Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Losing Myself in the Service of the Lord

January 26, 2010

Dear Family,

Wow… another week down and I just can’t believe it. Time is really starting to pick up and really going fast. To be honest, I’m getting kind of scared that it’s going to continue to get faster and faster.

First, I thought I would get some business out of the way. I went to Montevideo and had a great time. I went to church distribution, bought garments and some new supplies for teaching. I bought some other stuff at a store called Tienda Inglesia. It’s pretty much a store in Montevideo that sells American stuff, so that was cool. I took some money out of my account for myself. If you want to see what I spent, go online and look, it’s all correct. I also found out that the phone call to you guys on Christmas is not fully reimbursable. I’m kind of worried about this. What should I do? I haven’t received the bill yet, but I’m expecting to receive it in the next week or so and I’m expecting it to be well over 1500 pesos (about 75 dollars). Only 400 pesos is reimbursable. If you’re confused about the whole matter, you’re more than welcome to call the mission office and ask them. When I called them about it, that is just what they told me.

Okay… so this is how my week went. We proselytized a little on Monday and Tuesday of last week, but didn’t really make any progress or have anything exciting happen. On Tuesday night, we took a bus to Durazno. We had a zone conference in the stake center and then split up to go the different missionary’s homes to get some sleep. We woke up at about 2 in the morning, got ready and at about 2:30 got on this micro bus with all 20 missionaries from the zone. It was packed, very uncomfortable and it was slow too! We finally arrived at the mission home about 6 in the morning and had breakfast with the president and his wife. The president told us that there will be only two times on our mission that we get to go to the temple, now and when we leave. Well, we went through a session and I can’t describe how amazing it was. After living in a shack in the third world countryside of Uruguay for a while, you start to forget about the luxuries that are in this world. It was so beautiful. It was so spiritually uplifting and really helped me out a lot. I definitely received much needed spiritual guidance.

After going to the temple, we had interviews with the president. In my interview, some interesting things took place and some interesting things were said. I kind of complained that I didn’t have investigators who were progressing. The president told me that I needed to step it up in my area and realize that when an investigator progresses, it’s a miracle. He said that miracles are from God and we need to be worthy of our miracles. He asked me to look at myself and my situation and decide what I needed to change so that I can have miracles! We have a saying for this kind of talk in Spanish. It’s called “baja la caña” or dropping the cane. But it was so good and I really needed it. They are really having problems in the mission with obedience. Last week, the Montevideo West mission had 80 baptisms, while we only had 16. Also, there are fewer missionaries in the West, less people and less area. When you consider this, you realize that we all need to step it up a notch. So that’s exactly what my companion and I are doing. The Mission President gave me one more change (six more weeks) in my area of Sarandi del Yi.

We have now made a lot of changes. We are optimistic about our small population that we have to teach and are already starting to see miracles. We had 5 investigators in church on Sunday and have started teaching a woman named Patricia. Last night she asked us if she could get baptized... awesome! We also found some new investigators that we think will be ready for baptism soon. So it’s been good. (Dad, I loved the story you shared with me about Joe. That too is a miracle and I will keep him in my prayers.)

Then, the other night, we had a little chat with the Bishop. I really felt impressed to say several things to him. I told him I thought it was pathetic that we have 300 members in the ward here, but only about 50 are active. I told him that this is the fault of the ward, his ward and I could see that this was because of the lack of a home teaching program. He was confused and asked me, “What is home teaching?” I went over the whole program with him and I think he liked the idea. Afterwards my companion said that I was the craziest gringo in the whole world! He had never before seen a missionary “baja la caña” on a Bishop…especially a missionary from the United States with only five months in the field using a completely new language. He did tell me though that I spoke pretty perfect Spanish for this one, so he believes it was guidance from God.

