It feels really, super weird to have a pretty bad sunburn on Christmas... That's not normal. I loved hearing your voices yesterday and I do understand the hardship in communication. My companion had the same trouble with his parents back on Mother's day and again this time. In fact, his parents couldn't even reach him, though they tried for a couple hours, so they reset a time through the mission offices for later today. I hope he gets to talk with them. I'm pretty sure that I'm going to try Skype next time, but it'll depend on where I am. If I'm still in Pilar, then I know a place now where I can do that.
Anyhow, last week was a really slow week, workwise. A lot of our appointments fell through and we had to improvise on the spot, trying to follow the Spirit as to whom to visit. A lot of the time, we can't really have a lesson either. There still haven't been any baptisms here since I got here, which is the only month this year that there haven't been any. That discourages me a little, but I'm trying as hard as I can to get things going. That's just difficult when you still can't understand most of what people are saying to you.
Since entering the MTC, I've been trying to read the Book of Mormon in Spanish. This last week, I finished 1 Nephi and began 2 Nephi. I love the part in the first chapter of 2 Nephi 1:20-21, where Lehi tells his sons the words of the Lord that "Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land... And now that my soul might have joy in you,...arise from the dust, my sons, and be men, and be determined in one mind and in one heart..." It is every boy's dream to be a man, and here we are told how to be men (and women): keep the commandments.
In my English reading, I'm in Alma and read (I think just this last week) 8-16. These are chapters I've never thought much about before, but now they mean so much more. Especially when Amulek comes on the scene. Here is a junior companion in a missionary companionship, and also a recent convert/less active member of just a few weeks who accompanies Alma to preach to his people. There's a saying in Argentina when someone is being reproved or gets in trouble and is being chastised (I think chastised is a better word for it): bajar la caña, which means "drop cane". Amulek and Alma here are dropping cane, chastising the people for their wickedness, and calling them to repentance. My heart pains for Amulek especially in chapters 14-16. In there, the men who believe are cast out of the city, and the wives and children of the believers, along with the sacred records and holy scriptures, are cast into the fire. Amulek asks Alma, "How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames". They are bound with strong cords and forced to watch this holocaust. The emotions present must have been rending on the heart and soul, especially to Amulek when Alma says these words: "The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand." WHY?! must have been the thought of Amulek, which Alma answers before it is asked, "for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day." Here, I wondered. Amulek and his family lived in Ammonihah. While he was bound and forced to watch, were his own wife and children led to and cast into the fire? Was Amulek forced to watch his own family be murdered by the madness of the mob? In his anguish for the people, Amulek says "perhaps they will burn us also." But Alma says, "Be it according to the will of the Lord. But behold, our work is not finished; therefore they burn us not." Alma is consigned to die, if it be the will of the Lord, but he knows that he still has work to do, so he knows that they will not die yet.
Following this, Alma and Amulek are beaten and accused, the people saying that God could not save those who believed in him, and neither could Alma or Amulek. Not only were they beaten, but they were starved and left without water for days in prison, and every time someone came to question them, they maintained their silence. After who knows how many days, the cheif judge in Ammonihah, along with several other teachers and lawyers, all, one by one, smote them on the cheek and sayd "If ye have the power of God deliver yourselves from these bands..." Alma then cries unto the Lord, using similar words to those of Joseph Smith while in Liberty Jail, "How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ even unto deliverance." It is granted. They break their bonds, and as the people flee in fear, they fall before they can leave the jail, and it collapses on top of them, while Alma and Amulek leave the building, untouched by the crumbling walls. In the following chapter, we learn that almost all of the friends and family of Amulek, including his own father, rejected him, and were later destroyed by the Lamanites, in fulfillment of the words of Alma in chapter 10, verse 23. Amulek lost everything for the Lord. Until I just read this, I don't think I had fully realized the pain that he must have felt. After their work was done among the believers in Sidom, Alma took him back to his home in Zarahemla and "[administered] unto him in his tribulations, and strengthened him in the Lord."
Here we read find that Amulek is a wonderful example of one who kept faith, even after losing everything, in the Lord Jesus Christ. My trials now are small in comparison. I struggle with a language, with a sunburn, with the occasional blister, and with minor rejection from a few people here. I still have my family, and a large support system from home and the other missionaries here. Amulek lost it all. Sometimes I wonder what I would do it something like that happened to me, and I would like to say that I would keep the faith like him. I yearn to have that kind of faith. Five years ago, I don't know that I would have. With how much I have been studying and learning, I believe that now, as hard as it would be, I would be able to continue moving forward. And that is what I am trying to do now: Keep Moving Forward.
I've heard an example that being a member of the church is like walking up the down escalator. If you stop moving, you go backwards. If you casually walk, you will stay in the same place, never really moving. You have to move quickly and against the natural direction in order to move forward. The things that help us to run up are found in the scriptures, in prayer, and in keeping the commandments of God, even in the midst of affliction.
I know this letter didn't have all that much news in it, but I thought that it was more important for me to share this with you: my family. I thank you for your support, love, and prayers. I can feel it. I love you all.
My Christmas was spent in Church, talking with you, and in making visits to members and investigators. It didn't feel like the normal Christmas, but it was very much a day of celebration. Every day here can be that way, as long as I keep my view down the road, and not in the rearview mirror. My past is not as important as my future, and my future depends on my service here. I know this church is true. I know that God lives, that Jesus Christ is His Son, and that through the Gospel, and living the convenants we have made, we have the promise of returning to live in their presence. Again, I love you. I think of and pray for you. Keep your own eyes down the road, and always look for opportunities to bring others onto the same road.
Elder Matthew Dewsnup