Monday, November 28, 2016

Fifty Years in Colombia

Hi everyone! I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, and that Mom had a good birthday! To be honest, I completely forgot that it was Thanksgiving. I was sitting, eating lunch in one of the members houses, and they had the radio on. And suddenly she started talking to me and saying, "Today is a holiday in the USA right?" And I realized then that it was Thanksgiving. So no, I can't say that I ate anything special on Thanksgiving, but on Saturday I got to eat salchipapas again, so that kind of made up for it. I personally think that's better than what Elder Rollins told me that he did. He told me that they went to McDonalds and ate a Big Mac with a McFlurry. I'll take salchipapas any day over that. Speaking of salchipapas, my joke with the Colombians here is that if I'm ever poor when I come home, I'm going to starting making and selling salchipapas for a living, because they're amazing and I know that Americans would love them. I told that to the 2 elders that are in our Branch, Elder Sanchez (the district leader) and Elder Gilt (who's younger in the mission than I am), and Elder Sanchez came up with a name for my future restaurant: SalchiGibbons. They all think that's hilarious, and now I have a plan should my current plans fall through.
But as for this week, it was a bit different. We had interviews with President Gallego on Wednesday in Barranquilla, which kind of ruined any work that we might have wanted to do that day. But it was alright. And on Saturday we did an activity for the Branch (which Mom read about. Basically, to celebrate the church being in Colombia for 50 years, they asked all of the wards and branches to do an activity out of the chapel and open to the public.). We set up tables outside of the building that's going to be our new house-chapel and we had pamphlets of family history, Liahonas, and stuff like that. It was really cool, because the missionaries here started to do all of the contacting and stuff to share the pamphlets, to encourage the members to start. But after about half an hour, the members were doing almost everything! They were handing out Liahonas and pamphlets, finding references for us, it was incredible! Really the members want to help, they just need some encouragement and an example to follow. But that and the interviews of G_____ and B_____ took up our entire day on Saturday. But they both passed, they're going to be baptized this Saturday, just in time for the next transfers! Which are next Monday. So we will both get to be here for it at least.
And I can't say that we didn't get to do any work on Saturday. We ate the salchipapas (see above) in Palmar, which is the area of the other elders that's literally 4 minutes from Santo Tomas. But they weren't quite ready, so we went out and did some contacting. I ended up being with Elder Sanchez, and the very last house we contacted was incredible. We had to wait for some young girls to find their mom to talk to us. When she came out, she was a bit confused (my Spanish....), but kept listening. And Elder Sanchez was inspired to say that she might be passing through problems in her family, and this gospel that we preach can help her to overcome these problems. She started to cry and said "Not 5 minutes ago I was saying 'why me God? Please show me the path, please guide me where I need to go', and then my daughter said 'someone's outside wanting to talk to you'" This was really a testimony to me that the Lord guides us to those who he wants us to talk to. But we have to work. We probably contacted a good 10 people before we found her. We have to keep trying, even if it's discouraging, because the Lord will guide us to those who need our help.
But I think that's everything from me this week. I didn't end up going to Barranquilla to find super cheap jerseys yet, we are hoping next Monday. We will see. And don't worry Mom, I'm not going hungry. I always keep a bit of personal money in reserve to use in an emergency, and the members who feed us do it really well. I love you all so much, you're all in my thoughts, and I hope that you have a great week! Try to remember the Spirit of Christmas, and the real reason of Christmas! Love you all!

Monday, November 21, 2016

One More Delay...

