Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tis the Season........week 80

A Thanksgiving Feast

I have felt particularly thankful this week and for good reason. Tis the season to be jolly…and thankful and happy and joyful…I love the holidays. I love the Christmas lights on the roundabouts all over the city. I love that Latin jingle as you walk into the super markets and the classic Christmas music in the mall. There is a special spirit about the holidays.

It was a pretty nice week. We had a simple, normal meal for Thanksgiving but we had a member invite us over for Turkey and it was great! We are also cooking a Turkey dinner for President and his family today. Hopefully it turns out okay. I thought I had more experience in this but it turns out I have only seen Turkeys made for all of these years ha ha. I would be a better taste tester than cook I think ha ha.

I got my package and the sweets are going fast. I love those brownies mom. They taste just like home…at least from what I can remember. The stockings are great, so great in fact that we have them hanging in the office and President put his up in his house. He is very thankful for that mom. He really feels special when people remember to do things like that for his family. I didn’t know how to take the thanks for something I hadn’t done but I told him that I would relay the message.

I am thankful for all of you. I am thankful for your prayers and thoughts on my behalf. My thoughts were turned home for a moment or two here and there this week. I care for you all and miss you but I am super excited to be here for this time of year. I feel that this is the best time of year to teach people about Jesus Christ. Their hearts are open because the season.

I continue to marvel at the change that can come into our lives when we let Jesus in. I have seen serious progress in the lives of many this week that has caused me to think about the infinite power of the atonement. Last Sunday I witnessed the division and official formation of the Borgona Branch in the University Stake. I saw many converts that I had either helped teach in their early months or had seen them get baptized too. It was wonderful to see their excitement as they smiled to me and said that they had now completed a year as members of the church, and still active and strong. I remember the first Sunday when they began to see if La Borgona would be able to be self sufficient. There were only 25 people the first Sunday but now there is a large Branch. It is amazing to see how much people and areas can change.

As of Saturday evening last week we were starting to be a little discouraged because after having worked with so hard with so many families, we still only had a few investigators in church…none of which we considered possibilities for baptism. We had gone three weeks without baptizing and our possibility of going without a baptism was looking like fate. We prayed Saturday night for a miracle. I guess it was a long shot. I don’t really know what we were asking for but God did. We said something like this, “Heavenly Father, we want to baptize and we have been working hard both in the office and in the field. After visiting the investigators tonight we don’t think anyone will come tomorrow to church. We need a family to come tomorrow so we can prepare more for baptism. Please let a family come, even if it means having a member bring their husband or wife whom isn’t a member. Please help us to find these people to teach.”

When we arrived at church, the man was there. Jose Danilo came with his wife that day. He came to see his step sons participate in the Primary program and ended up staying the whole time. He loved it all. He came again today. We gave him a priesthood blessing so that he can stop smoking and be baptized the 18th of December. God really does answer prayers.

On top of that tender mercy of the Lord, I thank Him for letting us find Pilar and her two kids. They had been going to church for some time but for some reason we had misunderstood her. She wasn’t living with her partner anymore and was completely willing to keep the Law of Chastity. She was baptized this week. Thanks to our Heavenly Father in this wonderful time of year that He continues to change people’s lives.

I bear witness of the divine mission of our Savior Jesus Christ. I know that He lives and that He answers our prayers. I am thankful that He permits me to bear His name daily and I strive to be worthy to bear it. I try to have it upon my chest and within my heart at all times. Tis the season to be jolly, thankful, loving, and trusting in our Father in Heaven. We believe in a living Christ who continues to bless our lives. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Elder Grant Russell

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Patience brings fruit........week 79

Patience brings fruit

Thank you for your prayers across the miles. I have definitely felt them this week. I am sad to hear about David Whitney. My prayers are with them in this difficult time. I know that the hands of the Lord are in all things. It is in the trial that we make needed corrections and become more like the Master.

President Monestel and his wife went to a Mission President’s seminar in Guatemala this week and so we ended up taking care of his kids and running a lot of errands. I spent a lot of time in the car to say the least. AS a result, I had a lot of time to reflect on the mission, on my life, on the blessings the Lord gives me daily. The time continues to fly by and I am beginning to realize that I need to take advantage of every minute.

