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