Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Week 4:Always Prepared

I'm not a boy scout.  But I like to always be prepared.  No matter what our errand, proselyting or groceries, I keep a Book of Mormon, one of each pamphlet, and a stack of pass-along cards on my person.  Sometimes I forget water, but that's okay.  I might temporally die without water, but the people of Shreveport will spiritually die without the message of the restored gospel.
Doctrinal preparation has also become vitally important to my effectiveness as a missionary.  And it has to be more than just reading whatever I open up to.  I get a better study in the mornings or evenings when I write down a question first - such as, "What happens when we die?  How can Jesus Christ help me in my life? What do I need to do to be a better person?" or as was the question of one of the last people we taught, "How can I know God loves me?"  When I open the scriptures with these questions before me, I find the most amazing things.  Last night, I was getting so excited about what I was reading, I literally could not sit still.  I was rising in my chair and practically crawling up onto my desk as I read more and recorded answers, it was a little weird.  But really cool.  Maybe that's what it'll feel like to be "lifted up at the last day."  You'll just be so excited and filled with the Spirit that you can't be confined to the ground. Or a chair.
Other quirks of the week:
The other sisters in the apartment have the... more humble side, we'll say, of Shreveport.  Meaning, if you want to get a haircut, you may choose between a barbershop/notary, N Da Cutz, or Whack the Yak.
There are no Del Tacos.  None.  Zero.  (One Taco Bell, but it's like a novelty.)  And not a single Pollo Loco or Taqueria De Anda because this is a foreign country where everyone eats chicken.  Popeye's, Cane's, Church's Chicken, everywhere and nowhere to get a good fish taco.  I will survive somehow.  My faith is sufficient.
Some days the weather says "Oh I'ma be real nice today, in fact, here is brief squall of rain for you to dance in Sister Valdez, and I'll keep the sun shining the whole time and stick a rainbow over there, so you can smile about it"  and I love those moments, but of course, whenever we're out actually tracting, the weather says "Oh what's that? Sauna time? Here have some STICKY HEAT" and whoosh here comes the sweat.  But the last time that happened and my companion and I thought we would surely die, I had the thought to sing.  "Come come ye saints, no toil nor labor fear; but with joy, wend your way." We sang together, our spirits lifted, and we were able to keep knockin' them doors awhile longer.  What a blessing are the hymns of the kingdom.
Sometimes people at the door reject our message (they're very comfortable in their own religions) and say things like "Goodbye, stay cool" and I'm like oh yeah let me just turn off the sun, or it'd be a lot easier to do so if you like LET US IN and give us water and maybe a moment to share a message that will change your life BUT.  As Sister Haviland reminds me, those who have been prepared by the Lord will recognize the importance of our message and will let us in, no matter how we approach them.
And I've come to know that those people DO exist.  We've only taught a couple.  And one of them dropped us.  However.  I feel in my heart that there is someone out there who may not even know what they're looking for, but will recognize it when we present them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how great will be our joy when we find each other.  I just have to prepare myself with doctrine, pray fervently to prepare myself with faith that we WILL find them, and trust in the Lord and in his promise that our work will not be in vain, because of the work He has already done to prepare this people.
"And the office of [my] ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfill and to do the work of the covenants of the Father, which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that [I] may bear testimony of him.
And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the [people of Shreveport] may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the father the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men."
May you also find peace in the promises of the one true God, who is true to his promises without fail.
Sister Valdez

Monday, August 19, 2013

Week 3:Let's Get Real

Want to know something weird?  Me living in an apartment.  I'm almost 22 and this is the first time I've lived away from home.  I live with Sister Haviland, my trainer, and Sister Ray and Sister Harker.  There's two bedrooms and a tiny kitchen, but we make do.  They laugh at me sometimes, because I'm just so excited to be living on my own that I do things like clean up, and so excited to be a missionary that I ask them things all the time to make sure I'm living by the rules.  (Remember the movie The Best Two Years?  I am Elder Calhoun.)

