Monday, December 28, 2015

week 17

Hey! I have like no time this week because we went to the castle so I will definitely write better next week, but it was awesome to talk to everyone on Christmas! The baptism was awesome, so that was good, and it was awesome to see Miguel confirmed a member of the Church yesterday in Sacrament meeting.
I will try to make up for the lame email with pictures. The first picture is of some kids I gave the rubber balls from my Christmas package to. They had fun throwing them around!
These next pictures are from our trip to the castle today. It is actually closer to ruins.

You asked what we are doing for New Year's - probably just going to eat at a members house... I hope... I am scared of what they will feed us though... I haven't heard of any restrictions for the missionaries. I don't know how they celebrate here, but if it is anything like Christmas it is pretty tame.
Also, you guys asked if my companion and I help with anything in the Branch during Sunday meetings - we teach all of the youth. I also lead music sometimes, and we don't have a piano or keyboard, we just kind of hop up and sing. So I kind of have practice at singing solos, haha. We use Kekchi hymnbooks. It is actually pretty fun to sing in Kekchi.
Thank you for the books you sent me. My spiritual thought this week comes from one of the stories in that book called "The File Room." Hopefully you can find it online.
(Editor's note: here is the story Joe is referencing, "The File Room" by Joshua Harris:
In that place between wakefulness and dreams, I found myself in the room. There were no distinguishing features save for the one wall covered with small index card files. They were like the ones in libraries that list titles by author or subject in alphabetical order. But these files, which stretched from floor to ceiling and seemingly endlessly in either direction, had very different headings.
As I drew near the wall of files, the first to catch my attention was one that read “People I Have Liked.” I opened it and began flipping through the cards. I quickly shut it, shocked to realize that I recognized the names written on each one.
And then without being told, I knew exactly where I was. This lifeless room with its small files was a crude catalog system for my life. Here were written the actions of my every moment, big and small, in a detail my memory couldn’t match. A sense of wonder and curiosity, coupled with horror, stirred within me as I began randomly opening files and exploring their content. Some brought joy and sweet memories; others a sense of shame and regret so intense that I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching. A file named “Friends” was next to one marked “Friends I Have Betrayed.”
The titles ranged from the mundane to the outright weird. “Books I Have Read,” “Lies I Have Told”, “Comfort I Have Given”, “Jokes I Have Laughed At”. Some were almost hilarious in their exactness: “Things I’ve Yelled at My Brothers.” Others I couldn’t laugh at: “Things I Have Done in My Anger”, “Things I Have Muttered Under My Breath at My Parents.” I never ceased to be surprised by the contents. Often there were many more cards than I expected. Sometimes fewer than I hoped. I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the life I had lived. Could it be possible that I had the time in my 20 years to write each of these thousands or even millions of cards?
But each card confirmed this truth. Each was written in my own handwriting. Each signed with my signature. When I pulled out the file marked “Songs I Have Listened To”, I realized the files grew to contain their contents. The cards were packed tightly, and yet after two or three yards, I hadn’t found the end of the file. I shut it, shamed, not so much by the quality of music, but more by the vast amount of time I knew that file represented. When I came to a file marked “Lustful Thoughts”, I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only and inch, not willing to test its size, and drew out a card. I shuddered at its detailed content. I felt sick to think that such a moment had been recorded.
An almost animal rage broke on me. One thought dominated my mind: “No one must ever see these cards! No one must ever see this room! I have to destroy them!” In an insane frenzy I yanked the file out. Its size didn’t matter now. I had to empty it and burn the cards.
But as I took it at one end and began pounding it on the floor, I could not dislodge a single card. I became desperate and pulled out a card, only to find it as strong as steel when I tried to tear it. Defeated and utterly helpless, I returned the file to its slot.
Leaning my forehead against the wall, I let out a long, self- pitying sigh. And then I saw it. The title bore “People I Have Shared the Gospel With”. The handle was brighter than those around it, newer, almost unused. I pulled on its handle and a small box not more than three inches long fell into my hands. I could count the cards it contained on one hand.
And then the tears came. I began to weep. Sobs so deep that the hurt started in my stomach and shook through me. I fell on my knees and cried. I cried out of shame, from the overwhelming shame of it all. The rows of file shelves swirled in my tear-filled eyes. No one must ever, ever know of this room. I must lock it up and hide the key.
But then as I pushed away the tears, I saw Him. No, please not Him. Not here. Oh, anyone but Jesus. I watched helplessly as He began to open the files and read the cards. I couldn’t bear to watch His response. And in the moments I could bring myself to look at His face, I saw a sorrow deeper than my own. He seemed to intuitively go to the worst boxes. Why did He have to read every one?
Finally He turned and looked at me from across the room. He looked at me with pity in His eyes. But this was a pity that didn’t anger me. I dropped my head, covered my face with my hands and began to cry again. He walked over and put His arm around me. He could have said so many things. But He didn’t say a word. He just cried with me. Then He got up and walked back to the wall of files. Starting at one end of the room, He took out a file and, one by one, began to sign His name over mine on each card. “No!” I shouted rushing to Him. All I could find to say was “No, no,” as I pulled the card from Him. His name shouldn’t be on these cards. But there it was, written in red so rich, so dark, so alive. The name of Jesus covered mine. It was written in His blood.
He gently took the card back. He smiled a sad smile and began to sign the cards. I don’t think I’ll ever understand how He did it so quickly, but the next instant it seemed I heard Him close the last file and walk back to my side. He placed His hand on my shoulder and said, “It is finished.” I stood up, and He led me out of the room. There was no lock on its door. There were still cards to be written.)
I just want to bear my testimony since its around Christmas time about the Savior. I know that He suffered for us. I don't just believe it, I know it. I know that through Him we can live with our families and our Heavenly Father forever and I am so grateful for that. I love all of you!
Love, Elder Toolson

