Monday, July 14, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

Well, the time has come to write my last letter home. I wanted to start of by telling you all how much I love you. It was always my goal to be both a missionary in the field and a missionary to those that love me back home. Thank you for your prayers, your love, and your support. I've felt it. Thank you so much.

Impressions of Mexico!

*I've decided to do a few stats or recaps of my mission.

1) During these two years I've lived in: Iguala, Guerrero. Cuautla, Morelos. Tepalcingo, Morelos. Yautepec, Morelos. Altamirano, Guerrero. Huetamo, Michoacan. And Acapulco, Guerrero. My mission was basically half in the state of Guerrero and half in the state of Morelos.

2) I've had 11 companions while serving in the field. 9 from Mexico (Queretaro (2), Puebla, Veracruz (2), Chihuahua, Estado de México, San Luis Potosí, Chiapas). 1 from Argentina. And 1 from Utah (the only white boy).

3) I've served in 3 wards (for aproximately 7 1/2 months) and in 4 branches (aproximately 16 1/2 months).

4) What more can I say about the Mexican people than simply that I love them. I'm going to miss them a lot. I love learning new things about their culture, but more importantly, I've grown to love them very deeply. It wasn't like that in the very first moment. It takes a lot of getting used to. But, I feel so blessed for the opportunity I've had to serve them and live with them and love them for two years of my life. I've been in huge cities and the tiniest of pueblos and I've come to love each place where I have served. I feel very grateful.

Friday was the baptism of Rogelio! And he was confirmed on Sunday! It was such a sweet experience. The ward was really supportive. Rogelio is going to be a great member of the church. He's almost in Mosiah in The Book of Mormon (this never happens by the way) and he wants to serve a full-time mission. It was just such a testimony builder to me of the power that the members really have in missionary work. They can make miracles if they invite others with faith. I know this to be true. If everything goes right we should be having two more baptisms this Friday, my last day here in Acapulco. The Lord has really been merciful to us and has granted us a lot of success. I feel very content and very grateful.

I've been thinking a lot about what I could share or say in this last letter. I guess the only thing I can think of is to share my testimony with you all for the last time here from Mexico. I know that God lives. I know that he loves his children. I know that he answers our prayers. I know that when we keep his commandments we will be protected, we will feel peace, and we will feel his love even more. I know that Jesus is the Christ. I know that he came to this world with the divine purpose of atoning for us. His Atonement is the answer to every aching heart, every pain, every sin, every sickness, every fear, every doubt, and every weakness. It is also there to give us the strength we need to move forward. I know that the Lord forgives sin. He is merciful to those that repent and have the desire to change their lives. I know that we are given weaknesses so that we can humble ourselves before God and realize that we need his divine grace and help. I also know that with the enabling power of the Atonement, weaknesses can be converted into strengths. I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church of Jesus Christ. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and I know that The Book of Mormon is true.

It has been such a privilege to serve as a missionary for two years. To wear the name of Jesus Christ on my chest. I've honestly striven to be more like him. I realize that I am still very imperfect and that I still have much more growth to experience, but my mission literally has been the best and most rewarding experience of my life. During it I have felt joy, I have felt love and charity, my faith and hope have grown. I have also been humbled, tried, and have grown. I'm so grateful for the people that I've grown to know, love, and serve and for the miracles that the Lord has made in their lives and in my life. I know that if we strive, with all we have, until the very end, that one day we will be able to stand in the presence of God: pure, tried, clean, sealed, and whole. How grateful I am to know that I am his child. That he loves me with a love that is perfect and understands me with an understanding that surpasses my ability to comprehend. I know that this is true for each and every one of us here on this earth.

Well, I love you all. I can't wait to see you and be with you again. I'm so excited for what life has in store for me. I can't wait.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, July 7, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

It's really weird for me to think that this is the second-to-last letter that I'm going to write home. Time passes by quickly. I feel so grateful. Yesterday I was able to bear my testimony in sacrament meeting in my last fast and testimony meeting in Mexico. I just felt so much gratitude in my heart for all that God has given to me and taught me during my service as a missionary.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) I repeat again, because I just experienced it today, that there is nothing more frightening than playing soccer against Mexicans. They have no mercy when it comes to a soccer game.

