Wednesday, November 26, 2014

❄️TRANSFERS! ❄️ (in the snow) (26 November 2014)

This week is transfers! I don't really have any time today to write a normal email (transfer days are so long. Especially when you are leaving the area or getting a new companion). I am staying here in Yonkers (most likely 1 more cycle, or six weeks), and Elder Paiz is leaving going to Harlem, living on good old 123rd Lexington ave! That's where all the crazies live. Haha apparently it's a crazy area. I wish him the best. I'm going to miss him. I am getting Elder Segura who is a native speaker from Spain! This is great which means I can really improve my Spanish because I get to learn from someone who knows the most correct Spanish there is. I'm very excited. Today it finally snowed. Welcome to Transfers :) (not the city)

Pics (26 November 2014)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Refiner's Fire (19 November 2014)

Hello my wonderful family and friends :)

This has been a very interesting week to say the least. I feel as if the weeks tend to get more and more interesting as I go throughout my mission. On Thursday we had Zone Conference in Kings Bridge in the Bronx. Basically zone conference is when all the missionaries in the surrounding areas come together for a day, and we are spiritually uplifted throughout the day. There are close to around 60 missionaries there as well as the assistants to the president and president and his wife. It was absolutely great. It was the first one I have been to. It was all day. We had to be in Scarsdale by 7 in the morning which is about 20 minutes away. We then got home around 6 at night. It was a great day and I was able to learn a lot. 

The temperature has been dropping here a lot. It's currently 22 degrees right now and I'm in shorts and a t-shirt freezing. Haha. This morning we ran to the store and I wore shorts and a tee. Meanwhile everyone else is dressed in heavy ski coats and their faces are wrapped with scarves, and there I am in my shorts. Haha. Everyone gave me weird looks. I have clothes don't worry. Although I have clothes I wasn't that smart about washing my clothes the other day. I dried my clothes for 200 minutes because it was a big load and because of that my jeans shrunk. They shrunk so much I can't even fit my legs in the pant legs.  (Mom do you want to send me my grey pants? Haha). Things we learn on missions. -__- oh but mom, don't send them until I email you next week (transfers). I am still waiting for it to snow here. I'm sure it will happen soon though!

I love my zone here (the 20-30 Elders and Sisters I serve with in and around our area). We are all like best friends doing the Lords work. I love every one of these missionaries. They are the cream of the crop kind of people. I will attach a picture of our zone. This week was the first time I have had to say goodbye to a missionary I consider a friend. His name is Elder Garibay and he is from Texas. He has been my zone leader for the entire time I have been here and he finishes his two years of service this Monday. I am going to miss him. I think it’s crazy looking back on my life 6 months to a year ago, and realizing that the life I am living now is completely different -- meaning the friendships I have been able to make here are ones I cherish and I will be great friends with all these people here, but 6 months ago, I had no idea any of these people existed. A mission is awesome for that reason! 

We have been having some extreme issues with our ward and the leadership, but I am not going to say much. It got so bad that the sisters set up a meeting with president to take care of the issue. We had a meeting the other day with president and he said he would help take care of the issue. Just be grateful for the church we have back home. Maybe one day when I am off my mission, I will explain some of the things that have been going on. Nothing too serious, but things that are questionable. All is well though. One thing president told us is the first thing to do in life always is to be the example. We can all be the example and the change we want to see in the world. That got me thinking about my life. There are tons of things that I see people do that frustrate me, but this week I have realized I truly need to fix the things in myself that I want to improve on before I worry about anyone else's issues. Most people know they have things that they can improve on, but often times they are too busy looking at the faults of others. If everyone is always focusing on the faults of others, nobody will ever truly look within and improve. I have learned in order for me to grow and change, I have to humble myself, realize my weaknesses and improve and overcome them, and be the example to others. It is only when we look within that we truly can change ourselves and others. Leading by example is the greatest thing each of us have. This is just something I have been pondering about this week. 

Brandon: Brandon is doing great! He lives in the Bronx, but we get to meet with him because his girlfriend lives in our ward in Yonkers. I love teaching him because he is a mature 19 year old guy who has a very open mind but a heart that's pointed to the goodness of God. 

That is another thing I have been thinking about this week. I have often seen people who say they want to have an open mind, and because of this, they want to try things out in the world. Oftentimes when people have told me this, they use having an open mind as a way to toss out what they truly feel is right or wrong in their heart and they go do what they want, and that's sad to see because it never leads to lasting happiness. All of us start out in life having three things:

1st -- a knowledge of what's right. 2nd -- a knowledge of what's wrong.  And 3rd, we have our desires.

