Tuesday, August 28, 2012

One Year Older... and Wiser too!

Dear All,

Yes, it's this week. Friday I enter the home stretch of the mission: Year 2. No, I don't believe it either! I heard the tradition that missionaries burn a tie at 6 months, a shirt at 1 year, and some burn a suit finishing the mission. I'm not much of a burner, and I still like my shirts, so I think I'll be keeping mine, but I am thinking about buying a cake. I'm thinking that's something fun I'll do.

As for the transfer, it went fantastic. I am now in the area Villa Hermosa, in the zone Villa Hermosa. It's the same zone as La Corona, my 2nd area, so I'm super excited to be back. My companion is Elder Perez, from San Salvador, El Salvador. When I entered the mission, he was in Jerusalén with Elder Caceres, my trainer. He left that area the day I came, so of course we've been talking a lot about that area as well. He and I get along really well, and we're working on English a bit with him as well.

In our district are several other great missionaries. Elder Hansen and Elder Terrazas are the zone leaders, and are in our district. Elder Hansen was my zone leader in Jerusalén, and in La Corona, so I know him well. Elder Terrazas was in Sonora 1 a few months before I was, and entered the same day I did. He just has 6 weeks more in the field because the Latinos don't have 6 weeks extra in the CCM to learn Spanish! Also with us are Sister Knudsen, from my district in the CCM, and in Jerusalén, and Sister Garcia, who was my fellow techie in the CCM. Also, Elder Silva is the district leader, and he was the district leader's companion in Sonora, so I know just about everyone in the district. Now that I think about it, it makes me feel old. Elder Silva's companion is Elder Finau Ngalu, from Australia, who entered in the same group as Elder Luna. He's pretty cool, too.

The area is a little different from my last area. The ward is a little smaller, but the members are fantastic. The Bishop has us over for lunch every Sunday, and he's really cool. Also, there's a guy who makes custom suits for the missionaries, who is a member of the church. His name is Hilton, and he lives in my area, so I think I'll be starting a suit soon, but we'll see. There are some fantastic people here, and I'm super excited to be able to work here. We're going to be working hard to reach some goals we've set as a mission this week, and this month. It'll be very, very good and I'm excited to be a part of it. We already have 2 baptisms lined up for this weekend!

And yes, they did ask me to play the piano in transfer meeting. It went well, but we arrived just 10 minutes before the meeting started, because Hermano Peña gave us a ride, but had a stop to make on the way to the meeting that took a little longer than expected. But everything worked out, and here I am!

Elder Luna received Elder Hopper, who was in the same zone already (Amatitlán), and had already met my comp. It'll be interesting to see how they get along, because their personalities are pretty different!

Also, yesterday, an elder who returned from the mission here about a year ago came to visit. He was one of Elder Perez' companions, so we met up to say hi. He was also in Sonora at one point, and in Linda Vista as well, so we know a lot of the same people. He said to us "Take care. I would trade places with you in a second!" Another one of this elder's companions, Elder Pavon, is just up the hill from us in my old area, La Corona. He went there from Jerusalén, and a while before that, he was in Sonora 1, so he knows all of my areas, with the exception of the current one! That was kind of fun, and since Elder Perez was also in Jerusalén, we talked a bit about that with him as well. Elder Perez was there right before me, and Elder Pavon right after me, so it was cool to see. We talked in particular about the Paniagua family, who Elder Perez found with his companion, I taught with my companions, and Elder Pavon married and baptized with his companion. It was pretty neat. And now I really feel old.

Know this, that the love of God is infinite. He has provided so many things for me and my companions, and changed the lives of so many people. I've seen it and I've lived it, and there is no doubt in my mind of it. God will never forget you.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. They really do help.

Yours in the Faith,
Elder Banks

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Dear All,

It's official. I will be transferred tomorrow to a new area. I don't no where or with who, but I know it'll be according to the Lord's will. Who knows, I may end up in the coast or in the mountains, or I may stay in the capital. I'm trying to not have any hopes or fears as to where I'm going, so I can better trust in the Lord and his plan for the missionary work here in Guatemala. As the hymn says "I'll go where you want me to go." There was one elder who was in my district in my first area who said something a little funny. Waiting for his mission call, he thought "I hope I don't go to Central America." He was then called to Guatemala. Being here in the mission, he thought "I hope I don't go to the coast, it's too hot there." He then was sent to the coast. Then he thought "I hope I don't go to Peronia, it's too dangerous there." He was then sent to Peronia. But he is one of the happiest missionaries I know and a very hard worker and bold teacher. It just goes to show that we don't know best, but the Lord always does.

My companion will be staying here, and receiving another senior companion. I believe I'll remain senior companion, because they haven't told me I'll be going back to junior.

