Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Weekly Letter: November 16-22, 2010

I really don't have much time to write, but I do have a lot I would like to write. I've been thinking a lot about the line in "Praise to the Man" that says "sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven." How many times I have sung that hymn in English and not realized the great truth in it until I had to sing it in another language. This week, we have worked hard on reactivating a lot of members in Centro of Toluca. And every time we ended up teaching the same topic: obedience. And later this week we gained a testimony of the truthfulness of this principle in the lives of missionaries.

Truly, obedience is the first law in heaven, the first sacrifice that each of us have to make. Obedience simply put is to submit to the will of God. However, this sacrifice of our will to His is perhaps the biggest sacrifice we have to make. Missionaries actually live this sacrifice everyday, because we have to. If we don't we can't have the spirit, we can't work, and we can't teach. I have to continually remind myself of that everyday here in Toluca, we have to pass by the mall in Toluca many times in the week. The smell of popcorn in the theater, the new music that we overhear, advertisement for a new movie, everything tries to distract you from what you're doing. However, we have to act on faith.

Some people don't want to act on that faith, they may think that there is an option in selective obedience. Missionaries and members alike, the principle is the same. But when we choose not to make the sacrifice in order to be obedient, we end up forfeiting the blessings that our Heavenly Father has ready for us...as alluded in the line of the hymn I mentioned. Upon being baptized each of us made a covenant with our Father in Heaven. He never fails in his part of the promise, we are the ones that fail in our end. He tells us "I am bound we ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise." But how many times we as His children are not able trust in his promise.

I find that the scripture that's found in Enos, where he says that he knew that God could not lie is something admirable. When we aren't willing to make the sacrifices in order to receive the promised blessings from heaven, we don't, in effect, have the same conviction that Enos had. We are unsure if the blessings will come or not, we believe that God could become a liar.

In that effect, we realize why faith is the first principle in the gospel. A principle is a doctrine put in action. We have to exercise our faith in order to complete the first law of heaven: obedience.

I was also surprised by an insight that my companion had. Here in Toluca, we were teaching a less active member that was looking for work and was thinking of taking a job that was on Sundays. My companion told her directly that that job was not a blessing from heaven, because God will never bless us with something that impedes our obedience. Sometimes we think that what we have in our lives are blessing us, but if these blessing are making it impossible to obey, they cease to be blessings, they are subtle tricks of the adversary.

I know that this principle is true. I know that through our faith, we will make the sacrifice to be obedient, and when we are obedient, we will receive the blessings from heaven. I have seen it time and time again in the mission, but I have also seen the opposite. Even if it is waking up one minute late or taking too much time with the meal with the member, any degree of disobedience, and the spirit withdraws. Missionary or member... it applies to all of us.

How grateful I am to be able to learn from all these experiences in my mission. I hope with all my heart that one day I will become the missionary that I hoped to be, that my family, my friends, and my Father in Heaven wish me to be, but more importantly, I want to be the kind of son that God wishes me to be. Like Jesus said to his disciples in the Americas Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you,even as I am.

I want to make that my goal, here in the mission, and afterwards. Thank you all for the prayers and support. I truly feel the strength of them in the hardest times in my mission.


Elder Blackham

Weekly Letter: November 9-15, 2010

This week really flew by, and I can´t believe it is Monday again. This second week, we had struggles with the work. It seems like we always seem to start over every change in the area. Because of our new focus here in Toluca it´s been difficult to have the success that we would like. It is when appointments fall time after time, that you really have to work on your patience. I know this week could have gone ten times better than it did as far as finding new people, teaching new people, and teaching in general.

However, I think my companion and I are finding better ways to work together. Some of the things that Chavez liked are things that Elder Mendoza doesn´t like. I´ve realized that I´ve tried too hard trying to be like my companion. Luckily I´ve had good companions before, where it was easier to get along, but what we need to do is not clone each other, but complement each other. We each have different talents, likes, and abilities. So when both of us are working to the best of these three things is when we have greater success in our work. Of course, there is need for compromise, but compromise doesn´t mean becoming someone you´re not, but finding a common medium where both of us can work better together.

That´s one of the things I´ve learned in the Mission that I probably didn´t think too much about before the mission. There are a ton of those things, like learning to not make faces when a sister gives you your least favorite food....for the fifth time (that´s a joke, she´s only given us papaya twice.) Yeah, there are a lot of tiny things that someone learns when on the mission, especially when he´s in another country and culture learning another language. I don´t know if my investigators or I have learned more so far. I´d say we´re pretty even because I´ve seen some pretty drastic changes so in some of the investigators I´ve taught so far.