Oftentimes our desires conflict with what we know is right, and we feel that conflict within. It is only when we turn to Christ that we can completely align our desires to what we feel is right in our heart.  Christ has done this perfectly. He perfectly aligned His will to His father’s (God) and this is exactly what God wants of us. To become perfect even as He is. Follow the example of Christ and do as he did. This is why I love teaching Brandon because he has an open mind, but he compares every "open minded" decision to the feeling of right or wrong in his heart. Think about that. That is key! First his heart is pointed to God, which means he listens to his heart. When he knows something is wrong deep down in his heart, he doesn't engage in it. When he knows deep down in his heart that something is right, he follows it and acts on that feeling with all his heart. Because he first has his heart pointed to God, he is able to accurately open his mind to the things of life and truly discover what is true in life and what is not. It's because of this that he is able to get closer to happiness, truth and God. When someone truly has these two things, mixed with the desire to find truth, one will always find what is true. God cannot lie to us. His Spirit is in each of us to let us know what is right and what is wrong. He will never fail us. This is something I have had to learn slowly - how to have an open mind but a heart pointed to God. One could say that if my heart is already pointed to God, then I truly don't have a clear open mind because my mind is already connected to God. But then a problem arises. Whether we believe in God or not, each one of us all has the meter within our hearts to know if something is right, or if it is wrong. But where does that come from? All have felt it. If you think you have not, think of a time that you have felt guilt and why. Also think of a time you have felt heavenly peace and why. Both have been caused because of an action you performed. Those feelings of knowing what is right or wrong deep within our heart is from our creator. If we did not have those feelings within, we would have no way of direction. Even if we had an open mind, would we still not be haunted by the very feelings of guilt and peace, right and wrong? There is no other choice but to turn your heart to God.

Another issue sometimes arises here. I think many people know deep down what is right in their heart, but because we are human and have the "natural man" within us, we want to do our will instead of God's (we can know his will by the feelings of right and wrong within us), and this leads us to a conflicting problem. If we have and open mind, and put off the feelings of right and wrong that God places in each and every one of us, we eventually become numb to those feelings and we lose our way chasing after our own desires. We no longer feel what is right or wrong. We can't because we openly deny those feelings and the Spirit of God. Once this happens, His spirit withdraws from us and we can no longer feel the peace that is felt when we have His Spirit. 

This is why I choose to follow the promptings of the Spirit and point my heart to God. I'm happy! I feel alive. The emotions and feelings and experiences I have when I have the Spirit with me are far greater than any amount of feelings of happiness I could feel without it. I have never been happier than when I have lived my life so I could have the Spirit dwell with me. Open your mind and point your heart to God.

Anyways, about Brandon. We showed him the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ video. He is very receptive to it. He had a great point. He said, why would Joseph Smith go through so much in his life, including murder, to lie about a book he wrote? He would be insane. He simply wouldn't have gone through all the horrible things he had to endure, nor would he let the thousands of saints go through the things they went through, unless he knew he had a mission from God to restore the Gospel of Jesus Christ back on the earth in its fullness as God’s eternal truth.  He said Joseph was either, insane and cruel, or he is a prophet of God. It was a very true thing to hear. It was a great lesson. We teach him about the plan of salvation on Monday. Brandon is awesome. 

Roy: I don't think I have ever met anyone who has fallen so far off the deep end and then truly has wanted to change his life with all his being. We met with Roy last night and he told us about his family. Apparently he has 16 brothers and sisters but from all different men and women. Apparently his dad had kids with 4 or 5 people and so did his mom. He told us he made a promise to himself when he was a kid that he never wanted to be like his father.  Turns out he got a call this week from a girl he dated a long time ago who told him he had a 6 year old daughter. He was extremely surprised, but last night he was getting frustrated because he felt like he was turning into his dad. To get a picture of what Roy looks like, he's about 6 foot, 5 inches, he's from Honduras, speaks great English, slicks his hair back, and is a pretty big guy. Last night we taught him about how he can change his life through the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Faith, Repentance, Baptism, the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and Enduring to the End), and he was extremely receptive to it. He honestly wants to change his life completely around 360 degrees and he is just waiting for us to help him. He has a greater desire than anyone I have ever seen. That is key - a key to life. I think humility allows us to be honest with our circumstances and with ourselves, and allows us to then truly have a desire to get better and improve ourselves. He has this because of the things he has gone through. He was telling us last night that he felt like he messed up in life with his job, his ex-wife, his kids, and overall his life. He didn't understand why he had to go through all the crazy things he has gone through. We were able to share with him that God allows things to happen to us so we can grow and learn. I asked him if he thought he would be at the point where he is at now (wanting to completely change his life around, with a humble heart filled with a vision) if he had not gone through the hard things he had to endure. He sat and thought for a while and then he said, "Wow you are right, I have never thought about that". We challenged him to be baptized and he said YES! His date is December 21st. Please pray for him that he will stay strong until that day. This truly was a miracle from God because he randomly just walked into our church one day, and now he is going to completely change his life, not just here on this earth, but for the eternities.

