Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Baptism in the Coast

Dear All,

Yes, it's true! As you can see in the attached photo, we baptized Patty this week. She's pretty cool. Last week, we just started talking a little about baptism and she said "Yeah, I really do want to be baptized." As missionaries, that's not usually something we hear very often, and it's a miracle when it does. Sadly, her son, Oscar, couldn't be baptized this week, but we're working with him on some challenges he has. We're also working to try and meet more with her husband, because he's pretty cool too, he just works a lot. At their wedding, he was really attentive to what we said, and their daughter and son-in-law had some really good questions, so we have some more people just waiting to become members there. I'm super happy and super excited. We also found some great families, one of whom was going to be baptized in the capital, but they took out the missionaries, and then they moved here, so basically they know the church is true, and want to get married and baptized, and later sealed in the Temple. This is what we call a miracle from God, and it's a really great feeling when you get one.

After my interview with President, I started divisions with Elder Acosta, one of our Zone Leaders. He really taught me a lot of things, like how to find more new investigators, and how to be more direct with people. He was here for 2 days, and interviewed Patty for baptism while he was here. Overall, everything went over really well, and I'm going to be working on some things. For example in the hymn "Praise to the Man" it uses the phrase "Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of Heaven," and in Spanish it just says "por sacrificio se dan bendiciones" ("for sacrifice, you are given blessings"). Not quite as powerful in Spanish, but still very true.

Which brings me to a principle of the Gospel sometimes referred to as the Law of the Harvest. It's pretty simple: You reap what you sow. If you sow corn, you won't get rice. If you sow carrots, you won't get tomatoes. If you neglect the plants and let the weeds grow, you won't reap anything at all. The Gospel is very similar: If we don't put in our effort to keep the commandments and do all we can to be our most faithful self, we won't have blessings on that level. One of the apostles described it as the difference between being active in the church and active in the gospel. If we are active in the church, we go to church meetings, and to church activities. If we are active in the gospel, we are also active in the church, but we are also reading our scriptures daily, praying always, trying to learn more about the gospel, and serving our fellow beings, among other things. We need to make sure that we are active in the Gospel, not just in the Church. It is good to be active in the Church, and we will receive blessings for doing so, but we will receive even more blessings if we are active in the Gospel. I know this from experience. I have always been active in the Church, but only a few years ago did I really start to get active in the Gospel. I started taking notes in Church. I started really reading my scriptures. I started being more diligent in keeping the commandments. And then I started seeing the blessings. I started to want even more, and to keep serving all I could. Even when my homework made it difficult to be able to serve, I did my best. And the Lord blessed me with a good job, great friends, and a stronger testimony. And he keeps blessing me. I know that if I stay active in the Gospel for the rest of my life, he will continue to bless me. And I know that if I endure to the end, I will be able to return to Him in his kingdom. That's something I hope to be able to have someday. God gave us agency to be able to choose, but he also have us a set of instruction manuals: the Scriptures. We must study and use them.

The Central America area presidency has asked that every member in Central America read the Book of Mormon all the way through once before general conference in April. President Brough has added to that, that we must have a study journal next to it, open with pen at the ready, to be able to write down the revelation we receive to be able to help our investigators. It's a great feeling. I'm going to be doing all I can to reach this goal, because I love the Book of Mormon. I love the Scriptures. And above all, I love the Lord and his Gospel.

Yesterday, we had an unexpected lesson during P-Day. Byron, who is 25 years old, has a clothing store. We went to go shopping and he said "Hey, I've been reading the pamphlet, and I have some questions." He asked a whole bunch of great questions, and expressed his desire to be in good standing with God. He said he doesn't want to hear God tell him "You messed up." when he gets to the other side. We challenged him to pray, and he did right there in the lesson, and said he would after we left as well. He said he's willing to do whatever God tells him to do. We ran home and brought him a Book of Mormon, and I'm pretty sure he's reading it right now. He's so prepared. I'm so glad that God let us find him, and that we're able to teach him more. I know that if we're diligent, he'll be able to be baptized, and prepare to enter into God's fold.
I know this Church and this Gospel are true, that Jesus Christ is our Savior, and that he and our Heavenly Father live and love us very much.

