Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Feast Without Rice!

I'm glad to report that Thanksgiving was great on this end. The Keys invited us over for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and it was amazing! It's been far too long since I’ve had thanksgiving. I've only missed it once, but once is far too many. They had numerous families from the ward over as well. It was a fun time. It was Elder Avila's first thanksgiving ever. He finally knows what it's like for all the Americans because the only language spoken was English and it was a houseful of Americans. I felt right at home. It was also amazing to have a feast that didn't include rice. My stomach was actually full, not just bloated. It was an amazing day. I sure love the Keys family as well. They are a great family. 

I'll take some time here to give you a quick update on some of the great people we are teaching that I’ve told you about over the past little while. 

Noah is the man. He texted me this last week just to tell me how excited he is for his baptisms. Every time I see him at church he lights up. He loves the gospel so much. I'm super excited for him. 

My boy Samuel is doing pretty well. He's going through a pretty hard time right now looking for work. He was hoping to pick up a job pretty quickly right when he got here, but unfortunately, it didn't quite work out like that. He's pushin along though. One thing I love about him though is he always puts church first. He lives a good hour away from the chapel, but he always makes sure that he has enough money and time to be there on time. I know the lord will bless him because of his efforts. We're hoping he can be baptized on the 13th. 

Wilma is doing great.  She has made some huge steps this last week.  Her baptism is also set for the 13th of December.  

Sheila is an investigator I haven't talked too much about. She's a 13-year-old girl that lives next to a member family. One day, this member family brought her to church, she loved it and now wants to be baptized. We've been teaching her for the past few weeks and she's just amazing. She's extremely smart. Our focus right now is teaching her mom and brothers. We finally taught them for the first time this last week and it was great. It was a quick lesson, but the spirit was definitely testifying to everyone there. There's no way its presence could not be felt. She'll be baptized on the 13th as well. 

Genesis is another one our great investigators. Her mom is a recent convert that was baptized in another ward, but when moved here, fell less active. We luckily found her, and brought her and her 2 daughters back to church. One of those daughters is already a member, but the other is not. Don't you just love completing families?

Patrick is still doing great. He's pretty much my best friend. He's so ready for baptism, but is just struggling with some family situations right now. His mom (who is so against the church) will be coming into town this month so he's going to use that opportunity to invite her to church and I have no doubt that everything will work out. It's funny because he always mentions how excited he is to get married in the temple. His girlfriend is a member and it makes me chuckle how excited he is. He's got his priorities in the right place. 

Those are our focuses right now. I sure am blessed to be serving in the ward that I am right now. I would love to finish my mission here. Who knows what will happen. I'm definitely going to enjoy it while I’m here though. I'm really grown to love the members and all of the people here. Life is good. 

One last story. Yesterday morning we received a text from our bishop. It said, "Hey Elders, can you both speak in sacrament later today?" So yep, we spoke during sacrament yesterday and it went quite well. Our topic was service and how to serve. I focused on the verse D&C 4:2 specifically the part that states "serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength." It was interesting because I had a simple plan before sacrament started, but as I sat on the stand pondering, I was prompted to take a different course with it. I spent the next 5 minutes reconfiguring my talk, then I gave it. I shared about different experiences in my life that have taught me how to serve with those 4 qualities. One of the experiences I shared about was being the home teacher of Sister Call. I shared about the change we saw in her as the years went by, a perfect example of what happens through dedicated service. We might not always see the impact we'll have or the importance of a particular act of service from the beginning. We sometimes don't realize the impact we had after the service is over. However, the impact is real. That act of service may be cherished by the receiver over a lifetime. Numerous members came up to me after and paid me some very nice compliments that really meant a lot to me. It was a great experience. Keep on serving. It may change someone’s life. 

Well that's about it for today. I sure do love you all. I remember at the beginning of my mission, mom mentioned that I would only be gone for 23 more fast Sundays. Our ward had fast Sunday this last week due to conference next week so that leaves 2 fast Sundays left. Where has the time gone? Luckily, there is plenty of work to be done, numerous lives to be saved and a whole lot of difference that needs to be made in that time. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Work of Salvation

I imagine that it's that time of year over there where the fireplace is on and the family is gathered around in the living room, fighting over the white Christmas blanket hiding from the winter chill. However, just in case you're wondering, it's 86 degrees right now in this Island Paradise. 

Well this week has been another great week. It's been ridiculously busy with transfers. We were running non-stop trying to get everything ready for the big day.  Just to give you an idea at what we have to deal with when it comes to transfers, I’ll tell you a quick experience we had the other night. It was Tuesday night and we had to drive the going home missionaries to their hotel room. We just concluded the testimony meeting and it was about 9:15 PM. We loaded everybody in the car and raced off through the dark streets of Manila. Unfortunately, the city never sleeps so there was still stop and go traffic at that hour. We ended up making it to the hotel around 10:30 or so, dropped everyone off and then embarked on a great journey to return two sisters to each of their areas which are on opposite sides of the mission. We finally arrived home at around 1 am and jumped into bed to get as much sleep as we could. It felt like minutes later our alarm was going off at 5 am informing us that it was the day of transfers and time to get ready to head to the MTC to pick up all of the new missionaries. We tackled the busiest day of the transfer on 4 hours of sleep. The enabling power of the atonement is real. 

So one might think that after a week of miracles like last week, there's no way that this week could ever compare. I, myself, thought that at the beginning of the week. However, the Lord proved me wrong. Thursday, the day after transfers, our bishop from the international ward sent us a text saying, "Noah, a young men in our ward boundaries, has requested to be baptized. He has been going to seminary and has numerous friends from the ward. The Bremner family has agreed to open their house to allow you to teach Noah there. The lord is answering our prayers. Act quickly." Oh my gosh. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. Again, I had to restrain myself from shouting for joy and "dougie"ing on the nearest table. I've learned some very valuable lessons from the experiences I’ve had in the past couple weeks about how to hasten the work of salvation in a ward. I truly believe that the success is coming to our ward because our ward council is directing missionary work and they are utilizing the full time missionaries, not the other way around. I'd like to share an experience we had the other day in a ward council meeting and then point out some important principles about the work of salvation found in the text I received from our bishop. It all started at a ward council meeting led by our bishop about missionary work in our ward. He shared a spiritual thought and then set a goal for the number of baptisms by the end of the year. He then encouraged everyone in the ward council to continually pray for this goal and seek opportunities to reach it. The standard had been set. Action then soon followed. The combined prayers from the members and us were immediately answered. Things just started to fall into place with investigators that we're currently teaching. Concerns just started to melt away. Baptism, which once seemed like a long term goal, became feasible in December. Now for the text from our bishop. The first thing to point out is the invitation from a member to join seminary. The next point is the fellowshipping efforts made by the youth enrolled in seminary and the parents of those students. Third, a member volunteered their home as a place of teaching. (Not only that, but they lived their lives and directed their home in a way to make their it a place where the spirit could reside amplifying the teaching experience). Fourth, an invitation to act quickly and accountability. We were able to teach Noah on Saturday and it was one of the most uplifting experiences of my mission. The Bremner family (which includes their son, Noah's classmate in seminary) was present and were ready to share/teach anything they were asked to. As full time missionaries, we led the discussion, but as often as we could, gave this wonderful family the opportunity to share. Right after our lesson, Noah and Connet (the son) left to a ward activity. He came to church on Sunday, had an amazing experience and is excited to be baptized on the 13th of December. The Lord pours out blessings when members and missionaries come together. There is no greater work than this. 

I sure do love this great work. I could not be serving in a better place. The Philippines Manila Mission is exactly where I’m supposed to be. The Lord truly does know his sheep. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

This Could Be One Of The Best Weeks Of My Entire Mission!

Well this week has been one of the best weeks of my entire mission. When I look back over the last 21 months, there are certain events that stand out above the rest. This week contains one of those events. Don't worry though, I’ll wait till the end to address that! However, there were numerous other things that happened this week that were just tender mercies from the lord. I hope that I can do this email justice. 

All right, let's begin. 

