Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Monday, December 28, 2008 -- The Best Week

[Editors' note: This is the second of two posts published today.]

In my call letter it says that “greater blessings and more happiness than you have yet experienced await” in my missionary service. This week I saw the fulfillment of that promise.

One reason why this week was so great was that I was able to talk to all of you [at home]. That was wonderful. The sweetest sound in all the world is the sound of a loved one's voice saying, “I love you.”

Another reason why this week was wonderful happened yesterday. When I talked to you on Thursday, I said that we wouldn't be having any baptisms this Sunday. I was wrong. The family of Eddie and Olga arrived home early from their Christmas vacation. We happened to be in the ranchito on Friday, and there was Eddie. It was a miracle. He, his wife, and two of his children were baptized yesterday. I baptized Eddie and Olga. Roberto Carlos, brother of Eddie and a recent convert of three months, baptized their two children, Juan Jesús and Perla. He had just received the priesthood earlier that day. It was an incredibly spiritual experience. At the end of the services, Roberto Carlos and his wife, Miriam, shared their testimonies. After them, Eddie and Olga shared their feelings. They talked about how much the gospel had already changed their lives, about how happy they felt, and about how they knew the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I couldn´t stop smiling. Or crying. It is a beautiful thing to see a family of true converts. I have no doubt that in a year I will be going to the temple with this family to see them be sealed for time and all eternity. There are two more members of the immediate family who are not yet members. One is a married daughter who lives in Matamoros, Tamaulipas. My previous companion, Elder Tovanche, was transferred to the area where she lives, and is now teaching her. (Interesting how he was sent to that area, eh?). The other is a 22-year-old son whom we are also teaching, and who is planning to be baptized on January 11.

More good news: Johanna, the wife of Jorge, the taxi driver who didn't want to get married (and the one who first introduced the missionaries to the ranchito where the families of Roberto Carlos and Eddie live) is finally going be married this month. The heart of her husband has finally softened and he agreed to marry her. I am hoping that she will be married and baptized before transfers this month.

* * * I'm sorry I couldn't write more. I had problems with the computer today. I'll send you a picture of the baptism next week.

Christmas 2008 -- Elder Rowley's Testimony

Editors' note: LDS missionaries are permitted to call home twice a year -- on Christmas day and Mother's day. During his Christmas call last week, we asked Elder Rowley to share his testimony in Spanish. You can hear it by clicking on the video presentation below.

We apologize that some of the English captions are unfinished. Our translation department is working on the problem.

The picture of Elder Rowley was taken in 2007, about a year before he became a full-time missionary.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008 -- The Worth of Souls

I hope you don't mind, but I am going to philosophize for a minute here… As missionaries, we often look for what we call "golden investigators." That is, investigators who are standing at the door, waiting for us to knock so that they can get baptized. In our search for gold, however, we often forget that there are other metals just as precious, just as beautiful. The truth is, not all investigators are golden, in fact, most aren't. But some are silver, others platinum. Some may be rubies or diamonds. And all are valuable. The worth of souls is great in the sight of God. Some may not be a precious metal right now. But coal becomes a diamond. But not overnight. In Preach My Gospel, there is a chapter all about Christ-like attributes. Patience is one of them, and I have been studying it this week. Patience is related to faith, faith that the Lord will keep his promises, being willing to wait for the time of the Lord. I have also learned that it is related to love. When we love the people with a Christ-like love, we understand the worth of their souls, and we are willing to go through a refiner's fire with them to help them reach their potential. This week my companion and I have found all sorts of jewels. We have been improving in our efforts to contact everyone, even on the buses. Through our efforts this week we have found a drug dealer, a single mother, a worshiper of the Santa Muerta, a twelve year old boy, and many others. My goal is to help them realize their potential, the potential they have because they are children of God.