Anyway, I think it worked because on Sunday the Bishop announced a special ward activity. He said that everyone needed to come to the church on Saturday and that he would assign them a less active family to visit and teach at least once a month. After they get their assigned family, they would immediately go teach them and give them a special invitation to attend church this next Sunday. Wow! Crazy huh? There are still several things to do that will make the plan better, but I think this is a good start. Our goal now is to help out the whole ward. We have been doing a lot of service projects this past week. I have farmed. I have cut pasture. I have built homes, moved mounds of dirt by hand and many other things. I see how the skills I acquired at home can now be used help these people. It is so awesome. I’m loving it. By the time I complete this next six weeks, I will have been gone for just over six months. Amazing huh? I expect for a while to lose myself in the service of the Lord and the joy that it has brought me so far in this life is immense.

I’m so glad to hear that all is well back at home. Keep it up dad. Mom, I love you. And everyone else, I’m grateful to have you in my life and so very grateful for your support.

Love you all,
Elder John P. Sluder

P.S. My heath has returned to normal and so don’t worry about me.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Some Disappointment and Some Choice Experiences

January 18, 2010

Dear Mom, Dad and family,

How is everyone doing? I hope well. I have heard a little bit about this earthquake thing, but really not too much. On Wednesday I was out working and some guy came up to us and was very upset. He told us about Aati and how it was destroyed and people were dead. I really didn’t understand too much and didn’t know where Aati was, so it didn’t really bother me too much. I just figured it was just another crazy local drunk telling us his version of some sort of a bible story. Then the other night, we had a member tell us all about Ati and then I realized it was real and that they were talking about the small island of Haiti. It’s incredibly sad and to be honest, I’m quite glad that I’m not able to watch it on the news or really see any coverage. It’s really a disaster of the signs of the times. I’m happy to hear that our church buildings are some of the only things that were really left standing and I’m also glad that no Mormon missionaries perished. I’m sure I will learn more about this disaster on Wednesday at our special zone conference and temple day in Montevideo.

Well, so yeah I’m really excited for Wednesday. It’s the first time I will go through the Montevideo temple. This week is going to be another crazy one because it’s again the last week of the cambios. I have planned two large service projects this week and I’m very excited to go out and do some real manual labor. My health is good, but I do fear that I’m going to have a relapse like you said, but hey don’t worry too much about me. I’m in good hands and I’m trying every day to live as obedient as I can. I know in the end, all will work out in my favor.

Besides all that, this past week was another week of a lot of failure. None of our investigators are progressing and I’m contacting houses looking for new investigators in a place where everyone has talked to the missionaries before. The baptisms that we had planned have now fallen through, so that was quite disappointing. But I know that even though it’s been tough, I have gained much from this all and every moment for me has been a learning experience. We did find two new investigators that are pretty good and I feel that with time they will eventually begin to progress.

Last night, I had a very strange experience. My comp and I were quite discouraged and he wanted to head back home for the night about an hour early. I was somewhat in agreement, because all of our appointments fell through and we had met all of the goals we had set for the week. But then I had this strange feeling that we should get on our bikes and circle around the block just one more time. I suggested it to my companion and he said okay, why not. We went all the way around the block and then started to head for home. All of a sudden, this white car pulled in front of us and stopped. A man jumped out and said, “Hey please, do any of you guys speak English?” I said, “I do a little bit”. This guy said, “Hi I’m David. I’m really lost and I need you to help me”. I was shocked! He was the first guy I had ever heard speak English in Sarandi. I said, “Where are you from?” He said, “Virginia” “What? Virginia! Yeah buddy; you’re a long way from home.” He said, “Wow! You speak English a lot”. Well anyway, it turns out that this guys a divorced millionaire and owns a medical supply company. He just thought it would be fun to get away for a while, rent a car in Montevideo and go for a 36 hour drive through Uruguay. I guess that’s what you can do when you run out of good things to spend your money on. I helped him find the best hotel in town and then took him on a tour of Sarandi Del Yi. He loved it and he ended up teaching me. We talked about life and a lot of interesting things. It was probably one of the most interesting experiences of my life. My poor companion was just along for the ride. He couldn’t understand any of it and he told me when we finished that he was really confused and very scared, ha ha ha. This guy was very neat. As we were driving, he stopped the car to go over to a group of teenage kids and started doing magic tricks. They were good tricks and at first the people thought he was crazy. I thought he was crazy. Now my companion thinks people from America are all really crazy. But soon people flocked to him and after about 15 minutes of him doing magic tricks, we got back in the car with him and continued on our tour. He explained that he too is on a mission of service and whenever he has the opportunity to make someone happy or forget about the stresses of the world for a moment, he feels good and this is what brings him happiness. Strange I know! Everywhere I went, I translated Spanish for him and I really came to a realization of how far I have come in four and a half months. He asked me how many years I have been speaking Spanish. I told him four and a half months. He laughed and called me a liar. Anyway, I explained to him a little about the gift of tongues. I shared Mosiah 2:17 with him and we talked about service. I helped him find his way and then because of time we called it a night. Strange, huh? You just never know what’s going to happen or who you are going to come across next in this life. I guess that’s what’s so beautiful about all this. It’s about our experiences.

