Monday, January 30, 2017

Week 23 - A Volcano, A Goose and Family

Dearest friends and family,

One of the things I worry about out here is that, because my days and weeks are so repetitive, I am going to reach a point where I don’t have anything new or exciting to share with all of you. I mean new things happen all the time, but the core structure of my days stays the same. I can put this worry aside for now because a lot of things happened this week that I want to write about. (What I’m also saying is that if there’s anything you would like to hear about, please, please SEND ME AN EMAIL AND ASK!)

Anyway, the things that happened this week just so happen to encompass 2 of the most sensitive moments that I have experienced this far in my mission. These things have also served to solify even further in my brain, why I’m here and why I’m going to continue pressing forward. You already know that we teach a lot of different kinds of people here in Ecuador. Some people are old, some are young, some are very interested in our message (see last week’s letter about “change”), some are not, but ALL OF THEM are unique and all of them bring their own special personalities into the process of teaching. I think I’ve already mentioned the Lopez family before in a previous letter, but they are some of the people who are undoubtedly unique and bless my life with their special personalities.

We visit the Lopez family frequently - but not too frequently because that becomes weird. They’re immigrants from Bogota Colombia and they haven’t forgotten their home country or its delicious recipes. If we used attendance sheets when we teach (which we don’t) theirs would read: 1) Mauricio, father, 2) Veronica, mother, 3) Lady, oldest daughter, 4) Natalia, youngest daughter and 5) Dylan, first child of Lady who’s about 6 years old. I really enjoy teaching this family because there’s just something different about them. They ask a lot of really poignant questions which transform the teaching environment into an open discussion with everyone present sharing a common desire to find the truth and ways to better their lives. Lady is ready to be baptized, she’s made the changes and has conviction. Now we’re just trying to catch up the rest of the family so that we can plan one baptismal service and have it be extra special. AND THEY’RE GETTING THERE! We were in their home this past Tuesday to share a message and answer their questions. When we finished, Hermana Veronica invited us all to the table to share in some Colombian chorizo (YUM!). While we were eating, she became really emotional and opened up, telling us that she’s feeling a peace and unity in her home that she’s never experienced before we started coming to visit. At this moment, I became really emotional and confessed that one of the reasons I love coming to visit them is because it’s the closest I’ve felt to a real family-type relationship since I left my home in California some 5 months ago. The whole evening made us really happy and thankful to be alive on the planet Earth. It was really special moment.

Another experience I had this week that was really special was Thursday night when we went to the farewell party of a young man named Gabriel who is leaving on his mission next week (Feb 6). About 35 members of the church attended and the family organized it. They hosted an open mic time where close friends and family of Gabriel were invited to say whatever they were thinking or feeling about his impending departure. Of course, you can imagine how this evening got really weepy, really fast. It was an interesting perspective for me, having been in the exact same spot as Gabriel only 5 short months ago. It touched me truthfully. It felt like I was part of something bigger than just myself, alone, here in Ecuador…it felt like I was part of his family. When the mic came to me, I shared a short thought and some advice, of course. But the moment that touched me most came from Gabriel’s little sister. When she stood up, I was immediately transported back to the night before I left, when my family did the same thing, in a smaller setting. I felt like my family was here with me, for just a moment. I am so thankful to have been invited to share in these special, tender moments with these families.

These experiences have me reflecting on the importance of family. Family really is the only place where you can encounter people who love you without agenda. And I shouldn’t even have to say that, of course, the definition of family can extend beyond the lines drawn by blood. Family is a beautiful thing and it is THE thing. Love your family! There will always be things that pull us away from our families, situations that are hard and tear-filled. However, after this night with Gabriel, I’ve realized that these hard situations also serve to create delightfully happy, tear-filled ones when the time apart comes to an end. In the most sincere way I can say, I look forward to crying with all of you in August 2018. Have an amazing week, everyone!

