Dear Beloved Family & Friends,
One year down. How did that happen? It seriously feels like it went by super fast but at the same time it feels like I have been in this missionary lifestyle for a very long time. It's crazy how fast time flies. This life is completely different than how my life was before the mission... And I absolutely love being in this life. It feels like I am a different person... the same but different. I know that I have grown a lot in this year I have been here but there are a few things that have really helped me here in the mission which have also changed me into a better person as well.
Before the mission I was happy. I had a family that loved me and friends that were always there for me in every aspect of my life. I really loved these people and I appreciate what they did for me. Everyone was always good and nice with me... even when often times I was a jerk. I was a kid who did what he was told... and enjoyed the blessings from obedience as I obeyed... I also suffered from guilt when I was disobedient. I learned at a young age that being obedient made me happy and made me free. Thanks to the example of my goodly parents I learned this quickly... now this doesn't meant I was always obedient but it does signify that I usually did what I was told and counseled. Not because I was being commanded or forced to do it, but I understood that I felt much better and could do more things when I was obedient. So I was obedient because I wanted to be obedient not because I was told to do so. My parents taught me that doing good in school was a standard in our family, going to church was a standard, and participating together as a family was a standard (even if that meant that I had to go to Xochitl's dumb dance/choir concerts). My parents taught me this... but then I grew to want to do these things on my own. I would get good grades because I wanted to, I would go to church because I enjoyed going and wanted to be there, and I would participate in family activities because I loved supporting my family and absolutely loved feeling the love in the atmosphere when we were together. I did these things because I understood the importance of these aspects of life.
Now I did all of these things by myself... of course I had help from a lot of kind, loving influences in my life... but I didn't rely on these influences to have success. I only relied on myself, excelling in school, receiving a testimony in the church, being in the presence of my family, was all based on what I could do as an individual and didn't rely on anyone to help me in these concepts. I felt like I could only be succesful based on what I did and I didn't put my confidence in others to help me out. Now with this in mind... try to imagine how I felt when I messed up, when I sinned, when I fell down, I honestly felt horrible. Like I said, I was a happy person... but got really, really, really angry at nobody but myself. Because I messed up, because I was better than that, and because I knew better. Often times I just would hold all my anger and hatred in until I took it out on the persons most close to me in my life. I wasn't angry with them... but I would be so angry and frustrated with myself that often times it leaked out (or got hydro-pumped) onto the people that meant the most to me. I hated myself... even though I was doing so many great things... I absolutely hated myself for the sinner that I was.
One of the hardest things for me was that people didn't understand how I felt. People looked at all the great things that I was doing and usually only saw these things. My family and close friends would compliment me because I was "such a great a great kid" or I was "such a great example for the other cousins" or that they hope that their kids could turn out to be like me. I absolutely hated hearing these really nice and sincere, heartfelt compliments. I hated it because I never felt worthy for their praise, they all didn't understand me and didn't understand that I have problems. Instead of finding comfort in these words I would get even more angry with myself... because I wa a sinner and I was imperfect.
Well throughout all of my life I knew that I was going to serve a mission. It honestly wasn't a dificult choice because I knew that I would be more happy by being obedient... and was always super excited to go out and serve and do something that I absolutely loved. I was never nervous when thinking about the mission... I was just super excited. Yeah I figured I might miss my family a little bit and miss my closest friends... but the thought never scared or bothered me that I would be super far away from them. Neither did the fact that I might have to learn a new language. I was super excited to serve a mission and knew that it was something that I could handle. I knew that I was going to learn knew things, I knew that it might be tough but I had confidence in myself that I could do it... but I failed to comprehend the scale of the things that I would learn from being in the missionary life.
When I entered the MTC I was super excited and couldn't believe I actually started on the best wo years of my life. I was doing well but I was also aware of my weakness of being impatient and my self-confidence but just kept going. One of my teachers could tell I was struggling with something but I wouldn't tell her what it was so she told my branch president. My branch presdient was a really nice guy, he reminded me of Gordon B. Hinkley, and I opened up to him a little bit. He then showed me a scripture that has helped me my whole mission. It is found in Doctrine and Covenants 19:16 and reads "For Behold, I, God have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent". This scripture helped me to understand a little more about the atonement of our elder brother Jesus Christ. That he suffered so that I do not have to. That he understands me, he knows that I am impatient, he suffered the guilt and the afflictions that I feel every day and he suffered so that I can get through these things and so that I don't have to suffer.
I then got thrown into the mission field. It felt as if I got catapulted into a whole different world. People drove like maniacs, the streets were full of stray dogs, and people were speaking a language, that I thought I had studied and prepared for but it seemed to me that it was from another planet. The only change that was something that I loved was the food... although different it was so good :) So, I had all these cultural difficulties but then I had to also be a missionary. I had a strict schedule. I had to walk 100 kilometers (because here miles don't exist) every day. I had to be in the presence of someone 24 hours 7 days a week, I had to preach to people in a language that I couldn't even understand and above all I had to do it and I couldn't fall. I learned quickly that I could no longer just do everything by myself... I learned to rely on my companion. Elder Tucker was great and I learned to put all of my confidence in him. I couldn't speak the language, and he could. I didn't know the lessons, and he did. I wasn't accustomed to the life as a missionary, and he was. He was very patient with me. I would get angry sometimes and snap at him but he would just be patient with me and keep his cool. I needed him and I learned that I couldn't do it alone. I learned to trust in someone other than myself.
