Tuesday, December 20, 2016

I Lived It ALL....December 19, 2016

Last night I woke up to go to the bathroom and when I went to lay back down in bed all I remember is I wasn't totally asleep when everything started shaking and I mean REALLY shaking. It was the strongest earthquake I have ever experienced so far. I remember hearing my comp scream and luckily, we have felt inspired to spend the last few days sleeping on the floor next to the door just in case this were to happen. I remember seeing the front door and through its cracks the hall lights started flickering.  It felt like a roller coaster ride but no it was just the earth shaking. I still had my sheets somehow twirled up around me as I crawled as fast as I could to get under my desk. I thought "holy cow this is big one!" My toes wouldn't fit under my desk and in my half asleep startled mine I started to get really worried that if the wall fell it would crush my toes so I was awkwardly trying to adjust myself under the desk to fit better while everything was still shaking. I've learned there are 2 types of earthquakes one where you feel like you are in the wave pool at 7 peaks and the other where it just just shakes really fast up and down and up and down. Well that's what this earthquake was like it was shaking super-fast up and down and up and down and then after a little it turned into the wave pool one so boy was I dizzy! Everything was pitch black and all you could hear was all types of alarms going off outside.
Finally, it came to an end and I asked my companion through the desks "are you okay?" She said "yeah." We live on the 2nd story so we quickly put on our shoes and grabbed our bags and got out of there as fast as we could. When we got outside it was so dark outside because the lights all went out. You could just hear people yelling and running to the park with their flash lights. I've had a flash light my ENTIRE mission that has worked great but the one actual day I needed it the batteries died. haha. Anyway, so we are walking to the park when we saw Elena's stroller.  We ran over to her and when I went to hug her she was bawling. She was so scared and her kids too. I sat on the sidewalk with her and sang “I am a child of God” while I rubbed her back and my companion called our leaders.
They told us we had to get to the church in Esmeraldas as soon as we could because it was the missionaries meeting point for our zone. The city I live in is called Atacames. It is right on the beach but it’s about 40 - 60 minutes away from Esmeraldas in a bus. We realized we had our personal emergency bags but we left our mission emergency bag with all the food and water so we stood up to go back in and get it when there was another earthquake. At this point, Elena left with her uncle and we went to go find these members who own a car.
We got to where the members live and they were all crying. I really felt like I was in a movie. Buildings were falling apart, houses collapsed, water pipes broke, alarms going off, lights going on again and off again, with random twinkling Christmas lights. We sang hymns with the little kids because the earthquakes kept coming all night long we didn't get to Esmeraldas until 7 am this morning. I have been awake since 2:30 am. Our house has been damaged to the point where we will not be able to live here anymore. Our mirror shattered, the wall is breaking, pieces of the wall on the ground, the tops of our desks is a disaster, etc.  We will be living here in Esmereldas and working in our sector during the day.
Pretty crazy way to start my last week in the mission but then again if it were normal it just wouldn’t be my mission haha :) I feel a lot of peace about all of it in fact I found myself laughing a lot today. Truly the best secret in life is a positive attitude. It's never going to go the way we want but that's the point it’s not about us! It's not about what we want it's about what the Lord wants. His ways are greater than our ways.
Well this is my last group email I will send as Hermana Israelsen because next week I will be traveling to Quito and won’t have time to write. I've never loved a place so much in my life. I have never fallen in love with a people as I have here in Ecuador. But I have also never cried so much, never hurt so much, never fallen so many times to my knees pouring my soul out to God in prayer.  A mind stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions.
There is a song that came into my head this week by one republic that says "I lived it all!" I truly did live my mission the good the bad the ugly and the beautiful. It was the worst of times and the best of times but He never left my side and I promise He will never leave yours. If you learned anything from me and my mission I hope that it’s this "you are never alone." I testify Jesus is the Christ and He is your Savior.
It's weird to leave home to go home. To leave family to see family. My heart aches having to say goodbye to this part of my life but also bursts from joy for a life that is only just beginning. 

