Monday, March 30, 2015

"The Things They Carried" -- Hna Gisseman's final e-mail from the field...a personal essay

(Note:  Alyssa read a book titled "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien during her senior year of high school.  She used the book as the basis for her high school graduation speech, and she has used it here as the basis for her final e-mail from the mission field)

The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near necessities were black missionary name tags, blue or black pens, pencils, hymn books, scriptures,  pictures of home, flashlights, house keys, and one or two Books of Mormon. Together these items weighed between 10 and 15 pounds, depending on the day's work load. Of course they carried backpacks. These had been replaced by large fanny packs that a brother in the mission had made and sold to the missionaries. These bags weighed almost next to nothing on their own but became quite full and quite heavy when someone had to carry them either up and down the mountains or on and off of buses. But necessity dictated. Some carried scriptures in their native language, hand sanitizer, full water bottles, umbrellas, notes, the area book, and pass along cards, which seemed to weigh another solid 10 pounds. All carried their agendas, though not always full of appointments, and to be honest, some didn’t carry any appointments at all.
On a normal proselyting day, when they carried themselves out into the work at 10 in the morning, some carried bus money, or money to stop at the nearest pulperia, or money from home to buy whatever they saw during the day from the array of in-home businesses. Some carried a cheerful smile on their face. Some carried a sterner look. Some carried the fear of sleeping in an appointment because they carried so many work-filled days and sleepless nights. They carried a sense of lethargy, bagginess, on some days because it was just too long to be away from home.

They carried their bodies from appointment to appointment but not always their focus. They carried a longing for changes, new areas, new companions, that they didn’t always voice. They carried home in their hearts, and some carried almost all their possessions from home, despite the two suitcase and one carry-on limit. They carried worn-out suits and skirts, shoes, towels, language study materials, tennis shoes, memory cards ranging from 8 to 64 GB capacity. Once every one or two changes they carried a new companion home.
Because the mission schedule was strict and days numbered, they each carried time in the back of their minds. On some days it seemed like the hours were so long and on others there weren’t enough to finish all of the work. Because agendas were set up by hour, most carried an eye on their watches. Because Honduras was hot and humid, most carried a sweat rag and bug spray. The extra items took up too much space, but it was worth it.

Throughout the weeks and throughout the changes, they carried all of the drama that accompanied missions. They carried new companions and old memories. They carried old mistakes and new beginnings. They carried the pressures and the stress of helping struggling investigators. Some carried the pressure of not having baptisms and many the stress of problems at home. The whole mission carried the weight of their sacred calling. They were to be instruments of the Lord to bring His children unto salvation, some of the few called with this authority to preach the gospel and among those of these latter-days who are participating first-hand in the hastening of His work. They carried pride in the Lord and in their mission, knowing that not just anyone is called to Honduras (especially when they thought of the state-side missionaries with cars and air conditioning).
The things they carried were determined to some extent by the mission. They carried passport copies, residencies, and health and eating guidelines in their bags. They carried gallon bottles of filtered water into their homes. They carried emergency backpacks from area to area in case of a natural disaster.

They had carried different ties, different hair styles, different companions and different personalities as they all grew up and discovered who they truly were.

They carried a very structured weekly schedule. On Tuesdays, they carried themselves to district meetings, so they carried Preach My Gospel and notebooks and their investigators in mind. On Thursdays, they carried themselves through two hours of weekly planning-- usually carrying snacks to help them through the process. And every Sunday, of course, they carried themselves to church and could barely listen to the speakers because they carried anxiety, waiting for new investigators to carry themselves through the door. But on Mondays they carried a sense of relief as they could email home. They carried the responsibility to teach, to help and to address the needs of the ward, all the while maintaining the image that missionaries are perfect and can do anything. And sometimes that meant carrying a smile when they felt like they just couldn’t do it anymore.
They carried the emotional baggage of young adults facing the future. Apprehension, excitement, sorrow, fear- these were the intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had a tangible weight. They carried all of the sweet memories. They had carried the anxiety and concern that awaited them entering the MTC to become missionaries. They carried the “greenie” stereotype, but learned from grace to grace. They carried themselves with more dignity as they matured. And they carried themselves full circle when they were called upon to train another missionary. They became “mom” or “dad.” They carried various titles and responsibilities, of District Leader, of Zone Leader, or Senior Companion.

