I just love you all so much. It was so great to be able to talk to you (Mom and Dad) in the airport, and to hear your voices for a little bit. First, I think I'll relate to you what has happened since that point, and then I'll respond to the emails I've gotten from you.
First, we had a relatively uneventful flight to San Antonio. All 31 of us missionaries were on a tiny, 76 person airplane, and we had so much more baggage than usual that they couldn't fit it all and had to send it on with the next flight. I sat next to a member of the church and across the aisle from a gentleman whom I talked to briefly, but I didn't have a super quality conversation with him about the gospel. I'll talk more about my dread of contacting later, but just know for now that this is the part of missionary work that I am least prepared to do, and have always been the most apprehensive about.
President Jones and his wife, the APs and one of the Senior couples from the office met us there and took us back to the mission home where we were fed and interviewed by President Jones. It was more of a chat than an interview. He told me some of the things that had been said about me in my application, including a description of me as being athletic. That was news to me. I'm not a wimp by any means, and I would probably describe myself as being athletic, but I don't think even I would flatter myself enough to think of myself as being truly athletic. So, whoever said that about me, thank you for the compliment. :) Afterward, they took us down to the Alamo where we were read a story about its history and "crossed the line" to join the ranks of the servants of the Lord. Usually, they have all of the new missionaries place a Book of Mormon on their first day, but because our flight was delayed, we didn't have enough time. Honestly, I'm kind of grateful they didn't make us do it. Maybe I just don't have the true spirit of a missionary yet, but there were SOOO many of us compared to the other number of people there, and I think it would have been an uncomfortable power struggle issue trying to encourage people to take a religious book. I think it would have been too easy to have the wrong spirit there. And maybe I'm wrong, and maybe I'm just glad that I had one more day to procrastinate my fear of contacting, but that's how I felt about it.
That night, we stayed with the L- Family, and as you've already found out, we discovered that we know some people in common, which was kind of fun. I wish I had thought of mentioning the N's name, because I love them dearly and that would have been so fun to make that connection. We did talk about the Fs and the Ss and the Bs (only good things of course) and that was a great small world moment. The bed I slept on that night was probably the most comfortable bed I've slept on in my life. I don't know if it actually was as comfortable as I thought, or if it was just the foil of having been in the MTC for 6 weeks and and sleeping terribly, or if it was just a tender mercy from Heavenly Father that I was able to zonk out solid, but it felt great.
Thursday morning . . . Transfer Meeting!! We met at the stake center (it has the exact same lay out as our stake center, but I think ours looks a lot nicer on the inside) and had breakfast. President gave us our assignments before announcing them in transfer meeting, so we had a leg up on our trainers as to who we would be with and where we would be going. My assignment . . . Del Rio, Texas, serving with Herman B-! Del Rio is about five miles off the border with Texas. I haven't seen the border yet, but I will before I leave. We work with two branches, the Del Rio 1st branch which is English, and the Del Rio 3rd branch which is Spanish. Most of the English members either live on the Air Force base or work for border patrol. Most of the Spanish members are from Mexico, but I couldn't say how many of them are here legally and how many are not. We actually have a few that commute from Mexico. It's an interesting mix. I get told a lot that my Spanish is really good, but I feel so lost. My vocabulary is extremely limited, so while I understand everything that my companion is saying and I feel confident expressing myself in the realm of the things that I can say, I have a really hard time following conversations because there are so many new words and the accent is different so I can't even pick them out clearly. It's just going to come down to practice though. The nice thing (and the thing that's going to make it hard to get really good) is that most people speak Spanglish. If you don't know a word, usually you can say it in English and the members or your investigator will help you figure it out in Spanish.
