Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Merry Missionary Christmas!

Hello Family!

This was probably one of the most FUN weeks of my mission. We got to do a ton of good work, we progressed and improved our companionship, and we had some good old fashioned fun. Elder Becerra and I also got to watch Kung Fu panda (one of my favorite movies) with the Judy family Christmas night. And it has a lot of Gospel principles in it. Just remember, "There is no secret ingredient, it’s just you!"
Let me give you some of the highlights I didn't get around to giving you in our phone call. It was great to see all of you! You're doing pretty good this year it looks like. I don't know why, but just seeing you was really joyful for me! It’s hard to believe it’s gone so fast---2 years? Well, at least I have 7 weeks left. And at this point I just want to make the most of every day and enjoy it. I am learning to apply all the lessons I have learned on my mission so far.

First a little bit of news from our area. The First Presidency decided to follow the recommendation of our Stake Presidency and they discontinued our Spanish Branch this Sunday. We had been briefed about this by President Rosenvall and President King (his 1st counselor who was also serving as interim Branch President), and so took steps to introduce all our Hispanic families to their new bishops and wards. We have accounted for every single individual and family attending the branch. Being so close to the men who recommended this decision, I know that it’s the will of God. Our families are already reacting positively to the change, and elder Becerra and I are excited to fellowship them now as a part of the regular wards. All I know is that I would follow the men in this Stake Presidency anywhere and do anything they asked us. We are going miss working so closely with President King. He has been another one of those great role models for us, but we will still see him around.

So on Sunday we spent all week attending church in the Axtell building. We went to the Axtell ward with R and C (a less active family we are teaching), spoke in the YSA branch, and then attended the Spanish Branch's last sacrament meeting.

And now for a non sequitur: we have been teaching the L family for about 2 transfers now. C came from a really active family, and she married R who was never active in the church. They had several kids, only one of whom is active and decided to go on a mission. Now all of their kids and grandkids, except the one that went on a mission, are on the "perimeter" of the Gospel. They are not enjoying temple blessings or any real activity in the Church. All because of a decision made in the past to raise a family outside of the church.
The good news is that they can repent, change their hearts and come back. And C, mostly thanks to her returned missionary daughter, is doing just that. R is having some trouble with some habits.  The Gospel is changing their hearts gradually but it’s so sad to see where they and their kids have come to, all because of past mistakes. I’m glad the bishop asked us to help teach this family.

Anyway, I hope we all do what we can to encourage our friends and family to be involved in the Gospel. The generational effect is way too huge. And I know that each of us can be saviors for our friends and family to bring them to the church.

In good news this week, N will be baptized on Saturday, and M will baptize his son B on Friday. Also, K finally committed to a date! We had to talk with the wrestling coaches (half of whom we teach, interestingly enough) to arrange a time when they could cancel practice to do his baptism. So on January 7th at 7pm K will be baptized! The 8-11th they have wrestling tournaments, so he wouldn't be able to be baptized then. He will be confirmed on the 12th in sacrament meeting. This 16 year-old kid is just too awesome; he lives with an active family, attends church weekly, and has a great testimony!

Well, I think that is all for this week. I really love what I am doing. There is way too much to cram it all into a small email. We see miracles every day. Couples deciding to get married, new investigators falling out of the sky, people repenting and changing, it’s the best!

This work is so true. We all need to have the VISION of what we can do and accomplish! I know that God loves all of his children and he wants them all to accept his church and his gospel. He has prepared a way for everyone to hear his voice and his gospel, and to decide for themselves. What excites me the most is that as his disciples we can be his voice to carry the gospel to them. Why in the world would we be unbelieving and think anyone is lost? We can do small things to serve and love those around us, and we can invite our friends and family to try out the gospel in simple ways. If we start with really praying for the welfare of those around us, and then we get up and act for them, God can do miracles with us, “For with God, nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1:37)

I love you so much!
Elder Michael Stewart

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

It’s been a great week :)

Hello family! I got the Christmas package! Thanks so much! More candy?!? Ha,ha,ha,ha everyone here is trying to "fatten us up"! There seems to be no end to the baked goods, bread, take home meals, and treats everyone gives us. (D&C 84:89) We're just grateful that we have the problem of having to watch what we eat, and not the opposite problem. And we have plenty of food and to spare for this week, even to share.

