Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas call and week 69

The first part of this entry will be written by Shannon (mom, blog editor) so that I can share a few of the things Joe told us during our Christmas skype yesterday. It was wonderful to be able to talk with and see him this year!! The first thing we asked him for were more details about his friend who died last week. "So I went back to Canlun, where I served for a month and a half about six months ago. We wanted to go visit a lady I baptized and her husband who was a good buddy of mine. As we were walking up to the house the wife came out and said 'he's dying.' I felt like something hit my chest really hard, but we kept walking. When we came in the room, his stomach was really bloated and his breathing was super fast and not regular. As we were giving him a blessing his breathing slowed and the atmosphere in the room totally changed. When we left a man who was there stopped us and said that my friend had a 'sickness curse' or 'bad spirit.' It was crazy how we hadn't been told that before going in, but we totally felt a change from the blessing. I'm not sure if we cast any spirits out. I think it was more than that, he was in bad shape. But I think we did help him die easier. The family has four kids between 1 - 7, and now they don't have a dad to help them. I hope the church is able to help them."

Next we asked him how he spent Christmas Eve and Christmas (he called us at 7 pm his time.) "On Christmas Eve I woke up at 4:30 so I could work out and have time to do my studies because I have a goal to finish reading the Book of Mormon in Kekchi. Then we went to members houses to visit, helped set up for the Open House at the church we are doing tomorrow, and ate lots of tamales. They have these special sweet tamales that they make for Christmas filled with raisins and almonds. I don't like raisins and almonds. But every place you go people are like 'you have to eat my tamales' and then they want you to tell them whose are best. (Paul asked Joe if he felt like the Grinch during the Whobilation and he said 'Exactly!') It is really weird, because in the States it seems like Christmas Eve is kind of a quiet time when families gather at home, but here the streets are full of kids throwing firecrackers and loud music is playing everywhere. On Christmas day we went to church and then the church had a little party where everyone was given more sweet tamales and some juice. Then we just went and visited a family before it was time to come back to the church so my companion could call home. Then it was my turn to talk to you."

We asked him to explain a bit more about the activity they are doing at the church on Monday. "We are having and Open House at 6 pm. A different part of the Plan of Salvation will be taught in each room. Every family in the Rama has been invited to bring another family as guests, so we should have about 150 people there. We have been working really hard to get ready."

There was quite a bit of discussion and laughter between Joe and his siblings regarding the various parasites and the results of carrying those parasites. Joe was sick again last week. They have running water, but apparently it isn't at all unusual to have the water and power go out for two or three days at a time. Which means you can't flush toilets. We will leave it at that. We asked him to tell us a bit more about where he lives now. "The center of Teleman is smaller than the center of Manson (village we lived in until a year ago) and we live in the center of town. The church is at the end of town, which isn't very far. It was hard to leave the mountains and leave my buddies behind, but I have made some good friends here like Elder Nielsen and Elder Ibarro. Oh, also, I got offered another wife while I was on divisions with Elder Nielsen! The girls in the valley are a lot more forward than the girls in the mountains. Or maybe they are just easier to understand because they speak in Spanish. Kekchi doesn't really translate for flirting. Or maybe I just don't understand it if it does. Kekchi is really weird because it is such an ancient language that things are really literal. Like there isn't a Kekchi word for 'stranger' so they call you 'chicken man.' And they have really weird jokes. When you go to visit a house, they will say 'Your boots are stinky!' to which you answer 'There's cheese!' and they laugh like crazy. They will also ask 'Did you shower?' and laugh like it is the best joke ever."

We asked him which is easier to teach in, Spanish or Kekchi. "Kekchi is harder, but I like it better. The people also have a harder time learning. I think it is partly because of the language, but also partly because the poor people up in the mountain don't really have a chance to practice. I was trying to teach this older lady how to pray, and she just kept saying 'I can't remember' in Kekchi, which translates as 'it doesn't stay in my heart.' When you say 'I forgot' you say 'it was destroyed in my heart,' If you want to ask someone how they are doing, the direct translation would be 'how's your heart?' I think those translations are cool."

Two other interesting comments - "We found a frog in our bathroom this morning. That isn't unusual at all. There are also a lot more bugs in the valley than in the mountains. I'm not really afraid of spiders anymore, except for the ones as big as your hand that crawl out of the drain when I am trying to shower. I don't like those." and "I gave my suit coat to a native Elder who needed a jacket to wear home, but now we have to wear a suit coat to our meetings. So I bought another one at the thrift store for 1 quetz (20 cents.) It is really ugly, but it does the job."

Still our goofy, lovable Joe. Now on to today's letter...

