Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Today I thought I'd write a little bit about what Christmas means for me.

Family. What is more, Christmas traditions/Christmastime itself seem to bring out all the parts of my family that remind me just how much I love them.
I had a great realization last night. Whereas the last time I saw  my family I was going through post-mission withdrawal, trying to get used to t-shirts instead of ties and missing the feeling of having a badge on my chest, this time around I am experiencing absolutely none of that sadness. Instead of being sad that I just finished my mission, I'm happy that I survived this round of finals!

Food. I woke up this morning to one of my dad's famous american breakfasts; last night some kind neighbors brought over delicious chocolate chip cookies. It should only get better from here.

Music. This December has probably been one of the most musical months of my life, peaking the Sunday before last (sacrament meeting musical numbers + MTC Men's Chorus Christmas concert) and continuing on earlier this evening (family Christmas hymns and jamming with my sister and mom).

Peace. As Christmas draws near (and New Years after it), I tend to reflect on both the past and the future, conversing with God about each of them in turn. I can't help but feel peace as hindsight's clear lens shows me how God has directed my life to bring me where I am and hope's bright light illuminates a wonderful world of possibilities ahead.

Christ. I am overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude as I think about how God would send His only begotten Son to die for me. He knows how much I need His help, and has done so, so much to be able to give it to me; His love and mercy make me want to sing His praises and never stop.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Giving Thanks

I had this really great idea last week that a blog post about all the things I'm grateful for would be a fantastic way to start off Thanksgiving. I figured it would not only help me feel grateful for all the great things I have, but also help me remember why I have them (or better said, thanks to who I have them). Before I had figured out what was happening Thanksgiving morning my running shoes were on my feet and I was out the door, writing forgotten, so that didn't happen quite according to plan. However, maybe it's for the best, because I've had two full days to reflect on how wonderful my life is whilst nibbling on pie and making funny faces at my niece. 

And so I present to you (in no particular order) a few of the many wonderful things that are going on in my life right now. 

  • Job: When Peggy Noonan spoke last week at a BYU forum, she said that her jobs with Presidents Reagan and Bush, Sr. were "an unmitigated blessing in her life," from which she had grown and benefited greatly. That is exactly how I feel about my job right now--it is an unmitigated blessing. It's fun, it's interesting, it's experience that will help me all my life. I can't help but be grateful for that. 
  • Roommates: Coming back from my mission, I didn't know any guys who weren't (1) still on missions of their own or (2) not going to BYU. So, I didn't put in any specific roommate requests, and got put in a random apartment at the luck of the draw. I'm grateful that my roommates are reasonably orderly, good men, who are also welcoming and accepting of the new guy. 
  • Car: I got used to taking the bus in Chile, and was ready to tackle the Utah bus system as soon as I got home. However, it turned out that I didn't have to--my beloved Mazda 626 gives me more freedom than even the bus system would have. 
  • Running shoes: My mom convinced me to get a pair of fairly decent running shoes (instead of my usual 10-dollar Walmart sneakers). I realized how much I would enjoy having them at the same time I realized that it gets really cold in the early morning (when I have time to run), and going barefoot is not a (pleasant) option. This has enabled some fairly awesome runs. 
  • Old friends: I always joked around with my mission companions that getting home would be like opening a new area--I'd have to build a friend base from the ground up, putting to use all my missionary skillz like "talk to everyone" and "ask for references." However, thanks to good old friends, it hasn't been quite like that. More like... well, like seeing old friends after two years in a foreign country!
  • New friends: I enjoy people. Meeting new people is one of my favorite past-times. God has put a lot of really cool new people into my life, people who I've learned from and whose company I have enjoyed. 
  • Studio C: I don't understand quite how it happened, but somebody got the idea in the last few years to form a clever, clean comedy group that just so happens to jive almost perfectly with my sense of humor. Win. 
  • Academic success: When I stepped into the classroom for the first math class of the semester, I had trouble remembering what a derivative was. It was scary. A few weeks ago, I actually walked out of the testing center after a math test smiling. That's a change I'm grateful for. 
  • Family, part 1: My sister and brother-in-law not only live in the same state that I do, they're only forty minutes away. I'm thankful for Sunday dinners, evening chats, and getting to play with my niece (just look at these pictures and tell me she isn't the cutest little girl in the world, will you?) almost every week. 
  • Family, part 2: In spite of a random rash of concussions this summer, the rest of my family is alive and well in Oregon, and I get to call them on the phone and talk to them any time the fancy strikes me. That's nice. 
  • Family, part 3: My cousin Kate deserves a shout-out here. She knows why she's awesome.
  • Music: Along with ward choir, playing the tin whistle on stormy nights, and random piano jam sessions, I get to sing in the BYU Men's Chorus this year. I feel privileged to spend a lot of time making (and listening to) really cool music. 
  • Prayer: Oddly enough, the interesting, challenging, and sometimes frustrating parts of life didn't stop coming when I was released as a missionary (although I will admit that they changed nature quite a bit-- stray dogs are no longer a problem). However, every time I go to my Father in prayer, He gives me His guidance, He assures me that it's going to turn out alright, and He surrounds me with His love.
  • The Book of Mormon: A lot of the time, God's guidance and assurance comes through music. However, God's most frequently-used tool to talk to me is definitely this book. I love it. It's amazing. You should read it. 
  • The Atonement: After everything else, (and before everything else, and over everything else, and through and because of and causing everything else), I am grateful that my Savior Jesus Christ came and offered His life for me. He lifts me up, redeems me, cleanses me, empowers me, and makes everything I do worthwhile. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Machiavelli, Mussolini, and Lincoln

This morning after I got out of my chemistry class, I headed over to the library to study. I was about to turn up the staircase to head to my usual 5th floor study spot, but I decided on a whim to turn down the stairs to go check out the new Reading Room on the second floor. I was pleased to find a beautiful faux fireplace, a couple of comfy couches, and a small shelf of books marked “World Classics: A Sampling of Important World Literature.”

I started looking through the World Classics, and my eye was drawn to a work that I have always wanted to read—one that has intrigued me in the same way that Stalin intrigued me in the 12th grade. That is, Machiavelli’s “The Prince.”

After reading through the introduction (by the translator) and prelude (by Mussolini), I began to think about another important political document, one whose anniversary we recently celebrated—Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. I would now like to share some thoughts that I have had while comparing and contrasting the two.

“One day I happened to be informed… of the gift of a sword engraved with the saying of Machiavelli: ‘States are not maintained with words’.” Thus begins Benito Mussolini’s prelude to Nicco Machiavelli’s “The Prince.” He goes on to explain how Machiavelli’s analysis of politics really boils down to a proper understanding of human nature. Quoting several of Machiavelli’s works, he states, “One can make this generalization about men: they are ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceivers.” And, “Men never do anything good unless forced to, but where liberty abounds and where there is freedom everything immediately falls into confusion and disarray.”

He goes on to explain how history, both pre- and post-Machiavellian, has given proof of these facts. He explains that the implications of man’s base nature are that government by the people cannot work, and will always result in anarchy. He finishes by saying, “Regimes based completely on consent have never existed, do not exist, and probably never will exist.”

I have to say, I really agree with Mussolini (never thought you would hear me say that, did you?). I believe that the nature of us humans is to be ungrateful, to be fickle, to lie, and to deceive. I believe this is true based on my own study of history and literature, my interactions with others, and my own heart.

However, I believe that both Machiavelli and Mussolini were ignorant of—or ignored—one crucial fact: That man is not ruled by his nature alone. We have in us a spirit, a bit of something heavenly, that is not governed by earthly rules or tendencies. That spirit is not ungrateful and fickle, but noble. It is not a liar or a deceiver; rather, it seeks truth and honesty above all else.

Inside of each man, and in larger measure inside of each country, there is a sort of struggle between these two forces—the natural and the spiritual, the carnal and the heavenly.

The fact that this struggle exists raises the question: were Mussolini and Machiavelli before him wrong when they said that democracy, or government based on consent, is simply not possible? I believe Lincoln asks this same question in his famous Address.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure…

And now I repeat Lincoln’s great interrogative. Can such a nation endure?

Yes. It can. It has.

Our nation has endured. It hasn’t endured perfectly, I’ll admit—we’ve had some bumps and bruises along the way. There may be many things about our history, and the current state of the country and its government, that we don’t agree with (and note that this is a politically neutral comment, because everyone, no matter what their political leanings, disagrees with something).

But the bottom line is that the United States of America has continued to operate under the constitution penned by the founding fathers for the last 206 years. The higher, spiritual part of us has won out over the natural part enough to keep this country alive and thriving.

In the words of Gandalf, “And that is an encouraging thought.”

Now, to return to the last part of Lincoln’s Address.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
So, that’s what it comes down to. Machiavelli, Mussolini, and Lincoln are all dead and gone now. It is up to us, each and every one of us, to make sure our spirit wins out over our nature, so that our country can have a “new birth of freedom;” to prove to Machiavelli, to Mussolini, to Lincoln, to ourselves, and to those who will come after us that our nation, conceived and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, can, and will, endure.

