8 September 2014
I saw a little answer to my prayers as miracles begin in my ward. I think I'm just going to copy some from my journal here so you can see what I was pondering and praying about and what happened later.
Our zone leader gave a really good class where we looked at a lot of statistics from the mission. Elder Viñas had talked about statistics as well, but this is where I really started to understand where the weak spots are and what my part is. I learned that Chile had a baptizing boom several years ago. Chile was the highest baptizing mission in the WORLD for several decades. Wards grew and they built new chapels. Retention became an issue. What can a ward do when you have a mountain of converts but don't have the leadership to nourish them? Now we have a long list of inactive members. There are actually abandoned chapels here. Some have been sold and turned into factories. Even now we are baptizing, but sacrament meeting attendance here is dropping. Obviously, something is wrong. Baptizing is part of our purpose but it certainly is not our only goal. We, as missionaries and members, need to focus beyond baptizing in the work of salvation.
I've been remembering a class Brother Wilcox, my mission prep teacher at BYU, gave about the gathering of Israel. We are such a minority in the world and our purpose is not to baptize the whole world and drag them to sacrament meeting. It might reflect well in our numbers but that isn't our purpose. The gathering of Israel is happening but at the moment we aren't ready here to handle tides of more converts. Our purpose is to edify the church and to get leadership in place so we are ready to receive converts when the Lord trusts us with them.
Our ward has shrunk to the size of a branch, though it still carries the name of a ward. There are faithful members who are wonderful leaders, but many of the presidents of organizations don't have counselors yet. We have investigators who are interested in youth activities for their children but our ward isn't having mutual. We have a less active woman who has actually asked for visiting teachers, but there aren't enough active relief society women to visit all of the less active members here. We've tried to bring ideas to ward council when the bishop invited us, but the bishop didn't show up and his counselor asked us to leave. Another time they just canceled ward council all together. We've been once in the three months I've been here.
Part of my mission is to baptize but only if someone is really ready to be a strong member of the church. We shouldn't baptize someone who will just be added to our long list of inactives. That doesn't help them and it certainly doesn't help are ward.
I just want to leave this ward stronger than I found it. I am going to pray for inspiration to know how.
Inspiration came! I read in Preach My Gospel about working with ward leaders. Two words caught my attention, "maestras visitantes." Visiting teaching isn't ideal in Chile. There is an overwhelming number of less actives and the sisters are doing their best to visit them but there are just too many. The active sisters are not assigned to visit one another. Unity within the ward is what is really missing.
I studied during the morning and I discussed it with Hermana Dodds. I ended up frustrated because I didn't know how to bring it up with the Relief Society President. Missionaries have tried to make suggestions about visiting teaching but nothing ever happened. Obviously, I don't want to come across as bossy, but I felt strongly that some changes needed to be made. I had no idea how.
Tonight we had a ward activity and Hermana Pulgar, the Relief Society President, was there. I immediately thought of visiting teaching but had no idea how to bring it up. Hermana Dodds casually asked her how the sisters in the ward were doing and she said, "I think I want to reorganize visiting teaching." We were able to offer our help.
She was grateful and very receptive. I admire Hermana Pulgar so much. She is a returned missionary herself. She is a young mom in her 20s with a toddler. I can't imagine being a Relief Society President so young, especially in a difficult ward with only one counselor. She expressed to us her insecurity because she hasn't had very much experience in Relief Society. She has only ever had callings in Young Womens' and Primary. I told her I don't know a lot but that the only calling I had in my singles' ward before my mission was visiting teaching coordinator and I had a testimony of visiting teaching.
It was a miracle to me that she brought up the subject and expressed a desire for advice. I feel like I have been assigned to this ward for this specific purpose. If I can help the visiting teaching program here, I will feel successful, even if I do nothing else. In my year at BYU I saw a group of 18 year old girls who had never been visiting teachers, who had never even been visit taught, become faithful in their assignment to visit one another frequently. Even then I felt like I had that calling for a reason, and I think I was prepared in one small way to help wards here.
Visiting teaching is often overlooked. I didn't understand it's purpose until last year. Now I am so impressed by the organization of the church. The Relief Society President can't know how to help every sister in the ward, but visiting teaching exists so the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the sisters can be found and met.
We met with Hermana Pulgar at her house after church and reorganized the visiting teaching companionships. The ones who are visiting regularly we kept in place and the rest we tried to rearrange in a manner that would be the most effective. I suggested that every active sister, including the leaders, have visiting teachers assigned to visit them. Then we assigned visiting teachers to some less active sisters who we knew would receive them. I think it's been frustrating for some of them to try to visit less active sisters who don't want their visits. Now they can visit active sisters who will receive them and I hope unity can be built within the ward and friendships can be made. They can continue to visit the less actives who are receptive. As missionaries we will continue to look for less actives for them to visit. We are always available to visit with them and I hope we can arrange splits with some of the sisters to visit other less active members.
The less actives on our ward list far outnumber the active members. I'm seeing a glimmer of hope and I hope we can begin to see some progress.
Heavenly Father answers prayers. He sends us revelation to fulfill our callings. Do your home and visiting teaching. Just do it! It isn't even hard.
Hermana Eva VanCott