Sunday, July 22, 2012

Look alike friend

This week was sweet because we were in Helsinki for a Meeting and also for my companion’s language training. It was really fun staying in Helsinki with the other missionaries. It is always a good time. We woke up and played pool one morning and floor ball the next. Then went to our meetings. Very long, but very good. We talked about all the basics of missionary work. Then, one of the days was the 4th of July and so everyone wore either red white or blue and we took a big picture trying to look like the flag.  We also went out to the American restaurant to celebrate our patriotism.
I also had a chance to go the Finnish Temple. It had been a while and it was fun to get back there. The temple is in such a pretty area. There are just fields and fields and then a wide open area and then boom, the temple. They did a really good job of making it stick out, but in a good way. The Finnish Temple rocks.

We came back from our trip and had some good teaches. It was really cool to go with one of our investigators to church. He is a cool guy from Ethiopia, and has hair like Bob Marley although not as long (I told him he should grow it out) He didn’t have a tie so we gave him one of ours. The other great thing was that a referral showed up at church as well. He is a African American Finn who has a dreaded mohawk and is a Finnish rapper. They are both really cool guys and it was fun to introduce them to people at church. "Hi, this is my Bob Marley look alike friend and this is my Finnish rapper friend" I didn’t say that, but I did feel pretty sweet.

This week we had our investigator with a baptismal date in church. She is doing really well and I often feel like she is too perfect of an investigator for us to teach. But, we have been praying that everything will go well and that God will continue to guide her.

We bought some cray fish last week just because they look exotic and I had never tried them. A couple days later we thawed them out and tried to figure out how to eat them. We eventually got it and they were actually pretty good, but just really weird. Vanhin Kääriä only ate one and so I tried to finish the rest off but just couldn’t do it. I probably downed about 15 though. They tasted like shrimp only a little more salty. I smelled like fish the rest of the day.

That’s about all this week. Thanks for all the support.
I love and miss you all.
Vanhin Merkley

Great lessons I'm learning


This week was a good one. We had splits in Rauma and I was told to bring my guitar. I was going on splits with a guy named Elder Manwaring. He is really musically talented and so we planned to play together outside (because he has a mandolin) and lay out some Book of Mormons and see what would happen. We had not practiced together very much and I’m quite terrible at playing along with someone and keeping beat because I so often only play along. But it was really really fun. We just played through some basic church songs and he sang. (I actually somewhat sang during a few of them, but I still hate singing so it wasn’t very loud haha) There were a few people who came by and looked at the Book of Mormons a little bit, but it just felt really good to change it up and do something different. After a while, he continued to play and I went and contacted people. Overall, it was a really great time. And it gave me some good ideas for my future as a bum. I can play, get some coins, buy some food and repeat. What else does a guy need! Wow, so many great lessons I am learning.

We had a sweet dinner appointment with the man who always gives us bear hugs. He took us out to this little beach place where they had a cafe. We had some fries and chicken nuggets (I do eat meat in dinner appointments...) and then we walked out to this awesome beach. It was pretty windy so the waves were blowing through which looked pretty awesome. There were also tons of close islands full of pine trees making the overall scene really sweet.

Thanks for all the letters and love.
You’re all the best. Love you. 
Vanhin Merkley

