Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

I just had the thought that for the entire year of 2013 I will be living outside of the United States in Mexico. Wooh.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) So we are teaching two investigators named Claye and Agustin that are very poor and living in, let us just say, very humble circumstances. We arrived at their house to teach them a lesson and while we were waiting for them to set up the chairs my companion leans over to me and says, "I really have to go to the bathroom" and I said "Well ask them!". Well...he asked them and they said sure and pointed to literally a solitary toilet that was in the center of their front yard. They then proceeded to walk into their house, shut the door, and told him to tell them when he was done! I just had my back to him and was laughing as he was doing his business.

2) So. I have finally figured out Mexican culture. If you have ever seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you will know what I am talking about. The way to win the trust, love, respect, etc. of the Mexican people is 1) Eat their food. You have to eat something when you go into their house or you offend. If you reject something they offer you, even if you feel like you are going to barf if you shove one more tortilla down your throat, you just have to eat. Sometimes I literally pray that God will let me finish the taquito without throwing up because I am so full. 2) Listen to them. Mexicans LOVE to talk. Not talk, like have a conversation. They just LOVE to talk to you. You just need to listen and nod in the appropriate moments. For example, one investigator likes to talk so much that our last lesson was literally three hours. THREE HOURS.

3) During these holidays fireworks are super popular. They set them off all through the night. Good thing I am dead tired and it does not bother me.

4) So the Jehovahs Wittnesses are BIG down here. You can always tell who they are because the women always carry umbrellas to guard them from the sun and the men always have sholder bags and wear brightly colored long-sleeved shirts. I always feel slightly uncomfortable when we start to walk down a street and there are literally 20 of them knocking doors in the same street. 

Illegal things that Mexicans do in the Open:

1) Sell pirated DVDs. Literally I do not think the legal ones exist.

2) That thing when you raise roosters to fight each other. We ate with a sister and she has literally 60-70 chickens and roosters. I asked her innocently whether she was raising them for the eggs or to eat them or to sell them. She told me, "No, they are the chickens that fight." That is when I noticed the painting on her wall of two roosters brawling to the death. Awkward.

Well, there is some more culture for you all to ponder. I really love the people here. They are the sweetest and most giving people you will ever meet. I am glad that I have the opportunity to serve them for two years of my life. The more I understand their culture and their way of living, the more I love them and want to serve them. That seems to be the pattern, right? The more we serve someone, the more we give of ourselves to help them, the more we love them. I have felt this during my four months here in Mexico.

So, this week was tough. A baptism fell through and we were not able to have very many appointments because of the Holidays and because my companion was very ill. But I am peaceful about where I am. I trust completely in my Heavenly Father. And I am so happy. I guess that is just how I have been feeling. Peaceful. Calm. Hopeful. We currently have 5 investigators with dates to be baptized and we are finding new investigators every week. God is providing miracles for us and blessing us. The members are inviting friends to church and activities. All is well when it comes to missionary work in our little pueblo Coahuixtla. 

I just want to let you all know that I love you. That you all mean very much to me and I hope that you are always looking forward to life and not living in the past. Satan would have us live in the past or the future. Constantly worrying about what is to come or feeling guilt and shame about what transpired before. God would have us learn in the present. We have been sharing the message of the wife of Lot with a lot of less-active members that are scared to return to church because of feelings of shame or guilt. I can just imagine what was going through her mind. She was curious, she was focused in the world she left behind, she could not let it go or imagine that things would get any better in the life that lay ahead of her, so she turned back. Always stay present. That is where God is. That is where peace is. That is where we find true happiness.

Well, I love you all. Jesus is the Christ. The Savior of our souls. Yesterday, Today, and Forever. I love him so much for what he did for me. I can never repay him. I just love him and I try to declare his name and teach the Atonement to every man, woman, and child that I can. 

Once Again Happy New Year!
Elder Nielsen

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

¡Feliz Navidad!

