Friday, November 20, 2015

If we are Built upon the Rock of Christ, We will Prevail

This is our entire mission in August when Elder Bednar came! Our mission has had two changes since this picture was taken, so it is already somewhat outdated; but, for the most part, this is our mission. For example, there are about ten sisters here that have gone home and about ten new ones that are not in the picture. Elders as well. It is amazing to me how things are constantly changing in the mission. Obviously, we have a lot more Elders than sisters and more Latins than Americans.

So I have done my demographic study of our mission for the year of 2015. Here are the statistics: We have 138 missionaries, with 56% (77) Latins and 43% (61) Americans. We have 12 countries represented in our mission: 1 from the Dominican republic (our first), 2 from Canada, Argentina, Honduras, Paraguay and Mexico, 5 from Chile, 6 from Ecuador, 8 from Colombia, 13 from Bolivia, 34 from Peru with 23 of them from Lima, and 61 from the United States with over half of them, 32, from Utah. We have 28 sisters which is about 20% and 110 Elders which is 80% of our missionaries. So that is the scoop on our Mission!
                                           Out with the oldies and goodies;

                                           in with the new and fantastic!

November has been an extremely busy month with interviews for five days in Chiclayo and a trip to Jaen in the middle for interviews and a Stake Conference. Then the beginning of this week, we had changes. We sent home 9 missionaries on Monday and received 12 missionaries on Tuesday and had interviews with them all. We had another Stake Conference last weekend and will have four more to make six in a row for six weekends. I speak twice and Mark has the privilege of speaking three times for each Conference. Sometimes they give us a topic and most often they do not. I have been speaking about marriage and the atonement.

                                                    We have a tradition of going to the
                                                      beach every six weeks. With our
                                                                new missionaries

One of my favorite things to do in interviews is to ask the missionaries what their new favorite
scripture is. It is so amazing to hear all of their insights about the scriptures. I want to share a few of my favorites:

One Elder shared Mosiah 2:25: "And now i ask, can ye say ought of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold it belongeth to him who created you." We talked about what we felt that this scripture means, not they we are worthless or of no value, but that we are nothing without God. We are dependent on Him for everything. Some people who do not believe in God, say that they only need to depend on themselves and those of us who depend on God are weak. But they would not even exist or have anything that they need to live without God.

Then I shared Mosiah 4:11 with a similar theme; "And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long suffering towards you, unworthy creatures . . ."  Not only are we nothing without God, but we are nothing in comparison to God. We are sinful and imperfect and yet he is patient and long suffering with us and grants us Mercy. We need to always remember His goodness and greatness. I really felt the power and truth of this teaching that day.

This is related to a scripture that a sister shared with me, Mosiah 25:16; "And he did exhort the people of Limhi and his brethren, all those that had been delivered out of bondage, that they should remember that it was the Lord that did deliver them." She said that when she read this, it really hit her how important it is to remember what the Lord has done for us in the past because it gives us hope and strengthens our faith in the present. So next she drew a diagram and made a web of all the times the Lord has helped her on her mission. This Sister has had many challenges with things like her health, loneliness and other external forces (like dogs) that have been out of her control and this gave her great comfort to remember that the Lord has helped her and been with her when she has needed His help. Like Nephi said, we are so quick to forget. It would strengthen the faith of all of us if we were more quick to remember. This is a theme repeated very often in the scriptures. After all, we covenant to always remember every Sunday when we partake of the sacrament.

                                        Mark performed a baptism on Halloween. I guess
                                         you could say this was his Halloween Costume!

There was one scripture passage that gave me great comfort, one day, that was exactly what I needed to hear. It is D&C 6:33-36. It says, "Fear not to do good, my sons, for whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap; therefore, if ye sow good ye shall also reap good for your reward.

"Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.

"Behold I do not condemn you; go your ways and sin no more; perform with soberness the work which I have commanded you.

"Look to me in every thought; doubt not, fear not."

I love it that the Lord says that no matter what is going on or who is fighting against us, we do not need to fear and they, whoever they are, will never prevail. With all the horrible things going on in the world right now and even in the church, this is a very comforting truth to me. My heart was filled with hope and gratitude that day for the gospel and for the comfort of the scriptures. I know that I could never make it through this life without the strength and the faith that comes to me from the scriptures.

                                      My husband's Mission Presidency; President
                                              Diaz, Mark and President Castillo      

Another missionary told me about a recent convert of only two weeks. Every time they visit him, he begins to cry and says, "Why would you come so far to share this message with me? Why did you knock on my door?" This is what missionary work is really about; touching the lives of precious souls one at a time. "Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God." (D&C 18:10) This is why we come so far and we knock on so many doors. This work is a miracle!

