I have gone through some difficult sicknesses throughout my mission, especially these last few months, but I want all to know, I am doing great, and there are no lingering symptoms left, except that my immune system is weak, so I have to be careful about washing my hands and things like that.
I honestly have so much to share this week, I almost am overwhelmed thinking about how I am going to share everything! I love telling you my stories about the mission. They are all so special to me and I will never forget these experiences.
To make things easier this week I am just going to go by picture.
1. Elder Preece and I spent a week together as companions, as he is also ending the mission. He has been a great friend to me. We were able to go to several areas where we were blessed to serve. He also served in Garupa so we were able to visit several friends of ours that we share
2. You might remember Juliana? We baptized her May 29th 2015. Exactly a year ago. We had heard that she was doing great and being faithful in the church, and we planned to see her and mention the temple. When we got to church (we went to church in her ward) she invited us to lunch and said to me, "Elder Graves! Did you hear? I am going to be endowed in June!" I am so happy for her and am grateful that God let me part of her conversion to the true gospel.
3. I was so privileged to go visit an awesome young man who is considering going on a mission who Elder Hawk, (who now is married, I don't know if I told you that yet) and I baptized a year and a half ago. He was in doubt whether he should go or not, but we could help him rekindle his desires to preach the gospel. With tears in his eyes, he went inside and grabbed and gave me his tie so that I might remember him. I quickly reacted by giving him mine. I will miss him.
4. This family is the Duarte family. They are amazing! Elder Hawk, if you are reading this, you will be interested to know, that Sister Duarte's husband who we tried so many times to teach, but so insistently did not want to be baptized, has again accepted the lessons, and will be baptized in a few months( he is not in the picture). Rondi (the one who I have my arm around) will be leaving on the same plane as I - to start his mission as I finish mine. After going to the MTC in Buenos Aires Argentina he will go to Columbia for the next two years. I am so proud of the progress he has made.
5. This family was such a blessing to me. They always helped us, and we had many spiritual experiences together. I will never forget their powerful testimony of the gospel. They will always hold a special place in my heart.
6. Do you remember Enrique? We taught him and he was instantly a "golden investigator". His problem was that he was not able to get married to his "wife" because of problems with his ex-wife and the divorce. He has been earnestly trying to work on this divorce, and it has slowly but surely started to move forward. He will be baptized within a few months. In the year and a half that I have been away from him, he has been fasting weekly, paying his tithing and his fast offering, going to church each week, has read the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, the story of the church (this book is huge. If you haven't seen it... just think of... a really huge book... :-) )
7 y 8. We had the awesome blessing of having a Noche de Hogar (Family Home Evening) with Angelica. If you remember, while I was in Garupa, Elder Gardner and I were able to baptize her. Being with her again was so special, and she told me how happy it makes her to be able to talk to my dad, through Facebook, about the gospel. My dad is like my companion! He has helped me so much in little things like that. Just like the last time I saw her, she was overjoyed to see me, and while last time she went straight for the hug, this time she kissed me on the cheek! I couldn't believe it and didn't know how to react! Anyway... she is amazing, but I think someone will soon need to show her the missionary manual with all of our rules!
9. Cynthia Arrigada has wanted to be baptized and has been listening to the missionaries ever since I started to teach her with Elder Gardner. Her testimony is strong. Her problem is that her husband does not agree with her being baptized. Her time will come, and I will continue to pray that his heart will be softened.
10. During this week, Elder Preece and I were talking about the converts that we had had in our missions and how we feel such a love for each of them. He mentioned a woman that he baptized with Elder Gardner in Garupa, named Maria. She sounded familiar, and he told me that he thought that I had been the missionary to find her. I told him that I wasn't sure. As we went to her house, I saw her, and I instantly recognized her! I only taught her one time, but because of that lesson, the future Elders were able to continue teaching her and baptize her. This helps me realize that all of our efforts are worth it.
11. Some of my greatest friends. We are in the house of the mission getting ready to "sleep" to go to Iguazu falls. (We had to wake up at 1:30 in the morning) I have grown to love each of the people in this picture. They each will be ending the mission with me.
I am going to just send some pictures of Iguazu. All I can say is that this place was amazing.
I know this is the true church. I have been guided by the Spirit in so many circumstances that I can say that I know that He lives. It is too plainly obvious to ever deny. It all starts with prayer, and little by little, our faith begins to grow.
I will be able to go to Ciudad Del Este one last time on Saturday to say goodbye to Sonia Carolina and Fernando, and hopefully a few other dear friends.
I cant believe it is all coming to an end. It is so bitter sweet. I gave my goodbye talk this week, and the tears in the eyes of the humble people of Katuete made me realize the love that I have for them, and the love they have for me. I will not forget them.
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Write to Elder Graves via e-mail by May 29 to reach him before he comes home!!!
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