Monday, April 29, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!
Things are really starting to heat up down here! Literally I have been awaiting the month of May with great anticipation for quite some time now. Everyone has always told me basically, "If you think that it is hot now, just you wait until May roles around." Well. May is coming and literally at 10:00 a.m. the heat is similar to being in the desert in the middle of Summer!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) I think I have become an expert (after 10 months) with the tortilla. I actually am more efficient in eating with the tortilla than I am with utensils now. The members have been teaching me techniques for months now and I have finally mastered them. I can now offically call myself Mexican.

2) Just in case you were wondering, the Virgin of Guadalupe is still alive and well here in Mexico. This week a Sister in the Branch told me that she received her answer that the church was true because she prayed to the spirit of the Virgin. *Elder Nielsen Jaw Drop*

As you can see. Little by little I am becoming more Mexican. The members are actually calling me "Guero" (white boy) less and less and less and are actually calling me "Morenito" now (slightly brown boy) due to the fact that I am starting to tan! I actually prefer tortilla to bread. Food does not have a lot of taste now without at least a little salsa and I am starting to understand almost all the jokes that people say in Spanish now!

This week was actually really good for Elder Lopez and I. We have been teaching a single mother named Malena and her four children for quite some time now. She had been meeting with a ton of different religions before us, and, therefore, had a very distorted impression of the church. Her main doubt (and actually one of the biggest distortations of the church here in Mexico) is that we worship Joseph Smith and pray to him for our Salvation. So we have taught her and worked with her and she is progressing so much. She loves the Book of Mormon. She is coming to church. She is just having a lot of trouble recognizing her answer that the church is true. This week she told us that during one of our lessons, she was listening and just feeling very calm and peaceful. She then looked at my companion and saw a light over his head that filled her with peace. She then said that she looked at me and said that she felt such a strong peace and tranquility fall over her as I was looking at her in the eyes. The Spirit truly works through us if we are in tune with him. He is the key in all of this. I feel empty when he is not with me now.
I love this Gospel. I love my Savior Jesus Christ. I know I say this every week but it is so true. I rely on them and on the Holy Ghost and through them, I truly find peace on a day to day basis. Sometimes a simple testimony is all that we need to express in order to change the hearts of people. I know that God lives. Jesus is the Christ. Life continues on after death. I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. I know that through the Atonement I can return to live with my Father in Heaven again with my family, having overcome every challenge and every difficulty that life presents me because of the foundation on which I choose to build myself. This life is so short, and being seperated from "the world" for 10 months has helped me to know how meaningless a lot of the things of the world really are. Even though serving a mission has been hard, I can truly say that it has brought me the most happiness as well.

I love you all. So very much. And pray for your well-being. I hope you truly feel the love your Savior and Heavenly Father have for you as well.
Elder Nielsen

Monday, April 22, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!
Well. To put it shortly. This week has been just a little wild and crazy. Including: Planning and executing a marriage by going to Chilpancingo, Guerrero to be witnesses in the wedding of two of our investigators (Jaime and Gemma) and filling the baptismal font manually. And when I say manually, I mean, with a bucket that had wire wrapped around the handle. We dipped said bucket into the underground reserve of water at the chapel and pulled up the water (sort of like a well) and then filled up empty trash cans that were inside the chapel with the water that we pulled up. We then had to carry the trash cans of water to the chapel (which was not close) and dump the water into the baptismal font. All because we found out that the pump that helps to fill the baptismal font was not working. But that is all secondary to the fact that we had three baptisms this week in Lomas del Real! Jaime and (now his wife) Gemma. And an 18 year old named Alexis!
Impressions of Mexico!

1) So, the churches here in Mexico do not have the legal power to marry like they do in the United States. To be married by the government is extremely expensive and requires a lot of tests and other regulations that many cannot afford to do. So many live in open relationships as a result. But when they meet the missionaries and have the desire to be baptized, they find out that in order to be baptized, they need to be married. So (and yes...I know how this is going to sound), the mission has designated "areas" where couples can go to be married with less government regulation and where it costs a lot less. For that reason, I spent a day in Chilpancingo, Guerrero (about 3 hours away from my area).

