Elder Michael Cevering

Elder Michael Cevering
Puerto Rico, San Juan Mission

Monday, October 28, 2013

Email October 28, 2013

HEEEY Family, This was a really great week! I can't believe October is over this week. Wow. This was probably the fastest month of my mission. And this past week was probably one of the fastest: we had interviews with President Smartt and a leadership meeting, and some other things. I'll give you all the details. So, interviews with president: I LOVE president Smartt. I felt nervous before my interview because interviews with president Alvarado were always so intense. But when I went in and sat down to talk with President Smartt he just said, "Alright Elder, what would you like to talk about?". It was great. I talked with President about Lin, the pastor's daughter in Carolina. She's been having some struggles, and I've been wanting to communicate with her but can't by the rules. So I asked him permission to talk to her and he said, "Of course! She's one of the people you helped enter into the kingdom of God. You SHOULD talk with her." And he said, completely apart from anything I had told him, "Write her every Monday. But if you start having romantic feelings, just be a man about it and come talk to me, and we'll take care of it." Haha. It was so funny. I really respect President Smartt. He's smart. Ironic right? Because of our interviews and then our meeting in Ponce, we didn't spend a lot of time in Aibonito this past week. But in the time we did spend here we saw the work of the Lord moving forth with our investigators and with the branch. First off, Zuly's boyfriend finally left the house. Supposedly he's doing back today with the police to take his things and officially move out. Zuly was really stressed about it: she hasn't wanted to live with him. They were always fighting, and there was no love between them. And since she wasn't married to him she couldn't be baptized. So now we're going to follow up with her and see where she's at. The only thing that keeps her from being baptized is her need to regularly attend church. But we're confident she'll be able to do that. Her two daugthers were already baptized, and one of them comes to seminary so that shows us that they do put the gospel in their priorities. Second, Amaralis came to church again. We talked with her Saturday night and read in the Book of Mormon. She's super pentecostal. The chapter we read was Mormon 6 I believe. In that chapter there's a verse that talks about singing praises to God in the heavens. She got excited by that. (((Personal comment: I love to sing. But personally, an eternity of singing praises is not what I would call my ideal heaven. But then again, we're all different.))) But she has doubts about works for the dead. We talked about the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, but above all things we are trying to help her understand that the answer to whether or not the doctrine is true is found through prayer. She hasn't knelt and prayed to ask about the truth of the gospel, and it's because she's too focused on the differences of the doctrine of the church and the Methodist church. We're going to be teaching her this week about the priesthood. She wants to know why women can't give blessings. She had a female pastor once, and she would always put her hands on their foreheads and cast blessings on them. So we're going to talk about that with her. Woo hoo. Third, for this one I have to give you some background information. The First Presidency sent President Smartt some instructions about what they want us as missionaries to be doing here in the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission. President Smartt first gave those instructions to the missionaries in the other islands. The result has been incredible. The instructions were that we need to work to having 51% member attendance, and need to have/search 20 men who hold the melchizedek priesthood and pay tithes. So, that's what the missionaries in the islands started to do. A couple weeks ago, the branch on Dominica jumped from 40 people in attendance to 98, with 11 investigators in church. The branch on St. Kitts jumped from 40 people in attendance to 120, with 16 investigators in church. The branch on Tortola is planning 19 baptisms. Etc. And they accomplished this by going to their branch presidents, presenting the instructions from the First Presidency, and then praying together to know which of the men from the member lists were prepared to come back to church and receive the melchizedek priesthood or become worthy to use it again. It's a miracle! So, this is what President Smartt is asking us to do: or in other words, on behalf of the Lord, the First Presidency sent these instructions to us, and President Smartt is simply implementing it. With that in mind, we now go to the Aibonito Branch on Sunday October 27th. The elders quorom president left to take care of his family, so I was left in charge of the elders quorom class. I stood at the front of the class to give the lesson and asked a question, "How many of you hold the Melchizedek priesthood?" I was surprised when two men, who had come back to church for the first time in years, raised their hands: a large number of 6 priesthood holders were present, apart from us missionaries. It was a miracle! I realized what President Smartt had told us was true: the Lord is looking for His priesthood holders. In the Aibonito branch there are 9 men who hold the melchizedek priesthood that have come to church since I've been here. There are more who are inactive. There are two aaronic priesthood holders who we have reactivated, and they are both of age to receive the melchizedek priesthood. Do you see the miracle of that? The Lord's work is moving forward. I gave the lesson about the power of the priesthood. After seeing that the majority of the men hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, I then asked them, "When was the last time you exercised that priesthood?" They all fell silent. Then one man said he'd given a blessing recently. So I asked another question, "Apart from giving blessing or performing the ordinance of the sacrament, when was the last time you exercised your priesthood authority?" And no one could answer. So I went on to explain that the power of the priesthood is so much more than giving blessings and effecting ordinances. We had a really spiritual discussion, read some passages from the Book of Mormon about how prophets used their priesthood, discussed ways that those men in the Aibonito branch had used the priesthood, and then ended with a prayer. It was really great! I was grateful to talk part of that class. Well, apart from that, nothing else exciting happened. I'm so happy to see miracles here in the work of the Lord. It's not easy AT ALL. In fact, I feel like the longer I'm here the harder it gets. But I take comfort in some things my patriarchal blessing tells me about what will happen in my life as a result of the experiences I have as a missionary. I am SO glad that Colby found a job! That was definitely an answer to prayers. And I'm so glad that Jacob is doing well in the MTC. He's going to love California. I wrote him a letter, I just need to send it to him. And I'm grateful that Mikayla is doing well. I'm going to write her a letter :) And Mom and Dad I love you a lot! The experiences I have as a missionary--most specifically my opportunitites to teach members of the church--cause me to reflect on how incredible you both are. I love you both! Elder Cevering