Speaking of sharing food, Elder Becerra and I got the chance to help an unemployed transient worker from Europe this week. We tried to get a hold of his bishop and the transient bishop for this area, but we couldn't reach anyone. So we took him two cans of soup, a homemade pot pie, apples, rice, baked ham, steamed veggies, a dozen eggs, and a loaf of homemade bread that we had at home. He was very grateful for them. Right after we delivered our food, we did get a hold of the bishop, and he was able to help him with a job and a food order. I was grateful though that we had the chance to share what we had, tis the season after all.
This will be another short email. We are having some baptisms this weekend it! A and S will be baptized on Saturday. I remember when I was in Richfield a year ago, the Elders were already teaching them. It’s about time, and it’s been hard work. I guess the formula for success on the mission doesn't change no matter how long you've been out.

All of our investigators are doing great! Every time we teach J and J you can see the light increase in their faces. B and A came to the Spanish Branch party and loved it. And we are teaching some youth with less active parents too. I love teaching. We should see a lot of baptisms soon.

Here’s a story for you. Elder Becerra I have been teaching a family where the wife is active and the husband is inactive, and has been for years. He drinks and doesn't like coming to church, but he is doing really well in the lessons. Yesterday after we taught his family he walked outside with us, and shed some tears while he hugged us and thanked us for teaching him. We hope he makes it to church soon.  It was a good little pay day moment for working so hard with that family.

I love the mission. Thanks for supporting me out here. My encouragement this week is to rely on the atonement more. As we set a high vision and goals for ourselves, and rely on the Lord to help us in his work, I've seen that we can have peace of mind and assurance that all will go well. It seems like as I rely on the Lord more and more, he can teach me and help me more. It sure takes away my stress! I'm coming to realize that I don't have to be superman and do it all, because Jesus already did "do it all" in the atonement. I have to do my best and rely on him and those around me.

I love you so much! It’s going to be a great week!

Elder Michael Stewart

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Making the Mission more Personal

Hello family,

 It’s a great winter day in Sanpete county Utah. There is about 6 inches of snow on the ground, ice on the roads, and lots of people to share the gospel with. It has snowed several times this week, but I only got stuck in the snow once trying to drive out of our driveway up a hill. We turned around and got out in no time though. We learned quickly. All is well!

This week was really good, it was great in fact. N, B, A and a few others committed to baptism. That’s one of the most spiritual times of the teaching process to me, when someone agrees to follow the promptings they are feeling and be baptized. It’s amazing and life changing every single time.

Dad, this week, I don't know why, but I've reflected a lot on your missionary experience. How you went through 12 sets of missionaries, how you didn't feel anything special the first time you read the Book of Mormon, and then your decision to live like Joseph Smith and his successors were prophets. And especially how you have gained your own testimony of the Gospel through the years. When we teach the Joseph Smith story to a family, and when we invite someone to be baptized, it makes me think of you and your choice to accept the Gospel. Remembering how your life, and therefore my life, have been changed and affected by the Restoration and the Gospel fills me with gratitude. I think I am just realizing how my life has been affected by missionaries (full time and member missionaries----THANKS MOM!) and I am so happy that I can offer that to other families. So, share the Gospel with your friends and family! Who knows who you will have affected 1 or 2 generations later? What could possibly be more important than that? See this website for simple ideas on sharing the gospel with others.

There were so many miracles this week! I think Elder Becerra and I saw so many miracles because we were on the same page more than ever before. We were praying for the same things, working for the same goals, and we taught in better unity. There is still a lot room for improvement though.

Let me tell you about 3 lessons.

