Tuesday, June 25, 2013

This Is The Life

Hi family! 
This has been SUCH an amazing week!  I am so obsessed with being a missionary and I can´t even get over it.  Thank you all for your wonderfully sweet letters.  No, we didn´t see the fireside last night.  Not sure we even knew about it.  Sounds like it was a wonderful experience... but we had other things to do last night, which I will tell you about in a little bit.

First of all, I am literally in the most beautiful place in the whole entire world.  I am not super exactly sure where I am, but Los Andes is a GIANT valley completely surrounded by towering Andes mountains.  It´s like Lord of the Rings type beautiful.  I would compare Santiago to Denver - giant city with towering mountains to the side.  Los Andes to Salt Lake (except WAY more beautiful).  And my little suburb Centenarioish area to Breckenridge Village.  Oh, if only you could see where I live.  Yes, it gets pretty cold, but we´re doing all right.  I usually wake up more due to yelling neighbors and barking dogs than cold.  Our first night here, we didn´t arrive until 9ish, but we dropped our stuff and went out to work.  Within 20 minutes, several different people told us we were crazy and that it was way too dangerous for us to be out that late and that we needed to go home.  So we called and got permission to change our schedule and we now leave the house at 12, enter at 9, and study until 10.  Well... at least we did until yesterday.  Yesterday we had Stake Conference for all of Los Andes and the mission President and his wife came to speak.  Unfortunately, after an absolutely EXHAUSTING week, Hermana Anderson happened to fall asleep... and we were sitting in the third row because we had brought two less actives with us.  President Essig saw and freaked out and thought she was sick or something and so now we go to bed at 9:30.  HAHAHAHA.  It was the funniest thing in the whole world.  She was absolutely mortified.  But the poor girl.  She IS tired after all.  And the truth is that we both speak the language and have a limited need to study right now.   We really just need to speak and listen.  ANYWAY.  It is NOT dangerous here at all.  Don´t worry.   Seriously.  Everybody leaves their gates open here because it´s so safe.  You would NEVER EVER EVER do that in Santiago.  Like Never. (a little T-Swizzle humor)  I think people were just shocked to see a couple of gringas out at night.

What we have done this week!  Holy shoot.  You would not believe the amount of work before us.  We have found ourselves in what was supposedly once a powerful ward or at least an area strong enough to make a ward.  Now it has about 5, maybe, active families-  3 worthy priesthood holders (the bishopric) and possibly hundreds of less actives.  The problem is that when people go inactive, their records sort of get lost.  So we have a list of tons and tons of families and we are not even sure if they live here or not.  Not to mention, when they move here, their records don´t move with them and Chileans love to move.  Love to move.  They are ALWAYS moving.  So dang.  Of the few families we have to work with, they have mostly lost all hope and their faith in general is dwindling.  We KNOW that we will not get ANYTHING done without the help of the members, so we are doing everything possible to build up this ward and build it up strong.  Centenario is going to be the strongest ward in Los Andes.  Sometimes it can be really easy to be disanimated (is that a word in ingles?) but every night we come home and pump ourselves up and remind ourselves that the Lord is preparing this area to work miracles.  You know, I think having baptisms is something that is relatively easily achievable.  But we REFUSE to baptize someone unless we absolutely KNOW with a surety that they will stay active.  Seriously everyday we run into someone who proudly tells us that they are an ex-mormon or a menos activo and that they were baptized years ago. It seems that we now are making up for the mess that happened here many years ago with Chileans being baptized excessively.  Apparently divorce used to be against the law, so people refused to get married... so missionaries baptized them anyways.  Stuff like that.

But we LOVE it!  We love that we have so much to do.  And we know that the ONLY way to create a strong ward is by the power of missionary work.  We are getting everyone involved with the investigators that we have (some left overs from the previous missionaries and some that we have found).  There is no better way to build up the testimony of one who has lost all hope of a testimony than to ask them to give their testimony to an investigator.  There is no better way to get an inactive to come to church than by asking them to pick up an investigator on their way there.  The Lord is preparing this area through us and we are so dang excited to be a part of it.

There are a lot less dogs here.  But we got chased by some a few nights ago.  That was new.

