Monday, March 26, 2012

March 26, 2012

Dear Mom and Dad,

HUGE week this week, and I´m going to finish it off by telling you about the changes that just happened, because I am leaving O´Higgins. But first, other news.

I am actually getting better at soccer. I can now make the ball move forcefully in a chosen direction (this action is commonly reffered to as "kicking") about 90% of the time, and when Elder M acted like a really lazy goaly, I scored a few shots. With another year and a half of practice, I should come back playing at about the level of a third grader--but with a lot of Chilean flair.

We had two minor earthquakes this week. The first one was on Saturday at about 4:30 in the morning, and lasted two minutes. 5.2 on the Richter. I woke up and was quite scared, because the bed was shaking enough I thought it was probably an earthquake, but I was too tired to wake up my companion so he never felt it. I waited for about ten minutes to see if there would be an aftershock, then went back to sleep. Hey, it was 4:30 in the morning. The second was an actual earthquake, though it happened hundreds of miles away in the south of Chile. It was still decently strong here, I heard somewhere in between 6 and 7, but neither I, nor my companion, nor the 15 year old young man from the ward who was acompanying us noticed it, even though it lasted two and a half--three minutes. When we came out of the side passage where we had been, someone in the street asked us if we felt the earthquake. He could hardly believe when we told him that none of us had even felt it!

My companion and I taught a pretty awesome lesson to a nine year old girl this week. We were teaching about the Restauration (Restoration for you English speakers) of the Gospel, but to help her understand everything, we illustrated the whole lesson using pieces of candy. Whenever we mentioned prophets she got to eat a piece of candy, so I think she was quite happy with what she learned.

I went to Rodelillo this week in interchanges, just a couple of hills over from the one where I live and work. While I was there we did a service project, painting a room in somebody´s house. While we were walking to the service project, the other Elder decided that we should kick a soccer ball on the way there. It was fun and entertaining until we got to a really big hill and I lost control of the ball. I ended up racing the ball down two and a half city blocks, finally stopping it before it got away and made it´s way down to the Plan (the flat part of Valparaíso before you get to the hills). It was quite an adventure, but in the end I didn´t have to buy anybody another soccerball, so I´m ok.

In this same interchange, we were about to go teach a recent convert when we looked through a crack in the door to his yard and noticed him sitting outside reading the Book of Mormon. I´ll send a picture that we sneakily took, too--it was just such a precious, beautiful moment to happen upon.

We found an awesome family this week--J, P and B, their 19 year old son. They had a near relative who was a member of the church, so when we knocked on their door they let us right in to talk for a bit. B impressed me quite a bit. While we were talking about the gospel and how the Book of Mormon was the key to their knowing that our message was true, B taught himself and his family a couple of really incredible truths while just sharing his opinion about the way things are. I am so grateful for the promise that all who read the Book of Mormon really can learn that it is true, because I know it will help B and his family to find the same joy and happiness that I have found through this gospel.

Last interchange story, this time from Placilla, a little town half an hour away from Valparaíso. We taught a woman named Señora Q. She had, years before in her life, been really active in the Baptist church. She had already read the Bible several times cover to cover, and understood the scriptures faster and better than anybody else I had ever met, including other missionaries. She understood the promise of the Book of Mormon, that in order to know it is true you have to read it and pray about it, but she was unwilling to pray because she didn´t want to open the door to her past, to a lot of disilusionment and shattered dreams. We encouraged her a lot to pray and ask if our message was true, but she still had trouble opening up enough to give it a try. It made me really grateful for the things that I already know to be true, and that I was able to learn them and their truth in a relatively painless manner. I do hope and pray that Señora Q does decide to pray about it, though, because there is a whole lot of happiness waiting for her when she does.

