Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009 -- A Sunday Miracle

Greetings from Mexico, where the “canicula” (the hot, dry summer) has passed and the cold is setting in.

Never have I been busier than these past three weeks. Last week we had almost no time in our area, as everyday we had zone conferences to attend. But the Lord blessed us greatly with success and rich spiritual experiences. I will never forget this last Sunday.

In sacrament meeting, my companion and I were sitting with a part-member family we have been working with. The father is a member, his wife and children are not, but soon will be. (In fact, we had woken them up that morning by serenading them with a special rendition of “Welcome, Welcome Sabbath Morning.”) As is customary in every ward of the Church throughout the world, several people walked in late after the sacrament. As we had been expecting a few people who had not yet arrived, I paid attention to see who it was.

I saw someone enter, but stay next to the door. It was a young woman, about 25 years old, with a little girl. Just one look at her outfit (jeans and a t-shirt) and the nervous, out-of-place look on her face told me that she had never been to church before. She seemed to be looking for someone. Recognizing her as someone in need of help, I nudged my companion and we got up to talk to her.

We introduced ourselves to her and learned that her name was Adriana Perez. As we asked her if someone had invited her, she began to cry. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I don’t know why I’m crying. But I feel something special here.”

She didn’t know why, but we did. So we explained to her that what she was feeling was the Holy Ghost, telling her that she was in the right place. I told her that she was a daughter of a Heavenly Father who loves her and that what she was feeling was that she was at home. I also felt like crying, and I was filled with love for someone who I had never seen before.

A minute later, her friend arrived. His name is Alex Garcia, and he is a recently returned missionary. He is not a member of our ward. In fact, he lives in the other mission. He had met Adriana because she works with his sister. He had invited her to church, but instead of inviting her to his ward, he invited her to the ward where she lives. (He had arrived late because he was with another investigator that he had invited in Juarez, about 45 minutes away.) He sat with her during the services, and set an example of a great fellowshipper—presenting her to the bishop, lending her his scriptures, bringing her daughter to Primary, etc.

Once again we had a great Gospel Principles class. (I love Gospel Principles. The Prophet was truly inspired to make it the course of study for the whole Church for the next two years.) Adriana was attentive and interested throughout all the services. After the last class, we offered to give her a quick tour of the chapel, and she accepted.

When we arrived at the baptismal font, we taught the doctrine of baptism. We explained that through that sacred ordinance she could become pure and clean and enter the path to live with God. As we explained the gift of the Holy Ghost and told her that she could always feel as she had felt that day, she once again began to cry. We bore a simple testimony and invited her to be baptized. She accepted a baptismal date for December 6.

Our experience last Sunday was truly a miracle and a blessing from God, and I learned many lessons. I learned from Alex how to be a good member-missionary, and about the importance of following the order of the Church. (I’m not sure that Adriana would have felt the same at-home feeling in a ward that wasn't hers.) I learned that the Lord is preparing His children, that there are people who are ready and waiting for our message. And I learned for the millionth time that I love missionary work, the happiest work on earth.

I can’t remember if it was in my last letter or in the letter that got erased and I never sent that I talked about how much I learn from President Mendoza. When President Carlson set me apart to be a missionary, he promised me that I’d learn great things from my mission president. (I remember thanks to Mom, who wrote down the blessing that President Carlson gave me.) That promise has been fulfilled many times, but never so much as now that I am able to work with him closely almost on a daily basis.

Being a mission president is probably the most difficult and time-consuming calling in the Church outside of being an Apostle. Yet despite all the work and having to deal with difficult missionaries (and unfortunately, there are quite a few,) President Mendoza is always cheerful and optimistic. Lately, in preparation for Christmas and the end of the year, as well as all of our weekly and monthly chores, we have been very busy. President Mendoza gave me some advice that may seem simple, but really affected me. He said, “hay muchas cosas que hacer, pero hay que hacerlas bien.” (There are a lot of things to do, but one must do them well.) In other words, if I finish all my work, but do a mediocre job, its better to not even do it.

President has also taught us to use every spare minute to do something good. He often says something like “the other day I was driving to Reynosa, and pondering on this or that, and I realized that we should make this change.”

Following his example, I have tried to be more diligent, use my time more effectively, and think more about my experiences. In fact, there are two experiences I had this last week while driving (we drove a lot, visiting all the zones in the city, and all but one in the border.)

We always start our car trips, even if it just to the gas station, with a prayer. But for some reason, we forgot to pray one day last week when we left Matamoros. As you all know, road trips are great but can easily cause stress and crankiness.

