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