Monday, April 21, 2014

86th Epistle from Elder Kaleb Erickson serving in Patchogue, New York

La Semana Santa      written April 21, 2014

This email is called la semana santa not because it was a particularly holy week, but just because that's what the week of Passover is called in Spanish. Kind of cool, I think.

Anyways. This was less a holy week and more a week of weddings and concerts. So there were some definite adventures this week. The craziness started with the transfer meeting on Tuesday. There were lots of changes made to our mission's organization this week. We got a new stake out here, the Lynbrook Stake. It used to be the Lynbrook District, and from what I understand, it was the last district in the continental United States. And it was finally made into a stake last Sunday. There were some other wards moved around to make it work. So now our mission consists of the Brooklyn Stake, the Woodside Stake, the Lynbrook Stake, and the Plainview Stake. This meant that they had to reorganize some of the zones in our mission too. When I first started my mission, we had 9 zones total. Then, a year ago, there was some reorganizing and we ended up with 10 zones. That was a big deal. As of Tuesday, we now have 12 zones. The lower number zones are furthest west, with zone 1 being Staten Island and the west of Brooklyn. Zone 12 being the tip of Long Island in Riverhead and Hampton Bays. In Patchogue, we're zone 11. So we're pretty far out, but not the farthest. We also got a new sister in our district. She is brand new from the MTC. Her name is Sister Vasquez. She was born in Peru, but moved to the United States when she was 10. She is a nice addition to our district.

Wednesday was mostly uneventful except for we had dinner at the church before teaching English classes. We had a special Dominican dish called Nino Envuelto. I guess it's mostly reserved for big events like weddings and such. It's just stuffed cabbage. It was pretty good. I don't know that I would call it my idea wedding dish, but it was pretty tasty.

We had another interesting dinner experience on Friday. We went over to the Ventura's house again. We were unannounced, as usual. Because if I ever call to set something up, he just tells me "Mucho much busy hermano." So now we just show up on Friday evenings and they're never doing anything. His wife was cooking something and we were chatting with brother Ventura when another couple walked in the door. Apparently they were expecting guests. They were both very nice people and the woman went in to help cook dinner. We figured we were crashing some kind of get together, but they had already set a plate for us, so we decided to stay. They were all very excited about the meal. The two men told us that this was a special meal in El Salvador that you only eat on el viernes santo. Which is Spanish for Good Friday. They said it was called torta. But not like the regular kind of torta, which is like a sandwich. This was a special torta. But they wouldn't tell us anything else about it. So we go sit down at the table and there is a bowl of soup for each of us. And inside the soup is what looks like a piece of cornbread. It looked like chicken soup. It seemed a bit odd to me, but whatever. Chicken soup with cornbread in it. I took a taste and noted that the broth certainly did not taste chickeny. That's when I realized that there was an entire piece of fish baked into the corn bread. This torta revolves heavily around fish. Darn you El Salvador for loving fish. That was the grossest soup ever. All you could taste was fish. It was soaked in the bread, it flavored the broth, it was terrible. Luckily they had a bunch of watermelon and they had tacos available too. I managed to eat all of the bread and the fish, but I just couldn't bring myself to finish all the broth. I couldn't hang. Elder Mendez pounded it all. He was a champ. He didn't like it either. I fail to understand how this meal is a treat for people in El Salvador.

Saturday morning we got recruited to do some service at somebody's house. It was a member in our branch, but he was helping out some friends of his. Elder Ozuna told me that it was going to be like Hurricane Sandy cleanup, but I didn't believe him. We got there and they led us down into the basement where we found a large pile of crumbled drywall. I would recognize the scent of asbestos and mold anywhere. It was just like old times. We threw on some masks and gloves and got right to work. Elder Ozuna and I are the only ones in our district who were around for Hurricane Sandy. So we were loving the whole time. They were expecting it to take upwards of three hours to clear out all the debris. We had it done in a half hour. We don't mess around when it comes to hauling drywall. It was great.

