Monday, April 20, 2015


The week has been normal, or in other words, quite gratifying in a lurchy, up-and-down sort of way. I do enjoy the weekly things about every week, such as the English class we teach on Fridays (when I realize with horror that conjugating verbs in my own language is about as predictable as Formosa weather in the fall), stake choir practice on Sunday nights (which will now end, as Elder Oaks comes this very weekend), and having life-realizations every 20 minutes or so. 

One thing we've been doing the past few weeks is packing the creaky little portable DVD player in our bag when we head out for the day. The mission gave us a DVD with "Gracias a que Ël Vive" on it, the new little 2-3 minute movie that came out just before Easter ("Because He Lives" in English). We've had some good times with this movie, whether seeing how it quiets a room full of noisy kids, seeing how it makes people we just met realize Mormons ARE in fact Christians, or showing it to a woman named Julia who opened her door to us late one night and the three of us ended up dumbstruck, holding hands looking at each other after the movie ended, and she just smiled and said "I would pray for you, but I can already see that God protects you, so I'll pray for the people you visit instead." One rainy morning we brought the video to Raimunda, a very old member-lady who has the Elders bring her sacrament to her house. She couldn't read the captions very well, so I sat next to her and read them out loud, and oh Mom, my eyes were as weepy as the skies.

So Basilio's baptism was a sublime experience for all involved. Everything leading up to it for the last couple of weeks was equally as amazing; by the time we sat down for the actual service we just took a deep breath and shook hands. There were a lot of handshakes this week, as always, but I will tell you about one in particular.

Elder Johnson and Basilio
After his actual baptism performed by Elder Johnson (cut back to the first Sunday after Elder Johnson got here. Basilio looked over at us, pointed at him and said "I want the tall one to baptize me."), we were singing hymns in the chapel, waiting for him to dry off and change his clothes. It was an incredible turnout--since he's been to church almost every week for the last 9 or 10 weeks, many members had already considered him a part of the ward. 

Top row L to R : Elder Johnson, us, Val, Dora, Basilio, Ward mission leader Hno Romero.
Bottom row L to R: Elder Ayala, Hno Barboza (EQ president, he presided at baptism since bishop was in Asunción at his brother's temple wedding!) Hugo, Hno Armoa

They came that night smiling and radiant, chatting with him before the baptism started, telling him their stories, since virtually everyone in the group had been baptized in the last 4 years. He took a lot of heart from hearing what they've overcome. So we were in the chapel singing, and I was sitting in the very back with Valentina and Dora (Valentina had walked a lot that day so we were trying to find ways to keep the walking to a minimum). He walked in and handed his towel to Dora, and then came up to me to give me a bag with the wet baptismal clothes we'd loaned him. I took the bag, but then he stretched out his hand. Confused, I took it, and looked up at him to see tears in his eyes. "Ya soy un hijo de Dios" he whispered, and shook my hand with such emotion, all I could do was nod at him, not able to find words to respond. I was so proud of him, but I was feeling more than just my pride. It was borrowed pride that God felt, so much of it I thought I would burst. (See Alma 26).

Later in the service, Elder Barboza looked down at Basilio from the stand and saw how stricken he looked, and just asked him to stand up and share what he was feeling. This was atypical, and even more so because Basilio used to be almost too shy to pray out loud even when he was alone. But Basilio stood up without hesitation, turned to us and said he hardly knew where to begin...Feeling like he truly had a place here and had been accepted by these people was more than he could have ever asked for.

The next day all those people and more came to his confirmation to raise their hands in the vote-of-brotherhood gesture, and my did they come. Standing outside the church in the muted morning lights seeing them pull up on motos in their 90s clothes, moms pulling up to the curb so their kids could get off, guys in jeans and ties and little girls in dresses beaming at us through their helmets. 

The Sanabria family came looking healthier and more energized than ever. We had a lovely time in the chapel, and later that afternoon when Hna Beecher and I went by, Basilio turned on this song by a Brazilian guy in the 70s and sang along to the lyrics about how the darkness has turned into light. I said Basilio's gone family-man because he has. He was the one in his family who was closed, slow to trust, and dragging his feet. Now he is quite simply a new man.

He has become a strength to Valentina and Dora, and I know how much care he is going to put into understanding the priesthood and using it to bless and serve them. All you have to do to see the change in this family is listen to how the before-lesson banter has evolved. It used to be arguing over what Basilio could have done better to help Valentina after she broke her hip, and accusing each other of being the selfish one, and letting wounds that were decades-old ache on. Now the banter is more like this: "Basilio helped me walk all morning! I'm getting better!" "Dora and I made pasafrola, want some???"

So, all is well with those three for now. In other news, after 4 days with no confirmed sightings, the sun came out on Thursday just long enough to dry our wet hanging laundry, and then went away again. The rain has continued to wash the streets. I wonder when it will realize that they are dirt roads and can't be washed.

Finally, my "list of things I learned" last week was incomplete. What a hiccup. I have talked more than once about how important it's been to take care of myself to make sure I will function. And that is true, but it's a distorted picture of what life is like for us here. There are two really important things to mission life. One is not without the other. Before we head out the door we search and learn and study. But after we head out the door, while we tend to follow our plans, we ultimately have to let all of our expectations go and simply listen and feel.

What an immense relief it was when I realized that I could teach a lesson and be charming and funny and brilliant, and even then, something that was just from me would simply dissolve, vanish, turn to dust. D&C 42:14 "And if ye receive not the spirit, ye shall not teach". There is a reason God trusts a bunch of bumbling 18 to 21 year olds to do this. It's because in their weakness they turn to Him, and that is when miracles start to happen. That is when they are healed and can invite others to start their own spiritual healing. What more can I say? Very little, as I have 5 minutes to write. I have found the source of my spiritual healing, and it is real, and I am here in the hopes that the people I meet can find their own.

I love being out here. I love you, family. I love being the American sister that can eat the most banana pancakes out of all the American sisters Hna Cruz has met on her mission.

With joy,
Hermana Allison Tolman

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