February, 2010

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Year and a Half Mark

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

¡Hola familia!

I have writers block and don’t know how to start my letter this week so I figured I would start by telling you about this nasty case of writers block that I have going on. Pretty creative way to start a letter huh? Yep, I’m lame, now moving on to my achievements and other weekly activities. First off, zone conference. It was good. The Seventy, Elder Gavarret, only made me feel mildly uncomfortable in my zone leader status. which is to say, he made me and my comp stand up while we analyzed the zone’s efforts here in Portoviejo and he asked us all sorts of stuff about the other missionaries’ baptisms and other such things that I didn’t have a clue about. So then he made us ask the missionaries and district leaders until we could piece together the data he wanted out of us. I got two things out of this experience, first off, we really should be more familiar with the efforts of the missionaries in the zone and the people they are teaching and baptizing, and second, if we work with our district leaders we will be way more efficient and effective. It was a really good zone conference all in all and I learned a lot.

Carnival came and went without anything particularly interesting happening. Thanks to President Gamboa keeping us in the house all day during the week, we didn’t have to face the armies of kids and drunk guys that would have normally soaked us. In fact I never got wet once. It was weird because a few times we walked past people that I thought would hit us for sure, but then they thought about it and changed their minds; so that was a blessing. It also helps that Portoviejo isn’t like Babahoyo—they don’t throw water the whole month here in Portoviejo and they almost always use clean water. So that’s good. And thus ended my last carnival in South America.

Oh yeah, and I hit a year and a half a couple days ago. So that’s weird. It wasn’t as big a deal as I thought it would be. At some point in the afternoon I remembered that that day I was hitting a year and a half and I said, “Hey Elder Fonseca I hit a year and a half today,” and he said, “That’s cool,” and then I forgot again because we went to a lesson and had other things to think about. But I guess that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

In other news…I’m broke. I have been constantly broke since I got to Portoviejo. Last week I started the week with $5.33 and we had to go to Chone to do a baptismal interview and it cost 3 dollars to go to Chone and back. Now that I see it written I realize that 3 dollars isn’t very much money for you guys but it is a lot of money for me. It’s funny how your perspective of the worth of a dollar changes when you don’t have very many. So anyway, I ran out of money.  We had to call President Gamboa and ask permission to use a part of our reserve cash in order to get through the week. Every missionary here has 40 dollars reserve in case of emergency that can only be used with President Gambia’s permission. So I ended up spending $7.75 of my reserve to get through the week. Part of the problem was all the travel we have had to do the last couple of weeks because we had to go to Manta for zone conference and we have to use a lot of money in taxis to get around here in Portoviejo. So needless to say, I didn’t buy much food last week. In fact, I pretty much just bought bread. Yep, I was living on bread and water this week. It was awesome. I could, of course, dip into my personal cash and take out some money so that I could afford rich people food (like milk) but I prefer to live on the $80 that we get every two weeks. In the MTC I remember that they said if we did we would learn a lot and we would be blessed so I’m sticking to it. Today we got our money so I’m “rich” again. For some reason only $75 came for me this week, which is annoying. I could use the 5 bucks that they stiffed me but oh well. I also need to replace the money I spent from my reserve so I still can’t buy much food this week, but I think I can get my reserve back up to $40 in the next couple weeks. Oh yeah and we have to go back to Chone again to do another baptismal interview on Wednesday. It’s annoying but I’m glad that they are baptizing so I don’t complain. We are also planning on doing an interchange with Bahia de Carraques soon, that’s another city that like Chone is far away and requires a long bus trip that we also have to find a way to pay for. I’m thinking I may go on an oatmeal diet. I did that in Babahoyo for a while and it was a pretty effective way to save money because oatmeal is cheap. But I’m not a big fan of oatmeal. The Quaker instant stuff is good because it has flavors but I don’t like just plain oatmeal. I’m sure that’s a direct result of the days when we lived in Tennessee and we ate it for breakfast every day.

