Tuesday, May 29, 2012

First week in Sonora, and Responsibilities

Dear All,

This has been a pretty good week here in Sonora. I've met all of the investigators, and some of the inactives we visit. We've got some appointments today with new people, and we'll be doing divisions with two men from the ward, because today is my companion's last day of proselyting. Tomorrow are the changes, and he will leave for his home.

Speaking of the ward, it's huge. The attendance Sunday was 204, and the mission leader is worried because that was pretty low. It gets as high as 300 sometimes. In my other two areas, 200 would have been a miracle. It reminded me of Utah, honestly. They even have a digital piano that can sound like an organ, so I can play the "organ" in sacrament meeting, which is a first for me in Guatemala. The leaders are great, and I love the members. We have some really great people here, including brother Peña, who will be driving us in his car to the change meeting tomorrow, where I will receive my new companion, and Elder Martinez will be going home.

Also, this ward has a ward choir. The first ward choir I've seen in Guatemala. It's small, but they have some strong singers, and they're full of enthusiasm. The other elders had a baptism on Sunday, and I had the chance to be able to accompany them, which was fun. Sis. Soto, the choir director, asked me to practice with the choir, but it's at the same time as our missionary correlation with the ward, so I can't. That's okay, though.

Speaking of my new companion, President Brough called me Wednesday night. He cut right to the chase. "Elder Banks, your Heavenly Father has called you to train." I will be helping a new missionary to do what I did just 7 1/2 short months ago. It's a big responsibility, and I'm pretty nervous, but I'm also kind of excited in a way. It will be hard, but if the Lord has called me to do it, he will make it so I will be able to do it. My previous companion, Elder Guandique, will also be training, which is probably why President separated us. He will be training in La Corona, and I will be training here in Sonora 1.

Saturday, we had some baptisms. We went to the chapel about 10am to get the font filling. It fills fast enough, but we needed to set up chairs, and get everything ready. If they want hot water, we have to take a few hours to let the heaters run so the people don't freeze. We baptized two girls, Helen and Diana. Their older sister and her husband are going to be baptized this Sunday, and their parents will hopefully be baptized soon. I really love their family, and I am going to work to get every one of them into the waters of baptism. Baptism is the only entrance into the path that leads to eternal life, and after entering the Temple, to an eternal family as well.

But when we went to fill the font, my companion found a bird inside the chapel. Someone had left a window open, and it had gotten into the baptismal room. We opened the window and got it out of the building, but not before it left me a present all over my tie. It washed right off, and it was pretty funny.

We just came from a really great district meeting, where we shared testimonies, and the Spirit was definitely in attendance. It was a really great experience.

Overall, this is a great area. My great copmanion will be leaving, but I'll receive another. I'm humbled because the Lord, as well as President Brough, have a lot of confidence in me to have called me to train another missionary. I don't feel ready, but the Lord knows better than I do.

I am reminded of a poem:
"Come to the edge," he said.
They said, "We are afraid."
"Come to the edge," he said.
They came.
He pushed them, and they flew.
Those who love us may well push us when we are ready to fly.
-Guillaume Apollinaire

Also, it doesn't seem like I'll be completing 9 months as a missionary this week, but that's what happens. Time flies in the work of the Lord.

I know our Heavenly Father lives, as does his son, Jesus Christ, who suffered and died, atoning for all of our sins, errors, mistakes, and pains. They love us immensely, and are active in our lives. I know I'm where the Lord wants me to be at this time, in this place. Even though it's hard sometimes, there's no place I would rather be, because the Lord wants me here.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. Also, thank you for your letters. I have about 4 or 5 letters sitting on my desk that I need to respond to, and I will do so as soon as I have time.

Yours in the Faith,
Elder Nicholas Banks

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Elder Amado, Transfers, and Elder Martinez

Dear All,

Some pretty big things have happened this week, so I'll start in chronological order.