                                                   Trip to Jaen. Mark with Assistants.

On a lighter note, two weeks ago, I mentioned that we went to Jaen for interviews and a stake conference. We drove up on a Friday and before we started interviews, we went to visit the room of the Zone Leaders. It is a pretty large room and they had a lot of "stuff" cluttering the room; piles and mountains of stuff. My husband, of course, does not like that. Anyone who knows him well knows that he is neat, clean, a perfectionist and that he does not like clutter. But missionaries are always afraid to throw anything away. (Except my son Eric) We had an hour before interviews started, so Mark said, "Okay, we're going to clean this out. Get rid of all this stuff!" My husband started picking things up and asking who they belonged to and if anyone used them. Usually the answer was "no." So my husband and the four Elders began to carry boxes and boxes of junk, and furniture out of the apartment.

                                           Here's some of the stuff . . .

There was one lady and this guy in the tank top
who came first. They took away a haul of stuff.
You can see her pile on the other side!

In Peru, all you need to do is put stuff out on the street and it will disappear. It was like a free garage sale that day and the neighbors had a heyday. It was so fun to watch them gathering treasures and making piles for themselves. It reminded me of Christmas. They were so happy and having a great time! Peruvians do not take anything for granted. I love giving to them because they are always so grateful.

                                         Halloween 2015 with the office. We had a Cell
                                          Service Technician, Mohammed Ali, A Golfer
                                                    and a Pharisee that came to dine.

I have never felt as loved as I have felt here in Peru; by the missionaries and the members.They are just grateful that we are willing to be here to help them with missionary work. But sometimes I feel like the hugging is a little out of control. Sometimes I don't want to go places because I know I will have to hug everyone and I am just plain tired, especially at night. For instance, when we go to the airport and there are members there, say 20 to 30, I need to hug all of them to say hello. Then if we leave five minutes later, I need to hug all of them to say goodbye. After a day of cooking and preparing for a dinner in the Mission Home, I am just way too tired for hugging! Sometimes I try to sneak out the back door of the airport.

                                         Halloween Tradition: Eating Bloody Eyeball Subs!

                                           We had two trick or treaters! A record over last
                                             year. We had zero. They really don't celebrate
                                             Halloween here and don't understand why we
                                             do. Holidays here are religious or patriotic.

Once after a Stake Conference, a man came toward me. I don't think he went to church very often because he grabbed me and went in for the hug. Most men in the church know they are not supposed to hug sister missionaries, but this man did not seem to be aware of that. With the hug, you also give a little peck on the cheek. I knew he was coming in, but did not have time to retreat. At the last second, he decided to change to the other side, and for a minute we almost kissed on the lips! It was a close call and a little awkward, but I managed to avoid it! Another time an elderly man just grabbed me and hugged me and hugged me saying that my message was wonderful and that he felt the Spirit. He was a little overly exuberant, but I appreciated his love and gratitude.

                                           My new office in the Mission Office with brand
                                                               new matching furniture.
                                                   I'm so excited to be a real person now!

One more thing about interviews: They were a special treat this time because I did not have to do them in the supply closet! For almost a year and a half, I have never had my own space. Our Mission Office has never had an office for the Mission President's wife, but two weeks ago, I moved into my new office! A couple months ago, the Facilities "Guy" for the church in Chiclayo, came to my husband and I and said that he wanted to build me a new office. He explained his plan of how to do it pretty easily. We were thrilled and thought it was a great idea! The only down side was that they could not do it until March of 2016 because it had not been allocated in the budget. But it turned out they had a little extra money this year, so my husband talked them into doing it in a little less expensive way, without me knowing about it. He managed to keep me away from the office for a week while they were remodeling the whole office and it was a mess. We had a meeting that Friday in the chapel and the minute it was over Mark said, "I'm taking you home!" I really wanted to see what they had been doing all week in the office, but my husband insisted that it was such a mess and I should not go there. On Saturday, we had another meeting and this time at the end, Mark immediately said, "Let's go to the office!" I walked in and did not even notice that there was a brand new wall to the right of me. I was more interested in the other side of the office. Finally, my husband said, "Did you see this over here and pointed me to the other side. This is what I saw: A new wall and a brand new office just for me! I feel like a new person, like I really am part of the mission now! I have a space! It is wonderful! My husband is wonderful too! He always make sure I am taken care of.

                                            No door yet!

Fake furniture at first. 
Two file cabinets with a board on top.

Lots of changes in the main office.
Missionaries working hard.

I mentioned to my daughter Lisa that I spoke at an evening session of Conference and talked about what we have done to have unity in our marriage. She told me how she loves to hear advice about marriage, so I thought I would share my thoughts. Here are the most important things I feel we have done to have a strong marriage: (And there is no way we can make it through this mission experience without it!)

