Monday, December 26, 2011

December 26, 2011

Dear Mom and Dad,

So, I think I´m going to go through the week chronologically, because a lot happened and I want to keep it all sorted out.

First off, two days of interchanges. First, Elder Do Nacimento, one of the zone leaders, came up and worked with me in my area. He is ancient in the mission--actually going home next week. He was so animated and motivated to talk to people, several times crossing a street to invite someone to hear about the gospel, once asking a man to put his shovel down and come over and listen to us. It reminded me how important it is to talk to people, how God really puts people in our path who are prepared and who want the gospel, and how our job is to remember that and give every single person the opportunity to accept.

Next day was interchanges in Casa Blanca with Elder Rivoira, an Argentine who arrived with me in Chile. We had a great time teaching the law of chastity to two girls ages 9 and 10. Awkward.... But pretty necessary, sin duda.

Friday we had a mission conference. Not as big as the last one, where everyone in the mission came, but still a third of the mission. We started out talking about health and safety, then about Joseph Smith, we performed an impromptu Christmas program, and we watched "A Christmas Carol" (which would have been incredibly scary if it was made in 2010, but was actually rather cute).

In the Christmas program, my zone sang "the first noel." The arrangement called for the second verse sung as a solo, and I was chosen to do that. After singing it through twice it was time to start. I had forgotten to tell the other missionaries that the last time I performed something in public I had to pause for 30 seconds in the middle to stop shaking (which is weird, because public speaking doesn´t bother me at all)... I made it through the verse without fainting, but I was definitely shaking pretty bad. To me my voice sounded like a billy goat I was shaking to much. But, a couple of people told me I did well, and Hermana Gillespie, the mission president´s wife, told me to make sure I am using my voice in my mission (sacrament meeting, before lessons, etc), so I guess I did better than I thought. Or better than it sounded to me. And who knows, maybe if I keep singing throughout all my mission, I´ll kick the stage fright!

Saturday, Christmas Eve, was reeeeally full. We started out cleaning out the church--I vacuumed and dusted the chapel and hosed down one of the outside walls. Then we headed off to a hospital, carrying sacks of presents from all of the relief society´s in all the stakes, some Elders wearing santa hats. We sang Christmas hymns, gave out a bunch of presents, and then got to watch as the children´s faces (and their mother´s faces) brightened up as they heard us sing.

We spent Christmas Eve with a great family in the ward, la familia Rivas Quiroz. We read the Christmas story from Matthew, Luke, and Isaiah, sang hymns and primary songs, and shared what Christmas meant for us. I translated part of "I Celebrate the Day," by Relient K, to use as a part of my explanation. Then we ate a lot of food and laughed while Elder Umbach played with a Max Steel doll left over from the hospital (that´s a "you had to be there" moment, but it was quite hilarious).

Christmas day was very relaxing, church, studies, calls to families, and 2 different onces (like a small dinner)--one with the ward mission leader, one with our mamita. By the end of the day I had eaten way too much, meaning I felt about the same--content and happy--as every other Christmas of my life!

Something that I decided over the weekend: We watched a Mormon Message in which Heber J. Grant (I think) is shown giving his brand new coat to a poor boy in an alleyway who was huddled around a heating grate trying to keep warm. I decided that I want to live by the motto "clothing is to be given away." Who knows how much of a difference that coat made to that boy--maybe it even saved his life? And besides, I can buy seven coats every winter from Goodwill for the same price as one from Sears.

Overall, first Christmas on my mission was great. I missed being with you all, tree-decorating and present-unwrapping and breakfast caserol-eating, but I am happy that I can give up a few Christmases with my family so that other people can live forever with theirs.

Lots of love,

Elder Jason Ray

Picture Time

View of the hills in the city that they climb.
Christmas picture with the family they spent Christmas with.  Jason says "they just pose this way".
In the hospital delivering gifts to the kids.
Jason with Anastasia, 4 yr old

Monday, December 19, 2011

December 19, 2011

Dear Mom and Dad,

Oh, the life of a missionary is fantastic. This week was pretty interesting, a training meeting that Elder Paulsen went to meant that I had interchanges with Elder Wardrop, who was in my district in the MTC--we worked one day in his area and one day in mine. It was amazing to see how far we have both come, that we could talk to people in Spanish on the street, teach people in their homes, help people come closer to Christ in a language we just started learning four months ago.

One of the coolest experiences from those two days was a part-member family we visited. The mother and two sons had been baptized five years ago, the husband no. The two sons, ages 13 and 15, were currently inactive. We started out teaching specifically to the husband, but the lesson kind of morphed to include the entire family. By the end of the lesson the two sons said they would give church another shot, and the husband said when he knew the Book of Mormon was true he would be baptized. The wife seemed pretty touched and said, "Having my whole family together in the church has been my dream for years. I can finally see it happening now." Something I´ve been wondering for the past few weeks is, why does God give 19 year old kids the amazing blessing of being his hands and his servants? It´s such an amazing privilege, I feel like the application process should involve jumping through hoops of fire and swimming the English channel.

Two characteristics I have developed as a missionary. Number one: I cry in movies. Elder Paulsen has quite the LDS film collection, from Joseph Smith--Prophet of the Restoration to The Testaments to On the Lord´s Errand. We like to watch these movies with recent converts, or to help build the faith of people who need a little extra push to help them come closer to Christ. And every single time we watch a movie, I end up sobbing. The first movie we watched was ok because I didn´t understand the words in Spanish, but now that I understand, I am always in tears by the end of the movie. Luckily for me, most of the time the investigators are too. But it still makes me laugh at myself :D

Number two: I hand out pass-along cards to kids. There are two groups of children who now ask me for pass-along cards any time we pass by where they are playing (one right by where we live, another on a path we walk a couple times a week). I started out by giving a few kids pass-along cards (and teaching them to say "baptize me") while Elder Paulsen was on the phone, and somehow it just spread. The kids love the pictures on the cards, and every time they come running up and asking for them I think, "Suffer the little children to come unto me."

Testimony of the power of the priesthood--all day Saturday I felt like I was starting to come down with something bad. My mind was scattered, I didn´t have much energy, and I couldn´t eat my usually seven and a half plates at lunch (chiste no más, so se preocupen). Saturday night I received a blessing, and yesterday I worked hard and felt wonderful. Such a blessing it is to have the power of God here on the earth, and in my apartment, to help everybody get to eternal life, and to help me keep working when I´m coming down with a fever.

And, final note of the week. On Saturday morning, Alberto was baptized. Alberto is the husband of one recent convert and the grandpa of another. About four weeks ago he looked at us across his table and said "Hermanos, prepárenme (Brothers, prepare me)." About forty eight hours ago, he made the choice to follow God forever. After he came up out of the water (and after I messed up the prayer once and almost smashed his head against the wall the second time,) he stood there in the font and cried a little bit. There´s a new light in his eyes now. There´s a new hope in his family, as three of them have now come to the gospel. This next week he will be confirmed and receive the priesthood. And then on to eternal salvation!

Viviendo el sueño :D

Con amor,

Elder Jason Ray

Picture Time from the baptism, Jason's note on the pictures
Baptism fotos! You should be able to recognize Gaston, the ward mission leader. Also in the family foto are Rosa, Alberto´s wife; Melany, a granddaughter; and María, who hasn´t started investigating the church yet (her son is, but he didn´t come to the baptism).

Monday, December 12, 2011

December 12, 2011

Dear Mom and Dad,

I passed two months in Chile a few days ago. Time pretty much zips by here, it´s crazy!

So, nicely busy week to write about today. I´ll try to fit it all in in the 15 minutes I have left on the computer! (anyone want to time my wpm?)

Some news for Guillermo, who is basically amazing and one of my favorite people. He (and Luis) got callings last week. When we went by to watch a video with him this week, he asked us how he could learn to work in his new calling (Biblioteca=Library). Then he said, ¨You have to understand, I want to fulfill my calling well because it is for God, not for you.¨ Wow! That just awes me, that someone who three months ago didn´t know that Mormon and Latter-day Saint were the same thing now has a sense of duty towards God. And I got to be a part of that!

