Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Another fantastic week in Sonora

Dear Friends and Family,

It's been another good week here in Guatemala. Church was fantastic on Sunday, and we've been doing alright so far this week as well.

Today I'll be going on divisions with Elder Pearson, my current district leader, and one of the mission secretaries when I entered the mission. He's from Ohio, and he's really great. We both have Mexican companions, so today we're going to have a competition, Mexicans vs. Gringos: who can get more contacts? The winners get ice creams, bought by the losing companionship. We're going to get going at full speed and talk to as many people as possible to be able to get the ice cream, but mostly because we need to talk to more people, because every single one of them needs the Gospel.

This week, I really gained a testimony of the reality of Jesus Christ. I thought I knew, but now I really know. It was during companionship study, and we were studying the Plan of Salvation, of which Jesus Christ is the central part. Usually, companionship study doesn't really excite me, but this day, it was absolutely amazing. For me, there are lines in several hymns that best express how I feel about my Savior.

"I marvel that he would descend from his throne divine,
to rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine,
That he should extend his great love unto such as I,
Sufficient to own, to redeem, and to justify.
Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!"
(Hymn:I Stand All Amazed)

"He lives, all glory to his name!
He lives, my Savior still the same!
Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives:
'I know that my Redeemer lives!' "
(Hymn:I know that my Redeemer lives)

Also, the hymn "Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me" really touches me. I would write the words, but I only know them in Spanish, because we hardly ever sing this hymn (they don't sing it much here, either).

I'm getting close to the point where I can't "bear the thought that even one soul should be lost," as with the Sons of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon. I still have a ways to go, but I'm really seeing the need that every single person has to be able to accept the Gospel, and be baptized with the proper authority, that of the Priesthood of God. I am seeing prophecies fulfilled from the Bible as well as the Book of Mormon, for the better and the worse. I know that the people of Guatemala need this gospel more desperately than they need anything else in their life, or more desperately than anything else they could possibly ever need. As we read in 2 Nephi 31:21
"And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen."

I'd like to close with my testimony in Spanish.
Yo sé que Jesucristo vive. Yo sé que no hay otro nombre dado debajo del cielo por medio de lo cual nos podemos salvar in el Reino de Dios, solo el de él. Yo sé que La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Últimos Días es la única iglesia verdadera sobre la faz de la tierra hoy en día, Y que Jesucristo la Dirige por medio de un Profeta viviente. Ninguna otra iglesia tiene la autoridad del Sacerdocio para poder recibir revelación de Dios, para efectuar las ordenanzas salvadoras del Evangelio de Jesucristo, y para poder sellar familias por la eternidad. Yo sé que solo hay una senda, Y no hay ninguna otra por lo cual nos podemos salvar, y regresar a vivir con nuestro Padre Celestial, o sea, regresar a casa. Y se lo dejo en el Nombre de Jesucristo, Amén.

I know that Jesus Christ lives. I know there is no other name given under the heavens through which we can be saved in the Kingdom of God, only his. I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the only true church on the face of the Earth today, and that Jesus Christ directs it through a living prophet. No other church has the authority of the Priesthood to receive revelation from God, to perform the saving ordinances of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to seal families for eternity. I know there is only one path, and there is no other path by which we can be saved, and return to live with our Heavenly Father, or rather, to return home. I leave this with you in the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. They are being felt, and are always much needed.

Yours in the Faith,
Elder Banks

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Another Great Week in Training...

Dear All,

This has been a pretty great week.

First of all, the conference. Elder Maynes of the Presidency of the Seventy came to the conference, and he and his wife spoke. On the stand were also Elder Falabella, Elder Amado, and Elder Martino, the Area Presidency of Central America. Also on the stand were President Brough, President Watts of the North Mission, President Stay of the South Mission, and President Nikolaysen of the CCM. And their wives. And I was the closest missionary to them, because I was on the Piano! (That also meant that we got front row seats! Normally those are only for the Sisters, but we got to sit there!) They put some pressure on me when they left a half hour before the meeting to play prelude. I thought that there would be another pianist from one of the other missions, but it was just me! I played the prelude and it went off well, as did the opening hymn. The closing hymn was the surprise, and it went pretty well. I played it with mistakes, but I held it together, and I don't think that anybody noticed. President and Sister Brough both told me "Good Job!" afterwards. The message was inspiring, and edifying. I know that I need to keep working hard and not despair!

This Sunday we had a conference that I liked even more. Stake conference. The speakers included President Brough and his wife, President Ocampo, one of the counselors in the Guatemala City Temple Presidency, and Elder Cesar Morales, an area authority seventy from Guatemala. He spoke to us in the CCM, so I knew we would be in for a treat. Every single talk was inspired, and I really felt the Spirit. Stake conferences are amazing here. After the conference, we went to lunch with the Peña family, our neighbors. Bro. Peña is a temple worker, and has cars, so he invited President and Sister Ocampo to lunch as well, before driving them back to Zona 15, where they live near the Temple. So I got to have lunch with a member of the temple presidency!

