Monday, April 30, 2012

When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God

Wowie!! ¡Hola y salutaciones de San Jorge! (Hello and greetings from St. George!)

Is it really Preparation Day already? This is way too fast. I can already tell that this mission will pass me by like a dream. So I just have to work harder and harder every single day!

First some business---transfer calls will be coming next Sunday (the 6th) and many have prophesied many things for me concerning the coming transfer. I personally find this to be foolery and just want to keep working hard where we are. It is amazing the progress the area is making! My personal prophesy is that I will go to a bilingual area (I am feeling Delta Utah) with Elder Gomez from our District and we will baptize all nonmembers regardless of their language. But this is foolishness :)

This week was so amazing! It seems I always have to start at the end when telling you about it. Sunday was excellent. We had twelve investigators at church! And a brand new family of six at church! And Elder Paiz and I got to teach the gospel principles class which was so fun. We taught our investigators and a bunch of recent converts about the nature of the primitive church and how in our days we have EXACTLY the same authority, organization, ordinances, and spiritual gifts. I apologize for my horrendous spelling though, I type really fast and I get really excited about these stories.

Also on Sunday we went to the Visitor's Center with O R (our investigator), his wife P (a recent convert from N.M.), and their sons F and E. I only regret that I didn't take pictures to remember this lesson better! You could just feel the love emanating from this small family, and their smiles made the Cheshire cat’s grin look tiny. I love these people. At the V.C. there were no Spanish sisters on shift, so we got to translate and give the tour. Translating is really fun...I will have to find more opportunities to do that in the future. We toured paintings of the atonement, saw a video on eternal families, and took a photo tour of the St. George temple. The Spirit is always strongest for me at the V.C. in front of the Christos Statue and in the eternal family video. I can just palpably feel the truth of the gospel when I reflect in those places. At the end of our tour we asked O what he could do to follow the example of Jesus Christ more in his life. He smiled and said I don't know. This moment was really funny. P punched him lightly on the arm and said "Si sabes" with a huge smile. Then he totally opened up. "I have no doubts. I know I will be baptized, I just want to learn more, feel more of this happiness, and be even more sure." YES!! I tell you, the visitor's center really helps people gain testimonies of eternal families. The first time we met with O he told us "I don't really understand all of this about baptism and being together as a family forever without end." But can see the changes the Spirit has worked in him :) So O won't be baptized on the fifth (he has a little more to learn) but hopefully I will be here to see him make this covenant with our Heavenly Father next transfer.

Rewind one day to Saturday. Another amazing day! We had another "Spanish District Training Meeting" with all of the Spanish Elders, our Daily Dose couples (more on this later), and President and Sister Leonard. I don't really know why, but I really strongly felt the Spirit testifying to me in that meeting. I know that I am in the right place, at the right time, and speaking the right language. The Lord had this all planned out for me from the beginning. It’s funny to think that the little piece of his kingdom he was preparing for me to tend is basically in my own backyard...but I love this place, this language, and especially this people. In the meeting we discussed how to coordinate Daily Dose missionaries better with proselyting missionaries. Just a little primer; Daily Dose is an inspired program that Spanish speaking general authorities have devised to help Spanish speakers learn English as a second language. Church called couple missionaries administer this program to families in short 20 minute huddles in their homes that begin and end with a prayer. (Can you say, I WANT TO DO THIS SOMEDAY!) Really, it is an amazing tool. Because these Hispanic families here in the US (as President Leornard and the Daily Dose coordinator have said) take a lot more time and love and patience to bring along in the gospel than American families do. Daily Dose slowly makes these families comfortable with missionaries, with topics like "prayer" and "sharing your beliefs" and takes time that the full time missionaries really can't afford. I was really excited to be in that meeting and learn more about this program and how I could work better with the Daily Dose couple working in our branch.

