Sunday, March 30, 2014

Small and Simple Things

What a crazy week full of baptisms, weird food, marriage counseling, and miracles. I'll start with Saturday. JunJun was baptized! It was a super great service and the spirit was strong.  You would have thought that he had been a member for years if you heard his testimony at any other venue. He's such a special guy. He'll be a great instrument in the hands of Lord as he continues to flourish in the Lord's church.  Who knows, a full time mission might be in his future. A few missionaries, including Elder Manares and I, sang a musical number that was alright. We prepared for like thirty minutes before so I wouldn't say that it was beautiful, but it invited the spirit none-the-less. Not only was JunJun baptized this last week, but also my favorite family from my last area.  I'm so happy for that family.  The parents were reactivated and now three of their 6 children are members of the church (the other 3 are under the age of 8). What a wonderful blessing to be a part of that wonderful change in their life.  I wish I could have been there to see it.

One great thing about this ward is that they love to feed the missionaries.  We had a dinner appointment every night this last week.  I'm getting so fat. It's great.  Anyways, included in those meals are some pretty epic eating experiences.  I ate horse. That was weird. Quite spicy, had quite the kick (hahaha). We also ate octopus.  It sufficeth me to say that some sea creatures should be left in the sea and be left un-eaten. Luckily, you can put anything on rice and it tastes good.

We had a really cool experience yesterday.  We concluded our church service and were in coordination meeting. One of our elderly ward missionaries told us of a family that was quite sick and was in need of priesthood blessings. We grabbed one of our high priests and headed to their house.  When we arrived, this family just lit up. They graciously let us in.  We proceeded to give both Tatay and Nanay blessings.  At the conclusion of the blessing given to Tatay, he looked at us, with a tear in his eye, and stated, "This might just be a little thing, but I will never forget it." We never know how much our simple acts of service can bless the lives of those around us.  An act that seems quite small can truly mean the world to friend, neighbor, family member, or stranger. It reminded me of the scripture found in Alma 37:6-7:
"By small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
"And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls."
We can be those little miracles in other people’s lives if we heed to the small, simple promptings of the spirit.  Who knows, it could bring about the salvation of a soul.

I had the opportunity to participate in marriage counseling the other day.  Before the meeting, all I could think about was the movie, "What Happens in Vegas" when they are yelling and screaming at each other. That's pretty much what it was like. Luckily we kept it a little more organized than that though. As soon as we began to talk about our Savior and the divinity and sanctity of the family, the whole mood changed. The Spirit was felt by all.  Tears were shed.  Hearts were changed.  The wonderful couple left the room holding hands. If we want to have a successful relationship and family, center it in the gospel and build it upon the Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ.

So I may or may not have told an innocent, old lady that we have a lot of prostitutes in the Philippines.  The word for harlet and learning is quite similar so in an attempt to state something along the lines of "we do most of our learning in the Philippines," I may have messed up a little and flopped a specific word. I don't know for sure though.  She didn't look too freaked out so I think it's all good. It made me chuckle though.

I relearned a valuable lesson this week about attitude.  Attitude is a choice and will greatly affect every situation. Don't worry about things you can't control, worry about the things you can. 

Favorite hymn line for the week that has been stuck in my head and playing on repeat. "Time flies on wings of lightning." Literary genius.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Peter Parker? "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility"

What a week here in the Bonifacio 4th Ward. It's been a crazy week. 

So it pretty much all started on Friday when we had a specialized teaching training. It lasted from 9 to 3 and was all about using the scriptures and teaching short and powerful lessons.  We were called the night before and told that we would be leading a practice teaching for lesson three.  Sweet, no big deal.  Then we where told that we would be doing the demonstration and we had to teach all of lesson three (English) in 15 minutes using a scripture for every principle.  That was an experience, especially when my companion doesn't like using English.  It worked out well though.  We learned a ton.  Something that is not easy is teaching the entire plan of salvation in 15 minutes using a scripture for every principle. That one will take some practice.

