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.

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