Monday, November 25, 2013

Hello Family and Friends! Happy Thanksgiving!

A lot of missionaries from the United States have become experts in price-negotiation here in Mexico. They see something they like and then almost always successfully lower the price of said item. I mention this because I recently had a show-down here with a four-foot tall Mexican woman that was dressed exactly like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz over a backpack that I really liked here in the center of Iguala. I lost. I still have a lot of practice to do....

Impressions of Mexico!

1) Mexican medical treatments never cease to amaze me. We visited with a family this week and I noticed that they had goats behind their house. Come to find out that the sister has been sick for a while and the doctor told her that she should start to drink goat milk to get better. So they literally go into their backyard and milk the goats everytime she starts to feel bad...

2) Another goat story. We were walking in the same little pueblo and suddenly, out of nowhere, we were attacked by a herd of goats. They just start running and charging towards us from around the corner. The scariest part was that they literally started jumping like 3 or 4 feet in the air. I was so scared.

3) We were walking up a hill and saw a man holding a really odd object wrapped in a plastic bag. As we get closer...we realized that he was literally holding, by the nose, a straight-up cow head. Recently severed from the body. We started thinking seriously about what he was going to do with it.

So yes. My life has pretty much been insane the last few months. I have actually loved being able to spend the greater part of my mission in little pueblos outside of the big cities. Life is just so different. So unique. I love it.

I just want to bear my testimony to you all. I know that God lives and that he answers prayers. This week was difficult. Sunday was very disappointing and I was really down on myself because of the lack of progression that we have seen here. I started to doubt and be really negative with myself and our situation. As a result, I felt a lack of the Spirit. The Spirit is always the same. When we demostrate a lack of faith in God and his plans for us, he leaves us for a little while. Doubt and fear and negativity cannot coexisit with the Spirit. Because the Spirit invites us to love, to serve, to be patient, and to be humble. I am grateful that my mission has taught me of the need to have him with me always. I feel so empty without his presence. I feel like I am missing something important. On the bus ride from Huetamo to Altamirano, I started to pray. I started to think about my favorite scriptures and the words of my favorite hymns. I wanted the Spirit to give me clarity and peace and to return again. And he did. I love the Holy Ghost. His companionship gives me strength. But literal physical and spiritual strength. He has comforted me, given me feelings of peace and love, and helped me to know what I should do. I know that having his companionship is more important than anything else. I was reminded of that this week.

I know that God lives and that if I am patient, and trust him, that he will bless me richly. I know that he loves his children. He loves them so deeply. He wants us to have more faith in him and to learn of him and his Son through the restored gospel. I know that Christ lives. He performed the Atonement for each and every one of us. His Atonement gives me strength. Strength to keep going and give what I otherwise would not be able to give. I am learning to be content even in the hardest of situations. I am learning to be humble and patient. I am learning to work hard and continue working hard even if I cannot see immediate results. I am learning to love people for who they are. I catch glimpses here and there of how much joy God feels when we make the right decisions and choose to follow him. I will forever be grateful for the lessons I have learned and will continue to learn as a missionary. A mission is not easy. It is so, so hard and challenging. But it is worth it. I have been thinking about my converts and the people I have taught and helped and gotten to know during my mission. They are the reason why I continue to serve. I love them so much.

I love you all as well and hope that you have an amazing week.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, November 18, 2013

The district went to Taxco.  I was here over a year ago! 
I feel so old!  The statue of Christ overlooks the city.

Hello Family and Friends!

We arrived in Huetamo this week safe and sound! Huetamo is not the first, nor the second, but the THIRD area that Elder Millán and I have opened together. We have become experts. We have actually felt a lot of peace in our new area. I feel like we are going to have a lot of success. We are excited!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) Sometimes I feel like the members get together and decide to make the same meal for the missionaries every single day of the week. This week was...Chile con Huevo! Or spicy salsa with little chunks of egg...and beans...and lots of tortillas. Just so you can get a little taste of how the food is in my little pueblito in Michoacán.
2) People in Mexico are very proud of the trades that they have learned. A lot of them have been working the same job since they were really little. We entered the house of an investigator and I saw wood, machinery, and paint and I proceeded to ask him if he was a carpenter. He told me that he was and then said, "And here is the proof!" he stuck his hand in my face...a hand that was missing two fingers.
3) A member that went to a Quinceañera this week told us on Sunday that the Catholic Priest made a special announcement in Mass that the young men in ties have returned to Huetamo and that the people of the pueblo should not open their doors to us...that made me sad.

