Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010 -- Meeting the Bishop

Sometimes when I write in my journal or in my letters, when I try to write en [sic] English, it comes out in Spanish, and even when it comes out in English, I mess up on the grammar and spelling. I remember when I got excited when I dreamed in Spanish. Now it is a rarity when I dream in English. In my dreams all my loved ones now speak Spanish. Don't worry, I haven't forgotten English. (I have been following the suggestion of Elder Nelson to teach my companion English so as not to forget it myself), but Spanish is currently my first language (and I think my English accent is rather funny).

You may be wondering why my preparation day is Thursday instead of Friday this week. Tomorrow and Saturday we will be busy all day because tomorrow eight new American missionaries will be arriving. They are arriving late because of visa problems (sound familiar?).

It has been an interesting week. It has been a while since I have been in a trio (since Utah, in fact.) But I like it. We get a lot more done in the offices, and we have more ideas for the area (although I think sometimes three men can be a little intimidating when we talk with people). We are working hard in our area. Opening the area continues to be an adventure, with its challenges, but we enjoy it. We have created a plan to improve relationships with the members and work more effectively with them, as well as to find and teach more people.

We had a couple of interesting experiences looking for the bishop the other day. First, when we were looking for his house, we knocked on the wrong door. When we asked for the Gutierrez family, they had no idea who we were talking about. But when we asked if they knew any Mormons in the neighborhood, they pointed straight to the bishop's house. The people really do watch us more than we think. It made me wonder what my neighbors would say about me and about the Church because of my actions.

The bishop wasn't home that day. The next day we were walking down the street between appointments talking with the people on our way. As we talked with one man, another man about 20 yards away was looking at us. So we then went and contacted him. "Hi, Elders," he said, "I'm your bishop!" Who knows what he might have thought if he had seen us passing all the people by instead of talking to them as missionaries should. Once again, we never know who's watching.

* * *

I am amazed at how many of my friends [who are now missionaries] are assistants [to their mission presidents]. Being an assistant doesn't make you better than any other missionary, but it shows me how greatly the Lord has blessed me with my friends.

I don't know what the news is saying about the goings on here in Monterrey, but things are fine. Remember what the Lord told Mosiah when his sons wanted to go on a truly dangerous mission to the Lamanites: "Let them go up, for many shall belive on their words, and they shall have eternal life; and I will deliver thy sons out of the hands of the Lamanites" (Mosiah 28:7).

* * *

I am attaching pictures from the Obispado, a huge flagpole on a hill next to a Catholic Church with a great view of Monterrey. One is of all seven of the office elders. Another is of me enjoying the view. And the third is a pciture of me and the flag pole, taken by Elder Castillo. While we were there, I thought of how "high on the mountain top a banner is unfurled."

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday, March 19, 2010 -- Transfer Week Again

Greetings from the City of the Mountain Kings where, as [my brother] Truman described BYU, "Spring is on the air." It is beginning to warm up again, bringing with it extreme temperatures, the ever-present mosquitos, and the humidity. The truth is, I love it.

It has been a great week. This transfer we started a new way of doing things. (I love President Mendoza--he is always looking for ways to do things more efficiently). Instead of doing transfers on Monday, we did them on Tuesday. Monday we recieved the Valiants [new missionaries] and taught them all day. Tuesday we had transfers and the afternoon with the Heroes [departing missionaries], and Wednesday we said goodbye to the Heroes in the airport. As always, it was full of great expereinces.

Once every six weeks in the transfer devotional my companions (Elder Dudley is once again in the offices) and I get five minutes to say whatever we want to the whole mission. I love that time and spend weeks in anticipation, thinking about what I can say that I have learned or that the mission needs to hear. Also, with our new plan, the transfer devotional features the presentation of the tutors and disciples, and the heroes have time to share their feelings and their testimony. It is always a great expereince.

