|Adam with the Aire Libre Primary|
This week I learned something quite remarkable. I am no longer an 18 year old kid from California, brushing away ants and wiping sweat off my brow, as I write you all from a dirty table and lawn chair in the middle of Esmeraldas. Now I am a 19-year old kid from California, brushing away ants and wiping sweat off my brow, as I write you all from a dirty table and lawn chair in the middle of Esmeraldas! I had a birthday and it was possibly the best one I’ve ever had. Let me explain why.
To be quite honest, I thought it was going to be like any other day out here, and truthfully, that is how the day started. We woke up and got ready early and quickly went to work gathering up and helping people get to church. This morning there was a drunk fellow that really wanted to come to church and we let him in, because c’mon, it’s church. He sat in the back quietly making odd noises and crying to himself. The second hour of church followed suit with the “normalities” when our church dog decided to sit at my feet. I’ve decided that he’s a real follower of Christ because he doesn’t belong to anyone, yet every Sunday he comes in and sits down for a nap under the fan. He’s more punctual than most of the church goers here! After hour 2 finished I shuffled along and quietly took my seat for priesthood meeting (a meeting where all the men gather). To be honest my mind was on my family, the events of home, and all of them getting ready for church 4,000 miles away. I wondered if they would have cake and ice cream even though I wouldn’t be with them that night.
It was in the middle of this thought when I felt a finger of a small hand tap my left shoulder 3 times. I turned to see a small boy that beckoned in hushed Spanish for my companion and I to “venga, venga” which we did. He led us to the room where the primary meets (classes for the kids aged 3-12). When he opened to door I saw about 20 children, giggling and covering their mouths, who all were excited to see me. They immediately started singing happy birthday after putting a Minnie Mouse party hat on my head. Their song was horribly out of tune and they replaced my name with “hermano” out of difficulty pronouncing Ericksen, but it was beautiful! Even though I’ve only been in this area for about a month and I barely know anyone, they were so incredibly excited for me and my happiness perked up because of theirs. I was so happy I immediately started shaking their hands to thank them each personally. While I was doing this, one of the teachers brought out a huge Tres Leches cake with a single candle. After I blew out the candle (and made a really good wish), I indulged in this delicious symbol of celebration.
This birthday didn’t have presents. I didn’t have a big dinner. I didn’t have my friends. I didn’t even have my parents with me. But in that moment, choking back tears, surrounded by those kids, with that cake in front of me, offered by a woman that doesn’t have much, I had every single thing I needed to be truly happy. I don’t know how the primary found out that it was my birthday, I seriously don’t know where they got the party hat, and I don’t know how much it cost to make the cake. But what I do know is that those feelings that quickly overcame me taught me a powerful lesson. In that moment, I felt true philanthropy, I’m going to choose to call it true Christ-like love in this context, and I learned that this is true happiness. Things of the world are lovely and bring much joy, don’t get me wrong. However, now I know without a shadow of a doubt, that what really matters are relationships, kindness, charity, and selfless goodwill in this shaky world. These things radiated through these kids and their leaders and even though they all may never know how much I appreciated and truly needed what they did for me, their acts of Christ-like love made my day unforgettable in every sense of the word.
(Videos of the song and handshaking - provided by hermano Tello)
(Videos of the song and handshaking - provided by hermano Tello)
Cheesy moral of the story? Make the world tomorrow a little better than it was today. Smile at a stranger. Tell your parents you love them. Hug the people that matter to you and make sure they know it. Give to those that have not, and forgive all their offences. Be a friend to someone that could possibly be lonely. Tell someone happy birthday. But most of all, enjoy the time you have, and indulge in the things that bring true happiness – relationships, kindness, charity, and selfless goodwill.
Have an amazing week and Happy Halloween.
Other tidbits relevant to this week:
- On Thursday and Friday Adam travelled to Quito for verifications. He was able to reunite with his group from the missionary training center and catch up with them on their first month in the mission field. Adam enjoyed hearing about the other areas of the mission and commiserating about frustration with the language.
- Adam really enjoyed the much cooler weather in Quito. While there, his mission president took all the new missionaries to a place called El Panecillo.
- Hearing about the other areas of the mission makes it tough not to feel a little jealous given the heat, dirt and bugs of Esmeraldas. “But I’m thankful and excited because it can only go up from here.”
- While taking the bus between Quito and Esmeraldas a gentleman was making the rounds collecting money for “los ninos”. Adam and Elder Palmer, carrying only pamphlets and their scriptures, offered a pamphlet about the restoration. The man made a “huge ordeal of this saying that ‘our brothers of God’ wanted to help out” before inviting them to read and share their thoughts – which they did, teaching the entire bus.
- Adam seems to be in very good spirits and (it’s hard to say “finally” but I will) adjusting to life in the field.
- This Sunday was the annual primary sacrament meeting where the kids 3-12 give talks and sing songs. The chapel was decorated with ballons, streamers and drawings the kids made in preparation for the meeting – a bit more festive than the equivalent meetings in the US.
- The primary-sponsored birthday celebration for Adam was the result of me whispering via Facebook to a member in the branch there that Adam’s birthday was on Sunday and to please tell him happy birthday from his family back home when he saw him at church. In conversation I hinted that in the US its customary for the kids to sing to other kids who’ve had a birthday (you know, “you’ve had a birthday shout hooray, HEY!). Well, the members really grabbed hold of the “whisper” and the big production, song and cake (they made a CAKE!) was a complete surprise. Lisa and I both shed a few tears yesterday when Hermano Tello sent pics and video of the song. GRACIAS AL HERMANO TELLO, LA PRIMARIA Y LOS NINOS DE LA RAMA AIRE LIBRE POR HACER QUE EL NINO MIO SE SINTIO RECORDADO EN SU DIA DE CUMPLE! Thanks brother Tello, the primary and the kids of Aire Libre branch for helping my kid to feel remembered on his birthday.
|Sunday lunch with the Ruiz family|
|Adam's "start" group including members of his district from the Mexico City MTC|
|Quito from the Panecillo|