Monday, February 25, 2013

Zone Conference

Hello Family and Friends!

I hope that you are all doing splendidly well and that you are all very happy. Well, this week the carnival ended in Yautepec, therefore, my life has somewhat returned to a sense of normalcy. But here you go, some impressions of Mexico.

1) So, this week we did a service project for a sister in the branch named Hermana Edith. And the service project was this...go out to her strawberry field in the middle of all of the farmland that surrounds Yautepec and handpick strawberries. Because I realized on scene that my camera did not have any battery left, I will just have to paint a mental picture for you all. Elder Nielsen, jeans and t-shirt, torn piece of burlap sack tied to his waist with a wicker basket hanging off of either hip, barefoot with so much mud impacted between his toes that he could not squeeze them together, picking strawberries. It was so much fun! The only part that was not that cool was when one of the farm dogs started to run away with one of my shoes. Thankfully we were able to retrieve it. By the time Elder Romero and I finished one row, her actual workers had completed themselves. 

2) Milk comes in boxes. Also, it is optional whether or not you wish to put your milk in a refrigerator. 

3) Sometimes I just walk down the street, look up, and there is a man, riding a straight-up donkey, herding cattle, and heading in my direction.

4) We were walking to an appointment this week which forced us to walk through the flee market. I saw a table. Covered with flies. And as I approached the said table, I saw dead chickens. That only had their feathers removed. I mean, head, beak, feat, everything was still in tact. I think it was the first time that I have gotten nauseous here.

5) The word "fetch" is big here in Mexico. I am sorry, I just cannot take that word seriously after seeing a certain movie with Lindsey Lohan. Now everytime Elder Becerra sees me, knowing my disgust for the word, he tells me, "Tu corbata es tan fetch" or "Your tie is so fetch". No puede ser.

So, this is the final week for Elder Romero as a missionary. He leaves for Cuernavaca on Friday, so for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I will be staying with Elder Abernathy and Elder Becerra in Yautepec (the ward, not the branch). I am sad. He is the first companion that I have had in the mission field that I am really going to miss. He taught me what it meant to work hard, but also have fun. He was funny, complimentary, and has developed such a strong testimony of the church despite some very significant challenges that he has had in his life. He is an example to me.

I am so grateful for the opportunity that I have to be a missionary. I absolutely love it. It is harder than heck, but it is definitely the greatest thing that I have ever done. In an effort to help others become converted unto Christ and his gospel, I am becoming converted in deeper and more intimate ways on a daily basis. I love my Savior Jesus Christ and his Atonement. I have come to know (intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually) that he is the Savior of my soul. He loves me. Through it all, I know that he loves me. And he is changing me, day by day. It is difficult to describe what this process has been like for me. The best way to describe it would be to say that he is constantly beckoning me to follow him. Come to me. Learn of me. Be like me. Love me. And then give that love to others. Make others feel and know that they are important. Help them know that I love them. Serve them. Teach them. Befriend them. Seek to understand them. Let go of yourself and be what I need you to be. Be my disciple. Feed my sheep.

Everyday I leave and I want so much to be more like him. How he taught. How he loved. How he served. He humbled himself. How he sacrificed everything for me and for everyone else. I am not perfect. Everyday I come home and the list of things to improve never seems to change or get any shorter, but the sweetest thing that I receive on a daily basis is the feeling that, everything will be okay. You are fine. You are more than fine. I love you. You are not weak or ineffectual. You are my son, and I love you. Now, improve, and go spread that love to others.

I love this church so much. It is the true church of God and everytime I think about the gospel, how perfect it is, how beautiful it is, and what it has done for me, those feelings of excitement surge inside of me and I want everyone to know what I know and feel as I feel. Please share the gospel. I just want to close out this letter with some of the comments that Jeffrey R. Holland said during General Conference, I hope that they will inspire you to do, what we have all covenanted to do at baptism.