Until next time, with affection,

Elder Ericksen

Other selected tidbits:
  • Happy birthday, mom! I am so happy you are getting this letter on your actual birthday! I hope you have a moment or two just to relax and take a mental break today. I’m unbelievably sad I’m not there to help make that happen or to tell you, in person, how much I love you. But let me tell you something that happened this week. So people NEVER let us help them with service. And it’s not like we ask blindly, we look hard for ways to help and everyone always says no! So this week I heard that it was the birthday of a mom in our ward, Hermana Villareal. She is the same mom who says goodbye to her missionary son next Monday. So we were over on Thursday for lunch, answering questions about the mission, and eating delicious chicken soup. Hermana Villareal happened to have a cold and you could tell she wasn’t feeling well. So, when we finished eating lunch, I got up and started doing the dishes. At first she refused and told “no, don’t, I’ve got it taken care of”. But I told her it was my mom’s birthday this coming Monday and, because I wasn’t going to be able to do anything for her (you), I really wanted to do this small act of service for her. And she let me! And there was even a big pile of dishes from breakfast that I did as well! When she came in and saw everything done, she said thank you really sincerely, and I could tell she was relieved that she could go and sit down for a while. I felt really great after doing this and it helped me even more knowing that, even though I can’t help you right now, I could help someone. So, Happy Birthday, Mom!
  • We got to go to the volcano (Volcan Chiles)! It was the coolest thing ever, I can’t even begin to express. The pictures tell the story much better than I ever could, but it was amazing. You know that soundtrack that they have in the Matterhorn? Well, it’s real! The mountain made the exact same noise. I was so happy! And look at the wild llamas, Natty!!! And the natural, sulphur lakes that were green.
  • The other big event of the week is that the elders of the south bought a goose. Oh my goodness, where to begin? They went to this area for the whole day that was like 2 hours away. And I guess when they were waiting for the bus they saw a guy with geese and bought one. Now missionaries aren’t supposed to have geese, so they called President Murphy to repent and he laughed and said that they either had to let it grow big enough that we could all eat it (food not a pet) or they had to give it away. The plan, at first, was to grow it but it got super, super annoying with chirping and poop so they gave it away yesterday to Hermana Fatima (last week’s letter). El gonzo cost $5 dollars and his name is Moroni. [Does anyone need a reminder these are 18 and 19-year old young men? :)]
  • I found out that I LOVE this Colombian soup called Ajiaco. It’s a delicious chicken soup. You put cream in it to taste. Very warm, very good.
  • This week I was looking around for some shoes and a ward member laughed at me and said "su talla no existe aquì" - basically your shoes don’t exist here.
  • We go to Ibarra on Friday for a zone meeting and Sunday is cambios! [Incidentally - Adam’s former companion from Esmeraldas, Elder Fernandez, goes home with this change. So long Elder Fernandez, thanks for helping Adam acclimate to Ecuador!) It should be a good week. I will talk to you all soon. I think of you every single day and pray for you all at least 3 times a day. Have an amazing night tonight celebrating with mom!!!!!!
  • ps the church is true


Monday, January 23, 2017

Week 22 - Nesquiky Streets of Carchi Province

The road to the goose house on a drier day
Dearest friends and family,

Hello all of my favorite people! Happy Monday and happy week #23. It’s a pleasure to be writing you all. This week I would love to share a little story about the family of the loose geese. I’m not sure if I mentioned this in my last letter, but one of the things that is different about Tulcan compared to Esmeraldas is that my sector is quite large - like a 1-hour drive from one side to the other large. Also, because we occupy the northern part of Tulcan, one of those sides happens to be the Colombian border. Nonetheless, sometimes we have to go out to the extremities to visit members and new converts. The extremities is where we find the family of the loose geese.