Hello family and friends! Merry Christmas! I hope that you are all doing extremely well and enjoying the Holidays!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) Let me preface this story by saying that it is very common here in Mexico to greet others by giving them a kiss on the cheek. So we were sitting in a family home evening and our seventeen year old female investigator walks in. I reach out my hand to shake hers and we shake hands. I then turn my head to look at something, expecting her to go shake the hand of my companion. Before I know it, she lays one on my cheek. My companion cannot stop laughing and I am literally in shock.

2) Toasters do not exist here. If you want toasted bread you need to go to the store and buy "pre-toasted" bread called Pan Tostado. 

3) My companion and I were walking back to our apartment with our laundry and awkwardly ran into a HUGE procession of Catholics hoisting an image of the virigin Mary, chanting some song, and they were all holding candles. They all stared at us as we waited for them to pass.

4) The Mexican people put salsa/chili on literally everything. Fruit (super popular), popcorn, potato chips, etc.

5) President Kusch gave us the new composition of the mission after the new changes. Right now we have 190 missionaries, after the changes we will have: 90 Latino Elders, 60 American Elders. 100 Sister Missionaries. Wow.

6) This week we had a Christmas Conference with the mission president and his wife during the which we did Christmas skits, White Elephant, ate, and had a devotional. It was actually super fun! Today we will be eating with the large Mormon family called the Torres family. What is traditional in Mexico on Christmas is to work on the 24, have a huge dinner/fiesta with your family during the night. And then basically do nothing on the 25 except take the day off from work. Traditional food: Turkey, Cold Apple Salad, Bread, some type of Cake.

So there is a little something for you all!

Just one spiritual experience that I would like to share with you all. Yesterday we were walking down the street towards the house of a less-active sister that we wanted to visit with. We ran into another sister that we know really well called Hermana Lina. She told us that she was bringing food to her sister, who is also a member, and asked us if we would visit her with her. We said yes and went. We entered into the house and that was when I saw Hermana Merced for the first time. She was so small. Skin and bones and very weak looking. She was lying on her back on a bed in the middle of the room. It was super hard for her to speak and she could not move. Hermana Lina told me that people rarely visited her and that she basically just lied on her back all day on this bed. I cannot describe in words how much love I felt for this woman. I just felt so much compassion for her. I had the beautiful opportunity to sit on her bed, lay my hands upon her head and give her a blessing of comfort. Even though she could not speak to me, I felt the Spirit so strongly. Almost more palbably than I had ever before felt it in my life. Just pure love for her. Just a small degree of the type of love Christ feels for her. This was one of the best Christmas presents I have ever received. The opportunity to bless this amazing woman who I know God loves very much. I was sad to leave. I just sort of stroked her hair and said "Bye, bye Sweetie" and left with a huge lump in my throat. I will never forget this experience as long as I live. How blessed we are to have these moments in our lives when we can feel pure joy and experience just a small part of the love God has for others.

I love you all. And I know that true love and joy is only to be found when we are serving our fellow man.

Elder Nielsen
The House of the Lord

I'm at the Mexico City Temple!  I'm standing in front.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Merry Christmas Family and Friends! know the drill: Experiences and Impressions of Mexico!

1) This week we went to the temple in Mexico City! It is about a 3 hour car ride from my area and we went with our entire district. So to begin...Mexico City...or D.F. Is the dirtiest most polluted city I think I have ever seen. It is literally in a valley and surrounded by mountains but you cannot see them because there is so much pollution in the air. And there are people EVERYWHERE. Cars zooming by in every direction, skyscrapers, stores, etc. Reminded me more of Los Angeles or other big cities in the United States. But the temple was amazing. As missionaries we are always told that we are some of the biggest targets of the adversary. And boy have I felt it. Almost six months of constant pounding in every area of my life. The difference was palpable when I entered the temple (the only place where he is not allowed). I just felt so much peace. So much love. And for it all being in Spanish I did surprisingly well! I remember when we were getting ready to leave I started to get a little sad because I knew I was reentering the battlefield. But God has been strengthening me everyday and for that I am so grateful.

