Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hundreds of waving candles

Hey everyone-

My transfer to Joensuu is great. I love it. It is different than Helsinki but it has a really nice little city feel. And the ward is small and friendly and really take a notice of the missionaries. Whereas in Helsinki we sort of got lost in the sea of people. It is also a really pretty place with a huge river in the middle of it. Unfortunately, it is winter and usually too dark to see anything... My companion is great. He has a really great heart and works unbelievably hard. Joensuu has 2 other missionary companionships in the district. It is a bike city and I was hooked up with a really good bike for free from a member in Haaga. Such a blessing. Not to much snow yet, mostly still just wet. It is a suprisingly warm winter here in Finland. Woo!

This week we went to Rovaniemi. The most north city for missionaries in Finland and had a Zone Conference. We had to take a 4 hour train down to Helsinki and then a night train up so that was sort of stinky but it was really cool to be way up there. We went to Santa’s workshop, which was cool and really fun.

The night before Christmas was really fun. In Finland, they open presents on the 24th and so we were invited to a members house for that. We had a great dinner (the dad used to be a chef) and then opened presents with their 2 daughters (21 and 18) and a recent convert from the ward who is really really great. They gave us 18€ to use at any restaurant in town. Super nice. It was great to watch everyone get so excited about their gifts. And then after one of the daughters brought out the guitar and played some christmas songs. Which reminded me of our family. I was so thankful for the family making us lonely missionaries feel at home for the holidays. When they finally took us home we stopped at a graveyard and lit a candle for deceased relatives. (It’s a christmas tradition in Finland) It was so pretty with it being dark and quiet with hundreds of waving candles while surrounded by forest. It really got me deep in thought and had a big effect on me. It was a great night.

The next day, we went to church for an hour. And then we went to a members and ate another christmas meal. We then sat and watched the Christmas church videos which were really peaceful. So peaceful that I actually dozed off, and when I woke up I noticed that the member AND my companion had both fallen asleep haha.

Then of course we went and skyped home. Calling home is always interesting. There are thousands of things to talk to and it never lasts long enough. And then after you are always remembering things you forgot to mention and trying to remember the things you actually did talk about. Its like having a one bite of pie and then having it instantly taken away from you and the rest of the day you just keep trying to convince yourself that the one bite was enough, even though it obviously wasnt...Haha. Oh the bittersweet taste of calling home.

I’m really thankful for you all, both family and friends. Just know that I thought a lot about everyone during this Christmas Season and that I missed being home. But, I had a really great Christmas. It was so sweet to be in another culture and see how they celebrate the birth of the Savior. My faith has really been growing lately and I have noticed a difference in how I feel. I just feel better. I am coming to understand things about life that would have taken me a long time to figure out had I not been on a mission. It is altering my whole life path, and I know that it is a change for the better. I’m so thankful to be here.

I love you all.

Vanhin Merkley

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Elder Merkley's apartment tour

I've been meaning to post this for awhile but we've had technical difficulties at the Merkley abode with uploading it. But I have persevered because I know how attached we are all to that face and personality of his, SO, with no further adieu, here's a clip from Elder Merkley in his first area.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas.​...its really hot

