Hello from Elder Thurber--who serves in the Philippines Manila Mission

Hello from Elder Thurber--who serves in the Philippines Manila Mission

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

08/19 IF Anybody's Wondering if a Mission is a Good Idea, it is, it is, IT IS!

August 19, 2013
Arborlan, Palawan, Philippines


I'm pleased to report that I am not in the City of Manila as I was expecting, but in the coveted land of paradise: PALAWAN! Specifically, I'm in Aborlan.
For some reason, Pres. Stucki wanted me and 5 other new missionaries to start out here, in a lightly populated and beautiful land. The air quality is fantastic (usually) and I have my space.

My apartment is pretty nice! It's not cramped. It's usually not hot, because we always have like 4 big fans blowing air everywhere. I'm sorry, I forgot to bring my USB cable to the internet cafe here so I can't show you any pictures of it. The only downside is that our house is right next to a slaughter house. Yep. Additionally, there are wild animals all around me. Seeing geckos, small snakes, snails, starving wild dogs, ants, and cows are a very common occurrence. Every night, I always hear dogs howling and fighting :/ But I'm usually too tired to notice. 

I'm too tired because I'm experiencing so many new things every day. I forgot what my comfort zone feels like. Like, at the MTC, I had to give the baptismal interviews to my district's investigators. And for one of them, I gave him a blessing in tagalog! It was so crazy. It's even more daunting here in Aborlan. I can't understand anybody. Very few know any English at all. I'm very thankful for my companion, Elder Balonsong, who is my trainer (we call them "tatays") and helps me explain things. More on him later. 

It was an adventure getting over here. The MTC people told us we didn't need to weigh our luggage because we were only going to Manila. But at the mission home in Manila, we found out we were going to Palawan, and each of us were only allowed to bring one of our pieces of luggage! So we [Elders Saclot (who is Filippino) Webb, Proudfit, Wilkinson, and Osguthorpe] had to rush to condense the necessary things into one of our pieces of luggage. We got to the airport on time and breathed in a sigh of relief. But it was short lived. Elder Osguthorpe, who is usually on top of things, brought the wrong piece of luggage! The one he brought was filled with books and none of the clothes he wanted! He's been getting by with minimum clothing and supplies! On top of that, we exceeded the weight limit, so we had to throw a lot of his books away. I haven't seen him since I've been here in Aborlan, but I hope he's OK. 

I also hope my friends from the MTC are okay too! It was very hard to say goodbye to them, since I probably won't see them again. Letting go of Elder Langi was especially hard. I've learned a lot from him and have tremendous respect for him. 

But now I'm thrown out into the middle of nowhere! Without my tatay, I'd be toast. From what I heard from people in the MTC place, Elder Balonsong stepped down from being a zone leader because he wanted to be a tatay again. He is Filippino, 5' 6", a wonderful cook, and--get this-- 26 years old! Additionally and incredibly, he's been in the church for three years on August 21st! We will be celebrating that for sure. He told me from the get-go that he's not very patient. I'm glad he isn’t-- I need that. He says he wants me to learn the language in one month. He has zero tolerance for not following the rules. But he is also a very loving and easy-going guy. I love joking around with him. 

We share our apartment with Elder Hart, who is from California, and Elder Saclot. I love them both. Elder Hart reminds me of Paul Holm, my uncle. (I wish I had really brought my usb drive.)  Elder Saclot is Filippino, and cares a lot for the people around him. His family is really wealthy, especially for being a Filippino family. He misses them and his friends a lot, as I do.

I s'pose I should mention a little bit about the Iglecian Ni Cristo church. For every LDS building in the Philippines, there's an Iglacian church nearby. They have a great knowledge of the bible, but I don't understand how they glean the doctrine that they believe from it. They have many similarities with our church--mainly, they claim to have the priesthood, and the same church schedule and church responsibilities and such. They even have the equivalent of MoTab. I have to pass by their church to get to investigator's houses. People are always there and look at us. Their ministers don't allow them to talk with us. We hear they gain membership only through the members. Basically, the minister forces them to ask 10 of their neighbors to join their church. If they don't, they pay the church. They pay the church if they don't go to church on Sunday, either. It seems like an incredibly repressive religion. 

