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