Monday, July 14, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

Well, the time has come to write my last letter home. I wanted to start of by telling you all how much I love you. It was always my goal to be both a missionary in the field and a missionary to those that love me back home. Thank you for your prayers, your love, and your support. I've felt it. Thank you so much.

Impressions of Mexico!

*I've decided to do a few stats or recaps of my mission.

1) During these two years I've lived in: Iguala, Guerrero. Cuautla, Morelos. Tepalcingo, Morelos. Yautepec, Morelos. Altamirano, Guerrero. Huetamo, Michoacan. And Acapulco, Guerrero. My mission was basically half in the state of Guerrero and half in the state of Morelos.

2) I've had 11 companions while serving in the field. 9 from Mexico (Queretaro (2), Puebla, Veracruz (2), Chihuahua, Estado de México, San Luis Potosí, Chiapas). 1 from Argentina. And 1 from Utah (the only white boy).

3) I've served in 3 wards (for aproximately 7 1/2 months) and in 4 branches (aproximately 16 1/2 months).

4) What more can I say about the Mexican people than simply that I love them. I'm going to miss them a lot. I love learning new things about their culture, but more importantly, I've grown to love them very deeply. It wasn't like that in the very first moment. It takes a lot of getting used to. But, I feel so blessed for the opportunity I've had to serve them and live with them and love them for two years of my life. I've been in huge cities and the tiniest of pueblos and I've come to love each place where I have served. I feel very grateful.

Friday was the baptism of Rogelio! And he was confirmed on Sunday! It was such a sweet experience. The ward was really supportive. Rogelio is going to be a great member of the church. He's almost in Mosiah in The Book of Mormon (this never happens by the way) and he wants to serve a full-time mission. It was just such a testimony builder to me of the power that the members really have in missionary work. They can make miracles if they invite others with faith. I know this to be true. If everything goes right we should be having two more baptisms this Friday, my last day here in Acapulco. The Lord has really been merciful to us and has granted us a lot of success. I feel very content and very grateful.

I've been thinking a lot about what I could share or say in this last letter. I guess the only thing I can think of is to share my testimony with you all for the last time here from Mexico. I know that God lives. I know that he loves his children. I know that he answers our prayers. I know that when we keep his commandments we will be protected, we will feel peace, and we will feel his love even more. I know that Jesus is the Christ. I know that he came to this world with the divine purpose of atoning for us. His Atonement is the answer to every aching heart, every pain, every sin, every sickness, every fear, every doubt, and every weakness. It is also there to give us the strength we need to move forward. I know that the Lord forgives sin. He is merciful to those that repent and have the desire to change their lives. I know that we are given weaknesses so that we can humble ourselves before God and realize that we need his divine grace and help. I also know that with the enabling power of the Atonement, weaknesses can be converted into strengths. I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church of Jesus Christ. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and I know that The Book of Mormon is true.

It has been such a privilege to serve as a missionary for two years. To wear the name of Jesus Christ on my chest. I've honestly striven to be more like him. I realize that I am still very imperfect and that I still have much more growth to experience, but my mission literally has been the best and most rewarding experience of my life. During it I have felt joy, I have felt love and charity, my faith and hope have grown. I have also been humbled, tried, and have grown. I'm so grateful for the people that I've grown to know, love, and serve and for the miracles that the Lord has made in their lives and in my life. I know that if we strive, with all we have, until the very end, that one day we will be able to stand in the presence of God: pure, tried, clean, sealed, and whole. How grateful I am to know that I am his child. That he loves me with a love that is perfect and understands me with an understanding that surpasses my ability to comprehend. I know that this is true for each and every one of us here on this earth.

Well, I love you all. I can't wait to see you and be with you again. I'm so excited for what life has in store for me. I can't wait.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, July 7, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

It's really weird for me to think that this is the second-to-last letter that I'm going to write home. Time passes by quickly. I feel so grateful. Yesterday I was able to bear my testimony in sacrament meeting in my last fast and testimony meeting in Mexico. I just felt so much gratitude in my heart for all that God has given to me and taught me during my service as a missionary.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) I repeat again, because I just experienced it today, that there is nothing more frightening than playing soccer against Mexicans. They have no mercy when it comes to a soccer game.

We're going to have a baptism this week! His name is Rogelio. I've talked a little about him before. He's 25 years old and is the friend of a young man in the ward that's preparing to serve a mission. His friend started working in the same store where Rogelio works and invited him to go to church with him. He accepted the invitation and attended sacrament meeting and has not missed a sacrament meeting since. Rogelio is a really great example to me of someone that is humble and teachable. There are so many people today that are so set in their ways. They think that they know everything and are really difficult to be taught. It's such a breathe of fresh air to meet and to get to know and to get to love people that truly are humble in their hearts. That are willing to be taught and act. I'm so excited to see him enter in the waters of baptism!

Something else that I've been pondering a lot this week is the idea of perfectionism. I think sometimes we get caught up in the mindset that we must be perfect, not make mistakes, or be special in order to be deserving of love. I've found that this way of thinking can only really bring great pain to the individual. Because if we think this way, then we are never really going to be happy or content. When the love that the Savior has for us is described in the scriptures it is described as not needing money and not having a price. If we are scared of others seeing our imperfections or our weaknesses because we fear that they will not love us or accept us, we should think for a moment on Jesus Christ. He saw everything. Our weaknesses, faults, sins, and pains. Everything. And yet, his love for us is perfect and is given freely. I know that that love can transform lives. When someone really starts to feel it and understand it and comprehend it, they start to have the desire to live his gospel. We don't need to be perfect in order to be loved. 

A member of the 70 said in a recently published talk, "The word perfection, however, is sometimes misunderstood to mean never making a mistake. Perhaps you or someone you know is trying hard to be perfect in this way. Because such perfection always seems out of reach, even our best efforts can leave us anxious, discouraged, or exhausted. We unsuccessfully try to control our circumstances and the people around us. We fret over weaknesses and mistakes. In fact, the harder we try, the further we may feel from the perfection we seek....The Greek word for perfect can be translated as “complete, finished, fully developed”."

I'm so grateful for my mission. I'm so grateful for the opportunity that I've been given to serve my Heavenly Father and come to know him on a deeper and more intimate level. I know that when I open my heart to him that I will always feel his love and receive answers to my prayers. I need him always. This life is literally meaningless without him, his guidance, and the gospel of his Son. Jesus Christ lives! I know he lives. I have felt the power of his Atonement time and time again. Not only helping me feel forgiveness, but also strengthening me, teaching me, comforting me, and helping me feel his love which enables to me to truly live.

I love you all so much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, June 30, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

So...I just noticed yesterday that the streets in Acapulco don't have rain-gutters like the streets in the United States do. So...when it rains...all the water that falls on top of the hill just sort of floods down in large rivers in the streets. Yesterday was the first time that I had walked in rain water up to my ankles. When it rains pours. And it comes on really suddenly as well. Like...without warning. You'll just be walking around and the sky is completely blue and it's super hot outside. You'll go inside the house of someone to teach them, walk out in thirty minutes and then it slowly starts to sprinkle. Then 5 seconds later it just starts pouring. I love Acapulco!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) This week we were walking down the staircase of 134 stairs that leads to our house in the morning and a man was sitting there and called us over. He said that he needed some bloodwork done and wanted either I or my companion to inject him and take the blood out. HELLO PEOPLE.

2) Mexico was literally in mourning yesterday because they lost their game in the World Cup. Everyone just walked around looking really defeated and it was dark and cloudy outside and raining. The World Cup craziness is now offically over.

