Monday, August 31, 2015

Week 10

The Rio Grande River

Dear family and friends,

This week went well in Piedras! I have now crossed the 1 month mark in the field! I can't believe I left the MTC a month ago. Time truly flies. This week was a lot easier than the past couple of weeks. It was cooler, we taught more lessons, and didn't have to walk as far! My Spanish is improving every day and I am excited to see where I will be in a few months. 

This week, I want to share the conversion story of my companion. My companion is one of the most unique people I have ever met in my life and I am so grateful for the last month we have had together. I will be very sad to see him go in 2 weeks when he complete his mission and returns to his home. Here is his story, with my commentary added. I apologize if there are errors, I had to gather this story completely from the Spanish that I hear every day. 

When I met Elder Suarez, I truly didn't know what to think. He seemed like a good guy, he didn't say much to me but I just kind of took it and continued onward. But over the past 4 weeks, I have learned so much from him. He has taught me doctrine, how to tecah and ask questions, how to use examples while I teach, and how to show love and concern for each person we talk with. 

However, I think that the conversion story of my companion is something much more insprinig than my personal growth here in Mexico during the last month. Here is his story. 

Elder Suarez is now 25 years old, has completed 5 yeras of college, and graduated with a degree in computer informatics/science. He has one sister, his mother, and his dog. His mother took him and his sister and left his father when he was 3 years old. He never knew his father. 

He grew up in the State of Mexico, basically Mexico City, and did very well in high school. He began to attend a prestigeous university and moved out as many young adults do when they begin their college careers.  He lived a comfotable life, with plenty of food, a house, a job, and did well in school. He didn't believe in God, even though his family was, and still is Catholic. He was content with his life. 

However, his life began to change. His job began to pay him less and less, and he had fewer hours. It got to the point that he had to choose between taking the bus to arrive on time to classes or eat that day. He began to be depressed, lonely, antisocial, he even told me that he could count on one hand, the number of social activites he had attended in a year. He tells me that he sat on his porch one day, with his dog thinking to himself, "what happened? I used to be so happy, I had everything! But now, I have nothing. I have no friends, becuase I cannot trust anyone. I don't have enough money to pay all of my expenses like food and rent and school and my family can't support me physically or emotionally... what happened..." 

What happened next is very interesting, Jehovah's witnesses missionaries knocked on his door and shared verses from the Bible with him. He had never read the Bible before. For the first time in his life, he wondered about God. As a result, he did what any person would do when you lack information on a subject, he read the Bible. All of it. I wish you gusy could see how gracefully and masterfully he integrates Bible verses into our daily religious conversations. Not just verses from Genesis, Exodus, the Gospels, or the Acts of the apostles... he shares verses that I have never even read that are incredibly relavent. He is a true master of the scriptures. 

Anyway, he read the Bible, but still had many unanswered questions. He started to read other material, self help books, commentaries on the Bible, but he couldn't find his answers anywhere. Remember, that during this time of searching, he was struggling financially and had few friends or family to rely on. 

He then stumbled upon the Book of Mormon and somehow found out that there was going to be a session of General Conference that weekend. He went to General Conference and said that he loved what he heard. He felt the spirit testify that what he heard was true. He read the rest of the Book of Mormon, and with the help of the missionaries, found the answers to questions, he says, "he didn't know he had". He learned the lessons and was baptized at age 21. He says the day of his baptism was the greatest day of his life! 

His family was furious that he was baptized. However, he persevered and continued forward with very little support. He finished college and decided to serve a mission, at age 23. In order to pay for his mission, he worked 2, sometimes 3 jobs, slept very little, and recieved no support from his family. Elder Suarez also has a week heart and doctors told him that he is healthy enough to serve but that it would be physically very difficult. Despite all of these difficutlties, off Elder Suarez went on his mission. 

Elder Suarez tells me that his mission has been difficult. His mother doesn't write him very often, members from his home ward don't write him, and he has no contact with his sister at all. I literally can't imagine how difficult it would be to not recieve love and support from home. Even if it is just emailing...writing my family is one of the best parts of my week!

