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 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