Monday, December 21, 2015

week 16

It was a good week this week! We were able to find some people who want to be baptized so that was good! One is a man that is really interested and then there are two kids who I think just kind of got overlooked and never got baptized. The negative was that none of them came to church so we will see if thy stick with it. I don't know their names because they found them while I was on divisions with my Zone Leader, Elder Tims. We just had divisions for one afternoon and it went well, Elder Tims is a really nice guy. He works out like crazy, I did a workout with him and I think it is about time I start kicking it into gear a little bit again. We did a mountain yesterday and I was sweating and dying so much. I thought that mountain hiking would be enough, but the tortilla belly I have says otherwise haha. My companion keeps cooking really good food and taught me how to make papas fritas (french fries) so that isn't exactly the healthiest thing. But it tastes better than the poch and xut (basically dough and beans) the members give us. Not the best combination if you ask me. But we are thankful.

It has been dumping rain this week so that has been fun. We always say the more we work in the rain, the better looking our future wife will be, so I am holding on to that. Another saying is, if you drop a "lix hu laj Mormon" (Book of Mormon) your future wife gets uglier, so I have to be careful, haha.

The Multi-zone Conference was awesome! We got to watch the movie ¨Home¨ about the purple alien and it was in English! I couldn't decide if it was really funny or if I have just been without entertainment for a really long time haha. The messages were great too. One message I liked was from our Mission President, he talked about grit. He showed us this study about how the most successful people aren't always the most talented or smartest or whatever, but the grittiest, those who stick with a problem and see it through to the end. I feel bad for President, it is really hard to be a Mission President here because not only is he in charge of the mission, he is basically the Stake President for all of Coban mission. He calls the Branch Presidents and interviews them, he does the mission interviews for people leaving and coming from here. He is like President Hunsaker plus a Mission President. I feel bad for how much he deals with.

For p-day today, Elder Reed and I just poca- hopped (pocas are little stores that sell clothes.) Now we are writing, then we will buy food for the week and head back home. Nothing too crazy. There are some Mayan ruins in Piten, which is the northern part of our mission. Unfortunately we are only allowed to go sight-seeing if we have an activity, which only happens if we meet our goals. We need like seventeen nuevos (new contacts) each week and two baptisms per month, which is kind of going rough right now.

I haven't really felt homesick yet for Christmas because it doesn't really feel like Christmas to be honest. There still aren't too many decorations; some of the tiendas have lights up and some of the families with more money have lights or little pictures in the house. Obviously no one can get a tree, that would be a lot of pizto here. We didn't have a special program at church either. Church is really funny here because no one really knows what is going on, so sometimes we just do Sacrament meeting, sometimes two hours, or sometimes the full meeting, you never know until you get there.

I left the little gift with the lady who did my wash in my last area. I am happy I had something to give her, I was close to that family. I miss those people a lot, it was actually really hard to leave Santo Domingo. Elder Helton is still there, so I can email him. I also email one of the members there named Lescter. I am definitely going to go back and visit there one day.

I am really excited to talk to you this week! It looks like I can call anytime on Christmas day so that will be exciting. I'm thinking maybe around 11 or 12 my time might work the best? I want to keep the afternoon open in case we get appointments. I need to make sure I am focused and not inconvenience you guys. I already have it worked out, I will call from my house with a members phone, I just have to put however many quetz on it that I need to pay. I can't wait to hear from you and I love you guys!
I'm doing my best for you guys! I have a letter I've been waiting to send for about two weeks, but the post here is just awful.

Chaab' il ralankil (Merry Christmas)
Love, Elder Toolson

Monday, December 14, 2015

week 15

Hey! It was a pretty good week this week. We found a lot of new people, it is just that everyone has one thing or another stopping them from progressing. Nobody has gotten married because they don't have money. It costs about 300 quetz, about 40 dollars. That doesn't sound like a lot, but people here make like 25 quetz a day if they work really hard all day, so it is hard for them to get the money. It can also be hard if just one person wants to be married (normally the one who wants to be baptized.) I don't know if we are actually allowed to help with marriages, but we do because it is kind of our job. 

