Monday, February 27, 2017

Week 27 - Because I Owe It to Her

Dearest friends and family,

So I think I’m finally starting to figure out why this country is so beautiful. It’s the genuineness found in every aspect of life here. The authenticity is amazingly refreshing. You can see it and feel it just spending 5 minutes here in the gorgeous landscape, talking to these awe-inspiring people.

For example, take our road trip to Otavalo this past Monday. You honestly can’t help but breathe in breath after breath of culture and tradition. We got to take a little walk down the main road of the town and then stopped by the Plaza de los Ponchos, which is the largest market of its kind in South America. I couldn’t help but buy a few things, of course, you know me. I was all over the hand-woven ponchos, the colorful fabric-laced shirts, and don’t even get me started about the panama hats! It was a delightful time and a seriously beautiful day as the photos show.

Another example of the genuineness of this country is the Caliz family. Hermano Richard has had a very hard life, growing up without a father, and having to watch after his little sister who passed away tragically. And then there’s Hermana Sondra, who is fighting as hard as she can to hold her little family together, as she looks after her 2 small children, feeding them whatever meager sustenance she can muster. Regardless of situation or circumstance, these two great people always accept us missionaries into their homes, offer us their only 2 (broken) lawn chairs to sit down in the living room, and share something warm to drink knowing that it is cold outside and a long walk for us back to cuatro esquinas. I love visiting them solely because, to me, with the little course corrections that Heavenly Father is helping them make, they have turned into an amazing, radiant pair, and an absolutely beautiful family.

There is a word in Spanish that I love: luchar. It means to fight but more than that – more of a “wrestle with all of your strength” type of fighting. Sometimes people here say it in regards to a struggle, like wrestling against a situation. I really love the idea of that – I can’t think of an English equivalent that has the same sort of meaning. Anyway, la familia Caliz are definitely luchando. They both have left some very personal habits behind in an effort to mend the gaps in their overall happiness in any way that they can and their efforts show how sincere they really are. Richard amazes me because he paints houses for work, which means he gets hit by cycles of having money and then not having money. However, he always finds other work and never lets his family down. He is also amazing at drawing graffiti (past life, see above previous personal bad habits) and drew my initials in graffiti letter font in my agenda. It’s actually one of my favorite things ever.

What am I learning in all of this? That we all need to keep luchando. That I need to keep luchando. There really is no excuse for me to stop. If Hermana Sondra can finish sweeping her concrete floor and turn over a trash can to rest for a moment to listen to us, I know I can do a better job studying my Spanish and coping in a world that lacks Sombrero’s (Mexican food place here in San Diego). Because, truth is, I owe it to her. If Hermano Richard can live with paint flakes on his hands 24/7 and forgot about the many friends and family he has lost in his life enough to kindly laugh at one of my stupid jokes, I can cope with getting up at 6:30am every day and foregoing time with you, my friends and family, for 2 years. Because I owe it to him. Continue luchando, my favorite people. I know you can tackle whatever is thrown your way. And remember that there exists a wide multitude of people out here, in this world we live in, that dream about the things we often complain about. Keeping lunchando because you owe it to them, too. I love you all.

With genuineness,

Elder Ericksen
  • Carnaval is in full swing this week and it’s crazy. Everyone is out in the streets with water balloons, eggs and this shoot-able foam (like silly string that smells like fruit and cheap perfume) being sold in stores everywhere. We bought 2 cans of course and I’ve been sprayed plenty. Kids hang out of cars and throw water, paint, and more foam out of the windows. Lots of streets are closed. We’ve seen a few people that have gotten soaked, including a girl that was thrown in a fountain. Someone threw foam at me walking to the cyber to write you all this afternoon. It’s overall crazy and should finish tomorrow! 
  • We have been stuck in the house because our appointments for the last 2 days fell through and it’s not good for us to be out on the streets during Carnaval. We’re great and easy targets. But it was good because I used the time to study and finished reading the New Testament.
  • Life is good in Ecuador. We are moving closer to the date when we find out who is going to Colombia and if I will be staying in the new zone here. Elder Morales went to Colombia today with the church travel person to declare himself a missionary and to get his visa and stuff processed. It’s all very exciting and word is we’ll hear who will be moving over next Monday.
  • What else did I want to tell you? Oh yeah, people eat chicken bones here like normal. I don’t haha. But I do eat the cartilage though. They also serve us a lot of cream soups that don’t really have flavor and we put canguil in them o sea popcorn. Not bad. We continue to eat a lot here.
  • Yesterday in church we were talking about orgullo (or pride in English) and this dude who was visiting from Venezuela stood up and shared the most powerful thing I’ve ever heard about how pride has destroyed his county. Also how the church members there have been too prideful to prepare exactly how the prophet has asked them and they’re suffering because of it now. It was a life changing moment for me. It sounds like things are pretty crazy in Venezuela right now.