Recently, we have decided to start working more with inactive members. There are quite a few recent converts on the list that I have never met (meaning they have never come to church). There are a lot of reasons for this, including that many of them are youth or kids and aren´t coming because their caretaker stopped coming, but I believe we can help them all in different ways. And helping someone get stable and solid in the church is just as important in baptizing them in the first place, I believe!

Lucía, whose life is so different and difficult (I think I wrote a bit about her last week, right?) has been reading in the Book of Mormon. She struggles to read and can only do a few verses at a time, but she says that she reads it in the morning, then ¨leaves the house saying hi to everyone and their dog.¨ The change that is going to take place in her life is going to be incredible. When she receives the Holy Ghost... Oh, I love this job!

Another reason I love this job so much is because of how much I am growing personally. For example, I had kind of an epiphany on faith this week. I´ve always known= that through faith miracles were possible, and more faith means more miracles. But I had the mistaken idea that because of that, my faith--or my willpower--influenced what God did. I´ve realized that faith isn´t really willpower, rather absolute trust that God (1) can do something and (2) will do it (because it is right, and because it will help one of His children, etc). I feel like this epiphany has changed the way I view my mission and, really, my whole life.

This last weekend we had two Christmas activities, one in the ward and one in the stake. They were both amazing. The ward activity was a play type presentation where a grandmother explains Christmas to two grand kids, with the events being acted out behind them (the missionaries explained the colors of Christmas. I was green). The stake activity had three different choirs. Me being me, I was basically on cloud nine all during the stake activity. Choirs rock :D I also learned how to be a missionary during an activity, talking with members and their friends, sharing the spirit and the spirit of Christmas. I love my job.

Closing note for today--Saturday´s baptism. This last Saturday Victor, an eternal investigator whose entire family are members, finally decided he wanted to be baptized. He has gone to church for about 20 years, and most of the ward came to his service. His wife and one of his daughters sang a song before he was baptized--families can be together forever. Halfway through his wife started crying. It was such an amazing experience, to see this family move closer to becoming eternal.

Viviendo el sueño. Living the dream.

Con amor,

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, December 5, 2011

December 5, 2011

Dear Mom and Dad,

Week of laughs, week of miracles. Every day I feel like I learn so so much, yet also realize how much more I need to learn. I once heard that knowledge is like a balloon. Everything inside the balloon is what you know, everything outside is what you don´t know. The surface of the balloon is what you know that you don´t know. So, the more you know, the bigger the balloon, the more you know you don´t know... So, I guess my balloon is just growing a lot!

Last Tuesday we had a fun service project that took up most of the day. We helped Hermano Videla, a slightly senile father of a lady who gives us lunch every week, to put up a roof in a house he is building (or maybe renovating? Anyway, good for him for keeping busy in his old age). I can see why he needed us, having a couple tall gringos (and a tall Paraguayo) helped a lot. But oh, Chilean construction! I remember construction the way I learned it from Dad--you measure twice (or seven times) and cut once. And everything fits together perfectly, precisely, exactly. In Chile things go more in a whatever-works sort of way. We ended up cutting the pieces of roofing in kind of trapaziodal shapes to fit them against each other and the walls. A few times we had to attach a little board onto the main supporting beam so that we could nail the roofing on at all! And the best part--every time our dearly beloved slightly senile Hermano Videla cut a piece of roofing, he laid it flat down on the cement floor and cut a line in the cement alone with a line in the panel. We all ran out of the house when he started cutting to avoid getting cement in our lungs. We´ll see how well we avoided it in another 50 years, huh?

Yesterday in church, both Guillermo and Luis got callings--librarian and first counselor in the Sunday school. So amazing to see them make all this progress! I can literally see a new light in Guillermo´s eyes. He has a new vigor, a new smile, that was definitely lacking before his baptism. Luis, too, got pretty emotional when someone asked him how the gospel has blessed his family during Gospel Principles. I love this job!

I had interchanges to Casablanca this week. Very hot and no hills--definitely a change from Valparaíso! We had some great lessons, and I´m pretty sure I learned things that will totally shape the rest of my mission, but the coolest experience was talking to a man from New Zealand.

We went by to visit a member family and started up a conversation with a man from New Zealand that was out in front reading. We ended up talking for about an hour, out there in the yard, but it was worth every minute. He basically told us his life story, from growing up in a part of town in New Zealand such that it didn´t bother him to have a gun pointed in his face, being baptized at 8 but never knowing anything about the church, learning the culture of drugs and alcohol that made up his neighborhood, etc. A few years back he got a working visa to go to the United States. He ended up in Park City, Utah, to snowboard. There he met an insane snowboarder who totally changed his live by being friendly to a complete stranger, then inviting him to church. Time passed, he didn´t really find the church just then, and for a while he had a job for Skull Candy programming tours for people like Snoop Dogg. He said he literally slept in beds of cash in tour buses. Then he got news from home that his best friend had committed suicide. He really started looking, and eventually ended up back at the church. He described his repentance process, recovering from his multiple addictions, and learning to put all of his trust in the Lord. He described how he ended up in Chile--he knew he couldn´t go back to New Zealand, couldn´t go back to his old haunts and be around his old friends, it would be too easy to slip back to his old ways. So the day his visa expired he went to the airport, said a prayer, and bought a ticket to Chile. Now he is staying with a family that used to be his neighbors, helping them out and praying to find out where to go next. Couple of things he said I really liked: ¨Church isn´t three hours on Sunday, that´s the easy part. It´s every decision you ever make.¨ ¨Repentance is real. There are people who get up and say ´oh, I´m so awful, I didn´t pay my tithing last month, but I know that eventually I can repent,´ and there are some people sitting around who think ´I was smoking pot last night, how can I repent from that,´ but the thing is that repentance is real, it really cleans you. Not that I´m condoning these sins, but I can help people to realize that now.¨

Last story of the day: Lucía. There is a part of our area that is a little poorer than the rest named La Ísla. We are usually up there once or twice a week, but we´ve never had much success. One day this week we were walking away from a failed appointment and I started praying to find out why we were there. Two minutes later, a girl called us over from the side of the street. She told us she wanted to learn about God. Then she told us she wanted to come to church, change her life, and--when we taught her about it--she wanted to be baptized. Since that first day we´ve seen her a few more times and gotten to know her a bit better. She turns 20 tomorrow, but she takes care of herself with her 21 year old sister, who has a two-week old baby. Her mother and several brothers have passed away, her father and several more brothers are in jail. The one thing she holds onto is her faith in God--that God is great, and He will help her. And now she is coming into the kingdom of God, preparing to be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost, which will lift her and help her and change her life. And she is coming into a ward family that will also lift her and her broken family, heal them, bind them, bring them joy where there once was sorrow.

This gospel literally amazes me. To think that I am so privileged as to be a missionary spreading it... God is to nice to me! And He is wonderful and merciful to all of His children. That´s what I´m teaching. That´s my job.

Viviendo el sueño.

Con amor,

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, November 28, 2011

November 28, 2011

Dear Mom and Dad,

We got to go to the temple this week! One of our recent converts, Guillermo, went and did baptisms for the dead. We went to accompany him and our ward missionary leader, Gaston, while he received his endowment (investidura en español. One of those words I imagine most people don´t learn in school). I´ll send some pictures from the temple as well.

The temple in Santiago is beautiful, and small--you actually can´t see it unless you are in the church-owned property that also has the Chile MTC, a distribution center, and the Santiago East mission offices. While there I also got cases for my scriptures, so now I don´t have to put them in covers made out of cereal boxes (it works, but it always feels a little weird to pull out a crunchy-O´s box to read something to an investigator). Going through the temple in Spanish was quite an experience. I think I understood most of it because I had gone through so many times in English, and the amazing spirit of the temple helped me to understand everything else I needed to. Both Guillermo and Gaston had big smiles when getting back on to the bus. Gaston is a convert of about two and a half years, and he made it to the temple. I have no doubt that Guillermo will be going there in another year to get his endowment, and to be sealed to his spouse.

