Monday, March 28, 2011

Happy Monday

Dear Family and Friends,
This has been an interesting week. We've had a lot of hard things happen and lost a lot of our investigators. The hardest one for me was loosing Carmenza, she and I really liked each other from the start, and I miss teaching her. I'm hoping that if we give her some time we can start going over again. It was an interesting week because while we had a lot of hard things happen in Agua Fria, I got amazing news this weekend from Aguila. One investigator who I had taught for my whole time there got baptized last Saturday, something I was not expecting at all. When I left we thought it would be months and months before she would be ready. The other exciting news from Aguila was that Rossy and Reuben got married, and if all goes well with getting permission, I will be at Rossy's baptism on Saturday. I am so incredibly excited. It really helped put things in perspective for me after this week. We can't choose the timing. As a missionary it's amazing to me how fast I love the people I work with. After just the first visit I would do anything to help them. But sometimes they just need time. So, while it was really hard to see some of our investigators leave, I'm confident that with time we'll be able to start working with them again.
I've gotten some questions about the weather so I thought I'd answer, yeah, it's getting warm, but my companion constantly reminds me that this is nothing. Whenever I start to moan about it being warm she reminds me that I will be here this August when it hits 120. Yikes! I'm working on a pretty awesome farmers tan. I wear the same pair of shoes every day becuase the tan line is so dark that all my other shoes look funny. I also have quite the watch tan line on my wrist. For now though the heat really hasn't been that bad. We've actually cooled off a little in the last week, and I had to laugh when it was 65 one morning and I ran back into our appartment to grab a jacket. I think I may be ruined.
Mom asked a good question, and since I struggled coming up with things to write about I thought I would try and answer it.

"What is the best thing about serving at this time?"
I feel like I'm finally really getting used to being a missionary. When you first start a mission you are really excited and full of lots of energy, but you spend a lot of time not knowing what you are doing. I still don't know what I'm doing, but I've gotten more comfortable with that. I've learned that doing missionary work is a lot like Nephi going for the brass plates. He had a plan, get the plates from Laban and he started heading into Jerusalem but then he says he was "lead by the spirit not knowing before hand the things which [he] should do". Missionary work is a lot like that. We often go into appointments with a plan to teach a certain lesson and we know what we want to help our investigators do, but often we have no clue how to make it all come together. In so many lessons something will come up, a doubt or concern and then we have to be quick on our feet to answer and to follow the spirit. I've been amazed to see that as I've really worked to trust that often I find that the words aren't mine. I see that especially in my Spanish. I've been amazed over the last few weeks in particular by how much I understand. When I first started my mission I was constantly writing down words and phrases that I didn't know, I still do that now, but not nearly as much. I've seen in a few lessons in particular where my Spanish was far better than it is on it's own. There have been many times where I feel like I'm speaking English and I understand like I'm speaking English, but I know it's all in Spanish. It actually leaves me scared for after my mission. I'm scared to see how my Spanish really is when I'm not a missionary.
Other things of interest... I sang in the ward choir this past week. That was an interesting experience. It reminded me just how impatient I am about music things. I guess I still have room to grow there. Even after being away from music for 6 months I'm still just as picky as ever. :-)
I think that's about it. There's not much to write about from this week. Hopefully next week I'll have more. We're going to a museum today with some of the other Sisters, and I'm pretty excited. I'm not sure how they'll deal with my need to read everything, but we'll see how it goes.
Have a wonderful week!
Hermana Okeson

