Archive for the ‘Mission Epistles’ Category

Homecame

September 14, 2012

I returned from India on August 10th, 2012.

I’m posting the last weekly letter of one of my very best friends, Elder Forsyth, who was a missionary in Germany almost the entire time I was a missionary in India. We are now both back at BYU-Provo, continuing our education, our friendship, and, inshallah, our service to our fellow man.

______

Well, here we are again, for the very first time.

First, a few words to my friends who are still serving:

How to avoid being trunky (trunky: a mission slang that dates back to the time my father served and probably earlier, which refers to the old steamer trunks that were used way back in the 20th century — the precurser to the modern suitcase. If a missionary is “trunky” it generally means that he, either mentally or literally, has already “packed his bags” to go home, e.g. he would rather be home than serving a mission):
Don’t hate missionary work
Love missionary work
rejoice in feeling the Spirit, in being a servant of the Lord, etc.
realize that being where you are is exactly what the Lord asks of you, and that therefore the most joy you could possibly have at this point in time is in serving a mission. und zwar with all your heart, might, mind and strength.
Second, I’ve heard a lot of things about going home from a mission. [ although, I heard a lot of things about going on a mission, too, and many of them didn’t at all apply. Talking to other missionaries, I have realized that there are a lot of different ways, mindsets, and attitudes with which one can serve a mission…and presumably return]. Anyway, what most people say is “It’s hard”. I’ve heard, for example, that “no matter what you do, you can’t maintain the same spiritual niveau that you enjoyed on your mission.” or “the first few weeks, you’ll still be floating, but then reality sets in and you’re dragged back into the world.” I’ve talked to several recently returned missionaries that have massive problems adjusting back to “real life”, or that “wish more than anything else to be back on a mission”.

I talked to another missionary last night who still has a few months left, and he was apprehensive, and asked me if I was happy or sad. When I replied that I was happy, he mentioned that he wouldn’t be. Then he amended “well, I imagine that when the time comes I’ll be glad, but for now I still want to work hard.”

And I realized the problem: equating returning home from your mission with the end of working hard.

You run into that a lot with missionaries who get “trunky”, or who even early on in their mission decide they don’t want to be there. Often it has to do with an aversion to doing hard or uncomfortable things. I must add that there are many factors, including and most notably problems at home, that can distract a missionary from his work and cause him to second-guess his decision to come out and serve. As always we must be very cautious in passing judgement.

Here are my thoughts on how to gracefully return to the land of the layman:
don’t equate going home with the end of service or of hard work (there are far too many young men that return from a mission and, in the absence of the structure, rules, and schedule of a mission, begin to neglect spiritual things, sometimes even doubting their testimony and falling away from activity in the church.)
rejoice in missionary work
recognize what missionary work the Lord has prepared for you in your new field of labor.
In the past, speaking to missionaries who were apprehensive about leaving the field, I have said “You should be excited! Excited to be part of an Elders’ Quorem, to do home teaching, to bring the gospel to those of your friends who have not yet received or understood the glad message. Be excited to fulfill a calling in your new ward or branch.”

My goals upon coming home include:
strengthen family bonds
maintain the relationships formed here in germany
“remember, and always retain in remembrance the goodness of God” — read through my journals, write a more thorough account of many spiritual experiences, ponder what I have learned during my time here and decide how to apply it throughout the rest of my life.
missionary work
education
employment
And I imagine that even once I have left the mission field, there will still be little reason to be selfish, to do things that don’t actively invite the Spirit, or to neglect my priesthood duty to help others come unto Christ.


To the many of you who have written me letters… many thanks. I have been strengthened by your strength and prayers. If I failed to respond (and I fear that it was often the case), it was because there is very little time, even on the one day a week we have for preparation. I hope to soon be able to express my thanks personally.
_____

I post this because it expresses many of the feelings I had at the beginning of August, but I never put them into words so well.

Hard work is good. Helping others is good. Being kind is good. Being a friend to strangers is good. Jesus Christ is very good, and I was blessed to serve him and do all these things for the last two years, and plan to continue to do so for as long as I live.

It is not as easy, perhaps, to work hard in that way now that I am home. There are many distractions, none of them bad in themselves. There is less motivation to get up early. But it is worth it.

My address now, for those who may want to write me, is

Mattathias
595 E 3230 N
Provo, UT

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Major landmark for the LDS Church in India

June 8, 2012

http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/apostle-creates-first-stake-india

And Elder Mattathias Westwood was there!

