Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas plans, and Police strike in Argentina

Dec. 16, 2013

Dear Family,
Cambios (transfers) came!  I am staying here in Barrio Libertador (Liberator Ward), for a third transfer with Elder Vasquez!!  It will be cool to have Christmas with somebody who has a Christmas tree up year round.  

The members are awesome here.  Familia Arsola has invited us for Christmas Eve dinner.  The mother and father both served missions, and they wanted to have the missionaries over for Christmas Eve because their 3 kids all left the house within a period of 3 months.  Their 2 returned missionaries got married with other returned missionaries, and the other kid left for the mission.  (a very mission oriented family, especially here in Chile)  It will be their first Christmas without their children, so we will be happy to be there.

Thank you for all the birthday wishes.  You guys are awesome.  My testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon has grown a ton lately.  I am excited to Skype with you all.  

I love you more than the number of electrons that made this email possible.
Elder Withers

Dear Family,
Sorry to hear you are all freezing......on the flip side of the equator we are melting, crazy to see such a drastic difference in climate!  

This week was an adventure!  I think I say that every week, but this time it really was.  On Monday, the police all went on strike.  In some towns the police kept on with business as usual...but here in La Paz they went on strike.  So the day was a little interesting.  More than anything the day just felt eerie....EVERYTHING was closed and shut down (more locked up than in the middle of the siesta!)  And in the evening we were going to go out and work like normal, but we made it about a block from our apartment and both felt very strongly to go back and stay for the night.  It felt weird and in a way disobedient to be in the pension (apartment) so early in the evening, but it was the right thing to do.  We stayed there reading our scriptures, listening to hymns, and just trying to pass the time quickly.  In the end, nothing dangerous or super dramatic was just one of those things where the Spirit told us to go back so we did.  I didn’t know why then and I don’t think I will ever know, but it was right and I am so grateful for the Spirit.  Later that evening we got a call from the zone leaders with a message from President that all missionaries are to be in their apartments before dark.  Which for us means around  8pm.  It cuts about an hour and a half from our work time each night, and it’s weird having so much time in the evenings.....but until President says otherwise, we will keep doing it.  I have learned that obedience will always bring more blessings than impressive numbers.  

On Wednesday we had our Christmas party in Santa Fe with all of the other missionaries from the northern half of the mission.  And it was soooo fun!  We watched the First Presidency Christmas devotional, had an absolute feast of some kind of food but I have no idea what it was, and got a gift from President and his wife (a mission flag and a candy cane).  It was fun to see Hispanic missionaries who didn’t know what a candy cane was.  There were slideshows with pictures, skits, Christmas music, visiting, and just lots of fun.  When the day was over, I think we were all in denial that we had to go back to reality.  

And summer has officially started!  We are finally to the point where the heat and humidity are about as hot as it will get.  There will be some days that are worse, but we have finally hit the "normal".  No more of the locals saying horrible things like, "oh it’s going to get sooo much worse, get ready"....we are finally to the "worst" and it’s pretty hot, but not so bad as I let my imagination think it could get.  It’s hot and sticky, but it’s bearable.  I think when the people were telling us to be ready; I let my imagination fantasize it being so hot that you couldn’t even walk.  Maybe I am finally adjusting?  Who knows, but I think I might make it out of this summer just fine!  

I am not going to have P Day on Monday because President changed it to be on Wednesday for Christmas day.  

 I gave my first talk as a missionary in Sacrament meeting....and it was great!  I talked about Christ and serving him during this Christmas season by serving others.  And serving Christ by sharing our testimonies with others!  The whole having to talk in Spanish thing really helps me slow down when talking in front of people, so that is good too.

I love you more than all the bites of food I eat at lunch appointments even after I am demasiado (completely) full.

Hermana Withers

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Planning Christmas Skype and living with insects!!

December 9, 2013

Dear Family,
Extremely short on time today, about 15 min to write and read.

Yes, we have Skype.  We have an hour and a half to Skype on Christmas day.  3 way Skypes are possible, so I can see Rebecca too.  I can coordinate it to work any hour Christmas day.  Jorge, a recent convert, is a computer whiz, with all the Skype know how, and jet fast internet.  
I love  you all.  I will print your letters and read them.
Elder Withers

Dear Family,
This week was full of all sorts of exciting things....and normally in my letters I try to have some sort of logical thought process to write everything out, but today I feel like a this letter is probably just going to be a list of random things that happened and that I need to tell you.  

First and foremost before I forget, HAPPY BIRTHDAY THIS SUNDAY CHAD!!!!!  You are my favorite missionary serving in all of Chile, I hope you have a wonderful birthday.  Your miracle with the taxi was a cool story.  

Christmas is on a Wednesday this year, and president has changed our P day to just be all of Christmas.  We have been asking around this week to see who doesn’t have 12 thousand people scheduled to come to their house for Christmas, and we have found our top investigator, who is getting baptized in January, as soon as she gets married the beginning of January.  She has a big laptop with a webcam, internet, and a calm house… and I am so excited to see all of you!  

This last week Chad and I passed our 5 month mark!!! So crazy!  

My district leader, Elder Higginson was in the same district as’s so fun to meet people Thomas knows and have the same mission friends.  For district meeting, the Elders made a pizza during P day and then brought it to share.....and the toppings they used were lunch meat ham, tomato sauce, cheese, pizza seasoning, and sliced apples.   And it was surprisingly good, everything but the apples were normal for pizza here....and the apples just made it interesting!

It is sooooooo hot and humid here in La Paz.  We are the most northern zone (so north we don’t even have anyone from the mission presidency EVER come up here....and so small that we don’t have a box for mail in the office....we just have our stuff on the floor, in corners, and where ever.....pray hard that my package not only gets to Argentina, but from the mission office into my hands!)  My body is slowly adjusting little by little to the heat, but the humidity is impossible to escape or adapt to,  I feel like I am always in the shower.  

We tried dulce de leche with bananas, apples, french toast, tortas fritas, and crackers.....I reccomend it for all of them!

One of our recent converts who was 73 years old and baptized in September passed away from a heart attack....sad.  He didn’t have any family still living, and he was able to find the gospel in this he is definitely happy on the other side.

