This week has been filled with miracles as has the last one.
- The Bronx. - So far, this place is SO much better than my last area. I love it here compared to there. Now this place would still never be my choice of living, but it is a lot better from what I have experienced thus far. The place is a lot bigger, the members are amazing as well, we have a full church now, and the ward is the biggest Spanish ward I have ever seen.
- Gym. My companion Elder Hausenfluck has a gym membership here along with the other elder we live with, so we wake up at 5:30 every day and catch the bus and head to the gym. It has been absolutely amazing. I forgot how much I missed it. The other day we all went to a Vitamin Shop and all got our protein, pre-workout and also mom you would be proud of me for this one...I convinced everyone to buy some liquid chlorophyll too. We work out with our zone leaders too and one of them has a full ride scholarship to BYU to play football as a center. He is a pretty big guy. It is crazy how much better you feel when you really do work out. The journey to becoming huge has begun ;)
- My companion - He is awesome! He is so loving and caring towards people here. He is always willing to help anyone. I hope to care and be as interested in others when I finish my mission. He is from Arizona, and he finishes his mission in May, so he is a bit "older" in the mission.
Other Elders in our apartment - So we live with Elder Lyons who was my MTC companion (it's great to live with him again. We get along great and are always having a great time), and also Elder Enriques who is from Brazil. Now he is literally the same person as our fellow friend BJ Thomas. He is from Brazil, speaks Portuguese, but is fluent in English (has no accent), he LOVES going to the gym, he loves supplements and protein, he is super energetic all the time, can get along with anybody, and acts and looks exactly the same as BJ. It is unreal. He loves wrestling and rugby too - those were his two sports. We all have a great time together.
Bitten by a squirrel - So this week Elder Enriques decided to feed some squirrels. Now there are two types of squirrels here. Regular brown/blonde squirrels and black squirrels. Everyone calls the black squirrels "sqwiggers". The brown squirrels hate the black ones and are always fighting. The squirrels here are just as corrupt as the people. Haha. Anyways so he tried feeding the squirrels and there were squiggers and squirrels. They started fighting and as he was feeding them, one came up and chomped onto his finger and Elder E flew him across the road. So then he had to go all the way down to south Manhattan to go get checked for rabies. Turns out they don't have rabies. In order to go get checked out, he had to call Sister Morgan (President Morgan’s wife). She thought it was hilarious and so did president Morgan. Everyone has heard about it and he has been telling jokes all the time about it. Just imagine BJ Thomas explaining him getting bit by a squirrel and this is exactly how it's been here - extremely hilarious.
I DON'T WANT YOUR BOOK- Music. I have had three opportunities this week to use music as a way of opening other’s hearts and it has been amazing. We went and visited a less active man who is around 24. We taught him and his mom (who is a member) a lesson and she loved it, but he was pretty cold the entire time. We asked him if he had scriptures and he said he didn't. So I then asked him if he would like us to get him a Bible and Book of Mormon and he was like " uhh nahh nahh I'm good." I stood in shock for a minute and didn't know what to do. So I started asking questions about his testimony in the gospel and it was clear that he didn't really care about much. He said he didn't think the scriptures were applicable to his life so he didn't want them. The lesson was completely a fail, and we kind of ended it open ended with him because he was pretty cold and negative throughout the whole lesson. We then decided to try and get to know him better. We talked about music and turns out he likes playing guitar and has a guitar so he brought it out, and I got to play some songs for him that I wrote on the guitar. Immediately he completely changed into a different person. He all of a sudden became interested and excited. We ended up talking for about 30 minutes more and he actively invited us to come back. We are going back this week to teach him again. Before we ever got to play music with each other, we asked him if we could come back to see him again, and he said he did not want us to. It was cool to see how that one little experience opened his heart. We go back tomorrow. I had two other experiences like that this week as well :)
Brandon - So it has been about a month that we have had any contact with Brandon back in Yonkers. So out of nowhere we got a call from Elder Segura in Yonkers telling us that Brandon came to church for Veronica’s farewell talk. Brandon lives in Kingsbridge and so Elder Segura said he was going to hand him off to us here in The Bronx. This was a very odd thing because we thought Brandon was completely done with the church.
THE MIRICLE - So last Monday after district meeting, my companion and I were going to go out to eat. He wanted to go to a Chinese place, but for some reason I felt prompted to go into this little bodega next to the church. I didn't even want to go get food there, but I just felt in my heart that for some reason I needed to go there. We ended up going on a little split with another companionship so I could go to the bodega. As we are waiting in line ordering sandwiches, guess who walks in? BRANDON!! We ended up talking and catching up and he was extremely surprised to see us there. We talked about meeting again and we talked about his life. I felt the spirit so strong in that little bodega as we talked. It was not a coincidence that I was led by the spirit to go into the bodega that day at that very time. Brandon even said it himself. He was like "The fact that we could come into this tiny bodega at the same time in the same place is no coincidence. This was God’s doing." Miracles happen when you follow the promptings of the spirit.
