Saturday, September 25, 2010

Seeds grow Fast........week 71

There is a parable of a sower in the scriptures that has most impressed me on my mission. It is found in Mark 4: 26 and 27:

´´And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.´´

It is amazing to see how the Lord really does His part. I feel like a laborer which daily is amazed by the growth of the plant. I cannot explain. It is nothing short of a miracle. I know not how the seedling can sprout and reach the height of a tree in so short a time.

Not long ago I left seedlings in Las Colinas/ La Borgoña, one of my first areas and now I am back in the same stake again. We had a Stake Conference last Sunday and I saw many converts for the first time in a year. Victor and his son were there and Carlos received the Melchizedek Priesthood. He should be leaving for a mission about the same time I leave mine. It is a wonderful feeling to see in the first pew of the conference center lined up 5 recent converts all to be ordained Elders in that same Priesthood. I don’t know how it happened. Chevo, Migdalis, Felix and Heisel are all active and it was great to see them. They have callings too. There was a part of one talk that they asked all of the recent converts to stand up and I saw them all proudly erect with smiles on their countenances. I don’t know how the Lord does it, but He does.

We experienced a wonderful wedding last night with Cristobal and Marta. They were giddy and it was just so funny. I can’t help but see these weddings and think about the future one which they will have as they kneel across the alter and make eternal covenants one with another. It was the first wedding I have experienced up until this point in Nicaragua where they exchanged rings. They aren´t a rich couple by any means but it sure made it special because so many don´t have that same experience. What is even more special is to see the seedling sprout and spread more seeds as we find new investigators through those we are teaching. I don’t know how it happens, but it does. There in the wedding were nonmember relatives of the couple and we will begin teaching them soon. Also we met two other people whose spouses aren´t members and we are going to teach them too so that they can experience the joy of the gospel.

We talked about the conversion process with the Alvarado family who now is almost complete with all of the family but two members baptized in the last month. They shared their feelings and thoughts on how much their lives had changed because of the message.

As we visited Fransisco and Maritza who will be baptized this week as well we were surprised to see that the daughter greeted us with a Gospel Principles book in hand. She said she had been reading. How? I don´t know. I don’t know how she got the book but she learned a lot ha ha. Her and her spouse accepted baptismal dates for next month. I don’t know how the Lord makes the seed grow, I just see it happen.

Neither the harvester nor the farmer can take too much credit for having a big crop. At the end, we have to thank God for making it all grow. I might not understand the process so much, but I DO know one thing. All things are possible when God puts His almighty hand to the sickle with us and we do His work together.

These seedlings will continue to grow and flourish, as will all those who diligently seek to labor in His work.

May His mighty hand shape us, mold us, make us grow and may we accept this change with all our heart. After all, the gospel of Jesus Christ is power unto Salvation for everyone that believeth. May we believe that this seed can change us, even overnight.

Elder Russell

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Importance of Family........week 70

The Lord is focused on families. He loves us so much that He has created that organization to help each and every one of us return back into His presence. The problem is that Satan knows all too well what families can achieve and does anything to hinder their progression.

This week I really have been able to realize how important the family is in God’s plan for the eternal destiny for His children. When the family is fortified by the gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s spirit children have all of the opportunities to progress toward their divine potential. When the home teaches family prayer, scripture study, and has regular family home evening the child grow up and walk in His ways.

We have been working with a few families that are beginning to apply these principles in their lives. Francisco and Maritza have had several challenges in their lives and when they tried to get married a few months ago with a pair of other missionaries, they had a bad experience and couldn’t do it. It ended up being difficult for them to forget and they stopped investigating the church. However, Sunday Francisco came to church and he and his wife agreed to be married and baptized. The spirit had previously witnessed to them of the truthfulness of the gospel and now we are just reaping the harvest. It is an amazing feeling to see the repentance process in action. Seeing a couple pray together is so beautiful. People are forgiven and hearts are healed. But it wasn’t an easy day for sure. We had a few challenges finding lawyers and many other things that I won’t bother you with, I will just say that Satan sure put up a fight.

