Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010 -- Praying, Asking Good Questions, and Teaching Famous People

It’s been another great week full of lots of work and great experiences.

I am still amazed by all that I learned in the revelatory experience with Elder Bednar. My companion and I have put in practice what we learned and have seen the blessings in our work and our personal lives.

One of the things that he taught us, as I told you last week, is about praying with faith. I’ve tried to put those principles into practice as much as I can. (For example, we always say a prayer before using the mission van. Instead of praying that the Lord protect us, I have started to pray that the Lord helps us to remember the principles of safe driving.)

I had a very special personal experience with praying with faith this week. We were eating with a family in our daily meal and they asked me to say the prayer. When I pray in members' houses, I usually ask the Lord to bless them with His Spirit. As I was about to do so this time, however, I stopped. A thought came to my mind: “And what are you doing so that His Spirit can be here?” I finished the prayer, but that thought stayed in my mind.

As I ate I was having an inner battle. I know that it is always good to share a thought with the family after eating, but sometimes it’s hard. Unlike in the United States, we hardly ever eat with the whole family. Usually the sisters serve us and we eat alone. This particular family is always very busy, and my companion and I had things to do and people to see. But I kept feeling that if I was praying in faith, I needed to do something to invite the Spirit.

Thankfully, my companion saved me. “I want to share a scripture,” he told me. And I was amazed. After we finished eating, we shared a scripture, the sister looked happier and we left. When I asked him why he had decided to do so he said, “Because I felt like I needed to.” The Spirit had given us both the same prompting; only he was quicker to act on it than I was.

We have also worked hard to put in practice the teaching techniques we learned from Elder Bednar, treating our investigators as agents, not objects. We have had some great lessons by asking questions that invite investigators to think and act for themselves instead of guessing what’s in our head.

Unfortunately, this week we have also had some difficult teaching situations. Twice in the same street we came across people who politely invited us in only to take out their Bible and start to bash. Thankfully we didn’t fall for it. (That’s another thing that I’ve learned that I hope I never forget: how to talk to people who are strongly opposed to the Church or our beliefs.)

Our bishop last Sunday also taught us a lesson on teaching by the Spirit and learning by faith. He told us to come to his office during priesthood meeting, that he was going to have a class with all the recent convert and investigator men. He said that it would be a question and answer session, and that we, the missionaries, would give the answers.

At first, I wasn’t to excited about the idea, not sure how it would work out. But I was amazed at what happened. The bishop, as if he had also heard Elder Bednar’s talk, did everything to make a comfortable learning environment, and invited those present to act for themselves. He asked us the first question as an example, then let the next person in the circle ask.

The next person was a man named Adán Alvarez. He has been attending our ward for a little over a month with his wife. As his wife is a returned missionary, we just assumed that he was a member of the Church.

His question caught us by surprise: “I talk to my wife and come to church with her, and I feel good, but all of my siblings are Jehovah's Witnessess, and they also seem to be right. How can I know what church is true?” It was a sincere question from the bottom of his heart, and my companion gave a powerful answer about prayer and the Holy Ghost. We have now began to teach Adán, and he is a great investigator.

These past two weeks in the stake center that is attached to the mission offices there have been about 60 people who have come to be trained for the census that starts next week. They have been here about eight hours a day from Monday to Friday. Seeing that none of them are members of the Church, we decided to take advantage of the fact that we had 60 investigators in the church building.

Last Wednesday during their lunch break, we invited them all to watch “finding faith in Christ,” which we put on a screen with our projector. We had a table full of books and pamphlets when they left, and offered to send the missionaries to visit each of them. Several accepted copies of the Book of Mormon (and we saw them reading them later), and a few gave us their address so that the missionaries can visit them. It was a great experience.

Yesterday we were knocking doors on a street when we came to a building that looked more like an office than a house. We hesitated for a moment, but then decided to knock and see what happened. A short chubby man with a mustache and a cigarro opened the door, and I began to introduce us. He invited us in.

There was so much smoke from his cigarro that it gave me a headache, so I decided to start with the Word of Wisdom. As soon as I started, he put out his cigarro and listened to us with interest.

It was a nice little office. In the garage we could see a glipse of what looked like an expensive red sportscar. On the wall their was a picture of a man playing the drums, and a clipping from a newspaper about a musician named “Choche.”

