Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday, April 30, 2010--The Busiest Week Yet

It has been a great week, but a very, very busy week. One of the busiest weeks yet. Even though it can sometimes be stressful, I love the work I do.

When I feel tired, the Lord always sends me a tender mercy to get me going again. A few days ago, for example, after spending the day in a Zone Leader Council, having only slept six hours the night before, I sat at my desk at the end of the day and thought "I am wiped out." Then I looked up at a paper that I have posted on my desk, a paper that Dad sent me several months ago with a picture of one of my old pairs of missionary mall shoes and a quote from President [Spencer W.] Kimball: "My life is like my shoes--to be worn out in service to others." It felt good to know that I was doing just that.

Part of the reason why we have been so busy is the normal transfer process. But this transfer is not a normal transfer. We were expecting 13 new missionaries on Monday, but only one, a Mexican Sister missionary, arrived. The rest (10 Americans and 2 Peruanos (I don't know how to say someone who is from Peru in English) hadn't recieved their visas. One of these missionaries arrived yesterday. Two or three are going to arrive on Tuesday and who knows when the others will get here, so we have been repeating the process of recieving new misssionaries.

By the looks of it all of this month will be just as busy. We are going to have to go the border at least two times as part of our annual Mothers Day talent show. There is another event which I will tell you about later which will also take up a lot of time.

But, like I sad, I like it. I want my last transfer to be my busiest. And we are taking advantage of every spare moment (which are a lot fewer than I would like) to work in our area. Elsa Gaytan is progressing splendidly. We saw her yesterday, and although we hadn't been able to visit her for a few days, she told us all about what she has been reading in the Book of Mormon. In fact, she has been taking notes in a notebook! She will be getting baptized on Mother's Day.

* * *

I have very, extremely, incredibly good news. Tuesday, May 18, 2010, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will be coming to Monterrey and is going to take three hours to teach all the missionaries from the two missions. As you can imagine, I am excited. Of course, it will be a lot of work and stress to plan and organize it all, and I am nervous about participating (President Mendoza asked me to say the closing prayer). But I am sure that it will be a wonderful spiritual experience. I still think almost daily about things that I learned from Elder [Russell M.] Nelson and Elder [Richard G.] Scott [of the Church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles] when they came.

About Elder Bednar's visit: Sister Mendoza has talked to us all about going in our best to the conference. She said we should all wear our best shirt, preferably one without buttons in the collar (I don't know why.) I want to be obedient, but all my shirts are somewhat old, and all have buttons in the collar. [To Mom:] Could you deposit a few dollars on my card so that I can buy a new shirt next week?

Sorry that my letter is short this week. . . . Thanks for your love and prayers!

P.S. Today is Children's day in Mexico. ¡Feliz día del niño!

Friday, April 30, 2010 -- Pictures

Here are several pictures. I worry that sending pictures of my preparation day activities may give you a lop-sided view of my missionary work. The reason why I have so many pictures of preparation day is because it is the only day that we are allowed to bring our camera with us (with the exception of baptisms).

The first picture is of the seven office Elders of last transfer with a boa constrictor that we found under my bed. (Just kidding, it was in a pet shop.) Three of those seven Elders are no longer in the offices.

The next shows us in front of Cola de Caballo (Horse Tail Falls), a local waterfall. It was beautiful.

Then comes a picture of the office Elders and Sister Mendoza the night of President's birthday. (The waiters and chef).

Then comes a picture of me showing Elder Larsen La Cola del Caballo.
The next features four of us taking phone calls far from the party the night of President's birthday. Even on Presdedent's birthday the needs of the mission don't stop. I am the farthest to the right.

The next shows the Mariachi band that played for President's birthday.

The last picture shows the surprise we made him here in the offices, complete with cake and balloons. We made party hats from the cones we have to drink water (my hat is on the desk in front of me.) You can also see a glimpse of the white board, which is full of names of missionaries (we were in the middle of the transfer process.)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010 -- A Tribute to My President

Yes, transfers are this week. I'll write more about it a few lines down, but yes, I am staying on as an Assistant for my last transfer.

Speaking of my last transfer, although I am very happy and excited at the prospect of seeing you all again, of being with you and doing all the good things you do with you, and for all that will happen in my life in the next months and years, I am trying to avoid thinking about it. It's not that thoughts about home make me "trunky" or want to work less (it is quite the contrary), but the thought of finishing my mission hurts. I've loved almost every minute of my mission, and the minutes I didn't love so much have been the source of great growth and learning for me. I love being in the service of the Lord, and I love His children whom I serve. I know that there will be other opportunities to serve, and to learn and grow, after my mission, but as President Mendoza has said, it will never be the same. These two years are unique and unrepeatable, and I don't want them to end.