So that’s the story of my life these days. Interesting stuff. Sunday we have to give a training meeting to the ward mission leaders and ward missionaries in the stake. Should be interesting. I imagine it will be interesting anyway; I still don’t know what we are going to talk about. We are also going to try to apply some stuff we learned in zone conference and from other sources in the next couple of weeks. I’m not sure how that’s going to work out but once again, should be interesting. That’s all this week, talk to you next week familia.

Te quiero,
Elder Walke

Feeling a Little Moldy

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

¡Hola familia!

¡Feliz carnival! Contrary to what dad mistakenly believes, carnival is right now, not last week. Sorry if I was unclear on that. So 3 times the Ecuadorians have attempted to get me wet and 3 times they have failed. My luck won’t hold out much longer I’m sure. That last time it was the bishop’s wife that tried to soak us—that was pretty funny. The bishop and his wife here remind me a lot of the Fishers because the bishop is a quiet, laid back guy and his wife is very outgoing. It’s like I’m in the Latin Spring Creek Ward or something—it’s awesome.

We had a baptism this Saturday; it was the daughter of a family that returned to activity in the church a week or two before I got here. So while it may have only been 1 baptism we actually brought 5 people to church. So that was good. Once again I won’t be able to upload the pictures though. I know that drives mom nuts but it’s a pain to upload pictures most of the time, so you will just have to imagine the picture instead. I vote that we move back to a world where we use our imaginations instead of needing all these expensive gadgets in order to capture images and get all the details just right. Just imagine a picture of me in my white shirt and tie standing next to a small, very tan Latin girl dressed in white and then go paint it and pretend like it’s the picture I sent you.

In other news zone conferences are tomorrow and we are definitely going to have a Seventy present, which is kind of scaring me now because the assistants told us directly that if someone in our zone messes up they are holding my companion and me responsible. I’m not exactly sure what that means but I’m sure it can’t be good.

So I keep hearing you guys talk about how cold it is up there. I’m sorry but I just can’t imagine cold anymore. I have been living in perpetual summer since May 2008. I have to have a fan blowing on me at night just to keep cool enough to sleep. Speaking of fun times, the rain is trying to kill me. All my stuff keeps ending up with mold on it! I think part of the problem is that all my stuff is old now and far more mold prone.  I spent an hour this morning washing ties because I woke up the other day and realized that several of them had an impressive amount of mold growth on them. Then I finished that project only to realize that my backpack has also acquired a few interesting growths on the inside. It reminds me of a conversation I had with Elders Mitton, Elwood and Frye back in Babahoyo. I’m not exactly sure who said it but someone said, “In Ecuador apart from the typical responses to the question “how do you feel?” such as “I’m happy”, “I’m sad” or “I’m sick”, another common response you may receive is “I’m moldy”. I’m not sure if you guys find that to be as funny as I do but given my current surroundings I find it to be quite entertaining.

So mom asked me to tell a little about my companion and I guess that’s fair. First off, yes, he is a zone leader too. Thankfully this zone is big enough to warrant 2 zone leaders and he has 6 weeks more than me in the mission. He has not been a member all his life, in fact, this march he will hit the 3-year mark since his baptism. He is from a very small town in Bolivia; the kind without a single stop light in the entire town, and he says the “taxis” are cows with carts strapped on the back. He is the only member of the church in his family and he was baptized because he decided he wanted to get a college education so he left home when he was 17 and moved to Cochabamba to continue his education. That’s when he met the missionaries. There is a lot of more stuff in the middle between that and how he ended up serving a mission, but it’s a long story. It sounds like something out of a movie to me. He got it in his head a few weeks ago that he wants to study at BYU, so he has been working on his English a lot. It’s still pretty rough but he’s doing well. He is a good guy and it has been a humbling experience working with him because I have really realized just how blessed I have been. His biggest dream is to go to BYU, something that I got without breaking a sweat, but he still has to learn English well enough to get in. But that’s not even the hardest part because he still has to get a visa to enter the States. That’s no easy task I can tell you because I have met very few people here that have managed it. I guess unless you are really wealthy it’s hard to get one. In order to even have a shot at getting a visa he would have to get accepted to BYU and have enough money in the bank to show that he can afford to pay for it. He says that Bolivia is even poorer than Ecuador and that he will have to get a really good paying job in order to raise the money, and apparently a good paying job in Bolivia is $200 a month; so we figure that if he can get some sort of scholarship he should be able to pull it off. Of course neither one of us really knows what it takes to get a visa to enter the states but one step at a time. This project is still in its beginning stages because until he can get the English down he won’t be going anywhere. Missions are interesting experiences that’s for sure. I never told Elder Fonseca that he should go to BYU. He just woke up one day and decided that’s what he wanted to do. I’m just along for the ride. Anyway, have a great week, watch out for stray water balloons, and talk to you next week.

