Monday, October 28, 2013

The Ziga Family in Yautepec!

President Santos of the branch in Yautepec!

One of my favorite sisters and best friends in the
Yautepec branch, Hermana Edith and her family!

All of the cities and pueblos have large statues of the
revolutionaries.  For example, this one is Yaute!

Hello Family and Friends!

This week has been absolutely insane. On Sunday, I think about 16 members attended church, therefore Elder Millán and I gave talks, I played the piano, taught Sunday School, taught Priesthood, and then handled all the computer work of the branch after the services. Every Sunday has been a little stressful for us as you can see. During the Sacrament, I felt the Spirit whisper to me that I needed to be patient and that God would work miracles in the branch. I am giving heed to and trusting in what I heard. It gave me a lot of strength to receive that impression. I know that God is a God of miracles and that he works according to the faith of man.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) Many people have told my companion that he speaks Spanish very well and then proceed to ask him what language they speak in Argentina. HELLO PEOPLE.

2) Lots of times as missionaries, while walking in the street, we strive to recognize service opportunities to help people out. Lots of times, however, the people do not accept or want our help. But their form of rejecting you has always been really funny to me. They just say, "Gracias". And "Gracias" for them means "No". But as we know, Gracias, directly translated, means Thank You. So in the beginning of my mission, when I asked someone if I could help them carry or move something and they said, "Gracias", I thought that they were saying Thank You and Yes. Turns out no. It is just a nice and strange way of saying no :(

Last week, after I wrote, I had the opportunity to visit my converts David, Cinthia, and Susy, here in Iguala. I had heard that they had stopped going to church a few months ago and went to encourage them. When I entered their house again, I just felt so much love. Like, I felt the love they have towards me and I was able to express the love that I have towards them. I truly love them so much. I cannot imagine how much God loves them. I invited them to return to church. They have experienced so many trials after their baptism and felt like they could not handle it anymore. I bore them my testimony. The spirit was palpably strong and they promised me that they would go to church the next Sunday. Leaving their house, I started thinking seriously about charity. The message that I shared was not unique. I would share that same message with any less-active. But the difference was not what I said, but how I said it. The key to touch the hearts of those you teach is to feel Christ-like love for them. That pure love that gave Christ the strength to atone for our sins and give his life for us. They can feel your intentions. They can feel if you love them or not. I made the goal after the lesson that I would strive to teach every single person that I come into contact with with the same love that I would teach a convert or a family member that has strayed from the truth. The words we speak and the way we speak them and the feelings that we put behind them truly matter. Without charity we are nothing.

I was also able to finish reading the Book of Mormon this week. I was so sad when I finished. Every time I read it my testimony grows stronger and stronger of its truthfulness. I felt the faith and complete trust that Nephi had in the Lord. I was strengthened by the examples that Ammon, Alma, Amulek, Lehi, and Nephi left as strong missionaries that lost themselves and gave everything to serve others. I cried as the Savior presented himself to the Nephites and healed, blessed, and prayed for them. I felt my faith grow. Reading gave me the strength to make a lot of much needed changes. I am a better person now. I know that the Book of Mormon is true. It has the answers to all of our questions. It testifies so strongly of the risen Savior and his gospel. It is true.

I am striving to act well my part and be the best representative of Christ that I can be. I think that comes when we love and exercise pure and simple faith. I know and bear testimony that God puts plans in place to save us. He gives us the experiences that we need to have in order to return to live with him again. His plans are perfect. I am grateful for the opportunity that I have to serve him. When we truly give all we have to give, then it is enough. If we are faithful, then we will be blessed. If we are grateful, then he blesses us with more. Be sincere with God. Pray to him and let him know how you feel. Ask for the help that you need. I promise you that he listens to you and that he answers prayers.

I love you all very much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!

So today has been strange. Every Sunday we have to take the four hour bus ride from Altamirano to Iguala because we have to attend the district meeting here in Iguala on Monday. Today I decided to go visit my old stomping-grounds in my first ward where I was trained, Los Tamarindos. I am currently sitting in the internet café that I always used to go to with my trainer Elder Miguel, we already saw my old apartment, and later on today we are going to visit some of the members that I love very much and my converts here in Iguala! Weird. But I am enjoying it very much. I cannot believe that it has been a year since I have been here.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) It is customary here in Mexico to eat the entire chicken. Like, they waste nothing. One time they gave me an interesting-shaped piece of the chicken while eating with the members and I started picking away at the meat...only to realize later....that they had given me the part of his head, surrounded by meat. I realized this as I started picking at his brain. They also enjoy eating chicken feet here.

