Sunday, December 29, 2013

A White Christmas

It has been a great week.  I cannot express how great it was to talk with you guys face to face this past week.  I miss you guys so much.  However, after I talked with you, my desire to do missionary work increased ten fold. I look at the awesome family I have and love the thought of helping others become an eternal family like ours. Of course, they won't ever be nearly as cool as we are, but they'll come close.

That desire kind of died once we started working.  We had a rough couple days this week.  Not a single person wanted to listen to anything we wanted to say.  I experienced the most rejections of my entire mission.  Plus, in this new area, Elder Carlson and I get mocked like never before. Two Americans walking around in the ghetto of the Philippines (which would make any of the ghettos in the states look like Beverly hills) is quite the sight and they never let us forget it.  It gets really frustrating some times.  I realized early this week that finding in missionary work is largely motivated by your love for the people. If you love the people, you will talk to everyone. If you don't, you won't.  It's been a little difficult to love some of the people in this area. Especially the grown men that drink all day, yell at us when we walk by and make stupid comments to try and act cool around their friends. Don't worry though, it's getting better. We have found some great investigators this week and the area is really starting to look up for us.  Elder Carlson and I had a cool experience this past week fasting.  Thursday night rolled around and we were just down in the dumps due to our area. We decided to fast the next day.  What a great experience.  The day started off rough.  All of our appointments fell through.  We decided to spend some time and focus all of our efforts on finding.  No one was interested.  We finally walked down a street and walked by a group of people sitting outside their house.  Elder Carlson and I didn't notice at first and were surprised when we heard someone call us back.  We returned to a warm greeting. The first thing we noticed: They were fluent in English (Elder Carlson could participate).  They then expressed their desire to learn about our religion and our beliefs.  We were told that they had seen missionaries before but had never spoken with them.  We began to talk with them and eventually began to share the message of the restoration.  The lesson went great.  They excitedly accepted the invitation to read the Book of Mormon and pray to know of its truthfulness.  They then asked us when we would be coming back.  They wanted to know more. We will be teaching them later today.  Way stoked.

Yesterday was probably one of the greatest days of my entire mission. The baptisms of Carmelino and Marissa. The baptismal service took place before their church service at 7 in the morning.  Elder Carlson and I arrived to find both of them anxiously waiting.  The Elders that are now in their ward informed me the day before that both of them requested that I be the one to baptize them.  No words can describe my happiness. There are few times in my life where I have been that excited. The service went amazing.  It was just perfect.  I love those people so much.  Marissa has been investigating the church for years and finally decided to be baptized. So cool. My experience with Carmelino was very spiritual and emotional. After I baptized Carmelino, he came up out of the water and I embraced that man like a long lost friend.  All I could hear him say was, "Thank you, thank you so much."  It took every bit of my will power to hold back tears.  Marissa and Carmelino both bore strong testimonies afterwards.  They spoke of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, Thomas S. Monson, and being sealed in the Temple. The spirit was overwhelming.  I will never forget that experience nor the feelings I felt. Families are forever. So it wasn't exactly a white Christmas in regards to snow, but I would trade snow for a family in white any day.

That pretty much wraps up the week. It was a roller coaster. You gotta experience the lows to experience the highs. It's great to know that we have a Savior that is walking beside us ready to bear us up whenever our own strength isn't enough. As a missionary, you quickly come to realize that your own strength is never enough. "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I shall give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me. For I am meek and lowly or heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls."

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The weather outside is hot. Still.

What a wonderful/crazy week.  It has been ridiculously awesome and stressful at the same time.  With our new responsibilities, Elder Carlson and I were running around like crazy trying to figure out what we were supposed to be doing as zone leaders.

Thursday was a day that I had been waiting for since the middle of July. Our missionary Christmas party. It was great.  We began with a devotional given by President and Sister Stucki that was awesome.  It was then followed by a gift exchange, lunch and concluded with a talent show.  It was so much fun.  Elder Villoso and I lit up the stage with a rendition of The First Noel. That was an experience. When we initially said that we'd participate, we didn't quite understand how big of a deal this talent show actually would be. When we arrived, we discovered that we would be performing on stage in front of hundreds of missionaries.  The only thing that was going through my head was the fond memories of the Mr. Lancer contest and how wonderful that experience was. Luckily, it turned out far better. Not great, but better.  Elder Villoso started us out on the wrong note so we kind of had to change the arrangement that we made up.  There was a high part that destroyed me. It was good though.  Fun stuff. 

Friday night was our Christmas party in the Manila 1st ward.  It was fun.  I really like the ward. They're so nice and welcoming.  I met a ton of people and had some great times.  I was kinda disappointed in the turn out though.  People aren't too big on church activities here so not too many people were there.  Way fun anyway.  I ate more food than I have in a long time.  

Elder Carlson and I were finally able to work in our area on Saturday. Our bishop offered to show us around.  He took us to the homes of some of the Members and a few of the less actives.  I'm stoked for the area.  It's way tough shotgunning though.  We are starting from absolutely nothing.  This area was not very progressing before we got here so we have a grand total of 4 investigators at the moment. We're trying to spend a lot of time finding to enlarge our teaching pool.  It's a little tough because Elder Carlson doesn't speak Tagalog so I'm the one that has to do... well... all of the talking. On the bright side, my Tagalog should get pretty dang good over the next few transfers.  I honestly feel the Lord qualifying me. I've noticed a huge change in my ability to speak.  Somehow I got a bit better at Tagalog.  I still sound like a 7 year old, but I can say what I want, and I can understand what others are saying to me.  The Lord truly does qualify those who he calls. He leads the work and is with every one of his missionaries. 

