Getting the Door Opened in our Face

It’s been a great week here in San Leandro!

Elder Peguero, my new companion, arrived here from the MTC on Wednesday! Since then, we’ve been stressed, very busy, and we have seen many miracles.

On Thursday, we went out knocking doors and visiting former/potential investigators. There were so many people that were happy to talk to us, but I’ll just focus on one here.

We went to find an former investigator named A, and we found his sister, C, instead! She told us that the Restoration pamphlet we showed her looked really familiar. Then, she went and found the same pamphlet that had been given to her brother years ago.

The night before, her baby had been up crying, and so she got up and turned on the TV to try to calm her. Apparently, someone on the TV was talking about Joseph Smith. She listened for a little while, and then turned it off and went into the kitchen. Looking for something to read, (she loves to read), she found the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ pamphlet. She read 2/3rds of it to her baby, and her baby went to sleep.

Then, a few hours later, we knocked on the door to share the message she had just been exposed to twice the night before. Say what you will, but miracles are real!

God loves us. He wants to guide us to happy places in our lives.

Love,

Elder Mortenson

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Brace Yourself

Hello Everyone! Sorry it’s taken me four weeks here in Cali to write!

A week ago, I had a really tough experience. I twisted my ankle playing basketball. The same ankle that once upon a time sent me home from Colombia a quarter-baked missionary. The pain was similar. I thought for a little while that my life was repeating itself, and that I would once again be uprooted and grafted somewhere else, against my will.

That night, I received a Priesthood blessing from my companion and some other Elders. I iced my ankle and hoped for the best. The next day, when I was picking up crutches from the Mission home, my mission president asked me if I would be willing to train a brand new missionary! All of the bad feelings from the night before fled as I was filled with the joy that comes from focusing outward, leaving your own problems and life in second place to those of other people.

Speaking of people, the work is progressing! Three of the Murillo Family have baptismal dates, and we have some really solid new investigators to work with! The work is so hard but so joyful!

On Wednesday I’ll meet my new companion. I can’t wait. I’ve been here for only 4 weeks, but I’m excited for all of the things that I’ll get to learn through training and from my new companion.

And, now my ankle is almost back to normal, but in a brace. I’ll have to go without basketball for a little while, but

“All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ”

-Preach My Gospel, Chapter 3, Lesson 2

Love,

Elder Mortenson

Like Riding A Bike

Hey guys! Elder Mortenson is back after a nice vacation in Vegas and Provo.

It is good to be in California! Stepping off the plane here was like stepping off the plane in Barranquilla, except that the air here is cool and awesome, not hot and sticky like the air there. The weather has been the best.

We’re on bikes in San Leandro! Most of the missionaries here have cars, which is super cool. But not us.

I’ve been realizing that being a missionary again is much like riding a bike.

At first, I had no idea if I could even do it. I wasn’t sure which way was up or down on the gear-shifter. I struggled to know how to talk to people here in California. It was kind of fun, but a lot of the time I had a feeling at the back of my mind like I might accidentally do something wrong and ruin everything.

But things have gotten a little better. My bike skills are coming back to me, and the missionary skills are coming back and evolving and adapting to the new environment.

My re-trainer is Elder Steinke from Bountiful. He’s a pretty cool guy. He wears baseball caps whenever he’s not proselyting, and that becomes his hairstyle. He is a really hard worker, and I’m excited to work with him. His Spanish isn’t bad either. Mine is coming back.

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I studied King Benjamin’s address this week in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 2-5), and I found myself very grateful for one of the truths he taught. He said,

“if ye should serve [God] with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants”

I’m learning to be a missionary again. It is hard. I am awkward. I don’t know what to do when someone answers the door who doesn’t speak Spanish. But, I know that even if I was the most practiced missionary, with the best language and social skills, it still would not be enough. The only way we can teach people and have them be converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is through the holy spirit. I will never be enough, but He whom I serve will always make up for my inadequacies, if I am doing my best.

So, yeah! Things are going well here in San Leandro! The mission is completely different than what I am used to, but that’s ok. I have gone where the Lord has asked me to go, and it is good to be here.

