Monday, March 31, 2014

I always forget to put a subject line, you can put whatever you want ;)

As with every last week of the month, today we had the leadership council. As always, it was very spiritual, reminding me of how great it is to be a missionary and how many details we have to take care of, especially as leaders. We read the Agazzanis´ new favorite talk, "Becoming a Preach My Gospel Missionary," by Elder Bednar. It´s very similar to what he taught us when he came here. We talked about using the area book to help keep track of our investigators´ progress and coordinate retention with the ward leaders. There were lots of things I have been thinking about recently, which always helps me know that these councils are inspired.

Sonia went to live with her aunt in Fernando de la Mora (closer to the center of Asunción), but she found the missionaries and went to church! She´s incredible. We are trying to help her fit in better with the members and be honest about how much she smokes. Those seem to be the only two challenges we have. She is my only investigator who reminds US of her baptismal date every lesson and asks when we are going to buy her a triple combination.

We really couldn´t find many new investigators this week, but that is just another opportunity to learn and improve. The Morinigo family, one of the pioneers here, is committed to help us visit everyone on the Action list (I think that´s what it´s called in English) and re-record or re-baptize those who need it. So we´re on our way to solving that problem. We found out that one of the girls who we thought wasn´t a member actually is...but it was good because we are working on reactivating her family.

Andrés, Santiago´s brother, and his wife and two kids came to church! Lots of members talked to them. I think they had a great experience. Tomasita, who I don´t know if I´ve mentioned, also came to church. She´s the niece of Nila, a recent convert. She doesn´t pay much attention--she´s 11 years old and can´t read because she doesn´t pay attention in class either. But we´ve found that movies work miracles!

One thing we did well was visit a LOT of converts this week, so most of then are doing better. Hugo and Arnaldo seem to be avoiding us, or their families are keeping them from talking to us, which is sad. I guess you can´t win every time, right?

Also, I just heard that Liza Melgarejo, my convert in Ca´acupé, has cancer. Her daughter Silvia, who took so long to get baptized, is angry and hasn´t come back to church. I love them like part of the family, so it worries me a lot, as you can imagine. I didn´t really understand what was going on when Dad was diagnosed with cancer, but I understand now. It seems like as an adult all of my feelings are a lot deeper, if that makes sense. Just keep them in your prayers, as I surely will, too.

Thanks for taking care of classes and housing. About the little miracles, we do try to take advantage of every chance to find new people, but your spiritual thought will remind me do it even more. Luckily, here in Paraguay, when plans fall through someone somewhere is willing to let us in. I don´t think I was able to answer all your questions from last week. My companion has been out for 16 months. He goes home in November. He is a little shy, but we get along very well. He is a very good listener and a sincere testifier (if that makes sense). And know that all the news you send me is very interesting, even if I forget to write my reaction. Like Brother Pyne--that´s great!*

Woopdee doo, the church is true, and I love you.** Have a great week!

-Elder Morgan the Young at Heart

*Brother Pyne from our ward was just made the new Stake Patriarch.
**That is a quote from an elderly gentleman in our ward who used to say that at the end every time he bore his testimony.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Always learning

It was a good week, as is every week in the mission. (You always learn something worthwhile). But we didn´t teach as much as we would´ve liked. We used a lot of time moving the other missionaries in our ward into our apartment until they find a new apartment. It´s cramped and smelly but we get over it. They are both from Guatemala. I think I have mentioned this before, but never asked specifically, could you give me the names and addresses (approximate) of your cousins in Guatemala? Elder Velasquez, my old friend, goes home in April and lives pretty close to the temple, too. He said he´d like to visit them.

Another thing that took a lot of time was a conference with Elder Francisco J. Viñas, a Spaniard who grew up in Uruguay. He's from the Area Presidency, and it was a very very good conference--one of the mission tours that Daniel mentioned in his mission a few weeks ago. My zone did a special musical number, "Onward Christian Soldiers," which turned out alright. I sang a solo, which was pretty nerve-wracking. Elder Viñas talked about a lot of great things--teaching by the spirit, preaching repentance to help people change. Everything was centered on the Atonement. He shared a story I loved about a missionary who wanted to go home a little early. When he had to interview the missionary, he said "You probably think I am here to convince you to stay, but that´s not what I am going to do. I just want to help you understand why you want to go home. You may have your reasons, but it is really because you don´t understand the Atonement. If you understood the Atonement, you would understand why you have to continue in the mission. And if you were to stay here, you would come to understand the Atonement more fully." The missionary was intrigued, and--as you can guess--decided to finish his mission.

