Monday, September 23, 2013

Interesting lunch appointments... and so much more!

September 23, 2013

Dear Family,
I love you all so much.  Thanks for all of your prayers.  We have been having a hard time this week with getting people to open their doors, answer their phones, or being home when they say they will.  Normally we get in to about 16 houses every week, but this week 7.  It is challenging, and our ward mission leader could almost be classified as inactive.  We have some ideas, and we are going to make the best of it. 

One thing that strengthens both members and helps find investigators is such as this, you talk about the last 2 paragraphs of the introduction to the Book of Mormon with the member, help them realize the 3 things that they had to do to gain their testimony of the book, and the 3 things that a sincere reader of the book can do to get a testimony.  We then have them write their testimony of the book on the blank page at the front.  We then have them write on a piece of paper all of the people that they know that could use this book.  We then ask them to pick 1 person who could use this book the most, and we have them commit to give the book by to the person by a certain day, and then we will plan a time to visit the person with the member.  We haven’t done the second visit with people yet, and we ran out of books, but it is an effective finding method, and we want to do it with all the kids, 9 or so, at Seminary.

Story.  Lunch with Sister Flor-  I had eaten lunch here earlier, and it was a pretty big lunch that first time, steak, french fries, bread, and salad, and I think there was soup.  This week we ate there again, the 19th of September.  At the beginning we were served 2 small empanadas and 1 big empanada.  We were full and thought that was all, but then she goes back into her kitchen and comes out with steak and potatoes!  In all we had empanadas, bread, steak and potatoes, a little bit of salad.  The crazy part is what I was drinking.  Apple Vinegar.  She had been using a 2 liter pop bottle to store vinegar, but didn`t take off the Canada Dry ginger ale label.  I poured a tall glass, and amazingly I was able to drink it all.  I prayed that I would be able to down that stuff.  Later into the meal, one of the zone leaders who were eating with us that day thought that the Canada Dry smelled funny.  The other 3 elders were drinking coca-cola and didn’t taste it.  I had never before drank ``Canada Dry`` so I didn`t know how it was supposed to taste.  I didn’t make a fuss about the flavor, not wanting to hurt the poor widow`s feelings.  Sister Flor then realized that she had served vinegar, and quickly fetched ginger ale that was swallowable.  Drinking that glass of vinegar was hard, and I know my prayer was answered that I would be able to drink it.

We had transfers this past Friday.  My companion, trainer, and district leader, Elder Catròn went to Parral to serve as a zone leader.  He was awesome.  He loved my Minnesota Vikings shirt, because that color is hard to get a hold of in Argentina.  He traded his rugby jersey for it, and was so happy about that.  My new companion, trainer, and district leader is Elder Vàsquez, from Ecuador.  He is good at the things Elder Catròn had trouble with, such as using the area book, so hopefully I can be trained a little bit of everything.  Because of things the Argentine military did, Elder Catròn despised anything and everything about all armed forces.  Elder Vàsquez on the other hand attended a military college from age 5 to 18.   He says he hated it, but it is obvious that he picked up some good habits.  He is very organized, which will be nice.

I love you all so much, and thank you for all of your prayers.  I love you more than the number of all the dogs I see in the streets.  I am glad to hear district conference went well, good luck with cross country.
Elder Withers

Dear Family,
This week has been great!  Ha, funny....but great!
The other night we ran into an older man who we see all the time.  He speaks Spanish, but as if that language wasn't hard enough to understand sometimes already.....this guy doesn't have any teeth.  Not a single one.  So his Spanish comes out as a mumbled jumble of words that make no sense.  This last week my companion was able to pick out the words that asked us if we were going fishing...she gave out a little chuckle and said, "Yep, fishing for souls!"  I don't know why that guy asks us if we are going fishing....because we never have fishing poles, we are in skirts every day, and fishing isn't really the beloved past time like it is in Minnesota, but it's fine (:

Also, it should be documented....that the ice cream trucks here are awful.  They play Christmas songs endlessly and will snake up and down a parking lot at the rate a toddler could out run.  You can hear them for forever and I am ready for it to either be too cold for ice cream, or for it to actually be the Christmas season.