Early this last week, we received a text from some missionaries on the other side of the mission that would make any missionary rejoice. They informed us that a guy from Ghana randomly showed up at their ward last Sunday who was taught by missionaries in Singapore and was "about to get baptized." Answer to our prayers. The next day we cruised cross-country. Upon arriving at the address given to us by the missionaries, we heard a voice yell "Elders!" We turn around to find two men from Ghana with ice cream cones in hand and huge smiles on their faces. That was the first time we saw Samuel and Eric. We started to chat and made our way to a nearby chapel to talk about the gospel. As we began to talk, it was evident that these two men were prepared by the Lord from an early age for this very moment. I have never met anyone so ready to receive the gospel. They had met the missionaries a week before flying to the Philippines. The missionaries taught them three times and they had already started reading the book of Mormon. Samuel began to share how he had already gained knowledge that the book of Mormon is true. A quick story about our 2nd meeting with Samuel will really show how prepared he really is. We decided to share with Samuel about the Word of Wisdom. Upon concluding the lesson we committed him to live the word of wisdom. He responded, "of course. When I get home, I'll throw out all the coffee we bought yesterday." Miracle. 

The next amazing event happened last Thursday. We had a super busy morning with numerous meetings and choir practice. Right after our final meeting concluded, I received a call. The Canadian man on the line excitedly greeted me and explained that he just arrived in the Philippines. He's a member of the church, but has been inactive for about a decade. He explained that he drove by one of the chapels earlier that day and decided that he wants to come back to church. Later that night, Elder Avila and I visited him and had a great discussion. We learned about his life and quickly discovered his new found drive to return to church. He came to church yesterday, sat down next to me and exclaimed,” I am so happy that I decided to come back to church." 

All right, you're probably thinking, "there couldn't possibly be anything else that happened last week as good as those last two experiences." Just like my boy Brad Paisley says, when you think it can't possibly get any better, it does. Last week, I receive a text (never in my mission have I received such amazing texts and calls) from the zone leaders in Bonifacio. They excitedly told me that Jenna, the wife of Edmar, my favorite family ever, is getting baptized. That news alone made me the happiest man alive. Luckily, there was more. Then continued to say, "Jenna has requested that you come back to the ward so you can be the one to baptize her." At this point I was on top of the world. I was so stinkin' excited. I immediately texted president Ostler and asked permission. He responded, "It would be wonderful if you could be the one to baptize her. Last Saturday, we made our way to Bonifacio. As we approached the chapel, memories came flooding back to my mind. When we walked in the chapel, I was greeted with smiles and pictures by some of the ward members. It was a joyful reunion. Jenna had not yet arrived so I went to change into my baptismal clothing and then waited for her arrival. A little while later, a crowd walked into the building. At the back of the crowd I see Jenna stand on her tippy toes with a huge smile on her face frantically waiving hi. In her other hand was the hand of MJ, her young daughter. It was one of the most tender moments of my entire mission. I cannot express how happy I was at that moment. Unfortunately, Edmar is working abroad right now so he wasn't able to make it.  I then began to realize that the crowd that she was with was her entire family, none of which were members.  It was amazing.
The baptism was one of the most memorable baptisms I have ever attended. The first speaker of the baptism was Princess, our last baptism before I transferred. She spoke with confidence and clarity about the importance of baptism. The actual ordinance was picture perfect. The look on Jenna's face as she came out of the water is unforgettable. I will never forget that beautiful day. That's a memory I will cherish throughout my life. How great is full time missionary service. 

I guess you can say that it was a pretty good week. It's one of those weeks that make every hardship and every trial worth it. I love being a missionary for the church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints. I love you all so much. Have a wonderful week. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

I Will Sure Miss Sister Call!

This is a pretty tough email to start out. As I read your emails, I couldn't hold the tears. As I write this email, memories flood my mind of tender moments I’ve shared with Sister Call. I can see myself as a young man sitting on her couch, shaking as I struggled to present my first home teaching message with her. I remember the realization that even though I was the one that shared the lesson that day, Sister Call was the one that taught me. I always left uplifted spiritually and emotionally. It feels like just yesterday, Dad and I, as a newly ordained Elder, visited Sister Call at her home and gave her a blessing, the first blessing I ever participated in. I'll cherish the words she spoke through streaming tears, "thank you so much." My soul is filled with joy as I relive the moment I peered out over the congregation while giving my farewell talk and spotted Sister Call sitting on the left side of the gym. Little did she know that she was the one I was most excited to see. I'll never forget the impact she has made on my life, the example she has set for me and her kind words of encouragement. I'll never be able to repay her for the things she has done in helping me become who I am today.  Sister Call will always have a special place in my heart. I'll always be her missionary. 

