Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Fantastic week in the Lord's Vineyard

Dear All,

First of all, the big news is BAPTISM!!! We had three baptisms this Sunday. They were all baptized before church, and confirmed in sacrament meeting. They are the Samayoa family (in the picture the gentleman with the dark hair, and his wife with the baby). We baptized their daughters when I first arrived here in the area, but we've been working with them for a couple months, and they are now members of the Church! The other young man is Robinsson, whose girlfriend is a member of the church. That's how Elder Martinez found him. He's excited to receive the priesthood and serve a mission, and convert his family, who are all Evangelicals. The older gentleman standing off to the right is Leopoldo, who everyone calls "Hermano Polo." He's the grandfather of Robinsson's girlfriend, and Robinsson asked that "Polo" would baptize him. I baptized Sis. Samayoa, and my companion baptized Bro. Samayoa.
It was really cool, because as soon as brother Samayoa passed his baptismal interview, I saw such a change in his countenance, and it was even more evident after his baptism and confirmation. It's amazing to see the power of God in people's lives, and the changes it can make. I'm really excited for Robinsson as well. I know now more than ever that this church is true.

Other than that, the big event of this week was divisions with the zone leaders. We had divisions for two days, which usually doesn't happen. Elder Durfey from Arizona came here with me, and my companion went with Elder Lagos from Honduras to the zone leaders' area. I learned a ton, including a new way to start teaching someone, and the fact that we can do so much more in a day than I thought we could before seeing their example. I know now what I need to do to keep progressing, and find the Lord's elect that are awaiting the gospel, and the people to whom I promised I would bring it.

Yesterday we had a district activity, and we watched the church film "17 Miracles." It has to do with the Willie Handcart Company, of the Pioneers. It really shows the sacrifice that many people have given for this Gospel. On Saturday, I also watched the film of Joseph Smith, and his life. None of the people represented in any of these two films would have sacrificed all they did, for some including their lives, for this Gospel if it wasn't true. I know it's true, and I know that I'm very blessed that I live in an era when the Gospel is more widespread and freely available. It's great. I encourage all of you to see these films, to be able to better appreciate how precious this Gospel really is.

I just want to say that I am so happy to be here in the Lord's work. No, it's not easy, but Yes, it is worth it. More than worth it. But really, I play a very small role in all of this. Conversion comes through prayer, study, and attending church, but mostly through the Holy Ghost. My role is just to point people in the right direction so they can do what they need to do to return to God's presence. Elder James B. Martino of the Seventy, and of the area presidency of Central America once said when talking to the missionaries here that "If the Book of Mormon had a mouth to talk and feet to walk, we wouldn't need any of you!" And it's true. The Book of Mormon is the evidence, and it's how we can know of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as administered through the priesthood authority of God, found only in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Read it, pray about it, and you will know. God will answer you. He answered me. He answered the Samayoa family, and Robinsson, and many, many other people whom I have met, or whom I have yet to meet. Do it. You won't regret it. And if you've already done it, do it again!

Thank you for all you do. I really hope that everything is going well for you all in the USA, but I'll stay here. At least for another 13 months!

Yours in the Faith,
Elder Banks

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Hello from Book of Mormon Country

Dear All,

This has been a pretty good week.
On Friday, our ward had a missionary activity. This week was Ward Conference, which is a HUGE deal here in Guatemala. There were activities every day this week, but the missionary activity was the most powerful. We taught about the Book of Mormon: what it is, where it came from, and why it's important.

To review briefly:
The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture like the Bible. It does not replace the Bible, but works with it to teach us about Jesus Christ and his Gospel.

It is an ancient record of the peoples who lived here in the Americas, very likely in the areas in which I am serving my mission. The people here knew of Christ, and had prophets who taught them what they needed to do, according to the Lord's will, just like the prophets of the Bible.

The record was translated by the Prophet Joseph Smith through the gift and power of God into English, and now exists in at least 90 languages worldwide. It teaches us clearly and simply the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and puts an end to false doctrines that have been perpetuated through the centuries. Joseph Smith did NOT write the book, he simply translated it.

