Monday, July 29, 2013

Recklessly Love Them, Even If I Bleed

July 29, 2013

Hola Familia! (and anyone else reading this!)

Well, I'm not sure if I've gone crazy, am subconsciously extremely homesick and seeing figments of my imagination, or have just forgotten what white people look like, but this week I saw Peruvian versions of Dad, Grandma Phillips, Bishop Matheson, Dustin Jackson, John Powell, Kilisi, Keila, and Uncle Bob. I swear I thought it was them each time...and then I realized they were Latinos...yup, crazy it is!

Well, it's official. ALEX WAS BAPTIZED SATURDAY NIGHT!!! I can't even express my joy. The Familia Amasifuen is super great and helps us so much, but they were in so much pain when I got here because their oldest daughter is living in Lima, their son doesn't want to serve a mission, and their other daughter is "pregnant thanks to some punk kid." Well, as I had the opportunity to work with this "punk kid" I have seen so much light brought to this family.

Edwin Amasifuen was so happy to see Alex and Alexia get married, and was almost in tears as he Baptized Alex, his son in law who is not at all just some "punk kid" anymore. He is a new person. And, while all of this was happening, it turns out that the "Missionary Excitement" as we taught Alex and watched him change his life animated Junior and he has started his mission papers!!! It is so amazing to see what missionary work does. The Baptism brought just about every one to tears.

Honestly, my other Baptisms came pretty easily, but Alex was a different story and it just made this day so special. Saturday was super amazing as Peru celebrated the opening of it's 100th Stake of La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Ùltimos Días, Alex was Baptized, and I completed 4 months in the Mission!! I was so happy that I didn't even care that the members kept telling me how fat I'm getting. Yes, the people here are VERY open about these things and don't understand how it could be an insult. I'm learning to just go with it! Plus, I'll be honest. It's kind of true. I'm going to have to run A LOT when I get home.

Yesterday was one of those days that was super great, but at the same time almost killed me. The four of us me, Hna Alvear, Elder Burleson, and Elder Lopez, always eat lunch in houses of the members, but they try to keep us with the less poor people. Basically, there's like an unwritten rule that we only eat in the houses (I don't think I would have called them houses 4 monthes ago...) and never in the huts. We always teach in the huts, but never ear there.

Well, something happened yesterday where we didn't have a lunch appointment and this one member heard Edwin talking and jumped on it and asked if we could eat with him. He was super animated to bring us to his house after the meetings and he drove us in his motocar to where he lived in a tiny little hut. His wife was already working super hard cooking for us and his sweet little girl saw us and put her hands on her cheeks and ran up to kiss me. The only had a few seats, which they offered us while they stood or sat on the dirt floor.

After we ate, the brother said he'd drive the Elders home first and then return for us and asked if we'd share a little something with his wife because she wasn't in church today because she was home with their sick baby. We started sharing a talk from conference that we were reading in Relief Society and as we talked about the light of the Gospel she just began to cry and at first wouldn't explain what was wrong but after a moment she shared with us that they'd been robbed the day before of what little things they had and that she didn't know how she was going to feed her kids and her husband can't work as much as he'd like because their generator isn't working and he's a carpenter and can't work without light.

Oh, how my heart broke! They had just fed us this beautiful meal and still aren't sure how they're going to eat. More than that, they ASKED us to come eat with them. 

When the husband returned, he was slightly embarrassed to see that we knew what had happened and we just promised him blessings for his help and obedience and after he dropped us off at our house, he told us "The blessings already started to come. I had the missionaries in my house today. I finally got to share my food with angels from God."

I don't understand how these people have so much love and faith. It's funny, this week I started noticing that it literally hurts me to love these people and I was trying to figure out why it hurts so much. I literally feel pained with certain people and I have tried to hold back this love. Well, as I thought about why it was so hard to let myself love them, I realized a few reasons:

1. I knew that any moment, that phone could ring with an emergency transfer.
2. I knew that these people will never, ever have the life that I've had.
3. There's always a chance that these people won’t accept the true Gospel.
4. My mission is not permanent.
5. I watch them suffer

But, I also remembered some of my favorite song lyrics...I'd type them if I had time, but you should look them up. All of Me by Matt Hammit!

