Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday, January 29, 2010 -- Transfers and Families

This has been quite an interesting week. I hope I can do it justice in the little time I have to write today.

As you may have calculated, next Monday will be transfers (each one comes more quickly than the last). So this week we have been busy working on the sacred process of changes with President Mendoza.

When we do transfers, we always start at the top. As Elder Olguín is finishing his mission, this means that our first decision would be my new companion. We were blessed with a hard choice between about eight missionaries. After about an hour of discussing and praying, we narrowed it down to two: Elder Crisostomo and Elder Dudley. We had a hard time choosing between the two, but, because we would need someone who would stay beyond the arrival of the new mission president and form the bridge between him and president Mendoza, the Lord chose Elder Crisostomo instead of Elder Dudley. (Elder Dudley goes home in June, with my generation, whereas Elder Cisostomo goes home in July, when I will go home since I have extended.)

It is interesting how the Lord works. All this week we have been receiving messages about missionaries who were going to arrive and then didn’t, and there have been some questions about who will be going home this transfer and who will be staying. At the end, it turned out that 20 heroes will be going home and 15 valiants will arrive.

Those numbers mean two things. First, there were lots of transfers to be made, and since most of the heroes are leaders, lots of new leaders to be assigned. Second, since we currently have an even number of missionaries, losing 20 and gaining 15 means a deficit of five, which means closing three areas and having a trio in the mission. When there is a trio, President Mendoza prefers a trio of assistants—which means that I will have two companions, Elder Crisostomo and Elder Dudley.

I would have never dreamed that Elder Dudley, my BYU friend, and I would be companions, much less as assistants. But it was the Lord´s will. I did everything I could not to let my bias as his friend get in the way of my suggestions to President Mendoza, but it was the Lord’s will, not mine. I am excited for this new transfer. We have lots of great things to do together.

Elder Crisostomo is from Veracruz. He is a convert, having joined the Church about a year before leaving for his mission. After working with him this week, I can tell that he is a great person. Elder Dudley I met a year before my mission in BYU, and can say that even in his pre-mission life he was obedient to the Lord’s commandments, and was a knowledgeable, spiritually sensitive leader.

As I said, the Lord’s will is always made manifest when we do transfers. There were a lot of difficult decisions to be made this time around, as many new leaders were to be called. But the Lord helped us. It was interesting that we received phone calls from missionaries to inform us of situations just when we needed more information about certain missionaries to make our decisions. The Lord is involved in this work.

Even though we have been busy with transfers, our time in the area, as always, has been great this week. When we went out on Wednesday, for example, we taught two families. The first was a man who we found in the area book, a man who had investigated the Church before. We found him and his new wife, and it was as if they had been waiting for us.

Before they got married, she was a member of a Church called “La Luz del Mundo,” which as far as I know only exists in Mexico, but is a growing denomination. Upon marrying her “Gentile” husband, however, she was basically kicked out. Together they are looking for the truth, and a church to attend together. He had told her about us, but she didn’t want to know more because of what she had heard about polygamy and the like. After our visit with them, however, in which we answered their questions and taught about the Restoration, she told us that she wanted to learn more. They will be accompanying us to church this Sunday.

The other family is a part-member family. The mother of the family is less-active and her husband and children (ages twelve, nine, and six) are not members. We started the lesson with the mother and her children. Following a suggesting from Elder Holland, we talked about the Atonement and the sacrament and invited them to church.

About halfway through the lesson, the father arrived, and we taught him as well. It was a very special feeling as we taught the whole family. I had a vision in my mind of them being sealed in the temple. This next Tuesday we are going to have a family home evening with them. I love teaching families!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010 -- Tender Mercies

This has been a great week in every way. Busy, yes, but great.

During the past few days I have been thinking a lot about one of Elder Bednar’s first conference talks as an apostle, which he based on what I think is Nephi’s thesis statement for his part of the Book of Mormon:

“Behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen…” (1 Nephi 1:20).

Tender mercies are things that the world would call coincidences, feelings, promptings, or occurences that appear to be by chance, but come from the Lord, to bless, encourage, strengthen, or help us. (I once made up the world “provincidence” for those occurences that appear to be coincidence, but are part of divine providence.)