We're going to have a baptism this week! His name is Rogelio. I've talked a little about him before. He's 25 years old and is the friend of a young man in the ward that's preparing to serve a mission. His friend started working in the same store where Rogelio works and invited him to go to church with him. He accepted the invitation and attended sacrament meeting and has not missed a sacrament meeting since. Rogelio is a really great example to me of someone that is humble and teachable. There are so many people today that are so set in their ways. They think that they know everything and are really difficult to be taught. It's such a breathe of fresh air to meet and to get to know and to get to love people that truly are humble in their hearts. That are willing to be taught and act. I'm so excited to see him enter in the waters of baptism!

Something else that I've been pondering a lot this week is the idea of perfectionism. I think sometimes we get caught up in the mindset that we must be perfect, not make mistakes, or be special in order to be deserving of love. I've found that this way of thinking can only really bring great pain to the individual. Because if we think this way, then we are never really going to be happy or content. When the love that the Savior has for us is described in the scriptures it is described as not needing money and not having a price. If we are scared of others seeing our imperfections or our weaknesses because we fear that they will not love us or accept us, we should think for a moment on Jesus Christ. He saw everything. Our weaknesses, faults, sins, and pains. Everything. And yet, his love for us is perfect and is given freely. I know that that love can transform lives. When someone really starts to feel it and understand it and comprehend it, they start to have the desire to live his gospel. We don't need to be perfect in order to be loved. 

A member of the 70 said in a recently published talk, "The word perfection, however, is sometimes misunderstood to mean never making a mistake. Perhaps you or someone you know is trying hard to be perfect in this way. Because such perfection always seems out of reach, even our best efforts can leave us anxious, discouraged, or exhausted. We unsuccessfully try to control our circumstances and the people around us. We fret over weaknesses and mistakes. In fact, the harder we try, the further we may feel from the perfection we seek....The Greek word for perfect can be translated as “complete, finished, fully developed”."

I'm so grateful for my mission. I'm so grateful for the opportunity that I've been given to serve my Heavenly Father and come to know him on a deeper and more intimate level. I know that when I open my heart to him that I will always feel his love and receive answers to my prayers. I need him always. This life is literally meaningless without him, his guidance, and the gospel of his Son. Jesus Christ lives! I know he lives. I have felt the power of his Atonement time and time again. Not only helping me feel forgiveness, but also strengthening me, teaching me, comforting me, and helping me feel his love which enables to me to truly live.

I love you all so much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, June 30, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

So...I just noticed yesterday that the streets in Acapulco don't have rain-gutters like the streets in the United States do. So...when it rains...all the water that falls on top of the hill just sort of floods down in large rivers in the streets. Yesterday was the first time that I had walked in rain water up to my ankles. When it rains pours. And it comes on really suddenly as well. Like...without warning. You'll just be walking around and the sky is completely blue and it's super hot outside. You'll go inside the house of someone to teach them, walk out in thirty minutes and then it slowly starts to sprinkle. Then 5 seconds later it just starts pouring. I love Acapulco!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) This week we were walking down the staircase of 134 stairs that leads to our house in the morning and a man was sitting there and called us over. He said that he needed some bloodwork done and wanted either I or my companion to inject him and take the blood out. HELLO PEOPLE.

2) Mexico was literally in mourning yesterday because they lost their game in the World Cup. Everyone just walked around looking really defeated and it was dark and cloudy outside and raining. The World Cup craziness is now offically over.

My companion and I had a really big miracle happen in our area this week. Since the beginning of the week we had been praying to find a family to teach. Saturday night, as we were walking back to our apartment a lady shouted, "Good afternoon!" from her door. We stopped to talk with her and began to teach her a little in her doorway. After my companion invited her to attend church and explained where the chapel is she told us that she has a friend (that happens to live in our area) that always passes by our chapel and that has always wanted to go in but never has because she always sees that the people that go in on Sundays are dressed-up really nice. She gave us the telephone number of her friend whose name is María. I was able to call her that same night during our planning session and invited her to attend church the next day. She was super sweet over the phone and said that she would attend. The next day, she arrived at sacrament meeting with her husband Gabriel. They stayed for two hours and said that they really enjoyed the services. As they were leaving she told my companion that she wants to invite her three children next Sunday. My companion asked her how old they are and she said 14, 13, and 9. It was such a sweet experience. And such a testimony to me of how God answers our prayers. I'm so excited for them. They seem like such a sweet family.

