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