One of our dinner appointments this week was with a sweet recent convert named Rosa.  She is from El Salvador, so so so generous, and so classically Hispanic.  Her walls (all of them as far as I could see) were painted a very melon yellow.  There were dozens of pictures hung up in all sorts of random places, several glass display cases full of all sorts of know the kind you get from touristy and antique stores, and she kept putting more and more food on our plates.  There was a rainbow striped hammock right in the middle of the family room, and her floors were a dry, scratched. and, unpolished hard wood floor, like a deck.   She was also one of the most friendly and generous dinner appointments we've ever had.  Unlike so many other members who have basically everything, she has so little.  She works long hours, and it was refreshing to be in a simple home with a normal person who doesn't have it all perfectly put together all the time.  She was so so so so kind.  The more time I spend with Hispanics, the more I am loving their culture and personalities.  My favorite thing about her walls though, was she had this large beautiful painting of the last supper hanging above her dining room table.  It was neatly hung in between the gallery of her other random pictures, but she hung this one up on the wall with the cardboard protection packaging stuff still on the frame.  It was awesome. (:

Somewhat random.....but the squirrels here are huge.  They jump from tree to tree and I sometimes get startled thinking that it’s a cat because their size is so comparable.

So we had a lunch appointment on Saturday with a member.  She is a retired employee for the government and she is sitting on a lot of money (at lunch we found out that she was an auditor for the Army).  Anywho....she picks us up for the appointment, but instead of taking us to the restaurant that she reserved 3 weeks in advance, she took us to her house so we could get "all gussied up".  She marched us through the front door, down the hall, and into her "dress up room."  She went from ward member to sister missionary fashion director in a matter of seconds - opening stuff up, fumbling through drawers and closets.  She made me wear a purple blazer with red hats on it, a purple feathered hat, a purple scarf with red hats on it, diamond earrings that were huge, a diamond necklace, and a super sparkly bracelet.  I looked in the mirror, acknowledged how completely ridiculous I looked, then looked at my companion and realized I got lucky.  She was making her wear all sorts of pins and scarves and belts.  And the two of us looked at the other Hermana's going out with us and smiled in gratitude that we didn't have to wear the big feathery boa scarves she was making them wear.  We all looked like total idiots, but Robin the member thought we just looked so cute and she kept asking if we felt like we were dressed up enough or needed more sparkle.  After obeying Robin's fashion commands of "Put this on" "No that looks bad, tilt it this way"  "Come on Hermana....give me some attitude, you have to wear hats with attitude"  we make it back outside.  And it felt like dressing up for a tea party until she made all four of us pile into her sports car.  You know, one of the impossibly small ones with only two doors and the back seat was slanted down for we had to slant down too - to accommodate the huge hats that made us too tall for the car.  We finally got to the restaurant called Lighthouse, we walk in and everyone stared.  We ordered our food, ate our food, she made us order dessert, we ate our dessert....and throughout the whole process, nearly everyone stared.  Our waiter was nice but you could tell he thought we were crazy.  Robin pulled the red hat purple dress look (apparently there is a society that she belongs to that wears red hats and purple dresses) way better than the rest of us, but we just rolled with it.  I know we are here for members too, and not just investigators.  So if making a lonely old lady feel loved by wearing her crazy clothes for an hour does the trick...then so be it!  We can do that.  Truth be told though, I was happy to get out of those extra layers and just be my normal self again.  Every part of that outfit distracted from the message of Christ, it was good to leave the appointment and be myself again.

The other night we helped a family with their English a little bit.  We didn't have much time, but the Dad read a book in English with my companion and I helped the mom translate papers from the mail.  And my job was sad.  I had to tell her that her medicaid insurance was ending for her kids because she didn't renew it.  And also a letter from Kohl's showing her credit score (which was bad too) and that because she doesn't have a SSN, her application for the in store credit card had been denied.  People are so open with us here, which is surprising because they are essentially running from the law....but I'm learning a lot. They also asked us to sign a paper saying we knew them so they could apply for citizenship, but we definitely said no.  We aren't getting mixed up in legal matters.

Also, another family started a casual but somewhat awkward conversation on the steps outside their apartment.  They made small talk for a minute and then asked if we could purchase them a trailer home out in Luckett's Virginia since they don't have social security numbers.  They promised to faithfully make payments and work hard.....and all we could tell them was sorry, we can't.  We pull the "As missionaries, we have rules" card all the time.  Even so, the idea is completely crazy.  As much as I would love to help this family out, I don't have 20 grand or whatever it is to blow on a trailer home!  We're broke missionaries!  I think people just see us as the white American girls, and assume that because we were born and raised here, that we have money to hand out.  I love these people, but it is also hard to determine who really is your friend or interested in the gospel....and who is being nice to you only so they can use you for legal issues.  But, so it goes.  We are just pressing forward, being nice to people....and absolutely under no circumstances are we ever going to sign papers for anything!

