Tuesday, September 20, 2016

See you in two... weeks!!

Dear family and friends:

 Alas, I'm nearing the end of my mission. I don't have any more time left but I just wanted to thank you so very much for all the support, kindness, friendship, faith-filled prayers, encouragement, counsel and advice that each and every one of you had shown and given to me all throughout this very trying mission of mine. I appreciate all the efforts that you've made in order to help me to more easily get through this and to accomplish all that I've been sent here to do. 

May you have happiness, joy, peace and success in every aspect of your lives, in everything that you do and in everything that you hope to accomplish. May the Lord be with you and may he deverse his Spirit upon each of you so that you have the strength and capacity to face any challenge and overcome any trial that you may be going through at this time. 

I thank you, again, and I appreciate and love you all so very much.

Elder Gonzales

"I'll continue to serve with everything that I got left."

Dear family:

 Well, my family, I'm afraid that I'd finally been overcome by more stress than I've ever experienced in my entire life.
 Towards the end of last week, I had become more internally stressed more than any other moment in my life. I feel that everything that I'm doing in order to help myself to overcome everything that I'm going through isn't working as sufficiently as it should. I continue to wake up on time almost every day, I continue to pray daily, I've fasted more than any other time in my life, I study my scriptures still, I speak and share this message with as many people as I possibly can and have done so more so than any other time in my mission and I strive my best to serve everyone with whom I interact including my companion, my fellow missionary collegues, my converts, investigators, friends and even strangers with all my heart, might, mind and strength.

 Despite all of my efforts, I feel as if I'm in a constant tug-of-war between pride, murmuring, and envy and then charity, patience, longsuffering and everything else that I desire so much to obtain and to become. I pray often and for long periods of time for many specific things (such as the capacity to faithfully endure to the end and support my afflictions and to be more charitable, humble, patient, longsuffering, faithful, hopeful, kind, courteous, cheerful and etc.), that I need in order to be capable of supporting the rest of my mission; however, I continue to suffer from the effects of pride and stress which have made the Christ-like attributes that I've sought to acquire very difficult to maintain and then at times diminish.

 Well, I'm disapointed to say that today, before leaving the apartment to go to the Cyber, I yelled at my companion. This has never happened between us. I told him that I'm at the very end of my mission yet we still dispute with each other and we still have problems. I said that I'm so stressed and so frusturated that I tremble and have started to have a hard time sleeping at night because of it. I told him that no matter what I do, it doesn't seem to work. I said that I've prayed and fasted more times than I ever have in my entire life and I continue to read my scriptures like I should, but now I just don't know what else or what more to do. I said that I'm barely holding on and that I'm doing everything that I possibly can in order to have the spiritual strength and capacity to press forward, to support the rest of my mission and to endure to the end. 

 He has been one of the best companions that I've had due to his patience and understanding along with our friendship and capacity to get along with each other in the end, but it seems like after all I can do, it's never enough to prevent us from having at least one problem to overcome every single week.
 The week end was terribly stressful, the fact that I'm returning home soon doesn't help at all either and what had happened between my companion and I today had only ignited the bomb that was about to explode within me. After I had finished writing a letter to one of my converts in Togo, I went to ask my companion who was in bed if we could go to the Cyber. The way that he was behaving made it seem as if he was about to refuse and so I had to convince him to get up and go to the Cyber with me. I know, it was a stupid reason to yell over, but, like I said, the clip on the grenade had been pulled to the point that when he was ready to leave, everything that had built up inside me within the past few days had exploded out of my mouth.

 Well, after all was said and done, everything that my companion said had opened my eyes, had shown me in what way I was behaving and had helped me to calm down. My companion had also shown me an email sent to him by his uncle after we got to the Cyber concerning the health of his grandfather, who has been having extreme heart problems and is no longer able to walk nor really function anymore on his own. My companion's father had passed away when my companion was twelve years old and towards the beginning of his mission, his mother had also passed away, leaving him and his only brother alone.

 Due to what he's going through, my companion is probably just as or even more stressed than me, he's going through a lot of emotions that I'm currently experiencing as well and he certainly didn't deserve what I had done to him today either.