Also on Saturday evening we made the baptismal program for A F for el Cinco de Mayo. And he asked me to baptize him :) So you'll be getting some fun pictures of this family next week on Monday. But it was way humbling and an honor for A to ask me to baptize him. He has been at church the last three weeks in a row, and loves all of the classes! Now we just need to work to get his wife and kids to church too. BUT! His wife is so supportive, has given up coffee completely (which was a childhood addiction) and will be giving a prayer at his baptism! And we are going to start teaching their 9 year old son M this week. It has been a really long haul with this family, but we can really see the changes and new life that have come from prayer, reading the Book of Mormon, and (for A) coming to church. In a different order, church+prayer+reading= spiritual C.P.R :) yeah missionaries are pretty clever ;)

We continue to work with the V sisters and Ar as well. Neither will be baptized this week, BUT we have dates scheduled for later this month. I really feel like they are all closer than ever to coming unto Christ through baptism. Every prayer, minute spent in the scriptures, and kind act they do is another step closer to Christ, and it is so neat to be able to see these things and help others take these steps.

So basically I discovered this week that...I have lost myself. It came to me as a surprise! As I was just praying and praying and pouring out my heart to Heavenly Father for these people I realized what charity is and that somehow the Lord has helped me get this gift. It is the best :) Not having to worry about yourself, but just thinking about the Gospel and how it can help other people. Don't get me wrong, the Lord and I still have serious talks about my weaknesses, when I mess up, and how I can be more obedient. But the balance of my prayers have somehow changed to pleading for these other people, and that they might be touched by the spirit, change their hearts, and experience conversion. I can only imagine how your prayers are for all of your children; and how much Heavenly Father is constantly preoccupied with our lives and needs.

Ultimately, my latest scriptural obsession has been Alma 37:33-34 "Preach unto them repentance, and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ; teach them to humble themselves and to be meek and lowly in heart; teach them to withstand every temptation of the devil, with their faith on the Lord Jesus Christ. Teach them to never be weary of good works, but to be meek and lowly in heart; for such shall find rest to their souls" This definitely has application to our role as missionaries. But even more sweet has been how the Lord has fulfilled this process unto me. As I have just cried unto God morning night and all day, and planned, and worked hard to help these people increase their faith in Christ, at times I have been really tired. At these moments I just tell Heavenly Father, "Well, looks like Elder Stewart cannot take other step. Just let me have thy grace today. Let’s put aside Elder Stewart and let Jesus Christ shine through my actions today." And really...I have found a little of what that "rest to their souls" is. There is nothing more satisfying that after a long day of finding and teaching, and after praying in thanks and for blessing to our investigators, nothing satisfies more that when your head hits that pillow and you feel Heavenly Father smiling at you.

Yo se que el evangelio de Jesuscristo es la unica via nos dada que nos permite a regresar con nuestro Padre Celestial un dia. Se que el evangelio ha sido restaurado por conducto del profeta Jose Smith y todavia tenemos guianza de un profeta de Dios hoy en dia. Yo se que vive mi Senor. Lo amo, y el se complace conmigo cuando haga su voluntad. De veras...esta lo hace a uno feliz :) 
(I know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only path that will allow us to return back to our Heavenly Father one day. The gospel has been restored through Joseph Smith and we still have the guidance of a prophet today. I know that my Redeemer lives, I love him and know that he is pleased when I do his will. This really makes me happy.

Los amo muchisimo. ¡Hasta pronto! (I love you very much, see you soon!)

Vaya con Dios,

Elder Michael George Stewart

Monday, April 23, 2012

Buscando las ovejas perdida (Seeking the lost sheep)

Why hello my beloved parents :) It appears that once again it is our day of preparation and I am super excited to send you this email. Man oh man has so much happened this week and I just want to tell you all of it!

This week was amazing. Elder Paiz and I tried really the hardest we ever have to make it a great week and we definitely saw the results. Starting at the end...we had 11 investigators at church!! I love it. Really, I haven't ever been so happy to be at church when I am there to help someone else learn and grow and have a spiritual experience.

