Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Keep Them Fires Burning!

Bridge to Corrientes--from the bus window.

This week I traveled many hours and slept in various buses in order to go to Corrientes to sign a piece of paper. This is called "trámites" [paperwork]. You know you're going to be doing trámites when you get "the phone call". Someone in the office calls you, they congratulate you on being great, and then they congratulate you that you are going to do trámites the next day. I did trámites 2 weeks ago in Resistencia and now a week ago in Corrientes. My feelings towards these two cities are very distinct; these two cities have two very distinct flavors.
Corrientes is very European and dreamy.
Resistencia is still the city of my dreams, however.

We have been discovering something remarkable here in Italia Centro. If as missionaries it is our job to kindle new fires, or to start fires of "testimony" in people who may not have previously heard about the Restoration, or who didn't understand it, then we want to get everything as warm and blazing as possible. Trying to set something on fire all by itself is hard. By this I mean clapping at a stranger's gate, telling them about the Gospel and asking them to sustain this new flame when it is still so new and may not have an environment that can sustain it. It can be a frightful thing. We don't want to stop finding new people, but we don't want to create artificial growth either. Numbers are a great gauge, I've learned that, but what are they gauging?

We have found that our calling as missionaries is principally to kindle new fires, but how do we achieve that? Well, I just said it I think. We stop trying to start tiny little isolated flames-- we need kindling. A lot of people in this area have been baptized but have been long forgotten at church, and the church has been long forgotten in their lives. So we're thinking these people--their faith--is going to be our kindling.

Looking people up, asking around, taking advantage of the fact that Hermana Beecher has been here since November and thus has many more details about the area than the average missionary has at their disposal. We have been finding these people, and seeing that their faith is anything but dead. These people are in the daily fight--living day by day and being buffeted by considerable health complications, emotional problems, economic disadvantages, what have you. Very few of them have forgotten that they have a Father in Heaven. Very few of them are beyond listening and feeling the spirit and sharing their stories. I take this as a great sign. I know these people's faith might be too weak to get them to go to church on Sunday or to get them to let go of an old grudge. But are these people spiritually dead? They are not. I love these people. I was these people. We've learned to stop trying to convince them we have all the answers, and stop trying to "correct" them by telling them what they're doing wrong and then telling them how to fix it. We come to help them to remember who to trust first. And we don't do it with any particular programmed series of lessons, but we do start to do it with the word of God, and with prayer, and with feeling the spirit, and letting it do its work.

So these so-called menos-activos are waking up, and they know they are waking up, and they are friends with the investigators we are teaching, so now they are taking our investigators to church.

A few days ago we came up to the house of a very beloved 42-year-old-member Natalia, but we had come that day to talk to her parents. Her mom was sitting outside drinking mate, and we started to tell her about a man we've been teaching. We thought her husband might have worked with him. She said yes, they know each other. We told her we wanted her husband to come sit by this man in church next Sunday. She leaned her head back and laughed out loud, then collected herself all at once and looked back at us with a serious expression. "Why don't you ask him yourself?" She went inside, a few minutes later he came outside, and through the gate he told us about his career with the Coast Guard and the Navy, how he had traveled the world, and how he met this man. He looked at us and said "I haven't been to the chapel in a long time...but I'll come next Sunday to sit with my friend."
He went inside and called the man that very day.

As Arcade Fire says, "keep them fires burning"!
Hermana Tolman

And the Apontes family!!! They are a pretty big family--this is the mom Cristina, dad Pablo and daughter-in-law Cynthia. Their kids are all baptized but all living with non-member partners. These are the BEST people, we go by at least once a week, and they have offered us shelter from more than one torrential rainstorm. We were there last night doing a family night sort of thing. More of them than usual were there, and we sort of tricked them into teaching us the lesson. Everyone had something to contribute. Their sons, although they don't go to church right now, remember a lot, and when it was their turn they realized how many of the answers they knew. We laughed a lot, which is really the only thing you can do with a group where 2 of the grandkids were flying around us like crazy. And then Pablo went last, and his topic was baptism, and everyone got quiet, and this man who hasn't been to church in 15 years started talking about when Christ was baptized. He said that as children of God we all have the right to be baptized and start over, and how baptism is a time when you look at all your previous life--all the bad and all the good, and you let it go. You start working towards something new.  



More Corrientes including one of the
1983759832097 San Martin statues in Argentina
Tree in a plaza in Corrientes.

Corrientes Tree
A very sweet Hermana from Guatemala in Corrientes

And then this is me and Hermana Puente.
She is from Campeche, Mexico! She has a sister
who lives in Merida, so she goes to Merida often.
This is her first transfer here.
She stayed with us for a couple days.

