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.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Two weeks in one!

Dear family:

 I sincerely apologize, but my companion and I got to the Cyber late and so I only have a few minutes to write before the Cyber closes.

 I wish I had time for details, but here's as brief as brief can get: two of our investigators (Fr. Olivier and Sr. Yolande) have been baptized; Fr. Olivier's family has moved back into his home (after having been separated for four years); miracles have been taking place in the lives of our friends, investigators and recent converts; promised blessings (more like revelations) given to our friends by us through the direction of the Holy Spirit have literally been realized before our very eyes. More of our investigators are coming to church; families are becoming united and even restored as a result of their acceptance of our message; members are working with us a lot more frequently; my companion and I did two member splits in one week (the first two times that I've done that through out my entire mission); the branch is progressively growing and it seems as if the city itself becomes more alive as more people join the Church; we went to the grand marché today where I bought two pairs of shoes and then ate at a restaurant where I ordered a huge charwarma and hamburger with a Pepsi (t'was a marvelous, stress-relieving day); the cyber guys are bugging us -- time to go; I've been getting stressed and a little too quick to anger lately (must be because of how close I am to returning home) and could use a few prayers to get over that; I'm no longer physically nor spiritually tired; I'm committed myself to increasing the amount of my scripture study time by two, to praying more frequently and with more faith, by speaking with as many people as possible every day (at least three each day) so that I can spread this message and plant as many seeds as possible and then have more success and to make the last part of my mission the best and count the most. 

Time to go!! I love you all so much, may you have a great upcoming week, you're in my prayers!!
Elder Gonzales

Dear family:

Well, the first three weeks of my deformation -- the final twelve weeks of the mission -- were extremely difficult for me and very discouraging to the point that I was convinced that I had had it, that I had suffered enough, that I no longer wanted to be here and that I just wanted to go home. I've gone through a lot in this mission and it has certainly been one of the hardest things that I've ever done in my entire life. The first transfer here in Calavi, Bénin was great, but progressively descended. However, the Lord had been merciful unto me this last week and had miraculously changed my behavior, attitude and perspective, and had also improved the quality of my life, the life of my companion, and that of my investigators and recent converts as a result of what I've been striving to do every day for the past few months.

 I'm not by any means perfect, but I've committed myself a few months ago to pray more fervently and with more faith, to fast more frequently when in need of extra spiritual strength, to increase the amount of time and quality of my scripture study times two, to wake up on time and then stay up every day, to be as diligent and punctual in everything that I do as possible, to continue to serve my friends with all my heart, might, mind and strength with patience despite my infirmities, weakness and afflictions, to love the people with all my heart, to always strive to share this message with as many of them as possible, to become genuinely interested in the lives of others and have a stronger desire to be their friend and to be filled with integrity, compassion, understanding, unconditional love, charity and forgiveness.

 Thanks to the fervent prayers made on my behalf along with my own prayers, fasting, diligent and daily scripture study, I received the answers to the questions and statements that I had been posing to myself beginning with either "Why," "How," "When" and/or "I don't understand." In his infinite goodness and grace, the Lord helped me find the answers the my prayers and then to realize that everything that I was going through, in the comparison to the lives of others, was not as bad as it seemed and that it was all a blessing in disguise. It's because of everything that I've gone through that I've changed so much for the better and I feel as if I've become a much better man and Priesthood bearer and that I've become prepared for my future family, work and callings. I'm proud to say that by overcoming my trials by the grace of Christ, he has been able to mold me into what kind of person that he needed and wanted me to be (1 Nephi 20:10).

 The Lord has taken the pride and envy out of me and has filled me with humility and charity, which have been a great means of happiness and joy for me. He has delivered and saved me and my mission, for I no longer have the desire to return home and I have a newfound and powerful desire to serve with everything that I have left to offer while striving to be a worthy instrument through which the Spirit can help my friends, whom I love so much, to keep coming unto Christ to be saved by him. Well, I can say with happiness and conviction that everything that the Lord has done through me in order to change and bless the lives of others has been worth every trial and struggle that I've had to face and overcome. It was all because of these scriptures along with all the many experiences that I had last week that I was able to realize all this: 2 Tim. 2:1-10; 4:7.  

 Well, within the past couple weeks, I've seen and witnessed for myself with my own eyes that the Restoration, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Plan of Salvation, the Atonement, The Book of Mormon, the Spirit, the Priesthood and the power thereof are all true, for they've each played a key and essential role in the changing, restoring, delivering, saving, consoling, improving and converting of the hearts, minds, and lives of my investigators, recent converts, my companion and even myself more so than any other time in my mission. I wish that I could share everything that has happened to me throughout these past few weeks, more especially last week, but I don't think I'd be able to write it all down due to how long this message would be if I did. May it suffice for me to say for now that I have found my true testimony, have seen for myself and now know now with certainty that each of these previously mentioned things are true. They play a vital key and role in our very specific and daily lives and are what enables us to endure to end to obtain exaltation in the celestial kingdom.

