Monday, December 30, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!

Happy New Year! It's weird that 2013 is coming to an end. I have been a missionary for the entire year. It has been an amazing blessing. I am so grateful. So much has happened. So many good and difficult moments. Time really does pass by quickly. That's why we should do everything in our power to help others, love others, and serve them. Serving a mission has really opened me up to this concept. Before, like most people my age, I was pretty much solely focused on myself and what I wanted to be, do, and become. As a missionary, I have gotten to know so many people from all walks of life. I have learned to love them and feel compassion for them. I have learned how to open myself up to them and teach and testify to them of things that are very precious to me and that are very close to my heart. How empty my life would have been if I had not served a mission. I am so grateful.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) Life in Altamirano and Huetamo reminds me a lot of small-town American life. Tons of kids riding around in the back of pick-up trucks. Rodeo rings. No form of normal entertainment. More dirt roads than paved roads. One long "main street" that has all of the biggest stores and where all the "city life" is at. I love it.

2) Mexican street markets are so funny. People sell whatever they can find. But literally anything. And they literally shout at you trying to get you to look at their merchandise instead of the other guy's merchandise. People say that if somebody steals something from you of value that you can go to the street market that week and there is a 99% chance that you will find it there.

This week I was studying 3 Nephi 17. I felt the Spirit very strongly. I think the part that impressed me the most was the desire that the Nephites had to be in the presence of the Savior a little longer. I imagine that the Spirit that they felt was so powerful and wonderful. It gave them energy. They felt his love. His perfect love. They felt healing. They wanted to be with him. They wanted him to tarry with them and be in their presence. I know that people can change. Feeling these feelings of the Spirit soften and change the hearts of those that are seeking after the truth. We have some investigators right now that feel like that they can't change. They are unwilling or too afraid to start keeping the commandments and change their lives. The task seems too great to them or the change too radical and impossible. It is possible. Everything is possible through the power of the Atonement. The Savior knows us perfectly. Our successes and strengths. As well as the most embarrassing, difficult, and horrible that we have within us. The virtues and the vices. The part of us that is destined to become like our Father in Heaven and the weaknesses that would bind us to the misery of sin, regret, and pain. With all of that intimate knowledge about each and every one of us, he still loves us. That is perfect love. That love is the only type of love that has the power to truly change men and women. There is no other power or influence on this earth that has that type of power. Because of the Atonement, we can change.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a missionary. Being here in Altamirano and Huetamo has taught me to be more humble and teachable. Sometimes we think we know the way. That we know what we need. When, in fact, it is God that knows what we need. And sometimes we just need to be willing to accept his will. It is so hard sometimes but it is the only way to feel peace during difficult moments. I have also felt a lot of joy. I love Mexico. I love the people here. I love the culture, the food, the different accents and words, and the love that they express. I love it when people make correct choices. I feel happy. I feel joy when they walk into the chapel, when they read the Book of Mormon, when they begin praying, or when they begin to keep the commandments. They literally change. They are happier. They have more light. I love seeing them enter into the waters of baptism. I love seeing them express small and simple acts of faith. It strengthens my own faith. This is Christ's church on earth. His love is everywhere and in everything. How grateful I am to be able to contribute a small part in the building his kingdom in the country of Mexico.

I hope you all have an amazing week. And again, Happy New Year!

Elder Nielsen

Monday, December 23, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!

Merry Christmas! We had our annual Christmas Conference with President and Sister Kusch this week, in the which, every single district had to present a funny sketch. There are a whole heck of a ton of sister missionaries arriving in the mission field (there are actually some districts now that have 6-8 sisters and 2 Elders), so the name of our sketch was, "What is President Kusch going to do with all the sister missionaries?" Just to let you know, we are one of the few all-Elder districts left in the mission. There were skirts, high voices, Katy Perry-like wigs, crying, and much, much more. It was a hit! We also played White Elephant. I won a ceramic baby Jesus from a nativity set that's worth $95 pesos. It was a success!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) We had our branch Christmas Party this week. Oh my heck. A ginormous sound system. Live banda music (the singer was Cuban?). Piñata. Members salsa dancing. 30 people. It was insane.

2) The bells on top of the Catholic Cathedral in Altamirano were playing Jingle Bells this week. I thought that was festive.

3) In México the people actually gather together as families more on Christmas Eve than on Christmas Day. They basically don't do anything on Christmas Day because the big day for kids to receive presents is called the Day of the Three Wise Men which happens during the first week of January. So instead of asking Santa Clause to bring them presents, little kids here ask for the Three Wise Men to bring them presents. Weird right?

4) Common Christmas things from the United States that don't exist here: Candy Canes, Real Christmas Trees, Ornaments, etc. 

