Monday, December 21, 2015

He is Born

Merry Christmas to y'all! :) Hope you have had a good last week and have an even better upcoming week. Christmas is really the greatest time of year :)
It looks and sounds like Florida was a lot of fun, I'm glad you were able to go! I'm sorry you had to go back to the rainy weather in Oregon right after-- haha. 

This week has been super busy. We decided we wanted to make the most out of the Christmas Initiative, the videos that the church has been coming out with. We made a plan to go Christmas Caroling with member families, bring treats, and sing hymns to their friends or even family that aren't members. Then we have the members share their testimonies of the Savior Jesus Christ and the real reason we celebrate the Christmas season. It is great! We haven't gotten to do it with a TON of families yet because of the craziness of this week, but we have a lot of plans for this upcoming week to carry it on! :) 

Monday was our first day trying it out and it went wonderfully! :) We had a family home evening with Blanca and Salvador, Irene and Perla-- it was such an incredible experience to be with them as their family planned, prepared for, and carried out their family home evening. Irene is the sweetest!! She is working on her Faith in God right now, and so she had picked out a few activities she wanted to do with the family. This girl is incredible-- we keep hearing stories that Blanca and Hermana Maldonado tell about how Irene will say like, "But dad, we can't go there because its Sunday" and "By the time I go on my mission,…" and just always be talking about her mission, and things her family has changed because of the church. She is SO great. I love her! 
Anyways so we had such a sweet Family Home Evening with them, and then we asked if we could say a prayer with them to find out who it was that we could go caroling to, that needed a message about Jesus Christ. After the prayer, Blanca chimed in and said, "Well we have this one neighbor down the street, she has asked me questions about the church before, and I think she could use this message". So off we went with the Maldonados and Banuelos to go sing and share goodies with their neighbors. Irene was SO excited. She asked if she could write our number on the cards and hand them out to the people we met. We were able to sing and share this Christmas message with 3 different families. And the lady that Blanca had suggested was so willing for us to come back! As we walked away from that house, Irene asked if she could come with us when we went back so she could feel what its like to be a missionary. 

That was a huge highlight! That night, we talked to one of our investigators on the phone from Lake Charles-- he has been reading a TON in the Book of Mormon and Bible and always has lots of questions. He asked what he needed to do to be baptized! So we talked to him for quite a while, answering questions, addressing concerns, etc, and he told us he was coming to church on Sunday! 

I have to skip a couple days in all the details because there are so many BIG things to talk about! Tuesday was really good though! We met with Julio, then later with Armando and Josue who are all talking about baptism but are having a hard time making the commitment. So we were with President Garcia who is awesome at getting to the point with them and helping them know why all these things are important, as well as showing them love from the branch. He is the greatest! 

Wednesday was an AMAZING day!!!! We had a mission Christmas conference! Hermana Conrad and I sang "Away in a Manger" which was SO fun! :) A little nerve-wracking given the whole mission was all there haha but its all good! For mission conference, they had a bunch of people who were converts to the church but are now leaders stand up and share their conversion stories, and guess who one of them was? OBISPO MORALES!! :D He is incredible, and his story as well! He is definitely one of my biggest role models in life, I am so grateful that I was able to meet him and spend the first 6 months of my mission working with him. :) It was an incredibly spiritual meeting and the whole time I felt so strongly this feeling-- I don't know how to explain it. But I have been praying for a while to feel like I had pleased the Lord with my mission. And the whole mission conference I felt God's love SO strongly, I felt like my heart was burning with love for the mission, for the people I have met, miracles I have been able to witness, lives that have touched mine, etc. We watched the mission slideshow, and I just felt so much JOY. 
After mission conference, I was able to see Marcos and Paco!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can't even explain the happiness that COMPLETELY filled my entire being.
Marcos has spent a few months away from the church- he had been working on Sundays, not attending church, and as he wasn't attending church and feeling the Spirit, he started to fall back into old habits. But through the loving visit of a member, he came back!!! He talked about how he expected to walk back into church and have people look at him differently, have people be disappointed in him, but he said that Obispo Morales greeted him with a HUGE hug, told him how happy he was that he had come back, and even took a framed temple picture and gave it to him so he could always remember his goal to go to the temple and serve a mission. Now Marcos is stronger than ever and working towards being able to serve a mission in about a year-- he is sharing the gospel with his friends and spending a lot of time with the missionaries. It made my heart inexplicably happy. As we were there talking, we reminisced about the day we had met him, and both of us started crying-- everything about Marcos is SUCH a miracle and I am so so so grateful that he is a part of my life. 
Seeing Paco also made me SO happy!! He had also been struggling, and mentioned that he had been feeling really sad lately. I asked if he had been coming to church and he said that he hadn't for a month or so, but that Obispo went over and talked with him about his life, what he was going through, how he could help-- it was an outpouring of love that Paco really needed! Elder Wilder is now serving in their ward!!! So I told Paco to talk to him and go out with them, and he said that he would! He was ward missionary, and also loved to go do visits with the missionaries, and I know that will help him so much! Paco is just the sweetest guy-- He is amazing!! His family and him have been some of the most loving people I have ever known. :) 
I feel like I am coming to understand what JOY is. It isn't found in SELF. I have felt the most joy when I am able to focus completely on the needs of other people and rejoicing with them when they embrace the gospel and find peace in living it!! 