 Well, family, I love you all so much, you're in my prayers. I hope that all goes well for each and every one of you, and I thank you all so much for your faith-filled prayers. 
Elder Gonzales

Only 10 weeks left!

Dear family:

 I have some great news to announce!! This may come as a surprise, but after having taught him every day for the past month, Fr. Olivier had been baptized last Saturday!! I've never had an investigator progress, accept our message, act according to what we've taught, and keep his commitments as quickly as Fr. Olivier has. He's read the Book of Mormon more than any other investigator that I've taught, he's read every scripture that I'd invited him to read (which have been many), he's prayed with sincerity and faith on numerous accounts to know for himself the truthfulness of our message, and he comes to Church every Sunday and actively participates during every class. He has testified many times that he knows that the Church is true, that Joseph Smith was a true prophet, that the Book of Mormon is true, that Pres. Thomas S. Monson is the true prophet on the earth today along with many other things.

As my companion and I taught him, we promised him according to the Holy Spirit that if he would act according to our message, his life would change completely for the better and that he would receive many specific blessings pertaining to himself and to his situation. We've seen these blessings be realized before our very eyes as we progressed in our lessons with him before he was baptized. It seems that these blessings haven't ceased to be made manifest in his life now that he's baptized, for he has testified that every single one of his problems, after four or so years of constant trails and anguish, are now being miraculously resolved by themselves like magic.

 We're helping him now to prepare himself to receive the Aaronic Priesthood, which he'll receive next Sunday, and we're super excited for that.

This is a bit unorganized, but the Cyber guys are closing down so I'll have to make this quick:

By the way, I found and bought a suit (only sixty dollars!), I got your package and it was absolutely awesome (thank you so much!!!), another one of our investigators, Sr. Yoland, was baptized with Fr. Olivier (more details about their baptisms will be written in next week's email), I'll tell you about my coming home plans next week. I only have ten weeks left to serve!!
Well, I'm afraid that I'll all out of time!! I love you all so much and I hope you have a great week!! Thank you for your support and prayers!!

"The Lord's grace is indeed amazing."

Well, my family, I've had quite a spiritual week. In fact, I've been feeling the Spirit more aboundantly in my life than I ever have throughout the entirity of my mission every day and it has been an absolutely marvelous experience.
I had a very precious experience take place last week that had completely changed my perspective of this work, had increased my testimony of the Restored Gospel, the Atonement and the Priesthood, and had revitilized my desire to work harder, to pray more frevently, to study longer, to be more diligent, to interact with and get to know people more, and to share this message with as many people as I can before I return home. 
I watched, for the first time in my mission, a full-grown man weep as a result of what we had taught him concering the Restoration, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Plan of Salvation, and above all, the healing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ along with the cleansing and forgiveness that it brings. Family, I watched as our investigator Fr. Olivier weeped before me and my companion as he poured out his heart with his Bible, Book of Mormon and Hymn book in hand that after having gone through so much and after having searched for so long for deliverance, he testified that everything that we have taught him since we first met has changed his life for the better more than anything else that he has attempted in years. As a result of our long, tear-filled discussion, I told him that he needs a blessing and that we'd be more than willing to give him one if he so desired. He had accepted, for he desired it greatly, and my companion and I then presumed to give him the most powerful, intense, consoling and Spirit-filled blessing that I had ever pronounced in my entire life. I've given many blessings since I've been in the mission, but I've never done anything like this before, save for the time when I blessed Dad before his surgery. I now know with a surety that the power and authority of the Priesthood are true, for I had seen once again with my very eyes the miracle of deliverance and healing that a blessing can bring thanks to the Atonement of Jesus Christ and to the Spirit. 

All I could say on top of all that is that the Lord's grace is indeed amazing.

As for another great and joyous experience, my companion and I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the wedding of our investigator Sr. Yoland!! Our stake leaders have been helping as many couples as they possibly can to get married by helping them financially and by holding the civil marriage services at various branches so that these couples may be baptized. Our branch along with the missionaries have been helping Sr. Yoland prepare herself to get married to her husband for about a year and now, at long last, she will finally be baptized either this Saturday or the next. 

In any case, her wedding along with eight others had all been held at our branch at the same time last Saturday. And yes, I took lots of pictures.   

Well, other than that, everything is going great, I'm thoroughly enjoying having the apartment all to myself and my companion and my companion and I have been finding more investigators and have been receiving more contacts from members and investigators. 

Prayers on our behalf that my companion and I find and be guided to individuals and families who have been spiritually prepared and are now ready and willing to accept our message would be genuinely appreciated. Prayers on my behalf that I'll have the strength and integrity to work as hard as I possibly can within the last eleven weeks would be great as well. I'd also really appreciate it if you could keep praying for our current investigators and my converts as well.

Well, family, I hope that everthing is going well, that you're all in good health, that you're overcoming any trials that may be coming your way, and that you're having a great summer break.

Enjoy the summer break while you can because once it's over, I'll be coming home!!

I love you all so much and I look forward to seeing you again soon!!

