Friday, February 26, 2016

Small and Simple Things

February 22, 2016

I am always amazed at the way the Lord works in our lives. It is incredible the way things just seem to come together. Let me give you an example, I have been struggling trying to figure out what I need to do to get out of a plateau that I have hit. When we first got to Talavera about 11 weeks ago things started to explode, just explode. We were receiving several references everyday and having great contacts in the street, our investigator pool grew and we were teaching more lessons than I have ever before in my mission, but a couple of weeks ago I noticed that we were not receiving many references nor were we having such great conversations with people and so I started looking to find the secret to finding new investigators. Praying, fasting, and pondering trying to figure out what the big secret is to Talavera. I found out the big secret, but it really isn't big nor is it a secret. The secret is the little things. When we got to Talavera we were talking with absolutely everyone, we were doing absolutely everything we could to find just one person to teach because we had nothing. As time went on and we started to grow we got comfortable. We started talking more with the people who "looked receptive" we began not looking or praying with that same urgency. In short we had forgotten to do some of the basic things while searching for a bigger answer. I am grateful for my wonderful mother who was inspired to send me a talk given at BYU by Ed Eyestone, it was the following story that finally made it all click.

"Kyle Perry was a track athlete recruited from Alta High School in Utah. After returning from a mission to New Jersey, Kyle began what would be a very successful track and cross-country career at BYU. However, at the beginning of his junior year he admitted to being somewhat frustrated by the fact that, despite being an All-American, he had not yet been able to break four minutes in the mile. Fifty years ago the sub-four-minute mile was considered a nearly impossible physiological feat—although when Roger Bannister finally accomplished the task in 1952, a succession of others soon followed. However, it is still considered a landmark accomplishment, and far fewer people have run a sub-four-minute mile (about 1,400) than have climbed Mount Everest (more than 4,000). Kyle’s personal record at the time stood at 4:05—certainly a better-than-average college time but far from world class. At the end of cross-country season that fall, Kyle came into my office with a proposal. “Coach,” he said, “I feel like in track I have kind of plateaued. I’m stuck at 4:05, and I’m not getting any faster.” “Well,” I asked, “what are we going to do about it?” He said, “I don’t think there is one single thing I can do to cut off five seconds, but I do think there are ten things I can do that will total five seconds and get me under four minutes.” He then pulled out his list, which read something like this: For the next three months I will:

1. Do my morning runs
2. Stretch after workout
3. Do core five times a week
4. Get to bed before 11:00 p.m.
5. Lift weights twice a week
6. Do sprint drills twice a week
The last four changes were dietary in nature:
7. Eat breakfast every day
8. No more ice cream
9. No more diet coke
10. No more candy

We all would probably benefit from those last four. After going through the list, he added, “Coach, on February 2 the track team is going to Seattle for an indoor meet, and I’m going to break four minutes for the mile.” He then turned the list into a legally binding contract by signing it at the bottom. I signed it as well, and we posted a copy on my wall and a copy in his locker. Over the next three months I met with him regularly for his daily workouts, and he let me know how his ten small things were coming along. As we flew to Seattle that first week of February, he was brimming with confidence. Not only had he paid the price on the big things, like running eighty miles a week and never missing a practice, but he had also made the additional sacrifices to do the small things that he felt would make the ultimate difference. On February 2, at the University of Washington indoor track, after a slow opening three laps, Kyle ran fifty-seven seconds for his last 400 meters and became the 302nd American to break four minutes for the mile, running 3:59.16. Contrary to popular opinion, he found that sweating the small stuff was necessary to accomplish big things and get him to a whole new level. Building on his breakthrough, Kyle won the national championships in the steeplechase that next year."

Really what I have realized is that it is the small stuff that is important. When we perform elite events, such as being a missionary, the small things really do count. I am forgetting myself and putting the needs of others before myself? Am I working towards becoming more exactly obedient? Am I having effective study? Am I being diligent in my work? Am I focused like I was at the beginning? These are some basic things that I need to reassess and make sure that I really am doing the basics, there are no shortcuts, no big secrets. The Lord has said, "Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day...For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul;" The Lord has already told me what to do, thrust in my sickle with all my might. Revelation comes in so many different ways I am grateful for all those people who like my mother are able to be tools in the hands of the Lord. Thank you all for letting me share my thoughts with you.