We spent earlier today moving apartments.  We are now in an apartment that's in our area and it's way nice, far nicer than my past two apartments. It's actually two floors.  We have a nice balcony with a great view of the large building across the street. It's a beauty.  

I'm so stoked for this week.  We have a dinner appointment every day this week. That's what I'm talking about. The senior couple invited our district over to their apartment on Christmas Eve for a little party.  They told me that there will be waffles.  Now that's a merry merry Christmas. And of course, Wednesday will be the greatest day since mother's day.  I can't wait to talk with you guys.

Great news.  Carmelino and Marissa will both be getting baptized this Saturday. I'll be having the best Christmas a kid could ask for. I get to talk with my family and witness the baptisms of two people that I have grown to love.  The Elders in Manila 2 told me that Carmelino wants me to baptize him so I'm super stoked for that.  I love that family so much (have I mentioned that before?)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Maligayang Pasko (Merry Christmas)

This week.  Will.  Blow.  Your.  Mind. Alright.  Buckle Up.  So previously on Manila Missionary... I updated you on how I would most be likely be transferring because Elder Villoso is done with his training. This week, we got a few interesting calls this week from President Stucki.  The first came on Thursday when Elder Villoso was informed that he would be training. Yes, my son is having a baby.  I'm so proud. So that destroyed all my hopes of staying in the same area. The next call came on Saturday. I received the following information.  Elder Obray, the Pasay zone will be splitting and the Lord has called you to be the Zone Leader of the newly created zone! (Don't worry, it gets even better.) I have been impressed to make Elder Carlson (yeah, the Elder Carlson that lives with me and is one of my best buds) the other Zone Leader.  You will be companions.  (At this point I was experiencing every emotion that the body can experience, and that's not even the end). You will be moving to the Manila 1st ward.  (The ward that meets in the same building as the Manila 2nd ward, meaning I will see everyone from Manila 2nd every Sunday). I cannot express how I was feeling during those few minutes. I was full of excitement, fear, stress, happiness, everything.  As the news began to sink in, a few other thoughts came to my mind.  Elder Carlson doesn't speak Tagalog.  At all.  I'm not quite sure how that's going to work out. It's going to be quite the experience.  I'll be doing a lot of the talking.  I sure hope my Tagalog is good enough. The second thought: neither of us knows anything about being Zone Leaders.  What normally happens is a new zone leader will be paired up with an experienced zone leader to be trained.  That is not the case with us.  Neither of us have any experience at all.  We're going to be starting from scratch.  The third thought: The Manila 1st ward has two areas.  Elder Carlson is in one right now, but we will be transferring to the other side.  That means that we will be shot gunning.  We are going to go into this area not knowing anything.  We won't know the investigators, the members that live on that side, the area or anything. So yeah, that's what's going to be taking place on Wednesday. Wish me luck. These next few weeks are going to be humbling.  I'm so dang excited.  Next week’s letter will be interesting.  

We had to change Carmelino's baptisms yet again.  He will be baptized on the 28th of December.  This one is for sure though.  He WILL be getting baptized on that day.  We were in priesthood yesterday and we were all asked to share one of our favorite scriptures about Jesus Christ.  Carmelino shared the sacrament prayer and explained the importance of Jesus Christ's Atonement and how we have the opportunity to remember it every week as we partake of the Sacrament.  I was amazed.  All I could do was smile.  I was so proud of that man.  He's going to be a future leader in the church. 

Mark's baptismal will also be moved.  There was some miscommunication about the baptismal interview so he wasn't able to make it.  The baptismal interviews have to be at least a week in advance and so we have to push his baptism back another week as well. He's still the man. 

I went on exchanges with Elder Carlson this last week (it was actually the same day that I received the news about becoming his companion. What a coincidence).  We had quite an amazing experience. For the past couple weeks, Elder Villoso and I have been trying to contact this one investigator named Tita that we came across street contacting.  We had visited her house multiple times, but she always said that she was busy or sick.  Elder Carlson and I decided to go try one more time.  We went to her house, knocked and waited.  A voice came from inside that said, "Who's that?" We declared that it was the missionaries.  Tita came to the door and began talking with us (this was the first time we had talked with her in weeks).   To make a long story short, she let us in.  During the lesson, she started crying. She told us of her life and how she had jumped from religion to religion but never felt any happiness. In her words "sobrang malunkot ako." (I am so sad). She expressed to us that in the past she had no desire to listen to us at all.  She then explained that for some reason, that day was different. She felt a strange feeling to let us in and talk with us.  She expressed that our arrival at her house that day was a miracle.  Later in the lesson, Elder Carlson asked her (in English), "What is the greatest thing Jesus Christ has done for you?" She responded by saying "the greatest thing he has ever done for me is softened my heart to listen to your message. He sent you two here to me. I really want this to be true."  Yeah, that was one of the greatest things I have ever heard.  It's times like that that make me love missionary work so much.  

