Monday, January 6, 2014

Spirit of Power and of Love and of a Sound Mind

Dearest family and friends,

How is everyone and can you believe it is 2014??? I can´t, and it reminded me that i will be an ancient spinster by the time i get home - 24! haha. Weathered and worn with bolivian mosquito bites and possibly rabid dog bites because this week a dog tried to bite me but luckily i whipped my fingers right outta his nast mouth. 

Besides that, things have been really good. i am still the most inpatient person ever, and hate myself every day that i cannot magically speak or understand spanish. however, the lord has blessed me so incredibly much this week that i could not help feeling happy and more and more realizing i am meant to be here. First of all, things were starting to get bad with my bolivian companion because it was so hard for her to understand why i cant speak spanish. so she was being extremely short with me and getting frustrated and i thought i was going to die. but then a small miracle happened and she decided to read about the attributes of christ in the liahona. she must have really been touched by the spirit because she told me all about how she wanted to work specifically on charity and patience, and both of decided to make it our new goal to attempt to have patience in all things. since then, things are averagely frustrating, but our relationship has improved so much and our ability to communicate the important things regardless of the language situation. in turn, i have tried to exhibit more love and patience and have started to learn so much from hermana rivero and really really respect her. she is actually such an excellent girl. And even both of us have seen my spanish progress little by liiiittle over the last two and half weeks, and she has even been incorporating the book of mormon in so many of our lessons, even in the first visits, as i suggested. 

This week i resolved to try to stop thinking about how hard things are and about how easy life would be at home and just think more about the people and attempt to be less selfish. Wow. God immediately has blessed with a deeper love for everyone here, and i have felt the truthfulness of this gospel stronger this week than in any recent time i can remember besides some of the times at the mtc. Personal and companion study time is an immense spiritual aid. We search the scriptures for help in our lessons, and when i read those words i can´t help but feel my testimony grow, like literally an expansion of my mind and trust in God. A lot of my struggles in the past have been intellectual doubts and mental disputation because of what the world tells me to know and what the spirit tells me to know, and when i read the scriptures it is like a light breaking through those confusions and reassuring me that this has to be true. This has helped me so much in my teaching and bearing testimony, because before i was afraid that with my always-questioning personality i would not be able to bear a genuine testimony to these people. but now i feel more and more confidant telling everyone that i have a testimony of these things. This week we went to the home of a family in our ward to ask for references and share a couple scriptures. the dad is a peruvian returned missionary and both have been members all their live. this is pretty rare in our area - our ward has maybe about 50% activity and even a lot of the active members are struggling. anyway, i felt the spirit so strong with this family. the contrast between them and some of the broken homes we visit was so stark. it was not a physical contrast - this family lived in the same crumbling concrete shack like home with mostly no roof and dirt and concrete for a floor, just like the other people we visit - but the contrast in feeling was incredible. the kids were so happy, the moms face was lit  up with kindness, the dad talked to his wife and children with respect and tenderness. it was the closest i have felt here to being in my own home, and i KNEW it was because of the example of jesus christ and the application of his gospel. it just made my resolve stronger to try to share what i have. 

This week was really interesting with investigators. we have one girl getting baptized in two weeks, she is the sister of another recent convert. it has been so interesting teaching her new concepts and seeing her overcome some things and understand why, such as with the word of wisdom. she has really grown and is excited to become a member. Jose Flores is a very lonely man whose wife died a few years ago and whose children do not really take care of him. he expressed his sorrow and my companion shared D&C 122. its super and short and i was almost feeling chills. that scripture is perfect for understanding the true nature of God, as literally a loving, perfect father who is with us "for ever and ever." We also are teaching Fatima and actually got all the way to the restauration! usually people have been dropping us before then. i am praying that she will continue to remain interested. i testified multiple times that i knew if she prayed about our message she would receive an answer in order to know for herself. she lives in a dirty little shack with several children, and a man who doesnt believe in God and straight up told us family is not super important to him. it just made me want this for her so much more. 

anyway, my new motto is 2 Timothy 1:7 "For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind" So beautiful right? Every single one of our fondest dreams can be realized through Jesus Christ and his perfect doctrine. I want you guys to know that i am so happy to be here, learning more and more each day about this doctrine and attempting to serve God´s incredible children. Love you all. 

Interesting tidbits: i have to cut off one of my ringlets for an inactive hermana in our ward because she said she would only come to church if i would give her one, so i agreed, and she came!  i got called the devil by some crazy man who saw me teaching, actually a she-devil "diabla" haha.  my kill count of cockroaches is perhaps in the double digits. 

Love, Hermana Bingham

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Feliz Navidad

Thank you everyone who sent me little messages of encouragement. It was the sweetest Christmas gift i could have recieved today. Last email i basically forgot Christmas was coming up until the end when i wrote Feliz Navidad haha, so sorry it was not super spiritual or anything. Our Christmas was basically banging on gates all day to practically no avail, and not eating dinner hahaha. but it was still great because i got to talk to my wonderful family, and i read my favorite chapter in the Book of Mormon about our Savior Jesus Christ - Mosiah 14. It is when Isaiah talks about the Atonement of Christ, and it is so beautifully worded, the perfect expression of that ultimate act of love done in order to save the world. Its only about 12 verses so all of you should read it again! I´m so grateful for my Savior and my Heavenly Father, because of them i am never alone. This has been my wonderful gift of Christmas, to have this knowledge of comfort, especially in this particular time while i feel especially lonely and isolated. I dont know what i would do without my testimony that God is here for me, and i know he is there for each of you as well. And i want our investigators (if we ever get any haha) to know this as well.
Okay, here are the times and seasons of Montero, Bolivia from the last week:
-there was a sickly little skin and bones kitten (possibly rabid), who i named Roberto and told my companion he was our new mascota. However not five minutes later while we were trying to share our message with a man at his gate, two giant dogs got Roberto and literally tried to rip him in half, and i just covered my eyes. So RIP Roberto, my anorexic kitten pet.
-I have seen two partially nude people within the last 5 days. First the town crack addict (literally) who had his pants almost off. and second, an old OLD woman who has apparently grown tired of wearing shirts all the time, so, bless her heart.
-Two little girls came up to us on the street and my companion explained to me for five minutes till i understood that they were attempting to ask us to read their palms haha. i wish.
-Apparently i am just a jungle woman now because a giant jungle bug flew in our window and i just whapped it down with a book like it aint no thang.
-We met a creepy little girl with big eyes who told us all about the ghost men who follow her and grab her arms. one the hombre rojo and one the hombre blanco...
-Everyone here thinks i am afro brazilian. till they find out i cant speak spanish hahah.
Anyway, i have no time today because my internet cut out for a while and apparently i had to do something my companion didnt explain till we got her for our goal setting online. But love you all!

