Monday, November 25, 2013

The First Mile Race

Well, it’s a good thing that I wrote all about loving this work last Monday morning, because Monday afternoon and the week that followed were almost enough to change my mind! Okay, I don’t think I could change my mind, but it was a really hard week. Last week I forgot to mention (because I completely doubted that it applied to me) that it was a Transfer Day. After Internet, we went to the Offices and got together as a zone to hear the Transfers. We did the typical transfer game and I wasn’t even going to stand up to play because I had just been transferred last time.  I played anyway and they narrowed it down to the fact that it was a Hermana. Hermana Dickey instantly started crying knowing that one of the two of us was going and I was really confused. Then they said that this Hermana had a Batman Shirt. What? “Hermana Simonson!!!!! Have your bags packed and be in the offices tomorrow at 6am!”
                I went up to Elder Cruz after (the one that has been my Zone Leader my whole mission) and said, “Well, after all this time, here’s my last receipt I’ll ever give you.” He started laughing and said “I don’t think so, Hermana, the cambios son locos.” And laughed hysterically.  I got the hint that I was getting changed from my area, but not from my zone. Then my heart started beating rapidly as I realized that there weren’t any more areas in the zone that I could be sent to. I went into mini-shock as reality hit me that I was to open a new area. Again. I thought of everything that I went through these last 6 weeks. Opening an area is like Mile 1 of a race. You have to get out fast to get started. After that, it’s not that you really slow down, it’s just that you get into a groove and start pacing yourself and picking them off one by one.  With opening an area, you have to “get out fast” and give everything you absolutely have to find people to teach since you’re starting from nothing, win the confidence of the members, get yourself a place to live, find someone to give you food and laundry, and so on. After the first transfer, you’re a little more established and you keep working hard, but you have your place. Learning I was going to open another area seriously just about did me in.
                As I was up all night packing my bags, I knelt down to pray. I was still exhausted—sick from my Malaria Scare—and just not up for the challenge. I cried out with all my heart. “Heavenly Father, PLEASE don’t make me open another area. I just barely got things going here. I am exhausted. I am sick. I have no more strength. PLEASE just cut me a break.” A few hours later, I was at the Offices again and they announced where our transfers were to.  Sure enough, Hermana Simonson was opening another area. And training. More than enough stress and responsibility….or so I thought. Elder Cruz came up to me again, looking overly excited, and asking me if I had been given my assignment. I responded that I would be training and opening an area. He then asked about my OTHER assignment and I just about died. I laughed and said “There’s not possibly anything more I could have to do.” He laughed, walked away, and came back and handed me a binder that says “Hermana Simonson: SISTER TRAINING LEADER.” And made a comment about how much fun we’d have sitting together in Leadership Councils.
                Normally I’d be up for this kind of leadership position, but this week was different. I didn’t need anything else on my shoulders. I wanted to cry. Sister Training leader is like a Female Zone Leader, but it’s a solo calling, your companion doesn't help you. And, instead of being over one zone, I’m over two. And, it’s a mission-long calling which means ten months of this thing. I was done. I couldn’t handle one more thing.
                As the day went on, I received my new companion, Hermana Hernandez from Chihuahua Mexico (she knows Elder Kyler Brinkerhoff!!). She’s a new convert to the church and has a lot of faith. She has been my reality that I actually don’t speak Spanish. At all. I speak flat out Peruvian. I don’t understand her too well and she doesn’t always understand me. Some of the members ask me to translate for her because it’s a completely different dialect.  Anyway, she flew in and got here late at night, and then we realized something. We don’t have a house yet.  Okay, there was a house but we didn’t have keys to it. Or beds there to sleep in. Long story short, we slept in the mission home which was actually okay because it has air conditioning AND hot water. Two things I haven’t even thought about for months. It was awesome. I didn’t have clothes to wear, so Hermana Gomez and President Gomez found some of their daughter’s old clothes to put on for Zone Conference.
                The week passed by slow and rough. The mission has been big on stress relief and gave us calendars to track our stress and books on how to take care of it. Our zone leaders, Elder Cruz and Elder Truman, came by to check on us one morning and saw my calendar that was filled with orange and red and asked if I was okay. Being me, I just laughed and said something about how it was a joke and that I was really fine. I was a lying missionary for a moment. A couple more days passed and I was so filled with stress and anxiety that I finally woke up on morning and asked my District Leader (although he’s been the cause of lots of my stress), Elder Muñoz, to come give me a blessing. He came over and I expected him to just give the blessing and go, but he came in and sat on the floor in front of me (we don’t have stools in our house quite yet) and looked up at me and said “tell me everything.” 
He listened well, and then pulled out a book and read off the signs of Anxiety and asked me if I had been feeling those things and I told him that it was right on. He asked me a lot of questions about my personal prayers and my journal writing. He told me to put up pictures on my walls and told us to take an hour off that day to try to put our room together and get unpacked since we’d been living out of suitcases all week. He asked me if he wanted me to give me the blessing or if it would be better to have his new companion, Elder Scott, do it since he can speak English.
 I decided it would be good to hear my native tongue and asked his companion to give the blessing. He had not understood a single thing that had been said so I explained the situation again in English and he was super excited, it was his first blessing. It turns out that he had been feeling down because he hasn’t been able to do much because of his Spanish, and giving me a blessing was the first time he really felt like a missionary and felt like he could make a difference. It was really cool. He saw me later that day and was super excited to ask if I felt better.
                Okay, side-note about Elder Scott. He is Jake Powell the second. It freaks me out. I swear they are twins. I was feeling super De Ja Vu after he gave me the blessing and then I finally figured out why when I made the connection. Glasses, hair, everything the same!  My companion saw my farewell pictures and asked me why Elder Scott was at my farewell. So funny. But, so creepy.
                Anyway, this week was a great week for me to see the healing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ work in my own life as I faced “the first mile” all over again. I know that I can do it. I realized at last that it’s never the task that we fear: it’s our personal ability to complete that task. That’s why I finally realized that the key is to take the “me” part out of it. I’ve never done anything in this work and I never will. It’s the Savior’s work and if I just forget my part and focus on what the Savior can do in this new area if I just live worthily to have His Spirit, the stress goes away and I know without a doubt that Hermana Hernandez and I, working as the hands of the Lord, will be witnessing miracles together for these next six weeks.
 In zone conference, Hermana Gomez read out loud a letter that I had written to our President a few weeks ago explaining how crazy I thought he was when I first got sent to Internacional with Hermana Dickey, but testifying about how I knew that it was where we belonged and about the miracles we’d seen. I know that this new area with Hermana Hernandez won’t be any different.