Another lesson that I´ve learned that might have more of a spiritual application is that, as much as this is the Lord´s work, the adversary does his best to stall it. On Wednesday night my companion and I talked about contacting a family that´s inactive and has a daughter of 13 years that hasn´t been baptized. We sent a message to them that night to see if they would be willing to have her be baptized this week, but we never got an answer. Because they lived in Almoloya, we had to wait until Saturday to see them. As it happened, the mom´s phone(whose number was the only one we had) no longer worked; she had never gotten the message. When we got there, we thought of encouraging them to get ready for a baptism maybe later on, because we didn´t want to challenge them to come to church and be baptized the next day. However, as things happened, the Mother asked if her daughter could be baptized the next day. Well....we weren´t going to tell them no.

That next day, we were witnesses to the adversary´s efforts to stall the work of the Lord. This baptism was not an exception, it was case in point. The family got to the chapel late, the brother had to be interviewed before the services, but they arrived late and he was not shaven. Everything looked bad. Even the baptismal font wasn´t filling up like it normally did because the water pressure was down. Things were looking bad...but then, somehow everything managed to work out, but not only work out, but to do so marvelously with such a special spirit. The brother was interviewed and found worthy to baptize his daughter. Our Ward Mission Leader helped us organize a great baptismal service where the spirit was so strong. It was like literally we had hit the calm of the storm during the service. We were literally running from end to end in the chapel to get everything ready. We arrived for the service, breathing heavy, but we felt the spirit´s presence that is present in a baptismal service. Everything felt right. We made it, they made it. And now I feel like this family had an experience that they won´t soon forget.

Well, I´m about out of time. We´ve got to get ready for a Family Night appointment, and we´re going to see if we can pass by with some other people to set up appointments.

Time to work!
Thanks for the support and prayers.


Elder Blackham

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Weekly Letter: November 2-8, 2010

Another week of work our here in the mission with my new companion Elder Mendoza. The work here continues to go forward, but sometimes not at the pace we would like. However, before I get started on that, I´d like to introduce my new companion. His name is Elder Mendoza, his family is pretty big... he is the second of six children, and all his family for four generations have been members, some more active than others, but the majority are baptized members. In fact he tell me that his ancestors were the first members of the church in Veracruz. Not to confuse you guys, he is not from Veracruz personally. He´s from Tijuana. His extended family basically live in one of three cities in Mexico, but he basically only knows those in Tijuana. Other part of his family lives in Veracruz, and the third part lives in: ..........¡Toluca!(more on that later)

Now about the work. Here in the ward of Centro in the Toluca Stake we have some problems about the work. I think I´ve mentioned this before, but basically this area has to proselyting areas that are really far apart from each other: Centro and Amoloya. Amoloya has a lot more fruits and the people are much more open to the gospel, but it is very very very far from the church. They´ve already got sufficient active membership to make a branch in Almoloya, but the problem is that Centro doesn´t have enough active membership to maintain itself as a ward.The church cannot and will not split a ward into two branches, so we have a little bit of a problem. So we´ve been focusing on working here in the Centro 5 days of the week, and the other two days in the afternoon, we will work in Almoloya. However, it is a little discouraging because the people here are a lot harder to talk to and make appointments with, and later they end up avoiding the appointment altogether.

However, I feel that the Lord had His hand in sending my companion here. He has family here in the ward that are inactive....and there are a lot of them! It´s been pretty interesting, because some of the members here in the ward actually know the names of all his family better than he does! Actually, he tells me that he only met his Grandfather before he came here, and the last time he saw him was 4 years ago! However, that only amounts to part of the work we want to have here in the Centro, so I hope we can find a way to find more people here in the centro. In Amoloya, it basically rains references, and it feels so wrong that we are not going to maintain that much contact with the area where there is more work, but in the end, I feel this will help the area grow and thrive in the gospel. A lot of members that were baptized in Amoloya later become inactives due to the cost of transportation, but if there were a branch here and a Worship House(not a chapel) there, there wouldn´t be as much problems.

Anyway, I´ve written a ton. I better get off because I now am out of time. Thanks for the prayers and support.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Weekly Letter: October 26-November 1, 2010

I will have to apologize for the rush I have today. Today is a holiday in Mexico and we couldn´t find an Internet Café open. And we have to go to Metepec at 12:30 to get on board a bus that´s going to take the Toluca and Metepec zones to DF for the changes. So I´m going to write quickly, sorry.

This week, was the last week of the change, and I feel that we worked hard this week. Some times the missionaries don´t quite understand that the phrase "endure to the end" also applies in Missionary work. But this week was not the case for us, I think. Sure, we could have done better in our time, but we were always doing something, and I feel the work progressed this week, which is always a good feeling.