Non-MLA citations:
“The Prince,” Machiavelli. Translation by George Bull.
“The Gettysburg Address,” Abraham Lincoln.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Last: August 5, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

Yes, this is the last letter I will be sending from the mission field. I´ll try to make it a good one.

Saturday morning we spent in a service project with the Elders Quorum. We went over to a plot of land owned by the Z family, recent converts that really exemplify what a convert to the church should be like. We cleared away some weeds for them, but lest you think that I´m talking about a little bit of weeding like in the garden out back, these weeds were bigger than cars. We attacked them with shovels, picks, and poles, and then carried away the branches and threw them into a little ravine. When we finished, my arms were all scratched up from carrying branches, but it was a ton of fun.

The other cool thing we did this week was a tour of the chapel with a local preschool. We were walking through the street one day when a lady approached us and asked if she could take her preschool to see the chapel, they came with a couple members of the church who helped out in the tour. It was quite fun, and they all loved the baptismal font.

On Monday, we had a fantastic Family Home Evening with three families from the ward plus JC and J. They talked about testimony, and J got to share her powerful spiritual experience with the whole room.

This week we also taught about the Word of Wisdom, and J told us that she smoked. She now has gone about 3 days without smoking (3 1/2 already), and is excited to be baptized this next Saturday.

Yesterday was JC's baptism. It was probably the most reverent, spiritual baptismal service I´ve ever seen, and it was really a privilege to be there. After changing clothes, JC got up to the pulpit and said, "today I signed a contract with God. And I´ll keep it." I thought about how he almost rejected us the first time we saw him, and how much he had changed and softened his heart since then. What a miracle!

So this next week we will be working to help J and her daughter Ja be ready for baptism. I will be giving it all my heart, might, mind, and strength, and thanking God for this wonderful, cherished opportunity to serve. What a blessing my mission has been, and will yet be to me.

I know this work is true. For these two years, I have been a representative of Jesus Christ, carrying His name and doing His work. I know that it will continue on until it is finished, and I hope then to be there waiting to welcome Christ as He comes in glory.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, July 29, 2013

July 29, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

We were sitting here in the internet café peacefully writing letters a few moments ago, when suddenly our bishop called. "Elders! The church is flooded!" We ran over to discover that, after the beautiful baptismal service yesterday, nobody turned off the water in the font. About half of the chapel had water on the floor, including the bishop´s office and the secretary, where the carpet will have to be changed. We had a fun few hours cleaning water out with brooms, I´ll attach some pictures.

This Friday we had a fun activity based on Lehi´s dream of the tree of life and the iron rod, but with a missionary twist. In order to start their journey down the iron rod, everybody had to answer a missionary question--would you give a copy of the Book of Mormon to a curious friend? Invite a neighbor to receive the missionaries? It was a fun experience.

All week long, we have been participating in the miraculous conversion of J and JC. J was completely convinced that she should be baptized after feeling the spirit in the Chapel, and JC also began to feel that way after he noticed how much more peace he felt after attending church (then he read five chapters of the Book of Mormon more than we had marked out for him, and finished saying, "this really has to be God´s word.") Several families of members from this area have also had important parts in the experience--The Z family, converts of 10 months, came with us when we taught about the restoration. Their powerful testimony brought a great spirit to the room.

I am immensely grateful to be here in this place, doing this work. I don´t have a single doubt that it is God´s work.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

July 22, 2013

Editor's Note: Just realized I never posted this, so better late than never.

Dear Mom and Dad,

During interchanges this week I got to go to Vicuña, a city about an hour away from La Serena towards the interior (the attached picture is a dam about halfway between Serena and Vicuña). The strange thing about Vicuña is, even though we are in the middle of winter here in south america, in Vicuña it was so warm that people were walking around with shorts and tshirts! Quite a strange experience, but I liked it.

A few months ago, President Kähnlein challenged us to visit the recent converts in whatever ward we were in, even if we weren´t the missionaries who were there when they were baptized. So, this last week we started visiting D and C, who were baptized in October. What an amazing family, they are what every single convert to the church should be--they live all of the commandments, are faithfully fulfilling their callings, and are always ready to serve and to learn. As they told their conversion story, how it is that the missionaries came to their lives, the prayers that they said to be able to accept the restored gospel, the changes they had to make, and the blessings they received, I felt an immense love and gratitude for them--I imagined that they were some other missionary´s JC, or F, or Y, and seeing them doing so well just filled me with joy. Then, I thought, this is probably how God feels about his faithful converts. I said so, and suddenly the room was full of more light, love, and contentment than I can describe. It was like He was saying, "no, this is how I feel about my converts." I think we all cried a bit.

We met a lady named J, the next-door neighbor of an older family of members. When she first came to the door she just wanted us to go away, saying that she was old and sick and didn´t feel good. We offered her a blessing, and she accepted--the next door neighbors were happy to provide their house. As we sat down with them, Brother M said, "I just love it when the missionaries come to visit us!" His attitude towards us really made a difference in J, who said, "Oh no, I really messed up, didn´t I--you guys are missionaries, and I was treating you terribly!" She very humbly received the blessing and said that she would love to meet with us again.

And, one more story about the importance of the members in missionary work. Last week, we were just stepping out of lunch when the phone rang. A sister from another ward said that her daughter had talked to a man named JC in Home Depot (well, the Chilean equivalent) who really needed the gospel in his life, and gave us his address. We went by to see him, and he came out the door and said, "hey, I really don´t know what you are doing here, because I have another religion and am not interested in anything you have to say." We explained that we just wanted to know when we could come by and visit him with the delightful sister he met in Home Depot, and he consented. That second visit was extraordinary. The sister who talked to JC came with her mother, who had called us last week. Their love and joy just lit up the room as they lovingly explained, first, who they were, and second, who we were, opening up the way for us to share a message of the plan of salvation. Everyone felt the spirit, and JC and his daughter J came to church yesterday. Apart from that, Jenny came to our English classes on Saturday. Afterward we gave her a tour of the church. We showed off the classrooms, the baptismal font, the paintings, the cultural hall, and finally the chapel. We stood in the chapel silently for about a minute, and, suddenly, J began to cry. After recovering, she said, "I´ve never felt anything like this before, I don´t know what is happening." We invited her to pray and ask if she should be baptized. She did so, then said, "This is the place for me. I can feel it."

What a miracle. I believe that members, missionaries, and the Holy Ghost make for the best combination there is. What a great work.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

July 15, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

I had an interchange this week with Elder Nick Larsen, as we were conversing about BYU it came out that he knows Marcy Badham--small world! So, a big hi to cousin Marcy from Elder Larsen and Elder Ray.

As promised, this week I want to write a little bit more about the people I have met here in La Serena. During this same interchange, I met a recent convert named E. She was baptized just a few months ago, and recently went through a separation with her husband of several years (he is also a recent convert, and thankfully neither of them has weakened their faith because of the separation. If anything, they are stronger now than they were before). She told us that, every Sunday at 5:50 or 6:00 in the morning, she wakes up and cannot get back to sleep because of the simple anticipation and excitement to go to church that day. What a great habit, and what great faith!

Back in our ward, we went by this week to meet the Y family. R Y, the mom, came back to church on her own about a year ago. Since then her two older children and three nieces and nephews have also been baptized. We were sharing with these youth (ages 11-16) when, suddenly, a few neighborhood friends dropped by. Then, one by one, the fathers of the other children came in, then the grandpa of all of them, then the older sister who still hasn´t been baptized. We started the lesson teaching 5 people, and ended it teaching about 12! It was a lot of fun, and I hope that this family continues coming unto God as they have been up to this point.

Two sisters, las Hermanas M, are leaving tomorrow for their respective missions in Colombia and Ecuador. They gave really amazing talks on Sunday, and begged the ward to help their father (a recent convert) and their sister (a less active member) so that, when they get back from their missions, they can be sealed together as a family. What a beautiful experience.

One family that I really enjoy is the R family. They are one of the seven less-active families that the ward is focusing in on right now, so we went by to meet them and see how we could help them. Everybody in the family is a member, but only one of the four is completely active, and one more is slightly active. We watched a really old video about the plan of salvation with them, and talked a little bit about their personal plan. They decided that they need to get back to church, I´m excited to keep helping them (the movie we watched was called "On the Way Home," I first saw it here on my mission. It´s quite excellent for anybody that wants to look it up.)

We are currently helping a sister named P to get ready for baptism. She has been listening to the missionaries, and going to the Relief Society activities, for three years, but hasn´t been able to be baptized because she lives with a man she is not married to. But, when we started talking to her (and her five year old daughter A, who is a ton of fun), she decided that she is going to move out of the house until her boyfriend decides to propose to her. More news as the plot develops.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Thursday, July 11, 2013

July 8, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

First things first--I had cambios! I am no longer in Quillota, and actually, I´ve gone about as far away as you can go in this mission. I´ve left Chile´s fifth region and am now in La Serena, a place I had heard about all my mission but never imagined that I would be sent to. I´m rather ecstatic to be here, even though I will miss Quillota and all of the people that I knew there. The ward I am in, Serena 4, is rather incredible. I saw this because, all throughout my mission, I have noticed things in the wards I have been in that aren´t done right, or that should be done better, and resolved to impliment them if I were ever in a possition to do so (like, if I were called to be ward mission leader). Well, I got here to Serena 4 and on my second day here met the bishop. He explained to me what the ward is doing right now, and named every single one of the changes that I have thought of, from a plan to take new converts to the temple in the first 3 months to a missionary correlation meeting with representatives from all of the organizations. In other words, this ward is great!

