Monday, December 23, 2013

We Wish You A-Merry-Cana!

So, how is everyone doing out there?  I know that my family is good because I skyped with them only a few days ago.  It was great to hear them and see them.  The best part of our conversation was when I bore my testimony in Tagalog.  I really realized in that moment that I have been called to serve the people here in the Philippines, here in the Laoag Mission.  Sometimes I think that everyone speaks Tagalog, but then I realize they do not.  I love these people!    

Christmas will be very different for me this year, thousands of miles away in the jungle, but I am thankful for the unique experience I will have.  Missionaries work on Christmas.  We go out like everyday to teach people about Jesus.  In many ways it will be ordinary; yet more than ever I can feel the importance of the season, as I see the life of Christ mirrored in those around me.  The traditions here are different and the feeling of the season is not the same, but I am excited for the many memories I will make this week.  One of the cutest Christmas traditions I have noticed so far is the caroling.  The children go caroling from house to house each night during the season.  They do not stop singing unless you give them some change.  It is cute and they sing a cute "thank you" song when you pay them.  

Let's talk about the fun things that I have done this week.

1. I had the plague again and spent a day at home sleeping.  I had the worst fever of my life this week and I am ever grateful for my companion who is also a nurse.  I was shaking like a leaf for hours but she did everything she could to bring my body temperature down.  The phrase of the week in the apartment has been "Kiwawa yung bata na yun (that poor child now)."

2. I discovered that my pillow was moldy (gross, I know), so I was bleaching it down.  A fellow missionary (obviously Sister Storey) suggested that I cut off the pillow case and remake my pillow with her old pillow case.  I did that but it basically turned into a mini disaster (exhibited in posted pictures) and now I have the worlds lumpiest pillow.  The Filipinas in the apartment are convinced that the Americans are crazy. Too bad I live in the jungle where pillows are not available. 

3. We borrowed the branch's very small and very not high tech keyboard to our apartment practice our musical number for the branch Christmas party.  Yeah, it did not take me long to find the beats on that thing.  Not only does it have some pretty fun techno rhythms,  it has a preprogrammed orchestration of "America the Beautiful."  It was a good night.  Many more keyboard adventures to come.  

Happy Pasuo to everyone.  This is such a fabulous time of year in which we can contemplate the miraculous birth and life of our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.  The greatest gift our Father in Heaven has given us is the life of His Son.  Now, what gift can we give Him in return?  This year I will give God my pure heart and my contrite spirit.  I will give Him the promise that I will always try my best to live like Jesus.  I do not have to perform miracles or change millions of lives, but maybe in the process of my mission I can touch just a couple.  Let's pay it forward this year.  Let's serve one another and spread the gospel of our Lord.


I know that we are very busy this week celebrating the birth of our Savior, but I would like to send out a quick reminder that we will also soon be celebrating my own birth.  I love you all!  Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Special Post from Leah

This is the story told by David Wiser.

As I jumped on board my flight  from Miami to Salt Lake City, I paused for a moment to catch my breath. Seated near the front of the plane was an excited young man, probably 19, sitting with his parents. His hair was short and his clothes new and sharp. His suit was fitted perfectly and his black shoes still retained that store bought shine. His body was in good shape, his face clear and his hands clean. In his eyes I could see nervous look, and his movements were that of an actor on opening night. 

He was obviously flying to Utah to become a missionary for the Mormon church. I smiled as I walked by and took pride in belonging to the same church where these young men and woman voluntarily serve the Savior for two years or 18 months. With this special feeling I continued to go back to where my seat was located. 

As I sat in my seat, I looked to the right and to my surprise, saw another missionary sleeping in the window seat. His hair was also short, but that was the only similarity between the two. This one was obviously returning home and I could tell at a glance what type of missionary he had been.The fact that he was already asleep told me a lot. His entire body seemed to let out a big sigh. 

It looked as if this was the first time in two years that he had slept. As I looked at his face I could see the heavy bags under the eyes, the chapped lips and the scarred and sunburned face caused by the fierce Florida sun.His suit was tattered and worn. A few of the seams were coming apart and I noticed that there were a couple of tears that had been hand-sewn with a sloppy stitch. I saw the name tag, crooked and scratched and bearing the name of the church he represented, the engraving of which was almost all worn away.

