Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Lord loves Missionaries!

¡Mis queridos padres! Siempre me da mucha energia y gozo leer sus cartas y ver sus lealtud y amor. Muchas gracias :)
(Dear Mom and Dad, It always gives me so much energy and joy to read your letters and see their love and loyalty. Thank you.)

Right now I basically feel like a truck ran over me. The A.C. in our apartment broke, :) which in St. George means that we "slept" at 90 degrees. More accurately, I tossed and turned at 90 degrees. :) BUT! Sister Leonard called and told us to take naps during studies, and I definitely see another nap in my future this P-Day. Sleep is amazing! But despite how my body feels, I am just...super duper at peace, and really happy. Seriously! This week the Lord poured out his blessings upon a missionary from Chile and his companion from Virginia. He loves the missionaries.

Where to begin all of the greatness---Elder Barrales and I were without a car for two days this week. :) But I think those were some of my favorite days yet on the mission. Nothing makes you feel quite like a missionary like walking down dusty roads with dogs barking and the sun hot overhead. Don't worry Mom...we drank lots of water :) It was really cool though. Even though we had to rely a lot on members for rides and services, it seemed like more people were home and receptive to us because we were walking. Granted, we got to contact maybe half of the people we normally would have (cars are great for that) but I really loved it. And on top of that...we got a new car after those two days. I have been just ITCHING to push this four wheel drive, sport shift, 2011 Subaru Impreza to its limits down some more empty roads...but I always remember that it is the Lord's chariot. But is a really nice chariot :)

We picked up three great new investigators this week. One of them is M Fs' cousin, R. Basically, the F family is the biggest Hispanic family here in St. George, and we have had a lot of success teaching and baptizing them. But R is just so fun. Her parents are both members, and basically just want our help getting R ready for her ninth birthday and baptism next month. The first lesson we had with her we taught about how baptism by priesthood authority gets rid of our sins with a bowl of water, pepper (sins), Tinkerbell (a baptismal candidate), and soap (the priesthood authority). If you have not seen this example...I recommend it :) R and her family liked "Baptizing Tinkerbell" so much that R taught it to all of her nonmember family members that week. One of them told us " looks like you all have got a new member in Tinkerbell". It is just so fun teaching these families though. You can see how the Spirit works on adults and kids alike to help them understand and internalize the importance of the restored gospel. I love teaching!
We also found a great new investigator this week tracting. (Tracting brings lots of blessings in 100 degree weather.  =] ) Basically, we knocked on her door at the just the right moment. She and her husband had an argument, and basically...they are getting separated. We show up, and on the door step the Spirit just took control again. We promised that by coming to church, receiving the gospel, and reading the Book of Mormon, she would feel relief and the presence of Christ more in her life. It’s incredible...that so many people just are on the edge of breaking down. We had a great follow up lesson with A S that week with a fellowshipper who has also gone through a divorce, and A wants to be baptized in July. When she came to church yesterday for the first time wearing Sunday best...I could have shouted for joy. All of the talks were on receiving Christ's help in families and raising children. Yes---Christ loves missionaries and investigators. Elder Wade was also in church again. I love that man! He is so sharp and really a disciple of Christ. Hugs from Seventies pretty much are the best :)

Ahora, yo se que en la mision es donde Dios quiere que yo esté. No hay sentimiento mas hermoso que el saber que Dios ha obrado a travéz de ti para traer a un alma a él. Tengo gran testimonio del Libro de Mormon y de la Restauracion del Evangelio. He orado mucho para saber esas cosas, y he dedicado mi vida a esta verdad que yo se.
(Now I know that this mission is where God wants me to be. There is nothing more beautiful than knowing God has worked through you to bring a soul to Him. I have a strong testimony on the Book of Mormon and restoration of the Gospel. I prayed a lot to know these things and have dedicated my life to this truth.)

I love you so much!
Thank you for everything. I feel the power of your prayers.
Que vaya con dios,
Elder Michael George Stewart

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Gospel is about New Beginnings :)

¡Mi amada familia! ¡Como estan! Me alegro a ver que mi padre me escribio en español y aun mas en forma de "vosotros" :) ¡Os amo muchismo!
(Dear family! How are you! I'm glad to see that my father wrote in Spanish and even more in the archaic plural familiar form :) I love you very much!)

The Lord is good :) He is faithful and will always keep his covenants with us. This week the Lord incorporated a little more of his character into Elder Barrales and myself. It was a great week!  

