Monday, December 28, 2009

Saturday, December 26, 2009 -- The Best Christmas Ever

Yesterday was a great day. It was wonderful to be able to talk to family. . . .

As I mentioned in our conversation, yesterday was my best Christmas ever. Not because of the gifts I got, or because of the parties or food. It was great for two reasons -- one, because I got to talk to my family, and two, because of the baptism of Ranulfo.

I consider Ranulfo as my gift to the Lord, as well as His gift to me. My companion and I have worked hard with Brother Villegas to help him be ready for this great day. Like I’ve said, Ranulfo is a great person. He is a learned and well educated man, who thinks a lot. Yet he is humble and listens to the counsel of God.

As I mentioned, the temple played an important part in Ranulfo’s decision to be baptized. Several times a week, Ranulfo visits Montemorelos for part of his work as a lawyer. The highway to Montemorelos passes right in front of the temple. He told us that every time he passes the temple he thinks to himself, “I’ll soon be able to enter.”

It was a great baptismal service. The water was freezing (the boiler doesn’t work in our chapel), and Ranulfo is a big man and didn’t go all the way under the first time, but the warmth of the Spirit made up for the water. I love hearing new converts pray at the end of their baptismal service (something which President Mendoza has invited us to have them do.) Ranulfo said a powerful prayer thanking the Lord for sending him the missionaries and pledging to keep his baptismal covenants.

This was also a good Christmas because it was the first in which I got to be Santa. I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night to set out gifts, but I did spend Christmas eve delivering Christmas packages. This past week the office has been filled with packages that have arrived through local mail and shipping services and that Preisdent Mendoza had picked up in McAllen.

President Mendoza wanted all the missionaries to get their packages before or on Christmas. So Thursday we toured the border. First we went to Reynosa, where we met President Mendoza with another load of packages from the P.O. Box, then we traveled to the different zones delivering packages to Reynosa, Rio Bravo, Matamoros, and Valle Hermoso. Friday we did the same thing, visiting the city zones, which include five zones in Monterrey and the suburbs, and an independent distrtict about an hour and a half to the east, including the cities of Linares, Allende, and Montemorelos.

I enjoyed the time with my companion, listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and talks from general authorities, seeing the beautiful scenery, and seeing the happy looks on the missionaries’ faces.

Saturday, December 26, 2009 -- Pictures

  1. Me and the other office Elders in front of the temple
  2. Me and the other office Elders in front of the Christmas tree
  3. Me and the other office Elders in an art museum on a preparation day
  4. Elder Olguin, Ranulfo, and me at his baptism yesterday.

Christmas 2009 -- Testimonio

Greetings from Elder Rowley -- Christmas 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009 -- Christmas Baptisms

¡Feliz navidad!

Next Friday, my next preparation day, is Christmas! There could be changes, but the current plan is the following: as I am in the mission offices, and the missionaries talk with their families in chapels, [the family] can call me here. . . . As usual, we will have one hour to talk. I’m looking forward to it.

Before telling you about my week, I want to thank [those who] . . . help[ed] with the missionary Christmas gifts. . . .

This past week President Mendoza asked me to start preparing to receive the new mission president. He told me that I need to be like Mormon, observing everything so that I can explain it all to the new president. He also told me something that sobered and humbled me. He told me that from the moment I arrived in the mission, he knew that I would be the assistant who would receive the new mission president. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for helping me prepare.

President Mendoza is going to McAllen today (a day earlier than he had planned). But there shouldn't be any problem, the things you mailed Monday and Tuesday should be there. I sent with him the mission Christmas card. I didn't have time to label all my [former and present] companions and the missionaries I know, like I did last year, but I hope you enjoy looking for them. Elder Tovanche, Elder Zamudio, Elder Dominguez, Elder Chuc, Elder Samano, Elder Hernandez Pacheco, and Elder Olguin all appear.

I have written to you before about Ranulfo (Jose Ranulfo Villegas Zamudio.) He is the lawyer who appears more like a stake president than an investigator. I love teaching him because he understands, thinks, and applies everything we say. But he hasn't wanted to accept a baptismal date because he wants to “put his life in order” first.

This past Wednesday we had an appointment with him. Using the book True to the Faith, we talked with him about the Holy Ghost and how it will help him understand the gospel, resist temptations, and much more, after his baptism. As we were talking about the marvelous gift of the Holy Ghost, I felt Him give me a prompting. I asked Ranulfo what his plans were for the 25th. His reply was what I expected. As he lives alone, is divorced and all his children are grown up, he planned to spend Christmas day alone. So I said, “Brother Villegas, I can think of no better way to celebrate the birth of our Savior, than for you to experience your own personal re-birth. We are preparing your baptismal service for the 25 of December at 4:00 PM. Will you be baptized that day?” He smiled and said yes. This will be a memorable Christmas.

You will also remember Adriana, the woman who arrived miraculously at church and was progressing marvelously, but suddenly disappeared. Another miracle happened this week! We had called her, left notes on her door, and talked with her fellowshippers without results and were about to lose hope.

