Monday, March 31, 2014

Jonatan's Baptism

Querida familia,                                                    31 De Marzo 2014

This week we had a lot of focus on two young men, Marcos Ledesma and Jonatan Aguirre, as the two of them prepared for their baptism.

On Monday we had a visit with Marcos about tithing. Also there was his grandma, Angela, who is, in Marcos' words, "very catholic." So we were teaching him about tithing (the blessings we receive, what the money is used for and how to pay it) when out of nowhere his grandma interrupts and says, "I don't agree with the way your church runs its tithing." She told us that it wasn't right that we could force someone to pay ten percent of their income to the Church. Obviously she didn't understand, especially when she said, "they don't exhort you to do anything in my church; if you have an extra coin then you can donate it."

We didn't worry about arguing with her on the matter; she didn't agree with the standards of the Lord and that's all there was to it. But I was thinking more about tithing afterwards and thought of the following:

  • Tithing is a sacrifice. In ancient times the Lord required sacrifices from His people in the form of animals and now he asks us to give up a part of our income. If we only pay a donation whenever there is a little extra to go around then it isn't a sacrifice and we would be exactly the same as the scribes and the Pharisees who only gave what was extra.
  • The windows of heaven are opened unto us. Where is the closest place to heaven on earth? The temple. And the only way that we can get into the temple is to pay a full and honest tithe. By going to the temple are we not receiving a blessing so great that there shall not be room enough to receive it?
I had thought of a few more points, but for now I can't remember them.

Later with Marcos, we were able to watch the movie about President Monson's life called "On the Lord's Errand." It was pretty good and Marcos actually liked it more than I thought he would; which is really good because I thought that he was just going to be bored, but President Monson tells some good stories.

Things have been interesting with Carina and Daniel this week. The two of them are currently quitting smoking, and in Daniel's case, quitting drinking as well. But they've been having to make some changes and it hasn't been easy. We haven't really seen too much of Daniel this week and we're trying to help them get ready to be baptized on the twelfth of April. I think that Carina is getting a little discouraged, or maybe just annoyed, because she was supposed to get baptized this last Saturday, but couldn't because she is still smoking and so we had to change her baptismal date to the fifth, but then they said that we couldn't baptize on the fifth because of general conference. So once again we've changed her date to be for the twelfth of April. Regardless of the date changes, she still hasn't conquered smoking.

So we've been focusing lately on setting goals and achieving them. We've talked a bit more extensively with them about keeping the Sabbath day holy and the importance of their own personal preparation for baptism.

So Saturday was kind of a busy day for us because we had the baptism in Saenz Peña and then immediately afterwards we had a branch counsel meeting (which I go to and then the other Elders rotate around on who accompanies me). 

The baptisms went really well. Once again we had a small travel bus to take everyone to the baptism and get to the church. We had a good group that went; about twenty two people just from our investigators and some of the investigators of the other companionship. 
First I baptized Jonatan and then Elder Valverde baptized Marcos (who he has been teaching for five months now). It was really funny because one of Marcos' friends, Joel, came with him to the baptism and while we were there, Joel was getting phone numbers from the young women in the branch in Saenz Peña. I guess whatever it takes to get his friend coming to church with him is alright with me.

The counsel meeting was pretty disappointing though. The leaders from the branch always commit themselves to coming out to Quitilipi to help us run things and work with the members and then they always put up some sort of excuse not to come. The district president said that he wouldn't be able to make  because he needed to stay in Saenz Peña to set apart the new seminary teacher, as if he was going to do it during the church meetings and couldn't just wait until church got out, and then the first counselor to the branch president said that he couldn't make it because he doesn't have his license and therefore can't drive on the highways. I was at the point of sharing this scripture with them, but didn't,

"And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day." Jacob 1:19

If in the next meeting they still have the same attitude then I won't let them continue in their slothful thinking; we're trying to get everything put in order here and the people who should care the most are completely oblivious to the situation and don't try to become involved.