Monday, March 21, 2011

6 more weeks in Agua Fria

Hello all!
Well, the first order of business is transfer news. President didn't move any of the Spanish Sisters. We're all staying put. We have one new sister coming in this transfer and she is headed down to South Phoenix (the area where I started) and she will be part of a trio. I'm excited to have another 6 weeks to be here in Agua Fria. After the first 6 weeks in an area you start to finally get names down and know who people are, so I didn't really want to have to go start over again. Also Hna Aydelotte have gotten a lot more used to working with each other. We have very different work styles, and so the first few weeks were really rough. We've made progress though, and it'll be good to keep moving forward.
Work is starting to move forward here in Agua Fria, slowly but surely. We're working on trying to help investigators keep commitments and also to get the members more involved. We've really seen the blessings as we've tried to have members in our lessons, as they are able to support the investigators, and the members also feel better as they are able to be more actively involved in missionary work. We also finally have an investigator on date for baptism. We've been teaching Tristan, a nine year old whose mother recently came back to church for the first time in many many years, and he told us at our last visit that he wants to be baptized on his birthday, May 4th. We're pretty excited and his mom is too. We've got some things to work out, but we're glad to be moving forward with him. Our other investigators are also moving forward and we've found some new people to teach in the last week. It's also been interesting as both Hna Aydelotte and I felt that we needed to start working in an area where neither of us had worked before. It's at the northern most end of our area (we drive 6-8 miles just to get to where we start working when we work up there) and because of the distance no Spanish missionaries had worked up there in at least the last year or so. Besides running up the miles on our car, we're excited to be working in a new area and we're excited to see who we find up there.
I've shared previously that we often eat dinner with the members. My years of eating Indian curries and such have paid off, as all the Mexicans are amazed at how hot I like my food. I've eaten all sorts of salsas, and now that the members catch on that I can eat spicy they are feeding me more "normal" Mexican food. It's only come back to bite me once, and that was when I sneezed while eating something with Habenera peppers. That hurt. Most of the food they feed us usually is a variation of meat, tortillas, beans and rice. So when I eat lunch at home I've been eating lots and lots of salads to try and still get some veggies. We've also got members lined up for the next few p-days to teach us how to make different foods. One sister is going to teach us how to make tortillas, another is going to teach us how to make Postole (my favorite Mexican soup) and the Bishop's wife is going to teach us how to make empenadas (a Chilean specialty). I'm pretty excited.
Lets see, other points of interest... I'm making progress on my Chilean accent. At least while I'm with Chileans. I do a pretty good job trying to mimic the Chileans while I'm with them, but the minute I leave and start talking with Mexicans again I sound like a Mexican. Yesterday we had dinner with the Bishop's family and they are all from Chile, so I had plenty of time to practice. Also, it was fun to listen to them talk, because the Bishop is one of the oldest members of the church from Chile. He joined when he was a young man, and was a member of the first branch in Chile. I hadn't realized how young the church was down there. He also told us that now Chile has a higher percentage of LDS than any other country, with about 20 percent of the population being LDS.
Saturday night we went to the mission farewell for one of the young men in the ward. It was quite the party. The family went all out, and cooked Barbakoa, a specialty from the part of Mexico they are from. It's grilled lamb, and it was really really good. At the dinner I talked to a member of the ward who told us about his experience joining the church. The missionaries taught him for a long time, and he would mostly argue with them until one Elder finally just asked him if he just wanted to argue or if he believed any of it was true. That Elder baptized him the next Saturday.
The final cool experience from this week happened last Friday. All of our plans fell through. Our back up plans for our back up plans fell through. Nothing at all was working out, and it had been a long frustrating day. At 8 pm both Hna Aydelotte and I were tired and not sure what to do since everything we had planned had fallen through. We prayed and decided to go check on a former investigator. We went over and no one was home. Then we remembered a sister from the English ward who lives in the same area. We felt like we needed to go over. Angie is 22 and often comes out to help the missionaries. We stopped by, and as we got there she told us that her Bishop had just told her she should think about going on a mission. We spent an hour with her answering her questions. It made me think of the Sister Missionaries on Temple Square who stopped and talked to me over a year ago when I first decided to go on a mission. It was cool to feel like in some way I was giving back, I feel so incredibly grateful for those Sister Missionaries who talked to me, and it was cool to be able to offer the same help that they had offered me. (I think I wrote about it on my blog, it should show up around thanksgiving of 2009).
I love you all, have a wonderful week!
Hermana Okeson

Monday, March 14, 2011

Happy 6 Months!