He also mentioned what you said, that the mission isn´t ours. He reminded us that we don´t baptize or teach anyone. I´ve heard that before, but it was a powerful reminder. It´s no use counting your baptisms and comparing numbers because I have little to do with the success. Like you said, we are just instruments in the Lord´s hands. Elder Viñas was very direct in everything he said, and used a lot of memorized scriptures. He talked about the poor retention in Paraguay, and told us we can´t baptize people who aren´t ready yet. He gave the example of Ammon and Limhi. He wasn´t worried about what other people thought, he did things the right way. That´s something this mission could improve. We talk a lot about having faith and showing the people they are ready and need to be baptized now, but sometimes we should give them more time to prepare, especially if they don´t have a true desire to endure to the end. So, as with all such conferences, we have a lot to improve.

Speaking of retention, we have some members who are helping Nila and Hugo learn to read. The youth of this ward are incredible. I need to visit my converts´s so hard to do so many things at once. We are visiting the Centurions, whose dad is working here for a few weeks. He went back to visit his wife this Sunday, but we´ll try teach him the importance of making time for church, too.

We also keep trying to help Santiago, and one thing that will help is his brother Andrés, who seems very interested in learning about Christ and the Bible. He promised to bring his whole family to church (he is already married) next week, and we are hoping that his baptism will encourage Sara to consent to be married so Santiago can get baptized too.

We also have a new investigator named S. She is very interesting, haha. She is a 38-year-old grandma who contacted (yelled could be the word) us in the street. She wanted someone to help her quit smoking, which we are doing. She has had lots of problems in her life, many of which continue--like bipolarity. Elder Viñas said we should only teach people with the desire to change who will contribute to the church. She has a desire to change...but we are trying to help her contribute. She came to church and made a lot of inappropriate comments in the classes. At least the members know who she is now, and I hope they will be patient. I keep finding scriptures in the Book of Mormon like Alma 6:5, which say that we can´t exclude anyone from participating in the gospel. We just have to tell her frankly what she can and can´t do, and with lots of prayer, God can work his miracles. She really needs help, so let´s hope she changes soon.

I almost forgot to mention the baptism. I hope you can tell who everyone is from the picture, like my new companion and Mercedes, who is in white. This got the ball rolling, so we should be on our way to help other people re-record or redo their baptism so that the church records can be up-to-date.

Let me know if you have any other questions, and thanks for all the news. Love you all!

-Elder Morgan the Older

Monday, March 17, 2014

Last (?) New Companion

Dear Mom,

I really liked the last part you wrote about Dad. With how little I knew him, I always appreciate everything I can learn about him. That one especially, because, well, I have written that same sentence* in my journal several times on the mission. I´m normally happy on Mondays, so you may not see that quite so much, but I have had some very, very tough days out here. I have been thinking about that this week, as I have mixed emotions. Really, my feelings about being a missionary are so complicated, and often contradicting. It`s so frustrating, and yet so hopeful. We have days where I work so hard, get home, and think I need to rest for a couple months before I can keep working. Then I get up the next morning, somehow with the strength to work hard once again. I love how much I am learning, and I love the people I get to work with, but those are blessings that only come after lots and lots of trials. I am definitely going to cry a lot in my homecoming testimony. I find myself tearing up at stupid moments throughout the day when I think about how far I´ve come and what a privilege this is--like when we went to do studies with a new missionary, Elder Castañeda, (which I always enjoy) or reading in the missionary handbook about how the Lord will convert us into defenders and messengers of truth if we strive to be obedient.

But don`t worry, I´m hanging in there. I have a new companion! His name is Shared Rodriguez (Book of Mormon name) and he is from Tijuana, Mexico. I had met him before, and I knew his city is very close to the border, so until the Tijuana temple is finished they have been going to the San Diego temple. He was in Ca`acupé when the mission limits changed, so he is my first companion from the North mission. He didn`t fall quite in love with Ca´cupé like I did, but we enjoy talking about funny things there. He speaks very slow, and with somewhat of a California accent. Before the mission, I thought Mexicans talked fast. South Americans talk WAY faster, and as you´ve noticed, I picked that up. This is his first time as a Zone Leader, and he is a kind, calm person (those words don`t have quite the same meaning as in Spanish, but oh well. I might revert to writing everything in Spanish soon, (ha, ha). So yeah, we are doing well.