 I saw the knee of his pants, worn and white the result of many hours of humble prayer. A tear came to my eye as I saw the things that told me what kind of missionary he had been. I saw the marks that made this boy, a man. His feet-the two that had carried him from house to house, now lay there swollen and tired. They were covered by a pair of worn out shoes. Many of the scrapes and gouges had been filled in by the countless number of polishing's.

 His books-laying across his lap were his scriptures, the word of God. Once new, these books which testify of Jesus Christ and His mission, were now torn, bent and ragged from use. His hands-those big strong hands, which had been used to bless and teach, were now scarred and cut from knocking on doors.Those were indeed the marks of that man

And as I looked at him, I saw the marks of another man, the Savior, in Gethsemane  and Him hanging on the cross for the sins of the world. His feet-those that had once carried him throughout the land during his ministry were now nailed to the cross. His side-now pierced with a spear, sealing His gospel, His testimony with His life. His hands-the hands that had been used to ordain His servants and bless the sick were also scarred with the nails that were pounded to hang Him on the cross. Those were the marks of that great man

As my mind returned to the missionary, my whole body seemed to swell with pride and joy, because I knew, by looking at him, the he had served his Master well. My joy was so great. I felt like running to the front of the plane, grabbing that new, young missionary and bringing him back to see what he can become, what he can do. 

But would he see the things that I saw, could any one see the the things that I saw. Or would he see the outward appearance of that mighty elder, tired and worn out, almost dead. As we landed, I reached over and tapped him to wake him up. As he awoke, it seemed like new life was entering his body. His whole frame just seemed to fill as he stood up, tall and proud. As he turned his face toward mine, I saw a light about his face that I had  never seen before. I looked into his eyes, those eyes, I will never forget those eyes. 

They were the eyes of a prophet, a leader, a follower and a servant. They were the eyes of the Savior. No words were spoken. No words were needed. As we unloaded, I stepped aside to let him go first. I watched as he walked, slow but steady, tired but strong. I followed him and found myself walking the way that he did. 

When I came through the doors, I saw this young man in the arms of his parents, and I couldn't hold it any longer. With tears streaming down my face, I watched those loving parents greet their son who had been away for a short time. And I wondered if our parents in Heaven would greet us in the same way. Will they wrap there arms around us and welcome us home from our journey on earth? I believe they will. I just hope that I can be worthy enough to receive such praise, as I'm sure this missionary will. I said a silent prayer, thanking the Lord for missionaries like this young man. I don't think I will ever forget the joy and happiness he bought me that day.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Old Apartment (Name the Artist)

I have been to Laoag and back all within a week.  Christmas Conference was really great, not only to see all of the 200+ missionaries from this mission, but to also feel their strong spirit.  The messages we heard at the conference were really inspiring.  By the end of the year, the missionaries of the Laoag mission will have brought 750+ souls unto Christ through baptism and thousands more through reactivation.  This work is aided by the Lord.  We had fun times to bond as we performed cultural dances and skits.  I played Santo Nino, an engraven image, in our skit.  People love to call me Santo Nino here because of my curly hair.  

In other news, Sister Incognito was not transferred so I will officially be her last companion.  Also, we bought the cutest matching shirts.  And it was President Obispo's birthday and Tatay Tapia's birthday yesterday.

People at home keep asking for my miracle stories that happen to me each week.  The truth is that I see miracles in every house that I enter.  God does not appear and nothing amazing happens, but the whisperings of the Spirit inspire those we teach to change.  It was touching this week how Allan, recently baptized, bore testimony to Jenjen, an investigator struggling with a tobacco and alcohol addiction, of how the Church is true.  He shared how hard it was to change and become clean, but he also said that Christ has been his best friend.  Even though his other friends left him for his righteous choices, Allan followed the truth.  I know that Jenjen will make the same righteous decisions.  

Each day is also a miracle because of the reality of the Gift of Tongues.  I met Rham this week, an Indian who has lived here for 14 years.  He can speak Ilocano and some Tagalog, but he only has a basic understanding.  I have been here in the Philippines for five months.  I should not be able to speak this language; I am just not that smart.  But God has given me a gift of understanding and comprehension so that I can share the gospel.  Words come into my mind as I teach each day that I have studied only once or that I have only heard.  I do not always know what they mean but I know they are the words that I must say.  