We were teaching Francisco and his sons this week when I received more light. As the scriptures say, precept upon precept, line upon line. I find myself learning new things every day. That is the most amazing thing! Francisco is a recent convert of about 2 months. Like most senior men in Nicaragua, he has been without work, in his case for over a year. When we taught him about the gospel we promised him that if he only put God first, that he would have food and everything else he needed. The amazing thing is that God blesses us immediately after we have been obedient to a given principle. But that can also be a challenge for some. Just after being baptized, he began to find work. The problem is that most times the jobs that come at first are only on Sunday. Many of the recent converts have trouble turning down a job when they have gone without for months or years. They have opportunities to show their faith. Unfortunately, many fall into Satan’s little trap and stop going to church.

Honestly I have seen this problem in many recent converts and less actives. It is almost as if the very blessing which God gives them becomes their vice. I pondered on and thought about how to teach these people. It was in the moment of teaching these three jobless men this week that the Lord gave me clarity. We used a parable like this one in the very moment that we were in the lesson to answer their question. I was taught myself.

A hungry man prays to God one morning, “Please give me food to feed my family. My wife is weak and my children small.” Upon arising from the prayer, the man exercises his faith and goes to the market to look for his answer. As he searches the small stands for something he might eat, his eyes rest upon a small fruit tree. The woman selling the tree throws out an offer, “20 pesos.” He humbly bargains away all that he has and he receives the tree rejoicing. Upon arriving home, he shares his good fortune with his wife and children, telling them of the marvelous fruit which the Lord will give them in years to come. He plants. He waits. He prays.

The days pass. Rain and sunshine couldn't keep this humble man from waiting for the tree to grow. Days turned to weeks and his excitement grew to be greater than his hunger. When the tree reached his height he thought, “Surely, soon the fruit will come.”

He saw the flowers come but the fruit was nowhere in sight. Would God answer his prayer? Where was the food he had asked for so long ago? As the month mark approached, the hunger became too much and his excitement turned into disappointment. His visits became less frequent and his trips to find quick food more common.

It was after such a trip that he took one final look at the tree upon arriving and he quickly decided to cut the tall, robust trunk. “Surely the Lord has proved true,” he thought. “With this tree I can sell wood in the market and buy food for my family!” He removed his axe from the shed and he made his first swings. Several minutes later the tree fell and he began to cut the branches. He collected them neatly and reviewed their lengths to make them uniform. When he grabbed one particular branch he was surprised to see his hand stained red. There was no pain, no cut, no rash. He realized it was something much smaller. There in his hand were the squishy beginnings of the first small tree fruit. The man looked at the fruit and then he looked at the freshly cut branches. He looked upwards slowly and then he fell to his knees and began to cry. If only he had waited.

How many of us give up God’s greatest blessings for partaking when they aren’t fully ripe. Surely God has answered our prayers and provided the ways, but He tries our patience too. Although all obedience has its answer immediately, the fruits require time to grow. These recent converts in impatience have cut the very tree that will give them future spiritual fruit for a simple monetary recompense. How many years would this family have eaten fresh fruit under the branches of a shady tree? Would healthy young children have swung from the branches or happily climbed its long limbs?

Really, much of the disobedience to the commandments (Sunday worship, Law of Chastity, Word of Wisdom, etc) takes root in not being able to see the future fruit behind the trunk of the tree. We put our own time table on God’s blessings and we lose the blessing all together.

I am so grateful for the blessings which our Father in Heaven bestows upon us. Let us not take them wrongly and create our own vice. Let us be patient in the difficult times for there is always something better waiting if we can out wait the natural man.

Elder Grant Russell

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Am I better today than Yesterday?........week 78

Trials are Gold

Another week has passed. It has been filled with new trials and hardship and with greater joy and happiness. I find the two go hand in hand surprisingly. Peter said simply,

“The trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:7

We always teach the investigators that their trials are so that they can learn and improve but many times when we have problems, we lose the faith that we always teach about. Every once in a while the Lord lets us know how well we are living the principles we teach and learn about in church. These are precious experiences. I look back on my mission and I see that the most praiseworthy times were when I was passing the through hard times. Little by little, these experiences have changed me like a fire. I felt the heat at times but I wouldn’t change them for all of the gold in the world.

