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.