November 27, 2012

Things for which I am Thankful

This is an edited version, folks!

 I love this time of season. It brings me back to eight years old again. It also gives me ganas to buy stuff. So if I draw out my personal money this month, just know that it is being used towards Christmas and birthday gifts to myself. My gosh, I'm self-centered, aren't I? I'll try to make up for it by sending you my REAL thankful list, now that I've been able to read all of yours (except for dad's). By the by, they made me cry again. Good going.

1. The Atonement - I am so thankful for this. I believe in Christ. I believe He lived a perfect life.  He made it possible that I might be forgiven. At times, I think I understand it. Then, at other times, I think, "Why would a teacher pass me on my failed test just because my classmate got a perfect?" I think God just loves us too much. He wants every single one of us to become something that we cannot vision nor comprehend. We cannot see it, therefore we do not trust it, therefore we fight against it and put our will in front of His, but it all comes back to the Atonement. Truly, it was the reconciliation between us and God. I am so grateful for it. He loves us, He wants us to love others so that we might feel more love. We, especially me, have some much work to do in learning to live the Christlike life.

2. The Book of Mormon - I have not read it enough recently. I have now read it at least two times in two different languages and I don't get it. It makes me a better person, yet it neither thinks nor acts. It is simpler, yet more profound than all other books. I feel like I have all the stories and scriptures memorized, yet if I read it, I make better decision throughout the day. There is a power in that Book, a divinity that we cannot comprehend, and it is only another example of God's love and understanding for us. If all people read the Book of Mormon, we would not have the problems that we have in the world today. How can anybody say that it doesn't come from God?

3. People Willing to Listen - Getting in a house, whatever house, gives me a chance to do what I love doing: share the Gospel of Happiness with people who are remarkably far away from their potential. I love people willing share a few minutes with me. I don't want much, though they give me water and food and other things sometimes. I just want their time to deliver my message and my invitation to come unto Christ. I am blessed when God entrusts me with one of His precious and valuable children. I do not fully understand my responsibility for if I did, I would certainly be a lot more afraid of it.

4. People Willing to Change - They are few and far between. I am not talking, anymore, about people willing to listen with their ears. There are many of those. Turns out, there are quite a few people in this world willing to be respectful and cordial to tie-wearing strangers. However, there are very few loving and humble enough to listen with their hearts, to truly search out God. We are all so stuck in our ways, yet we know from the scriptures that God's ways are not our ways. Why won't we change then? Therefore, I am thankful for all the people better than me who are willing to listen and to change. Those who stop drinking, who quit drugs, who serve, who love, who take time that they've never taken before for God, those are the people better than me, regardless of their currently religion. I love people willing to change.

5. President - President is not the most compassionate of men. There have been many times when I have gone to him in my mission seeking comfort and instead only gotten the cold, hard truth. It has left me feeling bitter and abandoned sometimes, resentful and angry, but then, after that moment has passed, it leaves me feeling edified. He teaches me. He teaches me to own up to my actions and decisions and to not shift the blame to anybody else. He teaches me to truly repent and invites to do this essential step in my salvation. He has never lied to me, he has never been anything but constant. He has not altered in his stance against immature and unprepared missionaries. He, like the Lord, demands righteous missionaries and because of that stance, I am a far better missionary today than I would have been if I had been left to my own devices. I am thankful as well to the Hermana Leyva, who, honestly, is a cartoon character come to life. She has a Disney princess sized waist, way to much make-up and often makes me laugh, but she cares. She loves as a mother should. She is the yin to President's yang. Together, they are the perfect super team. I hope their son the best as he prepares for his mission in the states. He's a darn good basketball player, by the way.

13. Good Examples - I have many of them. My aforementioned family is the biggest of these examples, but I have others. I have prophets and apostles to guide me, both ancient and modern. Could we really find a better example of Christ-like, selfless service than Thomas Spencer Monson? It's ridiculous how few people there are in this world who know he exists. Watch "On the Lord's Errand" please. It really is an excellent movie. I would also like to mention here missionaries like Elder Day, Elder Gibbons, Elder Bridgeraj and Elder Edwards who are missionaries that really understand what sacrifice is and how to truly serve. Also, I have my friends from BYU like EJ, Shep, Tay-Tay and the gang, who just do their best and don't worry about the rest. I need this many examples in my life. 