Yet, true to character, Elder Suarez continues onward. He teaches me so much every day. He perhaps, shares the most pure testimony of the church and of Jesus Christ that I have ever heard in my life. He knows for himself, that the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is true. He is a fantastic missionary, who truly understands what it means to sacrifice and serve, no matter how hard it is or what you have to give. 

He tells me all the time to count my blessings every day. Sometimes we don't know how blessed our lives are until we suffer difficulty. He tells me every day to trust myself, because the Lord trusts in me. I want to share that same message with any one who reads this. The Lord trusts in you and that is what really matters. When everything seems to be crashing down, and there is little support to be found, remember that the Savior loves us more than we can imagine. I promise that if we try to remember the Savior a little more each day, and be willing to work, learn, and sacrifice for the things that really matter, our lives will be full of joy. 

Thank you for your continued love and support! Siga adelente! 

Elder Shipley 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Week 9

Dear Family and Friends,

Thanks for your love and support! This week was much better with my Spanish and I am starting to pull my weight in our lessons! This week was cooler in Piedras, there was even a cloudy day and it was the best day!  

This week, I want to share some of the humor of my life, because sometimes I just need to stop and laugh about what happens on a daily basis. First of all, I would like to share a short list of things that describe "You know it's hot in Piedras Negras when"...
1. There is nobody outside except for the missionaries. Literally, nobody.
2. You and your companion drink 30-40 liters of water a week. I drink about 3 times as much water as my companion. He thinks I am crazy because I down about a gallon of water a day. I think he is crazy because he drinks Coke. 
3. You immediately begin sweating when you walk out of the shower and always shower with cold water. 
4. You carry around a towel to wipe the sweat off your face. The towel is soaked within 30 minutes. 
5. Our apartment is 100 degrees farenhiet when we return home. I cannot tell you how wonderful 80 degrees sounds right now. Even 90 would be nice. 
6. Finally, perhaps the best, is that I have begun to use an umbrella every day. All day. I use the umbrella to create shade and protect myself from the sun. It is incredibly effective, considering there usually isn't a cloud in the sky. It looks incredibley stupid, but I have to protect myself from the sun! I am not down here in Mexico to suffer and get skin cancer because I have to walk under the blazing sun all day! Rather, I am here to talk to people about Jesus and his marvelous atonement! 

As if my companion and I weren't already way out of place, we now look even more goofy. Remember that I am an American with blond hair, blues eyes, my companion is Mexican, but looks Asian in every way. We are both giants compared to the people here, (my companion is almost as tall as me). The bishop of our ward checks in at about 5'3''. Not to mention we are in white shirts, ties, and pants and it is blazing hot. 

Also, everyone thinks I am from Washington DC when I tell them I am from Washington in the United States, so I started telling people I am from Seattle, a city north of California. Then the people I talk to look at me... and ask me if I miss California. Basically..... I am from Washington DC or California and I just kinda laugh and keep on going.

I also ate an entire Little Caesar's pizza for lunch the other day. I was so happy to finally finish the Questival Challenge from May of this year. My companion just stared at me like I was some kind of animal because he eats about a quarter of what I eat. It's crazy. 

Anyway, I gave a talk yesterday on Faith at church, in Spanish of course. I had some people compliment me on my Spanish and a few on my talk.  That made me happy!  Remember that the loving arms of our Savior are extended towards us! In order to accept them, we need to have faith and demostrate our love to our Savior every day! So my short message this week is have faith, demonstrate that faith by serving others and God, and remember to have a little humor in life because life is too short to be serious. 

