December 23, 2012

I got my boxes!

Dear mom,
I'm trying to send you photos to make up for not giving you the decent package update you deserved. This computer is just being really slow. To be fair, I realized well before your email (Thursday, to be precise) that is was very possible that I had forgotten to give you a definitive update on the wonderful packages you sent me. Yes, I have. Yes, I have already decorated our room (I will send you pictures a different week - for some reason, I have not taken them yet). So you'll only get zero total pictures in this email. Sorry, my bad. Anyways, Merry Christmas to all! We just had our annual Christmas Conference, where president told us to get good desires, the hermana Leyva made hand puppets to convince us to be obedient (they worked!), and we learned about the work of Salvation. Do you have that in Minnesota? It seems pretty cool. It essentially means that members do a lot more work now, which I am so excited to do after the miss. Minnesota won't know what hit it. 

We also played basketball (our zone placed second despite being the shortest) and broke piñatas. It was a good Christmas Conference, though I wish Pres would've let us watch a good 'ole Christmas movie. Seriously, would, "It's a Wonderful Life" really damage our spirituality? That's probably why he's the President and I'm not. This week in total was fun, if not as productive as I would have wanted, though that wasn't necessarily our fault. We did divisions on Tuesday (I went to Ocotlan with Elder Ramos, the shortest missionary in the missionary who happéns to be from, get ready for it, Oaxaca! Go figure!), which is like an hour away. Lots of travel time. We went to the temple on Wednesday. Did I ever tell you that temple trips are becoming a neccesity for me? Cuz they are. Gosh I love that place. But that's two hours away, so more time lost. Then, the Christmas conference, also two hours away. To top it all off, I got sick on Sunday (I'm better now), so we didn't work too much. Luckily, this week looks pretty clear, so we'll get some good work in.

Honestly, all we've got on the schedule is a baptism and a family home evening night for the branch, and they both occur on Saturday. José  is finally getting baptized. His work occasionally gets in the way, but we had a super cool lesson with him on Friday. He's heard all the lessons, so we were struggling to think up what to teach him. We finally decided on lesson five, generally taught after baptism. We were going to teach the temple and family history part of that lesson. Right after we said the prayer, his phone rang. It was his wife, who he is separated from. Apparently they didn't have a happy relationship due to some bad decisions-making by him, which is something he is and has changed. Anyways, ever since he starting taking the gospel seriously, things have been getting better with his wife. This instance was such a case. After the phone call, he told us, "She never calls me in the afternoon." Then he got this super huge smile and said, "I love it when she calls me." Let's hear it for the Gospel blessing families! Looks like Christ is the answer! Hooray! Anyways, he's super stoked for his baptism, as is the branch, and he's also super stoked for family history, and he makes me super stoked too. It's a good thing we've got going.

By the way, we are changing the phone call to 7pm on the 24th. We will be doing skype. We have already found an internet cafe with skype that will be open on the 24th. HOpe that works.

I'm going to write Taggart and Colton their own special emails. I need to go, but have a wonderful Christmas! I'll write Tyrel next week too (is he really going to be nineteen? And how old is Aubrey, I can't seem to remember anymore). Love you all! See you in a year!

Elder Johnson

December 16, 2012

"The mom is coughing"

December is exhausting. There's just so much to do: Christmas Party on the 15th, temple trip on the 12th, Christmas Choir on the sixteenth, a baptism somewhere in there, plus all my normal missionary duties. And I have to somehow do it all while wearing a Santa Hat. I just don't know how I will manage.

I had another great week, just so you know. Things are really working out out here in Miahuatlan (not the prettiest place I've ever been to, but the coldest, which is perfect for this time of year). We keep getting people to Church, despite the logistics. This week, a man named Miguel came, the father of a large family of people who are all interested in the Church. We have a family home evening with them like every week. They are super cool, so I hope to baptized like five people sometime soon, all from that family. As for the other large family that is progressing, the hermano Pedro keeps going to Church. He now has three weeks in a row going to Church and seems a lot more comfortable there. People call him by his first name now, which is also a sign of progress. I think he would easily accept a baptismal date at this point, but we want to baptize him with his entire family and they are not quite at his level yet. Also, a little unbaptized ten year old from a less active family came. We are working with the entire family and they are doing well. We are going to really start teaching the kid, Daniel, this Friday, which, coincidentally enough, is when his mom is having a C-section. We helped her husband  not only go to Church, but also give her a blessing for the operation. The both seemed really happy afterwords. It made me smile.

More progress on the horizon as well: the branch organization presidencies did their jobs!!! We've been giving like weekly training meetings on how to organize and run home/visiting teaching programs. We left the assignments with the relief society and elders quorum presidents to create the teaching companionship's and assign each companionship to less active families to visit. They did it. Now we have to communicate it to the rest of the ward. If this actually gets off the ground, it's gonna be a pretty cool legacy to leave as a missionary. Ejutla will be like one of three ward/branches that actually does visiting/home teaching. I'm pretty excited about it.

So, cool thing: Elder Piereder is super into science fiction fantasy stuff, like me! Okay, so I fell off the wagon a bit in recent years, but he's getting me excited about it all over again. We decided to write a story together yesterday. It's already in the works. It will be positively EPIC! And super high-school! I'm SO excited about it. I haven't goofed off in such an appropriate way since going Halloween caroling four years ago. My life is awesome, I might add.

Umm, I'm trying to think of a cool experience that I had this week. I had a ton, but they are all in my journal, which is at my house, which is not where I am. I do remember a sad thing: the other day, while walking through a festival in honor of the Virgen of Juquila (they literally celebrate December 8th more than December 25th. I AM NOT JOKING), we saw one of those fun carnival games where you shoot at various things with toy pistols. In this game, you shot at various scenes set up using toys and dolls. The sad part was that one of these scenes was called "Table Dance Barbie" and it was a bunch of barbies dressed like hookers pole dancing. This game was marketed to kids. The world makes me very, very sad.

I have to counter that with a good story, I think. THere was that time when we went to go look for somebody, but instead we stumbled upon a college kid who wasn't sure he believed in God. Ooops, I just told the entire story. Better, I think, the one about Georgina, the mother of that unbaptized kid I was talking about (Daniel).  Sometimes it seems like she absolutely loves us and then the next day it seems like our visit is the worst thing in the world. So, on Friday, when we went to visit her (we had an appointment!), it wasn't really a surprise that she, without even coming to the door, told us that she was busy and that we should come back on another day. We were about to turn and leave when I remembered that she had asked for a blessing a week earlier and that we carried oil with us this time. I reminded her about it. She came to the door and asked if we could kind of sort of maybe just give her a quick blessing right then. We happily obliged. After giving the blessing, this was when she revealed to us the information about the emergency C-section and whatnot and all her worries and fears about that. So, we taught her a lesson and reminded her to pray and to remember that Christ knows exactly what she's dealing with and that He is willing to help and capable of helping. Then she asked us to teach her unbaptized son, but we honestly didn't have time at that point. But then, her teenage son asked for a blessing. We gave him one. Then her ten year old. We gave him one. The Spirit was very strong in that house when we left. I hope we can reactivate them all.

Well, about the Christmas phone call. We're looking to do it on the 24th at around 4 or 4:30. We are looking to do Skype again. Let me know if that works. Other than that, just remember: Church is true and I love you all. Merry Christmas!
Elder Johnson

December 6, 2012

A very cool week

I like it here, in Miahuatlan. First, I was a little hesitant, hearing about the problems bringing people to church and about the lack of baptisms, but now that I've gotten to know it, I really quite like it. Yeah, there are some logistical problems, but God makes up for it by providing us with some truly spectacular experiences and people. It's a fun place. But, I'm just gonna get business out of the way first: The two packages have arrived, but I haven't gotten them yet. They are with my zone leaders, who should bring them to me tomorrow, I hope. So don't worry about that. Also, just so you know, my comp and I are looking to do Christmas phone calls on the 25th this year. That's about it for business.
On to the cool stuff. 

First of all, I knew to tell you about José Santiage. Coolest guy ever. He is 26 years old and a soldier, but only the most intelligent, thoughtful soldier you'll ever meet. He lives here by himself on the base because his wife refuses to come live with him for some of the past things he's done. So, obviously he needed to make some changes in his life. Enter the missionaries (not us). They contact him in a restaurant and he listens mostly because he likes to talk with people. They give him a Book of Mormon, and he accepts, but only because his mom taught him to always accept books in order to learn more. He started to read and slowly but surely found a testimony. He should be getting baptized on the 22. Now for the story. 

I don't really know him that well. He's always just be super cool and super thoughtful. He talks to everybody, participates in lessons, whether we are teaching him or not, and goes out of his way to come lessons so that we don't have to cross into the military base. Anyways, so we began a kinda confused and random lesson with him (we hadn't planned it well and he's listened to everything like twice). I started talking about enduring to the end at some point and I was explaining how he needed to continue progressing after baptism through things like the priesthood and the temple. I felt inspired to open up to Matthew 5:48, which reads, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect." I explained how that was kinda of the goal of this earthly life. He sat there, thinking for a little bit after I said that. Then he began to talk.

He explained to us that a while ago, he had been on the Internet researching the Mormons (never a good idea, right?). He had found an, um, unfavorable website that said the Mormons were bad because they compare themselves to God. It even had a Book of Mormon quote to back it up. Luckily, José recognized this as an anti-Mormon site, but thought, "Well, what if they're right?" He decided to verify the Book of Mormon quote, which he quickly found to be 100% false. Still, the doubt stuck with him. Do Mormons believe they should be like God here on earth? Because that's  weird, he thought. He carried that doubt with him for months. But then, right then, in that random, poorly planned lesson, we had somehow, miraculously resolved it for him. We were like the two bumbling idiots that found the treasure chest by accident. Thank goodness God wants this man to get baptized. Because, for heaven's sake, there was Jesus Christ saying, as clear as day, and in the Bible too, that we need to be perfect. So we better be trying, right?

It was just cool. He gets it (the it being the gospel). He said, "I don't know why, but I just feel happy right now." That made me feel good, which is pretty much how I feel recently. 

Another little success story requires a little bit of explanation. We live in a town called Miahuatlan. Maihuatlan is about 45 minutes away from another town called Ejutla, which is where we go to church. To get there, you have to ride these little vans called Suburbans that charge 25 pesos a person. Miahuatlan is very poor. These people need severe help with their faith. For all these reasons and more, it has been incredibly difficult to get investigators to church, until this week. What happened was we've been working with a family of four for awhile. The father of the family  used to be a drunk. A violent drunk. This caused nasty problems with his wife. They now do not live together, but are also not divorced. They just don't get along well, although the father has completely reformed. That means that whatever he wants to do, his wife immediately does not want to do it as some form of crazy vindicitive psychological revenge. The father  wants to go to church because it is helping him to change; that means his wife does not. It kinda sucks. The miracle, is that after weeks and weeks of talking to them about obedience to the commandments and inviting them to Church, all four came on Sunday, plus José Santiago, which means we had five legit investigators at Church on Sunday. And they participated more than the members.

Anyways, love you all. I keep praying for Uncle Russ. I hope everything gets white soon. See you in a year!
Elder Johnson
P.S. Noche de Hogar mean family home evening. Sorry