As for the work here, things are going pretty well. We are planning to set a baptismal date with Manuel this week. Please pray that his heart will be softened and that he will be able to hear the Spirit whispering to him. Lucy as well is doing well. She wasn't able to come to church yesterday and we aren't sure why after a great lesson with her on Friday. We are hoping to have more news on Lucy this coming week.

I love you all,
Elder Gustafson

Gluten free aisle at the grocery store!
I made GF cheesecake for FHE
Heavenly GF treasures!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Meditation and Laughter

Just a few of the Catholic churches in Talavera. There's one on every corner!

February 15, 2016

When they say that laughter is the best medicine, they speak truth. Laughter has been a great blessing this week. I went on exchanges with Elder Brady from Toledo and he gave me two pieces of advice, laugh more and meditate. As we have looked for moments to laugh together, we have seen real growth in the strength of our unity. From 2 Nephi 2:25 we learn, "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy." We are here on earth to find joy. While true and lasting joy may not be found in an inside joke or a funny moment, the love that is built together in those moments will create everlasting joy.

Second, meditation. Meditation does not necessarily mean sitting with your legs crossed, controlling your breathing, and trying to find your inner self but it does mean taking the necessary time to stop and think. Stress sometimes builds up in our lives as we focus on tasks and lists trying to run through them as fast as we can without stopping to think. Stress starts to build because we aren't seeing the results we want from the steps that we are taking, and so we think "I must work harder I must go faster because then I will see more results." But really a simple math law tells us that if we are not getting any results and we multiply that by any quantity no matter how great we will still get nothing. Sometimes we go out and bang our heads against the wall and hope that we will see a different result then a headache and then we go out and do it again the next day but harder and faster eventually we're going to get to a point where we need to change ourselves and what we are doing because the wall isn't going anywhere. That is why meditation, taking the time to think is so important, to make sure that we aren't going out and just smacking our heads against a wall. In 1 Nephi 18:3 we learn the principle of seeking the Lord's guidance in our work, "And I, Nephi, did go into the mount oft, and I did pray oft unto the Lord; wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things." Do we go into our mount oft to seek the Lord's guidance, to meditate, to ponder? This is something that I am working to do better at, go up into my mountain everyday to present plans and petition the help of the Lord.

Our investigator, Jose Luis, took off one day and moved to one of the Islands off of the coast of Barcelona, where there are no missionaries. It was kind of abrupt and there are no missionaries on those islands because the atmosphere is not very conducive to the Spirit, but one day he'll be back and he'll have the chance to accept the gospel.

Manuel continues to make small steps forward. This Sunday we had Stake Conference and the Stake President gave a talk that was practically written for Manuel. He talked about the reason why God gives us the commandment of tithing. He said, "God does not need or want our money, but he does want contrite and humble hearts." It was perfect, Manuel looked over at me and gave me a look like "Wow, I get it!". It was a small but powerful step forward. 

Life in Talavera is great! I love the things that I am learning and am grateful for this time I have to learn and grow, and see what it is that I need to do to improve to become more like Christ. I love being a missionary!

Elder Gustafson

Old Tavern

Sidewalk of Talavera
Streets of Old Town
Famous Talavera ceramic work on a fountain

Ceramic work benches in Talavera.

Scenic pictures from Castilla La Mancha
Fighting giants Don Quixote style...


Friday, February 12, 2016

The Power of Jesus Christ

February 8, 2015

We have had a great week here in Talavera. We got to visit Lucy!!! We haven't heard from her in a couple of weeks and started to get worried but we got in contact with her and we visited with her and she came to church. It was one of the highlights of our week. We have moved her baptismal date but she continues to progress and form relationships with the other people at church.

I have been asked about the man who jumped out of his car to talk with us, from my letter a couple weeks ago. The answer is that I have no idea. He has not contacted us and has yet to pick up his phone. I pray that one day we will be able to get in contact.

This week we went and met with Manuel who has been investigating for about a year and he bore his testimony to us of his testimony of Jesus Christ it was really one of the most powerful moments that I have been able to experience. As we talked of our Savior the Spirit bore testimony of what he was saying to the point where he asked us "Do you feel that? His Spirit is here with us". It really was to the point of almost being tangible. I am so grateful for that experience that the Lord gave to me. I am so grateful for the time that the Lord has given me to serve Him. There really is no greater blessing that I could have at this time than to serve Him because He is so close.