2) So, I have actually started to work out a half hour more everyday. I get up at 5:55 a.m., say my prayers and then work out for an hour. We actually have this weight that has two concrete blocks attached to both sides of the bar. Literally every part of my body is in pain but I need to do it. I do not sweat as much here and the tortillas are thicker.

3) So, this week has been a little slow for one reason. Elder Ramos has been having problems with his stomach. Like we have to return to our house every 1:30 to 2 hours so he can do his business. Just so you know.

4) So...the drunks. For the most part they are actually just super funny. I thought I would share some experiences. A) Yesterday one asked me if he could have my tie. B) One kept saying he was King Solomon. C) Most of them just shout at us to preach to them something from the Bible. D) This one is my favorite. There is this one that sits in the same corner every day and every time we walk by he just starts shouting and babbling. Literally he his not speaking a language. Just starts babbling. 

5) Good experience this week. We went to visit a less-active sister named Alicia Ortiz. She was not home the first two times we tried and the third time we found her. We taught her a lesson of the Gospel or Doctrine of Jesus Christ and invited her to church. She seemed attentive and told us that she needed to return. We left not really thinking much of it, because, well, my four months in the mission field have taught me that when less-active members say that they are going to come to church there is like a 5% chance that they are telling the truth. Anyway, about 40 minutes into the Sacrament Meeting I turn to look at the door and she came to church with all of her grandchildren. At the end of the services we went to talk to her and she was just so appreciative and starting saying that she was at church because of us. Because we spoke plainly with her but with love. That was nice to hear.

Anyway, those are some of my experiences this week! This week has been a little slow, but good. We continue working hard and the Lord is blessing us little by little.

During this time I have been thinking a lot about the Savior. His teachings. His love. What he really means to me. Especially the Atonement. I think of that night when he was born. My favorite story is in Luke:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

I think about how glorious that night was for the people that really knew the significance of the life of the Savior. Their King, their Savior, the Redeemer of their souls was finally born. He would go on to teach, to heal, to love, and ultimately atone of the sins of the world. He would be rejected, spit upon, slapped, and mocked. He would be crucified and buried. But that was not the end. He would raise from the dead three days later. And with triumphant words angels would declare, "He is not here, for he is risen". 

We also have another record of the coming of the Savior. But to a different people. On a different continent. This is possibly my favorite passage of scripture. Read it slowly. Think about the words and phrases you are reading. Think about what the Savior means to you. Apply this to yourself:

And it came to pass that while they were thus conversing one with another, they heard a voice as if it came out of heaven; and they cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice which they heard; and it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn. And it came to pass that again they heard the voice, and they understood it not. And again the third time they did hear the voice, and did open their ears to hear it; and their eyes were towards the sound thereof; and they did look steadfastly towards heaven, from whence the sound came. And behold, the third time they did understand the voice which they heard; and it said unto them: Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him. And it came to pass, as they understood they cast their eyes up again towards heaven; and behold, they saw a Man descending out of heaven; and he was clothed in a white robe; and he came down and stood in the midst of them; and the eyes of the whole multitude were turned upon him, and they durst not open their mouths, even one to another, and wist not what it meant, for they thought it was an angel that had appeared unto them. And it came to pass that he stretched forth his hand and spake unto the people, saying: Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning. And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words the whole multitude fell to the earth; for they remembered that it had been prophesied among them that Christ should show himself unto them after his ascension into heaven. And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto them saying: Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world. And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come. And when they had all gone forth and had witnessed for themselves, they did cry out with one accord, saying: Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him.

I have so much love for my Savior. The more I preach his name the more I feel love for him and what he did for me. He atoned for our sins. He died for us. He conquered both physical and spiritual death for us. But most importantly, he loves us with a love that I cannot imagine or comprehend. I want everyone in this world to feel his love. Feel his power to forgive, to heal, to cleanse, and strengthen. He can make us feel whole at any time. We only need to begin the process.