Along with Francisco and Maritza, we are teaching Cristobal. He is the husband of a member and he has come to church a few times now. Our first lesson helped us get to know him a little more and we could see that he had a lot of questions. One of his biggest questions is about his baptism in the Evangelical church. He feels that it was true but he understands the message of the restoration. He just didn’t want to pray because he felt he already knew his baptism was true. Then as we explained the purpose of the Book of Mormon and his search for the answer he began to respond saying that he would need more time to think about the message, etc. He needed to know more. It was in that moment that I bore testimony of the message that we were sharing. It wasn’t so important to know everything. He just needed to ask Heavenly Father about the message.

It was in that moment that I realized that my progression in God’s plan for me was completely made possible through my family. I told him a night so long ago when I was about 8 years old. Quite possibly mom and dad won’t remember the night or the significance it has had on my life but at the early age of eight I knelt down and asked God if the Book of Mormon was true. It was one night before doing a quick family scripture study. They had asked me to go and get my own pair of scriptures. The prayer was only about 10 seconds long if I remember. I felt good. I felt a reassurance. I got my answer. I related the experience to them quickly upon sitting at the table and we proceeded to read scriptures. This night was the first of many such experiences that have accumulated over time. I know that the book of Mormon is true and that it testifies of the restoration. God works through spiritual manifestations because they transcend time unlike any other memory. All these things are fostered and nurtured in a gospel home.

I am eternally grateful for the family that God has given me. The principles that were taught in my home are true. It was the teaching of such gospel principles with love that allowed each and every one of us kids to gain our own personal testimonies through acting upon their doctrines with faith. It was upon experiencing the promised blessings that we could firmly say that something was true. I feel like in our home we experienced a great peace and love, even that which is described in 4 Nephi 1:11-13

“11 And they were married, and given in marriage, and were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them…[and] they did walk after the commandments which they had received from their Lord and their God, continuing in fasting and prayer, and in meeting together oft both to pray and to hear the word of the Lord. And it came to pass that there was no contention among all the people, in all the land.”

If we had a society based upon the family and strengthening her we would have peace on Earth. But even if the world doesn’t change the family is always a refuge completely independent. We can have happiness in our families now.

Families can be together forever. What a wonderful message! In a world where we are bombarded with the “newest and greatest” advertisements, there is a constant priority. Whatever new trend or option the family is always first. Paul said that his greatest joy was to know that his children walked in the ways of the lord. May we do so…that is why we have families in the first place.

I love you so much. Thanks for everything.

Elder Grant Russell

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Let's Go Home........week 69

As I start one more letter, I must think about the week and sit back and take it all in. The experiences just keep on coming and if one doesn’t write them down, his memory fades and his experiences lose importance for him. I hope to be able to remember all that has happened this week.

This was my first official change week! It was grueling…long nights and early mornings all around. Monday the APs picked up the new missionaries and then we had to get everything ready for the training meeting. It was fun to see them and get to know them. Each and everyone had a desire to serve the Lord. They in many ways are examples to me of hard work and dedication. As financier we have to accommodate and provide lodging and such for all 22 of them. My wallet seemed like it had a hole in it ha ha. You wouldn’t believe how much 22 missionaries can eat. Poor lunch ladies at the MTC…bless their hearts.

Tuesday I had to do a small training about credit cards and money so that they knew what to do.

Wednesday was changes. We got the new missionaries out of our hands only to receive the missionaries that were finishing their mission. Thursday morning we drop them off and we had one that had to be at the airport at 4:30am. It was a pretty early morning…

Finally Thursday night things calmed down a bit after a day of phone calls and questions with the missionaries asking questions about their new areas. I felt like a really popular guy. We went to visit Karen and Fransisco who had planned to get married Friday. They were super excited and anxious to do so (which is a story by itself seeing as he didn’t want to talk to us the first three weeks in his house). They were married Friday evening and his countenance has changed a ton. He gave us a hug and couldn’t stop smiling the whole time. He loved the cake too!

Karen and Fransisco's wedding

The gospel is extremely powerful in changing the lives of God’s children. Daily I see repentance take effect. I see sinful lives meet loving arms and hearts are changed and healed. Elder Rodriguez, my new companion (even though he has been my roommate we hadn’t worked together before) told me that in the interview she said a sweet prayer thanking the Lord for helping her change. She said that she was happy that her husband had been able to change too and asked Him to continue to help change her husband so that he too could be baptized.

