Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008 -- Pictures in the Mail

[These pictures arrived today. As noted on the envelope they came in, they were sent on November 10, 2008. Each had a caption on the back, as follows. -- The Editors.]

Baptism of Angelica (Aug 24, 2008). [L. to R.:] Elder Puente (one of my MTC companions), Elder Zobell (my companion during both transfers in Salt Lake), Elder Shruis, Angelica, Elder Beard, me.
What missionaries do first thing when they have a layover. The two on the left are playing "rock, paper, scissors" for the last phone.

The view from a bridge in my area.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008 -- Ranchitos

Greetings from Mexico, where it isn't always extremely hot. This week marked the change in the weather. I was surprised to find out how cold it can get here. (It was only really cold one day this week, but they say that more days like it are around the corner.) The cold doesn't last long, though. From what other missionaries have said, by Februrary I'll be tanning in the hot Mexican sun once more.

I'm doing great. . . . I love my area more than ever. Our area is huge and I still haven't been to all of it. This past week we have done a lot of work in the small
ranchitos, little colonies of a hundred houses or so in the middle of nowhere (more details to follow.) Since our area is so huge, there are tons of people to teach. (This week we found over 30 new investigators.)

I also love our ward. It is one of the biggest in the mission (we have an active membership of about 150.) There are two companionships in our ward (we live together). And from what I understand, the ward should be splitting before too long. I usually play the piano for sacrament meeting in this ward as well, although there is also a Sister who can play.

* * *

I´m sorry to hear about BYU [vs Utah in football]. We'll do better next year.

Happy Thanksgiving! Unfortunately, Thanksgiving isn't really celebrated here. The other American Elder in the house and I were thinking about cooking something, but unfortunately Thanksgiving falls near the end of the month, when missionaries have no money for things like mashed potato flakes or canned corn. That's all right. I'll be extra grateful on Thursday. * * *

Yesterday I had a bit of a disappointment. We have worked really hard this week, and were expecting over 10 investigators to come to church. In the morning, we left the house an hour and a half early to wake some of them up. None of them answered the door, but I still expected that those who were going to come on their own would be waiting for us when we got the chapel. None of them were, however. None of our investigators came to church. I was sad. It seems the harder we work, the harder the devil works. He loves to give people excuses not to come to church. But this week we'll do better. We're going to make sure all of our investigators understand the importance of coming to church, and also make sure that they have rides to get there.

Now I said there was more to come about the
ranchitos. I can't remember if I've told you anything about Miriam and Roberto Carlos and their children. They are a family that were baptized the day before I was transferred to this area. They are incredible. They have such strong testimonies and grow in understanding every day. I wish I could tell you everything I've learned from them, but time doesn't allow. Anyway, they live in one of these little ranchitos, and many of the other families there are relatives of theirs. Yesterday we were scheduled to eat with [the Carlos family], so they we drove with them after church. After the comida (the big mid-day meal), my companion and I spent the whole day in the ranchito teaching family and friends of Miriam and Roberto Carlos, people whom they had invited to hear the missionaries. It was incredible and taught me a lot about the importance of members in missionary work. I wouldn't be surprised if there is a new branch formed in the ranchito before too long, filled with people who were introduced to the gospel by Miriam and Roberto Carlos.

Every week brings new challenges, but also new blessings. Missionary work is the hardest thing I've ever done, but usually it doesn't seem like it. I love every day. I love seeing the way the gospel of Jesus Christ changes people, including me. Jesus lives, that I know, as does our Heavenly Father. He loves each of us more than we can understand, and is willing to do anything, [other than taking] away our agency or [breaking] His own laws, to help us return to live with Him again.

Monday, November 17, 2008

November 17, 2008 -- What a Weekend!

Greetings from Mexico, "the center of the LDS church" last weekend, as Elder [Russell M.] Nelson put it. I am doing wonderfully well, and have just had a weekend that I´ll never forget.

[Picture: Elder Tovanche and me dressed up for the Apostles]

Elder Russell M. Nelson (I was mistaken, Elder Ballard didn´t come) and Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, as well as Elder Claudio R. M. Costa of the Presidency of the 70, came to Monterrey this weekend. Last Friday, we went to a meeting where they spoke to all the adults here in Monterrey. It was incredible. I was in a building of about 1,500 people (there were two different sessions). Saturday, however, was even better. They held a special conference with all the missionaries in Monterrey, from both missions (about 300 missionaries).