Sunday, July 15, 2012

President visit, piano duets

Hello to all!
Last Monday started off really well. Right after emailing the family, we headed off to meet up with President and Sister Madariaga (Mission President) to visit  a family.  We did an absolutely superb visit. Right off the bat, they started talking and became instantly best friends. We read in Matthew 28 about Christs call to the Apostles, and that 3 of those 12 appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith to restore that same power, authority, and call to go and make disciples, baptize, teach the commandments, etc. We then read in 3 Nephi 11, and talked about how Christ also did the same thing in the Americas by calling Apostles, and giving them authority to teach, baptize, etc. President and Sister Madariaga each bore solemn testimony that the church is true, and of the cleansing power of baptism. All 3 of them strongly committed to baptism, and committed to the 15th to be baptized. We all left the visit feeling on top of the world. _____ followed us out to the gate and wanted us all to stay there because of how good she felt. Those feelings, of course, were those of the Holy Ghost. Later that night we received changes, and Elder Andreasen and I are staying together for another change! We are both very, very content with that. He is a great companion.
Another quick highlight, I got a call from Christian from my first area who I had baptized. Well, he has been preparing to leave for his mission to Chile, and he called to say that he is going through the temple to receive his temple endowment! And I talked to President, and I get to accompany him! We are both so excited. I feel so honored to have been able to find him and help him to get on the path. He is a great convert to the gospel, and will be a great missionary and endowed member. I cannot wait.
I included a picture of me studying there with a sweatshirt and winter gloves because it was FREEZING cold this last week! Man, I would have never imagined Paraguay as a cold country, but it is so humid and the cold pierces my bones. Today has been great though, not cold nor hot.
Elder Andreasen is an incredible pianist, and I have been practicing a lot. We have been working on a duet of "Praise to the Man" that we are planning on revealing tomorrow in a special conference we set up with President Madaraiga about Joseph Smith. We also yesterday made up a sweet one of "Teach Me To Walk" that we are going to do for the baptism this next Friday. I love the piano, it is so beautiful. I will let you know how they turn out.
We had a pretty tough week, but the whole situation with the Family has made any trial seem small and insignificant in comparison. They are such a special family. They are so converted. She even defended her "new religion" to her brother, who started to talk bad about the church!  She has become nothing less than a spiritual giant, and we are so proud of her. I know that all people can change and repent. Of all the things I have learned in my mission, I think that change has been the biggest lesson I have learned. Have faith in the changing and atoning power of the Atonement. Everyone can change. Everyone!  Through the Book of Mormon, friendships of members, blessings, and the Holy Ghost, she has slowly started to change and be converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I feel so blessed to have been called to serve in the "promise land" of Paraguay. It has become my new home, and I love Paraguay. Keep us in your prayers! Love you all!
Until next week,
Elder Babcock

The Young Women Have It Right!

My new comp is pretty great from Sonora, like right beneath Utah and Arizona in a city Obregon. He’s twenty as well and lived from 10 years old to 17 years old in Mesa, Arizona. He’s ends his mission in three months and it’s fun to just be able to rant in English or Spanish.
So I wanted to share something I learned this week, but that impacted me a lot. I was thinking of the young women’s theme song or whatever they say every week, and listened to a BYU devotional talk on... Divine Nature. It came to my mind that too much in the church, or at least in Mexico, I didn’t really pay too much attention in the US, we focus on "el hombre natural" the natural man is an enemy to god!!! Grrrrhhhh (evil sound effects) I’ve always liked that and how we can become saint by the atonement and all... but I loved 2 Peter 1... The only two places in the scriptures if I’m not wrong that say "Divine" is 2 Peter 1: 3 and four. We may be participants of divine nature. We are of a divine nature and have a naturally holy side, I think it is better to focus on our divine nature and the natural man will automatically go away... The young women have it right :)
You asked about our Ward and the new mandates for member referrals only... Oh the members aren’t that exited, it’s like one of the oldest wards in Monterrey so they feel like they have talked to all of their neighbors and it’s like a box.... Missionary work: Check      Don’t really understand the process. But we will be working with them and just being as excited as my twenty one teeth can be :) (I really don’t know how many teeth I have) But we have been able to find some new investigators through the part member families. Love ya!