La familia Caliz

Monday, February 20, 2017

Week 26 - Big Changes on the Border!

Dearest friends and family,

Hello everyone! Que gusto escribirles. This letter should be a special one if I can manage to get all of my thoughts down effectively because we’ve got some pretty big changes coming to the mission here in Ecuador! The past couple of weeks, we’ve been hearing a lot of speculation and rumor that there was going to be a reorganization of the church boundaries affecting the Tulcan branch (rama in Spanish) where I belong, but all this time it has been nothing more than that: speculation. Well, we’ve finally started to receive official news from President Murphy, which means that the rumors are becoming fact and I can now share the big news with all of you. (And no longer be a liar J!)

I’m just going to say it…the Mision Ecuador Quito Norte (#EQNMission) is going INTERNATIONAL! We’ve sent in our headshots to be put on our visas to begin supporting the members in Colombia! To explain, I should offer a little more information as to how things have been operating prior to this announcement. The church is very well organized. We have various levels of organization, authorities and responsibilities. The most basic unit in the church is called a branch. This is essentially a single congregation of 100-150 people who all meet together at the same time in a single building. Branches are then organized into districts, which are typically comprised of 3-5 different branches. This is where the change is occurring: the district. Normally the missionaries and church members here in Tulcan have to travel 3-5 hours into the next biggest city, Ibarra, when meeting together as a district, which has been a hassle. Equally a hassle is the situation across the border in Ipiales, Colombia where the members and the missionaries over there also have to journey 3-4 hours to meet with their district in Cali, Colombia.

So, when one of the church leaders, Elder Montoya, came to visit us in November, he took note of how the people had to travel so far to meet with other members of the church. And he asked “why not form a new district, right here on the border with the Tulcan branch and the three branches in Ipiales?” Well, President Murphy came to church with us last Sunday to explain that Elder Montoya took his idea back to the First Presidency (headquarters) in Salt Lake and they loved and approved it. So now, here we are sharing this news and feeling very excited for our first meeting, the first time we all get to go to Colombia to meet with the members and missionaries over there, on March 11. It’s really very exciting to have this going on around me, considering I’m right here where it is all happening! I haven’t spoken to a single missionary who hasn’t said they wouldn’t want to be a part of starting the work in the new Ipiales sectors. Oh yeah, I guess I forgot to throw that little tidbit – they are also changing our mission boundaries to extend across the border, so the three Ipiales branches now belong to the Ecuador Quito North Mission. This means that when we have our monthly zone conferences we won’t travel to Ibarra anymore. Instead we will meet here, closer to home, as the new Ipiales-Tulcan zone.

I would say that overall, nearly everyone is happy about the changes taking place. It was a treat having President Murphy way up here in Tulcan with us and I loved introducing him to all of the people I’ve been writing him about each week. This process has shown me though how groups of people react to things that affect them. In this instance, I’d say that there are really two types reactions and people fall into one of two categories: those who act and those who are acted upon. In life, things are going to hit us from the left, they’re going to hit us from the right, and they’re going to hit us head on as well. It’s inevitable. However, that which is not inevitable is the reaction we choose to employ in response to change. I’ve seen many people genuinely excited for this change – they see that they’ll have a chance to meet in a bigger district setting, more often, and they won’t have to drive so far. They are acting on the news, they’re making the change work and they’re being active in the decision-making process in their heads. I’ve also witnessed people with anticipation, sitting back and waiting to be told what to do, and waiting to pick up on how to feel and, in the process, typically focusing on other’s negative emotions that are floating around. The lesson to be learned is very easy to see: the proactive families in the first group are happier and are likely going to remain happier as these inevitable changes unfold.