Monday, October 21, 2013

Photos from Aibonito

Photos from Aibonito

Email October 21, 2013

Heeeeeeeellooooooooooooo Family, What a week. HA. This was one of the fastest weeks of my mission: it feels like two days ago I was writing. I'm feeling good today: in every sense of the word. I'm kind of tired because I haven't been sleeping well--for a number of reasons. Haha. Wednesday night I was feeling sick, so I didn't fall asleep until about 3 in the morning. WOO HOO. Then Saturday night our neighbors threw a karaoke party (I thought Puerto Ricans would sing better ;)) and at the same time there was a festival here in Aibonito called the Festival of Chicken. Creative right? Haha. I LOVE PUERTO RICO!!!! But the party and the festival kept me up all night. Elder Contreras slept really well: he says he's used to that kind of thing happening in Honduras. Yesterday was really great: two of our investigators came to church! One came for the second time, and she seemed to really enjoy it. It's different to her because no one is having seizures on the ground, no one shouts, and no one is dancing. That's more typical in the churches here in Puerto Rico. The thing she really likes is the peace in our church. She says it has more "order" than her church, which she likes. But unfortunately, we haven't been able to teach her. We set up appointments but they all fell through. Another investigator came to church also. She's an old investigator who can't be baptized because she's not married to the man who lives with her. The problem is, the man doesn't want to leave from the house, but she doesn't really love him. It's a really bad situation. She has to pay everything in the house, but things have been really tought for her. Her oldest son has a mental disability and can be really agressive, and her daughters are both young and she has to take them to school and pick them up. Then her husband is verbally abusive to her. From all that, she ended up in the hospital for something that I didn't understand: she had a mental breakdown or something, but when she explained it I didn't understand. She used a lot of weird words. She uses a LOT of weird words, and bad words. HAHA. We were really glad she came to church because she really needed it. That about sums up our week: we had a lot of appointments fall through this week. The only other exciting thing is that we've got a reference of a family from Honduras that we're going to contact this week. Should be exciting. The title is from a story one of the members told us. For you to understand this story you have to understand that the Puerto Ricans in Aibonito (I haven't heard it anywhere else) have a really famous saying: they use the phrase "the devil" to explain a lot of really random things. For example, the main street here in Aibontio gets packed full of traffic in the afternoon because everyone in the world picks up their child from school. To explain how annoyed they were with the traffic, they say, "That was a traffic from the devil!" Ha. They say it about a lot of things. When it's really hot outside they say, "This is a heat from the devil!" Or we even heard one member say, "He's uglier than the devil!" talking about someone. HAHA. So, anyway, there's a member here in Aibonito who calls herself our mom. She's so great! She gives us lunch every other day. And she's one of those people that uses the phrase "the devil" a lot. In Spanish "the devil" is said "el diablo." She was telling us the other day that she went down to the city Caguas to buy glasses for her son, and they went to a frozen yogurt place. It was so funny to listen to her explain it. HAHA. She said, "It's great: you can just go up to the machine and take us much yogurt as you want!" Then she said, "But, ave Maria, they weigh how much yogurt you take and they charge you according to the weight, and that yogurt weighs more than the devil!" HAHA! It was so funny. I'm going to try to send some pictures now. So I love you all and miss you all! Elder Cevering