Te quiero,
Elder Walke

One Last Rainy Season in Ecuador

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

¡Hola familia!

It’s Monday? That’s weird. Well, seeing as how it’s Monday and all, I suppose I should write you a letter. But what to say? Honestly I don’t have much interesting news for you. I have been learning a lot about being a zone leader and we have plenty of stuff to do around here. I have been amazed at the amount of minor bits of business we have to do though. Several nights this week I have been sitting at my desk making phone calls, coordinating with the office and the missionaries in the zone, and doing other random bits of paper work until 10:30 pm. Most of the time I get done and find that I’m still in my shirt and tie because I didn’t even have time to change. But the good news is that we did manage to take care off all of the tasks that the assistants could throw at us this week. And I have to tell you, those guys sure have some odd requests some times. We gathered a lot of information about the different wards this week and I still don’t know what it’s all for—but we did it. Luckily the missionaries were willing to help and didn’t rebel against our constant stream of phone calls every night.

In other news carnival starts this Saturday and won’t be over until Wednesday; President [Gamboa] is going to have the whole mission on house arrest between lunch time and 6 pm—when the bulk of the craziness is going down. In other news, we have zone conference this week—well—I think we do. The assistants have not given us a specific day yet because there is supposed to be a member of the Seventy speaking as well so they are working off his schedule. So that should be interesting; every time I run into a Seventy it’s a good experience.

Um, what else can I tell you? It’s raining a lot, and Portoviejo is really muddy. So I’m constantly wet and muddy too. Which I don’t really enjoy. Have you ever seen that painting of Samuel H. Smith walking though the mud in the rain? That’s me. And I guess my shoes must be getting old because they are just not as waterproof as they used to be. But it’s all good; in just a couple of months the rain will stop and I will never again have the chance to walk through the mud and rain in Ecuador as a missionary ever again so I’m trying hard to make sure I have a solid memory of just how annoying it is to walk through the mud all day with shoes full of water, so that years from now I can look back and say, “those were the days when I learned to appreciate the blessing of having dry feet.” Yep the rain is fun.

We did an interchange this week with Elder Cruz and his companion, Elder Piedra. Elder Piedra is from Washington but his parents are from Ecuador, hence the Spanish name. Anyway, he read my blog before coming to Ecuador. I asked him if it was weird to meet someone that he had read about on line. He said it was. It was a pretty funny interchange; all things considered. Ok I have nothing more to say. I feel as though I am forgetting to tell you something important but I can’t think of what it is so I guess it will have to wait for next week. Ok talk to you next week family.

Te quiero,
Elder Walke

Staying the Course

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Hola familia!