Hey, I guess there is not too much to report since we were able to talk for a while last night but it was great to see everyone! I don't really know if I have anything to add. I did some divisions with El Estor this week and met a really awesome family of investigators that I am sending a picture of.

I also have some other pictures I took in La Tinta last p-day when I was with Elder Pin. It is pretty there. The bridge moved a lot and started tipping to one side but held together!

I don't have very much time today. My companion loved the stocking, he felt bad he forgot to say thank you on the skype. We are both like super hyped about the pens you gave us because good pens are hard to come by!

Mom asked me about New Year's resolutions. I think my goals will be to not miss a day of exercises (other than Sunday, that's my rest day), finish the Book of Mormon in the three languages, and finish my mission strong. Other than that I can't think of much else. I don't want to make home goals until the time comes. I'm not sure how New Year's is in the valley yet, but if Christmas is anything to go off of, there are going to be a whole lot of fireworks going off! We haven't been given a curfew or told to stay in our house, but that might come later this week.

My spiritual thought for the third week in a row comes from Mario, it was just so awesome to see him baptized. The missionaries have been visiting him for three years. To see him enter into the waters of baptism was such a blessing. Kind of a funny story, Mario is kind of a big guy for someone from Guatemala. The pila (baptismal font) is small and was only filled to about halfway up my calf. He was hard to lift out of the water!

I know that missionary work is the most important thing we can do, so everyone can know about God's plan and live with their families forever.

I love you guys!
love, Elder Toolson

Monday, December 19, 2016

week 68

Hey, this week was kind of up and down but pretty good over all. I got to do divisions with Elder Nielsen this week and he is awesome, he is only in his second change and came in like me without Spanish or Kekchi so it was nice to see how he was doing. We were able to go to Canlun this week which was nice to see some other people. Also we were able to put a fecha (baptism date) with a family of four, but that won't be in January because the parents need to get married. 

The Christmas party happened haha! It was the two zones in the Polochic. It went pretty well, I have a video but it is too big to send. Besides the singing and dancing, we all bore our testimonies in Kekchi for one of the guys from the states that does the Kekchi translations. He served here forever ago and is like a legend. And we had a good Christmas lunch so that was nice.

You can include this in the blog if you want, but the reason my week was down a bit is when I went to Canlun on Tuesday I got there and one of my old buddies Santiago was super sick. He didn't even recognize that we were there, he couldn't talk or move or eat or anything. And then on Wednesday he died, so that was kind of hard. He was a member but menos activo (less active) for a long time. The people he lived with said he had a bad spirit given to him. They say a guy put it on him because he was in debt or something. That's where the crazy part of the story is, I just don't know if I can explain it well in email. We gave him a blessing. It is actually a really long story that I will tell over skype if you guys remind me. But here is a picture with him when I went and visited him before he died. 

I am excited to talk to you guys this week! It looks like I should be calling about 7 pm my time, and I don't know if I should talk through skype or facebook. If I talk through skype you will have to make an account for me real quick right now and send me the info. 

I'm with Elder Pin in Sacsuha right now, we are on divisions. He is the missionary that Elder McEntee trained. 

We are writing here but working in my area. We have a good Family Home Evening planned for tonight with a group of investigators so that should be good. I think Elder Lara and I will do divisions with El Estor at the start of the week and then be back here later in the week so it should be good. Doing divisions is probably my favorite part of being ZL because it is fun to help other missionaries. We are going to baptize Mario the 24th, it should be awesome! We have a pila (font), I wish it was in a river. My companion is good. We work well together so there are no problems there.

Dad asked about restaurants in my new area, there is a pizza place and a comedor that isn't bad, but they are a little pricey so now I have to pish until the end of the month. Oh, pish means like cheap I guess would be the translation. Like if I get asked for money and say no, they say "jwal´ pishat" which means that you are really pish. That happens probably like 15 times a day haha.

I've kind of eaten all of my Christmas treats. But I still have the stocking for me and my companion and the two wrapped gifts! I didn't expect to have a package so it is really good. Nobody knows what is going on with the mail, they say they are always hearing different stuff. The Assistants to the President have to fax or do everything through internet now. The last package you sent is supposed to be in a warehouse somewhere just waiting for me haha.

I may not ever get the pants or shoes you sent, but I already have my Polochic tie picked out for wearing home! They call it the towel because it absorbs sweat like none other haha. It is awesome, the Polochic Elders pass ties down for generations so there are some ties from the 90's floating around. Generations of Polochic Elders have sweat on those ties, and I get to be part of it! It is wonderful! We sign the back with our Kekchi names, the years we serve, and our normal names. So you can see who has been in the mission before you.

