Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas in the Philippines

Dear Family and Friends,

     I'm officially finished with my first Christmas in the mission field.  It was an odd mixture of being homesick, tired, and really excited at the same time.  We had our Christmas Zone Conference and it was a blast.  President Mangum delivered an amazing message on the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  He has redone the whole training plan of the mission.  The whole thing is now centered around discovering and teaching the Atonement.  He kept saying, "Elders and Sisters, the ATONEMENT IS NOT A DOWNER DOCTRINE."  He told us to practice teaching the Atonement with a smile on our face.  It's a lot harder than it sounds.

     It's helped me realize that we really are helpless without the Atonement.  I always say in lessons, "Kung walang Pagbabayad-sala, walang pag-aasa sa atin." (Without the Atonement, there is no hope for us)  The Atonement is the true gift of Christmas and it really is the good news of the Gospel.  

     As far as our work, we have been having a really hard time finding new investigators lately.  Since referrals are extremely rare, we are left to tracting.  This is probably the hardest part of missionary work for me, but there truly are blessings that come from it.  We are going to be doing a lot of walking over the next few weeks.  We have been asking the office for bikes, because we walk for about 45 minutes to an hour between some appointments on gravel roads through rice fields.  Let's just say that bikes would be a truly appreciated Christmas gift here.  It would also give me a tiny taste of the mountain biking I've been craving.  That's all for now!  Thanks for all of your support and Christmas letters!
Maligayang Bagong Taon! (Happy New Year!)
- Elder English

Monday, December 22, 2014

White Christmas

Pamilya at mga Kaibigan,

     I've definitely been dreaming of a white Christmas.  I guess I got it in a different way than I was expecting.  We had to postpone the baptisms of Joseph and Jessica because of the typhoon so we got a baptism the week of Christmas!  Every missionary's greatest wish.  It was a great experience and very spiritual.  I know that both of them will be future leaders in the church. 
Baptisms of Joseph (23 years old) and Jessica (19 years old)

     We also had some other great news this week.  The president of the Oriental Mindoro district attended the Socorro group this week and he said that we are about 95 percent of the way to becoming a branch and that the whole district presidency has been very surprised at the progress in the Socorro area the past month.  He said it's been stagnant here for about the last 25 years and things have really turned around (in Tagalog of course).  I guess my companion and I hit it at just the right time.  We've also been focusing on being exactly obedient lately, and we have felt more power in our work and our teaching.

     We also have Christmas zone conference this week.  We will be traveling to Lipa and staying in a hotel.  With a shower head, hot water, and a flushing toilet!!  That's what everyone is the most excited for.  We really live in our own little world here on Mindoro.  That's all I really have for this week.  I'm definitely feeling the Christmas spirit here in the Philippines and it's great.  I think that I have heard more carolers in the past week than my whole life in Utah.  It is really popular here, especially for the little kids since the people in the house usually give them a few pesos.  Thanks for all of your support!  Maligayang Pasko! 

- Elder English 

 This is in Calapan. (Where the port for the island is.)  We were there for a Zone Training Meeting and they had a huge display at the capitol with all these cartoon characters.  It was really random.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Post Typhoon

Pamilya at mga Kaibigan,

     This week we had the opportunity to see quite a few miracles in our area (this might be a long email).  We got back to our area on Thursday afternoon and we decided that unpacking could wait.  We threw our packs on the ground, had a quick companionship study, and headed out.  We visited all of our members and investigators.  We  were very surprised to find that none of their houses had been damaged by the typhoon even though we got hit by the weakest part of it.  Most of the houses where we work are designed to be able to be rebuilt quickly after a storm instead of withstanding the storm.  Most of the people we teach just don't have the means to buy building materials.  Surprisingly, we heard from almost all of our investigators and members that they would be able to attend church and all of our investigators had been reading the Book of Mormon.  I guess no electricity for 5 days was a blessing in disguise.  

     My companion and I had a pretty intense experience where we both had to become really bold.  We are teaching an elderly couple who have been taught by three sets of missionaries now.  We taught two lessons to them and it felt like we were getting nowhere.  We taught them again and the same thing was starting to happen.  They were saying that they believed the Book of Mormon was true, but nothing was happening.  I was getting really tired of just teaching in circles with them.  I finally just asked, "Tatay, bakit hindi pa kayong mabinyagan?" (Brother, why haven't you been baptized?)  I'm pretty sure that the grammar is incorrect and my companion looked at me like I had just said something horrible.  Then he proceeded to say that he was born "a certain religion" and he was going to die "in that same religion", and that he didn't think it was necessary to join another church because God knew his desires.  My companion and I proceeded to tell him that faith isn't actually faith until we act.  We left feeling like we had just insulted him and his wife.  Then we saw his wife walking down the street the  next day pushing her husband in his wheelchair on their way to our sacrament meeting.  It was pouring rain and they didn't have an umbrella, and it's about a two mile walk from their house to the chapel.  My companion and I just stared at each other for a while and then ran out into the rain to help them.  