Back in Elder Mendez's last area, there was a part member couple that he worked with. The man was a member, but the woman was not and they weren't married either. He worked with them for a while, then he got moved out here to Patchogue. His old companion kept working with them and finally got them to set a date for the wedding. So on Saturday we got to head back into the city to celebrate a boda. Which is Spanish for a wedding. I checked out some wedding piano music from the library and I got to play some nice prelude for the event. And then I played the wedding march from A Midsummer Night's Dream as the bride walked down the aisle. It was pretty cool. After the ceremony, the DJ took over and played all the Latin hits. There was a ton of food. Three large trays of chicken, four trays of rice, each with a different style of rice, and three trays of salad. It was epic. That was quite the party they threw. Elder Mendez was really excited to see all the members from his last area, so we had a good time.

Easter Sunday was the big day of the concert. Church was largely uneventful. One of the members, Sister Cruz, was very kind and made all of the missionaries an epic taco bar so we could have a nice Easter dinner after church. It was delicious. There was all sorts of set up to be done for the concert, so we worked on that. When the time came, we actually had a really good turnout. Almost all of the branch was there. We even had some non members come too. All of the musical numbers turned out well and all of the speakers did a great job. There wasn't much to it, only six songs and four speakers. But it turned out really well and people seemed to enjoy themselves. So I would say mission accomplished.

And to finish it off, we got up early and drove out to Montauk to see the sunrise again. We got an invite from another district of missionaries, so everyone decided to go. It was a good time. Except for the whole getting up at three thing. It was much warmer this time, though, so I would say that the whole event was much more pleasant. And now we're back to normal life. The next big event is a branch talent show in the beginning of May. That will be interesting. Missionaries keep getting volunteered for things, so it may turn into the missionary talent show. Which will still be a good time.

Love you guys!
Elder Erickson

85th Epistle from Elder Kaleb Erickson serving in Patchogue, New York

Adventures in Patchogue    written April 14, 2014

We got to visit with the Briceno family again on Monday evening. We just showed up at random, so unfortunately her husband wasn't home. But we still talked with her about how to recognize the spirit. We had some sweet tag team efforts going on as I entertained the five year old kid and Elder Mendez did a large chunk of the conversing. It works out well.

Tuesday and Wednesday were largely uneventful except for English classes. Not too much new going on there either. We're starting to dwindle in numbers so we need to get some more advertising out there. It's also interesting because we've invited all of the regulars to church and to meet with us and none of them are interested. So we need to get new people coming who might have some interest in it.

We didn't have any exciting adventures until Friday. We were supposed to go meet with the Ventura family again, but they ended up not being home. So we went to look up some less actives and some former investigators in the area. We went to one house of a less active and asked if they were home. The girl told us they had moved. So we asked if she was interested in hearing our message. She said we could come back another day. And when we asked for her name, she had the same first name as one of the people in the family. Which makes me think that the family still lives there. We'll find out when we go back. The other interesting encounter was at the house of a former. This old white dude answered the door. I asked him if Blanco or Flabian was there. He starts going off on how he hates illegal immigrants and anyone who isn't American born doesn't deserve to live in his country. He went on for about five minutes before he told us that we better leave. Elder Mendez had already started backing away. It was hilarious.

Saturday we met with a new investigator. The sister missionaries are teaching someone in a house where a number of people live and they met a guy named Stalin who seemed somewhat interested. They gave us the address so we could try meeting with him. We went over and he invited us right in. We sat down and it turns out his middle name is Lenin. His name is Stalin Lenin. He said that his dad really liked Russia. I thought that was the funniest thing ever. Stalin was very willing to listen to us, he is a very nice dude. I tried to make a joke about how his father loved Russia, but our Heavenly Father loves us. I thought it was a great joke, but Stalin was unimpressed. Shame.

Later on that day we were looking for some potentials we had met earlier. It was Saturday evening, so a lot of people were having barbecues and parties or just hanging around outside. We met this guy on his front porch, named Daniel. My man was definitely a bit drunk. Probably more than a bit. But we talked with him and found out a bit about him. He told us he used to go to church all the time, but he stopped when he came to the United States. He said he really misses it
though and needs to do more for God. Elder Mendez asked him what he would do for God and he said anything. So I asked him if he would give up drinking. He said he really wanted to. I told him we would help him with it and that we would start right now. I pointed to his half empty bottle and asked if he was willing to pour it out right there. He
hesitantly agreed to it. Then he watered the plants with some Heineken. We told him we'd come by on Wednesday to help him get started. He seemed excited about it. We left him a card with the day of our appointment written on it so he has a chance of remembering it. We'll see how committed he really was.

