Monday, March 27, 2017

Week 31 - Mission Miracles

Dear friends and familia,

Well it’s Thursday. That means I’ve slacked in getting my letter started this week and it’s likely to be shorter than I want it to be. However, that’s not such a big problem because nothing majorly exciting has taken place, just day-to-day mission fun!

Monday was an interesting p-day. It involved lots of packing, shifting and making room for the missionaries that were coming in and out of Tulcan/Colombia. We had 6 missionaries coming here, 5 to fill the empty spots in Ipiales plus my old companion, Elder Miranda, and my new companion Elder Quispe. All of this was combined with the additional chore of getting the stuff still at the old apartment we used to live in (the one that got robbed) ready to move to a new apartment that we found and has finally been approved. It’s all good stuff that we have going on and the p-day flew by, seriously. Elder Quispe came in, arriving at the bus terminal at 2pm and we all went to get him. I can say that we hit if off right away, sharing some small talk over some Kroky Chicken, which is the go-to Ecuador fried chicken joint. It was a good day and I’ll include some fun facts about E. Quispe at the end of this letter.

Tuesday was the first full day I had with my new comp. We hit the streets with positive attitudes and we ended up seeing lots of miracles! We got a call out of the blue from a woman I had talked to last week saying that she needed a visit from us, and boy, she really did need a visit. We walked in and I asked her the most inspired question of my life: “why did you choose to let us come back?” and she just lost it. Sobbing through tears, she told us all of the difficulties that she has been facing in her family relationships and with her faith and we found all the right answers. It was a great experience. A little later in the day we passed by the Familia Gordon and we got to teach the older son who joined us for the very first time. He was extremely receptive which was awesome. Finally, in the evening we passed by the Familia Caliz but our visit was so milagroso that I’m gonna start a new paragraph.

Before we got to the Caliz house amazing things were already happening. We asked a member of the church to accompany us for the lesson and it was awesome because every single problem that the Caliz family faces, this member and his family has also faced and overcome. In a heavily spiritual moment, Richard and Sandra just looked at each other as it hit them that they were looking at a possible future version of themselves. They just kept looking at each other, smiling, tearing up here and there, and then started hugging, kissed and said “Let’s get married!” With their marriage, they’ll be able to get baptized and start the first steps toward becoming this awesome, unified family like the one we brought with us. It was a really joyful night.

Wednesday was average. My new comp had to go to Pasto (Colombia) to take out his Colombian cedula like I had to do a week ago. We dropped him off at the border around 8am. We bought some hot chocolate from a woman and made our way back to work in the sector of E. Castagno and Bermejo. Something that struck me interesting this day was all of the home remedies that people suggest you apply when you’re sick. I’ve been battling the gripe (flu) for the last 6 days or so and I’ve basically heard every suggestion in the book. My favorite so far is to drink panela water with lime as hot as I can stand it and then quickly cover my entire body with blankets so that I can force a good sweat. Supposedly when I pull out of my sweat I will be cured. I actually do very much enjoy the panela-lime water though. I’ll give the first person who can tell me how they make sugar cane into panela a glass of it when I get home, along with a high-five!

Anyway, I’m doing well. I miss my family and friends and I’m definitely not forgetting that but I’m doing good work out here and enjoying it a lot. Like I promised, I’m going to end the letter with some Quispe-facts.
  • Elder Q is coming from Otavalo where he served as a zone leader (aka this dude is good)
  • He’s 20 years old and his family lives in Juliaca, Peru. It’s on the southern border with Chile.
  • He has 3 older sisters
  • He comes from a family faithful in the church. However when I asked him this question at first he told me that all of his family were members except for his father who had been excommunicated for murdering the bishop. We both got quiet until he started busting up laughing. It was our first day together and, in that moment, I knew we’d get along well!
  • He’s focusing on working out a lot because he only has 3 months in the mission left. He really wants to finish in Tulcan.
  • He likes soccer and is a really good player
  • They gave him a really bad final haircut in Otavalo (see pictures) basically taking his hairline back a full inch. Yes, he’s upset about it.
With love - EE

Apparently someone in Tulcan is excited for the new Gorillaz album...