Miryan (an investigator we have been teaching for a few weeks) decorates for parties, and it was her granddaughters 4th birthday on Sunday. She transformed this tiny cement room that separates all these rented rooms into this majestic Rapunzel wonderland. It was impressive--she has craftsmanship in every tiny detail without losing the overall effect. All done by hand with mostly inexpensive and recyclable materials. We've been seeing her working on this during all last week and so can attest to the fact that she does it all painstakingly by hand.

25 de Mayo - Revolution Day, which marked the beginning of
the revolution against Spain in 1810. No school, all the kids had "actos" in the plaza
(singing, dancing,reenactments) and everyone ate or sold
or sold and ate locro. This crazy soup.

Walking on Revolution Day

The street where we live.
(and a nice propaganda face to finish off.)

Monday, May 18, 2015

And All As At First

Moments of symmetry do come now and again. Not only when the Britez family's dogs were curled up in this delightful symmetrical arrangement, but also in more assorted ways.

For example, when we came by David and Brian's to repair the binding on their scriptures. Trying to keep the tape arrangement symmetrical.

Hermana Beecher mending Brian's scriptures

We also sensed symmetry (or something like it) yesterday during the Córdoba temple dedication. We were in the stake center watching a live transmission of it as it happened right there in Córdoba. We sang the Spirit of God, which was sung during the Kirtland temple dedication. Perhaps we felt something mildly symmetrical in our relationship with that moment; the space between that first burst of modern temple work and us, now, in our moment. The missionaries, we all looked at each other with this beautiful ache in us. With no temple in the mission limits, we all sort of turn sappy when people bring up the temple in general. How then could we not be overjoyed yesterday, enclosed in the chapel as it was a temporary extension of the Córdoba temple?

A final moment of symmetry that I will share with you, dear humans, is last night sitting around for a moment in the pension. The Pirané sisters were with us again (we rightfully joke that our area has become half theirs, as, due to convenience for travel, they work with us so often that the people here miss them when they don't come by). And we were all sitting there, me in my little nook against the wall, Hermana Rodriguez sitting on the raised step part of the floor that separates the "study area" from the "kitchen", and Hermanas Alduenda and Beecher on the foldout chairs. Hermana Beecher and Rodriguez found a lemon tree while they were out, and brought back many lemon leaves to boil. And we were just sitting back, breathing, drinking piping hot lemon tea, disagreeing about the lyrics to Cielito Lindo. And you know....there is nothing particularly symmetrical about that moment except that it just feels good to call it symmetrical, in the vague, conceptual way that I've been using it so far, and it bears mentioning that very little perfect symmetry can be found in nature anyway, but you can find a lot of things that are roughly symmetrical, so it's better to avoid measuring the poetic symmetry of your life with lots of decimal points.

A few people that want to say hi to you all in this email since I was able to snap photos of them: Anto Cano says hi. Remember the story with the sandwiches? That's her.

Anto Cano

And Mabel says hi, and sends her warmest and most rambunctious greetings. She leaves tomorrow for the south....their oldest daughter lives there and is on the brink of having a child. A daughter, Hugo and Mabel's first grandchild. 

(Note huge rain puddle in front of house)

Also Brian (crazy one in front with books) David (left), and their musical friend Leo all say hi. Brian's birthday is coming up this week. 

Brian, David & Leo

And so, dear citizens, before I leave you, I invite you to walk with me....in this beautiful photo I took walking behind Hermana Beecher Saturday night. 

Ignore the fact that it initially looks like a fluke that you delete off your camera before taking a better picture. And walk with me, and imagine you are the one that hastily pressed the shutter as you and Hermana Beecher briskly sped home in the rain. See her Mary Poppins-like coat and umbrella...see the movement of the lights as they burn and flicker and roast themselves. 

Until next time,
Hermana Tolman

P.S. Look, this is the asado. The circular stonehenge-style one, anyway. There are many ways to do it. Very big cultural thing here. Everyone loves doing their asado. Typical for birthdays and holidays. Generally a wide assortment of meats, but steak more than anything else.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Subway in Res

"¿Y para vos?"
I open my mouth, and out fall the words
"Bueno, y ¿qué vegetales vas a querer?"
I smile, open my mouth
to speak.
The beating half of my heart is X kilometers away in a 2-room cement house.
"Tomate. Pero aquellos que son bien rojos, ¿vio?"
I smile.
The menu's lit up and the tables are polished, so you can see every distinct neglected crumb.

I hope you enjoyed that poem about going to Subway. We were in Resistencia this week for Consejo--a monthly council where leaders go and talk about what's going on in their areas and zones. Presidente Franco likes to foster out-of-the-box thinking and I appreciated getting to know more about how he works with us. Problem solving. Good stuff.

