Archive for November, 2010

In all things give thanks

November 29, 2010

The scripture portion for this week is Doctrine and Covenants Section
4.  The Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of revelations received
by the prophet Joseph Smith.  D&C 4 is the fourth recorded revelation
(received before section 1, but after sections 2, 3 and 10), and the
first on the subject of missionary work.  Verses five and six tell us
what to be like if we’re going to help in God’s harvest:

“And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of
God, qualify him for the work.  Remember faith, virtue, knowledge,
temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity,
humility, diligence.”  http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/4

I’ve always liked that faith and charity appear in both lists.

In the missionary training guide, these characteristics are called the
Christ-like attributes.  We had a training this week on them, and how
to increase their power in our lives.  At the end of the training, we
were each asked to pick an attribute to focus on in the coming month.
I chose diligence.

I’d never really thought before about how essential diligence is in
becoming like Christ.  It’s the little engine that could principle.
Or as Dory says “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”

This week I’ve kept on swimming, and things have been very good.

The hymn for this week is “Nearer My God to Thee”.  It’s been one of
my favorite hymns for a long time, and singing all five five verses in
a little missionary flat is amazing.  “Then with my waking thought
bright with thy praise/ out of my stony griefs Bethel I’d raise/ So by
my woes to be nearer my God to thee/ Nearer my God to thee, nearer to
thee”  http://lds.org/churchmusic/detailmusicPlayer/index.html?searchlanguage=1&searchcollection=1&searchseqstart=100&searchsubseqstart=%20&searchseqend=100&searchsubseqend=ZZZ

That’s the kind of Thanksgiving we can give when we have faith in God.
Faith that all things happen for our good, that both griefs and joys
draw us nearer to Him, can make our character more like His Son’s.

Elder P and I actually didn’t realize thanksgiving was this
week until last Monday.  We both like Thanksgiving, but neither of us
really felt like doing anything special.  In the end, we went out to a
fancier-than usual restaurant for lunch… not because of the holiday,
but because I had a 500 rupee note I needed to break, and not all
restaurants we eat at have that much change.

We had a very good Thanksgiving, though, thanks in part to a brother who called us Thursday morning to say he wanted to
meet with us at the Church. We were spending the morning planning out
our coming week, so we said we’d meet him at 1pm.  We had no idea who
this brother was.  We got to the Church at 1 and found him waiting,
which is unusual.  Usually when we have a set appointment, we wait
five to ten minutes for whoever we’re teaching.  He told us that he’s
Roman Catholic and he wanted us to teach his family about the
importance of baptism because two of his children hadn’t been
baptized.  And he wanted us to teach them right away.  We asked him
how he knew about Elders, because we’d never met him.  He said another
Elder had given him a tour of the Church once, and had given him a
card.

He also told us that he’d gone to Catholic school as a boy but hadn’t
been religious in years, had done some things he regretted, and was
trying to turn his life around and come back to God.

We went to his house and clarified the situation.  He has a twenty
year old son from his first marriage, and a four year old and
ten-month old with his wife.  She’s from a Hindu background, and
didn’t want their children baptized Catholic.  We taught about Jesus
Christ, prophets, and the Book of Mormon, and then asked them to pray
together as a family about what we’d taught.  They asked us to come
back the next day and teach more.

The next day I was on exchange in Central Hyderbad, but Elder P
went back and taught more.  They’d prayed and felt an answer from God,
and committed to baptism on December 26th.  The whole family came to
Church on Sunday.  They’re very happy, and we’re happy for them.

We’re also happy for A.  She’s been studying hard and coming to Church every week for a month
and a half to be ready for baptism, and I think Sunday was the
happiest day of her life.  She’s got a very strong relationship now
with Jesus Christ.  Elder P told me that the first month after
she came to Elders, she seemed very depressed a lot of the time.
She’s from a very poor background, and she’s had a lot of struggles in
life.  But now whenever we see her, she kind of glows.  She really
loves the scriptures.

She’s taught me a lot.

I’m sorry that I’m not telling you very much about India.  So I’ll
tell you something I’ve noticed.  All the large trucks are made by
Eicher or Ashok Leyland, and all the small trucks are made by Tata.
The large trucks, I should note, are about garbage-truck sized.  There
are no semis here.  Many trucks are painted in several colors, and
some have garlands.  All have the words “Goods Carrier” painted at the
top of the windshield.

Also, I haven’t seen many goats here in Madinaguda, but when I was in
central Hyderabad there were goats everywhere… well, ok, there were
no goats in the big fancy US style shopping center, but everywhere
else there were goats.

