Sunday, May 27, 2012

First Two Weeks in Philippines:

We left from SLC airport about 7:00 pm on a Monday night April 30th, and flew to LA where we experienced a five hour layover and we then flew to Hong Kong which was about a 14 to 15 hour flight.  We had a layover in Hong Kong for about two hours and then we flew into Manila.  In total about 20 to 25 hours of travel.  We were driven to a little hotel late that afternoon where we crashed from jet lag and had a meal.  We enjoyed our traveling companions, Elder and Sister Gottfredson,  a senior couple also from Salt Lake traveling to our same mission.  The next morning we were picked up early in order to get our driver’s license processed. . .a very interesting experience.  We were given an eye exam and blood pressure test.  They took our urine specimen in an unusual manner.  We paid money at five different locations.  Finally we were licensed to drive in the Philippines! (We are grateful we don’t have to drive in Manila!)

Getting fingerprinted etc. for our driver's license

 The Manila Temple is across the street from
the Manila MTC and the mission offices there
in Quezon City.

The intense rays of the sun and the high humidity were daunting.  In the afternoon we were able to visit a newly dedicated MTC center immediately across from the Manila temple.  President Taylor, the MTC president, gave us a very nice tour.  Turns out he was an old school mate of Mignon.  We then went across the street and participated in some initiatory work and an endowment session.  It would be our last temple visit for two years.  I received some strong impressions that our mission president would be inspired in our assignment and that we would have some help in the language.  The temple is beautiful, but small.  We were the only Caucasians on the session.  It was a tender experience.
We went to the hotel to sleep and woke up in the morning to catch our flight to Cauayan, our mission head quarters. I sat next to a young Philippino man on the plane that was also going to Cauayan.  He had been married for just a year and just had a little baby.  He gave me phone and address info in order to have missionaries deliver a Book of Mormon to him. 

 Waiting for us at the Cauayan Airport was an enthusiastic welcoming group consisting of President and Sister Carlos, 3 other senior missionary couples and the APs.  They were kind, enthusiastic and welcoming. 
Sister Carlos taking a picture of me taking her picture.
They had been waiting in the heat for over 30 minutes to greet us!

Elder & Sister Laker and Elder & Sister Shaner
 We went to the mission home and spent some time with the President and his wife and the other senior couples getting better acquainted.  

Elder and Sister Russell.  They leave us in July to go home.

We enjoyed a delicious meal and then President Carlos took time to interview each of the two new couples and give them our assignments.  Mignon and I were deeply touched at the spiritual sensitivity and power of this interview.  As he explained his philosophy of missionary work, Mignon and I smiled with a few tears in our eyes for it was all about change of heart and coming unto Christ.  It was clear that the assignment that he gave us was not the original he had intended.  He explained as he looked into our eyes that he felt impressed to have us serve in a little branch called Gamu.  It had really been struggling, possibly the weakest in the mission.  After helping the saints in Gamu, he wanted us to expand our efforts to their district, Burgos, which was possibly the weakest district. 
President and Sister Carlos have taken care of us since we first received our call through emails, skype,
and now with their arms around us.  We love them!
We were staying in the mission home that night since our little cottage was not yet fully completed.  We stayed in the GA bedroom (the guest room they put General Authorities in when they visit).  As we prepared to move into our little cottage, we found out that we had been issued a defective debit card which was to be our source of obtaining access to our funds.  President Carlos was kind enough to allow us to obtain an advance from the office while we worked this problem out.  It took about a week and a half before it arrived even with our son Craig rushing the process through. 

Our little cottage in Gamu is in the midst of a farming community.  Most of the residents work in the fields raising corn and rice.  We live in a little walled compound with our landlord, Ray, his wife Josie, and their 8 year old daughter, Jade.  Ray is from the UK and his wife from the Philippines.  Inside our compound there are several families of chickens that are following around by their little chicks.  There are in the neighborhood ducks, goats, dogs, cats, pigs, and  many large water buffalo that are use to pull carts and plow the fields.  If you thought a cow pie was big it is nothing compared to a water buffalo dropping.  They are huge! 

