Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Feliz Navidad

My Dear Friends and Family,

I write to you after the most different Christmas of my entire life. It was pretty neat. At midnight on the 24th, everyone and I mean EVERYONE lights a bunch of fireworks. From my area, we can see the other side of the valley where Guatemala City resides, since we're up on the mountain. Before the fireworks had finished, there was so much smoke in the valley that we couldn't see the other side, and we could barely see the fireworks they were lighting over there. Some of the fireworks aren't fireworks, it seems. Some of them are more like bombs. They're really loud. Thankfully, we were in the house for all of this. Either way, it was pretty neat. Imagine this past 4th of July in Utah Valley in a bigger valley, and with 3-4 times more fireworks (at least) and that's about what I saw.

As my family knows very well, the semi-annual phone call was wonderful. We talked for a while about life, Guatemala, and the mission. It was really great. I love you, family!!!

Christmas Day was pretty interesting. I mentioned previously Tamales and Ponche, the traditional Christmas foods of Guatemala, and we received bastante (a lot) of both. We ate with two families of recent converts on the 24th, then with one more on the 25th, along with our relief society president and mission leader. Overall, it's surprising how normal Christmas Eve and Christmas Day felt compared to other days here in the mission. We still had lessons both days, and Saturday we spent the morning studying. I also gave my first talk in Spanish on Christmas. We weren't assigned topics, so I chose to talk about Jesus Christ. I started talking about the signs of his coming here in the Americas as recorded in the Book of Mormon (Helaman 14, and 3 Nephi 1, for those who are inclined to find it). Then I talked about the perfect example he set for us, his teachings, and his infinite atonement, for which I am so grateful. I then closed with the words of my favorite Christmas Hymn, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. I like it because the music and words are beautiful, and because it talks about how our Heavenly Father is still watching over us, and that He, and his Son Jesus Christ, still live and love us very much.

We also had 6 investigators at church, which for us is a record!

Unfortunately, some of the Christmas food must have upset my stomach. I've been having some problems for the last couple days, but I feel that I'm past the worst of it. I'm also coming down with the gripe (basically a bad cold), since my companion had it earlier on this week. But we're still working hard, and it's going pretty well.

Friday was the branch Christmas party. It was pretty interesting. The chapel is the biggest room in the church, and none of the chapels here have the benches fixed to the floor. Ours just has chairs, so they just set them up so the pulpit was at the back, and had the party at the other end of the room. They had some games, a dancing competition, dinner, and a raffle. It was kind of funny, since nearly all the men in the branch were outside cooking the meat, and whenever someone opened the door the chapel filled with smoke. It was pretty funny. We also got a reference, and a couple investigators came to the party as well, which was great.

Also, yesterday, I had some free time on P-Day to write some letters (for the first time from the field)! Some of you should be receiving them as soon as I find out where to go to send them. We found out today that next Monday, we'll be having a zone activity and we'll be going to ANTIGUA!!!! I am really excited to go, and I'll be sure to buy some cool things, and take some great pictures. I've heard it's one of the coolest places here, and I'm really excited to go!

My companion and I are getting along better than ever, at least at the moment. I've been speaking more in the lessons as well, so we've been teaching with more unity. Overall, we're working better together now than ever, and the work is getting better and better in Jerusalen.

To finish, I would just like to share a short spiritual thought. When life is hard, when things don't appear to be going the right way, just remember Psalms 46 verse 10, which reads: Be still, and know that I am God. Remember that He has a purpose in everything, and every experience you have is one to learn and grow. A song my companion has on his MP3 player includes the line: the pain will go away someday but the strength will stay with you. I testify that this is true, and that there are blessings to be found in every experience.

I love you all! Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. Until next week!

Yours in the faith,
Elder Nicholas Banks

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

¡Feliz Navidad a cada uno de ustedes!

Dearest Family and Friends,

This week has been pretty good, as usual. Yesterday, we went to Zona 2, to the dentist. Elder Caceres was supposed to get one of his wisdom teeth out, but they want to wait another week to make sure they need to operate. He's also got the grippe (flu), which isn't fun. We spent a bunch of time at home yesterday so he could rest. I was a little distraught at first, because I wanted to go out and work, and be obedient with the schedule, but he really was in a bad way, so I let him be and things worked out.
Rosa, with whom we set a baptismal date for Jan 1, didn't come to church this week, so we have to move her date forward another week, assuming she comes the following Sunday.

This past Sunday, I saw Hermana Ibañez again, my instructor from the CCM. She came to our branch, because she's in the ward just down the hill. She plays the piano, so I didn't get to this week. It was probably better for the meeting, though, because she actually has time to practice! The only time I can practice is P-day, and I have to go get the church keys, go to the chapel and practice, then return the keys, after I've found time to do it all. Usually, Elder Caceres wants to do something else (like take a nap, since it's the only day we're allowed to), so I actually haven't had the chance to go practice at the church yet. That's OK, I can usually pull together the hymns if I have 10 minutes before Sacrament Meeting.

Honestly, I can't believe it's almost Christmas, even though there are lights on a lot of the houses, and everyone is talking about tamales and ponche, traditional Christmas foods here in Guatemala. Tamales are like what we call tamales in the states, except they make sweet ones too, not just with meat. Ponche (pone-chay) is a warm drink with all manner of fruits in it. It's pretty tasty, and it's unlike anything I've had before.

We're also having our Christmas activity in the branch this Friday. There will be food, games, and hopefully investigators, too!
We're also getting a new mission leader. He's kind of like our ambassador between the branch and the missionaries. The outgoing mission leader is cool but he works a lot, and isn't available very often. The new mission leader returned from the Nicaragua Managua South Mission last week. He's already been out on a visit with us, and he's absolutely great. He'll be a great help to reinvigorate our branch, which used to be a ward.

I feel like sharing a funny story that actually happened a couple weeks ago. We were in a lesson with a sister who's a little less active, and she muted her TV but left it on. Elder Caceres was thinking "Man, she should really shut off that TV." About 2 seconds after he thought that, the signal cut out on the TV. There was a little kid romping around the room, me, my companion, her, and another member who came with us, but she looked right at my companion, and said "Hermano, did you shut off my TV?" (Hermano means Brother. She and many others call us 'Hermanos' instead of 'Élderes') My companion told her "No, Hermana, I didn't!" Then she replied "Oh, well. It's probably better to shut it off anyway!" and proceeded to shut off the TV! The Lord cares about the little things that we care about. And just think, if he cares about the little things, how much must he care about the big things!

That reminds me of another story along a similar line. This happened in the CCM. I was assigned to play the piano in sacrament meeting. I had to learn two new hymns in one week, with very little time to practice. I was praying pretty hard, "please help me play these hymns well, so the spirit will be there in the meeting," and I was thinking in my mind, "and so I don't look like a dunce in front of everyone." I was learning "We'll Sing All Hail to Jesus' Name" and there was a part I just couldn't get right, every time I practiced it. Then, when I played it in church, my fingers just fell onto the right keys and I played the first verse perfectly, thanks to the unseen help I received. After that, I got a little excited and made some mistakes, but the point is that the Lord answered my prayer, to help something small and insignificant go well, because it meant something to me. It was really awesome! When we pray for something, then work towards it, the Lord will help us out, no matter how small the issue.

Thank you for your letters and notes. I am trying to reply, but I don't have much time, because there are a lot of things to do on P-Day. Please know that I have received your letters, I do love you all, and I want to write you more.

Merry Christmas to you all! Don't forget what CHRISTmas is all about, and I hope you all have a great time.

Until Next week,
Elder Nicholas Banks

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Another week in the Tierra Prometida

Hello all!

To be honest, I don't feel like a lot has changed since last week. Elder Caceres and I are trying to work on teaching with more unity, and having more unity in general, and I don't think we're there yet, but we're on the way.

Yesterday and this morning, we helped Hermana Soto move a lot of her stuff to a neighbor's house. She's originally from Nicaragua, and she's going back there for Christmas, and for at least a month afterwards. She warned us ahead of time, and we have two new sisters who help us out now: Hermana Petrona cooks lunch for us, and Hermana Juanita does our laundry. They're both pilas (awesome)! They're really nice, and really helpful.

Moving Hermana Soto's stuff was an interesting experience. I got the sweatiest I have been yet here in Guatemala. It's actually cool right now, probably about late septembet/early october or a little later for Utah. Everyone is complaining about the cold, and it's a little funny, but I know I won't be laughing come summer. If they send me to the coast, it will be about 110 farenheit, and humid!

