Monday, September 1, 2014

Last Words. . .

I can’t really think of a good word to describe this week. “Nice”, “beautiful”, “insignificant”, and “edifying” all seem to come to mind.

I learned a bit about myself this week. Remember how I talked about the “Lost Dog Effect”? I think it applies to a lot more than just dogs and companions. I seem to really put up walls at times. When the plane landed in Pucallpa, I felt myself straighten up tight. When Hermana Gomez asked me if I was glad to be back in Pucallpa I said that I was just indifferent . I even had myself fooled! 

Halfway to the hotel, I realized I was just putting up a front and that I didn’t hate Pucallpa. But, I did feel that I had failed there and I was hurt for having left there early, so I told myself I hated it. It was hard to admit that I love a place when I spent so much time in the hospital. Or a place where  I struggled so hard. But, do you know
what? If there was one thing I learned on this trip it was that EVERYTHING was totally worth it. 

Why? Remember the Espinoza family with the four sons? I visited them.  I found the oldest son studying the
Mission Prep manual, the mom reading the Book of Mormon, and the Dad talking about Baptism.  The sons are taking the long trip to Lima next month to do Baptisms for the dead.  With some converts, you get the feeling that they specifically needed you and your companion.  That’s how I had always felt with them. I didn’t do what I wanted in Pucallpa, but I did what the Lord wanted me to do. I didn’t fail at all.

For Hermana Gomez’s birthday, we went to lunch at a Restaurant that floats on the river. It was awesome! Her, President, and the Assistants seem to have all gotten used to having me around on the trips, it’s been great. While we sat there eating, we saw two Amazon river dolphins right close by, it was AWESOME!!!!

We had a meeting in the hotel room , and then President asked to do a practice interview with me in English since he has been practicing and wants to be able to interview the new American Missionaries in their
native language. During the interview, he caught on to the fact that I was pretending to be myself on my first day. When he asked me about my mission goals, I told him that my goal was to have at LEAST one baptism every month. He broke character as well and asked, in Spanish, “Did you accomplish that??” I almost teared up as I realized how merciful God has been with me. 

As I whispered that I had accomplished what seemed an impossible goal, and even more impossible with so much hospital time. Hermana Gomez whispered something that I had heard her say about me several times “A living example of someone who knows how to serve the Lord’s mission.”

Well, family and friends, I have a hard time believing that this the last time that I will be able to write you as Hermana Simonson, the Jungle Missionary. I don’t know what words to leave you with.  More than anything,  I want to thank everyone has supported me in the amazing journey. When I was set apart, I was informed in the blessing that my mission would be an adventure, and I can DEFINITELY see how true that has been! I know I have talked a lot about my struggles, especially with my health, but there is one thing that I wish to make
very, very clear. For the rest of my life, as  I look back on my mission, I will not remember it as 18 months of suffering. I will always remember it as the most special, crazy, fun, spiritual, exciting, worth-it, interesting, hard, important, and BEST time of my life. 

I would never have asked for the type of mission that I have had, but I would never , NEVER , EVER change it!  Not one little moment not one little detail.  The best part of my whole mission is that I can honestly say that I have NO regrets.  Not one.

I love this country. I love this jungle. I love this Church. I love this work. I love my Savior, Jesus Christ. We work to fill the Celestial Kingdom, and I can’t imagine the joy of being there with my converts.  I love them.  The church is true. One hundred percent true. I know that without a doubt.

In the offices, I found a picture that President Blunck had taken of me on my first day in Lima, after my REAL first interview. As I looked at that picture, I realized one of the greatest blessings of my mission: I am not that same girl anymore.

As we talked about my struggles on the mission, Hermana Gomez said that she  can just feel that the Lord has great things in store for me. I know that is true. I know I still have a great work to do. My mission isn’t the end of my service…it is only the beginning. What a blessing.

I can’t lie and say I am not scared,  but I know that everything will be okay. If I can put up with living in the jungle, being attacked by monkeys, eating worms, having fleas, typhoid fever, panic attacks, learning a new language, cutting grass with a machete, falling in a sewer, parasites, saving souls and all that stuff, well, I think I can just do about anything. Not because I am special, but because I don’t have to do it alone. 