Thursday we went back to Lumberton (where the Maldonados and Banuelos live) and took Irene (and Perla haha) out with us to teach!!! Irene is the SWEETEST!!!!! She wanted so badly to give away her book of mormon, and was so excited to show the Christmas video to the people we contacted. :) She talked about how her family just got baptized and how they want to be examples to everyone else now. The people we met all know the Maldonados and talk about how amazing of a family they are, and how they look up to them. We know its because of the light of the gospel that shines from that family! :) It was such a sweet moment to have Irene with us sharing her testimony that is growing so fast of the church and the Book of Mormon. I love that girl! :) 

Friday's highlight-- we went to eat Pupusas in Port Arthur with Pedro :) haha thats alliteration if I've ever heard it! :) He came all the way out from Lake Charles because he wasn't going to be able to go to church, but he wanted to talk with us. He had brought up some of his concerns in a phone lesson earlier in the week, but seemed like they were pretty well resolved when we talked with him on Friday! He is SO GREAT so there was this worker guy from Guatemala that came over to us and asked if we were the Elders from the Mormon church, and Pedro jumped right in and explained who we are, what we do, what we teach, etc. And the guy says, "yeah I know! I was talking to the Elders and going to church for a year in Guatemala! But then I came here and couldn't find a church". So we talked with him, told him where the church is and everything, and then Pedro said, Well hey if you want to go sometime let me know! I will come with you! Whats your number? We will talk about the church! …it was so great. :) Pedro is already fellowshipping people. ;) 

Also funny story. our branch President had asked when we could come do service for him…. his service that he needed was moving a trampoline from his neighbor down the street's house to his house. I wish I had a picture of this, but my companion and I, and some Brother from the 1st ward picked up a giant trampoline and CARRIED IT through the neighborhood, then lifted it over President Garcia's fence to put it in his backyard. Hahaha it was SO funny. 

Yessika and David Gutierrez from West Lake Houston were sealed in the temple for time and all eternity!!!!!!! Yessika and David helped me through so much at the beginning of my mission, were some of my biggest support systems, really feel like my family here. 
David and Yessika have been through a lot together, but now they are stronger than ever and they love each other so much and have worked so hard to get to this point in the gospel. 
The kids are MY FAVORITES EVER. I can't put into words how much I love this family and how much they mean to me. We were outside the temple when they drove up, and they rolled down the window and called out to me, they were nervous but so excited. 
In the sealing room, they came in and the spirit filled the room so strong. My heart burned with so much love and gratefulness. They were sealed together and the way they looked at each other across the altar was the most beautiful thing. They were sealed for time and all eternity, a blessing that can't be found anywhere else besides the temples of the Lord. 
When their boys walked in, everything inside me melted. I don't think there was a dry eye in the room. Their three boys were all dressed in white and came in and sat down next to their parents. As they were sealed together, the Spirit filled the room even more as they all knelt around the altar. Yessika has been a member about 7 years, David only 1, and one of their boys is old enough to be baptized. They have been waiting for the opportunity to be sealed for a long time. You could see the joy and love that was radiating from Yessika. 
You could feel the unity of the ward as everyone's eyes welled up with tears in that room. The love that we all felt for that family was so strong. 
When they all stood up to look into the mirrors, Yessika and David were both crying. You could tell how grateful they were for the opportunity to be a forever family. It was so beautiful. 
I am grateful for this gospel. So so grateful! I am so happy to know that through the power and authority of God on earth, I can be part of a forever family. I can make covenants with my Heavenly Father and I can receive all His promised blessings. I am so grateful I was able to be here today, to experience this and feel so strongly the Spirit. I am so grateful for the Gutierrez family and for their love, support, strength, faith, hard work, obedience, spirit, dedication, generosity, etc etc the list goes on. I know God lives and He loves us. He has provided us everything we need to be able to return to him again and be part of His family, sealed to our own families, forever. 
Sundayyyyyyy I promise I am almost done-- haha. Eric from Lake Charles came to church again and he brought 2 of his friends!!!!! :) It was SO great. He was so so happy and you could just tell he was soaking everything in. He is incredible. Sad news though-- this week he is moving out of our mission, which was heart wrenching. He texted us after church and just told us how grateful he was and how sad he was that he was leaving. But before he left, we looked up where he could find a church by where he lives. I have no doubt that he will continue to learn and grow and progress and change his life. I'll miss him though! 

SO SO SO many other incredible miraculous things happened this week! 
- We finally met this man from our branch named Teo-- He had been hurt and offended by some things that had happened in his life, and felt like no one in the church reached out to him when he fell away. So as we met with him, we just listened. I can't say really anything else we did, but being there with him, my companion and I both noticed a complete change. He talked about at the end how he was SO excited and ready to just go do the Lords work and it didn't matter to him what anyone else had said or done, he just wanted to do things right and not fall again. That was a miraculous lesson. I wish I could write more about it! 

- We got back in contact with Noe! He has been going through a lot of really hard things and had turned to alcohol as consolation but sought us out to talk with him! (Which was a huge change from the past few months where he wouldn't answer ANYTHING we sent him or any phone call we made to him). 

And more but I have to go now! I just love you all so much! Cant wait to talk to you on Christmas! 

I am so grateful for this Christmas season and for this incredible opportunity I have to be a full-time missionary and represent my Savior. I know He lives and loves each of us. I don't even want to think of what our world would be without Him. I feel like on my mission I have seen small glimpses of what lives are like without a knowledge of the gospel and Jesus Christ, and it fills me with such a desire to share that knowledge with others. I KNOW that the gospel of Jesus Christ changes lives. I know that having a testimony of Christ's atonement and the strength and cleansing we can receive through Him absolutely changes people and fills them with HOPE and JOY and FAITH. God loves us!!!! He really truly does! And we are here to be His hands to help others feel that :) I love you all! Have a happy Christmas week and always remember the true reason for the Season! 

Love, Hermana Shaelyn Rogers

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