I can't deny that I miss you all a lot, especially at Christmas time, the season of family togetherness, service, tradition, and, most importantly, remembrance of our Savior. I'm looking forward to the hour [I] will be able to talk [with family] this Thursday. But I want you to know that there is no place I would rather be right now than where I am, because I know that it is where the Lord wants me to be.

I sincerely wish you all a very Merry Christmas. . . . And remember the reason for the season . . . . The best Christmas gift was given on the very first Christmas, a gift from our loving Heavenly Father, the gift of His Son and through Him, the possibility of Eternal Life (John 3:16). He gave us that gift because he knows our worth. I hope we all give a gift to [our Heavenly Father and His Son] this Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008 -- [Hard Times and Hope]

To be quite honest, this week was probably the hardest one I've had on the mission. You know me, I'm a stresser, and I still feel overwhelmed with my new responsibilities. I really don't know what I'm doing, and this isn't just any work, this is the work of the Lord. Luckily, being involved in the Lord's work entails receiving the Lord's help. I've needed that help a lot this week, and I've learned to appreciate it even more.

Preach My Gospel teaches that as missionaries we should do everything we can to help people keep their commitments. Commitments such as reading, praying, going to church, keeping the commandments, and getting baptized, are extremely important in the progress of every person and of their testimony. Without commitments, we don't grow. (That's why covenants are so important, they are our commitments with the Lord.) After all that we can do, however, people still have their sacred agency and they sometimes use it to not keep commitments. When that happens, I get sad. It hurts me to know that people are rejecting the best thing ever invented (because it wasn't invented, or at least not by man.) It is a lot like what Dad described in a letter to me when he talked about Pilate error or . . . (I forgot his other name for it[*]), when people are too busy with the everyday to care about the all-important. It hurts even more when the decicions of [some] impede [another's] progress. This week [has] seen a lot of that with husbands who don't let their wives go to church, or things like that.

I'm sorry if my letter has been a little depressing until now. Don't worry. I'm happy and healthy. Although this week was hard, it was also great. For example, six different people agreed to take the ever-so-important step of baptism later this month. We have also found lots of great new people to teach. Right now the Church here is having a media campaign, giving away Joy to the World DVDs. (Things here aren't like things in Salt Lake, where missionaries have DVDs all year round to give to people.) The campaign consists mainly of commercials on the TV and pass-a-long cards. My companion and I were given 20 and were told that we weren't going to get any more. We decided that the best way to use them was to give them to members to give to their friends, which we did, but first we made over 500 copies. This week we will have to make more copies, because we are almost out.

Even though things have been hard, even though life as a missionary can sometimes be stressful or sad, there is hope! -- hope, as [President] Uchtdorf[**] said, that "transcends the trivial and centers in the Hope of Israel." (I hope I quoted him right.) I know that the cause in which I fight is the cause of the Lord, and that everyone will eventually have a chance to hear this glorious message. I am building Zion, as are each of you. I know that Jesus is the Christ, that He is our Savior and our Friend. Nothing we face in this life can beat us if we just remember that simple fact.

I try not to get distracted from my work, but in this Christmas season I can't help but think about my family all the time. I think about all of our traditions of service and family togetherness, of caroling, bread-making, "remember when-ing," and giving. * * *

My time is up. In a little over a week I'll be be able to say in person [by phone], as they spell it in Mexico, "wiwichu a meri crismas an a japi nu yir."

[*"Pilate Error" refers to the incident when Pilate answered Christ, saying "What is truth?" This was not a sincere inquiry but a sarcastic put-off that ended their conversation. (See John 18:37-38). "Pilate error" thus consists in the denial or devaluation of truth. The "other name for it," to which Elder Rowley refers, is the "Athenian Attitude." In this version of it, the error consists of being preoccupied with novelty or fashion rather than truth. It is called the "Athenian Attitude" because, in Acts 17:21, we read that "the Athenians . . . spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing." -- Eds.]

[** Dieter F. Uchtdorf is the Second Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church. The First Presidency is the highest governing council of the Church. It consists of a president and two assistants or "counselors." --Eds.]

