Tuesday, February 16, 2010

6 months already, wow.

Hey! Well, surprisingly, it's a drizzly, chilly Monday afternoon here too. Actually, it's pouring rain now. We're safely inside a cyber - but our clothes are outside "drying." I really really hope the bishop's wife brought them inside for us; when we remembered that our clothes were outside, it had already been raining long enough that it wasn't worth it to go back right away, because we had already started reading emails and everything. I'm crossing my fingers. :)

Anyway, it was great to hear from you, as usual. This week has been a little tough. I got the flu (or some type of viral infection) on Friday morning.  I awoke with a fever, dizziness, headache, lots of pressure in my head, congestion, and complete loss of strength. Oh, and some general malaise thrown in there too. :) It wasn't too fun. We called the doctor and he said that it was probably the flu, that I should just treat the symptoms and rest rest rest. So I slept pretty much all Saturday as well and drank a lot of Powerade and took some Tylenol.  Let me tell you, not working is pretty rough - it was relaxing, but also very boring. Elder Jackson, one of the zone leaders, stayed with me Sunday in place of my companion so that he could go and do a few things in our ward and area. It was cool to get to talk to him and at least have something to do. Today I finally left the house; we went to the bishop's house as usual to wash clothes and eat, and I basically just sat on a couch and wrote letters. I'm steadily getting better, but still lack a lot of strength and get tired really easily. I'm hoping that tomorrow we'll be able to work, but if not, by Wednesday I should be strong enough. No big deal, really, but kind of frustrating. And that's my sickness story. :)

We did have some good things happen this week though. When we met with Maritza, she told us that she had set herself two goals. The first is to read the Book of Mormon by the end of March. The second is to be baptized immediately after she finishes it - either the last weekend of March or the first one in April. My companion and I were pretty pleased with those goals. :) It's really cool to see her testimony grow. Her baptism is a little further off than we would like, but we want converts, not just baptisms, and she's going to be very well converted by the time she finishes the Book of Mormon. We're going to keep teaching her and preparing her in the coming weeks. I'm really excited about it.

Other than Maritza, we don't have too many investigators who are really progressing, and so we're going to be contacting like crazy this week, working with members, and really stepping up the work as best we can. If we leave with the Spirit and keep it with us, we're going to find people who are ready to receive us and receive the ordinances of baptism and confirmation. It's definitely an exciting time to be a missionary. :)

A few days ago, before I got sick, we had the chance to eat cream of mushroom soup, lasagna, green salad, and brownies and ice cream for lunch. Italian food is pretty popular here, but lasagna's not very common and it was really cool that the sister fixed it for us. The members treat us really well. Yesterday and Saturday the bishop's wife brought over chicken noodle soup for me - and a cheesecake, too, which was a surprise but very appreciated. All in all, being a missionary's pretty good. :) (can you tell I've been sick for three days, all I can think about is food now!) But the spiritual and temporal blessings are just poured out upon us. There's nothing in the world I'd rather be doing right now. Granted, I'd rather not be sick, but hey, that's life. In the face of adversity, we just keep moving on.

As Mom mentioned, I hit the six-month mark on Friday. It's so weird to me that I've been gone for six months. I'll be one-fourth of the way through my mission. Where in the world did the time go? It's almost like a dream. I know I still have a lot of time left, but it passes by so quickly, which is why we absolutely must make the most of the present. I'm really learning the value of doing things and not procrastinating (just do it, and then it'll be done! - right, mom? haha). There's so much to do - on a mission and in life - and there won't be time to do everything we want to do anyway, so why would we waste time on things that don't matter so much or delay the important things? This is one of those lessons, though, that needs to be learned over and over, because it's easy to forget it and be lazy. It reminds me of the scripture "Rise up from the dust, my sons, and be men," and also of how Nephi says, "Awake, my soul!" The time is now! (also said in Newsies hah.) Really, though, the time is now to pick ourselves up and be men (and women), to do the things we need to and want to do, to face life head-on and make the most out of this mortal experience. This doesn't necessarily mean doing huge, astounding things, either - spending time with loved ones, sharing a testimony, studying the gospel, enjoying a summer afternoon or a hike in the mountains are all things that bring us a lot of enjoyment and fulfillment and growth out of life.

Well, that's my sermon for today. Haha. I blame it on the sickness. But really, I've learned so much in the past six months, and I'm working hard to make the next six even better. With the Lord's help, they will be.