We went to a tiny zoo before playing soccer today, and I made friends with a monkey.
 He's grabbing my fingers.
Elder Lezano and I standing outside the stadium where Junior
(the local favorite team) plays.
Hello everyone, how are you? I hope that everything's going well. It sounds like you've all had a pretty great week. I'm glad that Dad and Kate made it home safely last night, and that they enjoyed their time there. Really I regret not making the time to go before my mission, it would have been something really great. But there's still time after I guess. I don't know what's going to happen for Thanksgiving, I don't think it's something that's really celebrated here. We will see what happens. I hope we can have something special. But right now we are a little short on money and we still have 9 days before we get more, so I don't know. 
G_____ and B_____ weren't able  to get married this week, but not due to any fault on their part. B_____ had to travel to a town nearby to request her birth certificate, and apparently it's protocol that they have to wait 6 days. So they're going to get married this Thursday, and I think they've asked us to be their 2 witnesses. we will see. We at least plan to be there for it. That means they're going to have their interview on Saturday, and get baptized next Saturday.
Other than that, this week was pretty normal. I've had good days, days that are more difficult. But every day I'm able to grow and improve a little bit more. I still get frustrated with myself sometimes, even though I don't want to. But every day it's a bit easier to push on despite the frustration.
But yeah, everyone calls Elder Rollins my bigger twin. He has about or 8 months in the mission and already is a district leader. Everyone thinks that he and I look really similar.
As for the clothes, I think everything's pretty good. Though I haven't really worn my light gray pants since the CCM, because I think they're a little bit too light for the mission. I've decided I'll come home with those pants, and they'll look nice and new, which I can't really say for my other stuff. It's annoying, for some reason the pockets on my shirts always seem really dirty. I have no idea why, but it's not really a problem. The black socks really are better, but only because they're thicker and thus more comfortable. Maybe more of those if you haven't sent the Christmas package. I don't know.
I'm really excited to get that talk from Grandpa, it should be really great. I haven't gotten any of Sister Eagley's letters yet, I don't know why. I got a package from Breje too, but so far only those two things.
As for my Spanish, my companion and the other elders in our branch say that I have the best Spanish of all the newer North Americans. I don't know how true that is, I think it's just because I make the effort to not sound like a gringo. But it always makes me feel better.
I think that's everything for this week. I love you all very much, I hope you all have a great week. I miss you all very much, but I'm also very happy to be here in Colombia. Really, the time flies, I'll be back before you know it. I'm excited to see you all for Christmas! (As for that, can you either email me my information for skype or make an account for me and send that information? I really can't remember anything.) They've told us that we can talk for 1 hour on the 24th or the 25th.
And Mom, have a great birthday this Sunday, I was really hoping that it would be on a Monday, but I guess not. Happy Birthday in advance, I'm excited to talk more about it next week. I love you all very much!

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Gospel Can Change Lives

 Zone soccer p-day (Nathan is the blond one on the left--hard to tell in these pictures)

As you can now see, I've found my twin in my zone. His name is Elder Rollins,
from Montana. The zone says that he's my more muscular twin.
To me, he looks more like Jalen.
My first baptism! It wasn't ours, it was the other two elders--Sanchez and Gilt.
 They're in the town next to ours, called Palmar. But G_____ and B_____ attended;
they're the two older people to the left.

Elders Gilt, Lezano, Gibbons, and Sanchez
Another typical dinner
I can't believe that I'm already 3/4 of the way done with my training. It's so weird. I only got here a few days ago. But suddenly I'm realizing that I can more or less understand what the people are saying, I'm able to focus more when they speak and I'm slowly able to teach better. Which means that maybe I can talk for 10 minutes rather than 2. Far, far from perfect, or even decent, but that's just how it is. Sometimes I get frustrated because I feel like I could be helping more, but I can't. It's been a bit difficult, but I'm learning more than ever to have patience with myself and my companion. He's really great, but he's obviously not perfect. But that's ok, I can't expect perfection from him, any more than he can from me.
As for G_____ and B_____, we had an interesting surprise there. I think last week I talked about how they always say that they're living in union libre, but when you ask they say they've gone to the notary and signed and everything. So we've always taken that to mean that yes, they're married. (As we know, we can't baptize people who are living together but aren't married). So this Saturday, we went over in the afternoon to fill out their baptismal record, because their interview was scheduled for that day. One of the requirements here is that they show their Marriage Register. So we asked if we could see theirs, and they once again said that they're not married. They showed us the document, and it's a register of co-existence. Which means that essentially the government recognizes that they've been living in union libre for many years, and if they separate or one of them dies, the other gets their things. It's basically as close as you can get to being married without actually getting married. For that, I've decided to call it the devil's marriage. But I know that this gospel, the message and the spirit that it brings really changes lives. As we talked with them, B_____ told us that G_____ has always thought that that was enough, he never wanted to get married. As we explained that it's a commandment of God and a requirement for baptism, they said "Ok, no problem. We can do it this week." It's incredible to see the changes that have come in them. I've really seen this hope change them. They really are happier, it's something truly incredible. I hope to be able to see that often. I'm really convinced that in 2 or 3 years, they're going to be temple workers. They're incredible, and the goal now is for the 26th of this month.
Everything's going well, we found a young guy named J_____ who's really great too. He attended for the first time yesterday. We are excited to see where he goes. Other than that, I think everything's pretty normal, we are working hard, the weather is starting to change a bit. Which means that instead of being blazing hot and humid with the sun, there are a few more clouds and sometimes a breeze. But after weeks of the first, the breeze feels amazing.
I really love it here, the mission is incredible. I know that this gospel can change lives, and that Heavenly Father really can work through each and every one of us, weak as we are. I'm definitely not the greatest missionary or the greatest teacher, but He's still granted me some success and allowed me to find some amazing people. I know that He is willing and able to do the same through the members too, not only the missionaries. The only thing we have to do is be willing to open our mouth and be brave, and trust that He will do the rest.
As for Christmas stuff, I don't know. Some Reeses peanut butter cups would definitely be welcome. Maybe a small strand of Cristmas lights to help me feel more festive. And ties, ties are always welcome. I already feel limited with the 10 or so I have. A new journal might be smart too, I still have a bunch of space in the one I have, but who knows when I'll be able to get another package. And maybe some shoe polish, here it isn't quite as good. I don't know, I don't really have time to think of stuff I need. Maybe one or two books on teachings of the prophets that they use in Priesthood. This year is President Hunter, and next year would be good to have in English. I don't know, just ideas.
I love you all so much, I hope that you're all doing well, and that you can all feel the spirit of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and missionary work! All three of these things are some of the greatest blessings we can possibly receive!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Pictures at Last!