With all the heat, uninvited guests try to come into our pension (apartment)....and its awful.  We have killed a cockroach, several spiders, and a scorpion.  Yes, a scorpion.  For some reason most doors don’t go all the way to the floor here, so whatever wants to crawl in, can.  Hermana Giuliani sent us a paper of tips, tricks, warnings, and advice, and my language study yesterday was translating all of the words I didn’t know because it was sort of important to me to know what she had to say.  I might be a little more precautious than necessary. I spray the door and windows every night with our bug killing raid like stuff, shove a towel rug thing in the crack of the door each time we leave and it’s always there, never walk barefoot, cover the shower drain always, and pray often for the safety of our pension.  Sometimes I feel like I am living in a jungle with all the humidity, rain storms, and creatures....but we take it all in stride and count our blessings that we aren’t living with a dirt floor.

Yesterday at church we had a three minute warning to teach the lesson in Sunday School. I don’t know what chapter we were suppose to teach out of, but the one president wanted us to teach was the law of chastity.  No problem, it’s just the 3 minute warning thing isn’t so cool.  It was all fine, and they all participated and we had a great discussion.

I make sure we stay full and hydrated.  More than anything I am praying we can find Gatorade or PowerAde powder....or something similar to it for the summer.  We sweat so much and I want to make sure we stay hydrated with electrolytes.  

The Christmas party for the northern part of the mission is this Wednesday in Santa Fe...and I am so excited!  Its going to be all day, with lots of missionaries (but not Thomas - sad) but I am so excited.  We leave tomorrow in the evening!

There was a power outage last night, and we have learned that in the summer those apparently are common.  About 1 -2 times per week the power will go out if there is a storm coming or if it gets really hot.  Sweet.  Bring it on summer!  We are ready for ya!

And you made it to the end of the letter!  Sorry it’s so random and unorganized this time....actually they are probably like that all the time.  (:  I love you all lots and hope you are enjoying the snow.  Sometimes when we are walking down a road and the humidity is beating us up, I start to wonder what it would feel like to roll around in snow right then.  I won’t be lying when I say I am scared out of my mind for this summer.  It’s already so hot and it’s not even officially summer.  January and February will be a test of mental and physical strength, but I draw a lot of strength from the fact that I only have to experience one whole summer here.  Only one, I can do it. 

Thanks for your emails from everyone, for being awesome, and making me laugh with your stories from Minnesota.

I love you more than the number of bugs I am going to kill this summer!  (if I see it, its dead.)
Hermana Withers

Monday, December 2, 2013

Small miracles and a memorable Thanksgiving dinner

December 2, 2013

Dear Family,
The small miracles are awesome.  Yesterday, we had a dinner/teaching appointment with the family of a recent convert and a strong investigator, and it was about 10:05 pm when we got out of there.  By foot, we were an hour from our pension (apartment).  I did not know what to do, and we didn’t bring enough pesos to pay a taxi.  Although the mother was completely unaware that we were without pesos, she called a taxi, and slipped a 5 mil pesos into my companion`s hand when he shook her hand.  It was awesome, and we made it back well before 10:30.  My prayer was answered.   

The language is slowly coming along.  I am grateful for my companion and my sector.  

Chile is awesome.  It is really hot down here, and I have been told by everyone that the ozone is weak down here, and that without sunscreen you are going to burn.  I am not burnt yet, but I think I am going to get some sunscreen, even though I really don’t like using it.  The other option is a great idea, in accordance the rules of this mission, just not very popular among other missionaries.  Sombrero!  Traditional Chilean style.  I would love to beat the sun by wearing a big hat, but I don’t want to dress different than my companion.  I might buy a sombrero the next transfer. 

We had stake conference, and about 800 people showed up.  Two people took our bench, even though we put our scriptures there, we were saving the bench for investigators.  Only one investigator showed up though, and he sat in the choir.  We stood in the back for a while, and then put up some more chairs and sat in the row furthest from the pulpit.  It was hard to hear, and nobody in Chile tells their kids to be quiet, but it was a good meeting.  

I know that Christ is our savior.  I know that this church is the true church.  I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet called of God, and that he translated the Book of Mormon by the power of God.  The Book of Mormon is true.  I know that President Thomas S. Monson is the Lord`s personal representative, our prophet.  I know these things because the Holy Ghost testifies to me, and to you, that these things are true.  I love you all.  

I love you all more than the number of toothpicks you could make out of the Minnesota North Woods. 
Elder Withers

Dear Family,
What a week!  This week I completed one month in Argentina.  It was the fastest, and in some ways the longest month of my life....but mostly fast.  Sometimes it scares me how fast time is flying.  

Last P Day we spent decorating our apartment for Christmas and then exploring downtown La Paz.  Even though everything was closed for the siesta, it was still fun to take pictures!  The big cathedrals in the central part of town sometimes looks like Europe.  On Monday night at like 10:20pm, we got a call from the District Leaders saying we had to go to Parana for new missionary training, because this is my first transfer in this mission....and that we both had to be on the next collective (bus) that left at 6:00am....oye.  We did as we were told, traveled the 4 hours by bus.  The meeting was excellent, and at the end they brought out some of the mail that had been sent.  I got all of the dear elder letters (thanks to everyone!!) and the package with Christmas decorations.  I haven’t opened any of the presents but I absolutely love the decorations.  I will definitely keep those for the rest of my life, the tree and stockings for sure.  And reading all of those letters was like heaven.  My response to them all.....keep up the good work, and know that I love and appreciate you all!  

After the meeting we went to lunch and had some pizza and then to the terminal to start our journey back to La Paz.  When we got to the terminal, it was about 2:00pm, so we purchased tickets to leave at 2:25.  We went to the bathroom, into a cool little shop where my companion got a mate cup, and then we were headed to the collective (bus) to get on, but my companion had to go to the bathroom again.  So we made a quick trip to the bano, but bless my companions heart.....she just took her sweet time.  I was a little worried about time and making the bus but thought we might still be okay.  By the time we got to where our bus was supposed to be, we saw it pulling away onto the main road.  Oye.....ciao bus!  The Zone Leaders who were traveling with us said later that they tried to stall the driver, but it was no use.  Ha......oh the adventure.  It wasn’t really a big deal.  We just had to get another ticket and wait in the terminal for an extra hour and a half.  Nothing was really damaged except that we lost some time.