1. We have prayed together every night before we go to bed. You cannot continue to hold a grudge when you pray as a couple. The Spirit comes and softens your heart and the bad feelings melt away. (there are only a few times we have had those feelings, of course!)

2. We try to make time to talk every day. This is not always easy, but we should be interested in the lives and feelings of our spouse. One great way to do this is going on walks together. We love to do that.

3. We have gone on a date every week when possible. Making time to date shows how important our marriage is to us. It is the best day of the week; one we look forward to all week.

4. We have tried to go to the temple as often as possible, at least every month. Every time we attend the temple, it is amazing how my love increases for my husband. President Hinckley said that every time we attend the temple, we leave it as a better man or woman. So it makes sense that we leave as better husbands and wives also.

5. We greet each other and say goodbye with a kiss. Parting should never be a casual thing. When we moved to one area 20 years ago, y husband had some tough seminary classes. He came home exhausted every day and just wanted some time alone. So for the first time in our marriage, he did not come and say hello to me, but just headed straight to our bedroom to hide for a while. When I realized this was happening, I was a little hurt that he did not want to see me when he got home. So we talked about this and made a rule that we always had to say goodbye and hello with a kiss when coming or going. After that, Mark was allowed to retreat to the bedroom for some peace and quiet. It may seem like a small thing, but this has strengthened our marriage. For years and years, Mark would come home and in a very loud voice he would say, "I come home and I kiss the Guapa!" These words are ingrained in the minds of our children for eternity!

6. The next thing is very simple, but not always easy when we are tired, stressed or frustrated: We need to be nice. There was a study done of marriages that endured for a long time. The one common denominator they found in all of these marriages was that they treated each other with kindness and respect. I believe that Moroni 7:45-47 applies well here. If we never think evil of our companion and are kind and long suffering, our marriages will be strong.

I am so grateful for the charity my husband has for me. He has never said one thing unkind or negative to any other person about me. Always he sees me as perfect! But that is not because I am perfect. I am brim full of weaknesses and problems. He always sees the good in me and refuses to see the bad. He has never failed me. He is my faithful friend forever. I love him with all of my heart!

                                             Sorry! Have to put in some pics of the grand kids!
                                                Halloween is much more fun in the States.


And the family.

And the strange uncle.

                                                             And the big kids!
                                                     The Newlyweds are so cute!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Many Mountains to Move and Continents to Cross

One day my husband and I were eating lunch, and I got a strange phone call. It was a man speaking in Spanish who said, "Hermana Williams, excuse me, but I need the phone number of one of the sister missionaries." Normally we do not give out the phone numbers of the sisters to strange men on the phone, so I handed the phone to my husband to let him handle it. My husband found out that one of the sister missionaries had left her Daily Agenda in this man's moto-taxi and he wanted to return it to her. As my husband called the sister to confirm that she had lost her agenda, I was thinking how nice this was for a moto-taxista to be so helpful and go above and beyond the call of duty to help this sister out. After confirming with the sister that it was lost, my husband called the driver back. As it turned out, what he really wanted was money for it! He was being so helpful in order to make an extra sol! My husband assured him that she would be okay without the agenda!

                                                 Welcome to Chiclayo! It's a huge sign.

I think I mentioned in one of my blogs, that you can pay somebody to watch your car for you when you park on the street, especially at night. Many neighborhoods and restaurants have security guards sitting or standing by the parking watching the area. Most large businesses have a gated parking lot to protect your car from thieves. We have actually had the mirrors stolen off of our car twice now, so the threat of being robbed is real. Sometimes it becomes a little annoying when we don't feel we're in need of their services, but they are always there to help! You can also get your car washed at the mall while you shop or at another large grocery store in town. It is actually pretty convenient and they do it all by hand. The only problem is when you don't want your car washed and to try and convince them that the car is not dirty or that it was just washed the day before!

My 54th Birthday at Pimentel Beach.

My 2nd Birthday in Peru!

We just finished our second mission tour with President/Elder Uceda, the President of our Area, and his wife. It was a privilege and a learning experience, but also difficult and exhausting. We started the tour on Wednesday, October 14, 2015 with a Zone Conference with all of the missionaries in our mission. This is the first time we have had a Conference like this. The Ucedas greeted each of our missionaries and then they took pictures with each zone. My husband had things very organized throughout the conference and everything went very smooth. I spoke about four keys to missionary work and my husband spoke about the Stripling Warriors and how their experiences relate to the missionaries. It was a fantastic talk. Sister Uceda spoke for forty minutes, we had a ten minute break and then Elder Uceda spoke the remainder of the time.