Have a wonderful week!

Elder Daniel Mortenson

With my eyes wide open

Returning to the mission field is an interesting thing, especially after 13 months of life at home and at school.

About two months ago, I made the decision to return to the field. It was not the same as my initial decision to serve a mission for a few reasons, but it has been a rewarding experience.

I had always planned on serving a mission. My father served a mission. Many of my cousins have served missions, and my older brother served a mission. I was expected to serve by everyone around me, and I expected my self to serve as well.

So, when it came time to complete my mission application and prepare to serve a mission, I prayed to know that it was right, but I never expected any other answer, because I already knew the right answer. The living Prophet on the Earth today has said:

Every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission. Missionary service is a priesthood duty—an obligation the Lord expects of us who have been given so very much.

-President Thomas S. Monson

As We Meet Together Again

So, before I left for Colombia, I felt sure of my desire and plan to serve a mission, as I should have.

This was not at all how things went when I was making my decision to return to the mission field for  two reasons.

Reason #1: the leaders of the church have been clear that returning to the mission field after coming home for any reason is not an obligation.

I love how Elder Holland responded to an RM (returned missionary) who had returned after 4 months of service in the field due to mental health trouble.

I don’t know that in all eternity, every mission was outlined to be two years or, for thyoung women, 18 months. That’s kind of a modern invention. . .

I want you to take the dignity and the strength and the faith that came from your four months and cherish that forever. I don’t want you to apologize for coming home. When someone asks you if you’ve served mission, you say yes. You do not need to follow that up with “But it was only four months.”Just forget that part and say yes, you served a mission.

-Elder Holland’s Counsel for Early Returned Missionaries

I have had the privilege of discussing this with many Early Returned Missionaries at BYU, at the Mission Fortify ERM (Early Returned Missionary) Conference, and at home in Las Vegas. Each one I’ve met was a great help and strength to me, and they have some of the strongest testimonies I have seen. Most of them decided not to return to the field after deep prayer and counselling with their bishops, stake presidents, families, and medical professionals. I know them and I know that they are going to go on and accomplish anything and everything that a “full-term” two year RM would.

In fact, only about 24% of early returned missionaries return to the mission field. Based on what I have seen, the other 76% are just as valiant as the 24%, but have found that God needs them to serve elsewhere, or that going back would be detrimental to their health. I love those returned Elders and Sisters.

And, I was nearly one of them. For months, I struggled with my desire to serve as a missionary again. I prayed many times, and many times I felt that I would not be able to do it because of the stress and anxiety that I felt toward missions.

But, as I discussed in my last post, I was able to find that desire to serve and deal with the anxiety I felt about Colombia. Eventually, I received the impression that I would be able to help many people if I did serve, and a distinct impression that my next mission would be very different, in a good way, than my last one in Colombia. That was the personal answer that I received for me, but it doesn’t mean that I am better than those who decide not to return.

Reason #2: When I first flew to Colombia, I was going in relatively blind. I didn’t know what being a missionary would actually be like. This second time, I’m going in with my eyes wide open. Not that Colombia is at all like California (except for the ‘C’ and ‘ia’ a their beginnings and ends).

But I know that missionary work isn’t really fun most of the time. Most of the time it is hard. There are lots of challenges and a good deal of discomfort, especially at the beginning. It is really work.

This, I think is the advantage to being a returned missionary (not returned home, returned to the field). I feel like I have much fuller perspective on serving missions and returning home.

During my six months in Colombia, I often found myself dreaming of and looking forward to the day of my homecoming, which I can tell you is not healthy. I thought about how great it would be to be an RM and have all of the freedom in the world combined with the experience of two years serving the Lord. It seemed that coming home was the great prize at the end of two years of drudgery.

But now I know exactly what it is like to be an RM. I’ve done it for a year now. And, I’ve come to understand that mortality gets to you no matter what you are doing. Being home was at least as hard as being a missionary, but with less sense of purpose. RM’s still have trials. They still need to repent. They still are young and inexperienced in the world.

