Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A New Beginning

Dearest Friends and Family,

This week has been amazing.

First of all, I have been transferred to the zone Villa Hermosa, and I am serving in an area called La Corona (the crown) with Elder Guandique from El Salvador. He and I are getting along awesome, and we just opened the area, which is awesome as well. They split the area of Ciudad Real (real city) into 2 areas, and now there are 5 Elders in the same ward: my companion and I in one part, and the rest in another. We all live in the same house, my companion and I upstairs, and the other trio (including our district leader) downstairs. Our District leader is Elder Richards from Idaho, and his companions are Elder Carrillo from Nicaragua, and Elder Carcamo from Panama, who just arrived in the mission this week! It gets a little crazy sometimes, but I love it.

The members here are absolutely amazing. The Bishop came out to work with us on Sunday, and showed us some member's houses, and some old investigators, which was great.

Since we just opened the area, we've basically had to start from nothing and find some investigators. We already have about 5 families, because we've just been working like nothing else this week. One of them lives here, but spends a lot of time in Elder Guandique's old area, so we found him at night and taught him and his family, which was fantastic. He has some challenges, but he really wants to be baptized, so we'll be working hard with him.

Now, a little about my last few days in Jerusalem:

The day before the transfers, we saw our branch president in his car with a taxi sign on top, which was a new sight. Therefore, he was our taxi driver to get to the transfer meeting, which was neat. We paid him, and bought him breakfast too.

The ward here in Ciudad Real seems to be connected with Jerusalen a lot. Bro. Lazo, Jerusalen's mission leader, and his wife Juanita, who washed our clothes, used to live here, and they always talked about how special the ward is here. And the members here still talk about them, because they're amazing. On Thursday, we went to the chapel for a correlation meeting with Bro. Gomez, our mission leader, who is AMAZING. While at the chapel, I saw a sister about my age who looked familiar, but I couldn't remember where I'd seen her. Then on Sunday, when I was out working with the Bishop, I ran into her and her boyfriend, who I know from JERUSALEN! She had come to the branch a few times, and that's where I'd seen her! Small world, huh? Gerson, the boyfriend, saw me and shouted "Cody!" I get called that a bit down here because of the film "Agent Cody Banks." :)

The members here are amazing. The Bishop is behind us 100%, and so is our mission leader, Bro. Gomez. We already have a missionary activity planned for this Thursday, and we'll be going out with a member today as well. We did divisions with some of the priests on Sunday morning to try and get some more investigators to stake conference, where Elder Amado of the Seventy spoke. I heard him speak in the CCM as well, and he is absolutely amazing. I left the meeting very inspired, filled with peace, and ready to go out and work.

Since we just moved into the house, we're still waiting on some stuff to be able to settle in, like a box of dishes, and some furniture to keep our clothes in. Thankfully, one of the members we visited my last night in Jerusalen gave me a small tupperware bowl with lid to eat my cereal. Needless to say, this particular tupperware has seen a lot of use this week. I guess the Lord inspires people down to the littlest things, like a surprise gift. It goes to show that he really does take care of his children.

Basically, I'm in love with my new working environment. My companion is awesome, the area is "chilero" (cool) and we've got a lot of work to do. I'll really be enjoying this change, and I'm learning a lot. We're also teaching English a lot to the Latino elders, which is going really well. In district meeting, we speak some English and some Spanish, so everybody gets to practice.

Hopefully I'll be sending some pictures soon, both of people from Jerusalen, and some people from La Corona.

Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers. They are being answered.
I love you all! Take care!

Yours in the Faith,
Elder Nicholas Banks

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Exodus

Dear All,

This has been a good week. We've been contacting a ton of people and it's really fun. We're getting new investigators, and finding more members whom we didn't know existed. It's always interesting to knock a door and find an inactive member. The conversation usually goes something like "Oh, I talked to a couple of missionaries like you a few years ago. They baptized me and everything." We've also got some really great investigators to work with, and I think they will go far, and be great members of the Church.