The goose family are some of the nicest people that you will ever meet, I promise. The mom is named Fatima Gordon and she’s awesome! She’s the mother of 3 children and the mother to 4 pigs, 10 chickens, 5 lambs, 10-12 cuys (guinea pigs and for, well, at least a little while longer), and about 8 geese. It’s slightly funny but out of all these animals, it’s the geese that are the pets. Well, to be a little more specific, the geese are the pets of Fatima’s 9-year old and youngest son, Anthony. Just like his mom, Anthony is awesome. He is super cool, rocks a bowl cut, is missing some recently lost front baby teeth, speaks way better Spanish that I ever will, and is probably the most “with-it” 9-year old I have ever met. Anthony loves his geese and his geese love him. But the thing about geese is one of them is always escaped, out of the cage, and running around loose. I tell you all of this because it’s become somewhat normal for us to be part of the goose collection process.

So we are out visiting the family this past Tuesday and it was nothing out of the ordinary. This particular Tuesday it rained HARD for all of the 16 hours I was awake. These showers were part of a storm that actually brought 3-full days of rain and left all of the powdery, dirt roads extremely sloppy and muddy. Out where Fatima’s family lives the roads have really fine powder so adding water produces a Nesquik effect. Just like the last gulp of a big glass of chocolate milk, with the little river of chocolate mush slurping from the bottom of the glass, all of this fine dust becomes a slushy, rainy goop. Anyway, Elder Miranda and I hiked out past Narnia, through middle Earth and almost into Canada before arriving at the house of Fatima to find one of the geese is loose and this time it has not only escaped the cage but also the outer fencing and has gotten into the real soupy parts of the road. To make all of this even more exciting, the goose is fleeing for its life from Bobby – the family’s newly born puppy. (I’m not making this up, the dog’s name really is Bobby). So we first catch and corral Bobby who was nipping at our fingers playfully. We then went after the goose, who was screaming like crazy and irritating all of the neighbors’ dogs. We managed to run it back into the yard, past the sheep, and eventually back into the cage. This was all great and I was super delighted to help, but I got soaked. My pants were dripping wet, my hair was dripping wet, and my shoes were super muddy and dripping. But all of us were smiling and laughing, when we took a breather and realized what had just happened. Hermana Fatima thanked us and, being ever so generous, invited us to share a warm glass of Calabaza juice. I’m pretty sure Calabaza translates directly to pumpkin but I’ve seen these calabaza things before and it’s not pumpkin juice that we’re drinking. They’re small, white melons that grown on these short trees.

Anyway, to connect all of this random information into something to share this week, it’s that even though Hermana Fatima and I couldn’t be more different in the way we have lived our lives or in the things we’ve experienced in this world, we have a genuine friendship – we are part of the same human family. Even though Fatima is a 46-year old lady, living on a finca on the border of Colombia, I deeply care about her concerns and want nothing more than for her family to be happy. It’s been really interesting to see this change happening in me and I’m really glad that it’s happening. I think it’ll be really great to come home with all these new character traits – a new confidence. I don’t know, maybe I think too much. I hope all of you are enjoying your lives. Please remember if you ever have something you’d like to talk about, write me a letter! I sincerely care about all of you and am so thankful that people read these letters. Have an amazing week. 

Elder Ericksen

Some other tidbits:
  • We are teaching 3-4 people who would like to be baptized but can’t because they are not married. It makes me appreciate all the great families back in Rancho – the Bakers, Hendersons, Mason’s and Mitch’s families – because marriage just isn’t important to the majority of people here. They just don’t understand [it’s importance to the family].
  • Crazy testimony builder which has been kind of hard to help with is a woman we’ve been teaching who has been having lots of problems with her boyfriend who said he doesn’t want to be with her if she’s going to follow the gospel. So she decided to move out of her boyfriend’s house to live with her parents to continue receiving the lessons. She says that she knows God has a better life prepared for her. I’m so taken back by it all and it has really boosted my testimony. Back home, testimonies seemed so automatic – almost superficial – but being here and seeing what people do for their faith makes it so real and shows you how important it really is. I got a little sense of this in Aire Libre when people would walk a mile or two in the sweltering sun just to go sit in a sweaty church with a stray dog at their feet even though they haven’t the slightest sense of Utah or the apostles. I don’t know, it’s been very humbling and good for me.
  • I’ve eaten 5,000 potatoes this week. The food was definitely much better on the coast.
  • It took 4 full weeks of being here, but we finally had a full day of sunshine this week – not a drop of rain. It was so clear, I even got a picture of the volcano. The area here is so beautiful…it’s magical.
  • Something funny happened this week – I was helping this 50+ year old member of the branch with some English homework. One question was “describe yourself” so she asked me to help her write “I’m gordito and cortito”. So I told her that means “I’m a little short and a little fat.” I don’t know why, but I thought it was hilarious and I laughed way harder than I should have. But it illustrates a major cultural difference – back home we’re so concerned about appearances and other people’s opinions. It’s also a good example of how blunt people can be in South America.

