Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September 22 & 29

(from Sep 29)

Hey everyone!

It's been another great week at the MTC. Tomorrow I'll have been here for 6 full weeks. My tentative departure date is three weeks from yesterday. I'm starting to get pretty excited. Something surprising happened on Sunday... my companion and I were called as Zone Leaders. Seriously! How crazy is that? No more than two minutes before sacrament meeting, Brother Sanchez (2nd counselor in the branch presidency)tapped us on the shoulder and had us come outside. He said, "We want you two to be new zone leaders. Okay?" We stammered out an okay, and he whisked us back inside, and it was as simple as that. So now I have some new responsibilities -- greeting new missionaries, doing their orientation, setting up sacrament meeting, stuff like that. It's some work, but I think it'll be a really good experience, and I'm looking forward to it. I'm a zone leader; it's no big deal... haha. It really isn't; it's just a good opportunity for me to learn and grow, and I'm going to make the most of it.

Sunday was also Fast Sunday/Mission Conference, which is always pretty awesome. I was fasting with a specific purpose in mind and questions I wanted answered (just like both of you suggested, Mom and Dad), and lo!, I received the answers I was looking for in Mission Conference. Some great advice, some things I'm
excited about doing, and a general uplift to my already-happy spirits. The gospel is pretty incredible. So is personal revelation; very powerful stuff. And with General Conference this weekend -- hearing prophets and apostles speak is a wonderful opportunity. It's a time to strengthen testimonies, bolster faith, and rejuvenate spirits to be prepared to face the world with fresh courage and cheerfulness. All those qualities are pretty important to have, but they take practice, and we need to continually work on them. I remember my Book of Mormon teacher once said, "I can say, 'I was born (again).' That's not the point. The real question is, Have I grown up?" Life is a growing up process -- not just physically, but spiritually. We're always progressing and changing. We should always be striving to follow Christ better each new day. I recently heard (in a devotional, perhaps) that we aren't given credit tomorrow for what we do today. Not that what we do today is unimportant; rather, just because we do something good once doesn't mean we're set. We must continually improve ourselves and work on those Christlike qualities. It does take work, but it's worth it.

At the devotional last week, Elder L. Whitney Clayton spoke (a member of the Presidency of the Seventy), and he talked about his own decision to serve a mission. He also wanted to become a doctor, spend some time in the military, and do a few other things, and he was worried that a mission would take too much time. He received this counsel: "In 13 years, how old will you be? (32.) How old will you be in 13 years if you serve a mission, spend time in the military, attend university, and become a doctor? (32.) How old will you be in 13 years if you don't do any of those things? (Still 32.) The question is then: When you're 32, do you want to look back on your life and have done all these things or just some of them?"

I'm sure he told the story a lot better than I just did, but I really like the point. Time passes no matter what we're doing -- at the end of it, what do we want to look back on, a lot of meaningful accomplishments or some wasted time? It goes along with finding out what really matters in life and doing just that. The most recent "Mormon Message" is by President Monson (you can find it at the homepage), and it talks about figuring out the difference between what is important and what isn't. I really like that as well.

One more insight I learned this week: at the fireside on Sunday, Brother Swenson spoke (he's spoken here before; he's involved in directing the MTC and some other things). He talked about flying a kite, and how the wind propels it upward but the strings hold it down. He then talked about some strings that hold us down as missionaries. He mentioned things like companions, rules, language difficulties, testimonies, and others, and then carefully explained why each and every one of them isn't a string we want to cut, because it makes us better. At the very end he said, "Earlier we talked about the importance of the wind. But what keeps the kite up? If you cut the strings, it falls." The commandments and challenges we have in our lives are those strings. Sometimes we think they hold us down -- but actually, they are what keeps us flying. It was a very interesting metaphor and applicable in a lot of ways.

Those are pretty much the essentials of my week. I've been studying hard and definitely learning a lot every day. I've been happy and excited pretty much all the time. My Spanish is continually improving, as is my testimony and my knowledge of the scriptures. All in all, life is amazing and so is the opportunity to serve a mission. Easily the best thing I've ever done. I have a lot more to say but only five or six more minutes, so I'll mention a few things and save the rest for the other letter.

Dad - What the! Haha. I love the thought Reagan and the other autistic kids in his class saying that a hundred times a day. How awesome. (What an act! What a riot! Pure Dupree! Who do you say that to without me around?) Love you, Dad.