2) The members in Mexico are so humble. Sometimes we enter homes of members where all the members of the family literally live in one, tiny room. And yet, they so happily feed us and give us the best they have to offer. I love them very much.

3) Members that have cars here change their cars so often. Like they buy a car. Get tired of that car after like a month, and then sell the car so that they can buy another car. And a lot of the cars are so funny. They just will not let them die. There are cars from the 70s or 80s that do not have the floor in some parts, windows, some of the doors do not open, etc. but they continue using them until the bitter end.

So, I just wanted to tell you all a funny story first (well, at least funny for me). Sometimes when things are difficult in my area I specifically ask Heavenly Father to let something really funny happen the next day that will make me laugh. Well, Saturday night I asked him for that, and he answered my prayer on Sunday. So, the bus ride from Altamirano to Iguala has a lot of curves. The roads are SUPER-windy and the bus driver drives very quickly. My companion, Elder Millan, suffers from car-sickness (I think you all know where this is going). About 2 hours into the bus ride my companion looks at me and says, "If I get up and go to the bathroom, it means that I am going to barf." About 5 minutes later, he gets up and goes to the bathroom. He said that after he drained the toilet, a HORRIBLE smell shot up in his face, and then subsequently into the entire air-conditioning system of the bus. The people sitting next to the bathroom got up, gagging, and said that they would rather stand up the entire bus ride than sit next to the bathroom. THEN, the bus pulled over and a representative from the bus company had to examine the bathroom. THEN, everyone that had perfume or cologne started spraying it in the air. I was literally dying from laughter.

This week has been very long but very wonderful as well. It is hard being a counselor in a branch. The Branch President, President Montúfar, has been a member for about 2 years. He desires greatly for the church to grow, but lacks a lot of experience and gospel knowledge. My job is basically to guide him along and counsel him on the decisions he should make and what he should do to help the church grow and fortify the members. My companion is in charge of all finances, records, etc. Basically the job of a ward clerk. We work so hard and come home exhausted every single day. To be honest, we have not seen a ton of results or success yet, but we are confident that God is with us and that he is guiding us towards the people that need to hear our message and towards future leaders in the branch.

One of the fights that I have always faced as a missionary is the fight to have more faith and hope. I know that God lives and that Christ is his son and that this church is true, but so often I find myself turning to myself and depending on my own strength and intellect to solve problems that arise. It has definitely been a process of taking the knowledge and testimony that I have gained and turning it into real action and living it every single day. It is that process, I think, of literally turning ourselves, physically and spiritually, towards our Heavenly Father in every moment of our lives that really tests us each and every day. One day, about 2 years ago as I was walking home from a class at BYU a scripture popped into my mind and I felt that it would be an integral scipture for me during my service as a missionary. "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest, take my yoke upon you and learn of me for I am meek and lowly in heart. For my yoke is easy and my burden it light." I think that scripture was meant just as much for me as for any person that I have taught. There is so much peace and rest to be found when we put our faith and trust in the Savior. We act. We repent. We love every child of God we meet. We strive to literally be like him in all that we do. Because his path, in the long-run, brings so much greater joy and peace than our personal agenda, goals, desires, etc. I have been praying for more faith and have seen it developing. But I can always trust more. I think the moment comes for all of us, that humbling moment, when we realize that all we are, everything that we have achieved, and everything that we will yet achieve is completely reliant on the grace and mercy of the Savior and through obedience to the commandments and ordinances of the gospel. I think that in this moment, that beautiful moment, when we kneel down and recognize how much love the Savior has for us is when the gospel really clicks for us. And we also realize how much loving and trusting in him lightens our burdens and makes life not only bearable, but enjoyable, fulfilling, and worth every moment.

Full and complete trust. Faith and hope. I continue to strive to learn and grow in these areas. I know God lives. Jesus is the Christ. He is our Savior. Our Friend. It is through him that peace comes and remains. It is through him that complete repentance and forgiveness comes. It is through him that we can once again become pure, white, clean, and completely worthy to enter the Kingdom of God. I feel his love for me and for his children that surround me. That makes me love them even more. Do not be afraid to change. Change is necessary and so worth it.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, October 14, 2013

My convert Gemma trying to hurt me!  She did
not want me to leave!

