Monday, July 29, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!
This week was both hard and wonderful. But I feel like that is usually how it is as a missionary. Every week has its challenges. But I also learn many new and valuable things that help me grow.

Impressions of Mexico!
1) There is one little combi (like a small little car used for public transport) that goes from Yautepec to Cuautla (the main city that is close by). Because there is only one, it is always (ALWAYS) packed to the brim with people and the things they are carrying to and from Cuautla (I have seen buckets full of chilis, tomatoes, flan, etc.). The seats get taken up first and if you are really in a hurry and all the seats are taken, you have to stand (very difficult for me because I am about a foot taller than the ceiling and have to bend my neck in an awkward position the entire 45 minute ride). My favorite is contacting people in combis because everyone just sits in silence and glares at one another and so when I start to talk to people everyone immediately turns and looks at me and listens to what I have to say!

2) The sister missionaries in my district were chased down in their area by a herd of angry bulls and had to sprint and hide in a ditch until they passed by (literally I think the toughest sister missionaries serve in Mexico). And Elder Lopez and I had to wait to cross the street as a 90 year old woman was herding a group of a 100 goats with rod.

3) This week someone gave Elder Lopez and I water from the tap and we both had what they lovingly call here "The Double Dragon". To be discreet, it is when you are really sick and your body tries to get rid of the trash in your stomach from both ends at the same time.
So, just to let you all know, the baptism did not work out with the family this week. We were pretty disappointed but that is how it goes sometimes. I have learned a whole ton about agency from working with this family. They have had so many spiritual experiences. God has answered them so many times in pretty miraculous ways that this church is true. But they still chose to not make the right decision. I know that I really love them because I was disappointed when they said no and so wanted them to make the right choice. But God gave us the gift to choose. And even though they said no, I have also felt and experienced absolute joy when my investigators say yes. And I am going to continue searching for those children that are ready to accept the restored gospel in their lives.

Elder Lopez and I now have to start building from scratch again. We need to start finding new people to teach. While Elder Lopez was dying from the stomach flu this week I had the chance to reflect on a few things that really helped me gain clarity on what God would have us do during our lives. I saw in my mind's eye a closed fist. It was tight. Stressed. Tired. I realized that that fist was me when I rely on myself and on my own strength (something that I still do a lot as a missionary). It is that part of me that wants to control everything and wants every outcome to be exactly as I would have it be. And when it does not happen I try to tighten my control, but it will never make me happy. Then in my mind's eye I saw myself slowly relaxing my hand and letting go, and immediately another hand grasped onto my hand. It filled me with so much happiness, peace, and security. I know that that hand represents my Heavenly Father, my Savior, and the Holy Ghost. I need to learn to let go and rely on them completely. I had the impression that a lot of the time I am beating against a brick wall, trying to do everything on my own, when they are begging me to let go of that necessity and allow them to guide me to where I need to be through revelation. I am going to improve that this week. I am going to let them guide me. It makes me feel vulnerable, but I also know that when I do it, I will feel the most peace and satisfaction possible.
I am so grateful for the lessons that my Father in Heaven teaches me every week. I love feeling his love and that he his proud of me. There is nothing else that I would rather have. I know God lives. This gospel is very real to me now. Even more real than it was before. The Atonement has and will continue to change me. I love Mexico. I love the people here. I love working amongst them and experiencing life the way they have always known it. Jesus is the Christ. The Savior and Redeemer of mankind. I love being a missionary! I love you all so much and hope that you feel the love of your Father in Heaven every single day as well.

Elder Nielsen

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Genaro and Maria had a very spiritual baptismal service in the branch!

Hello Family and Friends!
It is hot. Like, so hot. Like so, so, hot. But I am so excited for this family we are teaching! They accepted the invitation to be baptized this Saturday and so we are going to work hard to help them make it!

Impressions of Mexico!
1) Apparently children here have the perception from a very young age that people with colorful eyes do not see as well as people with dark eyes. Because apparently they see everything with a blue or green tint. :0

2) Normal mayonnaise does not exist in Mexico. It is mayonnaise with lemon juice and it is delightful I might add.