Monday, December 15, 2008 -- 1,000 Words

The four missionaries from the Juárez ward. From Left to right: Elder Zamudio (mi compañero), Elder Valenzuela (from Peru), Elder Whatcott (from Lehi, Utah), and yours truly (or, as they say in Mexico, "a servant" (that means me.))

Monday, December 8, 2008

Monday, December 8, 2008 -- "And the Transfers Are . . . "

Cambios (literally “changes,” called “transfers” in English-speaking missions) are an interesting thing.  After six weeks of working in an area, getting to know and love your companion, your ward, and especially the people you are teaching, there is a possibility that you will suddenly be moved to a different area far, far away.  When the last Saturday of the transfer, everyone is nervous, because that night you will get the call.  You try not to let it affect your work, but it is there in the back of your mind all day—“this might be the last time I walk down this street,” or “this could be the last time I teach this person.”  When you arrive home, you pray and plan as normal, but it is really hard to keep your mind in it, because only a few minutes separate you from the knowledge of where and with whom you will be working for the following 6 weeks. Then the call comes.  It is almost a guarantee that the first thing your district leader tells you will be a joke, but you always end up believing it anyway.

“Elder Rowley se va . . . a quedar en Juarez!”  (Elder Rowley is going . . . [long pause] . . . to stay!)  Yes!  I am staying in Juarez!  “But he's going to Juarez dos.”  (What? The same city, the same ward, the same house, just moving bedrooms and companions and areas.  Can they do that?  That means I'll still get to see Roberto Carlos and Eddie and Johanna every Sunday, but I won't get to teach them.  I think he's kidding, but he sounds so serious.)  “Just kidding! Elder Tovanche is going to Matamoros.  Elder Rowley is staying in Juarez uno, as the senior companion.  His new companion will be Elder Zamudio.”

When I heard that, I was even more surprised than the first time.  (Senior companion? I'm so not ready for that.)  But this time it wasn't a joke.  Part of me was happy to hear that, but that's the part of me that I try not to feed—the pride side.  Most of me felt very much overwhelmed.  I am not ready to direct an area.  Now it's up to me.  The souls of every one of the people we are teaching are my responsibility, [insofar] as their agency is not compromised.  I also am in charge of helping and leading my companion.

Saturday night I prayed.  A lot.  As I did, I was reminded of a talk by President Eyring from when he was called to be in the First Presidency, called “God helps the faithful priesthood holder.”  It was exactly what I needed.  In summary, it says that when God gives us an assignment, he will give us the means to fulfill it.  He will help us remember past times when he has helped us.  He will give us the desire to pray for and a great love for the people we will serve.  And He will tell us to go to work.  I have experienced all three of those things in the past 48 hours.  I still fill a heavy responsibility, but I know that I can do it, with the Lord's help.

To finish my description of transfers, the day after the calls, Sunday, is spent like a normal Sunday, except the visits are directed towards those whom the departing elder most wants to say goodbye too.  Then Monday morning is packing time, until 1:00 where everyone meets at the office.  There we meet our new companions, have a little devotional with President and the Assistants, eat lunch, and return to our areas.  Yes, transfers are hard.  But we know that it is the will of the Lord.  The hymn “I'll go where you want me to go” is a perfect description of the general feeling of transfer meeting.

Last week there was a special conference in which President talked a little about transfers.  He used me and Elder Billings as an example.  Elder Billings has been in his area for 7.5 months. He has had 3 areas in total during his 21 months as a missionary.  I on the other hand, have had 4 areas in 6 months, not to mention two missions, 8 companions, etc.  President Mendoza said that each of our missions is different, but each is directed by the Lord.  I have a testimony of that, and I'm very glad that the Lord willed that I stay in Juarez this transfer.

My new companion is named Elder Zamudio.  He has 3 months in the mission, and I am his first companion after his tutor.  He is from the state of Mexico, and is 18 years old.  He seems like a wonderful missionary, and I can tell that we are going to have a great transfer.

