Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Last Letter

I look back on these two years, my heart having grown twice its size, and my eyes having seen the profound depths of Heaven and Hell. My mind turns and tumbles like a washing machine, yet my emotions spread out along the ridges of a Cape Verdian wash tub. They wait for that visceral force that will senselessly push up and down those agonizing ridges. 6 days left on the field, and I think to myself "Wasn't it just yesterday that I just got here?" 

I think back to that evening of May of 2011 remembering that the setting sun was especially golden. It made the rocks, the fields, and the waters of the coast of Santiago shine in such a way that was breathtaking and unforgettable. I was, then, a new missionary that was just barely starting to lose his green. I was still a clueless teacher and a stubborn servant. Yet, there I was standing in the turquoise clear waters of the lagoon just a few minutes north of the church. The mercy of the Lord was upon us in its fullness. I looked over into the eyes of my best friend after having just baptized him and I said "Now we can be together forever in the kingdom of God".

How is it found in his loving kindness that the Lord permitted someone like me to have such an experience? What I have just written was a short description of my first convert baptism as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Somehow, it was found in his great wisdom and convenience that I came here for a short time to work for the salvation of souls. This privilege has left a profound mark on my heart and soul that can now never be removed. Before coming here, I did not think that one's heart could swell this big. I did not think that the soul could be filled with so much compassion, so much charity that one could completely lose himself and forget his own existence in the service that he embarked. But that is the effect that the mission tends to have on those who try their best to serve in all righteousness. It is the cure to all selfishness, the secret to true happiness, and the key for an exceptional, loving relationship with our Father in Heaven.

The past two years have been nothing short of a miracle. They have taught me the ways that a true man takes. A true man looks for God in everything he does. A true man seeks to become humble, meek, and submissive. Any other way is complete senselessness. These past two years have taught me the greatness and endless power of our living God, and they have taught me my own boundaries. I am weak and inadequate in my own state. Nevertheless, Heavenly Father grants me his strength, his love, and his incomparable power as I turn to him and ask for his help in all things.

"I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13)
"I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from Hell. I have charity for my people, and great faith in Christ that I shall meet many souls spotless at his judgment seat" (2 Nephi 33:6-7)

Through my feet, the Lord has walked thousands of miles finding his lost sheep. Through my hands, the Lord has touched the lives of those who I never met before, yet they are now my brothers and sisters in Christ. Through my heart, the Lord has taught scripture in its fullness of power and meaning to me and to them, and through my heart has persuaded many to accept the sacred promises with Heavenly Father that now enable them to prepare to return to his loving arms.
I already miss the hustle and bustle of Avenida Lisboa, in Fazenda in the center of the city of Praia. I miss the warmth, love and laughter of the people of Fogo (The promise land, I call it) I miss the silence, isolation and indescribable beauty of Brava. This country is unparalleled to me, and it has a place in my heart that possible no other event in the course of my lifetime will be able to find. I will lock these memories away until the day that I can fall to my knees in tears and gratitude to my creator, my God. I will remember every moment of these two years until the time comes to see these people again beyond the veil in their fullness of glory and joy.
How I wish like never before that I could turn back time. I would give anything to be back on the streets of Sao Filipe with Elder Weiss. I would love to take one more boat ride to Brava with Elder Abularach. I miss all the nights walking home in Mindelo with Elder Fernandes after having helped Andirson and his family drew one step closer to baptism. They are one of the first families that I am going to look for beyond the veil. I long for just one more division with Elder Reeser, probably the best friend I made out here outside the companions that I served with.

But now it's all over. I hold in my hand the boarding pass to TACV Flight VR690, the flight that will take me away from here. Never again on this Earth will I be able to preach the Gospel of our Lord like this. It is time that the most intense, humbling, educative and spiritual chapter of my life comes to a close, and though almost all may be taken away from me when I step on that airplane, it is once again in his knowledge and infinite wisdom and love that I take home with me this one thing.

It is with every particle of my heart and faith and knowledge that I bear testimony of the one true living God who knows all things. He loves us with a perfect and endless love. He has forgotten none of his children, and he honors all his promises. He has called prophets, leaders, and missionaries to find his children, teach them and lead them to know of their Father in Heaven. I testify that I am a child of God and that it is because of this one true statement that my eyes have seen the fullness of his love, his mercy, his patience and the suffering of his children who disobey him. This is the one true living church that contains the once lost precious truths of our Lord and Savior. Christ lives. Joseph Smith was His chosen prophet in these last days to restore the Gospel. I love my Savior, his church, and this magnificent work.

"Shall we not go on in so great a cause"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.

Elder Gianluca Cuestas
Cape Verde Praia Mission

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

She is a diamond in the rough!

I thought that last week flew by....this week was lightning speed, and I am pretty sure that next week will be too.
I think that I have mentioned before that there are many challenges in Bela Vista and that we have slowly but surely working to overcome them. Well, there are weeks where it seems that we have overcome the challenges, and there are other weeks where stuff just kind of blows up in your face and the difficulties come back. That is kind of how things work in missionary work...but it’s all good.

So I said last week on how we have been focusing all our forces on Odete and her family. Things are going pretty good up to a certain point. It’s interesting that things have been kind of going the same way with many investigators that we’re working with. As I pointed out before, Onze drinks and smokes and Odete drinks coffee. We have taught them about the Word of Wisdom and invited them to live it. Interesting that this is where most people have the most struggles. Well Onze hasn’t been drinking for almost three weeks now, and Odete doesn’t drink coffee anymore. Onze used to smoke about 20 cigarettes a day and is now smoking 2. This is incredible progress...yet when it comes to going to church, this is where they struggle. They’re completing the hardest steps in converting to the Gospel, yet they have missed church for a few weeks now. Odete came this past Sunday, but Onze could not make it. We would like to get them to baptism, and I have all the faith that the Lord will make things work out...it’s just sometimes the natural man in me that gets a bit frustrated when things don’t happen as expected. I know all this is the Lord teaching me patience and longsuffering. I love this family very much; thus it breaks my heart when they don’t do what they need to do to receive all the blessings they deserve. The biggest concern is that Onze is trying to find a way to get this surgery to happen with the means that he has. Obviously this is something that the whole family is concerned about, so focusing on this and our lessons can be quite difficult at times. We’re trying to teach them to make the connection that obedience to God’s commandments entitles any of his children to the divine help and miracles that they need in their lives. I have a pure testimony of this because I have seen it so many times in my life and in the lives of all the people we have helped get over their problems. Well, obviously we will keep working with them, and I hope that this week we can make a major progress with them.

Another person we’re working with has made a huge step in improvement, and she is now our top priority. A while back we were working with a woman named Firmina and some weeks after her baptism, we started kind of having side conversations with her mom Maria. She started sitting in on our lessons with Firmina, and one night at the end of a lesson, she asked if she could have a copy of the Book of Mormon. This threw us off… Maria is an older woman, probably somewhere in her late 50s, and most people her age here can’t read or write, or are just "too old for a new religion" as they put it. So we got her the book of Mormon as soon as possible and started marking appointments just for her. Well the first few times we thought that this was going to go nowhere. She complained so much when we had our appointments to teach her, and she would make excuses such as "there is too much wind" or "it’s too hot" These excuses would drive us a bit crazy ha-ha. I’m sure that Satan was trying to distract us from the true potential that she has as an investigator. Well, we kept persisting because she’s the mom of two of our recent converts. We thought we would teach her the Word of Wisdom to see if she would be able to progress. We came back two days later to see her in a really bad mood. We asked how everything was going. She replied "I’m not drinking coffee, are you guys happy?! We laughed and encouraged her to go to church this weekend. She grumbled a bit more and then said that she would be there. Well, there she was this weekend in the first session of general conference at the church. This was huge, and she told us that she’ll never drink coffee again. To make a long story short, we went to visit her at her house yesterday and had a long talk about why she was doing all this. We also taught her the law of chastity because she lives with a man...as so many people do here.
Right there, she told us everything. She told us that she was living with this man for 3 years and that it was the biggest mistake of her life. She told us on how she longs to be by herself and that she’s sick of all the arguments and problems that this man has been causing. He drinks and gets in these moods where he makes the atmosphere of the home impossible. She said that when she started going to church, and started reading the Book of Mormon she felt at peace, something she had not felt in three years. She said that she’s the happiest that she’s ever been since moving in that house. She had been thinking for the longest time in separating from her companion and all this confirmed her desire. Now that we brought the law of chastity into all this, she will now make a choice on what she wants to do next. All she knows is that she wants to get baptized. She is a miracle investigator, a diamond in the rough!!

Abilio and Sandra are again stuck...well it turns out that Sandra has to make a choice between migrating to another place due to some papers that her sister was able to put in, or stay and get married.  We’re talking with them this week to see where she is at. It’s just kind of sad that she would leave her family and children just to migrate...it’s nothing out of the ordinary here. We just need to have tons of patience with her.

Elder Fogelberg and I are doing extremely well. He’s growing and changing so much. Every week he makes major improvements on his teaching and his desire to be on the mission. He’s a brother to me, and I’m going to miss him so much when I leave. We have talked about this several times. I love this guy to death, and I know that the Lord has called us to be together. I would say that he has kept me in line these last two transfers, so that I can continue working my heart out.
Elder Cuestas

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

I feel that through the Lord, I can handle anything!

This week we’re working and concentrating all our efforts on Odete and her family. I don’t know if I have mentioned this before, but Odete has 5 children and lives with her partner Onze. This family is relatively poor, but nothing like Jocyleida and Andirson. Onze works for the city hall picking up trash from the public containers. Odete sells fish and mostly takes care of the children. When the children are at school, she is out on the streets selling fish. It’s interesting that this is one of the happiest families that I have met on my mission, despite all their afflictions. Onze has a serious problem in his leg which requires a metal plate being inserted, to which he doesn’t have the money or means to do so. He walks and works but with extreme pain. The family lives very far from the church, but has already made it twice without anyone having to look for them.

Last week, we taught them the word of wisdom, as Onze has a drinking and smoking problem, and Odete drinks coffee. Normally it’s extremely difficult to get any man to even want to desire to stop drinking, but Onze has been doing an excellent job cutting down and going many days at a time without drinking and fighting extreme headaches because of this. Odete also is fighting caffeine withdrawal and serious headaches as well. They’re all very humble, and we have grown very close to them. We had just taught them the Law of chastity, and they told us that they would ponder on marriage. They probably won’t be able to get married until after I go, but at least I can do everything to place things in order, so that Elder Fogelberg can carry out the rest.

Abilio and Sandra had a very rough time recently with keeping their commitments, but it seems that they’re finally on track as they’re coming back to church and getting their act together.  Interesting thing is that some 4 weeks ago, Abilio passed out drunk on his bed and Sandra sitting by his side with a scowl on her face. We did not even know at the time that Abilio had a drinking problem. We asked if we could pull Sandra aside and talk. She agreed. She talked about how Abilio was going to have to make some major changes before she would agree to marry him, like stop drinking being priority number one. We found Abilio that next day and taught him the Word of Wisdom. He reacted much more humbly than we had expected and promised that he would leave the habit. He seemed to do it with great ease and has not touched a drop since. I love this guy. He has some real humility, and it touches my heart how important the Gospel has become in his life. He receives us with such warmth, and we have spent ample time just talking with him and getting to know more about his life. Hopefully we would be able to mark a date for their wedding soon.

Joana was baptized this weekend, and everything went really well. Joana has suffered quite a bit in her life, now living alone with 2 children. I have seen the difference in how her afflictions have humbled her. She does everything by her feelings, so the Gospel was music to her ears seeing how the spirit played such a big role in her life. I’m really proud of her and how far she has come. Many times we’ve walked by her front door and have caught her reading the Book of Mormon by herself. She has a very strong spirit, and I have no doubt that she’s going to grow quickly in this magnificent Gospel.

This weekend was District conference (like stake conference) and all the members of Mindelo were there. I saw most of my recent converts, and I am glad to see that almost everyone is  active. Andirson is still preparing to get the Melchezidek Preisthood and is strong in the church. I saw Anna and Margarida and some other members that I was close with. Mindelo 1 is one of my favorite branches that I have worked with in my mission, and it was so great to see everyone again.

As for the feeling of going home...it’s a bitter sweet feeling. My heart is like a washing machine right now. There are so many great things that I know I’m going to enjoy going home, but a big part of my heart though is also preparing for one of the biggest shocks I’m going to have in my life and having to cope with the fact that it’ll all be over soon. I’ve converted to this mission so much, and it means to me what words cannot describe. This mission has such a profound impact on my heart, and it’ll be over in three weeks. I’ll never live a part of my life like this again. I’ll never be in this country again as a missionary. So right now, I am happy as happy can be and sad as sad can be. I wonder if that is even possible, but that’s what I believe I feel.

The friends that I’ll be leaving are the most painful part of this journey. All these wonderful people… I know the Lord will be taking care of them, but how I wish I didn’t have to say goodbye. I love these people like I have never loved before. My heart has gone through the ends of the world for these people, and I have lost myself in service to them. It hasn’t been easy, but is an experience that I’ll never, never, NEVER take back.

I’m the most proud of the fact that I believe that I have the necessary tools to be an active member of this Gospel for the rest of my life. I’m proud that through all the joy, pain, and hard work, I’ll always feel that I did my best with the knowledge that I had. I’m the most proud that I know God so much more than I used to and that now I have a true reason to be a member of this church, and definitively, I’m proud of the fact that now I’m stronger, more mature, and numb to life’s problems. I feel that through the Lord, I can handle anything!

Elder Cuestas

Monday, September 24, 2012

Division with Elder Reeser

Last Thursday I went on the division with Elder Reeser. We talked about all sorts of techniques that we can use to improve the work. This had to have been one of the best divisions that I have ever done in my mission. The Spirit was extremely strong throughout the whole day. We talked about engaging the investigators better in the lessons, so that we are teaching people, not lessons. We put this into practice and had an incredible day! We committed an investigator to live the Word of Wisdom after the Spirit being super strong in the room.
The interview went super great with my Mission President. He actually did not have too much counsel for me, other than not to get trunky (lazy) on my mission. He told me that I have done great things on my mission and that I’m doing a great job in helping Elder Fogelberg in becoming a strong missionary.
So this week, we have had some major progress with Odette and her family. Her whole family now has the desire to come to church, and they were going to come this past Sunday, but Onze (Odette’s partner) his brother died, and the funeral was on Sunday. Funerals here take all day because, after the service, all the people walk behind the funeral car all the way to the cemetery. Odette’s baby also had a fall and passed out, but everything seems to be ok now. We had a great lesson with them about the fact that families can be together forever. Odette’s face lit up as she mentioned that she missed her mom very much since her death. She got more excited to live the Word of Wisdom and want to continue talking to us. They promised that they would come to church this week.

Also, this week we are preparing this woman named Joana for baptism. Joana was someone that had been studying with the elders for a very long time. She had a few problems coming to church in the past, but she had recently experienced some major health problems like migraines and other issues. This has caused her to humble herself and look for the Lord. She came to church last week, and she said that she was ready to prepare for baptism.

Additionally, we are working hard with other investigators, so they can progress and come to church on a regular basis.
Elder Cuestas

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Family From Pedreira

Last weekend was the sickest I have ever been on my mission. I literally could not get up from my bed, and Elder Fogelberg was throwing up throughout the day. The whole city was without power, except Bela Vista. (That was a gift from the Lord, so that our fans could keep working)

It’s interesting because towards the beginning of the afternoon, Elder Fogelberg could not get up from his bed, and I was taking care of him bringing him water and medicine, and anything he needed. Around 8 pm, he started to feel much better, and I had started to feel worse. I had acquired a killer headache and quite a fever, so much that after 9 pm, I could not get up from bed, and Elder Fogelberg was bringing me water and medicine and what not…It seems that the Lord staged our sicknesses so that we could help each other…ha-ha.
This week we’re feeling much better!
So this Wednesday, we have training and interviews with our Mission President. I’m excited for this because I’ll receive inspired counsel for these last 5 weeks that I have left here. I’m also excited because I’ll be going on a division with Elder Reeser. He has been a good friend throughout my whole mission, an excellent missionary. He’s very humble, and it’s great that we’ll be spending a day together, so that I can see how I can help him as his District Leader.

Right now we’re focusing on the family from Pedreira. The woman’s name is Odette, and her partner’s name is Onze. They’re extremely humble and have 5 kids. Odette and Onze seem to have an extremely good relationship, and it’s interesting that Odette is really good friends with Zuleika. Zuleika told us that Odette has wanted to get married to her partner for a very long time. We’re excited to get to work with them because we taught them the word of wisdom last week. It seems that this flu has been spreading throughout all Mindelo very quickly, and Odette got it pretty bad this past weekend. However, despite that she managed to stay away from coffee which she has been drinking for a long time. She is a woman of true faith, and she walks to church in the heat every week with her children. Her partner this last week has begun to acquire interest, and he’s now participating in the lessons.
Orlandina and Firmina are doing better than ever this week. They managed to bring their mother to church this past Sunday. We’ll start teaching her this week, as well.

Abilio and Sandra have been having huge issues in their relationship. It was becoming so hard to find them that we decided to leave them be for a while, due to the fact that they were not keeping appointments at all. Miraculously, this past weekend they both showed up to church on Sunday, which is really good. It seems that they have not forgotten their desires to join the Church, so after talking to them for a while, we made an appointment, and we’ll be focusing more on them now.

We’re currently with a lot of investigators, and a lot of people to work with. This is good because it will keep me busy, so that I can finish the mission strong.

This week we’re preparing Aileen for baptism. She is a younger girl who caught interest in the Gospel because of her sisters Zuleika and Kika joining the church. Little by little, we’re helping this entire family to come to the gospel. We’re teaching their other sister Doris, too.

Well, due to the few days out of work last week, we have tons of work, and we’re excited for the weeks of hard work ahead!  
Elder Cuestas

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Firmina's Baptism

This week was Firmina’s baptism, which was something very special for Elder Fogelberg and me. The spirit was exceptionally strong and the whole time during her baptism I did feel that she is going to be an excellent help in the church and that she is going to start service through church callings pretty soon. Her testimony was one of the strongest that I had seen for someone who is just learning about the Gospel. Ever since she moved out, she has been at peace, and she is enjoying her new live with her little 6 year old. She is an extremely strong woman, and she knows that she has just made one of the greatest decisions in her life!

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the biggest challenges here in Bela Vista is getting people to church. This week we did end up finding a bunch of new people, but we did not have too many investigators that were progressing towards baptism.  Both Elder Fogelberg and I were a bit drained on Saturday after working all that we could this past week with not exactly the results we were expecting. However, that day we were walking up in a part of Bela Vista called Pedreira and we got this impression to visit these relatively new investigators that we were teaching to invite them to church. We got to their house, and all of them were there. We talked to the mother and invited her to church, and she agreed. The people here often agreed to come to church, but who actually makes it, we never know.

Sunday morning comes around and after a 35 minute walk in the 90 degree heat, and rain, while wearing our suits, we only found 3 investigators in church. We weren’t happy about it, but we accepted it...then about 10 minutes later, there was our family from Pedreira all coming to church as well as 3 other investigators that we were counting on. This resulted in the highest amount of investigators that I’ve ever had in church at one time. We had 11 investigators in church. This is huge for an area that was once dead.
My companion and I were cheering and celebrating the whole way home. The Lord produced such a huge miracle for our hard work this past week. I’m so grateful for the power of faith and the power that it has to convince people to make that 35 minute walk in the heat to church. It’s all the spirit. We just try to move our mouths to what the spirit wants us to say.
Elder Cuestas

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My 21st Birthday!

I cannot believe that today is my 21st birthday.  My time here has gone by so quickly, and it seems sometimes that I was - yesterday - a brand new missionary with all this nice brand new clothes, ties and a new/clean nametag.  Currently, I’m at 8 weeks left until home. My nametag is now brown with almost 2 years of work, sweat and dirt, 2 years of walking dirt roads, hiking rocks and small mountains.  Two years of sitting in tin shacks and spreading the word of the Lord in one of the most sacred countries in this world. It has been an amazing journey!
So this week was busy with its ups and downs, and we have had tons of work to do here in Bela Vista.
As I mentioned last time, we have been working with Firmina. She has been having major problems with her husband. Well we discovered more about their situation.  Her husband is indeed a very violent person. He has tried to strangle her many times, and he wants to control her and have her be at his will. I’m so grateful for her faith, and what she has had to do these past two weeks. She made the decision that she no longer wanted to do anything with him. Being on how wicked a man this is, we supported and helped her build enough faith to move out as soon as possible. Well, she was living in the shack attached to the house, and being that she was living the law of chastity already, she has plans to get baptized this weekend.   Well, Satan is really good at stirring people’s hearts to contention, and he had this man at his will. The husband found out about her plans, and he threatened to throw her out on the street should she be baptized. This man has no reason to do that, other than to just be cruel. He doesn’t even have a religion and just spends the day in the streets with his friends.

Oh well, the Lord is more powerful. We prayed and prayed and prayed for her, and Saturday around 6 in the evening, she found a house and rented it out. We dropped almost all our appointments yesterday and immediately went to go help her get her stuff out. It’s interesting that as she was doing this, the man began to weep and told her that it was his family’s fault that he was so violent with her and that he wanted her back. As we like to put it, "she loves Christ more than she loves him". We got in the truck with all her stuff, and that was that. As missionaries, we support families and unity, but we do not support abuse and the kind of treatment that this man was giving Firmina. We got out and helped her move in, and as she was putting her things in the new house and organizing, she started smiling and expressing how happy she was that the whole thing was over. She is now there with her children, and she is looking forward to being baptized this week. I’m so proud of her for her faith in the Gospel, and all she has done to come closer to Christ. This is the beginning of a new chapter in her life, and she will be blessed with a bright journey ahead.  
Elder Fogelberg is doing incredible. He has already become a great missionary, and I’m so excited to see all that he’s going to be able to accomplish in his mission. I’m so grateful for him!
Elder Cuestas 
This is the view of Mindelo that I get from my area