Received December 29, 2010
Dearest Family and Friends!
I hope that you all had a great Christmas this past week and that you were all able to spend time together as family and friends! It was such a highlight of ours to be able to talk to you guys this past week. It is weird to think that it was seven months ago that I had last talked with you. On the way to the Ortiz family's house for the phone calls, Elder Varner and I were discussing how the time in the mission just moves by way too fast. But it was such a blessing to feel your warmth and to feel your love and support. Its a miracle that, even though we are far away, we have not grown any further apart as we have tried to support and love each other. Thank you so much for talking with me and for having a great time with me! I want you to know that I love you all and I hope that you had a very Merry Christmas! I hope that you have a fantastic new year as well!
Thank you so much to those of you who sent me letters and packages. I want you to know how much that meant to me that you were willing to think of and remember me and send me those gifts. I want you to know how much I love you and how much that means to me! I will try and make it up to you somehow. You might be getting some "three kings" presents or something, but we will see how it goes! I love you guys so much and I am so thankful that I have such friends and family as you!
I am sure that you are all a little interested to hear of some of the Christmas traditions that they have in Puerto Rico. Since this is my first Christmas in Puerto Rico, I have been learning a ton about the people here and what they do. It has been great. Perhaps my favorite tradition here is called a Parranda. The people to their neighbor's house at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning with all of their family. Using drums and guitars they sing way cool songs about the birth of the Savior. When they do this it makes it easy to feel the joy of the holiday we celebrate His birth. Its really more of a party than anything. The music is pretty loud with a quick tempo, but it is such a neat tradition to me. Last Tuesday they had a Parranda stop by during our Christmas conference and all of the Puerto Ricans in the mission, including President Alvarado, ran to the front and starting singing as well. It was incredible to be able to see the joy that they all had to be together as a family just having a good time. It made me think of the blessings that we have to have temples and to be sealed together. That joy they had as they were together and remembering the Savior is something that is available to each and every one of us. They don't have a temple here in Puerto Rico and that is what we are working towards. But I couldn't help but think that if that is what they did just to celebrate Christmas, I can't imagine what they would do here and in the heavens if they announced a temple for Puerto Rico.
My first Christmas in Puerto Rico went great! We spent the morning in a town about an hour west of Ponce. Elder Varner and I went out to help the Elders serving there get some work done. Elder Bryan (one of the Elders in Yauco) and I worked together. We went to the hospital early on Christmas morning to sing to the patients and try and bring them a little Christmas cheer. It was such a neat experience to be able to go from room to room and to visit these people who were missing all of the Christmas activities. But the spirit that was present in every single room and it was just an incredible experience. I have had some great Christmas activities in the past but to feel of the spirit that came as I adored the Savior on His day of birth was remarkable. Even more amazing was to follow the singing by talking with the patients and their families and testifying of His birth and the atonement to people who honestly need to hear that message of hope. It was one of the most uplifting things that I have ever done in my life. I wish you could have been there to feel of the love that was shared in those rooms. There were a few tears shed. But most of what we felt was just pure joy and gratitude that we had brought the spirit of Christ into a Christmas that they thought would be very cold and lonely.
After that we came back and had Christmas lunch with the Ortiz family. Then I got to talk to you guys. Afterward we went out and we had a great rest of the night with a huge miracle at the end of the day. We went around trying to find people and we were starting to get a little down by the lack of success that we were having. We thought for sure that we would find some great families together for the holiday and that they would invite us in to hear a message of His birth on Christmas (eh eh). It turns out that everyone was asleep! But we were able to talk to some great people and at the end of the night we were blessed for our efforts. We passed by Alexia and Andres at the end of the day to wish them a Merry Christmas and to make sure that Andres was still planning to be to his interview with the Bishop the next morning so that he would be able to get the priesthood. We talked about the plan that we had for them. In a joking way we told him that in the morning he would be interviewed and then in the afternoon be ordained. Then on Saturday he could baptize Alexia. We looked at Alexia and asked "what dya think? Will you be baptized this Saturday?" She just put on a huge smile and said "of course! Its time that I join my family. I need to get baptized!" Elder Varner and I both shouted for joys! We were so happy and excited. We thought that it would be a long process and we were worried that the Alexia's mom would just create a huge barrier to her daughter's baptism. After talking to her about it she told us that her mom had seen the difference in Andres and Andy and that she was a lot more relaxed about it. Alexia told us that she knows that she needs to get baptized and she was ready to go ahead and take that next step! I couldn't have asked for anything more from Santa Claus. That, by far, was the best Christmas present that I have ever received.
We passed by on Monday night for family home evening. That morning Elder Varner and I both received the impression that we needed to talk with them about tithing. We had taught them the principle before, and they said they were willing to live according to that commandment, but there seemed to be a little hesitancy on their part. We reviewed the principle again and it turns out that on Sunday night they had been going over their budget and realized that there just wouldn't be enough money left if they paid their tithing. They said that they are pretty tight financially because they had to do some emergency purchases of some big things last year. We explained to them that the principle of tithing was really an evidence of faith. As we pay our tithing the Lord opens the windows of heaven and bless us. Alexia told us that Andres had just read her that scripture and how they both knew that they needed to pay their tithing. She said that she wasn't sure how they were going to do it but they knew that it is something that they need to do to please God and develop greater faith. It is a commandment and they need to live it. And they said that they would do it!
I love this family so much! I am so excited for them! They have had so many trials along their way towards baptism. But their faith that they are showing is unlike any faith that I have ever seen before. They know what they want - they want and eternal family - and they know that they need to follow God and live His commandments in order to reach that goal. They are making the sacrifices that they need to make and they are passing through some huge trials together. But as they are enduring these trials and exercising their faith they are building some very strong testimonies. I know that God led us to them. I know that they are going to be a key in building the kingdom of God here in Ponce and I am so blessed to have been part of this process. I have seen the hand of God every step of the way and it has led to this - the completing of a baptized family on Saturday. And by 2012, another family will be sealed for time and for all eternity in preparation to be exalted In God's Kingdom.
I want you to know how much I love you and how much I love this work. I know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, I know that He was born and came into this world so that we may be able to have a chance to live with our Heavenly Father once again! There is nothing better than being able to serve Him and it is my privilege, blessing, and honor to be able to be in His service today.
I love you all and wish you the best new years that you could have!
HAPPY 2011 and Feliz Dia de Reyes!
Save a new years kiss for me haha :)