We are now meeting with him twice a week. We have had two lessons since then with him and each time the spirit has been so strong. He is literally a different person now compared to when we first started meeting with him. His countenance has completely changed. You can see the spirit working within him and seeing that change, and that is one of the best, if not the greatest thing about being a missionary - seeing that change in others, that only God can do. When Veronica left for her mission that is when it all hit him. That is when he said he really has to figure out his life, and he told us he wants this for himself. He wants to be happy without any other outside influence. It is amazing to see how different and enhanced people become when they choose to align their lives with God and his teachings. We challenged him to be baptized and he accepted with a full heart, so he is now going to be baptized on February 21st! My heart is full of joy as I have been able to see him literally flip his life around 360 degrees. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I was supposed to be transferred to this area. I really do love him as a brother and love his willingness to change. He is a great example to me. Please pray that he follows through strong with this. I am so excited for him, words can't describe it.
Greatest experience on my mission thus far - So last Saturday we had an APF. So I got to go on an exchange with an amazing missionary named Elder Sorenson. He is an african american guy from Utah who is such an amazing person who loves sports, so we get along. It's amazing how much more people will listen to you here if you aren't white. It's sad but people here are so ignorant. Anyways, Elder Sorenson is a boss. We get along so well. He is extremely positive and can really hone in on the spirit. We went down to the lower part of the Bronx (Concourse....the more sketchy part) and we were assigned to tract. So we went into this big building and went to the top floor. I had the genius idea of going to the top of the roof. Well, as I was walking up to the top of the stairs, the loudest alarm I have ever heard starting going off. It sounded like a bomb siren. As I turned around to run, Elder Sorenson was already down the stairs running. We got out of the building as fast as we could. The cops came and were looking for us but we booked it to another neighborhood. Well as we did this, we went up to the top floor of another building, tracted the first top floor and then went down a floor. We knocked on this guy’s door and he actually let us into his tiny project apartment. I have never seen this before when tracting, so it was a bit odd. He was from Nigeria and had a heavy accent. We started showing him a video about Lot and his wife, and about how we should not look back but forward in faith. Half way through the video, he asked us to pause it, and he got pretty angry. He started asking why we were showing him this? What was its point? Then he said to us "I want to learn something new! Teach me something I have never heard before!". Me and Elder Sorenson looked at each other and knew we should teach the restoration. We started teaching about how Christ's original church was restored to the earth again, and the way we taught in unity invited the spirit so strong. Elder Sorenson is an amazing teacher. The man asked some extremely difficult questions, not out of arrogance and anger, but out of true curiosity. I knew we were teaching by the spirit because we had the exact same impressions. As I was explaining something, I went to quote a random scripture I read in the Old Testament that morning, and as I said the scripture (I could not remember the exact chapter), Elder Sorenson already had it up ready to share and I didn't say a word to him. He was impressed by the spirit, as I was to share the same passage. This happened many times in the lesson, and we taught with complete unity with the spirit. We explained the complete history of the Book of Mormon and he asked if we could frequently come back. Elder Sorenson quoted the exact words from Joseph Smith when he talks about his experience with seeing God and Jesus Christ and I've never felt the Spirit so strong when talking about that. It again pierced my heart and I knew with even a stronger firmness that that experience really did happen. I felt it from heaven and so did he. We gave him the book, and he said he was going to read the whole thing after we left. No words can describe the progress of the lesson or the spirit that was felt there. It was so strong and I have never taught with better unity than I have with Elder Sorenson. He is a fantastic missionary who teaches and testifies with humility but with piercing power. Hopefully one day we can serve together. I will always remember the spirit that was felt there the rest of my life. It was nothing of this earth.
I'm not going to lie, the mission is a very, very difficult thing to do. 98% of the time, it's extremely difficult mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. 98% of the time I am constantly trying to survive. The area here is very difficult too. The whole culture and place makes it very difficult to stay sane. It is the most demanding back breaking work I have ever done because it requires all of you. Everything you have spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally. Every day you are drained of these things. I have had to rely on my relationship with God and his Son every day. It is the only way I survive. 2 % of the moments of being a missionary are filled with pure joy. Joy that isn't from this world. Moments like these (like the man we taught from Nigeria, or seeing the change in Brandon), somehow make it all worth it. The mission teaches you how to rely 100% on the Lord and it is really a refiner’s fire. I have learned so much already on my mission and I continue to do so every day. I don't really understand how 2% of this pure bliss can be worth the other 98% of struggling, but somehow it is. It is so worth it. I love those moments and thank God for them every day. I cherish these moments and hold them close to my heart, and they are what give me the focus and love to keep going.
I love you all. Let the spirit of God do all the teaching in life. It is the only way people will truly change.
Have a FANTASTIC week full of joy.
- Elder Austin Celaya