Monday, October 29, 2012

Sister Cabanag Moves On

Sleeping on the Job - In the Pines, everyone has a hammock and they just carry them around and put them up when ever and where ever if they are sleepy.
Happy All Saints Day! This is the Halloween substitute in the pines. All Saints Day is actually celebrated on November 1st. Apparently everyone goes to spend the night in the cemeteries on Oct 31st and Nov 1st, so we have been given a 6pm curfew this week so that we won't be on the streets after dark. I don’t know if I have ever mentioned what Filipino cemeteries are like but they are very different than ours back in the states. Because of the constant rain that the Philippines receives the ground is very soft meaning that all coffins are encased in cement boxes and are above ground. In the cemeteries there are rows and rows of white cement boxes stacked on top of one another. I am excited to experience a Filipino Halloween.

This picture is of one of our investigators who got baptized on saturday. we took them lunch this week as a surprise (they dont have very much to eat ever) it was so fun! they are so humble and grateful!
Well, I survived my first intense typhoon . Wednesday and Thursday consisted of dark clouds and gloomy weather, the kind of weather that makes you want to curl up and read a good book. The gloomy weather quickly turned into heavy rain and strong wind that caused the trees to blow horizontal. Being misionaries we in fact could not curl up and read a good book, so after we finished our studying we went out to battle the storm. On Wednesday night we were walking home from our appointments with our destination being the grocery store when the rain really started to come down. The lights were all out in the surrounding neighborhood because of the storm and the streets had turned into a ghost town due to the strength of the rain. Two sister missionaries were the only ones to be seen walking down a pitch black road, hand in hand, with our umbrellas out in front of us trying to combat the rain and wind – laughing the whole way. By the time we reached the grocery store the top of my skirt was its original light blue while the bottom was dark blue and heavy with rain water. Good times!

We have tried to have a family home evening at least once a week with a family in our area. This week we met with the Llorin family. The two young boys ages 9 and 12 are investigators. The 9 year old was baptized on Saturday! The 12 year old had a horrible fever and much to his disappointment his baptism will have to wait until next week. But the FHE turned out to be really fun! Around nine of the neighborhood children joined the family of 5 boys so we had a full house. We taught the story of David and Goliath and cut out stones from paper and had the kids write 5 things they can use in their life to fight their own personal Goliath. I thought about how the little simple ‘stones’ in our lives really do create the foundation and the security for us to call upon in times of need.

The baptism on Saturday was wonderful. There was a great support there from the Branch and the Young Men’s president, Brother Armel, was the one to baptize the four kids. Brother Armel is a convert and not married so this was the first time he was able to perform a baptism and it was a neat experience to watch him use his priesthood on such a monumental day for these four children. After the baptism we had our branch family home evening which turned out to be a great success! We don’t have a budget so the branch couldn’t shoulder food costs so we had everyone bring one kilogram of food. Every one was also supposed to bring one non member friend or a less active member of our branch. There weren’t as many non members present but so many less active members came and got involved. It was a wonderful opportunity for branch bonding – I realized how important fellowshipping in the church is. We all want to feel included and we all need a friend, it is a basic human characteristic no matter where you are in the world. One thing I have learned about Filipinos is they love their snacks! I was manning the juice station at the FHE and when the green light was given to go get food I feared for my life. Men, women and children of all ages charged at me for cups and juice – I have never seen such enthusiasm for food.

Well my 12 weeks training has come and gone. All morning Sister Cabanag has been packing up her things. She is being transferred somewhere and I am staying here in Ligao. I am glad at least the streets and people will remain familiar for another six weeks but it is time for a new companion, new growth, new challenges, and new memories. I am nervous. I will be expected to know who to visit. I will need to lead planning sessions and lead discussions. A greater responsibility now stares me straight in the eyes. As I have thought about what is coming I have realized how little Tagalog I actually know. But the mission is not designed to be easy, quite contrary I believe it is meant to test us – it is soul stretching – it challenges every part of you. There are no time outs, water breaks or long weekends to rest your muscles. Yes it is challenging, but I believe that is why nearly every missionary returns home proclaiming it was the best two years (18 months). I know that the next few weeks will be yet another adjustment period but I also know that my Heavenly Father will be there with me every step of the way. If the workers in the rice fields can bend over for hours and hours in the hot sun harvesting their food; if nine year old Patrick Pedris can walk 45 minutes into the mountains to get fire wood, if countless members give their time and energy to the Ligao 1st branch I can be successful too. One of my favorite quotes is about the pioneer saints stating, “the task ahead of them was never as great as the power behind them.” This is gods work and I know he will not let his missionaries fail.

