Monday, September 30, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!

So there was a surprise when the changes arrived! I am not writing you from Altamirano, Guerrero but from a pueblo that is called Emiliano Zapata, in Morelos. Actually I am super close to my last area. President Kusch told me that it would be impossible for my new companion and I to arrive safely in Altamirano so we are here opening a different area in Morelos! My new companion is Elder Millan from Argentina. My first non-Mexican companion in the mission field! He seems like a great missionary and I am excited to get to know him more in the coming weeks!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) I literally saw a grandfather lifting and lowering three of his grandkids in the mouth of a John Deere tractor. Those little guys were having so much fun.

2) Sometimes members only think that coffee is bad if it is in the form of the drink. Therefore, it is not uncommon to receive coffee-flavored candy, cake, and ice-cream from strong members of the church.

This week was so fulfilling for me. And sad as well. I had to say goodbye to a lot of members and converts that I have come to love so very much. I grew to love them because I tried my best to serve them and teach them. I tried to be there for them always. I will never forget my branch in Yautepec. I will love and remember the people there always. Another very fulfilling thing that happened this week as well was the baptism of the Citalan Vazquez family. Jacob, Rachel, and Abihud! It was so touching to see them enter the waters of baptism and receive their confirmation. They were all so emotional and expressed how much this meant for them and their family. They are going to be amazing members of the church. The spirit was so strong during their confirmation that it brought me to tears. Just the thought that another family had come to a knowledge of the truth made me so emotional. Their faith and their desire to change. Beautiful. Pure joy on my part. It was a perfect last Sunday for me in the branch.

Something that I have come to know and understand very well, even before my mission, is that where there is greater light and truth being poured out from the windows of heaven, that there will also be greater darkness and opposition coming from the adversary. Because there was so much light this week, I also experienced a lot of opposition. Satan so desires to ruin or destroy completely everything that we love and appreciate. Everything that comes from God. He picks at our weaknesses and hits us where it hurts most. But I also know that the power of God and the power of the Atonement are far greater than anything that the adversary can bring against us. I know God lives. He is my father. I have grown to love him so much. I am learning to trust in him more and more. Sometimes he humbles me a lot. And I recognize the necessity of  that. But I think that he does it because he loves me and wants me to recognize him in everything. I feel very close to him now. I love feeling close to him. I love feeling the spirit. I love seeing myself and others change and become more like Christ.

I love you all so much. I promise to send pictures next week. We are in a big hurry today trying to figure out how to get around in our new area and getting the house in order. I hope that you all have an amazing week.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, September 23, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!
Well! Big announcement! President Kusch called this week and said that in a week I will be transferred to a branch that has been closed to missionary work for about 3 months in the state of Guerrero. The branch is called Altamirano and it is about 2 or 3 hours outside of my first zone Iguala! Apparently the branch has been struggling for some time now and does not have a lot of men that hold the priesthood. So, President Kusch is assigning me to serve as a counselor to the branch president and my new companion will serve as a secretary in the branch. I am nervous but excited at the same time! And I am going to enjoy my last week here in the branch!

Impressions of Mexico!
1) You just have to understand. Traffic rules do not exist in Mexico. At least not in Morelos. Something new that I saw this week was a person driving a straight-up four-wheeler down the street.

2) I know that I have already mentioned that dogs run wild here in the streets of Mexico. Something that I do not believe that I have mentioned before is that sometimes, when it is raining, they try to seek refuge inside of the chapel on Sunday. They wait patiently as the members file into the building and look for the opportunity to sneak into the door while the members are not paying attention. That happened yesterday.
We also had a baptism this week! His name is Luis Guillermo, a young man of 14 years of age. His friends invited him to EFY and he decided to go as a non-member. His mom was actually the one that wanted him to go so that he could have a "cultural experience". To her surprise, he got home and the first thing that he told her is that he wanted to be baptized and be a member of the church. So we got into contact with him and began teaching him about a month ago and his baptismal service was on Saturday! It was the most spiritual baptismal service that I have had as a missionary. The branch really took him in and loved him and about 40 members showed up to his baptismal service. I played the piano and we sang a special musical number with the sister missionaries. President Santos of the branch baptized him. It was a wonderful and peaceful experience. And if everything goes right, Jacob, Rachel, and Abiud should get baptized this Saturday, my last Saturday in the branch!