Anyways, this whole time we had with Roy reminded me of something I hold close to my heart. I am sure MANY of you remember our dear friend and fellow Elder, Elder Fagan who served in our church ward back in California. Well, before my mission, he and Elder Bartholomew were able to teach me about being a missionary, but truly how to be a follower of Christ. One thing he shared with me has stuck with me since. Elder Fagan wrote this to me on my mission. He said: "Welcome to the work! This is going to be the absolute BEST two years of your entire life. But, though they may be the best, they will also be some of the hardest days you'll ever have. This qualifies us for His work, and being qualified is a lot like a refiner’s fire. We are qualified and refined just like a piece of metal. We get put in the hottest parts of the flame and are held there in intense amounts of heat to burn off impurities. It takes a long time and seems tedious, but in the end the metal is stronger. It is shaped. The refiner holding the metal keeps a close eye on it so it doesn't get destroyed. And the way the refiner knows it's ready to pull it out is when he can see his image reflected in it. This applies to all of us. The Lord will refine you Elder, be sure of it. But in the end, you will reflect His countenance and I know that the Lord will qualify you."  I have felt this more on my mission, more than I have anywhere else on my entire life (going through the things I had to go through the first month and a half out here in New York), and every missionary who has served or is serving knows exactly how this feels. I have seen it within myself and within the people who go through hard things in life like Roy, but because of it begin to change - people who come close to Christ no matter how hard it is. We all will have moments where we ask ourselves how we can press on and if it's honestly even worth it.

Christ let's things happen to us to point us to him. But not just to come unto to Him, but so in a sense, we can become "little Christ's" as C.S. Lewis puts it. We go through the depths of life, so God can shape us into something greater than we could ever shape ourselves to be. With that being said, enjoy this video – The Refiner’s Fire

I love you all. Have a wide open mind, and make sure it keeps widening, but as you widen your mind, reduce the space between your heart and God. You will never be happier in your life. 


- Elder Austin Celaya

Quote of the week:  "Go in the name of the Lord, trust in the name of the Lord, lean upon the Lord, and call upon the Lord fervently and without ceasing, and pay no attention to the world. You will see plenty of the world--it will be before you all the time--but if you live so as to possess the Holy Ghost you will be able to understand more in relation to it in one day than you could in a dozen days without it, and you will at once see the difference between the wisdom of men and the wisdom of God, and you can weigh things in the balance and estimate them at their true worth" - Brigham Young 

Pictures (19 November 2014)

My first zone in Yonkers!

We found turkeys running across the street too!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Be Happy (November 12, 2014)

It's been a great week here in the New York New York North mission. 

This week we had stake conference in Kingsbridge in the Bronx. It was difficult getting there because it is out of our area so we either had to take the subway, the train, the bus, or catch a ride with one of the members. We were able to catch a ride with one of the members in our Ward (the area of our church) and he happened to be the best English speaker in the entire ward! All the leadership positions had to go early on Saturday for the adult session, so we got there at 3, when the actual meeting actually started at 7. It was awesome because this was my first time that I actually got to go walking through the Bronx. I have been through it before just on the subways, but I have never actually got to walk through and experience it yet. The place called Kings Bridge in the Bronx is so awesome compared to Yonkers. It seems so much more live. There is much more going on, and I actually saw a white person there! Haha. There are some bad places in the Bronx, but it seems way more like a city than a third world country like it does here in the part of Yonkers that we do most of our work. It was awesome. I most likely will get a chance to serve there because I am Spanish speaking.  As we were walking, Elder Nelson (the companion in my apartment) and I were talking about how most of these people didn't finish high school, and how they are stuck here mentally, and they really don't know that there is much more out there. That makes it hard knowing that, going to a place that feels like a compound, living here and now being apart of this life, when I know there is so much more out there. In that sense, I really can't wait to leave New York, but I need to learn to like it while I am here. There are projects everywhere here, and it's crazy how all these people live in these massive buildings, and they pack them full of people in these tiny little spaces. It's like they are storing them away so they don't escape. It literally feels like the Bronx and these cities around downtown NY were meant to be a place to keep all the crazy people out. I don't think I have seen a building that has been built here within the last 50-100 years. Everything is super old here and looks run down & ghetto. I learned this week that Yonkers was founded in the 1600's so it is EXTREMELY old! I am still waiting to get to the point where I feel like there is nothing I’d rather be doing in the world than be here on this mission. I am not there yet, and my companion tells me just to wait until I get out of my first area and then I will begin to love it. We have transfers coming up here in a couple weeks, and Elder Paiz will probably be leaving here because he has been here for 5 cycles (1 cycle is 6 weeks), and I will probably be staying here in Yonkers, so I most likely will be getting a new companion. He has some big shoes to fill. Elder Paiz is awesome. He is my brother. No one will understand the things we have gone through together here in Yonkers, but only him. 

