Monday, May 26, 2014

Adios, Papantla. Hola, Xalapa!

Los Luchadores se despiden como compañerismo.  Que lástima.

Great news - I am currently writing you from Xalapa! President Saucedo likes to do transfers on Mondays so I left Papantla at 9:00 and arrived in Xalapa at 2. It made me kind of sad to not be able to say goodbye to everybody, but in the morning I said bye to Usama's Mom, Armando and all his family, and the family of little Melanie. They were all so teary to see me gone. It's amazing what an impact just a little bit of love can have in the lives of so many people.

My new companion is Elder G from the Dominican Republic! Mexico, Bolivia, Guatemala, Dominican Republic... I'm getting to know a little bit more about a lot of cultures in the mission. Elder G is the first companion I've had who I actually met before we were companions, as he and I were once in the same zone. From what I know of him I think we will get along very well - he is always always happy and smiling and doesn't get angry, so we have a lot in common. 

First things first. I just ate a Big Mac. My barrio happens to be the very ward in the mission where the McDonald´s is found. The very first thing I did after setting my bags in the house was ask Elder G how close the McD's was. He said it was right down the street, in the ward boundaries. After 13 months without McDonald's I was SOOOO ready to enjoy my wonderful burger and fries, so we went down to eat. I was going to use the card to pay for the burgers... but... my bad luck struck. Turns out they only accept cards ''with chips'' (whatever new invention that is). I was really sad. It made it even worse that they had already placed the fries and soda and burgers right in front of me and they had to just throw them away because I couldn't pay for them. I knew I was going to be horribly sorrowful the whole day long (hyperbole) if I came too stinking close to finally fulfilling my dream only to have it denied, so we walked over to a bank and I took out the money to pay for 2 large Big Macs. I'm a happy camper.

After only a few hours in Xalapa I can see why Mexico is unofficially considered a second world country. There are some parts that are really bad but others that are actually okay. There are lots of highways and bridges and malls and stoplights and infrastucture in Xalapa that I haven't seen anywhere else in the mission.

For today I don't have much time... I have to give a district class in just a half hour! I forgot to mention, I'm a district leader now. And despite all the logistical difficulties and the fact that I haven't planned at all President still wants the whole mission to do district meeting on Monday.  I will talk more next week!

My new companion and I had lunch at McDonalds, and it was so awesome.
I am truly going to miss these people I have come to love so much. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bad hair day

First, some pictures from my super fun birthday last week.  I love the Mexican tradition of shoving the birthday person's face into the cake.  But maybe not as hard as this.

We destroyed my Iron Man piñata.
The Elders dressed up as Golosin the bear.

Right after what was definitely the strangest week of my whole life, I had one of the best weeks of the mission.

It started on Tuesday with a zone conference, the first meeting with President S we've had. Compared to all the rules he was going to put, he doesn't really want to add all that many. Just district classes Monday at 5, a very structured personal study schedule, obedience in waking up and coming back home, and... the part in the hair.  I'm not catching the logic there, but whatever. A rule's a rule. But as all who know my hair will testify, it is impossible to put a line in it or control it in any fashion.

In front of everybody Sister S had all the Elders sit down so she could show to us where to put the line in the hair. When it was my turn I told her before sitting down, ''I don't think it's possible, but go ahead and try.'' She said, ''With faith everything is possible,'' shrugging off my remark as if I hadn't already attempted to put a line in my hair 5,000 times and failed every time. After about 5 minutes of combing and spraying and geling she began to realize that the task was at least going to be difficult. ''I don't get it,'' she said. ''Your hair just doesn't stay when I put it to one side.'' I replied, ''I told you, it's not possible. Look at my cowlick. Notice that the cowlick is not exclusive to one spot but is actually my entire head.'' Sister S investigated as I had suggested. ''Oh, dear, I think you're right. For now you don't have to put a line in your hair, but we'll wait for your hair to grow out a bit more and try again.'' Not that growing it out would help at all. I had some serious 'win' points afterward for earning an exception to the rule.