                                                               Lot's of missionaries!
                                                     Eating lunch at Zone Conference.

His remarks were very powerful and all of the counsel he gave to the missionaries was excellent. He spoke about the importance of obedience in exactness and that the Missionary Handbook is a standard work for the missionaries. He pointed out that there are no disobedient Gods in the Celestial Kingdom. I never realized it, but the most stressed rule in the handbook is that a missionary should never be alone without his companion. Elder Uceda demonstrated to us that it says this at least 11 or 12 times in the Handbook. This was very eye opening and a witness of how important this is. In a very powerful way, he called the missionaries to repentance. He said "Why are you afraid to open your mouth when you have been called of God? You need to repent and open your mouths!"

He also strongly encouraged the Latin Elders to learn the English Language. Elder Uceda has been such a great example of this to the missionaries. He speaks English very well and the Area Presidency Meeting every Tuesday is conducted in English. He told them they do not learn because they are afraid. He said, "Face your fears and learn English!" He gave this counsel; 1) Get a blessing, 2) Ask God for help and the gift of tongues, 3) Learn 5-7 new verbs every week. Great counsel that I am using in learning Spanish.

Elder Uceda explained that one of the obstacles to missionary work in Peru, is that many Peruvians do not understand the need to attend church every week, because of their religious background. To help the missionaries with this challenge he also had three suggestions; 1) Have faith in Jesus Christ that miracles will happen, 2) Invite investigators to pray and read the Book of Mormon. He said if they are not following through on their commitments, then to visit them each day for a few minutes and pray and read with them. That is good advice! 3) Commit the members of the Ward Council to accompany them to church each Sunday. Great advice again! He stressed the importance of getting investigators to act, just like Elder Bednar did, because this is how they are converted to the gospel, not by missionaries talking them into it. He quoted Elder Bednar, "Talking is not teaching!"

                                                                 Sisters with cookies!

For the next two days our schedule was filled. We fed the Ucedas twice in the Mission Home, attended a meeting of ward and stake councils, met with the missionary leaders in our mission and had a meeting with Elder Uceda and the Assistants. Mark and Elder Uceda also met with Mark's District Presidency and with Priesthood Leaders. That was Wednesday and Thursday. Friday morning we left early and drove five hours to Jaen. We curved through mountains the last 21/2 hours. The men met with Priesthood leaders and then we all met with the ward councils in Jaen. Saturday morning we left for Chachapoyas, drove three hours, met with the Saints, then drove back to Jaen another three hours. Elder Uceda met with less active families all night and my husband worked with missionaries. Sunday morning we drove back to Chiclayo five hours. The Ucedas spent a few hours meeting with their former missionaries from when they served over the Lima North Mission. At 4:00, we drove them to the airport and said farewell. What a week! We collapsed! My poor husband had been sick all week. He went to bed at about 8:30 that night.

                                                     Mark and I with President and Sister
                                                         Uceda. What a great privilege!

I had to add one more story. We had a Regional Conference this morning by Satellite with all of Peru and Bolivia. Elder Uceda spoke about the temple and then Elder Neil A. Andersen spoke about the Uceda's. He told the story of their marriage in the temple. When they were married in 1979, there was only one temple in South America and it was in Sao Paulo Brazil. This meant they had to make a 3,000 mile journey to be married in the temple. Realizing that it was going to take awhile to earn the money to make this trip, Elder Uceda suggested that they get married civilly first and then work to earn the money. Sister Uceda said emphatically, "I will get married in the temple or I will not get married at all!" When they had enough money, they flew from Lima to Arequipa, then went by bus from Arequipa to Bolivia. They had to cross the flooded jungles of Bolivia in boats. Then they went by bus from Bolivia to Sao Paulo and were married in the temple. Sister Uceda said that they did not have any parents, friends or family at the temple, she had no wedding dress, they did not exchange rings and they had no reception, but they were sealed in the temple and started their family the Lord's way.

The importance of attending the temple is a theme that Elder Uceda speaks about often. I have heard him talk about it three times now. When we were in Chachapoyas, he encouraged the Saints to attend the temple more often now that there is a temple in Trujillo. When they informed him it was a 12 hour trip for them to go to Trujillo, Elder Uceda said, "That's nothing!" I winced a little, but I realize now that he really meant that. It took he and his wife 14 days to travel to and from the Sao Paulo Brazil Temple. Twelve hours really is nothing to them! What a great example they are and have always been to the saints in Peru.