But, like I said, I am excited for what's to come. I will do my best to the end of my mission, and do the same in the next phases of my life.

* * *

Mom asked me about my scripture study. I think that there are a lot of great ways to study, and it all depends on one's needs and wants.

Right now, for example, I am reading the Book of Mormon in a manner suggested by Preach My Gospel, marking references to Christ, His words, His attribtues, and His doctrine and principles each with a different color. This method of study has greatly strengthened my testimony of the Book of Mormon as a testament of Jesus Christ.

I have also read it out loud, read it checking every footnote, read it in as short a time as possible (Parly P. Pratt day), and in many other ways. Each time I have learned something different.

One thing is certain. "Effective daily study must always begin with prayer." (Preach My Gospel page 17). For study to be effective, we need the Spirit, and we recieve the Spirit through prayer.

I think it is great that [my little brother] Benson has found a love for Harry Potter and for reading in general. I have never missed movies during my mission, but on occasions I have missed reading a good book. I look forward to reading with him when I get back.

Since last Sunday I have spent several hours each day with President Mendoza. As always, I have learned great things from him. This week I got to see him in ways that I haven't before, but everything he does he is a good example. I am reminded of what President Carlson said in his blessing when he set me apart, "You will learn great things from your mission president." Or what Elder Cook has said: "The influence of a valiant mission president is one of the great miracles of the Restored Gospel." Here are some of the situations in which I have seen President Mendoza this last week:

Transfers. This time around, transfers have been a difficult process. We started early (Sunday instead of Monday) and finished late (yesterday at about 7:00 PM), with an average of six hours each day working on the sacred process of transfers. There are two basic reasons why it was more difficult this time: President Mendoza wants to leave everything, including the zone leaders and the organization of the missioin, in perfect condition for the new mission president, and because of certain situations we have had to close some areas. But President Mendoza never got tired or frustrated. He is always very happy and cheerful, thinks every decision through, is concerned for the mission as a whole but also each missionary as an individual, and always seeks the Lord's guidance.

His Birthday. Yesterday was President's birthday. It was full of surprises for him. When he arrived at the offices in the morning, we were all hidden in his office, which we had decorated with balloons and banners. We bought a cake to eat with him. It was his favorite (and also mine), rollo de mango (mango roll). Then, from 6:30 to 7:30 he was surprised to recieve a phone call every five minutes from the zone leaders of each zone to congratulate him on behalf of their zones.

But the biggest surprise came at night. We said goodbye to him at about 7:15 when he left the offices, and he said, "see you tomorrow." Little did he know that we would be seeing him less than an hour later. We had been helping sister Mendoza plan a huge surprise party for him for a few weeks. He left his house last night thinking that he was going to the movies with his family, but when they passed through the park, he got a huge suprise as he found the stake presidents, Area Seventies, and other friends from Monterrey (including us) there waiting for him.

It was a great party, although I felt really weird being there. (We played the part of waiters.) Sister Mendoza had contracted a Mariachi band to play. I had never seen a real, good Mariachi group before, and it was incredible. There is a lot of Mexican culture which I have come to love, and last night I found one more thing to love, with Mariachi music.

The best part of the party for me was watching President Mendoza. For example, after the Mariachi entered by surprise and played their first few songs, President Mendoza inturrupted them to say a prayer to bless the food. He said to the band, in front of everyone, "Señores, everyone here in this party is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormons. Have you seen those young guys over their before? (and he pointed to us). Well, talk to them. As members of the Church, we are used to saying a prayer before blessing the food . . . and explained how to pray." He didn't hesitate for one minute to "contact" the entire Mariachi band in front of everyone. What an example!

Sister Mendoza had asked the band to play some of President Mendoza's favorites. I watched as he tearily sang along to one called "Mi Querido Viejo," about a father. I watched as he hugged Sister Mendoza tightly as they played one called "Alma, Corazon, y Vida," about love. I watched as he tried to dance with Sister Mendoza to a more up-beat song. (She resisted dancing in front of everyone.) I had never seen this side of President before, but even in a party, he is a good man, a good husband and father, a good friend and a good host.

