Chag Purim Sameach!

Happy Purim, everyone! Purim is one of my very favorite Jewish holidays for the following reasons:

1. It memorializes the beautiful queen Esther whose bravery saved her people, and it commemorates the Jews’ deliverance from death and their victory over the jealous Haman. Esther’s story has always been one of the most beloved to me.

2. Everybody gets dressed up in costumes for Purim!

Two boys in costume, one dressed as Ironman and the other as an army soldier, walk down a street of Mahane Yehuda, the Jewish Market. Every year Purim costumes become a little more Americanized.

Two boys in costume, one dressed as Ironman and the other as an army soldier, walk down a street of Mahane Yehuda, the Jewish Market. Every year Purim costumes become a little more Americanized. Mark took this photo.

The Book of Esther tells us that after the Jews were spared from death and their would-be exterminator Haman was slain, they instituted a holiday on the 13th and 14th days of the month of Adar (Purim is celebrated one day later, on the 14th and 15th, in walled cities such as Jerusalem). The first day of the holiday is observed as the fast of Esther to remember when Esther and all her people fasted before she dared come before the King Ahaseurus and make her request to him. The next day is the celebration of the Jews’ deliverance.

When is the month of Adar, exactly? The Jewish calendar is lunar and lasts 354 days; in a normal non-leap year there are twelve months of 29 or 30 days. This means that Adar and Purim always fall in February or March. Because of the deliverance of the Jews from Haman, Adar is considered the happiest month of the Jewish calendar. Thus every leap year, when an extra month is added to the calendar, there is a second month of Adar.

While accepted as scripture by Jews and Christians alike, the Book of Esther does not actually mention God’s name—not even once. But his hand can be seen in the story of the deliverance of Esther and her people and so it is said that he is “disguised” in the story. For that reason, many Jews celebrate Purim by donning disguises; instead of the usual somber black apparel, you can walk down the streets of West Jerusalem and see young people wearing Halloween-like costumes (and showing more skin than I’ve ever seen in the Holy Land).

Purim tradition also includes attending synagogue to hear the reading of the scroll of Esther (the Megillah). Every time Haman’s name is read, everyone boos or shakes noisemakers to drown out the sound of Haman’s name. Another traditional Purim observance is drinking wine until you are so inebriated that can no longer distinguish between the phrases “Blessed is Mordecai” and “Cursed is Haman” (yes, really!). After all, if it were not for the banquet and the wine that Esther prepared for Haman and the king, the Jews would not have been saved!

Mark and I loved spotting and snapping photos of everyone in their Purim costumes! Purim may well be the most lighthearted of all Jewish holidays. Chag sameach!

 

Israeli youth sport their none-too-conservative Purim costumes while a man and an Orthodox boy hurry past on a street in Mahane Yehuda.

Israeli youth sport their none-too-conservative Purim costumes while a man and an Orthodox boy hurry past on a street in Mahane Yehuda.

Back to the Holy Land!

Once upon a time when I was nineteen, I lived in Jerusalem for four months. (You can read all about it in my posts from January through April of 2008.)

Tomorrow I’m leaving on a jet plane to go back! With my husband!

Here’s how it all happened.

When I was twenty-one I decided to serve a mission, and I received my mission call to go to Córdoba, Argentina for a year and a half. My friend Jana said, “My friend Mark served in that mission too–you should meet him and he can tell you all about Argentina and answer your questions about the mission.”

The night Mark and I met, I asked him questions about Argentina and as we conversed it came up that I had lived in the Holy Land. “That’s amazing!” Mark said, “I’ve always wanted to do that! In fact, I’m planning a trip there this summer!” We hung out a few more times before I left, and exchanged stories about life in the Middle East and life in Argentina. I left on my mission, but we continued to correspond in letters and emails. “We’ll have to plan another Jerusalem-Argentina photo exchange when you get back,” read one of Mark’s first letters to me.

Over a year and a half, mine and Mark’s casual correspondence became a close friendship and then steadily and sneakily turned into something more. We had never so much as held hands before my mission, but we both sensed that in the future we would be walking the same path.

I knew that Mark’s planned trip to Israel was imminent, but then I received a letter telling me that he had decided to cancel it last minute “to save money for pharmacy school.” Later I would learn that he canceled his trip because he “just had a feeling” that we would get married and that he would need that money to help get us on our feet as we started our new life together.

