Monday, November 24, 2014

Heavenly Father LOVES His Children

Hello Family.  Well remember last week how I said it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas?  Well, it’s also beginning to look a lot like welcoming in the New Year.  As some of you already know, here in Ecuador they have the tradition of welcoming in the New Year by blowing up, or setting on fire these massive paper mache dolls called monigotes or Año Viejos (Old Years).  The idea is to burn away or say goodbye to your old life or the old year as you resolve to be better in the New Year.

So this week when I was doing an intercambio [exchange] with Hermana Bellota in another sector of Duran, one of her recent converts was sitting making preparations by painting all the dolls for the New Year.  Everything you can imagine, including old ladies with curlers, a little guy that looks like he should be on Mario Kart, all the way to Spider Man.  

The guy has it all!  It’s going to be a crazy New Year folks!!!  I’m thinking of buying the old lady with the curlers because I am SO OLD…9 MONTHS as a missionary?!?!  Ahhh!!!  No puedo creerlo [I can’t believe it.]

I absolutely LOVED this week. The opportunity to teach with power and with the divinity of my calling as a missionary is the greatest thing in all the world.  Sanctifying my life in serving the Lord and striving to be my best self and do my best is the most rewarding feeling.  The highlights of this week were found in the prayers of those I love and adore as representing Christ and helping them come unto Him.  It was found in the prayer of a little 10 year-old girl named Dana (who incidentally is taller than me, which isn’t saying a lot for me, but for an Ecuadorian, yes it’s a little different. I honestly don’t know how I am going to talk with the Hinton family after my mission without straining my neck jaja). 

Dana said, "Heavenly Father I covenant with thee to truly come to know if this message is true. Please bless the missionaries and their families, and how happy it is that they are together forever.  I am so excited to go to church on Sunday.  Please help us the take the sacrament too.  There are so many things in what the missionaries share that make sense, but my teachers at school don’t...so help them accept the missionaries too. I love you Heavenly Father.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen."

I probably nudged my comp 5 times during her prayer because Dana TRULY wants to know more and is willing to do her part.  “Become as little children.”

This week in our Sacrament Meeting they had the annual Primary program in our ward.  The children here are all the cutest things ever, with their matching flower headbands for the girls and the matching bowties for the little guys.  The simple testimonies that they share invite the spirit so strongly. For example, one little girl stood at the pulpit and said, "Arrepentimiento de pecados trae PAZ." [Repenting of sins brings PEACE.]  She was so excited that she REALLY emphasized the word PAZ.   Ahh, it was so cute. "Become as little children."

Oh yeah, so you know how I just think old people are the cutest things in the world?  Yeah, so there is a Familia Maingon who are members of the Church and live in our same gated community.  They have a grandmother who suffers from an unknown illness where she excessively moves her legs and arms all the time.  While we visited her one day this week, she was crying and silently said, "It hurts to be sick." :(  It broke my heart, so we decide to take a little walk with her in their small patio decorated with flowers.  As we smelled the roses, I quietly sang my favorite primary songs to try and help her feel calm. We finally sat down and I told her, "Hermanita, tengo sueño, vamos a dormir." [Dear sister, I am sleepy, let’s go to sleep].  And then she started to try and stand up, so I asked where she was going. "Querías dormir.  Vamos a la cama."  [You wanted to sleep.  Let’s go to bed]  Hahaha she is the cutest.

Now for the story of the week.  I humbly testify that Heavenly Father loves his children and there are always people put into our path to answer our prayers.  2 months ago, when I first entered this area, I was on exchanges with Hermana Rodriguez.  While riding the old-fashioned minivan taxi system here in the joya, we spoke with a lady named Jessica (I told her I really liked her name haha), but sadly we weren’t able to write down her address or phone number.

Then about two weeks ago, our Zone Leaders met Jessica and her husband Victor and their only daughter Dominica (who is 15) – la Familia Leon.  This time, the Elders were able to write down the family’s address and planned to visit them.  But, it turns out la Familia Leon had to move out because of problems with their landlord.  So when the Elders went to visit them at their house, sadly they found the house was vacant. 

