Letter #10

(It’s always fun to glean other tidbits from companions…this week’s contribution!)

“Then we got started on the fence. It wasn’t too hard. Elder Schenewark ended up doing most of the work digging the post holes because he liked it and didn’t want us to switch out with him,

Today for preparation day we tried to get Nacho Libre approved, but it wasn’t. So instead we bought four  habaneros and we each ate one. It was nuts. Those things are so hot! Now we are going to go carve pumpkins for Halloween this Saturday.

Speaking of Saturday, guess where the whole Yuma Zone, us included, gets to go this Saturday? THE SAN DIEGO TEMPLE!!! Our stake is in the San Diego temple district so we got permission from Salt Lake to go do a session on Saturday instead of trying to do missionary work when everyone is out trick or treating. It is going to be awesome. Expect a ton of pictures!

Still no word on Elder Schenewark’s visa. I hope he gets to stay here for a while. He is a super hard worker. He is awesome. I love Elder Schenewark. He came pre trained. He’s learning Spanish super fast too!”

Dear Family and Friends,

Yeah, I was going to write about Waldo, but I ran out of time last week. The only thing I’ll add is he told us he was interested in our message but not right now because he was living with a married person, and he knew that was wrong and God didn’t like it, so he was trying to stay as far away as possible from God, but he wants to be with her, and as soon as her divorce is finalized and he is married, he said he would give us a call.

So yeah, definitely a character. And no one can hide from God. We appreciated the ride, the drinks, and we feel like we did our part. But we aren’t going to worry about finding him.

This week we continued to improve. The first few days were killer, and then the last couple have been difficult. But on Sunday, it was amazing to see some of our investigators come to church. I’ve been sad when people haven’t after committing to, but I was surprised at how happy I was to see them come. It was fantastic. We are teaching quite a few people who hopefully will get baptized before the end of this transfer. Work remains.

On Wednesday, we taught a super fantastic(scout camp anyone?) lesson, with the relief society president, to our miracle family, the one we interrupted as they were praying for people to come, that ended up going over an hour. When we went outside, Elder Bradley’s bike was gone! Honestly, I’m not going to lie, my first thought was just relief that it wasn’t mine, because I did not want to fork over a couple hundred for a bike I had used for two weeks. But I felt really bad too. Our bikes were right next to each other, so it was just a 50-50 thing. We called the police to report it. The family we had been teaching had a son who had left the house 15-20 minutes before we went outside, so the family called him and asked if he saw two bikes, and he said he did. He came driving back, and said he would drive around the neighborhood and look for it. Five minutes later he comes flying back to say there’s a teenager riding Elder Bradley’s bike back. And then we asked were the helmet was, so they drive back down to a dumpster, and they climbed in it to get it back. They asked that we not say
anything, so Elder Bradley called the police back and explained that he did in fact have his bike. So, all in all, a terrible situation ended up being a good story and pretty funny as it ended up all right.
Except, Elder Bradley had to buy a new lock. He had put his u-lock just hanging on the handlebars. We put our bikes right behind some cars, and San Luis is actually pretty safe and quiet, so we hadn’t
locked our bikes up, but now we do every time. And we had already called the other missionaries for a ride, so we got a ride back to the house which was nice. Moral of the story, and my mission motto,
#MiraclesEveryday

Saturday, we are going to the San Diego Temple!!!! I am really excited! It’s the sixteen missionaries in the Yuma Zone, and a senior couple assigned to this area as well who are going. I’m not sure what
the times are, but because it’s Halloween, we won’t be doing anything anyways.

In answer to the Halloween question, there’s decorations, but not an insane amount. One thing you have to understand is, most if not all decorations stay here. Most of the houses have Christmas lights up all year round. Not on, but they are always up. And there’s some Halloween decorations, but not a huge amount. One thing a lot of houses have as well, are Virgin de Guadalupe shrines/altars. Which is interesting. And, I included a picture of a lawnmower I saw, because it might be the only lawn mower in town. Everything is sand so there’s no need for one. The city has a couple green areas they maintain, but not 99% of yards.

