Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Third World Country (27 May 2015)

Hello my family and friends!

This week has been absolutely CRAZY in SO many ways! It has been the most crazy, interesting, and fun week of my mission by far! It has completely been an adventure that I could not get anywhere else! I can honestly say I’d rather not be anywhere else in the world! This is just absolutely great! For our P-Day today we are going to go ride bikes through Central Park. Then go to Whole Foods. Haha. It's nice. We get in a train and it takes us out of our third world country and an hour later we are in one of the most beautiful and most expensive places to live in the world (Manhattan). Sometimes I have to pinch myself. Haha. 

This letter will be long, but it's because there were so many funny and spiritual things that happened this week. 

This week I have realized that The Bronx is basically a third world country. The main language is Spanish and the only real place to buy groceries is in little bodegas or side shops or mini-marts. People here treat the value of human life differently.  Everyone is packed in to these very old rundown apartments and there are drugs everywhere! And there were two more shootings this week. 

-THE BRONX in the summer. So it's really interesting because when the summer hits here, everyone is outside and they set up chairs on the sidewalk, bring out BBQ's and dominos boards and everyone has these little street parties. The whole street in the afternoon is covered with all these street parties. So, since nobody is inside their houses anymore, we have been street contacting people like crazy (basically just talking to people that are on the street). It has been super fun. Elder Richards is great and loves to do it, and I do too, so it works out perfectly! 

-Elder Richards is such a great guy! We have a lot of fun and he really is such an introspective person. He is so positive and kind and never judges anyone. You can completely be yourself around him and yet feel inspired to become better. I love serving with him.

-We met this guy over the last week and I can't say a whole lot about the situation, but I can say that he ended up loving what we do as missionaries. He was in the Special Forces so he knows his tactics. He told us if anyone were to ever mess with us he would be the first to hunt them down and end their life. Haha....He told us this so many times this week. That's kind of scary. But hey, I'm glad he's on our side. We know where to go if anyone is trying to hurt us ;) haha.

-Drunk lady. Elder Richards and I were walking back home one night, and as we were walking we saw this young woman (20's) with her friend and a few other people hanging out outside of a bodega and she looked like she was really drunk. Well, we wanted to see what would happen (because something always does seem to happen...I mean two white the's a little strange).  She saw us coming and starting screaming "WHAT'S YOUR NAMES??" Her friend was sober and told us "just please keep walking, for your sake. She's crazy right now." Well, Elder Richards told her his name as we continued to walk by as her friend was holding her back from us. As we were walking away -- until we finally got to the end of the street -- she was yelling in a very dramatic voice, "RICHARDS, CONFIRM ME CONFIRM ME!" It was downright hilarious. 

-DJ'n in the BRONX. So, there is this house we always pass by. There are always about 5 African American people just sitting out on the porch and one of them is always DJing. He has his whole mixing board out there and has these massive speakers and is just blasting the music so incredibly loud amongst all the apartment buildings. It is super funny because whenever we walk by, he is just so into it, and nobody is even there to listen. Well, after an appointment on Saturday, we walked past him and he was playing "Play That Funky Music.”  As we walked by, I was nodding my head and gave him a thumbs up, and he got super happy and turned the music up even louder. Everyone on the street that saw me do that got angry.  One lady was like "NOOOOO!!! Don't encourage him! He's been doing this everyday all day long! We are all just waiting for him to stop!!!" It was pretty funny. So now, I'm loved and hated on that street! :) 

-Dominican Woman (Crazy).  So, on Monday, one of our appointments canceled and we were just walking around trying to street contact people. As we were walking, we saw one of our members. We sat down with him in the park and talked to him for a while and we made a goal to contact everyone sitting down on all the benches. Well, right next to us on the following bench were four Dominican women. They were crazy just from what we saw. They kept looking at us the whole time we were talking to the guy from our church, and saying all sorts of things. Then all of a sudden they started smoking hookah and as we stood up, they were saying "Ven Pa Qa" which in actual Spanish is "Venga para aquí," which means "Come here!" We stood up and I looked at Elder Richards and was like "alright shall we go talk to them?" He said "no way, they are smoking and are crazy!" But, we went anyways and we walked up and said "¿Que Lo que?¿Dímelo?" --which means what's up or what's happening but in a very Dominican way. We started talking and we already knew where they were from, but of course they said the La República.  Something we say when we meet people from the DR (Dominican Republic) is "Hasta la Tambora" which means "to the beat of my drum," which is a complete dominant phrase that basically means you are "cool" with the Dominican culture. It doesn't matter how rude people are when you talk to them. If you say that, their complete attitude changes and they crack a smile and start laughing and then will talk to you.