Fast forward to 3 days ago.  The Elders ran into la Familia Leon AGAIN!!!!  This time they were moving into OUR SECTOR.  It is not a coincidence that I met her 2 months ago, the Elders met her and her family but they moved, and then again, as part of God’s perfect plan, they ran into the Elders again and have moved into our sector.  Full circle.

Yesterday we had an incredible lesson with Familia Leon and they basically told us that they know the Church is true and they are SO excited to attend church with us this next weekend.  They are seriously the cutest family in the whole world.  The only difficulty is that Jessica and Victor are not married...yet!!!!  It looks like we are going to be planning both a baptism and a wedding here soon! ;)  Today, we are going to go and help them finish cleaning and organizing their new house and then we are going to have a family home evening lesson with them.  Familia Leon puede ser una familia eterna! [The Leon family can be an eternal family!]

A quick update on our other investigators...

Liliam went to church with her daughters and Alejandra just got her recommend to go and perform baptisms in the temple! WAHOO!  We had a wonderful lesson with Liliam this week.  While we watched the video on the Restoration, she just kept saying how much she loved the movie and that she is now praying to know if Joseph Smith really was a prophet.  BUT she still feels like she is missing something. :(  We are planning to have Thanksgiving dinner with them on Thursday with APLLE PIE and all!

Brayan.  Oh Brayan.  Well, he told us he would come to church this week and we waited and waited but he never came. :(  We are hoping that this next week he will attend with his family.  We helped them decorate for Christmas this week and I was in charge of putting the tree together and stringing the lights.  I told my comp that I didn’t feel like it was Christmas because I usually am NOT sweating buckets while decorating for Christmas.  IT IS SO HOT!

Daniela came to church and she called US the night before to make sure that we were going to be at church with her the next day.  Haha that never happens!  She was busy all week so we weren’t able to teach her but we have big plans for our next visit this coming Thursday. 

So my companion is finishing her mission soon and there is the possibility for transfers happening next week before she goes home on December 16th.  If I don’t get transferred this next week on Tuesday, then I will be staying here in this sector and getting a new companion after Hermana Perez leaves.  (Also, if I don’t get transferred, that means that I will be here for Christmas and hopefully we won’t have any connections problems when we Skype!) 

I am super nervous for the coming weeks as there will be big changes, which also means a whole lot of STRESS!  But thankfully, tomorrow we have a reunion [meeting] with Presidente Riggins and we are going to the temple at 5:45 in the morning.  I am planning to fast tomorrow so that I will be able to feel peace that everything will work out.  After all, Heavenly Father’s Plan is perfect right? 

Thank you for all of the prayers.  They really are felt daily.  I LOVE YOU ALL to the moon and back. 

Se que nuestra familia es eterna, y el espiritu es increible cada vez cuando estoy testificando de ustedes.  LES AMO. 
[I know that our family is eternal, and the Spirit is incredible every time when I am testifying about you.  I LOVE YOU.]

Hermana B

Monday, November 17, 2014

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!!!

November 17, 2014

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!!! EVVVERRYWHERE we go....except for the fact that it doesn’t FEEL like Christmas at all.  There is absolutely NO SNOW or COLDNESS whatsoever!!  All this week our investigators and neighbors have been decorating for Christmas.  Christmas trees, lights, ribbons and all. 

Here in Ecuador winter on the calendar means THE hottest time of the year. HOT, HUMID, RAIN and then HOT again.  But really, the Ecuadorians dread winter....so there is no hope for me ;) jajaja.  But I still love Ecuador with all my heart, so I think I will stay ;)  To show how much I love Ecuador, someone gave me leggings that have a billion little Ecuador flags on them, which of course I wore all night with my Ecuador flag t-shirt (thanks mom).  I will send you all a picture next week!  AMO ECUADOR [I LOVE ECUADOR]

Today for P-day we took a trip to an IGUANA PARK!!!  