On a more positive note, my companion and I are having great success here! We are technically opening up an area, and are finding investigators everywhere. Everybody loves Elder Balonsong, including me. It's incredible how receptive the people are to the gospel. I just wish there were more hours in the day than there are. Even though it's often hot and disgusting (compared to US standards) in their houses, I barely care. Elder Balonsong often has me teach for most of the time during the lesson. But, he says more words than I do! Filippinos speak so fast. I understand what people are saying about 20% of the time. Maybe if they spoke slower could I understand them. 

But they understand me! They often tell me they're impressed with how well I speak the language. They say they want to help me learn the language.  I typically can't understand them, though, (hahaha) so I need my companion to translate for me. 

I gave my first baptismal invitation to Mike Sibelia yesterday. He accepted! Yippee! I felt really nervous about it, but I'm so used to doing things I've never done before I just.... did it. It was great feeling afterwards. 

I also gave some remarks in church. I wasn't nervous then either. I think the people were more nervous than I was, cuz they didn't want me to mess up. But it's no big deal! In the past, I've been very impatient with myself in learning the language. But I've come to grips with the fact that it takes time. I think I can learn it in a month though. 

I really do feel like the luckiest missionary. I love the people, and I think they're enjoying seeing a 5' 11" blonde, white-as-sour-cream, white-shirt-clad, American roaming around their small town. 

Sorry about not attaching descriptions of pictures. Next week expect a lot of them coming. But I can't promise many. The internet is pretty slow here. Oh... dad should know that most missionaries play chess. I'll be teaching my tatay it and piano later on :)

Mom, so could you ask some of my friends and see if they would be willing to write me a note about how their life is going? Maybe a picture too? I'm not too picky. I just want to know they're still alive.  My email is thurber.matthew@myldsmail.net  Don't use DearElder.com. Sorry, it just makes things more complicated than they need to be. I prefer just using regular emails. Also, I've found out that IF you want to send a Christmas present, you need to send it by the beginning of October.  Don't ever use express mail for packages or letters.

I can't say that my stay here has been easy. There have been times where I really wonder what I'm doing here. But the rewards ALWAYS outweigh the trials. If anybody who's reading this blog is wondering if a mission is a good idea, it is, it is, IT IS! There is more of you inside of yourself than you think you have. Plus, if you are obedient, the Spirit will help you after you've done your part. 

I love being a missionary,

Elder Thurber

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Monday, August 12, 2013

8/9/2013 Philippines MTC: Dear Lahat Mga Tao (all people)

8/9/2013 Philippines MTC

Dear Lahat Mga Tao (all people),

My time here at the MTC is winding down. All we are really doing now in the language is just reviewing stuff. I'm leaving for Manila on Wednesday. If proselyting today is anything what it is actually like, I will have the time of my life out here. I'll talk more about proselyting later. I feel like a missionary because I'm always tired, and I'm always praying. I really honestly feel that the Lord has given me strength. Like, I haven't worked this hard in college or at any other time in my life!

Last week I promised I would give a report of the Philippines church statistics, so here it is:

My teacher called the Philippines the "Asian seat of Christianity."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Philippines has:  
  • 83 stakes
  • 82 districts
  • 21 missions (4 of those have been recently added)
  • 680,859 total members
  • Only 10% of total members pay tithing. It used to be only 6%.
  • Since Jan 2012, there have been 12,589 baptisms
  • The church has been here for 52 years, but only 24% of the members are active. I know that sounds bad, but it has significantly improved. Five years ago, it was only like 10 percent. (BTW, it's a lot better than other countries where the church is still young.) 
There you have it. My teacher also stressed the importance of keeping people active, as well as explaining that the rich people of the Philippines need the gospel, too.

In fact, the second person I taught during Wednesday's proseylting activity, Santos, was actually very well off.  He had a normal sized house, and the luxuries Americans can afford. I taught him about tithing, which I thought was going to be really tough, cuz that's what other missionaries have said about it. My companion, Elder Ballad, was silent for practically the entire lesson. While I hardly ever knew what my investigator was talking about, he knew what I was saying, which was a relief. He promised to keep the law of tithing.