Another problem is that they don't know how to read so it is hard for us to leave material for them to study. We do our best to explain that the Book of Mormon is a history of God's interaction with people, just like the Bible. We try to share the history with them. We just kind of teach using a picture book we have. As far as I know, there is not a literacy program here to help people learn to read, and we don't have much success getting members to read with the investigators. They tell us there are over 250 members in the area, but only 50 or so come to church from what I've seen. So we have a lot of inactive people.

But it is great to be working hard and finding new people! We have about three or four lessons a day, so probably fifteen - twenty per week. It is difficult in this area because it is really spread out. I am including a picture of some of our new investigators. The little guy is named Rudy, like my first baptism.

As for the house, we have hot water sometimes but it seems to only work for my companion, there must be some sort of secret haha. Sorry, I forgot pictures this week, I will get them for you later. Things are good with my companion. He likes to talk - a lot. When I am trying to sleep. Or walking up a huge mountain. But there are worse habits. At least I can understand most of what he is saying. My language has improved a whole lot with a Latin companion, especially Spanish. Kekchi is much slower.

Dad asked about scary bugs or animals... we get a lot of spiders and cockroaches in our stuff. Only the really big bugs give me trouble anymore. The worst is when they crawl out of the drain, haha, that is never fun. Also, apparently there are tigers, so we get nervous when we walk and it is late at night. But I haven't seen any yet, so I don't know.

We have Multi-zone Conference tomorrow at Senahu so I am in Teleman right now. Teleman is kind of like La Tinta where I used to spend p-days, only more crowded, which I don't really like.  We will be sleeping at the Zone Leaders house. I will be singing with seven other Elders at the Conference tomorrow, so we will see how that goes. Today we are spending p-day practicing and trying to figure out how everyone is getting to Senahu. Senahu is pretty big for this area. I've been there before a couple of months ago when I went on divisions with my old Zone Leader, Elder Kortsin. I am looking forward to seeing the missionaries from my old district and one of the gringos that came in with me. That will be fun! Normally at conferences we listen to President and Hermana Curttiss talk, and the Assistants to the President, and two missionaries who are randomly called. But since it is Christmas, we might get to watch a movie! We live pretty far away from everyone, so we can't really get together with our Zone on Christmas. We will just be in our area, probably visiting whatever members invite us over.

My spiritual thought this week just comes from my personal studies. One of the mornings this week I prayed and asked why no one is progressing, and kind of said how frustrated I was feeling. Immediately three scriptures popped into my head. The first is John 14:15, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." Then Mark 12:30-31, "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these." Finally Moroni 7:47, "But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him." And I just realized that it really is all about love. Loving the people, loving the work, loving your companion, and most important loving the Lord. 

Well, I love all of you! Have a good week!

Love, Elder Toolson

Monday, December 7, 2015

week 14: getting to know Sepamac

Hey! Things with Elder Quiroz are pretty good! He actually works me really hard during the day because we work way past dark (I have fallen quite a few times haha.) In the mornings he helps me with my Kekchi quite a bit so I can't complain. Really the only thing that I find myself having a hard time with is the language. It is just hard to learn two languages at once, and one of those languages in the language you are learning. But it will come!
We live in a house next to the church (I will include pics next week.) It is the nicest house in the mountains Chulak with running water and electricity, so I can't complain too much! As far as our area it is really steep, really rainy, and really mountainy. It is still part of the Polochik so that is good.

The houses here are close together, then miles between towns, with another a big group of houses far away. Our area also has some stores that even have cold drinks, which is more than Santo Domingo had, so another plus!
The Church here is a Branch. The Branch President is very nice but only speaks Kekchi so I had a hard time communicating with him. I was called up this Sunday to speak and bear my testimony and introduce myself and I was able to do it without reading off anything. So maybe I am progressing a tiny bit after all haha.
We have a couple Spanish speaking investigators which is awesome because I get to help a little bit more. As for our investigators, all of the ones who want baptism aren't married to the mukuy (bird, or boyfriend/ girlfriend.) But they live together. If they want to be married, their mukuy doesn't. So that is fun. As far as being senior companion, I don't think he knows that I am senior companion. That is ok because he goes out and works, so I don't have anything to complain about. We speak Spanish and he will help me along the way with some Kekchi phrases.
For p-day we go to a really far away place called El Estor to do our emails, buy groceries, play soccer and eat really good food. It is almost American food, only problem is that it is really expensive. El Estor is about two hours from our area by van. We pay someone that lives in Sepamak to drive our District down. We also pay someone to do our laundry, and more or less people feed us! I have had some caldo (that really spicy soup with chicken parts in it) so that's good. My companion is an amazing cook. He makes all sorts of things - chicken, french fries, egg sandwiches. He is teaching me some, so that is nice.
Mom asked about Christmas decorations. They don't really decorate or anything in the mountains. Actually, I wouldn't know Christmas was coming except stores are starting to sell Christmas cookies.
My spiritual thought this week comes from an experience I had. We were teaching the Plan of Salvation (in Spanish thankfully) and I bore my testimony to the person we were talking to about how grateful I am that I can be with my family forever. Needless to say, we were both crying by the end of it. I am grateful for this gospel and the happinness it brings me. Nekexinra!
Love, Elder Toolson
(This is Elder Reed, he is in my district and is awesome)