Wednesday after the airport we went to Reynosa, to bring some needed furniture, proselyting materials, and packages to the missionaries, and yesterday we went to Linares, which is about a two hour drive to the southeast. I love roadtrips (largely due to the fact that I always remember our family roadtrips, particularly our Church History tour.) I love seeing the beautiful scenery, having time to think, and having good conversations with my companions.
I brought my journal along, hoping to catch up, but ended up bringing the wrong one. (I grabbed one that was already full). But it turned out all right. My companions and I chose random dates and I shared with them some of the experiences that I have had on my mission.

Our change of [proselyting] area . . . has been an interesting experience. Our priorities have been to meet the members and gain their confidence, work with the bishop and ward mission leader, and use the area book. Opening an area has made me better understand the importance of keeping good records in the area book, so that those who come later can build upon the foundation we lay.

We left a lot of good people behind in Victoria. One of them is a young man named Jesus Chaides. Jesus is 16 years old and came to live with his newlywed cousin in Monterrey, in order to go to school and get a job. His cousin is a member and invited him to church. That is where we met him.

When we first started teaching him, he was just like any other of today's youth: not very interested in God--in fact, he didn't believe in him. But after talking with him, we found what he was interested in: he likes helping people (he told us that he wants to build houses for poor people some day.) So we talked to him about the best way that he could help people: serving a mission, and he expressed desires to accompany us and see what we do. Our next lesson, we talked about the Plan of Salvation and caught his attention. Never has an investigator asked so many sincere questions as did Jesus.

Little by little he has been changing. Now, he has the desire to be baptized. It was hard to say goodbye to him. We went with the new missionaries in Victoria to introduce them to Jesus a few days ago. Jesus asked us if we could come to his baptism. We told him that we would. I love seeing how the gospel changes people.

I have no doubt that there are people just like Jesus in America (my new area) and in all parts of the world, people who are waiting to hear the message of the restoration.

Gracias por sus oraciones y su amor.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010 -- Transfers, Zone Councils, and Other Things

I appreciate the concern that Dad expressed in the letter this week about safety here in Mexico. President Mendoza explained things very well in his letter to the families. I really have no idea of what is on the news there and in other parts of the world, but, based on the phone calls and letters we receive in the offices, I think that they paint the picture a lot worse than things really are. (Or maybe it is just that those who call are family members who love and worry about their missionary sons and daughters.) As you know, I spent six months in Reynosa, and as an assistant to President Mendoza I am quite involved with everything that goes on in the mission, both frontera (border) and ciudad (city). And I can tell you that, yes, there are things going on, but that the missionaries are protected and the work goes on.

This week was wonderful. Monday and Tuesday we were involved in the sacred process of transfers. As always, it was incredible. This time, we finished in record time. (Of course, last transfer we finished quickly but spent the rest of the week making changes to the transfers as we received more information about the missionaries.)

I have described the transfer process before, but one of the parts that most impacts me is how much we pray. We start with a prayer. We place the zone leaders and we pray. We place the district leaders and we pray. We place the tutors and we pray. We place the senior companions and we pray. We place the junior companions and we pray. When we finish, we pray. Participating in the transfer process has helped me strengthen my testimony that church government and organization, as well as who is called to what calling, is a sacred thing and truly inspired.

After the last prayer Tuesday night, when we were finishing the transfers, I took a few minutes to look at the transfer board. For a few minutes, it seemed as if my eyes were opened. I saw the potential of each missionary and each companionship, how each brought certain strengths but also certain weaknesses, and what they could achieve if they worked together.

I don’t know if I have told you this before, but I have discovered that personal growth, improvement, and progression in the mission field are accelerated. If a missionary works hard and sets goals, he can achieve miracles in the lives of others and his own life much quicker than he could at home.

As part of the transfer process, we decided that it is time that the assistants change area. Our current area, Victoria, is somewhat distant from the offices, so next Tuesday my companions and I will be transferred together to America, an area closer to the offices. I have never opened an area before, but I am excited. It will be somewhat of an adventure, an experience for learning and growth. We are going to work hard, building on the foundation that the missionaries before us left in the area book, and looking for the Lord’s chosen children who are waiting for the Lord’s chosen servants.