Things in the ranchito are going well.  This weekend they had many of their relatives come from out of town, who we also taught.  Eddie, one of the family members, is really excited about the gospel.  He and his wife and children will be getting baptized soon.

Last night I was able to go to the Christmas devotional, along with Johanna and Jorge and Eddie and Olga and others from the ranchito.  I loved it, especially the last hymn, "Silent Night."

Speaking of Christmas, we will be speaking at Christmas! This week they should be telling us the details, and I'll let you know in my next letter.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Monday, December 1, 2008 -- Las Leccionotas en el Ranchito (The Big Lessons in the Little Ranch)

My Thanksgiving was great . . . . We worked just like it was any other day, but my companion and I bought two little pies to celebrate.

This Thursday I will complete six months as a missionary. It is really hard for me to believe. It has gone by, as they say, de volada, that is, really fast. All the clichés as to how fast time can fly apply to how I feel. Six months is a quarter of my mission. Today we had a special conference in the morning (we have one the last Monday before transfers every transfer.) In it, all of the "heroes," or departing missionaries bore their testimonies. It made me think of how I want to be when that time comes and I realized that I have so much to change, and so much work to do. I don't want to waste a single minute of the 18 months of the Lord's time that I have left. Once again, I am recommitted to giving 100%, everyday.

Everything here in Villa Juarez is going wonderfully well, especially in the ranchito. Roberto Carlos and Miriam are incredible missionaries. We are teaching many people because of them, including nearly 20 members of their extended family. Our lessons with the Montoya family (the extended family of Roberto Carlos) are always quite interesting. Usually, there is at least 10 people there, but the mix varies. Doña Carmen, the less active matriarch of the family is usually a constant, as is Miriam, the recent convert. Besides that, there are investigators at various levels of progress, and of various ages. Almost every time we go, there is a new member of the family whom we haven't taught before. Sometimes Sonia, one of Roberto Carlos' sisters comes down from Matamoros. She and her husband were baptized a little over a year ago and were just recently sealed. Another Sister, Nena, is an anti-Mormon who likes to express her opinion (but refuses to read any of our pamphlets or books, preferring to believe what she finds on the Interenet.) Whenever we go to teach one person in particular, the others join in, so we always end up teaching everyone all at once. I'm learning a lot about teaching at several levels at once. Our first baptism from that family will hopefully be this Sunday (if he conquers his drinking problem). If not this Sunday, it won´t be too far in the future.

I have a vision of the Montoya family in a few years, gathered for a sort of Grand Family Home Evening, like we used to have when everyone [on Dad's side of the family] lived in California. Everyone will be faithful, active members, united to reminisce, enjoy the company of loved ones, and to strengthen each other. They will be raising children in the gospel and will be serving in various callings. I am working for that vision.

It's been a while since I wrote a cultural moment. There is a phenomenon that, from what I understand is unique to Monterrey and its suburbs. It is the phenomenon of the lunche (pronounced lunch-eh). Instead of sending their children to school with their lunches, the Moms around here flock to the school at break time in order to personally deliver snacks and treats to their children. They are not allowed to go in, so they surround the fences and hand their children the goodies. It’s a little thing, but it makes me happy to see that there are lots of mothers who take good care of their children, because I see a lot of the opposite every day. It is also a great time to find young families to teach, but I've learned to contact those walking away from the school, not towards it, because when they are bringing the lunche they don't have time to talk.

. . . [T]his week I have been reading in the war chapters of the Book of Mormon. (I'm convinced that it could become the best movie ever made if Peter Jackson converted to the church and set his talents to it.) There are many jewels to be found in these chapters. This time, I was especially impressed by the Stripling Warriors. There is a lot to learn from their example. They had much power in fighting, despite their lack of experience. This power came from lots of things, but most especially their exact obedience. As a missionary, there are lots of rules and many of them seem insignificant, but I really notice the power that I get from obeying the Lord.