Monday, July 22, 2013

Week 56, in which I become five times creepier than usual, and in which I get my first Filippina companion!

Hello everyone! Due to recent... circumstances, I've been doing some reminiscing back to the good old movie-making days we had as kids! Specifically 'That Totally Appropriate 70's Show (Totally!)'... Why, you may ask, do your thoughts turn to such a film of such mediocre quality? Firstly, how dare you ask that question?! That film was spectacular. Secondly, because my role in the film, the evil mastermind, Dr. Twitch, has become a reality. That's right, I've actually developed this weird twitch in the lower eyelid of my right eye, and it is CREEPY. I guess the mission just does weird things to you, but this is a completely new experience. I'll be teaching a lesson, maintaining normal eye contact, and then my eye will do this very visible twitching thing and then everyone involved will be creeped out haha. I guess it's just one of those things that'll probably go away... hopefully. Ah, yet another reason to dread getting home and doing all that dating stuff! Fortunately I still have a while...

T-shirt of the week: 'You only live ones.' Wise words.

Here's a sweet miracle that happened this week. So last week I might have mentioned that I was having a relatively rough week, and that kind of culminated this Tuesday, but after some prayer and pondering, I was feeling a little bit better. I've been trying to meet with a member who hasn't come to church for a long time, and I'd called her the week before to see if we could meet with her. She said she was busy, so we wrote a note to her and put a picture of Jesus in there with it, and we left to go drop it off at her apartment. But then it occurred to me that our map was completely Chinese, and we only had her address in Portuguese... Yeah, two languages that I don't really know that well to begin with, and a map of an entire island to search though. Plus, the street name was Travessa dos Virtudes, and 'travessa' means 'little tiny side street.' So yeah, practically impossible, right? I decided that we'd just take a note to one of our investigators first, and afterwards we'd somehow figure out what to do. So we're sitting on the bus, and it occurs to me that I should look out the window at every street sign I can see. I do this for about 15 minutes with no luck. But then as we're driving past a little street, I look backwards at the other side of the building that we were passing and there I saw it! Travessa dos Virtudes! We jumped off the bus, found her door, and dropped off the note! I called her a few days later and she said that we could come visit her next week! It's moments like that that show me that God really knows where each of his children are. He knew I was having a hard time, and he knew that member needed a note. So he took our two needs and used them to solve each other. That's called geniusly efficient. (The computer is telling me that 'geniusly' is not a word. Well, it should be. 'Genius' needs an adverb.)

Oh, this is pretty big news! Why didn't I mention this first? I have a new companion! Thanks to mid-move transfer craziness, I now have a Filipina companion! The Filipina sisters usually serve in the giant church building in Wanchai for their entire mission, but they had an odd number of sisters, so they sent Sister C over here with me! It has been interesting so far, because she always teaches in Tagalog, so I really have no idea what's going on. I feel like I'm a brand new missionary all over again, not understanding the lessons and randomly bearing testimony about what I think she's saying. We're figuring out how to work together, because it's kind of a challenge. The first few lessons, I barely got a word in, but she's really great and we're working together to find a balance.

We've had fewer lessons than normal this week, and during this time I've really figured out how much I love to teach. It's one of my passions, sharing what I know and love with people who really want to learn--the best feeling in the world. I want to be a teacher when I get home, and I don't know what I'll end up doing in the future, but I'm positive that it will involve teaching. I just love it, it's challenging and rewarding and fulfilling. And I'm so grateful that Heavenly Father pushed me onto this mission (because let's be real, I was WAY too chicken to do this on my own), because I've learned how to be a better and more effective teacher. Really, the most important thing is to love the people you teach. That's why Christ is the Master Teacher. He taught out of love, and I have so much that I can learn from him.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Week 55, in which every now and then I fall apart (turn around, bright side)