With Hna Alcazar and all of our Iguana friends
There are literally HUNDREDS of iguanas just walking around on the sidewalk with you....it kills me that I can’t figure out how to send videos, but I have a video where an iguana WALKED OVER MY FOOT!!!  AHHH!  

Selfie with our Iguana buddy
We also saw a man who was trying to feed an iguana a banana and IT CRAWLED UP HIS LEG TO EAT IT!  I will send a picture. QUE ASCO!!!!!!!!! [How disgusting!]

Banana man being attacked by a hungry iguana

My Compi, Hermana Perez and I
Anyways, this week we celebrated my compi´s birthday.  We (Hermana Velasquez y Hermana Alcazar y los miembros [the members] and I) successfully planned 5 surprise parties that day.  Basically, this means there were 5 shouts of "SUPRESA!!!!!!" [“SURPRISE!”], 5 tortas [cakes] (we didn’t feel so great that night), 5 regalos [gifts], and a MILLION hugs.  Hermana Perez turned 23, vieja [old lady] ;) and I loved seeing her surprise face at each house.  She is an INCREDIBLE missionary so she deserved the best birthday ever, right?! 

So this last week, Lourdes Cueva sent a picture to Aunt Lorena.  The picture was from one of the surprise parties, and it also happened to be with one of our new investigators.  

Happy Birthday Hermana Perez (and AUNT LORENA)!!!

So, I actually didn’t know that it was Aunt Lorena’s birthday but....HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY LORENA!!!!!!!!  Everyone here talks about Hermana Bartolomeo, and it’s not me they are talking about - it’s my amazing AUNT LORENA.  Everyone says that we are both super happy and we talk the same, HAHA. 

Speaking of the new investigator, this week Lourdes and her two sons introduced us to a friend of theirs from high school, Daniela.  ES UN AMOR!!! [She is a sweetheart!]  She lives with her single Mom and LOVES the church.  She actually attended the baptism of Familia Jara and as it was for everyone else there, had an INCREDIBLE experience.  We were able to share with her that coming to know Christ means you are NEVER ALONE.  She loved the lesson after the surprise party AND she CAME TO CHURCH!!!!!!  Daniela is only 16 so we are hoping to meet with and teach her mom as well so they can both be baptized together.  (Her mom works every day from 8am-9pm Sunday-Viernes [Friday], so she won’t ever be able to attend church.) :( But we are so excited to continue meeting with her this week!

Update on our other investigators - Liliam and Enrique CAME TO CHURCH!!!!!  They only stayed for the first hour and a half, but they CAME! :)  We had a wonderful lesson, full of tears and the spirit this week, and we truly saw the desire to have an eternal family from Liliam and her daughter Alejandra (who is menos active [less active]).  BUT Liliam told us that she still can’t accept a date to be baptized because she feels like she is missing something. 

My companion and I had a long week of praying and pondering about what we can share with Liliam that will ASTONISH her to the point where she will be running to the baptismal font. ;)  We both received a firm confirmation that we need to help her recognize the Holy Ghost, and then once she knows what she is feeling is the Holy Ghost, and not just a happy feeling, SHE WILL have un deseo a tomar (ahh sorry Spanish is just coming out today and I can’t help it, yeah, focus Hna B - ENGLISH) the desire to start her journey towards an eternal family.  Enrique keeps saying that he loves the church, and loves the fact that his family can be eternal, and loves reading the Bible (not so much the Book of Mormon yet), but he is CATHOLIC.  Enrique is an amazing guy and is another one of those Mormones secos ;)  Please keep them in your prayers!

Esdrina. OH Esdrina!!!!!!  I adore this lady but she doesn’t want to force her husband (but they aren’t officially married) to marry her and she doesn’t want to leave him either. :(  She has been a little discouraged because she REALLY wants to get baptized.  We are hoping that at one point her future husband will have time to meet with us so we can teach him as well.  

Brayan - we haven’t seen at all this week.  He said he was going to come to church, but didn’t come.  :(  So I will update you on him next week! 

