Friday, January 31, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

Hello everyone! I really enjoyed this morning. I enjoyed experiencing the uniqueness of everything that surrounds me. We had to take an 1 1/2 bus ride from Huetamo to Altamirano and then a 3 1/2 bus ride from Altamirano to Iguala. I saw/heard: A cute old couple getting onto the bus in the middle of nowhere. He had a cowboy hat on, the first four buttons of his shirt undone, a machete, and sandals. She had a shawl and one of those dresses from the 1940's. They were supporting each other as they got on the bus. I thought they were adorable. One young woman got on the bus and I realized that she had baby chicks in the bucket that she was carrying in her hand. Tons of men with very traditional Mexican mustaches. Banda (Mexican form of Country Music) literally blasting in the bus terminal. A rickety old bus that would have been nice about 35 years ago still in operation. Two old lady friends that were gossiping so loud that everyone on the bus could hear. And much, much more. I love this country. I love the people. The food. The culture. The language. The Mexican people will always hold a special place in my heart. Always.

This week my companion moved a box in our apartment in Altamirano and four little mice ran out of it and out the front door. I was seriously disturbed after that.

During our bus ride to Iguala this morning, I started thinking about that well known scripture in 2 Nephi Chapter 2 that says, "Adam fell that men might be; and men are that they might have joy." I started to really think about what type of "joy" that would be. I came to the conclusion that true joy comes when we are keeping the commandments and constantly striving to put ourselves in harmony with God. His plans and his will. 

I have had joyful moments this week. Every single time I followed the Spirit I felt peace and joy. I literally felt God guiding us to people that we needed to talk with and help. On Saturday an appointment we had fell through right before the meal that we were going to have with a member. So we decided to head over to where she lives and talk to a few people before the meal. When we got there we just began walking around the neighborhood and looking at the houses. We passed by a neon orange house and I noticed that there was a man sitting in the patio using one of those old typewriters. We passed by the house but decided to turn around and talk to him. We passed by and literally only had to say "Good Afternoon" and he invited us in. Turns out that he is an elementary school teacher and that he was updating report cards. He told us that he wanted to learn more about God because he did not know much. He was fascinated by the Book of Mormon. I learned that if we exercise faith in God, if we are still, if we let him easily work through us instead of forcing him to push us around because of our lack of belief or our lack of wanting to let him take control, that he will guide us and that at the end of the day, we will have done his will. We will feel peaceful because we worked in harmony with God instead of always battling against his will and thinking we know what's best. Comparing my agenda to what we actually did, I realized that his plans and what he wanted us to do were so different from I had originally planned to do. I trust him even more now.

I've decided that I want to feel that "joy" more often. There is so much beauty around me and there is so much joy to be found in the work that I have been called to do. I love my Heavenly Father. He loves each and every one of us so much. That love is evident in the Savior that he sent for us. It fills me with peace to know that even when we fall upon dark and difficult situations, that we can always be lifted up and restored again. Not just restored, but we will also improve. The greatest miracle for me is seeing the power of repentance and the Atonement take effect in people. I have seen so many examples of that in others and in myself. It is so fulfilling to know that I have been able to be an instrument in the hands of God. I am going to continue striving to be a more and more efficient tool each and every day of my mission and my life. In order to do it, I think we need to stop looking down in the mud and start looking up and realize all the wonderful things that surround us and the improvement, joy, beauty, and experiences that are to come. Then move forward with faith.

I love you all so much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, January 20, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

Winter has now finished. It's heating up in Mexico. At least where I'm at. I guess it never actually got cold in the first place...Just a random train of thought. I'm sweating like a pig as I write this.

Impressions of Mexico!

1) You can't truly become Mexican if you don't know how to dance the Salsa. You just can't. Every single ward activity that I have been in the members just break out into full on salsa dancing. Complete with the largest loudspeakers you have ever seen in your life.

2) Bargaining is an art that every good Mexican has to know because the people that work in the local markets are ruthless, especially to foreigners. Today my companion and I were looking at a hand-made leather bag that we saw in the market here in Iguala and we started up a conversation with the man selling the bag. He said that the price of the bag for those in Iguala is $550 pesos, or like $50 dollars which is the real price. But...he said that he sells the same exact bag in Playa del Carmen which is in Cancún...for $1,300 pesos...and only to innocent Gringos. I was shocked. So basically, the real price of the thing you want is about half the price of what they say it is. That is what I have learned.

Luz María accepted a baptismal date for February! We are so excited for her. She is just one of those people that you know has been prepared before you arrive. On Sunday we had an attendance of about 13 in Altamirano. Two of them being Luz María and her grandaughter. We ate with her afterwards and I asked her how she feels leaving church every week. She told me that she feels strengthened. She then clarified and said, "Not, physically, but inside of my soul." I told her that I feel the same. She taught me an important lesson. People that are prepared to hear the message of the gospel will just accept it. If they are honestly seeking after the truth, then they will go to church for the right reasons. They will go because they want to receive an answer from God, and not because of activities, to see friends, or to have another social group. We should go to be strengthened spiritually and to serve others. Imagine that. A person being able to feel the Spirit and feel strengthened even after attending a meeting that was far from perfect. It is because this is the Church of Christ. Even if two or three people showed up every week it would still be his church. That strengthened my testimony.