After the meeting, there wasn't a bus back to Quitilipi until ten thirty, so Elder Warth and I didn't get back to our apartments until eleven thirty and finally got to bed at midnight.

Jonatan is doing super well though. We're going to work with him to get the Priesthood so that he can get some baptisms under his belt here pretty soon. He really wants to participate more in the Church and even offered to come and help clean the building whenever we needed help.

So the building that we are using for the church meetings is being rented to us by a man named Sergio and his mom lives on the property next to the building. Her names is Justina. So on Saturday, she said that she wanted to come to see how it was for the first day and she actually came to the meeting, she just got there at the very end right as the closing prayer was being said. So we went to her house later on Sunday night and talked to her about the restoration of the Gospel. She really liked what we had to share with her, but was a little bit hesitant to accept a baptismal date. She felt confident about what we shared  though and has agreed to pray about what we shared with her.

It was really funny when we first sat down with her because she started telling us about her life and said that she lives alone and has nothing to do and sometime feels a little lonely (that wasn't the funny part) and then said that she wants something to fill her time like visiting people, visiting a sick person, doing some service, or getting involved in an activity and I thought, "we need to get her into
Relief Society!"

os amo,
Elder Burt

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Feast upon the word and endure to the end...

Querida familia,                                           25 De Marzo 2014
So this week was the first week that I've ever gotten sick in the mission, but it really wasn't bad at all. I just had a cold and took some pills for it. But this is what happened:

On Tuesday, we started to a companion exchange that was to last for four days (so for the majority of the week I wasn't even in Quitilipi) and I went to Saenz Peña with an Elder that I met when I very first arrived in Argentina: Elder Mojica from El Salvador.

That first night together, we had to go to an appointment in the outskirts of the city and we had taken the scenic route in order to avoid all of the mud (because it has been raining quite a bit this last week). We were doing really well keeping our shoes mud-free until we got to a street that was flooded as far as the eye could see. So we decided that there was no way to get around and no time to come up with some other plan, so Elder Mojica asks me, "do we cross with or without shoes?" So it was decided, we were just going to wade the river in order to get to our appointment. So we stepped in and took pictures before continuing on our way. 
We go to the appointment, had our lesson, and by the time we had finished it was already time to get back to the apartment. So we crossed the river once again (because once you're wet, you're wet).
We both got up the next morning with some minor cold symptoms, but thought nothing of it; there were things that needed to be done. So we went out that Wednesday morning to go and teach some less active members before having lunch with a recently reactivated family.

With this family that was only recently reactivated, we talked to the kids (who are the ages of eight to fifteen) about obedience at the request of the mother. So we talked about the blessings that we get from being obedient and shared this scripture:

"For every man receiveth wages of him whom he listeth to obey"
Alma 3:27
We asked some questions like: "What kind of blessings, or salary, do you get from obeying your mom?" or "What kind of blessings, or salary, do you get from obeying God?" After the lesson, I told all three of them that if they would be perfectly obedient for the next hour while we were gone (we were coming back to this family an hour later to eat lunch) then I would give each of them a CTR ring, but only if their mom said that they earned it.

When we got back, the mom approved the two younger boys for their CTR rings, but the fifteen year old girl hadn't quite won hers yet, so I gave it to Elder Mojica and said that he would give it to her at church on Sunday. She wasn't too happy about the idea and said to me, "I consider us to be friends, maybe you could just let me have the ring now." So I told her, "As your friend, I invite you come to church on Sunday." So then she said, "Well, I consider us to be companions (here they say "companion" as a more of slang way yo say friend)." I replied, "Well, as your companion I invite you to come to church." So she said, "Well your just an Elder then." Again I said, "As an Elder, I invite you to come to church." Finally she said, "Well your just a stranger then." I simply said, "I invite you to come to church."

I never actually heard if she went or not though.

