Monday, June 25, 2012

June 25, 2012

Dear Mom and Dad,

It seems like I start every week off saying "wow, big week, lots to write about." But it keeps on being true, so I'll just say it again.

First off, leaving Quintero. I already wrote about saying goodbye to converts, but then later that night we stopped by the V family to say goodbye as well. This is the family that we met the first day there, when we had no idea where anything was--they showed us around town and, from that day, started sharing the gospel with their friends. We did a family night about once a week with them, but I had never really realized how important we were to them until we went by to say goodbye (side note--if you ever need to feel loved, be a missionary and then get changed out of a ward. Everybody and their dog will come up and tell you they'll miss you). But anyway. They shared a couple of scriptures (go and do, like Nephi), and then thanked Elder S and I for what we had done for them. They said that when we stopped by that day, they had been a little discouraged by family and ward problems. But they said that when we started talking about the possibilities in missionary work, they felt the spirit flood the room, and they knew that it could happen. Then, not only did they start sharing the gospel with their friends (Two of their neighbors were baptized; G, the 17 year old son, invited his entire class at school to listen to the missionaries), but they also started serving the people in the ward, baking cakes or pies and taking them over to say hi.

It was a truly amazing experience, being able to look back with hindsight and see how much the spirit can touch and change lives, if we are willing and obedient so that it can work through us. And even though I was only in Quintero a few months, I already feel like I left home leaving there.

But, I then felt like i was coming back home when I got to La Ligua (neat how that works, isn't it). When the bus showed up here I felt the spirit pretty strongly, telling me that this was where I needed to be and that I would love the city and the people. La Ligua is a rather large city, bigger than Quintero, but it only has a small branch of members. We are surrounded by largish hills (almost mountains but not quite), and whenever you say La Ligua everyone immediately thinks of the two famous Liguan exports: Sweaters and baked sweets. Dulces de La Ligua (the baked sweets) are special and aren't available anywhere else in Chile, and there is an entire suburb dedicated to cheap, good quality sweaters.

My companion is Elder A, from Blackfoot, Idaho. He has been here in Chile/La Ligua for about 5 months now, and is a really incredible missionary. He is excited, dedicated, and really sharp. Before his mission he studied the gospel a lot--he once bought a set of 130 LDS books from a seminary teacher for 125 dollars, and said he had read most of them. He dreams to one day teach religion at BYU. Or be an emergency room doctor. Or a comedian. And I'm sure he'd be great at whichever one he decided on, or all three of them at once!

Something else that is special about La Ligua is that Brother and Sister B, couple missionaries that remind me quite a bit of Grandpa and Grandma Ray, live and work here. They are really incredible people, and they have done a lot for the branch here. Brother B is writing a book now about his conversion and historical proofs of the Book of Mormon. I'll have to send a picture with them next week. With Elder A, too.

There are a couple of great recent converts here, B and J. They're both young men who are now looking forward to serving missions within the next year or two. They accompany us out for appointments quite a lot, their testimonies are really powerful.

Right when I got here, I heard that a bunch of changes were happening in the branch. The branch president (Brother P) is heading to the south of Chile for work, so my first sunday here the whole branch presidency was changed. Now the president is President G, who is the boss at the local jail. He has a pretty great vision for the branch, so I'm excited to work with him!

One of the big changes in the ward is that I am the new secretary. Woo! I was completely surprised when they announced it in Sacrament Meeting. Apparently President Gillespie was supposed to call me and let me know but he forgot. So yeah, now I have the privilege to figure out how to be a secretary--in spanish! I'm really excited to start working there, too.

Last off, a spiritual experience to close the week. Last night, we had planned to pass by Hermana A and her family--A was an older sister in the ward who was really sick. We had an hour free before we were going to go by their house, and while we were trying to decide what to do with that time, we felt like we should go pass by some people we had talked to in the street a few days before. On the way there, we ran into a sister who told us that Hermana A had passed away earlier that day, and that there was a viewing in the chapel that same night. We were able to go and provide support to the family, it was amazing how God worked that all out so well.

This work is true. This is God's church. I know it more than I know anything else.

Viviendo el sueno,

Elder Jason Ray

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wanna Wish Elder Ray a Happy Birthday???

We're getting a package ready to send to Jason for his birthday and also to mark the midpoint of his mission.  If you'd like us to print a message from you to include in the package, please either:
  • leave a message for him in the comment section, or
  • email your message to his mom at crayz2sew at gmail dot com.
Thanks--I know he will be thrilled to hear from you!

Monday, June 18, 2012

June 18, 2012

Dear Mom and Dad,

Transfers this week. The big news is in--I am leaving Quintero, heading up north a little bit to an even smaller city called Laligua. Two other exciting pieces of news--I will be going as a district leader, and my companion, Elder S, will be training! Really, I am absolutely estatic for Elder S. He is a great Elder, he has prepared himself well, and training after 3 months doesn´t happen a lot. He is pretty excited too. He says he´s not nervous, but I bet he is. I know I was when I heard I was going to train ;P But he´ll do great, that´s for sure.

