Monday, September 17, 2012

17 September 2012

Dear Family and Friends,

I'm going to send a couple emails since these computers won't let me compress files/pictures. Expect 2-5 emails, only one with text.
This week has been a little less hectic than last week. As we've gotten settled and a little more of a grasp on things things have fallen into a place a bit more. That said, we're still working our way around things. 
One of the interesting things that the Church is doing with the mission vehicles is installing "little black boxes," known as Tiwi's. They're connected to the cars electronics to measure G forces, RPMs, top speed, etc, and compared to a GPS signal and measured speed limit on a certain road. If you go above it, you get three warnings. On the third, a report is sent to salt lake then forwarded to President Howes, the mission president. It will speak to you over the speakers and say, "check your speed," and then "speed violation recorded." It was cool for one day.
It has been funny to see people's reactions to us in the evening. We biked up to this one guy yesterday and started talking to him. When we first said "Hello," he wasn't facing towards us. He saw us, jumped, and started to run. When he realized we weren't cops, he started laughing. He was trippin hard and really drunk. Good guy, though. We had a nice conversation on how he has drawn closer to God when he has been in jail. He's on probation and not supposed to be drinking or smoking. Similarly, some of the latinos will jump and run from us because they think we are immigration or border patrol.
I was talking to the Mission President about how Prop 1027 has affected missionary work in Arizona. If you'll remember, Prop 1027 is about the legal immigration/illegal and search and arrests. He said millions, literally millions, have left Arizona and the amount of Spanish missionaries in the Tempe, Arizona mission have dropped to 30. There are ~200 total missionaries in this mission. 
Speaking of politics, the people here are surprisingly "loud" about what they think. Elder Sawyer and I were biking around the other day and came across a couple of guys drinking. We started talking to them about the Church. One of the guys suddenly asked us who we were voting for. Sawyer and I didn't say anything. Then the guy said all Mormons vote for Romney. I said, "this one isn't." I left it at that. He asked if I was a socialist then. When I said no, he said, "It's not about political parties anymore, it's about capitalism vs socialism." If I wasn't on my mission, I would have said that even the socialist party "disowns" Obama and asked the man if he liked the street his house was on since it was paid for through "communal" taxes. Luckily I held back. After I saw one Elder freak out in the MTC (literally yelling about politics. Not my fault! I was just asking questions) I've been working on cutting back on that. It is actually surprisingly hard. Even the members here like to talk about Romney. In a Correlation meeting we had (talking about ward missionary work with ward members), this one guy spent about five minutes talking about how Romney will be the savior of missionary work and the church will grow so quickly as a result of his name being out there. I put my head down, bit my lip, and tried to zone out. He went on about how he wishes everyone had the vision he had. If I wasn't on a mission, I would have said something like him being president can go two ways. It can go really well for the church, or it can follow the trend that almost all US Presidents face, and that is, being hated by the world because we go and do whatever we want, whenever, wherever. There's a reason the world hates US Presidents. And then as you said Dad, what if the world hates him and starts taking missionary VISAs away? Based on what Romney has said in the past about increased military use, who knows. But I'm on a mission so I stay quiet on these topics for 2 years. Some people get too emotionally involved in politics. Once emotions get involved, logic and manners go out the window. It isn't worth ruining a missionary relationship over politics. But really, staying quiet on that is way hard.
Elder Sawyer and I went biking thrice this week. We did two half days and one full day. On the full day we went 21 miles, and we went 7 and 9 on the two half days. We're sitting at a solid 37 miles this week. My "cyclometer" has a thermometer on it that measures the temp at ground level which is more likely what it is for us since the waves reflect off the pavement. It has been between 102-117. I'd say it's accurate to +-3 degrees. It gets to 100 degrees at night which is nice and down to 85-90 in the late night. 
We have also started going to the gym most mornings. They have ergs/rowing machines! I've been doing 1k sprints, then running a mile, then weights. Weights are boring.
