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