It doesn't really feel like I'm about to finish my mission. It really hasn't hit me yet. Everytime it does though I get a little emotional. I'm so grateful for this experience that God has given me. It's been the greatest experience of my life. I think that the overarching lesson that I've learned during my mission is that we are abundantly blessed and prosper when we put God and Christ first. Above everything else. When my relationship with them and with the Spirit is more important to me than anything else, then I truly am happy and I have peace. When I strive to do those things that will strengthen my relationship with them, in both the good and bad times, then I will always prosper. I know that I need them every single day.

I love my Savior. I know that Christ lives. It is my hope that each and every one of us will one day be able to stand before him. Tried. Proven. Clean. And pure. Obedient and faithful. Everything that I've seen and experienced during my mission has lead me to conclude that that is my ultimate goal. That is what I want in my life. It's such a beautiful thing to see God's hand in your life and in the lives of others. It's so beautiful to serve and see changes both in yourself and in others. I love my Heavenly Father. I love the Mexican people. And I love my mission.

I love you all very much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, June 23, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

It's gotten really humid lately. Like, you'll shower and feel really good, and then you step out of the shower and you start to sweat profusely. I just sweat always. Sitting, eating, walking, even in air-conditioned rooms. It doesn't matter where. But I still really love Acapulco.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) Something that has always impressed me about Mexico is how much people walk. The streets are always full of people walking around. I mean the majority of people don't have cars and even if they do have cars they only use them if they are going super far. And so to do their errands or anything else, they walk. 

2) Everyone that actually lives here in Acapulco almost never goes to the beach...there have actually been a large number of people that we've talked to that say they don't even like the beach.

I just started to think about what I wanted to write today and I was just filled with a lot of gratitude. I'm so grateful for my mission and everything that I've lived through, seen, and experienced. I've seen people break down into tears, telling me how lost and hopeless they feel. I've seen people break down into tears, saying how full and happy they feel that they have come to know the gospel of Jesus Christ. I've seen people that have lost everything, that live in poorly constructed homes with dirt floors, people that live in mansions, people that have lost family members due to violence, people that are tired of sin. I've seen happy people, peaceful people, funny people, sad people, lonely people, desperate people, depressed people, content people. I've seen things that have filled me with joy. I've seen things that have filled me with pain. I've cried with these people. I've laughed with these people. I've worked along-side these people. I love the Mexican people so much. Just sitting here, reflecting on everything that I've seen, heard, and experienced has just filled me with love and gratitude.

I think one of the greatest lessons I've learned during my mission is the importance of dedicating our time, attention, and efforts on things that matter most. There are so many that waste and wear out their lives on things that don't matter in the end. Money, power, sin, these things bring momentary pleasure, nothing more. They don't fill people up. They actually make them feel empty and tie them down. The gospel is the only thing that brings meaning to this life. It is the only thing that will lead us to eternal life. I know that this is true. I've seen it time and time again.

Above all, I know Christ lives. I know God lives. I know it. I love my Savior. I'm so imperfect as a person. I have so many faults and weaknesses. I need his grace and I need his mercy. Today, in our district meeting, the district leader asked me to share why I'm here serving as a missionary. I'm here because I recognize that the Atonement is real. That I have a debt that I can never pay with the Savior. The least I can do is serve him, strive to do what is asked of me, and help others come to know him and his gospel. I know that this church is true. It is the only church that has the power of God, his priesthood. It is the only church that has the power to lead men and women towards eternal life.

I'm excited to see you all soon, but I still have an important part to play in the time that I have left. I love you all very much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, June 16, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

It's been such an amazing week. I feel very blessed (even though I'm sort of really sick to my stomach right now). My companion and I work really well together and the Lord blessed us with miracles this week. Oh yeah. And it's stinckin' hot here in Acapulco right now. Just sayin'.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) So soccer. I've talked about soccer before but with the whole world cup thing going on right now it's gotten even worse. Every Mexican man is out practicing his fancy soccer tricks in the street. I honestly think that it's harder for my companion (who's a die-heart soccer fan) to be away from home right now and not be able to watch the games than it was for him to be away from his family during Christmas. Not joking either (I just told him that I wrote this and he confirmed its truth). HELLO PEOPLE.

