Tuesday, April 24, 2012

97 Degress in Stockton

Hello Everyone,

I'm not sure what to write about today but I'll try to think of things that have happened recently.
The biggest news is that Eva finally moved! She called us on Friday and told us she found somewhere to move to so we went out and helped her move.  She is in a different area now and there are other missionaries in our district there but we will get to finish teaching her and baptize her.  We invited her to be baptized this Saturday the 28th and she said she didn't feel prepared but we promised her that if she prayed about it she would feel ready.  She didn't come to church for some reason yesterday and we haven't been able to get a hold of her yet so I'm not sure what's going on.  She still wants to be baptized and we're not worried about that, it's just the "when" that she doesn't know yet.

It has been extremely hot here this week.  The past two days it has been 96 and 97 degrees and it's hotter than I can handle.  I might die this summer since it will be like that and hotter every day.  It sounds like the summers last from about now to the end of November so I'm hoping I can make it through.  It's supposed to rain Wednesday and Thursday so I’m looking forward to that.  We can only drive a certain number of miles each month and Elder Guzman and I are getting close to our limit so we're planning on biking those days (since they hopefully won't be as hot) to conserve miles.

We met some cool new people this week that we're going to start teaching.  This guy talks really really fast and swears a lot but he's so funny and we love talking to him even though we can't understand some of what he says (and Elder Guzman has been speaking Spanish his whole life).  He sounds like the perfect investigator because when we told him about the Book of Mormon he said he had wondered why there was nothing about the people in the Americas or anywhere besides Jerusalem or around that area of the world.  He also went of talking about UFOs and Area 51(or whatever it's called) and other planets/aliens.  He will be really interesting to teach.  He has a lot of questions and we have a lot of answers so we'll see if we can match him up for a baptismal date (:

My Spanish is getting better slowly.  I am improving a lot in my ability to understand what people are saying but I still have a good ways to go.  The work is tough because we have so many people we want to see and not enough time in the day to see them.  A lot of the time people aren't home and when we do get to sit down with someone they love to talk so much that we end up staying for 1-2 hours.  We also spend a lot of time visiting less active members because there are so many people who are members but don't come to church or anything like that.

Probably the coolest things that have happened this week were when we took a member to a lesson with us.  We were there with the investigators for 2 hours and Elder Guzman and I probably said 2 sentences between the two of us.  The member we took talked the whole time but what he said was really cool. I'll kind of sum up what he said:
When he was 16 he kept having these dreams/nightmares that the devil was knocking on his door every night and trying to get in.  One night the devil didn't knock and for some reason he had no fear and opened the door wide open to the outside world. No one was there.  He started floating up into the air.  The houses gradually got smaller and smaller until he couldn't see them anymore and he entered the clouds.  He could see a light and eventually got to it.  It turned out to be a beautiful house and he knocked on the door and a man (who he later figured out was Jesus Christ) answered the door.  He went in and talked with the man for a while and showed him part of his house.  He asked the man if he could see the rest and he said no, not yet.  Eventually he left and the man said to him three times "Keep going, and don't turn back".  He slowly made his way back through the clouds and back to the earth.  He woke up and didn't think much of it for a while.  One day, he was about to get on a bus when a street vendor person started talking to him.  The vendor asked him if he could give him a present after they had talked for a while.  He stretched out his hands and gave him a small set of scriptures.  The man told him that he wanted him to read Exodus 20 three times and then once he had finished to come and return the book to him.  When he heard three times he remembered the dream he had had.  A few days later he had read the chapter 3 times and decided to go return to the book.  He went back to the same outdoor store and asked the woman working how he could get a hold of the young man that lived there.  The woman was surprised and told him that the only people that worked there were her and her little daughter, nobody else had worked there in over 10 years.  He told her about the young man and their conversation and she told him that she had no idea who the guy was.  He kept those scriptures and began to read them a lot.  A long time later after he was married his friend introduced him to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and he was baptized three weeks later.  A year later, he and his wife went to the temple in Mexico City to get sealed.  He told us that as soon as he walked into the temple he recognized it as the exact same house that he had entered in his dream a long time ago, and this time he could go further into the house.  That was a really cool story he told us and he spent most of the 2 hours we were there with the investigators telling them that story.

