Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Long Ride to Ojo

Hi everyone,

I just want to thank you all for your words of encouragement these past couple of days! I was overwhelmed with e-mails, messages, and phone calls after my previous post. We really have the best brotherhood on Earth, don't we? Thank you so much, and please don't hesitate to contact me. You have no idea how much it helps to hear from you all. 

I had mentioned in my previous post that I would be cycling to Ojo for the meeting today. I am happy to say that I did it! I made sure to pack my meeting clothes in my bag along with two liters of ice-cold water. I have a pretty nice bicycle, but the problem is that I don't have a wrench to lower the seat. Yes, I know all you fitness freaks are gonna tell me that it's better to have the seat higher, but it's definitely harder on your legs! I can't say that the ride is enjoyable. It's hot, humid, and very long. Also, because we are in the depths of the rainy season, there are indescribable amounts of mud in Ojo at the moment. That's why I showed up to the Kingdom Hall looking like this:

I know you can't really tell from the photo, but I was drenched in sweat and my legs were peppered with mud!

Thankfully, I was able to change into my nice clothes for the meeting. The book study, ministry school, and service meeting all went very well. After our intermission, it was time for the public talk. Now, my Spanish has improved a lot - I feel comfortable commenting without notes and participating freely, but public talks are still a bit of a struggle for me to understand. I'm usually happy if I can understand 60% to 70% of what is being said. However, the speaker today from El Viejo was awesome. He spoke so clearly that I was able to understand the whole talk!!
My notes from the public talk. They actually make sense for a change!

It was a very nice talk about the coming paradise. We have so much to look forward to. He ended the talk by asking "Will you do everything you can to make sure you can be a part of that paradise?" The fact that I was able to understand so much definitely felt like a boost of encouragement from Jehovah. It made the grueling journey to Ojo all worth it. A very refreshing meeting indeed!

Then, it was time to change back and cycle home. The journey back is even harder, especially at mid-day and on a road where there is absolutely no shade!! I had to stop and take many water breaks. As soon as I got home, I called my mother (who told me to cycle out there in the first place) and shouted about how miserable that bike ride is. She then asked me, "But was it worth it?" After much hesitation, I replied, "Yes, it was one of the best meetings to date." She said, "Good. Now tell everybody that I was right." There you go, mom.

The amount of mud on my legs at the end of the day. Definitely time for a shower!

Is it easy cycling eight miles round-trip? Absolutely not, and it never will be. But today's meeting made it worth the effort. It really felt like a blessing from Jehovah at the just the right time. Things are still very difficult down here, but I'm confident that things will get easier. I'm also still hoping that my scooter will be fixed soon!

Thank you all once again. Please stay in touch!


Saturday, October 26, 2013



I'd like to apologize that my blogging hasn't been as frequent this time around. (Yes, I know that apology only applies to like three people who actually keep up with this blog, but there's your apology!) In all honesty, I think the reason for my lack of updates is that I don't feel as if I have anything very encouraging to share these days. There has been a lot going on lately and I've been very overwhelmed by it all. I don't want to write anything that will depress you, but I thought it would be a good idea to put my thoughts in writing. I apologize in advance if any of this is too much of a downer to read! I'm not one to wear my emotions on my sleeve (actually, my good friends and family would say otherwise), but I need to get this out there.

As you know, we lost our congregation's only elder recently, leaving us with just three ministerial servants, including myself. At the moment, I'm giving two talks at each meeting on average. In addition, I've been made the territory servant, literature servant, and magazine servant - that's until we have our CO visit next month, so that load could change or even increase. We're in the process of completely reorganizing our territory and creating new maps. We also just inherited another large portion of territory for the congregation. I'm learning the ropes of taking care of the literature. It's not the easiest assignment, especially when you're learning how to do it in another language. Cycling out to Ojo in the awful heat is another major challenge. It completely drains you of energy to the point where you have very little left over for anything else.

Thankfully, though, I no longer have to cycle out to Ojo! An old friend is letting me use their scooter since they've left Nicaragua. It runs pretty well, and what's even better is that I am way too big for it. Mock as you may, but it is so much fun! 

This makes a big difference. Yes, I have a lot to do in the congregation, but at least transportation isn't a big issue anymore. Well, at least it wasn't a big issue. The scooter was running perfectly fine for a few weeks, but then it would no longer start. Kickstarting it wasn't good for it either. I took it to the mechanic, and he told me that they need to find a specific part for the electric starter - eje de arranque (I think the closest translation is a boot shaft?). The part is difficult to find to begin with, and even harder to find for a small scooter. I went with him to several other mechanics, and none of them have the part we need. It's been with the mechanic for about a week and half now. He's going to Managua today to see if anybody there might have it. If they can't find the part, I don't know what I'm gonna do.

Yes, I can still cycle out to Ojo, but now that there is even more to do in the congregation, a 25-minute commute to a very rural area in the hottest part of Nicaragua doesn't exactly lighten the load. I cannot describe how exhausting it is - physically and mentally. Like I said before, it nearly drains you of all your energy to the point where you don't have much left over for the meetings and the ministry. Doing so five days a week is just too much. I simply just can't do it, and I'm not sure how I managed to do it for as long as I did. Not to mention, I also lost an incredible amount of weight doing so, which wasn't healthy at all. I've been able to catch a taxi out there for the meetings, but that is very expensive. In the meantime, I've just been out witnessing with the English congregation until the scooter gets repaired - if that ever happens.

The whole situation is extremely frustrating, especially when you have goals for your ministry and Bible studies waiting for you. I want to be out with my congregation so badly but I've hardly been out at all. I am also frustrated with myself because I feel like I'm limiting myself by not just sucking it up and cycling out there. And when that happens, you begin to question whether or not you're really fit for this avenue of service. 

I also have an in-classroom job teaching English down here. It's a good job and I really enjoy it, but I haven't been paid yet. They're supposed to pay me soon, but in the meantime, you start to have anxiety about running out of money - an anxiety that lies in the back of every need-greater's mind. 

When you're not able to go out witnessing in your congregation and you're out with a congregation where your ministry is not centered, what happens then? You feel useless. What happens next? You feel homesick. What happens after that? You contemplate changing your flights and flying home early. But then you kick yourself for having such a give-up attitude. 

Don't get me wrong, there are still many things down here that bring me a great deal of joy! I have some great friends here that serve as an excellent support system. The congregation in Ojo has been supportive as usual, especially my friend Roberto. My friends Josh and Cassie treat me as their own son. The guys are always encouraging to be around as well. 

Yesterday, my good friend Jefte invited me to work out in service with him to cheer me up. Although we had to walk several miles throughout the day in a rural area (something he neglected to tell me beforehand, as if I wouldn't like that idea), we had a great time. He puts up with well. It's good to have patient friends! His advice and friendship have always been great sources of encouragement to me.

There may or may not have been some tree-climbing involved...

I've also resumed my Bible study with my old student Jorge - my friend Zach was covering the study while I was away. He's doing very well. He's getting healthier and keeping up with his Bible reading. What's even more encouraging is that his wife Sandra is officially studying with a local Spanish sister! She loves it, and diligently keeps up with it. Now that they both are studying, I can see the overall increase of joy among their family. They eagerly await our weekly study, and that definitely makes it all worth it.

In addition, I have four friends coming to visit next month! My brother Ben and his wife Bree will be coming down again for a few weeks, as well as our good friends Travis and Nicole. I wish they could be here right now. I'm so excited! I miss them a lot. So yes, there are many things that help you through times like this. 

Of course, Jehovah has been the biggest source of help. He provides all the other sources for you. I've certainly not put aside personal study and throwing my anxiety on Him in prayer every day. I've especially been empowered by reading the new Bible! I only have the app for now, but I will be receiving my personal copy next month when my visitors come. It's unbelievably easier to understand and true evidence of His love for us! I would say the key to coping with discouraging times like this is relying on Jehovah. That's what has helped me through challenges before, and I'm sure that it will get me through this time as well.

Still, we need to work in harmony with our prayers. I guess just sitting here whining and complaining about my problems doesn't really qualify as doing that. That being said, this is what I'm gonna do: I'm gonna pack a change of clothes, two large bottles of water, an extra sweat rag, and cycle out to Ojo's meeting tomorrow. It's certainly not ideal, but that's the best I can do. What good are my prayers if I'm not gonna give Jehovah my best? 

Rest assured that I do not regret my decision to serve here. I've spent more than a year here, and the experience has brought me inexplicable joy and true meaning to my life. However, that doesn't mean that it comes without challenges. The society has printed many encouraging and relatable articles about need-greaters who have dealt with even worse scenarios! I am determined to make the best out of this situation once again and be even closer to Jehovah because of it.

Again, I apologize for another depressing post. The last time I was feeling discouraged about life here, I kept silent about it, which only made things worse. It feels a lot better to just admit it. 

An inspirational photo Jefte just sent me.

Thank you all for your support. Please contact me and let me know how you're doing! And don't worry about me - I've got my air conditioner to help me cope!

Stay in touch.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Adios, Moutons

Hi there,

I'm sorry that it's been a while! Things have been getting busier and busier here. I'm still trying to get into a new routine and everything, but things should be settling down a bit now. 

One thing that's taken some getting used to is a change in our meeting schedule. Our Thursday meeting attendance was very low. We have 36 publishers, and on Thursdays, we were only averaging around 20 people in attendance. The meeting started at 3:00 so people could get home before sunset, but the trouble with that was that a lot of people were still working during that time. In comparison, on Sundays, our attendance was usually at least 40. Something really needed to be done, so our circuit overseer came up with a good idea: try having both meetings on Sunday! Having them both on one day would really encourage people to make sure they attend - if they were to miss it, they would be missing a whole week's worth of meetings. So, a plan was put into action to start with the Book Study, Ministry School, and Service meeting at 8:15 in the morning. After that meeting, we would have a 15-minute intermission and then have the Public Talk and Watchtower Study at 10:15. The day would finish right at 12:00 noon. 

I was very apprehensive about this new idea. That's like having a whole convention session. Actually, if you think about it, it's longer - a convention session starts around 9:45 and ends at 12:00 (a little more than two hours). We're doing three and a half hours of meetings in one setting! I thought that this schedule might scare people away. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The first Sunday we tried with the new arrangement, we had 45 in attendance and nobody left before the second meeting. Everybody stayed! We've been doing it for over a month now, and our attendance has increased with each meeting - yesterday, we had nearly 60 in attendance! Participation and commenting during the meetings have increased as well. It's very encouraging to see. Jehovah really is blessing the new arrangement. A lot of people in the congregation have commented on how much they are enjoying it, too. Although it's a bit mentally tiring (especially during the last 15 minutes of the Watchtower), I've been enjoying it very much. It's different, but it's been working out very well!

One major thing that we've been preparing for over the past month is the departure of Stephane and Maddie. As I said before, they've been here for nearly three years, and they've just about completely exhausted themselves from all the work they've had to do. They love this congregation, but it's understandable that they're ready for a change. The congregation is sad and a little nervous about losing their elder, but we'll still be taken care of. Jehovah works everything out! Last week, we had a nice going-away party for them out in Ojo. We all chipped in to purchase some peliguay - some sort of combination of lamb and goat. I'm not sure exactly, but it was GOOD!

Stephane helping cook the peliguay. 

It was really hot that day, but we had a nice turnout.

Steph and Maddie also treated us to a very entertaining dance routine they had prepared. It was very Latino! Everybody loved it.

Thankfully, the brutal heat at the start of the party disappeared with a nice rainstorm! We had to celebrate by turning it into a dance party.
Stephane rocking the sombrero. It turned into a very fun night!

Yesterday was Steph and Maddie's final meeting in Ojo before they go back to England to work. Needless to say, it was a bit emotional. Stephane used a portion of the local needs to thank Ojo de Agua for a great couple of years, and encouraged all of us to continue on in the race for life. Although losing them is a major blow, at least it'll give the congregation a chance to stand on its own two feet, and not depend so much on one couple. And who knows - maybe we will get another elder soon! Again, if anybody is qualified and serious about coming to check it out, let me know! We desperately need the help!!

Our elder/servant body: me, Domingo, Stephane, and Roberto.

Steph and Maddie with Yorleni. They have helped her a lot over the past couple of years. They encouraged her to start regular pioneering, and she is now our only local regular pioneer! They also studied with her mother, Esperanza, who is now baptized.

One last congregation photo with the Moutons.

Personally, I am going to miss Steph and Maddie a lot. They have helped and encouraged me so much over the past year. Any time I struggle with something, they always make sure that I'm okay, whether it's by means of a phone call or having me over at their house for the night. It helps a lot to have others down here who completely understand the challenges of being away from home or struggling to adjust to this different life. Having good friends like them really is a gift from Jehovah, and I know that our friendship will never change. I wish them all the best in Matagalpa, and am so thankful for all that they've done.

Sorry if that was rather depressing! To lighten the mood, here's a joke: How did the Italian chef die? He pasta way in his sleep! 

Talk soon,