I just realized that it hurts to love, but I am not going to help them if I don't love them with everything that I have. I will say a lot of goodbyes and I will watch these people suffer, but I can't "give them half my heart and pray it makes them whole." I won't help them if I won't just let myself be brave and love with ALL that I have.

That being said, people always say that after a super special, hard Baptism, we end up leaving an area because we've completed are work there. After Alex's Baptism, the Elders all started telling me that they're sure I'm leaving this area in the next transfer. Wow, I sure hope not! I would serve my whole mission here if I could! People keep looking at me excitedly saying "Maybe you'll get to serve in Iquitos!!!" and I just want to explain that I'm perfectly happy here in the "hardest area."

But, funny story, it turns out that I'm already famous in Iquitos because, long story short, when I was there for a few days one of the Bishops had 3 letters from "the church" that were in English and he asked me to translate so that he could read them in Sacrament. I started reading, but it turns out it was a bunch of Apostasy from the FLDS church and in a moment of frustration I ripped the papers to shreds and shouted "Este es Apostasia!" The Bishop thought it was hilarious and started telling everyone and apparently now they all want to meet me.....oh dear. Hahahaha.

Well, the work is moving forward, I'm becoming a better person, and I'm learned how to really love. I've never had so many hard times in my life. There's a lot more rejection than acceptance and failure than success, but the few little successes make all the rejection more than worth it. Solo tengo que seguir adelante!

Love you all so much and keep you in my prayers all the time. 4 months down, 14 to go!!!

Love Always,

Hermana Simonson

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Wedding That Almost Killed Me!

July 22, 2013

Wow, things sure can change fast! Hermana Vasquez was sent to Pulcalpa Tuesday Morning. I didn't realize how hard it would be to see her off in the airport. It was like one of those typical end of movie things where you just remember everything you've been through together and somehow even the bad parts are touching. It is hard to say goodbye to someone that helped me so much. I sent her off, and while I was in the Motokar on my way back to clean our house before my new companion arrived, my phone rang and Hermana Vasquez informed me that she already missed me. She was talking like a typical mother "Clean the house well to make a good impression, update the area book, don't forget our recent converts, send me pictures, and Gringa...please, please don't let anyone push you around. I don't care that you're a 19-year-old American. You know what you're doing." 

My new companion is Hermana Alvear, Hermana Price's old companion. We have a 7 year age difference, and about a 20 year energy difference. She always asks me if she can "Rest her eyes for like 5 minutes before we head out." She's also really afraid of heights, which wasn't a problem in Iquitos, but here she is sure she'll die. Needless to say, I have to hold her hand whenever we have to climb or cross a river. But really, I think we balance each other out well because she's really good with the paperwork and preparing details, and I'm good with the leaving and working stuff.

Well, Ericka was married and baptized this week!!! It was awesome, but, I'll be honest, the wedding almost killed me. There's quite a bit more stress when I can't hide behind my trainer anymore. The night before the wedding, Ericka informed us that her husband didn't know that she would be baptized the day after the wedding. WHAT?? We had permission to teach her and sometimes he even joined us in lessons (politely saying that he is not at all interested and please don't ask). She was nervous to tell him, but our District Leader gave her a blessing and then she left telling us that she was really to talk to him and she felt at peace. 

Well, after that stress was gone, it turned out that her Branch hadn't done a single thing to prepare for the wedding, so I was on the phone, visiting houses, and almost dying of stress all day long. This was our first wedding with this Branch and the Elders serving there hadn't done a single thing. Well, as always, in the end everything turned out okay. Although things didn't fall into place until an hour before the ceremony, things fell into place. God sure loves to try our faith and patience!

The Baptism was beautiful as well. She was super emotional and came out of the water and hugged me and cried and thanked me for everything. It's funny how they always do that, because in reality, we don't do much as missionaries, we just open our mouths and love. I really just love this woman to death and it was so satisfying to see her Baptism, and, best of all, her husband ended up telling us that "He won't be too far behind her."