So, we have a new Elder in the pension (which means apartment in mission-ese, don´t ask me why), which somehow made me think that I should give a background of all the Elders of O´Higgins (our ward) including the one who just left. My companion, Elder Paulsen. From Utah, went to BYU the year before coming out on his mission. Likes singing in the street (me gusta). He keeps finding unexpected talents while on his mission, out here he has learned how to play ping-pong, the piano, and now he is learning how to draw. He is the grandpa in our group, he has about 7 1/2 months left of his mission now.

Elder Mace, who just left. Also from Utah, also a BYU-ite. Everyone in the ward calls him ¨Elder Woody,¨ Like Woody from Toy story. He played the hymns on the piano while he was here. Pretty crazy, one time when I asked him if he could test me (meaning with a scripture) he bit my leg. Also super nice, the ward was sad to see him go.

Elder Umbach. He has been here for one more change than I have, but is several years older--he wasn´t planning on serving a mission until about 6 months before he came out, but after fasting and praying he decided it was right. Before that he was in the army and played rugby, so he is ripped. He also doodles better than anyone I´ve ever met.

Elder Marecos, who just moved in. He is from Paraguay, but speaks really good English (also Portugese and Paragi, ((I think that´s what it´s called, some Indian dialect)) he is a talented Elder). He wants to play soccer for BYU after his mission. He alternates between being really humble and quite to funny and crazy, and he is more expressive with his lips than anyone else I´ve ever met (Paraguayan characteristic?)

Speaking of lips. I´ve starting pointing things out with my lips like Chileans. Hehehe.

On Thursday night when we called President to make sure we could still go to the temple, he wished us a happy thanksgiving. None of us had even realized which day it was! Turns out we had a great thanksgiving feast, fajitas mexican-american style made by a chilean-canadian daughter of the Bishop. Then she showed us this house she wanted to rent out to missionaries--basically a paradise of tropical trees, flowers, and other greenery that I named Narnia. We can´t change pensions unless something bad happens to the original one, but I now know what my dream house looks like.

Two investigator stories, first Alberto. Alberto is the husband of one recent convert and grandfather of another. When we taught him the Word of Wisdom last week, he said that he had given up all of that three days ago when his wife told him that´s what he would need to be baptized--so much faith! We are also teaching another grandson of his, Eduardo, so I´m pretty sure the whole family is going to get baptized someday.

We met a family on the street a few weeks back and set up a time to pass by. Then we had a mission meeting go long that day and we missed the time, and after calling a couple of times it was looking like we weren´t going to be able to do anything there. Then a few days ago I saw the son, Diego, walking along the street. He remembered me too, so we started talking, and he said we could come meet his family again. Now we have a definite pass-by time, and I´m pretty sure the whole family things we´re pretty cool. When I left from talking with them, I realized that Diego reminds me of Jared. About 11, same mannerisms, same smile. That made me think of how glad I am that God is in my brother Jared´s life, to help him and protect him, and how much I want to help Diego to have that as well.

I decided on a goal for this change. I want to learn everything I possibly can so that I can train in my third change. It isn´t an application process, God decides, but I want to give it everything I have to become the missionary who could train after two changes. ¡Es posible!

I love being a missionary. Even the hard times are awesome, because it´s hard because I´m doing the same thing Peter did, Paul did, Ammon and Alma and Nephi and Lehi did, the same thing Christ did.

Love you all, and I pray for you every day.

Elder Jason Ray

Editor's Note: I asked Jason several questions and he responded to them before he left for the day.

Do you live in an apartment? With a family?
We live in an apartment with the two other Elders in the ward.

Do you cook for yourselves or does someone else cook for you?
We cook our own breakfast and dinner (if we want it/have time), lunches are with members. Lunches are the biggest meal of the day, like dinner in the states, and it´s the only time we have blocked out for meals. I usually eat dinner about every other night.

Do you clean your apartment or pay someone to do it?
We clean the apartment and dishes for ourselves, but we have a mamita who cleans all our clothes. She and her family are amazing, I´m pretty sure they´re spoiling me because no way are all the mamitas in Chile this good.

What is your schedule like as a missionary?
Wake up at 7, pray, work out (running if I´m lucky and someone wants to do it with me, jump rope if not). Eat breakfast. At 8:30 we start with an hour of personal studies, then two hours of companionship studies (only for the first three months, then it´ll go to one hour) and an hour of language study. The we work for an hour and have lunch at 1:30, for an hour and a half. After that we work until 9:30 or 10 (usually ten, there are a lot of people who have schedules such that they can only be taught after 8 or 9). Then we plan, eat, I write in my journal, and head for bed!

And here are some pictures he sent

In front of Santiago Temple
View from a member's "Tree House"
On top of the World
At the Santiago, Chile Temple

Monday, November 21, 2011

November 21, 2011

Dear Mom and Dad,

Another great week! Luis, father of one recent convert and wife of another, was baptized, and both Luis and Guillermo were confirmed and received the priesthood. This Saturday is a ward temple trip--all of them, Guillermo, Luis, Daniela and Fransisca (Luis´s family), are going to go do the temple work for their ancestors. And we get to go with them! Temple in spanish will certainly be interesting, but I´m really excited.

After he was confirmed, Guillermo told me ¨¨Yo voy sobre los nubes,´ or ¨I´m going above the clouds.¨ This gospel really is amazing, the power of the spirit is incredible.

A couple of stories to start off. Every so often, La selección national de Chile (the national soccer team) has it´s games, and everything in Chile stops. Then, whenever Chile scores a goal, the whole city erupts in applause and screams, really from every single house. Scared me the first time it happened, but now I think it´s hilarious!

Fun service experience this Wednesday, draining out a pool that was about 1/5 full of dirty water. We didn´t really have a way to make a siphon (and it probably would have clogged anyway), so we ended up using buckets to, bucket by bucket, pull the water up out of the pool and dump it on the grass. By the end, we were all totally soaked, filthy, and happy. Good bonding experience for all the elders in the ward, too.

My companion, Elder Paulsen, got really sick this last week. I was torn between wanting to go out and work and wanting to stay in because he looked so bad, but he kept saying he wanted to go out, so go we did! I´m pretty sure that gets him saint-status. There were times when he could hardly speak, and times when he looked like he was about to die, but we went out, taught some lessons (with me doing the teaching when he couldn´t speak) and found some great people.

One family in particular that we ran into is pretty special. They lived, as a family, for five years in North Carolina. A few of them even speak English (and about as well as I do!)  My companion said he had talked to them before and they never had any interest, but now they said we can come by sometime and talk, just because I´m from North Carolina. Moments like that just make me smile. I like thinking about how many people there are in Chile that I, specifically, need to find.

Note about another investigator, Anna. Anna pretty much asked us to baptize her the first time we taught her, she just doesn´t realize it. She explained that she felt like she was apart from God, that He had a plan for her but she didn´t know what it is, and she wanted to make the commitment to follow him. She also talked about how hard it is to have so many churches and that there should only be one, and that she wants to know what God´s reasons are for doing everything he does. Now, we´ve taught her a few more times, and every time she is absolutely full of questions and, by the end of the meeting, I can actually see more light in her eyes. She´s read all of the pamphlets that we have several times over now, and keeps reading the Book of Mormon even though she doesn´t always understand it. She also promised to come to church this next week, and wants the bishop to come bless her house. And when we first ran into her, we had no idea of any of this. This is the hand of God putting us where we need to be! I love being a missionary.

This is the end of my first change. Not too much is changing for this next one, Elder Paulsen and I will still be together here, although one of the Elders in our ward is leaving. I had a realization that I think is going to shape a lot of this next change--one of the best things I can learn here in my mission, perhaps, the absolute best thing, is how to be a good companion. Because if I can be a good companion here in the mission, then I can be a good companion for all eternity. So in this next change, I´m going to try to figure out everything I can about how to be the best companion, how to love and serve and have patience.