We got anti'd this week! We biked past this guy who yelled, "mormons er'y mile!" We laughed and kept going. About two minutes later we heard someone yelling at us. Turning around, we saw Thomas biking as fast as he could at us. We laughed again and stopped to let him catch us. He was yelling, "hey, want to learn about the Bible?" We said, "do you?" He went off on how the Catholic church was The Antichrist and church of the devil, how the world was created in one day and not seven, and some more crazy things. After 30 minutes, we just left him. He was probably 65 and definitely not "all there." Mexicans are nice. I'm turning into one since I'm red now. 
Is Mark home?
I got chased by my first dog! Luckily I was on my bike but that thing jumped the fence and ran after me. Once I noticed that it was right behind my heel (on my bike, I was), I braked hard and swerved into it. It barely missed my tire and ran off. I won.
It has been fun to see how many people have never heard of Joseph Smith here. It provides us the opportunity to teach from scratch and not have to dispel misbeliefs like that we're Amish. We get that one here.
We met one guy in a trailer park. He looked pretty high. We spoke to him a bit and then he asked, "hey guys, do you mind if I come chill at your place for a bit?" Never expected to hear that one. 
We ate this corn soup thing this week. It was the worst texture. Other than that, I'm surviving. I think that beans are going to become my new favorite food whether I want them to or not. People eat a lot of beans.
We did a deep clean of our apartment this week. We have to do one more since we have cleaning checks this week. We can't walk barefoot since our feet turn black. We spent about 2 hours vacuuming, cleaning window sills, and finding junk everywhere. We have a long way to go. We are getting a floor cleaner thing this week, we need it bad. 
Mom and Dad, I'm missing an SD card I sent home ~3 weeks ago.
Mom, please link this talk here. "The Peace and Joy of knowing our Savior Lives." Russel M. Nelson 2011 in December. ( ). In there is this great quotation by Joseph Smith, "The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again on the 3rd day, and ascended into Heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it."
I've noticed gas prices have shot up in  recent days. I asked one of the members about it and he laughed when I told him that gas prices usually follow world crisis. He told me that indeed there have been many as US ambassadors have been killed in the middle east. Is that true? 
We were biking two nights ago down a hill. Elder Sawyer was in front, I was following. We got going pretty quick. As we were going down, I felt as if I should slow down. Just as I did, a car flew past the stop sign and would have hit me had I not slowed down. I was able to turn myself and go behind it. Little promptings save lives. 
Quick question: why does the church buy different makes of different cars? In Yuma zone alone we have a Chevy Malibu, my swagger wagon - the Dodge Caravan (I think that's the name..), a Pontiac Vibe, and two Corollas. I imagine it's due to deals the church is given but who knows.
I forgot to mention this one last week. Apparently in the Tempe zone the members are very...involved in every day lives of missionaries. I think it was President Kimball who used to say, "every member a missionary." President Howes likes to say, "Every member a mission president." Apparently they get calls if missionaries haven't shined their shoes, if they're driving too fast, etc. So funny. Luckily that doesn't happen much (to my knowledge) in Yuma.
I got called on to give a talk in our Spanish branch yesterday. They gave me plenty of warning, a solid 10 minutes. We were getting ready to leave our apartment when the phone rang and the second counselor, Hermano Steenstra (from Netherlands, fluent in English, dutch, Spanish), said that their speaker cancelled and if I could speak. I wasn't too nervous but my limited vocabulary made it...interesting. I shared Isaiah 41:10 and how we can get strength through Christ etc etc. 
We have an investigator who is rock solid. She's ~20, has a strong catholic background, and draws all these great connections between the bible stories and the readings that she is doing in the Book of Mormon. She gives insightful feedback that I learn from and has enjoyed our visits and church. One time we stood up, forgetting to say a closing prayer, and she said, "hey. don't you leave without saying the prayer!" Needless to say she's progressing well.
I was wrong about Dear Elders! I got one from William this week. You just have to pay for postage to get it directly to me. It comes in an envelope. I think you can get them printed at the mission home but they take 3-6 weeks to get to me if you don't pay for postage (45 cents) and send it to me. To clarify: if you pay for the postage stamp on a dear elder, it will get to me in ~3 days and will be mailed directly to our apartment. If you do not, it will be printed at the mission home and take 3-6 weeks to get to me. So pay the 45 cents for a stamp!