I also believe that they'll ask me to play the piano at change (transfer) meeting tomorrow. Even though I don't really have time to practice in this area, I've improved as a pianist, I believe because I've been using my talent to serve. I've now played in a conference with a general authority, a zone conference, a zone meeting, and several training meetings. But change meeting is a little different because we all go into a certain chapel, and one of the assistants reads the changes (transfers), and announces the assignments, such as zone leader, district leader, trainer, retention secretary, etc. During all of this, there is someone playing the piano softly in the background. It actually becomes a very spiritual experience sometimes, and I always enjoy change meeting.

Also, I like it because the piano in the chapel where we have the change meetings is electric, and you can basically turn it into a functioning organ, so it sounds really nice, since organs are a rarity here. Usually there's just an acoustic piano, and some areas apparently don't even have that. Anyway, I imagine they'll ask me to play tomorrow, because all the other pianists President knows of have all finished their missions. There are others, but he doesn't know they can play. If they do, I'll probably be playing for just about an hour straight. It'll be fun!

As for Sonora, I'll really miss it here. The ward is fantastic, almost like a ward in Utah. The leaders are all fantastic, and very supportive, and the attendance has never dipped below 200 since I've been here. The members work really hard with the missionaries, which is crucial to be able to have success. Over half of the baptisms I've had in my mission have been here, and that's why. It's an amazing area, and I'm really going to miss it. The good news is that my areas have only gotten better and better with the changes, so I'm hoping that the trend continues.

Overall, it was a pretty uneventful week here in Sonora. The only thing we have to report is that the investigator who is absolutely awesome, Geisi (hey-see), didn't come to church this Sunday. Her member friend from work was supposed to bring her to our ward this week, but he went to pick her up and they went and did something else. She's amazing, and I know she'll be baptized, she just needs to come to church! My companion and his new companion will be passing by her house this week to get her to church. Her whole family is very Catholic, but her Dad left, and he was a member of the church, so she's had a little bit of exposure to the church. The family is nice to us and everything, they just aren't interested in the Gospel. I think that once she's baptized, the family will see the change in her, and it will be good.

Also, yesterday, I bought some fantastic ties, and got my new suit jacket back and tie from the sister who was repairing them. Everything is fantastic, and we're lined up to have a really good day today as well, starting with a delicious lunch after I finish writing this letter.

Just some lines from one of my favorite hymns:
"There's surely somewhere a lowly place, in Earth's harvest fields so wide,
Where I can labor through life's short day for Jesus the Crucified.
And trusting my all to thy tender care, and knowing thou lovest me,
I'll do thy will with a heart sincere: I'll be what you want me to be.
I'll go where you want me to go, Dear Lord, over mountain, or plain, or sea,
I'll say what you want me to say, Dear Lord, I'll be what you want me to be."

I love you all. Keep the faith, and never forget that you are a child of God, and no matter what may happen, He lives, and loves you to the end.

Elder Banks

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Another Week in the Vineyard

Dear All,

It's been a pretty good week. We're almost done with this transfer, so a week from tomorrow we'll probably be going to transfer meeting so one of us can go, and the other will receive his new companion. It's been fun with Elder Luna, but I think we may just be running out of patience one with another.

The baptism in the attached picture is a young boy named Marcelo in the ward. His family is inactive, but returning to activity in the church, and none of the family was able to baptize him, so I had the privilege of doing so. This time the heater worked in the baptismal font, so it was nice and comfortable. It was really cool, because when we came out of the water, he went and said to his Mom, "Mom, I feel brand new!" It was so cool! We stopped by the house yesterday so we could chat a little with the family, and the mom told us that "He's been acting really well today, and he's been really obedient. He told me that he feels all new and he's been saying he has to be good because 'I can't fail Jesus!'" It was pretty cool to see that baptism really is something that changes people's lives, not just something we're obligated to do. It's something very sacred and special, and though each one of us must pass this step, we should never take it for granted.

Many people do not remember their baptism, or were never baptized by priesthood authority.  Those of you who have been baptized, try and remember the day. It's something I wish I could remember better, because I've seen how it helps, and the miracles it can work. I always ask my converts how they feel within one day of being baptized, because I wish I could remember. One responded "My brother, I felt very joyful." Others have responded that they feel fresh and clean, like it's a new start, because that's exactly what it is. In John Chapter 3, Jesus Christ taught Nicodemus that baptism is the way to be born again, which is necessary to be able to return to the presence of our Father in Heaven.

I also had the opportunity to give a talk on Sunday in church. They assigned me to speak first, followed by 2 recently returned missionaries. I spoke on retention, which is very important. If someone who is baptized doesn't receive support, they probably won't endure to the end, which means that they won't be able to go to the Celestial Kingdom. If we can't keep people in the Church, we're not really helping them obtain salvation. I spoke on the hymn 208 "Brillan Rayos de Clemencia," which in English is number 335, "Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy." To understand it, we need to understand the symbolism: In the days when ships navigated with map and compass, lighthouses were a necessary tool to be able to find the harbor. Sadly, sometimes all the ships could see was the lighthouse, and couldn't see the rocks just outside of the harbor, and crashed, destroying both cargo and passengers. What was done, is people were assigned to maintain lights burning on the beach or near the shore. These lights then reflected off the surface of the water, thus allowing the ships to see the rocks, avoid them, and enter the harbor safely.
The words of the hymn in English are as follows:

Brightly Beams our Father's Mercy, from his lighthouse evermore,
But to us, he gives the keeping of the lights along the shore.