This week has been a week of tender mercies and "provincidences," big and small. In fact, every day in missionary life is full of them.

For example, take this cultural moment: In all the cities of our mission, especially in Monterrey, all the major intersections are crowded with people. Every time there is a red light, people will walk between the cars selling products, offering to clean your windows, or to beg for money.

This week my companion and I had to drive through a certain intersection three times, and each time we were caught in a red light. The Lord blessed me with an insight as we were there the third time. The first time we were there, one of the people who passed was a man selling sugar coated nuts. He offered us a nut, but we had absolutely no interest. The second time, the same man passed, and took advantage of our rolled-down window to give us a free sample. Without really wanting to, we accepted, when we tried it, we were surprised by how good it tasted. The third time, I looked for the man, because I wanted to by some nuts, but this time he wasn’t there.

This experience caused me to think about a principle that President Mendoza has taught us—that people need several contacts with the Church before they accept, and that we should always leave something with the investigator. The first time, I didn’t want anything. The second, after having a taste, I wanted more, but the third time he wasn’t there. It made me ask myself if I am where I need to be when people are looking for the message that I share, and if I do enough to offer it to everyone.

Yesterday was a day full of tender mercies. We left bright and early to go to the border for two zone conferences, one in Reyonsa in the morning and the second in Matamoros in the afternoon. It ended late, so we stayed the night with the zone leaders and drove back this morning. One of the tender mercies that I constantly receive is the uplift and encouragement from good music and things to listen to on our trips. The greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns, and MoTab is the best preacher.

I mentioned last week that my companion and I had been preparing to teach something different to the mission. Well, this week we did it, touring the mission with President Mendoza. I won’t go into details, but basically all the missions in Mexico have been following a way of teaching set by Elder Mickelson when he was Area President. It cost me a lot of work to accept it when I first got here, but I was obedient, and learned to love it. It really taught us a lot and brought us some success, but many missionaries have used it wrong and has caused us to lose sight of what I think are the two main focuses of Preach My Gospel: follow the Spirit and satisfy the needs of the investigators.

So the new Area Presidency declared last week that it was no longer allowed. President Mendoza was quick to obey. But it means some hard work, changing habits, and returning 100% to Preach My Gospel. (By the way, Preach My Gospel is the keystone of missionary work just as the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion.) The Lord blessed me and my companion as we prepared and I feel that we were able to teach the missionaries well.

I may have mentioned that sometimes in the van we listen to the CD’s of the new mission president seminars from the MTC. Well, yesterday, we randomly chose a disk and put it in. It was Elder [Gerald N.] Lund teaching the mission presidents from 2007 (President Mendoza’s generation) about how to teach based on Preach My Gospel. Everything he said supported what my companion and I have been teaching to the mission. It was a great tender mercy.

In the special zone conferences, President Mendoza gives the opportunity for the departing heroes to share their feelings and bear their testimonies. It is always inspiring for me to listen to them. This transfer, 19 missionaries will be returning home, including several of my heroes and three of my companions: Elder Hernandez, Elder Tovanche, and Elder Olguin. This week I got to hear from them and was greatly inspired. I have a long way to go and much to do before I can consider myself a hero like them. I plan on using every minute of the time that’s left to do it.

There were two things shared by heroes that struck me. One was one missionary who said that the real hero in his story wasn’t him, but his mother. It struck me because I feel the same way. If you can call me a hero it is because of the heroes who have taught and helped me, especially Mom. Another missionary talked about how he felt to hear one of his converts praying for him. It was something that I had never really thought about before, but just as I pray for the people that I have taught and baptized, they are praying for me!

I love this scripture from Alma 29, where Alma talks about the joy of missionary work. Verse 10 expresses one of the common tender mercies of missionary work. It reads: “when I see many of my bretheren truly penitent, and coming to the Lord their God, then is my soul filled with joy; then do I remember what the Lord has done for me, yea, even that he hath heard my prayer; yea, then do I remember his merciful arm which he extended towards me.” In other words, part of the joy of seeing someone come to the Lord, is that you yourself are reminded in the process of how much the Lord loves you, how much He has done for you.

