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