In all honesty, I think the Tagalog I'm learning and hearing here at the MTC isn't the real Tagalog that is being spoken outside. Also, Filipinos use a bunch of English words that I know the Tagalog equivalent too.

The first person I taught on Wednesday, however, was Santana. He was a sixteen year old, and he has next to nothing. He is as skinny as it comes. There were rats everywhere. He couldn't afford school. I could barely breathe in his house, which was more like a small room, and it didn’t smell very good.  Also, it was pouring, and at one point we all had to stand up and put our shoes back on because water was running through his house!  I taught him about temples, and he promised to go there. His house and the Lord's house are quite literally on the complete opposite ends of the spectrum of quality of houses!  But, I could just tell that he had an unwavering testimony of the church. I was really inspired by that visit.

After the two lessons, Elder Ballad and I went back to the church building. Some people didn't come back for another 30 minutes, so I got to know him and some other missionaries really well. I found out that missionaries, even when they've been out for a good long time, are still goofy and they have their weaknesses! But, I enjoyed being with them, and I can't wait to get out into the field.

I teach my lessons with 99% Tagalog now. However, my kasama and I always have to adjust our sentences to fit the words we know in Tagalog. Here's a funny story. My investigator asked if infant baptism was okay, and my companion was trying to ask her to read from the Book of Mormon in Moroni 8:12:

“12 But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism!”

but instead asked her to read Moroni 8:14 which basically says that those who practice infant baptism will be cast down to hell:
“14 Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell. 15 For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism.”
Our investigator got pretty mad at us, and we had to abandon our lesson plan and apologize and explain what the verse meant.

We are also to the point where all of my district members are asking me to give the baptismal invitation to their investigators. (Interesting fact: the Tagalog equivalent for interview is "interbyu.")  When I asked one of their investigators if they had committed any serious sins, he got really nervous, as did I.  He said he had committed murder! I was pretty shocked. After the interview was over I said that he wasn't ready for baptism, and that he needed to talk to the bishop. I asked him who he killed and he said "a bird." sheeesh.

I think the parable of the talents (Matthew 25: 14-30) explains what goes on in the MTC quite well.

14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
 15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
 16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
 17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
 18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
 19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
 20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
 21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
 22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
 23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
 24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo,there thou hast that is thine.
 26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
 27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
 28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
 29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
 30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

God asks us to develop what we have, and that is good enough. Not only develop, but to double! Some people here have buried what they have (i.e. their testimony, faith, willingness to follow the rules, etc), and make it a hassle for everybody else. But there are others, who haven't learned discipline previously, that I can visually see progressing! Each person has a certain amount of "talents". 

My district is a perfect example of this.  I know they're all going to be great missionaries out in the field. The growth I see in so many missionaries is probably what I'm going to miss most about being here in the MTC.  (Picture is of everyone in my district.)

Tell Sister Whitehead and Brother Grey that now I understand what they wrote in Tagalog in my journal at the open house before I left Mechanicsville.

I'm excited to give y'all my next email when I'm out in the field! It'll be so exciting I'm sure.  I should also mention that I've been feeling really stressed lately, but I don't get any time to rest. So, thank you for your prayers, and I hope you continue to pray for me!

These are the nametags of some of my best friends here.

Ingat po kayo! (Matthew’s mom:  I think this means “Please take care of all of you.”)

Monday, August 5, 2013

8/2/2013 Philippines MTC

August 2, 2013 Philippines MTC

Dear all y'all,

I am now officially part of the graduating class here at the MTC! It's so incredibly hard to believe that I'm about to go out into the field soon. I have to say I feel a lot more prepared than I did when I first came here. Like, I no longer get nervous during the investigator lessons, and can (sometimes) speak rather fluently to my investigator, and seldom can I not understand him or her. In fact, the investigator lessons are the best part of my day.  Last Wednesday the class above us left. I got really emotional, because they have all definitely helped me out here, and have provided inspiration that I needed. Plus, the new missionaries aren't as good at basketball as they are. meh. I'm close to all of these missionaries:

This is a picture of the two Filipino roommates I had, along with my companion. They have now left.
I think I should mention that my companion reminds me of Bro Toiaivao more and more every day. Honestly, we work very well together, and I think I have the best companion in the mission. I really do.

