Monday, October 26, 2009

Justin's First Letter from Tuxtla Gutierrez!

Hola!


Wow. Has it really been almost a week already? That's hard to believe - just like with the MTC, time is kind of weird. The days seem long until nighttime, and then it seems like they went by in a flash. I figured out that in about a week I'll be one-tenth done with my mission. Crazy, huh? Of course, most of that time was spent in the MTC, but still. It really doesn't seem like that long at all.

Okay, down to business. I'm in a cybercafé that I'm pretty sure is also someone's house, typing on a Spanish keyboard (not much different except with where the punctuation is), and down the row a little ways there's someone using a computer and he's a little too into it. He's laughing loudly, jumping around in his seat... all sorts of things. I'm sure he's got some kind of problem, so I don't blame him or anything... it's just kind of unusual. Anyway. :)

Now for the important stuff. My comp's name is Elder Skinner. He's from Ogden. His mom's from El Salvador, so he speaks English and Spanish fluently. It's been a pretty good match. He's a hard worker and we've been having lots of fun. My area is in Tuxtla Gutierrez - an area called La Salle.

The area covers maybe 8 or 10 colonias... I'm actually not sure what the equivalent of that is. Kind of like how NYC has Broadway, Midtown, Queens, etc. What would you call that? Anyway, it's a pretty good sized area; we do lots of walking and also take lots of colectivos - they're called combis, small little buses that cost around 30 cents and where they cram 20 people inside a space meant for 6. Our area's in the southeast(ish) section of Tuxtla; we live on a street called Pino Su√°rez, if you want to look it up online. :) I think it's #805, but good luck finding that - the numbering of houses isn't too organized and often is in completely random order, which makes it tough to find places sometimes. But look it up and you can kind of see what our neighborhood is like.

Speaking of where we live - it's pretty awesome. And by pretty awesome I mean very third-world. I took some pictures, but I don't have my camera with me, sadly. I'll make sure to bring it next time. Our house is three rooms and a bathroom. Pretty simple furniture and everything, but it gets the job done, so no worries. The bed's comfortable and we have a couple pretty big fans, so all is well. :)

Ah, the weather. Remember that day at Mount Vernon? Welcome to Tuxtla! :) Picture it a little cooler and a little more humid, and you get an idea of what it's like. And we're hitting the cold season now, too. I can't imagine what it's like in the summer. It's not terrible. I don't think you can really get used to the heat so much, but at least you get used to sweating and to always being thirsty. I love it when it rains, too. It rained for the first time on Saturday - and when I say it rained, oh boy did it rain. It picked up pretty quickly - like, within 30 seconds - and it just poured and poured. It rained elephants.

And then, after about an hour, it cleared up, but was cloudy and windy the rest of the day, which is absolutely wonderful with the heat. We were inside, fortunately, when it was raining then, but it's rained off and on since. I guess it'll start raining more and more from now on as the rainy season hits full swing... and we'll get drenched. Oh well. :)

I'm liking the food so far. One thing that's a little odd is that I have almost no appetite anymore. For the last week or two it's been like that. I'm not sick or anything - I feel just fine, and I do get hungry, but I just can't eat much before I'm full. It's kind of strange, but oh well. I've lost some weight, too, and not in a bad way, just from exercise and not eating much and drinking lots of water. Blessings all around. :)

The city is awesome. I love it here. It reminds me a lot of Santiago or the other cities in South America. I'll send some pictures next week so you can see what it's like. The whole city is enclosed within a bowl of mountains - a lot like Utah Valley - and a lot of times we're up on the side of the hill right next to, or slightly within, the jungle. At night you can look out over the city and see all the lights. It's way cool. It's definitely a big city, not some village in the middle of nowhere, but it's awesome. I'd like to experience both while on the mission, but I guess we'll just see. :)

The work is coming along really well. Both my comp and I are new to the area, so we're still trying to ubicarnos :) and get everything figured out, but it's coming along. We spend about half our time contacting and the other half with members or investigators. The ward's really strong and the members are awesome. They have a schedule set up and we eat lunch with someone every day. Right now we have a baptism set for the 7th - an investigator that the sister missionaries who were here before us were teaching. We also have a couple more investigators/families that we're teaching that we hope to set dates for soon. We've contacted two families so far that have accepted the commitment to be baptized once they receive an answer. It's crazy how humble and accepting the people of Tuxtla are. It's awesome.