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He shall prepare a way

November 22, 2010
Mom’s note: Having just re-read about William Tyndale being imprisoned and executed for the crime of translating the Bible into English, Matt’s song and account of someone struggling to get a religious record because of the tremendous impact it could have on generations is especially moving.  I am very grateful for Tyndale and all the others who sacrificed for us. Personal records of thousands of people from early American settlers to people struggling to find dignity and self worth under Jim Crow laws testify how the Bible has lifted, encouraged and given a strong moral purpose to its readers. –Vilo



The song for this week is “Nephi’s Courage,” which is about the prophet Nephi in the Book of Mormon.  The plates the song talks about were religious records Nephi and his brothers (Laman and Lemuel) were commanded to get for their family.  http://lds.org/churchmusic/detailmusicPlayer/index.html?searchlanguage=1&searchcollection=2&searchseqstart=120&searchsubseqstart=%20&searchseqend=120&searchsubseqend=ZZZ

The Lord commanded Nephi to go and get the plates
From the wicked Laban inside the city gates.
Laman and Lemuel were both afraid to try.
Nephi was courageous. This was his reply:

“I will go; I will do the thing the Lord commands.
I know the Lord provides a way; he wants me to obey.”

The Lord commanded Nephi to go and build a boat.
Nephi’s older brothers believed it would not float.
Laughing and mocking, they said he should not try.
Nephi was courageous. This was his reply:

“I will go; I will do the thing the Lord commands.
I know the Lord provides a way; he wants me to obey.”

The Lord gives us commandments and asks us to obey.
Sometimes I am tempted to choose another way.
When I’m discouraged, and think I cannot try,
I will be courageous, and I will reply:

“I will go; I will do the thing the Lord commands.
I know the Lord provides a way; he wants me to obey.”

The scripture passage for this week is 1 Nephi 3 and 4, which tells the story of Nephi’s attempts to get the plates.  We’ve read parts of it this week with several people we’re teaching who are scared of talking to their parents about their plans to be baptized.  Baptism is a joyful thing for these people, something they’re looking forward to, but also a terrifying thing because it means telling their parents that they’re becoming Christians and thus abandoning a significant part of the tradition of their forefathers.  And you can imagine how some parents respond to that.  I’ve been reading Nephi’s story for years, but never thought before how much of it is about facing family opposition from his older brothers.  http://scriptures.lds.org/en/1_ne/3

The core message of Nephi’s story is 1st Nephi 3:7 “I will go and do the things which the Lord has commanded, for I know the Lord gives no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them, that they might accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”  The hard part of this message is that the way God has prepared for us is often not the way that we want to go at first.  One sister who we’re teaching really wants to find a way to be baptized without even telling her family, but that’s probably not the best way, even if it seems easy now.  I wish all of their families could be happy about the decision their children are making, and see the positive change it’s making in their lives, but I know that’s probably also not the way God has prepared.  Our faith today, like Nephi’s faith, is the faith of Abraham on Mount Moriah, following God’s commandments even when they seem impossible, and trusting that “God will provide himself a lamb.”

And as my personal reading in the scriptures this week has reminded me, God has provided himself a lamb.  “For God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten son, that whoso believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God sent his son not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved”  (John 3:16-17).

I’ve been in India just over a week now.  The jetlag has worn off, and so now I’m just tired from working non-stop.  The people here are amazing.

The thing I love best about India so far is that it’s perfectly normal to call everyone “brother” and “sister” or Uncle or Auntie or Amma (mother).  I love the food, of course.  I love Indian English.  I love the houses, which are always clean even if they’re tiny.  I even love the traffic.

We go around on foot or by auto-rickshaw, or simply auto.  There are two two types of auto, the auto, which seats three comfortably but often five or six, and the share-auto, which fits seven comfortably but often nine to eleven.

Everywhere missionaries serve, they’re supposed to try to have members come and teach with them as often as possible.  This has a whole new dimension in India, where fairly often we need a member to come with us to help translate between our investigator’s limited English and our non-existent Telugu.  The faith and work of these members is a great blessing to us.

One of my favorite members to work with is D.  He’s been a member for almost a year, and like many of the people we meet he’s in Computer Science.  The second time we called D. this week to see if he could come with us to an appointment, he said “What, am I the only member in the Church?” and then came and taught excellently.  He’s reading through the Book of Mormon at a rate of about six verses a day, not because his English is bad, but because he wants to be absolutely sure he understands every word before he moves on to the next.

