Sunday, October 22, 2017

Week 61 - Seek Higher Ground

Dearest friends and family,
It strikes me as remarkable how much nature and our surroundings can teach us if we’ll notice. Call it the product of living in a variety of small cities out in the countryside for the last year, or call it enlightenment from being absorbed in my own thoughts as my feet pound the dusty roads or broken pavement all day long, but I have felt my eyes alighted, my nose filled with new sensations, and my ears tapped into a life-line of living, breathing lessons going on all around me, every day.
So we made it to the volcano Cayambe this last Monday and WOW, let’s just take a moment here to explain why this is a perfect example of what I’m trying to share. The 6 of us were climbing around the base camp and the air was super thin, so we weren’t really talking too much between us, which left me deep in thought without even really realizing it. As I looked back down the mountain I could see the sharp tree line where the denser forest suddenly gives way to small shrubbery-like plants and eventually thin mosses and flowers growing out of cracks among the rocks. I marveled how the weaker plants and trees are left-behind as only the strongest and more properly adapted plants are able to grow at the much higher altitude. It’s like these plants burst through into a better level, where they can live and breathe, free from distraction of the less suited plants. It got me thinking how we need to be like these plants. We have to leave behind those things that aren’t suited for higher-quality life and break out into our own little space in the free, new air.
Even just the altitude itself – and all that has to do with acclimation - teaches a powerful lesson about life. We arrived at the base camp refuge house where we found lots of climbers doing little drills and testing out their ropes and gear. It must be a necessary part of preparing for the climb to the top to camp out for several days at the refuge house where the altitude is 15,000 feet to let your lungs get the hang of breathing air that barely counts. I was very happy to be there to say the least, simply because of how fresh and unrestricted the destination was. I will definitely be returning one day but with intentions of seeing the summit. Sitting there, taking a little rest at the refuge house, I reflected on vivid memories of my first few weeks of acclimation to the mission. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t fun. However, now that I have my lungs I’m climbing at faster rates than I’ve ever imagined, pushing for the summit. And it seems that the thin air has become invigoratingly sweet to me. It fuels me and cleans me and reminds me of the challenges that I have already overcome. It also helps me keep fresh and present in my thoughts the true necessity of allowing yourself to become acclimated to your surroundings, since climbing without acclimation would be fatal.
We finished our adventure on the mountain at around 10 AM and made our way back to the truck soon after. We found our driver sleeping but we woke him and started the trek back down the mountain. Not long after the shocks on the rear axle of the truck broke on some rocks in the road, leaving us stranded in the rain, which quickly turned into fierce, heavy hail. Thank goodness it doesn’t hail often in San Diego because, wow, it really hurts! To lighten his load, we paid our driver and continued to walk down the hill while cars passed, unable to climb any further because of the weather conditions higher up. Some very nice people from Quito offered us a ride back to the town of Cayambe and we squeezed into the rear compartment of their Hyundai. While squished back-to-back against Elder Cuevas, I asked him if he felt ready to finish his training and be a normal missionary. His reply brought feelings of relief that I have done a decent enough job as his trainer. He said he has really enjoyed his training, that the time has flown by, and that he had learned more in the past 12 weeks than he ever imagined he would. He said he felt ready. And I know he is ready. He has the attitude to be a rugged and well-prepared plant capable of shooting up well beyond the trees.
Let’s be rugged and well-prepared plants. Pay attention to nature and I promise it will teach you something.
Lots of affection,

Elder Ericksen
Other tidbits:
  • This letter is almost 2-weeks old as Adam is now working in the office in Quito and wasn’t able to write until yesterday (Saturday). Look back 2 weeks in the archives if you’d like to see photos from their adventure up Cayambe.
  • I was pretty sad leaving Cayambe, to be honest. We teach the Sunday School Gospel Doctrine class and at the end I announced that I was leaving and all of my alumnos started crying. It was pretty depressing. They wanted to go outside and take photos and lots of other ward members came out as well (see photos). Bleh…leaving is the worst! There’s a photo of Elder Cuevas and I standing with about 10 people outside...that represents the fruits of the labor from the last 3 months of working in Cayambe. All of them were baptized or soon will be. Very emotional.
  • Quito is way different than anything I have ever experienced here in the mission. My companion, Elder Moon from Boise is great, and I’m here with some of my best friends, Elder Morton and Elder Castagno. It’s like a dream come true. Its funny Elder Castagno and I have followed each other all around the mission haha. I hope my Spanish doesn’t weaken too much being around all these gringos haha. Castagno, Morton and I are working on a plan to ride motorcycles from Alaska to Argentina when we get home. I love these guys.
  • Today we all went to a science museum for p-day. I got to see some parts of the city that are very Spanish looking in the colonial sectors and Old Town. Quito is beautiful. There are no dirt roads and nothing is really that dirty. Everyone has cars. We live in an area called Iñaquito and President Murphy lives one street or so over from our sector. The people in our area are pretty cold, but the ones we are teaching are really intelligent…one is a doctor and she takes notes during the lessons. We are definitely not in the campo anymore. J
  • The secretaries tend to stay in the office for 4 transfers so I’m expecting to be here for the next 6 months…it will be like April when I leave. Crazy!
  • I love you all so much. I am happy and getting my hang on all this new stuff. I miss you all! Have a great week!
Rescued off the mountain

