Friday, March 1, 2013

My Mission Experience

From the time I was a little boy, coloring pictures and singing obnoxiously in the primary, I have always had the dream of serving a full time mission for the Lord. It was my desire to be one of his full time representatives, spreading the Good News of the Gospel, of Faith and Repentance. Little did I know this dream would be fulfilled in the city where dreams come true. The Hollywood portrayal I always saw as New York City is nothing compared to the reality in which it is.The lights, the sound and the motion of the melting pot of the world, does not tell its full story. The real story of this city lies within the people that walk its streets each and every day. It is because of these people, my friends, that my life has been changed forever.

My mission started on March 7th 2011, when my Stake President placed his hands upon my head and set me apart as a representative of the Lord's Church. Just a mere 2 days later I was sitting in a room with 7 other missionaries who would later become some of my best friends. The MTC was the beginning of a great and wonderful journey. Elder Everett Scaife was my MTC companion, and I believe the first person he influenced on his mission was my very own soul. He brought me unto Christ in a very real way, and planted a seed of repentance in my heart that has grown, and will never stop growing. I love him for what he taught me and the spirit that he carried into my life. He made my MTC experience what it was, and it set the foundations to what I what I would be teaching people for the next 2 years: Repentance. My mission has given me the opportunity to change and reach a higher plain of thought as well as action. I have learned who I want to be, and more importantly who God wants me to be. I now know the true divine potential that Jesus Christ has given me. I feel this process really started as I came to know the people that God had placed in my path during the course of my mission. Then in turn, they have helped me realize the plan my Heavenly Father has in store for me.

The day was a hot and humid when I walked out of the 125th street train station on Lexington Avenue. It was early in the beginning of May, and somehow I had seemed to overpack. We carried my heavy luggage down the street, past the tall buildings, and up to the 19th story of our high rise in east Harlem. My trainers were Elder Martindale and Elder Huerta Luna - two of the many great friends I have made in my time spent here in the New York New York Mission. The companions and missionaries I have served around during my mission are one of my greatest blessings. All have changed me as a person. Each one will forever hold a special place in my life and in my heart. They have helped me appreciate the finer things in life, and helped me overcome many trials and hardships I have been forced to deal with.

Many have asked me who my favorite companion was, and I can sincerely say that I do not have an answer to that question. All, Elder Scaife, Elder Huerta Luna, Elder Martindale, Elder Hellberg, Elder Wilkey, Elder Eliason, Elder Vazquez, Elder Fox, Elder Kropf, Elder Kay, and Elder Heywood, are some of my BEST FRIENDS who I will forever hold close to my heart. I wish I could properly thank each one for the positive influence that they had in my life, and the things that each one has done for me as an individual. They all taught me valuable lessons and I love them. Then there are all the others I have served around that have become my best friends while doing the Lord's work. Many I have laughed with, talked with, fought with, and rejoiced with. They and my companions have made my mission what it is! They know who they are and I will forever love them for their presence in my life. It is because of many of their positive influences that am who I am today.

Harlem was the experience of a lifetime. It was a time when my faith was tested, and I was forced to change and overcome many difficult personal challenges. I had to rely on the Lord and completely trust him. I was scared to share the Gospel, and I was even more scared to do it in an unfamiliar language, but I trusted that he could transform me into who he wanted me to be. Harlem was everything that I imagined it would be. Elder Huerta Luna and Elder Martindale were the best trainers I could have asked for. They really taught me how to be a missionary, and taught me the essentials from the very beginning. I had the blessed opportunity to serve with Elder Huerta Luna for 4 cycles! It was amazing! He taught me to love the ward and the people that I served around. He had a great love for New York and its people, and he passed that onto me. He taught me to appreciate the culture of many different groups of people, and become as part of them. That is something I have done my whole mission, and it has been to my benefit. When I first saw him I thought he would just be a strange little Mexican, oh boy was I wrong. He became one of my best friends and one of my greatest role models!

It was during this early part of my mission where I started to see myself as a person change. I learned how to put others in front of me, and to stop caring about myself. There was a lady that I taught there named Cindy. She has changed my life forever. I saw this lady who lived smack dab in the middle of one of the roughest parts of the world, and I saw her for who she could become. She was found by Elder Martindale during the last 2 weeks of his mission, when he was on a split with one of the members in our ward. She was a former investigator and he decided to look her up. Because of that one little act of love that he performed, many people's lives have now been changed forever. I taught Cindy the entire time I was in Harlem. All seven and a half months and I loved every minute of it. She was not baptized until 3 months after I left, in February of 2012. Just a short 3 months later her daughter, Kiki was baptized. Then just a few short months after that, her boyfriend, Joseph, who I had never met, was baptized and confirmed. During that same month the 2 or them were married in the Harlem Chapel. Cindy is now pregnant and will be having a baby boy the week that I go home. I wish I could properly thank Elder Martindale, it is because of his work ethic his last couple of weeks, that I too will not stop working until I get on that plane and say good bye. Cindy and her family are fully converted to the Gospel of Christ, and how happy it makes me to say that I could play a small part in that.

