Monday, March 26, 2012

The Church is True!

Dearest Mother and Father!

First off the weather is PERFECT right now, 70 degrees on average and sunny with a breeze. Elder Paiz and I studied on the patio last Sunday so we could make good use of time enjoying this weather while it lasts. It’s perfect for proselyting. (P.S. mom, I already have to start wearing will be great though!)

This week we taught a lot again. We effectively lost a couple of days of proselyting (I will explain more later) but we still managed to reach our goal of 21 lessons. I'm glad that I feel like I can participate in every way and add value to our daily activities; thanks to Elder Paiz's training and the Church's "12 Week" training program the work is going better in every way. The mission got transfer calls this Sunday from the assistants and so many brand new missionaries got leadership callings. Elder F. (who is from Mexico City) just completed the 12 week program with his trainer and is going to be a District Leader with another brand new missionary. Similarly, Elder R. has a really great story. He was called to be a district leader and a trainer after his first 12 weeks. And now he just finished another transfer, and he got called to be a zone leader at only four months out. The great elders all around me just make me think of what the Lord says in D&C 35: 13 where he calls "upon the weak things of the world, those who are unlearned and despised, to thrash the nations by the power of my Spirit." Because in the eyes of the world, all of these missionaries are just 19-24 year old young men, who haven't even completed much schooling. But because of the power of our calling and with the help of the Lord's Spirit, they can do and become amazing things very quickly. (Also as Dad would say, it is a good thing the Church is true, otherwise sending out boys to be missionaries we'd be proved false).

We had a Spanish Training meeting last week for all of the Elders and Sisters in our Zone with a Spanish calling. During the meeting we discussed and practiced dealing with concerns and problems common in Spanish work. The first one was something we encounter probably every day. Basically every Hispanic person will invite into their home and LISTEN to anyone who preaches the word of God, but when it comes to DOING anything about it, they are much slower. We practiced emphasizing the message of the Restoration in the first few minutes of a contact with a person, to highlight the uniqueness and importance of our message. The Spirit is always strong when we testify of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, and we know these things will bring people closest to Christ. Elder Paiz and I have implemented talking about the Restoration right away when finding someone and it makes things very exciting.

The second common issue we discussed we also encounter quite frequently. Baptism is something that is culturally significant to the predominantly Catholic Hispanic culture. Often here upon inviting someone to be baptized they reply "Oh yes, my whole family and I were already baptized in the Catholic church." President guided us to again focus on the proper authority and the need for a restoration of the authority. These things sound really bold to say to real people, but as Elder Paiz and I have applied them, my testimony has really grown. I know that the authority God has given to man to teach the Gospel and to baptize is found only in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has once again in our day called a prophet and given us evidence (the Book of Mormon) that we can test for ourselves.

Wow, so sorry this email is so short! Thank you so much for your love and care. I especially appreciate the box of Easter goodies and the red Spanish book that recently arrived. I look forward to studying more Spanish while enjoying these sugary goodies (and Elder Paiz will be enjoying his fair share too).

Los amo much. Yo se que vive el Senor. Su Iglesia ahora esta en la tierra y se guia a travez de un profeta viviente. Tendremos la oportunidad la proxima semana a escuchar las palabras de este profeta durante conferencia. ¡Preparense para esta y recibiran inspracion!
(I love you very much. I know that the Lord lives. His church is on the earth today and we are guided by a living prophet. We will have the opportunity next week to hear the words of this prophet during conference. Prepare and receive revelation!)

Vaya con dios,
Elder Michael Stewart

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Kingdom of God is within you

¡Hola y salutaciones mis amados padres y amigos!
(Hello and greetings my dear parents and friends!)

Thank you so much for your prayers and support; thinking about how much you love me truly makes a difference in my attitude and work ethic. I love you so much!

This week was so BUSY! We taught 27 official lessons (consisting of prayer, teaching principles, leaving a commitment, and making a follow up appointment) and had countless other small teaching opportunities. I think I really have figured out how to plan well now. Elder Paiz basically lets me be in charge of planning sessions, and we always make sure to have 2-3 back up activities for every 30 minute block of the day. I guess I should thank Brother James Taylor  for giving me a leg up on the planning with all that work in the Priest Quorum (I recall one YEARLY planning session with him that literally destroyed my brain-I guess it was good for me though). Seriously though, having a busy day and busy week makes so much difference! We are happier, more productive, and can help so many more people. It’s amazing.