Wednesday, we had our mission president´s council, which is a meeting with President Mendoza and his counselors. We talked about the needs of our mission and thus chose the topics for the next day’s zone leader council.

Thursday we had the ZLC. It was incredible. President Mendoza began teaching us two great principles. First, he taught us about sacrifice, based on the story of Cain and Abel, and the importance of sacrificing what the Lord asks, not what we want to give. Then he talked about councils and their role in the Church. President Mendoza is a great teacher.

When Elder de Hoyos came to our mission two weeks ago, he also taught us about councils. He taught us many things. One of the things that most caught my attention was his teachings about questions. He told us that good questions are one of a teacher’s most powerful tool. He told us that he himself has been trying to ask more questions instead of giving more answers. For example, he said that when he is in a conference with an Area Seventy or stake or mission presidents and someone asks him a question, and he begins to give a response, but President Johnson, the Area President, tugs his jacket, reminding Elder de Hoyos to respond with a question that helps the questioner find is own answer.

So I have been trying to follow his example. When I prepared my topic for the ZLC, all I did was make a list of good questions to prompt discussion and help us find the answers as a council. It went well. It was truly amazing.

Speaking of missionaries, in his letter Dad . . . asked me what helped me decide to serve a mission.

There are many things that helped me make that decision, but I think one of the most important factors is that I made that decision a long time before I turned 19. At least since I was 14, and probably a lot earlier, in the back of mind I always had two prime goals: go on a mission and become a good husband and father some day. It was part of my mindset.

Of course there are lots of other factors, such as good friends, good parents, being active in church, Mutual, and seminary. Another important factor was my pre-mission experiences with missionary work. I still remember my mission-for-a-day feelings and experiences.

When I think about my peers that decided not to serve, I think that they also made that decision long before they turned 19, or they consciously made other decisions that would later impede full-time missionary service--decisions such as not to attend seminary very often (or not to participate if their parents forced them to go). Decisions to spend time with the wrong sort of people, or decisions to break commandments.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 -- Message from President Mendoza

In my email last week, I made brief mention of the things that are going on here in Mexico. Yesterday, President Mendoza sent an email to all the parents of missionaries in our mission explaining what is happening and explaining that we are safe and protected.

I recieved permission to send you the email today. . . .

[Editors' note: What immediately follows is a translation of the original message, generated with the help of Google Translate. The original Spanish version appears after the translation.]

The Mexico Monterrey East Mission is divided into two major population centers. Half of the missionaries serve in the metropolitan area of Monterrey and the other half on the border with the southern part of Texas, USA, in the vicinity of the Gulf of Mexico. [In this border area,] we serve the stakes of Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, Rio Bravo, Matamoros, and Valle Hermoso, all of these in the state of Tamaulipas.

During the past three weeks we have witnessed what is said in Matthew 24:6. ["And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet."] Our missionaries in the border have literally heard the thunder of gunfire and heard plenty of voices with true and false data. I have said they have a right to feel afraid because in addition to the struggle that Paul describes in Ephesians 6:12 ["For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places . . . ,"] now we are also spectators of a war between two groups of offenders with one another and the Mexican army as a third contender.

The little information that appears in the media does not report the magnitude of what is happening and much of what circulates on the Internet is not quite real. But the purpose of this letter is so you know that this “war” is between two rival groups that meet in public places [and] has caused harm to innocent people who, by accident or circumstantially, have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The same occurs when some members of these groups are confronted by members of the Mexican army patrolling the city to ensure the safety of public.

The attacks are not directed at civilians and I am happy to report that none of our missionaries has witnessed a situation of this kind.

None of our missionaries has been injured in these violent acts because the Lord protects them according to the promise of D&C 84:88 ["And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up"] and by the prayers of every member of the church family that includes us in your prayers. Thank you very much for that. It is noteworthy that on Monday, March 8, four of our missionaries were attacked and robbed while they slept. This happened in the morning. Fortunately, they only lament the theft of valuables.