Sometimes the best thing that we have going for us as missionaries is that we are different from the rest. I mean come on. We are in the middle of a small little pueblo walking around in a white shirt, tie, and dress pants with a name badge. And for the first time in one of my companionships, neither one of us are Mexican. People are naturally curious as to what an Argentinian and American are doing in the middle of Huetamo. I love it. But I have also learned that even more important than how we look is how we act. People can sense where your spirit is and the type of life that you are living. If you are being sincere or just teaching and preaching what you were taught to teach and preach. Even after so much time, I still think a lot about that concept. That as a missionary, I am called to be a literal representative of Jesus Christ. Like, I am called to serve like he served, teach like he taught, and be like he is. And to minister unto the people of Huetamo and Altamirano. A lot of times, when we have the chance to sit down with people and talk, it always surprises me how open they are with us. They tell us about challenges and difficulties that I would never even think about telling someone that I had just met. But they do it because they feel something when they are with us. They feel the Spirit. I love it when that happens because it means that we are doing our job. It is a constant fight. You have to be doing and thinking the right things to have the Spirit with you. But to have him there with you and the example you give to others makes it worth it. It is the most powerful tool we have when sharing the gospel.

The only way I can describe how I feel is peaceful. I am happy with where I am at. I have reflected on my mission a lot this week. It has always been my goal to work hard everyday and seek to honestly improve every single day. I have learned that comparing our outward results with others can be very deadly. When we compare ourselves to others, it really just means that we care more about what the world thinks of us than what God feels and thinks of us. I read a talk from the April 2013 General Conference by a 70 that was entitled Accepted of the Lord. He taught, very simply, the guidelines that we need to follow in order to be accepted of God. To be accepted you need to have...

A) An honest and broken heart.

B) A contrite spirit.

C) And be willing to keep and observe the covenants you have made by sacrifice.

I always want to be strive to be accepted of him and not of man. His opinion is becoming more important to me than the opinion of man. I, and I think each and every one of us have a lot of growth to experience here, that is why I thought I should share it.

My testimony of Christ and his Atonement has grown very strong during my mission. I love him so much. We are given the chance to be completely healed and enjoy eternal life if we strive to obey. I will forever be grateful for his love, mercy, and grace. It gives me the strength to keep going and keep striving to improve. My mission has been perfect for me. I have been humbled and have faced so many difficult situations. But the promise that Christ made, that he would be on our right hand and on our left, in front, and behind, and that his angels would be round about us to bear us up is true. Each day I strive to serve him a little better. It is the least I can do.

I love you all so much and hope that you have an amazing week.

Elder Nielsen

P.S. We went to Taxco today as a district (I felt so has been over year since I went the last time) and here is a picture of the Christ that overlooks the entire city. Love you all!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!

I cannot remember if I have told you all, but the specific part of Guerrero/Michoácan that I am living in has been given the name "Tierra Caliente" or basically "Hot Land" or "Hot Earth". In keeping with this theme, I will relate the following impressions in...

Impressions of Mexico!

1) Showering here in cold water is not a problem at all. It is actually one of the most joyous parts of the day. The not so fun part is that within about 2 minutes after the shower, you begin to start sweating profusely and feel the need to shower again.

2) Sometimes when we cannot take it anymore, we literally change our walking route just so we can walk in front of the banks or a department store here in Altamirano just so we can enjoy the blast of air conditioning that hits us when the sliding doors open as we walk in front of them.

3) People have made comments that during the summer you would be crazy to leave your house during the middle of the day because you literally feel like you are in the middle of a pressure cooker....and I feel like that now...and it's "Winter".

