Monday, September 29, 2014

There are no coincidences.


Hey no worries, we don't have a car, but the district leader picks us up every Monday in his soccer-mom van. So I've never had to strap tuna to my bike, but a guy gave us three deep-fried cow fish yesterday.

On Oct. 10 a movie (yea, a real movie) comes out in theaters called Meet the Mormons. The church made it not (necessarily) to baptize people, but to inform them. We watched it on Friday in a sweet sneak-peek with President Drake, and it really impressed me. It talks about 6 families, the lives they live, the trials they have, and how they find happiness. Even though it shares very little doctrine, it shows the entire Gospel. I felt I could see Jesus Christ in the lives of these faithful members, in their countenances. Please go see it.

Friday was the biggest church fiesta of the year: Fiestas Patrias, where we celebrate the Indepenance and culture of our many beloved paises hispanos. We brought three families, and saw many less actives and potential investigators there. The place was packed. We had a ton of fun seeing so much food from so many countries, music, and dances. The district even participated a little, Elder Mamea taught us the haka and we performed it in front of everyone. It was really exciting to see our ward doing what the prophet has asked as they fellow-shipped, gave rides to, and brought tons of food for those in the process of becoming active members.

That night we also saw Jose get baptized. That was a really big faith building experience for me, because Elder Poulson and I found him, and when we did, he didn't look like much. He was on some stairs that day reading book. We gave him a better one. We came back that week to teach him and found out he was one of those types that is incredibly hard to talk teach because they can't stop talking or stay on one topic. After struggling for a few minutes to get him to think about prophets, I conceded that it really is about him. So we talked about him. We found out everything about him. I decided to believe that this broken man really could accept the Gospel. We let him know that the Gospel would change him. We invited him to be baptized and he accepted. And then we had to refer him to the sisters because he doesn't really speak Spanish. I am so grateful we did what we were supposed to, had faith, and invited him to be baptized the first time we taught him. I understand faith so much more than I did before the mission. It is more than just belief, it is more than just action, it is a reassurance, it is a drive, it is a different way of thinking and feeling and being.

And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.

I've decided that because God lives, there are no coincidences. Thursday, ten minutes after following up with some commitments we had left with our investigator Tatiana, she called us back excitedly (people don't really call us so it was a surprise). It turned out that she was sitting in her friends hair salon when we called her, and after hanging up she got to talking about us to her friend Deyra, the hair lady. She told her about the white kid and the Hawaiian guy that come to visit her family and that's when they realized they both knew us. Her friend is our investigator Deyra we've been trying to bring to church for four weeks. So our Heavenly Father had us teaching two best friends at the same time, one who loves church and one who won't step foot in it. We didn't know they knew each other and neither of them knew the other was also seeing the missionaries. Man that was hard to explain, but it was exciting. 
The second non-coincidence tender mercy happened in sacrament meeting. I visited a member named Cesar a lot when I served next to downtown in Broadway 3. He often comes to church in a t-shirt and stays for all three wards. A member pointed him out to me this Sunday, thinking it was a visitor, and I sat next to him. I told him I was glad to see him. He lives alone and doesn't have a lot of family or help, and just hit a financial road-block. He told me he'd have to go live with his dad, "but I'll have to find him first," he said, "I don't know where he lives or anything right now." After the meeting, we stood up to head to class. When he turned around and saw the Hermana's new investigator who was there for the first time just a few rows behind us he said "Dad!?" yep, the Libro de Mormon toting Fransisco really was him. Little family reunion unfolded before our eyes, Cesar telling him about his knee-surgery and baptism and things. The two of them sat together in Sunday school and priesthood.  

God makes everything work out. 

I will watch the conference in Broadway chapel. I wish we went to church for conference when I was a kid. It is better. The word on the street is that the foreign language speaking authorities won't have to speak in English anymore, that's good with me because I like Spanish better anyway.

Elder Decker


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Going out on a limb.


I recently overheard one great Hermano here in the ward counseling another. He said, well in Spanish he said, "I have four words for you; they are the answer to all of your problems. Listen carefully, "EL LIBRO DE MORMÓN."  I have been taking that advice, and that book, very seriously lately and have found some treasures (2 Nephi1:15). I am glad to hear that y'all are too.

We saw a big miracle this week, a member moved to Houston from Wisconsin right out of the blue, a super strong member, and she referred to us her grandson. He is 13 years old, and extraordinarily interested in the Gospel. He is scheduled to be baptized Oct.11. Saturday he went proselyting Elder Mamea and me for 6 hours! He had a fun time riding his bike, sweating bullets, talking to drunk people, and watching me climb a tree and chainsaw off a limb 20ft in the air. My  Paisano had thrown a chain around the branch to hang pinatas and stuff. Six years later the tree had grown and sucked the chain in. We also ate tamales and Pappa's Barbacue. But anyway it was a good day. It is a huge blessing for me to be able to share the Gospel with Benjamin, someone so humble, so motivated, and so great. He says he wants to go on a mission when he's 18, after going to church just once and hearing one lesson. 