My Life and My Light

Hello to all!
We had another quite splendid week! My companion and I are having a blast together, teaching with the Spirit, sharing similar ideas, and really loving the people with which we are working. Our ward is basically hit rock bottom...We still have no Bishop, no
counselors (obviously), no priesthood callings yet, nothing. They are having to send High Council members of the stake here to direct our meetings. Basically everyone moved or fell away at once, so it has been a big obstacle that has impeded a bit the work, but we are dedicated in the work and are working to overcome it.
....They were a little doubtful that I knew how to play soccer and all, so I casually did a nice "around the world" 4 times in a row and they seemed a little more convinced haha.  Tonight we set up a special FHE with them and President and Sister Madariaga (Mission President), so in about an hour we will be doing that visit. We are hoping to have a really spiritual one, and that they can commit fully to be baptized.
This morning we had Zone Leader Council and it was really powerful.  President came out and told us that the Lord is pleased with our work, but not satisfied. He then proceded to talk a little bit about how we need to be better examples, especially in the number of baptisms in our areas. We are trying to work better at that, and I feel like we are improving. I got to hang out with Elder Colligan all afternoon, his companion is so cool, he is from chile and likes Radiohead, so we of course get along just fine.
I am loving the mission, my companion, the zone, my leaders, the people we are teaching, our ward, my family, and the opportunity that I have to represent the Lord. This last week was great reading in the Book of Mormon about Ammon. What a missionary. While reading about his mission among the Lamanites, I was pondering about my own mission "among the Lamanites" and how there are many similarities. There were some tough people. There have been many times where I have felt overwhelmed, discouraged, disappointed, frustrated, thinking that there is no more hope. But, those times have been few in comparison to the joy that I have felt in seeing my Paraguayan brothers and sisters accept us, listen, feel the Spirit, repent, read the Book of Mormon for the first time, offeer heartfelt prayers, knowing the Church is true, being baptized and confirmed as members of that Church, and start their process in enduring to the end. Alma 26 became a very special chapter that I will always hold dear to my heart, especially verse 36, which in spanish, talking about his mission, says: "Esto es mi vida y mi luz, mi gozo y mi salvación, y mi redención de la angustia eterna." The mission has been exactly that for me, and I am forever grateful for it. Love you all, remember us in your prayers!
Until next week,
Elder Babcock

A frustrating, hopeful Sunday...

Hello to all!
It is always fun for P-day to come around, to be able to reflect on the week and let all of you at home know how everything is going down here in good ol´ Paraguay! Things are...más o menos right now, we had many good and bad things happen last week.
Some highlights were that we are working very well with our members. We are teaching many quality lessons to our investigators with members present, and I have come to realize that the testimony of a member in a lesson is so powerful! I am loving the members here, they have become super open to helping us, and to go out and do visits.
Also, out of nowhere,the son of a mother, was preparing to be baptized. We organized it all, and he chose me to baptize him. It was really cool, the water was pure freezing. As I was preparing to do the baptism, I had a great thought come to mind: In the church, there are so many times when out of nowhere the priesthood is needed urgently, such as a blessing or ordinance, and it made me feel so happy that I was able to help out without any notice before hand. I am thankful for the priesthood, it blesses lives.
Yesterday had many ups and downs.  We were sitting there at church with basically no members and 1 investigator, and I was pretty sad about the whole situation. I remember that I was pretty upset and frustrated about the whole thing, and that so many people that said that they'd go, hadn't showed up. I turned to D&C 121 and started to read about Joseph Smith and all the trials he faced (which for the record were much more severe than mine yesterday). It hit me with a nice slice of humble pie, I realized that people do have agency, and that those that faithfully serve the Lord are always blessed, even when the situation seems dark and bumpy. At that very moment, I saw ____ and ____ through the window, and realized that the Lord was looking out for us. I have been trying not to get so down when things don't go my way, it has been something that as I have had more desires to share the gospel and help others, I have also been getting more down when people don't do what is right. I know that God has a plan for us, and that our agency is key for our growth. I have come to learn that in a very real way in the mission, and even though sometimes it would be nice if investigators didn't have agency, and would just be forced to keep commitments for their own good, I know that it is a blessing and is the only way to truly grow.
Pray for us and the people here in Paraguay! Love you all!
Until next week,
Elder Babcock