But, first off, a few words about the ward I left.

We said goodbye to the M family (pictures included, including one of them while I use C´s hair to give her a mustache--a favorite pastime of mine) and taught them about enduring to the end. We also gave them a picture of their baptism, hymnals, and triple combinations, which they were quite excited to receive. It was a good lesson, and I was very happy to see how committed they are to keep going on.

We went by to see the Ma family, and saw a video about a family much like theirs (a few less active members who returned to church, a few recent converts) who then made it to the temple, and the great joy that they felt. With tears in their eyes, they said to me that they would make it there, that they would make it to the temple.

Wednesday night, after learning that I would be going to La Serena but while waiting for the bus to leave (we had about a 5 hour wait), I went out to the streets of Viña with another Elder to talk to people in the street and give out copies of the Book of Mormon. After several hours of work, we met a man named Victor smoking outside of his house. He explained his life story to us, how he had recently suffered an accident that could end up with the loss of his arm and his employment; he talked about how worried he was for his family, and as we started testifying of the truth of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Ghost to lead and guide him, he told us, "I feel different. I don´t feel so worried now." We gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon, and the next day the missionaries from Viña went by, and he said that he would like to be baptized. Just another demonstration--God has already prepared people to receive the gospel, and he knows where they are. So wherever we may be, we just need to open our mouths!

We´ve had some pretty miraculous experiences here in La Serena as well, but I´m now out of time, so I´ll have to wait until next week to tell you all about them.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

July 1, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

Last week I wrote that JC got in yet another accident (and none of the three were his fault). He is still waiting to see if he will be fired from his job right now, but he told us the other day that he already has another job in sight. "L (his wife) has a friend whose husband is a recruiter for work in the mines. So, if she tells him to let someone in, he usually does so and they get a job."
"And what would you be working in in the mines?" We asked.
"They asked me if I know how to drive."
We laughed a good five minutes for that one as we imagined JC´s fourth accident, with one of the gigantic, larger-than-life dump trucks used in the Chilean mines.

We taught M and her granddaughter again this week (a few weeks had gone by since we had seen them, M has been going to church in another city with her sister since January). We watched the 20-minute movie of the Restoration, and then talked about the Book of Mormon and how to pray and receive and answer by the Holy Ghost that it is true. F, M´s granddaughter, seemed really eager to pray and ask--I am excited to see how she and her grandma receive an answer.

We also taught a fantastic lesson about the Restoration with E, an elderly lady that we got to know by way of her sister, who is a member of the church. After Elder J told the story of the first vision, how Joseph Smith prayed to know which church is true and was visited by God and Jesus Christ, she started crying and said, "That is so incredible! I´m so glad to know that there is a true church here on the earth!" I think that is how everybody in the world should react to this message... due to her age she has difficultly walking and didn´t make it to church this week, but I´m sure she will in the coming weeks.

After one lesson this week, P and D took a few minutes to express to us just how committed and happy they are to change their lives and follow Jesus Christ. They compared the joy and light that they are feeling/learning now with the darkness and sadness that they have recently had to pass through, and bore their testimonies of God´s reality and love for us. When we finished our lesson with a prayer, D said, "I always wish that we could keep on talking about God, I feel so good when you are here teaching us!"

One really beautiful experience that we have had in these last few weeks has to do with Hermana L, who has been less-active for about 10 years (she and her ex husband live apart, he and their two older sons are active whereas she and the two younger daughters were not). I heard about this sister in my first week here, from a neighbor who is also a member of the church. I never really thought much of it, until finally, about a month ago, I started feeling like we should go by and visit her. So we went, got to know the half of the family we didn´t know, and set up a visit. Two weeks passed by, we kept visiting and teaching them, without really knowing if we would end up seeing any change because of our visits. To be honest, I felt rather lost during some of the lessons, confident that the spirit knew what it was doing and why we were teaching what we were talking about, but unable to see the bigger picture myself. Finally, this last week, we taught a great lesson about how important it is to learn about God, and we finished off inviting them to attend an activity we had planned for that weekend, and to attend church the next day. Hermana L started out saying that she had been inactive for 10 years, that she had met many missionaries and that none of them had convinced her to return to the church. Then she paused and said, "but maybe the time has come to come back to church." She said that she felt the spirit during our visits, and that she had been especially touched because we had done kneeling prayers with the family. The entire family, mom, dad, and all four kids, went to church yesterday. (they took up almost as much space as our family does!)

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

June 24, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

What a blessedly amazing week. I believe yesterday was probably one of the best days of my life, and this whole week has taken on a rosy glow in my mind.

First off, I ate grits this week for the first time in almost 2 years (it´s called polenta in spanish, they eat it in Argentina, too, but I don´t think it´s very common here in Chile. But, Elder Robustelli found some and we had a delicious, memory-filled meal).

We got to teach E a little bit about the plan of salvation this week. When we showed him that we lived before with God, that we really are his children, he got teary-eyed. And wrote down all the scriptures we had used on a pad of paper--what a desire to know the truth!

We had a couple amazing lessons with P and D, his girlfriend (and mother of 2 of his children, they have 4 children between the two of them, 2 shared). We talked about the iron rod and the tree of life, P is really determined to be like Nephi and not like Laman and Lemuel. He went to church on Sunday, he got there about an hour late, but wow--he made it! And to think that just a few short months ago he was so caught up in the things of the world that he didn´t even come out to answer the door when we knocked.

JC got in another accident, his third in less than 6 months--and none of them has been his fault. It is interesting, every time he is about to make an important decision in his life, he gets in an accident--before receiving an answer that the Book of Mormon is true, before baptism, and now, before receiving the Aaronic Priesthood. But, he is doing fine (and walking), and was able to receive the Priesthood this Sunday.

Hermano R brought a projector and a HUGE sound system to this week´s ward activity (remember, we started doing Family Home Evening in the chapel every week--picture attached). It was a huge hit, we watched the video of the Restoration on it, and I think he got a big kick out of helping out with the sound system, too.

Yesterday, as the bishop began sacrament meeting, the M family walked in. My jaw about hit the floor, because the entire family came, 9 year old C who was baptized a few months ago, her older brother and sister (the brother hadn´t gone since I got there), and mom and dad (mom started going to church again when we started visiting, but dad hadn´t gone in more than a year). To make things better, almost the entire ward was reorganized, and O, a kind of active member that we have been working with, was called as the new Young Men president. He is excited to get to work, and I think the miracle of responsibility in the church is about to play it´s part in him.

As wonderfully great as church was, the best part of yesterday was, without a doubt, the broadcast of the leadership meeting talking about "The Work of Salvation." It was a beautiful meeting, absolutely inspirational, and I´m quite excited for the direction missionary work is taking (more work with members, using Facebook to do proselyting (which will happen after I leave, but still, it´s really neat), working with the Ward Mission Leader). And I was moved to tears by one of the videos, as an entire family worked to share the gospel, from the return-missionary father who lovingly looked at his name badge pinned onto the cover of his scriptures to the 7 year old boy who invited his best friend from school, and his family, to his baptism. What an inspiration!

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Thursday, June 20, 2013

June 17, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

First off, happy father´s day! I hope it was a wonderful day.

This last weekend, we started off with the first of what should be a never-ending series of ward activities on Saturday afternoon. Not a lot of people showed up, but we sure had a blast with those who came. First off we had a wonderful lesson talking about God and his love, then we played games (pictionary, telephone, sharades) for a good hour. One of the sisters who came brought home-made little cakes called calzones rotos (broken underwear). We all ate way too many. We´re hoping that more people will start coming to this activity in the future, and that it can help bring the ward together, creating more unity and fellowship for everyone.

We had an amazing lesson with E talking about baptism. He goes down in my books as the most interested investigator I have ever taught, not only did he ask good questions, but he wrote down every single scripture we shared, including page number, on a little pad of paper to study later. When we finished, he said, "that really makes a lot of sense. I had never understood these verses before, but they are really clear to me now!"

Early in the week, we talked to an older man out in the street--he let us go by and see him in his house a few days later. And so we met P, 73 years old, who was a trucker (and heavy smoker) for over 40 years and now, as a result, can hardly walk. But, he wants to follow Jesus Christ, and apart from his great sense of humor, understands the scriptures marvelously.

