Monday, March 25, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!

Things are REALLY heating up down here now. And, also, we visited an ancient temple ruin here in Morelos today! But more about all that later, because, first...impressions of Mexico!

1) So, gas in Mexico comes in tanks. Every time your gas runs out, you have to wait for the gas truck to drive buy the house so you can buy more gas and interchange the two tanks. You always know when it is driving by because of its loud sirens.

2) Water. As you know, it would be severely detrimental to your health if you drank water from the tap in Mexico. So, you have to buy purified water to drink from those big clear-plastic jugs. Twice a week a man drives a pick-up truck full of these jugs of water, shouting, "AGUA!" And that is when it is time to buy more water.

3) Trash. The trash collection here is very similar to water. We still do not know when it comes by but you better be ready when it does. You know it is coming when  someone starts ringing a bell outside of the house, shouting, "BASURA!". You then have to quickly gather your bags of trash, wait in line, and hand them to the man standing in the back of the pick up truck.

4) Seatbelts are completely obsolete. They actually make fun of you if you try to put one on.

5) Perception of the American Diet in Mexico: Pizza, Hamburgers, Hot Dogs. And that is all.

6) Speed Bumps are not only located in parking lots. They are located literally everywhere. Highways, normal streets, etc. Everywhere.

I literally love how some of the things that I do every week now are not even strange for me. It means that I am embracing the culture and becoming one with this people. I love it. And I love them.

Elder Lopez and I continue working super hard here in Yautepec. I love this pueblo and the members that live here. But being a missionary is extremely difficult sometimes. You always have to be on top of your game and try to be the best example you can to everyone that surrounds you. Because, literally, everyone is watching you (white person...Yautepec...white shirt and tie). The first impression a lot of people have of the church are the missionaries that represent it. I try to take advantage of this. Greet people always. Smile. Laugh. High-five little kids. Help people carry things in the street when they are struggling. Talk and have polite conversation. I feel like we are constantly planting seeds here in Yautepec. Trying to show a very traditional, Catholic pueblo that "Los Mormones" are good people that try their best to follow Jesus Christ and the example he set for us.

We are also starting an English class this week! The ward and the branch are combining in this effort. Given that I am the only missionary in Yautepec that speaks English...I will be giving the class. I am actually very excited! Elder Lopez and I made fliers and are getting the help of the members to plaster the fliers all over the pueblo!

Well. I just want to tell you all that I am so grateful for my Savior Jesus Christ. This week definitely had its challenges. But in a very special way, I felt love and support from both sides of the veil. I literally felt the power of your prayers. I know that this gospel is true. I know it with all of my heart and there is nothing that can take that knowledge away from me. No trial can take that knowledge away from me. I have felt during these 9 months as a missionary the hand of the Lord guiding me. He never lets up on me...because I have had much trial and opposition...but he also has never left me alone to walk in the dark. He lives.

I hope also that you all are doing well. That you are trying to help and serve others. Service has really changed me. Giving blessings to people, praying with them, and helping lighten their burdens has really lightened my burden. I hope that you are doing the same. I love you all very much. Until next week.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, March 18, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!

This week was so long but so good! But first...ya saben (you already know).

Impressions of Mexico!

1) So. Heavenly Father finally answered my prayers concerning the weather. We had three whole days of cold, cloudy, and rainy weather! It was glorious. I broke out my black, v-neck sweater for the second time in my mission and absolutely enjoyed my three days of walking around in the rain. It was a nice contrast to the usually searing sun and pure blue, cloud-less skies. 

2) This week we were walking to the chapel for a Priesthood Activity when a angry woman told us to stop because she wanted to talk to us (normal). She looked at me and asked me where I was from. I said from the United States. She then asked my companion where he was from. He said Mexico. She then looked at him and said, "You should not get mixed up with people like him." Then she looked at me in the eye and said, "I know what you are doing. You cannot fool me. You come here under the guise that you are a missionary for the church but you cannot fool me. You are a spy from the United States Government and you should just go back because you cannot fool me (not normal)." I just smiled and invited her to church that Sunday and we went our merry way.

3) Mexicans love their music. When they want to sing and listen to music. They SING and they LISTEN to music. Every house has those 10 piece stereos and they crank up the volume. Literally it looks like the houses are shaking sometimes the music is so loud.

4) When a business wants to publicize an event or product, the most common technique to market said product is: A) Pull out your car. B) Strap two large speakers on the top of said car. 3) Drive through the entire pueblo with an audio recording blasting from the car about the event or product.

5) There are more motorcycles than cars here. Literally I have seen a family of 4, with their groceries, and a stack of bricks, riding on the same motorcycle.

Just a few other impressions of the country that I love.