This week I was struck by new beginnings. The model of living the gospel in our daily lives is all about getting new beginnings. We learn of Christ and develop faith in Him, which leads us to repent and change things in our lives. The Savior then invites us with a BRAND NEW START by being baptized and receiving the Holy Ghost, which cleans and sanctifies a person. As we endure to the end, we learn to live up to our covenants with God, and gain a fresh start every week by partaking of the Sacrament. And when we think about it more, all of life's big events are centered on New Beginnings. Births, marriages, and deaths, but even small things like birthdays, moving homes, and graduations---each presents new opportunities and challenges. The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that it is never too late to start over. Never too late to pick yourself up and try again. And the Savior's promise is that "I will not leave you acomfortless: I will bcome to you." (John 14:18) Christ’s way is the perfect model for improving imperfect people :) 

So we are feeling really good down here in Snow Canyon about the new week, new transfer, and new mission leadership. Because we know the Lord wants us to keep it up and he will be with us! Thank you for your prayers!

Update on G! We had two great lessons with this family this week, and they are doing so well! The grandma interpreted Nephi's dream for us and we are pretty much going to send her observations to the Ensign. This family is awesome! The spirit has been working really hard with them and they know that they are going to meet with President to sort everything out before they get baptized. We also had a great dinner with them this week. If any of you have never had a papusa in your life...find a Salvadoran and have them invite you to dinner :)

O and his family are also doing really well. On Monday last week we had a family home evening with them and we played "10 commandments charades" It was extremely goofy :) It was especially fun acting out commandments #6 and #8 (don't kill and don't steal) with the whole family. When we explained to O about the priesthood as well he said "So I will be able to echar (basically "throw" or "cast") my son in the water? Andale (basically "oh yeah")" This family is doing really well.

Forgive me for the shortness of this email. We are so busy today, but just know that "todo nos va muy bien". (Everything is great).

Solo les quiero decir que yo se que este evangelio es verdadero. El poder del sacerdocio es real, y fue restaurado por mensajeros celestiales. Tenemos tantas bendiciones por ser miembros de la iglesia, especialmente la promesa de que nuestras familias puedan ser eternas. El Senor vive y nos ama mucho. Le he pedido su ayuda mucho, y tengo gran testimonio de que verdaderamente el contesta nuestras oraciones. ¡Este es su obra!
(I just want to say that I know that the gospel is true. Priesthood power is real, and was restored by heavenly messengers. We have so many blessings as members of the church, especially the promise that our families can be together forever. The Lord lives and loves us very much. I have asked for his help a lot, and I have great testimony our prayer are answered. This is his work!)

Os amo con todo mi corazon!

Elder Michael Stewart

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Nuestro Dios a quien servimos puede librarnos" (The God we serve is able to deliver us)

Hola mis queridos padres!

Whewie. The Lord is amazing. I have to say that hands down...of all the weeks of my life, this week has been the most challenging, rewarding, difficult, and downright amazing. If I could just express my testimony right up front, (review Daniel chapter 3 where we learn about how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego getting throw into the fiery furnace) the Lord will not abandon us in our own "fiery furnaces" of life. This week was pretty much one of those furnaces for us. But I know without a doubt that we received so much help from the Savior this week. We came to know him a lot better as well. Thank you for all of your prayers!

First the positive :) Let the pictures speak for themselves! These are just two of the families that we love and that are pretty much going to be our neighbors in the Celestial Kingdom. The baptisms of M F and O R went without hitch. M told me after "Thank you for baptizing me". I really love this boy. He is so pure. He has just been open to the gospel like his parents were, and it is incredible seeing how the Spirit can help kids learn about the truths of the Gospel. Basically, M could give you a full discourse on tithing and why it’s important :) He is amazing! And after his baptism I crouched down to give him a hug, but Evelyn ran into my arms instead! Technically this is against the rules...but it was a really sweet experience for me. Kids are so receptive to the Spirit. And if you notice the photos...its A's turn (the mom) next! We love this family a lot.

Our other family we are actually seeing again tonight to do a family home evening with them. O....has changed so much in the last months. He is going to be a super active member of the church. We gave him a baptismal reminders list on Saturday that included "Traiga su sonrisa!" y nos dijo "Voy a venir bien serio". ("Bring you smile!" "I am going to come looking really serious"). He is the best. But as you can see, he did bring his smile. At the double baptismal service the Stake Presidency was there and the whole primary sang. It was just perfect.

Also on Saturday, I was asked to speak at the baptismal service of the same man that I interviewed the week before. His second interview was incredible. He has really taken more seriously joining the church, AND, he has been coffee free for a whole week :) After a lot of work with him and our sisters in that area, Brother C feels like our own convert too. During his daughter's confirmation (the whole family was baptized last week except for him---they all got confirmed together at the service) the man doing the confirmation forgot to "confirm [her] a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" and no one caught it except for the Elders! We just went up to the bishop after the ordinance and had the first part done over. I guess even in Utah the church members need reminders of how things are done :)
 So, the week ended super well. But it definitely came "after the trial of our faith".

So we got Elder Lewis on Wednesday! He is going to finish out the transfer with us and then maybe get a new companion next week, three missionaries :) Even though we got extra firepower to help us out in lessons, it seemed that this week our investigators faced a lot of opposition. We had to place a lot of investigators in "the Lord's teaching pool" (former investigators category) this week which is always hard for me. But the Lord has his time for all things. One example...we got a call from the dad of two of our investigators (the whole family is active, just the oldest children haven't been baptized yet, and the dad is FLDS) and he told us not to come by again. That was really hard. I really love the A family, and I hope that the Lord (and Brother M) soften Hermano A's heart enough to let us back in to see his family!

The fiery furnace of this week arrived really arrived on Thursday. We had three baptismal interviews that day. We give all of our investigators the questions before hand so that they are not surprised, and because if they answer yes to "question 4" (a pretty serious worthiness question), they will need an interview with the mission president. Going into the interviews, we knew of no problems. But in some of the interviews, these concerns surfaced and the baptisms for Saturday had to be postponed. We all left the interviews knowing that work had to be done.

Then later that night we got a really scary call. Two of our investigators didn't want to go through with baptism at all, didn't want to talk to the mission president, didn't want to go to church at all, and were really disappointed. We did manage to salvage a follow up appointment, but that was still devastating. We have poured our souls into this family, and to hear this really rocked us. Like I said, there were a lot of tough things about this week, and hearing that was like getting thrown in the middle of the fiery furnace. But all of us and our Zone Leaders started praying and fasting for that family. There was a lot of wrestling with the Lord done on Thursday night last week. And it did produce great fruits for that family.

The next day we called them. And it was like night and day.  We made an extremely detailed "lesson plan" for how we were going to talk with them (down to how to say "hello" and having a prayer over the phone). The Lord had been working all night to soften their hearts. They agreed to keep meeting with us, keep going to church, and we have plans to help them talk to the mission president. The whole family was at church on Sunday :)

Entonces, gracias por vuestras oraciones. En serio...podia sentirlas esta semana mientras pasabamos por tantas cosas. El Señor me enseño esta semana que necesito confiar mejor en él. Siempre intento esforsarme al maximo para ayudar a sus hijos, pero me enseño claramente que despues de haber hecho todo lo posible, necesito "Quedarme tranquiló, y saber que el es Dios". Senti tanto alivio despues de hablar con aquella familia, y supe que el Señor nos contestó nuestras oraciones.
(Again, thank you for your prayers. Seriously, I could feel them this week as we passed through so much. The Lord taught me this week that I need to trust more in him. I always try … everything to help his children, but he showed me that after having done all I can, I need to “Remain calm, and know that he is God.”  I felt so relieved after talking to that family that I know the Lord answered our prayers.)

I love you all so much. This Church is true. The Priesthood is real. We can do miracles if we believe :)

Que siempre vaya con dios!

Elder Michael George Stewart

Monday, June 4, 2012

Bringing on the HEAT!

¡Hola mis amados padres! ¡Esta semana fue espectacular! Whew...we were sooooo busy! But I love it like that. I am becoming more and more grateful for the work heavenly father lets me do in this humble part of his vineyard.

Elder Barrales and I went to the temple today, and I really needed it. I have been having trouble sleeping (no surprise there =]) and I called Sister Leonard about it. She is amazing! One Benadryl and one temple trip later and I will be sleeping like a baby. It’s hard to stop thinking about the work and the people when we come back home at night, but I've been figuring out how to get it done :) Another thing that makes it hard to sleep sometimes is the HEAT! ("Calor, Calor, Calor!" Elder Barrales always says when we get back in the car after an appointment) This week it was over 100 degrees....every day of the week :) The highest we got to was 110, but thankfully we were in a baptismal interview during that time. Our district is going to bring down the June and July heat with a lot of Baptismal water :) We are so clever, I know.

Heavenly Father taught me this week that I can receive revelation. It was actually really amazing. It was Elder Barrales' and my turn to provide training (this is so much easier to say in Spanish) in District Training Meeting and we prayed really hard to know what to do. The thought kept coming teach the "The Doctrine of Christ" and so we went ahead with it and planned out our training. Before DTM we had interviews with President Leonard (I love this man by the way, one of my children will be named Keith or Leo after him...maybe =] ) and President Leonard was a second witness to emphasizing the doctrine of Christ and that we CAN baptize in this mission and in our district. Right before DTM our Zone Leaders pulled me aside and said...the exact same thing :) So three witnesses later, we went forward with our DTM training and it was incredibly spiritual. "I give unto you apower that ye shall bbaptize this people when I am again ascended into heaven." 3 Nephi 11:21. We have that power from the Savior! Elders and Sisters can work together to get the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit's work done. Our district has a goal of 20 Baptisms for June, that’s one per companionship per week. And it looks like we are going to beat that goal. After one weekend in June, we are happy to say that we're leading the mission, and it will only get better :)

I'd say this whole experience has just taught me that when I really want to help and lift the district that Heavenly Father will guide me and let me know what to do. Often, calling a companionship at 10:20, reporting numbers, or sitting in meetings is the last thing that Elder Stewart wants to do...but I always remember (Like Sister Stewart) "not my will, but thine be done". The Savior found his work to do hard at that moment, and because of His sacrifice I can receive strength beyond my own. And I have noticed that. After every DTM, phone call, or interview, I feel like I stand just a little bit taller and I am thankful for these small chances to serve. And that makes it really easy to just do the little things.

The work is going so well now. We are baptizing 5 people this weekend. Whew :) I can honestly tell you that I have seen repentance and change in every one of them. I remember when we first met O R two months ago. He didn't even know how to pray or what the Book of Mormon was and he was very confused why his wife got baptized. His family now...if you could just see them! They read and pray every night! And they go to church every Sunday (thanks to P his wife being SUPER solid). In one of the lessons we had with him this week we definitely botched teaching about tithing and keeping the Sabbath day holy (we were super tired, and not really focused) BUT O read the pamphlet we left him and he and his wife are committed to paying tithing after his baptism. Honestly, we have seen them grow closer together too as O has progressed. They said when P first moved back up here they would fight and argue and were thinking about splitting up. They learned more, talked more about the gospel, set plans for the temple, and this week O bought her a commitment ring! We will see you in one year in the temple :) We had dinner with them yesterday in their apartment and was one of the humblest dinners we have been served: rice, tortillas, homemade salsa, homemade juice, and a small chicken, but there was an abundance of love for each other and for the Lord around that little table. I love it :)

This week we also got to teach G, R, and J more preparing them for this weekend. R had a really great experience that she counts as a miracle in her life. For the past year she has been doing bible study with the Jehovah's Witnesses (there are so many here in Utah!) and she has been worrying about what to tell them about her baptismal decision. Well they stopped by this week to see her again and she felt inspired to tell them that she was getting baptized, and she sounded so firm about it that they respected her! This family is great. R told us the other day "I have always loved the Bible, but now that we're reading the Book of Mormon we have even more of God's word to enjoy." We need to find more families just like them! G is going to send all of her sons on missions for crying out loud! We are going to give her a "Para la fortaleza de la Joventud” (“For the strength of youth”) today, and she will definitely love it.

One of the things I love about serving here in Utah is being able to see the Kingdom of God in action. Seriously, these stakes are machines. We were invited to the Zone Leaders' Stake Coordination meeting (we cover Spanish work in their stake) and it was incredible to see 8 ward mission leaders return and report to one High Counselor and two missionaries and to take new assignments away! One ward even brought a full sheet of less actives and nonmembers for the Elders to work with! These ward mission leaders know their callings and really magnify them. We are definitely going to be tapping more and more into these stake organizations to get help for the people that we are working with. Even if the branch doesn't have a huge stake machine behind it we will still have a lot of success, because the Lord is still on our side :)

¡Me encanta ser misionero en este tiempo y en este lugar! ¡Casi conozco a todos los hogares en nuestras estacas, y siempre me impresiona cuanto trabajo hay que hacer aun en Utah! El Senor nos ama y nos conozca individualmente. Se que El contesta nuestras oraciones, y todos los dias siento el poder de sus oraciones a favor de mi. Gracias por sus sacrificios y por proveer esta oportunidad bien sagrada para mi. ¡Los amo!

(I love being a missionary now and here! I know almost every home in our stakes and I am always amazed at how much work there is to do (even) in Utah! The Lord loves and knows each of us individually. I know he answers our prayers, and I feel the power of your prayers for me daily. Thank you for your sacrifices and for providing this opportunity that is most sacred to me. I love you!)

I really do love you. Thanks for the letters and the prayers.

¡Que vayan con dios! (Godspeed)

Elder Michael Stewart