I do wish I could stay in the mission until August because I have some recent converts that I think will get sealed in the temple then and it would be awesome to see them. I'm half tempted to ask if I can stay another change but I don't know if they would approve. Or maybe I could come back and visit, that would be amazing, there have been a couple of my buddies that are visiting the mission that just went home not too long ago. Elder Murdock is here now, he went home in September, and another few might come. I email with Elder Smart, my buddy Elder Ellis writes me like every week, and Elder Helton writes on and off.

My spiritual thought comes from something that happened with Mario again this week. We went and visited him and the night before we visited him I was reading in my journal, and I saw that the day before that a year ago (on December 14th) was the day I met him and wrote about him. So I read that to him and he got up and gave me a big ole hug and almost started crying and it was awesome. 

Talk to you on Sunday! I love you!

Love Elder Toolson 

Monday, December 12, 2016

week 67: Teleman

Hey! So Teleman is pretty dope! It was hard to say goodbye to the people in Senahu though. I will miss this family, the Tiul family, they are super nice. We did Family Home Evening with them almost every week.

I will try to answer all of Mom's questions. Just Elder Lara and I live in a house that is actually pretty nice. It has a good workout set up and all so that is good too. We have water and light so we are pretty blessed in that sense. I am serving in a Rama and they have a nice small building that gets the job done. About 85 or so people go on average, so it is kind of big for here in the Polochic. They don't have a piano for me to play, but I do get to press the play button on the DVD for the hymns haha. 

Where I serve is about half Kekchi and half Spanish. Almost everyone at least knows Spanish, but I prefer to talk in Kekchi with them and they do too normally, so that is nice. We live in a town, but it is tiny so we leave pretty easily to go to some of the mountains around us. We will probably walk the same amount as we did in the mountains. As for employment, there are a lot of little tiendas and stuff so it seems like people work there normally, or sell food that they make at home. I think school is optional but most kids seem to go. It is kind of hot here but not too bad. There are a lot of....I forgot the word in Kekchi the are called ch´en´......they suck our blood but aren't ticks... wait, mosquitoes! There are so many of those! I will probably end up getting dengue again.

I met a lot of cool members! The Presidents family is super nice. It seems like all of our investigators need to get married except this one guy named Mario who will be baptized on the 24th, I will talk more about him later. I think I am going to get along really well with the members here so that is nice, and me and Elder Lara work really hard which is good. Here is a picture of two guys who are investigators here in Teleman:

These are some recent converts here in Teleman that I met this week, we just call them Almicars family, because the guy's name is Almicar:

There are some members here that work on raising animals so I took a picture for you:

This picture kind of gives you an idea about what my area looks like, it is right above Telelman, we are right in the valley below:

I think I will be able to use skype or at least some method to video call you guys for Christmas, but I don't know for how long because we have a big open house activity at the church on the 26th that we will be getting ready for, so it might be a short call this year.

Normally we will email from our area but today we are in La Tinta (about 20-30 minutes away by bus.) We are practicing our presentation for the multi-zone meeting we will have this week. It is our Christmas party. 
There will be two zones there and it will be in Senahu, so maybe I will get to see some old members! We are going to sing and dance. We are supposed to do something artistic so my very enthusiastic companion thought we should dance...I'm not excited... I'm doing my best to get out of the dancing part, haha. We will start by singing Silent Night, then go into the beginning of Carol of the Bells, then go to a country sounding song with violins and stuff, and then end with Silent Night...we will see how it goes. I'm not sure what the dances are, but the country one is kind of going to be a line dance. There are sixteen of us performing, but I don't know if everyone will want to participate.

My spiritual thought comes from an experience with that Mario guy. He is somebody I met almost a year ago when I did divisions with the missionaries here. He didn't remember me but I remember him. When I met him he had a drinking problem that he couldn't shake, he just had this dead look in his eyes, and there didn't seem much hope for him going anywhere. Now he is so alive, he gave me a big ole hug when I remet him, and he is going to be baptized in two weeks! I almost started crying on the spot when I saw what a big change happened over the last year. This Gospel really is something else!

I love all of you, have a good week!