No, don't worry, I'm okay. I've just had Total Eclipse of the Heart stuck in my head for several days now, ever since I heard someone say, "Turn around" and I whispered "bright side" to myself because I knew no one else would get it. But to be honest, I almost fell apart several times this week! I think someone turned on my exasperation switch this week or something, because it seems like I had such a difficult time being the benign, sweet, dignified sister missionary that I want to be! But lots of prayers and sheer will power kept me together haha, and Heavenly Father really helped me pull through! The thing about life is that as we're here, we're learning how to become more like our Father in Heaven. His work and his glory is to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life. So his whole job depends on the agency of other people. No matter what, if we choose to be disobedient and unrepentant, then we won't be able to have that eternal life with Heavenly Father. And if I were Heavenly Father, I'd probably get exasperated with people sometimes! I mean good grief, he's trying to help us have the most happiness that we can ever get, and we're like, "Um, no thanks, I'd rather go and break this commandment, it seems like more fun than eternal happiness." It's kind of like when I go to Dairy Queen and I see people order a vanilla milkshake. Who does that? There's BLIZZARDS there. Sheesh. Don't settle for less. Ridiculous people.

But yes, that's why I'm not like Heavenly Father (well, one of the reasons). He's infinitely patient with us, always reminding us and calling us back, whereas I'm still impatient and exasperated. Missionary work (and really, most every aspect of life) is greatly influenced by the agency of others. We so desperately want to share this message with everyone, but if no one wants to hear, well then that's that. We can't make people listen or believe or love God. People cancel lessons, do silly things, and it affects others around them. But we can't make them change. That's not God's way! So as I deal with people being irrational or slow or silly, I just try to remember that I too have my irrational, slow, and silly moments. I probably exasperate people too! And I still would want other people to give me another chance to be better. So I'd better give that chance to everyone else. I think a part of true charity is expecting the best from people, believing that they can become more than they are. So that's what I've been working on this week.

Remember that silly moment that I wrote about a few weeks ago, where I saw the graffiti "QUEST" on the wall, and ran off the bus because I wanted a picture of it, but then it started raining, but then when we got on the next bus it was a good thing we did, because we met someone we needed to meet? Yeah, that moment. Well, I don't know WHAT'S going on here in Macau, but the word "QUEST" is spray-painted EVERYWHERE. It's like the new geocache, you go out and try to find the most QUESTS. It's so fun! Who knows, it might be some sort of gang something or other, but it's whatever. I think it's fun.

Small success this week: for the first time in my life, I successfully folded a map correctly on the first try! Gotta find joy in the little things, right?

We met N a month ago. She's the cutest 8-year-old girl ever, and so bright. Every time we see her on the way home from school, she waves at us and is so excited to see us. She asked for a pamphlet and apparently read it herself. And a few weeks ago we went out finding for about thirty minutes, and who is the first person we see? N! Second person? HER MOM! Yes, I was so excited! There's something special about N, I can just feel it. And her mom is a real sweetheart, full of faith, even though she has a lot of trials that she's dealing with right now. They both have interest in meeting with us, and her mom said, "Yeah, N has been telling me about her Mormon friends and how she wants to go to your church. We'll have to come sometime!" Later she mentioned that she'd been looking for the right church to pay her tithing in and to be baptized in. They have so much potential, and I'm so excited for them!

I love the members here in the branch! We had a party on Saturday night, and we brought two of the people we've been teaching. At one point, I was just standing in the corner, eating my spring rolls and observing, and it just warmed my heart to see how wonderful and welcoming our members are. My investigators were surrounded by people and everyone knew their names and had introduced themselves. I want to be more like that someday. I've learned so much from their examples. We don't go to church to just be served. We go to serve, to find the people who don't have a friend and to be their friend, to uplift and inspire and bless. I want to be more like that when I go home.

I just love it here! I'm learning, making mistakes, working harder, making more mistakes... oh yeah, and having MIRACLES! This is God's work, and he's in the details of it. So I'm not worried... well, let's be honest, I'm a worrier by nature, but I'm not THAT worried :) I love you all!

Week 54, in which every trial is both preceded and followed by miracles (I call it a trial sandwich, it's my favorite kind of sandwich. Closely followed by the Oreo sandwich cookie.)