My companion and I had a really big miracle happen in our area this week. Since the beginning of the week we had been praying to find a family to teach. Saturday night, as we were walking back to our apartment a lady shouted, "Good afternoon!" from her door. We stopped to talk with her and began to teach her a little in her doorway. After my companion invited her to attend church and explained where the chapel is she told us that she has a friend (that happens to live in our area) that always passes by our chapel and that has always wanted to go in but never has because she always sees that the people that go in on Sundays are dressed-up really nice. She gave us the telephone number of her friend whose name is María. I was able to call her that same night during our planning session and invited her to attend church the next day. She was super sweet over the phone and said that she would attend. The next day, she arrived at sacrament meeting with her husband Gabriel. They stayed for two hours and said that they really enjoyed the services. As they were leaving she told my companion that she wants to invite her three children next Sunday. My companion asked her how old they are and she said 14, 13, and 9. It was such a sweet experience. And such a testimony to me of how God answers our prayers. I'm so excited for them. They seem like such a sweet family.

It doesn't really feel like I'm about to finish my mission. It really hasn't hit me yet. Everytime it does though I get a little emotional. I'm so grateful for this experience that God has given me. It's been the greatest experience of my life. I think that the overarching lesson that I've learned during my mission is that we are abundantly blessed and prosper when we put God and Christ first. Above everything else. When my relationship with them and with the Spirit is more important to me than anything else, then I truly am happy and I have peace. When I strive to do those things that will strengthen my relationship with them, in both the good and bad times, then I will always prosper. I know that I need them every single day.

I love my Savior. I know that Christ lives. It is my hope that each and every one of us will one day be able to stand before him. Tried. Proven. Clean. And pure. Obedient and faithful. Everything that I've seen and experienced during my mission has lead me to conclude that that is my ultimate goal. That is what I want in my life. It's such a beautiful thing to see God's hand in your life and in the lives of others. It's so beautiful to serve and see changes both in yourself and in others. I love my Heavenly Father. I love the Mexican people. And I love my mission.

I love you all very much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, June 23, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

It's gotten really humid lately. Like, you'll shower and feel really good, and then you step out of the shower and you start to sweat profusely. I just sweat always. Sitting, eating, walking, even in air-conditioned rooms. It doesn't matter where. But I still really love Acapulco.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) Something that has always impressed me about Mexico is how much people walk. The streets are always full of people walking around. I mean the majority of people don't have cars and even if they do have cars they only use them if they are going super far. And so to do their errands or anything else, they walk. 

2) Everyone that actually lives here in Acapulco almost never goes to the beach...there have actually been a large number of people that we've talked to that say they don't even like the beach.

I just started to think about what I wanted to write today and I was just filled with a lot of gratitude. I'm so grateful for my mission and everything that I've lived through, seen, and experienced. I've seen people break down into tears, telling me how lost and hopeless they feel. I've seen people break down into tears, saying how full and happy they feel that they have come to know the gospel of Jesus Christ. I've seen people that have lost everything, that live in poorly constructed homes with dirt floors, people that live in mansions, people that have lost family members due to violence, people that are tired of sin. I've seen happy people, peaceful people, funny people, sad people, lonely people, desperate people, depressed people, content people. I've seen things that have filled me with joy. I've seen things that have filled me with pain. I've cried with these people. I've laughed with these people. I've worked along-side these people. I love the Mexican people so much. Just sitting here, reflecting on everything that I've seen, heard, and experienced has just filled me with love and gratitude.

I think one of the greatest lessons I've learned during my mission is the importance of dedicating our time, attention, and efforts on things that matter most. There are so many that waste and wear out their lives on things that don't matter in the end. Money, power, sin, these things bring momentary pleasure, nothing more. They don't fill people up. They actually make them feel empty and tie them down. The gospel is the only thing that brings meaning to this life. It is the only thing that will lead us to eternal life. I know that this is true. I've seen it time and time again.

Above all, I know Christ lives. I know God lives. I know it. I love my Savior. I'm so imperfect as a person. I have so many faults and weaknesses. I need his grace and I need his mercy. Today, in our district meeting, the district leader asked me to share why I'm here serving as a missionary. I'm here because I recognize that the Atonement is real. That I have a debt that I can never pay with the Savior. The least I can do is serve him, strive to do what is asked of me, and help others come to know him and his gospel. I know that this church is true. It is the only church that has the power of God, his priesthood. It is the only church that has the power to lead men and women towards eternal life.

I'm excited to see you all soon, but I still have an important part to play in the time that I have left. I love you all very much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, June 16, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

It's been such an amazing week. I feel very blessed (even though I'm sort of really sick to my stomach right now). My companion and I work really well together and the Lord blessed us with miracles this week. Oh yeah. And it's stinckin' hot here in Acapulco right now. Just sayin'.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) So soccer. I've talked about soccer before but with the whole world cup thing going on right now it's gotten even worse. Every Mexican man is out practicing his fancy soccer tricks in the street. I honestly think that it's harder for my companion (who's a die-heart soccer fan) to be away from home right now and not be able to watch the games than it was for him to be away from his family during Christmas. Not joking either (I just told him that I wrote this and he confirmed its truth). HELLO PEOPLE.

So, I don't know if you remember me talking about the young man that attended church last Sunday with a member. His name is Rogelio. And he has turned out to be the biggest miracle ever. We went to visit him on Saturday with his friend that's a member for the first time since Sunday to teach him the Restoration. On Sunday we had invited him to begin reading The Book of Mormon. When we asked him if he read, he said, "Yeah, I'm in 1 Nephi 12, and I particularly liked the part about the vision Lehi had of the tree of life in chapter 8. I love reading it because I can picture in my mind exactly what's happening." *This is the moment when Elder Nielsen's jaw dropped. Just to let you know. THIS NEVER HAPPENS. He came to church again on Sunday and expressed his desire to be baptized and wants his friend to baptize him. The members have taken him in and supported him so much. It's been so beautiful to see so far. I know that God is a God of miracles. He always comes when the time is right. We also found a young woman named Alondra who's the sister of a recent convert. The same exact thing has happened with her. The youth have taken her in and she attended sacrament meeting for the first time on Sunday. She's reading and praying. There's nothing sweeter than seeing the faith of people grow. You can literally see the light growing inside of them each time you see them. It's because they've finally found the thing that will ultimately make them happy. We were richly blessed this week.

I was really present during sacrament meeting yesterday. A young man that just entered the temple for the first time this past week and has put his mission papers in was given the opportunity to bear his testimony. It made me really emotional. It just sort of hit me in that moment that my time as a missionary is coming to an end. But it was a good type of emotional. I felt peace. I felt happiness. I felt a lot of joy. I felt that my Heavenly Father was very pleased with me. My mission has been very difficult and trying but also the sweetest and most joyful experience of my life. I've grown closer to my Heavenly Father in ways I cannot describe. His love is so pure. It has the ability to change people's lives. I just wish everyone could see and feel that. When we strive our best, he will show us our weaknesses. But he does it so that we can gradually work through them and become more like our Savior in the process. I am indebted forever to the Savior for what he did for me. I owe him everything. The healing power of his Atonement is available to everyone. It heals. Cleanses. And purifies those that repent and wish to change.

I hope that you will all come unto Christ. Do something this week that will allow you to grow closer to him. I promise that as you feel his love and grow closer to him, that everything will be fine. You will feel peace, greater direction and clarity, and you will know what decisions need to be made and what the Father has planned for each and everyone of you. I love you all so much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, June 9, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

We are definitely starting the rainy season here in Mexico. When it pours. And it rains a lot. It's actually sort of a vicious cycle. It rains. Making it even more humid. Then the sun comes out in its full splendor and all that rain starts evaporating making it even more humid and hot. It's definitely different living in a tropical setting. Oh yeah. My companion Elder Anglin went to Cuernavaca on Saturday morning and should be on his way home right now. I'm here with my new and last companion! His name is Elder Gonzalez (I've digressed to having all-Mexican companions) and he is from Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, Mexico. He has about 8 months in the mission and is the most distracted person I've ever met but a really good Elder. I'm starting my last change!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) So on the Costera (the touristy street on the coast), at night time, there are literal Cinderella-esque carriages that go down the streets, being pulled by white horses, draped by multicolored Christmas-lights, with tourists riding in the back. HELLO PEOPLE.