Monday, March 20, 2017

Week 30 - Adventures in Colombia

Dearest friends and family,

I’m going to use this week’s letter to catch you up on my Colombian adventure from ~10 days ago because I ran out of time and wasn’t able to tell you all about it last week.

Our adventure started off on Thursday night (March 9), when four new elders arrived into Tulcan, coming from all different parts of the mission. They, combined with Elder Morales and Elder Arrieta who were already here in Tulcan would be the first six elders to serve in the new Colombian sectors of the Ecuador Quito North mission. Even though they were moving over, we all were required to go into Columbia to declare ourselves as missionaries and that’s exactly what we did. We woke up early Friday morning to have allow enough time for all 8 of us to shower and then left the house to go meet up with Pres. Murphy. Arriving in front of his hotel, we were greeted friendlily by him and a few other important church members including the woman in charge of church visas for Ecuador, the man in charge of Church travel in Columbia, and a very friendly driver. We all loaded into the vehicles and headed north.

My first impression of Colombia came at the border crossing which happens to be a bridge with a really cool name, La Puente Rumichaka. I love that the one legal border crossing in this region is a bridge. We got in line early in the day so there weren’t many people, got our passports stamped by the immigration officials, and continued on our way in the country. Our destination was a city called Pasto which isn’t terribly far from Tulcan geographically but, thanks to the windy Andean roads, sits almost 3 hours north of the border by car. Columbia is a beautiful country. Naturally, I’m a little biased in favor of Ecuador for obvious reasons, but Colombia is a gorgeous country.
Zooming along the mountainous countryside in a van filled with awesome elders is an event I will never forget. Every few kilometers we passed fruit stands with fruits I promise not even Trader Joe’s has. Every few fruit stands brought Army guys with big machine guns protecting the highways and people from the guerrillas. And every few groups of Army dudes brought scenic waterfalls and viewpoints of lush landscape in this amazing country. I didn’t take many photos but it was seriously impressive drive. We arrived safely in Pasto at about 10 in the morning and started the Visa registration process. Everything went very smoothly, including the office’s 2-hour lunch break which gave us just enough time to find a Colombian lunch. I did manage to get a picture of my bandeja paisa and it’s a photo that I’m incredibly proud of. We finished up in the office at around 3:30 and began the long trek back to the border area. This time I had the privilege of riding with Pres. Murphy in his car along with Elders Morales and Castagno. Pres. Murphy is a truly caring and genuine man whom I respect deeply. He always finds a way to make sure that we missionaries feel of his love and concern on a very personal level. This day he showed his love through a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with real Skippy peanut butter. Oh it was delightful! He took us on a little tour of Ipiales and we got to see both of the chapels and a few members before making our way back across the border into Ecuador around 7:30. It was a wonderful day and a huge blessing to be with him and to see a new part of the world.

This week life returned back to normal with just 4 of us missionaries in Tulcan again. On Saturday I learned my companion, Elder Miranda, will be going across the border and serving in Branch 1 in Ipiales. My new companion is Elder Quispe and I look forward to meeting and beginning to work with him this week! I  was nearly bitten by a dog today. In other words, it was essentially biting my leg in my thigh region but I thought fast and hit it in the face with my scriptures. I’m stoked because now I can truthfully tell people that the word of God actually saved my life! (Anyone who knows me knows I love lame jokes.) Let me end this week’s letter with something more inspirational - something that one of Tulcan’s graffiti-poetry artists painted on a wall we walk by each day which reads: “Aunque me fuercen, nunca voy a decir que el pasado fue major…manana es mejor.” Even if I’m forced, I will never say that the past was better…tomorrow is always better.)  How true. I love you all. Have a great week!