Hello to all!
What a week! Things are just "tranquilopa" here, we are working hard and starting to see the fruits of our work! Yesterday at church, we saw many miracles happen. We worked all week getting people excited for church and for preparation for baptism at the beginning of January. On Sunday morning, we went looking for people with a young man in our branch, and he was able to walk to church with 2 investigators, then we had 5 other new and less active members bring an additional 5 investigators to church! The branch is becoming super missionary oriented, and its been great to see the small tender mercies of the Lord here, such as help from members to bring people to church! We had 39 people there too, which was a little bit of an improvement, given that we have been flirting around 30 for the last few months. We always try our best to be diligent in our work, and it always feels great to see some fruits of our labors.
This last Thursday we had the "Mission Christmas Party" in a city, where many of the Elders from far away from AsunciĆ³n went. We made this Christmas cards, went caroling in a nearby hospital, ate a big lunch, and then headed back to our areas. It was fun to be there and see a few missionary friends, and serve in this special time of the year.
So, that might have been the coolest thing I have ever heard! My trainer, Elder Olson was able to meet the family this week. You about made me cry when I saw that picture! What a cool moment for all of us, he has been a great example in my life.   
Tonight is changes, and so I will be hearing who my new comp is (my local comp. is going home for Christmas).  This afternoon, we went to have a huge fancy lunch with Elder Colligan and some other missionaries, its been a blessing to be so close to him for so much time of my mission.
 I am loving my daily study in the Book of Mormon. In Helaman 5, there is a story about a cloud of darkness that covers the people and they become scared and don't know what to do so that the cloud can be taken away. Today, we all pass through personal "clouds of darkness" spiritually, and we all have had that feeling of being "cast out forever", due to sin, trials, neglect, denial, depression, etc. So, the prophet Abinadab (that's his name in Spanish, I think its the same in English) tells them to repent and to pray with faith, so that the cloud departs. They were obedient, and eventually the cloud was taken away from them. In verse 46 and 47 it talks about a pleasing voice, or prompting, that came upon them, as a feeling of peace, because of their faith. We all have trials, but if we just repent, pray with faith, and endure till the end, the Lord has promised that those "clouds of darkness" will leave, and we will be restored to peace. I love the whole message of the Book of Mormon, it has strengthened my faith in the Lord, brought me to repentance, and helped me pass through all those trials and clouds that I have had in my life. Read it! It will change your life.
Have a Merry Christmas, pray for us, and don't let the real meaning of Christmas be forgotten in this special time of the year!
Until next week,
Elder Babcock

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas in Haaga

It’s so wild it's December.

This week we put up Christmas decorations in our apartment. We didn’t have a tree so we tied one together with some string and hangers. Although your first thoughts were probably directed at thinking how ghetto that sounds, it actually looks pretty sweet. We added some lights and even threw a star at the top. My companion got some really great pictures. I, on the other hand, did not take any pictures thanks to the dirtbag who stole my camera... But good ole Elder Pearson said he would send some of them to you. We got some other sweet lights and an angel from the Finnish equivalent of Savers. They are called "Kirpis" here and I feel right at home in one of those babies. We also picked up a nice little classic Christmas cd from the store and have been playing that all throughout the week. It is, indeed, as quoted in the beloved song of old, "beginning to look a lot like Christmas..." (Wow. Best paragraph ending sentence ever.)

Other than that though, pretty basic week. We are working hard to get our teaching pool back up and we found some good investigators this week. The holidays are usually a bit slower with missionary work but this week was pretty efficient. It is a little weird because we both suspect that we will leave Haaga since change call is next week. But we are working at gaining the trust still even though we will probably have to give them to the sisters soon. That is just the life of a missionary. Gaining trust, and then moving away. But if we can get them to trust the gospel, then we really have something great.

Still no snow here. It is turning out to be a warm winter. Woo. But, it is very dark. Which, really has not been bad for me.

I’m doing well. Thanks for all the love and support. I love you all.

Vanhin Merkley

Baptism of Marilda

Hello to all-
Well I am once again short on time, but things here are great. On Saturday night, we had a baptismal service for Marilda, who is the sister of Miriam . It went perfectly. The Spirit was so strong there in the service. I played the piano and Elder Scovill sang I Know That My Redeemer Lives in Spanish, English, and Guarani (switching off versus). I am really proud of her and the support she has from her family. She received a warm welcome from the members, and a lot of support from members as well at the service. She wanted me to do the baptism, which is always cool to be apart of. She is doing great, along with her awesome family.
Speaking of their awesome family, Pablo and Miriam (recent convert couple) had their 2 daughters come in here to Saltos, so they are finally here! They are the sweetest little girls ever. We are going to start working with them towards baptism as well, they are such a special family. I was playing some prelude music for sacrament meeting on the piano, when they both came up to me with big smiles and handed me 2 big red suckers. I just about died, they are, in every sense of the word, sweet. I was laying in bed and I had an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for being able to be a part of such a prepared family. They have become my second family here.
Speaking of another awesome family, I wanted to share my gratitude for my family at home as well. They have been so supportive, and I am thankful for my Parents, Siblings, Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, Cousins, everyone!
Sorry for the short awful letter, I promise next week will be better, I had everything out that I wanted to say, and then I left my agenda at the church. Thanks for the love and support, keep us here in your prayers!
Until next week,
Elder Babcock

