Sunday, January 26, 2014

The "Two Ties"

This week has been a week of depression.  Elder Carlson received a call this last week from President Stucki informing him that some parts of the Tacloban mission has been announced safe and will be reopening in the near future.  There are 26 missionaries returning and Elder Carlson is one of them. After a mere six weeks, the dynamic duo, the dream team, the self proclaimed "two ties" will be divided.  I guess they decided that this much talent was too much for one area to handle.  It needs to be spread out across the world for the benefit of Filipinos everywhere. We'll be taking him to the mission office later tonight and he'll be catching a flight early tomorrow morning.  Way sad.  I'm gonna miss this kid like crazy.  We've had some amazing experiences this past transfer and we've made a friendship that will last far beyond the mission.  He'll do well over their in Tacloban though. He'll finally be able to talk to people again. (something that has been tough for him here). We heard that he'll be spending quite a bit of time doing service; building houses, helping out people, things like that.  It'll be a great experience for him.  

Other than that, not a lot has happened this week. Thursday was a pretty tough day.  All of our appointments fell through. Not a single person wanted to talk to us.  I had people refusing to shake my hand, people swearing at us, and all that fun stuff.  It's tough when you see people running into their house after they notice the missionaries coming, or people (that you have an appointment with) won't come to the door.  Especially when you can hear them talking inside or you see someone quickly look through the window and then retreat.  It was a tough day.  It makes it a lot tougher when I'm the one that has to do all the talking as well.  I kind of have to carry that whole load on my own shoulders (of course the Lord carries most of it, but it still weighs me down.)  I really wish people could understand the importance of the gospel in their lives.  If they would only give it a chance, they would quickly realize the change that it would cause in their lives. 

Don't worry, there was still some great things that happened this week.  We had the opportunity to attend stake conference this last Sunday (my second stake conference in the same steak.  I've been here for a while).  It was a great experience.  We had some amazing speakers and some amazing musical numbers.  The Cabar choir was supposed to make an appearance, but there was some travel issues coordinating flights.  As I walked in at the beginning of the meeting, I was met by one of the most beautiful sights. Sitting a few rows from the front of the gym was the Caras family excitedly waving at me.  A few rows in front of them was Mark and his family reverently awaiting the beginning of the meeting.  It's little things like that that truly make missionary work that much more worth it. 

I just want to share a quick scriptural thought that I came across during my personal study this week. This scripture is found in the 15th Section of the D&C.  By request, Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord for John Witmer.  He stated the following:

6 And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father. Amen.

 I just want to testify to the truthfulness of this scripture.  There is nothing of more worth to us then sharing the gospel and bringing souls unto the lord. This scripture reaches far beyond full time missionaries.  Missionary work brings happiness to the lives of all regardless of our age, gender, or circumstances.  If we feel like we are not as happy as we can be, follow the admonition of the Lord and bring souls unto him. In that work, we will find that which is of the "most worth" to us. 

I love missionary work.  I love the Lord.

Monday, January 20, 2014

"I was born in my religion, I will die in my religion."

Another week has past. Dang, they go by fast.  So this week was a roller coaster. We had some amazing experiences and some very stressful ones. It all began on Tuesday with zone meeting. Since Elder Carlson and I are the zone leaders, it was our responsibility to prepare the 3-hour meeting and teach for a large portion of it. Tuesday morning rolled around and I felt a lot like Brian Reagan.  I awoke to the sound of the alarm and then I realized that it was the day of zone meeting.  My eyes got wide and my mouth dropped and I thought "Oh no. That's today." I had been preparing for weeks and still felt like I had not even started. We had so much to do.  It was a stressful morning.  We were running around like crazy trying to finalize all the little things. Since Elder Carlson and I are both new, we didn't really have any idea what we were doing. I was way nervous. It finally took shape though. It wasn't a very pretty shape, but a shape nonetheless. It turns out that we pretty much shattered everyone's universes.  We taught about finding quality investigators, improving our teaching and recognizing the spirit. There's been some talk floating around that it might become the 139 section of the D&C. We're not quite sure yet though. I'll keep you posted. Just kidding, it was pretty rough.  We have a lot to improve on before next month. 

