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!!