Sunday, February 8, 2015

Everlasting Beginnings

Hey Familly!

I can't believe that this is it. This is the final email I’ll send from the Philippines as a full time missionary. I'm not really even sure where to start. I guess I’ll just start this email like I start all the other ones. 

We began the week with more zone interviews. Elder Thurber and I pretty much spent most of both of those days at the chapel. It's been great having interviews though because you get to see all the missionaries in the mission. 

The biggest part of the week occurred on Thursday, which was MLC. It was a great meeting. We talked about numerous subjects, including goals for 2015, budgeting, using time wisely and many more. President Ostler never ceases to amaze me. He is such a great teacher and great example. He taught a little bit about integrity, a quality he has really developed himself. He mentioned that one of the meanings of integrity is being the same person wherever you are; school, work, church, at home, ect. This is an attribute that is not very common in the world today. I've placed that on my top list of attributes to develop right next to charity.
We extended an invitation to a sister training leader companionship to teach about budgeting during the meeting a few days before the meeting. At the end of their portion, they began to pass out a little handout to all the missionaries. When the missionaries looked at the handout, they would immediately start to laugh. We were pretty excited to see what everyone was laughing at. They finally made it to us and gave both Elder Thurber and I a copy. Turns out they had photoshopped pictures of Elder Thurber and I on 100 peso bills hahaha they thought they were pretty funny. They came up to us after and said, "that's what you get for calling on us to teach in MLC!" It was pretty hilarious.
It was a great MLC to end on. Eight of those in attendance are heading home this week (that's a lot). At the end of the meeting, President called on a couple to bear their testimonies. I was one of those he chose. It was my first "going home" testimony and it was pretty tough. Not gonna lie, I got a little emotional. Overall, it was a great experience. We also had some of the best food we've ever had at an MLC so that was just the icing on the cake. 

On Saturday, I attended a meeting called "the Finish Strong" meeting. I was supposed to attend in December, but I wasn't able to because I was on Palawan. It was a great meeting though. President and Sister Ostler talked about all the things that would come our way when we get home like choosing a major, career and finding your eternal companion. I learned some very valuable things from them both. Right after that meeting, we turned right around and took part in the "new trainers" meeting where we oriented and taught the missionaries that have been called to train the new missionaries coming in on Wednesday. Great stuff. 

Later that night, we had a couple great experiences. We found a former investigator in our area book from Africa and decided to give him a call. When he answered his phone, he got really excited and told us to meet him at his house in an hour (that never happens). We obliged. It turns out that he's very ready to receive the gospel. He has numerous questions and he's really trying to find "the truth." We only had time to share a quick message with him, but we are excited to see his progression over the next little while. 

After that, we flew over to our next appointment with some of my best friends here in Makati: our recent convert, Nino, his non-member friend, Bucai, and 2 other members from Makati 3rd, Edward and Diane. We had a great dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant and then returned to Nino's apartment to share a message. It was one great lesson. Boca has had some exposure to the church in the past and was ready to listen and learn. We decided to share about the Book of Mormon for numerous reasons. It was amazing. Everyone was involved and the spirit was strong. It was impossible to not feel the truthfulness of the things we were sharing. You can bet I’ll be staying in touch with them, Probably forever. 

Sunday was a very difficult day. I was asked to bear my testimony in one ward and then say the opening prayer in the next. I am so lucky to be serving with the wonderful members of the Makati 3rd and 4th wards. I have truly loved working with them. There was a lot of goodbye's, which was very tough. I am so grateful that face book and Skype exist so I can stay in touch with all of these amazing people. I had a very special moment after church. We were teaching Wilma, Lynn and shahmire (3 of our recent converts). Throughout the whole lesson, Shahmire was not really himself. He didn't talk as much as usual nor did he crack any jokes.I turned to Shahmire and commented, "you've been pretty quiet. Do you have any questions or is there anything you would like to add?" He looked up, cracked a half smile and just said, "I'm just really gonna miss you Elder Obray." It was a very special moment. 