Dear Friends and Family,
This week was really really cool. Well, in all but temperature. We've started hitting 90 degrees, and I'm starting to wonder exactly how I will survive this summer. I'm drinking more water each day, and have started figuring out ways to try and keep my water cold longer. We still have almost 30 more degrees to go, which to me is a little terrifying, but I'm sure I'll survive. Somehow. Also, tomorrow I hit my 6 month mark. I can't believe how fast these first six months have flown. I wasn't really paying attention until my companion made a comment last week, and then I realized that I really was coming up on 6 months.
I thought I would share a few cool experiences from this week. The first one happened last Wednesday. Each week when we do our weekly planning we do something called "windows of heaven". Effectively we set times and places where we are going to be, and then we trust that the Lord will put someone in our path who needs us. I've seen a lot of really cool things happen as we've done windows of heaven, but the coolest was this last Wednesday. My companion and I had both felt very strongly that we needed to go to a certain street and we would be there for two hours. We cover a very large area and so often we don't know what we are signing up for. That was the case this time. We ended up in an over 65 community. Usually seniors are not to happy when we knock on their doors, and have no problem letting us know. In about 20 minutes we'd covered half of the area we had decided to visit, and both Hna Aydelotte and I were really confused. We started making back up plans to go visit the near by streets, because at the rate we were going we would have finished that whole road in about 45 minutes. At about that point we knocked on the door, and not only was the person who answered the door nice to us, but she invited us in! It turns out she was a house bound member from one of the English wards, and was just thrilled that we were in her area. We chatted with her for a while and then as we were getting ready to leave she asked if we had talked to her neighbor. We told her no one was home. She then told us that her neighbor was an older Hispanic lady, who didn't speak any English. Then she told us that the children and grandchildren of this lady were member of the church, but to the best of her knowledge this woman wasn't. We're now working on finding this woman, and hopefully we'll get the chance to teach her. By the time we finished visiting with the Sister and knocking the doors on the street it was exactly two hours. That really taught me that the Lord takes care of everything, down to the amount of time we are in an area.
The other cool experience happened on Friday and Saturday. On Friday while we were planning we felt like we needed to find a member to take with us to an appointment with one of our investigators. We'd tried multiple times to take members, but for one reason or another things always fell through. As we were talking we decided that maybe it was that we were trying to take the wrong members. So we prayed. I think we prayed over 15 names. Each time we never felt right. As we had started praying I thought of a sister in the ward who I had only met a few times and didn't know very well. I didn't really pay attention because it was a sister who, as far as we knew, never went out with the missionaries. Eventually after going through what felt like every name in our ward both my companion and I started talking about this particular sister. We prayed and knew we had to invite her, even though we both were a little nervous. We called Friday night and this Sister moved everything to come with us. Not only that but she ended up having so many things in common with our investigator. She was able to help more than we've ever been able to, and it was incredible to see how the Lord really knows each of his children. It was also a bit of humble pie for Hna Aydelotte and I, as we had both thought of this sister, but chosen to ignore the prompting at first.
I've commented before on the fiesta atmosphere in the Hispanic community, and I thought I would share about the Relief Society dinner we went to on Thursday. This past week was the 155th anniversary of the organization of the Relief Society. Anything is a good reason for a party in Latino culture, and this was no different. There was a massive dinner, party games, and a pinata. It was quite the party. I've attached pictures as proof that I wasn't exaggerating. And the Relief Society got a kick out of watching the "grandota missionera" trying to hit the pinata. They do it a little differently, and instead of having so many swings or anything like that, everyone sings a song and you have until the song finishes to try and hit the pinata. This Saturday the ward is also throwing a huge pachanga (the word in Spanish/Mexican for a fiesta that is too big to be a fiesta) for an Elder who is leaving on his mission next Wednesday. I'm expecting a lot of food, two or more pinatas (one for the kids and one for the adults), and a bouncy castle... because every single event with Mexicans has to have a brinca brinca (bouncy castle). There's even one family here who owns one and keeps it in their back yard where it gets very very regular use.
Transfers are coming next week (crazy!) but I think we'll probably stay put. I'm not really expecting any changes. President likes leaving missionaries in the same area for a really long time (6-9 months for Sisters and 12-15 months for Elders) even though you probably wouldn't be able to guess that from my first few transfers. This next transfer should be a good one, and I'm quite excited. We've found a lot of really wonderful people in the last six weeks, and I'm really starting to love it here in Agua Fria.
I think that's about all for now. I appreciate all the letters and prayers.
Love you all,
Hermana Okeson