Ruiz (Roy) - First off, we have been teaching Ruiz, and he randomly told us that his name was actually Roy. Haha. So we have taught Roy twice since we last talked. On Friday, we were able to show him The Restoration Movie. It was amazing.  Elder Paiz and I were both able to testify of the truthfulness of The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ restored back on the earth again by His prophet Joseph Smith. We then invited him to pray about the things we were teaching him. We taught him how to pray, and he gave the closing prayer. In the prayer, he asked God if the things were true that we were teaching him, and if they were, to open his mind and his heart to learn and except more, enough to completely change his life. As he did this, I felt the spirit so strong, and after the prayer, he said he did as well. It was such a great lesson. He truly dropped from heaven into our hands, just randomly walking into church one day asking if we could help change his life. He is so ready for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in his life. That's one thing I have learned here on my mission. The people who are truly ready to receive the Gospel are the ones who are truly humbled - who have intensely gone through life without God, to where the things in life bring them so far down that they have nowhere else to go but to God. But one day isn’t that all we will have? All of us? Like I said last week in my email, we are all alone with God, and one day He will be all we have. Why prolong the hope and joy the Gospel brings because one is comfortable, or doesn't want to believe in something. Roy is ready and it is such a blessing we have been able to get to know him.

Last night, we were able to teach him about the plan of salvation. He was very receptive to it, and again we told him to pray about the things we were teaching him, and we also taught him how the Holy Spirit guides us in our life, but how it's through gentle thoughts, feelings and impressions (because God can't force us, he still has to give us our free will). He shared an experience about when his ex-wife was pregnant, that his son was supposed to pass away. He shared how for two weeks his ex-wife would go to church and pray all day long for God to spare his son, and so did he. She began to be depressed and stopped eating, which was a problem because the baby needed all the nutrients to survive. They could not afford a C section so the doctor said to wait it out. (They actually have hospitals for homeless people here -- that should explain the kind of place this is). Turns out, the security guard who talked to them while they were walking out of the hospital talked to the doctor, and got them in, and she had a C section which saved his son’s life. He testified to us of the power of prayer, and how God is really there, listening to us at this very moment, more than anyone else or anything and how he knows that God will give him an answer about the things we are teaching him. He said that God is there literally waiting to help us, but we must first reach out to him. Roy really gets it and it excites me every time we teach him. We will be teaching him on Friday.

Brandon - You just can't get ANY better than Brandon. Even my companion who has been out for over a year says he has never met someone so ready for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and someone who truly gets it. We taught him the Restoration also and he was extremely receptive to it. The Spirit felt during the lesson was stronger than I have ever felt it in any lesson. He had great questions. He thought it was truly amazing that Joseph Smith without any schooling was able to translate The Book of Mormon (Another Testament of Jesus Christ) from a language that no longer was in existence on the earth. He truly saw that the only way he could have was with the power and help from God. We asked him to give the closing prayer, but he did not want to. So I asked him if it would be ok if we taught him how to pray, and then if we could pray to kind of show him how to do it. We did that and then he agreed to give the closing prayer. As he did this, he asked if the things we were teaching him were true, and as he did this, he paused in the prayer, and there was a silence for a while, and then when he resumed in the prayer he was crying and tearing up in the prayer. The Spirit was extremely strong. After the prayer, he apologized for tearing up and I then asked him what it was he was feeling. He said he felt light. He felt like all the troubles that have ever weighed on his soul were leaving, and that he was becoming lighter. We testified to him that that was the Holy Ghost confirming to him that the things we were teaching him are true. He also told us that He has to figure it out for himself if these things are true. He said that he has to go in prayer and pray to God and wait for the conformation in his heart to know if these things are true. HE GOT IT! He completely understands. He understands that he has to go to God and work for his answer. He is Golden. He wants nothing more than to go to the temple and be married and sealed to his future family for all time and eternity. It's truly amazing to see someone's life change. When he walked into our lesson, he was super down about some things that had been happening in his life, and as time moved on within the lesson, you could literally see his countenance change as the Spirit filled the room. He became happier, more thoughtful and brighter. He walked out of the lesson like he had been completely rejuvenated. That got me thinking. God wants all his children on the earth to have the chance to accept or reject the gospel. As I was sitting there, I was thinking about my responsibility. I have the responsibility to present that choice to them, and God has trusted me to give that chance to his children. It really makes me want to give it all I have to be able to have the Spirit with me, and really become as close to God as possible so that I can really give them a sound opportunity. We teach Brandon next on Monday. I can't wait!

