Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why Happiness Exists (29 July 2015)

This week has been one of the hardest weeks of my mission mentally. This week has been downright hard, draining, and difficult. But, looking back on it all, and what happened, I count it as a blessing.

The Heat - The heat here is unbelievable. The sun is so hot, the humidity is so thick it feels like you are being cooked in an oven full of boiling water. It drains you completely. 

Hermana Feliz' niece. So my old companion Elder Hausenfluck served in Harlem before. He told us to go look up the Feliz family. Well, we did, and we have been meeting with them every week now. Sister Feliz has a niece who is visiting from the Dominican Republic for the summer. We have been teaching her for the last month and she is really receptive. She has come to church three weeks in a row and all is going well. It is interesting because we have been teaching a lot of people who came to this country from their native country to find work and opportunity. It is amazing to see those who "mistakingly" run into the gospel. The Lord sees these things and He gives us these tender mercies that just make it all fit together.  We will see how she continues to go!

Fashion designer - There is this guy in our church who is in charge of dressing models and celebrities. He creates their outfits and packs them to go on tours (if they are music artists) or for photo shoots (if they are models). He has dressed some very famous people and he was telling us all about it. MY favorite was him telling us how he was in charge of putting all the outfits together for Justin Timberlake. That was a very fun visit. You just find so many awesome people here in NYC. 

Tender Mercies of the Lord - 

This week has been extremely difficult. Almost everyone we talked to was extremely rude to us. I felt like everyone we talked to cussed us out this week or threatened us, or to put it plainly, just didn't want us to exist. Yesterday we were feeling really down. I haven't felt that way for a long time. We decided to go and knock one more building. We knocked the building, and everyone was super angry with us. One guy started yelling at us in French, and then changed to English and cussed us out for a while. This happened with about 15 doors. Everyone answered (which is extremely unusual), and they all had something to say. So we were down with one floor left. We were not feeling happy at all at this point. We knock the next door, and this lady answers the door, and said, "HI! How in the world did you get in the building?" And I said, giving a smirk like we are some secret agents, "We have our ways..." Then she got super scared...and then I busted up laughing -- "no we are kidding, we just rung the bell and someone let us in." Then she asked us if we had been out all day and we said yes, and she told us to come in. She already knew who we were. Turns out, she is from southern California too. She just moved into her apartment a month ago and lives with a guy roommate. She is 23, and we came to find out that in high school she dated a Mormon guy. He left on his mission and they ended it and she felt pretty bitter about the whole thing. Well, that was the reason she let us in. She was extremely kind and we ended up talking for about an hour. Elder Merrell and I felt like we found our friend. I felt the spirit confirming to us that everything we had to go through that week led us to this. We had one of the greatest conversations I think I have ever had on my mission about life and who we are and what our purpose is as humans. The spirit was there, and the joy that we felt was so full of the love that comes from God. It was awesome. She just moved in. She was telling us how she doesn't have any friends here yet. We were going to leave after 20 minutes, but then she asked us if we could stay a little bit longer...she even told us she was feeling extremely depressed before we came. I find it funny that people think "we" make them feel good, when it isn't us, it's the Lord’s spirit. They cling to it. 

It was wild because I kind of have forgotten what normal people are like. People say "New Yorkers" for a reason. They are rough, tough, and straight up blunt about everything. She was kind and understanding and normal. This whole week was filled with rejection, but we both left feeling very edified and filled with the Spirit. It was a tender mercy to me to see that God was truly looking out for all three of us. He knew we needed something to lift our spirits, and even more, He knew that she needed it. We are going back to visit with her and her guy roommate within the next few weeks. They are going to make us dinner and we are going to go over to talk again with them. To explain the feelings I felt, I felt like I found my friend. That has been the most amazing feeling on the mission. When you feel like you find the person God wanted you to find. And when you find them, you can feel it by the spirit. Anyone who has served a mission knows exactly what I am talking about. The joy you feel is indescribable. 

This experience seems so meaningless, but that is what I have been learning. This mission, serving in the areas I have served in, has been hard. I don't like the atmosphere here. But I have come to LOVE the things that are good, because of how much bad I have been experiencing. I have come to see for myself that the greater bad I can experience, the greater good I then can enjoy, and things that are so simply good mean the world to me now. Buddha said, "Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared."

The way to know joy is to know misery. The more misery you experience, the greater you will seek after joy, and the greater capacity you will have to experience it. I am learning this first hand and I love it. 

