Monday, January 30, 2017

Week 77 I Found My Friends! January 30, 2017

There are no coincidences. I have heard those words leave my mission president's mouth many, many times. There are no coincidences. Missionaries and members alike, believers in a Father in Heaven who loves us, believe that there truly are no coincidences and that we are part of a greater, grander plan. I once read it like this:
Albert pointed at the coffee table between them. "You see that table?"
Michael nodded.
"It is comprised of billions upon billions of tiny atoms, is it not?"
"So what is it that sits between us-- countless tiny atoms or a table?"
"Well, both, I suppose."
"But those atoms only have meaning to us in this moment because they are in relation to each other in such a way as to form a table."
"Michael thought about it. "I suppose that's right, yes."
"It is the same with us. As we sit here, it is easy to see and experience ourselves as individual atoms of the table, as it were. But if that's all we see, and fail to see the extent to which we exist in relation to one another, we miss the grand picture-- the picture I believe the Lord sees as he looks at us."

Tony Hernandez had his first experience with drugs as a 12 year old when fellow classmates brought some to school. He, thinking there would be no harm in trying, quickly became addicted. It was only a matter of time before it overcame his life. As a 14-year-old drug addict he did whatever it took to feed his gnawing addiction. Time and time again he ran from his parent's home and onto the streets to find what his body craved. His parents, distressed and running out of options, chained him inside the house to prevent any further escapes. The following time he ran away was for two months. His mom walked the streets of Lima during those two months asking anyone, everyone, if they had seen her son. When they found him he was drugged, half-naked, and dirty. They spent the next few months taking him to an institute or rehab-type facility. When he continued running away they came to the conclusion that there was nothing more they could do, they would let their son make his own decisions so they could focus more time and energy on their three other children. They then moved to Talara in January of 2016. Tony went to school and felt he needed to change but didn't know exactly how. Celeste, a 16-year-old member, invited him to church on a Sunday in August. The invitation was declined but as they walked home together they ran into the missionaries. I still remember our first visit with him. Hermana Martinez and I knocked on that 2nd floor door and asked for Tony. July, an unfamiliar face at the time, cracked the door open just enough to peek and eye out. We taught Tony in the stairwell to his house the first few visits and then in member's homes. Tony was baptized on the 5th of November. His life, his behavior, his future did a complete about-face. He was changed. His younger brothers saw his example and followed not long after. On Friday his parents, July and Jesus, were able to fulfill their longtime dream and get married. I loved July's response to me after the ceremony, "Hermana! I can repent now!" On Saturday we had one of my favorite, and most hilarious, baptisms of my entire mission.
The happy couple
Tony helping his mom into the font
July decided to be baptized first and upon entering the water one could plainly see the pure terror in her eyes. Toni, being inexperienced, wasn't exactly sure how to help his fearful mother submerge herself. She tried several times without success and began hyperventilating like she was having labor contractions or something. Jesus came in to cheer her on but then felt it'd be best if he went first. Rather than the conventional backward-dunk-baptism he thought he'd go for something a little more original and try face-first. The first try proved unsuccessful. The second time Tony, with more determination, shoved his dad to the font floor for a good 10-15 seconds. Jesus arms started flailing around while Tony was confusing baptizing for drowning (common mistake). When the witness told Tony, "Ok, that's enough!" His dad emerged for air with a glare in his eyes at his son but was able to get over it quickly and asked us to take his picture. Then, with the best of intentions, tried to make his wife feel better by saying, "Love, it's easy, look!" He then stood on the font steps and dove/belly-flopped into the font, water splashing everywhere. I was using everything in me to be reverent and not laugh--we totally lost it. At this point half of the audience came to the back to see what all of the commotion was about and I kept looking at my companion thinking, "Did that really just happen??" Well, long story short, they were both baptized and the next day confirmed members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In July's blessing she was promised with divine help in meeting the goal of getting her family sealed in the temple together forever. It was such a bittersweet ending to a 6 month ride. There's almost a solemn feeling that accompanies the knowledge that my work with this family here as a full-time missionary is done. 
And they're baptized! (Tony dunked himself too?)
With each baptism of the members of the Hernandez family I have felt a sense of relief. I have felt that I, along with my 3 amazing companions, was to see through to the baptisms of this family. In a talk by Neal A. Maxwell he taught that "We made premortal covenants about particular assignments, callings and missions we would fulfill here on earth." Although the decision to serve a mission was not an easy one, it always felt right. I had always known that it was something I needed to do. And although at times overwhelming, the events that have unfolded throughout the course of my mission have brought reassuring feelings. I know there are no coincidences. I know I wasn't called to the Peru, Piura mission by chance. I know I was assigned each of my 10 companions and sent to each of my 5 areas for a reason. Many of those reasons were discovered looking back and connecting the dots. This is the Lord's work and we are a part of something much greater. I know we are sent here to find our friends. I cannot tell you the amount of times I have met people with a preexisting sense of familiarity that almost feels like a memory, a deja vu of sorts. I came to Talara to meet my friends July, Jesus, Tony, Manuel, Antonio, and Stephanie, maybe not so much so that I could bless their lives but have my life be blessed by theirs. I love them so much. I've been so blessed to see the power behind the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "..But as they teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they will witness amazing miracles. They will have front row seats to see how the gospel heals broken souls and brings families together. And through it all, they will become stronger, more capable, more patient, more kind, more humble, and more loving." -Hermana Rasmussen

These experiences have changed me and they have changed my life. I can't imagine going through this journey we call life without having experienced the amazing miracles I've seen throughout the past 18 months. I feel like baptizing the Hernandez family was my unfinished business that impeded me from moving closer to the approaching light. Now that it is finished I can feel a little more at peace with the fact that my mission is ending in less than a week. But like Elder Wilde has said, "You can't stop playing the last 5 minutes of the 4th quarter!" So, time to go hard I guess!

Con mucho amor,
Hermana Ingram
Wedding preparations: All hands on deck!
Peeling potatoes with the bride
Elder Wilde was so excited to cook, he even brought his own apron...they put him on pea duty.
Elder Elizalde cutting carrots!
Hair and makeup!! (we were sweating buckets it was a million degrees)
La Familia Hernandez, how happy!
I totally didn't mean to match the wedding decor...oops 
Los padrinos (:
Right after all of the lights went out in Talara temporarily. (It was just in time as they were about to make me give the godmother speech, I was terrified because I thought I might accidentally bare my testimony and close in the name of Jesus Christ might have been just a little bit inappropriate) 
Oh Happy Day!!!
Morning pollo runs
Carne in the market! Delicious right? 
Doing laundry because our laundry lady doesn't have water
Crazy cute little Peruvian toddler! 
Yes, I held a live squid today! And yes, it inked just like on Finding Nemo
Beach Day! (I found some gringos and in case you were wondering, I've lost all social skills in English...)
My date with maracuya and carambola 
Mission scenery
In Mancora!
Backyard pool party!
This is so Peruvian I had to snap a pic...
Glorious San Pedro (the Elder's area)

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