Sunday, July 8, 2012

New Mission Process - No Street Contacts or Knocking Doors

   Heeeey Family How are ya?
I’m doing pretty great here in Mexico. I have some bad news and some good news...
The bad news is that three months went by like a flash and Elder Fowler heads to Matamoros tomorrow :( How sad. But it’s been pretty great to have been together and we’re stoked for after the mission.
The good news is that Consuelo’s kids were baptized and it went really really well. It surprised us how well it went. They used to be fighty and whiney and shy and all that and we thought it was going to be almost impossible to get them to be baptized, but they have changed and the hermana Consuelo is doing great. By the way Scarlet who got baptized last week stood up and gave the cutest testimony ever. She’s such a cutie. That’s the good news. My new companion is going to be Elder Avila, who was actually in my district when I started in Matamoros. I’m just stoked to be with him. He speaks pretty good English, probably better than mine because I think he’s from like Tijuana and went to high school in the United States.
The mission is going to change kind of a lot in the next few weeks and for the rest of my mission. They started a new rule, (Richard G Scott) that it is strictly prohibited to talk with people in the streets, and it is strictly prohibited to knock doors. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. I thought if there is not going to be any of that.... What are we going to do? How am I going to get tan in the sun? Naw but really we are only going to work with members and member references. I’ve received like one member reference in these three months so... it’s definitely going to be a change and a triumph if we can do it. I think it’s going to be like a preparation for living in Utah. Pure Less active member activating! I’m excited to keep working. What a blessing it is be here and have such great experiences. Love you guys so much and I’ll try to get some pictures across. Elder Rhodes

Monday, July 2, 2012

Visa Renewals

This week was kinda crazy. We had a few normal days until Wednesday, when the mission secretary called and said I was to go to Oaxaca on Thursday to sign some papers to renew my visa. And so, we had to go get some pictures for my visa, and were running around trying to leave all of the investigators in a good position while I was away for Thursday and Friday. I traveled to the city with Elder Orth (he was in the MTC with me, also from Sandy) and it took about 5 hours to get there. Apart from all the curves, I love the bus rides here. Its really awesome driving through the mountains and seeing all of the little pueblos and the style of life for some of the people here. When we got there (around 10 on Thursday night), the assistants to the presidente picked us up with 2 other elders from our generation (same time in the mtc) and we went and ate some hamburgers. Then, waking up on Friday we went to sign our visa papers, and were given some time to walk around and check out the city. We went trough the big market and I ended up buying a Mexico jersey for 100 pesos. It is sweet and like I said I'll send you some pictures next week. Then, we made our journey back with my package and a few others for other missionaries, and arrived back in Juchitan around 8 30 Friday night. Saturday a kid named Juan got baptized. His family are all members, but have been inactive. He just turned 9 on Saturday, and had mentioned to his parents that he wanted to get baptized. And so we made the arrangements, and had a few lessons with him, and he was baptized on Saturday (I will also try to send pictures next week). We were excited that he felt that desire all on his own, and feel that it will be the little tug that the family needs to stay active and support their children. I played a hymn in the baptism from one of the tabs you sent me (I am a child of god) but made the mistake of not watching my guitar beforehand, and when I got up there and started playing I realized it was way out of tune. I think someone was playing with it and messed up the tuning before. And so it sounded pretty terrible but luckily the people here are quite tonedeaf and so it wasnt too bad. There is also another family that we are teaching. A little about them... This kid (Martin) has been going to church alone for a while. He had wanted to get baptized but said his parents never gave him permission. And so, last transfer, Elder Tovar and I went to talk to his parents, initially with the intent of getting permission for him to be baptized. It turned out that the dad was recently in an accident and was basically home all of the time because of his broken leg (broken in the same spot I broke mine). They didnt give him permission because they said he was too young, but they did accept that we could go and teach Martin every week, and because of the dads health situation, he was always in the lessons. Long story short, the dad has come to love the teachings and has felt their truthfulness, and expressed to us a desire to be baptized - as a family. And so right now we are working with the whole family so that they can all feel that same desire and get baptized together. But, if not, the dad will most likely get baptized within a couple of weeks. It is a really awesome family and an awesome story. It is a testimony to me that the Lord prepares the way for those who are ready to hear the Gospel. I know that Jesus Christ and our Father in Heaven live. I love them and their plan for us. It is perfect. I know the Book of Mormon is true and can guide us in the worst and best moments of our life, if we study it with a spirit of prayer. The Holy Ghost is our constant guide, we just need to learn how to listen to it , recognize it, and have the courage to follow it. It is sometimes hard, but it is always the right way.

