Monday, November 30, 2015
I am sorry that we didn't get to email this last week, it was a crazy week! But I will talk about that after I do a quick recap of the week before!
The week before was very focused on Leo leading up to his baptism! We had a family home evening with him on Monday with the Keffer family, his baptismal interview on Wednesday, and his baptism on Saturday! :)
His baptism was amazing. He was so excited, and so ready to be baptized. He recognized how special that day was to him, and it was especially good to have his family involved in the program. His mom has been less active since I have been here, because of the job she has, and she has been telling us for months that her schedule was going to change and she could bring her kids to church. But then at an activity in September, she told us that she wanted us to prepare her son to be baptized. So we have been working with him and getting to know the family since then. Leo has been so excited to be baptized and kept telling his mom how badly he wanted to get baptized and how he wanted his siblings to take part in the program. It was so sweet.
At his baptism, his mom shared her testimony about how she knew the church was true by the Spirit and she was excited for Leo to gain his own testimony.
Sunday was his confirmation and it was incredible. Leo wrote about his experience later and said that he felt a warm feeling in his heart that he had never felt before. Even at the age of 9 he is still able to recognize the feeling of the Spirit come into his life, and I know that he will be able to continue feeling that! He was telling us that he wants to keep that good feeling with him, and as he makes the right choices he can. His siblings are both older than him, one is 16 and the other is 20, and they both are also less active, but I know Leo is setting an example for them! He is amazing :)
Saturday morning before the baptism was...interesting and really hard. We got up and went to do a service project at the church in the POURING rain. We were laying rocks around the trees and bushes on the church property but it was raining so much and all the men didn't want to "burden" us "young ladies" (good grief). Then Hna Keffer called and told us she had a special task for us. She asked us to grab any and all makeup stuff that we don't use very much. Then she took us to a funeral home where Lucina Rivera, a lady in our branch who passed away this week had been taken. It was strange. She was so stiff and grey and pasty. Her eyes and lips had been glued shut, but Hna Keffer told Hermana Andrus that she was putting her in charge of doing her makeup because her funeral was Sunday (she also informed us as we are standing by the body that she had already put us on the program to sing). So that was a lot of new information. I was in tears because being brought to a body of dear Hermana Lucina who I had been visiting and working with and teaching was really heart breaking. So everyone just sat and watched as Hermana Andrus cautiously put makeup on Lucina, who had passed of brain cancer. Her daughter and granddaughter were in there, and as we were in the room, one of her sons who I had also met and talked with multiple times came in and just held his mom and cried. It was heart wrenching. It was such a contrast to be mourning a loss Saturday morning, then celebrating Leo's baptism Saturday afternoon.
One other thing from a couple weeks ago! Pedro! :) We went up to Lake Charles, ready to teach Pedro lesson 2, the Plan of Salvation. We started the lesson, and he asked "so what is the life of a Mormon like anyways?" We didn't exactly understand what he meant, so we asked him, and he said, "How will I have to live after I am baptized?" So we decided in the moment that we were going to go over the baptismal interview questions with him. One thing that is so amazing about Pedro is that he really makes sure that he understands everything we teach him. He asks questions, shows us bible scriptures that explain what he believes, and is really open with us. He told us that in his prayers he always asks God to show him if this is what he needs to do, and he told us he would come to church!! Even though it is an hour and a half drive! :)
Ok that was pretty much the week before this last week!
Alright, now for this last week!
So as some of you heard, our Pday was switched to Wednesday because we somehow ended up with ALL the responsibilities in the preparation and execution of Lucina's funeral. So we worked on funeral details from 8am to 6pm. We made all the programs for the family, and Hermana Andrus and I sang, "Divina Luz" (Lead Kindly Light) as a 3-part arrangement with our Branch Presidents wife as part of the program. It was a sweet experience, and I felt the Spirit testify to me so strongly of the plan of salvation. It is a really hard experience to be at the funeral of someone you have spent time working with and serving and loving, but it is incredible to hear the testimonies of the plan that God has for us. I know He lives and loves us, and provides the way for us to return to Him.
Tuesday we had an extremely productive day and found some new investigators!!! One of which is named Mario and he is so prepared!! He kept saying his biggest priority in looking for the right church is finding a church that has the complete truth... Something that we (and only we) just happen to have!! He was at Lucinas funeral on Monday and pulled President Garcia aside telling him that he wanted to learn more about the church, so as we talked to him, he explained to us that he wants to be a part of a church that encourages him to be better! He said that his dad and a lot of his friends have been telling him to join a church, and he kept seeing this one. We are excited to see him progress!
Tuesday night our favorite person ever Michael came out with us and we were able to see Antonio, Julio, Armando, Josue, and Henry. Such a spiritual evening. Michael is applying for BYU right now and prepping for his mission so he is always an eager and powerful member-present.
Wednesday we got to take our Pday. Before I go on, let me apologize for the lack of email... We went on a fishing excursion and the member who dropped us off got a flat tire and we were left stranded until after dark.