Mom - thanks for the stamps and addresses. I'm going to try and write some other family today. Nothing too long, but I'd like to write them personally. The cornbread in the cafeteria isn't nearly as good as yours, but it'll have to do for conference Saturday and Sunday. :) Love you.

Miranda and Gabs - Oh shooo.... I want you both to do me a favor. Go outside into the front yard and just stand there and look around for a couple minutes. Smell the air and look and the mountains and the changing of colors and feel the wind and the sun. Life is really a blessing. That sounds a little preachy for my sisters, so I'll add this application: Go have fun!! Have as much fun as you can in life. That doesn't mean doing dumb things or not taking school and church seriously. That just means you have to enjoy life! Enjoy everything about it.

I'll write you all another letter. Until then ---
Con amor,
Elder Greer

email FROM SEP 22

I hope everything is going well and that you're loving this change from summer to fall just as much as I am. The brisk air, the changing of the leaves... it's pretty exciting. Life here is great, as always. I'm still having so much fun and learning a lot.

Last Tuesday, Elder Jeffrey R Holland spoke at our devotional. What an amazing privilege that was. He's such a powerful speaker. He gave a talk about how important our missions will be for us -- and how important his was for him. He talked about how his mission led to every good thing that has ever happened to his life, and how he doesn't think a day of his life has passed in which he hasn't thought about his mission. He expressed desires for us to have that same experience. To do so, we have to meet out mission head on and put everything we have in it.

Here are some of the other things he said. "I know how we ask a lot of you. I know that. We ask you to grow up almost overnight. But you can do it. Have faith, be happy, be secure. Know that you can do this. If I can do it, you can do it. And I was a lot less prepared, so you can really do it."

Then, about the importance of taking out missions seriously: "This is it; this is real life. This is not a dress rehearsal; this is *it*. It will never come again, either. Do not miss it. Do not miss out on everything that this will be. Do not have a single regret for the rest of your life about your mission. Be able to tell your children about the wonder, excitement, and spiritual power of your mission. Embrace all of it. Let you mission make you what God wants you to be."

He talked about how your mission should remain with you always. Elder Bednar said that when your mission is over, you should come home, but you should never leave the mission field. Elder Holland said, "Don't you dare come home and grow a beard and get a tattoo and put a leather bracelet around your neck and be an idiot." :) Then he added, "Don't tell everybody that I said that anyone who grows a beard is an idiot. But if they're a returned missionary..." He was joking, but it was pretty hilarious.

He then continued. "Don't you dare just do these two years and then say, 'Now I can get back to real life.' This *is* real life. This is as real as you're ever going to get. Let it become you."

Next, he talked about how Preach My Gospel was written to convert missionaries, not investigatores. "For all of our missionary history, our plans have been focused on converting the investigators. But we can't afford not to save you. You are so important. Almost setting the investigator to the side, Preach My Gospel was born to convert you first, and then you would find a way, with the Spirit, to convert the investigators. An old German philosopher once said, 'If you can tell me sufficiently why, I will figure out how.' That is what Preach My Gospel does for you. It can teach you why. You will figure out how."

Next, he talked about how we need to open our mouths. "This is indeed a war. I'm just glad we're the good guys -- those with Red Cross bandages. And we don't give you swords, bows and arrows, not even slings. We give you words. Your spirit and testimony are all you have -- and that's enough. We plead with you to open your mouth. You have to use the only weapon you have. Don't fall pray to memorization. In the old days, it didn't matter what anyone needed. They could be in the middle of a divorce -- 'That doesn't matter! We've got a lesson! Go sit in a corner and be quiet!' In the end, teach! Open your mouth!" Of course he was exaggerating to make a point, but I think what he said is very powerful.

One more thing. He was talking about Helaman 5:17-18 and said: "What did Lehi and Nephi use here? Did they beat those dissenters with a brick? Wrestle them to the floor? Stick a javelin in their toes? No. They used their words. Powerful, spiritual words, but words nonetheless."

He said so many more things -- I'm only about halfway through my notes -- but in the interest of time I'll move on.