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to serve and be among the Mexican people. I really love them a lot. I'm sad that this is the last Christmas that I get to spend here. My love for them continues to grow each and every day. When you get to know them they are so funny, quirky, and sincere. They would give anything for family and friends. They are a people that have gone through a lot of trials and hardships and find the strength to keep going and remain strong. I've learned so much from being among them. I wish to be more like them in a lot of ways. I don't know. I've just felt a lot of love for them this week.

I've also seen a lot of unecessary suffering here in Mexico. My eyes have been truly opened to the sweet and the bitter. Good, and extreme evil. A lot of people that I have come to love have suffered a lot for the unrighteous actions and decisions of others. It breaks my heart when I hear their stories. It reminds me of what Paul said in 2 Timothy 3, "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away."

We are in the last days. God is gathering in his chosen sons and daughters. He is fighting, harder than ever I think, to bring his gospel to all that will listen and accept it. Yes, evil is raging in the world. Yes, there is so much darkness. Yes, more and more people are making incorrect choices and moving away from God's light and love. But I have such a strong testimony that God's light is so much stronger than the evil of the world. His love penetrates. His Spirit enlightens the mind, soul, and body and causes men to change their lives. His gospel unites broken families and broken hearts. If we accept his gospel we can be healed. The Atonement of Christ provides that healing power. 

I have so much love for my Savior. Through him I know that we can become pure again. Clean. Whole. Completely aligned with God and his will. He is the reason why I keep going. I can't imagine my life without a knowledge of his Atonement. It is a beautiful thing to have the opportunity to represent him. I still have so much to improve. But that is what the gospel does. It gives us the tools to improve. I testify that he lives and that the love he has for us is perfect and unchanging.

I love you all so much. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. 

Elder Nielsen

Monday, December 16, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!
Well we got a surprise on Saturday! Changes. Elder Millan is off to Cuautla and I will be staying in Huetamo and Altamirano. My new companion's name is Elder Gonzalez (still haven't met him yet, I'll let you know a little bit about him next week). I was actually really bummed out. Elder Millan was a really good companion. I cannot believe that it's almost Christmas! My last Christmas in México :0 The fiestas for Christmas officially start today in México. You know the drill. Piñatas. Loud Music. Closing down entire streets. It is going to be a good Christmas.

Impressions of México!
1) The Mexican people do not know how to say no. They are literally the nicest and most polite people that I have ever met. For example, we knock on a door, they answer and say "Thank you very much, but can you come back another day, it's just that I'm so busy right now." Now, young missionaries get confused and think that they really want you to come back. But in reality, phrases like that and others like that are code for "Not Interested".

2) Branches are funny sometimes. The members in Huetamo have been preparing a choir for when President Kusch comes. They were thinking about singing "Whom Shall I Serve". Now. What we are used to in church special musical numbers is reverent singing accompanied by piano, violin, etc. But no. Not in Huetamo. They literally whipped out the acoustic guitar and sang so loudly while rocking from side to side. I enjoyed it.

3) The sign outside of the house of prayer in Huetamo that says the name of the church is mispelled. In Spanish, Jesus Christ is Jesucristo. We are the Church of Jesuscristo. As a result, Elder Millan and I say that our church is almost true in Huetamo.

I have been reading and studying the general conference talks this week during my personal studies. There were two talks that particularly struck me. In his talk, President Monson taught a lot about how to overcome and persevere through the trials and difficulties of life. He told the story about how he went to visit one of his friends that was 105 years old and was about to die. He was completely blind, could not hear, and was confined to a small room in a nursing home. His wife and two of his eight children had already passed away as well. He asked to be with "Tommy" Monson before he passed away. When President Monson arrived and made it known that he was there (this is the part when I got emotional), his friend got excited and put his hands on his head, asking for a priesthood blessing. After the blessing was given, his friend said, "Thank you, my Heavenly Father has been so good to me." He then made the comment that instead of focusing on what he was lacking, he thanked God for his many blessings. Elder Scott, in his talk about the Atonement, made the comment that the surest way to protect ourselves from going back to who we were before and being enticed by the same temptations and old habits is by dedicating yourself to serving others.

