Monday, May 28, 2012

May 28, 2012

Dear Mom and Dad,

This was an excellent week. Normally when I say "This was an excellent week," it means that we had good lessons, felt the spirit, and I am becoming more and more a disciple of Christ. This excellent week was more like one of those weeks that a Mormon movie company will want to borrow and make into a hilarious comedy. But anyway, it was an excellent week.

Monday after we finished grocery shopping, we decided to make pizzas. A rather simple endeavor quickly became an adventure, because the oven in our little house doesn´t work, and one of the other Elders (I won´t say which) added twice as much water as was needed to the dough recipe. The result was a 30 minute battle with a sticky mass of dough, adding more and more flour until everybody in the house was out, and pizzas made on the stove and in the microwave. But, they did turn out rather delicious.

Fast forward to Friday. We had a great Family Night with the V family, a single mom and her three kids who are so solid and righteous it amazes me (every time we do a family night with them and an investigator, the investigator ends up going to church and wanting to get baptized). We watched the video of the restoration, and then the two investigators--M and F--stayed there for two hours after we left.

Another really important thing that happened Friday--T R stopped smoking! She managed to get down from four to one and a half from Sunday to Thursday. Then everyone was praying really hard Thursday night, and Friday she didn´t smoke anything for the first time in 30 years. It was a moment of rejoicing and of faith, because the promises that we had made to her that Christ would help her to drop this vice were all fulfilled. Last night we asked her how she was doing, she said she still had a desire to smoke but kept going strong.

One more story before I start into the mormon missionary comedy. We met the D family, made up of the grandparents, a son and his girlfriend, and their newborn baby (7 days old!) All but the girlfriend are members. We shared a little bit with them and heard their dream and vision. Right now they are living in a thrown-together shack while they hand-build a couple cabañas (little houses). Within the next few months they want to build houses, the son and the girlfriend are going to get married, and they want to begin plans to be sealed in the temple within a year. Amazing story, amazing courage. Before their thrown-together shack was completed, they lived in a tent for two months--and all this time the girlfriend was pregnant! But every other word they talked of their trust in God and His power to help them and bring them through this hard time.

OK, now I can start the mormon missionary comedy. It started out with Saturday Morning. We had to go to the chapel to clean out the baptismal font, but it was absolutely pouring rain. We bundled up with everything we could (first time in my life I´ve used an umbrella) and headed off across town. We made the mistake of trying to go through the main street, which looked pretty much like a river. We tried jumping across large streams of water, several times didn´t quite make it, and got to the chapel soaking wet.

After cleaning out the font, we took a bus to a small town outside of Quintero to have lunch with a member family in the ward. We got lost and chased by dogs, got there late, and found out that they had expected us to go for lunch the day before. Luckily they had saved everything for us, so we heated it up, ate, and left.

When we got back to Quintero, four different appointments we had set fell through (that isn´t too uncommon, but it makes the story sound better :D) We headed off to go share with a less-active member family that lived nearby to the appartment block where we were working. I was tired, wet, and worn out at this point, and when a lady on the side of the road said "cuidado con el perro" (careful with the dog), I didn´t pay enough attention, and there went my goal to be in Chile for two years without ever getting bit.

The lady invited us in and rather frantically made sure that the dog bite wasn´t serious (it isn´t), and while she was talking it slipped out that she, too, was a member of the church, but that she had been inactive for 20 years and was now drinking and smoking like no tomorrow. When we told her that God had inspired a dog to bite me to make sure that we would stop by there and help her get back to church, she started sobbing. (Make sure you imagine this story with my leg up on a table, pant up to my knee, making sure a dog bite isn´t serious).

When we got back out on the street and headed for our next appointment, the wind had picked up quite a bit. When we got back to the appartment complex, which is right on the edge of a cliff down to the sea, the wind was so strong that we almost couldn´t walk against it. We stopped by one of our investigators, and to help them get from their house to the house of their sister, we had to link arms and make a headlong plung into the wind, several times almost falling down.

Finally we got home, and the next day started. But, because the wind and rain was so strong, none of the people that were going to get baptized that day could get to church--they were all terrified to take the small children out of the house. So the baptismal service was cancelled and moved back to Saturday, and we enjoyed a great Sunday with 1/3 of the members (all the members who owned cars, plus a few others).

If I can find a computer that works, I´m going to send a picture of Elder Sosa and I smiling after this mormon-movie-comedy day and a half. It was awesome, easily the most entertaining week of my mission.

But then, the day ended like all mormon movies should. We stopped by M, the lady whose dog almost ran off with my leg, and she immediately said that she wanted to get back to church. She is planning on going this next weekend.

Then we stopped by the R family and, wonder of wonders, the father of N, who is T´s nephew and legal ward, agreed that he can go to church every Sunday, and he will be getting baptized with his family on Saturday. Then, an even bigger miracle--E, husband of K, the first one to decide she wanted to get baptized, said that he wanted to be baptized and that he would be willing to work towards a goal, just like his wife, sister-, and mother-in-law did. This was a huge miracle, because the first few times we met him, he would hardly give us the time of day.

