April 30, 2012

Two Decades Worth of Life

So, I've been alive for awhile. When I was born, fanny-packs were in. Now.....fanny-packs are still "in" if you ask the unusually large population of hippies that we can find here in Puerto Angel. But yup, in the mission, I'm still not even nine months old and even if I was, it wouldn't matter because one fact never changes here in Oaxaca: you always work your butt off because this is the Lord's time, not yours. It's something I struggle to remember sometimes, but when the Lord blesses you magnificently, the first thing you should is thank Him with words and the second is thank Him with Actions: I'll be working this last week of the transfer. 

To explain: We've had kind of a tough transfer. We've worked a lot, Elder Perez and I, and it  just hasn't netted us very big results. We've been confused, angry, exhausted, sad, motivated, determined, defeated, and lively at various points during the last five weeks, but I, personally (okay, with a little help from my President), came to a conclusion that made this week better. The Lord doesn't really have it in mind that we put a lot of baptismal dates or that a lot of investigators come to Church or that we find a lot of new people. He just wants us to help the branch in whatever way we can. So that is what we've tried to do this week. We concentrated on two things: activities and inactive members. We planned two branch activities for the first time since a disastrous branch activity in the first week of the transfer (only Branch President and Alan showed up on time. We showed up late. Nobody else came). We've been hyping and organizing them all week and right now I'm going to go print out invitations to give to everybody. The first activity is a soccer/volleyball/basketball game that we are going to do with the youth of Pochutla. The don't have the infamous "Churchball" here in Mexico, but I'm gonna do my best to start it. The youth seem ecstatic. THe second activity is a Family HOme Evening as a Branch. We are assigning every organization something and giving them plenty of advance in order to get them preparing. We're hoping for a better showing this time. So that's the activities section of our weeks work. On to the inactives!

We've been working with like four inactives the last couple of weeks. They haven't been coming to Church, but, to be fair, nobody visits them and we only did when we were sick of getting rejected during door contacts. This week, they became our priority because, to be perfectly blunt, we don't have any investigators. So we visited them multiple times. This strategy netted us our lowest numbers since my first transfer in the mission. But the blessings came yesterday when we nearly hit the fourty person mark in Sacrament meeting and the only people I've baptized (three VERY timid youth) all gave excellent talks. We almost cried in happiness. It really is true; once you get your will in line with the Lord's, everything just starts to work out. Let's here it for a more prayerful and spiritually sensitive week six!

Okay, as a birthday gift to all you, I'm sending you fotos finally!!! THese fotos include me eating my first Iguana tamale (yes, I've eaten an animal that looks like a dragon. Predator points for me), the pictures of the first baptism I ever had way back from my Bosque days that I never sent you (remember Julio German? Yup, finally found that memory card), me building a store by hand, a family home evening where I learned to cook kentucky fried chicken, and pictures from my college days that I found on that very same memory card just to remind you all that yes, a long time ago, I was a real boy. 

I just want to add that the tyrel story of the week really, really touched me, especially when Dad wrote, "I will never hold the Priesthood." It just hit me how special it was that I have it and that I have the duty to properly uphold it for the sake and benefit of people like Tryel who are denied the opportunity. I can bless, administer, preach, teach, heal, baptize, and receive revelation, that precious communication between us and the God who knows and loves us all perfectly, if I but uphold my priesthood worthily. It is an utter shame when somebody willingly chooses to reject that gift when there are millions in the world without the chance to receive it right now. The other thing that hit me was how precious the Savior's sacrifice for our family. Tryel will not and cannot do those precious ordinances of Salvation while on this earth, but thanks to Christ, he does not have to. He is saved, as an innocent child, and all we have to do is care as much as we can for him physically and teach him what we know. Finally, it's such a blessing to have him as my little brother. The example that he sets is without match. I wish I could love as much as that little boy, but I don't think it's possible. He just outloves us without even really trying. I think sometimes that it's his super Autism power. Man, I miss him. 