I, for one, am stoked to be part of this. I mean c’mon, I’ve heard they have cheap toilet paper in Ipiales! I’ll keep you all updated as I get more information. I apologize for taking the entire letter to discuss boring logistical matters, but it’s something major that I wanted to share. I’ll get back to the storytelling next week, I promise. Things are good here and I’ve been staying happy. I’m finally figuring out how to let just the right amount of longing for my past go from my mind, to balance the joy and happiness I feel now, with the anticipation of coming home and picking up where I left off later. I miss you all and hope you have a delightful week!

Much affection,

Elder Ericksen
  • Adam’s district leader, Elder Morales, was part of the office staff responsible for packages and mail in Quito prior to his current assignment to Tulcan. When Hermana Murphy was in Tulcan with her husband last weekend, she told Adam that Elder Morales was excited to be assigned to Tulcan because he knew first-hand that Elder Ericksen gets lots of care packages! Yay Lisa, Grammy Liz and yay North American candy!
  • Adam traveled to Otavalo for his P-day today, describing it as the most amazing, culturally-rich place he’s ever seen. “We went to the market and I bought an awesome colorful shirt, a green poncho, and a panama hat. I love it all. I’m super happy right now. Haha. The lady told me it took her 3 days to make my hat. I love it!
  • Yes, I am freaking out a little bit about Adam going into Colombia, especially since the State Department has a standing warning about North Americans in rural areas along the Ecuador-Colombian border. But there are lots of North American missionaries serving in Cali, Colombia and I'm confident the Church knows the areas and conditions frankly much better than the US government. Adam will be protected in his service.
  • This week Adam celebrates his 6th month since leaving home...25% down, seemingly forever to go. :(

Monday, February 13, 2017

Week 25 - Enjoy Each Day

Dearest friends and family,

Do you know what a pincho is? Well, let me tell you. It’s an Ecuadorian shish-kabob and they sell them everywhere. In the streets, in some restaurants, at Church events…everywhere. Well last week I got to eat some chorizo pinchos that were pretty tasty! They were part of a church event…helping a member of the branch. All of the members of our little branch here in Tulcan were there and plenty happy to help out and even happier to receive food for doing so. So we all went down to the tae-kwando studio of the father of this family we were helping where he had his little charcoal grill out warming up the pinchos. Of course we missionaries tried the punching-bags a couple of times because we are 19 and 20-year old boys. It was a good morning of service, with good company, and good food.

So I got my pincho and ate it quickly despite noticing that it was cool in the center. I initially paused as I thought: “isn’t chorizo a meat that doesn’t necessarily be cooked? Isn’t it cured or something? Yeah…it’s ok because it’s cured.” Well, despite my brushing it off in the moment, I was wrong and ended up getting really sick from this chorizo. I’m all better now, almost a full week later. Wait, there’s something I’m leaving out. While we were all eating, the wife of this martial artist family came down the stairs, smiled while clapping her hands, and proclaimed, “Espero que les gusta el chorizo! Es carne de caballo!” Elder Loveland and I immediately exchanged glances. Huh? So I guess its horse sausage. Yeah, I guess so. She seems really proud of it. We laughed a bit more than we should have. And then finished it. Now you all know the story of the first time I ate horse meat.