Okay, Q & A time. Well, mostly just A. :)
Gabbie - Man, that was a good letter!  You'll have to send me a picture of your Camp Half-Blood shirts. That restaurant (The Pie) sounds pretty fun - do they only serve pie there? Hey, guess how you say pie in Spanish? It's exactly the same, actually, except they spell it "pay." Funny, huh? I've heard that "gullible" joke since I was in first grade, but I've never actually heard it where it was real (actually written on the wall). That was pretty funny too. Nickel City!? Man, everything's changing! :) That's cool that you still remember the Lord of the Rings on the piano; I'll teach you the rest in about 18 months. Oh, and you're actually further than me in the series! The Last Olympian came out right before I went into the MTC and I never had a chance to read it. Is it good? I bet it is. What are you going to read once you're done with it? How is school and everything going? How's ol' Nikka? Run around the yard with her a couple times for me, huh? Oh, and the next taco I eat is dedicated to you (it'll probably be tomorrow). Gabs, as always, thanks for writing and telling me all about what you've been up to. You're an awesome sister and I love thinking back on the fun stuff we've done together - mean man, playing the piano and acting out that story with Miranda, playing  games for hours and hours, and lots of other things. Keep being awesome and having fun! I love you very much! :)

Miranda - Yep, it's been a long week for me too, what with being sick and all. I laughed at your description of dodgeball in lifetime sports. When we played, it was always in the gym; I liked that better because it gave us more room to move around and dodge. Oh, that reminds me - and Dad, you'll think this is funny - you know how they have the curtain in the middle of the gym? Well, once it was down and I was hanging out by one end ( while dead in dodgeball, I think) and I remembered Dad's story, about how he pushed the curtain screen hard, swaying the 10-ton bar at the bottom to see if he could tap the far wall with it. With him it came back and slammed him into the wall, so I sat by the end of the heavy pole at the bottom and started pushing it back and forth (keeping out of the way, of course, so as not to be crushed like Dad). I met with some resistance, but it didn't seem like I had hit the wall, so I looked down at the other end and saw someone sitting there! How would it be to be smacked in the stomach by a heavy pole when you were least expecting it? Haha. I thought it was kind of funny; I'm sure the person didn't, though. So, next time you're bored in dodgeball....
 The Percy Jackson movie sounds cool - especially that Percy! :) I didn't really need all that detail on his hair, skin tone, etc, but hey, it wouldn't be an email from Miranda without it. :) I never had Brother Frost - I think Mike Lanham did, though, and I think he liked the class. What's he like as a teacher? How's school going this term? What are your classes? Do you have any teachers I had? Well, Miranda, you seem like you're growing up (finally! haha) and it's weird to think that you'll be 17 soon, and 18 when I get home. Crazy. Keep up the good work and remember to trust in the Lord and listen to Mom and Dad (they really are on your side. Haha). Have a great week! I love you! :)

Mom - It was interesting to hear about Lisa's mission split and the other missions that are being split. Let me know when you find out who the new mission president for Villahermosa will be. All the questions help, because sometimes I don't know what details to give or what people want to know about, so keep 'em coming! :) The way that transfers work is that between Thursday and Saturday of week six (the last week of the transfer), the district leader receives a call from the APs letting him know what changes will be made, and he in turn calls the missionaries to let them know. I'm fairly confident that both my companion and I will be staying here in Grijalva for the next transfer, but after that, who knows. I'll likely stay here and receive a new companion, and then be tranferred after those six weeks somewhere else, but really anything could happen. It's always a surprise to see who stays and who leaves. Next week I could be writing from somewhere entirely new! :) Okay, as for the money. We're given a card and we withdraw our money on the first day of the month. We receive $100 U.S. every month. It seems like the dollar has been going up lately, which is good news for us because it increases the exchange. :) We also receive money to pay the rent and the utilities that way; in our house it goes straight to the zone leaders, so I don't really have anything to do with it. That's basically how the money goes though. Pretty easy and efficient. The cookies and the rest of the Valentine's candy were delicious, and I loved the cards. It was funny to hear about Reagan's cards and writing his name. Has he learned any more sign language this week? Nice work on the storage room - send me a picture when it's complete! (Otherwise I won't believe it. Haha.)  We don't have a microwave - they're not very common here, actually, which kind of surprised me. Most people don't have one, though - not because they couldn't afford it, just because they're not that popular. But if Laura sends something that requires one, I'm sure I can find one in some member's house. :) Our house is two floors. We study on the bottom floor - simple desks and chairs, nothing fancy. We have a sink, a fridge, and some cupboards, and that comprises the kitchen - but it works for us. I think we have a hot plate somewhere too. Three bathrooms, which is nice. We sleep upstairs. There are only two beds, so I sleep on a couch and my comp on a mattress on the floor. No complaints, though; I sleep fine. We also can go up on the roof, which is pretty cool sometimes to get some fresh air or look around. It's a pretty nice place to live, all things considered. My comp says he's okay (his parents just sent him a package, and anyway, he leaves in six weeks) and I'm pretty sure the zone leaders are too; I'll let you know, though. :) The chili seasoning story sounded funny. Anything Reagan can open and pour out is open season. (Reagan and the Seasoning Stratagem?) Thanks again, Mom, for everything you've done and do for me. I learn a lot from your example and I love you very much. Have a wonderful week! :)