- EE

Monday, March 13, 2017

Week 29 - Finding Joy in the Little Things

Dearest friends and family,

What a joy to have a few minutes to write to you this week. Truth be told, everything is a-ok. The days and weeks are sliding by smoothly and the work is becoming more enjoyable. Sure there are days when something comes my way that I’m not expecting but, for the most part, I’m acclimated. Ecuador is my little pais away from my pais.

This morning was special. Missionaries exercise every morning from 6:30 to 7:00am and we like to mix it up sometimes. And, as you already know, Elder Morales was the Guatemalan Boxing Champion about 3 years ago. Well, it just so happens that one of the church members here, Robinson Rosero, is a boxing fanatic and has boxed throughout his life with his father and who, in his youth, also enjoyed a lot of success with the sport. Putting all the pieces together, we called Hermano Robinson last night to see if we could jog down to his training gym this morning to get in a little boxing as our exercise before the gym opened for normal business. (As a rule, missionaries aren’t allowed to go in the gym because of the music, girls and tendency to spend all day there if we could. Going early gave us private access without all of those distractions.)

We woke up bright and early and, like Rocky, ventured out into the cold, dark morning arriving at 6am to start our work out. We had planned on putting on boxing gloves, hitting some boxing bags and maybe even hitting one another a bit for a few laughs. But what we did not have in mind, neither could we have been prepared for, was that Hermano Robinson had the entire morning planned out for us. Starting off with an active stretching we progressed through punching training and strength building, punching these little hand targets, punching bags and other stuff, finishing with an endurance punching drill that kicked my butt. Stay tuned to see if I wake desperately sore tomorrow morning. (Breaking news: I will be!) Overall it was really enjoyable and I learned a lot. I learned why boxeadores always wear tape under their gloves for example. It’s because if you don’t your hands get destroyed despite having a little padding in the gloves. I also learned a little about throwing punches while keeping your guard up. I’m still very much practicing that one and we made plans to come back next week. It was a great start to my morning today and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

It’s little things like this that help me get through the weeks. Something Elder Castagno and I have talked about is how much easier it is to slow down and enjoy the life we’ve been given on a moment type of scale when we stop and appreciate the little things around us. We’ve been reporting back to each other every couple of days about the things we’ve noticed and it’s helped me to be infinitely more grateful. This place I’m living in is full of greenery and plants, for example, thanks to all of the rain that we get nearly every day. This makes beautiful flowers a little more common than they are back in Rancho. This is going to come off incredibly clich├ęd and that’s ok but I never lent enough attention to those flowers that are potted directly in front of our house. They’re amazing and now I have a little reason to think a little more positively about the world every time I step outside my front door.

These little reminders come in many forms. I consider the great companions and friends I have here in Tulcan. Or the changes coming our way this week expanding the mission into Colombia. I went to Pasto (Colombia) on Saturday to get my visa declared) and then attended my first ever district conference where a new church unit, a district, was organized between these two great cities of Tulcan in Ecuador and Ipiales just across the border in Colombia. Or even the little quirks that I find around my city that I have come to love – like yesterday when Elder Miranda and I saw a kid jumping over a 10-foot wall to escape whatever his next class was in his school schedule. Or the suspicious looking guy in the truck trailing us before speeding up ahead, getting out and ripping down a presidential candidate’s campaign sign, before speeding off into the countryside. I truly, genuinely, love this place.

Basically it’s all good. I’ll keep you updated on my quest to find more appreciation and gratitude around me. Please remember I always love hearing from you so if you have something great, send it my way. Have a great week everyone. I love and appreciate you all.