District Meeting at Zapandu

Taylor Aftermath of a Rain Storm

Happy 21st Birthday Elder Millet

All is good in Zapandu. The week was good and we have started to see some progress in a few investigators. If all goes really well this week there will be a baptism on Saturday or Sunday. This week we had a multi zone conference and President Leyva came and spoke with us. It was a really good experience and we learned a lot. Yesterday one of the 70s came and spoke to us in our Stake conference. The talks were mostly based on tithing, temple attendance, and topics that can help us as members have a more firm foundation in the gospel. I feel really old. There are missionaries here that are 18, my companion is 19, and here I am between the old, balding ones. This week we had a conference with President Leyva for all the distict and zone leaders. All of the areas from this part of Oaxaca (which is commonly known here as the istmo, which I think means skinny part of land between the water) came and we learned and ate together. Right now I am in an area called Zapandu (which is a barrio, or ward). It is in a city called Juchitan, one of the more well known cities in Oaxaca. It is full of traditions and culture. Today we passed through the market and all the old ladies have very distinct voices for selling their products (tortillas, bananas, iguanas, really whatever you need...) They scream in a really high pitched, piercing cry. I guess its a good technique to get peoples attention. The rains started coming this week. On friday we were walking in water past the knees. I took a picture and will attach it. When it is raining, it is cooler, but after it rains it gets really hot here. Our house here is made of concrete, as most houses are here. Although really old - we do have 2 couches in the house. Its one of the few houses with couches in the mission. Its a good house and covers all of our needs. The shower is that little hole in the wall. Supposedly there was a missionary here who had some anger problems and pulled the shower head off. But, the hole works well haha. My clothes are starting to show a little wear. The collars in the shirts are wearing down, the belt loops on my pants are wearing down, and my belt is getting a little worn. My shoes are pretty worn out, but I only use them on Sundays. I wear my boots most of the time, and they show almost no wear. The ward here is really awesome. In his time apart from being a private school principal, we always see the bishop out doing visits. And although few, there are other members like him that really get to work. There are about 50-60 strong members, and the majority of them work really well, even if we need to pull them a little. I plan to teach my kids spanish, it would be really helpful if they could learn from a young age. I feel very blessed to be on a mission, serving the Lord. I love spanish, I love Oaxaca (the food, people, culture, not so much the weather...), I love being a missionary and being able to learn more every day. I am very grateful for the gift of agency, and the power to act. I love the Gospel of Jesus Christ and and know that it has been restored through a modern day prophet, Joseph Smith. Thomas Monson is a prophet of God. The Liahona just got here with all the conference talks and I am excited to go back over them. Those that speak are so inspired and I feel so much peace while listening to and reading their words. Les amo a todos. Gracias por todo lo que hacen. Cuidense mucho! Sean seguros, y como papa diria, usen buen

Sunday, July 1, 2012

It's the right thing to do


We moved our apartment around this week. I learned a good lesson about how its important to measure things out first because it really stinks when you push the last thing into place and realize it sticks out about 1 ft. We ended up with making due with what we had and leaving the apartment partially rearranged. Its one of those things that you say you’ll get around to fixing but then 4 months later you realize you have been skirting around the bookcase every time you had to get to the kitchen and the problem could have been fixed long ago with just the slightest effort on your part. Ya, it’s one of those.

