Sunday, January 31, 2016

"There you have it, yet another week in a Bénin, Cotonou Mission".

Dear Family:
 Though this week may not have been as productive as normal, it was, all the same, quite fruitful in the end.
 On Tuesday, my comp. and I held our first English Course and we had quite the turn out. It was a lot of fun, a lot of people showed up and everyone actively participated. A few of the people there already new the majority of everything that we taught and so it was sort of a review for them.
  On Wednesday, I went on a split with Elder Whitt's companion E. Ranaivorisoa in their secateur at Baguida. The majority of the day consisted of doing a whole lot of OVB throughout proselyting hours, and then holding an English Course where we would teach the one person who showed up and doing a baptismal interview for a girl named Sr. Sesilia (who was baptized last Saturday) before leaving back to my apartment.
  On Thursday, my comp. and I had a Bible bash with a coiffeur (hair cutter) during the morning, which lasted for a little over an hour. He argued on a lot of points concerning the Restoration of the Gospel. We tried in every way we could to help him understand that the Gospel, the authority of the Priesthood along with the same organization or church that had been established by Jesus Christ himself and has existed in every dispensation, but the Spirit wasn't present and the man too arrogant to accept anything that we taught him, even though we confounded him more times than my guy and I could count using his own words along with the scriptures. He argued that we no longer have need of prophets, apostles or the same organization that had been established by Jesus Christ himself and said that he will never been convinced that a Restoration has taken place unless he reads is directly from the Bible (which testifies of the Great Apostasy along with the Restoration on several accounts). At times, it astounds me at how blinded some can be to the truth that has been plainly written and placed beneath their eyes; however, so arrogant and prideful is the heart of men that there are some that don't want to accept this message even when it makes -- at least to me -- perfect sense. So shall they remain until their hearts are softened and are then pierced into by the witness of the Holy Spirit that these things are true! The only thing that we can do in these kind of circumstances is to just let these differences go and to serve, to not judge, to help and to become friends with these kinds of people. Teaching with a humble heart and atmosphere is absolutely essential for spiritual progression along with spiritually edifying experiences; without the Spirit, we're merely shouting words back and forth against figurative, mental brick walls like water balloons.
  Anyway, for the remainder of the evening, my companion fell sick and started having the runs and so we stayed in the apartment until it was time for us to go to the church to teach a scripture study class. We only had two participants at this class, which included Fr. Honoré, a ward missionary who works with us from time to time, along with Sr. Clarisse, a member in our ward who has gone on mini missions with Sister missionaries in our zone and will be leaving in a couple weeks to do her own full-time mission in the Côte d'Ivoire, Abidjan Mission. What we did was actually really cool, in that we taught them how to effectively teach the first point of the Restoration, The True Nature of God, by using many scriptures to answer specific questions that have been posed to us found in the Bible and in the Book of Mormon. This point focuses in on the Divinity, or the belief that God, the Eternal Father, his son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, are three distinct individuals who are united in purpose and in doctrine.
  On Friday, we had quite a busy day. First thing in the morning, my guy and I did weekly planning and were shortly thereafter picked up by our taxi man Fr. Richard to go back to Baguida because I forgot to sign the baptismal form of E. Whitt's baptismal candidate before I left. Later in the afternoon, I went on a split with E. Mayamba in order to go to Akodesewa to do another baptismal interview for a baptismal candidate of E. Hammons and E. Florion while E. Joseph stayed with E. Miyasaki in Bè-Kpota so E. Miyasaki could do an interview for three of our candidates, which included Sr. Shérifa, Sr. Akuto, and Fr. Dieudonné. I finished with my interview in time to be dropped back off at Bè-Kpota from Akodesewa before our candidates' interviews had been completed. Shortly after I arrived, I learned that not only was everyone good to go, but the sisters were older than they had originally told us from the beginning. Sr Shérifa, who I thought was either eighteen or nineteen, is actually twenty-one whereas her sister, who I believed to be fourteen, is actually eighteen. The people here have a weird tendency to give us either false names (usually done by men) or ages (mostly done by women). I believe they're taught to do this when they're young just as to how we teach our children to not talk to strangers.
 In any case, Sr. Shérifa, Sr. Akuto, as well as Fr. Dieudonné whom I've taught ever since I first arrived in Be-Kpota along with all of the other previously mentioned investigators where baptized Saturday afternoon and then confirmed as members the following day at their respective church buildings during Sacrament Meeting.
  Our three investigators are super fantastic and we've become great friends with them ever since we began teaching them. It was difficult teaching them at first because they had a hard time understanding and keeping commitments by not reading scriptures nor coming to church. It also took a long time before we were able to get through all the lessons, but as we patiently went along they progressively began to better understand and keep commitments by reading the BofM and coming to church. Though it took a while, they now understand the doctrine really well and were able to become converted based on what they've learned along with the witness that they've received from the Spirit that our message along with the church are true.
  On Sunday, after the confirmation of our investigators and the Sacrament Meeting, we went to our investigator class where I would translate for our new Nigerian investigator Bro. Alex who has now come to church for the second time since we've recently began teaching him. At the third hour, I taught Fr. Alex while E. Joseph taught another one of our investigators named Fr. Anoumou. Fr. Alex and I had an interesting discussion and he asked me so many questions that I ended up teaching him about the Great Apostasy, The Restoration, the story of Joseph Smith, along with the Book of Mormon all in accordance to what he asked me to find out.
  As for the remainder of the afternoon, we went back to the apartment where we would rest and then prepare ourselves to go to Sr. Clarisse's house to spend time with her and her family and then eat a ton of pat with great tasting sauce. Afterwards, we went to see an investigator named Sr. Zeynab, an English-speaking girl born in Niger, to wish her a happy birthday before we went back to the apartment. As we were getting ready to leave, she gave us a small pizza along with a cork-bottled container filled with non-alcoholic, red cyder juice. I felt bad taking this because I had nothing to offer as a gift, but she insisted and so we took them without refusal. We ate the pizza, which tasted like overheated quesadillas, and drank the drink, which was actually really tasty, once we got back to the apartment.
  Well, my family, there you have it, yet another week in a Bénin, Cotonou Mission in Bè-Kpota, Lomé, Togo.  

