December 26, 2011

Its A Holly Jolly Christmas

Dear Holly Jolly Family,

So pretty big news this week: Adolfo got baptized! Yup, he still has a TON of problems, but he's baptized. His hair is getting long and nasty again, his daughter is still sick, his wife still wants to leave him, and he only has a little work, but he is baptized. He asked me to baptize him too. I don't know if I have explained this properly, but he's kind of a fat guy. Like, big. Bus driver big. And this was my first baptism. Yup, I dropped him in the font. And then I couldn't help him up. No big deal. But other than that, it was a really cool baptism. We asked Jesús, the two month returned missionary, to direct and it might have been the best decision I've ever taken. In like five minutes, Jesús had printed a program, gotten three families to come, and set up the entire room. It was a pretty strong Spirit there as well. After the baptism (oops, Adolfo), Elder Edwards and then Adolfo bore their testimonies. Adolfo is a very depressed guy, but he just talked about the happiness that he feels everytime he comes to Church. I was so proud of him for overcoming his problems spiritually. Strange guy, but my first real baptism, and I'm happy for him. I know he's taken the right decision and now he can just move forward. That's the goal of this life, right? Move forward, onward, and upward.

Also, I got chased down by a flock of goats. This isn't quite as big of news, but still pretty big. We were walking in San Francisco Tutla one day, being happy, when about six goats broke pasture and started cantering down the street behind us.We could hear their hooves on the pavement and all of the sudden, we both looked at each other and said, "Quick, stampede, in the gorge! SIMBA'S DOWN THERE!!" and then died of laughter. Just a note: we don't like making references to things of the normal world because it doesn't help us concentrate in any way, so we have a goal: Only one disney reference a day. Yeah, we had to put a goal. It's how we roll.

On Thursday, I got to go to the Sierra for the first time. The Sierra is the name for all the pueblos (villages) in the mountains. It's technically part of my area, which is why my area is the biggest in the mission. It's a two hour drive just to get there and a bunch of members (less actives, for some strange reason (they have to go to our chapel, which is two hours away by car and most of them don't have cars (I don't think I explained that))) live there. Saulo, our Elder's quorum president, drove us out there because it is also his job to work with the less actives. Also, I think he wanted four hours in a car with us to best discuss how to teach his girlfriend/fiance. Her name is Ariadna and I think I already explained the first lesson we had with her. We knew it was a special lesson the moment we left the room, but we didn't know how special until Sierra day. Saulo told us that she loves us, and thinks we're something special. She is terrified that we will get transferred on Christmas because this is the first time that she wants to continue the lessons. She came to our English class on Saturday and is practicing her English. She came to our Missionary Christmas Presentation Thing Sunday. Saulo is convinced that this is it: She is finally going to be baptized and they are finally going to get married. The only problem is her manipulative parents. They are very against this whole Saulo thing. But we are going to teach her at least one last time before the transfers (Merry Christmas Elders! You have to leave your awesome area). I just have to trust that the Lord has a plan for me and for her. Because he does.

All in all, life here in Bosque is pretty good right now. Talking with other missionaries makes me realize that right now, Elder Edwards and I have a TON of investigators and a ton of work. Work is the goal here; if you don't have work, you are either bored or depressed. We're neither. We are happy. I'm kind of sad for these upcoming transfers because I'm pretty sure I or Elder Edwards will leave because right now, the mission needs trainers and we are essentially trainers now. I don't want to leave Bosque: I love my ward, they love me, I know and feel comfortable with the area, I love our investigators, my companion is great, I have a scheduled New Year's Eve dinner with Andres and he always has the most delicious desserts, and, of course, I want to teach people like Ariadna and Adolfo more. I hope I get another transfer like this, with a companion that is good and helps me in all things, who I get along with, and an area that is responding to our efforts. It's possible that I want. Still, I'm extremely grateful for the time the Lord has given me and I know that I will have a great mission no matter what so long as I try to do what is right. That applies to life as well. Just do what's right and stop worrying about the future.

Anyways, I love and miss you all! I look forward to the phone call and the package.

Merry Christmas!!!!


Elder Johnson

December 19, 2011

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Fabric Softener

*****Family and Friends****** I am starting this letter sort of in the middle. Riley is describing pictures that he sent to us. I left part of this in, even though I can't figure out how to publish many pictures on this blog, just because there is a shout out to Jordan Hadley, and his cousin, Ellen. And, as usual, it shows Riley's true personality. So, please bear with us.********

Masterburger is the second best burger place on the face of the planet. It's really good. Also, it sells shakes, which are something of a rarity down here. In fact, the Masterburger shake was the first shake I've had since....I don't remember. We don't get ice cream that much. For somebody coming from Provo, home of the Malt Shoppe and Snuffy's, this has been a hard transition. Masterburger has made it easier. Also, you might catch a glimpse of Elder Nataren, my district leader. He's a goofy guy. He only has six months in the mission, but that's two more than Elder Edwards and I and four more than his companion, which comprises our entire district. We don't have much experience. Many missionaries are still amazed that Elder Edwards and I are companions because we technically are still training. So we have fun as a district. More about Elder Nataren: he's from Monterrey, he's 21 years old and a recent convert, he worked with Jesús Cabrera (the recently returned missionary in our ward) before his mission while Jesús was on his mission, he can´t drive, he makes frequent attempts to steal my ties, those glasses actually do ABSOLUTELY nothing, he only wears them to look smarter, he's convinced he's going to marry Ellen after seeing her picture, and he's my friend. He's not very serious, but he's a good guy and trying to be a good missionary. I'm glad he's my district leader. People not appearing in the pictures of wonderful food are Saulo (my Elder's quorum president), Ezra (his younger brother), and la Hna Angela (their mom). Saulo and Ezra are both returned missionaries. Saulo served in San Diego and therefore can speak English and understands the pain of being a newbie in a new land with a new language. Ezra served in Leon and was assistant for the last six months of his mission, which ended in about september. Yes, Jordan Hadley knows him. Saulo also is going to take us to the Sierra this week, which is part of our area but only accessible by car because it is two hours away. It will be the first time we go if we go. Also, we are teaching Saulo's girlfriend/essentially fiancé. They've been dating for quite a while and she has listened to three pairs of missionaries before us. Like Saulo, she is very intelligent and has a bunch of questions. We've only taught one lesson but it might've been the coolest lesson I've participated in in four months. I really can't explain how strong the Spirit was, but she summed it up pretty nicely: Saulo told her, during his testimony, that this is the fourth time now that she had taken the discussions and every time the feeling is the same and that feeling is the Spirit. She cut him off there and said, "No. No es lo mismo esta vez. Es más fuerte," which means no, no it's not the same this time. It's stronger. Yeah, that was pretty cool. Saulo told us afterwords that he thinks this time she's going to get baptized. Go them! Ezra is actually leaving this week. He's going to America to study English and I think he's kind of nervous. He's a little bit of a momma's boy. He doesn't like to study. I think he'll be living in Provo so Taggart, if you meet an Ezra from Oaxaca, befriend him.

Next is a picture of Mannuel and I playing cops. I was waiting for an investigator to show up, don't worry! I don't waste time. Also, Mannuel is part of a less active family, so it wouldn't be wasting time anyways. Also, he is my favorite person. They don't have much money (that wall is part of their house), but they love missionaries. Mannuel will be coming to the U.S. with me when I come home, so make room for a eight year old. He is awesome and my best friend.

Story from this week: so one night, we had set up a time to meet the Hno Cabrera in order to have a lesson with a member. We were going to teach Adolfo, who lives in San Francisco Tutla, which is at one end of our rather large area and Hno Cabrera lives on the other end. So we had to wait a bit for him to show up. Our meeting place was outside the house of the Hno Flores and as Elder Edwards and I were waiting, the Hna Flores showed up. We talked. As I have said, I don't have a sweater. I was wearing short sleeves at the time because it is hot during the day, especially when you walk everywhere. But at this point, it was night and kind of chilly. The Hna Flores, being awesome as she is, offered me something and I didn't know what it was. However, I am senior companion and have to at least appear to know things so that the members don't lose faith in their missionaries. I accepted the thing. Turns out is was a full blown Sherlock Holmes style coat that her son had left behind after he returned from his mission. And she refused to take it back. So now I have this coat and I don't know what to do with it because I don't like to wear it during the day and I can't store it in my backpack. I'll just solve crimes in it, I think. Christmas crimes because I also have a Santa Hat that unfortunately I am not allowed to wear very often.

The last picture was inspired by Colton. In his last email to me, he asked for a description of my neighborhood. Well, this is the art that greets me as a turn onto my street from Camino Nacional. You'll see Jack Skellington if you'll look, as well as an alien/bug/predator that I call chuppy in tribute to Aubrey. Don't worry, my neighborhood is very nice and peaceful. Honestly, the graffiti makes it "homey." It's not Oaxaca if it hasn't been painted.

Well, a little bit about my first full week with Elder Edwards: tiring. I am exhausted every night. Elder Juarez and I didn't work this hard. It's a good exhausted because it is exhausted in the name of the Lord, but I am still tired all the time now. And, although we work harder, our numbers are lower because we actually follow the Preach My Gospel definition of a lesson and others don't. But we might have found a way around that. See, most people envision a lesson as sitting down in a house, teaching for 30 minutes to an hour, beginning and ending with a prayer. We realized that we didn't need the house or the thirty minutes. We were going to do it in the street. So one night, we were walking and some guy, seeing to Gringos, called us over to his pick up. We went. He had lived in North Carolina for four years and actually spoke quite a bit of English. It was perhaps the weirdest conversation I've had because all three of us were switching between the two languages interchangeably, sometimes midsentence. Yet we all understood. We began to contact him. We shared a short, five minute blipit about prophets. He challenged to pray about it. He accepted. And then we said, "hey, could we leave you with a prayer?" Now you would think that just randomly leaving a guy and his nephew sitting in their pickup at 8 o clock at night with a prayer would be a little weird, awkward, and/or uncomfortable. It wasn't. He was just like, "cool" and we said the prayer, invited him to the English classes we are starting next saturday and left. Not gonna lie, just leaving your contacts with prayers changes everything. Why? Because a contact turns into a first lesson with a prayer and instead of leaving the contact with a challenge or an appointment, you leave the with the Spirit AND those other things. It's good.