Then Thanksgiving comes around, and that day was a whole new set of adventures.  The day started out with our toilet breaking and an investigator dropping us, and our member lunch appointment cancelling....all within a matter of 20 minutes.  Before we even had our studies, we had no bathroom, no morning appointments, and no lunch to count on.  We took it all in stride, went about with business as usual and then for lunch went to work in cooking something with our gas stove.  

Also it should be noted that every lunch appointment cancelled on us this week, up until Friday.....every single one!  By Thursday we were tired of cooking the only thing we really know how to do here (which is fried chicken and instant potatoes) so we got adventurous and thought we could try making pasta.  How hard could it be?  We started out with boiling water to cook the noodles, and in a matter of 2 to 3 minutes they turned to soup.  The sauce mix we bought tasted like watered down baby food and we bought canned peas to mix in with the pasta, but realized once we got home that we don’t have a can bust.  We tried to mix the noodles and sauce together thinking they could be tolerable...but what a joke...they were almost worse together.  As a last ditch effort to save our Thanksgiving dinner we thought of blends so well with rice and basically everything else here, why couldn’t it go with pasta?  In retrospect I can see how horrible of an idea this was....but we were desperate and it made sense at the time.  What a disaster, it was so gross!  We honestly couldn’t stand to eat it.  We were about half an hour into our lunch time and still without we decided to toss it and just have breakfast over again!  Cornflakes covered in sugar.  The first part of this day went so horribly wrong in so many ways, and it would have been a fun experience if it were just any other day.....but the fact that it was Thanksgiving makes it so much more memorable. And while so many trivial things went wrong with this day, it was still a fun adventure.....and I don’t know if I will ever forget eating cornflakes for Thanksgiving this year.  At the end of the day, we went to Gridos for our favorite ice cream and got a big 3 scoop cone to end our Thanksgiving with a little bit of sunshine.  It was a fun day, and really forced me to look at all the things I am truly grateful for.  

And Friday, our favorite family to have lunch with went all out this week (sometimes they go extra fancy just because they are nice) and it was an absolute feast.  They always make us feel so special and we joked that our Thanksgiving meal was actually Friday this year (:  Even with the occasional ups and downs....we are doing great! 

I have gotten pretty good at playing charades.....when people can’t understand me, I try and use my hands to explain it.....and when I can’t understand others, sometimes they start using their hands too.  The process of learning how to communicate with people is progressing nicely!

I am going to send a letter by snail mail today; we will see how long it takes to get there.

Thanks for all you do for me.  I have so many blessings and am learning so much.  I love you more than all things I am grateful for!

Hermana Withers

Monday, November 25, 2013

Tools in the Master's Hands, and To Rosario and Back

November 25, 2013

Dear Family,
I had a lot of fun last Monday with a small can of sprite.  I bought it for about $.90 USD, as a mini soda (Minnesota).  Fun times!!

This week has been great.  Jorge was baptized.  Cristobal, a ward missionary baptized him on Saturday, and I confirmed him in church this Sunday.  It was a really neat experience to teach him, as well as his family.  Jorge is a good 14 year old, and will receive the Aaronic Priesthood shortly.  His mom is active now, and has an assignment in the Primary.   She is Cuban, but left the Island to marry Jorge`s father in Bolivia.  She found the church in Bolivia.  She later divorced, and is now living with a guy named Oscar.    He isn’t a member, but we have been working with him for a few weeks.  He is married to someone else, but doesn’t want to divorce, because his real wife will take a big chunk of his fortune.  Oscar is a wealthy man, has a diagnosis of severe depression, and has panic strikes.  He drinks like a sailor (he actually was a sailor for a lot of years), and smokes 2 packs a day.  We are helping him though by setting goals with him, and assigning him passages in the Book of Mormon.  A big help for him was Ether 12, he loved that chapter.  It will take a lot of work, but he can put his life back on track.  

I want you all to know that I am going to hand write letters (I will write legibly) to all of you.  I don’t know when I should send them, because you might be moving back to the land of your inheritance by the time the Chilean government is done sorting the mail.  

Do you remember a while back, when I said my companion was hard to work with?  I would like to say something.  I have learned so much these past 2 transfers with Elder V.  I have learned how to be happy no matter where I am.  I really struggled with him for more than a month, but we are good friends now.  We both have made a lot of improvements.  We have a lot of fun together and laugh every day.  I am glad that I have the chance to work with him.

We are working with an awesome family right now.  The parents have been married for 16 years, and have 3 great kids.  We are sure the mother and the oldest son are going to join the church.  The dad and the daughter might need more time.  We don’t want to baptize half of a family, so we are going to keep working with the father and the daughter, hoping that they are like how Bishop  Hidalgo was.  

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY:  “In our callings we are tools in the hands of the Lord.  We are wrenches, screw drivers, hammers, drills, saws, and chisels.  We fulfill our purpose only when we allow the master mechanic to work through us.  He needs sharp saws, heavy hammers, and drills that drive clean through.  We must offer our best selves to the Lord.  Be a clean chisel.  Be a willing wrench.”  -Chad

I love you all more than the number of times it says in the scriptures ``ask and ye shall receive``.  
Elder Chad Withers

Dear Family,

This week was so fun!  On Monday we traveled to Parana and spent the night with the Hermanas there, and then Tuesday morning finished our journey to Rosario for the conference and training.  The conference was so fun!  There were all sorts of great talks and messages, musical numbers, and activities.  They gave us a feast for a lunch, and one of the activities was to make paper dresses out of periodicals and model them.  It really was so fun and I am so glad we could make it.  It’s a 6 hour ride by collective (bus) to Rosario for meetings like that are a big deal and take about 2 days in total with the traveling.  We didn’t end up going to the mission home so I wasn’t able to see if my packages or envelopes came....but the zone leaders are going to Rosario end of this week or next week, so I should get them soon if they are here.  I hope they are.....I have been praying every night that they can make it since I know you guys put so much time into it, and I am really excited to get mail of some sort from the States.  