This week we had a lesson with Mayra, and it was a highly anticipated event, so Yanina (recent RM who served in Mexico) wanted to come. We went by to pick her up so she could walk with us to Mayra's house. Yanina has a hyper-intelligent dog named Pirata. He opens the gate for us when we come over. I hadn't ever asked him about his religious convictions, but I think he's considering Mormonism, because he, too, accompanied us to the lesson. We had to push him away as we squeezed through Mayra's front door one by one. As we discussed the gospel, Pirata jumped into the house through an open window, which we promptly threw him back out of. We then shut all the windows, and he whimpered outside the door for the rest of the lesson.

I like his enthusiasm, and if that's a sign of how he's going to take his future ward responsibilities, I really think he's going to progress.

Another quick story: Yesterday Hermana Beecher and Hermana Alduenda knocked on a door. A man answered it, and they explained who they were and expressed that they would love to come in and talk to him and his family about the restored gospel. He hadn't said much up to this point, he had just nodded and kept a straight face. He had a toy phone in his hand. When they had finished talking and asked him what he thought, he looked down at the toy phone and said "No. I'm very busy. I need to take this call," gave his apologies and shut the door.

Well, I don't know what news to give you all other than HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY YESTERDAY to all you mothers. Happy Mother's Day especially to my own mother Carolyn Tolman, who is, was, and shall always be one of the most important people in my life. I sometimes feel like I'm slowly turning into my parents..Love you Mom and Dad!! Also Happy Mother's Day to my grandparents and aunts and lady cousins, especially those of you who I saw for 4.779 seconds yesterday on our Mother's Day Skype call! I saw you there, your luminous pixelated faces, and though I was too flustered and over-enthusiastic to say even 5 words to you, I love you all very much, and think of you often, all of you, and can't wait to catch up one day over some herbal tea and delicious homemade pie (that will probably be made by you, unless I've somehow learned how to make pie by then).

Yesterday as I talked to my immediate family over Skype, I found myself very happy, yet alarmingly out-of-control. I got very pretentious and didactic; I just opened my mouth and let all this ENTHUSIASM tumble freely into the microphone (siblings, on the next phone call I hope to treat you all more equally. I love being from a big family. But yikes there are 4 of you).
The reason I share this is because I shared one of my favorite scriptures with you, and I was trying to explain why. So I want to explain why.

Alma 22. In this chapter, Aaron is talking with Lamoni's father, a.k.a. the king. He tells the king about redemption through Christ and "the hopes of glory." The king is quite stricken; he begins to desire this: "What shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his spirit, that I may be filled with joy?" he asks. "I will give up all I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy."
Aaron explains that he does not have to give up his entire kingdom to come to know God. He says you've just got to "bow down before God, and call on his name...believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest."
And the king cries mightily.
He says "O God, if there is a God, and if thou art God, ...I will give away all my sins to know thee."
And God makes himself known to the king.

This is a scripture that I have read often since I discovered it, because I like it. And it taught me how to give my heart to God. I was out here in Formosa, emotionally suffering, the same way I would have suffered whether I was in school, working, trying to solve relationship problems, anything. I just felt generally dissatisfied. And I thought, man, I want to go home. But I knew I would be feeling this way no matter where I was. Even if I was at home I would just keep feeling this way at home.
Whatever we're in the middle of, ("too easy", "too hard", or anything in between) we seem to subject ourselves to a lot of internal suffering, as if the external suffering weren't enough. And then this scripture showed me how to stop it. So I prayed and told God I would give away all my other desires if he would grant me my desire to know him.
And I'm glad to say I've been getting to know him.
A couple months later, having turned back to that scripture often, you know what I've found? God wants me to have other desires. It's okay with him for me to have my personality and to stumble around all human-like. He just wants me to always hold those desires up against his desires, and make sure I'm not going to turn stumbling into internal suffering.
When my heart doesn't belong to him first, it gives other things great occasion to come in and confuse my heart.
When my heart is God's, I'm not immune from the daily chaos that happens (and do I really want to be immune from all that?). It is a good kind of immunity of the heart.
So, like Lamoni's father, I'm willing to forsake my kingdom (or all my material comfort and social relationships) and give up all my sins (or all the other things that compete for my heart, not just mistakes but also everything else I get attached to that take me away from God).
And I've found that once I do that, once I've made my will clear to him (that I want to know and do His will), he gives most of what I gave up back to me, because I'm here on earth to learn and grow and weather this chaos, and there are a lot of things he wants me to experience and enjoy. But within his bounds. Why within his bounds? Because he sees more than I do.

Loving my mission, loving Formosa,
Much love peace and general good vibes,
Hermana Tolman

This is "Cyber" where we do our emails every P-Day.