Well, he was right! We did get married. (And he was right that we would need some extra cash, too! Weddings and house remodels are anything but cheap.) Our life together has always been full of adventures: frequent road trips to California to visit Mark’s family, camping and hiking in Zion National Park and Goblin Valley; a crazy motorcycle road trip to Moab. I guess I’m pretty spoiled; Mark’s such an intrepid spirit that he always has some little adventure up his sleeve.

But even so, I’ve always felt twinges of regret that Mark gave up his Jerusalem trip for me–for us. I’ve always yearned for the chance to make pilgrimage to the Holy Land together. So we started a Sky Miles credit card and put many of our house-remodel expenses on it. But between pharmacy school, expensive graduate tuition, and all the renovations on our little fixer-upper house, Jerusalem did not seem to be on the horizon any time soon. I resigned myself to the fact that we’d just have to go “someday when we’re done with pharmacy school.”

Then one day last fall I had a conversation with my mom and my brother that changed everything. We were having a circle of intentions, sharing with one another the goals and desires nearest and dearest to our hearts. Faith or prayer or intending or envisioning or goal-setting–call it what you will, but there is great power in having the courage to speak aloud your wildly impossible dream, the one that’s so dear to your heart but also so crazy that you haven’t even been brave enough to tell anyone about it. That’s what I did in that conversation with my mom and my brother. I expressed aloud my intention that Mark and I would go to Jerusalem together in 2014, and I felt a giddy-with-excitement feeling, happy butterflies in my stomach as I said the words. As quickly as the giddiness came it was seized upon by doubt–How could we possibly travel to Israel? We’re poor students living on student loans–how could we ever justify the expense? Even it we had the money, where would we fit it in between school and work?

But the damage was done. The wildly impossible dream had already been set into motion.

A few days later Mark came home and showed me the weekly Travelzoo.com email in his inbox. “Look! There’s a really good deal on flights to Tel Aviv!” It was an irresistibly good deal, the cheapest round-trip flights to Tel Aviv I’d ever seen (and believe me, I’ve wasted a lot of time online perusing those flights over the last six years).

It was an irresistible deal, but we still didn’t have any money for it. And then we remembered the Sky Miles card. Our jaws dropped when we checked the balance–it could pay for about half of our airfare! Unbelievable! Thank you, Home Depot purchases! But still there was the question of how we would pay for the rest of our trip–lodging, food, everything.

I contacted my childhood friend whose family was living in Tel Aviv for her dad’s job at the time. To my delight her family said yes, we could stay with them!

But even still we wondered if spending the money on this trip would be foolish when we still had two years of graduate tuition to pay and our mortgage every month. We wanted wise, and careful, and we wanted to be good stewards over what God had given us.  Is this really a good idea? we asked ourselves. We prayed about it a lot. We were willing to not go.

As if by magic an impressive bonus from Mark’s work (far bigger than any he’d previously received) arrived. More importantly, we felt a feeling of peace. Oh, and giddy little-kid-on-Christmas-morning excitement.

We bought our tickets.

It all came together in one week last fall. And now we’re leaving tomorrow for the spring break of our lifetimes.

Faith is not something passive; it is a creative force with which we invite good things into our life. “Knock, and ye shall receive,” the Savior taught. “Jesus Christ is the high priest of good things to come,” Elder Holland taught.

My mom reminded me that, when I had just gotten home from Jerusalem six years ago and was so homesick for the holy city I loved. “Mom, will I ever get to go back?” I asked.

“Kimberly, the Lord wants good things for you. Things that make you happy.”

We all know what it’s like, also, to pray for and want something so desperately and not receive it. Why do some prayers seem to go unanswered? I don’t know. I expect we’ll all have a list of questions like that when we get to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with the the Lord on the other side. But I don’t think he would ever want us to stop asking, to stop hoping and believing and expecting and inviting good things into our lives.

I dare you to speak aloud and invite something crazily impossibly good into your life. And then tell me about it when it comes true.

We’ll probably be out of internet range most of next week but check back soon and I’ll post some updates and as many great photos as possible! I’m so excited to make pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Mark!