Saying goodbye in Cayambe

Waiting on planes at the airport - at 3 in the morning - Johnny Rockets in Quito who knew?

More goodbyes

The tongue is out - it's still little kid Adam in there

Monday, October 16, 2017

Week 60 - Heading to the Office

Hey everyone. I am writing super early because I have received changes and my Pday has been moved to Saturday! I have been moved from Cayambe to a place called Iñaquito in the zone of Quito. It's a wealthy area in the capital city and I feel weird but I'm happy! President Murphy has called me to be the new finance secretary so I will be in Quito with lots of things to do working in the office for the next 6 months. Today we woke up at 4 am to drop a missionary off at the airport and tonight I have to do it again at 1 am. It is so weird being in the airport! It's also weird that I drove past a McDonald's heading to the office, the first one I have seen in 14 months. I'm hearing the first week of changes - with old missionaries leaving and new ones coming in - is really busy and that I wont be sleeping much.

Anyway I have letters written for this week and I'll send them on my new p-day next Saturday. My new companion is named Elder Moon, he's from Idaho and he's really cool...I'm excited to have a gringo companion, finally! I'm in shock about all the new responsibilities and expectations but I know there will be lots of blessings and that I'll be learning lots of new things. I love and miss you all and hope you have an amazing week. 

Talk on Saturday,

Elder Ericksen

Monday, October 9, 2017

Week 59 - The Subtleties of "Know"

Dearest friends and family,
You know, I’m realizing that there’s lots of things that get learned in the mission Ecuador Quito Norte. That was an awfully put together sentence. Can you tell I’m really tired? I hope not. Let me try that again.
I’m realizing that we missionaries are learning tons of little actions and habits that are specific to the culture and area of the world that we live in. For example, here in Ecuador the words “knowing” and “learning,” which are “saber” and “ensenar” in Spanish, have strong colloquial and contextual connotations with acclimation to or familiarity with a certain place or condition. When I arrived here in Cayambe many people would ask “te has ensenado?” to the city. They were basically asking if I had taught myself or had been taught by someone else the town of Cayambe in terms of being used to living here. Another illustration happened last night when Hermana Monica asked Elder Cuevas and me: “saben comer palomitas de maiz?” Word for word that sentence is asking if we physically knew how to eat popcorn, however the implied context is asking if we were accustomed to eating popcorn or if we liked eating popcorn. Obviously, we know how to eat popcorn. One last example so it sticks: Los miembros aqui en Cayambe saben llegar tarde a la iglesia. Literal translation: The members here in Cayambe know how to arrive late to Church. Ok? Good, it stuck.
So let’s get to my point. We missionaries “know” how to lots of things in the mission. We know how to eat – sometimes a lot of food – every single day. We “know” how to take showers with flip flops on. We “know” how to be ready with an inspirational thought in every moment because in any meeting, at any time, we are likely to be called upon to share without warning. Here’s a tricky one to see if you’ve been paying attention: We North Americans “know” how to forget how to talk English well here in the mission. I have lots more. We missionaries “know” how to travel lots. We “know” how to read in sketchy busses. We “know” how to fold up our suit coats when the situation arrives and put them into a backpack to do an impromptu interchange. We “know” how to get excited when you all send us pictures and emails and packages. We “know” how to eat lots of eggs, and I mean lots of eggs, because they’re easy to cook. We “know” how to prepare for changes in assignment every six weeks – which in fact will be upon us again next Saturday. I hope you aren’t bored.
Let’s get more personal. I have learned here how to eat lots of odd food items. On Thursday, Elder Cuevas and I were eating lunch with an extremely kind and generous woman who normally serves really quality food. This particular Thursday she served us a carne desconocida (unknown meat) in a mushroom sauce. Elder Cuevas didn’t recognize the meat which, for me, is a really bad sign because he’s the guy from Peru who loves fried liver and chicken heart soup. I asked him not to inquire about the mystery meat until I had finished because I was eating well – not entirely loving it mind you – but I was close to finishing and thanking her for it. Anyway, he finished his quickly and right after I finished me, he threw out the big question – hermana, que era la carne? Welp, turns out it was pig TONGUE.
Well I had lots more things I would wanted to include in this week’s letter but we were super busy working with a number of people over the weekend and I didn’t have time to finish. I’ll catch you next week. Know that I am doing well. Mission life is interesting.
Lots of love,
Elder Ericksen
Other tidbits:
  • Today the boys went to the Coca base of the Cayambe volcano which I believe is around 15,100 feet of elevation. The parking area and building seen in the photos below appears familiar to Youtube videos posted by hikers who have made the trek. It takes professional climbers about 8 hours to summit the remaining 3000 of elevation, it's all glacier from there. The boys obviously couldn't climb for a host of reasons, but I won't lie: I am feeling jealous and a little sad that I could be there to discover and experience this incredible place with my son today. Trust me when I say he will one day soon "ensenarme" this beautiful place and we'll do it with a bag of biscochos and a thermos of hot chocolate in our camel pack. :) What sheer beauty!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Week 58 - There is a Better Way Than Simply Fleeing