So it was a pretty good week last week. It had its ups and downs. The major down was that we all had to say goodbye to Elder Loveland who moved to Imbabura (near Otavalo). His departure has definitely left a void in the vibe and bond the 4 of us missionaries had developed and shared since the robbery at the New Year. I miss him. It makes it a little easier that we received Elder Castagno in his place as the new companion to Elder Morales. Elder Castagno comes from la tierra of Idaho and has the same amount of time in the mission as Elder Loveland. He is really nice and we all get along well. Before his mission, he enjoyed carpentry and metal work which is super cool and different in a very impressive way. He showed me a picture of some bronze roses that he crafted and I can tell you he’s very good at it. Elder Castagno got transferred here from the orient (the jungle). I don’t know if I’ll ever get to serve out there in the amazon but the souvenirs and stories he’s shown and shared have awoken a great desire in me to go. I have heard that the orient is the one zone that suffers temperatures hotter than the ones I experience on the coast. But I’d be more than willing to get past that in the name of adventure. Who knows though? That’s one thing that is so exciting and fun about the mission (and about my mission in particular) – there is such a wide variety of adventures and experiences that a missionary could have here. For example, I started out essentially slumming it on the coast for 3 months and now I’m here in Tulcan with mountain people, fighting off cold temps and Colombian smuggled goods. In 5 weeks another transfer comes and I could very well be shipped off to any other part of the north of this country that’s roughly the size of Colorado. It’s all very exciting to me and I’m undoubtedly enthralled by the prospect of what’s coming my way.

That said, I am really enjoying Tulcan and I’m equally happy to remain here another 4-5 months. I enjoy the people, I enjoy the other missionaries, and I enjoy the progress I am making along with the people who listen to us. Something that has been on my mind a lot, and it’s something my dad writes about often, is slowing down and enjoying one day at a time in this thing called life. That’s been my focus the last couple of days, to take a single day at a time with an attitude of enjoyment and it’s been going really well for me. Every day is a fresh start, with a fresh set of things to learn and do. It’s not always easy to keep this perspective but it’s definitely doable. I promise! As a great friend of mine has said many of times: “make it a great day, everyone!” I’ll talk to you all soon and hope that all is well in every sense of the phrase.

Much affection for you all,

Elder Ericksen
  • President Murphy came to Tulcan to go to church with us this past Sunday. It was actually really fun and good for me. It was like having missionary parents at church and it was really nice to introduce him to all of the investigators I write him about every week. He taught a really inspiring priesthood class and gave a great talk in sacrament meeting about some upcoming changes (stay tuned).
  • Natalia and Lady passed their baptism interviews!!!!! They will be getting baptized on the 18 of this month. They are the daughters from family Lopez. I really think their parents will be following soon, they just need a little more time.
  • I’m writing you this p-day morning, sitting at a juice bar drinking lunch. It’s fun and very economical. We always try to order the weirdest drink possible. Today my mix is Pony malta, 2 eggs and alfalfa (the horse grass stuff). It actually isn’t that bad. We also got some of this fruit called borojo (definitely spelled that wrong). It looks like poo but the lady promised it would give us secret powers and energy, so you can imagine we were all over that. It was super rico plus she mixed it with milk. One day we’ll have to visit and I’ll show you all the best juices and fruits you could never find in the USA.
  • We are coming in from a hike that we took today all soaking wet! It was really, really fun! It was basically where Frodo lived. We found a natural hot pool and a crazy lady with cows – she let us try the milk!!! I felt weird knowing that it had just come out of the animal. Hopefully photos came through, we are in a slower cyber today.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Week 24 - El Maravilloso Dia de P

An Ecuadorian Presidential candidate, Guillermo Lasso, visited Tulcan today
Dearest friends and family,

To all of the people I love and care for, hello! Another week has passed us by, and a good one it was. It all started with an event that was easily the coolest thing I’ve gotten to do thus far in Ecuador. For everyone who isn’t familiar with the missionary lifestyle, I should first take a sentence or two to explain that Mondays are more or less our day off. It’s not a day of complete freedom – we still have rules to follow and a long list of things to do to prepare us for the week, but it is a day where we can take a short break from our normal responsibilities. We cut our hair, do our laundry, buy our groceries and do fun things like tour around the city and play sports. It’s preparation day, the maravilloso dia de P.

This past Monday we woke up early and got dressed in our warmest possible clothing. We ate a quick breakfast and left the house to meet Hermano Alexis in the part of town where all of the green transport trucks gather. The trucks are basically taxis but take people or cargo to places the little yellow Kia and Chevy taxis can’t go. And we were definitely headed to somewhere the normal taxis couldn’t go…el Volcan Chiles.