Lots of incredible things happened in that meeting, and I learned and felt a lot. Elders Scott and Nelson were kind enough to greet every single one of us missionaries individually. Elder Nelson said my name as he shook my hand, and Elder Scott said "mucho gusto." (Elder Scott and Elder Costa both speak good Spanish (Elder Costa is from Brazil, so Spanish is not his native language.))

The most memorable and powerful of my experiences with the Apostles, however, was not shaking their hand. It was hearing them bear witness of the Savior. As they taught, I felt the Spirit strongly. When they testified, I was overwhelmed. What an incredible privilege we have to live in a time when we have Apostles and prophets on the Earth again!

Saturday night was also wonderful. I was reminded of my love for music and dancing, something I´ve put on hold for two years. My favorite moments of the cultural event were seeing Presidents Monson and Eyering dance as part of the "dance of the old people.¨ I also loved it when 800 or so missionaries marched onto the field singing "Called to Serve." It was a powerful moment.

Sunday, again, was wonderful. The rededication service was beautiful and powerful. I love temples, and grow in my understanding and appreciation for them every time I go. They truly are the house of the Lord, and I could feel his presence during the dedication. (I also felt close to all of you, knowing that you were participating.) The blessings of the Restored Gospel are incredible. I hope that we can all show our gratitude and do our part by participating in temple work, including geneology.

This week, after weeks of fasting, I was able to feast on letters from home. President Mendoza went to Texas and I received two packets of letters and a few others (any big packages are still in the office until my zone leaders pick them up for me.) It was wonderful. I love the work here and I don´t let thoughts of home distract me, but I can´t deny that I look forward to hearing from you. Even if letters don´t say anything important, I am filled with happiness just knowing that someone I love wrote me a letter. And none of you have ever sent me a letter that didn´t say anything important. The Bible Dictionary defines scripture in a broad definition as anything inspired by the Holy Ghost. Using that definition, many letters you have sent me are scripture to me that offer me the support I need.

* * *
Dad asked me how my Spanish is coming along. The Lord has greatly blessed me in this regard. I hardly ever have difficulty understanding people now, unless they have a different accent (like this week when I met a man from Veracruz whom I couldn´t understand at all.) I still find it hard to express myself in Spanish, however. But I often feel the same way about English. Still, it is getting easier every day.

Johanna is doing well. She and Jorge still aren’t married, though. In fact, Jorge was a little cold to us this week. But we have an appointment with them to have a Family Home Evening this Wednesday, and I have faith that his heart is softening.

* * *
I remember one night in Scouts a few years ago when Brother Palmer taught me a lesson I´ve never forgotten. "The more you know," he said, "the more you can know." I´ve thought a lot about that statement and learned that it is true. I´ve also learned that the same principle applies to other things besides knowledge. For example, the more you love, the more you can love. This week, I learned that the more you contact, the more you can contact. As you know, I am naturally a shy and quiet person. But as a missionary, I am supposed to talk to everyone I see. At first, that was really hard for me. But it isn´t so much anymore. When I think about the message I´m sharing, I can talk to anyone. Usually, the first contact of the day is hard, but it´s all downhill from there. The more you share the gospel, the more you easy it is and the more opportunites you see.

I had a long list of things I wanted to write about today, but my time is up. I want you all to know that I love you and that I know that Jesus is my Savior, that Thomas S. Monson is His prophet, and that the Book of Mormon testifies of Him.

Monday, November 10, 2008

November 10, 2008 -- Tres Taxis

From what I hear, everyone in the United States is overjoyed to have Obama as a president, except for the racists. I think it is wonderful that we live in a time when a black man can be president of the United States. And there are a lot of things that I like about Obama. But there are also some things that worry me, especially if the Democrats have the majority in the House and Senate as well. But I have a year and a half before I have to start worrying about US politics again (although I have to admit that last Tuesday and Wednesday I missed them terribly.)

* * *

As I've mentioned before, talking to taxi drivers in Monterrey is a finding technique specifically mentioned in
Preach My Gospel. (There is a story about a taxi driver who gave a ride to missionaries in the rain and ended up joining the church becuase of it, but I can't remember what page it's on.) This week I had three experiences with taxis that I want to share with you.

One of the stories starts before I got to this area. There is an investigator we are working with named Johanna. She is incredible. She has an incredibly strong testimony, and she already knows more doctrine than many members, although she has only been investigating for two months. There is only one thing holding her back from baptism—she is not legally married to her husband, and he doesn't want to marry her legally, but we have hope that that will change very shortly.

