I know the holidays are over, but I have a special memory that I need to share. Our most memorable event in the mission was two nights on the weekend of December 19th and 20th. We had the opportunity to go to the center of town to the "Plaza de Armas." It is basically a town square that every city (that I know of) in Peru has. During the holidays it is full of people performing, selling things and enjoying a large nativity. We were given permission to carol and to set up a display. Each night we had sixty missionaries there and we set up a huge screen and showed several church videos: "What Can I Give?" by the Tabernacle Choir, "He is the Gift" and "Gloria." This was a huge hit and we had hundreds of people there each night listening to the missionaries sing and watching the videos. The missionaries sang with great enthusiasm and while the videos were going, they made hundreds of contacts. The second night we even had the local news station come and film us and interviwed my husband. The entire event was then broaadcast on a local TV station! My husband mentioned that I was in the choir, so they came and stuck the camera right in my face for at least two minutes. There was such a great spirit of service, unity and love. I have never felt anything like it. Mark and I were so grateful to have this time and association with the missionaries and the people of Chiclayo.
Two Christmas traditions they have here: When we looked at the nativity, there was no baby Jesus and Mary was pregnant. I thought that was different, but then I was told that baby Jesus appears on Christmas Eve. I thought that made sense. I have not decided if I like that tradition or not. I kind of love seeing baby Jesus in the manger. The other tradition: Paneton, a packaged sweet bread with dried fruit in it. It is everywhere during the holidays. We went to a grocery /retail store three days before Christmas and it was just like a store in the United States during the holidays. It was crazy and packed with people making last minute purchases. It was so strange to see three aisles of paneton and nothing else for the holidays. That's it. The missionaries get so tired of it because every house they go to, they are offered some. Peruvians really are crazy about it. Eric also got to eat it on his mission in Chile, but he is not a big fan. There were also whole baby pigs in the freezer complete with hoofs, ears and tails. They almost looked fake. It was fun to meet two LDS Americans visiting for Christmas and talk to them a little. It is rare to see other Americans in Chiclayo, other than missionaries.
So far, in this new year, I have experienced New Year's Eve in Chiclayo with my sons, 240 missionary interviews, 4 zone conferences, three mudslides and rockslides, two road trips, and ONE stomach infection. New Year's Eve in Chiclayo was actually pretty amazing. One tradition they have, that I think is interesting, is the burning of Muñecas. Muñeca is a doll in Spanish. Before New Year's Eve, many people make a doll of themselves. Usually they stuff some of their old clothes with straw and form some kind of head. Muñecas can also be purchased. At midnight on New Year's Eve, the Muñeca is set on fire and burned to represent the end of the old self and an opportunity to be a new or better person in the new year. So, on New Year's Eve we were treated to a fireworks display of fireworks all over the city. These were the big boys overhead in the sky. They went off for at least a good hour before and after midnight. We had a perfect view from our seventh story cuarto of the fireworks and Muñecas burning in the streets. Our boys were thrilled and thought it was pretty cool! We are so grateful we got to share New Year's Eve (and Christmas) with them.
Going Home for the Holidays!
Missionary interviews are always incredible and amazing experiences, but also grueling and exhausting. We interviewed about 24 missionaries a day for 7 days and I figured that I made around 500 cookies! It is seven days of talking and baking constantly. One question I love to ask the missionaries is what they have learned on their mission. It is so amazing to hear their answers and the Spirit was very strong on several occasions. Some of the things they have learned are: how to talk with, get along with and understand people. How to pray. That God answers prayers. That the gospel and the plan of salvation are really true. To love the scriptures and the Book of Mormon. To learn how and to love studying the scriptures. How to apply or teach the scriptures. The attributes of Christ like patience, diligence and charity. How to love people. A lot about the atonement of Christ. To feel closer to Christ and Heavenly Father. A mission really is a foundation for the lives of these missionaries. It is such a wonderful thing to see them grow as they come into the mission field and serve.
In one interview, a missionary asked me what I have learned on my mission. I had to stop and think about that. Then I realized that I have learned a lot about the gifts of the Spirit. Especially in interviews! I have learned about the gift of tongues, the gift of interpretation of tongues and the gift of discernment. On several occasions I have had some amazing thoughts about different missionaries. Sometimes I just know and feel that they are sincere. Other times I receive insight about their talents or character. I have been blessed so much to understand Spanish when missionaries are speaking. I have been so blessed in my progress in learning this language. This time in interviews, I was actually able to carry on a conversation. I have been blessed the most with the gift of tongues when speaking in Stake Conferences. Sometimes I have started speaking and after a few minutes I have felt my ability to speak greatly enhanced. It has been such an amazing experience. I have also learned a lot about missionaries and what amazing young adults they are, so willing to serve and sacrifice everything. They are such a huge example to me of dedication and service.