At church, we are still working with the primary to learn I am a Child of God in Spanish for the program. My favorite thing though, is their piano player.  He is an older guy, very tall, and never makes any facial expressions.  He wears thick glasses and just recently had eye surgery, so he is wearing an eye patch. He is so nice, but you can tell all the kids are little bit creeped out by him.  They all call him the "primary pirate piano player" and he just goes with it.  It's kind of funny (:

The other day, someone asked us (actually the same lady who wants us to buy her a trailer home) if we have ever had cantaloupe juice.  We say....."uh, nope!"  She freaks out, goes into her kitchen, and comes back out with two HUGE glasses of this juice.  What it was.....a cantaloupe she beat the daylights out of. It was mostly cantaloupe chunks with some juice she was able to squeeze out.  But because she loves this stuff so much, and poured us these huge cups, we had to drink the whole thing.  And I felt weird the rest of the night, but was fine by morning.  Hispanic people think of some of the strangest things sometimes!

I am learning lots here and really love it here.  We have a lot of meetings this week, which means we will be traveling a lot and not getting as much teaching done, but it’s okay.  I'm learning that meetings are important too.  

Oh...last story.  So it was like 8:30 at night, and we were starting to meander our way home.  But we were going kind of slow in case we saw one last person we could talk to.  We were walking in the light and all was normal, until this huge car van thing drive really slow past us.  He goes about 10 feet past us, then puts it in reverse, and comes back to us.  When I saw the white reverse lights kick on, my heart started beating a little bit faster....because big white vans don't really symbolize Christianity or large families out here.  He comes back and yells out, "Hey sisters!  You should probably get home, it’s getting late!"  Come to find out he was a member (at least we think he is) and that he was driving an animal patrol car looking for stray dogs.  All I could think was, "Thanks for your concern, but do you have any idea what you have done to my poor nerves!"  Ha, I was a little spooked. But I have also always felt safe, the Lord is looking out for us, and I know that if we are obedient and follow the Spirit....we will be fine.  

Thanks for all of your love and support!  I am working on letters for all of you, and they should be sent soon!  Thanks for the package.  I am beyond excited for a new's like Christmas! Thanks for everything. You are all my favorite!  The church is true...

And, I love you more than all of the number of people who have their door mats upside down,
Hermana Withers

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

It's great to be alive!

Mother's note,
Chad's letter came with a few random Japanese characters, and I have no idea why.  I think you can still get the meaning of his thoughts.  We got short emails later in the afternoon... not sure if the email/internet service is reliable.  The best way to write Chad now is (and it's free).  The mail strike is over, but he hasn't gotten mail for weeks - just email.  

Dear Family,
"Hey howdy hey!  Cambios (transfers) are this Thursday.  I don’t know if I will have the same companion or not, or whether I will be in this area or not, so that is exciting.  The strike is over, por fin (finally).  It is finally warming up here.  It is in the awkward stage of cold in the morning and evening and hot in the day.  I usually wear a light coat every day, but that can get really hot when the weather is warm.  

Yesterday, there was a lady, Marta.  Right from the beginning she told us she was suffering depression because of all the deaths in her family. didn’t count, but there have been a lot of recent deaths in her family, and she was really sad. e used the Book of Mormon, 2 Ne 9: verse 11 and a verse or two after verse 11. o quote and translate loosely, “So Christ really suffered all my pains? could read this whole book. Ie already been baptized as a Catholic, can I be baptized into your church? t was amazing, she was crying, the spirit was so strong, and she said she felt the Holy Ghost. was so happy to share with her the Plan of Salvtion. was able to testify that I know that I will see my Uncle again, and it was an awesome spiritual experience.

The people here are poor too, and someday I might write a book about all the people I´ve seen here.  Hasta luego."
Elder Withers

Dear family,
This week was great!  It was superrrr duperr busy because we had all sorts of meetings and the baseball game but it was great. Because a lot of people here smoke and drink, teaching the Word of Wisdom and helping them overcome addictions can get President is having all of the missionaries in the mission take the church's addiction recovery class.  The senior couple missionaries teach it and we walk through the whole thing.  It is really interesting, and is basically atonement 101.  So we had that this week, and then we also had a launching leaders class.  A different class but also taught by senior couples.  And we had zone training.  And then it was the game!  