2) The owner of the laundry mat that we go to is a Jehovah's Witness. Every week she prods us to take one of the Atalaya's (basically like the Ensign but for the J.W.s). And so this week I started to ask her about her beliefs. Poor thing. She had a bunch of papers in her hand and her hand was literally shaking she was so nervous. But she invited us to come and talk with her family!

3) I found a store here in Yautepec that sells...Dr. Pepper! Not just Dr. Pepper. But Cherry and Diet Dr. Pepper as well! This truly is a rare find in a country were if a store does not sell Coke there are mini-revolutions among the people.

4) I forgot to mention this. But a few weeks ago I washed my clothes. On concrete. With a bucket of soapy water. I basically just dipped the clothing in the bucket and began scrubbing.

5) So, a lot of times the members offer to buy us food or snacks as people pass by in the streets selling. A lot of times I do not know the name of what they want to buy me, I just always say yes. This week Hna. Margarita offered to buy us something from a lady passing by and I said yes. She pulled out a beautiful, long piece of corn-on-the-cob and I was literally so excited. She then proceeded to brush warm cream all over it, then sprinkle cheese all over the warm cream, and finished it off by sprinkling chili-powder. Bienvenidos a Mico.
This week has been so busy. My companion and I were about to pass out due to stress in many instances. But we did it! Jaime and Gemma got married on Friday. Had their baptismal interview Friday night. Baptized Saturday night. And Confirmed on Sunday! Alexis as well was interviewed, baptized, and confirmed!

As we were leaving their marriage ceremony in Chilpancingo, Jaime was talking to me and said that he just felt so good. Like he had done something right. He then said, I cannot imagine how it will be when I am sealed in the temple with my family. Their family is very special to me. They have literally experienced so much trial but they are examples of people that the Lord prepares to receive the restored gospel. They will forever be my sassy friends here in Yautepec and I want to see them when they are sealed in the temple.
Teaching Alexis has truly taught me patience. From the beginning he had a desire to know and prayed and received an answer that the church is true...but...he had been smoking from an early age. So we worked with him. Building his faith and helping him to let go. Little by little he was able to do and is now a member of the church as well!

I love my Savior so much. Just the way he tutors me and the experiences he gives me. It is just perfect when I look back at what has happened. During the two baptismal services I was just so happy. Just thinking about that moment when they leave the water. Clean. Pure. Ready to start anew again. I really feel love for these three new members of the church.

I know God lives. Everyday I want to feel closer to him. I want to be more like my Savior. I want so badly to be the best missionary that I can be. Teaching, loving, and serving others. Becoming what our Heavenly Father wants us to become is very difficult. It requires consecration. Sacrifice. Pure love and charity. And a lot of faith. I was reading a talk that said that knees bow long before minds bend. When the Lord tells us to give everything, we literally have to give everything. Real humility. Real submissiveness. And then we truly begin to grow.
I want to close with a story about someone that I have truly begun to love because of his progression. I have talked about him before but his name is Raul Bahena. Right now we are teaching him and preparing him to receive the Aaronic Priesthood. Yesterday he told us that he wants to change his life. He is giving up smoking. He is building his faith in Christ. And he now goes to church every Sunday with his family. The gospel changes the lives of everyone. And through the service of others, it is changing mine.

I love you all.
Elder Nielsen

Monday, April 15, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!

