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

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dear Brother Nielsen,

I am certain that Elder Nielsen has shared with you his experience in teaching Luz Maria in Altamirano.  She was baptized yesterday and today confirmed a member of the Church.  I first became acquainted with her last September when I was in Altamirano to take care of some business with the branch.  At the time there were no missionaries serving there.  Altamirano is a long distance from Cuernavaca and it was necessary to spend a couple of nights there.  While there in May I stayed in a rather run-down hotel, but it was supposedly one of Altamirano’s finest.  As I prepared for this trip I felt impressed to look for another hotel.  I did and when I went in September with my assistants we stayed there.  When it was time to find a place to eat I asked the desk clerk at the hotel where she suggested we should eat.  She mentioned two places – one of the them was Luz Maria’s restaurant, “El Caporal.”  It was the closet to the hotel so we chose that one.  The food was excellent – we went back the next morning for breakfast and the next afternoon for dinner.  More than the excellent food was what I felt as I conversed with Luz Maria.  “This is a woman who needs to be taught the gospel.”  The restaurant was crowded with customers and Luz Maria was occupied with all of the tasks of running a very popular place to eat, so it was not an opportune time to teach her.  We said our goodbyes and I told her we would see her again – at some future date.  I felt something about her and I know she felt something about the three of us.

For various reasons, it has been a challenge to maintain missionaries in Altamirano – security issues, and then the hurricane in September – proved challenging.  But I finally made the decision that it was time to assign missionaries there again.  The first missionary I thought of was Elder Nielsen.  He has been given some difficult assignments in the mission and has handled them with faith and courage and diligence.  When I assigned him to Altamirano I told him he had two assignments:

1)    Go eat at El Caporal, and

2)    Baptize Luz Maria

It took a week or two for them to connect once he arrived, but he obeyed and now the story has the desired ending.  But, I am convinced this is not the end of the story.  Luz Maria is a very influential person in the community.  She joined the Church in the face of strong family opposition.  The traditions of Catholicism run very deep in her family.  Luz Maria found the courage to tell her family – and especially her mother – of her decision to join the Church.  This is monumental.  When I saw her in December she was not sure she could retreat from her Catholic roots, but she has now done so.  She is sharing the gospel already with many and no doubt will be a positive influence in changing the course of the Church in this pueblo that so very badly needs the message of the Restoration.  When her colleagues and others learn of her conversion I am confident they will also be willing to listen.

Elder Nielsen was sent to Altamirano to teach and baptize a very special convert.  He has done so with honor and diligence and love and dedication.  You can be very proud of him.  We are!  The Lord works miracles through His missionaries.  This is one of them.

Warm regards,

Presidente Bruce C. Kusch

Misión México Cuernavaca

 "...ahora es el momento en que los miembros y los misioneros se unan, que trabajen juntos, que trabajen en la viña del Señor para traer almas a Él."

 Presidente Thomas S. Monson
Apresurar la Obra de Salvación, 23 de junio de 2013

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

It's starting to really heat up here in Altamirano. Every time I mention the heat to people here they just start laughing and say, "This is nothing Guero (their word for white boy), just wait until April and May come around." I am literally terrified. They say that during the height of the heat it gets to be about 120 degrees. Luckily the new house we moved into has air conditioning (it's a luxury here in Mexico)!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) Valentine's Day in Mexico is called The Day of Love and Friendship. I sort of like the title a little more here.

We are going to have a baptism this week in Altamirano! Her name is Luz María. It has been such a blessing to teach her. She's actually a reference from President Kusch. He came here to Altamirano in September and felt inspired to stay in a different hotel. When he asked a worker in the hotel where he thought a good place to eat was, the worker referred him to the restaurant that she owns. When Elder Millan and I arrived, President Kusch told us that we should go contact her. I love her so much. She has so much faith. She will be such a strong blessing for this little branch. She has a desire to serve the members and has already accompanied us to teach other investigators and invites people to go to church and to meet with us every time that she gets the chance. Things that at the beginning she told us that she would never even consider she has now committed to do (close her restaurant on Sundays to honor the Sabbath for example). The Spirit changes the hearts of people. I feel so joyful. I love baptisms. They are such beautiful moments. These precious sons and daughters of God show that they are willing to leave their old lives behind. That they have repented and that they are willing to remember the Savior, keep the commandments, and serve others. Truly beautiful. And absolutely necessary as well.

We are working really well as a companionship. We are both motivated and we have seen a lot of miracles as we have acted in faith and followed the Spirit. One example of that happened this week. We were going over our plans in the morning during our studies and a less-active sister suddenly popped into my mind that we had visited a long time ago but that had expressed 0 interest in returning. When we arrived at her house, she told us that it was a miracle that we had found her because she had decided that morning to not go to work. We started visiting with her and everything seemed completely normal. There was a moment of silence and then I felt inspired to ask her "And how have you been spiritually?" She opened up and told us about some serious difficulties and suffering that her family had experienced recently. As she did, she cried. I felt the Spirit very strongly. I felt a lot of love for her. When we follow the Holy Ghost everything turns out alright. I know that that is true. She is now more willing to return to church. 