Love, your brother and son,
Elder Gonzales

"Finally got some missionary scars"

Wow, I'm not really sure where to begin.
The past couple weeks have flown by so fast yet so much had happened since I last wrote to you.
 Well, just for reassurance's sake, I'm doing great, I'm in good health, I'm no longer tired, I've been as diligent as I possibly can, I'm learning more about Jesus Christ from the scriptures and it has helped me come closer to him, my testimony is growing, my character and behavior are changing for the better (although, there's still a lot of work to go), I'm getting along with the people very well and I'm absolutely loving my mission despite how difficult it may be. My guy and I, though we've had a couple disputes, get along super well (much better than my last companionship), we're working hard, we're improving our overall teaching methods, we've started working with members more frequently and we're having fun. He's the best African companion that I've had and could very well be one of my favorite companions yet. He's a little lazy from time to time, but he still does work, he wants to become better, he loves the people, he gets along with everyone very well, he's very forgiving (not very like his culture), and he has worked with me in a way that I can see that he's genuinely interested in being my friend. As for the secteur, it's progressing faster than my companion and I had anticipated, we're still finding new people to teach, many of our progressing investigators came to church last week (some of which for the first time), we're preparing about five investigators for their baptism at the end of the month and their respecting their commitments very well. Other than all that, I'm happy, this last week was absolutely fantastic, life is great, I'm becoming a better person (still needs work, but it's coming around), I'm eating well, I should be exercising more, but I've started spending more time scripture studying that I figured that I'll start exercising again once I get back. I love Elder Bailey and I sincerely going to miss him once he leaves for home in the next couple weeks (thankfully, he lives in Bountiful, Utah so we'll be able to visit each other afterwards). Elder Bailey reminds me a lot of Casey Facer and he has been without a doubt my best missionary friend since the very start. He's a super great person and a sincere and true friend.
 I've managed to keep myself away from any major injury -- my guess is because of divine protection along with your faith-filled prayers -- but it seems that I have at last gotten past my lucky streak. I've never been hurt to the point that I've had to go to the hospital (save for the time that I went due to getting malaria during my training) or had to stay in the apartment to rest (save for the time that I had really bad athletes foot and when I got sick from exhaustion while working with E. Jeneseri), but I've finally got some missionary scars to show off once I get home! So, a while back, E. Bailey and I bought actual bacon strips from a store not too far away from our apartment. While he and I were making a bacon and egg breakfast (which tasted absolutely delicious), I had tilted handle of the pan in which we had cooked our bacon down towards me to see if there was still enough oil that we could use to cook our eggs. Well, it has been twenty-one months since I've had bacon, but it turns out there was plenty of oil left in the pan after all. Some of the oil, still scalding hot, poured onto my index finger above my finger nail and then on the mid section of my middle finger. Thankfully, not too much of my skin had been touched, but I got second degree burns on the spots that had been. How'd I react? Well, it hurt a lot and words were said. I put my hand under running water directly after it happened for a while; afterwards, I gently dried off my hand and then put some kind of cooling, burn gel on the burns which helped out a ton to get rid of the pain. The following days consisted of me putting more gel on my fingers while they inflated and then turned into large blisters. The blisters eventually popped on their own (on accident) and then scabbed over. I'd say that I've been quite blessed for the situation could have been a lot worse and the burns have already healed and are now scarring over. No, by the way, I didn't go to the hospital or stay in the apartment. The burns healed up all on their own.
 Apart from that, my back started getting sore again about a week or so ago and so I started exercising my abdominals, legs and chest in order to reinforce my core muscles. It has helped out a ton and the pain has diminished a lot as well. Well, I've only got three months left before I come home!! Something had to motivate me to get back into shape, right?
 As for specific investigators, one of which named Fr. Olivier, a very enthusiastic man that we've recently started teaching and have been seeing every day upon his request, has had the greatest and most immediate of changes in his life that I've ever seen since I've been in the mission. All that I could say about this man's story is that he has been through it all. He had had what I'd consider to be a darker story of the life of Job. He had been, at one point of time, corrupted due to the teachings that he had followed in previous churches, to the point that he had indulged in many serious sins. He had wealth, he had many cars, he had position in his religion and he did all sorts of things according to his pleasure; however, all these things had caused his family to flee while he fell into a crisis of debt. Eventually, everything that he owned had been taken away from him or lost due to debt, leaving him with almost nothing.
 Here are a couple, interesting things that I felt like I should mention about how Fr. Olivier had become so attracted to and touched by our teachings and our Church: the fact that our message is centered upon the strengthening, unifying and (re-)establishing of the family and then the hymns that we sing at Church. He had told us that he wouldn't have been interested in our message until we had spoken about families (thankfully at the very beginning) and that he wouldn't have been interested in coming to church if we didn't sing the hymns.
He absolutely loves the Church along with everything that we teach, saying that everything that we do and everything in which we believe is spoken of in the Bible and is then supported by the Book of Mormon. He is one of those lucky (actually Spirit lead) finds who has thoroughly studied and then actually understood the true signification of the Bible, which makes teaching him a breeze.  
Teaching him has been an absolutely amazing, spiritually edifying, and life-changing experience, I always leave his house filled with the Spirit (more so than I ever have been before through out the entirety of my mission) and it's been amazing being able to be a part of this man's life changes. It's also been amazing to feel and see that it's not me or my companion who have been changing his life for the better, but the Lord along with his Atonement and the Holy Spirit.
 Our other investigators haven't gone through what Fr. Olivier has, but each one of them have their own story, yet have the same desires and have made very similar changes in their lives. Some of our greatest, or, my favorite investigators such as Fr. Narcisse, Fr. Pascal, Fr. Steev, Sr. Yoland are absolutely fantastic friends and I love them all so much. We also have a partial member family in our secteur that we see very frequently and I love them to death as well. It's only been a few weeks but I've already developed a great relationship with the family.
 I'd like to ask of your a favor by praying for these each of these individuals whose names I've previously written. They're all currently facing certain obstacles that they need to overcome in order to become baptized. We have two other investigators named Fr. Apolinaire and Fr. Gilbert who have already finished with the missionary discussions, but haven't been baptized because they haven't yet completed their marriage requirements. Marriage, here, by the way, is insanely expensive, has a huge list of requirements, and is a ridiculously stupid example as to why certain, cultural traditions should no longer if ever be practiced. I'm just happy to say that I look forward to not having to pay a ridiculously insane amount of money to my future wife's parents in order for them to accept that we be married.
 Well, the computer guys are kicking us out. Gotta go. I love you so much & we'll talk further next week!!


