Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Baptism in Chile! Battling Crickets in Argentina

Dear Family,
Daniel was baptized yesterday, and that was the exciting point of the week.  His wife, who was baptized about 5 months ago is delighted, as well as the other missionaries who were previously teaching him.  We also had a chance to take Book of Mormons to early morning seminary.  The kids were great, even though it was so early, 6:00 am.  I don’t know how they do it because they have early morning seminary at 6:00 am, and a lot of them have classes until 5 pm.  We didn’t go to the Bavarian village yet.

I still think it is really odd that you guys are entering winter and I am entering summer.  It is getting hot here, and the breezes are lifesavers. 

Just so you know, I had to buy the zone shirt for my comp.  He spent 40 dollars on a guitar without me realizing, and then didn’t have money to buy the Zone t-shirts.  He is such a headache sometimes, but I am glad to see him work hard when he decides to.  I want to thank you all for all of your love and support.  

I realize it was a short letter.  There was some stuff that came up and the zone leaders needed some numbers and the cell phone service was terrible, so that was 10 min down the drain, and my comp is nagging at me.  I will write a bigger letter next week.  

I love you all so much.  I hope you have a great week.  I love you all more than the number of Legos it would take to make a Lego bridge to cross the Andes, to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and then cross the continental U.S. into Idaho.
Elder Withers

Dear Family,
How I would love to be entering into winter right now too......the heat has come back, and it has come much earlier this year than last year.  It is HOT.  And you throw in the humidity and you have a nice challenge in front of you.  We are at temperatures normal for December, which makes me scared for what December is going to actually be like.  

This last week was great, with two meetings in Santa Fe....which made for a total of 8 hours in a bus for one week.  It’s a ton of time.  Every hour we have in Galvez is like gold and we try to take full advantage of it.  We have met lots more people, and yesterday we had 12 people at church.  

Funny story, there is a big beautiful tree in front of our apartment, and from our balcony you could reach out and touch it.  (We live on the second floor, above a funny little place that sells wooden furniture and gadgets) anyway, with the renewed heat and humidity......the crickets have come back.  And the tree in front of our apartment has like a bajillion.  We close the sliding door each night because we don’t want any of them to come in, even though its hot we leave the door closed and turn the fan on full power.  But one somehow snuck in our apartment anyway, and in the middle of the night started to sing its super long song.....and it wouldn’t stop!  It went on and on and on and on, starting at 3am, and at one point started to get louder.....and at 5 am my comp couldn’t take it any longer.  I was too tired to really care about getting up and killing it, but she was at her wits end.  She turned the light on...and with a look full of hate and annoyance for the little bugger......started to listen carefully to locate where it was exactly.  It turned out to be under my bed, she moved my bed (at this point I woke up too) and she saw it, but was still a little groggy and moved too slow, it escaped her....she went back to bed and in matter of minutes it started cricketing again.  She stood it out, and at 6:30 am woke up so annoyed that she hadn’t been able to get rid of it. We found it later that afternoon and killed it....but for the rest of the afternoon, in all the patches of grass we walked through, she would stomp her feet every few steps killing all the crickets she could.  Ha......it was pretty funny, and she had me laughing all day.  She is a great companion.  Last P-day she taught me how to make what she called Chilean pancakes......and they turned out to be crepes :)  They are really good though!  I took good notes :)

This week really was a good one.  There really isn’t much new to report.  Our branch president is awesome, and is one of the greatest blessings here in Galvez.  Church leaders really are so important.

My mission is going by fast and the time really does feel like it’s escaping me.  I am trying to make the most of each day and week, and give everything I have.  I know December is coming quick, but if there is one thing I have been forcing myself to do, it is not letting myself thinking about it.  It’s working, but it’s also hard.  There are lots of missionaries who will finish with me, and some are trunky, and others not.  And I am giving everything to remain focused.  Because remaining focused is the least I can do to return with honor.  I love this area and all that I am learning.  On Wednesday I will have one whole year in Argentina.  Crazy!  This year has been awesome, the most spiritually, emotionally, and physically trying....but I know a mission has been the best decision of my life.  If there is one thing I have done right, it was my decision to serve a mission.  

I love you all lots!  More than all the people who have asked me what Halloween is like (it still doesn’t exist in Argentina, but its starting a little bit!)