 Thank you so much for the thorough and very encouraging email that you sent me. It was really great to be able to read this and it really made me feel a lot better about myself for the efforts that I'm trying to make to be more diligent and obedient when it seems like no one else in the zone seems to care anymore. Transfers are coming up next week and its always during this time that most of the Elders seem to have difficulty wanting to work and do as much as they're capable of doing. Prayers on behalf of the missionaries in the zone would be genuinely appreciated because no matter what I do to be a good example and to encourage others to do what they should be doing doesn't seem to make a difference. This work is a sacred calling that deserves not only the best of us, but to also be taken seriously and be magnified; although, it would be nice if others felt the way I do.

 Well, I'm super glad that all is going well on your side of the world and I pray that all may continue to do so. You're all so wonderful and I love you all so much. I would encourage you to make to best usage of your time as possible by consistently serving others, by searching to make a positive difference in your own lives and in those around you, by spending wholesome, quality, fun and spiritual time with friends and family, and by choosing to make each day a gift to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 I love you, God bless, and may you have a wonderful, upcoming week, and may all work out in your favor so long as it is aligned with the Lord's.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Happy 20th Birthday Elder Gonzales!

Dear family:

 I come bearing tidings of great joy -- quite delightful news about a certain event that has recently taken place that will have forever changed the quality of my mission from, not only memorable, but also to photographical. Family, at long long last, the package has arrived!!!!
 I don't think I've ever been more content to receive a gift (save for the Atonement, my family, temples, the Priesthood, the Gospel, and so forth) throughout the entirety of my almost two-decade life than that which I had received in a cardboard box that will enable me to visually journalize my mission life!!  

 The new camera came in last Tuesday at the conclusion of our Zone meeting and had been delivered to me by the Assistants. The camera is without blemish and was thankfully not tampered with and it has been absolutely fantastic!! No longer do I have to wish I had a camera when a memorable moment arrives!! That, believe it or not, has been a wonderful relief. I've been taking pictures of and with investigators, ward members with whom I interact the most, along with my recent converts. I took the pictures of the certain locations and areas concerning the secateurs and the apartment for which you had asked as well.

 Well, as far as investigators are concerned, we've been having less of them coming to church now 'a days... because they're all getting baptized!!! We have, however, started searching more frequently for more investigators to work with so that we could help others also get through the gate and enter into the way towards the temple. We've been having success in finding more investigators thanks to recent converts along with the members. My companion and I will also be starting an English course (starting tomorrow afternoon) along with a Scripture Study Class (on Thursday) so as to find more investigators to teach. There are, unfortunately, quite a few investigators of whom we've had to let go and stop teaching because they wouldn't keep true to their word, wouldn't progress and wouldn't keep commitments. It's not easy, particularly when we develop good friendships with these people, but we have been counseled by our leaders to have the courage and the love to let them go so that they can see what they've been missing and then have more time to be prepared by the Holy Spirit. We've also been asked to make better usage of our time by looking for and teaching those who will more readily and willingly accept and act according to our message.

 If there's a lesson to be learned from all this, it's that the progression of this work is directly affected by the ward members with whom the missionaries collaborate and work. Members and the diligent efforts that they make to help us have such an essential role to play in work! In fact, I know that if the ward that I'm currently working in wasn't as great as it is, I'm thoroughly convinced that we would not have had nearly as much success as we've currently been having with our investigators and recent converts. The ward and it's members are not perfect by any means, there are many inactive and active but not diligent members, not everyone knows what he or she is doing, and there's a lot of work that needs to be done due to the adolescence of the church in Togo, but despite all this, here is what makes the difference: the members are trying to enforce themselves to magnify their callings and by helping the missionaries as they accept, invite, encourage, and bring in everyone as their own. This is not just a ward being established but a family and a kingdom being built upon the principals of charity, love and an astounding amount of faith. I love this place and I love this people, for behind all the rough edges lies a pearl of an example as to how one should live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 Sr. Shérifa, Sr. Akuto, and Fr. Dieudonné were unable to be baptized last Saturday because they went on a trip with their father to their village; however, our prayers have been answered in that their father has allowed them to be baptized!!! Our friends might be going to their village again this Saturday, but if they don't then they'll hopefully be baptized if all goes according to plan. If not, then the following Saturday is when their baptismal service shall be held. If our plans don't hold, better later than never; although, I much prefer sooner if possible and so prayers with that in mind on their regard would be great (if it is, of course, in favor to the will of the Lord)!!

 Well, my family, thank you all so very much for the wonderful (Twentieth) Birthday and New Year wishes!!! It would be great to be able to celebrate with you during these two particular days, but I suppose I could say that I'm celebrating them in a far better way than I ever possibly could because this time around, these will be days that are not surrounded around myself but are rather concentrated on serving and helping others around me. There aren't really any other nor better ways to celebrate such days than to serve the Lord and give back what I can to the One who gave me all that I have.

 Thank you all so much for all that you do for me! Thank you for the love, support, encouragement and packages that you've sent to me! You're all super great and I'm proud of and happy for each and every one of you. I hope that you have a marvelous week and that all goes according to your favor so long as it is aligned with the Lord's, which, undoubtedly and increasingly is! Take great care of yourselves in every way, enjoy the fruits of the New Year, and do your best to always become a little better with every invaluable passing day! I love you all so much and may God bless you all!!!

Elder Gonzales

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Joyeux Noel!!!

Salut ma famille:
 The internet connection has been functioning so badly that it has taken me two hours in order to send one message so far.
 Check it out! Four of our investigators have been baptized!!! FIST PUMP!!!
We have Sr. Nicole and Sr. Prisca, who have been making phenomenal progress in diligently keeping commitments by coming to church every Sunday, by reading scriptures and brochures, and by praying to find out the truth for themselves by the power of the Holy Ghost. Also two brothers named Fr. Koffi and Fr. Yao who have become great friends and have been just as diligent, despite their difficulty to fluently speak French.
 This morning, as I was writing in my journal, accounting for everything that took place last week, I took note that this week had been the most productive week, as far as working with members goes, that I've had since I've been working with Elder Joseph and probably throughout the entirety of the mission as well. I had then realized that while I was with Elder Tapusoa, we were only able to teach exactly eighteen investigators in the presence of a member during each of the two six-week long transfers in which we had worked together. That adds up to a grand total of thirty-six member lessons at the end of approximately almost three months. Last week, E. Joseph and I taught seventeen people in the presence of a member. What does this mean? In the amount of time it took for E. Tapusoa and I to teach eighteen individuals in the presence of a member (six weeks to be precise), E. Joseph and I were able to accomplish just as much in a single week. 
 Well, if I was still in Kégué, this would have been very discouraging news; however, I'm not and my new secteur rocks!!!!!
 As you could imagine, we've been very busy as of late to the point that we've been kept on the tips of our toes making plans, going appointment from appointment, coordinating with members to work with and receive more contacts from, and helping our progressing investigators prepare for baptism while finding more people to teach all at the same time.
 At least, I've lost weight due to all the extensive walking that we do every day, and thanks to the weather change, the heat has died down and so it hasn't been as excruciatingly hot as it had been before.
 Interesting fact: The season in which we are in occurs every year when the sands from the Sahara Desert are carried from there by wind over the entire country. Unfortunately, the season doesn't last for too long, but it would be considered as the equivalent of our winter season, save for the snow. There's so much dust and sand circulating in the sky that some days it looks like a giant cloud of reddish-brown fog is floating in the air. It actually made breathing a bit of a challenge and it had caused a lot of people to catch colds; fortunately, I was not a victim. Thankfully, the sand has gone down, but the fresh air and coolness are still lingering which is great. 
 Well, family, everything is going great over here, I'm in great health, and I've been able to overcome a lot of trials that I've been having from time to time due to a variety of stressors. Despite all the difficulties, which have lessened immensely, I've been filled and blessed with an extremely abundant amount joy and happiness because of this great and marvelous work and I'm thoroughly enjoying and loving every bit and moment that I have to teach and to serve the people of my mission.

 I appreciate all that you do for me and I sincerely thank you for the prayers that you've made on my behalf. Thank you all so very much for the love, the unceasing support, the encouragement, the compliments, the words of counsel and wisdom, and for everything else that you do for me. Take care of yourselves in the best way that you can in every aspect of your lives. Be safe and may our Father in Heaven guide and protect you as you exercise your faith in Him, make right choices and follow the promptings of His Holy Spirit.
Here's some exciting news! One investigator named Fr. Honoré, whom I had been teaching ever since I had arrived in Bè-Kpota, finally got baptized last Saturday! After his baptism, he stood up and bore what I thought to be one of the most simple, yet most touching testimonies I've ever had the opportunity to hear. Spiritual experiences aren't exactly in an abundance in this mission and seldom happen if ever, but the testimony that he bore struck my heart with the Spirit.

 Check it out!! Do you remember Sr. Patience, of whom I would write when I was working at Adidogomé with E. Jeneseri? She was finally baptized not too long ago!! :D I spoke with the missionaries currently working in my old secateur and they informed me of the good news. Apparently, she was the one who came to the missionaries telling them that she's a grown woman who can make her own decisions. So, they went over what we had taught her and she was shortly thereafter baptized. The whole reason as to why she hadn't been baptized when E. Jeneseri and I were there was because her mother, with whom Sr. Patience was living, had refused that she be baptized. Her mother threatened that if Sr. Patience were to be baptized, she would disown her and kick her out of the house. Well, hopefully none of these things transpire; however, I'm just glad that Sr. Patience finally took the brave and right decision.
 As for my Nigerian family, everything is going super well for them and they've been progressing very well according to the missionaries who are working in their ward. Bro. Frank and his son Daniel recently received the Aaronic Priesthood and Bro. Frank is preparing himself to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood soon as well. 
 I sincerely hope that you were able to have an amazing Christmas day and that everything else in life has been going very well for you. I pray that this wonderful holiday season may bring to you and your families a great abundance of happiness and joy no matter what situation in which you may be.

 I know that as we do the very best that we can to unreservedly spread the holiday cheer, as we stretch out our hands to those with feeble knees, as we strive to work a little harder to become a little better, and as we remember and remind others about the true reason as to why we celebrate this holiday in the first place, we will all be greatly blessed according to our own specific needs and we may be the means by which the Lord extends his merciful hands to provide for the things of which others have need.
 I bear my solemn witness that Jesus is the Christ.  I know that the Savior Jesus Christ, of whom the prophets have testified of his coming since the beginning, had in all reality been born in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago. I know that a little over thirty years after His birth, he would begin His ministry; during which, he would accomplish a great and marvelous work by healing the sick and afflicted, by preaching the Gospel to all who would listen, by setting the greatest example to all by his sinless and completely obedient life, by establishing His church among His people, and by accomplishing His ultimately universal, perfect and eternal atoning sacrifice.
 I know that at the end of his earthly journey, He suffered, bleed, died, and was resurrected for us so that, through Him, each and every one of us could overcome the effects of sin, from which we could then receive redemption and remission. I know that on top of being able to be freed from sin and, for which, receive forgiveness and mercy, everyone will be resurrected to be brought before the judgment bar of the Lord where we will be judged according to our works that will have performed throughout the duration of our mortal existence on this earth. However, before this great and dreadful day comes and thanks to His Everlasting Atonement, everyone, including those who've passed away into the Spirit World, will be given the opportunity to be forgiven of his or her transgressions and thereafter inherit eternal life in the kingdom of the Father on the condition that we keep His commandments, live in accordance to the principles and ordinances of His Gospel, and endure to the end.
 I know that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ lives and that now, as always, during this Christmas time is the perfect time to especially remember Him along with His birth, life, ministry, and atoning sacrifice. I know that as we strive with all our heart, might, mind and strength to make Him the very center of our day to day lives that our Father in Heaven will open the windows of heaven and pour upon us an ever abounding amount blessings.
 Well family, it was a wonderful pleasure to be able to Skype with you! I'm super glad to have been able to interact with you once again and it was really great to see that you're all healthy and to hear that everything is going well for you. As for my side of the world, I wouldn't worry too much about me if I were you, even if I made it sound as if this mission experience seemed crazier (which it actually is) than it actually is. The Lord knows exactly what I'm capable of and he wouldn't put me through a situation without providing me a way through which I could overcome it. Despite all the physical, mental, and emotional challenges I have to go through, the Lord is watching over me, the Spirit of the Lord is with me, and I've so far been able to overcome every trial that I've had to go through in proportion to how much I've placed my confidence and trust in Him. On top of all this, my new found desire to serve and to help others obtain exaltation has blotted out every hardship that has come my way. Everything that has taken place since I've been on the mission, every trying, sad, happy, and spiritual experience has only been for my own good, spiritual growth, and learning. Every moment is a gift and I strive and do my best to never take anything for granted. 

I love you all so much. It was wonderful being able to see you again, and I hope you have an amazing week along with a... Happy New Year!!! 
P.S. Here's a photo of the all missionaries of the Benin, Cotonou mission in Togo with Elder Vinson of the Quorum of the Seventy and his wife. Elder Vinson and his wife came to visit us a couple weeks ago to see how everything has been going in the mission and to help us improve ourselves by giving us many inspirational insights, talks, words of wisdom and counsel. I had the opportunity to go to a leadership meeting with Elder Vinson, our Mission President, along with their wives. During his meeting, my companion and I along with the assistants and other zone leaders, established what we could do as individual zones as to how we can do to better ourselves by becoming more diligent, obedient, and effective. 
Well, everyone, thank you so much for the love, support, prayers, emails and so forth. I hope that all is well on your side of the world wherever that may be and that life has been going well for you all. I love you all and may you have a wonderful week!
Avec amour,
Elder Gonzales