Good news. I'M EATING CHOCOLATE AGAIN! I reached about the 6 month mark and realized that if I didn't quit now, my stubborn, I-need-to-prove-something-to-the-world side would make me keep going until a year mark. And that's just ridiculous. So I celebrated by eating chocolate ice cream at the MGM Casino Buffet, courtesy of the AMAZING T family. I love them so much. The best way a missionary's heart is to show love to the people they're teaching. (Haha, you thought I'd say "food" didn't you!) They have showed so much love to P, the sister who was baptized on Sunday, and wow did I almost cry when Brother T baptized her. But you know, the best part of Sunday wasn't the baptism or the confirmation or hearing her testimony or anything. The best part was when I was talking with P afterwards, and Brother T (a member of the bishopric) walked past. And P reached into her bag and pulled out her tithing for the month of July and handed it to him. THAT made me cry. She's dedicated to living the gospel, and she's in all the way. No half-hearted conversion will do for her. That's how the gospel is, that's how we really develop that love for Jesus Christ, and how we really feel his love for us. We turn our whole lives over to him, and he makes something new and good out of us. We can't just live with one foot or one toe in the water, we dive in!

MGM Casino

Sister P's Baptism
 The t-shirt of the week, so cute! It had pink unicorns on it and, in bright purple letters says, "Mystic by the way."

We were getting so excited for Brother R's baptism, which was scheduled for next Sunday. We fasted with him and his girlfriend so that he could get his job, and it worked! He has the job! But because of this job, he can't come to church or meet with us, and he barely even has time to sleep! He has crazy hours and no holiday for the entire month. I mean good grief, it's about as close to slavery as it gets these days, and it just makes me mad! I love this brother so much, he's such a good guy and he has a real desire to do good and serve the Lord. But I know that God gave him this job for a reason, and he has some amazing blessings waiting for him after he overcomes this trial. God's timing is different than ours, and it's always guaranteed to be better. So this month we fasted that somehow, R could work things out to be baptized. Yeah, kind of vague, but I know that this is something that R needs to do with God, and that by working together, they can figure it out for sure.

I was having a really rough day yesterday. All of our appointments fell through, and we had nothing on the schedule but finding in the rain. OH YAY. I really was so unhappy that I went into the bathroom before we left, knelt down, and just cried for a few minutes, praying so hard that I could just get through it and. And I didn't feel any better afterwards, but we went out anyways. One of the first people we talked to, a man from Nepal named A, was just the friendliest guy! (Everyone from Nepal is friendly.) As soon as we told him we were Christian missionaries, he said, "Oh good! I've been wanting to become a Christian, but I don't know how! How do I do it? Can you help me?" I said, "Oh, actually, you know, I don't think we'll have time for you, yeah, sorry." HA. No, I was SO excited! We're planning to meet him every Sunday and we'll have to teach slowly because his English isn't the best, but he's so nice! What a blessing. God really is aware of us and in our greatest trials, we just need to hold on, because a miracle is right around the corner.

A sister named L called us a few weeks ago to tell us that she wanted to come to church. Well, she showed up this week, and turns out she met with the missionaries last year here in Macau, and was almost baptized in the Philippines back in 2002. She has missed the church a lot, and just recently got a job that lets her come to church on Sundays! So she just showed up! And we taught her a lesson after church and set a baptismal date with her right there! Such a miracle! And it really gives me hope for all the people who I've met throughout my mission. Maybe the time wasn't right for them when I taught them, but that doesn't mean that it won't ever be right. Seeds are planted with every good act, and we might not be around to see them sprout. But they do. I just wish I could find those missionaries who taught her in 2002 and let them know that she's okay.

