What. A. Week.
Everyone here thinks Jesus is black. That's always a fun one to deal with. I won't say any more about this one :)
I'm having a hard time writing these emails now, because most of the things we are experiencing here we cannot write about. So, I am trying to find some things that are good and uplifting. So here it goes.
We were visiting the family who has a daughter who's 14 and pregnant. They are crazy! But we went over and were teaching them and talking with them, and then we gave the boyfriend (14-year-old) the chance to say the prayer. Up to this point he didn't seem really interested and it felt as if he didn't really want us to be there. As he said the prayer, my whole feeling about him changed. He said, "Thank you for sending me these two brothers who have shown more love to me than my own family. More love than I knew existed." That right there made it all worth it. His life is not easy and there's some choices that he has made that's made his life extremely difficult right now. He's a thug. Haha, but it was wild to see how love broke down everything and pierced him to the heart.
Victor Ramos - So we found this guy who just moved here with his family from La República. Turns out he used to be a professional pianist in the D.R. We told him we both played piano and he got all excited and brought us into this room where he had a piano. He started jamming out and then we played songs as well, and after that, it was as if we'd known each other forever. It was so awesome to see how that broke down every barrier. Very fun experience. It became spiritual.
Humidity - the humidity here has been insane! This is a foreign mission for sure. Every day you are soaked from head to toe in sweat and water from the humidity. Then you go into these hot tiny apartments which are even hotter inside and you sweat even more. It feels like you are in a rainforest.
Random rainstorm - Yesterday it started to rain for 30 minutes suddenly super hard. The streets were starting to flood and we decided to go outside during this time, of course. Well we got soaked from head to toe. We tried to go and continue on with working for the rest of the day, but it was super uncomfortable so we eventually changed.
Indians - there are tons of people here from India! The other Sunday they blocked off the street and had an Indian festival. It was the craziest thing. Our area is like the Dominican Republic and India mixed into one. Then you have the few Albanians. Nobody here really even speaks English (except the kids).
Contacting and tracting - we have been contacting people in the streets and tracting apartment buildings for most of our days. It's long and tiring, but we have seen results!
Detonation cleanse - So, Elder Richards loves to eat healthy. We decided to go on a detox cleanse and completely stop eating bad things. We told all the members, and we have been on this cleanse for a week and a half now. It's a two week cleanse. We can only eat vegetables and certain fruits and some grains. We can only drink when we eat and we have to drink four glasses of water every meal, and we can't eat past five. It's been so extremely difficult, but it's been good. I have definitely felt a lot different and have lost some weight:) We finish the cleanse this Sunday.
Army - we have this less active family that we visit every week. One of the guy’s girlfriend finally was able to meet with us. The guy’s name is Roger. Well, Roger’s girlfriend’s brother just got back to NY from serving in the Army in Germany, Korea, Italy, and Afghanistan. We met him earlier last week, but yesterday we talked to him outside for about an hour about his experiences in Afghanistan. He's 21 but enlisted in the army at 17. He shared some of the experiences he had, and some of them were experiences that we as normal human beings, living in a normal society, can't even dream of. He was a helicopter sniper in Afghanistan. We talked a lot about post-traumatic stress and how real it is for those soldiers who experience dark things in war and then come home and are haunted by those experiences.
It was very interesting because we were outside when we were talking to him. He constantly was scanning the whole environment, checking out every detail about everyone who walked by. He then started telling us about every single person who walked by within that hour (what they were doing as they walked by, what size they were, race, what they were wearing down to a T, etc...). He said that is what you are paid for in the military. It is engraved in him to be completely 100% aware of his surroundings. He's even cautious of children walking by because he said in Afghanistan, many of the children have bombs strapped to them so he even is aware of them.
I had just watched this video that the church put out last week of these two men who fought in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and it talked a lot about their post-traumatic stress. But I didn't know why I needed to watch it. As we were talking to this guy, I then came to know why. We were able to show him the video, and he opened up a lot more about the things now he's going through with the stress. We were able to testify and tell him that we have no idea the things he's been through in war and nobody does or really ever will, except Jesus Christ. Christ stooped below everything anyone would feel, and took on exactly what he (the guy we were talking to) was feeling so he (the guy) doesn't have to. The dark gloomy pain he feels every day causes him to wake up in the night screaming because of the memories coming back to life, haunting him from war. But we were able to talk to him about how the knowledge of Christ frees you. He's always there. Christ felt exactly what you feel like nobody even knows about. He knows us better than we know our own selves. It's amazing to see how Christ can cover everything from the littlest mistake to the darkest, suppressing experiences we can't even imagine going through on this earth. His hand is always open. Why not take the perfect help?
Here is the video we shared with him. These two guys would jump from planes and start shooting at anyone they saw. The guy we talked to yesterday said these guys are nobody to mess with. He said they are really high up in the army and are as crazy as it gets. Watch how even their wounds....their deep, dark and unwavering wounds were able to be healed when they turned to Christ and gave Him their burdens. If even they can be healed, imagine how much we can be changed through Him?
Many people ask why God doesn't reveal himself in such a dark world. I myself have asked that question many times. The reason is simple. It is because He loves us. He is holding back, so we can choose to find him, discover him, and choose with all our souls to follow him. When Jesus does come again, it will be too late to choose which side you are on. As C.S. Lewis basically put it: "It is no good saying you choose to lay down, when it has become impossible to stand up." The time is now. Now is the time to change. It will be too late then if we procrastinate our own progression. He is giving us this time to change and take up our cross and follow Him, but time is fleeting. Let us plant the tree we should have planted twenty years ago, today. I love you all so much. Let's work together to be truly happy.
As the scriptures put it: "I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness."
Just keep swimming!
Elder Austin Celaya