Truly seeing the faith and obedience of a convert is a great tender mercy. Ranulfo, for example, has finished the entire Triple Combination and the Gospel Principles manual! And he is preaching the gospel to his friend, Luis, who works with Him. Luis is a 30-year-old man who looks and acts a lot younger, and has a speech impediment, but a great Spirit. He prayed with us for the first time this last week, and although you couldn’t understand what he said, you could feel the Spirit strongly.

Everything that has to do with Adriana’s story has been a tender mercy of the Lord. This past Sunday she was baptized. Being an assistant I have very little time to write in my journal, but last Sunday I took some time to write my feelings, and took advantage of having a computer to type it. Here is what I wrote:

“Tonight I am taking advantage of one of the privileges of working in the office—having access to a computer. I have much to write about in my journal, and feel that I write faster typing than by hand.

"Today was the baptism of Adriana Esmeralda Perez Moreno. What a glorious day! The Lord blessed us with a tender mercy in the form of a sunny day. It has been quite cold this week and we were worried about the temperature, but today’s climate was perfect for a baptism.

"The Lord also blessed Adriana with several tender mercies on her baptismal day. A few days ago, she told us that her favorite hymn was “Abide with Me, ´tis Eventide.” Knowing that, we chose it to be the closing hymn in her baptism. It was also the closing hymn in sacrament meeting, and the bishopric didn’t know that it was her favorite hymn. Also, my companion and I were the assigned speakers in sacrament meeting, and we tailored our talks for her.

"Adriana brought a non-member friend with her to church and to her baptism, who also lives in our area. In fact, she is another coworker. Adirana’s coworker, Claudia, as well as her brother Alex, who first invited Adriana to church two months ago, attended the baptism. It was great to see their love and support of their convert friend. Members play such an important role in missionary work.

"Preparing for the baptism today was hectic, with lots of things that tried to take away the Spirit. This whole week we have been battling with the boiler, not knowing how to make it work. Today, after the baptism, the bishop of the other ward suddenly remembered and explained. (That gave me the idea for a new joke: how many Mormons does it take to turn on a boiler? Two bishoprics and two assistants.) Oh, well. At least we know how to do it for the next baptism.

In absence of hot water from the pipes, we searched for all sorts of options. We ended up buying 6 “resistencias” (metal pipes that you put in water and connect to a power source). When we plugged them in, we blew the switch. The good thing was that the day wasn’t as cold as we had been expecting. We ended up using only two resistencias and heating pots of hot water on the stove in the chapel kitchen. The water ended up being luke-warm.

"In spite of all the problems, the Spirit was strongly felt. Adriana was pure and good even before her baptism, and the Holy Spirit of Promise testified that she was worthy and that the ordinance was pleasing to the sight of God. To close her baptismal service, she said the closing prayer. As her prayers always are, it was a powerful, sincere prayer of deep gratitude and love. I am so grateful to have been able to play a part in her conversion. As I have worked with her, I have truly loved her as a sister, a fellow child of God. I have a great vision of her marrying a worthy young man who will treat her with the respect she deserves (unlike her first husband.) I can see her as a righteous mother in Zion, and a great leader in the Church.

"As next week is stake conference, the bishop decided to confirm her. We explained that the correct way would be to wait two weeks to do it in sacrament meeting, and he said that was fine, but when he stood up to give her a welcome, he also announced that she would be confirmed right then. But it turned out well. The Spirit was also strongly felt.

"I’m not very good at expressing myself, especially when time is short, but I am so grateful for all of the experiences I have had. Every time I teach Adriana, my own testimony is strengthened. For example, two days ago, we brought the video 'Special Witnesses of Christ' to watch with her. When we told her that we would be watching the testimonies of modern prophets and Apostles, she exclaimed 'What a wonder! It must be something divine.' After two months of being taught, she still cries during every lesson. In her prayers she expresses her desire to help others, to be a light for the rest of the world. She also prays that God will help her to understand the Book of Mormon, and last night, as we read Mosiah 18 as a final preparation for her baptism, she exclaimed with joy that she understood what she was reading.

"My English grammar and diction and spelling, after a year and a half of pure Spanish are quite poor. Even when I was fluent, I never felt that I could express myself perfectly. All I can say is that I love missionary work. I have been so edified by my experiences with Adriana Perez and all the people I have taught. I am so grateful for all the many blessings the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought to my life since my birth, and I have no doubt of its truthfulness.”