2) Some of the common professions that people have here all have to do with tourism. They all work in hotels, restaurants, and there are actually a lot that work in the fishing industry as well (the Dad of the stake president that lives above us goes to work at 7:00 p.m. every day and dives for lobsters).

So this week was hectic. There were just a lot of changes and a lot of activity. But the thing that impressed me the most this week was what Heavenly Father taught me about the principle of prayer. Elder Anglin (and now Elder Gonzalez) and I have worked really hard here in the ward. We've been finding a lot of people to teach but for one reason or another they just haven't been progressing. They just don't attend church. On Saturday night I remember, after making all the plans for members to go by for them, making phone calls, and doing everything I could, I just remember praying and asking that God would bless each and every one of them, by name, that they would be able to arrive at sacrament meeting the next day. On Sunday, not one investigator showed up for the second week in a row. I remember sitting in sacrament meeting yesterday and just feeling so confused and a little depressed. I felt that God had not answered my prayers and I didn't understand why. After the meeting had ended, however, I noticed that a young man that's preparing to serve a mission in the ward had brought a friend that's not a member. His friend stayed all three hours and I was able to sit next to him in the meetings and explain everything that was going on. At the end of the services we taught him about the Book of Mormon and challenged him to be baptized and he accepted the challenge. It was such a unique way in which God answered my prayers. He addressed our needs and rewarded our efforts and answered my prayers, but not in the way I expected them to be answered. I didn't even anticipate it. What worried me a little is that even after seeing a new person attend church that could progress I still found myself thinking about the people that didn't come. But I strove to focus on the one that did come and accept that as an answer to my prayer.

Later on in the day, as we were walking to an appointment, we stopped to talk to a lady that was washing clothes in front of her house. She began crying and told us how tired she was and how sometimes she loses the will to live. And that she's been praying and asking God for strength and help to move forward. She has recently lost her son and the wife of her son abandoned their child with her. Another one of her grandchildren also recently had a serious accident. We began to teach her about the Plan of Salvation and invited her to come unto to Christ, promising that our message would make her burdens light and affirming that God sends us to those who need us. But at the end she said that she didn't have time to listen to us. I believe that we arrived at her door as a response to her prayers. But, I don't believe she recognized, or wanted to recognize the answer. After we began walking away a very strong impression came into my mind in the form of a phrase, "I hear and answer every child's prayer."

How often to we reject the answers that God gives us just because they don't fit neatly into the spectrum of answers or help that we were waiting for and willing to receive? So many prayers must be answered but maybe those answers go by unnoticed because we are not willing to listen or recognize. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."

I know God lives and loves us. I know that he hears and answers our prayers. I hope that I will always be able to recognize those answers when they come and be so happy and rejoice in the help and answers he gives me. I'm learning more and more to trust in him and walk with him every day. I love missionary work. We are literally inviting people, every day, to come unto Christ and rest. I know that this work will move forward. I know my Savior lives and loves me and each and every one of us.

I love you all very much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, June 2, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

So, this week is my companion's last week in the mission field. There's a tradition among missionaries that every missionary in the zone of an Elder that is finishing his mission cuts into the tie that the Elder is wearing during his last district meeting. Then the companion of the Elder that is finishing his mission cuts the entire tie off. Well. I just cut his tie off. Weird to think that that'll be happening to me in 6 weeks :0.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) So you know those old-fashioned arcade games. Yeah. Those are still big here. There are actually just tiny little businesses, usually situated close to schools, that are dedicated to solely having like 6 or 7 old arcade games. They are jam-packed with kids after school gets out.

2) Well, I think I've already established that Mexicans like their tortillas. Here in Costa Azul there are a lot of people that don't live close to a Tortillería (place where they sell tortillas). So what the tortillerías have done is hire a young man that has a motorcycle, to drive around all of Costa Azul, honking his horn as loud as he can, with a cooler full of hot tortillas strapped onto the back of his bike. It's rather amusing to me. The funniest part though is that there is more than one tortillería competing. So sometimes you'll just hear three different motorcylces going around honking their horns in the same neighborhood.

3) There are a lot of people in Costa Azul that sell things like bread or sandwiches, or things like that and they'll just walk around with huge baskets, full of the things they're selling, on top of their heads. I want one of them to teach me how to balance it on my head before I go home.

I love seeing the faith of the people that I live among. A few weeks ago a sister in the ward had given us a reference to visit a young lady that works in a tiny store up in the hills of Costa Azul. We had passed by to try to contact her but could never end up finding her. On Saturday we were able to make contact with her and the experience really impressed me. She works in a small, over-the-counter store on a somewhat busy street so obviously we were not teaching her in what people would call an "ideal" setting. Oh yeah. We were all standing up as well. But what impressed me is that even in circumstances like that, we were able to teach her the message of the restoration. I could see the Spirit working in her as well. And at the end of the lesson she accepted the challenge to be baptized. Those are experiences that give me peace and help me understand that there truly are people that are "pure in heart". That truly desire to know the truth. And that God is working hard to save. Seeing the faith of others helps my faith grow. I trust in God a lot more now than I did before I was a missionary. I've truly learned to rely on him day by day. When I rely on him, I have success. When I start relying on myself or stop earnestly seeking after his guidance, I don't have success and I'm usually not happy either. It's very simple. He's just been training me, little by little, and helping me understand the need to truly walk with him every day. I truly need him "every passing hour", and not just as a missionary.

I've really been analyzing the part in the sacrament that if we always remember the Savior, then we will always have the Spirit to be with us. There are difficult moments in the mission and in life (I'm sure that this isn't a surprise to anyone). There have just been moments here where I have been exhausted, drenched in sweat, and walking up a steep hill. I've found that two things help me feel happy in those situations and peaceful and also prevent from internalizing and focusing on myself. 1) I think of the Savior and his Atonement and I automatically feel an increase of the Spirit. 2) I look up (literally) at the people around me and focus in on one that I can contact and teach.

I love my Savior. So very much. He's my motivation to keep going. His Atoning sacrifice has changed and continues to change me and help me grow. His grace and mercy have healed and cleansed me. I'd be nothing without him.

I love you all so very much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, May 26, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

We have two areas in our zone. One is called Cumbres. And the other is called Cima. I want you to Google translate those two words to find out what they mean in English. Then you will come to a realization of how the terrain is here in Acapulco.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) Well I guess this first one is sort of an impression/funny story. So, we were on divisions this week with an area in our zone. I ended up staying in my area with an Elder that is in his first change. We were walking back towards our house at the end of the day and started getting close to a street corner, on the which we saw three of the largest pitbulls that I have ever seen in my life. We could see clearly that two of them were tied and innocently assumed that the third was tied as well. As we got closer, well, I guess the third pitbull got scared and....the chase began! I got out of the way and he kept chasing my companion about half way down the street. Yes, after almost 23 months in the field I got chased by my first street dog in Mexico!

2) There is a part of our zone that's not located on the coast of Acapulco and the areas are called Renacimiento and Zapata. Well, the form of public transport in this part of Acapulco are pick-up trucks. The back of the pick-up truck has a covering like the wagons did in the old west and they just put two wooden benches on both sides of the back of the truck. They get pretty full so people that don't get a seat just sort of hang off the back. HELLO PEOPLE.