Monday, June 13, 2016

Called as District Leader & killed a rat with a stick! (2 weeks in 1)

Dear family:

 Thank you for the details about what's been going on with the family!! I sincerely appreciate it!! I'm sorry to hear about Dad's back!! I hope that he's doing better! It is super cool, though, that Dad had won that smoker!! That's the way life seems to be at times, especially in the mission -- whenever we have our high ups, they're eventually followed by our low downs. However, the great thing about it all is that whenever we find ourselves in the lowest of life's downs and then choose to turn to the Savior to lift us up as we reach out our hands to his, we're brought up even higher than where we were before we had fallen. 

Well, as for what's going on my side of the world, I was just recently transfered after having served in Togo for the last eighteen and a half months to labor in the Calavi Secteur located in Bénin last Saturday. I am no longer Zone Leader but I have been called to serve as the District Leader of my new apartment, a change that I have genuinely come to appreciate. 

As for the new area, well, there have been a few changes and adjustments that I've had to adapt to as I've been plunged into yet another, slightly different culture. The people of Bénin speak a different native language, their behavior is a bit different than that of the Togolese, not very many people speak French fluently, I moved from a big ward to a small branch, I left behind a lot of converts and friends whom I love and genuinely care for, the people aren't as accepting to the message of the Gospel as the Togolese are, our living conditions aren't too great, the power goes out frequently, we don't have a lot of water, and the apartment was a mess when I arrived (but I cleaned it up today), I've been placed in a district that appartently has need of my help, among a few other things.

I'm a little disappointed having to start from ground zero all over again, but due to all the experience that I've had in this mission, I'm adapting and getting used to everything quickly enough. I'm enforcing myself to remain positive and to continue to serve and to teach as if nothing had ever changed.

Well, I'm still getting to know the new area and I'm still meeting the investigators, members and recent converts found through out our secteur. It'll take a couple weeks to get fully adjusted, but I'm starting to get the hang of things and I've been enjoying meeting the people whom we teach for the most part so far.

My new companion's name is Elder Kabuya from Kinshasha, D.R. Congo. He's been in the mission for ten months, he lost his mother while on the mission and yet, to my amazement, he is still here doing what he should by serving the Lord in the best way that he knows how. His teaching methods are a bit different and are in need of some touching up, but it's nothing that fervent prayer and fasting, diligent studying, consistant complimenting, continual encouraging, patience and charity, and a spirit of unity and friendship can't fix. He has what I consider to be a strange behavior, but he gets along really well with the people and so it all works for me.

Well, my family, that's all the time that I have for today! I love you all so much and I sincerely appreciate your love, support and prayers. God bless you and may you have a wonderful upcoming week!!

Love, your brother and son,
Elder Gonzales
Dear family:
 Wow, aren't my companion and I lucky? The power cut out a few minutes ago and we left the Cyber before I could write to you. As we were on our way back to the apartment, the power came back on and so we made our way back to the Cyber so that we could write to our respective families.