Here are a few quotes from the last General Conference that I wanted to share that have strengthened me this week.

"We are infinitely more than our limitations or our afflictions." - Elder Holland

"Trust in God. Hold on in His love. Know that one day the dawn will break brightly and all shadows of mortality will flee. Though we may feel we are “like a broken vessel,” as the Psalmist says, we must remember, that vessel is in the hands of the divine potter." - Elder Holland

"Our Heavenly Father, who gives us so much to delight in, also knows that we learn and grow and become stronger as we face and survive the trials through which we must pass. We know that there are times when we will experience heartbreaking sorrow, when we will grieve, and when we may be tested to our limits. However, such difficulties allow us to change for the better, to rebuild our lives in the way our Heavenly Father teaches us, and to become something different from what we were—better than we were, more understanding than we were, more empathetic than we were, with stronger testimonies than we had before. This should be our purpose—to persevere and endure, yes, but also to become more spiritually refined as we make our way through sunshine and sorrow. Were it not for challenges to overcome and problems to solve, we would remain much as we are, with little or no progress toward our goal of eternal life. The poet expressed much the same thought in these words:

Good timber does not grow with ease,

The stronger wind, the stronger trees.

The further sky, the greater length.

The more the storm, the more the strength.

By sun and cold, by rain and snow,

In trees and men good timbers grow.

Only the Master knows the depths of our trials, our pain, and our suffering. He alone offers us eternal peace in times of adversity. He alone touches our tortured souls with His comforting words: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Whether it is the best of times or the worst of times, He is with us. He has promised that this will never change. My brothers and sisters, may we have a commitment to our Heavenly Father that does not ebb and flow with the years or the crises of our lives. We should not need to experience difficulties for us to remember Him, and we should not be driven to humility before giving Him our faith and trust. May we ever strive to be close to our Heavenly Father. To do so, we must pray to Him and listen to Him every day. We truly need Him every hour, whether they be hours of sunshine or of rain. May His promise ever be our watchword: “I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” With all the strength of my soul, I testify that God lives and loves us, that His Only Begotten Son lived and died for us, and that the gospel of Jesus Christ is that penetrating light which shines through the darkness of our lives." - President Thomas S. Monson

I know that these words are true. They express how I feel and what I have experienced better than my own words. I know God lives. I know that Christ is the Savior of the world. His Atonement is available to each and every one of us. We all need to be healed. And it is through him that we can become whole. I know that these things are true. Now we just have to endure.

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

Elder Nielsen

Monday, January 13, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

So we spent this entire week in beautiful Taxco, Guerrero doing divisions with our district leader and his companion. The city is beautiful. There is a rule that every house, if painted, has to be painted white. The streets are super narrow and the city is basically built into the side of mountain/hill so there are some wicked climbs. All of the taxis are like the super old white volkswagen bugs. There are some streets that are basically just stairs (like 300-400 stairs in a row). And the weather here is so nice and cool because we are at a higher altitude. The city is famous for selling silver and for a beautiful Catholic Cathedral called La Santa Prisca. I enjoyed myself and we had a ton of success but I was ready to go back to my area. And we are going to get to go back on Tuesday!

Impressions of México!

1) A famous dish that Mexicans love is called "pansita". It is the stomach of a cow. Enough said.

2) Usually the sign that someone is home is that they leave their front door completely open. Like if I'm home then my front door will just perpetually be open. Interesting.

We started an activity last Sunday to read the Book of Mormon as a zone. Like, everyone is assigned a chapter each day for about two weeks so by the end of each week as a zone we will have read the entire Book of Mormon. This week I was able to read Alma 24, one of my favorite chapters. After having gone through such an extensive repentance process, the people of Ammon decided to bury their "weapons of war" that they had used to kill others. They recognized that through the power of the Atonement that they had been changed. They were pure. Clean. Forgiven. They decided to bury their old sins and old way of life "deep in the earth". Never to return to what they did or who they were before. Then when the Lamanites came to destroy them, instead of running away or looking for their weapons, they: 1) went out to meet them 2) prostrated themselves to the earth and began praying to God 3) and praised God even in the act of perishing by the sword. These people had made a covenant with God that they would never return to their past sins or past ways of life. They kept their covenants. They were strong and faithful until the very end. I think sometimes that God will try us. He will see if we are really committed to following him by giving us really hard tests and trials. But I also know that if we endure to the end, that everything will be alright. Everything will work out for our good. He loves us and is watching over us.