Due to our behavioral differences and cultural backgrounds, and to my great shame and weakness, the adversary continues to win from time to time as I battle against pride with charity in this constant tug-of-war of salvation. I don't want to fall in the mud anymore, I don't want to give in to or even have to deal with pride anymore and I just want to win this race according to the Lord's plan for me.

 Well, I've never actually ran the last part of a race with a smile on my face, but I know that after I will have completed my mission, I'll be able to experience a fullness of happiness, joy, peace and calm that come after the storm and after getting past the finish line of the race. Although, I will do my very best to continue to smile as I've always managed to do and to be more positive as I continue to serve with everything that I got left.

 Despite my countless failures and my great weakness, I'm trying my best -- I really am -- in all that I do and I fighting to overcome and then survive this mental and spiritual challenge that has been placed before me.
Please continue to pray that I'll be able to endure to the end of my mission, that I'll be able to focus on my mission and on my missionary purpose, that I'll be able to overcome my anxiety and stress, that I'll be able to change for the better and that I'll have the success that I'm working so hard to achieve.

 Well, my family, thank you for hearing me out, for your support, for your faith-filled prayers, for your encouraging messages, for the details of what's going on at home, for your diligent efforts to prepare for my return home and for your great love and care.

I love you all so very much and I'm so happy, excited and relieved to be with you again soon in two weeks' time.
Elder Gonzales
2 Timothy 2:1-10; 4: 7 (almost there).

P.S.-- I'm no longer sick and my throat has been healed.  

P.S.S. -- By the way, on Saturday, we went to a cultural celebration held to celebrate the construction of the first stake building in Bénin! While I was there, I saw a lot of members of the wards in which I had served and I had also seen some really great friends of mine from Togo!! Guess who I'd also seen? Fr. Borris!!! Crazy right? He was one of my very first converts that E. Dioulo and I helped to be baptized at the very beginning of my mission! He came to Bénin in order to attend a young, single adults activity and then to attend the cultueral celebration. The moment I'd arrived and was getting ready to approach the building, Fr. Borris appeared out of nowhere from behind me. This was a super great and tender mercy that the Lord had granted unto me to be able to see my buddy Fr. Borris one last time shortly before I return home. I wasn't able to remain in contact with him because making phone calls from Bénin to Togo is ridiculously expensive and we don't receive enough monthly credit for me to be able to communicate Thankfully he and many other of my Togolese friends and converts have an email or a Facebook account so I'll be able to communicate with them whenever I want after the mission.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

"Be careful what you fast and pray for!"

Dear Family:
 This was a very challenging week and I'm amazed and grateful to the Lord for having been able to overcome it.
  I tell you what though, if you fast in order to become more patient, the Lord will sure let you have it. So be careful for what you fast and pray for!

 Well, I'm not exactly sure what triggered it, but sometime after we went to bed (on couch cushions that we had laid out onto the living room floor), I had fallen terribly sick to the point that couldn't sleep all night long because of it. I woke up feeling terribly weak, I had a pounding head ache, my back was incredibly sore, I had to urinate a lot (but thankfully I didn't have any diarrhea) and I was extremely hot yet super sensitive to the cold air blowing on us from the ceiling fans above us. I was worried that I had gotten an unexpectedly intense fever or I had gotten malaria. 

 All I did during the night was silently suffer as I tried to get comfortable and cool myself down by rolling a bottle filled with water that I had left in the fridge over my face, chest, stomach, sides and back. I was given a sheet that I'd use as a blanket, but I had to take it off from time to time in order to cool down even further from the cool breeze of the ceiling fan. It was a little frusturating whenever I'd take off the sheet because mosquitos or other insects would try to bite me and then the cool breeze felt colder than it actually was due to my fever. However, as I had been praying and fasting that I become more positive, grateful, and auspicious, I thankfully didn't compain, nor get upset, nor murmure throughout the night. I think I could consider that to be a win. Although, due to all that would take place to me, my capacity to endure to the end with patience had worn out by the end of the week.

