March, 2009

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Preparing for General Conference

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

¡Hola familia!

What the heck? Mom got a dog? I feel like I don’t even know my own mother anymore. Who are you people that I have been writing all these months? Maybe I’ve been sending my weekly emails to the wrong family. Just like I was sending my reports to the wrong email; because I know my mom and she would never get a dog. OK, now that I got that off my chest, on with the email.

No baptisms this week but that’s not that surprising; we only had three people that were supposed to get baptized after all. We did have a really good teaching week though. We taught 34 lessons total this week. That’s pretty good when you consider that we average about 20 a week. There were a couple of factors that helped pull off such a big jump. First off almost none of our appointments fell through all week, which is very rare. The other reason we managed to get so many is that we taught a lot of 25-30 min lessons to get people ready for general conference. It wasn’t a very long lesson but it was pretty good. Basically what we taught was this:

In the past God called many prophets and the entire bible is made up of their teachings and the revelations they received from God. For example, the Book of Isaiah is about the life and teachings of the prophet Isaiah. During his life Jesus established his church on four basic pillars, prophets and apostles, revelation, the priesthood, and scripture. After the death of Jesus the people persecuted the church and killed the apostles; when the apostles were gone we lost three of the pillars of the church—no apostles or prophets—without them, no revelations or priesthood. After that the world entered what many call “the dark ages” or the great apostasy. During this time many wanted to live the gospel but there wasn’t anyone who was authorized to administer the ordinances or to preach the gospel (no priesthood). But luckily, God does still love his children and when the people were ready he restored his church through the prophet Joseph Smith. And so once again we had the fullness of the gospel on the earth again with prophets, apostles, revelations, priesthood, and of course we still had the scriptures. And guess what? There is a living prophet today who is just like the prophets of old! How cool is that! And not only that, but we have the opportunity to listen to him speak this Saturday and Sunday in a conference that will be broadcast all over the world. He and the apostles will talk about how we can have more happiness in our families and personal lives, and he will help us understand how we can live the gospel better. Everyone wants to have those things right?

Anyway that’s basically what we taught. We also used all sorts of scriptures and stuff as well, but I didn’t feel like typing out all the references. I could send them if you really want though. It would have all been much easier if we could have just walked around and told people to go to mormon.org to learn about this stuff, but not too many people here have computers. But it did help us get lots of lessons, so I shouldn’t complain.

Are you guys getting ready for conference on your end? Is anyone coming over to the house to watch conference with you guys this year, or is it just the family? By the time I get a response to those questions conference will be over, seeing as it’s this week and I won’t talk to you until next Monday.

Hey I hear Tyler Condiff got his mission call. Hawaii huh? Guess what? I’m not jealous. I’m already in the best mission. Although I have not been to the coast yet, it’s supposed to be just as nice as Hawaii and besides, our toilets flush the other direction!

Speaking of awesome, I had a comp swap with Elder Elwood Thursday and we taught a very interesting “lesson”. We went to contact a reference that me and Elder Alferez had gotten a few days back, but when we got to the house there was just some drunk guy. Boy was this guy drunk. I have trouble understanding what drunk people are saying in English, but in Spanish I understood about every other word. Basically he was in a paranoid rant about “the police and the liars” and something else about how we had to talk quietly like him, even though he was yelling. He said it all with the strangest look on his face and it was so funny that the whole time I had my hand over my mouth because I didn’t want him to see me laughing. I couldn’t even look him in the eye because I almost busted up every time. That was definitely the funniest moment of the day, but to make up for it our last appointment was really tough. We were teaching a couple who are unmarried and waiting for the husband’s divorce to go through so that they can get married and then baptized. It’s a pretty common thing in Ecuador because it’s really hard to get a divorce here. What was hard about this appointment was that the husband is living in two different houses. He spends one night at one house and the other night at the other house. I know it sounds pretty messed up but he is a good guy. His reason for doing it is that he has kids in both houses and says he wants to be there for both of them. I know it sounds weird but that’s just the kind of guy he is. The problem is that it is tearing his life apart on both ends, and for about 2 hours Thursday night me and Elder Elwood played marriage counselors.  I have no idea what I was thinking trying to help people with their marriage when I’m just some unmarried teenage kid, but we are the best help they have available. I was not expecting to have to deal with all of these things before hand so we were completely winging it. We must have done something right though because by the end of the 2 hours they weren’t yelling at each other, which was a very big improvement. It’s probably because Elder Elwood is such a great teacher. He claims otherwise but I had my best lessons of the week that day.