I love you all. I hope that you are all doing very well and that you are happy and content. And once again, Merry Christmas!

Elder Nielsen

Monday, December 10, 2012

Happy Holidays!

I hope that you are all doing very, very well. Life continues on in our little pueblo of Coahuixtla! We worked extremely hard this week and the results are starting to pay off! We have four investigators with dates to be baptized currently, four in the chapel on Sunday, and we found seven more to teach during the week! We are truly being blessed right now. The Lord is watching over us. So...some impressions of Mexico!

1) My companion and I bought gas this last week to heat the water and I took my first hot shower in Mexico on December 06, 2012. Maybe I danced on my way to the bathroom. Maybe I did not. 

2) I have been making sandwiches a lot for myself in the mornings when I get hungry. This last P-Day we went to Sams Club to buy in bulk and I decided to buy some tuna for myself. I was actually super excited. Then, the next day, I open the can, and start to press down in the lid to drain out all of the water. Before I knew it, the can of tuna exploded all over me. I was dressed. I was showered. And I was mad.

3) This week we did two service projects. One was clearing out about 50 years of weeds at an elementary school. Literally though, I do not even think they can be classified as weeds anymore. More like large trees and bushes. We just left the mountain of debris in the center and the teachers said they would burn it later. We also helped a less-active member build a brick wall in front of his house. So I am pretty much an expert in masonry now if anyone wants to hire me when I return.

Anyway, this week was just like every other week here. Work, meeting different people with different takes on life, and having the wonderful opportunity every day to put the name of my Savior on my chest and represent him in word and deed the best I can. The less-active member that we helped this week with his brick wall told me something interesting that I want to share. At first I was a little hesitant to build his wall because I did not want to ruin it or make a mistake. He then looked at me and said, "You know Elder, I have come to find in life that when people say they cannot do something, it is just a polite lie to themselves. What they are really saying is that they do not want to. Now what do you say? Do you want to learn?" It humbled me and taught me a very important lesson. This life is about learning, making mistakes, and enjoying every step of the process. We really are a lot more capable than we think, we just need to take that first step and try. He also asked me if I ever imagined that I would be in the middle of Coahuixtla, Mexico setting bricks during December. Really, no. But I am so grateful for this opportunity that God has given me to be in the middle of Coahuixtla, Mexico, setting bricks in December.

Anyway, I love you all. You mean very much to me. I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve a mission and be a representative of my Savior for two years. Oftentimes I feel very inadequate. There is always something to improve, something that I could be doing better. But the beautiful thing about the Savior is his love for us where we are right now. He loves what we were, what we are, and what we will be be. He just loves us perfectly. And we have the beautiful promise that if we just continue on faithfully, keeping the commandments, with faith, repenting, and trying our darndest to follow the teachings and examples of our Savior, that we are all right. Everything is all right. That is the message I get a lot. Peace. Everything is all right. Because, as it says in John, we will never find peace in the things of this world, but we will always find peace in our Savior. Things are far from perfect here. Far, far, from perfect. But something that I have found is that if we pray, become present, and then ask Heavenly Father for peace, he will always grant it to us in one form or another.

It is my testimony to you all that God answers prayers. He has answered some prayers for me this week that have brought me consolation and have strengthened my resolve. It is also my testimony to you that God is always there. His love is everywhere. It is in everything. We need only search for it and we are promised that we will find it.

I love you all. Keep your heads up. Keep trying everyday to improve and love and serve others. Look out, and look up.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, December 3, 2012

Hello Family and Friends!

First of all, I hope that you are all doing very well and enjoying the holidays! Believe it or not it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas down here in Mexico as well. A lot of the members have their fake Christmas trees up and a few houses even have Christmas lights! Speaking of Christmas lights, our landlady runs a little store in front of our apartment and in front of the store are two giant bottles of liquor (like bigger than me) and she even decided to drape a few Christmas lights around them as well! Pretty festive if you ask me. Anyway, I guess I will give you a few impressions of my new area!