Anyways, so we said the phrase to the girls and they busted up laughing. It was so great. They offered us hookah and then one of the girls said "come on don't you know they don't do that or drink any of that stuff?! Respect their religion!" Haha it was pretty funny but pretty cool to see them stick up for us. My companion was still in shock so he didn't say much and finally one of them asked him if he knew how to speak. Then another one of them was like "ohhhh boy, I know he already knows how to speak! I see him talking to people all day, knocking all crazy on my door, waking up all the neighbors....don't you fall for his lies. He's a silent liar! Haha." It was just great. We asked them after some time if they were ever religious and they said yes. But one said she doesn't feel right going to church anymore while she's been drinking or smoking so she has stopped. We talked a little bit about why she feels that way, and then we gave her something that talks about the point of life. It was a really cool, unexpected experience. We have been trying to talk to everyone we see on the streets and it's so much fun!  So now we are cool with all the street Dominican people in our area. It's nice. :)

-Two Irish ladies in the park.  We found these really aged women in the park. We decided to go up and talk to them. They were both from Ireland (not a surprise here). Every white person here is either from Ireland, Russia or Albania. We tracked into someone from Bulgaria the other day and that was pretty awesome. Anyways, we were talking to them, and it was obvious that their lives were coming to a close. We asked them if they have ever thought about what happens to us right after we die, and they said they have, especially now in their lives. We talked with them and were able to talk about where we go after this life and what happens. We really had a great discussion about how you really never know when God is going to take us home and retake back the breath he's given us. It could be at any moment and we know that now is the time to change, to become better people, to do the absolute best we can do, and to prepare to meet God.  I think what we testified to them really comforted them. At least when they do go, they won't be surprised about what actually will happen. It was a fun conversation. 

-Home attendant.  One of the families we visit has a home attendant for one of their kids. Well, come to find out, sometimes people take the message the wrong way when we missionaries try to talk to everyone and are interested in their lives. Haha. So one day I decided to talk a little bit to the home attendant. She is 21, straight from the DR and lives in the Bronx. Apparently after that day, she told the family she was attracted to me and I guess they had a whole conversation about it. Somehow it slipped and they told me. I asked what happened to her, and the mother told us. It was a little uncomfortable as a missionary. She could tell as well and finally she said, "to be honest, if I could, I'd freeze you and keep you for my daughter when she grew up!" Ahhh wow, was that awkward!!! Haha. But it's all good. We both played it off and forgot it, but it was something we definitely laughed about after. 

-Ismael. He is a young man (18) who we found tracting about 2 cycles ago. We have met with him 3 times and have been trying to meet with him ever since. We knocked on his door one day this week and his uncle answered. We started talking to his uncle and he eventually let us in. We were able to teach him a lesson and that went really well. So, we decided to try Ismael the next day. We went back and he was there. We talked with him about the Plan of Salvation, and it was amazing because he soaks it all in and truly is prepared -- he doesn't let his opinion get in the way of what he learns in the future to be true. Half way through the lesson, I received an idea to sing the hymn "I Am a Child of God." So, at the end of the lesson, Elder Richards and I both sang the hymn together and asked him to focus on the words of the song (because it talks about our purpose here on earth), and at the end, he was in tears. Now I know that wasn't our singing, but rather the spirit testifying of the words and the message. We asked him what he was feeling and he said it was a joy he's never experienced before and he started thanking us for bringing that to him. He said he feels something different around us that makes him so happy. We were able to testify to him that that feeling was not from us but from the spirit. It was God communicating to him the path he should take that would lead him to be his happiest self. It was such an amazing thing to see the spirit change him, and also to see him accept it and not be afraid to follow after what he knew to be true. There's nothing like seeing people change to God. The spirit was piercingly strong and I am so thankful for that moment in my mission. 

Well, basically that was only half of what I wanted to share with you all this week, but part two will come next week. Follow truth. Don't run from it. 

I love you all so extremely much!

- Elder Austin Celaya

Selfie with cookie (my favorite dog here) haha.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Contacting at a Hip-Hop Concert (20 May 2015)

Wow, what adventures I’ve had these past weeks! I have been so extremely busy, that is the reason I did not write last week. Where do I start? 

Well, I guess I will talk about transfers. My companion Elder Hausenfluck finished his mission last week and went home. I am so happy to have been able to serve with him. He taught me so much and I will use that knowledge the rest of my mission and even my life. 

I now have a new companion named Elder Richards. He is just awesome! We have a great time together. He is from Utah and has only been out for five months, but he is a stud! He's not afraid to talk to anyone and he's so good at doing it. He's very patient and loving and virtuous and is always looking for ways to show how much he cares. It's amazing how much you learn from your companions. 

- Elder Cook from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles came and visited our mission. That was just unbelievable. I got to sing before he talked and it was such a good and crazy experience. It was incredible how much love he had for us. You could really feel it and I have never felt it like I did then.

- We have been trying to talk to everyone in the streets here that we can. Elder Richards is so willing to talk with anyone and so we have been coming up with good ways to contact people. Sometimes it can be scary, but then after you do it, it's no big deal! I think I enjoy it a little more than tracting, but tracting is great too!

- Contacting at a hip-hop concert in the park.
So there are these crossroads that we always walk across every day. We were walking to a family’s house that we usually teach, and all of a sudden we saw tons of people and heard this loud music. As we got closer we saw they closed off all the roads, set up tons of pop-up tents, and they had a huge stage in the middle of the road. It was absolutely wild! We went to the family’s house and after we had the appointment with them, we had planned to go look up a person before our next appointment. Well, we then asked ourselves, "How often in our area are there thousands of people all gathered together at one spot?" Really it's not that often. So we decided to go contact people and try to talk to them. We spotted this family on a bench and we went up to them and asked them if they knew who was performing. They told us, and they started talking and it was great. The man had been in an accident and the bone in his leg broke sideways, so they cut out the bone and put in a metal rod. He then started talking about how real God was to him in that moment. He is from Brooklyn and turns out he is a music producer. Since I love to do the same thing, we connected well on that level. He told us how he's seen everything worldly in his life, and has realized that family is what he really wants. So, we were able to talk about the plan that God has for us on the earth and they really loved it! We took their information down and we will keep in contact with them. This is just one of the amazing experiences we have had this week by talking to people on the street. It is amazing what happens when you simply open your mouth. 

- I have learned this week a little bit more about how God works with us. We must first do our part (to show Him our desire and our faith), and then He will do the rest. For example, the hardest part about contacting people is convincing yourself to go talk to that person, but after you do that, you feel the spirit speaking through you to them, and it becomes a beautiful thing. It really is true how they say faith always precedes the miracle. 

I have been thinking about really how simple life can be if we allow it to be. We are all here on this earth. As far as we know, we sometimes feel as if we have no direction. It really is simple. There was a man who came to the earth and lived a perfect life, and showed us the way to happiness here in this life, and eternal bliss in the world to come. That man is the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Sometimes I ask myself why we don't just give our full hearts to Him and follow His example when we know it will lead us to happiness that in our human state we aren't able to comprehend. Do we not want happiness? Haha, at least that's the question I ask myself when I don't fully give my heart to Him and trust Him. I sometimes ask myself why I don't fully do that. But it's rather simple. God's given us the way to happiness in every area we could possibly think of, want, or envision and far beyond that. All we have to do is give our hearts to Him and exercise our free agency and choose to follow Him, because that's the one thing he doesn't have - our hearts. How can we simply give Him our hearts, and start ourselves on the path to infinite eternal bliss? I guess a good question to ask is what would we change if we knew we were to meet God today? I have been thinking a lot about that. And the answer that comes into my mind is I would give him my full heart. What would you change?

I love you all!

- Elder Celaya

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

This Place - Straight Crazy (6 May 2015)

Welcome to New York! Haha. This week has been so extremely busy, but so awesome!

To start off, there is this guy here who walks around everywhere on the streets who makes really loud bird calls. He dresses like a bird and I honestly believe he's so crazy and messed up in the head that he thinks he's really a bird. Usually every time he sees us missionaries walking around he starts yelling all the cities in Utah (everyone here thinks we are from Utah...or they call Utah "the factory"....because they pump out missionaries… Haha) and then he starts yelling his bird calls (which sound extremely accurate and quite honestly it scares me how real they sound. Anyways, last week we saw him and walked right past him. He has a bunch of bird feathers in his hair, and had long peacock feathered earrings hanging from his ears. I was in a lighter mood that day and I had heard a lot about him before (I believe I wrote about him before in one of my previous letters), so as I walked past him, I stopped and flapped my arms (like a bird) and said "BIRD MAN, MAKE ME FLY!!!" haha. He got a little too excited and started making all kinds of bird sounds that I've never heard before. There was this guy in front of us who saw the whole thing and was like (and this is extremely edited by the way...haha), "Maaaaan, all this guy has got to do is run up a tree and he's practically a bird." It was extremely funny and it gave us a great laugh for the day. This story explains this place - straight crazy. Haha.

Yankees game - So last Wednesday for preparation day we got to go to the Yankees game. One thing that's interesting is that the stadium is in the middle of the Bronx that's filled with projects and apartments. You would never imagine it to be in a place like this. Anyways, the Yankees lost, but it was pretty fun to go and see! 

We have a special stake conference coming up within the next month and they assigned me to play all the music and a member of the 70 is going to be coming! I'm excited because it will be very interesting.

Piano Lessons - A lot of people here have been hearing me play in sacrament meeting and are now asking me to give them or their kids piano lessons. So now what we are starting to do is instead of maybe having a lesson with them at their house, they come to the church, we have a little piano time, and then we finish with a lesson about gospel related principals. It's been very fun and interesting. Just imagine a super hot and spicy Dominican type of personality acting like they have the piano down and then getting super angry when they mess up. It's been interesting to say the least! Haha. 

Elder Quinten L. Cook - On this upcoming Saturday, Quinten L. Cook, who is a member of the Twelve Apostles is coming to speak to our whole mission in Manhattan at the temple, and president asked me to sing a special number! Ahhh! I'm pretty nervous to be honest! I never thought I would get the opportunity to sing for an apostle! Haha but I'm very excited as well to feel the love he has as he speaks about whatever it is he will speak about. I feel it will be a very spiritually uplifting day.  Wish me luck and pray that I can do all right! 

Pedro Reyes - Yesterday, a man we were teaching named Pedro got baptized! He was absolutely so prepared. His situation could not have gotten any better because he lived with a family that was in our ward. So, every time we were privileged to teach him, his sister-in-law was able to sit in the lessons and help us out explaining everything. He moved from Mexico and he is divorced. He has a 15-year-old son who lives in Mexico with his ex-wife, so he feels very alone in life because he doesn't really have any friends and the only family he has over here in the United States is his brother and his family. He works all the time and then comes home to rest. So the only people he really sees are the people he works with, and his family. He really was at a point where everything else has failed him in life, and he was able to realize, while taking the lessons, that this was the only way to true, deep, heavenly, lasting happiness. You could see the change in him as we got to teach him. It's a very amazing thing to watch in someone - when you first meet with them and you can see the deep sorrow and hopelessness in their eyes. Then as you start to meet with them, the spirit starts to change them and their countenance. This change only happens AFTER they start to live in harmony with the things we teach them. What they need in order to even start that change is faith and a desire to have that faith. Well, Pedro truly had that. 

Yesterday was his baptism and the whole service went well, until we got into the font. Someone had undone the plug so the water was almost all gone! Everyone was in the room waiting for us to go down into the water, but water is exactly what we lacked! Haha. Anyways, we all got buckets and started pouring water into the font. Well after a while, we decided we had to do the baptism now because the English ward had a baptism as well at the same time. So Pedro walks into the font, and the water was very low. So, I knew right then, getting him down that low was going to be a challenge. So I said the prayer, and then he went down. And as I saw how low the water really was, I realized that I would have to give it some power, so I did and he came up, we were both soaking! I gave it way too much force. Someone in the back even said "¡El sentió eso!", which means, "He felt that!!" Besides that, the experience was absolutely great. He even told us that he felt a change happening in him after his baptism. 

As I was sitting there I was just thinking about how, right now, these people are my family. I love them and I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to come to know them. Some of these people I have met on my mission I feel as if I have known them forever, and I just had to come out here to find them again. Some of these people I will be best friends with the rest of my life. It's really interesting what happens when you forget about worrying about yourself and get involved with others, and see their problems and try to help them. I've seen so many different people with so many different problems, small and extremely large, and it's amazing to sit there and show them how the gospel of Jesus Christ can fix their problem completely. I've seen time after time how that simply is the answer to every problem we have. It doesn't suspend the problem by only treating the pain felt, it completely heals any problem we have no matter how big or small it is. I'm so grateful that I've been able to see how to apply it in so many situations in life because I've seen how infinite the atonement is as well as the gospel and now I can apply that for the rest of my life. This is great! I love this time I have to serve. Do something today to forget yourself and help another. You never know how much it can help.

Happy Mother's Day as well! I am excited to skype my family on Sunday and I'm so grateful for them in my life :)

Be happy. Smile more. 

- Elder Austin Celaya
Pedro Reyes' Baptism

Selfie with Pres. Morgan

Yankee Stadium from my seat!

Crazy shop in Manhattan

Kids I love