We had a Q&A with the MTC President the other day in respect to going out in the field. Turns out that we're not allowed to eat balut! 
 balut: image from:  http://www.bubblews.com/assets/images/news/639488692_1369079238.jpg

Too many missionaries have gotten sick from it, as well as many other foods we've found. I must admit, I'm slightly disappointed. He also gave a huge monologue about what goes on in the body when people don't drink enough water, or when we drink bad water or street food--I think we all got the picture. I'm going to try my best to be healthy! I'm extremely blessed to have not been sick thus far here. I'm part of one of the few companionships that haven't gotten sick. In fact, just the other day my companion Elder Langi and I were the only ones who were able to show up for class; all of the sisters were either sick, or their companions were sick.

Last Wednesday was quite possibly the most exciting day of my life. I went proselyting for a few hours! I got the wonderful opportunity to be with one of the zone leaders who was from Austrialia.  He had been out for a year, and he spoke flawless Tagalog. He gave me a lot of advice in both English and Tagalog. He gave me a rundown of what our schedule was supposed to be for the next few hours:
1. Teach a counselor in the branch presidency the importance of going to church. I was supposed to teach it all.
2. Teach a 16 year old the importance of going to church.
3. Teach a drunkard the word of wisdom.

Turns out, only the first contact was there. I was so nervous! It was about 90 degrees in his house. My companion would literally say like five words, and then look at me again. I think I got my message across, though. There were actually some words I knew that the counselor didn't! Most people speak a combination of English and Tagalog here.  Our contact said he was very impressed with my Tagalog, and that he would read the Book of Mormon daily. I left that appointment feeling good.

It took us a while to find somebody else to teach, but we found a lady, who was in her 40s, and single. Unlike my previous lesson, I only said the prayer, because I, in all honesty, was completely shocked. She talked about her life and her hardships, and her family, and her relationship with God and how she needs help. She was a goldmine for any missionary! The only problem was that she said she had an angelic manifestation, and that the devil tried to choke her. Because of that, Elder Atwood took over the lesson. I was a most captive audience-- lemme tell ya. I couldn't believe what I was hearing!  

The environment where we taught the two investigators was unbelievable. There were wires all over our heads, and people scrambling around all over the place. No paved roads, just rocks and dirt. No street signs either. But, the eyes of the people I saw were amazing and beautiful. Everybody always looked so happy to see us, even though they were living in the worst of circumstances!

One lesson I asked a MTC leader to come along as a member-present. Basically, because the MTC schedule changes constantly, we had to reschedule FOUR WHOPPING TIMES! In the end, we got his wife instead, which was just as good. Honestly we never get into the lesson as much as we want to, because we always end up discussing other things. So usually everything I try to memorize goes out the door.  Often times, I have five minutes to prepare. bleh.

I got to ride in a sidecar with my companion, while my teacher (who tagged along as a member-present) rode behind the driver of the motorcycle. I have never felt so cramped in my life! I had to lean forward while they leaned back. I actually got my shirt extremely dirty.

My companion, at one point, gave me a smile and said "we're taking a shortcut." Basically, we went down an alley-way that was about a foot and a half wide for about 400 hundred feet. It was so awesome! I felt like I was in the dark and dreary mist in the tree of life vision--haha. It didn't help that it was pouring rain the entire time I was proselyting.

On a lighter and cleaner note, I ate this awesome, awesome, awesome fruit called rambutan!
It was most delicious!  It looks like an alien head, but you crack it open, and it has this gel-like texture, and tastes so sweet! In all honesty, almost all the Filipino food I've tasted here tastes surprisingly good. My President warned us in the Q&A that a lot of missionaries run out of the stripend (which is 6000 pisos I think) because they love eating out all of the time.  Check out the price of the cherries.

These are some missionaries on their p-day from quezon city who we ran into at the store.
My favorite scriptures right now are

“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”  John 7:17  and

 Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success.”  Alma 26:27

For some reason I thought our MTC teachers were overemphasizing that each investigator has needs in their life, and they're willing to share them with you. I realized then and there how much the people in Manila need direction in their life. Since then, I've devoted so much more time and energy to working to learn their language.  Thank you for the scriptural insights, Mom, especially the oath and covenant ones I needed those. I'm running and not being weary :D

Elder Thurber