 Eventually, I was able to get some rest, but it didn't last very long for I had woken back up before the alarm to get up turned on. It was extremely hard, but I managed to get up, get dressed, travel to and then attend our leadership meeting with all the other district and zone leaders in Bénin. The leadership meeting was great and had motivated me to press forward, to continue to do the best that I can and to serve more fully with all my heart, might, mind and strength before I return home. I had a little bit of a hard time staying awake at certain parts during, but I managed to pay attention nonetheless. I was hurting all morning long and the pain that I was experiencing continued until I returned to my apartment.

 Well, long story short, after the conclusion of the meeting, E. Moss and I along with all the other missionaries seperated ways and then returned back to our respective apartments. E. Moss called in a taxi driver, who had taken a while to get us and then it took a while before we were able to get back due to a long line of traffic on the main road (yeah, I know, go figure), but we managed to take a few back roads in order to gain some speed. On top of all this, once we got to my drop off spot, our companions took a while to meet up with us.

 The moment I returned back to my apartment, I was so exhausted that I took off my clothes down to my garments, sat underneath our ceiling fan as I drank water in order to cool down, and then I went straight to bed where I'd sleep for the next eighteen or so hours.

  The next day, my companion and I didn't go into the secteur in the morning, but we cleaned up the apartment instead since our mission president was coming over in the afternoon. I felt much better when I woke up, but I was still weak so I didn't want to do anything too physically exercing. Well, the President and his wife eventually came and E. Kabuya and I had our individual interviews with him, during which he gave me and my companion a blessing. After we had our interviews, my companion and I had an appointment at the Church with Fr. Ezekial whose questions we answered and with whom we read from the Book of Mormon. 

 The following day, we had weekly planning in the morning and then in the afternoon, we saw an investigator named Sr. Dorkas with whom we spoke about prayer and then a convert named Sr. Charlotte with whom we went over her genealogy that she's filled out very well in a small booklet called My Family. Afterwards, we went to the Church where we'd have our weekly coordination meeting with the other missionaries and our ward missionary leader.

 My health, by the way, had been regained in that I no longer suffered from my fever symptoms and pains; however, the day after I'd been healed which was today, I had some kind of throat infection unexpectedly appear out of nowhere. The infection consisted of sore, red lumps in the very back of my throat along with white bumps around the edges of the hole leading from the mouth to the throat which made swallowing very painful and talking very difficult. Can't get any more stressful than that, right? Well, I had successfully not complained and had simply called our mission president's wife who's a nurse to ask her what I should do. She told that me that she would schedule an appointment for me to go to the hostipal so that a doctor could take a look at it and then prescribe me some medication.

  My appointment had taken place this morning and the doctor who I had consulted explained to me what was happening to my throat and then prescribed certain medication for me to take that would help the infection to go away. Thankfully, the medication that she had prescribed me has worked very well and has gotten rid of the bumps and the swelling. 

 Well, everything that had happened to me during the week had finally broken my scale of tolerance, patience and longsuffering. We had other RVs, but they had fallen and so my companion and I went to the Church where we'd speak with Fr. Ezekial about missionary work and then polygamy (which is a very large problem here in Bénin) and then, from there, we'd return to the apartment. It was nice to be able to speak with Fr. Ezekial, in fact, it always is because he's filled with so much faith, joy, happiness and goodness dispite his extreme financial difficulties. He is a great means of happiness, comfort, peace and hope for me because I know that he'll make a great and very positive influence in the Church here in Calavi one day.

 In any case, we'd spoken with him about these two topics in function to what he'd explained to us. He shares our message with a lot of people and happily and willingly gives out brochures that we give to him, to his family, neighbors and friends. He has a strong desire to participate in missionary work by sharing this message with others (which he does so frequently) and by helping them to overcome their trials and problems through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Today, he had explained to us that he has friends who practice polygamy and so we had given him advice as to how he could help others receive this message so that they, too, could benefit from the same blessings as Fr. Ezekial. 

 Fr. Ezekial serves as a living testimony to me of that truthfulness of the Gospel and of the Atonement, for he has had a great and marvelous change of mind and of heart as the Apostle Paul and the entire quality of his life has changed for the better in every aspect and in every way.