There is so much I could go on and talk about. Sometimes I wish I could just film my a matter of fact, I think I will film a time laps so you can see what it kind of looks like here in the nicer parts as we drive. I want to leave you with a thought and a scripture that I have been pondering on that I heard in a song this week:

2 Nephi 2:22 - "And Adam and Eve would have no children; 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.”

The song said, " You know how far North is from the South when God hands you the other." I won't say anything about this simply because I want you to apply it and ponder it in your life in the most organic way according to your circumstances. 

I love you all and have a GREAT week. Have fun and do what is right. You will feel it in your heart. That feeling comes from God.


Elder Celaya

P.S. The subject of this message has nothing to do with anything I talked about but I thought it was amigos message.

Pics (November 12, 2014)

I thought this was hilarious.

Me waking up in the morning! Lol

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Gaga Boy!!! (November 5, 2014)

Don't worry.  He's got me!

Greetings from New York. Haha, I laugh at this because I have realized New York is nothing like "what it seems." When people think of New York, they think of Downtown New York South Manhattan, and they think it is the dream land. Almost none of this state actually looks like down town Manhattan and it is completely different living here than it is to visit here. I would never live here in the future. Ironically, I say this as I am living here. -__- 

Anyways, first of all I want to start with thanking all of you for the amazing birthday notes! Thank you mom for putting them all together! It was such a surprise! I got my package a day before, and then on my birthday I opened it up, and then there were cards and notes from all the people I love, so thank you so much! I wish I had time to individually write you all back, but just know that I truly appreciate it and you all are awesome! Thank you for all of those who wrote me cards and sent me packages! I will be writing you all back soon. :)

Gaga Boy: So, I am not really sure where to start with this topic, but I guess I will start with explaining who exactly "Gaga Boy" is...aahhhh haha. Well there is this 19-year-old "young man" (lol) in our church here who loves to sing, dance, dress up, and who is obsessed with Lady Gaga. He's not exactly typical, meaning he flirts with me at church, which is very uncomfortable for me, but I find it funny. Haha. So the first time I met him he told me that in the day he is "a good Mormon boy who follows the commandments," but then at night he "comes alive" and is heavily influenced by "drugs and alcohol and he becomes an ‘art monster.’" We had a talent show here in our church, and he told me a few weeks before that he was planning on singing, dancing, and dressing up in a dragon costume and that he wanted to be put at the end of the program because he wanted to bring the "wow factor" to the show. BOY did he bring the wow factor but in a totally horrific way. Gaga boy is kind of a legend in our apartment and in our zone (the 30 plus missionaries in our area) so some of the missionaries came to the show. I will attach a picture of all of us at the talent show. 

All us elders at the talent show.
(The two elders next to my companion are my roommates.  Elder Palmer is on the far left.)

- Our Church in Yonkers/Noche De Talentos – 

We had our "Noche De Talentos" here in our church (funny fact about that is us missionaries had to help set up, and because people don't know correct Spanish here, the man who picked up the letters to hang up on the wall thought Noche De Talentos was spelled like this "Noche De Talento"...with no S...completely Dominican style...and he's not even Dominican. Right when I saw that, I just looked at my companion and slapped my forehead in frustration. Haha). And it was far from anything I hoped it to be. It was scary in every way. haha. So first of all, something to know is that the Spanish program NEVER starts on time for anything. So the show started an hour and a half late. When the talent show actually started, nobody was actually listening to those who were performing. They were too busy talking to everyone and being loud. The acts were completely horrible. Gaga Boy was completely scary. He performed a super hard screemo song that talked about condemning people to the grave, and he sung this in the chapel of the church - something that should never be allowed to be performed anywhere on the earth, especially not in the chapel. I felt violated, it was so scary. Haha. I will send a picture of his performance. Seriously the worst "performance" and the most scary thing I have ever seen. Haha. Then, there was this act, where this girl came out and started dancing with very little clothing on, and in a not-the-most-appropriate way. It was so awkward because all the men in the ward were perked up in their chairs videoing her performance, and all the wives and ladies were super angry and then everyone else was looking at us. It was so extremely awkward and both things should have never been going on in the church.

Gaga Boy!!!

On Sundays in church all they do is argue. For example, a couple of Sundays ago, a couple of new people came to church, but complained to the bishop because the church wasn't reverent enough and the Spirit of the Lord could not be felt there. Well, the next week, everyone gave lessons on being reverent and respectful in the church. Turns out everyone started blaming everyone for being noisy and everyone got in big arguments, and then last week, one of the ladies said those new people were of the devil because they said our church was not reverent enough. I guess the whole point is we have tons of work to do in the ward here. The only problem is, when we try to help, they are extremely prideful and think they know everything (reading this, I'm sure my parents are thinking "now you know exactly how we felt about you growing up!" haha) so they won't listen to us or anyone for that matter. Our church is going apostate haha. Our problem is, why would we help bring people into the church if they are just going to be gobbled up by everyone in the ward? The church is crazy here. It doesn't feel like it's right....simply because it's not. The Spirit isn't there. We need to figure out how to show them how Jesus actually set up his church. ahhhh.