The game was sort of culture shock, I'm not going to lie.  We left our apartment at 4:00 in the afternoon, and drove about 40 minutes to the nearest metro station, which was in Vienna.  The Hermana who was driving that day, isn't exactly you take rush hour traffic, the GPS giving commands, her companion giving out a scream every so often, her horrendous driving....and you have a near death experience.  She almost wrecked twice, and by the time we finally got there Hermana Woodbury and I felt like kissing the pavement.  We get into the station, and it was a dingy little place with lots of people.  Public transportation is never glamorous, which is always a fun adventure!  We hopped on the green train, and were on our way!  We had to switch trains about halfway through to the orange line, and then we arrived at the stadium.  The subway ride was about 40 minutes overall.  And there were tons of missionaries on it.  The Elders, in their white shirts and ties were all standing in the middle holding to the overhead railing, and us Sisters were scattered throughout on random benches.  The normal civilians were honestly staring at us the whole time and some asked "where is your group from?"  "What are you doing here?"  "Why are you all so young?"  We just said, "Hey, we're from all over the world, we've been assigned to represent Christ in northern Virginia, and we have an opportunity to go to a baseball game!"  It was funny.  Once we get inside the stadium, all we could see were guys walking around with beer bottles, women walking around with beer bottles, and vendors selling beer bottles. There was some super twangy country music playing in the background, and the National's mascots (random their mascots are inflated bobble head people!) walking around.  We mosey on up to our seats, take a seat, and enjoy the game!  Truthfully the game was boring.....all I know is that we won 6-1, but it was fun to see other missionaries.  They  also gave us $5 bucks for concessions, so I had an ice cream cone, and then we went home the way we came!  It was a fun night, but we didn't get home until we were dead beat tired the rest of the weekend, but I think I have caught up on sleep. 

Something kind of funny, Hispanics love rugs and door mats....but they put them upside down.  So the ones that say "Welcome" are flipped, and instead of inviting guests into their homes, they welcome themselves outside.  Funny :)

You know how Chad would always listen to the Spanish radio channel, and how we would always make him change it?  Those channels are actually appreciated here, and it is still funny to me. Every time I hear someone belting it out in their car to these songs I just think of Chad and how much he would love that.  It's starting to grow on me too.

We sometimes help kids with their homework in the evenings as service because their parents can't read/don't speak English enough to help them.  So that's kind of fun.  We also sometimes help mom's translate forms and show them where to sign and what to send back for permission to stuff.  

Also, yesterday was apparently the El Salvadorian holiday, so there were some fiestas going on, and for a while we could hear some hilarious karaoke coming from some where.  Either hispanics can't sing, or they were hopelessly drunk, but either way it was really awful singing.  

Our zone, the Ashburn zone, is on absolute fire right now.  We are the only zone on track for our yearly baptism goal, and we taught over 100 lessons last week!  It's a fun place to be right now.

There is one member who always calls us if there is a storm coming, a personal weather man essentially...and its awesome.  We really have no idea what to expect weather wise each morning, so that's really awesome.

I am still learning lots of Spanish.  I finally feel like I have some sort of handle on it and feel much more comfortable having a conversation and teaching the lessons.  One book I wish I had gotten at the MTC though, is called 501 Spanish verbs.  It has all the conjugations for all the verbs.  I am just learning Spanish way slower here because I still use so much English, so if you could send a copy of that to me soon that would be awesome.  My companion has one and it is super duper helpful.  Thanks a million.  

I love you all soooooooo much.  More than all of the people that we squished into one subway on Friday,
Hermana Withers

Monday, September 9, 2013

Baptism in Chile

Dear Family,
I have not gotten any letters, although there is a sister in my area who gets a package or letter every couple weeks.  I don’t know if the strike is over or not.  I would give you my house address, but I am moving.  Eugenio wants his house back, I think his daughter is moving in or something.  By the end of October, we have to find a new house.  I am not sure who will do the house hunting.  It might be the office, our zone leaders who happen to live in our house, or it might be us.  All I know right now is that I will be somewhere else in this area by November.
I tried to upload pictures, but it is not working.  How are you all? Has anyone been fishing lately?  The tortilla thing with peanut butter and jam is great.  I also occasionally add Hershey’s syrup, or cornflakes for added crunch.  I might buy a watch today with the debit card, but no se (translation: I don’t know).  I have been fine with just a minute hand.  Tell me more about what is going on with you guys.  