AHHH! So great. Sometimes it just takes one person, like Ericka, that is brave enough to set an example. Her daughter, who was Baptized just before I got here, was thrilled to watch her mom be Baptized. She's only 11, but she told me how happy she's been watching us teach her mom and that she wants to be a missionary one day too! :)

Alex had his interview with our Mission President this week. We were nervous to hear what President thought of his repentance, but I just kept thinking "I KNOW he's changed. I have SEEN it with my own eyes. He has to pass!" Well, Alex left the room and our President was in there just smiling with a big thumbs up. I just immediately took off sprinting (my poor companion, this was in her first half hour with me) to find his wife Alexia and his in-laws Tania and Edwin (our Branch Mission Leader). We rejoiced, and rejoiced, and rejoiced. We are planning his Baptism for this week!

We taught him again last night and invited him to prepare to receive the Aaronic Priesthood the day after his Baptism. I felt inspired to ask Alexia how she felt knowing that, after all that has happened these last few months, her Husband would have the Priesthood. She just started to cry and cry and talk about how proud she was of him and how much he changed and that after she got pregnant she never thought she'd have a good "Gospel Life" but now here she is married to a future Priesthood holder. The two just cried and held each other and Alex looked at me and just said "Thank you. Thank you. I really am different." Ya, I'm sure you can guess I cried quite a bit as well! I can't wait for his Baptism. It is amazing to see the light in Alex's face.

Things have been crazy because I am officially that "Oldest" Missionary of the four of us in the Branch. It's kind of unreal when people are coming to me to ask where things are our who they can call. I just love these people. I was asked at the last minute to give another talk in Sacrament and I talked about God's promise to Ammon and the importance of faith and patience. While I was talking, I realized that Hermana Melis, a sister in the ward that comes off quite intimidating, was avidly taking notes and following along in the scriptures, and then out of nowhere she just broke down in tears. She came up to me after just crying and told me how I'd answered her prayers. It was such a great feeling. I don't understand why the people look at me and love me the way that they do.

In one of the Sacrament talks last week, a sister was talking about the way the Gospel brings light and she said "For example, look at Hermana Simonson. Look at the light and energy she has and the way she brings us relief. The way that she teaches all day long without resting. This is the light of the Gospel." Wow, this really made me think twice about how I'm acting and made me want to make sure that I really was bringing them relief and really was working without resting.

I am stoked for this week, especially this Baptism!! This work is so great, but I wish I could just send this message to the whole world: THE WORK IS NOT YET DONE. Not even close. So many people think that there are so many missionaries in the field and that everything is perfect. They even think that one person can't make a difference. This work still has a long way to go.

My heart broke when I taught some of Ericka's relatives and we invited them to pray to know it that it's true and the husband said, "I will pray, but I already know that it is true. I can feel it. I know this isn't the first time I've heard these things, I knew them before I came to earth." Well, guess what? The church doesn't exist where he lives. Here is a child of God, ready and prepared, without the opportunity to go to church in his city. And, the RUSH of sisters? It's still not enough. We had to shut down one area this transfer because we are short one sister. I can't remember if I told you this already, but if I hadn't arrived exactly when I did, they also would have had to shut down the area where I'm serving, just because of being short ONE person.

ONE PERSON can make a difference in the mission field, and in the world. Keep praying for even MORE missionaries. They're needed!!!

Love and miss you all!!!

Love Always,

Hermana Simonson

Hermana Simonson and Erika at Erika's baptism

Stalin (Erika's husband), Erika, Hermana Simonson, & Hermana Alvear

Monday, July 15, 2013

Exploding Angels

July 15, 2013

So, I realized that I forgot to tell you guys about our funny little experience two or three weeks ago.

First, I have to explain the culture here with the missionaries. They LOVE us. When I was told that my first area would be Tarapoto, I was also told that it is the hardest area in the mission, and that the people rely on the missionaries. They told me that we're the rock of the church here. Well, I quickly found out the truth of this. The people really need us because the church here is new and small and needs a lot of help. Because of this, they just love us...and love us...and LOVE US.  It's beautiful really.

