Monday, August 31, 2009

Changes and Growth........week 16

Dear family,

Well it sounds like everything is going well in the Russell household. That really makes me feel good. I am excited for Sean and his future experiences. I think it probably isn´t good for me, but I frequently find myself thinking about that school year at BYU. I think that I made more life long friends in that 9 month period than in all my life. It was really neat. And thanks mom for the update from my facebook. I was wondering if you might be able to send a message out saying that friends can email me. I would like to receive emails from them so I can email back. Writing is time consuming and expensive so if you wouldn´t mind, post my email address on facebook and an announcement.

This week has been quite the week of change for me…more challenges and opportunities to serve. I believe that God always has a purpose and reason for what He does, even when we don’t quite understand.

This week was the week of changes. My companion, Elder Menendez received the call Tuesday night that he was to report in the stake center at 8:00am. So we spent the night cleaning up his stuff and reminiscing our three months together. It was hard for me to say goodbye to him because everything I know of Nicaragua was with him. He was my first companion and I feel like a part of me has left. He left for Chinandegas (the poor soul went to one of the hottest areas in the mission).

Wednesday I received my new companion, Elder Garcia, from Honduras Comayaguela. Yes, that is right…I think I have a brother who served there. Maybe Troy could tell me which areas he served in that stake and I can see if my companion is from one of the areas. Anyway, he has 22 months in the mission and really knows his scriptures. I think I can learn a lot from him. He definitely is different than Elder Menendez though. I think I have to always look for the best in each companion so as to not be ungrateful for what I have. I learned many things from Elder Menendez and I expect the same from Elder Garcia. He is working with me in Las Colinas now.
Our investigators are doing well but we need to find some more. Please pray for us. We are trying to work more with references from members because it is so much more effective. This week we had some great experiences with the investigators and some references too.

We have been working with a man named Pedro Jose who has cancer and is 63 years old. He is really receptive to the message and wants to do everything right. Several years back he had a dream in which the ´´church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Members´´ played a part. He was very excited to learn of our church and has desired baptism since that time. I always feel so blessed to work with the people here who have so much faith. In church Sunday, he said he wanted to die in the church.

We also contacted a family who was a reference from Brother Robles (an animated and super hard working recent convert) and they were very positive. My companion has been helping to listen to the investigators closely and to answer their questions and needs rather than just teach a preplanned lesson. It was really neat to see the spirit directing the lesson.

This week we had the first Fellowshipping Night (like mutual for the whole ward) and it went well. The Branch was well represented and we are trying to activate many less active and inactive members so they can enjoy the blessings God has for them.

In church Sunday we also learned that Carlos Salaya and Fatima Dolores (the family of converts that Elder Menendez and I baptized a month ago) received their first callings in the ward. Carlos is the new Ward mission leader and Fatima is the first counselor in the Relief Society. It is so special to see the change that has occurred in that small yet humble family. I see the burning desire of faith in their eyes to serve the Lord and keep His commandments and it just brings such joy into my heart to know that the Lord Has called them to serve.

This week in the changes, the president told us that a mother of one of the missionaries here in Nicaragua was murdered the previous week in Honduras. I was shocked but I admired the response that the missionary had given to the President. He said, "I will not go home but serve here in honor of my mother". Powerful, very powerful.

When I think about why I am here in Nicaragua serving, I can give several reasons. Primarily, I am here to serve the Lord because I love Him and want to share the love that he has shown me with everyone else. Second, I am here to represent my family and to show my gratitude for them and all that they have given me throughout my whole life. Every week I gain appreciation for the family that I have and the lessons I learned in the home. I really can say that I have been born as Nephi of old with goodly parents who loved the Lord.

Thanks for your prayers and strength. Thanks for your examples and desires to serve in that part of the world. I will do my best to serve here. I know that I am being an instrument in the Lords hands to bring about the salvation of many souls.