Hermana Withers

Friday, October 24, 2014

Seminary Students giving out Book of Mormons, Numbers Glued to Music Marquee

October 20, 2014

Dear Family,
We still haven’t been able to lay siege on the Bavarian Village, but it is part of the battle plan for this week.  It is hard to reserve a 5 hour block in one place.  This week we are going to early morning seminary with a lot of Book of Mormons for everyone to write their testimonies and then commit the seminary students to give the books to their friends.  Oh side note, the ward mission leader here has been working with the bishopric to make a new ward mission plan.  An important part of the plan is that members regularly go out and knock doors.  Yesterday, we saw the first counselor and two other members talking to people outside their doors.  I was so happy.  I sometimes feel that a lot of the members here are active in the church but inactive in the gospel, so seeing them take a very active part in missionary work was cool.  

Chile in many aspects is similar to the United States.  Halloween is much the same here, with small kids in costumes walking with their parents, going door to door asking for candy.  Wal-Mart has been selling costumes and Halloween candy for about a month now.  I remember last Halloween in Chillan, we went to a small store to see if the owner was there, because our records said she was a member.  She said her father was the first person to be baptized in Chillan, and she was the thirty somethingth member in Chillan, but went inactive when she married a nonmember.  Anyway, long story short, we didn’t set an appointment to come back, but she gave us candy.  

A sad but joyful story I will now tell you.  I was in the mission office today picking up a box of 36 Book of Mormons, and met up with some Elders serving in Lorenzo Arenas.  I asked how Amadeo is doing, the little old man, who got baptized in Lorenzo Arenas.  They told me he has terminal stomach cancer.  He isn’t expected to live much longer.  I have been told that his health has really taken a turn, and that he can no longer attend church.  The little old retired man is on his way out of this life.  What makes me really really joyful, is that Amadeo asked Christian, the member who always went with us to teach him, a great question.  Amadeo asked him how he can keep paying his tithing even though he is unable to attend church.  Amadeo is enduring to the end.  I am so glad that he found the gospel before he found cancer.  I am delighted that he is an honest tithe payer, that he will now be able to return to his maker.  I hope someone does his temple work soon after his passing.

Daniela, who got baptized last week, participated in the primary program yesterday, and received the Holy Ghost yesterday.  Daniel, who has had problems with coffee, is committed to be baptized this Sunday.  If you could pray for him that he will be humble and strong enough to permanently give up coffee that would be great.  His baptismal interview is this Friday.

Well, thank you all for all your great letters and emails.  You guys are all awesome.  You are all my favorite.  I love you all more than the number of times an airplane propeller spins to fly from Galvez, Argentina to ConcepciĆ³n, Chile to Boise, Idaho.

Elder Withers

Dear Family
Glad to know that all is well!  This week has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride.  We have been trying to establish ourselves here in Galvez, but it’s been hard.  We are literally out in the middle of nowhere.  We have no contact with other missionaries or church leaders except by telephone and our routine district meeting in Santa Fe (which we have to make a trip the equivalent of Boise to Burley (2 hours and then go back).  And Galvez is located in the Santa Fe Stake, but you wouldn’t know it.....because we are so far away from everything that stake leaders never come.  It’s the equivalent of having a stake in Boise.....all the other branches and wards of the stake are in Boise, except for one which is two hours away ....and that is Galvez.  Sometimes we feel like we have been left on an isolated island with lots of inactive members, but then a miracle happens or we say a prayer and we feel better.....and we just keep going. 

We have gotten ourselves a little more established here, meeting the members and getting to know their problems and situations, and they really are good people.  It’s nothing short of an honor to serve here.  Even though the church is weak and we are totally isolated, serving here has been incredible, and I only have a week here.  With lots more to enjoy and learn from.  

