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

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