Later that afternoon, we went to go get some things done in the city and I worked on my application a little bit, but as the afternoon grew on Elder Mojica started feeling worse. So we went back to the apartment and called Sister Heyman to get some advice. She told him what pills to take and also said that he needed to rest. So we stayed inside for the rest of the day.

The next morning, he still wasn't better, so I took the time to get some extra studies in and do some writing. Later that afternoon, I went with a different missionary named Elder Calderon because his companion, Elder Sacalxot (one of my previous companions) was also sick. So those two stayed in the apartment together while I went to work with Elder Calderon.

Once I got back to Quitilipi on Friday, I found that everyone else had also gotten sick (except for Elder Warth who got sick the next day anyway). But there was no time to stay in the apartment and rest.
We worked through Friday and Saturday and then the four of us stayed in to rest and get better on Sunday afternoon after having gone to church and studied.

But really we've been seeing lots of progress and growth here. What we do is rent a small bus that has twenty seats to take everyone to church on Sundays and we've filled it up the last two weeks. The picture I sent gives an idea of what it's like, but not everyone can be seen in the picture.
Also in that picture, there were only a couple of members on the bus and the rest of the people, about fifteen, are not members. So we've just seen some explosive growth here to lay the foundations for a branch to start here. The great thing about it is that the whole group gets along really great together and they are all already friends. This Friday we are actually planning to baptisms for two eighteen year old boys: Jonatan and Marcos.

Marcos makes me laugh at times; we were walking to catch a bus with Marcos and we go past a prom dress store and Marcos says to Elder Warth, "If you behave in church then I'll buy you a dress just like that one in the window."

We've had to stop teaching Isabel however. She wasn't really acting as much as she needed to and wasn't firm in her decisions. Really the experience with her gave me a new meaning for the phrase, "the Spirit will not always strive with man." If someone ignores the Spirit for to long, or doesn't act in faith, then the Spirit will just stop giving that burning feeling and motivation to continue and the desires of the individual will turn from "following Christ" to "doing whatever is easiest and most convenient." It was really quite a sad thing to see happen; her life had improved so much, but she didn't have enough faith to take the next step and get baptized.

I guess that the warning signs for this is when a person starts to ask questions like, "What happens if I can't afterwards?" or "What if it's not what I expected?" or "What if in a couple of years I just decide that I don't want to keep going?" These are all questions that she would ask and they all demonstrate a lack of faith and hope. Nephi has counseled us,

"Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life."
2 Nephi 31:20

os amo,
Elder Burt

Monday, March 17, 2014

A very successful future for Quitilipi

Querida familia,                          17 De Marzo 2014

We got our light bill on Monday morning and it was way higher than we expected it to be. So we called the guy that is in charge of managing our apartment to find out what was going on and he said that the price
of electricity went up sixty percent in all of the province.

Tuesday was transfer day, or better said, the night that they call us to say who is going and who is staying. So Elder Gates and Elder Warth made a chocolate cake that was either going to be a farewell cake or a celebration cake depending on the outcome of transfers. So we got the call and they informed us that the four of us would be staying together for another six weeks; we are all pleased with what happened.

It was kind of funny on the Monday before transfers because Elder Valverde was sure that he was getting moved because he has now been here for three months, so we walked around on Monday taking pictures around the city; he even said good-bye to Marcos (one of the youth that we're teaching).

Last week we started teaching an eighteen year old named Jonatan and his family, but lately we've only been teaching him and not the rest of the members in his family. But he's been really great; he came to
church with us this last Sunday and really enjoyed it.

On Tuesday night, we had a lesson with Jonatan and he said that before we showed up at his house that he had been studying the Bible quite a bit and was about to start looking for a church to join, but he just didn't know which one to go to. That's when we arrived. He said that he believes that we were sent from God to him because this is the path that God wants him to be in.

As we continued talking with him, we presented to him the Book of Mormon and he really enjoys reading it. We had a lesson about how the Book will act as a guide in his life and read in Alma 37:44-45 with him about how the liahona was a symbol of following the words of Christ. Afterwards he asked us to mark the chapter about the liahona to read later in addition to the chapter we had already marked.

