Answers to your questions:
1.Do you know the time of day or location for Skype yet on Christmas day? Do you have an account set up?
I won´t be able to talk on Christmas day because there won´t be any cyber cafes open and none of the members here have computers with webcams. So, would it be ok if we talked the 26th? Preferable for me would be in the afternoon/night. But, just tell me the hour and I´ll make it work :)
2. Tell us about how you see "Navidad" celebrated where you are. Will you be spending Christmas with a member in your branch?
It´s not too much different. Everyone puts up trees, but they´re just a little more humble usually and not too grand. They don´t put up too many Christmas lights... but there´s this little town about 15 minutes from here in our area called Margaritas and we eat with members that live there twice a week, and they have a nice little public display in a pretty little park that they have there. So I´ll take some pictures of that. Basically the most common Christmas decorations you see here are huge statues of the virgin. Oh! Actually something that happened this week that definitely doesn´t happen there is that they do this thing the 12th of December (which I think is the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe), and they have millions of people that run with torches. I´m not really sure what the goal of it all is because they don´t really run anywhere in specific but it´s kind of cool. The only thing that´s not cool is that it was SO MUCH NOISE. And I had a headache that day.
We will be having dinner the 24th with a member family (they always do Christmas dinner the 24th here), we don´t as of yet have plans for the 25th. I think we´ll be working :)
Ah, and also, I´ll tell you about how we celebrated Christmas this week. This week we had a zone conference/Christmas Banquet! And it was AMAZING. The food was SOOOO good. We had an American Christmas dinner! We had turkey and baked potatoes and rolls and green beans and GRAVY. And then we had real cheesecake. Wow! It was amazing. And, this week we started opening our presents! The flashlights are awesome! I would never have believed before how much fun two missionaries can have with mini super-powered flashlights. And, we´ve definitely enjoyed eating the other gifts. Except for the pens, we didn´t eat them (turns out it´s more productive to write with a pen than to eat it).
3. IF--and I know you are limited on time--so IF you are able, Brother DeGraw (who is the new YM president) would love you to share some experiences with the Priest Quorum that might help them prepare for missions.
The number one thing that I´m grateful that I gained before my mission is my testimony of repentance and having experienced the feeling of forgiveness that comes only from the Lord. Above all, I´m grateful that I knew without a doubt before the mission that God loves His children. Here are two stories of two brothers who I had the opportunity to teach:
I had the opportunity to teach an older man in my first area who had problems with alcohol, and because of that, had serious problems with his wife, children, and grandchildren. When we contacted him, he was drunk. When we got to his house to teach him his first lesson, he was drunk. We taught him the about the word of wisdom and about repentance. We felt the Spirit very strongly, and we saw the change in him in that very moment as the Spirit touched his heart as we bore witness to him that the Lord had the power to help him overcome his addiction, and that above all, the Lord was willing and ready to forgive him in the moment that he would forsake his sins and come unto Him. The change that we saw that night was a lasting one. In the next month before his baptism, he never relapsed. After being transferred out of that area, I had the opportunity to see him again at a stake fireside--about 5 months after his baptism. The man I saw that night was so different from the man that I had met 6 months earlier. He had gone to the temple to perform baptisms for the dead for the first time the day before and that morning had had his interview to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. He had a clean and pure look, and he was happy.
The next brother we found in my second area. I´m going to start this story by explaining the difference of the concept of a "drunk" in the US and in Mexico. In the US, it´s someone who drinks a lot. In Mexico, it´s someone who never stops drinking—who is NEVER sober. When we found this brother, he had been drunk for more than two months. I honestly don´t know how he was still alive. We taught him one lesson (in the street, his family had told him that he had to live in the street until he was sober), and then another, and then another, one lesson every day for three days. In those three days, he didn´t stop drinking. On the fourth day, we found him still drunk at about 6pm. We asked him what we could do to help him stop. He told us that he just wanted us to pray for him. We knelt with him in the street, with people passing by us, and as I said that prayer. I felt the love of the Savior for this man so strongly. Here we were with the most lowly of God´s children, a man without a home, without shoes, with only an overpowering addiction for alcohol, and we felt so strongly the love of the Lord for him, and in that moment we all saw for a moment through the eyes of our Father in Heaven what He wanted this brother to be. We were all moved to tears, my companion, this brother, and I, right there in the street, with people and cars passing by us. Finishing the prayer, we promised him that God had the power to help him stop drinking, and that He would forgive him as he did so. That was a Friday. Saturday we were going out of town to a zone conference, so we told him that Sunday morning we come by this place on the street to take him to church. Sunday morning when we came, he had stopped drinking, showered, shaved, and changed into new clothes. That was my last week in that area, so I never did get to see him be baptized, but I watched the most incredible change take place in this man in those few days.
I am so grateful for the opportunity that I have to serve the Lord in the mission field. I testify that within each one of you is the power to testify with the Spirit, to be the instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father to work miracles in the lives of His children. He lives, and this is His work. I encourage each one of you to be worthy to participate in it in such a capacity that the Lord can know that He can trust you to carry out His will with perfect obedience.
4. Were you able to get all the things you needed last week to stay warm? Some sweaters and blankets? How about shoes?
I did buy the things I needed last week that you very much. And I forgot my camera cable this week but next week I´ll send you pictures of my new shoes. They´re pretty spiffy. I don´t think they would be stylish at all in the States but I´m very much styling for here in Mexico. And I bought two sweaters and that has been very nice.
5. Is your gas fixed/filled now? I hope it is and that it makes your showers and cold nights more comfortable.
Yes! We bought gas two weeks ago... sorry I thought I mentioned that. That doesn´t mean we have heaters or hot air in the house or anything fancy like that, but we DO have warm water. And let me tell you, warm water is a BLESSING. I will never ever complain about having to shower in cool water in Tapachula or Tuxtla or Huixtla or any area outside of Comitán, San Cristobal, or the Tzotsil zone again.
I hope you have a wonderful week and enjoy Dad getting home :) I love you very, very, very much.
Con mucho amor,
Elder Andrew Nickerl