This last Friday was interviews with the President Stucki.  They were great. The interviews started at 7 in the morning, so Elder Carlson and I were up at 4:45 preparing everything for their arrival. President and Sister Stucki are some great people.  They lead this mission really well.  One of the things I like the best about them is their genuine interest in the lives of each and every missionary.  They really care about everyone.  After the mission, I'll probably call my boy Stucki to hang out on the weekends. 

Sunday was probably one of the most frustrating days ever.  We invited an innumerable amount of people to church and received an innumerable amount of confirmations that they would be there.  We had a grand total of one investigator at church.  I'm stoked that we had one, but I was quite sad that no one else wanted to follow the commandment of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and come to church. It's not like we asked random people either.  We had been conversing and building relationships with these people for weeks. I really wish people would just tell me when they're not going to do something. Man, the frustrations of missionary work in the Philippines. 

After our frustrating Sunday experience, we had a great experience.  Last night we stopped by one of our investigator’s house (who we had a set appointment with) to share a message.  He wasn't there. So Elder Carlson and I looked at our planners and began heading toward our back up plan.  We walked by house of a woman that we had attempted to teach a couple weeks earlier.  In our first meeting with her, she clearly made it know that there is no way that she will ever change her religion and told us that we should stop wasting our time at her house. Ouch.  For some reason, as we walked by her house, we felt that we should stop by and pay her a visit.  So we did.  She welcomed us in and began to repeat her speech about how she will never change her religion.  We told her that we respected her beliefs and expressed that we just want to be friends and have a nice conversation.  She settled down a little bit. All of the sudden, her daughter walked in with her husband and little girl. We began to get to know them and began a very light gospel discussion.  They asked about our missions and why we were here. We talked about missionary work and how we were there voluntarily and weren't getting paid.  That caught their attention. They began asking about the Book of Mormon and other things they had heard about the Mormons. As we testified to them, you could see something change in their countenance.  Their eyes were glued to us as we spoke.  She then addressed the member that was working with us. She asked, "Why were you baptized?" Brother Jason responded that when he heard about the gospel he just knew that it was true. He explained that the knowledge of eternal families was what really stuck out to him and testified to him that the church was true.  It was perfect.  It turns out that Nanay had lost a son last year and was not at peace. We explained about eternal families and the whole atmosphere changed.  The spirit was strong.  They expressed their gratitude for visiting and sharing with them.  They demanded that we come back next week.  As we were leaving, everyone in the house was reinforcing our appointment next week telling us not to forget.  It is amazing to me the effect that the gospel and the spirit can have on our lives. We walked into the house of a woman that was set in her mind that she would never listen to the missionaries.  We left the house of a family that is enlightened and excited to discuss the blessings the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring to their lives. Is there a greater calling than that of a missionary?

Well that's about all the time I have this week.  I wish I could just sit here and write every detail of my week.  You gotta love the gospel.  I just want to leave with my testimony that I know that Jesus Christ lives. He is aware of each and every one of us. He is our Savior and our Redeemer, our brother and our friend.  He is right next to us through our trials; he's sad when we're sad and rejoices when we rejoice.  He is the perfect example and I am striving to become more like him.  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

No Effort is Ever Wasted

Let's see.  This week was pretty good.  Our MLC was rescheduled from two weeks ago to this last Thursday.  That was an experience.  I was scared out of my mind.  Everyone always spoke of MLC as hours of being chastised and humiliated in front of the rest of the zone leaders and STLs. I was terrified.  Especially since Elder Carlson and I were placed in an area with no progression. However, upon arriving, we were greeted by hot pancakes, fruit and maple syrup.  Not too shabby, I could get used to the life as a Zone Leader. What made it even better is seeing all my buddies. Plus, my boys that I was with in the MTC are also zone leaders now so we had a wonderful reunion. My terror was rekindled when we took our seats and waited. Too my sweet surprise, there was no chastising or humiliation.  It was actually quite an amazing spiritual experience. We discussed the doctrines of the kingdom, determined how to improve our mission, and then ate lunch.  It was a great day.  

