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