On Wednesday of this week we had a mission wide temple trip. I am so grateful we get the blessing of being able to attend the temple on our mission! Apologize to Sister Hilton for me though, because I forgot to hand names to the Elders beforehand---we were running a little bit behind. We will do better on next Preparation Day and during the next temple trip in three months. The St. George Temple is beautiful inside and out. You can really feel the connection to the pioneers in these temples (like Salt Lake and Manti as well I'm sure). It was a privilege to kneel in a room in the temple with Elder Paiz and pray for each of our investigators. If there is one lesson just engraved onto my soul from my mission already it is that prayer works. When we communicate with our Father, we open up the windows of heaven to feel His presence and also to invite His blessings to be poured out upon us.

When I got through to the Celestial Room I looked in and it was PACKED! Seriously it was a full, full session. Normally in these rooms I am drawn first to the beauty of the room and the peaceful Spirit that is there. But this time, I was drawn to the PEOPLE, the missionaries and the brightness in their faces and the Spirit they emanate. It reminded me of when Jesus said in Luke 17:21"behold, the kingdom of God is within you." That is so true! The Church, the Kingdom of Heaven, the world is made up of people. Not just people, but children of God with the ability to grow to become as he is (Mat 5:48). It is amazing to realize the divine potential that just burns within every humble human soul and to think about the good that everyone can do. When I look at it this way, it so just so easy to find something worth admiring and loving in everyone we meet.

I just have to tell you one other story about a baptism and confirmation that was in our district. While he wasn't our investigator officially (he was baptized into the Squires' English Ward) Elder Paiz and I were intimately involved in his conversion. So this man named W. G. has been married to a less active woman for about four years and they have a little kid. He was a very vocal opponent of the church and scared away many sets of missionaries. Nevertheless, our Sisters Box and Sister Powers (they sound like super hero names) saw his name on a Former Investigators list in the area book and felt they should go by. When Wendell opened the door for the first time Sister Box described feeling/smelling "a rush of alcohol, demons, and all sorts of bad stuff" coming out of his door (it is interesting what you can know about a person based on smells).

Our sisters weren't swayed by his attitudes or habits, but boldly told him how he needed to change his life, and he was touched and listened. They worked with W for about 4 weeks helping him put back together his marriage and overcome addictions (Elder Paiz and I got to give him a blessing for this) through the restored gospel. He was at first, literally the last person anyone expected to get baptized, but he completely changed! W asked Elder Paiz and I to come to his baptism and help in his confirmation the next day. Now he is totally cleaned up, walking the straight and narrow, and planning to go to the temple. It is so awe inspiring to see the atonement work miracles like this.

Sorry I had to be so quick with this message. President just changed our schedule around a little so now we have a couple more extra Preparation Day assignments. Keep praying for us and we will keep working hard. Really, it is a privilege to be serving the Lord right now. I can't do it perfectly, but I can be obedient and provide Him was a fitting instrument to work with. I love you so much!

Vaya con Dios,
Elder Michael Stewart

p.s. The Squires took us to Zion National Park last preparation day and it is pretty much gorgeous. We took a lot of great pictures. My personal favorite is the one where Elder Paiz and I are standing in front of rocks that mirror our height difference. Bien chistoso. (Very funny)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lo que tengo, yo te doy (That which I have, I give)

¡Hola mis amados padres! ¡Salutaciones de la tierra del sol y piedra rojo!
(Hello my dear parents! Greetings from the land of sun and red rock!)

I really love you all and I am grateful for your support. Also, Rhia is just so darn cute! They make pretty cute babies, and I bet before two years are out you'll will have another grandbaby.

This week I want to start with one of my scriptural epiphanies that the Lord gave me. It has to do with knowing my purpose, serving others, and also forgiving myself. This week's scripture comes from Acts 3:6-8. (And I just have to say, when Daddy read us the New Testament to us every night before we could read it for ourselves; Acts was definitely my favorite book to hear. It has so many great missionary scriptures too.) So in the beginning of Acts 3 Peter and John are walking into the temple and they are approached by a man who was crippled from the time of his birth. This man came to the temple frequently to beg for alms, and this is what he was doing to Peter and John. The response of these apostles to the man is incredible. Peter responds this way in verses 5-6 "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength." Then you just have to love the reaction of the crippled man in verse 8 "And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God."

One of the teachers in our Branch Elder's Quorum used this story in teaching about the power of the priesthood that we have. The very same priesthood power that Peter used to heal this man, we have in our lives and we also must use it to help other people. I was just struck though by Peter’s words. "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee". Peter didn't have money to offer this man, but he did have something that could bless and help him. In fact, Peter's act through the priesthood did more for this man than the silver and gold could have! The actions of Peter put me to reflect about the ways we try and help investigators. A lot of the people we teach have real problems; life is tough and it can be full of real challenges that we see in the lives of people all around us. I know that I am so incapable in so many ways and I can't help them in many ways. But such as I have I freely give my investigators. And what we have that really blesses, changes, even heals people is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So really I don't have to be upset that I can't teach perfectly clearly all the time. And it shouldn't bother me that I can't speak perfectly with these people. And I probably can't find someone a job, restore a loved one, or fix all of their lifestyle habits. But I just know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ blesses and heals families, and that I do have the power and authority to give. Even as a newbie they give me the privilege to do that! And really that is so hopeful to me.

This scripture just put a really good capstone on a kind of tough week. It reminded me that I am here to bring the Spirit of the Lord into people's lives and to invite them to be baptized. There really is no other purpose or way to invite someone to come unto Christ. A lot of our investigators are facing new challenges, but we just have to get on our knees with them and work with them and the Lord. Many great things happened toward the end of the week though.

On Thursday we got a text from Selene that she really wanted to meet with us that evening as soon as possible. Luckily we had planned to do some door contacts during that time, so it was easy to fit her and Alexia in. We have been praying a lot for these two that they might develop their own relationship with Heavenly Father and gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon. And I confess, in our last appointment I kind of chastised Selene for wanting to "counsel God" and not accepting the Book of Mormon. I felt bad about it, but everything turned out alright. Selene told us that she had an experience this week where she couldn't get to sleep and couldn't get some scary thoughts out of her head. She tried praying in her bed but it didn't work. Then she decided to just open up the Book of Mormon to see if it could help her. And she said as soon as she started reading a peace filled her that totally calmed her mind and convinced her of the truthfulness of the book, and she was able to get to sleep. Honestly, I have kind of had this same experience with the Book of Mormon in my life, and it is so exciting to see the peace and change it can work in the lives of others. At the end of this appointment Alexia told us that she really feels like the LDS church helped her develop an actual RELATIONSHIP with God more that the other church she was going to before. These two are amazing, and I am so glad to be here to help them at this time as they progress to baptism. Trae tu toalla y ropa blanca (Bring your towel and white clothes) :)

On Saturday we went on exchanges with the Zone Leaders and I got to do all English work! It was amazing and definitely confidence boosting. Elder Pollombo and I tore up his area, taught a bunch of people, and I had the opportunity to invite a new investigator to be baptized and he accepted! His name is Ron  and he fits the mold of a lot of "young fathers" that we teach. They have LDS wives but never got baptized themselves, and once kids start coming they realize how much they need the Lord in the lives to raise a family. It’s really interesting to see the different ways that the Lord prepares people.

So every week, day, and hour things just get better and better. It really is a privilege to serve the Lord here in "Southern Zion", where the work is plentiful and the blessings and support are great. If I had a dime for every time someone off the street has offered to feed us....yeah it’s pretty amazing and humbling to think about that. I love these Hispanics and I love the Lord. He comforts and helps me through my weakness and mistakes, and helps me see how and where I can improve.

I love you all a lot. Thank you for your prayers and support.


Elder Stewart

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Yo se que vive mi Senor (I Know that My Redeemer Lives)

Hello to my dearest mother and father :)

Is it really preparation day already? This week flew by. I think it is because my feet are finally firmly planted and I know what the details of missionary work are like. Now things can only get better! But seriously, I feel so blessed to have this privilege to serve my Savior and other people. Truly there is a lowly place where we can all serve the Lord throughout this wide world. And this week was amazing. I look back at my planner and all the names that are there and I am only grateful that I have the opportunity to get to know so many incredible people. I pray that I might get much, much better as a missionary so that I can help people come unto Christ. Man, this is just the best!! So here is a brief synopsis of the highlights of this week. Actually this week is mostly about one man: Francisco.

Yesterday we had the baptism of Francisco. And wow, what an amazing man he is. He has got to be the most humble and kind man I have ever met. He was out of the country last week taking care of his family in El Salvador and he asked Elder Paiz and me to check up on his family while he was gone. That is amazing trust that I'm not sure we deserve. He also said to us over the phone once when we asked him "is there anything else we can to for you and your family?" and he said "No, only your presence in my home is enough Hermanos." That is incredible to me! How can a 20 year old and a 19 year old be treated like such, and yet I know it is the sacredness of the missionary office that makes him feel that way. We as missionaries do not have the right to destroy the trust that people like Francisco have in our office and in the church. As representatives of the Savior this is a duty.

Francisco's baptism was just beautiful. I really felt the Spirit strongly as Elder Paiz helped him down and up out of the water and he came up absolutely shining. Then during his confirmation the bishop who confirmed him said something amazing. He said that Francisco would have chances to serve in his branch and in his ward. This is something that I've felt pretty strongly too talking with the stake leadership in this area, that it won't be very long before Snow Canyon 12th Branch becomes a ward. Our little branch has so much potential to grow! Heavenly Father has prepared men like Francisco and others for this time and it really is just so exciting to see. The best part about this whole baptism though, is that Elder Paiz and I get to continue fellowshipping Francisco as he receives the new member lessons. Lessons with members are even better.

Saturday was also a really amazing day. The assistants to the president stopped by to join us for companionship study in the morning, and Elder Holtgrum (he is from Sweden) had an interview with me while Elder Brown (he is from the UK, isn't our mission the best?!) interviewed Elder Paiz. Really this interview was really encouraging to me. Even though trainee's are young in the mission and should definitely listen closely to the trainer's advice, they are every bit as much a missionary as the trainer.  We both have responsibility to contribute to lessons, planning, finding, and helping each other obey the rules. This was really encouraging to me, because I feel it is my responsibility to try my best RIGHT NOW to figure things out about being a missionary. I'm so grateful to have a trainer like Elder Paiz who has no problem throwing me into teaching situations and role plays.

Also on Saturday we took Francisco to the temple visitor's center with his family. Yeah and I pretty much cried watching the videos and talking with them about eternal families. In case you can't tell from the photos, Francisco and his family just have the purest love for each other. The Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way that families can be together forever, and I feel that strongly every time we drive past the temple here in St. George. Baptism by Jesus Christ's authority is the only way we can open the gates to the Celestial Kingdom: to some that sounds harsh and restrictive, but that is not the case. Heavenly Father is openly offering all of his children Eternal Life with Him and He has clearly showed us how to get there, all we must do is accept Him and His Son and do what They ask us.

So really, I think what has been most worthwhile this week is watching and reflecting on the growth of testimonies around me.  It has been so inspiring to see Francisco make and keep commitments to read the Book of Mormon, to pray, and to keep the commandments. We have watched him accept the gospel and grow to live and love it. So when he chose for the closing hymn for his baptism "Yo se que vive mi Señor" (I know that my Redeemer lives.) we knew it was true.

I know that Jesus Christ lives and loves us. Just as you two live and breathe, just as Elder Paiz and I live and breathe, I know He lives. He works in our lives constantly reaching out to us through others, the scriptures, and the Holy Spirit because He knows that coming unto Him will make us happiest. Missionaries who wear his name on their chests everyday live to serve Him. Our desires and wills we freely trade for His, so that He can make us instruments to help His people. It is so comforting to know that we are not out here for ourselves, because sometimes it is hard to see in what way getting up every day and trying to talk to everyone about religion would benefit us. But that attitude really misses the point. We have been called to serve Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, by declaring His word among this people. Elder Paiz and I feel a lot like Jacob from the Book of Mormon who said, "Wherefore we labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God, that they might enter into his rest" (Jacob 1:4).

When we do this and really lose ourselves for these people, THEN is when Christ can take and shape us. But the whole time we are focused outside of ourselves. What an amazing process sanctification is :)

Thank you so much for your prayers and support for me and Sister Stewart. I love you a lot and hope and pray that the Lord blesses you for your sacrifices for Him. I know he will. It is so amazing to come home after a long day to a letter from you or someone else. It just buoys me right up and makes me remember how much the Lord has blessed me through you. Some days are long, but always when I pray and remember my blessings and the opportunity in front of me, I feel the Lord come in and scrub my heart a little more and make me ready to go on to another day.

Take care of yourselves and remember to read and pray together! Also, send along pictures of baby Rhia when she comes. Apologize to people for my lack of correspondence with others, I am working on getting through my reply letters :)

Los amo con todo mi corazón. Vivan bien y recuerden el Señor en todo momento.
Vayan con Dios,
(I love you with all my heart. Live well and remember the Lord always. Go with God.)

Elder Stewart