Tuesday, March 24, 2015

And Now for the Weather

Antonella, Hna. Tolman, Milagros, and Hna. Beecher
The girls are cousins.
We're helping out at stake choir when a girl [Milagros, in this photo] walks up to me and holds out her smart phone to show me. It's opened up to my missionary blog. This is an uncomfortable moment for both of us. "Look, I follow your blog," she says. I have never seen this girl in my life. "It's all in English," she says, "I can't read it." I explain that it is for those in my homeland. She said that's real swell. I nodded. (In reality she said "Ah, que lindo.") I tell this to you because in this moment, I noticed that my letters home have been appearing with titles. So I put a title on this one, "And now for the weather," which I will explain later on.

Waiting for the bus after the multi-zone conference.
This week we had another multi-zone conference with all the missionaries in Formosa province, which was a great chance to regroup and renew. It was good to see President and Sister Franco, hear more from them, and get together with everyone to remember Hermana Scadlock.
The transfer [every six weeks, companionships get shuffled] has come and gone (being the reason for our writing on Tuesday instead of Monday), and praise be to every particle of all-rejoicing dust in the air, Herm. Beecher and I are staying together in Italia. We can really hit the ground running this transfer.

Valentina & Dora's Baptism.
L-R: Hno. Barrios, Basilio, Dora, Valentina, --, Hnas. Beecher & Tolman
Valentina update: she was baptized this past Saturday along with her daughter Dora. 
Does it even bear mentioning how happy we felt that day?
Yes, yes it does. Valentina and her family are quite simply the reason I was in Formosa my first transfer. They were the first lesson I taught, on my very first full day as a full-swing missionary. I remember it well. I had put on some very thick sunscreen that didn't rub in very well, and I think they asked me what planet I was from. After the baptismal service we were all seated and chatting and eating sweet things I don't know the name of, and Hermano Barrios asked Val what called her attention when she first came to our chapel. She responded that for years her sons have been taking her to all sorts of different churches. She had been on the search for a long time, and the first time she came to this church, she knew she had found her peace. 
L-R: Basilio, Dora, --, Valentina, Hna. Tolman
Dora took us all by surprise. When I have said "the best and the worst of my mission so far," I have generally been talking about Dora. Why she decided to be baptized the same day as her mom, why she changed so much in such a short period of time: you would have to ask her yourselves, folks. All I can say is she was in a dark, dark place, and she's been snatched up out of it by a God who knew she would find him as soon as she looked. Basilio is happy for them. When we go over to see how they're doing he says "rey contentos" [VERY well] and shakes our hand twice. He has baptism as a goal too, because Valentina is the love of his life and he wants to be married with her in this church. 

Hna. Beecher cleaning the font.
A highlight of the baptism was Hugo's talk. We had invited him to give it, just 5 minutes on the Holy Ghost, which he accepted wholeheartedly. The baptism was at 6. When Hermana Beecher and I got to the church at 5:15, he was already there waiting outside the gate. He said he was excited to share this experience with them and remember "for old time's sake" (that day, he had been baptized 2 months and 5 days ago).He helped set up, he swept the church, he attached a rag to the end of a broom handle and mopped the church. The best part of all this is he had no idea whose baptism it was. It didn't matter to him, he was happy becuase it's something he believes in for everyone and anyone. After the actual baptism when he stood up with his glasses and his stack of books and pages and pages of notes, 90 seconds into his talk he was still talking about how he felt when we asked him to give this talk; he hadn't even introduced the topic yet. Hermana Beecher and I and the Elders all looked at each other with wide eyes. How Hugo sat down after 5:00:00 minutes on the dot having just given a brilliant, insightful talk on the gift of the Holy Ghost we do not know...all we can say is it happened.

And now for the weather....
Missionary brownies for Mabel's birthday
The first day of fall brought a cold wind to Formosa. Everyone said this is unusual... On Sunday night when we were celebrating Mabel's birthday, the aunts came over shivering, abrigadas [bundled up], and started up the oven before there was even food to put in it, just to heat the house back up to 85 degrees. (I'm making all these farenheit numbers up, I think you have the general idea). So yes, when it is hot, and then it stops being so hot, you eat different, you sleep different, you work different, it changes the whole game. People have switched from tereré back to mate for their daily refreshment.
I also mention the weather because the forecast for this new transfer [6 week period] is....AWESOME. It is advantageous to already know this area (and this is no small task. There are no street signs in these barrios, but the streets do have names, and we have learned them by tapping into the collective consciousness), and to already have a rhythm worked out, so we just know, and because we know, we know that whatever worry or discomfort comes this transfer, it is too late to ruin this transfer; this transfer is already the best, it's already the kind of transfer you're going to mention in a talk you give in church when you're 40 and your mission is but a distant memory. Speaking of a distant memory, Yanina (pronounced Ja-neen-a), a member's daughter, came home from her mission this week. She served in Querétaro, Mexico. She was incredibly calm. I don't know what I expected. It is a pleasure and a delight to have her back with us. 

Dust Cloud (a different day)
The third reason I titled this email "And now for the weather" is that yesterday as we were walking from one barrio to another, we looked up into the 7:00 sky, and beheld a great dust cloud. In the afternoon light, against the robin's egg-blue sky, it looked like a glow cloud....a great glow cloud like the one that looks down upon a desert community...

Choir Practice, with Hna. Beecher at the piano
So, this week has been a memorable one. We met Huck Finn. We met Buddha. We helped people to pray. If you can't find the words in Spanish, won't you try in Guaraní. As I have mentioned, we've been helping out with stake choir, which is fun and exciting, as this is the choir that will sing when the apostle comes at the end of April. If you want to know what it's like to help some average Latinos sing hymns in a choir, just think about what it's like to help some average Americans learn to dance the tango. It is just not culturally ingrained, you see. But we are doing great. Faith to move mountains. And we have a lot of fun. That 4-part harmony is in the bag. 

Speaking of music, shout out to my friend and sister Hermana Annika Burton, who just left the MTC to serve in Santa Rosa, CA. Her last week in the MTC, she wrote that a real live bat flew its way into the auditorium during a Relief Society meeting. She said at first they thought it was a bird....then it swooped down closer, during a dramatic song in Music & the Spoken Word. The choir sang, the bat flew through the crowd of ladies, "the screams and music melded together in perfect harmony," wrote Sister Burton. Beautiful imagery. I pray you keep your sense of humour in the face of whatever comes your way in CA, Hermana.

The Gonzales family, members of the Church
I will close this email sounding unapologetically trite and missionary-like. I love being a missionary. I love waking up in the morning and knowing what I have to do that day. I have to go talk to all my friends about something I treasure and love, and find new friends, which there is no shortage of, as working in Formosa is like walking through the brain map of a Nice Person. Everyone's out on their porch waiting for you. Sometimes you say hi and next thing you know, you're in a lesson. You didn't even have to ask; they just see you, pull up two more chairs, seat you, and give you the green light. It is surreal. It's not always that easy, but people tell me this is a specifically Formoseñan anomaly. 

Herm. Beecher's Spanish gets more polished every day. (Flash back to a few weeks ago when she prayed "Padre Celestial, te damos gracias por esta comida, por la nutria que nos da," ["Heavenly Father, we thank thee for this food, for the otter it gives us"] I help her with her Spanish, she helps me with literally everything else :-D. It's hardly a fair trade, but she is my trainer after all, and I am thankful times one billion for her. She is humble, she is strong, she is teaching me to teach the gospel with love and with heart. Could I ask for anything more?

Hope you're all doing welllllllll,
Love and kisses.
Hermana Tolman

Working with the Members! Hnas. Armoa and Gisela 
P.S. When we were walking on the street with Hna. Gisela, a guy pulled up in a moto screaming "I have to talk to you guys!!!!" It startled Gisela, like what do you want with these innocent missionaries??? But he said "You guys are Mormon, right? We said yeah! He said he had been painting a member's house when something came on her TV. He stopped painting to go watch and listen, because it was so beautiful. It was a choir. He realized it was music of worship. He says he fell in love with the music and asked her what it was, and she said it's the Mormon Tabernacle Choir! She told him about how they will sing in General Conference and he's invited to come see it broadcast in the stake center. He had stopped us just to tell us this and ask when Conference was. We were able to invite him to Conference, to the coming of the apostle (which we're doing the choir for, haha), and write down his address and have the Elders go to his home and teach him about the gospel, which he is very interested in (he lives in the Elders' area). Thanks for being missionaries and inviting people to Christ with your music, Mom and Melinda! Love you guys!!!

Happy Birthday to Mabel!


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