Manhattan Experience - Two weeks ago, we all took the subway down to South Manhattan. It was perfect because Elder Nelson (the newer missionary we live with) last served in Downtown Manhattan, so he knew the city like the back of his hand. He knew every street, shop, etc...and he also knew better than anyone I saw how to walk in the city. Walking and crossing streets in the city is insane, but he does it so well. Basically, you have to time when to cross the street so you don't get hit, but there are tons of cars, so you have to really think fast and then go. It felt like Mario cart. haha. He would dart out into the street and barely miss a car going 40 miles per hour. In fact, he would skim his fingers across the cars going that fast as he walked behind them as they passed by. So he taught us how to walk in the city. I feel like now I can cross any street with traffic. It took a lot of practice until I could do it safely but now it's awesome. Anyway, we took the subway down to Wall Street. We got to see the NY stock exchange building, and it was amazing because everyone in the city is dressed so nice, and high street fashion is huge there so I was loving it! We then went and saw ground zero (where the trade centers were). They are building some big architectural thing in its place, but it was just cool going there remembering all that has happened there. It's crazy to think that the entire world has changed because of that experience. We then went to China Town. That was very interesting. I learned something quite interesting too about China Town in NYC. Gangs run china town. They tell the people who work for them in the shops or restaurants there that they have to work for dirt cheap, and if they leave, they will murder their families and also them. So in a sense, they are completely being forced to work for nothing and can't leave or do anything about it, or they and their entire family will die. It's a very interesting place because it's basically a black market in hiding. It's sad for those people, but it was cool visiting there. I still like the China Town better in LA. We then went to Times Square (which is crazy). They have nude people "painted" (that's what makes it legal) and then we saw a naked cowboy in the streets singing with his guitar (something I wish I didn't see) haha. But Time Square was amazing because someone stopped us in the middle of Time Square. It was a man and his wife, and turns out they were both from the church and they live in Las Vegas.  They flew in that night and were checking out the city before they were going to go on a cruise for a week. We talked to them for a while, and they had two sons that had served missions. They were awesome and so loving. They asked us if we ate already, and he pulled out his wallet and pulled out a hundred and gave it to us and told us to go feed ourselves. We tried to not accept it, but he insisted and then we said goodbye and that was it. What a great example he was. It's times like these that I truly feel humble to have the opportunity to be a missionary, and I love meeting people that are so much closer to Christ when it comes to possessing the same attributes than most of the people in the world.

After that, we went to Juilliard. We walked into the building and checked it out a little bit. We couldn't see a whole lot because we weren't students there, but it was awesome. So across the street is the temple/church in Manhattan, and we went upstairs in the church and they were having auditions for some movie or play and they were auditioning Opera singers from Juilliard. It was absolutely unreal the talent that some of these people have. There was a famous composer doing the auditions, but apparently a lot of those people auditioning are also in the ward there. It was so amazing to be around the cream of the crop kind of people in the world. That feeling is infectious. It really makes you want to do something with your life. After that, we headed to the Empire State Building. What's crazy about NYC is that all the buildings are so tall -- you could be one building away from the Empire State Building, but you would never know it because another building would be in the way, so you could see nothing. It's crazy how small you feel in the city. Definitely a place to visit, but I would not want to live there. 

New York City with Elder Paize

Bishop: So, this week we got a new bishop, but before I talk about that, I want to share an experience.  My companion and I were setting up chairs for the talent show and a member of the church came up to me and asked me in his TERRIBLE dominican Spanish (worst Spanish speaker I have heard here on the mission) where sister Gonzalez was. I was so confused because there is no Sister Gonzalez in the entire mission. So I told him I had no idea who he was talking about and to go ask Elder Paiz (my companion) because he may know. So he went over to Elder Paiz and chewed him out and said he was failing as a trainer because I didn't understand Spanish and that we weren't listening to what he says (he tells us how to improve our Spanish, which is ironic because his Spanish is horrible). He really offended my companion, and that got me pretty angry. He then told my companion that he asked where "Sister Smith was" and that I had no idea how to respond to him. So he basically lied straight to my companions face, or he's just dumb...or both. Haha. I'm horrible I know. He's very prideful. Well anyways, this guy is now our bishop -__-. Great right? I have no idea how this is all going to work out, but it's going to be interesting. He is the one who argues every Sunday too. I think the best way to get along with him is just to suck up to him and then he will do whatever for you. He chastised the church here because not enough people were helping us missionaries, so that's really good. As long as we keep him on our good side, I think he can really help us with the work, and whipping the people into shape here. Our ward needs someone to put them in their place, and he will do it alright. Maybe it's what we need - Only time will tell.

