Saturday, November 30, 2013

Week 22

[The following is an excerpt from one of Josh's handwritten letters dated October 2013.]

Remember to always be grateful for what you guys have. The very wealthiest families here might live in a concrete house the size of our garage. Our backyard is basically a resort.  Instead of eating whatever stale white bread we were able to buy with money that wasn't spent on alcohol or cigarettes, we have lavished vegan meals that even include such luxuries as more than one dish. We even get vegetables that aren't potatoes or old corn. Did I also mention that we even had three cars?!? That's as many cars as usually show up to Sacrament meeting on Sunday in the entire ward.

Also, always be grateful for the opportunity that you guys have to work and study. Most people here have either a manual labor job is just miserable, or they just sit around all day, watching soccer and pirated movies. I know that might sound somewhat attractive, but if that was all you could do with your life, for all your life, it would probably be a little boring and unfulfilling.

On a side note (probably most interesting to Dad) the economy here is super inefficient. There are a ridiculous number of little tiendas or stores here. It's nice for us, as missionaries, because we only have to walk a half dozen houses or so any time we’re hungry before we come to his store where we can buy a snack. The stores are super tiny and only have chips, candy, and soda. Normally you can't enter, is just like a wall of products hanging from the ceiling. The ones you can enter have just three walls and a roof – no door or anything. Normally the stores are the front of the owner's house. As I was saying, incredibly inefficient.

All the stores have exactly the same products, for the exact same price. There are far more stores than necessary, as I said, literally at most a thirty second walk away at any given time. The store also has at least one person who sits there all day watching TV unless someone wants to buy something. It'd be so much better to have just a few larger stores, then all those other people could be producing something and actually improving Guatemala. Anyway, the grateful that not your outlook: watching TV in a cramped room until, maybe, when you're 40 years old you have enough money to go to high school.

Also, be grateful for all the religious preparation you have received. The Church is growing quickly here, which leads to the problem of having a ward full of recent converts who don't really know what's going on. There's not quite the depth and strength that the sixth ward has. Very few of the members are endowed. Sacrament meeting always starts 15 min. late. One Sunday four cell phones went off during the sacrament. Last Sunday, the Bishop, as he ordained two recent converts as priests and conferred upon them the Aaronic priesthood, also conferred upon them the "keys of that office". Unless I'm mistaken, only the president of the deacons, teachers, priests (the Bishop), and elders quorum have keys in the ward. Anyway, they do great with what they have. They have great faith and make great sacrifices; it's just that they don't have the same LDS tradition that we have in the US.

Be grateful for the spiritual preparation you received at home. All those early morning scripture studies, FHE, etc. make a difference. You guys will be far more prepared than most other missionaries because of how much Mom and Dad have done to prepare you. So thanks Mom and Dad. One thing you should do on every Sunday or for FHE is to watch the District on BYU TV (they have all the episodes on their website.) It's hardly a perfect representation of missionary work, especially missionary work here. We often watch the district (seasons one and two, including a bunch of material not in the TV version) as part of companionship study and laugh about how different it is or how funny it would be if they film season three here.

I hope you are all doing well and are sharing the gospel.


Elder Josh Cannon

[Now Josh's weekly update]

Tuesday, November 26

Ok, I don't have a lot of time to write today, but that's because I spent a good chunk of time sending pictures. I hope that's ok. Anyway, a few updates about what's going on here in San Jose, Villa Nueva. Last Tuesday we had some of the best lessons of my mission. In the morning we went to a second visit we had scheduled only to find out that the person had moved. We taught the first lesson to the family that had just moved in. At first they just seemed like a pretty normal pilas family, but at the end of the lesson they started saying "we haven't really felt comfortable in our church and had been praying for God to show them the way. Then you showed up, so..." Basically, it was the first time I had been told by an investigator that our arrival was a direct specific answer to their prayer. Pretty cool. Glad we followed that inspiration.

Then in the night we had a second visit with a pretty large family. The most pilas was a woman named Silvia. When we asked if they prayed she immediately said that she did and that she felt a "burning kind of peace" and said that she thought that was her answer. Normally we have to visit a couple of times before they get an answer so clear and powerful. Often they pray incorrectly (praying to Señor Jesus is deeply ingrained) or don't pray at all. It was cool to see the power of the Holy Ghost. We then committed her to be baptized on the 8th. However, a few minutes after that we learned that they were only staying here temporarily and will be moving back this week. Not fair. Also, when we asked the first family if they were legally married, they said they were... to different people. The divorce process takes months, so they won't be getting baptized for a while... sad...

A few pictures. The first few are from a baptism the other elders had last Sunday. We might have had to use the sacrament cloth as a dress, but they had to baptize in water that was a nice murky green. Seriously, you can't see that well in the pictures, but the water might have been pear cider for all I know. 100% Jordan River. I was a little worried about the water's ability to wash away sin, it seemed to be pretty saturated, but things turned out ok.

