Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Adios hermanos

Osorno cathedral

Osorno cathedral

So I'm now writing on a very nice American laptop, inside of an American house.
Yeah, I went home for my back.

But I'm going to treat this email like any other.

For my last pday in the mission we had a barbecue. We make hamburgers, and I had my first can of root beer in the mission. You can only find it in Osorno.

In Chile the word for traffic is "taco."

In this last week I just chilled in the office and read a lot from Jesus the Christ. Elder Shobe, the mission financer asked me if I was bored. I told him I was REALLY bored, so he showed me to a massive stack of old important documents and a very ghetto paper shredder. So I passed my last week shredding paper for the Lord. Haha. 

Some of my first impressions from being back in the States is that all of the streets are SO wide, there is grass, and it is perfectly manicured. Just like an island resort. They have big stores here and there are no dogs in the streets. All of the cars drive without making loud noises and aren't falling apart. There is carpet, showers that aren't molding, and I don't have to duck to make it through door frames anymore. It has been pretty rough and frustrating having to speak English all of the time. It is so weird to hear everyone speaking it. 

I should be meeting with the doctors towards the end of June to find out what is wrong and the best way to help me out.

I have seen very many tender mercies this week:

-On my last day in the mission, we had a district council. I found out that Elder Jarman could sing tenor, and Hermana Tripp could sing alto, so we made a quick trio and sang Nearer My God to Thee in Spanish. It has been so long since I have sang like that with other people. It completely relaxed me and I felt so refreshed.

-In the office, Elder Germann, the AP, was printing off the new mission bookmark for the month. I saw the templates and there was a pretty cool one. He asked me if I wanted him to make me a special bookmark. I asked him to put Alma 8:15 on it. I found that scripture in my personal study Sunday morning. It gave me a lot of comfort. Elder Germann replaced Alma's name with mine to make the scripture say "Blessed art thou, Jacob; therefore, lift up thy head and rejoice, for thou has great cause to rejoice; for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou receivedst thy first message from Him. Behold, I am he that delivered it unto you." That really touched me.

-The day that I received the going home call from Presidente Obeso, I was pretty depressed. Towards the end of the day, I hopped onto the office computer to print off a document that we were going to show to an investigator to help her come to church. I pulled up the church's web page, and the first thing I saw was a video link titled "A mission was supposed to be the greatest experience of my life." It's about a brother in the church who had to go home early for mental health problems. Once I realized the video was for early returning missionaries, I felt the Spirit wash over me along with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. It was no coincidence that the day I receive the going home call that that page hops onto the church's website. For me that was the Lord telling me "I see you. I know you. I love you."

-Driving home into our cul-de-sac, it was lined with yellow balloons. Sister Olson, a great neighbor, wanted me to feel welcomed home and loved even though I was returning early. It worked. I did feel very loved and I felt the support of the members. I was kind of worried about what the members might think of me for coming home, even though everything was out of my control and it wasn't for worthiness issues either. But all of the members have been so supportive and understanding. I have felt the Savior's love from all of them. That has been a tremendous blessing. 

Those are many of the tender mercies that I have seen throughout this week. 

I was with the comisario of the mission in Correos Chile (Chilean mail office) when he got a call from President Obeso. He told me that he had talked with the doctor in Santiago about if I could stay and get better in the office. The doctor said it would be impossible to heal unless I went home, plus the doctors in the States can provide me with better medical care. He wished me the best and told me I was an excellent missionary with strong desires to do the work. After the call, I was in shock. I remember staring out the window from Correos Chile in Osorno, and seeing people walking in the plaza and on the busy sidewalks, and my heart swelling for them. I love these people. The gospel can bless their lives. They need it.  