Six years ago today, in Jordan

Six years ago I spent four months living in the Holy Land, in Jerusalem. To be more precise, in East Jerusalem, the part of the city that is backed by Palestine’s West Bank. During that time I got to travel all over Israel, Palestine, Egypt, and Jordan.

journalentry

Here is an excerpt from my journal entry six years ago, when I visited Jordan:

5 March 2008

“On our first day in Jordan we crossed the border and then went to Bethabara, also known as Bethany, where John the Baptist baptized the Savior. I touched the water and picked up a flower and put it in my scriptures in the Matthew account.

“(SIDE NOTE: It was interesting to see the Jordanian flag flying on this side of the Jordan River and the Israeli flag flying on the far side. The Jordan River forms the border between the two countries, just like the Jordan River formed the border of the nation of Israel in ancient times.)

“We went to the top of Mount Pisgah, the highest part of Mount Nebo. I’m so glad we got to go! Mount Nebo was something I’ve wanted to do my whole life…There was a huge rusty modern art sculpture of the brazen serpent on top. We read the scriptural account…Then we read—this is my favorite part—the account of how Moses ascended Mount Nebo before he died, and the Lord showed him all the land of the inheritance of his people—all of Canaan, all the way out to the sea—that Moses would never enter. When we were up there, I could understand why the Lord would bring him to the top of Mount Nebo. We were above everything, and we could see everything: the whole land of Canaan. Spread out at our feet, shining in colors of green farm fields and purple brown hills and gray water and blue horizon. I wonder how Moses felt as he looked down upon the land that had been promised to the children of Abraham and Israel for generations.”

So many faithful people, like Moses, never get to set foot in this Holy Land. How did I get so lucky to live there? To wake up to the call to prayer every morning and to spend my days walking that ancient sacred land…why was I thus blessed? I don’t know. But I will be thankful all the days of my life that I was.

A Week in the Life of Hermana Kimberly Brown

March 12, 2012

This is like my journal entry for the week. So it is in a lot of Spanglish. But this is what is new this week…

We went to visit Julia and before we had a chance to teach anything, she told us, “Chicas, I´m going to church on Sunday. I tried to go this Sunday, but I waited and waited for a colectivo and no colectivo came. But this Sunday sí o sí voy a ir para la cena sacramental.” I was so completely blown away–Julia, who had told us that she had made the decision not to go back to the church. I asked her why now she wanted to attend church, and she said, “Unos días atrás me llamó Margarita–me di cuenta de que me había ofendido por una tontera, y yo tengo que ir para tomar la cena sacramental.” Then we read the Book of Mormon together, from the beginning. 1 Nefi 1. She had never started reading from the beginning, and she really liked it! And I felt the Spirit in a lesson with Julia for the first time in a long time. There really are no duros para el Señor.

Later that day, we met with César and Natalia. César had prepared a delicious desert with a cracker crust and filling made of cream and strawberry mermelada. Like a frozen strawberry cheesecake. It was delicious. We were trying to teach César about the importance of the priesthood: how it had been restored, how he could be baptized by that authority, and how he could use that authority to bless his own family.

But César just wasn´t having any of it. He complained about the members, about the insincere testimonies that were borne in fast and testimony meeting, about this, about that…we just weren´t making any progress with him.

And then Natalia stood up and went into the house for a moment to see to Lorenzo. And when she did, César whispered to us, “Hermanas, yo me voy a bautizar pero necesito más o menos un mes para cambiar algunos hábitos que tengo.” We were completely floored, and did our best to control our hysterical laughter. We set a fecha with him for the 7th of March, and didn´t say a word to Natalia. I think he is keeping it a secret 10 percent to surprise her and 90 percent to be a punk.

Speaking of there being no duros para el Señor, Liliana is…coming along. The other night we had a cita with Carlos, and he failed us. As we were walking home along Avda. Independencia past Carlos´house, we saw him pull into the driveway with Liliana. Of course we were confused, and because Liliana was so mean to us the last time we tried to talk to her, we decided that it was best to just leave them alone. But they climbed out of the car, and Carlos called us over, and Liliana said, “Pasen, chicas!” and invited us in! We had a really good charla with her–she asked us questions about why we don´t drink coffee, etc. We read from 1 Corintios and explained the concept of a modern prophet who speaks to us about modern-day things. We emphasized the importance of her asking God to know for herself. We had a really great charla with her, and the Lord´s Spirit was there. She got called in to work, because she is the private secretary of the Ministra de Salud and she can get called in to work anytime. But a couple days later, we dropped off some brownies and a pretty handwritten note to her to personally invite her to Carlos´baptism.