A few weeks ago, Mark and I attended a baptism. The baptism was simple. It was even a little disorganized, but I was impressed with the faith of this young man to follow the example of Jesus Christ and to be baptized into His church. Carlos was only 18 years old and was there all by himself, with no family or friends, getting baptized. There were only 12 people there, including us and the missionaries, so only 8 ward members. It was so humble, but oh what faith! When the opening hymn started to be sung, "I am a Child of God", the Spirit touched his heart and he put his face in his hands and cried. After the baptism, he told my husband and I, that there have been problems in his family and many times in his life he has felt that he was all alone, but since the missionaries have been teaching him, he has not felt that way anymore. When I think of how many members of this church take their membership and the gospel for granted, I wish they could witness baptisms like this and the joy of these converts in finding this Pearl of Great Price. Some of them truly give up everything to have it!

                                          An eighteen year old with great faith and courage.

There are two thoughts from General Conference that I would like to share, because they are two thoughts that I have also had in this mission that have really helped me a lot. The first is from Elder Stevenson, newly called apostle. He was struggling with how inadequate he felt to fulfill his new calling but he had the feeling, "Just focus on what you can do." This is the exact same feeling I have had on this mission, because the language barrier has been such a great obstacle to me. The Spirit also told me to focus on what I can do, especially in the beginning when I felt really useless. i couldn't speak fluently, but I could ask the missionaries where they were from or how they were doing. I couldn't understand much, but I felt many impressions from the Spirit. I could not speak very well and express my love in the interviews, but I could make them cookies! This is a principle we can all practice when we are overwhelmed with something we have been asked to do.

                                                         More cookies for missionaries.
                                                                       I can do that.

The second thought was from Elder Hales quoted by Elder Bednar. When Elder Bednar asked him about fulfilling his responsibilities as an apostle with mounting health challenges, Elder Hales wisely stated, "When you cannot do what you have always done in the past, you focus on the things that are the most important." I have also struggled with some health challenges while trying to fulfill this calling and sometimes have worried if I am doing enough, but this counsel from Elder Hales gave me comfort and reassurance that I am doing the things that really matter, and in the Lord's eyes, that is enough. As King Benjamin said;  "And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order, for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize, therefore, all things must be done in order."

I also know that there have been so many times that I have been strengthened and buoyed up through the Atonement of Christ. Many times I have prayed for health and strength when I have felt it was impossible for me to do what was required and in the very moment that I needed it, through the grace of Christ, the help and strength has come. This is what is meant by grace, the strengthening ansd enabling power of the atonement. One of my very favorite scriptures at this time in my life is Moroni 10:32-33. "Yea, come unto Christ and be perfected in him . . . that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ . . . And again , if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ . . . that ye become holy, without spot." I love to know that I do not have to be perfect! Of course, we have to put forth our best effort, but we will never be perfect without Christ! What a comforting thought this is to me. All of my weaknesses and mistakes, physical and spiritual, will be made perfect in Christ. If we truly believe this and understand this, then why are we so hard on ourselves?

I also love these comforting words; "And God shall wipe all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." I love the gospel and I love my Savior Jesus Christ. I know that he suffered and died for our sins, pains, sicknesses, and temptations. I am so thankful for the opportunity I have been given to bear testimony of this many, many times in this mission and hope that I will continue to have these opportunities throughout my life.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Que Gran Privilegio - What a Great Privilege!

Breakfast in the Mission Home!

Missionaries are so inspiring to me. About two months ago, late at night, a missionary accompanied his companion to the emergency room. His companion had been very sick with throwing up, diarrhea, etc. and had become dehydrated. We received one or two calls, during the night, updating us about the situation. The companion had to be given fluids via IV and treated with other medications. At exactly 6:30 in the morning, I received a phone call from the missionary. I thought there may be another problem. He simply asked one question. "Is it okay if I sleep a little past 6:30 today? We got home at 4:30 this morning and I am a little bit tired." When I hung up the phone, I cried. Why would a missionary be that humble and that willing to be obedient? Why did he even feel that he needed to call me? At this moment, I understood one of the reasons why this missionary was one of the most successful in our mission.

It inspires me when I hear of missionaries that get robbed and then that evening they pray for the robber, that he will find the truth so that he can repent and change his life. I am touched by the humility of missionaries when we visit their rooms and they are living with broken dressers, old mattresses, no curtains, cold water or no sheets on their beds. And not one of them has ever complained or said any thing about it to us. Be reassured that we are always prompt to make sure they receive the things they are lacking and that broken furniture is replaced. I have learned that this is the most important reason that we visit their rooms. As my husband always says, yes, missionaries need to sacrifice at times, but they don't have to suffer. These are servants of the Lord and as the Missionary Handbook states, we believe that they should maintain the dignity of their calling in their housing. The missionaries constantly amaze me and are such a great example to me. They inspire me to be more dedicated to this work and to be a better missionary.