May God always protect you as He protects me.
Elder Grant Russell

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Bitter and the Sweet........week15

Elder Russell and Elder Menendez


Wow it sounds like everyone is so busy back at home! No need to worry about last week and all. I figured that you had been writing a letter and that you just didn't finish it. No hay problema
The work here is great! We are really being blessed in our area and in our mission. I think about all of the special moments I have had here in the last few months and I cant help but feel extremely grateful.

This week my message has some bitter and some sweet in it. This weeks message is about the sad reality that agency can be for investigators.

As missionaries we always have opportunities to bear witness of the greatest name under heaven, Jesus Christ. I love to talk of Him and His gospel, sharing the experiences that we have felt and seen others have too. But the sad reality is that some will know the góspel is true yet not accept it. Others will accept it gladly. We experienced both this week.

Starting with the bitter. We visited with Juan Ramon this week, the investigator that was going to be baptized a few weeks back. He has been ready the Book of Mormon and all, meditating its truthfulness and even has prayed about it. At first, he doubted that he had received an answer from God. He has had some interesting experiences in his life such as seeing visions and healing the sick as an Evangelical preacher. With a Little bit of conversation, he eventually admitted that the book exactly coincided with the bible and that he knew it was true. We then testified that if the Book were true, that meant that the church was true and he needed to join it. He acknowledged as well that that was the proper course of action, but defiantly admitted that he wouldn't be baptized because he didn't want to. That was probably one of the saddest moments I have had on the mission so far.

But there are always moments of elation in which it seems like God himself is pouring out His love in me. This week two investigators were baptized and they have shown true repentance and the desire to change for good. In their baptism, both bore testimonies of what they had experienced. Jordyn said that he felt much better and that he was going to endure to the end. Tania said that when her friends made fun of her, she didn't care because she knew the church was the true church of Jesus Christ.

Jordyn's and Tania's baptism

Seeing the sacrifices of the members here in Nicaragua is like traveling back in time to the early days in the church. I see in so many members, the fiery spirit of pioneers. With determination in their eyes, they march forward foregoing much to further the work of the lord. One member has given up her house and moved so that the Branch can occupy all of the house. Talk about faith.

So if I can share anything with all of you it is this: never doubt that God can work miracles in our lives. Be not weary in well doing for you are laying the foundation of a great work. I am so strengthened by your testimonies and faith and everyday I am indebted to for you prayers and thoughts in my behalf. I love you all and will continue to pray for you daily. May the blessings of heaven attend you as they have attended me.

Elder Grant Russell
Elder Russell and Elder Menendez

Monday, August 17, 2009

Friends can now email me too........week 14

So the president has made a change in who we can email. I can now email friends and such for 20 minutes every week due to the fact that the pouch service is no longer available. So I was wondering if you might be able to first off all, enter my hotmail account and send me some addresses that I have know, for my good friends...Brian Fernandez, Brianna Houck, etc. I should have at least a few. Also, look at my email sent box and see who I typically sent emails to before the mission. Also include those if possible. Thanks a ton.

If you don't mind, please send this message to Brianna.

Hey there Bri! So exciting mission president is now allowing us to email friends for 20 minutes each week so we can now correspond!

Long time no see/talk! Well, yeah, and it is going to be a long time for sure. How have things been going for you? I hope my mom has been sending my emails to you so know what I have been up to. If not, ask her to send a few or all of them if you so desire.

The mission is great! I am loving being here. I have great experiences every day and I am learning how to be a better servant of the Lord every day too. Like I said, I think you will get a better idea by reading my emails...

But how are things for you? Are you getting ready for school? How were your last experiences in Spain? I would love an update every once in a while when you get a chance...until then, God Speed!

Elder Grant Russell

And this one to Brian Fernandez...

Elder Fernandez,

Como esta elder!? Mucho tiempo sin vernos! Como le ha ido en los ultimas semanas/meses. No hemos hablado en mucho tiempo. Actualmente, estoy en la mision y disfrutandolo bastante! Estoy aprendiendo cosas cada dia y me siento tan agredecido por la oportunidad servir.

Anyhow, I thought it would be nice to keep in touch from time to time and share experiences. I can now email 20 minutes or so every week to friends. If you can do the same, that would awesome! Que Dios le bendiga!