Hermana B- is great! She's been in Del Rio for four or five transfers already (about six months) and she knows everyone. Every house we pass, she tells me who lives there, what their member status is, and the story of their life or how she met them. It's a little bit overwhelming sometimes to realize how much I have to learn, but I'm so glad that she's hear and I don't have to figure it all out from scratch. Hermana B- is a great teacher. She is especially good at teaching children and explaining things in a way that they can understand and will keep them engaged in the lessons. I have a lot that I can learn from her in this regard. The best thing about her though, is that she LOVES contacting, and she's super good at it. She can meet someone, ask them a few questions and immediately turn the conversation into a discussion of the gospel. My goal in the next six weeks is to learn from her how to do that, because it is my biggest area of weakness. I actually had a cool experience with this the other day. Friday morning, our first full day in Del Rio, I knew that we would be contacting a little bit, and I was terrified. I knew that I needed help especially if I'm going to learn how to love this in six weeks, so I said a prayer. I had decided to make a deal with Heavenly Father that I would give up snacking after 9 when we get back to the apartment (one of my big comfort things, but a very bad and sometimes distracting habit) if he would help me learn how to love missionary work in the field, especially contacting. While I was saying that prayer, I had this immediate sensation of peace, and even though it was hard for me to contact well when we were knocking doors, I wasn't terrified, and I haven't been terrified since then. Any time I am teaching, any time I am sharing my testimony in Spanish or English, I feel confident in what I am sharing. I also recognize that there are a lot of things I need to learn about how to teach and how to share more effectively, but at least the last few days, I haven't felt terrified, and that is a huge blessing for me.
Just a few answers to questions that I can imagine people asking. Bikes or cars? Both. We have a car that we "share" with the elders in our district, but most of the time, we have it. However, our mileage is limited, so when we can, we bike. That begs the next question. Is it hot? YES!! when we left San Antonio, it was about 65 degrees. When we got to Del Rio, it was in the 80s. The next day, and they day that we were biking, it was in the 90s. Yesterday and today, it has been weirdly cold again, but that's not going to last. It's a nice reprieve for the moment, but the heat is going to pick right back up again. If I can majorly improve the quality of my Spanish, people are going to think that I'm a native in a few months, at least from the sleeve line down.
Better question. Who are we teaching? Answer . . . I'm not exactly sure yet. Hermana B- had quite a few investigators on the books when I got here, and right now, I'm in the process of learning who they all are. My first real lesson was with the G- family, who are members, but struggling with church attendance. That's the biggest problem we have here in Del Rio is church attendance. Anyway, our goal with them was to recommit them to coming to church. The way the lesson went, we didn't have to. They did it themselves. We taught them about the Liahona and how it guides us when we are being diligent and keeping the commandments. Then we asked them what things they think they could do to strengthen their family and be better at keeping the commandments, and without hesitation they said 'we need to come to church.' They made a goal as a family that they would come every week, which is so much more powerful when it is something that comes from them, and not from us. That was cool.
We're also working hard to fellowship a woman named N-, who is from the Philippines, and her family. They're in the middle of trying to move to a different house, so we went over on Saturday and helped her pack boxes. She told us about her life story and her family and how she met her husband, and made us these amazing chicken lettuce wraps. It was great. But then, yesterday at church, we got some interesting news from her friend that is a member. Apparently, she's not actually married to the guy I was positive was her husband, and they are separating in May. So right now, they're moving to a new house together, but they're planning to separate in May, and she's expecting in November. We're a little bit confused as to what is going on, but regardless of what the truth is, she really needs the gospel, and she still doesn't see it, so that's what we're working on.
Another weird divorce situation. We went to visit a man named C- who Hermana B- said they had had a really great lesson with, and who she felt really good about as investigators. We knocked on the door during our schedule time, and he wasn't there, so we went next door to teach O-r (more on that later), and then stopped back about an hour later. He was just getting home from the grocery store, and after a few minutes of how do you do, he told us that he's getting divorced. According to him, his wife has gotten involved in some psychic, voodoo stuff and is accusing him of having an affair with her sister. He said that her parents are on his side, but that the sister is standing by his wife. It was really weird, and some of the stuff he told us about is pretty creepy. So we're in the middle of figuring out what of all of this mess is truth and fiction and if there's anything we can do to help, and if so, what it is. Obviously, we don't want to put ourselves in a bad situation, and we're limited as to what we can actually do. So that's kind of devastating, but there you have it.
O-: Apparently, his wife is the one who is really interested in the Book of Mormon, but she wasn't home, so we just taught O- with Sister U- who came with us. This lesson didn't go super well. O- is "Catholic to the bone" and even though he has doubts about some things, he staunchly defends his heritage. He is convinced that the Book of Mormon is the story of Joseph Smith, and he won't read it. The lesson turned into more of a debate, and it was all in Spanish, so it was hard for me to understand. On top of which, I was super tired, and even though I was consciously doing things to stay engaged, I battled sleep the whole times. There were a couple of moments when I was two seconds from dream land, but I either forced my eyes back open, or Hermana B- helped me out with a gentle nudge. I really think that if we have any chance of winning O- we have to teach him when his wife is there.