 Yesterday was amazing.  We took two less actives to a special meeting before stake conference with a member of the seventy that was supposed to be for recent converts and investigators.  None of our recent converts or investigators showed up, but these two ladies drove us there... so they did!
The conference was lovely, and as I mentioned, it was great to hear from President and Sister Essig.  Sister Essig is so dang cute.  She hardly speaks any Spanish but I guess she had someone translate her talk and she read it and did well.
Afterwards, we had almuerzo with the bishop and his family and went over the directory and whom we need to visit.
Then we went to see the YM’s president and asked whom he needs us to visit (apparently he´s also relatively inactive).
Then we went to see an investigating family from the eldlers before us that we STILL haven´t met.  We´ve tried every single day.  And once again they were busy.
Then we went to visit another member family to ask them to help us go teach a reference they gave us.  But they weren´t there.  Then it started to rain.  And get very, very cold.  And Hermana Anderson was feeling sick.  And things were not going super well.  We kept walking and saw a man smoking  (everybody and their dog smokes here) under a little covered area of his patio.  We began talking and talking and talking.  But he refused to open his gate or let us in..... as we stood there freezing in the rain.  SO eventually we left but we kept trying to talk to people and we kept getting rejected.  The truth is that once it gets dark, everybody goes inside.  It´s pretty hard to contact at night.  Anyway, as we walked along, all of a sudden we heard an AY OIGAN OIGAN!  We turned around to see the man, who talked to us through the gate but wouldn’t let us in, running toward us!  He said, “Hey, actually, my wife and daughter are interested in hearing what you have to say, would you like to come in for a little bit and talk with us.”  UMMMM……would we like to?!?  You better believe it.  We entered and it was an immediate feeling of peace.  Their house was warm and colorful and clean and organized and filled with love.  We sat down and began to teach and talk and the woman brought us cookies and we sang them a hymn and the father said "I bet you all make people feel really good when you sing" and we made a date for our next visit and we realized that they are the answer to our prayers.  They will be our strong family with a worthy priesthood holder that is going to be the uniting force in this ward.  So AWESOME.  HE CHASED US IN THE RAIN!!   We were so pumped.

Then we stopped by a recent converts home because they told us they´d have someone for us to do a Family Home Evening with.  They didn´t, but it was a good thing we came, because they were going through a horrible time.  H. Anderson asked the family to kneel and the mother to pray.  She prayed and cried and cried and cried and it was absolutely beautiful.  She said all the pain and fear and burden in her chest had been lifted as she began to pray.  When we left we both had an impression to visit a less active young man that the YM´s President had referred to us.  We didn´t know how to find him, but the Spirit guided us and it was the first door we knocked.  He speaks English and was so pumped to meet us and wants to help us with missionary work and teach all his friends!  We were like um, ok, if you say so!!!  Hahaha.  Best thing ever.  It´s so funny too because he looks lie Green Day.  Black eye makeup and Mohawk. But he´s so cool.

Miracles are happening here.  I feel so blessed to be a part of it.  Yes it´s hard, but that too is an answer to my prayers because last week was way too easy.  I want this to be difficult.  I want to be challenged. I want to progress and grow and be the best I can be.  There will certainly be no lack of difficulty here.  I’m going to try and send some pictures.  I hope it works!  I love you all and miss you dearly.  And happy father´s day last Sunday Dad!
Help out those missionaries! They need you!!


Hermana Thomas!!!!!!!

Monday, June 17, 2013

All Is Right In The World Again!!

So, as many of you know, Mara was given medical clearance, she walked the required 25 miles as requested by her mission president and she flew to Santiago, Chile one week ago.  We actually had to do some last minute scrambling as we were originally told she would fly out today, June 17.  In the end, it all worked out and actually for the better.  After the physically exhausting weekend I just encountered, I'm not sure I would have had it in me to go through the emotional exhaustion of sending her off, again.   Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers on her behalf.  We are  truly grateful for the many wonderful family and friends  who visited her, supported her and encouraged her through the difficult 8 weeks she was home. It sounds like she is happier than ever and all is right with the world again!!  Here is her first letter home.  

                              Mara with President and Sister Essig just after arriving in Santiago.


                                              Mara with her companion, Sister Anderson.

THIS HAS BEEN THE BEST WEEK OF MY LIFE.  I have never been so unbelievably happy.  Chile is amazing.  When we were flying in it looked like we were flying into Heaven.  The coastline, draped with the Andes mountains, the clouds, we arrived with the sunrise, I was teaching a steward, and   I love my life.  I have SUCH a desire to work. My week has just been so filled with joy.  I´m so grateful now that I was sent home.  I´m not sure that I really wanted it bad enough before.  But now, I just want it with all of my heart.  Right now is the time to dedicate my life to the Lord and just work dang hard.