Elder Grant Russell

Anyway, thanks Mom, and we will talk next week.

Member Missionaries and Miracles........week 14

Hey there family!

Wow, I cant believe that another week has passed already. I think the weeks are getting shorter and shorter every time. I am glad to hear that my letter got through last week. I was worried that it didn’t go through because I spent a lot of time writing it. Phew I guess =)

So how is everyone doing? It sounds like Joy and Josh are doing well and I was really excited to get that letter from you Mom about the scholarship. It is really nice to know that I have some cushion to work with when I go back to school. So do I need to write the letter right now? I only skimmed the letter and it seemed like it had already been differed…

Everything is going well here. This last week was a really interesting, yet special week. I learned more about my weaknesses and what I need to do to be a better missionary.

We have been working hard with a Father and step daughter this week trying to convince them to enter the waters of baptism and receive the many blessings that God has ready for them. We practically visited every day this past week trying to prepare them for this past Saturday, but when the day came, they didn’t feel ready. I think as a missionary we have the highest of highs but the lowest of lows. I always feel so sad when an investigator backs away. The father has a long history in the Evangelical church. He studied three years in a university to receive his degree to preach and did so for some time. He knows the bible really well but has some strange ideas about certain topics. It has been kind of tough to break some bad habits…

When my companion visited the family Sunday morning to invite them to church (I was in another part of the town inviting others with a member), they apparently backed completely away saying that they didn’t want anything and they didn’t even come to church yesterday. I was disappointed. I too talked with an investigator in the morning who had apparently read some things on the internet about the church and gave me the impression that he thought we were liars and he returned his Book of Mormon to me. That was a first…

But such is life for missionaries…you have disappointments and you have moments of pure elation. In church, one investigator visited that has been very positive. He had to ride the bus to get to church too so I was excited. That shows a lot of faith and interest when neighbors wont come because they have clothes to clean or couldn’t shower. He really liked the meeting and it was a nice Sunday. But it got better. Remember what I said about the highest of highs and lowest of lows.

The branch and ward officially split yesterday and they called the Branch President and Elders Quorum President, two recently returned missionaries. I am really excited about the calls because I know that we will have more local support and the work is going to explode. We initiated the classes, or the full three hours and it was just beautiful =)

But it got better. When we were visiting Carlos and Fatima, the recent converts who are just on fire in the gospel, they told us that Juan Ramon (the evangelical) had come to visit Carlos with questions and concerns. They had talked about 2 hours until Juan Ramon had changed and said to Carlos that he wanted faith like him. He had told Carlos that he was going to be baptized the following week and that he only needed more faith.

So we visited him, right then. It was about 7:30 PM and it was really dark and raining, but we didn’t care. We had to see this change for ourselves. We entered his humble little dwelling lit by candles and there we chatted comfortably with a man that was completely different than in the morning. We sang a few hymns (which he loves) and then committed him to continue reading the Book of Mormon. He wants to read it all this week. We testified that they could receive answers to their doubts and know with a surety that the message we had shared was true. It was truly a miracle the change that had taken place.

God continues to bless even though I feel so inadequate as a missionary. I learn new things every day and I typically learn from my mistakes. If you can do the math you find that I make quite a few mistakes. But the truth is, God is working through me, and I know it. I can feel His spirit with me throughout the day and I feel so grateful for the opportunities that He gives to me. I know that I have very little experience, but I feel like I have grown already.

What I learn from this story is the importance of member missionary work. Carlos, also being a recent convert, has little experience in sharing the gospel. But God used him to help us in this work. It is so interesting that yesterday I had shared the very scripture of how God uses small and simple things to bring about great things with another member. I always seem to answer my own questions when I answer the questions and needs of others.

I am so grateful for all of you and for your examples to me. I know that God lives and that He loves me and all of you. I know that God is a God of miracles and that the greatest miracle I have seen here in Nicaragua is the change that comes upon people when they keep the commandments and follow the Lord. It truly is a mighty change of heart. Always remember that we can make a difference. We have the restored gospel and we must share it.