Jorge!  A really good friend in the branch.

Another family that I love, the Celon Guzman

I love these guys.  Hermana Gomar and
her son Nestor (our branch mission leader)

The baptism of the Citalan Vazquez

The baptism of Guillermo!

I love this kid!  His name is Jesus and he is crazy
and the most sassy child I have ever met.  He is the
child of Jaime and Gemma, my converts
in Yautepec.

Our funny Relief Society President that I love a lot
in Yautepec.  Hermana Gomar.

Our chapel in Yautepec!

The town square!  Notice the Independence
day decorations!

This is a combi.  This is what we used for travel.

The center of Yautepec

Goats on a hillside in Yautepec!

Me arguing with Sister Pech.  Common!

Me in front of the room where I had my
district meeting!

This is the chapel where we had our district
meetings in Cuautla.  It is the oldest chapel in
Cuautla and was dedicated by
President David O. McKay.

This place is called "Los Arcos" in Yautepec. 
Here we would get on the combi that would take
us back and forth from Yautepec to Cuautla.
We were here a lot!

Hello Family and Friends!

So we are here in Altamirano! It is stinkin' hot. But no. Really. This is the greatest amount of heat that I have ever felt in my life and we are supposedly in the coolest months of the year. To just put an example out there for you to understand, it would be like walking around in the streets of Las Vegas during July in pants. Without air conditioning. We are slowly adjusting to life out here in Altamirano, Guerrero!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) I have made many comments about Mexican bathrooms but they continue to surprise me. In our new house, the bathroom is literally located in the little space that is underneath the staircase. My head literally almost touches the ceiling while I am showering.

2) The members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mexico have very limited talent in the music department. Vocal and instrumental. I have had the blessing to play the piano in Yautepec and here in Altamirano and the members are so grateful. It makes me happy to be able to serve them in this way.

So, Altamirano is a city located 4 hours outside of Iguala (the city where all the other missionaries of our zone are working). We are literally out here all alone. It is a little weird and exciting at the same time. The church here is really, really young. REALLY YOUNG. There is no chapel, instead we have a cute little house of prayer in the center of Altamirano (one of the few buildings here that has air conditioning!) The branch has an attendance of about 15 to 30 every week and Elder Millan and I have been called to serve as 1st Counselor and Secretary in the branch presidency. The city borders the state of Michoacan and our area is bigger than the entire state of Morelos. The city is actually really unique. The streets are super wide, clean, and the city is super tiny and surrounded by a ton of tiny pueblos. One more interesting fact. Two of the most active members in the branch are the McFarland family. I know what you are thinking. McFarland...that is not a Mexican last name. That is because Brother McFarland is from Provo, Utah and speaks very little Spanish, but his wife is from Mexico and they are the sweetest couple that I have ever met. I am so glad that they are here with us in the branch!

So this week has been really difficult. Just adjusting to something completely different and foreign. We had some pretty low moments this week, Elder Millan and I. Some pretty dark moments as a matter of fact. We have so much work to do here. The branch needs so much help. But I have no doubt that we are here for a reason. God wants us here and wants us to bless this branch with the talents and abilities that he has blessed us with. This week, I was singing the hymn "Because I have Been Given Much" and really thought about the words. I have been given so much. And it is the time to give, to bless, to lift up, and to build. It is the time to forget about ourselves completely and go to work. To love and serve. We both talked a lot last night and have come to the conclusion that we are just going to role up our sleeves and work our hardest and give it our all. Talk to everyone we see, challenge the less-actives bravely to return to church, and get the organizations and the branch presidency working again. We are excited now and are ready for this week!

I know that God puts us where we need to be. A lot of the time we do not like the answer. But I know that if we act in faith and follow his councils that he will bless us in greater ways than we can imagine. I have seen those blessings. I know that Christ lives and is the Savior of the world. His Atonement is infinite and eternal. His love and compassion are greater than I can understand. I wish to be more like him. I know that it is going to take a lot of work. But I know that each and every one of us can do it. I know that this church is true. I felt a lot of love during sacrament meeting this week. Even if the church only had 2 members attending on Sunday it is still the true church of Christ and it will roll forward, progressing, always.

I love you all very much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, October 7, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!

