Saturday, April 26, 2014

Week of March 24

Monday, March 24, marked five months on my mission. Time is flying. Despite being Monday it was not p-day. We switched it to Wednesday in order to go to the temple.  On Wednesday we got up at 6:30 to go to the temple. We took the subway, which is insane at rush hour in the mornings. The people pack in like sardines and anything goes in order to get on. We managed to stick together on the first part, but on the connection we got split up. The new missionary and myself we left behind because we couldn’t fit. The on the next train we got split up because the other elder got pushed on by a crowd and a guard wouldn’t let me on and wouldn’t let him get off. I signaled to him to get off at the next stop and we met back up and took the next train. It’s amazing how people act in crowds. In the end we all made it to the temple safely. If I can avoid it I’m not using the subway at rush hour again.

The experience at the temple was beautiful. I was surprised to find some of the sister missionaries from my old ward in Poeta Neruda were at the temple, too. Unfortunately because I was sick to my stomach my time in the celestial room was cut short.

After visiting the temple we went to the church distribution center and I bought some pictures to use while teaching and “The Lamb of God” video.  We also went to the feria in Santa Lucia and I bought an alpaca wool sweatshirt . Alpaca wool is very cheap here, the sweatshirt was only about $24 US. 

We have begun using a new computer program created by a church member in Concepcion and it is genius. Generally, at least in this mission, and I assume across Chile, the ward membership lists are terribly inaccurate. They are full of people who died years ago or moved, and of course about 80% of the lists consist of inactive members, the majority of which the members don’t know exist. I have heard of neighbors of bishops being inactive members without the bishop knowing. The goal of the program is to fix the lists. If I understand correctly, a law was recently passed requiring all citizens to vote and every citizen was put in a database with name, address, and government ID number. The program cross references the database with the ward lists of every ward in Chile. The results give each ward hundreds of names – some wards have 1000 members on the list but only about a hundred in attendance. It also produces a fairly long list of names that were not found in the government database. This usually means the name was spelled wrong, but in some cases it means the person is dead. We can search the database with a partial name and sometimes find the correct spelling. The idea is to fix the lists and locate the members. I love the program, but unfortunately my companion doesn’t understand it very well, got frustrated, and gave up. I suspect we won’t be using the program again while we’re companions.

I didn’t get any mail again. I don’t really understand Chile’s postal system. It seems like if you send a letter every week I should get one every week, but that’s just not how it works.

On Friday we had to return to our homes at 5 pm because of El Dia de los Jovenes Combatientes. I asked about the history of the day and apparently several years ago police fired on a group of protesting youth and killed several of them. The night before the day and the day and next night some youth take revenge by turning over buses, looting, and generally causing chaos. It’s really just an excuse to do stupid things, but to be safe we have to stay inside for the evening and the whole next day.  It turned out to be a blessing for me because I didn’t feel well again and I was able to rest and go to bed early. I’ve never been sick as much as I have been on my mission. On Saturday we studied as usual and I wrote letters and took a nap. My companion made lunch. We had bought meat for churrascos. A churrasco is similar to a cheesesteak but has avocado and tomato. We had eggs, french fries, rice and Coke with it. I mentioned that people here seem to eat chicken all the time because they like it. It seems to be the same with rice, because my companion always eats rice when he is hungry and always makes it when he cooks even if we have a complete meal without it. I like rice and I don’t really mind eating it every day, but I also wouldn’t choose to eat it every day. We also played Uno, which they do sell here but all the Latinos learned to play from Gringos. We did hear a few explosions or gunshots but nothing serious. I decided not to shave on Saturday because we weren’t going anywhere and I had quite a beard Sunday morning.

That's it for another week!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Week of March 17

Monday was a laid back p-day. I got up, showered and studied just like any other day. Before lunch we played soccer and cleaned the house a little as well. Then we went to eat at a food court at a metro station called Intermodel. They have several fast food chains including KFC, Doggi’s, and Pedro  Juan y Diego. Doggi’s primarily sells hot dogs, but burgers as well, and Pedro Juan y Diego is similar to McDonald’s or Burger King, neither of which are found in this food court. We chose to eat at Pedro Juan y Diego this time around which is different than the normal choice of KFC. They really like KFC here which surprises me in a way because I thought they always eat chicken at home just because it’s cheap and not so much because it’s their favorite thing to eat. 