Dad - Oh, I guarantee it, you'd be here. Haha. Stake Conference sounds like it was really good. I liked what you said about thinking about the effects of missionary work - it's cool to picture the people I'm teaching in 30 years and think about the effect it can have. I had forgotten as well about being taught by the Temple President, but now that I think about it, that was a really neat experience. It's too bad neither of us wrote anything down.  The insights about Lot and the contrast to the people of King Bejamin was interesting too. I also believe the pillar of salt to be more metaphorical, but it works both ways and has good application too. All that reminds me of something I think President Hinckley said (remember Mom's prayer? :) oh, and I hope no one's actually checking all these sources, because I probably get them all wrong) - he said that if you start off your journey and you're off by only one degree, in the beginning you won't notice, but by the end you'll be in a totally different place than where you intended. He used an example of throwing a switch on a railroad track, and how a few inches off in the beginning leads to arriving in New Orleans when you were heading for New York. (Hey - Mardi Gras vs the Sacred Grove? That was a metaphor by accident!) Bringing it back to Lot - it all depends on where you start out. If your tent faces Sodom, well, that's where you're going to end up. But if your tent faces the Temple - well, likewise. Life depends so much on starting out in the right direction, and on maintaining that direction for the duration of the journey - because you can't just head out for the Temple but give up halfway. You have to keep making those corrections along the way, checking your course (based on the Lord and the gospel, not on your friend who's swimming beside you, like Bishop Johnson's story) and continually perfecting your aim, until eventually you end up at the destination. Pretty neat stuff, and it ties in with what you said about President Harding's talk. It truly is the little sins that get us. If Satan faced us in the direction of Sodom, it'd be easier to recognize than if he faces us just barely to the left of the Temple. I also liked that example from C.S. Lewis: it's a lot easier to overlook the small sins, but the truth is, even the smallest of sins makes us impure and unworthy to dwell in God's presence. That's why daily living of the gospel, feasting upon the scriptures, and staying on the straight and narrow thought small - but powerful - experiences are so important in life.
Ah, one more tie-in - do you remember the story where a person has a dream and finds himself in a room full of filing cabinets, and each one lists the events of his life? He feels ashamed to see how much of his time he's wasted and how few cards there are of the good things. Then Jesus enters and signs His name over that of the person's on each card. I'm going to stop there because the story is so much better than just a summary - see if you can find it and read it again (or for the first time); it's really powerful. The moral is that the person takes the resolve to live his life so that the next time the Savior looks at the cards, there are less sins and more acts of charity and obedience and love. It's a very powerful story and it brings home for me the importance of the little things, because they really do determine how our lives turn out. Ah! Another example just came to my mind, but I'll save that for next week. :)

The BYU symposium sounds cool. I really enjoyed the last one.  I like what you said about mission rules, and Cameron's letter and everything. It just comes down to personal responsibility and making good choices. And yes, I'll be more careful about my eyes and my health (present sickness notwithstanding). :) Thanks, Dad, for everything and for always being there for me and teaching me things. I love you very much and hope you have a great week. Two taps!

Well, everyone, thank you for the emails and prayers and letters and love. I appreciate and love you all. I will write more next week. Until then!
Con amor,
Elder Greer

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Change is on the horizon

Hey everyone!

Well, another great week is behind us, and one even better begins. This past week has seen a lot of personal growth for me - I felt the companionship of the Spirit very often and had several neat experiences. I'll get to those in a second - first, a few other things.

Last Tuesday around 10 AM we received a phone call in the house from President Velasco. He had the four of us gather 'round and talked to us on speakerphone, saying he had some big news. As we listened, he told us more or less the following: "After much prayer and meditation, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency have decided that the time has come to divide the Mexico Tuxtla Gutierrez Mission."

He felt silent and let it sink in for a second, then explained what exactly that meant. This coming July, they're going to split the Tuxtla Mission and create an entirely new mission, the Mexico Villahermosa Mission. This means that the Tuxtla Gutierrez Mission will continue, but will only include the state of Chiapas and a little portion of Oaxaca, to the west. The newly created Villahermosa Mission will consist of Tabasco and Ciudad del Carmen (which is in the state of Campeche, to the northeast). New mission presidents and everything will be called, the mission home will be obtained here in Villahermosa, etc. Basically, this is something huge and very awesome. It means a lot more missionaries will cover the area of this mission, meaning more blessings for members and non-members alike (though sometimes the non-members don't consider us a blessing - hah).

So, what does it mean for me? The President said that the instruction he's received is to continue assigning missionaries as the Spirit dictates; when the change takes place in July, those missionaries who are assigned to Tabasco and that area will then be reassigned to the Mexico Villahermosa Mission and continue serving there, and the missionaries in Chiapas will stay in the Tuxtla Mission. I don't know if I'll still be in Tabasco in July, but I'm leaning toward yes... we'll just have to wait and see though! Pretty exciting news, and to be in the middle of it is cool, though it still is a ways off. It would be neat to have my mission changed halfway through - something I'd always remember. But we'll just have to see when July rolls around.

