Wednesday, September 17, 2014

We Got A Car!!!!! (9-17-2014)

Hi! I hope you all had a super week! It's great to be alive! This week has been interesting to say the least. We didn't have a car all week again and this specific area is a very large area and doing missionary work here is very unproductive and honestly dangerous without a car. I found out there are two worse places (as far as danger goes) in the mission. 1st a place is called Olmsted and the second is called Newburgh. Newburgh is the only area in the mission they do not allow sister missionaries to be because of the dangers there. So I'm not in the worst area, but sometimes it definitely feels like it! Haha. When I got to this mission, the first thing they told me was this mission (our areas in the mission) have both the poorest city and also the richest city in the country. That explains this place perfectly. One street can be extremely beautiful and peaceful, then you turn down the next block and it's full of drugs, gangs and crimes. Over time I've been learning about the bad ghetto parts in Yonkers where not to go, and turns out those parts are where we would spend most of our time in. Missionary work here in Yonkers (specifically the Spanish speaking area) is super slow. I got to a point where I just couldn't take it anymore, so I asked my companion if he has been to the other parts of Yonkers and to the rest of our area and he said he had not, so I wanted to figure out some way to work outside the worst areas here. (It doesn't really help that our "church" [look at the picture of our church I sent last week and you'll understand why I put quotation marks haha] is in one of the worst areas) (but I wanted to come up with a plan to somehow get a new church building) - Yes I know that sounds completely unrealistic but I know it's not.  

So, this last Thursday I wanted to figure out a way to go to the top of our area to see how big the area we cover is. Well we didn't have a car, so we chose to walk. It was pouring rain the entire time and we were soaked from head to toe, but it was honestly so fun! We ended up walking for 8 hours straight! We walked from the bottom of Yonkers to the top of the city Scarsdale which by car there and back is over an hour drive. We walked around 20 miles. It was exhausting, but we got to see a lot of the rest of our area and find some of the nicer areas. Unfortunately, most of the people who speak Spanish live in the bad areas in Yonkers and the English tend to live in the cleaner areas, so at first glance it seemed like we were stuck in the bad areas. But as we walked we came up with a plan! (8 hours in the rain is a lot of time to think). I live with three other Elders in our apartment (my companion, and the English Speaking Elders that are assigned to our area. They meet in a tiny office building in the nice part of Yonkers and actually have less people than we do in our church. We can't teach people who speak English, only those that speak Spanish, because those elders are assigned to teach those who speak English. We decided we would track (knock doors to find people), and tell them who we were and that we want to serve them anyway we can. We thought of a few ways to serve them and teach them regardless the language they speak. Here are those ways. We would teach those who speak English private Spanish lessons (something the English elders can't do). We would teach English lessons to those who speak only Spanish. Private piano lessons and private basketball lessons. We also would teach them about the gospel (the teachings of Jesus Christ) and one of his biggest teaching was serving others and we wanted to show them this through actions. 

Ultimately the goal would be to help the English elders get more people to share the gospel with, to where they couldn't fit in their tiny office building anymore for church, which would in turn mean they would probably update to a church, which means most likely we could get the Spanish church to meet in that building, just at staggered times (9/12:30 for example). Well we decided when we got our car, we would start executing this plan, so we are about to start because we just got our car today!!! (We are the famous two missionaries who haven't had a car amongst the mission). Anyways, on Sunday, what was amazing was that we had a meeting with the leaders of our Spanish church, and the bishop said they were thinking about buying a new church building and combining with the English church!!! It was exactly what we had been hoping for. For me, that was God's way of telling me this plan was right. The bishop even already went and looked for places to buy the new church. We shall see how this turns out.

Anyways, there are two sister missionaries who are serving in our area (one is named sister Ramirez [she is actually from a city in Mexico called Celaya - Small world right?] and the other is named sister Smith). Sister Smith is a super good singer and is a singing major at BYU, so her and I have been called to be the musicians here in the ward so we play every Sunday in just about every class. So this week I played the organ! Haha. The organ is extremely loud and I decided to turn it up all the way. Our organ also has a sub woofer. Haha. You know you're in the hood when your church organ has a sub. It was so loud it was almost funny! Everyone said it woke them up. Haha. I need to turn it down next time because people said it was so loud they couldn't even hear themselves singing...which I guess is kind of a good thing because everyone sings horribly here. Literally everyone except one of the ward members here can't keep a pitch. That one person is named Sasha. I met her this week. Her mom is named Judy, and Judy has been a member for some time now and she left the church for a while but then when Sasha got older, she started asking her questions about God and so they went back to church. So far, they are by far my favorite members. Sasha can sing her head off! She can get way up there like Mariah Carey but in her glory days. So we talked and we are going to do a trio in church or for the talent show here coming up.

