Monday, November 28, 2016

This is it.

A year and a half. 
18 months. 
13 transfers.
10 companions.
4 areas.
& 1 changed hermana. 

It honestly doesn´t feel real. This past week I´ve just been working hard each day, walking and teaching and serving as we always do. Then occasionally I remember that the days and the hours are numbered. Then my stomach gets tight and I feel the tears coming on, but after a silent prayer my heart is filled with gratitude. I can´t put this experience into words. I´ll try to cover the hundreth part, as the prophet Mormon, but it still won´t be an accurate summary of this incredible journey. 

I´ve loved it all. I loved dumping sand out of my shoes each night, I loved walking under the burning equatorial sun, I loved teaching the message of the Restoration to dozens and hundreds of people. I loved the stressful emotional days and the joyous, awe-some ones. (and sometimes all those emotions in a single day).

A young mom -- who I look up to a ton -- told me something the night before I left that I´ll never forget. She said (as she wrestled with her 2 young boys): Being a mom is hard, but being a missionary is pure joy. I got to my first area with my first companion here in Piura, and by my first week I was like WHAT in the world was she talking about. This is h-a-r-d. We had no progressing investigators, I was struggling to communicate with my companion, it was exhausting, we were given hot soup for lunch after walking in the fiery sun, and my weaknesses were conveniently slapped in my face, all at once. Pure joy? I wasn´t seeing it at all. 

Then that all started to change... I was humbled (to the dust, literally), I learned patience. I learned how to love people who I had almost nothing in common with. And most of all I learned to accept HIS will. I came on the mission with my own plan and my own goals. But it wasn´t until I got on my knees and asked HIM what HE wanted me to do these 18 months in Perú, that I finally began to understand. 
We have a Heavenly Father who loves us. That´s the first principle of the first lesson we teach as missionaries. I´ve always known it, but I didn´t understand it until I came on a mission. Throughout this whole experience, I´ve learned to turn it over to him. Accept his timing, trust in his plan, and work hard every day to make him proud. And most of all, I´ve seen this simple truth through the people I´ve met. 

I LOVE PERU if I haven´t mentioned it. I´m in love with this country and in love with these people. This is the Lord´s work. I have not a single doubt in my heart, because I have been a witness of miracles time after time in the lives of these people. I´ll give you a couple examples from this week:
- We were knocking on doors and not seeing any success (in our mission, this means that yes we get in lots of doors, but we have difficulty finding those ready to act on the invitations we extend). But after a lesson with an hermana who didn´t want to learn more, we asked for references. She mentioned that her neighbor was a member of the church - Mercedes Silva. We passed by and miraculously found Mercedes on her only day off. We found her alone. Her son was killed in a shooting last year. Her husband left her for another woman years ago, and her other children live in Lima. She said that she had been living in a deep sadness and guilt, knowing that she had distanced herself from God. (she hadn´t been to church in 3 years) We were able to teach her about the Plan of Salvation and see the joy on her face when she learned that she could be baptized for her son in a temple of God. Mercedes came to church with us this week, partook of the sacrament, and is coming back to the faith she once knew. These moments are the pure joy of the mission.
- Another is Luis (25), who moved to Piura from la selva recently and started dating a member in our ward. He came to church of his own accord and is now reading the Book of Mormon and preparing to enter the waters of baptism. He expressed to us his desire to change and how, after attending church, he felt like this is the place to do it. 
- And lastly, is Jaime (19). When we met Jaime recently, his mom had SO many doubts about the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, that we didn´t get any chance to focus on Jaime´s needs or questions. But Jaime took a step of faith and showed up to church by himself yesterday! He was soaking it all up, in every class. He was shocked to learn that YES we have living prophets and apostles today. 
- And lastly MARK. Who I´ve been teaching for 6 months and who´s going to be baptized this Thursday

This is the pure joy of the mission. Seeing people experience the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the divine guidance and peace that comes from it. I know that Jesus Christ lives. He is the Savior and Redeemer of mankind. I´ve known it all my life, but I never understood it until the mission. I´ve learned about forgiveness and grace and mercy. I´ve realized that I need Him, more than I need anyone or anything else. 

To close, I want to share with you guys a spiritual experience I had this week. Elder Montoya, of the Quorum of the 70, came to visit our mission. We had a conference with 7 zones (almost the whole mission) and at the end Elder Montoya picked 2 Elders and 1 hermana to interview. I do not know why I was the only hermana picked 2 years in a row (elder godoy last year), but apparently God had something to teach me. During this interview, Elder Montoya asked me some questions. And almost none of the questions had to do with me. He asked me how my companion was doing (and wanted to know her name), he asked me how my area was doing, how my family was doing back home, how is my relationship with my mission president, and how is my relationship with my Savior. Through this wonderful conversation with Elder Montoya the thought kept coming to my mind: It´s not about you. This mission has had nothing to do with me. It´s about the people. Over these last 18 months you guys got pictures of cool P-days and zone conferences and baptisms, but those weren´t the most significant moments. The most significant moments were sitting in the homes of these people and teaching them the restored gospel. It was crying and praying over them in weekly planning and daily study sessions. It was seeing the Lord work miracles in their lives.  

I´m just confused at how a mission so completely not about me could bless me so much. I don´t understand it. With all the emotions I´m feeling, the most prominent is gratitude. I feel so grateful to have served the Lord these 18 months. And the great part is that it doesn´t have to end! I have this burning desire to serve the Lord for the rest of my life and beyond. I´m willing to give up my plan, my goals, and my will, for His. Just like the Ammon in the BoM, I´m willing to serve in whatever calling, go wherever and do whatever He wants me to do, until the day I die (Alma 17: 22-23) 

Lastly, I want all of YOU to know how grateful I am. Mom & Dad, I don´t even have words. My appreciation and love for you both has increased beyond measure. I´m so excited to see you soon. Gramma and Aunt Em & fam, you have been my most constant supporters. Siblings, I love ya so much, even though you slacked sometimes in writing me :) old companions and friends, I´ve felt your support and thoughts and prayers every day. And for those still out in the field, enjoy every moment because this will be you soon enough! 

I love this gospel. I know that we belong to the Church of Jesus Christ, restored through a prophet of God. I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. God sent his best Son, so that we could have hope and one day return to his presence. This is his work. I feel humbled to be a part of it. 

For the last time,
Hermana Parks

ps. for those who don´t know, my parents will be here this Saturday. I´ll be home on December 11th for those in Medford, see ya at the airport!
Conferencia con Elder Montoya! 

Noche de Hogar with Hna Regina & crew

and reunited with my sweet hna kelley! 

Noche Misional - volleyball style. Missionaries vs. members! haha (I was on exchange with Hna Holbrook) 

Fiorella, Alan, Sofia, & Katerine. We´ve got an investigator with bap date, recent convert, less active, and active member in the mix! Love working with the JAS.

My Peruvian momma, Janet & her son Josef!

I never want to forget the little things.

Collins & playing with her glasses 

Last P-day, shopping in Real Plaza. (the mall carries the only evidence of christmas spirit thus far)


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