So, here are the details of my life in Calavie, Bénin:

When I first arrived, the apartment was a complete and total wreck. So, what did I do? I cleaned it!! For three days!! Thanks to divine aide and a lot of loving chastizement, I got the other Elders to clean up as well. 
Thankfully, getting them to clean wasn't too much of a battle and they've been diligently cleaning the apartment ever since.
I'm the new district leader and my district consists of Elders Nsengyova, Bailey, and Kabuya. We've been having fun together, we're getting along well enough, the missionaries are a bit lazy in certain aspects (one of which is lazy in all), but one can't force a person to want to do work and so all one can do is be loving, encouraging, strict, just, merciful, and a good example.
I love my new companion, we get along great, we've been working hard, we're serious but we have fun, I've been applying everthing that I've learned from my last companion with my new one, and the result of which has enabled my new guy and I are becoming good friends. There are a few rough edges that still need trimming around my guy's teaching methods, but he's getting a lot better and it's nothing that fasting, prayer, study, friendship, and unity can't fix!
As for the secteur, it's absolutely fantastic, for it's only ten or so minutes away from the apartment. Not only that but the church is only a couple minutes away by foot. Now I can finally die in peace. There are a lot of people to teach and it's surprising really easy to find new investigators. And there is also voodoo... everywhere.
I've figured out the basic lay out of the secteur, I believe that I've now met each one of our investigators, some of which should be getting baptized soon, along with our recent converts, and I've already started becoming good friends with these people. 
Last week, I had written that the people were a bit harder to get along with than the Togolese, but I suppose I only had a rough first impression. I'm happy to announce that I enjoy working with these people and I've come to learn how to better interact with them. 
As for the now new and improved, clean apartment, we got cool neighbors and they made us awesome food the day I arrived, the electricty cuts out every day and we seldom if ever have water and we've so far killed three rats, one of which I killed myself by wacking it on the neck with a stick.

Well, the power just died, so I'll have to send the message before my computer shuts off.

I love you all so much and I hope you have a wonderful week!!!

With love, Elder Gonzales

Finally some PICTURES!!!

 Hello everyone!! I know that it's been a while but I've finally found a working computer with which I can send pictures!!!

 -Me and the ward missionaries in our last ward missionary training meeting together; the day I left Togo to go to Bénin with my old apartment, my previous companion along with the replacement missionaries. Elder Barnes and Elder Tapusoa were in this picture and were by far my best friends in the mission. I'm really going to miss them and quite frankly, I already do.

-One of my old districts in Bè-Kpota with whom I had taken a picture after having watched general conference at the Kégué stake center; my Ghana MTC district and me at the pizzeria restaurant called San Marcos; my previous district and me before I left for Bénin. 
-Me again at the first stake activity in Togo that I had attended while on the mission, with one of my first converts that I had baptized over a year ago in my very first secteur, and in a bus that had no seats yet was filled with members with whom we travaled to get to the activity.

-Here are a few pictures of me at church, in my old secteur, and with my black children.

-Here are some pictures of my old zone in a zone meeting and zone activity along with one of my previous districts.

-The following pictures consist of all of the baptisms that I had while I was working with E. Ndibu, my previous companion from Kishasha, D.R. Congo with whom I labored for approximately four months in the Bè-Kpota secteur.

-The names of the two children are Fr. Josué and Sr. Debora and then the two young men's names are Fr. Anoumou Kossi and Fr. Girard Noun. Each one of these converts are absolutely fantastic, super active in the church, and have been the means by which we have received more contacts and have found more people to teach. Fr. Girard, by the way, has received the Aaronic Priesthood and has been helping us once every week. They are all very dedicated to the Church and delight in participating in missionary work. I love them so much and it has been a pleasure being a part of their lives.

 Well, I sincerely hope that all is going well for each and every one of you in your respective homes, families, work, studies, lives and so forth. I pray continually for your temporal, spiritual and over all well-being. I hope with all my heart that you have success in your every endevors and that your lives be filled with happiness, peace, and joy. Take care of yourselves in the best of ways so that every aspect in your lives continues to move progressively forward.
Scriptures to read from the Book of Mormon: Ether 12:4 and Moroni 8:3.I love you all so much, thank you so much for your love, support and prayers, God bless you and may you have a wonderful upcoming week!

Sincerely, Elder Gonzales

"I have at long last been called to labor in Benin'."

 Well, everyone, I have some good news to share with you: after having served in Lomé, Togo for a grand total of eighteen months, eight of which in Bè-Kpota as zone leader, I have at long last been called to labor in Bénin where I will be serving with another Congolese companion in the Calavie secteur.

 About a week previous to my new calling, something had happened to me that has never taken place in my life before. I had two dreams in which I found out that after having served for eight months in the Bè-Kpota secteur, I was going to be transferred to work in Bénin and then work with a Congolese companion. During my second dream, or vision, I would more accurately say, I saw my soon-to-be new companion. I don't know why I was allowed to see what I saw, but I do distinctively remember asking the Lord, if it was according to his will, that he grant me with an opportunity to receive personal revelation during my sleep some time before I had these visions. This certainly wasn't what I was expecting, and I'm not necessarily sure why this had been reveled to me, but it was an interesting experience to see what it's like to actually have a vision of my own. I can't even imagine what it must be like for President Monson and the Quorum of the Twelve.