These are some of the reasons that the Book of Mormon is important, but here in the Mission we use it as something else, which is: Convincing Evidence of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon contains the invitation to read it, ponder the message it contains, and ask God in the name of Christ in a sincere prayer if the book is true. Those who do this receive a testimony of its truth by the power of the Holy Ghost. If the Book of Mormon is true (which it is), that means that the Prophet who translated it, Joseph Smith, is a true prophet of God. If he is a true prophet of God, the church that God established through him has to be true.

And this is part of the importance of the Book of Mormon. It changes hearts. It changes lives. It shows the world that Jesus Christ is our Savior, that Joseph Smith was his prophet, and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the one and only true church, directed in these days by the Lord Jesus Christ, through his living prophet.
If you're not reading the Book of Mormon, read it.
If you haven't prayed about it in a while (or ever), do it.

For me the Book of Mormon is something that is amazing that has changed my life. I have come to know my Savior by reading its pages. I recently finished reading it for the fifth time, and I marked in orange every time the Lord's name appears, in any form. I have found very few pages where there isn't at least one little orange mark. I am now starting to read it again, this time marking words spoken by Christ or the Father. I've already marked quite a bit, and I've just begun. This book is centered in Jesus Christ, and teaches what we need to do to earn our salvation through him. And I know that it is true. I have put the invitation into practice, and asked God if it's true. And it is true. I have no doubt of that. It's my favorite book. And it's amazing to teach about it here, teaching (in many cases) the descendants of those who wrote it! It's a way to know better and clearer what you need to do to be saved than anything else I've found, and on top of that, it's an enjoyable story.

As for the activity, we had some great investigators come, including a friend of one of our investigators who is an agnostic, or isn't quite sure God exists. It was cool to be able to answer some of his questions and help him see God's love for him. We had a good time, and we got some great references!

We also had 5 investigators at Church this Sunday, which was pretty great. Thanks to this, we'll be having 3 baptisms this next weekend, according to the plan.
Also, I'll be having divisions with the Zone Leaders this Thursday through Saturday. It'll be interesting, and fun. We'll be having some baptismal interviews as well, so I'm pretty excited!

Other than these things, life is pretty normal and uneventful here in Sonora. I love the members, I love the investigators, and my companion's not too bad either! :)

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. They are felt on a daily basis, as I am able to do things I know that I alone would not be capable of doing. The Lord makes all things possible that are according to his will, if we have the faith that he will help us, and if we do our part. This applies not just to missionaries, but to all of you as well.
Thank you.

Yours in the Faith,
Elder Banks

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Walmart and Zone Conference in Escuintla

Dear All,

This has been a pretty good week so far!
First of all, last week was changes, and my companion and I are the only ones in the district who didn't have a change. Elder Pearson, our awesome district leader, finished his mission and went home, being replaced by Elder Hartmann from Illinois. The other two companionships had changes as well. Things are looking pretty good for this change, it should be a good time.

Monday, we got permission from the zone leaders to go to Walmart. At Walmart, they sell a lot of American food, including peanut butter, American candy bars, and even Ritter Sport (which is acutally German, but it's delicious). The bad news is, it's all really expensive. In the USA, Walmart is one of the cheapest supermarkets. Here, it's one of the most expensive, along with Paiz, which is also owned by Walmart. Both sell American food, and both are expensive. We had fun, and I bought some Quaker oatmeal for breakfast, and some peanut butter, and Welch's grape jam! Sadly, the jam was mismarked on the price, and cost double what it said, so I spent a little extra money this week. In dollars, it's still cheap, but in Quetzales, with what else you could buy with the money, it's pretty expensive. So, Walmart will be a sort of once-in-a-while thing, not every week.

But the Biggest event happened yesteray, and this is why I'm writing today: ZONE CONFERENCE!
Even though my area is in Villa Nueva, which is part of the Capital, my zone is considered part of the coast, so the zones Amatitlan (my zone), Santa Lucia, and Escuintla meet together in Escuintla for zone conferences. It's about an hour by bus, if the bus is in good condition. In Escuintla, it's HOT. Right down to the wind and the tap water. I could get used to it if I had to, but it's still hot. And there are parts where it's even hotter! Thankfully, the chapels down there have air conditioning, so we basically only sweat on the bus ride. I was asked to play the Piano (of course) which was great. President Brough spoke to us very strongly. He taught us a lot, and corrected us on some things that we need to improve. It was the best zone conference I've been to, despite the fact that they didn't feed us lunch. Apparently, there was a problem with the caterer, and there was no food. When Elder Trejo, one of the Assistants to the President (and my former zone leader) told us this, he jokingly said "But you can all fast, it will give you strength!" Then they let us out of the church for a few minutes to go buy something to eat.

