Monday, April 28, 2014

One Thing is Needful

Well, as you can see from the photo, the baptism was a success. Antonia was so nervous she was shaking, and unfortunately her foot came out the first time, so I had to baptize her twice. Andrés shared a great testimony, and I hope they´ll be able to start helping in the ward ASAP. The other man in the photo is Santiago, Andres´s is brother, who is very converted, but his girlfriend Sara still doesn´t want to get married. We need a miracle soon.

We are also praying a lot for Sonia, who finally left the hospital, but still has to spend lots of time taking care of her grandson. Good news--she can´t be near the baby if she´s been smoking, so she said that might be what finally motivates her to quit. Yesterday we shared 2 Nephi 25:23 with her, explaining that Christ´s grace has gotten her this far, but it all depends on her own decision to do her part to quit.

We were hoping to have a family of 8 in church yesterday, but it looks like we´ll have to wait at least one more week. We are teaching their son, Carlos Saldivar, who is trying to overcome a drug addiction. In the first lesson, his parents said they were very Catholic and didn´t want to change, but they are all (he has 5 sisters) willing to come to church with him to provide support. He wants to repent and be baptized, we just have to get the ball rolling by getting him in the church.

We´ve also got the Insfrán family, who I mentioned last week with the introduction to the Book of Mormon. He works on Sundays, but we taught about the Sabbath and the Plan of Salvation, and he understands what he needs to do to change. Once again, it´s just a matter of time until they decide. We are teaching so many great people, and, like Elder Funk said in the last conference, "Hearts Open Daily." So many people are willing to open their doors to this message, we just have to help them have the courage to open the chapel doors and visit us there. The ones who can do that will be the ones who get baptized in the marvelous month of May!

Today we had a great Leadership council. Basically, the first three months were incredible for the mission, and for lots of reasons, the mission didn´t baptize as much in April. President said he had planned to talk about lots of things, but he decided to just focus on regaining the vision to baptize. There was a lot of open discussion, and I shared the story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10:38-42. We have so many things to worry about as missionaries, and last month we talked about a lot of things to improve in our work with the members, the area book, etc. But, we are really just here for one thing--inviting others to come unto Christ through the ordinances of Baptism and Confirmation. All the other temporal and spiritual things we do are appendages to that purpose. So our zone training (my last one) next week will be focused on that.

About the Sister missionaries...I¨ll just say that the Elders were not receiving any support from the members, for many little things that had been adding up during the last few years. This will give that branch a fresh start, and we´re sure the members will be a lot more sympathetic towards the Sisters.

Honestly, there are a lot of things that happen in the mission that I can´t talk about--because it´s personal for someone else or because I just don´t have time to write everything! Is it alright if I use most of the time in the phone call talking about the experiences I haven´t had time to write about? I would really like to do that with Daniel, and I am not sure what our schedule will be like. I´ll just wait to hear next week and make the necessary arrangements.

Elder Morgan the Older

P.S. I´ll add a bonus photo. For an FHE last week, I made strawberry bars from a recipe on the back of the oatmeal boxes we buy. Turned out great!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Happy Easter!

Well, we did not have a baptism this week. Sonia has been in the hospital for a few days with her daughter and newborn granddaughter, who is having lots of complications. She (Sonia) seems to be doing well, and she even said that an extra week free from cigarrettes before the baptism would be good for her. That´s a change of heart!

During weekly planning we decided to talk to Andrés about postponing his baptism a week to make sure his wife does it with him. He said that would be wonderful. They prayed for a sunny day (it has been cold and rainy) so that Antonia could come to church with the baby. On the way they ran into Marlene Centurión, a recent convert who was excited to find someone else going to our church, too. Just a few of the miracles that have made them even more sure. They are such a converted family. We reviewed the baptismal questions last night, and they are 110% ready. Antonia seemed very shy at first, and Andrés seemed like he didn´t want to commit, but they have opened up, trusted in the Lord, and they are now like our second family. Yes, I have a lot of second families here in Paraguay.

So, if all goes well we´ll have three baptisms this Saturday. Debora didn´t come to church, again. But her less-active father-in-law did! Progress! That great family I mentioned last week pretty much tried to drop us, but we were insistent, and they gave us permission to keep teaching their children, who have lots of interest. We also had a great experience reading the introduction to the Book of Mormon with a new family, Cesar and Marcelina Insfrán, who had seemed very closed-off but were very interested by Christ´s visit to America and the opportunity to pray to know the truth.

