Monday, August 28, 2017

Week 53 - Look for More than Ya!

Dearest friends and family,
Something that I like that we do, but I seldom talk about, is the English classes we teach as part of our community service. I have taught many classes in nearly every one of my areas, but I am especially enjoying teaching English here in Cayambe. Maybe it is because the class is a tad bit smaller than we are used to? Or maybe it is because one of my favorite families, the familia Guerrero, always comes? Or maybe it is because I’ve found a new sense of confidence in both my Spanish and my teaching abilities of late? Or maybe it is because we often get a little off topic and end up joking, laughing and enjoying ourselves? I’m not sure which, perhaps it's a combination of all these things, but we have really been enjoying our classes every Wednesday evening.
Like any normal classroom setting, my class sometimes gets off topic. This past week I brought up the fact that I’ve been happy drinking a chocolate dust used to make chocolate milk called “Ricacao” (an off-brand version of Nesquik). Those of you who know me will understand that I can’t just say “Ricacao” but I instead semi-shout the name, letting the “cao” roll off my tongue with a more gravelly voice…a deep “RICA-CAOOOO!” So we were talking about that for a minute and then got even more off topic as the discussion moved onto other powder-in-water drinks. I made a final mistake of mentioning that I also enjoy this Kool-Aid type juice here called “Jugosya.” For me, it’s really convenient to boil 2 liters of water, throw in a 30-cent packet of powder, and turn that water into purazno, maracuya, guanabara, or even pina colada. I even love it’s name. In Spanish, “ya” means “now” or “already” so jugosya is a little play on words like you put the powder in and “ya – there’s your juice.” I don’t know, I’m a fan.
Anyway, I made the mistake of mentioning the Jugosya in front of this small group of people trying to learn English and immediately caught the wrath of one woman (who will remain unnamed) who chastised me for drinking things that are so unhealthy. In response, I tried to explain the convenience of it - that we (especially we Americans) love things that come “ya!” Fast food, ya! Finding information on the Internet, ya! Buying the latest gadget ya! More class members came to her defense, chiming in that the powder was just citric acid and food coloring. In the end, everyone ended up teasing everyone else and lots of laughs and smiles were shared. And not to continue the debate, I do think I ended up winning on the basis of cost alone – I mean it’s 2-liters of “juice” for only 30 cents!
This leads me to my point. I know I’ve touched on this before, but I wanted to share this week about something that has become very important for me. My mission – my time here in Ecuador - has taught me to pay attention to what I am supposed to be doing and learning right now; to pay attention to what God wants me to learn in this, and every, moment. So we got to do exchanges this week with Elders Welch and Harmon in Otavalo. Exchanges are always a good and lesson-filled time for me – a chance to learn and share with other missionaries with whom we don’t normally work. I went out with Elder Harmon and am grateful to get to know him a little better. I must confess while working that afternoon, I was feeling itchy about getting back to the apartment that evening because we had plans to cook dinner together and to commemoratively burn one of my white shirts in celebration of completing one year in the mission. I was also looking forward to catching up with Elder Welch who served with me back in Tulcan/Ipiales. Anyway, as we walked I was caught up in my thoughts of the evening to come when, all of a sudden, a huge “WHY?” flashed across my mind. Here I was, walking through some of the most beautiful countryside on my way to an appointment and I wasn’t in the moment. We paused to check our directions and then Elder Harmon led us up a quick little hill overlooking a stunningly beautiful lake resting at the base of the epic Imbabura volcano. And it was there, in that moment, I snapped to and appreciated what we were doing, genuinely. We continued a little further up the hill, to the home of an older gentleman who lost his wife 4-years ago. We shared a message perfect for him, which he graciously accepted as evidenced by the look of relief and comfort that came across his face as we spoke. I am not sure what will happen with him because my area is far from where he lives but Elders Welch and Harmon have a return appointment in the week to come. I definitely learned what time was trying to teach me that afternoon.
I know school is starting for many back home and my siblings and the majority of my student friends and, in some cases their families, aren’t looking forward to it. And I would never suggest summer isn’t amazing and infinitely better than being in school. But I am going to leave you with a thought: I wish I had paid a little more attention prior to my mission…more attention to the moment and what time was trying to teach me all those years, instead of just constantly looking forward to the next thing – the next meal, the next vacation, the next weekend, the next “ya!” Remember friends that the real juice is always much, much better than the powder-in-water substitute. Be in the moment and seek the real thing. I love you all. Have an excellent week.
- EE