Now they carry themselves onward to earn a new title, returned missionary. They carried the common secret of not really wanting to leave, the desire to keep working in the field, to keep contacting, to keep teaching, to keep baptizing. And in many respects this was the heaviest burden of all, for it was inevitable that they would have to part. And as they leave the mission field, they carry hopes and dreams for the future and the knowledge that they will forever be servants of the Lord.

-Hna Alyssa Gisseman

Week 78 - Saying Goodbye is the Hardest Thing Ever To Do

I feel bad that I didn't wish you a happy birthday last week, Mom!  What did you do for your birthday?  I can't believe I will see you this week.  It doesn't feel real.....I just kind of want to cry all the time because I want to be here but I want to be there at home, too.

I feel like I've done what the Lord wanted me to do.  I honestly don't have any regrets
 1. Does it seem completely surreal that your mission is coming to a close?

Yeah... I still don't really believe it... I just don't believe it. It doesn't feel like 18 months. I feel like I just figured out how to do everything right and it's all over. I have my suitcases packed and I still just don't believe it. I had my last interview with Pres Dester, too, and I just don't believe it. 

2.  What did you do for P-Day this week?
Well, P-Day was really lame... it was raining so we couldn't do anything. We did errands that needed to be done and we went to Pizza Hut and now we are writing. But I have had fun joking around with Hermana S.

3.  How was this week?  Did anything unusual or exciting happen? 
Well, we did have a baptism and we went on divisions. I had my last interview with President Dester, too. So we went up to San Pedro and for the first and last time, I got to go into the office, lol. But I love President Dester so much and he always says the perfect thing! Right after the interview we brought the Hermana training leaders... and we just found out tonight that our area will get closed for hermanas. 

4.  Did Hno Ricardo's baptism go through?  If so, how was it?
It was so great.  :)  He was so happy and there was ward support.  We did his baptism between a Relief Society activity and the women's broadcast... heehee... and so everyone was already in the chapel. He just looked so happy. I had to speak. And when he went up there to get confirmed on Sunday he shook everybody's hand, lol, everyone that was seated on the stand and it was so cute. 

5.  Were you able to talk to a lot of people this week?
Yeah, mas o menos (more or less). Hermana S is great at talking to people on buses and so I think that she actually talked to more people than I did this week which makes me one proud mama.  :) 

6.  How was church this week?  Did you have many investigators and less active members there?  Did you learn anything new? Did Oswaldo come to church again?
Church was really good. I had the opportunity to speak on the atonement. I think that it was a good talk... We had Familia R there (even though Hno R got assaulted in his taxi Saturday night) and the wife of the menos active first counselor. We didn't have any inactive members there or anyone which was a little sad for me, but it was rainy. I realized that I have learned so much about the atonement and I view it in a completely different light than I had before and that makes me very, very happy. 

7.  How is Hno Nicolas?  How is Hno Ricardo doing? Were you able to get his house painted?
Well, the painting will probably get done this week.  :/ Nicolas went out of town. But Ricardo is doing great.  :) We were able to cut his lawn with machetes this week. And Elder Holmes (the District Leader) told me after the interview that Ricardo has a very strong testimony.  :) That made me so happy. I'm just so dang happy! I prayed for that baptism this whole change. 

8.  What did Pres Dester have to say this week?
He said that I shouldn't worry about coming home. That there are lots of good things waiting for me.  :) And I think he is right. I feel so calm. I know everything will work out. And he told me things that I need to do after the mission to stay pilas. And they are things that I knew I needed to keep working on. 

9.  What miracles and tender mercies have you seen this week?  Answers to your prayers?
I think the biggest miracle has been seeing the baptism of Ricardo. I love that old man. He's so funny and I think he looks at us like we are part of his family. 