I have to tell you about one of my favorite families ever. They are a less active family that have gone through some really tough times over the past few years including separation (there's no divorce in the Philippines so they just separate) and serious health problems.  The mother has moved away and the kids usually stay with her, but were vacationing here for the holidays with their dad. They are the freakin cutest kids ever.  Nicole, Simon and Kelvin.  They span from ages 1-10.  Over the past few weeks we have visited them multiple times and every lesson is extremely spiritual.  Someone usually ends in tears.  They expressed to Elder Carlson and I that they look forward to our arrival whenever we come and we always "save the day". The kids always come running to the door when they see us coming. We have grown extremely close to this family.  Elder Carlson and I are always giddy with excitement when the time finally comes that we can visit their family.  They have not yet made it back to church, but we know that as the spirit continues to influence their lives, we will see them back into the fold of God. 

My boy Hector (The LA (less active) that I talked about last week) made it to church again this last week.  In this last week we talked with him about going to the temple.  He has made that his next quest.  We told him that we both want him to be to our weddings, and in order to do that he has to be a temple recommend holder. He gladly accepted the challenge.  

I just want to testify that the Lord is preparing people for every missionary.  There are those out there that need specific missionaries to bring them into or back to the church.  They need specific personalities, specific talents, everything.  We had an experience yesterday with a part member family that further strengthened my testimony of this. Rosita is an active, faithful member of the church.  Her husband, Marlon, is not... yet.  We visited Marlon yesterday and quickly became good friends.  We talked about sports, lifting, and all that fun stuff.  (My enormous biceps probably spurred the conversation.  "Someone call a doctor because there's some serious swelling in that area") He had been visited by missionaries countless times.  He named off numerous missionaries that had visited their house. He had never taken interest.  We began sharing the message of the restoration.  For some reason, it just clicked with him this time. It just began to make sense.  It seemed like he was just having an epiphany the entire lesson.  He was answering all our questions and expressed to us that the knowledge of eternal families (which he had never learned before we came) was what really stuck out to him. He committed himself to read the Book of Mormon.  We didn't even have to say anything.  I'm so excited for this brother and his family.  He has been prepared by the Lord for this time in his life.  Missionaries have been planting seeds for years and it's finally time to harvest. No effort is ever wasted.  

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Years Isn't New Years Until You're In the Philippines

This has been one of the most amazing weeks of my entire mission.  I gotta say, it was probably also the toughest week of my entire mission, but of course, the miracles are the only things that come to my mind when I review the past few days. Today was temple day. It was wonderful.  The spirit was nearly tangible. I honestly did not want to leave.

I'll begin with New Years. I've experienced a lot of New Years in my life (nineteen to be exact) and they kind of dwindle in comparison to the New Years in the Philippines.  New Years is not only celebrated on the 31st and 1st, it starts the day after Christmas and lasts until about the 4th.  The week prior to New Years is pretty much a stock-up-on-beer-and-fireworks week. We started hearing explosions days before New Years.  The 31st of December was ridiculous.  The work was impossible.  We had to be in at 6 pm so we pretty much walked around aimlessly trying to find the sober until then.  Yeah... not very successful. The Filipinos live for New Years Eve.  People started launching off fireworks at about 7 and continued without ceasing until about 2 in the morning. So loud.  We could not sleep.  We had a great night though.  We partied.  However, a party that follows the white handbook is not really a party. January 1st was legendary.  I think Elder Carlson and I set the world record for the number of dinner appointments in a single night. From the hours of 12 pm to 9pm, we were fed 7 times. I'm not talking cookies and milk either. I'm talking platters full of rice and unlimited ulam. And of course, you can't turn down food here.  We ate so much food.  I think the Lord blessed our stomachs because by the end of the 7th meal, I still had room for dessert. On our walk home, Elder Carlson and I found a gym. We've been 5 times since new years. My goal is to be able to fit into my pants again by next week.   