So yeah. It is hot here. Really, really hot. I have heard that our house in Huetamo is one of the few that has air-conditioning which made me content though. So, Elder Millán and I will be stationed in Huetamo, but also traveling to Altamirano two days every week in order to help out the branch as well. That will be in addition to our weekly trips to Iguala (about four hours away) for the district meeting every Monday. So yes, we will be moving around like ping-pong balls in the greater part of Guerrero and Michoácan but we are up for the challenge!

I have learned a lot, being here in Altamirano, of the importance of music. In Doctrine and Covenants Section 25, in a revelation given to Joseph Smith the prophet but directed towards his wife Emma, the Lord said that the song of the righteous is like a prayer unto him and will be answered with a blessing upon their heads. I love that verse. I love the hymns of the church. It has been a fulfilling experience for me to play the small keyboard in our little house of prayer for the members of the branch. Even though I make mistakes while playing and even though the members sing so loudly and so off-key that it is not even funny, I still feel the spirit very strongly. Yesterday we sang the hymn about Joseph's first prayer. "How how lovely was the morning....” It helped me feel even greater love and appreciation for him, as a prophet, and for the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ. Hymns are prayers for me as well. Sometimes singing a hymn expresses what we wish to say to God better than words can. In my companionships, I have always loved starting off our studies and weekly planning sessions with hymns. Also, at the end of the day, if I have a little time, I like to sing one or two hymns in order to feel the spirit and the peace it brings. So sing. When you go to church, sing loud. Sing reverently. And pay attention to the words. If your heart is in the right place, then you are offering up a prayer to our Heavenly Father.

I have also learned here in Altamirano that there are no excuses to not do the right thing. There is a sister here in the branch named Sister Pérez. She lives in a little ranch about 4 hours away from Altamirano and just does not have the means to come to church on a regular basis. This sister also cannot read or write. We ate with her about two times in the last few weeks and I just felt so much love and admiration for her. Every time she comes to Altamirano, she goes to church. Because she cannot read, she bought all of the scriptures on CD and listens to them over and over again every day. She also listens to and has memorized her favorite hymns. She loves God and has a strong testimony of the church. I love people like that. That keep their covenants despite adversity. That love God and seek to serve him and learn of him always. They are his elect on this Earth.

I cannot express what being a missionary has meant to me. I cannot even begin to describe or write about all the things I have seen, felt, and learned. The most important thing I have learned is this. God lives. He is real. He is active in our lives. He loves us. He is full of both justice and mercy. He desires to save all of his children. Christ lives. His life, the miracles he performed, his teachings, his Gospel, are all very real. He performed the Atonement for us. He was resurrected. He broke the bonds of death and hell. There is strength to be found in recognizing that he is our Master, Lord, Savior, and Redeemer. Then we need to repent fully and completely and change. The Holy Ghost calls us to change. Testifies boldly of the Father and the Son. And is always with us when we need help, comfort, and protection. The Church of Christ is restored and is on Earth once more. Priesthood power is here again. The power to seal families, baptize, heal, and preach the gospel is here again. The Book of Mormon is true. That book carries a special power and a changing influence to those that read it with real intent, having faith in Christ. I am forever grateful for my Savior. For his love and compassion and patience towards me and towards his children. He is inviting us to enjoy eternal life. His love is infinite and we can enjoy it eternally if we will exercise faith in him, repent, be baptized and confirmed, and endure to the end of our lives. I love the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I love you all so very much. I hope you have an amazing week.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, November 4, 2013

My companion and I in Altamirano!

Hello Family and Friends!

Well, another week has come and gone here in México. Time is starting to pass by really quickly now. I'm not sure how I feel about that...Just to paint a mental picture for you all. I am in the town square of Iguala. There is banda music (the Mexican form of country music in the United States) blasting outside of the internet café that I am in. I'm looking at a tree right now that literally has 10 squirrels jumping from branch to branch. It smells strongly of enchiladas, it's November and it is hotter than California in the dead of August right now, and there is a monster Cathedral painted neon orange that was playing Ave María from the belltower a few minutes ago. I love México very, very much.