We also had some fruits this week. We thought about dropping one of our investigators because basically asked questions every appointment without any desire to accept the answers we gave him. I think he may have been looking for a way to see that our church isn´t in harmony with the Bible. So we were about to drop him, because he wasn´t completing his commitments either...when he showed up to church this Sunday. I don´t know what he thought because he had to go after sacrament meeting, but it was more than a little surprising to see him fulfill his commitment, we´ll see if he keeps it up this week.

However, the greatest fruit this week was in the baptismal font on Saturday. On Saturday, Carlos was baptized. He had already said that he would get baptized later on, but my companion was inspired in our appointment this week to extend the commitment, and he accepted! Being in the font with him was a special experience, because, before, I thought he only wanted us to be there because we were cool friends that he wanted around. He actually told us once that he wouldn´t be baptized, he just wanted to listen. However, the Lord made a change in him, and he now wants to prepare to enter the temple with his wife and two kids (who are already members).

Truly the change of heart is the greatest miracle in the lives of the people. Think of it, Laman and Lemuel saw angels and their younger brother shocked them miraculously.....but their hearts did not change. We as missionaries truly have the chance to see this miracle day after day, with investigators, with companions, with ourselves...and it still doesn´t stop amazing me the miracles that the Lord works in the lives of His children.

We also, with the changes, Elder Chavez is going to El Oro, which is still part of the same Zone (toluca) but it´s really really really far away, so who knows how much we´ll see each other. Meanwhile, I will receive Elder Mendoza here in Centro. I don´t know him, but I feel like this area is ready to have success, and I hope it continues.

Thank you all for your help and support. I know that many of you are praying for me. Please keep doing so, I need that help!


Elder Blackham

Weekly Letter: October 19-25, 2010

Another week in the mission has come and gone, and I am clueless how that happened. I was in divisions with Elder Lopez, one of the Zone leaders in his area for two days, and I don´t know why but, I feel like those two days just whisked by like they weren´t anything. We worked hard and really put a lot of effort, but it was so weird being in a different area. I also went with him for some interviews that he had to do for some of the district leaders...but we had to go all the way to Atlacomulco, which is about an hour north of Toluca in bus. (Elder Leavitt, the other Zone leader, who also was in Toluca Centro about a year ago, actually told me that our area actually stretches as far north as Atlacomulco.....that´s HUGE!)

Anyway, when I returned with Elder Chavez, it was like a breath of fresh air....I was back in my area. I learned a lot from the divisions and I got to know a lot of good people in the other area, but I feel more like I belong in this area. Anyway, the last two days of the week, we were able to work together well, and try to put what we learned in our different divisions in action.(Elder Chavez was here with Leavitt while I was with Lopez)

Also, we were really pleased that we were able to enjoy some fruits this week. Javier and Rocío were interviewed this friday, got baptized on saturday, and confirmed Sunday in church! It was something really gratifying to see that our work finally amounted to some fruits....but also humbling to realize how little we did. Sometimes I think we are literally spiritual cheerleaders for them so that they can win their game victorious. (not exactly a manly image, but oh well). But literally, I am really surprised how the Lord prepares the people. I think after the first lesson with Javier, I knew he was going to be baptized. Rocío, I felt would also be baptized, but needed more encouraging. Well, three weeks of teaching, encouraging, and fellowshipping later: the four of us were in the Baptismal font.

It really is a beautiful thing to be in the baptismal font, but I think it´s all the more gratifying after having taken that journey together from the beginning. This is one of the first times that I have had the opportunity to find, teach, and baptize the same family with the same companion in the same change. It really was a great experience this Saturday to help them make that decision. We´re looking to see if our other investigators will be able to take the same decision. It will be hard to get some of them for this change...because it ends this week, but I believe there are some that are ready, they simply need the encouragement to make the decision. That being said, I feel that that attitude can be at times dangerous. If we push people too fast to be baptized, it becomes OUR baptism....great for numbers, but hard on the people that have been converted into numbers.

I have seen many members that are less active, good members and everything, but they feel a weird sense of obligation now that they have been baptized and they feel scared about it. Actually, one of them has a son that is 10 years old and not baptized because she doesn´t want him to feel pressured too soon. As missionaries, we have a powerful calling, but an overwhelming responsibility. With every single one of these "numbers" we might see, there´s a face, a name, a soul. We have to be careful that we don´t let the number overshadow the rest. A brother in the ward here told us something I think has a lot of reason. He said "Focus on the people, and being obedient yourself, and the fruits will come. The worse thing you can do is focus on the numbers, because then they will never come."