This is "Ecuador Natty" - she follows Adam around church and makes him homesick for his younger sister, Natalie.

Apparently they're also catching pigeons - this one got into this family's home while they were visiting.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Week 21 - Change is Good

Dearest friends and family,

Hello everyone! It’s a pleasure to be writing you all in these beginning weeks of a new year and to be reflecting on 2016 that has now passed us by. If I had to sum up the last 365 days of life, I think I could do it in one word: change. Granted, the majority of this change happened in the latter half of the year which brought graduation from high school and the start of my 2-year service in Ecuador. Nonetheless, 2016 was a year of change and growth for me and something that I have been thoroughly convinced of as of late is that it’s truly marvelous when those 2 words are coupled. I’ve also been convinced that in more circumstances than not, it’s absolutely necessary that those 2 ideas are coupled – change and progression.

Sitting here in the 2nd week of January, we are in the time of change. In fact, one thing that I really enjoy about my mission is that I get to be out in the streets all day, every day, preaching that exact message: that people can change for the better. And regardless of religious belief or any notion of history, that is the message I would like to convey this week to all of you.

Really it’s quite easy for me to realize that I’m surrounded by change. One factor that made it even easier to see that was the passing of Christmas here in the mission. Instead of my actual family, I was surrounded by President and Sister Murphy, Hermana Rosa, Hermano Enso, my Bolivian sidekick Elder Fernandez and the families of missionary friends that I have acquired in my time here. Instead of cookies, it was pan de manjor that we were eating every night and leaving out for Santa. Instead of stockings, it was clean-ish laundry hanging around the house. Lastley, instead of radio stations and Christmas CDs, it was Ecuadorian choirs that were inviting the Christmas spirit with out of tune carols and “music.”

Even further to highlight the change was my transfer to Tulcan. My sidekick has been changed from one Bolivian to another. My black shower bucket has been changed into a little white, wire infested box that hangs precariously over my head to dribble out WARM WATER (yes excitement implied by those capital letters). My zone of 24 missionary friends has been changed into a district of 4 closely knit comrades. Cow hoof soup is now chicken feet soup. Sweating is now shivering under scarves and sweaters. It's really quite interesting all of the experiences I’ve been having, and truly how different each and every zone in my mission is. Even the people are different here, the ones that we are teaching. There are a lot of Colombian people who come over the border to sell ponchos, jackets and other fabric homemade goods. They’re very nice people and we’re teaching a family that I LOVE who emigrated from Bogota a few years ago.

We did have a little run in with a Colombian on the bus yesterday. Usually the seats are assigned on the bus like an airplane but this day the bus driver made the announcement that it was free seating anywhere. Considering someone was already in our seats, we just filed to the back to all sit together. Things were going fine until this large guy and his wife came up (the last people to board) to us and demanded that we leave his seats. My companion started packing his things to move, slightly humorously. But as our assigned seats were taken and we really wanted to travel together, Elder Morales and I started explaining this to the man who started to become very angry that we were going to stay put. We pointed him to the jefe because we weren’t going to move without being able to return to the seats that we originally purchased. This guy continued the quarrel, pumping his chest and making tough faces like he wanted to fight. The thing is Elder Morales is the Guatemalan National Boxing Champion (not kidding) so we weren’t overly threatened.