Dearest friends and family,

Part of the high school curriculum here in Ecuador involves all of the students basically pledging allegiance to the country in an expression of respect. We were pretty disturbed entering into a discussion between Marcia Chavez and her son as he explained that in his school the LDS kids along with kids from other churches were forced to stand off to the side during the allegiance ceremony and were prohibited from participating. His observation was quickly followed by a statement that: “from now on, I don’t want to take any more lessons from the hermanos.”

Sometimes people can ask a really tough question or catch us off-guard as missionaries, leaving us to stammer for a moment as we consider which one of us is better equipped to respond. After hearing the statement of Marcia’s son, Elder Cuevas and I looked at one another, and then he gave me a little nod basically saying “yep – you’re up.” And just as I was about to open my mouth, Hermana Marcia surveyed her children in the room and then shared her thoughts on the matter in a way that impacted me and my thought process. I apologize that her statement doesn’t have the same ring in English but she basically said to her sons: “No, that is not the answer. If I had been there at the ceremony, I would have marched myself down to the stage and told every single one of those children: ‘Be calm. Sometimes God allows opposition just because He wants to see what we are going to do about it.” She then explained that she would have then gone over and punched the director for segregating the kids like that…we all laughed (and hoped she was only kidding).

It was easy to build off Hermana Marcia’s comment and I added my own opinion that God permits us trials to help us see if we will permit ourselves to be taught by them. I then asked the son how he was going react which prompted a long and uplifting discussion about what God expects from him and us. Basically the thought that I’m trying to extract from my brain and get down on paper is that, in many circumstances of opposition, there is a better way than simply fleeing. When the trial comes, it is time to raise that head up with grace and calmly look for the thing God would have us learn for it. It was, for me, an edifying conversation.

We left Marcia’s house and headed back toward the chapel. Walking by, I noticed a little head duck down behind a wall on the basketball court. We investigated a little more closely and found several children running around and playing on the courts. I laughed a tiny bit and poked my head in further. When they saw us, they all booked it and jumped the fence, not looking back even once. It made me laugh. A little exodus. I’m well and happy. Talk soon,

-          EE

In another observation (as a parent), I'm trying hard to ignore the apparent 3 pizza per boy ratio in the photo below. I'm sure there must be more missionaries around not pictured. Right? 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Week 57 - Cruising Along