My Spanish is coming along. Sometimes people speak too fast for me to understand, but for the most part I understand what's going on and can more or less communicate. Dad, I appreciate your advice about being outgoing; I'm going to try to focus more on (moron?) that. I've done a dozen contacts or so and I teach about as much as my companion when we're teaching a lesson, so I've already gotten into the work a bunch and I love it. I love feeling the Spirit and testifying and having people accept what we're teaching. It's not always so easy - some people just aren't open to our message - but for the most part we're well received. I'm studying Spanish as much as I can and learning more every day.

Okay, now for how you contact me. Here's how it works. You send letters or packages to the address of the mission home. Mail is kind of unreliable here, or so I've been told, so what happens is that they collect all the mail there and disperse it every six weeks. So every six weeks I'll receive whatever mail has been sent in that time.

For that reason, it's probably better to email me - at least for the family. We have 30-60 minutes of email time per week (P-days are Monday, by the way, as I'm sure you now guessed), so I should be able to read whatever I receive and still have time to email out. We're only supposed to email family, from what I understand, but anyone can email me. I can also print the emails out (probably) and read them later if necessary. But I'd also love to receive letters, so for anyone who wants to write me, that would be great. Just know that I'll only receive them once every six weeks. I'll try to write some letters too every so often, but I don't know how often that will be, so email will be the main form of communication between us, I'm thinking.

As for packages - it's probably not very cost-effective to send very many. I imagine it costs quite a bit, and I have access to most everything I need here anyway. There's a grocery store in our area and a Wal-Mart somewhere in the city, so if I do run into something that I need, I should be able to find it here. I really do want to hear all about how everyone's doing and how the week's going, so feel free to send a long email if you want, and tell friends, family, or anyone else that I'd love to hear from them, preferably through letters.

Well, I should probably wrap up... which is too bad, because I feel like I'm talking to you when I email (like you've mentioned, Dad), and I want to keep doing that. I loved talking to you on the phone last week; it was awesome to hear everyone... especially Reagan. Haha.

My heart is very full right now. I'm having lots of fun and I love you all very, very much. Mom, Dad, Miranda, Gabbie, Reagan, Nikka: I love you so much. Thank you for all your support and love. I hope things are going well and I can't wait to hear from you. I really am just filled with love right now for all of you. I'm not homesick or anything, because it really is fun here, but I'm just extremely appreciative of everything you've done. Hugs and kisses all around from me, two taps plus a bonus one, and a wave from the top of the stairs. I'll write again next week. :)

With lots of love,
Elder Greer

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

October 13 - My last email from the MTC!

Felicitaciones! :)

Well, this is it -- my last MTC email! I leave next Monday! We got our travel plans last Thursday... ready for it? I leave the MTC at 3 am on Monday, October 19th. Our flight leaves SLC at 6 and we arrive in Dallas/Ft Worth at 9:30. At 12:15 we leave for Mexico City; we arrive there at 2:45 pm. We don't leave for Tuxtla Gutierrez until 6:45 pm, and we should hit Tuxtla around 8:15. Needless to say, I'm extremely excited about this. I can't wait to get to Mexico. Leaving at 3 am is a little creepy (witching hour!), but oh well. The sooner the better!

There are 8 of us heading to Tuxtla Gutierrez, but I don't know who anyone else is except my companion. In our district, 4 are going stateside and then we have an elder going to Oaxaca and an elder to Merida, which are on either side of Chiapas. So we'll be on the same flight up til Mexico City, which will be lots of fun.

Another thing we learned is that in Mexico and other South American countries you can't have a backpack with two straps, because they're too hard to get off in the event of being mugged. (Sounds like a strange reason, but a missionary was shot because his assailant misunderstood what he was doing... anyway, that's not the kind of story to tell someone as they're going to sleep :) and I'm sure I'll be fine, but that's why it's a rule.)