Love Always,

Hermana Simonson

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Close Call

November 18, 2013

Okay, first things first. I love this work. A TON. But, that doesn't mean that there aren't times when I just want to throw my hands up in the air and scream at the heavens, "What else do you want to throw at me????"

I told you last week that we had been in the hospital again, like almost every other week. Was these week and exception? No, not at all!  It was my turn this week. I woke up really sick Saturday morning with a fever of about 101, so our District Leader came over to give me a blessing and I thought I was just going to try to be tough and faithful and get through with just that. But, I was in a lot of pain and was unable to leave the apartment.

At five o’ clock that afternoon I was getting ready to go to our baptism, but ended up with a fever of almost 104 degrees and so they sent me to the hospital on emergency. The doctor made me pull up my shirt and he didn't even have to touch me with his had to feel my heat and he told me that it was either Dengue or Malaria and instantly put an IV in me. I don't know what was in that IV but it was pretty strong because my companion somehow ended up with a video of me laying in the hospital (yes, I was wearing my Batman shirt), and singing When You Were Mine by the Dixie Chicks. Don't ask. I don't know why either. But it still wasn't as bad as when I got my wisdom teeth out, although I was saying some of the same things (like I said, some feelings just don't go away!).

Anyway, I was poked and prodded and in the end I didn't have Dengue or that's good! They never found out what it was but they got my fever down enough to send me back to the apartment and the fever hasn't come back, so that's a relief. Whatever it is, I know that I'll be fine. That's the important part.

But I'll be honest, sitting there thinking I had one of those diseases and thinking of all of the other things I've been through were just about it for me. They put me in a member's house for the morning to keep an eye on me so my companion could work and I remember hearing her working in the kitchen while I slept and I felt her come over to put her hand on my head and I just so badly wanted those noises and that hand to have been from my mom.