As they say,
Come what may,
and LOVE IT!

That is something that makes this mission all worth it. Finding your friends who are in the darkness, and you both come into the light together.


Elder Celaya

The view outside our apartment in Harlem

with Elder Merrell

Our Harlem Zone with President Smith

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Killers (22 July 2015)

Hello family and friends:)

What a wonderful week.

I have realized that you guys cannot be with me here as I serve this mission, and because of that, I have attempted to describe the daily life here in Harlem with some of the events that have taken place over the last week. It is long. It isn't just an email updating you on what happened, but rather a little book of my experiences and feelings this week. :) 

love you guys!

HARLEM - Apartment. Wake up. Pray. Exercise. Study. Pray. Eat. Pray.

Leave, feeling uplifted and feeling energized with what we learned in the morning. Walk down the stairs. Open the doors of the apartment and out from our sanctuary into the dark world...then you hear yelling. Spanish and English. English you wouldn't understand. Dirty, uneducated and with drunkenness or anger.  Look to the left. People who look like they have walked through the desert without water and food for years laying on the ground. Out cold. A lighter, with homemade blunts filled with weed. Empty syringes lay worn out on the sidewalk. Blood filled pricked scars on their arms. Older and some fresh. Selling their future to substances. Cart filled with bottles and bags full of clothes. We walk by, put a Book of Mormon in their cart as they are deep within the sleeping spell of the after effects of the heavy drugs. The grand hope we have for the small possibility of complete change.

As we walk, we hear the yelling off in the distance. We walk towards the main road. Smells of rotting meat dwell within the air and fill your nostrils until it rubs you the wrong way. Turn the corner. Liquor stores all on the left filled with people who want to forget their reality. People without homes lay all over the sidewalk. Yelling in slurred Spanish and English affected by the effects of their drink. Brown bag in hand. Bottle in the brown bag. No life. All hope is gone. African Americans yelling, arguing in altered English. Continue to walk towards the train. Little venders (street meat) on the street corners. People come up and start yelling at us, trying to open our bags. Screaming at us about Jesus. Jump at us trying to scare us. We don't move. They eventually, with an impulse reaction, walk off and continue to yell to the invisible voices in their heads. Many people walking with a drunken spirit possessed within them, all talking to the members of their family that they have created over the years from so much drug use in their own minds. Exchanging sanity, progression, and the very point of life for temporary satisfaction and indulgement.

We walk down into the train station. The train comes. We take it. Everyone looks at us. Get out at our stop. People rushing. We hear yelling. Louder than before. We walk up onto the main road. More delinquents. African Americans dressed in robes with swords, professing that the devil as we know him doesn't exist, but rather how instead the devil is the white man -- just waiting for Jesus to come and tell them to kill us. They start yelling at us over the loud speaker. Everyone can hear. They start filming. Asking questions. Yelling furiously. We keep walking. Humid. Hot. You breathe and it feels like you are holding your breath. That feeling exists literally physically and emotionally as you walk the Harlem streets not knowing what is going to happen next. Walking through a sea of people. Nobody is smiling. If you are smiling, you are either drunk or have something up your sleeve.

We walk into project grounds. Big reddish-brown buildings shaped like an X, all placed in one area. Five or six of them all together. Walk onto the grounds. No Caucasion Americans anywhere. Everyone staring, wondering what we are doing there. People smoking and drinking. Cops stand watching, stationed throughout the projects. They watch with memories and regrets of not being there when previous murders have taken place. As you walk by the fence, there is an old antique bicycle all painted in white, symbolizing a young family member’s death. Next to the bike is placed holy candles with money, and with a rosary draped around the neck of the bike with a picture of the young person who was murdered due to something gang related. Their name flees away as the candles burn down to the end. The meaning of life to these people, fleeting away, means less and less the more their loved ones are taken from the earth.

Basketball court in the middle of the projects. People stare as we try to find the right project building. We enter. Smells of rotten meat, pee, sweat, mildew, and weed all enter your nose at once. You hit the elevator button. Nothing happens. We wait for ten minutes. A bell rings every time the elevator changes floors. Finally it arrives. It opens. All the smells go away, except the intake of pee increases. Old pee stains on the wall of the elevator. Fresh pee puddles on the ground. Walk in. Squeeze in with too many people. They are dressed in almost no clothing. You say hi how are you? They look and say nothing, as if we are not worthy enough for them. We exit out of the elevator on our floor. The smell of drugs envelop our noses and then enter the brain. We find our door, knock it. No answer. Arguing and strife mixed with music. Dark music. People see us knocking, come out the door and rudely ask us what we are doing and who we are. We tell them. They say nothing, just slam the door. You hear muddled cursing as they walk back to continue what they were doing. (Isn’t it ironic that the most successful people treat other people like they mean more to them than themselves, and, well...these people...treat others like they are less than life? they are kings who demand all the honor themselves?...sorry, just thoughts.)