As my title suggests, I have a transfer this week. I will be leaving Jerusalem, thus, "The Exodus." Elder Calta will be finishing his mission with a new companion in Jerusalén, and I will be off to a new and amazing adventure in another part of the beautiful country of Guatemala. If I'm headed for the Coast, the Mountains, or if I'm staying here in the Capital, I won't know until tomorrow when I meet my new companion and go to my second area. Jerusalén is a great area, and I will miss it. It's a very big area, with lots of amazing people. I hope the next elders to come into the area will be able to take care of it better than I have, being a fairly new missionary. There have been good times and bad, sweet times and bitter, but we need to have both to be able to recognize the sweet. "There must needs be an opposition in all things." (2 Nephi 2) Besides, it has been mostly good here in the Lord's vineyard!

Yesterday was P-day, and I got to start saying goodbye to some of the members of the branch. It's always a weird feeling to say goodbye. Also, we went to the doctor (there's an office just for the missionaries!), and in the lobby was Elder Maldonado, whom I met in the CCM. He's serving in the Guatemala City North Mission, currently in an area quite close to Jerusalén, where everyone in my area seems to have relatives. It was fun to catch up a little and see a friend unexpectedly. I also wrote a letter to Elder Caceres to tell him how things are as I leave the area.

In the district meeting I just left, we had a workshop on the Spirit. Someone made the comment that the missionaries are only the phone company between the Lord and the Investigator. We need to connect them to the Lord, but we can't do that unless we have the Spirit to be with us always, and follow its promptings. It's an amazing feeling when it happens, and it's humbling to realize that my role is very important as a missionary, but also very small. It reminds me of one of my favorite scriptures, found in Alma 26:12 in the Book of Mormon: "Yea, I know that I am nothing. As to my strength, I am weak. I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things..." In this passage, Ammon is speaking. Ammon was a pretty big, strong person, and could easily have boasted of his own strength, and with reason. But, he was extremely humble, and knew his place in the Lord's plan. He knew that he was simply the voice and hands of the Lord, that none of what he did actually came from himself. What an example he is to all of us, because, as we read in the Book of Mormon, we are less than the dust of the earth, for when God commands the dust to move, it moves. When he commands us to wake up a little earlier and get to Church on time, sometimes we still don't move. When he commands us to read our scriptures, pray, and keep the commandments, somehow we still think we know better. My dearest friends and family, I am here to tell you that we do not know better. God knows what is best for each one of us. Each of us is one of his children, and he loves us very, very much. More than we can imagine. He will make sure we get the best outcome possible for all eternity IF we trust in and follow him to the very best of our abilities. This is my testimony, that God lives. He watches over us and cares for us every day. He knows our thoughts, our prayers, our needs, and our feelings. Pray to him, and ask him what you need to do, and he will tell you. He's helped me, and I know that if he's done it for me, he'll do it for you.
I love each and every one of you. I miss you sometimes, but as President Uchtdorf once taught, "I am doing a great work, and cannot come down."

Thank you for your prayers, thoughts, and letters. They are always greatly appreciated.

Yours in the Faith,
Elder Nicholas Banks

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Semana Santa

Dear All,

Easter isn't Easter in Guatemala it's Semana Santa, or Holy Week. Basically, everyone gets off work and school from Wednesday until Monday, and they all go out of town except for those who are receiving guests. It was an interesting week, but we still got some good work done, and there were a few people we finally found at home, which was really cool. There was one guy who talked to me on the bus a couple months ago with Elder Caceres and we've never been able to actually
teach him. His name is Luis and he's got a lot of problems. He wants to change, and we're helping him to do so. He's got some really big challenges to overcome, but he wants to change his life and improve his relationship with his wife, who is living in the States at the moment. I know this will be hard for him, but we're here to help him change and come to Christ.