I feel very happy right now. I realize now, as my time in the branch is winding down to a close, how much I have grown in this little pueblo. How much I have learned to love these people. I love these people so much and I am going to miss them so much. There were a lot of days that were really difficult. There were a lot of problems here as well. But the beautiful and happy experiences are the ones that I am going to remember forever. God gave me a lot of gifts here. My faith grew in my Savior and in my Heavenly Father. My love for missionary work grew as well. I really came into my own in this branch. I will be forever grateful for the 8 months I was given here. And now I am ready for my next adventure!
I am grateful for this opportunity to serve. Every time I see one of my investigators enter the waters of baptism...when they descend those steps and walk slowly into the baptismal font, I mean, I cannot describe how I feel. I just feel like God is so present. I feel like he is so happy for the decision that this individual is making. They are his sons and daughters that have come to know the truth. And they are taking a step of faith. I know that the Doctrine of Christ is real. I know that Jesus Christ lives and is the Savior of the world. I know that God answers our prayers. That he loves us deeply and eternally. I know that obedience to the commandments sets us free and makes us happy and peaceful. I know that love really does cast out fear and that God is putting plans in place to save us, if we want to be saved. The Atonement is real. Repentance and change are real. I know and can testify of these things.

I love you all very much. I hope that you can feel the love that God has for you. He loves you all perfectly.
Elder Nielsen

P.S. I tried to upload pictures but the computer is being stupid. Until next week.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sister Deisi who has cut my hair for
free for the last 8 months!

My Mexican flag to celebrate
Mexican Independence!  Viva Mexico!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Opening the door to my apartment!

I have lived here for 8 months!

Hello Family and Friends!
Happy Mexican Independance! I have already told you all how the Mexican people love and know how to throw a good party. can pretty much guess then how their "4th of July" would be. They hated Spain just as much as we hated Great Britain. Parades, gun shots and what sounded like cannons going off yesterday night at midnight, flags waving from every house, etc. I love Mexico so much.

Impressions of Mexico!
1) Gel is heavily overused in Mexico. Women. Men. Children. Sometimes I think people wake up in the morning, stick their hands in the gel jar and scoop out a nice big handful of gel and just plop it on their heads. They have hair of steel.

2) People have told me, and I have also seen on many occasions, the fury of a Latina. You do not mess with them. They are the funnest people to be around, but when they get mad...beware.

3) As I am writing here there are many, more or less intoxicated people running around in the street shouting "¡Viva México! ¡Viva México!". It has been a fun weekend.

I do not have a lot of time to write today, but I just wanted to share some thoughts that I had this week. A week that truly has been very important to me both on a personal level and as my service as a missionary. Someone made a comment during church this week that went something like this, "We are all trying to return to live with our Heavenly Father again. I mean, who would not like to return to live with God again right?" For the first time, I truly thought about that statement, a statement that I have heard my entire life. I think a lot of us would like to return to live with him again, but when we hear or think about the price that will have to be paid to make it there, then we turn away and refuse to think about it. There are so many people that I have talked with and taught that have said they would love to return to live with their Heavenly Father, but when they hear about the commandments, obedience, repentance, and sacrifice, they choose to take a different path. They choose a path that is easy, satisfying in the now, and that just basically pacifies themselves for the time being. They refuse to think about the eternal and would rather just live life how they have always known it to be. I know and testify that the only way to return to live with God again is through obedience to his commandments and living the gospel of Jesus Christ. I want to live with God again. I realize how much still awaits me. I realize how much I will have to give if I want to make it. I love helping people realize what they need to do in order to be there. I love seeing people change. Repent. And have their faith grow in the Savior. Like this family we are teaching. I love them so much because they are accepting the commandments, repenting, and changing. Their countenances have changed. They are happier. They are more peaceful. They are feeling the Spirit and the love of their Heavenly Father.