On to another topic - I received packages this week! :) Two packages from Mom and one from Lisa came through. I loved the Valentine's Day candy (especially the Swedish Fish) and the cards. I really enjoyed seeing the Christmas card, too (although it would have been nice if someone mentioned that they miss me... ;) (haha sarcasm). Thank you very, very much, Mom. Always nice to get that extra boost from home. Oh, and give my thanks to Lisa, as well. She sent candy, a hymnal (hymnal? hymn book? I forgot now), a package of Article of Faith cards (which are very awesome), and a bracelet from Laura from Egypt. It's really cool too - I really appreciate everything. So, thanks! :)

As far as health goes - I'm doing good, except it turns out I have an eye infection. I've probably had it for about two months now, actually. Back in Tuxtla my eye started hurting and turning all red by nighttime a couple days in a row. I wore my glasses for a couple days and it went back to normal - but then started up again after going back to contacts. But I didn't really do anything about it. I thought, Hey, it could be the change in climate (it had recently gotten colder), dust from the street, old contacts - who knows what's causing it? (Well, for starters, an eye doctor...) When I came to Villahermosa it stopped, but two weeks ago started up again and stayed that way for a week - so I finally wised up and went to an eye doctor, who within a good twelve seconds told me it was a bacterial infection and gave me eye drops to take care of it. I'm using them and my glasses until Friday, and then I should be able to go back to contacts without any problem. I'm glad to get it finally figured out; if there's a next time, "talk to a doctor" goes at the top of the to-do list. :)

Now for the work. You'll remember (you WILL remember! hah) that I mentioned Angelica, the lady we've been teaching, and how we were going to invite her to baptism last Monday? Well, we went to the appointment, went inside, sat down, and asked her how she was doing. "Wonderful!" she told us, looking extremely happy. Wow, we thought. Why so great? "I had the chance to come to know God very personally these last few days" was the answer. Both my companion and I were taken aback. Sounds perfect, right? We asked her how that came about, and that's when our hearts sank. She told us she went to an "encuentro"- from what I understand, basically a religious retreat. I later found out from my companion that it's from one of the Christian churches and they do a bunch of rituals and "feel the Spirit" (by writhing on the ground, speaking in tongues, etc. - like the Pentecostal Church does) and various other things of a similar nature. My heart just dropped - I felt terrible. She had been progressing pretty well, praying, reading the Book of Mormon, everything, and now she told us (very politely) that she really wasn't interested in the message anymore because she had found her faith. There really wasn't much we could do at that point - we each bore a brief testimony, reminded her that the church doors are always open, and excused ourselves. I felt pretty bad the rest of the evening, though I did move on. I've been praying for her this week and asking that she eventually be led back to the Church. It's rough when things like this happen - the Adversary works really hard against the truth, and like you said a few weeks ago, Dad, people do have their agency. We just have to keep moving on and working hard. Still, it's sad.

On the other hand, I'm really hoping and praying that we'll be able to have a baptism either this Saturday or the next. Maritza - an investigator I think I mentioned, who has a strong testimony, reads the scriptures a lot, understands very well - came to church yesterday and asked to meet with us on Wednesday (for the last week or so she hasn't seemed to want to talk to us, and we thought it was something a member had said or something). We talked to the bishop's wife later, and she said that she talked with Maritza and feels like her baptism is imminent. We're really excited - after whatever it was happened and it seemed like Maritza was no longer interested, we started praying a lot for her and that she could be baptized. It seems like our prayers were answered, which is great. I'll have more news about her next week. The work continues to go fairly well. We're doing a lot of contacting and finding people that seem truly interested - prepared and chosen. We should see the fruits of our labors in the coming weeks.

On to other things. First, the anchors of my testimony. Dad, I think that's a great idea for Family Home Evening - a good way for me to participate. I want to think about it this week, but for your FHE there are two things that stand out in my mind.  The first: a powerful experience with prayer. About a year and a half ago, in April-ish of my senior year (2008), I was in my room at night getting ready to go to bed. I was thinking a lot about what was going on in my life; I was feeling pretty stressed and discouraged. There were various reasons for those feelings. The end of high school was nearing and I was feeling unsure about the future. I had been feeling beset by temptation and the world for about a week before that, and felt like I was struggling to maintain the faith and do my best. Everything was really weighing down on my mind, and I had been pondering these things for quite a while when out of nowhere the thought came - Why haven't you prayed? For some reason, I hadn't really, truly prayed for help - I had been "saying my prayers," but not sincerely and diligently seeking the help of the Lord. That thought was like - Hey dingbat, why not use the best tool you have to rid yourself of this weight? (I'm sure it came to me in a more loving tone, but I felt a little embarrassed for not having thought of that sooner.) So, I knelt down by the side of my bed and began to pray with sincerity and true intent. I had no sooner said the words "Father in Heaven" when I felt a distinct warmth settle into my body and penetrate me all the way through. It felt like a very literal weight was lifted from my shoulders - like taking off a heavy backpack that I hadn't realized I'd been carrying. It was a literal sensation, and I was surprised at how quickly the needed help came. I felt at peace; though I didn't have all the answers to life's questions, I knew that God loved me and that everything would work out for the best. With that reminder, I was comforted and remembered my heaviness of heart no more. My prayer quickly changed from asking for help to expressing heartfelt gratitude for such a powerful and immediate response. The Spirit continued to bring me peace, love, and happiness; those feelings stayed with me for the next few days. That was an experience that I will always remember, and that I have looked to as a source of strength many times. I know that in that moment God answered my prayer, that He truly whispered words of peace and comfort to my soul, and that my burdens were liften. I testify as well that He does love us, each and every one, and that prayer is the surest way to know and feel of that infinite love. He really does want to listen to us and yearns to answer our prayers and give us the help we need in life. We just need to remember to ask Him, to really talk with Him and seek that loving guidance.

