Tuesday, October 28, 2008

October 27, 2008 -- Constant Changes

It is hard to believe that a whole six weeks have already gone by here in Mexico. Today is the first day of my second transfer in Mexico and my fourth transfer in the mission field. With this new transfer comes many changes.

With this fourth transfer, I am in my fourth area, living in my seventh house/apartment and I´ll be working with my seventh companion (or more, depending on how you count it.) It seems my mission thus far has been a mission full of changes, including a change of missions, and a change of countries. I feel like the common saying ¨the only constant is change¨ is a perfect summary of my mission so far. (Although I don´t completely agree with that saying—there is one who changest not (see the hymn "Abide with Me")). Changes are hard. I love my old area, my old ward, and my old companion, but I know that my calling comes from the Lord. Still, I feel like my work in Tres Caminos has not finished, that I will be going back before the end of my mission.

I didn´t move very far. My new area is practically neighbors with my old one. I am no longer in the city of Guadalupe, however. My new area is in Villa Juarez. It includes half of the ward of Juarez of the stake Andalucia. I am a little bit further away from el Cerro de la Silla, but I can see the whole thing from my new area. It is still considered a city area, but it is a lot bigger and more spread out than my last one.

My new companion is Elder Tovanche from Coahuila, Mexico. I don´t know much else about him as of now, he has only been my companion for 3 hours. But he seems like a great missionary, and I can tell that we are going to have a great transfer.

I have two funny stories for you. One happened only a few minutes ago. My companion and I took a taxi from the offices to our new area. I was enjoying the ride, looking at the scenery, and talking with my companion and the driver. All of a sudden I noticed that the taxi was slowing down for no apparent reason. Soon we came to a complete stop in the middle of the highway. ¨I have a problem,¨ said the driver. ¨the gas just ran out on me.¨ Luckily, we were only about a quarter of a mile away from the nearest gas station. So Elder Tovanchi and I got out of the car, and started pushing with the driver. Soon he jumped in and started to steer as Elder Tovanche and I pushed and ran. It must have been a funny sight, two missionaries in full suits running behind a taxi, pushing it. The two missionaries who share our ward and our house passed us on the way and started to laugh. It was a good ice breaker for my new companion and I.

My other experience happened last week with Elder Gonzalez. There is a teenage girl, a friend of a member of our ward, who we had been teaching for two weeks or so. Her name is Nancy (yes, I think of Mom every time we visit her.) For some reason, she had been somewhat cold to us in our recent lessons. This time, we could hear music in the house and we were pretty sure that she was in there, but when we knocked, nobody came to the door. (Not an uncommon experience.) After waiting for a few minutes, I asked my companion if I should knock again. He told me to go for it.

In the United States it is not an uncommon thing for people to knock in the pattern DAH-duh-duh-DAH-duh, hoping for a DAH-DAH response. (I hope you can understand what I am talking about.) It is a friendly thing that people do all the time [in the U.S.]. I decided to knock using this pattern, and to do so loudly so that it would be heard above the music. After I did so, I turned to my companion and was surprised at the shocked look on his face. "Elder Rowley," he said, "no haga esto, es groceria" (don´t do that—it´s very rude.) He then explained that knocking or honking a horn in that pattern here in Mexico symbolizes about the most offensive thing you can say to somebody. I was extrememley embarrassed. I don´t know if Nancy was home or not, or if whoever was there heard our knocking, but nobody came to the door after I knocked. It gave my companion lots to laugh about, however.

* * *

I have some bad news. It seems like President doesn´t go to Texas as often as I thought. I still haven´t gotten anything from the P.O. Box, including my ballot, which means I won´t be able to get it in on time. But that´s ok. It means that when he finally goes it will be like Christmas come early.

One of my most powerful spiritual experiences this week was with a man named Jacinto. We found him because he called out to me in English, and I stopped to talk to him. (Lots of people call out random words when I pass by, and usually they are the only words they know, but I try to talk to them all, because if they do speak English it is a great way to build a relationship and talk about the gospel.) Anyway, Jacinto learned English in the states, where he worked for a few years. He is a good man, and I can see his need for the gospel, but I can also feel that he is hiding something when we visit him. This past visit was the first time we taught him in his house. When I walked in, I felt a definite sinister presence ( it probably didn´t help that my companion and I had just been talking about his experiences with witches and demons.) It was not a pleasant feeling. My companion asked if we could pray and sing a hymn. We sang "Abide with Me, 'tis Eventide." When we finished, there was a definite change in the feeling of the house. The power of the hymns is incredible.