We´ve been visiting A and Y these past few weeks, Y was baptized in October after attending church for 5 years (the time it took for A´s divorce to go through so that they could get married). We went by this week to teach about tithing, but I think they taught us--Y said that they had trouble paying tithing when her husband lost his job (a few months ago), but that they repented and were paying it now; she said that they have felt a huge peace and tranquility and have felt sure that A would find a new job, and that blessings have come from unexpected places to help them get along--a friend who works picking tomatoes gave them so many that they had to give some away to other family members, Y´s father got a job in a bread store and brings home bread, etc. After leaving their house, I wanted to go out and get a job right then and there so that I could pay tithing!

Pa, who we have taught for almost 5 months, who last week surprised me by how changed he was, was pretty down when we went by to see him yesterday. He had a fight with his brothers (about money), and felt like, in spite of how hard he has been working to help his family and keep them going along, nobody appreciates his efforts or even understands how hard he has been working. We talked to him about the wise man and the foolish man, how he had tried to build a 2 story house on a foundation of sand, and how it came down on top of him. After he realized that he needed to change his life, really change it, and start following God, he said one of the sweetest, most honest prayers I´ve ever heard in my life. After he finished he was almost crying.

I sure do love this work.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

June 10, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

Funny story to start out--this Friday we had a leadership counsel in Viña del Mar. We ate lunch next to Elder G, and he and Elder R (my two companions who have been with me for the most time, almost 5 months each) started gossiping about me--but I was right there next to them! "Does he still get sunscreen in his eyes and start crying?" "Yeah, and he wears that funny band on his head when he plays sports!" "And don´t even mention when he falls down playing soccer..." It was quite funny.

On Saturday we went to another ward to help out with an activity. The ward, with a lot of help from the sister missionaries there, put together a "Tree of Life" setup, with an iron rod that everybody had to hold onto to get to the destination. Our job was to tempt everybody to let go of the iron rod, inviting them to eat cookies, help us set up chairs, or anything else to get them to let go. It was surprising, of the 30 people that started off on the iron rod, only 6 made it to the tree of life. It was a sobering, and, hopefully, inspiring message.

We had lunch with the G family, one of the pioneer families here in Chile. Hermana G told us a little bit about what her testimony means for her, and then explained how she applies it in her life. She said that, last year, she and her visiting teaching companion visited 17-18 people per month--the families that she was assigned to visit, plus the families that 3 other companionships were assigned to visit, but whose visiting teachers never did so. Now, Hermana G is almost 80 years old, doesn´t see very well, has had 35 surgeries for different health issues, and has so much constant muscle pain in her joints, hands, and feet that her doctors have said they would understand it if she never even got out of bed. And yet, she visits 18 families a month! What an inspiring example of faithfulness and Christlike service.

This week in English classes, I met E. E met the missionaries because of his brother, Es, who was recently baptized in the ward next door. He started going to English classes, and this last week we went by and visited him in his home for the first time. He is a really exceptional person--hardworking, dedicated and loving--with a small family, his wife and his year-and-a-half old daughter (possibly the most adorable little girl I´ve ever met). E lost his job several weeks ago, and recently got a new job that pays him much less. To make ends meet, his wife started working as well (she doesn´t make much money, either). Because they are both working, their angelic daughter has to live with one of her grandmothers in a town an hour away from Quillota, and they only get to see her on weekends. Meeting this family absolutely broke my heart, but gave me hope, as well, that as they learn about Christ and come unto Him, He will bless them with a better job so that their beautiful family can be united again.

Last week I wrote about how P, C´s brother, gave us hope and showed us that our efforts to teach him had not been wasted, even though sometimes we felt that he wasn´t progressing at all. This week confirmed that hope. P is very centered on God, is trying to change his life/home/environment to focus everything on Him, and agreed to read a chapter in the Book of Mormon and come to a ward activity that we are planning this weekend. He really is a miracle case, because we learned very quickly with him that nothing that we could do, would actually make a difference. But he has changed, a difference has been made, so it must be God´s hand working this miracle!

One of the most beautiful experience for me, as a missionary, is the following. In some teaching situation, with members, recent converts, or investigators, somebody asks a difficult questions, something that has been troubling them and that they need an answer to. I open a copy of the Book of Mormon, and my fingers move to find a passage that I didn´t know I remembered, something that I studied that morning or last month or three years ago. I see the doubt begin to be transformed into understanding in this person´s eyes--another question comes, and the Spirit moves my hands to find another answer, not in my own words, but in God´s holy words in the Book of Mormon. A light turns on, questions are answered, and a powerful witness from the Holy Ghost confirms the truth learned. I think situations like this are some of the most powerful witnesses, for me, that God is working through us as missionaries.

I am so grateful to be a representative of Jesus Christ. When I think about what a privilege and responsibility it it, I am awe-struck and amazed.

This work is true.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, June 3, 2013

June 3, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

I had another trip to La Ligua this last week--it is funny, every time I think that I´ve already finished up my work there, I get sent on another interchange and end up doing something else that was missing. This trip, I got to do two fun things--teach and invite M, who I found when I was there a year ago and who was baptized a few months back, to endure to the end; and teach A and R, a less active family that I taught once or twice, and commit them to read the scriptures, attend church, accept and fulfill callings. It was really a blast. Another great experience during interchanges--while we were planning out the days work, I grabbed a ward directory, and saw a name there (C) that I had heard when I was there, that I had even looked for, but who I had never met. Something about it bothered me, or caught my attention, so I wrote down the name and address. Later on, as we were walking through the street, we said hi to a man who replied, "hey, why don´t you come visit me?" I said, "because we haven´t met you yet. What´s your name?" "Hermano C." I think my jaw probably hit the ground. We set up a visit for later that week.

Several times this week, we have taught I and her daughter C, members who are recently returning to the church after a time of inactivity (10 months for IS, several years for C). It really is wonderful seeing them take back up the habits that they once had, including scripture study, Family Home Evening, and church attendance. Actually, this last Saturday we didn´t have anybody signed up for lunch, and on extremely short notice, IS volunteered and prepared us a delicious meal, assuring us that she would always be available if we didn´t have somebody to eat lunch with. This Sunday, IS stepped out of the bishops office with her eyes shining. "Elder Ray!" she said to me, "I´m not too far off from being able to enter into the temple again!"

Saturday night was the "religious recognition" of JC and L´s wedding. It was a beautiful, impromptu service (we didn´t have anything planned until about 15 minutes before the bride got there), including remarks from the bishop, L´s brother in law, and a special musical number of Families Can Be Together Forever. They were both in tears by the end, absolutely full of happiness.

After the "wedding" ended (it wasn´t really a wedding because they had already been married several weeks before), R, a young woman in the ward who is preparing to serve a mission in a few months more, came up and asked me for some advice. She said that her mom had taken her to a medium the day before to have her hand read and her future told. This medium told her that she shouldn´t serve a mission, and she was rather confused and distraught. I showed her in the Book of Mormon 1) that we should trust in God rather than in mediums or wizards, and 2) that anything that invites us to do good and follow Christ is of God, while anything that entices us not to serve Christ is not of God, but of the devil. She seemed a lot calmer after that.

Side note, one of the things I absolutely cherish about being a missionary is the God-given ability to answer people´s questions with the Book of Mormon. Helping people find the truth using the Book of Mormon is one of the most beautiful experiences I know of, and I am very glad that my parents and seminary teachers always invited me to read it, over and over again--I´m sure that is part of the reason why I can teach from it now.

Sunday night, with only a half hour left before we would have to return to our apartment, our last appointment fell through and we were deciding what to do. I had a really insistent impression that we should go visit R. When we got there, Elder R suggested that, after singing "I´ll Go Where You Want Me to Go," each one of us share a favorite missionary scripture. The spirit there was very strong and clear, and after we finished, R thanked us and said that, even though she had received a strong and clear answer that she had to serve a mission, she had doubted, but that now she was absolutely sure that that was the right choice. I´m sure she will be an excellent missionary, and I´m glad we could help her out a bit.

Another wonderful experience I had following the spirit this last week was the following. This last week, San Pedro was opened, and two sisters entered in to start their missionary labors (one of them is Hermana G, Elder G´s sister (Elder G was my companion for almost five months in El Mirador)). The first week was hard for them, and they didn´t find anybody who was willing to listen to their message. I remembered how hard the first week was in Quintero, with Elder S, and a passage of Doctrine and Covenants that helped us to recognize that we really did have to be there, in spite of how hard it was. It says something like, ´and thus it was convenient unto Me and ye have come here for the salvation of souls.´ I decided to call and share this passage with Hermana G. After I did so, she said, "thank you, I think you just answered my afternoon´s prayer."

I am so grateful for the guidance of the Holy Ghost. A life without the Holy Ghost would be like a life without sunlight. Now, I´m hoping and praying that this same Holy Ghost will help us to find people to teach. Your prayers are all appreciated as well!

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

May 27, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

First off, I´m sure you are all dying to know if I had changes this last week. Drumroll... I´m still here in Quillota! What is more, I´m still with Elder R, this will be our third change together and we´re pretty excited, we work really well together. We did have a bit of change, though, we are now with Elder J, from Peru--his companion went home early, leaving him alone, and he will be here with us until future notice.