Well, this week was honestly super difficult. It was just one of those weeks when it seems like everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. I had a few weak moments but tried to remain positive, faithful, and hopeful for most of the week. But I learned a lot from this week. It was just another testimony to me that God expects our loyalty and faith in both the good and bad. In both the sunshine and rain. To keep studying the scriptures with faith and real intent. To keep praying with faith and real intent. And to keep serving others. I just remember on Saturday night being SO ready to go to church and take the sacrament. Taking the sacrament every Sunday has really become something sacred to me. My mission president has really prompted us repeatedly to gain our own testimonies about the importance of taking the sacrament and church attendance. During the sacrament I feel so much peace. It is a moment that I can just think about my Savior. Think about his Atonement. And remember the great things that he has done for me in my life. I commit to changing. When I take the sacrament in this way, church becomes a sacred experience for me every Sunday. I leave with energy, peace, and hope.

Well, that's the way I left church yesterday. Right after the services we felt inspired to visit a referral that we had received from a less-active member but that we hadn't been able to get into contact with. When we got up to her house she was outside washing dishes. We asked her if we could share a message with her about the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She said yes. She (Edith) lives in very humble conditions and told us that she didn't have chairs to offer us so we taught the lesson in front of her house standing up. But it was so spiritual. We taught her the restoration and she easily accepted a baptismal date. At the end of the lesson we invited her to say the closing prayer. She started to say it and burst into tears. She just said that she felt so much peace and relief. We let her know that it was the Spirit teaching her that this message is true and will bless her life. God blessed us with the opportunity to find many more new investigators after church and they all accepted the challenge to be baptized.

After a week of so much trial, it was such a sweet blessing that we received yesterday. I actually started tearing up as Edith said her closing prayer. I just felt so grateful for the mercy of God. He loves his children so much. This work isn't about me. It's about God reaching out to his children through his Spirit and guiding his missionaries to where they need to be. I'm so grateful for a loving Father in Heaven that knows me personally, intimately, and deeply. I'm so grateful that he answers prayers in the moment when his children need it. I'm so grateful for growth and change. I love this gospel.

I love you all!

Elder Nielsen

Monday, May 12, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

So, the apartment where we live is literally in the middle of a steep hill. In order to arrive at our house we must climb, (I counted them), 134 stairs. Sometimes multiple times every single day. That, in addition to the steep hills. And the humidity. Needless to say, I end every day drenched in sweat (sorry if that's gross...but it's true). Oh yeah, our house has water problems a lot so we usually shower with a hose like 2-3 days a week. I prefer it to showering with buckets (done that too). Just a random stream of thought right now. But I'm really loving Acapulco!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) So you know how on some buildings if they don't want people jumping the walls or climbing up the gates that they will put some type of barbed wire or spikes on top of the wall or gate? Well, in Mexico they use broken glass bottles! Like literally they just break beer and soda bottles in half and place the part with the jagged edges upward to try to ward off anyone that tries to break into their homes.

2) Acapulco is full of mango trees. And I guess right now mangos are in season. It's actually pretty dangerous because you'll just be walking down the streets and mangos will just be literally falling from the trees. Some have almost hit me in the head. They are all over the ground as well. Needless to say, the members have been offering us A LOT of mangos lately.

3) I mentioned this before but just to remind you, usually when we eat with members they make us water by blending some type of fruit and putting its juice and pulp in water. The only not so good part is that a lot of Mexicans do not like to add sugar to the water. They hate it actually. So it gets pretty bitter sometimes. And sometimes they don't blend the fruit really well so it's just like water with fruit chunks.

4) I ate pansita this week. Cow stomach that is. It looks like and smells like a cow's stomach I might add. She put it in this super spicy broth and gave us tortillas and Coke and white rice and beans. It was...interesting. It just tastes like your eating animal fat.

A lot of impressions this week. Mexico never ceases to amaze me. I truly love it here. I'm really going to miss a lot of aspects of the culture. I think one of the things that I'm going to miss the most is how loving the Mexican people really are. When they truly love someone they would give almost anything for that person. They are such a giving people and show their love to others through their actions. They just make you feel good as well. They make me laugh a lot. At the beginning of my mission it was so hard for me to love them. I mean, I didn't understand what they were saying to start off with and everything just seemed completely foreign to me. But now as the time has passed and my mission starts to come to a close I realize how my feelings have dramatically changed. I love the Mexican people. And I'm going to miss them a lot. These people will always have a very special place in my heart.

I think one of the most difficult things for missionaries sometimes is seeing people have spiritual experiences and even after all they have seen and felt, that they still just aren't ready to move forward. We had something happen like that this week. There's a man here that got baptized in December but never returned to church to get confirmed. We had a lesson with him and the 1st counselor of the ward Monday night in the chapel. I felt the Spirit so strongly. We testified to him of the power of the Holy Ghost and the importance of receiving that gift. He even cried and said that the message had touched his heart. He committed to come to church on Sunday to be confirmed....and then didn't show up. The Spirit can only touch our hearts. It can only testify of truth and help us feel God's love. But it can't force us to make correct choices. But even if the person does or doesn't make the right choice, we can know that we did our best and our duty if the Spirit is there.

I love the Holy Ghost. Being a missionary has taught me the stark difference between living with and without the influence of the Holy Ghost. Literally I just feel weak and ineffectual without him. He makes up all the difference. He is the true power behind conversion. We're just mouthpieces as missionaries.

I'm very happy right now. I feel peaceful. I'm really content with my mission. It's been such a hard experience but so worth it in every way. I can't imagine how my life would have been without it. I know that Christ lives. His Atonement is real. Just decide to repent and decide to change and you will know what I mean. It brings such joy. 

I love you all very much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, May 5, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

Week one in Acapulco completed! I absolutely love it here. It's so different from any other area that I've been in before. I feel like the Lord has prepared a lot of special experiences for me here. I feel very energized and very happy!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) So, people from Acapulco and the coast have a very distinct look to them. I mean not everyone is the same, but generally the people here have darker skin, but like...really dark, and a lot of them have curly hair. Their accent is also completely different. They talk very quickly and slur their words. I love it!

2) The main street that runs along the coast of Acapulco is called La Costera. It's very Americanized with really clean, well-kept streets, hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, stores, etc. I think it's so funny because if you literally walk from the Costera up into the actual city of Acapulco the entire vibe completely changes in an instant. It turns immediately into a normal Mexican city.

3) The buses that go up and down the Costera are literally insane. At night the people that usually drive them are young men and they literally have black lights and music blasting so high that you can't hear what the person sitting next to you is saying.

We are basically starting off from ground zero here in Costa Azul in terms of investigators but I am very excited to work here. It's the first time that I've served in a ward since January of 2013! I had gotten used to seeing like 30 people in church on Sundays so when I showed up this last Sunday and saw like more than 150 people I was shocked. The ward is really excited to work with us!

It's hard describing how I feel always. It's weird for me to see how quickly time passes by. It's exciting for me to see me face situations that would have given me anxiety, fear, and anger before and watch me face them with faith, peace, and hope now. I fully believe that our lives could change so dramatically if we would just let them change. We had to go to Cuernavaca this week for a leadership conference (it's like a 4 hour bus ride from Acapulco) and on the way back I just started thinking and meditating. I was reading in the first page of Preach My Gospel about the love that God has for each and every one of his children. In my minds eye I could see how sad he must get, as our loving father, when we make incorrect decisions and sin. But I also saw in my mind's eye the joy he feels when his children turn towards him, repent, and begin making correct decisions. I love my Father in Heaven.

I'm so grateful for the time that God has given me to serve as a missionary. I love my Heavenly Father. I know that if we pray and then listen for an answer, that God will always direct us towards the decision we need to make or help us feel what we need to feel in order to progress and change. I know that this church is his church. The Book of Mormon is true. Its witness and testimony of Jesus Christ, his gospel, and his Atonement is so powerful and has changed my life. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that Thomas S. Monson is the Lord's prophet here on earth. These simple truths sustain me and I'm so happy that my mission has taught me to declare them with simplicity and on a daily basis.