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Week 52 - The Benefit of Genuine Friends

Dearest friends and family,

I started writing this letter a couple of days ago on the bus but it started sounding negative so I decided to scrap it, start over and write a few words this week about friendship. I remember last year when we got into the “winding down” part of senior year nearly everyone was stressed and on edge with end of year activities. One day information about Prom Court nominations leaked and I overheard in the halls a “whaaaat? Her? She got nominated? I mean…I love her, but no, not her…” A proclamation of disapproval and disappointment regarding a prom court nominee from a supposed “good friend” one breezy Friday afternoon. I didn’t understand and found myself chuckling a little as I watched this stress bring out the predatory instincts of two “friends.” What I took away from that experience is an awareness of genuine friendships in life where the friends want, and find joy in, the success of another. Successes are a reason for both to rejoice and be happy...a moment to sit back and say “wow, good for you, I’m really proud…you did a great job and really deserve this.” And I realized there are friendships that we sometimes find where success of one drives the other crazy and quickly surfaces raw, jealous or other negatives emotions and frustration. I’m sure you’ve seen this play out in real life and can relate to what I’m trying to say.

I bring this up as a long-winded introduction to a topic that has been on my mind lately: the mission has been an amazingly powerful catalyst in helping me appreciate and seek genuine friends.

Elder Cuevas and I got called to Quito twice this week. The first visit was to get his visa paperwork squared away and the second visit was for “verifications”, where the mission leaders and President Murphy verify his progress as a newbie and give us trainers tips in how to be more effective trainers. It was an edifying series of meetings. I remember when I arrived, just 10 months ago, before getting in the car to go to the bus station and heading off to the coast, I asked President Murphy when I would see him next. It was a comfort to be around him and to receive his instruction…a comfort that if any problem should ever arise, he would be there and able to help. In this week’s meetings I picked up on a little of that from the newbies and it brought back a lot of feelings of my own arrival.

All in all, verifications went well but, by far, the best part was getting to spend time with some of my best missionary friends. We got into Quito around 8 and made our way to the “La Luz,” the area of Elders George and Moon, and went to work with them for a few hours. We got some chocolate milk and bread and made our way back to their house for lunch. It’s so comforting talking with someone who completely understands and shares my exact same feelings on so many topics, which is why Elder George and I get along so well. We talked about how sometimes missionaries become like robots and forget about everything that mattered to them before leaving, including their family, friends, and interests and how some even seem to lose their personalities. We reasoned God made us with differences for a reason and those differences are often a necessary tool to be able to do the things He wants us to do. We also decided that sometimes our family members are the ones who most need our help and it’s our duty to be there for them as well. I guess the gist is that we just want to be the best missionaries we can be and that we want to grow and improve; we want to weed out the negative character traits we brought to the mission without changing so much that we lose the positive character traits and who we were before coming out here. Makes sense?

As we were talking and laughing, all of a sudden Elder Castagno walked in! He was getting his visa renewed as well and had traveled down from Ipiales. Oh wow, I can’t even describe the joy we felt in seeing one another: it was all hugs and smiles and laughter the rest of the day and well into the night. These are exactly the types of genuine friends I was talking about in the beginning of my letter. Friends I want to see succeed and who want to see me do well.

I am grateful for your friendship as well. Know that I’m happy, healthy and staying positive while enjoying many new genuine friendships here in Ecuador. Have a great week. I love and miss you all.