Friday night, we visited a less active member. The man couldn’t stop talking. Quite the joker, he took little of what we said literally because behind the cover up of jokes and laughter, I think we discovered pain, disappointment and struggle. He is a man who years ago was a faithful member of the church. Callings and church service for years marked his resume but his problem began when he was surprised by the newly established church in Nicaragua. He had seen “better” in Honduras and as a result wasn’t content with what he saw here. After listening for some time, we began to share the parable of the Lost Son. I think it was a perfect story for him. His talking ceased little by little and he began to listen intently. We felt guided by the spirit and we demonstrated a sincere love for the man. We brought to his attention certain story elements to apply them to his life. The part that says ,”But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him” came to my mind and I asked him how the father could have been able to have seen the son from a great way off. The point is that the father would have been watching eagerly and frequently to have spotted him from far away. I would venture to say that the Father never took His sight off his lost child from the moment he left the house.

Our Father in Heaven sees us wherever we are. He sees us in the good times and in the bad because his vision doesn’t fade nor does his focus blur. He knows we can come back but at the same time cannot come to get us. The Father didn’t go and look for his son but what He has done has provided the way back if we so choose it. He has sent His son to help us find our way back home. If we just repent our Father in Heaven says the same to us, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” He embraces us. He says welcome back.

I pray that we might have our vision on the house of our Father, that we might say to ourselves “let’s go home” when we are lost. To everyone that is lost there will come a certain thought, “And am no more worthy to be called thy son” but I testify that each and every one of us can feel accepted by Him again. He will let us know with a big hug that we were wrong. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Elder Grant Russell

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Though the name might be worn off, the name has been permanently engraven upon my heart........week 68

Another week has come and gone and I can hardly believe that I am writing again. I think the weeks are passing by quicker and quicker these days. I am so happy to hear that everyone is doing well and the pictures of the kids were great! They are so big these days.

As for me, this week we had a crazy week with training meetings and my companion and I were able to go to one of the two day sessions. It is a new approach the church has for helping missionaries become better teachers. It is a 8 lesson training based in Preach My Gospel that helps missionaries focus more on the needs of the investigators. I liked many of the lessons but the biggest things I learned have to do with teaching investigators and not lessons. The lessons have focused me more on teaching by the spirit. I now am listening more to the investigators so that I can be sure that they receive the right lessons at the right time.

I had an unexpected miracle this week as I was in the office. It seems word of that I am in the office has spread to my past area in La Borgoña because a family that I baptized a year ago there came to visit me in the office. Their visit was great! They have had their difficulties but they have renewed covenants and have new goals to go to the temple as a family. The family came to ask my permission to baptize their son who had just turned 8. Seeing as the father is just now returning back into activity, I was willing to perform the ordinance. Together with the baptism of Wilian from our area in Montserrat, I baptized the young Denzel. As I stood in the baptismal font, I smiled at the family and I could see that they were so happy to be there. It was a special moment. The time was erased and I felt like we had never been separated. There exists a special bond between a missionary and those he helps be baptized. It is impossible to describe. We are just willing to do anything for these people...the best word would have to be pure love.

Wilian's Baptism

The whole group

The Sanchez family at Denzel's baptism

Experiences like this one make one reflect about life. I began thinking about how much has happened with me since I taught this family. I feel like it was so long ago but at the same time I feel as if it were just yesterday. Time is precious. It is so important to take advantage of the time that the Lord has given us. I am ever grateful for the time I have had in the mission. I have seen miracle after miracle and tender mercies have been more common than not. Rain, wind, sun and other physical elements of time have begun to wear off the letters on my name tag. It reads something like ¨Elder Russell, La Iglesia de Jesucristo os Santos mos D...´´

But even though the name might be worn off, the name has been permanently engraven upon my chest and heart. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called to labor among this people so that they can receive everlasting life. (see 3 Nephi 5:13)
He directs me and I recognize more than ever now that I am nothing without Him. As we put our trust in Him, He puts everything right.

I testify that this is His work. He lives! God knows who we are, what we are going through and what we need. Through prayer we can rightly receive the promised blessings that He has ready for those who only ask sincerely with real intent believing in Christ. May He be the reason why we do what we do. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Elder Grant Russell

P.S. Have my contacts come in yet? I would like to have them soon because I am on my last pair now.