As you can see, missionary work is wonderful, and I love every minute of it.

Something else that happened as we prepared for Adriana’s baptism that I didn’t write about last Sunday. It happened the day before. We went to the church to try to see if we could get the boiler to work and to start to fill the baptismal font. When we arrived, I got out of the car to unlock the gate, remove the chain, and open the gate so that my companion and the van could enter. When I did so, I left the lock open, hanging on the chain which was hanging on the gate. As I did so, I thought to myself “Now, shouldn’t you close the lock?” But I ignored the idea, thinking that we would only be there for 10 minutes. As I walked to the building, the thought returned, but once again I ignored it. When we left the church that day, I went to lock the gate, but the chain and the padlock where no longer there. It appears that someone walking by noticed the nice heavy chain with an open padlock and decided to make it theirs. So I had to pay for the new one, all for ignoring a simple prompting.

Another tender mercy from this past week also happened yesterday as part of our trip to Reynosa. After the first zone conference, we had two hours to eat and make it to Matamoros. We ate with President and Sister Mendoza in Reynosa. They let us leave a few minutes before them while they waited to pay the bill, so that we could arrive early. Unfortunately, we got lost -- we do that quite a bit -- and when we got back on the right track, we were directly behind President and Sister Mendoza. Just as we were entering the highway to Matamoros, traffic suddenly stopped completely. We spent almost two hours hardly moving, and ended up having to off-road it to get back on the main road because of a severe accident that had occurred a few minutes earlier. Needless to say, we (and President) arrived late to Matamoros. Now, I can’t be sure, but I think that if my companion and I hadn’t gotten lost, we might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and have been part of the accident in that freeway.

Wow! This is probably the longest email I have sent, but I had a lot to say. Know that I am well and happy.

P.S. Mom asked if I eat very often with members. Even though my companion and I have lots of office and other duties, we still have our area and our ward. We eat the 2:00 meal with members as do all other missionaries, except when we are traveling or have meetings.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday, January 15, 2009 -- Adriana Perez: The Continuing Story

Greetings from the Lord's vineyard.

You will remember Adriana Perez. The last time I told you about her, she was on date to be baptized January 3rd. As you probably noticed, she wasn’t baptized. In fact, we had lost contact with her for the second time. As I told you, she is one of God’s chosen children and is well prepared to receive the gospel and has great need of it, so we have been doing all we can to help her.

The last time we saw her before this week, we found her in her house at 8:30 AM. As always, it was an extremely spiritual lesson. She admitted to us that when she is with us, she feels sure and at peace, but when she is alone she is full of doubt and fear. So we talked to her about the Holy Ghost in His role as a constant comforter and a testifier of all truths. We also taught her that good feelings come from God and bad feelings from from Satan, as Mormon taught in Moroni 7:13. It was a great lesson, and her heart was touched.

Unfortunately, however, Adriana wasn’t there for the next appointment. So, for the next week, we tried often, at various hours of the day, but she never answered, even when her car was there. It seemed as if she was no longer interested.

This was hard to believe, because of how interested in and excited about the gospel she had been, but the signs were piling up. We didn’t lose hope, however. There was something we felt inside that didn’t allow us to do that.

We decided to let a week pass with out looking for her, hoping that maybe she would feel the loss. Although we stopped trying to find her, we never stopped praying for her. A week later, Saturday night, we decided it was time to try again. When we saw that her car was in her driveway and the lights were on in her house, we got excited. But she didn’t answer the door.

We were devastated. All sorts of ideas ran through our minds—maybe we scared her, maybe she has a doubt or a problem she doesn’t want to tell us about, maybe she really isn’t home.

As a last result, we decided to call her fellowshipper. You will remember that Adriana first came to church because she was invited by a returned-missionary brother of her co-worker, who lives in a different ward. We called and talked to his sister, Adriana’s co-worker. What she had to say surprised us greatly. She told us that Adriana was singing hymns, praying, reading from the Book of Mormon and was very excited about living the gospel!

We hadn’t been able to find her because she had been so busy, nothing else. Once again, we had hope.