Hey you finally got that package I sent you! That’s great because I sent it before Christmas. Apparently the office took a long time to get it sent off though. The important thing is that you got it. Sounds like everyone had a busy week this week—me too. Crazy busy. Everything went off really well but it was a near thing [translation: close call]. We had lots of big events go down and it was sort of a trial by fire experience for learning how to be a zone leader. Thursday morning the office called us and said that Elder Vargas (Elder Frye’s old companion) would be coming into Portoviejo that night so that he could go to the zone leader council the next day with us. That was a mess and would involve a lengthy but not too interesting story, but in short let’s just say that there were some miscommunications and it took us a long time to find Elder Vargas once he got to the city. Anyway, we got Elder Vargas to the house and went to bed early (10 pm) because we had to get up at 2:30 am to take a 4-hour bus ride to Guayaquil in order to make it to the darn council at 8 am. So we went to bed and all was well with the world until the phone rang at 11 pm. My companion answered and after he hung up I asked what was said. He mumbled something about giving a class but I was too tired to understand what he was talking about so I just rolled over and went back to sleep. As it turns out it was the assistants [to the president] calling to say that Elder Fonseca and I would be giving a class about “staying the course” the next day in the zone leader council. I hate giving talks at the last minute. Especially talks in front of all the other zone leaders and the assistants and the president. But hey, that’s life as a missionary.

So on the bus ride my companion and I were fighting the desire to sleep and trying to come up with a decent lesson, but it wasn’t really coming along. We had something more or less worked out and decided to call it good. Well, what really happened is that we fell asleep in the middle of planning. Then around 5:30 am I woke up and couldn’t help but notice that the bus was sitting at a 45 degree angle and that my side of the bus was now much higher than I remembered it being before. As I sat there contemplating my new, elevated status, I slowly became aware that we were no longer “on the road” in the conventional sense but that the right side of the bus was now half sunk in the mud—thus causing the significant tilt that I had recently become aware of. I woke my companion up to share with him my new discovery but at first he was too out of it to understand me. I told him and at first he said, “What’s the big deal, let me sleep” but I finally got my point across. So Elder Vargas, Elder Fonseca, and I got off the bus and sat around in the dark waiting for another bus so that we could continue our journey. I happened to have my camera on me at the time to take pictures with friends at the meeting so we took advantage of the moment to take pictures of the bus. I guess the driver fell asleep or something so he drifted off the road a bit and that’s when he got stuck. When we got on the next bus I sat there contemplating how lucky we were that he hadn’t fallen asleep when we were on a hill or something and I couldn’t help but notice the interesting correlation between that experience and the subject of the class we were supposed to give. So of course, that’s what we based our talk on. I think it went over well. It was a good meeting all things considered.

As it turns out, Elder Adamson became a zone leader this change too. I also heard that Elder Frye is a district leader now. I wish I could sit in on Elder Frye’s district meeting classes I bet they would be pretty entertaining. So then Saturday night the assistants called and said that President Gamboa would be in the area so he wanted to do the interviews for our zone the next day. Normally that wouldn’t be a big deal but Sunday was also the day we had planned to have the big meeting about missionary work for all the bishops and stake leaders. So the interviews were going to happen at 3 pm and the meeting was at 4 pm. luckily both were scheduled for the same building so after church Sunday, we went to lunch then rushed over to the stake center to get the building ready for both events. We were going to show a 15-minute video from Preach My Gospel as well so we had to get the projector set up as well.  But in the end we pulled it off. I guess that the stake president has wanted President Gamboa to come talk in Portoviejo for a long time and when we let it slip that he would be around, some people got it in their heads that he was coming to talk in the meeting at 4pm; but in reality President Gamboa didn’t even know we were having any such meeting. So when he got there we took him aside and informed him of our predicament and begged him to talk for 5 minutes to keep the masses happy. President was a good sport and helped us out so the whole thing ended up being a success. There have been all sorts of smaller events but I’m out of time now.

All in all life has been busy and there is a lot more to being a zone leader than I originally thought, but I’m enjoying it. Oh and I forgot to mention but there is this guy here who lives up in Utah and as it turns out he knows some people I know. One of them is J.R. Johnson. It’s a small world huh? Talk to you next week.

Te quiero,
Elder Walke

Note: Elder Walke recently send us some photos and videos in the mail. If you would like to see the videos click here.