This week we were teaching Mauricio, a recent convert family’s son about trials. It was our second lesson with him and he had not come to church the past week. When we listened to his doubts and worries about falling into past temptations, the spirit came unto us and we were able to let him know that these trials were opportunities to choose between what is right and wrong. We encouraged him to choose the right and gave him confidence so that he would know that he could make good decisions. He came to Church today and will be blessed for exercising his agency correctly.

With opposition comes the ability to choose and with choice comes the consequences of obedience. Thank goodness we have opposition which principle allows us to be blessed in our lives. Alma 41: 7-8, 14 teaches,

“These are they that are redeemed of the Lord; yea, these are they that are taken out, that are delivered from that endless night of darkness; and thus they stand or fall; for behold, they are their own judges, whether to do good or do evil.

Now, the decrees of God are unatlerable; therefore, the way is prepared that whosoever will may walk therein and be saved.

And now behold, my son, do not risk one more offense against your God upon those points of doctrine, which ye have hitherto risked to commit sin.

Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.”

Our Heavenly Father wants to bless us so much! If we are obedient to His commandments, we will receive His promised blessings. We are our own judges, passing our own judgement and we are always taught with justly of the Lord. If we do what is right, we receive what is right.

The day after this lesson with Mauricio I was tried too. Suddenly, my role was changed. I became Mauricio and I was the one who needed to see why trials happen. It was tough. I realized that it wasn’t so easy. I asked for a Priesthood blessing and I was comforted in amazing ways. I continue to work and the Lord has blessed me for continuing to trust in Him. My trials this week have helped me to be a little better every day.

One of President Monestel’s mottos is: Am I better today than Yesterday? I can honestly say that through trials I become better. I appreciate them. I thank my Heavenly Father for the opportunity to be better and to realize my weaknesses. I join with Peter in saying that I praise and honor and glory them and that they will help me to be better prepared for when Christ comes. I put them at a value higher than Gold.

Elder Russell

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Scriptures answer Prayers........week 77

It has been another crazy week in the office. Many days we have little time in the area. I feel like serving the Lord has never been so exhausting haha. But I feel great. I wake up with tired eyes but in good spirits everyday because this is His work and not mine.

At times, I have felt a lot like Alma when he desired to preach the gospel as an angel without stopping…

“ O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the a trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!” (Alma 29:1)

But just as he did, I have to realize that I have certain responsibilities to attend to and that I need to do what the Lord asks of me.

I felt prompted to read this chapter last night in the Book of Mormon as I was fighting with these thoughts, I felt comforted by verse 10:

“And behold, when I see many of my brethren truly penitent, and coming to the Lord their God, then is my soul filled with joy; then do I remember a what the Lord has done for me, yea, even that he hath heard my prayer; yea, then do I remember his merciful arm which he extended towards me.”

Seeing people change their own lives helps me remember when I changed mine. It helps me remember when I have had the remission of my sins and when I have felt the joy that only comes through obedience to the laws of the gospel.

I know that our Heavenly Father lives. He desires the very best for us and has given us commandments so that we might achieve the joy that comes with obedience to these established laws. I know that Jesus Christ is our redeemer and Savior. He has made it possible for all of us to change, me included. This is His church and Thomas S. Monson is His prophet today. I am thankful for what He teaches through the scriptures. They console us in our hardest times and they truly answer our questions.

This week I had a surprise call from the zone leaders from Las Palmas. They called to tell me that they were about to marry and baptize a family that we had found in Las Palmas before I was transferred. I remember the way the spirit directed us to contact that family and how we literally had to turn backwards after having passed by their house to talk with them. They came the next day to church and then I was transferred. It wasn’t until this week that I heard more news of them. The Lord really does know who is ready. We just need to be prepared. We need to be ready.

Thank you all for your prayers. They strengthen my spirit always. You are always in my prayers as well.

Elder Russell

Bishop's birthday