< I neglected to post Justin's last few letters to this blog. Here are excerpts from the past 3, plus this week's letter about his recent transfer. Mark>
Excerpt from July 26
We were able to go to the Temple on Thursday! :) Our district leader called us up while we were planning Wednesday night and said, "El Señor les ha invitado a Su casa mañana a las 9 am. ¿Quieren ir?" - The Lord has invited you to His house tomorrow at 9. Do you want to go? - and of course we said yes. The whole zone went and it was a wonderful experience. It's been quite a while since I've been able to go to the Temple, and it was neat to see the Villahermosa one and go inside. It's pretty small, but very beautiful - the Celestial Room especially. The whole experience was amazing for me - kind of like my spirit was completely recharged and boosted up. I had a number of very profound insights come to me in the Celestial Room, which I later recorded and am in the process of analyzing. Not really the kind of thing to share over an email - but when I get home it will be really interesting to sit down with everyone and read from my "spiritual experiences" journal and remember all the things I've learned. Going to the Temple was amazing and I encourage you all to do it as often as you can - Mom and Dad, to attend sessions, and Miranda and Gabbie to do baptisms. (I just now realized that Gabbie's now old enough to do baptisms - wow!) Maybe it's just because I haven't been in a while, but it was such a neat experience that lifted me out of the day-to-day routine - which really means something, given what I do each day - and gave me great peace and comfort. The Temple is a wonderful place
Excerpt from August 2
Hey Dad! (and everyone else too) - kind of funny the way things turned out. I guess your email from last week came after I left. But I'll get to read both this week, so all cool. :) Also, I can't really write anything today. We had a zone activity this morning (played basketball and soccer, and it was a lot of fun), and it went a little long, and then there was some trouble picking up a taxi, and one thing led to another, and now we have a couple appointments to get to. But I'm doing really well, happy, healthy, having success and a lot of fun. Transfer calls come this Friday and I'm pretty sure I'm out of here - so next week I might write Tuesday instead of Monday. Either way, I'll catch up on this past week and will actually have time to write a decent letter. Thanks for everything - I saw the photos and they look really cool, and am really looking forward to reading the emails tonight. Thank you all very much for your love and support. I hope today and this week are wonderful, and I'll talk to you more next week! :)
Excerpt from August 9
A final goodbye to Villahermosa...
Hey everyone! It was great to hear from you all and see the pictures from the camping trip. Dad, they came through just fine. I liked seeing Reagan licking the fish and putting it under his chin, plus Nic and his Gollum impersonation... it seems like everyone had a great time. I was surprised that the yearly Bown camping trip had arrived so soon. Time is passing quicker than it seems. Ten more days and I'll be halfway done with my mission. That doesn't seem possible. :)
Now for the most important information: transfers. Tomorrow, at 6:30 am, I will hop on a bus and head up north... to Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz. :) My zone is called Puerto and my area/ward is called Tesoro (which means "treasure" - sounds pretty good so far!). My new companion is named Elder Caudillo (I'm guessing he's a Mexican), and I have been made senior companion.
Coatzacoalcos is very close to the Gulf of Mexico, closer even than Villa. And since my zone is Puerto ("port"), I'm guessing I'll be pretty close to the coast. I heard from another Elder that the ward there is awesome and that it's a great area. I think it's cooler there than it is here, which will be a nice change, even though I'm now pretty much accustomed to the heat. And I've now become senior companion - that will be interesting. I'll have new challenges and new opportunities, and I know that I'll be able to grow and stretch my boundaries even more with the Lord's help. I'll miss a lot of people in the ward here, but have received most of their addresses and information so that we can keep in touch. It will be fun getting to know a new ward and plenty of new people.
A quick update on the investigators here in Villa. We finally met with Marlene again and she's doing really well. Everytime we teach her something new she immediately puts it into practice - the Word of Wisdom, Law of Chastity, prayer, etc. She loves learning more and reading from the Book of Mormon. We fixed a new baptismal date for her - September 11th. There's a reason it's so far off, and it's kind of a funny one - but perhaps not appropriate to be sharing with everyone. I have it recorded in my journal, though, so that's one thing I'll save for when I get home. There are plenty of things like that, and it will be really enjoyable to tell everyone about them when I get back and be able to explain things in greater detail. Jaime and Javier have been pretty busy but are still doing well; we're working on preparing them for baptism. We have another investigator, Yesenia, who's really interested and also wants to be baptized. She has some family problems but says her husband wants to listen to us too, so we're hoping things will work out. So I'm leaving with some good things going on, and I know Elder Tanner will do a good job continuing the work here. He's receiving a new missionary - as in, straight from the CCM (MTC here in Mexico). That should be interesting.
Oh, one more thing - Elder Jackson (the zone leader that I've lived with for seven months) just became AP. Pretty exciting for him, and it means I'll still see him at zone conferences and such. Cool stuff.
Couple of answers to questions:
The hello/kissing is about the same as in Chile, except it's usually confined to people who are already at least acquaintances. So I haven't had much trouble with it yet; I've only had to tell a couple people that we can't do that. Sometimes little girls go in for the kiss and it's kind of funny. The typical abrazo is very common - as you mentioned, Dad, after companionship prayer, when we see other missionaries, and every so often with ward members. It's become a habit, and I think I'll feel weird not doing it at home. :)
When you hear from me next, I'll be in Veracruz! Until next week! :)
Letter from August 16
Hey everyone! It was great to receive this week's email and hear about the cool things that are going on, and more than that just to hear from everyone and see that everything's going well. It's been a busy and exciting week for me here, and there's quite a bit of new things to report on.
