Monday, November 26, 2012

A Taste of Gratitude and Spooky Spiders

Family Dear!

Well happy belated Thanksgiving! Our Thanksgiving here was just great….. we worked and taught, I struggled through Tagalog and we had another day as missionaries. During my personal study I took dads challenge and wrote out 100 things I am grateful for. It was a neat experience to focus on the abundance of blessings in my life. As I looked over my list I realized that my old cell phone, car or clothes other than my 6 skirts did not make the cut. Of course I am grateful for those things and they are wonderful but what I am most grateful for are the people who bring my life joy. Living in a different country is a unique experience and one aspect is the connections I have made and the people that are woven into my life. It is interesting creating such tight bonds with individuals that I do not know when or if I will see again. After my short 18 months, my relationships with these wonderful people could be only via internet connection. It is because of this time constraint that I have realized the beauty of the time we are allotted. Whether it is concerning my family members to whom I am sealed for eternity or a young 10 year old that I had the opportunity to teach for a few months – the time and effort I put into these relationships is important and valuable. Thank you for the time and love you have given to me; it means more than you know. As a side note, I am also grateful for Thanksgiving because I had to speak in church yesterday and used gratitude as my topic. My prayer is always the same, that some of my Tagalog made sense.

There are many things I am grateful for in this wonderful city that is filled with banana trees and little brown faces. This letter is a few things I am grateful for this week.

I am grateful for the fireflies that fill the coconut trees at night. Our area is very large and frequently there is not transportation available; so we spend a lot of time walking. As we walk through dark paths lit only by the moon and the glittering fire flies above our heads, I feel the sweetness of the spirit.

I am grateful for the innocence and goodness of children. We focus a great deal on reactivating less active members which results in completing families. Many of the baptisms I have been able to be a part in have been those of 9, 10, and 11 year olds. This week we met with a young 16 year old girl. She doesn’t know about the gospel but she believes that there is something of a higher power. Her father passed away a few years ago and she feels that he is being taken care of somewhere.

I am grateful for the contagious energy of hard work. The leaders of the church here amaze me. In our branch the leaders have a zeal for the gospel that is hard to ignore. They believe in their members and they believe in their God. The young women’s president is a single returned missionary. She volunteers her Saturdays to teach institute and seminary. She prepares activities for the young women and is devoted to building up a generation of active youth in the Philippines.

I am grateful for prayer and the peace that comes through quietly kneeling before my father each day.

I am grateful for the counsel that comes from the Book of Mormon. How lucky we are to have the restored church on earth once more. We have the power of a Father’s priesthood blessing available to us at any moment. We know of Christ and the person he was, the traits he possessed through the text of the Book of Mormon.

And ultimately I am grateful for my Savior, Jesus Christ. We are going into the Christmas season with all its glitter and excitement. I love Christmas time; even miles away from home in the land of no winter wonderland, I still feel the magic of the season. This weekend in the town centro fireworks were sent off and a giant plastic tree was lit with Christmas lights. There are twinkle lights hanging from the trees and sister Dabon is teaching me Christmas songs in Tagalog. It is an incredible time of year to think of Christ and focus on his life. I do know that my Redeemer lives and for that knowledge I am so very grateful.

Well I hope you all had a wonderful week and enjoyed some turkey dinner… we didn’t eat any turkey but as we were walking through the jungle on Saturday a group of wild Turkeys puffed up their chests and ran at us. Luckily human legs are faster than turkey legs - but it was a frightening experience.

It looks like you guys had a ton of fun at Newport! It feels like we were there a few days ago. Owen is sooo darn tall, I can hardly stand it. Please stop growing O. How was the weather? How was turkey day? How did Cate’s Soccer Tournament go?

My comp goes home in less than 3 weeks! It is crazy. Luckily she is still focusing on the work; which is a blessing. She jokes about being "trunky" or wanting to go home but she is joking only. We have so much fun! I am not ready to train. The big news is that WE HAVE SIX AMERICAN SISTERS COMING IN AT ONE TIME IN APRIL!!!!! ahhhh yay!! I was talking to pres at zone con and he said he wants me to do a little orientation for them about the transition into the Pines. It was helpful talking to the elders who had learned the language and adjusted but it would have been so so nice to have had a girl to talk to. So I hope I can be that for them!