1) So last week I misspoke. We actually live in a Pueblo outside of the city of Cuautla. So...very rural. It is actually super quiet and calm here. Very rural. A lot of farmland surrounding us. Very different from Iguala where it was super loud and taxis were zooming by in very narrow streets.

2) It is not uncommon to see men riding horses and donkeys in the streets. They are also wearing cowboy hats 95% of the time. I feel like I am in the wild west sometimes!

3) There is this Hermana in our ward named Hermana Tomasa. Like...the feminine form of Tomas. I thought it was just a little strange.

4) One of the members has this dog named Annie. She literally follows us around everywhere. If we go into a house for an appointment she just waits outside until we are done. And when we leave she continues following us. I want her for my own.

5) FUNNY STORY: So we were walking into the front yard of an investigator but to get to her house we had to bend underneath her clotheslines that had clothes hanging on them to dry. My companion went first and while he was bending underneath the clothesline the bra of the investigator attached onto his backpack and I could not tell him because I was laughing so he just went up to the lady and shook her hand and she awkwardly pointed at her bra. He saw it. He was so embarrassed. And he had to carry it back (holding it with two fingers) and hang it on the clothesline. 

6) The ward has about 100 people that attend every week. And about 80% of the ward consists of three main families that live in this pueblo. They were some of the first to join the church here in Mexico and so they had children, their children had children, their children had children, none of them moved, and thus you have our ward with a few other families mixed in there. A lot of the members do not have a lot of trust in the missionaries because for a about a 7-8 month period there was a long string of SUPER disobedient missionaries but Elder Ramos and I are working super hard to visit all of them, teach them, and gain their trust. It seems to be working because we received a lot of references this week and found 8 new people to teach! We are just starting but I think we are going to be really successful!

So. There you have it. My impressions from this week. I am very happy right now. Very content. We are working hard and having success and I come home exhausted everyday (which in my book is very good). This week I was reading a little in Doctrine and Covenants Section 88 (one of my favorite sections) and I want to share a verse that I really love from this section.

He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;

I am so grateful for my Savior Jesus Christ and for what he did for me. This week I have had the opportunity to talk about the Atonement with a lot of the members and it has caused me to reflect on what the Savior has done for me. He literally has saved me and I know without a shadow of a doubt that he has the power to save anyone from anything. Sometimes we have a hard time forgiving ourselves. Sometimes we feel very alone. But we are never alone. Because we have a Savior who "comprehended all things" so that we never have to be alone in this world. Choose to walk with him. Let him in. Let him begin to heal you. How do we do this? By small and simple things are great things come to pass. The scriptures, prayer, church, repentance, faith. I have such a strong testimony of him. I love him for what he did for me. I can never repay him. These two years are nothing compared to the sacrifice he made for me. Everytime things get hard I just think about the Atonement and then I tell myself, I have no right to complain. I should be happy and have peace every day, every moment of my life because I know: That God lives. That Jesus is the Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of my soul. That through repentance, faith, the saving ordinances, and enduring to the end, we can all return to live with our families again, bound for eternity. That the true Church of Christ has been restored. That the Priesthood of God has been restored. That we have a living prophet today. I have been so blessed to have this knowledge since my youth. The more I think about it. The more I teach it to others. The more special it becomes to me. The more I serve others, the more I feel love for them. The more I give, the more I receive. So, we should be happy. We should be joyful. We should do as it says in Proverbs and seek and pursue peace in our lives. It is strange spending a Christmas away from home but it has caused me to reflect on what Christmas really means. It is all about the Savior. And on Christmas morning I am going to wake up at 6:30 a.m., get ready, and read my favorite stories about the Savior in the New Testament. And be very content. I am very excited.

I love you all. I hope that you are doing well and enjoying life. Look out and look up!

Elder Nielsen