Last month, on August 29, we had the great honor and privilege of welcoming Elder and Sister Bednar to our mission. It is the first and only time (most likely) that our whole mission will be together. What an exciting opportunity for all of us. Elder Bednar and his wife are both amazing! They have had so much experience in life and in service. In the last 11 years that he has been an apostle, they have traveled to over 120 nations! Sister Bednar commented that they have seen a lot of hotels and chapels. They were in Peru for nine days and their schedule was grueling. It was packed with mission meetings, meetings training priesthood leaders and other meetings. Elder Bednar is a master teacher. He is able to use every comment and every situation as a teaching moment. He allowed the missionaries to ask questions and his answers were inspiring. I felt the power of his and Sister Bednar's testimonies. I was extremely touched by the love I felt from Sister Bednar. She is one of the most kind, charitable, compassionate women that I have ever met.

We met the Bednar's for just a few brief moments before the meeting. Sister Bednar put her arm around me and asked so sincerely, "How are you doing? Are you okay?" Her question was so warm and sincere, that I could not deny that I felt her love and her concern for me, and this when she was probably exhausted herself. Chiclayo was their final destination on their Peru tour. The following day, Elder Bednar and Sister Bednar spoke in one of the stakes in Chiclayo, the Dorado Stake. Nearing the end of the meeting, Sister Bednar passed a note back to me. I thought it was for someone else and looked around for whom I should pass it to, but she motioned for me to read it. It said, "Is there anything I can do for you when I am back in the States? Is there someone in your family that I can call or visit for you?" I was so overcome by her kindness and thoughtfulness, that I began to cry right on the spot. Once again, I could not believe that she would think of me when I knew that she was exhausted. Some time ago, I remembered Elder Bednar mentioning in a talk that his wife always looks around in church to know who could use a call or a visit. I know from experience now that she is always thinking of others and how she can serve them.

The only people I could think of when she asked me this question was my Dad, 79 years old, with failing health, and my sweet stepmom, diagnosed with lymphoma cancer three months ago and bravely undergoing treatments at this time. She has patiently suffered and endured a lot and has been such a great example to me. I wrote down their names and phone numbers for Sister Bednar and briefly explained their situation. About a week after the Bednar's return to the United States, my Dad and Linda received a call from Sister Bednar. They were able to visit with her together on speaker phone. She asked them about their health and then told them about Mark and I here in Peru and gave them a report about how we were doing. I don't think she will ever understand what this meant to me and to my parents. They were so excited and called to tell me all about the experience!

                                              Missionary Room Decorations. Treats from
                                                        home  are always cherished!

Sweet sister going home to Lima.

       A beloved assistent going home.

A week ago Saturday, Mark had the privilege of performing another baptism. This was a family that he had taught once with the missionaries and had interviewed. Each one of the missionaries baptized one member of the family, the father and the son, and my husaband baptized the mother. The one thing that touched my heart the most deeply at this baptism was the love that I felt from their new bishop. He had purchased a set of brand new scriptures for all three members of the family and lovingly presented them to each of them in his "welcome" to the ward. He told them that this was where they would find the answers to all their questions. What a great testimony and counsel for a bishop to give. There was no denying the love that this servant of Heavenly Father has for his flock. What a faithful shepherd he is.

                                              All dressed in white. We love to see families
                                                                united in baptism.

Imagine that the ward mission leader comes to you and asks if you would be willing to feed the missionaries. It will be everyday, 6 days a week, 3 times a day. All three meals will have to be at a specified precise time everyday. How would you feel? What would you say? I know what I would say! This is what we ask the Pensionistas in our mission to do (in all of Peru) and they do it willingly without any payment or reward. They feed the missionaries three times a day, six days a week. They are paid for the cost of the food, but they are not given one cent for their labors. I had the privilege of training these sweet ladies on Tuesday and I am always amazed at their willingness to serve and sacrifice. There are two cute things that they always say. First, "the missionaries are like my own children." Many missionaries have told me of their love for their Pensionistas and they truly serve them like their own children. One Pensionista I was talking to at church one day, got a little upset when I called her a "Pensionista." She said, "I hate that word! I'm not a Pensionista, I am their Mother!" Second, "I'm a great cook and the missionaries love the food I cook for them." They are always so proud when a missionary they are feeding puts on a little weight. This is living proof that they are feeding them well! I just know that my husband and I cannot do this work without them and we are very grateful for their service. I always remind them that they are serving the Lord Himself. (Matthew 25:40)

                                              Welcoming a new group! Ready to serve!

