It has been another week in Paradise for me here in California serving as a missionary. There is SO much to tell you about this week that I am not sure how I am going to fit it all in in the allotted email time!
I'll try and go in chronological order so I hopefully don't miss anything. First off we got to watch Forever Strong this week with the Lagunas! Oh how I love that movie. I am so grateful that President and Sister Gelwix are serving as Mission President here and that I get the wonderful opportunity to serve with them. Watching that movie again after getting to know President a little bit better I can tell you that their depiction of "Coach Gelwix" is SPOT ON. At one point Sister Sorensen and I looked over at each other and were like hey President totally says that ALL the time. haha. So when you watch it look for when he talks about "laser like focus".
We were able to go over and do some service at a less active members home this week again. This time cleaning out a shed. It reminded me a lot of all the times we had to clean out the garage when I was growing up. Pull out all the stuff and then reorganize it and put it back in there. Also Dad thank you for always teaching me to be careful around power tools. I was moving a big saw thing and had no idea that 1. it had charge or 2. that it wasn't safety locked. Luckily I was holding it away from me and I didn't chop my leg off as my hand slipped and hit the power button. But then I guess I am still "accident prone" as Sister Sorensen says and later right as we got ready to leave, somehow I managed to nick my finger and was dripping blood everywhere. As we washed it all up Sister Pineda asked me if I had AIDS haha.
Special Miracles this week. Out tracting or Harvesting Blessing as we call it... we offer to say prayers with people basically and then ask if we can come back and share a message about Jesus Christ. While we were doing this it was going about normal. People would say no or let us pray with them but told us they were strong Catholics. One house asked if we were selling newspapers... talk about feeling like a 12 year old boy haha. BUT I had picked this street the night before and I said the prayer before we started. (It is so easy to have rote/repetitious prayers when we say so many each day.) However I had tried to be more sincere in this prayer and just take a moment to really connect and have it be meaningful. In the prayer I had asked that we would be led to a prepared family... something I don't typically ask for directly. We came upon a house that looked empty, but of course knocked anyhow. The next thing you know and much to our suprise we were being ushered into a living room. We had found a wonderful family of 3 who were looking for a church. Instead of just praying with Melissa, Jasmine, and Heaven we taught the Restoration. The gospel is so beautiful and they were so receptive. I am so excited for them to continue learning.
It has also been a hard week. Montserrat texted us and told us that do to family conflict about our visits she will no longer be able to visit with us. I don't think that has really hit me as real yet. It is hard to understand how people push away things that obviously bring others happiness. I would just assume that families would be happy that their children are going to church rather than none at all. It is so hard because she is really just starting to grasp all that we have been teaching her. She even met the bishop last week and seemed excited to keep coming. The most heartbreaking part was she said that she will continue to pray and read the scriptures trying to understand them. We are hoping with prayers that hearts will be softened and eventually she will be able to come back.
The true craziness of the week comes in here.... with a baptism. As I've wrote before it has been difficult to try and get Angelina baptized. Well Satan didn't let up at all this week. It was all looking good despite some conflict. We had even set up the chairs, pulled out the jumpsuits, and checked the font Friday night. As we were driving over to our last appointment for the day to have our weekly meeting with our ward mission leader we got a text from Angelina's mom saying that they were homeless and on the streets and that they didn't think the baptisms could happen. With the help of Brother Tauheluhelu we managed to get them a place to stay and figured things out for the night. (Honestly this is such a watered down version of how Friday was for us.... burnt cookies, law enforcement calls, etc) The next morning the baptism was still on, so we told the District Leaders to make the hour drive to come for the interview. Then we received another text from the mother cancelling again. Even our bishop thought the baptism had been cancelled and was leery to show up and conduct his interviews. We were persistent and wouldn't give up that easily. Finally almost an hour later than the scheduled baptisms, Daniel and Angelina entered the waters of baptism and covenanted with the Lord. They both had to be dunked twice because their feet popped out of the water, but they did it!
Saturday night we received our TRANSFER CALLS! This is my last day in Los Banos. It is crazy to think that already 18 weeks here have passed. I am headed south again to be in Hanford this time. I am more excited than I am nervous, but I am sure that will pass when I remember how little Spanish I know haha. Sister Gnetting will be my new companion, and I think it will be a good one as we serve in Hanford 2nd. Sister Sorensen will be with Sister Hammer here in Los Banos covering the Los Banos ward and the Mercy Springs Spanish group. The Mercy Springs ward will also be receiving their very own Elders! Yep, they are splitting the area again!! Honestly, I think that is why I am happy to go. I feel like I have played my role here in this area and it would be hard to adjust to that many changes when I am so used to this area being just us. So I feel it is a blessing to be headed out right as all of these changes happen.
Sunday we were able to see three CONFIRMATIONS! Howie, Angelina, and Daniel were all confirmed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and received the gift of the Holy Ghost. And then yesterday (Monday) we were able to go over and see Anthony receive the Aaronic Priesthood and become a deacon! I am glad we were there for that, but I am sad I will miss his first time passing the Sacrament.
We started saying our goodbyes... well I guess really I am the one saying goodbyes. It is so sweet to see the love that these people have for us and to know how grateful I am to have been able to serve with them. I have been surprised multiple times the last few days to hear what they say to me in parting. Little things that I had forgotten seem to have made the biggest impact. People really are always watching and they notice what we do. One member "adopted" us as her daughters and told us to come sleep on her couch when we come back to visit. Another member thanked us for our honesty and not taking money the 1st time we met them when his wife tried to give it to us for gas. Multiple people told us that they were so glad to work with us and see how hard we worked and that despite the difficult area we were able to have baptisms (Crazy to think I saw 5 in my time here). And Brother Tauhelhelu is a wood carver by trade so he gave us each a huge tiki carving... I have no idea how I'm going to get it home haha but I love it. The symbolism of the face is "love one another", and in Tonga having one in your home means good luck. Sister Tauheluhelu gave us both a shell necklace as well. It is hard to leave these people who have become your family, but the work goes on and I know there will be more wonderful people to meet.
As I reflect on my time here in Los Banos I tried to condence all the things I have learned. I narrowed it down to three things:
1. I can be and am a good missionary (self-confidence and confidence in my ability to teach)
2. I love this work
3. Always look for opportunities to serve with love
In closing I wanted to also share a snippet of President's letter to us this week:
“Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing. The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.” It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us. Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s. When we direct our pride toward God, it is in the spirit of “my will and not thine be done.” As Paul said, they “seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” (Philip. 2:21.) Our will in competition to God’s will allows desires, appetites, and passions to go unbridled. (See Alma 38:12; 3 Ne. 12:30.)
“The proud cannot accept the authority of God giving direction to their lives. (See Hel. 12:6.) They pit their perceptions of truth against God’s great knowledge, their abilities versus God’s priesthood power, their accomplishments against His mighty works. Our enmity toward God takes on many labels, such as rebellion, hard-heartedness, stiff-neckedness, unrepentant, puffed up, easily offended, and sign seekers. The proud wish God would agree with them. They aren’t interested in changing their opinions to agree with God’s. Another major portion of this very prevalent sin of pride is enmity toward our fellowmen. We are tempted daily to elevate ourselves above others and diminish them.” (See Hel. 6:17; D&C 58:41.)” - Ezra Taft Benson (“Beware of Pride,” April 1989 General Conference)