Friends and family, regardless of what the things are that cause change in your lives, regardless of what sits in the back of your mind and pricks you from time to time with the thought that you can improve someway, somehow, I’m learning more and more every day that those things aren’t wrong and aren’t necessarily bad. Regardless, if it’s the message of Jesus Christ, Jehovah, Allah, a different faith, a nagging conscience, the good examples of people around you, your family, loved ones, your children, this letter, a TV commercial…whatever it is that leads you to the light and promise of change in your life, listen to it. Have an amazing week everyone! If you are reading this letter, thank you, and you mean so much to me. Until next time!

Much affection,
Elder Ericksen

Monday, January 9, 2017

Week 20 - Expanding My Spanish Vocabulary

Dearest friends and family,

I’m a person who loves to learn. Despite the fact that sometimes I found myself frustrated at busywork assignments and busywork teachers, I loved learning in high school. I also loved following my own interests outside of the classroom during the last 18 years of my life. I’ve always enjoyed finding, treasuring and incorporating new knowledge into my day to day life. For this reason, the mission has been a little bit of a switch-up because, while I’m taking a little vacation from my classroom pursuits, I’m very much still learning: learning valuable life lessons. I’m learning the Spanish language, I’m learning how to live and take care of myself, I’m learning how to cope with thoughts and emotions, good and bad, and also I’m learning to respond to many of the “real life” situations that have come up in the last few weeks.

In the past 7 days my course of learning has taught me many new Spanish words and phrases. For example, “cuanto dinero le llevaron los ladrones?” And “fue un hombre flaco, con cabello largo y acento Colombiano?” And finally “porque ustedes no cerraron la chapa?” The answer to the last one, by the way, is because we don’t have a chapa (or deadbolt as we say in English). I’ve also learned how to fill out a bunch of church forms that I’ve never seen before and how to look for a new house. Overall, I’d say that it’s been a pretty good week for the learning.

Let me go back to the start. There are 4 missionaries living here in Tulcan (my companion Elder Miranda and I and one other companionship, Elder Morales and Elder Loveland.) I arrived here about 12 days ago and the first 7 days were actually quite good. Elder Morales had to travel to Quito for meetings about some upcoming changes to missionary work around the world (we can sleep in on p-days, yay!) which left the other 3 of us here to work together. Last Monday’s P-day came with a trip to the Tulcan fruit market and juice bar. I discovered that the guanabang and mora mixture makes the most delicious cup of juice in the history of humankind. I also discovered that many of the “cranky” fruit vendor ladies can be talked down 50-75 cents on our fruit purchases. The following Tuesday and Wednesday were good, pretty normal. Working in a trio is always fun and we visited a place called “Cali-burguer” - you know, “Cali” as in Cali, Colombia and “burguer” as in burger to someone who hasn’t seen the word spelled correctly before. On Wednesday afternoon, the 3 of us took the 4:30 bus to Ibarra for a next-day conference. Three and a half hours later we arrived in Ibarra, dropped our bags at the zone leaders’ house, and left to work and find some food. This night was one that I’ll never forget, not for any special reason, but something really struck me as marvelous walking the misty streets of Ibarra, Ecuador with people from Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru, and Idaho – all of us walking, talking, and making the occasional joke in hard-core Spanglish. The conference the next day was really uplifting and interesting. After our meetings, we left the chapel and bought our bus tickets back to Tulcan…arriving back at about7:30pm.