Anyway, Hna. Soto. She's a seamstress, and I counted no less than seven antique sewing machines that she uses for her work. We moved all but two. Since they're all made of cast iron, they're pretty heavy, and we had to carry them up some stairs, which was um... fun! :) We gave her an old gas stove we had, that she can repair and use. There's just a couple little missing pieces. She can't bring her couch, so she's giving it to us to put in our apartment, which will be awesome!

A little about the gas stoves here: there is no plumbing for natural gas. Every gas stove uses a canister of probably propane to run. Most of the canisters are rusty and look like they're in pretty bad shape. There are people who bring them to your house strapped to the back of a motorcycle. Sometimes, they have several large canisters strapped on, and it's a little disconcerting, to put it lightly. President Brough is phasing out gas stoves in the mission because of this danger. Our stove is now an electric hot plate. He told us to get everything related to gas or gas stoves out of the house, which we're in the process of doing. Don't worry, Mom, it'll all be gone soon! :)

The big thing that happened this week, was we got to watch the dedication of the Quetzaltenango temple in our stakae center!!! It was really neat. President Uchtdorf performed the dedication, and Elder Anderson was there as well. E. Anderson speaks spanish, so he conducted the meeting. Pres. Uchtdorf spoke in English, and had a translator standing beside him, so I got to listen to his talk in English, which was awesome. We also got to see the cornerstone ceremony, which was really cool. P. Uchtdorf spoke of pressing forward in Christ, and working in his work. It was a very timely message for me, and it was especially cool that he was speaking to all the members, not just the missionaries!

Also, there are transfers this week. Because of the training, E. Caceres and I are staying together, but Elders Gomez and Pineda in our district are being transfered elsewhere. I imagine I will stay in Jerusalen for another transfer after E. Caceres leaves, if not more. I'm fine with that, since the members are amazing, and the investigators are great.

Now, I'll tell you about some of our investigators.

We set a baptismal date with Rosa, who has been taking the discussions for about a year and a half. Her husband is an inactive member, and his father is the Elder's Quorum president in our branch. She's been reading and praying, so we're going to get her ready for baptism January 1!

William is really neat. He's a realtor, and he really wants to know more about what we're teaching. We've taught him the importance of asking about our message in prayer, and we're pretty sure we'll baptize him, and hopefully his family too! He's really fun to teach, but he has an accent, so he's a little hard to understand. His parents are both Evangelical ministers, but he's very interested in what we have to teach!

Jissela was a reference from Hermana Petrona. She lives with her son, and her mother, who is very ill. She takes care of her mother full-time, and she seems really close to the spirit. She's sometimes a little hard to get ahold of, but we're doing our best.
Berta is interesting. She loves the discussions, she loves what we tell her. She wants to read the Book of Mormon, but she doesn't want to pray about it, because she doesn't want to change her religion.

Anyway, those are a few of our investigators. We should have some baptisms in January, and really be able to change some lives! IT's really exciting!

I love you all!
Thank you for your thoughts and prayers, they are much needed and much appreciated.
Until next week,
Elder Nicholas Banks

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Super P-Day

Hello All,

Christmas is well underway in Guatemala. Many people have put up their trees and lights on their houses. Our tree was already set up when I arrived, because it's about 12 inches tall! :)

I write to you at the end of our super p-day activities. Yesterday, we started out by cleaning the chapel in Roosevelt (pronounced rooz-bel) which is really beautiful. It's big, and it's a little different than the other chapels around here. The typical Guatemalan chapel is shaped like an H, with one side being the chapel and cultural hall (if there is a cultural hall) and the other being classrooms, bathrooms, and the bishop's office/clerk's office. All have some type of tiled floors, and if there are pews rather than chairs, they are never fastened to the floor. The stake center is the biggest I have seen, and I would esitmate it's similar in size to the Canyon Heights chapel. Others range from slightly smaller to much smaller. None have organs, but the stake center has a digital piano that can sound like one.

After we cleaned the chapel, we returned for lunch, and a few sports and games with Pres. Brough and his family. He has two daughters who are older and don't live with him, a son serving a mission in Uganda, and his daughter, Ganzie, who turns 15 this month, and lives with them here in Guatemala.

After this, we had dinner, and started our fast. We fasted to reach our goal of 204 baptisms in January, and we ended at lunch today.

Pres. Brough showed us the film "17 Miracles" after dinner. It's new, and it's about the Martin and Willie handcart companies of the pioneers, and the hardships and miracles they experienced. He reminded us that Jesus Christ suffered for all of their hardships, and all of ours, and that by comparison, ours aren't so bad. Sis. Brough bore her testimony, which was really touching, and then President talked more about Christ, the reason for this whole CHRISTmas season. He had us stand up with our arms extended for 10 minutes, so we could attempt to feel just a fraction of the pain Jesus felt on the cross. What he did truly was amazing, and is a great blessing for all of us. I know now more than I ever have that he lives, and loves us very much, as does our Father in Heaven.

Last night, E. Caceres and I stayed with the elders in Monte Maria, which is where the stake center is. I didn't sleep very well, I was on a cot without a pillow. E. Caceres said that he went to sleep about 5 minutes before we woke up! We woke up at 3am, to be at the stake center at 4:30, so we could get about 50 missionaries into the temple during a time that wasn't peak. I missed going to the temple, and I can now tell you from experience, that the Spirit is the same there whether the ceremony is in English or Spanish. Likewise, in the 4 different countries in which I have attended church meetings (USA, Germany, Scotland, Guatemala) I can tell you that all is the same there as well, as to the important things. The chapel may look a little different, and they may use different instruments (or no instruments) for the hymns, but the message is the same, and will bless the lives of people no matter where they may be, where their ancestors hail from, or how old or young they are. This gospel truly is universal.

Also, we had a missionary activity in the branch on Saturday. We had 17 investigators there, and the members are just amazing. We came up with the basic plan, and they did the rest. Also, I need to learn some Christmas hymns on the piano! I'm only allowed to practice on P-day, and the past few weeks have been so busy that I haven't had time, so I just have to "follow the spirit."

Finally, some pictures are attached! I don't have many pictures of actual Guatemala, because our area is a little dangerous, and I don't carry my camera, so these are all from the MTC and CCM.

I love you all, and I will write again soon!

Elder Nicholas Banks

P.S. Thank you family and Mette for your letters!

Elder Corrigan & Myself (companions) in front
of the map in the Provo MTC

 Myself and Elder Austin Claiborne, who I know from BYU,
and who welcomed me to the MTC!

 Myself with President Douglas Steimle and
his wife Dyan of the CCM de Guatemala.

 Myself with Elder Aoki (roommate, center) and
Elder Najarro, my companion from the CCM.

 My awesome district from the CCM!

The front of the CCM, for those of you who are curious.

Monday, November 28, 2011

This Week


First of all, the day I write is about to change. Next week, we have our Mission Christmas Activity, and I will write you on Wednesday. After that, P-day changes to Monday, and Internet changes to Tuesday, so I will be writing you on Tuesdays from then on.

Last Monday was pretty cool. I got to go to Panorama with Elder Gomez. He is from the same part of Honduras as Elder Caceres, and he's a big jokester. He's awesome. We went to go talk to a family (members), and they asked me "Where are you from, Elder?" to which E. Gomez replied "I'm from Honduras!" All in spanish, of course. It was a really great day, we got to talk to a lot of members, and teach some investigators, too. We called it "the day of bananas" because I bought some bananas at the store on our way to the apartment. Then, we went to talk to some members, and they gave us a big bunch of little bananas. Then, we contacted a lady in a tienda (basically a small store) and she gave us each a banana to eat. Elder Gomez has a picture of us holding all our bananas at the dinner table. Sadly, I didn't have my camera that day.

Panorama is a richer area for Guatemala. People still live in small houses, but many to most of them have things like TVs, newer computers, and E. Gomez told me that the Majority of the members in their ward have cars. We saw some nice ones, too. Expensive cars aren't common like near the CCM, but in Panorama they're certainly not rare. Also, one of the counselors in the bishopric there is on his 2nd iPad. In Jerusalem, by contrast, the computers and TVs aren't rare, they just aren't in every house. Our parking lot typically has about 5-6 cars in it during church. One of those cars belongs to one of our High Councilmen, Bro. Harrison. As his name suggests, he's a gringo. I don't remember what part of the States he's from, but he served his mission here, and married someone from his mission, and now they live here in Guatemala. He's really cool, and I always like seeing him, because we get to speak English! He also plays the piano, so we've got something else in common there.