Qué más... I love my life. I love Valparaíso and Chile. I´m always hungry. I can jump rope for 200 reps at a time now (up from 30 when I started). One of the elders in the ward drew a caricature of the four of us and drew me singing. Jesus loves me.

One of my MTC teachers signed a tshirt with the saying ¨Viviendo el Sueño.¨ Living the dream. There´s really no other way to describe it!

Os amo, (I know vosotros isn´t really used except in the scriptures, but I like it),

Elder Jason Ray

Luis y Familia

Zona Valparaiso

Monday, November 14, 2011

November 14, 2011

Dear Mom and Dad,

¿Cuántos estrellas hay en los cielos? Sin cuenta.  (Editors note:  if you say the answer all together, it means 50.  How it is written, it means without number.)

I laughed at least. :D

So, fun and busy week this week, including a visit from an apostle and a baptism! But I´ll start off with the most important part. Dessert.

We had a ward activity this last week, a ¨Noche de Postre¨ (night of dessert) where all the different organizations made a dessert and everybody got to sample it. I got to taste a whole bunch of Chilean desserts, AND I learned how to play Chilean tag. The running around part is the same, but if you squat down and touch the floor, you are ¨safe,¨ and whenever you tag someone you shout ¨¡Pinta!¨ Had quite a fun time playing that with the primary kids and one of the other elders in the ward. Then an investigator showed up, I took my dignity back out of my back pocket, and we did my first church tour (I never used to really notice the paintings in the church, but they are really fantastic!) Good night.

That was Saturday--on Friday we had my first mission conference, but this conference was special. Usually to do conferences, the mission is split up into three different ¨zones,¨ (the coast, the interior, and the north) and each zone has it´s own conference. But this time was special. The whole entire mission, some 200 strong, gathered together in Viña del Mar, where we were visited by Elder Cook, Bishop MacMullen, and two other General Authorities. What a blessing! Bishop MacMullen talked about the first vision and what a powerful story it is, how the Holy Ghosty will always testify that it was true. Elder Cook talked about what it means to be a missionary. A missionary is a branch-builder (or ward builder), a missionary is bright and friendly, a missionary has the spirit. Then we took a mission-picture, possibly the only mission-picture to have been taken for 5 or more years, and I got to see all my district from the MTC again (Elder Lucero sends his love).

Yesterday was my very first baptism. Such an incredible experience! Guillermo Hughes, almost 70 years old. My second night here in Chile I had the privilege of asking him to be baptized, and yesterday it really happened. His faith is so incredible! Now he is getting ready to be confirmed, receive the priesthood, and go to the temple--all within three weeks.

While we were sitting there waiting for the baptismal service to start, I asked him how he was feeling. ¨Como un pez en el agua,¨ or ¨like a fish in the water.¨ I asked him if that was a good thing. ¨Si, si, un pez en el agua se siente muy bien.¨ ¨Yes, yes, a fish in the water feels really nice.¨

The baptism itself was quite interesting. Guillermo is tall, about 6´, and he has bad knees. He was baptized by my companion, Elder Paulsen, who is a good deal shorter and forgot that he had bad knees. But, after three failed tries, the ward mission leader suggesting that, after the prayer, he lay down as if he was getting in bed. It was the strangest way to be baptized I´ve ever seen, but it worked!

And, when he went under the water, I felt the spirit hit me like a brick, bearing testimony that this was an ordinance of salvation, that Guillermo had taken the first step to exaltation, to eternal life. When he came up out of the water and stood up, he didn´t move for about a minute. He stood there praying, crying a little bit as well.

I feel so privileged to be here, to be a part of this work--of bringing people to Christ! There is really nothing else like it in the world.

Elder Jason Ray

Editors Note: A couple of pictures that Jason sent this week. The first picture is of Guillermo, his companion, the ward mission leader, and Jason.  The next two are the view from his window where they study.

Elder Paulsen, ward misson leader, Guillermo, Elder Ray

View from his study window

Monday, November 7, 2011

November 7, 2011

Dear Mom and Dad,

Quick note before I start--letters. I have not sent any letters at all yet! I still don´t know where the post office is, but that is first thing on our list for today. I was just told that pouch mail won´t work from Chile to the US, but I can use the US stamps I have left over to send mail anyway... point is, hopefully in these next few weeks I´ll actually get some letters in the mail. And sorry to everyone who has written and hasn´t gotten anything back :P

I want to start out with a funny Spanish story today. There are a lot of funny mistakes that can be made in Spanish--for example, if you say God has a body of ¨Carne y Huevos¨ instead of ¨Carne y Huesos,¨ it goes from flesh and bones to meat and eggs. And then there is the classic ¨You can repent of your pescados, fish, instead of pecados, sins. I have never made any of these mistakes... but this week I found a new one! The word llevar means to wear or to carry. While talking to an older lady on the street she said that sometimes she prays that God will just llevar her--I immediately started thinking, oh, she wants more help and support from God in her life, and we can give her that! I started bearing my testimony of how yes, God could llevar her, when my companion cut me off and said that God had a purpose for her to still be on the earth. I started thinking a bit, and realized what it means for God to llevar someone. I just told an old lady that God could kill her if she listened to our message! Oh, I love being a missionary :D

This Wednesday was quite a fun experience. It was my first experience doing interchanges with another missionary in my area, instead of me in his. That meant I had to know where we were going, who we were looking for, and because my companion knows as much or less Spanish than I did I ended up talking and teaching a lot too. I think because we knew we were totally helpless by ourselves we must have been humble in all the right ways, because it was an amazing day! Five great lessons, including two out in the street. We met a man who was almost the 34th miner to be trapped in an accident up north, but believes he was saved by God; we met a super intelligent health nut with dyslexia who didn´t know anything about God but wants to read the Book of Mormon now; we helped Guillermo, who is about to be baptized, understand the importance of praying to God for help and of inviting his family to learn about the gospel, as well. It was another testament to me that this is God´s work, and he knows how to do it, and all that remains for me is to follow where He leads.

Speaking of Guillermo--next week will be my first baptism out in the field! He passed his interview yesterday. Every time he talks about the gospel he starts tearing up because it means so much to him. He has showed me really what this gospel is. It is the truth of God´s plan for us, it is the way to salvation, and every single person I pass by on the street needs it more desperately than they need food or water.

For example, Anna (did I write about her last week or the one before?) She has been praying to God for years and years, asking for help, for solace, for peace, and that He would show her the way that He wants her to go. Just this last month we ran into her in the street. Just this last week, she found out that God really has been listening to her prayers, that He loves her and cares about her more than she can imagine. She told us that she felt the spirit in her heart after she prayed to end the lesson--all the feelings she had been seeking, the peace, the love, the solace. We´re taking her on a tour of the church tomorrow, and I am so excited to see her take the same path that has helped Guillermo--and so many others.

I feel like God is shaping me step by step into the missionary He wants me to be. This last little while I have learned so many things, one of the biggest being how to talk to everybody. This is a part of the missionary that God needs me to be; I can do it now without any problem, I feel like I´ve gotten over the fears that were inside of me and I am completely comfortable walking up to someone in the street, or sitting next to them on a bus, and introducing myself and bearing testimony of the gospel. Next up I want to tackle something bigger, working together with the members of the ward. Prophets have promised huge success for years if the missionaries and the members work together, the members finding people and inviting their friends to hear the gospel, the missionaries working as teachers and guides to the friends of the members. The only problem is, as far as I have seen, it doesn´t really work like that--yet. But it is possible! That is the promise I keep seeing and reading, that it is possible. So now I´m trying to figure out exactly how. It´s a bigger job than talking to everyone, because all I had to do for that was get over myself. This time, I need to figure out how to do things that haven´t been done before (or at least not by anyone close enough to show me how).

But the bottom line is, this isn´t just about me and what I´m doing, it´s about God, and He is bigger than the little fears in my heart that kept me from talking to people, or in the hearts of the members that keep them from inviting their friends. And it´s the name of His son that I wear, not my own; and it is his work I am involved in. And for this I know that He will help me, and every day I give thanks that I can be here, in Chile, His servant, His missionary.

So, that´s my week.