Update on Elder Matt

February 5, 2012

Dear Friends and Family:

I thought I’d update you a little on the continuing adventures of Elder Matt Westwood. He is still serving in Bangalore, which is the city the mission home is in as well as a technology center in India. It is a cooler time of year there. At Christmas time he said that he needed a sweater sometimes and that his coconut hair oil was getting viscous instead of liquid due to the chillier temperatures. Today he said that it is chilly in the morning and evening but pleasant during the day. He is still actively teaching families, but also training new missionaries.

He told his dad that one of the sights and sounds of India that amuse him is billboards advertising building materials. Rebar is especially touted. One advertisement showed a luscious close-up of the steel reinforcing rod, showing how to locate the company logo, urging people to make sure it is ________ brand being used in construction projects that concern them.

A couple of weeks ago Matt mentioned that it was the time of the kite-flying contests he talked about last year, but that few people in Bangalore celebrate that holiday. In Hyderabad it was very popular. And the book The Kite Runner talks about a similar event in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Today Matt reported, “I’ve recently been enjoying learning more about the lives of the quiet, hardworking people around me. One of the chapel security guards knows about 8 languages, thanks in part to working for 6 years in Saudi Arabia before his marriage. He moved back because the Hindu-Muslim clashes in India made being Indian in the middle east uncomfortable at the time. He’s also visited Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia! As we kept talking, I learned that his home is actually 2 and 1/2 hours by bus. He lives about twenty minutes walk from the KGF chapel, where I served from Jan to May last year.

This morning I learned that the mother of one of the members who works closely with us is from Calcutta… her family resettled in South India when she was young. I learned this when she came out to talk to us while her daughter got ready to come with us for
an appointment. She also knows about 8 languages, but very little
English. Later, when I asked her daughter about her life story, she
shared about how her parents ran away from home to get married,
walking many miles barefoot to the nearest big city, and how her mom
then struggled for years with depression while facing hurtful gossip
from her husband’s family. Fortunately, now she’s found peace in
living with her daughter and helping care for her grandson,
who is a darling 10 month old.

This morning while we talked, he woke up, and she brought him outside
to show him a passing airplane.”

The wife of one of the new young student couples in our ward in Columbus did a study abroad program in Visakhapatnam, India, which I believe is in Matt’s mission. She was excited when I showed her the June 2011 New Era article on the city. You might enjoy it too. http://www.lds.org/new-era/2011/06/sailing-safely-home?lang=eng

Love to all of you! Vilo Westwood

Update

November 28, 2011

Dear Family & Friends:

Matt has sent short notes to different members of the family, so I’m summarizing what we’ve been able to learn about where he’s been and what he’s been doing.

In late September or early October he was transferred to the Bangalore First Branch, which is the branch the mission home is in. He filled in as financial secretary for the mission from that time until a new “senior couple” (a married couple in their later years of life who serve a mission together) arrived October 16. Matt trained the new brother in the mission financial systems, especially how to work the computer programs involved and then was transferred to the Bangalore Third Branch. This is the branch that his Aunt and her family lived in for two years and many people there also remember Matt’s grandparents when they were presidents of the mission 1993-1995. Matt’s companion and he get along very well. This elder was raised Methodist but felt something was missing. Like Joseph Smith he searched and searched, decided the truth couldn’t be found and stopped going to church entirely. Then he met the elders. The friends who referred him to the elders were and are still not terribly active in the gospel, but they were there to provide the link when it was necessary and this Elder is valiant in his testimony and mission.

Best wishes to all of you!! Thank you for your friendship and support.

Love, Vilo (Matt’s mom)

Break Forth In Singing, Ye Mountains

September 21, 2011

Dear Everyone!
I realized a few weeks ago that although I enjoy writing this letter to all of you, I enjoy writing to my individual family members a lot more. And writing this general letter takes time, and time is in fact a finite commodity, at least in this period of mortal toil.

As a result, I am discontinuing my weekly letter, so you will be hearing from me much less often during the next year. I promise to meet you in person and talk to you at length about all the wonderful things that happen in my life during this time, and I may still check in occasionally, but certainly infrequently.

I feel very happy about this decision, and it’s been guided by thought, prayer, and the glorious gospel.

Still feel very free to write to me at any time. I’ll do my best to respond in a timely manner.

The last weekly scripture passage is Isaiah 12 (See also 2 Nephi 22). http://lds.org/scriptures/ot/isa/12?lang=eng The last hymn is “How Great Thou Art.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Q8ESzK5pCw

Love,
Elder Westwood

p.s. from Matt’s mom – that email is mattathias.westwood@myldsmail.net – and you can always contact me to get an update though it won’t be as beautifully written!