The next morning, we went to pick up the mashed potatoes, then we made our way to the stake center (which is about the size of your typical Utah chapel) for our Thanksgiving activity. We played a little American Football, then we ate turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and jello. I was really missing the heartburn salad, my favorite jello on earth! It was fun, and afterwards we returned to our own areas with our own companions.
The exciting part was that Elder Caceres and Elder Squires, who was with him that night, got an unofficial baptismal date! Rosa, who has been receiving the lessons for a long time, and whom we were about to stop visiting, said she would be baptized! We just have to get her to attend church, and we will be able to baptize her! She (or any other investigator) has to attend for 3 weeks to be baptized, according to Pres. Brough.

We're also teaching William, and his wife. They're really smart and successful, but also really humble. They really want to read the Book of Mormon, and find out that it is true. It's an absolute pleasure to teach them, and I really think we're going to baptize them. I hope their kids are old enough to be baptized, too, because that would just be awesome. In our mission, we have a motto of sorts: "Nosotros Bautizamos Familias" (We Baptize Familes). That would just be great to bring this family into the Church, they would make a great addition to our little branch.

We also had the chance this week to visit again with Bro. Sarceño (sar-say-nyo), our branch mission leader. He's a really cool and funny guy, and we had a good chat about the investigators in our area. Then, we talked about the United States a little. I get a lot of questions about the good ol' USA, as you can imagine. Bro. Sarceño told me that he works with some Germans, and that there are plenty of Germans here in Guatemala! Who knew?? Maybe I'll get to use my Deutsch down here after all!

Also, in case I didn't say this, one of my teachers from the CCM; Sister Ibañez, is in our stake. I saw her at the conference a couple weeks ago. It was fun to see someone I actually know!!
I'll be bringing my camera to the activity next week, so I'll try to send some pictures of me with Elder Corrigan, Elder Najarro, and Elder Caceres.

I hope that everything is going as well at home as it is here. This week was even better for me. I've been trying hard to speak more in the lessons, and Elder Caceres actually told me one night that I did really well that day. He doesn't normally say that, either. :)

Also, the primary program was yesterday, The spirit was really strong, and it was awesome. Sadly, we didn't have any investigators there to feel it.

I love you all!
Until next week,

Elder Banks

Monday, November 21, 2011

Eventful week


This week was pretty good. We kept busy and we found some new investigators. We had a training meeting at the mission office and I got some mail there! To my parents' primary class, I'll answer your questions a little later on.

Yesterday, we had a nationwide stake conference broadcast, to Guatemala and Belize. The speakers included Don R. Clarke of the 70, Mary N. Cook, 1st counselor in the YW general presidency, Elder Jeffery R. Holland of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. They talked a lot about the importance of families, how to strengthen your families, and the importance of attending the temple. Elder Holland began and ended his talk in Spanish, which was interesting. He said (in Spanish) how bad his Spanish is, and that it will be easier for us to listen, and for him to speak, if he simply speaks in English and uses a translator. He closed by bearing his testimony in Spanish.

The church chartered a bus to get us to and from the conference, which was at the stake center. Pretty much every bus here is a school bus, either retired from the States, or made here. Blue Bird, the company that makes the school bus bodies, apparently makes some here in Guatemala City, as well as in the states. The driver drove us down some awesome twisty roads faster than I thought was safe for a bus. It was really fun! It was like an amusement park ride. I'm surprised nobody has opened a ride called "Buses of Central America" or something to that effect.

Sadly, on the bus on the way home, the name tag fell off my shirt, and I didn't notice until later. Fortunately, I had my suit (we use suits every Sunday for church) with its name tag, so I just put that on my shirt for the time being. Since the bus was chartered by the Church, we callled the driver to get my badge back. He found it, and we picked it up this morning on our way to district meeting. He lives close to our area, on the way to the meeting. I'm so grateful that he had it!! As a missionary, I felt disturbed not having a name tag. Sure, the other one works, but I'm really glad to have the other one back. For those of you who are wondering, we have a tag that is completely plastic and clips over a shirt pocket, and another that has a pin to go on a suit. I have a clip that the pin tag attaches to, so I can use it with different jackets, like my raincoat, without poking holes everywhere.

I apologize again for the lack of photos. I have divisions today, where I will go to another area with another elder, and his companion will go to Jerusalem with Elder Caceres. I'll be going to Panorama with Elder Gomez, and Elder Squires, our district leader, will be going to Jerusalem with Elder Caceres. I didn't want to try and bring my camera today, since I'll be staying in a different area tonight, so I'll try and remember next week.

As for Thanksgiving, it's normally nothing special, but tomorrow we have a zone activity, where we'll be eating turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, and I hope pumpkin pie as well! We'll be playing (American) Football and some other games at the stake center, as well as eating our Thanksgiving dinner. It should be pretty fun, because it will be a little break. At least this week isn't like last week, where we were so busy with meetings that we only had 2 full days in our area! We had meetings, activities, and interviews with President Brough. It was crazy, but it was good.

We're in the process of helping the branch presidency plan some missionary activities for the branch. We're centering them on the theme of Christmas, because that's something people will be more interested in. Since just about everyone here is Christian, just about everyone celebrates Christmas. Since I'm the branch pianist, Elder Caceres and I are trying to plan a special musical number. We picked the hymn "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," which does exist in the Spanish hymnbook. Not many people know it here, and it's not too hard to sing, so we're pretty sure this is what we'll do for the musical number. The words, written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, are absolutely amazing. I can tell you from personal experience that verse four is truth:
"Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
with peace on Earth, good will to men."

To the 12-year-old Primary class in the Manila 9th ward:
Thank you so much for your letters! It was an absolute pleasure to be surprised with such a great envelope in the mission office last Friday!
I am enjoying the weather here at the moment. Yes, it's November 21st, and I'm outside with a short-sleeved shirt and loving it! It's more humid here than in Utah, so when it's cold, it feels colder, and when it's hot, it feels hotter, but it's pretty comfortable right now. It's probably about Spring or Fall weather for Utah, without the occasional snow. Everyone here is complaining of the cold! :) Spanish is coming. It's hard to speak at first, then speaking gets easier. Understanding what other people are saying is the hard part for me. But I'm still praying for the gift of tongues, and trying to practice a lot. My companion is from Honduras, so he does a lot of the talking. The work is hard sometimes, especially since the area I'm assigned to is pretty much built on the side of a mountain, and all the streets are really steep. But even when it's hard, it's worth it. Knowing that I'm helping someone to change their life and come to Christ is an amazing feeling. The Spirit is with us a lot, because Heavenly Father is guiding us to do the work in the way he wants us to do it. Always remember that you are a Child of God, and that he loves you, and no matter what hard things you are going through in your life, your Savior is there for you. I hope you all have the chance to serve missions, and experience the joy and peace I'm feeling, and we haven't even baptized anybody yet! If you have more questions, please tell my parents, and I will be happy to answer them next week.

Thank you for your faith, thoughts, and prayers. You are all excellent individuals.

Until next week,
Elder Nicholas Banks

Monday, November 14, 2011

First Full Week in Jerusalem

Dear Family and Friends,

This week was pretty good. Elder Caceres and I are getting along pretty well, and the work is good. We're really busy, because a lot of people we meet accept appointments, and we already have a good number of contacts. Our district has set goals to contact more new people, so we have to find time for that in between our appointments.

This week wasn't quite as productive as last. We got new contacts, but a lot of people weren't home, and a lot of our appointments fell through. We only had one investigator at church. We know what we need to work on, and we're working on it, so we can better serve the people of the holy land :)

I played the piano in church yesterday for the first time. The church has a glossy black Kawai piano in the chapel, and it's the only piano in the building. It's nice, but I won't be able to take it to the apartment to practice! I took the cover off the piano, and I had a new experience. I think it was the first time I've ever found a spider in a piano. I didn't have time to practice this week, but I was able to play the hymns more or less by ear for the meeting. President Brough said that I can only practice on P-day, which is Tuesday. Mondays we have a district meeting, and we're in an area with a good internet cafe, so that's why I write on Mondays. P-day is just an hour shorter (it ends at 5pm) because of it, but it's almost like having 2 p-days, so I'm fine with that. I'm going to try and talk to President Miron (branch pres.) tonight to arrange a time on Tuesdays when I will be able to get into the church to practice, and be able to get the hymns for the meeting to practice.