 As my MTC district companions and I were on our way to the Ghana airport from which we would go to Bénin and then seperate to our respective secteurs to commence our missions and start our training, I had received a personal revelation -- and last Saturday (twenty months later) a spiritual confirmation -- that I was needed in Bénin and that the Lord had a great and marvelous work for me to accomplish once I arrived there. I was a little shocked at first to find out that I was going to start my mission in Togo instead of Bénin, and at the rate that the mission was going, I was fairly convinced that I was going to finish my mission here in Togo. Although, as it had been confirmed, it
seems that the Lord has need of me on the other side of the border after all. I did, however, receive another confirmation a long time ago that once I was ready and completely "formed", then I would go to Bénin to accomplish my work.

Well, I don't know exactly what lies in store for me and I'm not sure what's going to happen next, but I sincerely hope that after all I had learned from being here in Togo for the last eighteen months has
prepared me enough so that I can be an effective instrument through which the Lord can do great things to come in my new secteur with my new companion. I suppose all that I can do, as I had been encouraged by Bishop Warner, is to start enforcing myself to double my efforts so that I have double the success and blessings that come from hard work and diligence. I just hope that my new companion and I will be able to get along with each other better than my current companion and I have.

 As for the week, nothing too particularly interesting took place, but I had a lot of great experiences. On Saturday, the day that I received my new calling, we started out the day by cleaning the church. After we had finished, we went and bought hamburgers and charwarmas for lunch. Not too long after that, we went to the church where I conducted a baptismal interview for a candidate who was to be baptized that day. My companion was supposed to do it, but due to the circumstances, I had to take it upon myself to do it. This isn't, by the way, the first time that something like this has happened. The
other day, my companion and I went on a split with the other two Elders in our apartment so that my companion could conduct baptismal interviews in our district leader's secteur while I conducted two in the secteur of Ablogomé for two other Elders. Once my comp. and E. Barnes (our DL) arrived to the investigators house, the baptismal candidate was asleep and so they had decided to do it the next day.
 Well, when it was time for us to be at the church, my guy was washing his laundry and wasn't ready to go. So, I went with our DL while my comp. finished up with that to the church so that I could conduct the interview before the service. Well, we're only as responsible as we're willing to be; although, it would be easier and less annoying and fatiguing if responibility didn't have to be a burden inconsiderately and unexpectedly thrown onto the shoulders of another. After the service, we went back to the apartment where we changed, went to a local, outdoor bar, ordered a plate of sphaghetti with a soda, and watched the soccer champion's league final, during which we received our new callings. By the way, turns out that E. Tapusoa, has been transfered to work with E. Ndibu! It seems like E. Tapusoa is following in my foot steps as I did to my trainer who had also worked in the same secteur as me before I had replaced him. It's conforting to know that my secteur, converts, and legecy will be protected and taken care of by a reliable and trustworthy friend.

 As for Sunday, I had three experiences that were very precious to me:
(1) I bore my last testimony during church for the last time in myward in Togo, (2) I held and directed our ward missionary training during which I thanked the ward missionaries for all the hard work that they had done to accompany and help as us as often as they did and then (3) I said good-bye to almost every single one of my converts throughout the remainder of the evening. My testimony was short, simple, and sweet, and thankfully, no tears were shed. During the ward
missionary training, I had to my surprise been thanked by the ward missionaries along with a few converts who had attended, for the way that I interacted with the members and for all the hard work that I had done in the ward to help the Lord's work move forward. That was one of the most precious moments of my mission for that was the first time that I had been thanked and then recognized by others for all the work that I put in and then I had received a confirmation that the Lord was able to make a positive influence in the lives of others through me. As for the good-byes, no tears were shed (save for one of my converts who cried when she saw me coming to her house) but many
encouragements, prayers, scriptures, songs, and love-filled experiences had been shared. That was one of the coolest experiences that I've ever seen, that is, to have witnessed that the Lord had been
a positive influence in the lives of others through me.

Well, I wouldn't say that the good-byes were in vain, but seeing that I wasn't sure when I was leaving, I thought I'd do it as soon as I possibly can. I did, however, find out this morning that I'm leaving
for Bénin early Friday morning, so I'll be around for a few more days. I suppose I could say that that's just a tender mercy of the Lord in that he has granted me to have more time to spend with my coverts and my progressing investigators and then pack my bags and do a little bit of laundry before I leave.

As for myself, eh, I'm doing about as good as I can for the moment. I just hope and pray that everything goes well for me during the next four days before I leave. I am going to miss E. Barnes, though, a lot. He and I have had a ton of fun and a lot of laughs together and he was probably one of my best missionary friends that I've had since I've been in the mission.

Anyways, thank you so much for the details!! I'm super glad to have found out more about all that's going down on your side of the world!! Well, Mom and Dad, I'm super excited to hear that you have received new callings, for which I congratulate and wish you the very best.
Thank you all so much for your love, support, concern, and prayers; they've played a considerably essential role in my success, in overcoming my problems, difficulties, and stresses, and in having a
great aboundance of happiness and joy in the work.