Vayan con Dios y les amo,
Elder Jason Ray

Monday, October 31, 2011

October 31, 2011 (Halloween Edition)

Good week! Somehow I have a lot of stuff to write about and not a lot of time to do it in, so I´ll try to give the condensed version.
A couple of funny stories. First off, Friday I went on exchanges with our district leader. We were in a lady´s house getting ready to teach and she went to get us some water.She came in, gave a glass to my companion, then went out to get one for me. He looked at me and said ¨Elder, I´m fasting.¨ I grabbed his glass, chugged it down, and handed it backto him just before the lady walked back in with my glass. Then I tried to control my laughing while drinking the second glass.
Second story--yesterday at lunch with a family I hadn´t met before, I asked them what they thought about my accent. Their reply--I speak Spanish like I´m from England! I am so totally ok with this, I can´t even describe it. My goal now is not to speak with a perfect latin accent, but to speak with an Englateran accent.
Little bite of Chile for the week: Libigas. All ofthe hot water heaters in Chile are these nifty little insteant-heaters that run off natual gas, called colifonts. (Not as nice as north american heaters, even if it is instant). Because everyone uses this natural gas, there are a couple companies that drive trucks around with ready tanks to replace them if anybody´s shower suddenly turns ice cold. One companiy, Libigas, also blasts a jingle at full volume from all of it´s trucks. Usually about three or four times during studies one of the trucks will drive by and drown out the John Schmidt we were listening to. It´s pretty funny.
Something that missionaries are supposed to do every single day is ¨Talk to Everybody.¨ This means that if you see someone on the street, you assume they have been put in your way by God, and you go and talk to them, share a brief testimony, and ask to teach them more. Turns out this is one thing I can do, because I may not have a perfect grasp of Spanish or a whole lot of other missionary--knowledge (yet,) but I´ve got a willing heart and a big ole´ smile!
A few days ago, I got sick pretty badly, to the point that I was shivvering in about 70 degree weather. We came in early from the days work and I wrapped up in some blankets; when the other missionaries in our apartment got in, they gave me a blessing, that I would recover from the sickness and be able to work the next day. The Priesthood really is amazing. I have worked the rest of the week with nothing more than a few coughshere and there.
Story to end out: Anna. We had a lesson with Anna on Saturday, our only appointment before lunch. We went in with the plan to teach from ¨The Family: A Proclamation¨ because she was interested in families, but that changed pretty soon. She started telling us about how she felt distant from God, how she wanted to change her life to what He wanted it to be, and she had been praying that He would show her the way. And then there we were, offering exactly what she wanted--closeness with God, joy, peace. God answers prayers! And we got to be that answer to this woman. More details forthcoming in the next few weeks I hope!
I do love Chile. It is a beautiful place with wonderful people, and every day I thank God for sending me here.
Les amo,
Elder Jason Ray

Monday, October 24, 2011

October 24, 2011

Dear Mom and Dad,
Editors note:  Questions we had asked last week. 
Are you/were you shell shocked?  Has it been what you imagined?  More?  Less?  Do you really stay up till 11:30 and eat your main meal at 2?  Is there anything you wish you have that you don't have?  Have you been bitten by fleas yet?  Do you miss Elder Lucero?
Answers to questions--No, the missionaries aren´t all separated natives and gringos. It just kind of happened that way in the picture because everyone was scared out of their minds by what was going on and ended up next to someone with whom they felt comfortable, which happened to be someone they had just spent the last 3-9 weeks with.
Details about Chile... we stay up until 11 and get up at 7, just a little change mandated by pres. Gillespie. The main meal is around 1:30 and, what´s more, there isn´t any dinner! (Although I still haven´t adjusted to that schedule, so I tend to eat a really big snack when we get back). Anything I wish I have that I don´t? Just Holst´s ¨The Planets¨ and more time in every day, really. Other than that... If I think of anything I´ll ask! 
I´ve gotten a few flea bites, but it hasn´t been any worse (knock on wood) than mosquitoes at home so far, just five or six. I´ve also been treating my bed every week according to instructions from Sis. Gillespie, I´ll make sure to keep that up too. There are dogs absolutely everywhere, usually about six in every block of street. A lot of things are very similar to the States. For example, since being in Chile I´ve heard Justing Beiber´s name about 100 times, shopped at a place that looks like walmart, and even had people insult me in English, too. In Valparaíso, where I am right now, there are amazingly colorful latin houses built into the sides of these crazy hills. It looks like something out of Dr Suess, and it is so much fun to be here. Our hill also looks out over the rest of the city and the harbor. We can´t take pictures while proselyting otherwise I would attach them here, but I have seen some amazing bright vistas and breathtaking sunsets.
We get around either by walking or using Micros, which is the bus system around here. Most people we´ve talked to are either Catholic or Evangelical, with a few Jehova´s Witnesses mixed in there too (They always seem to want to bible bash, though. Don´t worry dad, I just bear testimony and leave).
Oh, and I ate a completo for the first time two days ago! Slathered in palta (avocado) and mayonaise, as promised, it was pretty rico.
I´ll try to keep including other details about Chile as well, and some pictures, too.
So, now, this last week. We had a lot more success this last week than the one before, but I´m still excited to keep pushing, keep growing, and keep inviting people to Christ. If we keep improving at the rate we are now, by the end of this change (4 more weeks) we´ll pretty much have converted the whole city!
One thing that I love about being here in Chile is seeing the Chilean young men prepare to go on missions. One young man, Jorge, is actually leaving tomorrow for the MTC in Peru. Another, Cesar, who won´t leave for a few more months, has been going with us to visit investigators. Every time we are out with him, he´ll say something like ¨¡Quiero irme en la misión ahora!¨ (I want to leave on my mission now).  His excitement and his preparation are amazing for me to see. I am so grateful and so amazed for the faith and the strength that I have found here in Chile.
We taught an athiest through a window on Wednesday. We were looking for a contact from the street and we knocked on someone´s door; Sebastian stuck his head out his window, and we went over to ask him. 30 minutes later we knew that he didn´t believe in God, but his whole family was religious; we taught him that God is real and loves him; and he commited to read the Book of Mormon. Sadly, I didn´t get to be there for his second lesson, we did interchanges, but from what I could see or was told, he really does believe in God and just has had some hard times. But he had enough faith to start reading the Book of Mormon just after talking to a couple of 19 year old guys through his window. What an incredible person! I really believe God led us to him, because we never ended up finding the other guy.
Friday we had interchanges, so while our district leader was here with my companion I went out with his. The fun thing about this is that my companion-for-a-day knew less Spanish than I did. Thus, I ended up leading lessons in my second week out! I think I had the gift of tongues a bit extra that day, because it actually went pretty fantastically. One young man commited to be baptized, and his mom said that she would if she came to church and could tell that it was right. Next zone meeting I´m expecting to hear news that she wants to be baptized, too!
Yesterday, an investigator that I wrote about my first day, Guillermo, came to church. He came at just the right time--the primary program! Several times during the meeting he leaned over and said, ¨This is such an emotional experience. I can´t believe I´m here.¨ Guillermo is one of those amazing people who has absolutely been prepared by God. He has not had any trouble at all keeping any of his commitments, and every lesson nearly leaves Elder Paulsen and I in tears when he bears his testimony.
And to think, there are so many more out there who have been prepared in the same way! Yesterday after church we were walking between appointments when we saw a man leaning against his fence. We went over to talk to him and he invited us in. I didn´t understand everything that happened, but I know I felt God´s love for this one of His sons. We gave him a Book of Mormon and said we´d pass by again, even though he asked us not to teach him. Somehow I still feel like I am going to be a part of his conversion, even if it isn´t as speedy quick as was Guillermo´s.
I am so blessed and happy to be here. Every day I give thanks that I am serving a mission, that I´m in Chile, and that I am seeing such miracles every single day.
Another Chilean signoff: Que les vayan bien,
Elder Jason Ray

Monday, October 17, 2011

October 17, 2011 (First Letter from Chile)

Guess what. I´m in Chile!
I still have a hard time believing that sometimes when I wake up in the morning, it´s pretty fantastic and incredible. But it is also amazing to put on my badge and step out the door and realize this is really it, I´m a missionary and I´m here.