We also had a lesson with a recent convert woman who has the most energetic 8 year old I have ever met. The first teach I had with them, I was a little shocked with the random screams and the crawling across the table to play rock, paper, scissors with one of the missionaries. But now I’m used to it and cant help cracking up at her random outbursts. They are not the most spiritual lessons but I think that the mother does appreciate them. They are a really cool family. I just wish I could film one of the lessons, so that you could truly see what I am talking about.

This week was Juhunnus. Which is the holiday where people head out to the country, drink beer, burn a big bonfire, and drink more beer. Its funny how many Finnish holidays involve drinking a lot. For missionaries, we are just supposed to stay home and do work inside our apartments. Not exactly my idea of fun but we did our best to stay productive. One thing was watching the "Driver Safety" video which we are required to watch once a change (even though we have no car). We popped some popcorn and pulled out the Tutti Frutti (my favorite candy here in Finland) and learned about how we can drive more carefully. The only downside is I ate way too much candy and felt kind of sick afterwards. When it comes to Tutti Frutti, I just can’t stop.

I’m at an interesting point of my mission where I still have a lot of time left, but I am starting to see the edge of the horizon that is the ending of my time here in Finland. Most days, I feel almost rushed like I need to squeeze the rest out of every second I have. But of course there are also the times where I just hope time would speed up. This feeling comes mostly when teaches fall through or we have huge blocks of time with not much to do. The mission is very interesting that way. It’s tiring, hard, and long but also peaceful, fun and it goes by fast. You can’t really explain it in just a few words.  One thing that does not change though is the feeling that It’s the right thing to do. That has stayed the same throughout my whole time being in the mission field. I have learned a lot, and I am really grateful for that.

I am very thankful for all of you.
Love you all.
Vanhin Merkley

Working in Turku

My new companion is a great guy named Vanhin Kääriä. He is from Sweden. It is really new to all new missionaries but he has been coping with it really well and we have worked hard. It has been fun to have his fire while working. I have realized that as a missionary gets older, they sometimes build walls of "this is how this works, and that all there is" but it has been great to have his freshness.  Vanhin Kääri  has a personality that is very easy for me to get along with and he is very pure intended with everything he does.

This week we had the big conference down in Helsinki with all the missionaries. Elder Kopishke from the Quorum of the 70´s was there. I really liked him. He talked in a way that made us want to be better, but not in a stressful way. Sometimes, as a missionary, I feel like there are so many things I can be doing and should be doing better, but it is too much to handle all at once. And he made it seem nice and easy. There is always room for improvement, but It’s important to remember that it is a process. And it was really fun to see everyone. We got a picture with my MTC group. It is almost strange how good of friends my MTC group is. We are all such good friends that many of them will be rooming together at BYU when we get back, and I probably would be to if I wasn’t going to USU.

We have been working hard to find people because our teaching pool is a little low. We found one that is from Nigeria and very sincere. He took the Book of Mormon and was really excited to read it and pray. He said that it very well could be true and that he wanted to know. It was really cool.
We had an awesome teach this week with on old investigator who is now a current investigator with a baptismal date. About a week before we were going through the area book and we came to a name we thought we should call. So we called and set up a teach. We met with her and she told us about how the very second we had called her, she was thinking about churches in general and wishing she could find a way to be in contact with the missionaries again. And then, we called. She told us we were definitely led by the Holy Ghost. It was really cool to have an investigator show us how it all connected and that we actually were led. The member with us turned out to be a very good fit and we set a baptismal date for July 21. She is a very sincere woman and very in tune with her spiritual side. It was a really great experience to meet with her.

Everything is great here. It is a really beautiful time of year and I am especially lucky to be here in Turku at this time. I’m so thankful for all of you and all that you do. Thanks for the love and everything.
Love you all.
Vanhin Merkley