Sunday, August 31, 2008

August 31, 1994

I woke up this morning thinking about Chile, the country in which I served my mission. I dreamed about it all night long. So this morning my thoughts are full of the great people I met while there, my companions, the beautiful (and not so beautiful) places I saw, as well as the countless character building experiences I had as a missionary.

Coincidence or not, today just happens to be the day, 14 years ago, that I started my mission.

Santiago is the biggest city in which I have ever spent any significant amount of time. In 1994, it had 5 million people. I remember being surprised at the interesting mixture of wealthy and poor almost right next to each other. Public transportation was much better than we had in Utah, although you would put your life in danger while riding on the city buses or taking a taxi through town.

I loved the outdoor markets that would come right to our area two or three times per week. Chile had the most amazing fruits and vegetables. It was there that I experienced nectarines, avocados and blackberries for the first time (I know it's hard to believe), ate grapes the size of plums, and consumed more melons in 16 months than one normally does in a life time.

The sunsets in Santiago, because of the heavy pollution, are some of the most stunning I have ever witnessed. The Andes mountains are incredible. The pollution makes them hard to see, but it's amazing how big they are.

Most of my mission was spent right in Santiago. However, one time I was transferred into a small town further south. I got to ride a train for the first time. When you get out of the city, the countryside is green and beautiful. There are vineyards of grapes everywhere and you can actually see the mountains. Big trees lines the streets, sometimes covering them like giant umbrellas. We rode bikes in this area and developed the ability to pedal faster than the crazy dogs nipping at our heels.

I have memories of great missionaries. Each companion taught me things I needed to learn. I served with Elders, who liked to have fun, and we did. But we also worked our tails off. I loved feeling at the end of the day that I couldn't physically take one more step. I think I slept better as a missionary than at any other point in my life because I was so physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted.

I have a tremendous love for the people of Chile. I met those who were so devoted to the gospel that they'd sacrificed everything to be where the Lord wanted them to be. Some people were living in absolute poverty, but they were still happy because they were together as a family.

There were those who broke my heart because I knew they felt the spirit and I knew that they knew what we were teaching was correct. But they chose not to listen. Then there were those who did listen. Those who climbed into the icy water in the middle of the winter to be baptized, but didn't feel the cold. Those who faced rejection by other family members because of their acceptance of the gospel, but did it anyway. Those who worked hard to be good examples to those around them, who went on splits with the missionaries, who always had people for us to teach, and who had an unwavering testimony of the gospel, are those who have impacted me forever.

My experiences as a missionary in Chile were life changing. I learned absolute reliance on our Father in Heaven and His Son, which knowledge has come in pretty handy these last 14 years.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Youth Conference

This post has been long in coming. I was hoping to have some actual pictures of the events before posting (I knew some of you would not believe I participated in various activities without proof), but no such luck.

The first Friday and Saturday of August was our ward's youth conference. I was fortunate to be one of two in charge of this event and I can honestly say that I have never had such a hard time pulling together an activity. It seemed like there was a problem with every possible activity we came up with. Nothing seemed to work out. We were feeling frustrated and were running out of time!

Fortunately, I have great friends and family members who came to the rescue. My sister suggested we check out the CLAS ropes course in Provo where they had taken the youth in their ward. Taking her word, we scheduled the event.

We spent all day there on Friday and had such a great time. We rock climbed, canoed, and repelled (yes, I did all of those things), as well as participated in some fun team building activities, and we were launched through the air on this ridiculously high and fast swing (did that too, but hated it!!!). We finished the day tired, dirty and wet, but happy. Some of us did things we'd never done before, or ever thought we'd do and it felt good! (More on this later. I hope to have some pictures soon.)

Saturday was equally fantastic, thanks to a friend who volunteered his amazing dad. We met our guide in Sandy and began our journey. This kind man treated us like family as he took us on a tour of various historic sites in the Salt Lake Valley.

We started at the rock quarry up Little Cottonwood canyon. None of us had ever been there before. As we listened to stories and saw proof in the giant rocks of how the stone for the Salt Lake Temple was cut, I couldn't help but hope that those who worked so hard could now see how vastly important that edifice has become to people all over the world.

Our next adventure took us down Emigration Canyon. Looking at the trail they took, I wondered how the early saints did what they did. How did they make the journey leaving behind possessions and losing loved ones while enduring intense physical exertion and exhaustion? There's no question that they did what they did because of their deep conviction. I gained a new love and respect for them and wondered if I would have been so faithful.

We spent about an hour at Heritage park. I loved the statue of Brigham and Joseph and as we were told of experiences Brigham Young had, there was no doubt in my mind that he was doing exactly what Heavenly Father wanted him to do.

We were told great stories most of us had never heard. Again I felt an amazing sense of wonder at what the early members of the church did to settle the Salt Lake Valley.

We stopped briefly at the City building in downtown Salt Lake and then headed up to Ensign peak. It was the middle of the day and very hot! The view was spectacular. One of the young men leaders commented that when he looked out over the valley, he wished he could see what Brigham Young saw. He felt impressed that possibly he was seeing it.

We concluded our trip to Salt Lake by attending the Joseph Smith movie and then standing in front of the Salt Lake Temple while we were taught so many fascinating things. I will never look at that building the same again. We all walked away feeling deeply proud of our pioneer heritage and felt a renewed desire to be better.

We met back at the church for dinner and a fireside, which my family did. Josh, K'Lynn, and Andrea sang and did such a great job and then my dad concluded with some remarks. I love to listen to him speak. It's like participating in a conversation rather than a sermon and he always brings the right spirit. The Bishop ended the conference with his testimony and a great discussion with the youth about what they learned.

The experience taught me a lot. First and foremost is that Heavenly Father is in charge. Whether we do something grand like settling the Salt Lake Valley, or we're just working every day to be better, He knows and He cares.

I also learned that simple is sometimes better. We get so caught up trying to do big productions, and those things are fine. But this time a production was not appropriate.

Finally, a lot of us learned of the importance of devoting our lives to studying and living the gospel. We spent most of the day Saturday with one who had done just this. He made us want to be better and we are grateful.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


I spent the last two days at youth conference. In a later post I'll share specifics of our activities as well as some photos. Tonight I wanted to share some personal thoughts I had during the event.

We hiked to the top of Ensign Peak. When we got there and I looked out over the Salt Lake Valley, I thought about experiences that had been shared with us earlier in the day that showed Heavenly Father's hand in leading the early saints to this spot and helping them to settle this great valley. Only He, and those with whom he chose to share, knew what the end result would be.

While thinking about this, I was reminded that Father has His hand in my life as well. He knows the end result and how I need to get there. I forget this a lot, especially while I'm right in the middle of something. I need to trust more because He always come through.