Monday, March 7, 2011

Spring in Pheonix

Dear Family and Friends,
Well, after moaning last week about it still being winter, I think spring has finally arrived. We've been sitting in the mid 70's to 80's all week and it's been really really nice. Hermana Aydelotte keeps reminding me not to be too excited because it means that in the next month or so we'll start breaking 100. Yikes! It's been an interesting week. As I said in my last letter we had a mission conference this past Wednesday. It focused on the Book of Mormon, since by that point everyone had finished their 60 day read of the Book of Mormon. It was very fascinating to listen to the different experiences and things people learned. The focus was on the fact that each person can have a very personal experience with the Book of Mormon. There were many wonderful examples given, but I thought I would share a very humorous one. President asked people to give example of key things they learned from this reading of the Book of Mormon. About half way through an Elder raised his hand and told about how one morning he was reading in 2 Nephi 27. He said he was really tired that morning, and after reading verse 4 of the chapter he fell asleep. He then said when he woke up he read verse five which reads:
"For behold, the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep. For behold, ye have closed your eyes, and ye have rejected the prophets; and your rulers, and the seers hath he covered because of your iniquity." The Book of Mormon certainly has something for every moment.
This week has been a series of missed appointments. We found lots of new investigators in the last week, and this week we had lots of lessons set up, unfortunately not all new investigators are created equal, and so many appointments fell through. This week will probably be a lot of finding and then looking for those whose appointments we missed. We did have one very cool experience this past week with a missed appointment. We showed up and no one was home, so we decided to go knock the doors on the street near by that we hadn't finished last time we were in the area. We ran into a lovely older Mexican lady who let us in and we had a really really good lesson with her. We have more set up and we'll see what happens. It's always so interesting as a missionary to see how things don't always work out how we had planned, but they do always work out for the best.
I thought I would write some cultural things for you all. It's interesting being in a bilingual mission. Trent probably also has some insights on this. There are mission wide rules that everyone is to follow, but I've begun to notice there are small changes to make allowances for cultural traditions. One example would be the parties. In the English wards they have been asked not to have parties after baptisms... in the Spanish wards we've been asked to just try to get the party moved to some one's house. Mexicans LOVE their fiestas. Just about anything is an excuse for a fiesta. The ward I'm in now loves to do group family home evenings. I got to go to my first one this past Monday. Well part of it. It started at seven and from what I heard they didn't finish until midnight. We left at 9 when the party was really getting going. It started out like a regular family home evening: prayer, songs, lesson, closing prayer, but then it was after that the party started. The family who hosted made Postole (which is my all time favorite Mexican food, it's a soup with pork, some Mexican grain that I don't know what it is in English, and then lots of Salsa with cabbage, onions, and cilantro on top) and then they all had a Karaoke in the living room. What skills they don't have in tonality they make up for in enthusiasm.
Another fun cultural thing is the dinners. Across the mission there is a rule that missionaries can't eat at a members home unless they have invited a friend. That rule is more or less ignored in the Spanish wards. Hispanics LOVE to feed you. And they love to feed you a lot or food. It's been quite fun to go over to their homes and get to know the families and spend time with them as we've enjoyed all sorts of different meals. It took some time to get used to though, because by and large the families eat before we come over and then they all just sit around the table and watch us eat. It left me feeling a little like Marie Antoinette at first, but I think I dealt better than she did. Now I've learned to just get them talking and telling stories while we eat so I don't feel so awkward. Once I figured that out I've started to really enjoy our dinner appointments. I've learned all about life in Mexico, conversion stories, and gotten tons of help picking up new words. I'm not sure how useful some of the words will be after my mission because I'm now starting to learn words that only work in certain parts of Mexico, or even better, spanglish that is widely accepted here but probably not anywhere else.
Love you all lots and have a wonderful week!
Hermana Okeson