I do not know exactly what the Celestial Kingdom will be like. I cannot comprehend what it would be like to be in the presence of God, my Savior, and my family forever. I cannot imagine also being able to see some of the people that I have taught and served while on my mission there as well. What joy that would be for me. I imagine that the celestial kingdom will be full of men and women that are pure. Tried. Proven. Full of faith, hope, and charity. That gave up everything (sins, weaknesses, appetites, passions) so that they could gain everything (eternal life with those they love). I invite you to make those sacrifices and changes. Choose today to be better and to repent. It brings so much peace. I have seen it. I am a witness of it, not just for myself, but for those that surround me as well.
I know that God and his son Jesus Christ are active in our lives. They put plans in place to save us. They love us so much that they give us trials, weaknesses, and hard times so that we can become refined, pure, and polished. We just need to trust in them as they do the polishing. I have learned that patience is key if we want to make it. We must learn to trust and be content. We must learn to serve and give of ourselves. We must learn above all, to love.

I love you all so very much. I love the Mexican people. Thank you for the love that you express towards me as well.
Elder Nielsen

P.S. This is where I have lived for eight months! My companion got a picture of me trying to shut our door. It is less-complicated than my facial-expression is telling you. Also, notice my Mexican-style backpack! I love it more than most things.

Monday, September 9, 2013

My District:  Elder Albizo, Elder Brooks, Elder Gonzalez, Me, Hermana Pech, and Hermana Lopez on top of the Pyramid in Tepoztlan!

Fried Locusts.  YUM!

Hello Family and Friends!
We just hiked the mountain in Tepoztlan as a district activity. One of the sister missionaries, Sister López (at about the halfway point), started saying, "I can't do it anymore. If I continue to climb this mountain I am going to die. Leave me here!" And I just kept lying to her and telling her that we were almost there (which we really were not...but I had to). Other interesting things that happened during the trip...I ate fried locust, we were so thirsty that some of the missionaries started to drink the water that was flowing in the rivers and falling off the rocks, Sister Pech got mad at me at the top of the pyramid and said that she was going to push me is always an interesting experience when we get together as a district.

Impressions of Mexico!
1) Mexican field workers...never stop working. Like there are literally 90 year-old men and women that you see walking in the street in their leather sandals, cowboy hats, shawls (for the women), and with their machetes. You can always tell that they are field workers if they walk around with machetes in the street.

2) They are building a Walmart here in Yautepec! Walmart is a sign of civilization in Mexico.

3) People here are so superstituous. Like, they always talk about ghosts and evil spirits invading their houses. Every Mexican has a good story about rebuking evil spirits.

4) In restaurants, it is very uncommon for the establishment to have matching plates and silverware. They almost always serve your food on the plastic plates you would buy for kids in walmart or other stores. Therefore every plate is unique and has different patterns and pictures. I like it.
The family that we are teaching is doing great! Their names are Jacob, Rachel, Abiud, and Abdial. They really are special people. We asked them this week if they have noticed any changes in their lives since they have started talking with us. Rachel started crying and said that she has gained so much more faith. That a peace and feeling of calm has entered their house and their lives that they had never felt before. And that they know that this church is true. I love it when people start to feel the spirit and start to make changes in their lives. When they start feeling the spirit they start to feel so happy. They feel that peace and that hope that comes with increased faith and with the knowledge that if they are faithful, then they will be able to return to live with our Heavenly Father again as families. It truly is such a blessing to see this process occur in people.

I feel very happy and content. I realize that I still have so much to learn. But I think that God is so happy when he sees that his children are happy. I used to think that the purpose to be here in this world was to suffer and grit your teeth and try to endure to the end. I was not always happy and I was robbed of a lot of peace. But what I have come to know as a missionary is that we can choose to be happy. We can choose to be content with who we are, what we are, and where we are. That does not mean that we stop improving. Or that we do not want to be better. It means that we are content with who we are in the moment. With where God wants us to be in that moment. And with what we are doing in the moment. There are so many that I have met that look into the future and only fix themselves on what they could be. What they could have. Where they could be going. And they forget to enjoy what is happening right around them in the moment. I know that God has plans for each and every one of us. There is a time and season for everything. I cannot imagine a God that would want us to always be discontent because we are always so focused on the future or on the past. Every moment, everything that happens to us, every person we meet, door we knock, lesson we teach, funny experience that happens is a gift from him. He has gifted me those experiences. And he wants me to enjoy and learn from every single one of them because he knows that they will lead me and shape me into the man and person that he wants me to become. So I guess I am happier and more content because I am learning to enjoy what God has been giving me every moment of mission and every moment of my life. I feel very blessed. That is something that the Mexican people, that I love so much, have taught me.