Well, my family, I'm afraid that my time is up. I pray that you have a most wonderful week and that all may go well for each and every one of you according to your individual needs. I love you all so much, I miss you, you're in my prayers, and I care for you.

With love, your brother and son,
Elder Gonzales

"In the rainy season, & when it rains, it comes down hardcore."

  Well, for starters, this has been a most wonderful week filled with a lot of fun and productivity. I absolutely love the new Elders in my district or apartment. I can't express to you just how great it has been to finally have true friends who genuinely care for me, who help clean the apartment, who have a desire to be my friends and to help me in everything that I do, and with whom I can let lose, relax, have fun, work hard, laugh, eat good food and have joy in the difficulties that we have to go through. At long last, I'm genuinely content and happy. Oh, it's so nice to have true friends again. A lot of prayers have been answered as a result of their coming into my apartment.

 This is kind of funny for the both of us, but E. Barnes and I were a little skeptical on how well we were going to get along before he came; however, it turns out that we're super alike, we get along a lot better than anticipated, and we've been having a blast living together.

Today, as for an exercise activity, E. Barnes and I played broom hockey with a small ball as a puck and water basins as goals. We kept playing until I broke the broom. It was a lot of fun and we had a ton of laughs. 

It's super nice to be able to live with someone with whom I can be myself and have what feels like a non-stop streak of happy moments, hilarious experiences, inside jokes, and so much more.

 My life has changed for the better and despite all that I have to go through on a day to day basis, living with a friend sure makes all the difference.
Well, I'm afraid that I'm all out of time. Gotta go to a family night at the church with the district!!
 Monday (16 May) -- As I had already described, E. Barnes and I played broom hockey, then we went to the Cyber and then to the Church as a district to participate in a ward family home evening which consisted of the youth and young adults both member and non-member. We watched the LDS produced movie called "The Testament", discussed about what we understood and appreciated from the movie, and then ate cookies and drank juice as a snack at the end. 
 Tuesday (17 May) -- We canceled our district meeting and stayed in the apartment during the morning due to a rain storm that had come in. We're currently in the rainy season, and when it rains, it comes down hardcore. Thankfully the rain stopped some time in the afternoon, thus we were able to go out into the secteur. Earlier in the day, my companion refused to help me plan for what we were going to do today and told me that I could fill out the progress report that we fill out and then discuss upon during our coordination meeting that we have at the end of the day at the church with our ward mission leader among other leaders. Well, let me just start out by saying that my companion is very easily offended, he gets angry when I least expect it and then holds grudges and takes things very personaly. My companion was offended for what I had done to him the other day, that is, praying before he was ready to start. The entire district had waited for him for an hour to get ready so that we could get going to the cyber. Once we gathered together to say a prayer before we left, he asked us to wait for him to zip up his pants and tuck in his shirt. Well, I really wanted to go to the cyber and my patience was already running thin, and so I started praying as he got himself ready. Well, that made him so mad that he lost his spirit and decided that he didn't want to help me with what I just mentioned along with none of our lessons. Well family, believe it or not, I gave three lessons all by myself without any contribution from his part whatsoever. Fun right? At least once we got to the church after we (I) had taught our investigators, our ward mission leader apologized to us due to not magnifying his calling for the past month and said that he would start coming to the coordination meeting each week and would start attending baptisms every time we had them. I had been praying to find out as to how we could better work with our ward leaders and then had later discussed with our Bishop about everything that has not been happening but should on our ward mission leader's efforts. Our Bishop had then spoke with our ward mission leader and that had appartently done the trick. I love it when things just sort of work out like that. Such experiences really remind me that the Lord is currently capable of doing his own work.  
Wednesday (18 May) -- We worked with our recent convert Fr. Girard who will soon be receiving the Aaronic Priesthood and works with us every Wednesday from 15h00 to 20h00. My companion didn't speak or teach during our lessons until the very last one, but that at least gave Fr. Girard an opportunity to see what it's like to teach with and as a missionary. Our convert is super intelligent and understands the message of the Restored Gospel super well, thus he was able to teach as if he had already been called as a full-time missionary. This kid is so great and I know that he'll be a phenominal missionary. He's eighteen, by the way, and will hopefully be graduating from high school this year (in a few weeks).
Thursday (19 May) -- Had a surprise meeting with Pres. Morin, his wife, and the Togo Assistants in the morning at the Kégué chapel. I didn't find out that we were having this meeting until last night while my companion and I were planning for the next day. I'm super glad that we had this meeting, for it was during which that we discussed as leaders on the following points: teaching in unity so as to more fully accomplish our missionary objective, getting along with companions, having love one for another, becoming more like Chirst, being accountable for our actions, supporting what we teach by putting it into practice and so forth. As a result of this meeting, my companion started teaching again and did so through out the remainder of the day, but we were still lacking a very vital key to missionary success: unity along with the spirit and power that come from it. The meeting that we had along with the lessons that we had given today moved me repent by doing something about changing our situation so that we could have the spirit of unity back in our companionship and in my own life. However, I wasn't sure as to what I should do and I didn't know as to when I should go about making said change. Even though every time I did so the spirit felt very distant, but I decided to give myself up to much prayer so as to receive guidance and inspiration, for I knew that if the Spirit were to come back into my life, I would have to reconcile myself with my brother first (3 Nephi 12:21-24). 
 Friday (20 May) -- Weekly planning in the morning. My guy helped me out and it was much appreciated. We saw a lot of people today, and everthing on which we had discussed with them pierced my soul and just shredded me to pieces. There I was teaching others to change their lives, to stop drinking and start keeping the word of wisdom, to prepare themselves to go to the temple, to start coming back to church, and so forth while my own life was in complete disorder. At the end of the day, we saw Sr. Reine and Sr. Victorine, two girls who were supposed to be baptized about a month ago. For the past couple weeks, they hadn't come to church. They went to visit their aunt one week and then the next they didn't come because the eldest didn't want to go. It feels like it's been a long time since I've poured out my heart and testified with everything I got as I did that night to help these little girls realize that the Church and Gospel of Jesus Christ have been restored, that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, that they absolutely have need to come to church and to be baptised, and that they've got to keep moving forward by keeping the Lord's commandments. My heart was filled with love, power, conviction, and a sincere desire for their salvation as I spoke to them; however, due to the problems that my companion and I have been having, it felt as if a small yet piercing void had been carved within me. It was at that point that I had resolved to repent, to confess, to change the situation, and to reconcile myself with my companion by sincerely apologizing to him for all that I had done to offend him as we walked home to our apartment. As a result of that talk, the Spirit had finally come back into my life, my companion and I have started talking, working and interacting with each other again, and I feel at peace. It's pretty insane to see what life is like without the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit. It was among one of the most worst experiences that I've ever had in my entire life, but it was very eye-opening in many different ways in that pride is killer and humility is wonderously sweet. Well, at least I now know that I should never again take for granted the constant presence of the Holy Spirit.
 Saturday (21 May) -- Baptismal service bright and early in the morning at the Bè-Kpota chapel for E. Barnes and Fr. Tcharé and for the Sister missionaries in our district. Before the service started, I had a baptismal interview with the other Elder's candidate named Sr. Rose, who thankfully passed the interview with flying colors (an odd expression, but that's English). I dislike doing interviews the day of the service because one never knows whether or not the baptismal candidate is actually ready to be baptised. Fortunately, Sr. Rose was ready and worthy to contract the baptismal covenants and had a beeming testimony of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the afternoon, my guy and I taught two investigators named Sr. Sharlotte and Sr. Dopé along with her friends and then we saw two of our other converts Fr. Josué and Sr. Débora. As we were on our way to Fr. Girard's house to talk to his little brother Fr. Godwin, a raging, mini-flash flood, rain storm came out of nowhere and we were forced to sprint for about thirty minutes through the rain, flooded streets and mud in order to get back to the apartment. We stopped twice, once underneath the roof of small boutique to catch our breath and then at the church to take another breather. It was the most insane rain storm that I had ever been caught in. It was fun and all, but man, that was a pretty scary and intense experience! When we got to the boutique, I decided to try something as a thought popped into my head to give it a shot. I had decided to pray and then command the rain in the Lord's name to stop falling as intensely as it had been so that we could safely return to the apartment and so that everyone in the area would be kept safe. It continued to rain, but the quantiy thereof along with the intensity of the wind had settled down enough for us to return home in safety. I tell you what though, I was pretty sore once I woke up the next morning. It's been a while since I've ran that fast for so long. As for the others, they had fortunately found shelter at the house of an investigator who has been coming to church ever since I got here but hasn't been able to be baptized because of her martial issues. She let the missionaries stay at her house and cooked for them until the rain calmed down enough for them to return to the apartment.
 Sunday (22 May) -- Went to Church; not very many people showed up, but we had some investigators come; went home directly after the third hour; slept for a few hours due to getting my butt kicked by the other day's storm; amazingly went back into the secteur in the evening (believe me, it was really hard due to our fatigue); spoke with Sr. Reine and Sr Victorine's Mom with a member named Fr. Komla (the member who had introduced us to the girls) to make sure that she was still okay with her daughters being baptized due to the past excuses that she made; she was of accord and even helped us find certain information needed to be written on the girls' baptismal forms; afterwards, we visited Sr. Shériffa and her family and then we visited Fr. Josué and Sr. Débora at the end of the day.
Well family, everything has been momentarily brought back to the way it should be; although, I would humbly ask that you pray for me and my companion so that peace, happiness, unity, cooperation, and so forth my reign within our companionship until transfers come along (this upcoming Saturday). I would very much appreciate a happy ending; it's always best to end a companionship with a good note. No bitter memories make the mission a lot more enjoyable.

I sincerely hope that everything else is going well for you all and that you have a most wonderful week!! 

I love you and God bless you!!
Elder Gonzales