Monday, November 3, 2014

This is Paradise

Nov. 3, 2014

Well, life continues to be ever so beautiful and happy. Where once there were bright purple flowering trees there are now bright red flowering trees. This place is like spiritual paradise. And it's not even rainy season yet.

Tuesday was a bit rough. After General Conference every lesson that day people just wanted to argue with us about the validity of certain things and it was kind of unbelievable. Sometimes I wish I could just put my heart into other people's bodies for two seconds so as they could feel what I feel. I hate seeing people pass up the most joyful thing on the planet because of their own hardness or blindness. One of the guys that wanted to argue with us was supposed to read the pamphlet on Word of Wisdom. In his effort to look superior he began to describe what the WOW was about in the most aloof voice he could conjure. This is what came out: "After you receive Jesus as your personal Savior you receive wisdom that will help you have wisdom." Glad you did your reading, silly man. Sister Orr and I laugh a lot.

We had a flat tire this week and guess who came to the rescue? Elder and Sister Bingham! Shaelie Wood's grandparents! Oh, I love those two people so much. They are in Malawi for some conferences and they were also assigned to do truck inspections. They helped us for a good portion of the day and we got to talk quite a bit. Shout out to Sister Wood for having the coolest grandparents in Africa!
We got to teach Clever and friends quite a few times this week in his tiny shop. If you remember he is the young man who lives in his shop and only really speaks Swahili and Chichewa. My love for that group just continues to grow. As we were teaching I was looking at Clever and all of a sudden I just felt this overwhelming love for him like I knew him before this life. We can't understand barely anything the other is saying but so much has led him here and I know we were meant to teach him. We haven't heard a ton about his life but I have gathered that he is a refugee. That whole group of Swahili speakers have such rough backgrounds but they are so prepared and amazing. I am so privileged to associate with them. Their testimonies are growing quickly.

Do you remember me telling you about the giant, rodent-sized spiders we found a couple months ago? Well we encountered another one this week. I know spiders shouldn't really be a topic to write home about but I found out they are called camel spiders. Google at your own risk. They are giant. In my head I call them SOUS (spiders of unusual size).

One really wonderful part about this week has been the improvements I have seen in myself. Refinement takes time and I tend to be impatient with myself but I can see the Atonement enabling me to make tiny steps forward in the right direction. In situations where I would have been short or impatient I have found greater love and long suffering. This fast Sunday I simply fasted out of gratitude. I am trying so hard to do everything I can to give back to the Lord for all that He has given me but I am ever an unprofitable servant (Mosiah 2:20-21). So much happiness. My little heart can't even take it in.
I guess this whole email is less of what happened this week and more of my thoughts. I've done a lot of thinking this week. One thing I studied was in Alma 41 about resurrection/restoration. God's plan for us is so centered around agency it blows my mind. Basically, I learn more and more how your desires and your choices will ultimately be your destiny. Just like President Monson said, "Decisions determine destiny". We really choose where we end up in the next life but our choices every day and our inner most desires. I feel like judgement will be less of God telling us our faults but us telling God our deepest desires of where we want to end up and what we desired all along.

You guys, my brain is stuck in July. Malawi seems like an endless summertime. I can wrap my mind around the fact that it is November and that Halloween just happened. Halloween was nonexistent here so it sort of just feels like a continuous summer. Time is so warped on mission. You are constantly planning for the next day and the next week and even the next month and yet you are working so hard to try your best in the NOW that time is just confused. Sister Orr and I were planning baptismal dates as if November was already coming to an end because of all the preparations we have to do with different investigators and it's only the 3rd. I can't even really accurately describe how strange time is here. As it gets colder there it gets hotter here. I'm basically living in a dream. It's strange and sweet.

One funny detail I noticed this week about Malawians is that they all support each other in EVERYTHING. Americans could definitely take a few lessons from Malawians. We were having a lesson with this one lady and she told us she didn't come to church because her uncle's friend passed away and she went to the funeral. That sounds like a ridiculous excuse but it's legit here. Even if your father's friend's brother is getting married they go to the wedding. Weddings and funerals are like their form of entertainment and they have no social stigmas towards going to a party they won't know anyone at. They're all just one big family.

We had a great lunch for the relief society sisters in the branch to discuss about temple preparation. I think only two sisters in the whole branch have been to the temple. It was so wonderful to discuss all the things we must do to enter and it made me miss the temple a lot. We are so blessed in Utah to be so close to so many temples. Sister Stones (senior sister) spoke about the importance of tithes and offerings and she told a story from when they were still raising their family. They had 5 out of 9 kids still in the house and 2 were on missions and her husband lost his job. They didn't know how they would keep their kids on missions because they literally had zero in the bank. They prayed and fasted for him to get a job but they had no money for fast offerings. So they gathered their 5 children and they all went around the neighborhood collecting cans to sell back for 5 cents each. Finally they got $2.50 after all the can collecting and they were able to pay a meager but sincere fast offering. Elder Stones soon after got the best job he ever had and they were able to support their missionaries. That story made me want to cry. I guess I'm just emotional/I LOVE MISSIONARIES but what inspiring devotion. I always want to be like that. No matter what, I want to show my love to God.

