December 12, 2011
Catamarca feels like home to me. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. This week was the happiest week of my life.
The Savior walked by my side this week. I felt his love and my Heavenly Father’s love in every moment.
Catamarca is bordered by the huge Ancasti mountain range on one side, and the even more impressive Ambato range on the other. Two weeks ago we were on our way out into the foothills of the Ambato, looking for a woman we had contacted while she was waiting for a bus. We didn’t find that woman, but out among the cactus nestled in the dry hills was a small cinderblock house with a man perched on top repairing the roof. His name was Francisco. After talking with him for a few minutes, he called his wife Silvina out to meet us, and they invited us in. The house was tiny–one room that served as the kitchen, dining room, and bedroom for them and their two kids, Enrique and Maria Pia. Francisco’s arms were covered with crazy tattooes. Silvina is the most beautiful woman I’ve eve seen, with eyes that seem to be peering into your very soul. We talked like we were old friends–we all said that we felt as though we had known one another before.
Yesterday Silvina and twelve-year-old Enrique came to church for the first time. In Principios del Evangelio, we learned together about the plan of salvation and Enrique proudly answered all the teacher’s questions and participated in the discussion. Then last night we went back to their house on the hills, and invited Francisco and Silvina to get married in preparation to be baptized. They said that they would pray and ask God about it.
It was Maria Pia’s seventh birthday, so we all headed over to Silvina’s mom’s house down in the barrio Banda de Varela, Silvina saluting all of the neighbors on our way. I asked Silvina’s mom Teresa to teach me how to make her homemade tapas for empanadas (the majority of Argentines just buy their tapas from the super). She showed me how to knead and form the dough, and the little miniature beef and potato empanadas that came out were some of the best I’ve ever eaten! The house was full of tios and primos and tioabuelos coming and going. We met all of them, and they were all so kind to us.
Norma is progressing, too. She’s had a really rocky relationship with her marido for several years, so it was easy for her to make the decision that she needed to separate from him in order to be baptized. But it was one thing to make the decision, and another thing to actually carry it out. We fasted with her for her to have the strength to make him leave the house that was in her name.
On Tuesday night on our way back from our Christmas zone conference in Cordoba, I called Norma to see how she was doing. “Tengo una noticia,” she told us. “He left. He left on Sunday. I came back from work and he wasn’t there.” I couldn’t believe it–I almost squealed with delight. She wouldn’t have to go through the agony of forcing him out of the house, calling the police–he had just left! It was a miracle!
And then the last time we were at Norma’s house, her daughter Estefania shyly told us, “I’m going to try going to church with you. My mom said that I would like it–that everyone’s really friendly. And the verduleria hasn’t been doing well lately. I’m going to try what you said–closing the business on Sunday to see it prosper more during the week.” After weeks of trying, we had all but given up on the hope that Estefania would choose to come to church. But she came yesterday with Norma.
The Christmas zone conference was a delight. I had suggested to Hermana Salas that we do a Christmas talent show, so Hermana Adair and I sang our musical number and then we watched the elders sing all their goofy renditions of Christmas hymns, and we all laughed until our stomachs hurt. Then we heard a loud bellowing “HO HO HO!” and President Salas came in with a Santa costume over his mission suit, towing two Correo Argentino (Argentine postal service) bags that were almost taller than he was. They were all our Christmas packages! The conference was great–we played games, ate choripan, and enjoyed seeing the President and the Hermana. But of course the best part of it all was seeing Mom’s handwriting on my Christmas package. I cried when I read the little kids’ letters, and even more when I read hers.
Last night I was walking home and the sky was all lit up like fire. From up in the foothills it was like we were looking straight into the clouds, we were up so high. They were glowing golden-orange, as though it were the Second Coming. It was though I could really feel Heavenly Father looking down on me. I could feel his love in everything this week, and most of all I could feel his love in his sending his son for me. My Savior Jesus Christ, my best friend. My older brother who looks out for me and gets me out of every scrape I’ve ever gotten into.
He and Heavenly Father are always there for me to talk to when there’s absolutely no one else. All those sleepless nights crying myself to sleep from loneliness and fear on the mission; all those sins that have racked my soul and brought me to my knees to plead for hope and help and forgiveness; all those mean rejections on the street or at people’s doors. And all the good moments too. All the beautiful sunsets, like a present from them to let me know that I’m loved. All those times I felt the fire of the Spirit in my soul as I testified of them and their restored gospel. Every time I saw the nervous smile of one of my brothers and sisters all dressed in white as they stepped down into the waters of the baptismal font. All the Sunday mornings when someone miraculously made it to church. Every homesick ache I’ve felt in my soul as I see my baby sisters growing and changing in the photos Mom sends from home. All the nerve-wracking but exhilarating moments when I step into a new investigator’s home, heart-pounding, not knowing what I’m going to say or how they’re going to respond, but knowing that the Spirit is going to guide my words (a far greater adrenaline rush than any roller coaster I’ve ever ridden or ever mountain I’ve ever climbed!). In every moment they were there. They were there for me. Sometimes they let me struggle for a while, to help me learn to be stronger. But they were there.
I know the Savior lives. I love being one of his missionaries. For “the veil was taken from my mind, and the eyes of my understanding were opened. I saw the Lord…his eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:
I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father.”
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.