Monday, December 24, 2012

Another Week in the Work

Dear All,

It's Christmas Eve! And what a great time to be a missionary! There are people all around who have turned their minds and hearts to Christ, and here we are to teach them more about him, and about his plan!

The other night, we contacted a home where we had visited someone before. The mom, whom we had talked to, wasn't home, but her 18 year old son was. His name is Daniel, and he is amazing. He's pretty humble, and willing to listen. We always ask "Do you attend a church?" to be able to get a feel for their spiritual life, but I also felt to ask him "Why do you go to church? What is it that you are looking for?" He responded "Well, I'm looking for answers." I asked him "What kind of answers?" "And he said "I need to know the purpose of life. I need to know why I'm here." We then talked for a few more minutes, and started in on the Plan of Salvation. He loved it, and committed to pray to know if it's true. We have another appointment this week to teach him more about the Restoration of the Gospel, and the Book of Mormon, and then he goes off to Las Delicias, which is a place (and an area!) in Santa Lucia, which is one of the zones of our mission! So, I'm going to hand off his phone number to the Elders in Las Delicias to be able to teach him, because he's almost a sure baptism. He's amazing! He asked so many good questions that we have all the answers to as part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It just goes to show that there are a LOT of people that God is preparing to be able to join his true church, and accept his Gospel.

Here in Guatemala, today is the big day for Christmas. Tomorrow is kind of like new year's day in the states: Everyone's still together having a good time, but the real party is over. This year, we have permission to stay out late with members, under certain conditions, with which we are complying. At midnight, they light more fireworks than we do on the fourth of July. It's crazy, and awesome. Last year, (man, I'm old!) I was on the side of the valley, and I could see the whole valley at 12am, but by about 12:15, there was so much smoke that it was impossible to see the other side. It's fantastic! I'm excited, we're just going to be TIRED tomorrow! We've been getting up early every day this week for one reason or another, because there just isn't enough time to be able to get everything done! This is an urgent work, and the Lord will not have any delays. We have to do what we're told, when we're told, and it's a great feeling when you do so. You know the Lord is happy, and you know you will be blessed for having helped his work move forward.

But most of all, I encourage each of you to remember the reason why we're all doing what we're doing today. Today we remember the beginning of the greatest life ever lived. The only perfect life this world has ever seen. Remember Jesus Christ, and all he did for you, and his love for you, and the Father's love in sending him here to Earth for you.

I love you all.
Merry CHRISTmas.

Elder Banks

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Another Week

Dear All,

First of all, I'm going to tell you about the big news that's happening in the Central Mission tomorrow. Tomorrow are the changes. My companion and I will be staying together, but we received permission to go, because this will be a historic change meeting. We will be receiving more than 30 new missionaries, and the mission will open about 5 or 6 new areas, including two here in my zone, Escuintla. And due to the fact that three of the stakes in the capital were shuffled around a couple of months ago, we will be creating a new zone. Areas (wards and branches) were taken from the Villa Nueva, Villa Hermosa, and Amatitlan stakes, to create a new stake called El Frutal. So, the mission will have 10 zones, and will get a lot bigger tomorrow. And I'll get to be there to see it all happen!

As for the mission, we have some high goals we're working for. In November we had the goal of 50 families baptized. In September we had the goal of 300 baptisms, and we accomplished 314, with much thanks to our Heavenly Father for helping and allowing us to do so. This all started this January with the goal of 204 baptisms. This coming year, the January goal will be 350 baptisms. In my area, we should be having at least 8 baptisms during the month of January here in Puerto San José. It's really an exciting time to be participating in the Lord's work.

Also, on Saturday, all the future missionaries and returned missionaries from the Escuintla district came to contact people in our area. We split up to be able to work a little harder and find some new people. It was a really cool activity and we have about 48 references to contact now, to find some great new investigators.

They also told us today that Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will be coming to speak to the missionaries here in Guatemala in January, and our zone will be allowed to participate!!! I'm SO excited!

The thing we really need to have to be able to accomplish any good thing is faith, and exact obedience to God's commandments. The Lord has made several promises about these things:

"And Christ hath said: if ye have faith in me, ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me." (Moroni 7:33)

"I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise." (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10)

In other words, if we have faith and obedience, we can do whatever we want, which is right, and according to the will of the Lord. Even when it's hard, we have to keep the faith in him, and he will ever help us.

I love you all. I know that this is the Lord's work, and I love it, and I love him.

Take care,
Elder Banks

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Central Mission

Dear All,

It's been a fantastic week in the Lord's work.

I've seen the power that the Lord has to change people's hearts. Oscar, the son of Patty, who was just baptized, has some challenges with some of the commandments of God, which is why he hasn't been baptized yet. He's 21, and it seems to me like he had a little desire to change all along, or he would never have listened to us in the first place. When we met him, he was very quiet. Sometimes he would have a little question, but he would just kind of keep to himself. This week, we've visited him twice, and each time he's been more and more open about his problems. The Lord is really taking away his temptation to drink alcohol and do other things which God does not like. And he's open about it, and happy. I wouldn't say overly happy about it, just a  little more upbeat than he has been in the past. It really is true that when the Spirit touches a heart, the heart changes.