Want to know something weirder?  The familiar faces.  Since transfer day, I've met a bunch of new faces among missionaries and the weird thing is that they don't seem so new.  They look familiar.  Like I've known them for years.  Weird.  But necessary.  I've been able to bond with them easily, which has been a major blessing since we're all in a difficult line of work.  My district leader, Elder Arthur calls us to remind us that he's got our backs and that we can call him anytime.  After our first district meeting, he paid for my fried chicken at a fast-food chain, as a welcoming gesture (that I would eventually pay back by singing him and his companion a hymn over the phone to lift their spirits on a sick day.)  It's nice to be reminded we're all in this together.
Any of you remember Kyle Dalton?  Well, he's serving in this mission.  He called the other night to see how I was getting along and he said this to me:
"Remember, you're not here to change your personality, but to be the best version of yourself you can be."
Made sense, as he was very much himself on the phone.  But I've seen it happening.
It's not unlike me to be very conscious about rules.  Nor is it unlike me to be shy about talking to new people on the street or at their door - at first - then wanting to find common ground with them once we do start speaking.  I spoke with a couple... how you say... crazy potheads?  Let's call em "free spirits" instead.  One was an aethiest, one was the kind that believed in "god in all things" and "virtue in all faiths" and "the chakrahs, man" and "spiritual beings having a confined mortal experience" and I was like YO THAT'S WHAT I BELIEVE TOO.  And both were once Methodist.  So maybe we didn't get a formal lesson there in the Albertsons parking lot, but I believe some good was done.  We were able to clear up some false "Mormon rumors" and I shared with them a bit about the Plan of Salvation, namely that God is our loving Father, he sent us to earth to learn and progress, and that the goal is to become like Him and return to Him that we may continue our spiritual progression in His presence.  The way I see it, no interaction is wasted so long as some edification took place.  Even with potheads.
Things are just getting real.  I got to hear a paralyzed man's story of how he was "saved" in extensive detail (some may call what it became a Bible bash, but I will refrain).  The first family that fed us gave us ribs and mac-n-cheese and corn, as well as their conversion story, with little Shantai, Tyrone, and Deshawn as testaments of the blessing that the gospel is to families.  Two days ago, I passed a walmart window and caught sight of the shiny black tag, present as day beside my collar and I realized - I am a missionary.  I am a representative of Jesus Christ.  I am on His errand, doing His work.  And He is the reason I went from being leaf-shaking scared to calm-strong-confident in a matter of days.  The longer I'm here, the more I realize that all flesh is in God's hands.  Sure I have shortcomings, but so what?  God is all-powerful.  As Sister Haviland reminded me, so long as I am being obedient and humble before God and trying my best to teach when I can, the Holy Ghost can enter the hearts of men and tell them whatever I couldn't.  That is the promise.  No matter how scary the door approach is (and maybe always will be.)

"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."
[2 Timothy 1:7]

And that sound mind comes by earnest prayer to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost.  Maybe it's not a vision, or the gift of tongues, and is rather a warm feeling of peace, but it's sufficient.  It is my Savior reminding me "We're in this together."  May your peace be in Christ, and therein your power as well.
Sister Valdez

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Week 2: Tearjerkers and Fieldworkers

So I was in a big van with a handful of missionaries, heading down a road lined with miles and miles of green forest, bursts of rainstorms beating us down one minute, sunny glare drying us off the next, when the drivers Elder and Sister Lefgren told me about cicada season.
Cicadas are insects that are born in the ground, where they live for seventeen years - seventeen! - as worm-things, absorbing nutrients from tree roots.  After seventeen years, they emerge into the open and make the whole swampy South ring with their chirps in a thundering chorus of new beings!  They spend a full six weeks of life mating and laying new eggs in the ground, then die.  The next emerge after another 17-year cycle.
You may be wondering why I care.  Why I continued to ponder this fun fact after we'd dropped off my dear MTC sisters bound for West Mississippi and Southern Arkansas.  Well I first thought of all the dear elders I said goodbye to last Sunday night, in a flurry of repressed tears, handshakes, and promises to write and meet again after two years.  They spent their first seventeen years absorbing, too.  Then they all made the choice to come here, in their primest of times, to link up with a companion and spread the good tidings, that they might multiply the saints on the earth, to call forth all those who desire to come unto Christ.  That considered, I guess I'm on the 21-year cycle.  This is the prime of my life.  And I'm spending it here.  AND, you better believe I'm the happiest I could be about it!  Of course, only after I got over the trembling nervousness I experienced the last day of the MTC, the internal apprehensive shaking that racked me like a fever.
Before I left the bubble of the MTC, however, a few noteworthy things happened that cured me of that awful trembling.  First, our departing district performed a musical number in sacrament.  It was my favorite hymn: Lead Kindly Light.  They'd been reluctant to do a hymn they didn't know, but I bore them my testimony that the spirit would grace our meeting if we took the words of it to heart, and expressed it as a humble prayer:  "The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead Thou me on."  I know that has been my prayer throughout all thirteen days of this journey.  The Spirit did attend our meeting, and my heart filled with gratitude for the faith of these missionaries that were making this 18 or 24 month sacrifice to assist in God's most noble work: to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.  With that as our goal as well, we would be led by the Lord's kindly light, and we would be given a way to do great things.
The next thing that happened, was that I recieved a priesthood blessing before we sisters departed Monday morning.  Sunday night, Elder Cluff, Elder Warr, Elder Smith, Elder Welburn, Elder Constandse, and Elder Bulpitt stood around me and placed their hands on my head to give me a blessing of comfort, by the power of the Melchezidek priesthood, which they all hold.  Elder Constandse administered it, and it was amazing.  The Spirit engulfed me in it's comforting warmth, and my heart was filled with the love of my Heavenly Father.  I was assured that He was proud of me, and that there was nothing better I could be doing with my life right now.  The power of the priesthood is real, and it is beautiful.  These young men are going to change so many lives, with a Spirit like that on their side.
Now that I'm here, I know even more that it is true.  My trainer, Sister Haviland, and I are opening a new area in eastern Shreveport, Louisiana.  The real work begins today.  I'm so excited.  I am nervous, a little, but as time goes on it dissipates more and more as I see the Lord's hand in every thing we do.  Jesus Christ said "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; [...] I will not leave you comfortless.  I will come to you." [John 14:16,18]
He truly has, and He always will.
Sister Valdez