During this Christmas season, and for the rest of my life, that is what I want to focus on. I made a personal goal that everytime things get hard, or overwhelming, or seemingly impossible, that instead of complaining or wondering "Why me?" I will say "Thank you. You have been so good to me," and start recognizing the blessings that I have received during the day. Our Heavenly Father gives us so much. He gives so many good gifts daily. Sometimes we just don't recognize them because we are so caught up in what we lack. I want to recognize all of the good gifts that he gives me daily. I think the greatest gift that he gives me, each and everyday, is the opportunity to be a missionary. A representative of his glorious and perfect Son. My Savior and Redeemer. And for the opportunity to work in the work of salvation. I love my Father in Heaven so much. He really has been so good to me. And to each and every one of us. His love is perfect. We may look at ourselves and see old baggage, trash, incompleteness, and imperfection. But he sees what we can become if we cleanse ourselves through the Atonement, make and keep covenants, and then strive to endure to the end. Exalted. Eternal. Home in his presence once again.
I share my testimony, and testify, that Christ lives. I have seen the strength of his Atonement in my life personally. It has given me the strength to do things and become what I never thought I could do or become. It is a literal power and energy that enters into both body, mind, and spirit if we ask for it humbly. The love and timing of our Father in Heaven is perfect. I think a lot of the time we are impatient for change or progress. I am learning that patience and humility are usually what he wants us to learn. We should be content with where we are if we are keeping the commandments and our covenants and striving to be like the Savior. Because it is exactly where he wants us to be. He is preparing us for eternal life. He is preparing us for perfect purity and love. Enjoy the process. Accept his will. When we do, that is when we will start to feel peace. And when you feel like you can't anymore, remember, please remember that the Savior knows you personally. He knows how to succor the sick and afflicted, heal the soul, provide strength to the weary, and give love and support to those who honestly seek after him. Keep moving forward.

This church is true. Every single day God allows me to have experiences that strengthen my testimony. Missions are difficult. But I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve.
Merry Christmas!

Elder Nielsen

Monday, December 9, 2013

My zone after a service project. We helped clean up/paint a park in Iguala!

Me chasing a cow in the street. This occurs more frequently than you would think.

Me in front of the House of Prayer in Altamirano!

This is Elder Millán and I strolling around in the center of Chilpancingo after our zone conference!

Hello Family and Friends!

Challenges. Learning. Growth. It seems to be the pattern for a missionary. I feel very grateful for the blessings of my Heavenly Father. That he is teaching me so much about myself while I try to serve and work with others. We are meant to learn and grow, I think, by loving and serving others, even when it is difficult. I have learned so much this week. It was a hard week to be sure, but I have learned so much. For that, I am grateful.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) I saw two pharmacies this week. Both in Huetamo. One was called God's Pharmacy...and the other...Christ's Pharmacy. HELLO PEOPLE.

2) For some reason it is popular here, instead of buying bottled water, to sell purified water in small little plastic bags. They literally just give you the bag, you rip off the corner with your teeth and drink the water. This week someone gave us bags of water, and while drinking I saw a picture of the Virgin de Guadalupe on the bag. I thought, "Why?" And then noticed that they had placed emphasis on the fact that it was PURIFIED water. Pure. Like the virgin. HELLO PEOPLE.

3) Sometimes, when we teach people, and we state a declaration that a person feels is correct, they will say Amen after you say the statement. For example, "Brother Hernandez, You are a child of God {AMEN} and he loves you so much {AMEN}."

4) The most common name for women in Mexico by far is María. For example: María, María del Refugio, Luz María, María de Guadalupe, María de Jesús, María Fernanda, María Magdalena, are some that come to mind.

I still find a lot of joy in recognizing the uniqueness of Mexico. I literally love the Mexican people. They are so funny and quirky. I love spending time with them. They are a people that have been prepared to receive the gospel.

We have been teaching an investigator here in Altamirano named Luz María. She is the owner of a restaurant and was actually a reference from President Kusch when he came to visit Altamirano. She is a perfect example for me of someone that is looking for the truth. Someone that is honestly seeking after it. When we first started teaching her, she put up her barriers. She said that she was curious about the church but that she would never change religions because of her mother. As we have taught her and as she has attended church, I have been able to see the Spirit working in her. She is changing dramatically. She has that desire to know more and more. That spiritual hunger. That is what the gospel does for people. It has a familiar ring for them when they start learning about it. It has that ring because it is eternal. If we are open to the Spirit, we will not be able to deny the truthfulness of the message. She has been reading the Book of Mormon, always tells us that she is only going to go to church for the first hour and then ends up staying for all three, and tells us how much peace she feels when she goes to church. She actually told us a funny story this week. She said that she was reading the Book of Mormon in her restaurant during her down time and that she had been asking God for a sign that it is true. She said that she put down the book and opened up her Facebook and the first thing she saw was that one of her friends "Likes" The Book of Mormon. I said, "Well there you have it." I love teaching people like her. People that God has prepared. There are so many of them out there. We just need to find them. 