I found out this week that the Apostles who are coming in November are Elder Ballard and Elder Scott. President Monson and President Eyring will be participating in the temple rededication that same weekend. It will be amazing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

October 21, 2008 -- Don´t worry! I´m OK!

You can relax now. I´m fine. I´m sorry for the worry that not recieving a letter from me yesterday must have caused. I spent all day yesterday in the mission offices. First for a conference (which was really good) and then waiting while my companion went to the doctor (don´t worry, he´s fine.) I was able to use the time in the office to write, study, and learn from some of the other missionaries who were there, which was wonderful. But we didn´t get home until 9:00 and so had no time for normal preparation day activities. President said that we could use today to write to our family, buy food, and wash our clothes, however.

I have some big news, but I think I´ll save the best for last...

* * *
Now, for this week´s cultural moment: tiendas (stores). On almost every block here there is a house that part of which has been converted into a store of some type. Usually they just sell snacks and sodas. Sometimes they are ¨mini supers¨ (an oxymoron if I´ve ever heard one.) I like them. They make the neighborhood more friendly, everyone goes to the neighborhood tienda if you run out of one of the basics (including tortillas). It makes life a lot easier. There are also lots of traveling stores, as I call them. On foot, on bike, or in car, there are all sorts of things that people travel around selling. (Like icecream trucks back home). Usually, but not always, it is food. And usually it is great tasting but not so good for you. My favorite is la camionette de pan dulce (the sweet bread truck). The pastries here are different from the states, but every single one I´ve tried is delicious. If I didn´t have to worry about money or health I´d buy pan dulce every night.

This week has been wonderful, but also sad. We have lost a lot of investigators, which really hurts. One we lost because her husband beat here when he found out she was talking to other men (we are trying to get the relief society to help us--she is a wonderful woman who really needs the gospel light in her life.) Others we lost because they told us never to come back. And there are a few that we decided to drop because they will not read or pray or go to church. They all hurt for different reasons. I don´t understand why people don´t run up to us in the streets and beg us to teach them. It is even harder for me to understand why people refuse to change once we find them and share our message with them. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way to happiness, in this life and the world to come. We have a fulness of truth, of love, of peace, of joy, of purpose, of happiness, of everything. Agency is precious, but it is hard for me to understand why more people don´t use it to accept our message. Maybe I don´t teach it very well.

Thankfully, we have also found lots of new people this week. Almost all of them have been found while working on updating the records. This week we updated more than 100 names, which we have to do for the next three weeks as well if we are to finish on time. We are going to do it.

In other news, changes (transfers) are next Monday (so if I don´t write again on Monday, don´t worry). I hope Elder Gonzalez and I stay together, but whatever happens will be the Lord´s will.

Now for the big news: I found out two things yesterday. On Sunday, the 16 of November the Mexico City Temple will be rededicated, which will be broadcasted throughout all of Mexico (like was done for Winter Quarters and Nauvoo.) The day before will be a huge cultural event in Mexico City, and President Monson will be there. This also will be broadcasted throughout Mexico and we will be allowed to go if we bring investigators. Finally, the day before the day before the dedication (November 14), two apostles are coming to Monterrey. There will be a special conference for all adult members, and there is speculation amoung the missionaries that there will also be a special conference for missionaries. That will be a great weekend.

Well, my time is up. Time to get back to work.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

October 13, 2008 -- Meet the Comp.

I realized the other day that I haven't said much about my companion (or about any of my past companions). My current companion is Elder Gonzalez. He is from San Luis Potosi. He is 25 years old and has been a missionary for 18 months. Before his mission, he completed 6 years of schooling, studying stomatology [the study of the mouth and its diseases] and is a fully certified doctor. He was also the president of the student body at his university. Pretty impresive. He really is very smart and is a great missionary. He has taught me many things, including patience. We don't always agree on everything, but we have learned how to compromise. We get along and work well together.

This may sound strange, but I have been thinking a lot about parenting lately. I see many different styles of parenting here, and the affects of those styles. I see some things that I want to do, and some that I never want to do. I also see the affects of my own parents. Mom and Dad, thank you for being such good parents to me.

This week I have rediscovered the truth in the Book of Mormon statement that by small things great things are brought to pass. There are three things in particular that seem very small, but are extremely important in the daily life and eternal welfare of every single person. They are weekly sacrament meeting attendance, daily scripture study, and constant sincere prayer. They really do make all the difference in the world. If only every investigator were willing to read the Book of Mormon, pray, and come to church!