I didn’t actually suffer any of that stuff because I never could of. Like Emma Smith said “strength isn’t something you have, it is something you find.” I have no strength, but the Lord helps me find it and I know He will do it again and again.

I love you all.  See you next week.

Hermana Simonson
Misión Perú Iquitos

5 But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of
an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.
 6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
 7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness,which
the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me
only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

Monday, August 25, 2014

My Father's Daughter

Another crazy week! All of the Zone Conferences were in Iquitos this week, so I didn’t fly anywhere this week, which was kind of nice.  The third zone conference of this week was with 9 de Octubre, my zone for 9 months! Of course, most of the people there weren’t the same as before, but there were at least a few familiar faces.

At the end of the conference, the assistants and I were taking pictures of the whole zone with President and Hermana Gomez and a few of the missionaries in the zone told me to get in the picture with the zone I would always belong to. Honestly, it kind of felt nice.

During that same Zone Conference, Hermana Gomez started reading a new letter about how missionaries with just about any health problem will be sent home immediately based on the new worldwide church standard. A few people looked over at me like “What on earth are you still doing here??” and Elder Anderson, one of the Assistants, whispered, “You’re really grateful for President, right? You understand that you wouldn’t be here without him, right? You have no idea how far he stuck his neck out for you! But, it’s good, because you’ve been a great help.”

Even though I know that I am SO incredibly lucky to still be here, sometimes I really, really miss proselyting. I don’t always feel that I am fulfilling my purpose. I started remembering the conversation I
had had with President and Hermana Gomez and the Elders when we were driving to Moyobamba.  Hermana Gomez had asked me how my dad reacted when his only daughter randomly called and said she was going on a mission. I laughed as I told her about the shock in his voice and the initial shock and stress that I caused. 

I remembered the unsurety of it all. But I told her about how, the moment I looked up at my parents and told them I had a meeting with the Bishop the next day and they saw that it was serious, they supported me 110 percent. I remembered how dad’s face changed in that moment.

Hermana Gomez laughed and said “I am sure that he decided to support you 110 percent in that moment because, when you looked at him, he realized that you are just like him.”  (I hadn’t even told her about the fact that I had my Lin’s Meat Department hat on!)

She told me that she had never met my dad, but that she was sure that he is just as strong, stubborn, and passionate as I am. She talked about a letter that she had received from him where he said “Knowing Meghan like I do, I know that she will never tell you she needs to come home” and that she felt that the reason he knows me so well is because he’s the same person. I had to laugh at the truthfulness of it.

Anyway, remembering the past, and that I am strong, stubborn, and passionate, not being able to proselyte has been rough. As I sat reflecting the other night, I decided to pray and ask the Lord what it was that he wanted me to do. I shut the door and kneeled down, carefully placing my bad knee on a pillow (it was the first time I have kneeled since the accident), I started out praying out loud to ask the Lord what He wants me to do and accomplish right now since I can’t proselyte. But, before I knew it, the prayer turned into a bunch of tears as I asked the question I have hidden inside for several months.

“Heavenly Father, why did I have to fall? I felt impressed to walk over there on those stairs, I felt YOU tell me to do it. I was just being obedient. Why did you set me up to fall? Things were going so well in my area and I was teaching well. WHY DID I HAVE TO FALL??” I waited for a long time, crying into the chair I had knelt in front of. No answer.

I got up, and turned to look at my red eyes in the mirror. I remembered once again “strong, stubborn, and passionate.” Then, the Spirit overcame me so powerfully I almost thought I heard it audibly as it responded to my desperate prayer. “Because the world needed to see you stand back up again.”

I reflected on that feeling and thought of how many people saw me proselyting on crutches or walking around Pucallpa in my cast and refusing to go home. Maybe, just maybe, I was touching more unseen lives overcoming my challenges than I would have just proselyting like normal. I felt like the Currant Bush in my favorite story as the Gardener says “You were never meant to be a tree. You were meant to be a currant bush. And one day, when you are laden with fruit, you will say “Thank you, Mr. Gardener for caring enough to cut me down. For loving me enough to hurt me.””

