One of the biggest blessings of serving a mission is learning from everyone you get to know. Outside the mission you normally don`t talk to 50+ people a week about their life, religious beliefs, problems, etc. But from talking and trying to help so many people you start to see some trends. One thing I learned this week though is how we can really respond to tragedy or difficulty in two ways: we can turn to the Lord or we can turn away from Him.
Hermano Flor (a member) gave us a reference of one of his clients who recently lost their 7 year old daughter in a car accident. We went with Hno Flor to this family, the Reyes family, and they were just in tears the whole lesson, absolutly inconsolable even though it had been a week since she died. They said how she was their princess, their life. We sang a song and read some comforting scriptures and explained lots of things, and made an appointment to go back three days later. When we went back (without Hno Flor present) the mom said that she doesn`t believe in God anymore, that even though she used to go to lots of evangelical churches she can`t believe that God exists if He would do such a thing as take her innocent daughter away. We tried and tried to help them understand but they are pretty hurt still and I think it will take some time.
And then last night we were one lesson away from meeting our goals and it was 8:15 on Sunday night and no one would receive us. A reference led us to clap a fairly nice house of a man named Caesar. He seemed a little grouchy at first but said, "If you want to tell me something, I`ll listen." He soon told us that he and his wife of 27 years separated 5 months ago, and he is obviously still very heart broken. He said with very sad eyes, "You don`t know how sad it is to live alone after living with your wife and children in a full house for 27 years." But he explained that because of this he is going to the Catholic church and all kinds of other prayer meetings, he said he is not angry at God but has turned to Him. He said our visit was evidence that God is mindful of him and thanked us more than once for coming. We really all have this option in times of difficulty--to turn to the Lord or to turn away from Him.
Mom asked if Christian Duarte is progressing and I am absolutely thrilled to tell you of his progress! We visited them on Monday, Friday, and Saturday and every lesson was so good! I was thinking of something else during one of his lessons when the thought just jumped at me, "This man is prepared." He is SO prepared and he recognizes that all he has gone through in the past several years was to lead him to this. He is about 34 and is married(!) to Celia, and they are so in love, it`s really cute. They, after a lot of difficulty having children, have two little daughters, Jazmin (7) and Emma (3) who is a little fireball--the most hyper and sassy little girl I`ve seen. On Saturday we asked if he had been reading his Book of Mormon, and he explained that he had read 7 chapters that day and proceeded to explain to us the whole story of Nephi and Lehi and Laban and going back to get the plates, even his own perspective on why it was so important for the sons of Lehi to go back and marry the daughters of Ishmael. He said, "If I deny this book I would also be denying the Bible." Which made me think of sharing 2 Nephi 33: 10-11 with him. Then he talked about how he feels so uplifted while reading it and just can`t put it down, but that he still hasn`t prayed to know if it`s true, which made me want to read 2 Nephi 28: 30 with them. Everything he said hit a scripture off in my brain but I didn`t have a chance to share anything. Then he was talking about how he has changed so much in the past week just since having the Book of Mormon and the feeling he has in his heart, and Hna. Owen shared Alma 32:28 with him. He read it and then paused, and said, "Did you prepare that beforehand? That is perfect. That is exactly how I feel." The Spirit was so THICK. He went to church yesterday with his girls and in Gospel Principles told the class, "Last Saturday, these missionaries walked past our house, and then I watched them turn around and come back. Their message is exactly what our family needs. We recently went through a very hard time, and the fact that these sisters arrived is just like God telling me that we are not alone. Receiving the gospel makes all the hard times worth it. I had talked to missionaries before but never really had a long conversation with them, but this time it really touched us." Celia is a little more reserved religiously but Christian said it is a miracle that she even listens to us and is reading the BOM. It`s another case of Christian and Rossana but with a Rossana that is not quite as hard. Please pray for them. I know our prayers work. I fasted on Wednesday specifically that they would feel the spirit while reading the Book of Mormon, and that`s exactly what happened.