Ha ha, funny thing.....the branch president doesn’t know very many hymns, all he has are a few trusty ones that he likes us all to sing.  When we went to the chapel on Saturday to clean up quick for like half an hour, we learned that he had glued the hymn numbers to the wooden panel thing.  Ha, we had only had one Sunday here, so we didn’t know if they sing the same hymns or not, but it turns out they sing the same ones each week.  Ha!!  We are helping them with it.  I will be playing the piano each week to help them learn new ones.  The branch president really is awesome though, because he makes the 4 hour round trip here to Galvez to fulfill his calling, even though he has his wife and 2 kids sick with cancer.  He is strong and faithful, and wants to help the church grow....but it has been taking time and lots of things have held the work back.  First and foremost, about a year ago an elder set a very bad example of disobedience, for which he was sent home......and it has made several people go inactive, causing incredible damage to the church here.  Also that 2 sisters have gone home early for health reasons, and that Galvez is so far away from the stake that the stake leaders never come (we are also working on that with mission president).  I am learning how to recognize problems, do my best to find a solution.....and if I don’t know how to do it, ask someone for help, and if they can’t do it either....pray for inspiration to know what to do next....and it’s working.  We have been praying for help in all aspects anyway, and it’s the only thing that helps us.  I have never felt so dependent in Heavenly Father in my whole life, but really He is the only person that is miraculously helping things remain stable here.  The church is small, but with great potential to grow.  

The bonuses to Galvez, is that it is beautiful here.  The air is fresh and clean, without the contaminating factory smells that I had in Rosario.....the sunsets are out of this world pretty, and there are several streets with huge trees on both sides that create a tunnel, like Harrison Boulevard (street in the north end, an old part of town Boise, Idaho).

We had several meetings in Santa Fe this week, which meant lots and lots of time in colectivos (buses), but we are getting the hang of Galvez and learning our way around.  The heat is starting to come back, in all its glory with humidity and rain storms and mosquitoes......and all I say is bring it on.  I am more ready this time than I was last year; no one explained it to me that this place turns into such an oven.  

I really am happy and working hard and trying to keep up with the pace of the work here.  There is always so much to do that the agenda doesn’t have enough hours in the day to get it all done, and the tasks just keep piling up.  I feel like time is escaping me and I don’t know where it is all going so fast.  This week we are going to have a birthday party for a recent convert who is going to turn 12 (yay, more men with the priesthood!) who is going to have his party at the church and invite his friends , which will be a good missionary activity for Galvez.  And we are just going to keep on keeping on! 

I love you all more than the number of metal rods you would need to make a roller coaster that goes from Chile to Argentina to Boise!

Hermana Withers

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Attendance Goals in Chile, and Serving in Galvez, Argentina

Well, Hello!  

About conference, I watched the morning sessions in Spanish, and the afternoon sessions, and priesthood in English.  I liked it a lot.  My favorite talk was President Monson’s about the ship Bismarck.  I liked it a lot.  I can’t wait til the Liahona (Spanish Ensign) comes out.  I have realized here in the mission how important it is to have living prophets.  Other churches just can’t do it.  The talk made me think of Johnny Horton`s song, “sink the Bismarck” or something like that it is called.  The talk about sharing the gospel by Elder Bednar, directed primarily to non members was great.  My companion and I have it on a flash drive and we are going to do quick visits with the members using that talk, helping them to share the gospel and not lose the excitement the members have during conference.  

Our ward mission leader had a great idea.  He said to put a goal of ward attendance, and get the members crazy excited to reach it.  We wrote the number 210 in big big font on a piece of office paper, and during Sunday school yesterday, went to each class, and explained that as a ward we have a goal of increasing the ward attendance, citing the conference talk about sacrament, that we don’t want to fill a bench just to fill a bench, but that we want more people to receive the blessings that only church assistance can bring.  Yesterday we had 175 people in church.  We told them that we, the missionaries, are 100% committed to work with them to increase church attendance.  We told them it is not our work, nor their work, but the work of the Lord.  We told them to invite less actives, inactive, nonmembers, their friends, and their own families.  We told them that within the next 5 weeks we are going to work to achieve the goal.  On the 16th of November we will anxiously wait at the doors, and have extra chairs set up in the back.  

Yesterday, we had the baptismal service.  Daniela was baptized, and Miguel, the man the other Elders were teaching was baptized as well.  Daniel, the other man, wasn’t willing to drop coffee.  He is a good person.  He came to church though, and stayed for the baptismal service.  I hope that within the next several weeks he can be washed clean of all his sins.  He is more than willing to pay tithing, he just insists that if someone offers coffee, it is only right to say yes.  It doesn’t help when the member accompanying us told him that decaf coffee is okay.  There are so many members that drink decaf coffee.  Decaf coffee is still coffee.  