10.  How has someone else blessed your life this week?
I don't know. I just fee so blessed by the Lord for the time that I have had to serve as a missionary... I honestly don't know the person I would have been if I hadn't served. I am so touched by all the people here and all they have taught me. 

11.  How is familia Galeas?
They are so great. They are my family here in Puerto. I act like myself there. I feel like they love us so much. They are willing to do anything for us. Hermano Juan Carlos baptized Ricardo.  :) They gave us dinner last night and we just talked for a while. They are planning to go to Miami the week of august 7th... I don't know when we are going to Disney, though... 

12.  What other members have you spent time with this week?
Familia Galeas.  :)  And I've been saying goodbye to people which is the hardest thing ever to do... 

13.  How have you served someone this week?
Like I said, we machetied Ricardo's lawn and I had the blisters to prove it!  I'm definitely a wimp when it comes to physical labor. I just don't like it, haha. So I supervised. 

14.  What was the best thing happened this week?
Ricardo's baptism. And just this whole week. We went to visit him like everyday and he's always waiting for us. He puts us to work. He scolds us when we are late, lol. I feel like we are family. He jokes around with us. I'm just so grateful that I got to teach him. 

15.  What was the funnest/funniest thing that happened this week? 
I have thoroughly enjoyed being Hna S's companion this week We have laughed so much.  :)  And she cries a little bit when she thinks of me actually leaving. But it's been a week of lots of laughs.  :) 

16.  What was the spiritual highlight of your week?
I think learning about the atonement. For our district meeting this week we had a really good capacitacion (lesson) on the atonement and I learned a lot. And I learned it by the Spirit and I felt the difference. And I realized how much I learned. I honestly didn't like singing sacrament hymns before the mission or talking about Christ suffering because that's all I could focus on, the suffering. I just didn't get it. I realize now that we should all rejoice in the great gift that He has given us. We should be happy! And then to crown it all off, I got to give the talk on Sunday and I just felt like  have learned and progressed so much. 

 17.  Do you know that I love you and I miss you?

18.  What was the most beautiful thing you saw this week?
Well... it was rainy today so not the rain! I don't know.... 

19.  What was the best thing you ate this week?
We have eaten a lot this week because people just keep feeding me, lol. But I know it's how they show love... but the best thing... I don't really know. 

20.  What has been your biggest challenge this week?
Dealing with the being here and not wanting to leave but at the same time wanting to leave and be at home... it's terrible. 

21.  Are you still waking up and feeling anxious in the middle of the night/early morning?

22.  What was your biggest personal success/triumph this week?
On Saturday we went to the church to help with a Relief Society activity and so I was cutting up fruit and all of the sudden Hna S came in crying hysterically. She lost the only set of keys to our house. I feel like the former me would have yelled at her and lost it and freaked out in that moment. Instead I just laughed and kept cutting watermelon. It was the weirdest thing. I just knew it was going to be okay and even if it wasn't that freaking out wouldn't do anything, lol. So I kept cutting and she looked and looked for the keys and even bought a new lock and we got to the house and found out that we couldn't change the lock... but then a miracle happened and a little girl found the keys in the bathroom and it all turned out fine. 

23.  Tell me about a time you felt really happy this week.
I think for the most part I've been very happy this week. 

24.  Looking back, what are some of the experiences from your mission that stand out the most to you?
I think training for sure... also all of the moments that I have had one on one with President Dester, interveiws and such. I have so much love and respect for him. I remember the baptisms, especially Jorge Bonilla with Hna V. I loved being with Hna A because I felt the most like myself (just found out she is going to be a sister training leader -- she'll be great!). I think living without water is a big one, haha. 

25.  What are the things about Honduras that you have loved the most?
I love the people. I love that they eat with their hands. I love the cement houses and the pilas. I love that it's always hot. I love tortillas and beans. I love how everyone (for the most part) is super nice and that they all believe in God. I love their Spanish and all of their Honduran words. I love how they are always late, lol, because it's just so them. I love the buses and especially when we have to stand up because there are no more seats. I love walking down the dusty streets. I love that there is no air conditioning. I love the beach in Puerto. I love that they are willing to share EVERYTHING that they have. And I love that I have felt their love. 

I have loved the mission. I am so sad for it to end. But I'm ready for the new adventures that lay ahead. 

Hermana Gisseman

Cutting the grass with a machete...

Monday, March 23, 2015

Week 77 -- One of the Best Weeks Ever

1. Were you able to see Marcia and her family? 

Yes, I did:) It was so sweet. Marcia grilled for us -- I've only ever seen her do that once before for a family event. And we just talked for a while and it just felt like I was home again, like I had never left. Her mom, Juana, looked a lot better! She was so happy and smiling and walking around and before she was sick. But she looked so good and they just talked about how I was like an angel that God sent into their lives. It was so sweet. And I saw Andrea who will be moving next week... I also got to see Hna Iris!  My convert. As we were leaving she was walking down the street so that was really special! It felt like I was going home. I love that family so much. 

2.  What did you do for P-Day this week? 

Well, we were oging to go to the beach and play volleyball but instead we went to the other beach and played card games. But it was fun. And we went to eat at Burger King and I printed out photos... I may have packed a little bit more, lol... I think I have to bring the 2 big suitcases... just for the weight of them... but oh well. And I washed a ton of clothes because we didnt have water from Wednesday to Sunday night... fun stuff, lol. 

3.  How was this week?  Did anything unusual or exciting happen?   

Well, like I said, we didn't have water. They shut off the water to the whole city from Thursday to Sunday to put a new filter in... if you caught that, we didn't have water on Wednesday either because someone pulled a prank on us and turned our water off.... gosh darn it! But we survived and noticed an hour before they acutally turned off the water so we could fill up the pila, lol. But it was anoying to keep bringing in water and showering from a bucket, but what a better way to finish the mission, lol. 

OH, and we had a Noche de Hogar (Family Home Evening) on Monday and it was so weird. So we got a call from the elders who told us to go to this lady's house but we didn't know where it was so they gave us a phone number. So we called the number and I still didn't know who she was so she was like go wait on the corner and we will send someone to get you. So it was dark and we were just waiting there and I felt like I was part of a drug deal or something, lol, but I ended up recognizing her and we got there fine. 

4.  How is Hna S doing?  Does she feel like she’s ready to “graduate” from training? 

Yeah, she is doing a lot better! This week I have felt a huge weight lifted so I feel like I've been able to be myself and I don't get frustrated as easily and we have laughed a LOT this week and just talked which is really nice.  :) She's going to be a great missionary. 

5.  Do you feel like you've been able to have more charity this week? 


6.  Were you able to talk to a lot of people this week? 

Mas o menos (more or less)... we talked to about 50... which isn't too bad. To be honest that's more than I ever talked to in a week with other companions. 

7.  How was church this week?  Did you have many investigators and less active members there?  Did you learn anything new? 

It was really good. I really like the teachers for Relief Society here. They are all really, really good and I always learn something. We had Ricardo there and familia Reyes and a new investigator.  Well, he's one that we have had for a long time, but he came to church for the first time.  So that was exciting! 

8.  How is Hno Ricaardo doing?  And Hno Nicolas? 

Ricardo is great! He found someone to rent the house. He went to an activity for Father's Day at the church (this week was Honduran Father's Day) and he is getting baptized this Saturday if all goes well so I am really, really excited! Like so happy! He's just so cute. We served him by raking up leaves and burning them. Nicolas is someone we found at the beginning of the change who is really pilas but he needs to get married. 

9.  What did Pres Dester have to say this week? 

He talked about a conference that we are going to have coming up on the fifth Sunday and how it's going to be missionary focused and we are going to present like family plans... fun stuff... I won't even be here! 

10.  What miracles and tender mercies have you seen this week?  Answers to your prayers?   

So many! Keep reading!

11.  How has someone else blessed your life this week? 

Marcia and that she always loves us. Familia Galeas and that they are like our family here in Puerto! They are always so willing to serve and help us in any way that they can! Oh, and Ricardo paid a bus fare for us because he was so grateful for everything we do for him -- now that he has someone renting the house he got a little bit of money. 