Thank you family and friends for all your support. I pray that you will all have a safe and wonderful week. Love you all.

Elder John P. Sluder

Dad, I will be leaving for Montevideo Tuesday night because of the bus schedule and staying in Durazno over night like I usually do. While I’m there I need to buy some supplies at the distribution center at the temple. I need garments and maybe, if I can, also buy some of the church videos. My bike is fixed 100% and financially I’m doing just fine. I don’t want to use my church money for these extra things; I need it to pay bills. I have about 30 dollars American in my account right now. Maybe if you could add a little more, that would be great. I don’t get too many opportunities to go to Montevideo and the church distribution center. I really do need some new garments, so please if ya would help me out. If you can, just send me an email and let me know what you think. I kinda need it before Tuesday at 7:00 pm my time. (Last chance I’ll have to use an ATM) Also, the camera from the U.S. is definitely better. Everything here is $250 plus and isn’t nearly as good as what my camera was. Love ya thanks.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Another Really Tough Week!

January 11, 2010

Dear family,

Well... I’m still alive and still in my small town of Sarandi del Yi.

A few weeks ago, I lost the cable that goes to my digital camera. I can’t find it anywhere. This past week I’ve been looking everywhere in Uruguay to find a new one and no one seems to have one. The battery on my camera was very low, so I haven’t used it much. Then last night I really did something stupid. I looked at the charger for my DVD player and found that my camera had the same kind of plug on the side of it. I read the symbols and some of the information and every thing seemed like it was the same, so being over excited, I plugged my camera into this charger for the DVD player. After a few seconds I realized that the light for charging wasn’t coming on, so I disconnected it. I didn’t smell burned electronics and nothing made any funny noises, but now the camera will not even turn on. I pulled the battery out and there’s nothing wrong with it. I put it on my tongue and it has charge. I don’t know exactly what I did, but I think I destroyed my camera. I read into it a little further and found that the voltage for the DVD player is higher than that of my camera charger. It about brought me to tears, I’m so sorry. What do I do? Should I send you the camera? So for now, I can’t take pictures. If you want to email me back tonight that would be great. I’ll look at my email tomorrow. I’ll also include all the information on my camera in this email, so that you can look into it further for me. Thanks and yes I know, it was a really stupid thing to do.

I’ve had even more bad luck this week also. I’ll start with last Monday. After I got done emailing last week, we went and apologized to the sister who said we had offended her. Being stubborn, she said she was never offended by us, but that the ward had offended her. And she would no longer attend any meetings until the entire ward apologized. Yes it’s ridiculous, I know, but then she was in sacrament meeting yesterday!