Oh R-! Actually, I made a mistake. Our first lesson was with R-. She's also very Catholic, but is keeping her reading commitments, because she has always been a seeker of truth, and does want to know. The problem with R- is that she is afraid to change. She told us that she feels nervous reading the Book of Mormon, and I know it's just because she has felt the Spirit and is afraid of what she will have to do when she can't deny that it is true. She's been a member of the same church for over 20 years and is highly involved. It would be really hard for her to have to leave and tell everyone that she had changed her beliefs.
Probably "the best" or "most successful" missionary moment of the week was teaching M- and her two girls J- (10) and A- (7). M- is 28 and really wonderful. She has a baptismal date set for April 13th (after Easter and Conference) and is preparing diligently for that date. However, when Hermana B-extended that invitation to her, J- wasn't home. Yesterday, we had the opportunity of teaching them again, and Hermana B- gave me my first opportunity to extend a baptismal invitation to J-who accepted. She and her mom are getting baptized in three weeks and A- is bummed that she can't participate until June, which is exactly how we want it. :) J- described feeling the Spirit as "it's like there's something crazy jumping around inside me."
Last night, we also had a visit with the C- Family. They've had three different baptismal dates, but the mom's work takes her out of town and all over the place on weekends, so they haven't been coming to church, and hence, haven't been able to get baptized. We didn't know what to do with them last night, and we arrived, things were a little bit chaotic, so we sat down and watched The Testaments together, and actually, I think it was exactly what they needed. Hermana B- helped them understand what was going on throughout the story and helped apply the things we were seeing to our own day, and I think at least for E- (the dad), that experience solidified the validity of the Book of Mormon. I don't remember exactly what he said, but at the beginning, he mentioned something about how "yeah, the Bible happens in Jerusalem, but there were other people in other parts of the world too," basically meaning that it makes sense that there would be other books of scripture. So that was pretty exciting.
I think that's most of my news. It'll probably take a week or two of writing to figure out what's really the most important to share, but hopefully, I'll master the art sooner, rather than letter.
That being said, thank you for your emails!! I don't know any of the sisters you have named that are in your ward, but if you see Elder G- again (he was in the Spanish branch) tell him that I met his MTC companion at transfer meetings. I can't remember his name though. Anyway, he says hi. Small world again. Glad to hear that everyone's music performances and sports events are going well, and that LGPE was successful. Alan is driving!! No way! Congrats buddy! I somehow read right over the sentence in Mom's letter that said he had passed and I was reading the part about Sunday when everyone got home without the parents and made pancakes and cleaned up (props to you all), and I thought 'what? how did that happen?" So I went back and read, and sure enough, my little brother is a driver!! When y'all find a car you like, let me know about it.
I thought it was cool that y'all got to take ward names through the temple. Yesterday, we sat down with our branch family history specialist to learn how to do family history so that we can help one of our recent converts get names ready for the temple. They have a new site now called Family Tree that is so much easier to use than the old one. I feel much less intimidated to get started on my own family work when when I get back.
Dad, thank you for your thought from Isaiah. I always love your thoughts because they're always right on what I need. The last couple days I have been battling sleepiness like nobody's business, and I might just write that scripture on a sticky note above my desk to remind me. I feel like my experience 27 paragraphs above about praying for help really applies to this. It has been so comforting to know that while I have so much I need to learn, and I am so far from perfect, I have help every moment of every day from Heavenly Father. I've really felt that this week, and it has been such a blessing. I've also been really blessed so far in my companions. That was one of my biggest worries before I left, but like Mom told me, he knows my needs and he knows my desires, and I have been so blessed to receive the companions that I need that have been able to help me fulfill my desires.
I go to bed bone tired every day, but I'm doing great, and while I'm not yet as enthusiastic as the missionaries who are going home soon and are dreading it because they don't want to leave, I do love being here and I love serving the people here, and I trust that in time, I will feel that way too, because that's what I want my mission experience to be. I just have to learn how to make it that way, which will take a little bit of time.
I love this gospel. I love being able to immerse myself in it every day, and I know that as we continue to study and apply the little things, we will have the help and the guidance that we need and desire to help us get through what lies ahead of us. I pray for you all every day, especially for Mom to be able to find balance and to be able to know how to help the people that she serves. It's a weighty burden to shoulder, but I know you can do it.
Les amo mucho!