But one morning my companion decided to give it one more try. We called her earlier than we had tried before--at 9:00 AM--and she answered! She told us that because of the busy Christmas season, her work schedule has changed. For this month she is working seven days a week from 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM, making it impossible for her to be found within the normal missionary schedule.

Fortunately, President Mendoza had recently taught us about the principle of “managing the exception,” which basically means changing the missionary schedule in order to see a person who otherwise would not be able to be taught. So we set an appointment for the next day at 8:30 AM.

Adriana is every bit as spiritually sensitive and prepared as she was two weeks ago. In fact, she is more so. One of her fellowshippers is the sister of the returned missionary who invited her to our ward, who works with Adriana. During the two weeks that we were not able to see her, she kept talking to her friend about the gospel, and helped her to live gospel principles, like praying over their food together at their lunch breaks.

This week we have seen Adriana three times in the morning. We have taught her the plan of salvation, the law of chastity and the Word of Wisdom, and a lesson which we prepared especially for her in which we read the Christmas stories in Matthew, Luke, and 3 Nephi. After reading the stories, we read in Alma 7 where Alma prophesies about the birth of Jesus Christ, then talks about His Atonement, and invites his listeners to come to Christ and be baptized. We extended that same invitation to Adriana and she accepted. The first Sunday of January, when her work schedule returns to normal, she will be baptized.

Time is flying by faster than ever. It seems like just yesterday that I was in my first week in the offices preparing transfers with President Mendoza, Elder Rivera, and Elder Olguin. That was six weeks ago! This week we again carried out the sacred process of transfers. One of the great things I’ve learned from President Mendoza, which also comes from a quote in Preach My Gospel from Elder [Dallin H.] Oaks, is that not every decision requires revelation, that many can be made correctly with common sense. This round, many of his decisions about transfers were so obvious, that they were made by common sense, and then confirmed with the Lord through prayer.

This Monday we will say goodbye to four heroes. (One of them is my personal hero and past companion, Elder Samano.) Later that same day we will welcome eight valiants--three Mexican Elders, one Sister, and four Elders from the United States. It will be a great day.

* * *

Merry Christmas, everyone! I love you all!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009 -- Tithing

Wow, every week goes by faster than the previous, especially when you are really busy. . . .

Last Sunday we had a great sacrament meeting in our ward. One thing that made it special was knowing that we were all fasting for the same purpose, as are all the Saints in Mexico. You may have heard that the Area Presidency here sent us an epistle a few months ago inviting us to rededicate our lives to the Lord. One of the several specific invitations that they made is that we all fast together the first Sundays of November, December, and January so that the members of the Church may have the desire to be obedient to the Lord’s commandments and that the leaders of this country can make good decisions.

It is great to be a part of this period of rededication. Every day we should evaluate ourselves and rededicate ourselves to God.

Another thing that made sacrament meeting special were the testimonies that were born. One sister, the Primary President, had had a miscarriage that week, but bore her testimony about the plan of happiness. (Can you imagine how it must feel to pass through such a situation without a knowledge of God’s plan?)

Carlos Angiano, the recently re-activated father of Melisa and Alejandra, the young women who were baptized a few weeks ago, also bore his testimony. He spoke about tithing. He said that when the missionaries had taught him and his daughters about tithing, he was skeptical. He said that one of the missionaries (me) had shared a story about a miracle that his parents had experienced for paying their tithing (the story Mom told me about when you paid tithing first and received a check in the mail for the money you needed for the rent.)

Carlos said that he thought that the missionary was lying, making up a story. He said that he thought that the Church just wanted to get rich off its members. But, he said, the missionaries read him a scripture in which the Lord invites us to put Him to the test (Malachi 3:8-10), and he decided to take that challenge.

Carlos currently is without a job, as are many people these days. So paying his tithing means making a sacrifice. He told us that he had received 7,000 pesos that were to last him three months. Tithing would mean 700 pesos. The first thing he did when he received his money was pay his tithing, although he didn’t know how he could last.
As he bore his testimony, he told us that he had never gotten so much out of so little. He told us that he still had a large amount of that money that he had received weeks ago. He told us that he no longer doubted the principle of tithing, and told us all that the Lord would bless us for paying our tithing as well.

I, like Carlos Angiano, have a testimony of tithing. I have seen blessings in the lives of my parents and of many people here in the mission. Last week I mentioned a letter I received from one of my converts, Tere. She is also going through hard economic times, but pays her full tithing and has been richly blessed. Paying a full tithe is the first and most important principle in being economically sound.

These past two weeks the mission offices have been converted into a card and disk factory. Two weeks ago we were working hard on the Christmas card, which is now completely finished and looks great. This past week we have been producing several hundred CDs, an album we made of Christmas hymns and scriptures to give to people. Being part of an office team is a great feeling, all working together for a good cause.

The truth is that before I lived here, I never appreciated all that the office Elders do for the mission. For example, this past Wednesday we took a third of the mission to the temple. This time all the missionaries who haven’t gone [to the Monterrey Temple] are assigned to areas in the border, so they had to come stay in the offices Tuesday night (the session started Wednesday morning at 7:00 AM). We had to get ready to have 50 missionaries staying here.

