First of all, HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD! I remembered it was your birthday before I read your email and it has been in my daily planner for quite a while. I´m glad it landed on a Monday so I can wish you happy birthday the day of. You may feel old dad, but you do as much and are as in good of shape as any young whipper-snapper 35 year old father. Really, our family doesn´t understand how blessed we are to have you. Thank you for sacrificing so much of your 58 years for your 7 children, wife, and 6 grandchildren. Really everything you do is for US. I owe so much of my happiness to you. I am so glad you are my father for eternity. I love you so much. Happy birthday dad. :) I hope you are having a great day with the kids in beautiful Sedona.
Also, send me pictures sometime! Of the kids, of you two, of the new yard, and the new dog when you get it! Hearing about how the kids wrapped old things to give you made me laugh out loud in the little internet cafe.
And mom, you are CRAZY for getting up at 3:30 all the time to study spanish! My how the tables have turned since I used to write you all about my studying and tests and such, and now I get emails from you about that. But I never got up at 3:30...anyway. You are inspiring. Buena suerte! Y tu espanol es muy, muy bien. Aqui en Paraguay usamos "vos" mucho--no usan "tu" or "usted" mucho. No me gusta, porque es muy informal. Anyway, estoy animada conversar contigo en el futuro.
And Mason, I did NOT know what a smoke ball is. Thank you for telling me. I hear the missionaries are coming to your house for dinner on the 4th of July. Tell them your missionary aunt in Paraugay is jealous. No matter how hot they think Tucson is, Paraguay is worse (read: no AC anywhere except our bedroom) and they are so lucky to eat normal delicious 4th of July foods. By the way Paraguay is 3 hours later than AZ, Carrie. RIght now it is 12:57 p.m.
Speaking of Dad´s birthday, it reminds me of how thankful I am for the priesthood. We teach a lot of women here because they are the ones who are at home all day, and they are the ones who seem more willing and open. Even when men do agree to talk to us, they often end up being drunk or want to talk to us because we´re......americans and women. But the church cannot move forward without righteous preisthood holders! Branches stay branches for years here because there are not enough preisthood holders to become wards. This week we were at consejo de rama (branch council) and I brought up that I feel we should give Juan Angel a blessing to help him overcome his smoking addiction. President Gomez and another brother went with us immediately afterward to the Meza home and we explained these men could bless Juan Angel using the same power and authority that Christ blessed his apostles with. It is something no other church has--the power and authority of God. Really quite amazing isn´t it? A blessing was something Juan Angel really wanted. It was a beautiful blessing and I really felt the Spirit. He hasn´t smoked since! That was Thursday. I used 1 Corinthians 10:13 with him to explain that he can overcome smoking and God would provide him an escape from this struggle. That escape was mentitas (little mints) that I bought him. I gave him a few packages and told him to eat those when he is tempted to smoke. We have asked him every day if he is smoking and he proudly tells us he has not. We have been stocking him up on mints all week. :) He shook my hand and hugged his wife and promised us he would never smoke again. I have never wanted to hug a Paraguayan man so badly as I wanted to hug him right then.
Yesteday´s testimony meeting at church was one I hope I never forget. We had high expectations for church attendance, once again. Several investigators committed to go this week and we did everything possible to help them understand the imporance of going, and to help them get there and who they could go with. Yet, in the third hour during sacrament meeting there was still not one of them there. I was sitting there, not wondering ifmy fasting and prayers would be answered, because I know they always are, but more wondering how--remembering God cannot take away one´s agency, He will force no man to heaven. Anyway, we have been fasting and praying for the Meza family so much and even they were not there. I was really just feeling heartbroken for everyone who said they would come to church and were not there. As we sang "I stand all amazed" I thought how Christ knows exactly how I feel for these people. He certainly understands the heart ache of missionaries when their investigators do not come to church. He sacrificed much more for these people than I have, He desires their salvation much more than I do--thus, He must feel dramatically more sad about them not being in church than I do. I felt a little taste of his pain when he says, "How often I have gathered you as hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not." All day everyday we are gathering chicks, and it really hurts when they do not want to come under the protection of the Savior. Anyway, near the end of testimony meeting Hermana Springer was bearing her testimony about how trials do not mean God has forgotten us (in fact they mean the opposite) when Juan Angel walks in! Hermana Springer and I both got tears in our eyes. The love of God poured over me. Our fast was answered, our prayers were answered. But even if he hadn´t walked in, my faith still would have been strengthened from the feelings and the lessons I learned, from the love I felt even when I didn´t know how my prayers would be answered.
This Wednesday is the 4th of July, which has made me think about how last year on the 4th I was in Tanzania. I have been thinking a lot about my experience in Africa last year. I have been on my mission for 3 months and I was in Africa for these same three months last year. I have asked myself if I have done more good in these past three months of my mission or in those three months doing humanitarian work last year. And, I truly believe I am making a bigger impact here, as a missionary, than a volunteer for HELP International. Why, you may ask? I am not teaching anyone a marketable skill, helping them start a business, or helping them arise from economic poverty. The point of the work I did in Tanzania was to not just give a man a fish, but teach him how to fish--to give the poor a source of help that would never run dry, something that would grow and be of help long after us volunteers left. And everyday here in Paraguay I offer the absolute, never-failing, ever-faithful, always-flowing source of help.--the living water of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I can´t think of a more ultimate way of "teaching a man to fish" than teaching him to pray or read the scriptures or go to church. Every good thing I have experienced in my life has come from the gospel and obedience to it. And I have experienced SO many good things.
Oh I have SO many more thoughts, stories, and experiences I want to share but simply no time. After my mission I will just have to read my whole journal to you. ha. You´ll love that.
I love you with all my heart. I feel more blessed than I could possibly express in an email or even with words. I miss certain people really really badly sometimes, but I also wouldn´t rather be anywhere else. My desires to do missionary work for the rest of my life have soared, my determination to be a disciple of Jesus Christ every minute of my life is unbreakable. And each of you reading this can have the same determination and testimony. This, I know.
Well we are going to the Paraguay River to go fishing with the elders and President Gomez right now. Hasta la proxima semana.
Your Sister Missionary,