Right after the specialized training we went of exchanges with the APs.  I was with Elder Stevens.  A little background about Elder Stevens: He was one of the very first missionaries I met in the field.  We flew over to Palawan together and he later became my zone leader.  We have a ton in common. It's actually quite weird how much we have in common. He's from San Diego, loves sports, music, and all that fun stuff.  When I first got into the field, he was kind of the missionary that I looked up to and always thought, "I want to be a missionary like that." He's a convert to the church and was only a member for a year before he left on his mission.  Needless to say, we had a great time.  We worked in his area and pretty much tore it apart.  We taught some great people including this referral who is a little bit older and just loves life. She was so excited to see us and was just bouncing off walls the whole time.  She'll be getting baptized at the end of April. Fun fact about the Philippines.  People love talking about things that have no relevance to anything.  During our lesson with this woman (Margarita), she somehow took prophets and morphed it into how she's traveled all over the Philippines and did service projects or something hahaha it makes me laugh just thinking about it.  The next morning we did P90x.  Destroyed me.  I sure miss that feeling.

Sunday was a great day.  Spent the whole week preparing for my talk.  It went well. I'll talk about it a little bit later though.  I'll use that as my spiritual thought for the week.
Fun Fact: For some reason, everyone hear calls me Peter Parker or Clark Kent. And I mean everyone.  Members, investigators, people I’ve never even seen before, it's quite ridiculous.  I don't even look anything like them besides the fact that I’m white and wear glasses.

Anyway, back to Sunday. We were at coordination meeting and we brought JunJun, our baptismal candidate, because we were going to set up the program and all that stuff. As we were sitting there listening to some other missionaries in the ward give their report and JunJun leans over to us and asks if he can work with us and help us teach! "Of course!!" hahah I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. So later that day, he worked with us for 4 hours! We taught a lesson (which is a spiritual experience in itself that I’ll talk about next) and JunJun bore the strongest testimony ever about how the Book of Mormon has changed his life and how he knows without a doubt that it's true.  It's amazing to me how converted JunJun is.  He has experienced "a mighty change of heart" and is truly acting upon it.  He worked with us again yesterday and introduced us to one of his friends who we will be teaching on Wednesday. Amazing.  This kid is a better missionary than I am.

So more about the lesson that we taught.  Our tinuruan was named Brian. He's a personal fitness trainer and a family man. He has a wife and a little baby and they mean everything to him.  Luckily for him, we have exactly what he needs to make his family happier in this life and eternal in the life to come.  Turns out that this man was prepared by the hand of the Lord to hear our message.  He excitedly welcomed us in and began to tell us about the background that he's already had with the "Mormons."  He has family members that are members and has been introduced to the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith.  He ran upstairs and brought down his Book of Mormon and the book "Our Heritage" and began to expound upon the things that he's learned from his reading.  HE taught US about Mormon being the father of Moroni and how Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and assisted in the bringing forth of the Book of Mormon.  I was amazed.  We didn't really even have to do anything.  He asked a couple questions which he pretty much answered himself.  We kind of just bore testimony of the things that he was saying. One of the members working with us, who was just baptized in December, bore strong testimony, and then we let JunJun loose on him and that just took it home. Game over.  Brian is getting baptized.  Such a spiritual experience.  If anyone ever doubts that the lord is preparing his children to hear the message of the restoration, send them my way and I'll prove them otherwise.

As I was praying the other day about the topic I wanted to speak on, I was hit with a definite answer.  A word popped into my head and the spirit testified to me that I needed to talk on forgiveness. President Hinckley proclaimed that forgiveness is probably the greatest virtue on earth and I’d have to agree.  If we could master this virtue, the world would be a far better place and our lives would be far happier. If we ever feel that we can't forgive someone I would encourage us to remember our savior Jesus Christ who suffered incomprehensible pain for each one of us.  He bled from ever pore, he was beaten, bruised, whipped, and mocked by those that he was in the act of saving. As he hung on the cross, facing his accuser, he offered this humble plea, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Never has such an act of love and forgiveness ever been preformed.  We can forgive even when we feel that we have been wronged beyond forgiveness.  The Lord is always ready and waiting to forgive us.  Let us remember our savior and be willing and ready to forgive those around us.            

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Without the Bitter, the Sweet Wouldn't Be as Sweet

Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat (Good morning to you all).