Dearest friends and family,

Hello friends and family. Welcome to the Elder Ericksen weekly update. What can I say? I am crazy busy, which I think has been an overall theme for the last two months. I’ve become rather fond of expressing a good week-to-week summary. It helps me reset my mind. So here I am! I’m going to shoot out a few bullet points for this week:
  • In the mission the Latin elders have the opportunity to learn English from the North Americans and part of that is done with little quizzes given over the phone by the office secretaries from Quito. Elder Cuevas has been really excited about learning English and I have been helping him pass off lots of these quizzes. The one observation I have had is that these calls are one of the most stressful events that can happen for the Latin missionaries because it is really hard to understand English over the phone.
  • I am eating way more food than any human ever should be allowed to. We have a very large pool of Investigators to visit that are progressing nicely and basically all of them invite us to eat something after we’re done teaching. It’s a very nice gesture every one, but I have been feeling a little sick from all the food lately. A couple of nights ago I got up at 2 AM to puke simply because I was too full. I am always full.
  • We have tons of people to visit here and we are stretched pretty thin, especially at night. We have at least 10 different families who want visits every week and who are only available after 7pm. Tonight we did a division where I went out to teach with one man from the church (Luis Guerrero) and my companion went out with a different man from the church (Jackson Mendoza) just so we could cover more of our appointments. It was fun and effective.
  • I am super excited about the General Conference of the church happening next weekend. It will be so edifying and emotionally satisfying to see something familiar from the US. The messages also always really lift me up and inspire me.
I love and miss you all despite really enjoying being here in Ecuador. I am a very satisfied missionary.

With love,

Elder Ericksen

Monday, September 18, 2017

Week 56 - You Gotta Have A Good Morning On Your Wedding Day

Dearest friends and family,

It’s sad that I had to go to Ecuador to figure this out, but we kids from California really are the best. I really should have known way before, as if it wasn’t obvious, but now I’m certain of it. We received a new missionary in the district this week from California’s Central Valley, Elder Vega, and he is quickly becoming a great friend. I knew we were going to get along well from the moment we met last Monday when I saw his Volcom t-shirt and Nike Janoski shoes, particularly my uniform back home. There was just an air about him. Upon seeing us greet one another, some sister missionaries from other parts of the US made fun of us saying: “Look, it’s so obvious Elders Ericksen and Vega are from Cali.” I quickly made the joke that was begging to be made that it was obvious they weren’t from California because no one from California would ever say “Cali” like that. I’m funny. J

Now that I’m thinking about it, I really enjoyed P-day this last Monday. I got to spend time with other missionaries, we played an epic game of dodgeball, and we ate something pretty good food. The rhythm of the week continued at this same, smooth pace and I’m really glad for that. On Tuesday we had the privilege and blessing of seeing 2 of our favorite investigators get married at the Registro Civil office. It stuck out to me how it’s very intense in the moment when the judge says: “Are you here by your own free will and do you want to get married to this person?” (Rough paraphrasing). What I took away from that moment is that you’ve really got to have a good morning on the day of your wedding, eat a good breakfast, and be in a good mood because, wow, everything could get ruined quickly if one of the pair shows up and says “you know what, I actually don’t want to get married. This fool didn’t even wash his cereal bowl this morning.” Luckily nothing like that occurred on Tuesday and Luis and Soledad's ceremony was great.

On Wednesday, Elder Vega came to my area in Cayambe for an interchange. We ate a quick lunch with some members that live a little outside of town, shared a brief message with them, and then went out to work. We accomplished a lot, feeding off one other’s work ethic and his fresh-from-the-MTC newbie attitude. We found a woman in our path who shared a cool story with us about her journey from New York to Ecuador. I doubted at first the validity of her story because she didn’t remember much English. But all doubts were resolved when she offered us a drink…with ice! It was interesting how we all looked at each other in a moment of mutual understanding over something as small as a couple of cubes of ice.

Truth is, culture is amazing. I’m going to keep my opinions to myself but I’ve definitely observed lots of things that I like here more than where I come from and lots of things here that I like a lot less. More than anything, the impression that arrives to me time after time is that it’s nobody’s fault the world is so big and so different in its many corners – it’s just how we are and that’s okay. Let’s just accept our differences and be happy!

The week finished strong with another interchange with Elder Welch in his area in Otavalo. We talked all day long and produced an epic day in nearly every aspect of missionary work. I opened saying California kids are the best but Elder Welch gets included in my self-righteous complement because he’s simply amazing. Had we met before the mission, we would have been the closest of friends. After we finish this mission thing, I’m going to have lots of people to visit all around the world. And that’s awesome.

Lastly, we had the privilege of participating in the baptisms of some people the last couple of weeks, including Luis and Soledad on Saturday. And like that the work moves along. I’m without complaints, I’m staying positive, loving and learning more every day. I’ll be seeing you before we know it. Have an amazing week.

Elder Ericksen