We have been working so hard with A this week (her husband got deported, she has three kids 3-7-13 years old, and her only work is cooking for clients to order) and this week we saw miracle after miracle with her. It is kind of fun working with her, because my MTC teacher took on the name of A tambien when she was practicing with us. I will tell you...I had the best lesson ever with her on Saturday of this week. We brought another single mom who used to be catholic as well to fellowship with us and the Spirit was so strong. A didn’t understanding the importance of baptism at first, so we started using pictures to try and help her out. We showed her the picture of John baptizing Jesus, and then she started flipping through the picture book herself to try and find something. She couldn't find it so she gave it back to us. I don't know why, but I thought of the picture of Christ cradling a sheep, and I turned to it in the picture book. Then we testified that Christ wants to carry us home, just like this lost sheep, and he does that through baptism. A got a look of peace all over her and then she said "I feel right now a warmth, like His arms are around me just like that sheep." Oh MAN!! If you could have felt the spirit in there, I still get warm just thinking about it. Right after that we testified to her that the Spirit was confirming the truth of all of this to her, and she basically jumped at getting baptized on May 5th (you'll see that el Cinco de Mayo will be a great day in our branch for baptisms.) But really, that lesson was amazing. And I know A was prepared to receive this message through us in this way. The day after that was Sunday, and at first A didn't look like she was coming to church, she missed sacrament and the first talk, but we kept praying that she would come. Then we saw her walk through the front door, and we basically jumped over the pews to go greet her and her kids. She is progressing so much! Our prayers for others really are answered!

The best part of this all though is that it just increased my testimony so much of the love the Savior has for all of his little lost sheep. There are many humble souls, beautiful families, who just NEED the Savior in their lives, we all NEED the Savior to make it back to Heavenly Father one day. This work is hard sometimes. But when we get to be there for a lost sheep at the right time, we can feel the arms of the Savior around and in us too. I love it!

So like I said May 5th is going to be an amazing day in the branch because we have 4 really solid people who want to get baptized on that date. Why are all of these blessings coming at the exact end of the transfer?

One of our amazing investigators right now is C H. And he in and of himself is a miracle. Here is an 18 year old Hispanic boy who has never touched beer, cigarettes, drogas, or even thought about breaking the law of chastity! WOW! He lives with his aunts and cousins, who aren't the greatest role models, but he has been totally clean his whole life. He really wanted to get baptized on the 28th of April, but he has not attended to church enough to get baptized this month. That is perfectly okay though...because he will get there on the Cinco de Mayo! The cool thing about C H is that he invites all of his friends and family to learn from us too (he even told his younger cousin to get baptized with him!). I really just hope and pray we can baptize all these people and help them stay active in the church.

Our third investigator who is looking really good for May 5th is O R. He came out of priesthood class on Sunday just smiling and hugged his boys and his wife. We are going with them all to the visitor's center today! Seriously, this family is so great. They have gained a lot of trust with us this week. The wife is a recent convert from New Mexico, and she called all of her friends back home and told them that our branch was the best and she feels so welcome. Finding the elect like this family is just so fun :)

The last we have on date for the fifth is finally A F. We have been working with this man forever it seems! Last week we re-taught him plan of salvation and focused on how he could see his son again someday through the power of the gospel. He has been to church three times in a row now, and we're working on his wife too. She completely gave up coffee!! That is amazing because she has been drinking it since her childhood and was seriously addicted. She’ll come around soon, but always she will support her husband's decisions.

So now some funny stuff :) This week Elder Paiz is having me pretend I am training him and it is really...funny :) Basically from what I remember and what he is telling me, new missionaries are a lot like babies, and you have to tell them every little detail about investigators, about car procedures, about studying...because they just don't know! I am definitely grateful for the patience Elder Paiz has had with me during my training weeks. One time I was explaining to him about coordination meeting and all of the paperwork, and I said "Do you remember this progress record we made..." and Ii reached in the back seat to grab the progress record but instead grabbed a "Family: A Proclamation the World" document and showed it to him on accident. Maybe Elder Paiz and I were there when the Prophet and the 12 apostles made THAT record...but probably not. Just little things like that are making this week really funny :)

We were also reading in the Missionary Handbook, like we do every day, and read a part about "if you are serving outside of your own may have to set aside money for customs charges when returning home." Elder Paiz just looked at me and said "Well, that definitely doesn't apply to us." At least I am pretty sure there is no customs between Toelee, Utah (Where Elder Paiz is effectively from) and St. George or Provo and St. George. Good times :) But even though we are basically serving the Lord in our own backyard, what better place is there to serve? Among people and places we can always remember and revisit.

So we are doing great :) Our prayers are being answer, we are learning and growing, and moving people towards the water! Elder Palombo (our other Zone Leader) commented after the last exchange that he envies the unity he sees in our companionship, and the success we are having in our area. Honestly, at times I don't see either of those things, because I am up close and personal with the daily grind of problems and challenges. But I know that even though we will never be perfect in this work (oh how this pains me...actually) we can be helpers and servants for others.