With Elder Troche
 This is the reason that I'm getting fatter. I actually have a bit of a belly
right now, but I'm working on that. This is an average Colombian meal.
Rice and some kind of meat.
This is some traditional bowl thing. All I know is that the sister who has this property
(called a finca) was desperate for me to take this picture. I don't know why, but ok.

A motocarro con elder troche on our last day together, before I sent him to the mission
office. This is our normal mode of transport in the city.
More district p-day pictures

With Elder Lezano

It's so weird to think that I'm almost done with my training. It doesn't feel real, I'm starting week 9 of my 12 weeks. This doesn't feel right. Elder Lezano and Elder Sanchez (my district leader) always say that I'm going to be serving in a leadership position, and that I have to be ready to train someone. Which I hope doesn't happen right away, I don't feel quite ready for those responsibilities yet.

I actually brought my camera today, so I can send some pictures. Only a few, because these computers are pretty slow.
I have to say, at least here in Santo Tomas, Halloween is not a very big thing. I saw maybe 10 people going around for candy. But Elder Lezano tells me that in Barranquilla it's really big, so we will have to see about that in another year. It's so weird to think that I've officially passed 3 months in the mission, that's 1/8. That's not possible. Pero asi es. That's what they say here.
As for your questions Mom, we actually have a small house. It's actually a bit bigger than the average house here. We have a very small kitchen, a bigger room that's connected to the kitchen which is where we have our desks and stuff. We have a room for our beds, a room with a wardrobe, and a room that's empty. We don't know what to do with it. Each of those rooms is probably about the size of our computer room, maybe a little bit bigger. So we are pretty comfortable. We also have a really small bathroom with sometimes feels like the depths of inferno, because there's no window so it gets really hot and humid in there. We have a small gas stove and a little refrigerator. We also have a blender and a sandwich maker, and a sink, and that's about all of our modern appliances. We have to wash our dishes by hand, and to keep cool, we each have our own fan. And a sister in the branch does our laundry for us. For the mosquitos, I usually put on some bug spray after I shower in the mornings, and then try to kill the rest that still try to bite me throughout the day. The worst is right when the sun starts to go down, around 530 to 630. But I'm living, I don't have too many bites. And we have mosquito netting, which helps.
G_____ and B_____ are fantastic! They were actually supposed to get baptized this coming Saturday, but President Gallego wants us to announce every baptism in sacrament meeting, so we have to wait another week. But they're both great! I can really see the importance of the commitments we leave. Because these two people actually did the commitments that we left, they were able to receive testimonies and know that this is true. What was most amazing to me was church this Sunday. They attended (their 3rd attendance, which is the requirement for baptism) and we were talking in Sunday School about families and the law of chastity. And they said they weren't married, that they were living in union libre (not married, which is the status of more than half the people here, which frustrates us a lot). When we clarified by saying that they are married civilly, not in a church, B_____ said "oh, but Im not satisfied with that. I want to go to the temple" which is what we learned last week in Sunday School. I have seen this gospel really change their lives, and it's something really amazing to me. I've been able to see them become happier. It's obvious to me that they're happier than they were just a month or so ago when we first arrived. I wish everyone could feel this way. But that's our job, to bring it to them and offer it. And we learned in a training that it's not my work. In other words, it's not the work of the missionaries. This is the work of the stakes and wards. The missionaries are only here to help the members to do the work. So the investigators aren't "our" investigators. They're the ward's investigators. If we can change our mindset to focus on that, the mission work will change. It will be more efficient, we will baptize more. The church will grow. I know it's hard, because it requires personal sacrifice, especially of time. But really it is the best way to do it, I'm sure of that. I hope that we can all work on changing that mindset.
Everything is great here. I'm so happy to be here and I'm very glad for the chance I have to be here in Santo Tomas. It's not perfect, but I'm glad that I get to be one of the missionaries to help them to change. I hope you enjoy this email and the pictures I get to send this time. I love you all, I hope you all have a great week, and that you can all feel the Spirit, because really this is the most important. You are in my prayers, I hope you know that. Ciao!