This week one of our plans had fallen at about 8:00 p.m. and we asked the Elder's Quorum President here in Taxco if he knew any less-actives that we could visit. He said, "Actually, there is a sister that lives right in front of your apartment that has been inactive for about 20 years. You could visit her." We went to visit her and she accepted us in her home. I don't know. I felt the spirit so strongly in this moment. We started talking with her and she got very defensive saying that she "was" a member of the church, that she had already entered the temple and been sealed, but that she had already forgotten everything. But we were patient and only showed her love. We asked her a simple question about how her life has been since she had left the church and she put down her walls and started crying. She became very receptive and promised us that she would go to church this next Sunday. We also realized that her husband, the spouses of her four children, and all of her grandchildren (which are now grown) and their spouses aren't members. I know that if we want missionary opportunities sometimes we don't have to search far and wide. Sometimes they are right in front of us. They are literally all around us. If we really search for them, then God will grant them to us. The souls of his children are so precious to him. He is putting plans in place to save each and every one of them.

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

Elder Nielsen

Monday, January 6, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

Honestly, there was a lot of the bitter with a few sweet moments here and there this week. It was one of the toughest weeks of my mission thus far. But I have also learned so much and will continue to learn from the experiences I have had this week. But first things first...

Impressions of Mexico!

1) They have this tradition in Mexico that on New Year's Eve, everyone has to eat one grape every second for the last twelve seconds of the year. As they are doing that, they have to make a wish for every single grape they eat. Sounds dangerous to me. I thought that was unique.

2) Sorry beforehand but this one is going to be a bathroom one. I don't know why. But it is very common here in Mexico to put the toilet paper you use in the bathroom in a trashcan right next to the toilet instead of flushing it. I personally think that that's disgusting. 

3) Another bathroom one (I have to say them as they come to mind). In a lot of bathrooms the only way to "flush" the toilet is to literally go fetch a pail of water hold it up high and dump it into the toilet bowl so that the bad water flushes down. This is usually the only way to unclog toilets as well. Just if you wanted to know. Be thankful for the things that you take for granted. You never know how much you have until you don't have it.

This week a less-active sister introduced us to a family that she thought could use our help. The parents have a 13 year-old boy that recently suffered a horrible motorcycle accident. He needed extensive surgery on his head and is expected to recover completely but since coming home has gone in and out of severe depression. He had been telling his parents that he just wants to die. He was scared of or did not want to talk to us but he did allow us to give him a priesthood blessing. As I laid my hands on his head, I felt the Spirit very strongly. I can't even imagine what it would have been like to receive a blessing from the Savior himself. I've been reading in Matthew this week about the miracles that the Savior performed. With almost every miracle or healing he performed, it is written that he laid his hands upon or touched the person that was sick. Through his priesthood and his perfect virtue and love, he healed these people of their infirmities both physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. I can't imagine how much love and gratitude these people must have felt. Their hearts must just have been burning. I had so much love and compassion for this young man and my love is imperfect. The love of the Savior is perfect. I guess in one way or another, each and every one of us are broken and in need of healing. We need to be cleansed, purified, and healed through the power of the Savior's Atonement. It's easy to talk about it theoretically but our faith really gets put to the test when we need to put it into action. Everything starts with faith. If we believe that perfect healing and wholeness are possible then, with that faith, one day we will be perfectly whole and healed. That is the way faith works. The trick is developing that type of faith.

We need to trust that God is listening to our prayers as well. I understand completely that sometimes we feel as if they are not being heard or that they are not being answered. I think those are moments when we are too focused on what we want and not on what is best for us. I believe that God blesses us richly. But there are moments when he wants us to learn something from giving us just enough to get by. We learn complete and total dependence on him. He has a great plan laid out for each and every one of us. He is trying to save each and every one of us. He is trying to work through the layers of our heart that have been hardened by life. Sometimes that requires hard and humbling experiences. Sometimes it is a slow and steady process. Sometimes it hits us so quickly that we are not even expecting it. But he is preparing the way for us to make to it the celestial kingdom with our families. There is no easy way around it. If we want it and if we believe that we can achieve it, then we are going to have to put everything on the line for him. We are going to have to be patient as he works with us. We are going to have to trust in him and his Son's atoning sacrifice completely. We need to enjoy every blessing he gives us. We need to love and serve others. We need to be purified and clean. Sometimes it is hard but it is so gratifying. This world causes us to move farther and farther away from his glory and perfection. He on the other hand is putting every plan in place to pull us back. He listens to us. He loves us. He cares. He is anxiously engaged.

Things have gotten a little heated security-wise in our area so we are going to have to be in Iguala doing divisions with other companionships for two weeks waiting for things to calm down. I was very disappointed when I heard. I am still searching for what God wants me to learn in these two areas. We were experiencing miracles this week and new investigators were coming out of the woodwork, but then comes the trial. I'm going to trust that everything is as God would have it be and that everything will be fine.

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

Elder Nielsen