Fun facts and figures about the Pines: 1) They love basketball only secondly to rice in the list of ‘greatest things that ever happened to planet earth. 2) All the missionaries think that because I am from Salt Lake City I naturally know personally all of the apostles and prophet personally. 3) When you buy soda they pour it out of the bottle and into a plastic bag with a straw and that is what you take to drink. 4)  70 degrees is freezing cold! When the typhoon hit I wore a cardigan every day and a long sleeved shirt at night. I don’t know if I will be able to live in Salt Lake again.

Well I hope everyone has a wonderful Halloween! I want to see pictures of all the costume choices. Speen, your life will change this week with the coming of your call! Of course my fingers are crossed for Naga! I love you all thanks for your prayers, emails and loving support - it means so much to me! Oh yeah and of course …GO TEAM ROMNEY!

Love from the Pines –

Sister Meish

Monday, October 22, 2012

Crossing the River

We tried to find a short cut across the river Sunday morning; it ended differently than we originally planned.
In Tagalog the word “mga” indicates a plural. The ‘s’ at the end of a word doesn’t mean anything. So earlier this week we were teaching a 9 year old boy, he is from a part member family. All of a sudden we heard “good evening mga Mormons!” come from out side the house. Both Sister C and I were preparing for a neighbor to taunt us or something, when in walked our 65 year old no read, no write investigator, Nanay Gorgonia. She can’t read, can’t write and the only part of praying she can remember is the Amen which she declares with immense authority. Even though she has little education, she loves God and works hard all week to earn enough money to make the long trek to church. Her entrance into our lesson was comical and ever so welcome!

I recognize that transfers are not that exciting for anyone that will be reading this, but it is all anyone is talking about in the Naga Mission. I did not anticipate how excited everyone would get over ‘mission drama.’ Who is being transferred where, who steps down from senior to junior, who are the new leaders, on and on. I am anxiously waiting to find out if I will stay in Ligao or be transferred. My three month training period has gone by very quickly and I am grateful for the time I have had with Sister Cabanag. She is a very talented missionary and I have learned a lot from her and have come to love her dearly. It will be difficult to say good-bye but I am grateful for the relationship we have been able to create during our time together.

Every transfer the Zone Leaders inspect each apartment in their zone. The zone with the cleanest apartments wins an activity the p-day before transfers. Our zone won this time! We went up to some hills that sit near the base of the Myon Volcano and played games and had relays, heard a wonderful message from President, and of course ate snacks. The area was beautiful and green with banana trees and pineapple plants everywhere. We had a wonderful time.

Sundays are no longer a day of rest. Not on the mission. Yesterday, Sister Cabanag was assigned to be one of the speakers in sacrament meeting. I was excited about that fact that I could support her from my seat in the audience. Well at one o clock she was the only speaker present out of the assigned four. Our Branch President followed the wonderful council of Elder Nelson from conference and “asked the missionaries.” I suddenly became the opening speaker. My confidence in giving a 15-20 minute talk in Tagalog is about a whopping 20 percent. But I closed my eyes said a prayer and faked a smile replying, ‘of course I can speak!’ Have I ever mentioned that there are no comfort zones on the mission? I talked about the runner, Cliff Young and the power our desires can have. I am not really sure what I said…. Hopefully a little bit of it made sense. After sacrament meeting we became the primary teachers because the primary was without an adviser. The primary is all in one class and it is hard to entertain kids from age 3 to age 12. Kudos to parents and primary teachers alike!

This coming Saturday is the baptism of 4 investigators! Three boys: Venicer 9, Jared 9 and Karl 12 and one girl Hannah 9. It will be a neat day to see these little bodies begin a new life as members of the church. Karl and Venicer are brothers and their mom is a member but has been inactive for over 13 years. The boys are a blessing to my life and an inspiration of the level of conversion I want to achieve. They got home from a school event very late on Saturday night and come Sunday morning they were not hesitant about going to church. We learned from their mom that Venicer was persistent that they attend because he knew they had their baptismal interview. They are focused on the Lord and following His commandments with exactness, they are incredible missionaries in the making.