When I started the mission I thought that it would be easier than it was in the gospel sense. In my first week in the mission field. We had a baptism. It was awesome! I just kind of figured we would be baptizing a whole bunch and that the people would just be flocking to the waters to follow our savior Jesus Christ. But I learned that it wasn't like that. We weren't baptizing anyone... we didn't even have real investigators to teach. I just felt so hopeless... I didn't feel like I was achieving anything and was so mad at myself for not having "success" these thoughts kept coming back to my head, that I wasn't good enough, that I had to be better, that I wasn't worth enough to have success, that God was punishing me for being a sinner, and that I couldn't do it and wasn't good enough to be a successful missionary.
Well I ended my training and Elder Tucker finished his mission and returned home... I then recieved my new companion Elder Hernandez. I liked him from the start. He was funny and just seemed super spiritual and he happened to be a really big guy. I called him the Spiritual Giant. Elder Hernandez taught me something that has changed my mission and my life. He taught me the importance of service and the manner of which we should serve. With Elder Tucker, we kind of just did our own thing... we would buy our own food, buy our bus tickets and just clean up after ourselves. Elder Hernandez tried to do everything for me... and it really ticked me off. He would always buy things for me... when I would tell him not to. He would always try and buy my bus ticket for me. He would do the dishes as well. He would cook things for me every single day. He was always worried about how I was and every single night before we would go to sleep, he would ask me if there was something that he could do for me. He ticked me off so much through his acts of kindness. To combat his acts of kindness I started to "serve" him as well. I would cook him food, buy his bus tickets, and even wash his clothes... but the difference between his service and mine was that he was doing it to be kind and because he loved me... I did it to try and not feel like I owed him something or try to put myself on a higher pedestal than my companion. I was so dumb. Well I was angry with him one day because I thought he was being prideful and I just thought he thought he was better than me because he was the Senior Companion even though we had the same time in the mission field. With these thoughts and feelings in mind... I came across a scripture that has really helped me not be so prideful. It is found in Jacob 2, verses 13-19. I read verse 13 and at the end it says "and persecute your brethren because you suppose that ye are better than they." I read this and thought that had to show this scripture to Elder Hernandez because obviously he thought he was better than me. I then read in 16, this pride of your hearts destroy your sould." I then realized that it was me who needed to change and it was me who had the problem with pride... not my companion. Then in 18-19 it says "But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have a hope in Christ... ye will seek... the intent to do good". After reading this I knew that I needed to change. That my goal should not be to look better than others, that service is not to be balanced out and compared with the service of others. I understood that my goal as a missionary should only be to grow in my testimony of my Savior and then serve others the way he would serve them... with real intent and a sincere heart. That is all. Infact this is the goal that we shyould have in life as well, search the kingdom of god, follow christ, and then srve others with all of your heart. That's it.
After having this breakthrough I started searving people with real intent... starting with my companion. But even after all of this I still felt unsuccesful. I wasnt baptizing so I felt like I wasn't having success. I then had an interview with President Camarillo at my 5th month mark . He gave me advice that has changed my mission tremendously. I told him that I just felt like after everything I was doing it still wasn't enough... that the people weren't changing and that I wasn't having success... and that I was failing as a missionary. He then turned to a scripture in Matthew 22:37-39 which reads "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great comandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself." He then explained that I do have this love for God and for my neighbors as well... but the love I was lacking was the love for myself. That to become successful meant to love and forgive myself. He then gave me homework. He told me that I needed to read in Preach My Gospel page 10 where it talks about a successful missionary. I have read this section every night since then... I have been trying to learn how to forgive myself and how to serve others since that point in my mission. I have come to realize that the numbers don't matter. The numbers of baptisms do not matter... what matters is if I am trying to do my best to help others come unto Christ and if I feel the Spirit work through me each and every day. This is how I have learned to know if I am a succesful missionary or not.
I then finished my last change with Elder Hernandez, and most successful change of my mission thus far, with 0 baptisms. After this time with Elder Hernandez I moved to a different area with a new companion. This companion didn't seem to want to be in the mission. Didn't take things seriously and didn't appreciate my haste in trying to be obedient. So I put into pratice what the Spiritual Giant taught me. I served him with all of my heart because I cared for his soul... not because I wanted to make myself look good or weigh the services that we were doing between ourselves. No, I did it because I loved him and I wanted him to have a successful mission. It was tough, but after a while he learned to love me as well.
I then was assigned to be a trainer and received a brand new missionary shipped fresh from the Dominican Republic. I have been trying to serve him as well. I have been trying to help him become familiar with the ways of missionary life. I have been tried with an excessive amount of patience through these last few months trying to help him. I have messed up a few times and I have gotten angry but I am now learning how to express myself in a different way and am learning to be patient with myself as well.
This first year of my mission has been absolutely amazing. I have learned a whole bunch of new things and have grown more than I even realize. I just want to share one more scripture that has helped me... it is found in Jacob 5:21-22 and reads,
"And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master, How comest though hither to plant this tree, or this branch of the tree? For behold, it was the poorest spot in all the land of thy vineyard. And the Lord of the vineyard said unto him, counsel me not; I knew it was a poor spot of ground, wherefore, I said unto thee, I have nourished it this long time, and thou beholdest that it hath brought forth much fruit."
In this year of my mission I have learned that I am a servant in the vineyard of the Lord. It is not my vineyard and he knows all these things better than I do. I am his servant and what I need to do is serve in his vineyard and listen to his counsel. I have learned to put my trust in him... I no longer am angry with myself. I accept that I have problems, that I am a sinner, and that I am imperfect. But now I understand that it is okay! Christ was perfect so that I don't have to be. I have learned to use the Atonement of my Savior and have learned that I can't do this alone! But with the help of my savior WE together can do anything and that WE can be successful in HIS vineyard. I love you all. I love this work. I love being a missionary and I am super excited to see what the Lord has in store for me in this next year of the mission.
Love you All,