 Sunday was a very great yet difficult day for me. It was great in that we had about twelve to fourteen investigators at Church (the most the we've had at one time come), we had attended an interview for Fr. Olivier with the Branch President concerning his reception of his patriarchal blessing, I had spoken with E. Moss and E. Colby (two American missionaries who've been very supportive to me and have been great friends) about what I could do to overcome a lot of non Christ-like attributes that I had been experiencing as of late and then we went with them and their companions to a family night in one of their secteurs. We stayed too long at the family night and so we weren't sure if we'd be able to find a taxi or a bus and so we had called our zone leaders if we could spend the night at their apartment. They said that that would be alright and so we spent the night over there and it was absolutely great! We played a lot of card games and had a lot of fun. However, today had been difficult in that I had gotten angry, frustureted, and irritated with my companion several times throughout the day for a lot of little things for which I should've been more patient. Well, I have my limits and they had been completely busted and broken to the ponit that I lost my composure, said some things that I shouldn't have, and then admitted to my companion that because of all that I've been going through that I didn't want to finish my mission and I just wanted to come home. 

 Well, I'm glad we had our sleep over, it really helped me to reduce the tension between me and my companion. Today, my companion and I openly spoke with each other again as we usually do when it comes down to resolving our problems and finding solutions. Well, we've managed to reconcile, as always, and found it within ourselves to forgive each other and now we're currently doing our best to keep moving forward as if nothing had happened. Thanks to the conversation that he and I had, along with the one I had with E. Moss and E. Colby, they had all encouraged me to keep moving forward, to keep my eye on the prize, to stay focused, to remain strong and to keep working as hard as I can. They had given me a lot of counsel, support, and advice that I had really taken into heart. I really hope to be able to do all that they'd encouraged me so that the last remaining three weeks be a blessing rather than a curse for me.

Well, my family, I love you all so very much and I so grateful for all the love and care that you've shown me, for all the support that you've given me, and for all the many faith-filled prayers that you've made on my behalf. I just want you to know that I'm doing the very best that I can every day and that I'm putting my full efforts to serve with all my heart, might, mind and stregnth. I know that I can and that I will complete this mission that has been assigned to me. I know that you and I can face and then overcome the challenges that have been placed before us. I know that as we rely on the Lord and on his grace and have faith and trust in him and in his promises that we'll be able to endure to the end and then have eternal life together in his celesital kingdom. 

 Stay strong and may you have a wonderful upcoming week (only three more left before I return home)!!
Love, your brother and son,
Elder Gonzales

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

30 days to go!!

Dear family:

 A lot of interesting things took place this past week!

  1. Elder Moss, an American missionary who will be returning home six weeks after me, and I went on a split Tuesday and Thursday morning so that we could to a government facility where we and other missionaries would either officially state that we'll be leaving the country soon or renew our passports. We did other kinds of passport work while we were there as well for other missionaries who'd recently entered into the mission. After we'd finished doing what we needed to do as this migration government facility during both of these days, E. Moss, a couple other missionaries (one of which was E. Teaupa -- one of the two American missionaries with whom I traveled from Salt Lake City to Ghana) and I bought home-made yogurt from a booth by the road and then go to a restaurant not too far away from there and the mission office to order some crazy delicious charwarmas. We don't get to eat out at restaurants very often and so we thought we'd profit by celebrating our soon return home at this place for lunch. 

2. Our friend Fr. Ezekial was supposed to be baptized a couple weeks ago, but our leaders told us to have him wait until he marry his wife before he be married. We thought he'd be able to be baptized because he's not currently living with his wife, but they're still together, they have two kids and they'd be living together if it weren't for his work. It was admittedly a little disappointing, seeing that he's already been converted even though he's not yet baptized, but it makes sense and it would be the right thing for him to do before he be baptized. 

