You know, by the time I left on my mission, I was getting a little sick of the States. Now, I LOVE AMERICA SOOOOOOOO MUCH!!!! I cannot tell you how grateful I am for everything there--the modern conveniences, the freedom, todo. Seriously, there's a reason why everyone here wants to go there. To celebrate, we had a multi-zone activity at the sports center and ate hamburgers and French fries:) We might even be able to see the fireworks that the U.S. embassy is going to put on tonight! Plus, I couldn't go without singing my favorite Independence Day song: "And I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free. And I won't forget the men who died who gave that right to me. And I'll proudly stand up next to you and defend her still today, cuz there ain't no doubt I love this land. God bless the U.S.A.!"
More funness with Americans happened when we went on splits on Friday with them; I got to be with CCM Hermana Maikoski from Georgia! Later that night, the ward had a welcome-back party for an RM, and all 3 less-active Martinez boys came! They've been wishy-washy about going to church, and we haven't gotten to teach them in forever, so I'm glad that they had this opportunity to be with the members.
Sunday during church, I received a life-size surprise in the form of Hermana Villegas, who lived with me during my first transfer in Bella Vista!! She only lives half an hour away [in the East mission], so she could come back to visit very easily:) After church, we ate with a single mother who had also invited the dad of their toddler over. We ended up teaching him the whole Restoration! The more we talked, the more intrigued Alberto became. When I told Joseph Smith's account of the First Vision, I was so immensely filled with the Spirit--an overflowing peace and joy that I hadn't realized I was missing. It felt SO good:) Alberto felt it, too, and he's going to pray about the Church being true and Joseph Smith as a prophet called of God. I love sharing the gospel so much!!!
Up until that happened, things had been pretty darn hard. With each passing week, the work had been struggling moreand more. We've had 2-3ish investigators, none of whom are progressing. Members constantly cancel going with us at the last minute. Nothing came out of all that less-active hunting we did for weeks. I have often felt like I'm serving in Europe more than in Latin America. We needed a miracle. So when President and Hermana Nuckols, plus the zone leaders, came to district meeting on Wednesday, we put a goal for each companionship to find a married-by-the-law couple with at least 3 children by the next district meeting. It was for them that we fasted this weekend.
Well, Sunday afternoon, we went to track down a less-active, and there were a bunch of young girls in front of the apartment. Hermana Ventocilla and I talked with them and found out that 3 were sisters...!!...so we asked if we could meet their parents. Their dad welcomed us in, and turns out that he had met with the missionaries a bit 20 years ago, had attended church once, and used to have a Book of Mormon! His name is Rafael, is 52, had 6 children in his first marriage, 3 in his second, and his wife had 1 in her previous marriage, so now 4 of the 10 kids live with them. Guess what? Rafael and his wife are MARRIED BY THE LAW!!! People, that never happens!! My comp and I were like, "This is the family we've been searching for!!!" He easily accepted the concept of a living prophet, understood that no other church has our same organization, really grasped the Great Apostasy, and has had the same questions Joseph Smith had as a boy. I have never seen someone look that way as he heard Joseph's testimony of the First Vision, as if trying to literally be in that precious moment as he looked at a painted depiction of the event and was touched by the Spirit so strongly. Rafael told us that it was no accident we had been been directed to this specific place at this specific time. He knows we were called of God to bring him this joyous message. He accepted the invitation to be baptized and can't wait for his family to learn of this perfect, hope-filled gospel:):):) How sweet it was to imagine them dressed in white:)
I can now truly testify of the power of fasting. God really is a God of miracles. He has prepared individuals to hear His word, and He loves us with all His heart.
Mormon 9:21,15 "Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him; and this promise is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth. God has not ceased to be a God of miracles."
Feeling more grateful than ever,