After she had to leave, Carlos gave us a ride home, and we aprovechared the opportunity to have a very franca charla with him. We had just found out from the Hno Ledesma that Carlos´departamento had fallen through–the señora had given back his deposit and told him that she had changed her mind about renting to him because her son wanted to put a galpón there in the house. We were in a panic–it was already Tuesday night, and Carlos´baptism was on Tuesday! And he had already invited the whole world! How could we baptize a man who was conviviendo?

We talked to Carlos, and explained just how important the ley de castidad was and just how important it was that he didn´t fall into temptation after he was baptized. We found out that it had been almost a year since he and Liliana had had relaciones. And he told us about a friend of his, a man who lives in Barrio Ambato, with whom he had shared the gospel and talked about the Libro de Mormón. He told us that he wanted to go with the elders to teach his friends. “Soy un pescador de hombres, como ustedes,” he told us. I felt that my heart would burst. And I felt sick at the idea of telling Carlos that he couldn´t get baptized on Saturday.

We entered the pension, and I turned to Hna Steward and said, “Hermana, I know it seems crazy and President will say we´re crazy and it doesn´t make sense to baptize someone that is conviviendo–but I just feel that Carlos needs to get baptized this weekend. When I think about telling him that he can´t get baptized on Saturday, I get a sick and sad feeling.”

She said, “I feel the same way.” So we knelt in mighty prayer and explained our motives to the Lord and asked him to soften President´s heart so that Carlos could get baptized that weekend even though he still hadn´t found an apartment. And to my immense relief, President said yes. He said that because Carlos and Liliana hadn´t had relations for almost a year, because Carlos had promised to keep the law of chastity, and because he was still looking for a place to move, another apartment, where he could move as soon as possible, he could get baptized. Oh my goodness we were overjoyed. Carlos was really going to get baptized. The true measure of if someone is converted to the gospel or not is if they want to share and convert others–and it is evident that Carlos is really converted. He has also been sharing the gospel with Liliana, leaving his folletos laying around the house so that she picks them up and reads them, and answering her questions. There is no doubt in my mind that Carlos is truly converted and ready to be baptized.

Our last charla with Carlos was really special–we wanted to teach him about the sacerdocio, so we had left him to read Alma 13. That night was a crazy night and Hno Ledesma wasn´t available, so we just charlared with Carlos in his house (kind of sketchy–but there wasn´t another option, and anyway it was how the Lord wanted it). It turned out to be the best thing that we could have done with Carlos. He first told us that he had read the chapter three times! And in his book I could see that he had highlighted his favorite parts. He proceeded to read us the whole chapter and give us his commentary, verse by verse. It was the best thing that could have happened because he was able to give commentary of what he had learned. He was so incredibly excited–he talked about how the priesthood was eternal, and how the Lord had chosen him before he was born to receive the gospel, and how powerful and essential the atonement is in our lives, and how badly he wants to work and serve in the kingdom. It was such a beautiful moment–I knew that Carlos was more than ready and I teared up as I felt the power of his spirit. He is getting baptized at the age of fifty-one, but he is already more of a spiritual giant in the gospel and has a deeper testimony of this stuff than I do!

On Thursday Hna Steward and I had a charla franca–she talked to me about trusting in the Lord, and how…I can learn to trust him better. And also have more faith in people, and the Lord´s ability to change and help them. More hope for humanity, ha ha. So that is what this week has been all about–trying to trust the Lord better, and realizing that I can indeed put all my trust and confidence in him. Realizing that he has my back! Again and again and again this week I saw his hand in my life and in the lives of the people here. I saw him soften people´s hearts who seemed impossible. I saw him change situations and solve problems that were impossible. Nothing is impossible for Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ!

So on Friday we went to charlar with Pablo Nanini, who I had long since given up on. My compie didn´t help me at all with the lesson, because she couldn´t understand what Pablo was saying. So I was on my own and Pablo was so awkward–hitting on me and saying that he would never go back to church because it wasn´t for him.

