Monday, December 26, 2011

La Gente

I hope everyone had an AMAZING Christmas, because I know I did! Thank you all once again for the packages and loads of "Clown Food", aka candy, haha. I spent my Christmas in my apartment with Elders Rollins, Noris, and Tanner. We opened our gifts and made our calls home. I loved talking to my family. They are so supportive and loving. It's kind of weird because as a missionary you are in “missionary mode” and sometimes you forget that the world is still spinning haha. Everyone else is doing their things and meanwhile my whole world revolves around the people here. I talked to my mom about why I love my mission. It's not because I am here in sunny California or because I am doing what my friends are doing. It’s because of the people. I LOVE the people so much, every single one of them. I have created friendships and special bonds with the people here. I have seen THEM grow so much in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have had the privilege to see that and I have been able to see the "big picture", to see what really matters in this life. In the end there is nothing I would trade for these last five months. A lot of people say that serving a two year mission is wasting part of your life, but I say that if you are NOT serving a mission or serving others in some sort of way, that you are wasting your precious time on this earth.

I had an experience yesterday on Christmas Day that I will cherish forever. We planned on picking up one of our investigators for church at 8:30 a.m. His name is Victor. We hadn't seen him in a month because of his work schedule and because he just had surgery on his bad leg, but he wanted to come to church this Sunday. Our mission leader, Hermano Alvarez, was driving and we were running about 10 minutes late to pick him up. As we were driving I saw a man walking down the street in the distance. As I saw his face I could see it was Victor! We quickly pulled over and told him to come in. He was wearing a light sweatshirt and it was super cold outside, probably 40F plus heavy winds. This was a man that has been hobbled for the last three years because of an accident that happened at work. He was walking to church, and one month ago he could barely stand due to his surgery. I will always remember that experience of seeing Victor walking to church in the cold on a bad leg and seeing his face and his great faith. He was the only investigator that came to church. I love experiences like these because I see the faith of the people. I see them want to change their lives for the best through this gospel.

Every time I lie in bed and think about my mission so far the only thing that comes to mind es La Gente. The People. Even though the language may be different and the culture is different, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the same. I love Fairfield and am crossing my fingers I will stay here another transfer! I will keep you posted with my new address if I get transferred, but am hoping I stay here! Thanks again everyone for all you do for me and for your love and support. AMO MI MISION!!!!!!

Les Amo Muchisimo!
Elder Vance
p.s. Today we have some time to play some hoops!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Because He Came

This past week I have been thinking a lot about our Savior, Jesus Christ. With the Christmas season there comes snow, presents, trees, cooking and baking, and family. But there would be no Christmas without Jesus Christ, for this is the time we celebrate His birth and recommit ourselves to following in His footsteps. There is no better time than now, this very Christmas season, for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the principles taught by Jesus Christ.
Recently, we had a Christmas party at the church where we were able to participate in singing and activities with the members of our branch and guests. It was great to feel the spirit of those people, especially the young ones, and just have a fun and special time with them. They have such a strong spirit of family and so many Christ-like qualities.
This past week we had an all-mission "Christmas" conference. Elder Barrett (my Zone Leader) and I performed "Away in a Manger". It was awesome. Elder Rollins played on the piano and the spirit was so strong as he put "The Rollins Effect" on it and made it sound amazing and original. The intro sounded like a music box, it was SO GOOD! No one does it better than him. As we sang I could feel the spirit of God so strong and I felt like I was bearing my testimony that I know He lives and I know that He stays “by my cradle till morning is nigh”. It was an experience I will never forget … the power of music, the power of worship.
At the mission conference there was a man that talked about the addiction recovery programs in the church. He said, “It is impossible to overcome addiction without God." He told us a story about how he was talking to a doctor that studied addictions and how to overcome them. The doctor said to him, "Recovery programs for addictions are not successful." This man said to him, "Our program is." The doctor said, "Is it religion based?" and the man replied, "Yes". The doctor quickly replied to this man, "Those are the ONLY ones that work." Our program works because it involves Jesus Christ. President Boyd. K Packer said, "Many people believe that the Atonement of Jesus Christ only applies at the end of our mortal ministry. That is NOT true. It can be applied every day." This man that was speaking to us talked about that. He said, "Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ WE BECOME SAINTS."
Many people nowadays believe that in order to be a saint one must die for a righteous cause or for someone. I believe that dying for a righteous cause is honorable, but I also believe that instead of dying for something, why not LIVE for something? Every day we have an opportunity to become better through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Through His Atonement we can become SAINTS. We can walk in His footsteps every day if we choose to and live as He did. I love Christmas because we celebrate the BIRTH and LIFE or our Savior, Jesus Christ. We only have one opportunity to live, and I am forever grateful for this opportunity to be a representative of Jesus Christ.
President Thomas S. Monson spoke at the Christmas Devotional we watched a couple weeks ago and I love the emphasis he put on our Savior, Jesus Christ.
He said, “Because He came to earth, we have a perfect example to follow. As we strive to become more like Him, we will have joy and happiness in our lives and peace each day of the year. It is His example which, if followed, stirs within us more kindness and love, more respect and concern for others.
Because He came, there is meaning to our mortal existence.
Because He came, we know how to reach out to those in trouble or distress, wherever they may be.
Because He came, death has lost its sting, the grave its victory. We will live again because He came.
Because He came and paid for our sins, we have the opportunity to gain eternal life.
Because He came, we are gathered tonight to worship Him, in bonds of brotherhood and love.
May His precious Spirit be with us, and may He ever be the center of our celebrations and indeed of our very lives, I pray in His holy name, amen."
I know that Jesus Christ lives. I know that it is only through Him that we can be saved. I am so grateful for my family and for the love and support they give me each and every day as I serve here in California for two years. This is the greatest Christmas present I could receive and have right now in my life … serving a full-time mission. My mission has changed me forever and I have received so many blessings already in my life. Thank you all for your beautiful testimonies you have shared with me and for the packages! Have a Merry Christmas and always remember the true meaning of it. BECAUSE HE CAME we can return to the presence of our Heavenly Father and live in the celestial glory of heaven with our families forever.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

There Is No Higher Calling

It’s crazy that I have already been out for 4 months on my mission! It is going too fast and I know that it is only going to go faster. This last week was amazing! We found so many new people that we contacted. At the end of every night I am so exhausted … missionary work is definitely NOT a walk in the park! I love it because every day you talk to someone you have NEVER met before in your life and share your testimony with them about the gospel of Jesus Christ. It's always fun because we do meet a lot of interesting, crazy, and inebriated people. "Inebriated" is a proper term Elder Rollins uses when saying someone is "high" on drugs or "drunk". To see how low some of these people are in their lives is sad, but we see them in a different “light”. When you look into someone's eyes you can see a light. Yes, at times it may be very dim, but there is a light, and that light is the light of Christ. Missionaries are sent out to help that light grow in people.
This week I read my patriarchal blessing. A patriarchal blessing is a blessing we receive, usually during our teen years, and is given by a stake patriarch. It is then recorded and typed out for us to keep, but it is a very sacred blessing and it must be kept that way. I like to look at it as a letter from heaven. It is a blessing from our Heavenly Father, and as long as we are righteous and keep His commandments, He promises to bless us. As I was reading my patriarchal blessing I felt this overwhelming sense of peace. I felt like I am truly on a righteous path and that this is where I need to be. I know what my purpose in this life is … to do His will and not my own. I know that God has a plan for each and every one of us and that He has given us a way to return to him.
I was named after one of the latter-day prophets of our church. I know that during his time he was called as a prophet in these latter days and that he, along with the prophets before and after him, receive modern revelation for us the children of God. President Spencer W. Kimball said that "there is no higher calling than to be a missionary". I love that, and I love that I have so many friends serving faithfully on their missions. Elder Spencer Butler (my twin)- Spanish Provo Utah; Elder Jaden Talbot- Montreal Canada; Elder Mark Carlson- Argentina; David Bryant- Paraguay; Gilbert Marchant- Sweden; Paul Skousen- Honduras; Elder John Henstrom- New York South, and so many more. Soon to be leaving are Elder Kent Thalman- Honduras; and Hermana Olivia Baeza- Los Angeles California, and many more. There is no higher calling. We are all literally representatives of Jesus Christ. I love the feeling that I am not only serving the people here, but I am serving my Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ. I know that the gospel is true and I know that anyone can know of its truth through sincere prayer and reading in the Book of Mormon. Thank you all for your strong testimonies and for your packages/letters. They are MUCH appreciate and enjoyed!
Con amor de mi corazon
Elder Vance

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Greatest Joys

First of all, I got word that the Packers are killing it this season! YES! Superbowl … Round  #2 anyone?! YES! That is great to hear and hope they go all the way again. THE PERFECT SEASON! Thank you Grandma and Grandpa Vance for the Packers Beanie! I LOVE IT! REPRESENT!

This last week we were able to do service for this man in our Spanish branch. His name is Hermano Flores and he is awesome. We got to use some of our testosterone on this huge tree we were cutting down, branch by branch. A couple hours out in the rain doing "MAN" work, haha. It was so much fun and we got to use his Guatemalan machete, saws, and tree clippers to destroy this tree. He is an older man and his wife is so nice to us as well. Overall it felt great to tear down that tree bit by bit and to get a workout in hauling logs and tree branches. I felt like I was at an Eagle project in my ward. It seemed like there was always an Eagle project happening and I loved taking part in those. It also reminded me of my Eagle project and how that seems like so long ago even though it was only about four years ago. I love service because you grow close to those you serve with and the people you serve. Elder Rollins, Elder Tanner, Elder Norris and I helped Hermano Flores with his tree. Elder Tanner was here last transfer and Elder Norris is a brand new missionary that filled in for Elder Glaus. Elder Glaus went home! His two years were up! Elder Norris is from Los Angeles and is already fluent in both Spanish and English. So he didn't even go to the Missionary Training Center. I was able to go on an exchange with him this last week. He has only been a member for two years and his testimony is so strong. He is the only member in his family, and to see his desire for the work is amazing. I know with him serving here in Fairfield and in the Tolenas Spanish Branch, the people will be blessed and we are going to DO WORK!

Being a missionary has really strengthened my faith. Every day people try to shake our faith, and to shake our beliefs. Some even seek to destroy and disprove the sacred things in which we believe. Our church respects all religions and people, because we believe that every single person on this earth is a child of God. But sometimes it is tough when individuals accuse you of being someone you are not, and make ridiculous judgments based on the twisting of sacred truths. This last week there have been many times where people have literally yelled at us and accused us. All we can do in situations like that is to bear our solemn testimonies, that we know these things are true, and that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for EVERYONE and it can change their lives for the BEST. The only way they can know these things are true is if they ask God. Everyone has their agency and that is part of our Heavenly Father's plan for us. We are here to be TESTED and to learn how to CHOOSE the right.

I was watching a Mormon message on the other day and this quote hit me from President Henry B. Eyring, "He has offered us the FAMILY as an example of an ideal setting in which we can learn how to LOVE as HE LOVES. That is because the GREATEST joys and the GREATEST sorrows we experience are in family relationships. The JOYS come from putting the welfare of OTHERS above our own. That is what LOVE is." I LOVE this … because I have seen those JOYS in my life. I have seen my family lift me up when I have been down. I have experienced their love when I have been in darkness. I have seen my father look after his only son. I have seen my mother care for and raise her children. I have been fortunate enough to witness these things in my life. I consider myself a lucky young man. I have family members that have loved me even when I was on the lowest step of the ladder. I LOVE my family. And I know I am going to be with them forever.

The other day we were doing service and raking up leaves for this elderly lady. Something struck me and I was taken over by a flashback. I remember making huge leaf piles with my sisters in Brookfield, Wisconsin. My dad starting a fire, burning up the sticks and leaves. All of us were playing together and having fun, and my mom was working hard and helping us take all the leaves and put them into one HUGE pile. Those moments are the molecules that make up eternity. Raking up leaves with three other missionaries was different, but we still made huge piles of leaves and had our fair share of FUN!

I love this Christmas season when we get to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ and grow closer to him. I love this scripture … in 2 Nephi 9:21 of The Book of Mormon it says, "And He cometh into the world that He may save ALL men if they will hearken unto His voice; for behold, He suffereth the pains of ALL men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the FAMILY of Adam."

I love my mission. I love CHRISTmas. I LOVE MY FAMILY. Thank you all for your support, letters, and packages … just want to let you know that you are ALLOWED to send Christmas packages (haha!).


Elder Vance