When we finished the lesson, we asked when we could come back. “Not until next week,” he answered. I am going to California for my work this weekend. “What do you do?” my companion asked. “I’m a musician,” he answered. “Are you Choche?” asked my companion. “Yes, I am,” he answered.

Apparently our new investigator José Luis is a famous musician known as Choche. He is part of what I understand to be one of the most famous and popular older groups in Mexico: Los Broncos or Gigante de America. We have high hopes that he will accept the Restored Gospel.

[The picture below was added by the editors].

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010 -- Elder Bednar

First of all, I have to say that I am extremely excited about [my brother] Truman's mission call [which arrived yesterday]. When I recieved his email, I called all the office elders to read it with me. I am sure that the Chile Viña del Mar mission will be blessed by Truman, just as he will be blessed greatly by his service there. And I am so excited that he is going to speak Spanish!

Tuesday was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. My time is short, and words can only say so much, but I'll tell you as much about it as I can.

Monday was a somewhat stressful day. President Mendoza was in Mexico City in a meeting with Elder Bednar and all the mission presidents from Mexico, which meant that his cell phone was turned off. So we were here alone getting everything ready for Tuesday.

For the most part everything went well. There was a moment when they threatened to deport one of our American missionaries who was traveling without his visa, but the Lord softened their hearts and let him go.

But much greater than the stress was the great excitement that could be felt throughout the mission. Everyone was eager to see and be taught live by an Apostle of Jesus Christ.
Tuesday morning was a rainy day. So President Mendoza asked my companion and I to stand in front of the chapel with umbrellas to recieve Elder Bednar. The meeting was to begin at 9:00 AM, but he arrived at 8:35. It was no longer raining, but President told us to stay there anyway.

When Elder Bednar got out of the car, he looked at us and smiled. Then he and those who were with him greeted us with a hand shake. (He was accompanied by his wife, Elder Daniel Johnson of the Seventy and Area Presidency, his wife, and Alan Walker, who translated. Alan Walker, although nobody introduced him as such, will be the new mission president here when President Mendoza leaves.)

When Sister Bednar greated me, she aske me where I was from. "California," I answered.

"What part,"


"Redlands! I was there not too long ago."

"I know, my Mom told me."

"Well, tell your Mom 'hi,' for me."

So Mom, Sister Bednar sends her greetings.

It was an incredible experience. I learned so much and felt the Spirit so strongly. I didn't take very many notes, for two reasons. First, he asked us not to, and second, I was moving the microphone to all the missionaries who asked or answered questions. Nevertheless, I remember perfectly the many lessons I learned.

Here are some of the things I learned that I think will best be of use to you.

Elder Bednar mentioned a few "silly, foolish" traditions of the church that he said we should get rid of.

One of the first he mentioned was that we always talk and joke about how we are going to meetings, in meetings, or coming from meetings. He said that many church leaders make themselves feel busy and important by having many meetings, but don't get anything done. He said that instead of having so many meetings, we should do things. Instead of talking about those who aren't coming to church, we should go get them. He said that he never wanted any of us to ever think of a church gathering as a meeting or a conference again. Rather, he said, we should think of it as a "revelatory experience."

And what we had the day before yesterday was truely a revelatory experience. The first two hours he asked what we had learned from his two talks that he had asked us to study ("Ask in Faith," from general conference, and "Seek Knowledge by Faith," which he gave to CES educators.) He put a lot of emphasis on the importance of us as learners to exercise our agency and learn for ourselves, and it was incredible how he created an enviornement of learning and revelation. The next two hours he answered questions from the missionaires.

I love that idea. If we stop thinking about meetings and start thinking about revelatory experiences, our manner of preparing for and participating in church gatherings will change.

Another silly, foolish tradition he mentioned was that of taking copious, detailed notes only to forget about what was said and lose the notes later. He said that often we are so busy writing what the speaker said that we miss what the Spirit is telling us. He told us not to write down anything that he said, only what the Spirit told us. He promised us that we would never forget those things, nor lose those notes.