I had an amazing Referral Center experience on Saturday. I had an online chat with a girl named Alexzandrea who is planning on getting baptized in December, when her parents let her. She had great questions, like "How do I tell my friends what the Book of Mormon is?" and other questions about different doctrines and beliefs. She had an amazing testimony -- you could tell she really loves the Book of Mormon. I talked with her for almost an hour, and at the end, she said, "If you are ever in Little Rock, Arkansas, look for me at church! Until then, I'll just be praying that someday you'll be sent here so that I can meet the man who answered all my questions and helped me feel the Spirit so strongly." I couldn't have asked for a better experience. That made me feel so great. That is truly the power of missionary work -- developing a love for our brothers and sisters. It makes me so excited to get out into the field and start preaching the restored gospel of our Savior Jesus Christ.

That pretty much sums up the highlights of my week. I'm still learning so much here and loving every day. Sometimes the MTC is monotonous; I'll admit that. But there is a spirit here that is at times palpable, and it continually motivates me to be better and work harder. My prayers have become more meaningful. When I read the Book of Mormon, I learn something to apply to my life every single time. I'm so excited for General Conference in a couple weeks -- never before have I been so excited to hear the words of living prophets, because I now understand how powerful they are.

In short, life here is incredible. This is, without a doubt, the best decision of my life to this point. I feel incredibly lucky -- for so many things. First off, for my family. Mom, Dad, Miranda, Gabbie, Reagan (and Nikka): you mean so much to me. Without the influence of every one of you, my life wouldn't be nearly so blessed. I love you all very much. My extended family has been a great example to me too. I love my friends as well. Every single one has touched my life in a special way and taught me something new. I'm so grateful for your support. My ward, Bishop Bell, the teachers I've had and the people I've come in contact -- they have all been blessings in my life. I'm just so grateful for the opportunity to be here on Earth -- to have such beauty and opportunity around me at all times, to be able to partake of this wonderful life. And I'm even more grateful to be on a mission and to be serving my Savior Jesus Christ. There could be no better calling.

My time's about up. Gabbie and Miranda - I love you guys, I love all of you very much.

Con amor, Elder Greer

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

One Month, wow

   Bienvenidos! (a la clase de espanol... reminds me of what we used to say everyday at the beginning of class back in high school.) Como estan todos?
   It's crazy to think that I've been here four weeks. It really doesn't seem like that much time has passed. One month down, 23 to go! That actually sounds pretty short. I know it'll pass quickly. I'll just have to make the most of it!

   How is everyone? Me, I'm doing wonderfully. This week has been awesome. I've had some great experiences in the past few days. First, the Spanish is starting to sink in. More and more often I find myself saying things in Spanish without thinking about it first. Kinda like when Dad and I were in South America - our emails would be peppered with words and phrases in Spanish. It's stating to happen here too. Pretty cool.

   This past Sunday was incredible. Church and personal study are always great, and then we had the fireside. This week it was Richard I. Heaton, the administrative director of training at the MTC (or something like that). He had a lot of great things to say. One was something he called the "perhaps" principle. He stated his talk by saying, "Isn't it great just to be a missionary? Isn't it wonderful just to serve the Lord?" He then showed us many examples in the scriptures of how we are called to preach the gospel so that *perhaps* someone may come unto Christ. That perhaps is key. We are extremely lucky just to be instruments in God's hands, and that is where we find our joy.

   Some of the scriptures he shared were Alma 29, Jacob 5, and Mosiah 28. Read them when you get a chance. He explained to us that our purpose, as stated in Preach My Gospel, is to invite others to come unto Christ and help them receive His gospel. We are to invite and help, not make and force. That is where we find our joy in serving. He also said that none of us have as great a faith as Abinidi, and that still wasn't enough for King Noah, so as long as we do our best, we can't be disappointed in ourselves. Very inspiring words.

   After his talk we had the opportunity to watch The Testaments: One Fold and One Shepherd. I hadn't seen it for quite a long time, but I love that movie. It's so powerful. See it again when you get the chance, because it's really inspiring.

   We also had the chance this past week to visit the RC (Referral Center) twice.Remember last time how I had a chat with someone who had questions about Satanism? This time I had a chat with someone whose questions involved homosexuality, abortions, drinking, murder, and terrorism, mostly all wrapped up into one big situation. Kind of odd, but I did my best to share the gospel with him. I feel like I helped him a little, but he became pretty profane so I quit the chat. I hope he took something from it, though. (It's amazing how much you start to care about your fellow man when you start studying the scriptures.)