When hands were put on my head, I would have done anything to have those hands be from my Dad or to hear my full name like it really is and not with a very confused Chileno accent. I've been really focused on this work, but I was definitely homesick while I wasn't feeling well. I guess I'm always just going to be your little girl at heart.

As I thought about giving up, The Spirit hit me so strong reminding me of everything I went through to get here and how those things would go to waste if I didn't finish what I started. I'm almost halfway there, how can I quit now? More than anything, I remembered how much I love this work. Even as I struggle sometimes, I know it is worth it. There is nothing else in my world right now that is more worth it. So, I'm sure you can imagine what I did to get my thoughts out, and here it is:

Love This Work

I sold my very first apartment
And hung up my running shoes,
Then put my studies to an end,
Because I thought I'd love this work.

I looked into dozens of tear-filled eyes
From my family, parents, and friends,
Yet bravely I said those hard goodbyes
Because I thought I might love this work.

Six weeks passed in that same small room,
With studies and work and tears,
But each of us kept pushing through
With faith we could grow to love this work.

Then my plane hit ground in a foreign land
And I realized how little I knew
I prayed with tears for my Father's hand
To teach me to love this work

And here I am now everyday,
Facing the Jungle rain and sun,
But my Dear Savior shows me the way
And helps me to love His work.

Daily doors closed in my face
With the weight of the world on my back
A burning fire to embrace
But I still love this work.

They can tell me that I'm wrong
And voo-doo men can curse me
I can work for hours under a jungle sun,
But I still love this work.

I think I've faced it all by now
From parasites to sickness to fleas
Shower from a bucket--I sure know how,
But I still love this work.

I've met with people who live in shacks,
And sat hours with them on their dirt floor,
I've been eight months without a second to relax
But I still love this work.

I drink my daily purple-corn juice
And have chicken and rice for every meal
I eaten fish heads and chicken feet and tortoise too
But I still love this work.

I've watched Satan destroy people and families,
And felt failure beyond belief
Passed Sundays in the Chapel with nobody,
But I still love this work.


Because I've seen lives and worlds change
Through miracles I can't describe
I've shouted for joy that I couldn't contain,
That's why I love this work.

I've learned to speak a foreign tongue,
And felt love so pure it burns
I've watched weak little me learn to be strong,
That's why I love this work.

I've knocked on doors that swiftly opened
With smiles asking me what took so long
Tired smiles have changed to light-filled grins,
That's why I love this work.

I've heard people pray for their very first time,
And somehow answered the questions in their souls,
Seen men put on their very first tie
That's why I love this work.

I've seen how charity can change a life
And how Priesthood Power can save one.
Watched people endure through pain and strife
That's why I love this work.

I've heard the sound of water flowing,
As people I love get dressed in white
I watch them through this process of growing
That's why I love this work.

I've felt my Savior's love for me
And felt His love for others
I've found out who we all can be
That's why I love this work.

And sure it can be hard at times
As I pass through things I don't understand
But I've smiled more than I have cried
That's why I love this work.

I know that here won't last long
But these changes last forever
God's love is a never-ending song
And I will ALWAYS love this work.

Sometimes in life we just have to take a step back and focus on the good things. I was starting to think that God was sending me this overwhelming amount of trials and responsibility to do me in or to punish me, but I finally understand it is because he loves and trusts me.  

It gets hard, but it doesn't have to be a close call to calling it quits.  "I can do all things, through Christ that strengthens me."

Love Always,

Hermana Simonson

Monday, November 11, 2013

Violins in the Jungle

November 11, 2013

Hola Familia!

We had such a beautiful experience this week as Juan (the young man from the story last week when we had to work hard to get his dad's permission) was baptized Saturday night in one of the most beautiful Baptismal Services I've ever seen.

Musical talent is really, really hard to find here as the majority of people have only ever seen a guitar, but there is one family in our ward that sings and plays piano and guitar, and I just happened to open my mouth and say that I played the violin when I was younger and in that very second the Brother whipped out a phone and called a friend asking for him to lend him a violin and next thing we know the Baptismal number featured Hermana Dickey on the piano, this family on guitar and singing, and me playing the violin. I was really nervous about how it would turn out but it was just like getting back on a bike! My fingers seemed to move so naturally it was like they were coming back to their original home. The people loved it and were asking me how I found a guitar so small that I could put it on my funny!