About the laying siege on the gated community, we still haven’t done it.  We keep having to cancel it because something comes up, such as rain, or an important appointment that we can’t cancel.  I hope we can lay siege to the Bavarian Village this Friday.  (Note: for an explanation of the plan for the Bavarian Village, see blog letter dated 9-29-14)   

I forgot to tell you all about the cambios (transfers).  My companion and I are staying.  The district is all changed up though.  One sector of elders went to the other district in the zone, another sector of Hermanas are now in this district, and then a brand new sector the mission is opening is also in the district, and the zone leaders are also in my district.  On Friday we had a capacitacion (workshops), and I talked with some elders in the Libertador ward in Chillan.  I was delighted to hear that Adolfo, the military guy we went fishing with, is now the ward secretary.  Maria, who was baptized last September, is staying strong, and her friend Tina, who Maria invited to a family home evening, was baptized about a month ago.  I had no idea that Tina kept progressing.  As missionaries, we only see a snapshot of the spiritual progress that the people make.  Amadeo the little old man is reportedly active and staying for all three meetings.  I tell you this because roughly 1 in 10 Chilean members is active.  Inactivity rates here are super high.  Chile might very well have the lowest member retention in the world.  Our mission president has been addressing that problem head on.  The missionary work is three part.  Baptize, Retain, and Reactivate.  Our plan to get 210 people is going to be primarily focused on reactivating the lost sheep.     

I love you all more than the number of toothpicks it would take to fuel a wood fed steam locomotive from the east coast, over the Rockies, into Idaho, then to Argentina, then to Chile.

Have a good week!
Elder Withers

Dear Family,
This has most definitely been the longest week of my whole life......adrenaline and divine help from heaven have kept me going.  

There is so much to write and so many experiences to share....that time is most definitely going to run short, but I will do my best and try to get it all in.  And as the weeks go by I will try to catch up.

On Wednesday I went to pick up my new companion, and Heavenly Father really loves me because he has given me another dynamite awesome companion.  She is from Chile, her name is Hermana Ruiz, and she talks at the speed of light.  She loves to eat chocolate and she is really calm and relaxed.  One of the first things she asked me is how much time I have in my mission, and I hadn’t planned on telling her so soon but I didn’t know what to say....so I told her, she did the math and realized that I only have 3 months left, and she flipped.  While we were in Rosario, president called out "Where are the Hermanas headed for Galvez?"  I stood up from the table, and he put in my hands a set of keys, a cell phone, and a little note from the missionaries who were in Galvez before and said, "Here is all of this, you will need it....good luck" and he quickly went to talk to someone else.  Ha.....I knew I was in for some sort of testimony strengthening adventure!  My companion is already super nervous for December......because she knows she will be responsible in defending Galvez.....but it’s what makes us grow, if we were never asked to do scary things....we would stay the same.  But....I also understand her fear a little bit.....because defending Galvez and working here is not for the faint of heart.  This is by far my hardest area.  It doesn’t compare to anywhere else, and every talent that I may have developed or useful piece of knowledge I may have acquired during the course of my mission I am going to have to apply here.  
Galvez is very similar to Beltran in the sense that the branch president lives 2 hours away, and that we have a rented house (here in Galvez it’s a warehouse) where we have church meetings.  On Wednesday we didn’t have time to make the whole trip from Rosario to Galvez, so we went half way to Santa Fe (about 3 hours) stopping and spending the night with Hermanas there, waking up early Thursday morning and finishing the trip.  We made it to Galvez in one piece, and met the most faithful member here, who is a young dad who was baptized less than a month ago.  (!?!?) He was waiting for us in the terminal, even though it was pouring rain outside....and then he walked with us to the apartment helping us with our luggage, to show us where we live.  When I learned that he is the most faithful, someone who was JUST baptized.....I got a slight hint that things have not gone well here in Galvez for a while, and as the days went by, my suspicions were confirmed.