So at the end of the week, we were about as worn out as we had ever been before in our lives. I got bit by a small angry dog, and our faces were pelted with sand and small rocks by a gale-force wind. But, the gospel is still true, Jesus still lives, and it was a really fantastic week.

Please, let me know when the movie company calls.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, May 21, 2012

May 21, 2012

Dear Mom and Dad,

I didn´t take any pictures at all this week, but I´ll have some good ones next week. So this week you can imagine Elder S and I showing off our sweaters in the morning cold.

We had a fun activity this week in the church, based off of "Who Wants to Be a Millionair," but called "Who Wants to Gain Salvation." There were questions about the scriptures, about the church, and--my favorites--about the members of the ward (now I know the first name of the first counselor!) They only let he missionaries compete in one of the questions, and I lost a pretty epic race against Elder Nord. Learn from my mistakes, and remember that there are 66 books in the Bible, not 56.

The purpose of the activity was to welcome home R G, the newest return missionary from the ward who got home this Tuesday from Argentina. When we met her, she told us about her last few months in the mission. Like Elder S and I, she opened an area. But unlike our case, instead of arriving in a new area with a couple of missionaries who had already been there for a while, she and her companion were put in a ward where there had never been missionaries before. They had the name and address of the bishop of the ward, and absolutely nothing else. It sounded like quite a fun experience, also like she was a very dedicated and diligent missionary. During that first conversation, she also mentioned that she had a couple people in mind that she wanted to invite to church right away, good example of how to return home well from a mission.

These last few months, the entire mission had the goal to read the Book of Mormon in the same time that it was translated. So every day for the last few months, I´ve been reading 8-10 pages every day. This Wednesday, I finally finished. I decided to take Moroni´s promise for a try, and after I had finished, I knelt down and prayed asking to know the truth. After praying and asking to know, I started thinking about all the stories from this book. About Ammon standing for an hour in front of King Lamoni, who was to nervous to open his mouth and ask him how he had such miraculous power. About Nephi and Abinadi, both of whom told those who would have touched him that if they did they would be struck by the power of God which was in them. About an angel appearing to Alma the Younger on a lonely road, telling him to change his ways or be struck down. About Helaman going forth with 2000 young men, inexperienced and untrained in battle, who fought with such power and strength from God that they caused armies ten times larger to surrender their arms. About Christ coming down from heaven to the temple after His death and resurrection. About Mormon and Moroni watching their beloved people destroy itself with pride and secret combinations. And as I thought about all of these stories, an illuminating, clarifying light filled my heart, like cold chills but without the cold. Yet another witness that this book is true, that it contains God´s words, and that Joseph Smith really was a prophet and really did restore the true church.

R and A, a family that one of the members introduced us to, passed their baptisimal interviews this week. All week long we went over every step necessary, teaching and talking about all of the commandments and little details that we hadn´t talked about earlier. From time to time I would ask a question like, "will you commit to read the scriptures every day?" or "will you live the law of chastity?" and they would respond by saying "please, Elder Ray, thats obvious and of course we´re going to do it. Now get to the good stuff." It was a delightful experience. Everybody who meets them can tell how prepared and ready they are to be baptized, and how much of a blessing baptism will be for them. And I keep thinking about how, if it hadn´t been for the V family, we never would have met them. I am so glad that they decided to share their testimonies with their neighbors and invite them to learn about the gospel.

K, V, and T R also passed their interviews. When K (26) came out she tried to pretend like she failed the interview, but when V (13) left her smile was so gigantic that she couldn´t even try to say anything other then "I passed." But the biggest miracle was T. T R has smoked since she was 13 years old, and even though she had gone down from 15-20 cigarretes a day to 5-6, she still entered the interview feeling like she would never be able to stop smoking and like she would have to watch her daughters get baptized without her. She came out knowing that God would help her and that she would be able to do it, and is now planning to get baptized with her family. Last night she finished the day with 4 cigarretes--today we are going to pass by and help her figure out how to get down to 0.

Through this whole experience, teaching R and A and the R family, what I´ve learned is this: God has a plan for each and every one of His children, and it is through His power that His plan will be accomplished. The same is true not only for my investigators, but also for my own life. God has a plan for my life and for my mission, and it is through His power that it will be accomplished.

Love you all lots,

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, May 14, 2012

May 14, 2012

It's a good thing he told us they live a couple of blocks from the ocean or we would start to think they were on vacation. :)

Dear Mom and Dad,

It was great to see you yesterday! I´m glad to know you are doing well. Enjoy Seaworld.

Fantastic week, it had its interesting moments (Elder S vomited everything he ate for a solid 24 hours after eating an uncooked hamburger) but ended pretty great. Other than Elder S getting sick, here are some other stories.

The R family. This week, we started helping them to stop smoking. In two days, T and L went from 15-20 cigaretts a day to 8. Then they kept lowering one a day. If all goes according to plan, they will smoke their last cigarett ever tomorrow! Their faith during this whole process has been incredible. Every single member of the family agrees that they have seen changes through the gospel--less fighting and disagreeing, less anger, more love, more peace. And once they stop smoking, more health and more money, as well! I love this job.