What does Johanna have to do with a taxi? Her husband, Jorge, is a taxi driver. One day he gave a ride to some missionaries who talked to him about the gospel. He gave them his address. When a different pair of missionaries stopped by his house to check the reference, he wasn't home, but his wife was. At this time, Johanna was an atheist, and laughed at her husband for what little religious beliefs he held. But she let the missionaries in and her life changed.

Although Johanna has not yet joined the church, she has given the missionaries over a dozen references, and four people here in our area have joined the church because of her. None of this would have happened if it weren't for a missionary who contacted her husband.

Last Sunday, my companion and I fasted for Johanna, that her husband's heart would soften and that she would be able to get married and baptized this month. I have developed a great faith in the power of fasting, especially after my experience with Angelica in Salt Lake.

Monday while I was saying my nightly prayer, I was praying for Johanna when a thought came to my mind. "Tell Jorge about the temple dedication." (The rededication of the Mexico City Temple is this weekend and Johanna cannot attend unless she is a member.) I talked to my companion, and we decided to do just that.

Jorge is hardly ever home, but we had faith that we would find him on Tuesday. We went to visit Johanna in the morning, but Jorge wasn't there. We were disappointed and decided to try again the next day. About an hour later, we were still in the same colony when the second taxi experience happened. All of a sudden a taxi pulled up behind us and somebody yelled "Hey, can I have a book?" Surprised, I began to hand them a pamphlet on the plan of salvation. "No, a Book of Mormon," they said. Even more surprised, my companion handed her a copy. Before he could talk to her or ask why she wanted it, however, the taxi drove away. It was a strange experience. But sometimes I wonder why everyone doesn't yell at us and ask us to give them a Book of Mormon.

Anyway, we took this as a sign. (We associate taxis with Jorge.) We decided to try again at Johanna´s. As we were walking up the street, I thought to myself "what if Jorge pulled up right now?" Just as I thought that, my companion pointed to a taxi coming up the road. "That's him!" he exclaimed.

There were just too many coincidences. Before going into the house, I stopped and said a prayer of gratitude and also a plea for the Spirit to guide me as we talked to Jorge.

Johanna was surprised to see us again, but this time we were there for her husband, not her. We began to talk to him and we explained how great a privilege and blessing it was to be able to participate in the temple rededication, and that a prophet of the Lord would be leading the ceremony. Jorge listened, and I could tell he was affected.

To make a long story short, Jorge hasn't yet given his permission, but he has strongly hinted that his mind has changed. I don't doubt that soon I will be telling you about the baptism of Johanna.

The third taxi experience happened a few days later. We had an appointment in five minutes on the other side of our area. We were waiting for the bus, but the bus wasn't coming. My companion wanted to take a taxi so that we could get there on time, but I didn't want to spend the money. Several taxis passed us by, and the bus still didn't come. Then, all of a sudden, I felt like we should take a taxi, so we signalled the next one to pass by.

The moment I stepped in, I felt like I should talk to the driver about the church. It was the strongest feeling to contact someone I have yet experienced. So I did. And he listened attentively. As I shared Joseph Smith's experience, he turned off the radio and I could feel his interest. His name is Victor and I expect to be telling you about his baptism in a few weeks.

This week I read a story in the Liahona about a man who received an email from a boy he had given a pamphlet to on his mission over 30 years before. He didn't even remember the boy, but the boy ended up joining the church because of it. As
Preach My Gospel says, no effort is wasted.

I am extremely excited for this weekend. Friday night there is a special meeting for all the adult members in the Monterrey area with Elders Scott and Nelson of the twelve, as well as Elder Acosta of the Seventy. Since my area is considered part of the city, I get to go. Saturday morning, there is another special meeting with them, this time only for missionaries. That evening is the broadcast of the cultural event from Mexico City. Then Sunday the temple will be rededicated. Since every stake center where it is broadcasted will be a part of the temple for the ceremony, if [any of] you go, we'll be in the same temple at the same time!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

November 3, 2008 -- PICTURES

Finally! I got it to work! One of the pictures is of Elder Gonzalez and me eating campechanas in our favorite restaurant. The other is of the two of us at the temple (yes, we got to go-- it was wonderful!)