Our little cottage is very nice.  We have a little living room, a large kitchen, a bathroom with a shower, and a good sized bedroom.  It is better than we would have anticipated.  


 Don't you like our kitchen? That's the water
purification system hooked to the sink
faucet.  Our little gas stove/oven works on
propane.  I am trying to get used to baking
at this altitude with gas and only getting top 
or bottom heat, not at the same time, so 

The bathroom is great and spacious, but no
electrical plugs so I have to dry and style
my hair in the kitchen!

After 2 weeks we finally got our bookshelf, coffee table
and end table to complete our living room

The all purpose bedroom/ office (the room with the aircon)

We aren't kidding about creativity in getting
internet access!
Our next challenge was internet access.  This is the main reason that we have been so slow in updating you.  After much pain and suffering, investigating all avenues, we have access that most of the time is adequate.  

We are stared at wherever we go.  We have found that roosters do not wait until sunrise to crow but rather begin about 2:20 am.  The pigs begin a little later and the dogs seem to communicate whenever they want.
We moved in late Saturday night so we could attend our little Gamu branch in the morning.  The next Sunday morning Mignon went into a very small primary room that had about 25 children in it.  The primary president had to work in the fields  because of the corn harvest and they had no teachers.  Mignon brought in a little extra key board that they had and did music.  She was great.  I could hear loud children’s voices singing primary songs in English all the way in Gospel doctrine.  Mignon looked like she had taken a sauna when she came out. The building is a beautiful new chapel without air conditioning.  I was asked to give the opening prayer in gospel doctrine.  This branch does not understand English.  I am glad they kept their heads bowed as I glanced at a few prayer phrases that we had learned in the MTC.  We were asked to go up and bear our testimonies since we were new to the branch.  Again, we referred to a simple testimony that we had learned in the MTC.  We loved the spirit in this little branch.  We knew that we were exactly where the Lord wanted us to be. 

Gamu Chapel
After the block of meetings we attended a two hour branch council meeting.  After this meeting the missionaries asked if they could join us for dinner.  I told them that would be fine if they were ok with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  After dinner we went out visiting less actives with the missionaries.  The heat and humidity is incredible.
That evening we drove about 45 minutes to the mission home where we have a weekly meeting with the mission president, his wife, and the other couple missionaries.  We had a wonderful meal for this one and then shared and coordinated.  We were invited to be the concluding speakers for a devotional at one of the stakes at the conclusion of a 3 day youth conferences.  It was to be a one hour speaking assignment at the conclusion of their testimony meeting.  We were told to expect about 150 youth.  It turned out to be a tender experience after a little stressful preparation. 

We have done a lot of visiting of less actives with our missionaries.  The elders are amazing.  They are extremely hardworking and very effective at helping individuals experience a change of heart through the Book of Mormon.  Mignon and I feel like little babies due to the language constraint.  I hope it will come sooner rather than later.  Our mission president assures us that the language of the spirit and love will compensate for our weakness in the language. 

Monday night we participated in a family home evening in the home of a partially active and partially inactive family.  It was a very humble little home with one light bulb in the house and a concrete floor.  We prayed, we sang, a lesson was given, we played and we ate.  In the Philippines you do not just have refreshments rather they prepare a meal.  Neighbors feel comfortable dropping in.  I had to be careful not to look too distracted as three little lizards kept darting after each other on the ceiling.

Saturday we participated in a branch mission day.  We met at the branch at 10:00 am after which the missionaries provided training as to what might be said at the homes of the less active that we were to visit.  They taught that we were not to focus on inviting them to come back to church rather we were to remind them of the Gospel and what they had felt when they joined the church.  After the training we again had a meal together.  A very interesting experience.  Rice was prepared.  Mignon brought a shrimp pasta salad.  A number of the members expressed that they had never tasted shrimp before.  We are in an inland city.  One individual brought half dozen fish that he had caught.  They were put into water with the heads on and boiled.  The broth from the boiled fish was poured on to the rice and some drank the broth.  We learn two things from this branch meal.  Bring your own utensils and get to the front of the line.  Individuals were eating from everything from cups to dish covers and were sharing from the same vessel.  You eat with your fingers which is a little uncomfortable without a napkin handy.  