Ruiz: Ruiz is the guy who just randomly walked in the church. We taught him for the first time last week, and the lesson was amazing. He was very receptive to it and the Spirit was very strong within the lesson. All was good and as we were wrapping up we asked him if he had any questions and he said yes. He said the reason he came to meet with us was to get help. He said he has been having visions and didn't know what to do about it. He said he was hit by a bike when he was 3 and he walked away with no scratches. He claims this is the reason he has visions. He claims that he had a vision, and he told his aunt about it, and she told him to go read in Revelations, and the dream was exactly what was in the chapter of revelations. He has also had a vision where Jesus woke him up and they climbed to the top of a mountain and Jesus apparently asked him if he had faith, and said if he did, to jump, so he jumped off the mountain with Jesus, and the next thing he knew he was falling and then he was floating in mid air. He also claims to have a vision where he was in a room with two young girls, one was extremely scared, looking and pointing at the window, and he asked what was wrong, and she wouldn't talk and just kept pointing at the window, and then the vision ended. Well turns out the next day, his co-worker didn't come to work because someone raped her two daughters. She called Ruiz to tell him what happened, and she said he came through the window, and Ruiz stopped her and described exactly what her daughters looked like, even though he never has seen them. He claims to have visions of the future as well. What's hard is he doesn't carry himself to be crazy at all. I think it's a Hispanic culture thing, so my companion believes him (he's Hispanic), but I think it's garbage. The reason I also say I don't believe it is because when we were teaching the lesson, the Spirit was so strong and there was such a good feeling in the room, and right as he was talking about his visions, the Spirit was gone and there was a dark unsure feeling in the room. The Spirit testifies of truth, and I don't believe anything he saw was actually true. He told our now previous bishop everything, but he still wants us to meet with him. So we are meeting with him tonight and we will see how it goes. I personally absolutely hate dealing with people who talk of these crazy visions and seeing Jesus, and all these people on the streets who claim they are prophets. There are so many crazy people here. There are a couple of elders in our zone who are teaching this one guy who was baptized at one point, but now he claims that he is Jesus. Ahhh, there are so many whack people here. Haha. 

Splits: So yesterday I was able to go on splits again. I went to Scarsdale again (the same place I went to last time I went on splits when I was really sick) and I got to go on a split with my district leader named, Elder Palmer. Elder Palmer goes home in January, so he has pretty much been on his mission for two years. He reminds me exactly of my two friends, Caden Morgan and Jordan Pace, in one person. Out of anyone I have met here on the mission, we get along the best. He is such a cool guy and I was truly able to learn a lot from him yesterday. I picked his brain about things pertaining to learning Spanish, the gospel, things he has learned on the mission, and it was over all such a great day. We were able to visit some amazing people as well and it was just a great time. I asked him too about the gangs here. He has served in Harlem and the Bronx, so he has had his fair share of crazy people. He said here it's more people coming in from poor countries that are drug addicts, who mooch off the government. He said not to really worry about gangs here, even though there are some, not to worry about it because it's not the same as it is back in LA. It's more domestic violence or domestic gangs instead of large groups of gangs that we have in LA. I don't believe it though because where there are drugs, there are gangs. Yonkers has gangs though, but still they are smaller and all split. Everyone wants to be the king of Yonkers. The blacks want to be the kings and so do the Mexicans and the Puerto Ricans and just about everyone. So they all fight against each other.

There is this member in the English ward who used to be one of the head gang members here in Yonkers. He has completely flipped his life around. He talks all the time about some of the things he has done and the people he has killed. It's crazy to see someone who has completely changed his life 1000 percent. His wife even stabbed a knife through his hand and he claims it was at that moment when he knew he wanted to marry her. He was telling us this story where one day, he and his brother were drinking and they walked out on the front porch where a group of 15 people in a gang stopped and looked at him, and he was like "Oh! Okkkkkkayyyy" and then he walked back in, chugged a beer, walked out and they were still there. He did this four times. When he was drunk he said he would always flip into his animal mode and go crazy. So he and his brother were extremely drunk -- he walked down his porch and knocked out one of the guys in the gang. They both knocked out 10 of the 15 guys. This guy is huge too. He is 6 foot, 6, 270 pounds. He then got in his car, took off and started chasing after the other 5 people. He caught them and told them if they didn't want to die that they needed to meet them at Ghetty Square (we call it ghetto square lol) tomorrow and they would fight it off. So the next day he pulls up in his car with his brother and there are about 20 guys all with metal bats ready to kill him. He stood up out of the car, everyone realized that it was him and they dropped their bats and ran away. Haha this guy is crazy. The ghetto life here is starting to become normal to me, for now. For example, the other day we pulled up to the church right after a shooting took place. I took a picture of the view from the car. It's ok though, apparently Yonkers isn't as bad as Newburgh which has the highest murder rates in the enter country (which is in our mission), or Olmstead, or some parts of Harlem.) I'm finally becoming happy now though and learning to be happy around very unhappy people. Thank you for all those who have prayed for my physical and mental health. I have truly felt them!