In the same way, there are things that some people would see as small things, but actually ruin the family. I have seen many broken homes, homes without fathers, or homes that, to be honest, would be better off without the fathers that they currently have. The two biggest causes by far of these problems are violations of two simple commandments: the law of chastity and the word of wisdom. Keep the commandments! In this there is saftey and peace, for ourselves and for our homes!

This week's cultural note is brought to you by public transportation. There are three types. The first (which I guess techinically is not public transportation) is taxis. Everywhere you look there are green taxis, usually Nissans. Preach my Gospel specifically mentions talking to Taxi drivers in Monterrey, and I did that for the first time this past week. Second are the Camiones or buses. They are usually jam-packed with people, sitting and standing. The drivers think that they driving the little green taxis rather than huge busses, and dodge in and out of traffic, and try to stop on a dime (or a peso). Riding them is quite fun. Third is the metro, which consists of two parts, one are the buses that connect the stations, which are more or less camions. Second are the trains. Unlike the metro in NY, for example, the metro here is above the city rather than below it. All public transport is a great way to talk to people, as there are many and usually nobody is busy, or even talking.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Monday, October 6, 2008 -- Fed Spiritually and Physically

[General] Conference was absolutely amazing. Dad, I agree--it gets better every time. It is amazing to me how I can be one of millions watching, yet I feel as if each speaker were talking directly to me. Honestly, I feel as if they had been reading my journal and eavesdropping on my prayers. I feel wonderful. Conference really did give me exactly what I need.

You know, I think my description of conference also applies to the Atonement. It affects everyone, but it affects each person in a deeply individual, profoundly personal way. What a miracle. As my favorite song says,¨oh, Hallelujah! How I love my Savior!" I am here so that mourners and everyone else in Mexico can love Him too.

I felt close to home watching conference. I was actually able to watch nearly all of it in English. There are some youth in the stake who were born in the states and who feel more comfortable with English, so the American missionaries were able to watch it in a classroom with them. It reminded me of times spend in Grandmother and Grandaddy´s basement, or times spent in our living room playing general conference bingo. It was nice to know that all my loved ones were watching at the same time.

For this week´s cultural update, I´ll talk about food, since Mom has asked me about it. Like I´ve said before, I love the food here, although it isn´t always the healthiest. (My no sugar and no red meat diet has been put on a two year hold.) So far, I haven´t eaten anything really strange. The strangest food they have here is probably menudo, a stew made from a cow´s stomach, but as yet I haven´t had the opportunity to try it. I have eaten a lot of cactus, though. It is delicious! Usually the members give us some kind of soup, although there are many varieties. My favorite is called Pozoli (spelled something like that.) With each meal, no matter what it is, there are three things you can almost always count on. One, tortillas, usually corn. Two, something picante. Picante comes from the verb picar, which means to sting, to chop, or to do both to your tounge (aka to be spicy). I love food that pica, to the surprise of many people here. The third common element of a meal here is limòn. I still haven´t figured out if limòn is a lemon or a lime, I think it can be either. But in soup, on tacos, whatever it may be, limòn is usually there.

There is also quite a bit of American food here. McDonald´s is as common here as it is in the states, although the buildings are a lot fancier here for some reason. I have a goal to not eat at any such american fast-food restaurant for the whole two years I am here.

The Mexicanized american food, though, I love. Most of the time it tastes better than that from the states. For example, here they really dress up their hamburguers. Last week I had one with the regular hamburguer patty, ham (they take the ham-burger part literally), two types of cheese, onions, jalapeños, something that was like an alvocado but different, tomato, catsup (always spelled that way here), and pinapple. It was delicious. The most interesting american food is the Mexicanized-Americanized Chinese food. The drinks here are also delicious. Like I said, coke is big here. The people don´t seem to drink much pure water. Every time that they offer us water it usually ends up being some type of juice. My favoirte "water" by far is horchata.

This past week I was fed physically and spiritually more than I could wish for. Now it is time to convert it into energy, into action. One of my favorite talks was that of Elder Holland. I have had a lot of angels in my life, before and after my mission, from both sides of the veil. Thank you all for being angels to me in times of need. I pray that God continues to send angels to help you.

Speaking of prayer, I hope that we can all do what president Monson asked and pray for the opening of more areas of the world to missionary work.

My most powerful missionary experience this week was a simple lesson one, about the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have already taught it more than 100 times, but it hasn´t lost any power. Whenever I hear my companion reciting the first vision I feel the Spirit testify. What an important event that was, for Joseph and for all of us. Because of it we know that God loves us and answers our prayers. We have a correct understanding of God and His son Jesus Christ. We have Their church, with its authority and true doctrine here on the earth. What a miracle!