I love you all so very much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, April 28, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

So after 7 months in Altamirano/Huetamo, I received a call from President Kusch this week on Wednesday telling me that I was going to be changed. I am now writing you from my last Acapulco! I will be serving here as a zone leader and I have my first American companion by my side (after 22 months)! His name is Elder Anglin and he's from Utah and this is going to be his last change in the mission. My area is called Costa Azul and it basically covers the entire major coastline of Acapulco (including the touristic parts). We have an ocean view from our apartment! I'm really excited to be here!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) It is super humid here in Acapulco. And the entire city is built into the side of hills. So, basically every single missionary that comes here ends up losing a lot of weight. Fingers crossed.

I'm sure being in a different place will help me have a few more different impressions but that is all that I could come up with for this week!

Well, the Altamirano/Huetamo chapter of my mission has now come to a close. It was a bitter-sweet experience for me. It was so hard and challenging. It was the hardest and most challenging thing that I have ever been asked to do in my life. On my last Sunday in the branch, the attendance was about the same as it was when Elder Millan and I had arrived 7 months before. During my time there I was able to see the baptism and conversion of Luz María. I've learned something very important in Altamirano. A lot of the time we base our self-worth on the results of our efforts. This world so often only demands results. And if you can't produce something unique or excellent then you have no worth. God sees us so differently. Because he knows our hearts he doesn't just look at the external results of our efforts. In fact, I think what matters most to him is the effort that we put into the task we were given. If we truly strove to do all that we could do with the circumstances and help that we were given. But one thing is sure, when we do our best, there will always be miracles. And there were so many miracles. Both inside of myself and in others.

I love the Lord. He's taught me to be a lot more accepting of my circumstances and weaknesses. And when I say "accept" my weaknesses I don't mean that I think it is all right to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Rather, I accept the fact that I am weak, that I make mistakes, and that right now in my eternal progression I will never be able to do everything flawlessly and perfectly. However, I know, more now than ever before, that there is a Savior. That his Atonement is real. I know the Lord forgives and is merciful. He helps us when we rely on him and strive to do all we can. Then grace comes in. Isn't it amazing? Those moments when you receive that divine strength, inspiration, and help that you needed when all other hope had faded.

God lives. He hears and answers our prayers. I will forever praise him for what he has done for me and for those that I love. I am so grateful for the opportunity that he has given me to serve as a missionary and representative of his perfect, glorious son. My Lord and my Savior. 

I love you all so very much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

So, yes. There was a large earthquake with its epicenter in Guerrero this week. My companion and I were in the middle of our companionship study when it suddenly started to shake. We live in an apartment on the third floor so it felt really strong. But nothing happened! Everyone's safe and there was no damage. My companion sort of freaked out a little but I was calm (what growing up in southern California above the San Andres Fault does to you). But we had an amazing week!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) I don't know if I've mentioned this before. But Mexicans have tiny, tiny little feet. What's normal for us is like gigantic to them. They are just a tiny people.

2) So, earthquakes. People are really, really, really, scared and superstitious when it comes to earthquakes. One elderly woman told us that her grandfather had taught her that every time they felt an earthquake that they had to kneel down and ask God for forgiveness immediately.

3) I'd say that the most common business that you can find here in Mexico would be places where they cut hair. Near the center of any chosen city or pueblo there are dozens of places to choose from. And the funniest part is that they are usually all really close to one another. (One time I saw like four in the same block).

Elder Carvajal and I really strove to work positively and with faith and hope this week. We saw so many miracles. We found two new families to teach and various other investigators. It was just a really fulfilling week for us. On Sunday morning I woke up and got ready and just started to read about the resurrection of the Savior in Jesus the Christ and in the scriptures. Then we went to church in order to prepare the little house that we meet in for sacrament meeting. I had prayed and had so much hope that the investigators that we had found would attend church. I had felt that we had done all we could. Sacrament meeting started, literally with about 7 members and 0 investigators. As the meeting progressed less-actives we had taught and other members began to arrive but still, 0 investigators. Before, I would have gotten downhearted and discouraged, but as I observed that no one arrived I felt peace. Peace, because I knew that we had done all we could do. As the meeting was about to finish, two investigators, an elderly couple that we have been teaching, arrived. At the end of the three hours, the husband, who had been really resistent, told us that he wanted to be baptized after hearing about the temple sealing in the Priesthood class. I know that God works miracles. I know that his light is stronger than darkness. And I know that when we do all we can do to do what is right, that the result we should be waiting for is peace. I've learned to never demand certain results from God. I should always hope and have faith that good things will come to pass, but, I am not anybody to counsel him or demand of him what I feel I need. I understand now that his plans are far more detailed and perfect than anything I could ever imagine. If we are living righteous, obedient lives and keeping our covenants, then we can be assured that everything is fine. That everything is as it should be and how God would have it be.

I've also learned this week, even more clearly, that when we choose to serve others, instead of thinking in ourselves, we find real happiness. I don't know why we are so prone to think only in ourselves. I've found that I'm never very happy when I put myself in the center of the universe and want to see everything revolve around me. Nevertheless, I think it is a human tendency that we are all prone to have and that we must vigilently be suppressing. This week something happened that discouraged me and I started to internalize. I realized the damage this was having and prayed that God would put someone in our path that we could help. We sat down to visit a less-active sister and I still found that I was thinking about myself. The mother of this less-active sister was there and I just told myself, "Elder Nielsen, give these people the attention that they deserve". I started to ask them questions about themselves and their family and found out that the husband of the mother of this less-active sister had passed away a few years ago. Without a clear understanding of the Plan of Salvation, I could see that she still felt a lot of grief. We began to testify of the resurrection. That she would see and hug her husband again. That if we live the gospel, we can be sealed with our families and live with them in the presence of God. She felt the Spirit, cried, and at the end said something that really struck me. She said, "When that day arrives, and I am with him again, I will remember these words you spoke to me today." Leaving that appointment I felt strengthened. I completely forgot about the trivial problems that were consuming my thoughts and I felt the Spirit. Service leads to peace, personal growth, and greater understanding.

I know Christ lives. On that beautiful Sunday, many years ago, he left the tomb with a body of flesh and bones. Glorified, perfect, and immortal. I know that one day we too will be resurrected. This life is so short. And it is passing by so quickly. Because of the Savior's Atonement, we can have the peace and assurity that we will be with those we love if we purify ourselves through obedience, repentance, service, and love. That will be such a glorious day. Being surrounded by those we love. Hugging and kissing one another. But even better, knowing that we made it. As families. That we all strove and endured and are ready to enter into the presence of God together. I know that on that day we will truly understand the love that God has for us. I love my Savior and I am forever indebted to him for what he did for me and for those I love and serve. We should remember the sacrifice he made every day of our lives, not just on Easter Sunday. Because it is through this sacrifice that we can be become pure, proven, tried, tested, and accepted. I love him so much.

I hope that you all have an amazing week!

Elder Nielsen

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

Heat, heat, and more heat. The wind is hot. The water that comes out of the pipe is hot. Rooms feel like ovens. My face is always some shade of pink or red. It must be Altamirano in April!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) So, "Spring Break", in Mexico, is called Semana Santa or Holy Week. But this is the week that EVERYONE goes on vacation. Literally, on Sundays usually there are tons of people walking around in the market and streets of Altamirano but yesterday it was as if we were in a ghost town. This is also a huge week for the Catholic Church here in Mexico. There are literally parties and family gatherings almost daily.

2) As we were walking down the street this week we saw a huge truck packed to the brim with goats (normal) and a man sweeping up their...well...droppings (also normal). We stopped to talk to him and he asked us where we're from, etc. He then told us, did you know that goat poop is actually really healthy if you make it into a tea? (not normal). He said that all they eat are herbs and natural things and so it makes for a really healthy tea. HELLO PEOPLE.