I love you all. Thank you for your prayers and support through this wonderful journey. 
Oh, PS guess who got baptized. ELENA!!!!! That is a story for another day and another time well when I actually have time to tell it but only got a few minutes left to write here. Thank you for all your support. I know this is God’s work to save His children. To save you and to save me. In my setting apart blessing it said "you will see miracles literally." I never imagined the biggest miracle would be me. I am not the same girl I was a 1 year in a half ago. I will come home a different Gabi or maybe more Gabi then I have ever been but I will always carry the lessons I have learned here in Ecuador as "Hermana Israel? Israelensen no Israelsen!" (no one can say my name here).
Please remember you are never alone,
Con amor, for the last time Hermana Israelsen :)
PS does anyone know what happened to Hermana Ching Chong??

THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!!!             December 19, 2016

I have never felt an earthquake that strong a lot of houses fell including our house that is destroyed. We are going to be sleeping with the sisters here in Esmeraldas and then traveling to and from our sector everyday which is like an hourish away, sometimes less, to work during the day. Our house had severe damage.  We luckily were sleeping by the door last night so we got out quick but oh boy do I have stories to tell you when I get home. I am doing good seriously this last week we just worked SO HARD!!! Saw lots of miracles and I am just pushing through this last little tough spot but I really love this place and it breaks my heart to see these people suffer.  Lots of houses and buildings fell even our church got some damage done they think there will be more earthquakes here in our area. So to be safe from any tsunamis we just are not going to sleep in our sector anymore and have moved to a safer place because we don’t want our house to fall while we are in it.
Any way I am super safe and ready to work and I am trusting God so so so much!!  I will see you guys next Wednesday.  I LOVE being a missionary and I so LOVE my mission.  I LOVE MY SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST.  Merry Christmas. 
THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!!!  Elena was baptized Saturday. 

Pray for the People Here..More Earthquakes!!!     December 12, 2016

This is really weird because I am writing on a tablet because all the computer places are shut down because there are earthquakes and we are on tsunami alert again here in the coast.  The earthquakes are getting stronger and stronger they started Friday but they have become worse.  We are in the epicenter of the earthquake. 

We aren’t allowed inside our home so we have spent our p-day peeling onions outside with Elena and playing Uno haha.   Sorry I couldn’t read your emails but I am safe.  I don’t know if they will keep happening but everyone is out on the street. A kid threw up out of fear.  People are robbing the bank but we are safe.  Please pray for the people here.  Really don’t worry about me the Lord will protect me.  I love you and miss you guys have a good week!!

Remember You are NEVER alone!