I love you all. Thank you for being faithful.

Elder Banks

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Two Gringos in Puerto

Dear All,

It happened. It finally happened. I have a North American Companion! His name is Elder Muñoz and he is from Liberty, Missouri (he lives about 5 minutes from the Jail). His parents are from South America (Chile and Ecuador) but he was born and raised in the USA. The good news is that he and I have a lot of things in common, and we get along super well. He likes to work hard, and we've got some great things in motion for this time we'll have together.

Also, they are about to change the MTC program, and as a result of that, the mission will be changing the change cycles. Changes are normally 6 weeks, but this one will be 5, because President doesn't want to send missionaries home the day AFTER Christmas. Then, the next change will be 9 weeks. So, I basically get 2 extra weeks to preach the Gospel!!!

This Saturday, we'll be having a wedding, because a sister whose name is Patty will be baptized this Sunday, and you need to be married to be able to live with your spouse, and you need to be keeping all the commandments to be able to be baptized. She is so awesome, and she and her son, Oscar, met Pres. Brough at District Conference this past Sunday. It was a great conference, and President told the members off for a lot of things. But, he had the Spirit with him. If the Spirit is guiding, and you do it with love, you can and should speak strongly. If there's something wrong, God wants us to fix it so we can return to him in his kingdom when the time comes, so sometimes we need to speak strongly. Like the time when Jesus threw the money-changers out of the temple. There was something wrong, and he spoke boldly to be able to fix it.

And yes, I'm getting used to the heat and humidity. I found a scale and weighed myself on Monday, and I've lost about 4.5 pounds since coming here to Puerto.

This morning we had interview with President Brough, and he really helped me know what to do. He told me a couple things I need to improve, and helped me out with a couple questions I've had lately. I feel like I'm finally on the road to becoming who the Lord wants me to be. After that, we had a really spiritual District Meeting, and we received revelation to be able to help the members participate in missionary work. As much as you may think to the contrary, members are ESSENTIAL in missionary work. We need to have members so that our converts have friends when we are transferred to another area, and they still have a support system. Conversion isn't an easy experience for the investigator, and I think it's one of the greatest miracles that can happen. These people are really changing their lives, and the Lord wants them to endure to the end, not to just weary by the way. Members' testimonies are also crucial to be able to get the investigators to Church. In Villa Hermosa, Alonzo never came to church UNTIL we brought Hno. Batres to meet him. They got along super great, and the next opportunity Alonzo had, he came to church. While at church, he basically asked us when he could be baptized. We told him, and he was baptized. And according to Hilton, the guy who makes the suits, he's super active in the church. He comes to everything, down to the activities.

So, if you're in a position to be able to help the missionary work in your ward or branch, do it. Go and visit with the Elders or Sisters. They don't need you to teach the lesson, they are trained to do that. All they need is your testimony, and maybe a personal experience to be able to help the investigators see how the Gospel will bless their lives. It's easy, so do it. And, if you still haven't talked to the missionaries, do it. I know I may be a little biased, but I wouldn't be here in Guatemala for 2 years of my life if I didn't know that this changes lives, and is true. If you've come away from the church, repent and come back. The Lord is waiting for you with open arms. And as I have heard said often about the good things in life, and especially salvation, "I never said it would be easy. But I did say that it would be worth it."

I love you all. Take care and keep praying.

Elder Banks

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Another Week in the Vineyard

Dear All,

It sounds like things are nice and chilly in Utah. Here in Puerto, it's nice and hot. The house stays about 92 degrees farenheit during the day, and it feels hotter outside in the sun. We're working hard, and we have a couple families that are getting close to being baptized! This will be great, because with an attendance of about 50 every week, this branch is ready to grow. We've got a few really awesome people, and I'm excited to be able to work the area with a new missionary, because new missionaries have so much faith! We'll be able to do great things, once my companion gets used to the heat. Unless he's from Nicaragua, because in Nicaragua, it's all really hot like here (or so I've heard). In the chapels here, air conditioning is a rarity, but in Nicaragua, they're starting to put AC in all the chapels.