On Wednesday we shared a brief lesson with Marcos Ledesma; one of the youth that we had been teaching, but haven't seen for awhile. We watched the twenty minute version of the Restoration video with him
and talked about his own testimony of the Church. We didn't have a lot of time to talk with him, but before we could set an appointment to come  back he asked us, "can you come back tomorrow?"

We went by the next day, but we weren't able to talk to him because he had to go to the dentist, so we didn't get to meet his friend either.

We didn't actually have a chapel here in Quitilipi, so there were a couple of weeks that we've met in a member's home and other weeks when we've gone to the branch in Saenz Peña. In order to go to the meeting house in Saenz Peña we either have to rent a mini bus and tell everyone where the pick-up point is or try to organize every one into groups to take the bus there. As difficult as it can be to get there,
it's good for the members from Quitilipi to see that they're not the members in the world and they can participate in the classes with lots more people. What's bad about not having the chapel here in Quitilipi is that the members see the buildings as a representation of their faith. So there have been some members that say they don't want to do missionary work until we have the chapel here and they are other
members that can't make the trip to Saenz Peña.

So we were expecting to have the chapel in Quitilipi ready for use as of yesterday, but we hadn't heard anything from anyone and no one had given use keys to get in and out. So we called President Heyman on
Wednesday and asked him what was going on with the building. He said that they're trying to have it ready by the end of the month, but it's still not ready for use. So this complicated things for us because there were still three more Sundays in March and we needed to plan at least two more trips to Saenz Peña, if not three. Then on the first weekend of April we're going to be back in Saenz Peña for general conference.

I'm confused by Isabel at times. She's been having doubts, not doubts in the doctrine nor in the church, but rather in herself. But this last Thursday when we talked with her, we invited her to come to a baptismal service for another companionship so that she could see how a baptism is. Well at first she said that she wasn't sure if she wanted to go and then said, "can other people get baptized in the service if they want to? For example, if someone who is sitting in the
meeting decides that they want to get baptized too, can they?" So we asked her if she wanted to go and get baptized. She said, "I might do that; that's just how my personality is. Maybe I'll feel something in
the meeting that will move me to get baptized in the moment."

Saturday, the day of Luis' baptism, Isabel decided that she didn't want to go because she wasn't feeling well, but we did have a lot more people come with us and a lot more than we expected.

Basically everyone that we're teaching lives on the same, long street, so we were walking down the road and stopping at everyone's houses to pick them up so that we could walk to the bus stop together to go the
baptism. Well we first met up with Jonatan (because he lives the farthest away) and then made our way to Carina and Daniel. What we weren't expecting was all of the other people who were waiting with them. Two younger brothers of Carina decided to come as well as two other kids that we talk with. So our group became huge and suddenly we were a group of ten and later twelve once Marcos and his friend Joel met us at the bus stop.

So we took a huge group of investigators to the baptism and they had a really good time and it strengthened their desires to be baptized.

The next day on Sunday morning, we took a group of investigators just as big, but with the addition of four members and three more investigators from the other companionship; we were a group of twenty-one people and in Church it seemed that there were just as many
from Quitilipi as there were from Sáenz Peña.

There was a prophecy given by Marvin Ballard about the growth of the Church in South America and in it he said that the Church would grow like an acorn, slow but constant. Well the Church has been in Quitilipi for about four months now and there have been four baptisms between both of the companionships, or an average of a baptism per month. But as I was thinking about the people that we are teaching and the people that are coming to church, we actually have a very rate pool of investigators.