3) We have progressed when it comes to the baptismal font. Now we do not have to fill it by pulling water out of the underground water supply at the chapel. We now have to connect a hose to a tank of water in the roof of the chapel and use said hose to fill it. It is about a two hour process.

4) It is a daily occurrance now. We spend every night running home in pouring rain. On Saturday night a crack of lightning fell really close to our house. :0

5) The slightly intoxicated men in the streets never cease to make me laugh. This past week we were walking to catch the combi to Cuautla and one stopped us in the street and told me that I had been avoiding him because I know that he is the devil. This occurred at 2 in the afternoon.
Two of our investigators Genaro and María were baptized this week in the branch! Their baptismal service was very spiritual. Even more so because the branch was very supportive and is starting to get really excited to participate in missionary work again. It is very fulfilling to go to church every week and see new members and less-actives that we have helped reactivate attending. Elder Lopez and I have really worked hard in this little branch and we are starting to see the fruits of that hard work.

I feel very peaceful and very happy with where I am and with what I am doing. I love my little pueblo and my little branch of members. They are so quirky (the Elders Quorum President, who looks like Charlie Chaplin, comes to church every Sunday in a cowboy hat and passes out fruit during the class), but I love them a lot. I love this family that is going to be baptized. I know that I am exactly where my Heavenly Father would have me be. I am learning how to trust in him completely and letting him work through me to save his sons and daughters. I am finding joy in my service. I feel the Spirit guiding us to people that need our help. I still have so much to learn and so much growth to experience. But I know that through the Atonement that I will grow and I will learn.
I am so grateful for the opportunity I have been given to serve a mission. I know that Christ lives. I know that this life is just a short test for each and every one of us. Trials come and they try us to the very center. But each and every day, if I surrender to my Heavenly Father and his will for me, I find peace and I ultimately grow. I am learning and beginning to understand how much God loves us. And how he, as he says in the scriptures, is continually extending his arm of mercy towards his children and pleading for them to repent and become more like his son. We are lead to these people everyday. If everyone we taught really understood the love that God has for them, this world would change. We would be better. We would be content with what we have (including the trials), and we would do our best to serve and love others.

I will forever be grateful for the Atonement of Jesus Christ and for the strength I receive everyday from this sacrifice. I love you all very much and hope you have an amazing week.  

Elder Nielsen

P.S. The photographer captured an amazing moment for Elder Lopez.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!
To start off...Impressions of Mexico!

1) There is a really famous gel here in Mexico called Gorilla Snot.

2) This week, one of the sisters that we were going to eat with was not home (a clear sign that she probably forgot) so we went with our neighbor and best friend Hna. Edith. We arrived, without notice, and she said, basically, "I do not have a lot, but I will just have to whip you up something quick." Now. In the United States that would mean fast food or Mac n' Cheese or a sandwich. Here in Mexico, that meant flavored water, lentil soup, tortillas, chicken with mole, and beans. You can start to see why I love being here.

3) Missionary Lingo: The Elder or Sister you train is your son or daughter and you are their dad or mom. When you are the companion of and elder or sister that is about to finish their mission you "kill them". About four months before you are about to finish your mission everyone starts to call you "muerto" or, basically "dead". Sometimes as missionaries we do not think about how our conversations would sound to those that do not understand these terms. Hermana Pech and I got a lot of weird looks from people in the small, cramped bus that we ride back to Yautepec when I asked her if she was about to receive her second or third daughter in the mission and when she asked me if I had killed Elder Miguel in Iguala.
This week was tough for Elder Lopez and I. But there were also some huge bright spots. We had dropped a family that we were teaching because they had stopped progressing. But had the feeling that we should contact them two weeks ago to see how they were doing. They were so excited to see us and expressed desires to start learning again. They have come to church two weeks in a row, the Mom has stopped drinking coffee and paid tithing for the first time on Sunday. They are starting to exercise their faith and I can see their desire to be baptized and to change growing. I hope that I will have more good news about them next week!