Me encanta la obra. Yo se que vive nuestro Salvador, y el se complace cuando guardamos sus mandamientos. Dios escucha nuestras oraciones y nos contesta en su propio tiempo. ¡Tan duro es esto! Pero, el sabe todo, y solo quiere que un dia lleguemos a ser como el es. Es el proposito de esta existencia, del evangelio, y ahora de mi propia vida. ¡Tengan cuidado con si mismos, los amo tanto!
(I love this work. I know that our Savior lives and is happy when we keep his commandments. He hears our prayers and answers them in his own time. That can be very hard! But he knows all and wants us to become just like him one day. It is reason for our existence, the Gospel and now my own life. Watch yourselves, I love you so much.)

Siempre vaya con dios,
Elder Michael Stewart

Monday, April 16, 2012

Poder segun tu fe y deseo (Power according to your faith and desire)

¡Hola de nuevo mis amados padres! ¿De veras ya se paso una semana? Tan rapidamente pasa el tiempo. (Hello again my dear parents! How did your week go? Mine went very quickly.)

This week has been amazing. Yup :) I have been focusing really hard on having faith, desiring to help people be baptized and confirmed and just living as exactly obedient as I can so we can be guided by the Spirit. I learned so much this week! And the most amazing thing is...I think for the first time on my entire mission I feel like I can be an effective missionary. I don't need to ask so many questions of Elder Paiz, and some things I am actually starting to do well (speaking Spanish comes to mind), I cannot wait to see what these weeks, the coming transfers, and the years have in store!

Basically this week started amazing and only got better. I cannot possibly tell every story, but really the Lord continues to direct his work in this lowly piece of his vineyard. On Monday we contacted a lady named B again. We had originally met her in her driveway and we didn't have much more time than to teach her a quick principle and set up a return apointment. Well, as with most Hispanics, she works A LOT. We have passed by her house a lot to try and find her there but never found her. On Monday we finally found her! She had two seats set up right at her door for some reason so she had us sit down right there and teach her. And boy did we teach her! The spirit was so strong between Elder Paiz and I, that we pretty much read each others' minds as we shared with her about the Book of Mormon. The first time she read from the Book of Mormon (2 Nefi 25:26) we saw her countenance totally change. We asked her "What do you feel when you read that?" She answered "The truth...I feel an amazing peace" WOW! This Book of Books is really powerful. I know she was prepared to receive us. There are always oppositions in missionary work though, and B is soooo busy, needs to get married to her "marido", and find time to read more than just a few verses! It’s okay though. Because this week, I found out that my faith and hard work can really affect and change someone else's life. We saw B again on Friday and read with her again and she felt the same peace. You'll notice that most of our stories are about FINDING prepared people. In our area the next two steps teaching (consistently), and baptizing have somewhat eluded us but we have faith and have set goals to work hard to consistently help these people. They need it!

On Wednesday our district had a really great miracle and I was taught a singular lesson that I have reflected on a lot. In our Stake (BTW Mom and Dad, if you are interested in seeing the map of the exact area that we cover, look up the Utah Ivins Stake, Red Cliffs Stake, and Snow Canyon technically goes all the way to the Nevada Border!), we have really good English Sister Missionaries. They are whitewashing their area (coming in totally new without ever being there before, both of them) and have been fasting and praying to find people prepared to be baptized. Well, Elder Paiz and I were the instruments to answer their prayers. We teach a lot in an area called Sierra Point which has a ton of apartments and a ton of Hispanics. Often we've seen in Sierra Point a girl riding her bike and she always yells at us "what are you doing?" We respond "teaching people the gospel!" and normally just keep walking. Well on Wednesday she was more persistent. She followed us on her bike, kept talking to us, and eventually rode in front of us and cut us off. We were kind of surprised at first but then humbled ourselves and just started teaching her. The spirit just settled in like a canopy over the three of us as we taught her the Doctrine of Christ right there. She needed to hear this. We helped her see that God and Christ love her and want to help her in her daily life. Then we gave her a picture of Christ and she just stared at it for fifteen minutes straight. Man, you could see the spirit working on her. She told us "this picture makes me feel special." Well, we are obedient missionaries so we invite to be baptized on the first contact. And A agreed to "follow the example of Jesus Christ by being baptized" right there!