I can never express in words how much it has meant to me to be a full time missionary. I can't say I have loved every second of it, because I haven't. It has been by far the most difficult 2 years of my entire life. However, it has also been 2 of the most rewarding years of my entire life. I often reflect on the promise found in Preach My Gospel which states, "More happiness awaits you than you have ever experienced as you labor among his children." I have felt of that happiness. I have truly come to realize the blessings of the gospel in my own life. I have embraced the desire to share those blessing with everyone around me. I love how that blessing is conditional upon interaction with others. We can never find true happiness by ourselves. I've been lucky enough to realize that with these amazing Filipino people. I sure am glad that "in His plan there are no true endings, only everlasting beginnings."

Nor can I express in words how excited I am to be reunited with you this upcoming week. No matter how hard saying goodbye can be, the thought of being reunited with my family wipes the tears and calms the soul. Thank you so much for your support over the last 24 months. I cannot even wait to see your beautiful faces again. I'm so happy that the next phase of my life will be spent with all of you close by. You're not gonna be able to get rid of me so easily next time.  


Elder Obray

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Both Are Edified And Rejoice Together

Magandang hapon sa inyo lahat,

I just love Mondays. Monday is probably the craziest day of the week for us. It's supposed to be preparation day with time to unwind, but we always have meetings and assignments so we never really get a chance to sit back and relax. There will be plenty of time to relax when I’m retired. I can wait. I'm glad to hear you had a good week. Life sure is good, isn't it? It sure is over here in the Philippines. We had a pretty epic week and have an even more epic week ahead of us. We will be teaching a lot on Tuesday and Wednesday at interviews and then again on Thursday at MLC. It will be my 15th of 16th and final MLC. What's really cool is that Elder Haynie, Elder Washburn and Elder Clarito (all the Elders I’m going home with) will be at MLC at well. By the way, thanks for the Birthday wishes! I can honestly say that being 21 feels absolutely no different than 20. It's a great day non-the-less. One of the members invited me over for dinner last night and she made mashed potatoes and bacon. It was so great. We'll also be going to our Bishop’s house later tonight for a birthday shindig. I'm pretty stoked. I love the members in this ward so much. When you've been in a ward for this long and you can finally speak the language, you get to know the members really well. It's going to difficult to leave all the great friends I’ve made. But I’m just not going to think about that yet because it's still a long time away. 

We had some pretty amazing experiences this last week. One of the greatest experiences happened the other day while on exchanges. I had the wonderful experience to go back to Manila 1st ward. It was a great experience. It's great to see the results of the work the Lord did through you with your own eyes. We had a very spiritual experience with one member who was very active when I was assigned there. I got to know her really well while teaching her non-member husband. This active member ended up becoming less active about 8 months ago. I was so excited to see her and even happier because she was also excited to see us.  Thanks to inspired questions, we were able to find out the real reason she fell less active. We had one of the most powerful lessons I’ve had in a long time. At the end of the lesson, she stated, "There is a reason you had to come back. You woke me up." It was a great moment. Those types of moments are described very well in D&C 50, "Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understanding one another, and both are edified and rejoice together." I also learned a very important lesson when we were discussing why the course of her life had changed over the past 8 months. I asked her if she had been reading her scriptures and praying. She responded that when she stopped coming to church, she also stopped reading her scriptures and praying. A couple months later, she was swearing, easily angered and drinking coffee. We often underestimate the importance of the "little things" that are required for daily conversion. A testimony is something that has to be regained and strengthened every single day. The little things truly do matter.

The other two amazing experiences both revolve around food and foreigners. Well, let's just say that food is a great missionary tool. I've mentioned in some of my previous emails that we are currently teaching a young man from Sweden.  We had the opportunity this last week to go to his house and meet his family. It was amazing. They have been living in the Philippines for about 9 years and his mom is a very important employee at an international bank. They have a beautiful house. Probably the most beautiful house I’ve been in since I’ve been to the Philippines.   We had a wonderful dinner and had a great time socializing and discussing the gospel. They have very different religious views than most or all of the people of the Philippines. We had a good discussion the restoration and hopefully will be going back in the near future. 