- EE
  • Adam had “the busiest week of his mission so far” this week spending Tuesday and Wednesday down in Ibarra for his final zone conference there and then Friday and Sunday in Colombia collecting immigration paperwork and attending meetings related to the organization of the Colombia Ipiales district, of which the branch in Tulcan is a part. Adam loved the time spent with President Murphy during these conferences and meetings and apologized for the short and “lame” letter this week. (It’s all good, kid. I’ll take your happiness and satisfaction about a hard-worked week over a fancy letter any day of the week).
  • Six new missionaries are transferring into Ipiales, Colombia and Adam expects his district leader, Elder Morales (the boxer from Guatemala) will be moving over. He seemed very sad about this in his letter to Lisa and me. Elder Morales has become a very close friend for Adam. With the expected transfers, Tulcan will return to 4 missionaries. Adam expects he’ll be in the group that remains in Tulcan but won’t know for sure until early next week (3/19). Adam loves Tulcan and the people there hoping he can stay in the area for 2-3 more transfers (3-4+ months) more.
  • About 600 people attended the district organization conference on Sunday in a big, beautiful building that rivaled the chapels in the states. Adam loved the Colombian food while over there and promised to give us more details about the area and food in next week’s letter.
  • While in Ibarra for the zone conference the missionaries stumbled on to a Papa John’s $6.99 All-You-Can-Eat pizza buffet. I’m sure the franchisee was disappointed to see them stop in for that one – might have to tell his family their income will be a little light this month. The stack of slice papers must be 50+ slices high!
  • Adam's companion, Elder Miranda, celebrated a birthday this week. Happy birthday, Elder M!
  • I love the photos of the steep Colombian countryside. "Happy" to see the soldiers on the side of the road helping to keep the peace. One needs little imagination to think of who else may be in those hills. He's in the right place...he's in the right place...

Monday, March 6, 2017

Week 28 - Ambushed!

Dearest friends and family,

During the last couple of days of Carnaval we have been pretty closed up in the house. We have this rule that we cannot leave unless we have an appointment that’s set in stone which is kind of difficult when everybody is out in the streets throwing water and eggs on each other. Another rule that we have is that whenever we have to travel somewhere we have to do it by taxi. Why? Because we’ve been told that people also like to throw things that are a little harder to get out of white shirts like paint and motor oil. But hey, it’s all fun and games, right?

We’ve been obedient, studying, cleaning, taking taxis and doing all of the things that we’ve been assigned for the holiday. We rode in a taxi to Aki, or grocery store, this past Monday to buy a few food items. All was normal as we got back into a different taxi to return home. The driver pulled up in front of the house to let us out and we started pulling change out of our pockets to pay him. In this very moment another car rolled up in front of us and braked hard, stopping in front of us and blocking our pathway into the house. Piling out of the back seat were 4 teenagers plus a 5th from the passenger seat. They were armed! Armed with 3-liter bottles of grape soda, foam spray canisters and water balloons. We walked calmly toward them not fully understanding what was setting up to happen. At this point they were confused as well because I they thought we were going to run or something. Everything broke loose when one of the little guys uploaded his grape soda all over the back of my companion’s sweater. A frenzy ensued - we were defenseless. I escaped relatively unscathed by making a quick b-line for the gate and ducking under the patio. Elders Miranda and Castagno were not so lucky. In a moment of genius I remembered the eggs we had just purchased. I ripped into the bags, grabbed 3 eggs and emerged from my shelter, arm cocked and ready to defend my companions but, to my dismay, found our attackers had already left, speeding around the corner in search of their next victims.

The carnage I discovered was rather gruesome. Elder Castagno, completely covered with foam stuck to every hair on his head could only mutter “welp, they got us” before we all started laughing. My companion was a little quieter having taken the hardest and stickiest part of the beating but we cheered him up of course with high fives and jokes to go around. Lesson of the day? Carnaval is one intense holiday! And no one is safe. At any moment, in any situation, they’re hunting for the weak and unsuspecting.

Life is good here in Ecuador, if you can’t tell from the excitement of my words. I’ll keep you updated on the changes that are coming my way this coming week! I miss you all dearly and am always beyond overjoyed reading the emails you send me every single week. 
Thank you sincerely.

With love, 

Elder E.