During the journey, things got a little tense, and it didn’t help things when we got hopelessly lost in Rio Bravo. I was at the wheel and wasn't feeling very happy. So I pulled over and told my companion that we had to pray. We prayed, asking for the Lord's protection and guidance, and pleading that He would help us to keep His Spirit, our Divine "Third Companion," with us. It was amazing how quickly the atmosphere in the car changed. Elder Olguin and I apologized to each other, and the rest of the journey was spent listening to MoTab (how I love that choir), enjoying the scenery, and talking about great things.

My companion and I have gotten lost a lot lately, and consequently have lost some valuable time. We have had to make several trips to areas to bring materials, make emergency transfers, and the like. One day, it occurred to us to use the Guia Roji, a map book of Monterrey. Our next trip was incredibly easy. We knew exactly where we were going and what streets we had to take to get there.

Life, I think, is a lot like that. When we don't have a map, we are confused, frustrated, and lost. But with the eternal map that God provides through the scriptures and living prophets, it is a whole lot easier to know where we are going and how to get there.

Speaking of prophets, this last week we had the privilege of bringing a third part of the mission to the temple (every other week now one third of the mission goes). I always learn great things in the temple. This time I was greatly impressed by the importance of following the Lord’s true messengers, and only them.

My time us up. I love you all.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009 -- Weekly letter, second try

Tomorrow we will be going to the border so we are taking our preparation day today.

* * *

So a funny thing happened just now . . .

I was writing you a really long letter and just when I was finishing, the computer shut down. My letter was lost.

In my letter I talked about Ranulfo Villegas, an investigator who came to church with us on Sunday. It was the first time that I have had an investigator come to church in a suit. He is also one of the most intelligent investigators I have had, and he was amazed by the gospel principles class about the plan of salvation. Ranulfo is a lawyer and a very smart and educated person, but not so much that he doesn’t want to hearken to the counsel of God. The only problem with teaching him is that he is a busy lawyer and we are busy assistants and it is hard to find him.

Speaking of being an assistant, Dad asked if being an assistant lasts for the rest of my mission. My first day in the offices, President Mendoza told me that I would be here for the rest of my mission. Since I plan to extend, that means that I will welcome the new mission president next June.

In my letter I also mentioned that this week the zone conferences start and that President Mendoza has decided to have us come with him this time to check the area books and to train about inviting people to be baptized. It is an interesting experience teaching the same thing and watching President Mendoza teach the same principles to different zones every day. I learn a lot. It is also great to see each zone leader teach his assigned topics in his own style. Tomorrow we are heading for the border to make a tour of the border zones.

Dad mentioned Elder Brizzee. I recognized him the moment I saw his picture on President Mendoza’s transfer board. I saw him last Tuesday in a zone conference, and he is doing well. He didn’t recognize me, but I told him that I was from Redlands and that I had seen him in various activities when Yucaipa was part of our stake. His first companion was Elder Chuc, one of the best companions I've had.

In the offices I've learned that one of the best ways to communicate with a missionary is through We get a package of "dear elder" letters and packages every week. So if anyone has been waiting to write me because they wanted a cheap easy way, is the solution.

* * *
Smile of the week: Here in the offices we often have to talk in English to Salt Lake or to parents of missionaries. But we have lost our fluency in that language. One missionary forgot how to say "zip code" and said "post code." The man with which he was talking said, “Pal, you've been in Mexico too long.”

For me, there is no such thing as too long in the work of the Lord.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday, November 13 -- In the Airport

What a week! Yesterday afternoon was the first time we were able to do proselyting work in five days! But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been busy in the Lord’s work.

Last Monday was transfer day. That meant that Saturday and Sunday were spent with the heroes, the missionaries returning home, and Monday and Tuesday with the heroes, the newly arrived missionaries. I had many interesting experiences with these two groups.

The most interesting experience was Monday morning in the airport. First, we said goodbye to the heroes. It was interesting to see them and how they were feeling. The departing generation has some of the best missionaries our mission has seen, as well as some of the worst. Among the eight missionaries returning home were two assistants and other true heroes, but also a few missionaries who did not make the best choices during their missions -- including one who, in spite of the fact that he had endured to the end of the two years, was not returning with honor. Their feelings of excitement, contentment, or regret and nervousness were evident.

Then we waited to receive the heroes. As we were waiting, we saw a missionary returning home from his mission. A group of 20 or so of his family and friends was waiting with signs and balloons. The first thing he did was hand his luggage to his dad and give his mom a big, long hug. The joy was tangible.

A few minutes later a group of missionaries arrived from the Mexico MTC [Missionary Training Center] (this transfer we aren’t receiving any American missionaries). Eight of the Mexican missionaries arrived for our mission and about five for the other. You could feel their excitement but also nervousness. I remembered how I felt that day not so long ago. They had a spirit much brighter than several of the returning “heroes.”