Saturday was a wonderful day.  At 7pm on December 4th, Mark was baptized.  Such a great experience.  Mark asked if I could be the one to baptize him.  Of course, I gladly said heck yes. His whole family was there. His wife has been a member for a long time and her entire family are members.  It was such a beautiful moment. I honestly can't explain the feeling of baptizing a father and making their family complete. It honestly doesn't get better than that.  I've been lucky enough to experience that feeling two times in less than two weeks. That is what missionary work is about.  His two sons (who are two of the cutest kids ever) will be raised in the gospel and have a father to look up to.  They will live in a home where the priesthood resides, which is a blessing unlike any other. I think back at my life and thank my Heavenly Father for an amazing Dad that has always been a worthy priesthood holder, an example and a best friend.  I look at Hanz, Gerald, Yvan, and Cedrik (the sons of Mark and Carmelino) and I know that they will have fathers to guide them through the tough times in their lives. They can receive priesthood blessings and be nurtured in a home with a loving mother and father.  They will be sealed in the temple and when the time comes, those 4 boys will have the wonderful opportunity to serve the Lord as his missionaries and share the gospel of Jesus Christ. How great is my calling as a missionary. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

So there is a man in our ward by the name of Hector.  He's been a member for over 20 years, but unfortunately has been inactive for a lot of those. He's a retired Judge and a very respected man.  This guy is one of my best friends. Elder Carlson and I met him at the ward Christmas party that he unexpectedly showed up to.  We talked with him for a while (he's fluent in English) and got a return appointment.  Our first lesson was fantastic.  The spirit was so strong.  (There’s something about sharing the gospel in English. I love it).  Hector, after being inactive for years, came to church. We continued to visit him and the next Sunday, he came to church again. We were at his house again last night and just talked with him for a long time.  This man has had some amazing experience as a lawyer and a judge.  Even though he hasn't been coming to church, he's always had great faith.  After our discussion, Hector said something that nearly brought tears to my eyes.  He said something like the following: "I really respect you two missionaries. You guys are two of the best Elders I have met.  You guys really believe the things that you teach.  I've been taught by a lot of missionaries and they have all tried to get me to come to church.  I never went until you guys came into my house. Now that I’m going to church, I’m happy.  I'm truly happy."  The longer I’m on my mission, the more I realize that words can't describe the emotions that I feel. All I can say is I love being a missionary.

One more amazing experience. A little background first. Jhoana (Carmelino's wife) has a brother that is a faithful member of the church.  I met him for the first time when he attended Carmelino's baptism.  Ok, story time. Elder Carlson and I entered the temple earlier today and were met by a familiar face. Turns out that brother Alban (Jhoana's brother) is actually a temple worker at the Manila temple. He had a huge smile on his face and began a casual conversation. He then said the following: "Elder Obray, you will be going into our families records.  I have been praying for years that my sister would come back to the church and her husband would be baptized.  I have repeatedly put their names on the prayer role. You were able to make that happen.  They have been visited by numerous missionaries, but nothing ever happened.  There is something special about you Elder Obray." My heart honestly melted. As I sit here writing this email, I can't hold back tears.  Missionary work is so difficult.  This area has been kicking Elder Carlson and I in the butt. We have had some of the toughest times of our entire missions in the past few weeks. We have been rejected and mocked by countless people. However, experiences like this make those times more than worth it.  I would not change a single thing that has happened on my mission.  I know I say this every week, but I have grown to love these people more than I ever thought I would. 

Know that I love you guys and know that I love serving the Lord as his missionary.