 The culture has never really been a big problem for me. I don’t think I had culture shock really. Of course it is always a change but it wasn’t ever bad. You miss things from home but then I just try to remind myself it will be there when i get back. The language was and still is the hardest thing. It is coming bit by bit. Sister Dabon is awesome - she always quizzes me as we are walking for miles and miles and I have a goal to read through the Book of Mormon in a 3.5 month span which is hard but it helps with vocab more than i thought it would. After I spoke yesterday one of the ladies told me "magaling ka," which means talented. That is always a boost. Overall, I have a long way to go but it comes a little more every day. I take English scriptures to the lessons because I can’t understand it all in Tag yet; but my goal is to take only Tag by the end of my mission. We actually sing English hymns in our branch. Sister D said in her last area it was all tagalog so it depends on the area. Some areas it is all Bikkol.  I pray I stay away from those for a little while - haha. We always sing tagalog hymns for comp study and sister dab taught me a bunch of Christmas tag songs so we are constantly singing those.

Mom asked if I am near the beach.  I am not and we aren’t allowed to cross areas so I haven’t seen the beach yet. I have heard that it is really pretty. There is a sisters’ area on the beach up north so my fingers are crossed for that one day.

Story of the week: Last night I walked up the stairs to our apartment bedroom and found the largest spider I have ever seen waiting on our wall. Sister Dabon and I then ran around our room with magazines on our head so it wouldn’t jump on us. Yes, giant Filipino spiders could play for the NBA they can jump so high. We eventually threw things at it until it jumped on the ground where we proceeded to drown the creature in bug killer. The makers of Harry Potter must have studied large spiders because the eight legs on our wall last night sounded exactly like the spider in Harry Potter. We felt bad for killing it but I am pretty sure it was either him or us and we already paid the water bill for the month, so we won.

Well I love you all and of course on my list on 100 things I am most grateful for are you! Thank you for your love and prayers. Have a wonderful week. Padaba ko ika! (I love you in Bikol)

Love from the Pines,

Sister Meish
this is how most of my days end up... with a trail of little guys following us shouting whats your name?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Why Do People Eat This Stuff?

Family ko!

How blessed I feel to always be able to start my emails with missionary congratulations! Adelide is going to Sweden!!! Ah. How neat. What an incredible thing that our family blood line has served the lord in Sweden generation after generation. It reminds me that God really does watch over us and our bloodlines, he is aware of us as families and as individuals. Congrats Addie, I am thrilled for you!

My breaking news is that I ate balut. Yes, balut is the infamous Filipino half grown chicken embryo. No, I have no idea why I was talked into eating it. It was alright…. Essentially it I half a hard boiled egg and half a baby chick: beak, head, feet, feather – the whole shebang. I didn’t throw up which as a miracle, it wasn’t bad tasting just mostly bad feeling. The conversation leading up to my eating the said chicken embryo went like this:

v     Me: Which part do i eat

v     Sis D: The Whole thing, put a little vinegar and salt

v     (the vinegar came out too fast and to me balut tastes like vinegar)

v     Me: what is that string

v     Sis D: the feathers, don’t look at it just eat it

v     Me: chew, chew, chew, swallow. Why do people eat this?

It has been conquered, never to be attempted again. In a way this was my right of passage as a Filipina, it just had to be done.

In all honestly there are moments that I feel I might just die from stress. I am focusing this week on just rolling with the punches and accepting that I cannot control everything and everyone. Free agency is a wonderful thing but it also breaks your heart. We have been trying to stretch out of our already stretched comfort zones and find new individuals to teach (which includes new investigators as well as new less and inactive members.) This goal resulted in a lot of walking, a lot of hiding people and two very distraught missionaries. I must say I am so grateful that my mission is not full on tracting all the time. It is rough on your heart. Props to…. Well pretty much all the other missionaries in the world. One morning we were focusing specifically on finding inactive members and person after person ran away or hid behind closed doors. Sister Dabon and I looked at each other forced a smiled and said, well it’s a good thing the church is still true. I think the reason it is so difficult is that we know what they are throwing away. You want more than anything for people to feel and know what you know because of the gospel. I am learning that we are not always the harvesters, maybe sometimes we have to plant the seeds and hope that they grow, regardless of how slowly.