Sunday we waited hopefully in church, but she never arrived. We drove by her house after church, but her car wasn’t there. After eating, we drove by again and her car was there, but she didn’t answer. Once again we were devastated. We felt Adriana’s great worth in the sight of God, her need for the gospel, and her potential to progress, but we had no idea how to contact her.

So we decided to fast -- starting that very moment. We pulled over and Elder Olguin began the fast with a beautiful prayer, pleading for divine assistance.

Later that evening, at 8:30 PM after a zone meeting and the CES Fireside, we were planning for the next day. We asked ourselves, When can we find Adriana? We both felt the answer: Right now! So we grabbed our scriptures and the car keys and were out the door.

When we saw that her car was in the driveway, we said another prayer, asking the Lord to bless our fast. He did. This time, she answered.

It looked as if she was expecting us. With a smile on her face, she ushered us in. It felt as if we had seen her just yesterday. The two weeks of worry and frustration completely disappeared.

Once again, it was a special lesson. Applying what we had recently learned from studying a Jeffery R. Holland talk entiled “Missionary Work and the Atonement,” we read the sacrament prayers with her and talked about the importance of attending church. She expressed her understanding and her desire to do so.

Then, without telling her what we were doing, we began to ask the questions from the baptismal interview. She answered each one perfectly. She testified of Jesus Christ, told of how she knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and expressed her desire to live the commandments.

The baptismal interview finishes with this question: “Are you ready to make this covenant with God?” (talking about baptism) . She answered with a secure “yes!” We didn’t want to pressure her, so we let her set the date. Without hesitation, she asked “Can it be this Sunday?” Of course it can, we answered with a smile.

At the end of the lesson, we knelt down and Adriana said the closing prayer. She spoke from her heart, thanking the Lord for making this message of happiness arrive to her life. “I know thy church is true,” she told Him, and expressed her desire to share the gospel with others.

Since then, we have seen her on a daily basis to help her prepare for her baptism this Sunday. Not that she needs much preparation. As I have said before, she is the most prepared investigator that I have had the privilege of teaching. Not prepared in terms of education or knowledge, but in terms of sensitivity to the Spirit.

I have learned a great deal from my experiences with Adriana. One is that the Lord is always preparing His children. Another is that we should never lose hope, and should follow spiritual promptings. My testimony of fasting has been strengthened. I have seen that there really are people searching for the gospel (and Adriana, although only 24 years old has great need of the gospel after a hard life.)

Also, I have seen once again the importance of members in missionary work. If it weren’t for Adriana’s coworker, who is constantly encouraging and supporting her, and who helped her a lot in our absence, I’m not sure she would have progressed so rapidly. In fact, we never would have met Adriana if it weren’t for the member who invited her to church.

Ranulfo is also doing very well. He finished the Book of Mormon this week! He read it cover to cover in three weeks. His goal is to read it a second time, as well as the gospel principles manual, before the first Sunday in February. We knocked on his door this week just as he was finishing the last verses of Moroni. There was a definite light in his countenance. He too is excited about home teaching and missionary work.

In our office work, this has been a tough week. As President Mendoza doesn’t speak English, I often have to translate when he talks to parents or bishops or stake presidents about a problem with a missionary. It is never fun, but it has provided me some powerful learning experiences. We have also been busy preparing for this next week when we will tour the mission and hold special zone conferences.

After his meeting with the area presidency, President Mendoza told us that we have to make a radical change in the way we teach, removing a habit that has been taught since I arrived. This next week my companion and I will teach the mission the more excellent way. It will be interesting.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday, January 8, 2009 -- Another Great and Busy Week

Wow! This week has been busy. It seems like every week is busier than the last. But that’s just fine—I love what I do. One of the hardest things about working in the office is having to balance my time between all the office work and the work in our [proselyting] area. But as President Mendoza has taught us, this experience will be of great value when we are fathers, employees, maybe students, and leaders in our wards.

In her letter, Mom mentioned that last Sunday’s sacrament meeting in the Redlands 5th ward was a spiritual feast, largely due to the testimonies of two recent converts. It was the same here in Barrio Victoria. First, Carlos Angiano, the recently re-activated father of Melisa and Alejandra bore his testimony. (He is the one who bore his testimony on tithing last month.) This time he bore a powerful and sincere testimony about fasting, and invited his daughters to fast as well.

