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.