I was follow up trained by Elder Hellberg, while still being trained by Elder Huerta Luna. This was my second trio. That mixed things up a bit, but it was for our benefit. The beginning was a bit of a struggle, but it all turned out alright. Elder Hellberg had just been released as Assistant before he came down to be with the two of us. He was crazy, and I loved it! I enjoyed every minute with him. He taught me the principles of obedience and leadership. He really wanted me to be the best missionary I could be, and his example led me there. The two of us were so much alike it was not even funny. I felt bad for those we lived with, poor Elder Stratton, but it was a great experience! He is one of my best friends and someone who will forever be one of my best friends.

It was right before Elder Hellberg went home, and my last couple days in Harlem that I experienced one of the most difficult things on my mission: Being transferred, but not only that- white washed. It was something I did not understand. We had just baptized Anthony the weekend before, and I was questioning if it was something we had done. Tuesday morning I received a call from President Smith telling me it was not because of anything I had done, but when the spirit says something, we are obligated to obey, and that is what he did, and something that I have always tried to learn from. I did not want to leave Harlem. Those were the best days of my life. I loved the people I had grown so close to there, even though because of the language barrier I could not understand most of them. The message of the gospel does that to you. It causes you to love more than you ever have loved before, and it did that to me. I did not know how I could possibly love anyone else as much as I loved everyone there, but Elder Hellberg assured me that I could, just moments before he left. I did not know if I could believe him at the time, but I later figured out that what he said was true.

It wasn’t until I had spent a couple weeks in the Bronx that I understood why the Lord had sent me there. Elder Wilkey is probably the funniest person I have ever met in my entire life. No one has made me laugh as much as he did. He helped me realize that missionary work could be the most fun thing in the world, if you tried to make it so. We did. Elder Wilkey and I grew to love one of the families we had been teaching. Gizela and her two kids: Jordi, and Crismary. The work in the Concourse ward was hard, but their family made everything better. Gisela had many questions and problems that led up to her baptism, but it was one of the highlights of my mission as I pulled her out of the water the day of her baptism. It was hard to understand her thick Dominican Spanish accent, but with the Lord's help I finally could understand and speak the language well enough to influence the lives of those three precious souls.

While in the Bronx I was called as a District Leader. It automatically overwhelmed me. It took a couple weeks before I could really feel worthy to hold such an assignment. Elder Wilkey played a huge part in that. He taught me that God had not called Elder Mattei the robot, for that is what I was becoming, but he called Elder Mattei. He helped me be myself and effectively perform the role to which I was called.

While in the Bronx I had my shares of ups and downs. One of my downs was a great learning experience and has given me one my best friends. Elder Jake Lewis and I had served most of our missions near each other at this point. He was in my district/ward in Harlem, and in the Bronx I was living with him on Briggs Avenue. I don’t even remember what the fight was about, but I can guarantee it was something stupid. I remember being treated in a way I did not like, and calling out and yelling at Elder Lewis for what had happened. I handled the situation very poorly. I could tell I had caused some damage,and for anyone who knows Elder Lewis they know that is a hard thing to do. I could not sleep that night because I felt so bad about treating him the way I did. I walked out of the bedroom door and there he was waiting to apologize to me. He gave me a hug without saying much, and walked back in. That experience has stayed with me my entire mission. Back home I could be a pretty angry person, but since that experience I have not yelled, I have not lost my temper, and I have avoided fighting with anyone at all costs. I felt terrible about it, and I never want to make anyone feel that way again. When Elder Lewis came out and hugged me, I saw my Savior and how he would act. I love Elder Lewis and he will always be my best friend.

Elder Lewis helped Elder Eliason and I get over some hard times during our companionship in the Bronx. When I left that area Elder Eliason was not the person he started out as, and neither was I. We both had some growing up to do, and we gave each other the power to do it. It is our recent convert, Norgeli who sealed the deal and helped make us the close buddies we are today. We both had an equally astounding love for that little girl, and did everything we could to get her baptized and make sure she was happy! I had never had so much fun teaching someone! Elder Eliason was a blast to be with, and even today we would both admit that we needed each other to get to where we are today.