Friday night me and Elder Alferez had an appointment that was a different kind of interesting. It was late and we were heading home but as we were passing the house of one of our old investigators that we had stopped teaching a while back we thought, “hey we should teach her a lesson and invite her to conference,” so we did. She was more excited than usual to see us and it was a really good lesson. At the end she said “Elders I had a dream that you would come today; I want to be baptized.” We said “yeah we can help you out with that”. It was pretty cool. People don’t usually dream about me. Then last night we had a meeting with the stake president and all the bishops to talk about how we could help each other out more. Elder Alferez taught about how the wards could work better with the missionaries and I talked about what kinds of activities are productive and which ones are a waste of time. Basically a longer version of what I was complaining about last week. It was pretty cool because they actually agreed with me and next month they are going to have a movie night in all the churches where the community will have the chance to see “The Testaments.” I won’t be around to see the results of all this because I’m probably getting transferred next week; but if it helps the other Elders here it’s worth it.

We did have an unplanned activity last week though because a missionary in our ward came home and we stopped by the homecoming party they were having in the church to talk to someone; and we realized there were a ton of people who where not members. So we were running around for a few minutes talking to everyone, “Hey are you a member? No? Awesome! What’s your address?” We couldn’t stay long because we had an appointment, but we got 4 references in 10 minutes, so it was pretty productive.

Today our zone had interviews with President Gamboa, which is why I’m sending my email later than usual. I saw my “dad” (Elder Fuentemavida) for what was probably the last time because this is his last change. Elder Adamson was there as well, so I took a picture with all of the people that have been my companions so far. The assistants handle a lot of the stuff for transfers so I told Elder Fuentemavida to get me transferred to the beach. He said he would see what he could do. During my interview I asked President Gamboa if he got my email and he looked a little confused. I said, “Remember how you haven’t gotten a report from me in a while? Well I figured out it was because I sent it to the wrong email, did you get it this time?” And he saidm “oh that was you; yeah I got it, thanks”. After all that work, it turns out that emails are only mildly important to him. I guess that explains why it took him so long to notice I wasn’t sending it.

As for mom’s questions: yeah they do grow sugar cane near Babahoyo, but they don’t sell it raw in the city, as far as I know, so I had not tried it before. The memorizing is coming along I guess. I’m feeling a little burnt out at this point but I finished memorizing all of the 60 references and all the Book of Mormon scriptures, plus various others. I still have 33 more to go plus “The Living Christ” and “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”. Our teaching pool is growing steadily at this point thanks to all teaching we did last week. And yeah, there is something you could send in your next package. My mamita de ropa lost one of my pillow cases somehow, so every other week I have to use a tee-shirt. While tee-shirts do make ridiculously comfortable pillowcases, the sleeves and neck hole are kind of annoying. So if you could send me another pillow case, I would appreciate it.

Well I think that covers everything. Next week is transfers so who knows where my next email will be from? If Elder Fuentemavida comes through, it will be from the beach. Talk to you next week and have fun at conference!

Te quiero,

Elder Walke

Sugar Cane…Yum!

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

¡Hola familia!
(I added the second exclamation mark so now it’s proper Spanish)

Sounds like I was deeply missed Saturday during the yard work extravaganza. Mom claims it wasn’t so much about me not being there to help but dad was more honest about it. So Andrea will hold a snake but an ant on her leg is a major tragedy? That’s really funny. I can’t believe Olivia and Allison mowed the lawn. I was wondering who would take my place this summer but I didn’t think they were big enough to work a lawn mower.

I’m uploading a couple more videos from the Montalvo trip a couple of weeks ago. It takes forever to upload even short videos so I only uploaded one last week. They give you a better idea of what the gondola of death was like. I was thinking about how mom always finishes her letters to me with “clean your room” and how funny it is that she isn’t taking into account that I have an entire apartment to trash. Have you not considered that I have both a kitchen and a bathroom under my care? Those are way more interesting than the state of my room. Just thought I would point that out.