A service project we did to build some stairs for a family.

A benefit of getting up at 5:00

A cockroach and I

Our last visit in Villa Canales with the Garcia family. I love them so much and had no idea it'd be so hard to leave them, my other converts, and the area in general.

My last day in VC in a car ride back from Brisas

Hermana Janeli's baptism. My kind of awkward since my companion didn't move in when the person taking the picture told us to, so it looks like I'm snaking.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Week 21

Ha, as of yesterday, this is officially Semana [week] 4 of this transfer. Now that I'm finally a significant way through my first transfer not as a nuevo [new missionary], I think I finally can consider myself a "real missionary," but that's just still so weird to wrap my mind around... 
Anyway, we had another good week. The highlight was Tuesday. We started out the day by hiking this crazy hill, with a bunch of lamina [?] houses perched precariously on the side. We had some really effective lessons there and found one man who had already attended church once. He attended again this Sunday and after lunch we're going to visit him and challenge him to be baptized on the 24th.

After that we went to Valles de Maria, and area I had never before entered. It was almost a United States quality residential (gated and guarded) neighborhood. It was clean and safe with new cars. It was SO different. At one point we were visiting a recent convert and his family in their (relatively) super nice home and I realized that I was finally doing the missionary work I had always imagined missionary work to be (i.e. what the missionaries in Medford do when they visit us). They even sent us off with food and gave us a ride to our next teaching appointment.

After that, for whatever reason, we were on fire. We seriously could do nothing wrong. Every contact we had was super pilas and practically asked to be baptized; we had the support of members, etc. My question was just why everyday couldn't be like that? I'm pretty sure we were better teachers that night, just because we were so excited and felt the spirit so strongly. Maybe it's just that we wouldn't learn as much or become the people we need to be if missionary work was so easy. Or maybe it's just that opposition is an inherent part of this work. As Elder Holland said, "Salvation is never easy."

Moving on, Mom, you mentioned something about using a picture of a colorful Guatemalan bus. Yes, they are pretty crazy. Actually, when I came to Villa Nueva I learned that the colors actually mean something. All buses are painted with stripes and swirls using some combination of two colors. The colors signify where the bus is based. For example, in Villa Canales all the buses were cream and red colored. Here in San Jose, the buses are white and some type of blue green (I'm not really sure; I have trouble with that color). There are buses of every color: green and black, black and white, yellow and black, green and white, etc. The buses are also decorated with a bunch of chrome, which is kind of funny because they're just school buses that have been painted a new color. On the front windshield is always some religious saying (e.g. The Word), or the name of some girl. Inside the decorations are a strange mix of catholic and evangelical decoration (for example, crucifixes next to paintings of Jesus holding a bus in his hands and saying "God is Love"). It's always interesting.

Anyway, that's it for now.

Love, Elder Cannon

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Week 20

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

This was a fun week. The highlight was that the drought of baptisms I have been experiencing has finally ended. We were blessed to witness the baptism of one of our investigators, Hermana Janeli, this Sunday. It was probably the best baptismal service that I have been to so far on my mission. Everything was well planned and there was relatively little we were running around doing at the last minute (except for finding the sacrament table cloth so Janeli could use it as a skirt. We thought that the one she had might be a little too thin).

 Anyway, her decision to be baptized was pretty cool. Last Sunday we wanted to know if we have a fecha fija (a set date) for her baptism. I called her that night and asked if she wanted to be baptized and she said she still didn't know. I told her to pray about it and that we would visit her the next day. When we arrived, she said that she had some news for us. We braced ourselves for the worst, but she said that she prayed about it and felt a lot of peace. Then, that night she had a really impactful dream that she was being baptized. She said that she was going to follow that answer and would be baptized on Sunday. I'm definitely grateful for that miracle.

This week was also especially interesting because it was la semana perfecta, the perfect week. The goal was to have every companionship baptize during the week. Also, we that a series of mission wide competitions every day, focusing on some aspect of missionary work. We competed as either districts or zones, depending on the day. I must say, it really got my competitive nature fired up and we went pretty crazy. On Tuesday the competition was for which district could have the greatest number of families contacted (present, teach a principle, testify, and extend an invitation to a husband and wife). Our previous record as a companionship was 35, but we thought we might be able to get 50. However, our zone leader said that if anyone contacted 100 families, he would buy them a prize. I couldn’t let that pass, so sure enough, we talked with a ridiculous amount of people and got our 100th family just before we entered the house.