"What I need, Peter, are disciples—and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do. Ours is not a feeble message. It is not a fleeting task. It is not hapless; it is not hopeless; it is not to be consigned to the ash heap of history. It is the work of Almighty God, and it is to change the world. So, Peter, for the second and presumably the last time, I am asking you to leave all this and to go teach and testify, labor and serve loyally..."

"...Did you, like they, think that this work could be killed simply by killing me? Did you, like they, think the cross and the nails and the tomb were the end of it all and each could blissfully go back to being whatever you were before? Children, did not my life and my love touch your hearts more deeply than this?”
Feed my Sheep. I love you all.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, February 18, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!

Well, this week Yautepec hosted its yearly carnival. And boy has it been quite the event. There are little kids dressed up in these intricate, traditional native Mexican costumes and dancing this little shuffle dance in the streets, with a large brass band following close behind. We live very close to the center of the pueblo so they have been passing our house all weekend long. This, coupled with loud fireworks that go off every 5 minutes that sound like bombs have made for a very sleep-deprived Elder Nielsen. But I am pushing through it.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) So...public bathrooms. So, on Tuesday we had money to go and eat so we decided to go to the Mercado and eat some Picaditas (tortilla, cheese, cream, onion, salsa, and beans). As the lady is preparing them, I ask her (as I usually do), to put the salsa on them that is the least hot. She gives me the first one. And to my was not hot enough for me (I know...I am becoming Mexican), so I ask for the hotter one. This one was just right. But then, immediately when we finished eating, to save you from more details, I had to use the restroom (It actually went a little something like this... *Elder Nielsen grabs Elder Romero by his tie and says "We need to find a bathroom. NOW.") So we frantically move through the market looking for the public restrooms (mind you, this is my first time using a public restroom in the country) and we finally find them. Surrounding the bathroom are those revolving doors and a large iron fence. Frantically I look on the inside and start to read the sign. 1 Peso per person that enters. And 1 Peso for every square of toilet paper that you wish to use. So, I start frantically looking through my pants for spare change. Find the needed money. And place my 1 peso in the coin slot for entrance. I will spare you the rest. It is moments like these when I miss the United States.

I hope you all enjoyed that. I just thought that you needed to know.

So this week has been slow, missionary work-wise that is. We had two zone conferences in Cuautla (about 50 minutes away), I came down with a fever and a cold again, and we had to be home before sunset everyday because of the Carnival. So yes. But I have learned a lot this week.

During our Zone Conference Sister Kusch was giving her talk and she said something that really struck me. She said that our Heavenly Father does not want any of us to return home broken. That really struck me. Being in Mexico has taught me a lot about suffering. Drugs, alcohol, young, single-mothers with 3 or 4 children, poverty, death, violence, etc. have made a lot of people in this country "broken". I have seen firsthand a lot of tears, a lot of pain, a lot of people that frankly do not have any hope for a better future. I contrast these people that are not members with the church, with those that are. The members of the church struggle with or have struggled with the same problems. But they are so much happier. There is a light in their eyes that is not to be found in the eyes of those that are not members. They are truly allowing the Atonement to work through them and heal them. I truly love the members here. They are examples of strength to me. They have gone through things that we cannot even imagine and still place all their trust in the Lord. Many (actually 90%) of every ward or branch that I have been in are converts to the gospel. All I can say is that I am truly and really starting to love them deeply for what they have done and what they continue to do.

I have had a hard week. It has been very difficult for me. Some very real challenges. I do not know. I guess I just have noticed so many things that I need to improve. The progress that I still need to do in order to be more like my Savior. That is the part that really hits me. Whenever I think about my Savior, what he did, and what he means to me, I start to cry. I feel so inadequate to put his name on me sometimes and work on his behalf. I have truly felt weak. I want so much to be more like him in my words, my actions, and my thoughts, but sometimes it is so hard. Actually it is gut-wrenchingly hard. Because, I, just like all of you, need to drop old fears, habits, and ways of life. But that is why we have the Atonement. We do not have to do these things alone. We are not meant to walk this path in the dark. Yes, I do have a long way to go, but the path seems a little shorter when I think about how my Savior will walk and talk with me the entire way. It is so hard to be humbled. So hard to walk ahead without knowing if you are going to make it or not, but I believe that it is worth it. 

