Wednesday, February 26, 2014

2.26.2014

Hello my Wonderful, Beautiful Family,

This week has been fantastic!! I’m connecting with my companion more and we’re working a lot better together...Several days ago we had a lesson with our investigator Carlos Chavez, for the second time. It’s been difficult with him since he hasn’t had many inquiries of our church. However, during our second visit I felt the Spirit so strongly and I bore my testimony of my experiences for the first time in Spanish. Even though the lesson didn’t turn out as we had thought, it didn’t matter to me because I know our investigator could feel the spirit. Several days later our instructor Hermano Lopez (who role plays as Carlos) gave us two journal entries of how Carlos felt about our discussion. He wants to know more, and even though our Spanish is still rough, he said when we testified through our testimony our Spanish was perfect. :) Yay!!! Remember how I said before we are randomly selected for talks on Sunday, on the morning of? I was chosen for this past Sunday. I gave my talk on arrepentimiento (repentance) through la Expiacion (the Atonement). From the beginning to end of my talk I wept, for I truly felt the Lord within my swell. I spoke as clearly as I could in my best Spanish, and testified that Christ is truly there and gives me esperanza and amour (hope and love) even during our times of trial. I was also fortunate to play all of the music during Sacrament meeting. :) Following the meeting and throughout the whole day, people would come up to me and say the kindest sentiments about my talk. I am so grateful I was filled with Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost to adequately portray exactly what they wanted me to say. :)
     
I’ve also made language goals this week, which was awesome!! Yesterday I learned ten new words, five new phrases, and the first verse of ¨Las Familias Pueden Ser Eternas¨ (¨Families Can be Together Forever¨). Each week, the goal is to learn ten new words each day, as well as five phrases, one new scripture a week, and at least one verse of a hymn each week. :) I’ll be able to learn so much more by the time I leave here, crazy!! What also helps me to study is memory cards and our program called T.A.L.L. This program is on the computer, and it’s a helpful visual of putting sentences together, learning vocabulary, grammar, and conjugation. I love it! We use seeing, hearing, and doing during our T.A.L.L. activities. In our classes we also play language games so that we can remember what we have learned. Three of the games we play are ¨Cocktail de frutas¨, ¨Papa se quema¨, and ¨BASTA!¨. Hehe, these are the perfect games for me because they’re word games and those kind are my favorite!!! ;)  We played a challenge game the other night during language class, and it was SO awesome!! I was paired up with Hermana Hansen, and we had to teach la Restauracion (the Restoration) to each other in 3 minutes, then 1 minute, and then about 30-45 seconds. AH! It was all in Espanol, and it was a great practice! It forces you to pick out what is the most essential to say to a stranger on the street. When we had to teach in less than a minute, we also had to get their address and number, etc. Woo! I was pumped and had such a great time!
     
Even though our investigators are our teachers, they pick people in their life to roleplay, and they use real stories. It’s so neat to experience! This week we had to do the same as them, pick someone to role-play if you were an investigator. We had to create an entire new personality and background. I chose Daniel, but since I am a girl, I changed my name to Danielle Ramona Rivera. :)  It was really special for me to experience it, and I’m glad I got to be in Daniel’s shoes for a while. :)  My instructor Hermano Lopez told us a touching story of his nephew. When he was about 13 he went with a friend to EFY for a week (it was here at the CCM before it became the MTC, and was a school) and by the end of the week he knew without a shadow of a doubt that the church is true! However, his parents won’t let him be baptized until he is a bit older. I hope that he keeps the faith and keeps getting involved in church events and activities! :) it will be very difficult since he has a very hard relationship with his family, but I believe in him and will pray for him!
     
My branch and I have been practicing an EFY medley of ¨As Sisters in Zion/We’ll Bring the World His Truth¨. We auditioned for it the other day after lunch (to sing in one of our devotionals). I kept my tears back as we sang and brought the Spirit to the older hermanas/our leaders. It was a very special moment, and since then we’ve been practicing it in Spanish, and we’ll be performing it in two weeks, just right before the older missionaries leave for their missions. . . .This week there has been a nasty bug of the stomach flu, so please pray for me to stay healthy! I’ve been doing great here with drinking lots of water, eating well, and exercising, but a lot of the hermanas, including two of them in my room have gotten hit hard with it. They’re feeling better now, but we don’t know where the source of the sickness is coming from. :/ However, I’ll stay hopeful and healthy as much as I can! Haha, I have four bug bites on my leg, one of them being a spider bite. The second day after I got the spider bite, it swelled really big and was swollen. Luckily my Hermana Seigfried has a product like ARBONNE that she brought with her, so I used it! I used my anti-itch cream but unfortunately it didn’t do much. But after using the liniment cream that Hermana Seigfried let me borrow, the bite went down significantly the next morning. I was going to have it checked, but now I don’t have to, yay!! Plus, it doesn’t itch as much anymore. :)
     
I feel so happy here and that I am making progress each day. I just have to remind myself to take everything minute by minute, and moment by moment. I decide whether the day goes up or down, and I’m grateful I have that choice! Seeing some of the hermanas in my district, I feel like there are many times where they take the circumstance and allow it to control how they feel. Then I had this thought pop into my head: don’t let circumstance always indicate whether you are sad or happy. I can decide that! No, we do not choose the bad the comes into our lives, but it is up to us to decide how we are going to handle it. I remember the Latin phrase often that I learned in high school: carpe diem! Our attitude is everything, and we must not only come unto Christ, but let His light shine powerfully through us! Let us know of Him, rather than about Him. ¨Shine your light that it may be a standard unto the nations¨(D&C 115:15). Keep arising and shining each day. We never know when someone is looking up to us for an example, and I can say to each of you that ALL of you (friends and family) have been a constant example of Christ to me. Thank you. Thank you for giving me love and your testimonies. Not only your testimonies, but thank you for truly, actively showing your example. I learned from Elder Bednar this week at our video devotional, that having a testimony is not enough. We must truly be converted unto the Lord by attaining the attributes of Christ, by acting, loving, and studying who HE was and is. He said to not fill our days with silly busy work, or saying that I have to work harder. He said that when we focus outward and don’t think about ourself, that is where we change and become converted, without even knowing it. I am taking his counsel day by day and I am proud to be a daughter of God, learning so much as I go. :) I love all of you and I look forward to another fulfilling week!!

LOVE, your Hermana Keri Chantel Stephenson :D


P.S. Thank you for sending me so many happy pictures, yayayayay!!!! Keep sending them, and I will send some more a little later today!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

2.19.2014

Quierido mi familia y amigos!!
       
I wish I had all the time in the world to write, but unfortunately I don’t. :( This week I have felt my testimony grow so much, through my language classes, Sunday meetings, devotionals, and learning how to improve on my own and with my companion. This last Sunday we watched ¨The Testaments¨ and every time I see it I feel the love of Jesus Christ so much. His Atonement is so tender to me and it gives me hope to repent with full purpose of heart, and to be made clean again. During Relief Society we sang primary songs and I kept thinking about how much I love and cherish them. Thank you Mom for instilling those songs in my heart, they are sung siempre (always). :) 
       
I also have had two GREAT experiences with two of our investigators this week. Our first, Yared, with complete submission and love said that she would commit to baptism. Our lesson was brief, full of love, and so naturally the Spirit touched her heart. The other was with Julio Cesar, and we made the first lesson purely about getting to know him, making sure that he was comfortable, and briefly what our purpose as missionaries is. He too, was touched by the Spirit and enjoyed our visit with him. There have been several occasions preparing to teach investigators where I have felt overwhelmed of wanting to know what to say and do, with eloquence. I’m as new as you come to learning Spanish, but I have found that is doesn't matter. 

The most prepared lessons we’ve had, have not gone as well as we would have hoped. When we have a brief outline, and just ask what they want to get out of the lesson, then everything falls into the perfect puzzle. Thank you Heavenly Father!!!! You bless me so much, es muy increible (it’s SO incredible)!! Those small moments have made the trying moments worth it. Something I learned from hearing Elder Perry in our devotional the other day was this: ¨Don’t ever leave without bearing a solemn witness of Jesus Christ.¨ I am here to bring my testimony, my experiences, and my life to others. I am here to teach and love people, not teach lessons. They are my focus and everything I do is centered around them. I think that’s what makes it easier being away from home...knowing that I have full purpose here, that I have family who loves me, and God in heaven who loves me endlessly. Every day I strive to find more joys among the sadness. I am not always on the same level with other missionaries my age, but God has given me patience, charity, and diligence to love them even when it is not easy. 
       
Learning this language is not intimidating, rather, how much can I learn today, what can I practice more? What do I do from feeling inadequate? I've realized that everyone here is on a different level, we all have different talents. Something that comforts me about my troubles is this quote from Benjamin de Hoyos that I heard in our devotional yesterday: ¨Hard work, truly hard work is more important than intellect.¨ Wow! It’s absolutely true! All of my family and loved ones are examples to me of hard work. It doesn't matter how much talent we have, there is no use of it, if we do not use it. I know I have talents, but I can achieve more by simply making the best and Realistic goals for myself. During class this week we learned about stress management. I have found that there is a good stress that we have. This good stress pushes us to be better and to be more every day. I have been working on that every day--to feel a level of stress that is healthy, and will help me to progress in my physical, mental, and spiritual goals. . . I have found through my exercising and being mindful of what I eat and drink, has given me all the energy I need to move forward. 

The other day I desperately wanted to take a nap since my head was pulsating, but then I thought, ¨No! You are just going to feel more sleepy, unaccomplished, and you will be even more exhausted when you get back to work.¨ So I didn't! I worked out really hard and did my best during gym time. The bad stress I was feeling earlier was relieved. No, not all of what I needed to do didn't leave me, but rather I was strengthened to complete the rest of the day’s goals. Exercise is so important! :) You never know what forty-five minutes can do! It’s the same principle I learned during another devotional I had this week with President Pratt. He explained, ¨God does not take our trial, burden, or circumstance away, rather he strengthens us.¨ I am always grateful that I receive strength from my Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ. I am especially thankful for the Holy Ghost whispering to me to do better than I did the day before. I remember what Beau and Melanie tell me what they do, to just take one day at a time. And that’s exactly what I’m doing! I’m taking it piece by piece, and I don’t feel like there is too much to handle, I feel like it is just right. Heavenly Father knows our needs, and he blesses us immediately when we are righteous. He really does. Granted, there is a lot for me to memorize and do every hour of the day, but it is always rewarding. :) Thank you everyone for writing me so much! Your thoughts of comfort help me to ¨persevar hasta el fin¨(endure to the end). Jesucristo helps me to be tranquielo (calm) and believe in myself. I believe in all of you, and it is because of you and our Godhead that I can do this, that we can do anything. :D The Savior’s Atonement carries me heavenward and reminds me that I can do anything, because he did, for the world!
      
I wish all of you my love and happiness!!! Thanks for not giving up on me, ever, and for sending me your love. It is truly felt. :)

P.S. please send me pictures of ALL of you, I want to see your smiling faces!!!
Con todos mi amo, (with ALL my love)
     
Hermana Keri Chantel Stephenson :) 

(my computer is acting weird, so sorry for the weird spelling and phrasing in the middle)


I LOVE ALL OF YOU!!!!!! You are mi Fortaleza (me Strength)!!!!!!! I can’t wait for more letters!!! :D

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

2.12.2014

Hola mi familia y amigos!!!!!

I just want all of you to know that while I am here in the CCM I can only send emails once a week, on my P-day. Please don't think I don´t want to write, I can, just once a week. Every single day I wish I could write, and write, and write all of you!! My P-day here is every Wednesday, so that is when you will hear from me!!!
      
Where to begin describing the CCM. My instructor Hermano Gallegos only speaks in Spanish to my class (rarely English), so it forces all of us to work hard, listen intently, and constantly pull out our dictionaries! Beau, the idea of having my own vocabulary/phrases notebook is so helpful!! Thanks so much Kelli for giving it to me, I use it so often! I can testify that the gift of tongues is so real, even in just this first week. I am speaking more Spanish and knowing a little bit more every day! It´s crazy what our minds are capable of. Before coming to the CCM, my Spanish was just some vocabulary and a few phrases. Since I´ve been here, my mind is retaining more and more, little by little, and the Spirit has brought to my remembrance of things I thought I had forgotten. An hermano in my service activity (from Mexico) yesterday told us that if we just learn one word a day, remember it always, and keep practicing phrases and sentences, then we will be bilingual in no time. That was so comforting for me to hear that. He also is very funny and told us this joke: ¨If you want to speak like a businessman, go to America. If you want to speak of love, go to France. But if you want to speak to God, go to Mexico!¨ Hehe, I really enjoyed that! I also just met an hermana from Nicaragua on Sunday about my age, and my Spanish will have a bit of a lisp, hehe. How fun! 

Every instructor and teacher that I have has taught me so much and gives me confidence. :)  Every day has new challenges of learning, and then teaching. One of the most challenging experiences right now, is teaching to our actor investigator, Yared. Since she is from here, we don´t speak very much English, or none at all when we´re with her. I´m telling you, it´s difficult, but every time we go and see her, I have a bit more confidence, and a bit more understanding of the language. Crazy right? It´s only been a week! :)  I have so much faith in my Heavenly Father to help and guide me through this. I constantly remind myself: never compare; you are doing your best; you´re loved; stay positive; smile even when it hurts; always speak kindly; be patient. The other night Hermana Seigfried (from Santa Fe, Texas) that rooms with my companion and I, let me read comfort from the Spirit that she had felt and written down. As I read I wept and felt like those words were for me too. It goes like this:
           
           You are not your flaws, you are your potential. Have an eternal                      perspective.
           You are a choice spirit.
           Speak to me. I want to hear from you.
           You don´t need to know right now.
           It´s difficult, because I know you can do it. Be encouraged by that.
      
Reading these words have been comforting me so much, and I love the diversity of people and personalities I have in my district. Even though Hermana Seigfried and Hermana Bush (from New Orleans, Mississippi) are not in my district, I´m so grateful that Hermana Udall and I get to room with them. They build me up and have so much to share of their testimony and of their life. Everyone is incredible and has a great capacity of talent. Our elders know how to have fun, and are always making me smile or laugh. They help lighten up the filled schedule we have. Elder Woodland (the curly haired blonde in the photo) reminds me so much of Dylan. He has so much excitement and care to give to everyone! He jokes a lot and is so friendly! All of the elders feel like brothers to me. :)  the hermanas in my group are incredibly hard workers and have so much to give. I feel like I have connected with Hermana Grow (red head with me) so much, and she is always smiling. I tell her ¡Que linda! and ¡Te amo mucho! all the time, so she has been saying it to me back! She is a sweetheart and we are actually both called to the exact mission! Maybe further down the mission she might be my companion, that would be awesome! In the beginning I was having a hard time with my companion, since our personalities are entirely opposite, but it doesn´t matter. She has done so many things in her life and knows so much about everything! :)  She is so intelligent and is so lively! Her livliness reminds me of you Mom! :) When we were clashing and trying to get used to being around each other, I wrote in my journal all of the qualities that I love about her. Since then, there haven´t been any problems, and we work harder together more, every day! Yay!
      
When I speak and write in my notebook or journal, I use a lot of Spanglish. Hahahaha. I feel that is the only way I can learn it, and my teacher encourages us to all the time. He says, ¨Ingles, no!¨ He´s a lot of fun and makes learning so much fun. Yesterday when we were learning how to ask questions using the ¨to be¨ verb estar, we played hot potato. We gathered around in a circle, while someone went out of the circle and said something like this: ¨Papa se quema, se quema se papa...¨ While they would say this, we would throw the marker around from person to person, until the person stopped the tongue twister. Whoever had the marker had to ask someone else in the circle a question in Spanish, and the other had to reply back in Spanish. Hahaha, it was a lot of fun!! In class we learn about phrases, specifically the ones we use when we talk about the gospel. I know how to pray in Spanish now! Woooooohoooo! I also have our missionary purpose memorized in Spanish too. It goes like this: ¨Invitar a las personas a venir a Cristo al ayudarlas a que reciban, El Evangelio restaurado mediante le fe en Jesucristo y Su la expiación. El arrepentimiento, el bautismal, las personas del don del Espírtitu Santo y el perservar hasta el fin.¨ 
      
I also have almost all of the invitation to be baptized memorized, and I have to memorize several scriptures from the restoration by Saturday, plus I have to start preparing my talk for Sunday today. Our branch president Presidente Jewell gives us the subject for our talk, and then we have a week to prepare it all in Spanish. When Sunday comes, he will randomly call speakers to speak, right before the meeting, or during it. So, you don´t know if you´re going to speak until that day. Wow! But I´m not stressed though, because I know I can do it! I also have been working on writing and saying my testimony in Spanish too. Everything is coming along great! As Hermana Garcia says (from my district), ¨Every day is a rollercoaster!¨ It sure is! Each day has its rewards and frustration, but I feel so grateful to be here! I realize that I have to have the best attitude the moment I wake up, or the day won´t feel as satisfying. :)  

My schedule consists of: personal and companion scripture study; ¨language lessons¨ (from ¨Better off Dead¨) for several hours; spiritual lessons of how to teach; devotionals; meetings as a district and branch; learning how to improve; and inbetween all of that, eating and trying to get someplace on time! I´ve been able to use my musical talents since I´ve been here, and it was so nice to tickle the ivories again! I played for sacrament meeting on Sunday, and sang with the CCM choir yesterday in our devotional. All hymns (himnos) are sung in Spanish, and we sang ¨Redeemer of Israel¨. It´s incredible how much the spirit is felt when we sing, even though we don´t understand all of it. :)
     
We have had two spectacular, historical devotionals this week. Sunday was the dedication of the Mexico MTC, and Dallin H. Oaks came to dedicate it. He taught me so much, and smiled at us all. Hermana Udall noticed, as well as many others, that as he and his wife entered the room for the devotional, while we were singing hymns, he began to cry because of the strong spirit he felt. We don´t have to understand the language well to feel the Spirit, the Spirit sends peace and love to us anyways. :)  The other unique devotional we had (my favorite) was yesterday. Director of the International MTCs, Kelen Miller, spoke to us. Did you know that there are fourteen MTCs all over the world, and that many of them are going to double in size? Provo MTC is one of them that´s going to expand. Wow!!! Also, the Mexico MTC/CCM is the largest MTC in the world. SO cool! Kelen Miller talked to us about the transformation of missionaries. He showed us before and after pictures of missionaries who have or are serving now. In a few of the pictures, their was a huge change in their countenance after just a couple weeks in the mission field. It was so neat to see and hear about them. Kelen Miller explained our transformation like this: we are a block of wood that needs to be sanded, but we don´t need to focus on the center. When we work on the edges, the middle takes care of itself. Isn´t that incredible? I have never thought about our transformations like that. He told us that we need to look outward, serve more, take Christ by the hand and he will take care of the rest. We are all imperfect, but through Him and the Holy Ghost conversion happens. It´s happening to me, and I know conversion will happen for others in Nicaragua. Whether they will be converted (come unto Christ) now or later, I don´t know. But what I do know is that through faith and humility, Heavenly Father will use the law of compensation, and I cannot even express adequately how much that comforts my soul. 

The Mexican food here is good, but Cruz, your food is a million times better! Because the meals for all of these missionaries are on a tight schedule, the food doesn´t get as much love. I don´t even mind though, I feel lucky to eat delicious food! It´s very interesting the way they make our traditional American dishes. Hehe, all of the hermanas were so excited the other day when we got to eat hamburgers and crazy good curly fries! Mm!! I love everything about this place. The people are so kind, loving, and patient, especially with the language. Even the Latino and Latina missionaries are understanding, since quite a few of them are learning English! Haha, yesterday during gym, Hermana Grow and I played soccer with the Latina missionaries, and oh my goodness are they so much fun! They laugh and tease and make the most entertaining expressions! All of them are so happy and close to each other, it´s incredible and enjoyable to see. :)  The two Latina missionaries (in the photo) that are beside me are Hermana Ramirez (left) and Hermana Calles (right). They have come almost every night to our room and help us learn more phrases and words. Plus, they´re so much fun so we get to just visit with them too! They said we are very funny gringo missionaries. Hahaha, the other night when they came, I was telling them that Daniel´s parents are from Mexico, but instead of saying parents (papás) I said ¨papas¨ which is potatoes. Hahahaha, they laughed and kept repeating what I said. It was really funny! :D I´m getting better at laughing at myself, and they´re really nice when we mess up. Hahaha, so, sorry Daniel for calling your parents potatoes. I´m sure there will be many funny mess-ups in the future. :) 
      
I´ve missed you all every day, but when Sunday came, that´s when I felt this overwhelming feeling of love and gratitude for all of you, and those who are supporting me so much!! Whenever there has been a problem, I´ve wanted to write or call you up and just tell you how the day is going. Every moment I am thinking of each of you and wondering how everything is going, and hoping that you are happy and safe. This distance has made me feel so much more thankfulness for all of the love each of you have shown in my life, and there were times I took that for granted. I am sorry, and I want to show each of you all the time that how much love and gratitude I feel for you. I pray for you every night and morning and I cannot wait to learn more and be even more immersed in my mission. :) I cannot wait to call or skype with you this Mother´s Day. All of the letters sent to me are cherished, so please, don´t stop writing and write as much as you want! I love hearing about it all, so don´t feel like messages have to be brief. :) 

I love you, hasta luego!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Until next Wednesday. :) 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

2.5.2014

Dear Family and Friends,
       
I'm learning at this very moment how to type on a Spanish keyboard, haha. I'm safe and sound here at the Mexico MTC and I miss and love you all very much.

Thanks again everyone for supporting me and my decision to be here on my mission. It means everything and more!! It's been a long day of waiting and lots of nausea and lack of sleep, but it is a good one and I've been meeting such kind and interesting people.
       
As I rode on the bus here I've seen just a touch of the poverty and poor conditions here.

Seeing this city makes me very grateful for the many privileges we have, living in America. There is so much littering and graffiti everywhere, but fortunately the brightly colored streets and homes on the mountains make up for it. It´s beautiful and humbling, and I feel honored to be here. I also have just gotten two musical assignments for the week: leading and playing the piano, yay!
      
I send all my loving to you!! I love my Savior and I'm so glad to have a feeling of calmness while I'm away. :) My companion here is Sister Jessica Udall, as seen in the photo. She´s awesome!





My mailing address is:

[Sister Stephenson]
[Departure Date: 3-18-14] [Branch 11 - District A]

Carretera Tenayuca-Chalmita #828
Colonia Zona Escolar, Gustavo A. Madero
07230 Mexico, Distrito Federal
Mexico

The estimated departure date for me is the 18th of March. The use of the above address on all correspondence will greatly facilitate delivery to me at the MTC. Please don't send packages.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

2.4.2014

Sister Keri Stephenson entered the MTC in Mexico on February 5, 2014. She is so excited to begin a new chapter in her life as a missionary for the people of Nicaragua. 

As a parent, I am so excited to see Keri serving our Father in Heaven among those humble folks in Central America. They will soon realize what a blessing they have in Keri. She has a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and is willing to give her time and talents in serving those people.

Jeff

As Keri's mother, I am so proud of her and her good decisions, especially that of serving a mission. I will miss her and eagerly look forward to her weekly emails. She has always loved her Heavenly Father and been a wonderful example of love and kindness. I love her so much and couldn't be happier that she wants to do this great thing.

Sara