I knew right away that something was very different and very wrong about our house as we unlocked the door and followed inside. The first thing I saw was all of the contents of our emergency preparedness backpack thrown all over the floor. Walking in a little further, I realized the desk area was completely disheveled with all of my things scattered everywhere and all of the drawers opened and emptied. It wasn’t good and I panicked. Immediately Elder Miranda realized his wallet was gone with $150 of personal money. I noticed my new raincoat was gone and immediately picked up the phone to call President Murphy. We shared a short conversation about how it looked like the thief used force to get past the lock and probably knew that we weren’t going to be in the house the previous night. We decided that we should do a quick look around and then go talk to the owner of the house who lives next door. As we walked further into the house, it just kept getting messier and messier and more and more violated.

The one big hope that I kept in the back of my mind as I was looking around the tumult was that I had carried all of my really valuable things with me to Ibarra (camera, electric razor, personal debit card). That said, the thief managed to capsize my suitcase on to the floor along with every article of clothing in the 2 closets. I can only imagine what they thought when they found my healthy stash of mosquito repellant. We talked to the owner of the house who was no help at all. She walked up the stairs, examined the mess, and told us that it was our fault for not locking the screen door in front of the wood door. To be honest this was the exact opposite of what I needed to hear and I couldn’t decide if I was more disappointed in the thief or this woman who seemed focused on squaring blame on us. When she said this, Elder Miranda and I packed up a day of clothes and our remaining valuables to go live with the other Elders.

On the way out the door, we talked to our other neighbor who shared some info about a suspicious Colombian who was asking what time we usually come home at night and also about some strange noises she heard around 1am. All in all, it’s been a pretty odd experience. I’m really not set back too much by it, but it is really eerie and uncomfortable to think about someone going through all my clothes. I didn’t lose anything that can’t be replaced and I’m really trying to stay positive about it.

In the mission I’ve had many moments of wake up calls where situations have forced me to take a step back and reevaluate what is important in life. This has been one of those moments and it has taught me very powerfully that, even though some days are hard out here, I am actually extremely proud of the experiences I’ve lived so far. The photos I have that represent those experience are extremely valuable to me. I’ve felt humbling and warming emotions of gratitude for the prompting I had to bring my camera and memory cards to Ibarra. I’m also extremely thankful that the only things stolen were things of the world. And even though it’s a little insulting and humorous that they took the See’s Candy grandma Liz sent me, I know that I can replace what was lost. All in all, it’s been a great opportunity to learn to cope with another “real situation” of life and I’m very thankful for the chance to use this experience to strengthen myself emotionally and mentally.


Elder E

In other news...
  • The robbery was a setback but to be honest it really helped me bond with the 3 other elders here in Tulcan. We went looking for a new apartment but the owner lady just went out and bought a nice dead bolt for us today. I guess we’ll see. (Adam commented in his letter to us that the mess left by the thief was actually the bigger bummer.)
  • Adam’s companion, Elder Miranda, is from La Paz, Bolivia and is the eldest of 2. He loves Adam Sandler and Japanese cartoon shows like Naruto. Adam has also enjoyed getting to know Elder Morales, who is from Guatemala and worked at a Walmart Call center so “he speaks near perfect Spanish and English.”
  • Remember that ward party I talked about last week – the one I sang at upon arrival into Tulcan? Well it’s been causing us a bunch of problems as missionaries. It went past 1am and had some slightly off-color acts like a rap-dance battle thing and a magic show we didn’t see. This all happened in the chapel, by the way. So, this week a lot of our investigators had problems and questions, especially about the magic. It’s been kind of a mess.
  • In a side letter addressed to “family” Adam wrote: It is interesting how the mission never really gets easy. Some days are really good, some are harder. But I can always feel Satan trying to get into my thoughts. I just miss you guys. I love reading your letters every week and sometimes I just wish I could be there for the things you all tell me about. Don’t get me wrong, I am so happy to be serving Heavenly Father and I wouldn’t change a thing about where I am or what I’m doing. But sometimes I miss the little moments with you guys. For now I know God wants me to learn how to be happy on my own and I’m learning how to do that every day. It’s an important lesson. You guys know how much I always love being surrounded by people and friends but when I come home I’ll be just as happy with myself and Jesus Christ.
Not how they typically leave the apartment...