Saturday was Elder Caceres' birthday, and since we don't really have time to do a lot of stuff, we just bought and ate some cake. Then, we had a lesson in the home of one of our investigators, and she had bought a whole cake, candles, and something to drink, and we sang to him and ate cake. It was a really neat, and humbling experience. I could tell that this particular sister doesn't have much, but she remembered his birthday, and felt impressed enough to buy a cake for Elder Caceres.

Elder Caceres has been teaching this sister for almost the whole time he's been in Jerusalem, which is about 4.5 months. She's really nice, but she hasn't made up her mind about if and when she wants to be baptized. Her name is Reina. We've been trying to remind her to come to church as well. She told us about a dream she had, where she actually talked to Joseph Smith, and he told her she needs to keep coming to church. It was a really neat experience, and it strengthened my faith in this gospel. Elder Caceres says dreams like that really aren't a rarity here in Guatemala. A lot of people receive answers to questions in prayer in the form of a dream.

Also Saturday, the branch arranged a trip to the temple open house in Quetzaltenango (ketz-all-ten-ongo). The new temple is finished, and the open house is where they let people of any religion come and see the inside of the temple, because it's closed to the general public once it's been dedicated. They do the same thing in the United States, and all over the world. The members really enjoyed it, and I think a couple investigators went, but not many. They were gone from 5am until about 9pm, because Quetzaltenango isn't really that close. After all, there is a Quetzaltenango mission. This was really neat, and a lot of people asked us if we were going. Sadly, we weren't able to, because it's a full day where we wouldn't be doing missionary work. It's a really exciting time to be here in Central America for the church, because it is growing so much. This summer, a temple was dedicated in El Salvador, the new one here in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala will be dedicated soon, and early next year the temple in Tegucigalpa, Honduras will be dedicated. Elder Caceres is from Tegucigalpa, and he just showed me in a picture of the temple under construction more or less where his house is. How cool is that! He'll be able to see the Honduras temple out his window just like I can see the Mount Timpanogos out my window at home! ¡Que Pilas!

I just wanted to share one of my favorite scriptures, that I've already used in a lot of lessons, and I use in my life regularly. The scripture is found in the Book of Mormon, in the book of Ether, Chapter 12, verse 27. "And if men come unto me, I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble, and my grace is sufficient for all men who humble themselves before me, for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." I find that whenever I find a weakness in myself, whenever there's something I don't like about myself, or anything about me that I want to change, I find that when I can muster the humility to get on my knees and offer a prayer, recognizing my weakness and asking for help, I am strengthened, and I am helped to change. Know that if you want to change, if there's something you want to change, something you don't like about yourself, or you have a weakness (for we all have many), help is only a prayer or two away.

Also, I wanted to give you a translation of the lyrics to Hymn 88 in Spanish, "It is Pleasing for Us to Work."
1. It is pleasing for us to work
In the vineyard of the great king Jesus
And we are honored to preach
to his people his law and his light
for his light, for his light, it pleases us to work
for his light, for his light, we will die in God without sorrow

2. Listen to the work of God
with zeal, loyalty, and fervor
and always remember for ever
his purity, truth and love
with love, with love
listen to God's word
with love, with love,
seize the flag of God

3. Oh brothers, goodbye, and goodbye
the moment to leave has already come
if we keep the faith in the great God,
we will see each other on the other side
on the other side, on the other side,
oh brothers, good bye and goodbye
on the other side, on the other side,
we will dwell with God in love.

I am glad to hear that my family is doing well, and I always look forward to hearing from you every week. Letters and DearElders are much appreciated as well! You are all great people.

I love you all, and I hope things are going as well for you as they are for me!
Until next week,

Elder Nicholas Banks

Friday, November 11, 2011

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

First week(ish) in the field!!!

It's been an interesting, and great week, and it's been really eventful, so I'm just going to dive right in.

Last Tuesday morning, we left the CCM, and went right to the mission home for some meetings. We had interviews with the president, and learned a little about the mission. There are a little under 200 missionaries in my mission, and last month, they had a record 180 baptisms!

Anyway, the mission home is a 14th floor apartment, which is kind of neat. It's a really nice apartment, and apparently they put the mission presidents up there because it's safer for them. President Stay of the Guatemala City South Mission lives across the hall from President Brough.

Unfortunately, they didn't tell us at the CCM to pack for 24 hours outside of our luggage, so we didn't have the opportunity to change our clothes. They bought us toothbrushes, soap, toothpaste, and shampoo so we could have a decent night. The mission has a bunk house where we stayed for our first night. The next day, there was a transfer meeting, and we all got our trainers and went to our areas.

But before we went to sleep in the bunk house, we got to go proselyting with the elders who work in the office. I went with Elder Cruz, who is a really cool guy. He has some similar interests to me, and I hope I get to work with him again. We contacted a little, and we taught two lessons to his investigators. I didn't really say much, but that's okay. I'm improving every day. One gentleman we taught is in his 50s, and isn't sure he wants to change his religion. I shared with him Ether 12:27, and told him that if he desired to change and would humble himself enough to pray, the Lord would help him to do so. The spirit was really strong. We taught another guy as well, who we just kind of talked to about faith and stuff. He thought it was neat that the temple is a place where not just anyone can go, except people who, as he described, are really dedicated to serving and worshipping the Lord.

The thing that really hit me that day, was when Elder Cruz, who has been out in the mission for 7 months, said something to me. He speaks a little English, but he said to me in Spanish "Don't ever change." That really hit me hard. Here I was, green as a greenie (new missionary) can be, and he was telling me to keep it up. Wow!

The next day we had the transfer meeting, at a chapel that's probably almost as nice as most of those in the United States. None of the chapels have real organs here, but this one had a digital piano that can sound like an organ. Oh, how I have missed the sound of the organ! The spirit was really strong in the meeting, and president Brough told us that we will have a mission conference in December. It will consist of a service opportunity, an evening he said we will never forget (general authority?) and an opportunity to go to the TEMPLE!!! The entire mission is going to the temple at 6am on a particular day, which is something I am really looking forward to. Normally, we only have permission to go every 6 months for a good reason, like a recent convert in our current area is going. Normally, we won't get to go at all, so this is really exciting.

Now on to the actual area, and my actual companion. At that transfer meeting, I met my trainer, Elder Caceres. He's from Honduras, and he's a pretty neat guy. At the moment, he and I are still getting used to how each other work, but it's not anything major. It's just two different people who don't know each other well yet! He's been teaching me, and really pushing me to do better. The other day, I actually taught a significant part of one of the lessons in Spanish to an investigator. It was really neat. The thing for me right now is knowing what to say in the context, and understanding the people. If I know what I want to say, and I know the vocabulary, I can say it, but I just need to know what I'm supposed to say!

We have a sister in the branch, Sis. Soto, who does our laundry and cooks lunch for us. Breakfast and dinner are on our own (usually not very big, but lunch is so it's fine). The members in the branch are really great and helpful. They like to come with us to lessons, and Elder Caceres says he's received a lot of referrals from them. At the moment, there is one person who lives within the branch boundaries who knows how to play the piano. His name is Elder Banks and he's from Utah. Perhaps you know him? :) I talked to the branch president, Pres. Miron, about playing in church, and he seemed excited, and that he would get me the list of hymns early. I just finished emailing president Brough so I can know if there's a time I can practice during the week, to be prepared for Sunday. I'm excited to be able to help invite the spirit through music to the meetings of the Jerusalem Branch. Jerusalem is the name of our area as well. It's really hilly, so by the time I leave, my legs wil be really strong! :) We usually have at least 2 lessons a day, and they're great.

Our apartment consists of most of a small house in a gated community (for safety purposes). I'll try and send some pictures soon from the CCM, MTC; and my first area.

Also, here's the final word on emails: immediate family only. Technically, I can receive mail from other people, but I only have an hour to read and write, and there's really not a chance to print, so I would appreciate letters if at all possible. The pouch mail works great (and you only need a US stamp!), as does dearelder.com, or you can send it right to Guatemala if you like. The address is a PO box, so you'll need to send anything you send US mail, or get the phone number from Mom (in the call packet) and use another courier. Thank you family, for your messages. It was a great surprise to get them when I arrived at the mission home! And thanks to those of you who have sent me other messages as well.

To my family, email will normally be on Mondays, this week is just an odd one.