Cowlick is called ''whirl' in Spanish (remolino). Random word of the day.

I'm glad the Sister understood that it legitimately was not possible.  It’s never been possible.  My entire head is a remolino.

This week I painted a house. We were planning to teach a lesson to a family but ended up grabbing some buckets and the brushes and getting to work. We ended up painting the whole house in just about 3 hours. The mom was seriously impressed, but the grandma even more so. This is the family we met contacting a few weeks back who was very open to us but the grandma didn't want the rest to go to church. The simple charitable act of giving service was able to completely soften the grandma's heart and allow her grandkids to go to church with no problem.

Another highlight with that family was playing with old VHS tapes. They had recently upgraded to DVDs (yay technology in Mexico) and the kids were breaking all the tapes open to play with the bajillion meters of black tape inside, wrapping it all around the house and ''kidnapping me'' by tying me up in the tape. I can't even quite describe why it felt so great. It simply felt like I was a little kid again for a few moments. Little A gave me his favorite movie, ''El Planeta del Tesoro'' as a souvenir of him. Even though I can't watch it I'll treasure that VHS as a sweet gift from a humble child.

Things got relatively calmer this week about the whole dangerous situation. My secret source let me borrow something really cool that made me laugh really hard.
Yesterday I gave a talk in sacrament meeting. I used D&C 59:21 as the theme and talked about recognizing the Lord's hand in all things. Afterward the members told me thank you for my talk and they said that anybody listening would have said it was a Mexican talking for both the accent and perfect grammar. It was a really good way to say goodbye to this ward I love so much.

I can also testify this week of the blessings of obedience. Simply because I do the best I can to do the Lord's will He blesses me in all aspects of my mission. This week we have 4 baptisms planned and if C comes back we may even have 6. I will pray with faith and hope that everything works out well according to the Lord's will.

Thanks for the French tips! I'll have to print them off next week. There's an Elder in the mission who's from Canada and speaks French and Spanish but no English, so I was able to talk with him one night about how people speak French and he said instead of saying ''je ne sais pas'' they just say ''je pas!'' Spanish is actually his first language and French his second. Hopefully this transfer I can go to his zone and talk with him more.

The most interesting fish I have ever eaten.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Feliz cumpleaños y feliz dia de las madres.  What a fun week.

Those sure were super enjoyable hours Skype calling you. I didn't tell you this that night so you wouldn't get too worried, but we actually heard about 8 gunshots in a row near the end of that call and that was when I was like... we need to get home now... thankfully we arrived home safely.

This week was definitely the craziest of my entire life. Unbelievably loco. As I told you in the Skype call, the federal government and state government are working to eliminate a big group of drug lords who all met together in Papantla. There have been shootings all over the city since Tuesday last week. On Wednesday it was so bad that all the missionaries had to stay indoors. So far there are I don't know how many people dead but my confidential source says it's several dozen. Supposedly things are calming down, but there are about 200 police trucks and army vehicles circling town 24/7, so my bet is they haven't caught everybody they were looking for. To have the mission president call you and tell you to stay indoors is pretty scary, though. My prayer this week has been if Isaiah could pray an army of angels to destroy dozens of thousands of enemies then I can certainly pray for heavenly angels to protect me as I go about the day. I can feel their protective power. I know I am kept safe from on high.

Friday was my birthday! At midnight sharp I awoke to hear Alvin and the Chipmunks singing very loudly... in Spanish! My comp shouted ''¡Feliz cumpleaños!'' and starting dancing like a maniac. All I could process at that moment was ¡¿Qué?! I was half asleep and super confused. My comp said, ''I am giving you 20 Quetzales (Guatemalan currency) because I don't know what else to give you!'' He explained to me that it's a Guatemalan tradition to wake up the birthday boy right at midnight, give him a gift, and start singing and dancing. I laughed my head off and immediately wrote in my journal so I wouldn't wake up in the morning and think it was all just a dream. Super funny.