Right now, my companion and I are teaching three young men that are between seventeen and eighteen years old and the other companionship, Elder Warth and Elder Gates, just baptized a man named Luis. The only reason that this is usual is because in the mission, and I think for South America in general, the majority of the people that are baptized are women and children, but we are teaching mostly men and young men who are of mission age. As I thought more about it, it just made me think that we are finding everyone that we need to start the Church here in Quitilipi; we'll have sisters to run the Relief Society, men to be in the bishopric, and young men to serve missions. All in all, we are seeing the beginnings of a very successful future here.
os amo,
Elder Burt

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Our trials mold us

Querida familia,                                                    10 De Marzo 2013

So our week actually started out kind of slow, but not because of anything that we did. This last Monday and Tuesday there was the carnival festivals, so all the missionaries had to stay in their apartments for those two days.
We were able to go out during the day, so on Monday morning we went and pruned trees for a sister in the branch and then in the evenings we played Uno and talked to each other. 
But this week we were focused on trying to get things moving with the group (it's not even a branch yet here). So we went to a council meeting this last Saturday and proposed a plan that I had made with Elder Valverde to get things running here. Mostly what we're looking for is that the leaders who are supposed to be running this group can magnify their callings and take more responsibility; that's actually harder than it sounds when we, as President Heyman said, "live in a nation without commitment."
So our plan is simple, short, easurable, and easily executible just a like a good plan should be. We dividided it into three parts:

1. Visits To the Members
2. Sunday Meetings
3. A Combined Effort

What we want to do is get the leaders to come out to our city (which is a twenty minute car ride away from their city) and actual do the home and visiting teaching. We, the missioanries, are going to continue visiting the members and training them so that they can become leaders and be ready to receive callings once we had a branch here.
After that, we made plans that at least two leaders could come every Sunday to give talks as well as teach the Gospel Principles class. Then every fast Sunday, we, the members from Quitilipi, will travel to the other city, Saenz Peña, to participate in their meetings and be in the big chapel. This way the members from Quitilipi don't feel like the only Mormons in the world and they can meet lots of new friends and see how the Church is suppose to run.
As part of our efforts, we, the missionaries, are going to continue participating in the branch counsel meetings so that we can make more plans and report the progress of the group.
It was actually really different going into their counsel meeting and essentially telling everyone else what they were going to do, but we didn't ask them to do anything more that what was already expected of them.
We also were talking to a member from Saenz Peña that seems to knows everyone in Argentina and who also keeps a record of everyone's addresses and full names. So he gave us a list of references of people to talk to in Quitilipi. So we've been having some really great success with that. On Thursday we met a man named Hector Farías who met the missionaries eleven years ago, but never got baptized. After the missionaries left Quitilipi, he kept writing to the elders and he kept going to church. When we asked him why he never got baptized he said that no one ever asked him if he wanted to be baptized. So we're excited to see what happens with him.

One of the references that we got didn't go too well because the guy said that if we didn't stop bothering him and his family then he would shoot us. So we told him to have a nice day and we haven't been back since that one and only visit.

Isabel on the other hand had passed for difficult trials I suppose because when we went to talk to her on Thursday she wanted to give us all the books and pamphlets that we had given her back to us. So we talked to her about what was happening and how the trials that we face are what mold us into something better in the same way that fire refines gold and turns iron into steel. After talking for a while, she felt better and was ready to keep going in the church. The biggest problem that she is facing now is that both of her kids, one who is seventeen and the other who is thirty-two, are both into drinking and going to clubs and parties, so she is constantly worried and stressed. We told her that she just needs to keep reading, praying and going to church so that she can receive the revelation that she needs in order to help her kids.
Last night, we walked up to a man sitting down in front of his house and asked if we could talk to him. He said 'yes, but then said something interesting, "I'd offer you mate, but you don't drink it right?" Mate is kind of like a tea that everyone drinks here and the missionaries aren't allowed to drink it. So we asked him how he knew that we can't drink mate and he said that he met the missionaries fifteen years ago when he was still in high school, but they never talked to him about the church.