Saturday, Maria del Carmen Quiroz Orellana was baptized.  She is 52 years old.  My companion baptized her and in church next day, I did the baptism by fire.  It was really neat.  She reads the book of Mormon a lot.  We gave her a small reading assignment, and she read about 35 chapters.  I think she will be a strong convert, and her close neighbors are an awesome family of active members.  Familia Vejar was great in helping us teach her. Members are really nice, we are grateful for the ones that have cars and give us rides when they see us walking.  We have an investigator, almost an ex-investigator because he doesn’t keep important commitments, such as reading.  He is 72 years old, has been smoking for 40 years.  I know he has the willpower to quit smoking, because he is an alcoholic, but hasn’t drank in 3 years. The guy, whose name you can not know, has a rough history. What he did many years ago is why he is interested in the church. Years ago, there was a violent dictator who used the military to kill off many of the Mapuche Indian tribe.  It was genocide, and thousands were tortured and killed.  During this terrible time, this investigator was a Captain in the Chilean army.  He killed many innocent people, and commanded his soldiers to do the same.  At his command, many people were murdered.  There will undoubtedly need to be a lot of approvals and signatures and such for him to be baptized, if he gets baptized.  He has gone from 30 cigarettes a day to about 10.  I don’t think we will have much more contact with him, he skipped church yesterday and is being hard of heart.  I wanted to tell you about him because I thought it was amazing that a person who has done such terrible things is still a child of God, and can come closer to Christ if only they will.  

The weather is definitely warming up here, I´ve stopped wearing my coat.  Yesterday we were tracting, and it was kind of dark, and we weren’t really paying much attention to street signs.  We shouted ´´hallo´´ at the gate, and the dog that came to bark at us looked very familiar.  We realized we had gone around in a big circle, because there aren´t many dogs in the whole world as ugly as that one.  How has school been going?  How are your teachers?  What is new at the pulp palace? I love you all, and wish you all a happy spring, or fall.

I love you more than the number of dogs that bark at us.
Elder Withers

Dear Family,
It's been a crazy week.  And by crazy, actually not that crazy, it's just that time goes by really fast.

We got bikes this week!  And, they weren't absolutely necessary...they just cut down our travel time to some apartment complexes.  A lady in the ward donated them...and they work okay.  One of the seats was falling apart, so she left us with some pink/green/black camouflage duct tape to keep it together, and it looks hilarious.  Fresh and unique, but a little trashy too (:  It's fun.

The humidity is a little crazy out here, but this least week has been amazing because it has cooled down and dried up a bit.  When its super hot and humid, our morning runs our slow going because it’s harder to breathe, and we come home soaked because it’s so hot, even at 6:30 in the morning.  It's crazy!

We had zone conference this week, and it was really cool.  My favorite thing that I learned was that Benadryl is not for everyone. There are all sorts of people in the world.  People with spiritual heart disease, bug bites, flu, ear infections, eating disorders, etc....and all of these things need to be treated....but these sicknesses can't all be cured by Benadryl.  Benadryl might work for the bug bites, but that's about it.  We all have different spiritual needs, and likewise there are different things that will bring people to the gospel depending on their needs.  As missionaries I think we easily get caught into the trap of saying, "Hi I am (Dr.) Hermana Withers, and I am a representative of Christ... what are your symptoms?  Well I have this great medicine called Benadryl, and it has worked for so many other people, so I know it can help you with your bronchitis."  This trap is so easy to fall into, but I am learning that first assessing a person's needs will help a missionary determine what to say.  Everyone needs the gospel, because it is the all curing treatment, we just all need it in different ways for our different sicknesses.

I got my first mail since being here in Virginia this week!  I hadn't received anything, and then on Wednesday I got mail at Zone Conference that had been sent to the mission office (because they don't forward anymore) and then I got a letter from Mom and Lauren too.  It was sweet!  Thanks for mailing me!!!!  I promise to write you back too!