I gave these kids CTR Rings
About a month and a half ago one of the women we had been teaching had to move away. She had been flourishing in the gospel and was sucking up all the information we would give her. She could see the light. She is a young mother of two and her husband is inactive. When she had to move I was devastated. The area she lives in is far away from the missionaries and I knew a great deal of effort would have to be put in on her part in order to continue lessons. When I got news that she had to go I sat on my bed and cried. Today I got word that this wonderful young mother has a baptismal date set for December 8. I once again sat on my bed and cried. The light of the gospel is beautiful and pure. I am realizing that the gospel is true whether or not people are willing to see with spiritual eyes. There are days that my tears come from frustration, confusion, sadness and anger. But there are rich moments that my tears come from the tenderness of seeing a father kneel in prayer with his two sons, an entire family fill a row at church, and a women fight to find the light of the gospel no matter where she lives in the world. There are bad days, yes. But President Bliesner reminds us to just enjoy doing the lords work regardless of outcomes. There is goodness and joy to be found everywhere.

One of the barangays (neighborhoods) we visit is on the other side of a large river. We travel to this barangay via a small bamboo boat or a bridge. The bridge is currently under construction and the make shift bridge consists of three long coconut tree trunk roped together. Watching tough Nanays and grandmothers master the bridge was quite the sight. As we were waiting for our turn to cross I was watching 15 small Filipino men tie a rope to the old bridge, join together and heave back and forth. With the jungle back drop and these 15 tiny men tugging in perfect synchronized motion I felt as if I was on a ride at Disneyland and laughed to myself thinking; “I love living in the Philippines.”

Life is a struggle but it is a lot better with the gospel. That is what I have learned the most on my mission. I have also recognized the magnitude of the part of our baptismal covenant that says we are to "bear one another’s burdens." Sometime other's burdens feel so very heavy. But people are what gives life flavor.

I can’t believe it is already middle of November.  My 6 month mark is in 2 weeks and I get to Skype your pretty faces a month from Sunday! I remember when I first got to the field, when the home sickness was bad and December felt so far away. But now it is right around the corner.

Well, I love you all I hope that all is well back in SLC. I hope you all start feeling better and stay healthy, especially you two heading to the MTC soon – you will need your immune systems as strong as possible for that place. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I told sister Dabon I would cook her Turkey dinner on Thursday, it may turn into a Denny’s grand slam breakfast due to our limited cooking supplies.

Thanks for your love and support I pray for you every day! Salamat po para sa lahat. Yung mga panalangin ninyo ay sobrang naramdaman ko. Mahal ko kayo talaga.

Love from the Pines,

Sister Meish



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

These Hands

Hola! That seems like a more appropriate greeting at the moment due to mags is going to the DR!!!!!!! sooo excited for you Mags girl. The mission has high highs and low lows and everything and anything in between. You will be incredible and will love every minute I know it.

We had another great week. Time is going so quickly. I can hardly believe it is already the second week of November. It continues to be stressful leading the area and feeling the pressure of needing to know where to go and what to teach but I am grateful for it. I am learning a lot and at a rapid pace. Also, a highlight of the week was while I was in the girls bathroom at the only fast food restaurant in Ligao, Jollibee. I was asking a little girl her name and how old she was, in Tagalog. Another Sister walked out of the stall and said, “Sister Christensen, was that you talking? I thought it was a Filipina!” I was overjoyed and elated. That being said I still feel very out of the loop when it comes to speaking. I am pro at pretending like I know what it going on.

Also, in the Philippines there is a large processional that takes place when some one passes away. All the family and friends ride triceys and walk behind the hurst on the way to the cemetery. We were walking out of our apartment earlier this week and a quite large processional was heading our way. As we passed by hundreds of little brown eyes were on the two sister missionaries. One little boy yelled out “hello.” I turned, smiled at him and returned the greeting. Now, seeing that this was a funeral procession one would think that this group would be somber and quiet. My returned greeting proved the opposite. The crowd suddenly broke into a loud round of cheers and waving hands. I turned bright red and was laughing hysterically. Unfortunately due to the size of the crowd this went on for a good few minutes. I had been thinking about taking up a profession in Hollywood, I think however I will just stick to Public Relations. Less attention.