Thursday: We went to a zone conference where Elder Carlos H. Amado spoke to us. He is a Seventy, one of the counselors in the Central America Area Presidency of the Church. He gave us some amazing inspiring instruction, and at the same time, he was really funny. He told us some jokes, but the greatest thing was that what he taught me, he didn't say. The Spirit indicated it to me.

I also had the opportunity to direct a basically impromptu choir number in the same conference. We sang the EFY medley of "As Sisters in Zion" and "We'll bring the world his truth" in Spanish, with part in English. It went over really well and really invited the Spirit.

The other big news was that President Brough called us Thursday night. First, he asked me "Elder Banks, I heard you know how to play the Piano. Is that true?" I told him yes, and he asked me to play an intermediate hymn in a conference we're going to have in June. I'm excited, but also pretty nervous, since it'll be in front of a lot of people. But it'll be good. I know I'll be able to do it.

After the deal with the piano, President Brough said "This next part I don't think you're going to like so much." The next part was news of a transfer. My transfer. As of yesterday, I am no longer in La Corona, Zona Villa Hermosa. I am in Sonora 1, Zona Amatitlan. This transfer is out of the ordinary because there were some changes in the mission, and the President shuffled around some of the Elders, sending me here. He told me I may go back for the weekend to La Corona, but I don't think it'll happen. Nor do I want it to. I'm here now, I want to focus on here. Here, by the way, is counted as the Coast, but it's basically still the Capital. My comp said we can see Peronia (Jerusalén) from the roof of the house, and I could see Lake Amatitlan from Jerusalén. Therefore, as I consider it, I'm still in the Capital. Lake Amatitlan is NOT Lake Atitlan, which is commonly considered to be the Waters of Mormon from the Book of Mormon. Lake Atitlan is in the mountains, in a zone called Sololá, also part of the Central Mission.

My companion here in Amatitlan is Elder Martinez from Honduras. He and I have already really hit it off, and we have something in common, because he was in Jerusalén about a year before I was. He baptized some of our favorite families there, and it was really great. He and I work well together, but the bad news is that the official transfers are next Wednesday, and he goes home. His time is finished. He's still giving it all he's got which is amazing.

Since he goes home, I have this week to learn the area, meet the members and investigators, and be able to teach it to a new companion. The President hinted that I may be receiving a junior companion. This will be a big challenge, but I also think it will be a great blessing. After all, if things are easy, we should be worried, because God always teaches us in our challenges. Like President Eyring mentioned in General Conference, I think it was President Kimball that said "Give me another mountain." This will be my mountain for the time being, and it will be a good one. We've got tons of support here, and it's a beautiful place. The chapel is basically a stake center, even though it's not actually the stake center, and there are 2 wards and 8 missionaries just here in this chapel. The Sonora ward, where I am serving, has an average attendance of around 250, which is HUGE. The Bishopric and Mission Leader are apparently also amazing (I haven't met them yet) so it looks like we've got plenty of support. And the investigators I've met are really amazing. There's a great family whose daughters are going to be baptized this weekend, and the parents probably as well, but they have to make a firm decision.

Overall, I'm happy, and a bit nervous, but I know it's not President Brough that put me here, it's the Lord. He has a purpose, and he has a plan. In addition, I am doing my best to take the attitude of Nephi from the Book of Mormon when he said "...I will go and do the things which the Lord has commanded. For I know that the Lord giveth no commandment unto the children of men save he shall prepare the way that they may accomplish the thing which he hath commanded them." (1 Nephi 3:7) I know that the Lord will help me, and that through him, all things are possible.

Thank you for your prayers.

I love you all!
Yours in the Faith,
Elder Nicholas Banks

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Baptism and Mother's Day

Hello All,

It's been another fantastic week here in Guatemala.

First of all, we had some baptisms. We had been teaching some 8-year-old kids whose parents are members. It turns out that they weren't investigators, but one of the kids asked me to baptize him. The other two asked their uncle, Luis, to baptize them. It was a really neat experience, especially being the first time I actually had the opportunity to baptize someone.