I had another experience in the RC, last night, and it was amazing. I took a phone call from a 65-year-old woman named Carrie Perez in San Antonio. She was calling for a free Bible because she said her health is failing, she just had heart surgery, and doctors don't know how long she has to live, so she needs all the prayers and blessings she can receive. I told her how sorry I am for her and testified that God will bless her. She replied, "Oh, I know He will. I know He will." I told her I would pray for her, and asked if the missionaries could come by to deliver that Bible and share with her a message about Christ. She said, "Of course! I would love that." :) How cool is that? It was such a neat experience. I felt so wonderful afterward - and I have the chance to be a missionary for almost another two years! It's so exciting to be able to share the gospel with others and learn from their faith and testimonies. I've remember Carrie in my prayers and I really hope she's doing okay. I feel such a love for her from just a few minutes on the phone. It's crazy.

So, in short, this week has been amazing, and I'm really excited to be hear. Life is great for me. :) Now for some comments and answers to questions from your letters. I am writing each of you, but I thought I'd toss out a quick "hello" this email....
Mom - Thanks for the Bishopric Message. I really liked reading it. My laundry has so far been good - I haven't ruined anything! What a miracle! :) As for needing any clothing... I'm pretty much good, I think. If you wanted to send something, ties would be cool. (I've learned that as a missionary, the only thing you can really collect or customize is ties. Ties and pens, actually. I've never spent so much time thinking about pens as in the last couple weeks. ha) Send a couple my way if you get the chance (ties, I mean). Otherwise, I'm doing great. (Oh, and maybe some Swedish fish... my district has missed the daily sugar rush. Haha.)

Gabbie - Sounds like you had a cool presentation at school about Grandpa Oliver! :) How's school going? Thanks for all the comics, by the way. I really like reading them. How do you like being in my room? :)

Miranda - Congratulations on getting asked to Homecoming! When is it? You'll have to let me know how it goes and what you do, plus maybe send a picture or two when you get them. Have fun!

Dad - what you wrote about D&C 84 and The Book of Mormon was very powerful. Thank you. I've really been trying to increase my meaningful study of the scriptures. What I'm doing now is reading straight through the Book of Mormon, but when something catches my attention (which is often), I write my thoughts in
this awesome study journal I have and do some cross-referencing and stuff. So sometimes I only read a few verses a day; other times, a few chapters. I'm going to try to finish before I leave the MTC, but we'll see. I'm also reading the Libro de Mormon with my companion; we read a chapter a day outloud. We're almost to the end of 1st Nephi. That's coming along really well too.  Your story about Nikka was pretty funny. ("Do you do drugs, Nikka? Gooood.") I liked the story about Reagan as well. It's always awesome when he shows his personality and responds to something that we do (in a way other than running away, screaming, or pushiing). Oh shoooooo.

The new Spanish Bible is really cool. I like it a lot. It officially came out yesterday. There's an announcement on the Church's Newsroom website that's pretty interesting.

Did I miss anyone? Mom, Gabbie, Miranda, Dad... nope, that's it. :) Like I said, I'll write everyone a letter today, so look forward to that in the next couple days.

I love you all very much, and I'm always praying for you. Give Reagan and Nikka hugs for me (and each other, too). I hope to hear from you soon. Life is incredible - make the most of it.
Con amor,
Elder Greer.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Pictures sent Sep 3

Justin and the others in his room. His comp (far left) also going to Tuxtla Gutierrez; the other 2 spanish speaking stateside.
                 Justin's district - all spanish speaking, some to Mexico, others stateside

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

September 1, 2009

Hey everyone!

One day passes to the next, I keep studying and praying and having fun, and suddenly I've been here for two weeks! How crazy is that? It feels like forever, but then again it doesn't feel like it's been nearly that long at all. I'm excited to have another 7ish weeks to go! :)

Once again, I made a list of some things to write about, so these first few might be kind of jumbled. (Primero: happy belated birthday, Dad! I'm going to write a letter to you for that though, along with some pictures.)

Steve Durtchi played the organ at the fireside on Sunday, but right afterward we have movies/study time (movies as in Legacy, Testaments, Joseph Smith movie, etc.), and he was still playing postlude music so I left without getting a chance to say hi. I'll keep trying though - this week for sure!

