From Feb 7 2011
Hey everyone! It's been another wonderful week here in Balancán. Time is so strange. On the one hand, I've only been here two weeks, but it feels like months of experience. On the other hand, my entire mission seems to have been compressed into a few short weeks or even days - it doesn't seem like I've been gone very long at all.
This past week has been really special. I felt the wonderfully peaceful presence of the Spirit throughout the week, received and followed many promptings, and was immensely blessed personally (meaning my happiness, my understanding of the gospel, ability to teach others, alertness, patience, kindness, charity, and inspiration as to how I might improve). That alone was more than enough, but the far great share of blessings came for the work we did this past week here in the Lord's vineyard. We were able to find new people to teach, teach inspired and spiritual lessons, resolve doubts and questions, help less actives and recent converts, contribute to the spirituality of the ward, and have plenty of investigators in church yesterday. This past week went really well for us, and the blessings haven't stopped.
I just want to use that personal example to illustrate how even a slight increase in our efforts to be obedient brings innumerable blessings. This is most easily seen in the mission field, I think, but of course applies to every daily situation in which we find ourselves. And I also think it's a lesson more readily learned here than when engulfed in the hectic pace of "normal" life - school, work, family, social life, responsibilities, etc. But hopefully we can all put into practice this message in this coming week. I know that each one of us can put forth just a little more effort, and I promise that said increase, though slight to our vision, will bring down the blessings of Heaven. Sometimes it seems like being just "a little bit better" isn't worth it, but I testify that it is, because I have experienced it. (I really wish I'd have understood all of the things I've been learning as a missionary before coming out, but oh well.) Hence, the invitation for everyone this week is to be just a little bit better - to stretch a little further, be more patient and kind, learn just a bit more about our Savior Jesus Christ. And then, of course, follow the impressions received, and record the experience so that it can be of future benefit as well. Does that sound good? ¿Están de acuerdo? Good. :)
This past week was my first chance to go out to el Triunfo. Dad, you were right; it's pretty much a glorified train station. :) (To any English-speaking Eltriunfonians who may be reading this: Your town is very beautiful. It's just also very deserted. :) I hope you're not offended.) It's about the same size as Balancán, but is much more rural and there aren't nearly as many people who live there. There's no chapel, just a... hmmm... prayer house? I'm guessing on that one, since I never heard the term before the mission. It's really pretty, though, and it seems like we'll be able to have success there (Florencio and his family live there, for example). I'm excited to go back again this week; we'll be there Wednesday, Saturday, and probably Sunday as well. Hopefully we can help the branch grow and have better attendance.
The branch here in Balancán is doing great. We had 88 people in sacrament yesterday; that's a jump of about 20 people from last week. The members are strong, the branch president is awesome, and we're working hard. Life is good.
A couple cool things happened this past week. We (meaning I) started some Saturday English and piano classes. The first try went over pretty well; we had a bunch of youth come out, and afterward they played games and had a mini-FHE with some branch members. We'll see how things go this weekend. I liked it, although I realized it's kind of hard to teach the piano - there's so much to learn and I don't really know where to start teaching them. But it's been fun, and I enjoyed it.
Some other things... Oh! I saw crocodiles this week! Basically, this little crocodile was sunning himself in the pond/lake thing by the chapel, and we snapped a couple good photos. It was cool. :) We didn't make it out to the ruins this week as we had planned, but I think we're going to try to go this Friday. I hope so, because they sound pretty cool. I'll let you all know next week.
Let's do some personal responses now, shall we? :)
... Heya Gabs! Here are the answers to your questions: 1: Did you eat anything weird this week? Well, today we had fried fish. It's not really weird, except it's the entire fish, head and all. But oh so tasty with tortillas, onions, tomatoes, habanero salsa, and lettuce! :) 2: Did you go exploring or see any monkeys this week or any wildlife? We didn't really go exploring, but the wildlife came to us. We saw frogs, cows, dogs, bats, snakes, and lizards, but those are commonplace. :) And, of course, we saw crocodiles (see above). That was very awesome. :) As for your request to shake hands with a monkey, I'll shake all four! Hah...