As I stayed there, staring at my red eyes I imagined Heavenly Father saying, “You weren’t meant to proselyte right now. You were meant to travel and teach other missionaries. You were meant to work in the offices and write manuals and change the mission. One day, when you see the blessings of your mission, you’ll thank me for letting you fall and helping you stand back up.”

I can’t lie and say that I absolutely love being in the offices and whatnot. I can’t lie and say that I miss how my mission used to be. I can’t lie and say that I’m not absolutely terrified of what might become of my knee. I am horrified. The Elders in the office joke and say that my knee is my “Achilles Heel” because I seem tough until someone mentions it and asks if I’ll be able to run again and I suddenly look as if I am going to burst into tears. But, I know that the Lord loves me, and He has a plan. I guess I should feel lucky that He chose His “Strong, stubborn and passionate” daughter to show “the
world” and “stand back up again.”

Love- Hermana Simonson

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Remember That Cat?

Monday August 18, 2014

President and Hermana Gomez stopped us in our tracks just before we got on the plane on Tuesday afternoon. “We need a picture of the five of us (Elder Anderson, Elder Peacock, Hermana Simonson, and President and Hermana Gomez)! This is a historical moment! A SISTER is travelling with the Assistants for the first time!”

I had a nice conversation about the Gospel with the man sitting next to me on the plane. Then, I was overcome with emotion as the plane hit ground in Tarapoto, almost a year after I had left from there. I
fanned my eyes in attempt to not cry. The assistants looked over and
laughed and told me not to cry. “You better get used to it!” I laughed. “After all, a SISTER is here!”

The week flew by. The next day, I couldn’t believe how strange but wonderful it felt to walk into the doors of my old chapel in Shilcayo, all ready for the leadership training we were to give that day. It was
weird to me that President Gomez’s “Tarapoto” car was outside, since they don’t normally need to come early. I walked inside and was met with an ear-curdling scream as three of my daughters (Hermana Dickey, Hermana Hernandez, and Hermana Allphin) came charging at me. It was a
joyous reunion.

We trained all of the Zone Leaders, District Leaders, Trainers, and Sister Leaders in Tarapoto and Moyobamba. It was a nice meeting, and (once again) I found myself rather emotional as I testified of the difference a leader can make in a missionary’s life and explained how my Zone Leaders were the ones that helped me decide to stay in the mission and how I am eternally grateful for them. It’s hard to say that without tears when one of them is staring back at you. 

Hermana Gomez talked about the difference a Trainer can make in the life of a missionary, and explained that she had gone early to the meeting just to see the reaction as Hermana Simonson’s “daughters” when they saw her once more.

That night, I was put with a Sister who was packing up her bags to go home (she had gotten early return permission so that she wouldn’t lose her scholarship in Bolivia) and we talked a lot about how the mission had changed us.

Then, we went to do a few visits and we walked passed an oh-so-familiar house. I looked inside to see the daughter of Erika, one of my first converts. We screamed and hugged and cried. Erika came out of the house to see what was happening and she also screamed and cried as she ran to hug me. Next thing I know, the whole family was in a circle hugging one another as the women hugged me. Those were some of the best tears I have cried in my life.

Erika was the first convert that I had without my Trainer. Remember when I talked about the wedding that almost killed me? That was her. Now, one year later, as she hugged me and cried and whispered “my missionary” over and over again, I soon found out that I wasn’t just hugging my convert, I was
hugging the current Relief Society President of the Aeropuerto Branch in Tarapoto. This work is AMAZING.

The next day, we had Tarapoto’s zone conference. When it was my turn to train, things got a little rough. Tarapoto has always been a zone that hasn’t respected the Sisters too much and I felt like no one was paying attention. I was talking a bit about the experience that I had as we learned how to be consistent in a small area. I was frustrated that no one was listening.  As I talked, a hand flew up in the air. I called on Elder Belnap, who had been my Zone Leader in Iquitos. In his loud, New Yorker voice, he caught everyone’s attention and said, “Hermana Simonson is extremely humble, and she would never say it, so I am going to. As her Zone Leader for six of the months that she was in that area, I can testify of the effectiveness of her work. Maybe it would interest you all to know that in her time there, she was able to bring xx number of souls to be converted to the Gospel.”