Galvez is geographically located in the middle of nowhere.  We are 2 hours away from the nearest companionship of missionaries (like the furthest ever anyone could possibly be!), and the number of members is about 80 (in total, including less actives).  But from what I have learned on a good Sunday 15-16 members will be there.  Yesterday we had 11, which was a major improvement because for the past month church attendance has been from 4-6 people -  Including children.  It turns out that the companionship of Hermanas before us were awesome, but things got complicated.  One was new from the MTC, and the other with about the same amount of time as me.  But the older one got sick and had to go home, and the new one was so new she couldn’t speak well enough to be able to lead the area by herself.  All this happened about a month ago.. President sent the sick missionary home, and her companion to be in a trio in a different place, and Galvez has been without missionaries for a month...waiting for new ones to show up.  President put me here, to get to know the area and strengthen it....and to train too!  And so far it has been good.  I haven’t slept very good for about a week because I can’t shut my mind off, because about a thousand different things are running through it all the time in how we can help this place.  

I have never seen the church so physically weak in an area before in all of my life.  I have always heard stories of pioneers who helped the church grow in their city or something...but I have never seen a place like this in real life.  The church was reopened here 6 years ago, after 20 years of being closed because of lack of members who went to church.  And everyone lives with the fear that the church could be closed again in Galvez if it doesn’t grow or if less actives don’t reactivate. 
The branch president doesn’t have counselors, and as missionaries we divide and conquer....one teaches primary and the other does Sunday school.  There are no young men or women. 

On Saturday we went to the chapel to take a look and see if it needed cleaning, but it really is a good place to meet.  It’s big and spacious and ready to be filled with people.  
 And even though there are a million other things Galvez needs, I really feel like this is an area where I can put to use lots of things I have learned in my other areas.  While we were walking and trying not to get lost with the map, I had an overwhelming feeling that this is my area for a special purpose and that this is where Heavenly Father needs me right now.  Heavenly Father never forgets any of his children, he wants all of them to grow and progress....and that God has everything under his control.  Even if it seems like the church or things are falling apart, we can trust that He is looking out for us....and that if we are obedient everything will be okay and he will bless us with what we need (like a stable branch or ward!)

There are so many other things I wish I could write right now, but there is just not enough time.  It should be documented though that I am living in the nicest apartment ever, with a washing machine!  The apartment is huge and brand new, and seeing the washing machine nearly brought tears to my eyes, I am so grateful.  I don’t think I have gotten used to washing my clothes by hand, I have always hated it....and I don’t have to anymore!  Yay!   

I love you more than all the cows you would have to milk to make an ice cream bowl filled with enough ice cream to share with everyone who lives between Boise, Argentina, and Chile.  

Hermana Withers

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Watching Conference and a New area in Argentina

October 6, 2014

Dear Family,
We watched conference live!  I am glad to hear that you guys were able to watch it too.  I watched Saturday morning in Spanish, then afternoon session and priesthood session in English.  Sunday morning in Spanish, and afternoon in English.  I am definitely going to go through these talks again in the Liahona (Spanish Ensign).  I loved what President Monson said about the Bismarck Ship, that was a great talk.  

Well, it is good to hear that you are all doing well.  This Sunday we are really really fingers very crossed hoping to have 2 baptisms.  There is a nine year old daughter of a less active lady who is coming back to church, thanks to an awesome example set by the girl’s grandma who they live with.  Daniela`s uncle will come down from Santiago to baptize her, and in a few months the mother will move with her 2 kids to of all places ONTARIO CANADA.  She told us about going to Tim Horton’s donuts while visiting Canada.  She is getting married to an active Canadian man who served a mission in Chile 20 years ago, who later got divorced.  We hope the family can really stay active with her new father, because her last father went to the airport and took a plane to who knows where, never came back.  We are going to put the mom in the preparation for the temple class. 

Also, we are teaching Daniel.  We had been teaching him for a while, and actually took our focus off him since he was going to church with his wife who got baptized about 6 months ago, but he didn’t seem interested in really progressing in the near future.  He had expressed that he wanted to be baptized, but always wants to learn more and more and didn’t want to accept a specific date.  However, we had invited him several weeks ago to be baptized on the 4th of October.  We have invited him several times and he has never accepted a date.  An active returned missionary who works with him took him home from work, and as they drove Daniel said that he wanted to be baptized on the 4th.  We found that out, and were shocked.  The next visit we found out that he had been reading a lot from the Book of Mormon and the pamphlets and he wants to do it now.  We put a fecha (made a date) for the 12th because there wasn’t time to organize an interview, or to finish teaching him.  We are going to pass by today to teach the commandments.  Please pray that he can be accepting of tithing.  He has a car, motorcycle, a home in a nice neighborhood and a nice home in the country with land, and has 2 kids going to college.  Please pray that Daniel and Daniela can be baptized on the 12th.  