That experience is the first that came to mind. In my mission so far there have been many, especially in the past few weeks. The other one I wanted to mention right now was when Dad and I gave Aunt Elaine a blessing before she passed away. The blessing itself was a wonderful experience, but so was the consecration of the oil that we did right before heading up to Sandy. Remember that, Dad? You can share that experience tonight too - for me, it was a testimony of the reality and power of the Priesthood, and a very neat thing.

Okay, now I'm going to get to questions - as many as I can right now. First, Dad, I do get emails from a few people, and that is okay with the mission rules as long as we focus on writing the family. So what I try to do, is print out any emails I get, and spend my entire hour writing one all-inclusive letter. Other Elders will write several small letters to various people, which I also do once in a while. But, since you post this to the blog, I think this way works best for me. Everyone can access it, and read everything that is happening, instead of just a quick note.  So far it's worked out okay, but I do really love getting normal, handwritten letters from people - seems a little bit more special - and generally prefer it that way. (but an email is better than nothing! hah). Even though it takes a few weeks to get to me, it has been no problem.

Now, for answers to questions from last week and this week.

Mom - Okay, I'm starting with your questions from last week. We walk probably between 3 and 7 miles daily. It varies, but that's my best guess. I really enjoy the walking, except when it's really hot - which is to say, always. :) I do like it though. We use public transportation pretty much every day at some point. Here in Villahermosa they have what are called pochis - they're basically upgraded bumper cars, to be honest. Little motorized bike-looking things, but enclosed inside an open shell. They seat three passengers and charge 5 pesos a person - about 40 cents. They zip around pretty quick and are useful when we're in a hurry or want to get from one side of the area to the other. I'll have to take a picture of them this week. We also use taxis every now and then, which are also very cheap and convenient. We usually use something every day at some point. I get along pretty well with my companion. No one's perfect, but he's a hard worker and pretty funny too. He's from a city just outside Mexico City and finishes his mission at the beginning of April. I've learned a lot from him and had a lot of fun with him so far. We rent a small two-floor house and live there with the zone leaders. It's a pretty awesome house and I really enjoy living there. The laundry is coming well - so far I'm doing well on the clothing front. I don't need anything for now.

You asked about the General Authority from our zone conference. I'm pretty sure Elder Johnson is from Idaho, but I'm not positive. Yes, the conference was in Spanish; he speaks really well, and his wife too. You mentioned music - the guidelines for music are that it's soft, uplifting, and brings the Spirit. This includes, hymns, pretty much all EFY music, piano instrumentals, things like that. Your idea about a cd player sounds great - or should I look at picking one up here? So far everything you've sent has arrived intact - though some of the heart cookies were a bit crumbled :) - but let me know what you think would be easier. I thought it was absolutely awesome that Reagan can sign and say those letters. That's incredible. I think you're right,
too; I think we can try to push him a little more, that maybe he too is now "ripe, ready to harvest." Haha. Maybe now is his time to learn more and progress a little more. Give it a shot, and keep letting me know how it goes! Thanks, Mom, for the packages and emails and all of the love and support and prayers. I can definitely feel them blessing my life and the work. Thank you, and I love you very much! :) Have a great week!

Gabbie - Ouch! Your bruise doesn't sound very fun. Have someone give it a kiss for me - probably Nikka. :) It's too bad the book fair didn't have too many books this time - what book are you reading now? Oh, something funny from yesterday - I found you a future husband! :) We ate with a family in the ward, and we were talking about our families; when the dad found out that I have a sister who's eleven, he said to his ten-year-old son, "Looks like we found someone for you to marry!" We were joking about it for a little while; I thought it was pretty funny. (His name is Zeniff, by the way. Haha.) Anyway, it sounds like you're doing really good and having fun. Keep working hard in school and having fun at home and with friends. (You're my favorite sister - but shhh, don't tell Miranda!) I love you Gabs! :)

Miranda - Thanks for the note. As always, no worries if you don't manage to write every so often. I know life gets busy and that you'll write the following week. Sounds like your relaxing week went well. As always, thanks for being such an awesome sister (you're also my favorite... haha) and such a good friend. Have a great week and keep up the good work! I love you! :)