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Email October 14, 2013

(Just a side note...Monte is Michael's uncle. He is a physical therapist and the mission president gave permission for him to call Michael so he could try to pinpoint the problem with Michael's abdomen over the phone and help give him some exercises to do that will help to heal and strengthen it so he can feel better.) Hello family! This week was a pretty good week: how could it not be when I got to talk to Monte? He called me and started talking to me in Spanish. I was really glad he got to call me. What he told me makes a lot of sense: but it also really frustrated me because I want a quick solution to this problem. After a year of carrying this dead-weight ab around I'm just really tired, and to think about 10 more months of it is really frustrating, I'm not going to lie. I trust Monte's advice, and I'm following it, but it's still really a downer to me that there isn't a faster solution. Paaaaaaaaaaaaaatience. I'm learning that humility is not about not wanting power and authority: it's about being willing to exercise that power and authority in the way the Lord wants you to use it. Alright, enough about me. I was really excited when yesterday Amarilie came to church: and she loved it. After sacrament meeting we sat down with she and her husband, and she said she felt really weird in our church because it was so different from the Methodist church. But I asked her what it was that she felt besides feeling weird, and she said she felt a lot of peace. She believes the church is true, but there are a lot of doctrines she doesn't understand. We have a really good lesson planned to help her understand works for the dead, but we haven't been able to teach her. That's part of why I was so happy she came to church: we hadn't taught her during the week but she still came! One of our investigators died this past week: he had a problem in his liver that caused his stomach to swell. The other day I guess he started throwing up blood and it got stuck in his throat. What a horrible way to die. We didn't know he'd died either until we visited his friend: the situation is sad, but the story is really funny. We went and we were talking to this guy's friend--he's one of our investigators too, his name is Junito--and we asked him, "Hey how's Jose?" And he said, "He died." And that was it. Ha. You had to have been there to here how he said it and all: it was as if he were used to his best friends dying or something. But he was sad: he came down with a fever the day after and was in the hospital as well for flu-like symptoms, but they did tests on him and found he was fine, so we think he was just really hurt by the death of Jose. We received an assignment from the stake presidency to clean out the member lists, so we left with a member this past week to find where some people lived. Here in the mountains--and in a lot of jungle areas--it's difficult to find some houses because all that is recorded is a kilometer number or a number of the plot of land where the people live. So naturally members are the best source for finding other members. It's always surprising to me that they ask the missionaries to clean out the lists when the members know where literally every other member lives. But it's good, I kind of enjoy looking for the inactive members. They usually all love the missionaries but don't really have any desire to come back to church. They ask us how members are doing and tell us how long it's been since they've seen them: sad right? The home teaching program of basically every ward and branch in Puerto Rico is called Elder or Sister so-and-so. That's one of the reasons the church hasn't had good retention here. We had a cool experience Thursday: our morning plans fell through so we decided we would head back to the house and eat lunch earlier and then leave to work on the member list. On our way, Elder Contreras said, "Hey let's stop and say hi to Irmaris." Irmaris is one of our potential investigators who owns an herbalife here in Aibonito. She works a lot, so we've not been able to have a real lesson with her. We went and talked to her and while we were there this girl walked in with her son and she bought some things. Then she went to leave and I felt this overwhelming feeling that I needed to talk to her. I fought with myself for a second, then jumped up and followed her out to her car where I talked to her about the Book of Mormon. She was really interested, and was super surprised that I was talking to her, as if I'd read her mind or something. I knew, and I can never explain how it is that sometimes you just know, but I knew it was an answer to her prayer or someone's prayer. She gave us her number and we're going to be calling her this week. So, that's all to report here from PUERTO RICO. I ate a lot of fruit last week. I had pineapple for dinner, and coconut water. :) I really love Puerto Rico so much. When the day comes to leave I'll cry. Puerto Ricans are so great: they have really random sayings here. That's what the title of this email is: a Puerto Rican saying. "...les subio la chuleta" is another way of saying that someone got angry. "Les" is a way to referring to a group of people, "subio" means to rise or go up, and "la chuleta" means the pork chop. So essentially, the saying is that their pork chop rose up. HAHA. Love you all! Thank you so much for your love and support! Elder Cevering