I love you all very much. You mean the world to me. I truly hope that you are all doing very well. Keep pushing ahead. You can do it!

Elder Nielsen

Monday, February 11, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!

Greetings all from Yautepec, Mexico! Wow. What a week. We worked so hard. We basically started from scratch. Getting to know the members, the area, trying to find investigators, etc. It has been really amazing though! The members here are so excited to work with us. We would meet them for the first time and they would just mention in passing "Elders, I have this family of 5 (another said 7) that said they are interested in the gospel, do you think we could plan something to meet with them together?" **Cue Elder Nielsen jaw drop. Ummm...yeah...I think that would be okay. This comes after months of begging and pleading other members in other areas for references. Also, we have a ward mission leader that is older than 18 and is active in the church (which is more than I can say for my past two areas). The church here is super strong. Lots of priesthood. Lots of returned missionaries. And about 80 to 100 in the chapel every week. I am so happy! The only down side to all of this is that things are starting to heat up in Mexico. Like...really heating up. We are entering the hot months. Uh oh.

Impression of Mexico!

1) I think that I have mentioned this before, but I have met probably 50 people that know Yorba Linda and its surrounding cities. This week we picked up an investigator....that went to Valencia High School and played Esperanza in soccer. We talked about Camelot, Del Taco, and Kraemer Boulevard.

Sorry guys. Only one. I was not to focused on the culture this week. Just working. And working hard. But I had one really powerful spiritual experience that I want to share.

We received a reference to go visit two sisters that are more in their elderly years named Hilda and Carolina. Well, we arrived (after being lost for 30 minutes), we were excited, and then we sat down and began to talk. Carolina, had recently lost her youngest son. She did not say how, or where, but he had been killed....on her birthday. She just kept repeating over and over again that he promised that he would call her and that the call never came. She burst into tears and said that she did not know what to do or what to think anymore. I was sitting there and just felt this overwhelming empathy for her. I actually started to tear up a little myself. I will never be able to imagine the grief and the pain that she must be feeling. But, I do know someone that does. We started to talk about Christ and the Atonement. I love the quote in Preach My Gospel that says that everything that is unfair in this life can be made right through the Atonement of Christ. I felt the Spirit very powerfully as I was testifying of these things to her. We also talked about the Plan of Salvation, that one day she will see her son again. And what a glorious reunion that will be for them. This is when she started shaking her head. She looked up at me and said. "All of that is pure lies. You are lying. You do not know that there is life after death. You cannot prove it. And you never will be able to. I will never see my son again. You are lying." She had to leave and did not express any more interest in listening to us anymore. All I could do is testify and tell her that I knew what I was saying was true. In this moment, I just started praying in my mind. I wanted so badly to give her the peace, knowledge, and comfort that I have concerning life after death. But I could not. It was so sad because I saw how much people suffer when they think that this life is the end. That when we die, the lights go out and we are no more. It was painful to watch. But, as he always does, a loving Heavenly Father, during the closing prayer, whispered to my soul, once again, that this life is not the end.

I know that the Plan of Salvation is real. Because Christ lived for us, atoned for us, died for us, and then was resurrected for us, that we will live again. No matter how unfair. No matter the size of the burden. No matter how dark things get in this world. Everything can and will be made right through the Atonement of Christ. This life is like a flicker in time. But we will have the same relationships we had here on earth through the eternities to come if we remain faithful. If we trust in our Heavenly Father and our Savior with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, then the pain of death and the grave is swallowed up in Christ and the victory of the resurrection. It is my testimony that he lives. That he loves us. That he cares for us so much. It is my hope and prayer that I can always live worthy of his love. I love you all.

"And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay."

Elder Nielsen
It's small but deadly!