(More) Impressions of México!

1) So the Day of the Dead was this week. They celebrate it every 2nd of November, and as far as I know, México is the only country that celebrates it. It is actually so unique. People literally loaded into the back of pick-up trucks in droves to go out to the cemetary of Altamirano. It is traditional to carry flowers (the two principle colors were red and yellow) and things that the deceased person loved (a favorite food, game, drink, etc.) and to spend the entire day at the gravesite.

2) Mexicans do not speak Spanish. They speak "Mexican". Like, a lot of people have asked my companion if they also speak, "Mexican" in Argentina. HELLO PEOPLE.

3) Every once in a while, members, who want us to try things that we would not normally try if we knew what it was beforehand, just put it on the plate without saying anything. After said item is consumed, they proceed to ask how it tasted, if we liked it, etc. That happened this week. They gave us meat that tasted like chicken, just a little tougher, but that had tiny, weirdly shaped bones. Missionaries know how to recognize a chicken when they eat it (most-commonly eaten meat), and I knew that what we were eating was not chicken but did not say anything. Turns out...they fed us Iguana...

We found out this week, that this next transfer we will be taken out of the branch of Altamirano and moved even farther away from Iguala to a branch in Michoácan named Huetamo. It is about 5 and a half hours away from Iguala and you need two buses to make it there. We are still going to be traveling to Altamirano once in a while to help out the branch president, but it just was not very effective for us to be there as full-time missionaries. So, in a week, Elder Millan and I will be opening up our third area together as a companionship! 

This change has been difficult for me. There have been a lot of changes, opposition, challenges, and bumps in the road. Doing simple things have helped sustain me.

1) Praying. But truly praying. I have started to truly learn that prayer is a literal conversation. Sometimes we just need to be quiet, be still, like the scriptures say, and listen. Pay attention to the images and feelings that God puts into our hearts through the Spirit, and let him teach us. Prayer has given me a lot of peace. When I pray with real intent, I am able to be taught and instructed from on high. I can come to understand the "Why" of things. I feel closer to my Father and my Savior. True prayer has sustained me.

2) Reading the Scriptures. I trust in the promise that is found in 2 Nephi 32. Feast upon the words of Christ, for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things that you should do. During my scripture study I both learn and also become more intuned with the Spirit. Reading favorite passages literally gives me more physical and spiritual energy. Thinking about my testimony of the Book of Mormon makes me excited to preach the gospel. The words found in the scriptures have given me direction, caused me to meditate and ponder, have been the catalyst for much needed changes, and have healed some of the wounds that I have had for a long time. The scriptures have sustained me.

3) Serving others. This is perhaps the biggest lesson I have learned as a missionary. When I strive to serve and love others and forget about myself, I truly feel closer to my Father. In some of the darkest moments in my mission, I have realized that my Father in Heaven has given me significant opportunities to serve that have lifted me and taught me truly how much he loves his children. I have grown to love the Mexican people and those that I have served and taught. I know God will always be with and support in unimaginable ways his children that strive earnestly to help, uplift, love, and serve his other children. Serving others has sustained me.

My testimony has sustained me as well. I have come to realize that my testimony is simple. But it continues to grow as I continue to comprehend the Gospel of Jesus Christ and serve God's children. He lives. God lives. Jesus is the Christ. I know that healing is to be found through his Atonement. His grace and mercy are sufficient to bind up the deepest wounds that we have received. I have felt his love penetrate me and others. I know he was resurrected. That life continues on and that one day, we will be with those we love if we prove to be faithful here on this earth. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saints is the Church of Christ on this Earth. The Book of Mormon is true. I invite you all to improve your relationship with the Savior. When we realize how much we need a Savior, we will begin to change and become more like him in word, deed, and thought. I know that God loves us deeply and eternally and that we are eternal. I will praise forever the name of my God for the opportunity to be a missionary, and for the opportunity to serve his sons and daughters in Mexico.

I love you all very much.

Elder Nielsen