We are in constant communication with the stake presidents and leaders of area home missionaries. We direct that the missionaries:

  1. Stay away from any place that might pose a danger.
  2. Upon identifying a place of conflict, move away in the opposite direction.
  3. Follow the recommendations of the bishops, stake presidents, and civil authorities.
  4. Stay tuned to the promptings of the Spirit to walk in safe places.
  5. They should return home [no?] later than 7:30 pm.
  6. They must also report any situation that affects or involves risk.

We have faith that the Lord will protect us, but we remain cautious in fulfilling our mission work.

* * *

“La misión México Monterrey Este se distribuye en dos grandes núcleos de población. La mitad de los misioneros sirve en la zona metropolitana de la ciudad de Monterrey y la otra mitad en la frontera con la parte sur de Texas, E.U, en la cercanía del Golfo de México. Servimos a las estacas de Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, Río Bravo, Matamoros y Valle Hermoso, todas estas en el estado de Tamaulipas”.

“Durante las últimas 3 semanas hemos sido testigos de lo que dice Mateo 24:6. Nuestros misioneros en la frontera han escuchado literalmente el trueno de los disparos y han escuchado un sinfín de voces con datos ciertos y datos falsos. He dicho que tienen derecho a sentir temor porque además de la lucha que describe Pablo en Efesios 6:12, ahora también somos espectadores de una guerra entre 2 grupos de delincuentes entre si y el ejército mexicano como tercer contendiente”.

“La poca información que aparece en los medios de comunicación no refieren la magnitud de lo que sucede y mucho de lo que circula en internet no es del todo real. Pero el objetivo de esta carta es que usted sepa que ésta “guerra” es entre dos grupos rivales que al enfrentarse en lugares públicos han causado daño a personas inocentes que por accidente o circunstancialmente han estado en el lugar equivocado en el momento inoportuno.”

“Lo mismo ocurre cuando algunos integrantes de esos grupos son enfrentados por miembros del ejército mexicano que patrullan las ciudades para garantizar la seguridad de la población”

“Los ataques no están dirigidos a la población civil y me alegra informar que ninguno de nuestros misioneros ha sido testigo presencial de una situación de éste tipo”.

“Ninguno de nuestros misioneros ha sido lastimado en estos actos violentos gracias a que el Señor les protege según la promesa de DyC 84:88 y por las oraciones de cada familia miembro de la iglesia que nos incluye en sus plegarias, muchas gracias por eso. Cabe mencionar que el lunes 8 de marzo 4 de nuestros misioneros sufrieron un ataque y robo mientras dormían. Esto sucedió en la madrugada. Afortunadamente solo lamentamos el robo de sus objetos de valor”.

“Estamos en comunicación constante con los Presidentes de Estaca y los líderes de casa Zona de misioneros. Hemos dado instrucciones a los misioneros de que:

  1. Se alejen de cualquier lugar que pueda representar un peligro.
  2. Al identificar un lugar de conflicto, se alejen en dirección contraria.
  3. Sigan las recomendaciones de los Obispos, Presidentes de estaca y autoridades civiles.
  4. Estén atentos a las impresiones del Espíritu para caminar por lugares seguros.
  5. Deben regresar a casa a más tardar a las 7:30 de la noche.
  6. También deben reportar cualquier situación que les afecte o implique peligro”.

Tenemos fe en que el Señor nos protegerá, pero estamos siendo prudentes al cumplir nuestra labor misional.

* * *

Friday, March 5, 2010 -- En las mañanitas cantaba el Rey David; hoy, por ser tu cumpleaños, te los cantamos a ti

[Translation: In the early mornings, King David sang; today, on your birthday, I sing it to you.]

[Editors' note: This is the second of two postings for Friday, March 10. The first appears below.]

Before all else, I want to wish [my little brother] Benson a happy birthday. Here in Mexico, the traditional birthday song is called “Las Mañanitas” ["The Early Morning,"] and it is usually sung very early in the morning to wake up the special birthday boy or girl. Unfortunately, I couldn’t wake you up singing on your birthday, but I did think about you.

