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.