We had a cool thing happen this week.  We walk past the same apartments every day.  We see the same people all the time, and because we stand out as white Americans, everyone knows us. So, we were walking past a house/apartment thing a few weeks ago (I don't really know how to explain them...they are kind of weird) and this guy was sitting on his porch.  He stands up, waves at us and in crazy fast Spanish says "Hey, I am a less active member, but I have an nephew serving in Ecuador, and I am from Guatemala but I am working here in America..." and he went on for a few minutes, but I could only actually pick up a little bit.  It's a miracle we have never seen him before, and that he was there when we walked past because he works all the time.  He asked us if we could find the address of his nephew's mission in Ecuador, so he can send him money for a camera...and we're like "Sure, if you let us come back and talk to you more, you have deal."  So we try to go back, and he wasn't there.  We go back the next Tuesday, and he was there again!  So we talked to him, explained how there were 5 major cities in Ecuador, any one of which could be his nephew's we had to say...sorry, we tried.  If you can get us more information, we can help out more.  Then we casually asked him how much he remembered of the story about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.  It was about8:30, so it was just barely dark, but the light from the porch illuminated enough of his face for me to see a trickle of tears fall down his face.  He explained how he has been living in America for three years trying to support his wife and kids who are still in Guatemala.  He is a young guy, but said he was baptized in Guatemala and just became inactive.  Since being in America, he has seen missionaries on bikes all the time, but none of them ever noticed him walking or stopped to talk to him.  With surprising determination in his eyes, and with a quivering strength in his voice, he said..." I know the story of Joseph Smith is true." He quoted James 1:5 (which is amazing, no one ever remembers these details!)  He said he has been reading the Book of Mormon lately, and again with powerful strength in his voice he said, "I promise you guys I will be at church on Sunday."  He would bear more testimony, and then promise again.  He promised he would come to church 4 times.  And for the rest of the week, we were hoping he was doing alright and still able to come to church.  And yesterday, we walk into the room........AND HE WAS THERE.  He was in a white shirt, tie, slacks, and polished shoes.  He got a little weepy again, but he stayed for the whole meeting, sang all the hymns, and met some of the members.  We keep telling him it’s a miracle that we found him, because we feel like we pretty much know everyone here already....but the Lord crossed our paths and it is awesome.  We didn't do anything special that day, or offer any sort of miraculous prayer, we are just trying to be good girls following the missionary rules, and I can already see the blessings from this.  So cool.

This Friday, the Washington DC South and North are going to a Nationals game against the Phillies.  I don't know how in the world these presidents got permission from the Bretheren in Salt Lake, but we all have tickets and are all excited!  There should be about 500 of us there, so maybe you might get to see the missionaries on TV.  

Sorry this letter is a little bit shorter this week, I will write more and send pictures next week!

I love you all more than the number of people that say, "Soy Catolico/a"  (Soy Catolico means I’m Catholic)
Hermana Withers

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

2 Months have gone by!

Mother's note:  Carl's brother, Alan Withers of Terreton, Idaho passed away last week.  He was 57 years old and was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer in August, and it had already spread to his liver.  We will miss him.  

And...  Sam isn't playing hockey up here in the North Country!!  

Sept. 4, 2013

Dear Family,
It is hard to believe how quickly Uncle Alan died.  I am sad to hear that another one of Dad´s siblings has died early.   I am glad that before my mission I was able to say bye to him.  I know we will all see him again.  The assistants to the presidents were in Chillan that day, and they were able to tell me personally about his passing, outside the gates of the LDS Stake Center.  They told me teaching the plan of salvation will be a lot more special now.  I will be teaching the plan of salvation tonight, so I will be thinking of Alan.  Alan will do wonders in the mission field up above.  I want you to know that I love you all.  

There have been investigators, less active members, and street contacts who all need the message of the plan of salvation so badly.  I don’t know if we can ever realize how precious our knowledge of the plan of salvation is.  The church is true.  The LDS church is the only true church.   We have an investigator who will be baptized Saturday, so that is exciting. 

How is cross country going for the girls?  I always wanted to do cross country, but I didn´t want to leave Idaho.  What color is Sam´s hockey helmet?  I hope you are all okay after driving so far.

Dad, thank you so much for working on a fishing idea.  I am in full support of whatever you plan.  It is awesome the Canada mission president has that lodge.  Be really good friends with him.