Thank you for your love, thoughts, and prayers. They are much needed and much appreciated.

¡Les amo mucho! (I love you all very much!)

Until next week,

Elder Nicholas Banks

Monday, October 31, 2011

Early Letter


I found out yesterday that I would be writing today. I would have let you all know sooner if I could have.

I leave the CCM tomorrow morning at 8am. I have been assigned a new companion for travel since Elder Najarro isn't going to my mission. My new companion is Elder Mendoza, and he is from Nicaragua. He and I appear to have quite a bit in common, and he's really nice. He'll probably only be my companion for a couple days, since we'll both get trainers on Wednesday, and actually go to our assigned areas.

My time in the CCM has been great. I've become really close with my district, and we're already making plans to meet up after we all get home.

Sister Forman was the only one in our district serving outside of Guatemala, so she left today. She's going to the Managua Nicaragua South Mission. The rest are going to my mission apart from two, who are going to the Guatemala City South Mission, so the rest of the district leaves tomorrow.

Last night, we continued the tradition of singing hymn #88 in the Spanish Hymnal, "Placentero nos es trabajar," to the elders who are departing that week, which is me this time. This song is pretty neat, and the words to it were written by a couple of missionaries in Mexico. The title means "it is pleases us to work" and it's only in the Spanish Hymnal, not in any of the others.
We've sung English hymns a couple times as a district, to enjoy our last little bit of time to sing in our mother tongue. The spirit always comes really strong when we sing, and it's really cool. I find myself thinking more about the meaning of the hymns when I'm sing in Spanish, because I'm translating them into English as I sing, whereas in English, sometimes they're just memorized words and I don't think about their meaning very much.

I've been feeling sick for the past few days. It just feels like a bad cold, and I got some pills so it's not really a problem.

I'm excited and scared to go out to the field. We had a presentation about security and safety last week, which made me a little nervous, but I think everything will be fine. I'm nervous, because it's an unknown, but I know there will be help for me to be able to do the hard things that the Lord is requiring of me.

Yesterday was really good. We got to go take pictures at the temple, and the spirit was really great during our church meetings.
To be honest, I'm just sort of rambling. I don't really know what to write about, because it doesn't feel like much has happened since Wednesday.

And I told you, I'll send some pictures as soon as I get the chance, they won't let us hook up any cameras to the computers here.
It's hard to believe that I've been out here for two months today. It's been going fast, yet in a way it feels like it's been going really slow.

As soon as I find out President Brough's rules for e-mailing people, I will let you know. I will email you again on my next p-day.

Thank you for your love, your thoughts, and your prayers. You are all awesome.
Elder Nicholas Banks

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Last email from the CCM

Hello Everyone!

This will officially be my final email from the Centro de Capacitacion Misional. I love it here, and I know I'll miss it, but the field will be a whole new adventure. To be honest, I don't think I'll miss living with a whole bunch of other elders, but I know I'll miss the temple. The Guatemala City Temple (along with the CCM) is in the Guatemala City South Mission, which means I probably won't get to go to the temple, unless a recent convert is going through and wants me there. This is literally the closest I have ever lived to a temple, and I'm really going to miss it. To those of you who are so near a temple, I encourage you to visit it, even if you are only able to walk around the grounds. The temple truly is the House of the Lord, and you can feel it.

This week has actually been pretty eventful. Every Saturday, we have something called CRE (the Provo equivalent is TRC) where we get to talk to a member, less-active member, or a real investigator and teach them a lesson. There's a building near the Temple called Casa CRE (pronounced "Cray") where we do this. It's basically a house with about 5 living rooms, a waiting area, and a bathroom. It's really fun, and we've been teaching a guy named Javier who just got his mission call to the Dominican Republic. Then, after we taught him, we went to the temple grounds to go ask members for references. We talked to a young man named Omni, and he got his mission call to the Dominican Republic, and goes to the same MTC as Javier, and on the same day! How cool is that?

The other thing that was really cool about talking to Omni was that I was able to speak Spanish with him. I know, that sounds kind of obvious, but I became living evidence of the scriptures in D&C that say "open your mouth and it will be filled" and "then shall your tongue be loosed (11:21)" I was just having a conversation with him, and a minute or two into the conversation, I realized that I had been speaking decent Spanish, with some words I know didn't come from me. I will be the first to tell you that the gift of tongues really is a gift from God, and it really works.

Yesterday was pretty eventful too. First, we went proselyting. Elder Najarro and I went with the rest of the missionaries in our branch to the central park to talk to people, and get references. We ended up talking to one lady for the whole hour, or rather, she ended up talking to us. She had a lot of misinformation about the Church, and it sounded like she was a very staunch Catholic. She told us that we like to kill people, and that we don't believe in the Bible, neither of which is even remotely true, and we were able to show her a couple things and give her a pamphlet on the Plan of Salvation, as directed by the Spirit. It was really hard, because I barely understood a lot of the things she was saying, and I didn't really have the Spanish to tell her the truth about it. Thankfully, a member recognized us as missionaries, and came and talked to her with us. She kept going on about how we weren't trying to teach her, but, to be honest, it was difficult to get a word in edgewise. It was probably the hardest thing I've done yet on my mission. When I got back, I read some scriptures that were given in a devotional a few weeks ago, and it told me not to contend, which means we did the right thing. I think that because we listened to this sister, and because she got the chance to talk to a "normal" person who is a member of the church, she may have had some different impressions. I felt like it was the right thing to do to listen to her, and it feels like we planted a seed of faith, that may grow sometime in the future.

Then, we got back, and the entire MTC was in a ruckus, because all the mission presidents of the central american missions were here touring the ccm and they had gone to the temple with Pres. Steimle earlier that morning. We sang a great hymn for them, #305 in English (but we sang in Spanish), and then we had a few minutes to meet our presidents. President Brough and his wife seem really nice, and pretty cool. He explained to us how our first couple of days in the field will work, schedule wise, which was a comfort for me. He explained that he has absolutely zero tolerance for disobedience, which is a good thing. I'm still nervous to leave (a week from yesterday), but all good things must come to an end, and it's time to go. There's not much more progress I can make here at this time.

Then last night, Bro. Martinez gave a talk, which was planned as purely instructional about inviting people to come to church, but it ended up being one of the most spiritual experiences of the week. He told a lot of stories from his mission in Honduras, and I could tell he was really speaking from the heart. He said some things that really touched me, and reminded me that everything will be alright, and even great. "I will go before thy face, I will be on thy right hand and on thy left, and my spirit shall dwell in your heart, and mine angels round about you to bear you up." (D&C 84:88) "Wherefore, be strong and of a good courage. Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed, for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." (Joshua 1:9) D&C section 31 is also all about missionary work, and has brought me great comfort.

Thank you for your thoughts, prayers, and mail. They help me a lot, and brighten my days in more ways than I can count.
I wish you all the best, and I hope things are as well at home as they are here!

Sincerely yours,
Elder Nicholas Banks

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Another Great Week - and Leaving Soon!

Hello everyone!
I'm under two weeks left now in the MTC. It's kind of scary in a way, but I'm excited to get out and work. Our mission presidents will be visiting the MTC next week, and we get to sing a choral number for them, and get to meet with them a little. We're singing President Steimple's favorite hymn, #200 in Spanish, or #305 in English. It's really pretty, and I encourage you to look it up. I'm excited for that. And Dad, you guessed correctly: I will indeed be leaving the CCM on Tuesday, Nov. 1st, 2011. Also, please send anything you are going to send me to my mission home address starting today. Thanks!

We haven't had as many opportunities to teach our investigators this week. Due to our awesome field trip last week, helping the new group of missionaries get settled, and some other people's lessons going a little long, Elder Najarro and I have only been able to have two lessons since my last email. It's hard, and I feel like we're getting a little rusty, but we're still getting good feedback from the teachers who are acting like the investigators. I really like that they talk to us here, in Provo we literally got NO feedback from our investigators, and I don't think my teaching really improved while I was there. Here, I feel that I've really learned how to teach people the gospel, and it's fantastic.