One of my favorite people to teach is B., who has beautiful faith and total dedication.  He was a walk in at Church last week and in our first meeting with him asked what he needed to do to prepare to be baptized.  This week, he took a first time walk-in under his wing and taught him all the things he’s been learning.  There’s also Esther, who Elder P. tells me spoke effectively no English when she came to the Church asking to be baptized.  Now she’s speaking full sentences.  Every time she reads a scripture out loud for the first time, she’ll translate it word by word into Telegu, and then tell us what she thinks it means.  She makes some interesting mistakes, like thinking that the part of the ten commandments which says that the “stranger within thy gates” should also be given the sabbath as a day of rest was a promise that keeping the sabbath day holy would make our faith stronger within us (reading stranger as stronger and interpreting from there.)

It’s funny how her broken English can find truths in the scriptures that I would never have seen.

This is the best work in the world.

Have a good week.

Elder Mattathias Westwood

India

November 15, 2010

Mom’s note:  Matt’s first area is his Auntie Sunitha’s hometown!  I am glad to hear he got a nap somewhere in that first day after his 20-hour+ flight.  The address for the mission home is near the end of this letter.  –Matt’s mom, Vilo



The scripture passage for this week is 1st Nephi 8, which is a vision received by the prophet Lehi in which the love of God is represented by a tree with delicious fruit.� Sound familiar?� That’s because Alma 32 is talking about the same tree.� Or, as Paul says “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5).  http://scriptures.lds.org/en/1_ne/8

The hymn for this week is “High on a Mountaintop”, No. 5 in the LDS Hymnal, for the simple reason that it was the opening hymn in Priesthood meeting all five weeks that I was in Ontario.� Why?� Because the young men were asked to conduct the music each week, and it’s in 2/2 time.� It was also the closing hymn in sacrament this week in Hyderabad, which was a nice reminder that the Church is the same everywhere, especially since the third verse says “and people shall be heard in distant lands to say: We値l now go up and serve the Lord, Obey his truth, and learn his word”� and that’s definitely true in India.� Every week here there are people who come to Church without having ever met the missionaries, and they’re sincere and want to learn more.  http://lds.org/churchmusic/detailmusicPlayer/index.html?searchlanguage=1&searchcollection=1&searchseqstart=5&searchsubseqstart=%20&searchseqend=5&searchsubseqend=ZZZ
(editor’s note:  High on THE Mountaintop–I thought it was A too until I tried to search it)

But I’m ahead of myself!� This has been a pretty crazy week.� Nov. 4th I found out that my visa was on the way.� Nov.6th we found out that Elder K. and Elder M. would also be transferring out of Ontario at the end of the week.� So last Tuesday, I went to the transfer meeting to drop them off and to pick up the companion who I’d be with for 48 hours before leaving on Thursday for India.� I did my best to introduce Elder L. and Elder F. to the Rancho Park Ward in Ontario between packing, goodbyes and some final doctor’s appointments (in which I learned that my iron is low again and that I’m Vitamin D deficient, which the sun in India will probably help with… still, I’ve gone from one multivitamin a day to four vitamin pills (two iron a day)).

Thursday, before getting on the plane, I got a big envelope from my brother James and sister-in law Nicole with excerpts from my brother’s blogs and pictures of my nephew Elijah.� I feel I can confidently say that he is the cutest baby in the world.� It was really good to hear from them, and it gave me something to read during my two ten-hour flights.  (http://goldbergish.blogspot.com/ if you’re curious about the blogs)

I arrived in India safely and in one piece, although there was a slow-down at customs over the fact that I’m clean-shaven in person and on my passport but bearded on my visa.� I got to the baggage claim in time to find out that one of my bags was missing, but that the one that had arrived was the one with all my clothes.� Fortunately I had my essential toiletry supplies, scriptures, journal etc in my carry on, so all I’m missing is the stuff that can be replaced slowly and cheaply.

I then met President and Sister Funk, who took me to their house for waffles, a short orientation, and a much-needed nap.� Then they took me to the mission office to fill out some paperwork and eat my first Indian food in India, and then back to the airport for an hour-long flight to my new area in Hyderabad.

My new companion, Elder P., is also 1/4 Punjabi, as well as a quarter Chinese and half Thai (although he also grew up in the States) which means that between us we’re related to most of the world.� He’d only been here seven months, but is really solid.� He’s got the Indian intonation down, and gets along really well with the members here.� He’s also my second district leader companion.