This week a lot of the downtown streets close to where we live are closed because (we think) there is going to be an asparagus festival! There are a lot of fields around here that grow plants and vegetables in which people work but I think the two most prominent crops down here are asparagus and grapes.  Anyway, I think there's going to be a festival this week and that's why a lot of things are closed down but we'll see! If this is the case it will be fun to be around.

I can't think of anything else that has happened this past week.  Hopefully there will be lots of interesting stories a week from now.

Les Quiero
-Elder John Gaskill

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

April 16, 2012

Hello Everyone!

So this week has been awesome.  I love being out here in Stockton.  It hasn't proved to be too dangerous but there have been a couple nights where we hear a lot of gunshots somewhere nearby.

I have been getting made fun of a lot by the other Spanish missionaries here because I speak better Spanish than most of the elders/sisters here besides the native speakers.  They all tell me that I speak really well and the natives tell me I speak better than all the other white missionaries here and I only have a slight accent where a lot of the other missionaries have them pretty bad.  We were in ward correlation this past week and I was talking to the ward mission leader about our investigators and all the other missionaries started laughing and I found out later that my companion was right behind me going "look! That’s my companion, and he speaks better Spanish than all of you" and everyone thought it was funny.  Also, whenever we go to dinner appointments with member families I give the spiritual thought since I'm the newest missionary and after I give it the sisters like to tell the members that I've only been here for a week or two and when the members find that out they are amazed that I can speak clearly and quickly and understand what they say. So the Spanish is coming along really well! I guess my teachers in the MTC taught me well.  I still have a lot to learn though; I still have trouble hearing what the native speakers say.

So I said I would update everyone on my investigators.  The closest investigator we have to baptism is Eva Zapeda.  She is about 50 and has heard all of the lessons and wants to be baptized but right now she is living with her "esposo" but they're not married so she needs to move out and wants to move out but we haven't found anywhere yet. It's hard to find a place since usually land lords want a social security number and since she doesn't have her papers she can't do that.  By the way hardly anyone out here is legal.  All the people that we talk to and a lot of people in the ward didn't come to the United States legally so it makes it hard for a lot of people to find jobs, find places to live, etc.  But once we help Eva find somewhere to live she will be baptized!

We also have an investigator named Carolina and she loves the gospel and is really awesome and has a testimony of the priesthood because Elder Guzman and his last companion gave her and her husband a blessing and they got a lot better and know it works.  Her only problem is she wants her family to learn and listen so she is being a little slow but I think eventually she will be baptized.

We also have a family that has 5 kids and the parents names are Antonio and Rachel.  Rachel speaks English and Antonio speaks Spanish so our lessons are always really interesting.  Rachel is really interested and Antonio isn't as much but I'm pretty sure they will get baptized as well.  They came to a baptismal service with us last Saturday for an investigator that the zone leaders have and liked it.  They're only problem is they haven't been to church yet and our investigators have to come at least 3 times before they can be baptized.  We still have plenty to teach them as well.

This past Tuesday we were about to visit a less active family and we got a call from another less active family who told us about their granddaughter who is an alcoholic and wants to change.  We immediately went over there and she told us her whole life story, about how she has 2 kids (is 29) and is separated from them and her husband right now.  She wants to be in a 24/7 treatment place right now to get over everything because she recognizes it's a bad problem and she doesn't want to be somewhere with so much familiarity to her.  I gave her a blessing and immediately she said she felt better and wasn't anxious or nervous anymore.  We have some work with her because she came to us looking more for help with her addiction and not for the gospel but we'll see what we can do.

We found this 26 year old mother of 4 who really wants to learn more about the gospel and the Book of Mormon. She has such strong faith and I think she is going to be a miracle for us.  Her husband is about to be deported so she had to go to Los Angeles for 15 days so we won't get to teach her for just about 2 weeks but I think she will be a miracle in our area.