With all my love,
Elder Grant Russell

Monday, August 10, 2009

We must Always be the Example of the Believers........week 13

Hi there again family. It is me, Elder Russell in Nicaragua!

So it is hard to believe that another week has passed already. The weeks just keep on moving quicker...I guess it is time that I buckle down and put her into the last gear. Time´s a´wasting.

No but this week has been very good...I have had some great experiences once again which makes me feel wonderful. I am accumulating a history of stories that I will have to look back on for years to come. This week we had a baptism! Enrique Cedeño, the 65 year old Mason, was baptized on Tuesday and it was really special. I don't think we have ever and will ever have a baptism like it again in the mission. Normally, the baptisms of investigators are quick, simple and small. This baptism was different. First of all, the family was really involved in the agenda and so every item on the list was special because they planned talks, songs, etc that were special to him. He had friends of 30 years giving the baptism talk and it was just really nice. And there were nearly 70 people there! That is EXTREMELY rare in Nicaragua and even rare in the states. I think most baptisms here are successes when they have 20 people there to support them.

Enrique Cedeno's baptism

So it was really nice. This baptism was unique too in that we, my companion and I didn´t really teach that much to him. We really just reviewed and put a date for baptism. There was a load of missionaries before hand who worked countless hours and prayed countless times so he could enter the waters of baptism. Naturally, the family thanked the missionaries, and I think the former missionaries deserve all the credit. Missionaries should always remember that we are only hear to teach the people that have already been prepared by God to hear the message. We really just share the message. God does the rest.

We also had some great experiences with a family this week who has been having some trials. We invited them to church this week and they came! (Trumpets and angels singing!) We set a baptism date and I am really excited about their progress. Like I said, we are just the messengers.

This week has been a week of reflection for me. In the ward we are serving, 3 missionaries have returned in the last month. Sunday, hearing their testimonies and words of advice (some even specifically for us) I was able to feel a renewal of my desire to serve. I think most missionaries, if not all, pass through times of discouragement, but it is in the times like these that we must fight the temptation to take the path of least resistance and keep moving forward. I have felt many trials this week and I have really needed to reanimate myself. I thank you for your prayers in my behalf. I can always feel them when I need them most.

I was talking with my companion about it and I eventually realized that even prophets and apostles in the scriptures were discouraged at times. I guess I shouldn't´t feel so bad after all. These men were always comforted in there struggles. I frequently think on the message of Thomas S. Monson from the last General Conference when he said ´´be of good cheer, your future is as bright as your faith´´

As missionaries and as members of the church, we must always be the example of the believers. We must always be the ones to uplift and strengthen the hands that hang down. For all of my life, I have been amongst people who have helped me, who have strengthened me and have been the example of the faithful. Now it is my turn. I cant look around for strength from anyone else because I should be the one offering strength. The members here look up to the missionaries. I cant be unanimated. It is a weakness that I am working on and that I hope each one of us is too.

It sounds like the family is doing well though...thanks for the update. It helps me to know what everyone is doing and how they are doing. I always think of Landon and Tyler when I see kids of the same ages here. But none are as cute... =) Oh, and Joy, I think Tyler looks like you!

I guess the Moon Terrace house (and others like it) could be the Russell family version of Zion´s Camp. We always pass through times of uncertainty and trial, many times not knowing why we suffer. The point is, I think sometimes God tries us without worrying about the challenge. What the Lord is concerned with is how we dealt with the challenge.

Dad, You´ll pleased to hear that I was given a surprise this last Sunday from the second counselor in the Bishopric...a copy of the Church news with a report on all of the service projects happening in Oregon. I thought that was neat. I was so proud of you and of all of the Oregonians. Joy and Josh, I cant say enough how much I admire your young and growing family. It is truly special. Keep it up. Troy, I will let you have your Med School experiences, thank you. I don't want any of that right now. Ha ha. Tyler, good luck with moving apartments, and I hope that your roommates work out well for you. Enjoy this year, you wont be at BYU forever even though sometimes it feels that way. Sean, I am still really excited for you. I cant wait to hear of your adventures and such at the best university in the world.