He also said that too often in Church meetings and classes the teacher wants to play the "guess-what's-in-my-head-game," where he choses a student (with out their volunteering) and asks them a specific question such as, "What are the three elements of the baptismal covenant." Rather, he said, we should treat students as agents, and not objects to be acted upon, not forcing them to answer, and asking questions that don't make them guess what we are thinking, but rather think and act for themselves. A good question, he said, is "What did you learn from that?"

When he opened up for questions, the first one to raise his hand was Elder Dudley. And he asked the question that I had been planning to ask, a question I got from Dad: "What do you know now as an Apostle, that you didn't know before, about revelation?" His answer was incredible, and about 30 minutes long. The most important part of what he said was about preisthood keys. There are 15 men on the earth who hold all the keys. (That is why we sustain the Quorum of the Twelve as prophets, seers, and revelators, because they have all the keys.) Even though there is only one who is authorized to use them all.

He talked a lot about revelation. He read with us D&C 8:1-4. It is a scripture that I thought I knew well, as it is a scripture mastery, but he explained it like I had never understood before, showing us how the Spirit of Revelation includes asking with faith and an honest heart beforehand, and working for it afterwards. He put a lot of emphasis on verse 3, that revelation comes as thoughts to the mind and feelings to the heart. He said that we shouldn't worry about trying to differentiate between our own thoughts and feelings and those that are inspired. He said that he has oftened recieved revelation without realizing it.

At the end of the revelatory experience, he asked us to write down questions: "Based on what I have observed and learned today, what will I do?" and "Based on what we have observed and learned today, what will we do?" Yesterday in my personal study, I answered the first question. And in our companionship study, we answered the second question. I think that those are questions that should be asked after any revelatory experience.

I learned and felt so many things, and wish that I could tell you more about it, but my time is running short.

Saturday, May 15, 2010 -- Pictures!

[Editors' note: This is the second of two posts for May 15, 2010]

The baptism of Elsa Gaytan

Last week's tour group (Group 1)

Today's tour group (Group 2)

A picture of the office Elders with Sister Mendoza on Mother's Day. The poster is a gift we made, which we presented her by serending her by piano (me), violin (Elder Shields), and song (the other four).

Pictures with two of President Mendoza's pets: a snake and a crab

Saturday, May 15, 2010 -- The Musical Missionary Mobile

[Editors' note: This is the first of two posts for May 15, 2010]

Yesterday I woke up thinking that it would be a normal preparation day, but at 9:00 I realized that it would not be the case. Things changed, and all day we were busy doing important and unforeseen things. . . .

Today we were also very busy. We left at 8:00 this morning for another Mother's Day Show Tour. Today we went to Linares, about two hours to the East, and then returned for one of the stakes here in Monterrey. My companion and I brought twelve other missionaries with us in the van.

As you know, last weekend we were also on tour. Last Friday, we hit Valle Hermoso and Matamoros. We all stayed the night in Matamoros (about ten missionaires in a small apartment), and left on Saturday to visit Rio Bravo, Reynosa, and Reynosa Este.

Both tours were great experiences, but my favorite was last weekend. First of all, I enjoyed the talents more there (which goes to disprove a common belief that Mexicans don't have talent, as all the missionaries in the border areas are Latinos right now, by suggestion of the Area Presidency). Also, as we drove from stake to stake (varying from 30 minutes to two hours between each one), the Elders in the back of the van (sitting on makeshift seats of boxes of Books of Mormon), played the guitar and tambourine as we all sang hymns.)

I loved seeing the talent that each missionary has. And I loved seeing how much they enjoyed giving of their talents to entertain, uplift, and honor the mothers of each stake. There is great power in music, as well as poetry, dance, and even juggling and magic tricks.

Spending so much time with the missionaries in these experiences, as well as thinking of all the experiences I have had to work with many missionaries throughout my mission, has made me think. I love working with missionaries. Each one has his own story, and many times I have been surprised to hear it. Each one has his own testimony and his own motivation to serve the Lord. Each one inspires me and blesses my life, as well as the lives of the people they teach, in a special way. I love missionaries. Even after 23 months of working with missionaries every day, it is still something special to see a companionship walking down the street or knocking on a door.