I am writing today because we had a little change of schedule this week, because yesterday we had the annual Christmas activity!!! It was awesome. But I'm going to start with something else that was even more special, because only our zone got to participate.

On Monday, we got to go to the mission home (for my second time ever) because we earned a reward. Our zone, Escuintla, was the most successful zone in November, so we got a reward on P-Day with President. Usually, he and Sis. Brough come to the stake center of the most successful zone and cook something for us, usually one of the things we're not supposed to eat, like pork. The rule is that if Sis. Brough buys it at PriceSmart (basically Costco), and she makes it, we can eat it. Last time, she came to our chapel in Sonora and made BBQ pork sandwiches. This time was extra special because we got to go to the misison home, and she made us Christmas Dinner! She made a big old turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and texas sheet cake for dessert. It was kind of cool, we walked in the door and there's our mission president, carving a turkey! The other thing she made that was really cool were the rolls. They were really, really similar to Chris' rolls (if you're part of my family and know what that means.) and were absolutely fantastic. Anyway, that was basically awesome.

Then, Monday night, we spent time working with the Zone Leaders in their area. We had to stay with them, because we had to be in Escuintla at 3am, but there are no buses from Puerto San José to Escuintla until 3:15am. We had to be there that early because we went to the TEMPLE!!! It was a great experience, and I received revelation to know what we need to do in January to have a great successful month. The temple is in Guatemala City, which is about an hour from Escuintla by bus, and my area is about an hour from Escuintla by bus. So, yes, we're out in the boonies.

After the temple, there was a service project, but we got put into a later session at the temple, so we missed it. What we did have was a delicious lunch, and some time to relax and play around in the afternoon. Then, we had a really spiritual meeting with President Brough, and we received the assignment to read the entire Book of Mormon before Conference (and they gave us a schedule, and a copy of the BoM and everything), and we received instructions about how to be more effective missionaries. It was really cool. It was like Elder Holland's talk this past conference, and we talked about staying focused and dedicated on missionary work, like when Christ asked Peter "Lovest thou me more than these?" In our case, "these" wouldn't be the fish Peter was trying to catch, but rather anything that distracts us and makes us lazy or shifts our focus away from the work. We have to love the Lord above all, and always remember, when things get hard, that "The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?" (D&C 122:8)

I just wanted to reiterate how much love I have for you, for the people of Guatemala, and for our Heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ. The secret to happiness is to love them and to serve them with all your might. "He who findeth his life shall lose it, and he who loseth his life for my sake, shall find it." (see Matthew chapter 10).

Thank you for remembering me and my companion in your thoughts and prayers. Please keep praying for us, because I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the strength God has given me. He has changed me and taught me, and is making me into the person he wants me to be. And that's what matters most.

Con mucho amor,
Elder Banks

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Another Good Week

Dear All,

I'm still sweating, and I'm still loving it. Puerto is just as great as ever, and I'm always happy to be on the Lord's errand. I've set some more personal goals to consecrate myself even more to the work, and thus receive more blessings as part of it, both in the work and in my life.

Speaking of the Work, it's awesome. We're finding lots of chosen people, but our challenge is getting them to come to church. Most of the people have different work schedules that they don't know about until the day of, which makes it hard sometimes, but it's all good. Basically the policy here in Puerto is "He who cometh to church three times shall be baptized." There are so many people who are so humble and ready to make covenants with our Heavenly Father, we just have to get them to the chapel on Sundays.

As for my companion and I, everything is going really well. The challenge for us is speaking Spanish more than anything, because since we're both Gringos, we like our English. But that's alright, he already understands almost everything, and can speak alright as well. I'm not too worried, as long as we keep practicing.

We had a really cool training meeting with President on Friday, and he really followed the Spirit to help us with some specific challenges that this group has. He reminded us to stay humble, and not to get mad if someone else goes up to a leadership position and we don't. Aspiring to leadership is a sin, it is pride, and we can't have pride if we are to have the Spirit to be with us.

We've also found so many people this past week who are absolutely amazing. We have two young men who would have been baptized long ago if they had attended church. We also found out that Patty's son (she was baptized last week) has some challenges with some of the commandments to overcome before he can be baptized, so we're working hard with him. He's just so close to being baptized, we just need to help him overcome these challenges. Same thing with another family we've got. He has to stop drinking and they have to get married so he can get baptized (she's already a member of the church).

I would just like to quote a scripture from the New Testament that I really like. Christ said:

"Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and my yoke is easy, and my  burden is light."

I felt inspired to share that scripture while giving a blessing to a sister who is a recent convert and was about to leave her husband. She had decided to do it, then we visited them and gave them blessings. I then called the husband on Sunday morning to see if he was going to come to Church. He told me that they hadn't separated and that the whole family was going to come to church. And they did. She told us that she told him that she would stay on one condition: that they would go to church. That's the answer to many, many prayers, since I arrived in this area, and I imagine, beforehand as well. The Lord listens, but he answers on his own time.

I love you all,
Elder Banks