I love you all,
Elder Withers  

Dear Family,
I was really sad to hear about Uncle Alan's passing.  He was awesome.  But at least he isn't so sick all the time now. And I can't believe you people drove all the way to Idaho.  What a dream.  At least you had a bucket of bubble gum right?  And snaps to Valerie for getting it on her glasses :)  When did you actually leave MN and get back to MN?  You drove like 3000 miles in less than a week?  Who are you people?  Super heroes, that's who!  Crazy that he died so soon.  I was so sad to hear.  It's amazing that I found out when I did because I was with President.  For all of the new missionaries in this mission they have what is called Expectations meeting about a week into the mission.  So I was with President that morning.  He slipped out in the middle to take a phone call, taught us during the meeting, and at the end asked if he could talk to me.  I have a really good President and am so grateful to be here.

So we live in a huge apartment.  With heating, nice kitchen, and a washer and dryer inside.  It is so awesome.

It is very super duper humid.  Every time you go outside, you'll get a nice whiff of what smells like an old shed or dumpy garage...because the muggy air just traps the smell of everything.  It gets especially bad when it rains, but usually it isn't too bad.

I live in America, and rumor has it that Loudoun county is currently the richest county in America (thank you loaded white people) but it feels like a foreign country...because no one is American in this little 1 mile area.  My companion and I joke that we are serving in the mini El Salvador, because that's where everyone is from.  During our runs in the morning, we run past a few gas stations and there are always a few groups of men with a cooler who look like they are waiting to get picked up for a day job.  

Hispanic people value their job almost as much as they value their family, which is A LOT.  They are always praising God for their work.  And a lot of them work on Sunday, which means it is really hard to get people to Church.  We can get an investigator through all of the lessons, they can be living the Word of Wisdom and are willing to pay tithing....but getting people to church is so hard.  They all have family in El Salvador depending on them for money, and they are too afraid to quit their job to try and find another one because they don't know if they can get another one....and since most of them are illegal, they are just terrified of changing too much in their life that could introduce them to immigration services.  

So because I am living in the little El Salvador, the members serve us their food!  It isn't that bad, but I also don't know if I would ever voluntarily eat it.  We had one investigator who couldn't believe that I hadn't tried pupusas, which is the signature meal of El Salvador.  She invited us in to try some, and I learned that pupusas are cornmeal tortilla things, stuffed with beans and cheese or chicken, or whatever you want...fried, and then dipped in what they called salsa but it tasted like tomato soup to me.  And I actually didn't mind it.  Again, I am probably being blessed with an ability to accept and absorb all sorts of different cultures, so I am just fine.  The other thing that I have been served is...actually I have no idea what it is called.  But it is a sweetened type of milk, mixed with cooked rice and raisins.  Ha...describing it makes me realize how gross it sounds, and the texture was a little weird...but it just tasted like oatmeal.  I am grateful every day that I am able to eat this food.  I have eaten everything that has been served to me and have enjoyed eating it....such a blessing!

Something I have noticed about Virginia houses, is that most don't have overhead lighting!  They all use lamps.  Ha it's kind of weird, but it doesn't really matter.  It just takes forever to go around and turn on all the lights in our apartment.  

The biggest tool we have been using to get investigators is teaching English.  We take our flash cards everywhere we go, and sometimes people will ask us if we will teach them English.  We almost always say yes, unless we have an appointment, then we set up another appointment to start teaching them.  After we teach them the some basic words for a few minutes, we just have them start reading out of the Book of Mormon in English.  What better way to learn English than with the words from the Lord.  He can help them.  It amazes me that people have been living here for 13-15 years and can't speak English.  Then when you think about it, it makes a little bit of sense.  They live in a Hispanic community; go to work with other Hispanics, and go to church with other Hispanics.  They know enough words to get around shopping and driving, and that's it.  And one of the members in our ward said that Congress is working on a law to provide illegal immigrants with a path towards citizenship, one part of which would require people to pass an English test?  Is this true?  Can you fill me in on this law a little more?  I know people are worried about it, because they keep asking for help with their English...I would just like to know.  To all of the adults I think we have become the English teachers, and to all of the kids we are the sticker girls.

It should be documented that teaching English is hilarious.  They mix up words like bird and beer, mouse and mouth, boot and boat, hen and hand, three and tree....and its pretty awesome.  After a little explaining they understand, but I do see where they are coming from.  A lot of our words sound a like.    

You might be pleased to know that I am in a walking area (and President is getting bikes for us!), but about 80% of missionaries will get in at least one car accident.  Because traffic is always so bad, drivers here are a little crazy, and whoever designed the roads back in 1700 whatever did a good job making it confusing!  All the missionaries have a GPS, it's just hard to get around sometimes.