Getting transferred to Stamford was the change I needed, as I was facing hard times back at home.It was at that time that I my ex girlfriend wrote me off, and I found myself in a whole new world and surrounded by a new group of people. With the arrival of President Morgan, the training opportunity, and my new upstate area, I found myself in, what seemed to me, a brand new mission. Although I had been released as District Leader prior to entering Stamford, I had never felt so much like a leader. Elder Fox hung onto every word I said, and watched everything I did. Then, more than ever I needed to be on top of my game. Elder Fox taught me how to be a true leader. He taught me how to lead the way Christ does.

For the longest I have wondered why I went to Stamford. I felt like I did not make much of a difference in the short amount of time I was there. Compared to the 10 cycles I spent serving in both Harlem and Concourse, 2 cycles did not seem like much. After a lot of pondering and prayer I discovered why the Lord sent me there. It was so I could train Elder Fox and learn from both him and Elder Vazquez. Once again I found myself in a trio. It was a blast! We had so much fun and got so much work done. I felt the spirit in a way I had never felt before as the 3 of us taught the message of the Gospel. Elder Vazquez was a good example of work. He worked hard and he worked smart. He reinforced what I had learned from Elder Huerta Luna, and brought it to a whole new level.

We worked hard with our members to help us find and teach those that they were close to. I grew such a love for the members there. In Stamford I saw a group of people who loved missionaries, and loved what they did and were willing to do anything to help, and that is exactly what they did. They helped me grow as a person. My companions and the other missionaries in our ward, Sister Alvarez and Sister Major, were taught the reality of miracles as we worked hard to help and sustain that ward. With the help of Ward members and the Lord, we obtained more that 200 referrals from Church Members. The fruits of that labor are still rolling forth today. Many were baptized because of our own efforts and the support of a loving ward.

My time in Connecticut was a time of great personal growth and change. It was then that I truly started grasping the principle of repentance and came to a realization as to who I could be. I understood my potential, and I started to look at myself and others and saw what our Father in Heaven sees in each and every single one of us. I could not have done it without Elder Fox and Elder Vazquez. They were there for me in some of the hardest times I have had in my life. I learned to look towards heaven, and realized that there truly is a connection between Heaven and Earth.

While there Elder Portillo was my district leader, and although younger than me in the mission I saw him as my leader and looked up, and still do look up to him for the example he set for me. He continued to teach me the principle that we as leaders should lead with love and with kindness, and it was not by anything that he said. He taught me by the way he lived his life, who he is as a person. The majority of the prayers God has answered, have been in the form of another person. God tends to talks to me through those that I love. It is through the examples of others that my life has been touched and changed, and my prayer is that I can play that same role in benefit of someone else. In some cases I have, and the realization of that humbles me to the core.

After 3 short, but amazing months I packed my bags once again and was headed just a few miles west to New Rochelle, New York. With a new understanding as to who I am and as to where I was going, a fire kindled in my soul with a yearning to share that with others. Leaving those I loved and taught in Stamford was acutely trying, but I had the confidence that Elder Fox would bring that area heavenward, and he did.

My arrival in New Rochelle was a little different than previous transfers. I was called as a Zone Leader and would be serving with someone I had previously lived with in my mission. Elder Kropf was a great example to me his last cycle. He taught me the area and he taught me how to work with the Ward members there.

In the beginning the work was difficult, but slowly but surely things shifted into our favor. I came into a Zone where I did not know many missionaries and I felt like I did not really know what I was doing, but we made the best of the situation and created something that has become amazing. It was that cycle that Hurricane Sandy struck the shore of New York. For 3 days we were without power and depression and boredom soon became our enemy. It was the last week of Elder Kropf’s mission, and he showed me how to make the best out of a bad situation. I was sad and frustrated as we searched frantically for ways to serve and help others. At the time normal missionary work was out of the question, and as we sat in complete darkness at night my mind wandered and was filled with thoughts of home. Elder Kropf quickly knocked that out of me, as I saw his desire to do the Lord's work in the last couple days of his service. If he was not trunky, how could I possibly be?

It was during that time that I had given a lot of reflection as to what I would do with my life after the mission. Although things had seemed clear before, that clarity turned into confusion. I remember kneeling down and pleading with the Lord for clarity and understanding. The answer did not come all at once, but nonetheless it did come.

The time came for Elder Kropf to leave, and for my good buddy Elder Kay to come and be my companion. I am so grateful I could serve with Elder Kay! He is one of my best friends. While together we worked joyfully in the service of others. It did not matter who it was - we were serving them. Members, missionaries, investigators, and people we did not even know. During that time we had the blessed opportunity to go and render service to those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Being able to serve as part of that relief effort was a blessing, as well as a miracle. The temporal labor we performed lead to many spiritual blessings for both us and them. We saw lives change in a very large way. Those we served appreciated what we did to help them and their families. Whether it was ripping out flood damaged carpet, tearing out drywall, or throwing out damaged furniture they saw who we were and understood who we represented. How grateful I am to say that I could serve the way our Savior would,on behalf of our brothers and sisters. The people there were awesome! We had so much fun as we helped and loved those we served. The damage was devastating, but the love of our Heavenly Father was shown in abundance as we worked.