Fill the World with Love

September 5, 2011

Sorry for the radio silence these last two weeks. I’ve been even busier than usual, but life is really, really good. I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot of changes in myself and a few changes in the world in the past year, and I’m feeling very excited for the year (and years) to come.

The hymn for this week is “We’ll Bring the World His Truth”, perhaps more often known as “Army of Helaman” because of it’s reference to those young men whose faith and diligence brought about great miracles. http://lds.org/churchmusic/detailmusicPlayer/index.html?searchlanguage=1&searchcollect ion=2&searchseqstart=172&searchsubseqstart=%20&searchseqend=172&searchsubs eqend=ZZZ It’s a powerful song, which I’ve always loved singing. But, as I recently noted to one of my fellow-missionaries here in Hyderabad when we started spontaneously singing it during the time before a recent training meeting, I wish I’d listened more to the words before I became a full time missionary. I frequently wish I’d done more to “Increase [my] knowledge through study and prayer. Daily [to] learn until [I was] called to take the gospel to all the world.”

But there are some realities that just don’t sink in until they’re put in practice, which is why we serve missions at age 19 so we can spend the rest of our lives learning from the experiences and expectations we set in two years consecrated to the Lord.

And oh, how much is there, still left to learn!

From the whirlwind of events this week, there are three I’ll take time to talk about.

The first is the moment rainy season descended, Wednesday morning. Elder B and I had gone to the local outdoor stadium to help conduct a district sports activity. We were walking from the volleyball court to the cricket field when the heavens opened. Everyone rushed to the stands to hide under the sheet metal roof. And stayed there for half an hour as the torrent continued to descend. It was spectacular.

The second is Thursday, which marked the beginning of Ganesh Festival, and also President O of the Sunday School’s visit to Hyderabad. His training with us focused on “everlasting skills”, and gave me enough material to spend the rest of my life thinking about. How is that accomplished in 2 hours? The man is a spectacular teacher.

The third is the wonderful Punjabi lunch I had on Friday, prepared by the only senior couple in the India Bangalore Mission. They’re from New Delii, and in my good fortune, were assigned to provide family history support in my branch. Elder and Sister S have an interesting story– she was baptized four years ago after hearing about the church from their daughter in Belgium, he was baptized 18 months back, after finally deciding that the benefits of the gospel far outweighed the risks of the changes required to his life and the magnitude of such a decision on his Hindu social contacts. Both are very excited to be missionaries. Both are lifelong vegetarians. Sister S’s aloo ghobi is just like my grandfather’s.

God bless you all,
Elder Westwood

How Great the Wisdom and the Love

August 15, 2011

Happy Indian Independence Day! This morning I went to church for the flag-hoisting and breakfast. They were starting a volleyball game when we left to go and e-mail our families.

The scripture passage for this week is Exodus 35:4-36:7. http://lds.org/scriptures/ot/ex/35?lang=eng I found it Friday morning during my personal scripture study… I don’t want to say how I ended up moving from reading about the sacrament to reading Exodus 33-36… suffice it to say that I’m far too easily distracted by patterns in the word of God. But what I noticed in these chapters is the beauty of the desire of the people to participate in building the tabernacle, a desire that I think came in part from the Lord’s commandment that the offering should be brought only by those with a willing heart… in this case, those given such a choice overwhelmingly chose to contribute, to participate, to give in gratitude to the Lord. I’d also like to note the role of the Spirit in providing certain people (women and men) with wisdom to do the work of God.

The hymn is “For the Beauty of the Earth”, which is my sister Elisabeth’s favorite. http://lds.org/churchmusic/detailmusicPlayer/index.html?searchlanguage=1&searchcollect ion=1&searchseqstart=92&searchsubseqstart=%20&searchseqend=92&searchsubseq end=ZZZ

I’ve gained a much greater respect, since I started my mission, for the films produced by the Church. I guess I used to look at them largely from an artistic or entertainment perspective, and so I liked them but some seemed a little cheesy and some just not very well done… and then I started watching “Finding Faith in Christ” (one of the ones I was most embarrassed by) on a fairly regular basis with people who are either know very little about Christ or who know a variety of things about him but have questions like “How can we have faith in someone we haven’t seen? Why should we have faith in the face of tragedy? Why Christ in particular?”

And cheesy as it might seem, this movie helps them. A lot. In many cases, watching the film and seeing moments from the life of Christ touches their heart in a way the words I say have not. It helps people feel peace, make decisions, and feel the word of God start to grow in their hearts as they get a sense for who Jesus Christ really is. This week I watched it twice, once with a man who was totally amazed by it, and who kept asking questions about the stories, who wanted to know more about everything, and once with a man who turned to me almost halfway through, a man who has had no strong connection to any religion at any point in his life, and said to me “Trusting Jesus Christ is the most important thing.”