President then raised his hand and said “She also exceeded the mission standard of excellence for Baptisms several times!” Elder Belnap continued “Two months in a row! In her time in a small, difficult area she was ALWAYS reporting new Baptisms, even while training and serving as a leader and dealing with a whole lot of things. Maybe you should all listen to her, you could learn a lot,
just like I could as her leader.”

I was embarrassed. I wanted my Baptisms to be a secret, not even I had been counting them! But, I soon saw that Elder Belnap had a lot of reason to talk as he did, and I was grateful for it. Everyone listened intently and started taking notes on everything I said. The whole Spirit of the meeting changed. Hermana Gomez later mentioned that that was a moment that changed Tarapoto, and I was grateful to be a part of it.

The next day, we left early in the morning to go to Moyobamba, a two hour drive from Tarapoto for Moyobamba’s Zone Conference.  All five of us were exhausted, but trying to enjoy the drive. But, there was one problem. Maybe the Assistants were used to this stuff, but I literally hadn’t been in a car for a year and a half. I got to the point where I couldn’t handle it.  I rolled down the window and puked four times all over the outside of the car. The Elders handed me toilet paper to clean my mouth off, and stared at me to see my reaction. I laughed SO hard. I laughed and laughed and laughed and when they saw that I was laughing, they laughed, too. Sometimes, you just have to have a positive attitude!

The Conference in Moyobamba was a lot better. We all laughed and learned a lot. We were able to have our P-day on Saturday and we went out to explore a bit and had a lot of fun.  I guess I am kind of
getting used to the not having a companion thing. And, just for Dad, we went Jungle Bird watching! I bet I saw a lot cooler birds than he’ll ever be able to see in the states!

That night, we had the Adult Session on District Conference and a brother came up to Hermana Dickey, Hermana Hernandez and I and explained that he was from Nueva Cajamarca, a far away village. His daughter wants to be a missionary, but there are no sisters in NC. He asked to take a picture for us to show to her.

Sunday, Elder Anderson went with other missionaries and President and Hermana Gomez, Elder Peacock and I went out to a village that was a little far away, AKA Nueva Cajamarca. A family had been preparing lunch for four missionaries (not knowing that it was us) and did the absolute best meal that they could, AKA Guinea Pig.

When we walked into the house, the sister was blown away to see the Mission President coming inside, but very thrilled. As we walked inside, I saw that the husband was the same brother that took our picture, and I was able to personally meet their mission-bound 16 year old daughter, and she
loved it. They were so excited to be the first family in the village to have a sister missionary in their home.

Hermana Gomez and I went out to visit a few less active families and one of the brothers we visited had a very bad attitude and sarcastically thanked us for FINALLY caring about the people in their
village and went off about how we just live in our rich houses with our perfect churches and ideal wards and don’t understand them. He told us that we don’t understand how hard it is to be poor and not even have a developed church to go to. He said that all he wanted to do was be heard.  He talked forever about how he just wants to have a chapel to go to (their branch meets in a house) or a Bishop or a Stake President. I was kind of frustrated that someone who wasn’t even going to church was giving US a lecture. We kindly shared that he could do his part and be a faithful member so that that can happen one day. We shared a message and left to do some more visits.

The brother mentioned that he would be going to Tarapoto the next day, but I didn’t think much of it. Hermana Gomez, seeing how much he wanted help, promised him that her husband would visit their family personally every time that he was in Moyobamba. It was a beautiful promise and an example of someone “leaving the 99 to find the one.”

Today, as we entered the airport in Tarapoto to come back to Iquitos, that same brother was there waiting for us. He apologized to Hermana Gomez and I for the way he acted, and told us that our words made him unable to sleep and that he woke up at 1am and paced the house, and the whole family woke up and they prayed together. He cried as he told us what he felt. Then, as Hermana Gomez, the elders, and I checked in, President Gomez stayed back for a few minutes to talk to this brother personally and walk with his arm around him and listen to everything he wanted to say. I am so grateful for a mission president that is such an amazing example to us all.