You have now reached the age of accountability, and are starting it well, using your agency to chose to follow Jesus's example and be baptized. Everything that I do as a missionary is centered on helping people understand how important it is to make that same decision. Congratulations! I am sure it will be a very special day. I always tell people that they will feel a happiness and joy that they have never felt before, and I know that you will as well. . . .

As Benson competes eight years of life, I complete 21 months as a missionary. It is hard to believe--in fact, I don’t like thinking about it. But it has also been a time to evaualte myself and think about where I am, how far I have come, and how much further I have to go.

As I told (and showed) you in my other emails, today we went to some caves. I truly stand all amazed not only at the love Jesus offers me, but also at the beauty of His creation.

Ever since last week’s opportunity to attend the sealing of Eddy and Olga, I have been more excited to work with families than ever. My companion and I are teaching several families, including three part-member families. It is wonderful to teach families.

Last Sunday, the Lord blessed us with a "tender mercy" in church. The teen-age cousin of one of our ward members has come to stay with them for a few months to study and work. He came to church with them that day and that evening we taught him in their home. In the first lesson he accepted a baptismal date. His name is Jesus Chaides and is a good guy. He wants to come with us one day next week to see us work, and wants to go on a mission when he finishes high school. What a blessing!

Mom asked me in her email if there is something that I would like you to fast for. In the missionary handbook, it suggests that we not ask our families at home to join us in special fasts for investigators. But since you offer, I think it would be great for you all to fast for something that the Area Presidency asked all the members in Mexico to fast for as part of a quest to re-dedicate ourselves to the Lord:
  1. That the government leaders throughout all the world can make good decisions that protect their people and help the gospel to grow, and
  2. That the members of the Church throughout the world have the desire to be obedient to God's commandments.

In the months of November, December, and January, all the members of the Church in Mexico fasted together for those purposes, and I can see the wisdom in that fast as well as the other things that the Area presidency has asked us to do.

I don’t know how much you hear about what is going on here in Mexico. But I imagine that it is quite a bit. Just know this: I am fine, as are all the missionaries here. The Lord protects us when we are obedient, and as Joseph Smith said, “No unhallowed hand shall stop this work.” When I get home I’ll have some stories to tell, but for now, just know that I am well and am protected as are all missionaries.

I truly appreciate your prayers and fasts and thoughts and love.

Friday, March 5, 2010 -- Preparation Day

[Editors' note: This is the second of two posts for March 5, 2010. The first appears immediately above.]

Today President Mendoza gave us permision to have an excursion. . . .

We had to drive about 1.5 hours to arrive to the mountains where our final destination was.

As we got closer, we enjoyed the view even more. We drove there in missionary attire, then changed into normal clothes in the car. I no longer have normal clothes, so I wore my exercise pants and a soccer jersey I bought here.

The place where we were going was called Grutas de Garcia or, being translated, Garcia's Caves.

From left to right: Elder Lopez (records secretary), Elder Castillo (financial secretary), Elder Christosomo (my companion), Elder Dudley (assistant, but not currently my companion), Elder Larsen (executive secretary), and me.

To get to the caves, we had to go up in a ski-lift sort of thing.

It was fun with four of us in the car.

The view from the top was also amazing.

In the caves, there were many beautiful things to see. We moved in and around and over and under the formations.

It was truly incredible! According to the guide, it took 50 million years to form it (wow!).

Several of the formations had man-given names for their shapes, such as . . .

the gorilla (el gorila),

hell (el infierno) (made more scary by the red-lighting),

the donkey's head (la cabeza del burro),

and the dead man's hand (la mano del muerto).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Friday, February 26, 2010 -- The Most Beautiful Day of My Mission

This week was amazing. It was home to some of the best experiences of my life, but also some of the most intense stress I have ever delt with.