I'm glad things aren't so easy- that means I've got the chance to learn something. I know that I have a Heavenly Father that is in control, infinitely patient, and who has a plan for me and for the people I am with. 

Love Elder Decker


Monday, September 15, 2014

It's all part of the plan.


Thank you mom for your prayers and letters and all you do for me. I am incredibly blessed to be here. I know that even though things don't go perfectly, the mission I've had and will have is infinitely better than any I would have picked for myself. I'm grateful for trials. I'm grateful for how much the people I try to teach end up teaching me. A lot of us have a thing about perfection. A while back I wondered why I couldn't just have Jesus Christ as a perfect senior companion, and we'd have perfect studies, be perfectly obedient, teach perfectly, and I'd learn in time to be perfect just like Him right? Often the answer to questions like that is this: if that were the right answer our loving Heavenly Father would have made things that way, but He didn't, so it's not. I'm grateful for my imperfect self, and for my imperfect companions. I know that we don't remember being with our Heavenly Father for a reason, that we are all imperfect here for a reason. If we are really to be like God we need to help others the way he helps us. If we could see how far we really were from perfection most of us would give up right then and there on ever reaching it. The twelve original apostles, talked, walked and ate with Jesus Christ, the only perfect man. One betrayed him, one denied him three times, and all abandoned him. The opposite of perfectionism is faith, knowing that someone bigger and better is and will take care of us.

We have the humbling opportunity to help someone a lot less fortunate than ourselves. For the first twenty minutes of our visit, all he could talk about is his house falling apart, his family apart, his work falling apart, his body falling apart, and even his mind falling apart. He told us he was done, that he had given up. It was a blessing to be able to begin with a prayer and thank our Heavenly Father for everything He has given us. We promised him the hope that he desired, for himself, for his wife, and for his two kids. We told him there is only one way to turn off the blackness in a dark room, and that's by turning on the light. We taught him about God's true identity as our Father, about the mission of His Son Jesus Christ. We helped him pray for the first time since he was thirteen years old. We read with him about Jesus' atonement form Mosiah 3, and saw prophecy of Christ fulfilled before our eyes.

"...And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men....

...whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them."

God let us feel great joy with this man, because of the powerful, beautiful, and true message we brought him. He regained faith and determination; he isn't done yet. He promised to walk to church with his family on Sunday. 

Love Elder Decker


Monday, September 8, 2014

Just be happy.

September 8, 2014


I actually got a new comp this week. His name is Elder Mamea. He is a professional rugby playing Samoan who grew up in Hawaii. It was a surprise we got him, he has already served in the ward for six months, and now he's moved one area over to be in a trio with Elder Poulson and me. It was unexpected, but God does whatever he sees is best for his children. He's a super funny guy, loves all the members and investigators sincerely and just wants to help people. I'm learning there is more than one way to do missionary work. Elder Mamea, Elder Poulson, and I are definitely different people, but together we can still do great work.

I have learned that all it really takes is willingness; God really has all eternity to work on us, if we let him, there's no rush. That's where patience comes in. We often see how far we have to go and never even take the first step. I'm learning how much a difference having the Spirit means. It is more than just being worthy and obedient. It is having faith and hope. When we believe that God will do all things for our good, that there will be a solution, in time there always is. Elder Mamea often says: "If you're not having fun, the Spirit won't be there. If you're sad the Spirit won't be there." Sacrificing our happiness, even for our responsibilities, is the wrong way to do it. The companionship of the Spirit is way too valuable to let stress, anxiety, or depression get it the way, no matter how justified our sadness may seem to be. Just be happy. 

We saw a big miracle this week. We saw T. and J. again, they've been coming to church regularly, they know the members, they enjoy our visits, but say they want to be 100% sure about everything before they get baptized. We promised them that sureness would be there if they read the Book of Mormon and pray to know it is true. Last week J. joined the very short list of people I've taught on my mission that really and sincerely tried that promise. Last Sunday he read, without a prayer, without really trying and nothing happened. That night, he had a dream that he was a member of the church. The next day, he tried again with real effort: he said his mind opened up, he felt refreshed, that the words stuck in his head and he could really understand them, he said a happiness was in him that wasn't there before that stayed. We testified to him that the Holy Ghost had testified to him, and that as he continued to do the things God asks him to do, he'd feel the same way again and again. This was the same J. who, after we shared the Joseph Smith story and asked him how he felt said, "frankly I feel nothing, I just feel the same." In that moment he wasn't ready, we hadn't done what he needed for him to feel it. The Spirit won't be forced. It only comes through obedience to and faith in our Father. And when it comes, things happen.