Well I have actually been feeling pretty exhausted physically this last week. I think that the time change had something to do with it. But Elder Lopez and I are continuing the fight here in Lomas del Real, Yautepec!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) So, when the farmers and people that work in the field here in Mexico want to get rid of plants that are unneeded, they burn them. Unfortunately for the missionaries, this causes a periodic "rain" of charred plant that falls from the sky and lands on our white shirts. If you touch it or try to wipe it off, it will only stain your shirt so you literally have to blow it off of you.
2) Shorts are just not popular here. It can be like over 100 degrees and the humidity could be sky-rocketing through the roof but everyone here is still determined to put on their pants.
3) Every Saturday here in Yautepec they have a street market in one of the colonias in our area and sometimes we have to pass through it in order to go to an appointment. The people selling are constantly shouting out the prices trying to lure people over and convince them that their dead chickens (complete with head and feet) are better than the dead chickens that the other guy is selling two booths over. Well, when we pass through, all of the people stop shouting the prices and start shouting "white boy, look at these beautiful hamocs" or "white boy, look at these beautiful strawberries" etc. People in Mexico think that the Mormon Missionaries = Walking ATMs.

Just a few more impressions and thoughts about the country that I am growing to love more and more each and every week that I am here. Literally, I am going to miss this country when I return. The food, people, and basically just the culture in general sink into me a little more every week. I love the Mexican people. Something that I honestly could not say at the beginning of my mission. But with time, as my ability grew to communicate and as I prayed for charity and love every night during my prayers, my Heavenly Father has blessed me with the love that I have been seeking. I know that I have definitely been called here for a reason.

This morning I was studying in Alma 32 in the Book of Mormon and thinking a lot about my faith and where it is at. I began to think about my mission and everything that has happened so far to me. I remembered a prayer that I had during my first transfer in the mission field. I do not know if you all remember my first companion, but, he definitely was a test for me. I remembered that one day I had had enough. Literally I was ready to throw in the towel. I felt like I was tied, tightly. Like I had no way out and no source of help. I was scared because I could not speak Spanish or understand anyone and did not feel like I was receiving any help from my trainer. I remember that we were talking and I left the room that we were in, feeling angry, confused, and once again, tied down. I remember that I went into the other room and kneeled down at the table and began to pray. All I remember saying was that I did not know what to do. That I needed help. After I had made this admission, that I needed help, the sweetest feelings of peace poured over my body and filled me up. I remember that I felt empowered in the exact moment that I had made a declaration of my weakness and my inability to resolve the problems I had and face what seemed like the insurmountable mountains that I had to climb. I felt strong in my weakness and I felt freed even though the trials had not been taken away.

My Heavenly Father has definitely taught me in my weakness. He has shown me that he loves me perfectly and knows me perfectly. A lot of times I fall in the trap of asking, "Why is this happening to me? I deserve something different." But while I was studying and reading the last verses of this chapter when it talks about the need to care for our faith with great diligence and patience, and that one day, we will see the fruits of our labors, I was filled with peace. Just with the knowledge that if I am giving it my all. If I truly am sacrificing and striving to become more like my Savior daily and giving every ounce of energy that I have, then I am alright. Everything is alright.

Well, I love you all very much. I say this every week but it is so true. I love you and want the best for you. I know that Christ lives. He is the Savior and Redeemer of mankind. I love him so much. Through his Atonement I can change everything. I can become what my Heavenly Father knows I can become. I know that there is a plan for me. I do not know what this plan is, but I know that it exists. And I know that if I remain faithful, that every promised blessing will come. Every sacrifice will be worth it. I just know it and feel it. This is the work of my Heavenly Father and it will always roll forward.

Thank you for your love and prayers. I feel them and you need to know that they strengthen me. I hope that you all feel my love for you as well.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, April 8, 2013

I love being a missionary!

For you Dad!

The view from the pyramid

Preaching the gospel to the people of Mexico like Samuel the Lamanite!

A pyramid in our area!

Ancient carvings on the pyramid

Hello Family and Friends!

Well General Conference was amazing! I have talked a little about Elder Becerra (his last name translated into English means fatted calf...and he is not the smallest of fellows) before but we have really become good friends here in the mission field. We are both training here in Yautepec (he is in the ward, and I am in the branch). He is basically fluent in I made him sit in the office of the secretary in the chapel and watch all of the sessions of General Conference in English with me...maybe I did not. But I was definitely inspired. I want to do as the General Authorities said and go and be both a hearer and a doer of the word now. Apply what I learned to my life and be a better disciple of my Savior Jesus Christ. But first...