Another beautiful morning in the Philippines. You would never believe this, but it's actually getting hotter here.  We're approaching the "summer" season (even though it's always summer here) and are headed into the warmest months of the year.  Yay. I'm so excited to sweat.

The beginning of the week was great.  Elder Hawkins and I spent our last few days together in a state of bliss and joy. We went to the gym and running. Doesn't get better than that.  I'm sad to report Dad that the abs don't function like the washboard they used to.  I'm slowly moving into the padded-ironing-board-cover stage.  It's quite sad.  Oh rice, why are you so abundant in the Philippines? Anyway, Elder Hawkins and I made some cool shirts for about 2 dollars, made cookie dough and played some epic Uno.  We spent Monday night and Tuesday visiting all of our favorite families in the ward.  It was sad to say goodbye.  Especially, to the Borejon family.  The cutest part member family that the world has ever produced.  Their baptism is on the 29th and I’m hoping to get permission from President Stucki to attend. They expressed to me that they want me to be the one to baptize them so I sure hope I can go.

So my new area.... I am already in love it. And my companion... he's the man.  His name is Elder Manares.  He's the funniest, hard working Filipino missionary ever. He rarely speaks English and when he does, he just quotes movies hahaha.  I love the guy.  He's been in the mission for a while and heads home in October. We're going to have a great time together.  I'm excited for the opportunity to improve my language ability.  He also loves basketball.  We've played basketball 3 times so far.  We play with some of our neighbors.  It's a good time.

So our area is kind of tiny.  It's composed of probably 10 streets or so. However, the people are great.  It’s a step up from the ghetto that was my last area. No one calls me Joe and no one makes fun of us. It's great.  I did however have some little kids following me around pinching and slapping my butt.  That was weird.  We have some great mga tinuturuan (people we're teaching).  I gotta tell you about our awesome investigator Jun Jun.  He's 20 years old and just loves the gospel.  He works at a bakery and is just a happy guy.  We took him to a baptism on Saturday and he just ate it up.  He told us that he wishes it was him being baptized. (greatest comment ever).  He will be baptized on the 29th.

My first Sunday was just great.  I love the ward.  I started getting to know the members the first day I got here and they are the nicest people ever.  They love missionaries and they love missionary work. I had the opportunity to bear my testimony in sacrament meeting and I felt like I was back in the states.  The building we meet in is quite amazing.  It's three stories and 6 wards meet in it every Sunday.  The chapel looks almost identical to ours back home except downsized.  It has the exact same color scheme and everything. The only difference was there weren’t any white people.  I'm slowly upgraded area-to-area.  Cabar was a tiny shack hut, Manila was a small tropical building and Bonifacio (the name of our ward) is a huge, architectural feature.  I wonder what my next area has in store.  This ward just has a different feeling.  Everyone at church is happy and jolly. The spirit is strong and I’m just stoked to be here.  I was also asked to speak next week.  I will be the concluding speaker hahaha concluding speakers here usually end up speaking for like 20 minutes.  That will be an adventure.  The concluding speaker yesterday spoke for quite a while on the importance of marriage and how teenagers shouldn’t hold hands even if they're in a relationship.  That's quite an opinion.

I got your package! It was perfect timing.  I got it on Wednesday (transfer day) so it was a nice comfort.  Plus, we didn't have any food at our house so I’ve been living off of snacks.  Yum.  The shoes and shirts are great.  I'm lookin pretty dang fly.  I've actually had some random people approach me and tell me that only true representatives of Jesus Christ can look that good hahah however, it did come at a price.  These shoes gave me some gnarly blisters on my heels.  They're just about gone now though so we're all good. Thanks so much for the package.  I loved the pictures.  I've gone through them upwards of 20 times already.  You guys are lookin great. 