This week, while meeting with members and talking with them about their loved ones and their desires for them to experience the incredible happiness the gospel of Jesus Christ brings, I felt impressed that we should never lose hope, and never stop praying for our loved ones who are inactive, or not members of our church, or simply do not believe in God.  The atonement of Jesus Christ makes it possible for hearts to change, and to one day be together in a fullness of JOY.  We are waiting for the atonement of our Lord and Savior to work in algunos de nuestros investigadores [some of our investigators] right now, but right now is not the time.  We must continue with patience and diligence and one day we will see them change through the miracle of the atonement. 

I always say this in my letters and when I am sharing lessons, but I am going to say it again...WE ARE HERE TO REJOICE EVERMORE.  In the Emma Smith movie that was produced by the church, someone asked the Prophet Joseph, "Why another temple?”  He responded “Dios quiere que estemos llenos de gozo, y que solo lo podremos tener a través de las bendiciones del templo.  Aparece ser una doctrina muy atrevida.  Poder con el cual puedes mandar en la tierra y en los cielos.  Dios ha restaurado este poder de nuevo.  En un templo podemos recibir las ordenanzas de salvación no solo para nosotros mismos también por aquellos quienes han muerto sin esas ordenanzas.  Esta es una de las grandes bendiciones del Señor.  Las más hermosas en el plan de salvación que las relaciones que tenemos en esta vida perdurarán hasta despues de ella. Que un hombre y una esposa gozarán por medio del poder del sacerdocio y lo disfrutarán por toda la eternidad." (Sorry Dad - the movie was in Spanish, so I just took a few notes in Spanish and I’ll let you translate.) :)

[Here is Dad's best shot at the translation - “God wants us to be full of joy, and we will only be able to have it through the blessings of the temple.  It appears to be a very bold doctrine.  Power with which you can command [seal things] on earth and in heaven.  God has restored this power again.  In the temple, we can receive the ordinances of salvation, not only for ourselves, but also for those who have died without these ordinances.  This is one of the greatest blessings from the Lord.  The most beautiful thing in the plan of salvation is that relationships that we have in this life can survive in the hereafter, and that a man and a wife can have a fullness of joy through the power of the priesthood and enjoy it for all eternity.”]

For those who are praying for their family members to come back into the fold, President Uchtdorf said, “Never give up on anyone, and that includes not giving up on yourself.”  I also like the encouraging words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Don’t you quit. You keep walking.  You keep trying.  There is help and happiness ahead – a lot of it.”

My hope is that we will each strengthen our own testimonies and HELP all those we can.  I love helping all those I meet here in Ecuador at least FEEL of the happiness and love that we can have as we are converted unto the Lord.  

LES AMO TANTO TANTO TANTO!! Tengan una semana feliz y LEEN las escrituras, HAGAN sus oraciones y ASISTEN la iglesia. ;)  [I love you so so so much!!  Have a happy week and read the scriptures, say your prayers and attend church.]

Con muchisimo amor, 

Hermana B

Funny story of the week:

The other Hermanas that live with us have an investigator that came to church on Sunday.  He was SO pumped to partake of the sacrament because of the incredible lesson he had the day before, that when the water came around he whipped out his tablet and took a SELFIE.  #selfiewiththesacrament  "NO! You don’t take pictures with the sacrament!" "Oh sorry I didn’t know.  I was just so excited and wanted to let everyone know."

I died laughing.  Are we so excited to take the sacrament that WE want to take a selfie as well? HAHA, oh man good times.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Discipleship is Hard

November 10, 2014

Hello my dear loving family and friends, do you guys know how much I love and adore each of you?  Well I hope so ;) 

This week honestly went by so quickly, I JUST WISH TIME WOULD SLOW DOWN!!!  But truly we had such an edifying and spiritually filled week that I hope I can recount everything we did in this short letter...

So this week we finally got the chance to share with CARLOS OTIZ.  We were beyond excited to share with the man that also forgot to pay his water bill.  I just kept saying, "God’s Plan is perfect.  We were meant to meet him, He NEEDS this message of hope."  Turns out that Satan is an ugly man that is working SO hard to not let others be happy. :(  Our visit went as follows...

