Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Our nine month anniversary

March 31, 2015
Today is our 9 month anniversary.  We have served one fourth of our mission.  As I was thinking of that this afternoon, it dawned on me that we received such a wonderful gift to celebrate this first nine months.

We have tried to not focus on numbers here.  It seemed that it was too strong of a focus before we got here.  Therefore there were some things that happened in order to increase numbers instead of the primary focus of bringing people to Christ.  Bringing people to Christ includes all – you, members of the Church, and nonmembers of the church.

There have been several times that we have heard that missionaries don’t think we care about baptisms.  We care about baptisms, but we care more about growing the Church in Mexico.  The stronger the church is in Mexico, the better off Mexico will be.  A baptism, and no further attendance at church, does not help the church in Mexico.  Members who are no longer attending church need attention and love.  Their lives can be made better.

Back to the subject:  Therefore, we have worked on obedience and help strengthen our missionaries.  If missionaries are more righteous and obedient, they will do a better job at missionary work.  Up until March, our baptisms have been a little disappointing each month.  We have looked at that sadly but felt compelled to continue down our road of focus.

Baptisms in February were 40, which was pretty close to average.  Baptisms in March were 130!  What a gift for us!  130 souls brought to Jesus Christ because of obedient, righteous missionaries!  There were also hundreds of “less active” members that came back and partook of the spirit that can be felt at church – because of simple and thoughtful invitations from our missionaries.  What a gift for our nine month anniversary!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Visa Challenge

March 28, 2015

Elder Vallejo is our executive secretary in charge of Visa’s.  We have to choose a secretary that has absolute integrity along with excellent Spanish and English skills.  Every one of our missionaries from foreign countries has to have a Visa from Mexico.

Elder Vallejo often has to take the metro, along with a number of missionaries, to central Mexico City.  At times he has thousands of dollars on him and up to 20 passports.  He has to maneuver a group through various stations, streets, and buildings.  It is most stressful.

He shared several recent experiences:
The first time he was on his own after he prior secretary had finished training and moved on, he arrived at the Visa office with all the needed money and paperwork.  First question: May I see your passport for identification?
Answer:  I forgot it (realizing now that he forgot all the passports needed)
The clerk doesn’t look up as Elder Vallejo says a silent prayer.
Question:  May I have the paperwork and passports of the other missionaries?
Answer:  Here is the paperwork, I forgot the passports.
The clerk still doesn’t look up but keeps working.  Elder Vallejo starts to understand that he is receiving some Heavenly help here.  The clerk continues, never looks up, finishes the paperwork, collects the money and bids him farewell.  He walks out with a lighter heart.

Last month the Visa office refused to grant a Visa to one of our Elders.  It had been granted for the first year, but now they didn’t like his passport.  When the Elder had signed it in the USA, he hadn’t signed his full name.  He crossed it out and resigned, which was acceptable in the US, and acceptable the first year down here, but no longer.  This requires a trip to the US Embassy and an original birth certificate in order to correct.  We don’t have original birth certificates – mom and dad do.  The Elder’s parents scan us a copy and the trip begins.

Arriving at the embassy, and with a prayer going, they walk up to the clerk.  They are greeted with a big “Hello Elders, I’m a member of the church also.”  Once again Elder Vallejo is receiving Heavenly help.  She looks at the scanned copy and marks it as an original.  Our Elder is now legally in Mexico.

We are ever so thankful for assistance from the other side of the veil!

Love is in the air...spring fever...etc., etc.

March 28, 2015

There are many quotes about love in springtime.  Somehow it goes with the season, even in a mission.

In the last two days, we have had six Elders call us about the “love problem.”  We are so thankful when they call!  During a mission, the best way to handle a “love problem,” is to bring it to the forefront and deal with it!

Our Elders look mighty good to the young ladies at Church.  The Elders are clean cut, well dressed, groomed, and very nice.  They serve, talk kindly, and try to be Christ like.  What else do you want in a man anyway????