We knock. They come to the door. "¿QuiĆ©n?" (Who?). “The missionaries.” They open. We enter. Finally in the safe haven of the members home. You can see our skin as our shirts become see-through because of the amount of sweat. We sit down to beans, rice, and chicken -- all cooked in loads of corn oil. As we eat, the sweat drips into the food. Eating your own fluids twice. Drink water just to sweat it out, just to eat it again. We eat until our stomachs feel like a time bomb just waiting to explode as they bring out more and more food. We eat, trying not to offend their quick offending personalities. We thank them, talk with them, learn of them, and then share scripture with them. We hear gun shots in the near distance. Sirens approach. Almost unnoticed because of how frequent you hear them. As the world turns darker, we try to turn together to God. They become family. They become your anchor. You become family in Him. We end with a prayer, asking us to be so different from the world outside. We go hoping to be filled with His strength because we know there is no way we can do it on our own.

We exit. Elevator...waiting. Ten minutes later, the elevator arrives. That familiar smell of hot, elevating pee. The elevator beeping, sounding like an EKG as we pass down the 20 floors, counting the floors as it would a person’s heartbeat. We exit the building to see cops everywhere. Someone killed in cold blood. The same way they were conceived is the same way they are taken out of the world (with no meaning). People watching as cops clear the scene. We try to go unnoticed. People stare. Sounds of fighting. Sounds of lust. Sounds of the natural man. Creating man and eliminating man both very quickly and without purpose. Solely on impulse. Sounds of "English" that has been altered from lack of education and substance abuse.

We walk outside of the project grounds and back onto the road again.  We walk. Slow at first. Pace begins to pick up. Taking in mentally everything we just saw. As we brush it off, a man in front of us looks behind us. Suspicious. All dressed in black. Hood over his head. He gets more and more agitated. He keeps walking. Faster, more rapidly and more aware of us. Pulls out a knife. Raises it high above his head as a warning to us. He keeps walking, putting the knife high in the air like he is chanting in a parade. We stop as we feel the soft warning of God's spirit, pressing upon us to stop. We slowly walk...calmly, knowing all is well. He pulls out something else in his other hand and raises it above his head as he looks at us. We stop. We turn down the road. We walk and walk and walk. We get away. We walk for 30 minutes.

We walk....we see Caucasian Americans all wearing red, with tents set up on the streets of Harlem. We walk up to them and start talking to them. They are the same age as us. They are here for a week to go around the city to pray with people. They come from all over the country. As we are talking, two African Americans get into a bad fight right in front of us. Other people start joining in, and I am a little irritated because it completely interrupts our conversation. I see the fear fall into this young woman's eyes as she watches. I ask her how she likes Harlem. She says with horror in her voice, "I'm from a cornfield in Idaho. I've never seen anything like this. This scares me to death." We tell them not to worry about it. We understand how they feel :) We were once there, new, not too long ago. We decide to put off the chaos around us, and we all come together and put our arms around each other (like a team huddling). In the middle of the streets of Harlem, with all the chaos going on, we start praying, as strangers, but as brothers and sisters united in God. I leave that little circle with a smile on my face for the hope that is still out there in this world. I love good people. We smile. We thank them. We walk away to our next goal.

We turn down the next street and continue on our way, searching for a building to knock. We go in faith that God will place in our path someone He has prepared. The day passes, full of extreme experiences. We go home. Plan for the next day. I look in the mirror. I wash my face and thank God for preserving me another day. I open up my email. I see letters from friends and my family explaining about the tests they have taken, about the people they are interested in dating, and how they are going on vacations. Pictures of them at the ocean with their family and friends. Happy. My mom sends me a picture of my dog. This simple life. It is now foreign. It confuses me. School? Sports? Family?  It now feels like that life never existed. I wonder how I will transition back into that life after experiencing this. I am different. I am not the same Austin Celaya anymore. Before this, I had seen so little compared to what's out in the world, but I have seen enough and I can no longer be the same. The Lord is bringing me low so I can learn how to build up the life I so dearly now want for the future. The things that matter. I know what they are now. I don't just know them as one knows that two plus two equals four. I know them as I have experienced them, as someone experiences walking into the ocean. Feeling the cold water rush upon your legs as you dig your feet into the sand, sand crabs tickling your feet as the waves come crashing against your shins. I know it in a different way than I have ever known before.