So, to me a missionary life has become very attractive. I am more excited now than ever to be able to help people come unto Christ. I understand the atonement better know than ever. I know that there isn’t anything more important that I could do with the next year+ of my life.

So, when I got the phone call from my Stake President that I had been reassigned to serve in the Oakland / San Francisco mission, I was overjoyed. I can’t wait to be there tomorrow!

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I am returning to the field, to serve in Oakland and San Francisco because I love the Lord and because I love to help other people. I testify that he loves every one of us, and that he is more than willing to understand your situation, whatever it may be. He suffered in Gethsemane and on the cross so that He would understand you. He has experienced every trial in your life, and He knows how to heal you.

He loves you. Just let him in.

-Daniel Mortenson

 

One Year Later

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of my return home from Colombia early for ankle surgery. What a year it has been.

 

A year and a week ago, I was a fledgling missionary, ready to be the best one my mission had ever seen. I had experienced some unpleasant things in the mission that I will not discuss further here, but those experiences did not matter because I knew that I had another glorious 18 months left to experience the “good” part of the mission where the other missionaries respect you, you have numerical success and your emails home aren’t lies about how you are just loving it and having a great time. I was going to be a senior companion. I was ready to start being honest in emails home without worrying that everyone will think that I must have been doing something wrong because I was unhappy in my service. I was prideful enough to believe that I was entitled to such an experience, and I was certain that God wanted that for me too. I knew that everyone “loved their mission,” and so it followed that I just hadn’t reached that part of my mission yet.

Then, we received the MRI results. My ankle was broken. Thursday morning we decided that I would return home for approximately two months to undergo a routine ankle surgery, after which I would be back in my mission field. Friday morning I boarded a plane in Barranquilla. Saturday morning I received my honorable release.

Things slowly disintegrated further. The surgeon recommended we postpone surgery for a month to try physical therapy first. That failed. Then we tried immobilization. I wore a boot for 2 months. That didn’t work either. Finally, I was on the operating table in late September, three months after my return. The necessary surgery turned out to be much more complicated, requiring six months recovery. I was in bed for two weeks, then on a knee scooter for two months. We decided I would return to BYU.

At that point, I felt very far from God. I had tried to just “have a good attitude” about this “learning experience” that was meant to “grow my faith” as so many told me. And, of course, it was a learning experience that grew my faith. But it didn’t feel like that at the time.

I had lost all desire to do missionary work. The aforementioned unpleasantness of my six months in Colombia dominated my memories of the mission, and I developed real anxiety about returning to the field. I was at home in Las Vegas, without many friends close to my age. My 20th birthday was dismal. I honestly felt that the life I should have been living had long since split from the life I was living, like I had fallen off the celestial stallion, and it had galloped on without me. I couldn’t look someone in the eyes and tell them that I loved my mission like other returned missionaries could. To me it seemed like either most returned missionaries were lying about their missions or there was something seriously wrong with me. I was experiencing borderline clinical depression and anxiety because I felt that my life was shattered before me. I felt utterly alone.

And so six months ago, I had been home for six months, and I was three months post-surgery. I could finally walk almost normally again, and I had some nice scars on my ankle. I also had some scars on my testimony.

I still believed intellectually everything that I had taught and been taught my whole life. I knew the Plan of Salvation, the scriptures, and about Jesus Christ, but I did not truly believe that His sacrifice was working in my life. It caused turmoil within me: the truths that I knew and believed directly opposed my life experience. The Book of Mormon says.

“For the Lord God hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.”

2 Nephi 4:4

Yet, here I was. I had kept the commandments of the Lord by leaving to serve a mission in Colombia, but my resulting experience resembled being “cut off from [His] presence” much more than it resembled “prosper[ing] in the land.”

People asked me constantly when I was planning to return to the field, and I was grateful for my broken ankle, because it allowed me to mask the fact that I was terrified of going back there.

Then, in January, I returned to BYU to continue my studies. I did not mention to most people that I wasn’t a 24-month RM, but a 6-month “quarter-baked” RM. I still felt bitter about the way things had gone, but I was ready to be happy again. Slowly, the clouds parted. I found friends that were my age, several of whom were also early returned missionaries. I even went to an ERM (early returned missionary) Conference . I would highly recommend it.