I am not a religious person.
Our message is for everyone - religious or not.
I don’t believe that God knows me personally.
Well he does.  He sent us here as witnesses that He does.
I have nothing to live for, my wife is far away, my kids are far away, I can’t even see far away.
Our message is of HOPE.  You do have a purpose. 
I can believe in HIM from afar.
But he is calling to you... "COME FOLLOW ME." 
I don’t believe that He calls prophets today.
But God is the same yesterday and today.
I will not promise to go to church tomorrow.
But you WILL feel his love, because it is HIS house. 
Why would you leave your families to come HERE?
We are here to HELP YOU.  Our message is of HOPE.
You two are persistent.
Yes we are because this is more than just selling AGUA de COCO [coconut water] on the street.
Ok you win, I will go to church tomorrow.
YOU will feel the HIS love for you tomorrow.
We will see.
Can we sing you a song, or maybe 3? ;) 

Later at night our phone said CARLOS OTIZ esta llamando [is calling].  I answered with such HOPE that he wanted to express his excitement to come to church. 
I am truly sorry to have wasted your time...but I will not be going to church tomorrow.
Why? What changed your mind?
(With a video playing loudly in the background) I have spent all day on the internet watching videos about your church. Not many other churches like you guys. 
Yeah hermano, Satan doesn’t want for others to attend the true church. (In my head I’m thinking, "Freaking Satan, why?") These things you have seen are not true.
NO, I have seen enough.  I don’t ever want to attend your church, especially not tomorrow.
I tried to get a word in that he needs to ask GOD and to share my testimony one last time...but he was not willing to listen. He had made his decision.
I passed the phone to my comp who had no luck either, but said sweetly "When you change your mind call us, and we will happily come share with you this message of HOPE."

WHY?  Why don’t people see the GREAT value of this message?  

Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “If you have not chosen the kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.”

The following day we met with Pricilia Torres and her family.  She said "NO! NO! NO!  I like being Catholic and will die a Catholic.  Don’t waste your time with me.  I am not going to change. 

Sometimes it is hard to accept that people have their agency to choose.  That even though I want everyone to experience this incredible happiness that I have experienced, WE ALL MUST MAKE A CHOICE.  This week I learned firsthand, as Elder Jeffery R. Holland said, “Discipleship is HARD”.  There are "haters" of the LDS church, but we must ALWAYS respond with LOVE just as the Savior would. 

I know that one day, Carlos and Pricilia WILL accept the gospel.  WHY?  Because we told them we will continue to pray for them, because WE LOVE THEM.  As a representative of Christ we can feel the pure love of Christ for them, or in other words that we BELIEVE the atonement of Christ CAN and WILL help them change.  I LOVE being a missionary, but to be honest it is hard at times to accept that people don’t always want to experience the blessings of this gospel.  But I am learning how to truly become like Christ and SAY and ACT as he would with those who are investigating this church.  

But...GREAT NEWS!!!!!!!!  We have made a calendar for each of our investigators with info on when we are going to visit them, with whom, what time, and most importantly when they will make their special convent with the Savior.  Brayan Franco and Liliam Baca and her husband Enrique are those who are EXCITED and desiring to learn more, que bendicion [what a blessing]!!!!

I LOVE being a missionary, como de verdad!!!!  I hope you all have a wonderful week, and we will chat more next week! 

Hermana Bartholomew 

Quote of the week.... Our taxi driver asked us as North Americans, if we know how to dance.  And I told him that, “Yes people there know how to dance.”  He said, "Are you sure?  Because you Americans are FREE so you can just dance however you like."    I died laughing, I am assuming he has seen a video of a college dance to dumb step when everyone just jumps up and down and is pushing into each other.  Haha ´'MERICA! 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Dulce o Folleto!!

November 3, 2014

Well hello there lovely family!!! ¿Comó están? Hope you all had a feliz HALLOW!!! WE sure did.