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Week 1:The Missionary Humbling Center

The Missionary Training Center is wonderful!  Let me start with that.  But it's not all fun and games, like some returned missionaries make it sound.  It's hard.  The following, in no particular order, have been my greatest challenges:

1. Drinking from a fire hydrant... of doctrine.  THERE'S SO MUCH.
2. Resisting the chocolate chip cookies readily available every meal in the dining hall.
3. Keeping my focus on the task at hand.  You know how my mind likes to float away all the time?
4. Not calling the elders in my district "homie G" or pinching their cheeks (there's so small and precious and faithful and valiant, all six of them!)
5. Realizing that I have weaknesses and that I don't know everything.  This especially trying when learned the hard way, through trial and error.  Teaching and realizing that you didn't do very well is often followed by the feeling that you just cost someone their salvation.

But, the Lord recognizes our sacrifices.  Always.  Here are some of the greatest blessings I've experienced in the MTC:

1. Singing in the shower and having your fellow bathers harmonize to hymns and Les Miserables.
2. Having a companion.  My current one, Sister Creager, was made for me, basically.  She picks me up when the work gets rough and reminds me not to be discouraged, only hopeful and grateful that we know how to learn from mistakes.  Same goes for our dear roomies, Sister Cole and Sister Baker.

3. An entire district of hardworking missionaries, who at 18 or 19 years old have enough confidence in Christ to have given up 24 or 18 months of their lives in service.  Few things are more inspiring than witnessing an 18 year old elder giving a priesthood blessing for the first time.  The faith is strong with these ones.

4. Being called as a Sister Training Leader with my companion.  We're entrusted with a whole zone of missionaries, and instructed to love them, lead by example, (kindly correct when necessary), and sometimes, walk across campus in our pajamas right before bedtime to retrieve a spare key for the rookies that locked themselves out.  But we are honored to be so trusted.

5. Realizing that nothing will keep God's work from going forward.  The Lord will have humble servants, and therein show us our inadequacies, but that is so we can more fully rely on Him to impart to us His spirit and His strength.  Wherever I fall short, our Loving God will make up the difference, for we all are in His hands.

Ether 12:27 has taken on more meaning than ever before:
 27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them theiraweakness. I bgive unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my cgrace is sufficient for all men that dhumble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make eweak things become strong unto them.

The first day here, I made several wonderful realizations.  One, was that I'm a missionary.  It's official.  A) because I got this ministerial certificate with the prophet's signature that says I'm licensed to preach.  B) because I have this name tag that tells the world who I am, a representative of Jesus Christ (And I thought putting on an EFY counselor tag was empowering!  Small potatoes, my friend).  C) because all 700 of us new missionaries stood in a room together that first evening and sang "We'll Bring the World His Truth" with the last line changed from "we will be" to "we are now.. the Lord's missionaries to bring the world His truth."

This is the real deal, friends.  May you all find your greatest strengths in He who overcame the world, so we don't have to do so alone.

Sister Valdez