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.
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
- Elder Austin Celaya
My companion and I on Halloween. Thank you Stolpers for the tie!
Look mom I can cook! Haha