Well this man's name is Oscar Castillo and he is basically already a member of the church for his lifestyle; the only thing he lacks is a little bit of water. So we talked to him and he wasn't doing to well spiritually. He said that he wasn't sure if God really existed or not, but that he used to believe in Him. We had a really great conversation with him about who God is, His divine nature as our Father in Heaven, and the plan the He has for us. At the end of our conversation we gave him a Book of Mormon and our phone number to set an appointment with us. The only bad thing with him is that we're only going to be able to meet with him once a week.

os amo,
Elder Burt

Monday, March 3, 2014

The light on the horizon

Querida familia,                                                    3 De Marzo 2014
On Monday we had a conference with some of the zones that were close by to ours with President Heyman in which he went over some of the basics of missionary work and taught a few new principles as well. (This was why we didn't write last Monday). After the conference, I was talking to President Heyman and he said to me, "Elder Burt, it seems like you've been in this mission for five years. When are you going home?." I told him that I was going home in April and he said, "well that's coming right up." Then today in his weekly letter to me he writes me a letter that started out by saying, "I want to share something that has nothing to do with missionary principles, but rather principles for after the mission..." His letter then went on to talk about getting married in the temple.

So I've been working a lot with my companion, Elder Valverde, on his English this last week and teaching him phrases that he needs to know if he wants to sound like he knows what he's talking about. So this last week I taught him how to say our Pledge of Allegiance in English. I thought that seemed like something that he should know. So now if someone asks him how good his English is, he just says the Pledge of Allegiance in English.

So there has been a man that we've been kind of teaching. More than anything we've been teaching his wife and his daughter, but haven't really been teaching them or passing by so much in the past couple of weeks because they were never going to church and to make things worse, this guy, whose name is Rito Aguirre, is always very drunk and doesn't ever let us teach anything because he always asks us, "why are there so many bad things in the world if God is good?" We answered his question the first three times he asked us, but he always asks us that one question. But here's what happened with him: Elder Warth and Elder Gates, the other missionaries in the city, were walking in their area and saw this guy walking in the street drunker than usual. So they asked him if he needed help and he said yes. so they said that they were going to help him get back to his house, but little did they know that he lived twenty blocks away. So they walked with him for an hour until they got him home and he didn't get hurt or robbed like he probably would have had they not helped him. Well a couple of days later we saw this man in the street watching a soccer game in the park and he asked us to come over and talk to him. He was still drunk, but not just his usual level of drunkeness and he just wanted to say that he was extremely grateful for what our companions did for him.

It was also in that conversation with him that he said that he wanted to change his life and be better. So we set an appointment with him to come to his house and start teaching him again. Well he wasn't there for that appointment when we went to see him. So a few days later we saw him again and we sat down with him. Again he said that he wanted to change his life, but was still his usual level of drunkeness. We told him that he had to stop drinking completely and he said that he was willing to do it.

Well all of that happened a couple of weeks ago and we never found him again until just yesterday. He was completely healthy and sober. He said that he hadn't drunk for a week and that he was never going to drink again. It was amazing. He even looked ten years younger. He said that he realized that he was a completely different person when he was drinking and that he would rather be the person that he is when he is sober because that person is happy and enjoys helping others. So we set an appointment to meet with him and start teaching him and also made a separate appointment with him to do service.
So now we are thinking that he could easily progress and become the future branch president here in Quitilipi.

We've been working more with Isabel, but she is still feeling somewhat overwhelmed; she feels like she won't be able to do everything that is expected of her. So we talked about how much progress she has made in the past couple of of weeks and how her life has changed. She said that she feels more peace, she has more energy, she doesn't fight with her kids anymore, and she has more desire to act and to do. I told her that the Spirit fills us with the light of God and that He can work with us in two ways:

1. He gives us light and knowledge instantly like flipping on a light switch in a dark room that suddenly fills with light.

2. Little by little, line upon line, and precept upon precept He teaches us and gives us light and knowledge in such a way that we may not notice that we've changed until we look back and see what we've accomplished. This was compared to a rising sun; we can see the light long before the sun comes over the horizon, but we know that the sun is there and then with a little bit more time we have the perfect brightness of noon day.
os amo,
Elder Burt