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

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