On Sunday Luz María, that got baptized almost two months ago, was callled to be first counselor in the Primary! She's excited. She also bore her testimony in sacrament meeting for the first time on Sunday. She talked about the day that Elder Millan and I arrived in her restaurant for the first time and that since that day her life has completely changed for the better. She sincerely and simply stated that she knows the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that Thomas S. Monson is our prophet today. That was such a treat for me to hear. It's just another testimony to me of how much the restored gospel can change men and women. I love her very much and I know that she's going to knock 'em dead in Altamirano.

Something that I've been pondering lately is how easy it is to get wrapped up in the things of this world and lose sight of the bigger picture. Most people do not understand why they are here on earth. The majority that I have talked to have told me that they haven't even thought about it before. So many live, just to live. They take things one day at a time. Never thinking about tomorrow, the future, or striving for something better. For so many, their vision and perspective is so cloudy and limited. Of course, if I did not really believe that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, that life continues after death, that repentance is real, and that one day we will have that personal interview with the Savior and be judged according to our works, then yes. My choices and actions would reflect those beliefs. I would make decisions based on momentary pleasure. I would not put any real effort into trying to do or be something better because, what would be the point? In my opinion, and from what I have seen and observed as a missionary, is that the world is the way it is because people have forgotten, or do not know, or do not want to know and comprehend, that they are children of God. They are eternal. They have always existed and will always exist. This life means something. What we do here on earth means something. The decisions we make today will affect us eternally. Sometimes I wish that everyone could just understand that. If everyone knew and truly understood the meaning of the fact that they are sons and daughters of God and the plan of salvation, this world would be a different place.

I am so grateful for the knowledge I have of a Savior. That even though I make mistakes, that even though I am not perfect, that I can receive forgiveness, change, and become something better than I was before. I have deep gratitude for what he has done for me and those I love. His work continues to move forward. He is calling each and every one of us to be more dedicated, converted, and loving. I know that his gospel has been restored. That it is here on earth in its fulness. I know that Prophets and Apostles lead this church under his direction. I know that God, in his infinite love for us, guides us, tests us, and builds us up, helping us to understand, little by little, the divine potential that we truly have. I know he lives, that his love is pure and perfect, and that as we honestly strive to come closer to him each and everyday, that we will find peace.

I love you all so very much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

As I was sitting and listening to the Sunday morning session of general conference, during President Monson's talk, I received a text message from Luz Maria that just got baptized in Altamirano. It said, "Wow, I feel blessed to be able to listen to our prophet!" I also felt blessed. Every General Conference I feel especially grateful and proud to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And a missionary and representative of Jesus Christ. I have felt very blessed this week.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) Empty three-liter Coke bottles are used in so many different, and might I add, resourceful ways. For example: 

A) They are filled with popular cleaning products and sold in the market.

B) They can also be used as pots to put your potted plants in (when divided in half of course).

C) They can be subsequently washed and used for your own water or juice.

D) You can fill them up with water, stick it in the freezer, and make ice.

I think you get the point. Mexico loves Coke. And Mexicans are very resourceful.

2) Mexicans pierce the ears of their baby girls VERY YOUNG. We talked with a young father holding his 7 month old baby in his arms and noticed that the baby already had her ears pierced. But they usually do it when they are just a few months old. I asked someone once why and she told me, "We might as well get it over with now when they won't remember how much it hurt!"

This week we only had about 8 hours to work in our area in Altamirano because of General conference, a mission conference, and a zone training, but during the time that we were there we were able to meet with a cool new investigator named Fulbia. Sometimes I feel like the faith of the Mexican people is so great. During the lesson that we had with her, she asked us why God makes some people so poor. She's a woman that lives in humble circumstances (her husband got in a horrible car accident, leaving him disabled and unable to walk) and lives off of her son's income and little sewing jobs that she is given now and again. After talking with her I realized what a sweet spirit this woman has. She was so humble, so kind, and was not bitter at all. She told us that in her way, every morning, she prays and thanks God for giving her another day and asks him to provide food for her and her family. Despite all of her trials she still has faith and still shows love. To answer her question, I asked her, "What are the positive things that you have gained in your life by having this trial?" She told me that she has compassion on others that are also in need. Even though she does not have much, she strives to give to others that are in even worse conditions. That it has made her family happy and humble. I told her, "That is exactly what God would say to you. You needed this trial to be worthy and ready to return to live with him again." What a beautiful moment that was for me. God gives us trials so that we can be humble and show compassion to others that experience that same trial. We are then lifted up and made even better.

I really enjoyed Elder Holland's talk. As a missionary there are so many moments when you and your message aren't exactly well-received by the people. There are a lot of sacrifices that we need to make if we are to truly be disciples of Christ. Sometimes it's hard to bear your testimony or share doctrine and truths that have literally changed you and have people throw it back in your face, or worse, show indifference. I know that God loves his children. But he is also a just God as Elder Holland described. He is a demanding God and a God of high expectations. So many today paint him or think of him as this unknown void out there in the universe that is full of love, giggles, and laughter and that will ultimately save everyone in the end despite their actions or what they did during their lives. I have come to know that that is simply not true. He loves us. His love is so perfect. And his mercy extends to every single one of us. But it only takes effect when we do our part. Constant repentance. An earnest striving to improve. Constant dedication, diligence, and obedience. His power is infinite. He is a man with a body of flesh and bones, glorified, perfected, and immortal. He works through his Only Begotten and Perfect Son Jesus Christ. I will always be in the process of coming to know my Heavenly Father. As I learn more and more about him, the more my love grows for him and my respect for him and reverance increases. I love him very much.

I had a little extra time this week and went to go visit David, Cinthia, and Susy in my first ward in Iguala. They haven't been attending church and I was able to visit with them and share a little about the sacrament. More than anything I expressed the love that I have for them. I love them. Very much. It's very hard for me sometimes to hear about people you love making incorrect choices. But I have learned that instead of giving those people thoughtless sermons, the best thing you can do is show them love. Invite them with love. "Charity never faileth." They attended General Conference on Sunday!

I am happy. Peaceful. And determined to move forward and improve.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, March 31, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

Well this has been an interesting week for sure! So my small little district originally was Huetamo and my area Altamirano. Well, this week Huetamo was closed due to some security concerns and the Elders that were in the area went to another area in the zone. Leaving me, once again, as the only companionship in this part of Guerrero. Yes. That means that my days of long, weekly bus rides have been resumed!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) Mexicans never walk barefoot in their homes. NEVER. It's like taboo for them. They think that they'll get sick.

2) Street dogs have such a big fear of donkeys and horses. Every single time a donkey or a horse goes down the street it'll have like a literal trail of dogs barking at it, running after it, and yapping at its feet.

Something that I've been trying to do this week, as I've been contacting people, is ask them about their relationship with God. Usually the first question I ask them is if they believe in God. They almost always, emphatically answer yes. That of course they believe in God. Then I would ask them, "And how did you come to believe in God?" This was the part that scared me a little. I would say that 80-90% of the people I have talked to, when asked this question answered something like, "It's because my parents told me that there is a God." And then I would ask again, "But how do you know that there is a God?" And many would give the same answer. I started to think about these answers a lot this week. There are so many that just teach their children to believe that there is a God and that you should have "faith" in that God and that's about it. It reminded of King Lamoni. He believed in a great spirit because his father had believed in a great spirit. However, the Lamanites believed that whatever they did was fine in the sight of this great spirit. As I have pondered over this, my testimony has been strengthened. We as missionaries invite people to really come to know God. To pray and ask if he exists. To read of him and learn of him. To ask him questions and receive personal revelation. To truly develop a personal relationship with him. To come to know that he lives and that he loves us for yourself. I know that when a person really comes to believe these things and develop this type of a relationship with God that their actions, thoughts, and responses to life will change radically.