So the story continues. A has a really tough life. She is twelve, has drug dealer parents, and one of our fellowshippers told us he saw her riding her bike outside at 1 AM because she was too scared to go home. The atonement of Christ, baptism, and the lifting power of covenants were meant for people like her. She needs Christ more in her life! So we told our English Sister missionaries, they rejoiced about the success of their fast and went to see her the next day after school. Well, mom answered the door. Whew...the sisters said they were basically yelled at, denied, and even though they testified a lot the mom didn't budge to let them through the door. The worst part is that they saw A looking at them through the window the whole time at them. We need them to get in there and teach her! But these sisters are amazing (kind of like a sister missionary in Munich right now) and between them and the Lord they will get it done.

So one more quick story before I tell you my big "aha!" moment. We were contacting a potential investigator that same day (Wednesday) in the wind and rain (surprising for St. George, but the weather was TERRIBLE for a couple of days) and his little kid was locked out of the house. We were confused at first, and then just kept knocking, but then I started to actually get mad. Here is your little kid sitting outside in terrible weather (the trailer had no porch) and I can hear you inside watching T.V. and you aren't answering the door? So we went around the trailer banging on windows, doors, walls until finally another kid answered the door and said "My dad is bathing himself right now". Frankly I don't want to talk to your dad right now,  I just want your brother to be out of this storm!! So yeah...we were persistent but finally got him in and out of the wind and rain.

Basically...I reflected on Wednesday a lot. I had a feeling that it was important day for me on my mission because I felt that I really used most of my prayers, my efforts,  my words to help other people. It felt....amazing. Especially those two experiences with kids taught me how Heavenly Father views us and He wants so bad to get us out of the "mighty wind...whirlwind...hail...and mighty storm" of the world and into the safe harbor of his love that we receive by covenant. I don't know...I just am starting to really love people a lot more and think and talk about them more than most other things. And I feel really good about it :)

Man, there is just too much to tell about this week. On Friday we met the husband of a recent convert who just moved here from New Mexico. We taught him on Friday, he came and helped out a branch "tesoros por tesoros" (o basura por basura, dependiendo en como lo ves) actividad,  {“treasures of treasures” (or garbage trash depending upon how you see it) activity} and he brought his whole family to church on Sunday. We had 10 investigators at church on Sunday! Now if we could only get them in the water...but we're working on that :)

It is pretty amazing because after you've been working really hard in missionary work and you don't know what else to do (if you've been faithful and seeking the Spirit always) then the Lord takes control. This is exactly what happened on Saturday. During our Friday planning session last week we realized that every single one of our Friday apts. had cancelled. So basically, we were looking at 8 hours of contacting and finding. Well, one thing I have been working really hard on is being guided by the Spirit more in all aspects of the work, so we got out the area book, prayed over stacks of former investigators, and discerned who we needed to go visit. WOW what success! We didn't teach a single official lesson on Saturday but the Lord poured out blessings on us. Every single former investigator we went to visit was either at home, or there was a neighbor at home outside, and we talked to literally 15 new people that day. That beats our daily goal of 10 :) We found a girl who has been to church a lot, and has been reading a lot of the Book of Mormon in the past year without the missionaries. We found a Native American who wants to learn more about the ancient history of his people. To top it off we had a delicious carne asada dinner with our recent convert F G that night. I think I gained five pounds that night. We told him transfers were coming in may and he told us to come back after we are released with our families. But even better...I cannot wait for a year from now when this family gets to go to the temple to get sealed :) I only hope I am down south to be able to see it!

So basically, I think I am working harder and smarter, physically and spiritually than I have ever before on my mission. I wish there were signs of outward success, but I feel we are moving people all in the right direction. I just want so bad to be like Ammon who said "a portion of that Spirit dwelling in me, which giveth me knowledge, and also power according to my faith and desires which are in God." I really just know that this work is true and important. Every time I get on my knees to pray at night, my testimony and desire to share it are just so strengthened. I don't really know where this fire is coming from that keeps me going, but like Pres. Uchtdorf said in conference, it feels like a "celestial force". Christ lives and loves us. He is intimately involved in our daily lives and will guide us if we let him. Be happy! Share the Gospel! Love and help everyone! We have so much we need to improve, but also so much we can be thankful for and appreciate day by day.

I love you so much :)

Vaya con Dios,

Elder Michael Stewart

Monday, April 9, 2012

Thirsty for a baptism!

Bueno! (This is how every Mexican ever will answer you on the phone...just a little side note)
This week has been full of sun, good lessons taught, and lessons learned. We have so many people to teach! Talking with ten new people a day really works to expand your teaching pool. The hard part comes in finding them at home again and helping them commit to living the gospel. If there is one characteristic that the Lord has been teaching me overtime this week (and since I entered the MTC in January) it is PATIENCE. Patience with people who don't have very much education, patience with companions, patience with the timing of the Lord, and patience with myself. Dad, how did you ever learn to be so patient without going on a mission?

Just a little vignette to illustrate this point, we pray a lot for our investigators by name and we try really hard to have the faith that they will accept the Savior in their lives and commit to be baptized. But you just have to be patient sometimes, because we are asking people to change their lives! So we have been teaching a Mexican grandma named A S since basically my first day in the field. She pretty much fits the stereotype of a Hispanic grandma when you see her interact with her grandkids (she takes care of them during the day) "¡C, vente paracca!" "¡G, sientate bien!" (Sit up straight)  "¡tienes que obedecerme!" (You must obey)   I have learned a lot about familiar imperative conjugations from her. But seriously she loves the gospel. She comes to church every week without fail, she reads out of the Book of Mormon stories book and prays with her grandkids every night. She is just so good! She has worked hard to change around her family situation and knows she will follow the example of Jesus Christ one day by being baptized. She just says "I am not yet ready. I want to be sure that I can keep my covenant after I have made it." And you know what....I kind of think she is right. It is so much better to be sure you are ready to live up to what the Lord expects of you that to play around with those things. All that leaves for us is to ever so patiently work with her, build her knowledge bit by bit, and prepare her to keep these covenants. (It is like teaching kids sometimes...but that’s okay!)

One of our other new investigators is really progressing nicely now. Her name is A (just like one of our "investigators" from the MTC) and she is so solid. After we taught her the plan of salvation she repeated the entire lesson to us almost perfectly! It is obvious to us that when she prays (Like most of the humble prayers of these Hispanics) she just wants to improve her family, grow closer to Heavenly Father, and follow Christ’s example. I had that feeling again that she was prepared to hear the gospel through Elder Paiz and myself. We just hope and pray we can help her get baptized! We are so thirsty for those waters of baptism again...but one other lesson that has been just drilled into me is that I need to seek the Lord and his will before any of my desires in this work. The faith to submit is sometimes greater than the faith to move a mountain, but really I can see everyday how the lord is molding and shaping me. It is the best :)

We have also been able to listen to conference in Spanish in the mornings during exercise and in the car (thanks to Aimee for the discs) and we heard an interesting story about the apostles and prophets that will put a lot of our beliefs into perspective for you. Elder Gomez in our district is from Riverton, UT. He had a stake fireside once with Elder Ballard present and at the end it turned into a Q&A meeting. One of the seminary teachers asked "We always tell our kids that apostles are special living witnesses of Jesus Christ and then they ask us if the apostles have seen Jesus Christ with their own eyes. And we don't know what to tell them. Can you answer this question for us?" Elder Ballard paused and said "I can. As an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no longer room for faith in Him, only sure knowledge." This reminded me of when Elder Oaks told the Rolling Valley Ward "to some it is given to know...and I am one who knows" And my testimony like theirs is that He does live! I haven't seen him, but I know He lives and guides his church today through inspired apostles and prophets. And we get to listen to them and review their words from conference! What a blessing.

I have to tell you another funny story about the gift of tongues. Elder Paiz and I went to a Chinese buffet in St. George for lunch one day. The hostess looked at me for a while then started talking to me in Mandarin!  I was totally shocked, and could only respond with what little things I remember from Mandarin "I speak a little Chinese" "I am an American person" and "thank you". But it was crazy. She told me that she thought I knew Chinese/was Chinese when she saw me, and that what little Mandarin I know was extremely good. That is ridiculous! But I guess it is a good testimony for the Mandarin cd's that i gave Charles to use. I hope he is listening to them, because I could have been using that knowledge to preach the gospel in a Chinese restaurant! We are definitely going back so that those kind Chinese people can teach us more Mandarin. And the food isn't bad either :)

One of the Elders in our district had his second surgery of his mission last Friday. He is lucky that they aren't sending him home, but it is such a bummer that he has to take time recuperating and not proselyting. The older missionaries are such a blessing to have. They have learned the hard lessons of the mission well and are just so willing to help younger missionaries along. Elder W (the elder in surgery) has had some crazy trials on his mission. He always shows by example, what is most important is how we show our love to the Lord and to his people. Then we can handle trials come what may. It is funny, sometimes I have aha moments where I write down a little thing I need to try in our companionship or in teaching or a little area I can improve our obedience, and I get the feeling that some of the things we go through and change now we will only appreciate after the passage of time. It does make it so hard sometimes to face our daily weaknesses. Every day I cope with the fact that I can't teach with perfect understandability, I certainly can't say everything in Spanish I want to (but this is getting better daily), and I can't just make others do what I believe is true and right. But God asks us to have faith, focus on the good we CAN do and leave the rest to Him. Let me tell you, this has been a hard lesson for me to learn :)

Yo se que viven nuestro Padre Celestial y su hijo Jesu Cristo. Nos aman muchisimo y la unica via que tenemos para volver a su presencia es el evangelio de Jesus Cristo. Es menester que tengamos fe en Cristo; fe que el cumplira sus promesas, fe que el nos ayudara, y que nos guiara todos los dias. Los amo a ustedes bastante. Gracias por su apoyo y oraciones para mi. Les prometo que sere el siervo que ustedes y Dios quieren que yo sea, no hay nada de mas valor para mi ahora :)
(I know that our Heavenly Father and His son Jesus Christ live. We love them very much and the only path back to their presence is via the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is necessary for us to have faith in Christ; faith that fulfills their promises, a faith that will help and guide us daily. I thank you for your support and prayers. I promise that I will be the servant that you and God want me to be, nothing is more important to me now.)

¡Los amo! Siempre vayan con Dios,

Elder Michael Stewart

One more note. The people here are amazing. Elder Paiz and I get free lunch, dinner, groceries, and other things frequently. A man gave me new cleats (for our exercise purposes) for ten dollars. And they were in my size! Please try to encourage people back home to take care of the missionaries. We are "bien cuidaditos" (well cared for) as the Mexicans would say out here. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

You'll know you're succeeding--when you love the people!

Hola mis amados padres! I want to just say a quick thank you to both of you. Thank you for your testimonies, your devotion to the gospel, and you willingness to support JeanMarie and me on our missions. ¡Os amo muchisimo! Vuestro ejemplo para mi ha bendecido mi vida mucho, y continuais a bendecirme por vuestras oraciones. (I love you very much! Your example blessed me and your prayers continue to bless me.) Seriously, I love you both so much Mom and Dad. And I become more grateful everyday for what you taught me in word and action.

First off, I am becoming Latin-American in more ways than one. First is the skin color. Mother, I need to start wearing some STRONG sun block or I will come back totally brown. The sun is so strong and it shines from morning through’s pretty, but I am definitely becoming more Lamanite-ish with every day.

Second, THE CHILIES! Can I just say I have always had dad's love of slightly more spicy food, but eating in members and investigator's homes I have discovered a new love. The Chili! Most Mexicans eat chili with almost everything, and there is just something that I love about that sensation on the tongue. I haven't yet tried habanero (I might need a gallon of milk when this happens) yet, but every type that has been put in front of me (cerrano, jalapeno, etc) I have enjoyed. Even Elder Paiz is slightly confused why I love these peppers so much.

Third, the language :) Seriously, if I had a dime for every gracious compliment native speakers have given me...but really. Thank you all for your prayers and fasting. The gift of tongues is real (probably eating chilies helps with the "loosening the tongue") I have also discovered a couple of principles for learning a new language, that I hope to use in dominating Spanish and becoming a native-like speaker. You just have to speak it ALL the time. Even when companions respond in English, even when you make mistakes, even when you don't want to OPEN YOUR MOUTH AND SPEAK! You also have to stop translating back in to English while listening and reading. I call this getting the "feeling" of the language. I discovered I would never be able to express myself like a native if I didn't have an emotional connection with Spanish words like they do, understanding the connotation. So I have been trying hard to do that. One must also study and apply the language skills they need to learn EVERY DAY, and a language study plan really helps with this. So really, learning Spanish is now a really exciting process. I remember the first day I sat down in the MTC more than nine weeks ago and I was terrified of leaving and teaching in just three weeks, but I have a testimony that when we are on the Lord's errand, He prepares a way for us to accomplish the thing which he commandeth us. Literally, my life is proof of this.

Now the really exciting part, the work! This week I decided that I just want to work until I am exhausted on my mission. We had a fellowshipper who is an RM come out with us this week and he told a story about how on his last day of his mission he was still giving it his all and completing his leadership responsibilities even late into the night. The spirit just filled me up when he said this, and I recommitted myself to just giving it my all every day. It is so satisfying to lay down at the end of a day exhausted, but knowing you worked totally for the Lord that day. I want two years worth of that feeling at the end!!
So anyway, this last month we found 16 new investigators. I am always astounded how in such a small place the Lord can prepare so many HISPANICS to hear the gospel. Yesterday we found a family of three that just moved here and they are so open to hearing the gospel, we just need to make sure they keep their commitments :) He is really in charge here. It was cool to proselyte this week and invite people to watch conference instead of go to church at the end of this week. Watching TV represents somewhat smaller a commitment level that waking up, showering, and going to church, so people received it a little better. And speaking of conference how amazing was it! Elder Paiz and I watched the Sunday Morning session with A and A  F (two of our investigators whom we LOVE) and they both enjoyed it. They nodded a lot while we listened to the two hour session and A had a really cool experience with listening to the prophet. The F’s lost a son a few months ago, and are really looking for peace in their lives. So when President Monson started quoting Alma 40:10-12 (about life after death and the Spirit world) A snapped to attention and tears started coming to her eyes. After his talked she just leaned back and sighed really heavily. She felt the power of a living prophet's testimony, and it was so neat to see! I had an experience similar to this in the MTC, but that is nothing compared to seeing it in real life. They are so close to being baptized!

As for my personal favorites of conference, I loved Sister Esplin’s, Uncle Larry’s, and Neil L. Anderson's talks. But really they were just all packed of missionary messages that Elder Paiz and I ate up. Sister Esplin answered one of my prayers. I have been wondering how we can plan more and more effectively to help our investigators. She said we need to think and pray about how we can help each individual grow closer to Heavenly Father, feel His love, and feel my love. We need to help them put in practice the doctrine that we teach them. I felt the Spirit really strongly listening to her because I really want to just get better and better so that I can help more people! They are all children of a loving Heavenly Father, and when we see them and love them as He does---then we become most able to help them.

One other quick note from conference that I loved was the emphasis on COVENANTS. We know all religions try to teach about God in the way they know how, and they try to teach their people to live good lives. And there isn't anything bad with that. Heavenly Father has given us so much more though. Through covenants entered into by the power of the holy priesthood, people can receive the power of the atonement more in their daily lives and receive the promises that they can return to Him some day. There is nothing more inspiring to my mind than thinking of the promises I have made with God and that He has made with me. This is true religion! Inspiring people to do good out of love of God and all mankind, and teaching them how they can receive all that the Father has for them. I have a testimony that our missionary purpose is to prepare people for those first covenants of baptism and confirmation and set them on the path that will lead them to the temple and then their heavenly home.

So, I love it! I love the other lessons we taught this week too. We taught a family about the restoration, and helped their little boy pray for the first time. We taught another Catholic family about the Plan of Salvation, and showed them how the Book of Mormon can bless them. We testified on doorsteps to everyone that we know God lives, Jesus is the Christ, and Joseph Smith was the prophet of the Restoration. What could be better!?

One last thing, we got to house a missionary returning home earlier this week for transfers. It was so amazing to hear his testimony, his stories, advice, and his prayer for us that evening. As he returns to West Virginia (AND TREES and HUMIDITY!), I felt really inspired that I want that moment to come only after I know I have given the Lord my all. So here we go again. It’s a new transfer, and Elder Paiz and I will be finding, teaching, and baptizing. Even if our final numbers aren't perfect, I know I will have success if I just love these people.

Los quiero mucho! Sigan adelante, y sepan que la Iglesia es verdadera y que yo estoy mas feliz que he estado en mi vida anteriormente.
(I love you! Go forth knowing that the Church is true and that I am happier than I've ever been before in my life.)

Vaya con Dios,
Elder Michael Stewart