Some people in my ward went on vacation and they came back with sugar cane for us. As it turns out sugar cane is really good. I’m not sure if you have ever seen sugar cane; it looked like hacked up chunks of pine but it’s spongier and full of really sweet sugar water type stuff. Because its mostly fiber you chew it up until the sugar is gone and then spit it out. It was pretty awesome.

Saturday night there was a pretty wild party behind out house with a live band that was set up right against the back wall of our house, and they played really loud Spanish rock from 11 at night until 4 in the morning. The entire house was shaking all night and I couldn’t even hear myself think. Needless to say we were a little out of it on Sunday and I still haven’t completely recovered. I figured if I was going to be awake all night I might as well enjoy it, so I made a couple of song requests, but they didn’t know anything in English, of course.

We had a baptism Saturday. It was a little 11 year old girl who lives with her grandma (her grandma is a member). I seem to be baptizing a lot of kids, in fact about half of my baptisms are kids from part member families. I think there are a couple of factors that explain it. First off, we have an unusually large number of families in our ward who have kids that are not baptized. Second, although we have all sorts of other baptism dates set, only the kids are making it to the font. The older people keep falling through. Our program is starting to fall apart, and even though I have a 95% chance of getting transferred in a couple of weeks, I want to leave my program here better than I found it. I want to organize a ward activity where the members can bring their friends so we can get some good references. The problem is that the ward has activities about once a month where the members bring all sorts of people, but it’s always stuff like dances and talent shows;  stuff that’s in the church but not of the church. So when we try to contact these people later they are not interested in what we have to say unless we want to tell them about when the next dance is. I want to do an activity where people can learn about some important principle like “what happens to us when we die?” or maybe something about why prophets are important, because general conference is coming up soon, although it might be a little late to organize a major activity for that.

Well this letter is a little short but I have a confession: I did something uncharacteristically stupid. For the last couple months I have been sending my letters to president Gamboa to the wrong address, so he hasn’t been getting them. He sent me a couple of emails about the importance of sending emails to him and what kinds of things I could send but I figured he just wanted me to write longer ones. As it turns out that was not the issue. So now I have to look up all my old emails to him and send them so he doesn’t think I’m a complete idiot. I know its so unlike me to make such a stupid error; it’s unprecedented in its level of absentmindedness (if you don’t count the last 19 years of my life).

Hey, the videos seem to have made it through so hopefully that will make up for not writing much this week. I’m also uploading a few photos from the baptism and a couple from when we got caught in the rain (the ones that didn’t make it through a couple weeks ago).

So this is what I learned this week:

• Always make sure you have the right email address so people won’t think you are stupid.
• The more you memorize, the less you want to.
• The scriptures can answer any question but sometimes you have to study for a really long time.

Until next week…stay safe and stuff.
Te quiero,

Elder Walke

Sky Gondola of Death

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Hola familia!
(why mess with a good thing? I’m sticking with the original)

So how are the states these days? Things are going ok here. I say ok because once again we had an amazingly large chunk of our program fall through again. Sometimes I feel like I’m only here to prepare the way for a better missionary than me to come thru and baptize all of the people that I have been teaching because I have watched a lot of awesome people drop us for very small reasons.

Everyone seems to be pretty interested in whether or not I made it to the mountains last week and you will be happy to hear that I did get there, and I took a ton of pictures. It was a fun trip. We took some pictures, drank some soda, rode the sky gondola of death, and bought some red bananas. I don’t know if you knew this but bananas come in more colors than one. Here they have green bananas, which are not just unripe bananas—they are a different variety (think green apples). They also have the regular yellow ones, and they have red bananas. Red bananas are awesome; they are like regular bananas but a little sweeter. We bought one of those giant bunches that you always see on TV and guess how much it costs? $1.50. Seriously, bananas grow like weeds here. Actually, everything grows like weeds here. Anyway, I took a picture of the banana stand which I thought was pretty impressive. Oh and we also rode the sky gondola of death. For just $2 you can ride this really dangerous looking gondola that gives a pretty good view of the mountains. That’s when I took most of the pictures. Of course we also had to ride up into the mountains on the top of a van because it’s really fun and you get a really good 360 view of the mountains as you go. All in all it was a good trip, and fun was had by all.