I think that is really true. I think a lot of the time, when we focus on the numbers, we are no longer instruments of the Lord. We are merely ourselves, looking to gain fame and look good to peers, family, friends, leaders, and everyone else. But how many times do we look at shovel before we start digging? Never, unless the shovel doesn´t work when we try it. When we draw attention to ourselves, not only as missionaries, but in whatever calling we have, we no longer are a functioning instrument. More and more I realize that humility has everything to do with the work. We don´t use gold nails to build a house, because steel is more practical and just as, if not more, reliable.

I feel like I´ve written a ton, but I wanted to express that. I have been disappointed in seeing some of the missionaries....and I´m ashamed to include myself in that list....who get so pressured by the desire to be recognized by people that don´t matter, that they don´t focus on being the instrument the Lord wants us to be. I have realized a lot of things in the mission, but this is one of the biggest, and one of the ones I´m probably going to have to struggle and fight for some time to finally be the instrument the Lord wants me to be. I think I´m realizing more day by day what it really means to "forget yourself and get to work."

Thank you all for your support, your love, your prayers. They really do help. I feel like I have angels back at home to support me. Keep praying!


Elder Blackham

Weekly Letter: October 12-18, 2010

I'm going to write really fast. I wish I could write with less pressure, but we've got to be in an appointment with some investigators at 6:00 and we have to go to the other side of our area in Almoloya by Colinas del Sol. So, I hope that you can excuse the grammatic and spelling errors that may appear in this letter....that is, if my brother doesn't edit them out.

We had a pretty good week this week. Elder Chavez and I are starting to figure each other out a little bit. We are starting to figure out what annoys the other, and the things we should do (or not do) when we're around each other. Yeah, being with a person for 24 hours a day is a little difficult, but we're both learning a lot, and not just about ourselves but from other people in the ward.

We've got a great ward where many returned missionaries see our efforts and are willing to give us advice. Unfortunately, I'm sorry to say that some of them did not have the same confidence with some of the past missionaries in our area. So getting references from them is a little harder because a lot of them say they want us to clean up after the work of the other missionaries. Not all of them think like that, but sometimes it is discouraging when you know they have people in mind to receive the gospel.

So that's one our challenges. However, we still manage and deal with it well. Sometimes we come home after a long day, and realize that we had only one lesson with an investigator and the rest of the appointments with less-active members or fell through. So, we try to bear things up and keep going. We feel like we're working hard and putting in our effort, but sometimes it feels like the fruits just don't want to come. I try to think that it's an opportunity to find more people, or to learn how better to work effectively in a given area of the ward where we're working.

That all said, it really does make your heart swell to see that after all the work that week, that some fruits finally came. Saturday, we had a very successful Family night with a less active family in the ward, who invited three neighbors to it. At first the neighbors seemed to think that we were aliens or something by the way they looked at us(or rather, the way they avoided eye-contact with us), but after the message and the film (Testaments), everyone contributed to the discussion, and we set appointments with everyone of the neighbors.

Even though the neighbors weren't able to come, Javier and Rocio, who were challenged the week before to baptism, did! We actually got up at 5:00 Sunday morning to travel to Almoloya in order to bring them all the way back to the Chapel in Centro at 9:00. We got there at 8:45....and no one was there but us, the chapel wasn't even open!(Mormon Standard Time in Mexico is a beast!) Oh well, it was still good.

Also, Carlos was able to come. All his in-laws and children are baptized members of the church, and he really likes it and wants to be baptized.....but his mother is a Jehovah's Witness, and although he readily admits that he does not like what they teach, he doesn't want to go against his mother that gave him life. So for all these years(since 2001) he's been talking to the missionaries, and he likes it a lot, but he's always kind of been in a limbo for that reason. However, he has said that he would like Elder Chavez and I to be the ones that baptized him, and he says he wants to get baptized in December, in order to give him time to think about how to break the news to his mother.

Anyway, he also came to church and really liked it. So the Sunday really helped boost our hopes. I just hope that we can keep helping them along in this path. (actually the Family night is with Javier and Rocio, and we're planning on teaching some commandments and setting an appointment with the District Leader for an interview). So yeah, we have plenty of work to do and little time to do it. I can't believe how fast this change has gone, we're already in the second-to-last week of the change. The next changes will be the 1st of november. Literally, this change(as well as October) has been nothing but a blur!

So yeah, that's my week in a nutshell. Thank you for the support, and keep praying for me. The work goes on in Toluca Centro.


Elder Blackham