Yesterday something kind of funny happened. We got on the bus that takes us into the city, and a preacher got on and basically started calling everyone to repentance. He sat down, and eventually we all got off the bus. We went alone to another bus, which then went a couple of stops, and THE SAME PREACHER got on the bus, and started giving basically THE SAME MESSAGE again! It was kind of funny.

Yesterday was also a really amazing day for me. I finally stopped worrying and relaxed a bit, and the Spirit really has started working with me. Also, I'm really happy and excited to be here! We only had two lessons yesterday, but I feel great! During one of the lessons, scriptures just started coming into my mind, which I know wasn't me. Also, we've started contacting differently as well. We'll stay semi-close to each other on the street but talk to different people. It helps us A. find more people, and B. build my confidence, that I actually can talk to people!

My companion and I are still getting along as usual. We're working hard, and when we're doing so, it is the greatest feeling in the world.

We also had a zone conference last week, which was pretty cool. As I walked in, Elder Krantz from the CCM was there, and he said "Hey, I'm supposed to do a musical number and don't have a pianist. Will you play for me?" We practiced a little beforehand, and then we pulled off a pretty good bi-lingual rendition of "I Stand All Amazed." I also learned a lot in the conference, and President Brough gave us some great counsel.

The other news is that changes are nearing. Chances are that next week, I will be out of Jerusalén. I'll miss it, as it's a really great area. The people are amazing, and there are some amazing views of Guatemala City, Villa Nueva, and Lake Amatitlan (not Atitlan, that's far away). This little corner of Guatemala has really worked its way into my heart. Nothing is official yet, but I'm pretty sure I'll be leaving, because I've been in this area for almost 6 months.

Overall, it's been a pretty good week. I've fallen in love with the work, and I'm falling in love with the people. My spiritual thought this week is about obedience. In the bible, we read that Jesus Christ came to be the Savior for all those who obey him. I exhort you to do so. Pray, love God and Christ, and follow them. If you're not following them, repent and get back on track. There is only one way to eternal happiness. Are you following this way?

Thank you for all your prayers. Please keep praying for us.

Yours in the Faith,
Elder Nicholas Banks

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Another Week on the Lord's Errand

Dear Everyone,

General Conference was fantastic. I learned two big things from the talks: 1. I need to be filled with more love, and 2. I need to trust more in the Lord, and relax a little more. Some other messages really helped me in a more personal way, but I really enjoyed it. On Saturday, I watched the two main sessions in English, in a room in the stake center with the other Gringos. The first thing they asked me was "Did you bring food?" Because apparently general conference turns into a feeding frenzy for the North Americans, because we get our own little room to listen in English, and we're not in the actual chapel.

For Priesthood, they told me there wouldn't be a broadcast in English, so I sat with my Comp in the chapel. About halfway through, he said "Hey, there aren't any other North Americans in here. They must be watching in English." But it was too late, so I finished in Spanish.

The next day, we went to the chapel in Roosevelt, which used to be the stake center, with the whole branch. I watched in the office and the family history center on the computer with Elder Wall, another elder in the zone. We had investigators come both Saturday and Sunday, which is great, because some of our investigators work Sundays, so they were able to come Saturday. I was a bit surprised with all the people who were released, and that there weren't any new temples announced. But that's okay, it's all the Lord's will.

Yesterday we made potato casserole with Karen, one of our less-active members. It took so long to cook that we went back to eat it for breakfast today because it wasn't ready yesterday. We'll be cooking chicken with her one of these days as well. Her mom is Hermana Soto, who used to be our cook, and who recently returned from Nicaragua.

Overall, as far as my companion and the area, not much has changed. We're still joking around as usual, and I'm trying to relax more and just let it come. I've been stressing out too much, and it impedes the Spirit from helping me, so I need to try to relax a bit more.

Well, I don't really have much more to say this week. Just that I love you all, and keep on praying!

Yours in the faith,
Elder Nicholas Banks