I know that God lives. I love telling people that he lives and that he loves them. Maybe there are many who do not believe me, but, my hope is that the spirit touches their hearts just a little when I have the chance to bear my testimony to them. I know Christ lives. He is my Savior. He is my Redeemer. He gave everything, both physically and spiritually, so that we could gain everything both physically and spiritually. The Book of Mormon is true. I have seen miracles occur in my mission by talking about that book. I will be eternally grateful for the chance that I have had to be a missionary and representative of my King, the Lord, and Redeemer Jesus Christ.

I love you all so very much.
Elder Nielsen

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!
I realized just now that I have lived in Mexico for a year. Like I arrived in Mexico a year ago tomorrow. I love these people. As more and more time passes by, I have seen this love grow. And I know that it will continue to grow as I continue serving them.

Impressions of Mexico!
1) Teeth. I would say 5 out of every 10 people have straight-up gold or silver teeth. And not hidden teeth either. Like their two front teeth are completely gold or at least surrounded by gold.

2) Other fun facts about the church in Mexico: Catholic traditions still run deep with a lot of the members. One elderly member got up to give the opening prayer in sacrament meeting and started it off by saying: "Our father which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name..." and I thought that we had just entered a session of Mass. The majority of the members say Doctrines and Covenants instead of Doctrine and Covenants. Instead of saying something like, "You cannot take the sacrament today" everyone here says, "You cannot take sacrament today".

3) Little kids often think that we are doctors, lawyers, or, if in a supermarket or store, that we work there.

4) The majority of the people here think that the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the church of the rich (principally because, well, our chapels and temples do stand out in comparison to the surrounding buildings). And they also pair the church up with the white boy walking around in the street in a dress shirt and tie.
This week for Elder Albizo and I was another solid week. We have been teaching a beautiful family of four and they have gone to church two weeks in a row! I do not think I mentioned this in my last letter, but the rules for baptism have changed in Mexico. Before, an investigator only had to attend church 2 or 3 times before they could be baptized. Now it is the law that they have to attend church 5 times in order to be baptized members of the church. But I am so excited for this family. It is the best when you teach families because the message of the gospel hits them more. That we can be eternal. That we can be sealed here on earth and that the relationships that we develop with our family members do not end with death. That we can be strengthened and fortified as families against the evils of this world through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are praying hard that they continue to progress towards baptism!

I feel like I mention this more and more often, but I just feel very content right now. I am tried daily and have challenges daily, but, I feel that my faith and confidence have grown a lot stronger in my Heavenly Father. I love the people I serve. And I know that I love them because I want them to make the right decisions so badly. I want them to be happy. There are so many people that I have met that are so afflicted. Oftentimes they seem fine, even happy, but when we start to teach them they burst into tears and start to tell us of the hard things that they have gone through in their lives. It is so hard sometimes to listen to them, feel that love and compassion for them, offer them the solution (the gospel, repentance, church attendance, scripture study), and then have them look at you like you are crazy or straight up reject what you just told them. You feel like a doctor offering medicine that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt will cure the patient and the patient refuses to accept it. But I have to accept the agency of others. I have to continue loving them and inviting them because that is what the Savior would do. I cannot imagine him ever giving up on one of us. I think right until the very end, he will continue to give us opportunities to repent and change. If I can feel this compassion and love for these people, I cannot even imagine how he feels for them, having already atoned for them. But missionary work is also filled with joy. When you see less-actives and investigators walk through the door at church for the first time, when your prayers are answered, when people tell you that they know the Book of Mormon and the church are true, when you see your investigators walk down the steps of the baptismal font, when you see them bear their testimonies in church, receive callings, and the priesthood, it fills you up. You feel the pure love of Christ in those moments. He loves each and every one of us so much and wants us to be with him eternally. I know it.
I have a testimony of this church. This is the church of Jesus Christ. It is his and he is the leader of it. How grateful I am for my Savior. To think about what he went through for me and for those I love...I cannot imagine it. But it is what keeps me going day by day. Everytime that I am tired or completely sapped of energy, I remember the Atonement, and then I keep going. I know God lives. We are his sons and daughters. We are eternal. He loves us. Trust in him and you will find the happiness and love that you are looking for.

Elder Nielsen