You know how there's almost always the stereotypical testimony lines: I know the church is true, I know Joseph Smith was a Prophet, I know Thomas S. Monson is a prophet, ect.? Here, almost every testimony shared includes the line "I know that missionaries are angels sent from God." It's really great, and really humbling.

Well, when we had our Branch Conference a few weeks ago, the District President was talking about, as always, what they can do to help their missionaries. He was chastising them saying "As a Branch, we need to come together and start giving more thanks to God for the four blessed missionaries that we have here. We cannot allow that these angels starve. When we share food with them, we serve God. Why are we allowing them to starve right now??"

Okay, I've really never been starving. We always have appointments to eat lunch with members, and we eat breakfast and dinner in the house. But, after this talk, the whole Branch is sure that we're dying of starvation. Well, might I just add that another cultural thing here is that one of the biggest insults in the world is to reject food when someone offers you. So, I'm sure you can guess what I've been doing since this talk....eating, and eating, and eating a little bit more. Sometimes I swear I'm going to explode!

Our funniest experience ever was this week. There is a food-type thing here and it's literal translation is "Juice of purple corn, more solid." It is like a warm, super thick Jello-type substance made from purple corn, with little pieces of corn and potato in it. This sister offered us a cup and, as always, I choked it down with a smile. Well, little did I know she was going to bring me out FIVE MORE! It was crazy and hilarious. I thought I would explode!

Another brother had a bunch of leftover cake from a birthday and he gave us each a HUGE slice. I ate it happily, and when he saw how happy I was he went into the kitchen to get more. While he was in the kitchen, my companion looked at me with a panic and told me she was sick to her stomach and couldn't eat it. She started whispering "Eat Gringa, eat, eat eat!" So, I somehow downed her slice in about two minutes. Then, the Brother returned with my plate that had 3 more HUGE slices of this cake. It was super rich and I thought I would puke...and then he brought us out two cups each of hot chocolate milk. The second we left we just burst out laughing and I thought I would puke, but I kept it down.

Well, aside from these funny experiences, I've had a couple rough, eye-opening experiences this week as well. I really thought that Saturday would do me in. 

Hermana Jianae is a recent convert in the Branch and she is just so amazing. Well, this week she was robbed of just about everything. We showed up at her house to visit her and she was just sobbing and sobbing. She had nothing to eat. It turned out one of our Investigators was doing a fundraiser for her wedding this week and was selling chicken, so we decided to bring out plates to Hermana Jianae for her and her son to eat. Walking into her house almost killed me as they were getting ready to eat and I saw what they were about to eat..some sort of mixture of things that I'm sure she found in the yard. The look on her son's face seriously could have killed me. He was sitting there with a sad, but brave look on his face because, even at six years old, he knew that he had no other choice. He was so incredibly grateful when we came in. It was so hard to look at him and think Wow, at six years old, I was crying if my hamburger had onions on it.

Then, 5 minutes before one of our investigators had her Baptismal interview, she decided to tell us that she lied to us and that she's actually does have a boyfriend, she is living with him, and he's a returned missionary and she was scared to tell us that because he didn't want the church to find out what he was doing. I basically had a full on panic attack. On the outside I was keeping my cool, sharing scriptures, and helping her work through her options, but inside I was dying. Then, it turned out in her interview that there was another little surprise in her interview and she will have to wait until she can have an interview with our Mission President to be Baptized.

Then, we went to visit one of our new (and one of my favorites) investigators, who was super silent and finally said, "Hermanas, I just found out that my cousin might be able to help me find work in Lima, but I have to leave tomorrow." All we could do was pass his name on to the missionaries there.

Then, we went to visit one of our less active families that we've been working with that has really been showing progress, and the kids answered the door. When we asked for their dad, they informed us that he was "Extremely drunk." After three years sober, something had set him off that day. We have no idea where this could go, he was doing so well.