Monday, October 7, 2013

Email October 7, 2013

Heeeeeeeello! Well, I really have nothing much to report this week. I'll let you know what happened with the surgeon: I visited him Tuesday and I told him all that had happened: that I'd been using an ab wheel, that I tore my ab, that they ran tests on me and found nothing wrong other than the tear in my ab, and that it's been a year since the injury occurred and I still have pain. The surgeon asked me to lift up my shirt and began feeling my ab. When he put his finger in my belly button I wanted to hit him haha it hurt. But he said he didn't feel any hernias. We then talked and he said, "There's nothing I can do for you." What? I asked him more and he told me that the pain I'm feeling in my ab is comparable to having a headache: there's no procedure that can get rid of a natural pain. But he told me that if I continue to have pain that I can come back. HAHAHAHA. What a crazy old man. I laugh because it's so inconsistent and I have to laugh about it to not be angry. When I told Sister Smartt what he said she looked at me like, "What? That doesn't make sense." I told her my uncle is a physical therapist, so she wants me to ask for his advice: So ask Monte what he thinks I should do. I haven't been able to exercise in the mornings because exercise hurts my ab. But we're literally at a dead end concerning this ab thing. Ha. Last year one doctor told me I had a hernia, the next one told me I didn't have a hernia and that the pain would go away in 6-12 weeks if I rested, and then this last doctor says I'm experiencing natural pain and that there's nothing he can do to fix it. Frustrating. So honestly, I have no idea what to do about my ab. However, many missionaries tell me I'm getting skinnier. That's a blessing from the Lord since I haven't been able to exercise for a long time. As far as the week goes, we had some cool things. We had the best pina coladas I've had on Puerto Rico. I ate octopus with rice for the first time. And yeah. Literally nothing exciting happened this week other than General Conference. The disappointing thing is that only one member from the branch came down to conference. There are two families that I imagine watched it at home in English. But other than that, no one came. Not even to the priesthood session. It's not that that frustrates me, but that it's a clear red flag to the spiritual state of the members. We're going to continue working hard with them. We're trying to serve them really. We painted a roof, scraped a ceiling, and washed a car this week for members. Haha. Life in the mountains is great. And I'll be here again next transfer with Elder Contreras. I want you to know that I love you both a lot! Knowing that Jacob will soon leave for the mission and the funds it will require is another one that hurts me. I'm grateful for your sacrifices and your examples to serve the Lord. You've done so much for us as your children: I wish that I would have been kinder and more willing to help out around the house when I was there. Now, to assure you that I'm not here moping over such things, I wanted not only to express love, but I wanted to give you my testimony about suffering. Unfortunately, we all get to suffer in this world. President Alvarado always told us that it was inevitable that we would suffer, but that God gave us the agency to suffer with joy through obedience and the atonement. I believe that's true: the mission is NOT easy. I feel like I've suffered all through my mission. But I know that I have these feelings--these feelings of sorrow and struggle--because the Lord is refining me. He knows He's got a lot of work to do to get this Elder Michael Todd Cevering smooth around the edges haha. At the beginning of my mission, when I first tore my ab, I felt an overwhelming feeling of desperation. When president Alvarado interviewed me after the injury, I wanted to come home. I wanted to get to a safe place where the pain wouldn't be so bad. He was very direct with me that the Lord would help me through it and that I needed to be more faithful. Now, a year after the injury, I look back and I say: "Thank you President Alvarado. Thank you Lord, for loving me enough to use President Alvarado to keep me here." I don't want to imagine the life I would have had if I had not had this past year of experiences. This past week as I got ready to go to the surgeon I was really afraid but there was a bright beam of hope: I didn't want to go home. I mean, of course as a missionary you will always long for home. But this time I didn't want to go home like I had so badly desired when I was first injured. And that has given me so much strength of spirit: I have changed! I am stronger than I was before. I know that God gives us challenges so that we can be stronger. We just have to have the courage to face them and not run away. Thank you for always taking care of me and not running from the challenges of being parents. I love you so much, and I will be praying for you and the family. Mom, don't feel bad that Jacob wants to be with his friends at this time. Be grateful that he will soon learn how much he loves his family :) We teenagers are a bit difficult sometimes aren't we? The thing is, we cling to our friendships because we know that they are slipping away. It may not be apparent, but missionaries miss their families a lot more than they miss anything else. Well, I love you all! Elder Cevering