Sunday was your average day in a small branch. I played the piano for primary, then translated for sharing time, then got roped into teaching the five year old class. We learned about the gift of the Holy Ghost. For like five or ten minutes at least. The rest of the class may or may not have been spent playing rock, paper, scissors and a few rounds of bubblegum. Classic games. After church we headed over to look up a referral from Brother Ventura. He sent us to his uncle's house. We have been by before, but never found anybody home. We got lucky this time and met with the uncle's wife and daughter. Very nice people. She didn't seem overly interested, but was willing to listen and said we could come back again. And then we finished up the day by visiting with the Ibarra family. They shared some raspberry and orange sorbet with us and we chatted about the word of wisdom. They also gave us half of a papaya because I had never tried on before. Turns out I'm not a huge fan of papaya. Luckily Elder Mendez likes it a lot, so we're good there.

And that's the tale for the week. This was the last week in the transfer and the call came that Elder Mendez and I are both going to be staying here for six more weeks. So the adventures will continue.

Love, Elder Erickson

Thursday, April 10, 2014

84th Epistle from Elder Kaleb Erickson serving in Patchogue, New York

Conference!     Written April 7, 2014

We got the week started off with another fun family home evening at a member's house. They fed us an interesting dinner of spaghetti, baked clams, and chicken parmesan sandwiches. I had never had a baked clam before. I'm not sure that I'm a huge fan of it, but it was alright. We taught the lesson on faith and then we had a baller dessert of ice cream. You really can't go wrong with classic ice cream and chocolate syrup.

Our Tuesday was a fun adventure too. We spent the morning helping out the other elders move their house. Their old house was pretty run down, so we helped them move into the new one. Then afterward, we went to try out the new breakfast menu at Taco Bell. It was good, but I felt a little let down after all of the hype about it. The little packs of syrup are definitely a good addition, though. Later that day, we got invited to have dinner with a member of the English ward. It was a complete accident. His wife told him to invite over the next missionaries he saw, and he happened to see me. So he invited us for dinner. We had steak, potatoes, green beans, corn, zucchini; it was quite the meal. We finished up the day with teaching English class.

Wednesday was a pretty slow day. Not too much going on. We were supposed to have a lesson with Nancy and Augustine, but when we got there, they were headed out. So we met with Herman and Ramiro instead. We went over half of the plan of salvation with them. They seem to understand it pretty well. We decided to stop about halfway through and head over to English class. We weren't planning on it, but it's a good thing we did because the sisters were running late. It was their turn to run the class, but something happened and they got caught up. We didn't have a key to the building, but we chilled with the people who came outside and I ran a little conversation group while we waited for them to arrive. It was kind of fun.

The party got going again on Friday. I had an exchange with out district leader, Elder Coca. He is a fun guy, we had a good day. We got to have lunch with a member at their work. They own a business where they do fabric designing. Their kids work their too and they all ate with us. The kids are members, but they are all less active. Apparently they are a pretty high end establishment and made a big deal of talking about some of their richer clients, including how they had to turn down being on an episode of The Apprentice because "they just weren't giving them the time they needed to really put together some good designs." It was kind of ridiculous. Later on, we met with the Ventura family again. We didn't know they were going to serve us dinner, so Elder Coca and I had already made a dinner of chicken, rice, and egg. Then we show up and they give us each two full plates of rice, beans, fish, and salad. It was a rough battle, but we managed to clear off most of it. We shared a message about General Conference and Agueda was willing to give the closing prayer. That was a first. She has been so quiet and reserved every time we've gone over there. Never participating in lessons or wanting much to do with us. But this time, she was joking with us, making conversation, participating in the lesson. And her closing prayer was a huge step. I wondered whether she would ever pray for us. And here we are. It was cool.