But, after everything that I've learned, the most important thing is that, as I was told, I am part of the ROCK of these people. When all these things are happening and all I want to do is break down and cry, I have realized that I have to just pray for help to be constant. I have to be the exact same person that I would be if everything was absolutely perfect.

It is hard to have the people rely on me so much, but it really is an honor and it is all worth it because I KNOW I can make a difference. I know it. After all, that's why I'm here! Despite everything, I am happy. I am constant.

Hermana Simonson

Monday, July 8, 2013

Guinea Pig is NOT a Myth!

Meg wants everyone to know that she hasn't been ignoring you.  If you have been writing her, she just got her very first delivery of pouch mail (on July 4th) since she has been in Peru.  She said to tell all of you THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR WRITING, and that she will respond as soon as she has time.  Oh, and to Grandpa and Grandma Phillips, she said she got her package that day and it was such a blessing to her because she was feeling so bummed about not being able to celebrate the 4th of July and getting your package was just what she needed! It really means a lot to her that so many people are thinking about her and writing to her.  Thanks again!
July 8, 2013

Well, I finally got to fly out to see Iquitos! I'll be honest, it was a slight disappointment. Not that Iquitos was the disappointment, but that I was in the central, city part and I didn't get to see a single river or straw house.

The biggest disappointment was Wednesday when the assistants were assigning who would work with who while the Sister Leaders were in the conference and Elder Uribe said that Hermana Simonson would be working with Hermana Price. I was SO excited...until her companion shot a dirty look and asked him if he was sure. So, they changed us and I went to work with other sisters. Oh well, I'm sure we'll gain some trust soon enough. 

All the pain and stress from my numbers disappeared in Zone Council this week. We were being eaten alive because we weren't getting the most references or teaching the most lessons, but guess what. Out of the 16 people in the zone, my companion and I made up almost one third of the total Baptisms this month. What? The majority had either 0 or 1. I finally decided that so what if the other numbers aren't as good as everyone’s, we had the most of the numbers that are most important.

The Elders were all dumbfounded and did not understand what had happened. They complained that it made no sense because their numbers were so great so naturally their Baptisms should be great. For the first time, I finally opened my mouth and explained what my companion and I had learned. The problem is that as a zone, we were focusing on the numbers of that day.  We were thinking "Wow, this person needs help, but our numbers for new investigators are low so we're going to go knock on some doors." Then, that person decides not to be baptized because they didn't receive help when they needed it. As a zone, we made a goal to focus on the people more than the numbers, and in one week, we've already seen a difference.

I had to teach Relief Society this week, and it actually went pretty well. I just love to talk about the Gospel. It doesn't matter if it's in English or Spanish, in church or in someone's home, I just LOVE to share my Testimony.

My biggest Testimony builder this week is the way that the Gospel literally changes lives. It is so amazing to watch. I love watching Alex and the way that he has changed. When we first met, he just came off as some punk kid. His girlfriend dragged him to church in his jeans and baseball cap and he didn't say a word to anyone. When we first started teaching, he didn't understand a thing.

Now, I swear that kid is a different person. In the month or so that we've worked with him, he's gotten married, started loving church, understands everything, and is excited for his Baptism. He now shows up to church every week in his shirt and tie and sits holding his wife’s hand. I don't know how to describe it, but his face is LITERALLY different. He looks different. It's insane. He is not the same boy that we found a month or two ago. I hope that after his interview with the Mission President everything will be okay for him to be baptized.

THIS is why I am here. I'm not here to get people to come to church. I am here to help CHANGE people and change their lives. This work is so special, so amazing. God can take some punk kid and turn him into a Gospel Man. He can even take some spoiled little girl from Utah, and somehow turn her into a Jungle-dwelling Missionary. I am just so incredibly happy.

I miss you, but I know I'm where I belong for 15 more months.

Love Always,

Hermana Simonson

Monday, July 1, 2013


July 1, 2013

Hola Familia!

