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)