The adult daughter, K, said something that I loved during one of our lessons. "Una vez que you me bautice, voy a ser una mormona de las buenas." Once I´ve been baptized, I want to be one of the great mormons. And that coming from the lips of a woman that, a month and a bit ago, didn´t believe in anything!

We said goodbye to the A family this week (the gringo family who invited us over for hamburgers). Normally whenever we have lunch with someone we share a scripture or a hymn afterward, but this time they asked if they could share something with us. They then played and sang the A family song for us, which they composed one day when they didn´t feel like going down to the beach. It was pretty cute, the four tiny little kids pitching in to sing the chorus. They head back to Utah tomorrow after 4 months here in Chile.

Then Elder S got really sick, and it was probably an undercooked hamburger that they gave us. But they were such a nice family that Elder S keeps insisting it had to have been something else, since the hamburgers were fine :D

We had a Mini-MTC activity on Saturday. We forgot to take into account Mormon Standard time, so we were waiting around for quite a while before any of the kids showed up. But, with a little schedule adjusting to make it all work out, we had a great day--several classes, activities, meals, and a special devotional with President Gillespie, ending off with a few hours of splits with the missionaries. There were 10-15 youth there, and I think it was a good experience for them. The best part was when we were all telling stories after lunch, one of the Elders gets up to demonstrate exactly how epically one of his companions got knocked out playing kickball, and just as he gets to the climax everybody realizes that President Gillespie was standing there in the doorway. He laughed too :D

Last story of the week. We ran into someone on the street the other day named C. He had recently come to Quintero, but in a stopover in another little town on the road he was assaulted at 3 in the morning, stripped of everything he had, and left on the side of the road. He ran into us when he was looking for work. We met with him for the second time yesterday and, when we were talking about how crazy his circumstances are and how it must be God guiding him to the truth, he said that he already knew that, he already wanted to be baptized, and he hoped that we would keep coming and help him to do it.

This work is amazing. And it is true.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, May 7, 2012

May 7, 2012

Dear Mom and Dad,

I do love life. I also love my mission. I was talking with Elder W, one of the Elders that lives in my pension, about how much what we are learning now will help us when we get back... long story short, I think my life has already been forever changed, and I´ve still got time to learn a whole lot more!

On a random note, it rained for the first time yesterday. Elder S and I were both pretty happy with it--walking from appointment to appointment in the rain just feels cooler, for some reason--but it didn´t last too long. Just enough to make the air smell fresher.

We are planning an awesome ward activity this week, a mini-MTC experience. All of the youth and young adults in the ward are going to come to the chapel really early on Saturday morning. We´ll have breakfast, some studies, and then classes and activites like in the MTC. To top it all off, President Gillespie is going to come speak to everybody right before we divide everyone up and head out to do proselyting. We´ll have four missionaries and a bunch of priesthood and relief society leaders there to go visit investigators, members, inactive members, everyone. I´m really excited--the whole ward is getting behind it to make it turn out well.

One of our lunches this week was a memorable experience. The A family, from Logan, Utah, spent a semester here in Chile--CA is a professor at Utah State, and they did a switch with a Chilean professor. While they are here (just four months, one semester), they are staying at a beach-side appartment with a view I would kill for. They invited us over for lunch, introduced the family (the two parents and four small children, all of whom are blonder than me and completely out of place in Chile), and then gave us an American-style lunch of hamburgurs with potatoe chips, all out on a balcony with a view of the ocean. I´ve decided that when I get back I´m going to change my major to business, with the eventual goal of feeding missionaries in a Chilean beach-vacation resort.

We were part of ward council this week, for the first time in my life actually. The Bishop talked a lot about what we can do to help the strength of the ward, how the ward is important as a social unit in addition to being a church. He talked about how important it is that the leaders of the church help people out with a smile and a listening ear, how much of a difference that can make in somebody´s life. Next week we are going to have a big brainstorm about the things we can do to help people stay active, get active, or get more active than they already are. It made me think a lot about what my personal responsability is, regardless of my calling, to help other people to feel welcome and loved in the kingdom of God. Interesting idea.

So, one of the coolest things we are doing right now is teaching the R family. This week we had two lessons and two Family Home Evenings with other members of the ward--in one of the lessons, 12 members of the family were present. It is amazing seeing the progress of each individual member of the family, and how they all help each other out to come closer to Christ. Everybody in the family is getting excited (to one extent or another) about this message--KR, the married daughter of 28, wants to be baptized and is already trying to convince her husband to follow her. T, the mother, said that her husband is becoming more and more interested as he notices what a difference the gospel makes for his granddaughter and his nephew. That same granddaughter convinced her mother to come to one of our visits, the nephew brought his sister, and so the chain goes. And when I think it what a difference the gospel has already made for them--the peace and happiness that is beginning to enter their home--and what will continue to happen as they are baptized, I am so grateful to be here, to be able to help people in this way. I am also grateful for the gospel in my own life.

I know this work is true. I know I have been called of God to be here, to teach His truths, His gospel.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray