Monday, March 30, 2015

Mud Mud Mud and Miracles

Hola amigos y familia,

This has been probably the most interesting week on the mission.

We heard rumors that it might rain this past week, exciting news for the driest place on earth.  Tuesday came with some thunderstorms and light rain.  We took photos and played around for a bit thinking it was over.

Not even close.

Rain poured and quickly accumulated.  Wednesday morning we received a call to stay in the apartment and not to leave except for lunch at our mamita's house.  Little did we know the downtown was being destroyed by the overflowing Copiapo River that hadn’t had a drop of water in it for over 17 years.

One fortunate may I say miraculous event was that our Church flooded with water and mud, but only on the tiled floors in the hallways and classrooms.  No mud entered the chapel where it is carpeted.

For our safety, we’ve been stuck in the apartment for 5 days with nothing to do.  We live on a hill on the outskirts of the city--once a bother and now a blessing! We are the lucky missionaries who have water, electricity, and no damage. But we can’t drink the water.  It’s mixed with the sewer water now and to reverse that, its like half chlorine.  Taking a shower feels like I just got done with swimming practice. Luckily the government is supplying bottled water very inexpensively to drink.  There are some missionaries in other areas that have been moved out of their cities for a while because of the destruction.

Outside it’s been a little like an end of the world scenario (not as extreme, of course).  Lines of hundreds of people trying to get gas.  Trash piling up on all sides of the streets.  We went to a mini super market to try and buy bread.  The whole store had been turned upside down with food strewn across the floor and the shelves empty. Everything gone except the beer (that’s a first!!).  I’m still waiting for the zombies to show up haha.

We did the service we could, trying to collect materials for other members and put up refugee locations in the chapels.  Church was cancelled so we visited a few widows to give them the sacrament.

We finally received permission to go down into town again to buy more food.  It was pretty hectic with streets filled with mud and stressed out people.  Goodbye shoes!  They were limiting how much food you could buy and had military guards walking the aisles.  Then was the 45 min walk back through the foot thick mud up to the apartment.  We are all pretty beat from the trek.

Interesting week, right?  But it has given me time to read, think, play with water guns (we got desperate), and see what happens when everything goes wrong.

Conclusion:  we never know what will happen.  NOBODY here thought the dry dry dry river would one day flood the town with water and mud. But it did. The members here who followed the prophets’ counsel to have food storage and financial reserves weren’t only just fine but they could help other people.  We must be prepared for the floods of life even when there isn’t a cloud in the sky.

I’m safe and well and very blessed.

Everything is awesome, SOAKING WET, AND MUDDY!

Elder Phillips

Mud, Mud, And More Mud

Downtown Park

Outside of LDS Church

Inside Hallway at Church

No Mud In The Chapel!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Flooding in the Driest Place on Earth!

View from above

Soccer Field, before and after

March 27, 2015

Hi Everyone!

Don’t know if you have been following the news or heard anything about this but if not, there was a major flood here in Chile.  It flooded Copiapò and a couple other cities.  The mission president gave us time to tell you that all is fine with me.  :)

It started raining on Tuesday and flooded all of downtown.  As of now, its all flooded right now--Lider (Walmart), the new mall, the streets, it’s all flooded!

Thank goodness I live on the hill.  I have water, light, and electricity.  We haven’t been able to leave for 3 days, except to do some service for a couple of the members but our sector of the city is super good.  But for the missionaries in the city of Chañaral--the whole city is GONE.  People are stranded on their second floors.  But president told us that all the missionaries are fine.

We’ve had to stay in because the people have been kind of freaking out.  There is a line 300 people trying to get gas.  They closed the road to go to different cities.  They brought in the army and the president to help with the clean up. Lots of helicopters.  There is food, but the prices have gone up.  Eating a lot of peanut butter! haha

Talk to you more on Monday (if the cyber cafe is open). It’s been an interesting week.  I’ve been very blessed during this whole thing.

Everything is awesome, and super wet,

Austin :P

March 23, 2015

Hola familia y amigos,

Well, it´s official--6 months today.  Not that big of a deal, just wait until my one year mark ;)

The less active members here are really receptive. (YEAH!!!!)  Right now we are helping a family come back to church.  He was a missionary who had to come home for health issues and had a hard time about it.  I was sitting next to him at church when he started crying.  He told me how happy he is for choosing to come back again, to have peace in his heart. Sure, it’s more work and can be stressful, but eternal salvation is worth it. They are going to the temple to get sealed hopefully by the end of the year!

Yesterday we did an awesome ward activity called El Rescate, or the Rescue, where the whole stake and all the missionaries come to a ward and flood the area with visits. Our ward happened to be picked first.  I got paired up with two teenagers who are leaving on their missions soon.  They thought it was weird that I say hello to everyone, and most people I say hi to give me strange looks as well lol

 But I stopped caring about making a fool of myself a long time ago. For those of you who know me personally, you´ll understand (cough, cough...marching band, The Sound of Music, graduation speech, Christmas caroling in Vallenar…) That’s what the mission is--one awkward, fantastic experience. It’s hilarious when you try to talk to someone in a taxicab and they stare at you like you have two heads. :P

So, as my daily quote book said yesterday, "Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes."

And I plan on doing just that.

Have a fantastic week! We are expecting a little rain in the next few days.

PS: the old Spock guy died from Star Trek!!???  That might be old news but I just found out.

Everything is awesome,

Elder Phillips

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Moments That Change Us


Just completed my first full week in Copiopó. I’m in a ward called Jotabeche, which is on a giant hill on the mountain. Guess my calves will look pretty good in a couple months!

It’s been crazy this week because we had a stake conference and a mission conference with the president.  The four elders from the mission office are staying with us for a few days, so that makes eight elders in one apartment.  I’m sure you can imagine the things that can go on with eight of us here together, especially when it was someone's birthday yesterday.  Good thing I bought ear plugs!

The four of us are enjoying each other in the apartment.  Two of us are Latino and Elder F. and I are the Gringos.   Elder F. has 2 more cambios (transfers--each transfer is 6 weeks) than me. Its fun to be with someone who understands what you are going through.

The apartment was initially pretty disgusting (rotting meat covered in ants, toilets that haven’t been cleaned in...well, never).  Oh, the joys of the mission--I loaded up on cleaning supplies again.  And there is a gold mine in our backyard. I’m serious--all day, everyday there are men mining millions of dollars in real gold right outside of our kitchen window. I might go on a scavenger hunt this week :)

One of the new Elders, Elder W., told me he read my blog before he got here on the mission. How funny is that! I remember reading other blogs before I left, but hadn’t thought about it the other way around.

Our mission president got really deep with us this past conference. He told us the turning point in his life happened in a dark little room, deep in the jungles of Bolivia, when he felt that his mission president was punishing him by putting him in the hardest area of the mission with just 4 members and not even calling him to a leadership position--after he had baptized 30 people in his other area. As he sat there 4 hours away from any other missionaries the thought entered his mind, you can just go to the beach for the next week and literally no one would know. No one expects baptisms in this area and no one cares about you.  Leave in the morning and take the vacation you deserve.

He had a choice to make, one that seemed insignificant at the time, but as he has reflected back, it was a decision that ended up changing his life.  Right there on his sad little bed, he decided to be the person he needed to be and wanted to be--later baptizing 13 people in 3 months and growing the members in the area from 4 to 70.  Of course, missions are not about numbers, but about changing hearts.  And as he set a course for his heart that changed his life for good, he was able to influence other hearts along the way.

All of us come to the point in our lives when we have to decide what kind of person we will be. Pres. Dalton commented that this moment many times comes on your mission, but regardless of when, the moment will come where you must reach down deep inside yourself and choose what course you will take. One looks easier, while the other looks harder--and both reach distinct destinations.

I too have made choices that have brought me here to this point in my life, based on the desires of my heart, my faith, and my wish to be obedient to God. My simple conclusion to life is when I do the things of God, I feel good. When I   don´t, I feel bad. And I love to feel good.  I know my purpose on this earth--to enjoy the beauty of the experience, to cry when needed, to serve those around me, and above all, to become the person I know I can be.  Yes, it takes work and sacrifice, but isn’t that like everything worthwhile in life?

Random, but just now there was a parade of men dressed up as women hitting people with sacks of potatoes.  I have no idea why. Gotta love Chile!

Have a great week!  No spiders here, but one investigator has a pet tarantula. When he tried to take it out to show me, I literally ran out of the house.

Everything is still awesome,

Elder Phillips

The Copiopo River--it dried up 20 years ago!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Just Around the River Bend to Copiapo


I may be stretching it a bit talking about a river, I think it dried up a long time ago...maybe just around the highway bend :)

Part 1
So I am in the Internet cafe getting ready to catch a bus to Copiapo (the city just above Vallenar).  It was pretty unexpected but I’m excited for this transfer.  My new companion is a Chileno, and I will be in the city part of the town.  All the church members here in Vallenar keep telling me its super hot and dry in Copiapo.  (mom’s note:  it is a much larger city than Vallenar--about 130,000, and the main industry is silver and copper mining.)

I’m actually sad to leave, but excited to go.  I didn’t know how much I had grown to love these people until I had to leave.  Bearing my testimony at church yesterday I couldn’t help but cry.  Yes, sometimes it was hard, frustrating, and lonely, with lots of days spent walking--but I gave Vallenar my all and after 5 months, my time here is over.
I guess when you give your whole heart to something, you can’t help but love it. There must be a lesson in there somewhere :)

Don’t know if I will have more time to write when I get there, so have a great week!!  Love you all!

Part 2
Ok, made it here!  Took a two-hour bus ride north with nothing but pure desert.  Wow, it really is dry here.  It looks a lot like Vallenar, but the city is bigger and drier.  They have a Lider (Walmart) and a giant food court in the mall.  I had a delicious sandwich today in the food court with my new companion--he’s funny and likes to work, so yeah!

My new apartment has two floors and 4 missionaries.  Haven't met the other two yet.

Honestly, it was sad to leave, but I’m happy to be here. A fresh start, a new mini mission.  Lets see what happens!! As my Grandpa Ray used to say, “A change is as good as a rest.”  Sounds like a plan to me.  And did I tell you that sandwich was super good?

Everything is awesome,
Elder Phillips

Copiapo--my new home!

My new companion and my delicious sandwich!

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Parable of the Kitchen Sink and Cracked Foundations

The Sink

March 2, 2015


Interesting week...still no lessons to report, but we were pretty busy.

We are in the process of fixing our apartment (see last week’s letter below).  The Bishop and his dad came over to work on the lights and sink as a service to the mission and to us—so kind of them!  The kitchen sink hasn’t drained since I have been here and I have tried EVERYTHING--acid, drain cleaner, drain cleaner that explodes with hot water, knifes, hangers, even kicking.  The Bishop’s dad put a little water in it and started pumping his hand up and down like he was giving it CPR.

"This is NEVER going to work. What is he thinking?" I thought to myself.  And....drip...drip...water flowing. Mouth dropping. Repenting.

What I learned from this experience is our problems seem so big and complicated sometimes that we try to find fancy, expensive solutions. Maybe we resort to ripping up our whole life because its ¨broken" when in reality the solution is super simple--we just haven’t thought of it before.  Think of your problems, take a nice walk and simplify your solutions.  They are usually staring us in the face.  It also pays to go to the source that has the answers--I could have had a working sink for 4 months!  More good news—I now have a functioning light in my bedroom  :)

We finally had 4 appointments set up for Saturday—very exciting.  And then the sister missionaries called from Huasco (1.5 hours away by bus) to have us do an emergency baptismal interview.  We did the interview and came back, ready for our appointments and…ring...ring.  "Hello? Hey sisters. What? You need us to come back because there is no one to baptize your investigator? Ok."  Back to Huasco on the bus. Cancelled our appointments.  Got there and it turned out that the necessary people finally came so we weren’t needed anymore...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.

We are almost done with our after-baptism lessons with golden girl.  This week’s lesson was about chastity and modesty.  She told us she went to the store to buy a dress for church but they only brought her short skirts.  She asked for longer ones and they told her no, because she is "too young and pretty to wear old people clothes". So she left and searched all day for a long skirt--wow!!  We told her that part of modesty was having one pair of earrings, so she told us she would take her second pair out.  If the prophet said so--no questions asked.

What a great young woman.  I’m not thinking about marriage or anything (#nottrunkieatall) but someday I want to marry someone with those kinds of standards and devotion to the Lord.

Have a great week!  School starts here this week so we should get more people to teach. And who knows, I might be somewhere else next Monday—transfers are coming.

February 23, 2015

You know when you really want something and you work really hard and nothing happens?  That was a little like this week.  I´m going to blame it on the fact that it is still summer break.  We only had 4 lessons all week, which I guess is more than some places in the world, but I´m kind of a wimp and I like my stuff when I want it :)

But that doesn’t mean you can give up or lose faith.  Sometimes I think, "If this is the Lord´s work, why doesn’t it go more smoothly?"  I bet that´s what the pioneers thought when they were building the Salt Lake Temple.  Then the whole foundation cracked and they had to start over.  Does it ever feel like the foundations of our life are falling apart even when we are doing what we know is right?  It doesn’t mean that we are doing bad things or that we are bad people, just that we live in a world with real problems that we need to learn to solve.

We got a call from the mission office telling us that we can’t move to the new apartment we were planning on.  Instead, we get to take all of our preparation days to paint, scrub, and fix the plumbing and electrical in our 40-year-old place.  Whoo hoo!  I’ve never even changed a doorknob before.  Talk about problems to solve!!

Ok, not everything is as bleak as it sounds.  We found an older gentleman who just lost his wife.  He never cared much about God, but after losing her he has decided to find more meaning in his life.  We gave him a Book of Mormon and pamphlets to read.  He hasn’t had much time because of his job, but the two times we have met with him, it’s like watching a baby take that first taste of ice cream after only rice cereal--his eyes light up.  He has spent the last 73 years of his life ignoring a part of life that can open your mind and soul to a world of joy and enlightenment.  I still get that face sometimes when I read the scriptures.

Our golden girl was praying to know what to do with her boyfriend, since he likes to party and drink.  That night he came into her house, drunk, and told her it was over.  Yeah!!  She’s even happier now--after the initial shock of the break-up :)

Remember how much God loves you, because HE DOES—he is in the details of our lives.

Everything is awesome,

Elder Phillips

Gotta Love Missionaries!

Huasco--seaside town