There is a meeting that we hold three weeks after we receive new missionaries into the field. We talk about what they are experiencing and learning and just find out how they are doing. It is one of our favorite meetings! At this particular meeting, two weeks ago, I felt the Spirit of the missionaries very strong. I'm not sure if it was the opening song that was one of my favorites or because it had been a whole week since I had been around a group of missionaries, but I wish that every person in the church could have the experience of being in a room filled with missionaries and looking into their faces. Like I said, when the Bednar's came, it was the first time that we saw all of the missionaries in our mission together. I tried to explain to a sister missionary, later that day, what it is like to gaze into the faces of missionaries who fill a room. They are filled with light and their faces glow with the Spirit. The more missionaries there are, the stronger the feeling is and the brighter the glow. I have never felt the Spirit as strong as I have in meetings with the missionaries. I believe it is because of their spiritual preparation and the purity of their lives and of their hearts. This is why I believe that it is such a great privilege to serve with them. My husband and I truly love them with all of our hearts!

                                                      For Sister Wallace: Thank you for
                                                         the chocolate chips! You are a

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Traditions, Travels and Training

           Changes! Always great to be together!

My husband and I feel like we have been through some kind of strange initiation now because we have both had a root canal here in Peru. I actually had two, but my husband was the most brave because he was the guinea pig and had his first. He went to two other dentists and finally found this endodontist who is fantastic. We recommend him to everyone. His name is Dr. Noa. He is very professional, honest and skilled. His office is pretty modern too. We have had no problems with our teeth since having the procedures. What a blessing! We would not be able to serve if we were in pain or our teeth were rotting out!

                                                                  Missionary Life

The President is always fixing something!

I learned something I didn't know during interviews in July. It is customary and expected that any person working on or in your house will be given food. For example, a missionary was telling me that a sister in their ward was supposed to help with an activity, but did not show up. Another woman explained that the sister could not come because she had men putting a new roof on her house and she was expected to cook for them. When we first came to Peru, we kept going to our refrigerator to get leftovers and they were always gone. I thought my maid was throwing them away because most Peruvians do not keep leftovers. One day my husband walked in the kitchen during lunch and realized our maid was following this same pattern. He said, "Edna is sitting in the kitchen eating the same things we are!" We now understand that this is a normal custom here in Peru. We are responsible to feed her each day because she works in our house. I still wish we had those leftovers to eat!

Our favorite restaurant here in Peru is right across the street from our apartment building. We watched the whole process of it being built. It is very nice not to have to fight the downtown traffic and just walk across the street to eat. Although it is taking our lives in our hands to cross the busy street we live on! The food is very delicious. They make two salads that I love, the "Maximum Salad" and the "Tropical Salad".  They also have imported beef from the U.S. The steaks are fried, not grilled, (very unhealthy), but they have such a delicious flavor. They are always tender and cooked perfectly. The waiters and waitresses always fight over us because they know we will give them a big tip. That is not customary here in Peru. Tips are not expected and are rarely given. We like to give them as much as we can to help them out. They work so hard here for very little.

                                                               A Missionaries shoes.
                                                                They work so hard!

                                                       Going Home with worn out shoes.

Yesterday we went to the Central Market to buy some material and ribbon for making some Christmas gifts. I was looking for some brightly colored Peruvian tablecloths that they make here. While we were looking for them, (of course, they were very difficult to find) several people directed us to a back street right outside the market. There are other markets surrounding the main market and they are just like zoos, literally, so chaotic, dirty and congested. We passed by dozens of cages full of turkeys, chickens, chicks, rabbits, quinea pigs, pigeons, ducks and free roaming roosters walking around on the sidewalks and cockle doo dooing. Like I said, it was a zoo! Just amazing. On our way back, after not finding the tablecloths, just as I walked by one of the roosters, it let out a very loud cock-a-doodle doo! It scared me to death and I jumped and let out a little yell. I think the Peruvians thought that was funny; the American lady afraid of the roosters!

                                              Sisters, Sisters, never such devoted Sisters.

These markets are so essential and important to Peruvian life. They could not survive without them. Many people rely on the fresh food and meat, everyday, because they do not have refrigeration. All those animals in the cages are sold and raised by the people for food. Practically anything that moves here is eaten, except for dogs and cats. And there are hundreds of them roaming the streets.

                                           Animals always everywhere. Love the cows.