It sounds like you guys had a good time with your beach trip; be sure to laugh at josh for getting jellyfish in his eye. I admit that had I been there, I too may have gotten jellyfish in my eye. But I wasn’t there so it can’t be proven.

So mom got a facebook account. That’s really funny. Now mom uses facebook more than me. I haven’t used facebook in more than 6 months. That’s kind of weird. Its also weird that mom found people that she knew from years ago on facebook. What is this world coming to? When I get back everyone is going to be driving hover cars and getting iPods implanted in their brains. I know it sounds extreme but if mom has a facebook account, it can’t be too far off.

I have a question. Why is dad buying studio lighting equipment? He’s probably going to try to set up a dark lab in the house pretty soon. As for the question as to how I do all my awesome camera tricks: no I don’t use any Photoshop type stuff. It’s all just basic camera functions. I found that on canon cameras you can set the shutter for up to 15 seconds; so to get a shot with multiple people, I just turn off all the lights at night and then set the camera up on a desk or something. Then I just start the camera and my companion shines a flashlight on me for a couple of seconds, I change positions, and he shines it on me again, and then we repeat it once more and the picture is finished.

Mom asked if we have to memorize a hundred scriptures. That’s the “maestro” program. I think I have mentioned it before but its a little more than 100 scriptures. It has several parts: we have to do a lot of stuff with the “Preach My Gospel” manual, write some lesson plans, and keep a study journal (and such); and then there are a couple of test things we have to take. We also have to memorize about 160 scriptures and an additional 50 references (for example, Alma 32 talks about faith). We got it in mid December during zone conference and President Gamboa recently told us that we have to finish it by the 11th of May. So far I have knocked out almost all of the “Preach My Gospel” stuff and I have about 120 scriptures [memorized], but I still need about 50 scriptures and 40 more references. Oh and did I mention that 2 of the “scriptures” I still have to memorize are “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” and “The Living Christ,” not just part of it, all of it. And keep in mind that all of this has to be done in Spanish. In case you are wondering, yeah, it’s a little stressful because we still have to do all our regular missionary stuff every day, as well as knock out scriptures on the side.

Oh yeah and we got a new grocery store here in Babahoyo. It’s not new exactly—but it was renovated—and now its way bigger. It’s about a third the size of your average Kroger. That’s a big deal here because most of the grocery stores are about the size of my room. The name of the store was “akí” but now its “gran akí” because its bigger and supposedly better but I’m not sure how it can be called “gran” when they still don’t have Jif peanut butter or Captain Crunch. Although they do have Aunt Jemima syrup and Florida’s natural, so it’s not a complete loss. I think a better name for it would be “the slightly improved akí” or “the recently renovated with a marginally better selection akí” but I guess those names are a little long.

We might be heading to Guayaquil this week because Elder Alferez has some sort of foot thing going on, so that should make for an interesting story next week. I’m healthy if you are wondering (I know mom is)—although I did manage to get a bit of food poisoning or something like that last week. I’m not completely sure what caused it but I didn’t eat anything for 2 days; but I’m proud to report I didn’t throw up once. In fact, I have not thrown up once the whole time I have been here in Ecuador. Eating the kind of stuff we eat, and with me being a gringo, that’s a small miracle—maybe even a big miracle. If you saw the kitchens my food is cooked in, you would understand. Speaking of food, I ate something interesting. You can make it at home if you are interested because it’s pretty simple. First you peel a banana and grill it, you smear mayo on it, and then you cover it in shredded cheese. Then you eat it. Seriously, it tasted better than I thought it would. You should definitely give it a try.

Well that’s all for now. Mom suggested that I cap my emails with a “what I have learned this week” type thing, and I figured I would give it a try. So here it goes; these things I know:

–Those who don’t move forward, fall backwards.
–Not everything that sounds gross tastes gross.
–Puddles are always deeper than they seem.
–When your purpose is helping others instead of helping yourself, you don’t give up as easily, and you succeed more often.

–Motorcycles can be considered the family car, and seat up to 6 people if you are really careful, or Ecuadorian, one of the two.