In my last cita in Chile, it was with a recent convert family. We started to re pass the lessons with them. We taught them the restoration. I wouldn't have wanted to end my mission in any other way- testifying of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I especially felt the Spirit strongly as Elder Haddad testified. He is a convert to the Church. I know he knows it, and when we testify with an actual personal conviction and testimony, the Spirit adds a spiritual power to our witness that can be felt. 
Me, Elder Haddad and our blind ward mission leader
For a missionary who is returning home for health related issues, one of the most difficult questions is to be asked is "Will you be returning?" Even though it is always asked with good intent and just an effort to make conversation, it is still very hard to hear. It is hard just because I don't know a lot of things, and I'm already feeling confused and emotionally distressed about the whole ordeal. Anyway, Elder Germann asked me with the best intent in the office "We'll see you back out here, right?" I answered "Well if the doctors clear me, and my stake president encourages it, and if I spiritually feel that it is the right thing to do, then...Man, I just don't want to leave it." And then I started crying. He gave me a big hug, and told me that he had a long talk with Elder Wertner, a missionary from my group who also went home just two weeks earlier for back problems. Elder Germann told me that he felt impressed to tell me the same thing that he told to Elder Wertner: "It will all be OK." It seemed to me like a normal thing to say, but in the days that followed I had many hard moments. That phrase came to my mind every time and gave me comfort. 

During my last personal study in the mission, I was reading in chapter four of Preach My Gospel. In that chapter there is a study box that has the question of "What should I do?" listed with scriptures to answer it. I looked up those scriptures while thinking about whether or not I should come back to the mission after I have recovered. The scriptures said that we receive answers to our questions as we study the scriptures, pray, and listen to the spirit. That all gave me a lot of comfort. I didn't need to worry about making that decision while in the mission, and God would help me make it at home through study, prayer, and the Spirit. 

I drove with the APs on Friday to the Puerto Montt airport. On the road to Puerto Montt you pass by three volcanoes. I could see the massive Osorno volcano looming in the distance, with the Calbuco volcano on its right, and a smaller and very pointy volcano to its left. Beautiful. The prettiest spot in the road is where you pass by a town called Llanquihue that is situated on the side of a beautiful lake with Volcan Osorno and Calbuco on the other side of the lake. I'm going to forever remember watching Volcan Osorno on that car ride. When we got to the airport, I boarded the plane right away. I was at the very back of the plane, left side, with a window seat. As the plane started to taxi on the run way, I was overcome with emotion and fought tears. I started a prayer. As the wheels lifted off of the runway I ended my prayer by saying "Que tu voluntad sea hecha." or "That thy will be done." I'm doing my best to put my trust in God's plan for me. 

All of my flights went very well. I flew from Puerto Montt to Santiago. While waiting in the Santiago airport a man walked up to me. He introduced himself, he said he was the first councilor in his branch, that he was a returned missionary, and that he had doughnuts for me. That was a miracle. With all of the craziness of traveling and getting to the airport late, I wasn't able to eat lunch. Later, a brother from Missouri started talking with me. He was in southern Chile for business. He served in the Dominican Republic, and had also been a stake president for 9 or 10 years. We shared mission stories and talked about the miracle of a mission and we both felt the Spirit very strongly. 

On my flight from Santiago, I sat next to two Argentinians. I again had the window seat so I was only able to talk to the wife. I had brought with me a Book of Mormon to place on my flights home. I prayed that God would bless me with an opportunity to share it with someone. This lady was nice. She offered me some chocolate, and then we started talking a bit. She was catholic, a mother of 7, and traveling to Miami for a vacation. I asked her if she liked to read. Once she said she did, I gave her a Book of Mormon. I explained what it is and a super brief outline of the Restoration. It went well. She was legit interested and asked questions. Then we talked about the roles that religion has played in our lives.