I am doing very well and staying healthy.  We have lunch appointments every single day and we are fed an absolute mountain of food every time.  Everyone always gives us more food than they give themselves.  And by the end of each meal you start to feel so full that you are uncomfortable.  It’s all really good food.....but after a while it starts to become unpleasant just because it’s so much in one sitting.  Portion control doesn’t exist here.  But you can all be proud that I have eaten everything I have been served (people dish up our plates for us, they don’t let us do it ourselves) and I have eaten all of it.  Sometimes we walk away feeling eligible to participate in the next episode of Biggest Loser....but with all the walking and sweating in the heat it works out.  

Summer is just about here and you can feel it.  Most kids here get out of school this upcoming Friday, and the humidity from the Parana River is thick.  We are drinking so much water during the day, and chocolate milk for a treat at night.  We live good lives (:  And on P days we like to stop by the best ice cream joint around (Gridos) for a cone (served with a spoon!)

I am also sharpening my ping pong skills.  Every P day after all of our weekly errands we usually go to the chapel for an hour or two and play ping pong with the Elders.  It’s pretty fun!

We are still on operation strengthen the branch and sometimes we can see the fruits of our labors, and sometimes not.  Overall we think it’s growing but it is just really slow.  With time the church will be strong here, I have to remember that the church isn’t going to magically be strong here in just one transfer.  I just need to do my best and trust that the Lord is in charge of everything....we are just His instruments.

We had a member go out with us last night to introduce us to one of her friends.  Afterwards we did some contacting with her, and she took us to this random house where one of her other friends lived.  Turns out the lady had moved a while back and this huge shirtless man opened the door.  You’d have to know this lady to really appreciate this experience but she’s a super charismatic mother of 11 kids with absolutely no shame.  She started talking to him about random things about the gospel (we need to talk with her about how to contact when she comes with us...sometimes she’s too helpful) and she ended up saying.........It doesn’t matter that you are all dirty, we just have a quick message we need to share with you.   Haaaaaaaaa.....thanks lady.  She really is a great and faithful member, one of the few we have....but really.  Some of the things she says aren’t so wonderful.  I don’t think the man was offended, but my comp and I just looked at each other with wide eyes as she was talking, trying to make sure we were hearing her right.  All in all it was a funny experience.  Definitely going to work with her on that.  

I really do love this work.  It’s the most satisfying endeavor I have ever engaged in.  It is really hot (warmer than Rosario I think....we have the river right by us to make everything SUPER humid), and the culture is really different.....and despite all this, it’s still great.  The Book of Mormon is true, Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer, the Church has been restored, and we have a latter day prophet.....and so with this terrific knowledge we work hard.....hoping that our efforts will help someone.  I’m really grateful I know it’s true.....I don’t think it would be worth it to me to do all of this if it weren’t.  But I know it’s true, so here I am in a little house in Argentina writing to you all about my week on a tiny little computer all in Spanish!  It’s all an adventure!

Have a fun week this week!  Thanksgiving is so fun.  It is so weird to think that the holiday season is coming up in the states…. the seasons really are opposite!  I love you all lots and lots and lots - More than all people who have big beautiful TVs in their little shacks!

Hermana Withers 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Missionary work is moving along

November 18, 2013

Dear Family,
Yes, I have received packages!  A box and a big envelope.  Thank you so much for all the Christmasyness you sent.  It wa really cool to receive a big box from the far north, and open it in the far south. Muchisimas gracias.  I have opened up some really neat stuff out of the box, but I haven’t opened everything yet because I want to save some stuff to open on my birthday and some on Christmas.  I also got a large envelope with Christmas stockings.  There were 2 Christmas stockings, 2 wrapped gifts, and a lot of really nice handwritten letters.  I gave Elder Vásquez one of the stockings and one of the wrapped gifts.  Thank you so much.  I haven’t read all the hand written letters quite yet.  I also got a lot of dear elders, and a letter sent the normal mail method.  I read all of them, and really enjoyed it.  If I could respond to all of them I would.  I will try to summarize a response to every dear elder I have gotten from you guys lately.  Summary:  Good job, I am proud of you, you are the best.  Keep up the good work. I love you.  I also have been getting dearelders from Grandma Hill ever since the MTC.  Please tell her thanks a million.  Her letters are always so funny, and have such thoughtful   “thought of the day’s”.   

We also had a surprise visit from the mission president.  He and his wife came to the Libertador ward baptismal service.  Carol was baptized and confirmed.  Her 10 year old daughter was baptized about a month ago by other missionaries.  The other companionship in our ward baptized an elderly woman and her thirty year old daughter.  It was a really happy Friday.  The Copihues ward missionaries were planning to have a family of 3 get baptized the same day, but the mother got extremely sick, is in the hospital.  The 3 baptisms of Copihues are delayed at least a week.  I don’t know how she is right now, but I hope the family can be baptized this Saturday, along with Jorge.  Jorge is one of our investigators.  His mother, Magdalene was inactive for a long time, but she is active once again.  Jorge is 14 years old, and is progressing well towards his baptism this Saturday.  

I love you all,
-Elder Withers

Dear Family,
Hola from Argentina!  This week was another great one.....and just as a for-warning, there are probably a bajillion spelling errors in my emails because this computer is in Spanish it puts a red squiggly line under every single word, and I don’t have time to go back and read it to find them.....sorry more editing for you to do.

Here in La Paz, everything is quiet and peaceful.  And we are working a ton with less actives.  Some years ago, the Rosario mission baptized a lot of people....and retained very few of them in the church...and so now our President is very concerned with retention and it feels like we are working in the aftermath of all those baptisms....working hard to reactivate people who once had a testimony but just need a reminder and invitation to come back.  It’s a bit of detective work to find some of them, but its fun!  Throughout each week we rally as many menos activos (less actives) as we can and get them all excited to come to church, and on Sunday leave for church about an hour early to go pick some of them up.  Yesterday it felt like we were waking up all of La Paz by clapping outside some of the members houses....when you start clapping, the nearby dogs start going nuts, and when one starts barking he can get them all barking and it’s just a domino effect.  We were able to get quite a few people to church yesterday though, which is awesome.  The rain first and foremost was cooperative, and the branch is starting to grow ever so slightly.  