Mahal ko kayo.  Namimiss ko kayo.  Maligayang pasko. (Merry Christmas)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Choose to Act

This week has been a pretty good week.  The days are flying by and Christmas is approaching fast. I can't believe it's already the 9th. We're looking forward to our mission Christmas party on the 19th.  It's supposed to be pretty bomb. Unfortunately our transfer day is on the 18th.  Dad nailed it on the head in his letter.  This transfer will mark the end of Elder Villoso's training and he will most likely receive either a follow up trainer or a trainee.  I'm almost positive I'll be getting transferred this upcoming transfer day which could not be at a worse time.  Exciting events that will be taking place after Transfer Day: The baptisms of Carmelino, Mark and Marissa, our ward Christmas party and New Years with my home boys. I'm pretty bummed out. Some of the members of the ward told me that their going to start a petition, gather signatures and send it into the big dog Stucki asking that my stay in the Manila 2nd ward be extended until after Christmas haha I wish.  I love the Manila 2nd ward so much.  I've grown so close with the members, the investigators and my district as well.  I really don't want to leave this place, but I'll be happy to go wherever the Lord sends me. I explained to Carmelino and Mark that I won't be able to attend their baptism, but will definitely be in attendance at the temple when they are sealed to their families for time and all eternity.  That will be one of the most glorious days of my mission.

I have to tell you a little bit about Carmelino and Jhoana. I cannot explain to you how much I love this family.  The days where we get to visit their family are my favorite days.  Yesterday, we visited their house and Sister Jhoana explained to me how much she wants her 2 boys to serve missions. We reviewed the baptismal questions with Carmelino and he passed with flying colors.  He was giving better answers than most members can give.  He's already downloaded gospel library and has downloaded all the manuals used in church, conference talks, mormon messages, everything. He reads and rereads the pamphlets we leave him and discusses them with Jhoana. This man is going to be a future leader of the church. He's the man. 

Mark is doing fantastic. His wife, Kristel (who was less active before we began meeting with Mark) is now active.  Yesterday was her fourth Sunday in a row and marks her reactivation in the church.  They are going to be a strong family in the church. They invited Elder Villoso and I to their son's 1st birthday hahaha they have the cutest kids ever.  

I had the opportunity to go on exchanges this week with Elder Manongas (one of the Elders in my District). He's a great guy.  I have to tell you a cool experience that happened to us.  We were approaching the end of a successful day.  We had a ton of lessons and had a ton of fun.  However, we hadn't found any new investigators. We decided to focus our efforts on finding. Elder Manongas led us down a street that he thought was the correct street but ended up being a dead end. We turned around and walked by this group of guys huddled by a motorcycle. We began a casual conversation with them and talked for a while.  All of the sudden, I hear a guy behind us say "mormons." I turn around and see this short, overweight guy smiling, standing with his 2-year-old child in hand.  He asked me where I was from and responded that I was from Utah.  He then began to tell me that he used to work in Florida.  Turns out he's fluent in English. Once you get me speaking English, I don't shut up. I talked with him (Edsel is his name) for a while and then inquired about his comment "mormons." He told me that he worked for a cruise line in Florida and met quite a few members of the church.  He then told me to wait for a sec.  He ran back to his house and came back with a Book of Mormon in hand.  Edsel explained to me that one of the passengers had given him a Book of Mormon years ago and he had held on to it ever since. I examined the Book of Mormon and found a testimony written on the inside cover. It said the following (paraphrase) "Edsel, Thank you for all that you have helped us with this week. We would like to give you this book out of gratitude. This book is something we hold very dearly to us and hope you will take the time to read from it.  We know that this book is true and hope one day you will have the opportunity to meet with the missionaries." It was dated February 2012. He then expressed to us his desire to learn about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This experience was quite a spiritual experience for me.  I wish I could thank the couple that first gave him that Book of Mormon and planted the seed for us to nourish. If this couple had not done what they did, this man would not know about the LDS church, he would not have talked to us on the street and would not be listening to the missionaries at this point in his life. As I thought about this, my heart was full of gratitude and love towards this couple that I had never met. Such a simple act has changed the course of this man's life forever. As members of the church, we need to capture these moments to share the gospel.  We may never see the fruits of our labors, but no effort is ever wasted. Who knows, years down the road, a missionary may be writing to his family about an amazing experience he had because we chose to act. Now is the time. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Treasuring Up in Your Mind"

Another week down.  I honestly can't believe it's December. It doesn't feel like the Christmas season at all here. I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, but I'm pretty confident when I say that I probably won't be receiving that this year.  I'm actually getting a little bit tired of Christmas music.  When you've been hearing Christmas music every day since august, it gets a little old.

This week was a pretty trying week, but was filled with tender mercies.  I'll start with our wonderful Thanksgiving in the Philippines. It was actually a great day.  We had our Mission tour with Elder Echo Hawk.  It was amazing.  He's a pretty amazing guy.  It was a very spiritual experience, so much that I actually felt quite physically exhausted afterword. Being in the presence of a General Authority is amazing.  Elder Echo Hawk told of us about quite a few experiences that he's had since being a General Authority and I have to say, he's one lucky guy. He was on the committee that was formed to execute all the little things involved in lowering the age of eligibility for missionary work.  He found out about the announcement 3 weeks before conference.  He was in the presence of Elder Christofferson while he was assigning missionaries to their specific missions.  He also told us about a weekend he spent with Elder Anderson at a stake conference.  Elder Anderson was instructing Elder Echo Hawk in the importance of "treasuring up in your mind" the doctrines of the Gospel and proved his point in quite an interesting way. Elder Echo Hawk had prepared three talks for the stake conferences that they would be attending. He didn't end up using any of them.  About 4 minutes before Elder Echo Hawk was assigned to speak, Elder Anderson handed him a little post it note that had a scripture passage and read, "this is the scripture I want you to talk about for the next 25 minutes." Isn't that crazy!! So that's what he did. Elder Echo Hawk stood up and pretty much just winged it... for 25 minutes. Elder Anderson followed the same process in the following days. I was imagining what I would do in that situation and I came to the conclusion that I would be up a crick. That is why I'm not a general authority.  It reinforced to me that I need to do a little more "treasuring up." We can all probably do a little bit better in that area.  We might not have to wing a 25 minute talk in conference, but we never know when we are going to be called on to answer a doctrinal question or bear testimony to our friends. We have to be ready at all times and in all places. 

Oh my goodness. Thanksgiving dinner was amazing.  We actually didn't have to eat rice.  We decided that we would treat ourselves that night.  So we took our personal funds and headed to one of the nicest restaurants here in Manila. McDonalds. We loaded up on burgers, fries, and apple pies. Nothing like grandma's house, but I guess it wasn't too bad. 

Saturday was just great.  Angel was baptized. She's such a great girl. She's going to thrive in the church.  She has such a strong testimony and was so excited for her baptism.  She was so excited that she actually showed up on time to her baptism (that never happens).  The service went great.  Elder Villoso and I performed a special musical number.  We sang her favorite hymn, I Need Thee Every Hour.  We crushed it. Someone came up to us after the baptism and asked us if we could sing at her Birthday Party hahaha I'm worried that we're going to be discovered during sacrament or something and be asked to join a record label.  Oh well, such is life. 

Here's a little cultural note for you guys about how things work in regards to family members that pass away. In the states, we would have a nice viewing and a funeral.  Not here. What they do is they decorate their living room and place the coffin of the deceased in their living room. The coffin stays there for A WEEK!! During this week, you have to follow a few rules.  1. The whole family cannot be asleep at the same time.  There always has to be someone awake while the coffin is in the living room. If the whole family falls asleep, the deceased person will wake up and kill everyone. Yep.  So what they do to avoid this is gamble and drink for a week straight. Huh. 2. You cannot sweep the floor of your house. Not sure why, you just can't. 3. You cannot shower in your house.  You have to go to someone else's house to shower. Quite an interesting culture. I expect you guys to observe these rules when I pass away. Take note. 

We had to change the baptismal dates of a couple of our investigators. As of right now, Marissa, Carmelino and Mark will all be baptized on December 21st.  They are doing fantastic.  They come to church every week, they read the Book of Mormon everyday and keep all of the commitments we leave. I'll keep you updated on their progression in the upcoming weeks. I'm so dang excited for these people. 

Tagalog has been a little frustrating this week.  Sometimes I really wish I could teach the gospel in English.  There's nothing quite like using your native tongue where you know exactly what everyone is saying and can say every thing that you want, exactly how you want to say it.  It's a little frustrating because the natives will not help you with the language.  They refuse to tell you when you say something wrong.  I think they believe that doing so will hurt your feelings when in reality it will just make me better!! I'm trying to make Elder Villoso understand that but he's not quite catching on.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Rice for Thanksgiving Dinner

I’m not sure what happens here on thanksgiving. Of course, they don't celebrate that holiday here so maybe Elder Carlson and I will have to do something special. I'm going to go out on a limb and say we'll probably be eating rice. 
As I sit here in what feels like 120 degree weather, I realize how much I miss the snow. What I would give to experience "being cold".  I often think about how I will be arriving home in the middle of the winter.  You might want to bring my snow pants, coat and a portable heater just to ensure that I don't get frostbite or hypothermia.  That's going to a beautiful day.  We're going straight from the airport to Snow Basin.

So let's see. What happened this week.  Went on exchanges with the Zone Leaders, that was fun.  His name is Elder Stroud.  He's 6'4 and weighs 150 lbs. Yes that is a 150, not a typo. He's the skinniest guy ever.  For some reason whenever I think of him I think of a praying mantis.  He's a cool guy though.  We had a lot of fun.  I got a little bit of a boost in confidence with my language skills because everyone was directing their statements at me and asking for translations hahaha I learned a ton.  He's a great missionary. One of the best parts was hanging at their apartment at the end of the day.  They have 6 missionaries in their apartment, which is crazy.  6 19-20 year old kids in a 3-room apartment.  Use your imagination on that one haha One of those 6 is Elder Atoigue, my Tatay (father)!  I sure love that guy. We have some great times reminiscing over those great, sometimes frustrating, times we had in Cabar.  

Baptism this weekend!!! So I have to tell you about our awesome investigator Angel.  She's 18 years old and is going to be baptized this Saturday.  She has the strongest testimony of anyone I know.  We actually met her at church! She moved to Manila about 1 month ago and the first week she was here she showed up to church.  She explained to us that she was taught by missionaries before she moved and loves the church.  After church she came up to us and asked us, "When can I be baptized?" Is there any better question than that? Nope.  That's the best question ever. Hands down.  She has been faithfully coming to church every week. She comes to every church activity and has plans to visit the temple in the next week. She's golden.  Gotta love that girl. 

I'm way excited for the month of December.  If you remember, when our area was split, we lost all of our progressing investigators and we were forced to start anew.  Well all of the finding we did then is about to pay off.  Angel will be baptized on Saturday.  Marissa will be baptized on the 7th.  Carmelino (my favorite man ever, no homo) will be baptized on the 14. Mark will be baptized on the 21.  I'm so excited.  Our investigators are just the best.  They have been prepared by the Lord for the gospel.  Carmelino is doing awesome.  Last week in church he was TAKING NOTES. The most faithful members of the church don't even do that.  We also taught him about the word of wisdom and he gladly accepted every aspect even though he loves coffee and tea. I love that family so much.  Jhoana, his wife, is officially active in the church.  This past week was her 4th consecutive Sunday.  After 13 years, she's finally active again. Marissa is another one of our investigators that we have been teaching forever.  She had the biggest problem going to church, but has completely changed.  She's arrives at 8 o’clock every Sunday and reads the Book of Mormon until the service starts. Gotta love it.  The gospel is true. 