So, here's the lowdown for my last week in Quintero.

R and A lost an uncle just a few days after their baptism. It was truly amazing to see their reaction, knowing that he hadn´t finished, only moved on, and that they will be able to see him again. They are so strong, and A (12) is going to be a fantastic missionary in a few years.

The R family was also sad to hear that I am leaving, but we set a goal. They want to go to the temple in July of 2013, just a few weeks after I end my mission. [Editors note: we think he might have meant before?] And so, if they keep going strong, I´ll be able to see them again as they are sealed for time and all eternity in the temple in Santiago, the capital city. I´ll be praying for that.

This whole week felt like setting the stage, preparing the next event to come out. We didn´t know until Saturday night who was going and who was staying, so we worked hard, trying to leave behind a good situation for whoever it was that ended up staying. I feel pretty good right now leaving Elder S here, even better that he is training. They grow up so fast... *wipes away tears*.

M, the lady whose dog bit me, came to church yesterday with her neighbor. She said she felt pretty great to be there again--what's more, a couple of the older members in the ward remembered her and welcomed her back quite warmly. That was a miraculous dog bite that I won´t be forgetting.

I don´t know how much I have written about the V family, but they are awesome. Sister V is the single (divorced) mother of three boys, every single one is a fantastic example of how to live a gospel-centered life. We have worked a lot with them in these last few months, teaching their friends and family, class-mates, and preparing G (17) for his mission in a few more years. This week when we went by Sister Vsaid something quite touching about Elder S and I, about how she could tell from the first day that we met the family that we had the spirit and wanted to help, and how that got her excited to share the gospel with all her friends.

I basically just love life. Especially the part that involves being a missionary.

Last thing--President Gillespie goes home in a few weeks more, so we had a last mission conference. In it he talked about something that I´m sure he thinks about all the time. Staying active and hard-working after your mission. He and his wife have a copy of a painting called "it´s true, sir: all present and accounted for," that shows the aftermath of one of the battles in the Book of Mormon, when every one of the 2060 Lamanite youth is wounded, but not a single one is lost. We all signed the back of the painting as we left, to say that we, too, would be present and accounted for when the accounting came.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, June 11, 2012

June 11, 2012

Jason with his trainer and his trainee

Dear Mom and Dad,

Random comment--the next time I send home a memory card, it will have a really spectacular video. We went to the sand dunes in Con Con and rented sand surf boards, and, who would have guessed, I had a hidden talent for sand-surfing (maybe I developed it learning to surf and to ripstik?) Sand-surfing combines a bunch of my favorite things--speed, sand, and walking up hills--and I did it for an hour solid without stopping. During one of my runs, another Elder in the district filmed me, but the video is too big to send by email.

Another random comment, but a little bit less random--mom, our family picture (the one from the beach where we are all dressed in blue) is amazing. Everybody who sees it says that (1) my family is adorable, (2) it is such a coincidence that we all were wearing blue and khaki, and (3) it looks like it was pulled out of a movie. So, great job mom.

So, I don´t know if I have mentioned this or not, but President Gillespie is going home at the end of this change (one more week). The new president will be President Conley (no idea if that is the correct spelling) from Argentina. This last week I had my last interview with President Gillespie. We talked about how incredible a mission is (or life in general) when it is lived/done according to the gospel, and he thanked me for some good service (and I thanked him :D). At the end of the interview, I asked him what is the most important advice he could think to give to a missionary after his three years as president. He told me to think about the Savior´s words, "I am meek and lowly of heart." Then he defined meekness as poise under pressure and patience in persecution, and lowly of heart as wanting to do the will of the Lord.

In retrospect I´m not sure how good of an idea this was, but we decided to do a completo eating contest with the inactive son of one of the members who gives us lunch every week (if you don´t know what a completo is, watch Kid History). If we won, he would go to church. I managed to eat 3 whole completos before my stomach threatened to give out, while the other three Elders ate 6, 7 and 7.5. (The inactive member ate 8, but I still think he´ll go to church next week). Two days later, we had completos for lunch. The president of the Relief Society was really excited to feed us something so delicious, but I think the joy was kind of lost on us.

This last week we were visited by Elder Richards, who I believe is of the quorum of the seventy. He talked about teaching by the spirit--or in other words, letting the spirit teach. He said that a lot of time, as missionaries, we are too flashy and use too many examples in our teaching, blocking out the still small voice of the spirit, which is the only way that people can actually learn anything. He encouraged us to teach simply, using the scriptures, and without home-made examples (even going so far as to say that sometimes we teach false doctrine when we use examples). We have been trying hard to apply his counsel ever since then, and have had some pretty great lessons. I´m excited to be teaching even more by the spirit now.