Monday, November 3, 2008

November 3, 2008 -- A Big Area and a Big Change of Lifestyle

I am doing well. I love my new area. It is HUGE! In our ward, there are two sets of missionaries (we live in the same house), but even though the ward is divided into two areas, mine is still gigantic. I thought I walked a lot in my last area, but it was nothing like this. We also use a lot of public transportation. In my last area, all the houses were connected, in one continuous city. In this area, it is still considered one city, but the different colonies are separated by a kilometre or two. The walks from colony to colony are beautiful. There is a small river we cross most days. We are teaching a family in a small little colony that takes a half hour of walking through nature to get through. The mountains are farther away, but I can see more of them. I love it. The only thing is, a lot of the beautiful areas are polluted with all sorts of litter. It makes me sad to see all the trash that people dump. But I still love the nature here.

I arrived in the area the day after my [new companion] Elder Tovanche and his previous companion baptized a family. It is amazing to see their spirit. When we come over, they treat us like kings and hang on every word we say, which makes me more appreciate my calling and increase my desire to magnify it. They truly have a testimony and desire to learn. Their lives have greatly been blessed by the gospel, and their lives will be a great blessing to other members of the church.

So the election is tomorrow. I have no idea how the polls are or anything and I probably won´t find out about Proposition 8 until you tell me (but I´m sure I´ll hear about the new President from someone.) I still haven´t gotten my ballot, so my vote won´t be counted, but I pray that [Proposition 8] passes.

Speaking of Proposition 8, Dad asked me about the convert in my last area who had overcome homosexual feelings. I asked my companion about it, and this is what he told me (note: names have been changed and you might not want to read this to all the kids.)

Elder Gonzalez and Elder Meyers had not had any success for weeks. No one seemed to be listening to their message. So they decided to have a special fast. During their fast, they were walking down a street on their way to check a referral. They noticed a woman standing at her gate, who started at them when they walked by. On their way back, she was still there and looked at them in the same weird way. They decided to talk to her.

When they first started teaching Paula, she was depressed and in bad emotional and mental shape. But as they continued teaching her, she began to change. She believed what they said and the gospel was bringing light into her life. As they taught, however, they became suspicious of her living situation, but when they taught the law of chastity, she didn´t say anything, and so they figured there was nothing wrong.

When the time came for the baptismal interview, Paula didn´t want to do it. She said she wasn´t worthy, but she wouldn´t tell the missionaries why. They explained that the interview was not a test, but to help her prepare for baptism and overcome any remaining obstacles she might have. Finally she agreed to do it.

She came out of the interview crying and asked to talk to Elder Gonzalez and Elder Meyers. She explained that she had confessed to the other missionary and felt much better for doing so. She told them that since they had helped her so much, she wanted them to know what she had gone through.

Paula was married at the normal age and had several children. For one reason or another, however, she ended up as a young single mom without the means to take care of her many children. While she was in this state, she met Angela, another young woman, who befriended and helped Paula. Eventually, they became good friends and moved into the same house to be able to save money. Paula knew that Angela was a lesbian, but Paula wasn´t. She thought it was gross.

After a while, however, Paula felt like she ought to show her gratitude to Angela for all her help and support, so she began to do her ¨favors.¨ At first, Paula didn´t enjoy it at all, but only did it ¨to help her friend.¨ Soon, however, they were living a very lesbain life and Paula began to enjoy it. They lived like that for 20 years.

After many years, Paula began to feel guilty for the way she was living. She knew it was wrong, but she didn´t know how to get out of it. She became extremely depressed.

That´s when the missionaries showed up. As they shared their message of love and hope, Paula believed and her life changed. Little by little, she gave up smoking, drinking and other sins. After her first baptismal interview, she prayed hard to have the courage to talk to Angela. She did. It was hard at first, and at times she slipped, but she was able to completely overcome her lesbian lifestyle.

For cases such as Paula´s, the mission president has to interview them prior to baptism. Paula was interviewed by President Taylor (the president at the time), and was declared to be ready for baptism. She was overjoyed.

When I met Paula, I would have never guessed how her life was before. She has an extremely strong testimony and shares the gospel with everyone she meets. She and Angela are still very close friends (in fact, with President Taylor´s permission, they continued living in the same house.) Angela is also changing, little by little. Her journey has been harder than Paula´s, because her tendencies were more ¨natural,¨ but she too is listening to the missionaries and her life is better because of it.

Wow, that took a lot longer than I expected. I love that story, though. But my time is up.