Well first off, Hallow isn’t that big here in Ecuador. Many think it is a satanic holiday, and then the missionaries are asked why they would celebrate such a holiday...jaja! So in the little urbanizations where many people adopt American traditions, all the kids were going from house to house asking for candy. They say, "DULCE O TRIC?!" Haha!

Well shoot, we are missionaries, we don’t have a stash of candy, what in the world could we give these little kids?....FOLLETOS!!!! So we gave each of them a "The Gospel of Jesus Christ" pamphlet and we shared a bag of popcorn with them. Contacting through trick-or-treating is the best way so far to meet FAMILIES here in Primavera!


This week, well the 4 days since my last letter, many people were out of town to get an early start on the Ecuador national holidays today and Tuesday so NO ONE WAS HOME! But I will give you a quick update on everyone.

Familia Jara did have a lesson on the priesthood with the Familia Torres, and I LOVED seeing their faces light up with excitement for the great privilege of receiving the priesthood. Mi querida [my beloved] family went out of town for the weekend, so Gregorio and Luis Gonzalo will receive the priesthood this coming Sunday. They are also so excited to work on their Family History booklets to go to the temple and do ordinance work for their ancestors. Nothing much, but they continue being the greatest family ever.

Esdrina went out of town with Familia Jara, so we didn’t share much with her either. But she also told us that she thought the Law of Chastity was just a suggestion, and that she had understood that she doesn’t have to live the commandment before her baptism, so we will see if her future husband wants to get married or not. We are praying que SI [that yes]!!!!!!

We haven’t seen Liliam and Enrique Bustamante in a week, so hopefully we will be able to share something with them this week.

Priscilia Torres went to the baptism of the Jara family but didn’t want to come to church. And, in spite of the pleas of her 13 year old son Sebastian, she didn’t want to come down and join us for family night on Sunday. It broke my heart to see him come down the stairs bawling that his mom said no. He wants so badly for his mom to accept the gospel but she just doesn’t want to yet. :( I gave him one of the pictures of Christ that mom sent me – the one with all the children gathered around Him and He is smiling. We were able to testify that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ IS so happy when we strive to share the gospel and that He understands the stubbornness of Sebastian’s mom. We also told Sebastian that he is getting PRE training for the mission. They are the greatest family - I have faith that one day Priscilia will join the church.

Speaking of our Savior being pleased with our service to Him...I was able to say my final goodbyes to Hermana Toledo and Hermana Rodriguez today. 

Goodbye to Hermana Rodriguez

Goodbye Party for Hermana Rodriquez

With Hermana Rodriguez and Virginia on her last P-day
(wishing I wore glasses)

Goodbye to Hermana Toledo

[Jessica told me not to put this next picture on the blog, but she's not the blogger, and what she doesn't know won't hurt her :)]

This is my MAMITA TOLEDO squeezing my cheeks like always. :) haha

My beloved trainer, Hermana Toledo

I am ETERNALLY grateful for each of these ladies and their perfect example of TRUE DEDICATION TO THIS WORK. They know, as do I, the great blessings that this gospel brings to ALL, and the wonderful blessing we have in sharing it with others. OUR Savior is so proud of them and their unwavering service dedicated in His name.

Elder Jeffery R Holland said, "I believe we have all been created for greater things than we can comprehend." The plan of our heavenly father is truly perfect. I absolutely LOVE being a missionary and am BEYOND happy to serve him until the end.

Hope you have a wonderful week. Thank you all for the love and prayers - they are felt daily!

Con Amor,

Hermana Bartholomew

P.S. Funny Story

At the going away party for Hermana Rodriguez there was a young man there named Elder - and I'm not talking about the missionaries.  Yup, and not only his name, but his father’s name, his grandfather’s name....ELDER?!?!  He is an investigator of the other Hermanas here in Primavera - none of his family are members.  We think that perhaps his great grandfather saw some missionaries walking in the street and thought that Elder was a beautiful name...haha who knows. 

The Hermanas and the Elders!