So I found out where Mayday Parade got the title, "Without the bitter, the sweet wouldn't be as sweet." It turns out they got if from D&C 29:39
 39 And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet.
That about does it for the week. It was a wonderful week and I feel extremely blessed to be a part of the work in this area.  I would just like to end with a scripture from one of the best Book of Mormon missionaries, Ammon.
12 Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things.
Ammon was the instrument that brought thousands of Lamanite souls into the fold of God. He worked miracles and forever changed the course of an entire nation. He was a man of mighty faith. However, he wasn't always the Ammon that chopped of arms to save the kings flocks or converted kingdoms.  He was also one of the sons of Mosiah that sought to destroy the church of God in his youth. He repented, he overcame his weaknesses, and grew into the man that the Lord wanted him to be. We can also become as Ammon is, even if we are now who Ammon used to be. We are so lucky to have the knowledge that we are all children of our Heavenly Father and he loves us unconditionally. He is there for us always and will help us become who he wants us to be.  In his strength, we can do all things.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

We Just Gotta Love

What a crazy week.  It was full of spiritual experiences, exhaustion, meetings, amazing people, crazy people, even crazier people and everything in between.

It all began on Tuesday when we had our zone meeting.  What an experience.  The mornings of zone meetings are crazy stressful, but are so worth it. We were running around town trying to finalize everything and fix the little problems that kept popping up out of nowhere. Elder Hawkins and I are really happy about the turn out though.  There was laughing, tears, the spirit and candy.  The formula for a good zone meeting. One of my main topics was letting our love motivate us to go above and beyond.  I used the greatest example of Love that ever did live.  Jesus Christ.  One day, I hope I can love as Jesus Christ loves.  One of my favorite verses on the subject is found in Moroni 8: 
”Behold, I speak with boldness, having authority from God; and I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear.”
We just gotta love.
Immediately following zone meeting, we went on exchanges with our district leader.  It was great.  I was working over in their area with Elder Barnes from Idaho. (Yes mom, every missionary from Idaho is serving in the Philippines). We had a good time.  We talked to a lot of people.  Someone tried to convert us to Iglesia Ni Cristo.  I think we saw a dead guy. We got hit on... by both girls and guys. Went to the gym.  You know, just a normal day as a missionary. What's super cool is Elder Barnes lives with Elder Atoigue so I gotta spend the night with my tatay.  I sure love that man.  He heads home in July.  Crazy. Want to hear something awesome? I can't remember if I mentioned this before, but Elder Atoigue was a convert to the church and was the only member in his family. He had the amazing experience to baptize his mom while he was in the MTC.  Since then, his dad has also been baptized. Elder Atoigue is the man.  That is a true missionary.  It gets even better.  This summer, his parents will be flying out to Manila to be sealed as a family in the Manila temple.  It nearly brings tears to my eyes. I love that family.
The rest of the week was full of teaching, talking and tracting. We found some wonderful investigators this week who are definitely going to be baptized.  We had two great FHEs with a few investigators that will be baptized on the 29th.   Had 7 investigators at church and 7 less actives.  Our sacrament attendance has jumped from 126 to 181 in the past three weeks. It's a great time to be serving in the Manila 1st ward.
I gotta tell you a couple stories from church. We were waiting at the door inviting everyone to church when I see our part member family (Borejon) walk in through the gate. I make eye contact with their 8-year-old daughter and she gets this huge smile on her face and runs over and gives me a hug.  Yeah, that was priceless.  Next story.  We just finished up Sunday school and were heading into the chapel.  I scan the room to see who's there, who's sitting next to who, and all that fun stuff. Out of the corner of my eye I see a man.  I took a second look and realized that it was Dino, the less active husband of our investigator that disappeared two weeks ago. I scanned the row and found Maricel (our investigator) sitting quietly awaiting for the meeting to start. I just love when people come to church without even being asked.  It's just great.  It was a great Sunday.
I have bad news. 

I'm transferring. 

Got a call last night from the APs and I will be transferring out of my beloved area. I'll be heading to a new zone on Wednesday. That call pretty much shattered my dreams.  It made me really really sad.  This area and this zone are finally moving forward and I’m being transferred. I hate leaving the people that I have grown to love so much.  I will miss them like crazy. I guess I’m needed in another part of the Lord's vineyard. The great thing is, I’ll have the opportunity to meet hundreds of new people. "I'll go where you want me to go dear lord.”