Monday, November 30, 2015

week 13: transferred

So the big news is...I got transferred! I am kind of bummed, but excited as well. I am going to the mountains! Like, the big ones! I am going to an area called Sepamac. It is in a different Zone so it is a good two or three hours away. I will be serving with Elder Quiroz. He is from Honduras and he only speaks Spanish and Kekchi. I just met him today and he seems really nice. Also, they told me I am going to be Senior Companion... but he has like 16 more months than me and knows all the languages and stuff. So I am pretty terrified.

Elder Helton is staying in Santo Domingo to train, so it looks like I am going to have a little brother in the mission! (Editor's note: missionaries call their trainer their dad - or mom, for Sisters. Your trainer's trainer is your grandpa - or grandma ... anyone else he/she trains is your brother - or sister.) We were able to catch up with one of the families we found last week and they said Elder Helton could come back next week so that is good!

Other than that, nothing too exciting happened this week. Other than transfers, so that is about it haha.
I'm glad you all had a good Thanksgiving. I wish I could've been there, but at the same time I am happy I was here.
I don't have a specific quote or anything as a spiritual thought this week, I just want to share my testimony that I know we are never alone. That is one of the amazing parts of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Not only can we be forgiven of our sins, we also can be strengthened in our times of need.
I will do my best in my new area and with my new companion. I still feel like I can't understand what anyone is saying, or I understand but I just can't respond. It will be interesting for sure. I am looking forward to Christmas when I can call all of you!

Laa´ex li mas chaab´il junkabal sa li ruchichoch ut nekexinra! (Translation: you are the best family in the world and I love you all!)
Love, Elder Toolson

Monday, November 23, 2015

week 12

Hey! It was kind of an interesting week. There was a little more up to it which is always nice. The good news...we have power back! We are not sure who paid the money, but we don't really care too much either, haha. We normally lose power at least once a day in Santo Domingo, and when I am writing I lose internet at least twice each session. But it is a lot worse to lose it for days on end.
The bummer is... Jose´s paperwork still hasn't come (also, his fiancĂ©'s name is Myra, I was mistaken when I told you Maria), and we were only able to teach Augusto once before he left to work again for another month. I just wish our progressing investigators would stick around instead of going to work for weeks at a time.
Something exciting that happened this week... from Thursday to Sunday I was on Divisions with an Elder from Chile who only has two more changes than I do. It was interesting because he speaks really weird Spanish, like even the natives here can't understand him. He speaks with kind of a slur or lisp or something so it was hard to follow. So we were both kind of forced to speak a lot more Kekchi than usual. I think it went alright, we were able to make it through a couple of lessons with the help of a member, and found three new families to teach. The only bummer is that two out of those three families live about two hours away up the mountain, so we will have to take just one day this week to visit them. But I made it!
I hope I stick around one more change so I can talk to those families a little bit more. Our whole district is sad this week because there are going to be so many changes. I will know if I am being transferred by next week when I email. This one will be rough if it happens, but not as bad as my CCM one. That one felt like leaving home again almost...maybe not quite that bad, but pretty rough! There was an Elder who was leaving when I came in and he was crying. I found out it was because he was just going to miss all of his friends here so much. I now have nineteen months left. I kind of have a system when I get really home sick. I do ok most of the time, just some days are a little hard. I just kind of pick days to count down to, and pretty soon when I'm thinking about that, I forget about home sickness and it is all ok!
I got a haircut! I accidentally took too much off the top...I'm a little bitter haha. but it still looks nice.
They have nice cheap haircuts here so that's good. I had another missionary cut my hair in the CCM. Elder Price gave me the best cut I've gotten, but he went to Guatemala City Central Mission so I don't get to see him at all. There are three Elders I keep in touch with - my old companion, him and I are super tight, and two guys from Utah. One of them knows Luke actually, which is kind of funny.
Dad asked how I'm sleeping. It is still pretty rough.. It was ok, then it got bad, then ok, now it is worse... my mind just gets going too fast at night and then I can't fall asleep. But that's alright! I still have enough energy to do everything, so it is all good.
Also, I can pretty much eat anything they put in front of me now, so that's nice. I just try to dull the spiciness with lots of tortillas haha.
My spiritual thought this week comes from our District Meeting. We were talking about the difference between disciples and Christians. Anyone can say they believe in Christ and call themselves Christians, but what our Heavenly Father needs are disciples. Disciples are people who actually walk their talk, live a Christ-centered life and follow His example.
Well, I hope you have a good week, I love you all!
Elder Toolson
ps - my gratitude is for the place here in La Tinta where they give you ice cream surrounded by whipped cream. I was hyped when I found it!