The people here in Yonkers are very interesting. They literally just sit outside all day on their steps on their apartment porch. I look all around and am like "what is everybody waiting for?!". I even went up and started to talk to some guy on his porch and asked him how he was doing and what he did that day, and he said he had been sitting on his porch all day long. I guess there's a reason why these people are stuck here anyways. So many of these people are just waiting for life to happen, but it doesn't work like that! To those of you who are chasing your dreams and doing something with your life, keep doing it because it will lead you far. I've seen firsthand here what it's like if you give up in life and even worse than that, yourself. Nobody cares about anything but causing trouble. One thing I've really come to appreciate is just a normal society, where logic is involved. I can't tell you how lucky we are back at home. We have so much. I've always known that, but most importantly the thing I've come to realize is that we have a mentality that is different than the people here. We work hard, we genuinely care for people, we work to make our lives safe, we have people we can trust. It's a completely different world than it is here. I love all of you so much more now because I have seen the opposite of what you all are. When we walked to Scarsdale, it was amazing because the people seemed so nice and it didn't feel like people wanted to hurt us. We saw a normal school with a soccer game going on, it felt so good to be in a normal society instead of in an alleyway with guys selling crack and shooting guns. 

Speaking of guns, we heard a few gun shots this week. My companion said it's a common thing out here and not to really worry about it but when it happens to get somewhere safe. I still haven't seen anyone shot so Jon Allowas has me beat there! Haha. (One of my friends in chile on his mission who saw a lady get shot). I feel like I'm getting used to the craziness here now. I've learned who to avoid, where not to go, etc... everyone is high and drunk so you can't really take anything or anyone personal here. I'm just so glad we finally got a car so we don't have to walk through the sketchy parts as much!! Quite honestly I'm tired of talking about how ghetto this place is, but I wake up and go outside everyday and it surprises me every time. One thing it really has taught me is how to be more positive. Everyone around me may not be happy, may be hating life, but I can choose to be happy. And when I'm around others who are happy also, I appreciate it SO MUCH more now! The way I'm taking all this in is explained in a scripture: (2 Nephi 2:23) it says:"And they would have had no children (talking about Adam and Eve); wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin."

I've noticed the worse I see and experience here, the more I appreciate the blessings of life. I look at it as I am just increasing my possibilities of having joy, because the more misery we experience, the more joy we will be able to experience, because you can't know one without knowing the other.

Victor: Victor is a guy that the missionaries have been teaching for a while now. I talked a little about him last week, but this week we went and taught him some more. We taught him about families and how important they are in this life and in the next, and we talked about how we could be 100% sure we will be with our families in the next. His wife is catholic and she usually doesn't like the missionaries. I asked victor though if it was alright if I could meet her. She ended up coming out really quick and I could barely get my name in before she ran out. After that we finished the lessons and then I asked if I could sing with my companion to him and his wife. So he went and got her, she came back and just listened. We sang the hymn "families can be together forever", and after we sang that, she completely opened up. She ended up talking with us for a while, she even started feeding us food and then surprisingly she invited us over for dinner on Friday! It's amazing how music invites the spirit of God. It's amazing how that spirit can touch our soul (something way stronger than sight) and open our hearts. They are both great. We will see how it goes Friday.

David: David is probably the funniest guy I've met here. He is in his late 40's but looks like he's 70. He has had 5 jobs in his life in which he's been fired in all of them. He has a story how they "did him wrong" and how they all set him up to be fired, but I don't know if I believe that. His wife divorced him. Here is the story he tells. One of the jobs he had was working at a bank. Well, apparently some of his wife's friends were at the bank and they saw him walking out escorting another lady to her car. Well David claims this lady was his sister and he said his sister is white with blonde hair, but David is from Puerto Rico and has dark skin and dark hair. He came home that day and everything in his apartment was thrown into his room from his wife and his now ex wife wouldn't talk to him for years. Sounds pretty fishy to me. He says it was his sister but I really don't know! This guy is hilarious and is full of stories. He talks and talks and talks and he always says he really doesn't trust anybody. I told him in life we can't always trust everybody, but we can always trust in God. He will never fail us, we will only ever fail him. The lesson went well and I think he likes me now since I listened to all his stories. We have a lesson with him tomorrow so we shall see how that goes!