Those are all our main investigators for now.  We do a lot of work with less active members as well because this ward has about 500 members and over 350 are inactive.  So we spend just as much time visiting less active members as we do teaching investigators and going tracting.  We actually aren't even supposed to go tracting anymore, we're supposed to use other Preach My Gospel ideas to find people nowadays.  They just changed all that this past week and so everybody is re-learning what to do.

Well, I'm loving it out here.  I love my companion and the other Elders I live with and I love this work.  Sundays are really stressful because we are trying to get investigators to church and a lot of them just don't come or have problems getting there.  My first week there was hardly anyone there from the ward and we didn't have any investigators come but this past Sunday there were more than twice as many people, we had 3 investigators come, and two less active families that we've been working with the past two weeks. 

A lot of people out here are really poor and it's humbling me and making me very grateful for all the blessings I've had in my family and growing up my whole life.  Many people live day to day and do whatever work they can get and struggle to put food on the table, gas in the tank, and clothes on their backs.  They Spanish people here are a lot more kind than the white people and they always talk to us and don't try to push us away.  A lot of times when we go tracting the majority of the people we find are not Spanish speaking and they are the people who are rude to us. 

Elder Guzman and I were in Manteca today getting the oil changed in our car and we went on a walk for about an hour and 5 different cars of people (that we were assuming were members) honked and waved it us and that hasn't happened anywhere in our area but it's cool that a lot of people know who we are and love the missionaries even if they aren't Mormon.

That's about all I have this week.  I love you all! Have an awesome week until next Monday!

-Elder John Gaskill

Monday, April 9, 2012

First Area: Stockton

Hey Everyone!
I finally made it to the big leagues and am out of the MTC and in the field!  The area that I have been assigned to is in Stockton, California, about an hour south of Sacramento.  There are a lot of Latinos and other cultures here so this is where a lot of the Spanish-speaking missionaries are.  I have heard that Stockton is the 2nd most dangerous city in America 2nd to Detroit.  I'm not sure if I believe it but it's definitely up there.  The other Elders serving down here with me have said that there has been at least one murder here every week for at least the past year.  I haven't seen too much of the dangerous part but it definitely seems like a shady place.  Elder Torres (one of the 4 elders living in our apartment) said he saw a dead person where there had just been a murder before the police got there.  Two nights ago my companion (Elder Guzman) also called the police because there was a huge, violent argument going on outside of our apartment.  The area I'm in is called Delta South, and the other 2 elders in our apartment are in Delta East and apparently we have the 2 most dangerous areas in the whole mission.  So that's cool!  I have loved it here so far.  It's really green here and also a warmer climate, it's been pretty nice.

So my companion's name is Elder Guzman.  He is a native Spanish speaker.  He was born in southern Mexico and lived there for 10 years and has lived in Los Angeles the past 10 years.  He's 21 right now and has been serving for 10 months and this is his first time being a trainer.  It is really helpful to have a native speaker as my trainer because he does a lot of the talking to people in Spanish when I'm overwhelmed and don't know what's going on.  He's a really good Elder and I'm glad to have him training me.  He is also a pretty good soccer player and so it has been fun to play with him.  We play soccer every Thursday night for about 2 hours with members of the ward and investigators and that is a lot of fun.  The other two Elders in my apartment are Elder Torres and Elder Pickner.  They are both awesome as well and I love them.  Elder Torres was born in Mexico and is also a native but has lived in LA most of his life.  Elder Pickner is from Idaho and is a big guy who wrestled and played rugby before his mission.  I like them both a lot.

When we got to Sacramento we were picked up by the 3 Assistants to the President and the mission president and his wife.  They are all awesome and I like them a lot.  The first day we went back to the mission president's house and received a lot of training and then had dinner.  We spent the night at the AP's houses and then got up early the next morning to do some more training and then found out who our companions were and where we would be serving.  There were 12 people that arrived at once on April 3rd and there were only 2 of us speaking Spanish.  The other Elder's name is Elder Branchini and he was raised in Argentina so he already knows Spanish and lives in LA now and didn't go to the MTC, just drove up to Sacramento the day he reported.  We also got to go to the Sacramento temple.  It's really pretty and looks a lot like the Bountiful temple.

Our first week in Stockton we have tried to visit a lot of the investigators so I can get to know them and also do some tracting.  I have already got the tracting down in English since most the people we have talked to speak English but I need a lot more work in Spanish.  I cannot understand the Latinos here.  Americans annunciate every word and syllable so I could understand all my teachers in the MTC perfectly but Latinos talk a lot faster, a lot quieter, and slur words together so it's hard to hear what they're saying.  I can communicate (myself) in Spanish really well and people understand me buy I have a hard time understanding the native speakers.  I still have plenty of work to do in Spanish.  But I love all of our investigators; they are really nice and really cool people.  Elder Guzman told me there hasn't been a baptism in our area in about a year and a half so we have some work to do but we are definitely going to get more than one in the next 12 weeks that we're here.

We do a lot of studying since we speak a different language and I am in training but when we're not we go tracting, visit investigators, and also less active families.  One of the biggest problems here is inactivity and the members just don't go to church.  Yesterday in church there were hardly any people there.  The chapel is a lot smaller and it was very sparsely populated.  In priesthood meeting there were 6 missionaries, 1 teacher, and 5 members present.  We do a lot of work trying to activate the less active families.  I don't have a lot of time today but I will talk more about the investigators and people we are meeting next week when I have more time and don't have to send all the background information, and also when I get to know them better.

All the Spanish areas have cars since they are a lot bigger than the English areas and I am driving everywhere because Elder Guzman can't drive.  I'm not sure why, I just know he either isn't allowed or doesn't have a license.  We drive pretty nice cars.  The one I drive is a Chevy Malibu, probably a 2008 model.  I would still trade it for my Civic just because I prefer stick but this is a pretty nice car.

I have already been with 3 different companions tracting because we do this thing called a "blitz" every Saturday and Sunday it's kind of the equivalent of what Dad has his sales people do at work in a way.  All 7 companionships in our zone come together and go tracting in 1 companionship’s area and get lots of contacts and returns and books placed to help out the people in that area.  Last night I got to go with Elder Call who is one of the zone leaders and it was really cool.  All the zone leaders and the missionaries down here keep telling me that I look like the ideal missionary and that I'm going to be in all the leadership positions in the mission after a few transfers.  Elder Call told me I was really good and he was really impressed with how I taught.  Other missionaries also have told me that they think I was born a missionary at the age of 0.  I apparently my haircut looks like Jeffrey R Holland’s so they equate me to him a lot.  I'm not sure how much of this they say to all the new missionaries to make them feel good but it really boosts my self-confidence and makes me want to be a better missionary.

The two hardest parts so far have been sleep and working out.  We get usually about 7.5 hours of sleep every night but I am always so tired throughout the day because I barely got any sleep my last few nights at the MTC and the first day here we had 16 missionaries that had to use 2 showers at the AP's house so we had to get up really early.  We also have 1 bathroom for 4 missionaries in our apartment so it makes getting ready in the morning pretty difficult.  We also only get 30 minutes in the morning to work out and that is barely any time at all.  If we try to go running we usually only have enough time to run about a mile.  My biggest worry about my mission is not all the hard things I will have to do but getting fat.  All the missionaries here have showed me pictures of them when they got here, how much they weighed, and then how much weight they've gained in 5 months, 10 months, or 15 months.  I'm very scared about it.  I think that will probably be the hardest part about my mission for me.

Mom asked me to decide which kind of mail I prefer and real mail in the form of letters probably is the best.  I don't know exactly how all the mail works but we get an hour on the computers every week to email everyone and look up anything else we need for our investigators and other things for the whole week so it's better to be able to read it beforehand and not have to read it all and then write emails all in the same hour period.

I can't think of anything else off the top of my head so I will be sure to write anything else I think of next week!
Les Amo,
Elder John Gaskill