I still love my district and my companion. The district is already talking about having a reunion road trip or something when we all get home.
Since my last email though, the only thing that's really changed is the people here at the MTC. My new Latin companion, Elder Torres, is from Chihuahua Mexico, and he's really cool. He even speaks some English, so we're able to communicate really well (though usually in Spanish). My new roommates are pretty cool too. Also, I met an elder who lives within the Mexico City East mission, where my good friend Elder Cody Ashcroft is currently serving. He was my Elder's Quorum president at BYU. I asked this elder if he knew him, and he did!! Elder Ashcroft was one of the missionaries assigned to his stake.
I've also met a couple of missionaries from Guatemala, who live within my mission. I've especially been talking to Elder Soto, who is from Antigua! In case I didn't mention this already, Antigua is, to my knowledge, an area only for sister missionaries right now, so I won't be able to serve there, though I'll probably be able to see it on a P-day much like today.

Last night we got to watch a devotional given at the Provo MTC by Elder Russell M. Nelson, and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson. It was really great. They talked about obedience. Sister Nelson said that Obedience brings blessings, and exact obedience brings miracles. As you know, I'm generally a pretty obedient person, and I know that I have been feeling the blessings of my obedience as I am here. Elder Nelson spoke of many things, always reminding us that we are representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ in all we do.

At this time, I am able to speak and understand Spanish well enough to survive, and maybe even teach a few lessons, thanks to the gift of tongues. I'm not going to stop learning, though. I want to master this language. We went to get referrals from people at the Temple this past Saturday, and we talked to one sister who talked really fast. I was able to catch about 80% of what she said, which was really cool. Elder Najarro is even farther along than me, because both of his parents are Latino, so he's heard Spanish all his life, though not spoken it much. We tried to do a day completely in Spanish yesterday, and our district didn't do quite as well as anticipated, though I believe Elder Najarro and I tried harder than some of the other missionaries. It actually wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, probably because It's a lot easier to understand North Americans speaking Spanish than it is native speakers! We're trying again Friday, and I'm excited, and looking forward to success!

Today we're going to the temple again, and it's always one of the highlights of my week. I'm really excited to feel the spirit there again, it's always refreshing and edifying.

Also, we get to leave the MTC again, I believe next week, to go proselyting again, but this time I'll be with Elder Najarro, not my Latin companion. I'm nervous of course, because that's how I am, but I'm super excited. Last time, it was really cool, because we weren't even in the good part of town, and I didn't feel in danger ever. The Lord was watching over us. Also, I wasn't tired when we were finished, even though we had just spent three hours walking around in the hot sun. My legs hurt a little, but it wasn't a big deal. But this time, I won't forget my sunscreen.

I just want you all to know how much I love you, and how much you all mean to me. I miss you, but there's no place I'd rather be right now than sharing the Gospel that has brought me so much Joy in my life. In the words of President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "I am doing a great work, and cannot come down."
And if you're ever having a bad day, or a hard time, look up the scripture Joshua chapter 1 verse 9. It helps me a lot as I'm trying hard to do this great work.
Thank you for your love, your letters, your thoughts and your prayers. You are the best!
See you in less than two years! :)

Elder Nicholas Banks

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Another great week in Guatemala

Dear Family and Friends,

This has been a great week. It hasn't been perfect, but it's been good.
Yesterday I looked in my bag where I had been keeping my umbrella (which was really nice, btw) and it was gone. I was told when I first arrived that some elders don't really understand what stealing is, and they just take what they want. Our closets have locks, but I'm pretty sure the umbrella walked off while my backpack was in the cubbies at the cafeteria during dinner on Sunday. Most of the other elders left yesterday, and the rest left this morning, so our district, of 6 elders and 3 hermanas is the only district in the CCM until tomorrow, when the new ones arrive. It's been cool but a little weird to be the only ones. It's unusual for them to have such a small group of North Americans, but I guess it just worked out this way.

Back to the story: so I'm pretty sure my umbrella is on its way to El Salvador or Honduras right now. I decided not to sweat about it after talking to some people and looking for it. Then, last night, an elder I didn't really even know came up to me and asked if I had found my umbrella. I told him I hadn't and he gave me one. He acted like it was his extra umbrella, and I am very greatful, because it rains A LOT here. It's something I will always remember.

I also received my first piece of mail in Guatemala: a letter from Elder Dallin McEwen, who is serving in the NYC South Mission, Spanish speaking. He was my roommate last year at BYU.

And now on to some even better news: we got to leave the CCM again today! Our district went out into the city for a little cultural experience trip with some families who were visiting with one of the MTC presidency. We went first to a relief map of Guatemala, which doesn't sound exciting, but was probably my favorite part of the trip. It's basically a map of Guatemala and the surrounding area in concrete, with mountains, lakes oceans and volcanoes (of which we have plenty here) done to scale, although the scale is different for the mountains than the lay of the land, so you can see the mountains better. It was completed in 1901 or thereabouts. There are some elevated places so you can look down at it, and we stood up there and Elder Rogers, in the MTC presidency, told us about what he had learned about Guatemala being Book of Mormon country. He talked about the land northward and southward, the narrow strip of wilderness, Zarahemla, the land of Nephi, and many other places. This is all speculation of course, but Guatemala City may have been in the heart of the land of Nephi, with the waters of Mormon not at Atitlan, but at a place much closer. It's really cool to think about.

After that, we went to the Mercado Central (central market), where there are lots of different types of stalls. I ended up buying a leather wallet with my name on it, and a little leather coin pouch, both of which are really cool. I spent about Q57 on the lot, which works out to about $7-8. It was neat to see all the cool things they sell here. Some of the elders bought leather satchel-type bags, which are really cool, but I don't really need one so I didn't buy one. Who knows, maybe I'll find an even better one later?

After that we went to the Miraflores Mall and Museum. It's built at the site of an ancient city and lake, and there are some buried ruins there. The museum was small, but it was cool to see what used to be in the place that is now a shopping center that puts some in the states to shame. There was a map in the museum that had a mini model of the city that used to be there, with a glass overlay showing a map of Guatemala City today. It was a cool place to go.
Over all, it's been a pretty great week. Elder Najarro and I are still getting along well, and our district is still awesome.

A couple other amazing things have happened: Testimony meeting. We usually have sacrament in a chapel near the temple, but we had it in the CCM this week because it was raining. And for something to be moved/canceled here due to rain, it has to REALLY be raining. I got the chance again to bear my testimony in Spanish, and to play the closing hymn on the piano. It was really fun because the Spirit was so strong in that meeting. Every person in that room, except for the branch presidency, was set apart as a missionary, and you could just feel the testimony. It gives me chills just thinking about it, it was so amazing. And to be blessed enough to close that meeting with my piano playing was an honor.

Also, in case I didn't mention this already, we got to see the talk Elder Holland gave at the MTC the night before I entered. It was amazing. I also found out that Elder Nelson spoke the night we left Provo. That's a lot of apostles for a couple of months!

Anyway, I'd like to close with another Spanish testimony. I know most of you won't understand it, but I hope you can.

YO sé que el evangelio de Jesucristo es verdadero. Yo sé que Jesucristo sufrío y murío para nbuestros pecados, dolores, y pruebas. Yo se que Jose Smith fue el Profeta de la Restauracion, y el tradujo eL libro de mormon por el poder de Dios. Yo se que esta libro es verdadero, y el Templo es el lugar de convenios eternos. Yo digo estas cosas en el nombre de Jesucristo, Amen.

I love you all, and I can't wait to hear from you!
Elder Banks

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Best Week Yet!

I'll start off by answering some questions: There are about 80 elders and 20 sisters in the Guatemala MTC, running at almost full capacity. We have a building, which is combined with the apartments for the temple workers and for people who come to the temple from far away, and a gym, which is a separate building. According to my calculations, that's exactly 17 fewer buildings than the Provo MTC. The food here is really good. They feed us all kinds of things, from lasagna to breakfast burritos. I don't know if this is what we'll be eating in the field, I suspect it's probably better. Missionaries here are about half and half latino and gringo. They will all be serving in Central America, though most in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.

Also, if Pres. Uchtdorf really is coming to Guatemala, that would pretty much make my life. That would be AMAZING if he were to come and speak to us!!

Now into some stories:
The first, of course, was General Conference. We watched every session in English, and I loved every minute of it. Especially when Pres. Monson made the announcement about the Provo Tabernacle! That made my day! One of my favorite buildings in the world is literally about to become my favorite, because the Temple is one of my favorite places in the world.

Prior to watching conference, I had been praying to find out what I could do to be a better missionary, and my prayer was answered so bounteously that my cup runneth over. In pretty much every single session of General Conference, I received part of my answer from the amazing talks that were given. I can't wait for the conference Ensign/Liahona so I can study these talks some more!