Miranda: Hey hey! Sounds like things are going well. You mentioned talking to some people from down here on facebook - I don't recognize all those names but it's cool that you're able communicate with them. and stuff. That's neat. Some people from Mina have emailed me a bit, and it's nice for me to keep in touch with them as well... As for college applications, I don't think I ever finished my application for Harvard, although I wish I would have, just to say I got accepted there (but I could say that without doing it! haha). . You asked last week for a quote on decision making - there's a CES fireside talk by P. Monson called "Decisions Determine Destiny" that I really like. You should read it - it's online at http://lds.org/library/display/0,4945,538-1-3310-1,00.html (there are several talks by the same name, so be sure to find the one from 2005). I hope you have a great week! :) PS - congrats on the Miss T nomination. :)
Con mucho amor,
From February 14
Buenas tardes, everyone! :) I hope the day finds you well, happy and healthy and excited about life. There are so many wonderful things to experience and be a part of in this life, and we should do all we can to take advantage of them and live them to their fullest. At times, I reflect on the memories I have from before the mission (so very long ago.... haha), and I don't remember a single worry, preoccupation, or bit of stress that felt during those 19 years; rather, the first things that come to my mind are wonderful moments spent with family and friends, including vacations, church activites, and the normal, day-to-day events that sometimes seem routine but in fact build the foundations for our future happiness. A thousand great memories flood my mind and make me smile as I recall those precious moments of my past. The thing is, when I think about what I miss the most from home, nothing huge or climactic comes to mind; rather, I remember the small things, like taking a drive at night, or having a FHE with my own family :), or playing basketball with my friends, or going to family reunions and hanging out with everyone. (Also: carpet, and a hot shower. Hah.) The point is, life is wonderful and I'm enjoying it to the fullest here in Mexico. I hope that everyone back at home is able to do the same, and that all of us can look above our troubles and daily concerns and can see the beauty of life. Because, truly, life is beautiful.
(I think the sermon was a success...) :)
It's been another full week, and another relaxing P-Day, and here I am again, in the air-conditioned cybercafé, listening to teenage kids playing Guitar Hero in the next room. Feels like home. :) This past week has been a really good one, and the work is starting to pick up here in Balancán. Let's get down to some details.
... a very awesome thing happened this last week. It's something I've been hoping would happen for a long time, and finally it did - and was a complete surprise. It's also something that I can sort of brag about for the rest of my life to practically anyone I'll come in contact with. It doesn't have much to do with missionary work, but it's cool anyway.
I ate iguana.
Okay, so maybe it's only a cool thing for me, but I'm really happy. There are so many iguanas everywhere that I was bound to eat one before long. Here's the scoop: on Saturday we went to lunch with the branch president of Triunfo (he lives here in Balancán though). He served us up some sort of meat in a red sauce with rice and black beans. We were kind of suspicious, but he said it was chicken, and acted like nothing was up. After we finished, he told us he had killed an orange iguana the week before, and decided to cook it up for us. My comp and I both agreed that, although it tasted nothing like chicken (many people had told us that it does), it was delicious. Add that to the list of awesome Mexican mission experiences. :) (Someone is keeping a list like that, right?)
... I was reminded of something that Dad said last week in the email; he mentioned that people here probably see me like a rockstar. While that may be exaggerated, it has some truth - especially here in Balancán, because we visit some smaller towns and less-populated, more rural areas. Lots of people stare at me as I walk by, and even point and comment from a ways off. Little kids especially - they run up and gather around me to talk in English. People always ask if I speak English, and seem surprised/amazed when I say yes, or when I say that all my family speaks English. I'm not sure what they expect, but they always seem a bit taken aback to be talking to a real-life gringo. :) Kinda funny for me.