Lots of people sweep  the sand with a broom getting the rocks and maybe leaves out of the way.
The sunsets and sunrises are always beautiful here, but usually there are no clouds. I did think we might get something from that giant hurricane, but nothing. It doesn’t rain here. A lot of the ward had members they were worried about in Mexico,but I think everyone is all right.

And in answer to the seventy percent unemployment dad mentioned, everyone here has a job, so I would guess they might be counted as unemployed because of legal status? I don’t know for sure. Only that everyone works. We are teaching one lady, she has worked in the field for 45 years, from the age of 14, to 59. Hoeing lettuce, or lechuga in Spanish for a lifetime. We did meet one person who is physically unable to, who collects bottles and takes them to Mexico to recycle. Also, most of the women work here too. Some of the field workers are on a bus at two a.m. And ride to California to work, but yeah, their is no unemployment, just underemployment. The top,jobs are for the schools here, either as teacher or maintenance and it’s like you have it made. It’s helped open my eyes to how blessed we all are.

For food, we usually make lunch at our house. And I go 100% American, as dinner is always Mexican. Authentic too. I thought I had had it before but not really. Tortillas, always corn and dripping with oil, frijoles, and avocado, are guaranteed at every meal. And then some variation is added. Sometimes chicken, maybe beef, rice, etc. Also, always soda. That’s the one thing that’s rough, the foods been fantastic here, but not a fan of drinking soda every meal. The water here isn’t very good, and everyone buys and refills the big blue bottles, whatever they are called at stores, and have them in their kitchen. But no one uses them. It’s always soda. They definitely know how to cook. We have done service twice recently and one of the places, the member is way awesome. He cooked us carneacada, which is made often, but his was so good. And he made us huevos rancheros the next morning, which is tortillas, beans, salsa, and eggs. He actually made cactus salsa, which I really liked. Not spicy at all. And I love prickly pear! Even though it doesn’t taste like much. I eat it as a snack a lot. We dug fence holes for him, which is actually really easy because it’s all sand.

Today, all four of us ate a habanero pepper. Won’t do that one again. Elder Goodrich bought a gallon of ice cream for us, and we ate almost all of it. But I know I can do it now. Everyone makes their own salsa, and I don’t want to have to decline anything. So I know I can do it. But it was smoking hot. Also, their is a McDonald’s and a Jack in the Box here, and everyone loves Jack in the Box more. And they all call it Jack, which is funny. Just Jack. “Do you want to eat at Jack?” “I had Jack for lunch.” Etc.

I don’t go down the hills fast. I’m very careful, and catch up with my companion by pedaling harder on the flat. You know me, very cautious.

Apparently there used to be a giant narc tunnel here, that was found out and shut down a couple years ago. The druggies shot the cop and then just moved towns. Just an interesting story I heard.

My Spanish has only been bad, because I was totally unprepared, but it’s definitely improving, and one investigator said something which made my day, she said that when I talk about the gospel she can always understand me, but when I talk about other stuff she can’t, and she knows that I am a servant of Christ. So that was very nice of her. And my comprehension is going up as well. Still work to be done though! Elder Bradley has really good Spanish, probably the best of any missionary here, so he helps me out when I need it, which is a lot. I’m understood, it just comes out broken.

This house had twenty one cats here! And there was lots more on the rest of the street. The whole street smelled like cats! I don’t know why so many cats lived on this street, but I am glad I don’t!

It’s also finally cooling down, which is nice, and some temps will be in the 80s this week!

I know this gospel is true. My testimony grows everyday. As does my love for each one of you! Families are the best and the most important! Be thou an example of the believers! I love you all!!!

Elder Schenewark

Letter #9

Dear Family and Friends,

This has been an incredibly interesting week. We’ve met some crazy people. I’ve been out for a while, and wanted to share the two most important things I’ve learned on my mission.

1. The Holy Ghost. You have to have the Holy Ghost with you always! I didn’t realize how important, and how wonderful it was to have that with you at all times! In your letter you mentioned that story about the missionary who served in Brazil and was stabbed. One of my teachers at the MTC served as assistant to the president in that mission and knew her and told me about it in class.