Dad - Hopefully Josh gets news about his call soon. I too think he would be able to serve very well. Send him my best and let him know that I'm finally going to send him a letter this week. Thanks for letting me know about Jeanel, too - I'll be praying for her. Let me know what transpires.
What you said about answers to prayers bring up some very good questions.  I think it's a mix of agency, trusting in the Lord, faith, and the fact that we don't know everything - I have a lot more thoughts on it, but not the time right now to think it through and answer, so that will come next week.  I do want to say this, though - there's a reason we need to continually have spiritual experiences, that we can't survive on one or two alone. President Harold B. Lee said once, "A testimony is like a moonbeam. It needs to be recaptured every day of your life." What I've come to realize is that in day-to-day life, trials and challenges can come that make us doubt our testimonies and faith. Satan throws all sorts of things at us to make us wonder about answers to prayer. However, in the moment when we actually feel the Spirit and receive that answer, we cannot doubt - we know for a surety, because our spirit is receiving the answer from above. But after time passes, we lose that strong knowledge of the truth, and we're left with just the memory. Those memories help us immensely, but can't replace the real moment.
On that same idea ... I remember hearing a story once - I think from President Eyring, but I'm not sure - where he was hunting with his dad out in the woods, and it grew dark and was time to head back home; they were on foot, and came to a fork in the road and couldn't remember which way to turn. The first thing his dad did was have them kneel down and prayer for guidance, which was a lesson to him about the importance of prayer. But it's what happened afterward that I really like - they both felt prompted to take the left road, so they did - and it dead-ended ten minutes later. They turned around, headed back, and took the right road (no pun intended). As a boy, he asked his father - does this mean God didn't answer our prayer? His father said - maybe that was God's way of answering us in the best way possible. He explained that if they had taken the right road from the beginning, they might have doubted their decision for miles and miles before arriving home and realizing that it was the correct road. But God told them to take the dead end - when the road ended, they knew for sure which was the right road, and took it without doubting. In this instance, God answered their prayer and also removed their doubts about the answer to prayer. I think sometimes it can be like that - God gives us the answers we need, because He knows our needs far better than we do. Anyway, those are my thoughts right now - I'll need to ponder it more fully. 
I think often on all our experiences, and look forward to reading your thoughts and insights every week. Thanks for all the great times, Dad. I love you very much. Have a great week! :)

Whew. That was a long one (must me some kind of record! alrighty then), and my fingers are tired. Time to send it off, and get back to work. I love you all very much and am very appreciative of all your love and support. Have a great week - I'll talk to you next Monday! :)

Con amor,
Elder Greer

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cool weather ... Cool Conference.

¡Buenas tardes! Today it's drizzly and cool, and that's actually a great thing. I hope this email finds you all happy and doing well. This week has been a very good one - I've grown and learned a lot.

The highlight of the week was the special conference we had on Friday last with Elder Johnson, the Area President of Mexico. It was our zone, which comprises all of Villahermosa and the surrounding area, and the Cardenas zone - which is a city in Tabasco, somewhat close by, but I don't know more than that. It was a special conference primarily because because a General Authority was present, but also because there wasn't the usual... what's the word... "convivio" in Spanish. Meaning we didn't hang around afterward as a zone, talk, eat lunch, all of that. Elder Johnson wanted us to come, learn, feel the Spirit, and then head to work and apply what we had learned. And man, we learned a ton.

(Small side note: above is an example of what I think is really cool about getting better at Spanish. "Convivio" was the word that came to mind, and it's not just that I can't remember the English equivalent, it's that I don't know one; I can't think of a word that has the exact meaning I'm looking for. I think it's cool that I'm starting to view Spanish not just as a translation of English, but as its own language. There are words and phrases that don't really have an equivalent, and they're starting to sink in. Pretty cool.)

Now, back to the conference. The week before Friday we were given the "homework" to study Article of Faith 4 and D&C 29:7. At first trying to study an Article of Faith seemed a little superfluous, especially one that talks about the "basics." But like you mentioned a little while back, Dad, just because they're the basics of the gospel doesn't mean they're a cinch to understand, apply, and live; quite the opposite. I studied faith, repentance, baptism, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost in depth as much as I could, and then waited to hear what we'd be taught. The verse in D&C talks about finding the elect, and defines the elect as those who "listen to my voice." I thought, okay, that means I need to teach the people who will listen. Case closed. But I knew there would be more, and arrived at the conference eager to learn.

Man. I wish I could have recorded those three hours. I'll try to relate what I learned as best I can. First, we talked about why Article of Faith number four is in that place, and not elsewhere. Elder Johnson taught us that one reason is because it's impossible to complete the principles and ordinances of the gospel without the preceding three articles - you can't have faith in a Being you don't understand (AoF 1), and you can't repent and move toward baptism and all the rest without first knowing that you will be responsible for the sins you commit (AoF 2) and that there is indeed a way to be saved (AoF 3). Elder Johnson emphasized the importance of these first four declarations of belief in missionary work. First, investigators must understand that God and Jesus Christ are Beings of flesh and blood, and that the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit. It's a belief that is professed by no other religion. Next, they must learn that we are born innocent and thereafter responsible for the sins we commit - this clarifies the erroneous concept of Original Sin and points us toward action. The investigators must also understand that the Atonement of Jesus Christ makes it possible for them to be saved - to really, truly be cleansed of sin and return to live with their families in a state of glory and light after this life. A key concept here as well is that "all mankind may be saved - by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel." Too many people believe that since by grace they are saved, all we have to do is "accept" Jesus Christ's sacrifice and we'll be wiped clean of sin. This runs counter to every aspect of the Gospel and of the Plan of Salvation, which is why it's very important to understand that works are required as well. Thus we arrive at the fourth Article of Faith: the key principles and ordinances of salvation, placed in the order in which they must come. I could go into a lot more detail about that and about what Elder Johnson said, but that was one thing that I really liked from what he taught us. It brought home the importance of teaching clear, correct principles - and reaffirmed the beauty and simplicity of the Restored Gospel.

