Monday, November 28, 2011

First Week in Chile!


What. A. Week. Where to begin? I'll let you know first off that I am alright! I'm healthy, I'm happy, so no worries there. Let me start from the beginning.

We arrived in Chile, had a fantastic lunch at the Mission Home, headed to the church building after that and were assigned companions and sectors (Chile is divided into sectors, kinda like mission areas). My trainer is Elder Salas. He is from Santiago and he speaks no English. So this week  has been very interesting. Sometimes I forget that I do know how to speak English, and when I do, it's really really strange. Anyway, Elder Salas is awesome. He's super dedicated to the work and is a great example to me. More than anything I'm grateful for his pacience. It must be rough for him to have a son (trainers and their companions are called papas y hijos, dads and sons) as inexperienced as I am, and can't understand much of what he says, and is very poor conversation most of the time. I had to promise him that I do in fact have a personality, I just don't know how to use it in Spanish yet. Anyway, after our brief meeting in the Church building (this was tuesday), Elder Salas and I got on a bus and traveled for 5 more hours to the city of Temuco, where we spent the night with some Elders there (here, because right now we're actually in Temuco getting my Visa). The next day, we had a companionship exchange, because neither E. Salas nor I had been in our sector before and they wanted to show him around for the day. So I stayed near Temuco, a place called Millahue, with Elder Cottrell. We spent the day contacting pretty much and it was pretty easy because E. Cottrell speaks English. The next day (Thursday), I met up with Elder Salas again and we traveled another hour from Temuco to our sector, Carahue. We have since spent the past few days trying to know the sector and the members and everything. Carahue is beautiful. Absolutely nothing like I imagined Chile. It's very, very rural for the most part, and looks a lot like Georgia, only slightly different somehow, probably because of the buildings and people. It's VERY hilly, and we walk a lot, up and down, and up and down, so I'm pretty wiped out every day. Friday was pretty cool too. We took a bus to go lunch with some members of the Church in Carahue, the Martinez family. They live about 30 minutes from Carahue proper in a place called Puerto Saavedra, which is breathtakingly beautiful. It's the only place I've been so far where I've seen the ocean. But Brother Martinez took us on a little tour of Puerto Saavedra and it was gourgeous (pictures soon).

Hmm... ¿Qué Más? All the locals here call me either Gringito (little Gringo) or colorín, which wants to say, person of color. It's what they call redheads. The people here are awesome! Chileans are so much nicer than Americans. They love to talk to anyone about anything and they're not afraid of being close to people. The personal bubble is much smaller. Interestingly, Chileans all do the French greeting (bis, right?), where you kiss the side of the cheek. We always try to just shake hands with the Sisters here but sometimes they just go for it, so you have to go along with it to avoid being rude. For men, the greeting is a handshake, a hug with a few pats on the back, followed by another handshake. Seriously, that's the standard. Also, no one here shakes with the whole hand. It's interesting. They have very week handshakes.
It's definitely a different culture here. Temuco is more of city, so there are some nice parts and such, but where we are in Carahue, the standard of living is much, much lower. Our house in Georgia would be considered a mansion. A small, basic house perhaps in one of the smaller neighborhoods in Peachtree City would still be considered a tremendous luxury. There is no hot water plummed here. Everything runs on gas. One tank fuels the stove (which is usually like a little camper type thing), the hot water heater which serves the bathroom and kitchen sink, and perhaps one room heater. Most wiring is exposed in the homes, and the walls and ceilings remain largely unfinished. Clothes are washed either by hand or in a tiny washing machine and are all hung dry outside. Very, very bare-bones. Basically what I'm saying is I had no idea how good I had it in Georgia. We live like kings. And granted, there are plenty of people I'm sure in Chile in other parts that live just as well as we do, but there are certainly many many more poorer parts in Chile than in the States. Having a 2 liter bottle of Coca-Cola or juice or something is a luxury, and you never take more unless more is specifically offered you. In the States, a 2 liter bottle is nothing special by any stretch of the imagination. The people here are very humble, but they are incredibly kind. Most people are always willing to let you pass into their home and just talk. Here, you typically don't knock on doors. You stand outside and yell "ah-lohh," and many times a head will pop out of the open upstairs window to answer your call. But yeah, the people are wonderful. Incredibly gracious and friendly, by and large.

Missionary work! As of now, I feel pretty useless with Elder Salas. Mostly I just tag along, try a few contacts, and throw in a few sentences here and there. Chileans. Talk. So. Fast. I have a very, very hard time understanding anyone and by the time I might figure out a sentence and think of a reply, the conversation has already long since moved on. It's difficult. And often very frustrating, to have great desires and extremely high hopes for myself and the work and not be able to do anything because I can't speak Spanish yet. I want to get out there and WORK, but I just can't yet. Frustrating. But I keep pushing. I know it will come, and slowly but surely I improve everyday, and my companion is extremely supportive and helpful.

Well I need to wrap this up. I wish I could relate everything in extreme detail that has happened this past week. It's been one of the longest weeks of my life, for sure. As of right now, we have 7 new investigators, 5 of which are part of families. I'm really excited to start really teaching and getting to know them better, assuming I can understand them. Carahue has a long way to go. The members really struggle with activity in Chile. So our efforts are focused in baptising converts just as much as strengthening the members. Can't wait to here from you all again. I love you dearly. Your son is doing great, and couldn't be happier with where he is and what he's doing. I know the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is true. Christ lives, God loves us. Life is great, be happy! 

Oh, and happy Thanksgiving by the way! Hope it was great! I'm looking forward to a warm Navidad here in Carahue, Chile. Ciao!

-Elder Ross Carlos Wilcox

Monday, November 21, 2011

Week 9

Wow so I just looked back at my sent mail and realized that I messed up my dates from week 4 onward. So here I am up to date with Week 9!

Basically, I can't believe we're leaving. It really hasn't sunk in yet, but as someone said (it believe it was you, Mom) it feels like serving two separate missions. MTC Mission, done. Chile Mission, here I come! But still so much to do. This past week has been pretty crazy, and I'm really glad I get to call home on Monday, so I can explain in greater detail everything that's been happening.

This morning was quite the adventure! For the past week or so, I've been pretty sick. I've spent all day everday coughing up colorful stuff, and the past few days I've had a fever. Why I didn't go to the Clinic sooner I'm not really sure. It's hard to find the time to do things for yourself (including doctor's visits), and until having permission from the Doctor, I wasn't going to just let up from my schedule. But by and by I made it there last night a few minutes before closing. The first thing the nurse said was "please tell me you're not leaving on Monday," and I said, "Okay. I won't tell you if you don't want me to." She couldn't do much for me at the 11th hour other than give me some suggestions and send Elder Phelps and I to the pharmacy at the BYU Student Health Center. So we went, and it was BIZZARRE being in the outside world. Especially in places so familiar to me. Anyway, that was last night. This morning I stopped by the front desk here at the MTC and they sent me to Urgent Care (since it was then open) and they perscribed me a Z-Pak. So we walked back to the front desk at the MTC, they called a shuttled, and we took a ride to the Rite-Aid on State Street (again, super weird being outside. I just realized that to the rest of the world, this story isn't very exciting at all and going to buildings to get things is what normal people do, but it was a crazy experience for us after being in the same permimeter for 2 months!)

Okay so it's now Sunday. Yesterday was insane and nobody in our district was able to finish emails, letters, or anything. So I apologize to everyone. But I thought'd I'd send what I have now as well as a brief hello here to let you all know I'm still alive. Mom and Dad, I will talk to you tomorrow! Can't wait!

Elder Wilcox

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Week 8

Happy 11/11/11!!! I hope you all make many wishes and may they all come true.

Whaaaaale, time is winding down here in the MTC. In all honesty, I don't think I'm that trunky (yet), which makes me really glad. A lot of Elders here get towards the end and start complaining about being here, whining about not being in their country, and kind of losing focus. I think a few weeks ago I kind of just resigned myself to being here, so everytime I thought about the MTC, it was more of like "Yeah, I'm here. I'll be here until whenever, no worries. When I leave I leave, let's learn Spanish."

I hope, however, that that doesn't all change, because bada baaa... we got our travel plans! Yes indeed, we are locked in to going to Chile. I'll give you the rundown.

(Times are all in SLC time)
We leave SLC at 5:55 on Nov 21st (which means we leave the MTC at 3 in the morning...)
We arrive in LA at 7:01 and have an almost 5 hour layover
We leave LA at 11:50am and arrive in Santiago at 5:45am the next day
We have 3 hour layover in Santiago and then
We leave at 8:25am to arrive in Concepcion by 9:30am
For a grand total travel time of almost 28 hours! (Not including the bus from the airport in Concepcion to the Mission Home)

Basically, I couldn't be more excited. Especially for all the sweet sweet study time! In regards to calling home from the airport, I'm going to buy a phone card from the bookstore tomorrow so I can do so. I'll probably call during my layover in LA, so be prepared for that.

As exciting as this all is, however, I am horribly frightened by the fact that LanChilean Airlines (from LA to Santiago and beyond) only allows carry-on's up to 17 pounds plus one small personal item. Considering I flew to Provo with two large checked bags plus a rather heavy carry-on and backpack, I'm really not sure how I'm going to make this work. I'm already considering all of the things that I can trash here before leaving (pillow, extra clothes, products, books, etc.), because it's going to be tight. Fortunately the charges for our airlines (United to LA and LanChile beyond) for extra things aren't as crazy as other airlines. I believe it's between $100-150 for a third bag and between $60-100 for an overweight bag up to 70lbs. I'll let you know how it's coming next week!

Unfortunately I don't have much time today (I know, like I say every week. But this time I mean it). I wanted to share with you all the basic schedule of a missionary here at the MTC, at the request of Anna and Joseph, and for the information of former missionaries who might not be aware of the change in curriculum, but I'll try to do so quickly.

Basically, we wake up every day M-Su at 6:30 (6:00 on Temple Day) Every day there is at least 1 hour of personal study time, which is our time to learn the gospel and be schooled by the Lord, usually in the morning. Some days we have more time later on.
We have 50 mins of Gym time 5 days a week at various periods throughout the day
5 Days a week we have 1 hour of TALL (Technology assisted language learning), which is basically the Church's version of Rosetta Stone, albeit much more in depth but just about as interactive. Every day we have 1 hour of Language Study. Like personal time, this is directed by the missionaries according to our needs and the needs of our investigators.
We have a service assignment every week. It's different for every district. Our district helps stock and rotate food in the cafeteria.
Every Tuesday there is a devotional with a guest speak. There is also a Fireside (basically the same things) every Sunday
The biggest change in the new curriculum I belive is the Class schedule:

In the past (like several months in the past) missionaries were left largely to their own devices in terms of study. This was called MDT or missioanry directed time. And I believe they would teach a lesson perhaps once or maybe twice a week in the Training Resource Center to volunteers, while being observed by their teachers.

Today, teaching is the complete focus of the MTC. We have 10 class blocks (3 hours each) every week. This takes up the majority of our day every day. At the beginning of every class period, we teach a 20 min lesson directly to our teacher (acting as a real investigator that they had in their mission) in Spanish. We've been doing so since our 3rd day in the MTC. This means we teach 10 lessons a week (one of which is a 40 min lesson to a volunteer in the TRC). That's about a 1000% increase in teaching experience for the missionaries under the new program in the MTC. The result, many mission presidents, in-field missionaries, etc. have reported that the new missionaries coming out to the field are tremendously more prepared than they used to be. I didn't realize this until recently, when one of our Zone Resource Teachers (personal tutors who work with us one on one briefly every day according to our needs) told us about his experience in the MTC. But now that I think about it, I am astounded that before even entering the field, my companion and I have taught almost 80 lessons, not counting the many learning activities and practices we do during class time. Basically, it's a great time to be a missionary, and I am so grateful for the privilege of representing the Lord.

I wish I had more time to tell you all about our experiences with Jorge and Kleyber, but they are too many to count. However, this past Wednesday, Kleyber was baptized, and talking with him yesterday about it was such an amazing experience. He was a very difficult person to teach for a long time, and seeing how far he has come, and how his heart has changed because of the Gospel is inspiring. Also, this past Monday, Jorge accepted our invitation to be baptized, and the service is scheduled for tomorrow. The moment he said yes, I felt more joy than I think I've ever felt. Elder Phelps and I have been working a long time to help Jorge understand the importance of the Church and of baptism. He's always been very prepared for the Gospel and very receptive, but for the longest time we couldn't seem to get him to progress towards the waters of baptism. But in our lesson on Monday, after a strong presence of the Spirit, and some very inspired questions on the part of Elder Phelps, the moment was perfect, and the invitation was extended and accepted.

Dang. I'm out of time. I desperately wish I could write more in depth about how much Elder Phelps and I have grown as teachers in the past week, and all of my experiences here. C'est la vie. I know things are only going to get better. It may seem kind of silly how important to me these mock lessons are. But it's our life as missionaries. It is our purpose. To help God's beloved children return to Him, through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Preparatory as this time may be, it has changed me, and continues to do so. I can't wait to get to Chile and share the Gospel for real, and see people's lives and hearts change because of their Savior. Thank you all for your constant support. Sorry I always forget/leave out a lot of stuff in my letters. I do the best I can. Stay faithful, stay true, and may God bless your lives.

With love,
Elder Ross Wilcox

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Week 7

Whale, hello again family and all!

I'm afraid I don't have much time to write this gloomy Provo P-Day. Although we finally made it to our session on time this morning at the Temple, our district was assigned a few days ago to take part in a service activity today. We helped prepare humanitarian kits for the Church to send out all over the world. It was good fun! It felt good to be doing some really meaningful service, not stocking food in the cafeteria every thursday isn't meaningful. So here I am just a handful of minutes before dinner time and as always so much to say! But I'll hit the big stuff.

First off, HEATHER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WOAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can't describe how excited I am for you (and the fact that she was born on Halloween totally doesn't add to my excitement....okay I'm really pumped). Seriously, when I read the news I jumped up and down and let out a little cheer. Everybody seemed very concerned for me. But I cannot wait to hear more details! I'm sure things are super busy right now, but try to keep me posted!

Mother, it just occured to me a few days ago that I never sent in my deferrment forms for BYU. Big oops. The forms say that they should have been turned in before I entered the MTC, but I went ahead and sent them off today anyway. The whole process seems very confusing, but I'm hoping that they contact either you or me shortly either to clarify that it has been received or if there are any hang-ups. Oh how I would love to not have to apply to BYU again. Regardless, it might be good to find the forms on the BYU website and familiarize yourself with them just in case anything does go awry.

We've all been assigned to make profiles on, but I am without any digital picture to upload. Can you email me a picture of myself in just regular clothes that I can use? Also, can you send me the link to the blog Heather's keeping up, so I can put that on the profile as well? Thanks!

Thank yous:
So, I regret that once again, I had no time today but to write Anna a letter and this email, and while I really would like to be more personal and not lame, I don't want people's kindness to go unnoticed.

Grandma and Grandpa: So good to hear from you again! And thank you so much once again for the peanut butter bars. These ones may have gone even faster than the first... They brightened not only my week, but other people's as well, as I shared them. They all say thank you too!

The Hales Family: Many thanks for the funny card! I found it very apropos to your new environment in granola-land. I'm so glad to hear the move went well and that you're enjoying Oregon. I've met a few elders here going to the Eugene mission, and told them to say hello. Hopefully they remember! And even more thanks for the awesome t-shirt! I wore it proud today, and I'll always be happy to represent the ducks on behalf of you.

Shrimp-ska-bibble: Your letter was such a wonderful surprise and it was SO good to hear from you again! Thank you for the advice about the mission. You're absolutely right, it is a marathon, not a sprint. I'm glad to hear everything's going well. I want to hear more about your life! Please write whenever you get the chance! I imagine you're just as busy as I am, so thanks for getting in touch. I miss you a ton.

Austin: Thanks for the birthday greeting! Where are my lyrics, son! I need to know how to sing No One Is Alone and how to adapt Seasons of Love! I hope everything's going well, and you're working hard in school. I miss you bunches.

Anna! I forgot to send our progressive picture back, and I've already mailed my letter! Lo siento, I will include it next week. Until then, here's a fun fact. Semáforo means stoplight! Like semafore! You love semafore!

Okay, so I'm trying to think of what I need to tell you all, but I'm drawing a really big blank. Oh yes!! So last Sunday, the Branch President pulled me aside and called me to be the new Zone Leader until I leave (the other ZL was already in place)! I was a little nervous about the daunting task, but of course I accepted. So this past week has been a little busier than usual, but I'm loving it. The other Zone Leader, Elder Harris, is an all-star, and I'm learning so much from him, and I love the opportunity I have now to become better acquainted with all the Elders and Hermanas in our branch. On wednesday we had a new district come in, and Elder Harris and I gave them a brief orientation, as well as a full orientation and tour of the campus last night. So anyhoo, it's fun. More work, but a wonderful opportunity to serve, and it's helped me kick into gear a little bit more too and strive to be more exactly obedient in order to set a good example. Sad to no longer be the branch music coordinator (sorry I never mentioned that. T'was only two weeks), but the new coordinator is super excited about his call and I know he'll do a great job.

I don't have much more time, but I want to quickly share a thought that I had during personal study yesterday. I'm currently reading the war chapters in Alma in the Book of Mormon right now, which I have never understood or loved so much in my life! There is so much good stuff in them! The whole thing is like a giant alegory! But that's another matter. Anyway. I was reading in Alma Chapter 49:4-5. It says, "But behold, how great was their [the Lamanites] disappointment; for behold, the Nephites had dug up a ridge of earth round about them, which was so high that the Lamanites could not cast their stones and their arrows at them that they might take effect, neither could they come upon them save it was by their place of entrance. [Now this is the important part] Now at this time the chief captains of the Lamanites were astonished exceedingly, because of the wisdom of the Nephites in preparing their places of security." This passage struck me when I was reading. Moroni wisely prepared the Nephites for battle in a way that was completely unprecedented. Although the Lamanites were confident and strong, they could not gain the advantage against the Nephites because of their "places of security." How much is this like our own lives, when Satan does everything he can to throw his fiery darts and arrows at us, to tempt in try us in all things, but if we as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ have prepared our places of security, he cannot prevail against us. It made me stop and ask myself, what are my places of security? What gives me strength beyond my own? What helps me to stand for truth and righteousness when evil starts to attack. I thought about my family, I thought about my friends, I thought about prayer and scripture study, going to church, being here at the MTC, the list goes on and on. But just as Moroni placed more men in the weaker parts of the cities of the Nephites (Alma 48:9), we must understand our weaknesses, so we can learn how to be strong. I encourage all of you to think about your places of security, and what makes you strong when you might otherwise be weak.
I'm out of time, but I share my testimony with you that our Savior lives, that God's church has been restored to the Earth, and He continues to guide his people every day. I love the scriptures, and I love the stories about Jesus. He is our salvation, our brother, and our friend. I love you all! Until next week, nos vemos!

Elder Ross Wilcox

P.S. If I forgot anything/anybody I'm really sorry! Tell me!