From February 21 2011
... I've got a few surprises to relate. :)
First, we had some special transfers. Around 4 pm last Tuesday, I received a call from the zone leaders; they told me that my companion needed to pack up his things, because he would be heading out to an unknown destination ... Later that night, the AP called to let me know a few more details. He said Elder Rojas was going to Coatzacoalcos to be district leader (pretty quick jump), and that I was to be given a new companion, Elder Grimaldo ... We took the bus to Villahermosa, Elder Rojas caught another for Coatza, and Elder Grimaldo and I had to wait five hours at the bus station for the next one available heading back to Balancán ... and let me say that five hours in a bus station with nothing to do is very boring. :)
... Elder Rojas was pretty surprised too, and I was sad not to have spent more time with him, but I'm sure he's having a good time in Coatza. He's been able to escape the Tabasco heat wave, for one thing. :)
The next big thing that happened this past week: interviews with P. Castañeda. He shared a lot of advice and wisdom relating to missionary work, patience, and love for the people, and I was able to learn a lot from what he said. He also highlighted the fact that a Priesthood interview is a chance to give an accounting of our stewardship unto the Lord. That gives the normal interviews that I had back at home with the Bishopric a new meaning - and makes me miss the PPIs we used to have, Dad. Hopefully we'll be able to start them back up in just a few months. :) I liked the way the President said it - "The Lord wasn't able to come interview you, so He sent me instead, an authorized servant. Therefore, this is your chance to counsel with the Lord about your mission." Powerful words, and it set the interview in a different tone.
... Also, during the interview and training we were given mail, and I raked in. :) Here's what I received: a letter from Lisa, a letter from Laura, the ward newsletter and a note from the Windleys (all of those almost expected hah), the Christmas card Mom sent out, a mystery letter, a letter I had sent that was returned, and two packages, both from Mom (or the whole family, I guess). :) As always, a big thanks to Lisa, Laura, and the Windleys; I always appreciate your words of advice, counsel, and inspiration, as well as hearing a bit about home. Mom, the Christmas card turned out really nice; I especially liked the pictures of the Sherlock Holmes party, as I hadn't seen them before. :) And thank you very, very much for the packages ...
... The returned letter was one that I sent to Ms. Holmes, my government teacher from high school, about three months ago. Turns out she moved since then. Rats. I'd like to try again (I feel bad that it's been so long) - perhaps you could shoot her an email again? Her address is ...
And now for the cool mystery letter. The return address said "R. Johnston" from somewhere in Nevada. Since I don't know anyone there, I thought it might have been a mistake, but since it had my name and info on it... I decided to stop guessing and actually open the letter. :) Turns out to be very interesting. It was from one Brother Johnston; his son is in this mission, currently serving in Coatza, and has the same amount of time in the field that my old companion Elder Harrison has. It seems that since for several months now B. Johnston has been following my blog, and wrote to thank me for my example and hard work and praise me for the good I am doing (his words, not mine - hah). It was a very nice letter, and a real surprise. So, Dad, your comments about the blog being public and the stats showing hits from all over the world (Netherlands, Russia, etc) seems to turn out for the best. Assuming that he may read this at some point: Thank you for your letter; I really appreciate it, and will deliver the message to your son. :) I definitely thought it was cool to get a letter like that.
Now for some updates on missionary work. :) We have a baptism set up for Saturday ... and the others are doing well and will hopefully have dates set for next week or the following.
... well, I hit the 18-month mark on Saturday. Pretty exciting, and very hard to believe for me. I'm three-fourths of the way done, but it feels like I'm just starting. I guess that's a good thing, though. It's exciting to be in the mission and to be able to work here in Mexico for another six months. Oh, and it looks like we'll be going to some ruins this week in a place called Reforma (there's a Reforma, Chiapas, but it's not there; I think it's about 90 minutes from Balancán, if you want to look it up). Sounds like a cool place, and I'll be sure to take lots of pictures (and maybe some with me in them - haha).
Well, everyone, that's it for this week. I love you all very much and wish you all a great week. Draw near unto the Lord, and He will draw near unto you, and we will all be blessed by that association. I love you all very much! :)
Con mucho amor,