I realized that the majority of my prayers since returning home had been rather superficial. Deep down, I was angry at God for the way things had gone, but I knew that I ought not to feel that, so I pretended I didn’t and proceeded with my life.

My prayers changed. I began to be completely honest with God, not holding back any of the emotions I had built up for months inside of me. I realized that I was holding onto those feelings for dear life, never letting my Father in Heaven in to let Him teach me. I began to let them go. It was difficult. I began to realized that I needed the Christ to come and take those feelings and unpleasant memories from me, because they were paralyzing me with fear.

I began to be more open with everyone with exactly what I had experienced and what I was feeling. I made more friends. I began to find joy in focusing on them, rather than basking in dismal glow of my own self-pity. I met with a few counselors that showed me how to separate my experiences and emotions from who I was.

Then, in May, I received an impression to start running. I started by just running around the block, but soon I was running miles at a time. Running, as it did for me in High School, helped to relieve my stress and to reset my priorities and perspective. I started smiling and laughing despite myself. God was proving to me that He loved me.

I have come to know that that is really what Jesus Christ’s sacrifice can do for us. I had experienced some unpleasantness. I had emotional reactions to my life. It seemed in December like there was no redeeming quality to my experience. It destroyed my ankle, my happiness, and my faith. It made me cynical and numb to the world. And maybe I could have prevented some of that.

People say that “everything happens for a reason,” but I disagree. We don’t have to go very far to find a myriad of events that clearly shouldn’t have happened, the very least of which I experienced.  I faced a relatively small trial. However, broken families, poverty, war, and abuse, etc. all happen, but there is often little to nothing redeemable about them on their own. The beauty of what Christ did for us is that He can take the most vile events in our lives and make us better and stronger despite what we experience. He can help a family mend despite their previous struggles. He lets the rain fall despite the fire that burned a forest.

He allowed me to run despite my broken ankle. He relieved my stress despite my anxiety. He helped me to learn to love helping people despite the negative feelings I have from my mission in Colombia.

Those negative things did not happen for a reason. Christ negated their ill effects despite their previous choke hold on my life.

Yesterday, I ran a half marathon with my brother in Long Beach, CA. For me, it was an incredibly symbolic victory through Christ. I was broken, and He healed me. I wasn’t sure when I had the surgery if I would ever run again, but I have run a hundred miles in the last two months despite that. I wasn’t sure if I would ever want to be a missionary again, but now, I do despite what I felt before.

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I testify that God loves us each so much. He allows us to pass through difficult things here on earth, but He sent His Son to heal us despite what has happened. If we seek healing from Him, He will grant it to us.

Christ extends His loving hand to us all. He says,

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

Today, I am of good cheer, and I have peace because I know that He lives and loves me.

I testify that He lives and loves you as well.

-Daniel Mortenson

The Art of the Graft

There’s a great chapter in the Book of Mormon that deals a lot with olive trees and branches and the house of Israel. In it, Jacob quotes Zenos, an ancient biblical prophet who doesn’t actually appear in the Bible because his writings were lost.

In the book of Jacob, chapter 5, Zenos gives an allegory about a gardener in his olive tree grove, in his vineyard. You should go read it for your self, but to summarize in a completely inadequate way:


The Lord of the Vineyard, or the gardener goes around looking at his olive trees. Some of them have good fruit. Some have wild (bad) fruit.

So, he takes some of the branches of the good trees, cutting the trunk-end of the branches into thin wedges, exposing the green vulnerable insides of the branch. Then, he cuts notches in bad trees and pushes the good branches into the wild (bad) trees. This process is called grafting.

He goes around his vineyard, grafting good branches into wild (bad) trees and wild (bad) branches into good trees. Lots of time passes. He repeats the process several times, each time with meticulous and whole-hearted effort but with varied degrees of success.

In the end, he gathers all of the good fruit into his house and casts all of the bad fruit, and the rest of the vineyard into the fire.