I love Christmas. People are a little more open to talking about the role that God, Christ, and religion play in their lives. I take the opportunity to testify of my Savior. Of the reality of his mission as the Savior and Redeemer of the world. That he was chosen before this world began, that he was born, just in the way that it is described in the Bible. That he taught the true and eternal gospel of his father. That he established his church. That he performed miracles. That he healed. That he performed an eternal Atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane. That he was betrayed, judged falsly, mocked, beaten, ridiculed, and crucified. That he was resurrected and appeared to his disciples in Jerusalem and in the American continent. And that he appeared in the year 1820 to a young fourteen year old that wanted to know which church was the true church of God. That he lives and directs his church today through a living prophet. And that he will come again. I love my Savior. His Atonement gives me the strength I need to do hard things that I could not do alone. It gives me the hope of eternal life with those I love. It helps me to be what God needs me to be. It allows me to grow and change. It is the most important thing that has been done or that will be done on this Earth. I testify of these things to each and every one of you. I know that they are true.

I am learning more and more to walk by faith. To let God take control. And to try to share the same vision that he has for me and for his work in Altamirano and Huetamo. I love you all so very much. I hope that you have an amazing week. And Merry Christmas!

Elder Nielsen

Monday, December 2, 2013

Hello Family and Friends!

Sometimes it is hard for me to express everything that I have learned throughout the week. So many things happen during the week of a missionary. I guess that is the part I love the most about being a missionary. Every day is unique. Every day I learn something new about myself and about others. There are highs and lows. There are spiritual and learning experiences if I pay close attention. I cannot believe that December is here again. Time is passing by very quickly.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) I would say that, at least a few times every single week, people ask me what time it is. Now, I know what you are thinking. That is not weird. The funny cultural part is that sometimes people walk right up next to you or from behind and grab or move your arm so they can see your watch and then ask you what time it is. That happened today. Or sometimes they literally shout out the question to you from the other side of the street. "Hey white boy, could you tell me what time it is?"

2) For most of the new members of the church, we are not the Elders, we are the Hermanos. In Mexico, there are two classifications for Christian churches. You are either Catholic, "Catolico" or a Brother, "Hermano". "Los Hermanos" are basically every other Christian church outside of the Catholic Church. So when slightly intoxicated men call at us in the street they usually say, "HERMANOS (in Spanish) Hey you dude come over here (in broken English)". 

3) Other famous "English" phrases that every Mexican knows are..."How are you my friend?" "What are you doing here?" favorite..."Do you speak a Spanish?"

A few days ago we met two men in the street in a pueblo outside of Altamirano named Coyuca de Catalán. One of them was completely intoxicated and started telling us about a ton of serious mistakes that he has made in his life. He told us that now he was ready to accept God and that he just wanted everything to go away. The other man we saw was walking in the street selling hammocks door-to-door. He told us that he had lived in the United States for almost his entire life, but, due to serious mistakes that he made, he was put into prison for 8 years and then brought back to Mexico. I started to reflect on these experiences and thought about how sad it is to suffer the consequences of sin and disobedience. Just like the great and spacious building must have seemed so attractive to those struggling to hold on tight to a rod of iron, people today are going off in droves, feeling their way towards that building instead keeping the commandments of God. Every single Sunday the churches are almost empty but the markets and stores are booming with customers. The breaking of the word of wisdom and the law of chastity have caused so much heartache in the lives of so many that I have come to love here that it is impossible to describe. And I have seen, firsthand, the prophecy being fulfilled that in the last days men's hearts will fail them. I have learned, on such a deep level, that disobedience, however freeing and fun it may seem in the moment, only brings pain, regret, bondage, and, ultimately, the destruction of our spirits. Obedience to the commandments and the honoring of covenants brings freedom, light, growth, and peace. God's path will never be as flashy as the world's path. But it is the only path that leads to eternal life.

I want to testify that God answers prayers and fasting. The answers do not come immediately. They do not come when we want them to. But they come when we need them most. We had been praying and fasting that God would lead us towards families, priesthood holders, and individuals that are ready to receive the gospel. And this Sunday we saw the miracle. A lot of part-member families and a few investigators attended church. I know that when we give all we have to give, then it is enough. When we exercise faith in God, he answers us. He is very active in our lives. I was so elated. There is nothing greater for a missionary than to see growth and progress in others. This is God's work. This is his church. Of that I am sure.

I know that Christ lives. I feel a lot of tender feelings for my Savior. It is still very humbling for me to be his representative on this earth. I know that his Atonement, his grace, and his mercy make up for what I lack after I give all that I have. I cannot wait for that moment. That moment when I will be able to see him again. Be in his presence. Feel that penetrating love he has woosh over me. To feel completely tried, pure, and proven. Ready to receive the greatest gift of all, eternal life. It is my goal to make it there. What an amazing opportunity I have to help others start on that same journey. I love being a missionary.

I love you all and hope you have an amazing week.

Elder Nielsen