The church isn’t very strong here in La Paz.  There was one big branch about 3 years ago, so they split it and now have 2 fairly weak branches.  We like to explain to people that the church is a hospital for people to go and get spiritual healing....but on the same side we need nurses and doctors to help take care of people.  So we are really trying to help this branch grow.  People have callings, but don’t fulfill them, if people are asked to give a talk....they might show up if it’s convenient, but the drive to show up in order to fulfill a commitment doesn’t exist here.  There is just a different attitude about church here...that it’s important to go if you can, but if you can’t (can’t meaning you would rather sleep or cook) then it’s okay to skip.  It’s frustrating to work with this aspect of the culture....but we have also been mighty bold these last 2 weeks...reminding them of all the blessings they aren’t receiving and are never going to receive unless they go to church.  We show our genuine love and care that we really do have for these people....share 3 Ne 18:1-12 that talks about the sacrament or Moroni 6:9 which explains that sacrament meeting is never boring because it is directed by the spirit....and that each message every Sunday is the exact lesson that we need to hear.  It’s a slow struggle, but we feel like its growing.  We go to the mutual activities to show our support for the youth programs, are holding weekly noche do hogars (Family Home Evening), and if you have any more ideas to get people to the chapel please share.

In other news.....sunsets here are beautiful.  And the mornings are the best, because its not too hot and a lot of people are still sleeping.

Schools here are worth basically nothing.  Most kids have school in the morning or in the afternoon....but not usually both, and never during the siesta.   So each kid has between 3-5 hours of school.  Schools also aren’t divided by boundaries....a family chooses a school like you would a doctor’s office or something.  All the teachers and kids have to wear uniforms, which are white lab coats over normal clothes.  It looks like Argentina is breeding a bunch of mad scientists!  The playground area outside the school is a patch of grass surrounded by a barb wired fence.  I am not even kidding when I say that the first time I saw kids in their uniforms just walking around in the grass outside their school....I legitimately thought it was a juvenile detention center or something.  Their schools and playgrounds literally look like prisons.  

Mayonnaise is served with EVERYTHING and salads are lettuce with vinegar and salt or oil.  They have the funniest condiments.

When we get groceries, we have to get 6 bags of milk.....SIX!  The bags are about the size of a powdered sugar bag....and we just go through them quick.  My favorite treat is chocolate milk (they sell Nesquik here) and that helps our milk storage move along.  For breakfast we have corn flakes because that’s the only cereal that is affordable here (everyone just drinks breakfast foods are interesting to find) and we just sprinkle sugar of the cereal and milk to make it sweet.  

We have scheduled lunches with members every week....and we eat SO MUCH MEAT.  So much.  It’s all really good, but I think for Christmas I am going to splurge and buy some real lettuce to make a real salad.  I really miss fruits and vegetables.  Also bread is served at every meal.  So we eat a lot of bread, meat, and pasta.  It’s excellent.  I just wouldn’t eat their salad here, it’s not too good.  

After one member meal last Sunday....we were getting ready to share a spiritual thought.  I had the verse ready to read, Mosiah 2:41 which talks about the temporal and spiritual blessings from keeping the commandments (ahem...going to church!) and handed the book to the member named Pepe and asked him to read it.  He gets up, goes to his bucket of glasses, dumps it out, and starts trying on every pair.  I told him, It’s okay....I can just read it!  But he was determined, and when he finally got to the pair he wanted he started was just really funny to see this old man trying on all of these glasses.  I don’t know why he doens’t just keep the ones he likes out, but it was a funny experience anyway!

We are going to Rosario tonight for an Hermanas conference with President.  I am really excited!  We will be back Wednesday morning, so a nice fun little adventure.  It’s a long ways for us, so it’s a big deal when we travel.

I love you all lots!  More than all the chickens and roosters who run in and out of people’s houses (sometimes during lessons and member meals!)

Hermana Withers  

Monday, November 11, 2013


Chad at zone soccer activity (2nd row, 3rd from right)

Rebecca with President and Sister Giuliani

Mighty Pioneers, First Week in Argentina

November 11, 2013

Happy afternoon!!!
Well, chuta, I don’t know what to write.  Chuta is a Spanish word that means dang it/freak/ouch/yah tu hey/(insert whatever word you want to say)  This week has been a good week.  We only found 7 new investigators, and none of them went to church.  We have been working a lot with less actives.  Last week there were 17 of them in church, this week 2 showed up.  I really have my fingers crossed that Carol can get baptized this Friday, depending on how goes the baptismal entrevista manaña (baptismal interview tomorrow).  Carol is the mother of Catalina, who was baptized a few weeks ago by different missionaries.  Catalina was a reference. References are awesome.  The son of a reference, se llama Jorge (named George), should hopefully get baptized next week.  There is a member in the ward who is awesome for generously giving references.  She has a small little business, and she talks with her customers.  She tells them that she is a member of the church and just holds a simple conversation about the church, and if they take interest she lets us know about them.  It is awesome.  I invite all members everywhere to read 2 Tim 1:7-9 and then just be happy about sharing.  “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

It honestly hasn’t been too eventful of a week.  One of the ward missionaries in our ward got his mission call to Porte Alegre, Brazil.   

My Spanish has gotten a lot better.  There is still a lot of room for improvement and a lot of words to learn, but I can get a point across, and can actually understand what people are telling me. 