The message of the song was the most important part. I don't know if you've ever heard the story about two friends in the pre-mortal life and one finds out his parents will be members and the other wouldn't be born into the church and as they left their Heavenly Father's presence, the friend promised to find him and bring him the Gospel in his life. It makes me cry every time! This song was made from this story and it brought such a special Spirit about the Work of Salvation.

Juan was thrilled and was so ready to get into that font. It's been such an amazing experience with him. Almost a month ago, we knocked on his door and explained who we were, and he told us he thought we were never going to come and instantly accepted the message of the Restored Gospel. He has one year until he will turn 18, and he is already taking mission prep classes and talks about how he wants to be an Elder. It is amazing.

When he was confirmed, he was told he would become a grand leader in the Church. The Spirit was amazing. It also turned out that someone that was supposed to speak that day didn't show so they asked Juan to do it even though he had only been a member for about 5 minutes, and he threw together a last minute talk and it was amazing.

He talked about the importance of the commandments, the Plan of Salvation, and Baptism and Repentance. Another miracle of this experience is that Juan's whole family, including his dad, showed up and the Baptism and told us they felt the Spirit and invited us to come back another night to be with their whole family....WHAT?? Miracles. Pure Miracles.

Also, remember that other family from last week that we lost contact with but then got it again? Well...then we lost it again...and then the husband randomly showed up in Sacrament Meeting yesterday completely on his own! I had almost given up hope with them. As he left the Church I asked him if he had any questions and he said "Yeah. For my Baptism do I need to find my own white clothes or do you guys have some to lend me'" I really, REALLY liked that question.

I asked him what made him so sure of Baptism all the sudden and he said that he felt good hearing Juan's talk and that he knows that this is the true church. There's some sort of convert domino effect happening here and I love it!

Well, I thought we'd make it a week without the Hospital but..guess what? We were there AGAIN this week. Turns out Hermana Dickey had E-Coli so that's fun. It kind of weirded me out that she had it and I didn't because we eat the same stuff and they said, "Well you probably do, too, you're just more used to it. That's nice. There's probably E-Coli living in my body and I'm "just used to it." Oh...the Jungle! I love it.

We also had a really special experience this week as we met with an inactive family that left the church for some things they had heard about the Temple. It was JUST like my experience with "Fabian" in the MTC, but that there wasn't a Temple to show him. I didn't want to respond his questions directly because I felt like it wasn't right. We just waited and heard his doubts, and then, remembering it out of nowhere, I shared the Dad's Story from the day I was born and how the Temple was the thing that brought him back to the church.

Long story short, the family ended telling us they believe that the Temple is the house of God and that they want to go there one day and committed to come back to church. So, Brady has a convert and Dad saved a family! I love the missionary work my family is doing here in Peru. :)

Love you all so much and miss you tons. Have a great week!

Hermana Simonson

This is Diana's family! She is the one that was baptized a couple weeks ago. We didn't get a picture of her in the Baptismal clothing, but this is right after. She's the cute girl in the white shirt.

Where did we take our first companionship picture? In the hospital.

Ice Cream and Studying. That's the life.

Juan's Baptism...with ALL of his family present!!

THERE IS A TRACK IN THE JUNGLE!!!!!!!!! I couldn't believe it when we got there on Pday. But, wanna know something sad? It was the week that I had been in the Hospital, so I wasn't allowed to run on it.
My heart broke.

PDay in the Motokar!!!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


November 3, 2013

Hola Familia!

Well, they don’t celebrate Halloween a lot here, but I can at least say that I had a scary week!  Hermana Dickey had the idea to switch clothes and tags to dress up for Halloween. At least we think we're funny.

It was also the day that we went to the Bank. We were all standing there in the middle of Iquitos and we heard a bunch of noise and looked down to see a Halloween Parade and I was stoked....until I noticed that it was an Anti-Halloween/Anti-American type protest. A whole bunch of people were holding signs that said "Jesus Lives! Halloween is a lie!" "I believe in God, not in Halloween." "Real Peruvians don't celebrate Halloween" and funny things like that.