Anyway, loves ya all. I'm doing great right now and I'll send word whether I stay or go, hopefully next monday. Buh-bye!
Elder Johnson

April 22, 2012

Ending with a Bang!

Dear Mother, hey, SURPRISE! I'm writing earlier this week. Because we didn't go play basketball like we usually do. We'll see if I survive the week without my weekly dose of basketball, but we wanted to clean the house a little bit better and actually be around when the garbage truck passed by. So now I have time to write earlier. Also, just an Elder Johnson-ism: I will have two years until I have one year and one year until I have zero. Counting down months just makes things go slower.

 Anyway, this week did not start off too hot. I did have to give my first zone training conference on how to use the scriptures on Tuesday, but in order to do that, we had to go to Huatulco, which is an hour and a half away. So that killed a lot of our Tuesday. Wednesday was just straight up not that fruitful. THursday, I came down with a stomach infection (I think from all the fish that I eat here. I no longer hate fish because I don't like the flavor, but I am certainly sick of it. More salsa please). We tried to make the most of our time in the house, planning future lessons, talking about how to find new investigators, you know, stuff like that, but we couldn't fill up all the hours. So I ended up explaining the plot to the entire star wars saga using the star wars playing cards that I can't remember if I received them from you or the Greenhalghs. The end of the week, thankfully ended well. Friday, we at least accomplished, finding a new investigator and teaching Antonio and Arsenia (who did NOT come to church - we will be talking about this with them tomorrow, thank you very much). Saturday was straight up spectacular, finding new investigators, teaching member lessons and ARMANDO PRAYED!!!! Hallelujah!!!

! Okay, maybe a little side note: So, in the beginning of my last transfer, I baptized three kids: Adriana, Ricardo, and Angelica. All are still active, thank you very much, because we still go to visit them. Armando is their cousin who lives with them. All are pretty timid people, but Ricardo and the gang at least say yes when we ask them to do things like come to church and read the Book of Mormon. Armando does not. He is the "stinker" of the group. He does not go to school, he flicks paper at his cousins while they listen to us, he gives us short, one word answers if we ask him a question, and so on and so forth. We had pretty much given up on him, but we still invited him to the lessons because that's what good missionaries do (Preach My Gospel says that we should invite everyone to the lessons). And this is why you listen to Preach My Gospel: Armando, every time we invited him, would never respond. He sometimes would just get up and leave. But he always came back, sit himself a few meters aways from the group, and kind of listen. When we started with the compromises, he would say no and leave. Always. But in this last lesson, several things changed: First, we didn't have to invite. When Ricardo and Angelica came to listen, Armando went and got his chair and purposefully put it right behind his cousins (not several meters away). Then, we taught. When we got to the compromises, we asked Armando if he wanted to read the Book of Mormon too. Instead of saying no and leaving, he didn't respond. I asked if just reading a half a chapter for a week would be fine. He said it would. My companion asked him if he would actually read. He said yes. Then we got to the closing prayer. Hardly daring to breathe, we asked Armando if he would like to say the prayer. He said he didn't know how. We gave him the guide. And he DID IT!!! It's hard to get Ricardo and Angelica to pray and they're baptized and come to church every week (by they way, they are giving their first talks this Sunday. We will be helping them). So major progress with Armando. Saturday was easily the best day we've had all transfer. We were so happy we went and bought Tlayudas and a cokon (read: large coke) for dinner.

 So the Spirit works with everyone, even rebellious 14 year olds. I still don't exactly understand why the Lord is not giving us many results here in Puerto Angel, but I learned something very important this week: Everybody hears the Spirit. It's the missionary's job to bring it. I know I'm doing a good work here and that my offering is being accepted. There's really nothing else to say except I've got to get out, get working, and get progressing again. Day after day. It's what the mission is and what life should be.