We were at church late last night preparing for the branch activity we planned this coming weekend. (We are having a branch FHE and everyone is to bring 1 kilogram of food and 1 non member or less active friend! Hopefully it is successful.) As we were leaving I noticed the branch clerk was still in the building. He is a slender man in his early 40’s, his wife is quiet but kind and they have 4 young children. His job only provides about 2000 pesos a month. As missionaries our tight budget provides nearly double this and twice a month. We learned yesterday that they are struggling for food. This family is at church every single week. As we left the church last night I watched this man dutifully fulfill his calling. Many times a week we hear different excuses about why someone was not able to come to church and here was a man that doesn't have enough money to buy food and is the last to leave the church. Each Sunday morning this father piles as many of his family members that can fit onto his bicycle and pedals the long distance to the church building. He doesn’t question his calling, or make excuses; he simply and quietly does his duty. I believe he understands consecration. He knows that if he gives to the Lord the Lord will give back to him.

Earlier this week a woman told us she doesn’t want a calling at church because she is a teacher and is busy all week and by Sunday “she needs a break.” I have realized that our loving heavenly father asks a lot of us as members of the church. It is not always easy to be an active member, actually I think most of the time it isn’t easy. However, I have gained a strong testimony that as we make God our priority, serve in our families first and then in our church callings, God will make up for the rest. When we are willing to be inconvenienced and make sacrifices, the blessings of heaven do come.

We find out about transfers on Saturday and then the musical chairs begin on Tuesday. I will pray for white envelopes to come in the mail for Meg and Speen. I love you and pray for you. I am ever grateful for your support!

As always - Love from the Pines,

Sister Meish



Monday, October 15, 2012

Teaching By Candelight


Well it was a wonderful conference weekend! Conference was broadcasted to our chapel here in Ligao so we didn’t have to travel far. All the sessions were broadcasted in English and although I personally appreciated it I wish it would have been in Tagalog. A lot of our members have a difficult time understanding the broadcasts in English but the Tagalog versions are reserved for the stakes. Hopefully one day Ligao will be a stake and can have Tagalog general conference. There were 12 missionaries that came to our chapel to watch conference, Sister Cabanag made chicken curry for everyone to eat on Sunday afternoon in between the two sessions. It was the largest pot of chicken curry I have ever seen! It was a fun conference and one I will always remember. I particularly enjoyed Elder Uchtdorf’s talk on Regret and Elder Eyring’s talk about not hiding under the pavilions in our lives. I also had a strong impression about the importance of journal writing while President Monson shared the meticulous details of stories from his past. I have tried to write in my journal each day and as I have been able to go back and read through the short 2 months I have been here I am grateful for the memories my pen remembered that I have already forgotten.

A large chunk of our area continues to be in a ‘brown-out’ (where there is no electricity) every night. Our area is very large and we do a lot of walking. In order to use our precious time to the best of our abilities we have found several nifty shortcuts linking us to different barangys. One such short cut is along the irrigation ditch of a rice field. Earlier this week we set out on this irrigation ditch around seven pm, it was a cloudy dark sky above us. Without the help of the moon and our destination neighborhood being black due to the lack of electricity we walked along this narrow ditch by only the light of one small flashlight. On one side of me was a river, on the other was a deep rice field, meaning falling would not end well on either side. Sister Cabanag walked in front of me carrying the light. If I stayed close to her and kept my eyes focused on the exact spot she stepped I was able to walk fine. If I looked up or to either side I was a gonner in that black abyss. We continued to walk, when out of nowhere, a caribou grazing in the water lifted his head and snorted about 1 foot away from us. Both of us screamed and jumped backwards! I don’t know how we didn’t tumble off the rocks but we managed to stay balanced. My heart beat has never been stronger. As we continued to walk through the blackened barangay, we passed a home that had candles glimmering everywhere. There was a coffin in the middle of the yard signifying a funeral and it would have been a very eerie moment if it were not for the loud karaoke that was in process. Apparently karaoke is the funeral activity of choice here.