The other companionship of elders in our district also did well and we won the competition in the entire mission that day. The other day of note was Friday, when the competition was for which zone could invite the most people that day to their baptismal service on Sunday. We printed out hundreds of invitations. Actually, it was pretty funny, because in the afternoon, when we had returned to the store to print and cut out several hundred more invitations, Janeli walked into the store. I'm not sure how she would have felt to know that we were inviting every person we saw to her baptism, but luckily she didn't ask what we were doing. Anyway, I personally invited 320 people. And no, I'm not just rounding to the nearest Jimmerism, as is often the case, I worked very specifically for that number and then had my companion contact for the remaining 10 minutes we had as we walked home. We won that one too. Anyway, it was a fun week and we were able to be even more motivated to work hard.

Ok, sorry, I'm not sure if any of that is interesting to anyone other than me. In all, I'm really enjoying the mission, even though it's harder than anything that I've ever done before. It really is true that on your mission, the lows outnumber the highs, but the highs outweigh the lows. Even though it's so tough to be here in a third world country, having left behind my family, friends, and all the comforts of home, it's worth it when we get to see the gospel change people like Janeli's lives.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Week 19

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Well, I was transferred this week. I am now officially serving in... La Promision, Villa Nueva! You guys might remember that my mission is unofficially divided into three main areas: coast (hot, lots of rain), city (the outskirts of Guatemala City, normally perfect temperature, slightly more developed), and mountains (lots of indigenous communities and dialects, colder).

Villa Nueva, like Villa Canales, is part of the city. However, Villa Canales was just a relatively small town of maybe 20.000 people, Villa Nueva, on the other hand, really is just a chunk of Guate. [I’m not sure what he means by this.]  I kept wondering why I felt so uncomfortable in my new area until I realized that I was feeling pretty claustrophobic. It's just one story concrete houses and narrow streets as far as the eye can see. I really need to be in a valley where I can see some mountains or some point of references. Here in Villa Nueva, it's just city and sky. Still, despite the absence of open space, I do like my area. Our zone includes a Wal-Mart, so when we want to pay the big bucks and buy something high quality on P-day, that's where we go (a rather interesting reversal of like in the United States).

My companion is Elder Suarez, from Honduras. He's a super hard worker. We now only get up after 5:30 on P days, when waking up at 6:30 feels ridiculously indulgent. One day we had 22 nuevos (new investigators), which, at least here, is pretty impressive, as it means that we taught the first lesson to each one of them and they accepted a second visit. The strange thing about our area though is that we have two companionships working here in La Promision and they haven't divided the area. In other words, it's first come first serve when it comes to investigators. The area's pretty big though, so it's rare that we run into them while we're tracting.

One thing I will have to get used to is coming to a new area and finding the house completely trashed. Am I the only one who doesn't like a pile of smelly dishes in the sink or a ton of moldy food in the refrigerator? And yep, yet again, we've got cockroaches. Still, it means that I get to do some serve on my P days and clean a bunch, after that it's not so bad.

Also, although Halloween passed (without celebration - actually, I did roast a marshmallow with a Bic lighter to commemorate), November 1st was a pretty big holiday, El Dia de los Fieros. I had divisions with the zone leaders that day and the streets were filled with thousands of people wearing somewhat disturbing masks. My gringo companion and I, with white shirts and ties, standing a head and a half above the rest of the crowd, definitely stood out as we tried to fight our way from appointment to appointment.

One thing our mission president, Presidente Brough, always emphasizes is that we should pray as if everything depends of God and work as if everything depends of us. I can definitely testify that doing so makes miracles happen. We've definitely seen some that wouldn't have come were we not working so hard. I'll talk more about that next letter. The same principle applies to you guys too!


Elder Cannon

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Week 18

Wow, another week gone by. Actually, on Saturday, October 25th, I hit my "4 months as a missionary mark." The time has really flown by. I'm already 1/6 of the way done with my mission! I know that's not much, but it feels like a lot less.

This week was hard though, probably my toughest week in the mission, with the exception of my first week or two in the field. We've really been struggling to find pilas investigators and help the ones that we already have to progress. Missionary work is so much easier when it feels like you're making a difference.

However, after a week of fighting for every lesson, after having so many of our second visit appointments fall through, after getting to church and yet again only having 4 investigators attend (we are supposed to have at least 8), I was given some "tender mercies" by the Lord. I got to partake of the sacrament which was blessed by Hermano Oscar, one of my converts, who I had just given the Aaronic Priesthood the week before. I also got to sit next to Hermano Luis and Hermana Alejandra Garcia. I love that family so much. Their 3 year old daughter, Priscilla, is the only person who compares to Elissa in cuteness.

I also was notified yesterday that I will be transferred tomorrow. Sad to leave VC, but excited to go somewhere new.

Love, Elder Cannon

Ruins close to town

Harvesting cane sugar