So, yesterday was JC's baptism. It was a beautiful experience, even though the devil was working until the very last moment to keep him from getting baptized. First the key broke off in the font door--the bishop opened it with a knife. Then the light didn´t want to turn on--after a few moments waiting it lighted up. Last off, the font only filled halfway up, and I needed all of the biceps I´ve gotten lifting weights with Elder R to bring him down almost to the floor and then bring him up again. But, in spite of the opposition, it was a beautiful service and JC is glowing with light.

We met a member named E this week, an older lady that we hadn´t visited before. We had a really beautiful conversation, I learned a ton in the half-hour we spent with her. She is a person that really glows with light and happiness--just by looking at her, you can tell that she lives the gospel how it is meant to be lived. She told us about her trips to Europe, showed us her Book of Mormon collection in eight languages, and encouraged us not to change, not to do things differently just because somebody tells us to, because when you are close to God, somebody will always come along and try to pull you away.

We also taught a man named J this week. He was baptized as a young man, now he is sixty-something and years and years have passed since he went to church. He started off telling us that he only got baptized because the missionaries were nice, but as we kept conversing with him, we realized that he really did have a testimony, he read the Book of Mormon, prayed about it, and got an answer from God. It was his long inactive span that weakened his testimony to the point that he forgot that he, at one time, had it. But, we invited him to read and pray once again, and I am confident that he will receive an answer.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, May 20, 2013

May 20, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

I felt like spiderman a few days ago, we were walking down the street towards and appointment when we saw F up on his roof with a few big tarps. We asked him if he needed help, he said sure, so we hopped up on his roof and helped him nail a few tarps on to keep the recent rain from getting into his house.

C threw out her boyfriend. This is a very, very good thing, actually--this last sunday she went to church, and when she got home he wanted to fight with her for having gone. It got physical, so she told him to get out and called the police. He broke in the next day to steal a few things, but thankfully they haven´t seen him since then. Since C started living with her boyfriend again a few months ago, not only did she stop going to church, she also stopped reading the scriptures and praying, and started drinking, smoking, and smoking marijuana. This week she stopped drinking and smoking and started reading the scriptures and praying again. The only thing she hasn´t been able to get rid of is the marijuana, it´s a pretty nasty drug and all of your prayers for her are appreciated.

Last week in our monthly meeting with President, we learned a lot about how to better teach repentance, something that we had not been doing with enough depth or commitment. This last week, while sharing with the V family (including the Sunday School and Gospel Doctrine teachers), we decided to try out everything we had learned. What followed was an incredibly spiritual lesson, in which the Gospel Doctrine teacher, who had decided to ask the bishop to release her, changed her mind and decided that she could, with Christ´s help, keep fulfilling her calling. I was amazed to see the real power of repentance in anybody´s life.

JC and LE were married this Saturday. It was a beautiful service, they both joked a bit before saying "I do," and I was very touched to receive a public acknowledgement for having helped them to make the choice to get married. A few days earlier, we finished up teaching JC all of the missionary lessons. We all started talking about God´s plan, His hand, and how incredibly he directs us and puts us where we need to be, and I had a really clear, wonderful moment, in which I realized that I had to come here, to this mission, to this ward, to find, teach, and help JC. I am so grateful to have felt this so clearly, and hope to keep working hard in order to find and help anybody else who is our here waiting for me.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May 13, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

It was great to see you all yesterday. I really enjoyed the skype call, and am amazed at how much the kids have grown!

We had an interesting week, with a couple setbacks and a couple big advances, too. The first big setback--Ir, who has gone to church the last few weeks and was preparing herself to be baptized with her daughter Ch, had a boyfriend a few years ago. Well, he moved back in, and Ir hasn´t received us back in her house since he got there. We are hoping things change, or that we can help her feel once again what she had been feeling in the past few weeks.

Second setback--JC and LE are getting married this next weekend. JC should be almost ready to be baptized, but it has now been two months since he has gone to church, and a months since LE went. They still haven´t quite recognized that it´s not ok to stay at home, to say it like that, and I would ask for all of your prayers that they can get over this slump and get completely active in the church (and that JC can get baptized).

The first big advance was with C. She hadn´t gone to church in two months, but this last week we had a really powerful lesson. She realized the dangerous position she was in, that she had started drifting away from God by accident, and that she needed to act fast to correct her course and not end up really, really bad in a few weeks more. We were able to give her a blessing of counsel and comfort, I think that helped a lot, and the ward member who baptized her accompanied us in a visit to talk to her and help her wake up her testimony. She Made it to church yesterday! She didn´t stay all 3 hours, but she was there, and that was a big deal.

The other big advance was with S, a friend of C that we met in her house. For the first time ever, we went by to see S in her own house, and she told us a little bit about her life. She said that she doesn´t want to keep going in the same direction her life is going in right now, that she wants to change, give up smoking and drinking and come unto Christ. She came to church, too--which was a big help to C to come--and is already reading anxiously to find out if our message is really true. I was quite surprised and delighted to find out all of this about S, I had never really looked at her as someone who would want to change their life and come to God. I guess that should be a lesson for me.

Several weeks ago we met a blind man named W who we taught for about a week before we realized that he didn´t want to continue. This last week, we ran into his daughter, M, and her boyfriend L. They felt bad because we hadn´t stopped by to visit them, and asked us to keep sharing with them, even though W didn´t want to listen to us. So, we had a really fun visit with L (16) and M (14), neither of their parents want anything to do with God but they are trying to find Him.

Yesterday we were trying to watch the short video about the Restoration with E and M, a less active member and her non-member husband. The video player started acting up and freezing right in the moment when Joseph Smith went to the grove to pray and ask God which church was true. I found it very fitting that, just as Satan tried to keep Joseph Smith from having his sacred vision, he wanted to keep E and M from knowing about it. Luckily it didn´t work, we got to see the video anyway and they felt the spirit and are starting to realize that it is true.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, April 29, 2013

April 29, 2013

The M family

Dear Mom and Dad,

What a great week. Yesterday could have been one of the best days of my life, it just all worked out so perfectly and so beautifully... I am about as happy as can be right now.

First off, a story. One night this week we were going through the street, and a homeless man came up and asked us for money. I said (and I was being completely honest), "I only have 10 pesos (about 2 cents), if you had some extra change I would really appreciate it." Would you believe it, he gave me 50 pesos!

I went to La Ligua again this week to do the second part of J´s baptismal interview (I think I´ve done as much for La Ligua now that I´m here in Quillota as I ever did when I was actually there!). He passed, I am really amazed by how much he has changed since I was there. He still has many of the same customs and habits, but his self, who he is, what he wants and what he does... he is hardly recognizable! He makes me think of a statement that really stuck out to me from President Monson in October´s General Conference. Looking straight at the camera, he said in a deep, powerful, serious voice, "Men Can Change."

We also went by to see C, an investigator I had taught when I was there and that hadn´t seen hide nor tail of the missionaries since I left. She was very excited to see us, said that she really enjoyed our visits while I was there and will keep listening to the missionaries now.

A little story about R--while teaching about the commandments, we discovered that she smoked. She gave it up in two days and hasn´t smoked for almost a week now. Next, we discovered that she was not married. She went to her husband (it is hard to say boyfriend when they have been living together for 21 years) and asked if they could get married. He said no. We taught her about fasting for special blessings, and we fasted this weekend with her. He reconsidered, and decided that they could get married, but only if it was in a Catholic ceremony (which is ironic, but I think it´s acceptable considering the situation). She has so much faith, it amazes me! I think if we said "the Prophet receive revelation and you need to emigrate to Utah," she would say, "where´s my handcart."

We had a beautiful experience teaching a sister named Ib this week. She has been a member almost 10 years. She lived for the first several years in the ward next door, where she made a lot of friends, and where she feels like her heart hasn´t ever left. For the past few years, she has been living here in the Quillota ward, but she said she never felt like she became part of the group, she always felt isolated. After a couple of really tragic experiences involving ward members, she stopped going to church. This week, we went by and taught her with V (15), L´s daughter, who recently moved here from the south. She shared a bit of her experience, and the things that helped her keep going even as she undertook a dramatic change from one part of the world, and one ward, to another. Ib recognized that she needed to go back to church, and even realized that a part of why she was here in this ward, could be to help the M family stay active in the church. She came to church this Sunday and is committed to keep coming forever.

Now, for the story of the M family. Last weekend, we had finished all of their teaching, and they were ready for their baptismal interview. We set it for Wednesday. Thursday night Yolanda called and said that she couldn´t make it, so we rescheduled. Thursday, that same day, she called again and said that something came up. We were close by, so we went over to see her and see if we could help. For some reason, she seemed really evasive, a little dodgy, and we left without having set up an interview. Al day long on Friday we agonized, wondering if we had misjudged, if they weren´t really ready, if something had happened, wondering what we could do. We prayed, and prayed some more, and Friday night, just before heading home, we went by to see what had happened. It turned out, Y had a similar experience--when she saw us she thought we were angry at her (I think our worry could have come out wrong on our faces) and worried that she had done something horribly wrong. She didn´t know how to react, and wondered if she would be able to be baptized. But, we got it all resolved, and set up the interview for Saturday morning.