Chile is fantastic. I am currently working in Valparaíso, which is a beautiful, hilly city right next to Viña del Mar. For some reason I love walking the hills, and I love the latin houses and beatiful vistas. The people seem pretty great too. It´s definitely an adjustement, but I think I will come to love the Chilean people with all my heart.

The food here is pretty good, not spicy as I have been told, but good. Haven´t had a completo yet, but I have had many empenadas, a whole lot of jugo (juice), and a couple times I´ve even gotten to eat monkey brains (not really monkey brains, something to do with dehydrated peaches but I´m not really sure how to describe it other than it looks like a brain). We can drink the water here, but I´ve still been using the filter that I got at the MTC, just to make sure.
Chilean Spanish is really a marvel. I´ve heard everyone say that when I finally got to Chile it was going to sound like they were talking a different language, and boy, they were right! I can understand gringo spanish--that is, spanish spoken by someone who talks like they´re talking english--very well, but Chilean spanish is another beast entirelly. First off, they talk really fast. Second, they have an accent. And third, they take of every single ´s´ in every single words, and throw in ´po´ just for the fun of it. So, ¨los misioneros¨ is changed to ¨lo mijionero¨ o algo así. Po. President Gillespie made me promise I would talk proper Spanish and not do it like the Chileans, otherwise when I got back home nobody would understand a word I was saying. But, I am still being blessed with the gift of tongues, and with the gift of interpretation as well. I can now, after a little less than a week, divide out  most of the words one from another in a sentence, but I haven´t quite gotten to sticking it all together into a meaningful sentence yet.
A couple of important people in my life right now. First off, my companion, Elder Paulsen. Elder Paulsen is as different from Elder Lucero as night and day, so it has been interesting adjusting to being a missionary without being Elder Lucero´s companion (did that even make sense?) But that doesn´t mean he is bad, quite the contrary, he is a fantastic elder, ready and willing to obey and to go to work. He speaks beautiful non-Chilean-specific spanish, too. Elder Paulsen is from Layton, Utah, and went to BYU before his mission. He has been out now a year and four months, and is pretty excited to be training. He is a great teacher, too, and I´m excited about everything I am going to learn from him.
Second off is one of our investigators, se llama Guillermo. Guillermo is an oldish man, about 65 I would guess. He is special to me right now because, my second night in Chile, after teaching about eternal families, he accepted the invitation to be baptized. His wife just died, and it is amazing to see how prepared and ready he is for this message and this gospel. Even when an investigator has a baptizimal date, there can be uncertainty about whether or not they will actually follow through with their commitments and make it; I´m about 99% possitive he will. He´s awesome. Another cool part of this story is that God pretty much gave me the chance to offer that baptismal invitation, because at the same time that I was feeling a really strong prompting that I should ask him, Elder Paulsen was feeling quite strongly that he shouldn´t.
One more thing I almost forgot about! Saturday night was the Chile-wide 50-year-mission-in-Chile celebration. Because I´m stationed in Valpo, so close to Santiago (less than 2 hours), our zone was given permission to go with the stake to the celebration. What an event! It was comparable to the types of celebrations they have before temples are dedicated. Singing and dancing from all over South America, scenes from the Book of Mormon and church history, thousands and thousands of participants, a guest appearance by the first two missionaries in Chile, and a closing musical number by some 500 Chilean missionaries (myself included!), it was fantastic. I took some pictures and video snippets, I think I´ll save the videos for Christmas because there are a lot, but I will attach a few pictures here.
This is a little bit of life in Chile. I am loving it, even this soon after getting here, and working hard too. I am really coming to realize how big of a part my personal faith will play in the conversion of many souls, and that I need to devote myself completely and totally to la obra misional, la obra de Dios, la obra de salvación.
I´ve kind of taken for my own a motto of one of my MTC teachers. Viviendo el sueño, living the dream. I´m doing it! Does it get any better than this? At least for the next two years, sure doesn´t.
With lots of love,
Elder Jason Ray

Editors note:  Jason tried to send pictures but most of them didn't make it.  But here is a picture of him with his mission president, his new companion, and a few from the celebration he mentioned.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

October 6, 2011 (last MTC letter)

Dear Mom and Dad,
So, a few letters ago (maybe it was last letter?) I gave an update on my pen situation, how i had started using Zebra f-301's because they wrote so small. Yesterday I got a package in the mail from my dear aunt Andra. What could it be, but a whole ten pack of black Zebra f-301's! Aunt Andra now holds the title as the one who nursed me through wisdom teeth and the one who supplied my pen-needs for the rest of my mission. That is charity right there.

We had our last game of MTC soccer yesterday. (today is preparation day, so no soccer today; tomorrow is in-field orientation and that takes the whole day; Saturday is the day before we leave', and you can't do gym time that day either). I didn't make any goals, but I still think it was my best game ever. Why? Because I had footwork! I have not played soccer since I was six years old, and over the past few months there have been countless times where I could have done something really cool if I could have kept control of the ball, but I just didn't know how. Today I kind of figured it out! There was one spot in particular that was quite gorgeous. I went after a stray ball, maneuvered it around two players on the other team (one of whom DID play soccer in high school) and kicked it back in for an assist. There were angels singing praises, let me tell you.

So, Cecil O. Samuelson, beloved president of BYU, was released and given the title of emeritus general authority. Gotta say, I did not expect to hear that, especially since I'm pretty sure it means he's not the president of BYU anymore! But hey, I can come to love another president in a few years. He just probably won't have a name as awesome as Cecil.
In other news--The Provo Tabernacle is being rebuilt as another temple?????????!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!!!!!! That's pretty fantastic! I'm really hoping it will finish construction in about two and a half-four years, right in that time where I'm still a student there and can go to the dedication... But wow, that made me happy.

Aside from these bits of news, General Conference was definitely meant exactly for me. I'm sorry for everyone else who thought it was meant for them, but it was pretty much all for me. Definitely my best conference every, and I think it's because of how prepared I was. Not only am I focusing on spiritual things all day, every day, and looking for those beautiful bits of wisdom that our prophets love to share, but I went into this general conference with a specific and direct list of questions. Through the course of the conference, all four of my questions were answered to my total satisfaction. I think the lesson I have learned from this is to make a big deal out of conference--the week before, get ready for it, and then on that Saturday and Sunday make it important, pay attention, be focused. Watching conference at the MTC is a great experience, probably second only to seeing it in the conference center, but I think every conference I go to from now on will be better after this experience.

The first night that we got here, Wednesday of two months ago, we had an activity with all the other newly-arrived missionaries. We heard a little lesson about what it means to be a missionary, then we were shown a little demonstration as two missionaries came up and talked to a live investigator sitting on a couch. Then, to our utmost shock, the 'moderator' paused the discussion with the missionaries and the investigator, dismissed the missionaries, and invited us to give our input, as if we were one 300-person companionship. I still remember from that day, feeling like I was just starting to see how much God loves his children and how I can be a part of that love. Last night, Elder Lucero and I had the privileged of being the two missionaries to begin teaching those investigators before the moderator dismissed us. It was such a great opportunity, to feel the same outpouring of love and need to go help Heavenly Father's children, two months later, having learned and changed and become what I am now. I hardly said 10 words the whole night, so I'm pretty sure it was a blessing and an opportunity for me more than it was me serving anyone else.

This leads me into what I want to finish with today,  my last preparation day in the MTC. One of my first Sunday's here I watched a talk by Elder Bednar entitled "becoming a missionary." He said that if you just "go on a mission," you are really doing it all wrong. It's not about doing; it's becoming. Over these past two months, I think I have really become a different person. Twenty-two months more down the road I'm sure I'll be so different I won't even recognize myself, but here's a little bit of what is different now.