G, one of the youth in the ward who is preparing to serve a mission, decided that he wanted to invite his entire class to come to the church and have a family night-type experience (a fun lesson, lots of food). When all was said and done only four out of 26 of his classmates attended, but, I left incredibly impressed with the event. G himself taught the lesson, after having planned out a little bit with us beforehand. He talked about how important every single soul is to God, and about how God gives us his Spirit to help us to be happy. At the end, while we were all eating food, we went around and asked the four youth who showed up if we could come by and continue sharing with them--every single one accepted, and we will be teaching them this next week. It was really inspiring to see how powerful a simple invitation can be, whether it is to meet with the missionaries or to a friday night activity in the chapel.

I want to close off this letter talking about how I feel about going to church on Sunday. I don´t know why, but it really impacted me this week--how important and huge going to church is for me. I felt the spirit strongly and consistently through all the meetings, learned from the talks and the lessons, and I feel like I had some really special moments of meditation, prayer, and communication with God. I walked out of the chapel feeling refreshed, ready, happy, and really at peace with myself and the world and my mission. That is really how I feel every week when I go to church, and one of the reasons I am so happy to be a member and, whats more, a missionary.

This gospel is true. I feel that truth confirmed to me almost every day by the spirit. It really is!

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, June 4, 2012

June 4, 2012

Dear Mom and Dad,

Great week. This week we saw the miracles after the trials from the last week, most importantly the baptisms of six incredible people.

First off--preparing everybody for baptism. Of the six people who were baptized, I want to tell three stories.

N is a 9 year old with attention deficit disorder. Ever since we started sharing and his family started going to church he has wanted to get baptized, but we didn´t think he was going to be able to do it because he didn´t really understand much of what we shared with his family. Because the baptismal service was delayed a week, we got to teach a couple lessons especially for him, really simplified and with objects, and this saturday he joined his family in baptism.

T, N´s aunt and legal guardian, gave up smoking completely within about 20 days to get baptized. She had smoked since she was 13 years old, for 33 years and 11 months, between 15 and 20 cigarettes every day. Within just a few days she gave that all up, basically reprogramming her entire body, and was baptized. On top of all that, several close members of her family--including her mother--told her in the week leading up to her baptism that she was making a mistake. She pushed through all of that, and this saturday she was baptized. What incredible courage, strength, and resolution.

R, a friend of a member whose 12 year old son A is as set on going on a mission as I was at his age. She gave a prayer on Friday night, the day before the baptism. She prayed like she had been talking to God all of her life, even though she only started praying out loud a few short weeks ago. She thanked God for helping her to find this path, for helping her to realize it was true, and for the joyous blessing that her baptism and confirmation would be for her. Every single thing that I had to give up to come on a mission was made worth it by that one, honest, sincere, beautiful prayer.

The baptismal service itself was fantastic. President Gillespie, our mission president, came with his wife to see the service, along with a couple ward and family members (note--for family, friends, and all who read. When there is a baptismal service in your ward, go to it. It makes such a huge difference to welcome these wonderful people personally and especially into God´s kingdom). Somebody forgot white underwear and had to run back to their house to get it, so we ended up starting pretty late, but that didn´t matter until we got to the baptismal font. The bath-water-temperature had completely changed because of the time we had to wait to start, and was at that time pretty frigid. The first five baptisms went off without a hitch--every one was incredible and I felt the spirit enter the room stronger and stronger each time. But then we got to the last baptism, N, who had just this week learned everything he needed to know to get baptized. He is about as skinny as a plastic straw and started shivering the moment his foot entered the water. After twenty minutes of talking, encouraging, and a whole lot of praying, he was baptized while sitting on the second step down into the font. What a trooper.

The confirmations were equally beautiful, the bishop and his first counselor each did half. I remember a few main themes from each one--from R and A, a lot about preparing to serve as a missionary. For the R family, a lot about being a light unto the world and to their family, and being able to bring the rest of their family into the gospel.

Such a beautiful, amazing, miraculous, blessed weekend. Just thinking about it makes me want to sing. Well, thinking about most things makes me want to sing, but this is a special sort of song that´s trying to get out--and the miracles didn´t stop there.

M, whose dog bit my leg last weekend, still didn´t make it to church, but we went by yesterday with her next door neighbor, who is an incredibly faithful and strong member. The two of them are now planning to go to church together next week, and to get there early.

Last thing of the week, we visited with the Bishop and his family and shared with him about how they can share the gospel with their friends. It was immediatly apparent that God has been getting this family ready for quite some time to share the gospel--within the last two weeks alone, they have had several crazy miraculous chance meetings with people who really needed help, who turned out to be less-active members, and who are now willing to come back to church and bring their families with them. I hope to write quite a few more letters about this family and their success in sharing the gospel with their friends.

To end the week, a thought that I had one night this week while I was feeling discouraged walking back home. I had been walking along looking at my feet, when all of a sudden I looked up, and saw the beautiful sight that is Quintero at night, with all the lights on and the sea around it. I had the thought, "Elder Ray. Stop looking at your feet." Sometimes I tend to get caught up on what is happening right next to me, which might be a hole in the road or dog droppings that I really want to avoid, and I miss seeing the miraculous, wonderful, inspiring long-term view, like six more people who are going to be able to receive Eternal Life, six more wonderful members of God´s kingdom. That is what I need to be focused on, not my feet.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray