Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday, August 31, 2009 -- God Helps the Faithful Zone Leader

As always, I have a lot to say and little time to say it.

* * *
As in California, it has been quite hot here in Reynosa, with the exception of the past two days. After three full months without rain, yesterday and today it poured. The streets flooded and the missionaries were soaked. I love the rain, even though it makes missionary work harder. When it's hot, I think about the Savior's love. When it rains, I think about the blessings of the Lord (Malachi 3).

* * *
I'm glad to hear that there are convert baptisms in our [Redlands] ward. Send my congratulations to [the new converts]. Thanks for supporting them. Member participation is essential in convert retention.

I still don't have the pictures of my shoes. But my missionary mall shirts are size 18½, and are quite big on me. I still haven't received the package you sent a few weeks ago, and President Mendoza went to the P.O. Box last Saturday. I think something must have happened to it.

I think I mentioned this before, but the LDS edition of the Bible in Spanish is going to come out this month. I am very excited. I would love a copy. . . .

Mom asked about my week. Part of it I can describe as "wonderful," and part of it as "tough." I'll start with the worst and finish with the best.

Most of what didn't go so well this week has to do with my duties as a zone leader. Being a zone leader means I have to deal with problems that come up. The problems that are a natural part of missionary work, while stressful, I don't mind so much. But what is hard is when the problems should never have happened. I won't go into detail. Suffice it to say that I've prayed more fervently then ever these past weeks.

Our zone still isn't reaching our potential, and I feel it is because we are not always doing what we should be doing.

Sunday we had a whole list full of people to pass for [that is, pick up] on the way to church. Here in Cumbres, finding rides for people usually isn't too hard. The bishop's wife has a big van (like ours, but with even more seats) and every Sunday she helps us with everyone we need to bring to church. But yesterday her van had a flat tire. So with little time to warn everyone, we made various phone calls, asking members to pass for [pick up] one or two people.

We called Adiel, a 17-year-old recent convert, to pass for us [pick us up] and to help us with two other people. When he pulled up infront of our house, his engine was smoking. My companion and I tried to help him, but none of us know anything about auto mechanics.

A young man passing in the street came and offered to help us, saying that he knew about cars. He opened a part of the engine and told us to pour water in it. I was somewhat doubtful, but as I know absolutely nothing about cars, I did what I was told. We had poured in two whole gallons, when Adiel's dad arrived, and asked what in the world we were doing. The young man, startled, explained that the engine needed water. Adiel's father agreed, but told him that we were putting it in the wrong spot. We had filled the oil tank with water.

Luckily, Adiel's dad changed cars with us and we were able to go and pass for [pick up] the people we had invited to church. To our dismay, nobody came. Many members went to bring people, but no one was home.

Although it was a sad experience, I learned a lot. First of all, I have decieded that one of the first things I want to do when I get home is learn basic auto mechanics. Second, I was amazed at how quickly the ward mobilized to help us. My companion and I have been working hard to improve relationships with the ward members, and it seems to have paid off. In fact, this past week we had 14 lessons with a member present. Lessons with members are always great, especially when the member offers a simple testimony and sincere friendship to the investigator.

Friday I went in divisions [team-ups] with a missionary who has had a hard time contacting people in the street. On average, he has three contacts a day, well below the ten-contact standard. I went with the purpose of helping him. The Lord blessed me that day with an increased ablility and desire and we had 30 contacts between the two of us, and he has improved in the past few days in his contacts. I love helping missionaries.

Last Friday we also had a zone conference with President Mendoza. At first I was stressed, because we didn't have the key to open the sacrament room of the chapel where we were going to have the conference, but at last minute one of the missionaries opened it. (I'm not sure how.) When President Mendoza saw me, he taught me a great lesson. "Never let a technical detail take away from the Spirit," he said. I love that man. Every minute with him is a great learning experience.

Our zone conference, as all of our personal study lately, was about the Book of Mormon. I never cease to be amazed at the power of that great book. Here are some of the many things I have learned about he Book of Mormon this week:

  • The Book of Mormon is the best missionary.
  • The Book of Mormon is the keystone of my testimony of every doctrine -- even of my testimony of the Bible.
  • The Book of Mormon has the power to bring many thousands of souls to Christ.
  • With the Book of Mormon we can answer almost any question or doubt.

I wish I had more time, but my time is now up. I love you all dearly. Don't worry about me. Even though I'm sometimes stressed, the Lord is always with me. He is helping me and teaching me a great deal. That's what I've learned this week. As Elder Eyring says, "God helps the faithful priesthood bearer."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009 -- What a Week!

What a week this has been! Being a senior zone leader isn't as easy as I thought. This week has been an experience of learning, and growth, of stress and inadequacy, but also of joy and divine help.

Last Tuesday we had a special conference with Elder Walter F. Golnzaelz of the Presidency of the Seventy. Elder Octavio Tenorio of the Seventy also spoke. It was an incredible experience, and I learned a great deal. Elder Gonzaelez gave us three steps for talking with people when they have questions about the gospel -- three steps that he asked us to teach to the members. They are:
  1. Avoid contention
  2. Build upon common ground
  3. Talk about the Book of Mormon.

On Wednesday we had two meetings. First we had a council with the district leaders in our zone. There are three -- my companion, Elder Dudley, and Elder Castillo. It went well. We have great district leaders and we are going to work well together. Afterwards, we had our zone meeting. About half of the missionaries I had never seen before, so we started with a get-to-know-each-other activity. Then my companion and I taught the zone what we had learned from Elder Gonzalez. (We taught the missionaries from the zones in the border part of the mission -- only the zone leaders went to the conference because it was in Monterrey.)

Our zone is full of great missionaries. As I saw them all I saw our potential. To achieve that full potential, we need to work better with members, something that we have been emphasizing in the zone lately, especially since the members here are well-trained and excited about missionary work thanks to our recent MMTC. My companion, Elder Hernandez, is an excellent missionary. We work well together, both in the zone and in the area. We are working extremely hard. Our bishop wants to baptize ten people in the month of September, and we have commited ourselves and invoked the Lord's help to achieve that goal.

One of my favorite experiences this week was with a young woman named Raquel. It was the second time that we had taught her and her mom, Ludivina. Ludivina has been studying with the Jehovah's Witnesses for two years, but has never gone to their church because she isn't sure if it is true. They both expressed doubts about the large number of religions and the impossibility of knowing which one was true. How sweet the story of the First Vision must have been to their ears!

Usually, we use the second visit to verify if they understood the first lesson and if they kept their commitment to read and pray. When we asked Raquel to tell us about the First Vision, she said something like this, after describing in perfect detail the background information: "So Joseph went to a grove of trees near his house to pray and ask God which church was true. While he was praying, he saw a pillar of light, brighter than the sun, directly above his head. The light gradually descended until it rested upon him, and he saw two indescribable heavenly beings. One of them said, 'Behold, my beloved Son,' and then Jesus told him not to join any church but that he was going to be a prophet to restore the true church that had been lost." Never have I taught someone who understood so well so quickly. Yesterday we gave her a copy of the Book of Mormon and invited her to read 2 Nephi 28-30 and pray. I'm excited to hear about how it went.

* * *

It was great to see the pictures you sent. Pictures really are worth a thousand words. And not just any words. The pictures you sent were like one thousand words from Shakespeare.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009 -- Happy, Happy Birthday, Mother Dear

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM! I hope you have a great day and a great year. I love you a lot.

This week I was reading in the Liahona, and found an article about role models. The author, a Seventy, mentioned that his parents were a role model for him, and explained the reasons why. I was greatly reminded of you, Mom (and Dad too). You really are a great role model for me. Every day I am more grateful for the sacrifices you made for me, the things you taught me, the example you set for me, the things you made me do, and the things you didn´t let me do. Thank you.

So another transfer has already gone by. I can´t believe it. Each one goes by more quickly than the last. With this new transfer came a change of assignment. Elder Samano is leaving and I am taking his place as senior zone leader. My new companion is Elder Hernandez.

Being a senior zone leader is a huge assignment. Let me describe my zone. In Reynosa, there are two stakes. The Reynosa stake is known in the mission as the Lehi zone. It is the zone that everyone wants to be in, because it is famous for always baptizing the most. By number of missionaries, it is the biggest zone. There are currently twelve companionships in the zone, or 24 missionaries, including the zone leaders, two district leaders and their companions, four sister missionaries, and the other missionaries. At its full potential, the zone could have 14 companionships but two of the branches are currently closed to missionary work.

Geographically, the zone is big as well. It includes three faraway branches. Only one, Miguel Aleman, is currently open to missionaries. It is a two-hour bus ride to get to Miguel Aleman, and we go almost weekly for baptismal interviews.

I have great plans and expectations for our zone this transfer. We have great potential. For one thing, all the missionaries who will be here are excellent. Elder Dudley, my BYU friend, is in the zone and will be one of my district leaders. Elder Zamudio, one of my past companions, will also be in the zone this transfer. Because of the MMTC that we had as a stake, the members here are excited and well-trained about helping us in missionary work. We are also starting a new family history program to help retain the recent converts.

This transfer, my goal is to help the zone as a whole and every missionary individually to achieve their full potential. I will be an example of obedience and of hard work. I hope to inspire the missionaries in my zone, teach them effective methods, and lead them as President Mendoza leads us. He recently taught us zone leaders that just as we (the President and us missionaries) represent the Apostles and the Lord, we leaders also represent President Mendoza and should lead as he would lead.

This week I received my shoes and bag from missionary mall. Two weeks ago I receieved the flat rate boxes (hopefully this week I will send them). But the package that mom mentioned that contains packaging tape hasn´t arrived. Speaking of missionary mall, I have some questions. The shoes that arrived weren´t the ones that I had sent pictures of, but the other pair. This week that pair also became unusable, so it´s OK. Next week I´ll send pictures so that they can send the other pair as well. Also, I would like to know if the guarantee includes stains on my shirts. Not stains from food, but stains from my belt and from sweat. . . .

Yesterday Elder Samano and I had a baptism, a young man named Moises. I first met Moises the day before he was scheduled to be baptized. I was impressed at how he came to the appoitnement in a white shirt and tie, and pulled out a notebook in which he had taken notes on his recent Book of Mormon reading. But unfortunately Moises didn´t pass his baptismal interview that day. We didn´t know why, and were quite surprised. The only thing that Elder Suñiga, the District Leader who interviewed him, told us was that Moises needed to attend church, pray, and live the law of chastity for a month. If he did so, we could call President Mendoza to set an appointment for an interview with him.

Moises didn´t get discouraged. He kept going to church, and kept all his commitments. Last Saturday he had an interview with the mission president and passed. His baptismal service was quite special, especially because his friend, Adiel, who had first introduced him to the missionaries, performed the ordenance. They are both future missionaries.

Well, my time us up and . . . I have to go. I love you all and trust in the Lord that all is well.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009 -- A Busy Zone Leader Week

[With apologies from the editors for the long delay in posting this.]

This has been one of the busiest weeks of my mission, and almost none of it was with what we usually think of as missionary work. Let me explain.

Monday, after our preparation day, we had a special conference with president Mendoza. This time I didn't have to train -- all I had do to was play the piano.

In part of the conference, he mentioned that iPods are not allowed in the mission. I had not heard this before. [The previous mission president had approved iPods with appropriate music on them. -- eds.] President drove us home (me, my companion, and two missionaries who were going to stay in our house for the night). When we got there, I ran in and grabbed my iPod and turned it in to President. He is going to keep it safe. But I have lost half my music. That’s OK, it’s the price of obedience.

* * *

Tuesday morning we had our district meeting. I taught about the importance of planning and how to do it effectively. It went well. We spent the afternoon in various bus stations, bringing visas and bus tickets to missionaries who were going to go to the temple.

Tuesday night we had a special meeting with the stake presidency. We expressed our concern that the members of the stake aren't fellowshipping like they should. I suggested a MMTC (member missionary training center). The stake president liked the idea so much that he decided to do it right away and sent out the email that all bishops and ward mission leaders would have a meeting this Sunday, and the following Sunday would teach their wards what they had learned.

Wednesday we woke up early to catch a bus to Monterrey. From 11 AM to 9 PM, we were in council with President, the assistants, and the other zone leaders. It was an incredible experience. Unlike my first zone leader council, this time I overcame my shyness enough to express my opinions and give my suggestions. We talked about a lot of things, from how we treat mission property (such as fans and chairs) to how to improve our manner of talking with the people in the street. I learned a lot and am putting it into practice and teaching it to the other missionaries in the zone.

Thursday we arrived in our area at about 10:00 AM. We had our weekly planning session, then went to eat. Thursday afternoon was the first time this week that we had proselyting time. It went well, but was also sad, because we had to say goodbye to Gerardo, our recent convert. He is moving to Linares, Nuevo Leon. It has been a great experience meeting and teaching him. Gerardo has changed a lot and I'm sure that within a year will be a full time missionary.

Friday and Saturday we also had for proselyting, except for a few baptismal interviews and having to print a few things for the zone. Teaching people is by far my favorite thing about missionary work (with the obvious acception of baptisms.)

Sunday was wonderful, but very busy. My companion and I spoke in sacrament meeting. In fact, in our stake the missionaries speak the second Sunday of every month. I spoke about the joy of missionary work, promising the same blessings to the members. But the best talk was given by a recent convert of my companion, Noemi Carreon. She told her conversion story with great power, and expressed her desires to be a full time missionary. It was a very edifying sacrament meeting and left a great spirit with the ward.

After church, we went to eat with the Flores family, then we were off to the stake center. First, we had a special zone meeting with the missionaries, where my companion and I talked about various matters we had discussed in the zone leaders conference. Immediately afterwards was the MMTC with the stake and ward leaders.

I was nervous about having to train bishops and the stake presidency, but it went well. Our stake is very excited about missionary work, and we are going to take advantage of this great opportunity to work with the members.

This morning we had our zone activity. We ate hamburgers (that my companion and I grilled) and the missionaries watched the Emma Smith movie. I say the missionaries because my companion and I didn't, because we were busy cooking. That's OK -- I've already seen it, although I don’t remember it, and it will still be around in two years.

Today we also have to compose a training for the district meetings this next transfer and send it to the assistants.

I forgot to mention that two returned missionaries who finished their missions in February came to stay with us this weekend (with President Mendoza's permission). they are Alex Coats and Jeremy Mahoney. Elder Mahoney was my companion my first three days in Mexico.

Their visit was great, but it also scared me in some ways. It was good to see them again, to know that they are doing well. They told us about all the RM's from our mission. Many are already married, including some of my mission heroes and friends.

It was also weird to see how they were normal people again. I´m afraid of going back to normal life, because there are parts of my normal pre-mission life that I don't want to return to. In fact, for the first time I am seriously considering extending my mission.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Monday, August 3, 2009 -- Stories About the Lamanites

As you all know, yesterday was Fast Sunday. Jesus taught that when we fast we shouldn't let the world know, or complain about our hunger. But for the purpose of sharing an experience, I want to tell you about fasting in the mission field.

We begin our fast after the 2:00 meal on Saturday. For the rest of the day, we keep working, although we try to walk less. As you can imagine, working all afternoon in the hot Mexican sun makes you quite thirsty -- so thirsty that sometimes it is hard to sleep.

I have to admit that Sunday in church, I wasn't really focused on the purpose of my fast, but was more focused on the fact that I only had to wait two hours until I could drink water. But something interesting happened when I partook of the sacrament. The little piece of bread and the tiny cup of water seemed to satisfy my hunger and thirst. My throat no longer hurt and I was no longer focused my thirst.