Something that I have seen a lot on my mission is the absolute fear that people have of changing. It either appears impossible, too difficult, or not worth the time and effort to most people. Some people have even fallen into the trap of thinking that it is unjust to ask people to change and repent because they were born that way, live that way, and will die that way. I was reading in Isaiah this week a verse that says that the mountains will depart and the hills shall be removed but my kindness shall not depart, and the covenant of my peace shall not be removed. God has called each and every one of us to pass through periods in our lives when mountains need to be leveled and hills need to be removed. We must repent. We must change. We must all go through the healing process of the Atonement. But the Savior has promised us that through his mercy, grace, and peace; we will have the strength to handle and endure those trying moments. They are so trying but so worth it. If we have the courage to change, God blesses us with the strength to overcome those mountains and challenges. He grants us peace as he removes those hills. I testify of that.
I know that Christ lives. His Atonement requires us to sacrifice and change. He calls us to repentance so that we will one day stand pure and clean before him and our Heavenly Father. I am so grateful for the promise that if I am obedient and give all of myself, including the willingness to change, that I will one day be with my family, my Savior, and my Father in Heaven forever. So I will continue to depend on the Lord for everything, and then strive to serve him with all my heart, might, mind, and strength.

I love you all so very much.
Elder Nielsen

Monday, July 8, 2013

The BIGGEST lemon I have ever seen!

Hello Family and Friends!
So we got our call pertaining to transfers on Saturday night....and....Elder Lopez and I will be staying here in Yautepec, together, for another transfer! It is our fourth transfer as companions! The members have been telling us that we should start looking for our own plot of land here in the pueblo. We are going to start looking into that. But first...Impressions of Mexico!

1) Summer vacations are super short here in Mexico. The kids are just starting to finish classes right now and they have to go back in mid-August. Sad.

2) This week, during one of our meals, Elder Lopez bit into a jalapeño chili and the juice squirted directly into my eye. Like directly and the velocity was high. I spent 10 minutes washing my eye out with cold water, and when I returned, all he told me was that I was lucky it was not a Habanero because I would have died...

3) I have been asked repeatedly (but repeatedly) if I color my hair and if my eyes are natural. They honestly do not believe that my hair and eyes are natural. It is my favorite when I see Mexican women, morenitas (very dark skin), with beach blonde hair. Natural. Very natural. It happens a lot. Everyone wants to be blonde.
I want to share with you all the best ways that I have found in getting people to talk with me about the restored gospel.

Situation: Elder Nielsen and Elder Lopez are walking towards the house of an active member that they have known for months. They see a woman hanging her clothes to dry on a clothes-line outside of her house and want to talk with her but do not know how to start the conversation.
Solution: Act like you are lost and ask for directions or if they know where the member you are about to visit lives.

The solution is always to act like you are lost. Ask them if they know the street or the person that you are looking for, and then slowly ease your way into a conversation. Other solutions: Ask them for a cup of water. Tell them that you would like to offer a prayer with them and their family for "a minute", etc. I have gotten very good at sweet-talking people into talking with us. I love talking with the Mexican people. They are so humble and so open. You really get to know them well within the first 10 minutes because they love telling you about their lives. What they have seen. What they have gone through. And with complete strangers. I love it. I want to be more open like them.
I am very tired. Like, physically exhausted. But very peaceful and content. I have begun to read the Book of Mormon again from the beginning. But this time, paying very close attention to every passage that talks about Christ and his Atonement. I want everyone I meet to understand the healing power of the Atonement. That through that sacrifice, we obtain mercy and grace. If we prove to be faithful, obedient, and strive to develop the attributes of Christ, we can one day stand before God, purified, clean, proven, worthy, and refined. It is through his sacrifice that we know that death is not the end. That this life is just a short test of our willingness to endure to the end, develop faith, and be obedient. I want so badly to help other people understand that. What we do in this life matters. It is of eternal consequence the decisions that we make. I see so many, that are so young, but they have just given up trying. They live just to live. Life is so much more than that. We live to grow and become better. And that growth comes from complete reliance on the Savior and his Atonement.