Another interesting thing we talked about is what brings the remission of sins. Elder Johnson gave us an example. Say there's a nuclear engineer in Iraq who chances upon a Bible one day, reads it, and converts to Christianity. He begins to pray, read the scriptures daily, develop his faith, and repent of his sins. He has made a true repentance and wants to continue and be baptized. The problem is, in Iraq Christianity is punishable by death, and because he builds bombs the government won't let him leave the country. The question asked us was this - Can that man receive a remission of his sins in this life? Well, various missionaries raised their hands and started asking questions and putting forth their ideas. We talked about it for a little while. The majority of the people said that yes, he can receive a remission of his sins - forgiveness, in other words - because he did indeed repent completely of his sins, and that he'll have to have his work done for him after he dies so that he can enter the Celestial Kingdom and all that. The rest of us (myself included) voted no, but it kind of felt like hey, he's doing the very best he possibly can, and you're going to deny him forgiveness? Anyway, Elder Johnson had someone read Article of Faith 4.

When he got to the part about baptism, Elder Johnson stopped and said, "No, no, no. Stop reading from those false scriptures. Yours must be translated incorrectly." He had someone else read it, and did the same, and then once again. He then said, "You mean to tell me that what the scriptures really say is that baptism is the only means to receive a remission of sins? So our Iraqi friend can't be forgiven in this life?" It really hit the point home - Elder Johnson was right. We can't be completely forgiven of our sins without baptism (by the proper authority), no matter how well we live. Baptism is absolutely essential for forgiveness and salvation.

That's when he connected it to the scripture in D&C. As missionaries we are called to gather the elect. The elect are those who hear his voice and don't harden their hearts. We are here to find those people and bring them to baptism, so that they can receive that forgiveness of their sins. So, how do we know who are the elect?

Elder Johnson said that a lot of times when we talk to people, teach them, etc. and they don't accept, we say, Well, at least we just planted some good seeds that one day will bear fruit. That's true, he said, but is that your calling? Does D&C 4 say that "the field is white already to be fertilized" - or planted or watered or any of the other necessary and preparatory tasks? No - it says the field is ready to be harvested. There are people who are ready to be baptized, and those are the people we are seeking. Of course people need those seeds, those experiences to prepare them to really receive the message in their hearts.

But we are not responsible, as missionaries, to plant those seeds. He made a list of things and people that prepare God's children to hear His word - things like losing a loved one, having friends who are members, spiritual experiences, doubts, tragedies, angels, etc. Basically, Elder Johnson said, it's God's job to prepare the people, and your job to find them, teach them, and baptize them.

Wow. That hit me pretty hard - even writing about it now I feel the power of those words. Elder Johnson then taught us that the way to find these elect is by testifying so that the Spirit speaks to them. If they are the elect - those that God has already prepared - they will accept the invitation to be taught and to continue in the gospel path. If they're not ready yet, well, this was one more experience (yes, seed, in a way) to help them on the way, and we move on to the next person. It's really as simple as that. He mentioned that in one zone where he taught the same thing the week before, a sister missionary raised her hand and said, "But if the missionaries had stopped teaching me during the eight years I was investigating the church, I would never have been baptized." Elder Johnson said his response was: "I wince to think of all the time those missionaries wasted. So many companionships, teaching a lesson or two every week for eight years when there were other people who were truly ready for the message." The point isn't that spreading seeds of gospel truth is a bad thing - just that it's not the job of the missionaries. God has that part of the work under control, through the circumstances of life and whatnot. We need to have faith that those people (like the sister) will be found when they are actually ready. We need to focus on those people that He's already prepared.

As I mentioned, the way we do that is through testimony and the Spirit. Usually, when we do a door/street contact, we say something like, "We're missionaries of the Church... and we share a message about (The Book of Mormon with brief explanation, the Restored Gospel and Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ, the fact that
God speaks today to prophets... etc). Can we come inside and share this message with you?" That's about the essence of it - it's always changing and directed by the Spirit, though. It's worked pretty well for us so far, but the problem is, it doesn't help us find out if people are really interested. Sometimes you can just tell, but most of the time people are willing to give you five minutes if you ask for it, and then we end up wasting time with people who aren't ready yet. So what Elder Johnson taught us to do is to say that we're representatives of Jesus Christ and then bear testimony. Start bearing testimony of a gospel truth - say whatever the Spirit indicates should be said. "I know that Christ lives and loves you. I know that if we live his gospel and his teachings, we can receive a remission of our sins" and so on. Both companions testify, and then one asks if we can come inside (or visit them in their house) and share this message. If they say yes, then we go ahead and do so. If they say no, we invite them to church and head on our way. It's pretty simple, but extremely effective and powerful. We've been putting it in practice since the conference, and I've seen definite results. We've found a couple of people who are willing to be taught, and soon we'll see how that goes for them. We've also avoided wasting time with people who seem interested but really aren't. The key is testimony, which when given invites the Spirit into the conversation. That's probably the coolest part of these contacts - no matter what the outcome is, I feel the Spirit every single time and walk away spiritually edified. It's such a cool thing to experience.