I have to go!  I love you all 9999999999999999999999 times 9999999999999999999999!
Elder Withers

Dear Family,
I am entering into the last 12 weeks of my mission........and I am getting transferred!  These last two transfers I will spend training a new missionary and whitewashing in Santa Fe, in a city called Galvez.  Whitewashing means that both missionaries who were previously there are going somewhere else, and they are sending me and my new companion who won’t know anything to an area where I don’t know anything either.  I will go pick up my new companion from the mission office tomorrow, we will get on a bus headed for Galvez (once I figure out the bus that takes us there, I will have to learn that first) and then once we get there we are going to call a taxi to take us to our apartment because I don’t know where it is... and then we get started!  The only thing I am going to be given are the keys to the apartment and the address of the place, and I am hoping and praying that there is a nicely organized and beautiful area book waiting for us with updated phone numbers and the address of the chapel and so on.  And if there isn’t, well then let the excitement begin!  We are going to buy some maps and learn our way around together.

I know absolutely nothing about my new area....I don’t even know where it is on the map.  All I know is how to get on the bus that can take me there.  I don’t know if there is a ward or a branch or if it’s big or little, safe or dangerous, I have no idea.  It would be one thing to do a whitewash with another missionary who has been in the field for a few months, still hard but we would manage just fine.  But whitewashing and training is going to be a nice adventure.  I am going to put to work all that I have learned about using maps and learning my way around, because I don’t have any time in this area with another missionary to show me the ropes of the place.  And also practice lots of patience as I help my new companion adjust to Argentina.  (You would be pleased to know Dad that I know north and east and so on!)  We are going to take lots of deep breaths and do our very best, getting to know the people and the area, but also remain calm.  When we get lost (because it’s probably going to happen) we are going to be fine, look at the map again...and keep going.  

I really am excited for these next two transfers, the first few weeks are going to be nice and long, but the time seems to fly by quickly anyway.  The transfers always go by fast.  

This last week was terrific.  We have seen lots of miracles in the people we are teaching and lots of progress has been made.  And the treat for the week, was of course General Conference.  And for the first time in my whole mission.....I was able to watch it in English!  Thank goodness that there is another American sister in the zone so that we could be in the room together with the Elders watching it on the TV in English.  I watched 2 of the sessions in Spanish anyway just because I could and the screen was lots bigger, but I have to say......listening to conference in your native language is incredible.  There is something about it that lets the spirit testify to you very powerfully.  Not that I didn’t understand it in Spanish, because I did.....but listening to it in your native language is awesome and incredibly powerful.  Which explains why they have started making some of the talks be spoken in other languages....so that all can have the opportunity to hear it in their native language!  It was a cool.  I thought of you guys while you were watching conference, and it always makes the world seem so much smaller.  I know that we were listening to the exact same messages at the exact same time, and I loved that.  I loved all the messages....I really loved all of them.  But 2 of my favorites were from Elder Ballard and Elder Bednar.  All we have to do is stay in the boat, and the reason we share the gospel isn’t because we are trying to increase our numbers... it’s because it really has a healing effect, and people need the truth.  I am excited to re-read all of the talks in the coming months.  (I love the talks....I listen to the pen drive you sent me with all the talks every morning, about 2 talks per day...it’s awesome!)

The week really was a great one and another one is coming with lots of new things waiting.  Thanks for your letters, I love them all lots.  I wish I could respond to each one more personally with more time and a more thought out response, but time doesn’t permit it........so the best I can do is say thanks a million gabajillion!  I look forward to writing you each week.  Today we are going to spend in Rosario, eating lunch at a cool downtown city restaurant, and then going to the flag monument with Hermana Gonzalez before I go (she was so adamant in going today, that I gave in....ha I started packing 2 days ago to be able to make it all work!)  Today we play, I am all packed and ready to go.....and tomorrow I begin a new adventure!  

Have a great week!  I love you more than number tootsie rolls you would have to line up to make a tunnel connecting Argentina and Chile and Boise!

Hermana Withers