And now, at long last, the moment you have all been waiting for--what is going on with changes! I am leaving the wonderful ward of O´Higgins, leaving behind Elder B and a couple of really great converts. I´ve already said all of my goodbyes, all that is left is for me to pack my bags and head over to Viña del Mar tomorrow morning. I will be going to a little city a few miles away from Viña called Quintero. I am going to open the area there, which means that I´ll start working in a place that hasn´t had missionaries there before, or at least hasn´t had them for a few months--I am also going to be training a new missionary, fresh from the MTC. I kind of feel like I am starting my mission all over again. Going to a new place, where nothing is familiar, with a new missionary who has even less of an idea of what he is doing than I do. However, I know that with God´s help I can do it, that He trusts me with this responsability and that He will help me to be able to do it. I am excited to be able to serve in this way, excited to serve my Lord and serve my brothers and sisters here in Chile. All I know about the missionary I´ll be training is that he is latino, because there aren´t any gringo missionaries coming into the mission this change. I´m ready to start!

Its absolutely amazing me that God has given this wonderful, fantastic privelege of being His servant and representative to me, a 19 year old kid from North Carolina. But I know that this work is true, that this is the true church, and I wouldn´t rather be anywhere else in the world.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, March 19, 2012

March 19, 2012

A staircase. I think I´ve climbed this one about three times now... it´s pretty typical for the area we are in right now.

Dear Mom and Dad,

Great week! But I wanted to start off, before talking about what happened, by thanking mom. When I was about 6, you decided that, because I knew how to read, I was going to start singing the hymns with you in church. I resented it and tried to talk you out of it, and when I thougth you weren´t looking sometimes I wouldn´t sing, but finally I gave in and began to sing the hymns in church. Thirteen years later, the hymns are a powerful part of my testimony, and every time I sing a hymn to start out a lesson and can feel the spirit flowing into the room, or every time I am able to serve in the ward because I know how to lead music, I am so thankful that, when I was six, my mom made me sing in church.

On a slightly less serious note, I have developed a new way to shake hands with kids. I take their hand and immediately start to throw it up and down as hard as I can, which is either funny because they go limp arm and just giggle, or because they start to throw their hand up and down as hard as I am throwing mine and I pretend that they are really strong and that they are about to rip my arm out. It´s quite fun, and I think it´s a trick that might work in English, too!

This Sunday, we had lunch with a really young new family in the ward. They got married and moved into the ward a few weeks after I got here--she now works in the Primary and he is in the Elder´s Quorum. Lunch was great, we talked about funny stories from his mission and about the atonement. I was left thinking that we had just had lunch with the promise of the church in Chile, that these two newleyweds would grow to be the leaders and shapers of the church, all because they had made the first few steps right--he served a mission, they got married in the temple, they magnify their callings and share the gospel with their neighbors. I was left thinking that that was how I wanted to be, that those were the types of choices I wanted to make.

After lunch, we shared with another family in the ward, Hermana V and her three children. We had never really shared with them before, but it was wonderful to get to know them better. The husband/father of the family was inactive, and had been for some time, but the mom and three kids faithfully went to church every week. The 12 year old S is now working on visiting other members of his group to help them get back to church, and 15 year old M brought one of her friends with her to seminary (D, a little more about him later). The whole day left me feeling really content and happy with the faith and hope that there is in and for the church, it was a good day.

Earlier on in the week, we met a kid named E (well, I say ´kid´ but he´s 19--who am I to talk), who had recently moved in from another ward. He got baptized a little under a year ago, and when we asked him what we thought the church was, he gave the most inspired and inspiring reply I had ever heard. "The church is everything. You can go there to meet people, play sports, eat some food sometimes, but you also go to learn things, to make and renew covenants, to learn about God and work towards heaven. It´s like a big family, everybody helping each other and lifting each other, everybody moving together towards salvation." We are hoping that the next stop for him will be a mission, because he´d be great as a missionary.

Final news of the week--D, the friend of a member who started going to seminary about a week before we met him. We went to seminary one day to get to know him, and it turned out it was someone we already knew from the street--a kid who had lived in North Carolina for 5 years and is our neighbor. The next day we went over to get to know him a little better. We ended up in a very serious conversation with his mom (he got home a few minutes in) about her hopes and fears for her son. He had a traumatic moment several months ago where he decided that he absolutely needed to meet his biological parents (he is adopted). His adoptive family started looking and arranged a meeting. After meeting his mom, he was really struck by her style of life, and began to think that his destiny, as well, was to end up living on the street, stealing to pay for drugs. His parent´s pleas hadn´t been able to reach him, and they weren´t really sure what they could do. We started talking about the gospel, about repentance, about Alma the Younger going from "the very vilest of sinners" to an amazing prophet. I felt like I was being taught, as well, about what the gospel can do, about how the church really will give D the happiness and peace he needs, that he has thought of looking for in absolutely the other direction. He came to church with us yesterday and played soccer with us this morning, and he seems to be loving it all.