The Power of the Priesthood

Hello to all!
I am low on time (only get an hour to read all the letters, write my mission president, and email out to people), but I want all of you to know that life is great here as a missionary. We are working hard and seeing the fruits of our labors slowly but surely. We have a baptism this week for Marilda, who is the sister of Miriam who got baptized about 1 month ago. She is progressing well, and because of the support and example of her sister and brother in law, she has gained a testimony of the Book of Mormon, and wants to follow the answer she received. It has been a great example to me of the power of the Book of Mormon, the Spirit is felt so strong as it is read. Read in it daily! You'll see the difference in your life, like I have seen in my own one.
We had District Conference this last Sunday, and we worked really hard all week aiming everything towards getting people there. Sunday morning comes along, and we saw miracle after miracle. Alex, the recent convert, turned down and opportunity of a lifetime to go to another city and compete in a big dance competition to go, and while there was interviewed and found worthy to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood! He also received his mission papers, and is excited for all the big changes he is making in his life. A few months back, he was, for lack of better words, a lost teenager, engulfed in major problems and temptations. Now, he is taking big steps towards being a future endowed member and missionary for the true church of God! The gospel works miracles, never lose faith in the converting power of the gospel! Many members that I have never even seen showed up, and we had a big turn out of investigators. It was a great week/day.
Also there, President and Hermana Madariaga came, along with Elder and Hermana Giovanni (Area 70). They talked a lot about the power of the priesthood, and their gratefulness for it being restored in these last days.  I was able to give a priesthood blessing this week to a child of a sick member, and I felt the Spirit so strongly. I love this church, this gospel, and the opportunity to not only live in the world during a time when the priesthood is on earth, but to be a member that church and holder of that very priesthood. Just like the song says, "I stand all amazed". We are a blessed people, so lets use those blessings to serve others, and magnify our priesthood. Love you guys, keep us in your prayers!
Until next week,
Elder Babcock

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ups and Downs

This Week was absolutely crazy with ups and downs.
I’ll start with the downs. I walk in to the house of some investigators and we were super exited to share a message we had prepared in the morning on Christmas. So we got in and shared two scriptures, and the scripture Juan 15 ye are my friends when you do what I say. And asked is it okay if we start with a Christmas hymn? And then my happy little face turned into a fake happy grin as the father said, “it’s just that I don’t know… Catholics spend this time of the year on Christmas, but we just really don’t know when the celebrate.” Then trying for a little redemption, I pulled the maybe it’s not in the dates, but in the feelings, and he got me with the “but think of all the people suffering and dying in this city alone…” I loved what they said in the Christmas devotional, Christmas isn’t passed, it’s remembered throughout the whole year.
We also had a great story with some menos activos. It’s one of those “it’s been two years since we went to church and just Saturday we were talking about returning and Sunday and Monday we had a big problem, and you showed up Tuesday. I felt a great spirit with them and feel like they are starting new… regaining the testimony they had lost. I’m loving the work and know that even though we might not feel it, we are guided by the Holy Ghost.I’m happy … Elder Rhodes

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Hi Mom and Dad, my keyboard is super stiff and doesn’t have any letters so well just hope my keyboarding class will come into effect, where you type with plastic covers on the keys.
Well I’m doing absolutely fantastic. Last week thanksgiving came around and I didn’t remember until that night we opened a bottle of Martinelli's that Hna Juana gave us. It was good. Transfers are the 5th of December and it’s a 99 % chance I stay here. The thing is when you are training, which is going along alright, you have a “contract” with the president for twelve weeks. And Elder Heredia and I are doing good together, so it’s almost guaranteed another exchange. So that means I'll be in this ward for our PHONE CALL. No Skype. And the limit is what I make it, I’m thinking about 45 minutes.
We haven’t been able to communicate with Rosy Carmona, but this week we did have the opportunity to have a baptism of Claudia Aguilar. She is great and super exited to get to work. But it was a Miracle everything went well… I think at times you are able to be guided by the sprit enough so it happens, but not without a challenge.
Friday night we felt like we needed to go early Saturday morning to fill up the font, even though our ward mission leader didn’t feel necessary, and wanted to go at 5 or 6, an hour or two before the baptism. Well we got to the church in the morning to find the font full… What a blessing right? It was full cause the pump wasn’t working to drain it from three weeks ago. It was green and smelled like dead fish. We thought “maybe she won’t notice” ha-ha no. So we gots to thinking, I know some people who called some people… some connections… but no one answered. So an hour passed and I thought of my old ward, where you had to pour water in the pump to prime (to make it suck) it and then turn it on. The knob wouldn’t open to pour water in, so I decided we would fill a bag up with water and shove it in the outlet… And it worked, after draining, came a deep cleaning with Clorox. The font was taking ages to fill, there wasn’t any gas to heat up the water (which was the least of the problems; it’ll help her remember it eh?) I swear it was slower than the kitchen sink, so we headed to lunch.
Something was up cause 5 buses passed by without picking us up… and we arrived an hour late for the food. Made the programs and got everything ready and headed to the chapel… to find the font half full and the water turned off… so we stayed the extra hour filling it the rest of the way. It was a pretty baptism and the spirit was felt. I know at times we are left to know what to do, but with sufficient problems. President of the temple came to our ward and taught us the plan of salvation… it was super awesome…
I’m exited as ever for Christmas, I’ve been listening to Christmas music since last Christmas. I hope the letters I send next week will get there before Christmas, if not it will be a happy birthday mom.
With love
Shaun Elder rhodes