Well, for the moment, my companion and I are doing the best we can to help, encourage and support him as he does his best to find work and then save up enough money to pay for his wife's birth certificate and then for the civil marriage. Fr. Ezekial is a very talented painter and does all sorts of painting for a living. He makes artistic projects, he paints schools and business buildings and he paints advertisements for businesses. We've been praying and fasting a lot that he find job opportunities so that he can save up enough money to pay for his marriage. Every time that we see him, we always follow up on how he's doing in saving up for the marriage by asking him if was able to find work during the week. Sure enough, by the help of our faith, fasts, and prayers, he's been finding a lot of work and he's been prayed a lot for the work that he's already done. We'd asked him if he felt that he'd have enough money to pay for the birth certificate and then the marriage by the 24 Sept. 2016 -- the next time that we'll be holding a civil marriage at our branch -- and he said that he feels certain that he will. I really hope that he will because that would be super sweet to be able to attend his wedding before I go!

3. We have a recent convert named Sr. Charlotte with whom we've been doing a lot of genealogy and family history work for the past month or two. Hopefully by the end of this week we'll be able to have the names and information of a large majority of her deceased family members up to four generations sent to the temple so that their ordinances may be accomplished. Sr. Charlotte doesn't know how to use a computer and so with our help and the help of the genealogy consultants in our branch, her family members' ordinances will be accomplished. Helping her to this has been a great motivation and inspiration for me to do our family history and genealogy work once I get back.

4. We continue to speak with many people every day and we seek to share this message with as many people as we can before I return home. We continue to find new investigators, but we continue our search for the diamonds in the rough. It's easy to share this message with people and to find new investigators, but it's difficult finding people who are willing to fully accept, commit and then act upon what we teach. I've only been here for about three months and I've already taught many people and have shared this message with even more; however, out of all these people that we've taught, only a certain few are progressing towards conversion and then baptism. Although, in all honestly, I don't mind this at all because I'd rather baptize a few converted friends who will edify and strengthen the Church, remain active therein for the rest of their lives and then go one day to the temple than a very large quantity of individuals who would fall inactive shortly after baptism. 

5. We had an awesome zone activity which had started yesterday and then ended today. Sunday evening, my companion and I went to our assistants' and zone leaders' apartment with four other missionaries that go to our branch where we would spend the night so that we could then have more time to go to the places to which we went today. Sunday night, we ate dinner, played card games and stayed up super late into the night. The next day (or this morning), we woke up a little late but still made delicious, home-made pancakes and syrup (tasted almost like I-hop). Once we finished eating breakfast, we left the apartment and then went to a city called Ouidah which is completely loaded with idolatry and voodoo. Our first stop was at a serpent voodoo temple, into which I entered with E. Hammons (my MTC companion who had been recently transferred back to Bénin as an office elder) along with a few other missionaries who hadn't yet entered therein. We were shown around by a guide who had explained to us the signification of all the voodoo objects found throughout the area (of which I'd taken a lot of pictures) and then lead us into a small building filled with non-aggressive snakes that we picked up, held and took pictures with. Once we'd finished our tour of the serpent voodoo temple, we excited the enclosed area to the front whereby we'd entered which lead into a courtyard filled with vendors selling souvenirs next to the biggest three that I'd ever since in my entire life (it was about the size of a small house). From the vendors, I bought a small drum and a small maraca instrument; afterwards, the zone and I left the place to go to our next destination. We went to a Bénin museum (which wasn't very impressive) and were lead by a guide with a group of white, European women. I've been seeing a lot of white people lately -- that's strange. After our short tour of the museum, which had been, at one point of time, a large fort, we went to the beach where we'd play frisbee, relax, and collect sea shells (I found a ton that I'll give to you once I return). Well, after we'd left the beach, the activity was over and we were dropped off by the assistants and the office Elders in certain locations from which we'd look for busses (our normal means of transportation) and then return to our respective apartments.

 Well, family, I'd just thought I'd let you know before I go that I know that the Church to which we belong is the one and only true Church on the earth. Believe and trust in me, if you'd seen only a portion of what I'd seen today along with everything else that I've seen and heard throughout my mission, you'd know with an absolute certainly that this is the only true Church on the earth. I'd humbly invite and encourage you to be as grateful as you possibly can to be where you are and to have everything that you currently posses. We have been given so much, more so than many other countries found all throughout the world. We live in a place of bounty, freedom, peace, harmony, tranquility, unity and charity wherein the Church reigns. It's true that, as time goes on, these things along with the moral standards of the world begin the diminish; however, we've been given the antidote to the world's sickness and a protection against the adversary, which consist of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Atonement, the Priesthood, the Gift of the Holy Spirit, the scriptures (ancient and modern day) along with the capacity to pray. We've been given much, even in times of financial crisis and temporal difficulties, and for that, we should always be filled with gratitude and praises to the Lord.