14. The Utah Jazz - They are my pride and joy. I would choose them above everything except for my family and the gospel. That includes all girls, food, technology, and star wars. I miss them dearly. The world is not the same without them. I get why everything else is denied to a missionary, but couldn't they just let me have my Jazz updates. I swear I wouldn't ask for anything more.

15. No Worries - On the mission, I just worry about talking to people. At home, I would worry about careers, family, girlfriend, friends, influences, money, making an impact, resumé, job, temptations, food, rent, where I live, what I study, classes, teachers, how much sleep I get, etc. I am thankful I worry for nothing for two whole years of my life.

16. The Mission - It is such a blessing to be here. I am learning everyday, growing everyday, and being tried by fire everyday. Surprisingly, I have made it halfway through without giving up. That is a blessing. Nobody else I knew before the mission really has done what I have done. I have direction and vision in my life. I have confidence in my God. I need nothing else. Nobody from my highschool can say the same. I should not be bragging about this, but I can't resist. My Church has taught me more than your church and it's because of the mission. I am thankful for every person I've met, every convert that I have, every member who has given me food, and every second of this experience. I love the mission.

17. Mexican Culture - It's fun. It's weird. It's foreign to me still. They worship virgins, love visits, make great food. They are simple, real, intelligent, incredible people. They are soooooo hard working. They make cool clothes. They eat a lot of fruit. I want to keep some of this with me when I have to go back there.

18. Patience - I do not have much of it, but I am grateful for all I have. Mostly, though, I am grateful that other people have it. My mom, my dad, my siblings, my president, my companions, and, most importantly, My God. They have not given up to me. I am very thankful for patience.

19. The Holy Ghost - I drive him away a ridiculous amount, yet he always comes back to gently guide me and counsel me. I could not have accomplished what I have accomplished in my mission without him. He is the way my Father communicates with me. He makes me feel good. That's more than I could every ask for right there. Most of all, when he is with me, I know I am doing alright, for if I weren't, he would be gone. It's good to have that guide.

20. The Light of Christ -  I always have hope. We can always do better, always climb out of the hole that we dug, and always get back to Christ. I am grateful for that.

Well, that's it for this year. I've got to go do a Noche de Hogar. We need to start establishing skype details for the Christmas phone call. Love you all and see you in a year!
Elder Johnson

November 18, 2012

A Political Rant

I can be pretty dumb sometimes. News flash, I know, but I would like to reinforce that common knowledge. I am pretty dumb. Why? I have now served over a year as a full-time missionary and for some reason I think that NOW is a good time to start staying up late. After three consecutive nights of midnight or later bedtimes, I was pretty much exhausted on Sunday. Good thing today is P-day. I wasn't even doing anything important - talking to my comp, writing letters, reading newspapers, etc. I just stayed up late. I will NOT be doing that again this week. I repent; wickedness truly never was happiness.

Anyways, it was kind of a normal week for me. We put four new baptismal dates (all for the 24th), but only two of them I feel confident about. Not that confident, but kind of confident. Good at the very least. We have a new rule in the mission where every missionary has to invite somebody to be baptized every day. Not every companionship, but every missionary. I love it. It used to be so hard for me to bring up baptism in the first lesson. Now I just walk up to people and say, "Hey we`re your local missionaries and we're her to baptize you in the true Church of Jesus Christ!" And the surprising part is that people are just like, "Okay, I'm cool with that." Works like a charm.

So we've mostly been inviting people to baptism. Elizabeth, an investigator who had been dropped by the previous missionaries now has a date. She pretty much got there by herself. After explaining why it was necessary that we have a true Church here on the earth in the first lesson, she's been pretty stellar. She dropped coffee by herself when her non-Mormon friend told her that Mormons don't drink coffee before we even taught her the Word of Wisdom. So, on Saturday, after we brought her to a lesson with Leydi (it was a fun, joint lesson for a recent convert and a progressing investigator), we started talking. We asked her if she was still praying to know if the Church was true. She said yes. We asked her how she felt. She said yes, which, as you might have noticed, is not your typical response to the question, "how do you feel?" So we asked her, "yes what?" And she said, "Yes, I'm going to get baptized." So we put the baptismal date. It was super easy and the highlight of my week (although going to Jalapa for the second time on divisions was fun too).

I also had to make a quick trip to Oaxaca on Wednesday (quick being ten hours there and back in a bus). Don't exactly know what happened, but I had to go do visa stuff again. It was a pretty routine thing, but the best part was seeing some of my old generation buddies. Elder Graves is still just as happy as ever. I love that guy.
I really can't comment much about the election since I'm not there and no longer have an informed political opinion, but let me tell you what I think: I think you are over-reacting. While it may be true that Obama is changing quite a few things and it is possible that the wrong man won, I guarantee that I will not be returning to a socialist country. The fact that Obama won again neither surprises me nor makes me worry for the state of the common American's psyche. This was, from what I heard, an incredibly close race. And, just so you know, the incumbent almost always wins when he decides to run again. In the entire history of the United States, in only two occasions when the incumbent has decided to run for a second term has he lost. 2 occasions!!! That's incredible! Mom, I don't think Romney lost to Socialist America. I think Romney lost to inertia. That's why we still use window's computers instead of a Mac in our family, why Andy Reid is still coaching the Eagles, and why Oaxacans think that constructed houses out of large pieces of aluminum is a viable option for a family. It's hard to change the direction of a large group of people. And the larger the group of people, the more likely they are to stay the same. That's why Romney lost. And that's why Obama's not going to change as much as you think.

Let's think about this: In his first four years in office, Obama changed some things. He pulled us out of Iraq and Afghanistan. He changed the healthcare system. Gay Pride has taken a step forward. And so forth. But has he really changed that much? We're still in wars. What's the difference between Libya and Afghanistan? 

Healthcare is still expensive, but our family can still afford it. And it still works - ask Aunt Kris if you want proof of  that.  As far as Gay pride goes, well, the states may change the laws, but God won't. And in the end, most guys are still gonna like girls. They are far too pretty for that not to be the case. So don't overreact mom. We are a nation of more than 300 million people that don't change that much. Obama's not even solely in charge of the government. In the words of Winston Churchill, no single man or women can "hurt they world. They can't even seriously distress her."

Keep paying those taxes, putting America on your Thanksgiving thankful list, buying those groceries, and casting that ballot. Life will go on. Democracy is here to stay. I guarantee that I will change more lives in my two years than Obama will in his eight. Just think about that.

Love you, love the Church, love the commandments, love prayer. I love this mission. It has taught me so much. 
See you in a Year!
Elder Johnson 

November 11, 2012

Cockroaches in the font

That's right, we're baptizing again! I don't know how long it's been exactly since there has been a baptism in Tehua, but when started to fill up the font, two cockroaches, a ton of centipedes, and a bunch of other fun critters crawled up out of the drain. And then, thanks to our bishop not really supporting us, we had to clean those buggers up by hand. Which we did. But the baptism went wonderfully and Leydi seems happy with it all, which is the most important thing.

Baptism has been a big focus this month in our zone. Like, my second week here, the zone leaders asked me to make some goals for my district. One of the goals that I made was to invite somebody to baptism every day. As I was explaining this to Elder Day (a chill, former snow boarder from Utah - we did divisions on Tuesday (which would have gone great had I not gotten so lost)) over the phone, I heard, "Holy crap, are you serious?" I panicked and thought I had set a goal that was too high and immediately tried to justify my decision. But after I calmed down a bit, Elder Day explained that the reason for his surprise was that he and his comp, in a revelation filled planning session the night before, had thought up the same goal for the zone. So it became doubly important. And now we are inviting everybody we meet to baptism. We haven't seen the upswing in dates yet, but I think that will come this week. Either way, it's been fun to overcome nerves and start just telling people the moment you enter a house, "Hey, we're your missionaries and we are here to prepare you for baptism in the Church of Jesus Christ!" It actually works out a lot better than you think.

Another thing that has contributed to the baptismal invitation craze was a multi-zone conference we had on Thursday. Elder Alonso from the seventy came. He is the second counselor in the Area Presidency of Mexico and he, before being a general authority, lived in Oaxaca for eight years. He was really cool and really funny and taught us a lot about inviting people to get baptized and asking for references as well as the light of Christ. He talked about how when we are disobedient, the Spirit leaves us. So what motivates us to repent and get the Spirit back? It is certainly not the Spirit because that has left us. It is certainly not ourselves because we are natural men and inclined to sin. It is the light of Christ, or, in other words, the emergency light the turns on in a building after the rest of the lights have shut off due to loss of power. We always, therefore, have an impulse to do good. It doesn't matter who we are, what we know, or what we have done, the light of Christ will always motivate us to do good. That is why we can't just give up after committing a sin, small or large. We will always have something influencing us for the good. Thank Goodness Christ does so much or I would be really lost.
Another fun story from the week. The same day that we returned from the Conference in Juchitan, we were going to an appointment when we saw somebody we recognized on the side of the road. It turns out that it was Raquel, a girl who had been baptized like a year ago but who had never got confirmed. We went over to say hi to her like good, friendly missionaries do. That's when she hid her face.

I first thought it was a joke, like, "Oh, here come the missionaries, let me hide my face and play 'if I can't see them, they can't see me.'" Then, when she refused to uncover her face after good -natured cajoling, I thought she was legitimately embarrassed to be seen with missionaries in public and this was her defense mechanism. It was then when I realized that the truth was that she was crying and she did not want us to see her.

So we talked with her. We listed. We sang her Christmas hymns to cheer her up, right there on the street corner. She stopped crying. She started laughing. She said she would pray. We helped her home. She promised to go to Church. It was one of those times when I just felt like a missionary. When you change your plans and sacrifice your own agenda just to help somebody who is obviously in need, you feel like a missionary. And it is a great feeling. Then I said hi to a Jehovah's witness who had the misfortune to knock our door. He now has a Book of Mormon. I love life.

Elder Johnson

November 4, 2012

"Life in Tehua" or"tormenting goats"

Dear Mom,
You make life in Minnesota seem so cool. By the by, still haven't gotten your halloween box because I am in the middle of nowhere. I look forward to receiving it sometime next week.  I look forward to a great Christmas box as well.(Wink, wink, nudge, nudge).  (Kidding, I am no longer that self centered.    I don't need/want anything.  Except for baptisms.  Can  you box that up?) Also, the giant storm thing sounds cool. Cool as in the sense of interesting, not as "cool that a bunch people are going to lose their homes and possessions because of this." That part certainly is not cool. But it is interesting the timing  and proportion of all this. Also, I am excited that Tyrel is doing so well. I personally think he is just behaving nicely because he knows Santa is watching. And maybe because all of us need a holiday break every once and awhile, including Tyrel. 

Anyway, back to Tehua. Things are really good out here and I don't know why. We had a miraculous nine people come to church on Sunday, which means we should be putting some baptismal dates this week. I don't really get it; I don't feel like I'm doing anything different, but yet I'm having a lot more success. We are teaching more members, finding new investigators, bringing people to Church, and working better with the members. I think it's my companion. He's pretty cool and he works really hard. Here are some highlights from my week: I did divisions twice. First with Jalapa, a beautiful town with a cooler climate, a resevoir, broad boulevards, and nice, humble people. I love it there. I want to live there. Especially if I was living with Elder Cruz, who is the nicest, humblest, coolest Poblano I've ever met (unfortunately, they special changed him the next day). Then, on Friday, I did divisions with Gueingola and Elder Allegretti, a former comp from my time in the trio in la Hacienda. 

I had a little revelation today. I was sitting in the bus on the way to Salina Cruz to go buy my weekly food (we have to travel a half hour by bus just to find a decent supermarket - and then another 30 minutes back in the bus with all our food) and suddenly I thought: if I continue the mission at this pace, I will leave with no regrets. I need to keep working hard, trying to meet goals, get up on time, and try to be positive, and I will go home content with what I did and what I gave. I think that's the important part - if we feel happy with what we gave to the Lord. I haven't been the perfect missionary at times. But I've tried to be a good missionary and I've tried to keep that to a minimum. So now I just need to do it for another year.

My week was great, in short. We also had a day of special changes where everybody in the district except for me was affected by it, yet I had to spend half my day in the ADO, waiting for new missionaries, doing my duty as a district leader. That's another thing I've been meditating a lot on recently. My duty as a leader. I've got a ton of time being a district leader, so I think it's about time I shape up. Plus, I read an awesome Liahona issue that talked about the importance of duty, using Christ and President Monson as examples. Essentially, what's hardest for me is considering the success of the elders in my district my successes and the failures of the elders my failures. I have to edify them and take care of them just as much as I do for myself. And it's hard enough to take care of me. But the Lord and President Leyva have asked that I expand my capacity, so I guess that's what I have to do.

This email is a little all over the place. I think it's time to stop. Some man is tormenting goats near us. Oaxaca is weird. Gotta love it. See you in a year!