One thing that's amazing is that the ward members here in the church are such different yet awesome people! The bishop and his councilors are amazing and very spiritual. I came to find out that the bishop works at dominos, the 1st councilor stocks bread at a bread store, and the 2nd councilor cleans buildings/houses. In the outside world, they may not be worth much, but in God's eyes they are worth everything! It's incredible to see people who are struggling in the natural world, flourish spiritually and to see how good of leaders these people are. Just from conversing with them at church, you would think they are CEO's of companies because of how professional and genuine they are, but turns out it's quite the opposite. It's very humbling to be amongst these people.

We also went to a members house for lunch the other day and she is a house cleaner. She made us the little food she had left, and didn't eat, so we could eat. It was so humbling to see someone give literally everything they had. I felt so bad eating her food but so grateful for it at the same time. It truly is people like this who make it all worth it. She was so happy giving us the last bit of food she had left. This right here is true love. It's true charity. I know God will bless her because of it.

Today we are going to the city! I'm actually emailing this email from the Manhattan temple. I'm really excited to see the city because I have never been and I'm all about doing things in life I've never done!! Haha. New York is a very, very different place than I thought. Especially living here. And especially as a missionary! So yesterday we had a hair cutting sesh in our app. It was actually pretty fun. I cut my companions hair and then the other elder named Elder Holtom (from San Diego) cut my hair. It was pretty great! Haha all that practice on Kevin Rowe's hair payed off ;) hahah.

I've never appreciated life more than I do now, and the people I can call my family. I love you all and one thing I have learned here in NY is how to have faith. True faith. Faith as in whatever God wants for me and my life, will be ok with me, even if it's painful. The crazy place has put my existence into perspective. There is a scripture in Ether -5:34 that explains everything. It says : "Whether The Lord will that I be translated (brought up to heaven like Moses or Elijah), or that I suffer the will of The Lord in the flesh, it mattereth not, if it so be that I am saved in the kingdom of God."  I'm not afraid of this place anymore because I know God is watching over me. Even if death were to come, it would be ok, because here is why. D&C 98:-13-14/18 - "And whoso layeth down his life in my cause, for my names sake, shall find it again, even life eternal. Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death you may be found worthy. Let not your hearts be troubled; for in my father's house are many mansions, and I have prepared a place for you; and where my Father(God) and I am, ye shall be also." This is God's work, and in the end it's all going to be ok. I'm not saying I'm going to die, because odds are I am not, but if it were to happen, it wouldn't matter. The promises God gives to those who lay down their life for Him, will receive endless happiness in the next, and I know this with all my heart and this has allowed me to be really happy and positive in a very negative environment. I love seeing the people we teach change. You can see them becoming great people with the characteristics of Christ (humility, hopeful, faithful, obedient, having charity etc...)

I love being a missionary because it truly makes you feel alive and there is no other place or way to experience or to change and grow in the ways you do on a mission anywhere else! Here is a video that puts our lives into perspective:

Life is beautiful, even in the darker colors.

Have a fantastic week and above all, make sure to be happy. You can't control your environment but ya can control yourself!! I much rather have it be that, then the other way around.

From Yonkers NY,

- Elder Austin Celaya

P.S. Eric Greene, everyone here calls me Dragon Slayer. My last companion even drew me this huge dragon with my name on it. Look what you started back in high school. Haha.

P.S.S. I heard Jarom Lybe got his mission call to South Africa!! He would always tell me he wanted to go there. There is no better place for him to go, to grow in the ways The Lord knows he can grow. I'm really excited for you brother!! Congrats!

P.S.S.S. For those of you who have sent me letters and packages, I really appreciate it and I apologize that I haven't gotten back to you all yet. I've been very busy and have been trying to adjust. Once I get settled in, I will try to send you some letters!

And the reason why He ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust. Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him; and this promise is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth. (Mormon 9:20-21)

Pday (Preparation Day) at the Metropolitan Museum, New York City:

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