Also, I saw Cameron! He and I crossed paths three or four times. He left this morning around 8 for the Brazil MTC; his visa finally came through. He liked the MTC and was excited to be leaving so soon. I'm excited for him. Also, I was planning on asking someone to send me a couple CDs or something, but on Sunday our Branch Presidency announced that President Smith (MTC President) had announced that for the time being, missionaries in the MTC aren't allowed to listen to any music - not even hymns. It's too bad that for whatever reason they had to make that rule - my companion has some CDs that have been really
inspiring. One that I'd definitely recommend is called Nashville: A Tribute to the Prophet Jospeh (or something like that). There are some amazing songs on that CD and I'm going to miss listening to it. Dad, you'd really like it... so would everyone else, I guess. Check it out. I'll let you know if anything changes on the music front. Oh well. Obedience is key. For me it's not really a big deal either.

Okay, I'm going to try to explain my day-to-day routine... as best I can, anyway. Up at 6:30 (and I try to be out of bed before then, because otherwise you wait forever you take a shower... which is ironic when the shower's ice-cold, but hey, helps us wake up) and dressed and at our classroom by 7 sharp. (We have a rule that if you're not two minutes early to class, you're late. Also, we're usually 10 minutes early to meeting and about an hour early to devotionals - as a district we like to get good seats. It's worth it.) We have 45 minutes of personal study time in the mornings - this is pretty tough sometimes because I'm still sleepy, but I try to focus as best I can.
Then we go to breakfast. Meals usually last about 45 minutes and I've been loving the food. I usually eat a light breakfast - oatmeal, juice, and a bagel, most of the time - because otherwise you just want to sleep some more. After breakfast we have MDT - Missionary Directed Time. About three hours to do whatever we want. We're supposed to do an hour of language and an hour of companionship study. My comp and I usually set pretty tough goals, but we almost always meet them, and we've definitely been blessed by how much we're able to accomplish. I love personal study time - I'm almost finished with 1st Nephi and also reading Jesus the Christ, which I love. We read a chapter or two from the Book of Mormon in Spanish every day. I can usually understand most of it, which is nice.

Then we have lunch, and afterward a class from one of two teachers. Usually it's Hermano Adams in the afternoons. He's only been our teacher for a couple days; before that, we had Hermano Cowles, but his schedule changed. Brother Adams is the kind of guy that doesn't hesitate to correct your Spanish/criticize your teaching/call you names in front of all your friends. (He's usually nice about it though - I don't mean to make him sound like a jerk.) He's a great teacher too. I've learned a lot from him already. Class lasts from 1:15 til 5, and then we have dinner. After dinner we have another class, this time from Hermana Ampuño. She's from Ecuador and oftentimes unintentionally hilarious. She once asked Elder Montague if he was scared - out of the blue, with no explanation.

Another elder in our district (there's eight of us) let out a shout of joy at something and she turned around and said, "How come, Elder?" It's become something of a catchphrase now. She's a good teacher though. We usually cover all sorts of topics in our classes (except culture. I don't know if we'll cover it at all, but we haven't yet.) - from grammar to principles to teaching methods to the scriptures and then back to grammar. It keeps things interesting and moving, but still, four hours in the same chair (even though mine has a cushion that Jason left for me!) can be pretty tiring. We're done with classes around 9 and we take a half-hour to plan the next day, and then it's back to the cuarto for decomposing and sleep. (I left out gym, which is awesome, and Sunday and P-day, but in the interest of the time I have left I'll move on.)

I didn't realize there would be so much drama surrounding my last letter! :)That's great though. It's always nice to get mail... I've gotten 10 packages so far (8 from Mom, one from Lisa and Laura, and one from Cheryl and Derrin), and I've been here only 14 days, so that's pretty good. The Swedish fish are the envy of my district. (We're only just now finishing up the bag!) I seriously can't thank you all enough for all the packages. You'll see in my pictures how much food I have. :)

Speaking of letters, I've pretty much only received letters from family (which is 100% fine). The exception is Lori Clemons - she sent me a letter through Dear Elder last week. It was a wonderful surprise. All letters are!

I've got a couple minutes left, though, so let me say this: Being here is a singularly incredible experience. There are about 2,500 missionaries currently in the MTC - it feels like the Army of God. It actually is, pretty much. The Spirit here is incredible and I love it. I learn so much every day that it would almost take longer than I've been here to recount it all. The Lord works in wonderful and powerful ways, and we can learn so much through His guidance. I hope everyone is doing great at home, and I hope to hear from you all again soon. In the meantime, know that I love you and that I can't wait to serve the Lord and the people of Mexico.
Con amor y felicidad,
Elder Greer