Saturday morning arrived, and we were there in the chapel with the Elder from Quillota Centro who would do the interview. We waited... and waited... and as ten minutes turned into an hour, I started to question myself again. Had Y been completely honest? Did we miss something? Did we mess up? After an hour of waiting, we decided to call it quits and head home. Five minutes after closing the door she called: "Elders! I slept in! Can I still come for my interview?" Of course, we called the other Elders back, and the interview went off just great.

Yesterday, Sunday, Y, E, and C M were baptised. The baptismal service was beautiful, a lot of members were there supporting the family--including Ib, who was there at church for the first time in months. The spirit was strong, everybody was nervous, and then calm and filled with joy after coming up out of the water. It was one of the most beautiful baptisms I have ever seen. The entire family was filled up with light so strong that it just started bursting out of their eyes.

I really am grateful that God helped us get through the confusion and misunderstanding to be able to get to this beautiful work. I know He is the one who directs, and moves forward, this work, because there is no way we could possibly do it by ourselves.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, April 22, 2013

April 22, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

This Saturday, we got the assignment from President to go to a little town outside of Quillota called San Pedro. We had to meet up with the branch president and the secretary, tour the town a bit, and then look for houses that could be rented out to the missionaries. The only problem was, we had no idea where San Pedro was, and ended up staying on the bus until we got to Limache, the next city over that is part of a different zone. After contacting a few young men who had a lot of interest in meeting with the missionaries there in Limache, we finally made it back over to San Pedro. I really liked it, it is a small town--smaller than I have ever been in before--but it had a good feeling to it. I offered myself to President to go and open it (opening=being the first missionaries to get to a place where there weren´t missionaries before), so we´ll see if that is also the Lord´s will.

We had the fun experience of running into an inactive member named W this week. He is the ward financial secretary, which is odd, because he can never go to church in the morning--he takes care of his frail wife and can´t leave her in the morning to go to church. But we had a very spiritual moment as he shared his testimony of the church, sang a hymn, and said a prayer. He also gave away 15 years of church books and magazines to C, a member who was accompanying us (he was thrilled, he is a convert of only 3 years and was ecstatic to suddenly have a gospel library that it normally takes years and years to collect). He also gave us a few hymnals, which was great because Elder R lost his, and now we have an extra one to give to whomever we are singing with.

My third story also involves C (he´s great, he loves accompanying the missionaries and never says no when we call him). On Thursday night, while finishing one lesson, I looked at my planner and realized that we really didn´t have time to teach all of the lessons that we had that night--particularly two very important lessons with people who are progressing towards baptism. I started thinking that we should look for a shortcut to get to our next lesson, and had a really strong negative feeling. So, we went the long way around, and what do you know--we ran into C, who helped us to do divisions and get to both of the important lessons. I just love seeing God´s hand in these small but important ways! it is such a privilege.

The lesson that I got to teach that day was with R and L. We talked about the plan of salvation, they absolutely ate it up and thanked us for having shared such a beautiful truth with them. R gave her testimony of the plan of salvation, the Book of Mormon, and the church, and I have to say, I feel incredibly grateful to be blessed to teach people like Rita. She has only been meeting with us for a little over a week, but already, her faith is huge.

Another person I feel privileged to be teaching is JC. We met with him this Sunday and taught him about obedience, he started telling us a little bit about his life and his quest to follow Christ. Not only is he now completely committed to follow God´s commands, but he also wants to strive to live like Christ, helping everybody that he can, even giving his time and his resources to make others´ lives better. To finish off our lesson with him we sang "A Poor Wayfairing Man of Grief," it just seemed really appropriate, and was a beautiful final touch to the lesson.

This next weekend, Y, E, and C (different C) (the Mexican Singers, as we call them) should be getting baptized. They are quite excited, and we are too!

Viviendo el sueño (and on the crest of the wave),

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, April 15, 2013

April 15, 2013 (Tax Day)

Dear Mom and Dad,

I stayed here in Quillota! This last week was changes, and I was almost sure I was going to leave. But, I´m still here, which I am very grateful for.

First big piece of news--the First Presidency changed the missionary email policy, and now, I can write friends, and not just family. Now, the only thing that didn´t change is my internet time, and as it is I hardly manage to answer all the letters to my family, so I´m still kind of limited. But here is what I thought of: I would love to receive emails (and would greatly appreciate them) from whoever feels like sending them (my mission mail is jason.ray.@myldsmail.net).Due to lack of time I won´t be able to send a long response to each one, but I will write and say hi, I got the email. I also do love getting hand-written letters, and will probably reply more quickly (with a letter) to handwritten letters than I will to emails (even though yes, I´m pretty behind in hand-written letters, as well). So... yeah, that´s it! Yay for First Presidency email changes!

Just a few other things. This week was stake conference. I got to sing in the choir--we had matching ties--and that was a pretty great experience for me, it had been a while since I had sung in a large group and I had almost forgotten how much I enjoy it. There was also a really fantastic talk on the plan of salvation, I felt enlightened.

We saw JC, L, and V last night, after two weeks in which JC was so busy with work that he didn´t have time for us to come by. They had been thinking about moving their marriage date back a little bit, but after talking it out for a while, we´ll probably end up with a compromise--they will leave their marriage date where it is, but we will have a ring exchange ceremony in the church a few weeks later so that the family can be there.

The biggest news this week is R, L, B, and H. Al and A, converts of about a year, had been talking with their neighbor, R, about how happy the church has made them. R asked if we could come meet them, because they felt like they didn´t have very much peace or happiness in their house. She received a testimony of the restored gospel during our first visit, then a strong confirmation the day after when she prayed to know if the Book of Mormon is true. She also attended the stake conference, and is very excited for her baptism--with her children--at the end of April.

Viviendo el sueño,
And on the wave´s crest,

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, April 8, 2013

April 7, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

What a week. What a conference! Where to start.

First, off, for the first time in my life, I have notable bicep muscles (this is a big deal!) Elder R is handy with a set of weights, and he has been teaching me how to use them. Even though muscles I didn´t knew I had are now sore for days at a time, it is satisfying to look in a mirror.

Second, congrats to BYU mens and womens chorus for singing in general conference! I´m pretty sure I saw a few friends there.

Third, for your spiritual and emotional benefit, after hearing Elder Nelson´s talk about the "wave" of missionary work that is sweeping the world after the age was lowered six months ago, I translated the first verse of "Catch a Wave" by the Beach Boys for the occasion. It goes like this:

Catch a wave and you´re sittin´ on top of the world
Missionary work is the biggest wave around
(Catch a wave, catch a wave)
´Cuz now the missionaries are heading out real young,
They head on out right out of high school yeah,
And then they´re grabbing a tie and putting on a badge
They wanna Catch a wave, and they´re sitting on top of the world.

Thank you, thank you, I know it´s a masterpiece.

So now, to more serious matters. First off, it is incredible to see the light in C and F´s eyes. They are so full of light, so glowing... it´s great. I think that seeing somebody´s eyes fill up with light is the best part of missionary work.

Next up, I had an interchange this weekend to La Ligua. In every imaginable way, it was like a gift from God to me, well-wrapped and with my name on it, a clear demonstration of His love for me. It made me realize how important my efforts there in La Ligua were ten months ago, even though, when I left, I felt I had hardly done anything.

First off, M. The one thing I did feel like I had accomplished in La Ligua was to help reactivate S and B, a mother and her daughter who had not gone to church in about 15-20 years. In one incredibly spiritual night, we talked about repentance, forgiveness, and eternal life, and they took the choice to go back. Well, the next day, we asked them to introduce us to their friends who would be interested in the gospel. They told us to go meet M, one of their neighbors who could use some help from God. We found her, taught her a few lessons, and she even decided she wanted to go to church. Something came up and she didn´t make it that first Sunday, and that next week I left. Well, in May, M was baptized. She is doing great, just as full of light as C and F, and thanked me for finding her.

Second, B. In a previous interchange to La Ligua a few months ago, I ran into S in the street, but I didn´t get to see B. This week I saw her--she is doing fantastic, just like her mom, going to institute classes (she´s even president of the young single adults!) and bringing her boyfriend to church.

Next up, J. J was baptized about 2 months before I got to La Ligua, and knowing/teaching him/having him accompany us to go teach people was one of the really fun things I got to do when I was there. Well, I was delighted to see that he is still active, but he wasn´t quite as strong as he had been when I was there, especially his commitment to serve a mission--instead of leaving as soon as possible, he was talking about finishing his studies (2 years) first. We read a talk with him (Preparing the World for the Second Coming, by Niel L. Anderson) about missionary work and the sacrifices that people make to serve missions. The spirit was thick enough to be physically felt, and when he said a prayer at the end to ask what God wanted him to do, he put his head up and said, "I think God wants me to go now." What a great, humble guy. I hope he gets called to a mission somewhere in Utah, I´ll accompany him on his teaching visits.