I'll try and answer some of your questions:

1.  I was serving in a town called Quilicura, but now I´m going to a large city called Los Andes.  Every time I tell someone, they freak out and tell me how freezing it is.  I find it hard to believe.  Chilenos seriously exaggerate EVERYTHING.  You wouldn´t believe the exaggerations we hear everyday.
2.  We taught quite a bit this week including some new investigators that we found doing contactos.  Here, to  knock doors you yell ALO at the fence and bang on it until they come out.  This area is super rich.  Everybody lives in Condominiums and we live in a gated area of Condominiums. The truth is that everywhere is gated. IF you´re not gated, you´re robbed and graffitied instantly.  But, I guess where we are going is even MORE rich.  Like real houses.  The mission office is in a relatively sketch area, but not bad.  There are lots of tins roofs and what not where we are (we´re really close to the mission home right now for cambios).
3. My companion, Hermana Anderson, was in Quilicura for the last 8 months so this has been an insanely difficult first few days.  I´m learning a lot from her.  A lot.  Things I do want to be and what I don´t as well. She is part Korean and everyone thinks she´s Chinese (people love to note our ethnicities) and she´s from Utah.  She goes to BYU, studies communications, and is 22 years old.  She is leaving the mission in 6 weeks so I´ve got to keep her from getting trunky. Luckily for me, I have such an insane desire to work hard that I don´t think it will even be possible for her to get trunky.  We just heard from an elder who came from there that there are basically zero members.  The ward has 30 people and most are kids..
4.  My foot is doing great!!  Seriously.  It was a little difficult at first, but now all is well.  I do therapy stuff everyday, and ice it, and take medicine and everything else that I should be doing.  I accidentally ran one day in my really hard orthotics because we were about to be late (it was like 9:55)... and so that was  not good.  But, now I carry my other orthotics and wear them when it gets really late in case we have to run.  And lately we´ve run a lot.
5.The language?  Quite good.  I can understand about 80 percent I´d say.  I get nervous when people ask me questions, but if they´re just telling a story or whatever I usually get it.  Thankfully, I can say anything I want.  My companion is from Utah and speaks super gringa, but she understands everyone.  She can help me when I don´t understand and then I respond back.  Chileno is kind of a new language though. The conjugations are generally the same, but they changed all the vocab words.  Why I ask you? Why?  Like seriously, outside of gospel vocab, I have to guess as to what they are referring.  They also have this funny word: po.  It comes after everything and can mean anything from sure, to of course, to definitely, to well I guess maybe  basically whatever else you want it to be. It usually comes after a si or a no.  It´s such a cute little word. 

There are dogs EVERYWHERE.  Some of them bark  and get mad but none of them have bitten us....yet!  Everyone and there dog has a dog.  And some dogs don´t like to be locked up in condominiums all day... you can hardly blame them. So they escape.  And run the streets. They´re like gangs. It´s so funny.  And the little ones are rare... because little dogs would hardly survive a gang of bigs dogs right?  So, imagine like 200 Cody dogs just roaming the streets eating trash and getting feisty.  There are also lots of cats.

Oh, also, you would not believe how many kisses I have given and received this week. Like hundreds.  Every person you meet, you kiss.  Or at least make the kissing noise up against their cheek.  Except we´re not allowed to  do that with men. I accidentally did with an old man on my first day... but I learned.  It´s so cute!  My dislike for touchiness is quickly disappearing.
Food- I'm seriously going to get fat.  A lot of Chilenos ARE large in stature.  They eat a small breakfast, a GIANT (I mean GIANT) almuerzo at 2 or 3 and then they tomar once (dinnerish) at 11ish.  We take an hour for lunch which I think is a RIDICULOUS waste of time, but I'm working on my patience. Members and investigators feed us everyday. We can´t tomar once in a home unless it´s an FHE. For some reason, the missionaries think it's ok to do an FHE every night... working on that too.  In Quilicura, we had to pay the members to feed us.  But where we´re going, I guess because it´s so rich, we don´t have to pay anymore.

Housing? Where we were living is supposed to be  the nicest house in the mission.  And it was nice.  Super nice. With hot water, a washing machine, two floors, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen, big living area, two patios (there are no yards here just patios).  Unfortunately, it looks like I will be doomed to rich areas. One of the first things President Essig told me was that elders only take the poor areas.  Pucha (dang in Chileno).  I really want to work in the tin huts and dirt floors. 
Everyone in Quilicura had the same type of house, a duplex with a high fence.  Super super narrow home with two stories. Usually one bathroom upstairs with a bedroom or two and the living area and kitchen below.  Patios are a big deal. It´s kinda like the south.  Everyone is out on their front patio.  We can teach single men on their patio which is nice. It doesn´t count as their home because it´s still basically outside.