Our four Multi-Zone Conferences were wonderful. We felt impressed to share four scriptures and an amazing quote. The scriptures were Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23, Matthew 10:38 and Luke 9:23. Matthew 16:24 is: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me." Each other scripture is a slight variation saying "take up your cross daily", those who don't "are not worthy of me", and the strongest being, "it is better . . . than that you should be cast into hell." One day, when I read these verses, they were especially applicable to missionary work. I don't know of any other calling in the church where members are asked to deny themselves as much as missionaries are. No movies, TV or radio. No swimming, even when it is blazing hot. No dating. Our missionaries are asked to not eat lettuce, strawberries, pork or ceviche for two years! The Peruvian Elders love ceviche! The Americans love salad. Of course, the list goes on and on.
Multi-Zone Conference in Chiclayo
The scripture in 3 Nephi follows the Savior's warnings about lust and sexual sin. It may sound harsh that those who do not deny themselves will be cast into hell. But as I thought about this, I realized that missionaries (and any saints) who fall to this sin are cast into hell, almost immediately: the hell of regret and realizing the consequences of what they have done. It is not a good place to be. Elder James E. Talmage said of the scripture in Matthew, "Here the frightful figure of the cross was again made prominent. There was left no shadow of excuse for the thought that devotion to Christ would not mean denial and privation." Each of us has a different cross to bear. Each of us have different weaknesses and challenges that we struggle with. But the message is clear that we are asked to carry the "cross" of overcoming them. There are many crosses to bear on missions. On Saturday, we had a missionary from Honduras who was in a horrible moto-taxi accident. His femur was broken in two places, compound fracture, and lost a lot of blood. He was in an area two hours from the hospital. Then he underwent surgery the next day to put an 18 inch rod in his leg (and screws). He will have to return home after two weeks in the mission field. He has taken up his cross of overcoming this injury and not being able to finish his mission at this time.
Chachapoyas is a long way, but it is gorgeous!
We just returned from a four day road trip. First to Jaen for a Zone Conference and interviews, then another three hours to Chachapoyas. This is where the adventure really began. The roads had been closed because of lots of rain, mudslides and rockslides. We learned the word for rockslides in Spanish: derrumbes. We were only delayed about 45 minutes and went through several areas where it was only one way traffic for 500 or 600 hundred feet, because that was all the road that had been cleared from the mud and debri. We felt very fortunate that we made it through safely. Mark needed to call a new Branch President for the Chachapoyas Branch. This branch is interesting because it is a unit all on its own. It is not part of any other ward or stake. I never knew that was possible. It has about 60-80 who attend regularly. The missionaries were so impressed that when the Mission President came, a lot of less actives showed up for the meeting! And there are many more who did not come.
President Williams at Zone Conference
The week before, we made a trip to Cajamarca for Zone Conference and interviews. I came home with a stomach infection. I never knew there was such a thing until I came to Peru. Sometimes it is not easy to always feel compassion for another missionary calling about diarrhea or throwing up. The night before I got sick, I made the mistake of praying that I would have more compassion for the missionaries. Wow, was that prayer really answered. I have never had worse diarrhea in my life for four days and I was miserable. Up all night, literally in the bathroom about 25 times. Severe nausea the next day. Not able to eat without feeling sick and stomach pains. By Sunday, I could not take anymore, so Mark got me some medicine that a missionary had told us about and it was amazing. By the next day I was so much better. Anyway, I've learned more compassion for the missionaries who call almost daily about diarrhea. It is not fun in Peru!
Tonight I leave to go to the United States for the wedding of my son Brian to his sweetheart Megan, this Saturday, February 14. I am so grateful for the opportunity to go, but it is bittersweet knowing that my eternal sweetheart will not be going with me. I will miss him so much and I know that Brian will too, because his Dad is his hero. How grateful I am that I know that our family is eternal and so grateful that Brian and Megan will begin their eternal family on Saturday. I know that Christ suffered and died for us and that only because of that, the gift of eternal families is possible. His sacrifice was so much greater than any sacrifice that any of us could make. And our sacrifices always turn out to be blessings in the end and are not sacrifices at all.