrection ministry.  I loved it and am thankful for the opportunity that I had to go.  However, the real miracle was who we went with to the theater production.
The Burton Ward and South Salt Lake Stake that we work in love Elder Fuentes and me.  On Saturday, they handed us an envelope of tickets to the show and desired that we invite all of our investigators to go.  We realized later that they had given us 30 tickets!  We have been working hard to gain the 10 or so really solid investigators and were not going to be able to find 30 investigators to go with.  That next few days and especially Tuesday, we worked as hard as we could on top of normal proselyting to get our investigators to go.  On Tuesday about 2 hours before we needed to go to the Conference Center, we had found only a couple of member families to take the tickets.  We didn't give up though.  We went to a young couple's home who we had just started out their lessons and asked them if they could go with us.  With only an hour to go before the the show, they surprisingly said yes and even invited some of their friends to come.
Not only had we been blessed to take investigators to the show but we were also blessed to meet two of their friends.  During the show, I could see them loving it and afterwards they thanked us many, many times.  This was just what they needed for their conversion and I anticipate they will be more excited to know more!  Also, since we met their friends we are going to start inviting them to the lessons.  Not only did the Lord bless us with two very solid people to go with, but we were also blessed with two very good potential investigators.  I even was blessed with the opportunity to go to the show also!
I love missionary work and am so excited to see what miracles are in store for Elder Fuentes and I next week!!!  I love you all tons and hope you have a great week because I know I will!!
Con abrazos,
Elder Janis

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Transferred from Cannon to Parley

Hola Familia!

This has been a great week!  I can't believe all the amazing opportunities I am getting while I am waiting for my visa!  First off, the wedding that we had this last Friday night was perfect.  Everything went according to plan.  We had at least 30 members of the branch at the wedding and the Ballesteros couple we married had at least 20 family members.  The members did an excellent job talking to the couple getting married and to their non-member family.  Some of the non-member family and friends of the Ballesteros agreed to let us come over and teach them and many of them are very interested.  All in all, it was a great experience in which we saw a family be married and even received some new investigators.  What could be better!!

The baptisms also went really well.  Ruperto Hernandez, the father of the girl with Leukemia, was baptized and then a guy named Juan Manuel was also baptized.  The service for Ruperto was a very happy experience because we and he knew that the feeling of the Holy Ghost and the gospel would bless his family as they go through their daughter overcoming cancer.  Juan Manuel's baptism was SUPER spiritual.  He had been wanting to be baptized for a couple months now but could not get off work without fear of being fired.  He was excited to finally get to the waters of baptism and he looked so happy and peaceful as he came up out of the water.  His 4 year old daughter exclaimed, "Daddy, you did it!!"  as he walked back to get changed. It was so cute to see a change come over the family and even see his young daughter excited for him.  I loved seeing both these guys get baptized and know they will make great disciples of Chirst.

So, today marks the beginning of a new transfer.  I surprisingly was the only visa waiter to be transfered.  Usually visa waiters are like a third wheel on a normal companionship but President Winn gave me the opportunity to be in a normal sized companionship!   My new companion is Elder Fuentes from Argentina.  I will get to practice my Spanish a lot more and from the little that I have gotten to talk to him, we will be working hard!  I am excited for this change and look forward to the things I will learn from a new companion and a new area.  I used to be in the Cannon Zone which is west of downtown Salt Lake.  Now I am directly south and can see downtown really easily.  I am in the Parley Zone now and that is about all I know about this new area and zone.

Part of transfers is saying goodbye to investigators, recent converts, and member families.  It was pretty hard to say goodbye to everyone.  The hardest family to say goodbye to was the Valenzuela family.  We helped this pretty disfunctional family start going back to church and are planning to baptize their 10 year son next weekend.  The two oldest sons were in trouble with the cops for doing weed and the parents are living with friends while they try to find a house.  I have loved meeting with this family and learning to love them.  Seeing them at church this last Sunday with all of them there, even the two rebellious older sons, and all dressed up and excited was such an amazing feeling.  I am so excited for this family!  Sister Valenzuela cried when we told her we were leaving as she conveyed her gratitude for what we helped her family do with the help of the Lord.  I had really grown to love each one of them and will keep praying for their further success as they enter back into the path to the Lord.

Being a missionary is such a blessing and I have loved trying to fill the role and calling the Lord has given me.  I love you all tons and hope you have a great week!  Thanks Mom for the Halloween package and my companions were very thankful also!  It was such a great surprise to get something from home.  Thanks also Aunt Tiffany for the package!  It was so kind and thoughtful of you.


Elder Janis