Well, this week was great for Elder Lopez and I. We have begun to find the rhythm when it comes to teaching, planning, and finding. He really is a great Elder and has such a strong desire to be here. He has a strong testimony as well. We talk a lot about spiritual experiences and where our testimonies are at. We are committed to supporting each other and helping each other grow spiritually during our time together. He is so serious though (more serious than me). So I have been trying to break him out of his shell and make him show a little emotion. Naturally then, I do things like nudge him while we are walking in the street, tell embarrassing stories about myself, and sing at the top of my lungs in public to the few Latin Music hits that I have memorized because they play them so often. It is working.

This last Monday I had a really sweet experience. I remembered that there was an elderly man in our ward named Hermano Oscar that had told us that has never had a Family Home Evening in his house before. He lives alone but is such a good member. Every time we enter his house he has his scriptures and church manuals out on his table, open, with his highlighters and pencils. He loves to study and has such a strong testimony. This last Monday we decided to surprise him. We went to his house, knocked on the door, and told him that we were there to have his first Family Home Evening. His face brightened up and he got so excited! We sang, taught a little about the Book of Mormon, challenged him to begin reading it again, and then watched the animated Book of Mormon DVD with Nephi and the Brass Plates. Leaving his house that night I felt so good. It really does feel so good to serve people and go out of your way to help them feel good and loved.

I love this gospel. The Lord has blessed us with new investigators this week and with chances to love and serve the members of the branch. I know that my Savior lives and that he love me very much. Every time I think about what he has done for me. The sacrifice he made for me. I start to cry. Because it is perfect. If I rely on him. If I truly rely on him and give everything I have. Then it is enough. My goal is to love and serve; love and serve; love and serve; and love and serve some more. Every day I can see myself changing little by little. That truly is the most beautiful thing about life. The ability to change. The ability to repent. And the ability to start over again. God lives and he loves us. Go to him and you will find what you are truly looking for.

Thank you for your letters, cards, and thoughts that you leave with me. I love reading them and they truly help me so much. I pray for you all and love you all very much.

Elder Nielsen

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Our invitation to attend church with the Jehovah Witnesses!

Try pronouncing that one!

Local transportation!  This donkey was in the front yard of a member's house!

Me at the top of a hill overlooking my pueblo, Yautepec

Just some cows grazing in the river bed

Elder Lopez and I in the Mission Home

Elder Davis and I (my companion in the MTC that I had not seen in 6 months) were chosen to be trainers on the same day!  This is us with our new missionaries.

The Elders of Yautepec!  Elders Becerra, Abernathy, and me

I was happy, but the dog I picked up was not!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!

I hope that you are all doing extremely well and loving life! This week has been pretty big for me. I have learned a lot about myself and have recognized a few things that I have to change in order to be a better missionary and servant of my Savior Jesus Christ, but first, and you already know, it is time for impressions of Mexico.

1) So. The Mexican people have a very different idea of colors that look good painted on the house. I would say, generally speaking, that the most common types of colors would be flourescents. Lime Green, Purple, Pink, and Orange. 

2) Calling people by their skin color is not totally uncommon or even considered rude. If you have white skin, they just call you whitey. If you have black skin, they call you black. If you have brown skin, they call you brown, etc. Also, I have found out that calling someone fat can be a term of affection here if used within the family unit. Literally, I have heard husbands say to their wives (roughly translated), "Hey fatty, get over here fast because the missionaries want to share a message with us." 

3) Continuing with the same train of thought as the last impression, there are famous treats here in Mexico called Negritos, or little black boy. On the rapper there is a black boy with a over-sized afro. They are basically like bread with chocolate on top and in the inside. But interesting name nonetheless.

4) So, the Jehovahs Witnesses. They knock on our door every Saturday around 10:00 a.m. while we are studying. This is basically how it goes. They knock. I check through the peephole just to make sure that it is them. And then open the door really quickly. There they are. Two women, dressed in bright colors, with their parasols and Bibles in hand. Every time I open the door quickly and they see me in my white shirt and tie with the nametag they always get this shocked, nervous look on their faces. One of them nervously thumbs through the Bible saying that they just want to share one verse from the Bible really quickly and then they will leave and the other invites me to their next activity. I actually feel sort of bad but they never learn their lesson. I would think that they would mark in their list that LOS MORMONES VIVEN EN ESTE APARTAMENTO. NO TOQUEN.

I truly love this country. The more I think about the quirky, funny things that I find every week, the more I love this country and the people that compose it. 

Elder Lopez is doing great! He is nervous and quiet but really wants to learn how to teach well and be the best missionary that he can are working on that! I have really been trying to help him in every way that I can. I remember how nervous and uncomfortable I felt during those first weeks in the field and so I always check to see how he is feeling, or what he is thinking, and praying for guidance on how I can help him best. We have been pounding the pavement this week for sure. Teaching, looking for investigators, accidentally knocking on the door of Jehovahs Witnesses when we were looking for less-active members, etc. It has definitely been a tiring week. But so good. Because I have learned a huge lesson that I have been trying to learn for a long time.