My mission gets better each week as I become better at noticing the miracles each day that occur.  We got a keyboard at our meetinghouse this week; that is a miracle. Irene came to church on Sunday even though she only had her baby a week ago; that is a miracle.  Over 120 people attended church yesterday; that is a miracle.  The gospel is true; now that is the greatest miracle of all, that God sent His son to establish this truth on the earth.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I Ate a Snail for Breakfast

And it was not that bad.  This week has been filled with fun and I do not know where to start.  Let us see…Allan Jay Unida is now a member of the Church.   Allan has gone through so many trials, especially in the past weeks.  He was scared and decided 3 separate times that he did not desire to be baptized.  But he knew that this is the true Church and he needed to be baptized like Christ by the authority of God.  Since his confirmation yesterday,  I have never seen him so happy.

This week we also taught Walter, a referral from some other sisters in the branch.  The other sisters gave him a pamphlet about the Plan of Salvation.  When we began to teach him he brought up the kingdoms of God immediately.  Sabi ko sa kanya, “Naniniwala po ba kayo sa mga kariang ng Diyos? (Do you believe in the kingdoms of God?)”  He said yes!  The gospel is true because it is logical.  The Restored gospel answers the questions of all of God’s children. Walter accepted an invitation to be baptized because he feels the peace that the truth of the gospel brings into his life.

Lessons learned this week as a foreigner:
1.       Pinoy (Filipino) Dora the Explorer is all in Japanese here.  So this means that a Mexican child is traveling around the world speaking only in Japanese.  I thought the purpose of Dora was to create a bilingual generation but Dora is having an ethnic identity crisis here.  I do know how these young children can learn from Dora is Dora does not even know who she is herself.  
2.       The Americans in the apartment tried to cook again and we made soup.  We put many vegetables in the soup, including okra.  The Filipinos were really confused as to why we put okra in the soup.  Why not?  (This is an example of American and Filipino differences.  It is funny because Filipinos are very traditional but Americans are not. Americans believe there are a million ways to do everything, but for Filipinos, there are specific ways to do everything.  For example, my companion tried to teach me how to wash the dishes this week.  Since when was there “A WAY” to clean the dishes?)
3.       You cannot read if you have recently had a baby.  Our investigator, Irene, gave birth to a baby boy this week.  We have since taught here, but under the very medically sound advice of her mother, she cannot read for one month or her eyes will be damaged.  Only in the Philippines, di ba?
I am off to Ballesteros today and Laoag tomorrow!  We have Christmas Conference with the entire mission.  I am excited to be accompanying like 10,000 musical numbers, especially because I have not been able to touch a piano in weeks.  I am excited to see all of my mission friends and begin to celebrate this important season with them.

Jesus Christ, born in a humble manger, lived a life worthy of our praise each day.  Let us worship Him by sharing His Life and His gospel with all of His Children.  Kellee sent this to me a few weeks ago and I think we should all take a second to ponder it:

Dear Child,
You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. You are assigned to labor in the Earth mission. It is anticipated that you will serve for a period of years pre-determined by your Father in Heaven.

You should report to your Earthly Mother and Father upon your birth. You will prepare to preach the gospel in your native language (and another language of your choice, should you choose to use your talents to learn a language). Your assignment may be modified according to the needs of the Mission President, whom you must seek in daily prayer and scripture study in order to receive instructions.

You have been recommended as one worthy to represent that Lord as a partaker of the restored gospel. Upon your baptism, you will be an official representative of the Church. As such, you will be expected to maintain the highest standards of conduct and appearance by keeping the commandments, living all rules, and following the counsel of your Mission President. As you devote your time and attention to serving the Lord, prioritizing all other personal affairs, the Lord will bless you with increased knowledge and testimony of the Restoration and of the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Your purpose will be to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. As you serve with all your heart, might, and strength, the Lord will lead you to those who are prepared to be baptized (living and dead).

The Lord will reward you for the goodness of your life. Greater blessing and more happiness than you have yet experienced await you as you humbly and prayerfully serve the Lord in this labor of love among His children. We place in you our confidence and will help you become an effective missionary.

You will be set apart as a missionary the moment you are able to open your mouth and/or set an example for others. Please send your acceptance prayer promptly.

You Heavenly Father—Mission President

The Church is true!  I love you all!

Monday, December 2, 2013


Okay.  Before I start talking about myself, I would like to shout out to MIKAELA KEMSLEY because she is officially ENGAGED.  