Thanks Natalia, Sister Hines, and William for the letters! It is great to hear from you all. Replies are in the mail.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

10 September 2012

Dear Family and Friends,

I caught the 3:10 to Yuma!more on that in a bit, though.

Two things: I don't speak Spanish and it is really hot.

My Address:
Elder Paul Johnson
1600 W 12th Street
Yuma, AZ 85365

What a crazy few days it has been! Left the MTC at 5am, plane left at 8, and landed at 10. On the plane, I fell asleep for the first ~20 or so minutes then woke up to find Elder Jacobsen talking to the guy next to him. I was in the aisle. The guy, named Mark, was a grad student at ASU studying communications. I butted into the conversation and we had a great discussion about communication, our plans for the future, and what missions are. It was a very relaxed conversation and flowed well.

Once we landed, we were quickly scurried up by the mission presidents, assistants, and his wife. We all somehow squished into two MAVs (Mormon Assault Vehicles - long vans) and went on our way towards the mission home. Luckily, it was only a 20 minute drive. Once there, we unpacked some things and threw it into a room in the Church. We had a short brunch where we got to meet people and talked for a bit. They split us up into two groups: one that went and OYM'd (Open Your Mouth, contacting random people on the street) and one that was interviewed and did a short orientation. We were in that second group. Interviews were nice and short. After that, Elder Myler and I were dropped in a random trailer park and told to go pass out some copies of the Book of Mormon and talk to people -- in Spanish. We were still companions because we had not received our companions for the field yet. We walked around and talked to some people. Our first contact...words cannot describe how bad it was. We walked up to a woman cutting Cactus for dinner and tried to talk. Words didn't really come out. She just sat there laughing. It was way too awkward. We opened to a scripture, gave her the book, and just left. After that, they slowly got better.

The rest of the day were meetings with the staff and whatnot. We had dinner at a members house, taco salad, and then we dispersed to spend the night with a member. We all stayed in the Tempe area. The one who Elders Jacobsen, Myler, and I stayed at were awesome and very welcoming. We talked a bit and then fell asleep at 8. It had been a long day. Since they did not tell us where we were going or who our new companions were, we were all dying that night. The next day was the day!

We woke up at 5:45 to get ready and then left to the church to have the transfer meeting at 7:15. Once there, we talked a bit with the misison president and his wife about things I can't remember but were doubtlessly important. You could sense the excitement in the room. They moved us into the chapel after 2 hours of meetings to meet our trainers and learn where we were going. When we walked in, all the trainers (companions that help introduce new missionaries to the area) were sitting on the far left side of the room. We were told to sit on the far right. One by one, President Howes, the mission president, read off a name of the trainer, a name of the trainee (us), and the area they would be serving. Lets see if I can remember: Elder Jacobsen is in Skyline, Elder Myler is in Chandler, and... I can't remember where the Hermanas are. Woops. They read everyone's name off and eventually I was sitting by myself on the right. They had saved me for last. I was dying, but, naturally kept a cool face, yo. I heard my name, my trainers name (Elder Sawyer, 16 months in, form Meridian, ID), and then Yuma! I had been saying that if there was one place I wanted to serve, it was in Yuma. Yuma is the border zone. Then they said we were whitewashing into Yuma.

Whitewashing means that they take both the missionaries who were there out and put two new ones in. They do it to put a breath of fresh air into the area if it is struggling a bit. Whitewashing and training means that both he and I have no idea what we are doing here haha. The first couple days we spent ~6 hours planning and looking through the Area Books. It was hard. Furthermore, when we walked into our apartment, it was a mess. They had had a "party" the night before. Lots of things were on the ground, there were burnt papers (?!), and more. Mom, if you thought MY room was bad... We spent 3 hours a couple days ago cleaning out one room and found 3 garbage bags full worth of trash. We have a lot to do today. There are also cockroaches and bed bugs have come back. I haven't seen any bed bugs yet...Mmhmmmmm

Our apartment is nice, size wise. We have a sweet view (I forgot my camera in our room...I'll have pictures next week..) of a trailer park and then the desert right after it followed by some grande mountains. Ooh, and a small canal/stream/river!

Yuma is hot. Hot. Hot. If you leave a water bottle on the ground it melts. If you leave a CD case on the dashboard, it melts. It is dry, too. Luckily, we've had two days of showers and awesomeeeeeeee thunder storms. Thunder that shakes houses, lightning that is everywhere. Anyway, they give missionaries a car down here (we drive a swagger wagon. Dodge van, can't remember name) a car and give 1000 miles a week. We bike once a week (picked up bike, by the way. thanks!). They say being sent to Yuma is like banishment. We don't get to go to a temple even though we're close to San Diego, we don't get Dear Elders often, we don't get to go to mission meetings, it's really really really hot. It doesn't really feel like the US here. Lots and lots of trailer parks and Mexicans. The city isn't tall and the landscape is quite literally a desert. There are stray dogs, chickens and roosters running around the streets. The poverty is unbelievable yet the people are so welcoming. More on that in a bit... Just real quick, Yuma is large geographically but few people. There are only 4 companionships here, one of which are the Zone Leaders (ZLs).

I made it through the entire MTC without ironing once. On our first day, I started ironing but Elder Sawyer told me that there's a dryer on our balcony. Never ironing my shirt again!

I've joked about how it rains when I leave or go places. It rained for 3 days before we left the MTC, it rained when I got here! Move over Schumacher,there's a new rain master in town. [Schumacher is an F-1 car racer who must have the rain follow him too.]