On my flight from Miami to Dallas, I met a kid from Venezuela who was travelling with his grandparents to Nebraska to visit family. We just talked and became friends. He was 19, and like any other 19 year old young man, totally noticed a very beautiful girl sitting across from us. He started talking about how she was super cute, and I felt uncomfortable so I just tried to talk about other things. And a good thing too, because a little bit after she started talking to us in Spanish. She was visiting family in Nebraska as well before she graduated next week. Her dad is half Mexican, so that is how she learned Spanish. I was able to talk to both her and the kid about how I was a missionary in Southern Chile and that is how I knew Spanish. After I talked to a cool kid and his mom who were coming back from a vacation in Florida before the kid went off to a Coast Guard academy. They told me about some Mormon friends they had, and I was able to explain what I had been doing in Chile. Great people. On that flight I sat next to a 22 year old Venezuelan who was an evangelical turned orthodox Jew. Yeah, that like never happens. We were both genuinely interested in each other’s beliefs, so we talked that whole flight and became way tight. We took a picture together, and I was able to grab his contact information to talk to him more a little bit later. Man! People in airports are honestly the most receptive people on the earth! 

Me and the Venezuelan that is an orthodox Jew

I started traveling Friday at 12 in the afternoon, and I got to Utah at 4 on Saturday. During it all, I had about 2 hours of garbage airplane sleep. I couldn't sleep because of my back pain and the super small airplane seats. Landing in Utah was awesome. I could see the Salt Lake City temple. The symbol of Zion! I'm not going to lie. Once I hopped off the plane, I was pretty nervous. I was scared to see my family, but I was pumped. I speed walked to meet them. Hugging my family has never felt better. They all said I smelled like airplane seats. 

At 5 pm I had my interview with the stake president. He read me a bit of a talk by President Packer called "The Least of These", where it quotes Doctrine and Covenants 117:12,13.. I felt the Spirit. He told me that my sacrifice will be made sacred, that I have served an honorable mission, and that the Lord is happy with me. He told me that the process to return requires 6 months at home before I can talk to the missionary department to go back out again. He emphasized that going back out or staying home was completely my decision and that it was between me and the Lord. He then released me. I took off my name tags as I walked out to the car with my parents. I felt so light. Like a mantle of responsibility had lifted. I felt like a normal person. 

The next day was Sunday. I had an interview with my bishop. He gave me great council. He told me two things that the Spirit drilled home to me. 1) I need to make a decision to go back out or stay home. I have done what was asked of me, and the Lord will respect my agency. I need to tell Him what my decision was and then ask for his blessing and confirmation of that decision and move on. 2) He told me that he felt impressed to tell me as a representative of Jesus Christ, as my bishop, and acting in the same way and saying the same things that Jesus Christ would say as if He were sitting across from the table with me, that I will lose no blessings that the Lord has is store for me if I chose to stay home. 

Throughout this whole process I have felt very calm and good about moving forward with my life, and that that is the right thing for me. On my walk home I felt so light. I prayed and told Heavenly Father that I decided to stay home, I thanked him for the growth and experiences I had, and asked for His blessing and confirmation of my decision.
That interview helped me a lot.

This morning, Tuesday morning, I went to the temple still with the question on my mind, and seeking a confirmation of that decision. While in the celestial room, I felt the Spirit confirm to me my decision. It is done. My mission is behind me. I am to move forward. The Lord is pleased with my service. I read Doctrine and Covenants 117:12,13 again. The Lord has accepted my sacrifice. And then verse 6 about how God holds the destinies of all the earth, and He holds mine. Then I read Doctrine and Covenants 100:12 which says "Therefore, continue your journey and let your hearts rejoice; for behold, and lo, I am with you even unto the end." I know it is time for me to continue on with God's plan for me. I know that I need to move on. The hard part is just accepting that I'm not serving a 2 year mission, and that that is OK and the right thing for me.

I am so grateful for the blessing I had to serve a mission. It changed my life. I love the people of Chile. I love this Gospel. I know that God has a plan for each one of us. I Know He is a merciful Father. I know He only gives us what is going to bless us the most and make us the happiest person in the long run. I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church that has the priesthood authority to perform saving ordinances. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that he really did see Jesus Christ and God the Father in person. I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and powerful testament of Jesus Christ. I know that Thomas S. Monson is the Lord's prophet today. I know that the Gospel blesses lives. And I am so grateful to have been a missionary. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Elder West