So, I don't know if you remember me talking about the young man that attended church last Sunday with a member. His name is Rogelio. And he has turned out to be the biggest miracle ever. We went to visit him on Saturday with his friend that's a member for the first time since Sunday to teach him the Restoration. On Sunday we had invited him to begin reading The Book of Mormon. When we asked him if he read, he said, "Yeah, I'm in 1 Nephi 12, and I particularly liked the part about the vision Lehi had of the tree of life in chapter 8. I love reading it because I can picture in my mind exactly what's happening." *This is the moment when Elder Nielsen's jaw dropped. Just to let you know. THIS NEVER HAPPENS. He came to church again on Sunday and expressed his desire to be baptized and wants his friend to baptize him. The members have taken him in and supported him so much. It's been so beautiful to see so far. I know that God is a God of miracles. He always comes when the time is right. We also found a young woman named Alondra who's the sister of a recent convert. The same exact thing has happened with her. The youth have taken her in and she attended sacrament meeting for the first time on Sunday. She's reading and praying. There's nothing sweeter than seeing the faith of people grow. You can literally see the light growing inside of them each time you see them. It's because they've finally found the thing that will ultimately make them happy. We were richly blessed this week.

I was really present during sacrament meeting yesterday. A young man that just entered the temple for the first time this past week and has put his mission papers in was given the opportunity to bear his testimony. It made me really emotional. It just sort of hit me in that moment that my time as a missionary is coming to an end. But it was a good type of emotional. I felt peace. I felt happiness. I felt a lot of joy. I felt that my Heavenly Father was very pleased with me. My mission has been very difficult and trying but also the sweetest and most joyful experience of my life. I've grown closer to my Heavenly Father in ways I cannot describe. His love is so pure. It has the ability to change people's lives. I just wish everyone could see and feel that. When we strive our best, he will show us our weaknesses. But he does it so that we can gradually work through them and become more like our Savior in the process. I am indebted forever to the Savior for what he did for me. I owe him everything. The healing power of his Atonement is available to everyone. It heals. Cleanses. And purifies those that repent and wish to change.

I hope that you will all come unto Christ. Do something this week that will allow you to grow closer to him. I promise that as you feel his love and grow closer to him, that everything will be fine. You will feel peace, greater direction and clarity, and you will know what decisions need to be made and what the Father has planned for each and everyone of you. I love you all so much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, June 9, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

We are definitely starting the rainy season here in Mexico. When it pours. And it rains a lot. It's actually sort of a vicious cycle. It rains. Making it even more humid. Then the sun comes out in its full splendor and all that rain starts evaporating making it even more humid and hot. It's definitely different living in a tropical setting. Oh yeah. My companion Elder Anglin went to Cuernavaca on Saturday morning and should be on his way home right now. I'm here with my new and last companion! His name is Elder Gonzalez (I've digressed to having all-Mexican companions) and he is from Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, Mexico. He has about 8 months in the mission and is the most distracted person I've ever met but a really good Elder. I'm starting my last change!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) So on the Costera (the touristy street on the coast), at night time, there are literal Cinderella-esque carriages that go down the streets, being pulled by white horses, draped by multicolored Christmas-lights, with tourists riding in the back. HELLO PEOPLE.

2) Some of the common professions that people have here all have to do with tourism. They all work in hotels, restaurants, and there are actually a lot that work in the fishing industry as well (the Dad of the stake president that lives above us goes to work at 7:00 p.m. every day and dives for lobsters).

So this week was hectic. There were just a lot of changes and a lot of activity. But the thing that impressed me the most this week was what Heavenly Father taught me about the principle of prayer. Elder Anglin (and now Elder Gonzalez) and I have worked really hard here in the ward. We've been finding a lot of people to teach but for one reason or another they just haven't been progressing. They just don't attend church. On Saturday night I remember, after making all the plans for members to go by for them, making phone calls, and doing everything I could, I just remember praying and asking that God would bless each and every one of them, by name, that they would be able to arrive at sacrament meeting the next day. On Sunday, not one investigator showed up for the second week in a row. I remember sitting in sacrament meeting yesterday and just feeling so confused and a little depressed. I felt that God had not answered my prayers and I didn't understand why. After the meeting had ended, however, I noticed that a young man that's preparing to serve a mission in the ward had brought a friend that's not a member. His friend stayed all three hours and I was able to sit next to him in the meetings and explain everything that was going on. At the end of the services we taught him about the Book of Mormon and challenged him to be baptized and he accepted the challenge. It was such a unique way in which God answered my prayers. He addressed our needs and rewarded our efforts and answered my prayers, but not in the way I expected them to be answered. I didn't even anticipate it. What worried me a little is that even after seeing a new person attend church that could progress I still found myself thinking about the people that didn't come. But I strove to focus on the one that did come and accept that as an answer to my prayer.

