Sunday, December 29, 2013

Cut your hair super short

Querida familia,                     24 de Diciembre 2013

So this Monday we went looking from Omar because we had heard that he came back early from working in the fields, but we had some troubles getting a hold of him. We got to his house, but when we walked up to gate, his mom walked in the house at the same time and wouldn't come outside to talk to us. We clapped (even though she knew we were there) and still wouldn't come out. She then started sending little kids out to see if we were still there and she even sent a little girl out to say, "my mom isn't home." I told her that I just saw her mom walk inside and that we just wanted to talk for two minutes. She still wouldn't come out. The ridiculous thing about the situation is that we could see Omar sleeping and we considered just being loud enough to wake him up and get his attention, but it seemed inappropriate. A little bit later, a little boy of three years walked out and we told him, "hey, can you wake Omar up for us?" The boy looked inside the house and then responded to us, "my mom won't me." So we actually didn't get to see Omar this week with everything that has been going on.

Tuesday night, however, we got the call telling Elder Miramontes and I that we would no longer be together. Elder Miramontes was sent to another city called Goya and I was told that I would be training two new missionaries; Qui-Gon can't take on two apprentices, but I sure can.

So we left at three in the morning that same night to go to Resistencia. While I was there I only got my first of the companions, but he is Elder Diaz from Iquitos, Peru. 

It was funny because in the mission office, President Heyamn was making everyone cut their hair to be super short and when he told me I had to cut my hair I tried to convince him to let me cut it myself the next day. I told him that I have my way of cutting to conserve my style and he told me, "your style is representative of Jesus Christ." The next day I talked with President Heyman by phone and asked how the hair was because he "was worried that it had messed up my style."

I'm really short on time, but we'll be talking tomorrow.

os amo,
Elder Burt

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lootings, pillage and plundering

Querida familia,                       16 de diciembre 2013

So I need to explain what has been happening in Resistencia in order for the following to make more sense. In Resistencia, the capital capital city of Chaco (the province where I'm located), the police have been on strike and as a result people have been looting stores and committing all manner of crimes. So, in order for our own protection, President Heyman has changed our schedule so that we our in our apartment well before it gets dark. As of yet, absolute nothing has happened here in Campo Largo where I am, but in the surrounding cities there have been lootings and even deaths (but only in Resistencia).

One of the sisters in the branch told us that this whole thing had been planned by the police so that the lootings would happen; they didn't just want a pay raise. Now the police that are in the streets are only working and protecting people who pay them a fee to protect their store. And it just so happens that I was reading about the secret combinations among the Jaredites the same day that we heard about this. 

So what happened is on Monday morning, our zone leaders called us to tell us what was happening and then said that we had to be back in the apartment before dark (which is about 7:30-8:00 at night).

We waited to see what was going to happen and we didn't hear anything that sounded like riots or chaos. I talked with Elder Humphries in a nearby city, Villa Angela, and he said that there were lootings happening and people were breaking and entering into stores there.

I guess that things had gotten worse the next morning because we were once again called by the zone leaders early in the morning, but this time we were told that we were not allowed to leave the apartment the whole day due to what was happening. I told our zone leader that I wasn't afraid, but he said that I still had to stay inside anyway. So we passed the day writing letters and cleaning the apartment.

The next day on Wednesday, the leaders once again called us to let us know that until Sunday we would be required to be in the apartment at seven. So we've been passing the days barely getting to meet with the people and having very few lessons this last week. However, we have done a great deal (Last night we were told that this schedule of returning to the apartment at seven every night would continue for the next week as well).

So in our search for the new branch president, we've had some ups and some downs. First of all, Luis, the twenty-three year old Elder, was offended in church last week because one of the sisters in the branch said that the Priesthood holders were cowards for not fulfilling with Priesthood duties, and as a result he didn't come to church yesterday. When we talked with him last Monday, he said that he "can't serve such false people." I understand; he doesn't want to submit himself to the service of people who don't support him. However, he, just as much as that sister, are in the wrong and both need to make changes. We told him that he needs to talk with her about why he is offended and resolve the issue, otherwise there will always be discontentment and anger in his heart. 

We did, however, have a good  visit with Epifanio Machado. He used to be the branch president years ago, but has since been less active in the church. We shared some scriptures with him about foreordaination and the Priesthood covenant and gave him the invitation to prepare himself. In response he said, "Maybe God is calling me once again... the last calling." Yes, God is calling. And rather loudly at the moment. Epifanio, unfortunately, didn't make it to church yesterday, but we don't know why. His work requires him to work through the night for some thirty-seven hours straight (he makes bricks), so we're guessing that that is what happened.