This week is going to be pretty epic.  We have a Mission Tour, which is a zone conference with a General Authority.  We will be honored to hear from Elder Hawk of the seventy. 

I got a little sick this last week.  Had a fever, body aches, killer headache, all that fun stuff, but luckily it only lasted about a day so no big deal. 

Well that about wraps it up for this week. It was a great week. Super frustrating at times, but super rewarding.  That statement pretty much sums up the life of a missionary.

PS. Two people told me i was getting fat yesterday. Yeah, that's depressing. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Story of Survival

What a week.  This week has been an adventure. The highlight of the week was welcoming 13 missionaries from the Tocloban Mission here to the Manila Mission. One of them, Elder Carlson, has been assigned to labor in my district and lives with us! Such a cool guy.  He's from Idaho.  He's 6'4" and loves sports, music, and oreos (Sounds a lot like Chandler, huh. That's probably why we've become such great friends so fast).  We have a ton in common and it's been awesome getting to know him.  He plays football and basketball and will be playing for Utah state when he gets home. I've spent a lot of time talking with him about his experience in Tocloban and it is seriously amazing.  It's great to be talking to a primary source, someone that was actually in the middle of the storm. I'll give you guys a little summary of some of the things that he told me concerning his experience.  The night before the storm, the missionaries and the members in their area gathered at the stake center because the building standards of the church are far higher than those of the their apartment and the surrounding houses. They went to bed that night and awoke the next morning to the storm.  The storm hit at about 5:30 in the morning.  The next few hours were spent huddled together and running from room to room as the roof began to be ripped from the church. Through the windows they could see trees falling all around them, a heavy rain, debris and small animals being whipped side to side by the 200 mph wind. The storm finally subsided later in the day.  They exited the church to discover their surroundings to be unrecognizable.  The once forested area was transformed into a far stretching valley.  No trees, no houses, nothing. The place was completely leveled. They began running around to check on members of their ward.  In this area, all the members were safe, but they no longer had a place to live, water to drink, or food to eat.  There was no service and thus no communication with anyone.  The missionaries didn't have food or water. They didn't have 72 hour kits.  They were barely surviving.  They lived like this for the next three days.  Finally, a man arrived in a military vehicle, pulled the missionaries out of church and took their names. The man informed them about the magnitude of the storm.  Elder Carlson was told that thousands of people had been killed. The man left a box of candy bars, some water and said "this should last you the next few days" and then left.  The next day, Elder Carlson and his companion made their way to another area where they were informed that all the missionaries were being evacuated. Within a couple of hours, all the missionaries were gathered together and on their way to Cebu.  Not a single missionary was seriously injured in the storm. They are now being placed in missions all over the Philippines. Elder Carlson told me that the news has been lowering the Death Toll in order to down play the storm.  He told me that over 10,000 people were killed by the storm. How these missionaries endured what they did is amazing.  They saw an entire region destroyed as they were standing in the middle of it. Their lives have been forever changed by the things that they have seen. The stresses and difficulties of missionary work have just been multiplied ten fold. Elder Carlson is now serving in a foreign mission compared to the Tocloban mission.  That mission is a Cebuano speaking mission with other dialects in some areas.  He has spent the last 13 months learning these languages and is now expected to start anew and learn Tagalog. I cannot imagine what these missionaries are going through right now.  The place that they once knew to be their home is gone.  The members of their wards that became their family are suffering unimaginable trials.  These missionaries don't even know if these close acquaintances made it through the storm. They are amazing. They have truly built their foundations upon the rock of our savior Jesus Christ. They have endured "mighty winds...and shafts in the whirlwind." They have endured "hail and a mighty storm" and it has had "no power over them to drag them down to the gulf of misery... because of the rock upon which [they] are built".  Elder Carlson is an amazing example to me. If our foundations are not built upon the rock that is our savior, then we should begin now to begin the sometimes difficult process of repentance and begin building. Do whatever we have to in order to establish ourselves in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Make a conscious effort to improve. Never forget the little things (prayer, scripture study, etc.) If we do this, the devil will have no power over us and we will capable of enduring whatever storm comes our way.  Keep these missionaries and the people of the Philippines in your prayers. 

Well I don't have a ton of time to discuss other aspects of this week. Just a quick list of things that happened.  
-Had a mission wide service project on Thursday. 
-Mark came to church. 
-Angel (one of our awesome investigators that we met at church.) will be baptized on November 30th. I'll talk about her more next week. 
-My first primary program in the Philippines.  Holy crap, I love the kids here. 

PS. I'm experiencing a miracle right now. I haven't washed my socks in like 2 months and they still don't stink. No clue how that works. I guess that's why it's called a miracle. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Work, Work, Work

It was so great to hear from you guys today.  It always gives me comfort knowing that you guys are doing well.  It helps me feel like I'm still part of the family.  I love hearing about your experiences. It gives me a new drive to work even harder in the upcoming week, improve on my weak areas and do a little bit better than yesterday. You will never understand the influence that you guys have on my life. Everyday I'm reminded of my family and come to a realization that I would never be where I am today without you guys.  It's cool to step back a little bit and observe the character traits that I've learned and developed because of your examples. Man, I sure miss you guys.  I've expressed this before but I just want to reiterate a statement from preach my gospel that has really influenced my work as a missionary.  "I have often said one of the greatest secrets of missionary work is work! If a missionary works, he will get the Spirit; if he gets the spirit, he will teach by the Spirit; and if he teaches by the Spirit, he will touch the hearts of the people and he will be happy. There will be no homesickness, no worrying about families, for all time and talents and interests are centered on the work of the ministry.  Work, Work, work - there is no satisfactory substitute, especially in missionary work." I often reflect on this statement and I have learned of its truthfulness.  This is a universal principle and can be applied to every aspect of our lives.  When things aren't going well, work a little bit harder.  Show the Lord that you are willing to work your hardest and willing to do anything you have to do.  I testify that this is true.  

