Week 71: in which it’s beginning to look a little like Christmas

Dear friends and family,

Chile is very different in how it decorates for holidays. Electricity is uber expensive, so the houses generally don’t have a lot of lights. BUT most of the houses have cute little random decorations that have probably been there since last Christmas. XD It cracks me up. And thanks to my marvelous family, I have my own little stocking hung by my bed with care, and I put up a cute little nativity set that I found a while ago. 😀 I love nativity sets and it’s always been the first thing to go up in my family, so I was so happy to have that. 😀 It helps me remember the reason this time is filled with joy and peace and good will towards me. What greater message can we share than the fact that the Savior of the world was born and that He was born, lived, died, and was resurrected for each and every one of us? 🌟

On Sunday we prayed for a few miracles in specific: that three of the families we’re teaching would go to church together, that we would find 5 news with the plentiful time we had to contact referencias, and that Maria Cofre, one of our investigators, would make it to church. Bueno. Neither of those families went to church, Maria Cofre had visitors that made it impossible for her to leave, and we found only one new. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t see miracles nor that God didn’t answer prayers that day. Those investigators didn’t go to church, but we were able to have a beautiful lesson about the plan of salvation with one of the families that evening, in which the dad finally showed genuine interest. And they genuinely want to change their lives. Even though Maria couldn’t go to church, we had a member who had a car that was willing and able to pick her up. We didn’t become desaminated [Note: I think she means ‘devastated’. –AnnMarie] when things didn’t go as planned, and we did finally find an address that at first we thought didn’t exist. And Scarlett, who was on vacation in Santiago, went to church there!! And she loved it. So it was a great day, and the ending of a good week. 😄

Sometimes it seems like God doesn’t hear or answer our prayers because we can’t see the answers, or maybe it seems like the answers don’t come. But I promise that He is always listening and that He cares very much about your needs, triumphs, and goals. Sometimes the answer might be no, or wait, or maybe it’ll be different from what you want. Maybe it’ll come through another person, or maybe it depends on the agency of someone else. But if you can’t see the answer, please don’t give up. Please don’t lose faith. Trust that He will “will direct thee for good” as you counsel with Him. Be patient, be obedient, and be humble. He loves you. Never doubt that.

I love you all very much. I’m grateful for all I’ve learned from each of you and for the influence you’ve had in my life. I hope you all have a wonderful week and that you make Christmas something special this year. 😀 Be safe, be kind, be faithful.

Love from Chile,
Hermana Saunders

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Week 65: in which Hermana Saunders gets a taste of home

Dear friends and family,
Another good week here in Chile. On Friday we had an absolutely FANTASTIC multi-zone conference in Concepcion. I came away with many much-needed answers and feeling very much spiritually uplifted. One of the things that really hit me was the presentation of the assistants to the president, Elders Sanchez and Garcia. They had us consider our hands and think about what they had done, and then they talked about the Savior’s hands. While here on earth we will never be exactly like the Savior, it was a powerful comparison and gave me something to consider. At the end of the day, what have my hands done? Have they served others? Did they shake every possible hand in the street? I hope that at the end of every day, I can say that my hands have done the very best they can to serve my Father in Heaven.

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We spent Thursday night in the mission home in Concepcion because it’s two hours away in bus. 😛 Hermana May, the president’s wife, gave us grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for dinner and then French toast for breakfast. I was a very, very happy hermana. I’ve eaten many yummy things here in Chile, but it was wonderful to have some of the food that I ate often at home. We also passed the temple on the way to the mission home, which was wonderful. It’s so exciting to see the progress on the temple, and it makes me even more excited to visit the Cedar City temple when I get home. 😀

 

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Monday was exciting because we went to Lebu (about an hour away) to register for my second visa. Wahoo! Thankfully it was a quick and easy visit, and Alejandra, who graciously agreed to drive us, showed us some cool historical parts of Lebu, like an old mine that was once one of the most productive mines in Chile but is now closed. It’s cool to see parts of the history of the people I’m serving.