Monday, November 16, 2015

week 11

This week was pretty interesting. First, when we got back to our area on Monday we tried to help set up a little generator they have for the computer in the church. The reason only the church power is cut off is because some feller was stealing power from the church. He stole too much and blew our power box. So it is now 18,000 qetz to fix...needless to say, I don't think we will have power the rest of my time in Santo Domingo. After that, we found out we didn't have water anymore! We had to get water from the little store down the road. We spent the middle part of the week trying to find out if we were going to be emergency changed to a different area, but thankfully some guy was able to come fix the water after a day or two. When we lost water, our Mission President was going to completely close the area. We are probably having massive changes next transfer because everyone has been here forever. I will be surprised if they don't take at least one of us out. I really want another transfer here, but I'm probably going to get taken out of the Polochic, so I guess it is what it is. I don't think I will be sent Kekchi speaking, my Kekchi is kind of basura. It's just my own opinion, but it is true. I don't know, I'm probably being hard on myself, but it is just frustrating.

To answer Dad's question, no place in our area has hot water except Tucuru. (That is where Elder McEntee is right now. We normally get to hang out twice a week; he is definitely going to be one of my best buddies when I get home too.) For baptisms we just fill the font up with cold water. When washing clothes, the people do the best they can. Of course no one has a washing machine or anything, but they do pretty good. I had shoe polish explode on one of my favorite shirts so that was a bummer.
As far as the weather, it is raining so much now, but it is hard because it is still warm so you don't want to wear a coat or anything. I can see that it will start cooling down soon though.
My stomach issues are off and on, but I haven't had to stay in yet, so that's good! You don't need prescriptions at the pharmacy here, so you could get whatever you wanted, but I don't know what I need. The parasite I have or had, I don't know which haha, is called ent histolitica or something like that. I think I am just going to deal with it though, its not worth the trip to Coban or pooping in a small cup. I don't ever want to do that again! They tell us if we get parasites it may take years or more before our stomachs are back to that's fun.
District Conference was good, my piano playing was ok, nothing too great. Elder Bednar spoke (it was a broadcast) but it was in Spanish so I had a bit of a hard time following. I think our new members are good, Eguanio was just barely baptized so its hard to see, and Rudy comes when older members of his family do. We have two more people on date - Jose, who will hopefully be married soon, and Augusto, who just got back from working somewhere far away. Once Jose's papers come through, there is a person in La Tinta who will perform the marriage for him and Maria I think. This next week should be good because all our investigators are coming back.
Today we had district activity. We went to a waterfall and we got super muddy on the way there and back, but it was worth it! It was the first time we got to go on an outing, it was awesome! Plus my District is all super close so that makes it fun.

Tonight we are staying in La Tinta (about 30 minutes from Santo Domingo by truck) for Elder McEntee's and my companion's birthdays, we have a cake and stuff for them.
Mom, I opened the box my package came in, but I didn't unwrap anything, and I didn't eat anything, haha. I am doing a good job waiting. I think I am going to give the extra stocking to my companion if we get transferred. I know it is supposed to be for whoever I'm with on Christmas, but he has been such a good first companion.
My spiritual thought comes from an Elder Holland quote which says "When life is hard, remember we are not the first to ask ´Is there no other way?´" This quote really helped this week. What with having no electricity, then losing water for a bit, and all our investigators being out of town as well, it helps me a lot to know that we are never alone. Jesus always is there for us and knows exactly what we are going through. So my gratitude this week is inspirational Elder Holland quotes.
Well, nakatinra (I love you)!
Love, Elder Toolson

Monday, November 9, 2015

week 10: baptism number two and no power

Hey! The big news this week is we had another baptism! His name is Eguanio, and he asked me to baptize him, so that was awesome!

The other news is that we lost power, which isn't unusual. But we found out it is going to be out at the church and our apartment for about twenty that is kind of rough. And just the church building, that is the funny thing. Everyone else that normally has power has it. That means no fridge or fans or anything. I guess I am a real mountain Elder now! We do have flashlights, but we have to be careful how much we use them. Thankfully we still have water, and they gave us filters in the CCM. If not, I'm not sure what we would do. Luckily we can boil stuff because we have a gas-powered stove. It is always cold showers, so that hasn't changed. One thing I miss a little bit is taking a warm shower, but I guess it is all part of the adventure! No power also makes teaching the Primary class different because we can't use the Kekchi videos. Last sunday we tried to teach English but it didn't really we will have to get creative, haha.