Love, Elder Toolson

Monday, December 5, 2016

week 66: goodbye, Senahu

So I guess the big news this week is that I am getting changed! I cried! I will be super sad to leave Senahu, this has been by far my favorite area with some of the most special people I have ever met. These goodbyes have been pretty hard. I will be going to Teleman, which they say is a really hard area. My companion right now was there for a change and he says it is pretty miserable there and he is a pretty positive guy so I am a little worried. I will be in the valley again (thankfully there are still some mountains) so it is hot as really hot things. It is really close to my old area, Canlun, so they are like the same temperature, I think it averages in the mid 90s. I will be serving with Elder Lara. He is from Ecuador. He is probably the best missionary I know, like a picture perfect missionary. Which will be nice but I'm worried about how serious he is. He will go home in September so I have like one or two more changes than him. He has already been in Teleman for a change or two. I know everyone in our zone, but I don't have a lot of buddies there. But I'm sure I will make some. Elder Bos got made ZL this change which is awesome! He is going in to replace me so I know Senahu will be taken care of. 

On the bright side though, the Teleman Zone Leaders cover Sepamak and Canlun so I will get to do divisions in two of my old areas! There are two girls that we baptized in Sepamak, Igliana and Vidiliana, it will be good to see how they are doing. And then I don't know if you remember Ramona, it sounds like she dropped off the map so I am going to go try and get her to go to church again. So for that I am excited to go back.

This week I got to go up and do divisions with Elder Mendoza in Yalijux and he is one dope guy. I am going to miss him when I go to the other zone. Yalijux is the best mountain area I have ever seen, and I actually think I might have seen them all, so it is the best haha.

Besides Yalijux, I didn't go to a lot of places this week because we had our leader meeting so we got back late. Oh I forgot to mention I got called to talk there so I had to give another talk. The Mission President asked us to pick a topic about how to better the mission and I felt like I should talk about always keeping the Atonement of Jesus Christ in mind. I tried to use the example I did in Family Home Evening like forever ago. It was the one where you are on a plane and you have to imagine you are going to crash and you have a minute or two to write a note to the people you love. And then I tear it up, and relate it to when we don't use the Atonement, that is what we do with Christ's gift. It wasn't super well prepared and people didn't take my example seriously so it didn't go that well.

We are in Senahu today, I will go to my new area tomorrow. It looks like I'll be saying goodbyes today.

My spiritual thought this week come from an experience in Yalijux. Me and Mendoza walked the entire area, which is about seven hours of hiking, so we were pretty tired. When we were about 45 minutes or an hour away or so from home we found a lady and her two kids trying to carry these big ole sacks of watermelons. They were so tired and super tiny little people and I could tell they weren't going to get far. So we felt the impression to ask if they wanted help. We started carrying them and right away I thought "there is no way I am going to make it all the way there" haha. There was a part where me and Mendoza both felt like we were about out of juice and we were saying little prayers that we could help this lady and make it all the way. Then we felt like there were people pushing us up the hills, and it got a lot easier all the sudden. It was dope! 

I hope you have a good week this week, I love you!

Love, Elder Toolson

Monday, November 28, 2016

week 65

Hey, it sounds like you guys had a really good Thanksgiving which is awesome. I'm glad the whole family could get together and everything went well and thank you for the pictures! 

Things this week were good, we started out the week in our area and we found a dope lady named Maria I will talk about later.

Do you remember the lady we baptized in August named Herlyinda? She is in our area, we visited her this week. She is all good, she just has a hard time reading the Book of Mormon consistently. The family gave us some snails to eat!

I went up to Chijolom to do divisions with Elder Zavala, it is like a two or three hour ride up there in the truck. It was super fun! He is a really cool guy, he is still pretty new but he kuyuks the mountains pretty good and has a good attitude. He reminds me of a younger Toolok because he didn't go through the Kekchi program so he has been thrown in like me. So I can sympathize with him a little haha.

We found some good investigators that I think could progress in the future. We got to go to Se´ wilix which was super fun and then Tz´aj pek. The waterfall is in a place called Se´chaj which is a pretty good hike, it is like an hour and a half or so.

The church in Se´chaj is so small it is called a Group, not even a Branch.

We hiked another two hours to Chijolom. Chijolom means "to the head" in Kekchi which fits because when you are there you are at the top.

We managed to get a little Thanksgiving lunch at the comedor we always eat at on Thursday. It was awesome!

My health is doing good now. I just kind of have an annoying cough but it is nothing bad. The giardia is all better.

We are in Coban today, hoping to do a little shopping, I need a new backpack. I think I am going to Yalijux this week, which will be dope because once I do that I will officially know every single area that has ever been opened and is open in the Polochic. It is the highest area in the mountains and the most far away, Elder Mendoza and Elder Miranda are there now.

My spiritual thought this week comes from our lesson with Maria. She is super sad right now because her parents died. We explained the Plan of Salvation to her, and when I promised her that she would see her parents again she just got this big smile on her face. It just reminded me how lucky we are to be a part of this gospel and have a testimony of Gods plan for us. I know that He wants all of us to live with Him again and to live together with our families. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is what makes this possible.