The next experience occurred at a dinner appointment set up by one of our members. She has a couple friends from the Netherlands she invited to this dinner appointment. We ate at a very nice seafood restaurant (it still surprises me that I love seafood so much) and had a great time. It's so cool learning about the cultures from other countries. He was trying to teach us some Dutch words and it honestly sounded like he was clearing phlegm out of his throat. Fun fact for ya. During times of war, if the Dutch suspected someone to be a German spy, they would have him say a single ward that no one can say correctly. If they couldn't say it correctly, they knew he/she was a spy. We also came to find out that they actually live right down the street from our apartment in a condo unit. You bet we'll be teaching them again soon. They will hopefully be coming to church as well this upcoming Sunday. 

I have wonderful news. Brother Cares is now the Young means president in the Manila 2nd ward. He's the man. It won't be long before he's a Bishop. I also got an email from them today with pictures from their sealing!! Oh my gosh. They are the cutest family ever. I just love it. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Life Is Good

We had a cool experience this last week. One cool thing about being in the only international ward in the Philippines is when someone cool comes into town that's a member, they visit our ward. Yesterday, a man walked up to us an introduced himself. He told us he'd be here for the next 5 weeks because a part of the traveling cast for Beauty and the Beast! Can you believe that? It's not a little production either. This show has been advertised for months. There's a huge billboard not far from where we live. This guy's name is Adam. He's also one of the main characters. It's been over a decade since I’ve seen that movie so I don't really have any idea about the story, but he plays Gaston. We're pretty good buddies now. He actually showed up to the Tagalong ward so he just hung around with us the whole time. It was pretty cool. He's also a returned missionary. 
A little bit later, we had another visitor. His name is brother Goodson and he's a legend here in the Philippines. He was one of the first 4 missionaries that came over to the Philippines from Hong Kong. He opened this place up. He was then called back to the Philippines numerous years later as the mission president. Pretty cool. 
Oh, and I haven't mentioned that one of our members is a famous super model here in the Philippines. Hollywood has nothing on Makati 4th ward. 

This week has been pretty crazy. We had mission interviews where President Osler meets with every missionary individually for about 20 minutes or more. We are there at the same time conducting different trainings. This week, we taught about the importance of learning Tagalong (for the foreigners) and English (for the natives and non-English speakers). We taught that class about 3 times a day and also taught a leadership training in addition to the language class. It's amazing, some missionaries here are trying to learn English and Tagalong. It truly is amazing. I could barely handle learning one language, let alone two. We have a couple missionaries from the Middle East who speak very little English and they amaze me every time I see them. They always have the biggest smiles on their faces. 

We had a bowling activity earlier with all the Elders in our district. It was awesome. Bowling is honestly one of my favorite things. I'm starting to rethink the BYU application. I might just be a full time bowler. I'd love your support on this one. I really do love the Elders here though. One of them is actually from Layton Utah! His name is Elder Bell and he went to Northridge. I'd never heard of him until I met him here. We've lived about 5 minutes away from each other our entire lives and don't meet until we're on the other side of the world. Life is so silly sometimes. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Never Delay A Prompting!

The highlight of the week was on Saturday when Elder Thurber and I went on exchanges. You'll never guess where I worked, yep, Boni 4! It was one of the best days of my life. Honestly, it was such a great experience seeing all the members again. I'm going to give you a breakdown of all the major events that happened so you can fully comprehend how amazing the day was. Upon my arrival at about 8:20 at night, Elder Francisco (the missionary I worked with) took us straight to Jenna ‘s house. When we got there, we saw MJ through the window and her face lit up. She ran further in the house and then a few minutes later she comes running out the door with Jenna. I was so happy to see them. They are honestly the cutest family ever. Unfortunately, Edmar is still abroad so I wasn't able to see him. We only stayed for a couple minutes and chatted for a second. She invited us back the next day for lunch. We started the day off at the bakeshop where Junjun works. I love that kid. He's doing great; workin hard making the best bread in the Philippines. We then met up with Junard (one of my best friends here in the Philippines) and declared repentance to the people of Bonifacio. A while later, we made our way to the house of Jamie and Ciara (do you remember them?) and had a wonderful lesson. They are doing so great. If it had been the first time I met them, I would never have guessed the Ciara has only been a member for a couple months. We talked about the temple and they expressed to us how excited they are to get sealed as a family. We exchanged information so you know we'll be skyping after the mission. After our visit with them, we made our way back to Jenna's for lunch. We met up with Jio (one of my other best friends here) along the way and he's still Jio. A little later we were able to visit Princess with Jenna and Jio and had another great lesson with them. When we walked into their house, all the great memories came flooding back into my head about the good times Elder Diamse and I had sharing the gospel with her and her family. As we were walking back to the apartment at the end of the day, Jenna told me that I need to come back to the Philippines next year when their family gets sealed in the temple. It's little statements like that that make me love missionary work even more. It doesn't get better than this (at this point in my life). As I sat thinking about all the people I’ve taught and grown to love, I was filled with an overwhelming joy. It's going to be very difficult to leave this country and these amazing people. Luckily, that's still far into the future. You build relationships on your mission that are very strong and will be cherished for an eternity. I'm starting to get a glimpse into what was meant by the scripture "how great shall be your joy with [them] in the kingdom of my Father." Thinking about those amazing people that I have been blessed to get to know and share the gospel with brings me great joy. I can only imagine what it we will be like when we meet again in the "Kingdom of [the] father." 