Impressions of Mexico!

1) Well, the sun has gotten so intense here that I have started to lather myself with sunscreen every morning before we leave. Literally, at the height of the heat during the day, my feet feel like they are slow-churning routissere chickens inside of my shoes.
2) One of the delicacies here in Mexico is literally burnt chicken. We walk past a store every now and again that just has full-on chickens being burned and roasted until they are charred. And then people actually buy them and eat them.
3) I have had a few interesting animal experiences this week. First, we had to exterminate an entire army of cockroaches that had invaded our bathroom. Second, when we were taking out the trash I felt something on my leg and as I tried to brush it off I looked down and noticed that it was a straight-up salimander-looking lizard. I did not handle that one as well as I would have hoped.

I am so grateful for the opportunity that I have to serve the Mexican people. I really have gained, through many different and small experiences, a love for them. They are so sweet, so quirky, so funny, and so willing to give whatever they have in order to help the people that they love. We could all learn a little by getting to know their culture.

Elder Lopez is doing great and is definitely settling into the life of a missionary. He just lacks a lot of confidence in himself and so feels a little shy and nervous when talking to people. I try to be encouraging and supportive and tell him that he can, basically, by making him do it. I give him the opportunity to lead frequently in planning, teaching, and finding people. I want him to feel like he can do it. Like he can do everything that is required of a missionary. I am doing my best to be a good trainer!

We both had a really cool spiritual experience this week. We have been teaching a less-active family named the Bahena Family. They are all baptized and confirmed, and are a family of 6. The mom and the children have been coming back to church again but the dad, Raul, has been dragging his heals. This week we had planned to visit them in the nightime and had another appointment with a family that we are teaching earlier. We had planned to show this family the DVD The Testaments to help their faith grow concerning the Book of Mormon. But surprisingly, their DVD player, which works completely well, would not load the movie. Well, we taught them without the movie and did not really think much of it. Later when we arrived at the home of the Bahena Family, I had the distinct impression to play the movie. So we watched it with them. After the movie finished, and they turned on the lights, both Raul and his wife Ofelia were in tears. He told us that the night before, he had dreamed the exact scenes that are in the movie of the Atonement of Christ. He said that he was ready to start changing his life and live in accordance with the teachings of the Savior.

How grateful I am for the role the Holy Ghost plays in missionary work. We would have never had that experience if we had not listened to him and done as he had said. The more time passes away in my mission the more grateful I have become for the sweet, peaceful, and loving presence of this Spirit in my life. I crave after it. It is so noticeable when he is not with me. I strive to literally always have him to be with me, because with him, I can do all things, and without him, I am nothing.

I am so grateful for the opportunity I have to serve a mission. As the weeks and months go by, my labor becomes less and less about me and more and more about helping others grow their faith in Christ and his restored gospel. When I think about others, and their needs, and deny myself of what I feel like I want, then I am truly happier and learn so much more about myself. I love putting everything I know and everything I have learned into action as well. Teaching, edifying, serving, and uplifting when I can. I have felt, very strongly this week the gravity of my imperfections, how far away from the mark I really am. But I have also felt, through very sweet and tender experiences and feeling that my Father in Heaven is so proud of me. And that he loves me. So much. I just know that I am doing the right thing. That I am meant to be here during this time in my life. And that no matter what happens, it is worth it. Every hour, every minute, every experience both good and bad, it is all worth it.

I know that Jesus is the Christ. He lives! He loves me. I testify of him daily. The power of his Atonement and the absolute alleviation of pain and suffering and guilt we can experience if we repent. I know, beyond any doubt that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that he restored the gospel of Jesus Christ here on the earth. I know the Book of Mormon and Bible are the word of God. I have so much love for the Restored Gospel.