So a little bit about this week. Jhoana and Carmelino continue to astonish me.  They make me the happiest missionary on the earth.  After we leave lessons with them, I'm smiling from ear to ear.  They attended church yesterday again and we taught a lesson last night. We taught about the Book of Mormon.  It was fantastic.  Brother Carmelino wouldn't let go of the Book of Mormon and repeatedly affirmed to us his desire to read this book.  He has the strongest desire to know that this church is true.  He's going to be a future leader of the church.  I wish you guys could just meet this family.  They are just awesome.  

Another one of our investigators is making huge progress.  His name is Mark.  We have noticed a huge change in his life.  He has gone from turning down missionaries to changing his work schedule in order to attend church.  He will be attending church this upcoming Sunday and I'm so stoked.  He's also an amazing cook.  He cooks for us every time we go over to his house hahaha another reason I love this guy. 

Elder Villoso is officially half way done with his training! This past Wednesday was transfer day, but since I'm training, we didn't experience any changes in our area.  My whole district actually remained the same.  We didn't have any transfers.  I'm way happy about it too because I love these guys.  And I love my team, yeah I love my team, I would die for these ... missionaries (name that song chandler).  I sure love being a district leader. It's so awesome being able to grow close with so many missionaries and take interest in each of their investigators. It's definitely frustrating at times like when I get home, exhausted, and realize I have to follow up or when I receive the report that an area only had 9 lessons for the whole week. I love it though.  I love teaching district meetings. Life is just good. 

I've been really missing a couple things this week.  1. Soccer.  I find myself daydreaming about soccer and my glory days.  I sure miss it.  I always used to say that I wish I would have played basketball or football instead; not anymore.  Now that I'm not playing soccer anymore, I miss it even more. 2.  Golf.  I can't wait to be on a quiet golf course with my dad and brother.  No jeepneys honking, no second hand smoke, just the lush green grass and chirping birds. 3.  My bed.  The thing I sleep on here is a rock.  I don't even think it qualifies as a mattress.  I would kill to be sleeping on one of those air mattresses we have stored downstairs.  Heck, I would even take the one that has a hole and leaves you lying on the ground after 1 hour. 

Our apartment is falling apart.  We have so many problems it's not even funny.  We need Extreme Makeover: Home Edition to intervene. We have mice, our refrigerator (here they call it ref) is broken, we have a leak in our sink, spent two days this last week without water and we're afraid to open some of the drawers because we're afraid of what we might find living inside. Our toilet's broken as well. We have to take the top of and reach in and open the plug whenever we want to flush. I miss home in Layton, UT. It makes it even more difficult when I'm the only one motivated to clean.  Mom, I finally understand what it feels like to tell people to clean their room, return ten minutes later and discover that nothing has been done. It's so frustrating!  I'm so sorry for my inability to clean and the stress that I caused you.  I promise I'm changing. 

Gotta love life as a missionary. I wouldn't trade these experiences for anything.  I love the Philippines. 

PS Elder Villoso tried to say the following expression: Kill two birds with one stone. hahaha Epic fail.  This is what came out of his mouth: Yeah we'll be able to throw two birds at a stone hahahaha I was rollin. It was even better because it was during coordination.  So funny.  Did I mention that I love missionary work?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Diet of Rice Yields Abs Without the Washboard

There's no such thing as a side of rice here.  Rice is the main course and you have maybe meat or vegetables on the side.  Be careful though, because rice makes you fat!! My belly is expanding daily (Don't worry though, the abs are still there.  Not too effective as a washboard anymore though). Just a little bit about Halloween here in the Philippines.  It's not exactly that same as Halloween is celebrated in the states.  No one really goes trick or treating and I saw maybe 2 kids with costumes on.  However, Nov 1 is a huge day here.  It's called All Saint's day and on this day everyone goes to the cemeteries and everyone puts candles outside of their doors.  It's supposed to guide the spirits to heaven.  It's a tradition that most everyone follows.  There were lit candles everywhere.  Pretty crazy. We also saw a catholic march going on.  There were hundreds of people walking and caring statues of sto. Nino and candles.  That was an experience. 

So a little about this week.  Johanna and Carmelino came to church yesterday!! It was the first time in 13 years! They are such an amazing family.  We visited them later that night and the lesson was just amazing.  They are keeping their commitments and you can already see a change taking place in their countenances. They told us a little story about their lives.  Right after they got married they had some serious financial problems. Carmelino decided to work abroad in Malaysia. He was making 3 times as much money as he was here.  After three months, he left Malaysia and came back to the Philippines.  He quit his job in Malaysia because he couldn't stand being away from his wife and kids. Sister told us that she prayed everyday for those three months just for him to come back. She didn't pray for money, she prayed for her husband. They put their family first. They haven't been separated since. They have been prepared by the hand of the lord to accept his gospel.  Not a doubt in my mind. And thanks to the gospel, they won't even be separated by death. 

We had two other investigators at church as well, Marissa and Chrisanto.  The day before, Saturday, we commited Chrisanto to baptism again, but he told us that he needs to think about it.  He's not sure if it's the right time. We told him to pray about it. Church was the answer to his prayer and ours. It was perfect because it was fast and testimony meeting and the topic for both gospel principles and priesthood was baptism. Coincidence? I think not. It worked out perfect. He's definitely being prepared by the Lord.