This place is a very dark world. We know in the end God will win, but I feel as if evil is winning. God has promised us another world. If we live faithful here and live according to His words, he promises us a different world where we may dwell in a state of forever-ending possibilities and ultimate happiness; with His son, Jesus Christ, with our families and with Him forever. I don't want to do anything that would take me or my family away from that. That is why I love this truth. God has given us the way to endure this dark world, to create that heaven here on earth, and has given us the power and the guarantee to be able to have this world in the future. It has come through His authority that He has given to His prophets. We can know for ourselves through prayer as we pray and ask. God will press upon us the very Spirit He possesses Himself, and He will show us through many hand-crafted experiences that only He could craft because of their perfection, that these things are true. We will know it. He will show it to us. Is everything else not just a mere hope anyway? I need more than just a wish to be able to know that this world that we all hope for will come and that I will be with my family forever. I need it manifested to me. That is why I am so grateful for the knowledge of God's power that He has given to his prophet here on the earth today. His power, His priesthood, is the only way to make anything sure in that world we all hope for. I am so grateful for the sealing power we possess to be able to be sealed to our families for time and all eternity with our Heavenly Father and His Son. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s testament was that God had revealed through him the sealing power by which “all covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations” shall be in force and recognized as valid in the eternal worlds (D&C 132:7).

Suffering is ok. Hurting is ok. Feeling hopeless is ok sometimes. It is all ok, because I feel the greater amount we see and experience, the greater capacity for good we will know and be able to experience. The next world will come if we like it or not, just as the sun will fall in the night whether we wished for it or not. But, thankfully, God has given us the daytime to choose which side we will follow. When the sun falls, it will be too late for us to choose whom to serve. As C.S. Lewis puts it:

"God Will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else-something it never entered your head to conceive -- comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back go give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it."

As C.S. Lewis said so perfectly,

"Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side.
God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever.
We must take it.......or leave it."

I'm still trying to convince myself to take it. I'm in this with you all just the same. I just hope we can take it together.

Your brother and friend,

Elder Austin Celaya

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Picnic in Central Park (15 July 2015)

- This week has been so humid. Yesterday we were completely drenched like we were swimming from the humidity. It is unreal. Haha. I carry around notepads and a flip notebook in my pockets, and they were completely ruined because of how wet it has been. Then, on top of that, it started raining like crazy! And it was super hot rain. Very different than home.

- Celaya. So there was this family in the Harlem ward and when we met, they got extremely excited because they were baptized by someone (a white blood man), a missionary in 1987 who was from Idaho with the last name Celaya -- spelled the exact same way, and she said we kind of even looked similar. Crazy right? Mom, maybe we are related?

- Harlem. This place is NUTS! Crazies everywhere. We spend a lot of our time doing work in project buildings here, more than any of my other areas. The project buildings are the grossest things I have ever been in. You walk in the elevators, and every time there is a fresh puddle of pee on the ground. That is the kind of people that live in these things. They don't care about anything. They just go pee wherever and do whatever with their lives. Every time you get out of the elevator you smell the aroma of herb (not the kind you put in food, but the kind you smoke), and you hear arguing and loud music. That literally is every project. And the stench of rotting rats and pee. Ehh.

- Central Park. We had a picnic with the ward in Central Park. It was awesome!

- Lower Manhattan. We have been looking up some people in lower Manhattan and it is crazy how expensive it is to live there. With the price of living in a little apartment there, you could have a very large, nice property with a large house and maids and the whole bundle somewhere else. The NYC life is very interesting.

- Blessing. So last week we gave a blessing to that man who was in the hospital (from my last letter). Well, turns out he passed away. The wife was so sad. I really feel bad for that family. We are going to try and meet with them because they need the knowledge of what truly happens before and after this life.

There is not much to talk about this week. We have just been looking up a lot of people and knocking a lot of doors. But all is well here. (:

I can just say the longer I am here in this crazy place the more I am realizing how much good matters, the life I truly want in this world and for the eternities, and how real God truly is.  I hope we may all discover that.

With love,

Elder Celaya

My new mission president and wife, Pres. and Sis. Smith

Elder Merrell and me in Central Park