Let the Lower lights be burning, send a gleam across the wave,
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman you may rescue, you may save.

Dark the night of sin has settled, loud the angry billows roar,
Eager eyes are watching, longing, for the lights along the shore.

Trim your feeble lamp, my brother! Some poor sailor, tempest-tossed,
Trying hard to reach the harbor in the darkness may be lost.

So our job, then, is to set a good example, and help our brothers and sisters come to know the gospel, and if they know the gospel, to live it. We do this by inviting, but mostly by living the gospel, and setting an example. My favorite part of the English lyrics (this part was lost in translation to Spanish) is the third verse. Even though you may think that your light is weak, and you don't have an influence, you do. Keep your light burning, and keep being good examples.

I love you all. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.

Yours in the Faith,
Elder Banks

Monday, August 6, 2012

One Day Early...But for a Good Reason!

Dear All,

I write to you this week one day early, because tomorrow we will have interviews with President Brough! I always love talking to President, because he always inspires me to do better. He really knows his missionaries, and he's 100% dedicated to the work. He loves what he does, and he loves every one of the missionaries of Misión Central. I always try to bring him questions, so I can know what I need to improve, and know how I can be the best missionary I can. D&C 4 instructs us to serve with all our "heart, might, mind, and strength, that [we] may stand blameless before God at the last day," and I want to be blameless before God, so I seek President's help when I feel I need it.

So tomorrow, we'll be having interviews, a zone meeting, watching a movie, and probably getting new phones. It's interesting here, because our phone is a cell phone, but for a desktop. It has a handset and a cord, and to answer it, you literally pick it up, just like a home phone, but it's a cell phone. It has a big antenna and receives text messages and everything. District leaders will now have cell phones (like zone leaders, assistants, and secretaries already have), but I don't know what's in store for the rest of us. We'll find out tomorrow!

The rest of this week has been pretty good. I've been a little sick with a cold, so it's been a little harder to work, but I've made it through. My companion always pushes me harder to do more, which is awesome. It ensures that we never have the chance to laze around, and that we always get done the things we need to get done. Elder Luna is a great missionary, and I really hope he continues progressing after we are separated. Changes will be in two weeks, and I imagine the Lord will probably separate us. It's rare that two elders who aren't leaders are together for more than 2 changes (3 months), and on top of that, I'm his trainer, and they usually separate trainers from their greenies pretty quickly. It'll be interesting to see what happens with us, but whatever happens, it's been a great time with Elder Luna.

Also, something really cool happened this week. Gilbar, who we baptized and confirmed last Sunday, came out with us on a lesson. He's got a really great testimony, and he's a fantastic man. He really helped the young man we were teaching, even though Gilbar is old enough to be his father. Also, on Fast Sunday (1st Sunday of every month), the brethren of the Priesthood here in the Sonora ward go out and make visits. Yesterday, we were walking along the streets of Proyectos, the neighborhood where we do most of our work, and we saw 4 men in white shirts making visits: one of the young men, about 13 years old, Brayan, one of our recent converts, Geovany, the Elder's Quorum President, and Gilbar!!! It was so cool to see that even though he's only been a member of the Church for about a week, he's already getting in the Spirit of serving others, and helping them to come unto Christ! I am so excited for all of our new members!

Just to finish off, I'd like to share my testimony. I've seen the power of God, the power of the Priesthood, and the power of the Holy Ghost to change hearts, and to change lives. Seeing the change in Gilbar's countenance as he was baptized and confirmed just affirmed that. There was literally a noticeable difference in his face after being baptized. This, along with other experiences I've had, confirm to me every day of the reality of God, and of his Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. They really are watching over each and every one of us because they want what's best. They know much better than we do what we need to do in this life to be able to be happy, and to be able to be happy for eternity in the life to come. I know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true, and that the authority and power of the Priesthood-or the authority and power God gives to men to act in his name-are real, and are found only in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It's the only place one can receive the ordinances of salvation, and return to live with our Heavenly Father again. I know these things to be true. If I didn't know that this is true and important, I would still be at home playing around on the computer. But, as President Uchtdorf once said, "I am doing a great work and cannot come down." So if you miss me, think of that. Know that I miss you too, but this is where I need to be, and where I'd rather be, at this time.

May each of you have a fantastic week! Thank you for all of your prayers.

Yours in the Faith,
Elder Banks