This week we also had a couple of activities with the branch. First, we invited everyone to come and listen to the Christmas Devotional from the first presidency and to wrap copies of the Book of Mormon as gifts while they watched and listened. The message was, "Salvation is the greatest of all God's gifts, so the greatest gift that we can give is the Gospel that makes Salvation possible." It was cool because there were three kids who came with their member friends that each took a Book of Mormon home to share with their families. 

The next morning on Saturday, we did some serious weeding in the back yard of the church. As you can see in the pictures, it hasn't been done in a while, so we got organized and got all those plants pulled and stacked. After we had finished, we bought chorizo and bread to make sandwiches and everyone got to eat some lunch.

We also have a new family that we're teaching. The mom's name is Sandra and the dad is Diego. They have two kids: a twelve year old daughter name Milagros (Miracles) and a ten year old son named José María (Joseph Mary).

So Sandra is the daughter of a member that we met the other week actually, but we had only one lesson with her. This last week, we've taught her a couple of times and her husband once (we haven't been able to talk to him more because he is only home at night and we've been shut in). But Sandra and Milagros both came to church yesterday and they (at least Sandra) liked it a lot. So now she is going to get her husband to come next week. 

The incredible thing that happened with her is the dream that she had. Her dream was divided into two parts: a sad and ugly part, and a happy and joyful part. In the good part of the dream, she saw her mom, family, and friends living in a nice community and everyone was happy and had everything that they needed. After walking around, she walked into a large house and entered into an empty room. From the other side of the room, she said, my companion and I walked in. she said that I then asked her, "Is this the life that you want, or do you want this? She then woke up (in her dream) in a hospital bed. She got up to walk around, but wasn't allowed to leave. Everywhere in the hospital she just saw all the people she cared about sick in bed and in worse condition than she was. Suddenly she was in that room again with us. I again asked her, "which life do you want?"

I can only imagine that the interpretation of the dream would have to do with her decision to accept the Gospel and live with her family and friends forever, or to reject it and live a life that isn't in the least bit desirable. So far, she is making good decisions to get the life from the good part of the dream. 

os amo,
Elder Burt

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Finding a Branch President

Querida familia,                       9 de Diciembre 2013

So this week President Heyman called to give me news and a somewhat new assignment. On Thursday afternoon he called to told me that we have until the twenty-eighth of January to find a local member who can be the branch president or else they're going to close the branch and take the missionaries out of the city. That doesn't mean that we have to have someone set apart by that date, but it does mean that we have to have someone who is willing and available to accept the calling and is preparing them self to become the branch president. On top of this search, President Heyman said that he would be taking action according to my recommendation.

So we've been on the search, looking for all the Priesthood holders in the city, telling them what the situation is, inviting them to come back to church and inviting them to prepare themselves to become the future leaders of the Church here in Campo Largo. It sounds so easy, but it's turning out to be much more difficult than expected; sometimes we just can't find the people when they're home and sometimes other people get in thew way of us talking to the Priesthood holders.

So far we've been able to talk with and invite to Melchizedek Priesthood holders and talk to them about what is happening: Luis Perez and Elias Cardozo. With each of them we had very different experiences.

We first talked with Luis Perez. We eat lunch with him every Thursday and he's twenty-three years old and a really cool guy, but he's been pretty wayward for the last year. However, we've been working with him and he's come to church for two weeks in a row (a new record since who knows how long).

Well on Thursday night, after receiving the news, he was the first one that we talked to about being a leader. We shared a couple of scriptures with him and talked to him about his duties as a Priesthood holder. At the end we shared this scripture:

And now my beloved brethren, I have said these things unto you that I might awaken you to a sense of your duty to God, that ye may walk blameless before him, that ye may walk after the holy order of God, after which ye have been received. (Alma 7:22)

He accepted the call to prepare himself; to give up the things that he shouldn't be doing. He said that he always knew that this day would come because it's written in his patriarchal blessing. His motivation to change is definitely the members, because he said that he was going to do it for the branch and not for himself.

When we met with Elias it was a less successful meeting. We went accompanied by Sister Duarte, one of the sisters from the branch who teaches seminary and young women's class. There in the conversation present was also his wife Martha. Elias was previously the branch president, but was released from the calling years before (not for reasons of unworthiness though). However, he is now much older and has trouble hearing and isn't up to traveling around to go to meetings.

Really we were just hoping that he could be a counselor to help whoever would end up as branch president because he already has experience, but his wife already said that she didn't want him to be branch president again and that she wouldn't support the idea. So that puts us in a tough situation because he was supposed to be our fail-safe. 

As far as the rest of the members are concerned, we've been letting them know what's happening one family at a time; we figured it was better that way than announcing it in sacrament meeting. So not everyone knows yet, but we're gathering everyone who already knows to help in the search. As we tell the members, however, they've all had different reactions. One of the young women cried and walked away, one of the sisters said that we should just shoot all the men who don't want to come back to church, some are more realistic and say, "well that's obviously what's going to happen if no one wants to work.