Last Saturday we stayed the night in Reynosa with the zone leaders. (It felt strange for me being in the house in Cumbres again, but this time as a guest, when so many times I was host there). In fact, I had a lot of similar feelings in Reynosa. In the talent show there I saw several members from Cumbres and Puerta del Sol, including one of my converts, Maria Luisa. Once again I thought of how greatly the Lord has blessed me with so many places, occurrences, and people who have touched my life for good.

Sunday morning we left Reynosa at 7:00 AM and went straight to our chapel [in Monterrey]. Elsa Gaytan was there waiting for us. We hadn't seen her since Thursday, when she had her baptismal interview, although we had kept in contact by phone. When we saw her, she told us that her husband had come home the night before somewhat drunk and very angry, and that it seemed as if she wouldn't be able to be baptized. She told us how she couldn't sleep that night until her six-year-old, Angel, who reminds me of [my little brother] Benson when I left, told her to say a prayer, which helped her feel a lot better. Her husband still isn't very happy about it, but he did accept her decision and give his permission.

It was a great baptismal service. She was well prepared. Her mom and a friend accompanied her, as well as a few of the Elders who had taught her previously. Her story is a great lesson for me of how God prepares his children over time, as well as of the principle of fasting.

This last week, we taught a person named Christina Torres. We found Christina and her 14-year-old daughter by knocking doors about two months ago. We visited her a few times, but then lost contact when she went on vacations to Veracruz. But last week we found her again. Christina is extremely active in her Pentecostal Christian church, but accepts us and listens sincerely.

In our visit last week, we asked her if she had read the Book of Mormon. She had! She read 3 Nephi 11 (the part we had left her), and then had started from the beginning (a very good place to start). As Elder Tenorio said when he visited us more than a year ago, the Book of Mormon is the best missionary. One of the reasons is that it can do the work even when we can't find the person for more than a month.

When we asked her what she had thought of what she read, her answer was very interesting. She said something along the lines of, "Well, everything I read sounds like what I read in the Bible. It teaches the same thing. And it talks a lot about Jesus Christ. From what I've seen so far, it seems true."

Our next step is to help her pray and receive a testimony of the Holy Ghost, and then to understand the implications of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon as to her religious life. She is well on the right path, because she has read and understood the Book of Mormon, and recognizes it as something that teaches the same principles as the Bible and testifies of Jesus Christ.

I am very excited about learning from Elder Bednar next Tuesday. I can't wait. We have planned everything, even where each zone will sit in the chapel. I'll tell you all about it next week.

I love you all, and my love and appreciation for you grow with each day spent in the Lord's service.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sunday, May 9, 2010 -- Mother's Day Testimony of the Restored Gospel (in Spanish)

Thursday, May 6, 2010 -- The True Heroes

This week has been just as busy as the last. Because of their visa problems, the new American missionaries are arriving one by one. (I have gone to the airport about six times in a week.) Also, we are busy planning the annual Missionary Talent Show for Mother's day, which starts tomorrow. (Tomorrow we will be in the border in Matamoros and Valle Hermoso, and Saturday in Reynosa and Rio Bravo).

I'm not sure if it is the same in the States (I really can't remember), but here in Mexico there seems to be a tradition among the members: when you know that a missionary will be finishing soon, you have to ask him lots of questions about what he is going to do and if he is trunky (or "muerto" or "frito," which are basically Mexican versions of trunky). I don't like it. I don't consider myself at all trunky, nor do I plan on slowing down nor becoming distracted. I just hope that you all don't do the same to those missionaries who serve in the ward.

Like I said, this has been a busy week. There is always lots to do. As an Assistant, sometimes I feel like a secretary, babysitter, chauffeur, technician, or a million other things. But when I do, I remember what President Mendoza has taught us, that the "service of God" referred to in Doctrine and Covenants 4 doesn't refer specifically to knocking on doors, but to all the work that we do as missionaries.

The last time we went to the airport there was a lot of people, and it was full of security guards. Right before the missionaries came out, several huge WWF wrestlers came out, and everybody screamed and the cameras took pictures. It was interesting. The true heroes came out unnoticed by the world.

Elsa is doing well. She is excited about her baptism, and about helping her husband follow in her footsteps. We have had to plan everything well, as we will be in the border all of tomorrow and Saturday and will be arriving directly to the our services Sunday morning. But everything is ready.