As I marveled about this fact, I begain to think about those who have hunger and thirst, not for bread and water, but of hearing the word of the Lord. Imagine how much their thirst hurts. Imagine the wonderful relief that even the smallest gulp of living water must give them. That's what I do as a missionary—feed the hungry.

You can imagine how it feels to take that first drink of cold water after a fast. That's how good it feels to hear from you. . . .

Since Parley P. Pratt day, President Mendoza has given us the instruction to use our hour of personal study to read only the Book of Mormon until we finish it. I love reading the Book of Mormon and have gained a lot of insights while reading it this time.

Here is one I want to share with you. You are all familiar with the story of Ammon and his brothers who went to teach the Lamanites. You will familiar that they were very successful in their 14-year missions, converting thousands of their Lamanite brethren. These true converts left their homes and all their customs to follow the Lord in peace. But their non-member neighbors weren't too happy about their decision and tried to destroy them.

This is a common story among converts. They have a true, deep conversion, but after their conversion they have to face many obstacles and trials. What helped the Lamanaite converts a lot was the help they received from their Nephite brethren, who "would not suffer that they should be destroyed" (Alma 43:12). Recent converts are precious. We should have the same attitude as the Nephites, helping and protecting our brethren. . . .

Being a zone leader is challenging, for many reasons. But it also has its blessings. One such blessing is interacting with lots of other missionaries and being able to hear their stories. The following are two stories from my zone that didn't happen to me or my companion, but are quite inspiring.

Last week we recived a phone call from a man who works for the Church, cleaning the building. He said that a young woman had entered and asked for the missionaries. She said she lived in Cumbres (our area). She recently arrived in Reynosa from Veracruz, where she had talked with the missionaries and gained a testimony of the gospel. But her family didn’t support her.

Being more than 18 years old, she left Veracruz for the sole purpose of being able to attend church. Here in Reynosa, she is looking for work, with the only requirement being that she doesn't work on Sundays.

The first thing she did when she got here was to look for the LDS Church. The man in charge of maintenance gave us her information and told us her story. When we called her to set up an appointment, however, she gave an address that is not in our area, but in Puerta del Sol, my past area. The first day the missionaries here taught her, she accepted a baptismal date. What a story!

In our zone there is a branch called Miguel Aleman. It is located about two hours from the city of Reynosa. The members there, as in Reynosa, have the opportunity to visit the temple once every two months. About a month ago, the branch president set the goal that everyone in their branch, be it endowed members, recent converts, children, or investigators, would go to the temple.

And they all worked for that goal. Last Saturday, they filled a bus full of people and went to the temple. President Chavez, the branch president, gave a tour of the temple grounds to the investigators and members who couldn't enter. President Tenorio, the temple president, invited them into the waiting room to one side of the front desk of the temple, where he taught them about temple work. Everyone who went wants to come back to the temple in two months, able to enter.

Speaking of the temple, I can't remember if I already sent this or not, but about a year ago after going to the temple in Jordan River, I composed a third verse to the Primary song, "I Love to See the Temple.¨ I love the temple and the work we do there and this verse is an expression of my feelings:

I've now been to the temple,
I've entered many times,
And it is just as special
As it was to my young mind.
For the temple is the Savior's home,
Where we can feel His presence,
Where we can learn about God's plan,
And seal children to parents.

I wouldn't mind receiving [from my family some] Old Spice body wash or more of the shaving cream [they] sent last time. Hygiene products just aren't the same here.

The Book of Mormon teaches that the Lamanites had an "easiness and willingness to believe" in the words of the prophets (Helaman 6:37). That is still true of the Lamanites' descendents today. The people here in Mexico are more prone to believe than other people.

But unfortunately, sometimes this tendency to believe leads them to believe and put too much trust in [worshipping] Saints or Death or whatever thing.
We are currently working with an inactive young man who worships "the holy death," which is actually quite common here. I try to be like Ammon with King Lamoni, helping people to build upon the truths that they have learned by tradition.