On the plus side, IT WAS AMAZING!!!! So gorgeous and a perfect temperature. Due to the recent rain pour we found that the trail we took last time when we went trail-biking was now a stream...so we got creative and built a bridge-type structure with a bunch of logs. It took awhile and 2 of our youth fell in...but it was super fun! The fishing hole was absolutely breathtaking with the southern green and the expansive, heavenly sky above. I love it. Also I caught a huge fish!! Dad you would have been so proud :) We threw the football and fished for the afternoon then made our way back. On the way back the sun went down much faster than anticipated and that coupled with the tree coverage left us crossing our makeshift bridge in the dark. We got to the front of the state park and continued our football game until Hna Keffer showed up with her shiny new tires.
Thursday was Thanksgiving and it was WONDERFUL!!! We started off with some service and ate with Tyler Guy's family about noon followed by games and some fairly intense kickball. The family expressed to us how grateful they are for us and we expressed how grateful we are for them! They stuffed us full with Maw Maw's stuffing and turkey, Bethany's yams, Kaitlyn's ham and rolls, Chad's boudan, and the babies' deviled eggs and cranberry sauce. Then Maw Maw and Janet surprised us with personally engraved charm bracelets in equally beautiful engraved boxes that say, "friends are the family we choose ourselves." So precious!!! We have spent so long making our way into this family, trying to create an environment of familiarity and acceptance with things of the church to facilitate Tyler's church activity while still living at home. It was such a blessing to be with them that day and see the change in each family member.
Then we made our way back to Beaumont for our second Dinner with the Keffer Family. They had a family reunion dinner so we had to move all 48 people into the church gym for dinner. They also introduced something new and delicious. It's a Stuffing WAFFLE!!!! Normal stuffing, but baked in a waffle iron. It was super tasty.
Friday we had a great district meeting where they introduced the new "A Savior is Born" Christmas initiative. I am so amazed with the work they church does, especially now with their social media and tech-friendly gospel-sharing methods. If you haven't seen it, go watch the videos the church has come out with!
Saturday was INCREDIBLE!!! So Hermana Andrus' first baptism, Jaime Acevedo, went through the temple!!!! Jaime moved into my ward in my first area soon after his baptism, and I was able to work with him as well as a newly recent convert, so being there as he went through the temple was absolutely amazing. For me it really strengthened my testimony of the work of Salvation! I am here as a missionary to invite people to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel- starting with baptism, but that isn't the end goal! I am here to help people to endure to the end, continuing to make covenants, in the house of the Lord, so that they can prepare to inherit the Celestial Kingdom. The change in Jaime was amazing, and even though I didn't teach him completely from beginning to end, I was still able to watch the light that the gospel brought into his life and how it changed and softened his heart. The spirit in the temple was so strong, and Jaime was SO happy!! The power of the Atonement is real. Jesus Christ is our real and living Savior and through Him we can change. We can be healed. We can receive the peace and comfort the Spirit brings, and we can begin, just BEGIN to taste of the love our Heavenly Father has for us.
Sunday was AMAZING!!!! Seriously so great. So, we showed up at church knowing that Pedro and Hermano Ortiz were coming from Lake Charles, and when we got there, we saw that they had brought 2 other friends with them!!! :) Hermano Ortiz brought these guys we hadn't met named Eric and Alexis! We were able to have all of them and the Bañuelos in our Gospel Principles class, and it was an opportunity for them to ask questions and get to know the new members in our branch. Salvador chimed in and shared his testimony of what it was like to be a new convert, and it was so sweet how he was able to relate to their concerns and bear testimony of how he has overcome trials. Salvador is amazing and has progressed and overcome so much, so having him share his testimony with the 3 investigators in our class was so powerful and sweet. :)
Sacrament meeting, I gave a talk about faith and shared ways that I have seen examples of faith in my mission and how we can increase and strengthen the faith we have in our lives. Our branch mission leader Danny also gave a talk- his wife Carmela is still coming every week to church! This past week we went and visited her to talk with her about baptism, she is open to learning and coming to church, and is saying her prayers alone and with Danny! She has come a long way, and Danny keeps reassuring us that her time is coming! Tyler Guy was also there at church with us! :) He got his ecclesiastical endorsement done to be able to apply for BYU! We are really excited about that!
After church, we went to President Garcia's house to watch Christian Maldonado open his mission call! He is the first young man to leave on his mission from this branch, and has been waiting to leave on his mission since I have been here, and now he has his call! He will leave for the Baton Rouge, LA mission on February 16! He is family of Blanca and Salvador and was there the whole time we were teaching them, and has helped us a lot with fellowshipping our investigators, he is going to be a great missionary and we are excited for him! :)
Later that night we went to Winnie and did service with Tyler's family! We love them so much, they have shown us so much love as well, and even tell us that we are adopted into the family! They are the sweetest, and every day we are grateful that they are a part of our lives. :) We know everything that we have been through with them has been a miracle, but was all according to God's timing that we were led to that family and were able to get in and be a part of their lives. They have become some of our greatest friends!
All in all it has been an incredible past couple of weeks! This next week is Hermana Andrus' last week in the mission, which has been pretty hard for her. But we are going to finish strong! Watching and talking with her about finishing her mission has made me realize how fast time has gone and how fast it will go, but also made me appreciate every moment I have with the people I am serving around. I know that I was called to the Texas Houston East mission for a reason, and that the people here and the experiences I am having are changing my life. I love being a missionary. Love it with my whole heart. Thank you for your continued support and patience. Have a wonderful week!
Love you all!