The rest of the week was great. The work is progressing at lightning speeds. We met with Wilma, Lynn and Samuel yesterday and it was pretty much the best lesson ever. Yesterday, Samuel told us a really good experience he had last Sunday that tells us how amazing these three members are. Samuel was trying to decide whether he should attend church or not. He only had enough money to make the trip to the chapel. He decided that he would skip out that week and attend the following week. As the morning continued, he felt more and more inclined to go to church. He finally make the choice to get dressed and go to church. He recounted that he though in his mind, "the Lord will provide." Samuel ended up having an amazing experience at church. After church ended, he didn't have a way home. We called him over to join in a lesson with Wilma, Lynn, Elder Thurber and I. Great lesson. Afterwards, Wilma and Lynn came to the rescue and were the answers to Samuel's prayers. Even though it was out of their way, they took Samuel all the way back to his house. Samuel concluded his story by saying, "I should have known better than to think twice about going to church. The Lord always provides." After he said that, I looked over at Wilma who had tears running down her cheeks. She then told us her side of the story. After our lesson, she felt prompted to ask Samuel if he wanted to ride with them. She initially planned on having the taxi take them all to her house and then that would be the end. As they were approaching their destination, Wilma heard a still, small voice whisper in her ear, "take care of Samuel." They arrived at Wilma's house and they started to get out. Then, the voice whispered again, "take care of Samuel." She told Samuel to stay in the taxi and paid the driver to take him the rest of the way to his house without knowing that he didn't have any other means of getting home. The Lord truly does provide. This amazing story reminded me of a statement by President Monson that goes something like this, "there are few things greater than learning that you were the answer to someone's prayer." Whenever I feel prompted to do something, I always remember that statement and think, "Maybe i'm supposed to answer someone’s prayer by doing this act." Never delay a prompting, you might just be an instrument in the Lord's hands in answering a prayer. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Lord Truly Answers Prayers

Another week has flown by here in the Philippines. It's amazing how fast weeks go by. We had a crazy week with transfers, new companion, New Years and all that other fun stuff. I have a ton to tell you today.

I got an email from Bishop this week. He informed me that I'll be speaking in sacrament on the 15 of February. That's a wake up call. I'm super stoked for my topic. I'll need to try and put the last 2 years of faith building experiences into a short talk. Wish me luck. 

I'm happy to report that transfer week went great. We sent off an amazing group of missionaries this week to move on with the next parts of their lives. I'm sure going to miss seeing them around. It was especially sad to see Elder Diamse and Elder Hawkins leave. I'm expecting wedding announcements from them in the next couple weeks. They're going to move fast. Hopefully I’ll be able to hook up with them before too long after I get home. Maybe we'll meet at the Y! 

Enough about these past companions. Time to tell you about my new companion. Like I mentioned last week, his name is Elder Thurber and he's pretty much the man. We are just killin it here in Makati. We get along really well. He's from Virginia, but studied at BYU before he came out. He's a little overwhelmed at the moment with all the new responsibilities that have recently fell onto his shoulders but he's a great missionary and will do great. 