Our chapel doesn't have a baptismal font, so we had to go to the stake center to use the font there. While there, we ran into the lawyer who is going to marry a family that we're going to baptize next week. The family was there as well, and they had some questions for her, so they chatted, then we talked to her for a minute, and she casually mentioned that she had just come from Jerusalén, marrying some couples there as well. I asked her a couple of names, and she said that they were who she had just married. I worked with this family for my whole 6 months there, and they were about to get married and baptized when I left. She told me that they had been baptized as well, which was amazing news for me! I was so happy to hear that Jairon and Vilma had chosen to enter the waters of baptism, and start on the path that leads to an eternal family! Apparently, after she marries the couple here in Ciudad Real, she's going to return to Jerusalén the same day to marry yet another couple. How cool is that?

Those were really the biggest events of this past week. Yesterday we had a good, relaxing P-Day, which was a nice change. We've been pretty busy the last few weeks.

The other big news, of course, was the Mother's Day phone call. It was really great to talk to the family, and to tell them everything that's been happening here in Guate.

We also had the chance to have a lesson with a new investigator yesterday. His name is Wilmar, and he's a good friend of one of the families in the ward. He's 16, and he looks pretty rebellious on the outside, but on the inside, he appears to have a good heart, and a true desire to do the right. I'm excited to continue teaching him, and I think he'll be baptized if we take good care of him. We've talked to him a few times before in the street, and he came to church once as well, and really liked it. He seems really cool and I'm stoked to help him come unto Christ.

The family who will be baptized this Sunday is the Hernandez family. They're really, really great. They even invited us to lunch last Saturday. We'll be working hard this week to make sure that the two parents, as well as their 8-year-old daughter, are prepared to be baptized. They also have a 1-year-old son, but he's got to wait about 7 years until he can be baptized! I love the whole family, and I'm really excited to see them make covenants with our Heavenly Father.

In the past few months, I've realized how much I really love this Gospel. First of all, it's true, and second of all, it makes so much sense. It answers all the important questions we may have as to what we need to do here to be able to dwell with God once we leave this world, and how we can become eternal families. I love it because I know it's true. I know there are people here waiting for it, and it's my job to find them. After all, who doesn't want eternal happiness? There's only one way to find it, and that's through the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Knowing and living the Gospel, and the Commandments of God is the only way we can be happy. Not just after this life, but right now, we can feel peace and security in knowing where we may go, and what we need to do right now. I tell you this because I've found the happiness (i.e. the Gospel). If you haven't found it, or you don't think it makes you that happy, seek it. Once you've found it, seek to understand it better, and I promise you, you will find peace. No matter what mistakes you may have made, you have a Heavenly Father and a Savior waiting to forgive you and help you to be better, and to obtain the happiness, the joy, the peace, and the security that will make you shout for joy!

As Christ told his apostles, "Come unto me, all ye who are labored or heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you will find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

I testify to you that these things are true. Don't be afraid of God or his will, but remember how much he loves you. He is your father, and he misses you, and wants you to come back home to him. Trust in him, hand him your burdens, and he will help you to overcome, and to do so with a smile on your face!

I love you all. You are amazing. Never forget that you are a child of God, and he loves you more than is possible to describe.

Thank you for your prayers. The results are being seen very strongly here in the mission.

Yours in the Faith,
Elder Nicholas Banks

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

This Week

Dear Family and Friends,

It's been another great week here in Guatemala. We had a ton of investigators at church this week, and fast and testimony meeting was really spiritual. One of our investigators even got up to bear his testimony!

The other big thing that happened this week was Zone Meeting and Interviews. It's great to be here, because even though I used to be in Zona Mariscal, and I'm in Zona Villa Hermosa now, there are some of the same people here. Elder Hansen, one of our zone leaders, was my zone leader in Mariscal, and came here the same time I did. The Zone Leaders are in a trio with Elder Gomez, who I did my first divisions with.

President Brough and I had a great interview. He answered some of my questions, and had a couple for me as well. He told me that I probably won't be with Elder Guandique for much more time, and to take advantage of what time I have left with him.

Also, they told us that next week we'll get to hear from Elder Carlos H. Amado of the 70, one of the counselors in the Area Presidency of Central America. Basically, he's one of the bigwigs of the Church here in Guatemala, and he's an amazing speaker. I heard him speak in the CCM, and again 3 weeks ago in Stake Conference. He really speaks with the Spirit, and you always learn something great when he speaks, so I'm really excited!

We're still fighting to get some families married so they can be baptized. If they're not married, they're not obeying the Law of Chastity, and we can't baptize them. Unfortunately, it's harder to marry someone here than in the States, but it's ok, because we have a lawyer who's a member of the Church, who doesn't charge very much for marriages, so we can still get them married. We've got some really great families who hopefully we'll be baptizing not this Sunday, but the following Sunday.

This Sunday, however, we will be baptizing some kids whose parents are members, but who have passed the age of baptism without being baptized. They're pretty great, and I'm really excited. Most of the chapels here in Guatemala have their own baptismal font, but ours doesn't. Fortunately, we're close to the stake center, which is beautiful and big, and has a beautiful baptismal font.

We had a great lesson last night with the Dubón Family. The husband is him who told me that I'm not from the USA. Up to this point, we have had a strong suspicion that they're looking for financial help from the Church, and it's probable that they're still looking for that, but yesterday they demonstrated a really sincere interest in the Gospel. They had read the chapter we left them, and the wife remembered what it talked about and everything. She even had a question about the reading! There was a different feeling in their home than before. It was more peaceful and happy. Even though they're passing through a hard time, the Gospel is already helping them. They felt the Spirit really strongly at Church (this week was their first time attending) and the husband even got up to bear his testimony. They, along with the Hernandez family are our next closest families to baptism, and I'm really excited.

On Monday, we went to the dentist. While there, we ran into Elder Udall, who just left Ciudad Real, and his companion, Elder Perez, who was in Jerusalén right before me! We caught up a little about the members and the baptisms in Jerusalén, and had a good time. Elder Udall also asked us about Ciudad Real and how we're doing here.

As I may have said before, the members here are amazing. Especially Bishop Alvarado. To be honest, he reminds me a bit of my Uncle Kevin. He knows probably half of the people in Ciudad Real, and he's always positive, smiling, and laughing. He feels sad and disappointed because he can't come out and visit with us all day, every day. Our mission leader, Hno. Gomez, is similarly enthusiastic, and there are plenty of members who ask us "When can I come out and visit with you?"

Speaking of Members, Gerson, from Jerusalén, whose girlfriend, Lesli, lives here in Ciudad Real are getting married, and are going to live here in Ciudad Real, so I've got a real connection with my first area. How cool is that?

One thing I've really learned this week is to follow the Spirit. I had feelings that I thought were just me, so I ignored them. It turned out that it was the Spirit guiding me as to something I should have done. This happened to me 3 times in one day. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, because they're not always just yours. Many times it's the Holy Ghost prompting us to do something that we should or shouldn't do. When we follow the Spirit, we will be protected in many ways, and be guided to good things in life, and to the joy of being able to help other people in many ways.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers for me. They are really working. I love the Lord, I love our Heavenly Father, and I love each one of you. Thank you.

Yours in the Faith,
Elder Nicholas Banks

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Another Fantastic Week!

Dear All,

I love the mission. This week has been fantastic. We've set up plans so that if everything goes according to plan, we'll be baptizing 15 people in May, including some complete families! My companion and I are getting along really great, and I'm working hard and enjoying it intensely.

As I expected, I'm the pianist for the Ciudad Real ward, just like I was in Jerusalén. The Bishop (who is amazing in a number of different ways) has basically given us free reign with the church keys, so I can go and practice any p-day I want to. I'm also teaching my companion a little about music and the piano. He really wants to learn how to play, which is awesome! Yesterday we went to practice, and he told me he learned a lot, and he said it was the best p-day he's had in his mission so far. He's been out for about 10 months.

This week I am also immensely grateful for my mission president, President Brough. He is very, very inspired. I don't feel like I know him very well, but whenever I talk to him, he'll ask me specific questions about my companion and my area, and that really lets me know that even though there are about 250 missionaries in the Central Mission right now, he knows each and every one of us by name, and what our challenges and strengths are. He really loves what he's been called to do, and he really loves the Lord.

My companion is also excellent. He and I have somewhat similar personalities, so we get along great. We both like to keep things fairly tidy, and we're both a little more relaxed and quiet than a lot of the missionaries here, so we really hit it off well. He's very dedicated and I love working with him. I really know he wants me to succeed, and that he's helping me to do so.

Yesterday I had a funny experience. I brought some of my family photos to show to some investigators. They looked at a picture that has my parents, me, my sister, and our pug dog, Sampson. We got talking about the dog with the man of the house, and his wife was looking at the family picture. All of a sudden, she said what basically translates to "Look(s) like your Mother." He then said to his wife (pointing to me), "Him, right? Not the Dog!!" or something to that effect. We couldn't stop laughing for about 2 or 3 minutes. It was awesome!

This week I also had a really cool experience with an older Gentleman named Franklin. We arrived at his home to teach him about the Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we had an excellent lesson. He understood everything we taught, and accepted it. We committed him to pray to know if it was true, and he said "I already know it's true. I've felt the Spirit of the Lord here with us." He then chatted a little with us, and asked us where we were from. When I told him I'm from the USA, he responded "You're different. You're not from the United States, you're from God. I can see it in your eyes." The best part of this whole experience was that I know it wasn't me. I spoke, and the words just came. I didn't do anything different, but the Spirit touched his heart through me. It was amazing. We even ran into him the next day with his wife, and he said to her (pointing to me) "He's got such a heart." It was really humbling, and it was an absolutely amazing experience. After we left this lesson, my companion told me "You really touched his heart, Elder. And you can do it again!" I'm not sure my previous companions would have said something like that to me, so it was really special, and that whole day really built up my confidence, and trust in the Lord. I've had a couple other moments in which what I have to say has really just come to my mind, which is an absolutely amazing experience.

Also, the ward is AMAZING. The Bishop is awesome. He told us in Ward Council that he wished he could dedicate all his time to go out and work with the missionaries, because he really loves it. He really takes amazing care of his ward, and he is full of love and enthusiasm. Our mission leader is similarly enthusiastic. We planned an activity last Sunday of a bonfire to roast hot dogs and marshmallows, and share testimonies to get the members excited about missionary work, and it was a huge success. We also had 6 investigators at church this Sunday. Saturday night they asked me to speak about the Blessings of Covenants. I didn't have a lot of time to prepare, but I feel like it went off pretty well.

As you can see, I really love it here. It's not easy, I'm not trying to say that it is, but like my stake president told me, "The mission is the hardest fun you'll ever have."

I know this is the true church of Jesus Christ upon the Earth today. It couldn't be any other. Jesus Christ lives, as does our Heavenly Father. They love us, they watch over us, and they hear and answer our prayers. Jesus Christ suffered and died with more pain than any of us could ever imagine so we would be able to return to live with him, and so we can have happiness in this life, and the life to come. The Temple is the House of God, and in the temple exists the authority to marry and seal families together for the eternities. I know this is the Lord's work, and I wouldn't be in any other place anywhere else in the world right now, other than where I am.

Thank you as always for your thoughts and prayers. They are being felt greatly here.

I love you all!

Yours in the Faith,
Elder Nicholas Banks