Aug 29, 2016

Week 13 - August 29, 2016

Hola!  A beautiful week of sharing the gospel and serving the people of Ataco.  I'm learning a ton every day, growing in so many ways, and having the time of my life.  Missionary work is hard but my days are filled with mini-miracles and I feel my Heavenly Father's love all the time.  There isn't much more you could ask for. Maybe a hug from my parents, but I'm not going to start thinking about that.

This week we made a lot of progress with our investigators, Rosa Elena and her son Fernando.  Fernando is 12 years old and one of the most impressive children I have ever met.  We have been teaching him for about a month, and he loves everything about the gospel.  He is at church every Sunday, attends all activities during the week, and is reading the Book of Mormon as if his life depended on it.  Fernando asks us every lesson when he can be baptized.  His mom, Rosa Elena, is slightly more apprehensive and rightfully so.  She works in San Salvador, and is only here on the weekends, so we've only had two lessons with her.  At first she was pretty closed off, but this Saturday she really opened up to us.  She said that she's nervous to take a leap of faith, but that if our message was true it would be the best thing that's ever happened to her and her son.  She took a Book of Mormon to San Salvador with her this week, and promised that she would read it.  She has a sincere desire to find the truth and I know that the Lord is going to help her, and of course we are going to also.

The happiest moments of my life this week were with Hermano Antoni.  Hermano Antoni is a 73-year-old man with a heart of gold.  We've clicked since the moment we met, and he is one of my favorite people.  When we met he had been inactive for about 20 years. He told us that he wasn't sure why he stopped going because it had been so long.  We've slowly been helping him remember the testimony he once had.  In our lesson this week something touched him just enough, well the Holy Ghost touched him, and yesterday morning Antoni was in the chapel with a white shirt, tie, and the biggest smile.  His wife fell into my arms in tears after church, crying because her 20 years of prayers had been answered, and that she couldn't be more thankful.  As I was thinking about the 6 weeks spent visiting and helping Antoni, it made me think how long he has been inactive.... 20 years, and for some reason, my Heavenly Father blessed me with the opportunity to help this man, and for this man to help me.  This work is the most amazing thing I've ever been a part of.

Walking home Saturday night we were stopped by a chef in front of a restaurant.  He wanted to know who we were and where we are from, which is a usual thing.  While talking I found out that he had lived in Simi Valley for 45 years!  We talked about Zuma Beach and Balboa Park.  He asked me what on earth I was doing here, I explained that I was sharing a message of Jesus Christ, and he said that he felt he better listen.  We had a great lesson, and are going to meet with him again this week.  As we were leaving he gave us each a full pizza, soda, and cake.  He thanked us for bringing a light into his life that he had never felt before. It was such a random, amazing experience - and proved once again that my Heavenly Father is placing people in our path.

Well, I hope that you all had a wonderful week, and that the next one is even better!  It's hard to believe that 3 months have already passed in this crazy little adventure.  I know that this is the true church and that we have a message of eternal love and happiness to share.

I love you all!

Hermana Houston

Aug 22, 2016

Week 12 - August 22, 2016

Hola!  I have had a wonderful week here in Ataco.  We found some amazing new investigators, 5 less active families were back in church this week, and the members here are finally beginning to open their hearts to the missionaries again.Woohoo! I couldn't be any happier.  I'm feeling the joy that comes from serving others everyday.  My Heavenly Father is literally guiding my steps, and I'm preaching peace to anyone who will take a couple of minutes to listen.  With hard work, prayer, and a whole lot of love for the people we are seeing this little town change right before our eyes.  The Lord is doubling, tripling our efforts - I know this is His work and I feel so thankful to be a part of it.

My relationship with Hermana Reyes is still great, but we have our rough patches.  Here's an example from this week.  So, by some miracle the members are starting to love us.  We had members inviting us over to eat everyday this week. One night, we ate dinner at the house of a woman who hasn't had missionaries over for more than 2 years.  I don't know what happened, but she wanted nothing to do with us when we first got here. I was determined to make this woman love me, and she now calls me her "pequena gringa hija" - her little white daughter, haha.  Mission accomplished there. Anyways, we went to her house for dinner and she said that she had made her specialty... which was 3 chicken feet and 2 chicken hearts for each of us with some rice...Ahh...Obviously I did not want to lose my relationship with this Hermana, so I started eating, and it was not very good.  The worst part was when the Hermana left the room for a minute, Hermana Reyes put all of her food on my plate.  I looked at her in absolute shock and she just shrugged her shoulders, saying nothing.  When the Hermana returned she was so pleased that Hermana Reyes had liked the food so much that she gave her 2 more feet and another heart.  All of which was again transferred to my plate.  I ate 8 chicken feet, 5 hearts, and started throwing up 2 minutes after we left the house.  I spent the rest of the night throwing up, and my cute companion did not say a word.  My 6th time throwing up, at 4:30 a.m., Hermana Reyes brought me a cup of water and with her hilarious endearing English simply said, "welcome to the mission," she laughed so hard she cried, then went back to bed. Definitely something I will never forget.

The other special moment from this week happened on Friday.  We were sitting on the sidewalk taking a break when a cat decided to run in front of an on-coming car.  We tried to warn the poor thing but it didn't listen and got ran over.  Really sad, but this cat didn't die...It just started running around in circles, with blood flying everywhere.  It was horrific. And just before this cat was about to die it decided to jump into my lap. So, I was sitting on the side of the road, with a dead cat in my lap, blood all over my face and clothes, bawling because I had just witnessed the most horrific moment of my life.

Well, I continue to grow and love my mission - the good and the bad - more everyday.  Things are really improving here, and I feel that I am exactly where I need to be.  We have transfers this week, which is crazy. I can't believe I have been in Ataco for 6 weeks. Since I'm in training it is extremely unlikely that anything will change, which I'm thankful for.  I'm excited to have another 6 weeks serving the people of Ataco and learning from Hermana Reyes.  Thank you all for your love and support, I've been blessed with amazing friends and family.

Have a wonderful week,

Hermana Houston

Aug 15, 2016

Week 11 - August 15,2016

Making Papusas

Hello!  What a week it has been. As per usual, it wasn't easy - but everyday things get a little bit easier, and I am learning so much all of the time.  My knowledge of the Gospel and my own personal testimony have grown so much in this last week.  To be honest I had some days that tested my physical, mental, and spiritual strength more than I can express in words.  I think they had to have been the hardest days I have ever experienced. However, as I have been on my knees praying with more energy of my heart and intent than I ever have before - I have seen my Heavenly Father work miracles in my life.  I thought I just might give up this week, but when I was feeling my lowest my Heavenly Father picked me right back up.  I'm happy, truly happy, and I love being a missionary.

My ability to communicate with people has improved so rapidly that I can hardly believe it.  I know that my successes with the Spanish language are all because of the Gift of Tongues, and I am so humbled and thankful that my Father has been literally pouring this blessing over me.  We were in a lesson with a less active member this week and she guessed that I had been on my mission for over a year because of how great my Spanish is. ¿What? I was so happy haha. Later in the week we had a zone conference with President Spjut which was absolutely amazing in every way. Part of the conference was doing practice lessons with President and I was pretty nervous...But after he said that my Spanish really is as if I've been here for a year, and that he couldn't be more proud of me! Best day ever. My confidence in opening my mouth grew a ton and the language barrier is starting to not really be a barrier at all.

Sometimes I think that my Heavenly Father has a sense of humor with a lot of the things going on in my life.  Kind of like, He wants me to be happy, but He also wants to have fun at the same time.  On Friday nights we have an activity at the church for missionary work.  Members bring their friends, we bring investigators, and a short message about the gospel is taught with treats.  It's great!  By some miracle this week we had 12 investigators in this meeting.  I was praying and thanking my Heavenly Father with all of my heart for helping us to have some success when the 2nd counselor of the bishopric began his lesson about how to prepare dead people before their burial.  The horror.  The meeting was a disaster, with people asking the most absurd questions I have ever heard.  Our investigators have a million questions, I have zero answers. Beautiful things happening here in Ataco.

My favorite person, Yesenia, taught me how to make papusas this week! I can't wait to make them for you guys once I'm back home, and luckily I have a lot of time to practice before then.

As I have been learning more about this gospel and the life of my Savior, Jesus Christ, I have become awestruck, humbled and thankful beyond words. I am amazed at His sacrifice, His love and His grace. I cannot express in words the gratitude that I have for all that He has done for me, and for what through Him, I have the opportunity to become.  I testify that He lives, and that because of He lives, we all can live again.  I testify that this is the truth, and that our Savior is the way and the light.  These words from my favorite hymn played over and over in my mind this week, "Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee, How Great Thou Art!" I love my Heavenly Father, my Savior, and all of you!

Until next week,

Hermana Houston

My companion and me
My Living Room
Where I sleep

Aug 8, 2016

Week 10 - August 8, 2016

The front door of my house

Another week has passed! This week was good. Really hard, but there is always a lot to be grateful for.  Ataco is wonderful, but it is a difficult area when it comes to missionary work.  It is a tourist town, so everyone that we talk to in the streets is just visiting, and people rarely let us into their houses because they are strong Catholics. We work hard every day, but we haven't had a whole lot of success. After 4 nights of getting lectured by our district leaders for not having a baptism yet I asked if they wanted to come contact here for a couple of hours to find people for us to teach since I'm still trying to get the hang of things. They came and contacted for 3 hours and couldn't find anyone...they were shocked at how difficult the area is. So, they are a lot nicer now which is nice - but it is going to take a lot of work to have success here in Ataco.  I am sure we will figure out how to help these people, and I am excited for that.

The good news is that my relationship with Hermana Reyes has improved significantly. As my ability to speak Spanish has improved, and her ability to speak English also, we get along great.  We laugh all of the time, and are able to make the most of any situation we are faced with. The fact that we are getting along well makes everything else doable.  So while it was a hard week, it was probably the happiest one that I have had her is Ataco. I'm thankful for that, and for my sweet companion.

We had inter-changes this week, so I spent a day in Espino with Hermana Guzman.  It was nice to switch things up for the day but I was really nervous because it was an evaluation of how I'm doing as a missionary.  It all went well and I learned a lot.  We were in a lesson with a really sweet lady who is going through a hard time in her life.  I've never been someone who could just pull scriptures from the back of her head and apply it to someone, but as a missionary that is pretty much what we are supposed to do.  I've been learning how to rely on the Holy Ghost more, and I had read in Preach My Gospel that if I would listen to people genuinely, I wouldn't have to worry about what to say. So, during this lesson I decided I wasn't going to think about what to say.  I was just going to listen.  As I was listening to this woman's story, a scripture came into my mind out of nowhere.  I had no idea what this scripture said, but decided to trust in the Holy Ghost and read it with the investigator.  The scripture was exactly what needed to be shared.  I was able to bear testimony, and this woman cried and cried about how she knew that her Heavenly Father had answered her prayers.  It was one of the coolest experiences I have ever had.

I continue to become more humbled by the people of Ataco every day that I spend here in this crazy town.  On Saturday morning we had the most amazing storm I have ever seen. It poured for hours and hours.  We spent most of the afternoon clearing water out of people's flooded houses, it was a disaster.  But, in church yesterday during testimony meeting every single person talked about how thankful they were for the rain that we had received, and how they knew that God loved us and was aware of us. Pretty amazing.

Well, I love you guys. I am sorry that I don't have more exciting news.  I don't want you guys to worry about me, because overall I'm going good. I'm exhausted, but I'm learning. I'm struggling, but I'm happy.

Have a great week!

Hermana Houston

Aug 1, 2016

Week 9 - August 1, 2016

Hola!  It is August 1st...How crazy is that? Two months have passed by.  I still have a lot of months left, but I'm super thankful for the experiences and growth I've had in the last 2 months.  And I'm thankful that I get to spend 16 more months serving my Savior, and the people of El Salvador.

This week overall was good, but also a little bit more difficult for me.  I think a lot of the initial enthusiasm left me, and I started to realize how much I don't like to feel like I'm camping 24/7. The bugs are hard, cold showers are hard, sweating all the time is hard...and sometimes speaking Spanish is really hard.  But, as I have been praying and doing my best to keep a positive attitude, I have felt a lot of peace.  I know I'm where I'm supposed to be, and I'll keep adjusting to the environment with time.  Last night we were teaching a lesson in a home with cinder block walls, and cardboard hanging from the ceiling to separate rooms...And these people were so happy, the happiest people I've ever met. I was humbled beyond belief, and felt the spirit whisper to me that I'll find just as much happiness here as well, which I know is true.

I had the privilege of becoming well-acquainted with the dogs of Ataco this week.  They're everywhere.  Packs of them...sometimes 20.  Most of them are shy and keep to themselves, but there are some who love to make Emily's life miserable. They love to make me cry.  On Tuesday I received some battle wounds from an encounter with one, on Thursday one peed on my leg while we were talking to someone on the street. Probably because my legs are still as white as some of the light posts... oh well. I'm getting better at handling the vicious ones.  Learning that running away from them makes things worse. On Saturday I held my ground and was victorious, no scratches or anything! And luckily I've been able to avoid bites completely. I don't even know who I am anymore, fighting dogs and killing spiders, haha, who would have thought?

This week we started focusing quite a bit on Hermana Reyes' English.  She really wants to learn it, and it has been nice to not feel like the only loser trying to learn a language.  We were practicing how to introduce ourselves in English a few days ago and about halfway through she stopped and said,"wait, this is how you feel all day, everyday."  Her realization was an answer to many prayers and she has been a lot nicer since then.  We were talking about why she wants to learn English and she told me that if she can speak English - she'll make 4x the amount of money when she gets back home, and that a good English course costs about $2,000 in the Dominican Republic...crazy.  So, I am determined to help her learn English before she leaves in October.

I had some amazing spiritual experiences this week, ones that I will never forget. I testify that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and that this is the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. I also know that our Heavenly Father hears our prayers, and that He will always answer them.  I don't think I could put into words how much I love being here, how much I love serving my Savior. It is without a doubt the most difficult thing I've ever done, but also the most rewarding.  As always, thank you for your support, prayers, and love. I miss home, but there's work to be done her in Ataco.

Until next week,

Hermana Houston