We had a visit from Elder Moreida of the Seventy. It was an amazing conference. One of the things that he taught us were the fruits of repentance. There are five changes that we must make 1 change in habit, 2 change in thought, 3 change in belief, 4 change in attitude, 5 change in behavior. As a missionary I love to teach people about repentance because of the joy that it brings into their lives. I know that joy because I have seen it in the lives of those around me but more importantly because I have felt it in my life. As we make the changes in our lives that we need to make the Lord steps in and covers the rest.

Elder Moreida then proceeded to shake the mission sharing with us the experience that Jesus Christ had in the Garden of Gethsemane. We talked of how Jesus Christ prostrated himself before the Father and was completely at his command. He in fact went on to talk about the importance of being slaves to God, doing absolutely everything that he commands us to do. The word slave pricks at our pride. It is associated with derogatory things, but if we really think about it what is a slave. Someone who is indebted for some reason or another to someone else and must do all that they are asked to do. While we are not forced by God to be his slaves we must subject ourselves to His will and serve Him with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength. It was a principle that rattled my heart and Spirit. Do I subjugate my will completely to the Father? No, but as I proceed learning how to do that, step by step, one day in the far future I will be able to enter into his presence, thanks to my Savior who did what I nor any man has been able to do and descend below all things according to the will of the Father, and I can receive forgiveness for the mistakes and rebellion against God. This is not a message of sadness but one of hope. It is meant to give us understanding as being "less than the dust of the earth" but also the hope that as we call upon the name of Christ we will be forgiven. I love my Savior for what he did for me, for my family, and for those that I am privileged to teach and love.

I love you all,
Elder Gustafson

Friday, February 5, 2016

Family History in Talavera

February 1, 2016 

Our new branch president is amazing! He has really caught the vision that our ward mission leader has been presenting of family history. On Saturday we had a branch activity where we went and set up a table in the center of town and we helped people to start their genealogy. We had the Family History charts, and a whole bunch of resources from the church that we could use to help people start this important work. We saw an interest that doesn't usually come when we try to share the gospel directly with people. It really was an amazing event with amazing participation from our amazing members.

We had transfers on Saturday but my companion and I are still here in Talavera together for at least another 5 weeks. This week we have been on exchanges all week long, with the Zone Leaders up in Madrid on Tuesday and then Wednesday to Thursday I was over in Toledo with Elder Bataller, a new missionary from Valencia. It was really fun to be with a native speaker again and to learn from him and the way he teaches. I love having the opportunity to go on so many intercambios with great missionaries who teach me so much about how to be a better missionary and see some of the things that they had to go through to get on the mission. I admire those missionaries from Spain who have decided to serve. Here there is a different culture about going on missions. Many young people don't feel the importance of serving a mission and there are many parents members or non-members who don't support their children serving missions. It makes me so grateful for those Elders and Hermanas from Spain who do serve the Lord full time.

Our investigators are doing pretty well. Manuel has been asked to teach the self-sufficiency class during the week and so we are excited that he will become more integrated into the ward. (He is an investigator of about a year and has recently come to the conclusion that he needs to get baptized) He used to be one of Talavera's most important businessmen and so it is a real privilege to have him teaching this class for us. Lucy is out of contact. We don't know where she is or what she's up to, but we hope that she hasn't come across something or somebody that is trying to persuade her away from the gospel. Please pray for her. Jose Luis is doing well also. He is going through a difficult stretch but will get through it. When we were teaching him the other day he said that life is sometimes like a dark tunnel and you just have to keep pressing through and trying to find the light that is at the end of that tunnel. What he doesn't mentally know but feels is that the gospel is his light at the end of his tunnel. We also received two new investigators this week from a young man named Kevin he has two Evangelical friends that he has invited in the past to play sports with us. This last Sunday we met with them for the first time to talk about religion and it was a solid spirit filled lesson. It was really cool they both are excited to start reading the Book of Mormon and investigating the church a little bit more. Other than that this week has been filled with more miracles than I could put in this letter and so I've shared some of the highlights. Know that I am grateful for your prayers and support.

Elder Gustafson

The District Castilla La Mancha
Cooking homemade baked beans

Writing home with Elder Johnson