Most of the time the Elders can turn a head, but occasionally they heart starts to get involved.  That’s the right time to call the Mission President.  Call him when love is just starting to bloom!  All six of the Elders that called were in the blooming stage!  They were starting to receive nice notes, sweet texts, and frequent invitations to homes.

Distance is usually the solution – a move to another area.  Phone numbers are changed.  Information is shared with companions so they can help and give strength.  Invitations to homes are cancelled and the missionaries work on “locking the heart” again. 

Who wouldn’t fall in love with these fine young men?  We are so thankful they try so hard to keep the commitments they have made to their Heavenly Father!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Self Reliance

March 24, 2015

Our Mexico Area Presidency has established goals of Self-Reliance for this year.  In order to slowly lift Mexico, each member has to lift themselves.  There are wards where the bishop has served for many years only because he is the only tithe payer in the ward.  Members are missing great blessings because they don’t understand some of the principles.  With the area focus on Self-Reliance, our mission focus is on bringing people to Christ, whether they are already members of the Church or not.

From one of our zone leaders this week:
President Stutznegger,
        I just wanted to share with you a “success” story that we experienced with the new program of “self-reliance.”  We have an investigator named Angels.  She committed to us that she would listen to the missionary lessons if her husband (a less active member), would quit drinking. 
        He, therefore, quit drinking, and she started listening to us, mostly because of her promise to listen if he quit drinking, and not out of interest.  She fought hard to keep the commitments in the lessons, but she really wasn´t real warm with us. 
     In time, the things we were teaching her began to touch her heart, and she began to open up more. However, she still wasn´t making much progress.  She could not come to church much because of her job that required her to work on Sundays. 
       We had heard about a new self-reliance program that was starting in the Stake.   We did not know much about it, but both of us felt that she needed it.  We talked to her about it and she accepted the invitation to attend. 
      We went with her to the first training, and she was very excited about it.  From that day on, she has attended the trainings twice a week.  My companion and I were hoping that the program would help her get a better job, and it has.  But, the program has done much more than that.  It has taught her the principles of the Gospel with the end of helping her to become more spiritually self-reliant. 
      Now she reads the scriptures and prays every day.  The Spirit is working very strongly with her, and she now has complete confidence in us, and is accepting all we are teaching her.  Her husband and children have not attended the self-reliance classes, but they are progressing jointly with her.
     Now on Sundays, she attends the Ward in the building next to us, so she can go to church early, then leave for her job, then return to the Stake Center for more classes in self-reliance.  She has been able to build a unity with other members taking the classes, and with the teacher; they have fellowshipped her in a manner that I have never seen before. She tells us of previous doubts she has had, but her new friends at Church in these classes help her resolve them.
     It looks like she will soon have a new job that will let her keep the Sabbath day holy.  She loves the Church now!  It has been a miracle.  She will be baptized on April 11th!!!
    I want to send all of my investigators to the Self-reliance Center. 

              Elder M.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Our worst trip to the airport so far!

March 18, 2015

Americanos live in a disposable society.  When we grow tired of things, we simply throw them away.  Everything, and I mean everything, has a value in Mexico.  When there is garbage pickup in Mexico, a man walks down the street ringing a bell.  The bell signals that garbage pickup truck or cart is one block away.  You don’t pay for this pickup – you simply tip the workers when you hand over your garbage.  The workers sort the trash for everything recyclable, turn it in, and earn their meager wages.  Everything from small pieces of tin, to heavy pieces of metal, have a value to those who sale it for a living.

We had six Elders, and one Sister, taking off from the airport in a half hour range on Wednesday.  Every one of the flights was international, with only one going to the states.  We have two terminals – we drive between them.  Only one flight was from Terminal 1, the other 6 were in Terminal 2.