I love all of you!

Love, Elder Toolson

Monday, November 21, 2016

week 64

Hey! This week for us was good, except we weren't in our area very much. Monday through Wednesday we were in Coban, the meeting with President Duncan was awesome! I will share some stuff with him as a spiritual thought. The Zone Leader duties went alright, I didn't have to get anybody in trouble which was the main goal haha. I played the piano for for the conference. It went ok, but I know I messed up a few times. (Editor's note - we have a friend, Ellie Scruggs, who is also serving in the Coban mission. In her letter this week she said: "Joe played the piano at conference and he did awesome!!!" So it sounds like Elder Toolson did just fine!)

The "Mountain Elders" - Joe's zone - with Elder and Sister Duncan and President and Sister Faundez (pc: Guatemala Coban Mission page)

Zone Leaders, Assistants to the President and Sister Training Leaders with Elder and Sister Duncan and President and Sister Faundez (pc: Guatemala Coban Mission page)

Mission buddies, clockwise from upper left: Joe with Elders Zavala, Bos and Zavala, Reed, McEntee, Bos, and Sister Scruggs.

We slept in La Tinta Wednesday night and then headed back up here in Senahu. We were able to get people to say that they would come to church. but once again they didn't so that was kind of a bummer. But we had a baptism so that was good!  

The other excitement is that I actually got a new sickness this week! It is called Giardia and it is a lot of fun. I had a fever one of the nights we were in Coban but it wasn't too bad. I don't know if it is a parasite, I heard it was just a virus, so who knows how I got it.

We stayed in our area for p-day today. We played some soccer and basketball with some members so that was fun. Soccer I got it handed to me but I did ok in basketball haha. I was also playing with Elder Bos and he is really athletic.

We are going to go up to Chijolom to do divisions this week and I think we are going to get to see a waterfall so that should be good. I will be with Elder Zavala, he is the newer guy, he is awesome!

Ok, here are some dope things Elder Duncan said: "The Atonement isn't something we just teach, it is something we experience. When we are converted to the gospel, we will have the desire to share it with others, and not just experience it ourselves." I thought it was pretty significant he used the word "experience" twice. This gospel isn't just going to church on Sundays, it is a life long experience, and it is an experience so awesome that when we realize that, we have to share it with others. Another thing Elder Duncan said that I liked is he was talking about how we get what we put in. If we only give a little to the Lord then we will only get a little back. I guess it is the same thing with life, that's how school or sports work as well, so it makes sense!

I love you, have a good week, 

Love, Elder Toolson

Monday, November 14, 2016

week 63

Hey! This week was good for us, we made it up to the Mirador to see the Paulinas and they said they still want to be baptized. They said one of them had been sick, but then they still didn't come yesterday after promising they would so I have no idea what to think. They live really far from the church, about an hour straight up the mountain, so that might be part of the problem.

We did get to baptize a little girl! She asked me to baptize her so that was a nice thing. 

Elder Kevin R. Duncan is visiting the mission this week, he is the President of the Central America Area and is over the missions in Guatemala. He came to the CCM while I was there too. The ENTIRE mission is here in Coban right now to see him, so it is crazy. I think there are maybe 130 missionaries? It is weird seeing all these people that I don't know. This is the first time something like this has happened while I've been here, it makes me really want to not be Zone Leader because of responsibility to get people to places and stuff haha. I think that we got everyone everywhere they need to be so far. We chartered a bus. Hopefully we can get to our sleeping place safely, they say it is at an Institute building or something. We have one meeting at 6 tonight and then meetings all day tomorrow. It should be good.

I had the chance to serve with Elder Bos this week, it was awesome. We helped set up for a surprise party!

I also got to help Gordy with a service project and then they fed us dinner. Eating dinner with gringos was AWESOME. That is hands down the best food I have had in 16 months! They gave us some meat and rice and some vegetable that I thought was potatoes but got embarrassed because it wasn't haha, I can't remember what it was called. 

(photo credit for the next two snaps: Gordy Hamm)

My health is pretty good, nothing new to report there, my cough is getting better so that is good. My companion is good! We are getting along really well and all so I have no complaints.

My spiritual thought is kind of a repeat from last week about how much the baptismal covenant means. We visited a menos activo (less active person) this week and as I was talking to him, explaining to him that when he made the baptism covenant he promised God he would keep his commandments, it hit me super hard how big of a deal that is! Like once we make the covenant, it is made! And God can't break it, only we can! So we should probably do our best to keep that covenant so we can be an eternal family and be with God and Christ forever. 

I love you!
Love, Elder Toolson