We haven't actually heard about our visas yet -- sometime this week we go up to Salt Lake and meet with the consul and do some other stuff. They haven't given us any other details, but as far as I know the plans we have are correct. I'll let you know if anything changes.

It shouldn't be too big of a deal with the traveling. I'm really looking forward to it. On the subject of calling, I can call from Dallas, or somewhere between 4 and 5 am from SLC. The one is while the girls are in school; the other is super early. So if you want to decide which would be better, I'll do that. It doesn't really matter to me either way. But I am really looking forward to the phone call. :)

I'm really excited to leave. I've fully enjoyed the MTC, and I haven't gotten sick of it or anything, but I'm definitely ready to get out into the field. My Spanish has been picking up a lot recently; it's coming pretty fast and I usually don't have to think about a lot of the things I'm trying to say. It's really cool. I still have a long way to go, but being immersed while in the field will help with that. No worries about the language or the culture or anything; I'm just pure excitement. I really can't wait. :)

One thing I've learned from the MTC is that this is really the best way to live. Obviously, after my mission I don't intend on keeping the same schedule I have here. But the focus placed on studying the scriptures and filling my life with things of the Lord -- that is something that I want to be doing every day for the rest of my life. It's amazing the effect that living this lifestyle has on me. The Spirit is powerful and I can feel it so often; I'm studying and learning new things every day; and I'm just constantly happy. What an incredible opportunity!

A couple things that have happened this week that I really liked. The devotional last Tuesday was Ben B. Banks, an Emeritus Seventy, and he talked about how important the Spirit should be in our lives. He mentioned how there are many ways to feel the Spirit and quoted about 10 different scriptures that talk about
those ways. We all feel the Holy Ghost in certain ways, and we need to learn how we are best prompted so that we recognize impressions and insights when they come. This goes along with what you were saying, Dad, about how the gospel was written for us; and who is "us," if not "you"? :) The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a personal thing. Heavenly Father has a plan for each individual son or daughter. There are indeed parts of scripture written specifically for me, and for you, and for everyone else. Similarly, the Savior knows us -- personally! I think that's why we're always told to "be of good cheer" -- it's hard to feel sad or depressed when you understand that the Savior and our Father know us personally and have specific things in store for us. That knowledge really takes away a lot of the frustration of life. When you place your life in His hands, you don't have to worry or fear anymore. That's something I've been gradually learning during my time here.

One last note -- at the fireside on Sunday, Stephen B. Allen spoke (he's spoken to us before). He said something that I loved. "Feelings or temptations don't make us evil. They make us human." That concept goes along with being of good cheer -- if I had more time I'd talk more about that, and what I've learned, but in any case I really find solace and comfort in that quote.

Well, the timer's swiftly heading for zero and there's not much more I can say in less than a minute. I love each of you very much. I miss you, but not in a homesick way at all. I love where I am and what I'm doing. I'm so excited about the work.
Con amor,
Elder Greer

Thursday, October 8, 2009

October 6 2009 -13 Days left in MTC

Hello everyone!
Only 13 more days left! I leave two weeks from yesterday. Time is moving really quickly. I've loved my time here but I'm also excited to hit the field. I'll most likely get my flight plans in the next couple days, and then I'll know exactly when I head out. The MTC has been good to me, though, and I've learned so much. I'm going to make the most of these next two weeks and work my hardest so that I'm as prepared as I can be.

General Conference. Wow. Those two days were kind of a blur. I've never before feasted upon the word as I did this past weekend. For the first time in my life, I truly understood the power of the prophets and apostles and the power of Conference. For me, Conference was like a spiritual Stratosphere. As it begins, you're enjoying the view and having a good time. Then suddenly you're plummeting through space, up and down, and the only thing you can do is hold on. There are moments of calm reflection -- just before the next
drop. At the end, you're a little out of breath, but you want to do it again and again. Or you throw up -- but that's not part of the metaphor. :)

Anyway, General Conference was amazing. I use an 8x5 notebook for my fireside/devotional notes, and I filled 19 pages, front and back, for Conference. I was pretty much taking notes the entire time, and I still couldn't capture everything I wanted to remember. I wrote both quotes from the speakersand inspirations I received throughout the talks (which sometimes were completely unrelated to the talk at the time, but directed specifically at me). There were a couple times, however, where I just stopped writing and focused all my attention on watching and listening becase the message was so powerful. That happened during Richard G. Scott's talk and for most of Elder Holland's, and in several others. (Elder Holland's talk was so powerful. I can't really describe the impact it had on me. Most of the other missionaries felt the same way -- you could tell.)