Overall, we learned a lot about faith and integrity, and we had the chance to talk with President and ask him some questions. I even got to talk to him a little one-on-one, which was fantastic. I absolutely love President Brough. He knows how to make us understand the importance of something, while still being funny about it, and keeping the Spirit there with us. He made us laugh a lot yesterday. That's the best way to teach, because everybody remembers what was taught, but the most important thing when teaching is the Spirit. The Lord teaches us in Doctrine and Covenants 42:14 "And if ye have not the Spirit, ye shall not teach." If that's not clear, I don't know what is. Therefore, if we don't have the Spirit, we can't teach the Gospel. If we can't teach the Gospel, we can't fulfill our purpose as missionaries. And if that happens, I can't imagine the Lord is too happy with us. That's why we have so many rules as missionaries, because we need the Spirit. If we're disobedient even a little bit, it doesn't work. The Spirit leaves us.

Also, on Saturday, my 4th umbrella in the mission met its end. It had already broken a little, and the wind in Linda Vista just finished the job. We were on our way to the chapel, so I left it there in the garbage. My companion thought it was hilarious. I may just go with the raincoat from now on. We'll see what happens.

I hope that all is well with all of you. I hope it's going as well for you as it is for me!

Also, we're probably going to have 3 baptisms by the end of the month. One is a young guy named Robinson, and the others are a family that Elder Martinez left us. The family weren't too sure, but then we had a lesson with them and one of our recent converts here in the ward, and it was really great. The Spirit was very strong, and the investigator was able to see how important the Law of Tithing is. It's really great to see how the testimony of a member can help the investigators progress.

Thank you for all you do, for your thoughts and prayers.

Yours in the Faith,
Elder Banks

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Another Week... And it was a good one!

Dear Family and Friends,

This has been a pretty good week!

We had 5 investigators at church, which was amazing! Usually, we just have one or two, but we had 5!!!! We also had a really good week as far as teaching goes. We found some great families, and we're teaching them how to be able to return to our Heavenly Father, and how they can have eternal families, to be together forever. It really is a great work. I love the area, I love the ward, I love the investigators, and I love my companion.

Speaking of the investigators, we're working a lot with a family who Elder Martinez was teaching. The daughters were all baptized, but the parents are still preparing. We found out through some friends of theirs that they're a little worried about some of the commandments. Specifically tithing. They don't think they can afford to do it. We have to help them see that they can't afford NOT to do it! Tithing is a commandment that God has given us, so we can show him our faith, and he will give us blessings in return. The money isn't the point, it's the faith. But you can't have the blessings unless you live the commandment. In my life, I've seen the blessings, and I can't afford not to pay my tithing. They just can't see it yet. We'll get them to see, and help them to have the blessings, and they'll be baptized. They already know that the Gospel is true, they just have to meet some members that have a strong testimony of this principle, and they're ready.

Yesterday, apparently there was a zone activity of lunch with President Brough, but nobody told us, so we didn't get to go. The good news, however, is that we went to some pacas (used clothing stores) yesterday, and I found some awesome stuff. I found 6 cool ties, which altogether cost me Q25, or about $3.25 for 6 ties. I also went to another Paca and bought something I didn't plan on buying. I found a blazer/suit jacket that fits me perfectly, and pretty much matches one of my pairs of slacks (which I happened to be wearing at the time). The suit that I brought from home is now a little big for me, so I'll be wearing this on Sundays these days, just for a change. It was an unexpected surprise that only cost me Q40 ($5.15).