We have been teaching most of our evening lessons in the candle light because of the noted brownout. Although it makes scripture reading difficult the spirit in the lessons usually take on a girls’ camp feeling and it is a neat experience.

I received your birthday package this week! Thank you very much! I haven’t had American candy for quite some time and it tastes delish. It is currently sitting in our small refrigerator and every time I open our fridge I think…. That is a very happy fridge!

Earlier this week we were sitting, once again in the light of a small flashlight and were teaching a young mother and her three children. The mother and sister Cabanag began talking about the baptism of her young daughter. I knew they were talking about this young girl, baptism and a problem the grandmother had about the situation. I was having a difficult time following the conversation due to the lack of traditional church words. Sister Cabanag suddenly turned to me, queuing me to speak. In all honesty I didn’t know what we were talking about; I didn’t know what to say or how to say it. I paused for several seconds before I began and offered a silent one lined prayer to my father in heaven. I then proceeded to speak. I don’t really know what I said but I do know that I was able to say something and in that moment I was ever grateful for my saviors watchful care over me. This small miracle of speach was a perfect reminder to me that God will help us. Like president Monson noted in conference, “God is in the details of our lives.” I feel that God is in the details of my mission.

We have exchanges this coming week. I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t at least a little nervous. We are staying in our area meaning I will need to lead the other sister around and know where to go and who to visit. No comfort zones here we go again. It will be good practice though with transfers right around the corner. I stay here for another transfer i will need to be able to do this anyway so might as well start practicing now. The sisters we are going on exchanges with are wonderful so it will be fun to switch up our teaching.

One of the investigators we are working with right now owns a large rice field. On Wednesday we passed the basketball court where he and several workers were shoveling up the dried rice grains. I stopped and asked if we could lend him a hand. I have a video of me shoveling the rice which I will try to drop the into my account in skybox. Hopefully it works! All of the workers were cheering me on. I don’t think they could believe I was helping. The mission never has a drought of excitement.

As I walk through the rows of dead fish in the wet market, sit on the dirt floors of small banana leaf roofed huts, or ride through the city in crowded tricey’s, I think to myself, I would not want to be anywhere else in the world! Mission life is incredible and I am so grateful to be a part of it. Good luck Meg and Speen as you begin the grand adventure!

Well the church is true and I love you all dearly! Cate - good luck with the big game(s) this week! Take it all the way girl! Wish I could be there – I am cheering loudly from across the ocean. Owen, you are a giant – quit growing up.

Love from the Pines,

Sister Meish


Monday, October 8, 2012

Rice Fields

The Kids
Well it sounds like everyone has had an exciting week all across the world! We don’t watch conference until this coming weekend but even the Philippines is a buzz with the exciting news about the lowered missionary age.  What a wonderful time to be a part of missionary work! I think this change is so inspired and shows how anxious the Lord is to have as many soldiers out on the battle field as possible.  Missionary work is hard.  It is really hard actually.  But this experience is nothing less than incredible.  A mission has been said to be “the best university,” and that it is.  On a mission we pray about every ten minutes, I am constantly bearing my testimony and I cannot count the number of times I open my scriptures, but the number is quite high.  If I wasn’t a missionary, of course I could still read my scriptures frequently, I could pray this often and I could bare my testimony multiple times a day.  I could do all of these things, but I probably wouldn’t. Reaching these totals without being on a mission would take a very long time.  So my advice to anyone who is thinking about going on a mission --- GO! This new revelation is a great opportunity.  The mission will still be hard but the good out-weighs the bad ten- fold.  Okay, I will now step down from my soap box. 

Rice Fields at Harvest Time
It is harvest time in Ligao.  Most of the rice fields have turned to a beautiful golden brown and small coned shaped hats can be seen scattered through the rows of gold as workers thrust in their sickle.  When rice is harvested it is brown and after being separated from the stem is laid out on tarps to be dried.  It is not however, placed in some factory or in a rice-drying building but right in the middle of the road.  Of course I was shocked to see a passersby walk over this freshly harvested rice and tricies and motorcycles drive right through it.  Apparently this is fine and doesn’t faze anyone except the 5’9” blonde, American girl. 