I didn´t know what to do. It seemed like a hopeless situation. But I remembered what Hannah and I had talked about. So I didn´t give up. After some awkward charlaring, and reprimanding Pablo for his flirtatious comments, I asked him to bring his Book of Mormon. And I read with him Moroni 6, and applied it directly to him. About how he had been baptized and received the Holy Ghost and now we wanted to help him and guardar him in the camino recto and how it didn´t matter if he had sinned, the Savior and repentance were still there for them, and all of the members of the church wanted to help him and be his family. When I finished Pablo sat in stunned silence. Then I asked him, “What do you think?” And he said, “I want you to teach me to read the scriptures like that. To apply them to my life like that.” I told him that of course he would. And he said that he would like to come back to church. The next day he failed the cita, but it was a start. It was a beginning. It was a miracle that the Lord was able to work through me because I was not of little faith.

So on Saturday when the elders had lost track of the key to the pileta, I refused to get worried or panicky. I was determined to enjoy that day, that moment, with Carlos. And it all worked out fine. The font got filled in time; the baptismal service turned out lovely. One of the best parts was that Liliana came, and she brought her sixteen-year-old niece! The DVD player didn´t work, so we didn´t show the DVD we were planning on. So instead the bishop took the time while everyone was changing and bore his testimony. Instead of squirm in my chair with worry like I usually do when Obispo Diaz gets on one of his rants, I relaxed and put my trust in the Lord. And later Silvina Ledesma told us that Liliana had cried all the way through the Bishop´s testimony. He had talked about finding true happiness and peace in this life. Something in the craziness of his testimony had really struck a chord with her. The Lord had touched her heart. He was in the details of that baptismal service.

David had come to the baptism too. He was able to get to know some of the members better, including Héctor.

After the baptism, the Ledesmas invited us over for an asado. It was us, Liliana, Valentina (the niece), Carlos, the Ledesmas, the hna Margarita, and Silvina´s mom Aída. It was great–Hno Ledesma and Carlos were the asadores, and it was delicious. We charlared comfortably with Liliana, and Valentina had lots of questions about the church. Carlos commented to Hna Steward, “You know, a month ago when we were charlaring here in the patio and Hna Brown asked me if I would be baptized the 3rd of March, I thought–these chicas are crazy! I thought you two were absolutely nuts! And look, here I am, the tenth of March, baptized a member of the church!”

Then Liliana found out that we have a curfew, and she started reprimanding the men for not BBQing faster so that we could get home on time. I thought it was so funny that she was the non-member and the only one concerned about getting us home on time. About halfway through the asado, the Lawsons showed up and told us that we´re staying together this transfer! Woot woot!

Happiness is…

March 12, 2012

This weekend Carlos Verandi got baptized!

In the photo, from left to right:
-me
-Hermana Steward
-Carlos, who now tells us, “¡Soy un pescador de hombres ahora!” (I´m a fisher of men now!), because even before his baptism he was sharing the gospel with his friends and family and anyone who would listen
-Nildo Ledesma, who carries a machete with him wherever he drives, “just in case,” and who has been sharing the gospel with Carlos for the duration of their ten-year friendship, and who is overjoyed that Carlos finally got baptized.
-Little Anita Ledesma, who is the Argentine version of Cindy Lou Who
-Her mom Silvina Ledesma, who puts up with her husband Nildo´s insane driving and constant jokes about how he can´t wait for the Lord to “bring back the poligamia, O Señor!”
-Her son Pino
-Lucila Ledesma
-Camila Ledesma
These people are my family in Argentina!
Another sweet and funny moment this week happened with César and Natalia, who we´ve been working with for months. Natalia was baptized a year ago; César is the father of her three-year-old son, Lorenzo. He needs to get baptized and they need to get married, but they´re working through a lot of relationship problems. Anyway, at our last charla with both of them, we talked to César about the importance of the priesthood: how it was restored through the prophet Joseph Smith, how he could be baptized by that authority, and how he could receive that power to bless his own family.
But the charla wasn´t going anywhere. César kept arguing with us, complaining about the hypocrisy of the members and the insincere manner in which they bore their testimonies, etc. Our efforts to commit him to be baptized were going nowhere.
Then little Lorenzo started to cry, and Natalia stood up and went into the other room to tend to him. When she did, César whispered to us with a twinkle in his eye, “Hermanas, don´t tell Natalia, but I´m going to get baptized in a month! I need about a month to work on some bad habits of mine, but then I´ll get baptized!”
We were so tickled. I´m pretty sure he wants it to be kept secret from Natalia ten percent to give her a pleasant surprise and ninety percent just to make things difficult.