So things I saw that were different this week...

Those motos that people ride in, well people will tow about anything behind or inside of them too. I saw a full fledge door in one this week and it was downright hilarious to see the cargo was twice the size of the thing carrying it. Also people will carrying 20 feet of tubing in those things. And I think we fit 8 or 9 people in one this week too.

I am starting to understand or at least recognize some cultural differences in the adults here too. I think it is hilarious how the adult women just don't take no for an answer. In many ways, Nicaragua is a matriarchal society. I can feel it ha ha. The woman that we live with is very forward and never seems to think she is wrong about anything. I have been having some digestive problems...normal, don't worry...and she seems to have a different remedy every day to cure it. Drink this, avoid that, it is a Parasite, it was for sure that cake thing you ate last night...ha ha.

Anyway, that is about as much as I can remember right now, but I will call it a week.

I love you all and remember that you always have a special someone in Nicaragua who thinks about you all daily. May the Lord bless you as He blesses me daily.

Elder Russell

P.S. Mom, do you know if you got the scholarship from BYU? I think they said around mid July the results would be posted...maybe you could look at my account and see. Thanks.

Monday, August 3, 2009

I will never forget his countenance........week 12

Well everyone, it is so nice to hear from you! I feel so strengthened by your letters and words of wisdom. I hope that you may also be strengthened by some of the things that I am learning and that the Lord is showing me each day.

So everything went well in Texas...that is good to hear. I remember flying into Texas just about 2 months ago with face glued to the window peering outside to see what it looked like. Oh, good memories. I feel like every memory just improves with time, like wine...not that I approve of that. I just have heard of it, ha ha.

Troy is officially in Medical school now then. Good luck with that! Hey, just think...when I return you will be half way done and my time is flying by!

Tyler, you're doing well, which is good to hear. Still alive. I love you and you have always been a good example to me. And don't forget to say hi to people for me up at school that we both know! Ha ha, thanks.

Sean, I am so excited for you! I know you are going to have a great experience up at school. I frequently think about the experiences I had at school, the people I met and the lessons they taught me and I cant help but feel extremely grateful for what I experienced. Don't get me wrong, it was tough at times, but that is about all I remember of those times...that they existed. I don't really remember them if you know what I mean.

Joy, continue working hard and like I said last week, God has a special plan for you, for me and for each one of us here on the earth. Things happen and that is just the way we learn. I often use to think I was coming to Nicaragua to teach some things, but I think I am learning more than I am teaching.

Dad, so I wanted to tell you something funny that happened this week when I was showing our family photo to some investigators. They thought you looked like some famous person...I thought you would like that.

Mom, thanks for everything you do. I really can feel the love across the miles. You might find it interesting that about 95% of the time people say that I look like you. I hope to be like you too!

Wow time really does fly by...Aaron Hale and Mason Grow are already coming back from their missions. And Michael McPhee too!? Please send them my regards and my gratitude for their service in their respective parts of the world. Really this work is too grand for one, three, or 53,000 missionaries. But we do what we can.

So that brings the count up to I think 5 or 6 of my friends that are married now...that is definitely new. Best wishes to Kenny and Krista and Ashley! And Landon, keep on learning bud. You'll pass me up in skill level about as quick as you will in height...which is soon. Tell Alex congratulations as well. I have thought about him as I have read the letters from Brother Minor and I am so happy that made the decision to be baptized. Also, give all the others my regards.

Like the Elder Bednar said, we are missionaries for eternity, not for two years. I have been able to see a huge difference in the Lives of members who do missionary work and those who don't. Those members who devote time to help with the work have a greater measure of the spirit and a greater love for the work. I know that they are far more likely to remain in the church than those that pursue personal matters. We are here to preach of Christ and invite others to come unto Him. I have really pondered on that the last few weeks as I have meditated over each person that I have taught. I have really been blessed to see the change in investigators and even see the blessings begin to flow as they have taken steps of faith to be baptized not knowing before hand the meaning of all things.