This Gospel is amazing. This Church is too.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason ray

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

March 12, 2012

Dear Mom and Dad,

Great week! Some great personal growth experiences, as well the baptism of a truly amazing sister named A. I´ll start from the beginning.

Last Monday I had a few minutes extra while I was waiting for my companion to finish up writing his family, so I looked up a recent talk given by Elder Bednar on In it he said something about missionaries, as an example, but in a different context--towards the faith needed for people to make big life decisions such as school and marriage. He said, "Missionaries are taught from the scriptures to open their mouth--act--and it will be filled. That sequence is critical. Many of us pray for the power so we can open our mouth. That doesn´t work too well." I first thought about that in a literal interpretation, and resolved to talk to more people. Then I thought about how true that is for all of life. My tendancy is to be a little bit hesitant, to want to think something out really well, have a plan A and a plan B, and then take a tentative step forward. But if I am moving forward with faith, trusting in God to help me in my choices and to provide pathways where there are none, I will keep planning and thinking, but I´ll take out the hesitance, the tentativeness. I´ll go. I´ll push foreward trusting in God and, sometimes, just like walking up to someone in the street and asking them if they want to hear a message that will change their life, I just have to open my mouth, step forward, and go Good life message.

Great day of interchanges with Elder M. When I first came into the Zone six months ago, we hoped we would be able to do interchanges--and it finally happened! We started out eating lunch with one of the old member families of Chile. The grandmother was baptized when she was 8, not as a convert, and her children are now leaders in the church all over the place. Her granddaughter told us about her life plan, and how important it is for her to marry a return missionary. She stated it pretty well: "I am doing things right, striving to keep the commandments, and I know God will help me to have the life I want, to marry a return missionary." "My son, give ear to my words; for I swear unto you, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land" (Alma 36:1). It makes me happy to see such faith here in Chile.

After lunch, we did some service, building a dirt staircase leading up from the sidewalk into somebody´s yard so that they would stop falling down every time they entered their yard from the street. For tools we had an ancient pickaxe with a loose head and two long pike-like something-or-others that were slightly sharp on the ends and could be used for digging. It ended up as quite a masterpiece, if I do say so myself, and I think I want to go into dirt construction now. To finish off the day, we taught a great new family who we found outside admiring their cactus collection. I was especially impressed by the son, V, a sharp-looking 14 year old kid who was paying more attention than I did when I was 14. He seemed to understand everything perfectly. I hope to hear in a couple more years that he ended up serving an awesome mission.

We taught a member this week, trying to help him get back to church after a month of not going. As we shared with him and as he talked, it came out that the problem was not just an offense that someone had given him four weeks ago, but that his personal gospel study, his personal relationship with God, had fallen a bit to the side. We are trying to help him get back to his past firmness in the gospel now, but it was a great reminder that the little, daily things make all the difference in the end.

Fantastic Conference this week, we talked a whole lot about the Book of Mormon. Because the Book of Mormon comes with such an amazing promise, that everyone who reads it and prays about it sincerely will receive an answer that it is true, it should be the entire basis in our teaching, the point on which everything else rests. To help us to gain our own testimony of the Book of Mormon, we decided to start reading it as a mission, in the same amount of time in which it was translated. I´m now reading 8 pages a day, in addition to the chapter-by-chapter study I was doing before. Considering that I do my chapter-by-chapter study in both English and Spanish to help me focus, and that I read a chapter out loud a few times a week to help my pronunciation, I am now reading the Book of Mormon four times at once!