Elder M. Russell Ballard spoke of the power of the Spirit: “True conversion comes through the power of the Spirit. When the Spirit touches the heart, hearts are changed."

Now they can either embrace the Spirit like Nephi or reject it like Laman and Lemuel. But what hope it gives me, knowing the power the Spirit has to change thoughts, beliefs, desires and actions. What hope it gives me to know that my investigators and I will change just by experiencing the Spirit. From 1 Corinthians 2:

"It is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God."

The Spirit is a good teacher, the best in fact. It shows and doesn't just tell. When the Spirit testifies of something true, it shows us exactly what we will feel as we live what we are being told. 

Elder Decker

He never forgets about us.

September 3, 2014

Because of Labor Day and transfers, Zach wrote on Wednesday.

It is good to do fun summer things for as long as you can. School has set in here, and it brings a new little dynamic to missionary work.

The Book of Mormon is a gem. I have learned it was not written for investigators. It was not written solely to be an evidence of the restoration, though it certainly does that. The Book of Mormon was written for Mormons. To turn us into what God can make of us. I am completely convinced that the Book of 1st Nephi was written to help us learn to be prophets, perhaps not prophets, seers, revelators and presidents of the church, but men and women who receive revelation from God for their own stewardship because of the covenant keeping and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and prophets in their own right (Numbers 11:29/Revelation19:10). Nephi starts a humble, obedient boy and ends a colonizer of continents, a Seer, a King, a Patriarch, and the beginner of a very important book. From 1 Nephi 10 and 11 we learn how...

17 And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost,which power he received by faith on the Son of God—and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come—I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.

18 For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him.

19 For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.

1 For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot.

As members of Christ's restored Church, having received the ordinances of the priesthood and having so much revelation (four huge canonical books of it) literally at our fingers, we often live far below our spiritual potential. The sweetest experiences I have had yet on my mission have been when I put myself in a situation, a mindset, an environment when the Spirit can teach me. It never comes when I am thinking of myself. I love learning from the Spirit.

Before my mission I would often hear RMs say "I learned so many on my mission!" I sometimes asked in my mind: "name three" or something sarcastic like that. Sometimes they have a hard time summing it up. Always what we hear missionaries saying they learned about is the love of God our Father, the power of the Atonement, the truthfulness of the Restoration. My case is no different. I am often struck by truth after precious truth of things I thought I had already known. This week I learned that God loves us. He cares about us. He has a plan for us. He is actively involved in our lives. And although we may forget Him, He never forgets about us. I know that the Gospel is true, even for prideful-imperfect little me. I know the best way to help people is to emulate the Savior, to do what He would do, and there is nothing more powerful then that. I know he knows my investigators perfectly, and my companions too. I know I couldn't think of a better life or mission than the one God tailored for me. I know God is a perfect teacher, with perfect patience, and with very imperfect children. I know God is doing everything he can to reach out to us, all we have to do is make ourselves available. I know that the key to our happiness, our success, our salvation is remembering what it is that we have been taught, what God has spoken to us, and holding on to those precious things with all our might. 

I love you all and am so glad you are together and happy!

Elder Decker

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Analysis Paralysis

August 25, 2014


Proverbs 29:18

Where there is no vision, the people perish

Thanks for sending the contacts, and for putting in all that effort with the photos. 

We are really enjoying our time here. Even though we had some some investigators drop us, and a lot of imperfect decisions, we got some work done, we keep learning a lot about goals, about what God wants for us, about not being discouraged, and about being like Jesus Christ. We have had a lot of "analysis paralysis" in the last month, we have great desires to maximize efficiency. We just spent way to much time fretting about the right way to do things. I now know that we don't need to re-make decisions, lessons, or rules every time we have a decision to make. Following the Spirit as best we can, we have to just choose a direction and go with it. We call it the Aragon method because that was Hno Aragon's advice to us.

The Church sure does a good job giving us opportunities to grow. That's because it is Christ's church. He is not just about relieving burdens and healing ailments. He is about strengthening, teaching, challenging, and molding us. Nowhere is that felt more than in the mission field. Service in the developmental center, talks in church, campouts, and many more do the same thing. I love the Church and know how vital it is that we stay firmly rooted in it. I know I've been called to serve in Houston for a reason, to serve with these companions for a reason, and with both President Crawford then Drake for a reason. I see firsthand here how things can be for families. Many people come here alone and some money back to Mexico or El Salvador, splitting up marriages and families for decades. Many bring their whole family with them; kids learn and speak English and the parents don't. It really is difficult for them to stay together. Imagine me being unable to speak your language! That is the reality of a large group of people here. The Gospel is what can bridge the gap. Literally sealing families together with the power of God. Please pray for those we are trying to bring into the Church right now: Tatiana and Jaime, Jackie and Cynthia, Juan Silva, and Geo.  


Elder Decker