Elder Ericksen

Monday, August 14, 2017

Week 51 - Blessed in Cayambe

Dearest friends and family,

Cayambe is very artisanal. At least I think that’s the word I want. What I mean is that the people here put a lot of effort into the little details of certain parts of their culture, especially their food, dress, architecture and, of course, the flowers. Okay, maybe not so much with the food because the lunches here actually look and taste just like they do in other parts of Ecuador, but I bring up the food so I can talk about the cheese industry here in Cayambe.

I’ve learned a lot about cheese production because of a respectable man named Danny who is listening to us missionaries along with his family. Danny works in a big cheese factory with a name that I don’t remember right now. His main responsibility is feeding chunks of parmesan into a gigantic shredder that I’m sure has appeared in a horror film or two, producing flaky crumbs of parmesan sort of like what we have in the states. Now this isn’t a complaint but I feel like it would be appropriate to mention that for me Ecuadorian cheese is a disappointing experiment compared to the cheese we have back home. All the cheese I’ve tried here is salty and really, resistantly waxy. How do I explain? It’s like when you take a bite, the cheese makes a squeaky noise on your teeth and then bounces back to its original shape. You get the idea. When I showed interest in Danny’s knowledge of the production of yogurt, manjar, and especially the parmesan cheese, he brought us out a little sack of that day’s batch and gave it to us! Mom, it was perfect because just one day earlier I received your package of pasta sauce packets. We cooked up a delicious alfredo and the cheese was great!

So cheese production is one industry that provides jobs for many of the people we visit and meet here. But the far larger industry is the production and exportation of flowers. Everyone in Cayambe either works on a plantation or knows a good handful of people who work in related businesses. It makes for an interesting culture. Logically there are lots of stages in flower production: planting, classifying, harvesting, preparing for export, constructing and maintaining the green houses, tending the soil, tending the workers – in short, many stages and processes. I can tell when someone is a classifier / packagers by looking at their fingernails. The classifiers always let their nails or at least their thumbnails grow long. They do this to be able to pluck off erroneous leaves that just don’t belong on the perfect flowers. It’s all just part of the occupation. Another thing that some people told us is that the government regulates the allowed age to be able to work on the fincas by putting an age limit of 35 on certain jobs. This is interesting to me because the majority of the people work with the flowers but when they sign up for the job it’s a given that they’ll have to find other work to sustain themselves and their families.

I admit that I’ve reached a tiny bit of a stumbling block on this letter. I’m not sure how to close! I’m going to finish just throwing out whatever feels natural in my raw thoughts.

I love seeing people work hard and do all they can, give everything in their power, to provide for their families. I have also loved being engulfed in such a rich culture with such longstanding and deep traditions. I’ve only been in Cayambe for 3 weeks but I’m exceptionally fond of it – I hope some of that comes through in my writing. I’m thankful that my companion and I have been blessed with such a great start here. I’m thankful there are people that listen to us and that we have been able to help them. I’m thankful for our beautiful apartment and that we can see the volcano out our window on clear days. I’m thankful that I’ve learned to be happy with just being by myself. I’m thankful that I’ve completed a year in my mission already and even more thankful that I have so much time, another year, yet to complete. I feel like I finally have the hang of this, guys! I’m so thankful for the people who love me and thankful that some of you read my letters. I’m doing really well. Does anyone have any questions for me? Shoot me a note ( I’d love to hear from you.

Have an amazing week, everyone. Keep smiling and never stop!