A couple weeks ago I saw an elder from my old zone who gave us a reference – a girl who wanted to be baptized. He had been teaching her for a while but she lives in our area. Unfortunately he never gave us her name or address. Four days later we contacted a family that was interested in our message. Today we found out one of the daughters was the reference. We had contacted a golden reference without a name or address. As we rarely contact (we have many people to teach already) it was a true miracle to find this family. The girl initially said her mom didn’t want to participate and we were a little disheartened because baptizing children without their parents leads to inactivity in the majority of cases. We talked and found that the mother is actually an inactive member. By the end of the conversation we had committed the mother to begin reading the Book of Mormon with her family. She also said she would bring the family to church on Sunday. The change was incredible.
We also worked with a less active member this week. She is receptive and always lets us in, She has a young family with three kids but she is living with her boyfriend which is extremely common here. It’s not because marriage is expensive, it’s just part of the culture. People say they don’t need to sign a paper to love each other. She also works on Sunday during church and has some doubts about doctrines, but she is receptive and we are always able to discuss the lessons over once [light evening meal].

We had a special training this week on emergency preparedness because of the recent earthquake. We were each given a 72-hour kit and we also got flu shots. I saw my old companion who is now an assistant to the president and he told me a couple of our old investigators are progressing well and will likely be baptized. I also got a letter from home that had been sent in December.

We used one of the Mormon Messages called “Choose This Day” with one of our investigators this week. The Mormon Messages are a great teaching tool. The title of this video explains the message – choose today, don’t procrastinate. They got the idea and I hope they follow through with the desires they expressed to change. In the end they invited us back and asked us to teach about tithing. It’s rare for that to happen, to be asked to teach a specific doctrine and especially tithing.

On Thursday we passed by the crazy man who chases us with his dog and mumbles about his dog biting all the while making weird, horse-like noises between broken sentences. He’s harmless . The first time we met him he asked for money or rather demanded. I tried to give him a pamphlet but he didn’t accept it. He has hated us ever since.

Saturday it was very hot. I’m pretty sick of summer weather. I had summer at home and a very little taste of fall and then more summer here. Winter and the rain will both be very welcome.

On Sunday we had five less active members in church. Most notable was a family we have been teaching for a while but only the daughters have come to church. The father has always had a testimony but didn’t want to come without his wife. 

With the three lessons we taught on Sunday we met our goal for the week. We taught 21 lessons, the most I have ever had and the most my companion has had that he can remember. If nothing else we are working hard!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Week of March 9

Another letter from Ben. Like last time, names have been removed and some more private details intended for family have been removed.

I had a nasty stomach bug Monday night and all day Tuesday.  Luckily I didn’t puke and was able to work normally and it has since passed. 

We had zone training Tuesday morning. Every Tuesday we meet as a zone but usually split up for district meetings. The zone trainings are especially good because the zone leaders just repeat what President Cook taught them. They talked about excellency and also reviewed principles of Elder Evans’s talk including that we should be focusing more on finding and teaching young men and families and not people that are easy (women, children, and people with problems).  That’s not to say we should reject these people or stop teaching them, but I believe it was Elder Perry who said “You get what you’re going for and you know what you’re going for by what you get.”  We ought to be going for young men and families and that’s what we’ll get.

I got two letters at the meeting, one from home dated Feb. 19 and one from Brother Pletcher dated Feb. 2. Brother Pletcher’s was sent through pouch so I really think airmail is better.

We taught a quite few lessons this week,  but one was especially good. It was with a less active member and we taught her a lesson we call LOMA.  In Spanish, loma is a mound or hill. We draw the hill with God at the top and us at the bottom and explain that there are things we need to do in order to climb the loma and reach him. LOMA stands for leer (read), orar (pray), meditar or mandamientos  (ponder or commandments depending on the lesson), and asistar (attend church). We felt the Spirit strongly in the lesson, and she expressed her gratitude afterwards. Those are my favorite kinds of lessons – when the people we teach are genuinely grateful to us for coming and teaching. It was a good way to finish our day.

I mentioned last week that we had an unusual situation with a girl attending church and mutual but wasn’t technically an investigator because we had never taught her. We taught her whole family the second lesson Wednesday. I don’t know why my companion chose to teach the second lesson first. Sometimes it’s wise to teach it first if there’s a recent death in the family for example, but typically we should teach lesson one first so they understand that our church is different, understand what these differences are (usually not what they think they are), and that they understand what the Book of Mormon is and read it.  That was one topic of Elder Evans’s talk The Book of Mormon is the most powerful missionary tool we have and we need to use it more. The lesson went very well anyway, with lots of questions, which I like because it means they are paying attention and thinking, a somewhat rare occurrence. They invited us back again and I hope to see them in church Sunday.

We taught a less active member Friday. She has attended church twice since I’ve been here, but said she won’t be able to make it this week. She reminds me of my grandma Rose, about the same age but fatter.  She doesn’t understand much of the gospel but she is sharp enough to get some knowledge out of the lessons. I could feel the Spirit very strongly as I spoke and testified and she cried as she expressed her thanks for us coming in her closing prayer. Lessons like that are the reason we’re here and make all the sacrifice worth it.