Our baptism streak did end. But it is starting back up again. First we have Mercedes Baez, who comes with us to teach young women and has been to the temple to do baptisms....but yesterday told us that she was never confirmed. Yeah, this ward needs to improve their record-keeping a lot. More on that in coming weeks, if there`s progress. So, she`s definitely ready to be baptized. She`s 13, and of her large family, only one other brother is active, but we`re hoping this will have an impact.

Tomasita, Nila´s niece continues attending and seems willing to accept everything. We are working hard with Emilia Saldivar, who appreciated your letter. She said it makes her cry a lot (she cries just about every time she thinks about her son), and it was very nice. She has also been coming to church 2 weeks in a row, so we might be close to finally convincing her.

We aren`t having much luck convincing Carlos Acosta, who looks like Abe Lincoln without the beard. His wife and kids are all members, and he is nice but stubborn. One of his sons has football....also known as soccer in the EEUU...on Sundays, and he goes to that. They are adding on to their house, so our new battle plan is to help them build that, and build his trust with us at the same time. Also, Liz and Alejandra Vera, who seemed to be progressing so well, failed us for the 3rd Sunday in a row. We heard that Alejandra is getting baptized in the Catholic church this week or the next, but she has pretty much told us that it`s what her mom wants, not what she wants. We´ve done all we can, so we´ll stop by today and invite them to keep reading and praying, and when they come to church we´ll keep visiting them.

This week we found 17 new investigators, which is a record for my time in this area, so we have lots of possibilities for the future. They come from all different types of religious backgrounds. Well, most are Catholic, but most of them have investigated other religions. I`ll let you know about those who keep progressing.

Our Zone is having a lot of success. We have new district leaders, one of whom is Elder Velasquez. He was in my very first District in Ciudad del Este--this is his last transfer. We are trying very hard to work on retention, and there are a few members who are helping us. Hope that keeps improving.

Thanks for all the other news about vacations and family. I actually don`t feel much skinnier, though I am definitely not in shape like I was for football. Do you know if Makade Claypool was affected by what happened in Ukraine? I don`t know if you have heard anything about him. Let me know. Love you all!


Elder Morgan the Older

* Note from Elder Morgan's mom: I told the boys that one of the times their dad was in the hospital, every day they made him say his name and the date and write a sentence to make sure his brain was not affected by the medications. He always wrote: "Tomorrow will be a better day."

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Streak Continues

"The district activity last Monday--we played soccer."
Well, our streak continues, as this week we had two baptisms. Melisa Paez, who is nine years old, was baptized. Her mom came to church for the first time in a long time. Her sisters are already active, and her nonmember brothers seem to be a little more interested in talking to us (when we bring food, haha). The other one is Nila, who has a very large family (children, cousins, etc.), almost all of whom are living in a fairly small house. Not all of them are members, so we´ll keep passing by there to see who else we can help. The girl in the navy blue shirt is Tomasita, Nila´s niece who came to sacrament meeting and said she really likes it.

We don´t have anyone committed to be baptized this Saturday, but we´ll see what happens. We have some possibilities. Santiago keeps coming to church, and his girlfriend keeps refusing to get married. We also have Emilia, the missionary mom I mentioned, who also attended church. We went by her house with three young adults who live nearby. They were great to help us, but she is very stubborn about wanting to wait until she is absolutely sure of her decision. Patience.

The other investigators who I am hoping for are Liz and Alejandra Vera. They are two teenage girls who remembered the Restoration perfectly when we went back for the second visit. They have some commitments in the Catholic Catechism (sp?), which is like seminary but requires much much more time. Speaking of that, they have seminary in this ward, which is nice. Hope to be able to update you on their progress next week.

The Zone training went well. One thing I wanted to mention. I think I said that most of what we taught came from Elder Ballard. One thing he said is that we shouldn´t look at the missionary handbook as a set of rules, but as a "guide to be a successful missionary." Very, very, very true. Those who obey the rules avoid certain problems and can give all their attention to teaching and working. The assistants, Elder Brown and Elder Arango came to the training. Elder Arango then worked with me in my area. It was a very wet day--rain up to our ankles. But we did get to teach quite a few people. He´s a recent convert with no support from his family, but before the mission he was a tour guide and party host, so he always seems happy and excited. Lots of fun.

