December 12/12/2016

 

That’s a Wrap…

Its been a long time since I have seen home. Serving a mission has indeed been the most important and life changing decision of my entire life. I cannot express sufficient gratitude to the Lord for all He has done for me over these 2 years. I have come to know Him. I have come to love Peru and its people.

 As the last week of my mission slowly but surely comes to a decisive close, I can honestly say a little part of my heart will always live on here in Piura. Its been fun, the memories have been unforgettable, the friends have been extraordinary, the miracles have been amazing.

 Thank you to all who have helped me make this journey. By this time Friday, I will once again be home.

 Elder Cruz

 

December 5, 2016

Countdown!!

Another week under my now very full mission belt. This is my last week of normal missionary work. On the 12th I will be leaving the zone, a new zone leader will be taking my place, I will have a few days to say goodbye to some old areas, my last dinner and testimony meeting with President and Sister Rasmussen, my final “get back to the real life” training session, and then there’s only a big old plane ride standing between me and all you guys back home. And so, the countdown continues.

 This last week we really gave it our all. We had a wonderful and inspiring zone meeting last Saturday. This was the last time I as a zone leader would have the opportunity to teach the missionaries in my zone. Its funny because almost a third of our zone is comprised of missionaries who have less than a month in the mission field, then there’s me. We talked about the importance of belief, and that believing Christ means believing that we have the capacity to achieve all he has set us out to do.

 I never thought I would have the faith I have in Him as I do now but looking back on the mission, I can easily see that in all my times of hardship and also my times of joy, the only thing I needed to do was believe in Him, his promises, his Gospel, his words.

 This past week we put the finishing touches on Dionilas back yard. It is now fully finished and she couldn’t be happier. We have become quite the talk of her neighborhood. Everyone refers to us as the “Mormones Gringos”. Through the service we started talking to one of her neighbors named Janet, who also is going through a similar bleak situation. We taught her last Sunday and the look in her eye told me that indeed she felt something touch her heart. We taught her how to pray, and she said a wonderful prayer to finish our visit. We wrapped up the week with 12 new investigators and the First Presidency’s Christmas Devotional.

 I love this church, this gospel, and everything this time of year stands for. It wont be long before I get to see you guys again, then it really will be Christmas.

 Elder Cruz

November 28, 2016

 

It’s the Christmas season once again here in Piura and we all know what that means: more heat! Yeah, here in Peru they have Christmas during the summer season, while we over in the States celebrate Christmas during the winter. Go figure. So the whole White Christmas thing is basically a myth here but hot or cold, Christmas is Christmas and the spirit is all the same. Although hot chocolate is basically out of the question now…

 The church has come out with a new Christmas initiative called Light the World, or in Spanish, “Ilumina el Mundo”. The video is beautiful and carries with it a heartwarming message. If you haven’t seen it yet, do so. And if you have seen it, share it with someone. 

 Elder Underwood and I are using the video to enter houses and find new investigators. The video, along with our Christmas caroling and oh so charming smiles, have been working wonders in our area. Yesterday we found 4 new investigators just by showing the video and singing Oh Come All Ye Faithful for an old grandma. Christmas miracles.

 In our area, we are focusing a lot on service for the Christmas season. The past week we did 2 service projects with a very poor, single mother of 4 children named Dionila. Her children range from 2 years old to 7. She initially didn’t want much to do with our message but upon observing her house, we got an idea. We asked to go into her backyard, did some analyzing and Elder Underwood said, “Dude, we are so doing a service project here”. And we did.

 With the whole zone we tore down the broken back wall of her house, cleaned out all the trash, weeded out the overgrown plants, built up a new wall and shoveled out the old dirt (her floor is made of dirt by the way) and refilled the floor. It was a 2 days process and a lot of work but we got it all done and wow was she happy. I remember when we first met her, all she would talk about was the negative things of her life. She is living on 20 soles a day, which I guess in the states would be something like 6 or 7 dollars. Her ex husband doesn’t pay her what he legally should, and on many occasions he comes by and she reports that he beats her. She has few friends, and even fewer supportive family members. I don’t think I have heard her say one positive thing about her life since I have met her. That, all on top of having to care for her 4 little children, makes life quite a struggle for her. I remember looking over my shoulder and seeing Dionila cry to the sister missionaries about her problems and the hopelessness of her life. As we labored in her home, I couldn’t help but feel a Christ like love for this family. It was hot, there was a lot of dirt, and I was beyond tired, but through it all, I couldn’t help but smile. It was an even greater joy when her little children went out into their new backyard and just started to play. It was the first time in their life they had room to play in their home. Those smiles, are the blessings of missionary work. Seeing the look of happiness on someone’s face is more than enough for me.

 It is heart wrenching to see the situation of the people her in Piura sometimes. There are many broken families, and even more broken hearts, but we are thankful that we could bring a little sunshine (and a new backyard) to her life. I am thankful for the healing power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and this Christmas season, that’s the best and only gift that we as missionaries will be carrying around this season. And what an amazing gift it is.

 

Elder Cruz

November 21, 2016

 

So, the title of this email, “The Wonderwood” refers to myself and my companion Elder Underwood for the crazy, wonderful and eventful week we have had so far as companions. Elder Underwood is just so stoked to be my last companion and his energy, enthusiasm, and faith is something to be admired. In spite of the fact that I am many months his senior, he has taught me many valuable lessons, and I appreciate him greatly for his example.

 This week, I guess you could say we found our 17 miracles, and by that I mean we miraculously found 17 new investigators this week! I think that’s a record for my mission. The funny thing is, the only thing we did to gain so much success was think outside the box a little bit. We went out and knocked doors like normal but instead of offering to share about the Book of Mormon and the Restoration, the only thing was said was that we were missionaries of the Lord Jesus Christ, and all we wanted to do was sing a Christmas Carol. And that we did. And wouldn’t you know it, it opened the hearts of the people. In a single day we found 6 new investigators, all because they were touched by the simple yet powerful message of the Christmas hymns.

 This coming week we have an Elder from the 70 coming to visit our mission, Elder Hugo Montoya. I will be with him along with the rest of the zone leaders this Wednesday at 7:30 am for a special leadership meeting and the general meeting will begin at 9:30. I will also be singing in the choir for the special musical number, which will be a mash up of Battle Hymn of the Republic and Let us All Press On. If I could take a video, I would. Luckily this time, I didn’t get stuck playing the piano hahaha.

 This week I have been thoroughly pondering the teachings of Elder Montoya regarding the representatives of the Lord. In a recent talk, her offered missionaries 3 Bs for success. Be alert, Be Genuine, Be Obedient. For myself, I have taken to heart his advice to try and be genuine. The Gospel never has nor ever will be preached according to the crafts or wisdom of men. We are not salesmen looking to boost our stats. We are missionaries of the Lord, and as such, our message is the only one which truly radiates genuine love, genuine, hope, and genuine truth. I have pondered much over the idea, and it has wrought a might change in my teaching methods for the past few weeks.

 

Well, Elder Montoya is coming this Wednesday. Gotta get practicing!

 

Elder Cruz

November 14, 2016

Last Transfer! Last Shot!

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With the passing of one more transfer here in the mission, I am finally heading into my final weeks as a missionary. And wow, if you guys could only imagine what’s going through my head right now. For the moment, all is well and calm however. My new and final companion is a good friend of mine named Elder Underwood. He’s from Idaho and has about 16 months in the mission. Elder Norman got called to be the new Personal Secretary to the mission President so he will be living in the office now. He was pretty stoked haha.

 Looks like I will be finishing my mission here in Lopez Abuja. We saw many tears shed for the parting of Elder Norman but I feel incredibly blessed that I will remain with these amazing people. In the past weeks we have seen many miracles. Many new investigators have accepted to be baptized and little by little we see the hand of the Lord guiding our steps.

 In our last district meeting, Elder Wood, my district leader, called upon me unexpectedly and asked me too share my testimony and a word of advice for the district. Caught off guard, I didn’t know quite what to say. But the good news is, the Spirit moved quickly upon me. Almost without thinking about it, I testified of the importance of Christ like love in our lives. I have reflected since on that subject and I can say now with total conviction that the pure love of Christ is the great driving and motivating force that empowers missionary work and any form of gospel living. It has been the power through which miracles have been brought about in my mission,

 This past week, as we sang goodbye to many members and investigators for the transfer of Elder Norman, I could feel manifest the love of Christ in those such unforgettable moments. I can testify now that this has been one of the greatest lessons the mission has taught me above all else. That when there is Christ like love in ones life, there is no sin, there is no anger, there is no in holiness. It is how one gets close to, and stays close, to God.

 I think more than anything, this love that I feel for the people here is what I want to bring back home with me once December rolls around.

 Elder Cruz

November 7, 2016

Everything work out better than we thought.

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The highlight of this week was by far our monthly zone meeting. In our last session of leadership council here in the mission we were surprised to see a significant drop in out baptisms for the month of October. To make matters worse, the zone with the worst performance was by far our own, Piura Central. As zone leaders, Elder Norman and I went home that night thinking just what could it be that we were lacking as leaders so they the missionaries could accomplish more. We had a zone meeting to teach the next day and we were out of ideas. To be honest we anguished over the task. We prayed and prayed hard to know what to teach. We were feeling pretty discouraged since this is the second month in a row that we have had a pretty minimal performance as a zone. After much thinking, we came to an idea.

 We had all the Elders and Sisters take off their missionary name tags and we went on a little “trip back in time” to the moment when they first received their mission call. We had the zone share their experiences, their stories, their feelings, what was going through their head at the moment. I brought my actual mission call and we had one also in Spanish. We read the words of the letter, just like we all had done before leaving home. The Spirit filled the room instantly. From the moment we read the words “You have been hereby called to serve as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” tears began to fill the eyes of many of our missionaries. There was a little moment of silence when we finished reading. Everyone was reflecting deeply, each asking themselves if they were really living up to their potential, if they really were working hard to fulfill their calling. We asked each Elder and Sister to put their nametag back on and we read the words of Alma, “Can you feel so now?” It was an incredible experience.

 As I myself reflect over the experience, something hit me hard right in the heart. I am by far the most senior missionary in my zone at this point now, and in short amount of time, this nametag will be coming off for real. Its crazy stuff.

 But, while there is still time, Elder Norman and I continue to press forward. We are working with this 9 year old girl named Luanna whose parents are less actives and she is yet to be baptized. We have been with this family for months and months and now and we are sooo close. We are crossing our fingers that Luannas father, Joesph, will pass his interview with the bishop and be found worthy to baptize his daughter. We have also found a new family whose last name is Huacchillo. We found them just knocking doors late at night, we were almost sure we were going to finish that night with no new investigators but with faith we went for one more door and lo and behold we found them. They are a family of 6, 4 of which are old enough to be baptized. They even came to church this past Sunday on the first invite! The Lord is indeed smiling upon is.

 

Elder Cruz

October 31, 2016

 

Baptisms, barbecue and a happy Halloween

Last Saturday we were blessed to see our dear sister, Maria Hilda Puelles Facundo make her way to the baptismal font. Even though she came very, very slowly, leaning heavily on her little wooden cane, she did indeed get through it with faith and honestly I am so happy that she even managed to go under the water haha. You see Hilda is very weak in her legs and knees, she can barely walk for a few minutes before having to sit down. She is diabetic and suffers arthritis and all kinds of joint pains. We tried baptizing her while having her sit down on a little still under the water but her feet went up every time Elder Norman tried to submerge her. We finally decided to take the stool out of the second try failed as well and I was so afraid that her little knees wouldn’t be able to bend back far enough for the baptism to work out.

 I have never even seen Hilda stand up fine by herself, let along bend her knees back. But through some sheer perseverance she did it and I felt a wave of relief crash over me, seriously I was so nervous. I know the Lord blesses each of his children is small and simple eyes that many times appear insignificant to human eyes. Maybe an old lady bending her knees a little bit doesn’t seem like much but knowing her and even more, knowing the Lord, I am certain I witnessed one of his many tender mercies that day during the baptism.

 Hilda later on gave a stunningly powerful testimony. What really touched my heart was her testimony on the family. Hilda has never married and has never had kids. She lives alone and all her family live 5 to 6 hours away in a mountain community called Huancabamba. As she gave her testimony she said with almost tears in her eyes that she feels like she has found in a new family in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints. It was a touching moment, and I am grateful once again that the Lord has used me as an instrument in his hands to bring about good.

 Today was Halloween and we managed to convince our Mission President to let us do a barbecue in the mission house. Our whole zone got loaded up on hamburgers and steaks and a whole ton of candy, most of which I took home and is now filling up our food storage. Happy Halloween I guess!

 Elder Cruz