Had a couple amazing experiences this week. On new years eve we were call by President Osler to conduct an emergency transfer (when someone is transferred to a new area on a day other than transfer day). We were called to be the Taxi service. The missionary we were transporting lives in my old area, Boni 4. Upon arriving at the apartment we made our way down the hall and stood outside the apartment of the missionaries. All of the sudden a dog runs out of the next door over and skips our way. Right after the dog comes out also comes the owner of the dog. My face lit up when I realized it was Polo, one of my best friends from Boni 4. He recently moved to a new apartment right next to the missionaries. That's not even the best part though. He also lives with Elsi! The women I taught and baptized while assigned in their ward. He invited me inside his house and as I walked in, Elsi came out of the door and upon seeing me let out a squeal of joy and jumped on her tippy toes. She ran over and nearly tackled me. It was one of the most extreme handshakes ever. I was so stinkin happy to see her. She later told me that she had said a prayer earlier that morning and asked to see me that day. It was a humbling experience. The Lord truly answers prayers. 

Speaking of miracles. we have a baptism this Saturday!!! Her name is Sheila. She is 14 years old and is so awesome. She's extremely smart and is always happy. She's one of those people you just love to be around. She'll make a wonderful member of the church. Sheila lives right next to one of the strong members of our ward who has helped her out a ton. They are always willing to bring her to church and other activities. We are currently teaching Sheila’s mom and hope she will find the desire to baptize soon as well. It'll definitely happen with time!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

.......and a Happy New Year!

Elder Avila is transferring! He has two transfers left and the Lord is going to have him train for those last two. Crazy. That means I’ll be staying here for the rest of my mission and will be getting my final companion. My new companion will be Elder Thurber. I'm super stoked to be companions with him. We were both in Bonifacio at the same time and he lived the floor above me so I know him pretty well. He'll be a great companion. I sure am gonna miss Elder Avila though. He's a great missionary and is fun to be around.

So you mentioned getting an x-ray in your email. Lindsay was exactly right. All the going home missionaries are required to get a chest x-ray before they head home to check for TB. It's actually quite funny that you mention that because I will actually be getting mine later today. Cross your fingers it'll come out clean. Just playin, I’ve never heard of a missionary actually getting TB so I think I’ll be ok. Another thing we'll be doing in the next couple weeks is fingerprinting. The word on the street is that you sometimes see missionaries from other missions so there's a chance I’ll be able to hook up with Elder Hale while I’m there. 

I had a great experience at church yesterday. In the international ward, Bishop Hill asked me to offer the closing prayer during sacrament. It was the first time in my life to give a prayer in Sacrament meeting. Wow. You bet that went into my journal. About an hour later, 5 minutes before the Makati 3rd sacrament started, Bishop Espi came up to me and asked me to speak about missionary work. I was happy to. I've spoken more in this area than I have in any other. I sure do love these wards though. It is a pleasure to be a part of this work and work with these wonderful members. 

This week's a pretty crazy one. In about 30 minutes we will be participating in going home activities with all of the missionaries that head home tomorrow. It's a sad day because all of my best buds head home. Elder Hawkins and Elder Diamse are included in those going home. It's going to be very sad when they head out. I'm spent a lot of time with those two and we have become great friends. They're both planning on going to BYU though so I’m sure I’ll see them again in no time. 

Well that's about all I’ve got time for today! We're just about to head out. Have a wonderful New Years! We'll be dodging all the drunken people and firecrackers! I sure love ya!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