All the best, 
Elder Shipley 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Week 8

Dear Family and Friends,

Thank you for continuing to write me and let me know how you are all doing! I am doing well here in Piedras Negras, Mexico!   I am a little hot, every day it is about 105-110 degrees, and of course the Spanish is slow but it is coming along! Every day I learn more and more and recognize more and more! We had an awesome experience last week with an investigator and a lesson that went for over 4 hours, the investigator and my comp just kept on talking and I would chime in occassionarly but he had so many great questions and has a tremendous desire to learn more. I kept pointing at my watching to tell my comp that perhaps, we should go, but he was following the spirit and did a great job. My companion know so much, he is honestly a pro at the scriptures and has a ton of street smarts. Without him, I would be in a lot of trouble here in Mexico. 

I want to share a great experience I had last week reading in the Book of Mormon.  In 1 Nephi 16: 18-32, we find the story of Nephi breaking his bow. I wish I could share this story with each of you but I don't have time. I will instead just share the 5 things I learned from it and encourage you to go search, ponder, and pray for yourself. 
1. We all have problems and difficulties: Nephi broke his only bow while his family was living in the wilderness and his family couldn't eat.          
2. Complaining, doesn't solve anything:  Laman, Lemuel, and Lehi complained and murmured about Nephi breaking the bow.
3. Work hard and do your part to solve the problem: Nephi made himself another bow. But he still didn't know where to hunt. 
4. You need to have faith that the Lord will answer your prayers when you have faith: Nephi asked his Dad, Lehi, who asked Heavenly Father in Faith. And according to their faith, the Lord solved the problem of the lack of food.   
5. This part is often forgotten, they gave thanks to God! "How great was their joy" Be joyful and Happy! This life is a life of happinness and joy! Remember that through "small means, the Lord can bring about great things" (verse 29). 
We all have difficulties and problems, but if we do our part, rely upon the Lord in faith, he will help us solve our problems and we can have joy! I know the Gospel is true and that Christ is our Savior. I am so privileged to spend my whole day talking about Jesus Christ in Spanish. 

I wish you all the best this week,
Elder Shipley 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Week 6.5

Dear Family and Friends, 

This week has been the craziest and coolest week of my life! 
Last Monday the 3rd at 2 AM, I left the MTC way early. I traveled with my 6 "brothers" to Saltillo on a plane from 6 to 7. I got to sleep a little and eat and then we were interviewed filled out paperwork and then we went out to "work" which just means teach and contact and talk to everyone in Saltillo.
Tuesday: I woke up, recieved a lot of training, ALL of it Spanish, listening and trying to pay attention to spanish all day is so mentally taxing. I am literally dead by the time I finish. I also recieved my trainier.  I am currently serving with Elder Suarez!  He is 25, graduated from college, converted to the church at age 21, will finish his mission on September 17. He only has 5 weeks left. I am his last Comp.  He also knows the scriptures forward and backward. It's crazy, he is SUPER CLEAN like more than me. We don't have many shared interests but he is a fantastic trainer and I thank God every day for him. 

We arrived in my first area, Piedras Negras after taking an 8 hour red eye bus ride.  We arrived at 5:00 am in the morning. My companion and I reopened the area of Piedras Negras we are currently in.  It's a is a pretty big town, situated right at the Texas-Mexico border. Piedras is very diverse. Part is very nice. Gated communities, Audis, BMWs, flat screen tvs, AC, everything. I don't work or live there. Then there is your average middle class Mexican 3 room dwelling with your basic stuff like tables and chairs and TV. Then there is the DIRT DIRT POOR. That's is where I live. Everyday, it is about 105-110 degrees which means when I come home every day I am dripping wet, covered with dirt, and super happy because I have the chance to serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ every day. 

I wish I had time to tell you everything I experience on a daily basis. The field is so incredible and I am learning so much!  My Spanish is pretty good so far. Of course, real Spanish outside of the MTC is way faster and way more slang but I know in a couple months I will be totally fine! I am really happy despite the daily hardships of 105 degrees, not knowing Spanish, and the fact that a city as large as Piedras Negras, often, doesn't have street signs. We manage somehow and are beginning to teach people and it's great! 

Thank you so much for writing me! I will have more time to respond to you all next week! 

The Gospel is so wonderful and great and make sure you thank God every day for your blessings!

Elder Shipley