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. "¿Quién?" (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

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