Last month we had interviews; 130 to be exact.We also made a trip to Jaen to interview 16 missionaries serving there and to visit a branch in a small town called San Ignacio. This is the most northern unit in our mission. This are is absolutely gorgeous. The drive was so scenic and beautiful. Green mountains, palm trees and other vegetation. It was our first time visiting there. The Saints were so warm and receptive and we were impressed with the strength and size of the branch. The Spirit was strong in testimony meeting and the lesson in Gospel Doctrine was amazing, the best I have heard in Peru. The teacher had visual aids, an object lesson and was a very effective teacher. He was enthusiastic and funny. Every time somebody read a scripture, as they were reading, he would yell out, "Ah hah!", as if we had just discovered something amazing. Mark and I couldn't help chuckling every time he said it, because he did it so much, He obviously had a great love for the scriptures. I did not realize until then that they say "Ah hah" in Spanish, but I guess they do! It was a great privilege to be there and many thanked us for coming and bearing our testimonies.

                                                        A giant woman welcomed us to
                                                           San Ignacio! Not sure why,
                                                              but it's a good picture.
                                                              Giant Man at the park

A couple of weeks ago, we had the opportunity and privilege of attending a very special baptism. The spirit and joy of the gospel were so strong in the meeting, that I am sure, now that I think about it, there were others there from the other side. The woman being baptized was probably in her early sixties. She is the mother of two children. Her husband died from head trauma when he was very young. She was left to raise her two children on her own. I have no idea how she supported herself, but I am sure it was not easy. Then, three years ago, her adult son passed away. Since then she has had health problems and suffered from depression. But now the gospel has changed her whole life. Depression has been changed to joy with the knowlege that her family can be eternal and she can see her loved ones again. She has hope and peace in her life. Her goal is to go to the Trujillo Temple in one year. I can't even imagine what that day will be like for her, to kneel in the temple with a proxy and be sealed to her sweetheart. After the baptism, as I congratulated her, she took my hand and expressed her deep gratitude for the gospel. Everyone there wept for joy together. I have never been to a baptism like that in my life.

                                                   Baptism of a Mom and her daughter.

We just finished our Zone Conference this past week. We love spending that time with the missionaries, but it is also a relief when it is done. It takes hours of preparation to get it all pulled together. This time we focused on three talks by Elder Bednar, "Ask in Faith", "Converted unto the Lord", and "Seek Learning by Faith". Elder Bednar will be visiting our mission on August 29th and we are all pretty excited. He will hold a meeting with our missionaries for three hours and has asked us all to read those articles to prepare for his visit. We want them to be well prepared for this special experience. We all learned a lot about prayer, faith, testimony and conversion. This was our first Multi-Zone Conference that we only held for two sessions, instead of four, now that our mission is smaller. It was pretty nice. We did not have to do any traveling. The missionaries from Jaen came to Chiclayo and joined with three other Zones. Each Conference had four zones combined. Each one lasted for about six hours.

                                             We could not do anything without our Office
                                                          Elders. (For Sister Banks!)

I don't know why some things come so easily and others are a great struggle. I spoke about President Benson's talk on Pride and from the very beginning I felt so much opposition in speaking about this topic. I had doubts about understanding the article and speaking about it. I had doubts about having time to prepare, etc. In the end, I had plenty of time to prepare and was able to understand the words, but still doubted my ability to speak in Spanish. I spent several hours preparing a powerpoint presentation. The day of Zone Conference, I felt sick with fear. I was so afraid to speak in Spanish. While I was waiting for Mark to give his introduction and give my presentation, I realized that we had never sent my powerpoint from the home computer to Mark's laptop. So in other words, we did not have any of my visual aids. Right at that moment, when I realized that, I should have been in a total panic, but I had the most profound feeling of peace come over me. I felt and knew that everything would be fine and I felt no fear at all anymore. Just great peace and calm. It was an amazing experience. I was able to adjust my talk and do it competely different on the spur of the moment with the Lord's help. It went very smoothly and well. I felt so blessed. The Lord is so merciful!

Zone Conference. It's always wonderful 
to be with the missionaries.

The next day, I did my presentaion again, and I struggled a lot. But when I began to bear my testimony, the words began to flow with no struggle at all. I have had this experience  on so many occasions in meetings with the missionaries. Especially when I meet with the Hermana Leaders. The words just flow out of me when I am bearing my testimony, with hardly any effort or thinking about it. The gift of tongues is real. I know, because I have felt it. The Lord knows that missionaries need to be buoyed up and edified and we are always blessed with an outpouring of the Spirit. I know this work is true and that it is the work of God, "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." We are trying to spread the most important message in all the world; the message that Jesus Christ lives and directs His church and that he suffered and died for each one of us. Every single person on earth needs to know this! I am so thankful for the wonderful young adults of this church who are willing to do this important work. If there is one thing I have learned here, it is that missionary work is not easy. These missionaries are so dedicated and diligent. They are such an example to me. I know the Lord watches over, protects and cares for them in every way. They are loved!

                                               Just knocking another door! So dedicated!