Next, Ranulfo Villegas got up. He had written out his testimony beforehand, but didn’t read from his notes. He looked and sounded like a stake president as he talked about his conversion story, shared his testimony, and talked about how much the world needs the gospel of Jesus Christ. I couldn’t stop smiling as I listened to him. The stake president was visiting our ward that day, and was also amazed by Ranulfo’s testimony.

I love seeing recent converts, or recently re-activated members show their testimony through their actions. Getting up to speak in front of a group of people is not easy, and shows that they really believe what they say. Paying tithing, I think, is one of the greatest indicators of testimony. Living the law of chastity or the Word of Wisdom have blessings that are logical, like happy families and health, but paying tithing is truly an act of faith. Ranulfo has already paid his tithing twice.

Monday was the annual mission activity in the city. It was as good as the [activity at the] border [last week]. Like I said, it is wonderful to play sports, enjoy and share talents, and see our old companions and missionary friends. (This time I got up my courage and played the piano and sang in the talent show.) I think those things -- that is, exercise, wholesome entertainment, and friendship -- are very important. The special zone conference was great as well.

In the activity in the border [last week], the games and the talent show took longer than we had planned, which cut into our zone conference time. What we had planned to do in 2.5 hours, we had to do in half an hour. I had carefully planned a training to last half an hour and was excited to give it, but when the time came, President Mendoza told me I had five minutes.

I’ve learned the importance of being exactly obedient and following the time allotted, but it is hard for me to talk less than planned. President Mendoza has taught me that it doesn’t matter if I still have important things to say when my allotted time is up, I need to be obedient and respect the time of President Mendoza, or whoever is presiding. So that is what I did.

This time [in the city], however, everything went according to schedule and I had half an hour. It went well. I have learned a lot about teaching during my time as a missionary. One is that I always learn more than those I teach. Another is that even if I have the ability to give an interesting speech impromptu, it is always better to prepare and plan beforehand. I love teaching in all its forms, and my desires to be a teacher have increased in the mission field (although I’m still haven’t chosen between Institute and Kindergarten.)

Tuesday was spent almost 100% in the offices. We had to catch up on the weekly duties we weren’t able to do on Monday (like sending the key indicator report to Salt Lake) as well as prepare for the missionaries who would be coming to stay in the offices that night and get everything ready for the zone leader council the next day.

Wednesday was wonderful. We started with a trip to the temple. It was great. Thanks to some tips from President Mendoza, I learned many things that I hadn’t seen before. I learned the importance of receiving and following instructions, as well as reporting, with exactness. I also learned that Satan does everything he can to put himself between us and heaven, literally and figuratively. It is amazing how you can learn something new every time you go to the temple.

After the temple, we had a zone leader council. It has been a few months since we have had a full zone leader council in the mission, and this was the first time that I have attended as an Assistant. It went really well. I love those meetings. Imagine, spending ten hours with President Mendoza and 24 of the best missionaries in the mission, talking about how to improve and be more like the Savior wants us to be.

As I left the zone meeting, I thought of two scriptures that I have studied recently. One is Jacob 6:7-8 which says, “Behold, after ye have been nourished by the good word of God all the day long, will ye bring forth evil fruit…? Will ye reject these words… and deny the good word of Christ…and quench the Holy Spirit and make a mock of the great plan of redemption?”

I had truly been nourished by the good word of God all the day long, from 7:00 AM to 9:30 P.M. To leave such a meeting and return to how I was before is to reject the prophets, the Lord, and the Holy Ghost. I also thought about the people described in Alma 1:26, who, after being nurtured by the good word of God, “returned again diligently unto their labors.”

Yesterday, after our normal morning schedule, we had our weekly planning session, and were able to spend the afternoon working in the area. It was great! Our bishop, Bishop Xiqui (pronounced she-kee), is worried because several families have moved out of our ward and the sacrament [meeting] attendance is very low, so my companion and I are focusing more on reactivation. Yesterday we had four lessons with less active families. I enjoy teaching less-actives and reminding them of what they once knew and felt and inviting them to have it again. As President Laney in Salt Lake once said, bringing someone to Christ or returning them to Christ is the same thing, and the joy is the same.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Saturday, January 2, 2009 -- Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Wow, I haven’t written since last year!