 Well, the business stuff. Nope, really don't have any requests for my box. Just pictures and family updates and fruit certs. If you don't have pictures, go on the computer and print off old ones from Facebook and whatever files dad still has on there. Please. I love my pictures. Drunk people have all the same motivations to un-drunk (I think there are like three AA chapter in PUerto Angel alone) except, as I may have stated before, I'm pretty sure working is more of a way to fill time than to earn money because everybody seems to spend most of their days in hammocks and yet still have money to buy alcohol and tlayudas. Go figure. Mother's Day is May 10 and the only problem with figuring out the phone call is that I have transfers April 30 and there is a good chance I will be leaving Puerto Angel, which means that whatever preparations I do here could very well be null and void by the time the phonecall rolls around. Love you all. God is real. He blesses us and knows us better than we know us.

 Keep it classy. Love, Elder Johnson

 P.S. My drunk story was a joke story. And wish Kumi happy birthday for me (I am with you with the coolest person on the planet thing). And there had better be a trampoline for me when I get back ;)

April 15, 2012

Peace out, girl scouts

Hey, better late than never, right mom? Sorry that this has taken so long to get to you. We had a freak blowout tire in our return from Pochutla on our P-day and it restricted us from getting to the internet in time. But here we are again. Week 3 in Puerto Angel, transfer 2 down. And well, it was a week of work. Every week here is a week of work. We just work, all the time. We walk up and down the hills, we sweat a lot, we talk to a lot of new people, we help at every opportunity we get, and we work. What God wants to give us in terms of physical results is His decision. Our responsability is just to keep trying to do His will. So we work. With smiles and with faith. By the by, I totally turned 8 months in the mission this week. Only 2 years left to go, right?

Anyway, so on to how I'm doing. I'm tired. But that probably has something to do with winning our intense four person game of 21 on a last second for the second week in a row. I'm feeling it. Maybe because playoff time is just around the corner. Who knows. I sport my Jazz shirt at all times that I can these days to show that I'm thinking about them when I am not thinking about the investigators. Wow, being a missionary really has changed me. I've tempered my Jazz obsession for the Lord. This is what we call "building your mansion in Heaven," right?

Back to Elder Johnson's life. So we've sort of kind of been obsessed with finding new investigators these past couple of weeks. Aside from one awesome couple (Antonio and Arsenia, who, although they haven't come to church yet, show all the signs of being converts), our investigators don't really want to progress. And, unfortunately, we cannot take their agency away from them because that why we fought against Satan so long ago in the first place. Funny how we fought so hard for it and now it's the thing that damages us. Bummer. But I guess God's got it all worked out, so I'll just trust in Him.

So we've mostly been working with contacting and trying to help the recent converts and inactive members come to Church. This is a surprising dificult task in Puerto Angel. We're a tiny branch of like 20-30 people and a bajillion inactives, but the inactive just refuse to come to Church. I don't know why. It frustrates me. We went to an inactive family's house the other day (trying to follow the General Conference advice that helping the inactives is a very important task) and the hermana that we found there answered "I don't remember" to the question "What's your name?" That's when we figured she didn't really want to talk to us.

But on to happier things! So we helped a drunk change his life this week. We were walking in the street (going to a recent convert's house who had recently taken to alcohol again, as a matter of fact) when Arturo greeted us. I have now been in Puerto for over 2 months and a day has not gone by when I have not seen Arturo. Also, I have never seen Arturo not drunk. At times, I wonder if he really drinks and if it isn't actually just his real personality, but then I see the alcohol bottle in his hand. He is always drunk. The other drunks of Puerto Angel I've seen sober. Not Arturo. That man's liver hates him. Luckily, he's a really nice drunk. Anyway, so he greeted us. He likes to ask us for our pamphlet and only God knows why because he doesn't know how to read. But he always asks. At this point, we've given him every pamphlet we own. So we didn't want to give him one on this occasion. The conversation went something like this:
"Hey, give me one of your little books!"
"NO because you're drunk."
"But I want one!"
"Then you need to stop drinking."
"I'm going quit drinking!"
"Good. When are you going to quit?"
"Then we'll give you a book tomorrow."

Folks, this is why you never put off for tomorrow what you can do today. That's really the coolest thing that happened this week, other than God answering a few prayers, chastising me in several ways, and teaching me a bit of humility. I'm not His best servant, but we're learning. Anyway, got to go, but I love you all and I hope you celebrate Easter just as happily as you should. Peace out, girl scouts
Elder Johnson

April 8, 2012

Post Conference

So, I'm coming off a nice little vacation. Conference, as you know, comes in two hour sessions with two hours of breaks inbetween. To get from Puerto Angel to Huatulco (where they showed conference), it is two hours. Lets do the math: two hours to get there (8-10), session (10-12), break/lunch (12-2), session (2-4), break/more food (4-6), priesthood session 6-8 and not enough time to get home. So we stayed in Huatulco, in our zone leaders house, with me sleeping on an air mattress (fond memories of camping with the entire family). Then, more conference. We didn't get home until 8 pm on Sunday, which did not give us enough time to do much proselytizing. And guess what? Today is P day. I have a full 2 and a half day vacation, filled with spiritually edifying moments. It's been exactly what I need.

Don't worry much about me and my area. Really, I shouldn't complain: if there's not much work in missionary work, then the thing to do is go and find more work. So that's what we are doing and going to do. I we have a few encouraging things: first, we have a lovely young couple who shows all the signs of actually do the neccessary things to experience conversion. They are reading the Book of Mormon, saying prayers, recognizing the Holy Ghost, giving us references, and leaving the alcohol behind. They are my hope right now, although we've got a couple other investigators doing well as well. For example, we have Floriza, who has read like half the Book of Mormon and really knows it's true, but has yet to go to Church and therefore does not know for sure if this is the right Church. We'll get her with time, just you watch. Another encouraging thing: the members are working with us again. Branch President Juan and Elders Quorum President Hmo Rodas are both working with us two times a week. We might not have very many baptismal dates, but things are looking up in Puerto Angel.

So, things I learned from Conference: Priesthood holders are not better than other men, but they should act better. Priesthood is not so much a blessing as a commision. We have a divine duty to do the will of the Lord and unfortunately, many modern priesthood holders (myself included) do not have that mindset. We seem to think that the Church is fine when it is convenient. Sometimes, it is more convenient for some people than for others, but that doesn't change the flaw in the mindset. We need to put God first, and that means sacrificing more time, more energy, and more everything in the service of our fellows, inactive, active, and non-member. This duty is sacred, but slightly less sacred than the duty of raising a family. I just want to thank you, mom and dad, personally for having the inspiration to follow all of the prophetic counsel we received this weekend well before it was actually given. During every talk on the family, I was able to sit there and think of all the times in my life when my mom or dad taught me that specific principle in word and in deed.

It was a good conference, but I think what stuck with me most was what President Monson said in his closing words on Sunday. He said (more or less) that he hopes that everybody leaves this conference better people than when they came into the conference. That means the Prophet of God hope for an inmediate and direct application of what we learned. That means goal setting and changing. Changing is hard, folks. I know. But we've got to do it to become better people and to follow our Prophet truly.

By the by, I also wanted to say that I literally laughed out loud (I lol'ed) reading your Tyrel/bowling story. I love Tyrel stories with all my heart. It's one of the reasons you are the best mom ever. You send me tryel stories that I can't properly explain to my companion in Spanish because you just can't fully communicate who Tryel is or how special he is sometimes. I love that kid. Other thing: my pants size has not changed, but I don't remember what it is. And it's kind of awkward to check in a public internet. Finally, I have a request, if it's possible. I wouldn't mind getting an mp3 for my year mark in August. If you don't want to risk sending one, I can live without it, but it's my small request. We can listen to Disney, BYU Vocal Point, classical, anything Church related (from Motab to soundtracks like music from The Singles Ward), Christmas, Alex Boye, and more. It's worth having one, I've decided, and I've also decided to swallow my pride and ask for one after point blank refusing to take one on my mission with me despite Dad's best efforts. Sorry dad, I was hard headed. I'm trying to change, believe me.
Anyway, I love y'all and we are going to get to work again!
Love, Elder Johnson

April 1, 2012

EARTHQUAKE!!!!!!! I think?

So I'm good. I wasn't even aware there was an earthquake until like 2 hours after when our zone leaders called us, very worried, and asked us if we were okay. Yup and I'll tell you why in the same manner that the Puertans explained it to us: the earthquakes that do damage here are like this ^ v. The one we experienced went like this < >. Didn't even feel it and very few of the residents of Puerto Angel felt it either. However, it did kill our water for like two days, which was a little bothersome because I hate showering out of a bucket (when you sweat ALL day and shower out of a bucket, you just are never clean) and it may have affected our electricity, which we lost for like half a day yesterday but has already come back. Everybody here in the coast is fine, but I don't know about the city of Oaxaca. You just don't really communicate with the city when you get stuck in the coast. We are quite literally trapped in Paradise.

Anyway, big, big news of the week, guys: SPANISH PLAYING CARDS ONLY HAVE 40 CARDS!!!!! It really weirds me out. Instead of having A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K it goes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12. I know. Beats me too. I guess 7 really did eight nine (HAH! get it? Although it doesn't fully explain the mysterious absence of 8. Maybe it ran away? I'll have Cam Jan and Scooby-Do go investigate). So yeah, just so you are all a little more culturally aware, spanish playing cards have only 40 cards. Don't you forget it either.

All right, so the truth of why I'm writing about spanish playing cards and scooby do is because this week was a little depressing in Puerto Angel. We worked, Elder Perez and I. We really wanted to work too because I'm the first companion Elder Perez has had who is not dead (dead missionaries are those who no longer work, who stay in their houses, talk to the girlfriends, and have their personal movie collections). So we visited and visited and really tried hard to help these people out but these are the results: Two former Alcoholics drinking again, stumbling upon an investigator listening to a missionary from a different church, zero investigators in church, and a pathetic sacrament meeting with a depressed branch president. Puerto Angel is suffering right now and I want to help it out so bad. We're are going to find new people this week, I promise you, me, Puerto Angel, and God that. I think I've been a little bit timid in calling people to repentance as well, which is something that I plan on changing. Not being overbearing is important, but we can't forget about being bold. Somebody in the MTC (translation: a seventy or Jeffrey R Holland) told me that those who are afrain to call people to repentance love themselves more than their friends or investigators. It's very true. If I want to help these people, I have to tell them a little more how it is.

As for box stuff, I really just need baptismal pants, a baptismal tie (for that baptism that I know is somewhere here in Puerto Angel!), pictures, and a car. Because Elder Perez and I are sick of all these hills we have to climb here in Puerto Angel. Kidding, but seriously. I did really enjoy that 52 card thing you sent for Valentine's Day. It's so weird, you think before the mission that the box stuff you look forward to will be the cookies and candies, but man, now I just go straight for the pictures. I also could use like a bajillion bottles of raid because I am ready to take my war against ants outside. I am constantly fighting against ants, and I can never fully win. If I fight them out of the kitchen, they go into the bathroom. If I fight them out of the bathroom, they go to the kitchen. If I fight them out of both, they go to my desk. I hate ants! But I'll get over it.

Anyway, I really don't have much to say. I hope you are all doing well and tell Grandma Dora that I am praying for her and that I love her. Tell Dad thank you for all the inspirational things he sends me and the constant letters though I don't ever write him back. And tell yourself that you are the best mom in the world and I will tell you exactly why in 2 years when I get home. Bye ├Żall (yeah, I just put a spanish accent mark on a southern contraction that doesn't tecnically exists. What you gonna do bout it?).
Love, Elder Johnson

P.S. Don't actually send me a gabajillion bottles of Raid. Don't actually send me any because I can buy them here. And I do look forward to the other stuff in the boxes as well, just the pictures a little bit more.