In the midst of all this, we had to go down this same street to buy Mosquito nets and it was kinda sketchy being two American girls, but one Elder Mercardo, a big Latino, made it his responsability to escort us down the street. It really wasn't that bad, but he saw us through until we were on a Motokar headed back to our room. It was sweet. I used to hate being protected but I'm learning to love it. Some Elders are just so sweet.

Our Halloween fun didn't end there. Our Pensionista (the lady that makes us dinner everyday) told us some Ghost stories that just happened to come from the family of one of our investigators, and we had an appointment with her after dinner. Her house of itself is a little creepy at night, and she wasn't home. My companion didn't understand the story that she told us, so I translated it for her as we went to use the payphone that hangs on the wall of this house. We started to call and then the phone shut off and flashed for a second. Definitely scared the daylights out of the both of us!

Our other great Halloween story actually happened today. I woke up at about 5am and looked over at my companion’s bed and she wasn't there.  Okay, I know this is going to make my sound like the world's worst trainer but I was really tired and so I just turned over and slept until 6:30 when the alarm went off. It definitely scared me a bit when she STILL wasn't there. 

Then, I heard bathroom noises and figured she'd just been under another typical “Newby Diarrhea Attack”.  I went to go into the other bathroom (I went from my dorm in Tarapoto to an apartment with two bathrooms!) and saw some little, black creature on the floor in the corner of my shower. I thought it was either a frog or a really big cockroach (yes, these things do randomly show up in apartments in the Jungle), but I wasn't sure so I started throwing toilet paper balls at it to see if it would move. I missed it each time and we ran out of toilet paper, but we had some crackers so I went and got some crackers and started throwing them. It got close the first time and the cockroach/frog thing squirmed. Then, I decided to hit it straight on and it spread its wings and flew at me. So. Not. A Frog!!!

I screamed and went running into my bed like a baby and my companion (still dying in the bathroom) asked what was wrong and I just responded with "Where's the phone?? Where's the phone??" I called my District leader (they live just down the street) but realized that I had NO idea of how to say "bat" in Spanish so I just explained frantically that we have a problem and I don't know how to explain it and he asked me to just say it in English and he'd try to figure it out. 

I explained that there was a bat in our bathroom and he repeated the word bat over and over again trying to figure it out. "Bot? Bot? Butt?" And he asked his companion if he knows what "butt" means and said that we have one in our bathroom. I was still frantic and said "Well ya, that too but that's in the other bathroom where my companion is dying. But the other bathroom has a BAT!" He still didn't understand so I finally said "Like a vampire!!"

They finally understood me and I just asked them to come kill it and, even though it still wasn't quite 7 yet, they said "Ya, sounds fun to us we'll be right over!" A few minutes later, they showed up--PJs and all--with their Mosquito Net from their bed and huge smiles. So they went in and trapped it in the net and then saw that we had new pictures up so they just casually stand there in my house, holding a bat, looking at our pictures. We screamed at them to get that thing away from us. They threw it out the window (okay, windows don't exist here because glass is hard to find, they threw it out of the hole in our wall) and headed out the door. I miss glass windows. Not only do they keep you from getting rained on in your own bed (another fun part of my week), but they also keep the bats out! Be grateful for what you have!

Okay, well on a more serious note, I had to real learn to be brave this week as we faced a different kind of scary. I think I told you about the young man that we found that opened the door and said he thought we would never come? His Baptismal date is for this Saturday but there's been a problem--he's only 17 and his dad won't sign his permission form. We were happy that his mom signed it in our first lesson without a problem, but our leaders informed us that we need both signatures. His dad is ridiculously hard to find because he works a lot and we've never met him. Friday, Juan called us and told him that it was better if we didn't come because his dad is there, but we needed his trust and his signature so I know it was better if we DID come because this was probably our only chance. I was scared to death. We called a a counselor in our Bishopric to come with us, but we waited and waited and he never ended up showing we headed out there alone.