Te quiero,

Elder Walke

A (partial) Missionary Dictionary

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Hey family! (saying it in English makes it different)

Because everyone’s email pretty much said the same thing I have gathered that this beach trip you guys are on was a highly anticipated event. I have also learned from every email:

1) Only Klein has spring break right now so you don’t think the beach will be crowded.
2) The weather should be good.
3) Kayla is not going to the beach at the same time as the rest of you
4) Dad has his lap top and blackberry so you will get my email when I send it
5) Mom and dad packed everything but the kitchen sink and Kayla may starve to death

Some other details were mentioned; for example, Allison’s letter was lamenting how they were not going to leave on time. It was all very amusing and clearly you all had your minds on one thing when you were writing your respective letters. You should know that you are not the only ones who are going on vacation: I’m (probably) going to the mountains today with my comp, Elder Fry, Elder Elwood, Elder Mitton, and Elder Mitton’s son (the missionary he is training).

There isn’t a whole lot to report this week so I think I will expound on that last comment about Elder Mitton having a son. For those of you who don’t know much about missionary culture, missions are considered a really fast trip thru all the trials of life (or something like that) and as such there are a lot of weird terms that we throw around and as I spend more and more time here chances are that I will throw them around in my letters every now and then. So to avoid confusion here is a short “missionary dictionary” of common mission terms:

“Where were you born?” — where was your first sector? (for example mine is babahoyo)
“Who was you dad?” — who was your first companion? (or who was your trianer)
“Who was your step dad?” — who was your second companion?
“Do you have any kids? — have you ever trained?
“Do you have a brother?” — did your trainer train more than once?
“Are you going to die here?” — do you think this is your last sector?

There are a lot more terms built on these fundamental principals. For example, Elder Alferez and Elder Hynes are step brothers because Elder Hynes’ dad was the step dad of Elder Alferez, and before Elder Mitton had a son he compared himself to “that successful uncle who never got married” because he was a district leader but he had never trained before. Elder Frye has talked about doing “genealogy” when he gets home and figuring out his “family tree” on several occasions. It can all be pretty confusing at first but it’s entertaining.

I met a British guy this week. We were walking to one of our appointments when we ran into him. He is doing some sort of bike trip across South America and was passing thru Babahoyo. He was pretty cool; apparently Elder Mitton ran into him as well. He was getting his bike fixed and I talked to him for a while about missionary stuff and he talk to me about bike stuff.

We were teaching a lesson a few days ago and I got one of the weirdest questions I have been asked to date. Somebody asked me if we were serving missions because if we didn’t the rocks would talk. I know it sounds pretty wild and I was pretty confused myself. I figured my Spanish was bad and I just didn’t understand the question, but apparently there is some verse in revelation that says the rocks will testify if the gospel isn’t preached, or something like that. I told him that I was pretty sure that the rocks would not start talking if we stopped working but that I would consider calling the other missionaries and getting them to take the day off just to make sure. He seemed satisfied.

We had zone conference last Thursday even though we had the last zone conference just a couple of weeks ago. The reason we had it so soon is because Elder Pratt of the seventy was in town and he spoke at the conference. He was a pretty cool guy. His wife gave a really good talk about how to have more meaningful study with the scriptures and then Elder Pratt got up and pretty much destroyed us for all the stuff that we were doing wrong in every aspect of missionary work. He covered pretty much everything–at one point he was even asking different missionaries to recite scriptures in Spanish from memory out of the blue. He asked me 1 Nephi 3:7 and I totally nailed it. After the conference I asked him if he knew Elder Ellis and he said he knew of him but didn’t know him very well.

Speaking of Elder Ellis, did you know he had an article in the Liahona in February? I’m not sure if it was in the Ensign or not, because we don’t get them, but I was browsing through a copy that one of the members had, and I saw his article, and I said “hey I know that guy!” Of course I had to read it. Even though it was in Spanish I still managed to read it all before the end of lunch.

We didn’t have any baptisms this week. We were supposed to but the guy we were going to baptize has to be interviewed by President Gamboa because of past transgressions, but President Gamboa said that, although he had the power to authorize it, he didn’t want it on his hands. So now Elder Alferez and I have to write up a big report and collect a bunch of info to send to Salt Lake. We should have a response some time between next month and 5 years from now. So I wont be around for the baptism if it ever happens. Well that’s all for this week; hope you all have a great time at the beach and that I wrote enough to keep mom happy. Have a good week and do good things.

