Hi Mom and Dad!
Whew, where do I even start? This week has been really incredible. It’s funny for me to think that a week ago today I was sitting in the laundry room at the MTC writing you. But time flies when you have fun. We've found, taught, and baptized all in this first week. Hopefully we can continue to work hard and help as many people as we can in the coming weeks!
So first things first: my trainer's name is Elder Paiz (yes dad I got permission to use his name.) He is from Guatemala, but was going to school at the University of Utah. He is amazing! He is genuinely outgoing, spiritual, hardworking, and extremely knowledgeable about the area where we are serving. This is his second transfer in our area, and he has the added responsibilities of training and being a district leader, but he always has a great attitude and is excited about everything. I look forward to learning a lot from him.
We are serving together in the city of St. George in an area called "Snow Canyon Spanish", and there is so much work to do! We taught 18 lessons last week between Wednesday and Saturday, and 13 of them were with a member present. This makes me really excited for what we can hope to do this week, and in the 12 weeks that we have together in this area. There really are a lot of people here who are ready to be baptized, we just have to find them and teach them. And dad, you and I guessed correct about the use of Spanish and English in this mission. Basically all of the parents speak Spanish better than English, but their kids are more comfortable in English. So basically anyone under 25 we are teaching in English :) This is both a challenge and a relief, because we all know that I need to polish up on my language skills as much as possible. But the members of the Spanish Branch we are working in (that covers 3 stakes) are extremely supportive and helpful with this. They also cook EXTREMELY well. Our meal calendar is set out for the next few months, and I will seriously need to be careful and exercise a lot. These Hispanics feed the missionaries like it is their job.
A couple of fun vignettes for you to get an idea of what daily life is like. We live in the home of members named the Squires (he was a bishop until this week) and have free use of their dishes, laundry, and many other facilities. Every day I wake up at 6:00 so that I can get a head start on studying the Book of Mormon in Spanish. We exercise at 6:30 until 7:00, then shower, prepare, and eat to be doing personal study at 8:00. Personal study is where we pray and prepare to teach individuals according to their needs. Companionship study begins at 9:00 and goes for two hours because I am being trained. During this time we role play, study and discuss church training materials together, and watch Preach My Gospel videos. Then language study begins at 11:00. We are usually out the door before noon to have lunch and begin teaching people before 1:00. Dinner (always at a member's home...we are SO blessed) is at 5:00 then we proselyte more until we come home 9:00. Then daily planning, writing in journal, and in bed by 10:30. The days are full, but amazing. Organization is an eternal principle. We can get so much more done when we study hard, plan well, and work hard.
It took me about 24 hours before I realized EXACTLY why I was in this mission. We had an appointment to teach two sisters last week (Selene and Alexia) who have been taught the lessons but don't really want to get baptized. I remember strongly the first time I saw Selene, something spoke inside me and I just KNEW that I was here to help her and her sister. It was kind of startling, but I know it was from the Spirit. I hope that our efforts through returning visits with these two will increase their desire to be baptized. That is why we are out here, because there are people that we need to help and inspire. What could be more worthwhile?
Another quick story: Elder Paiz and I try to be really obedient so that we can always have the Spirit to be with us. Elder Bednar said that you can tell if a companionship is obedient the moment they step through your door. They either bring the Spirit, or they don't. We had one day last week where we were just on fire. We taught 5 great lessons, and in each one the investigator opened up to us with their concerns and doubts about getting baptized. Our fellowshipper for that night (the member who teachers with us) commented that something made us different from other missionaries, and he wants to come out with us again. I guess those are just the blessings that come from obedience. But really, the blessings and miracles of exact obedience don't belong to the missionaries. These miracles go to the lives of the people whom we bless. So my disobedience in anyway could literally affect someone else's salvation. Why in the world would we then want to break any rules?
I love this place a lot. The mountains are gorgeous (I will send pictures soon, I forgot my cable in our room), the weather is ridiculously temperate (60s in February), the missionaries are happy and obedient, and the people are ready to come to Christ. Just one more thing that added to my excitement was our first baptism this last Sunday! Elder Paiz baptized a 10 year girl named Nancy Aguilar whom he has been teaching for 3 weeks and whom I had the opportunity to meet with just a few times before her baptism on Sunday. From what I have seen and heard, she is one of the elect who was ready to be baptized. I think that was a good motivation for me to get out there and work.
I think I found a scripture that kind of describes how I want the rest of my mission to go---a creed for myself in a way. Helaman 3:35 says "Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even unto the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding of their hearts unto God"
I think I have prayed with more frequency and urgency over this last week than at any time in my life. I know Heavenly Father hears us and responds to us. He has made that quite obvious to me. If I can but yield my heart to him a little more every day, then I will be the instrument He needs and that His children need. It is so tough some times, and I can see that already. But always He stands with His arms stretched out to help us.
Vaya con Dios,
Elder Michael Stewart