Yesterday, we were biking in a part of town, and the Spirit told me to get out of there now. It didn’t look more dangerous than other parts of town. But that has probably been the loudest I’ve ever heard the Spirit. Usually it’s just whispers and feelings, and often strong whispers and feelings. But this was like a voice. So we hightailed it out of there, and as soon as we went a block away, I felt a lot better. It’s not just for safety though. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about this entire week. Everything we do as missionaries relies on the Holy Ghost. Without it, our message does not get across.

Also, in the Bible, I don’t understand everything, but it mentions how before Christ left, he promised to give them a comforter, the Spirit to be with them. Now the apostles could have the gift of the
Holy Ghost, it could be with them always, instead of merely having the power of it. And that made such a difference in their life and abilities. Their faith didn’t waver as it had before and they served until death. They wouldn’t deny like they had done previously.

2. Our Heavenly Father knows us personally. He has a plan for each of us. My testimony of this was definitely strengthened in this whole visa waiting process, and there’s been time after time here that I’ve known that I need to be here at this time. But he knows each one of us. On Friday, in the evening, we had had three straight lessons fall through, and we were disappointed as they were solid appointments and we were really excited for the people, and were planning to commit one to a baptismal date. We had over an hour, and we had nothing planned, because we thought we’d be teaching. So we left the house of the last person who wasn’t home at that time, and previously they had been there every scheduled time, and we started riding down the road, and went less than a block before seeing someone.

We say our usual “Buenas noches,” and then go to talk to them. It turns out, right when we said that, they had been praying to God for help. Their children had been asking religious questions to her that she couldn’t answer and she was looking for the right church, as she didn’t like the others. And then we show up. We taught her, and she testified to us that she knew we were messengers from God. It was a really cool experience. I know that Heavenly Father does love each one of us. And when we’re going through hard times, have faith. If we do what we are supposed to, help is on the way. I am thankful that our appointments fell through and we could be there at that time that night.

We have a Skype call with the President of the mission in a couple of hours, and we should find out if we are going to the San Diego temple! For out 31st, Halloween, we can’t really be going around dressed as missionaries while everyone else is in costume, so everyone is going to the temple, with Phoenix, Mesa or Gilbert, but because we are hours away from everyone else, and our area is actually in the temple area for San Diego, we’re hoping to go there. Apparently they did this 1.5 years ago for something. He just needs permission from Salt Lake.

(Nov. 14 is going to be a huge Mexican Independence Day celebration! With the stake!)

Love,

Elder Schenewark

P.S. Sorry no pictures this week.

Letter #8

Dear Family and Friends,

Matt Stone, I am awfully appreciative of the Tempe food offer, but….. I’m in San Luis!!!! San Luis is literally right on the border with Mexico. Our mission house is less than a mile from the fence and the town’s Main Street runs right to Mexico. It is so awesome.
But to start from the beginning, I traveled Tuesday to Tempe, met the other missionaries going to the Tempe mission and the met my mission president and his wife and went to the mission home. My president is 7 feet tall, and just gigantic. Like Andre the giant big. And he and his wife are fantastically kind and wise. So, I woke up that morning unable to talk at all. I really wish I could have called and talked. When I talked to you on the phone, with whatever sounds I made, that was the most I had talked up until that point, so that was a blessing. My ears hurt so bad, so I decided to get some medicine for them but I didn’t have a fever or anything, just no voice and lots of pain. I did have a fever Sunday so I thought the sickness had traveled to my ears like usual.

I stayed in Tempe at the mission home with the 17 other missionaries who arrived Tuesday and Wednesday receiving training for a bike, iPad, etc. Wednesday we went to the Mesa temple. It was beautiful! And totally different than the others I’ve been to. I loved it! It’s almost 100 years old now. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures from that right now.