Really the offices are equipped for only about 20, and President Mendoza told us that he wanted the missionaries to be able to sleep comfortably. All day Tuesday was spent buying food, cleaning rooms, moving mattresses, buying blankets, and other such things, so that all would be ready when the missionaries arrived.

It made me ponder on the times when I came to stay in the offices before being an Assistant. Everything went so smoothly that I didn’t even think about it. And when things didn’t go smoothly, many missionaries were quick to complain. Now that I am on the other side, I am grateful for the sacrifices that those other office missionaries made for me.

All the sacrifices that may be required are worth it to go to the temple. I gladly sacrifice so that others can have the opportunity. As always, I had a wonderful experience in the temple. After asking President Tenorio (the temple President, brother of Elder Tenorio of the Seventy and the Mexico Area Presidency) if it was appropriate, I brought my patriarachal blessing and read it in the Celestial Room. I felt such comfort and direction as I did so. Thinking about what I had just learned and how I was feeling gave me new light and understanding about what the Lord wants from me in my life. I want to sharpen my axe to be the best tool I can be in His expert hands.

You will remember Ranulfo, the man who looks more like a Stake President than an investigator. He is still coming to church in his suit and bringing his Bible, Book of Mormon, and Gospel Principles manual. Last Sunday he accompanied us to the First Presidency Christmas devotional, very excited to hear from the living prophet. President Menodoza was there and greeted him and, as always, gave him a baptismal challenge. Ranulfo still hasn’t accepted a specific date, but has told us that before the year ends, he will be baptized.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009 -- It's Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Christmas

Here in Monterrey, its beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Perhaps it’s the Christmas tree and decorations that were recently set up in the mission offices. Or it could be the fact that we have been planning and preparing for the mission Christmas activites. (We finished the mission Christmas card this last week, the one I sent you last year with pictures of all them missionaries. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have made the card this year if it weren’t for the experience and knowledge gained from being a photography editor for the Hobachi.)

Another reason for the Christmas spirit could be the cold. Even though I lived in California for a few years, I’ve always associated Christmas with bitter cold. I quite enjoy it. I love being bundled up warm and sharing a warm conversation while it is cold outside. I think about how the gospel offers us warmth and comfort while the world around us is suffering the cold. How much they need this message! Think about how much good it would do them to feel the Spirit of God like a fire burning!

Last Christmas was one of my best. Of course I missed being with all of you, but we got to talk on Christmas day. What made last Christmas the best were the gifts I got and gave. I’m not talking about the cookies or the ties, or even the letters (all of which I appreciated.) The best gift we’ve ever gotten is the gift of God’s Only Begotten Son. Last Christmas I was able to understand that gift better than ever before. It is through Him that we receive another great gift, the gift of eternal life (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7).

Last Christmas I was able to help give that gift. I remember as if it were yesterday three days after last Christmas, when the Montoya Leal family entered the waters of baptism.

* * *

It is funny that mom should mention investigators who stop progressing. You will remember Adriana Perez, the investigator whom I told you about last week. Every lesson with her is an amazing spiritual experience. She is very sensitive to the power of the Holy Ghost and has desires to know and obey God. This Sunday she had to work, but attended an earlier ward in order to be able to partake of the sacrament. She was progressing wonderfully well.

But all of a sudden she disappeared. She wasn’t at home when we went for our appointment, and doesn’t answer our phone calls. We haven’t seen her since Sunday.

Now, I don’t know what has happened, and I am full of faith that we will be able to find and teach and baptize her, but this experience has caused me to think. It could be that she has lost her desire, for fear or family pressure, or whatever reason. But at least we planted a seed. In fact, her situation in this case would fit exactly Jesus’ description of some of the people who hear the word, “that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it… [but] when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended” (Matt 13:20-21). I think it is more likely that she has been busy with her work, or attending to her sick daughter.

This experience has also caused me to think about how I view her and my other investigators. We have been really stressed this week because we haven’t been able to find her. Why so stressed? Because she needs a lot of lessons before her scheduled baptism this Sunday. In other words, I was viewing her as a baptism rather than a daughter of God who needs our help. I pray for more charity, for the ability to see others as God sees them and love them as He loves them.

Yesterday I had a wonderful blessing. I received a letter from a convert. You may remember Tere (Santa Teresa de Jesus Torres Flores) from Puerta del Sol. I try to write to my converts on a regular basis to encourage them and remind them of the things they know, but I hardly ever recieve a response. So it was with great joy that I received her letter. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. She is going through some hard times financially, but she is paying her tithing. She has family problems, but has faith in God and puts her trust in him. She is really busy, but makes time every day to read the Book of Mormon and prepare her class for Sunday (she has a calling as a primary teacher).

I think back on how she was when I first met her, and I can’t help but be amazed. The gospel of Jesus Christ changes lives.

President Mendoza went to McAllen yesterday [to get mail] and I got my Missionary Mall shirts and ties. . . . During December, he has to go at least once a week or the post office won’t have room for all the Christmas packages that come.