That has been the challenge for me, converting that type of faith into knowledge. And converting that faith and knowledge into action. I truly know that faith without works is dead. We demonstrate our love for God through our obedience, our devotion, our diligence, and our desire to serve others. We must be doers, and not just hearers of the word. There are so many that get stuck in the "hearing" part. This world needs more people that are willing to do. To act. To work. And to give. I have learned of the necessity of "doing" in order to build real, lasting faith and conversion. We have a lot of investigators right now that are stuck in the "hearing" part. I remember that an area 70, in a training he gave here in Iguala, said that the moment the church will change in the world is when the members stop saying, "Wow, what a beautiful conference" after each general conference and instead say, "Wow, what a beautiful conference. Here are things I learned. Here are the things I'm going to improve. Here are the goals that I've set." The gospel is a gospel of action and sacrifice. Without it, it couldn't be the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is here to help us grow and move forward, not just to be heard.

I know that God lives. His plans truly are perfect. Because if we submit ourselves to his will, they will perfect us. I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the church of Christ on this earth. His Atonement is real, infinite, and everlasting. It literally changes people. If we are willing to be taught, we will be taught. We will be instructed from on high. He will never leave us alone, and we can never fail if we give it all we have.

I love you all so very much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, March 24, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

So yesterday I heard in a bus that we were taking that it was 44 degrees celsius in the shade here in Altamirano and Tierra Caliente. I was sweating like a pig so I imagined that it must be pretty hot. But I just wanted to check to be sure (the conversion between Celsius and Fahrenheit still hasn't clicked with me yet). So I pulled out our brick cellphone and did the conversion. 111 degrees Fahrenheit. In the shade. I literally felt that my skin was melting. We are entering the hot months. I might die.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) I have learned that when someone in Mexico tells you that they are "only going to tell you one thing" is never just one thing that they are going to tell you. It is basically their way of saying be quiet and listen to what I have to say. I think that it's funny.

2) Apparently if the puppy of a street dog dies, the street dog eats her puppy. I didn't believe it until I saw it this week.

3) There are a surprisingly large number of women here in Altamirano that exercise in skirts that reach their ankles. HELLO PEOPLE.

I really enjoyed this week. After being in an area for so long, you really get to feel like you're part of the community and part of the branch. I felt that way in Yautepec (8 months) and I have been starting to feel it here in Altamirano (6 months and counting). I've really decided to be super proactive and attack the situation here with all of my heart. My desire this week was to find good, new people to teach that are going to progress and God answered those prayers and desires. I literally tried to talk with everyone I saw and God blessed us with some new families and individuals that are interested in learning more. I've learned that when we approach a problem with confidence and faith instead of fear and doubt, that that is the moment when grace moves and we are blessed from on high. Of course, after doing all we can do. That grace is so important. It's fundamental. I recognize that even if I put in my best effort. 100% of Elder Nielsen. It still wouldn't be enough. After doing all I can do, I still need the grace of the Savior. That divine power that comes and helps me do what I could not do alone. That power and the Spirit have lead us to a family of four that are interested in reading the Book of Mormon. It has also lead us to another young woman. That I wanted to tell you about.

So we were teaching a couple of young men that have stopped progressing. One time when we went to teach them, one of them told us that he had brought the Book of Mormon with him to school that we had given him and that one of his friends in his class saw it, took it and started reading it. She asked him if she could borrow it because it really interested her. We visited with her for the first time this week. Her name is Marisol. She read the Book of Mormon and after asking her what she thought she told us that she loves reading it because she feels peace. She feels that it is true and that it is right. Even those these two young men stopped progressing which was sad, I believe that God put them as a medium to arrive at Marisol. Someone that we feel is ready. God is a God of miracles. And through small and simple things, he makes great things come to pass. His plans are always perfect.

I know that Christ lives. He literally came to this Earth. He suffered for our sins, pains, sicknesses, and weaknesses. I never get tired of studying, reading about, or reviewing the Atonement. I still don't understand it completely. But I have felt its power in my life. God works mighty changes in those who follow him and keep his commandments. We need to be patient. Those changes come with time, patience, diligence, faith, obedience, and hard work on our part. I love my Savior. I love his church. I know that this is his church. Because being of member of it, and serving within it has changed me. I have felt the power of the priesthood bless my life and I have seen it bless the lives of others. The Book of Mormon is true. Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. God speaks to man today. That is very comforting to me. He has not left us in the dark.

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

Elder Nielsen

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

I found out that I will continue serving here in Altamirano for at least 6 more weeks! I am here with my new companion Elder Carvajal!  He's from the state of Veracruz here in Mexico (my streak of all Mexican companions minus one Argentinian continues untarnished) and has about 4 months in the mission field. This week Elder Méndez finished his mission. I was sad to see him go. He has been one of my favorite companions and helped me out a lot here in the branch. So that's just about all the news from Altamirano!

Impressions of Mexico!

1.) Here in Altamirano, instead of saying "friend" or calling someone by their real name, they just shout "Oye, Primo!" Which basically means "Hey, Cousin!" They are never actually cousins. They just call all of their friends their cousins. That's a little weird to me.

I've felt an even deeper appreciation for the Atonement in my life this week. It is a literal power that we can call upon to strengthen us during moments of weakness. I promise you all that if you pray, during a moment of weakness, and ask for the grace and mercy of the Savior's Atonement to strengthen you so that you do not keep going down the same old destructive roads and paths in your life, that in that moment, you will be strengthened. I don't know how to describe it. It is a literal energy that flows through you and helps you during your moment of need. I have also learned this week that by shifting our minds towards others and their needs during moments when we are tempted to zero-in on ourselves and our own needs, we will experience happiness, peace, and greater understanding. I think that God is so willing to bless his children with greater strength to face their own challenges when they are willing to and actually serve others.

Things are going well here in Altamirano. We are struggling a little to help our investigators progress but I feel like a big part of my mission here is to help fortify and strengthen the members and the branch so that missionary work can flourish here in the future. I am content with the experiences that my Heavenly Father has given me. It is enough for me. I feel peaceful because I feel like I have strived to do my best throughout my mission, in both the good and bad moments.  I know that when we do all we can do, that is when grace comes in.  That is when God blesses us from on high. There are so many people that just want answers and blessings without putting in any effort on their part. It just doesn't work like that. We have to be willing to make the first move. Dedicate ourselves, humble ourselves, and work hard. In that process, God refines us, shapes us, and molds us into the men and women that he wants us to become.

I know that the power of the Holy Ghost is real. I feel so grateful to have his presence in my life. He is the force behind everything. He changes people's hearts. He guides us to the place where we need to be. He comforts us, helps us feel the Father's love, and assures us.  He gives us hope of eternal life. I know that Christ is real. The Book of Mormon is true. The Atonement is available to everyone that wishes to be healed. We can all do our part a little better. We can all be a little better. We can all improve. We should be constantly seeking for that. But also be content with what we have been given.

I love you all so very much. I'll let you know how everything is going with my new companion next week!

Elder Nielsen

Monday, March 10, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

I don't have a lot of time today because we have to go to Iguala for zone training tomorrow but I wanted to share with you all some of the experiences that I had this week!

I know that God loves his children. I have gotten to know and taught so many people here in Altamirano that have suffered so much. They have lost family members. Many live in poverty. Others suffer from illnesses, divorce, wayward children, and a lack of faith and hope for the future. A lot of people live in fear because of intense social problems that they experience in the region. I remember that when I got here, I literally felt an oppressive heaviness. Like, a lack of the Spirit. As I have been in their homes, taught them in the street, and sought to help them, I have grown to have a love for the people in Altamirano. It is a difficult assignment. The church is really new here and there are but a few members that have a strong and firm testimony of the gospel, but what I have felt is that God has been trying and humbling this people and preparing them to receive the gospel.