My experiences in the airport made me think. I realized that these two years truly do fly by. We come, we make choices, and we go. Depending on those choices we leave better and more prepared than we came, having done good in the lives of others, or we leave just the same or even worse than when we arrived. Life is like that too. It really is a short time. We arrive, make choices, and depart. I wonder how I will feel in my homecoming -- both my homecoming after my mission in Mexico and my homecoming after my mission on earth.

After picking up the new missionaries, we took them to the mission home, where Sister Mendoza prepared a delicious breakfast (she is an amazing cook), and we spent some time learning from President Mendoza. Then we went to the mission offices, where we had the transfer devotional. That is where I made my debut in front of more than half the missionaries. I was nervous, but I think it went well. I stole an idea from Dad and talked about how we are all like Mom’s bread: with the ingredients to be a good missionary, but having to go through the oven to reach our full potential.
Monday and Tuesday we spent with the Tutors and Disciples. (One of the tutors is Elder Dominguez, the missionary I trained. It is great to see how he has grown these past 6 months since I last saw him.) Wednesday we made a trip to the border, bringing the tutors and disciples to their areas. Following the instructions of President Mendoza, we took advantage of the time we were there to bring supplies to the zone leaders. I returned to Reynosa, and also got to know the cities of Rio Bravo and Matamoros.

Yesterday we worked in the office in the morning, and after the 2:00 meal we started to work in the area. It felt great. I love missionary work!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009 -- Carta de Elder Rowley 6 Nov 2009

Greetings from the mission offices in Guadalupe, Nuevo Leon!

. . . The mission office is located within the Libertad Stake Center in Guadalupe, close to the city of Monterrey. In the offices there is President Mendoza's office and a large office shared by the assistants and the executive, financial, record, and material secretaries. There is also a room where the assistants and the secretaries sleep and keep their personal belongings. There is a kitchen, a bathroom, a large courtyard, and a room full of bunk beds called the “heroes hall,” where the missionaries stay on their first or last night in the mission, as well as when they have to come to the offices for a conference or a sickness or something like that.

I have a lot to learn and a lot to improve in order to be a good assistant. I'm very excited for this time that I have to work closely with President Mendoza. As [Redlands stake] President Carlson promised me in the blessing when he set me apart, I have learned great things from my mission president.

This week we have been working with President Mendoza in what he calls “the sacred process of transfers.” It has been an incredible experience. In President Mendoza’s office, there is a huge board covered with cards that show the picture and information of every missionary in our mission. Because every six weeks we have heroes who leave and "Valiants" who arrive, as well as situations that require changes in certain companionships, it is necessary to make many changes to that board, symbolizing the transfers that will take place in the mission. We start with the zone leaders, then the district leaders, then tutors, then senior companions, then junior companions. It is amazing. It is like a huge puzzle mixed with a giant Risk game, because it requires strategy and forethought, analyzing the needs of every area and every missionary.

We take into account everything from the missionary’s personality to how long he has been riding a bike. But the most amazing thing about transfers is how much we rely on the Lord. We are constantly praying and seeking inspiration. When we decide on something, we pray seeking the Lord’s confirmation and approval. Transfers are not the will of President Mendoza, or his assistants. They are the will of the Lord.

Right now I have two companions, Elder Rivera and Elder Olguin. Elder Rivera will return home on Monday, leaving Elder Olguin as the senior assistant and me as his companion.

This Sunday we will have two baptisms here; and in Cumbres, the area I left in Reynosa, Claudia, Perla's mom, is going to be baptized. The two baptisms here are Melisa and Alejandra, two teenage girls. Finding them was an interesting experience. You will remember that a few weeks ago I spent a day working with the assistants when I came to visit the mission offices. While we were working, I contacted a teenage couple sitting on a park bench. The girl in that couple was Melisa. Elder River and Elder Olguin visited her and her family and found out that her father was a less active member (he is now attending church again and is very excited about the gospel.) They also met her younger sister Alejandra and began to teach them. I arrived just in time to finish the missionary lessons and to see their baptism this Sunday.

* * *

Mom, thanks for everything you do. I feel bad about asking for more things, but as an assistant it is important that I set an example in everything, including my dress and appearance. I only have two pairs of pants that are really wearable, because the others are faded, or torn, or both. I also only have one suit. In regards to white shirts, with two more short sleeved shirts size 17.5 from Missionary Mall, I'll be fine. The suit and the pants I will buy myself here. In fact today we are going to buy clothes. I would appreciate it if you could put a little more money in my checking account. But after today I shouldn't need any more clothes for the rest of my mission.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009 -- My New Assignment

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

Once again I am full of feelings of inadequacy. Once again I have received a new assignment.

Today we had a special conference with President Mendoza. As usual, it was a great spiritual experience. Afterward, President was talking with his assistants and he called me over to talk with the three of them. He told me that I need to be in the [mission] office tomorrow at 11:00 to help make the transfers. He told me that I am his new assistant.