I love you all. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Thank you for your letters, packages, prayers, and thoughts. I hope that you are loving others and that you feel loved in return.

Elder Nielsen

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!

Well, this week was tough. I am pretty sick in my stomach. We hardly left to work this week actually for that very same reason. Today the mission doctor assigned me some antibiotics that I can take so I hope that I improve quickly so that I can begin working again! 

Impressions of Mexico!

1) You always know when someone has passed away in Mexico because they close off the street where this person lives, set up 50 or so folding chairs, and have a Catholic Religious Ceremony. Then, after the ceremony is finished, the people just sit there in silence.

2) So, because I have been ill almost the entire week, the word has obviously gotten around to the sisters in the branch. The cool thing here is that the members treat the missionaries like their own children. They have been bringing me chicken soup, strange drinks and teas that will supposedly make me feel better immediately, pills that I have never seen before, etc. I really have felt loved by them this week.

3) When I was feeling a little better, we went out for an hour or two to some of the appointments we had. One of them was a family home evening and, of course, they prepared sandwiches, cake, etc. Well, you should all know by now the relationship that the Mexian people have with food.  Even though they knew that I was sick, they still kept trying to offer me the sandwich (which had beans and cheese on it...not the best thing to give to a nauseous person). Then when I held my ground on the sandwich, they moved onto fruit, parts of the sandwich, orange juice, etc. They would not give up. So I finally just told them to make a sandwich for me that I could take home. This finally appeased the sisters and I left unscathed.

Well, as I said at the beginning of the email, this week has been tough. It is the worst when you want to go out and work but you cannot because you are not physically able to do so. I spent a lot of time thinking about my Savior. And his Atonement. I had the thought that, during the Atonement, he also suffered our physical diseases and illnesses. He knows exactly how I have felt this past week. Therefore, he is the only one that can succor my soul and bring peace. 

I just want to bear testimony to you all that he lives! Jesus Christ is the Savior and Redeemer of the World. I love him so much. I am putting in my best effort here but a lot of the time I feel so inadequate. So unfit for the task. I know that through the Atonement, every weakness that I want to change can and will be changed. I really love this quote that is in the movie 17 Miracles, "We know that through thy power what is small and weak may become great and significant." I have really felt the truth of those words this week. I want so badly to be more like him. To put everything on the line for him and for others. I have been thinking a lot about consecration this week as well. That the Lord asks us to give everything we have to help him. I feel like for the first time in my life, I am actually consecrating, or giving everything I have to my Heavenly Father and Savior.

I know that we have trials for wise reasons and purposes as well. Henry B. Eyring in a Conference Address called "Mountains to Climb" talked about his mother and how she suffered with cancer for 10 years before finally passing away. He said that the prophet spoke at her funeral and said that this trial she had was not because she had made a mistake in the past that deserved a punishment, rather, Heavenly Father just wanted her to be polished just a little more before calling her home again. I like that idea. That every challenge we have in life is our Heavenly Father polishing us, perfecting us, and refining us. He has to purge every imperfection or we cannot live in his presence. 

Just some thoughts that I have been having this week. Again, I bear testimony that Jesus Christ lives. He was resurrected. There is life after death. There is meaning to everything that happens during our lives. That he loves us all so very much. And that through him we can be made great and significant.

Savior, Redeemer of my soul. Whose mighty hands, have made me whole. Whose wonderous power hath raised me up. And filled with sweet my bitter cup. What tongue my gratitude can tell. Oh gracious God of Israel. Never can I repay thee Lord. But I can love thee, thy pure word. Hath it not been, my one delight. My joy by day, my dream by night. Then let my lips proclaim it still, and all my life reflect thy will. Overrule my acts to serve thy ends. Change frowning foes to smiling friends. Chasten my soul till I shall be, in perfect harmony with thee. Make me worthy of thy love. And fit me for the life above.

Elder Nielsen