My spiritual moment this week is about humility. To be able to do this work, I can't trust too much in myself. I have to trust in the Lord. If I trust too much in myself, I'll get pride, and I won't have the Holy Ghost with me. If he's not with me, I can't teach. Humility is something I'm really learning here in Guatemala. Many people here live very, very humbly, with very little money or worldly things, but the thing that I love is that they are so happy! And I really mean it. I know plenty of people in the United States who aren't nearly as happy as the people here are. It's amazing to see how wonderful life can be when we cut away all the things that don't really matter, and we focus on what really matters: our family, our friends, and especially the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As the Lord teaches us in 3 Nephi 13, "Do not lay up in store treasures in the Earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and thieves break through and steal, but lay up in store treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, neither do thieves break through and steal." (See also Matthew 6) I have seen the truth of this time and time again, and I really admire it. I wish I could have my mind so firmly fixed on the heavenly treasures, and not have the earthly ones as a distraction. I love the Gospel, and I've seen the Joy it can bring. I wish everyone could know this gospel, and live it, to be able to have both Earthly and Eternal happiness.

It is my solemn testimony that I am on the Lord's errand. He takes care of us all, even in the littlest things. He loves each and every one of his children, and he wants us to return to him. Those of you who are parents, think of when your children left home. Those of you who are children, think of when you left home. Don't you miss each other? Don't you want to be together again? Don't deprive your Heavenly Father of this joy. Work to return to him. He loves you, and he wants you to make it back home. I know that there is only one way to do this, and that is through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and through baptism and other sacred ordinances performed by the priesthood authority of God that is only found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

I love you all, and I want to see you there when we've all made it back home.

Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers. Please keep praying and thinking. Share the Gospel with a friend or family member. Go to the Temple whenever you can. These things will help you to make eternal friends and bring you eternal joy.

Yours in the Faith,
Elder Banks

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Another week on the Lord's errand...

Dear All,

Well, even though it's fire season in Utah, there's not much fire around here, just rain. Lots of rain. On Saturday we were in the church for a meeting, and during the meeting it started to rain outside harder than I've ever seen in my life. It was like someone had turned the shower on, but the drops were enormous! If they had been hailstones, I would have been scared to go outside for fear of getting hurt, because it looked like the drops were about 1/2 inch in diameter. And we only had one small umbrella between the two of us!

But that's alright. Everyone here says that the rain makes you sick, but it's just the cold. And for me it's not cold, because I'm from Utah. In Utah, it snows. I would hate to see it snow here, because there would be a lot of damage. Many of the houses aren't built to support the weight on the roof, and most of the people would probably get sick from the cold, because they're just not used to it.  But that's the beauty of the diversity of the world. Here, it's not snowy, but it's rainy. I actually kind of like it!

As for the work, it's going forward. Yesterday, we went to visit one of our converts, who wasn't home. Thankfully, his brother was home, and we taught him, and he looks really positive. He said he'll be in church this Sunday, and we challenged him to baptism, and he said he'll tell us his answer on Sunday.

As for July 4th, our zone had an activity yesterday. We played capture the flag, and we ate carne asada (basically grilled steaks) and some other delicious things. That was my 4th of July BBQ for this year! The activity wasn't specifically July 4th, but we had it on July 2nd, and had a BBQ, so... pretty much it was. Yesterday was a pretty good day overall.

To be honest, this past week has been pretty uneventful. There's really not much to report. We only found a few new investigators, but those that we found are pretty cool. One is a family that Elder Martinez had been teaching (partially). The son was baptized a few months ago, and just received the Melchizedek Priesthood, the mom has been listening to the missionaries for a while, but the daughter is Catholic, and she didn't really want to listen at first, but we won some confidence with her this past week. We taught her about the Restoration of the Gospel, and she committed to pray about it, and we've got another appointment Thursday, and I hope they're all home! We've only been able to find them at home once these past few weeks, so we're progressing slowly but surely. The mom came to church this Sunday, so I'm very hopeful that she'll be baptized.

To finish, I want to tell you about Robinson. He's the boyfriend of one of the members, and he's 21. He wants to be baptized, and he believes everything we teach. He wants to receive the Priesthood and serve a mission, and serve his family, who are Evangelicals. It's always really inspiring to talk to him, and he's just about ready to be baptized. He just needs to know the commandments a little better, and he'll be ready for baptism. I'm really happy and inspired to see people like him! It's what makes the whole thing, all the rain, all the rejection, and all the walking worth it. I love the mission, I love the people, and I love the Gospel. But most of all, I love the Lord, and our Heavenly Father.

Well, my time is just about up. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. The effects are working miracles here.

Yours in the Faith,
Elder Nicholas Banks