So many people suffer in this world. I won't go into details, but I just want to say that so many horrible things are happening in this world. Without a knowledge of God, the Savior, and the Plan of Salvation, this world would seem very hopeless and very dark for so many. I know that God is real and that he loves us. I know that everything that is unfair about this life can be made right through the Atonement of Christ. I know that it is hard sometimes. Sometimes we feel so alone and we feel that it is unfair. I felt that way when I arrived here in Altamirano. At the beginning I felt that it was so unfair. But yesterday, hearing Luz María say that she knows that this church is true and that she is ready to make a covenant with God by being baptized, I realized why I have been here for so long. God is fighting for his chosen sons and daughters. As I knelt in prayer yesterday I just told him "Thank You". And that I will never doubt him or his plans again. Everything has been alright. Better than alright. Things have been perfect because they have been the way that God has wanted them to be.

I love you all so much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, February 10, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

I basically have next to 0 time to write to you all today because we had to move and now we have to go to Iguala so this letter is going to be a very short. I just wanted to let you all know that I know God is very present in each and every one of our lives. He loves us. He loves his children. When we humble ourselves and strive our best to serve him, we are able to feel that love even more strongly. I have so much love for the Savior. When I really take the time to think about what he did for me, it makes me emotional. His love is infinite and pure. Through him comes healing, joy, and peace. I am so grateful for relief, for the tender mercies that I have seen daily, and for the wonderful people that I have been blessed to teach. There is so much to be grateful for. I am focused on finishing strong and giving everything that I have. I have come to know and understand on a deeper level that God's plans are perfect, no matter how difficult the situation may seem in the moment. His timing and plans are always perfect. I love you all so very much.

Elder Nielsen

Monday, February 3, 2014

Hello Family and Friends!

So we got the call on Saturday. I'm going SUPER Altamirano! Altamirano and Huetamo will both be open with a pair of missionaries. Elder Gonzalez is going to stay in Huetamo and I will be serving as the district leader in Altamirano. My new companion's name is Elder Mendez. He's from San Luis Potosi, Mexico and this will be his last change in the mission field!

Impressions of Mexico!

1) So, this week Elder Gonzalez and I were walking in a famous grocery store in Mexico that is called Soriana. We were in the meat section. Now, what would you normally expect to find in the meat section in a grocery store? Chicken, beef, etc. Well, we saw...not one, not two, but three straight-up ginormous pig heads wrapped in plastic wrapping complete with snout, ears, and eyes. They were just frozen pig heads. We also saw chicken feet, various intestines, and cow stomach. I love Mexico.

2) In one of our many bus rides this week on our way to a small pueblo called San Lucas, we got into a small fender-bender with the car in front of us. What surprised me is that no one reacted. Like the car in front of us didn't even stop. The bus driver didn't stop. Everyone just continued on as if nothing had happened. Weird.

3) I don't think I've ever described the difference between Mexican and American tacos before. Let me just say that our perception of a taco in the United States is way off track. A real taco includes two super small tortillas that are fried just a little in oil so that they are crisp (hard taco shells do not exist) and usually include some type of meat that is chopped up into really small pieces. The only thing that I have seen people put into their tacos are: onion, cilantro, salsa, and pineapple. Tacos are my favorite. They usually only eat them at night and there is usually at least one little taco stand in every single street.

I am so convinced that if we treat people with love that everything can change. This week we visited a less-active named Dalia here in Huetamo. Every single time that we invited her to church she would just always say that it was impossible for her to go. But this time that we visited her was different than any other visit that we had had in the past. We started by just talking and getting to know her better. I truly felt love for her as a person and sincere interest in her life. Then we started reading in the scriptures about the importance of reading the scriptures, praying, and partaking of the sacrament. She opened up to us and told us how she had lost a baby a few years ago in a miscarriage. Through her tears she told us that she felt peaceful. That maybe she wasn't ready to have a child in that moment but that she's grateful that God has been watching out for her family. I learned a lot from this experience. When we teach and visit others, it should always be done in the way the Savior would have done it. With love. Compassion. Patience. And real interest. I also learned a lot from her attitude. That even though she had passed through such a hard trial, she continued to trust in God and that trust produced peace.

I decided to read a little this week in the beginning of Exodus. The story of Moses taking the children of Israel out of Egypt. There was one part in particular that impressed me. After all of the plagues and curses that the Egyptians had experienced, God asks Pharaoh a question through his servant Moses, "How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me?" Later on, after refusing to let the children of Israel go yet again, the servants of Pharaoh ask him, "How long shall this man be a snare unto us? let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God: knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?" I have taught and visited with many less-actives and investigators that just refuse to accept the gospel in their lives. They could be passing through the worst trials, and some of them are, but they refuse to start keeping the commandments and live the gospel. These questions that God and the servants of Pharaoh asked really enlightened me. How long will we keep making the same mistakes or keep going down the same paths that we know will not make us happy in the long run? I know that God loves his children. I comprehend that love a little more each and every week. It is perfect. It is always there no matter what we do. But he corrects and chastens those that he loves so that they can be better than they were before. I know that by living the principles of the gospel that we can save ourselves from a lot of pain and regret. God shouldn't have to humble us like he did with Pharaoh in order to get our attention.

I love being a missionary. My life has changed because of it. I'm not the same person I was before. I have such a strong love for the Mexican people. I have such a strong love for the gospel. I know that God is our eternal father. I also know that his son Jesus Christ knows us perfectly and loves us perfectly. Imagine that. He knows everything about you. Down to the very last thought. Both the good and bad. And he loves you unconditionally. That is the type of pure love that helps people to change.

I love you all very much.

Elder Nielsen