The Bangalore Mission has just over forty elders now (there were seventy when I entered the MTC) because all the visa delays mean that no one has been coming in to replace the elders who go home.� But there’s a big group of native elders coming in a few months, and six elders got here a few weeks ago from the states after waiting 18 months for their visas, so it looks like I’ll really get to see this mission grow in the time that I’m here.

My first full day here was Sunday, and it was Children’s Day in India, so we had the Primary program.� It was just like a Primary program in the states… children singing joyfully off key, reading scriptures with enthusiasm if not proper enunciation, the one child who almost shouts her scripture.� It was good.� We also had four people at church who had just seen the building and were looking for a church and decided to come, in addition to the people Elder P. had already been teaching.

India is amazing.� It’s officially a left-side traffic country, but people drive on whichever side they feel like.� The cows really do go anywhere.� Just about everyone is friendly, and all the kids want to show off their English to us. �� I’m loving the food, most of which I’ve tried before but Indian food in India really is a whole new experience.� The missionary apartment here is� nicer than the one I was in in the US, even if I can’t drink the tap water or use it to brush my teeth.� Everything is new and so far everyone is wonderful.� Nobody has even tried to cheat me yet, although I know that day will come on account of my pale face.

Hope all is well for all of you.� Write me and tell me how things are going back in the States:

Elder Mattathias Westwood
India Bangalore Mission
Anjali Plaza 2nd Floor
493 C.M.H. Road, Indiranagar
Bangalore 560038

(That’s the mission office but it’s much more reliable than sending mail to where I live… anytime a missionary or the mission president flies to Hyderabad they bring the mail.)

I’m leaving on an airplane…

November 11, 2010
The scripture passage from this week is Alma 32.  It’s a sermon by Alma the Younger, about how living the Gospel of Jesus Christ is like planting a seed inside our hearts which grows into a tree.  I’ve always liked this chapter, at first maybe because I just liked that it was about a tree, but now because I find it to be beautiful, and even more, true.  It strikes me particularly this week because I’ve been teaching from it, and because it may be the perfect description of anyone’s personal interaction with scripture.
Alma himself, giving this sermon, is on a mission, talking to non-believers.  And what he says is basically “Look, you can’t know that what I’m telling you is  true right away.  But you can try it out.  You can start doing a few things that I tell you are worth doing.  And as you do them, you’ll feel joy.  And that’s how you’ll know that my message is true.”
I think that’s a pretty good approach to being a missionary.  And so because of Alma, I’ve been thinking about how to be an example of joy to everyone I meet.  And it works, because on Sunday, after Church, someone came up to me and thanked me for my smile.  I’ve never been thanked for my smile before.  http://scriptures.lds.org/en/alma/32
I love the congregation here.  I love the people I’ve been teaching here.  And the surprise of that is that I find I’m loving people who are just about as unlike me in the eyes of the world as it’s possible to be.
One of those people is J.  He’s in his forties, and he’s lived a rough life.  He loves guns.  He loves the Republican party.  He loves motorcycles.  He can cuss like crazy, but he’s trying to stop.  He’s a single father, and he wants to be a good example to his kids.  In the past few months, he’s completely turned his life around with the main purpose of being a better example to his kids.
He used to fight a lot.  He used to drink a lot.  He used to be an addict to a lot of things.  He regularly tells Elder M. and I that we wouldn’t have wanted to know him ten years ago, that we probably wouldn’t have wanted to know him two years ago.
He’s told us that missionaries used to say “Can we do anything to help you?” and he’d say “No” because he really didn’t think there was any way he could be helped.  He’s found help, and that help has come through Jesus Christ.
J. has been able to turn his life around because he’s felt what it means to have a Savior who knows everything he’s been through and who has suffered for everything he’s done.  He’s got a testimony of Christ stronger than any weapon this world has ever seen.
J. had been meeting with the missionaries for a few months before I got here.  He quit drinking somewhere in those months.  He quit smoking too.  He quit almost all of his old life.  He still has a temper, and he knows it, and he works and works to master it, to learn patience, to grow calm.
When he feels himself start to get angry, he prays.  He prays because he already knows that he can’t be who he wants to be alone.  His trials have humbled him a lot, and he’s used his humility to turn to God.
I’ve been honored and blessed to meet Jeff.  I’ve been able to see him nourish the tree that’s planted in his heart.  It’s a strong tree now, and I can see it will grow stronger.  I will be a better man for having met him.  In many ways, he reminds me of my own father.  God draws us towards those who are different from us, and shows us that we are nothing without them.
This week my older sister went to the Indian Consulate in New York and picked up my visa.  I should get it tomorrow and fly out for India on Thursday.  I’m thankful for my family, for their care and thoughts and prayers.  Thanks to all of you who are reading this.  I’d love to hear from you too, so I’ll be sure to send out my new address next time I e-mail.  If the hassle of getting airmail stamps and all that is too great for you, just send the letters to my mom, and she’ll find a way of getting them to me.
The hymn for this week is “Be Still My Soul” by Katharina von Schlegel.  It’s #124 in the LDS hymnal.  http://lds.org/churchmusic/detailmusicPlayer/index.html?searchlanguage=1&searchcollection=1&searchseqstart=124&searchsubseqstart=%20&searchseqend=124&searchsubseqend=ZZZ
I hope to write you next from Asia.
Elder Mattathias Westwood