After church was crazy. One of our recently returned members was waiting for her child outside the primary room.  All the kids got out.  Her son wasn't there.  He wasn't in the church and could not be found. We spent the next hour and a half running up and down the streets near the church, asking everyone if they had seen this boy.  Imagine not knowing where your son went in the most densely populated city in the world. Seriously, I was worried out of my mind.  After an hour and a half, we received word that he had walked all the way across the city to his dad's work. Way far.  Holy, it was crazy.  I was extra worried because her husband is actually one of our progressing investigators.  If his child was kidnapped or got lost while attending church, that would not be good. Luckily, everything worked out ok.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Liver Should Not Be Used for Human Consumption

I just want to start by saying that I love missionary work.  Seriously, I love it.  Every day is filled with experiences that I wouldn't trade for anything.  This week has been especially great. Elder Villoso and I are doing work here in the Manila 2nd ward. We have found some of the most amazing investigators in this past week.  A lot of these investigators have been found among the less actives of our ward.  As I have explained before, the Philippines has an enormous less active problem.  The percentage of active members is somewhere between 30 and 40.  Therefore, a lot of our time is spent contacting and teaching less active members.  We seek to find a balance between teaching and baptizing investigators and reactivating less active members.  Some of the advice given to us is to find our investigators among the less active members.  That's exactly what we did this week.  We found 4 part member families that are now progressing toward reactivation and their new baptismal dates.

 I have to tell you a little story about one of these families. A couple days ago, one of our appointments fell through so we pulled out our CMIS and began looking through the list of members.  As we were looking through the list of names, one name stood out. We looked at the address and were happy to find out that we lived fairly close. We made our way through the narrow alleys that are so characteristic to Manila and finally stumbled upon their house.  We met Johana, a less active member.  She was baptized as a child and was active until she moved to Manila at the age of 15.  She was brand new to the area and did not know anyone. She made her way to church one Sunday.  She was alone and was not fellow-shipped by the ward. That was the last time that she went to church.  She is now 28 years old and has been inactive for 13 years (might want to check the math).  We set a return appointment where we could meet with her whole family. That appointment was set for this past Saturday. Upon arriving, she gladly welcomed us into her house and invited us to sit down. Johana then asked me "did you not get my text? I sent you a text informing you that I wasn't feeling to well and asked if we could reschedule." I informed her that I hadn't received her text and asked if it was ok if we stay and give a short lesson.  She agreed and called her husband to join us (who is a devoted catholic by the way).   We gave a short but powerful lesson about the families. The lesson was amazing.  The spirit was so strong. At the close of the lesson, we invited her to pray.  She accepted and gave the greatest prayer ever.  Before we left, she thanked us for coming and invited us to come back again the next day. Of course, we accepted her invitation.  Sunday was amazing.  We gave a lesson about prophets, the priesthood, and Jesus Christ. We began to emphasize the importance of prayer. We committed them both to pray later that night and to ask if our message was true.  Her husband, Carmelino, told us the following: "I will agree to pray, but as far as asking if the message is true... I already know that everything you are saying is true." Holy. Those were the sweetest words I had ever heard. He followed up his statement with the following question, "How will I feel when the spirit testifies to me that I should be baptized?"  Seriously, this guy is golden. It doesn't get much better than this. I love this family. I love the spirit. I love missionary work. He will be baptized on December 14th. And by the way, they told us that they will be going to church from now on.  He's changed his schedule in order to attend church every Sunday. 

A little note about the food her in Paco. Rice and Ulam.  It's delicious. The Philippino people know how to cook.  I've grow to love vegetables.  We eat vegetables like crazy here. A lot of the dishes are pure vegetables because they are so cheap.  Meat costs a lot more so a lot of people will eat mostly vegetables with a little bit of meat on occasion.  They haven't mastered the art of chicken roll ups though.  I think seven chicken roll ups could feed a large family here. Nothin too crazy about the cuisine here though.  They do put a lot of liver in their dishes though.  I'm not the biggest fan of liver.  It has the weirdest texture and frankly should just not be used as food. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

You Gotta Go Through the Trials to Experience the Miracles

What a wonderful week here in the Philippines.  It's torturous hearing about how the leaves are changing colors and fall is approaching. I sure love the fall season.  We are not lucky enough to experience that great time here. It's still hot, it still rains, the only thing that changes colors here is the sky... due to pollution.  The city of Manila isn't exactly a beautiful place. It's actually exactly the opposite, so pangit (ugly). There is a river running through the city though.  At first sight you would never guess it was a river. It's more of a landfill.  So much trash and for some reason it bubbles.  I have no clue why. If someone were to fall into it, they would not be coming back out. You actually know when you’re approaching the river because you can smell it for miles. However, even though this place makes your eyes hurt, your nose burn and your ears bleed, I love it more than any other place on earth (excluding Utah of course). This is the place that I'm supposed to be. 

Saturday was one of the best days of my mission.  We had the baptism of Donnalyn. She was one of the investigators that Elder Tofi and I taught before our area was split. She is the most amazing person ever.  Her husband is a member (less active but returning) and they have two kids. I love their family so much.  A couple days before the baptism, the sister missionaries that are currently teaching her informed me that she wanted me to baptize her. I was so dang excited. I was also asked to give a talk on the Holy Ghost. It went great.  Seriously, just thinking about the baptism makes me smile. We also performed a musical number.  6 of us missionaries sang "A Child's Prayer." We crushed it. The spirit was so strong during the service.  I honestly can't describe the feeling that was there. The best part is that in one year they will have the opportunity to be sealed together forever in the Manila temple. There is not doubt in my mind that they will do everything in their power to make that happen. I sure hope that I'm in a position that allows me to attend when they are finally sealed. Seriously, I love missionary work. I've learned a little principle about missionary work.  When you think that it can't get any worse, it does.  However, when you think it can't get any better, it does. You gotta go through the trials to experience the miracles. 

