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, 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