Something funny that's been going on for a while, is the Latino elders really like my name. I've been addressed several ways: Bancos (literal translation of banks), Banks! Banks! Banks! (like Bang! Bang! Bang! from a gun), and then there's one elder who likes to start rapping my name every time he sees me. In other words, I usually hear my name at least three times if one of the Latinos is talking to me. Only the gringos actually call me Elder Banks (well, and the teachers). It's funny, but to be honest, it's getting a little old. I've decided to just tough it out, because the Latinos came in the same day as us, and they're only here for 3 weeks.

We got to leave the MTC and go tracting yesterday! I went with Elder Muguruza, my Peruvian exchange companion, and we knocked a few doors and talked to a lot of people on the street. We had some neat experiences talking to people, and helping them out. Some of the other elders had some even more outstanding experiences! For us, there was a lady who pulled up and got out of a truck, carrying some baskets of tortillas into a restaurant. We helped her carry them in, and we told her about who we were and why we were there. We got her address for the missionaries in the field, and gave her a pamphlet. It was a really great day and experience, and I'm feeling that once I get Spanish down and am able to understand better, I'll be ready to do this work. I'm super excited, and I feel ready. I know this is what I need to do right now, and it made me so happy just to help put six people in contact with the church, that I can't even begin to imagine how happy I'll be later on! (See D&C 18:10, 15-16) I'm really starting to get the "fire in my bones" as they call it!

And finally, the cherry on top of an awesome week: Elder Holland had given a devotional at the MTC the night before I entered. Last night, instead of having an area authority come and speak, we watched the recording of this devotional with Elder Holland. He spoke very openly and boldly about missionaries. He pointed out how we have an enormous responsibility, and this is the only dispensation that won't end in apostasy, and relatively all the missionary work in the history of the world is being done in the dispensation in which we live. He talked about how similar our calling is to his (after all, we're both called "Elder"), as we are both witnesses of Christ. But the thing that really hit home for me was how much God loves us. He was willing to give his only perfect son, Jesus Christ, for the sake of his billions of imperfect children, namely us. He loves us because we are his children, not because we are perfect, because if I'm any example, we're pretty far from it.

Well, I have to go now, they're forcing us out of the lab.
I love you all, and I hope to hear from you soon!
Elder Nick Banks

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

First week in Guatemala!!

Hola, Familia y Amigos!
     My first week in Guatemala has been most excellent. My district is pretty cool, and my companion and I are getting along well. Elder Corrigan is no longer my companion, but he's in my district. I'm settling in well, and I'm really enjoying what I've been able to see of the country so far.
     The MTC and Temple are in the high-end part of Guatemala City, so there are some really nice houses and apartments, and when I look out the window, I see a lot of nice cars. (Also, the car from Psych is pretty popular down here, though I haven't seen a blue one yet :)
     The street we are on, Bulevar Vista Hermosa, means "the street of the beautiful view" or something to that effect. My bedroom window looks up to Moroni on top of the temple. It's neat, because the CCM (MTC) is one building, connected to a guest house for people who work at the temple, serve in the MTC presidency, and I think for those who are coming to visit the temple. We live in the CCM half of the building, and it's cool because everything is right here. Class is upstairs from our room, and the cafeteria is downstairs. We don't have to walk forever to get where we're going. The only things we walk to are Casa CRE (TRC in Provo), where we teach Members/investigators who have come to volunteer to be taught, the Temple, and Church, which is in a chapel which shares a parking lot with the temple. We also have some vendors which come every p-day so we can buy supplies, scripture cases and the like. I'm trying to decide on a cool case for my Spanish scriptures, but I haven't been able to choose yet. They're all neat!
     I got the chance to get to know President Steimle better this weekend. He's really great, and he runs a great MTC. A lot of things here are nicer than in Provo!
     We'll be going to the temple this afternoon, and they have a special English session just for us! I'm really excited. The Guatemala City temple is the busiest temple in the world per square foot. It's pretty tiny, but it's beautiful. We had the opportunity on Saturday to go walk on the temple grounds and talk to people who were there, to share a scripture and practice our Spanish. It was really fun! We met a guy who has lived in Brigham City for the past few months (he is from Guatemala)! Thanks to the new temples in San Salvador and Quetzaltenango, the load will be lightened on the Guatemala City temple.
     I have two companions: Elder Najarro, my American companion, is from California. He's a really interesting person, and we're getting along pretty well so far. My Latino companion, Elder Muguruza, is from Peru. It's harder to communicate with him, but it's also fun. We teach the Latinos English while they help us practice our Spanish. It's a really neat experience.
     Since I have the chance to practice almost constantly, my Spanish has already improved. The hard part is understanding the natives, because they speak quickly, and my Peruvian companion speaks with a fairly thick accent.
     We have three teachers. Hermana Ibañez (ee-bahn-yez), Hermana Ayala (eye-ah-la) 2 (her twin sister is Hermana Ayala 1), and Hermana Mijangos (me-han-gos). They are all really cool, and have taught us a lot of stuff. Two of them act as our investigators, Leslie and Patty. We're teaching each of them once a week.
     Probably the coolest thing that happened since I arrived in Guatemala was right after we stepped outside of the airport. As soon as I had a chance to relax, and all my bags had arrived, I just felt a feeling, which is kind of hard to describe. Let's just say that I know that there's a special spirit about this beautiful country, and I'm excited to become more acquainted with the land and its people. Yes, I'm still nervous, but I know the Lord will help us through any challenges we may have in any of our lives. He wants me to learn Spanish, so I'm going to learn Spanish. He wants me to teach, so I will teach.
     We had a great devotional last night by Elder Cesar Morales, area authority seventy. He said some great things, and he mentioned a lot of great scriptures, which I haven't really had the chance to read yet. One scripture I read recently that he reminded us of was Doctrine and Covenants section 31, which is amazing. He talked about losing yourself in the work, and everything else will work out. He spoke with power, and gave a lot of good counsel. I hope every Tuesday devotional is as awesome as this one was, it really helped me. I had the chance to meet Elder Morales after the devotional, and I thanked him for the great message he had shared. It was really cool to get a hug and a handshake from a Seventy! He told some really cool stories from when he was a mission president and a stake president. One story was when he was stake president, and there was a missionary from his stake who was having a hard time and wanted to come home. He talked to this missionary on the phone, then he called his parents. His parents were devastated. The father said: "I would rather have my son dead in a box than home from his mission early." Elder Morales then called the missionary back, and told him what his father had said. That Elder then stayed on his mission, and went on to become a powerful missionary. It goes to show that no matter what we're going through, if we turn to the Lord, he will help us through our challenges. Not only that, but he can make us into better people than we ever could ourselves.
     I love you all, yet while I love you very much, there is no place I would rather be than here in the Guatemala MTC right now. I know this is where I am supposed to be, and where the Lord wants me to be. I know the work I am doing is a true work, a good work, and a joyful work.
     I love you all very much, and I hope to hear from you soon!
Elder Nicholas William Banks

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hello from Guatemala!

This is my email for this week. Sorry it is so short, I don't really have time to write more. I am safely at the MTC in Guatemala City. My new companion is Elder Najarro, who came with us on the flight last night. I will also have a native companion who I will be with at certain times, so I can learn spanish and he can learn english. Elder Corrigan is still in our district, but is not my companion anymore. Most of our district is going to the Central mission, a couple (incl my companion) are going South, and one sister is going to Nicaragua. The district was all the people we flew with on the plane yesterday.

When I got on the plane to Guatemala last night, I had this great feeling that my life is about to change forever, and I was really excited. When I walked out of the airport, I felt a special feeling about this place. It was really cool. The city is actually pretty modern, and it's really cool to see how everything works here. The MTC here is really small, and we are right next to the temple. We can see it from our window and it's a great view! Everyone here is really nice, and most people speak English if you really need to communicate with them.

We also had a lesson/devotional today from the MTC president and his wife. They're really great, and I'm looking forward to getting to know them better. I think this MTC will be even better than the one in Provo! It's a little bit hard to understand everybody right now, but the president and his wife told us to just relax and have fun while speaking the language, and it will come. They really stressed the importance of not stressing out.

I've also been designated as the new "tech guy," to be trained shortly by the old tech guy. I get to help set up for meetings and the like, which means I'll probably get to help set up for when we watch General Conference in a couple weeks.