The shooting outside our church.  Sunday morning getting out of the car at church.

Brandon: Brandon is the guy we met on the street and who is the boyfriend of Veronica (the girl in our church who is going on her mission to Argentina). We had our first lesson with him last Monday. He is one of the most awesome people I have met. I believe he is the golden one. He is 19, so it's very easy to relate to him and him to us. He lives in The Bronx, in Kings Bridge, and it's amazing that someone who grew up in an environment where gangs were heavily present that he was able to keep his head on straight and grow up to be an amazing guy. He has been practicing karate since he was a child, and people know not too mess with him here he said. He has all these amazing goals in life and he truly wants out of NY. He has seen a lot of bad things growing up that he told us about. He is so receptive to the truths of the gospel. He wants to get baptized (we committed him to baptism) and he wants to have the blessings of going to the temple to be sealed to his family and his future wife for all time and eternity, so he can be with his family in the next life. He truly listens to the Holy Spirit and is not afraid to go and act upon what is being revealed to him. I wish more people were like him. He is such a great guy and he is honestly someone I would hang out with outside of the mission. He is the one we were supposed to find. He doesn't tell his girlfriend that he meets with us because he says this is something HE wants. 

HE wants to find the eternal truth of the gospel and not do it for his girlfriend, which is key. We taught him and the spirit was so incredibly strong. He said that he felt a very warm feeling and it felt like all his troubles were being lifted, and like he was in heaven. We testified to him what he was feeling was the Holy Spirit testifying to him that the things we were teaching him were true. That brings me to a good point that I have been thinking about over the last year. 

Brandon is willing to act on the impression that he gets from the spirit. I think a lot of times people may get impressions from the spirit, or they may get the answer from the spirit that the gospel contains the full truth of God, and because God gives us our agency we are free to choose to accept it or decline it, and I have seen so many people who know in their heart that the gospel is true, and they have felt the spirit testify of it, but because of earthly circumstances or mixed desires, they choose to decline it. This I find to be a tragedy. People who experience a type of heavenly happiness that they have never truly felt before, once you go back to your old life, you will never be the same or as happy, because you are no longer ignorant to the truth and the deep happiness that’s out there that the gospel brings. At this point, because they have chosen to deny it, they go on with their life, searching for ways to constantly temporarily make them happy, and one day they will realize that they were just ignoring what they truly felt inside. They were searching for that happiness elsewhere other than looking to God, and that's one thing we will all realize, whether we choose to except the gospel of Jesus Christ or we choose to decline it, or whether we are good or bad people. Our fate is that one day we will die and meet God. And at that point everything good that we have done and everything bad will come to our remembrance. God made us to rely on him. There is no other way. Human existence has constantly searched for something to "run on," or for the happiness that only God can truly bring (and that's where we get wars, power, money, prostitution, drugs, etc...). He made us to run on Him, and only him, the same as a car can only run on Petrol and not water. We can only run from God for so long. We will all one day fall into his arms when we meet in the other side, and depending on how we lived our lives, it will be the most beautiful thing we will ever experience, or the most terrible dark day of our life. Because God is loving, he gives us a choice to choose. He gives us a way to know what is true (through the Holy Spirit), and he gives us this life to prove to Him that we will become better people by following the example of Christ, becoming like Christ, and slowly becoming perfect, as is God.

C.S. Lewis describes this fate perfectly: 

He says, "What can you ever really know of other people's souls - of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a god, you are, in a sense, alone with Him. You cannot put Him off with speculations about your next door neighbors or memories of what you have read in books. What will all that chatter and hearsay count (will you even be able to remember it?) when the anesthetic fog which we call 'nature' or 'the real world' fades away and the Presence in which you have always stood becomes palpable, immediate, and unavoidable?"

If you know the gospel is true, if you have felt the Spirit in your life, don't wait. Follow its promptings and it will lead you to a happiness that you have never experienced before. There is no other way. It's the only way. I testify of it and I know that the gospel brings more happiness than anything in or out of this world. Don't be afraid to follow the Spirit - to follow what you know to be true. Just please don't be afraid. Follow your heart because you're the only one who can.

I love you all so much.

With much love,

- Elder Austin Celaya

My companion and I on Halloween.  Thank you Stolpers for the tie!

Look mom I can cook!  Haha