We are still waiting on Jose´s paperwork and haven't been able to find that guy that lives up the mountain. I've been practicing piano, I can't remember if I told you, but I will be playing at District Conference (the basic equivalent to Stake Conference) this Sunday so we will see how that goes. I think I am scheduled to play "Come Thou Fount," "I Know that my Redeemer Lives," "Joseph Smith's First Prayer," a song I can't remember the title for in English - only Kekchi - called   "At Xdios Isreal," and two Christmas songs. It will be good I think, I'm just glad there isn't too much pressure on me.
My companion and I are doing pretty well, the parasites kind of come and go. I've been getting a little nervous about transfers. They are around December first I think. I am probably going to get changed... everyone says once you go Kekchi speaking you will probably stay there, just because it is so much work to learn. I think there are somewhere between 16-20 Kekchi speaking areas and two missionaries for every area or something like that. Some people stay in the same District for their whole mission. It is almost guaranteed I will be in the Polochic mountains my whole mission unless I am made a District Leader, Zone Leader or Assistant to the President, or ask to get taken out. It is possible my companion will go and I will stay in this area, but they say that is not very likely. I will be done being trained next change, so anything could happen. I really just hope I get one more change in Santo Domingo after this one, but probably not. I know some of the missionaries who served in Chelan stayed as long as 8 months, but it sounds like it is all up in the air with our President. Some guys have done four changes together and others just one, so I have no clue.
For Dia de los Muertos, I thought they were going to do a big celebration, but as far as I saw nothing happened where we are, just everything was closed. We ended up not going to El Estor this week, and we might end up going to a waterfall next week instead of El Estor, so we will see what happens with that. Mom asked about my money, its doing good, if I ever need to take anything out my American debit card works fine on these machines here. So far, I've been fine with what I get from the mission. We get about 2000 qetz. per month, which is roughly 260 dollars I think? It goes to pay for transportation (we ride in buses, taxis and the back of trucks; taxis are most expensive, then buses, then trucks; trucks are cheap, so that is what we mostly use), food, internet, clothing repairs, letters - the usual missionary stuff. I somehow always manage to go through it, though I don't know how, because there's nothing to buy in my area!
Dad asked what my highs and lows are. I really like just being in our area with my companion. The area is just kind of out on its own and not super crowded like the valley areas here, and there are mountains. I think having the companion I have helps too, he just kind of makes it always fun. We just joke around a lot. We talk about sports, share stories about our friends and girls and what we need to do in our area. It is just kind of like being with Jared or Charlye or something like that, he is easy to get along with.  And what I dread most...probably Kekchi study, just because it is so frustrating. I seem to be able to follow a conversation ok, I just cant say anything. And I can only really follow if the conversation is Gospel related. I guess I can have very very basic conversations, but that's about it. My companion understands just about everything, but pretty much everyone out here is constantly learning, except for a few people that are like crazy good. The CCM had a Kekchi program when I was in there but there were only two Elders in it. They were the first two Elders to ever go through it. Rumor has it, now they have eight that are going to come in the next change. Two Americans who were fluent in Spanish already and then 6 Latinos. All of us are really jealous of them haha, they will already know more Kekchi than me when they get out here. I am getting a little frustrated with the language, but I know that it will come with time and prayer.
Dad also asked if there is anything I would do differently to prepare now that I have been out in the field for a couple of months. I would just say know my scriptures better, because that is what I spent a lot of CCM time on, when I probably should have focused on language study more. I am pretty woefully unprepared I feel like haha. (Editor's note - this is pretty amazing, because Joe was very diligent about reading his scriptures for both church and seminary assignments and independently.)
For scripture study, I've been reading in Nephi in three different languages. My spiritual thought this week is about how the Lord will try us, but not above what we are able to bear with His help. This was a pretty rough week, what with losing power, trouble connecting with people, and whatnot, but at the end of the week the Lord provided us with a baptism. That just goes to show that the Lord is never going to leave us hanging if we are just patient and have faith.
Mom, my gratitude this week is the baptism of Eguanio!
It is crazy how fast time is already going. I already have under twenty months left! I don't think I want it to go this fast, haha. Well, I love all of you!
Love, Elder Toolson

Monday, November 2, 2015

week 9

Hey! It was a pretty good week.
All of our people that have fechas were busy so we had a hard time deciding what to do with our time. So we ended up going all the way up the mountain one of the days to see if that kid from a couple weeks ago was home. As things go on the mission, he wasn't home, but we were able to do some contacting and give out some folletas (pamphlets.) I now have learned how to invite to church, how to baptize, and how to give out folletas in Kekchi. So I am on my way!

I think our schedule for transfers is different this time because President has a meeting or something in Salt Lake and he needs to be here for the interviews with the new people.
We were supposed to go to El Estor for a district activity today but it is Dia de los Muertos. We realized everything is going to be closed, so we will go next Monday.
Another thing that happened this week is our branch has been chosen to sing at our next District Conference (which is basically Stake Conference here) and I got chosen to play the piano! I tried to tell them I don't actually really know how to read piano music but they didnt believe me, so we will see how that goes haha.
My spiritual thought comes from Nephi 15:8-11, when his brothers were arguing with him about how hard it was to understand the things their father was trying to teach them. "And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord? An they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us. Behold, I said unto them: How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts? Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said? - If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you." Nephi simply says, did you ask the Lord? I like this scripture a lot because it is a demonstration of how simple the Lord makes it for us. All we have to do is ask and He will provide.
I love all of you!
Love, Elder Toolson

Monday, October 26, 2015

week 8: a baptism!