Arriving at Cyber

Walking to Cyber
Hermana Rodriguez

I love Hermana Rodriguez! We hope to be companions some day.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tacos, Training Leaders and (not) Transfers

Hello everyone, good news, I did divisions last week in my area again. This time with Hermana Zaneli, the sweet Brazilian hair-mana who by now is probably eating good fruit salads with her family, as she finished her mission on Sunday. I had the honor of spending her last Thursday with her, and I made sure to present her with many of my mission-logic conundrums and paradoxical hypothetical situations. I really tested her, but she's going to law school, so she dished it back with style. She's one of the veteran missionaries that I can do this to, since most people don't actually know everything there is to know after 18-24 months of being a missionary (cut to Indiana Jones 4 scene of Cate Blanchet recieving all knowledge as her head blows up).

Well, transfers came and went, and Hermana Beecher and I are not going anywhere. We are staying right here in our little universe of Italia Centro. This means many things, one of which is that we now have a great responsibility. We already know the terrain, we know the ward, we know who is sweet and who is sarcastic, we know who we can ask about where to buy our birthday cake ingredients, so we now have zero excuse to not work very, very hard every day. 

I say birthday cake ingredients because my birthday will be this transfer, which means I'm going to spend it with THESE PEOPLE! Furthermore it is on a p-day. 

Sunday is Fun Day!

I say zero excuse not to work because we have never been as ready as we are now. That's the stupidly magical thing about the mission (and life in general)--you are always the most experienced you have ever been. 

Feeling down? Feeling like you just got sent back to square one? Well, don't worry about it; you are perfectly wrong. You are actually the most ready you have ever been. 

This week on Wednesday Hna Beecher and I went to Pirané, a 2-hour bus ride away, to go do divisions with Hnas Rodriguez and Barker. 

Hna Rod and I in one of our many long,
yet enjoyable waits at the terminal

It was a very good thing for us to do, as the people in Pirané seem to be by nature even nicer than the people in the Capital, and while the mosquitoes do indeed bite, the warm feeling in your heart is enough to make it worth your time. 

Hermana Rodriguez in Pirane, in their pension

Hermana Rodriguez taught us to make tortillas from scratch, which we very much enjoyed that day, and on Saturday when we made tacos in our pension. Due to limited resources they are only a ghost of what a taco can truly be, yet we enjoy them and will be making them more often. 

"Farewell" Tacos

We made tacos just in case one of us got the boot, but contrary to many predictions, that did not happen; I have also been promoted to Hermana Training leader 2 (Hna Beecher is still the other one), which has been changing my life. Why has it been changing my life? Because I never ever in my life thought I could learn to be a patient, laid-back, selfless person. I actually thought it was impossible. And I decided I wanted to see if it was possible to head in that direction. So I started trying to help out instead of getting frustrated and getting all quiet and creepy and excuse-producing (you all know how I get that way). And so far it's working!

As hermana leaders we are serving companionships in Circunvalación (a nearby chapel), Puerto (the stake center), and Pirané. Hermana Rodriguez got a new companion who is also from Mexico, and it is confirmed....there are now 3 Mexicans in Pirané. 3 out of the 4-or-so Mexicans in this mission. Needless to say, this transfer Hermana Beecher and I will be going to Pirané.

A thought about the weather---I used to very much make fun of people in subtropical/tropical places for saying "It's cold" whenever it's not 10000000 degrees out. I have finally learned what they mean. When your body is used to heat and all of the sudden the temperature drops, it is actually pretty cold. And it is not the nice desert cold I know and love...it is a humid, slimy, intruding cold.
So yes, we are all here sometimes wrapped up in multiple sweaters when it's probably in reality still balmy out. I really love irony; it's the same kind of irony that makes me love it when people ride around on motos and bikes when they're dressed elegantly. 

Well, my first 12 weeks here have gone by much faster than my 12 days in the MTC. By that pattern, the rest of my mission will now go by even faster than my training. ("Training" refers to your first 2 transfers, a.k.a. being dropped into the life of a poor missionary who has to withstand all your confusion and complaints and help you cope with your adjustment.) I'm done being trained wahooooooo!!!

Love and joy, 
Happy May everybody!
Hermana Tolman

Me with FRANCI, a wonderful half-Chilean very lovable gal.
A while back she served a mission in the southernmost part of Argentina.

I am SO HAPPY, mom.
I thought I would never in my life learn to be a patient and loving person while still maintaining my identity,
but it's HAPPENING.
I'm so so so happy mom, I cannot believe how much and how fast I'm changing. How fast I'm shedding all my coldness and all my bitterness. All my frustration. I am learning just exactly how to be completely happy. Independent of circumstances. Righteous desires / willingness to learn with an open mind combined with the mission environment, the gospel and the Holy Ghost = lots of progress, Super fast.
I dont know how to articulate this sort of thing, but I think you get it.
SO HAPPY, mom. So happy.
And I get to stay with my trainer, and I have come to love and trust her so much.