As coach. Today he came to the offices to play with us on our
preparation day. We played volleyball and ping pong. He soon realized that all of us are pathetically out of practice in any sports (for some reason he is not at all out of practice, or maybe just a natural.) So we took some time doing some exercises. Once again his belief in us, his patience, and his way of teaching were incredible.

I have learned so much from President Mendoza, things that have helped me be a better missionary, and things that will help me be better through the rest of my life. I am sure that a major part of the reason why I was called to this mission was to be taught by him.

Even though we have had little time in our area this week, things are going well. Our efforts to teach the message of the Restoration to the members (a suggestion we found in Preach My Gospel) this week led us to two new part-member families. Teaching families is the best.

Friday, April 16, 2010 -- Rain and Blessings

It´s been a rainy week here in Monterrey. I've enjoyed it. Sometimes it seems like the rain is perfectly timed to rain only after 9:00 at night or before 11:00 in the morning so as not to affect the missionaries.

I love the sight and sound of rain so much that I have been doing my personal stuying outside, kept dry under a roof. Rain makes me think about a lot of things, especially the Primary song that says,

I like to look for rainbows
Whenever there is rain,
And ponder on the beauty
Of an earth made clean again.
I want my life to be as clean
As earth right after rain . . . .

The work never ceases. Both in the offices and in the area things are marching well. (Can I use the word "march" like that? I'm not sure if it has the same meaning as the Spanish word marchar.)

It seems like in addition to the water falling from the sky, this week has brought with it an outpouring of blessings.

Last Sunday night our ward had the second in a series of activities that we have planned. (The first was the sporting event that I wasn't able to attend because of the zone council.) Sunday was the event that I was most excited about, partially because I had the initial idea (which was improved upon by the ideas of my companions and the ward leaders.) It was a "conversion fireside." I love hearing conversion stories, they always bring the Spirit and always encourage me to be better and do more in missionary work, so we planned a night in which several people would share their conversion stories.

This was the program:
  • Opening Hymn: Called to Serve (I played the piano)
  • Prayer
  • Nancy Cabello shared her conversion story (she was baptized about eight years ago, but became inactive soon afterwards--until about two months ago when the missionaries found her and baptized her Mom)
  • Elder Crisostomo shared his conversion story (he has been a member for three years and a missionary for almost two years. His parents were sealed while he was in the mission field. His is an incredible story.)
  • I gave a short talk sharing three conversion stories, including that of [my pioneer ancestor] Ann Jewell Rowley, showing that you can't measure the results of one person's conversion
  • The Bishop shared a few words
  • We finished with a movie called "By Small and Simple Things" about member-missionary work
  • Closing Hymn: "Because I Have been Given Much"

In terms of attendance, unfortunately it wasn't the best of activites. But for those who attended, it was a spiritual feast. I was very much edified, and I could tell that the members were reminded of their own conversion, and became more excited to share the gospel with their friends.

This past week I had one of the most spiritual experiences of my mission. As you know, I had already had several testimony-strengthening experiences with fasting, such as with Angelica Montagut or Jorge Montoya, or recieving my own personal guidance. This week my testimony was strengthened even more.

President Mendoza has suggested that in April and October the missionaries should fast the first Sunday of the month instead of waiting for the second week as do most members. (The reason is that, as we are sitting in the church durring that time it will be easier than when we fast while working all day in the area.) My companions and I followed his advice and fasted during General Conference weekend.

Last Saturday we went to visit a person named Elsa Gaytan, who has been taught by many sets of missionaires. When we went to teach her, it was clear that she was one of the Lord's prepared children. Although it has been some time since the missionaries last visited her, she was still reading the Book of Mormon on her own.

As we taught her, I asked myself why she had not yet been baptized, but the answer became clear when we invited her to church. First, she asked if she could attend a different buidling [referring to a nearby meetinghouse other than the one used by the ward in which she lived]. We explained the order of the Church, and she understood.

She then told us that she had attended our ward, many years ago, but that there was a sister in our ward with whom she had had a disagreement, and the sister had declared that one of them had to stop attending, because they couldn't both do it. She had written a letter to that sister asking for forgiveness, but the sister didn't even accept reading it.

As I listened to her problem, I distinctly heard a phrase in my mind that I had studied in Preach My Gospel that morning: "Great blessings are available to those who obey God's commandment to fast." And so I did something that we hadn't planned on doing, something that I had not talked to my companions about beforehand. I pulled out my Bible and turned to Matthew 17:21 and begain to explain the principle of fasting.