Let's start with the good news. You will remember the Montoya Leal family, who were baptized December 28 2008 in Juarez. From the moment that Elder Zamudio and I began to teach them, we had the vision of them becoming an eternal family. I think that vision helped us defeat the challenges that came up during their conversion and stick with them.

That same vision helped us write to them from time to time after being transferred to encourage them and to remind them of the feelings that they experienced when they first got to know the gospel.

That vision has become a reality. Edy and Olga and two of their children were sealed for time and all eternity in the Monterrey Mexico Temple last Wednesday. It was incredible.

It felt so great to see them after so long. But it felt as if it had been only yesterday that I was with them in the Ranchito. They have progressed immensely.

As I sat with them in the endowment session, a multitude of thoughts and feelings struck me. Only months ago I was teaching them the basic principles of the gospel, so simple yet so foreign to them, and now they were learning with me, being taught from on high. I remembered how I felt when I went to the temple for the first time—the feelings I had, the questions that came to my mind, how I was so extremely nervous at first, but ended with the greatest peace that I had felt in all my life. . . .

I learned a lot in that session. I learned that I, as a missionary, am a true messenger of Jesus Christ sent to help people prepare to return to the presence of God. I also learned more about the importance of the family in God's eternal plan.

I had the blessing and privilege of being a witness in their sealing. This was the second time that I had seen the sealing ordinance (the first being when I participated in vicarious sealings in the Provo Temple during my stay in the MTC). I said then and I repeat that the sealing ordinance is the most beautiful thing I have seen on this earth. In fact, it is what this earth is all about.

Tears came to my eyes as I they were sealed, first to each other, then to their children, for time and all eternity. Such joy filled my heart as I saw them hug each other with a love that was truly eternal. Nothing can compare.

If every day of my mission was full of rejections and hardships and trials (and many are), it would be worth every minute of it for that moment in the temple.

Another special part of Wednesday’s experience was seeing many of the members from Juarez, with whom I had worked when I was in that area. The Gomez family, who were the Montoyas’ fellowshippers even before they were baptized, were by their side every minute in the temple. What a great day!

As I mentioned, today we had a zone leader council with Elder Benjamin De Hoyos of the 70 and the Mexico Area Presidency. It was also a wonderful moment. He spoke mainly of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and its importance and relation to missionary work. He also talked about the importance of good questions as part of our teaching with our investigators, and he talked about our future. He spoke for about three hours, and then gave us time to have our council as we usually do. I was very nervous, but had the opportunity of leading a discussion in front of Elder de Hoyos. It went well. In fact, he complimented us on our council, and taught us about the importance of councils in church organization and government.

Tomorrow we have another meeting with Elder De Hoyos. I’m excited.

Now you are probably wondering why this week was also so stressful. Many of the reasons were for normal duties of an assistant to the President, which I will tell you more about later. But the main reason was all the preparation that we had to do for Elder De Hoyos. We cleaned the offices from floor to ceiling. The truth is, I have never seen the offices so clean as they are now. And several things went wrong. The dryer broke and we didn’t have a way to wash the tablecloths. We brought them to a landromat, but they came out wrinkled, and we spent hours trying to iron them, but never could figure out how. But in all this, there is another lesson to be learnt, one which President Mendoza has taught us several times: don’t let the details take away the Spirit. Or don’t stress so much about the little things that you can’t enjoy the spiritual moment when it comes.

But despite the stress, it was a great experience.

I am well and happy. This work is the Lord's work, and nothing can get in the way.

* * *

[In answer to questions about culture in Mexico:]

There are all sorts of Mexican Music. Mariachi is one, ranchera, grupoer, cumbia, salsa, and much more. There is Mexican rock, Mexican pop, even Mexican country. One of the most common among today's youth is regeton, but it is the equivalent of rap: there is nothing good about it.

* * *
One of the most famous parts of Mexican culture is the food. And not just tacos and burritos. Every region has a traditional dish with a rich taste and a richer history. Probably the best part about Mexican food is how willing the Mexican people are to share it.