     This experience has helped me see that sometimes we need to be bold.  One of the biggest things in the missionary training is to be bold, but loving.  It can be a hard balance to find, but it really shows that we care about what we are teaching and who we are teaching it to. 

     Well, that's my miracle for the week and my companion and I are starting to see our hard work pay off as the district presidency is starting to talk to us about getting a new meeting house for Socorro and for the Socorro group to become a branch as we have really been focusing on the priesthood holders.  The Group has really come a long way in the past few weeks and all the leaders in the area have been surprised at the progression.  The Lord really is blessing the members here in Socorro.

     Thank you for all of your support and emails.  I really don't have much time to respond, but please know that I really do appreciate it.  The work is moving forward here in the Philippines!

- Elder English

Some fun at the beach on our zone p-day. The picture actually happened on accident.  There's a soccer ball, you just can't see it.

10 elders in one apartment waiting for the typhoon.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Typhoon Hagupit

We didn't receive our regularly scheduled letter from Bradyn, but he sent me a very brief one on Thursday evening (US time) warning us of potential issues he may be facing due to the anticipated super typhoon to hit the Philippines.  Below is his quick e-mail and one from the mission president.

Hey Mom,
     Just wanted to tell you a few things.  President is letting us send a little heads up home to our families even though it's Friday.  There is currently a category 4 super typhoon off the coast of the Philippines that is projected to hit us.  Don't worry, our apartment is in a very safe place and they are really making sure that we are prepared so it won't be a problem.  We might not be able to email on monday, but the mission home will send you an email as soon as they can to notify families.  They asked that we please don't call the mission home.  They're taking care of everything.  We have lots of food and water and towels so we should be fine.  Love you!


Friday, 5 December 2014

Dear Philippines San Pablo Mission Family,

You are probably already aware of Typhoon Hagupit, locally referred to as Ruby, which is off of the coast of the Philippines and headed our way. We have been tracking the storm for the past few days and have been working to prepare our missionaries for its arrival. The latest projections show it is tracking directly toward our mission and it will arrive sometime this weekend or early next week. The speed of the storm has been decreasing so it is difficult to estimate when it will reach us.

All of our missionaries have been alerted to prepare for the storm and have been given very specific instructions about how to prepare. We are working to relocate missionaries from coastal lines and areas that might be prone to flooding, mudslides, etc. We are being overly cautious and conservative in the approach we are taking to protect your missionaries.

Given the timing of the storm, you may not receive an email on Monday, which is your normal day to hear from your missionary. Don’t panic if you don’t hear from them. In July we lost internet service for a period of time following the storm and I assume we will have the same experience with this storm. I will allow your missionary to email home as soon as services have been restored. As soon as possible following the storm, I will send an email confirming that everyone is well and accounted for and give you a brief update.

Please continue to keep our missionaries and the Philippines in your prayers. Our hope and prayers are that the storm will weaken as it reaches us and all of our preparations will have been unnecessary. We are preparing for the worst while praying and hoping for the best.

Thanks for the amazing sons and daughters you have consecrated to the Lord’s service. It is Sister Mangum and I’s great privilege to serve them and serve with them!

President Mangum

Monday, December 1, 2014

Working Hard

Dear Family and Friends,

     It's been another great week of hard work in Socorro.  We have two investigators (brother and sister) who are really close to baptism.  They're both doing really well with their reading and we're so excited for them.  They are both very tall and we don't know if the miniature baptismal font in Pinamalayan will be big enough for them.  So I might be having my first baptism here sa dagat. (in the ocean)  That's an experience that I'm definitely excited for.  

     Other than that, things are going well.  My companion and I are getting to know each other better and I'm slowly getting to know the members.  There is a lot of work to be done here.  We have a separate area book for less-actives and let's just say it's a lot bigger than our area book for investigators.  We are focusing on one barangay (a subdivision of a city; village) at a time and then moving on to the next one when we feel that we have a good support system there.  Our group leader's name is Brother Ramon.  He is 21 years old and a recent convert.  He's awesome.  I've really come to respect how strong the members here are.

     So things are going great and it feels like it's just me and my companion against the world. (but we know that we can do it)  We are very isolated and it's good that we are both willing to work hard.  You could get away with a lot out here if you didn't want to be obedient.  (He mentioned that the Cranstons from California, a senior couple, visit them every other week.) The only place where we can buy food that we don't have to cook is an Angel's Burger.  You can get two cheese burgers for 36 pesos. (90 cents)  It's a good thing that my companion is a good cook or I would be really unhealthy.  That's all I have for now.  Thanks for all of your letters and support!
- Elder English

With my companion, Elder Santos.

What all of the fields look like right now.

 The miniature baptismal font in Pinamalayan.