Our branch had our primary program yesterday and no matter where you are in the world the primary program is the best sacrament meeting of the year. Because we never know who is going to make it to church and a practice is nearly impossible seeing as people can hardly afford to come to church once a week - the primary president had printed off all the parts and was handing them out to the kids on the stand as they came up to speak. It was still really cute!

I have been thinking a lot about the power of our hands. The mechanics of our hands is magnificent. There is beauty in the hands of the elderly, the wrinkles and cracks of time and experience show of a life well lived. The perfect softness of the hands of a new baby signify new life and purity. The hands of my friends here bare the signs of cooking over a hot fire stove, holding a sickle for hours in the rice fields, and calluses from washing clothes in the rive. I have been thinking about what my hands might represent if one were to look at them. Right now I have a few short months when I can try to work as the hands of the Lord. I hope that if someone were to see my hands they would show signs of his work. At times I overwhelming realize how little I can do because of my lack of knowledge with the language and the customs. I feel that I cannot deliver powerful sermons with my mouth or convince people of truths with convincing words. I can however serve them, I have two hands that I am willing to devote to this work. I know that the lord qualifies us for that which He needs us to do. An old English writer once said, “If I cannot give bountifully yet I will give freely and what I lack in my hand I will supply in my heart.” I cannot give something WITH my hands but I surly can give of my hands.

The transfer is flying by and going so well. Sister Dabon is fantastic and we are best friends. She is an amazing cook and we eat delicious vegetables all the time, with rice of course. She is teaching me to cook some things. She has also made an entire bucket list of foods I have to eat before the transfer is over. I am a little nervous about the condition of my stomach but when in Ligao….

I hope you are all doing well, I love the pictures. I cant believe how much snow is in Salt Lake City. It feels like a different world because it is so hot here. I guess in a way it is a different world. Congrats again on the mission call! It is a great time to be on the Lords side, he needs his army. Good luck with the snow.

Love from the pines,

Sister Meish


Monday, November 5, 2012

Sister Dabon


First off Speen como esta! So excited for your mission call to fight in the drug war! Wow on Mexico! That is so neat!!!! feb 20? I had to wait 4 months too.... its rough having to wait but hang in there because it goes fast and the mission goes even faster! What was your first reaction when you read Mexico? I knew you would go foreign and the little kids are going to love you so much because you are great with kids. Isn’t that the craziest feeling holding the call letter in your hands before you open it and knowing your whole life will be affected by what that line says?

That is cool you are in the same mission as Carson! I am sure you guys will see each other. That would be neat if you were comps at one point. But in all honesty - pray for a native. It helps with the language, especially the accent, even though it is challenging. I am so stoked for you! The mission is the best! I hope you and Meg are in the MTC together!  We will be able to converse in espanol because Tagalog is really similar! Okay, actually only some of the numbers (that are only used for telling time) and the days of the week are similar. But, still we can count together! It will be great. So proud of you and can’t wait for Meg to get her call this week! Such exciting news all around.

Also I have a new companion! Her name is Sister Dabon and she is from Negros, down south close to Cebu. This is her last transfer, I am at the beginning and she is at the end. I will be in Ligao for Christmas. I love her so much she is already my best friend!!!  She goes home December 13  and I will stay in this area for one more transfer at least. I am glad to spend Christmas surrounded by people I love and already know instead of being in a whole new place with all new faces.

She is great though and we get a long really well. She reminds me a lot of Bug (Cate); really calm and down to earth but silly and loves to laugh and is a hard worker. Because I have been the missionary longest in the area, I have to decide who we teach and where we go, because I know the people. It is exhausting! But my Tagalog is really going to improve this transfer, I can already tell: 1- because Sister Dabon really only speaks to me in Tagalog and 2-because I am starting all the lessons. I suddenly have a soft spot in my heart for bishops and how they must worry over their wards. I was sitting in sacrament meeting yesterday thinking of all the people that were not there and worrying about them and why they were not in church.