As we sat in the waiting room, I couldn’t believe the experience we had had. Maybe this sounds wrong, but more than once in my mission I have looked up to incredibly talented missionaries and thought “Why are they HERE of all places? Why the jungle? Shouldn’t such talent be in a bigger, more important place??” Finally I understood. As I reflected on that experience, I remembered Hermana Gomez’s words in the Leadership training about how we shouldn’t see people how they are, but how they can become. These amazing talented missionaries are here because God sees what this place can become one day. These people want it so bad, and we are the only ones that can make it possible.

I also reflected a lot on a dream I had had that week. I was laying on the bed in President’s hotel room, where Hermana Gomez and I had gone to get cleaned up while President was doing interviews. While she was busy, I dreamed that I was running in St. George. I could feel the heat, my calves were hurting, I saw my parents drive by and honk. It was a perfect moment.  The run was so real that my heart started racing and I woke up to reality, me in a knee brace, and a whole lot of pain. I just wanted to cry. I felt so useless. So unable to do what I want to. Running? Heck, I can’t even Proselyte! I sometimes wonder if I will ever be whole again, if I will ever be worth something.

But, Hermana Gomez later told me a secret. I had always thought about how hard I have fought to stay on my mission, that I didn’t realize that I wasn’t fighting alone. She told me that, a month or so ago,
President received a call from the area saying that they had seen the medical reports and wanted to know why on earth Sister Simonson was still in the mission.  President firmly responded that I would be finishing my mission and that no one would convince me or him otherwise. Then with the latest knee news, they informed him that I should just go home with the sister that had to get back to school,
and he told them that he had a special assignment for me. I can’t believe how much he has helped me be here, and I don’t quite understand why.

The night before the training in Tarapoto, Hermana Gomez was putting her Presentation together and pulled up a familiar picture: a cat looking into a mirror, and seeing the reflection of a lion. I told her
that, when I was eight years old, I had written a story about that picture and won several awards for it. Now, that picture means more to me than ever. I finally understand why President has kept me here.  In my hardest moments, he didn’t see me for who I was, he saw me for who I could become.

Almost a year and a half ago, I was asked to direct Zone Conference there in that very building in Shilcayo, Tarapoto.  After two words, I gave up and started speaking in English.  I didn’t understand a word that was said, not that it mattered since I was too scared to put any of it to practice. I didn’t work or teach, I just followed Hermana Vasquez around.  I was the cat in that moment. I never, EVER would of thought that I would come to this moment. Travelling all over the mission training other leaders and other missionaries. I never saw what I could become.

I can’t believe how much I have grown. Hermana Gomez mentioned it in her training and asked Hermana Mayne (my adopted grandma in Tarapoto, the senior missionaries) how I was when I started
out and talked about how different I am.  I bumped into a few members and one of them looked at my face and my nametag and talked to me and said “you’re the same person, but you’re not the same! Your very voice is even different! You speak with confidence now!” 

I owe so much to this mission. Maybe I am half crippled and maybe I have struggled with my strength in so many ways, but I have been able to gain a new strength that will bless me for eternity. Maybe I will run once again. Maybe I will recover 100 percent one day. I sure believe it! But, I know that the Lord has a plan and that he just wants to keep molding that little kitten into the lion it might become.

Love- Hermana Simonson

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Whale

August 11, 2014

“Sometimes, the Lord brings us down low, just to lift us higher.” –Joseph Smith

It was one of the lowest moments of my mission. I don’t know how long I had been out for, but the muscle relaxer and the exhaustion that my knee pain caused me were enough to send me into a deep, deep sleep.

It was Wednesday afternoon.  My flight for Tuesday had been changed to Friday, but we’d already moved out of our house, so we were staying with my companion´s new companions in another part of Pucallpa. I was asleep on a mattress in the corner of the room, and awoke to see five other sister missionaries staring at me (it’s weird that that is even possible now, since back in my day I had to get on a plane to see other sisters).  

It was kind of like that moment where the parent gets old and the kids have to take care of them. At one point I was their leader, now I was kind of like a lifeless body sleeping in the corner. One of them had sat on the mattress next to me.  “How are you feeling?” she asked me. I responded that I was just dandy and she started to tell me how awesome she thinks it is that I am going to finish my mission and that she never would have thought that I had been through so much since I am always so happy.  I lost it.  