First, last Tuesday at 6:00 am I headed for the bus terminal. A bunch of other missionaries were there to say farewell, and it was nice to say goodbye to several of them that I've become good friends with over the past few months, including my companion, and then we loaded up and headed off. The ride was about two and a half hours and was pretty peaceful. It was nice to see the scenery and everything and I enjoyed the ride. There was one part that I didn't like, but it turned out to be pretty cool. Here's what happened: The night before, I was hungry, but had to make do with the only food I still had in the house, which turned out to be a jar of peanut butter. So I ate a bunch and drank some milk and went to bed. Well, about a half-hour into the bus ride, the peanut butter rebelled and my stomach began complained. Throwing up was imminent and I was really feeling pretty bad. But there weren't any bathrooms or anything on the bus, of course, and nothing really I could do to calm my stomach; I couldn't even find a plastic bag for what I thought was the inevitable result. Having no other options, I simply closed my eyes and began to pray that nothing would happen and that the sickness would go away. Over the next ten or so minutes I continued to pray and continued to feel sick - I was sweating and had the chills, and my hands were all shaky and weak. It was pretty intense for a little while there, but I just kept praying in a sort of half-delirious state. Those ten or fifteen minutes passed, and then I must have fallen a sleep for a couple moments, and when I woke up I was completely fine. And I mean perfectly fine, as if nothing had happened. I didn't even have the lingering effects of being sick or anything. Totally cured.
I know what you're thinking - Way to go, telling a getting-sick-on-the-bus story in a missionary letter! :) But it's not really about that; rather, it's about the fact that I was cured by prayer. That's an undeniable part of what happened. I was sick, I prayed, and I was healed. It's a simple event, but for me, a powerful one - a true testimony that God hears and answers prayers and that He does love His children. Pretty neat stuff. :)
And now, on to more interesting news! I got into Coatzacoalcos around 9:30 am, met my companion, and we headed to the house with my luggage. My companion's name is Elder Caudillo and he's from Chetumal, Quintana Roo - the state where Cancun is. He's been out for almost five months now. We live on a street that branches off of a street called Agua Marina in Colonia Victoria (perhaps it can be checked out on Google Earth). We have two wards, Gaviotas and Tesoro, and they both seem to be really strong. Throughout all last week and especially yesterday I had the chance to meet many of the members and they've all been really nice. One sister last week gave us a baked potato for lunch - the first time I've had one here in Mexico. It seems like we have a lot of support in the work from the members here; they're very willing to accompany us, stop by for investigators on Sundays, and fellowship them at church (fellowship? befriend? I'm looking for the translation of hermanar...). We have around ten investigators who should be able to be baptized in the next month or so - a couple this week, a couple next week, and a couple families whose parents just need to get married and then they'll get baptized. So, the work is well under way here and it seems like the people are very accepting. Elder Caudillo is a hard worker and very eager about getting to work, so I'm really exciting for the coming five weeks; we should be able to see a lot of success and many blessings.
So far, I've really enjoyed Coatzacoalcos. The weather is nicer; as you mentioned, a good ten or fifteen degrees cooler. It's still pretty humid, but also windy (off the ocean) and it rains fairly often, so things cool down nicely. In the nights I actually do get kind of cold, which to me is funny. Cold in Mexico? :) The area here is really beautiful, too. Very green and peaceful in my area. We border the Gulf of Mexico and I can see the water from our house. Next Monday we're going to head down to the beach to walk around; there's a place that looks like that one spot in Ireland - I want to say Giant's Staircase - where we can walk around and check things out. I'm excited for that, and also to get to know the area more and get into the swing of things here. I'm happy here - very pretty, very nice people, and nice weather. :)
Gabbie: I think it's pretty cool that you can check what the weather's like here all the way over there in Utah just by looking at Dad's phone. You'll have to keep up-to-date on the weather here and let me know if there are any huge storms coming, okay? The Lindon parade sounds like it was fun. I didn't know Lindon had a parade either, for that matter. :) I thought it was kind of funny that they would through candy at people's faces, though. But hey, free candy is free candy. I don't think I can compete with how much you said you love me. :) But I do love you very much and I hope you have a wonderful week! Keep being an awesome little sister! Love you Gabs!
Miranda: Wow. That's pretty much all I can say - that motorcyling and fourwheeling experience sounds pretty crazy. I'm glad you had fun and that you didn't get seriously injured. All the things you said about it sounded really fun, though. We may just have to go sometime after my mission and you can show your stunts :) Keep enjoying what little remains of summer! Thanks for being a good example to me and continue to be so for the rest of the family. I love you very much! :)
Mom: Both the family reunion and Steve and Alyssa's reception sound like they were lots of fun. Thanks for telling me all about it and say hello back to everyone who was there. It was cool to hear about what everyone's been up to and very strange to realize that school's just about to start up again. I've been out of school - and a missionary - for a year. Well, this Thursday marks the year for me in the mission... crazy! :) It really doesn't seem like it's been that long. I'll write more next week, but slightly pressed for time at the moment - my first preparation day here and there is a lot to take care of. I love you very much and hope you have a wonderful week! Love you Mom! :)
Dad: Sorry, I'm down to the last few seconds. But one thing I did want to say - thanks for your advice on being senior companion. From what I've experienced so far, that advice is exactly what I need to put into practice. And thanks for everything else you said - I'll have to reply more thoroughly to the questions and everything you wrote next week. Thank you for your great example and everything you've taught me. Say hi and congratulations to Steve and Alyssa for me. Have a wonderful week. I love you very much! :)
Thanks, everyone, for all your support and love. The work continues to move forward. More next week! Have a great week!
Con mucho amor,