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