Elder Santos

Elder Santos

Monday, December 1, 2014

December 1, 2014

The following is a prompt from President Mehr to me, on my request two weeks ago, and my answer back to him.

Write about your personal feelings and the testimony that you have gained. Reflect back and ponder on all the lessons and doctrines and impressions of the spirit that you had. Organize it in some kind of narrative and then write that to me.

Dear President,

The decision to come out on a mission for me was not terribly difficult. When people ask me if I choose to come here or if I was forced to, I reply that, as the youngest of three sons in the family, I watched one brother leave for two years, and I watched the other choose not to. I tell them that I saw the differences in their lives, saw what one had and the other didn't and chose where I wanted to be. What I said was true, but it was also incomplete. To be perfectly honest, I never really had to ask myself if I would go on a mission or not. I knew that it was expected of me, and I felt no reason not to, so I went. During a recent zone conference tour, Sister Mehr shared a story-I think she may have been talking about family history-about an ancestor who, while serving a mission, was beaten within an inch of his life and left to die. As she was speaking, I very clearly had the following thought- "You haven't made your great sacrifice yet. Your Abrahamic test is still in front of you. You're not ready to be among them yet." I was impressed by the thought, and have reflected on it since then. I spoke about that moment later with my district leader, who said "So, you've given up everything, and you left for two years to serve the Lord, and you feel like you haven't given enough yet?" Now, don't get me wrong, I'm sure that for some young people, the decision to go on a mission is the greatest trial of their young lives. But not for me.

Why did I come? Well, I thought that the church was probably true. I mean, if any church was right, I felt confident that it had to be this one. Knowing if God was there was another question entirely, and one that I hadn't been making a very determined effort to have the answer to. Joseph Smith taught that one aspect of true and rational faith is a knowledge that the life you are leading is acceptable to God; if I were to apply that more directly, I would say that I didn't want to know if He was there, because I was sure that if He was, he would be very unhappy with me, and with some of the poor choices that I had made and was still making. So, I left for a mission with a sort of "this is probably the right thing to do" attitude.

I must say as well that, before coming on a mission, I was used to being the best and brightest without very much effort (in fact, one of the only things that didn't come easy was the piano, and so I begged my mom to let me stop for three years until she did), and so may have come on a mission with the intention of becoming important. I wanted to be special. I wanted to be unique.

The MTC was an important place for me-not because I learned to change my attitude; I was still the special child and reveled in it-but because after staying in such an environment for about a month, I finally had the courage and the faith to talk to someone, of my own free will, about my past mistakes. For the first time in about seven years, I felt free, worthy, and confident. It was an incredible and important change. I left feeling even more ready to take on the world, with a small part of my mind still feeling the desire to make a name for myself.

Then came my very first day in the field. I really couldn't tell you what happened that day, but I do remember kneeling (or falling) down that night in prayer. As I look back on it now, I realize that I was probably emotionally, spiritually and culturally whiplashed out of my mind, but at the time all that I knew was that I felt awful, and didn't really know why. In my heart, I could only cry out "Oh, my Father..." words failed, as I just let all of the weight and sorrow come to the front of my mind and be pushed out towards someone that I was pretty sure was there. I don't remember a single other thing that happened in that prayer, but I know that I was comforted. For the very first time, that night as I was falling asleep, I said to myself that maybe this prayer thing actually did do something.

The next four transfers were a period of becoming, as I left behind the pre-mission person that I had been, and sort of discovered who Elder Santos would be. The first thing that I noticed is that I was a happier person. I smiled more. I got over being an angsty, moody, mysterious teenager. I was more grateful. I really, sincerely, loved people. And so it was.

Then came the call that would change everything. As I was coming down to the end of my fourth transfer, you called, President. Actually, you probably don't remember this, but you first told me that I would be going to Martinique to be a zone leader with Elder Russell, and then you asked me to pass the phone to Elder Santos. Well, Santos and Sosa are close enough that I'm not surprised that you mixed us up, and it's still a story that makes me laugh to day. But no, you then told me that I was going down to French Guianne to be Zone leader and senior couple. Now, don't get me wrong, the assignment to serve in a leadership position and the learning opportunities that came with it were some of the most important elements of my mission. I wouldn't trade that for anything. With that said, that call only reinforced my subconscious desire to become important. I was still special. I was still a stand-out.

You probably also don't remember telling me, in my first interview with you after that call, that "I told the assistants that you are just...well, cocky isn't the word, but we'll say self-confident-just self-confident enough to not be overwhelmed by the calling". Well, it was something very close to that, if that's not word-for-word. You were right, but it was a close thing. Sometimes, looking back on those days, I think that I barely made it. A lesson that I have learned since then, both from you and from the Lord, is that the kingdom doesn't fail and the boat doesn't sink. It didn't, and it wouldn't have, but there were times when I myself was sinking. The challenges of working with a culturally different mini-missionary who was not used to mission rules and was not particularly interested in getting used to them within a month, coupled with two culturally different missionaries who were showing about the same attitude towards obedience in two years of mission life, really did get to me, a few times. What I learned from those early, difficult days was that sometimes, we don't see the answers come in a day, and sometimes we don't see them come at all. Sometimes we just have to live in the life that God has given us, and wait for Him to lighten the burdens on His own time. He does.

Life changed a lot when two new missionaries came in to the zone. I was happy, and I loved my companion a lot. That's huge. I will always look at this period of my mission as "the glory days", not because of any other factor than that we were united at home, and we worked hard outside. I think that everything else, I can live with, if I can be happy at home with the people that matter the most.

Listening to the sincere, humble questions of a young missionary soul, and asking these same questions myself, led me to learn a great deal about revelation and the gift of the Holy Ghost at this time. It was here that I adopted the motto-"If you feel like you should, do it. If you feel like you shouldn't, don't". It was my simple way of expressing that the Holy Ghost simply is there, if we're being good boys, and that even if I don't always recognize Him speaking to us, sincere and honest introspection usually puts us in the right place. I'm fully aware that this is a theory that will not at all lead the natural man to God, and very often will accomplish the contrary, but for those who are humbly striving to live good lives and receive spiritual direction, I'm convinced that it's an important formula for success.

December brought a big learning opportunity as I was allowed to come to Trinidad for a leadership conference. The thing that I will always remember the most from those few days was the chance that we had to speak privately. It was in that conversation, and as I've thought about it since, that I have really realized the full, liberating, and sometimes terrifying meaning of agency and accountability. We truly are free. We truly do just what we want to do. We truly will suffer the consequences of our desires and our actions, whatever they have been. I weight of responsibility seemed to rest on my shoulders, as I realized just what it means to be free to act, and not to be acted upon. 

That is the very realization that lead to a period of my life in which I learned some very important lessons about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I have felt myself in painful, agonizing combats in which I seemed to have put myself in chains through my past choices. In those moments of distress and despair, I have cried out to God and asked for Him to do for me just that part that I could not do for myself. And I have received power. I can never deny that. I know, from personal experience, that the Atonement of Jesus Christ allows us to change, to do more than we could on our own, and to become something that may be out of our reach, but that is not out of His. I must, and I feel personally responsable to testify that Christ is both willing and able to heal us. In fact, I think that there's nothing that He desires more. What we can and cannot do is, in fact, irrelevant, when we are in the service of the Lord. And so, I will always be on the Lord's errand, for then I will always be entitled to His help.

I'm out of time, so I'll have to stop here. I guess I wasn't going to finish the story in any case-it's not over yet!

I love you, President. I'll see you soon.
-Elder Santos

I love you guys too. à bientôt,
-Elder Santos

Friday, November 28, 2014

November 3, 2014

I just barely realized how long this is.

Recently President asked us to read through the book of Mormon studying a particular theme. He asked for a report on what we learned that was supposed to be one page (oops). This is what I wrote to him. It took me all my time, so as a consolation prize for a real email (it was a pretty funny week, too), have this!

With love,

-Elder Santos

As I recently read through the Book of Mormon, I did a focused study on a principle which, as a missionary and as a disciple of Christ, has been on my mind a lot recently. I studied faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ. As I read through, I marked and counted occurences of the word "faith" or similar forms in one color, and marked examples of exercise of faith, blessings of faithfulness, and examples of unfaithfulness, each in a different color. The multiple little lessons that I learned through the book taught me, for example, that faith is a portal to power (literal, observable power included), that ... and that prayer is always an act of faith. What stuck out to me the most, though, and what I would like to talk about now, is what I learned in the final pages of the Book of Mormon, as civilizations lay in ruin and courageous, lonely prophets live out their days giving us all the knowledge that they can, that we may indeed learn to be more wise than they have been.
The great final message of the Book of Mormon, the last thing that these inspired men leave with us, is indeed a message of faith. The current edition of the Book of Mormon is printed on 531 pages, on which a form of the word "faith" is found 288 times. On the first 509 pages of the book, "faith" is used 215 times, which figures to roughly one occurance every two and a half pages, or, for statistical purposes, 0.4 "faith"s per page. In those final 22 pages, "faith" is used by the writers an incredible 73 times, or about 3.5 times per page. Why, we could ask, should the first principle of the gospel, already so prominent in the book of scripture, become almost nine times more common as the story comes to a close? I think that there are multiple answers, but to help us learn from this, I have isolated three particular lessons on faith that these prophets emphasize. To do so, I will reference scriptures from three extensive sermons on faith found in Ether 12, Moroni 7, and Moroni 10 (67 of the previously mentioned 73 final references come from these chapters).
First and foremost, these prophets (and it is both Mormon and Moroni who speak to us here) wanted everyone to know, and to have no doubt, that faith produces miracles. It is the great focus of Ether 12, where Moroni proves by abundant witnesses that God has always intervened in the history of this people by faith. This lesson, already taught and understood for many, is made even more poignent when put in its context, taught both among a people who was watching their world burn to the ground and by the lone survivor who lived to witness its utter destruction. It must have been very meaningful indeed for the worshipers in Mormon's audience to hear, from the mouth of their prophet-leader, that "it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain." (Moroni 7:37) These were the Christians, the few faithful souls left in a decaying world, that would soon live to see the utter destruction not only of their nation, but of their religion as well. Where, then, were their miracles? Where then, was their God of deliverance? Their faith, was it not seen? Was it not real? (Mormon is quick to reassure them, judging them better, as he says) Then, from courageous Moroni comes the call "Christ truly said unto our fathers: If ye have faith ye can do all things which are expedient unto me." Even then, fleeing and friendless, he was never faithless. Moroni would yet accomplish many great things, expedient to the Lord, by faith.
The second observation is of eternal significance: Both prophets proclaim unequivocally that faith is not optional and it is not a convenience-it is absolutely essential for anyone who would be in God's kingdom (Moroni 10:21). Mormon even goes so far as to say that if there is no faith among the children of men, then "awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made." (Moroni 7:38). We already know the awful consequences that would be made universal without the redemtion of Christ; here, Mormon is teaching us as clearly as he can, that such will be the lot of those who do not have faith. I am reminded of Christ's visit to Nazareth, of which we read that He did little miracles there, because of the unbelief of the people. Thus, this point becomes a variation of the first-Christ will not and cannot work the miracles of redemtion and sanctification among us if we do not have faith in Him. We must have faith that we can be saved. We must have faith that we can be changed.
Finally, (stick with me on this one), these prophets show us that, by its very nature, faith brings us to Christ. In a very real way, faith makes us more like the Savior, and is certainly the only way that we will ever become coheriters with him. Following the very familiar promise to make weak things become strong unto those who have faith, Christ himself reminds us "that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness." (Ether 12:28) How, then, does faith lead us to the Savior? First and foremost, it is by faith, and not otherwise, that our garments are made clean (Ether 12:38). Scriptures witness abundently to the importance of purity before God. But, what really strikes me in this final message has to do with a phrase which I didn't really understand before this last reading, and which I am still learning about now. "by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing." In Moroni 7:25-28, Mormon explains that throughout history, "they who have faith in Him [did] cleave unto every good thing". Faith allows us to reject that which is evil and to cleave unto that which is good. This is a phrase which we don't see before this in the Book of Mormon, nor after-that is, not until the very final five verses of the volume. "And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing." (Moroni 10:30) Moroni does not, in fact, use the word "faith" at all in this last sacred invitation to be perfected in Christ, but in the canon of scripture available to us, I cannot help but think that in this final, sacred moment, he must have been thinking of his father. "Come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ". So, here is the miracle. Here is salvation. Here is safety for the soul, even in the ash-heap of a godless world. Here is the mind of a man, close to the end of his life, but far from the end of his faith. He knew where he was going, for he had truly seen with his eyes that which he had first beheld with an eye of faith (Ether 12:19). He knew, and he wanted us to know.
This has been too long already, so I will end by saying that it is my sacred desire to walk in faith, to receive more faith, and to be exalted in faith. It is why I am here.

Monday, October 27, 2014

October 27. 2014

Mele asked some questions, and since it's all the time I'm going to have, I'll just reply to them for everyone at the same time.

1. Some of my favorite foods down here have been banane pesée (fried bananas that you eat with meats and a special veggie mix) with black rice (a traditional haitian dish), which I think I will be able to make when I get back. Well, not the rice, part. Also Chicken Colombo, which is pretty much a light variation of curry. But hey, it's tastey. I would love to be able to take bokits home with me, but I don't know if I'm good enough of a cook for that...

2. Things I'm excited for when I get home...well, I really want to see my nieces. Ok, I want to see everybody, but I definitely do want to see the babies. They may very well be scared of me by now, since they probably won't remember who I am, but that's okay, we'll figure it out. I don't really know what else I'm looking forward to in particular. Every once in a while I imagine being back on some street at home or in Provo, and it's cool, but there's nowhere in particular that I'm dying to go.

3. Ah, the trunky question. It always seems like a trap, but here goes. Am I trunky? Well, there are certain things that I'm really excited for when I get home, but it's not things like school and phones and having nothing to do. I'm excited for how great the future is going to be, one day. Do I wish I had more time in the field? It's an interesting thought. You see, the thing is, everyone who goes out to serve a mission goes and struggles and learns and fights and then, eventually, it ends. Every one of us has to, someday, take the collective efforts made over however long of a period it may have been, and lay it on the altar of sacrifice, saying "Here you go, Father. This is how much I love you. This is what I've got. I hope you're not disappointed. I hope you know that I do love you". And then we keep on living for Him anyway, so it all works out in the end. So, I would say that I would love to have more time out here, because I would love to have a little bit more to lay on that altar for him. I don't think it's uncommon among missionaries, but I do feel a great sense of having so much more that I wanted to do. Now, I'm just trying to squeeze all of it into the next 35 days (thanks mom).

4. How have I changed the most? I would be very interested to have a definite answer to that question, myself. I don't, but I can offer some observations. One is that I've learned to smile. I think that was one of the first lessons that I learned, actually. It's one of the first ones that people around me commented on, in any case. I guess I could say that I've gotten over the image of being a mysterious, moody teenager, and would rather just be a happy person. I've also learned to love service in a very profound way, and I hope that that will always be a large part of me. Some of the most satisfaction that I have had as a missionary has been in serving others around me-not always in dramatic ways, but even in the little things. I love the feeling of having done something good for someone else. One other big one is that I have learned to love, and I mean love the word of God. It is a sacred, special thing, and we are cheating ourselves big-time if we don't go to it early and often. I love it. I hope that I will always make the time for it. Richard G. Scott gave me a pretty good reason to during last conference.

That's my time! I love you all, and I love this gospel. I would not have known that it was true if I had not lived it for myself. As Elder Packer reminds us, there are some things which can be learned but which cannot be taught. I believe that what I have learned here is probably among the most important learning that I will ever do.

-Elder Santos

October 20, 2014

So this Thursday/Friday I was on an exchange in Lamentin, and Capesterre respectively. It was pretty fun, and also, for like the first time I could actually see Dominica from the south end of the island! It's cool, okay? Picture was from a painting service project chez our branch president. My pants got a little bit sale before this...but, one of the missionaries assures me that water based paints come right out of the clothes. Only time will tell!
This is the first day of my last transfer. It's pretty weird, and yeah, Momma has had a countdown going ever since I told her what the release date was. Oh, I'm staying here with Elder Broadbent, btw. So, yeah. After this, we've got six more emails coming from the field. And I'm running out of ideas. Any suggestions?
Well, I love you!
-Elder Santos

Thursday, October 9, 2014

October 6, 2014

By special request...

I'm going to do a big group email this week. I really do apologize for how bad I've gotten at that. It's just that these are the ones that take the most motivation, and sometimes the flesh is weak.
Conference was awsome. It really is incredible, but somehow ten hours goes by so much faster when you're a missionary. Like really, Sunday evening rolls around and I'm like "Whoo! Who's up for round two?!"
This is also one of the first times when I've been able to string together a definite theme throughout all the sessions (I'm sure it's been there before, but I haven't been as good at paying attention). I feel like if God wants us to know anything right now, it is that this is His church, and it is lead by His prophet. We need to have more confidence in that, and in what that means. So yes, ask your sincere questions and earnestly seek for the answer, but keep in mind that the only answers that are worth anything are the ones that come from on high. In the meantime, do not disregard what you do know because of what you don't know. Keep calm, and carry on (We are in a war, after all).
So my special applications of these lessons have been in an increased support for local church leadership and an increased determination to receive revelation to answer my questions. Aaah it's just so good. Is it April yet?
Other than that, exciting news includes the story of Fabien and Julie, who are respectively the grandson and the granddaughter-in-law of Sister Pierrette in our area. Basically, they both have known the church for a long time now, but in the past month have decided to come back to church, and have been doing so pretty consistently. They were present for all four general sessions of conference. They are great, and have two adorable little girls. One of them doesn't talk much yet (coming up on seven months), but the other one and I are best friends. We haven't gotten to see them very much because of scheduling difficulties and sickness, but we're making slow and steady progress.
Oh and guess what? I ate spam musubi this past week! Elder Miyasaki (hawaiian) got the makings in a package from home, and when he got transferred he gave it to Sister Gill (hawaiian), since she was the only other one who knew what to do with it. Well, she made it right before conference and gave one to Elder Santos (hawaiian) because I'm hawaiian. Thank you, family Miyasaki and Sister Gill! It was delicious.

Picture is of the third chute de carbet. Looking at the camera for you, momma.
I love you all!
-Elder Santos

We went to La Soufrière this morning

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

September 22, 2014

So it's definitely December 4th.

although there was a funny moment in my interview with President, when he asked me "When are you going home?" In my mind I was like "What're you doing asking me that?!"
But then I got an email from our travel secretary, and she confirmed that "you will be returning home on Demeber 4th". So, there you have it.
So, it's official. Last zone conference is behind me, I've said goodbye to a bunch of people, and the next time that I'm going to see President Mehr is for my final interview. That's pretty weird. But I've got some stuff to accomplish before then, so that'll keep me busy.
The musical number. Since I've talked about it so much, I feel like it's only fair that I mention how it went. Family, you know that song. Many of us sang it with the Milletts for our double farewell. It's not an easy one. I had Elder Fraley record it on my camera while we were singing, so you'll get to listen to it yourselves one day. When I listen to it, I notice the skewed timings, the lost parts, and some conspicuously missing high notes (A soprano! A soprano! My kingdom for a soprano!), but I can't say I'm disappointed, because I feel like we got just about the product that we worked for. And, considering the limited rehearsals, limited practice time, and limited personell (I say that, but for having to pick from a group of 18 random people, we still had an incredibly high level of musicality), I'm grateful that it turned out as much as it did. The good news is that Elder Zivic must not have been raised in the Santos household, because he wasn't as much of a critic as I was. I'm told that when we finished, he turned to President Mehr and said "wow!". After the closing prayer to finish the zone conference, he made a point of saying thank you for the musical number, saying that it was wonderful. Well, it's over now!
Besides that, it was a great zone conference, and I have exactly two pages left in my composition book. I figure I'll fill those up for the departing devotional, and then I'll come home with three important mission books. I'll have to digitize them at some point, and then I'll be able to share the cool stuff more fully.
The story for the week is that the Lord does some cool stuff. One of the things we talked about was the missionary mindset or paradime that we have here. We talked about needing to increase our faith and not allow ourselves to be limited by previous results or expectations. So, with that on our minds, we're been focusing on expecting miracles, and, well, the Lord delivers. Yesterday, we had one man teach himself the great apostasy, another opened up his Book of Mormon at the beginning of the lesson and said "I've been reading about baptism!", and another one asked for our help to stop drinking. My goal now is to just have miracles every day until I come home. I mean, afterwards too, but one thing at a time. Time goes fast; we're already in week three.
Anyway, that's a bit of my week. Is it weird that the thing that I write about the most is the song? Probably. But hey.
-Elder Santos

September 15, 2014

Last Zone Conference

...is this Wednesday. It will be with Elder Claudio Zivic, of the seventy. And yeah, we're doing a musical number. My brain doesn't know how to recognize a lost cause, so I can't say whether or not this will work. I'll let you know!
Also, I can't help but remember when I wear my Seahawks shirt that we're in the regular season already. Somebody want to update me?
This week featured a few cool Sunday morning miracles. At 8am, I was just starting to study when the phone rang. Old investigator, someone we hadn't talked to in several weeks after he...well, it was a mutual break. But then, he called on Sunday and was like "hey, I want to come to church!" So, I frantically called everyone in our branch, and we got him to church! Then, right before the meeting starts, another investigator drives up, completely unexpected. He's an older man, his health is always up and down, and he usually says "I'll try" when we invite him to church. Well, in the past, "I'll try" has always meant no. Like, not just with him, but with any investigator in all of my mission. Up until this past Sunday! It was pretty chouette.
As another quick update, Jean-Yves is doing great. He got the Priesthood last Sunday (did I already say that?), and has been studying like crazy in his scriptures. I love seeing the gospel just change people's natures. Everything is different. In fact, he told us that he went to see his docter this past week, and she told him that "I've never ever seen you smile like that!". He then started talking to her about the church and his recent baptism.
Wish us luck! If you happen to think of it during your prayers, I would much appreciate your asking for help with our musical number. I would like it to be good.
Je vous aime tous!
-Elder Santos