Went on two exchanges this week to some interesting parts of the Philippines. The first exchange was back to the Compton of Manila, Tondo. I didn't think it was possible to construct an entire neighborhood out of garbage and other random objects, but I was proven wrong. This place is known in the Philippines as being the most dangerous part of Metro Manila. It was super exciting. We began changing that town one person at a time. It was a fun exchange and I saw sights and smelled smells that I never thought existed. By the time is was time to head back to Makati, I didn't want to leave! 

We had another Choir practice this week. Dang, we are started to get good. A choir of 150 missionaries speaks in a way that nothing else can. It's pretty powerful. That being said, we have a lot of work to do! I'm so excited though. It's going to be a blast. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Life Is Good

Well this week has been exciting to say the least. Elder Avila and I have been crazy busy so this email should be pretty exciting. It all started last Tuesday when president asked us to go on emergency exchanges with some Elders in our mission. They've been struggling a little bit with obedience and other things so we went in like Seal team 6 to put an end to it. It was actually a really fun and successful exchange. The one I went on exchanges with was my apo (grandson) or in other words the trainee of Elder Villoso, my trainee. You always have a special bond with your "mission posterity." We worked in the ghetto of the ghetto. If you googled "Ghetto of the Philippines," you would probably find this exact place with us proselyting in the background. At the end of the exchange he was extremely thankful and told me, "I feel like I can go out and talk to anyone now!" We got a picture and then I left my apo to convert the world. It was a fun time. 

The next few days were a blur as we prepared for MLC and the arrival of numerous general authorities. MLC was great. President Ostler is giving us a lot of time to teach and I love it. Elder Avila and I taught for a total of 1 hour and 30 minutes about different missionary subjects. We have two major pushes going on in our mission right now and they are "Becoming Master Teachers" and "Talking with Everyone." This mission is really going to bloom under the direction of President Ostler. I'm amazed at his leadership ability and his sensitivity to the spirit. I am learning so much from him. It's a blessing to be serving with him. 

Friday was even crazier then Wednesday and Thursday. It was jam packed with different activities and meetings. The first meeting was a New Missionary and Trainer follow up meeting which is conducted 3 weeks after the new missionaries arrive in order to check on their progress and encourage them further. It was a great meeting. President asked me to teach about "being a new missionary." In preparation I looked back over my journal entries from my first area and got a good laugh. It's amazing to see how much you progress over the short period of two years. 

Right after that meeting we had our first choir practice!! All I can say is it ain't Christmas until the Philippines Manila Mission sings about it. We will be singing 5 songs, 3 of which we went over during the practice. We have a lot of work to do. Word on the street is that we also have a chance to sing on TV. One of the members might be able to hook us up. Have I ever mentioned how much I love singing? I could sing all day, e'ryday. Just to warn you, upon arriving home, I will be singing non-stop for at least a month.

THEN, we had our special missionary meeting with Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the presidency of the Seventy. Also in attendance was his wife, Sister Robbins, and my boy Elder Ardern and Sister Ardern. Elder Avila and I were sitting on the stand when they walked into the chapel. As Elder Ardern, the one who was supposed to conduct the meeting, takes his seat on the stage, he leans over to me and says, "I'm going to have you conduct this meeting so hurry and take a look at the program." hahahah Little did he know that all that was written on our program was, "instruction lead by Elder Robbins." So yep, I pretty much just had to play it by ear and go with it while two general authorities were in attendance and over 200 missionaries. NBD. In all honesty, I’m so thankful for the experiences I’ve had on my mission. It truly has been a blessing. Not everyone can say they've conducted a meeting that two general authorities were speaking in. President Eyring and President Uchtdorf need to be careful, I might be conducting at the next general conference. 

The meeting was amazing. Every time I hear a General Authority speak it amazes me more and more. Their ability to teach is unbelievable. We unfortunately were not able to meet Elder Oaks. However, we did watch a nation wide broadcast last night that he spoke at. It was interesting because the first speakers (Bishop Causse, Elder Ardern and Elder Robbins) all taught about the opportunity it was to be with Elder Oaks and how thankful they were for his example. They didn't want to take any time away from Elder Oaks. It seemed as if they were only preparing us to hear what Elder Oaks was going to teach us. One thing that I feel was a key part of the weekend and the things taught to this wonderful nation was the importance of exact obedience. We need to be 100 percent obedient to the commandments. We can't choose which commandments to follow, we must follow them all. Either we're on the Lord's side or we're not. There's no in between.