I loved every talk and found answers to questions I had, plus answers to questions I didn't know I had. I wish we could have General Conference every day... except I think my hand would fall off. I want to share some of the insights I had and things that I liked. If I had a day's worth of email time, maybe I could get through everything I liked about Conference -- so a short sampling will have to do. :)

I really liked what Elder Scott said about how spirituality is both inspiration and power. It goes along with what you were saying, Dad, about how it's great if you understand the power of love, but the whole point is that you must also show it. It's that principle of action that is so important. So our spirituality isn't just the inspirations, revelations, and promptings that we receive -- it's the knowledge of how to do that (the power), and then actually *doing* it. (Somewhere in my mind your repeated words over the years "be proactive" are echoing...ha)

Elder Bednar's talk was also very inspiring. I liked how he talked about Family Home Evening (that sounded pretty familiar) and that it's not the individual brushstrokes, but the overall canvas that is so important. Each time you feel the Spirit might not be extremely memorable by itself -- but after you've had many of them, they all combine to create something amazing. It really ties in to the idea that it's better to read the scriptures a little bit every day that to read for a long time once a month. It's not just that you do something, but that you do something consistently. That's what being a Keeper of the Faith means (but more about that in a second).

I noticed that pretty much every single talk was focused, in one way or another, on love. The love of Christ for us, the love we should have for others, the effect that love has, the way we receive love through the Spirit -- all of those talks add together for a grand picture of what love is and how we should demonstrate it in our lives. Love is the way of the disciple, as President Uchtdorf said. Elder Oaks talked about those who don't understand love -- they might say, "If you really loved me..." or "If God really loved us..." I liked how he said that love doesn't overrule commandments. Commandments are God's expression of love for us. True love doesn't allow self-destructive behavior, either.

Several talks were focused on anger or pride, which are the absence and opposite of love. Those talks fit right in with the theme of love, as did the talk about temperance. Those talks helped me to see how to have greater love in my life by avoiding the emotions that drive it away.

I liked Elder Christofferson's comments about the commandments as well. When talking about being chaste, he said that wanting or not wanting to do something isn't the point -- it isn't even related. Sure, I may want to do something, but what has that got to do with whether I do it or not? It tied in really well with the idea of being a keeper of the faith, like the Apostle Paul. The whole point of keeping the faith is that it's something continual -- you can't keep the faith for just a few minutes, days, or years. It's something you always, always do. Paul was a great example of that -- look at the trials he faced; yet he never backed away from his faith or his love for the Savior.

One main idea that I drew out of Conference is that the way we become keepers of the faith, the way we finish the course and fight the good fight, is through love. The speakers at Conference talked about many ways we can do this and the reasons why. If we start having more love in our lives, and if we let that be our driving factor, we keep the faith of Jesus Christ and we keep it forever. Love is what motivated His sacrifice; love is what should motivate our every action.

Okay, that's about all I can get into. I apologize if that's scattered or disjointed, but there was so much I loved about Conference. There are a couple more things I want to add in my last few minutes.

First, I'm loving the cold weather. Yes, it's cold -- but I won't be in the cold for the next couple years, so I might as well make the most of it right now. Plus, autumn and rainy days are my favorite. Miranda, I'm glad you enjoyed homecoming and that things are going well. Gabbie,I'm really excited for you to get your Mario costume. Reagan, stop stepping on Nikka's head. :) Mom and Dad -- I love you very much. Thanks for the example you've always set me and for raising me the way you did.

Thanks for all your letters and packages. I'll talk more about specifics in my handwritten letter. Until then, remember that I love you, and thanks for everything you've done.
Con amor,
Elder Greer