I'm going to finish this week with a short story:
We went to go visit a less active family (the father could be a potential leader as well) and when we talked with the mom we set an appointment to go back the next day. So we went back the next day at the designated time and knocked on the door. We waited for a bit and then some woman who we don't know stuck her head out the window and told us that the family wasn't home. She then proceeded to leave the house by putting a chair outside, stepping out through the window, and then putting the chair back in the house through the window. Now we knew that there were other people in the house and they were just avoiding us, but I wanted to stop the woman and say to her, "So you're telling me that there is no one home and you're here leaving the house out the window. What are you doing, robbing the place?"

os amo,
Elder Burt

Monday, December 2, 2013

The release date!!!!

Querida familia,                          2 de Diciembre 2013
There is a member named Carmen who has been a member for of the Church for about twenty-five years and is now about sixty years old. She is really active and always wants to help, but her thirty year old daughter, Veronica, has been inactive for a while now. 

So this week we've been working with Veronica, having short visits here and there, to help her come back to church. It was funny though because when we sat down to have our main lesson with her that was a little bit longer he mom was whispering to me suggestions of what to share with Veronica. She was saying things like, "Elder, drop the cane on her... something really strong." (the phrase "drop the cane" means something like "tell them how it is without restraint")

So we had a pretty good conversation with them both, but towards the end Veronica started trying to "find the line" or in other words, she wanted to know to what extent a person could do certain things and still be ok. So we talked about how repentance isn't true if a person has intentions to return to their old ways and that we can't just repent and sin and repent and sin. To make the point, I shared Revelations 3:15-16 which in Spanish is worded a little bit differently, but says, "I would that ye were hot or cold, but because thou art luke warm I will vomit thee from my mouth." She actually really liked that scripture and then decided that she would begin her repentance after all the Christmas parties. Well, that just wasn't a good enough goal, so I then shared Alma 34:32-36 which says that we can not procrastinate the day of our repentance.

Veronica didn't come to church yesterday, but she is starting to get back into the habit of reading and praying daily. In other words, progress.
So on Wednesday I received some papers regarding my travel plans that I need to fill out and send to the mission. For now, my scheduled release is planned for the 22 of April, which falls on a Tuesday. I'm pretty sure that date is going to change because I'll be leaving the mission field a week before then because on the Thursday before I have my exit interview with President Heyman and then the temple trip to Buenos Aires and I can't imagine that we will be in Buenos Aires for more than a day. I'm guessing that I will be home on Sunday or Monday, rather than Tuesday.
On Monday Omar and Martha were going to go in to do their blood analysis, but it was a federal holiday, so apparently the hospital was closed. So they said that on Tuesday morning they would go in to do it. Well on Wednesday afternoon, we went looking for them to see how things went and they were no where to be found; not in their house nor in the Martha's mom's house. It wasn't until the next day that we found Martha again and she told us what had happened. 
It turns out that there had been an argument between them and thy had since separated; Omar going back to live with his mom. The argument was that Martha doesn't like it when they go to visit his mom because all of Omar's brothers smoke and drink and then encourage him to do the same. So Omar took it hard and basically walked away feeling like he was being told that he wasn't allowed to see his mom. Obviously other things occurred and the argument escalated until it had gone way beyond what was ever necessary, but that was how it started.

So later the next day when we finally found Omar, we came across a sad sight as we saw him sitting in a big circle with other people, smoking and drinking. He stepped away from the group to talk with us and of course the rest of the crowd tried to discourage him from talking to us, but we had a pretty serious conversation. We talked about what he is going to not only do about his baptism, but his whole life; if he really was content to just go back to drinking, smoking, and generally not doing anything productive or meaningful. He said that he wasn't sure about getting back together with Martha, but we told them that even if they don't get married that he still has an obligation to be better than the person he was in that moment; I told him, and he also knew it, that he looked physically different from before from just a few days of drinking and smoking. The question to make him think was this: are you really happier now with these "friends" than you were a week ago when you were reading the scriptures, praying, and spending time with your family?

He said that he might go to work in the mountains for three weeks and while he's there he will think and ponder about what he wants to do. We're just hoping that he will make good decisions; not just for the short term, but rather for the eternities.

Through all of this, Martha has become rather downcast and sad because of the events that transpired; she didn't even come to church yesterday. We've been trying to cheer her up and encouraging her to keep reading and praying, but she still needs more time. Some members are going to be passing by her to offer their friendship and help too.

Sunday went well though. We had a good group of less active members come back to church for the first time in a while that we've been visiting, so that was nice to see them there. We also got some pretty good activities planned for the coming weeks to help the members share the Gospel with their non-member friends and family.

os amo,
Elder Burt