 Alright family, I hope that you have a great upcoming week and that all goes well for each and every one of you according to your needs! I love you all so much, I continue to pray and fast for you and I'm super excited to see you in four weeks' time!! 

Sincerely, your brother and son,
Elder Gonzales

"The Sabbath Day is one of the best days of the week."

Dear family:

 The ingrown hair is finally gone and the inflammation that it left behind has decreased, which has brought me a lot of relief and has been a great reason to rejoice. Yes, any kind of medical assistance or medication that we need is well taken care of, seeing that all the missionaries have a tendency to fall sick quite often.
I didn't buy the guitar, rather, it had been bought and then handed down to me by a missionary named Elder Jorgenson who had returned home with Elder Bailey. It has been wonderful having a guitar and it has well prepared me for my return home.
 Okay, well, I hope that Sarah is still doing alright and that the hole in her heart hasn't been causing her any kind of physical pain or too much emotional grief for her impeding surgery. Please let her know that I'll be praying again for her all throughout the upcoming week.
 I'm happy to hear that you had the opportunity to go to Adam's Canyon for a family night activity. If there are two things that I sincerely miss, it's family night (with my own family) and hiking (on a mountain side rather than a horizontal, dirt and sand covered flat every day). Family home evening is one of the best parts of the week for its a great means by which the family can become more united, have fun and experience great joy, create and share many great and wonderful memories, and develop more of and reinforce one another's testimony and faith. Never take family home evening for granted!! I miss it so much and it has helped me to draw myself closer to each one of you.
 Thank you for giving me some feedback about the new bishopric!! Wow, that's super exciting!! I'm super glad to hear about that and I'm very satisfied with the new bishopric that has been called and set in place. To think, yet another one of my young men's leaders who has played a key role in my conversion to the Church has been called to the bishopric. I'll have to make sure to give Bishop Hansen a hard time for that once I get back!! 
 Ah, the routine. I know it well. Perhaps not to the extent that you do, but I've an idea of it nonetheless. It's certainly difficult to get used to, but there where incentive, purpose, diligence and determination are found, the fruits thereof consist of happiness, satisfaction and true joy, no matter how tired we may be as a result. However, that is why we are given the Sabbath Day! A day during which we may rest from our day-to-day labors and focus ourselves on the Savior and our spiritual needs. However, what are the things that we can do during the Sabbath Day to increase or strengthen our faith? Thanks to lds.org, we can find the answer to said question. Here's something that I found today as I was browsing through the Church's online Library that I felt inspired to share with you: https://www.lds.org/blog/80-ideas-for-more-satisfying-sundays?cid=HP_FR_26-8-2016_dOCS_fBLOG_xLIDyL2-1_  . Perhaps this upcoming Monday or whenever you're able to hold family home evening, you can go through these ideas in order to find what you can do personally and as a family to make the Sabbath Day more satisfying and fulfilling.
 Often times we feel as if the Sabbath Day is hindering and doesn't permit us to do anything; however, I've found that the Sabbath Day is one of the best days of the week, especially during my senior year of high school. Through out my senior year of high school, more particularly towards the end of the year, I would stay up from midnight to four in the morning in order to complete my homework almost every day during the week. The reason why I had to do this was because I worked during the week, I went to Track after school every day, and I was taking College classes which often required more time and effort to keep up with.
 By the end of the week I was so exhausted that a break from my worldly responsibilities was an absolute blessing and relief. Sometimes, I still had to go in to work but I avoided it as best as I possibly could. However, if I couldn't get work off, I still went but made sure that my mind and my thoughts were continually centered on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that I served others with kindness, charity and respect in an attempt to become more like him. As for homework, I had decided to no longer do it on Sunday, even if it was due the next day. Instead, I chose to either do my homework during the week end or to wake up early Monday morning so that I could get it finished, that way I could more fully focus on the more important things: our Heavenly Father, our Savior Jesus Christ, the family, my friends, my scriptures, etc. 
 There are many things to do during the Sabbath Day and we should always do our best to make it a gift of praise, remembrance and thanks to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I know that if we invest our time in participating in activities that increase our faith, testimony, knowledge and spiritual strength during the Sabbath Day, we will come and feel closer our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we'll be filled with satisfaction, happiness and long-lasting joy, the family will come closer together and the Spirit will reign within our home.