I don´t normally mention the exchanges I do, but know that we do exchanges just about every week. This week we did TWO. One with Elder Ruiz, a Peruvian who was in my district in the MTC. He´s working hard, but they don´t have much support from their members, especially their branch president. Good news--In our meeting with President Agazzani and the Stake President, one of the many things accomplished was that President is going to take out the four missionaries in that branch and put in two sisters. That should solve a lot of problems.

I also did exchanges with Elder Velasquez, which was interesting because we worked together once in Ciudad del Este--August 2012! It was his last Friday, and we were able to teach 8 lessons that day. That kept him from thinking to much about home. He also sold me one of his SD cards, which is good because the one that came with my camera is full!

Oh, I also wanted to mention an eye-opening lesson I had with Elder Ruiz. We ran into two atheists, who were very intelligent, and knew quite a bit about the church. They mostly wanted to mock religion, so we couldn´t achieve much. But the sad part was when their 6-year-old daughter came out and said she also "used to believe in God." It´s so sad to see a little girl talk about not believing in God the same way she´d say she realized the Easter Bunny doesn´t exist. Though I often do not agree with other religions (haha, that´s a light way to put it), I am SO grateful to serve in a counrty where almost everyone has the tradition of accepting that God exists. Besides helping them live better, more hopeful lives, it saves us a lot of work as missionaries.

Church was very spiritual yesterday, though there wasn´t much about Easter. One of the bishop´s counselors talked about the importance of talking to the investigators at church, something we had shared with him at lunch the day before. Sorry I don´t have much more time to talk about Easter traditions. I think I explained a lot of that last year. They eat a lot of food and watch The Passion of Christ all day. 

They sold the house we wanted to someone else, so we´ll have to keep working on that, along with everything else. And hey, you do have other things to look forward to--like Mother´s Day and Skyping your sons. Hope you enjoy it all! Love you lots!

-Elder Morgan the Older

Monday, April 14, 2014

Becoming a Preach My Gospel Missionary

Next week I will try to send photos of our house. If all goes well, I might be sending photos of our new house, too. For now, just know that things are going quite well. Andrés has a lot of faith, and has prayerfully decided to be baptized this Saturday. He had to quit drinking (which he did weekly but not extremely), he has to work almost 24 hours a day to fulfill a commitment he wants to get done so he won´t have to work on Sundays, and he has some other family issues he committed to resolve to he can feel fully repented. He´s a man who knows he has found the truth. He came to church on his own and helped us set up chairs. His wife, Antonia, did not come to church, so she´ll need another week or so. She´s a little tougher, but like most of the people here, her Catholic traditions are more traditions than beliefs, so it´s not too hard to help her change her mind on certain things (we hope).

Another surprise at church was that Hugo showed up! We continue visiting a lot of converts and less-actives, so it´s good that something is turning out well. Sonia smoked last week, so we postponed the baptism. She couldn´t come to church because her family came to visit for her birthday, but she still wants to quit smoking and be ready to be baptized this Saturday. We talked about not playing the game of smoking until the absolute last day (one week before the baptism), explaining that true repentance is a change of heart which she should make as soon as possible.

Debora is also progressing. Her less-active in-laws are not, but she said that she will come to church next week even if they don´t! She really, really wants to get married and baptized. It´s always nice to teach people like that, who just understand the truth and do what they can to live it. 

One day, while waiting for a member to accompany us, we asked his sister Mercedes (our last baptism), to take us to the house of some kids she brought to the English classes the ward is doing on Thursdays. Their names are Marcelo (13) and Deisy (9), and they have a sister named Natasha (15). They were all very smart, and her mom asks great questions. She is Baptist, and she can´t understand why every church wants her to get baptized again. During the lesson I had a really spiritual experience. I really wanted to help this family, and I remembered the talk we read this week in the Zone Training, "Becoming a Preach My Gospel Missionary" by Elder Bednar. He talks about letting our will become the Lord´s will so we can be his representatives. In the middle of the lesson, when she was asking us all those questions, I didn´t want to lose them, so I prayed silently for what Elder Bednar mentioned, letting my words become his words. The lesson turned out well, and they understand the importance of praying to know the truth. If we can keep teaching them, then we have a great family to baptize in May.