There is a person who works in the family history center, his name is Gonzalo.  He has an assignment to work in the family history center, and has keys to the church.  Normal member right?  Nope, he is not a member.  He can explain the blessings of temple ordinances and has an encyclopedic knowledge of church history.  He has been going to church for 8 years, but refuses to be baptized until he feels a need to be baptized.  He also attends a Catholic church, and doesn’t want to give up his Catholic way of life.  It is odd, because he believes the Book of Mormon to be true.  That is what happens when people are convinced, not converted.  Based on logical reasoning, he believes the church to be true.  He has not allowed the spirit to penetrate his heart.  However Gonzalo is a really nice guy and he printed me my family tree up until the 7th generation on a nice glossy paper.  I taped it to my wall.  This week I was thinking a lot about pioneers, and how they wouldn’t have done what they did if this wasn’t the true church.  People don’t sell everything at lower than wholesale, load their family into a tightly packed ship and sail to a different continent, buy a handcart, and then trudge 2000 miles over the American plains, through the snowy Wyoming high country, and then, with nothing left, head into the Rocky Mountains.  People wouldn’t do that in this life, unless they knew that they would be eternally rewarded in the next life.  I am grateful for the pioneers, and their example of sacrifice.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is indeed the Kingdom of the Lord established here on the earth.  

I love you all,
Elder Chad Withers

Dear Family,

This week was kind of long, but it was also really great.  Here it is just barely starting to go into summer..... and there were some days this week that were sooooo hot.  I thought I was going to die.  And the thought that it’s really still spring and that it’s going to get even hotter kind of scares me sometimes..... but we also had a terrific storm towards the end of the week that cooled everything down for a bit.  The Lord really loves his missionaries.  If you had to pick one thing that controls everything here in La Paz.... it’s the rain.  When it rains the dirt roads turn to mud, and when there is mud their cars or motorcycles can’t go anywhere.  And no one wants to walk anywhere because nobody has everyone just stays home.  Everyone knows that if it’s raining....the day immediately turns into.... take a business cut and break from life day.

Storms really are fun, but I don’t love them so much on my mission.  Mostly because we can’t just stay inside and watch it rain.... we have to go out in it.  On Saturday night there was the most insane lightning storm.  The window was literally lit up nonstop for several hours, thunder nonstop, and absolute torrential downpour.  I couldn’t believe it and the whole time while lying there in my bed I was just praying that the members would have the drive to go to church in the morning... even with all the mud.  There was like a mini Parana (name of a river) flowing outside our pension (apartment), and mud so thick you sunk an inch or two with every step.  We got to church and there were only 2 members.  TWO!  We were a little defeated.  4 more showed up about an hour late, and with us four missionaries.....we had a total of 10 people at church.  It was kind of rough, but the Elders did a good job with their talks that Pres. asked them to give 2 seconds before the meeting started. (:  

This week we found ourselves spending a lot of time with less actives.  They are everywhere, and we had a nice group of people rounded up who promised they would come to church...... but the rained scared them.  We met with one lady though, who is pretty inactive and last transfer was walking down the street smoking.  She has a brand new grandbaby who is 2 weeks old, and her son was desperately looking for work.  We read some of the Book of Mormon with her, and felt prompted to promise her that if she reads the Book of Mormon and commits to come to church EVERY Sunday, her son would find a job.  She whole heartedly promised she would come, and despite all the rain (I wish I could sufficiently explain how much rain it really is, if it didn’t affect church attendance I might not hate it so much) she came!  She walked into class a little late, but came and sat down by us and with the biggest smile on her face said, “He found work!  He found work!  I promised to come this Sunday, and promise to come every  Sunday from now on..... even with the rain.  She was so grateful, and it was cool to see her happiness as she learned how to notice the blessings the gospel brings.  

The church isn’t very strong here in La Paz.  There are a handful of faithful members, but the majority only come when it is convenient.  We are really working hard to make this branch strong.  We like to tell people that the church isn’t a museum to display all the faithful, righteous, and perfect people in the world... but rather a hospital for people to come and get treatment and spiritual medicine.  In order for this hospital to work though we need good leaders.  Good nurses and doctors to help everything stay together.  It’s going to take some work, but I’m excited to see it grow!

La Paz is a cute little fishing town right on the massive Parana River.  Our pension (apartment) is 1 block from the river, and there are fishing stores everywhere.  It’s really common to see people walking down the sidewalks with a fishing pole over their shoulder and a bucket of bait.  When it rains, no one has carpet or rugs so people pull out cardboard boxes to create a makeshift rug.  

At grocery stores, to prevent theft or something (I’m not really sure why they do this) but they make you put your bag in a locker up front as a collateral.  And each plastic bag you use you have to pay for.  

I think I started to come out of culture shock this last week.  The smell of dirt floor shacks and dogs everywhere isn’t so startling anymore.  And the sight of kids without shoes, garbage EVERYWHERE, and jalopies so old you can’t even understand how they got the thing started.  It’s getting better.  The people really are nice, and my Spanish is coming along more and more each day.  We had a member with us for a lesson though, and she thinks my American accent is so bad that she started translating my Spanish into her Spanish to help our investigator.....I was just like, Ha... thanks.  It’s all moving forward though.  

One adventure we had this week was at the bank.  Something Argentina doesn’t have is customer service.  Because next to nothing gets shipped into this country, everything is produced here.... and there are only a few brands and types of each thing which means there isn’t any competition.... which means businesses don’t think it’s worth it to have customer service.  Anyway...... last Monday Hermana Sainsbury and I went to the bank to take out money for the week to pay for groceries and the bus and so forth.... and the ATM literally ate her whole card. Consumed the whole thing, and didn’t give it back.  We pushed cancel a dozen times, and nothing.  So we go into the place where there isn’t customer service to try and find someone who can help us.... and we got an irritable lady who said to come back Thursday to pick up the card. We went back Thursday and there was a long line of people.  We didn’t have a ton of time to pick it up, but the line was moving so impossibly slow that we ended up standing in line for an hour and half.  Just to find out that the ATM actually snapped her card.  Bust.  We had a moment of panic, because I don’t have a card but we called the office, and they just put the money on our District Leader’s card.  My card was originally stuck in customs, but we have since found out that customs threw it away.  Awesome, hopefully it comes soon (:  

Today is my comps birthday, and when it’s your birthday you ask for permission to watch a movie.  So today we are going to watch Monsters University which will be fun!  