Well, the cyber guys are kicking us out again so it's time to go.

 I love you all so much and I hope you have a great upcoming week!!! Continue to read from the scriptures (especially from the BofM) and to pray every day on your own and as a family and continue to hold family night as you do for it will be a great and wonderful blessing for all of you in very many and specific ways!!

Love, your brother and son,
Elder Gonzales

A very gross... "blessing in disguise."

Dear family:
 Last week on Saturday night, my companion and I didn't receive a call from the assistants, meaning that I've officially made it to my last transfer in the Bénin, Cotonou Mission, that I'll be dying in the Calavi University (I) secteur, and that my faithful friend and companion Elder Kabuya will be killing me in six weeks' time!!

 The main events that had taken place throughout the week consist of the following: (1) I had a massive and terribly infected ingrown hair on the top my left foot which had started developing early on in the week. (2) I stayed in the apartment on Saturday and Sunday because I could no longer walk or wear shoes due to the ingrown hair. (3) While in the apartment, I had given myself up to much scripture reading, pondering, guitar playing and napping. (4) I suppose that my ingrown hair had been a blessing in disguise for everything that I had read had answered a lot of prayers that I had offered up to the Lord in order to know how I could become more humble and charitable and have more joy in my missionary service (Hebrews 13 -- 2 Peter 3). (4) This morning at four o'clock a.m., I got out of bed to go to the bathroom, during which time I had extracted the ingrown hair. It was extremely painful, but I managed to get out the hair along with a huge, snot-like chunk of puss which shot out unexpectedly against the bathroom wall. (5) On Sunday, I managed to get to Church (I didn't want to miss out) where I would participate in the preparing and blessing of the Sacrament (which felt great since it's been a while) and would give a lesson in our investigator class about the way that Christ had organized his Church. (6) Many of our investigators came to Church on Sunday which was great. One of which named Fr. Ezekial will be baptized by the end of this week. He has progressed super well and has already acquired a power testimony of the Church and has already become converted all on his own. We pray that everything will go according to plan and that we'll be able to help him prepare himself for his baptism. (7) We've continued to visit our recent converts (who've been making great spiritual progress) every day throughout the week and we've had many opportunities to make new friends or find new investigators. (8) A few of the new investigators that we had found with whom we had an appointment during the week didn't really want to hear our message or seek out truth but insisted in debating with us concerning certain doctrine while others sought to challenge our scriptural knowledge. Apostasy is real, family, and still exists today in the hearts of many; however, I'd just like to testify to you that this is the one true Church, that the Priesthood keys and fullness of the Gospel have been restored therein, and that so long as we remained humble (which was very hard for me this week), no one could confound us as the Lord had promised (D&C 133:57-59).

 Family, if only you could see what I've seen for the past two years. All the trials, sufferings, pains and difficulties that I've gone through along with all the happy, spiritual, and joyous memories and experiences that I've acquired have helped me to see and know with a certainty that the Church along with everything within it are true. This has been the hardest spiritual challenge that I've ever faced yet, but it has shown and revealed to me that this is the truth and the fullness thereof is only found in this Church. This experience has also taught me many other things, that it's all thanks to the grace of the Lord made possible by the Atonement that I've been able to make it this far, that fasting and prayers of faith produce miracles, that the Priesthood is real and has been a means by which the Lord has produced miracles through me and others, that daily scripture study and prayer are very powerful, direct and clear sources of guidance, instruction, inspiration, revelation, support and consolation and that obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel along with the commandments is what brings long-lasting happiness, joy and blessings.