I don´t like to take time in the fast and testimony meeting, but I felt like I needed to say something. Few of the members take the initiative to talk to the new faces at church, and most of them just call us Elder instead of learning our names. It´s understandable, but it needs to change, like Elder Gifford Nielsen said in the October General Conference. So I talked about that, along with my testimony of the Savior´s love for us and importance of this work. It´s a small thing that could make a big difference.

We keep working hard, all day every day, even though not everything goes how we plan. There are lots of people who want to preach to us instead of listen, and it´s easy to get frustrated. But I feel like most everyone in the family is going through some challenges, and I just want encourage everyone to stay strong. This conference, more than ever, I felt like the second coming is getting closer. We don´t know when it will happen, nor do we need to. But we know that we need to prepare. The only way we can develop the faith necessary to overcome the trials ahead is by experiencing challenges now. I love the scripture in Matthew 10:29-31 that says that even a sparrow can´t fall without the Lord knowing. He understands every temptation, sorrow, or frustration we experience. Many of those were given to us directly from him because he knows the eternal potential we have. Even so, he has promised us so many times that he will never let us face those trials alone. He has also promised us that in the end, we will be grateful for the difficulties we faced in this life. It is hard to have that perspective now, but we can always pray for it. It´s like you said Mom, the Lord can help us be grateful and patient. I testify of his love for us, and I will keep you all in my prayers.

Elder Morgan the Older

Monday, April 7, 2014

Courage to Stand Strong

"Here are the pictures from General Conference! It was the first time I have been in a ward that provided a bus for the members to go to the stake center. I hope you can recognize some people, like my companion standing up. The lady in the very front of the picture is Sonia."
"One other new thing is that most of the wards provided lunch between sessions. I peeked into the Costa Bonita room to take pictures of my old friends from that ward, where I served. Elder Adamson just so happens to be serving there, too. I also got to see a baptism they had on Saturday between sessions, which was a special experience."
"I also included a picture from last week when my district cleaned the temple."
I was so busy last week I forgot to mention a few things. That happens quite often.That week I learned to cut trees with a machete doing service for our member neighbors. My district went to clean the temple in Asunción. All I did was dust the furniture, but just being in the ordinance and Celestial room is a great feeling.

And the feeling of participating in General Conference is always incredible. I noticed the common themes of avoiding pornography and defending the truth, both of which were very powerful. They were also mostly discussed on Saturday, so I hope not too many members are "Sleeping through the Restoration" and just watching the Sunday sessions. I really enjoyed those talks about having the courage to choose the right. I am sure they will help the 18 and 19-year-olds now serving missions around the world. I think many missionaries come with the false concept that though many doors will be slammed, the last door you knock right before giving up hope will always be a miraculous family that will have been praying to find the truth. Some days that does happen, but most of the time you just have to keep working whether the people want to hear the message or not. In all seriousness, I had no idea how many people would not want to hear this message. Now I do. We sow many, many seeds, but only a very small percentage grow fruits of eternal life. 

Speaking of missionary work, can you see why I said that Elder Ballard knows how to be an effective missionary? He followed-up on his commitments! That´s great. We are actually trying to do that more in our mission, too--follow-up in our conferences and zone trainings on what was taught the last time. I also liked how Elder Anderson added the idea of being a tree that cannot be blown away to Elder Maynes´s phrase from last conference, "You must become the rock the river cannot wash away."

Apart from that, I am sure you all had the parts you liked most, and I know most of what I learned was revelation for me and won´t be as interesting as what was meant for you. Just remember what Elder Hallstrom said and apply it!

The other interesting event this week was interviews with President Agazzani. The tone of those interviews has changed a lot. We just talk like friends now, which is nice. He told me he is really going to miss my group. He has mentioned that before, but never like the way he said it on Tuesday. But hey, he´ll be back in Cordoba the next July--Tell Tim Price to say hi!! 

I did write to Liza, though I don´t know if it´ll be enough. President Agazzani told me we´ll be going to the temple in May, so I will be able to put her name on the temple list. And I'll try the cream soda recipe....someday.

With all of those spiritual experiences, the missionaries in our zone weren´t able to teach much. We´ll have to get them jump-started again with the training tomorrow. In our area, we continue to visit the converts hoping that they will use their agency and fulfill their baptismal convenants. Sonia smoked her last cigarrettes on Saturday. The members are starting to get a little more used to her. She also escaped from the conference without telling us. She really wants to get baptized, and she is changing a lot. Here´s hoping she´s ready for this Saturday.

Lots of Love,
Elder Morgan the Older