We thought we could do it all – foolish thought.  Keith took four of them to the AeroMexico check in.  I headed towards COPA which was flying two Elders back to the Dominican Republic.  We sent the Assistants off to the other terminal to send back the American.  All of them had been instructed about weight limits.  I carried all passports and Visas.  Keith did fine, the Assistants got the American Elder on with a few minutes to spare, and my duty fell apart.  Elder Paulino’s Passport had elapsed.  Our office had noticed this, and taken care of it, but neglected to send over the authorizing paper. 
·           *Call to office:  “No matter what you are wearing or doing, grab the paper and catch a taxi.  We have 20 minutes.”
Meanwhile, I tried to check in Elder Camilo.  Both suitcases were many pounds overweight.  Even his carryon was overweight.
·           *Me to Elder Camilo: “Step out there and start to empty your cases.  We have 20 minutes.”
We started to pull things out of his bag.  In his carry on he had a broken utility knife, 2 pairs of scissors, and a paper punch.  His luggage included 3 new Books of Mormon, one in English that he doesn’t even read.  He had a huge pile of papers, Preach My Gospel, lots of fake aftershave, and a broken plastic car.  We kept moving things, and making a pile that would not go home with him.  Remember that everything has a value in Mexico

By now COPA has announced that we have 4 minutes.  Elder Paulino was close to tears.  I took his hands and said a prayer right there.  I received a call that the office Elders were arriving and I took off running for the front doors – although they ended up coming in on a different floor and so I found myself doing a circle of several floors.

When we re-weighed, and handed them the authorizing papers, the Elders had missed check in by several minutes.  My pleading did not change the mind of the check in clerk.  We re-scheduled their flights for 3 hours later and they would arrive home 8 hours later.  I’m so sorry parents!

Maybe after 3 years of this we will have it figured out!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Learning a language is hard!

March 20, 2015
In my "off" hours, I am trying to learn Spanish.  For a semi-bright person, you would think this would come with a little ease.  But no, I have not been that blessed.

We also work with/encourage our Latino missionaries to learn English.  English will change their life in years to come.  Many are taking up the challenge.  As part of the mission requirements, each missionary is supposed to email Keith every week with a report.  Here are a couple of emails where courageous Elders tried to write Keith in English.

President hello how are you?
So glad to see him Sunday in the chapel and his speeches always motivate and encourage me thanks.
I'm here in my area very well animated (excited) and already with 8 researchers (investigators) and hope and longing both the day to baptize them in the pile (baptismal font = pila) and I am very happy in my area I love him president has beautiful week: Greetings to his wife and his family.

President I send many greetings I hope this good everything here either single ehe tate a little sick (except I have been a little sick) my investigators are progressing good and that makes me happy and is shortly to be bautizen (baptized) and seguire (continue) struggling to find more I want President greetings to his wife and family

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Ship Building

March 11, 2015
Every six weeks we have transfers/changes.  During this time, new missionaries arrive, missionary companionships are changed, and missionaries completing their service are sent home.

As missionaries arrive, each are assigned a “trainer.”  Each trainer is with each new missionary for 12 weeks.  They are to teach them everything they need to know to be an excellent missionary.  These trainers will set the stage for the remainder of the service for each missionary.  We try really hard to pick the best trainers.

We had a training meeting for “trainers” the other day.  With 9 new missionaries arriving in 6 more days, we spend some time helping them get ready to train.

I awoke at 4AM the morning of the training.  I had a strong impression of what I needed to say to the trainers.  One of the great stories in the Book of Mormon is when Nephi received a revelation from Heavenly Father telling him to “build a ship.”  This ship would take him and his family to the Promised Land.  This was my impression that morning.  Tell the trainers that they needed to be ready to “build a ship.”

Nephi probably didn’t know how to build a ship, but he did recognize when his Heavenly Father talked to him and he did know that he would be guided in whatever he needed to do.