And I suppose you're all wondering about the earthquake. Yes, we felt it, but it wasn't scary. The house just moved around for about a minute, and then everything was fine. The epicenter was in San Marcos, which is far from here (not even in my mission) and is very cold. It's one of the few places in Guatemala where it actually snows. We just felt some movement, but it was nothing scary. Even being here in the coast, there wasn't a tsunami or anything. So don't worry, it ended up just being another experience for the journal.

Also, in General Conference a few weeks ago, the choir sang a really cool hymn that helps me in the work. In the Spanish hymnbook, it's number 67, but in English, it's not in the hymnbook. It's called "If the Way Be Full of Trial, Weary Not." The chorus of this hymn says:

"Do not weary by the way, whatever be thy lot.
There awaits a brighter day, to all, to all who weary not."

In Spanish, it says
"Do not weary of fighting, be firm in the battle,
God will send rest to those who fight in the battle."

That's something that comes to my mind whenever things get hard. That if we keep on fighting, keep on working, and don't weary by the way, there's something great that awaits us. I know that if we keep God's commandments and endure to the end, we too will see the brighter day that awaits us. I hope to be able to see that day, and I hope to see you there with me. I know that even though we make mistakes, through our Savior Jesus Christ, we can return with our Heavenly Father once again. Another Hymn comes to mind:

"Savior, Redeemer of my soul,
whose mighty hand hath made me whole,
whose wond'rous pow'r hath raised me up
and filled with sweet my bitter cup.
What tongue of gratitude can tell,
O gracious God of Israel!"

I know that our Redeemer lives. Trust in him, and everything will work out for the best. It probably won't be easy, but that's how it is because he loves you.

I love you all and appreciate your constant prayers on our behalf. Thank you.

Until next week,
Elder Banks

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Another Week in the Coast

Dear All,

It's been a pretty good week here in Saint Joseph's Port (Puerto San José). My companion and I are getting along better than ever before, and we had 5 investigators in church this Sunday. One of them had to leave early, but said that she'll be staying all 3 hours next Sunday! I was so excited to see that, because the challenge here is getting people to church. The area is really big, and the culture isn't really conducive to scheduling, mostly because many people are fishers, and we have to try and find them at home when they're not at sea. So, basically, it was fantastic to be able to have 5 investigators in church!

Also, President Brough called me last night. He said "Elder Banks, your Heavenly Father has called you to be a trainer again." So, next week I will be receiving a brand new missionary to train! I love new missionaries, because their faith is awesome. For a new missionary, every person you contact is going to be baptized. For a new missionary, once you get used to the climate, you don't get tired, you just want to work and work and work. It wears the trainer out a bit, but that's alright, because new missionaries are fantastic. President Brough reminded me that the assignment to train is the most important assignment in the mission, and he told me some more details. I, of course, told him that I would accept the assignment.

I will also be having divisions with the Zone Leaders, starting tomorrow and ending on Friday. Sometimes they do it for a little longer, and I'm excited because I'll be with Elder Acosta, who is absolutely awesome. I already went in divisions with him once, but in HIS area. Now, he'll be coming to MY area, and for a longer period of time, which will be cool.

I'm finding even more love for the work here, and for the people. Our branch president, President Barrera, made a funny joke about me. Since I'm a gringo and my name is "Banks," everyone likes to say that I'm rich. President Barrera emphasized that yesterday while playing with some clay. He made 3 little lines in the clay, and said "I can sculpt Elder Banks with just this little bit of clay here." He then turned the clay into a dollar sign. He's a big jokester, isn't he?

Today we had a zone meeting, which was really good. We learned about faith, and the things we need to do to reach the goals the Lord has set for us this month. We are going to be baptizing 50 families in November as a mission!

Well, I don't really have much else to say today. Just that I love the Lord, I love you, and thank you for your prayers.

Never lose the faith, no matter what happens in life. Yes, it may be hard, but I promise you that it will be worse without the faith.


Elder Banks