Popsicles are what's keepin it real and my life sane here in this Virginia summer.  I have one for lunch, and every time we come home at night.  It's awesome :)

On Saturday we were following up with a list of old investigator records that hadn't been worked with for several months, and their apartment/house numbers were impossible.  In your mind you know you are looking for number you're like "Okay, here's 52...we'll go around the corner, because we have to be close."  You get around the corner and it says keep going and you hit 26, think "what the..." and keep going.  We go back the way we came, thinking we made a wrong turn... go around the other corner and hit 132, 134, then it goes to 75, 78, 35, 36.  WHO ARRANGED THIS PLACE?!  It took us 3 1/2 hours of walking and wandering, but I would like it to be known to the world that we actually found all of the apartments.  Miracle actually.  

At church we are trying to teach the primary kids how to sing I am a Child of God in Spanish, so that they can all sing it in the Primary Program with the kids who go to our Spanish group.  The first Sunday it was a disaster, but this last Sunday they are getting much better!  The primary conductor had the words on paper...which was a good idea in theory, but the little kids can't quite read in English, so trying it in Spanish was rough.  The kids are smart though, so they are starting to pick it up just by memorizing it.  

On the first Sunday of every month, the English and Spanish sisters meet together for Relief Society.  They normally have translators who can help the Spanish sisters...but they couldn't do that left my companion and I....little baby missionaries.  It was hard, and I tried my best to combine the sentences and thoughts together.  But the teacher was not cooperating!  She kept using crazy words like gristle, force shield, hip, and other words that were slightly relevant to the lesson but not really.  It took a lot of thinking to try and predict where she was going with the thought, translating that...doing our best to get the message and lesson across.  It was actually really cool.  I don't know how much the Spanish sisters got out of it, but I was able to see how much Spanish I do and don't know, so that was a good evaluation for me.  

On Wednesday, we had dinner in an absolute mansion.  We drove past the biggest houses I have ever seen in my whole life, and it was weird.  I am used to being in an area where the apartments and little houses smell like ramen and chicken nuggets, with second hand smoke lingering in the air.  The member was family was super super nice, and very kind to was just weird to drive in a car for 20 minutes and be in a whole new world, different in every way from what I am currently living in.  

We see the same people over and over again because the area is so small, and sometimes kids ask us "How come you wear dresses all the time?"  "Because, we are representing Jesus Christ....and also it's dang HOT out here!"  We see the Elders a lot, wearing their white shirts and ties, slacks, and polished shoes....and it's easy to see we all stick out.  Everyone has at least seen us, been taught by us, learned English from us, or knows someone who has done one of the above.  It's awesome to have such a presence here, and I know the Lord is expecting great things from the people here.  

This last Sunday, the six missionaries in our district did a blitz...which is where we all attack one apartment complex at once.  We each take a building, knock all the doors, try to get as many referrals and new investigators as possible.  It was actually really fun! You have to go through some intimidating white people to get to a few people who are genuinely interested, but it was a cool experience.

Yesterday for P-Day we got to go to the Washington DC temple!!!!! It was so awesome, and I had such a great experience.  We had a member take us, who just got home from her mission in February, and we met up with 4 other sister missionaries in our mission. The DC temple is soooo might be my new favorite one.  The steeples are super tall and it is just such a pretty temple.  The staircases were my favorite, with stained glass in the wall corners and beautiful fountains inside.  The paintings were huge and beautiful, and I loved being there.  It was just a fun day, and a great, temporary escape from the stresses and demands of missionary work.  We couldn’t email yesterday because all of the libraries were closed, but for some reason the temple was open so we went.  It was perfect.  

This week was great.  I thought a lot about you guys as you traveled to Idaho for the funeral.  I'm glad all went well and that you traveled safely.  And school has started???  How is it?  How is cross country?  And is Sam doing hockey?  Tell me everything!  

Mail won’t be forwarded from the mission home to my apartment anymore, so you should send everything directly to me.  I know Chad can't get any mail, so I don't want to sound like a needy child.... but since I haven't left America yet can you send me mail?  I only get to email once a week, and was spoiled in the MTC to hear from you every day.  I just want to hear from you.  I know it’s a two-way street, so I will mail you back.  I just want to enjoy reliable mail while I still have it.

Thanks for all of your support.  I love you more than all of the crazy drivers and all of the big houses in Virginia,

Hermana Withers