Usually, we relate this parable or allegory to the grand history of the peoples of Earth and their God. We talk about the House of Israel, and God’s patterns of scattering and gathering in the holy scriptures.

But lately, it has taken on some more personal meaning.

This coming Wednesday (September 28th, 2016), I’ll receive a graft. A surgeon will cut a notch in my ankle, remove the wild (bad) bone and cartilage, and insert fresh, new, foreign bone in the hopes that my ankle will accept this graft and grow to be stronger than it currently is. (Sidenote: I use the phrase “in the hopes that” as a literary device. My ankle has a very low possibility of not accepting the graft. It’s nothing serious.)

But anyway.

Grafting hurts. The Lord of the vineyard had to damage living branches in order to move them to a new area. You have to expose the inner greens of the branches or they won’t grow into their new trunk. They have to become incredibly vulnerable.

And, once the branch is a part of its new tree, it has to learn to deal with all of the changes and new challenges. Maybe it doesn’t get as much sunlight as it used to get. Maybe it’s a young millennial branch that gets re-positioned in a desert, among the Gen X branches and mere saplings and it misses all of its friends. Maybe it doesn’t take well immediately. Maybe it doesn’t bear fruit for years. Maybe it even develops a lactose intolerance. (Another Sidenote: I’ve developed a lactose intolerance since I was in Colombia on my mission)

I used to tell myself during my mission that I was the one in the tropical paradise, not my family, or friends, or anyone else. I usually couldn’t bring myself to believe it. How could freedom and free time and access to everything and a good job and good food not be more fun than being a missionary stuck in a sticky humid hot haze.

Deep down I knew that what I was telling myself was true: I was really the one in the best situation. Toward the end I suppose I began to appreciate that fact.

But no matter what you could have told me then could help me to understand what I know now. The mission is the best life. I didn’t cry when I boarded the plane to leave Colombia. But I cry now when I think about it. I was cut out of the wild (good) part of the vineyard and reinstated back here in Las Vegas. The desert.

We get grafted in and grafted out. We usually don’t like it when it happens. Sometimes it takes 6 months or more to heal (Last Sidenote: My surgery will take 6 months to heal)

But in the end, we need to understand that the Lord of the Vineyard is a good man. He is doing what he is doing because He knows us better than we can comprehend and because he loves us. We do not love God because he blesses us. Praying to Him is not a “Special Benefits from God” subscription payment.

We love God because He is our Father. He loves us because we are His children. He wants us to be happy. We cannot be eternally happy without enduring difficult things. Any other view of religious zeal without this understanding is fruitless.

But the Art of Godly Grafting is not.

-Daniel Mortenson

(Last Last sidenote: I’ll be returning to BYU in January to continue my studies while my ankle heals)

If thou art called to pass through tribulation…

A month and a day ago, I was pulled out of Colombia.

Remember when I told you that I sprained my ankle in the CCM in January?

Well, turns out that it didn’t heal. I realized in early June that it was getting worse–not better. And so I went to the doctor. We did X-rays, we did MRIs. And then they told me that I needed to come home for surgery.

I have osteochondritis dissecans of the talus bone in my ankle. Or for you non-orthopedic surgeons, a broken ankle.

Within 24 hours of realizing that I would be returning early, I was on a plane to Miami, and then to Las Vegas.

The next day I was extended an honorable release with every hope that I will return to the mission field soon, after recovery.

The miracles of the mission, however, have not ceased in my life.

I won’t lie. The first 2 or 3 weeks were probably the worst of my life. I felt orphaned by the system,  like a mango that has barely begun to grow, still small, green and sour, that got plucked off of the fertile branch just as I began to believe that one day I would become large and orange and juicy, that one day I would really begin to see the fruits of my mission service in Colombia.

I sat at home for the first 2 weeks, stunned at the lack of schedule and structure in my life. Drifting and dreaming and longing to wake up from what seemed to be a detour, a split from the optimal desired path for my life. Like I somehow had done something to splinter off of the celestial trajectory that I convinced myself I was living before I came home.

