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