The form matters much less to them than the substance, and the substance is Christ and his message.

The form matters less than the substance, and the substance is Christ and his message…. I want to think about that a lot more this week. May it be true for all of us.

Love you all,
Elder Mattathias Westwood

Loud Your Anthems Raise

August 9, 2011

The scripture for this week is 2 Timothy. http://lds.org/scriptures/nt/2-tim?lang=eng

The hymn for this week is “Onward Christian Soldiers”. http://lds.org/churchmusic/detailmusicPlayer/index.html?searchlanguage=1&searchcollect ion=1&searchseqstart=246&searchsubseqstart=%20&searchseqend=246&searchsubs eqend=ZZZ When I was six, I loved this hymn because I thought it was about fighting. Now I love it because it’s not about fighting. It’s about singing. When we sang it yesterday in elder’s quorum, I felt the joy and unity that comes from being brothers in the gospel fill the room. I felt the faith and optimism that come from declaring Christ’s Atonement and victory. I felt the power in the invitation that begins the fourth verse: “Onward, then, ye people; Join our happy throng. Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song!”

I’ve become a little famous in the mission for singing. Mostly for singing loud. I love the power of a good hymn.

This has been a beautiful week.

I started on Monday by flying between the clouds as we went to Bangalore for a training meeting. That’s right. Clouds above, clouds beneath, and the sun shining through, dazzling. I listened for a while to the man sitting next to me. He said it was disorienting to come back to India after 14 years in the US and to see that the country he grew up in is gone. The tv he didn’t even know in his childhood is now everywhere, as is the mobile phone he didn’t buy until 2005. He’s hopeful, but frightened at times by a country in which $1000 dollar per night hotel rooms now fill up on a regular basis, but so many people are still without proper food and shelter. He knew Latter-day Saints in America, talked about what good friends they were, and how he and his wife enjoyed visiting their home at Christmas. He’s surprised to know that there are over 9000 Latter-day Saints in the southern half of India, that there’s a chapel thirty minutes from his new home. But while he’s curious about how the community has grown, he isn’t interested in visiting.

Tuesday, we talked about being better shepherds to the Lord’s sheep and about turning to him in every thought, and then I went our to walk on water, a miracle facilitated by those who in the past thirty years had turned a lake into a neighborhood, covering what had become a dumping ground for trash with concrete and with homes to fit the thousands and hundreds of thousands who came pouring into Bangalore to make a living, to feed their families, to be sheltered by the warmth of other humans. We took a member who was surprised to find that the appointment he’d agreed to go to was within 500 meters of his birthplace, taking him back across decades.

Wednesday, I flew back and met a movie star who’s trying to figure out to balance her career with the commitment she feels to her parents. I taught a brother who says he wants nothing but peace in his life, and he felt that peace the first time he walked into the church. I thought about how important it is to keep that peace, how easily it can be lost from our own thoughts and hearts as we turn our faces away from the Savior or as we contend one with another and deny our brothers, the least of whom is still Christ.

Thursday, I stood on an Indian highway, inviting everyone who walked past me to take ten minutes to come into the Church and to learn of Christ, to give away their hurry and their worry for a second to take a step away from the noise, the blur of colors, the multitude, to think about what matters most. And many came. I could see the wonder in the face of a few as they stepped into the chapel. I could see the hope in the face of one, a father of two and an electrician, as he told us that he speaks to his children only in the English that he learned as he studied and not in the language he speaks every day on the street as he goes from job to job, that he’s enrolled them in an English school because he wants their future to be brighter than his. When we first stopped him on the road, he thought we were offering him work, and not a tour, but he was happier walking out of the church than he was walking in.

Friday, I found myself walking a narrow path beside a small stream, again walking away from the noise and back, past the houses and through a field, to a small masjid tucked away from the street, to join the humble worshippers breaking their fast their. I washed my hands and feet and face and ate with them, joining in a circle where everyone had brought something and where eager hands reached out to offer guests half a banana, spicy chickpeas, a few pomegranate seeds. We thanked them and slipped away as their prayers began to rise to God.

Saturday, I was on exchange with a missionary going home after 27 months devoted to the Lord. We rejoiced in each others faith as we discussed how to keep moving, how to get better and to reach higher as we each go on in this oh-so-vital work. I could see how he had become, in two years, more and more consecrated and converted to the work of Christ, and I saw in the center of his being an unquenchable flame. I pondered what I can do is the next year to finish so boldly, so nobly, so well.