One of the other great things about La Ligua was the B family, senior missionaries from Washington that were there for about a year and a half. We ate lunch with them at least once a week, and we were always in and out of their house talking about investigators, members, and how to help the branch. Well, I had absolutely no idea that this was going to happen when we planned the interchange, but on just the night that I happened to be in La Ligua, the Bs threw their goodbye party. Not only did I get to say a very joyful goodbye (the type of goodbye two people say when they know they are going to see each other in heaven in not too long, I think), but I got to meet two of their sons and their families, say goodbye to the entire branch that came to see them, see some truly incredible examples of human love and friendship--Chileans and Gringos talking together, struggling to understand and sometimes asking the Elders for help, dancing Cueca, playing soccer--and I got to delight the B´s 8 year old granddaughter O with all of the tie tricks I´ve learned here, proving that they work in English as well as in Spanish.

Are you beginning to sense how incredible my week was? But wait, there´s more!

The family that I most saw/visited/worked with in La Ligua was Br´s family. Br was a recent convert, and we worked a lot with his mom, dad, and sister. Like I mentioned before, I never saw any real progress in them, and left thinking I hadn´t really done very much. I was especially frustrated by how little I could do for J, Br´s dad. I felt like I had a duty to baptize him, because I had recently left behind a similar family whose father had not yet been baptized, and was praying with all my heart that the next missionary who got there would give him enough importance to help him into the baptismal waters. But, even though I gave it everything, he never even showed any interest in coming to church. The crowning moment of my interchange to La Ligua was J´s baptismal interview. We talked for three hours, and I felt like I was able to teach him everything that I never could ten months before. He has really made a complete change in his life. He is not the same person that he was before. He isn´t quite ready for baptism, there were a few things he needed to work on before I could pass his interview, but it was an absolute priveldege for me to have been brought back to La Ligua to help him in this vital step.

Wow. God is amazing, isn´t he?

I believe this is about to take the record as my longest letter ever, because I still haven´t shared about general conference! I´ll try to keep my insights relatively short, which will be difficult, because I received a whole lot of revelation in conference--and cooler things than my Beach Boys translation, if you would believe it.

First off, while talking with my companion, we decided that there is "A Message" that every single person can learn from General Conference that only comes by watching all five (or four in the case of people who are not priesthood bearers or young women) sessions. Because we both learned slightly different things, listening to the same speakers, and we can´t point to a specific talk and say, "that was it. That´s the one that made the difference." It was a combined effect of every speaker So, just a reminder--there is power and revelation available by watching all the sessions.

Now, the first Message that I received was about planning my life. Several people, including President Monson, mentioned planning as important steps, and I am excited to say that I now have a good (color-coded) outline for my life plan sketched out. I will need to fill in quite a few details and specifics, but I´m happy to be following the Prophet´s counsel in this way.

Second, I had the prompting to show my faith by being more optimistic (I believe Elder Christofferson talked a bit about optimism. Or was in Anderson?) I think that one of the things I most like about myself is my ability to be optimistic, but I think that sometimes I leave that ability on the key rack and head out the door with a less-than-optimistic (maybe not pessimistic, but not optimistic) attitude. Well, time to change that, I believe.

So, as you can see... it was a good week. :D Hope you all have a great week, I´ll be out hear catching a wave if anybody needs me.

Viviendo el sueño,

On the crest of the wave,

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, April 1, 2013

April 1, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

First off, I´M AN UNCLE!!! I am so happy to hear about Cynthia Katherine´s birth. I am going to go print off pictures so that I can brag to everyone here now.

Second off, forgive me for not sending a letter last week (possibly the only week in my mission without sending a letter?) We had a zone activity in Calera (half an hour away) and we were sure that we would have time to write afterward... but we didn´t make it.

So, I´ll try to wrap up two weeks of amazingness in just one letter. It´ll be hard, but here goes.

W´s story--continued. We went by to visit him on Wednesday, only to discover, through W´s tears, that his estranged and depressed wife took advantage of his blindness, and "kidnapped" their daughter V from school. He was pretty distraught, we helped him get to the police office and make a statement, as well as to pray (we also fasted). After 5 days without hearing anything positive, the ex-wife brought V back. She´s doing pretty good now, from what we have seen.

We are teaching Y, E, and C (have I already talked about them? Friends of F and A, we met them when they came to their wedding party and every single one of them sang. They are pretty talented like that). They came to church last week, this week they didn´t make it, but they are really taking in the gospel like a man lost in the desert drinks water. It is a real pleasure to be with them.

C isn´t doing too well, she hasn´t gone to church for a couple weeks just because she keeps sleeping in. We are trying to help her (teaching her and doing service), but your prayers are definitely appreciated on her part. It tears me up inside that she not be doing well, she isn´t technically "my" convert, but I imagine how I would feel if it were Y in her place.

B (13), F´s step-daughter, asked us to go to her school this week and give a short presentation about what it is like to be from another country living here in Chile. We also got to talk a good bit about the church, and we ended up leaving a couple copies of the Book of Mormon with the teacher, along with pass-along cards for everyone in the class.

Last week, we had a Noche de Hogar (family home evening) with An and A, a family from the ward. They invited their son´s friend F (11), who had been going to church for a few weeks. We invited him to read the Book of Mormon, to pray about it, and to be baptized. He read what we left for him that night and said a prayer. He described what happened next like this: "I felt something really deep inside, like heat, like it was taking all the bad stuff out of me." Later that night, he had a dream in which he heard God´s voice. He asked Him if the Book of Mormon was true, and God answered him that it was, that he should be baptized, and that he had to behave well and keep the commandments. With an answer like that... We taught him basically everything in a short week. His parents were absolutely delighted to see this light turn on inside of him, too. F was baptized this sSturday and confirmed on Sunday, and we are now teaching his parents. After he came up out of the water, he gasped like he was surprised and said, "awesome!"

CM was also baptized and confirmed. Her mom is doing very well, coming to church and everything, and her sister J (who had always been active in the church) started getting to church early, in time to take the sacrament, which she had never before been able to do. CM looked just happy enough to burst.

So, there are two very action-packed weeks packed into a short letter. I love you all, have a great week, happy easter,

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

March 18, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

Great week, as usual. We did exercised with F on Saturday, and he succeeded in doing something that lifting weights with Elder R hadn´t done--leaving my muscles sore for two days afterwards. We also went to seminary this morning (6:30 to 7:30). It was really neat, and brought back a lot of sweet memories. I feel like I´m on a seminary high right now, too (because the day always went better when I went to seminary!)

A few weeks ago, while I was with Elder V before we went to Viña to pick up our companions, we were walking through the street and we saw a man using a metal pole to break of some earth (he later told us that he was preparing the ground to build a sidewalk, so he had to take off a layer of earth so that the sidewalk would be at the same level as the dirt had been). We stopped and helped him out for 40 minutes while he rested. We conversed a bit, he told us about his life and family, we told him a bit about missionary work. This last week, we were heading from our house to the stake center (a 15 minute walk) with two suitcases and a microwave (materials that we picked up in Viña and had to repare). Somebody pulled over in a pick-up truck and said, "get in!" I hopped into the bed of the truck so that Elder R could hand me the suitcases, then sat down to hold onto them as my companion got in the passengers seat of the truck. When we got to the chapel, the man got out of his truck and said, "hey, do you remember me?" It was the man we had helped weeks before on the other side of town! It was a really beautiful experience.

We visited E this week, a convert of a few years who was inactive when I got here. I then learned that she had been active, but then stopped going to church about a month before I got here. Mostly with the help of Elder C and C, the member who baptized her, she started coming to church again, and now she seems to be pretty firm and resolved to keep going. As we visited her, she explained a little bit about why she had stopped going to church. It really astonished me--she had gone through some trials that anyone would shrink at, and in a moment when she felt completely alone she messed up, she fell, and stopped going. When I first got here to the ward, I might have considered her as being simply weak, or not really understanding things, but I was the one who really didn´t understand. Now I also understand how important it was that we helped her (again, I did very little, it was mostly Elder C and C) to get back again. I´m sure there are a lot more E´s out there, who just need a loving hand and encouragement to get over whatever they have gone through and get back on the path.

Friday night, we were walking down the street to go visit some investigators when we passed by a blind man. For some reason I thought about M, a blind recent convert from my last ward, and felt a really big need to talk to him. So we turned around and asked him if we could help him to his house. As we walked, we talked, and it came out that he was going through a really difficult separation. He invited us to his home the next day, Saturday, and we went. We found that he, his two daughters M (14) and V(8), and M´s boyfriend L (16) are all incredibly interested in God, and completely convinced that He sent us here to help them get through. They came to church with us yesterday, too, and W has already expressed his desire to be baptized. This experience was all the more amazing, because I almost lost it. I passed by him the first time, and only recognized the Holy Ghost talking to me the second time I felt it. But wow, am I glad that God gave me that second chance.

This work is true. God directs it.

Y yo estoy viviendo el sueño.

Elder Jason Ray

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

March 11, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

Wow, good day. I have a whole 28 minutes to write this letter (normally I have 7-10 minutes), so I´ll try to make it especially good (to make up for the weeks when I have 2-5).