I have been pondering a lot about charity this week. Loving people. Sometimes it is so hard. Because not everyone is extremely loveable. But I took the advice in Moroni and prayed for the gift of charity. That no matter the person, no matter what they say, what they do, or how they act towards me, that I will love them and see them as the Savior sees them and as my Heavenly Father sees them. I have definitely been tried in this area during the week. A lot of rejection, some rude comments, things happening that would normally make me criticize people in my mind, but every time I felt the desire to say or think something that would not edify or uplift someone else, I would check myself, not say it, and then pray in my mind for more charity and love. And it has been working.

My goal is to love everyone the best that I can. Smile at them. Greet them in the street. Help them to know in their minds, and feel in their hearts that they are loved and that they are important. Little by little I am trying to develop this love for myself, my companion, the members, less-actives, investigators, and people that we find in the street. And you know what? I have truly been so much more happy. More peaceful. The Lord has blessed me with more opportunities to serve strangers in the street and members and to love them even more deeply. Even if plans fall through, and investigators stop progressing, and the work is hard, I still feel that inner-peace because I know that I am doing all that I can to help the children of my Heavenly Father and my brothers and sisters. Without charity, I have come to find out, I am truly nothing as a missionary. It is the most important Christ-like quality that I am focusing on developing right now in my life.

I know that Christ lives. I know that each and every one of us are important to our Heavenly Father. He loves us. I felt his love envelope me this week during my prayers. He so wants to train and tutor us. Sometimes we put up our barriers, but the second we lower them, his love and power flow through and we can feel it. I want to thank you all for what you have done for me. The support and love and letters that I have received from you all. I love you all very much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, March 4, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!

Well, I can probably say that this has been the longest and the craziest week of my mission thus far. And I am about to tell you all about it.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) So, the dogs. Sometimes they are sweet and cute. Sometimes they look and act like they are going to kill me. There is a colonia in our area called the Huizachera, and it is notorious for having the most vicious dogs in the street. So, earlier this week, Elder Romero and I were trying to pin down a reference we received that lives in the Huizachera and we start to walk down their street. Immediately, two dogs start getting into the attack position and begin growling, snarling, and barking. We continue walking down the street and all of a sudden, four dogs run out of surrounding houses and begin growling and barking at us as well. Well, by this point, I am breathing really heavy and just focusing on staying calm (as Elder Romero told me...they can smell fear) and we finally make it to the end of the street. We ask two people where the house is and they point at a house....that is at the beginning of the street. So...we had to return. And needless to say, we experienced the same experience, with the same six dogs all over again.

More next week. I am actually really short on time but I want to share the big news of the week. So...on Thursday...I got the call...and it said...that I am going to train this transfer! The next day, Elder Romero and I head to Cuautla, I drop him off, we say goodbye, and then I head with Elder Becerra to have a meeting with President Kusch in Cuernavaca for the new trainers. After the meeting was over, the zone leaders told me that I had to stay with another Elder named Elder Azuara who was companion-less like me in the center of Cuautla. And today...I received my new companion and just arrived back in my own area for the first time since early Friday morning! Crazy huh?

So, my new companion is Elder Lopez and he is from Veracruz, Mexico. He is very nice. Very shy. And very quiet and nervous (I plan on working that out of him). But he seems very excited to be here and a little shell-shocked. I suppose all the same feelings that I had when I got here so I can definitely relate. I really am so excited to be with and train a new Elder. I have been thinking a lot about how I can help him and what I can do to make him feel comfortable and understand what it means to be a missionary. I did not have the experience that I wanted when I was trained and I do not want him to have the same experience. So I am going to work hard. Be obedient. Love and listen to him. And help him in any way that I can. I am actually super nervous as well. This is the first time that I have been the Senior companion and leading everything. But I know that my Heavenly Father will provide for me.

This week I have been thinking a lot about opposition and the knowledge that whenever something good and grand is about to happen that Satan is always there, pricking and poking at us, and trying to make us falter or lose sight of what is important. I have always been particularly drawn to the story of the encounter that Moses had with Satan in Moses Ch. 1 and the story of the first vision and Joseph Smith. I know that this principle is very true. That darkness, opposition, and struggles will always abound for our entire lives. But I have also come to know and understand another principle which is even more important to me. That God is greater and more powerful than any opposition or doubt that Satan can throw into my path. 

It is my testimony that God lives. That he loves us. That he truly, truly cares about us. In difficult moments, in moments when I have felt the weakest and most dependent, these have been the moments when he has made me feel the strongest. I absolutely love my Savior Jesus Christ. The more I learn of him and the more I teach of him, the more I love him. I truly, truly love him. And I want to be more like him each and every day. He is the Savior of my soul. My Redeemer. And I am willing to put everything on the line for him and the atoning sacrifice he made for me and for every single person that has lived, is currently living, or will live someday in the future.

So my family and friends, wish me luck! And pray for me! I need and feel the power of your prayers and thoughts in my life. I love you all very much. Until next week.

Elder Nielsen