I don't know where to begin. Firstly, that I love you :)
Next, today is my last day in Paraná. I was called last night by asistant to the President, Elder Holloway. I will be training a new sister, and whitewashing a new pueblito called Galvez, about 1.5 hours away from the city Santa Fe. I've been there once before in divisions, and it's a beautiful little town. There is work still for me to do. I feel such a peace. I will miss Paraná with all my soul, I've served here the longest--6 months, the third part of my mission--but God has work enough for me to do, still. he needs me in Galvez, and instead of fear or anxiety, I am filled with faith and a passion for the Work. We will testify, we will teach, and we will baptize! Hermana Dean, who served with me visa waiting in the Watac, will be taking my place as Capacitadora and as Hermana Rasband's companion. Hermana Rasband and I have such a special quirky friendship that i know will last for a lifetime, I will miss her but knowing she's from American Fork (and the fact that I already know where she lives) brings me a lot of excitement for adventures to come.
I thought I was done being the greatest blood donor to Argentina's Pestilence Society, but the Mosquitos and Spiders somehow returned this week with the unusually warm winter weather we've been having, and I'm covered in the red bumps that are normally characteristic of summer all over again. Que cosas che.
It has been an incredible week! Tuesday we enjoyed zone meeting, which is always uplifting. It's neat to learn from my companion and the zone leaders as they give workshops, as well as from the other missionaries as they comment and share their insights. Wednesday morning we had "Meet the President" zone conference, where we got to know Presidente Zanni and his family better. Presidente Zanni is so inspired, as he spoke he answered several personal revelation questions I have debated recently. I know he has been called to be the mission president of this mission for a reason at this particular time, and I feel honored to learn from him and his sweet wife. A tender mercy came as I played the piano for prelude music, his little girls came running into the chapel and over to where I was playing, and threw their arms around me in a great big hug! After the meeting Elder Higginson asked me to do the R2D2 noise, Jordan. I did it for my district int the MTC to the best of my ability, I can't do it nearly as well as you, but now I'm renown for it amongst the Elders. It's the best :) Thanks for lighting up my life, little bro.
Wednesday I saw one of the most surreal experiences of my life. The streets were DEAD as Argentina played Holland. Not a breathing soul in the street except for a few wandering stray dogs. Hermana Rasband and I walked in absolute silence for about 5 minutes. Well, at about 7:45 the streets went beserk. The winning penalty shots of the semifinal game set the Argentine world on an emotional fire, the streets flooded all at once with men, women, and children of all ages and sizes with number 10 MESSI jerseys, blue and white flags, and blaring bugles as they horned their victory, trucks and motorcycles bustled their way through the streets with people aboard screaming at the top of their lungs while throwing their fists into the air. I felt like I was thrown into a scene from the Hunger games, I have never seen such a cultural manifestation of a soccer victory. It was hilarious, moving, scary, and patriotic all at once. The World Cup . . . kind of a big deal in Argentina.
Friday and Saturday I enjoyed serving with Hermana Sanders on divisions in Sunchales, a little town that bases its industry in making Dulce De Leche and distributing milk. It is a clean, pristine, story-book kind of village. While I was with her I felt the strongest impression that we needed to practice extending the baptismal invitation with every one of the investigators we visited. Although some of them mentioned that they didn't want to change religions during the lesson, I still invited them at the end after testifying of the importance of Baptism by Priesthood Authority. We taught a woman who is an etern-igator and has listened on and off to missionaries for 12 years, a 17 year old young lady named Eliana, and two abuelitos whos kids are members, but the wife just can't stop smoking. Each time they denied the baptismal invitation. But Saturday morning we went to the home of the Familia Villareal. There was a quiet peace about this home of a mother, father, and 5 girls. This particular lesson it was just the mom and the two littlest daughters. The mother of this family, after being invited to follow the example of Christ through baptism, accepted gladly. Hermana Sanders gave me the biggest smile, and it was such a tender mercy to be there with this Sister as she finally saw someone accept the invitation. She has been working so hard in Sunchales with her companion, and it was neat for her and I to both see someone soften their heart. There are many who reject the message of the Restoration. But those that accept it--they make all the tears and heartache and rejection SO WORTH IT!
Sunday was Supernal. Rosa came to church in a skirt with her hair and make up done beautifully. She looked like she could have been the Relief Society president already. Eric was all smiles during all of the meetings, and Brenda, Rosa's daughter and Eric's sister, CAME!!! It was a miracle to have her in Church! After Sacramente Meeting Rosa dressed in white and entered the waters of baptism. She just glowed! We had so much support from the ward, they all pitched in to bring desert and refreshments to enjoy after the baptismal service. The spirit was strong! Hermana Rasband and I were just CONTENTAS. Soledad was finally able to make it to church again, her visiting teachers went to pick her up and help her with the twin babies and the other 3 rambunctious boys. My heart was FULL.
Gabriel is doing great :) About 2 weeks back he kept canceling our follow up new convert appointments. I was worried about him dodging spiritual things, wondering if he had fallen into some of his past addictions or something. One night we called him to see how his reading was going in the Book of Mormon, and in turn shared a scripture in Helaman 5. Since this point, his latest thing has been sending us texts quoting scriptures he has particularly liked in his personal study of the Book of Mormon. He quotes the scripture and then tells us to read it, very Gabriel-like, extending his own commitments to US. Well, this past Sunday he came to church dressed up nice in a white shirt and church sweater, told us that he would like us to teach him more so that he can better prepare to receive the Aaronic Priesthood, told us he has a Reference for us named Lourdes and gave us her number, and THEN kept bugging us throughout church and the baptismal service to know when we can have a lesson to be able to teach him. To top it all off, he wrote in Rosa's baptismal book the sweetest testimony and signed it "HERMANO GABRIEL SCHMITD." I about fainted. He's using the title HERMANO. He's going places, that punk kid.
I love Paraná, I love my mission. I am overwhelmed with Gratitude for the numerous blessings God has given me in this BANGARANG Jungle City. I will miss it more than I can imagine, but the gratitude wells in me more than anything. Someday I'll come back here again. I've got to. But even if mortality keeps me away, I am comforted to know that my brothers and sisters of Paraná will be my neighbors in Heaven. We've got to be firm in the faith, and we'll take our place JUNTOS at the right hand of God.
I love you all, take a look at Chapter 4 of Preach my Gospel under The Spirit and Conversion. Let's study it together this week and then share what we learned in our next letter.
p.s. Ty, Jordan, Josh, and Spencer--I hope EFY is an absolute blast and htat you are even stronger in your testimonies now. I love you guys!
p.s.s. Corey and Dad, congrats on the 15 mile bike ride! WOOHOO!
p.s.s.s. AJ, I hope work is going great and congrats on buying a new car! One of my goals before my next birthday is to learn to drive stick shift. Will you teach me? Oh, and another goal: Learn to ride ripstick. Will you teach me that too? Love you!