So I gotta tell you about this family that Elder Villoso found last week. It all started when one of our appointments fell through.  We started to head to another appointment when we noticed a woman outside her house washing her clothes. I felt prompted to approach her and start a little conversation. (This prompting was crazy too.  Elder Villoso and I were talking and out of nowhere I found myself walking away from Elder Villoso while he was still talking and toward her.  It was definitely the spirit.)  She was not interested in anything that we had to say. She called her husband to talk with us just so she wouldn't have to. We talked for a while but he did not show much interest at all.  We continued to talk about the gospel and about families. We asked if we could return and the husband reluctantly agreed. After our visit, they were completely different people. I couldn't believe the change that was wrought upon their hearts. The spirit was so strong. We've visited them a couple times since and they have begun reading the Book of Mormon and praying. They weren't able to come to church yesterday but have expressed to us their desire to attend.  They accepted a baptismal date for the 23rd of November. Have I mentioned that I love missionary work.  

Let's see, what else has been special about this week.  One of our toughest investigators, Debbie, has finally started reading the book of Mormon!! Seriously, there are few things that make missionaries happier than when people finally start reading the book of Mormon after weeks of declining the invitation.  

PS Don't worry, I am putting on mosquito repellent every night before I go to bed, so hopefully that will prevent getting Dengue again. And I'm saying my prayers, so that should help too. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Have I Mentioned That I Love Missionary Work?

It sure has been a great week.  These last two days have been jammed packed with some great moments.  It all started with conference.  All I have to say is that the general authorities did not disappoint.  It was an awesome conference.  Like I said last conference, something about being on a mission makes you more susceptible to gospel lessons. You get twice as much out of conference than any other time in your life.  I felt like I was being personally taught.  I can testify to the difference it makes when you go into conference actually prepared to receive answers.  One common theme that I noticed was the importance of trying everyday to become more like our savior. Everyday we should strive to do a little bit better than we did the day before.  Of course, we're not perfect. We mess up every now and then. Some days we end up moving a step backward instead of forward.  However, this does not give us the excuse to remain a step back. We should awake the next day ready to make up the lost ground and more. While I was pondering about this lesson and other lessons that were taught to us during general conference, a thought crossed my mind about growing personally. Rarely do we grow when we are within our comfort zone. This has kind of been one of the themes of my mission.  It seems like such a simple principle, but application of such a principle brings an outpouring of blessings.  If you want to grow in a specific area, push yourself.  The more you stretch, the more you grow. If you want to develop better social skills, talk to people, even when it makes you nervous.  If you want to be a better teacher, take opportunities to teach.  If you want to develop a talent, continue to work even when you're tired.  No matter what you may be trying to be developing, push yourself out of your comfort zone. 

Following general conference, one of the investigators that elder Tofi and I taught was interviewed for baptism. She will be getting baptized this Saturday.  I'm so excited for her. She has such a strong testimony.  Her name is Donnalyn.  Her husband is actually a member of the church but has been inactive for a while.  He has recently returned to church and is now helping his wife into the waters of baptism.  So awesome.  They have two kids and will be taking the first step to being together forever.  I have no doubt in my mind that they will remain active in the church and in one year be sealed for eternity in the temple. Seriously, missions are awesome. 

Yesterday was a pretty great day as well.  We had interviews with President Stucki.  He's such a great guy.  He has such a powerful testimony and seriously radiates light and the spirit. Just being in his presence makes you happy.  We also had district meeting yesterday.  I sure do love being a district leader.  I love my district so much.  Every single person is unique.  We have the widest range of personalities ever.  You really learn something from everybody in your district. 

After our interviews we went to a FHE at one of the less active members house near we live. Her name is Mirium and she is so close to reactivating.  She's awesome. It was just supposed to be us, her daughter and two of her daughter’s friends that are investigating the church.  However, I guess they invited all of their friends as well. We got there and found ourselves in the midst of like 15 girls from the age of 12-17 hahaha they all wanted to join in on our family home evening. I guess elder Villoso is just a ladies man.  The girls just flock to him. I think I found Chandler's wife though.  I'm gonna be setting him up with one of the girls that was there. She only speaks Tagalog but I think we can work past that.  They can use Google translator. You down Bing? She's a cutie.

Today has been an awesome day.  We had quite an interesting experience earlier today.  I was called yesterday by the APs and told that there was a member that just moved here from the states.  He doesn't speak any Tagalog and needed help buying a few things. So earlier today we met him at a mall nearby and helped him out. He was such a cool guy.  He works for the military and was called on a secret mission here in the Philippines.  He couldn't even tell me what he was doing here.  Crazy.  So we spent a couple hours with this bro buying stuff and talking about America.  I sure miss that country sometimes. Afterward, we invited him to McDonalds to eat with us and our district. When we got there he told us that he was going to pay for all of us! All 8.  Yeah this guy is the man.  I told him that he didn't have to do that and he responded by saying that he wants the blessings that come from helping out the missionaries.  Can't argue with that. I'll gladly eat free McDonalds so you can receive blessings.  

It sounds like life is great there in Layton.  Don't worry, in about 17 months, it'll get a heck of a lot better.