 Well, family, I just want you to know that I love you all so much and that I appreciate all that you've done and continue to do for me through your prayers of faith, your support and your expressions of love. I'm super excited to be reunited with you again soon at the end of the following month. I hope that all goes well for each and every one of you in every aspect of your lives. I pray for you specifically, by name and by inspiration of the Spirit according to your overall and specific needs. I hope that you all have a wonderful upcoming week and that kids have a great first week of school!

Love, your brother and son,
Elder Gonzales

"When the Lord answers prayers, which he always does, he sure doesn't disappoint."

Dear family:

 Last week in the Bénin Cotonou Mission, was yet another splendid, miracle-filled week:
 Monday, Family Night at the Stake President's house! This was the first family night that I had attended since my arrival to Calavi! The missionary couple Elder and Sister Dyson who work with our Mission President and his wife along with four other missionaries who live in another apartment consisting of Elder Gozo from the Ivory Coast, Elder Mubanga from Kinshasa, D.R. Congo, Elder Moss from Tennessee, and then Elder Colby from Sandy, Utah came to the family night as well. 

 On Tuesday I went on a split with one of our zone leaders named Elder Hansen from Bountiful, Utah in his secteur called Kokokodgi. We saw, spoke with and met a ton of people, investigators and recent converts and I had quite an enjoyable time working with Elder Hansen in their secteur. At one point of time during the day, as we were on our way to our fourth appointment of the day, I told E. Hansen that there was something that I had remarked and had observed from our previous lessons, about which I had decided to not say anything unless a change had been made. However, the thing that I had remarked which was really bothering me continued and it was preventing me from teaching with the Spirit due to the frustration that I had been experiencing as a result. As we taught investigators, E. Hansen kept interrupting me in mid-sentence as I would explain a certain subject or answer a question. Well, I'll be honest, it pissed me off and if it didn't stop, then I probably would have exploded. I didn't mention that part, but I was very open in explaining how I felt and then asked him as respectfully as I could to stop interrupting me during the lessons. He recognized from there what he was doing and then didn't interrupt me for the remainder of the day. Instead of interrupting, he started praying for me as I spoke and I ended up doing the same for him which enabled us to actually work very effectively together to the point that we were both edified by the Spirit and the investigators, converts and people with whom we spoke could feel the Spirit too. At the end of the day, before I went back to my apartment, we went to a local restaurant where we bought charwarmas for all the hard work that we had done.

 I tell you what, this is a whole lot of marriage preparation all in the making. I just hope and pray that it'll be a lot easier to get along with my future wife, that she'll love me to death, that she'll be able to accept how stupid I can be and that she'll always find it within her to forgive me.

 Sometime during the week, I lost one of my memory cards containing about three hundred very important pictures that I had taken during my last transfer in Togo. Apparently, when I took out my card to take a picture, the card had fallen out; however, I didn't find this out until I think Friday. I had searched the entire apartment, but was never able to find it. So, while we were in the secteur, my companion went to every location where I had taken pictures throughout in the week to see if we could find my card. As we searched, I had a constant prayer in my heart, asking Heavenly Father to lead and guide us to the location where I had lost my memory card.

 After searching in the three following locations for over an hour, we hadn't yet found my memory card: a boutique where one of our investigators named Sr. Victoire works, the length of a road, and then at Sr. Yolande's house. However, on our way back to the apartment, it was after we had looked at the last location where I could've possibly lost it that I found my memory card!!! We went to the Stake President's house to see if I had lost it during the family night, and sure enough, it turns out that I did. The moment we arrived, without me even asking, the Stake President's wife walked into her house and came back out with the memory card in her hand asking to whom it belonged. I tell you what (once again) -- when the Lord answers prayers, which he always does, he sure doesn't disappoint.

 Thank you so much for the emails, details, support, love and prayers!!! I'm always so happy to hear from you and to learn more about what happens in your lives. I've been praying for you all more frequently and whenever I do, I pray for you individually by name according to the Holy Spirit. I'll continue to pray for your individual, spiritual, physical, temporal, financial, emotional and mental welfare. I hope that everything is going well for each and every one of you in every aspect of your lives.