Our trainers need to be able to “build a person.”  They need to be able to recognize when they are being guided by the Holy Ghost.  They need to keep themselves pure so that personal revelation can come.  They are training someone who may be coming from a different culture or a different language.  Each of us is unique in what we are.

So often we all are called on to “build a ship.”  We are asked to walk out of our comfort zones and do something new and often important.  We have to rely on the Spirit to fill in our shortcomings and make it possible for us to be an instrument in God’s hands.  Ship building and person building is hard work!

Grandpa and Grandma smell like Mexico

March 11, 2015
“Grandma, you and Grandpa smell like Mexico.”

Is that a compliment?  My 14 year old grandson said this to me today as I was hugging him.  Gunnison is here visiting from Texas.  We have spent several long days visiting many of the sites here.  He has missed his ice cream, nacho’s, and pizza.  He claims he has lost 14 pounds (wish I could do that!).

I seldom have the occasion to hug an Elder.  I only do so in real times of distress or needed comfort.  I do have to admit that at those times I have picked up on a different “human” smell.  It’s not a bad smell, just different from the ones I am used to.  Maybe my “smeller” is overactive.

So now I have the smell also. I’ll still have to decide if I am slightly offended or just proud that I “smell.”

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Elder X

March 5, 2015
Elder X is a tall Elder that had little time in leadership when we got here.  He goes home in 4 months so therefore we will have had him for 12 months.

We moved him to a Senior companion, and then to a District Leader.  He is loved by all.

Today’s conversation following Zone Conference:
Elder X to me:  I love you guys.  Is there anything I can do for you?
Me to Elder X:  Matter of fact there is.  Come over here and talk to the President (we had already decided we were going to call him to be a Zone Leader in 2 weeks)
Me to President: Elder X wants to know if there is anything we need from him.  I told him there was.
President to X:  Elder X, I want you to be a zone leader on the next transfer.
Elder X laughs, hugs the President, tells him he loves him and walks away.

10 minutes later

Elder X. to me:  You have to quit scaring me like that!  I almost took President serious!
Me to Elder X:  He was serious!

I walked away with Elder X’s eyes wide and mouth open.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Zone Conferences and the Hermanas

March 3, 2015
Zone Conferences occur every 3 months.  Since we have 7 zones, we do 7 presentations, each on different day.  Each conference lasts from 9AM – 1PM.  We have to get them home for “comida” – the big meal of the day which happens at 2PM.

The missionary force in the entire world is 80,000+.  About one quarter of the missionaries are women.  Our little world consists of 210+ missionaries with only 18-20 being women.  We only allow these “Hermanas” in 2 out of our 7 zones because of safety reasons.

We are in the midst of zone conferences.  Our teaching team for the first time includes our Sister Training Leaders.  These are two of our best female missionaries.  So our total team is Keith and I, the two Assistants (male) and our two Sister Training Leaders.

I love to watch the faces of the Elders when we arrive, open the doors, and out step two Hermana’s.  Most of these Elders have never been taught by a Sister Missionary.  They are serving in areas that we do not place Sisters.  Since half of our missionaries are Latino, many have had little experience being trained by the “softer” gender.

We have done this for a reason.  Culture is a slow thing to change.  The view of women in Mexico still has “some room to grow.”  These youth will return home after their missions finish.  We are hope their future view of women will be affected by seeing the great women who serve here.

Mexican Driver's Licenses

March 3, 2015
We often run into two other mission presidents at the airport.  These two missions are on the same schedule of changes and so our missionaries often arrive together.  We try and have some lunch together.

Topic at lunch: Mexican Driver’s Licenses
President Crickmore:  I got my license!  You have to get 8 out of 10 questions correct on the test.  I only got 7 right but they gave it to me anyway.

President Titensor:  What test?  I didn’t take a test.  I just paid the amount and they gave me a 6 month license.

Stutzneggers:  We didn’t have the test either.  We paid the money and they gave us a 3 year license.  We are set for our whole mission!