Yesterday in church one of the speakers spoke about the importance of family home evening, and mentioned that it is the father`s (not the mother`s or the chidren`s) responsibility to make sure FHE happens. And afterward Christian said, "So what is this we have to do on Monday nights?" and before I could even answer he said, "I was thinking of making a dinner for my family and gathering them together to talk about the word of God, will that work?" Um....yep! That will work!
Natalia Rivarola is also progressing so much! Oh man I love her. She called us on Saturday night and said, "Hermanas. I am so happy. I am so happy I just had to call you and tell someone. I am reading the scriptures right now. Hermanas, you are my angels. You are my hope. I am writing my testimony that I am going to read at my baptism. Ok hermanas, sleep good, have good dreams. We will see you at church tomorrow." MUSIC to a misionera`s ears! She indeed went to church as well, for the second time (her first time being in July or something).
Truly, there is no greater joy than feeling that you are instrument in God`s hands! I don`t want that joy to stop next month when the nametag must be painfully ripped from it`s beautiful spot on my shoulder.
Hope asked for our responses to how we know the Book of Mormon is true and I wanted to respond to that and to share my testimony with everyone who reads this, but mostly my brothers and sisters, Sabrina, Carrie, Tom, Paulette, Neal and Hope. We have all grown up where the Book of Mormon was a part of our daily lives. When I was baptized I made the goal to read the scriptures every day and I have every day since that goal was made, over 14 years ago. I can recall nights when I was reading and it seemed the BOM spoke just to me, parts that asked us to analyze ourselves like in Alma 5, "have ye sufficiently been humble? Is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother or heapeth upon him persecutions?" and I knew I needed to repent. Other nights I remember my heart just swelling and I felt I would pop with the joy of the gospel. In BYU I recall reading in my dorm room or in the library and feeling the power of the Book of Mormon. In the Jerusalem center studying the Bible, my testimony of the Book of Mormon grew along with my increased love for the Bible. One hard night my first week in Israel, I went to my room alone crying about something. I opened my Book of Mormon and read the most comforting verses in 3 Nephi and felt the love of the Savior. On my mission my testimony of the Book of Mormon has quadrupled. I have knelt to pray many times to confirm my testimony of it as it tells us to do in Preach my Gospel, and have felt that sweet spirit fill my soul as I have done so. I have also seen many people be changed by reading it, grown men who like to argue change into Book of Mormon-lovers who cry like babies when they read and pray to know if it`s true.
You see, precious revelation that gives us a testimony is not an event, but a process. The Holy Ghost teaches us gradually as it teaches in 2 Nephi 28:29, here a little, there a little. Some people postpone acknowledging their testimony or their spiritual progress until they have experienced a miraculous event. I have not heard the voice of the Lord or seen visions or dreams as some have. But the Lord has given me the strongest conviction that the Book of Mormon is true. I know it is. Joseph Smith could not have written such a life-changing book. I invite everyone to seek this testimony. I do not have one doubt that if someone truly wants to know, they will know.
“If all you know is what you see with your natural eyes and hear with your natural ears, then you will not know very much.”
I love you all more than I can say. I hope to see all of my family at the airport. Even if I haven`t heard from you in the past 18 months I will act like you`ve written me every week. :)
2. The Lopez girls and I. They are going to church in Isla Bogado.
3. Leonela and Javier several weeks ago when they came to say goodbye to me. We went all over Isla Bogado in that little car. This is a very special couple I miss a lot.
4. Chinese restaraunt last week for Elder Ohara`s b-day.
5. Green smoothies all the time after long runs with Hna. Owen. Mmmmmhhhhmmm. I have to say Hna. Owen`s are way more delicious than I`m used to...with yogurt, pineapple and just enough spinach to make it green. Actually enjoyable and no straw or nose-plugging necessary.
6. Birthday party for Miriam Benitez and Hna. Macfarlane at the end of August.