Volcan Chiles is an active volcano that sits right on the border of Ecuador and Colombia, about an hour away from the city I’m living in. Driving there in itself was spectacular, traversing the rolling hills and pueblos that cover the countryside. If you want to see a really authentic Ecuadorian village, look up Tufino on Google. That was just one of the places we had to drive through to get to Chiles. Scattered en route to the volcano were thermal “spas” or “baths”, heated from the earth, and reeking of Sulphur. The minerals just beneath the surface that are bubbling up from beneath the rock give the water a delicious green tint that shines like emeralds and inspires thoughts of storybook, fantasy adventures. We also saw many real, live, wild and free llamas, roaming the fields and grazing on the grasses, their mouths chewing sideways. I couldn’t help but think of my sister, Natalie, each time they came into view out the window because I know she would’ve loved seeing them in the wild doing their llama things.

We drove past the pools and the llamas and arrived at the base of the mountain around 8am. We begged the green truck driver to give us 2 hours, as we were very far away from any other ride back to town and started hiking up…and up…and up. The whole hiking adventure turned into a science experiment as I noticed the shrubbery and grasses getting thinner and sparser as we ascended. You can definitely see the change in the photos. (Now might be a good moment to plug the blog – my dad does an AMAZING job updating the blog each week so if you ever want to see photos, check it out!) We passed a little house that was empty, a tall TV tower and then continued up and up until we reached big slabs of cooled lava. At this point the formerly blue sky was hidden by a thick shroud of mist that completely enveloped us. And the noise. I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland? Anyway, the ride includes a fairly loud sound of whistling wind that includes, at times, the growls and roars of the yeti as you’re going up inside the mountain. To me, that whipping, whistling-wind sound seemed pretty unbelievable, it’s just too pronounced and loud. I can now say however, from personal experience, that that noise exists and really is that loud. It was incredibly impressive.

We hiked up as far as we possibly could, sat down on some jagged rocks, shared a mate and a few stories and then started our decent. You’d think it would be easier to hike down a mountain than it was to hike up but that wasn’t the case. When the shrubbery disappeared behind us on the way up, so did the trail we were following so we ended up taking a completely different path back to the truck. We were very happy to see that our driver had waited for us!

It would be easy to make a cheesy metaphor connecting the challenge of climbing a mountain to the challenges we experience in life. But I’m not going to do that. I’m going to try to make a connection a little deeper by saying that I’m realizing that my mission is a metaphor for the rest of my life. Everyday definitely is not sunshine, rainbows, and lollipops (or, in my case, great friends, family and Taco Bell) but every day is necessary. For that reason I’m just as thankful to learn and grow from the hard days as I am to thoroughly enjoy myself on the days like last Monday when we get to climb an active volcano. That said, I really am so unbelievably grateful for this awesome country I call home for the next 18 months. It’s really beautiful here and will forever hold a place in my mind, heart and memory. I hope you all have had a good week – like I have had – and I hope that the one to come is just as good. Until next time, with much affection,

Elder Ericksen

Other tidbits:
  • We were out teaching a guy, Richard Corliz, and his family who live right up on the Colombian border this week when all of a sudden 2 guys rode by on horses really fast, LIKE REALLY FAST, all loaded up with these big tanks of gas. It was a train of horses, 3 roped together, with a guy riding the one up front and another guy on the back and each horse 4-5 couple gallon tanks of gas. Apparently there were smuggling the gas into Colombia where gas is 4-5 times more expensive than here in Ecuador. How crazy is that? All said, its infinitely more safe and tranquil here than it was in Esmeraldas which I hear is still being rocked by big earthquakes.
  • It was a really good week. Something funny that happened is that our awesome investigator family, Familia Caliz, came to church for the first time yesterday! But the funny part is that they were so excited to run out the door to come that they forgot one of their kids who was still getting ready. He's a 9-year old boy hahaha.
  • Today one of the candidates for Ecuador President came to Tulcan for a speech. You can find him in the white scarf in one of the pictures of the people with flags.
  • Transfers were today. Elder Loveland is moving on - and received a cake last night from one of the families. Adam is very happy to be remaining with his companion (“we are clicking really well”) and staying in Tulcan for at least the next 6 weeks. Two new missionaries are coming to the area and there will now be 6 in Tulcan.

You can read more about Guillermo Lasso here