We have a new investigator who is very interesting.  She has had a really tough life between abusive boyfriends, drugs and alcoholism. While it’s still fresh in my mind I’ll mention that people never get married here. I don’t understand why, it’s not expensive. I would guess that close to 90% of the children here are born out of wedlock. I’d be interested to see a statistic.

We went to the home of a less active member who was finishing up watching Oblivion, which looked like a decent movie but he didn’t want to turn it off. He invited us to sit down and watch it because there wasn’t much time left and we could talk after. My companion went to the bathroom to think about what to do. He came out and asked him to turn the movie off.  He reluctantly did, and we shared an extremely short message, but the Spirit wasn’t there.  I hadn’t been in a situation like that yet. It’s really tough because we don’t want to offend the investigator/less active member and not be invited back.

We tried to find one of our investigators but he wasn’t home. His older brother was there with his family and he invited us in. The brother is a member but he’s not active. He told us right in the beginning that if we tried to do anything more than teach the gospel he would kick us out. He went on to tell us of the missionary who baptized him. He watched TV, played video games, partied until 2 am, went on a trip to the south, went swimming, and rode motorcycles.  [All of these are against mission rules.] That missionary made the missions of countless other missionaries more difficult by making it harder for them to abide by mission rules and they add to the already long list of inactives in Chile. Not all, but a large portion of inactives in Chile should never have been baptized in the first place. He probably has no idea how much he damaged the church.

We had to get up early on Thursday, around 6:30, in order to go to downtown Santiago and apply for my Chile ID, called a carnet, and to receive my visa. It was a long and boring experience, but the process is somewhat interesting.  The first step was to go to the Extranjeria which is the immigration office. At the Extranjeria they put a sticker in our passports. The sticker is our visa and it’s valid for one year.  The next step was to go to the international police station and wait for several hours. When it was finally our turn, they gave us a Certficado de Registro, literall translated certificate of record. It has our photo, purpose for being in Chile, dates of validity, etc.  The final step was to go to the Registro Civil or civil records office. We applied for the carnet there.  They looked at all the paperwork we had accumulated throughout the day, took a photo and our fingerprints, and took the equivalent of about $8. We ran into some problems at this step.  Our instructions said that we should inform the people at this office that someone else would be picking up the carnet in a month, but we were told that there was a policy change and that we would need to pick it up personally.  I guess that means I’ll be going back to downtown Santiago in 30 days, but that’s not so bad.

After the application process we stopped by the church office building to get some stuff from the distribution center, but it was closed for maintenance. We visited the MTC to see if any of our old teachers were there but we didn’t find any of them. It was still kind of fun. “Real missionaries” are somewhat of a marvel to missionaries at the MTC.

That evening we met with one of our investigators and taught her the third lesson. She continues to invite us back and she has attended church, but she is not progressing at the moment.  We also had a family home evening lesson with a recent convert at an active member’s home.  Lessons with recent converts, less active members, and investigators with family home evenings in the homes of active members are very powerful. I’ve learned to love family home evenings on the mission. In a lot of ways the church is very weak here, but they are very good about doing their family home evenings and it is clear to me how much the program blesses families. 

As we did our weekly planning meeting this week the Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on the door again. My companion went to talk to them.  To the other elders it’s a joke as I expressed last week, their lack of respect for other religions annoys me. I ended up going out to talk to them as well. I expressed my respect for them and the work that they do, their knowledge of the Bible, and that I consider them friends and have absolutely no desire to contend.  I bore testimony of the Book of Mormon and offered them each a copy which they didn’t accept, but left happy and without contention. 

Sunday we had a stake priesthood meeting at 8 am at the stake center in El Bosque. I got up at 6:30, showered, warmed up the chocolate chip banana pancakes I made for breakfast the night before, and woke up my companion. Sometimes I feel lie everyone’s dad the way I wake them up in the morning.

Friday, April 4, 2014

General Conference

Ben wanted us to post an invitation to General Conference this weekend:

Can you invite people to watch to conference on my blog?  And say something about how God is the same yesterday today and forever and that we again have prophets and apostles on the earth and that they are going to speak?

Conference is broadcast live on the internet and on BYUTV. If you have satellite TV you get BYUTV. Online it's available at or Sessions are at noon and 4 eastern on Saturday and Sunday with a priesthood session Saturday night at 8. Each session lasts two hours.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Missionaries in Santiago are safe

We got the following email message from the mission office:

Dear Parents of the missionaries in the Chile Santiago South mission,

You may have heard that the North of Chile has recently been hit by a large earthquake. I am writing this e-mail to assure you that all of the missionaries here in the Metropolitan area of Santiago are completely fine. There was no effect here.  Thank you for everything you do, and be assured that your missionary is okay!