We had a great July 4th celebration the other night! After planning, all six of us sisters dressed up in red, white, and blue, sang the national anthem, and ate hotdogs. Oh, it was just like America. And all this week, we've been doing a George W. Bush pronunciation of 'Um-air-i-kuh.' Oh how I love those amber waves of grain! But you know, God 'sheds his grace' on us over here in Macau too :)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Fwd: Week 53, in which I probably appear in tons of random people's photo albums across the world, and in which I reminisce about that one time when I had lice

Mom, I don't know if I ever thanked you for combing my hair every night for weeks as we combated those evil little creatures of the devil. But yeah, thanks. We've been on guard for a while now, because one of the sisters in our apartment is being harassed by those evil menaces, poor thing. She's amazing though, doesn't complain or burst into tears or anything! But good grief, these people in Macau are not equipped with the heavy artillery that is needed here. They're just asking for a lice infestation!

But I did find some Cinnamon Toast cereal!

T-shirt of the week: This is a pretty good one, kind of reminds me of some episode of Dr Who or something. "Meanwhile, an automatic, unfeeling army marches unstoppably into the future." (Autocorrect is telling me to change 'unstoppably' to 'unflappably' but that just sounds WEIRD.)

Oh Babylon, Oh Babylon, I bid there farewell...
 We've been working with Sister P, a girl about our age from Vietnam, for a few months now, and she just had her baptismal interview this week and will be baptized on Sunday! I'm so excited for her! She is the sweetest thing, and she has such a love for the gospel and for Jesus Christ. As we talked about her baptismal service, she just thanked us over and over again for teaching her. Little does she know, but I'm actually eternally grateful to her for her huge desire to learn and her amazing example of charity. She's really special and I just love her so much! The love you feel for people you meet in the mission is different from any other kind. I can't really explain it, but it's so exciting to see her love for the Book of Mormon grow and grow every day. And I'm so grateful for the members in the branch, because they are so good at embracing every new person that comes in, helping them feel part of the family. That's one of the many things that the members here have taught me. The world will tell us that power comes from being above the rest; the most powerful one stands alone. But the gospel teaches us that power comes from being together, bringing others up to where you are and leaning on each other; the most powerful one is actually many, united by love. The members here show love and friendship like no one else, and I learn from their examples every day. They don't go to church to be served, but to serve. I want to be like that.

Book of Mormon/Keystone...Get it?
A week or two ago, we were discussing our different finding techniques and strategies. Believe me, after this much street contacting, you start coming up with some pretty crazy ideas... I suggested that we 'photo-bomb' contact people! Just go to a popular tourist attraction and stand in the back of everyone's pictures holding up a Book of Mormon or pointing at our nametags or something, then run away before they notice. One day, they'll be flipping through their scrapbook (actually, let's be real, there's probably like 3 people in the world who aren't members and do scrapbooking, so they'll probably be looking on Facebook) and they'll say, "Wait. What's that? Who are those strange, white people with black nametags? I want to meet them and be their friends" BOOM. Seed planted. (I'll be honest, this wasn't really my idea. I got it from the episode of Lizzie McGuire, you know, the one where she goes to all the different club photoshoots and jumps in the back of the picture so that she can have the most pictures in the school yearbook. Classic episode.)
I was reading a talk by President Monson about missionary work, and he said, "A mission is a family affair." And I've been thinking about that all day! He's right, of course. The actions and choices of each member of my family has contributed to my mission experience. Mom and Dad, I am so grateful for you and your choices; they've shaped my life and, because of that, have definitely influenced the lives of the people I've met here. Our little, daily choices really will have a huge effect on the rest of our lives, as well as the lives of many others. When we choose to sacrifice for the Lord, to give things up for him, that's when we start to feel his influence in our life. I love what Elder Neil A. Maxwell said: "Consecration is the only surrender that is also a victory." When we sacrifice something for the Savior (who, by the way, sacrificed everything for us), we find true joy. It's when we lose our lives that we really find them. I know that's true, no doubt in my mind.