I know God lives. Jesus is the Christ. I cannot wait for the day that I will see him. I know he loves me. He is so merciful with me because I am so imperfect. I know that death is not the end of existence. I know that this church is true and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God.
I love you all so much. And I hope you all have an amazing week!

Elder Nielsen
P.S. The picture is of me, starting to eat the largest lemon that I have ever seen in my life.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Great Week!

Sindi is Baptized!

It's Been An Amazing Year!

Hello Family and Friends!
I cannot believe that I will complete a year as a missionary in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this Friday! Literally time has gone by so fast. I am grateful for every moment because every moment has taught me something. I am learning how to become more and more like my Savior every single day. And I would not trade that for anything.

Impressions of Mexico!
1) Due to the absolute love the people have here for soccer, a common thing that missionaries do as they walk through the street is practice their "fancy" soccer moves with small rocks and pebbles. Well...this week...when I tried to kick a small rock it ended up hitting the front fender of a parked car. There was no damage...but what made it embarrassing was that it was the car of the guy walking right behind us. Also, my companion was trying some "fancy" soccer moves later in the week, kicked a rock, that hit a little kid walking by in the leg. He gave us a nasty look. We have decided to cease all fancy soccer tricks.

2) There is a famous bottled salsa here in Mexico called Valentina that they put on everything (it is like Ketchup in the U.S.A). I can proudly say, that after much struggle, I finished my first bottle!

3) My companion complains about the stereotypes that people in the United States have about Mexico (by the way, everyone here thinks that Americans are pure white, blonde, with blue eyes, sitting on their couches, fat, eating hamburgers, pizza, and hot dogs). Literally we were walking down the street and he was saying that the sombreros, gun slinging men riding horses with large moustaches, etc. are just stereotypes. In that exact moment...A man, with a large sombrero, huge moustache, riding a horse, herding cattle, passed by us. Enough said.

4) I cannot remember if I have said this before (it has been a year after all). But small, little stores are so common here. If you want to start a business, you start a store. They are basically just full of junk food and Coke (I am not complaining) and there about 3 in every single street.

5) Businesses are almost always connected to homes. Like, everyone has their business in the front room and either upstairs or in the rooms behind is their home.
We had another baptism this week! Her named is Sindi (I know. She reprimanded me when she found out that I was writing her named like the normal "Cindy" in my planner). And she is 16 years old. She was really just one of those investigators that was a pleasure to teach because she was prepared to receive the gospel long before we arrived. Her faith is so strong. She accepted to live every commandment in the first lesson and has such a strong testimony of the Restoration. During her baptism I felt the spirit so strongly. I felt the sacredness and the importance of what was happening. Really, baptismal services for missionaries are moments of pure joy. I have really come to love the people I teach. I love this little branch I am in. My mission is teaching me how to love complete strangers in the way the Savior loves each and every one of us.

My companion calls me Latin now and I take that as a compliment. I mean, I eat chili jalapeño without problems now and I think banda music is catchy. I truly love the culture here. The people are so humble. There are so many people here that live in circumstances that I had never seen before my mission but they are so happy. The Lord has humbled them and they are so prepared to receive the gospel. I want to be more like them, and I think that is why I love them so much. Humble, content, reliant on God, and so grateful for everything that I receive from him. I am so excited to be here for another year!
I have a testimony that God lives. The more I have dedicated myself to becoming more like my Savior and serving him with everything I have, the happier I feel. God has taught me a lot of patience this week. I am learning how to be strong and immovable during trials and challenges. Christ lives. He gave his life for me. And for each and every one of us. I have felt his love so strongly. When I feel weak, when I feel inadequate, I picture him with me. Guiding me and putting me with specific people and specific situations that will help me grow and become the man that I am supposed to be. It is through his Atonement that I can return to live with my Heavenly Father again, sealed in an eternal family. I just feel very grateful. Very happy. And very content.

I love you all so very much.
Elder Nielsen