However, with some help from my family, my bishop, and some great friends of mine, I am doing much better. I am working full-time again, so I keep busy, and I am mentally stable once again. At least as stable than my weak ankle. 🙂

I began to study like a missionary again, with some friends who will be serving in South America shortly. I began to teach the English-Second-Language classes in my stake, and I am slowly accepting and understanding better that I did not fall off of the horse of righteousness. My Father in Heaven’s will for my life was not frustrated.

I am exactly where I should be.

I don’t pretend to understand everything. And things are still difficult. But thats why it’s called “enduring to the end” or rather, the Spanish “Perseverar hasta el fin”.

Persevere until the end.

I don’t know when I will be back to the mission. But I will be back.

Regresaré.

Élder Daniel Mortenson

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What wouldn’t you do… (6/6/16)

IMG_0002Today, for our District Preparation Day Activity, we decided to go to Pizza Hut,

para disfrutar la comida típica del pais antiguo (to enjoy the typical food of “the old country”)

We got in a taxi, and went to a shopping center where a member had told us there was a Pizza Hut. When we got there, we realized that the member had said “Pizza Hot, not Pizza Hut.

But we ran into one of the awesome sisters from our ward there, and she told us that there was a Pizza Hut at a different address. So we got in another taxi and went there. Only to realize that she too had mistaken Pizza Hot for Pizza Hut.

So then we called an Elder who had the card for a Papa John´s, having lost all hope of finding a Pizza Hut.

We went to that address, only to find that it didn´t exist.

So we asked a few men sitting on the curb. They gave us a different address.

We went to that address, only to find that it didn´t exist. Again.

So we asked a group of 4 taxistas (taxi drivers) And they gave us another address.

At long last, we arrived at Papa John´s, and truly enjoyed a wonderful meal of BBQ Hawaiian and Italian Pizza. It was incredible.

Moral of the story, if you are looking for peace, or answers, or an American Pizzeria in Colombia, don´t give up! Keep praying! Keep reading! Keep the commandments! What aren´t you willing to do to reach your goal? Will you ask more people? Will you pray harder and longer?

Your father in Heaven is waiting to bless you. Just show him that you´re willing to accept the blessings through your obedience, and He will pour out blessings into your lives.

And they will be delicious!

Con amor,

Élder Mortenson

Jugodor (5/30/16)

Jugodor is not a word in Spanish.

Jugador means (soccer) player. Jugo means juice.

We have a recent convert that has been having a lot of doubts lately about his own testimony of the Church, of the Book of Mormon, and of Joseph Smith. As we sat down with him to talk earlier this week, he told us that he hasn´t been reading the Book of Mormon, and he hasn´t been to church in a few months, but that he likes his new job working making juice at a local restaurant.

So that makes him a jugodor right? And thus was born my first succesful pun joke in Spanish.

But we commited him to start coming back to church and reading the Book of Mormon. So he can become a testimoniodor as well.

Also, I´m getting a lot better at making juice. So that makes me a jugodor as well. And a misionerodor.

Ok thats all for me.

Read the book of Mormon. Go to church. There is not much more important in life than that.

A Dios!

-Daniel

En el tiempo del Señor (5/16/16)

So this week was a good one! I learned a lot about faith and persistence. Something awesome happened and I get to stay with my trainer for another transfer! Which is great because I´ll be able to see a lot of our investigators get baptized and we are already in a rhythm.

I´ve learned that the Lord often lets us try to figure things out on our own at first, lets us try our best, before He steps in and helps us out. Sometimes he just lets us pray for a while, to prove to ourselves that we have enough faith before he lets us see the blessings that he has been pouring out on us all along.

We had record Investigator attendance this week! 7 in Sacrament meeting! Which was wonderful to see. I know that the Lord is touching their hearts and preparing them to receive the blessings of Baptism.

Sometimes we see the fruit of our labor, sometimes we don´t, but I testify that every trial is hand crafted specifically for us to learn and grow and overcome. He will never leave us alone, and is always there to help us. In His time he will make us into Men and Women of God, but only if we let him.

So let him. Pray without ceasing, and He will ever attend you.

Con amor,

-Elder Mortenson