Also, some more details about the MTC address here:
It is:

Nicholas William Banks
Boulevard Vista Hermosa 23-71, Zona 15
Vista Hermosa 1
Guatemala, Ciudad de Guatemala

DO NOT write Elder on the envelope, and also do not write MTC or CCM (MTC in Spanish) as part of the address.

Anyway, just know how much I love you all, and I will write more to you next week.
Elder Nicholas Banks

p.s. I'm still on the same time zone as Utah, since Utah is on Daylight Savings at the moment.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Week 2

Hello Everyone!
This will be my final email from the Provo MTC. Shortly after I wrote last week's email, I received my travel plans. I will be leaving the MTC around 4 or 5 pm on Tuesday, Sept. 20th. I leave SLC at around 8:30 for LAX, then we leave for GU (guatemala city) around 1am. I'm excited that I get to leave to Guatemala, but at the same time, I'm pretty nervous as well. While I know a lot of spanish for having spoken it for just three weeks, I've still only been speaking for three weeks. I can probably survive in a tourist sort of way at this point, but having a meaningful conversation or a lesson will be more difficult. The good news is, being forced to speak spanish will help me learn it faster.
This week, a lot of things happened.
First of all, last friday, I had the awesome opportunity to go to the Provo Temple with my district. We had a great experience! We're going again today, and I'm really looking forward to it. While I was there, I had the chance to run into Aunt Pat and Uncle Bob! It was an awesome surprise! Not only is it great to be in the temple, but to see someone you love there is just an amazing experience, especially when it's a surprise.
We picked up a new "investigator" this week. His name is Juan, and I'm really excited to teach him. In our 2nd lesson, Elder Corrigan was really in tune with the Spirit and we taught him about prayer, and a little about the Book of Mormon. He was receptive, and we taught him again about prayer and actually got him to pray! That was really cool. We got off to a good start with Juan, so I'm hopeful we can get farther with him than we did with Martin (mar-teen in Spanish). During our lesson yesterday, Martin decided that he din't want to take the lessons from us anymore. He said he didn't have enough time to take lessons or read the book of Mormon, but he thanked us and wished us well. We didn't get off to a great start with him, so honestly, I'm not all that surprised. We're supposed to be getting a new investigator tonight though, which should be interesting.
This week, I encouraged Elder Corrigan to go to the MTC health clinic. His knee was bothering him, and I suggested that he get it looked at before we leave the country. He went to the MTC clinic Wednesday, and they set him up with an appointment at an orthopedic specialist on Thursday. Since I'm his companion, this meant he and I both got to leave the MTC campus to go to the doctor. It was refreshing to get out a little bit, but I'm glad to be back here now. I was living in fear that somebody would come up to us and start speaking spanish, since our name tags have the name of the church written in spanish on them. Plenty of people came up to us in English though, and most of them thought we were serving in Provo. They were members, just friendly, coming over to meet us. It was pretty cool to realize how everybody knows what an LDS missionary looks like! I imagine we probably didn't get spanish from other people because our name tags still say "Elder," not something else. The actual spanish word for elder wouldn't make any sense in this context, so they just used the english cognate "Elder." It's pronounced differently of course, but it looks exactly the same. It's not like it's written in russian or anything.
So, as you can see, I've really been enjoying my time here in Provo. I love the Gospel, I love the Church, and I love being a missionary. I know that this is the place that I'm supposed to be right now, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Also, I just wanted to thank those of you who have sent me packages! It was an awesome surprise to go to the mailroom and find some gifts! Thank you!

I just wanted to close with an attempt to bear a short, simple testimony in Spanish. I apologize in advance if there are any accent marks missing or out of place, this keyboard isn't exactly being cooperative at the moment.

Yo se que Jesucristo es nuestro Salvador y Redentor. Yo se que podemios limpiar por medio de la Expiacio´n de Jesucristo. Yo se que de Dios y Jesucristo viven, aman nos mucho. Yo se que el Libro de Mormon es verdadero. Yo sento el Espiritu Santo cada hora yo es leo. Yo amo mi Familia, y yo amo el Evangelio. Yo se que el Evangelio de Jesucristo es verdadero. Yo ligo estas cosas en el nombre de Jesucristo, Amen.

I love you all! You're the best!
Elder Nicholas Banks

Friday, September 9, 2011

Week 1

Hello Everyone!
I recently finished my first week in the MTC and I love it here. Spanish is hard, but it's coming slowly and surely. My companion and district are great, and I'm the district leader at the moment, which basically means I conduct meetings, pick up the mail, and briefly interview senior companions once a week. I'm really excited right now, because my email actually works this week!
Since last Friday, we've been teaching an "investigator named Matrín. He's really receptive and he came into our class yesterday and introduced himself as Hermano (brother) Papenfuss, who will be teaching us Spanish alongside Hermano McClellan. He had some great principles to teach us, and it was a really neat class period. Next week we get two new "investigators," so we'll have plenty of practice. It's interesting, because they teach language with complete immersion. The first day of class, the teacher came in speaking nothing but Spanish, and two days later, we started teaching our first investigator. It's hard, but I can tell that it really is helping.
My companion, Elder Corrigan, is pretty cool. He's from West Jordan, and he and I share a lot of common interests. We both know a lot about computers (and therefore we're both a little disoncerted with how locked down everything is on the computers here), we both play the piano, and several other things. We can almost always find something to talk about that we both know something about! He's also going to the Guatemala City Central Mission. The rest of the district is going to Atlanta, GA, except for one Elder who is going to Colorado Springs. All are speaking Spanish.
I'm actually enjoying gym time here. At the moment, Elder Corrigan and I like the same types of exercise, but you don't have to be with your companion during gym. I've been using some of the exercise machines they have here (but probably won't in Guatemala) and it feels really good to exercise.
The food usually tastes good here, but for our service assignment we helped clean the kitchen and I saw all the oil and liquid margarine they use. You can tell when you eat it, and I'm just trying to be careful and stay healthy.
So far, outside of the letters from you family, I've received letters from the MTC President, Gordon D. Brown (about being a district leader), Estée Arts, and Brad Wilcox, my mission prep instructor. His son just entered the MTC the week before I did. Thank you everyone for writing, and I hope to hear from you more! Remember, you can use dearelder.com to write to me both here in the MTC and in the mission field!
I've also seen Elder Crowther, Elder Monson, and Elder Claiborne here in the MTC. That was cool.
I love you everyone! You're the best!
Elder Nicholas Banks

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Day 4

Dear Family,
     I am sorry about the whole email thing. I tried to log in too many times on a computer with a Spanish keyboard and I got locked out. I am going later to try and reset the password so I can write you a short message.
     The past couple of days have been pretty eventful. Thursday night, I was assigned as District Leader, which basically means I organize and uplift the elders in our district, pick up the mail, and facilitate communications with the Branch Presidency.
     The next morning, one of my companions disappeared at breakfast. We searched for him to no avail and when we got to class the other elders said they saw him leaving the MTC. He told them he was going home. Elder Corrigan and I then spent most of yesterday notifying people and trying to find the Elder. They're still looking for him and are keeping us posted. How about that for a first day in leadership?
     Last night we taught our first lesson to Martin, our work investigator. Language-wise the lesson was a bit of an “accidente de tren” (train wreck) but we got some good practice and we're teaching him again tonight. Hopefully it will go a little better!
     I hope all is well at home. Despite the events I'm still enjoying it here and Spanish is coming slowly but surely.
     I love you very much and I will email you next week. My P-day is Friday (the first week is different).
Elder Nicholas Banks
P.S. Thanks for the umbrella and sandals!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Day 1

     Things are going pretty well so far here at the MTC. About a minute after you dropped me off, I was walking along with the Host Elder and I ran into Elder Austin Claiborne (a neighbor from college) who was hosting as well. I called his name and he switched with my Host Elder and hosted me with his companion who is originally from Guatemala. It was really neat. Another college neighbor in Austin's mission was also there.

     I have two companions. All three of us are from Utah and we all get along pretty well so far. Two of us are headed to the Central Mission and the third is going to the South Mission.

     Spanish class is hard because the teacher never speaks English. He said we'll be teaching some investigators on Friday, so I'm a little nervous but I'm sure I'll get the help I need. I'll be praying for it!

     I just want you to remember how much I love  you. You guys are the best! I hope that all goes well at home.

     Also I found your gift (bag of taffy). You guys are pretty “sweet” yourselves.

     I just wanted you to know that I love it here so far and though it will be hard, it will be awesome. I love you all.


Elder Nicholas Banks