We got to watch priesthood session yesterday and I loved Pres Uchtdorf's talk. My challenge this week is to ask "Lord, is it I?" and strive to improve ourselves each day.

I Love My Life

Oct. 27, 2014

This week has been so wonderful! I am such a blessed child. I can't even handle how blessed I am. I am exhausted but so, so happy. We had our first district meeting as a new district with all of the transfers and my district is heaven sent. Wow. Our district leader, Elder Barton is like the most obedient, hard working missionary you can imagine and he has such a broad vision of why we are here. Our whole district meeting was like a spiritual feast. I learned so much and it got me pumped for the week. That is how they should be. One quote that Elder Motlhaping (from So. Africa) said was, "It's your attitude not your aptitude that determines your altitude". I love that. I love my district and the Kalambo branch. And get this, our branch is growing so fast that president added another set of Elders so now we have 8 missionaries in one branch.

As STL I am responsible, with Sister Orr, to do exchanges so I went on exchanges with the new sister from Kenya, Sister Muthengi, and Sister Quaye, from Ghana. I was honestly really nervous because I still feel so new to this mission thing, hardly experienced enough to teach others, but the Spirit really helped me. Sister Muthengi was practically silent in the first couple lessons of the day but as I left her in silence to let her pick up the lesson and as I complimented her after every lesson of the things she did right, by the end of the day it was like night and day difference. She was so confident and excited to teach. It was a fun transformation to watch. And Sister Quaye is just awesome. She came out a month before me and she's just the most beautiful person you can imagine. I live with amazing sisters.
We had a lesson this week with Styford, the man who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ (break-off church). We taught the plan of salvation and the Spirit literally taught the entire lesson. Every time Sister Orr said anything it was the exact thing (even down to the wording) that I had in my mind to say. We invited him to be baptized and he said yes but he has a lot of things to figure out. Come to find out, he's not just a president of his branch but he's president of the whole church in Lilongwe (over 6 branches). Holy moly, if he musters the faith to follow what he knows is true can you imagine how many people he could influence. There was an absolute stillness in that home as we taught. It felt like a temple.

We finally got to watch General Conference this weekend and it was amazing. I can't even handle how blessed we are to be apart of the Lord's Kingdom on earth. Saturday morning session especially blew my socks off. I remember at MLC in Lusaka that President Erickson shared with us from his experience with the Brethren that they don't want to hear, "Wow, I loved your talk!" but they want to hear, "Wow, your talk really challenged me. I need to change." That is exactly how I felt as I listened and felt the words that were spoken. It wasn't like I just really liked the talks--they challenged me to change and become a more consecrated disciple. I especially loved Elder Christofferson's talk about justice vs. mercy and how we need to CHOOSE repentance and CHOOSE mercy--his talk literally gave me an adrenaline rush. I loved President Uchtdorf's talk comparing our learning of God's light to man's discovery of the vastness of the universe. That talk blew my mind. And Elder Robbin's talk just challenged me to the max. His talk has sort of been a theme in the mission this past month. Which way do you face? Basically I just learned a lot from conference and I felt so blessed in that little Kalambo chapel watching it with so many dear people.

Goodson came to all four sessions and he finished the ENTIRE Book of Mormon. We gave it to him three weeks ago and he finished it. WUT. He is amazing. The Elders had a baptism between conference sessions yesterday and Goodson took us aside afterwards and basically said that he can't even wait to get baptized himself. I keep wanting to write, "This blew me away," or, "He blows me away," but really. Being a missionary blows me away. So many miracles. So much happiness. I can't even hold all the blessings that are being poured out.

After Saturday's conference sessions we hadn't planned any lessons because we were waiting to see who didn't come to conference and who really needed us to come. Sister Orr and I were so tired after sitting there that we drove to our area, got out of the truck, and just started walking like zombies, not sure what our plan was. We would turn if we felt like we should and finally we ran into the man we met on the bike last week, Zacchaeas. We had planned on seeing him earlier in the afternoon but then we had conference so he told us to go to his house and that we would find his wife. So basically a lesson just fell into our laps and this family has been so prepared. I love teaching families! His wife, Eunice, said, "From tomorrow on we will be together," (meaning they want to join us). Unfortunately they had to go to a funeral so they didn't come to conference but I really feel like they are ready to hear the gospel. Investigators seem to just fall into our laps and I don't understand how it happens. The key to all of these baptisms is retention. Retention is the hard part.

The branch president and elder's quorum president's children (they are brothers) are the cutest kids ever. They just love Sister Orr and I and every time we see them they just give us the biggest hugs. I'll hopefully send pictures of them soon but man, they melt my heart. I miss being able to hold kids.
Just one last little thing: At BYU I sort of made it a goal to smile at every person I passed. I wasn't perfect but especially on rainy days when people seemed extra frowny I just smiled at every person I could, attempting to radiate some sunshine into their day. It made my day to make other people smile. I have brought that here. So many times these women are laboring with their bundles on their heads, babies on their backs, and frowns on their faces but I try to smile at every one and suddenly their furrowed brow turns into a bright smile. It's the little things, man. I am a happy child.