During a lesson this week with a young, recently divorced mother and her three young children, I could feel the love that God had for her.  I told her, "I know that it's hard sometimes to close your eyes, bow your head, and know that someone is listening to you. We can't see God right now. But he asks us to act in faith. I know that he listens to us. But he doesn't just listen to us. He answers us as well. He answers the questions that we have."

We were able to have a Family Home Evening with the branch on Saturday night and we taught about the vision of the tree of life that Lehi had. We showed them the animated Book of Mormon video of the Tree of Life. I love the part, after the great and spacious building falls and Nephi says to Sam basically, "Let's go. There's lots of work to be done." They immediately start rescuing and helping others that are trying to feel their way back to the straight and narrow path. I know that that's what we are called to do. I know that God calls people into his church so that they can help others also find their way back to the correct path. I know that each and every one of us have been given trials and weaknesses that will lead us perfectly to exaltation if we will humble ourselves and trust in God. I also know that God expects us to use the knowledge we have gained and the experiences that we have lived because of those weaknesses so that we can help lift up and support others with those same trials and weaknesses.

There is so much work to be done. God is hastening his work in every single aspect. He is asking us to be more converted, more willing to serve, more willing to sacrifice for the gospel, because he knows that difficult times are coming. We have to grow closer to God each and every day if we are going to withstand the storm.

I have been able to gain so much more trust in my Heavenly Father during my mission. I know he lives. I know he hears my prayers.  Sometimes it is hard to keep moving forward when you don't know exactly what is going to happen. But looking back on everything that has happened both during my life and mission, I have been able to see God's hand in everything. He has lead me exactly where I have needed to be and exactly when I needed to be there and exactly with who I have needed to be with. He has lovingly humbled me and then lifted me up to more than I was before. I love my Father in Heaven so much. I have a deep love and reverance for the Savior. His Atonement is real.  Everything unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Christ. I hope that you all know that as well and believe it.

Well, that's about all that I have time for. I love you all very much.  It's so weird how fast time has passed by during my mission. I hope that you have an amazing week.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, March 3, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

Today, Luz Maria, that was baptized about a week ago, took Elder Mendez and I out to eat at a fish restaurant here in Altamirano. I love the way the Mexicans eat. It is so unique. On the table (remember, we will be eating fish) were the following condiments:

Ketchup, Hot Sauce, Jalapeños. My companion ordered a fried fish and they brought it out...bones, eyes, tail and all. The Holy Trinity, when it comes to eating in Mexico is: Chile, Lime, and Salt. Oh, we also ate the fish with tortillas of course. I'm going to miss the food here so much.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) People take their pills with Coke here. That just brought Coke-addict to a new level for me.

2) I love old Mexican people for a wide variety of reasons. Some of which I have already mentioned in other letters. Here are a few more reasons: When they gossip, they make sure EVERYONE can hear what they are saying. The 90 year-old Mexican women are the biggest flirts.  But what I love most of all is their humility. You can tell that they have gone through a lot during their lives. They live simple, simple lives and find joy and meaning in smaller things. The most important things to them are their family, their health, and having food to eat that day. As long as God provides that for them, they are the happiest people on the planet. I have learned a lot from observing their humility throughout my mission.

I'm doing fine. I'm actually really peaceful right now. We had sort of a tough week when it comes to missionary work but truly have been giving it all we have. I have faith that everything will be just fine here in Altamirano. When I got here, I saw what I thought was a disaster and I sort of just let the immensity of the problem and all the work that had to be done intimidate me. I have really learned the importance of attacking large-scale problems one step at a time. God works line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. If we let the gravity of all of our biggest problems overwhelm us, then we will never be effectual. Because we will be attacking the problem out of fear and doubt rather than faith and hope. I have learned that God already knows what he wants to be done and has already devised plans to get the work done. We just need to be willing participants in his plan. Willing to accept his will in all things and keep moving forward with faith. There is still so much that needs to be done in Altamirano. It is a place that desperately needs the gospel. But what has given me peace are the small successes. The small battles won. And the slow but continual progression. Even in moments when it seems like all progression has stopped I can still be at peace, knowing that if I am doing all that I can do with what I have, then it is enough. I am applying these same concepts to my life.  Everything will be alright. No matter what stage you are in, no matter how much or how fast you are progressing, you are fine. You are where God wants you to be if you are being obedient, faithful, and seeking to do what is right.

I read this week in The Acts about the martyrdom of Stephen. The book relates that Stephen was a man full of faith and the Holy Ghost. He did exactly what God asked him to do. In the end his testimony was not listened to, rejected, and he was killed for his belief in Christ.  What I learn from reading this story is how close Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are during moments of difficulty in the lives of those who follow him. Right before he died, Stephen had a vision of God and Jesus Christ and forgave those that had killed him. I know that even in the most difficult of situations, God, our loving Heavenly Father is near. His Son and his infinite Atonement are accessible. And he sends angels to protect us and keep us. That is something that I have learned in Altamirano as well.

I have also learned that there is so much joy to be found in taking in the uniqueness around you. Enjoying everything that God gives you day by day. I love my Father in Heaven so much. I trust him. I know he lives. The least I can do is continue striving to serve him with everything I have. I still have weaknesses and am so imperfect. But I am improving. I am tired but I am enduring. I am so grateful for my mission. I would not trade this experience for anything.

I love you all so very much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, February 24, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

This has been a very special week for me. I was able to baptize someone that I love very much. As we were leaving the water, I leaned over to Luz María and said, smiling and with joy, "You're clean now. Completely clean." Since there is no baptismal font here in Altamirano (because there is no chapel) we had her baptism in a pool. It was quiet. Peaceful. And just to let you know what type of a person Luz María is, as we were leaving the place where the pool was she invited the owner to go to church with us on Sunday. During her confirmation, she was blessed that through her mouth many would come to a knowledge of the restored gospel. That made me emotional. I know that men and women change when they come to know their Savior, their Heavenly Father, and the restored gospel. It was a very special moment for me.

Impressions of México!

1) There are a surprisingly large number of Mexicans that have a large fear of water. Like, there are tons that don't know how to swim. Just an observation.

2) When people give you fish to eat, a lot of the time it is not cut and prepared. Like they will literally just fry the fish, scales and all in oil and put on your plate. Your job is to pick it apart with your fingers. That still grosses me out a bit.

3) Oh. I ate barbequed goat today. As I was eating I noticed that I could see his skull sitting in a pot with the rest of his intestines on top of the counter. It's a wonder that I haven't gotten sick very often during my mission. I think I have a stomach of iron now.

4) It is SUPER hot here. So it is not uncommon to see little babies or toddlers escape from their houses and start running in the streets, butt-naked, and bare-foot. As their mothers frantickly chase them down. That has happened on more than one occasion.

There is a scripture that I have thought a lot about in Isaiah this week. "And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever." I love that scripture. I love it because it is so true. I have seen it. When people do what is right, they feel peace. They live quiet, wonderful, service-filled lives. They don't look for the accolades, support, or the good opinion of this world and its morals that are spiraling out of control. And they have assurance, that if they continue on, that they will receive all that our Father has. They will gain eternal life.

I love you all very much. I know that this church is true. I know that it is true because it has the power to lift up our gaze to the eternal. I know that God knows us. He knows our hearts. Our minds. Our thoughts. And our actions. He loves you, even if you have made mistakes. His plan is perfect. When we repent and change we feel peace. I love my Savior a lot. I know that we are all in need of healing. We are each given our own trials and weaknesses. Sometimes we just need to be there for others. Listen to them. Be with them. And love them. I have come to know that love is so much stronger than fear. And actions are so much stronger than words. God is speeding up his work, for both the people that have come to know the gospel and those who haven't. I love the Mexican people. And I love being a missionary.

I hope that you all have an amazing week!

Elder Nielsen