I don’t know if it was the pills, the tiredness, or the sum of all that has happened over the last few months, but I lost it completely and burst into tears in front of so many sisters that had thought I was so
strong for so long.  I’d never felt so down, and I was embarrassed by my uncontrollable tears.

Friday came at last. Normally, when I leave an area I try to make a point not to look back, to just look forward and see what comes next. But this time, as I walked out toward the plane, I felt a strong
impression that I needed to look back. I took my eyes off the airplane in front of me and looked back into the airport. There, standing in the big window on the second floor, I saw a line of white shirts and
missionary tags.  The Zone Leaders.  Elder Turley. Elder Muñoz. Elder Lancaster. All had come all the way to the airport to say goodbye to me. I smiled and waved back. Oh, how I would miss them!

On the plane, I noticed that someone behind me was talking in a strange foreign language.  I tuned in a little closer to see if I could figure out what it was. ENGLISH. Wow. Peru has done things to my
brain. Anyway, I started listening to what he was saying. He was explaining the Bible story of Jonah and the Whale.  Jonah tried to run away from the island where he was called to preach, and he was
swallowed up by a big fish and spat out on the island once again.

I couldn’t help but laugh. I was Jonah, and the airplane was the big fish sent to find me, swallow me up, and spit me back out on the island where I had always belonged. Let’s face it, I was meant to be
in Iquitos. I was there for more than half my mission, escaped for almost two months, and now I was headed back, but what I would be doing there was a mystery.  

I prayed that the Lord would help me accept His will concerning where I would be and what I would be doing. Long story short, everything turned out great. Two sisters picked me up and I asked if they were my companions and they told me that they didn’t know anything, other than the fact that I would be sleeping in their house at times. We left my bags and they took me to the offices and the Assistants explained what was up.

I am assigned to the Offices during the day to help them with some projects for President.  I am
going to spend the last month of my mission travelling with them all over the Jungle to give trainings to the other missionaries.  I am also in charge of writing a new manual for Sister Training Leaders and
doing visits with Hermana Gomez.  It’s a lot of work, but I am really enjoying it!

It is kind of strange.  President called a meeting and I found myself alone with just him and the Assistants.  He looked at them and asked if it was weird for them to have a female in the office
and I said that it was at least weird for me and we all laughed.  It’s funny to me how the assistants keep coming up and asking me for help, or asking for my opinion.  They’re both from the States, so we form a funny Gringo Team and I’m sharpening up my English! (Maybe now it won’t seem like a strange foreign language.) We were working on getting the book I did but together and President came up behind us and asked if he could speak in English with us too.

My first day in the offices, I was praying to be able to feel comfort (I was still a little heartbroken about everything) and before I knew it I looked up to see Elder Avila, the one from Guatemala that was my
Zone Leader in Iquitos that had helped me so much.  He sat down and we talked for awhile and he smiled and said “You know what? It feels like you never even left!”  Elder Avila, Elder Belnap, Elder Muñoz, Hermana Ventura, and Hermana Allphin had kind of formed a team that helped me through my Anxiety and Depression and seeing any one of them always helps me a bunch.

I also had a great opportunity to serve as a Translator this week! A group of Medical Students from Michigan State was here doing a mission trip but could not understand the people they were attending.  We were waiting outside of the Hospital to go in and Elder Avila said “Here it
comes. 3..2..1…” and I heard a rather familiar scream and turned to see Hermana Price running at me.  I screamed, too. It’s been almost a year since we’ve seen each other.  We were put together as Translators and it was a blast.

Anyway, maybe I’m not out proselyting like I’d like to be, but I have been able to find a purpose here. I think I already mentioned once about how, months ago, Elder Avila and Elder Belnap taught me that we need to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands…but that doesn’t mean that we need to be a hammer just pounding and pounding and working and working all the time in the same thing.  He needs a specialized instrument that can serve a special purpose…and now I feel like I’ve found mine.

I don't blame Jonah. There have been times where I've wanted to run away as well. Maybe I've never done it physically, but mentally and emotionally...well, I might have done it a time or two. But, I know
that letting myself get "spit back" again and again has been really important in my personal growth and will help me keep figuring out just what tool I need to be :)

Love- Hermana Simonson