Another story of the week is that I am a threat to the community.  There we were walking from our apartment to the centro to catch a tricy and ride to our morning appointment.  I was waving to some of the children in the nearby school when all of a sudden sister Cabanag gasped and I looked as a Padyak (pronounced padjak - a bike with a cart to carry people in) ran into a parked car! Apparently he was looking at us and trying to get our attention instead of paying attention to where he was driving.  I am causing car accidents.  I knew that I would stand out in the Philippines but I never imagined that it would be dangerous.  If this continues, the president is going to make me the first ever office sister. 

The missionary work is going well. Each week I feel so blessed to witness the light of Christ bringing change and joy into the lives of the Ligao 1st Branch Saints.  The De Asis couple are an elderly couple in our branch.  They are the first ones at church and sit in the exact same spot on the second row of our chapel every week.  I learned this week that they are pioneers.  They have been members for over 30 years; all of their 5 children are returned missionaries and have been married in the temple.  Before they became members, the father, whose name is Sixto was in and out of every prison within 40 miles.  Their family had a solid Catholic background and had no desire to worship otherwise.  Tatay Sixto invited the missionaries to their home one night.  His wife pulled him aside and the following conversation transpired:

“Sixto, why did you invite those Mormon girls over here? You are crazy.  Don’t you know that Mormons have a bunch of rules and things that are forbidden? You are a drunkard.  They will tell you that you have to stop drinking.”  Her husband replied, “I am just curious. I don’t know why.  Let’s just listen to them for a while.” 

This family took the missionary discussions for one whole year.  They had a lot of questions and a lot of bad habits that needed to be taken care of before they were willing to enter the waters of baptism.  These two individuals define the phrase ‘example of the believers.’ Tatay Sixto shared with us that the Book of Mormon changed his life.  It is the reason for his conversion.  He also shared that he most definitely plans on enduring to the end.  He made a promise to God – he plans on finishing this thing he started. I admire his sense of purpose and determination to never deviate from the path towards God.  Something I have been thinking about a lot this week is why as human beings we do things that are bad for us? The Book of Mormon, the prophet and apostles, Jesus Christ himself, laid out a perfect and simple plan for us.  We have been given specific and simple guidelines to follow to receive never ending happiness.  And yet we slip up and we forget the path we choose to walk.  We begin looking for the short cuts, or the path of least resistance.  Why do I do this sometimes, even as a missionary who is supposed to be firmly planted on following the Savior?  I suppose this is the battle of defeating the natural man, and perhaps it is meant to be a life-long endeavor.  How patient our Father in Heaven is with us though.  One of the best parts of missionary work is meeting individuals who were pioneers in this area and took a leap of faith under the scorning looks of all their neighbors.  These individuals inspire me with their ability to continue forward on the path toward Heaven. 

Fun Facts of the Philippines: 1) There are things called brown outs, aka the power goes out throughout large areas.  We had many brown outs this week! Almost every day.  This consistent flow of no power resulted in showers by flashlight, companionship study huddled next to the window, and no electric fans - meaning two very sweaty missionaries.  2) Filipinos dip their rolls into warm milk – I was informed that this sanitizes it? Not sure. Also, milk is for the most part all powdered milk.  3) Divorce is illegal, and you cannot have more than one living, married spouse.  4) Christmas celebrations have already begun; Christmas music, fully decorated trees the whole shebang. It’s great. 

Well that is all for me! Thanks for all of the exciting updates from home.  Sounds like the Christensen family could go to 2 kids at home pretty quick.  Go missionary work! It is quite the incredible experience.  I guess the way I look at it is that I could either be at home doing the day to day things or be here having life changing moments all the time.  (soap box again I realize).

This weekend is conference weekend and instead of golden brown leaves I have golden rice, instead of bran muffins, I have delicious Tinola soup and instead of watching it on TV in our family room in my sweats, I plan on sitting in a congregation with few other white faces.  The church is true no matter where you are in the world. 

As Always Love from the Pines,

Sister Meish
My New Reggae Backpack

Monday, October 1, 2012

New Recipe

Kumusta pamilya at mga kaibigan ko! Well it was a busy week for Ligao. Our district was reorganized and the man that was called as the District President is from our branch. He is incredible and I am predicting big things for him as far as church callings go because he is so dedicated to the Lord and is very good at speaking English. Elder Lawhorn (the couple missionary that lives next to us) was called to be his second counselor. Elder Lawhorn is from St. George Utah and knows about 5 words in Tagalog. I am pretty sure that he never imagined he would be given this kind of responsibility when he put his mission papers in. But like I always say there are no comfort zones on the mission, and that rule of thumb does not discriminate.