Sorry I didn’t write yesterday [Friday, January 1]. You probably guessed that my preparation day changed this week. Yesterday we were busy. I’ll tell you more about it below.

This past week, Monday the 28th of December, the Montoya Leal family completed a year as members of the Church. The day that they were baptized was a very special day for me, one of the best memories of my mission and of my life.

As having a year in the Church means that they are now eligble to go to the temple, I asked permission from President Menodoza to call them and ask how they were doing. He told me that instead of calling them, I could go visit the beloved Ranchito and all the Montoya family. I was happily surprised at this opportunity, but decided not to accept for two reasons -- first, because I knew that we were going to have a busy day and a busy week and wouldn’t have time to visit them, and second, because I don’t feel comfortable doing something that other missionaries can’t do, even if I have permission from the President.

So I called them instead. Olga answered. It was great to hear her voice, and she sounded excited to hear from me as well. In regards to her husband and herself, she gave me lots of good news. They are happily active in the Church. A few months ago they went to the temple to do baptisms for the dead, and had a great experience. They have gotten the letters that I have sent them, and she thanked me for an Ensign article I sent about a man who has to walk several kilometers to go to church, saying that it inspired them, when they lost their car, to walk from the Ranchito to the bus station so that they could keep attending church. She also said that they are currently attending temple preparation classes and will soon enter the temple, and that they are planning on inviting me when it happens.

Unfortunately, most of their relatives aren’t doing so good. For one reason or another, most are not currently attending church. But I have faith that they will come back. I have been taught that a letter from the missionary who taught and baptized them can work wonders for a convert, and so I am planning on writing to the Montoya family again.

I had a great New Year’s Eve. It was very different from all my past New Years. Upon talking with President Mendoza, we decided that instead of asking a family to host us, this year we would give New Year’s Eve dinner to a poor family. We developed a plan for all the missionaries, asking for help from the bishops to choose needy families, and then carried out the plan. It went well.

My companion and I spent the evening with a poor elderly widow in our ward. Her name is Socorrito. We arrived by surprise at around 7:30 PM and asked her what she was going to do that evening. She said that she and her daughter and granddaughter, who live with her, were going to be together, but that they weren’t going to celebrate much because they weren’t in a financial condition to do so. So my companion and I said that we would be right back.

We ran around the corner where we had parked the van, and took out the bucket of chicken we had bought from KFC. Then we returned and announced that we were going to eat New Year’s eve dinner with them, and that we would provide it. I will never forget the look on her face. She quickly ran to tell her daughter and granddaughter, who also came.

It was a great evening. It was nothing big or expensive, but it was wonderful. As we talked, we found out that Socorrito’s daughter is the ex-wife of Ranulfo, who was baptized last week! Socorrito’s granddaughter is Ranulfo’s daughter! We talked with the granddaughter about her father and about the changes he had made in his life (she only knows about him by what her mom has told her.) She expressed desires to improve her relationship with him.

We also found out that the granddaughter is a member of the Church. She also found this out, because she didn’t know. Socorrito explained that the granddaughter had been baptized at age eight. So not only did we bring dinner and good cheer to a poor and lonely family, but also found two lost sheep. I love service and I love missionary work!

Yesterday, New Year’s day, was the first of two annual mission activities. Yesterday was the activity in the border. All the border zones -- about 100 missionaries -- met in Reynosa for a morning of sports followed by a special meal, an afternoon talent show, and a special zone conference in the evening. It was a great day. We made some changes in the schedule and organization which made things different from the way they were last year, and I think that it went a lot smoother. I loved it.

I loved playing sports with respect and sportsmanship. I enjoyed seeing the talents displayed, and I was edified in the zone conference.

Last night my companion and I drove back from Reynosa with President Mendoza and his wife. It was a great drive. I love seeing President and Sister Mendoza together, they are such a great example of what a marriage should be. They love each other very much, and work hard together. They told us a little about their lives.

I was surprised to learn that they met each other before President Mendoza served his mission, that they wrote each other during his mission, and that they were married a year after he got home. They told us about the jobs they have had and the callings they have held. They also talked about their family.

The more I listened, the more I was amazed at what great people they are and how they have been prepared to be mission presidents during their whole lives. I want to be like President Mendoza when I grow up.