Sunday, March 2, 2014

"A Thought Popped Into My Hair"

Another great week has gone by. I sure do love missionary work.  Thanks for your emails today. Reading emails from home ranks high on my favorite things to do (right next to seeing women breastfeed and naked kids hugging our legs).  I'm glad to hear that everything is going well in the Promised Land. Elder Hawkins and I have had a wonderful morning finishing up preparations for our Zone Meeting that will be happening this Tuesday.  It's going to be a good one. Following email, we will be headed to our favorite place in town, Mang Inasal.  A restaurant that offers unlimited rice with any combo (only in the Philippines). We are about to stuff ourselves. 

Alright what to say about this week.  We had MLC again this last Thursday. It was a wonderful experience.  It was extra special because I saw everyone from my MTC District on our year mark.  We took some great pictures and had a great time.  I sure do love those missionaries.  We always leave MLC motivated and spiritual uplifted. 

Elder Hawkins and I had a pretty good week this week.  We pulled in 28 lessons and are hoping to do even better in the upcoming week. We have a new drive to make this area the best that we can.  We have set some really high goals for April and are super excited.  Transfer day is coming up here on the 12th so I'm not quite sure if I'll be staying or leaving. I really don't want to leave yet.  I have put my sweat and tears into this area and it's finally reaching its peak.  Plus, Elder Hawkins and I have a good thing going so we're really hoping to keep it going for a couple more months.

We had a great opportunity to go on exchanges with the APs this week. I learned a ton.  It's amazing how much you can learn from one person.  I was with Elder Belnap.  He's from Idaho and we actually have a ton in common.  Turns out he's a soccer player (kinda) and loves sports in general.  We had a good time and taught some great lessons.  He's an amazing teacher and has quite a grasp on the Book of Mormon.  He's a great guy.

We had two less actives reactivate this last Sunday.  It was a great day.  Plus, we had a few less active families show up to church, which was absolutely fantastic.  It doesn't get much better than working with families.  Elder Hawkins and I spend all our time with part member families. There's a special spirit that resides in their homes and they are usually prepared to hear the gospel and make changes in their lives. One of our investigators is named Marlon  (I think I have mentioned him in previous emails). His wife is active in the church and has the strongest desire for her husband to be baptized.  It's amazing how much Marlon's faith has grown in the past couple months through scripture study and prayer. Elder Hawkins and I taught a very powerful lesson about the atonement and it's importance in our lives. I've found that a lot of people understand that there was an Atonement made, but they don't quite grasp the importance nor how to use it. The Lord asks us to do so little and yet we often fall short. We too often lose focus of what's truly important in our lives. Unfortunately, a lot of people here allow pleasure to blind their vision of what truly matters; They seek for happiness among wickedness. I can't think of a better calling than helping others discover what truly brings them joy. 

Had an awesome Tagalog mess up this week.  It was hilarious. We were in a lesson with a man that did not want to believe in the Book of Mormon.  He was pulling out all these bible verses trying to prove that there could not be other scripture nor could Jesus Christ appear to the people in America. I was getting pretty fed up so Elder Hawkins and I just bore strong testimony of the Book of Mormon.  I was really into this testimony.  The moment was cinematic.  A thought popped into my head and I tried to express that by saying "a thought popped into my mind." Well I mixed up the word for mind (Utak) with the word for hair (buhok) hahahaha so yes, I told this man that a thought popped into my hair.  That was embarrassing.  I quickly corrected myself, but the moment was gone.  We got a good laugh out of that one. 

Well this week hasn't been too crazy.  It went by so fast that I don't really remember what happened.  I guess I'll just end with a spiritual thought about one of my favorite characters from the Book of Mormon: King Benjamin.  He's such a great example to us all.  He's a great father, teacher and disciple of Jesus Christ.  I love this verse from Words of Mormon:
King Benjamin by laboring with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul, and also the prophets, did once more establish peace in the land.

He labored with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul.  Because of his diligence, he established peace in the land. He didn't rely on others to do everything for him nor was he lazy. He didn't procrastinate nor seek after that which is wicked. He was an amazing leader and an amazing man because he worked. King Benjamin worked when he didn't want to work and continued when the going got tough.  I hope one day I can labor even as King Benjamin labored.