Ok, let's start.  I am oh so cold here in Sanchez...we are going to try to buy sweaters today.  I am not sure they sell sweaters in this country but I have a lot of faith.  It rains all day every day here but I am digging the chilly weather.  Also, people seem to be still really concerned that Yolanda affected the Laoag Mission.  I am fine, though!  We received some emergency preparedness training this week. These are the last days and as the prophets have warned, we must prepare ourselves always.  On a lighter note, this was the email Ben sent me this week:

"Hey what's up with the hurricane? Everyone in Chile and their dog was talking about that. Hope you're not dead!

Elder Johns"

The work here is hard but great.  Len Obispo and her children are loving the gospel and the answers it gives to her.  She even asked again when their baptismal dates will be because she is excited and prepared.  We are now praying that we can get her husband on board and help to strengthen his faith in the Word of Wisdom.  We are also preparing Allan to be baptized this week.  It is easy to see the distractions and obstacles that Satan places in our paths when we are trying our best to follow the straight and narrow.  Allan is having doubts but his faith is strong, but the Lord is ever aware of him.  Missionaries are representatives of Jesus Christ.  This work is about individuals and not about numbers.  I am thankful that the Lord trusts me as His instrument.  

In the fun news this week:
1. Thanksgiving.  The Filipinas in the apartment love mashed potatoes.  This also offered Sister Storey and I an opportunity to prove that we have culinary skills.  
2. Sister Incognito's birthday;  she turned twenty-four!  Don't worry, I am an ASTIG party planner.
3. Interviews with President Barrientos. I am thankful for such an awesome mission president.
4. I saw Ariel Sanchez from San Nicholas as well as the Stake President and his wife from Laoag.  It is comforting to know that this is a small world and the people we love are always near.  
5. I chopped my hair off!  Actually, the Sisters in the apartment cut it.  It was a Sunday-night-just-cut-it-all-off-please-now-I-can't-stand-it-anymore moment.  I know that my mother would not approve that I had a bunch of girls my age do the task, but it looks pretty good.  Pictures to come next week.  

Merry Christmas to all of you!  What an amazing opportunity we have to reflect on the birth and life of the Messiah.  I am grateful for my own opportunity to testify of Jesus Christ each day.  

Ingat po kayo lahat.

1 YeAr Pa, PeOpLe!

This week was a little bit momentous because I have now begun my 1-year-left-on-the-mission countdown.  Actually, as of today (the 25th of November) I have 360 days until my homecoming.  It is hard for me to believe that I have been serving the Lord for 6 months already.  The last 6 months have been crazy, bizarre, and amazing.  I am thankful for each day out here.  I miss home but I know the day when I am released will be a hard one.  

Speaking of thankfulness,  HAPPY THANKSGIVING sa lahat kayo!  Sister Storey's mother sent a package complete with stuffing, canned chicken, and jello.  I will tell you how it tasted next week.  From what I understand, a lot of Filipinos celebrate Thanksgiving.  I am not sure if that is true, but I will see in a few days.  I also drew a turkey with my hand last night.  I forgot to take a picture but it is on our kitchen wall.  I even added an American flag to show my loyalty to the red, white, and blue.  AMERICA!

In the news this week:

1. I gutted a fish.  It was so gross.  I would rather eat balut again than gut a fish.  Actually, I am not sure about that.  They are pretty equal in grossness on the scale of disgusting.

2. We fit 6 sister missionaries on a trike on two separate occasions.  3 inside and 3 outside.  #everythingismorefuninthephilippines

3. It has rained everyday and I am digging this ocean weather.  It is rarely hot here...send me a sweater please?!?

4.  My zone is learning a cultural dance for the mission Christmas conference.  Have you heard that I cannot dance?  Good thing is that we are all pretty bad.  

5.  Michael got baptized.  He is amazing.  He bore his testimony after he was baptized and it was over 30 minutes, replete with memorized Book of Mormon and Bible verses.  

6.  A woman in the branch tried to convince me that I look like her Filipina baby.  Yeah.  I am not that tan.

I am thankful for my mission.  I am thankful for my family.  I am thankful for my companion and mission president.  I am thankful for all of you.  I am thankful for the Lord.  As a missionary, I walk with Him each day.  He is on the streets of the Philippines.  He guides Sister Incognito and I always.  And sometimes, He reaches out and touches our hearts.

What are you thankful for?

Ingat kayo, ah?
Ayo ayo.