On Monday night, I got a call from my district leader who asked me if I could do a special intercambio (exchange) with him in Trinidad the next day (Trinidad is about 25 miles west of Durazno). He was having some”issues” with his comp and needed some time off. So, I went to Trinidad. On my first night in Trinidad, we met with a lot of neat people, did several lessons and called it a night. I stayed with three other American elders; Elder Bullock from Orem, Utah (His dad is currently a mission president in Mexico); Elder Wally from Roy, Utah (He’s awesome and kept us entertained, but definitely a different kind of guy); and my district leader, Elder Thorderson from Salt Lake City, Utah. We had an awesome time and it was good for me to get away from my area for a while and have the opportunity to speak English. That night when Elder Thorderson and I came in from proselytizing, we both got kind of sick. Then I got really, really sick and wasn’t able to leave the house at all on Wednesday. On Thursday, we started to head back from Trinidad to Sarandi, about a two and a half hour trip. All I’m going to say is that I’m grateful that there was a bathroom on our bus going back. Once I arrived back in Sarandi, I laid in bed the rest of the day. During that day, my comp went out and proselytized with one of the members in the ward, while several other members of the ward took care of me. I received several blessings and I followed the directions of the mission doctor exactly. On Friday, I woke up and all my stomach pain and problems were gone. I’m much better now and can honestly say that I think it was a miracle that I was able to recover so fast. I was so grateful for all the people who took care of me and have really come to love and enjoy the people of the ward here in Sarandi. Friday I went out and had awesome experiences and a very good day of hard work. The same thing happened on Saturday and Sunday. I felt very good with the work we have had this past week and look forward with hope of progress for next week.

On Saturday, I think that the Lord wanted me to walk because my bike broke 5 times over. I have fixed as much as I can fix myself, but my wheels are both bent, my derailleur and my gears are all bound up and no longer function. I’m kind of mad right now that I didn’t just buy a new bike. When it broke and fell apart, it did just that, it broke and fell apart. I wasn’t jumping it or really riding rough. I have an odometer and it reads that I have ridden 700 kilometers in one month since I had it all repaired and made like new. This thing is just a money pit. What should I do Dad? I can go have it repaired again. That’s not a problem for me, but I think is going to cost me about a 1000 pesos (almost 50 dollars American and not reimbursable). I didn’t plan for this in my finances, so if I fix it, I will need your assistance. Yes, I know it’s always money with me. For now we’re walking. It’s been very tough because our area is so huge and we can’t go visit our investigators that live four kilometers out of town in a small housing complex until I get it fixed. So I’m going to do the best to get by for now, but let me know what you think.

We are working really hard and struggling to get our investigators to keep commitments. As I said earlier, I’m looking forward this week, with hope that all this hard work will pay off. Dad your email was perfect. Thank you so much, I really needed that. Our new mission president, President Da Silva wants us to attend the temple as missionaries and thinks it will help us with the work. Next week on the 20th, we are planning to go to the temple in Montevideo. I’m so excited; it will be my first time in the temple here in Uruguay. I’ll let you know how it was. Thanks for everything. Let me know what I need to do and if there’s any thing I need to do to help. I love you all and hope that you all have a safe and good week.

Love, Elder John P. Sluder

Note from Dad: I replied to John this evening. I told him not to worry about the small stuff that he can't do anything about. We will put some money into his account to fix the bike. We can replace the camera in a few weeks. No big deal.

Monday, January 4, 2010

What a Way to Start a New Year!

January 4, 2009

Hello dear family,

Well, what a week I have had! How’s everything going in winter wonderland? Dad it sounds like everything is as it should be at home. Yes, I’m going to be very grateful and very excited to use your new snow blower when I get home!

This has been a strange week. I have experienced probably the worst and best experiences of my mission so far this week. I’ll start with the worst. I don’t want to write this, by-the-way sounding like I’m sad, so don’t think I am. Because really now I’m pretty much over it.

Last Monday night we held a large family home evening with two recent converts, an investigator, and a member of four years. When it was all over, the member of four years started complaining and then told me that Elder Vargas and I were the worst missionaries that she had ever come across. Then she started talking really bad about all the people in the ward and of course, it was all rumors. I really wouldn’t have taken too much offense to it, but with our new members and investigator present, I had to respond and defend our reputation. So I asked her how we as missionaries could help her solve her problems. She asked if we could visit her more often and help her have the spirit more in her life. Yes, I know, it’s kind of pathetic. After a person has been an active member for four years, they should know that through scripture study and prayer and being obedient to the commandments, you can have the spirit with you always. Well I agreed and set up an appointment with her Wednesday morning, thinking maybe my companion and I could help her out. In the meantime, I mentioned it to the Relief Society president and she informed me that this sister has had a lot of problems with missionaries in the past. The Relief Society President agreed to go along with us and maybe help us out. By this time, I really didn’t want to go visit her at all any more, but because we had made an appointment, I had no other choice. So we planned of a spiritual thought for her and on Wednesday morning we went and visited. We shared our spiritual thought with her and my companion and I both felt it was right and that we taught well and with the spirit like we were supposed to. After we finished, she criticized us and the Relief Society President and all the things in the ward. It brought the Relief Society President to tears. I ended it by telling this sister that we can no longer teach or be here because the spirit is gone and its time for us to leave. This is what “Preach My Gospel” says to do in this situation. Then yesterday, during fast and testimony meeting, this same sister stood to bear her testimony. She told the whole ward about this and said that the missionaries in the ward are horrible and that we don’t teach at all with the spirit. Wow, I really didn’t know what to do. My companion and I were very upset and very confused. After the meeting, we had about half the ward approach us and apologize for her. They let me know that she has done this same thing in the past with other missionaries. They all said that they were grateful for the missionaries and they hope this doesn’t stop or slow down the work.

After talking with the Mission President about this, he counseled that we need to go apologize for anything we may have done that has wronged her and after apologizing, to never go and visit her again. He will make sure that other missionaries will not visit her either. So today, after this email time, we’re going to go apologize. Rough. I know why a mission is a humbling experience now. I hate rumors and Relief Society drama. It destroys strong testimonies in the gospel and it’s sad to me that there is really nothing we can do for this sister any more. Ultimately, her pride is going to destroy her.

This week has also been super hot and humid. I’ve been sick off and on. New Years is such a big celebration, it seems everyone is too busy to talk to us. It has made the work incredibly difficult.

At the same time this week with all the difficulties, I have seen miracles. We have had a lot of breakthroughs and very spiritual lessons with our investigators, especially with one family in particular. This is a family named Menessis. For the whole time I have been in Sarandi, we have been teaching them. They really haven’t accepted our message and I never had much hope for them.

Well Saturday morning we sat down with the parents to share a spiritual thought. The father is a 5’ 8” tall man with a huge belly and he refuses to ever put a shirt on. He is usually a brick wall and I feel that he really doesn’t listen. Anyway, we mentioned something about life after death and I think it piqued something in his mind and he started to listen. He started to really ask some serious questions. Before I knew it, this man was holding on to me, sobbing like a baby. It was a bit strange, but he was very upset over the death of his brother and his children. I tried my best to console him and we assured him that we can all have families eternal. We set a baptism date with the mother and plan to set one with him next week. It was awesome! It helped me get through this tough week and stay focused on the work and what’s really important. I’m so grateful for my eternal family and the knowledge of this gospel that makes families eternal. I know that if I just do what’s right in this life, in the end all will work out. Thank you for all you do and have a wonderful week.

Elder John P Sluder

P.S. We are trying something new here in Sarandi. We’ve started a soccer league. We got permission to start the league this past week from the Bishop. Last week we had about 14 non members show up to the soccer concha at the church. Next week we expect even more. It is awesome and I hope that it can help us have more doors opened to us.

I didn’t touch one firework this past weekend. I’m very proud of myself! I did buy a DVD player with a screen last week. I’ve used it in five lessons this past week and I think it was worth every penny. It cost a little more than I expected, but I’m being super careful with it and trying to always keep it safe. Sorry for all the expenditures. Love ya… Happy New Year!