We laugh and laugh all the time. I have pretty much kissed English good bye though. I am going to learn sooooo much this transfer - it is already pushing me a ton. I am very happy to be working with her!

Sister Cabanag was great and she taught me a lot about being a missionary. Because I am now the senior in the area, I have to lead every lesson and plan where we are going and what we are teaching and so on..... it is so stressful but it makes me want to learn the language a lot faster. Sister Dabon understands English and actually speaks pretty well but she just talks to me in Tagalog which is good..... we have only been together since Tuesday and I have learned a ton! It is exhausting though haha! Speen buckle up my man.

This week we were walking through this jungle area on our way to do a FHE and a group of little girls lined up waiting for us. When we got to them they gave me a bundle of flowers. I will send the pic. It is so funny. I forget that I am so different!

Well hope everyone had an exciting Halloween, loved the pics. Owen you made a tough looking firefighter. Speen, mom sent me the superman picture from Halloween. I can’t believe you fit into that thing! Where did you go in that?

We had to be in by six pm on Wednesday and Thursday this week because of All Souls Day and All Saints Day. There were hordes of people heading to the cemetery with flowers and candles and of course snacks galore! The curfew was a bummer because it cut so much time out of our teaching but we used it for studying instead which is always needed. I have taken it upon myself to read the Book of Mormon is Tagalog. It is going to possibly take me until the end of my mission because about every three verses I have to look up the words in my dictionary or my English scriptures. But these night time hours were great time to work on my new goal. A member invited us to dinner this week and she served sticky rice. Rice, good – add the sticky and you have a Fear Factor worthy snack. It is in fact very sticky and she had such an abundant amount of stickyness that I had to drink a lot of Tang to help with the swallowing.

We had a baptism on Saturday for a young 11 year old boy. The baptism was scheduled to start at one pm and was combined with the neighboring branch, who was in charge of filling up the font. Sister Dabon and I arrived at the chapel a little after 12:30 and to my horror there was 1 foot of water in the font. There had been a complication and without anyone knowing the font had stopped filing and was not working. We frantically tried to fix the font over the next hour and a half to no avail. Finally we decided to ask our Branch President if we could have the baptism in a near by river. At first he was hesitant but then he agreed and we all piled in his tricey and went to the river. I had been praying and so stressed for the past hour and a half but we found a calm beautiful spot of land in the middle of the rice fields. It turned out better than at the church in the font. I learned a valuable lesson about trusting in the Lord with all my heart. He provides a way.

Saturday was a day of miracles. I wanted to prance through the streets singing “wonder of wonder, miracles miracles.” I don’t know if fiddler on the roof ever came to the Philippines though so I refrained.

The language is still a struggle. It so frustrating not knowing what people are saying to me. There are glimpses of time, however, that I know exactly what to say and I know that these tender mercies are from on high. We came out of a lesson on Saturday with a part member family and I thought about how I had known what to say during the lesson. But as soon as the lesson was over, the words became difficult again. Like I said, glimpses of time, moments of mercy that I am reminded just whose errand I am on and I feel so lucky to do His work. There are miracles each and every day.

You asked if I am eating the meat. I eat a little meat here and there, but try to just stick to veggies. They fry EVERYTHING here. So, Kentucky Fried Chicken would make a killing. I am not the biggest fan of KFC, so hence the veggie kick. We are discouraged from eating dog because the dogs are really really mangy here with fleas and nasty looking bodies. A delicacy here is pigs blood which sister D is determined to make me eat before the transfer ends. We will see how that goes.
Has the storm that hit the east coast affected the elections at all? Do they have power/running water in NYC? A lot of the members have been asking me if my family is okay.  They don’t realize that the U.S. is quite large and my fam is not close to NYC.

Well good luck this week Meg! I can’t wait for you to hold that mysterious envelope in your hands. STOKED for Speen! MWAH!!!! keep on keepin on and tell owey and the bug hi.  I love you all. As always thank you for the love and support. You are in my prayers.

Enjoy the snow, I am trying not to get heat stroke and sweat to death.

Love from the Pines,

Sister Meish