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 evening...it’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