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

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