Good Week

November 1, 2010
The scripture passage for this week is Luke 22 http://scriptures.lds.org/en/luke/22, which is Luke’s account of the Lord’s last supper and suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The reason I’ve been thinking about this chapter this week, however, comes from a phrase in Christ’s counsel to Peter: “and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32).
This verse has come into my mind and helped me focus on things my companions have done to strengthen me, and things that I can do to strengthen them.  I had the realization this week that I wasn’t doing a lot of this strengthening work for my companions.  I wasn’t thinking much about their struggles or concerns, just thinking about the people we were teaching.  And I was getting impatient with them, and with myself, because I didn’t think we were doing all we could to help those people.  And then I realized that we need to strengthen ourselves and strengthen each other as well.
This follows from Christ’s teaching:  We can strengthen others only to the degree that we’ve been converted, or changed, ourselves.  And since we’re just twenty-year old kids who don’t know much except that the Gospel is true, that Jesus did suffer and die for our sins as Luke said he did, and that His Church was restored through a boy named Joseph Smith… well, we’ve got a lot of converting left to do in our own lives.  And it does no one any good to get impatient about it.
This week’s hymn is “As I have Loved You” (#308) http://lds.org/churchmusic/detailmusicPlayer/index.html?searchlanguage=1&searchcollection=1&searchseqstart=308&searchsubseqstart=%20&searchseqend=308&searchsubseqend=ZZZ which takes its text from John’s account of the Last Supper (John 13:34-35).  I remember learning the sign language signs to it when I was a kid.  I don’t remember them anymore, but it’s still one of my favorite hymns.  I also saw that I forgot to list the Hymn number for “Lead, Kindly Light” last week.  It’s 97 in the LDS hymnbook, and I don’t know if it’s one of the hymns that only Mormons sing or if it’s one that all Christians share, so if anyone knows, send me a postcard.
As I predicted last week, this was a very good week.  We  had some good goals for areas to improve, and we were able to work together to accomplish them.  One of our goals was to work harder to be on time for all our appointments, because we’d been running late constantly.  We still have a way to go, but we’ve been doing a lot better, and this morning we were even five minutes early to an appointment!
For my own part (since I’m not usually the one running late) I’ve realized that I can probably help our companionship a lot by just not stressing out during the times when we are running late.  I still need to work a lot on that one though 😉
Also, I learned something this week about how the Lord can accomplish his purposes over a great deal of time, when no one sees or expects what He’s doing.  (You’d think I would have known this already, given the length of time covered by the Old Testament, the Book of Mormon, history in general, but sometimes I need a reminder.)  We were talking to one of my favorite families in the ward, who were  inactive for a long time and just started coming back to Church earlier this year.   But we learned that’s far from the end of the story.
Larry’s parents are members of the Church, and he was baptized when he was 8 but stopped going to Church when he was a teenager just because he felt he had other things to do.  And he kept living his life that way, met and married Ashley, who wasn’t a member.  Then one day Ashley, being a reader, picked up Larry’s Book of Mormon and started reading it, and immediately started feeling something powerful about its message.  The next day, missionaries knocked on the door, and she joined the Church a few months later.  Larry had no problem with that, but had no interest in going to Church himself because it meant missing Sunday NASCAR (He’s a car mechanic and big racing fan.)  After a year or two Ashley stopped going to Church because she got tired of going without Larry.  Then they had kids, which they had never expected, and started raising them.  And earlier this year, they started talking about how maybe the kids would need Church in their lives, and for the first time in more than five years the missionaries came by, and they came back to Church.  Now, in less than a year, they’ve become real blessings to the whole congregation.
This is a marvelous work, and I’m glad to be doing it.
Thank you all for all you’ve done to strengthen me.
Elder Mattathias Westwood