I learned this week that the gift of tongues can be used to help with homework. V, L E´s daughter, was having trouble with some math homework (isolating variables, what fun!), and neither L or JC had any idea of how to help her. They asked me for help, and, even though I had never before talked about math in spanish, somehow we got through it. I was able to explain and demonstrate well and she understood it all.

Speaking of JC, he has decided that he wants to be baptized (yay!). Downside--he has to wait until the middle of May to get married, and can´t be baptized any sooner than that. But, he said that he is sure he wants to do it, and we´ll help him be nicely ready in everything before that day.

We heard a lot of crash stories this week. First off, while we were eating lunch with Al and An, recent converts of about a year. They told us a story that happened to them about six months ago. They had left Quillota and gone to live in Chañaral with one of Al´s brothers, looking for a new life. After a few weeks, a couple of problems came up, and it got to the point that they decided to leave and go back to Quillota. They packed everything they had in their car and set off. After a day and a half driving, at about midnight, they had just gone down a rather large hill and were going up a slightly smaller one. Al said that he looked in his mirror and saw two 18 wheelers racing each other up the hill, using the speed they got from the downhill. One of them wizzed right by them, the other one tried to pass them on the same side and ended up crashing into them, almost sending them flying off the cliff. Miraculously, they all managed to get out of the car without anything more than minor scratches. They attributed their safety to the prayer they had said, asking that God protect them during the trip.

That same day (once again with L and JC), they told us that they had gotten in an accident. A car full of drunk, drugged teenagers crossed in front of them while they were driving at 70 mph. The car was completely totaled, but they are just fine. They also attributed their safety to prayer.

We met a really awesome family this week--J, E(17), and C(11). They used to be neighbors of F and A and helped us out to get them moved, later they came to their wedding party and even sang (the whole family sings, mainly Mexican music). We ran into E in the street one day, and walked back home with him conversing. When we got there they invited us in, and as we talked a bit, it turned out that they are all looking for a way to get closer to God. They are a really beautiful family, I´m excited to keep working with them.

F didn´t go to church this week--he and A stayed at home to do a fundraiser during a flea market that happens every Sunday here in Quillota. When we went to visit them we decided to do something a little differently, and changed roles--F and A had to teach us, pretending that we were recent converts who hadn´t gone to church that week. This helped in two ways--first off it demonstrated a really good grasp of the doctrine, they talked about how it was a commandment to go to church, that God would bless our family with peace and unity as we did so, and that he would take care of us financially if we put him first. Second, it helped them see how important it is that they keep going to church. They assured us that they´d come next week, and every week after that, too.

This last week we had a Zone Council, in Viña, with missionaries from all over the mission (it happens once a month). One of the activities that President and the Assistants planned out was to invite several recent converts to come to the meeting and share their conversion story. I was absolutely thrilled and surprised when I saw the new members enter the room, and among them was Y (remember her?). She gave an incredibly powerful testimony of her conversion, talking about eternal families, the Book of Mormon, and the organization of the church. As she spake, it seemed like I could see, just as clearly as God does, why he called me on a mission here to Chile. There are people like Y that I need to find, who will end up surprising and delighting me by their faith and conversion. She is doing great, D, her husband, keeps going to church and listening to the missionaries, she is the 2nd counselor in the Young Women now, and did I mention that she read the Book of Mormon in 29 days?

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Friday, March 8, 2013

March 4, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

How is it March already? I just barely got over the idea that it isn´t 2012 anymore! Well, I guess time keeps going whether I agree with it or not.

I had a fun couple of days at the beginning of the week with Elder V, from Peru--both of our companions went home (mine because he finished, his because he got sick), so we were together for a few days while we waited to pick up our companions. Because his companion was sick they hadn´t been able to work very much, so we talked with a lot of people in the street over in his ward. Fun stuff. I also helped him get an English study plan started--for which he is grateful--and convinced him to work out with me a few days in the morning--for which he is not (sore legs).

Now, my new companion is here. His name is Elder R, from Argentina. I knew him before, his trainer was actually Elder B, who I was friends with in Valparaíso (more than a year ago) and who I was companions with when I recently got to El Mirador (6 months ago). Elder R is a great missionary, my first companion who is willing to go running with me in the morning, and we´re working quite well together.

F was confirmed yesterday. He is quite content, his family as well, but A got sick Saturday night eating home-made french fries and couldn´t come to church... but, they both have their eyes on the horizon, or in this case on the temple.

JC and L are getting married! Their wedding date is a little farther away, the 17 of May. But, they are excited for it, already making plans, and JC says that he wants to get baptized now after his wedding. Hopefully I´ll still be here for that!

We have spent a good amount of time with the M family, as well. They have all the intentions to get active again, and their daughter C really wants to get baptized. Right now, the things that are hard for them are things like getting up on time to make it to church, or getting the family together to read the scriptures and pray--the little building blocks of lifelong conversion that they want to achieve. So, we´ll keep helping them with it!

Viviendo el Sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, February 25, 2013

February 25, 2013

Jason with his baptism this week and the married couple

Dear Mom and Dad,

Well, this week all of our grand preparation came together, and F and A were married, we had a nice reception for them (in which they danced Cueca, the Chilean national dance ((they´re a professional dance group))) and F was baptized yesterday. I think I asked him about a million times in these last few days, "so, F, how do you feel right now? Different?" After he was baptized, about 30 second after he came out of the water, I asked him, and he said, "that was cool."

They were married in the Registro Civil (which means the city hall, I think) by a very nice judge who gave them counsel to have patience and faith in their marriage. It was incredible to see how, immediately, after they were married, their faces reflected more light. The peace and joy that comes from keeping the commandments! That light increased even more after F was baptized.

The reception was a blast, we spent all day long blowing up white balloons, the YW did floral decorations, and a couple Relief Society sisters helped us decorate the room. At one point, right after they danced Cueca, we played a slideshow with pictures from their wedding the day before. A started crying, which I think means it was a success.

The other amazing thing that happened this week--JC got an answer about the Book of Mormon! He had trouble reading because he works so much and only ever comes home to sleep, so we got him a copy of the Book of Mormon on CD (thanks, Dad, for giving me the idea--listening to the Book of Mormon on the way to work!) While he was driving one day, 2 Nephi 4 came on (also known as Nephi´s Psalm, one of my personal favorites in all of scripture). He said that as he heard Nephi´s words, pleading for help and strength, he echoed that plea in his heart, and the spirit that he felt filled him so completely that he couldn´t stop crying for almost an hour. When I asked him later, he said, "so, I guess it´s true."

It sure is. And anyone who is willing to put it to the test can know so.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray

Monday, February 18, 2013

February 28, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

I started out this week doing an interchange in La Ligua. It was fantastic for two reasons--first off, I was in La Ligua two areas ago, about seven months back. I got to see a lot of the people I knew and loved, including B, a recent convert who is about to hit a year being a member, and President G, the branch president. Walking through the streets was as delightful as being able to go back into a beautiful dream that I had woken up from and thought I had lost. Secondly, I was with Elder R, from Rexburg, ID. I think if you interviewed him, wrote a newspaper article about him, and then changed his name to mine you wouldn´t be too far off. We are about as alike as any two people I have ever met, from perspectives to taste in movies to homeschooling (even though he was only homeschooled 2 years).

I taught English classes for the second time as well, I sure had a blast teaching, but the students were completely different--a man who lives in Missouri and her grand niece who wants to learn English and travel the world came, not one of the four people from last week was there.

I believe I have talked a good bit about C, well this week we started talking to two of her brothers, E and P. I have a really good feeling about both of them, I think they are going to end up listening to us and wanting to follow the good example of their sister, tonight we are going to go watch a movie with all of them and celebrate Carolina´s birthday.

We also helped F and A to move on Saturday morning. We started out not having any idea how we were going to get all of his furniture from their old apartment to the new house, when out of the blue a really nice guy with a really big truck came over and helped us get it all over. But it was a fun project, it made me think about all of the moves that I had helped Dad with when he was Elders Quorum Pres.

One of the most beautiful experiences of this week has been teaching JC, his wife L, and L´s daughter V. L and V are long-time members (V recently went to efy, came back on fire with the spirit and ripped down all her twilight posters (go her!)), JC went to church a while in the south and came for the first time here this week. We have been talking to him about how reading the Book of Mormon can help him to gain a testimony and about the importance of being baptized. Yesterday, I asked him if he had prayed and asked God if the Book of Mormon was true, he said something like, "I haven´t asked yet, because I know once I do He´s going to answer me and I´m going to have to act on His answer." But, I have no doubt that he will pray and ask soon. Such a great family.

Something that I believe very strongly is that, for every missionary, there are people waiting for him (or her) in his specific mission, in every area that he is assigned to. I feel that, at some point in the pre-earth life, I made a promise to JC and F (and to many other people) that I would go looking for them as a missionary of the restored gospel. I am so grateful for the privilege I have to be a representative of Jesus Christ, that I can go bring this message of joy and happiness to so many people.

Viviendo el sueño,

Elder Jason Ray