Hola Bolivia

Dear Family and Friends,

Well I am officially en el campo, actually for a week, but actually proselyting only for 3 days haha. When i first flew out for Santa Cruz we went through La Paz (where no north amerians can serve, boys or girls, because the bolivian gov really doesnt like the usa right now haha) and then to Santa Cruz, where we found out our luggage never left Bogota. So i went without a change of clothes or makeup or anything for 3 days. luckily hermana judd lugs around this HUGE suitcase her mom packed that i call the missionary store. So besides clothes i basically had anything else i wanted (well and her makeup is a tad too light so none of that either). Our mission president and his wife are the literal nicest humans in the world. they can speak less english than i can speak spanish, so practically nothing, but their spirits are out of control so great. they are from Lima, and have one adorable special needs son and a daughter about my age who is here with them. They treated us noobs like kings and queens. Every day we were taken out to lunch and dinner for three days, including a really expensive place that was like a brazilian grill, and we stayed in a little hostel place that HAD AIR CONDITIONING. any way, i was soaking it all in because a) now i eat nothing because apparently in this mission we do not eat dinner. and my companion speaks absolutely no english and im having a hard time explaining to her that i want more than saltine crackers for breakfast. literally that is what we have for breakfast. than one plate from our pensionista of hopefully not sketchy bolivian food at 1 pm and then NOTHING until saltine crackers at 7. what in the world haha. after i finish this email i am going to try to explain (again) why i need to buy some more snacks.
So anyway, my area is called Montero. I think i am possibly the only north american girl in the whole mission who is not in the city of santa cruz. there are only two other areas we are allowed in, Montero, and somewhere i can´t spell, and i know im the only one in Montero because its just me and my companion. And the other north american girls got north american companions to train them. Go figure why they put the least experienced one language wise with a latin in the middle of no where hahaha. i should not have told everyone i lived africa for three months, because the assistant to the presidente on the first day he picked us up from the airport was like, they usually only send the more "hardened" sisters out (dont know that i like that word ha) and then a few minutes later was like oh YOURE the one who has traveled all over. it was ominous.
But its okay because i actually love montero so far. it reminds me so much of where i lived in Africa, just not quite as poor, and not literally in the middle of the jungle haha. Some of our investigators are more well off, and some, like Inez, literally live in the dirtiest squalid conditions just like in Wiamoase. I literally carry a 2 liter bottle of water around with me everywhere. Mom, i couldnt tell if you were joking about the warm clothes - it is literally like the surface of the sun here. i have not been able to sleep yet of course. i remember now how hard it is to learn to sleep in a pool of your own sweat. and there is this latin myth all the latina hermanas tell their companions that if you sleep with your fan directly on you your bones will be sick or something. so none of them will sleep like that. so the first two nights i also didn´t even get a fan. But now i just hope she doesnt think i am disrespectful and i have it pointed at me full blast, but its still barely anything. we have to close our windows so that bats and bugs dont come in, so i live in an oven. my companion is more scared than i am. she said two bats have alread gotten in so now she is always scared. i was like let them in i´ll kill them geesh, at least you can drive to get a rabies shot. there will be no driving when we die of heat stroke in our own beds. speaking of creatures, the first day i got to our place there were two, 2-3 inch long cockroaches in our "kitchen". lovely. but apparently africa changed me more than i knew because i barely flinched. still prefer bats though.
our place is good and safe (dont worry mommy). we live in a compound with members and the walls are really high and the outside gate door has a lock. my companion is from bolivia, actually a place in our mission, but she is waiting for her visa to serve in venezuela. she has been in the field for nine months. so far things have been pretty good with her compatability wise, although obviously we cant talk a lot besides about the gospel. i am somewhat frustrated because the other girls have english speakers who can speak spanish fairly well, so when they want to know how to say something grammatically correctly they just ask. with my companion it takes like five minutes to try to explain in other spanish words what phrase i am trying to say, and then its still not right haha. i am just trying to calm down because its my 4th day. and ya its supposed to take like 4 - 6 months. i wouldnt be so frustrated if it wasnt for the teaching part though. i would down with just chilling and learning the language and enjoying myself if this was just a trip, but its a mission and i want to be able to help our investigators who have struggles and such and i want to relate to them and testify to them and right now i just really barely can testify somewhat in spanish. also i can understand what my companion says when we are planning but i dont know how to get messages across to her, and she is pretty set in her ways of 9 months, but some things are not what they taught us in the CCM. for example, she only uses the bible for like the first 2,3,4 visits. it was rammed into our heads to RELY ON THE BOOK OF MORMON. also she waits to extend a baptismal invitation for FOREVER. like one girl i felt we should invite because it was like her 7th lesson and she seems so willing, we didnt even. and my companion was like mmm next week. in the CCM they told us more than they told us anything else to always do it on the 1st or 2nd lesson so that they have that goal they are working towards and they have the agency in their commitments to decide if they want it. even in PMG it says 1st or 2nd. So i don´t know what to do because i can barely communicate and she is my trainer. Also, our investigators barely ever are around for our visits, and partly its because of latin time, but partly my companion never calls them to remind them of anything or just randomly sets a time to visit them without actually asking them. so then they are not home and we just go to some less active members home, which is good, but we visit FOREVER without actually teaching. I guess for now i am just going to take things as they go and keep praying.
This morning was fun because we got to go to our mission presidents house for a hermanas only christmas get together. montero is about an hour away so we were even invited if we could get a trufa, which we did. it was good to see some other english speakers and have them be encouraging that it just takes time and that they had had similar problems with the latinas with teaching sometimes. however a few of them are SO so (im sorry to whoever i will offend with this) Utah mormon girls, haha perpetuating the rep utahns already have, all the way down here in south america. like i can´t even believe how they were sometimes. and my companion calls them rubios because all of them are blonde haha, and apparently they have a rep for not liking latinas and flirting with the elders haha, they were like a little piece of byu right here in bolivia with me to warm my heart.
Anyway, i am going to keep moving forward and trying to rely on the lord, and strenghthen my own testimony in order to bear it with more fortaleza to others haha. i am so grateful for the gospel in my life, and it is so beautiful how it changes others. also, special thanks to paige for reminding me this work is about bearing testimony to children of God, not learning spanish. i am going to make that my goal to focus on for the week. also, my heart died when sister wightman sent me pics of paige and courtney, i loved them so much.
FELIZ NAVIDAD one and all and can´t wait to talk to you family!!!
if you want to send me lotsa christmas presents i´ll tell my mom my address on christmas! i actually don´t know it right now.

PS: does anyone know if my blog is being updated with my letters?? let me know.
love you guys,

Bolivia, here I come

Dear Family and Friends,

I can not believe A) that it is almost mid December??!! and B) that I leave for Bolivia in 3 days. I am excited to be out of the CCM because I feel like a prisoner who never sees the light of day, and if i stayed here i would become obese because all we do is sit on our butts for 15 hours a day and eat three square meals of starch and carbs. However, I am really nervous to be with my companion and no one else in 3 days in Bolivia since I can not speak Spanish haha. I can say the most basic of the basic and understand like 50%, more if it is gospel context. it is so frustrating. There is SO MUCH to get done here! Learn the language, learn the lessons (but no memorizing, just know them so well we can put them in our own words), strengthen our own testimonies in order to be able to genuinely testify, read the Book of Mormon again, etc. But it is okay because i am progressing and i want to get to that point where i am actually lost in others. 
Besides these struggles i am very happy here. my latina companion is Hermana Lezcano from Argentina where they pronounce the ll as sh (in bogota it is j, in bolivia it is y, so everyone just sounds different all the time ha). She is an amazing convert, the only one in her family (like many of the incredible latin americans here). she finally opened up one night and told me about the domestic abuse and drugs etc in her home. she likes being here instead because of the spirit she can feel in contrast. A lot of these girls have similar conversion stories of going against their parents will and breaking up with long time boyfriends etc etc in order to be baptized and go on a mission. they are such huge examples to me. 
My favorite latina hermana is a 21 year old from El Salvador, Hermana Lopez. we became quick friends although she knows virtually no English, and we find ways to communicate with my sketch spanish haha, and we have the exact same humor so that makes it easy to find ways to bond. She is also the only member in her family.  
A couple days ago we went out to proselyte and my companion and i ended up talking to this man for like 20 minutes in a park. then at the end BAM my companion just asked him to get baptized hahaha. we are supposed to invite for baptism preparation in the first lesson and this was just street proselyting, but she did it anyways. And he said he would (although he was being very polite haha) and she could literally not contain her excitement all the way back to the CCM hahaha. 
Well, today was our last day going to the Bogota temple!! If I ever get to go again it will be in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Also, last week we got to go on a real field trip! to this giant salt mine with a catholic cathedral carved in the middle. it was SO AWESOME. i was in awe. and i really felt it was a holy place. there were crosses for the various steps jesus took on his way to crucifixion and then an open slab at the end representing his triumphant resurrection. i will send pics!

love you all. Pray for my companion in Bolivia to be able to tolerate my "spanish" haha. 

love, hermana bingham

La Vida de CCM (MTC)

Hey family! Happy Thanksgiving!

I forgot it was Thanksgiving yesterday until the mtc president was like ready to eat some turkey? The cooks made actual mashed potatoes and turkey and even some pie that tasted somewhat like play-do! And the president gave the longest thanksgiving prayer i have ever heard in my life. but maybe it seemed longer since i only could understand a word here or there haha. 

Anyway, things have changed a lot in the last couple of weeks. The first group of latinos i knew left (they only come to the mtc for 2 weeks) along with the north americans who had been here longer. i was extremely sad to see a lot of them go because we had become friends over the couple of weeks i had lived in the same hall as them. then we got about 6 new north american elders and one new sister, hermana judd. it has been pretty lonely. at first the new latinas who came in were extremely shy, and we just kept to ourselves, but i had finally had enough and broke the ice one night when we were all getting ready for bed and asked them in spanglish to teach me their countries´dances (if i know one thing in this life, its that the fastest way to a latin american´s or african´s heart is to ask them to dance with you). we were soon rolling in laughter as they showed me different folk dances and i told the cute little venezuelan sister "despacio por favor!!" (venezuelans talk SO FAST, luckily bolivians are some of the slower talkers) and when she also showed her crazy step dance i said something like "en venezuela todos rapido, bailar, hablando, etc" (in venezuela everything is fast, the dance, the talking..) and people got a KICK out of that. Ever since then they are always calling out hermana Bingg um!! and trying to talk to me while i nod my head and pretend to understand, or counting to three and saying TING! while i burst out in the biggest smile i can muster, because i taught them that when we had to take a photo. it is going to be something else when i get my first latina companion this coming wednesday... 

So unfortunately, my compaƱera went home yesterday. The president had me stay with her (as i expected) when we got our fourth companion, and we all hoped that she would have a change of heart. maybe i should have had more faith, but i knew from the first week that she would eventually go home. she was very set on it, and closed herself off each time spiritual experiences were presented. however, i felt empathy for her, because i know how it is to struggle to let those feelings in, to feel skeptical and pressured, and to approach the gospel with critical, worldly eyes. this is how i used to be, and even now i work each day to allow myself to feel and see with the lord´s power. so, i was able to become closer to hermana metcalf before she left, and i can´t really judge her at all, although i wish she could have softened a little. but she made me appreciate parents who have always emphasized that i must have a testimony based on my own revelation, and not just a mormon label depending solely on my parents´ beliefs. 

Anyway it was difficult to watch my companion go through some of the things she did. Maestra Mendivelso, who becomes more and more a hero in my eyes every day, is so extremely brave and powerful all the time. She has been acting as one of our "fake" investigators, and she is so good at it that i literally feel like her character Katy is literally a separate person from her. at one point when my companion and i were trying to teach her how she could know for herself that the book of mormon is true, my companion could not talk, and almost cried because she did not feel like she could genuinely share such a message. it was a tense moment, and i had to take it from there. Then, a couple days later, in class we had a teaching demonstration. Mendivelso will choose one of us to be the investigator and then teaches us. She had my companion come to the front, and did not give her a story background, just asked her to be herself. Mendivelso then powerfully testified to her about the spirit and the book of mormon, and since i knew that this "demonstration" was actually real, i started crying. i could just see my companion resisting the spirit, and i knew she was in anguish because she does not think that she can know these things. i was so floored by Mendivelso though, she is incredible. When my companion left, mendivelso told me "she knows, she knows", just deep inside. i hope everything turns out okay for Hermana Metcalf now that she is home. 

So now i am in a trio once again. things are better because hermana metcalf never wanted to do anything spiritual or be serious about planning lessons. my other two companions are much more willing to try to improve our spanish and have the spirit. i need this as i have been frustrated in the last week feeling that my progress had really slowed, partially because of my companion issues, but also because we had all as a district hit that spot of exhaustion where it is just so hard to stay motivated to keep learning more spanish. it has been REALLY difficult to make ourselves try to speak spanish as well, outside of class. i know i personally need to work on that a lot. it is so intimidating when i know so little, and the latinos talk so fast, plus cannot understand our accents. 
the new hermana is super good at spanish because her whole family speaks spanish and she had four years before. so that is cool, she has taught me a lot. she did bug me at first because she made some really negative comments about latinos, saying that she did not want to hand in her electronics like we are supposed to because apparently our latin teachers have a propensity to steal them and that our temples never needed to have locks in the dressing rooms until we started converting latinos. you all know me, and obviously i could barely respond. americans can really be so appalling. it made me feel sick that someone who is going into another country to teach people that they are equal children of god and that we love them and believe in being christlike in our actions words and attitudes could harbor such racist attitudes that completely generalized a people, and i have heard a few other similar comments here as well. well, i have just bit my tongue and just known that we all are working on things, and that we must be unified in order to really serve others with the spirit, so for now i just let that slide. she also said some questionable things about black people, and i let that slide as well to an extent. ha. 

Anyway, besides that, i have had some other great experiences here. One day some of the lil elders in my district gave me a blessing along with one of the other girls and i felt so blessed to be among young men who are truly trying to be valiant and make their lives stand for something so much higher than what is presented to us so much in this world. Also, i love the scriptures more and more, i cant believe i did not utilize them the way i should have before, it would have prevented me a lot of pain and confusion. i love the way the book of mormon makes clear the loving nature of god and jesus, how it repeats its message, the main doctrine of christ and also the missionary purpose over and over again -faith repentance baptism and enduring to the end, and even more i think PERSONAL REVELATION. I feel blessed when i think that i am sharing a bold, bold message that can only be proven to oneself through oneself, when you use your agency to ask directly of God. it is such a unique option that we present people with and inherently values their worth and identity as a true heir to the lord. Also, mendivelso is a literal scriptorian. she knows the BOM like the back of her hand in spanish and english, i cant believe it. 

Anyway, i am out of time. Our next Pday is Tuesday, so then i will have more time for individual replies. but i just wanted to give somewhat of an update. 
love you all! Thanks for the support. i am trying to be what God tells me i can be. 

Love, Cass