Food. We eat at a members home 6 nights a week. We've had Pizza, Beans, Shrimp/Cervichi and ALMOST Menudo. I think I'm going to die in Yuma. I eat it but every time it almost comes up. Of everything we've eaten, I'd say Pizza is the best but I wouldn't go out of my way to eat it still. Cervichi is the devil. Bane of my existence. It's like shrimp and..other stuff, I don't even know what. We ate at this one members' house. It was a trailer without a table and a tiny couch and two chairs. The Sisters in the area eat with us so we stuffed in. There was room for the two sisters and Elder Sawyer and me sitting near each other, no more. She fed us cold Cervichi. I ate about half and while the host stepped out to grab something, Elder Sawyer, like a boss, switched plates with me. He ended up eating mine, a Sisters, and his own. Como un jefe [like the boss]. Did I mention it was cold? Straight out of the fridge. They didn't have power in their trailer. Their willingness to help out was humbling though. Menudo is what I'm most scared to eat. It is the stomach lining of cow in a soup.

But first, let me explain the last two days. We have given five blessings in 1.5 days. For some reason everyone has been asking recently. Two have been in English, three in Spanish. Elder Sawyer takes those ones. They take a lot of time out of our day since three were at the Hospital (2 year old girl had top lip bitten off by Dog, needs surgery, older less active woman asked, and  third was a woman who wanted one also) Let me preface the story with this: I've been praying a lot for my taste buds to just die for 2 years. On the way out to our dinner apt I was saying a prayer in my heart that the food would be spaghetti or something. As we are driving out, a huge storm comes in. We're talking 40+ mph winds, rain, LOTS of lightning, and sand! (There are lots of dust storms here, like hundreds of feet tall walls of dust coming at you. Waiting to get a picture of one...). Anyway, we're driving there and then we see power go out everywhere. Since the desert is flat, you can see everything. We pull up to the house and they said since the power went out, they couldn't cook the Menudo and instead had to order Pizza. I've never been so happy to eat Pizza in my life. Little blessings like that keep you going. I doubt that will work for two years, but we'll see. I think between my prayers and the willingness to give so many blessings, we got a little one in return.

While we were in the hospital, a nurse asked us to go visit a woman who just got transferred in. As we were walking in, a Border Patrol dude/agent/guy stopped us and said, "Who are you and what are you doing with my convict?" He was pretty intense about it. we told him our business and he let us go. Inside we learned (Or Elder Sawyer did. Remember, I can't speak Spanish) that she had been in a group coming across the border illegally and the coyote left her behind in the desert to die. US Border Patrol found her and saved her. I can't imagine knowing that I am about to die and being alone in 110 degree weather. It's kind of crazy how close we are to all the action. Unfortunately we're not ON the border (That's the San Luis district, we're in Yuma, ~15 miles north) but we see everyone coming through the Yuma hospital.

We cover three wards for our mission area. An English, a Spanish Branch, and a Young Singles Adult. Not sure why that last one since they usually send ZLs  [Zone Leaders] there but we have it. The English branch is pretty large, the YSA [Young Single Adults] has about 25 and the Spanish branch has about 40. It seems dead. I leaned over to Sawyer and mentioned that and he said, "We're here to save it."

In the 6 days we've been here, we've taught 3 lessons, 2 of which were yesterday. Everyone listens but no one follows up. Must be a cultural thing. Most people are really nice.

But some aren't. We were walking around this one trailer park and went up to these guys. Lots of tats, cigarettes. They were angry with us and told us that we were in their gang zone. We mentioned what we were doing and they lightened up. Intense stuff. One group had a shotgun pulled on them. I love Yuma!

Selective poverty is also clear. Nice cars, nice phones, but living in a tiny powerless trailer. Sad.

Lots of homes have solar cells. Makes sense. It's so bright... I'ma need to find me some shades.

For one of our investigators, we're teaching him to read. That officially starts tomorrow. Never taught anyone to read before...especially in a language I barely speak.

I should clarify a bit. I understand about 25% of what people say but since they mumble and talk so quick I can barely get that. I can usually speak relatively well for being so 'young.'

That's all I have time for, expect some sweet pictures of a dust tornado thing, rain storms, a gross spider, desert landscape, and more.

Thanks Tori, Natalia, and Doug for letters and brownies! Quick note on Dear Elders: since I'm in Yuma, I get Dear Elders once every 3-4 weeks. We're 3.5 hours from the mission home which is where they go.

 What causes time to slow near a blackhole? Can someone look up the etymology of Apostle and Apostasy and tell me why the words are so similar?

"It's so hot up in dis club that I ain't got no shoes on"

With love,
Elder Johnson

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Paul arrived in Tempe!

The Group of Missionaries who arrived in Tempe with Paul

Elder Paul Johnson in Tempe September 4, 2012--a greenie!