Saturday, December 21, 2013

Bugs and Baptisms!

December 16, 2013
Another fantastic week in Samaría! We worked HARD, it was great!

So I had the start of an ingrown toenail, and I told my pensionista about it, and she was kind enough to preform some living room surgery on me! haha. She did a really good job! I haven´t had any problems, and it's been like 5 days! I have been washing it good with alcohol, so no one get worried haha! I am taking care of it, and literally it isn´t a problem. I was so glad she could do a mini surgery for me so I didn´t have to go to the clinic, because that would have wasted an entire day of proseliting!

Another fun fact, this week I ate cow stomach that had been soaked in milk for days!! haha it as like taffy, super chewy, and pretty gross, honestly! An experience for sure! Also something that is really common here is fermented potatos. They are black inside and out. Not sure why they like them so much.

Our district meeting this week was awesome, we took an old shirt and wrote our names on it and the things we were ´fighting for´. It is our district Title of Liberty!
Also something really fun we did, was we went with some of the neighborhood kids after doing service and caught some of the giant bugs they have here. Then we took some strings and we tied them around the heads of these beetles, and they held onto the other end while the beetles tried to fly away! So they were like these big pet beetles on strings and we walked around with them for a little while haha! I hope you can see the photos!

This Sunday we had 13 investigators at church (these numbers only count those age 8 and above, there were like 20 plus including all the babies!) - such a blessing! Sadly there were a few key investigators that needed to attend this Sunday to fulfill their baptismal commitment for the end of this month that didn´t attend )=. But, now we are just going to try extra hard to get them there next Sunday!

Mom, I am LOVING the Christmas CD that you sent me! I listen to it every morning while I am exercising! Man alive, I have gotten pretty darn good at jumping rope! =) I do it every morning, haha.

This Sunday I gave a 12 minute talk on the work of Salvation. It was amazing to think that only 2 months ago I couldn´t form a simple sentence in spanish. But with the power of the gift of tounges, I can just about say whatever I want to say! And I can get up and give a 12 minute talk with only 5 min. of preparation time!

This week we had a beautiful baptismal service for the Ticona Family! Roxana, Joana, Diana, and Christian all we baptized=) It was so great to hear Hermana Roxana´s Testimony after the Baptism, and to hear her say that she knows without a doubt that the church is true. The spirit was really strong there! That family is really special to me, they have such faith! They had experienced some REALLY hard challenges the week before their baptism, and they proved their faith as they pressed forward and still went on to be baptized! =) I was able to act as voice in Confirming Joana, and it was great to feel the spirit work through me so I could give the blessing that was intended for her.

A miracle that I want to expound on today in my letter is one that testifies of the power of the priesthood. Two weeks ago we met a woman named Viviana and started teaching her. She has a 6 year old daughter that has had terrible health problems for the past 4 years. She almost always has intense fevers to the point where she can't move, eat, or do anything - simple lifeless. We gave here a priesthood blessing of health about 2 weeks ago, and to this day she has been happy and able to run and play with her friends. This really strengthen my testimony of the power of the priesthood in bring sheep into the fold. This miracle really has kick-started Hermana Viviana´s interest in the gospel, and I hope and pray it will be the start of bringing the whole family back into the fold!
God lives, we have His power to heal and bless others on the earth today, and I am so blessed to be able to share this beautiful gospel message with everyone in Santa Cruz!
I Love You all!
Élder Bender
                                                                      Title of Liberty
                                                                      Ticona Family

The first of many baptisms!

December 9, 2013
Hello everyone! =)
Last pday we played Fútbol, and it was super fun. Plus out of all the latinos who are super good, I scored the first goal, and got the assist on the second! My first pday we played Bop it and Sorry with the branch president and his wife!
Firstly, I want to talk about the weather that we have had this week! It has been crazy. It was super crazy hot and humid for a day or two, then two days of dry heat and crazy wind. There was so much sand in the air I walk with my eyes closed! And I get sand EVERYWHERE! It was super sandy, like walking on the beach to appointments! Then we woke up one day to a crazy thunder and rain storm. It was just dumping! Everytime it rains we find tricky ways to quickly clean up the rain that leaks into our house, it's kind of fun! Haha. Our Pensionista told me that this wether pattern is going to repeat every week throughout December, January, and Febuary. Yeewhoo! Glad I bought some rain boots! They saved me this week!
Let's talk about bugs! There are some CRAZY bugs here! Haha its nuts. They call them Bechos, and there is this one type that chill out in the trees and every day around 6 they just all start screaming! So loud that in lessons we have to yell to talk over them! At first it was really weird, and now it's normal and I almost don't every recognize it! There are like a billion fatty, huge frogs right by our house too, they are always splated all over the road haha. Then we have lucinergas, which are more or less a type of firefly, just like the size of a fatty beattle! They glow super bright at night and just cruise around in the air! They are super cool. =)
I have gotten a zillion requests to write about food: Here are the things that I LOVE here! Salteñas and Empenadas are both literally so delicious, my favorite foods now! They are similar in theory, but the Salteñas are sweeter and just better all around, a bit more expensive too, but still cheap compared to American food! They are tiny little hand held biscuit things that are fried. And you can put whatever you want inside. The best ones have chicken, potatos, vegetables like carrots and peas, and then this super sweet juice stuff. They are amazing! I am sure you can look of recipes to make them online. Sometimes people just put cheese in the empenandas, but the best is the chicken!
On Saturday my pensionista slayed one of their Rosters! Haha I got to watch them do it, it was pretty nuts! I hope you can see the picture of its head! Sunday for lunch we ate him! It was pretty tough meat because he was 6 years old, but it was chicken none the less!
This week I had my first intercambio. I went to a different area about 30 minutes away and was companions with Elder Jamie for 24 hours. It was a really great experience and I learned so much! It's great to see how different people teach and what works for them. During this exchange I had my first experience teaching JW´s! It was really interesting. It was a first appoint with a lady and she invited her pastor over to just Bible bash us. It was SO cool because at first Elder Jaime bashed for a bit, and then I just started asking them questions, thought prevoking questions that answered their attacks on our church. Then I backed it up with a bunch of scriptures from the Bible and invited them to come to know for themselves that we having a living prophet today, for that is the only way they can know, is if they studied and prayed. OF COURSE they didn't accept the invitation, their hearts were veryyyy hardened, however we left with this invitation extended, a smile, and a handshake. They were baffeled because they wanted to fight, and we retaleated with love and invitations!
Now as you can see from the pictures I this week I was blessed to see someone who I have come to love enter the waters of baptism for the first time! It was a beautiful experience. Her name is Belinda, and she is 9 years old. She has such a testimony and desire to serve a mission when she gets older! One of the biggest miracles is that through us teaching her the lessons her father, who wanted nothing to do with the church at first, slowly came back into activity and baptized and confirmed his daughter. It was so beautiful at the service, he bore his testimony of how his life has changed because we have been teaching Belinda. And how he wants more than anything to take his family to the Temple so they can be sealed together for eternity. He started just crying and crying while bearing his testimony, and he just thanked us over and over and over for helping his daughter, but even more for helping him open his eyes once more to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Spirit was just so strong in that room, such a sweet experience, I was crying too!
This week we are going to have another baptismal service for Familia Ticona! They are awesome, and I have come to love them so much too. Their story is that the father left the picture about 2 years ago, and now Hermana Ticona works extrememly hard to support her five children. They are awesome! I am very excited for their baptism! =) Also we most likely will be baptizing a man named Oscar. He supposedly was baptized YEARS ago, but they don't have any record of it, and our branch president Presidente Raleigh said we should teach and baptize him again! Haha, so that we shall do! He most likely will be baptized on the 14th as well.
I love you all so very much, thanks for all of the prayers!
Élder Bender

                                                                Belinda and Family
                                                          Elder Bender and Elder Oliart

The Rooster

Saturday, December 7, 2013


December 2, 2013
Hello Everyone!
All is well in Samaria!
I will start by sharing a really cool experience. We went to teach a family this week and Juana, (The mom) had her father, Mateo, who was over too so we taught him also. We quickly realized that he was pretty worried about his wife's salvation (who passed away some time ago) and of course he had questions about the next life too. We taught him The Plan of Salvation and about Temple work for the dead, and how he can return and be with his wife again for eternity! He literally lit up so much, he was so excited and just delighted to hear this good news! I invited him to be baptized on the 28th of December and he gladly accepted! He also came to church this past Sunday! (Again we had 12 investigators at church with us!) But seriously, Mateo is Golden, he wants to go to the temple so badly its beautiful. He has been so prepared!
We had some CRAZY rain on Saturday Morning. Everything flooded. I got soooo muddy that day haha. However today I am going to buy some big rubber boots, so next time it rains it won't be so bad. Sunday was sooo hot and humid because of the rain previously. Apparently right after it rains is when the heat is the worst. But I am alive and a happy camper! (Literally!)
So, next Saturday I am going to have my first Baptism! I am going to baptize a girl named Belinda, she is 9 years old and she has such a strong testimony! Her Mom is active, and since we have been teaching her, her Father has come back into activity! I have had the opportunty to teach her all of the lessons but one, so I know her very well =) The family is awesome! Also on the 14th we will be baptizing all 6 of the Ticona Family! They are awesome. So prepared, so strong! They don't have much, but they are willing to give it all.
I have learned so much from all the people who I am blessed to teach. I have also been really blessed with the gift of tounges, and have learned alot! I have a lot to go, but I am seeing many blessings already=)
Samaria is a whole different world! Everyday I see hundreds of stray dogs and cats, random stray sheep, cows, llamas, pigs, bores, horses, and goats! They just roam the town eating the grass on the sides of the road. It's pretty neat! Most of the dogs are mellow, but there is one road that literally is like full of Demon Dogs. It's pretty nuts!
All in all, I am safe, happy, and loving missionary work here in Samaria. Plus I am learning so much! I just love this gospel and how simple it is, I love the people here, and I love my companion! I know without a doubt that this gospel is true, it is for everyone, and everyone needs it! I have seen so many people make huge changes already, and I am hoping and praying they will all follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized!

I love you all! Thanks for your prayers!
Èlder Bender

Hola de Samaria!

November 25, 2013
Hello Everyone!
I made it to Bolivia, and I am serving in an area called Samaría. It is about an hour south of Santa Cruz. It is a huge area. The area was closed for 2 years until three months ago it got reopened for missionaries to be in. It is an awesome area, the people are fantastic, and the pace of life is snail speed. It's really different, but I love everyone here. The area is gigantic size wise, and has one main paved road to get in and out of the city. Everything else is dirt! I have to shine my shoes daily, they get so filthy!
My Companion is Elder Oliart. He is awesome! He is from Peru-Cochabamba. He's lived in both for equal time. He's a great guy, and he was one of the Missionaries to first open this area so he knows it really well. WHAT A BLESSING THAT IS! Because it is huge and there are no street names or anything, all dirt with no names!
It definately is a culture shock coming here, that's something I can´t help to say. But I am getting used to it more every day and it's good! One crazy story I have to throw in, and one of the most shocking things I saw, was we were teaching a lady in her home, and her little brother was there and his baby too. The baby was hanging off of my leg for most of the lesson being all cute and all, and then she wobbled over to her Mom and in literally 2 seconds the woman was breastfeeding her child right there in the middle of our lesson! No blanket or cover or anything! As if it's no big deal! And of course, the lesson went on like nothing is happening and all is well. Man alive, I was staring into here eyes as if my life depended on it! It made it really easy for my eyes not to wander when I taught! The same thing happened at church in Gospel principles class, we were teaching, but it wasn't nearly as much of a shocker the second time.

It is extremely hot and humid here. I am always, ALWAYS, sweating. When I am walking, teaching, sleeping, studying, showering, etc. To answer your question Mom, yes there is hot water, but I don't use it! I embrace and love the cold!
Our Branch is awesome, Poderoso! There are about 80 members, and most are converts. There are very few priesthood holders, and most of the members are women. The Branch President is only like 26- 27ish. He lives next door to us. (I will try and send pics of my house next week!) It's bright green! His wife is our pensionista, and cooks us lunch everyday. Our other neighbors are strong members too and they wash our clothes for 100 Bs per transfer.
The food so far consists of: Rice, Chicken, more rice, Beef, Igno (cow intestins), and more chicken! Once I had some lentiles, and they were super good too. Overall, the food is great, and if it isn't, you are so hungry it tastes good anyways!
Yesterday we had 12 investigators come to church with us! Tan Maravilloso! It increased the attendance drastically haha. Church is at 10, and we leave our house at 8 and for two hours literally jog from house to house reminding everyone to come to church! Then we all flock to church together! The church is a ways away, so we take a micro, a tiny bus type thing. The church is also extremely tiny and doesn't even look like a church building, just like a building set up on the inside for church meetings. They don't have much here, but they are so happy anyways. Good news is they are building a new church building MUCH closer, and it will look like a real church! Hopefully in a year or so we can make this tiny branch a strong ward. On Sunday we confirmed 4 people members of the church and they received the Holy Ghost. It was great! They were all baptized the day before I got here, haha.
The work here seems to move forward at lighting speed! It's amazing.
Language: No lie, it is really difficult. My companion is pretty patient with me with is amazing. When teaching and talking about the gospel I can understand almost everything. But when talking about anything else it's much harder, because I haven't really studied those words! However I know the Lord is blessing me with the language. And I am learning!
Overall, I am a happy camper! The work is HARD. And I have been extremely humbled in coming to know how little I know. But at the same time, the work is beautiful, and there is nothing greater than seeing an investigator's smile and complete joy when they are feeling the Spirit. It's so cool to see people come to remember the things they knew from the life before this. The plan of Salvation is beautiful, and at the center of it is our ability to Grow and have Joy.
It is a great feeling to come home exhausted, sweaty, EXTREMELY dirty, and to just feel that we worked DURO DURO DURO all day long.
I love you all so very much and am grateful for all of your prayers! Jesus lives, and loves infinately.
I love you all so very much!
Élder Bender

Estoy aqui en Santa Cruz!

November 19, 2013
I am given just a few minutes to write home and say that I made it here safe! We took a 1 hour bus ride from the airport to the Mission Office which is on the 7th floor of a giant building in the middle of Santa Cruz. The city seems to be just as crazy and awesome as Bogota! I love it already!
President Willard is awesome, so nice and friendly. I won´t get my new companion until tomorrow just so you know.
I love you all so very much!
Have a great day!
-Élder Bender

Columbia Pictures

 In Cathedral del Sal

 Nativity at Cathedral del Sal

 Elder Bender and Elder Suarez

Bolivia, Santa Cruz!


Last Letter From Columbia!

November 16, 2013
Wow it has been awesome this past week and a half!
My Companion is Elder Suarez. He is from Baranquia Columbia and he is awesome. He's a pretty shy guy at first, but extremely powerly in lessons. He is the only member in his family, and just had his 24th birthday on Sunday. I gave him that tie that was still in the box, remember Mom? Elder Suarez knows no english whatsoever. It's really funny for me right now, because my whole life of being around hispanics they speak spanish when they don't want me to know what they are saying, and now me and all the other gringos can speak english and no one understands! It's hilarious how the tables have turned. I feel my spanish is getting so much better being around Latinos all the time.
Normally when they make a new district they call a new district leader. For some reason or another I got called AGAIN, and I was the only old leader to get called again, but I did! Being District leader is pretty cool, a lot harded now that it's all in Spanish, but I love it still. Plus it forces me to speak more because I teach district meetings. Anyway, its a good thing.
So, I think I leave for Bolivia Monday night at like midnight, but I don't have a schedule yet. It's been awesome here in Bogota, I love the city and the people, and I definately am going to miss it. However I am excited to go to Bolivia too!
I was supposed to have PDAY yesterday but we didn´t because a member of the 70 came, Elder Mestre. He is an amazing man. Hes only 40 or 41, has been a mission president in Spain, and is already a member of the seventy. Mark my words, he is going to be the first latino Apostle. He spoke about the importance of not only the HACER, (or the to DO) in missionary work, but also the SER (the to BE). His testimony of missionary work is so powerful. It was a cool experience. Another major highlight of this week was going to the temple twice! The first time was on Wendnesday, and it was my companion, Elder Suarez`s, first time going through the temple! It was such a neat experience being his escort, I loved that and will treasure that moment forever.
Also, this week we got to go out proselyting again, and our `golden contact` was with an old lady from Ecuador. We talked with her for 20 minutes at the fountain in the middle of a outdoor shopping strip. She was so interested in the Plan of Happiness and wanted her grandkids to grow up in the gospel. She had been so prepared, it was a great expereience.

Well a teacher is telling me to get off now, Sorry it's so short! Enjoy the pics from the Cathedral del Sal!

I love you all!
Èlder Bender