Te quiero,

Elder Walke

Searching for a Needle in Babahoyo

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Hola familia!
(still working on that new catch phrase)

The people have spoken and they want another email so here it goes. This week has been mildly interesting and we had several strange events take place. Carnival has officially come to a close which is great. Monday and Tuesday were interesting because the entire city was a war zone. People were throwing water balloons from the tops of houses (they nailed my companion - I escaped) some people were throwing water from speeding cars (they nailed me, my comp escaped), and some kids were throwing cancer water, which is a mix of swamp water, garbage, and human waste (we both got nailed, it was nasty). It was actually a lot of fun to walk through central and dodge water balloons, but the cancer water was just unpleasant.

Remember how we eat lunch with different members from the ward every day? Well as it turns out there is a member in our ward whose daughter is married to the mayor, so we ate lunch with him. It was weird.

A couple days ago we were getting off a bus and I made it off OK but my companion got stuck behind a big fat person, so I got off the bus and turned around and found myself alone. The bus made it almost half a mile before my companion finally managed to get off the bus. We had a good laugh over that one.

So I guess you guys got the package that I sent. I did send a letter and just so that there’s no confusion: the necklace is for Olivia for her birthday. I think the reason that the letter is missing is because I also put some Ecuador pennies in the package. I know that we are not supposed to send money in through the pouch system, but technically Ecuadorian money isn’t legal tender anymore. Apparently the mail people feel otherwise. I guess I will have to try to get them to you another way. I bought the bracelets from a Kechua Indian; they make all sorts of cloth stuff like that and they were only 25 cents a piece, so I figured you guys would get a kick out of them. The necklace is pretty popular here; for two dollars you can get people to carve whatever you want in them. They are carved out of the seed of some fruit that they make drinks out of down here. The name of the fruit escapes me for the moment.

Dad asked if they eat iguana here; they do but I have not had the opportunity yet. Mom asked if I still have to take cold showers or if I have hot water. The shower is still cold, and I still don’t like cold showers. She also asked if the rainy season has been a non-event. It’s been pretty eventful but not as bad as I was told. It’s very annoying but there isn’t much to say about it. Although we did get caught in the rain this week without umbrellas, and we took a couple of pretty funny pictures that I’m going to upload today.

I can’t say that I have had any experiences where I felt like I have had the gift of tongues in speaking Spanish. And I can’t say that I have had any specific experience were my Spanish was a lot better than it should have been; however, I think you should know that because my companion is a zone leader, I get the chance to use my daily hour of Spanish study about once a week. But despite that I have been learning Spanish at a pretty fast rate. Sometimes when I’m talking I use words and wonder where I learned them because I almost never crack open my dictionary.

My companion and I were trying to track down a reference this week in an area that we were both unfamiliar with, and we were not having any success. They had given us some directions that had gotten us within a block of their house, and we knew their names were Ruben and Yanela; but because of the mess that is Babahoyo, we might as well have been a hundred miles away. We tried calling them but didn’t get a response. We tried asking around but nobody knew them and we even called everyone we knew that might have connections to them, but in the end we just could not find these people. It was late and almost time to head home and we were about to give up when a guy on a motorcycle pulled up and said, “Hey are you guys looking for Ruben and Yanela?”  We were. It was pretty amazing. He led us to a door that led to an ally that led to some stairs that led to their house. We never in a million years would have found that house if someone hadn’t shown us. It just goes to show that after all we can do, the Lord makes up the rest.

We had a couple of baptisms this week. Not telling you when I’m having baptisms seems to be helping our success rate so I’m going to stick to that strategy. One was a girl named Yomira. She is 14 and has been going to church for about a year, and is surprisingly dedicated for someone her age. She would have been baptized sooner but her mom is a Jehovah’s Witness so it took a long time to get permission. In fact, the missionaries have been trying to get permission since before I got here - but we got it. And now her dad is really interested, so we will probably be baptizing him and Yomira’s brother eventually. Oh yeah, and they were all at the baptism Saturday, including her mom. That was a pretty big surprise. The other is Jonathan. He is really cool. He’s 19 and is already really involved with the ward. I’m hoping he will go on a mission before I go home.

Te quiero,

Elder Walke