Not only did we serve there, but Elder Kay helped me understand the importance of serving other missionaries. We did so in every opportunity that we were permitted. If anyone needed anything we were there to help them. Being a Zone Leader has helped me do service for others in ways I never would have thought of. We worked as a zone, and created a unity that I had never seen in a zone in my entire missionary experience. We knew how to get work done, and had fun doing it. Elder Kay was sick our last couple weeks together, and that was a hard trial for the both of us. I had the desire to go out and do missionary work, but with him not feeling well some days that was nearly impossible. It made me realize how much I really loved doing what it is I do as a missionary. It made me realize how much I love the Lord. It also made me realize how much I loved my companion as I did all I could to serve him.

My last cycle Elder Kay was transferred, leaving me in New Rochelle with Elder Haywood. I was hoping to go back to the city, but was happy for Elder Kay as he packed his bags preparing to go finish his mission in New York City. These last couple weeks I have been extremely grateful that President Morgan and the Lord left me here. I have grown such a great love for the people here. I love them, and I want them to have everything they deserve in this life. I have found a lot of joy in working with less actives, and helping them return to activity not only in the Church, but the Gospel as well. We have helped both members and non members repent and make their way closer to Christ. I have slowly realized what the Gospel really is and how we access it. In working with the less active members of the Church, I have been given a desire to do home teaching when I get home and help those who have lost their way.

Elder Haywood was the companion I needed to help me endure to the end. He has helped me live my missionary purpose to the fullest. He has taught me the last, and possibly most important principle of the Gospel. He has helped bring out the diligence and obedience I needed to make it to the end of my mission. I am sad that I will only be with him for this one cycle, but so grateful for the push and drive he has given me. I will not only do this work while I am here, but this will be something that I will continue doing for the rest of my life. I want to work. I want to serve. I want to do whatever it is the Lord wants me to do. I want to help myself, as well as others do what they need to do in order to live with God and their families once again.

I love the people of my mission. I love the atmosphere and the joy that I find in missionary work. Whether it was eating dinner in Sister Munoz’s humble home in Harlem, or talking to a crazy person in the Bronx, I loved it. I loved every minute of it and I do not want it to end. I am so grateful, words cannot describe what my mission means to me, but I will go ahead and try anyway.

I believe my mission started long before I walked off the plane in New York, before I said goodbye to my parents and entered the MTC, and even before my stake president laid his hands upon my head and set me apart for this work. It started in the spring of 2010 when I said a humble prayer and asked the Lord what would be of the best worth unto me. I am here because I was not only called, but I was chosen for this work. I’m not here because my parents or Bishop told me to serve a mission, I am here because the Lord called me to declare repentance unto this people, and bring his children unto him, so I could rest with them in the Kingdom of our Father. That has been my purpose for the past two years, and I know it is true. I know that it is through the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we can reach our true potential as human beings. As a missionary I have learned where I am going, and how to get there, and I have had the blessing of sharing that with others. And it is through living the Doctrine of Christ which is Faith in Jesus Christ, Faith enough to repent of our sins and turn towards God and Live his will; that true repentance leads us to the waters of baptism where we can follow the Savior and truly access his Atoning sacrifice in our lives. Then comes the sanctification through the gift and Power of the Holy Ghost, who is a constant companion who can help us endure to the end and gain eternal life. If there is anything I have learned on my mission, it is that this is true. That Christ came to die for my sins and yours. That he came to help us, so we could be everything we were sent here to be, if we choose to follow him. It is our choice, and I will forever follow him because of the things I have learned on my mission. I know he lives, and I know he loves. He cares enough to help and guide us. I am thankful for the holy spirit, and the work it has allowed me to do. The mission has changed me forever. I know God gave me this opportunity to help me, and to help those I love in this wonderful city. I love New York! I love the people here, and those I have been blessed to serve with. This is his work, this is his Glory. To bring us unto him, and I am forever blessed to have served as a part of that. He lives, I know it, and I will carry that testimony for the rest of my life, and share it every chance I get. My mission is not ending, but it is just getting started. I know the Gospel is true, and I know it is the power unto our salvation. I love my mission, and I love what it has done for me. It has changed me, and I will never be the same. And I write these things, and do it in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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