Later on in the day, as we were walking to an appointment, we stopped to talk to a lady that was washing clothes in front of her house. She began crying and told us how tired she was and how sometimes she loses the will to live. And that she's been praying and asking God for strength and help to move forward. She has recently lost her son and the wife of her son abandoned their child with her. Another one of her grandchildren also recently had a serious accident. We began to teach her about the Plan of Salvation and invited her to come unto to Christ, promising that our message would make her burdens light and affirming that God sends us to those who need us. But at the end she said that she didn't have time to listen to us. I believe that we arrived at her door as a response to her prayers. But, I don't believe she recognized, or wanted to recognize the answer. After we began walking away a very strong impression came into my mind in the form of a phrase, "I hear and answer every child's prayer."

How often to we reject the answers that God gives us just because they don't fit neatly into the spectrum of answers or help that we were waiting for and willing to receive? So many prayers must be answered but maybe those answers go by unnoticed because we are not willing to listen or recognize. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."

I know God lives and loves us. I know that he hears and answers our prayers. I hope that I will always be able to recognize those answers when they come and be so happy and rejoice in the help and answers he gives me. I'm learning more and more to trust in him and walk with him every day. I love missionary work. We are literally inviting people, every day, to come unto Christ and rest. I know that this work will move forward. I know my Savior lives and loves me and each and every one of us.

I love you all very much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, June 2, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

So, this week is my companion's last week in the mission field. There's a tradition among missionaries that every missionary in the zone of an Elder that is finishing his mission cuts into the tie that the Elder is wearing during his last district meeting. Then the companion of the Elder that is finishing his mission cuts the entire tie off. Well. I just cut his tie off. Weird to think that that'll be happening to me in 6 weeks :0.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) So you know those old-fashioned arcade games. Yeah. Those are still big here. There are actually just tiny little businesses, usually situated close to schools, that are dedicated to solely having like 6 or 7 old arcade games. They are jam-packed with kids after school gets out.

2) Well, I think I've already established that Mexicans like their tortillas. Here in Costa Azul there are a lot of people that don't live close to a Tortillería (place where they sell tortillas). So what the tortillerías have done is hire a young man that has a motorcycle, to drive around all of Costa Azul, honking his horn as loud as he can, with a cooler full of hot tortillas strapped onto the back of his bike. It's rather amusing to me. The funniest part though is that there is more than one tortillería competing. So sometimes you'll just hear three different motorcylces going around honking their horns in the same neighborhood.

3) There are a lot of people in Costa Azul that sell things like bread or sandwiches, or things like that and they'll just walk around with huge baskets, full of the things they're selling, on top of their heads. I want one of them to teach me how to balance it on my head before I go home.

I love seeing the faith of the people that I live among. A few weeks ago a sister in the ward had given us a reference to visit a young lady that works in a tiny store up in the hills of Costa Azul. We had passed by to try to contact her but could never end up finding her. On Saturday we were able to make contact with her and the experience really impressed me. She works in a small, over-the-counter store on a somewhat busy street so obviously we were not teaching her in what people would call an "ideal" setting. Oh yeah. We were all standing up as well. But what impressed me is that even in circumstances like that, we were able to teach her the message of the restoration. I could see the Spirit working in her as well. And at the end of the lesson she accepted the challenge to be baptized. Those are experiences that give me peace and help me understand that there truly are people that are "pure in heart". That truly desire to know the truth. And that God is working hard to save. Seeing the faith of others helps my faith grow. I trust in God a lot more now than I did before I was a missionary. I've truly learned to rely on him day by day. When I rely on him, I have success. When I start relying on myself or stop earnestly seeking after his guidance, I don't have success and I'm usually not happy either. It's very simple. He's just been training me, little by little, and helping me understand the need to truly walk with him every day. I truly need him "every passing hour", and not just as a missionary.

I've really been analyzing the part in the sacrament that if we always remember the Savior, then we will always have the Spirit to be with us. There are difficult moments in the mission and in life (I'm sure that this isn't a surprise to anyone). There have just been moments here where I have been exhausted, drenched in sweat, and walking up a steep hill. I've found that two things help me feel happy in those situations and peaceful and also prevent from internalizing and focusing on myself. 1) I think of the Savior and his Atonement and I automatically feel an increase of the Spirit. 2) I look up (literally) at the people around me and focus in on one that I can contact and teach.

I love my Savior. So very much. He's my motivation to keep going. His Atoning sacrifice has changed and continues to change me and help me grow. His grace and mercy have healed and cleansed me. I'd be nothing without him.

I love you all so very much.

Elder Nielsen