Finally, to end the week--A was baptized on Saturday and confirmed on Sunday. From the very first day we met her, she has been an absolute miracle. We ran into her one day in interchanges, and she told us to come back another day when she wasn´t leaving for dialysis. She later told us that time after time she had rejected the missionaries, but that that day something iluminated her and she let us come by. Since that moment she has been absolutely faithful in reading the Book of Mormon, praying, going to church, everything. Every time we would ask her how she was and how she felt about everything that she was learning, she would say, "I can tell this is right, I just feel it. This has all been so wonderful for me." She invited her entire family to her baptisimal service, with the result that 2 kids, a daughter-in-law, and 7 grandkids all came to see their grandma baptized. Now she is already talking to us about how, even though it would be too late for her kids, she wants to send her grandkids out on missions.

This is it, this is where I am supposed to be and what I should be doing. God is behind it all, guiding our footsteps, because we are really His servants. Isn´t that crazy, that God trusts 19 year old kids to be his personal representatives? I fell blessed beyond measure.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, March 5, 2012

March 5, 2012

Dear Mom and Dad,

Dad told me that he got the superman joke, but it fell kind of flat with everybody else (try saying it out loud). Just to dig my humor hole even deeper, here are a few more superman jokes.
¿Qué es el fruto favorito de Superman? Supermanzana.
¿Qué pone Superman en su pan? Supermantequilla.
¿Qué es el otro nombre de Superman? Clark Kent.

Last Monday, I picked up my Chilean ID, meaning that I have moved passed the short-term-tourist stage and am now in the long-term-visitor stage. My companion managed to convince me that "M" stood for "Mujer" and not for "Masculino" and they must have made a mistake when they were filling out my information, and I believed him for about three days until one of the zone leaders showed me his. After picking up my Carnet (that is what the ID is called), we went by Pizza Hut for lunch. There really is nothing quite like a Gringa Pizza.

That night, I got to teach a family home evening lesson with a family in the ward--the Hermana´s sister was in town with her kids, they all live in Santiago and are not members of the church. (The Hermana was baptized when the Hermano got back from his mission to the south of Chile and started telling mission stories to his girlfriend, they now have two kids and stake callings). After a 20 minute conversation about things that we like, but that scare us (me gusta, pero me asusta) I got to teach a bit about the Holy Ghost and the Restoration. The whole family agreed that they need to read and pray about the Book of Mormon, it was a pretty special moment.

Then a few days later I had a very humbling moment where I realized how far I still have to go in learning the language. With my past two companions, both gringos, my spanish has looked alright. On Interchanges with Elder B, de Honduras, I realized how little I really understand/can communicate compared to latinos! He was a very outgoing, talkative Elder, and when he got going in spanish I had to work to keep up. I guess little moments like that are good--they show me how hard I should still be working!

I learned a pretty big lesson from a couple of experience on Friday. At the request of a member of the bishopric, we went by to visit an excommunicated member. We didn´t ask questions and he didn´t really tell us his story, we just talked about this and that for a few minutes, but the pain and sadness in his eyes was obvious. He was a return missionary, had been where we were, but at that moment in time he only had a faint hope to slowly struggle back to the church. A few hours later, Hermano V acompanied us to a lesson. Just by the powerful, honest, humble, spiritual person he was, he asked a couple of questions and made a couple of comments that brought the spirit powerfully to the lesson and taught everyone there more about God. I thought about his family, as well--a wife and three great kids, one of those families that really show how the home can compare to the temple in sacredness. He, too, was a return missionary. The message was pretty clear, sobering and yet incredibly hopefull at the same time. Elder Ray, you are doing pretty well right now, but make sure to keep it up 2, 5, 10 years from now. The future is too important to not make the right choices.

G, my very first convert ever, called us up early in the week and told us he had a problem. He had had an interview with the stake president on Sunday about receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood, but he didn´t think he was ready to become an Elder and commit himself to teaching the gospel like we did. First, we explained that Elder didn´t always mean Missionary, that he wouldn´t be asked to walk around in the sun all day. Then we talked a lot about the help and support that God is willing to offer him. We talked about God´s words to Enoch, "Open your mouth and it will be filled." Yesterday in stake conference, G was sustained to become an Elder.

And, final story for the week--AF is going to get baptized this week! She came out of her baptizmal interview beaming from ear to ear, absolutely estatic. She has already invited all of her family, three kids and a handful of grandkids, to come out and see it.

I absolutely love my job (or calling, I guess, since in a job you get paid with boring things like money). Viviendo el sueño.

Elder Jason Ray