Of Hospitals, Police Stations and Airports

Oct. 20, 2014
Parliament building tour and us with our tour guide who we had our awesome discussion with.

Adventures in Lusaka--on the plane with Sister Orr,

All the Sister Training Leaders in Lusaka.

President, Elder Jorgensen (old zone leader), and Elder Payne (my new zone leader) braiing (African BBQ) it up.

A giant, face-sized steak.

Sister Ntuli leaving us. I love that girl.

This week has been crazy and besides Friday and Saturday we only got one lesson a day due to the strange things that kept happening. Here in Africa the lack of keeping time can be frustrating but you learn to roll with the punches and just work with what you are given. 

Hospital: Our investigators were in the hospital with Malaria and so we took our branch, President Mitambo, and his wife to visit them. There we shared with them 2 Nephi 2:1-2 about how the Lord will consecrate our trials for our gain and we talked about how God has a purpose in all things. I have a testimony that we met these investigators at the exact right time. They needed our help. What are the chances that two in the same family get Malaria at the same time? That doesn't happen very often. They are now home and recovering really well. Goodson, the man, is so excited about everything he is learning and is already talking about how he can be a tool in helping the church spread in Malawi and how to establish Kalambo branch to be a center of strength. He is extremely learned in the Bible and he told us that our little pamphlets are like primary books to him so it's been fun to step up our game and come prepared with scriptures and boldness. He and his family are golden.

Police Station: On Tuesday we were turning into the place we usually park on the side of the road entering our area and we got in a small accident. This guy wasn't paying attention and decided to pass us on the outside shoulder right where we were turning. I think his brakes were also mabvuto (a problem). It was such a cultural experience to see how the whole community around the crash reacted and how the police handled it. First off, someone had to go pick up the police because they didn't have a car of their own. The police hitch hike here in Malawi. Then we drove them back to the station and seeing them take a piece of printer paper and write down such an unofficial statement was so funny to me. They were going to make us pay the fine even though it was the other guy's fault so we got a police woman who is a member of the Lilongwe branch to come with us. I can't even describe to you how interesting the whole situation was. One police officer even called us and we thought he was giving us an update on the final say of the fine but then he asked if we could, "Share me a Bible". We find teaching opportunities everywhere. Everyone was ok and our truck didn't suffer too badly.

Airport: We picked up a new sister! Sister Ntuli is now home in South Africa and so now Sister Falco is training a new sister from Kenya (woohoo!) called Sister Muthengi. She is super cute and I am excited to get to know her.

Malawian Mother's day was this week and that was also a funny cultural experience. It was very different from the American Mother's Day. Everyone had work off and there was a huge political celebration with a ton of women dressed in the same chitenges. As we waited for an investigator the TV was on and we even saw President Dr. Arthur Peter Mutharika speak to the nation about how Malawi honors mothers and womenhood and how they have equality between women and men in the work place.

Saturday we had a ton of appointments to make up for the lack of lessons the rest of the week and our path was so clearly directed. As we were walking to one lesson this man on a bicycle asked where we were going and we told him and he asked if we could come visit his family. So because we live by Africa time, we followed him back to his home where we found a house full of children of various ages ready to be taught. We sat down right there and taught the plan of salvation and he kept clarifying to his kids and telling them as if he already knew what we were saying is true. It is so exciting to teach families because that is what this gospel is all about. Then, in the afternoon we sat down in the market to eat some mangos (mango season is on and we eat them all the time. They are about $0.04 each) and this guy just opened the door right next to us and started inquiring about our beliefs. And then he ACTUALLY came to church. It was so cool. Heavenly Father is so acutely aware of us.

Something I studies this week is how we gain access to God. It is a topic in the Topical Guide. And it was amazing to me as I read verse after verse how so much of it depends on our willingness to receive. God is so eager to bless us with revelation and amazing spiritual experiences if we but have the desire. WE are the ones that put up the pavilion or the umbrella that block all the blessings that are raining down and WE are the ones that can take down our walls and let Him in.

Little details:
-It rained on Friday night and then much of Saturday and it was so nice! I love walking in the rain and we even went on a run in the morning. I was in heaven. I love running in the mornings.
-They already put Christmas decorations up in stores so I guess Malawi has been hit with the commercialism of Christmas too. I didn't expect that.
-We asked our recent convert to give a closing prayer in a lesson and he said, "We know with you nothing is possible". Oops. English is mabvuto. 
-I have decided I have acute narcolepsy because I have energy all day but when I get into the room and I am writing in my journal at night I can't stay awake for my life. 

Oh! I almost forgot. This morning we got to tour the Parliament Building and it was so cool to get to know how the government of Malawi works. We got to go into the chamber where they meet and it looked quite similar to the one in the US. But cooler than that, after asking all of our questions, our tour guide turned to us and asked questions about the church and we discussed for like 30 minutes about our beliefs. It was amazing. AND he stays in our branch boundaries! Perfect orchestration. Our Elders will love us for this referral. He's prime.