We had a baptism last week for a sweet little girl, lots of miracles, lots of rain, and lots of mud.

I love you all lots...... more than all the dogs that run around without an owner (we had to run away from a few this week.... dog taser I have does nothing, but rocks work pretty well!)

Con Amor,
Hermana Withers

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Buenas Tardes from Chile, Rebecca's first letter from Argentina

November 4, 2013

Buenas Tardes. how goes it on the northern half of the planet?

I was glad to hear your trip to Minneapolis fue bien.  It is awesome the Cross Country team made it to state. Go International Falls Broncos!!!  The pictures you emailed were really fun to see. 

Thanks so much for your weekly letters.  The family updates are exciting to read.  You will have to take a good picture of the fall leaves.  Nice job on crossing the bridge to visit Wisconsin.  Bridge crossing - that is something the world needs more of nowadays.  

I love the ``Thought for the day``.  It is something I really look forward to in each letter and email.  I love you Mom.  The word ``mommy`` is used in Chile just like in the U.S.  The word ``daddy`` hasn’t caught, but give Chile 20 more years and they will be saying that as well.

I loved the picture of Sam being a wild man with a shopping cart.  I am definitely going to think of that picture when people ask me about my family.  I hope you have a good time in 6th grade.  

We are looking at getting bikes here in this ward.  We are going to ask the bishop if there are members who could help us out with that.  On average we spend about 2 hours walking daily, which is a huge time killer.  It would be better to use that time to be teaching.  

We got the transfer information today at our zone activity.  As a zone we rented a turf soccer field for an hour, and just before eating a lunch of hot dogs we got the news.  (Sam, I made some nice goals, 3 or 4 of the 15 or so)  I am staying in the same area with the same companion.  I hope that this transfer we can find an entire family to baptize.

I don’t know if I told you yet, but I am in ward Libertador, Stake Chillan.

I love being a missionary,
Elder Withers

Dear Family,
Holy smokes this week has been nuts.  I am in a little town out in the middle of nowhere.  In the province of Entre Rios, in a city called La Paz.  The city is about 35 years behind in technology and so we are using the computer of one of the more well off members.  The keyboard is please forgive my punctuation and grammar.  

President Giuliani gives us only 1 hour on the dot to write our letters, and there is just no way I can write everything that I saw and experienced this last week, but I will do my best.  My journal is staying caught up, so don’t worry!

Travel to Argentina was good.  The plane was nice and big and I just slept most of the time.  We landed in Buenos Aires, went through immigrations and customs which was relatively painless, and then gathered in the airport to wait for the other missionaries.  It was fun to see my MTC district.  Then some nice lady from the offices in BA gathered us up and put us on a double decker bus for a long day of visa paperwork. She didn't speak English so understanding her instructions got tricky sometimes, but we got it all done and I think I am good to go.  I should get a card sent to the mission home soon that is my official visa card.  After all of that paper work we finally got to go to Rosario.  It’s about a 5 hour bus ride from BA, so we didn't get there until super late.....but it was good to finally meet president and his wife.  

All day Wednesday was interviews with president, learning about the money, how to not get robbed, how to do reimbursements, and so forth.  It was a nice day of rest to be honest.  We just sat there, ate, and spent time with the office Elders and President and his wife.  

Thursday was the day I got my companion and area!  My companion is Hermana Sainsbury (another Hermana who served in DC South too) and she is awesome.  She has only been in Argentina for one month longer than we have a lot of fun adventures up ahead, but it’s going to be fun.  My calling as a missionary so far seems... to be sent to one of the most isolated parts of the mission with a companion who has only one transfer more of experience than me.  But she is really great, and can speak Spanish pretty well because she spent 8 months in DC.  She is an experienced missionary, just not so much in Argentina.  We are going to learn a lot together.  Our area is way out in the country....where we see cows tied to trees, chickens run around like squirrels, dirt floors (I don’t know if I will ever be able to describe what these houses smell like),  and motorcycles everywhere.  We live off of a dirt road, wash our clothes by hand in a bucket, and when it rains electricity is on and off.

I have learned that drinking Mate is the most Argentine thing you can do.  They do it ALL THE TIME, at church activities, at the store, and basically everywhere.  Did you know that Argentines are the best motorcycle bike riders in the world, because they pile 3 or 4 people on one bike, assign the guy in the back to be the thermal man with the hot water, another to hold the sugar, another to hold the mate leaves grass stuff, and they pass the thing around WHILE RIDING THE BIKE...pouring stuff in as needed.  It’s awesome.  Really grateful that we aren't allowed to drink mate, its gross looking and I don’t think I could share a straw with the world.  People invite us sometimes, and it’s nice to just say our President has said no because of the time commitment....but in reality it’s also probably because of the germs (but we don’t tell them that part).

Rain rules the world here.  My very first day in La Paz it rained soooo much.  I have never seen so much rain or mud in all of my whole life.  It was nuts.  When it rains, school is cancelled, shops close, and everyone goes home.  

Siesta is nuts, and is insanely long.  Argentines sleep so much.  I don’t know how they make any money to pay for anything because they don’t work early in the morning, or during the siesta which is from noon to 5, or late at basically the whole day.  But the pace of life is really slow here, and people just take their time, and are soooo kind.  I don’t know how much of this applies to other parts of Argentina, because we are pretty isolated (I had a 6 hour bus ride from BA) and before I left missionaries told me that La Paz is one of the most unique areas and also one that all the missionaries want to serve in.  So I am going to enjoy it while I am here!  

My mission debit card got stuck in customs, so my money is being sent to my companion’s card and I just make weekly withdrawals.  Hopefully it comes soon.

President told us to tell you guys not to put Hermana on letters or packages because the government is offset by it.  Getting anything from America into Argentina can tricky if anything looks just so you know!

I can get dearelder letters at the very latest every month when zone leaders go for monthly training, sometimes sooner.  Letters apparently take about 1-2 weeks to get here (just send them to the mission home) and about 1-2 weeks for a response to get back to America.  So about a month in total!  