That very moment my companions and I began a fast. At the end of the lesson we knelt down with her and offered our prayer to begin our fast.

The next day, we awaited anxiously in church, but Elsa never arrived. But we didn't lose hope. Knowing that faith without works is dead, we decided to act, and after our services we decided to talk to the sister [with whom Elsa had a conflict]. Her answer greatly surprised me. She said, "Elders, this is Jesus Christ's Church, not mine. I can't say who can come and who can't. If she wants to come, that's great, and I won't do anything. Just don't ask me to sit by her."

It may not sound like much, but knowing the situtation, it was huge. And it was an answer to our fast. Later that same day we visted Elsa to give her the news. She was overjoyed. Yesterday, in a lesson which we planned especially for her, we challeneged her to be baptized. She happily accepted, saying only that she had to make sure that it was all right with her husband first.

Without a doubt, there are great blessings available to those who fast. Problems that seem unsolvable can be solved with faith the size of a mustard seed shown by a true fast.

Last night we went to visit Nancy Cabello and her husband, Jonathan (he's the one who was a Catholic missionary.) We had planned a lesson for him in which we were going to challenge him to be baptized, but we were nervous.

In our companionship study that day, we had thought about all the possible answers he could give. "But my mom would never talk to me again if I were to become a Mormon" or "are you kidding me, I'm a catholic missionary and you want me to get baptized in your church?" Elder Dudley said, "and what if he just says ´yes?´" We all laughed, thinking that that was impossible.

We began our lesson by verifying if he had read his assigned reading, 3 Nephi 11. He had. We used it as a platform to talk about the gospel of Jesus Christ. When it came time to challenge him, it was Elder Dudley's turn. When he asked the question "Will you be baptized?" Jonathan said, "yes." No objections, no doubts, just "yes." I was amazed.

We congratulated him on his desire and explained that this decision was the first step to an eternal family. And we finished our lesson talking about eternal families. As we did so, his wife, Nancy, looked at him with a look of such love and hope. I think that she was imagining the two of them and their young daughter in the temple, being sealed for time and all eternity. As the second principle of the first lesson in chapter 3 of Preach My Gospel says, "The Gospel Blesses Families."

I love missionary work.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010 -- General Conference Experiences

What an experience was last weekend! I don't know how they do it, but each General Conference seems better than the last. (Actually, I do know how they do it. It has to do with revelation, priesthood keys, and truth.) I've said it many times before, but it has never been more true than now: it seems like the General Authorities know my needs and write their talks just for me.

I think General Conference weekend is when the Church comes closer than ever to being Zion, because we are so united. That's something you don't feel as strong when you watch conference at home--the feeling of being connected to the Saints across the world.

A large part of those feelings of unity comes through the music. It is incredible when the choir and congregation sing together. Even though it be in different languages, the tune is the same, and the Spirit is strong. Several times durring the congregational hymns, I imagined my family, my friend Andrea, my converts, old friends, and fellow missionaries across the world, knowing that they were all singing with me at the same time.

I love the music in General Conference. In the hymn book it says that some of the greatest sermons are taught by the singing of hymns, and I think that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is one of the best preachers.

Here are some of my favorite General Conference moments from last weekend:

1. President Monson's talk. In fact, all of the Sunday Morning session was incredible. The prophets and apostles who spoke truly did their duty to be "a witness... of His resurrection" (Acts 1:22). President Monson gave His powerful witness of the resurrection, and immediately afterwards the choir gave a second testimony singing with such power. We had three investigators with us that session, and they all felt the Spirit strongly.

2. President Eyring's talk in the Priesthood session. What a powerful lesson on diligence! His talk was for me a call to be better and work harder.

3. My favorite talk was that of Elder Foster of the 70, who talked about Mothers. I love my Mom. I, like Elder Foster, "understand in a personal way the great influence of mothers." Mom, thanks for all you do.

4. Elder Andersen's description of conference as an "inspired symphony." What a great analogy!

There were many other talks that helped me a lot, like President Uchtdorf in the priesthood session, Elder Holland, Elder Cristofferson, Elder Perry . . . too many to name. I love living in a day when we have prophets and Apostles to guide us.

Another good experience I had in General Conference was seeing Ranulfo Villegas, my convert from Victoria. He is doing better than ever. He was very excited to tell me that he had just finished reading the Book of Mormon for the third time! (And he was just baptized in December.) His comment made me think about something it says in Preach My Gospel, "For you to grow in the gospel and stay on the path that leads to eternal life, you need to develop a habit of gospel study." (page 17).