It is difficult to describe how I feel. Part of me is excited--excited for the new opportunities I will have to serve and work with President Mendoza and all the missionaries in the mission. But I also feel nervous. I don't feel like I have the qualities to be an assistant.

President Mendoza told me I was chosen in the same way that the Apostles chose Matthias in Acts 1. In other words, by revelation. That gives me comfort, as does one of my favorite quotes from President Eyring, "God helps the faithful priesthood leader."

When I was in the MTC, I set a motto for my mission. (I now have three others.) My first motto was, "One hundred percent, every day." That will keep being my motto in this new assignment--one hundred percent obedience, diligence, and dependence on the Lord.

Elder Uchtdorf gave a wonderful devotional address last night. I loved what he said about Hamlet, that the question isn't "To be or not to be," but "What do have to do and be to live up to my potential?" . . .

This last week we had lots of meetings. On Wednesday, we had a council of leaders. Then on Friday we had an all-day council with the zone, teaching them what we had learned on Wednesday (the first time that we've done something like that in the zone). I love the things I learn here in the mission, and all the spiritual experiences I have, both in the field and in zone meetings and conferences.

One of the thigns we discussed was a talk that Elder Holland gave in the MTC entitled, "The Divine Companionship." I could talk for hours about the things I learned, but I don't have hours to write. There were two things that called my attendion more than anything.

  1. I need to be the most divine companion I can to my companions in the mission and someday to my future wife.
  2. If the Holy Ghost is not my senior companion, I need to change so that he can be.

Elder Hernandez and I had a great experience this last week following the advice of Elder Holland and relying on the Spirit. We were teaching Claudia, the mother of Perla, our most recent convert. We taught the plan of salvation, as we felt inspired to do. She began to ask questions of the soul ("Where is my mom right now?") We answered with scriptures and testimony. The member, Perla, bore her testimony. The Holy Ghost bore testimony. We invited her to be baptized and she accepted. This Sunday she will be baptized, and soon after will go to the temple to be baptized for her mother.

Today, as you know, is the Day of the Dead. The cemeteries here are busier and more crowded than Disneyland. I like to take the time to reflect about those who went before me, those who gave me the great legacy I have. In fact, President Mendoza has asked that those of us with pioneer ancestors send him information about them, their stories and their sacrifices. . . .

P.S. As an assistant, my preparation days will now be Fridays.

Monday, October 26, 2009 -- Service and Virtue

As always, my list of things to write about is much longer than time allows . . .

* * *

This has been a great week.

Last Tuesday we were talking to Isabel, who was baptized with her daughter, Flor, about three months ago. She had to take out a loan to fix a leak in her roof, and is having to make payments of 50 pesos (less than five dollars) to feed her family for the week. Nevertheless she is grateful that she always has something to give her children, even if it is always beans.

Talking with her, I felt so grateful for the blessings that I have received, and how I have never had to worry about having food to eat. I also thought about how I have sometimes been wasteful or ungrateful with what I have.

That night I got an idea. In the house we have lots of food that past missionaries have left behind--canned vegetables and the like--that nobody wants. It is just sitting there, going to waste. So Wednesday morning we changed form our normal exercise routine and decided to go for a bike ride. We loaded ourselves with bags of food and a card saying, "Para la familia Torres Casique--Dios les ama." We rode past their house, left the food on their doorstep, and quickly rode away.

A few days later we visited her. She told us how they had found food and a card on their doorstep on Wednesday morning. My heart swelled as she told me about how excited little Flor was, and how good it felt to be able to eat something other than beans and rice. She asked us if we knew who it was, but we denied everything.

It's amazing how grateful she was for things that we likely would have thrown away. It makes me sad to think about how many times I have wasted things that could have given food to a hungry child. It is also amazing how good I felt to see her joy and gratitude. Service feels good.

This week as a mission we have been studying virtue. Here are some of the things I learned:

  • Being virtuous doesn't mean that we never make mistakes or that a bad thought never enters our mind. But Preach My Gospel teaches that a virtuous person immediately repents and eliminates inappropriate thoughts. Virtue is speed--speed to repent and to chase away bad thoughts.
  • How we act and what we think when we think no one is watching is a clear indication of our virtue.
  • Our mind always has to be thinking. The best way to keep our thoughts pure is to be always focused on good thoughts.
  • As Nephi taught in 1 Nephi 19, what some men esteem of great value, others trample under their feet. We as members of the Church esteem virtue to be of great worth, and we seek for everything virtuous. Yet the world, though its language, music, dress, movies, etc. daily tramples virtue.

Time flies when you're having fun--and when you're a missionary writing to your family. I must go now.