Well, that's more than enough about the conference; I absolutely loved everything we were taught and will continue to study my notes and ponder the instruction. I hope I accurately expressed the ideas that he conveyed - and didn't bore anyone with too much detail. The application of these principles will really change the way we work as missionaries and the success we have. If we contact 30 people every two days (15 per day is about the average here), we're bound to find at least one person who has been prepared by the Lord to accept the gospel. That's 3 people every week - which means that if we put this in practice now, we'll get to the point where we can have a couple people getting baptized every single week. Pretty cool thought, huh?

Whew. That took a while but I wanted to share the things I learned. The rest of the week has been pretty good - last week was a little slow leading up to the conference, teaching-wise, but it's starting to pick up again. We're going to be teaching Angelica later on tonight and going to invite her to baptism; wish us luck! (Or, on second thought, pray for us!) We'll be spending a lot of time this week contacting and then teaching the people we contact; I'm honestly really excited for it. Not too much else happened during the week that was noteworthy... that I remember, anyway. :) Answer time!

First - yes, I received letters. (I knew there was something cool I was forgetting.) Man, did I do well this time around. Two letters from Lisa and two from Laura. Two from Brother and Sister Windley. A Christmas card from Kevin's family and one from the Stake Presidency (it's Christmas time again?? haha). A letter from Grandma and Grandpa Bown, and another from... argh. I can't remember right now.  Anyway, it was really awesome to read all the letters and receive all that love and support. Please thank the Windleys for me - that was really nice of them. Also, tell Grandma and Grandpa that I really appreciate their letter a lot and that I'm going to reply to them - probably in my email next week, and with a handwritten letter if I can get it off. And, as always, thank Laura and Lisa - I always love their letters.
Gabbie - I was sad to hear about your knee injury in gymnastics. Did you wrap an Ace bandage around it? :) Haha. Mom says you're not going to take gymnastics anymore - things are sure changing while I'm gone, huh? No more going to pick you up anymore, I guess. The soccer story sounds funny - and painful, of course. It sounds like you've been having lots of fun in school and everything. Keep up the good work. I'll write more next week; I don't have a ton of time right now. But I love you very much! Thanks for always emailing me. Can't wait to hear from you next week! Love you!

Miranda - No worries about the lack of an email last week; I'm going to make up for it right now by being kind of short. Lacrosse sounds pretty fun - when do the games start? You'll have to have Mom take pictures of a game when you have one. Michael Jackson's back to being pretty popular here, too, so you're not alone with your newest obession-of-the-week... cough... I mean, perfectly normal interest. :) Haha. Just kidding, of course.  Speaking of music - I thought of this Rudolf song the other day: "You'll go down in history - like Columbus, Einstein, Frankenstein, Caesar, Napoleon, King George, Titanic, Elvis, George Washington, and Joseph Smith!" Haha - remember that when we were little?! Good times, huh? Well, enjoy the fun week at school, work hard and have lots of fun, and remember that I love you a lot! :)

Mom - Whew, a bunch of questions. I promise I'll answer them - but it'll have to wait til next week. Like I said, a little short on time right now. It was cool to hear about the FHE and the Reagan stories. My hands are actually doing really well - my skin in general too. No redness, no cracking or peeling. Pretty much perfect, actually. I'll have to check the pictures to see if it looks otherwise - just your motherly protectiveness kicking in. :) Sorry for the short message. I really enjoyed reading your email, as always. Thank you very much. I love you very much! :)

Dad - Taylor's farewell sounded pretty cool. Tell him good luck from me, and that I wish him the best. Everything you said about the Sunday School lesson and Brother Barber's talk I really enjoyed, and I'm going to read the scriptures you mentioned. I like the application of Cain's actions - I'd never thought about it exactly that way before. And what you said about "the little things" and how pride can snowball is so very, very true. (How can something be truer that "true"? Haha.) It really is the little habits and actions that make or break our experience in life, and our faithfulness, our blessings and obedience, etc. I thought your advice about "Take every opportunity to bear your testimony" was especially appropriate given the conference. Thanks for all the advice you gave, and always give. It always helps me keep improving and getting better. Oh, one last thing - the other day I heard "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" playing on the radio. Haha. Pretty awesome - since the only other times I heard that song was the recording of your karaoke "performance".  (for a second I thought it was you! ha). Thanks again, Dad, for everything. Answers to questions and pictures next week for sure. I love you very much!

My hour is up - back to work! :) 
I hope this week is great for everyone. Thanks for all the prayers and support. Keep relying on the Spirit and doing all you can to follow the example of our Savior Jesus Christ. I love you all very much!
Elder Greer