And today we had a zone Halloween party, which was interesting. We weren’t able to find a pumpkin in time, so I carved a face into an apple. It turned out okay. 😀 We played games and presented our costumes; some went all-out, while others (like me…) went for the idea of a costume. It was great to spend some time with the zone, and everyone loved the brownie cookies I brought. 😀

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Bueno, that’s just a little bit of my week here in Chile. I hope things are going well for you guys, or if it’s not, that you’re relying on your Heavenly Father to guide you in difficult times. Remember that you are truly a child of God; nothing can change that–no sin, no mistake, no weakness. He loves you and watches over you always. I love you all!! Be safe, be kind, be grateful.

Love from Chile,
Hermana Saunders

Week 64: in which the wheels on the bus go round and round and round and round…

Dear friends and family,

We spent four out of seven mornings this week in Concepcion for medical appointments and check-ups for Hermana Cabezas. She’s fine now; we just have to be more careful about proselyting at night because the smoke from the wood stoves bother her asthma. The highlight of the trip was last Monday because our investigator Alejandra and her uncle Mario drove us up and back (they were headed to Conce anyway to drop off a few orders). On the way back we stopped at the temple site, which was a great feeling. I’m so excited for these people to have a temple so much closer!! The Concepcion temple should be finished within this next year, so I’ll miss the opening, but it’s still exciting to see the progress. 😀

On Friday we met Erika, an old investigator of the hermanas. Hermana Bazaes had taught her and gave us the reference. Through a series of unexpected events, we ended up at Erika’s house, where we shared a video about the power of prayer. The incredible thing was that the experience of the woman in the video was almost exactly that of Erika. We felt the Spirit strongly as she shared her recent challenges, and she told us that in our visit she received many answers and peace that she had desperately needed. We set up another for today, and I left very grateful for the opportunity to once again be a tool in the perfect hands or our loving Heavenly Father.

On Saturday we had a miracle that became a personal parable: We left a cita (an appointment) at 9:15 at night. We needed to get home quickly to plan, but we were on the other end of town, and buses and taxis don’t pass as often in the night. But just as we left the neighborhood, a taxi passed by. I flagged it down but then waved it on because we figured the fee would be much higher at this point on the weekend. But I looked through my bag and scrounged up what I had in coins. (My companion didn’t have money.) Just as I found that, another taxi passed by, and we flagged it down. I asked the driver how much he would charge, hoping against hope that I had enough. He looked at me for a moment and said he would take us both for $1000, which is exactly what I had and not nearly as much as I expected. We were able to get home to plan and get ready for bed on time without problems. As I thought about this experience, I realized that it’s just like the Atonement; we had gotten ourselves into an uncomfortable position and needed help. When this happens, Christ accepts whatever we can give, but–just like the unknowing taximan–He requires ALL we can give. This doesn’t mean that we pay for the consequences of what we did; that’s impossible. Rather, His grace allows all that we can give to be enough to receive forgiveness and mercy and makes change possible. I’m forever grateful for this incredible act of love, and every day I’m learning how to better give my all and to make real changes in my life.

That’s about all for this week! I’m excited for this next week because we have interviews with President and then a multi-zone conference. Wahoo! 😀 I love being a missionary, and it’s the best decision that I’ve made in my 20 short years. There is no better place for us than in the path of Christ’s gospel.

I love you all! Be safe, be kind, be grateful. And always remember who you are!!

Love,
Hermana Saunders

Week 63: in which ataquamos la carpeta

Because it sounds cooler in Spanish. 😀

Dear friends and family,
The title of my e-mail reads, “in which we attack the area book.” The area book is where the missionaries record the names and progress of people they’ve taught or contacted. An “attack” is when a group of missionaries from different sectors descend on one sector to help the missionaries find people to teach. On Friday the sisters from the other zone (because we’re the only ones in ours 😦 ) came and helped us call people from the area book to set up appointments. It was fun to spend time working with them, especially since Hermana Bazaes, my trainer, is one of them! It was great to talk with her again and to meet another “sister”: the fourth trainee of Hermana B, Hermana Baer. We ended up with several appointments for this week. I look forward to the progress we’ll see with these people. 😀 Hay milagros en la carpeta! 😀

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A miracle from this week was the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time. We passed the house of a home-bound member, Hermana Clarisoni, on the way to visit a less-active member. She had just looked out the window, saw us, and gestured us inside. Instead of telling her that we were headed somewhere else, I followed the prompting to just spend time with her. We spent a while chatting with her about her life and experiences. She is really an incredible lady and one of the most faithful members I’ve ever met. She`s currently home-bound because of various illnesses, but she’s determined to go to church at least once in November. As we talked, we learned that she had had a particularly terrible day. I’m grateful that God sent us down that street so that we could be there to help that sweet sister. We can`t do much for her physically, but it does one a lot of good to talk with people who love you.

This week I read an article called “Motherhood in the Savior’s Way” from the Liahona, one of the church’s magazines. In it a tired mother of young children reflects about what it means to be a mother in the Savior’s way. She reflected on her tendency to complain or to compare the list of things she does for her kids with that of her kids when they complain. In her thoughts she realizes that Christ never did any of those things. He served without complaining out of pure, perfect love. He never expected praise nor sought it, and He never, ever compares how much He did for us when we complain to Him, although He’ll always remind us of the possibilities His atonement makes possible.

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And somehow, despite all of our imperfections and shortcomings, God still sees fit to send us miracles, even small ones, our way. Antonia is progressing, and she loves to learn. We made a reading calendar for her this week, which was something fun and different. Rayen, who got baptized last week, is excited to go to the temple, and her mom is rallying hard to really come back to church. We’re looking for new ways to animate the members to work with us. Today a sister called and said that her two older children, Araura (9) and Maxi (6) really want to make visits with us. They both recently shared a pass-along card with their respective teachers, and they love to talk with the missionaries. They are an example to all of us, and they are so cute!!

In other news, I’m learning to knit a scarf, I made a really cool decorative thing from wool (pics to come, I hope), and the weather can’t make up its mind about whether it wants to be winter or summer. The gospel is true; I know because I’ve asked and I’ve puts its principles to the test. It truly is God’s plan for us, and if we’ll trust Him enough to put our life in His perfect hands, He’ll make more of us than we can ever imagine. Take courage from the fact that He knows your potential, and He’ll help you accomplish it. As Elder Cook once said, “Yes, you can–and you will–make it.” God loves you, and I do too. Have a great week!

Love from Chile,
Hermana Saunders

Week 61: in which we enjoy a spiritual buffet

Dear friends and family,

Conference this weekend was absolutely incredible. For those who don’t know, General Conference is a series of meetings that happen over the weekend twice a year; during Conference we listen to the counsel of inspired leaders of the church. On Saturday and Sunday we enjoyed a spiritual buffet of counsel and guidance, and I came away with answers and feelings of greater peace. I felt that one of the main themes was charity. I thought a lot about Moroni 7:43-47, and it made me reevaluate the way I speak, think, and act. If you missed a session of Conference or have never seen one, watch it! I can promise you’ll find answer to whatever question or doubt you have, and you’ll feel even more the love of your Heavenly Father.

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We’ve met with Rayen every day this week to help her prepare for her baptism this coming weekend. We’re all really excited, and her family is making progress and re-discovering the joys of the gospel. I love teaching that family: Rayen and her mom have a sincere desire to learn and to change, and they all notice a change in the house and in themselves. It’s the miracle of the gospel, I tell you. 😀 😀 😀

I love working with PFs (part-member families)! On Saturday morning the branch president told us about a less-active mom whose 11-year-old daughter, Antonia, wants to get baptized. We were able to meet with them that same night, and while they weren’t able to make it to Conference the next day, I know they’re happy to learn and to make progress. Antonia is shy, but my companion is a lot of fun and was able to make her smile and open up a little bit. I’m excited to help another family work towards eternal goals and to help them find once again the joy and peace of the gospel.

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My new companion is Hermana Cabezas from Ecuador. She’s tall, talks fast, and is full of all kinds of ideas for teaching in new ways. The house feels a lot bigger with just the two of us, but it also has it’s perks. 😉 We’ve combined the two sectors of Arauco, so now we’re also teaching the investigators of the other sisters. We’re basically two doing the work of four, but we’re doing the Lord’s work of four with His help, so even our imperfect efforts will be enough for Him to help this area grow.

My heart goes out to all who have been affected by the recent disasters. I hope that this time helps us all to draw closer to our Heavenly Father and to rely on Him. He hasn’t left any one of His children helpless, and I know that He hears and answers every one of the prayers of His beloved children. If you’re struggling, do the little things each day that He`s asked of us; reading the scriptures, praying, serving others, and so on. I promise you’ll find greater peace and strength through those little thins if you’ll do them consistently.

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I love you all! Be safe, be kind, and be faithful. Remember who you are!

Love from Chile,
Hermana Saunders

Week 59: in which Chile throws a PARTY

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Dear friends and family,

Whew! What a weekend! This Monday was Chile’s independence day, and Chileans start celebrating early, so from Saturday to yesterday night we were in the house after 8 at the latest. Friday night was the branch party, which was a lot of fun. A sister in our ward also let us borrow huasa dresses, the traditional dress, which we wore all day in the street and at the party. I must say we looked good. ;D With the ward we played traditional games and ate great food. For the sake of time I’ll let you look up the traditional 18 de septiembre food, but know that it was delicious. 😀

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Saturday morning was a lot of fun. The entire zone helped at a nursing home here in Arauco. We sang for the residents, colored with them, and just talked with some of them. Then we helped feed the residents who needed to be spoon-fed. It was a lot of fun because they all had such different personalities and much to teach us. One of the men had a beautiful voice and sang some old huaso songs, and everyone listened. We felt a special spirit that comes from really serving with love. I love being a missionary!

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It’s interesting how before this trio, I was nervous and a little apprehensive about being in a trio. Now I don`t want the cambio to end and split the trio. I’ve grown to really love these two hermanas, and I’ve learned much form both of them. Hermana Lopez taught me how to really plan the lessons, and I think that’s part of the reason that the lessons we did have went relatively smoothly, even from the beginning. Hermana Cuevas taught me the importance of positivity. She sometimes got frustrated with us when we would complain about this or that, and she’d tell us, “But look at everything that went WELL before you go off on the bad!!” I’m grateful for the opportunity to get to know them as companions. There’s a definite difference between living in the same house with someone and living and serving 24/7 with them. I’ve gotten to know and love these sisters for their energy, love for the work, and their testimonies. And now I feel like we’re good friends. 😀

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This week we were finally able to meet with Carlos, whom we are still teaching because he’s not able to meet with the missionaries in Talcahuano right now. We taught the Word of Wisdom, and he shared that he really wants to stop smoking. And then, as we talked, he shared something incredible: before, he was smoking about 20 cigarettes each day, but now he reads the Book of Mormon almost every night, and he’s down to 2 or 3 each day! And he feels greater peace and strength in his life, and he feels much closer to his Heavenly Father. We’re working with him to stop smoking completely, which I know he can do, but I’m very grateful for the power of the Book of Mormon. It truly is a powerful testimony of Christ, and it helps us replace the things that distance us from God with the best things that bring us closer to him. What a wonderful book!

I learned a little about patience, faith, and humility this week as we worked with a few less-active families that are simply choosing not to act or are acting against what they know to be right. We left a lesson with one such member, and I voiced my frustration and sadness with my companions. Hermana Cuevas reminded me that I cannot work against their agency, nor do their choices determine my effectiveness as a missionary.  As she talked, I thought, “I know this already! But this is different! I literally don’t know what else to do!” But as I thought about it later, I realized that it wasn’t different. As I studied in the scriptures later, I thought about with what kind of attitude I’ve approached such situations. I realized that any time I get frustrated or impatient, the Spirit cannot work with me. Frustration is also a lack of faith and the appearance of pride; I was frustrated because I hadn’t seen results where I thought there should be. What I should feel is the security that I have really done what I can to help and love this family and the faith that one day, in the LORD`S timing, my work will bear fruit. In the meantime, I must keep working hard and seeking diligently for the guidance of the Spirit. It was a very powerful and loving lesson, for which I’m grateful.

Know that I love you and pray for you all. I hope you’ll remember to always do the little things: read your scriptures, go to church, and pray always. If you aren`t doing those things, I invite you to start now. Experience for yourself the power of the Book of Mormon and of sincere prayer. I promise you that you will never regret taking the time to do so.

Lots of love from the other half of the world,
Hermana Saunders

Week 56: in which members pop out of the woodwork

Dear family and friends,

The interesting thing about working in Arauco is that almost every single family has a least one member of the church in it, be that a parent, sibling, or cousin. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to distinguish the investigators from the inactive members. One of the people we met this week is married to a lady who was baptized with her parents when she was young but is now Evangelist (is that what it is in English? I really don’t know…).

Hermana Scholl and I are working hard this cambio to work better with the members. It’s been an interesting but rewarding endeavor. Turns out one of our news from this week was the elementary gym teacher of a member, and other members have hit it off really well with other investigators. We also started a missionary BINGO this week: Those who wanted to participate received a 3×3 bingo card with 9 different ways to participate in the missionary work, and the first to fill in their card wins brownies from us. It was received with a rather lukewarm reaction, but we’re hoping for great results as the members realize that there is so much they can do to share the gospel. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with them and reach out to them. I’m learning more and more how essential the members are, and I’m so grateful for those who are self-motivated to share in the work.

More Sunday miracles this week: We found a new investigator, Ivan, who’s met with missionaries many times before but mostly just to listen. We had a fantastic lesson with him, and he accepted a baptismal date! He’s committed to go to church, to read, and to pray about the message. He’s very receptive and reminds a lot of Juan Macaya, an investigator who just got baptized in Villa Obispo, my former sector. We also were able to meet up with Valentina for the first time in a while, and she’s been reading in the Book of Mormon! Little bits at a time, but she is reading. The last time we met she had a big problem with Moroni’s visits to Joseph Smith, but she said that as she’s read and understood more about the story, she feels her doubts subsiding. She also accepted a baptismal date for the end of September, and we’re going to do a tour of the church with her and her boyfriend, Jorge. They both just really want to learn and do the right thing, and I’ve really come to love them. And then at night, we had a great lesson with Victoria and her son Abraham, our miracles from last Sunday. They’re so ready to learn, and they just soak up things like a sponge. They weren’t able to go to church this past weekend, but they’re going to do what’s possible to assist [Note: I think she means “attend”? –AnnMarie] next week. Victoria’s husband, Nelson, is a little less excited about our visits; he seems to be a little wary of Mormons, but we’ll win him over, and he’ll see we’re not so scary. 😉

Just about every single cita fell through this week, but we’ve had fun together. We laugh a lot together, and it’s been cool to see how our Spanish has improved in just a couple weeks of talking Spanish 24/7. I’m learning a lot about communication and service, and it’s a great experience. I’m grateful for each day that I have to improve, and I’m grateful to look back and see that I’m not the same Hermana Saunders that started the mission a year ago. The Atonement is real, my friends.

I’m blessed to know each and every one of you. I hope you always remember how much your Heavenly Father loves you. Have a great week!

Love from Chile,
Hermana Saunders