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.

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