I love you all,

Elder Ericksen

Other tidbits in Adam’s letter to his mom this week:
  • It’s Thursday evening and I’m super happy to be jotting this note to you about a tiny miracle I saw tonight. In week 3 of the 12-week training program for new missionaries we focus on how to better find people to teach. A big part of the lesson is focusing on talking with everyone, in every moment, where appropriate. I really, really believe in this concept and it is something that has blessed me greatly. Lots of missionaries just go knocking doors all day, but I’d much prefer to talk to people out in the street where it’s easier to have a conversation and where we can better observe what a person might be going through and therefore be able to better tailor our conversation to their needs. This is something I could write pages and pages about so let’s just say I strongly believe in the importance of talking with everyone. Anyway, this happens to be an area where Elder Cuevas is less comfortable and I’ve been trying to help him with it. So tonight there was a large group of people outside a restaurant and I invited him to go and speak with them. He said he would and then, in the moment, backed out and walked right by, creating an awkward situation and leaving me feeling a little frustrated. It became the last straw of what had been a long day. I had us say a little prayer and then asked him if he thought it would have been better if he had at least introduced himself and smiled at them. He replied yes and I then promised him that we would be able to find a new family to teach that same night if he would do at least that. Man, I was praying so hard in my heart that I would not be made a liar! We rounded the next corner and saw a man taking an empty box out to the trash. He looked really tough, with a firm jaw, and kind of intimidatingly buff. I reminded Elder Cuevas of our goal to talk to everyone. Elder Cuevas was on the fence as we approached and, for my part, I was praying super hard in my head. Well Elder Cuevas accepted the challenge and we were invited in and taught this little 4-person family a brief lesson about God’s love for us. Meeting Orlando and Jessica was a definite miracle…a last minute, legit, last contact of the day and God honored my promise to Elder Cuevas and rewarded our effort!
  • We witnessed again the hand of God on Saturday while talking with Luis and Soledad about their marriage. [This is the family living on the extreme outskirts of town Adam mentioned last week.] Out of the blue, Luis told us they both had been praying and have decided to get married on the 9th of September! They then asked to be baptized on the 16th! We have been blessed with a lot of success here in Cayambe. We have several other people scheduled for baptism in September, a number of other families progressing towards it, and we had 9 visitors in Church yesterday which was perfect because the Otavalo Stake President visited and spoke and the Relief Society had brought in some genuine flower arrangements from the nearby plantation and the chapel looked beautiful.
  • We go into Quito tonight (Monday). We have an appointment to get Elder Cuevas’ visa registered tomorrow morning. Speaking of, Elder Cuevas is doing really well. He’s progressing a ton and losing the fear he had of talking to people. We get along really well and help each other a lot. Something interesting is that I thought that I might feel lonely here in Cayambe because I’m far away from everybody and it’s just the two of us and he’s a new missionary and all this stuff. But I’ve actually been extremely happy and I know it’s because I’ve devoted myself to working as hard as possible, being a good example, and for the service I give to Elder Cuevas. It’s amazing. I can’t fully explain and I certainly cannot complain.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Week 50 - Lots of Leg, Lots of Lung

Hello friends and family,

Opening an area has been such an adventure! I don’t have any better word to describe it except: adventure. A little more than a week ago, we got off a bus in the middle of a city neither of us had ever been before. We had asked the driver when boarding where to get off, but he didn’t offer any clear direction. So we got off where he said and started wandering in search of the chapel. We were armed with the cell phone of the missionaries who had served here before and the keys to their old apartment. We were lucky some names had been saved in the phone’s contacts so if we got into a real jam and needed it, we could call have called on some friendlies in our new, expansive battlefield. After a short walk, we found the chapel and then lunch before feeling a prompting that we should go back to the church. (I am sure it seemed more than a little unusual to people on the street that 2 young Mormon missionaries were wandering around asking where to find their church.)

Upon returning to the chapel, we saw the gate was now open and walked right in to find Presidente Castaneda inside watching church videos. We were blessed that both he, and we, had listened to our inspired thoughts as he told us that he felt like he just wanted to “have the chapel open for a while” that morning. He was able to really help us a lot, showing us around the town a little, and giving us the names of some people the old missionaries used to visit. This was a huge step in the right direction. And I loved being off on my own, with my companion, with no expectations save it be for the ones we put on ourselves. And now I find myself thriving in this environment. Since then, in just the last few days, my Peruvian companion, Elder Cuevas, and I have come to know this city as if we’ve lived here our entire lives, we’ve found a heaping-handful of people to help and visit, and we’ve even scored a few points with the members of the church living here along the way. I’m really, really happy being here.

Keeping with my opening theme of adventure, I wanted to share with you about some people who are really special, Luis and Soledad. They are relatively new in the church but they are really enthusiastic and helpful. What is incredible about this couple is that they travel more than an hour each way to church on Sunday. And walking back to their house that sits at 3,500M (11,500 feet), high in the mountains, requires lots of leg and lots of lung. I can’t describe it.

The key word here is Cangahua. Google map it. Cangahua is a little pueblito that you would only know if you had been there. We arrived around 3pm in the afternoon and there wasn’t very much activity in the town square. There were a few people going about their daily activities and I couldn’t help thinking to myself as the words whispered from my lips: “wow, now this is an adventure.” We were accompanied by President Castaneda and a brother Jackson Mendoza who immediately started looking for someone with a truck to help us climb upwards even more, even deeper into the mountains. We eventually located one and were off. Cangahua is composed of a little town square with a cute blue chapel and maybe 5x5 squares of cross streets. In other words: it’s small. And it disappeared quickly in the rear view mirror as we continued on. The road we were driving on was wide enough for a car-and-a-half and was hidden in between a vast mountain face on one side and sheer cliff on the other. At this altitude, the lush green Ecuadorian foliage of below is replaced by the short, stubby brown shrubbery of the sierra. And the wind whips hard.

We eventually found the small school house given us as a point of reference in a place called Pitana Alto. From there we started asking around for Luis and Soledad. In this regard, Andes mountain villages and old folk trailer parks back home have something in common: everyone knows everybody and we located Luis and Soledad’s home quickly. The wind ever whipping outside, keeping the shrubbery short and the earth desolate, we gathered around with their family and shared a message about God’s love and concern for each of us. I felt exceptionally important and honored by the level of interest and attention they loaned us, down to the smallest of their children. I imagine they don’t receive many visitors. Human interaction, in this world, is utterly awesome.

The hike and adventure had been worth the effort. We survived the trip. We saw yet another incredibly beautiful part of our planet. And we met an incredible group of people. What more could I want? Maybe a cuy asado (guinea pig BBQ)? No, that’s a joke. Upon departing, Soledad came running out the door to show us the trail that would take us back to the main road where we could catch the bus. “No worries, it’s just 10 minutes downhill” she promised. We walked for an hour but eventually made it. I arrived back home that night feeling incredibly enlightened. And blessed. Blessed to be here. Blessed for the experience.

I guess you could say it’s been an exceptional week. Every night I return home feeling great – better than the day before – because I am learning more about the world, learning more about myself and I am feeling closer and closer to God, as I give my all to His work. Take charge in your life, do what’s right and the find the adventure that exists all around. I promise you will enjoy!

With love,

Elder Ericksen
  • Adam is training a new missionary, Elder Cuevas, from Lima Peru. Elder Cuevas is the third in a family of 4 kids – 1 other brother and 2 sisters. He is “a sincere guy and I’m really thankful for that. I am blessed that he wants to work, wants to be obedient, and wants to be better and I’ve been able to really help him.”
  • I am loving being a trainer and I’ve turned into a missionary machine taking care of everything while Elder Cuevas integrates himself more and more into the mission. I really appreciate this and it’s helping be a way more effective leader and a lot more professional in my interactions. Mission work is hard and tiring and at times not fun and Elder Cuevas is adjusting, just like I had to. My strategy is to keep reminding us both about our callings and the purpose of our work and of course to set for him a great example. I know the mission will impact him soon like it does all of us and I put my faith in that. I am being really compassionate, serving him 24/7, and I know he’s going to be great. This is the part I love most in all of this: I absolutely love being able to help others spiritually and emotionally. (Proud parental note right there - my kid is becoming a man!)