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