Speaking of Preach My Gospel, this week in the mission we are dedicating all of our personal study hour as well as all of our language study time to reading Preach My Gospel. I have learned a lot this time reading it. One of the most important things that Preach My Gospel teaches, and one of the most important things that one can learn as a missionary, is how to work with the Spirit. Here are four of my favorite Preach My Gospel quotes on the Spirit:

  • "Enjoying the gifts of the Spirit should be one of your most earnest desires." (Page 4)
  • "You can feel certain that the Lord is pleased when you feel the Spirit working through you." (Page 11)
  • "Through the power of the Holy Ghost we can feel God's love and direction for us. This gift is a foretaste of eternal joy and a promise of eternal life." (Page 65)
  • "You will succeed in your work as you learn to recieve and follow personal revelation." (Page 89)

The Spirit is key to everything I do as a missionary. In fact, it is key to everything we do in this life.

* * *

Cultural moment: It's mango season here, and I love it. When I first arrived in Mexico, I wasn't too excited about eating mangoes, but they have become one of my favorite foods. I often eat them with breakfast, lunch, and dinner since they are so common and so cheap during this time of year.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Friday, April 2, 2010--General Conference Time!

Much has happened since last I wrote. Last Friday, as you know, we recived reinforcements. Eight valiant new missionaries arrived from the united states. "Valiant" is a word that President Mendoza always uses to describe the new missionaires, and it truly applies to this new group. Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, which I spent teaching them, was an incredible experience.

Saturday afternoon at the last moment, we decided with President Mendoza that it would be best for us to bring the new missionaries to their areas that day. So we were off to Reynosa. We made good time and were able to introduce them to their companions and return to Monterrey before 9:30 PM.

Monday, as always, was full of office work--talking with and counseling the zone leaders, filling out reports for Salt Lake and for President Mendoza. It went well.

Tuesday we had a zone leader council. We presented to the zone leaders a new zone leader's manual that my companions and I have been working on for a few weeks, among other things. The council also went well. That same night we had a ward missionary activity planned. When we told President Mendoza about it, he told us not to change it, but that he would excuse us early from the ZLC. My companions had both finished their participation before time came, but I still had two topics left to discuss with the council. So my companions went without me, and I stayed to support President and do my part.

The truth is I was a little disappointed that I wasn't able to attend the activity that we had planned. We did a lot to plan and prepare the activity, and I wanted to attend. (I was especially excited to be a judge in the salsa contest (salsa as in sauce, not in dance.)) But my companions told me that it went well. There were over 70 people in attendance, including ten investigators. Even though I wasn't able to attend, I am happy that it was a success, and that my companions and I were able to fulfill our dual duties (to president and to our area) at the same time. We have two other activites planned soon and I am sure that they will also be successes.

Wednesday we went to the temple. Every time I go, I learn something new and feel something special. The peace of the temple is incredible, as is the clarity with which we can recieve revelation.

After the temple, we had another surprise visit to the border. A companionship is opening an area in a pueblito near San Fernando, Tamaulipas, and we had to go stock their new house with furniture. (It is about a 4.5 hour drive from Monterrey.) We went and came back all on the same day.

Yesterday we had to spend extra time in the office to make up for what we had lost Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as to print the zone leader manuals, since they loved them in the council and President promised that we would have them out by Monday.

So I haven't had much proselyting time this week. But that's OK. I understand that my office work, and trips to the border are other forms of "the service of God," and I enjoy and learn from each experience. The two lessons which we have had this week have gone really well. Monday night we had a FHE with a young recent convert and her husband, who is an ex-Catholic missionary. We taught the Restoration in a didactic way, and he understood. He also attended Tuesday's activity and is excited to go to general conference.

I love teaching families. Yesterday, we taught the land lady of the house where the missionaries used to live. She has a good opinion of the Church and the missionaries because the missionaries who have lived there have been respectful. We talked to her about prophets and she too is excited to attend general conference this weekend.

I think I am the most excited about general conference. It is always my favorite weekend. General Conference is the epitome of the Restored Gospel, since it is when we listen to the modern prophets and Apostles who receive revelation from God. I am also happy because I know that you will be watching the same conference. . . . We will be under the same satellite, which is just as special although not quite as romantic as being under the same moon.