12.  How is familia Galeas? 

They are really great. They are helping us to paint Ricardo's house. That was a miracle. We had an activity for Father' Day and Ricardo hadn't eaten anything the whole day because he didn't have any money. He has no job and depended on the house he rents out. And we took him to the activity and he got to eat dinner and Hno Galeas said that he was going to help us paint the house for him. Wow. I had honestly been praying that someone could help us because it's not like we can go out and spend a lot on paint... but Hno Juan Carlos Galeas has a few gallons left over! A huge blessing! So we will see if we get it painted this week! 

13.  What other members have you spent time with this week? 

Not very many... this week there weren't many members that left with us.  :(

14.  How have you served someone this week? 

Like I said, we raked for Hno Ricardo. 

15.  What was the best thing happened this week? 

Just enjoying the time.. Going to Fesitranh, probably. And seeing how happy Hno Ricardo is. 

16.  What was the funnest/funniest thing that happened this week? 

I think that this week we had lots of laughs and funny moments...let's see... so we were walking down the main street... the street we always walk down and a few weeks back all of the sudden some big dogs left their yard and started chasing us. So ever since then I have rightfully been a little afraid of this house. So we were walking by it and Hna S pulls a prank on me and makes a bark... and it was so real that I started running down the street and then all the dogs on the block started barking, lol, and it was really funny and we laughed all the way home. 

17.  What was the spiritual highlight of your week? 

I still don't know!!!! AH!  Probably the miracle of Hno Juan Carlos and that he is going to help us. I almost started crying! 

18.  Do you know that I love you and I miss you? 


19.  What was the most beautiful thing you saw this week? 

I don't know.. the beach or the dirt covered roads of Fesitranh. AND I GOT OMA AND ANGIE's S PACKAGE!  The watch is super pretty:)  Thank you!

20.  What was the best thing you ate this week? 

Marcia's carne asada:) 

21. What has been your biggest challenge this week? 

I think this week it has really been having the focus to study in my personal studies and staying asleep the whole night. I keep waking up at like 5:30 or 5:45 and I get really antsy and anxious. So it's kind of annoying. 

22.  What was your biggest personal success/triumph this week? 

I think being able to be relaxed and chill during the week. I feel like I really wasn't stressed out very much. 

23.  What are your goals for this week? 

To enjoy the time. Visit everyone I want to say goodbye to. Make it thought the divisions with the hermanas lideres... I don't know why they thought it was a good idea to come the very last week of this transfer!

24.  Tell me about a time you felt really happy this week. 

I don't know a specific time.. I just feel more happy in general and for me that is a very good thing. I just laugh with my companion and if people reject us I don't get discouraged and I'm just really calm about everything. 

25.  Tell me about your plans for this, your last full week in the mission……  (Oh my goodness, I can’t believe it’s your last full week in the mission!)

26.  See #23.

26.  Do you feel like you’ve accomplished the work the Lord had for you to do in Honduras? 

I honestly think so. I always thought that I would feel like a failure at the end because I generally don't like my own work or I'm such a perfectionist, but I feel so peaceful that I really think that I have.

27.  How do you feel you have changed as a result of your mission? 

I see how important my family is to me and how I really need to do better at having meaningful family relationships, I have a gareter desire to learn about doctrine. I'm more patient. I think I'm more chill. I really love hot weather. I think that I am definitely a lot more frugal and that things don't bother me as much anymore. I'm less of a perfectionist and I think I'm learning to be more happy in the moment. 

Send me pictures of Brie playing lacrosse!  I'm excited to start running with her.  I'm so out of shape...she'll be teaching me endurance!

Can you believe I'm coming home next week, Mommy?

I love you all! 
See you soon!  Eight more days (I'm not counting next Wednesday or Thursday.  On Wednesday I'll be at the mission home in going home workshops, dinner with President and Sister Dester, final interviews, and on Thursday I'll be on a plane!)

Hermana Gisseman