Juan answered the door and let us in and his mom greeted us, but his dad stayed hiding in the back. I asked Juan if we could help him for anything to prepare his Baptism and he told us to talk to his dad. He went back to try to bring his dad and we just heard some yelling and refusal and I remember my legs just going dead. Finally, they both came out together to talk. His dad remained calm as we tried to play our cards right and just talk to him like normal for a second, but then Juan decided to start talking about his Baptism and his dead freaked out. He started going off by saying "God didn't just randomly decide to start existing in 1820!" "Prophets are false!" and things like that. Then he started informing us that he studied the Bible for years and had scriptures memorized and looked at me and said "I assume you can recite John 3:16?" Of course I could. In English and in Spanish. Forwards and Backwards. But, that's not what I was there for. I also could respond to everyone of his lies about Prophets with scriptures from the Bibile, but I wasn't there for that either. I was just there to testify. So, I did that. All I could do was share my testimony.

Then, Hermana Dickey, who wasn't really understanding everything that happened, put together a short but powerful testimony with her little Spanish. That was definitely the most powerful part. She even ended up placing a Book of Mormon with him! We closed with a Hymn and Juan said a prayer, and we left with nothing more to do than wait.

The next day, Juan's dad apologized to him and handed him his signed Baptismal Permision Form. We actually got a laugh out of it because he signed it, but wrote "I am no responsible" by his signature. He wasn't happy about Juan's decision and he didn't want to be responsable for the reason that, this Saturday at 7:30pm, Juan is going to be a "Mormon," but he decided to let him make this own decision because, somehow, something had told him that everything we said was true. He didn't like it, but he couldn't deny it. It was so special.
Our other experience was with a couple that we found our first week. They are really great, but they live with some extended family that are "Evangelicas" and they really, really don't like us. They've lied to us many times to say that Lluliana and Emerson aren't home and we eventually lost complete contact with them. But, this killed me because they were such a great couple and had accepted a Baptismal Date and really needed this blessing in their lives. Well, that night as we stood with the haunted telephone, I had the impression to try calling them. The problem is that they don't have a phone, they can only be contacted through their Evangelica Sister's phone. If she heard my accent she'd know who it was and it would be game over. But, the Spirit was strong and persistent.

First Call--no answer. I was actually relieved...until I had the impression to call again. I called again and the sister answered I was praying so hard that she wouldn't hear my accent as I asked to talk to Emerson, and it must have worked as she passed him the phone.
We started talking and Hermana Dickey burst into tears. It had been 2 weeks of searching and praying and crying to be able to find this family, and there they were. We were able to set an appointment at a time that they could be waiting for us outside to bring us in so their sister couldn't stop us.

We were all smiles as we walked to them the next morning ready to see them outside waiting for us...they weren't there. Only their sister was out there and she saw us from a distance shouted that they weren't there. We knew we couldn't call her a liar or anything like that, so we just brokenheartedly walked away. Then, Hermana Dickey asked if we could walk by the street behind their house and see if they were there. It was a crazy idea and I tried to explain to here that we can't see the back of their house from the other street, but then I realized that, for whatever reason, she had felt the prompting to do it and I needed to let her do it. We went around and absolutely nothing happened, we ended up just doing a loop and were back in front of their house again, and there was Lluliana, waiting for us. It was amazing.

The next night we went back (through mud and in pouring rain) to see them and the same thing happened--an angry sister shaking her finger at us telling us that they weren't there and weren't coming back anytime soon. We had a member with us and she had the idea to call her husband and have him call the sister's phone to be able to talk to Lluliana and Emerson and tell them we were there. We were discouraged when he called back and said they didn't answered. I was ready to quit, but I felt really strongly that we could send the member to go knock on the door again and we waited around the corner. The sister answered and started to say "I told you, they're not here," but a little girl in the house said "Yes they are, I'll go get them!" and went running for them.

The sister just started saying that the girl didn't know what she was talking about because she's young and that they're really not there. The member just politely said that they could at least wait for the little girl to come back. And, back she came, Lluliana in hand. They let us in and we began to teach. That same night, after just about giving up, we were standing in the copy store with LLuliana and Emerson copying their Identities to start preparing for their wedding, which was to proceed their Baptism. It was a miracle indeed.

It's amazing what can happen when we just decide to put our fears aside and let the Spirit guide us. It takes a lot of courage to follow an impression of the Spirit...a LOT of courage. But, God always guides us through. He protects us as we decide to be brave and follow His promptings. This bravery brought us miracles this week!

Love you all,

Hermana Simonson