We have been teaching a less active couple (though they are now coming to church) for a few weeks. They aren't married yet (they have plans to get married in April) and the future husband had a drinking problem. This week we taught him the Word of Wisdom and he told us "Yeah, I'll quit drinking. I've been waiting for you guys to tell me to quit drinking for a few weeks now." So that day we carried his last six pack of Bud Light out of his house, and dumped it in a dumpster. He sent us a text later thanking us for all we have done with him. Just goes to show that the real joy in missionary work comes when people repent (See Luke 15).
We also taught J and J the Word of Wisdom this week. They committed to quit smoking and drinking coffee. In just a couple days they have made so much progress! One went from a pack and a half to just 5 cigarettes, and the other is only smoking one a day. We fasted with them on Sunday, and we are going to give them priesthood blessings tonight. I really think that they can quit soon, and be baptized at the end of December. One amazing thing that happened with them this week, we asked the ward mission leader if members of the ward could stop by their home every day this week to offer support and fellowship. He talked to the relief society president, and she had assignments made before the end of church. So encourage the ward council to go out and visit investigators and less actives.  Your missionaries will love you.
We committed N (the kid who was just adopted from Ethiopia into an active family) to be baptized this week. We have been praying so hard for him to understand both English and the restored gospel in English. His language skills and understanding of the Gospel have really taken off in these weeks! I think mostly thanks to his mother’s help. After we watched the Joseph Smith story with him, we asked him how we felt about it and he said that he had already prayed about the church and gotten an answer from God. Well, the process is the same no matter how old you are. Read, pray, and trust God to answer you. That was an exciting lesson.

So again, thanks for everything! We are just having a great time. Oh, I almost forgot, yes we did get transfer calls, and Elder Becerra and I are staying together. It has been rare for me to be with a companion less than 12 weeks after all. So we have 6 more weeks together to see all of the reactivations and baptisms we have been working on. 

I know that this work is true, and that it’s the most important thing any of us can do. I love reading scriptures about missionary work. You probably already know this, but here is my inspiration as a missionary.

18. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
 19. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
 20. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)

There is so much in this scripture.  Jesus has the power to do His work, so what in the world do I need to fear? He has told me to teach, baptize, and teach some more, and that’s what I have loved to do as a missionary. President Monson has some great comments on this scripture if you look at last conference.  What I know though is that this commission from Jesus Christ is how we can change the world, in His own way, and one life at a time.

I love you! I love what I am doing!

Con Amorcito,
Elder Michael George Stewart

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Spiritual Workout

We did it again this week! 7 days of more missionary work in Gunnison. I am probably the only man on earth this week who managed to lose weight during Thanksgiving week...I guess running and going to the gym every morning really pay off. Its a blessing being here in Gunnison...they give the missionaries a free gym membership and free key fob. So despite three sizeable dinners on Thursday, my Sunday pants still fit me a little looser this week. Go figure!
It was really a great week for us and our contacts this week. I am loving this area! A Payday moment came this week as M bore his testimony...what a blessing! We are still teaching him and his wife and 5 kids all together and he is preparing to baptize his 8 year old son on Christmas.  M and his family need that experience now of him using the Priesthood in his home and family. As a missionary...you can do so much to ensure that converts like M endure to the end!! It was exciting this week though just to be with and strengthen M. He is going strong!

Actually....H bore her testimony in sacrament meeting too this week!! Thats 2/2 on our converts from this area bearing testimony in fast and testimony meeting. So that was a good thing for us yesterday.  Here's a day by day highlights breakdown
Mon: Great lesson with J and J about the restoration...they are doing great! He should be baptized this month. They are really humble about this whole process and that is making all of the difference.
Tuesday: Taught J G again. Thats a long drive!! He doesn't think he will be ready for baptism in this month right now, but he kept reading and going to church. I learned a lot in that lesson. I hope he gets baptized so bad!!! He knows that the Book of Mormon is true and that this is the true church, he is just afraid of his boss. As fate has it...his boss is actually a member, but super less active. J told us in that lesson how he gets on his boss about not going to church or following the commandments. Every nonmember a missionary i guess!
Wed: Had a lesson with a man that came to church last week named B D. He is recovering from surgery, and he says that he has a testimony of the church. Wednesday was kind of a hard day for a variety of reasons...but we pushed through it. A piece of counsel that always helps me is "No matter how bad things are today, they will be better tomorrow if you serve the Lord today." If you apply that to yourself everyday and just conciously chose to serve the Lord, your life is happy and blessed. Trials don't disappear, but you become stronger to meet them. Thats what i learned this week.
Thur: Three dinners. Wow. We also put J on date for the 27th of December! Then in the evening we played basketball with missionaries in our district. I guess that was part of the mission initiative to help us not be so fat all the time.
Fri: What a miracle day! We went to a lesson with the butchers and A's boyfriend was there too. After the openning prayer, A looks at us and says, "by the way, B wants to get baptized too" WHAT!? This kid graduated from seminary and we thought he was a member. Turns out he just slipped through the cracks when he was a kid. He hasn't been taking the lessons as much, so they rechose a baptism date for the 21st of December for A, B, and  S. That was such a miracle.

I know that if we just do as Heavenly Father asks, he will provide every needful thing for us. Especially when our desires and our wills are lined up with him. I had a really sweet experience this week on Friday where I was shown how I have changed on my mission...even over this last year I have become more of who Heavenly Father wants me to be. I am grateful that I can actually say that I WANT others to come unto Christ and be baptized not for me but for God and for them. Its taken this last year to get that feeling deep down in my heart, but I know now that it is firmly there.
Sat: Had a great visit with B and his wife Liz . They basically dumped all of their feelings and thoughts on us when we were with them. They really want their kids to be baptized (L will take more time). But it looks like only H will be getting baptized from that family this month. I learned A LOT from talking with them this week.
1. People WANT missionaries to be bold with them. Deep down everyone wants to repent. B asked us to boldly commit him and his family to come to church on a specific date. So they are coming to church with us next week.
2. The most important things in life are the relationships we have with those around us. Think of the whole purpose of the Gospel--eternal families. We need to take time to nourish and develop the relationships we have by giving of ourselves and our time. Those relationships bring life's real joy.
3. Don't worry mom and dad....when you are older and can't take care of yourselves you can come live with me and my family if you want. ;-) Family first, right?
Also on saturday we ate lunch with our Stake President and took his 18 yo son who  on splits. I hope we have solidified that as a tradition in our area- Saturday lunch with the Stake Prez #WorkingWithMembers. President  is a great man, and I love being around him. His son served in the Alpine German speaking mission (funny how that same thing was true of my last stake president in the St. George YSA 1st stake). It was good to share the spirit, food, scriptures, and missionary work plans with that great man. As soon as he recovers from his surgery he will be coming out to teach with us too!

Sun: Had a great fast. Got 11 of our people to church. Sat next to the whole B Family in Sacrament meeting. Rejoiced in the Lord.
All in all....a great week. This week we have Zone Conference with a member of the 70. I hope I learn a lot. I am also focusing all of my efforts this week on building up Elder Becerra for whatever comes at the transfer. I know if I focus on taking care of Elder Becerra, Heavenly Father will take care of the area. He has show that time and time again.
I love you all so much. I cherish our relationships and I am glad that we can still strengthen each other and grow our friendships at a distance. I am realizing just how important you all are to me. As I draw to the close of my mission my heart really is full of not things...but people. I know that if we do our best to be a good friend and to help each other in the gospel our friends will be eternally with us. I think of the most treasured people from my mission....companions, converts, local members, etc and I can't wait to share all of that with you all face to face at the beginning of next year. You better mark your calendars for a mission tour in Summer 2014.
This is Gods true and living Church. It is lead by the living Son the of the living God, who has called servants to guide us. I love being one of his "swift messengers" to these people. I love you so much!!!
Con Amor,
Elder Michael Stewart