Soldado de Dios

March 5, 2012

Brother,

We had a weird week of…a lot of run-ins with critters? An alacrán is a scorpion-like creature with long pincers at the front. It is venomous and found in the deserts of Catamarca, and in the sister missionaries´ pensión because we live next to an empty lot where all the neighbors throw trash and so all manner of creatures find their way into our pensión.

This week Hna Steward got stung by an alacrán! We went to the guardia, the free public hospital (everything in Argentina is free and public—hospitals, universities, housing…). The doctor who attended us didn´t even look at Hna Steward´s skin (which was breaking out in huge peso-sized lumps and a weird rash), but instead shamelessly hit on us. When we told him that we were missionaries de la Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Ultimos Días, he proceeded to warn us about “los Mormones,” who pretend to be missionaries but are actually U.S. government spies who gather information about the poor class of people, because the poor people don´t know any better but to answer their questions. It´s always funny to tell them that we´re the Mormons.

So that was sketchy Argentine hospital round one. Between Hna Zabala´s eye surgery, Hna Adair´s dog bite, and Hna Master´s tendonitis and subsequent physical therapy, I have gotten pretty good at managing Argentine hospitals. So I decided just to take Hna Steward to the nicest sanatorio in Capital, and we got better service there (the médico there only asked a few creepy questions, which is pretty good for an Argentine man). The diagnosis was that Hna Steward was having a severe allergic reaction to the alacrán venom, so she needed a shot. What I understood, but got lost in translation for Hna Steward, was that the shot had to be in her bum. When I broke the news to her she busted out into uncontrollable laughter, which continued all through the administration of the shot and the bus ride home. She was a way good sport about it. When we got home I made her a bread pudding (budín de pan) while she slept it off. Poor traumatized compie.

Also, the other night I got up to go to the bathroom. The bathroom door was open a crack; I reached in and flipped on the light and waited a minute to give the cucarachas a chance to scatter, like I always do. Then as I opened the door and walked in—I felt something land on my head! It had fallen from the door frame or the ceiling above! I reached up and flicked it off, and a six-inch long lizard landed on the tile floor. I then spent about twenty minutes trying to catch it to throw it outside, without success. In the morning it was gone. I think it crawled down the shower drain.

Remember the crazy cucaracha house I moved into when I first arrived in Catamarca? We did the service project of helping to clean it out. It was really gross and surprisingly fun. The oldest daughter Bianca (who dreams of going to BYU, and who I promised to invite over for Christmas and drive around whenever she needs a ride) blasted her “cool” American music—Avril Lavigne and Justin Bieber, while we all cleaned and swept and scrubbed everything.

Okay enough about gross bugs and critters. Once in a while we actually do missionary work too.

Our incredible investigator Carlos Verandi came to our pensión to fix our calefón so that we wouldn´t die of a gas leak. We offered to pay him, but he insisted on doing the work for free. I can hardly believe he is getting baptized on Saturday! He participated with great comments and insights in the Principios del Evangelio class, and afterward I overheard him talking to someone about how excited he was to be a member and be able to work in the kingdom. He said, “You know, in the world I´m not worth much—once you´re over forty, no one wants to hire you because you´re too old. But here in the kingdom of God, I´m fifty-one and I´m still worth something. I can still be a good soldado de Dios, a soldier of God.”

Carlos has had to make a lot of changes in his life—including separating from his live-in girlfriend, his pareja, and quitting smoking to be baptized. I think the happiest people of all are Nildo and Silvina Ledesma, his good friends who introduced him to us. They´re so happy that their friend and neighbor of eleven years is finally going to be part of the church they love. The joy of teaching Carlos has been worth all the difficulties, including putting up with Nildo Ledesma´s jokes about how all women need to learn their place in the creation. My rebuttal is usually, “¿Porque Dios creó a Adán y después Eva?” Why did God create Adam and then afterward Eve? “¡Para tener un borrador!” To have a rough draft!

I can´t believe I´ve lived in Argentina for a year! I think this has been the greatest year of my life (and craziest, for sure). It really blows my mind that the Lord lets people as imperfect as me participate and help out in his work of salvation. My testimony of the Lord´s power in our lives has grown so much. In the past two weeks I have seen him work so many miracles in the lives of my investigators—twenty-year-old David was able to quit smoking and gain a testimony of the Restoration. Natalia and César were able to put aside their differences and their history and decide to get married and form a family together. Carlos was able to separate from his antagonistic pareja Liliana. This is the Lord´s work, no question.