The Essigs are so funny.  Sister Essig CLEARLY runs the show... but she speaks basically zero castellano.  LIke hardly at all. President Essig is super quiet and realizes that his wife is in charge.
Weather? The weather is not bad. It´s usually pretty nice and warm during the days so we have to carry a lot with us for when it gets super cold in the evenings.  But super cold for the Chilenos is like... not very cold.  I have several blankets from the mission office and cow pajamas so I´m sure I will be fine.  
We had space heaters in our apartment and in fact, because of the wealth in our area, many of the homes we entered had space heaters. It´s more motivation to get in homes!
We usually teach several discussions every day.  The MOST DIFFICULT PART for me is that we hardly have time to work. We wake up at 7:30, excercise, and don´t have to begin studying until 9. 9!  What a waste of time!  Then we study until ONE.  ONE IN THE AFTERNOON.   You´ve gotta be joking.

Some guy just came by on the sidewalk riding two donkeys.  haha.  I´m in love with this place.
Anyway.  We have to be in by ten, unless we´re teaching. Then it´s 10:30.  And bed is at 11:30.  My companion the other day said she prefers to be in by 10.  I asked her why. She said because she gets tired.  I said yeah we don´t have time to be tired Hermana. We need to be working till the last second.

Transportation? We walk everywhere, but apparently we´re going to be riding bikes in our new sector.  Bikes.  Dah.  Pucha.  But it´s fine.  That´s gonna be a bummer though.

 We get an hour and a half every monday to be on email - to read and write.  Just so ya know. 

It sounds like trek was a wonderful experience. How neat that you four were able to be there together.  

oh P.S.  when I say Quilicura was rich... I mean like 3 steps below Metarrie, New Orleans rich.  Like taxi drivers and blanket makers and hair cutters type rich.  Rich is a relative term.  But from what I hear, Los Andes actually is legitimately wealthy.  And freezing.

The people here are all so unbelievably kind.  But I have come to hate the phrase "es que".  Es que is something that we don´t have in english but is wonderfully useful.  It can be used to make an extremely invalid excuse somehow legitimate.  Es que I have to work. Es que I´m busy.  Es que I have to take care of my kids (there kids are in school and they are out front sitting in their chair literally doing nothing).  Oh if only we had an es que in english!  Life would be much more relaxed.  That´s another thing.  Everyone is so relaxed. There is no such thing as being in a hurry.  Except for in their language.  And they KNOW that. They´re so proud of their beloved language that they changed and sped it up to make all their own.  One lady the other day was telling me about how clearly the Peruvians speak.  The Peruvians. Let us remember how dad says they are the least clear speakers.    But I have been very carefully studying the accent and exactly how they form their words.  I watch their mouths a lot and study out their accents in my mind (my companion thinks that I need to keep my gringalike accent so I talk more clearly and they can understand better... but they don´t understand gringas... so um... yeah).  I´ve discovered that they say their s´s only when there is a vowel on either side.  Otherwise, forget about it. Mostly, it´s a language of vowels.  You hardly really say consonants.  

I am a fascinating creature for most people. I´m by far the tallest female in Chile, and probably the tallest person in general. Not to mention, I'm a rubia - blondie- with bright green eyes.  This can sometimes be a little dangerous.  I´m not allowed to wave at people in cars or even really make eye contact... which can be really difficult because the drivers are literally insane and if you don´t make eye contact you might die.  haha.  Not really. Well, I don´t know.  Maybe.  A member drove us home a few nights ago and we were literally fearing for our lives.  But yeah.  I get a lot of catcalls and hola hermosa  and all that.  I figure it´s mostly harmless.  I´m especially fascinating for little kids.  They´re  obsessed with my blonde whiteness which is alright with me because little kids have turned out to be the best people to ask for references. Adults refuse to give references, but little kids want all their friends and family to have a chance to see the rubia.  Sometimes when we ask adults for references we ask questions like Do you know anyone that has recently had a baby.  NO. Anyone who recently had a death in the family.  NO.  Anyone who recently moved.  NO.  Anyone who needs help.  NO. ANYONE who is just a good person.  NO.  Really?  You don´t know anyone who is a buena person?  NO?  Right. Ok welpt. See ya later.

Ope, the guy with the donkeys just passed by again. 

I was very impressed with the ward I just came from called Lo ZaƱartu.  The members there were so invested in the missionary work.  They did everything they could to help us. Like I said before, I am CONVINCED that this is the absolute only way to truly unify a ward.  

Ok welpt.  I love you all!  Feel free to write emails because I do have an hour and a half.  Thank you for the ones you sent.  I appreciate them!  

Cuidense, que les vayan bien!

Con amor,
La Hermana Thomas