God is Mindful of Every People

What a wonderful week. Isn't the Christmas season the greatest time of the year? I just love Christmas so much. It's an amazing time to be a missionary because you can share the wonderful story of Christ's birth with every living creature you see. It truly doesn't get much better than that. Well I have so much to tell you today so I’m gonna dive right into this email. 
First things first. Christmas came early for me this year. I received the most joyous news that I have ever received this last week. In church yesterday I received a text from the zone leaders in Pasay north. They informed me that the Caras family will be sealed in the temple on January 9th at 7 am. Just writing that brings tears to my eyes. This is truly what it's all about. I have been looking forward to this day for the past year and it's finally happening. I could not be more happy for that wonderful family. Families truly are eternal. 
I learned a valuable lesson this week. That lesson was that you don't really know how important something is until you no longer have it. Unfortunately, I had to learn it the hard way when someone stole both of the side mirrors off our car in the middle of the night. Yep, some random person stole the side mirrors off our van. Isn't that so sad? I don't understand some people. I was thus forced to drive around the streets of Manila without side mirrors. That was quite the experience. A very scary experience. Luckily as a missionary you always have a companion. He was therefore my side mirrors while driving. Unified in all things. 
Saturday was amazing. It was the baptisms of Samuel, Wilma and Lynn. Unfortunately, Noah wasn't baptized this last week, but he will definitely be getting baptized in the next couple months. It was such a great day. Out of all the baptismal services I have attended, this was one of the best. It was the very first baptismal service I’ve attended on my mission where everything was in English! It was kinda trippin me out. Lynn requested that I be the one to baptize her and I was more than happy to oblige. What was truly amazing though was Mike was able to baptize Wilma. They have the best story ever. It's quite amazing how far they have come and the steps they are making. Wilma informed me this last week that she and Mike will probably getting married (civilly) in June of UTAH!! I LIVE IN UTAH. You bet I’ll be there. She told me that I better be there because she won't know anyone else. Wouldn't miss that for the world. Anyway, the baptismal service was so spiritual. The entire ward came to support Samuel, Wilma and Lynn. It was a cool sight. One of my favorite lines of the day was stated by Samuel. Right after he was baptized he told me, "Man, I didn't want to come out of the water! It just felt so good!" Samuel, Wilma and Lynn all had the opportunity to bear their testimonies after and if I hadn't seen the baptismal service, I would have thought they'd been members for years. I was quite impressed. One of the statements I love hearing the most is, "I've read the book of Mormon and I know that it is true." There are few things that compare to that. 
So I’m going to go off on a little tangent here about Wilma. Wilma grew up in a very religious household. Here entire family was very dedicated to their religious beliefs. She explained in her testimony that she reached a point in her life where she realized that something was missing. She searched a lot looking for the church. One day she came across and felt something different. She began to research more and was struck by the story of Joseph Smith. She recalled that she felt exactly what Joseph Smith felt; confusion. Therefore, she did exactly what Joseph Smith did; she prayed. We all know what happens when true seekers of truth humble themselves before God and seek divine guidance through prayer. The rest is history. Now she's a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 
Now for Samuel. He told us about an experience he had while still living in Ghana where he met an American missionary of another faith. He volunteered to translate for this missionary while he was serving in their country. He spent a lot of time with him and got to know him very well. One day, this missionary told Samuel, "One day you are going to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." That statement made an impression on him considering it came from a missionary from another faith. He didn't think much about it though until he was walking the streets of Singapore and he saw two sister missionaries with nametags walking near a train station. He approached them, stuck out his hand and asked, "Hi, how can I be saved." The sisters calmly replied with a smile, "That's a great question. Why don't you come to our church on Sunday and we'll tell you." That Sunday, he did exactly that. Looking back now he stated, "I've never felt more welcome in my entire life. I knew then that I wanted to be a member of the church." That week he made his way to the Philippines, sought out the church and that's when we found him. He commented, "I now know that God has a plan for all of us and will help all of us return to him." 
Finally, Lynn. Lynn has gone through some very tough experiences in her lives. There were numerous occasions where she felt lost and unsure of the path that she should take in her life. She told us about one particular experience where these thoughts were the most intense with the stresses of finding a job on top of that. She fell down on her knees one day and asked the Lord to help her find out what she was supposed to do. A few days later, she found her answer. Those answers are named Mike and Wilma (yep, the same Mike and Wilma). She was hired by Wilma to help her around the house at the same time Wilma was starting to investigate the church. One day as Lynn was cleaning the house she spotted a book sitting on the table. She took a second and began to examine the book. She opened to the first few pages and began to look at the pages on the front. As she did so, an indescribable feeling embraced her. One thing led to the next and before we knew it, Elder Limocon and I were teaching her about the Restoration. Lynn made big steps very quickly. She was willing to do anything. "Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth."