Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday, April 27, 2009 -- Follow the Spirit, He Knows the Way

I don't know how much you know about the influenza epidemic in Mexico City (I hardly know anything) but President Mendoza has talked to us about precautions we should take, and he wants you to know (as do I) that we are all healthy and protected.

This past weekend was our stake conference (the Andalucia Monterrey Mexico Stake of Zion). The Sunday session was organized according to the three-fold mission of the Church. First, the temple president (President Tenorio, brother of Elder Tenorio of the 70) and his wife spoke. Then several recently-returned missionaries and President and Sister Mendoza. The stake President finished the conference. Redeem the dead, proclaim the gospel, perfect the saints.

My favorite talks were those of President Mendoza and his wife. Sister Mendoza told a story of missionaries who went to eat at a member's house. As the missionaries were leaving, one of the little girls in the family asked her mom who were the men dressed in white who were accompanying the missionaries. President Mendoza talked about a lot of things, but I especially loved what he said about priesthood. He said that the priesthood means responsibility and service -- responsibility to live worthily and service blessing the lives of others.

After the conference we had a baptism. Officially, it wasn't our baptism. But it was my companion and I who started to teach her, and when they divided our area she went to the other missionaries. Her name is Carmen. Her husband Juan Carlos will also be baptized soon, once he takes care of a few things. Her baptism was a great experience.

After the baptism, my companion and I congratulated her. Through her tears, she thanked us for teaching her. She said it was because of us that she had made it to that day. She said that in the first visit, if we hadn't used the words we did, she might not have been interested, but we talked about things in just the right way to interest her. (I don't remember much about our first lesson, except that we talked a lot about the eternal family.) But it wasn't my companion and I who said the right words, it was the Spirit who inspiried us and who spoke to her heart.

Yesterday I had another experience that demonstrates the importance of following the Spirit. We were with Hermano Zavala, and were going to visit a family. He wanted to go one way, but I felt that we should take the longer way, so we did. As we walked, we ran into another investigator, whom we have been trying to visit for a long time, but never have found at home. We walked home with her and taught a great lesson. The Spirit really is the most important thing for a missionary.

Our mission has been greatly blessed with lots of visits from general authorities. This week we will be visited by Elder Walter F. Gonzalez, one of the Presidents of the Seventy. I'm excited.

I was trying to think of a cultural moment for you, but none came to mind. I'm getting so used to things in Mexico that I can't remember what is the same and what is different.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009 -- I Miss Mom's Bread and Spaghetti

The first week of my eighth transfer has passed. And what a week it was. We are now once again four missionaries living in the house (as it was when I first arrived.) It is interesting to see all the changes that there have been in the ward and the area in the six months I've been here.

On Saturday afternoon our Ward Mission Leader (who has been off his mission for two months now) called us with a special assignment from the recently-reorganized bishopric: my companion and I were to speak in church the following day. As the call came Saturday afternoon and we have church at 9:00 AM on Sunday, we didn't have a study hour to prepare our talks. We had to use the little time we have between planning and going to bed and waking up/getting ready and going to church. But the talks turned out all right. I borrowed from Dad's talk on developing Christ-like attributes. I used the example of Mom's bread. [Just as the best bread dough isn't finished until it's baked, even if it has all the right ingredients, so also is our discipleship unfinished until we do more than "go through the motions." We must try to be like Jesus.] In fact, I described in great detail how much I love Mom’s bread, and now half the sisters in the ward have asked for the recipe. (Mom, if it isn’t secret, could you send me the recipe for your bread and also for your spaghetti sauce? Every time someone asks me what my favorite food is, I say, "My Mom's spaghetti. One sister here offered to make it if I get the recipe. Maybe Uncle Mike can help you translate it into Spanish because I still don't know a lot of the words that have to do with cooking.)

Anyway, I talked about some specific attributes we should all develop and how they contribute to missionary work. One attribute I mentioned that we don't often think of is reverence. Reverence is an important Christ-like attribute and also plays an important role in missionary work. As Sister Lifferth taught in the past General Conference, reverence invites revelation. We missionaries invite investigators to church to give them an opportunity to feel the Spirit and receive a testimony. But it will be hard for them to do that if the members (and their children) aren't being reverent. Anyway, our talks turned out all right.