We had a baptism this week! It was awesome! We baptized the little eight year-old, his name is Rudy. And he asked me to do the baptism! I was able to do it in Kekchi on my first try so that was a relief.

Other than that nothing too exciting. We did some exploring in our area...
We've also continued working with our fechas so they don't fall through. The top two pictures are of Rudy's little sister and brother, and at his house. It is actually a pretty nice house because one of the walls is cement.
Here is a picture of Lucas, and Abelario, they are members, and the guy farthest away from me is our other fecha, Eguanil. We taught a lesson that night.
We are still waiting on the paperwork for Jose and Maria. Hopefully it will be here in November and we can move forward. Interviews with the Mission President were good. He came to the town we go to for p-day and we met him there. He is very nice, but very intense, so it is always nice talking with him because he fires you up a little bit. He just kind of checks up on you, your companion, your obedience, and such. My journaling is going really well, I haven't missed a day!
This week, I tried this weird chocolate pod they have here. It looks like squash but it tasted nasty.
As far as transfers, we are doing this weird thing where we have a seven week change this change then a five week change the next one, so my next change isn't until December. To answer mom's question, our mail just kind of shows up whenever the Zone Leaders get it from Coban and then get it to us, so its pretty random haha.
I have started running a little over a mile every morning and we are pretty good about working out at night too. Just push ups and core and that sort of thing, our normal track workouts. We eat so bad I figure I have to work out to stay in check. I eat a lot of yogurt, popcorn and crackers, haha. I am also doing a soda fast, haven't drunk one since October 12th.
To answer dad's question about the weather, it is a little humid, but mostly just hot where I am. I think there is a rainy season that we are coming up on but that's about it.
My spiritual thought this week is about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I was reading about His suffering on the cross. One of the thieves who is being crucified asks that He will remember him, and Jesus says He will. "And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day thou shalt be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:39-43) That is just so amazing to me. After everything He's been through in the Garden of Gethsemane, and then moments before His death, He is still forgiving. It reminds me how I need to be acting to live a Christlike life.
Well, thank you for writing! I love all of you!
Love, Elder Toolson

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Santo Domingo, week 7

Hey! This week was pretty up and down. We focused a lot on the couple that are getting married, their names are Jose and Maria. It looks like its going to take a couple of weeks for the papers to get here. We also managed to add two more fechas, both referrals from members. One is with a little boy who is just barely 8. The problem is that the parents aren't sure anymore if they want their son baptized. The other is with a 17 year old named Augusto, but he didn't show up to there were good and bad parts. I did exchanges with my Zone Leader this week so that was a lot of fun. His name is Elder Kortsen, and he is awesome.

There were some cute little kids in the area we went on divisions to...

We had a few lessons this week, but mostly just visiting our fechas every day to try and keep them on track. They are really spread out - one is half way down our mountain, the other is close to the church, and the other is just a little ways past that.

My Kekchi is coming along very slowly but I do have a testimony and prayer completely memorized that I am trying to add to. There aren't any feminine or masculine forms of words like Spanish, but there are about fifteen different conjugation charts, so that is what makes it really hard, haha. Reading the Kekchi Book of Mormon has helped. I can understand a lot, I just can't speak at all - that is my problem!

As far as the sickness goes, my companion and I are hanging in there, just neither of us are at 100% yet.

Mom asked if the package looked ok - it looked good! I don't think anything was missing. Also, I am supposed to tell you guys to make sure you send the Christmas package in November because in December the mail is terrible.

Mom also asked about the prettiest area of my mission so far. There aren't really any flowers or waterfalls in my area. I think my favorite view is the picture I sent last week. That is the highest up we've been. It is the one where I am standing by Lucas. He is a seventeen year old member, he goes out on visits with us for like five hours a day almost daily so he is awesome.

Oh, you need to remind me when I get home to do this dance that this little kid Felix did when he got his "shut" because it was the best thing ever! "Shut" is a type of food. To me it tastes like rubber with some beans inside of it (it comes wrapped in a leaf thing) but the Kekchi people get hyped when they see it because they are super poor. You remember I said I wanted to go somewhere where I'd learn to appreciate what I have? Yeah, it has been a month and a half in the field, and I'm already there. A lot of the food we eat is bland, except for one popular dish here is "caldo" which is this super spicy soup with a part of a chicken in it. Every p-day we eat in comodors (their word for restaurant.) It is usually some kind of meat with beans and tortillas, usually pretty good and not too spicy. I've eaten chicken lungs there. It was pretty good. It probably helped that I didn't know it was lungs until I was like half way through, haha.

My spiritual thought comes from Alma 26 this week, it is when Ammon is talking to his brothers about all the great works they are doing and his brothers worry he is being prideful. He responds by saying "I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God. Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever." (Alma 26:12-13) That is pretty much exactly how I feel right now, I know that through the Lord we can accomplish all things.