This week we had the great opportunity to baptize Fatima, the wife of Carlos that was baptized the week before. It was a really special day for us and for Carlos. Carlos is an amazing convert. He was given the True to the Faith book at his baptism and has already finished it. He has also begun to read Principles of the Gospel and I feel so grateful to have played a part in his conversion. His wife had reservations at first. To tell you the truth, the both of them were very sceptical when we first met. They only listened to learn about the church. Carlos said that in the past he hid from Missionaries, but that has all changed. I will never forget his countenance the morning of his baptism.

Fatima's baptism

We were walking close to his house to visit some other investigators when he, riding his bike towards us, called to us. (Definitely a change from hiding from the missionaries) He, with a huge smile on his face talked with us briefly and shared his excitement to be baptized. It is moments like that make all of the hours worthwhile.

Fatima has changed a ton too. She never had prayed out load before nor in a group setting before. The other night, she volunteered to pray and gave a very beautiful and sincere prayer to our Father in Heaven. I couldn't´t help but thank my Heavenly Father for His marvelous power and ability to change lives and bless His people.

Jose and Leticia also continue to progress. They are reading the scriptures and continue to have questions about things. That is ALWAYS a good thing. QUESTIONS equal interest, at least most of the time. Leticia and Jose have both found work since being baptized and for months before, neither had a set job. Just one of the many blessings of being obedient. Jose and Carlos both received the Aaronic priesthood last week and it was so neat.

This week was fast Sunday and we needed to fast as a companionship. We have been having a steady flow of investigators but we have also had a few baptisms. Our area is really far from where we do the baptisms and as a result, we have lost some time in the last few weeks to work in the area. I was feeling a bit down when I thought about the possibilities we have and those who were progressing. So I decided to fast for investigators and that we might be able to find more and teach more. And well, God definitely answers prayers.

On Sunday we had 6 investigators at church (a huge improvement from the previous week) and I was ecstatic. The thing is, without visiting church, investigators cant really progress nor be baptized. I have had many investigators but few have been attending church. It was definitely an answer to prayer to have 6 this week in church. I felt so humbled and blessed to have received an answer to my prayer and fast. I have a strong testimony of both. Also, my companion was blessed in that a member offered him a suit coat which he desperately needed. He hasn´t had one for some time because he lost it about two areas ago.

Anyway, the work is going well. This week we have one baptism scheduled! The MASON! Yeah, it is going to be SWEET! He has been investigating the church for some time and many missionaries have taught him. His daughter and Son in Law are active members and are so grateful that he is taking this step in his life. He is ready and excited. It is going to be the biggest baptism yet for us because he is inviting a whole bunch of his friends. I cant wait.

Cultural Differences-

-About every telephone pole and public thing is painted in the colors of the Sandinista party and the majority have the Party leaders face plastered on them too. It is like have President Obama´s face on every telephone pole, booth and bus stop in the whole country...
-I always have funny bus experiences but today was a new one. I thing there was a pig on the bus. I am not sure, but I heard some really high pitched squealing.
-I saw a person sleeping in the sidewalk this week too. It was saddening...I am not sure if they were homeless, drunk, or just taking a nap.
-Everyone drinks soda. It is more common than water here.

I know that this church is true. It is almost cliche in the church to say that because many say it without really pondering the magnificence of it all. I know that THIS is the church of God and that I am anxiously engaged in HIS work right now. It is such a pleasure, responsibility, opportunity. I really am being blessed! I feel like I don't deserve the blessings I am receiving, but the Lord always blesses us with more than we can dream of when we are obedient.

I thank you all for your thoughts, prayers, and words on my behalf. I really do feel the love across the miles and I know that God is protecting you and blessing you all for your hard work and service in His Kingdom. We must always remember that nothing is more important than building up His kingdom. We are called to share what we know and how else are the people in this world going to find the truth unless we share it. Thanks for you dedication to the Lord and for your time in His work.

May God be with, always.

Elder Grant Russell