* * *

This week my companion and I have been improving in what Preach My Gospel calls "talk to everyone." We intentionally don’t sit next to each other on the bus so that we can talk to people, and we have tried to talk to literally everyone in our path. With more contacts, we have received more rejections, which often really hurt, especially when they rejected us for reasons that aren’t true. Sometimes I wonder -- if I had talked to them about eternal families instead of living prophets (or vice versa) would they have accepted? All I can do is follow the Spirit and do my best, and the rest is a matter of their agency. Really, they never reject me, but reject the message of the gospel, which is rejecting Jesus Christ.

But not all of our contacts have ended in rejection. We have also found some great new investigators. Some of our best investigators currently are a young, single mother; a man and woman who are 20 and 19, respectively, and have been legally married for three years; a man who studied three years with Jehovah’s Witnesses, but was disillusioned by their belief that miracles no longer happen; a man who has lost his job because of the economic crisis; and many other people from all walks of life. The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone, and I am not ashamed to share it with everyone I meet.

It is interesting how many miracles happen every day in the life of a missionary, and how many inspired promises come to pass. For example, President Mendoza recently taught us that we deceive ourselves if we say we are only going to knock on the doors which the Spirit inspires us to knock. He told us we should choose a street (seeking the counsel of the Lord) and knock on every door on that street, without exception. He promised that there are people in every street waiting to hear about the gospel.

This past week my companion and I knocked every door on a street. We set a few return appointments, but they really didn't look that promising. When we returned, however, we couldn't find the house we were looking for, and I couldn't find the address in my planner, even though I was sure that I had written it. We ended up knocking on the house we thought it was, but we were mistaken. It ended up being one of the houses that we had knocked the other day, but no one had answered.

This time, someone answered. Her name is Sue (which is a really weird name for a Mexican—she was born in Nebraska). She is a single mother who lives alone with her daughter. Her best friend is a member of the Church. She invited us in and we had a great lesson. I feel very strongly that she is going to be baptized.

There are lots of stories that happen everyday. I don’t have time to tell them all. I just hope that I remember them all after my mission to be able to tell them to you.

Following the Spirit isn't just for missionaries, it's for everyone.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009 -- [Untitled]

Transfers were today. And my companion and I are staying together. But our area is changing. They are taking away half of it and making it into a new area, which also means that we will be four missionaries living in the house again.

Although it hurts to lose my investigators, converts, and member friends from half my area, I'm excited because it means that we are going to be able to focus better. The Montoya Ranchito is in the other area, but we've been given special permission to still be the missionaries who teach them and their neighbors for at least this transfer.

When this transfer ends, I'll have spent 7.5 months here in Juarez, which probably means this will be my last transfer to be assigned here. Some other missionaries have asked if I´m sick of my area, but I am definitely not. I love it more every day, and am not looking forward to the day that I am transferred.

Unfortunately, Elder Dudley, my BYU friend, was transferred and is no longer in my zone. I'm going to miss him.

Speaking of Elder Dudley, he told me the other day that at BYU I didn't have wrinkles on my forehead, but now I do. It appears that the mission is making an old man out of a 20-year-old. Good thing it isn't giving me arthritis, because I really wouldn't like it if I couldn't walk all day to visit people. Hopefully my wrinkles will go away soon. I need to stress less.

* * *
Here in Mexico everyone was on vacation this week. (This past week was "Holy Week" for the Catholics, which means for about 80% of the people here.) This means that lots of people weren't home. But it also means that the people who were home were unusually receptive to conversations about Jesus Christ. My companion and I had some great lessons this week.

My letter is a little shorter this week because I am short on time . . . .

Monday, April 6, 2009 -- The Greatest Battle Ever Fought

Conference was amazing. This time, I watched it in Spanish, as the English translation isn´t available in my current stake center. But it was just as good. I did miss hearing their voices, but several of the speakers, including Elder Scott and Elder Cristofferson, pre-recorded their own talks in Spanish.

Mom asked which talks were my favorite and my answer is two many to count, but I especially liked the talks of Elder Scott and Christofferson, President Eyring in the priesthood session, and President Uchtdorf on Sunday. Unfortunately, I wasn´t able to see the Sunday Afternoon session because I was trying to save a baptism, so I missed Elder Oaks and Elder Bednar, two of my favorites.

Like I said six months ago (which seems like just yesterday), the prophets and apostles always seem to know just what I need to hear. In the five sessions, my companion and I had four investigators and several recent converts who came and who were very impressed. It seems like every conference is more spiritual and edifying than the last. But maybe it is me who is becoming more spiritually mature.

* * *
Our three baptisms that were going to be on Saturday turned out to be one baptism on Sunday. (Don´t worry, the other two will be baptized this Sunday). The Person who was baptized is Manuela Saldaña Aguilar, a neighbor of el Hermano Zavala. The gospel has brought peace and happiness to Manuela, who was a very sad woman when we started to teach her. Like all of us, she still has a long way to go, but she has taken a very important step. Her baptism was a very spiritual experience.

My companion Elder Dominguez and I are working really hard and loving every minute of it. Thanks to good members like el Hermano Zavala, we are practically working only with member-references. It is amazing how much better it is. I encourage all of you to talk to your friends about the gospel. And not just talk to them, but invite them to talk to the missionaries.

Like I said, one of my favorite talks was that of President Eyering in the Preisthood session. I was greatly impressed by his words about the ¨man down.¨ We are truly involved in a great war. And the stakes are even higher than life and death, because we are dealing with eternal life and death. When one of our comrades fall, it is not an time to judge him, but to do everything we can to rescue him. I am not just talking about those who are not members of the church. When I was listening to the talk, a vivid image came to my mind of one of the less active recent converts we have been working with (who was baptized a few days before I arrived here.)

We are all enlisted. Happy are we, but we are also serious in the respect that we understand how very important this fight is. Obedience and diligence are key as in any war. But unlike most wars, we know which side will win. The Lord will be victorious, without a doubt. The question is which side will we be on? And how many of our brothers and sisters will be with us? It may be that in your situations you are not in the front of this great battle, but as in all wars the work at home is just as important. Keep up the good work and keep striving to be better.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Monday, March 30, 2009 -- Nothing So Broke He Can´t Fix It

This past Saturday our ward had an activity at the same time that I was teaching English classes. Their activity was celebrating the pioneers (it was a special feeling to see my recent converts dressed up as pioneers). For part of the activity they had a dance in which they only played country music, which I could hear as I was teaching the class. I was tempted to start to sing along, or even dance, but I resisted.

* * *

As missionaries, we help people in all types of situations. This week we have been working with a family destroyed because of alchoholism. Truly the Word of Wisdom and the law of chastity are two keys to happy, strong families. What starts as a little justification leads to complete destruction. Thankfully, what was destroyed by alchohol (or drugs or pornography, or whatever it may be), can be fully healed through the infinitely powerful Atonement of Jesus Christ. How sad it is when people have the opportunity to accept that healing and don´t accept it. But how joyful it is to help people come unto Christ and be healed.

This week Doña Carmen talked to me and my companion about her son Alfredo, who was baptized last week and is a great example of the change that the Atonement brings. She told us that she spent years sleeplessly worrying about her drug-addict son. She constantly, fervently prayed that God would make a miracle in his life. She told us that now she understood why God waited so long to do so. “He was waiting for us to be in the true church,” she said through her tears. I too cried as she shared her testimony and gratitude with us. Alfredo is a changed man. And I am grateful to have been able to see that change.

Wow, time flies. It is hard to believe it is time again already, but this weekend is General Conference! I´m excited. How incredible it is to hear from prophets and apostles of God every six months! This Saturday I am not going to get any proselyting done, but it is going to be a wonderful day. After studying, we go to conference, then we go to eat, then we go to conference, then we are going to have 3 baptisms, then we go to conference, then we come home. I know that I will get answers and encouragement that I have been needing. And I pray that the investigators and converts who will be coming for the first time will also receive personal revelation as well as strengthened testimonies of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yesterday two more recently returned missioaries spoke in Sacrament Meeting. Our ward now has four that have arrived within the past month. One of them was just called to be the new Ward Mission Leader, and the other three have all offered their help. I´m excited. There are great things to come here in the Lord´s vineyard in Juarez, Nuevo Leon, Mexico.

I love you all and look forward to feeling united with you as together we hear the voices of our modern prophets at General Conference.