I speak Spanish. It isn't perfect, and I'm looking forward to being pretty shell shocked the first time I try to make a street contact in Chile. But when I think about how totally lost I was when I heard people speaking Spanish before my mission, and how well I can get along now (Elder Lucero and I basically don't speak English anymore), it's truly a miracle! A miracle, a gift, the gift of tongues, it's great, and I have to be thankful every day for it.

I teach like Preach My Gospel (mas o menos, I still have room for improvement). I'm not really sure what I based my teaching on before I came out here--probably on the teachers I had as a youth--but now I have a definite basis and foundation for the way I teach and everything I do. I think my teaching has improved loads, and I'm still improving every day.

I actually love everybody. Before I came out here, I was like an exceptionally friendly scribe and hypocrite (am I getting my scripture reference right?). I was friendly, so almost everybody liked me; but I only liked the people that liked me. Now, I feel like I love every one of God's children, even the ones that have rather a different attitude towards me--maybe even especially the ones who don't feel the same. And, I feel like I love the people who I already would have loved, more than I did before, like my capacity to love has increased.

This love has changed the way I think about things. Before my mission I had about as many missionary experiences as I can count on one hand. I could have had lots more, but there was always something inhibiting me from sharing my beliefs, like I would be stepping on someones toes if I told them about the Church. Now I realize how ridiculous that attitude was--"excuse me, I don't mean to be a bother, but would it trouble you too much if I shared with you the way to find peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come? What about the way to get through every single trial you have with joy and love? How about the only true source of happiness?" Now, every time I feel God's love for his children in my heart, I want to help them by inviting them to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Christ and his atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end (my purpose as a missionary). It's a wonderful change.

Cada día, yo digo que este trabajo es el mejor trabajo en el mundo. ¡Me encanta este trabajo! Yo se, mas ahora que en cualquier otro tiempo en mi vida, que Jesucristo es mi Salvador. Yo se Dios me ama, y que el Libro de Mormón es verdadero, la barre de hierro por cual podemos regresar para vivir con Dios. Yo se mi llamamiento es de Dios, por medio del profeta viviendo, y se que hay personas en Chile quienese me necesitan.

Go with the grace of God. My next letter will come from Chile.

Elder Jason Ray

Thursday, September 29, 2011

September 29, 2011

Ah, I love life. This is pretty much the best job ever, and I'm pretty sure it's only going to improve once I get into Chile.
Here's what's new in my life.
Pens. The other day I was writing in Preach My Gospel with one of my usual bic 10 cent apiece pens. Every time I moved my hand, though, I would smear my writing! All of a sudden, another Elder swooped in and let me borrow his zebra f-301, which not only doesn't smear, but writes so tiny I can fit twice as many notes on a page! I now own three. They're pretty sweet.
Fitness. I just might be in better shape now than I have ever been in my life. Not only am I eating the very best the MTC cafeteria has to offer, but I'm playing soccer 4 times a week, running once, and working out for ten minutes (just exercises using my body, no weights) four times a week. It's weird, I think the diligence I've been putting into everything else here makes it easier for me to be diligent at exercising. But hey. I like it.
Español. Español es increíble. Yo he visto el don de lenguas trabajando en mi vida mas que yo pensé es posible. Cuando you llego en Chile, yo todavia sentiré como yo no entiendo nada, pero yo podré enseñar el Evangelio, y este es lo mas importante. Y yo todavia tengo uno y media mas semanas aquí, mucho tiempo para estudiar y practicar.
Loving people. I think I have finally pushed through into this place where I can love all the Elders in my district even when they aren't doing exactly what I think they should, which has been a problem for me in the past. It's an interesting feeling, and it requires me to look past what I see on the surface to what I know that is good and what I can guess about the past of each Elder. I hope this new state will transfer over to Chile, and that I will be able to love my companion and other elders I work with, no matter how they act with regards to how I think they should.
Leading by the spirit. I had a pretty amazing experience last Friday. Every Friday morning is a district study, where for thirty minutes we talk about whatever the district needs. This last week it was goals--we had the goal to speak 100% spanish except for in our residance halls before 7 and after 9:30, but for five days I had heard maybe an hour of spanish a day from each elder. I knew this needed to be brought up, but I also knew if I rushed into it in my usual way I would hurt feelings and not accomplish anything. What happened instead, is that I was guided by the spirit just as I am when teaching an investigator to know what to say, how to say it, when to bear testimony, when to ask questions, when to keep silent. It was a pretty great study. I didn't really do anything besides stand at the front of the room, but I think every elder in there recommitted to speak Spanish, remembering that we aren't just learning it for fun, but so that we can teach the gospel to the Chilean people.
It's really amazing how clearly I can see the influence of the spirit in my life right now. I think it's not so much that I have it more in my life than I did before, although that is probably true... however, I think it is more that, because I spend so much of every day talking about the spirit and how to help other people feel it, I notice it myself.
Final point: Sacrifice. I had this insight while I was teaching in the TRC last week--every sacrifice I have ever made is now worth it. I'm not going to list off everything I've ever given up to prepare for a mission, but there are definitely things I would have liked to do but didn't because I knew I needed to be ready to come out here. And it's all worth it! I haven't even gotten to Chile and it is worth it. There have been times when I have been able to point to individual, specific instances and say "I knew this scripture when Javier (one of my 'investigators') needed it because I paid this price three years ago," or "I have received this blessing because of something that I chose not to do last year." It's really amazing to see it this clearly--and if my sacrifices have all paid off two months into my mission, how much more will I value them in two more months? A year? Two years? Fifty? After this life?
I love this. I pretty much have the best job in the world. Travel plans come in later today--within 10 hours I'll know exactly when I'll arrive in Chile!
"Y ahora bien, repose sobre vosotros la Paz de Dios." --Alma 7:27.
~Elder Jason Ray