Then I went to two very special birthday parties, one with sister Matilde and another with sister Marissa. I loved them both even. In the first I got my birthday cake which according to Mexican tradition I got pushed in my face (a little bit too hard), sweet little Valerie gave me her most prized plus toy (a bumblebee), and we all talked and laughed for un buen rato. Afterward we went to Sister Marisa's house. Best birthday party I've had yet. Chocolate fountain, 3 ginormous pizzas, an Iron Man piñata, and I got to dress up as Golosin el Oso, the Dulcelandia mascot. That costume made the temperature seem about 20 degrees warmer but it was hilarious and so worth making the memories.

Saturday I spent the day skyping the family. I am glad the situations I've been in so far for the calls have been quite favorable considering a year ago I got totally ripped off with my extra week in the MTC. Only one call home left. Now that's a cool thought. Makes it sound like I'm a lot farther in the mission than I really am. But hey, there's less left than what I've already done. And it does seem like the days are going by faster.

Omar is the coolest investigator I have ever had. Bar none. Super golden. Beyond golden. He's already doing missionary work with his friends at school and keeps all the commandments. Such a cool kid and such a blessing to have found him. In Preach My Gospel chapter 9 it talks about how the Lord guides His children toward the missionaries. That was definitely the case with Omar because he came to us -  in the chapel - at a baptism - all by himself. The promises the Lord makes us are real.

Papantla has definitely been a fun area for me. The hills I got used to in just a few weeks.  I've been here enough time to be able to encariñarme with a whole lot of members and it is so fun to be part of their families. It's super likely I'll get transferred here in two weeks and it's going to be hard to say goodbye to this wonderful ward but I have definitely had a blast in Papantla and will continue to have fun these last two weeks.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

One year down!

Ha iniciado la cuenta regresiva. Reconozco que sí se siente bastante diferente que el primer año. Ya falta menos de lo que he logrado. Todos los días están mas cortos.

I'm glad the family is all doing well. I can't wait to see you all again in less than a year.

I'm glad I stuck through the first year of my mission, too. I totally understand why Dad said he has at least an automatic increased respect for any person who is an RM.  Missionaries deal with so much crap. Every day. But you just learn to do the best with what you've got. I realize life is kind of the same, so you really do learn more than anything street smarts in the mission that you couldn't have learned in any other way.

As to my return date, that's still up in the air. I think it will either be 19 March or 30 April. Most likely 30 April, but I won't know until November.

Well, this week was one of my favorites of the mission. I hit my year mark, a day I thought would never come. We had a baptism, activated three inactive families, brought seven investigators to church, and found the coolest most golden investigator I have ever met. The Lord is blessing me more than I deserve. One thing I can say is my own efforts honestly had nothing to do with those blessings. I do what the Lord asks of me, and even though the blessings aren't always direct effects of those efforts, the Lord always finds the way to bless us. For example, this week we baptized on Friday. Right after the baptism, my companion and I stayed to clean up the font and so forth. All of a sudden somebody called me. ''¿Ya me puedo ir? Limpié la cocina.'' I turned to see a 15 year old youth with his hair spiked up the cool Mexican way they do. I asked him who he was and he said his name is O and his grandma (an active member) had sent him to do her cleanup part of the chapel because she couldn't make it. We started teaching him right away and he asked us if we could baptize him. Basically his whole family are members and we had just never found him among them before. My companion and I didn’t find him by any technique or finding method at all. However, we do obey all week long all the rules, so the Lord put a huge blessing right into our laps.

My birthday is going to be an amazing one. Sister Marissa has offered to get me pizzas and chocolate fountain and a piñata. 

Alright, I'll try to call you at some hour during the day on Friday. We'll see. But for sure Saturday at 3:30 I will be calling you guys from Skype!

A baptism of a new member.  She is awesome.

The cutest little girl in the world.

Cinco de Mayo.  I sort of wish I was still in Puebla where the holiday is such a big deal.  Here it is celebrated with a parade and gathering, but it seems that even further east in Mexico, people don't really care about it.