Elder Arango and Elder Morgan
Other fun facts: Everyone says I am much skinnier than when I got here. Our chapel is on the corner of the streets Jerusalem and Jericho. Pretty cool. Not to worry you, but Pa´i Ñu is a little "village" wedged between Ñemby, and San Lorenzo, two bigger cities. So we end up with a lot of the not-so-good people from both sides. There are a lot of marijuana smokers, but as long as we stay in the right areas at the right time, there´s no real threat (there you go with Elder Ballard´s advice--it´s not a rule, it´s a guide to success).

We also had a meeting with President Romero, the stake president, and President Agazzani. Pres. Romero didn´t remember me from a year ago, haha. The overriding theme was that the missionaries are baptizing more and more, but due to lack of retention efforts, statistics like church attendance are not improving at all. We talked a lot about how to improve that. It is always interesting to see how the organization of the church works.

Keep me posted on how everyone is doing. Send me some photos if you can. I am starting to feel like the hourglass is running out of sand. But I won´t let that keep me from doing the same things I have been doing every day. There is still lots of work to do, and I am committed to change people´s lives. The church is true, and no amount of opposition can change that. I am so grateful to be a missionary. It is an unforgettable experience. Love you all!

-Elder Wesley Morgan

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Work Continues

As you can see from the photos, Irene was baptized. She is the last of the Centurión siblings. There is a picture of her, her son, and her two sisters. The one next to her son is Clotilde, who we baptized a few weeks ago. She has been living out there in Ybycuí, but came back to visit. She is reading a lot in the Book of Mormon and trying to dress more modestly, so we are really happy with her progress.

This week we have Melissa Paez, a nine-year-old whose sisters are active, and Nila Perez who are preparing to be baptized this saturday. Nila is the mom of several active members and lived in the area of the other missionaries in our ward, but her husband did not want to get married. This week she left him and moved in with her grandma, which is in our area. Luckily, she wants Elder Cortes, who has been teaching her, to baptize her. They are looking for a house, so we just have to hope they find one within the ward or wait until next week.

On the other hand, we are still working with Sara and Santiago so they can stay together and get married. She has been progressing a lot. We watched Finding Faith in Christ, and she has been telling us more experiences she has had with answers to prayers. I hope she will soon decide to have faith in God, herself, and her husband so they can have an eternal family. 

We found LOTS of other great people this week who expressed interest in baptism. Unfortunately, none of them came to church, so we have work to do. One cool story--we saw a mom and her kids moving rocks in their yard, and we stopped to help. They turned out to be members that stopped attending church just a few months ago. We came to back visit them and found out that the Young Women´s presidency also visited them this week. That family, the Zaracho, came to church this week. The Lord always has a plan.

Somehow, I knew after writing my last letters what things you would ask me to explain more. We´ve been writing each other for quite some time, it appears. About health blessings, it´s the bishop who has the authority and responsibility to minister to the members. Therefore it should be him or an assigned home teacher or member of the ward council who goes to visit them and give the blessing. We can only give blessings under their direction. But some people have gotten in the habit of asking the missionaries because it´s easier (we always have time and are willing to go help). We need to let the ward leaders do that more.
Ca´acupé worries me because they haven´t had any baptisms since I left, and it sounds like the attendance is declining. They did finally get a release from being branch counselors, but no members have stepped up to take their place. Here I am busier than when I was a counselor just because of how many people we are teaching, baptizing, retaining, etc. in our area and in the zone. Each convert is a lot of work, but it´s worth it.

Corbin is talking a lot with some of his other friends about housing. I´ll see what they decide on. If you can talk to his mom and Truman (when he gets! time went fast. Congratulate him on being an excellent missionary), that would help me out. I, too, wasn´t too worried about location. But what would be a reasonable price? What happens if I get married before the school year starts? 

Haha, just trying to scare you. Stay focused. But really, thanks for all your support. I hope that everyone is doing well with jobs, studies, missions, families, and all of the eternally important things. Whatever happens, remember that when the storm comes it´s time to ask for more help from God, not run away from him. Love you all!

-Elder Morgan the Older