Love you kid.


Love,
Kimberly

Strep and Carnaval

February 20, 2012
 

I am so sick with strep throat right now. I slept like twelve hours last night. Everything is shut down for carnaval. We were lucky to find a cyber open. But the work goes forward; we are teaching a 20-year-old kid named David who works at the cyber we always go to. When he was fifteen he was driving his moto and crashed it with his girlfriend on it. A year later his dad died, and then right after that his uncle who was his grandfather. His mom lives in Buenos Aires. He’s all alone, and let’s just say he’s really prepared for the gospel. Yesterday we had our first discussion with him, in the park in front of the Catholic church. We talked to him about how he could fill the emptiness inside him by building a relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. We taught him how to pray. And he accepted a baptismal date for March 10th. He has to stop smoking by then, but I know he can do it. It’s cool when you find someone that you know has been prepared by the hand of the Lord.

Paul and Alma

January 9, 2012

I have been thinking a lot lately about Paul and Alma, and what great men they were and how many uncanny similarities there are in their lives and missions. Both passionate persecutors of the saints of God, both called to repentance by miraculous apparitions (by the Lord and by an angel, respectively), both spent all the days of the rest of their lives trying to repair the wrong they had done and defending the cause of truth with every fiber of their being. Both journeyed all around the known world on multiple missionary journeys to the nonbelievers (Gentiles, and Lamanites), while still keeping the church in line at home. Both writers of a significant chunk of the standard works. (The book of Alma is huge! And so is the chunk of the New Testament that Paul wrote.) Where would we be without these two great men?

Feels like home to me

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.

God is still a god of miracles.

December 5, 2011

God is still a god of miracles. I know that because I left General Paz
with a lot of tears–a lot of bittersweet tears, sad to leave members
I loved like family not knowing when I would see them again, and also
sad about Patricia. Patricia, our dearly beloved investigator, hadn’t
arrived at her baptismal date because of a lot of complications and
her inability to quit smoking. The whole thing went up in flames
literally an hour before her scheduled baptismal service–the font was
filled and everything.

So I went to Rosedal, another barrio on the other side of Cordoba, to
work with another hermana for about ten days while we waited for our
hijitas to arrive from the U.S. (they had been delayed because of visa
problems). Near the end of the ten days, I got a call from my old zone
leaders. “We have good news,” they told me. “Patricia quit smoking and
we interviewed her today–she’s ready to be baptized. Will you
organize her baptism?”

So from the other side of Cordoba I flew into action, baking brownies
and calling the members and planning the talks and the service.
Although it was thrown together in about twenty-four hours, it was one
of the most beautiful baptismal services I’ve been part of, mostly
because of the look of pure bliss on Patricia’s face.

A few short hours after Patricia’s baptism, I picked up my new
recruit, Hermana Vicki Adair from Mesa, Arizona, at the mission home.
We boarded a midnight bus to Catamarca, about seven hours to the
north. We arrived in Catamarca on Sunday morning and hit the ground
running. We are opening an area in Catamarca, and we are the first
hermanas here in almost twenty years. Add to the mix the fact that my
compañera was brand-new from the U.S. and spoke little Spanish, and it
made for a few…character-building weeks. 🙂 We’ve gotten lost in our
area a lot and we’ve been so exhausted by the long dusty days and the
Catamarca desert heat.

But the Lord has been really kind to us, and we’ve been able to find
some truly elect people here in Catamarca. One such is Norma, who knew
that Joseph Smith was a prophet the first time she prayed and is so
determined to get baptized that she is in the process of separating
from her live-in boyfriend of eight years to be able to do so.
Francisco and Silvina are two others who we surely knew in the life
before. We first talked to them one windy afternoon outside their tiny
cinder-block house up in the cactus-covered hills; they let us come in
that very moment and we instantly fell in love with their young
family.

I see the Lord’s hand in my life; and I know that the difficult times
will only help me to become more like him. I feel such a profound love
for these people. I know that they are my spirit brothers and sisters
and that before this life I made a covenant with the Lord that during
my mortal life I would do his work, missionary work, the work of
bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of His spirit
children. I want to keep doing this work for the rest of my life.