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Lies and Twisted Ankles

Well howdy to all!
I feel a little uncomfortable right now, because my nose is absolutely fried from the sun, man it is really really hot today. We just got done with a big conference of missionaries from the zone, and proceeded by playing soccer on a synthetic turf field at 12:30 to 1:30...maybe not the smartest idea, given that it is a Paraguayan summer day, but it was great.
I had another great week, the work is coming along great. We have 7 ward missionaries now, 2 of which are recent converts (Alex and Marcelo). We have been going out with members almost every day, and the branch is growing in weekly attendance to about 35. We have been working hard, despite many setbacks in health. I had a funny moment walking out of a visit. All of you know that I have some very week ankles, and about a month ago I had a big twist where I fell completely on the ground in front of many people and they laughed haha. Well, this time luckily it was nighttime, but I was carrying a cake pan because we made a cake for someone, and out of nowhere the ankle twists and I fell again really hard. This time the cake pan went flying as well, and it scared my companion really bad. But it all turned out well, luckily Paraguayan people are so nice and they made me sit down and do some ankle workouts by rolling an old glass beer bottle back and forth underneath my foot haha gotta love it!
I really love Pablo and Miriam, the recent convert couple. They are just the nicest people I have ever met. We visited with them, and I asked about their kids (who live a few hours away, but should come up soon), and she said, lets give them a call! So I got to talk to them on the phone and say hi. I had a moment of sheer joy hit me when I thought of Gods plan for us, and how we can been together forever, as eternal families. I am thankful for my great family, and for temple work and missionary work, because it is essentially the same great work.
A few weeks ago I was bit by a tick. It got in there real good, and I carefully pulled it out, making sure the head didn't get stuck in there. I looked at my leg this week, and realized I still have a big red mark, so I sent some pics of it to AsunciĆ³n, and they think the head might be in there, therefore requiring some not so fun steps, but I think its all fine. I will keep you all updated.
This week was full of lies from everybody. On Wednesday alone, we heard a less active member yelling at her child as we were arriving at the house. Then when we clap, the kid comes out and says she isn't home...hmm... So we do some contacts around the house, and heard a few "otro dia", so I asked "when could we come by again, since today you are busy?" and the lady says, "I have my religion" so I said "that's great! we actually share a message about Christ. What is your religion?" and she responded with "I don't know, any other religion that's not yours (rough translation)"...nice!... So we proceeded to another house where an investigator lives, and a 20 yr. old kid is there. We get to know him for a little, he says he lives there, so we ask him to let the investigator (Liz) know that we were there. He says "Liz...there is no Liz that lives here..." Meanwhile I can see the daughter of Liz, and so I said "are you sure? Her daughter is right there". He follows by saying "oh...LIZ!..ya, she moved"... I say "without her daughter?" Then the little daughter says, "She didn't move, she's just hiding in the bathroom!" I just looked at the guy for about 10 seconds, trying my very best to be patient and loving haha so I said, "well, it looks like she didn't move" and laughed it off. I thought it was a pretty funny story...point of it is, just be honest in all your doings or you will turn out like that guy and look foolish.
Point of it all, is that even amidst all the lies and hatred, the Gospel of Jesus Christ will move on boldly to all those ready to accept it. I know that people are being prepared, and that its my job to talk to everyone and find them! We have a baptism planned for this week for Marilda, keep us here in your prayers! Thanks for the love and support.
Until next week,
Elder Babcock