Overall it was a wonderful activity.  Our area consists of three little township which are separated with some distance.  We were divided into three groups.  Each group had some teenagers, a member of the Relief Society Presidency, and another couple of members.  We were given specific less actives to contact and teach the gospel.  Each group was assigned about five families.  We left about 1:00 pm and were asked to report back at the church at 5:00 pm.  The sun was scorching and the humidity was very high.  I was astonished at the perseverance and fortitude of these members and missionaries.  It was so hot that Mignon asked to be taken home to get some relief from the sun after visiting several hours.  We bore testimony and read passages from the Book of Mormon.  We prayed.  I could see the spirit working already on less actives that we had visited just a few days prior.  These humble Philippino people seem to have a natural inclination to feel the spirit and understand quickly their relationship to Jesus Christ.  They comprehend quickly a change of heart.  Some live far from the meeting house and have money to just provide food for themselves from day to day.  I do not think I have seen harder working missionaries or members anywhere.  It took all our strength to try to keep up with them.  

A tall American Elder from Utah riding the Jeepney to district meeting.

Our Gamu elders, Elder Needs and Elder Ballentos
We did enjoy some district meetings with missionaries and our first fireside for departing missionaries and our first change meeting for new assignments.  I will share these experiences in our next blog.  We love the people, the missionaries, and our mission president already.  We literally crash at night from fatigue, but it is a good feeling.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

MTC Experiences
Missionary Training Center

Arriving at the MTC as Senior Missionaries is not the same experience as when you drop off a son or a daughter!  It is fun, joyful and full of anticipation.  No tears or fears!

The famous map where every missionary has their picture taken!  
We met many senior couples on Monday and throughout the week.  (We actually arrived there on April 23 through the 27th, but it has taken us this long to get to our blog!) There were over 70 in our group that week:  about 8 couples learning a foreign language in addition to the Preach My Gospel instruction.  Some were headed to mission offices, some to Church sites, some as medical personnel, some as public affairs missionaries, and others to do humanitarian work.  Most of us are assigned to work as member and leadership support.

This is our district - the couples we studied with every day.  The couple here is going to
Hanoi, Vietnam.   The young guy is our afternoon teacher.
The couple on the left are going to Hawaii and the one on the right to Germany.
Here we are again with our district and our afternoon teachers.
Our daily schedule included large group training on teaching people, not lessons.  We broke out into smaller groups of 4 couples where we studied principles, practiced, and taught "investigators" (volunteers from the community) in a simulated setting.  Though one felt a little nervous at first, these experiences were actually kind of fun teaching the things that mean so much to you in your life.  You could get feedback from our teacher who had watched over closed circuit camera, as well as sense yourself the things you would have done differently to be more effective. 

The cafeteria doors have just opened and the herd presses forward!
In addition we had 3 square meals a day at the MTC cafeteria which any missionary will tell you is an experience in and of itself:  many meal choices offered and mostly geared towards 19 year old boys!  We tried to take many brisk walks in between meetings to burn some of those calories we were eating!
The MTC Post Office

In the MTC Bookstore
Tuesday evening we had a devotional where we heard from Elder and Sister Russell M. Nelson.  It was so amazing to be there gathered together with all the missionaries old and young, all coming from and heading to palces all over the world, and sing "Called to Serve".

Scenes on the MTC grounds

In the evenings on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday those of us with languages to learn had two hours with our tutors.  Then you tried to do a little preparation homework for the next day and fell into bed exhausted by 9:45 to wake up by 6 am and start again.  By Friday night we had a closing testimony meeting with us giving our testimonies in our languages.  We had written them down in English the week before, our tutors had translated them, and then we had worked to learn them.  Most of us read them (too nervous to pronounce and also remember them), but a few including Elder Mills had memorized theirs!

This was just part of the 70+ couples at the MTC that week.