Sunday we also learned that sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven. We normally don't pass by a certain part of the area (where most of our work is) for investigators, because both the chapel and this neighborhood are far from the house, and it takes a lot of time. This Sunday, we went there to get investigators, and nobody we visited that morning could come to church. After the conference, we saw 2 of our investigators who had arrived late and listened in other rooms of the chapel, who came of their own free will! After that, we had a delicious lunch with a member of the temple presidency, and we had an awesome day. We worked hard. We contacted 26 new people, and we had 7 lessons, and 9 new investigators. That's an awesome day. Once, Elder Caceres showed me his planner from the best day he had in the mission, in which he had 9 lessons, which is basically unheard of. 7 lessons is a lot, and only once have I had more than 9 new investigators in one day. It was literally one of the best days of my mission thus far, and I'm really excited to see what we can do this week!
Now, there's no way we can't go pick up investigators from the area far away, because we need those blessings!

We also had a funny experience this week. To give some background, a few months ago, some members gave me a big umbrella that's red and white and says "Colgate" on it. I recently bought another, because I didn't want to have to carry those colors around all day, and the colgate umbrella had already started to break. I had been lending it to my companion. I walk fast, and he's usually a bit behind me. President Brough taught us that dogs always attack the person in the back. I learned that from experience a few weeks ago, but my companion learned it this week. I walked right past a couple of dogs, and they didn't bother me at all. About 15 seconds later, I heard barking and growling, and turned around to see the dogs bothering my companion. He tried to defend himself with the Colgate umbrella, but the dog bit it, and pulled it away. My companion then backed off, and I told him to leave the umbrella there if he didn't care about it. Nobody was hurt, we just lost an umbrella and got a funny story to tell. The whole thing really did look funny from in front, and we're still laughing about it. My companion has told some of the other missionaries and other people that "A dog ate my umbrella!"

Also, the Peña family ran out of space to park their cars. They have about 7, so they parked one in the driveway of our house. Sadly, they didn't leave the keys (just kidding!), but we've been joking about "Shall we take the car today?" And when we see the Peñas, we say "Thanks again for the car!" It's fun. They're a great family, and I absolutely love them.
This week we're on track to have another fantastic week. We've got lessons planned, and we've got members coming to accompany us. We're going to get to know all of our converts at least by phone if not in person so we can take better care of them. Our responsibility doesn't just end with Baptism, it includes keeping them in the church, but we can't do that without the members. I've written letters to some of my converts from Jerusalén, almost all of whom were baptized after I left! I also wrote to my family from La Corona, and I keep seeing Elder Guandique, because he's also training and we see each other at the training meetings. He became the district leader as well when I left.

Overall, as you can tell, everything is fine here in Guatemala, at least as far as Elder Banks and Elder Luna are concerned. Just like my stake president, President Richards told me, "The mission is the hardest fun you'll ever have." It's true. I love it here. It's not easy, by any stretch of the imagination, but in the Book of Mormon Moroni 7:33 says (translated): "And Christ has said: If ye have faith in me, ye shall have power to do any thing that is convenient in me." I have learned that this is true. If we have not faith, we have nothing. I exhort you to have more faith, and put it into action sharing the Gospel with your friends and family, and for those who can go to the temple, to go often, because the ordinances performed there are part of the same missionary work.

Thank you for your faith, for your love, and for your thoughts and prayers. You will never know how much they are appreciated.

Yours in the faith,
Elder Banks

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Another Great Week

Dear All,

It's been another good week here in La Sonora. We had the confirmations of the two who we baptized last Sunday. Their parents are preparing for baptism, and we're trying to keep looking after them well, so we can get them there this month. It's really cool to see how people change, and apparently they were a lot different before I got here.

We had a good week. We found a few great investigators, including a couple young guys who are brothers. One is 18 and the other is 16, and they're really cool. They have the true desire to investigate and find out what God wants for them, and they're willing to search for it to find it.

It reminds me of a hymn, which is popular here, but a little less popular in the States. It's called "Oh say, what is Truth?"
The first two verses are as follows:

Oh, say, what is truth? 'Tis the fairest gem
that the riches of worlds can produce.
And priceless the value of truth will be when
the proud monarch's costliest diadem
is counted but dross and refuse.

Oh, say, what is truth? 'Tis the brightest prize
to which mortals or gods can aspire.
Go search in the depths where it glittering lies,
or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies.
'Tis the aim of the noblest desire.

The other two verses I can't remember in English, so you'll have to look them up in the hymn book. The meaning is the same in Spanish, but it loses the power with the words if I translate it back into English.

So, today I am writing at an earlier hour because we're going to a conference in Montúfar, which is in the center of the capital. I'm still in the capital, but I'm basically in the suburbs, even though they count my zone as the coast. At this conference there will be some general authorities and mission presidents, and basically all the missionaries from Guatemala City. A few weeks ago, President Brough assigned me to play the hymn "We are all Enlisted" in this conference, and I've been practicing. Saturday he called me and told me that they put me on the final agenda playing two hymns: the above, and "Called to Serve." I practiced both like mad yesterday to be able to be prepared for today, and I think it'll go pretty well. President said to me "Now, I don't want you to feel pressure, Elder Banks, but there will be four general authorities and their wives and three mission presidents on the stand." That's pretty big. If I goof up, everyone will know, but the Lord will help me. He's worked miracles with me playing the piano before (see one of my letters from the CCM) and since I've practiced, I expect he'll help me again. President even gave me permission to practice during the week this week, which I did, and it helped a lot.

As for my companion, he's progressing great. I think I said last week that I see a lot of me in him, when I was a new missionary (Wow, I'm not a new missionary anymore!), so we understand each other pretty well. He's learning really fast, and he contacts and teaches pretty well already. I feel like all I have to do is give him a few pointers, set a good example, and teach him the rules. Yes, it's hard sometimes, but "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 commandeth them." (1 Nephi 3:7) I've seen it this week, and since I've been with Elder Luna.

We also had the chance to get to know a few more members this week. We met the Romero family. They're young, and they're really enthusiastic and faithful in the Church. He's on the High Council, and amazing, because he can't be more than about 26 years old. He has a wife and a couple of small kids. We also met the Porras family, who are also great. As missionaries, there's not a lot of time to get to know the members, but it's important because we need them to work with the investigators. Our lessons have so much more power when we have members with us, because it's another testimony that the Church is true, and they can see that members of the Church aren't just monks running around in white shirts all day visiting people, but that we're actually normal people who have jobs and families.

Thank you for your prayers. They are much needed and much appreciated.

Keep the faith. Press forward. Pray always, that you may come off conqueror. (D&C 10:5)

Yours in the faith,
Elder Banks

Elder Martinez baptized Helen and Diana, the two daughters.

Elder Luna and I baptized the older sister, Marilin, and her husband Carlos.

Me and Elder Martinez

Me and Elder Guandique

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

First Week as a Trainer

Dear All,

This has been an amazing week. I have really felt a change come over me. In becoming not just senior companion, but a trainer as well, the charge of basically controlling what happens with our investigators in the area is my responsibility. The Spirit is different being in a leadership position, and it's really an amazing feeling. I really feel like the Spirit is always with us, except for if we're disobedient. Then he leaves and we have to earn his confidence again.

Speaking of confidence, that's something I've really found this week. Both with Elder Martinez and with my new companion, I really feel like this is what I'm here for. I really feel more like I was born to do this, not just that someone found out that I have a testimony and threw me into a strange Central American country (just kidding on that last part). I
really do feel great here, and now I'm going to tell you about my new companion, and the really cool experience we had this Sunday.

My companion is Elder Luna from Puebla, Mexico. He's amazing. Since I'm assigned as a trainer, he's brand new, and he reminds me a little of me when I entered the mission. Just that he's already ahead of where I was. I've already got him contacting, and we're working hard. We're finding new investigators, and we've got some who we hope to be baptizing soon. Since we're in the training program, we've got an hour of extra study time every day, so we can learn lots about the Gospel, and how to be a missionary. It's cool to go back and see what I can learn by going through the training program again, and how I can help Elder Luna to progress as a missionary.

We had a baptism this Sunday, the sister of the girls who were baptized last week, and her husband. I baptized the wife, and my companion baptized the husband the first weekend of his mission. How cool is that?

I feel humbled that the Lord has assigned me to be a trainer, and that he trusts me with part of the future of the Mission. I'm reminded of a quote that Elder Calta shared with me, which I may have shared before, but I'll share it again:
Peter had a temper,
David had an affair outside of marriage,
Moses stuttered,
Saul was a murderer,
Martha stressed herself out,
Jonah ran from God,
Miriam was a gossip,
Zacchaeus was small of stature,
Abraham was old,
and Lazarus was dead.
Now, what's your excuse?
Can God use you, Yes or No?
God doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called.
(there are more names, but I don't remember them all.)

I testify that this is true. He's been qualifying me this week to be a trainer. I feel like my entire mission has changed this week, and I feel that it will stay this way, and even keep improving.

I love you all.
Thank you for your thoughts and prayers!
Yours in the Faith,
Elder Nicholas Banks

P.S. I really want to send pictures, but the internet here is pretty slow as far as uploading goes and makes it difficult. I'll try and send pictures next week.