Our will is the only thing that we really can give to God, the only thing that he didn't have first. And when we do that, we slowly come to find that God's will really is what's best for us anyways. I love this quote from Elder M. Russell Ballard: "That's the way it is when Jesus Christ becomes a reality in your life. It isn't that he somehow makes you do things that you wouldn't do otherwise. Rather, you find yourself wanting to do what He would do and respond as He would respond in an effort to bring your life into harmony with His. And an interesting things happens whenever you attempt to place your feet in Christ's footsteps. If you really concentrate on trying to walk the way He walked--loving, caring, serving, and obeying each step of the way--one day you'll look up and discover that His path has led you directly to the throne of God. For that is and ever has been His great purpose and mission: to lead us to our Heavenly Father so we can dwell with Him in His heavenly home." It's a slow process, and sometimes I get a little discouraged while I'm out here because I get impatient with people, I get prideful, I get frustrated when people don't understand me. But It's not about where we are, but what direction we're facing. So it's okay that I'm not where I want to be, because I'll get there eventually, I just don't have to stress about it.

I love this mission so much. These people, this place, these miracles! I love it. Wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

Week 52, in which I can't believe it's week 52, and in which we've seen surprisingly few cockroaches.

WOW I love being a missionary. I can't believe I've been out here for so long. I feel like I'm in the middle of the middle of life and I'll be here forever and ever. I like it. That's one thing that I've always admired about the Apostle Paul. He served a REALLY long mission, and one of my favorite scriptures of his is in Philippians (haha, I just wrote Philippines by accident, oh I love international) 4:11: "For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be contented." I think that's just the best way to be. We live in the present, learn from the past, and plan for the future. We had an amazing meeting with President Hawks this week. He talked about the idea of events versus processes. He said that if our mission just becomes a series of big events (miracles, baptisms, month/year marks) then we'll constantly be up and down, really happy and really gloomy. But if we appreciate the mission (and life!) for the process, for the simple, daily routine, then we can always be contented with our present state. And for the most part, I've reached that point. I love where I am. Sure, I have times where I want to be lazy and just sit on the couch in sweat pants watching Pride and Prejudice, but let's be real, how many miracles do you see from the couch? No, the miracles come when we go out and do things, even if we don't quite know what we're doing. The Lord guides us as we step, but we have to show the faith to take the first step. President Hawks said, "In any journey, the most important step is the next one." Every day, we get up and have to choose what we will become that day. And it's by consistently choosing to be a little bit better that we become who Heavenly Father wants us to become.

I just love Sister H!

Heavenly Father really does guide each of us though, if we let him, although sometimes he does it without us being aware of it. I'll just tell you one example, which might make me seem a little foolish, but it was a good experience haha. So we're on the bus going home, and as we got near the next bus stop, I saw some interesting graffiti across the roundabout, and all of a sudden I said, "Sister J, quick! Get off the bus!" So we just jumped off right there! She said, "Why, what's going on?" And I said, feeling a little silly, "I want to take a picture of that graffiti!" And then it started to POUR down rain, right there. Then I started to feel really foolish. Why did I even want to take a picture of that graffiti? It wasn't even that interesting, it just said "QUEST" in big, black letters. It seemed epic in the moment, but afterwards I just felt silly! So we got on the next bus and sat down next to this girl named L. We ended up talking to her the rest of the way home, and by the time we got to our destination, I felt okay about my silly little spur-of-the-moment disembarkation. She really needed a friend. She teared up as we were telling her about how much Heavenly Father loves her, and it was clear how lonely and sad she has been since she got here to Macau. He really does love her.

One more blessing: one of our investigators, R, is set to be baptized in July, and he has been looking really hard for a job. His visa was set to run out today, so last week he, his girlfriend, Sister J, and I, fasted and prayed that he'd be able to find a job. And then three days later, he was hired! It was such a miracle! I woke up, checked the phone, and freaked out! I ran back into the bedroom, but the other sisters were saying their morning prayers, so I was silently just freaking out, jumping up and down so excited, trying to not just shout it out right then, but I contained myself just barely long enough haha. The rest of the day I was just so thrilled. Some people might say it's a coincidence, but I know it's God. I know he exists, I know he is aware of us, and I know he takes care of us. And every day we can see miracles, we just have to open our eyes a little more. They're there!

SisterT's dogs

Father's Day dinner for our branch