Thursday, was transfer meeting and we were there to learn who our companion would be and where we would be going. I have heard that our mission boundaries our a little weird. It covers Tempe, a little bit of Phoenix, some of the Chandler, Gilbert areas, and then there is one zone in the Yuma area, which is what I’m part of. There are four missionaries in San Luis, and that’s where I was hoping to go, to get outside the entire metro area, although it is prettier than I thought. And I did! My trainer is Elder Bradley, who hails from just outside Detroit. His dad helps design parts for Ford. It was something like a 4 hour trip down there. Yuma is about 30 minutes north of us. Elder Bradley and I are both new to this area, and he hadn’t served in the Yuma zone so he was really excited as well. He has been serving as a zone leader in the south of Phoenix. He is great, and we’ve been working hard together. It can be difficult really struggling with the language, but he pushes me, which I’m grateful for and it helps a lot talking to people.

On our way to San Luis we stopped in Dateland which grows and sells dates. Definitely worth a return visit. We tried date shakes and they were actually impressively good. Their other flavor is cactus juice.

The terrain looks like a beach without the ocean. It is just sand with lots of wind blowing. In my five days here, I have met hundreds of people, and only one white person, and he actually lives in Mexico,
but was here for the day. So if you happen to be in San Luis and see a white person, wave because it’s probably me. It’s so crazy. I am speaking Spanish here. Or trying. It was tough at first, and still is but it’s quickly getting better. Some of the kids know English, but most don’t and none of the adults do, except for the government workers, i.e. Police officers. We’re still trying to get adjusted here. The last missionaries who we replaced weren’t really teaching anybody or keeping good records so that’s been a struggle, trying to build off of what they left. The other set of missionaries here live with us and cover the other half of town. We all bike everywhere. We have a van but are only supposed to use it for transfers, meetings with missionaries outside town or to take members to lessons.

Every day this week is supposed to be over 100 degrees. And I genuinely love it. It’s the coolest small town ever. Everybody is so so so nice. They are very understanding with my broken Spanish. And we get fed all the time. Last night we were going around meeting new members and just about every single family offered us food. The first house we had cerviche which is like pico de gallo, except with shrimp. That’s the first shrimp I’ve had in ten years, and I actually did like it. This is probably the closest thing to Mexico, that’s in the USA. All the houses have four foot cinder block walls around them, and the houses have Christmas lights strung all over. And the animals. Everybody has a couple small dogs. And there’s thousands of cats roaming the streets. Usually weekends are good for teaching, but here it’s really tough. Every off day, the population who can, goes to Mexico. It becomes almost deserted. I don’t know the history of the town unfortunately. There is a San Luis Mexico which is 5 times bigger than the USA one right across the border where everyone goes as they have family there.

As for the town, it’s relatively small, the houses are all close to each other and then outside the town there are fields and fields of lettuce. If you’ve eaten lettuce before, chances are you’ve had some
from this area. Elder Bradley and I go running, usually three miles every morning, and we see hundreds of workers out in the fields, or at least the organic ones manually hoeing each row. There are old school busses, that tow porta potties on the back and bring the workers to the fields every day. They are there by 6:30am. And they stay for most of the day. Everything is sandy. I feel like I’m on a movie set. Somewhere between Nacho Libre and some John Wayne movie. Except I ride a bike, not a horse.

Our first day here we had been challenged to commit someone to baptism, and we did! We had the faith, and when we do God will work miracles for us! That’s been the highlight so far. We teach him again tonight. We just started talking with him on the street, and went from there.

Saturday and Sunday were stake conference, and we stayed the night up in Yuma for that and most of the day Sunday so we haven’t done as much as we would have liked. It’s actually only a branch in San Luis. But it’s the strongest branch I’ve ever seen. They have about 140 people every Sunday, we were told, and have sent 7 missionaries in the last couple years, with 4 more leaving before the end of this year. But, there are not a lot of Melchizedek priesthood holders here. The youth and women of the branch are incredibly strong though. They have their own institute program in San Luis. We have met all the leaders of the branch. The branch president is fantastic, and has a vision for this area. He wants to see a Spanish stake created here. When we were visiting him, he kept telling us, “cuidado con las girls” over and over. It was funny.

Okay, That’s it. I love it here. The people are so wonderful and open. There is a special energy and excitement in this town. Congratulations to Annemarie and Tanner! Everything I saw looked wonderful and beautiful. And, my P.O. Box is 14474 San Luis, AZ 85349. There are no mailboxes in the town, I don’t know why, so everybody has a box at the mail office. And, with the iPad I can read emails after 9:30 each night, I just can’t send them, so if it’s easier for my uncles, they can do that. I love hearing the latest!