Sunday, I turned myself once more to Him as I dedicated all I’d done that week, and renewed my covenants with bread and water that were blessed and sanctified to make me remember all that He has done for me. I listened as other shared their conviction and told of the path they’ve walked thus far towards God. I stood with them and sang.

I love you all,
Elder Westwood

Glory to God on High

July 29, 2011

The hymn for this week is “Glory to God on High”. http://lds.org/churchmusic/detailmusicPlayer/index.html?searchlanguage=1&searchcollect ion=1&searchseqstart=67&searchsubseqstart=%20&searchseqend=67&searchsubseq end=ZZZ The passage is Psalm 117. http://lds.org/scriptures/ot/ps/117?lang=eng

Special news from this week. Today marks the beginning of my twelfth month as a full-time missionary. Last Thursday, Elder P., my MTC companion, arrived in India. He’s serving in Hyderabad, so I saw him Tuesday at district meeting.

It’s been a great week.

I’m sorry for not fitting more of the sights and sounds of India into my letters over the past nine months. The sight for this week is a pushcart full of bananas– the bananas are still on the stalk, and so it’s a group of banana towers, ranging through green and yellow. The cart is flat and rolls on four large wobbly wheels. When you make a purchase, the merchant slices a bundle of bananas off the stalk to weigh them.

The sound is a car backing up, and playing “Fur Elise”. It’s Elder A. who pointed out to me that all cars in India made a sound as they back up, usually a song. It’s Elder T. who asked me a few weeks back why 80% of them play ‘Fur Elise’. Is it representative of an Indian appreciation for classical music?

Almost every time I try to write this letter, I find that I’m almost completely at a loss as to how to capture or explain my daily life. I can’t find words to describe the joy of teaching the gospel, of saying something to someone and feeling the words coming from somewhere else, of sharing a scripture and hearing it take new meaning in the very moment it’s read. I can’t describe the normal fear of talking to whoever is sitting next to me on the bus, or how that fear goes away. I can’t explain how I keep getting up every morning, or how I’ve learned to expect in the past month that every day really can be better than the day before.

All I can say is what I say everyday, and what has never ceased to be amazing to me. I really do know that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. I really do know that He and His Father spoke to Joseph Smith. I know that God answers prayers, that coming to God and keeping his commandments is a way to a great peace and joy that overcomes the world. I know Christ is victorious over death. The Gospel of Jesus Christ frees us from chains of discouragement, confusion, grief and sin. It is life and light.

I’ll think this week about how to put my daily life into words, and how to put my testimony more firmly into acts.

I love you all,
Elder Westwood

Come Follow Me, the Savior Said

July 11, 2011

The scripture passage for this week is Luke 4 http://lds.org/scriptures/nt/luke/4?lang=eng. What struck me in this passage is how Christ uses his power and authority– to resist temptation, teach the gospel, and heal the sick. Christ is our perfect example, and it struck me at church yesterday that I’d never really studied the scriptures to see the example Christ is giving to me, and to seek to follow it. I’m used to thinking about his love and mercy, and I know that following him requires that I show such love, but I’d never before gone to the details of his life to learn how I should live. So I’ve got a new focus now.

I believe strongly that when I was ordained an elder, and when I was set apart as a full-time missionary, I was consecrated by God to do His work. And as I’ve gone about my Father’s business, and done His will, I’ve felt his Spirit guiding me, telling me where to go, putting words in my mouth. I know that “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor: he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”

I know this scripture can be fulfilled in each of our lives as we hear God’s call to us, as we accept the Atonement of His Son and seek to truly become his disciples. That’s the work God wants each of us to do, and I witness that it’s the hardest work and the sweetest work on this earth.

I keep feeling that I’ve reached the hardest point of my mission, that I’ve experienced the challenges and overcome them, and that from here on out there will be smooth sailing. And I humbly say that’s never been the case. There’s always a new challenge, always something new to overcome in myself, something else God points out to me to work on.

My challenges are so insignificant, so minute, compared to what Christ bore for me alone. But I know He cares even for my smallest worries and concerns, that he’s here to carry me beyond myself.

Thursday I was reading from the Book of Mormon with the mother of one of my heroes in India. She’s been hearing about the Gospel for the last five years, since her son’s baptism, but she’d never believed it until she really read the Book of Mormon. But as she read, as soon as she read, she knew it was the word of God.

I helped one of the calmest, funniest people I’ve ever met gain a testimony that Christ is his Savior. There’s nothing in the world that compares to the moment when he told me “I know what He did for me.”

I am glad to be an instrument in the hands of God, to know these children of his, to preach the gospel of His Son.

And the mangoes aren’t bad either 🙂

Love,
Elder Westwood