So...I am sitting here writing you all from Iguala, Guerrero! I know. Last week I was close to Cuernavaca, this week I am in Guerrero, my life as a missionary is crazy sometimes. But we will be heading out to Altamirano tomorrow to begin our assignment in the branch! I am having trouble adjusting to the heat here in Guerrero again. I had forgotten all about it. It has been almost a year since I have been here. But I am very excited!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) This week, while peacefully writing in my journal at the end of the day, I suddenly looked up and saw the biggest scorpion I have ever seen running down the wall in front of my face. 5 minutes, a sandal, a church dress shoe, and lots of courage were what it took to finish him off. Everyone in Mexico has been bitten at least one time by a scorpion.

2) My companion, Elder Millan, is from Argentina. He talks funny. He is really funny (he is Jack Fixa in the form of an Argentinian missionary). And he tells funny jokes. Everyone here in Mexico believes that those from Argentina are super prideful. With that in mind, listen to the joke that my companion told me this week.

Elder Millan: "Hey, Elder Nielsen, do you know which country is closest to the heavens?"

Elder Nielsen: The United States (wanting to make him mad).

Elder Millan: No.

Elder Nielsen: Argentina (thinking that this would be the answer).

Elder Millan: No.

Elder Nielsen: Okay I give up, what is it?

Elder Millan: Paraguay, because it is the country closest to Argentina.

I think the Mexicans hit the nail on the head with their description of the Argentinians.

So, I had a pretty amazing week. Made even more amazing by general conference. I do not know if I have mentioned this before but my view of general conference has changed so dramatically since being in the mission field. I remember being here in Iguala, a year ago, listening to the messages of our Prophet, the Twelve Apostles, and other church leaders and just not wanting it to end. Like I craved it more than anything else. This general conference was so spiritually impactful for me. There were a number of talks that were pure direct revelation for me. They made me cry and feel so peaceful. The spirit was so strong. The spirit testified to me so strongly that those men and women are chosen of God and set apart to lead us in these latter-days. How wonderful it is to know that God has restored his church here on the earth again. That what they just said are words directly from the mouth of our Heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ. Like Elder Hales said in his talk, the best part of conference is what comes after, or basically, applying what we have learned. I plan on striving my best to do that.

I am so grateful for the opportunity that I have had to be a missionary. I know that Christ lives. He is the Christ. I have reflected a lot this week on the process of repentance and the importance and vitality of the Atonement in our lives. This culminated in a number of talks given in General Conference. We all make mistakes right? We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Satan, well, his goal is to try to shame us. Make us live in the past. Live and relive everything that we have done and said. Over and over and over again. He uses guilt and shame as a mechanism to make us weak, depressed, without energy, and without hope to improve or become better. His doctrine is a doctrine of complacency, despair, and shame.

Now let me tell you what I have learned. I have listened to that doctrine. I believed that doctrine. But I confused that doctrine with the true doctrine of repentance. Like it was said in general conference by Elder Scott, repentance is not a punishment. It is a beautiful change and transformation. It means that we turn our heart, our desires, our actions, and our will to God. We humbly kneel down and recognize our reliance on the Savior and his Atonement. We recognize that we cannot fully be healed unless we submit oursleves to him and we also recognize and believe that full and complete healing can and will occur. God is not an impartial or a changeable God and neither is the process of repentance. If we repent fully, if we come unto Christ with that sacrifice that he requires of us, a broken heart and a contrite spirit, we can be fully healed. I know that it is sometimes hard to believe. I know that sometimes we feel that we do not deserve to be forgiven or that the Atonement only covers us to a certain point. We do not want to forgive ourselves sometimes. I testify, so strongly, that repentance is real. It is liberating. It is freeing. There is so much peace and hope to be found in change. We can have an expèrience like Enos had, our sins and feelings of guilt and shame can be washed away and replaced with peace. I am a witness of these things. I know these things are true. I have seen it in my own life and in the lives of others. It is so wonderful.

I know God lives. Christ is his son. I am about to get to the point in 3 Nephi when he arrives here on the American continent. My favorite part. When I truly think about him, and as my life goes on with all of its experiences, my love and appreciation for him grows deeper. It makes me very emotional most of the time. I know he lives. I have felt it. I know that I am on the errand of the Lord. I will ever be grateful for the power and strength I receive through the Atonement and this gospel. He lives!

I love you all so much.

Elder Nielsen