Love,

Elder Schenewark

Letter #7

Dear Family and Friends,

I think this entire summer I have made it very clear that I did not want to stay in the United States longer than I had to. I have felt ready and excited to go to Brazil since I received my call in April. Well, no more. There is no place I would rather be going to tomorrow than Tempe, Arizona. It has been a cool experience as my testimony that Jesus Christ knows and cares about each of us has grown exponentially. Frankly, there is not much of a reason for my not getting my visa. Except that Christ has a reason. I know that there is a reason I am heading down there.

One of my questions was who gave me my call to Tempe, and I received an email saying that it came from one of the 12 apostles. Also, I found out that I will stay at least 6 weeks, as they keep you there for a full transfer. I can’t wait to get there tomorrow and go to work. I feel prepared and am ready to go! Also, I know I mentioned this a little last week, but I have loved every single day in the MTC. I have grown so much, and have really been able to help others as well. Someone told me yesterday that they were so thankful I didn’t get my visa, and that I had been the answer to their prayers. And they haven’t been the first, so it’s been a truly unforgettable experience.

Last Tuesday, Elder Claudio R.M. Costa came to speak at the Devotional. He is the head of the Brazil area. It was my favorite devotional by far. Absolutely fantastic. He talked about his conversion at age 28, and some wonderful experiences as a mission president in Brazil. Also, fun fact, I haven’t confirmed this, but my teacher said that Elder Costa and Elder Soares a.k.a. The Dynamic Duo of Brazil married two sisters.

After the devotional, the branch president President Dansie held my exit interview. He is a great man. One of the first things he told me, was that he knew I must have a great mother. You know it.

I loved Conference!! My favorite talk was Elder Russell M. Nelsons. If you don’t remember it, go back and watch it again. Besides the heart wrenching story about the failed heart surgeries on the 3 siblings, I think his talk will be the benchmark for future decisions in my life if you know what I’m talking about. But, no worries or thoughts about that now. I do wish that someone would give a talk like that about men. They probably have, so if anybody knows any similarly incredible ones, let me know. There is always room for improvement. That was also my favorite session.

It was so sad to see President Monson struggle, and I wish I could have been there like Aaron, who held up Moses’ arms. And of course, hearing the testimonies of the three new apostles. I had hoped that someone from Brazil would be named, but during the press conference after they were named, I received an undeniable witness that they have been called of God, not man, They are His apostles. I am so grateful to have a prophet and apostles to help us today.

(Elder Leon, “Thank you for been friend of my son all the blessings be upon you and your family.”)

After the last session on Sunday, I went immediately to another devotional for the missionaries leaving this week. I’ll just say I’m ready to go!!! And then dinner, and then our Sunday night devotional. The a Capella group Vocal Point, came and sang lots of songs, and in between shared their testimonies. That was the first time I’d heard any of their songs, and I love live music so it was good.

Well, I think that’s about it. I am looking forward to calling tomorrow!!! Unfortunately, after holding out for 5.5 weeks, I succumbed yesterday. I had a bit of a fever, chills, aches, and I am feeling better today, just have a bit of a cough. I do hate traveling sick. Hopefully I can kick it pretty quick.

And now I have to go pack, shouldn’t take long at all, but I do need to do it. We (there are four other elders and four other sisters going) leave tomorrow at 3:35 am from the MTC, so it’s going to be a short sleep and a long day. Side note, Tempe missionaries get Ipads and cars so I’m excited for that. The Ipad has enough material, such as everything you could think of in Portuguese in the gospel library app so it will help me keep up my language. Which is superb. I can’t take credit. Both my teachers have been fantastic and two weeks of one on one personalized teaching does do amazing things. Tchau!!!!

(One of my teachers Irmao (Brother) Barlow. He served in Mozambique.
My other teacher was Irmao Crestani. He served in southern Brazil.)

And have fun in Vegas!!! That’s super exciting!!

Love,

Elder Schenewark