I hope you enjoy the pictures! They take a while to send so I am not left with a whole lot of time to write, but I am going to start sending a picture with every letter each week so I won't have to take time to send a whole bunch at once!

I am officially in LA MISION PERÚ IQUITOS!!!!!! Our new President got to Iquitos Saturday night and we have officially been split. I am so ridiculously happy. I just remember how sad I was when I was back home and found out that the mission would split. Do you remember me telling you over and over again "I have to serve in the Iquitos Mission!!"? I could just feel the jungle calling to me and I finally know why. It's because it's where I belonged the whole time. I know that God had always planned on me getting reassigned to this mission.

One of the perks of having a Sister Leader as a companion is that TOMORROW WE'RE FLYING OUT TO IQUITOS to meet the new President! I am stoked. I get to FINALLY see Iquitos and spend a couple days there. AND, I get to see Hermana Price. Life is great!

This week was a little hard as my new District is basically ripping at the seams with contention. It's just not the same without Elder Turley and Elder Gondara. Our Leader is very frustrated with us because, aside from our two Baptisms, our numbers are pretty low. We call twice a week to give our District Leader our numbers from our "Key Indicators", and on Wednesday after I hung up I was practically in tears (getting chewed out in Spanish is even worse than English!) because he was so disappointed and angry with us. It made me feel like I'm not doing a whole lot.

I was totally heartbroken as I laid down for the night and I was praying for comfort when I looked around my room and so a whole bunch of other Key Indicators: The dirt covering my body, my fancy mission-specific shoes that are already wearing out, my well-worn scriptures, stacks of papers on our desk, how exhausted I felt, and all these other things. I suddenly felt at peace knowing that Heavenly Father understands exactly how hard I am trying and how much I am exerting myself. It's not my fault that sometimes Plans A-D fail or that sometimes people don't want to progress.

Heavenly Father is measuring my effort more than my numbers and the important thing is that I'm doing the best I can with an honest heart. I know that Heavenly Father is not disappointed with me at all! I can feel His love for me.

         Ximena's Baptism!!! This was on Saturday and it was so great. She was Baptized by a close friend of hers.

Angela's Baptism!!!! Wow. Words cannot describe the joy that I felt as she enters the water with the biggest smile in the world. My first "complete" baptism as I have been with her since day one. I have also had the opportunity to teach her by myself doing splits with members. I had the most peaceful feeling as she entered the water just knowing that she was truly converted and that she will be strong and faithful. We both cried together and she shared the most beautiful Testimony. "If you shall bring save it be one soul to God, how great shall be your joy!"

Angela entering the water with our friend Elder Villacrés. Such a poignant moment for me. She started up the stairs, then turned around and hugged me and kissed my cheek, and then headed back up to enter into this sacred covenant.

One of the couples that we married last week. Luzclarita and her husband Thoontiler. Luz was Baptized the following day. We visited her this week and it was so incredible to view the change in her. She is literally glowing with a different light and I had the best feeling seeing who she is. She bore testimony that she has never been so happy in her whole life. A few months ago, her and her husband were just two teenagers living together with their baby. Now, they're a real family and are active in the church and I can't express the joy that I feel knowing that, in some little way, I am a part of that.

 The other couple that we married. Alex and Alexia. Alexia is the daughter of our ward mission leader and is pregnant with Alex's child, you can imagine what a relief this marriage was for her father! Alexia has been meeting with the Branch President, and we are preparing Alex for Baptism right now. It's so amazing to see the changes they're making!

 My daily hike! Yes, proof that I am in the real jungle. Try doing this in a dress just about 20 times a day with 98% humidity!

 The 1900's haven't hit the Jungle one smiles in photos. This was my first lesson without my companion! I did this FHE with Angela, her Aunt (member), her neighbors, and some other friends and family members. After the Baptism, her family came up to us crying saying "Please don't forget about us just because Angelita is Baptized." I promised them we wouldn't...Angela's mom just happens to not be a member...yet! We plan on visiting her ASAP.

 A little part of my area! So gorgeous. LOVE THE JUNGLE!!!

Love Always,

Hermana Simonson