Which brings us to Saturday and Sunday for general conference. There really isn't much to report here. We pretty much just chilled in the chapel and watched conference for two days. It was great. I really recommend it. Between the Saturday sessions, some members came and cooked up a bunch of pork and we had pork tacos. Between the Sunday sessions, we had some rice and meat combo. Then after it was all over on Sunday, we had dinner with another member and hooked it up with some baby goat. That was interesting. It tasted pretty good. Goat, rice, yucca, and tostones. Classic Dominican goodness.

And that's about it for the week. It was a good one, especially the nice break of just watching general conference. This is the last week of this transfer, so Elder Mendez and I are just hoping to stay together for at least one more here. We will see how things go.

Love you!
Elder Erickson

Sunday, April 6, 2014

83rd Epistle from Elder Kaleb Erickson serving in Patchogue, New York

Back in Brooklyn     written  March 31, 2014

This was a week full of concerts and good times. We got invited to another family home evening last week. We were asked to teach the lesson, so we brought this object lesson about making time for God in our lives. It was a cool lesson. There was a lot of Spanish thrown around at this event. I was kind of lost at points with four or five people all trying to talk over each other. It was insane. At the end we had some Columbian desserts. There were Columbian empanadas and some interesting cheese bread. We got cups full of this hot drink made from sugar cane, or panela in Spanish. It was pretty rough. They thought it would be a good idea to bring out a chunk of condensed sugar cane and have me eat it with a stick of cheese. Apparently that's a tasty snack in Columbia. I have to admit, I would not recommend it for an after school snack. We ended the night with a round of charades. It was a fun night.

Nothing new with the English classes, but on Wednesday I had a dress rehearsal for the concert this week. It was at the bottom of Brooklyn, so we had a decently long drive ahead of us. It was fun to see all my friends again at the rehearsal. I played for three people, Elder Goates, Sister Franklin, and Sister Blosil, all of whom I served with in Midwood. So it was cool to see some friendly faces. The rehearsal ended at six and on our way home, we stopped by to visit a member that Elder Mendez knew in Brooklyn. She was kind enough to take us out to a Dominican restaurant for dinner. It was delicious, we hooked it up with some carne frito and tostones and morir soñando to drink. A meal fit for Dominican kings.

The next day was our break before the concert, so we headed over to find Nancy and Augustine. They weren't home, but their son Hermán was, so we decided to try teaching him again. He has changed a lot since Mason and I tried teaching him before. He was willing to listen and he opened up about how God and church had helped save his life in El Salvador and how he wants to return to church. We had a really nice lesson and taught him how to pray at the end. I think if he actually comes to church with his parents, he'll find the same feelings here that he did there.

Friday was the big day. Things got off to a rocky, late start, but went really well overall. It was a lot of fun to play in a concert again. Especially one that I didn't have to organize, but I only had to play in. That was sweet. We missed dinner, so on the way home we stopped at a Little Caesar's right next to Sunset Park in Brooklyn. Of course, we had to sit down in the park and enjoy our pizza while we admired the Manhattan skyline. You just can't pass up an opportunity like that.

Our Saturday afternoon was spent cleaning the church with some members. Then they made dinner for us afterwards. That was sweet. Some pork, rice, corn, and yucca plant. It was a decent meal. After that, we headed over to a less active's house, Hermano Ventura. He wasn't home, but we met with his nonmember wife and had a cool lesson with her. She is very shy and doesn't like to talk much, especially when her husband is home. So she actually opened up to us this time, which was cool. We almost got her to pray, but then Hermano Ventura came home and she shut down again. Maybe next time.

Sunday we had a baptism in the branch. Her name is Maria, the sister missionaries have been working with her for a while. She gave up smoking and coffee in two weeks, like a champ. It was really impressive. She is a very nice woman, I'm glad she's making good changes in her life. Her parents and her younger brother and sister came to see the baptism too. It was a nice event. After church we had lots of meetings, then we managed to get over to see the Ibarra family in the evening. We visited for a while and enjoyed some jamaica drink, which is apparently hibiscus flower seeped in water with sugar added. It's an interesting flavor, but I like it. Then we taught a lesson on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I've never really had much participation from the Ibarras before, but they were way into this lesson, so that's
always a good thing. It was a nice evening.

And we're back to a normal week without random trips to the city. The next big event is the Easter concert I'm planning to do here in April. So it's time to get to work on that.

Love, Elder Erickson