We just got back from the Callao Caves just out of town. It was super cool! I'll send pictures in a different email. This one has some old ones from Santiago that never got sent. Anyways, the caves were really big and deep, and they have a Catholic church and shrine built into the cave itself. We were really tempted to swim in the clear, warm Callao river right next to us, and despite the presence of Islanders anxious to give in, we successfully resisted.
This week was super awesome. We've been doing better every week now, and it's awesome to see that the gradual progress I had hoped would happen is indeed happening. This last Saturday, there was a big grand-opening at the Tuguegarao North stake center for their new Self-Reliance center, which is being taught by volunteer members and a few of the senior couples serving here. We were invited to help out and the event was really awesome! Tons of different wards met up for eating, dancing, and learning about the new Self-Reliance program. I still don't really know too much about it, but I know it will be a huge help to the community here, and will help the church create a more trusting relationship with them.
We had some pretty funny things happen this week. One day we were sharing a message with a member family, sitting at a pavilion-like table in front of their house, when a mentally-challenged neighbor of theirs decided to have a bath right in front of us, taking off her clothes and making very uncomfortable noises all the while. The sister got up and started yelling at her to leave, saying something to the effect of "Hey! What do you think you're doing letting it all hang out like that!? We got guests!" We were averting our gaze and holding in our laughter, when their daughter Shakira decided to yell "Hey why don't you come over and meet them?" We shot glances to Shakira horrified. "NO!" But after a good talking to, we put a curtain down at the pavilion and continued on as normal. It was pretty hilarious, though.
We had an awesome follow-up lesson with Victor the other day. We had previously invited him to live the Word of Wisdom, and when we asked him if he had noticed significant blessings from his obedience to it, he responded with a resounding "Yes!" It really strengthened my testimony in one of the church's most criticized doctrines. Obviously our physical health is interdependent on our spiritual receptiveness, and it was obvious in Victor's demeanor that he had come closer to Christ simply by abstaining from things that have negative effects on his body. If we can master our bodies, our Heavenly Father will expand our dominion far above that which we can comprehend. It all starts by mastering the little things first.
It's interesting you mention the word "prosper" this week, because I've made similar realizations as well. Prospering is not about having the most, but having what matters most. Awww! But in all seriousness, it's true. And it is something God promises to His children more times than can be counted. I think it is no coincidence that prospering in the land seems to be a frequently occurring promise from the Lord, and if we take a quick look at it, it would only make sense that one of the most fundamental, essential blessings our Father can give us is that of security, happiness, and peace. In other words, we will "prosper in the land". We are given the opportunity and the ability to succeed, as long as we don't squander it for foolish, fleeting pleasures, or vices that we are all-too-quick to justify as acceptable weaknesses due to our human condition. We're better than that. We all deserve better from each other. We can change the world if we put our mind to it, tackle our spiritual/temporal/emotional/
spiritual work, and put our "shoulder to the wheel" so to speak. We can multiply our talents. We can repent, shake off the chains that bind us, hit the ground running, and let our hearts change for the better. We can prosper.
No wonder "live long and prosper" is a traditional Vulcan salutation. [NERD ALERT]
I focused a lot this week on asking more sincerely in my prayers and paying close attention to what I received. I learned more than anything that each individual decision I made to do right, from the moment my eyes opened in the morning until they closed at night, made the difference in determining whether I would recognize answers to my prayers, be enlightened by the presence of the spirit, and how happy I was in general. My goal was that I could be a grateful, friendly, genuine person, which I felt would personify me in this sacred calling and all that it entails. This goal has also helped me understand how vastly deep the pure love of Christ, charity, really is, and has helped me break it up into easier portions for me to attain to; line upon line, precept upon precept. I know God listens to and answers our prayers.
When a prayer is not only honest, but given in a quiet, contemplative place, there is no limit to the knowledge we can receive. Just think of Joseph Smith. It says right there in Joseph Smith History that he retired to a place he had "previously designed to go". He had not only thought about what he should say, but what kind of place and setting would be appropriate to do so. I can imagine him having gone to the sacred grove many times before to sort things out after a difficult day, to listen to the birds and feel the breeze, and to play as a boy his age would. He knew it was a place that he was safe from external pressures; a place where he could be himself, and be safe from temptation. No noisy villagers. No shouting preachers. Just himself, and the quiet sounds of God's creations. There was good reason it was the place he chose to ask God, the Eternal Father, "what is to be done?"
I believe that perhaps one of the reasons the words of Christ have a "familiar ring" to us, and cause our hearts to burn within us, is because many of the things he has said Himself and to His prophets here on earth, had already been related to us when we were yet pre-mortal spirits. It's not hard for me to imagine Jesus relating the Beatitudes to us before the earth had even been created. Our spirits cannot help but long to follow Him whom we have followed from the beginning. I know that this is His church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and I know that we can obtain eternal life if we follow the principles and ordinances of His gospel. Faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. It is in no-wise a check-list. It is a life-long commitment to change our hearts and desires, that we may no longer desire to commit sin, but to do good continually. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.