I am healthy, and so far food hasn't made me sick.  Although one lunch with a member was soupy rice with mystery meatballs and the whole thing looked questionable but they stood nearby the table talking and watching us eat (it was sort of bizarre) so I had to eat it.  I prayed really hard that the food would be blessed and not make me sick, and it didn't.  I felt kind of funny later that afternoon, but am just fine now.  

We walk a ton, and bikes would be nice to cut down on walking time...but my shoes are holding up well.  

Before I forget to tell you, I saw Thomas and it was awesome.  I saw him at the bus station before my trip to La Paz.  He is doing well, he gave me a big long hug (had to explain we were related to a few missionaries) and I have pictures but no time to send them.  Next week for sure.

I don’t have time to write much else, but know that I love you sooooooo much.  I am well, and love this work.

I love you more than all the frogs in the road when it rains!
Hermana Withers

Monday, October 28, 2013

Chad switching to Spanish in his letters home

Mother’s Note:
Rebecca called us this evening on her layover in Miami.  She has an all night flight direct to Buenos Aires Argentina, arriving at 6:30 am Tuesday Oct. 29.  She will be on a big 777 jet and I can’t believe she is leaving the country.  I have enjoyed having her in the Washington DC South Mission, mail was easy and she was still on American soil.  She sounded upbeat, has not felt sick or anxious, and she sounded full of confidence.  She shared her testimony in Spanish, and it brought tears to my eyes listening to her.  She is amazing and so prepared for serving in Argentina.  I just love being a missionary mom.   

Chad’s letters are increasingly in Spanish, and I have put the translation in parenthesis.  I love that the locals tell him he has an Argentine accent.  I take all the credit… helping him in High School when he was studying for Spanish class.  (For friends following this blog… I served a mission in Argentina Bahia Blanca 24 years ago)   He also sent a few pictures this time which we will post. 

Dear Family,
¡¡¡Happy Birthday Lauren!!!  I wish you the very best.  Feliz Cumpleanos! 

This week has been crazy.  We found another house and already moved in.  It is in a really pretty area. Because it is far from most of our appointments, we will be using colectivos mas (buses more).  Por ejemplo, para llegar a la casa del obispo, necesitamos caminar 1 hora, o pagar colectivo.  (For example, to arrive at the bishop’s house, we need to walk an hour or pay a bus).  Colectivo (bus) is a taxi that has a route, they are really cheap.  For about 80 American cents, you can get to most places, and also there are buses that we can take for 60 cents.  Ahora adelante, hay solamente elderes en nuestro barrio (From now on, there are only elders in our Ward)  Un Elder en nuestra casa es de Bahia Blanca, Argentina. Se llama Elder Medina (One elder in our house is from Bahia Blanca, his name is Elder Medina)  He is from the city Bahia, Blanca.  He is a first generation member of the church, so you probably haven’t met his family, but who knows, maybe you contacted his grandma.  

I think the fields in the picture there are mostaza, which I think is mustard.  From Chillan to Yungay, there were fields and fields of pretty mustard crops.  

We have a baptism scheduled for this Saturday, but I don’t know if she has completely given up smoking, so we are going to see.

Love you all more than the number of Canadian geese in Boise’s Ann Morrison Park.
Elder Withers

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Rebecca's last email before going to Argentina on Monday

October 26, 2013

Dear Family,
Because my P-Day for emailing will be shot with traveling, I have been given permission to email a little note today.

The word on my travel plans?  I have to report to the mission office at noon....and I'm not really sure what happens at this step, but then someone from the office takes me to the airport with the 4 other visa waiters.  Once at the airport, I go through all the checking bags and security stuff, find my gate, and wait for takeoff!  My flight is apparently around 2:00 or 2:30 (I haven't heard official word on this....this is just the estimate from the assistants) which makes me slightly nervous for time.  Between travel from the office, and then airport stuff......I hope I can make it all.  The church is developing a reputation for cutting all travel plans real close on time.  I know how to run fast though :) and I will call as soon as I can.  I have no idea what time I will have in the DC airport, or if we have a layover somewhere along the way......but be waiting to hear from me!  Interesting to know, no one actually left on Oct. 22.....we are all flying (my MTC district and I assume many other visa waiters around the country) together on Monday.

Happy Birthday to Lauren this Sunday!  As in tomorrow!!!! How exciting!  You'll be a good 14 year old I'm sure (:  

This DC South mission is getting Facebook by the end of next week, and iPads in December.  At District Meeting when this was announced some people were like, "Oh...Hermana Withers, you aren't going to be here for those..."  And I was just like, "Oh, that ain't nothin...I'm going to Argentina!"  I am really excited for the missionaries here though.  Facebook will be a great tool for when it’s harder to have appointments or to find people.  And iPads are going to be so fun for lessons to show Mormon messages, pictures, and videos of the Apostles.  Exciting stuff!

We had interviews with President this last week, and he is so awesome.  Everyone else in the zone had all these specific questions they had to ask him about the mission, their companion, areas, and so on....and we talked a little about those things, but we mostly just had a nice conversation.  He is a great president and I honestly feel like his ability to discern my needs and receive revelation on behalf of this mission is a way Heavenly Father shows His love for me.  We rarely see President, and each week he only sends a line or two in response to everyone's email...but somehow you feel so loved and well known to President.  It's a miracle really!  

Thank you sooooooo much for the camera stick and USB with music!  They are both perfect, and the USB has the absolute best music ever.   Tell Valerie she did a stellar job and that I love all the songs.  Again not just sweet talking, it is the honest truth and as we have been traveling to meetings everyone is like, "oh I love this song,"  or "oh...this has such great music!"  It really is fun to have a change of pace with music, and she has excellent taste.  

Our little mile by a mile area is actually closing.  I am going to Argentina, and Hermana Woodbury is going to be companions with another visa waiter's companion.  We both have to pack, clean the apartment, and organize things like the area book and phone.  It's going to be so busy.  But two more days in America and then I am headed into uncharted territory!  It's going to be an adventure.

Thanks for everything.  Also, please be praying for me on Monday.  I don't want to get sick from nerves again (: I love you more than the number of dishwashers in all the apartments that go unused by Hispanics because they think they are too slow (:

Hermana Withers