Well, point is, we've found some new people to teach this week and we have a ton of work and no time. By the by, yes, we have our choir every week but it is now a choir AND a play based on A Christmas Carol, Plan of Salvation version. We have a performance this Saturday in Atoyac and this Sunday in Amapolas (my stake). We don't do anything the weekend of Christmas, which I will be spending with the Cabrera's because it's a tradition. See, poor little (not that little he's 11) Ricky Cabrera has his birthday on the 24th which means he has never had a party with friends in his life. Instead, he gets the missionaries every year and I would hate to disappoint. So we are going to bring a gift as well because the Cabrera's deserve it. They are THE family of our ward.

I have to get going cuz I still owe Colton a letter. I love and miss you all, and I will have a very Merry Christmas if you promise me to have a very merry Christmas. Deal? Peace out
Elder Johnson

December 13, 2011

Dear Mother and Others,
Merry Christmas Season! It is definitely Christmas down here because during our second Christmas concert, we had to compete (in the same park, same time) with ANOTHER Christmas concert put on by a different Church. Not gonna lie, it was quite funny to invite somebody to the Mormon Christmas Choir and then receive from that person an invitation to the Evangelical Christmas choir. All against the backdrop of a giant Catholic Church, holding mass during the two. The world, indeed, is a funny place sometimes.

Anyway, to the important things: my Christmas package. Kidding. After Dad's weekly letter, I'll be happy with anything I receive. Gifts aren't that important in comparison to the gift of the Savior. His life, as well as HIs death, is an eternal gift, to be appreciated and shared. I love just reading the words of the Savior with people. He started this all. All Christianity. He is something amazing. Truly, His name is Wonderful.

Oh yeah, I guess I kind of have something important to say this week. So, week started normally enough: working with Elder Juarez, teaching the same investigators, living in Bosque, whatnot. Then, we went to Choir practice Wednesday morning and that.....was also normal. Until the very end, when Hna Leyva announced that we need to stay a little bit longer for a special announcement from President Leyva. He got up and started to announce a bomb: SPECIAL TRANSFERS. Right now, on Wednesday. And guess what? Elder Juarez got transferred. I stayed in Bosque, but with a new companion. Oh, and I'm senior companion now.

No big deal, right? WRONG! Because I haven't technically finished my trainer. It's a 12 week training program. Today, Monday, is the first day of my 10th week. And technically, as senior companion, I'm training because my companion also has only 10 weeks in the mission field. His name is Elder Edwards and you might remember him as my District Leader in the MTC from my earlier letters. Yup, us two Gringos, alone in Bosque, trying not to get lost. It's quite the wild ride. I was the only one in my generation to be moved to Senior Companion/trainer, so I have no idea what the president was thinking, but actually, things are better now.

Let me explain: Elder Juarez is a good companion and a good missionary. It's just that he has 14 months on his mission now and naturally doesn't have the same enthusiasm for the work as a greenie. We do. We are shooting for perfectly obedient. We are teaching, working with members, looking, serving with more energy, more time, and, to be perfectly honest, just more of everything. Elder Edwards is the kind of person who can be a missionary 100% of the time. He is always talking about investigators, lessons, scriptures, rules, things we can change in order to become better, and it's exactly what I need. I'm being pushed and it's good for me. I'm learning in leaps and bounds again. I think, in a week or so, it wil be good for the investigators as well. We just need to find them.

Kidding, I actually know the area pretty well. We've only gotten lost once and that was today when we were looking for a place to eat lunch on p-day. It wasn't the worst thing in the world. We ended up finding the cocina anyways, just like 20 minutes later than we thought. No biggie. We also put two more baptismal dates this week. One was with Luis, the thirteen year old we've been working with for a while but with whom Elder Juarez and I had sort of dropped because he hadn't come to church. But, one night, we had nothing to do, so Elder Edwards and I went looking for him. Luckily, we found him. We set up a date again. And we are going to visit him everyday this week so that he comes to church. And Jesús, a return missionary who's only a month fresh, has agreed to pass by his house on Sunday in order to bring him to Church. We are getting this kid baptised because, dang it, he wants to.

Our second baptismal date was with Adolfo. He still has a bunch of problems. Like, a lot. His wife still wants to leave him, he still doesn't have much money, his daughters are still sick. But, we are focusing on repentence, asking forgiveness, praying to God. This man just needs a new slate. His life has been so hard up to this point. We want to give him a new slate. So we explained the Doctrine of Christ and read Act 2:38. The Spirit was strong. I couldn't help myself; I had to invite him to baptism. And he accepted. So hopefully, we'll have baptisms on the 18 and 25 of this month.

People need to start coming to Church though. I won't lie, it's really frustrating when nobody comes. The problem (one of them) is that our area is super big. Our chapel is at one of end and most of our investigators live at the other end. Nobody owns a car. So money, time, and distance all get in the way of church attendence, which is essentially for conversion. We don't know what to do, exactly, for this problem, but we are going to do all we can. That is certain.

Well, I love you all. Life here is life and it always goes on. The Lord lives and Loves. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and I'll be more interesting next week, promise!
Elder Johnson

December 5, 2011

Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride

It is Christmas time and we are carrying around the message of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is good to be alive and to be a missionary. Yes, we have, in fact, put together a Christmas choir of all the elders in the City, some sixty. Every Wednesday and Friday, we have choir practice. We sing Cantan Santos Angeles, Regocijad Jesus Nació, Escuchad el Son Triunfal, Yo Trato de Ser Como Cristo, Canto de Testimonio (look it up on Youtube), and Noche de Luz, in that order, with some solos and quartets inbetween. Hermana Leyva plays piano, Elder Christiansen is a boss on the flute, and Elder Lopez, aka Superman, plays violin. It's pretty good. Also, eventually we are going to add a small theatrical performance, based on A Christmas Carol. However, instead of being visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, Scrooge is going to be visited by past, present, and future missionaries being a message of the Premortal Life, the Earth Life, and Eternal life. Pretty clever, huh? I thought so.

Also, we got to go to a park to sing on Sunday. It was very beautiful, like amazingly beautiful. There were fountains with kids playing in them, cobblestone walkways, giant palm trees, stone statues, and a Gigantic Catholic church, complete with stained glass representations of Jesus, in the Jordan River, with John sprinkling water on His head. Not a joke. Quite the trip for just some sprinkles, if you have to ask me. It was also quite the experience to sing Christmas carols to a crowd of Mexicans in shorts and tank tops with palm trees in the background while we were wearing suits and scarves. It still doesn't feel right, but I won't lie, tropical Christmas is not altogether unpleasant.

Anyway, I suppose I should include a story or two from missionary life. How about eating a chicken foot? I ate one, and it wasn't that bad. Or how about trying to answer claims that Lilith was the first woman on the Earth? Well, we pretty much said that she wasn't and that he should read Genesis again, and that he should just concentrate on the important doctrines like obedience and creation. How about Estoy Borracho? Yeah, I'll tell that one.

So, one night, after another long, long day, we were heading home. We had just bought some tostados and coke and were WITHIN SIGHT OF OUR HOUSE when I young man, a little bit shorter than me, approached us. He was walking very slow and unsteadily. He talked something like this, "Oye, puede ayudarme? Estoy borracho. Puede ayudarme a ir a mi casa? Estoy borracho. No quiero tomar. Estoy borracho. Es mi primera vez. Estoy borracho. Estoy borracho. Vomité. Estoy borracho. Tengo un papel para ustedes (he gives us his daughter's homework) Estoy borracho. Mi esposa tiene un bebe en la panza. Estoy borracho. Soy un soldado. Estoy borracho" and so on and so forth. Estoy borracho, by the way, means I'm drunk. He was very drunk and had indeed vomited all over his right arm. He was quite sincere when he said it was his first time drinking and that he wanted to quit, so we helped him home. En route, he gave us twenty pesos against our will (literally stuck his hand in Elder Juarez's pocket), his military id, did ten pushups to prove that he liked to excercise, tried to bring us into the military compound (they don't allow preachers there. And the guards are quite scary looking), nearly fell over five or six times, and said that he was drunk well over one hundred times. It made our night quite long. But that's missionary life: forgetting yourself to help whomever you meet. We generally avoid drunks because they can be dangerous, but this guy was nice if incoherent. Point is, sacrifice for others. We still got to bed on time, we still ate tostados, but we had done good. Take some time to do some good this week. It's not so bad.

Anyway, I love and miss you all. Not gonna lie, when Christmas rolls around, it will be pretty hard.

Anyway, luv ya and have a merry Christmas season!
Elder Johnson

November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving from Mexico

I know. Sounds like either the beginning of a nightmare or a bad joke, but it's actually just part of life here in Oaxaca. Apparently, clowns are still cool here. THey just sort of walk around, hop on buses and entertain people. So, a couple of nights ago, after are hard day of working, we were waiting for a bus. A couple of clowns walked up and sat down next to us. Clearly, their day was over as well. They were carrying three tacos and a fanta and not being superobnoxious, although still in full clown make-up and get-up. After a while, us four realized that the buses had closed for a day, so we grabbed the next taxi. And there I found myself, trapped in the backseat of a taxi with two clowns. I think Aubrey would have died. But they were normal and offered me some tacos, which was delicious. I couldn't help but think which one of us people found more obnoxious: the missionaries or the clowns. I have to say, probably the clowns in the U.S., but the Missionaries in Mexico because clowns are still cool here.

Anyway, I'm not going to actually say much about my life this week. Not because it was bad or anything. We actually had a really good week. But, for those of you who do not know (i.e. non-members of my family), every year, The Johnsons have a tradition of writing a list of things they are thankful for and then reading alound each persons list on Thanksgiving. The process is, well, a bit annoying, but the result is wonderful, partly because Aubrey's list is always loquacious and funny, go figure. So, this is what I am thankful for this year. Well, these and many more

1. I am thankful for paisley ties. Paisley does not exist in Mexico. Only diagonal stripes. And they are boring. Paisley is awesome and I have to count my ties every night to make sure Elder Juarez doesn't steal one because he knows Paisley is awesome.

5. I am thankful for Rocky. He is fat. He likes to play. Elder Nataren is scared of him. He is the only dog in this world that I truly like. We should buy a Rocky and sell Dot.

6. I am thankful that my apartment does not have Cucarachas or Scorpions. We only have spiders, which don't really bother us.

7. I am thankful that Elder Monson left. This is not as terrible as it sounds; Elder Monson is my friend and an example to me. But he got transferred, and now we are Elder Monson-less. Which means we can play basketball as a district/zone because we don't have a giant 6'10" University of Utah basketball player in our midst who can crush tiny Mexicans. And now I'm the best player in our district, maybe zone. I am thankful for basketball.

8. I am thankful for the Jazz and the fact that I am not missing a season right now.

9. I am thankful for two hours of Internet time because this list will be very long.

11. I am thankful for other Missionary and missionary examples, like unto Elder Monson, Elder Edwards, Elder Juarez, Elder T. Johnson of Ogden Utah, Elder Hadley (way cooler than that Jordan kid I used to hang out with), Elder Shep, Elder Gunnell, and many others. I need these because I am not a natural missionary. I am lazy and content with things. I don't open up to people immediately. And that's not who a missionary is. Thanks to my examples, though, I have learned and I am learning. I am becoming more like what Christ wants me to be and that is the greatest blessing of all.

12. I am thankful for the United States because I miss it. I miss English, I miss our style of music, our style of food, and our style of living. I am thankful for nineteen years of comfort and economic prosperity. I miss our roads and our laws. Be thankful for them, those who have not lived outside the U.S. We are unique and we should be thankful for that.

13. That being said, I am also thankful for Oaxaca. I am thankful for a loving people who give when they have little. I am thankful that there is no such thing as jaywalking. I am thankful for tacos al pastor, salsa, and tlayudas. I am thankful for warm winter days with fall nights. I am thankful for palm trees in a city, parades in November, little wards that can, Primary programs in Spanish where the children know more memorized scriptures than I do, inactives who come to Church just because we left a passalong card, little family owned stored on every corner, magnificent support for our Work, returned missionaries who served in the U.S and know how I feel and can explain it better in Spanish, soccer, taxis, buses, and everything. I am grateful for my mission and the miraculous opportunit that I have to serve here.

14. I am thankful for my father, who sends my an inspiring quote every week and every week he just so happens to choose the exact thing I need to hear. He is not the most talkative man. He is very busy. He may intimidate some people, but I love him with all my heart. I love that he loves Mustangs. I love that he loves classic rock music. I love that he loves to read. I love that he manages to be intellectual without trying. I love that he loves the scriptures more than I do and shows me that I have room to grow. I love that he works so hard without complaint. I love that he loves spending time with Tyrel. I do too. I love that he likes to camp because I love it. I love his obsession of cowboys. I love that he is oldschool. He is a man and I love that. I want to become a little bit of who my father is because my father is a man to be admired.

15. I am grateful for each and every one of my siblings. I am grateful for a little brother who makes the effort to write to me even though I know he doesn't like to and who I can write to every week with my advice and babble. He reminds me of me when I was his age. He teaches me how to enjoy simple things again, like weird stuffed animals found in church buildings. I am grateful that he is prepared to finish middleschool and start high school while I am gone. I am grateful that he like to go to church. I am grateful that he is bored when there is nothing because, people of the world, nothing is boring. I am grateful for Colton. I love you.

I am grateful for Taggart, for his quirks and his sameness. He has and always will be uniquely Taggart. He will get married, finish school, find a job, become a bishop, and always be Taggart. I am grateful for that because I have depended on Taggart to be my best friend for 19 years. We played Power Rangers as a kid. We played basketball as Middle Schoolers. We had the same friends my first two years of high school. We've shared the same room, same bands, and same opinions (almost) for a long time. Now we share a love of missionary work. He shares his experience with me. I share mine with him. This is a relationship between two brothers to be envied. I hope we share much more for a much longer time. Love you Taggart.

I am grateful for my one and only sister. I cannot imagine the difference in our family if we did not have this feminine influence governing the realm of Children. She always set the precedent for us. She was smart; therefore, so were we. She was clever; we tried to follow. She liked the Jazz; so do we. She lives 90's rock; we breath it. She is the Johnson, the founder and figurehead. As we have gotten older and begun to differentiate a bit, it is in Aubrey's shadow that we remember the Johnson in us. I am grateful for what she chooses to share with me, whether that's the love of a Game or the music she has found. I hope we become closer as life goes on. I love you Aubrey.

Perhaps most of all, I am grateful for Tyrel. I don't think any of my siblings has shaped me as much as Tyrel has. I think he, of all of us, chose the direction of the Johnson. I think we are close because we had to be close for Tyrel. I think we say what we say because we learned how to talk with Tyrel. Sure, some of us may not be super close with the big boy, but when he is in trouble, we are there for him, whether as baby sitters, therapists, or just the friends that he needs though doesn't know how to make. I spent hours trying to teach him how to be normal like me and I think I ended up more autistic. I am grateful for that. I am grateful for the humor behind the eyes, for the sadness when his family isn't there for Christmas, for the love of an apple orchard because we all used to love it. He is still paving the way for us, yet he is the relic of our childhood that we will never forget. We will never forget the state fair when he got lost. We will never forget peeing next to the Bellagio. We will never fully pronounce the k at the end of words. I will never forget running for my life when I made him so angry that he wanted to kill me, nor will I forget the day when he had his first seizure on my watch. I will never forget showing up to work my next shift after those events because I was his brother. He has never judged me, never made me feel small, always loved me, always been the constant in the house. I love you Tyrel, and I am forever grateful for you.

16. I am grateful for my Heavenly Father. It's such a phrase, Heavenly Father. I am grateful, then, for my Father. I am grateful that He loves me. I haven't heard His voice much. The world only has on several occasions. But we heard his words in the mouth of Jesus Christ because He only did what He knew the Father to do. We see Him in the eyes of a Prophet. I have become closer to my Father than to anybody else on my mission, whether that is Rocky, a companion I have to live with all the time, or even my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in whose name I preach. This is because I understand who my Father is: He is who sent the Christ. He is who first taught the Gospel to His Son all those eternities ago. He is who started the Creation, who made this wonderful Plan in which we can become eternally happy, like unto Him. He is what He gave us: our weaknesses and strengths, our smiles and frowns, our births and deaths. He is, was, and will forever be our Father. He is who created worlds and universes, things we cannot comprehend, and He is the one who knows us perfectly. We never need to feel small when we know Our Father. I am thankful for my Father.

17. I am thankful for His Son, Jesus the Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the World. I am thankful for His priesthood, that I have used to give blessings, confer the Holy Ghost (a member of the holy GODhead), and receive revelation. Yes, I have received revelation and I will not deny that. I received it because I am worth of it because I am trying to live like the Christ. I am thankful for His love, for His example. I am thankful that His words apply to all parts of my life. I am thankful that in the moment of most supreme agony the world has ever know, He called our to the Father. Now I know I can do the same. I am thankful that he suffered for all I have done and suffered all that has been done to me. I am thankful for my Advocate, my Friend, my Savior, and my God who I know personally.

18. I am thankful, in this last section, for the Book of Mormon, the very word of God. You may hate it, depreciate it, disbelieve it, ignore it, or read it, but you cannot take it away. It is the word of God, meant to spread a Gospel of Joy to an entire world. This is the keystone of my faith. I urge each and every person I meet to read it. It has a power that I cannot explain properly. I took it for granted for too many years. I know it intimately. I find stories, scriptures, and principles with ease because I know it, as a child knows his mother, a husband his wife, or a lost teenager his best friend. I know it. I see it in the lives of the people I look up to most. It has brought about more good in this world than Prophets, wise men, philanthropists, presidents, or Bibles. I make that claim with the knowledge of the amazing good it has wrought in my life. If you have ever wondered, ever doubted, ever admired, ever wanted, the Book of Mormon can help. I know it. I am grateful for this Book more than any other book, movie, teacher, teaching, or poem that I have ever encountered in this life. I mean to be strong here, in my language, because this Book deserves it. Read its purity, its real intent, and now that it is of God and that you will find a better relationship with God that you can imagine ONLY through it's sacred pages. I end with this story, of two missionaries and an investigator. It was published in the special Book of Mormon issue of the Ensign. I do not remember where this story takes place, but it goes something like this: two missionaries taught a young man. The young man accepted every teaching of that lesson, seemed enthusiastic to learn more, and seemed willing to go farther in his beliefs. When presented a Book of Mormon, however, he silently stood up and left the room. The missionaries, naturally, were confused at this stony refusal of the Book. When he returned, however, he took the Book with a smile and explained, "In my culture, it is custom to wash one's hands before touching a sacred object. From what you have explained to me, this Book is most sacred." Indeed, the Book of Mormon is a sacred instrument of God, more sacred, I would say, than the rod of Moses, the Breastplate of Aaron, the Ark of Noah, the Throne of David, or the Mantle of Elijah. This Book is the work of God's hands and it should be shared. I am thankful for that, for my calling, my privilege, and right now, for my life. I have a testimony of all these things.

I love and miss you all. I have more, but no more time. Have a very merry Thanksgiving!

November 20, 2011

This week was a little hard because both Elder Juarez and I were eagerly awaiting news of the transfers. And yes, I had forgotten that word until an Elder recently told me. They are called cambios in Spanish and that's how I always refer to them. The last week of a transfer is often called the Week of the Dead because less work gets done because nobody is motivated. This was a little true for Elder Juarez, but we still had some good lessons. We met with Chica, who we can never find, and I´ve never seen someone with so much faith. Her child has muscular dystrophy, which is sad, and she is single and has to work all the time, but her face just lights up at mention of the Bible. Also, with Enrique, after a really good Plan of Salvation lesson, he walked us to the gate of his fraccionmiento (read: neighborhood) and told us that he doesn't understand it, but every time we visit he feels peaceful. Booyah! Baptism for him as soon as he gets married to Gabi, who I can tell has been saying her prayers. Finally, we had a really, really good lesson with Adolfo this week. Adolfo has problems, to put it nicely. His marriage is falling apart. He has no job. He had a really bad haircut. He thought he was going insane. His daughter is pretty sick. He wants God's help. So he started looking for a church. He had narrowed it down to Cristianos (the general term for Protestants) and us. Then he started going to church and he just loves hymns. He's got some weird viewpoints and I think he wants to know more, but he does not deny that he feels more peaceful now. So he started making some changes. He started praying. He started reading the Book of Mormon. He got a haircut. He went to the LDS Employment center. HIs daughter got a blessing. And now, he says, his life is looking up. He still has a lot of problems. He still doesn't have a job, his wife still isn't enamored with him, his daughter is still sick. But things are better. He has a direction. He has goals. He has the means to achieve those goals. Now he just needs to draw the connection that our Church is right for him. I'm thinking he'll be prepared for baptism this week. Let's hope.

Oh yeah, I got the package. I should have told you that earlier. I love it. It almost made me cry with joy. I do not want to give Elder Juarez the second box of legos (no, I havent opened them yet, but I know a box of legos when I feel it). I want to wear my Christmas hat but I can't because I'm a missionary. I feel so loved. Thank you so very much and I've already eaten all of the nature valley bars. Oh, I also want Karisa Saunders and Spencer Gunnell's email address. I want to write them real letters because they wrote me real letters, but that might take a while as I explained to Colton, so an email in the meantime is a good idea, right? Thank you so very much and I am doing much better this week. Oh, and if I keep up my progress, there's a good chance I could be a trainer next transfer, thanks to the 12 week program. I would be the first one to do it if that's the case. Let's hear it for the Heaven sent ability to understand Spanish and Preach My Gospel, which I'm pretty sure can help everybody with every problem ever. Thanks all and I love you!
Elder Johnson

November 13, 2011

Dear Rest-O-Family, (he wrote a private letter to Colton first).

Well hey there, happy campers! How y'all doing? It sounds like dad is recovering, which is spectacular, and that Tyrel is geared for the holiday season, and that Taggart is being social, and that Aubrey is being productive, so it's all good. I'm good as well, if you really have to ask. I had my first baptism this week, my first on my own contact, and several awesome references from the undeniable Hna Rosario, who is just a boss when it comes to missionary work. More on that later. I probably should get the bad news out of the way first.

Yes, contrary to what I have thus far written, some bad things do happen on the mission. For one, I haven't received my box and I'm quite looking forward to it. Two, several investigators who have baptismal dates are falling off their wagons. And three, I am as sick as a dog. I don't know where to begin.

Last week, I got sick. It wasn't bad. I really was just a bit off color. The doctor told me I had a stomach infection and to take some pills and that I should eat less fats. Easy. I was over it completely in like two days. Last night, I woke up with a huge stomach pain. In the morning, I went to the bathroom seven or eight time and I'm not going to describe the results. I feel beaten and battered, I've slept like all day, my companion gave me a blessing, and I should probably go to the doctor soon. I might have a fever because I'm burning up. But, I will press forward in faith. Don't worry too much. I'm doing all I can to beat this and I will, with the Lord's help.

Investigators falling off the wagon:mostly, there are three examples of this. The first is Hno Daniel. He is the husband of a member. His whole family are members. He has received the lessons before and essentially knows that the church is true. The problem is that he is trying to quit drinking and it is very hard for him. He doesn't want to get baptized and then just fall. So he refuses to get baptized. We've done only a bit with him. He loves basketball, so we played basketball with him. We cut his jungle down for him. We listen to his stories and his problems. We haven't really taught him anything yet because we don't just want to be a couple of missionaries looking for an easy baptism. We want to help him and we want to be his friends. And he said that we are different, that he likes talking to us as opposed to other missionaries whom he refused to listen. He agreed to give us an hour this Sunday to teach him. We showed up and as we approached the house, both of us swore we heard his voice, but his wife insisted that he wasn't there. I'm worried that he doesn't want to listed to us.

Next is Luis. Luis is thirteen, has a baptismal date, and works on Sundays. So he has not gone to church, although Hno Cabrera goes to pick him up every Sunday. What worries me he most is that when we asked him the question, "You do want to be baptized, right?" He responed with "Yeah, why not?" The why not worries me. I don't think he sees religion as a necessity, but rather more of a security blanket. So I'm worried for him.

Finally, We have the family of Enrique. In the beginning, they were golden. Now, however, they still don't come to church, they accept our teachings but don't put them into practice, and Enrique works on Sundays. Their door is always open for us, but they just aren't keeping commitments. I'm worried that they never will. If they end up getting married like they said they would, I'll know they mean business. Another worrisome fact: Enrique, specifically, keeps asking for more time before his baptism. I want to know more, I want more time to prepare myself. Never, I´m ready for baptism. I'm not sure he'll ever be ready by his definition. Oh, how I worry.

But I did have my first baptism! German got baptized and his whole family came. I directed the affair while Elder Juarez actually did the baptism. It was simple, but good affair. An investigator who came loved it. Now we are helping the investigators family with their marital problems. He seems ready for baptism and she seems willing to try to fix the problems. Another example of good coming from good.

By the way, we were asked by like three different people to help with marital problems this week. I don't know what they are thinking. We are 19 years old and I don't speak very much Spanish. But they ask and we try to help. We do what we always do: Tell them to pray as a family, to endure to the end, to start reading the Book of Mormon. These things will help, but often the family needs more, so we turn to the bishop. It's difficult to see all the problems and to have the answers, but to have nobody act. Nonetheless, aside from being sick, I'm still experiencing so many amazing things. I'm neither discouraged nor depressed. I am determined and happy and, well, sick. I hope you all do just as well, aside from the sick thing. I will send pictures next week I promise. Talk to you next Monday!

November 4, 2011

Happy Merry Dia de Muerte!

First of all, I got to watch Remember the Titans in Spanish. That always cheers me up. Now, I wasn't being a bad missionary by watching a movie instead of working. See, this is just my soft way of saying that I spent two hours in a Doctor's waiting room because I had a stomach infection. But don't panic mom! The Cabrera's gave me bitter tea (blech) which I drained like a shot and now I feel fine. But that's how I spent Friday and Saturday: sick. Saturday, though, was pretty fun because for Comida, we went to Huayapam, which I love to do because the walk back from Huayapam is beautiful. I think I've said that before. In Huayapam, the family (19 year old Andres and his mom) helped us make hamburgers. Mexican hamburgers are a bit different than ours. They have all the normal stuff -- beef, american cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup -- but they also have hot dog, ham, and jalepeños. Sometimes pineapple. They are delicious. I love hamburgers here. After the hamburgers, we got to make cake, which was awesome.

Oh hey, here's a cool story: Do you remember Adrian, the taxi driver investigator who I mentioned in like my first letter? I talked about how I had a really good feeling about him and how we hadn't technically started to teach him yet? Did you ever wonder why he never came up again in subsequent emails, unlike names such as German, or Enrique? Well, that was because we couldn't find him. He pulled us over in our first meeting and expressed interest in learning more. Problem was, he worked all day driving his moto taxi (a little three wheel taxi for getting to and from places in larger pueblos). But he said that when we saw him again, he would drive us to his house and we could teach a lesson. So we would go occasionally and wait at the corner where all the mototaxis waited for passengers. But we could never, ever find Adrian. We asked: most people said they didn't know him. One guy said that he didn't work there anymore. The conspicuous lack of Adrian and evidence that Adrian ever existed began to worry us. Was he really or only the figment of my greenie imagination? Eventually, we gave up hope of finding him. We stopped waiting. Then, as we were walking back from Huayapam, full of hamburgers and cake this week, somebody said hola to us. It was dark and we didn't recognize the man holding his child. We figured it was just a friendly resident. Here in Mexico, it's quite common to hear a friendly hola or buenos días or buenas tardes from strangers as they passed by. So we continued walking without pausing for a second look. When he said cómo esta, however, we looked again. It was Adrian, outside his house. He had, in fact, changed jobs and now worked across the street from his house. He has a family and he STILL wants to learn more. I've got a good feeling about this guy and I don´t want to lose him again.

Another cool story that actually isn't from this week, but I can't believe I forgot to tell it when it happened. Okay, so there's this recent convert family in our ward. It's a family of eight: Hno Gerado, Hna Adriana, Abril, and five other children under the age of 10. We visit them a lot because they are recent converts and struggling a bit, mostly financially. I've had family home evenings with them, dinners with them, pan de muerte with them, and done many things with them. So one day, we had Comida with the Hma Adriana. When we got to the house, there was this unusual buzzing in the background. We inquired as to what it was as we sat down to eat. Turns out, the bathroom of this family had become infested with bees. Big bees. Mean bees. But the bathroom was an outhouse, away from the dining room/family room/kitchen, so nothing to worry about, right? Wrong. As the meal commenced, bees began slowly infiltrating the house. They would buzz pass our heads, causing us to freeze midbite. Elder Juarez hates bees. He was quite scared as this happened. I was kind of laughing at him for his fear because, as I had noticed, the bees never landed on anybody. I was still laughing as a bee flew all around Elder Juarez. I stopped laughing as the bee changed course and flew right at my eye, landing there quite peacefully. It stayed on my eye for a couple of seconds. Then it started walking around. It walked all around my face, my other eye, my nose, and eventually came to crawl right on the line of my very tightly shut mouth. Bee legs are unpleasant. They are sticky and pockey and make you think of the sting that you know is inevitably coming. They are exceptionally uncomfortable are your mouth. So imagine my sigh of relief when the bee took off finally after what seemed like 6 days of holding my breath. The sigh only lasted about a second, though, because the bees sensed the open mouth and flew right back at me. It land on my mouth again, and this time tried to poke its head inside once, twice, three times. I finally panicked and ran, hoping the bee would not follow. It didn´t, thank goodness. And now I'm afraid of bees. Probably the most unforgettable comida to date. Eating with the bees.

Well, that's all I really have this week. Sorry if I've told that or other stories before. I don't have my journal with me this time. I'm gonna quick answer some questions and leave: yes, it's day of the dead here instead of halloween, but the two are quite similar. The only differences are pan de muerte, which is a sweet type of bread, and the fact that it is a much happier holiday here than in the U.S. In the U.S., halloween is about scaring people. In Mexico, it's a fiesta, with carnival rides, candy, and a lot of stuff in broad daylight. The music is fun and upbeat. There are parades. You wear masks, you get dressed up, but the object isn´t to be scary. It´s to celebrate. We haven´t done much for it yet because we are missionaries, but maybe later tonight. After all, it is Preparation Day. We have not had hurricanes or earthquakes. It has´'t even rained that much because it is winter and the rainy season is spring and summer. I have not worn the baptismal pants yet. I do not think I will need a new suit this year, but I may need new tennis shoes soon as I burned a hole in my dwills today playing soccer. They are covered in electrical tape now, which has fixed the hole, but removed my traction. So I might need new shoes. I bought a soccer jersey today. That is all. I miss and love everyone! Hope to hear from you next week!
Elder Johnson

October 26, 2011

Good News!

Dear Family,

So, I think Mom will be pretty happy to hear that I did, in fact, receive both my package and my letter. More good news: only one thing was taken out of the package and that was the rest of the Jelly beans. I have no conclusive evidence of this, but I am thoroughly convinced that my loving mother would not send me only two tiny packages of sugery deliciousness, enough to spark a craving but not satisfy it.....I'm kidding!!! I greatly appreciate everything you sent me, though, according to my companion and everyone else, there's no malaria here. But the newspaper clipping, the photos, the letter from colton, the leaf?, the jelly beans, and especially the pillow were greatly, greatly appreciated. About the pillow: I accidently washed my last "pillow" the other day, so I've been sleeping on a towel and five packages of unopened garments. I have not been happy. But now I have a pillow and it's wonderful. Thank you very much.

My life. Ah, my life. I don't know quite how to explain. I'll start with this story: So, I was asked to play a song for a baptism the other day. It was the Primary song about baptism and rain and rainbows. I don't know the title in English. It looked easy, so I agreed to play it. Let me tell you one thing: it was NOT easy. I practiced for two hours and still only played it perfectly maybe once out of every three times. Not good. But, I prayed and had confidence that the Lord would deliver me from another impending Spanish baptism crisis. One of the unfortunate consequences of my necesity to practice a lot was that we were late to our comida appointment (have I explained the differences between Mexican eating schedules and our?). Naturally, this also made us leave late. Oh, yeah, we eat comida everday with an Hermana from the ward and we eat so much that I almost explode. Comida includes a soup, a meal (always two full plates, three if Elder Juarez manages to make me take one more), a dessert, and a piece of fruit to eat on the way to the next appointment. Dinner we either don´t eat because we are still full or we eat out. So it is only breakfast in which I depend on our kitchen, which, at the very least, has a working faucet. Many missionary casas here in Oaxaca have to use the bathroom faucet. The Elders of Ixcotel (who are closest to us. Elders Nataren and Monson (Monson is 6´10" and plays on the U of U basketball team)) only have two rooms: their bedroom and their bathroom. No kitchen or living room. I´m pretty sure if Elder Monson laid down on the floor, his head would stick out the back door and his feet the front door. It is very small. Our apartment is a palace. But they have a wonderful view of this beautiful river, with rocks and a lit up view of the city at night. The downsight of this absolutely breathtaking view is that many people use the path underneath their apartment for morning excercises, which includes listening to very loud music from the United States during personal study. The downside of the night view is that sometimes their are very loud, very long concerts that start at 11 oclock at night in the neighboring stadium. Point is, I´m grateful for where I live. But back to the story.

So we left comida at 5 (very late) and starting walking to the house of Hma Elvira, who suffered a stroke six years ago and is still recovering. Her speech is very slurred and she walk with a cane and she depends on the left side of her body to do most things. But she cried during our first visit because she knew that the Savior had suffered for her maladies and that He loves and understands her weaknesses. She lives very far away (have I said that Bosque is the biggest area in Oaxaca?) and we walked the whole way. About halfway there, we noticed that everybody was just kind of standing by the side of the road. Everybody. Everybody in Oaxaca, just standing by the side of road, like it was nothing weird. NObody was moving, driving, talking. Just standing. We found this a bit odd. Then 4 racecars zoomed by. THen 4 more. And then we learned why everybody was standing by the side of the road: All the Pan America prix cars were driving through Oaxaca at that time, so we got a little show on our long walk. It was pretty cool.

The next day was the baptism. On the way I saw my first Mexican funeral, which included a full band and many people and cars walking and driving slowly behind it. It was much louder than your typical U.S. funeral, that´s for sure. So we arrived at the Baptism and quickly discovered that there was no piano in the font room. Remember how I had prayed for help with my poor piano skillz? I breathed a great sigh of relief. Until Hermana Leon came into the room carrying the oldest, dirtiest, and what I soon found out to be least reliable keyboard on the face of the planet. This is how bad it was: if you played more than three notes at once, the keyboard would refuse to play the top note. The bottom hand was always a chord and the top hand consisted of third and fifths, which means I was always playing at least FOUR notes. Guess what the top notes are? THE MELODY! In short, the song was awful, but the baptism was beautiful and nobody seemed to care but me that I was only playing bass notes. It´s probably because Mexicans don´t understand music. The concept of a dotted eighth note is quite beyond them.

Now with my investigators. Yes, we have put six baptism dates. And yes, we are looking to put another this week. But we have a problem: none of them have been attending sacrament meeting and they can´t get baptized unless they attend church. So we spent all of this week getting rides for every single one of them and the end result was that we had four investigators in church on Sunday, which is four more than normal. One of them, German, has a baptismal date for the sixth of November. He doesn´t seem too excited about it, but then again, he´s only fifteen and he did accept the Word of Wisdom spectacularly well, so I hope we are having a positive impact on his life. This last week included like 7 gabajibalilion birthdays in his family, so one day we showed up and there was a goat tied up in the yard. The next day we showed up and there was no goat but a really delicious stew. Mexican birthdays are cool.

Wow, this is another long letter and it is completely devoid of spiritual enlightment, so I´m going to end with my testimony, my testimony of prayer. In the United States, I was pretty okay at doing things by myself. At the very least, I could always depend on my rather large vocabulary and charming smile (kidding) to make it seem like I had everything under control there. I do not have anything here. My confidence, my ability to improvise, my semblence of intelligence, my knowledge of current events, or any type of expertise in anything. But I do have one thing: I have a Heavenly Father who knows me perfectly, who created me in every sense of the word create, from my body to my environment. He loves me more than I can comprehend. And right now, I am trying my best to do His work and His will. Therefore, every night, when I kneel down, exhausted, depressed, defeated because I said this wrong, or I missed that opportunity, or I just had to walk super far, and I start to offer up what I consider my scanty day, pathetic compared to the work of others, and I throw myself into a list of things I will repent of and things I will do better at the next day, the same thing always, always, always happens: I feel the love of my Heavenly Father encircle me, as a great hug that I need. I never depended on prayer before. Now it is the thing that keeps me determined in my path. Prayer is a tool, a blessing, a support, but also so much more. Prayer is not just the communication between yourself and a Father. It is the communication between yourself and the being that you love most. Whether it´s a spouse, sibling, friend, parent, girlfriend, whatever, a prayer is like that conversation, when you just throw your worries and your burden on somebody else, and that perfect somebody else takes them for you, and strenghtens you, and loves you even more. Prayer can be a wrestle, like between for Enos. Prayer can be repetitive. Prayer can be a burden. Prayer can be many things, but ultimately, Prayer should be as it was for Jesus Christ: the natural response of a Child with a Divine commision and birth and His loving, stregthening Parent. We have a Heavenly Father. He gave us our commissions. Our births in and of themselves are tiny miracles. Therefore, I urge each and every one of you, Mormon or not, to do what is Natural and good and pray. Pray to your Father who wants to hear you and can and will help you with whatever burden you are bearing. Whatever it is, decision, job, sin, doubt, He will help you. Because He has helped the ever-so-imperfect me so many times and I only have 12 weeks on this mission.

Elder Johnson

October 21, 2011

Great things are happening!

It´s great out here: I have a great companion, the weather is nice, I´m learning more Spanish than I thought possible, and the work is coming. So I don´t have hot water and I have to learn how to wash clothes by hand, big deal; I get to meet amazing people, I get to try amazing food (including an authentic Oaxacan Dominoes Pizza!), and I get to serve. I love serving. I´ve drawn water from wells, I´ve soldered railings, I´ve washed dishes, I might even get to use a Machete soon. We´ll see. But serving is seriously my favorite part of life right now, and that´s saying something.

This week, six amazing things happened. First, we went to teach German, our 16 yr old investigator who we have pegged to be our next baptism. Now, I don´t know if I´ve mentioned this, but, for someone with only 2 weeks, I can speak Spanish rather well. The problem is, I cannot understand a word anybody says. I was kind of feeling down on the beginning of this day (Wednesday) and, to make manners worse, for the first time, my comp turned to me as we waited for a bus and said, "no tengo ganas de trabajar" how. Usted necesita estar emocionado para mi" which means that he didn´t feel much like working because he was super tired and kind of down as well. Me, terrible at being enthusiastic in Spanish, decided to refocus myself. I spent the entire bus ride reading 3 Nephi 11. As it turns out, the lesson we had with German that day was 3 Nephi 11. And I had no idea. Not only that, but we did a little activity where each person would explain a part and all the parts I had to explain were parts that I had prepared for on the bus. At the end of the lesson, we extended the baptismal challenge and he accepted. Day changed.

Second amazing thing: That very same day, we stopped by a reference´s house who we had not been able to get a hold of for a very long time. They were not there, but, as we were about to leave, a 13 year old boy, Luis, walked into the yard. Luis (the son of the reference) is the coolest kid ever. He´s super, super excited about scriptures stories, from Adam and Eve to Peter cutting off an ear. We taught him the doctrine of Christ and he just gobbled it up. He practically lept at the chance to be baptized. We just need to talk to his parents and it´s a go.

Next four amazing things: On Friday, we went to teach this awesome family we had met. They were super interested and the nicest people I´ve met to date. We cannot stop by without receiving at least 3 glasses of juice, a small meal, and 30 minutes of conversation. We taught them the doctrine of Christ and lo and behold, they accepted baptism, after we assured them that we were not, in fact, a cult. The dad is super family oriented, Monica loves to read the scriptures with us, the mom studies the Book of Mormon like it´s nobody´s business, and Eduardo is just cool. So, in one week, we got 6 baptismal dates. The previous week, our entire district had zero.

The moral of this story is that the Lord is preparing people and, as often as not, the investigators help the missionaries more than the missionaries help the investigators. We needed these blessings and I am thankful that the Lord provided them to a slothful, unable to understand missionary and his patient companion. The only problem is that none of them went to church on Sunday. Oops. Guess what we´ll be focusing on this week?

Here´s my moral lesson for the week, but first some explanation: I have an hour of personal study everday. During that time, I read lessons, read book of Mormon chapters that pertain to my investigators, and read Bible chapters that pertain to the lessons I study. It is an hour of hard work. But when I have extra time, I just read the Scriptures. Like a book. Without pencil, without notebook, without lessons. And I´ve been reading the Old Testament. Thus far, I have read Samuel and Kings. Here´s a lesson from Samuel: So, David was on the run from Saul. He and his small army stopped on the lands of a very rich person. Now, the law of hospitality at the time demanded that the rich person bring food and water to the King´s son in law. David, being the good person that he was, decided to also defend the rich person´s flocks. So now the rich person doubly owed David. But the rich person instead insulted David and David, naturally, got so angry that he went to kill him. But the man´s wife intervened and stayed the future king´s wrath, saying that the Lord will punish the rich person in His own due time. And the Lord did. The point of this is that sometimes, we just have to let things go, whether it´s a stubborn investigator who won´t progress, an ornery neighbor, or a teacher who just likes to be mean. Its not our job to control other people. The Lord has His plans and whether it happens in this life or the next, people will get what they deserve, good or bad. So stop complaining, stop worrying, stop fretting, stop, stop, stop trying to control things that you can´t and just go about your days doing good. There is no greater blessing and no greater piece of advice than that. Do good within your sphere. This is what the Lord wants.

Well, I love you all. I´m having a great time in Oaxaca and I´m adjusting. I´ll do my best with the box. I´m beginning to understand people now. I´m about at the level of Elder Monson, a 6 ft 10 U of U center who has one more transfer than I do. So I´m ahead of my class. Anywho, look forward to hearing from you next week and I hope all the pictures upload in time.


Elder Johnson (Riley)

October 14, 2011

First Letter from Mexico!

I just realized that I don't exactly give you people great titles for my emails. I'll try to do better with that. Anyway, where to even begin? I have no idea.

Okay, first, the mail situation: you may still send my packages and snail mail. I will always greatly appreciate them. But, as stated, they now take a LOT longer to get here. I now have two hours (instead of 30 minutes) to read and write emails and I am allowed to receive emails from my friends. So, this can be the new major modicum to communicate with me. I have not received any package or letter yet, just in case you were wondering if the meds had gotten to me yet.

Anyway, yes, I am hot. And sweaty. And wearing clothes that I washed by hand. And eating some lettuce. And drinking Yakult. And treating blisters. And saying "¿Cómo? many times. And playing soccer. And reading the Book of Mormon in Spanish. And sleeping on dirty clothes in a pillowcase because I don't have a pillow. And getting chased down by crazy bicycle riding mexicans. And many other fun, fun things.

Seriously, the only thing I feel sure about saying about Oaxaca is that it is very, very, VERY different from the U.S. I'm not going to upload photos today because I have so much to write, but I took pictures of my apartment. By U.S. standards, it is small, dirty, and very unmodern. By Oaxacan standards, I have running water (though no hot water), four whole rooms (though the bathroom is about the size of me and there is no toilet seat), and there are three whole tables in the apartment. Essentially, by Oaxacan standards, I live in a mansion. As far as I can tell. See, I've been in house with only one room, I've been in houses made out of aluminum, I've been in houses with no water, I've seen a house made out of beer boxes. Oaxaca is poor. But the people, oh the people, are so, so nice.

I don't know if you got this from my emails, but in the MTC, I was a stud with Spanish. Spanish was easy in the MTC. But that only means so much. Because of all things to not learn how to do, I did not learn how to listen. And boy, is that killing me right now.

I wanted to go out of the MTC on fire, using my Greenie exuberance for good, like some kind of MTC super innocent super stud. Then came my first lesson, with a woman who I cannot name because I don't remember and I couldn't write it down at the time because I did not understand one word she said. Not one word. Not only is my vocabulary small and I don't understand simple, small, but important words like acá (don't worry; I've figured it out now), but also, I don't know if you know this, but Mexicans mumble. Every single one of them mumbles. They slur words together and they speak in very, very quiet voices. Especially the old women, whom we visit quite a bit. So my goal is understanding more. I''m starting to chip into conversation by my own volition now and I just had a perfectly normal, perfectly understood phone conversation with an Elder Jimenez (whoever the heck that is), which is a start. Hopefully, I'll get somewhere soon with that deficiency and then I'll be able to start working on my other ones. Like not knowing how to cook. I'm living off of Azucaritas (Mexican Frosted Flakes) and restaurant food.Oh yeah, and the granola bars you sent with me. Those are life savers. Send me more. Much, much more because I cannot find them in Mexico).

Now for my companion. His name is Elder Juarez. I met him last Tuesday, at the mission offices (which are actually only about 10-15 from our house by taxi, but I never see them because they are not in my area. My area, by the way, is Bosque and it is the largest area in the entire Oaxacan mission. Guess what that means? I get to walk a lot! Yay blisters! But back to my companion. The first thing I asked him was if he like learning English during language study like he's supposed to. He said he doesn't learn English. Which means he doesn't speak any English, unlike the other native companions. Which means I only speak Spanish from the moment I get up to the moment I go to bed. I've started dreaming in Spanish. I think. They are hard to remember because I don't understand what is being said, but I'm pretty sure I am dreaming in Spanish. So Elder Juarez is nice. He's also a good, hard working missionary. He doesn't like contacting when we don't have references, so he doesn't try that hard at knocking doors. We don't talk to taxi drivers or people on the bus like we should. Elder Carrasco (one of the APs) was in a Taxi with me on Tuesday and he got a reference from the driver, so I know that's something we can start doing.

Elder Juarez and I traveled to the stake center because Elder Juarez had been asked to baptize the little eight year old girl of a family he had helped a lot previously in his mission. So we went and everybody was smiling and laughing and happy and the kids loved my camara and although I hadn't had the best of mornings, I couldn't help but smile and laugh and love my camara as well. Then we all sat down and the Bishop began reading the program, saying we were going to start with this song, and this prayer said by this person, and the baptism by Elder Juarez, and the Confirmation by Elder Johnson, and more singing, and the closing prayer by this person.
Wait a minute, hold it: You caught that too, didn't you? Because that was exactly how I found out that I would be doing the confirmation as well. In Spanish. My happiness vanished. It was replaced with cold blooded fear. The windows were open, giving me a good chance for escape, but the dad looked pretty athletic and I'm sure he would chase me down. So I couldn't get out of it that way. Maybe I could faint? No, I had never fainted before and I don't think Elder Juarez would ever let me live it down. Perhaps I should just tell them that if I tried to do this sacred ordinance with my Gringo Spanish, it would be too painful to listen to and God would smite me right there just to make me, I didn't know how to say all that in Spanish. So, I did it. Trembling, completely unable to roll my rr's and completely unpracticed with the tu form, I did it. And then I felt good again. I want a real baptism and I want one soon. Which means I have to work really, really hard to start pulling my weight in the companionship this week.

So aside from Yukimo Romero Soto (the little girl whom I helped God confirm), we have several other investigators. First is the family of Enrique. They are a beautiful little family of four, with Enrique, Gabrielle (the mom), Eduardo (12), and Monica (10). They are very sweet, very kind people who would make perfect latter day saints. The first visit, I got to draw water out of a well, a real well with bucket and everything, as service. The second visit lasted about an hour and a half because Enrique likes to talk. they didn't come to church on Sunday, but I have hope for them. I know they like to hear the word of God, but I wonder if they are actually interested in joining a church. They fed us a dinner last time too, despite our great protests (I ate shrimp heads, which I later observed the others had avoided. Bummer). Anyways, if it works out, it will be great for them and for the ward.

On to the Ward: the Ward is great. It's small in active members, but big in heart and capacity for service. They love helping us, feeding us, and giving us referrals. They are all a missionary can ask for in a ward. One thing you should know: Mexicans, generally, are terrible singers. They do not sing on key. I feel right at home during hymns here. Anyway, there is also a lack of priesthood holders. The bishop only has one couselor (Hermano Cabrera, who works a lot), but nonetheless they perservere. One Hermana loves missionaries so much that she bought a dining set just for the missionaries (very large plates) and is getting a bathroom installed, just so that the missionaries can stop at her house. She was the one we ate with yesterday. She also takes in starving animals off the street and has that same weird love for them that you do, mom.

Speaking of animals: We live in an upper floor apartment (house). Below us lives a vender lady and she has a dog. A very fat dog. A very fat dog named Rocky. A very fat Rocky that is a Rotweiler. Aubrey would love him. I'll send pictures next week. Rocky is very nice, but he loves to play and stick his head in between your legs. It is very awkward. Elder Juarez calls Rocky "Mi perro." And Rocky isn't the only dog around; I'm pretty sure there are more dogs here than cars. They are everywhere and yes, I have already been attacked by one, but Elder Juarez bravely warded him off with a stick. The point is, be happy you only have to deal with Dot.

Well, I love you all and I look forward to hearing from you soon. Yes, I would like fruit certs in my Christmas package. I have a testimony of this Church. The mission is hard -- very hard. Sometimes I doubt it's worth it, but then the Lord provides. He always provides if you give Him His time. Move forward in faith and do the things that you have belief you should do. I'll make it here. I will survive. I will perservere. And I will thrive. The Church is true, the Spirit is real, and most of all, Christ is our loving Savior and Guide. Believe in Him, and you shall be blessed.
Elder Johnson (El Hijo de Juan)

October 4, 2011

Last letter from the MTC

Sorry, sorry, so very sorry that I did not write yesterday. I just simply didn't have the time and I'll try to tell you what happened, if I have the time. I have a lot of important stuff to say, as well as some cool stuff, so let's get going.

First, how I got my visa and the other terrible things that accompanied this story. So, we've been waiting for our visas for awhile, myself and all four of the other Oaxacan elders. I, however, have been expecting problems with mine, so I haven't been waiting on the edge of my seat. As long as I eventually got to Oaxaca, I would be fine. However, we kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting.....and waiting. The Mexico City Elders in our district got their travel plans in the middle of last week. By the middle of this week, we fully expected to know what was going on. We didn't. Then, Wednesday, in our final class period of the day, we got called down to the travel office. It was then that a small seed of hope was planted in my mind that maybe I would go to Oaxaca on time. So, Thursday rolled around and all five of us followed the instructions we received in the travel office the day before and boarded a bus and went down to the Mexican consulate. It was a Mexican DMV, just as Elder Swensen described it. The chairs were dirty. The place was small. There certainly were no marble columns or a Mexican President. We waited for two hours to get a picture taken, two fingerprints, and three signatures, and then we left. It was rather uneventful. With one major exception: when it was Elder Wheeler's (who does not know how to shut his mouth while breathing) turn to get his picture taken, he sat down in the chair only to be informed that there were some issues with his visa. A collective gasp came from the waiting crowd who knew exactly what the word "issues" meant. He was eventually informed that the MTC had filled out his visa papers wrong and therefore he did not have a visa right now. To make a long story short, now, instead of me being the one who admittedly should stay, my good and faithful companion will not be traveling with the rest of the group. He will most likely be reassigned, like the Peruvian elders who finally learned that they will be going to Alabama on Tuesday.

Elder Wheeler (who has had a harder life than you can imagine) was understandably shook up about this. He was shook up even more after he had to call his parents and tell them what happened. I spent the most of that night just listening to his entire life story, his doubts, fears, and reasons why he is serving a mission. I will tell you honestly and frankly now that Elder Wheeler (who now owns one of my ties) has not been my favorite person. We have very different and dueling egos. But I can assure you without a doubt that Elder Wheeler has the strongest testimony of anyone I have ever personally meant and he is an ensign of faith. People have cool stories. Listen to them; find them out; apply them. It doesn't need to be a stake president, a hero, or a prophet for it to be nuggets of gold. Take notes on the testimonies of the common; follow the example of the slow. I have learned more from a red-headed, typical country boy from Kansas than I ever did from books, maxims, quotes, and legends.

Alright, enough of that. I wanted to add my favorite part of General Conference so far. President Uchtdorf, as I'm sure you heard, centered his talk on the incredibly true doctrine of what he called The Paradox of Man: Man, in comparison with God and the vastness of Creation, is quite literally nothing. Yet to God, Man is everything. This is Our Paradox. How can we be both nothing and everything at the same time? What President Uchtdorf pointed out was that Satan, in his cunning, loves to take Man to the extremes of this paradox. To one, he might tempt, saying that we should rely on our own understanding, that we are the children of a God and that we have the right to rule and reign. It is a clever, cunning lie, burgeoning our Pride in ways it was never meant to grow. Yet for others, the Father of Lies goes the other way, convincing him that he is nothing, a speck less than the sands, The Forgotten Creation of a Busy God. To one is pride, to the other hopelessness and both are the realms of Satan. We must know that God does not work in the extremes: I have truly come to believe here in the MTC that Aristotle was an inspired man when he wrote the Theory of Means. We are nothing, we should be humble, and we should cleave unto God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength. God is our Father and to Him we should look for guidance. However, we must never, ever forget that the most powerful being in the vast eternity of the Universe is the FATHER of Our Spirits and He knows each of us by name. He does not think of us as one of over seven billion, an insignificant creation living for but a brief season on a tiny world in the middle of the eternally large Universe. He thinks of us as His Children and we should not ever forget that.

Thank you and I love you for all you do. I hope you get a little bit from these very hastily written emails. Bye!


October 2, 2011

Hey, I'm almost outta here!

Whaddya know, I have like a little over a week left in the MTC. It's crazy. The Mexico City Elders got their travel plans yesterday. They also visited the Mexican Consulate. See Colton's weekly letter for expanded details. The moral of the story is this: I should be hearing news on my Visa soon. It probably won't be good news, but hey, at least I'll know. Anyways, I honestly won't mind serving somewhere else for awhile. I only have three conditions: one, that I get to serve. Two, that I eventually get to go to Oaxaca. And three, that I don't lose all the Spanish that I've worked so hard to gain. That's all I ask. We'll see if that comes through soon enough.

Well, it sounds like things are actually pretty exciting back home. I'm happy for Trevor, not only because it's good for him and his career, but also because it gave me something to throw back in all the Utah State fans' faces (yes, Utah STATE, not U of U fans; apparently only Utah State fans take extreme pleasure in going out of their way to be excessively rude to BYU students. You can tell Taggart that I am very disappointed in the representatives of his school). I like bragging about my cousins. It takes the spotlight off of my lack of athletic talent. A side note: can you believe that ULTIMATE FRISBEE is banned at the MTC? Like seriously, just go and ban the one sport I'm semi-decent at, why don't you. Boo on the MTC for that decisio

Anyway, I should probably tell you a little bit about my week, shouldn't I? Anyways, my day was totally made today when, while talking in Spanish with my District leader (Elder Edwards), the only Elder I can hold a full Spanish conversation with, one of the MTC employees, who happened to have served a Spanish speaking mission, told me that I speak very good Spanish and asked me if I spoke a lot before the MTC. This is also after earlier this week, when talking to one of my BYU acquaintences who leaves on Monday for Argentina, he (the BYU acquaintence) seriously asked me if I was in the Advanced or Intermediate classes for Spanish, cuz that's what I sounded like. So yeah for learning Spanish!

Oh yeah, Russel M. Nelson spoke on Tuesday. We had gotten an Ensign Magazine specially dedicated to the Book of Mormon, so an Apostle came to talk to us about it. It was a pretty good talk, but here's the main message that I remember from it: the Book of Mormon truly is a SACRED book of scripture. We often forget that. We need to treat it with respect, love, and care, and realize just how great a blessing it is. Finally, while you are reading, acknowledge that you are reading the actual words of God (see D&C 1:37-38). Reading the Book of Mormon should be a sacred and reverent experience and we should treat it as such. The Book of Mormon is precious and it is a gift that we are given this companion volume of scripture to help us understand the mysteries of God. it makes the Bible so much more interesting and precious as well.

Oh, Old Testament things that I love (since you are studying the OT in institute): Chapter 32 of Genesis details a story of Jacob wrestling with an angel until the angel blesses him. Enos describes his great redemptive prayer as a "wrestle" (verse 2). Pray your heart out, everyone. The Lord will answer. It should be a exhausting, exhilarating, and ultimately, fruitful experience. Prayer is an engaging conversation, and if we can't feel the presence of the Lord as either a member of that conversation or a member of that wrestling match (yeah, He should feel that close), then we are not doing it right. The Bible Dictionary (what an under-utilized gem) says that prayer should come naturally to people, like walking and talking. Prayer is natural and if it feels forced, you're not doing it right. THe point? Pray, and evaluate your prayers occasionally. This isn't a wrote thing we are doing; this is a conversation with a living God.
Another cool thing from the Old Testament. You know that verse in first Nephi where it says, "And my father dwelt in a tent"? Well, I just decided to analyze that a couple of weeks ago and I found that it was referenced to all the parts in the Old Testament that described Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob dwelling in tents. The lesson? Lehi was the great Patriarch of the Nephite race, as Jacob and the others were for the Jews. It all makes sense. There is a reason that scripture is including in the Book of Mormon. The Lord does His will and Joseph Smith could not have known to include that parallel detail on his own Judgment. He only did it through the power of God.

Well, I love you all and I'm out of time. I will talk to you next week!

September 24, 2011

A good Jedi always has his lightsaber!

Hey Mom!
A good jedi is never without his lightsaber. Remember that.

Oh yeah, I haven't heard anything about my VISA yet. Don't get your hopes up; the visa is like a two month process and I received word like halfway through the MTC experience that my visa was messed up. Ooops. But I'll be fine wherever I go-I just want to talk to real investigators instead of Enrico, my emotionless robot of an investigator that Hermano Burnham is pretending to be.

Anyway, that's not that much that's new with me. I learned how to sew a button back on a white shirt and let me tell you something: it's TERRIBLE!!!! I now understand why you hate to sew. I think I poked myself like 9000 gagajabllion times and then end product is certainly not rewarding enough to warrant the work. But I am learning to fend for myself here in the wilds of the MTC.

Oh, have I mentioned that we are the oldest distric in our zone now? That means we really, really have to try to be good examples and we want to reach out to other districts more. This is hard for me, mostly because I'm a natural born slacker and I generally wait for people to reach out to me before I become their friend, but I am trying. I say "Buenos Dias" a lot now because I'm buddy the Elf 2.0 and I like to wave. It's just what you do as a missionary. Also, our new zone leaders (which almost always come from the oldest district) are Elder Swenson and Elder Jones. So now the other districts have the privilege of putting up with our married couple for extended periods during the day as well.

Wow, I'm really out of things to say and I have thirteen whole minutes left. I better throw in a story or lesson or something here to take up time and to encourage you to keep writing me (I can't lose my only contact with the outside world!). I'm not sure if I've said this or not, but recently, Elder Wheeler (who is not, in fact, employing this strategy in his emails) and I have really, really started to try to use the Spirit during lessons and it is hard. I am not a good teacher (go figure). I know a lot and therefore I try to help other people understand what I understand. However, oft times they lack the capability, desire, willingness, and/or background to understand what I understand and thus I end up going into too much detail, getting hung up on little things, or not teaching according to need. This is where the Spirit comes in. So, the other day during one of our lessons, Elder Wheeler (who will wait for up to two seconds in order to hold open the door for approaching Hermanas) and I employed the strategy of silence, following both the promptings of the Spirit and the example of a District 1 clip where they employed silence as well. It was like, a minute and a half of silence. It was SUPER awkward. But SUPER effective as well. Seriously, if that lesson was a pokemon battle, I would've been Charizard, Elder Wheeler (who tells me stories of lighting hay bales on fire in rural Kansas) would have been Moltres, and our investigator, Natalia, would have been Venosaur. Ask Colton; he'll get it. After the lesson, we knew exactly what we needed to teach next because she told us after our completely silent interrogation and I think she is really close to baptism. Let's hear it for the Spirit!

Okay, here's something a little more reverent and on a completely different topic: I was reading "Jesus the Christ" (which I love), and I read a quote that I really like. In fact, it's the only quote I've underlined in the whole 650 pages that I've read so far. It reads, "Man, as a peculiar habit, has a tendency to project and augment onto God the very qualities that he himself posesses." That blew my mind with how true it is. This can be both good and bad: For example, to me, it's very important that God's plan connects in every way, sometimes in subtle ways that others cannot easily discern. This is how I think. Also, for me, it's important that God is understanding, almost more important than God being loving. See, I feel as if it's incredibly important to be able to put yourself in another's shoes and not judge. Therefore, the God that I imagine understands exactly my intentions and my attempts. It can also be bad, however, if, per chance, you happen to be an incredibly greedy person and therefore you imagine God to "reap where he has not sown." Be careful how you put yourself into God and understand that God is only the best of us. He is perfect, as is His Son Jesus the Christ. Maybe this isn't as cool to you, but I thought it was great. I'm not sure what the application is specifically yet, but I'm working on that. I just need to get some time to think.

Well, now I'm out of time right as I think of a bunch of other cool things to say. Shoot. Well, love you and don't forget to write me!

September 17, 2011

One More Week Down!

Alright, so my week. I don't even know what to say. I think more than anything, this week has exemplified a week of routine. Nothing huge, amazing, new, or exciting has really happened. There have been no Elder Hollands, no departing missionaries, and no huge revelations, just the smaller, more gradual kind of learning.

I guess the one thing that stands out about this week is that we started playing soccer in the field every day. Seriously, that's the biggest change.
But that doesn't mean this week hasn't been good! In fact, this week has been great. See, what's happened is I've finally started setting goals that I should have been setting the whole time, as far as learning Spanish and being a good companion and studying the Gospel go. These are the kind of goals that I can measure, that I report to myself, that make me reach, but yet are attainable, and that are focused on what I need to improve on. So now, instead of being in a constant state of being rebuked by others, I'm more in a constant state of being rebuked by myself and I won't lie, it's nice to take personal responsibility for your own development. I feel in control. I am my own motivator, desiring the things of Christ and devising plans, based on that hope, in order to achieve my innermost desires. Then, I act on faith, trusting to the Lord that my efforts will be rewarded with increased understanding, patience, and knowledge. I review to myself, studying in my mind whether I have achieved the intended results, whether I am on my intended path, off it, or finished with it, and whether the Lord would approve of my efforts. I then re-evaluate, modifying goals and strategies, constantly desiring to improve myself and my methods. This way, when I kneel down to pray at night, I have no shame in asking the Lord if my offering is enough. I know it has been enough because it is all I can do in this given day. The next day, hopefully, I will be capable of more. I think that's the key to being content in the Lord: Have you done enough in your mind? If you wonder whether your efforts fall short, let me testify this to you-That wonder is your own subconscious telling you that you are capable of more. You will have no shame in your work for the day if you have truly exhausted your limits. Feel the immediate sleep and sleep with dreamless ease. This is the reward of exhausting yourself, of giving your all to the Lord. And He will know that it is what you can do.

Of course, this whole thing isn't perfect. The fatal flaw is that I am an inherently lazy person and therefore this blueprint, if you will, only applies occasionally. Most of the time, when I sit down to write in my journal, I know exactly what I could have done better. But of course, those just become my new goals and the process repeats.

Here's an interesting happening of the week: One day, while playing soccer, Elder Wheeler (who folds his clothes before they go in the laundry basket to be washed) and I were playing defense, as we always do, when a certain Zone Leader whom I love came charging at us with the intent of trying to score a goal. Acting heroically, rashly, and completely losing my head, I bravely did what any soccer player would do in that situation, provided that they suffered from a debilitating head injury, and I ran into him. It hurt. Several minutes later, the situation repeated itself, but this time, Elder Wheeler (who invented a very useful word, Kershmeggle) ran into the Zone leader Whom I Love.

A consequence of this is that Elder Wheeler (who hasn't received a package or letter in two weeks) severely sprained his knee and we got to go visit the wide and scary outside world of Provo in order to stop by the BYU Student Health Center. It was fun to see things other than the brown and boring buildings of the MTC for a change. Also, I realized how many good memories I have of the Provo area already and how little bad memories I have of the Provo area. College has been good and it's nice to know that I can look forward to something after my mission.

Well, I'm out of time. I hope to hear from you soon!



September 11, 2011

Yeah, that's right, this Saturday is exactly my halfway point in the MTC. Time just flies by here. I'm not sure if I got here yesterday or if I've always been here, but I'm pretty sure it's one of the two.

Next, VISA: I'm pretty sure I won't be in the MTC longer than I'm supposed to be, but I might not be going to Oaxaca immediately. I'm pretty sure that's what will happen. THey haven't said anything yet, but VISA's take forever. So I'll probably be kickin' it in Ogden or somewhere for awhile before I leave for Mexico.

Dwills: I cannot wear my shower flip flops out of my dorm building. The laundry is in 1M. I live in 11M. Hence, I cannot wash them. But they are smelling better.

Colton: Your Spanish word or the day is descargar, which means "to dump." Learn it, love it, be it. Also, awesome choice with the band thing. Jazz band and Jazz music are ballin'. Please live a Jazz lifestyle

But that is all I have to say on that subject. I want to talk about Jeffrey R. Holland, who spoke to us on Tuesday. Jeffrey R. Holland is THE man, right now, amongst missionaries, mostly as a result of his conference talke "Safety for the Soul." Watch it: it's very powerful. So, we discovered one day that during planning sessions from 9 to 9:30 at night, we could watch conference talks and/or listen to hymns via So we watched "Safety for the Soul" on Tuesday afternoon. It was great. Then we started joking, saying that we should spread a rumor that Elder Holland was coming to the MTC tonight to that we could get the nice chairs in the overflow while everybody crowded in the hot, uncomfortable gym. We didn't actually do this, but it was funny to talk about, right up until the point when we were sitting in the overflow and then everybody in the gym stood up and we knew that it was an Apostle. And then it was Jeffrey R. Holland. And then the joke was on us. But, the Spirit knows no bounds and nonetheless we felt it as we listened to an apostle of God first rebuke us and then uplift us.

One of the first things he talked about, by way of rebuke, was that the Church has no symbols. However, he added, if there were to be a symbol of the Church, something recognizable for all people, it would be the image of two young, perfect missionaries. Yes, perfect, he said. He said that in the eyes of investigators, recent converts, ward members, and even our own family, we are supposed to seem perfect. We are not and we won't ever be, but that does not give us the right to take the image away from people who believe on it. We do not have the right to be anything other that representatives of Jesus Christ. For the Church, for the families, for the investigators, and even for the people who hate us, we do NOT have the right to ruin the image of missionaries. So I'm not going to. Not on my life I wont.

He talked about many other things, including how we should be bold inviting people to repentence. He said that repentence is saving people from suffering which they cannot comprehend. Calling people to repentence should not be offensive, uncomfortable, or overbearing. It is charity. But the point that I really want to talk about is this: Elder Holland, who was fielding questions and answers at this point, ended with this question, "Why does our Heavenly Father love us?" He said many things on this point, but here's what stuck out to me: He said if you want to know about the Father, look at the Son. Heavenly Father has always seemed a distant figure in my life. I love Jesus; I know Jesus; I understand the role of Jesus, but God just seemed to be that all powerful figure in the background. But, as Elder Holland pointed out, the Father is the Son, essentially (no, not in a Trinity sense). Christ only did what he had seen the Father do; He only said what he had heard the Father say; the will of God was and is Christ's will. This Gospel of Jesus Christ in really the Gospel of God. God is well pleased with it. He is as loving, knowing, and understanding a being as Jesus Christ is. He should not be far away, but rather neck-in-neck with Christ in our minds and our worship. Finally, Elder Holland said that in the hour of most agony ever possible, in the Garden of Gethsemene, the word that escaped Christ's lips was "Abba." There is no direct English translation of this word, but according to Elder Holland, an Apostle of the Lord, the closest we can come is "Daddy." Pure and simple. Christ called out for Daddy when He needed the most help, when he was in so much agony that even He, a God, quaked and trembled with pain. This is the love of the Father. This is the image of Christ.

Another thing that I wanted to talk about in reference to Elder Holland is not about what he said, exactly, but rather how he said it. I want to be one of a great many things when I grow up. I have many ambitions. Now, thanks to the MTC, I have a better idea of how to achieve those ambitions. Elder Holland, however, showed me exactly how long I need to work and how hard I need to work if I am to achieve the greatest of my desires: I cannot give myself a break. I cannot say that I can't think of more ideas of how to improve. I can always improve. Day by day, I need to make a conscious effort not just to act correctly, or productively, but to THINK correctly and productively. I can have fun; I can be myself. But I cannot allow myself to be lazy, or young, or immature anymore. If I want to do what I want to do (and I can assure you that I want to do it), then I need to act as if I am great now. That means the humility to realize that I need to work immediately because greatness does not rest. Greatness is improvement, constant and vigilant.

I love you all and I promise to write you some more mudane of happenings here at the MTC with my picture letter. Again, I love you. I look forward to hearing from you
See you in 2!
Riley Johnson