This was also a difficult week for a lot of our members. More difficult than usual. It seemed like many of those we visited were in great need. We are teaching two little boys whose mother has been a member for many years but just recently came back to activity due to a visit from her visiting teacher. This woman’s husband is not a member. He is a ‘born again Christian.’ Aka he calls himself religious and does not associate with any sort of religious characteristics or activitiesr. He is okay with us teaching his children though so that is a blessing. I guess he was getting upset with his with and the fact that she was spending 3 hours at church on Sundays when there was a lot that needed to be done around the house. When we visited her this week she had giant scabs on her left arm. She told us she had spent the whole day doing all of their laundry so that he wouldn't be mad about her and the kids going to church. She has been very sick and even though her body looks very week her countenance was bright as she bore a testimony of gratitude about her Father in Heaven.

The Llamas family whom I was telling you about... who’s home flooded a few weeks ago... well we visit them weekly because there daughter is an investigator. While we were there this week the father told us he was so sorry they hadn’t been to church but that he hasn’t been able to work because he inhaled pesticide a few days before and has been very sick. Because he hasn’t been able to work they don’t have money to buy rice, let alone pay 20 pesos per person and go to church. We asked if we could buy some egg plant from him. When we tried to give him the money he wouldn’t take it insisting that we take it for free. Good one – we have more than enough and they cant even buy rice. We handed 100 pesos (which is around 2 dollars or something) to the 3 year old girl and told her to give it to her mom. She nodded her head and we ran so that her dad could not give it back to us. He followed us to the street but just smiled and waved and kept running! I am glad we were able to help them even though it wasn’t very much.

Nanay Datoon, her daughter is Rona and was the first baptism for me, asked if we would buy jewelry for her so that she would have money. We came to find out that the set of jewelry she was selling was a gift from her late husband who just died in February. She said she didn’t know what else to do because she really needed money.

I have never known the feeling of going to bed hungry. I have never known the anxiety of trying to find any way to feed my family. I can't say that I can have a historical reference for so many of the struggles that my brothers and sisters face every day. But I can say that I love them and know that the gospel will and does bless their lives. I have been surprised about how deeply I love these people in the Ligao 1st Branch. My heart aches and worries for them each night when I kneel down in prayer. I hope they are saying their prayers. I hope they are reading their scriptures. This is my wish because I know that by doing these simple things they will open the windows and doors of heaven and allow our Father to bless them.

This week at district conference Elder Collado of the Area 70 spoke at the various meetings throughout the weekend. There was a large emphasis on the importance of family home evening. One of the area goals is to strengthen families in the church. I am realizing why FHE was implemented by the first presidency. One of the first principles we teach in nearly every lesson is that families are central to the gospel and to God’s plan. If the family unit is central then I suppose it better be strong. I have also gained gratitude to you mom and dad for your desire to have family night once a week, even though many times you have had to drag us possibly kicking and screaming. Steve Jobs once said that it is looking backwards not forwards that we connect the dots of our lives. How true this is. Looking back I am so grateful for the early mornings you would make us have scripture study before elementary and junior high. I am grateful that family prayer was a regular thing in our home. I am grateful for the gospel discussions that we have had about church talks and the scriptures. These basic things are what have strengthened me. It is now looking back that I can see what a positive effect these things have had on my life. Now that I am living alone in a country that I don’t know anyone, or the language or the food I look back and am grateful for the foundation I have to lean on that is built upon the basic things we did as a family.

I only ate one strange thing this week…. Well as far as I know: Deep fried pig fat. I didn’t know what it was there was an extremely chewy deep fried object rolling around in my mouth so I waited until I was able to swallow and then asked Sister Cabanag what I just ate. Pig fat indeed. So if you have a little excess pig fat lying around and don’t know what to do with it, I have a great recipe: hot oil.

Well I love you all and as always am grateful for your emails and love and support. Keep on being great! Mahal ko kayo!
Sweaty but so happy,

Sister Meish