Well, I probably should get going. We've got work to do! Thanks for writing! I love all of you!

Love, Elder Toolson

Monday, October 12, 2015

Santo Domingo, week 6

My package came! It was awesome, thank you!
So we were in Coban all day again for my companions parasites, which is why I am writing to you later. We had a better week this week. The marriage is going to happen for sure now, we just have to wait for the guy to get his papers and get married then he can be baptized.
Also, we have a really hopeful reference about someone whose family we visited way up the mountain. They said we are too far away, but their son wants to be baptized. We just have to catch him at the right time. Unfortunately, he is about two hours up the mountain...but we will connect with him! We found about six new contacts last week, so we are going to try and visit them this week.
Thank goodness I wasn't transferred, and neither was Elder Helton! Elder McEntee was, and at first I was really bummed, but then I found out he is still in our District. So it is awesome!
I'm doing divisions with the Zone Leaders this week, so that should be interesting. I'm pretty nervous for that haha. (Editor's note: when missionaries do divisions, they split up from their companion and each of them goes with one of the Zone Leaders to teach. This gives the Zone Leaders an opportunity to evaluate how the missionaries are doing and to offer additional training.)
My spiritual thought comes from a quote in our Zone meeting that actually applies to this week perfectly. The quote is "knock one more door." That is perfect because the family we ran into is farther up the mountain than we have ever gone. It was a great testimony builder that the day after we had that meeting we found the family.
Thank you so much for writing! I have to go now, sorry it was so short. Nekexinra! (I love all of you)

Love, Elder Toolson

Monday, October 5, 2015

Santo Domingo, week 5

Hey! This week was alright, a little discouraging because pretty much all of our appointments fell through. LOTS of walking up and down the mountain. But I figure it is just one of those weeks in the mission. It is crazy that I only have one more week and I finish my first transfer in the field. Kekchi is really hard haha. I've started reading the Book of Mormon in Kekchi, Spanish and English all at the same time because we were promised by a Prophet that if you read the BOM in whatever language you are trying to learn you will be fluent. So hopefully that works! I still haven't received my Kekchi name plaque, I think I'll get it in the next two or three weeks.
So the big news is I do in fact have a parasite! And so does my companion! Not really sure how I managed to do that in my first change but I pulled it off haha. I just have some meds I'm supposed to take for ten days or so and it should be good.
As for General Conference, we got to watch Saturday morning in English but then we lost signal and didn't see any of Saturday afternoon. We saw half of the Priesthood session in Spanish and all of Sunday in Spanish. I had a pretty hard time following the Spanish so I will have to go back and read in English when I have time.
I haven't heard anything about the mudslides until you told me, so I don't know what's going on there.
Mom asked for the description of the houses here. They are almost all made out of sticks, and all have dirt floors. None have electricty or indoor plumbing, but they do have running water! It is just not pure so everything is always boiled and way hot.
As for lessons this week, we went up the mountain because we had two appointments, and when we got there they both fell that kind of was a bummer. That was on Thursday. Tuesday me and my companion were both knocked out with the poops and throwing up and such so we had to stay in. Our goal for the month of October as a mission is 100 baptisms so we are hoping our fecha comes through once they are married.
As I said, I only really got to hear one session of Conference, but from what I got out of it, basically we need to get out of the Lord's way. It reminded me of the scripture in Isaiah where it talks about His ways being higher than our ways - "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9) We are going to be put through hard stuff. That is the Lord's will, not ours, and we will come out of it shaped how the Lord intends us to be.
Well, I love all of you!
Love Elder Toolson

Monday, September 28, 2015

Santo Domingo, week 4

I only have a few minutes, because we are in Coban. We had to leave at 2:30 this morning so we are all dead. My companion and I and some other Elders went to go get our parasite tests so I might have some exciting news next week when I get my results.
The multi-zone Conference was way cool except it was all in Spanish and I realized I have been focusing so much on Kekchi I am starting to forget my Spanish! I guess I should start working on that haha. (Editor's note: there are two ways to spell "Q'eqchi"/ "Kekchi" - Joe always uses the "K" spelling. I've been correcting it in case anyone wanted to reference it to research online, but from here on out I will keep it as he spells it.) I got to talk a bit with the Mission President at Conference and we bumped into him today. We have interviews soon, so that is when I'll really talk to him.
We did a service project this week in the corn fields, it was way fun! It is funny how much the people here like pictures. I guess it is just like the selfie craze at home.

Let's see what else happened...oh! While ordering a bananna shake, I accidently asked for juice from her breast instead of juice from a banana... needless, to say the Elders I was with had a fun time with that, haha.
My spiritual thought comes from something they actually taught us in the CCM that I've been thinking on. The quote goes something like "miracles come after we do all we can." I think that goes for just about everything in life. We are all saved by the Atonement, after we do all we can and try our best. It is a good reminder to me as a missionary that I need to be always working, otherwise I won't have success.
Sorry my email is so short, because we are in Coban I don't have loads of time. I love you!

Love, Elder Toolson