Monday, February 4, 2013

This is a member's place of business.  He has hung a picture of an
LDS Temple along with a picture of the Virgin Mary! 

An old Catholic church

After a day of rejection, we are still happy! 
Elder Romero and I.

Toilet without a toilet seat!

Our Apartment

Everyone has a tank full of water
outside their homes, so they can
wash their clothes.  Here is ours.

Hello Family and Friends!

I hope that you are all doing really well! So yes. The rumors are true. I had "Cambios Especiales" this week because of the massive festival that is about to come to Tepalcingo in another three to four weeks. So, I am now emailing you from a pueblo in Morelos called Yautepec. It is between Cuautla and Cuernavaca and within the pueblo there is a ward and a branch. Elder Romero and I are in the branch. We are both just a tad stressed because neither of us know the area or the members, but we hope that we can learn together quickly! Actually, the President of our stake resides in our branch and we just finished having brunch with his family. Scrambled eggs and ham, hand-made tortillas, fresh fruit, beans, and quesadillas. I am now content. But first, how about a few impressions of Mexico?

1) So, apparently this week there was another Catholic festival in Tepalcingo. But for this one, the members had to carry around a very feminine-looking baby Jesus, sitting in a chair, dressed in what appeared to be a dress, with fairy wings. I know. I did not believe it at first either. But people just walked around all day with these things cradled in their arms.

2) Just a little culture for ya. We were waiting for the bus to take us to the house of a sister in the branch, when all of a sudden, down the street comes this girl dressed in a lime-green, poofy, and sparkly dress, holding a bouquet of roses. Behind her are about 15-20 boys dressed in suits. And behind them is a full-band of men playing Mariachi music. Can anyone say Quinciniera (almost 95% sure I spelt that wrong)?

3) We ate with Hermana Rafaela this week and all we talked about is how she likes to eat hot food. I literally do not understand. They say here that food does not have flavor unless it is burning hot. Then she proceeds to pull out this Chili that was literally the smallest chili that I have ever seen. She pokes her finger-nail into it to brake the skin and then tells me to just sniff it. I did and I literally started coughing because literally, just sniffing it burnt the inside of my nostrils. I apparently would die if I ate it (literally or metaphorically, I am not quite sure).

So there you go! More culture from Mexico. I hope that you are all very excited for the Impressions of Mexico, Version Yautepec!

So, this week was difficult. The baptism that we had planned fell through and basically every investigator that we had that was progressing stopped wanting to listen to us. We also had in the back of our minds the knowledge that we were going to have transfers as well. Overall, just tough. I began feeling, thinking, and asking my Heavenly Father why I was failing. What I was doing wrong. And why I was not having "success". Elder Romero told me something this week that impressed me, something that the former mission president had said. That it does not matter how many people you baptize (or if you baptize at all) or the positions of leadership that you attain, that all these things are secondary to the personal conversion that you experience.

I know that that is true. I have come to the conclusion that my mission experience, with all of the transfers, lack of baptisms, and relative lack of investigators is just as worth it as the mission experience of someone that baptizes 70. Because of the personal conversion that I am experiencing. The Lord is tutoring me and teaching me in very personal and intimate experiences daily. He has poured out knowledge and comfort into my soul and has allowed me to feel his love more profoundly. My love for the scriptures has deepened tremendously. My testimony of the gospel has grown. My ability to teach and testify has improved. And my love for my Savior is more real than before. God is with me. The Spirit is with me. And because they are with me, I know that I am okay. I asked God this week if he was proud of me, and a very strong impression came, in the form of a voice, saying, "I am so proud of you." That was beautiful to hear.

So. I continue working. I continue trying. I know that this week is going to be crazy and stressful but if I rely on the Lord and surrender to him, I know that I will be alright. Not just alright. I will be amazing. I love you all very much. Thank you for your letters (family, The Buckners, Gina, Kelsey), they lift me up weekly. I hope that we can all try to lift somebody else up this week and do our best to love more deeply.

Elder Nielsen