Thursday, September 22, 2011

September 22, 2011

Dear Mom and Dad,
Life is pretty fantastic. I hope in the next 26 minutes and 8 seconds I can describe just a little bit of why I am so happy right now, and I'll certainly try.
But first, I need to make a plea for a friend of mine. I was talking to another Elder in our hallway a few nights ago--he's not in our district, he's a week ahead and in another zone. But anyway, he mentioned that not many people besides his family write him anymore, which is rather sad. I said that I thought I could help him, at least for next week. And thus, here is my request--would anyone reading this with a spare ten minutes and a heart of gold mind writing to Elder Burt? Only one letter is required, although he is a nice guy and he might write back. I told him that I would tell everyone that his grandma died and he really needed a word of comfort, so you could write with that excuse if you wanted. Here's his info:
Elder Marshall Samuel Burt
MTC Mailbox #226
MEX--MCNW 10/04
2005 n 900 E
Provo, UT 84604
Muchas gracias!
First up--street contacts! Elder Lucero and I decided that, every day (usually while we are walking back to our residence at night, because while we may be awesome we're also kind of slackers), we would 'contact' two sets of missionaries and bear them our testimonies in Spanish. The first time or two were pretty hard, we were psyching ourselves up for it and talking about how important it is that we learn how to do this, but we soon found out that it is easier than we thought and a ton of fun. I think it's the most fun when we are talking is Spanish to someone learning Russian or Chinese, someone who has absolutely no idea what we are saying! And Elder Lucero is a natural at street contacting. He has an amazing I-want-to-get-to-know-you-and-share-what-I-have attitude that just shrazzles during street contacts. And to think, just a few more days until we will be doing this 1500 miles away, to people who don't speak any English at all!
So, yesterday was my first all-Spanish day. I spoke only 7 words of English, all by accident, and dutifully atoned for those 7 words with pushups at the end of the day. I think it was a lot more frustrating for the people around me than it was for me--once I got started, once I was not letting myself even think in English, it just kind of happened. But it also helped me see just how far I have left to go. I need to communicate the feelings and ideas of my soul with people in this language, and sometimes I have trouble explaining that I am ready to go to lunch!
I want to write a little happy note about one of the Elders in my district, Elder Stringham. Elder Stringham was the senior companion these last few weeks, so I got to interview him to see how things are going. Through this experience, I got to learn his back story. E' Stringham has never been crazy into the church, although he has been a member his whole life. Since the start of high school, he has been a pole vaulter. This last year he focused on pole vaulting a lot. He's good. I'm talking olympic good. Since he started really getting into it, the olympics have always been his goal. Up until a few months ago, he wasn't sure if he was going to serve a mission or if he would stay home and train. But he prayed about it, felt like he should go, and here he is! And now he is striving and trying hard to have the spirit with him guiding his actions and his lessons. It's quite inspiring for me to see.
Devotional this week was Elder Russell M. Nelson. Yeah, that's right, three apostles in the time we've been here, and apparently Elder Bednar is long overdue as well! I'm so crossing my fingers. Anyway, he talked about the Book of Mormon (in connection with this months Ensign). My favorite parts were actually something that his wife said, and something that he said not about the Book of Mormon. His wife talked about obedience, and suggested the slogan "Not Even Once." I like it :D What E' Nelson said that isn't exactly related to the Book of Mormon is this: "You are never an annoyance or an inconvenience to someone you are teaching. You are their link to divine glory. They may not know that, but you do." Talk about inspiring!
One privilege that I think missionaries have more in abundance (or maybe I'm just noticing this more now that I am a missionary?) are gifts of the spirit. Along with the gift of tongues, which believe me is the only reason I ever got past preterit vs. imperfect, I know that I have been/am being given the gift of interpretation of tongues, the gift of leading with love, the gift of teaching by the spirit, the gift of joy in my work, and others.
Ah! Running out of time, only 9 minutes left. Better start typing faster...
An opportunity that we have once a week here at the MTC is to teach in the TRC, where volunteers from around town come to hear a lesson taught in Spanish (and other languages too, I'm sure). For the first two weeks my mentality was kind of that these are members, they didn't need a whole lot, and I didn't know Spanish very well, so I would make sure to bear my testimony but wouldn't worry about it too much other than that. I have since had a change of heart. I am a called and set apart missionary with the mission and purpose of inviting others to come unto Christ, of changing lives. This means everybody--investigators, members, other missionaries, even my mission leaders and, I hope, everyone at home that I am writing. With this attitude and decision, this weeks lesson at the TRC was truly amazing! I love feeling like I'm starting to figure things out!
Speaking of figuring things out, this week I also had a moment of realization. I am doing really well here at the MTC. I am learning the language quite well, being a district leader has stopped being such a stress, I'm used to the sleep schedule and the work load, I love my companion, the food is quite good if you do a little searching, everything. As I see it, I have two directions I could go from here. I could get complacent with how well everything is going, and slip into mediocrity, or I could keep on striving and pushing for higher and higher levels of excellence. Of course, I want to keep on striving for excellence. I think right now, the way I can best do this is to reach out to those around me, to love and serve and lift them as I myself continue to progress. So that is my goal!
This is really such an amazing experience. I thought I wanted to serve a mission when I came here a few months ago; I want to serve even more now. I thought I could teach by the spirit and recognize the hand of God in my lives; I feel like I am constantly engulfed in the spirit now. I thought I wanted to be obedient and do everything my God has asked me to do; now, I want to be obedient with all my heart and soul, because I love my God and because I know I will only succeed in this work with the miracles that He is prepared to give me when I obey.
¡Estoy viviendo la sueño! La iglesia es verdadera, estamos salvados mediante Jesucristo, y estamos preparando el mundo por Su segundo viviendo.
Con amor,
Elder Jason Ray

Friday, September 16, 2011

September 15, 2011

Dear Mom and Dad,
What is a pirate's favorite animal? Arrrmadillo! 
Why yes, I am enjoying myself here. That little beaty was Elder Lucero's. He has a shockingly great pirate accent.
I think I should take this time now to thank you (and others) for the sweets. Somehow I have avoided gaining any weight so far (in fact I think I'm back down a pound or two), but with the delicious quantity of cookies that Elder Lucero and I have, it's a surprise! So muchas gracias, todos.
So, my mentallity is that every year of my life will be better than the year before was, both looking back into the past and looking forward into the future. I think here at the MTC, the same is true for every single week! I am loving life, loving my mission, loving Spanish, loving my companion, more than ever before. Gah. Such a good week.
I think part of my spiritual maturing here, though, is recognizing my weaknesses more. As I think you, mom, said a few weeks ago, (paraphrased), "seeing more of your weaknesses is a sign that you are coming closer to Christ, not farther away." So I have a story to share about this.

Coming into my mission, I knew I was going to follow the rules. Once I got here I figured out exactly why. Before I left, I heard dozens of RM's say that "at the MTC, they really drill obedience into you." Turns out it's true! Every Sabbath day, and every devotional, they mention obedience at least once. And we have had a couple devotionals entirely on obedience. But the nuance is wrong when you say "drill obedience into you." It isn't obedience they are drilling into us; it is the knowledge of how to unlock blessings and power to learn the language, preach the gospel, to be a missionary. They are drilling into us how to have the spirit with us more than we ever have before in our lives, how to experience joy more than we ever have before. It just so happens, the way to do this is by obeying the commandments of God, by being obedient.
Well, that was a tangent. Anyway, a few days after I got here I was reading in the missionary handbook and read that "You should only communicate with family and friends on preparation day." So I decided, then and there, that I would only read letters on preparation day. And I kept that up for five weeks! Last preparation day, I was using my key to open a letter I had gotten three days ago. A sister next to me asked, "do you wait to read all your letters until preparation day?" "Yeah..." "You know you don't have to. You only have to write them on preparation day."
Huh. If an Elder had told me that (which, now that I think of it, several had), I wouldn't have believed them. But, assuming that the sisters know there stuff, I decided to ask my Branch President. In his own words, "You don't have to re-write the rules. The brethren have said you can read letters as you receive them." Oh my gosh! For a whole month, i had been putting off letter-reading for no good reason! So this is a good lesson for me, over-zealousness doesn't accomplish anything. The Lord has told me where He wants me. To go farther is, in it's own way, just as disobedient as lagging behind.
No more over-zealousness for this Elder!
So, this week while teaching one of our investigators, Elder Lucero and I heard words that every missionary dreams of. "Elderes. Quiero bautizarme." Direct translation: Elders, I want to be baptized. Woah! We really hadn't been expecting that at all, we still thought this particular investigator was miles behind in gaining a testimony. It's really something to see the way the Lord works with people at the same time we do--we are just instruments! And i can't wait to get down to Chile and hear real people say those same words, after having similar experiences. (This particular investigator knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet while singing a song about him. Me gusta esta experiencia).
This Tuesday we had the privelege of hearing from Elder M. Russell Ballard, of the quorum of the 12. Fantastic devotional, as can be expected. He talked about how to be a wonderful missionary. Study hard, work hard, keep the message simple, love the people. Oh, this is the most exciting work in the world!
Something that I have been trying to work on basically since week one is to show the joy that I have inside of me to other people, through my eyes, my hands, my face, through all of me. This gospel makes me happier than anything else in the world, and I want people to be able to tell that just by looking at me! I think I'm getting better at it, bit by bit. This last week, I have been trying to show my joy by my excitement, and by stepping out of my comfort zone.
Excitement: During my lessons, I have tried to keep a smile on my face and a warm, bright attitude during the entire experience. I think thiat I am really starting to figure out the right attitude I need to teach with, thinking about how much I love the gospel, thinking about what I want for the investigator, thinking that I love the investigator as a child of God.
Comfort zone: The first few weeks here at the MTC, while waiting ni line for food I would usually study vocabulary. This past week, however, every meal, I have been striking up a conversation with the person ahead of or behind me (or sometimes both), trying to demonstrate this same excitement and enthusiasm, along with a whole lot of friendliness and interest in their life. For one thing, this is just a whole lot of fun. I like people. For another, I think I am learning to develop the attitude I will need to talk with everyone in the entire mission of Vina del Mar.
Next up--street contacts! Or sidewalk contacts anyway. Hopefully nobody will mind hearing my testimony in spanish even thought they are learning Tiawanese.
Viviendo el sueño. Estoy haciendo la mejor obra en el mundo.
Con mucho amor,
Elder Jason Ray