Con amor, Hermana Israelsen

I’M LIVING MY DREAM – December 5, 2016

Well this week was full of lots of surprises! 
It all started when we left for Quito to have a reunion with Elder Hugo Montoya of the Quorum of the Seventy. He is currently serving as a member of the South America Northwest Area Presidency for the LDS Church. Well we had to leave a little earlier with the zone leaders because we had a leaders meeting with Elder Montoya. So my companion lost her card to get money out so I had $60 to pay for the trips and some food. So, I am just chilling when the elders call us and ask if we can buy them tickets because they were running a little behind and I am like yeah of course I totally came prepared :)) so I go to get my money and it's all gone :) I got robbed on the bus. My companion looked at me with panic and I literally just smiled at her and started laughing. I couldn’t stop laughing I haven't gotten robbed my entire mission so I thought "Well it's about time I've been living in South America for quite a while." So, then the elders show up and have enough money to buy all of us tickets.
In the bus, I thought "I could either be upset and worried that we now have no money and no food or I could laugh about this because I am totally going to laugh about this one day anyway." Then it hit me! This last few weeks have been really tough on me so I have been Praising the Lord and giving thanks for all things and now God was giving me the opportunity to take a situation that looks bad and make something good come from it. As I look in my back I thought "Well at least they left my camera, my journal, my scriptures, my ear plugs (can’t live without those!), and they left some change so we can afford some bread for dinner!" As I started to count my blessings I felt this warm feeling of peace come over me. After 2 weeks of a very heavy sad heart because I love these people and my mission so much, I felt peace like hey it's all going to work out!
Sometimes we get so worked up over the little things that we forget to enjoy the journey. I will never forget now the time we traveled to Quito with no money and lived off of 45 cents of bread for 2 days haha.
In the reunion with Elder Montoya we had to say an attribute that we admire in our parents before we could speak or answer a question. It reminded me of the 2,000 stripling warriors who were taught by their mothers. I started thinking of the song "We are as the armies of Helaman we have been taught in our youth and we will be the Lord's missionaries to bring the world His truth." 
Then after the reunion we had some time before lunch started so my companion and I were walking out of the bathroom when one of the assistants yells "Hermana Israelsen! Hermana Israelsen we have been looking for you.  Elder Montoya wants to interview you." My heart dropped. I was like "What why me?" I immediately started thinking oh man what did I do? Maybe he wants to know why I am in my last change and still don’t speak Spanish, yeah that’s probably it. So as I was waiting to have my interview with him, one of the assistants kept saying "Oooh Hermana Israelsen you are having an interview because you have a lot of sins." So anyway, I go have my interview and I am like shaking I was so nervous! But it ended up being this HUGE answer to prayer! Like the most spiritual interview ever. As I looked into his eyes you could just see this light and I felt this feeling like "He is called of God." Then I started thinking about the scripture "Whether by my voice or the voice of my servant it is the same." 
I have been having such a hard time lately but as I looked into His eyes I felt it. This is real. All of this is so real. God lives. Angels exist on earth and in heaven. As I shared with him my story of finding Elena he began to cry and congratulated me that she is going to get baptized December 17th. Before he ended he said to me "Don’t rob a single second of the Lord’s time thinking about after the mission. Once you are on the airplane you can think about home but until then you are here."
Woah, that really hit home! I was like "Ok I won’t!" And I have kept that promise and I will continue to do so. As we were teaching in a hut house two days ago, surrounded by palm trees in humble circumstances teaching a family about Joseph Smith and the Restoration this thought came into my head "You are living your dream!" My whole life all I have ever wanted to do was to help people. It's my dream and I am living it. 
So, this week was full of surprises. There were a few small earthquakes a rat in our house (don’t worry I put on rain boots and rubber gloves and chased it around with a broom for quite some time before it crawled into a container itself and we caught it but it was too cute and little to kill it so it’s just chilling in our house we named him Stewart.) We live with lizards and cockroaches and oh how I LOVE being a missionary!
This song came into my head today "Silent night, Holy night, all is calm, all is bright." As members of His church we have been called to Light up the world! Show the way back home for all of God’s children. He lives and what joy and peace that brings to my heart! It’s never easy all the time but those moments are what define us.
Remember always: You are never alone!
Con amour, Hermana Israelsen

My Heart Says “OUCH” This Really Hurts!!!  - November 28, 2016

Yesterday we had just got done teaching this family about charity when their cat walked by with an iguana in its mouth. The cat ate the entire iguana as I yelled, "That's not charity!"

I don't know who drinks out of my water bottle more, me or little children?

This last week has actually been really tough on me. I've just had this physical weight in my heart all week long. Every night I found myself falling to my knees in the bathroom in prayer. I don't know how to put into words how I have felt lately but I am going to try right now.

When I first got to the mission I wondered "when is this pain going to end??!" Seriously I thought I'm never going to like this… but somewhere between 2 weeks, to 9 months, to being in my last change I've fallen in love with my mission. Which is absolutely crazy to me because Ecuador has been a place of SO many trials yet somewhere between the poverty, the humility, and the insanity I've found what it means to really believe in God. What it means to really trust in God. And the joy of seeing someone come to understand it as well.

My whole mission I never really heard a missionary talk about the going home process because the "trunky" jokes literally NEVER end. When I first got to the mission I received a booklet that says "Adjusting to missionary life" but now I am like I need an "Adjusting to your last 6 weeks and HELP I am not ready to go home in a month" booklet. But one thing I have learned in the mission is the more things you try to control the more out of control you feel. In a few short weeks, this part of my life is going to come to an end and that makes my heart do that "ouch this really really really hurts!" thing.

Sometimes it amazes me how our hearts are capable of feeling so many things! But there is one person who is capable of calming all those feelings and that is our Savior Jesus Christ. So here I am writing you from behind a computer screen in the coast of Ecuador trying to put into words this journey I have been on. What Ecuador has done to me, what my mission had done for me, what Christ has done for me to save me. There really aren't words, just a lot of feelings. Some happy :) some super super happy! And some a little sad. But if we never knew sadness we would never know Joy. I won't stop working these last few weeks. I won’t give up! I won’t stop fighting! I know Elena will get baptized but in the Lords timing. I know there will be good days and better days, hard days and sad days but the point is that every day that ends with talking to God is a day well lived.

I know without a doubt that my mission is the best decision I have ever made. I love Ecuador, I love these people, and I love Jesus Christ!

Con Amor Hermana Israelsen